Monday, August 23, 2010


Nothing interesting had happened in at least several days, as mortals measure time, and that was an unacceptable state of affairs. I was quite bored. I was just trying to decide on a guise to wear while I went out to stir up trouble when I noticed the woman trying to get into my labyrinth.

Well, that was always good for some amusement, so I settled back into my preferred shape, that of a human woman, sat on the floor in front of my looking-tile, and watched the show.

The woman currently walking around the border of my maze had a stern appearance and a matter-of-fact manner. She carefully inspected every inch of the outside hedge, periodically stopping to jot something down in the notebook she carried. She did not look like an amusing person, but then, that sort usually is anyway, if despite themselves.

When she’d circled the labyrinth twice and found no entrance—I don’t want to make it easy for them, after all—she tied up the hem of her skirt, grabbed the hedge, and began to climb. Now of course, I can’t just allow people to climb over the hedges. That is cheating, and while I of course have nothing against cheating, the point of a labyrinth is to have to make your way through it, and there is nothing interesting about treating it as a mere obstacle course.

But there does have to be some way in, so, except for the thorns, there’s no barrier to climbing the outer wall. So she scrabbled over, tearing her clothes a bit and picking up a few scratches. That didn’t faze her.

She looked around and scribbled in her notebook a bit. She was standing in a long passage of the labyrinth and could go either right or left. Of course, having entered the maze as she had, she thought she’d discovered a shortcut. I grinned and leaned forward to watch more closely. This part was always fun.

She again climbed up to the top of the hedge. Or tried to. Because somehow, though it was only about ten feet tall, she just couldn’t seem to reach the top. She was about five feet up, and her head should just have been peeking over the edge, when she realized she was not as far up as she should be. There were several feet of hedge above her. She looked puzzled for a moment, but continued climbing. Maybe she assumed she hadn’t climbed as high as she’d thought.

After another few minutes, she looked up again. There were still several feet of hedge above her. Then, she looked down.

She was way, way up high, far higher than she possibly could have climbed, hundreds and hundreds of feet up. She went pale and her jaw dropped, but even in her shock she kept a firm grip on the hedge and didn’t fall. People have, before. I don’t let them die when they hit the ground. Some might say I’m soft hearted, but really, what is interesting about cleaning up dead people splattered in your walkway, even if you can do it by magic? I make them bounce. They hit the ground screaming and bounce off, then land gently on the ground outside of the maze. They don’t come back.

But this woman took a deep breath and began to climb down, and after three steps she was back on the ground. She didn’t try to cheat again.

She was trying to find her way by mapping the maze in her notebook, so I changed it around a few times. It annoyed her to no end, but didn’t deter her, and nine hours later she stood in front of my door, slightly worse for wear but still entirely composed.

My door is a mirror, from the outside, and some people find it confusing, as they are supposed to. This woman did not even seem surprised. She knocked, not hard but loud enough to be heard, then waited. I got the feeling she would wait and wait until I opened the door. Watching someone wait is boring, so I answered the door.

“Lady Kimlkal? My name is—”

I cut her off. “The title is both unnecessary and incorrect. I do not appreciate its use.”

She was unruffled. “I beg your pardon, Kimlkal. As I was saying, my name is Mercuria Frisson and I’m a reporter, currently freelance. I was wondering if you will consent to an interview.”

That was unexpected, and I had to be impressed at the audacity of it. “You want to interview a god?” I asked her.

“Actually, I’m planning to do a series of articles, on various gods. I’m starting with you because you’re the most interesting, and it would be a good hook.”

Right. Because interviews with gods weren’t enough of a draw as it was. Mercuria was probably starting with me because she’d had a better idea of where to find me than some of the others, who live in such inaccessible places as on clouds, or under the ocean.

Of course, just because I knew it wasn’t true doesn’t mean I wasn’t flattered. And this would certainly be entertaining. So I let her in and served her some tea—perfectly good tea, though she looked at it as dubiously as if it was some strange potion designed to change her into something interesting—which it wasn’t, I swear. She sniffed it, took a small sip, and, at finding herself still human and not seeing anything that hadn’t been there before, drank the rest.

“Are you ready to start?” she asked me.

“Of course.”

“So a little background. You’re the Trickster god, that means you… do tricks?” From her voice, and the awkward phrasing of the question, I realized she hadn’t really thought out what she’d ask; hadn’t expected to actually get this far.

“Do I look like a trained seal? I don’t do tricks, or turn tricks, I play tricks. On other people.”

“Right, so as the Trickster god you play tricks on people. So, um, who worships you?”

“Anyone who is at all interesting.”

“Such as…?”

“Well, criminals, of course, and rebels, and children if they can get away with it. The desperate, the mischievous, and anyone who needs any kind of luck. People who want to turn the world inside out and aren’t afraid of the consequences. I take a special interest in those who see the humor in life, and,” I smiled a small, slightly evil smile, “an even specialer interest in those who don’t.”

“And what do you do for your worshippers? What do they pray for, and do you grant their prayers?”

“If I want to. Luck’s a pretty common wish; the smart ones specify good luck. Bad things happening to their enemies, good things to happen to themselves. To change their lives, or the world.” I smiled at the memory of the last time I’d answered that particular prayer. “Those tend to be good ones.”

“To change the world for the better?”

“That’s probably what they want, most of the time, or for the better to them, at least. I just try to make it… more interesting.”

Mercuria looked a bit uneasy at that. “Do you have any sense of, well, morality?”

I laughed. “Morals are for mortals. But I’m not evil, just… not bound by that sort of thing. If it’s any comfort, if you’d fallen trying to climb over the labyrinth, you wouldn’t have died.”

“Just been seriously injured?” she asked dubiously.

I gave her a look. “That’s not any fun at all.”

“So what would have happened?”

“Why should I give it away? You can always find out when you’re leaving. Which will be soon, I’m beginning to lose interest.”

“Just one more question then. Could you demonstrate your powers?”

I smiled and snapped my fingers, and a parrot perched on Mercuria’s hand where her notebook had been. The reporter looked astonished, and not overly pleased. “Don’t worry,” I told her, then said to the parrot, “Repeat the first thing I said to Mercuria.”

“The title is both unnecessary and incorrect,” squawked the parrot. “I do not appreciate its use.”

Mercuria gawked at the bird.

“See? Much better than a notebook. Keep him on your shoulder and you won’t even have to bother writing things down.”

“Thank you!” she said with feeling. “For the interview, and for the bird. Um, I’ll make sure you get a copy of my article.”

I laughed. “That won’t be necessary. I assure you, I’ll see it.”

“Um, right. Well, thank you.” She turned towards the door.

I watched her through my tile as she left. It’s not usually as interesting as watching people on their way in, but I didn’t have anything better to do. And Mercuria surprised me. Rather than making her way back through the labyrinth, she closed her eyes and began to climb up the hedge. As it had before, it grew as she climbed it, and by the time she stopped she was so far up that had there been people below her, they would have looked like ants. She gently touched the parrot on her shoulder, took a deep breath, and jumped.

And of course, she bounced right out of the labyrinth. She landed less than gracefully, but got up, checked to be sure the parrot was alright, brushed herself off, and continued on her way.

I was so impressed that I made a note to keep an eye on Mercuria Frisson, and send her some luck—good luck, I will emphasize—when she needs it.

And the article about me was excellent.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


“They are upon us.” There is no drama in her voice. It’s hardly needed. We all know that the siege is ending, that they will break through our walls any time now. Sanisia didn’t call us here just to give us the news that our world is about to be destroyed, because it’s not news.

Everyone is here. Thousands and thousands of people, everyone I’ve ever known or seen or walked past in the street without noticing, watching Sanisia. A few look terrified or desperate, but too many have that horrible blank you get when you’re past even despair. They’ve given up, we’ve given up. There’s nothing we can do anymore, even I know that, but somehow I feel they should at least be hoping for a miracle. There’s no point to it; they’re being realistic and I’m not, but maybe, just maybe… Sanisia could have a plan. She doesn’t need to tell us what we already know, but maybe there’s something we don’t know. Even as the thought begins to flash through my mind, I see that her face is blank as anyone’s.

“Any time now, they will bring down our walls. The lucky among us will be killed. I don’t need to say what will happen to the survivors.” So of course, we’re all imagining the worst things we can think of. Surely it can’t happen, it just can’t. Miracles happen, right? Or, well, one could happen, anyway. It has to. This just can’t happen.

“So there must not be any survivors,” Sanisia continues. I don’t understand her, at first. We don’t want survivors? But that means we want to die, and we don’t! I know we can’t fight the invading army, but shouldn’t we at least try? Or try yet again to surrender? Or, I don’t know, just not die yet?

“My people,” Sanisia says, and a tear rolls down her face. “I’ve let you down. The only thing left I can do is give you a choice. A choice between a fate worse than death, and death, a quick painless death. We can watch our children hacked to pieces before your eyes, or we can give them a few sips of liquid and let them go softly into eternal sleep. We can live in torment as captives, or we can die peacefully and go onto a better world. I know which I chose.” She gestures towards a row of enormous vats. “There’s enough for all of us. It only takes a few drops. I’m sorry this is all I can give you.” Tears stream down her face as she takes a cup from a pile next to the vats, fills it with liquid, and pours it down her throat.

She dies quickly, and quietly. One moment she’s standing before us, and the next she’s dead on the ground.

The crowd rushes towards her. No, not towards her, I realize in horror, but towards the vats. Those at the front of the crowd are already following Sanisia’s example, and everyone I can see seems to be merely waiting their turn.

There’s not going to be a miracle. Everyone’s going to die, me included. Better to make it easy on myself and drink the poison. I know that. The flow of people pushes me towards the vats. It’s not like I have a choice, do I? Everyone, everyone around me is drinking from the vats. The cups are mismatched, as if Sanisia told someone to bring as many cups as they could get, and they brought whatever they could get. Somehow that makes me laugh. It’s not funny, but I laugh and laugh and suddenly stop laughing and don’t understand why I ever had been.

I see Iha, whose children I watch for her sometimes, give them each a sip of liquid from a mug with a broken handle, then swallow the rest herself. They all drop dead. The mug falls to the ground and breaks in two. The ground around me is littered with dead people and broken cups, more of each joining every minute. The cups that manage to survive the fall are snatched up by people eager to die.

“Piromee,” I hear my name, and look around. It’s Halica, my best friend. She’s holding a silver goblet and a wineglass. “Let’s drink together.”

“I don’t think I want to,” I say, unsure.

“Look, I’m scared too, but think how much worse it would be if we were surrounded by swords about to slash through us. At least this way is easier, and among our own people, and by choice. And we can do it together.”

I don’t know if I am scared. I should be. My people are dying, and I’m about to die, and the enemy is going to break through the wall and slaughter whoever’s left any time now. I was scared, when I came out here earlier, but now I don’t even remember how to be. It’s not that I hope for a miracle anymore. It’s too late for that now. And Halica’s right. We’ll die together. That’s how it should be.

“Okay,” I say. My voice shakes, so I think maybe I am scared. Halica offers me a cup. I take the wineglass, and we fill them with the poison. It’s clear, and it smells sweet.

“On three,” says Halica. I nod, and we count together. “One. Two. Three.” We both lift the cups to our lips.

Halica’s faster than me, more sure of her decision, maybe, and she’s swallowed the liquid before my glass is even level with my mouth. I mean to drink it, I meant to drink it, but I just can’t. Halica crumbles to the ground. I stare at the poison, willing myself to down it, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I pour it out over Halica’s body.

All around me, the ground is piled thick with bodies. The only people still standing are crowded around the vats, waiting for the chance to drink.

I walk away. I don’t want to watch anyone else die. I walk through empty streets until I have to stop because of the wall. I haven’t been here for a while. We’re told to stay away, in case we’re crushed when it falls. Like that matters now. The cracks from the enemy’s battering rams are huge now. I’m surprised it’s still standing. It won’t be for long.

I throw the empty wineglass against it. It’s not like the one more little impact would do anything to the wall. I don’t want to be here, either, so I turn around and walk back.

Everyone’s dead. Where there’d been a crowd of people, there’s only bodies. I tell myself that it can’t be everyone, that some people must have decided to take their chances with the army. Maybe they went home. Maybe some people never even came at all, never heard Sanisia speak, don’t even know what’s happened. I run through the streets, screaming for anyone to come out. I bang on doors and open the ones that aren’t locked and shout and yell. I think I do this for hours, until my hands are bloody from banging on doors and my voice is nearly gone. There’s no one else left. Just me.

I hear the battering ram at the wall again. I don’t know how long it’s been going on for. It’s loud, but I’m used to blocking it out by now. Why doesn’t the wall collapse yet? There’s nothing to protect anymore, and I don’t want to just wait, alone in a city of corpses. Anything would be better than that.

There’s still poison left. I could change my mind, and the idea is tempting. But I don’t want to, and I don’t want to think about it. Why can’t they just invade and get it over with already? Then at least I’d know I’m not the only person alive in the world.

I go to the city gates. They’re strong and thick and barred firmly. It takes all my strength to pull down the bars. I feel traitorous doing this, but there’s no one to betray anymore.

Finally the gate is unbarred and I pull it open.

The invading army is camped outside, of course. I knew that. They’re not expecting much to happen, except maybe for their battering ram to finally break through the wall, and that’s on the other side of the city. They don’t seem to be doing much at all. The group nearest the gate is playing cards. Everyone within eyesight slowly turns towards me. They seem too surprised to do anything, but I they’ll get over it fast, and I’ll be dead any minute now.

“It’s over,” I say.
Some of the soldiers come over. I expect them to kill me, or at least grab me, but they don’t. “What do you mean?”

“Everyone’s dead,” I say, and to my chagrin, burst into tears.

The soldiers look awkward. They’re young, only a few years older than me, and they have no idea what’s going on or what to do about it. I’m the enemy, obviously, but I’m just a single, unarmed, crying girl. One of them has the presence of mind to go off to get a superior. The rest of them just stand around looking confused. “There, there, it’s all right,” one of them tries to comfort me, and this is so ridiculous that my sobs change to hysterical laughter.

I’ve come to my senses by the time the superior officer arrives a few minutes later. He’s older and less confused, or else he hides his confusion better. He questions me, with particular emphasis on whether I’m sure I’m the only one left. Eventually, when I’ve gone over what happened countless times and answered every possible question, he tells me not to go anywhere. “Where would I go?” I ask. The officer just nods, and leaves. A few minutes later, several platoons march into the city.

I don’t have anything to do. I just stand there for a while, until the awkward soldiers invite me to play cards with them. I accept. Sure, they’re the enemy, but, well, they’re the enemy because they were attacking my people and that’s a moot point now. It all seems stupid to me, and I just can’t make myself hate them. So we play cards.

A few hours later, the platoons that went into the city come out. They confirm my story, of course. I guess there’re all kinds of meetings for the army to decide what to do now. I don’t know anything about them. Nobody seems to be sure about what my position is. I doubt they’ll kill me. They could, but it just doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s mind. If they’d invaded the city they would have taken captives, but there’s not much point in having just one prisoner. They all seem rather embarrassed about the whole thing anyway. I eat with the soldiers, and at night someone sets up a spare tent for me. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep, after everything. It was only this morning that I was standing wondering what Sanisia would say, hoping for a miracle. Now I wonder if maybe I got one, and then feel guilty for thinking it. But I’m not dead.

Everyone else is, though. I cry myself to sleep.

I’m woken up by loud noises early the next morning. Everyone’s packing, bags and tents and weapons. “We’re leaving,” says Jarth. He was the soldier who tried to tell me it was alright. “They’re keeping some troops in the city to get it cleaned up and figure out what to do with it, but the rest of us are going home.”

“What about me?” I say.

He shrugs. “I think everyone pretty much figures you’re coming with us.”

“I don’t have anywhere better to go,” I agree.

I go back into the city, to pack a bag and just to see it one last time. There’re soldiers burying the bodies. I don’t go to say goodbye to anyone. They’re dead now, and I don’t want to see the bodies again. I take a few things from home, but feel no connection to the place itself. It’s dead now.

I try to avert my gaze as I walk back past the soldiers burying corpses, but I don’t want to trip over a body, either, so I have to look. My eyes fall on Halica’s body. I could be next to her, but I’m not. I could have died with them, but I didn’t.

I don’t regret it.