The following entry may contain triggering material.
“Sampaguita in Birdcage” photo by Faemon
It’s been raining, and then flooding. The proprietess of the haunted mansion allowed my corporeal friend Cecilia and myself to move from the basement to right below the attic. In the afternoon, Cecilia invited me to the cafe where she was catching up on the papers she was supposed to be writing instead of the asthma diagnosis and recovery that she’d actually been doing. Because I didn’t want to wade through through the ankle-deep swamp that our old room had become to bring another rucksack full of paperback books up three flights of stairs (and because I thought that maybe my adorably effervescent presence would defuse some of that stress,) I accepted. It did excuse me from the swamp trek that afternoon, but Cecilia gruffed that she was going to have to ignore me and then continued typing on her laptop. Occasionally, she would eke out a single bubbly peal of laughter, and I would think it was my adorable powers working effervescently, but Cecilia assured me that it had been deranged laughter. Then she would drink more coffee. As I recall, she’d been on her fifth-and-a-half cup when I arrived. We discovered a third alternative spelling of Taklamakan. I may have laughed in a similar way, because I’d proofread the paper of a mutual friend from Cecilia’s class, and gotten stuck on keeping that one desert’s name consistent.
I scribbled some developments on Ogdoad, a form of wishcraft symbolism based on chess. Zugzwang could be my word for a meditative state of mind, of stillness and emptiness, by which which intuitions could develop. The protection spell for Castling kingside (or shortside) would be target-specific nullification, like a shield; Castling queenside (or longside) would be more like keeping everything out except that which would be invited. When it came to the manifestation of a creative force, expressed by Queening the Pawn, there could be some advantages to underpromotion such as Knighting a Pawn. It all depended on what I called the Weird of the board, the rules that I shared with whoever and whatever the Ogdoad pieces would affect, and this sharing would not be so much agreed-upon but subject-to (with luck and perspicacity, maybe, noticed); that was what the Weird would be. Some spaces would be more chaotic or less well-understood, more Wild, and if the rules changed or there were no rules, there Ogdoad would have a different meaning or become meaningless. I still didn’t understand en passant Pawn capture, but there must have been something there to do with approximations of liminal transferring of information…
These were a lot of rules to re-learn. To set those up as mirrors to liminal experiences would be important, to keep the meaning, but might begin to contrive the liminal experiences to suit the rules instead.
Untitled by Guillermo Tolentino (detail) photo by Faemon
An image appeared in my mind (or in what I call the Surreal) of a young girl, fine hair as white as lightning, and a lunar glow to the rest of her body softening the outline of an already softly-shaped figure. This I recognized as my headcanon of Lilibell, first formed during a read of Lilibell of Two Hearts, and she sat at a table across from what looked like C-3PO from Star Wars if redesigned by Steve Jobs in the early 2000s: a slender humanoid form cast in seamless yellow gold, with no musculature, no hair, no unnecessary protrusions in the way of nipples or genitals or ears, and maybe there were facial features but they gave me a headache to squint through all the golden surface reflections to make those out. My headcanon Aletheias tended to look like that. What appeared to be a strobe light shone on the table between them, the shadows of the room around them concealing an audience like an amphitheater.
When I brought my mind back to the cafe, the glow at the edge of the Surreal table remained in what I call the Otherreal—a glow at the edge of the corporeal cafe table that probably no one else could sense.
My thought processes had leapt to a story-shaped conclusion:
Lilibell had been something of a champion in something like a ritual-sport-game-thingummy that was somewhat like chess. Aletheia 002 had been built and programmed to calculate all the possible moves in this game, and to play each move to the best advantage. The Clarene had apparently taken some pride in raising them both to this point. Lili played A002 to a stalemate seven times in a row, and on the eighth, A002 won. As this particular string of games hadn’t been particularly fun, Lili decided to not play for an ever again.
The game grew in popularity among the star spirits who had settled in the West, and the King began to grow suspicious. This had, emphatically, absolutely nothing to do with the King’s not-unwarranted prejudice against star spirits. The King had simply grown to realize how domineering and divisive the nature of the game was at all, creating ranks and hostilities between players. Its very structure generated a desire to win out over others. This game could not be good for society. And By Complete Coincidence, the minority of society that built a subculture around the game happened to be…in proportional majority…stars.
Lilibell, in a show of support for them, took once more to the competition area even as Centries reinforced the closing of the same. This may have involved some amount of violence and noise. Lilibell made a convincing case to the gods to the contrary, and the game once more became playable by anyone who wanted to play.
Eventually everyone should be utterly flabbergasted by all the fuss.
I turned to a fresh page in my notebook and wrote a letter to this presence, I thought of as Lilibell. What I took to be the ensuing conversation didn’t bring about anything particularly revelatory. Mostly, I remember the mood shifting in her glow. To me at that moment she carried such a charming, easy company. She could technically be snarky and rude, I was sure, inasmuch as that could jolt someone out of their comfort zone. Still, I couldn’t word it that way when twining wreathes of uncontainable compassion and goodwill rippled between us like the beating of mighty wings. If ever she suggested I change anything about myself, I’d do it, because she was the fulcrum between honesty and compassion, the spoke of that wheel. That sort of glamour can easily be used for evil, I thought, which was much less cynical than my usual thoughts. A front such as that always conceals some sort of evil, for one. Nobody’s really like that inside and out, unless their world is too small to know better, in which case there’s the bigger world for that sheer ignorance of damage to further damage. (For another.)
But I can believe in some aspects of the stories about her. I can believe Lilibell had made compromises, faced consequences, suffered fear of abandonment and betrayal. I was particularly inspired to write her internal struggles with evil. (As in, evil so pure that it can’t exist and yet it still manages to evil in its own evil absence. Even its privative remains evil. That’s how evil the evil evils.)
I can still believe those aspects, and Lilibell in the cafe didn’t come off as disagreeable on that point. Yet it remained difficult for me to believe that anyone could go through, or even brush up against any of that, and not sustain some stain that will never become wisdom, something irreparably broken in the beat of a wing or a heart.
How did you do it? I wondered. Whether it is fronting because we’d only just met for Otherreal, or one of numerous aspects (neither the Dierne’s joy or fear are necessarily less authentic for being different traits within one god), or the defining feature of Lilibell’s true self—it would be helpful to know. As I mentioned, though, the conversation was nothing revelatory. I couldn’t understand the response, or couldn’t translate. Maybe she really can’t give me a how-to, or won’t as she doesn’t and shouldn’t have to. She gave me a thought to the possibility. I feel like that’s a lot.