Archive for September, 2014

How to Fossilize and Profit.

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

When it comes to living forever, everyone’s an expert.
With that kind of introduction, who’s going to want to listen to me, right? Well, here’s what I’m selling: something proven. Something that’s been done before and worked, something that’s been tested through time in the most obnoxiously literal way possible: fossilization.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you, I’m not going to pretend that this is a perfect solution, because there IS no perfect solution. Fossilization has several disadvantages over most competing immortality solutions: it takes time, and a lot of it; it takes patience, and even more of it; and if you do it wrong you’re liable to get whittled away helplessly by surface erosion over many humiliating centuries with no ability to stop it. That said, the positives are weightier: if done properly it’s as sure a thing as can be (no hidden Achilles heels waiting to be jumped on – don’t worry about hiding your heart inside an egg inside a duck on an island!); it’s extremely low-key and low-maintenance; and finally it’s great for peace and quiet since the process demands solitude and passivity in the first place. If you’re still with me, then read on and I’ll go over the general idea of how the process should work out.

First off, you’re going to want to pick a good spot to fossilize. Remember, you’re going to be spending a long, long, LONG time here – plan for the future and don’t get sloppy. Trusting Mother Nature to sort it all out is a good way to end up burned when it’s too late to fix things. Important don’ts: don’t use upland environments because there’s too little sediment to shelter your bones; don’t use acidic soils because you’ll get mulched up before the mineralization kicks in; and don’t under any circumstances use the deep ocean if you’re planning to stay more than two hundred million or so years unless you enjoy being subducted into the mantle and pulverized under unimaginable heat and pressure. You want something with sediment: deep marine environments might be risky, but coastal deltas, floodplains, riverbeds, and anoxic spots like swamps are great places to stash your body where nosy scavengers and oxygen-consuming bacteria can’t get at it while you rot in relatively undisturbed peace. You’ll thank me when your head isn’t detached from your spinal column by curious racoons.

Next up, you’ll need to die. For many of you this will come naturally; others may require a bit of effort and work to really grasp the concept. The following methods have proven reliable, though none of them have a 100% success rate. Experiment to discover which works for you.
-Attempt to consume prey conveniently trapped in a bog/morass/tar pit.
-Become old and weak with at least one debilitating injury. This is a perennial favourite.
-If you’d rather your entire species came with you, try to develop a crippling overspecialization in a single incredibly narrow niche, like only eating a particular kind of leaf from a single species of tree, or refusing to reproduce anywhere but three tiny islands separated from each other by tens of thousands of miles.
-Loudly ask yourself “I wonder what this does?” prior to examining any unfamiliar object/organism.
However you do it, do it. Before you know you’ll be dead as a doornail – and remember to aim for the sediments on your way out, before consciousness fades. There’s nothing more embarrassing than managing to die on the one exposed piece of bedrock for a hundred miles, or getting lightly buried and then flushed out by the very next flash flood to come through the gulley. Don’t count your diageneses before they’re lithificated.

Once you’re dead and buried, you’ll have to bake for at least ten thousand years. Remember, that’s just the minimum period – the maximum is as damned well long as you feel like – and even then it’s fuzzy. Timing may and will vary depending on your size, the exact circumstances surrounding your death, the immediate environment, and roughly every other factor imaginable and unimaginable. Incidentally, the wording of the heading isn’t just a cooking reference; you’ll be literally ‘becoming one with the planet’ in the process of this and the subsequent mental effects can be disorienting, especially by the time your brain’s been dissolved and your skull is undergoing permineralization. Just try to kick back and enjoy it a little, because there’s nothing quite like it. If you can feel yourself beginning to panic, remind yourself that you’re dead and it’s too late to care about anything because you’re dead now. Most people aren’t the quickest thinkers when they’re embedded in sedimentary rocks, so by the time you’ve noticed any potential flaws in that logic you should be almost done!

Now that you’re officially fossilized, escaping your prison is your new goal, but ‘goal’ might be a bit of a strong word, and so might ‘prison.’ A fully-fossilized body preserved in a sedimentary matrix is like a warm blanket on a cold morning: most people don’t want to leave it. But don’t worry; unless some unlucky geological upheaval shoves you under a craton until the planet’s eaten by the sun (low odds), you’re more or less guaranteed to popout at some point or another. Wait long enough and oceans will vanish, rock will erode, and then there you are, peeping out at the sun as fresh as a daisy and three times as mineralized as before. Now is your time for motivation – you’ve probably got just a few short centuries before the rocks around you fall apart, so you’d better get your head back in the game or you’ll go with them. If you’re very lucky maybe some nosy busybody will spy you peeking out of the stone and have you chiselled out, and if you’re luckier still you might be put in a relatively safe, dry place for a while after that where you can get your shit together at your own speed. That said, don’t bet on it and don’t let your guard down. Sometimes you’re being dug up to be stuck on someone’s mantelpiece, sometimes you’re being dug up to be ground into dust and used as a virility drug.

Finally and most crucially, it’s time to enjoy the benefits! Those bones have held you down for millions of years in shiftlessness, time to get them crackling again! You can wear them like a cheap suit that weighs six tons or you can shed them like a chrysalis to reveal whatever horrifying true form of amalgamated minerals and somnombalic spite you’ve been nurturing under them for longer than is physically imaginable, whichever makes you happier. Once you’re mobile you can revel in the sad sensation of revisiting a planet you willingly abandoned, but try not to get too depressed over whatever horrifying changes have emerged since you decided to commit to the Big Nap. Whatever happened is de facto not your fault, and hey, if you feel any lingering resentment over it – say, if whatever pitiful little groups of subspecies you used to think of as food items have displaced your descendants from their planet – why not reign over them as a terrible, undying god-king, devoid of flesh and mercy? It’s dead simple – literally! – since you’re almost bound to spark ancient primal fears deep within their psyches simply by existing. Intimidate, dominate, consume, bully, and terrorize to your heart’s delight.
Not that you’ll have a heart anymore.
Or a stomach, so the consumption will be strictly cosmetic.
But hey, you can still please yourself, and really, isn’t that what this is all about?

Storytime: The Bakeries and Baked Goods of the Exotic Plateau of Limbala.

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

The Bakeries and Baked Goods of the Exotic Plateau of Limbala, by Thoracic Wemple, W. M. P.

To bake is to understand life. Not a man-jack of our society would dispute this. Not a solitary child of the most gormlessly ignorant spawning – nay, not even a woman, poor, idle, clotted-headed creature that she may be, would gainsay such an indisputable statement of truth. And so we voyage onwards, my fellow philosophers of the natural – onwards, ever onwards! – to broaden our palates and minds across this world of ours. Each loaf consumed, each cookie sampled, is another word on another leaf in another chapter of another volume in the great store-house of knowledge that is our glorious amassment of all things worth knowing of our dear planet. A storehouse that remained woefully incomplete with regards to the far corners of the world – ‘till now! Yes, from the very pen that brought you tales of the Cinnamon Buns of the Canaries, the Rolls of the Amazon, here, for your reading pleasure, is the firm, infallibly scientific and reasoned documentation of the hitherto-unknown bakery-based organisms of the Limbala Plateau! No voyage too harrowing, no peril too great – though our expedition was nigh-decimated and yet more, I alone have returned to bring the golden light of knowledge! Carpe diem!

Crescens volare, “The Flying Croissant”
A distant off-shoot of the common French breakfast item, possibly occurring here as a result of pre-historic migration over long-subsided land bridges(?). It is much larger than its more sophisticated and refined European cousins – no doubt a sign of moral degeneracy. A real delicacy with some properly sweetened jam, if you can get it. Travels in great flocks that can blot out half the sky, with the yearly bakelings clustered in the center for protection. Seems to observe sophisticated mourning rites upon the death of elders. May require further research.

Sacerdos kirkos, “Lama’s Donut”
Baked in the mountainside prayer-lodges of one of the more obscure societies, to be consumed by holy men while fasting. I was informed that the Baker of Days, the messianic figure of the local mythology, had both invented the pastry and disseminated its use for aid in thought. Tawdry mawkish nonesuch duff if you ask me. I sampled one, as much for amusement’s sake as anything, and can personally verify that in overall effect it is manifestly inferior to simply drinking a half-dram of laudanum, the civilized man’s narcotic.
As a minor note of sorts, blowing through the central hole of the donut produces a high E. Doing so is considered a sacrament.

Bannock rex, “King of the Dinner-Rolls”
Called by the locals ‘the destroyer of entrees,’ this fearsome creation measures over twenty feet in height, forty in length, and has utterly ruined countless appetites, wasting thousands of hours of meal preparation. Its population remains low – the breed is anti-social, and few ovens can withstand the temperatures needed to produce such a colossus – but they are all but indestructible and fear nothing. Only one had been brought down within living memory of my visit, and my informant – an old, old, old woman named something uncouth who I have graciously rechristened “Spatula” – said that it took the combined efforts of three entire baker-clans, normally mortal enemies. Their feuds were set aside for a decade or more following the hunt, so many of their young chefs were stuffed in the deadly battle. AVOID AT ALL COSTS.
(Addendum: The coloured plates attached of this magnificent apocalyptic appetizer-cum-meal were found upon the body of the late, much-lamented Arthur Facklebee. Arthur, the world is the poorer for the passing of your gift [if not so much by your habit of belching loudly after every meal], but science is enriched even after your passing.)

Australopita rheasymphysisspondylus, “Chap”
A jocular little thing, more of a bun than a bread, barely a mouthful at most. Takes longer to eat than to say, and even less to describe thoroughly. Good for the clap.

Xenognosis enigma, “Red-Bellied Knish”
Despite its misleading name, this is not a true knish at all; rather, it seems to be distant kin to the puff-pastries of the Medditerannean. Enigmatic to the eye and elusive to the palate, this is a genuinely challenging thing to eat – not for its lacking or excessive taste or paletular weight (it measures a mere 4.9902 middlies upon the Sir Walter Middup scale of granular vs monolithic), but rather for its incredible dexterity, its fierce speed, and its incredibly unsettling gaze. Focusing on chewing the thing is nearly impossible with its stare upon you, and in your moment of hesitation it vanishes from your mouth and down a nearby mouse-hole, with only a flash of its shiny reddened underside for your troubles. Must be crippled with a special mallet for easy consumption, which can dent the crust if done improperly.

Sokolata delicioso, “Bawlman’s Bowel-Serpent”
The ‘common-name’ for this deadly but delicious snake was provided by my beloved, esteemed, and tragically late colleague Dr. Regimagillen Q. Bawlman G. T. O., who was both the first white-man to sample it and the first to describe its unique properties. A transcription of his observations is included here with permission from his widow.
Dr. R. Q. B.: Dibs.
Dr. T. W.: Damnit. Well then on you go.
Dr. R. Q. B.: Yes I certainly shall my old biscuit don’t mind if I do. Well I say this is rather enticing Wemply, you should have a taste, it’s rather like caramel filling with a hint of aaaaaauuuuuuuuggghhhhh. Aiiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrgggh. Gah glah glur ugh ah ah uhh. Uh.
(As a polite explanatory footnote to Dr. Bawlman’s astute observations, it should be noted that the principle active ingredient in the entirely unique candy filling of the delicioso is, in fact, mashed poisonous caterpillars – a bit of knowledge that I was tragically only made aware of after the fact.)

Triticaephestes ophidian, “Flourback”
An aggressive and short-tempered but otherwise typical roving ‘pre-cut’ loaf. Its already poor disposition grows crankier still when its personal space is threatened, and it will lash out with little regard for the relative size difference between itself and the object of its irritation. It boasts a deep, hard-bitten crumb and a ferocious crust, which in no small part contribute to its surly sureness in its own invincibility.
(A postscript: it appears that T. ophidian nests communally in the cold season for mating purposes, as my dear friend and long-suffering batman Blartly mis-stepped face-first into such a reproductive ‘ball’ of the feisty little things while searching for a place to set up my shaving kit. Remarkably, he was skeletonized in less than thirty minutes by my stopwatch – rather less time than the lazy clod had taken to prepare my morning snuff, might I add.)

Lutumungar brontotritica, “Hillbaker”
I only glimpsed this majestic bread once, yet even from a distance of over seven miles its sheer majestic bulk made it indescrible and unmistakable. Mere words fail me…the grace of a phyllo… the shapeliness of a baguette… yet wrapped around and within a body measuring a little more in size than that of Buckingham Palace. It was kneading a small mountain when I observed it, apparently preparing to lay its eggs.
One of a kind, and God be praised, I can die peaceably now that I have witnessed it.
(Jenkinsman, my editor whom I loved as a brother [in spite of his persistent, unstoppable nosiness], alas, wandered in for a closer look and had his head blown off his shoulders when the behemoth sneezed, in a manner that may to the unenlightened common moron appear to be akin to that produced by placing an elephant gun to the back of his skull and pulling the trigger. Such ignorant foolishness is laughable. Laughable!)

Archaeomatzo pericles, “The First Bread”
A grandiose title, to be sure, but I believe it to be true. Yes, it is indisputable – I, Dr. Thoracic Wemple, W. M. P., have alone brought proof of the oldest known what-based organism to the shores of the civilized societies. Look – look at the majestic speckling of its surface! Can you not see the noble crest of its spine? The fine, upstanding crumb? Yes, it is, it is it! Indeed it is! The first bread product has been found, and in its shape and form I believe we can all agree that it is unmistakeably, irrevocably Euro-Caucasian-Anglo-Briton-Saxon! Only a fool would think otherwise! A fool! A fool would say such a thing, at such a sight! By GOD it is so!
(It is with unspeakable pain and breathtaking grief that I must report the tragic and deeply regrettable demise of the Revered Arthur P. Z. Quattleston, who, although he had the utter gall to question my purely objective and unbiased analyses, certainly did not deserve to have his skull beaten into a thick dough of skull splinters and mush with a rock. By natives, of course.)

Dr. T. Wemple, W. M. P. is the world’s foremost expert on exotic bread-based organisms. Mail is to be addressed in his name and sent to the Saint Shuffleprick Institute For the Mentally Lunacidal until further notice and/or after the completion of his trial.

Storytime: Long Gonn By.

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Remember thisthought now forever.
Thousand thousand thousand run out of thousand years beforenow, a smallthing wandered from herd. Lostwises until dark. In dark, in oldfear, it stumbles from tree to tree to ferns ferns ferns. Lives, by luck. In morningcalm, in time, it sees flock of tiny fleshgulpers in branches laughing at it with nighteyes. Smallthing wonders if it had their nighteyes, would its life be made easier. Idea is old and dull constanthought nothing new.
Smallthing asks tiny fleshgulpers in branches laughing at it with nighteyes to share nighteyes. Offers fleshbulk daywise as shield for fleshgulper flesh. Fleshgulpers laugh laugh laugh agree.
Gonn is founded forever. Not by forelimb, but by mindeye.

Don’t hunt in that valley.
No, it’s not dangerous. Not the usual way.
No, it’s not sacred. No spirits there. Trust me.
No, it’s not even interesting. Just don’t do it, alright? Listen to your father.
There’s things down there, and you leave them alone. Don’t flip over any stones, don’t rustle through any bushes, and don’t ever spill blood down there. Ever. You hear me?

Thousand thousand thousand run out of thousand years laterthen, smallthing’s spawn wander vastly in herd of herd of herds. Tiny fleshgulpers for nighteyes, plodders for fleshbulk, leaperkin for dayeyes. All prosper. All wander as one. Herd of herd of herds becomes herd of herd of herd of herds. Reckoning is difficult. Paces are offset. Some straggle some stride some wander. Unmanageable.
Fearbassador is sent with tremblewords to feasters that lurk in herd of herd of herd of herd’s wake breeding herds of feasters. Fearbassador is consumed. Fearbassador is sent. Fearbassador is consumed. Fearbassador is sent. Fearbassador is consumed. Fearbassador is sent. Feasters listen. Feasters join herd to feast upon slowill, to directmanage. They feast only if allfeast.

Jan. 14th, 17XX
Dear fir.
I write thif letter to you, as a prominent natural philofopher, to afk (begging your pardon, fir) exactly what if the provenience of thif rock I have quarried on my land. It is uncommon queer to the eye, and refemblef brick. To be frank, fir, it haf me buggering puzzled.
-Yourf fincerely, JXXXX SXXXX JXXX.

On warm day in cool wind under softsky herd halts, thousand thousand thousand run out of thousand years laterthen. Waters have upswollen lands have downswollen, oldwalkpath has been overswollen underwater leaving nowhere to walkpath. Conference consultation commences, decisions made, arguments hissed, insults snapped. Three points emerged: goodfood here; goodwater here; goodweather here. Consultation decision made: stop for whilesome.
Two years later stone nests are made.
Hundred years later stone walls are made around stone nests.
Thousand years later stone spires are made around stone walls around stone nests.
Gonn is made shape. By forelimb.

Apr. 11th, 18XX
-Good weather. Will make Call River a day ahead of time.
-Jackshit Paul upset the canoe stupid Canadian fuck.
-Overnighting in abandoned cabin to dry out. Old & badly-built but the roof’s there. Got lucky & shot a deer, good food tonight. He won’t stop complaining anyways, keeps jumping at shadows & whining about noises. Stupid & superstitious.
Apr. 12th, 18XX
-He’s gone. Run out in the night quiet as a mouse probably hiding under some slimy rock somewhere the little lizard. If I see him in daylight again I’ll nail his ass to the canoe & send it down a waterfall.
&  he took the deer too

Thousand thousand thousand run out of thousand years laterthen, Gonn has swollen in flesh. Gonnlands have swollen in plentitude to match. Ferntending learned. Frondshaping learned. Stonebuilding is higher longer wider stronger better every thousand years. Trick is as follows: tap rocks, listen, build. Trick is good.
Gonn cannot go. Gonn is anchored in rock. But Gonn swells with travellers. Allherds come to Gonn, to trade to witness to learn to tribute to join Gonn, be of Gonn.
Gonn is herd of herd of herd of herds morewise. Gonn is lands turned to Gonnlands. Gonn is stone upon stone upon stone upon stone abovehead into stoneskies blocking rainsunallweather. Gonn is growing learning faster than mindwise smallthings, every year, everyear. Gonn is feasters minding plodders minding fleshgulpers minding leaperkin minding jagged minding feasters.
Gonn is great, great is Gonn. All is Gonn.

Aug. 5th, 18XX
There’s no oil, John. Yeah, I know the valley bowl spot looked good, but it’s dryer than your grandma’s tits. The drill’s hit something down there, and it looks like there SHOULD be something, should be a pocket the size of half of New York, but it’s empty. Whatever’s in that hole went away a long time ago. Find a new spot.

Thousand thousand thousand run out of thousand years laterthen, Gonn is neighbourmade. Notalone but still greaterthanall. Gonn is learned from. Other cities grow: Laurr Pangg Avall. Gonn is greaterthanall. All are lesserthanGonn.
Gonn has flyeyes now. Cold ones have spires in Gonn, rookeries nests nooks squats. Cold blood flows through small brains but useful for wings. Word wends to Gonn on wingeyes: plot. Laurr is secondlesserthanGonn, wishes first. Predation planned. Counterpredation planned in Gonn.
Arenas bloodied. Food hoarded. Packs formed. Tooth claws spikes flesh all readied feared ravenous.
For glory of Gonn.

Nov. 2nd, 19XX
…the best site I’ve seen since I laid eyes on Drumheller. Bones everywhere – I don’t know how the oil prospectors missed them. We’ve got nearly intact skeletons sitting right at the surface; I picked up three skulls in one day. This could be big, world-news big.
I want a team out here now. Two teams. Hell, just shovel every grad student you can get into a truck, we’ll take twice as many and call it not even close enough. Just do it fast.

Thousand thousand thousand run out of thousand years laterthan, Avall falls lastofall. Landripped underthem, downswollen. Gonn vastswimmer cold ones swim in through waterbreach, feast on panickpaddlers worrysplashers drowners.
Gonn is alone again. Gonn is greaterthanallstill greater than beforewar; cavedigs shelter all smallthings shelter herds. Gonn is stillstrong stronger than beforewar; hoards are deep food grown in nolight holds safe from raids. Gonn is oneplace where stone upon stone upon stone is forelimbmade not chancemade. No otherplace. Gonn is alone.
Gonn looks skyhigh. From skyhigh, Fire looks back.

January 28th, 19XX
It’s a brick.
I know what you’re thinking, Cathy, but stop thinking that and read what I’m saying: it’s a brick.
Yes, the brick was made from Cretaceous sandstone. It’s a brick.
Yes, the brick was found IN Cretaceous sandstone. It’s a brick.
Yes, I know this is giving the creationists ammo they don’t deserve. Fuck them, fuck that, it’s a brick. We’re scientists; we have to explain this. We’re going to explain this.
Yes, we don’t have enough people working the site. But we’ll have them lining up for the chance after we get this published.
Yes, it’s putting our careers on the line. Everyone does that, sooner or later. But everyone else only wishes they got to do it this way.

Firegrows in southsky. Gonn builds. Gonn always builds. Gonn builds in mindeye, in forelimb, in lifedeath, in war, allalone. Gonn is great. Gonn will not end.
Gonn will submerge underland. Downswell Fire will come, Gonn will stand. Fire will sear, Gonn will stand. All lands will burn, but Gonnlands will sink understone, live understone, hide understone.
Gonn will stand. Gonn is greaterthanall. Greaterthan its parts, greaterthan its stones. Gonn will neverend notnow. No matter how long.
Run out of thousands foreverever, Gonn remains. For glory of Gonn.

June 9th, 20XX.
Thirty-eight years of defend and counterattack and publish and counter-publish and it all comes down to this: me, an excavation team, about seventeen film crews, and a lot of memories.
We’ll enter the vault from the east, where the readings say it’s backed on stone. No sense disturbing the wall. The 65-million-year-old wall. God, I can’t believe you were right about the bricks.
This one’s for you, Tom. You should’ve been here for this.
They’ll remember it forever.

Storytime: Heroes.

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Some days, I dream of heroes.
Sound in the audience chamber, nervous voices. A stammer, a shudder, a twitch, a plea. The door cracks open and a worried face shoves in a terrified one.
My eyes are already open. They cannot shut anymore.
Mercy, mercy, mercy. It’s saying something about mercy. It didn’t mean to, it’s not its fault, it would never have done that thing if only it would have known, honest ignorance, mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy.
My hand raises and it falls down, and I’m alone again as the footfalls of my panicked acolytes skitter down the foyer like spiders.
Time to sleep. I can’t sleep anymore, but gods do I ever try. Some days I even fool myself.

Some days, I dream of heroes. Noble faces and determined eyes and no matter what the stature or shape of the oncoming threat, it’s backed by a spine that’s unbending, harder than steel.
High noon on a holy day. I’m not sure which one, there’s dozens and dozens of the fucking things now, so many I’m amazed they haven’t dedicated one to my toenail-clippings. There’s a holy day for my birth, a holy day for my death, a holy day for when I rose again, a holy day for when I defeated the Prinnish army and decapitated their general with a wave of my hand and a smile. I could smile then. I had a nice smile – I have a nice smile. It’s just now there’s no lips in the way and it won’t turn off no matter what I want.
I smile at the sacrifices and the offerings, smile at the ritual mutilations, smile and smile at the choirs and the hymnals and the absolute, pants-filling terror manifest in the eyes of each and every single human in the cathedral, and when they all file out and the candles die down I’m still smiling.
Some days it doesn’t seem worth it.

Some days, I dream of heroes. A sword swings, a spell chants. I am bearded in my lair, cornered like a fat old bear come out of his den in midwinter. There are rants and ravings and curses and some good bloody honorable deaths from horrible magics.
I have so many horrible magics. One for each bone in my body, and the skeleton of a human – even a very large human such as myself – contains two hundred and six bones, two hundred and six mindless, stubborn lumps of mineral and meat that will mend and build and stand firm regardless of what life chooses to tell them. That’s real power in there, that’s a force you can bend kingdoms around and distort lives against and tear down palace walls with. Which I did. And I have. And look at all the good that it’s got me, here on my pile of broken thrones, with an entire empire prostrate at my feet. With my eyes that won’t shut and my smile that never ends and my overflowing dish of sacrifices that I couldn’t eat even if I liked the blood of innocents and the hearts of virgins.
Some days I miss bread and jam, good blackberry jam.

Some days, I dream of heroes. A whisper at first, a half-hoped prophecy that only the peasants hear (I never knew how they did that, even when I was a peasant). Then it grows and spreads into a rumour, a murmur in the streets and fields that my guards and priests and captains attempt to stifle and quash in their cruel, ham-handed way. Finally a luckless messenger stammers out a rambling, incoherent, self-serving explanation to me and I kill him for his spineless presumption just as they burst in the door, with the sunlight pouring in behind them.
A luckless messenger is talking to me right now, because it’s his turn to tell me about the treasury and the tax rates and the tributes and the vassals and the vassal-states and the states that very much don’t want to become vassal-states and behind every word he speaks is a single thought and that thought is ‘please don’t kill me.’
I listen. Well, I try to listen. I don’t nod, though – that makes him flinch. So I sit and stare and fail to keep my mind from wobbling and I wish I still had the energy I did back in the first month of this business, when I honestly, truly, really did try to understand how the hell this place was run. Then I had to execute half my officials for treason and venality and after that well hell what’s the other half worth if it wasn’t letting me know about that sort of thing?
Not so much treason nowadays. Not so much anything. Doing anything could get you killed.
A corpse is alive, even in death. Rotting, rotting, feeding a thousand thousand THOUSAND little bellies each night, spawning millions of babies, putting food in the ground. What good’s a corpse that won’t rot? What good’s an empire that won’t change?
Some days I think that thought and it won’t leave my head.

Some days, I dream of heroes, and more than once I imagined myself as their leader. Some days their wise counsellor. Some days their admirer from afar, some days the hostage they were sworn to rescue.
I was going to make a difference. I was going to change the world. I didn’t know I’d personally exterminate nineteen royal families and countless regular, everyday families, but I’d accepted that by the time it happened. Those things happen in a world of heroes and heroism and dashing swordsmen and wise, pious sages. So I wasn’t a hero. So I was a villain. All I had to do was wait, and scheme – I could scheme, I assumed at that age, how hard could it be? – and there they would be. Like moths to flame, are heroes to villains. Moths to flame.
They would stand before me, and we would battle, and if I wouldn’t lose then, I’d lose to their children, or grandchildren. Maybe I would return, maybe I would not.
But the last thing I would see would be their faces.

Some days, I dream of heroes. And oh how I wish those dreams were true.