Friday, August 10, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #257

I am sorely tempted to guess that the link between the two latest stories from Beneath Ceaseless Skies is that their both authored by a Christopher. Because, at first glance, these two pieces are very different in terms of character, tone, and theme. Looking closer, though, and the stories seem paired not because of how well they work in harmony, but in how well they contrast, showing two sides of the same coin. On one, we get to see a man on a quest realize that he’s in danger of losing something of himself and pause, take stock, and find comfort and guidance in another person. In the other story, though, we find a man who has fully embraced his quest, regardless of who he needs to destroy or hurt. Both stories feature mostly conversations and philosophy, but in one a lesson is learned, and in the other it is utterly destroyed. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Piotr Dura

“A Legacy of Shadows” by Christopher M. Cevasco (6121 words)

No Spoilers: Rallos is a bit of a vagabond, a recluse who doesn’t feel comfortable around other people, in part owning to the fact that he’s half Woodwere (kinda like an elf?) and his family was mudered by Defilers (kinda like undead/zombies). With a huge chip on his shoulder, he travels with his dependable horse Himo on a quest to stop what happened to him from happening to anyone else. Which means, in practice, finding and putting a stop to any Defilers or dreadlyngs (part Defilers) he finds practicing their dark arts. The setting has a rather classic fantasy feel to it, full of magic and with a bit of grit, though this is by no means grimdark-y (in my opinion). Instead, it’s a story that looks at prejudice and violence. Rallos is a man looking for a fight, certain of his righteousness. When he comes to a village who has a problem with a local dreadlyng, though, this prejudices are pulled out into the light. It’s a fun and rather joyous story about resisting the pull of violence in favor of understanding and patience.
Keywords: Misunderstandings, Violence, Horses, Magic, Art, Painting
Review: This is a rather delightful story, full of the tropes of high fantasy, of good vs evil, being examined and questioned. In many ways I read it as taking a critical look at things like Dungeons and Dragons racial allignments, the belief that all undead are evil, monsters. It takes a look at someone who considers himself perhaps a paladin, someone who Does Good, and then not. And that moments comes thanks to Morthos, a dreadlyng who is not at all what Rollos expects. Morthos is patient and hopeful and peaceful. He’s an artist, and though he has a much shorter lifespan that Rollos can expect (and I liked this point quite a bit), he’s in no rush to kill or to seek revenge. Instead he burns with the desire to create, and with this kind of hope and peace he inspires Rollos to maybe change his ways. Not to stop seeking justice and preventing violence, but with a more complicated view of what he’s doing. Certainly it seems like he’s not going to go about sneaking up on people to cut them down before finding out what they’re about. The story does a great job of capturing the impulse to attack out of hurt and a desire for revenge, and how that even when that is turned to Doing Good, it’s not a good impulse to give into. Because it’s not rigorous, because it has nothing to do with what is right or wrong. Because right and wrong are much more complicated concepts than what race a person is or who their parents were. Instead, fighting for good means having to carry the burden of examining each person and situation on its own. It means resisting assuming intent based on appearance. And I just like how the story manages a fun and pleasant trajectory while keeping things fairly fresh and interesting. The character work is solid and charming and it’s a nice reminder that a lot of the tropes of fantasy, especially in gaming, don’t translate well outside of that frame, and even within it remain full of problems and false simplicity. A fine read!

“Old No-Eyes” by Christopher Mahon (6065 words)

No Spoilers: Yute has broken an exile of sorts to return to more civilized environs to meet with a form peer who tried to hurt him. Who tried to take Yute’s place, his reputation. Who sought to ruin Yute. Now, though, this man, Tenza, needs Yute to translate something, a bit of necromantic lore that perhaps only Yute can make sense of. The truth, though, is much larger, and more annihilating, than Tenza can imagine, and what follows is part conversation, part lesson, and part duel. The piece is a bit chilling for me in part because of the voice of Yute, who’s perspective opens up a lot of questions and confrontations. With nothingness, and infinity, and immortality. And in some ways I see the story as looing rather critically at the drive to be immortal, and what that means, and what’s at the end of that road. It’s unsettling, and rather violent, and a marked tonal shift from the last piece.
Keywords: Necromancy, Immortality, Rivals, Infinity, Masks, Translation
Review: While the last story delt with a character learning to see his own lies, his own prejudices, this story takes a much different turn, focusing instead on a character who is very clear on what he’s lying about and what his truth is. For a necromancer, this means more than just knowing his own dislike for the people who cast him out of their intellectual circles because of his theories. It means having pushed those theories to the limit and found a flaw at the very foundation of necromancy. Lured back to try and translate a strange new book, Yute hides that he’s actually the book’s author, and that it’s secrets are not in the cyphered passages but in the clear language laid out, that to be immortal is to face the infinite, and to face the infinite means to annihilate the self. It’s an idea that means complete destruction in some ways, because a person cannot touch upon true infinity without being destroyed by it. They become no one, an absence, one with the universe. It shakes necromancy because the necromancers are egoists, are selfish and cruel. Not that Yute seems to have gotten over all of that. But he has become that which necromancy was point to, which means he is the realization of a goal that perhaps was never meant to be reached. The horror falls from the growing realizing that this group has planeted the seed for their own destruction, and from the horror of what Yute has embraced on his way to immortality—true immortality. Dark, heady, and very much worth spending some time with!


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