Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Books Were Wrong: Anurians

A bit of a follow-up to the previous installment on kobolds. (Though as I do it again, I find it somewhat more difficult to write, as 5e's bestiary likes repeating the exact same issues ad nauseum and that does make it a bit difficult to come up with new or interesting stuff about it)

Regardless, let us dive back into the works of Opineus and see if we can't suss out the truth behind his terribly researched, maliciously-motivated, and alltogether unfit for publication texts.

Our subject today will be the anurians, called here "bullywugs" by Opineus - a common name at the time, but one that has fallen out of favor and is considered insulting. For my own commentary I will be using "anurian" or "anuric", as that is the preferred exonym of that people.

Life as a bullywug is nasty, brutish, and wet.


Opineus opens with a paraphrase of philosopher Tham Hoabs. In his typical fashion, it is a quote about the wrong thing (Hoabs was specifically talking about humans), of questionable accuracy to begin with (Hoabs was dismissive-at-best in his attitudes towards any cultures that did not participate in organized states similar to his own), and presents all the (inaccurate) conclusions Opineus makes as foregone.

These frog-headed amphibious humanoids must stay constantly moist, dwelling in rainy forests, marshes, and damp caves.


Obvious, but accurate.

Always hungry and thoroughly evil, bullywugs overwhelm opponents with superior numbers when they can, but they flee from serious threats to search for easier prey.


As is typical, Opineus gives no concrete reasoning as to why a people is labeled evil, though here he seems to correlate it with hunger and basic self-preservation.

Opineus' bias about combat looks to have returned from his writings on kobolds: Rudimentary tactics such as numerical advantage and retreating from fights going poorly are given special mention as some unique, innate quality of nonhuman peoples (and an evil trait at that) - an ideology typical to those immersed in the warrior cult. Whether or not Opineus actually served as a soldier in any part of his life, I cannot say (Though I suspect he did not).

Bullywugs have green, gray, or mottled yellow skin that shifts through shades of gray, green, and brown, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings. They wear crude armor and wield simple weapons, and can deliver a powerful bite to foes that press too close.


The insistence that their armor and weapons are "crude" is a strange one. Anurians rarely have access to metals (save through trade), and so typically use wood, reed, and bone as crafting materials, but materials used do not dictate the skill with which they are used, and one need only glance at a set of anurian reed armor to recognize the skill that goes into crafting it.

Foul Aristocracy. Bullywugs consider themselves the right and proper rulers of the swamps. They follow an etiquette of sorts when dealing with outsiders and each other, subject to the whims and fancies of their leader—a self-styled lord of the muck.


A question arises here - if Opineus does not believe that the anurians' territorial claims are valid (as he clearly does not), who does he believe the swamps belong to? He does not say in this fragment of the text, which might indicate that he believed the answer to be self-evident. That particular context is lost to us.

Humorously, his description of anurian society here can be easily applied to a typical human kingdom.

Bullywugs introduce themselves with grand-sounding titles, make great shows of bowing and debasing themselves before their superiors, and endlessly vie to win their superiors' favor. A bullywug has two ways to advance among its kind. It can either murder its rivals, though it must take pains to keep its criminal deeds secret, or it can find a treasure or magic item and present it as tribute or a token of obeisance to its liege. A bullywug that murders its rivals without cunning is likely to be executed, so it's more common for bullywugs to stage raids against caravans and settlements, with the goal of securing precious baubles to impress their lords and win their good graces.


There's a great deal to unpack here, and it begins thusly.

Anurian society is based around a harem structure - a single, highly-territorial male accompanied by a group of females. Lone males may be integrated into a spawning group through allegiance-gifts to the patriarch, or will otherwise remain on the fringes of society. Patriarchs might be deposed by a challenger, and over the ages this process has become socially codified with rites and procedures to minimize collateral damage.

Opineus presents this as a sort of deficient imitation of civilization, drawing on the parallels between the anurian patriarchs and the lords' courts within the Empire. The conclusion is not worth entertaining, but there topic itself should not be avoided). The pod system of anurian life is close in principle to many human political hierarchies (that is, a singular head of state with secondary officials linked to the head by legal and cultural bonds), and it is not uncommon for anurian patriarchs to adopt noble titles and court organization from nearby human nations as a cultural defensive mechanism - an attempt at decreasing the animosity of neighboring human nations with the logic of "If we are more like them, they will be more likely to treat us as equals, and be more inclined to spare us". This has, despite Opineus' disdain, been somewhat successful, but has been a great source of friction within anurian communities - it is becoming increasingly clear even to outside observers that traditional cultural structures and practices are endangered as the patriarchs of major pod-confederations adopt further human influences to better enrich themselves and destabilize the cultural balance that had taken centuries to form.

Invariably, such fine goods are reduced to filthy tatters through abuse and neglect. Once a gift loses its sheen, a bullywug lord invariably demands that its subjects bring it more treasure as tribute.


This line is worthy of specific attention, as it is a dogwhistle playing into stereotypes of nonhuman sapients as being without culture or understanding of the value of goods or objects. Even within Opineus' own writings he cannot maintain this line of logic.

Unruly Diplomacy. Bullywugs love nothing more than lording over those who trespass on their territories. Their warriors attempt to capture intruders rather than simply slaying them. Captives are dragged before the king or queen—a bullywug of unusually large size—and forced to beg for mercy. Bribes, treasure, and flattery can trick the bullywug ruler into letting its captives go, but not before it tries to impress its "guests" with the majesty of its treasure and its realm. Struck with a deep inferiority complex, bullywug lords fancy themselves as kings and queens, but desperately crave the fear and respect of outsiders.


This is primarily a restatement of the themes of a previous segment, complete with marking a common social behavior as aberrant and evil according to its participant, rather than the action itself.

Amphibian Allies. Bullywugs speak a language that allows them to communicate over large areas by croaking like frogs. News of intruders or other events in the swamp spread within minutes across this crude communication system.


Opineus loves the word "crude", almost as much as he loves mis-using it. A language where messages can be transmitted accurately across miles in a matter of minutes is far more sophisticated than anything human communication is capable of. What can he possibly be comparing it to?

Simple concepts in the language are understandable to frogs and toads. Bullywugs use this capability to form strong bonds with giant frogs, which they train as guardians and hunters. Larger specimens are sometimes used as mounts as well. The frogs' ability to swallow creatures whole provides a bullywug hunting band an easy means of carrying prey back to their villages.


Opineus ends on something actually true, which is worth noting for its rarity. It's like being visited by a unicorn.

 

Final Thoughts

I have stumbled into a major limitation of this format, being that you need to vary up your source material or it's going to get really old, really fast. The 5e monster manual has proven to have overwhelming material to use, but all of it is of a monotonous quality that produces significantly worse results over time. Everything you meet is crude and primitive and evil's got very little to do with the act and more to do with who you are. It's fuckin' dull and shame on every writer of RPG material, 5e and otherwise, who regurgitates this dross without thinking about it. You're writing a book about elves, your literal job is to think about it.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Dan Reviews Books, Part 8

Previous installments found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ,7


The Sharing Knife, Parts 1 & 2, Lois McMaster Bujold

DNF pg 278/348, of Part 2

What a disappointment. I had enjoyed the first Sharing Knife, originally read before I started writing these posts, and as it had been a couple years I did a re-read to move on to books 2 and 3. A great many more cracks in the artifice showed themselves this time around, compounding to the point where it was no longer possible to write off the enormous glaring issue at the center of it all.

First, the good. It is competently written in terms of pace and prose, Bujold doesn't disappoint there. It takes place in fantasy western PA / eastern Ohio, so I am obviously biased in favor of the setting. The magic starts as nifty but the story leans too heavily on the mechanics of what is very loosely sketched later at on (it is confusing and tiresome and honestly I don't care to explain it further. It's the minor issue.)

Most notable is that it has one of the best monsters I have seen in a good long while: malices are the corrupted forms or descendants of ancient sorcerer kings who pop up out of the ground at random and start soul-draining everything nearby, down to bacteria. They grow in power and intelligence as they do this, so they graduate from being mindless maggotty things to making servants (mud men - ordinary animals twisted into shapes approximating humans), enslaving human minds, and eventually building structures and learning their hunters' strategies. Potentially more. They have no apparent cap on strength or range - any single given malice can be a civilization-ender. If two of them emerge together, they will fight until one has consumed the other and gained its power. There is an entire culture group, the Lakewalkers, built around patrolling the countryside and putting down malices before they get too big. This is all rad.

The pacing is interesting, especially in book 1, where the climactic battle that would cap off another book is in the first 50 pages and everything else is follow-up material, and that keeps going until the next big conflict midway through book 2. I actually like this quite a bit.

Now to the bad.

There is no beating around the bush that Sharing Knife centers on a relationship with an enormous age difference - 18(F) / 55(M) - that also gets kicked off when she (Fawn) is rescued by him (Dag) from a sexual assault. When she was already pregnant from a tumble in the hay with local farm lad jackass, and is going to have a miscarriage via malice in the next couple chapters. This is all still the first quarter of the book. And that...really doesn't look good considering how fast they get into the romance. Like we pivot from compounding traumas to honeymoon fucking in a matter of weeks, and it doesn't take brain-genius levels of geniusity to read that as troubling. That's a man taking advantage of the emotional vulnerability of someone literally a third his age, and I don't care what hoops the internal monologues jump through to justify it or how Lakewalkers age slower. Fucking foot on the fucking brakes, please.

And other characters, from both sides of the equation, are adamant about it being a bad idea. They are won over, because it's a romance novel, but correct me if I am wrong that in romance genre conventions, the nay-sayers are supposed to be wrong.

I get that Fawn is meant to be a naive outsider, but this is easily accomplished by the cultural clash at hand (she is one of the farmer folk, he a Lakewalker). Anyone would be lost after leaving their home and being thrust into a society they have no familiarity with, filled with people who explicitly do not want them there. The age gap is redundant (as is the assault, we already have the unplanned pregnancy and the miscarriage), and so I really have to ask why the hell is it there?

All that would be needed to fix this is make a reasonable age gap (or none at all) and cut the assault. Fawn can still be the stranger in a strange land but can also be more of her own person with more of her own life experience. Nothing of value is lost and we can proceed with the romance of folks who are more equally balanced in the relationship.

Tales of a Dark Continent, Morthoron

DNF 22%

Bad choice of title. It's LotR fanfic about all the eastern lands, set about two centuries after Return of the King, presented as an aged scholar recounting his journeys to a scribe in training. It's fine enough for what it is, but it fell afoul of  what is likely an inevitable problem for folks who want to expand on Middle Earth via transformative art: names. How can you handle such a central aspect of the setting? Make up your own languages? Just go with what sounds good? This fic takes what I think is the weakest route, which is using terms that have a good deal of real-world connotation behind them. Seeing elves of Middle Earth being called the daoine sídhe and hearing about the Great Khanate is too much Hyperboria for me to fit here.



Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

DNF 9%

I spent the first couple pages quite confused on whether or not the scene was set inside an O'Neill cylinder (it was not), and it was downhill from there. The whedonist dialogue could be tolerable on its own (though not once in the 50 pages I read did it ever make me smile or think "oh that's witty". Not a single punchline to be found), but it was accompanied by premonitions of an enemies-to-lovers subplot (and I don't truck with that shit. At best it undermines the characters' non-romantic motivations and makes characters act according to trope rather than what is actually happening to them in the narrative. At worst it's abuse apologia), and a virulent, omnipresent unpleasantness of the entire cast. I am fond of the phrase "I wish these characters would die so they would be put out of my misery", and it applied here.

The last straw was the realization, right at the 50 page mark (convenient!) that Gideon would not commit to acting on her supposed hatred of Harrow, and she wouldn't shut up about it either. She'd just continue being an obnoxious asshole (to be fair, she is 18, and 18-year olds are obnoxious assholes) and never actually do anything meaningful about it. She'll just putter along getting away with it because she is snarky and sarcastic and violent and quote unquote badass and I cannot stand this character archetype.



A History of What Comes Next, Sylvain Neuvel

I did not like this book one bit. The only positive is that it is a swift read.

The plot entails an entity that regenerates itself through a string of mother-daughter connections, that has been working for three thousand years guiding humans towards spaceflight. Not really for humanity's sake, though, they might just be doing it for themselves because they are stranded aliens (?) and there's a male reincarnation-chain hunting them down saying that there's a device (???) and they need to be stopped and ?????

There are no answers. There was a break in the chain 80 generations ago, so whatever the origins are has been lost. This would be fine and good if literally anything else was answered (nothing was answered).

All we ended up with were a pair of aliens, who are really one alien, accelerating the Cold War because "oh there's a terrible unspecified Evil". One of them is worried about global warming but isn't really doing anything about it. They have a tendency to mass murder people to cover their tracks.

And when I say "accelerating the Cold War", I mean "explicitly part of Project Paperclip and then immediately switching sides to goad the Americans into the space race by giving them a threat to struggle against".

I could not tell if the author was writing with intention (this alien is a fucking idiot who is treating an entire species as expendable for reasons they do not even know), or was blindly stumbling around. This happens to me with greater and greater frequency nowadays, I literally cannot tell if authors are intending their characters to be awful on purpose. Because as it stands the best thing to happen at this point would be a third party that stops both aliens.

This is apparently book one of three, and following the all too common pattern of modern SFF where book one cannot stand on its own.

Don't try to sell me on "powerful people being horrible and having horrible things happen to them" as a tragedy for the powerful people, book.



Circe, Madeline Miller

I've seen plenty of people rave about this book, and I will gladly add my voice to the chorus. It is, from the beginning, a work born of clear love for both craft and topic - deliberate and careful and filled with all the little things that build up to "ah, this is special". It's difficult to know where to start.

Reviewers with word counts to meet will likely say that it is a feminist retelling of Greek myth. This is correct, and also entirely inadequate to describe the thing at hand. Circe's arc is centered on her ability to carve out a niche for herself in the middle of a toxic cesspool of an environment, and in the isolation of her exile take the reins of her own life enough to resist. Her brothers, her sister Pasiphae, her niece Medea, all the other witches fall prey to the poison in their surroundings, becoming petty tyrants in the case of her brothers or co-monsters in the case of sister and niece. She alone is the only one who has any substantial joy in her life by the end, and is certainly the only one who would be called a good person.

It's a great book, and not in the hyperbolic sense that has drained the word of much of its power. It has weight. It was made with care. It is an ancient marble statue, but Miller went and painted it, truer to itself, in vibrant color. My father would have adored this book.



When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, Nghi Vo

Excellent little novella. Less than a hundred pages of a scholar telling a story to a trio of tigers in an attempt to not get eaten. There are mammoths in it. A woman marries a tiger spirit, which means I am obligated to like it via the law of transitive convergent narrative evolution.

In one part of the story, there's a very, very minor character introduced. Stays around for page, page and a half. But he's described to us, in the voice of the storyteller, as the boy who would later become a famous investigator (I presume a parallel to Judge Dee) and I cannot overstate how much I love that single sentence. Of course it's there, the story is from an in-universe tradition, so of course people are going to go and weave in characters from other stories into it! That's what people do!

Saying much more is overkill for such a short story. Very glad I ended up with it as my blind pick.



Hammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw

DNF, 28%

This one is only 63 pages, so I feel somewhat bad for not finishing it, but also it's just...

I have said, multiple times, that recontextualized Lovecraft is a genre I am fond of. It is also one of my least favorite. This is because it is, often but not always, SFF junk food. And not the good kind of junk food, not like the ice cream place you go to for special occasions. Like a bag of stale popcorn, or a bag of funyuns someone stepped on. Hammers on Bone lacks the parts that make it a special treat, so the end result is that its just...filler pacing through the motions. I feel like I can see everything it is attempting to do, and it's not enough to satisfy or interest me.

You can find better short weird horror fiction out there easily. Plenty of SCP stuff at or above the quality level, and at least that has a better chance of being novel in its weirdness.

 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Unicorn Meat Is Live!

 

Rowan A. (Mon)

At long last, it is here.

Unicorn Meat is now available for purchase.

It has been a long and winding road, full of many ups and downs, but at last we have arrived. What else more is there to say? Likely something, assuredly there's something I can say - I do love to chatter on about things I have written - but for now, I think I will bask in the "job is finally done" stage.

A great many thanks go out to a great many people who helped me along the way - Rowan, Gus, Jarret and Fiona for their parts in putting it together, the playtesters who ran games during development (thanks, Martin and Mike!), and all the folks who offered their encouragement and support during the process (thanks, TLN and Emmy!)

Do let me know how it goes; find me on discord, yell at me on twitter, dump a comment down below. I'd love to hear the play reports / see coloring page maps / read reviews and all that.

The time is neigh, the center cannot hold, the rough beast has reached Bethlehem.


Exalted Funeral (Print+pdf)

 

Itch.io (pdf)

 

Drivethru RPG (pdf)


Thursday, April 7, 2022

Secret Jackalope 2022

This request comes from Unwary on Discord

 

"what folk dances do vampires prefer? Are head spells Turing complete? take another of your interests outside of TTRPGs and make something based on it, in all the detail you wish.." 

What folk dances do vampires prefer?

Vampires do not have folk dances, as only the nobility have access to the tinctures and unguents required to stave off the mental degradation of that condition. In a twist of fate that has wet many a pen in many a monastery scriptorum, the curse of vampirism rewards the blasphemies of the ruling class, while the impoverished who might curse the divine for their woes are struck down with no recourse.

Anyway, the dances. Vampires rarely gather in groups, but when they do it is typically the social event of the century. No expense is spared for the lavish affairs. Ballroom dancing, of course, slow and languid, stretching from moonrise to sunrise. The music is god-awful; something in the vampirization process leaves the subject with the king of all tin ears, so to the outside it is a truly wretched cacophony of screeching strings and wailing brass.  As the dancers do not tire, the dance itself will go from moonrise to sunrise. The strictures of the social hierarchy must also be danced around, both literally and metaphorically - pairing with one above or below your station will jump right over scandal and directly to open combat. Nothing like a vampire's duel to get the blood pumping (ha-ha).

The dances themselves bear no resemblance to anything modern aristocrats do, being unstuck in time. They are, in their way, an alternate timeline of events - of ancient and antiquated modes and mores carried forth out of the past, trotting along their own developmental path.

You would, as a non-vampire, likely not want to go to one of these. Not even for the danger (which is high), and not even because you would constantly be mistaken for the help (an even higher probability), but simply because vampires are terrible and no one would wish to spend more time in their presence than absolutely necessary.



Are head spells turing complete?

If you ask a wizard, they will say no - a spell has no existence outside of its function, and possesses no volition of its own.

They say this because wizardry, unwilling to cooperate with the spirits and feeling itself above the push and pull of the world, trap and lobotomize those spirits, chaining them to their spellbooks as the slaver does to the enslaved. It is one lie of many they use to justify themselves, claiming that wizardry is all about hard work and study, and that witchcraft and druidism and the ways of the cunning-men are outmoded superstition.

Wizards: absolutely no sense of right and wrong.



Free Space

This one is difficult, because I already integrate a lot of non-game stuff into the blog already. Hrm.

 

The Venus of Willendorf was likely a self-portrait.

Blue dwarf stars do not exist yet because not enough time has elapsed in the universe.

Way more bilical apocrypha than you think is concerned with esoteric defenses of calendar reform.

Some dunderheads in the 1890s wanted to import hippos to the American south as a meat animal



Tuesday, April 5, 2022

MSF: Lu in the Lands of Spring

 

Jarod Smith

In the wake of the Daemonomachy...

When the ancestors came at last to the land of Daro, there was rejoicing the likes of which the world had not known since its foundations were laid. For they had passed through the snows of winter and the claws of the night; they had passed through the vast wastes of Uz, they had passed through the mighty land of Endor, they had crossed the Mountains of the Moon and now, after so many years in the demon-haunted world, they had arrived in the lands of springtime.

In the land of Daro the four great rivers flowed sweet and clear and clean, and the soil dark and rich and good for planting. The winters mild and the summers gentle. Of game - of red deer and wild horses and bison and aurochs - the herds were so great that a thousand thousand generations could not hunt them. The elders of the Ancestors said among themselves "Here at last, in this green and peaceful place, I may die without fear of death."

The peoples raised there a home for their gods, a holy place to make sacrifices and thanksgiving, upon the mount called Potbelly Hill (for it looked like a woman with child resting upon her side from afar). They raised great stones and set them in their place, and dedicated them saying "May peace reign forever among the peoples of man."

As all this came about, Lu remained withdrawn. She ate little and spoke less, speaking not to her husband nor her kin nor to the peoples that did her homage. She spent her days beneath the bodhi tree upon the hill, for its shade was pleasant, and she would look out over the land of the four rivers in silence.

No joy was to be found in her heart, nor in the arms of her husband. She lived as if dead; songs and stories were like ash in her mouth. No dancing came to her feet. Her hands were too heavy and fingers to clumsy for the loom or the needle or the brush or the potter's wheel. It was to her as if the world and all its contents had been revealed as a cruel lie and in such revelation all of its life and color had drained away, and in that emptiness there was only death and the shadow of death.

She had, in the depths of winter, declared war on the universe. She had cursed it for its blind obscenity and its mindless cruelty. She cursed and screamed until her very words fell black and burning from her lips. She swore an oath there beneath the silent stars and moonless sky - that she would fight till death claimed her, that she would teach her children to fight, and they theirs, and on and on until either the last human died or they had broken the yoke of the universe.

Now, that oath seemed a shackle, the summit of her folly. She had fought, with all her strength she had fought, and yet the yoke was heavier than ever. In her mind's eye she saw again and again the striking down of Hō-ō, and again the seas of gore she had poured out over the land of Endor. She saw the terror on the faces of her kin, the fear they had of her and the fear of death. She saw all the horrors of Winter, and heard the rasping laughter of the old gift-giver in her fitful dreams.

It came to pass, then, that a young woman came to visit Lu in the shade of the bodhi tree. Her name was Thrush, and with her was an infant but a few moons old, plump and bright eyed. Lu rebuffed her company, saying, "Please, I would like better to be left alone." But Thrush was adamant and sat down there beside the Thief of Fire.

"I had meant to come visit sooner, but the little one was sick with colic, crying all through the night till her father and I thought we might go mad."

"She seems well enough now."

"She is." In the branches above them, a bird twittered and flew off. "She was born here, just at the base of the hill. She has never known winter, or hunger, or seen a demon."

"She will," Lu said, her words like rough stones. "She will."

"Maybe. Not for a while yet, at least. And that is your doing. I came here to give thanks, Lu. From myself, my husband, and the little one. You appear so rarely down in the valley, I thought it best to climb the hill instead."

"You have wasted your time, and come to thank me for delivering doom upon your little one's head. There is no stopping what I have put in motion, there is no undoing what has been done. There can be no katharsis to atone for this. When she grows old and sits in terror of the coming darkness, she will curse me for inflicting her with such agonies. Better that she died now, before she must face the great despair I have wrought."

A look of great sadness took over Thrush's face.

"Down in the valley, boastful youths may say 'who is this Lu, who sits under the tree atop the hill and cares so little for us?', and each time the elders answer 'She came down from the mountain alight with fire, and her rage was as the bear's against the evils that plagued her people. She has already paid great cost for love of us, judge her not so harshly.'"

If you truly believed it was better to die now, then you would have killed me as I approached. You would have dashed this little one's head against a stone. But you have not. Not now, and not then."

"Had the whole host of the gods not held me back I would have cleaved the world in two, simply to strike at the demon I created when I tore Hō-ō from the sky."

At this, Thrush did not answer for a time. The infant napped cozily in her sling.

"Do you wish that I condemn you?" Thrush said at last. "Do you feel that it would be right in the world for me to climb up this hill and curse you for stealing the Crown and all that followed? Is your guilt truly so great as that?"

"Enough." Lu said, and there was a distant rumble of thunder in her voice. "Leave me. I wish to be alone."

Thrush rose then, and said:

"My grandmother told me of how, as her father was dying, he asked that she and her brothers eat him after he passed the sun, though he was little more than bones. She told me that her father laughed as he asked it of them, that he was joyful as the end approached, that he said 'I cannot know what happens after my death, so I shall meet Death believing that you will live, and that shall be enough.' They were starving, and so they did as he asked of them. In such agonizing cruelty, he laughed in the face of death.

You did not bring suffering into the world, Lu of the Forest, and you are not the only one whose heart aches under its weight. It was there long before our eldest ancestors came to be, and death is our constant companion with the Crown or without. We cannot avoid either. But by your doing, at least, we have this much."

And she returned to the valley alone.

Thrush's words lingered with Lu for many days after, and she turned them over and over in frustration. They were as a thorn in her thoughts, a needle of doubt that had upset the ordering of her misery. She returned again and again to them, paraded out the arguments to herself like neat rows of soldiers all to have them brushed aside as dust and broken pottery. The oath she made beneath that silent sky kept watch with her - she could not abandon it. The thought came to her, as it had before in those darkest nights, but she could not take that leap. Some kernel of self, down in the deep places of her soul, stamped her foot in the dirt and said "No! I refuse! This isn't right!" and she could not bring herself to silence, no matter the weariness of her spirit. "Get up! Get up!" said that inner self. "We cannot stop yet!"

And so she spent time in thought.

A change came over Lu, small at first and growing as time passed. She would go down the mountain and walk among the people - on holy days alone at first, later as the desire took her. She would sit in the women's lodge - with Hecate, Astare, Ilithyia, and Meshkent - to aid those seeking counsel, and to recieve counsel herself. She returned to the embrace of Tubalkhan, and in their private hours she shared her fears and hopes with him, as she had done before. Tubalkhan in turn bared his soul to her - for he had been ill with his own worries since their arrival in the land of Daro, fearing for his wife and trapped by feelings of his own helplessness. Here then they renewed that bond between them.

Lu would still go and sit below the bodhi tree upon the hill, for she found it still a place of great beauty and tranquility among the labors of each day. Any among the gods or peoples were welcome to sit with here there, to talk or to listen. Thrush, her hair now grey and her daughter now full grown, came often to sit in the sun beside her.

In speaking of things high and low, Lu turned her mind back to all that came before, and found that the past had changed shape - as if she had walked around a great stone to see that it had taken a different appearance from behind. She saw all her follies and triumphs laid out before her, but in seeing them arrayed so, she was freed from shame. She saw the truth in what she had been told, that she was no fulcrum of the world, and its foundations were deeper than eye could see or mind could know. Where she was foolish, she saw what drove her to foolishness. Where she was wise, she saw the path that brought her to wisdom. Along both paths, she saw that she was not severed from the world, neither exalted above it nor cast out from it - simply a thrower of stones into a river, casting ripples and eddies into a flow she could not divert.

It was in this time that she decided that she might again bear a child. For though her heart still ached for the infant lost during the passage of Endor, the shape of that grief had changed as well - sharp edges rounded off, acrid bitterness transmuted to melancholy. But she no longer kept that grief clutched to her heart, having shared it often at the women's lodge or beneath the tree, and found it easier to bear now. She set aside the herbs and arts that might turn away the union of zygotes, and soon she conceived sons by Tubalkhan, who would become the mighty brothers Emesh and Entu. We shall speak of them at another time.

(Editor's Note: there is no agreement as to who is considered the eldest child of Lu and Tubalkhan. Here it is the twins, but it is just as likely to be Nike or Tongsi in another telling. Calliope is consistently the youngest across cultures, rolling her eyes and bemoaning her state as forever the younger sister.)

So passed this brief period in the springtime of the age of man. Though she had never intended to teach, Lu had found students, arriving beneath the tree each day with tablets of clay and fresh-cut reeds. They called her Ama Adimatha - the Mother of Many - and this name she has kept through the ages.