“Through the Eye of the Needle” by AJ Fitzwater (6080 words)
No Spoilers: Kitahniaa is a dragon whose been imprisoned by a long time by a mistress who keeps people as things, who joys in keeping them, in denying them freedom, and playing them against each other. Riena is a new arrival to the menagerie, is a woman who can creating animate things from tapestry. They might find in each other a freedom both are desperate for, or a betrayal that would break them. The piece weaves together the tw characters, their hopes and drives, while acknowleding the danger they are living, the treachery inherent in this menagerie. Most of all, though, the piece highlights resilience, trust, and love, which makes for a sometimes-thrilling, heartwarming read.
Keywords: Dragons, Tapestries, Imprisonment, Freedom, Oceans
Review: For me this is a rather heavy story, not just because it takes place in what is essentially a prison. It does a great job with Kitahniaa, the main character, and their desire for freedom, but their hesitation about it, because of how long they’ve been held, because of how they’ve been hurt, and because in some ways of the poison of the menagerie and the mistress. Which, more than anything else, I think degines the menagerie for me—the poison. The poison of the place, certainly, and the poison of the mistress. The story is full of literal poisons that prevent escape, but I like how the piece takes that to another level and explores the poison in a metaphoric sense, in how it gets into the characters, twists them, makes them distrust each other, nearly turn on each other. It’s the greatest poison of all and the greatest power keeping people in their prison—that they cannot trust. The story lays this out beautifully in the very beginning, saying that death or love are the only escapes. It’s just that, for me at least, it took a while for what that meant exactly to crystallize and reveal itself.
I just love the relationship between the characters as well, the fragility of it as well as the strength of it. To return to poisons and how they’re used in the story, there’s this lovely twist where Kitahniaa has poison of their own, a lethalness of their own, but has also learned to control it. To not be a tool of the menagerie, or the mistress. To turn some of her poison into something that heals instead of harms. To make it so that it can become a tool to escape, instead of always being turned inward. And the story shows how much trust this requires, to make themself vulnerable to Riena, to trust when everything tells them that this must be a trick, a lie, that it must be just another layer of cruelty. And yet hope remains, and Kitahniaa is able to control that poison, to resist the impulse to distrust.
The action when it comes is sudden and visceral, and I like how the story builds to it, showing the inner turmoil, the inner reaching inside Kitahniaa, but also their patience. Of course, patience doesn’t always win the day, and I like how the climax comes, and that it leaves scars, but that ultimately the story for me is about escape and trust, even when it’s hard, even when it hurts. It’s about the power of love, to be all sappy, and how it can help to heal, even if it cannot erase all scars and relieve all pains. It can still give people reasons to continue to reach out in hope and trust, to find help and to give it. It’s a wonderful story!