Chapter 1: Names As Verbs
My lengthiest and most formal of introductions serves as a summary of the most eventful moments of my life.
Lord Sullivan of House Atlas of Procampur, Loremaster-Venturer of Oghma, Avowed of Candlekeep, Fellow of the Eclipse, and Seer or Clairsentient Psion.
Here’s how got those titles.
Lord. Born to Lord and Lady Atlas before me, in a city where the color of your roof denotes the wealth and place of your family, and so help you if you stray from sanctioned behaviors befitting your caste.
Sullivan. I picked it out. Means ‘dark eye’ in Waelan.
Loremaster-Venturer. Fancy title for my rank in the church.
Avowed. Fancy term for the live-in librarians of the great fortress.
Fellow. Alumnus of the College of The Eclipse for psions, in Amn.
Seer. I See. Whew! Glad that’s all explained and leaves no ambiguity whatsoever.
Right. I’ll hit the usual questions.
For reasons unknown (not to say without hypotheses) I am privy to visions of the future and rarely the past. They are not guaranteed to happen and in many cases are so implausible or impossible due to past or current circumstances they reside squarely in alternate threads of reality that only retroactive continuity could coalesce.
I can’t control them. At all.
They tend to be about people or places I’ve been near or will be near soon. For this reason I never take for granted apparently random visions of unfamiliar faces or places. Every person, item, and location has a particular aura which disturbances of great emotional or vital-mortal changes cause to resonate more strongly. Yes, the highly studious, logical disciplines of psionics must account for emotions, because drama fluoresces like bonfires at midnight. Weapons and wedding rings sing with memory.
Nothing is of no importance. Nothing is of no relation. “Coincidence” is what we coin the darkness between seemingly unrelated points before illuminating the pathways with facts.
I had my first vision when I was six. I pitched to the floor in seizure. My right eye turned green. I had a vision about falling off my horse.
She was a dapple grey mare named Smokey and one of my few lasting regrets in leaving my old life behind.
Procampur is an old city. Already old when I was born, when my parents were born, and so on and so forth. It was old when it was built over older Proeskampalar.
It’s old and Procampans will happily tell you about how old their families are. They’ll tell you how old their houses are, how old the walls that separate them are, how old the first coat of colored paint on the rooftops are. Not that you’d know: the color has to be visible (they have to know what to think of you!) so the coats are frequently fresh.
The walls are high, the lanes are wide, the streets are clean, the gallows are ripe with blue faces.
You didn’t think new paint is why the city’s so tidy, did you?
The walls are thick but the gates are open. The lanes are wide but the streets are watched. The guards are punctual but their politeness is rehearsed. The districts are free to wander but what will the neighbors think of you if you do?
The thickest walls of all.
“Did you have to go and be such an inconvenience at dinner with another one of your fits?”
That’s what Mother thought.
“I don’t care if it’s true or not, can’t you just keep your mouth shut for once?”
That’s what Father thought.
“Oh that poor thing.”
That’s what the neighbors thought.
“Stop faking this silly illness and pay attention,” became, “Can’t you try harder to control it next time?” became, “This is serious and we’ll have over as many wizards and clerics as needed to get to the bottom of this.”
Eventually: “How can we use this?”
And that’s why I started honing my powers. To be better used.
Why don’t I like children?
I prefer conversational partners of a particular plateau of intelligence and wit to hold my interest, and most children lack that. But that pertains to other people’s children. Go and have as many of your own as you want, if that fulfills you, and if you can provide happy lives for them.
Many of you see children as an end: a treasure, a reward. Parenthood, an experience to cherish. Offspring desired as a shared journey with one’s beloved partner.
My existence was not rewarding to my Waukeenar parents.
I was an economical investment, parenthood a begrudged necessity. Boarding schools lightened the burden, relieving them of my pesky presence while honing me into a proper tool. My tutors and teachers were not to enrich my life, but to increase my net worth. Teaching children of noble Procampans is not to make them better people, but more desirable acquisitions. I was already betrothed to another before I could talk. I would someday be the wax seal on the joining of two enterprises.
The visions and fits cast doubts on my worth. Oh that poor thing. Those awful seizures, those ranting episodes. Always covered in bruises. How will she ever safely carry a child to term?
And that’s why I changed my name.
Whew! Glad that’s all explained and leaves no ambiguity whatsoever.
Chapter 2: Wait, What?
You mull over that last part a bit longer, scratch your chin, try to picture something, try to picture something else, wonder if you missed something, wonder if I skipped something, keep reading in hopes of elucidation, and are rewarded by the next sentence.
I was born female. The gods can be silly that way. Let’s tackle the next lightning round of questions everyone asks.
With a magic ring - if you’ve ever detected transmutation magic on me, that’s why.
Because I like myself and the way people see me better this way.
Because I’m not so vehemently anti-femininity nowadays as when I first set out: I’m not a girl playing dress-up. I’m not forced to maintain a ‘facade’ lest the 'truth’ be revealed. I’m merely a man with an unusual upbringing and more comfort than most in my feminine side.
I don’t consider this a costume or a lie. Thus, no dissonance to reconcile. If anything, I’m living more honestly than ever, and as you can see here, keep no true secrets.
A lot. Especially if they spotted me with True Seeing.
If you ask politely.
If you ask very politely.
No. I’m not straight either. I’m just not picky. This is an unrelated truth.
Because I didn’t know how you’d react, it wasn’t relevant, and you didn’t ask.
No exceptions. Not even for you.
Don’t expect others to be that forthcoming. It’s a bit of a religious thing for me. We Oghmanytes have to practice peddling the truth after all. I share information because it is information, only to be known, if not necessarily used.
Because they just liked the spelling better that way! Yes, it always bothered me too.
Tried out different nicknames for a while. Sib. Bill. Billy. Lybis, once or twice. Read Sullivan somewhere, tried it out, liked it.
Not long, a few years ago at most.
Like myself with breasts. It doesn’t change my hair length or un-tailor my clothing, after all.
Considered myself a tomboy or somesuch. Thought myself a lesbian for a while, when I didn’t think I liked men.
When someone 'mistook’ me for a man and instead of feeling insulted I felt complimented.
Where the hell would it come from if I did?!
Herbs, both types, can’t take any chances.
Oh, right, you realize, this tangent flew off from the earlier question about why I don’t like children or want to have any. Everything is related, even the things that are not.
I don’t do things I don’t want to. I don’t want to be a parent, ergo, I’m not.
Children were never a reward for a parenting well-done, not for my strata. They were pretty ponies you dressed up, showed off, corralled and put out to stud. You taught them to hold their heads high with poise, not to flinch at discomfort yet to recoil from pain, to accept bit and tack and shoe, to walk in calm strides and jump when commanded, to wear blinders and eat from your hand, to have pretty foals to give away to pretty people.
Children were not cherishable experiences. They were signatures on the dotted line, coffers at the bank. They were wombs to continue the blood, to guarantee your house would stand, and stay old, for old blood is the best blood in Procampur.
Children were the looming threat of a horrifying adulthood - if I was allowed to wait so long. They would be the shackles that chained me to the house I was given to. They would be a burden I could only ever justify to myself by shaping, hewing, honing them the way I’d been. Parenthood would be a relentless series of tasks I’d grow to resent. I could not have loved them, and they wouldn’t have deserved the same loveless upbringing I knew.
Children deserve better than, 'I don’t know,’ or, 'If I must’.
People deserve better.
His name was Jeremy and I tried very hard to love him.
Maybe I did. Maybe my selfless desire to treat him well was love. I surely wanted him to be happy: he was kind enough to deserve it. Maybe I could have done that for him if I tried harder.
But I don’t do things I don’t want to do.
We met as children, already betrothed. There was, granted, a sense of security in this. I had a place already. No wondering if I’d find a man, there he was all along. No worrying about dating and the drama it entails. No fear of losing him. What insult he’d cast on Atlas to ever refuse me.
We first had sex at age fifteen. We’d marry each other anyway, so what did it matter?
It was… adequate. More fun sometimes than other times. Awkward. Fumbling. Sometimes unsatisfying. I felt reticent to articulate this, so I’d pretend I enjoyed it more than I did, to avoid the scorn of his hurt pout, or the flushed embarrassment of pointing out here and there and how and how hard.
It settled into something routine and vanilla, and 'routine’ by sixteen made me glad for the months away at boarding school. I hid all my doubts and discomforts: he deserved to be happy, didn’t he, and wouldn’t all that make him so sad?
I wonder likewise what he hid from me.
I was afraid of him.
I’d never have thought so then. I certainly never said it.
But always did I wonder when the pout would fall away and reveal rage beneath. Which sarcastic remark would finally incite him. A part of my mind I never consciously admitted to considered the 'fact’ of his undiscovered violence not an 'if’ but a 'when’.
And surely if anyone would cause that change in him, it would be me. Even in pleasant company I lost my tongue eventually.
That’s just the sort of dreadful person I was under it all. I just didn’t know how to keep my mouth shut. I just couldn’t sit still, sit up straight, keep my chin up, wear the right clothes, keep my hair styled how they wanted. I couldn’t just say the rote things you say at tea parties and functions. I knew the scripts. I kept to them when I wanted to.
I was bad at doing things I didn’t want to do.
I was bad.
I was afraid, because bad things happen to you when you’re bad.
The seizures made it an easier secret to keep.
Oh, that poor thing.
Always covered in bruises.
Chapter 3: cat
ihave To chroincle
the cat! Catcle! Caticle
I was cat
Barravel polymorphed me. Nikki the light maddeal-fa<illegible squiggles>ased it could not catch
tried eat fish. did not eat fish
Catnip. Yes. Ate that.
So much .. catnip. Beatrice. hand of catnip
tried to kill her hand whe<scribbles going off the page>
THE PURR-NS (puns)
purr is good convnconvno aaaa convenient way to talk it says a lot about hwahh
the good purr worthy thing s
<more scribbles ending in a line going off the page at an angle>
Note to self, intoxicating substances taken while polymorphed will still leave you intoxicated when un-polymorphed.
Well, Barravel did tell me to publish whatever I ended up writing.
Enjoy the third chapter of this meowmoir.
More seriously, I opted to be polymorphed for the experience. I was changed once before into a flying dinosaur by a druid, which did not cause any detriment on my mental faculties. And no, I didn’t pen the above while turned into a cat. I penned it while high as a kite from catnip before it had a chance to wear off.
The dip in sapience was an odd experience, the sort of mind-state that obliterates one’s ability to cogitate on your state at all. I remembered the people I knew, I recognized where I was and knew my name, and on some level I could understand their tone of voice and a word here or there. But all other meaning had fled from me.
I wondered at my broadened senses, the intensity of everything I could see, hear, smell, and touch. Everyone had a turn cuddling me and it was delightful.
I learned how to purr and could hardly stop myself the entire time. The sensation was soothing, cathartic.
Beatrice gave me quite a bit of catnip. Nikki conjured a ball of light for me to chase. I had such wonderful reflexes, speed, power for my size! I thought of running back and forth across the balcony for the fun of it, but didn’t get the chance.
There was a moment of confused agitation when Nikki left. Looking back I recall everyone saying, “Goodnight,” but I didn’t understand it then. When I was done attacking Beatrice’s hand for the rookie mistake of giving a cat a belly rub, Nikki was gone. I wandered back and forth over the spot her scent was strongest and vocalized my distress. I faintly remembered she would always leave and return again, and gave up on my concerns, distracted next by the scent of fish.
Barravel chose the moment I had a raw trout in my mouth to un-polymorph me.
These names may completely confound a reader unfamiliar with me personally.
Now back to the chronology I’d established.
Chapter 4: Songs and Storms
The piano had been there all along.
It was old, having undergone repairs mundane and magical many times. Its presence was as much a permanent fixture of the manor as the pillars. It was there and therefore had to be played: it required justification in existing.
Therefore, I learned.
I don’t remember the first tutor clearly. A woman who seemed tall when I was small, who wore a ring bearing a blue gem. My feet couldn’t reach the pedals.
When at home, I learned. Lessons became a permanent fixture in my routine. Piano. Etiquette. History. Languages - I learned Elven and Dwarven. If not at home through tutors, then at school. I had to be justified and made worthy through accumulation of knowledge and skills. The piano had to be justified and made useful by having someone who knew how to use it.
That’s Procampur for you. Give an old family a gift and suddenly it’s an heirloom. Old relics are lodestones and capstones: being old is the ultimate state to work towards, whether it’s the family itself or whatever odds and ends they possess. You must dig in and stand still until you are old. You must hold on to everything until they become old with you. So the old Atlas grand piano became the eye of a vortex around which our schedules and funds subtly spun.
Once I learned, the money dropped on lessons had to be justified too. So I played at the request of every guest. I played when I had spare time to provide ambience for my family. I was drained of energy to ever play for my own pleasure.
So instead I picked up the violin.
How could they refuse me another skill?
So the piano sat in the house and dusted over while I was away. The violin came with me to school. I learned every song I could find and played them for anyone I wanted. I played alone for pleasure. I played it for guests, proudly, secretly out of spite.
Hah, I thought, making a waste out of whatever ashen grandparent had plopped that brick in our parlor. I didn’t have to sit in one room, in one seat, in one direction, feet on the pedals, practically chained to that corner of the house for hours. The fiddle was mine, it went with me, unchained me. They couldn’t have it. It existed for me, not them.
There was a girl named Meredith whose favorite songs I made a point of learning.
I wasn’t much of a singer, and I’d grin like a fool whenever she sang.
Once at a dance, we had an uneven number of boys and girls, and I volunteered to be the boy for her. The dry warmth of her hand in mine thrilled me.
I joked that her family was richer than Jeremy’s anyway, so wasn’t it a shame we couldn’t be betrothed instead? She giggled at the absurdity and I laughed when she did.
We all did one another’s hair (and cosmetics, once old enough) but I’d always prefer to do hers and vice versa, eager for any contact I could get. When she brushed or tossed or braided my hair, it sent a tingle up my neck in the most wonderful way. When she leaned in close and powdered my cheeks and painted my lips, I couldn’t help but blush.
I called her my best friend and didn’t know any better. Didn’t all best friends feel that way?
I picked up pub songs and sailing shanties.
I avoided home like one avoids an alleyway known for its dangerous dogs. If I was permitted to wander, I did, and often when I wasn’t anyway.
Often with friends, often with Jeremy, often dodging the chaperone, often alone. I wandered further until near clear across the city in the blue-roofed harbor district. I’d watch the ships come and go, the harbor-men scurry about, the seagulls attacking anything edible in sight. Bastards snatched food from my hands once.
If I had news from a vision to share, I’d share it. It was my habit in the city, sometimes ill-informed (I learned swiftly to hide visions of indiscretions - until my parents needed ammunition for blackmail). But still a habit, and with careful peddling of information, I became a favorite of those it benefited. Even better as I honed my divinatory powers to where I could actually aim them.
Sailors loved to know the weather. Fishers loved to know where to find the fish. Merchants loved to know the rising tides in the markets.
My parents had been using me for the same reasons all along - curry favor with their neighbors, direct the market for allied merchant houses, and damn and dishonor the rest. When House Atlas put their stock somewhere, you’d best follow suit.
When the young heir told you when and where the storms brewed, you planned your trip accordingly.
A storm was brewing and I had a trip to plan for myself.
I wasn’t quite old enough for pubs, but who was going to stop me? I didn’t imbibe, so they let me be.
I learned all the ditties and jigs anyone had to share, often by ear. They usually weren’t the sort to carry sheets. I learned and listened. I shared my visions. I made friends of sailors and travelers. From the blue roofs to the red roofs I ascended: the district of adventurers, from scallywags to rapscallions.
The taverns there were tougher, darker-lit, less with a rime of salt and more with a haze of tobacco. Gambling was a favorite pastime. And a psychic is a damn good gambler - because we never have to ‘gamble’ at all.
I could nudge a die to fall on one side. I could intuit the next card drawn. I could gaze down on every hand from the ceiling. A Seer is never allowed to sit at the table by anyone sensible, of course. Instead I made friends. My friends would win. I’d get a cut. I’d never even play. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even go: once I unlocked the power of telepathy, I could communicate from afar and ply my powers from home.
All the more necessary once I kept getting locked inside my room.
A tea tray too close to the edge of the table, bumped in passing. Tea spilt. On me, my dress, the floor.
My hat jumped off in the wind, hit Smokey on the flank and spooked her across the paddock.
I kept hitting a sour note in a song whose bars were too complex for my small hands yet.
I broke posture to itch at the side of my nose at an important dinner.
I said the wrong words and disrespected unknowingly.
I said them wrong out of spite.
I said the right words but in the wrong tone, too weary from a seizure to modulate my pitch, to force a genial crinkle at the corners of my eyes. My tone was flat, my face was tired, and everything came out as disrespect.
Smokey bit me and I cried too long and too loudly about it.
I fared less well in a subject at school than the previous year.
Political favor had been lost, an argument had been had, rain had occurred without warning, a meal had been burnt, a toe had been stubbed, and no legal and valid targets could be found.
Sometimes the servants. Sometimes my mother. Once a tutor, who quit on the spot.
Father had a temper and just couldn’t help it, Mother said. We just have to learn to live with it and help him best we can (by not being so bad anymore). He was just the storm and we had to deal with a little thunder and get out of his way.
He had a temper, but more importantly, he had justifications. To himself, to her. To witnesses? No, of course not. He had no control, but by some miracle never lost control around anyone whose word would matter. Funny how that works!
Mother wept beside herself when it happened to me, but never did she intervene. Why couldn’t I just behave? Why did I have to keep pushing him? My condition made it so hard on him, you know, and he worked so hard to help this family prosper, and I was always testing him and having problems that hurt our name. He just couldn’t help himself.
A-bloo-hoo-hoo, and she’d blow her nose in a silk kerchief and oh maybe I should take my mind off things by doing this or that favor, if it wasn’t too much to ask, I really did need to work on my powers more and maybe it would cheer him up…
Fuck them both. I hope Waukeen pressed their souls into coins.
Father beat me, Mother watched, happy it wasn’t her on the block anymore. She’d furtively aim his rage at me to preserve herself. His fists (and belts and rods and whatever-was-in-reach) assailed me, and she weaponized the incidents after the fact, no less evil for not dirtying her own hands.
Nobody knew - because he was careful. He hit where they wouldn’t see, and once I started having seizures, he didn’t even have to do that anymore. Because he lied and mother lied better. Because if I told a soul it’d only get worse.
Some knew - because the bruises were too obvious. Because I’d confided after all. Because they were smart.
Nobody wanted to know - because Atlas was rich and powerful, and what were they? Because I was his child, and whose business of it was theirs? Because what a mess that’d be and who wanted to bother anyway?
At least when I got married, I’d be safe at last.
So I tried very hard to love Jeremy, while wondering what it’d be like to kiss Meredith instead.
Chapter 5: Indiscretion
Jeremy was like a piano - a permanent fixture I would learn to shape my life around eventually.
He started out shorter than I was. Then I stalled out at five-foot-four at puberty and he kept on going. His hair was caramel-brown and lightly curled, his face was long, his eyes turned down so they always looked a touch sad or rueful, even when he smiled with his perfectly straight, white teeth.
He was bashful and I was nervous when we met, so I played piano for him. It kept us from having to talk or look at each other.
It didn’t occur to me until much later that being introduced to a boy as ‘his future wife’ is markedly unusual and a touch unhealthy for a child. The concept of marriage didn’t mean anything to me for years. That’s when two grown-ups moved in together and had to share all their money.
Then I learned it meant I had to kiss him. We kissed when we were twelve and it was boring. I figured all kissing was boring, and I was happy to keep in sight of the chaperone so Jeremy couldn’t try to kiss me again.
I came around on the kissing business a year or two later, but it still bored me, and goodness, why did adults even like it?
Then I learned - or rather, I knew already, but it hadn’t sunk in yet - that I’d have to have sex with him.
Speculation on what sex would be like was a common topic of giggling with me and my friends. Some of them had older sisters whose accounts varied. And that’s what marriage was: you shared your money and had to have sex. So I hoped it’d be better than the kissing.
And by fifteen, I figured, or hoped, vainly, that I’d be more on board with this marriage if I had sex with him first. Sune would bless the union and fill my heart with tender affections. Only intimacy would awaken the love I had (to have) for him.
Sex was a weird, disappointing, slightly painful mess. He enjoyed it more than I did. Quality improved over time and sometimes I even enjoyed and wanted it. But love? It never happened to me. Poor Jeremy. He started telling me he loved me, and he meant it. I said it back and don’t know if I ever did.
Not that it mattered. Love was a perk for married couples, but hardly a requisite.
I didn’t really like children back then either. I didn’t have any special smug reasons for it. They were just kind of weird and loud and sticky and I didn’t know how to interact with them so I didn’t.
I’d have to have them. It would be awful and uncomfortable and painful. I’d get sick, fat, moody, not to mention labor - at least wet nurses and nannies could take on the rest from there, but then ideally I’d just go have my boring sex with my boring husband and get pregnant again as soon as possible. Heirs need spares and all.
The older I got the more terrifying was the thought. I was seventeen and hadn’t much time left. Something was wrong with me on the inside, because I couldn’t love a man but got the flutters for several girls. Was it me, was it Jeremy after all? I didn’t know.
Marriage loomed. Marriage stalked after me like a wolf. Marriage waited at the bottom, where once I fell into it I’d never get out.
Something was wrong with me. I was bad. I was cursed. I was suffocating. I started having visions of married life, and the thought of being anyone’s wife felt like being plunged into icy water. The thought of bearing children made me want to claw the requisite parts out and feed them to the gulls.
But I had to, because what else was there? What would the neighbors think? What would my father do?
I wasn’t sure yet if I really liked men, but I liked men’s attentions. I liked to be awed at, I loved to be fashionable, I let anyone flirt with me. It felt so powerful to be fawned over and grinned at. And let me tell you - sailors and sellswords fawn and grin a lot when a pretty noble-girl graces their tavern in all her finery.
Marriage marched toward me, so maybe I’d take a last stand. Maybe I’d claim one parcel of land to myself, just once before raising the white flag.
I didn’t go into the tavern that day thinking any of this. I was just getting away like I always did.
He was rough and bearded, broad-chested, older than thirty. Already drunk. Beckoned me over to the table where he and party drank. He offered, pushed, I declined. He put an arm around my waist while I stood there, and hugged me against his side like a python. He eyed me up and down and said repeatedly how pretty I was, what a pretty dress, what pretty funny eyes, what was I doing there all by myself and did I have a suitor to worry about?
I was scared and didn’t like the uninvited strength of his arm and hand, which grazed and eventually grabbed, but I wouldn’t say it, I thought I liked it, or thought I ought to, and maybe I even did a little. I laughed and smiled, but still sarcastic, but my repartee only made them guffaw. He said I was awful smart and where’d I learn big words like that anyway?
I was scared but thrilled, complimented, skirting danger, but I was a psychic and noble and what kind of fool would hurt me with the kind of people my parents were? I was scared but really, when wasn’t I scared? When hadn’t I last been scared? Maybe I wanted to be scared by someone new, maybe I wanted to let myself be scared on purpose.
Maybe I wanted one little secret jig I’d carry with me before I got chained to the piano in the parlor.
Maybe I was just an idiot.
He asked me upstairs and said it’d be a secret, he wouldn’t want to brag on a sweet dainty thing like me, and besides he’d be out of town soon anyway and nobody would ever know. He could show me how a real man made love.
It was bad and painful. I stopped wanting it midway. Oh well. Too late.
He kicked me out when he was done. I dressed, slunk home, bathed, cried. I knew I didn’t like men or sex after all. At least no one else would know.
He bragged to everyone.
A servant tracked me down midday and summoned me home. My mother was already weeping. I knew I was dead walking.
How dare I bring shame on our family this way. They didn’t raise a whore. Didn’t I ever think of anyone but myself. Look what I put them through. Do you know how much damage control we’ll have to do to make it up to Jeremy’s family. What was wrong with me.
Imagine all that but alternatively choked out from behind a silk handkerchief by my mother, or roared between blows by my father.
He broke my arm and several ribs.
Accounts on how it 'really’ happened varied: the adventurer did it when he 'attacked’ me, the stress made me have an awful seizure, I just fell off my horse again.
Jeremy’s face was the worst.
I don’t know if he believed the version of the story where the adventurer jumped me in an alley, or if he knew the truth. He was hurt either way, and pitied me either way. I sobbed and begged forgiveness in his arms. If this had made my father finally lose control, surely Jeremy would too, this would be it, the last straw.
It wasn’t. He never hurt me.
He deserved so much better.
The adventurer was jailed, then banished forever from the city. His friends weren’t charged, but heavily encouraged never to return. Anyone else who’d heard the story was bribed or blackmailed into secrecy. Anyone who even thought of speaking out suddenly found themselves on the wrong end of the law or hemorrhaging funds through a twist of economical fate, thanks to the secret machinations of House Atlas.
Anyone who knew or heard learned quickly to keep their mouths shut. My parents were stupendous at teaching people to keep their mouths shut.
And then I started getting sick.
Chapter 6: Captains
Chill winds brought chill rains up off the Sea of Fallen Stars. I pretended to sleep until the house was silent but for the drumming on our silvered roof and the gentle hiss against the windows.
I slipped into a dress and cloak, put a travel bag on my bag and hefted my violin case in one hand. Levitating just off the floor so my heeled boots would make no sound, I felt through to the other side of my door and unlocked it with my mind. Freed of my silk-covered prison, I drifted through the halls like a ghost.
Past the piano, through the entrance hall, out the front door, across the grounds, and away from Atlas Manor. I didn't stop to say farewell to Smokey. Once past the grass to cobblestone again I let my feet hit pavement and glided as swiftly as I felt safe without drawing undue suspicion.
I stopped at a flowerpot at a corner and pulled out a small sack of coins. I pulled another from the bough of a tree. I found rations in oiled pouches tied to an iron fence, a map in a scroll case in the lip of a merchant's awning, and a dosage of potent herbal tea made from ground nararoot and other things shameful for a young lady to drink.
Friends had left them all for me, at my behest, over a month, without my ever having to leave the house. I'd tested each timeline in my mind, finding the snares and pitfalls, charting a course of fortuitous circumstance around them.
I'd dealt with gamblers and had them save my cuts aside. I pulled merchants out from under my parents. I sold secrets to people to blackmail and bribe one another. I'd used my powers to sift the trustworthy from the traitorous. Every dirty trick my parents taught me, I used to betray them and fund my own escape.
My pack was full when I reached the docks. I approached my old friend, a ship captain with a dark beard and a bright heart.
His vessel was set to leave by morning, once the rains broke. I told him I was going to be on it. I offered gold for my passage and extra to keep quiet. I had a fiddle to entertain the crew, and the power to know where the waters and weather would be calmest. They'd never have to see a storm or pirate with me on board.
He lifted my hood to see the yellowing bruises on my face. He nodded and pushed the money back into my hands.
"Come aboard and hide 'til we've pulled anchor."
Out a window of the captain's cabin I watched Procampur fall away. First walls of white and grey barely gleaming in the gloam. As the sun first crested the waters, the coastline opened up like a gull spreading out its wings, the city its white crown, speckled with colors up to the tail. Then it rested down between sky and sea until they closed upon it.
I drank the tea. I curled around a bucket and waited it out. I wept in shame, but not regret.
I panicked. Somehow, they'd get me back. The invisible leash would pull taut and I'd fly across the sea to more locks, more walls, more fists. I dreamed of it happening, night after night.
I went topside and stared at the sea. I breathed in the air miles from home. I told myself they'd never catch up in time, as long as I kept moving. I grasped the visions in my mind and held on for life, the visions that told me what recourse I had left.
I'd seen three paths after my tryst with the sellsword:
Marry Jeremy immediately, tell everyone the child was his, never know for sure, and be trapped in a suffocating marriage.
Be murdered in the final rampage of Father for being a scrupleless slattern.
I had my first vision of my life beyond, halfway across the sea. A vision of a beautiful woman, tall and dusky, a head of black curls in a bandana, wearing nothing else as she kissed down my body. The vision meant it was decidedly possible, and the possibility thrilled me.
When we made port in Turmish on the opposite shore, I saw her there. Flustered, excited, tasting first freedoms, I approached her. She was a Turami captain of a merchant galleon. I nervously told her about the vision, and she smirked at what she surely thought was just an inventive pick-up line.
I'd never been so happy to make a prophecy come true.
Chapter 7: Bloodshed and Sunshine
I exchanged my dress for traveling clothes with trousers, sold my hair, and bought a dagger to defend myself.
I couldn't dally in Alaghon. Fear of recapture pushed me to join one of the many adventuring mercenary companies of the vast port city. My powers were hardly honed for combat, but I plied my utility to get on with merchant escorts and scouting parties.
South to Gildenglade and Xorhun, then down between the mountains into the Wilds. The journey had been safely sedate 'til then, and then was when I first saw combat.
Bandits ambushed us in the night. My powers were never perfect, and even Seers can be surprised.
Steel and arrows exchanged in swift moments. A man had lunged at me, and my blade lunged between his ribs. My first life taken. I didn't sleep for several nights.
My fear turned to spite. I had to prove wrong the adventurers who saw a small waif and presumed frailty, prove wrong the family who ever presumed to bridle me. I had to show that despite my noble upbringing and unpredictable epilepsy, I could hold my own. They never knew what injuries I'd suffered as a matter of daily life.
I was quiet but for sarcasm and music, and none then knew me but for what name I'd taken at the time. The world wouldn't care for me. I expected nothing from anyone but myself.
Adventurers live unforgiving lives. Monsters beset us in the mountains, feral beasts hunted us in the forests. We took casualties, lost crew to death, and to retirement when they found the life too harsh.
Always new faces joined, whichever capable hands traveled the same direction, or whichever merchants and scholars required them.
In Ankhapur on the Lake of Steam, halfway down the continent from where I'd started, I met Hugo the half-orc. He was gentle, jovial, with a penchant for baking and the body to prove it. He also had a psionic spark presumably from his human side, and sought to hone it at the College of The Eclipse.
And so my flight from home had a new destination.
In Saradush I met Metzo, a Chultan woman exiled from her tribe when she began to hear the thoughts of others and move objects with her mind. They feared and restricted magic in the villages there, so she hopped a ship to Calimshan.
There she met Rhea Sunshine Tatopoulos, a one-quarter succubus tiefling. Her cambion mother died in circumstances which changed with each retelling, and her father was a Calishite who'd fled to Lantan where the inquisitive gnomes didn't judge the horned girl harshly.
I don't judge her for being a tiefling. I just judge her for everything else.
Saradush, a pale and sandy city of golden-domed minarets, terracotta villas, and white marble statues that blinded at sun-high. A major city on a major road between two major powers - Tethyr and Amn.
I didn't run into Metzo and Rhea by chance. I had a vision and sought them out.
Metzo was quiet, reserved, composed. Not frigid but faintly amused, and when she did speak, she spoke with eloquent wit. She had a penchant for numbers and patterns, and once she joined our group she became the unofficial ledger-keeper of all our expenses. Her acuities surprised many who assumed her nothing more than a barbarian based on heritage.
Rhea was a bitch.
A fabulous bitch, a terrible bitch, a frightful bitch. A bolt of manic fire quivering agitatedly in a small cage like a neglected bird demanding stimuli. A Gondite engineer who attacked new projects with the reckless glee she'd gleaned from Gnomish peers, and attacked anyone she encountered with sass, mockery, and flirtation, often all at once.
Hugo hated her right off the bat. At first he hid his distaste with jokes and smiles, but as she pressed and insulted, he railed and call her what she was, then wondered at Metzo why she associated with anyone so terrible.
Rhea mocked him as a half-orc, he mocked her as a tiefling. Metzo and I rolled our eyes and talked amongst ourselves. Then Rhea turned her attentions on me, we exchanged snarky insults in equal measure, then flirtations, more insults, challenges, and eventually we departed the coffeehouse to her inn room where we fucked like a competition.
That's how our group of four formed. The next day we all set out for the College of the Eclipse.
Back then I thought myself a woman, one only attracted to other women. Hugo was a man whose gradual attraction to me I pretended not to notice. Metzo was a lesbian I took some interest in, particularly after our exchanges of wit. Rhea wasn't picky about what gender she had - or was, when she later learned the talent to change her form. She hit on all of us, and I was the only one who took up her offers, which she'd happily mock Hugo for while he grew bitter at the affair.
One night while drunk he kissed me.
"Uhhh," I said.
Chapter 8: The Sunken Boat
What a cliffhanger that was. How ever did that drama unfold?
Unceremoniously. I let him down gently, he apologized, no further deal was made of it. But hells, I needed something interesting to close the last chapter.
Our merry band made it to Tethyr and enrolled at the College of the Eclipse. The city was Riatavin, recently annexed from Amn. It held many of the old attitudes but without the cadre of cowled wizards breathing down our necks for registration permits to use our powers.
And so we (mostly) all honed our powers. I pursued the discipline of Clairsentience. Metzo became a Telepath. Hugo found a talent in Metacreativity. Rhea learned, tried to dabble, volunteered as a test subject and often drew students into her engineering projects in return. She flitted about the campus like a stray cat, a permanent presence if not an inhabitant.
All along she worked on one long-term project, for years, working on her network of connections, gathering resources. Mechanical parts, raw materials, raw magic both psionic and arcane, runes and enchantments. A portal device, she proclaimed, to trace the threads of the Weave through which visions resonated into my psychic mind, and then to anchor those threads for transposition. Opening portals to anywhere a Seer might See - or anywhen.
I will never know if it could have succeeded, or even perhaps, if it did already. Ultimately we were cast out of time, but whether by her hands or the catastrophe which set off a chain of disasters I cannot know.
To assign gravity and context: I came from before the Spellplague.
Religion is interesting. Faith and gods are interesting. I was raised largely Waukeenar, taught to revere the jingle of coins and means to gain it above all else. It was hard to ever see value in fellow sapients beyond how they might benefit me economically. In return, I could hardly see value in myself but for the same reasons.
Only outright theft was 'wrong', and even then, what counted? We hosted a Thayan Enclave where slaves were kept - robbed of compensation for labor, discounted as ethical entities. Theft in a sense of something taken for nothing. They were Banites and Kossuthians, still, but Waukeen's most prodigious territories in Amn practiced open slavery without sense of hypocrisy.
Still, the lure of money was not my most cherished priority. A necessity for survival, but I had since lived on nothing yet felt no spiritual ache.
I'd been introduced to Oghma as a means to an end. My parents hoped the priests under the Domes of Reason would solve my epilepsy problem. The Oghmanytes in return found my abilities a fascinating means of uncovering knowledge, which served their own ends in a way.
I volunteered as an acolyte. I enjoyed the calm respite of the library, the encouragement of developing skills (especially artistic and musical ones), to write poetry and learn music, for their own sake rather than because I might make money off them later. I enjoyed the chance to escape my parents.
Secretive people hate Oghmanytes. People with dirty pasts and bloodied hands hate Seers. I'd grown in a household where I was not only just a commodity but a broken one. I knew things I shouldn't. I was difficult to control. They couldn't constrain my knowledge to boarding house walls and tutors' curricula. I posed a threat to their authority and the web of lies they'd strung across the country.
My parents hated me, and the clergy loved me.
Oghma, Denier, Savras. Gods of wisdom, scribes, and diviners. Lords of the House of Knowledge. I learned to love them in return.
Rhea encouraged me to experiment with my presentation. She'd enjoyed the fluidity of her innate magic for so long she pitied my too solid flesh and sought to resolve it. With her and Metzo I embraced changing fashions. I leaned more masculine as time passed, at times thoroughly androgynous, other times passing as male already.
With this came the embrace of orientation. Men were attractive after all, and women, and other specimens dancing between and beyond these categories as I'd begun to do. I found these barriers and boxes really weren't so important after all.
Was I a woman who crossdressed spectacularly, played the gentleman and grinned giddily to be called 'Sir'? Was I yet a man in disguise, given an inappropriate body I must learn to make truer? Yes, and no, and both, and neither.
Changing my name was no string of lies, but stepping stones on the path to an eventual truth. Rhea didn't lie to change her gender either. The moon may be new, full, or any phase in between, yet always is the moon. I've always been me, but the labels assigned to me have changed.
My past self was true, existing as herself: I am true, existing as myself, never negated by prior selves. They are drops in the ocean of my soul, consecutive notes in the symphony of my existence.
Like water I will flow, like music I'll play on, always true to my self of the present without shame or secrecy for my selves of the past.
I started keeping journals. College lectures needed note-taking. Oghmanytes demanded fresh tales. I wanted to keep track of all my visions. Journals and notebooks galore filled my inventory.
I wish I'd kept more. I wish I'd written down the day to day things, the funny moments, the meaningful conversations...
A part of me subconsciously discarded the notion as frivolous, for why would that time Hugo baked raspberry cookies for everyone in the dorms be of economical value? (Because that family recipe legacy would live on.) Why would the smirking wordplay I exchanged with Metzo need to be written down? (Because linguists could study our respective dialects.) What would happen if my parents found out? (Everyone I loved would be destroyed for harboring me.)
My secrets still restrained me. My friends barely knew of my past. I mastered the art of sarcastic evasion, and often outright sabotage. I never formed any lasting romantic relationships. I couldn't keep friends beyond those three.
My life was cut in half: the Procampur me who I wished had died crossing the ocean, reborn without memory. And the me of the very moment, mercurial and aloof, quick to socialize and quicker to throw matches. After all, everyone was just out to use me, right?
I wrote nothing from my life before. I barely wrote of my life at the time. My present self and life were also the secret, one I had to keep from the rest of the world, because somewhere out in that world House Atlas waited with chains. I wouldn't escape a second time.
I kept journals, but never enough.
Years passed, yet I can think of barely anything to put here. The majority of life folded up into one paper boat. Years into paragraphs, decades into words. And then, a century in the space between pages.
Rhea made her machine.
The Spellplague hit.
The power bound in the device went off, rebounded, malfunctioned, exploded: we were shunted off the Prime Material and into the Shadow, drawn there by the dark magic she'd secretly woven into the enchantments, dark secrets she'd learned from the gnomes of Lantan.
Lantan, in the same moment, drowned entirely in a flood. Had she known everyone she ever knew would be dead a few years after leaving home, would she have lived differently? If I'd known the lives I'd lived would fall so far like stones in an avalanche, would I have written more? Would I have told my friends the things that shaped me, knowing I'd never have the chance again?
The Shadow Plane, in that same moment, dissolved and reformed into the Shadowfell. Newly minted, it welcomed its first new guests.
You can read about what the Shadowfell is like elsewhere.
Months passed for us. Most of the group died. Rhea and I survived. And then, we weren't there anymore, but back in the Prime, on Faerun, on the Sword Coast. Over a hundred years had passed.
Did time play out at different rates for us? Did Shar or another god choose to place us elsewhere on the scale? Did the machine work as intended after all and hurtle us far ahead and away in spacetime after all?
There are always more questions than answers in all things. Oghmanytes and Seers alike are accustomed to these frustrations.
The world as it'd existed when I left was gone. My friends were dead. My teachers were dead. My parents were dead. Jeremy and Meredith were dead. Smokey was dead.
One always does hold on to the illusion of return, cradling the candle of 'what if?' in their minds. It's only when fate snuffs the flame you realize how fragile it ever was.
However did my old life end? Unceremoniously. Ended without my knowing in the empty space between pages of a book, learnt only when I could pick up and keep reading. A flimsy paper boat dissolved. A thousand threads in an unfinished tapestry cut and cauterized at once. A dozen decisions I didn't know I wanted to make, stamped and sealed in the blink of an eye.
I wanted to outlive my parents with feet on the same earth. Or I wanted to wait until the man was too feeble to fight and return in splendor, rich and powerful without them, to spite them with the joy I'd earned in their absence. I wanted to apologize to Jeremy. I wanted to kiss Meredith, or revisit the ship captain in Turmish, to pet Smokey.
With each new thought, each memory that passed my mind, came the lightning bolt of pain, the gaping distance between now and then, a span I'd never cross. The continent, the ocean I'd put between myself and everyone else had remained in my mind as just dirt and water - after all, I'd gotten over them both before, why couldn't they, and why couldn't I again?
But time? That's the ocean whose winds snuff all candles, whose storms sink all ships, whose currents refuse navigation but toward the horizon you never get to see - not even if you're a Seer.