Monday, 29 December 2008 knows my tastes....

I was rather amused to receive this in my inbox this morning. Amazon's product recommendations aren't usually that on the ball, especially since I use Amazon infrequently enough that they're often in relation to things I decided sounded like a good idea several years ago, but this accuracy was a pleasant surprise, even if they're a bit late to earn my custom.

"Accuracy", however, isn't the best term for the rest of this article. "The highly anticipated simulation RPG"-- I don't think that's exactly what "dating sim" refers to-- "is returning to the PS2 promising its cult followers"-- don't they mean the game has a "cult following"? I'm not sure Ar Tonelico fandom generally requires obscure rituals and obedience to a charismatic leader-- "more gameplay, features and innuendos." Innuendos? Plural? And what about, oh, say, the music? I suppose that's counted under "features".

Oh, no, wait:

"See more in PlayStation 2 > Rhythm > Singing & Karaoke Games"

At least they did recognise that there's music in it, I suppose.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

The Flesh Fair -- Ar Tonelico fanfiction (Reyvablog canon, 1,459 words, violence, disturbing themes)

Warning: this is a harsh story. I hadn't originally intended to post it online, for a variety of reasons; for one, it's a very dark piece, and I think I had internalised the idea, from my works in the other fandom that I write in, that my "mission", of sorts, in writing was to counterbalance the excessive darkness and aggression that seems to be popular in fandom.

However, I've realised after some thought that what I was actually doing in my other fandom was writing the untold stories of that world: where others only wrote of darkness, I tried to illustrate that there was a lighter side to be seen in that world that few people considered. Ar Tonelico's world, on the other hand, is one in which people often celebrate the Reyvateils, but few reflect on the sufferings such an imbalanced caste system as is found in Sol Ciel would produce for this race of people. Again, I am attempting to tell, I suppose, the stories less told; to lighten the path less followed, in order to help people see both sides of the world.

Knowing that this is the path I seem to be on as a fanfic writer, I'm now more comfortable posting the story.

It's told from the perspective of the Angry Reyvateil, the in-character author of Falling Through the Generation Gap.


Down at the border of the worst part of town, where the poorest of human habitations bleed over into the Reyvateil slums, there used to be a horrible little hangout that called itself the Flesh Fair. Its crowd was invariably drawn from the dregs of the human gene pool, grubby-fingered louts with table manners almost as crude as their vocabularies, the edge only taken off their thuggishness by drink, and in a few cases exascerbated by it instead. The walls inside looked like they hadn't seen fresh paint in decades, a fact poorly hidden by the demeaning centrefolds that dotted the walls here and there; I suspected the place probably used to be a squat, bought out on the cheap or still being occupied illegally in a sector all but ignored by the law. I'd pass by it almost every day on the way to work, wanting so badly to turn away from its graffiti-sprayed exterior and its obscene decor, but unable to keep from staring inwards at the horror and the shame.

A hand-scrawled sign upon the door forbade entry to any Reyvateil, and just in case they couldn't read a constant harsh noise blared over the speaker system, a parody of song distorted and screeching enough to set the teeth of even human passers-by on edge, yet which amazingly did not seem to bother their clientele. Even without the music, no Reyvateil would have been at ease in the place; the main attraction of the Flesh Fair was its reputation as a gathering place for anti-Reyvateil extremists, and from what I could pick out from amidst the cacophony, a full ninety per cent of the conversation that went on there involved the discussion, in savage detail, of what vengeance should be enacted upon the members of our species.

I would have been able to turn away, if not for one thing. The bartenders were a trio of girls, two of them as animatedly vulgar as the rest, but the third as visibly broken a spirit as I have ever seen. She kept her eyes to the floor, her movements skittish, her muscles held rigid in fear. Her lank, mousy hair and grease-smudged skin always looked like they hadn't been washed in days, and the resilient beauty of her face shone through a lumpy mass of scars. I'd seen her get them, watched frozen in shock as a customer smashed her face in with a glass, to the jeering approval of the crowd; she had crumpled to the ground, twisting in on herself, and while I couldn't hear the voice that rose up from inside I saw the light that touched her wounds and knit together the raw edges of her skin.

She was the manager's Reyvateil, and every night he paraded her before this vicious crowd so they could mock her, spit on her, scream in her face. And yet still she was kind to them, as kind as she could be through the terror, probably in part because she feared worse if she stepped out of line, but also because she was what she was. One night I was working particularly late, and I saw the shutters of the place rolled down, rattling with the relentless drone of the sound system. From the painful cries that easily pierced the din, I could tell this establishment's idea of a private party involved no relaxation of that cruelty.

And then one evening, I saw the shutters down well before normal closing hours. The instinctive tension that would grip me when I passed petered out as I realised the speakers weren't on. The next day, and the next, presented me with the same sight: a crumbling, lifeless little haunt that now neatly matched its neighbours. The feel of the place still sickened, its aura of bad intent clinging to the skin like a film, but at least the screams had stopped.

I wondered what became of her, dimly, as I trudged on to work. Did her heart finally collapse under the strain of their hatred? Did they beat their star attraction to death, and then disperse, unsure what to do with themselves now that they'd consummated the act for which they'd hungered so long?

As the mazy back streets led me further into the slums, I felt a tug on the hem of my skirt, a weak one. I was used to this; these streets crawled with the homeless as lesser slums crawled with rats. I never had money for them, but still, I always looked down. Sometimes, the smile of someone who didn't see you as living waste was all it took to put some lightness in your heart.

I saw blue eyes staring back at me, through a mask of familiar scars.

"You used to work at the Flesh Fair, didn't you?"

"I left," she said, averting her eyes as if the very mention of it shamed her. It probably did, I thought, cursing myself silently. Those two words, their tone, their feel, carried volumes of information to my intuition. I left, with purpose. I timed my leaving. I wanted him to know I'd rather walk out to die than live on like this.

I took a seat on the steps beside her. Screw my client, no pun intended; he could wait another five minutes. "I'm sorry. I can't do anything to help you... I live hand-to-mouth as it is."

"It's okay," she said, and there was almost a little humour in her voice; a light, delicate undercurrent that warmed her words from the inside. Goddesses, but her song must have been beautiful, back when she was whole. "Everyone does."

After a moment in which neither of us spoke, she continued on. "It's strange... it must be because I'm dying, but these days, I almost feel like it's... singing to me." Her eyes were focused far in the distance, and I followed her gaze. "The Tower?" I said.

She nodded. "I feel... a warmth coming from it that I never knew before. I wonder if that's where we go... back to the Binary Field." She turned to look at me, a wan smile on her face. "She lives there... doesn't she?"


"Sometimes, I think I see her... out of the corner of my eye. I think she comes for us, you know, when we die. She gave herself for us, let herself be sealed away... and even though she can't help us in life any more, maybe she protects us now...."

I didn't know where Mir was these days, to be honest. I'd heard a lot about viruses emerging up in the Tower, about a year ago, and then as quickly as it started the news dropped dead. But I wasn't going to voice those doubts, not to this poor girl, who only had that hope to cling to; and besides, in a way, I still clung to it too. It wasn't about where Mir was or wasn't, ultimately. It was about what she represented: hope, for all of us, that there could be a better world, a place where humans wouldn't punish us simply for being what we were. A place where we could be free. I still believed in that.

I reached inside my shirt and pulled out the small disc I always wore around my neck, concealed. It was a simple thing, marked with an abstract design in red and black; no one who did not know the colour convention would know what it was, but its subtlety was part of its charm. One who held Mir in high esteem, after all, had to take a certain rebellious pride in keeping it secret, or else be weighed down beneath the burden of the subterfuge.

Carefully, I slipped the cord over her head. I could make another.

"You need this more than I do, right now," I said. "May it guard your steps."

She cradled it in the palm of her hand, tracing one finger over the design. "I don't think I'll be doing much stepping... any more," she said, with that same wry humour.

"Then your steps wherever the world beyond may take you," I said softly, squeezing her shoulder as I got to my feet.

I left her looking at it, seemingly lost in the fascination of the simple pattern. It was one of the signs, I knew, the tendency to get caught up in language, in structure, in geometric designs. Perhaps it was the universal rhythm of the Tower calling us home.

I glanced towards the structure, faint beyond the dusty haze of the street. I released a silent prayer into the Binary Field, and for a moment, held my breath; then turned away into the choking air and the night.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Cover those covers, NISA/A hiatus for the rest of us....

(All images in this post are safe for work, despite descriptions.)

So over at the Reyvateil's Melody forums, LOKFanatic put together a side-by-side comparison of the Japanese and American box art for various NISA-released GUST games.

To be honest, I'd quite forgotten that AT1 had had a different cover, and to see the comparisons illustrated so starkly kind of shocked me. I think I'd subconsciously believed that we were past the days when covers were routinely changed for the American market, even though in practice I know things like the Final Fantasies get different covers (and I'm still not entirely sure why). The anime style of art and the Japanese aesthetic in general is so widely recognised amongst gamers now, and in fact beloved for its charm, that monstrosities like these unfortunate localised covers are looked upon as quaint relics of a less culturally aware era. Given that, I'm honestly not sure I see a need for revised covers. Isn't it just more expense on the developers' part?

Moreover, the aesthetic appeal of the Japanese designs aside, I'm troubled by the assumptions the changed covers seem to make about the two cultures. The Japanese covers for both AT1 and 2 prominently feature the female characters, who are of course the stars of the story, looking non-sexualised and in control. Sure, Chroche has got a bit of cleavage going on, but that's just her outfit in general; she looks composed and refined, not like she's posing for the cover of the Metafalss edition of Hustler. The emphasis is on the women, but not in a degrading way, so as to objectify them; rather, it's on them as the most important people on the box. They look like the protagonists, basically, not sidekick material: AT1 is obviously Aurica and Misha's game, just as AT2 is obviously Chroche and Luca's, even though we all know it's totally Jakuri's.

Contrast with the American covers. AT1's wasn't too awful, and the first release was pink, which is quite a novelty amongst games not aimed at little girls, although it probably did put a lot of people off the game and definitely gendered the content. The original looked like a game that anyone might want to play; the American cover appealed to a niche, which is a counterproductive marketing strategy if ever I saw one. The biggest problem with it, though, is that the female characters have been pushed to the back. The message is clear: this game is about a guy with a sword and his singing, alluring female cohorts!

AT2's cover, however... ugh. Not only is the guy with the pointy thing in front again, but the background image is of the main female protagonists practically making out, and looking kind of nervous and vulnerable (well, okay, Chroche does) while they do so. The message here is clearer still: this game is about a guy with a sword and his two vaguely homoerotic female cohorts! Now, I have absolutely no problem with gayness in my games-- I'm bi myself, and it's always nice to see games that feature a wide spread of sexualities-- but this isn't about fair representation of lesbians, especially since I'm pretty sure from what I've heard (don't confirm/deny/spoil in comments, people!) that Chroche and Luca aren't actually together in the game. This is about putting female eroticism on the cover of a game so it will sell to men who want to look at that sort of thing. And, you know, that's not bad as such. There's nothing wrong with men who like looking at pretty girls. But save it for the artbook; placing it on the cover distorts the image of what the game's about. Ar Tonelico is about much more than thinly veiled sexuality, and selling the game like this cheapens it, as well as reducing the female characters to objects to be gazed upon, not people in their own right. If there's anyone out there you think needs a quick example of what objectification is, link them to this post: I think it's as good an example of the difference between presenting a person as a person, a being capable of independent agency, and presenting them as an object, a thing to be observed and enjoyed with the eyes with their own will seen as secondary, as you'll find.

The big problem I have with these covers is what they say about what games companies think of American fans. They assume the American gamer market is so crude, so adolescent, and, most galling of all, so overwhelmingly male, that they a) won't buy a game that has women shown as key characters in their own right, rather than sex objects, and b) would buy a game with two girls fawning all over each other on the cover over a game that seems to be a pretty, tasteful-looking RPG. Those are two awful assumptions to make about America, especially in contrast to Japan-- "the Japanese may like the tasteful stuff, but here in the good ol' U. S. of A., we want boobs! None of this fancy cherry-blossom-haiku-tea-ceremony stuff for us, no sir!"-- and, in light of the controversy over name localisations and NISA's recent commentary in press release that "the American market is different, and we have to cater to it", really makes it seem like they think the American market is stupid. Those durned Amerikkuns, they hate Japanese names in games, and they hate pretty, delicate things! That's right: the portion of the American market that plays games like Ar Tonelico seriously hates, you know, pretty fantasy worlds and those ker-ray-zee Japanese names. Yep. We hate it. We're just here for the Reyva-tail.


Please meditate upon this link, NISA. Come back to us when you're done. (Warning: music and Flash, for those of you at work. Just check the URL.)

I'm buying AT2 because I want to play it in English, on release day. Furthermore, I want to support NISA over the fact that AT2 is being released here at all, and hopefully get AT3 released as well. So I'm giving them my money. But it's a dilemma, because honestly, I don't like the thought of supporting companies that pull this sort of stunt. At the risk of sounding elitist here, the AT series has been stated by some of the developers to be their life's work. Sure, it has innuendo, but that's not the main attraction; you can see that in the multiple 250-page books that have been released detailing every aspect of the world's history, technology and magicology that barely say a peep about the characters as sex symbols. Turning the characters of this carefully constructed fantasy into cheap tricks to sell games to your perceived market of Dumb Horny Amerikkuns is not okay, okay?

In conclusion: when a country like Japan, notorious for its objectification of the female figure and general lack of feminism, does a far better job than the American distros of presenting its female characters as characters in their own right rather than bits of fluff attached to the male protagonist, you know someone, somewhere, is seriously doing it wrong.

In other news, $INSERT_WINTER_HOLIDAY_HERE is almost upon us, and I'm off to spend it with one awesome individual, several rather less tolerable individuals, and a NEW TINYKITN as of tomorrow. My internet access is going to be minimal, most likely, so don't expect posts from me on this blog or the forums from the 23rd until New Year's; the Reyvablog will also be going on a hiatus until January 1st, which, given timezone crossing and need to recover from jetlag, will in practice probably work out at around the 2nd or 3rd. So have yourselves a merry little season, and I'll join you all again in 2009 for the last leg of our collective wait for the airship to Metafalss!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Reyvateilian hair accessories!

So today I made a really neat little accessory for my Mir avatar in SL: a tiny set of organ pipes with a ribbon attached. Sadly, I couldn't find an existing ribbon that had full permissions, and I didn't think I was up to crafting my own, so this item is no-copy for now-- meaning I can't sell or give them away. I will hopefully soon have an appropriately-permissioned tiny ribbon, though, so these should go live soon-- with a larger range of instruments, assuming I'm up to crafting them. Pipes are pretty easy. XD

The neatest thing about this little charm? If you click on it, it plays a sound clip. Currently a ten-second clip from Harmonious Fusion, as that's what I had uploaded to that account to test with, but I'll look up some actual organ clips soon.

See the pics here.

(Also, the, uh, giant pixellated pointer is just something she happens to have attached to her head. It's not meant to be pointing at the pipes, though its position was coincidental and amusing enough that I left it in the photographs.)

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Worksafe warnings apply....

So I did say I'd be posting some fanart of Mir using SL as a generating tool, and here are a few from a photoshoot I did today in a great set of sims by La TusSim. I stumbled across these earlier today, played about with some of the poseballs, and went, "hey-- this would make a great setup for an awakening-Mir shoot". Some Photoshop involved, to varying degrees, though the third image needed almost no edits (and was also a fluke, since the pose from the first image accidentally carried over through the teleport)-- and the pseudo-Ar Tonelico in the second was there to begin with!

The problem with fanart of Mir is that it generally either involves nakedness or costumes that are next to impossible to come by (or, I suppose, Funbun t-shirts), so I opted for nakedness in these images-- which, despite the fact that this is how official art and pretty much all fanart draws her, somehow manages to look more explicit than I'd tend to go for. I think it's the 3D.

Still, I think these are tasteful-- or at least, as tasteful as Mir ever gets.

Mule Birth
Virus Code
Wake Up, Mir

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Funbun t-shirts for your First Life!

Since the GUST-licensed equivalents have sold out, we've cooked up some Cafepress-style Funbun shirts. The sleeves are longer than on the originals, unfortunately, and they don't come in huge sizes... but hey, that's not the point. After all, it's fun as a souvenir, but would you really wear it? ;)

*would totally wear it*

Three red lights means you need Diquility... but what if you're a Beta?

While working on an install port design for Mir, we unfortunately encountered a few... stability issues. (Work-safety warning: nudity, mosaic-censored, behind link.)

Poor Mir; looks like she's going to have to be shipped back to the Tower for repairs. Thankfully, like most other problems in the AT universe, this one can be fixed with towels, at least temporarily. Just wrap her up, keep her warm, and she'll be good to go again pretty soon.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Funbun t-shirts and Black Mugs now available in SL!

Okay, I'm still figuring out how to do this whole "selling" thing, so apologies for any bugs; but even though I don't have a store, you can now grab the Last Boss's Black Mugs, as well as a box of Funbun t-shirts in both long and short sizes (modelled here and here by our glamorous assistant Mir, on location at the scenic Obscure Sandbox), for 50L each by pinging Jakuri Halostar in Second Life. Hopefully. Maybe. I will try to actually make this work.

Install ports coming soon, perhaps? XD

Friday, 12 December 2008

Bringing the glory of The Last Boss's Black Mug to worlds beyond....

We all love The Last Boss's Black Mug. With its endearingly Engrish name, its wrathful vibrating action, and its sleek, Jakuri-adorned features, what's not to adore about this unique piece of crockery? Now, the infamous mug has made its debut in a whole new world: the world of Second Life.

Click, click and click again to see the mug in action! Modelled here by my very own Mir avatar (in fetching HTTP status-code 403 pajamas, no less), the Jakuri mug provides an unlimited supply of caffeine to lagging Reyvateils on the go, and its wrath will keep any avatar's hands warm for hours. So even if you can't have the glory of the Last Boss's Black Mug in your own home here, you can still have one in Second Life. (Well, if you're me, I guess. I don't actually have a shop to sell these things from....)

More Mir portraits from Second Life coming soon; this avatar makes a great model for insta-fanart.

So, random thing, but....

...does it say anywhere in the official materials for AT how Grathnode crystals are removed from Reyvateils? Can anyone think how they would be? Since the crystals seem to be absorbed into the body at the site of the install port, one would think getting them out would require magic; it's not like you can just reach your hand in and grab one. Yet the Reyvateils' partners seem to be able to remove them fairly trivially.

Any thoughts on this? I was thinking some kind of device might be used to scan for existing Grathnodes, extract the raw... Grathnode-stuff through the install port and recrystallise them, basically reversing the install process, but that's basically my bit of handwaving and Applied Phlebotinum; the actual process doesn't seem to be discussed in-game at all....

Friday, 5 December 2008

I <3 Reyvablog.

Have I mentioned how much I love the Reyvablog? And the fact that its players are now, amongst other wonderful things, spontaneously generating in-world poetry? (See, at current, the bottom of the thread.) It's always an honour to have one's fanwork generate more fanworks, and nowhere does this tendency have the opportunity to thrive more than in RP, where the fans are the content creators, in part.

I'm thankful to everyone who's participated, and continues to participate, in this great shared exercise in worldcrafting. You've all given something great to this work and helped it to grow, and I hope to see it continue to thrive.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Taking first, for the rights of Reyvateils everywhere.

So Falling Through The Generation Gap is, as of this posting, officially the number one Google result for "diquility". That's fairly impressive, considering the term is used in a lot of discussions of AT; I suppose it's that we're probably the only site that actually uses the term repeatedly and often, rather than simply mentioning it in passing.

I'm quite heartened by this, not because I specifically want traffic, but rather because I like to imagine that if there were Reyvateils out there searching for info on Diquility, they'd be able to find helpful advice straight away; and also, if people are searching for generic info on the world of AT and the first thing they find is something that treats that world as a real, meaningful place... that's really awesome, and I'm quite honoured that I could have been responsible for that.

We're also, incidentally, the first result for "reyvateil rights" (in quotes); sadly enough, though, my writings here and on my other blogs seem to be the only results for that query. A shame that no one else has considered the concept worthy of serious discussion, especially since there are such obvious parallels with the oppression of various groups in our own world throughout history. I suppose AT's a small fandom, but still, I think there's a lot of potentially enlightening elaboration to be had there, which is why Falling Through The Generation Gap exists. I hope, through it, more fans can be brought around to seriously thinking about the rights of Reyvateils when they enter that world; I think it's an issue that, if you're at all a fan of the Reyvateil characters (or even if you aren't, but especially if you are), deserves some serious thought.

Speaking of FTTGG (or the Reyvablog, as its players fondly refer to it), I'd like to re-promote this particular link and see if I can't get a few of you to spread it around. It's presented from an in-game perspective, but it was written with a dual purpose: as well as making the players aware of many of the unfair ways in which Reyvateils are treated day-to-day on the streets and in the media, it also contains a message to those of us in this world, about how the characters people idolise might feel about artwork that shows them being degraded and humiliated.

If you sympathise with a fictional character and feel uncomfortable with the way a lot of artwork treats them as objects, and want to encourage other people to reflect, for a moment, on whether the characters they love would really want people thinking of them in that way, I encourage you to link to this entry if you can. It's not about being anti-porn; I'm quite fine with the existence of works that portray sexualised situations for the purposes of other people's pleasure. I just don't like that images that specifically degrade and brutalise characters are becoming widespread and even normative, because I don't like seeing the characters I love portrayed that way and I don't like thinking that others are becoming desensitised to the idea of their casual mistreatment. If you think the same way, linking to this campaign is one way to raise your voice in harmony. It may make someone think twice.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Sometimes, even a really sketchy image can capture your heart....

Do you ever get that? When you run across an image that isn't the best of fanart, not the most detailed, has plenty of errors, yet still somehow manages to evoke something so sincere that it ends up becoming a favourite?

That's how I feel about this. (Worksafe warning: contains naked Mir curled up; just a sketch, vague.) Simple, yes, yet there's something about the lines of her face that evokes such sympathy from me. I've always been touched by this pose of hers; it's a striking pose for the very final boss to have. Instead of being an imposing, monstrous demigod at the end (okay, she's that in her penultimate form, but still), she's just a frail little girl hiding away behind protective shields, hugging her knees in fear. That combined with the fact that beforehand, all she's basically saying to you is "go away... don't come near me...", creates such a heartrending image of someone who, more than anything, just wants all this conflict to end, even if she's scared that if she's the one who ends it, things will only return to the way they've been before.

Mir can't give in; she needs the world to change before she is prepared to stop fighting. If she concedes, she has no guarantee that they will. But Lyner proves that humans can be safe by being the first to back down, and once she's convinced of that, she gives in easily. She never wanted to fight.

I feel personally tortured by GUST...

...with the release of this heartbreakingly magnificent Phantasmagoria music box, already sold out in preorder, and this Jakuri mug (endearingly entitled "The Last Boss's Black Mug"), which is not yet sold out but which I can't imagine ever being able to procure.

At the very least, you can listen to a snippet from the music box on the page. Doing so fair broke my heart; it's simply beautiful. I think it officially sounds a lot nicer than the version of Phantasmagoria on the Hymmnos Orgel Collection, even if it's only a brief snippet of the song; there's a deep, rich warmth to the sound that makes me all nostalgic, probably because I actually used to have a little music box that only came out at Christmas-time (we kept it with the decorations the rest of the year) and so the sound reminds me of that. I miss that music box. Makes me want to see fanart of a Reyvateil gazing longingly through the windows of a toy shop at a music box on a snowy day....

Even if I can't have these, I'll be saving the pages for posterity. Still trying to work out why the Jakuri mug is trembling at me from the top of the page, though.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Can we do it? On January 20th, we start finding out.

Further to my previous post on the topic, I've been cooking up some January 20th-related images that I plan to add to t-shirts to wear on and around the time: here and here.

I'm pretty proud of my idea of the first one in that it works as well to describe Obama's inauguration as it does to describe interacting with fictional worlds: social change is our responsibility, in both situations. And I'm really pleased with what I managed to do with a certain couple of imposing and important structures in the second... wow. And I'd never have made that parallel, either. They do kind of look alike, don't they?

Jakuri for VP! Hey, she'd overturn this civil rights mess that's wrecking the country currently. Vote for her and she'll SING EQUAL RIGHTS BACK INTO THE CONSTITUTION, people.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Ringing and singing the changes....

I just learnt that President-Elect Obama's inauguration day is going to be January 20th. And all we Ar Tonelico fans know what that date means, I hope...? :)

It's going to be a wonderful day for new hopes, new awakenings. A wonderful day for new worlds.

(Also, I suddenly had the thought that it would be so amusing if January 20th fell on a Tuesday next year, because then we could call it AT2's Day. And I looked up, and it so totally is. Not since Sonic 2's Day have there been such release-date lulz. Well, release-date lulz are usually fairly hard to find, but still.)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

"And the world is turning... to a different beat."

So as I mentioned the other day, I've been running/playing in an RP based around an activist blog run by and for Reyvateils. Its purpose as I conceived it was to both explore the legitimate issues raised by this species' creation and situation, and to raise the profile of activism issues within the fandom by getting people to sympathise with the issues through a fandom they were interested in.

Today, I think it actually had that impact on me. Last night, I'd been participating in a thread involving underpaid restaurant workers who were wearing "tip us, we sing" badges (like the ones at Coldstone Creamery) because the hourly wage alone couldn't pay for their life-extending agent, and so they were forced to sell out their song. For Reyvateils, this is a big deal; it's not just vocal noise, there's a big part of their identity and deep inner self expressed when they sing, and it's something that both induces intense emotion in them and drains their energy quite a bit.

Then this morning, a friend posted a blog entry about employees at Starbucks and how she felt bad for them, and how she was trying to be encouraging and pleasant to them and they were really squee about it because she was the only one to have given them nice comments all day. And I just really... felt it, was moved by that, and felt like I wanted to go around being nice to Starbucks employees too (I don't normally drink at Starbucks when on my own, but employees of similar places, I guess). And I think the reason I was able to feel so hyper-aware of how much that must mean to them was because I'd been roleplaying that thread.

You always hear people scoffing at the idea that fiction could ever change someone's attitudes in a positive way (as if that wasn't what the messages in fiction were there for? As if it's all just pretend serving no purpose, even when it's obvious the author is trying to make a statement about how we act in this world?). Whenever you come across anyone acknowledging that fiction might impact a person, it's always regarding the negative aspects of it, how it can desensitise people to violence, to vengeance, to wanton cruelty. I do believe that there are, certainly, fictions that can do that; but I think what goes woefully underrecognised is the power of fiction to make us empathise, which seems like such an obvious thing to say about fiction (it makes us feel for the characters? Really?) yet is rarely thought about in terms of how that might impact how we go about our daily lives.

I felt like the experience of fiction connected me, today, with the lives of people in this world who deserve acknowledgment and respect. And I'm glad for that.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Melody of MetaFalicia!

I suppose that's like the catgirl from Darkstalkers, but aware of her identity as a fictional character? Also, I'm deeply amused that it's been pre-emptively classified as a "Music & Party" game. The idea of games being categorised by the themes of their plot rather than the style of their gameplay is actually really appealing; I mean, Ar Tonelico is about music, very deeply, and so the category is not inaccurate, but I don't really think that's what they meant. I do wonder how that error got made; did someone ask what AT was and one of their collegues said "oh, it's about music and stuff"? Very amused indeed.

Seeing the page up on a major game retailer's site is actually rather nice. It's like... this is real. This is really real, and come January, you'll be able to go into any GameStop and pick it up off the shelves and hold it, and other people who may have never heard of AT will be able to see it, and they might buy it, and things. It's just really squeeful, somehow.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

The wheels of fandom keep on turning...

Hoping to get back to the podfic project eventually while my voice actress recovers from being sick. In the meantime, I've slowly been building up entries on this blog; contributions from Reyvateils, and respectful humans, are welcome.

And I kind of wanted to say more there, but I'm all out of words. There is a fledgling fanwork; enjoy it, and I hope to nurture it and watch it grow into a complex and interesting work of fiction, with the help of some kind contributers.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Self-inserts: gotta love 'em.

I never really set out to actively write myself into the AT universe; these guys just kind of grew, organically, which is part of the reason there's two of them. Just thought I'd post them here for posterity: my two original AT characters, Leish and Ayulsa. For those who saw Leish's profile a while ago (all one of you), this is a version 2.0; some things have been tweaked a little.

Leish Enfandria
"Please, everyone, raise your voices in joyous prayer."

Species: Reyvateil (Beta)
Age: 34
Height: 5'4"
Appearance: Pale brown hair usually tied back in a short braid, golden-brown eyes, slightly freckled skin; small, skinny, with boyish features
Magic: Mostly of the Earth element

Leish is the cheerful type, bookish and friendly, known for his slightly formal bearing and his staunch devotion to the Church of Elemia. A Cardinal who treats his job extremely seriously and is given to visions, trances and other mystical experiences at the hands of the Goddesses, he can come off as a little dreamy and spacey at times to those who don't know him well, but his dedication to his work soon disavows most people of that opinion, even if he does leave his personal quarters in a mess and half-eaten sandwiches of his tend to turn up in the strangest of places. Like his partner Vianchiel, he dislikes conflict both philosophically and personally; their shared feelings about helping humanity through peaceful actions are part of why they get along so well.

What almost no one knows is that Leish, despite being male, is actually a Reyvateil, an experiment gone slightly wrong. He was created with a Reyvateil's body, enabling him to use Song Magic, but the song-spirit that entered into him at birth saw itself to be male. Unable to reconcile his appearance with his internal self, he struggled with despair until his creators took pity on him and altered him physically to look like a boy, suggesting that he go out into the world and craft a normal life for himself while forgetting his Reyvateil powers, and offering their sincerest of apologies.

While Leish did leave his creators and join the Elemia Church, having been filled with a sudden sense of spiritual wonder at the world inspired by his newfound happiness, he was never able to quite forget that he was a Reyvateil too, and still frequently feels driven to raise his voice in song. Unfortunately, the physical alterations to his body pretty much ruined his voice permanently, and quite frankly, his singing is painful to listen to. His bad voice doesn't actually keep his magic from being quite powerful, but since it's not pleasant to hear, he shies away from practising it; he considers that even if he were good he'd never want to sing in public anyway, since he'd be even more embarrassed about being exposed as a Reyvateil. He considers the trade to have been worthwhile, even if at times he finds it frustrating.

What's most embarrassing of all for him is that his install port has a really obvious location; it's on his right hand. Naturally, he's never seen in public without gloves of some sort. He tried to train himself to be left-handed so he wouldn't have to be constantly reminded of it, but it didn't work very well, so he just puts up with it these days. If he catches anyone staring at his hands, he gets extremely flustered; everyone by now assumes that he has some kind of skin condition that he'd rather not talk about, or that his hands are shrivelled and deformed due to a sickness, which, since they're quite small even in gloves, doesn't seem unlikely. He's learnt to swallow down his revulsion and shake hands (with his left, which still bothers him due to emotional associations, but at least doesn't feel quite as violating) for the purposes of diplomacy, but if you touch them without giving him a chance to prepare, he'll freak out. He's normally not prone to panic at all, but that's one way to get him very upset very quickly.

He can be a bit obsessive about his interests, namely the intricacies of church dogma, and he's prone to getting just a tiny bit preachy about his beliefs, though he tries to keep a lid on it.

Leish has a Cosmosphere, and he has costumes, too. Unless you're Via, though, good luck getting to see them; he'd never wear them in public, even the tame ones, and he's not up for letting anyone except his partner into his Cosmosphere any time soon. The very fact that he has one is embarrassing, and it's hard for even Via to dive very deep into him just because he has so many reservations about diving itself that even his first level is difficult to clear, though she hopes that by working through his Cosmosphere he'll become more relaxed about the fact that he's a Reyvateil and maybe even be able to fully embrace his magic. His Mind Guardian is Aazzmissaggamoth (a shortened nickname, believe it or not), a small golden dragon statue after the Chinese style.

Ayulsa Shinsekai
"For eternity, a new world."

Species: Virus
Age: Unknown; appears about eight
Height: 4'1"
Appearance: See reference sheet
Magic: No Song Magic, but can interact with the Binary Field
Favourite pastime: Nature hunts
Favourite lullaby: EXEC_HARMONIOUS/.
Favourite food: Cookies 'n' cream icecream (with oatmeal chocolate chip)
Least favourite food: Chicken stew
Greatest frustration: That he can't sing like his mother, even when he tries to copy her

A virus created by Mir, Ayulsa takes a humanoid form in the physical world much as Ayatane does. Specifically, his appearance is that of a young boy with scruffy, brownish-blond hair with lavender tips, wide green eyes, and corrupted Hymmnos sigils running over his skin that glow with a faint blue light; he is typically dressed in brightly-coloured, practical clothing of the sort that might befit a child of seven or eight years old. He considers Ayatane to be his brother, and looks to Mir as a parent figure.

Ayulsa was the first humanoid virus created to aid Mir with her plan to redeem and revitalise the world of Ar Ciel. Remembering her own youth and the boundless love she held for humanity then, she saw the image of a curious, kindly child as best suited for this task, and indeed Ayulsa possesses many of the personality traits his mother had in her childhood: he is gentle and made uneasy by violence, creative and playful though in a manner that is not too boisterous and is mindful of the world around him, and easily awed by the joys and wonders of life.

While Mir tried to craft for him a personality that would make him happy as well as making him of use to her plans, she put no limitations on his development, believing that all intelligent entities have the right to the freedom of mind and emotion they tried to strip from her. As such, he doesn't feel himself beholden to her and will often get distracted from his tasks by his own interests, which Mir allows, not so concerned as she once was with the efficiency of her plan's execution at the cost of the principles she believes in. He still cares for her deeply, though, and by default will be found at her side, engaging in some simple frivolity, reading, or simply observing the world around, ready to be called into her service at a moment's notice.

Despite his docility and guileless playfulness, he possesses the intelligence of an adult, though his emotional responses remain largely those of a child. As a result, on a social and personal level he appears to be young and naive, but can almost seem adult when discussing practical matters, and has a startlingly large vocabulary.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

A pondering on the power of the Word.

Something I was thinking about with regard to spirituality and AT's world: the official timeline (which I'm pretty sure by now is not a spoilery document, as it covers AT1 only, and I don't think these details will be released outside of the timeline) begins with the creation of the first word. It's very Biblical: in the beginning, there was the Word. And, incidentally, that word was "chs": a verb meaning become, turn into, or transform.

"Chs" is actually a more popularly used verb than those meanings would seem to account for in English, given that it seems to mean "become" only in the sense of fundamental change (e.g. "the kind of person I will become"), not in the senses of becoming happy or becoming used to something. This catalysing word, this primary word, this word which suggests that the universe's most divine instrument is its ability to turn one thing into another (which seems to make sense; given that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, the force of movement behind the universe, the thing that causes it not to remain in static state, would seem to be the transformation of energy into different states), seems to be echoed repeatedly in the songs of the world.

Perhaps we could say that the Reyvateils are subconsciously working this vital word into their music just because it is such a strong underlying current within the universe, but I think it's more than even that; I think there's a very obvious reason the word is used a lot. If the divine force of the universe is the capacity for change, then that capacity should be a fundamental part of magic. And indeed, magic, too, is very obviously about change, transformation, becoming. Our obvious image of magic is turning the latent energy in ourselves and in the universe into heat, or light, or growth, or a healing power. There is little in magic that does not involve some manner of change, even if it is the changing of a thing from a state in which it was moving to a state in which it is not (meta-change that seems like the opposite of change, yet also requires one). The Reyvateils are consciously or subconsciously aware that chs is the force behind their magic, and as such they invoke it, and as such their magic is powerful -- and the series creators show that the Reyvateils aren't just making pretty mouth movements, but are actually a species that gets magic quite a bit.

Incidentally, I think it's interesting that in AT's case we get to know what the first word was. In the Bible we get "the Word was God", but does that mean that "God" was the first word (making the first word a self-definition, "I", which is interesting philosophically in itself in that it seems to suggest that the creation of the world is tied up with the defining of the world, and that maybe how we define the world has immense power to affect it), or that God was a word, but we don't know which? Hmm, ponder....

Three-Way Handshake, remastered

Just so's you know, Three-Way Handshake just got a bit of a retool thanks to some extra info I heard regarding Jakuri's drama CD that I really wanted to play around with. Updated version is at the same location, here; if you read it and liked it the first time, you might want to take a look at the revised version.

And yep, I think that's about it.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Hands on hearts, raise your voices, one and all...

In this time when many Americans are feeling particularly uplifted about the possibilities unfolding in their nation-- and others, noting that social progress has not occurred equality on all fonts, could do with a little more uplifting-- PsychDragoonX from A Reyvateil's Melody has contributed some words that should stir the hearts of even the most jaded American. I bring you... the preamble to the US constitution, and the Pledge of Allegiance, in Hymmnos.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Was granme erra walasye oz UNITED STATES
Was granme erra art 0x vvi.
zahha herr dgal
quen quowjaz
gyusya dgal falfa
grandus walasye
grandus arhou oz LIBERTY sos walasye oz iem en futare
1x AAs ixi

To protect the United States with desire,
With the desire to protect,
Create their nation,
Create justice,
Control notional peace,
Protect the people,
Improve Welfare,
Protect the blessings of Liberty for the people of now and the future,
With great excitement, create the Constitution for the United States of America.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands: One nation, under God, indivisible, With liberty and justice for all.

Rrha zweie ra grandus zuieg oz UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Rrha ki ra en dgal en echrra.
Rrha wol ra 0x vvi
en dgal
en Saash
na pakz
1x AAs ixi
Rrha ki erra LIBERTY en quowjaz en ciel.

Entranced, I guard the power of the USA
Concentrating, for the nation that it resonates (stands for)
For one nation
Under God
Concentrating for Liberty and Justice for all.

I am deeply, deeply amused. I think it's the last lines of each of these that do it.

In other news, seriously thinking of doing a revision on Three-Way Handshake, now that I've discovered a little extra tidbit that was in that scene on the drama CD that I really want to explore, and I think I know just how to drop it in there. If I'd known about this in the first place, it would have so been in the original....

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Three-Way Handshake -- Ar Tonelico fanfiction (Spica/Jakuri, 1,572 words, mildly suggestive fluff)

Inspired by a snippet from Jakuri's drama CD in which the two of them get captured and locked in a cell, and Spica gets shot down by Jakuri after trying to hit on her (yes. I know. It is really sort of awesome). I didn't mean for this to turn out as PG-13 as it did; the latter part was the part I really wanted to write, but I needed to give it some sort of setup. I'd originally intended for Spica's flirtation to be a brief couple of lines, but ultimately, I have trouble not being wordy. This was meant to be a drabble, honestly.

No AT2 spoilers in here. It's pretty much all concept, and the drama CD is set before AT2 anyway. Blacked out for worksafeness, though, even though this is really tame.

More notes after the fic.

Spica had been hoping to catch a little rest, but for a prison cell, this place was cloyingly warm. She glanced over at Jakuri to see if she was having the same trouble getting to sleep; she was dying to remove her own heavy outfit, except that she had nothing else to wear, and Jakuri's clothing, such as it was, could hardly be any more comfortable.

The Reyvateil, it turned out, was the heat source. The shimmering haze that danced over Jakuri's skin, a sea of flame-tongues discernible only by the distortions they left in the air, was tinged, in the part of Spica's mind that understood harmonics, with an unmistakeable magenta hue. As she watched, the swell around her only intensified, and Jakuri mumbled a "don't stare" that was mostly muffled by having been said into her pillow. Oh, my. This could be interesting.

She reached out to stroke Jakuri's cheek, not even needing to make contact before her fingertips began to tingle from the heat and light that was pouring out from her. Her touch still cool by contrast, she drew idle, swirling patterns on her skin, able to feel, as she repeated the motions, the little traces she left behind as spots where the warmth was not so stifling.

"Nn. What are you doing?" Jakuri said, grumbling and eventually summoning the willpower to swat lethargically at Spica's hand.

"Hmm, such interesting circumstances we find ourselves in here. It's okay, there's nobody watching." She leaned in to whisper her words against Jakuri's ear, feeling her own face begin to blaze with the reflected warmth. "Don't be shy."

Jakuri buried herself further into her pillow. "I'm not being shy. I'm just not interested." And the flame was swallowed back up in a rush, as if for punctuation.

Oh. Well, she'd misread that signal. She sank back into the bed with more than a twinge of guilt, Jakuri's back stonewalling her. Reaching out with her mind to try and get a sense of the situation, she could feel Jakuri's every muscle clenched rigid, her jaw clamped down to keep her song from spilling out of her, the harmonics still rolling over her in waves though she was evidently trying to choke them down. The tension in the room was even more insufferable than the heat had been, and she sighed internally. Perhaps a subject change would help.

"...Are you still feeling rough? I could tell it was making you uneasy, being cut off from your magic like that."

Jakuri made a vague sort of groan that fell halfway between what-are-you-talking-about-now and do-you-seriously-expect-me-to-expend-energy-on-answering-you. It didn't deter Spica, who was, in part, feeling some genuine concern that the incident might have shaken Jakuri more than she was willing to admit, though mostly she just wanted to break the deadlock.

"I know I found it a slight, so it must have been much worse for you." She remembered Jakuri's ranting about how she was a Reyvateil, as if she'd felt that losing her song impinged upon that identity, as if to take away her singing voice was to divide her in some unacceptable way. She could understand; she'd been truthful when she'd said she hadn't been exactly comfortable under the ward either, and seeing Jakuri try not to choke as she struggled to convince her instincts that, no, there was nothing actually in the way of her breathing had given her a pretty clear impression of what must have been going on in her mind.

"Do I really look like I want to talk right now, Spica?" Her harmonic awareness picked up the subtext there, a flanging echo behind the spoken words: do I look like I want to bare my soul more than I have to right now, Spica? There was another, dissonant chord mixed in with the protest, and Spica knew her words hadn't been entirely an affront; a little undercurrent of relief, of thankfulness, that she understood enough to notice wound warm and bright through words that were otherwise knife-edged. And now that one wound had already been opened, the possibility of communication broached, the longing to bridge the empathic gap had flared up in her still further; a longing she knew Jakuri felt too vulnerable now to act on but that she was testing at anyway, sending out little tendrils of energy towards Spica that she quickly withdrew again, like someone teasing a loose tooth with their tongue. Once or twice she thought she heard a whimper from her, a thin, hot sound as one of those tendrils got a little too close and was swallowed up by Spica's own warmth.

If she didn't want to talk, then Spica wouldn't make her talk. To press a Reyvateil to do anything with her voice-- and not least Jakuri, who had always been particularly sensitive about that, even for her species-- was never a safe endeavour, for one thing. But she couldn't let her go on like this, especially now that she'd shown, however obliquely, that she was willing to open up.

She began to hum, low in her throat, a bass note that she could feel resounding in her muscles and unravelling the knots that had accumulated there over the course of the day. She knew she ran the risk of only angering her further, but whoever was on Jakuri's mind, she needed to harmonise with someone if either of them were going to get any sleep tonight. Feeling her bumping up against her like a moth butting a lightbulb was already doing a number on her nerves, and she was willing to bet it wasn't doing much for the Reyvateil, either.

Jakuri rolled over to face her with a huff, though her expression was more curious than annoyed. "Spica...."

Not wanting to let up on her humming in order to speak, she let the frequency carry her emotions. It's just so you'll sleep. I'm sorry for assuming. Just relax into it. There was only so much she could convey without words, but she figured Jakuri would at least pick up sleep, sorry, relax.

Her hopes seemed confirmed when Jakuri's posture eased up, and the Reyvateil began to purr at her own, higher frequency. Forgiven, was hurting, feels nice, she thought she caught in her response, the feelings flowing into one another and crashing over each other in their haste to be expressed, their warm foam breaking against the shores of Spica's mind. She wrapped an arm around Jakuri's shoulders and felt her scoot closer, angling her head towards Spica's chest so as to best pick up the resonance; Spica laid her hand on Jakuri's ribcage, feeling the vibrations travel up through her arm and snake down into the base of her spine. She wondered who all that emotional overflow had been for, if not herself, but thankfully it didn't seem to be bothering her as much now that she at least had a release valve for the pressure.

Calm. Happy. Tired, Jakuri hummed, hugging her arms close to herself as her eyelids fell closed. Good. Relax. Rest, Spica continued, and Jakuri took that rest and wound it into her own vocalising, emitting a warm, steady tone that drove out the last prickles of aching from their bones.

Slowly, over time, Jakuri's part of the chorus began to waver, and Spica felt her harmonics settling into a deep and easy rhythm as her consciousness faded out. ...strange... special... human... was the last thing she managed to emote before her voice left her completely, and the steady sound of her breathing took over its role.

The soothing pulse of her harmonics reverberated through Spica, too, and she found her own eyelids suddenly weighted. Strange. Special. Human. She smiled to herself as she drifted away, her thoughts echoing the concepts with the same wordless resonance that had voiced them.

She awoke to the feeling of Jakuri's warmth most pleasantly draped about her. Physically speaking, she'd rolled away at some point in the night and collapsed into an artless tangle of limbs on the other side of the bed; but that nonetheless spoke volumes, since she'd never seen her sleep any way other than curled into a fetal ball, and she could feel the distinctive chords of Jakuri's energy lazily twined around hers, their rises and falls slipping between the pulses of her own life like they had always been there and knew exactly where they fit.

She was quietly confident that her companion would wake up, probably in a decently better mood for the peace she'd managed to find during the night, and demonstrate little evidence of morning embarrassment. This was natural like breathing to her, natural like singing; that she'd been so reticent to harmonise was the abnormality, for normally Reyvateils melted into everything that surrounded them as easily as warm summer light. But that was, she admitted, part of what she found so delightful about them. And if she'd helped her friend to get back, even a little, to being the blithe spirit she was intended to be... well, that was all the reward she needed.

Almost, anyway, she thought, running her fingertips over Jakuri's pale throat and feeling the pulse-like flutter there. She brushed her lips against the sweet spot and let the quiet purr of her systems sink deep into her body; capturing, for a few moments longer, the one song of hers that she would never cease to sing.

From the author: Probably the second "expository" piece I've written recently (the other was for another fandom), in that it basically exists to showcase an idea I had about the game's world and how it works; in this case, my thinking was that harmonics is essentially a state of being produced by things in the area vibrating at the same frequency, or carrying the same energy, and that by making sound intended to express soothing emotions you could cause the harmonics of someone who was anxious to resonate at a more comforting frequency.

And yes, Jakuri's final words there were in the drama CD, more or less. I think she was more trying to say that Spica was different from everyone else she knew than really emoting at her that much; it's ambiguous.

And the title, for those who didn't know, is a reference to this.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

So my computer got a virus....

...and, much to my displeasure and my general ethical qualms with deleting viruses, I had to try and get rid of it. Cue me downloading a whole slew of antivirus programs in an attempt to get anywhere near it; I knew it was there because Spybot Search & Destroy kept telling me that something with a weird name was trying to change the registry and wouldn't let me refuse the changes, and I kept getting popups for sites that tried to download more viruses onto my system (while surfing sites I knew wouldn't serve me popups), but I didn't know what it was. Eventually, I got Prevx CSI, which offered to scan my system in two minutes. It took about five, but it did find all the malware, and got rid of it (for a fee, which included a year's subscription). It told me to restart so it could finish cleaning up the files. So I did.

When I got back to the desktop, all seemed well, except that my wallpaper had disappeared.

My... Mir wallpaper.

I guess it really did clean all the viruses off my system. (I managed to restore the wallpaper, by the by.)

So something I've realised about Hymmnos: one thing that's really unusual about it is how it's quite programming language-like in structure, yet it's also heavily focused on emotion. Normally the cyborg/artificially-created computer-based race is portrayed as less emotional than humans, or sometimes equally as emotional, but with Reyvateils being the only people left who can sing these highly emotionally-focused songs, with Mir having been a deeply emotional person and also the most powerful Beta in existence, we can hypothesise that Reyvateils are, at least ideally (in that their emotion seems to be linked to their power), more emotional than humans. That's a really interesting combination, the idea of an AI race being hyperemotional, and one that I've not seen done often.

Also, was pondering quite randomly, in the wake of the Prop 8 debacle, whether there might ever have been any social discrimination in Sol Ciel regarding human/Reyvateil relationships. They seem accepted now, but I can imagine a time when it was considered beneath humans to have relationships with Reyvateils; and even now the dynamic that the relationships do have seems very unequal, and I wonder if the relationships between males and human females are like that as well or if it's only Reyvateils who are treated that way. Food for thought (and fic)....

Presia metafalica rifaien tou yor sphilar....

haounomiko just posted this touching statement for the benefit of all of those who have lost rights now that California's Proposition 8 will, presumably, be passed.

Even if you're not gay, lesbian or bisexual yourself, even if you never plan to get married, please pass this message of support and comfort around for the benefit of those whose pain at being marginalised might be eased, just a little, by knowing that someone out there cares.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Epic adventures in the wild, woolly world of podficcing...

So a friend and I spent most of today working on a fanfic. I say a friend because while I don't normally collaborate, this was a particularly special occasion: I'd decided after listening to some podcasts that I wanted to try and record the first ever Ar Tonelico podfic. Basically, think audiobook, but for fic: a story told in spoken word. But I don't have the voice of a Reyvateil, so I had to enlist some help.

The actual acting went great, and I was planning to have the project ready for you all today, but for one annoying hitch: our equipment wasn't very good. I'm not sure if it's the mic input on my laptop or the microphone itself (which I went out and bought specially for this project, and I got the best quality one they had at reasonable price), but there was enough static and feedback that even hours of tinkering in various editors couldn't remove it fully. So what we ended up with was a file that's barely audible at low volumes, and muffled and muddy at high volumes.

We're going to try again and see if we can get a better setup with another computer or perhaps some different equipment, because I'm really pleased with what we've got so far, but in the meantime, that's what I've been doing all day. I really rather wanted to have that up for you right now....

Monday, 3 November 2008

"Yorr desfel?" "Was ki ga desfel.", don't worry, speakers of Hymmnos, the subject line bears no relation to my mood. Rather, I'm expressing my delight at discovering today that hearing these lines now makes me shiver instinctively, because as soon as I hear them I am keenly aware of what they mean. ("Are you feeling hatred?" "(In my fierce concentration that I hope to end,) I'm feeling hatred.") They're not just pretty syllables for me any more; I react to them as I would react to any word or phrase I knew, without having to think about it. I still don't know much Hymmnos, at all, but still, that little reaction made me happy.

And it's such an elegantly compact language, too; the fact that I can hear "was ki ga" and get out of it an emotion, the intensity of that emotion, and the singer's meta-feelings about having that emotion demonstrates just how much you really can convey in three words with the right grammar. Any attempt to express those concepts in English, or most other languages I know, is always going to come out sounding clunkier than "was ki ga". You hear that, and you know what it means, and you don't need any more; it's sweet simplicity, poetic, almost haiku-esque.

Incidentally, I found a different translation of the opening to EXEC_SPHILIA/. from the one I'm used to reading, here, and I have to say I think I understand the song a bit better having read it in this version:

Wee paks ga faf yora accrroad mea?
[What do you give me?]
Was yea ra pauwel en wael yor.
[I give you the power to be happy]
Wee paks ga chs mea?
[What will I become?]
Echrra en chs ar dor.
[Unity, and reconciliation with the world]
(Lit: Resonance to become one world)
Was paks ga chs na mea,
[I will become not me]
en paul yor yora harton mea
[To feel your love for me]...

That last bit I think is particularly profound: I will become not me, to feel your love for me. Given that from what I've heard this song is likely a dialogue between Jakuri's different sides, she's talking, most likely, about separating herself into aspects of herself in her Cosmosphere so that she can give herself love and reassurance as if someone else were giving it to her. That's really quite poignant, when you think about it; she's like a child hugging herself, almost, in this part of the song.

Also, that "What will I become?/Unity, and reconciliation with the world" part really gets to me, in a good way. It's what I've always hoped the eventual outcome of her story will be: not just even that she'll bring that about, but that she'll become that, a raw force focused on making it happen, blazing energy and light for change. Me like.

That said, there are some shaky parts to the translation ("desfel" translated as "being shy" seems to be the biggest error; I don't immediately spot any others, but again, I'm no Hymmnos scholar), so I'm not sure how authentic it is on the whole, but still... I like the new meanings that may have been revealed here.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The Reyvateil's Dilemma -- Ar Tonelico fanfiction (OC, 1,097 words, no warnings)

So you want to know how to relate to me? All right, then. I'll tell you how, in two easy steps.

First, you need to remember that my body's an instrument.

Second, you need to forget it.

You don't know what it means to me to sing. I understand that; you can't sing, and neither could your parents, or grandparents, unless there's a Reyvateil in your family line. But when you assume it's just something clever we do with our voices, a pretty frippery to amuse you, your ignorance cuts to the core. You write off the centre of our beings as a neat party trick, and expect us to feel complimented.

We don't. We never will.

Did you think the instruments woven into my hair, the images and patterns with which I adorn myself, were just there to enhance my attractiveness in your eyes? They're symbolic of what matters to me most in this world, of the act that defines, for me, who I am.

But you don't get to define me as that. If you understood what you were saying when you did, perhaps. But you don't. So let me enlighten you.

When I sing, I'm not just making noises with my vocal cords. Nor am I even just expressing my emotions, though that's a part of it, too. When I sing, my whole body resonates with an idea, an intent; a basal concept, like love, or longing. Interspersed throughout that are subtler highs and lows, nuanced turns of emotion and meaning that come together, like highlights and shadows, to paint a picture that I myself become. I am the emotion, I am the song, and I pour out my heart until I feel my insides are being turned out; until I feel the very boundaries of my body are melting away into sound waves, released into a swell of expression within which they alternately surge and drown. A drop of liquid in endless seas am I, with no seeming power to affect the whole, yet this ocean is made of nothing more than a million million such droplets, and my movements vibrate through them all as they vibrate through me, defining me as I define them. I know myself part of a seamless concordance, a vastness of motion and life.

When I sing, natural law shapes itself to my will. My whole body can float as if it were weightless; and you do not know what a release that can be, to escape the aching pull of gravity and drift as if I were no more than smoke or dust. My touch can crystallise water, or ignite tinder to flames, the very atoms of the universe gyrating or stilling as my mind and heart command. I can call down the brightest of energies into my body, flood my nerves with a blazing clarity that seems to strip every imperfection from my bones, sets my whole frame vibrating to a note so pure you would break down and cry just to hear it.

And in all of this, I am motion beyond containment, I am life beyond motion, I am alive beyond life; I am fused with a consciousness primordial, undying, and I exult in this as it strips away my ability to comprehend anything other than nn, ma, fou, wee, was, rrha, a scale that rises within my heart and climaxes, not in anything so crude as an explosion of light, but in a swell of serenity that makes me feel stretched out across the universe a million miles wide.

This for me alights a consuming passion, a drive, a fire, a need. It's not a need like lust or hunger, nothing so simple, nothing so base; it's higher, brighter, stronger if possible, an inexorable pull towards a calling that encompasses far more than just my self. It is the heart of existence, singing in harmony with me; and not just me alone, but everyone, because we all vibrate the same at our cores. But still, when I feel it resonate with the very heart of my being, it feels as if the universe is singing just for my soul; my soul!; can you imagine the wonder? It takes me into it and holds me dear, and I never want to leave. It is the beginning and end, the embodiment, of my world.

The very beginning and end.

I dream in sine waves, in square waves, in harmonic oscillations. When I sink into unconsciousness, the last thing to echo in the back of my mind is always, unfailingly, a rhythm.

I vibrate with song, with the need for song, every moment that I draw in breath. If I am not singing, my chest is always aching. At any moment, just because it pleases me, I could lift my voice in rapture; but I do not, because you would not understand. I do it alone, and I shudder and bite back tears, choking down my need for more. I would sing to you constantly if you would let me, surround your every waking moment in music's sweet caress, soothe your doubts and calm your fears. If it were for that pure expression, I would never want to stop.

But you take that wonder, that gift of my own heart, and cheapen it. You drown my natural emotions with artificial energy boosts that keep me from feeling my magic's release, leaving me frustrated and empty. You make me take crystals into my body to "strengthen my songs" that cause me agony, not caring that I wasn't born to sustain that level of intensity. You force me to sing for you, as you want, when you want it. And then I stop wanting to, because it doesn't feel the same any more. When the joy of singing, my deepest self-expression and my fullest offering to this world, is thus muted, the conflict rends my heart in two.

My song defines me, explains me, represents me to the universe. When you take that for granted, when you use it as your tool, how do you expect me to feel?

So yes, I want to sing. I want to sing often, and full-throatedly, and for as long as I like. But that doesn't mean I'll sing at your command. And if it does so happen that I want to sing for you, just for you, don't come to expect it of me. Cherish it, as you would any other gift. Don't try and force it out of me.

My body's an instrument. But that doesn't mean you can play.

From the author: Based on Pat Parker's powerful and challenging poem on race, For The White Person Who Wants To Know How To Be My Friend. It's a poem whose opening lines set up a most difficult dilemma for us: how do we respect and acknowledge the things that are different about a person's heritage, while not treating the person like they are their differences? I wanted to explore that idea, and along with it, the idea of how a Reyvateil might feel about the parts of themselves that are unique.

I'm not usually in the habit of writing original characters, but for Ar Tonelico I've written so many. The Reyvateil concept just lends itself to it so easily; I'm easily as fascinated with the concept in general as I am with specific characters, and I hope people who feel the same will enjoy these.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Silence, Swallowed -- Ar Tonelico fanfiction (Lyner, Misha, 718 words, no warnings)

I'll come back for you. I can't come every day, but I will keep coming back to see you again.

You can still hear me, right? You just can't answer me. So, I'll tell you what's going on in the world.

I'll tell you exactly what you’re saving out there....


The words of the Chronicle Key resounded within the room, its acoustics lending Misha's voice a richness the slight girl could never have produced on her own. The echoes filled the darkness, creating the illusion of a thousand Mishas singing there, the warmth of their words enveloping him like a blanket, pressing in on him like a shroud. With the only illumination a shaft of sun from a skylight high above-- and that seemingly more for atmosphere than to provide a light to see by-- the room felt tiny even though the depth of the sound told him otherwise, and the disparity unsettled him still further.

"Misha, I came back, just like I said." He looked up at her, perfectly poised, like a statue, an instrument cast in bronze. Nothing really felt appropriate to say to her. "Hi."

She kept on singing, of course, Chronicle Key flooding his mind with its imagery. He didn't understand the words, but the song was magic; the sentiment contained within it rang clear within his heart, unmistakeable as a clarion call. Oh, please, set down your weapons, let go your strength, rest, rest.... Her voice cried out to the world, tirelessly, and he could feel the world beginning with him, the song reverberating through every bone and sinew only to pass out the other end and continue on, leaving him forever marked. His muscles ached with the resonance, ached where she'd carved words into them, carved his flesh with sound.

"Misha... I... I want to tell you about...."

But the words wouldn't come. It wasn't just that trying to talk to her, while she sang there, unmoved by him, made him feel stupid; nor even that her stature, goddess-like, detached from the world yet praising it in the highest, seemed so far removed from the Misha he knew. It was that this chamber seemed to permit no other words, no other meanings, than those contained within the Chronicle Key. The song filled up all the available space, drowned out all other concepts. This was its place, and a place for it alone; any word that so much as tried to rise up against it would die.

That, he realised, was the power of Misha's song. It put all other intent to sleep. As long as she sang, nothing could occur in this chamber that was contrary, even tangential, to the Song.

He gave up trying to talk, then, and just watched her face. Her eyes were closed, further distancing her from her surroundings, though her eyelids flickered occasionally as the song's emotion stirred her. Her heart, he knew, was dancing constantly to the tune of it; she could not but feel its every sadness, its every plea, its every exultation as if they were truly her own. That was what she'd told him, once:

"--and I become the song."

There was no Misha there any more; not in that moment, not while she sang. The Song was the only thing that could truly live here; all else was submissive to its decree. She was only living song, only raw intent, only a singular will crystallised into the purest of tones: and that will belonged not to her, but to the Chronicle Key.

He watched her lips move in synchrony with it, almost as an afterthought, as if the Song would live regardless and she was only a front, like Tastiella, to make the whole thing seem less surreal. He watched her face, her shining face, the dim light rebounding off it and casting it in golden tones, faint sparkles on her cheeks where the light had picked out motes of dust.

Except those sparkles were moving down her face, in little channels and currents, and the note of her voice was cracking, and he knew that there was a Misha there, after all, trapped behind all that.

If her tears made sound when they hit the ground, Lyner was none the wiser, for their words were swallowed up by the Song.

From the author: Inspired by Tastiella's response to Lyner's asking if Misha could answer him: "No. She is singing. That is the only answer she can give you." I thought that was particularly poignant, and was imagining what would happen if Lyner went back to try and talk to her, as he said he would, before the Mir-possessed Shurelia kicked her out of the Chronicle.

Friday, 31 October 2008

A realisation I thought I'd share....

Excerpted from a comment I posted over here:

[...] for me, what's interesting about AT1 is that in some ways it's really Mir's story-- Mir's and Lyner's, a story about how he grows to realise what she used to know but forgot, and how the two of them bring that knowledge together to change the world for the better.

I find that a pretty potent realisation, since while it's obvious to anyone that the story of Ar Tonelico is about realising that conflict only begets more conflict and that the only way to escape the cycle is to put our weapons down, the particular symmetry being employed here is something I hadn't quite noticed before.

Two people, at the beginning of Ar Tonelico, exist in very different worlds, mutually unable to understand each other, mutually antagonistic. Yet they both have the capacity to understand each other perfectly; they just need to realise that. Lyner has to learn how; and when he decides to reach out to Mir he learns, through Harmonious, that she'd already known all along. They both, in some sense, grow towards each other, and what had seemed like an unbreachable gulf at the beginning of the game turns out to be complete understanding.

Just another of the little ways in which I think AT is surprisingly well-done.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Harmo Up! *purple sparkles fly*

I'm experiencing that weird phenomenon where I'm insufferably sleepy and groggy up until several hours after I wake up, then gradually become more alert throughout the night. As a result, I'm up at a ridiculous hour taking advantage of my (relative-- I'm still sort of drowsy, but at least not unbearably brainfoggy) clear-headedness.

Not too much to say, though, except that this passage from the Ar Tonelico OVA soundtrack commentary, translated by aquagon, really moved me:

Ishibashi-san divulged a little-known episode in which it took her four days to record just one song, and she thought her heart would break in the middle of recording. Also, Mitose-san related the story of how she recorded in a booth for hours in midsummer heat of over 40 degrees Celsius, then ended up dreaming in the Hymmnos language.

...waaah. I just, I love these people. I love their passion, I love their devotion, and every time I read aquagon's translations of the Hymmnos commentaries I glimpse a little bit more of that devotion. I wish I could tell them all how much it means to me that they care this much, and how much I care as well.

Thank you, aquagon, for letting me see into these people's hearts. Thank you, everyone, all of you who care, for your caring. Uwaaaa~.

(Hee, haounomiko, you were right when you said it's easy to see why I like Mir so much. I just... want to pour out my love to the world and never stop, I guess.)

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Soul food from Japan.

I like that Shigeru Miyamoto considers the enrichment of our souls important, and that he thinks it can happen-- that it does happen, right here and right now-- through videogames.

You know, every so often I'll stumble across a screed by some games developer or another that waxes lyrical about their creation in terms that seem to suggest they truly understand the power of fiction to take people over, and see that as an inspiring thing: "we want this game to touch your soul"; "we hope you'll be transported to this game's world"; "please let the characters live on in your heart"; "don't let even death keep you from playing until the end!" Lately, in particular, I've been reading a lot of commentary from the singers responsible for the AT vocal tracks, who in many cases were also the lyricists and composers of the songs, and the breathless way in which they present their work makes it sound as if they believe their songs are one step short of truly being magic. Akira Tsuchiya, head of the sound team and ultimate mastermind behind the series-- I think it's no coincidence that a man known chiefly for his musical expertise is at the forefront of a project to which music is central-- talks in commentary of how the opening lines of the first game's opening song cast a "summoning spell" to draw us into that world. The singers call themselves "Reyvateils" and talk of how they can imagine that Reyvateils really exist not far from us. They repeatedly talk about wanting to flood our hearts and souls with the power of their songs.

Such unabashed, world-blurring love for their craft. And what I'm noting in all of this is that every time I've seen this utter sincerity and fervent hope that the players are truly drawn into the world, that they make it their home, that it will truly transform their hearts, that it can and should matter to them, it's from Japanese staff.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not going on a "Japanese art is superior!!11!" rant here. I'm just curious, because this seems to be a fairly consistent pattern, and I'm genuinely wondering if there's a mindset more encouraged in the Japanese culture that allows developers to bare their hearts about things like this (and possibly, has also encouraged otakudom to spiral to the heights it does there, even if such extremes aren't necessarily well tolerated). Because I really can't imagine too many American developers being this... touchy-feely about their games; the sense I've always got from interviews with directors of Western media has been "hey, we hope you enjoy it! Get out there and have fun with our stuff!" American developers talk about games in terms of fun, playability, challenge. Japanese developers talk about them in terms of heart, soul, idealistic concepts like don't let even death keep you from playing until the end, if you're going to love the characters then love them wholeheartedly and don't let go. I've never heard an American games developer express concern over how I personally bonded to the characters beyond perhaps "we hope you like the personalities we've created in this game".

And I guess, because that's the way I ultimately look at gaming, because I want to be surrounded by people who look at gaming that way, I'm curious as to what drives this. I'm curious as to whether it's the culture that inspires people to open up this way, or if it's a counterculture springing back from a society wound too tight. I'm curious as to whether this is everywhere, or just in gaming. I'm curious as to whether it's as common in gaming as I think. I want to know because, frankly, I could eat this kind of talk up all day, all month, all year, and never want it to stop.

Love them wholeheartedly and don't let go? I thought you'd never ask.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Reflections on reflections....

So I've been reflecting on the wait for AT we still have ahead of us (yes, we've been waiting so long that some of us have now turned to thinking about waiting!), and I've realised that... even if in some ways it's frustrating to have to wait, and some days I really just want to dive into (no pun intended) the heart of the game itself and drink in all it has to offer, be thrilled and elated and moved to tears by having it hit me all at once, there's something precious about this time right now, too.

I've heard enough to anticipate, to be already putting together my own pictures in my head of what the story will bring. I'm sure there are parts of the actual game that will exceed my imaginings, surprise me, move me in ways I'd never have thought of; I've been told that there are events I'm going to love. I'm sure once it's done I'll be brimming with new tales to tell, new ways to expand upon and spin out the vast amount of information I've taken in and emotion I've been inspired to. But I'm sure there are things that will go completely other than I imagine in ways that aren't necessarily better than my own ideas, just different. And I'm sure there are things where I'll say, "you know, I liked the way it went in my head better". And once I've seen the real thing, the imaginings in my head just won't be quite the same. They won't seem as valid, won't seem as "real", compared to what's actually in front of me.

I'm sure, when all is said and done, the complete experience that is AT2 will, overall, exceed the projected experience I've created in my head. I'm sure I won't mind having to let go of some of my ideas about the game in exchange for being presented with a story that fuels my imagination in whole new ways. I'm just saying that what I have right now is special, also, in that these moments I have with my own constructed image of what the game is like won't last forever; instead of waiting impatiently for them to be over so that I can have the real thing, I should cherish what's in my head, too, and enjoy the game later, when it's its time.

We don't often stop to reflect on the fact that for every anticipated thing-- an event, a visit to a new destination, or anything else-- there's a picture of it in our mind that we once obsessed over, and that we never quite retain once the real thing is over. Even if the real thing turns out to improve upon that picture in every way, it's still something that should be valued while you have it, because it's unique.

Not very coherent today, and this probably would have made more sense if I felt more awake, but it was running through my head, so....

Friday, 24 October 2008

Birthdays and delays, just in time for the holidays...

So as people on the forums have mentioned, it's AT2's first birthday tomorrow: October 25th. Seems strange to say about a game most of us haven't played yet, but it came out in Japan one whole year ago; I really feel like we should do something, but I'm not sure what. Make some Funbuns? At the very least, it's worth marking the date in your minds and saying a little thank you to those who made possible this series we treasure.

In other date-related news, AT2 won't be seeing Western shores until January, Siliconera announces. Sad news, but given recent controversy over NISA's QC we hope it's to allow them to improve the quality of the final release... and personally, this hopefully means I'll get to play at the same time as everyone else, and spend a little more time with the game when I do. So for me, at least, it's not all bad news... but still, having to hold out even longer through the cold winter months is a bit of a chilling thought. Anyone for a rousing campfire song?

Thursday, 23 October 2008

HARMONIOUS_FUSION, in more than one sense...

...No, I did not find this by searching on what you think I searched on. (Warning: some mild AT2 spoilers behind link. If you want the file minus the spoilers, I've uploaded it here; credit goes to Palsa/Steven Hancock.)

What is it? It's the intros to Misha's and Mir's versions of Harmonious, mashed up together. It sounds really, really nice; surprisingly nice for what is basically one track laid on top of another. It's pretty musically, and it's pretty in concept, that concept being "Misha and Mir singing together, awwww". Too bad it's only the intro, and it cuts out pretty abruptly (another second or two on the playtime would have been nice); I'd have liked it to go on still further, but I suppose the full versions overlaid would have sounded awfully cacophonous. (Edit: I've tried. They do. Ah well.)

In any case, this gave me happy musical shivers, so I thought I'd share so you could all get happy musical shivers too. :)

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

The Recursive Reyvatowel, and other stories

So when I told a friend of mine about the Ar Tonelico II towels you can get, she said "are the girls wearing towels on the towels, and are the towels they are wearing the same as the towels they're on?" I said yes to the former, but no to the latter; they're just wearing plain towels. She said they should be wearing the towels they're on. I thought this would be amusing, so I cooked up this little recursive number. Feel your eyes, and mind, expand as you contemplate infinity...

(I sort of wanted to make a Mir recursive towel, especially because recursion and Mir seem to go well together, but she isn't actually in a towel on her towel. Also, she looks extremely peeved on it. I think the creation of that towel may have actually singlehandledly put humanity at risk from a Third Reyvateil War.)

And yes, that is a censor mosaic on her install port symbol. I support Reyvateil rights, and the gratuitous use of such a private and personal symbol in Ar Tonelico art is something I feel like doing my bit to counter; it must be so embarrassing for them just having that plastered everywhere. So there you go. :)

On other topics, I was discussing how Reyvateils get all their MP back so quickly once they've exhausted it, and I speculated that it's because they have a Tower connection. My friend said that they don't develop the fullest connection to Ar Tonelico until the 9th level of their Cosmospheres, so wouldn't their MP recover faster after that? And I thought about it, and I realised something-- isn't the Third Generations die so young that they can't handle all the power from the Tower coming to them? From that, you'd actually think that going all the way through their Cosmospheres would make them weaker, as they're suddenly flooded with even more of the Tower's energy.

So why doesn't completing Third Generations' Cosmospheres do them harm?

Myths From a Dying Underground -- Ar Tonelico fanfiction (OC, 898 words, no warnings)

"One week to live. Please help."

Just by looking at her, you could tell, even without the flimsy paper sign hanging around her neck. She looked like all the other Diquility-starved Reyvateils haunting the mazy back streets of Firefly Alley: too desperate for the life-extender to waste money on food, in these last days they deprived their already failing bodies of nutrients in exchange for one last shot at life. Sallow and sunken-eyed, their lank hair drawing attention to the thinness of their features, they all filtered down, eventually, to this landfill of civilisation, to congregate like shadows in half-lit little corridors and under the awnings of ramshackle shops.

When there were elephants on the land, in the days before the wars, the legend ran that they made their way to agreed resting grounds to die: the elephant graveyards. The catacombs of Firefly Alley, they called this place. The Reyvateil graveyards. It was truer than the myth.

No one seemed to know why they gathered here; there were tourists to be had out on the main streets, while these shallows gathered only the dying and forlorn. Perhaps they knew their place; as there is a time to die, so is there a space, and the thought of contaminating the bright streets with their hopelessness might have upset their sense of beauty. Perhaps it was simply that a creature facing this most transformative of life events seeks to dwell only with others who walk the same path; all else is noise, distraction.

Or perhaps, something greater pulled them here; the touch of an invisible hand from some more noble plane. That was what Ryewa Alancis would believe, later, when she thought of what had occurred among the detritus of Firefly Alley that night.

The Goddesses' messenger, if such it was, moved easily among the shadows; almost blending in, in the dark robes that hung from its near-skeletal figure, yet with an alacrity to its steps that no other here possessed, it was them and was, at the same time, more than they could ever be. It travelled between them like a virus, seeking out hunched forms and trembling bodies with the eyes of a hawk, plucking out from beneath the garbage those who had crawled away to die; and to each one of them it said something murmured too softly to be heard, and it took their palms in its, in a manner wary and covert. Those whom it had visited stayed silent, but their hands were clutched to their breasts, and there was a life in their eyes almost matching that of the fleeting, flitting figure who had, it was evident, come to spread a holy joy among the dying.

Ryewa felt her heart beating faster as she watched the figure criss-cross the catacombs, slowly making its way closer to her. She was so fascinated with each transaction that she had not stopped to count whether it touched everyone: what if it did not come to her? She prayed silently not to be passed over, not to be abandoned by this one last miracle, this futile, yet magnificent, raging of the light against the darkness.

Yet even in her breathless hope she wondered as to the nature of this messenger. They were shadows by necessity; this being was shadow by choice. What would possess someone to dress in such dark raiment, and come down here, amongst the filthy and afflicted, to spread some strange benediction? Maybe it was mad, and its "wisdom" equal madness, that only touched the hearts of her fellows because they too hovered on sanity's brink. Maybe it was cruel, and the cruelty caked in sweetness, such that it could not be detected until it was too late. Yet equally, she wondered, what really was left to lose? --a gamble with bliss, or a certain slow fading; given the option, why not grab at her last chance at happiness? And so she resolved, if the stranger came to her side, to sit peacefully, and not to flinch or scream or run away. None of the others had, but then of course one always thinks oneself more astute than one's peers, and Ryewa had been a canny girl, in life.

And then, before she had the chance to further worry about whether it would come, it was upon her; and what she had not noticed before that she noticed now was that it knelt down to each one, the better to be on eye level with the Reyvateils who were mostly slumped or sprawled out upon the ground. And what she saw beneath the hood twinged at the failing recesses of her memory, but cleverly the woman gave her no time to process this, leaning in against her shoulder and whispering as she pressed something warm and hard into her hands, Look only when you are alone, and tell no one; and I will come again.

And then she was up and moving, and Ryewa tried to say something, but all the words fell out of her mouth and turned to dust; but she turned over the crystal in her hands, carefully, secretly, and she knew that the gratitude reached her eyes, and that would have to be enough.

Of course she wouldn't tell. What was she going to say, anyway?

"Mir saved my life"?

Who would believe that?

She wasn't even sure she did.

From the author: Heavily inspired by the legends reputedly invented by street children, such as the ones described in the now fairly famous article Myths Over Miami. I find these stories fascinating and haunting, and tried to recapture some of that forlorn and mythic atmosphere in this piece.