Chapter Three

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Chapter 3: Beside the Black Lake

The passing sun cast shadows through the intricate screens that shaped the large hall into smaller, more intimate spaces.  The light dappled on the floor and walls in patterns of color and shape, and Umvara watched his shadow pass over it all as he made his way down the wide stair and to the shining floor of his great hall.  This alone was a fit place to welcome the daughter of the Vovikar returned at last from her alien refuge.  He was nervous at the prospect of meeting her, and of facing more of the Earthmen.  These would not be like the ones he was accustomed to; they would be fresh from their world, filled with the light and strength of their kind.

His robe swept behind him, billowing with each step, and he gestured to the servants who began to shape the hall into a more open space.  They easily shifted the screens into a pattern that reminded him of the twenty-fifth mode of the tenth dynasty – when the Vovikar had first taken power.  He hoped it would prove an auspicious welcome.

The throne was covered with a white drape of silk, every fold of it carefully considered for connotation and overtone.  The flowers were freshly induced into bloom, and the carefully placed lamps would keep them open far past sunset.  He wore the metal caps on the last two joints of his left hand, and he tapped them together as he paused and looked at the chamber, weighing every detail.

He felt the footfalls through the floor and turned to see his honor guard enter the room.  He supposed it might be taken amiss that he allowed the kur mercenaries in here, rather than using his own household men, but it was the one concession he would not make.  The High Martians were far better fighters, and he wanted them here when the British came thundering in with their soldiers.

Turyan came in at the head of her men, and he felt the same mixture of unease and admiration for her he always carried.  The wild kur were taller than red men, and their skin was as pale as new ice.  She wore her robe loosely over her black armor, mask dangling unused at her side.  In here, within the domes part of the palace, supplemental air was unneeded, especially for one who had been born to the hard, lightless deserts above.

She stalked like a predator, and it always gave him a secret thrill to watch her.  Her eyes were wide and black, her hair gathered into three braids and knotted together at the back of her head.  She walked with hand on the hilt of her sword, and she never seemed to look directly at anyone.

Turyan inclined her head and made a gesture of obedient greeting which was almost charming in its crudeness.  She nodded to her men and the entire rend took their positions around the room.  “My overlord,” she said by way of greeting.  It was rude, but certain rudenesses were expected from the highlanders, and tolerated.

“You have worn your finest robe,” he said, looking to make sure the guards were evenly spaced.  “You are eager to meet this girl.”

“I stand ready to meet the next Empress,” she said somewhat stiffly.  “It is a moment of importance.”

“It is,” he said.  He often found it easy to speak to her, because she would never think less of him for it.  She was outside the systems of caste and rank.  Her people were strange to him, but unlike many of his peers he found them interesting.  “We shall see what kind of girl she has grown into.”

“Her mother was a great ruler,” Turyan said, and he almost laughed.  He could not tell if she was being serious or not.  The kur were not known for their sense of humor, and it would be unlike her to joke.

“She was assassinated,” Umvara said.  “I would say that alone denotes a ruler who has failed in some essential capacity.”

Turyan stiffened and then he saw her force herself to relax.  He wondered at that.  It was not like her to be emotional.  He decided to let it pass.  Her feelings were not his concern, only her efficacy.  “Have you seen Earthmen before?  Their soldiers?”

“I have not,” she said.  “Not closely.  I confess I am curious.”

“They are strong as vulo,” he said.  “Stronger, in fact.  They tread heavily and speak loudly and they will find it too dark in here for their tastes.”  He sniffed.  “They have an odor.  And do not be alarmed by their gesturing and waving of arms.  They are a barbaric people and gesticulate wildly when they speak.”  He looked at her sidelong to see if that barb touched her, but she seemed not to notice.  He repressed a shrug.  It was often his curse to interact with people who possessed no subtlety.  Umvara paused and felt the shudder of many feet through the floor, a particularly heavy tread.  “Here they come now.”

Anya held herself rigid, her back straight and her pace measured.  The interior of the palace was so achingly familiar, overflowing with things she had not known she remembered.  The low light was welcome to her eyes, and she found herself able to see the faint glow of the Earthmen around her, as she did when it was dark on Earth.  It seemed brighter here, doubtless because of the cold.  The colors of the walls and floor were muted yet complex, shimmering with little traces of silver and gold.

The soldiers around her marched as one, stepping so carefully, and yet still several times one of them overbalanced and fell.  Sir James was close beside her, and he seemed to be more at ease, though she was amused to see Sir Wallingstone having more difficulty.  They passed through a doubled door, and then the atmosphere was thicker and richer, and they all breathed more easily.  Parts of the great homes were always walled off within glass domes to provide a refuge of luxury like this – thick air and a welcome humidity.

Now the halls were lined with cultivated plants and strung with vines studded with glowing flowers.  Some of the plants shifted as they walked past, reaching toward their warmth and breath, and the soldiers obviously found it unnerving.  Anya quickened her stride a little to draw ahead.  She wanted to be first into the great hall, quick on the heels of the servants who led the way.

She went down a wide, shallow stair, the steps rounded and smooth, as if they had been grown rather than shaped.  The hall opened out into a wide, high-ceilinged room lined with slender pillars that were far too delicate to support anything.  On Mars there was little need for such flourishes, and in the light gravity architecture was often soaring and fanciful to an eye used to Earth.

The floor was polished and intertwined with deeper colors in patterns like knots, like a map of coiling rivers in red and copper and skeins of silver.  At the far end was a throne draped in white cloth, and behind it was a wall that shimmered, and it was a moment before she realized it was a cascade – a thin fall of water flowing eternally down the wall, in this place an unthinkable display of opulence.

The man who came toward her was tall, and he looked taller because of the elaborate wirework headdress he wore, his hair worked meticulously in and around the gold and copper frame.  He had the long face and deep red skin of a Martian, and she was surprised by how strange he looked to her.  She had become so accustomed to Earthmen that her own kind appeared alien to her.

His wide, heavy robe swept the floor as he came to meet her, the sleeves rolled and rolled until they looked as thick as blankets.  Jewels and gilded designs glimmered on his ceremonial breastplate, and there were small stones glued to his brow in imitation of the horns that only her line truly carried.  He approached with hands outstretched, and then he inclined his head and made several small, deliberate gestures that she half-remembered the meanings of.

She had to resist the urge to bow in answer, or even nod.  Here she was claiming the title of Empress, and she had to hold to that as strongly as she could in word and deed.  Here no sovereign ever bowed or acknowledged such gestures.  It was considered a fundamental mark of status that she hold herself above all such things, and so she held herself stiff, hands folded and back straight, neck stretched and her chin slightly elevated.  She remembered how her mother used to stand, and she tried to emulate it.

“Anavasavsta, Shrad of Vul, Scion of the Most Ancient House of Vovikar,” he said, his face held in an expressionless reserve.  “It is an honor for me to welcome you, once more, to your home.  My house is yours, my strength is yours.”

Now came the moment to speak, and she caught her breath, worried that her tongue would fail her.  It had been so long since she had spoken the language of her people aloud that she worried she would sound foolish, or her accent would be strange.  She knew there were proper gestures to make, and she only remembered such as a child had known.  In her nervousness, she held herself even more rigidly upright, and she made a small sign of acknowledgment.  “Umvara, Shrad of Shal, Blood of My Ancestors.  I greet you in this appointed hour.”

“I am small before you,” he said.  “May I never tread upon your shadow.  May I hallow the promises made by my forebears to uphold the lineage of Vovikar.”  He made another series of signs and she resisted the urge to nod in answer when he inclined his head again.

Sir Wallingstone stepped forward and to her left.  “Greetings, my Lord Umvara.  I am Sir Henry Wallingstone, the leader of this delegation from Her Imperial Highness, Victoria of England.  I am pleased to have escorted Her Highness, Princess Anastasia, on this momentous occasion.”

A silence fell after this, and Anya felt a moment of worry that Umvara had not understood and would be offended – for her own part she found Wallingstone’s intrusion set her teeth on edge – but he only smiled.  Martians did not tend to show their teeth when they smiled, and so there was a certain sly quality to it.

“Of course, my good friend Sir Henry,” Umvara said in accented but clear English.  “It is good to meet you eye to eye, after such a long correspondence of letters.  We have both worked hard for this day to occur, and I am pleased that it has arrived.”

Wallingstone puffed up a little.  “Please, let me present the commanding officer of the regiment we have brought with us.  This is Sir William James, Colonel of the First Martian Rifles.”

He beckoned and Sir James came forward, stepping with care and holding himself with military stiffness.  He sketched a rigid little bow.  “My lord,” he said.  He did not look right at Umvara, and Anya approved.  She knew it was considered insulting for those of lower position and status to look their betters in the eye – and on Mars all soldiers were socially inferior.  Sir James had been to Mars before, and he knew this well enough.

“Excellent,” Umvara said.  “May I introduce my own military adviser and chief of my honor guard.”  He held up a hand and made a small beckoning gesture.  “Turyan.”

One of the pale High Martian guards detached from the wall and came to stand just behind Umvara.  Anya was surprised to see it was a woman, very tall, so that she would be eye to eye even with Sir James.  As a native of the dust-clouded deserts she was white as milk, with her dark eyes lending her an unnatural appearance.  Her hair was gathered in braids that hugged close to her head and were knotted together in a kind of topknot.  She wore a black robe that was small for her size – almost more of a wrap without sleeves or sash, and Anya recognized it was meant to be discarded in case of violence.

She wore armor made of the polished and treated black wood harvested from the mushroom trees, and a straight, slim Martian sword on her left hip and a pistol on her right.  She looked them all over with a cold detachment, though Anya felt her gaze linger longest on her.  It made her nervous.  She remembered the High Martians – the kur – employed as mercenaries and bodyguards.  But she also remembered the wild stories of their savagery and violence – the stories that they wore flayed skins and ate the flesh of their enemies.

For his part, Wallingford seemed discomfited that she was a woman.  He coughed.  “So this . . . this woman will be commanding your forces?”  He tried to sound unsurprised, but his tone was easy to read.  Anya wondered if the Martians could tell.  They did not use the same kinds of obvious intonations in their own speech.

“The time for that will be soon,” Umvara said.  “But tonight you have traveled far and there is much to be done before steps can be taken.”  He tapped his foot on the floor and servants appeared, stood waiting in even rows.  “You will need to billet your soldiers, unload their equipment, and see to their comforts.  I have had rooms prepared for all of you, and will give no cause to doubt my hospitality.”  He bowed again to Anya.  “All honor to you,” he said, reverting to Martian.  “Turyan, my constant sword, will escort you to your chambers, and see to your safety.”

“Thank you, Blood of My Ancestors,” Anya said.  She turned to face the lean mercenary commander, who bowed to her and stared resolutely past her shoulder.

“This way,” Turyan said.  “I will guide you.”

Anya felt strange leaving with the guards, but then she heard heavier footfalls and saw that Colonel James was following with six men.  She was surprised by what a relief she found this, and intentionally slowed her pace.  Turyan and her ten men had to slow as well, and so the Earthmen were able to catch up.  Colonel James fell in beside her with a quick smile.  “Can’t very well let you go off alone, Your Highness,” he said.

“Indeed, Colonel,” she said.  “I am eased by your accompaniment.”  She saw Turyan watching them, and from her expression it seemed she did not understand English.  Anya resolved to remember this detail, as it might become useful.  The warrior woman unnerved her, and she was glad not to be alone with her in a strange place.

They proceeded up a wide stair, and again Anya was given to marvel at the complex colors in the walls and the slim pillars.  She knew much of this was made from the wood of fungi and vines.  It was induced to grow together in patterns, and then it was bonded with a resin and cut and polished into shape.  Dried and sealed, the wood-like material was tremendously light and strong.

They reached an upper level, and were gifted with a panoramic view of the city and the shimmering darkness of the lake.  Luminescent creatures swam in the black waters, swirling and coiling.  Anya knew the Martians had a great fear and reverence for the water, last memory of the great seas that had dried up before the rise of human civilization on Earth.  Sea creatures were almost divine, and yet so strange they were feared.  She knew few Martians could swim, or dared to.

Another staircase, and they were on the highest levels of the palace.  The hallway extended outward from the main structure, with a dizzying fall to either side through the glass windows that stood taller than any of them.  At the end was a door, and Turyan opened the door and led her inside, ordering her men to wait.

Colonel James made to follow, and the warrior woman turned and faced him, blocking his path with her hand on her sword.  “You will not be permitted in the private rooms of the Empress,” she said, her voice low and dangerous.

He spoke in perfectly understandable Martian, and Anya saw she was surprised.  “You have your duty, and I have my own.  I will not allow her to remain here unless I have personally checked that these rooms are secure.”  He gestured behind him.  “And I will have men here to guard her as well.”

Turyan stiffened.  “I will not be insulted.”

Anya resisted the urge to touch her arm, knowing Martians did not casually touch one another.  “It will be permitted,” she said.  “I have trust in the Colonel, and he is sworn to me.”

Turyan stood almost nose to nose with Sir James for a long moment, and then she stepped back.  “It will be as you command,” she said.

Sir James nodded and moved gingerly past her.  He paced through the high, spacious apartment.  Martians did not tend to divide their rooms up, so there was only one large, open area with some screens to divide it as wanted.  The windows were wide and high, though the Martian glass was stronger than what was made on Earth.  They were high off the ground, the apartment supported by a single slender column that was as smooth as glass.  Such chambers were all but impossible to infiltrate.

He nodded.  “Good.”  He bowed to Anya.  “I believe you will be safe enough here, Highness.”  He smiled a bit and took a breath from his mask.  He hesitated for a moment, but then made his leave.  Turyan watched him every moment, her eyes intent and depthlessly black.  In the dim light Martian pupils expanded and almost seemed to fill the whole eye.  Anya knew her own eyes were likely doing it as well.

Turyan faced her and bowed rigidly.  “I myself will guard your sleep tonight.  I will leave no one else to do so.  I will trade my life for yours, if it is called for.”  She seemed about to speak again, but then she simply left, and Anya was left alone with unasked questions, and the brooding quiet of a city older than the mind of man.


Chapter Two

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Chapter 2: Under the Crimson Sky

Princess Anastasia remained at the rail to observe, but William could not.  They would be landing soon, and he had business to see to.  He sketched a small bow and then made his leave, he didn’t think she even noticed.  She was a strange girl, with that deep red skin – redder than most Martians – and those little horns on her forehead.  Supposedly only her family line had those, and he’d never seen them on another.  The almost demonic look of her contrasted with her reserve and her poise.  She acted like someone born to rule, that was no mistake.

He went back across the deck and shouted a few commands just to keep the men sharp.  They were mostly doing what needed to be done.  A month of inactivity aboard the ship had them eager for something to do with themselves.  He paused to press the mask to his face and took a long breath of sweet air.  The one thing he really hated about Mars was how fast a man got out of breath here – the other thing was there were no horses, but that was another matter.

The troops were busy unpacking their rifles and ammunition cases, and he left Sergeant Bell in charge of the work and headed below.  Now they were in the Delve they were in potential danger, and he had to start thinking of the security of his men as well as the princess.  That meant he had to look to his artillery.

The light gravity made descending the stairs a white-knuckled enterprise of gripping and handrail and stepping carefully so he didn’t end up flat on his face.  He hadn’t been to Mars in almost seven years, and he was out of practice moving around.  He hoped it came back to him quickly.  Only about a third of the men had ever been off-planet before, and that could be a problem.  Under fire men forgot training and reacted, and that could mean troops stumbling and throwing themselves all over the place.

On top of that, riflery on Mars was complicated.  The kick of a Martini-Henry .577 would knock a man on his backside here if he was not braced for it.  It was one of the reasons they didn’t worry much about the Martians getting hold of Earth guns.  A Martian firing a rifle would probably dislocate his damned arm.  Here, shooters had to brace, and range was longer because of the gravity, but the stability of the bullet was worse because of the thin air, so accuracy at longer ranges went right to hell.

He emerged into the lower deck and followed the left-hand corridor to the armory.  The men on guard duty stiffened and saluted, and he returned it easily.  This was a new command for him, and these men didn’t know his history except perhaps by rumor.  That was part of the reason he had fought for this command.  It was almost funny that he’d managed to cock up so badly he had to get away from Earth entirely.  Or it would be funny, if it were not simply painful.

He came into the huge, open space of the armory hold and saw the artillerymen here already, cataloging, marking, and prioritizing.  The big guns were their real advantage, as the Martians did not have anything like them.  Gunnery would be very different here, but explosive shells would make hash of the delicate Martian architecture if it came to that.  He hoped it didn’t.  He rather liked the Martians, as much as it was possible to like such a strange people.  They were mercurial, reserved and then emotional, easy to anger but quick to forgive.

He returned salutes, then headed to the rearmost chamber, closed off from the rest of the hold.  He was not really surprised to find Sir Henry Wallingstone here already, and he was not really pleased either.  The man was a diplomat of that particularly shifty variety the foreign service seemed to produce by accident – like mold on bathhouse walls.  He was glad to see, at least, that his guards were not letting the man into the secure room.

Sir Henry saw him and his expression brightened.  “Sir William, just as well you are here.  Your men are -”

“Obeying their orders,” William said.  He smiled and the two guards drew themselves up stiffly and saluted.

“Colonel James, sir!” one of them said.  He gave Sir Henry a look and William almost chuckled.  The men didn’t much like him either.  Ah well, politicians.

“Stand easy,” he said.  “Open the door.”

“Sir!” the man said and opened the hatch, stepped aside and stood straight with extra snap.

William gestured to Sir Henry.  “After you, sir.”  It was a bit of a question as to who outranked whom here.  They were both peers, and while Wallingstone was nominally in command of the expedition, William thought the man would wilt at the first sign of danger.  He certainly had no illusions as to who the men would listen to.

Sir Henry smiled and preceded him through the hatch, and William followed.  The room inside had been walled off from the main hold before launch, and the long crate in here was lashed down and protected by wooden forms that affixed it to the deck.  There was a smell, something acrid and not like ordinary gunpowder.

“We’ll unload it last,” William said.  “It’s delicate – or moreso than a cannon.  I’m still hoping we don’t need it.”

Sir Henry went to the crate and stood beside it.  It was almost as tall as he was, and longer than two carts laid end to end.  He touched the wood.  “A real heat ray,” he said, as if ruminating.  “Have you ever seen one fired?”

“I have,” William said.  “I was in the capital when they did the annual firing, once.”

“Of the only one that still works,” Sir Henry said.  “The Martians have declined much from their supposed former state of greatness.”

His tone rankled, but William didn’t say anything.  The Martians had once held a much higher state of technological advancement than they did presently.  At their height they had created the great weapons known as heat rays – devices that projected terrible beams of annihilating energy.  They had long since lost the secrets of making them, but the royal palace was still equipped with great mounted examples that had once defended the emperors.  Only one of them now functioned, but the Martians fired it every year with great ceremony to maintain the ruler’s title as the Bringer of Fire.

“I’ve only seen them fired on Earth, the once,” Sir Henry said.  “Made a dreadful racket.  Easy to see how a more primitive people would worship such a device.”

William chewed on his tongue.  “Can hardly be that primitive, since they built the thing in the first place.”

“Not this one,” Sir Henry said.  He patted the wooden crate fondly.  “The Martians haven’t built a heat ray in over a thousand years, so they tell me.  This one was engineered by our boys in just a few years.”

“From the one we stole from them and took apart,” William said.

“Still, says something, don’t you think?  I have read the theories of Mister Charles Debakey, who theorizes that the present Martians are not the people who built this civilization, but rather the remnants of a servant race dwelling in the ruins of their masters.”  Sir Henry had a way of speaking that made him sound almost insufferably sure of himself.  Perhaps it served him well in statecraft.

“We’re not here to overawe primitives,” William said, his tone going colder.  “This is a dangerous, and delicate situation.  We may have an easy time, but I would not wager on it.”

Sir Henry waved a hand.  “We have a regiment of rifles and real artillery.  The Martians will have never seen anything like it before.  And we have the rightful and legal heir to their throne.  This is not a usurpation, it’s a completely legal action on our part.”

“Henry, the great tragedy of humanity is that there is no law that applies between governments, or between different peoples.  Sometimes men can agree, but when they cannot, there is war.”  He looked at the crated-up heat ray.  “This contraption is only here so we can impress upon them that Anastasia is the Bringer of Fire – that carries a lot of weight with them.  I pray we don’t have to use it on anyone.”

Sir Henry sniffed, looking at him with obvious disapproval.  “I had not expected a military man to be so hesitant to engage in violent action.  You don’t have a reputation for such reluctance.”  He gave William a sidelong look that said he knew exactly what William did have a reputation for.

Instead of showing anger, he laughed.  “It’s not reluctance at all,” he said.  “It’s the simple fact that if we are in the position of firing this infernal machine at someone, well, then things have already gone very, very wrong.”

Anya stayed at the bow of the ship and watched as they descended into the Delve.  They were so high, and yet the distances were deceptive.  The thin air made everything seem stark and near, and she imagined she could reach down and touch the ground below, when she knew it was miles distant.  There was not much wind, only layers of thin mist as they descended along the ancient cliffs.  The red earth contrasted sharply with the colors of the forests, and it was so vivid it brought a lump to her throat.

The sides of the Delve, even this high, were thick with the enormous mushrooms and more exotic fungi that grew everywhere in the canyons and river valleys.  They spread wide hoods in mottled reds and blues, blazoned with patterns that looked like water dropped into inks and swirled by a painter’s hand.  The ladder fungi grew everywhere the sides were steep, and they spread their fans of gold and azure, glinted with threads of silver.  The fungi of Mars were believed to have been bred in the lost age of greatness, and they drew up minerals from the hard soil and wove fibers in their flesh that made it hard as stone when dried and treated.

The Elizabeth descended through the air, slowed by the thickening atmosphere, steered with care to keep it from the ridges and outcrops of red stone.  Swarms of long-winged attla veered off to avoid the heavy craft, the bright colors on their webbed wings flashing as they flew past.  Their calls sounded the ticking of marbles on a hard floor.

She began to see the shapes of farms, the fields sown with green shoots of grain or the wide leaves of cycads harvested for their fruit.  The glint of waterways shimmered like a web through the haze of the low-lying mist.  Irrigation spread outward from the meandering channels of the river, taking life with it where it went.  She saw other airships moving here and there, but none so immense as the Elizabeth.  Among the slim Martian flyers she was an armored behemoth.

When they reached the lowlands, the ground all but vanished below in a welter of fog, and all she saw were the wide umbrellas of the mushroom forests and the occasional tower.  The legacy of tens of thousands of years of history was a world covered with ruins – places empty and forgotten, but still standing.  Some were still in use, but many stood vacant, a testament to how much of their history had been lost in the scramble to save themselves from a dying world.

Here at the bottom of the Delve, the mist was thicker, and made it hard to see the cliffsides, and the sun did not reach here for very long.  They sailed into twilight, and with the coming night the fungi below revealed their nocturnal phosphorescence, the mist shining with red and violet and golden light.

She smelled it before they saw it.  The heavy scent of water and life was almost enough to make her drunk on it.  Water was such a precious thing on this world, and that was something she had never become accustomed to on Earth.  Her first sight of the ocean there had stunned her, left her with a feeling that was not fear or awe but almost a kind of anger that one world should be so abundantly blessed.  She had seen the Earthmen waste water, bathe in it, foul it, piss in it.  They did not understand the riches they were given, and squandered them.  She wondered if her own people had ever been like that.

The mist parted and she saw the lake, and she let out a long, slow breath.  Lake Ona, the greatest body of open water that remained upon Mars.  It spread out before them dark and seemingly endless.  By day she would be able to see the far shores, but for now it was mysterious and boundless.  Fed by the canals that brought meltwater down from the poles, it was the wellspring of the power of the Empire, the very reason for it.  To guard it and tend it and see that it was not wasted was the purpose of civilization itself, for without it there would be nothing.

To her left in the west, she saw the glow of lights and the sprawling, radiant shape of the city that was their destination.  Shal was one of the three great cities of the Ona basin, spread out along the wide, shallow shore and the hub of trade and agriculture for the western end of the lake.  It had been the nursery of her family’s power in the Empire, where they had grown strong before they took the throne.  Her first ancestor had become Emperor before the first written word had been set down on Earth, and the line of her family stretched far beyond that.

The lord of the city was a Shrad named Umvara, and he was the nearest thing to a living relative she possessed.  He had inherited lordship of the city after the fall of her family, for his house was a cadet branch that had diverged before the fall of Rome.  She knew the British had been in contact with him, and that he was in some way expected to assist with the coup they were planning to execute.  She had not been included in the planning stages of the expedition and now she felt that as a distinct lack.  Everything was suddenly before her, and she felt unprepared for it.  Was she to just stand and look regal?  Was she merely a figurehead?  She was sure the British expected her to act as a kind of subordinate queen under their rule.  Once, alone on a foreign world, that had seemed worth it to return home.  Now it began to seem more and more distasteful.

Lights came alive on the deck of the Elizabeth, illuminating her in their glow, and she squinted against the sudden glare.  Bright beams stabbed down, splashing across the lake and the watery fields beside it.  She saw people down there, gathering to look up at them, wondering what they saw.  She realized these were the first people of her kind she had seen in almost ten years, and she closed her eyes for a moment.  Martians did not shed tears, but in that moment she almost wished for the release.

They swept in over the city, the bright-lit towers all around them.  The houses of noble Martians were always built high in defended places, to guard against the assassins that were simply a part of life in the constant wars between one family and another.  The streets below were wide and thronged with people even in the night.  Martians saw well in darkness, and so their world did not stop for sunset.  In a Martian city something was always happening, no matter the hour.

The demesne of the Shrad was close to the water, and she saw the beautiful spires and the glittering domes as they drew closer.  The Elizabeth could set down over the water itself, anchor and allow them to unload their men and cargo directly on the grounds of the palace.  She wondered if Umvara knew quite what he was getting himself into, if he was really as eager to join an armed insurrection as they seemed to think he was.  Lights blazed up to meet them, and the ship slowed and then turned majestically in place.  She heard the anchors splash down, and then the ship settled lower.

She held still for a moment, looking at the palace there so close, like a spun-glass ornament hung in the night.  She found she did not want to look away from it, for fear it would simply vanish, like a dream.  All of this seemed like a dream, and she clenched her fists as she fought the fear that it would turn like a knife and become a nightmare.  This was not the home of her hazy memories, it was a real and dangerous world, and she had best remember that.


They put down the long, clanking ramp from the middle deck to the shore, and Colonel James sent men down to form an honor guard.  The men in their red uniforms and white helmets looked out of place here, but they moved with parade-ground neatness, stepping lightly so as not to overbalance.  Twenty men to each side, they flanked the base of the ramp and made an aisle between them, standing stiff at attention.  They carried their rifles at port with bayonets fixed and glittering.

Anya held herself stiffly as the Colonel sent two more men down ahead of her, one bearing the flag of Britain, one of the regiment.  They marched to the end and stood to attention with the banners held up.  She wished they could carry a banner of her own house, but they had none.  Martians did not use flags to symbolize their nations.  She, herself, would have to be the symbol of the hour.

Colonel James nodded to her, drew his sword, and held it straight against his shoulder as he preceded her down the long gangpank.  She walked stiffly, with measured steps, careful not to stumble or reel in the light gravity.  Sir James reached the bottom and turned to let her pass, staring straight ahead as though he were alone.  “My lady,” he said formally.  “You are returned to the land of your birth, and of your forefathers.”

She wanted to say something, but the words did not come.  She was all but overwhelmed with emotion.  This swampy patch of land beside the lake was, in that moment, indescribably beautiful.  She only nodded to him, gathered a breath, and then stepped forward and set her feet at last upon her native soil.

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Chapter One

Title Card FB

Chapter 1: Down to the Red World

Anya went to the bow on their final approach to Mars, desperate after weeks in the void to finally see their destination.  The forward observation dome was quiet and lit only by small lights.  She gathered her skirts and made her way between the benches to stand before the great curved window, and she looked out into the dark.  Against the endless field of stars, the red world of her birth loomed large, and the color was a deep, copper red, marked by a swirl of white frost at the pole.

It was smaller than Earth, the totality of the surface only equal to the land area of all the earthly continents.  A planet of dim light and cold air, thin and lacking in oxygen.  The journey here had been like an enforced holiday no one wanted, highlighted by inactivity and impatience.  On Earth there had been preparation and packing and urgency, and then came the long voyage when it seemed like everyone was trembling on the edge of something, forced to wait.  The trip gave her far too much time to worry about her future.

It had been almost the opposite of her passage to Earth as a child – struggling to breathe the heavy atmosphere, prostrate beneath what seemed a crushing weight of gravity.  She had been so frightened, and did not understand the speech of those with her.  She remembered crying out in Martian, hoping someone would answer.

“I see you had the same thought as I,” came the voice of Sir Henry as he entered the room.  He always moved so quietly, much moreso than other Earthmen, who always seemed to stomp as loudly as possible.

She half-turned as he came to stand beside her, far enough away to avoid any impropriety.  He was the diplomat assigned to their expedition, and nominally in command, though he was not the officer who would direct the troops they brought with them.  He was a well-knit man with a drooping mustache and intense eyes.  The way he looked at things reminded her of the one time she had been presented to Lord Salisbury.  They both had that same cold watchfulness.

“I wanted to see it before we land,” she said.  “It’s been so long since I was here.”  She wished he would go away.

“Ten years,” he said.  “Almost as long for me.  I left not long after you did, though my visit was shorter.  Those were difficult days.”

“An understatement,” she said stiffly.  It seemed a dismissive way to refer to the uprising that had slaughtered her family and stolen her throne.  She could not remember any of them very well.  They were still images in her mind, like old photographs.  Theirs had been a dynastic family, and she had been raised by servants and guards and tutors.  She remembered her mother, tall and proud on the throne, more a presence than a person.

Sir Henry half-bowed with a slight smile.  “No disrespect, my lady.”

She made a noncommittal noise.  She had decided some weeks ago that he had, in fact, no respect for anyone save himself.  She tried to ignore him and looked down on her homeworld.  The massive shape of the mountain the Earthmen called Olympus was plain to see on the red expanse.  A volcano the size of France, the slopes thick with strange vegetation, fed by cooling winds that flowed down the sides.  Rain fell on those slopes, one of the few places on Mars where that happened.  It was a sacred place to her ancestors, and she wondered if she would ever see it in person.

“You are worried,” he said, in that way he had of assuming and then not looking back.  “A regiment seems like a small force with which to reclaim an empire, but these are Queen’s Rifles, and the Martians have never had to face real riflery.  Once your cousin adds his native forces to ours, we will push to the capital and gather allies along the way.  It shall be like the Maghreb – we will find everywhere the enemies of our enemies.”

“My enemies,” she said.

He paused to take a small breath from his mask.  The Elizabeth was an Earth ship, but she was only operating at half normal air pressure to prepare the troops to the conditions they would face on the surface.  It had only taken Anya a few days to acclimate, and she continued to rather enjoy the discomfiture of the Earthmen.  The bare surface of Mars would be much worse.

“Yes,” he said.  “Your enemies, very much so.”

She had been taken from this world when she was just a child, the last survivor of the Vovikar dynasty that ruled the Empire.  The uprising had placed a usurper on the throne, and so the British had saved her life, taken her to Earth.  When she was young she had thought it a gesture of kindness, but now she knew they thought to someday use her to take back the Empire for their own purposes.  Now the usurper was dead, the empire divided, and that day had come.  Now she was returning to Mars at the head of a thousand British soldiers to try and retake her birthright.

“It shall be highly symbolic,” Sir Henry said.  “A great deal of prestige for the Crown.  It is already October back home.  By the time the year turns we shall have made you a queen again, and the year nineteen hundred shall open with the British Empire expanding to another world.”  He smiled.

There were many things she could have said, but she did not.  She had learned that differing with Sir Henry only brought frustration, and made no dent at all in his air of superiority.  He was what she found most frustrating about Earthmen, especially the British – the certainty that they were all that was best.  Some of them had more admirable qualities, but they were few.  She found her hand was knotted into a fist, and she hid it in a fold of her gown so he would not see.

She took a last look down at the planet below.  That this view of her home would be intruded upon offended her in a way she could not have expressed.  Instead she simply nodded to him.  “A good day to you, Sir Henry.”  She turned to go.

“And to you, if it is day.”  He laughed a little, then made a bow that was almost sincere.  “Princess Anastasia.”

She returned to her quarters through the dim corridors of the ship, glad that the thin air kept the troops in their barracks.  It was so lovely and quiet here in space.  One of the things she had first learned to dislike about Earth was how loud and how bright everything was.  Thicker air carried more sound, and it was something she had been forced to get used to.

The gravity was lower on the ship, and she was working to grow used to that as well.  Once they landed, the Martian gravity would be lesser still – about a third of what she had faced on Earth.  She remembered lying in her bed as a girl, the air so thick it felt like sand in her lungs and the gravity like a hand pressing her downward.  She had slowly, painfully become accustomed to it, but she knew it had changed her.  She was tall for an Earth woman, but short for a Martian.  Her bones would be denser and heavier than other Martians, and she would be strong.  Already, she could move more easily, had to learn to walk carefully so she would not stumble or trip.  Once they were on the surface, she would be three times as strong as any Martian.

She was a little dizzy when she got back to her quarters, paused to take a breath of oxygen from the little tube that led to the small tank on her shoulder.  The thin air was affecting her as well, though she had adjusted better than the Earthmen.  She had lived most of the last decade at a private chalet in Switzerland, high in the mountains where the thin air made visitors ill.  It was dense compared to the surface of Mars, but the best that could be managed on her adopted world – if she could be said to have adopted it at all.

For the last ten years she had spent a great deal of time alone.  They sent girls to be her companions, but they feared her and none of them became what she might call a friend.  They rotated the girls out as well, presumably so none of them would become confused in their loyalties.  Anya had had servants and guards and tutors, but no one else.  She found this journey and enterprise far more frightening than she wanted them to be.

Her rooms here were small, but well-appointed.  She always had the sense the British wanted her to project an image of royalty without developing appetites for luxury.  It made for a strange mixture.  It felt confined here, after the mountainous vistas of Switzerland, the terrible, bright sun and the cold winds.  She sat on the bed and reached into her drawer, took out the folded photo case and opened it.  Here she had a picture of her mother, taken the year before she had been assassinated.

Queen Omavarvisha, Shrad of Vul and Bringer of Fire, looked out from the photograph, the black and white image not conveying her deep red skin.  She had the small horns above her eyes that Anya had – three in a row on each side, the largest the length of a fingertip, the other two smaller as they receded toward her hairline – the mark of their family line.

The queen did not wear a British dress with corset and gloves and a high collar.  She wore the rich, heavy robes of a Martian queen over a body covered with little more than ornaments and jewels.  Her hair was bound in many long braids decorated with gold bands and looped in elaborate patterns.  Compared to a human’s, her face was elongated and her eyes were large.  Her ears were set slightly high and had long points.  Her gaze was direct and fearless, and she had a bared sword laid across her knees.

This was the only picture of her mother ever taken, and though it had been reproduced a hundred times – the original was in the British Museum – when she looked at it she felt her mother was looking right at her.  Anya sat up and looked in the small mirror, touched her own horns, her ears.  She wondered what she saw, and what she would think.  Her mother had not been a warrior queen, though she looked fierce.  She had been a daughter of a regal line, bred to command.

She folded the picture away, put it back in her drawer, and she thought of what was to come and she could not encompass it.  The prospect of an invasion contained far too many elements that were simply out of her experience.  It was hard enough to imagine returning to Mars – the world that was more like a dream to her now.  And if she seized her throne, what then?  The idea of having to be a queen was terrifying.

On Earth, when she felt alone and afraid, she thought of Mars, and took comfort in it.  Mars was her home, and there she could imagine she would return someday.  Now she was almost there, and it seemed a dread rather than a refuge.  She longed for it, and she shied from it, all at once.  She clenched her fists and pressed her arms against herself, feeling hard and tight and brittle.  She knew she was a pawn, of sorts, in this great game, and pawns were spent and traded and lost.  If she wanted to survive, she had to become a queen.

The Earthmen called her Anastasia, because Deep Martian sounded Slavic to their ears.  They gave her a name that sounded like her own, but was easier for them to pronounce.  But she had not forgotten her real name, and if she took the throne, it would not be under any name they gave her.  She would be a queen like her mother had been: she would be Anavasavsta.

Landing was much smoother than leaving Earth, and she barely noticed the passage through the frail atmosphere.  She felt the lurch when the ship shut off her planetary drives and shifted to the lift engines used by airships.  Ships could not fly very high on Mars; with the air so thin, they could not generate enough lift to rise more than a few hundred feet above the ground.  The normal drives would not push the ship either, as Mars had no magnetic field to push against.  Ships had to deploy sails and drift on the  Martian winds.

She went out as soon as she could, stepping from the heavy hatch and onto the open upper deck.  Her first breath of free Martian air was not convivial, as it was cold and breathlessly thin, tasting of blood or metal on her tongue.  She went to the rail and leaned there, fighting the urge to use her breathing tube.

The land spread out around her, endless rolling lands of stone and sand, the sky overhead hazy and dim with dust.  She took another breath and then relented, took the tube and clipped it into her nose so she could breathe a steady supply of oxygen to supplement the thin air.  She shrugged her shawl over her shoulders and wished she had a proper Martian cloak.  She decided she would obtain one as soon as she could.  A red robe fit for an empress.

The soldiers were on deck, carrying the stowed gear up from the hold and arranging it for easier access.  They were on the planet now, and she watched them unpack crates of rifles and distribute them.  It was funny watching the men easily hoist enormous crates in the lighter gravity, and then almost immediately collapse, gasping for breath through their masks.  Their bright red uniforms were quickly covered in a fine layer of red dust, as were their conical white pith helmets.  The fighting qualities of the British soldiers were not in question, but she had never thought they looked much like warriors.

Colonel James saw her and smiled.  He came closer and bowed to her with a sincerity she always appreciated.  “My lady.  This must be a momentous moment for you.”

“Indeed,” she said.  “It is actually my first time in the High Plains.”  Her people did not live in the uplands.  These dry, desolate plains were home to the High Martians, pale-skinned and savage of temperament, barbarians and raiders.  They were the wellspring of mercenary armies that fought the wars for their red masters.

“Can’t come down in the Delve,” he said.  “The jets would cause too much damage, and the pressure changes would make it hard to maneuver properly.”  He smiled again, put his mask to his face and breathed deep.  Sir William James, Colonel of the 1st Martian Rifles, was only a little older than Sir Henry, but at forty he looked older than that.  His beard was going gray on the sides, and there were lines in his face from wind and sun.  He was an old hand campaigner, and she gathered he was here to avoid some kind of scandal back home, though she had not heard details.

She liked him, smiled back as wide as she ever did, which was not very.  He was a big man, and she had to look up at him.  She knew he had been to Mars before, and though he didn’t seem to care for it, he remained rather cheerful.  She had heard rumors that he drank to excess, but she had never seen it.

The soldiers were unpacking artillery, and she felt a pang at the sight of the guns.  Sir Henry made it sound easy, but she knew retaking her throne would probably mean fighting, and she didn’t want to see Earth weapons used against Martians.  The whole expedition had seemed theoretical back on Earth, but now they were actually here and she was confronted with the stark reality, and she didn’t like it.

William followed her glance, and his smile faded a bit.  “We’ll hope this doesn’t turn into some kind of fracas,” he said.  “Seems damned rude to come to another planet just to start trouble.”  He winced.  “Your pardon, my lady.”

She almost laughed.  “Pardon granted, Sir James,” she said.  She breathed fresh air through her nose.  “I am not eager to see blood shed on my behalf.”

“Well, but you’re the rightful heir,” he said.  “Don’t forget that.  We are restoring you to your throne.”

“Well, and I suppose that’s all there is to it,” she said, somewhat sarcastic.

He laughed at that.  “Well, also bulling our way into a political situation on another world that could blow up at any moment.  We’re doing that as well.”  He took another breath and then nodded, pointed ahead of them.  “The Delve.”

She turned to look, and then clutched at the rail of the ship as the emotion overwhelmed her.  She had not thought she would remember it so well, but she did.  Ahead of them, the ground dropped away, and a layer of mist floated there like a sea lapping at the cliffs.  It was the edge of what the Martians called the Tarivinan Delve.  It was a network of canyons for which the word was entirely inadequate.  The American Grand Canyon would vanish within it.  The Delve was almost two thousand miles long, and on Earth would stretch from California to Maine and beyond.  It was over five miles deep, in some places closer to eight, and hundreds of miles wide.

In the Delve, the air pressure gathered and built to a more habitable atmosphere, moisture was trapped and rain fell, watering the farmlands below.  Thicker air made it warmer, and she felt it even as the first light mist settled on her face.  She smelled it, and the scent conjured memory so strongly she felt faint.  She remembered the mushroom gardens, the flowers on the vines that grew everywhere, hoppers bounding away too fast to catch with their red fins flicking.

The Elizabeth glided majestically over the edge and the mist rose up around them.  She felt the ship settle, and then it began to sink slowly through the gradually thickening air.  They dropped through layers of cloud and shadow, and then emerged into the open sky above the homeland of the ancient Martian civilization.  She saw the cliffsides covered with the multicolored fungi, the red ridges leading downward to the shining silver ribbon of the river hedged in by the orderly patterns of the cultivated fields.  The dim sun shone through only as a gentle glow, filtered through the mist to make a golden haze.  Just the sight of it all stilled her breath.

Colonel James leaned on the rail and took a breath from his mask.  “Welcome home, my lady.”

Come and contribute to my CAMPAIGN.


Mars Card copy

Not a dead world.  Not dead, but dying.  Once Mars was as green and fertile as Earth, covered with shallow seas and rich ecosystems, but that was long ago.  Now it is a world of high, arid plains, thin atmosphere, and endless dust.  The old sea bottoms grow with the fungi and other primitive forms that can survive, and life here is a harsh one.

The Martians achieved civilization long before Earthmen, and they have lived through more cycles of growth and decline than can be counted, or remembered.  The crisis of their fading world threw them into chaos, and there were aeons of war.  The people of the Red Planet once possessed a high degree of technology, but they have lost or forgotten most of it.  On the high plateaus the pale inhabitants live a nomadic and dangerous life that has not changed substantially in thousands of years.

In only one place does a shadow of Martian greatness remain.  The immense volcanic strike called the  Tarivinan Delve – a network of canyons so vast the Grand Canyon would be lost within it.  Two thousand miles long, and in places eight miles deep, it is here the last remnants of the old civilization live on.  The depth allows atmospheric pressure to collect and increase, and traps moisture for a more livable environment.

The Great Canals bring down water from the frozen poles, and from there it flows into the rivers and irrigation channels in the Delve.  Here there is rain, and the towering cycads, ferns, and mushroom forests that evoke an Earth of an earlier age.  Here the last Martian cities still stand, rebuilt again and again over thousands of years – some say hundreds of thousands.  The last remnants of a proud race cling to their old ways, and fight valiantly for the dwindling resources of their world

Come and explore this Mars with me. Help my campaign make goal!


Card 1 copy

Her name is not Anastasia. She remembers her real name, and often writes it down in the angular script of her native language. Anavasavsta. The British have a hard time with the pronunciation of it, often shortened it to “Anya”, or just called her “Princess”. The Deep Martian tongue sounds Slavic to an English ear, and so when they decided to give her an Earth name, they chose one that sounded close to her real one – or it sounded close to them at least.

She doesn’t look like one of them. Martian skin is red, and hers is especially dark – a blood red shade they find shocking. She has the small rows of horns on her forehead – the largest only as long as the smallest finger joint – just above her eyes. Her eyes are wide and dark, in the bright light of Earth they contract and look slitted to humans. Some of them call her a devil when they think she can’t hear them, but she has very good ears. She is tall for a human woman, though she is short for a Martian. On Mars she would have grown taller, on Earth she has grown up beneath the heavy hand of gravity.

The humans say her black hair is pretty, but they all look at her strangely, even the ones who are accustomed to her. She is different from them in so many small ways, and she notices them as much as they do. She has lived on Earth since she was nine years old, and she has become used to their pale skins and squat features, their white-rimmed eyes and flat teeth. Yet they cannot forget she was born on another world, and they never let her forget it.

Now she is going home. To the dim red world she remembers almost like a dream. She knows she will be stronger there, that the heavy gravity of Earth has made her muscles and bones dense and powerful compared to other Martians. The thin air will be hard to adjust to, as she has become inured to the thick atmosphere of Earth. She is in company with a regiment of soldiers, and they want her to take back the throne that was stolen from her mother and her family. She doesn’t know if she wants a throne, she isn’t sure if she wants revenge, or freedom, or neither. She is nineteen years old – very young still for a Martian – and she does not know if she can be a queen.

Come and see my campaign, help me tell Anastasia's stoy.

Anastasia, Queen of Mars

Title Card 2

My new campaign is live! I know it seems like I just use this old LJ for campaign posts, but there are some people who only see my news here, even barren as LJ has become.  But never mind, onward!

Her name is Anavasavsta. Born on Mars in the year 1880 to an ancient royal house, she was heir to the throne of an empire. She was only a child when the Earthmen came to her world, and changed everything.

When the British came to explore Mars in 1879, they found a harsh, ancient world teeming with new and strange forms of life, including the red-skinned people of Mars, who live in the deeps of the Tarivinan Delve – a network of ravines and river valleys five times as deep as the Grand Canyon, where the air pressure provides an atmosphere more suited for life.

The Martian city-states and federations had lasted for thousands of years. Often at war, using technology left behind from an ancient golden age, they were totally unprepared for the arrival of Earthmen. Trade and colonization disrupted the world’s balance of power, and a war tore apart the oldest empire on the face of the planet.

The British thought it would be useful to have an heiress to the throne at hand, so when her family was wiped out, they took young Anavasavsta to Earth. She almost did not survive the harshness of her new home – the heavy gravity and dense air pressure. But now she has lived on Earth for ten years, learning languages, customs, and, above all, to adapt to the hardships of her new planet. She has a new name, given to her by the British: Anastasia.

Now, in 1899, the coalition that seized the throne on Mars has fallen apart, and the empire is there to be taken. Now she will return to the planet of her birth at the head of a battalion of soldiers to take the throne in the name of the British Empire.

She is going back to a world she has not seen since she was a child, where she does not know if she belongs. She will be given the power to take revenge on the people who killed her family, but as a pawn of the British Empire. The Earthmen are her allies – some are even her friends – but is she willing to take the throne just to make it a possession of the Crown? Must she choose between being Anavasavsta or Anastasia? Can she become the Queen of Mars?

Click the THING!


Captain Blackstone

Blackstone 1

When we speak of criminals so horrifying that their names are spoken of in whispers, we must speak of Lady Fane Blackstone, the Countess of Warven. What can we say that has not been already said? That she murdered her parents in an attempt to inherit their fortune, then fled Britain when she was discovered. She appeared in Constantinople after, in the court of the Sultans, and was involved in an intrigue there which resulted in ten thousand deaths and her own banishment. Imprisoned in a remote fortress in the Caucasus, she escaped in company with a host of bitter criminals and took to the sea as a desperate and amoral commander of pirates. When last she was reported, her ship had become trapped in ice high in the Barents Sea and civilization shed a tear of relief that she was, at last, no more. Now that she has reappeared as a captain of sky corsairs, alive through some mysterious intervention and hell-bent upon vengeance, who can say what infamies she will pursue?

Well, with 4 days to go and just 63% funded, I am pretty sure I am not going to make goal this time.  But every dollar still matters!  Come and grab a perk and some sexy pirate adventure!

Captain Hawk

Hawk 2

A rake, a rogue, and a privateer, Captain Avery Hawk has gone from navy man to licensed buccaneer and now finds himself a criminal. His mother wanted him to be a barrister, but instead he took to the sea, and soon after, he became part of the first generation of Britain’s airship-sailors. He was always more trouble than he was worth, with an unruly tongue and a knack for saying the perfectly wrong thing. Discharged from the navy, he became a privateer, and then a full-blooded corsair. After a rather sensational affair in Morocco he became famous, and dime novels making him out to be a hero began to appear. Now he has been caught and sentenced to hang, and the last thing he expects is a rescue by five strange schoolgirls...

There's 13 days left in the campaign, and I can't extend it any more than that.  It's 54% funded and I still have a ways to go.  Please come and help!


The Doldrums

It's always hard to maintain my own morale when a campaign is struggling.  There's just 5 days left, and it's pretty obvious that I am going to have to extend the deadline.  I hate doing that, because one: it feels dishonest.  I use the shrinking window to build what salesmen call "urgency" and get money in the door, and then I reboot the whole thing.  Two: it extends the time I am running the campaign, and it is tremendously stressful and emotionally exhausting to keep this kind of pressure up.  It always wears me down and takes weeks for me to recover.  I don't like doing it, but I have to.  The third reason is the simple, practical reason that it pushes back the time frame until I get paid, which means some major belt-tightening for me.  With the deadline set next week, I was looking at a payday in the next 14 days, now it may be more like 35, and that puts a strain on what remains of my budget.

I've been trying to diversify, get some freelance work, but it's slow and unreliable.  I have to have a cushion to work from, no matter how low I get my expenses. (And they are loooowww, let me tell you.)

The worst part is the constant feeling that I should be Doing Something.  The feeling that I need to get up at like 2 am and get to work on some brilliant piece of online marketing that will make my campaign go viral and launch it into the stratosphere.  I always feel like the perfect thing is just out of reach.  This is coupled by the incompatible feeling that there is nothing I can do.  This is the wrong idea, the wrong time, people are sick of my bullshit, or are just broke for whatever reason.  I don't know, and it's like a puzzle I can never solve.

So instead I come on LJ and complain about it, because, well, hardly anybody will see it here, but it feels better than just not saying it at all.

EDIT: I am looking back through and I am just like "holy shit I write a whiny post like this every time don't I?"  Feel free to ignore me.  Sheesh.

Ayesha A'Jharra

Ayesha Card

Ayesha is the newest girl at Bloodgood House. An orphan from Algiers, she has a rich uncle who is her benefactor, and who is responsible for her being sent away.  She does not speak English well and is sensitive about that, though she speaks French, Arabic, Turkish, and Italian quite fluently.  She is a tremendously intelligent, but is also terribly shy and timid girl, seemingly afraid of her own shadow.

She has a great fear of fire, and the rumor is that there have been several unexplained conflagrations while she was asleep.  She takes a long bath in the evening, going to bed with wet hair and damp skin.  She tries to keep to herself, and yet she is desperately lonely, and would do anything to have friends.

The campaign is waaaay behind, and there's a limit to how far I can push it and still be able to keep the lights on here.  Head on over and help out!