The Father, The Son, The Broken Chair

The Father, The Son, The Broken Chair

So listen, dad, to what I say
Allow me to be perfectly clear
Lean in close and kiss my lips
And I will whisper in your ear
Can you hear the pain behind my teeth
Can you feel the heat between my legs
Can you touch the place you bruised and beat
Can you kiss the spot you never left
Can you heal the bruise you left inside
On a bed with the curtains closed real tight
In a room entirely made of white
In a memory that still beats in this light

Where are your convenient excuses
Where are your threats when you need them
Let me rape you the way you raped me
Ask me later if you’re forgiven
Kill this monster you left inside me
Growing from your seed within
The man who made me found a haven
But I’ve been in the wild since then
It’s time, at last, to get revenge
It’s time we made this even
Do you hear the church bells chiming, dad?
I’m outside and I’m listening
He comes into your room at night
He stays and never goes away
And still he lies inside your mind
If you listen you can hear him say

Alone, alone, abandoned boys
Embrace the man you made me
And listen for my little voice
“It tastes like raisins, daddy.”
So come, come in, let’s talk it through
The chair you left is waiting
Let’s walk back to that living room
Let’s try again and maybe
The lights will break, the boy you made
Has come now to collect you
Let’s finish this where it began
There’s no one to protect you

I’m stronger now, and you’ve gone old
But I have lived and you have not
And you’ve been sitting in that chair
And I have loved and you’ve been lost
And I will light a candle here
And set this chair on fire
And I will breathe you in the air
And let you float on higher
I’ll walk down to the river side
I’ll skip the glass along the way
I’ll sit there in the water, dad
And live to love another day
And as your ashes float above me
I will cry my tears for you
I cannot be the man you made me
I have better things to do

It hurts too much to keep on hating
It’s only killing me too soon
I’d rather be the son you lost
Than the nightmare you left in that room
And I don’t need your reasons, dad
I don’t care if you have found them
I have to live despite your efforts
I have to find a way around them

The father, the son, the broken chair
The night the devil found me
It’s more than I can ever bare
But still I cross the boundary
You watched a baby sound asleep
And said you wanted to hurt him
The way your father held your feet
The way your father burned them

It’s not my job to heal the burns
It’s not my place to touch your bruises
A son is not a bandage
And a father should not make excuses
I don’t want a kiss goodbye
I don’t want to kiss your bruises
The son you murdered did not die
And he can love the way he chooses

 

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Hot and Cold: A Guide to Sazh and Snow

Sometime earlier this year, during playthrough one billion and one of Final Fantasy XIII, I realized that I really ought to consider writing a walkthrough of the game, since, having played through the game an almost indecent amount of times, I could give a lot of good guidance that would help new players. Then I realized that sounded like a lot of work, and really I would rather just do a character guide, explaining which characters work well together and which weapons to use, etc.

Final Fantasy XIII is all about synergy. Instead of focusing on which individual moves you’re going to use to win a battle, the trick to fighting in FFXIII is to have a party whose paradigm roles, weapons, accessories and abilities are going to compliment one another in order for them to win. In Final Fantasy XIII you don’t so much take on the role of the individual fighters as much as that of a strategist who delivers orders about HOW your characters should fight, rather than explicitly WHAT they should do. This is probably the central thing that throws off new players, and results in a lot of hatred for the game, along with the most cited grievance, the game’s incredible linearity.

Final Fantasy XIII is not quite as linear as it’s critics would have you believe, because they aren’t really looking at the game in context. I am something of a Final Fantasy XIII apologist because I think that if only a few important tweaks had been made to the game, it would have come out much better. People complain about meandering down endless corridors, but they aren’t realizing that exploring wide open areas isn’t really the POINT in Final Fantasy XIII. The point of the game is to experience the story, and the areas you move through are a vehicle for the story. Even the battles themselves are incredibly cinematic, the characters seem to be doing a lot of the battling on their own while the camera sweeps around them, and you as the player can’t spend that much time worrying about which actions your party leader is taking because you need to make sure you have a Medic to take care of any low-HP wimps on your team (if I’m just pulling a name out of thin air, let’s say, oh I dunno, Hope), or keeping an eye on your enemies chain gauge and making sure that you have a Commando or Saboteur to stabilize it so you don’t lose all your hard work in chaining.

At any rate, each character has versatility, and each character can be put to more than one use. Some characters, like Lightning, are so versatile that they end up in a sort of jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none category (although luckily this can be corrected with stat boosting items; I usually have my Lightning set up to be just as strong or stronger than heavy hitters like Fang), while others ought to be used for their intended purpose, like Fang, who is so built for physical attacks that the only reason she’s any good as a Ravager is that the majority of her attacks will be elemental strikes instead of spells. Hope can be a decent saboteur but he’ll never work as a Commando (and yes, I’ve tried. Long story short, you can give him all the attack power in the world but that won’t make his slow boomerang strikes and inability to Launch any less of a hindrance).

Basically my point is that there’s always a way to make every party work, somehow. What I originally intended to was to write up a full “character guide,” identifying each character’s strengths and weaknesses, and my recommendations for how to use them. I got as far as Sazh and Snow, but never really finished, and right now I’m in a tactical RPG phase so FFXIII has had some time to recuperate from my relentless playthroughs. So, it is with this in mind that I present to you my character guides for my favorite and least favorite Final Fantasy XIII party members, Sazh and Snow.

Okay, so Lightning is really my favorite, but Sazh is a pretty close second. As for Snow, I still find him incredibly annoying, and it baffles me that a lot of players complained about finding Vanille and Hope annoying, when Snow is so incredibly obnoxious. At any rate, I have warmed up to him a LITTLE after finally trying to use him in my party a few times, and seeing how his obnoxious hero thing softened up throughout the series.

 

Sazh Katzroy

Party Role: All-Rounder
Stats: High HP, average STR and MAG
Paradigm Roles: Commando, Ravager, Synergist (offensive)
Special Ability: Cold Blooded (Chain Booster)

Sazh is the oddball character in the party. Vanille and Hope are mages, Fang and Snow are physical attackers, and Lightning and Sazh serve as all-rounders, but he doesn’t pack the same firepower as Lightning. Like Lightning, his stats are evenly dispersed between attack and magic, and he has access to both the Ravager and Commando roles pretty early on. Unlike Lightning though, he is one of the slowest attackers in the game. His attack animations for magic and physical attacks are both fairly slow, and his attacks are unlike anyone else’s because he attacks with a rain of bullets, each one doing smaller amounts of damage.  You’ll notice early on that Sazh’s weapons have about half the potential attack or magic power as other characters, and even though the explanation might seem obvious, it actually took me a while to notice why: it’s because Sazh has two guns. So, his weapon might only increase a particular stat by 100 points, but in battle it’s really increased by 200 points, because he attacks with both guns.

Even though he has a few drawbacks, Sazh should not be underestimated. Because of his unusual attack setup, Sazh is sometimes able to deal more damage cumulatively during an rain of bullets than a character like Lightning would with a single slash. He also has an incredibly useful Blitz ability that unleashes a hail of bullets across a wide range of targets. His starting element is fire, but like all the other characters he quickly learns other elemental abilities like water and lightning. His unique full ATB ability is called Cold Blooded, and it’s something of a cross between Lightning’s Army of One and Hope’s Last Resort. Sazh unleashes a flurry of magical explosions and gunshots, which are not really all that strong on their own, however, they’re not meant to be. The purpose of Cold Blooded, like Army of One, is to boost the chain gauge of an already staggered enemy. And not only does it do this well, it does this OUTSTANDINGLY well. Sazh has the highest chain boost potential of any character in the game. This effect is really brought to a head if you combine Cold Blooded with his weapon Antares Deluxes that increase Chain Bonus Boost, and upon upgrade grant Chain Bonus Boost II. Together, a single use of Cold Blooded can bring certain enemies’ chain gauge almost all the way up to 999% once they’re staggered.

For some reason, Sazh has the most HP in the entire game, even more than Snow, whose role in both battle and the story is to literally be a giant damage shield. You won’t notice Sazh’s high HP early on, but later in the game he outclasses everyone in HP. Interestingly, he’ll also be one of the first characters to completely finish the Crystarium. One of his weapons attempts to take advantage of his high HP by trading off great stats for the “paper tiger” and “silk tiger” abilities, but honestly even with his incredibly high HP, that paper tiger ability is so debilitating that you need to equip Sazh with HP accessories to offset it, and when choosing a weapon it’s important to consider whether or not you’ll have to waste any open accessory slots offsetting a weapon’s downsides. In my experience it’s usually better to settle for a weapon with average stats and a good effect, or good stats but no special effect, than to choose a weapon with great stats but a debilitating effect like Silk Tiger, Stifled Magic or Stagger Lock.

Final Fantasy XIII Drinking Game: Take a drink every time Sazh shouts “Vaniiiiiiille!”

Sazh can hold own as a Commando, particularly when he’s the party leader and you have the freedom to employ his Blitz ability at will for maximum enemy coverage and several extra hits. Sazh is also capable as a Ravager, but as an all-rounder he isn’t actually designed to excel in either role, but to boost an enemy’s chain gauge into oblivion so that a heavy hitter like Fang or Snow can deal the most damage. As with any character though, you can turn him into a heavy physical or magical hitter with a combination of weapon choice and accessories.

Sazh’s third role is Synergist, and he’s far and away the most useful Synergist for most of the game. Hope’s Synergist abilities focus on casting protective buffs and guarding against elements, whereas Sazh gains access to offensive buffs like Bravery, Faith and Vigilance almost immediately, and in my experience these buffs are just more useful than defensive buffs most of the time. Be advised that his AI and auto-battle script prioritizes using Vigilance before buffs like Bravery of Faith, so if you need one of those quickly you’ll have to do it manually. Hope’s significance as a Synergist shouldn’t be downplayed, but defensive buffs are most useful during boss fights, and offensive buffs tend to be better suited to random enemy encounters, which obviously you’re going to have way more of.

As a Sentinel, Sazh is one of the three characters who use the “guard” abilities rather than “evade” abilities. I see why they did this for symmetry amongst the characters (three using guards and three using evades), but it seems to me that it would have made more sense. I can’t say too much about it because I rarely use Sentinels at all and even more rarely have ever used Sazh in the role. As a Saboteur, he learns mostly the same abilities as Vanille in mostly the same order, focusing more on the standard abilities like Deprotect and Impreil than area-of-affect abilities like Deprotectga and Imperilga. As a Medic, he is capable of learning Curasa, which not all characters can do, and can heal well enough, but not until you’ve traveled a very long way through his Crystarium path. For the most part, if you’re playing through the game for the first time and unlock his Medic role shortly after arriving on Gran Pulse, he’ll only have access to the cure spell.

Most of the party’s eidolons function the same. Brynhildr will heal you if you’re damaged, stabilize the enemy’s chain gauge with physical attacks and boost it with magic (mainly fire elemental). In Gestalt Mode Brynhildr turns into a car, which has some pretty good spinning area-of-effect attacks, plus one really cool ability that grinds sparks into an enemy’s face and can be used repeatedly back-to-back for excellent chain gauge boosting. And in case your wondering, it’s pronounced “Broon-heel-door.” And also in case you were wondering, she’s female. The more modern version of the name is Brunhilda.

Like Lightning, Sazh has the potential to be a strong physical or magical fighter, or to excel at neither but provide support in both. Unlike Lightning, he doesn’t have access to the Medic role, so his usefulness in a party is somewhat diminished. If you’re planning on using Lightning in your central party, be careful if you choose to include Sazh. You absolutely cannot function without having at least one of the two, Hope or Vanille, in a party. This means that if you choose to use Lightning, a mage, and Sazh, you’re down one powerhouse Commando, so you’ll need to either turn Lightning into one (which is pretty easy to do with a weapon like Gladius and a few Power Wristbands), or try and turn Sazh into one. Unfortunately, Sazh is just really difficult to include in your party right when you gain the ability to switch members because of how balanced he is. Even if you don’t like Lightning (in which case the door is that way) and don’t want to use her, you can’t really replace her with Sazh because doesn’t have the Medic role, and relying purely on Hope or Vanille to heal your party can prove to be very dangerous.

Really, Sazh is best suited to advanced players who have their final party destinations set in their mind and know how to offset his flaws. If you’re a beginner, it’s better to stick to Lightning as your all-rounder. Whether you choose to play offensive or defensive if a consideration too: if you prefer to be defensive, you’ll want to use Hope for protective buffs and healing, if you prefer to go on the offensive, spending the time in battle to buff your party with Sazh can provide an advantage.

Personally, I love the Sazh-man. He’s the game’s most well-constructed character with the most emotionally compelling storyline, his voice actor did something few are able to do, which is to channel Eddie Murphy without being an embarassing ham, and he has that adorable chocobo hanging around him (choco-boco-LEE-NAAA!). He is very tricky to include on a party, but if you’re willing to put in the effort, he pays off as a great all-rounder with access to the best chain gauge boosting potential in the game. Just don’t make the mistake I made and think you can just throw together a party of Lightning, Sazh and Fang because they’re your favorite characters right after you get to Gran Pulse. You NEED a capable Medic. Never forget this.

Snow Villiers
Party Role: Physical Attacker
Stats: High HP, high STR, average MAG
Paradigm Roles: Commando, Ravager, Sentinel
Special Ability: Sovereign Fist (Massive Damage)

Oh, Snow. The big lug. I hate this character so much, on so many levels, and for such a wide variety of reasons. For one thing, he’s a thoughtless, arrogant, chummy douchebag whose unnering optimism and positivity is both inappropriate and uncomfortable, and for another it’s difficult to make sense of just what the hell to do with him in battle. He’s the only character apart from Lightning to start out his career as a l’Cie with both Commando and Ravager unlocked, but he isn’t an all-rounder, and mostly should only be used as a supporting Ravager, never as your main magical damage-dealer or chain booster.

Snow’s role in both the story and battle is to stand there and take damage. He’s a walking and talking Sentinel if there ever was one. FF13 Drinking Game: take a drink every time Snow falls from an incredible height and doesn’t die. Warning: you will be drunk quickly. He takes so many hits and so many falls that it’s a wonder he doesn’t die of internal bleeding halfway through the game. He wears that ugly tan trenchcoat and covers his hair with that ridiculous bandana, and his punching attacks just don’t FEEL as nice as anyone else’s. With Lightning you get that satisgying slash, with Fang you get the pummeling noise, but Snow just punches people, and for some reason it feels out of place to me. Luckily, Lightning hates Snow as much as I do for most of the game, so she punches him in the face several times, and every time she does, an angel gets it’s wings.

FF13 Drinking Game: Take a drink every time Snow shouts out “Serah!” or says “We can SAVE Coccoon!” Again, you’ll be drunk well before chapter 3.

But now that I’ve diatribed enough about how much I dislike Snow, let’s get into his actual usefulness as a character.

Snow’s individual storyline is actually really weird, and he spends most of the game away from the rest of the party. Even when he rejoins the main team, he stays behind as an extra character that the game  doesn’t allow you to swap into your party until you gain that ability on the Palamecia. He’s on his own for a chapter of the game, and is the first character to unlock an Eidolon, though not the first Eidolon you’re allowed to use. When he does resurface his only ally is Hope, and the two of them make an incredibly awkward team with only average damage-dealing or chain-boosting ability.

Mostly, he falls short in the roles he’s expected to play: as a Commando, he has great damage dealing potential but is severely outclassed by Fang, whose slightest touch can obliterate small planetoids. As a Ravager, he can work well if you give him a weapon with high magic but then you’re missing out on his much better Commando abilities, including his ultimate ability Sovereign Fist, which we’ll get to in a moment. As a Sentinel he does very well, having the highest HP for most of the game before Sazh unexpectedly beats him at the Crystarium finish line.

In his secondary roles, he mostly learns big area-of-effect abilities. His Synergist path is complete with abilities like Bravera and Faithra, and his Saboteur path has Deprotectga and Deshellga. As with most other characters he’s a competent Medic later on, but shouldn’t be relied on as one.

Soverign Fist works exactly the same as Fang’s Highwind ability, excepting that Fang is far superior in every way. Basically you wait until the enemy’s chain gauge is really high, or they’re about to lose their Stagger entirely, and then use Sovereign Fist for one big powerful wallop. Use it carefully though, because it resets the enemy’s chain gauge. This means you’ll miss out on any character using Scourge or Smite, but Sovereign Fist will most likely be stronger anyway.

I have played Final Fantasy XIII more times than I can actually count, and have almost never included Snow in my party, even in passing. I tried it once, but not for very long. I know I’m hard on him, but he really isn’t that bad. If you put in the effort he can be an incredibly capable physical attacker, I just really don’t like this guy. Every time he says something corny and cracks a smile I just keep hoping Lightning will deck him for me one more time. Let it be known that even though the sound of his voice makes me roll my eyes, I actually like his voice actor. It isn’t the actor’s fault, he portrayed Snow the way he is: a cringey parody of the hero archetype. He thinks he’s a hero, but he consistently fails at everything heroic he tries to do, and is so fond of throwing himself in harms way or offering to take someone else’s punishment that you start getting the feeling that being a Sentinel really turns him on. He also has a habit of saying EXACTLY the wrong thing at the wrong time. Like bragging to Hope, whose mother died saving Snow, about how he’s going to have a big happy family one day, about how he’s going to save everyone, and accidentally using her name in a sentence. I get it Hope, I hate him too.

And if his abduction by the cavalry is any indication, the army really is more than a match for NORA.

Side note: am I the only one who thinks that his character design is a weird amalgam of Seifer’s two designs from Final Fantasy VIII and Kingdom Hearts? Just take Seifer’s central outfit from Final Fantasy VIII and add his bandana from Kingdom Hearts and bam, you’ve got snow. Except Seifer knew when to quit.

He’s, uh… he’s a terrible… uh, character… I uh, I hate him… I’m not… I’m, uh, not attracted to him… Nope… Definitely not. What?

Oliver and the Wand

Ordinarily what I do when I feel inspired to write is that I imagine a scene starring the characters and situations of my novel, play it out in my head and speak the dialogue aloud, and then never write anything down, because it wouldn’t be as simple as writing down a scene, it would be writing a scene for MY NOVEL, which is a tremendous task, and would mean that I was beginning work on my novel again, and that I had now accepted all the responsibilities involved.

What I’ve been doing for the last couple of days, it seems, is writing whatever I want whenever I get the urge. This is an idea for a story that I just came up with today, and as is often the case when I write in scenes, I started right in the middle. I am writing because I want to write, with no ulterior motive. I really like the way that feels.


It wasn’t until my fingers wrapped around the handle of my wand, tucked into my inner jacket pocket, that I remembered it was there at all. I experienced a jolt of shock at discovering it was there, but also shock that my body remembered before my mind did. Sometimes things don’t happen in the right order, like your body grabbing your wand before your mind remembers it’s there.

I whipped the wand out from beneath my jacket and held it in my clenched fist, and instantly the smiles vanished from the faces of the three boys who until this moment had been advancing on us. Shaun’s two cronies both expressed the shock on their faces and open mouths, but Shaun recovered before they did and his triumphant smile had changed to a shocked expression and then to a challenging grin with narrowed eyes all in a moment, as he pulled from his back pocket a crooked hook, exactly the kind you would find on the tip of a staff, except with a small handle attached to the hook so it could be used on its own as a weapon.

It was not until this moment that I actually panicked. When I pulled out my wand and registered the shock on the faces of the three boys, I had assumed I had won by default; pulling out a weapon has a way of swinging tense situations in your favor. A wand was not exactly a gun but it was also not exactly NOT a gun, and I assumed that pulling the equivalent of a gun would be enough to scare them off and leave us here safely. What I had no expected was that Shaun would pull a hook from somewhere in his back pocket, and now there was the possibility of an actual duel.

For one thing, I’d never been in a fight before, much less one involving magic. For another, it was not only against school rules to use offensive spells outside of classes, it was also ILLEGAL to do so, and illegal to be carrying a wand in your jacket outside of school hours, even if it was only there because you had completely forgotten about slipping it into your jacket pocket. Sure, it was illegal for Shaun to be carrying a weapon too, but beyond the possibility of either of us getting in trouble with the cops was the reality that I was now going to have to duel Shaun, who was two years older than me and therefore more experienced, and I was suddenly realizing that I had very little idea of how to actually go about a duel.

I was a sophomore, and Shaun was a senior, and Sophomore’s didn’t do any actual combat magic. That was reserved for military classes for underclassmen and electives for senior’s only. So anything I’d learned about dueling came from television and movies, and we all knew that real life duels were very different from the kind in movies.

All this flashed through my mind in the few seconds it took for Wolf to stand up behind me and pull me up from behind. I did not actually realize he was doing this until I was standing up, and now I saw that Shaun was advancing toward me.

I glanced behind me at Wolf, to see an expression of terror on his face. We had just gone from being two kids being bullied at an empty shopping mall to a group of teenagers engaging in unlicensed dueling, and more than likely the team on my side of the red line was going to walk away seriously injured, or worse.

When I returned my attention to Shaun it was already too late, because he had swung his hook forward and in a flash, wisps of fire had materialized around it’s crooked end and shot toward me.

I responded without thinking, because there was no time to think, and the thing that makes dueling a skill is being able to think on your feet. I whipped my wand forward in a diagonal line from lower left to upper right, and in a streaming arc there appeared a white-blue wave of cold water that I had used thirty minutes ago to fill up Wolf’s canteen before urging him not to drink magically-generated food or drink. And the water caught the fireball that was racing toward me and it fizzled out instantly, before I realized that I had not just conjured a single arc of water but a wave that had grown bigger when it absorbed the fire, and now the wave blasted across the sidewalk toward Shaun, whose expression of shock registered just before he was slapped with the weight of it, and the wave pounded down on all three boys who were thrown backward by a foot and landed on their asses.

I didn’t move, just stood there with my wand still in my hand, my hand still hanging in the air, and as Shaun pulled himself up onto his elbows I saw a bright red slash across his face like a handprint where he’d been slapped, because that was exactly what happened, and saw that he had genuine fear on his face.

The hook he had held stood exactly equidistant between us.

This time I did think before using a spell, and pointed my wand at the hook, instantly calling the thing toward me, and it soared right up from the ground through the air and I caught it in front of me, but just barely, right before it hit me in the face.

“H-hey,” Shaun began, his voice shaking.

I pointed my wand at him and saw him wince. I suddenly realized I was furious. When I spoke I found that my words came through gritted teeth, “Get out of here.”

Shaun was getting to his knees and then standing with his hands outstretched before him in a show of surrender. “Look man, let’s calm down, okay?” he said, “Just give me my wand, man, and I’ll go.”

I gripped my left hand tightly around the handle of Shaun’s hook. It felt indecent to hold another man’s weapon, especially one I’d just won from him in a fight. If this were ancient Ireland I’d have bested him in combat and been entitled to whatever I wanted. But this wasn’t ancient Ireland, this was Maryland in the year 1997, and I had suddenly just found myself engaged in my first fight, my first duel, and my first time standing up to a bully, and had inexplicably won all three.

What I felt coursing through me, as my teeth gritted and my eyes narrowed, was power. Power because I had won, power because I had the upper hand, power because the boy who had been tormenting my friend a few moments before was now cowering in front of me, and power because holding his hook in my left hand, something so personal that even a teacher didn’t touch it when confiscating it, was like holding his penis, it was obscene and rude and disgusting, and I felt ownership over him.

I had not yet realized that what I was feeling was bloodlust. That my mind, which had been empty of any idea of how I might fight someone with magic only a few moments before, was now racing with all the spells I’d seen on television, not the fake ones they used in kid’s shows, but the real ones you saw in R-rated films, the ones that could actually damage people, the one’s where actors had to use fake prop wands made from magic-cancelling metal to prevent from casting spells that could kill a co-star. I realized with triumph that I did, in fact, know spells that could hurt someone else, that I could do a hundred things to Shaun, right now, and that he was powerless to stop me, and more, that I could use his own weapon to do it.

All of this happened so fast. The thoughts and the actions all tumbled over one another, and I had very little consciousness of any of it happening until it had happened.

I realized this at the same moment that the thought occurred to me that if I were to kill Shaun right now, I wouldn’t realize what I’d done until after it happened, and actually, I didn’t care.

Wolf’s hand touched mine.

The trance was broken.

I gasped a little, and my eye’s widened. Shaun was standing, slightly bent, with his hands in front of him, worry on his face. His two friends had just stood, and they turned and ran at the same time. Shaun didn’t pay them any attention, just began to back away slowly.

“Okay,” he said, “Okay, you can have my wand, okay? Just… just don’t hurt me, man. I’m sorry, okay?”

Wolf’s hand gently but firmly closed around my wrist and lowered my wand. I submitted and found that the back of my neck felt cold, my hair was standing on end, and my heart was thumping. Shaun reached over to my left hand and without any resistance from me, pulled Shaun’s hook from my hand, and then he walked over to Shaun, standing more than an arm’s length away, and held it out between the two of them. It was a peace offering.

Shaun took the hook, and for a moment I wondered if he was going to attack again. I knew that if he did attack, I was out of adrenaline, my trance was broken, and I wouldn’t be able to fight back this time. But Shaun kept his eyes locked on mine, and his expression was something broken, the face of a senior boy whose pride has just been deeply bruised, and he tucked the hook into his back pocket, then turned and walked at a fast pace, rounded the corner and was gone.

I didn’t say anything as Wolf took my wand out of my hand. He had never touched my wand before, and in any other moment I would have blushed with embarrassment at the awkwardness of the moment, but he just tucked it into his jacket pocket, and then he gently put a hand around my forearm and led me away. He didn’t let go as he led me through the empty mall, into the parking lot, where dusk was now falling, opened the passenger side door of his car, and gave me a gentle nudge to get in.

He sat down in the driver’s seat, pulled his keys from his jeans, and put them in the ignition. He reached past my lap to open his glove box, and pulled out a thin rectangle of tissues, pulled one out and wiped at the now dried blood under his nose. Then he closed the glove box, turned on the radio, and as Jewel’s twangy guitar started to come from the speakers on the dashboard, he drove.

The Crone

I wrote this on the spur of the moment with absolutely no idea what it would be or what would happen. I had the first couple of paragraphs in my head and the rest of it happened on it’s own. It was written just for fun and isn’t intended to be the beginning of a story or anything, it’s just a scene that happened organically. I hope you like it.


Every old crone was once beautiful. Her face, though crumpled now like rolled up paper pulled from a wastebasket and unfurled, was once taut and shining, with the bloom and promise of youth and hope. Not all crones have lost hope, and not all crones have lost youth, either.

The symmetry of the woman’s face, the plump lips, the wide nose, the almond shape of the eyes, with creamy brown and gold irises just a shade lighter than the woman’s hair, which make them seem even brighter by contrast. These features grow and gain experience, and though they are covered by wrinkles and lines and warts, these too are additions to the woman’s features, not detractions.

From the point of a view of an infant, an adult face is a hideous thing, with its oily texture and its small dark hairs sprouting from every surface, and the irritated bumps and sores that sometimes appear on it. From the point of view of an infant, an adult face is not an improvement whatsoever. But that point of view is incorrect. Age only adds, it does not subtract. From the point of view of the adult, the face an aged crone is disgusting, but this point of view too is wrong. And from the point of view of the crone, the face of a corpse is repellant, and fearful.

And from the point of view of the corpse, well, corpses keep their silence so well that it would be hard to know.

It was on these thoughts that the mind of the witch Samantha ruminated, as she sat atop her nightly gazing spot, high on the hill that overlooked the plains. She knew without checking the time that it was nearly midnight, because the moon was shining full, and silver blue light splashed across the deep green grasses, and the grasses did that curious thing that the grasses of the plains do, they began to light up at the touch of moonlight, bioluminescent stalks of green that shone with a white glow. There were flowers out there, among the grasses of the fields, and they too began to glow, the blue and red and purple petals glowing against the moon. It was not a trick of the moonlight, it was the strange habit of the flora of these plains, and it was why Samantha still believed she chose the perfect spot to retire.

It wasn’t so much a retirement, at least not at first. It was concealment. Samantha had fled the purges of her sisters, though she helped as many as she could get to safety, but there came a time when she could do no more to help the others, and she accepted that it was time to go into hiding. That was forty years ago. She was thirty-seven years old then, still in the bloom of her youth, and only just beginning to get lines in her face.

She sighed quietly. She had been so beautiful then. She tried to remind herself that beauty is an illusion, but it didn’t help much. She could feel the wart on the side of her nose itching, but didn’t bother with scratching it. She didn’t want to pull her finger away and see the puss. She had become such a tired cliché of a witch: an old crone in a black cloak, the hood pulled around her face, the gray hair that fell out of the hood flapping in an ungainly way in the night breeze as it caught it in a draft, and she was bent, holding to an old wooden cane, and it was the wart on her nose that completed the storybook caricature of the old witch.

It was a kind of irony, really. In her youth Samantha’s beauty had been the thing that helped the most in convincing others that her people were not monsters to be feared. An old and ugly crone is easy enough to hate, but a beautiful woman, who isn’t going to transform into the crone after a night of passion, and who doesn’t steal the youth of young girls boiled in her cauldron to remain young? Much more difficult to pass judgement on her, especially from men.

It’s very easy to destroy prejudice. Simply provide someone beautiful who fits the prejudiced criteria. As soon as the admirer finds themselves ensnared by desire, their prejudice is broken. It’s a bit like breaking a spell. Except spells don’t work like that in real life, that’s yet another storybook idea.

And yet, here she was. In hiding and alone, the bent crone with her cane, watching the moonlight at the witching hour. Well, some things from the storybooks were true, at least. The witching hour was certainly real, and the moon was a great aid in casting magic.

And that is why Samantha had come. Sitting at her feet was an immense book with a deep green binding that might have been leather, but Samantha couldn’t really be sure. The book had been made by fairies after all, and it had been crafted and bound in another realm, so whatever substitute for leather a fairy might provide could have vastly different qualities. At any rate, Samantha knew from experience that getting the book wet did not smudge its pages, although it did wear a bit on the binding.

The buckled clasp that held the green book together had been undone, and presently a strong gust of wind blew in just the right direction to flip the front cover of the book open halfway, and Samantha gave it a gentle nudge with her shoe. The book opened to the center, at a page where it often liked to open itself, when unguided by Samantha’s hand.

It was a page with a picture of a creature that Samantha had never quite been able to make out. It was a chaotic assemblage of limbs, eyes, mouths, and wings, in such an order that it was difficult to tell how many heads or limbs or wings the thing might have had. She wasn’t even entirely sure it was a creature, but she just had a feeling. There was writing all over the rest of the page, in a beautiful script that glittered in the light. Samantha had not the faintest idea what the words said, because they were written in the language of the fairies, which cannot be read by anyone who attempts to understand it.

Fairy writing, like fairies themselves, is a creature of chaos. It does not have reason and it does not make sense. Trying to make sense of it only makes it more indecipherable. The letters were also not bound to a single shape, they would rearrange themselves on the page when the book was closed or when Samantha looked away, and sometimes there would be fewer words on the page than before. In all her years with the book, Samantha had been able to understand only small slivers of information, and this page in particular always told her different things when she felt she was able to decipher it. But fairies are indecipherable, and so is their writing, and so, incidentally, is their magic.

Samantha shook her head softly. So much time to think about all this, so much time to weigh what to do and not to do, and here she was, at an impasse, unsure of how to proceed.

“Well,” came her voice, a raspy croak, “I suppose we’ll let the fairies sort it out themselves, eh?” She asked the question of the book, and it did not respond, nor did its letters speak to her. “Bah,” she grumbled, and gave the book a little kick.

Then it began, as Samantha knew it would. She had awakened this morning knowing this would happen, and she was sure it was the book telling her somehow, although on this day of all days, she couldn’t read the damn thing. But still, she knew it was time. Time for whatever happened next.

The book began to glow, it’s pages and its letters and even the weird creature with its various appendages, glowing just like the grasses and the flowers of the fields below, and the full light of the moon caught the book in its grasp, and the thing began to gently lift from its position on the ground to hover in the air. Samantha cocked an eyebrow. Her heart began to beat quickly. This was the exciting part. She had no idea how it was going to happen, but she knew it was going to happen.

This was the night that Samantha would die.

She had no idea if it would be painful, or joyous, or rapturous, or completely dull. She hoped there might be a bit of everything. She hoped that after these years of silence, living alone, she would finally have earned some kind of reward. Like the nuns in the old days who draped themselves in black robes and took vows of silence, so to better open their ears and their awareness to understanding their creators words, spoken through nature, here she was, hoping in some way that the same rules might apply to a witch, who did not believe in any particular creator, and did not believe that there was necessarily an afterlife, but who stood here on this cliff in the middle of the night with her heart beating fast in her chest and her face flush with life and excitement, and she hoped against hope that maybe there was something more.

She hoped that maybe the old witches had been right about being reborn when one dies, even though most witches long ago dropped that idea. She hoped that there might be some promise of reunion. That she would see her daughter again. Her daughter, whose memory was still as sharp as a poisonous sting that left fresh wounds every time she turned over the stone in her mind under which the memory was kept.

The books glow became a shining light, so bright that it hurt Samantha’s eyes, but she didn’t look away. You don’t have to worry about staring into the sun and going blind if you’re going to be dead in a moment anyway. She didn’t know what would happen next, and for some reason, that gave her peace.

Because it was over. No more wondering, no more considering, no more thought for what would happen next. It was in the book’s hands now, or in the hands of the fairies, or the old goddesses, or the moon itself, or whatever was making the decisions now. She had worried for so long that the end would bring with it the total annihilation of everything, that she would die fearful and alone, but suddenly she felt that she might come to know the most deep and satisfying peace. It had no occurred to her until this moment that death might actually be a relief, not in a morbid and lugubrious way, but in a genuine and sincere way, that death would be safe, and comfortable, and perfectly peaceful.

She thought that maybe she could finally set down all these burdens that had hunched her back and lined her face and grayed her hair and dried her skin.

She hoped, even now, that she might see her daughter again, even if for an instant. If there were any gods in existence, let them give her that. Just a moment, and then she’d ask for nothing more, she’d be content. Just a moment to see her daughter, to see her daughter as she might have looked when she’d grown past the age of eleven in which she died, to see a young woman with deep caramel eyes and brown hair, and a wide nose and full lips.

A woman with tan skin and strong, wide hands. A woman with one leg slightly shorter than the other, and ears that were too big for her face. A woman who had retained those childhood features but added to them, as time does, as age does. A woman who would one day become the old crone in the cloak.

A woman who was standing, right now, in front of Samantha, stark naked and glowing, glowing with the light that effused the book hovering above the ground, a woman who was smiling at Samantha, a woman who Samantha suddenly realized in a rush of disbelief was not an image projected by her imagination, but who was really standing in front of her.

A woman who was smiling, and who reached out her left hand.

Samantha’s grip loosed on the handle of her cane and she let it fall. She’d never really needed help walking, she just liked having something to hold on to, because it made her feel safe, and somehow, less alone.

“Evgenia?” Samantha asked, even now still a little surprised by the crackling sound of her own voice.

The woman opened her mouth, and Samantha heard a voice that she had been sure she would never hear again, the voice of a little girl who had reached puberty and grown into the beautiful naked woman who stood before Samantha now, a voice that said “My mother, my sweet and patient mother, I’ve come to take you home.”

Samantha put one foot forward and then hesitated, realizing that this was the moment, that it wasn’t out of her hands after all, that she had to make the choice to take the next step, that she had to decide to take Evgenia’s hand, and go wherever it was that they would go next.

To her immense surprise, she realized with a pang of guilt that some part of her didn’t want to go, didn’t want to take the hand of her impossible daughter standing before her.

Evgenia smiled, and kept her hand outstretched. There was understanding in her eyes.

Samantha didn’t step back, but she did lower her hood and take a look around.

She was surrounded by the glowing grass of the plains, and she could still see far below the cliff those endless fields of glowing grass, swaying in the wind. She smelled the cool night air of autumn turning to winter, and in a motion quicker than she knew she was still capable of she loosened the tie of her cape and flung it off, and it caught up in the wind and flew out over the plains. She laughed, and then she pulled loose the tie around her waist that held her cloak on, and she slipped it off, and let it fall to the ground.

The old crone stood naked, bent, and she straightened her back, though it caused her a great deal of pain, and she held her head up and she took a deep breath. She could smell the night air, the coming winter, her own skin, her own musk, and the faintest hint of something she hadn’t smelled since the day Evgenia died, the sweet scent of her daughter, who had now grown into a woman, and whose smell had changed and matured and been added to by time.

Samantha opened her eyes and with a satisfied smile she lunged forward, and Evgenia laughed as her arms grasped her mother, and as Evgenia tumbled backward and Samantha tumbled forward, gravity stopped and they were floating too, in the light suffusing the book, and Samantha placed her lips against her daughters lips and kissed her, and Samantha’s heart swelled and swelled and swelled until there was a burst of sparkling light, and everything Samantha had ever known became one with her and her daughter, and all the fear, all the pain, all the love and hatred and suffering and trying and failing, sex and food and water, blood and tears and pain and excrement and urine and sweet flowers in the spring and chills in the winter, and breezes that drifted in through the crack in the window, and two men who slept on each side of her and whose breathing matched her own, and her mother leaning down and handing Samantha a little white stone which was to become her heart stone and which would hold her magic, and these things and many more things which hadn’t happened but which might have happened, all the possibilities entangling in a light that shone brighter and brighter, and the warmth of her naked daughter pressed against her body, and Samantha’s arms were holding the woman her daughter had become, and she didn’t have let go of her this time.

And the light shot toward the sky and then all that was left were sparkling motes of light in the air like fireflies, and the book landed hard on the ground with a thud, it’s cover closed, and the belt fastened around it.

And the book slept.