Wednesday, August 24, 2011


"Wanderer above a Sea of Fog" is something of a mascot in my current English class. We were asked to think on it, and make some questions, and I did. Have been.

This post will As self-indulgent as a musing, at any rate. My thoughts around the painting. I will be referring to the man as Herr Wanderer, to differentiate.

The first thing that came to my mind in English class was, "That looks familiar." After thinking a moment, I remembered that I my brother had seen this when he was in this English class--in fact, he wrote a blog post on it.* I haven't reread that post, though I plan to after I post this one.

And I thought: We're plunging into the unknown.

This is the last year where teachers will say, "Oh, you're Chris's sister?" This is the last year I will see many of my acquaintances, and the last year I will ever see some of my friends. Neither of those will be intentional, but...friendship is proximity. That can manifest as proximate--or complementary--interests as easily as physical proximity, but physical proximity plays a part. Sometimes drifting apart just means moving houses.

To a greater extent, I am moving. I am taking the first steps outside my ivory tower. I am school smart; I play the harp; I have good music theory. Those are all skills that can be fun at parties--though the first is usually only fun if brought up sideways--but I have yet to test them in a practical arena. I have been called on to help--with a safety net of (an) adult(s) and my peers at my back. I have tutored--for pocket money. I have never needed something to work out for me. I'm on the ground for the moment, and I can climb back in if I need to, but if I fall, I hit the ground.

I wrote this down as one of my questions, though before thinking of the stuff in either of those latter paragraphs: "What comes next?"
Next, I wrote, "Was the clothing normal for the age it was painted?" Once I was thinking on clothing, I linked to Loki, because I saw The Ring Cycle semi-recently--within the last year--and their Loki, in addition to wearing something superficially similar, also had the same sort of air I felt from the piece. The man clearly stands apart, but looks confident in rough terrain. Once I got a close-up--in the middle of writing this paragraph--I re-thought that interpretation, because of the hair. The tilt of the head and the hair being mussed as it is makes him seem a bit less comfortable, a bit more tired/resigned, but every other angle in his body speaks of firmness to me. And, though this didn't occur to me until I looked at the close-up again, the tilt of the head could also be a reaction to some form of trick gone wrong. Once I've made the link with Loki, I almost have to bring up his house with four doors (so he can see enemies approaching from any side): the painting has the same sort of feel to it, with one man who can see all around. Yet it's worth remembering that sight didn't help Loki, he was still caught. This man's high vantage point helps him as much; for all the possible planning, he's caught in the fog. The wanderer also doesn't look like the type to have a Sigyn, but then, Loki generally doesn't either.

Once I've hit on Norse mythology and have a character called "The Wanderer", I almost must think of Odin. (One of Odin's epithets/forms is the Wanderer.) Given that I've already associated Herr Wanderer with Loki, what associating him with Odin brings to mind is the idea I've read that Odin and Loki were, originally, the same being. This idea makes some sense, given that Loki is the clever one and Odin is the ruler. The idea also occurred to me in the Ring, when Odin is stalling for time while Loki revels in keeping everyone else in the dark while flat-out telling them exactly what they need to know. It didn't work to take them as separate personalities or anything like that; it just seemed like their actions fit together--Odin's "Hold on, I'm sure Loki will come up with a grand plan in a moment," with Loki's delight in pretending to be flippantly speaking of nothing of importance, while he--still flippantly--speaks of a plan. I can just imagine Odin's lines being delivered with suppressed laughter, and Loki's are stalling in their own way, if for another purpose.
The next main question I thought up was, "Is the similarity to The Fool intentional?" There are differences from what I have usually seen--the colors are duller; we cannot see the man's face; he doesn't appear to be about to step off the cliff (unintentionally); the Herr Wanderer has no animal companion--but the basic idea is similar. A man, who appears to (have) be(en) wandering stands on a cliff edge. The painting could be The Fool with a touch of ennui, or a few more bad experiences.
The class came together to discuss at this point. Our teacher brought up how he used "question", and that contained the word, "quest", where we were going. The next few ideas that came up revolved around that basic idea, though given the painting, it's hard to do otherwise: "Why is he wandering?" "Does he have a destination?" "What is he seeking?" which naturally brought, "if anything." "Is he starting or finishing his journey?"--the teacher brought up that one hopes he's finishing, since he's on the cliff edge, to which I thought, Well then, he's probably about to finish one way or another. He could turn around; if he got up he can probably get down, but... Anyway. "What's his purpose for climbing?" "Is he running from something?" "What is he looking at?"

Now that those are out there: The first three are nearly the same, though with different opinions and degrees of certainty about whether he is traveling point A to B, or wandering. "Does he have a point in mind to reach, and if so, what marks it?" There's something about living an unexamined life in there, and also about how you don't need to know where you're going to be doing what you want to do.

Starting or finishing the journey is something of a more complex question than the teacher's words or my knee-jerk thought implied. As I already hinted at, this may be the point where the man turns around. That could signify the end, doubling back as in the classical Hero's Journey, but there are other reason to do it. I can imagine going to my bridge and watching the fog roll one last time before leaving home. I would watch, leaning on a rail, or weight on one hip, breathing and existing in that last moment of home...and then I turn and I start off. On the subject of the implied possibility of suicide, I don't think that makes sense outside a joke. He looks remarkably accepting of life as it is, if not happy about it. My teacher described the German art period this was a part of as being about the dark things, and...yes. This is a man who sees dark. He may be scared--he may not be--but he is at peace with its existence. I cannot imagine him being careless enough to step off accidentally, nor do I see him deciding to jump. Mulling it over as an option, yes, perhaps even as we look at him. But not jumping. Not at this point in the journey.

"What's his purpose for climbing?" feels like the right question to ask to me. It neatly summarizes what is there. Is he, as another suggested, running from something? Is he running to something? Is he seeking something, looking for it? Is he observing, looking at it? Was the purpose observation or discovery? Has the purpose remained static, or did it shift? That is true wandering, to me: one's purpose shifts from moment to moment. A traveler hopes the wind will be at his back and plans that it won't be; a wanderer merely turns so it is.
My teacher was on talking, and I don't know if he would even remember this, but it was a question he spoke that hit me: "How high do you want to go?"

How big a star do you want to be? How quiet a life do you want to lead? How much do you want to help? Forget what you can do for a moment; nearly everything is something you can learn or work around, if you're willing to make the right sacrifice. How high do you want to go?

And, tightly related: How badly do you want it?
I thought of a song to go with the line, as I am wont to do. There's a song in The Protomen called "The Fall". The true lyrics and a scene description are here. What I wrote in my notebook was, "Climb, climb to the top of the world, and know that when you fall, you fall from a height most men never reach." I've never seen The Protomen, and really wasn't even thinking about the scene described when I thought of the song. It was the moment, it was the fear. But even in the middle of the fear, I thought of the triumphant music to the inspiring, cynical lyrics. I will fall. I will get up every time but the last.

These are not reasons to stop climbing. These are reasons to make the fall breathtaking.

* He calls it "Wanderer before a Sea of Mists". To be fair, my teacher called it "Wanderer over a Sea of Fog" and "Wanderer in the Sea of Fog" during the course of the class period. I'm just going off what gets the most hits on Google.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


As always, make of Loki's motives what you will.

Sigyn was a project.

She knew she was a project. One would think this fact would make resisting Loki easier. Occasionally, Sigyn wondered if it did, and Loki would simply be impossible to resist if she believed, for one moment, that he actually wanted her.

Loki's hands were gentle on her skin.

The point was irrelevant. She was a project; she knew she was a project. There was no fathomable universe in which Loki showed any interest and either fact was false.

Those clever kisses were soft and warm, or at least warmed her.

Loki would toss Sigyn aside as soon as he grew bored. Any glimmer of a smile she saw in his eyes was solely amusement at the fact that she was resisting him, that she'd found his game.

He was fire; he was ice. He was Loki.

The kisses she could ignore. Teasing touches were more difficult, but possible. But the words echoed in her ears, impossible to dismiss on an emotional level even if she knew every syllable was a lie.

Loki's pull was subtle, ever-present: Thor was magnetic; Loki was gravitational.

Kisses he must have given to others; Sigyn had seen kisses traded in brief moments of pleasure, not even linked to the other person, just to a warm body. Caresses were transient things, and the part of her that insisted she wasn't a game to him could still believe they meant something just as transient.

The words followed her; words finally brought her to him.

Loki had whispered, too gently, "I love you, Sigyn." No other would lie that way. Even as Sigyn knew this was Loki Lie-Smith, even as she knew he could make even an insult drip enough honey to sound like the most splendid compliment, even as she knew that if she gave in his attention would fall away, she followed him. Just once.

"Steadfast Sigyn," he murmured, warm in her ear. He might have said, 'Mine.'

She woke before he did, in the half-light of false dawn. The same part of Sigyn that had insisted everything was a lie asked if one night had been worth it. Worth knowing she had lost their game, that she was no longer Loki's focus.

She watched him sleep, tucked a stray lock of hair behind his ear.

"Clever Loki."

She might have said, 'Love.'

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Some Fall (Prose)

Referent: Some Fall
"That's it, then?"

"That's it," the demon said with a smile. I would've expected it to be overly charismatic, or slimy, or wrong, but it was just...a smile. A friendly turn of the lips that felt honest, but not exceptionally so. Had it not been for the odd movements, I would have doubted that the being was a demon.

"I just...give my soul, and I get whatever I want in this life?"

The entity's eyes crinkled in a way that made me think of suppressed laughter. "Yes. I realize what you've been told of me, but honestly, I do keep my word."

And that...did fit the stories. Any number of tricks, any number of exact words and twisted language, but the being on the other end never lied.

"I want...I want to go back," I said softly. "To how I was before the accident. Body and...abilities." I had developed several phobias, one of enclosed spaces that I could get over fairly easily, one of restricted movement that I could avoid fairly easily, and one of cars that I couldn't do anything about. "I don't want to lose any memories, but I want to be, well." I gestured at my wheelchair. "As able-bodied as I was beforehand, and without the phobias the dang thing gave me. Free of scars." I realized I had looked away, and looked back up at those truly human eyes. "Can you do that?"

The demon nodded. "Yes. It's not the most common request, but it's certainly within my power." A piece of parchment--parchment, seriously, not paper and not human skin or anything, just parchment--appeared in a miniscule puff of not-acrid smoke.

"May I?" I asked, holding my hand out.

"Of course. Mind not to bleed on it."

I checked my hands for any wounds, then just slid a pair of thin gloves on to be safe. The demon nodded in approval. "The whole signing in blood thing is true, then?" I asked, glancing up.

"Yeah. It's the only thing the higher-ups accept." The entity shrugged. "Doesn't take much. A drop would work, and should you wish to avoid injuring yourself intentionally, I could just as easily wait for the next time you bled for another reason." And even that didn't sound threatening. when you've met someone from another culture, and the speech patterns are a bit off.

I read, occasionally looking up at the humanoid. I wanted to see hunger, some unwholesome desire for my soul. All I saw was a decent salesperson, good at the job and a reasonably good person.

"Thanks." I read over the contract carefully, twice. It said, in clear language, that I would be as physically healthy and fit as I had been before the accident--with specifics around to make clear which accident--and that any phobias or mental illnesses I'd developed as a result would also be healed. "Mental illness" was what my doctor would define as such, were she being completely honest. I would lose no memories.

A simple clause at the end stated that, in exchange for the previously mentioned help, I would lose my soul.

There was a little twist in my chest, about where my heart was. I wanted to walk again. I really did. But this was so permanent. This is so tempting; this is so permanent; which am I going to let decide me?

I slipped off the gloves, flipped out my swiss army knife, and bled on the paper.

Even then, when I still expected some final gotcha, some wicked grin or evil laugh, the demon merely smiled. The blood dried, not-quite-human hands folded the paper, and the being was gone.
Ragged breath. Mine. It had been so easy, far to easy, to completely miss every sign.

The demon had looked human. So unbelievably human, and I'd assumed glamour; I'd assumed practice; I'd heard every hoofbeat and assumed I was listening to a zebra. I'd never quite thought that maybe, as I stared at the being that was so human and just slightly off, I was simply looking at a human without a soul.

I had found the being, and noticed for the first time that I had not idea whether the entity was male, female, somewhere between or somewhere outside. It seemed an odd thing to miss.

"Can I undo it?"

"I don't see why not."


The demon shrugged. "How should I know?"

"What? But--"

Index finger held up. "We made our deal. If you want your soul back, then it's your right to try and find it." The same finger, tapping the folded contract. "You've given. I never said I'd taken away."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Priorities and Sanity

Emilia steps into the old office. Everything is immaculate from perfectly lined books to the man's own perfectly fitted suit, and it all feels so...still. There's a window that lets the sun shine in, since it's as clean as the rest of the office, but it might as well be nailed shut as far as the stale air was concerned.

She planned this for so long that Emilia jolts when she realizes she has nothing to say. Blunt, then?

The words tumble out. "Can you teach me any magic?"

She kicks herself, immediately. Sloppy, clearly sloppy, hardly fit for anyone who cares to ever become a mage, much less one studying under Dr. Johnson. He would just say she was there because her mother had taught him, and he'd be wrong, but how could she say that to him--

He turns. "I was wondering when you'd ask."

Emilia, for all that she had not planned what to say, had an outline in her head. And then he had to go and say that.

"Um," she says, eloquently.

"Though I do admit, when I was your age I was still attempting to plan my speech to convince the mage I wanted to study under," he says. Dr. Johnson isn't quite smiling, but his face is softer than Emilia had ever seen it.

"I rather skipped that part."

The mage shrugs. His suit wrinkles very slightly, and he does not fix it. "I forgot the whole thing anyway. More work than one would think, memorizing a speech."

"...Does this mean you'll teach me?"

"Depends." The man holds up his index finger to tell the fifteen-year-old to wait. "And I will know if you simply say something you think I want to hear."

Emilia nods and straightens, ready for any difficult question he might pose.

"Why do you want to be a mage?"

"I want to help people," she says immediately. "I want to heal people, and I want to be able to make shields so people don't need healing."

"That's not an easy path."

The healer's daughter nods. "But it's easier than watching. For me."

"Second question." Emilia swallows. "Why do you want me for a teacher?"

"Because you're the best at teaching the fields I want to learn."

"What would you do if you can't learn healing?"

"I'd learn other spells and adapt them to healing, and I'd learn more mundane methods of healing."

Still not a smile on the doctor's face, but a hint of approval. "And if you could not learn any magic?"

Emilia blinks. It sounds an innocuous enough question, she supposes, especially in light of her previous response. She's already declared herself willing to take other paths to her destination, and there are non-magical routes.

But that's not it, really. Learning difficult spells like this...some people can only ever make sparks, not fires. Trying can burn them out. It was rare, spectacularly rare with a good teacher--which was part of why she had chosen him, she supposes, but that wasn't really the point. Emilia found the person who could teach her the most.

"I'd retreat into my room for...a little while, I think," she says. "Then I'd look for more mundane methods of healing. Probably Watch." There's a feeling, to someone pushing the magic too far. Some excellent teachers could sense it, but everyone who had gone through the loss knew it, instinctively, immediately. Knew when to stop someone else. Watchers are rare; they rarely want anything to do with magic. But they are useful.

"You are sure you could be around magic, even after losing yours?" The teacher's voice is low now, soft and deep. Gentle, Emilia supposes.

The mage-in-training realizes her posture had slumped and stands back up, squaring her shoulders. "Yes. It might take me a little while, but I'd do it."

He nods, then drops a book she realized he must have grabbed as she walked through the door. "Good. Have that read by Monday, and take good notes. Your training starts in earnest then."

Emilia nods, takes the book gently, and walks to the library.

After the door clicks behind her, the man allows himself a smile.
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