What are you doing in here? This information is classified, jennsayshello! If you really are high enough on the chain of command, get on over to the fingerprint scanner and head into the vault - do some serious work instead of so much standing around!
Oh, there you are!
We've been waiting for you to discuss some classified files - where in Neopia have you been?
Well, no time to give us an answer, Sargeant, for it is crucial that we compare notes on this problem immediately. Let's start with the basics: what do we all know about Agent Solace?
For Divinity's weekly challenge, Week 6
Agent Solace is Sellacia the Usul - an odd name for a male soldier, but what can you do? I suppose that's why he goes by Agent Solace...
Oh yes, the report. My apologies. Our records indicate little about his childhood: average income, average upbringing until he was orphaned in adolescence. From then on it appears he had no steady income, suggesting he joined our forces out of as much desperation as inspiration. He was rushed through basic training, primarily because of our lack of numbers in the field for the war against Elvaga. He was utterly unremarkable - loner, quiet, average skills at best, obedient, not overtly eager to be a soldier - except for his ability to remain in the field, alive, with only the occasional minor injury.
There's not much distinguishing between soldiers, but everybody is unique, I suppose. Agent Solace is slightly shorter than your average Usul, with a slightly stocky frame and broad shoulders. He has reddish-brown hair that goes halfway down his back, but more often than not he keeps it tucked away in the worn, brown, feathered hat that he always wears. The hat has a few holes, but he conceals them as best he can, patching them up or keeping them on the back of the hat, out of view from the front or in profile. He has green eyes and an auburn mane, which he keeps well-groomed along with his tail. His shoes are always shined, contrasting with the dusty, worn navy cape he wears in the winter for warmth over the customary army outfit.
Please drag the image to your address bar for a better view of this renowned soldier.
Selle has been captured more than a few times by the enemy; she has always managed to escape, but not before gaining a quasi-respect for her father's opposition and the way in which they ran their operations. She has not seen her father throughout her missions, or at least she has never recognized him, and now she questions on which side her allegiance lies. In some ways she now understands why her father would not let her accompany him, though her military career has taken a much different path than he would have expected. One of her major obstacles is the many different facades she adopts for the various circumstances: sometimes she must forego meals and impersonate a soldier for a few days so as not to be discovered, at which time she is met with anger from those awaiting mail. Additionally, no one, not even her employer, knew she was a female until she was captured for the first time by the enemy, as she knew she would have more opportunities to work in general as a male. The enemy returned her to the Irucien army, though, doubting her ability to be of any use because of her gender. The irucien army, in turn, kept her with them because they feared what she would do with another army.
Selle's petpet is Albert the Chichuana. Such a petpet wouldn't attract suspicion on the battlefield and can run or dig its way away from danger. It could also give her more information about troop movements and help with the mail. In the kingdom that all of my pets inhabit, there is a dose of magic, or fantasy, in each pet's story (for example, Siaiu has been turned into a statue), and this pinch of magic will be incorporated into Selle's story also. I am considering giving her petpet the ability to change sizes, so that such a bird could fly unnoticed on a bright day or be big and strong enough to carry Selle and/or a heavy mail bucket.
Selle's personality is a bit complicated, but so is anyone else's to some extent, right? Selle has two main sides of her personality - the indecisive side and the confident side. When Selle is indecisive, she can get pretty flustered and sometimes frustrated; however, she internalizes most of her emotions and is perceived as distant by most around her. This was one roadblock that Selle faced in building a relationship with her father; she cared for him deeply and admired him, but most of their communication/bonding was nonverbal, with both content to silently ponder the world in each other's company. Selle can be easily convinced on many smaller issues when she is unsure of something, but it is nearly impossible to manipulate or force her into a decision. This is how Selle is in the present moment with regards to which side is worthier of her support.
Once Selle has made a decision, however, she becomes confident, passionate, and extremely resistant to changing her mind or reevaluating the choice. Selle has a curious intellect and a bold imagination, but it takes time for her to reveal these attributes to others. Selle's tendency to internalize is a great asset for her job: she keeps secrets well without much effort and she also has an excellent memory. She is confident and determined when doing her job, as she has had much practice and is eager to succeed; what worries her is whether or not she should have this desire to succeed in such an instance.
Selle had to stifle a cynical laugh, and a yawn, and a groan. She parried these interruptions away adeptly – after all, to be a spy one had to have a poker face – and stared keenly at the maps in front of her. Of course, she knew them perfectly, having helped draw a few of them, but she needed something to do, something to gaze at indifferently. "You want me…to go figure out how they're…reincarnating people?".
."Agent Solace, this is serious," the Operating Commander scolded. Apparently, as good as Selle was at subtlety, the Commander was still always a step ahead of her, even after all these years. Well, except for figuring out that she was female – the enemy got there first. "Yes, Agent, you are being given this important mission. Do not return empty-handed." Maybe this was his way of punishing her for the embarrassment she must've caused him when he didn't figure it out first.
."Yes, sir," Selle replied. She had to admit, it was a little unnerving how many reinforcements the enemy seemed to conjure up, how easily they floated up to the front lines unobserved. Irucien had cut off many pathways forward – not them all, of course, because the war still would not end – and yet the effects of squeezing the enemy seemed almost negligible.
."And Agent," the Commander added, "if you do an exceptional job here, it will greatly help us win the war, which will in turn free you up for…other things. Perhaps other things according to your designing.".
Selle nodded, suddenly convinced. Of course, there was no evidence to come home with, but she would find something else of use. That's what the job entailed, making something out of nothing, especially when one was so vested in the outcome. Not the war – the war had to be won, yes, but Selle liked that she had a distinct purpose in the war. That would come, eventually. Her own goals were important.
Addendum. Equally important, she should say. No one likes an individualist, least of all in war. Everyone who's important in a war has some of it, though, if only for self-preservation. Maybe reincarnation, if such a thing existed, would make that preservation less pronounced. Maybe there would be no individualists. Selle didn't know quite how she felt about that.
With Irucienite soldiers surrounding about half of the border around the war zone, the hardest part of the mission – getting in – was simple. Not to mention the disguise: finally she was disguised in her proper gender, leaving a lot of difficulties aside in forming and maintaining her new identity. Long blonde curls replaced her natural wavy auburn hair, and she was still getting used to feeling their strands so low on her back, but at least she crossed easily, her red dress with the nurse's cross practically flying her past the border sentinels with few questions. Good. That was how it should be, she mused. When Albert sends word that I'm in already, how can the Commander still think I'm only half loyal? First he sends me on an impossible mission, then at the end of the talk he pulls me aside and accuses me of splitting my loyalty between my jobs?
Stop. You're going to succeed, she told herself. You always do. Minus the time when they captured you and figured out you were a girl. But ever since then you've been in the center of everything, right under the tip of their swords, and nothing. Vanishing, like the Commander is so worried about these dead soldiers doing.
There they are. Focus.
Plastering a wide grin on her face, Selle waltzed over to a group of ragtag girls just being released from border security. "Well, hello, girls," she said sweetly. "Took you forever to make it through, though…well, here you are. Let's go get you set up with the rest of the nurses so you can start learning, okay? Oh, and I'm Ruby if you need anything. I'm the trainee leader, and I'll be teaching you all your basics!".
She began leading the way confidently, and the girls seemed to take to her well, all things considered. Of course they were scared, being just out of the range of crossfire, but why wouldn't they trust her? The first friendly face, plus she had that annoying accent all the enemy citizens used down perfectly. That was another reason the Commander had sent her in, her ability to imitate not just accent, but intonation, so all her words were said with just the right emphasis.
When they arrived, Selle sent the girls to unload their minimal provisions, one of the elderly nurses supervising and discarding extraneous items they'd packed. Meanwhile, Selle introduced herself to the other nurses, introducing herself as the new liaison for new recruits. Despite the many skills needed to be a liaison – communication skills, medical knowledge, and wartime savvy, for starters – the position always had its fair share of interest, and a high turnover rate due to the high risks involved. Indeed, she'd gotten the position in her previous mission; disguised as a male border guard, she'd been able to convince her supervisor that she knew just the right liaison – an ex-guard, tough and smart in her border days but one who was called back because of her indispensable hospital skills. When the hospital outside the war zone had calmed down, however, Ruby was looking for a new position, and an exciting one at that. Of course Selle had concocted a brilliant profile for Ruby, one that was sure to be accepted: for one, her word as a high-ranking border guard had been established through months in that identity, and for two, she'd done her fair share of liaison tasks for Irucien in her earlier days.
Quickly Selle became accepted among her fellow nurses, both out of admiration for the speed in which she taught the recruits but also for her loyalty in covering for the others when they needed an escape. Frequently, she learned, nurses would converse with soldiers behind a log pile a few yards west of the nurses station, which was frowned on by superiors but common practice. Selle didn't want to be overly nice, and didn't want her generosity to be taken advantage of, but she recognized the importance of gaining the other nurses' trust and how easy it was in this instance compared to other espionage missions previously. The nurses were too preoccupied not to trust her, too preoccupied to study her closely. They wanted a friend, some help caring for patients, and someone to cover for them so they could relax.
But Agent Solace never did things just for generosity – that would be a waste of time and dangerous to her cover. Time was important, to say the least, in battle. She wanted more medical training. After all, if reincarnation was happening (a theory she still disdained but to which she had figured out no alternative), she needed to know every medical cure in the book, and all the ones up the experienced nurses' sleeves, before they would show her such an important and difficult skill. She bade her time, still unsure of what evidence she could bring home that would be good enough to make up for a wasted mission and give her permission for her own operation.
Selle woke up to loud noises and the scurrying of many pairs of feet across the hallway. She waited, recognizing the familiar noises as preparations for a trench battle. Nothing to be immediately afraid of, but of course the problems would soon mount once the traditional preparation was done and it was time to emphasize winning over tradition. Her pupils, however, were still shocked by the littlest changes outside, hardly daring to look outside but simultaneously feeling like they had to look so they would be prepared. But how do you prepare for something you can't predict?
."What's going on?" three of them stammered at once, at least a dozen more mute behind them.
."Preparing for battle, girls. Get some sleep while you can because as soon as it starts we need everyone.".
."You mean…we actually get to do something?" Ugh, yes, Selle had forgotten that the trainees hadn't experienced a major battle since she'd shepherded them from the border to the shelter. At least they'd had more time than most trainees to figure it out. Didn't look like it helped much, but they'd see soon enough.
."You don't get to – you have to. Now go, rest up. Don't be scared. Nurses have to be ready and confident, to make the patients feel at ease. You won't be doing anything too hard, just tending to them once they're stable. It's going to be fine. Go.".
You always forget how crazy it gets in the hospital at the peak of the battle, Selle remembered every time it occurred. It was hard enough to keep yourself in line, with a revolving door of medicines and advice, but to coordinate trainees too? A nightmare. Finally the flood of patients stopped, as the warring soldiers observed a traditional peace on the first nightfall of battle. All was quiet, minus the trainees whispering gossip in the other room. Selle ran her hand through her blonde wig and yawned.
."Ruby?" The most experienced nurse of the lot came toward her. "We need you.".
."Yes, ma'am." Selle quickly straightened her uniform and strode into the adjoining room, where a soldier laid prone on a bed. She knew that form: skin thin as a stamp, almost transparent. She didn't ask how it happened, just looked at him, his bright blue eyes still half open. He was tall, she thought suddenly, noticing how his leg all the way up to his knee hung off the too-short bed, his tail just grazing the floor like a Kau tail drooping on a hot summer day.
The nurse motioned for her to stand off to the side by his head, a mop of shaggy black hair almost obscuring the small tattooed outline of a leaf on his ear. She fluffed the pillow instinctively, causing the nurse to smile ruefully before gesturing for her to back up further. She carefully, almost painstakingly, poured a glittering, blood-red goop on her hands, then reached for his feet and began rubbing them with the mysterious liquid. Nothing happened for close to an hour; she just kept rubbing them, all the way up to the ankle.
And then a flash of light. Selle was set to grumble about seeing nothing of importance and not being warned of the brightness, but the nurse had already moved into the washroom to clean up.
His toes began to move around. Selle moved farther down, to about his waist, and watched him, seemingly gaining range of motion from the feet first and so on, finally up to his head. His skin was tinged, looking much ashier than it had earlier, but his eyes glowed fiercer, as if all the skin pigment was concentrated in those blue orbs. She hadn't noticed the glass of water on the nightstand earlier, but now passed it along, watching him struggle to grasp it the first time – did his hand go through it? Nonsense – and then grabbed it almost firmly. Gratitude was written everywhere. Even his toes looked thankful.
."Thank you," he whispered, his voice hoarse, as if he'd lost control of it for a time, "for saving my life. For bringing me back.".
Selle was taken aback. She didn't do anything! This wasn't possible! Why was this boy so beautiful, even with his less-than-human-looking skin? Finally her nursing instincts kicked in, and she patted his hand reassuringly. "It's what we do. Welcome.".
."I'll go get you some food," Selle announced, still startled. Her espionage training was coming in handy, though, as her voice was steady and her body language calm.
She turned to exit, stopping only when she heard him clear his throat. "I'm Baron. Er, not really, but my friends call me Baron. Dumb nickname, I know, but it sticks. You can call me that too.".
A few days ago, before the recreation of Baron, or whatever that stunt was, the head nurse had asked for volunteers to move into individual tents behind the shelter to accommodate more wounded soldiers. Selle had agreed, quickly but not suspiciously eagerly, to go, knowing the value that privacy afforded her to write letters and send them through Albert. She was still hoping to find more information about unrelated matters, just to impress the Commander for good measure, and she still needed to be taught exactly how to administer the precious, but creepy-looking, goop. Once she knew that latter bit of information, she decided, she could pinch a bit of goop, little by little, to take with her, but for now she waited, using the tent to plan in peace.
Selle had woken up the morning after Baron with the image of his eyes still floating around in the trenches of her brain. Part of her felt relieved that this goop and the reincarnation procedure existed, to have something tangible to go home with; part of her felt embarrassed to be believing it; and part of her felt scorn that her boss had been right, despite Selle's own skepticism. Work was a normal day at battle speed, but the head nurse had suggested that when the trench battle was finished she could have a complete lesson on proper gooping procedure, so Selle was on her best behavior so as not to risk anything.
."Hello?" Odd, Selle thought. She'd heard no one approach, least of all a man. She usually detected footsteps when people were many yards away.
."Do you need something, soldier?" Selle replied, trying to begin the conversation more or less following protocol.
."May I come in, just for privacy?" Definitely not protocol, but she opened one tent flap anyway. "I wanted to thank you again, for giving me a second chance I'm not sure I deserve.".
."Everyone deserves a second chance. I've had a lot of chances, not at life, but at various points within this life.".
."Do you think you deserve them?".
."How can you tell? I just try to make them count, because you only get a few." Selle looked up at him. His eyes were cloudy now, grayish blue rather than that striking aquamarine color. She would come to recognize this look. The academic in him couldn't resist adopting this pensive nature at least once a day. The competitor in her would always want to counter his intelligence with a suitable amount of her own, but she just wasn't as worldly as him, having spent most of her life protecting her little part of the world, not exploring.
."How…how do you feel?" Selle said finally, referencing his new body.
."The head nurse told me I'd get used to it. It's like a new machine, learning how it works and how to get the best out of it." Selle was surprised – there was more goodness within him? She'd seen virtue in his eyes, even the lifeless ones, and from years of experience she could tell at a glance that he was trustworthy. It wasn't often that people fooled her, though she admitted her strong admiration of him could have influenced that opinion a bit.
."Are you…a ghost?" she asked shyly, aware of the inherent silliness of the question. She reached out to touch his arm. It felt solid but a bit cold, and it was very smooth. He didn't have a ton of muscle in his forearm, but its texture was soft as muscle under skin.
."The nurse said that I look more solid depending on the strength I have. So when I'm super tired I look almost translucent. Which means I still need to sleep and eat to keep my strength up. I'm almost normal." He put his hand over hers and looked at her with a wry smile. "If I could ever be normal, coming from Drafeng.".
."What about Drafeng is so odd?".
He stared at her blankly. Oh dear. Lesson #1 in training: curiosity killed the spy.
Alone. Dawn. Strangely silent outside, minus the yelling in Selle's head. How could she be so dumb, practically handing him the evidence to turn her in as a spy? Her entire cover was predicated on her being Drafengian!
She'd just wanted to know everything about him. She'd always admired the Drafengian way of operating, at least in war, from what she'd gathered as a spy. Had she been less established in the Irucien army, less loyal to the land she spent so much time working for, she would've become a double agent long ago. She wanted control over her own missions, control over all the information she transmitted, true, false, or irrelevant. She loved holding secrets – it made her feel worth something. As a double agent she would be worth double, and it would be a statement not to discount females in the army. She was no feminist, but she didn't mind being a trendsetter. Of course, she'd have to be caught to be a trendsetter, but she preferred not to consider that option.
Besides, all she could consider now was her mistake. Her fate was in his hands. He'd forced her to tell everything, because even what she slipped was enough for her to land in jail on suspicion. He'd just nodded, looking more and more like he had a stomachache as she released her secrets, letting them fly off like eagles in a windstorm.
Footsteps now. He didn't try to hide them this time, barging in and plopping himself down on the mat next to her. "Why do you betray people?".
She was taken aback. This was one of those times when her cunning disappeared in the face of his intelligence. He continued: "Drafeng is not what you think. Our government is usually very helpful, especially to the lower middle class like me, but… they betrayed me. They executed my mom for being a traitor. She never did anything. Why would you want to betray something as rare and precious as your government by being a double agent, one that doesn't do that to people?".
Selle thought immediately of the events in the castle. Oh, yes, she knew all about the weird magic and Queen Clemede's personality changes. At least, she knew enough, and indignantly began to explain to him just what he didn't know.
."That's just a cause you want to fight. That's one thing. Your government as a whole is stable, and you better count your lucky stars for that, my dear," he said, with fumbled sarcasm on the last phrase.
."War—" her voice cracked. She'd never said this to anyone, but the fact that she was already doomed made her willing. Besides, she was slowly appreciating the sensation of true, imminent danger, one that overpowered her longtime thrill in keeping secrets. "War gives me…a sense of purpose, almost. I don't know where I am without it.".
Baron looked at her with deep pity. "What about your job as a mail courier?".
."There's no thrill in it. I didn't earn it. I begged and pleaded for it. Nothing else was available after my parents left.".
."Well, it's something, and it's less destructive than war, and it doesn't make you betray people.".
Does reading their mail count? Selle thought. For all his intelligence, he couldn't read minds, and for that she would count her lucky stars.
Time passed, gooping worked, and Selle learned how to make it work. Baron dropped by every night, mostly to talk but sometimes to hold her hand tenderly, to feel human warmth against his neutral skin. It wasn't ice cold, just nothingness, as if he was too trivial to get to feel warm or cold to someone's touch. He was just there, just like air, and he floated around, devoid of control, in exchange for the ability to witness life, and try to live it under these suffocating rules. And one day she'd floated away, armed with knowledge but also with new thoughts she'd accrued from their meetings. But a note had fluttered down, pinned to a book hidden under one of the tent posts. She'd hated not having control over when she could visit him – at night, he would come to her as he pleased, and not the other way around – but she'd rather have that than nothing. And he hadn't betrayed her, as she'd guessed from his unwavering, argumentative lectures about betrayal. That was one of the few things about her that made him angry; another was her penchant for risk-taking, but he'd come to accept that he couldn't dissuade her from much, just a small risk here or there. And he certainly couldn't make her stop leaving him notes at dawn every few mornings, despite the huge risk and effort needed in disguising herself and vanishing.
One morning she asked him to come speak with her boss, so that they might know more about reincarnation, and, implicitly, so she could be granted her mission. As she'd feared, he ripped up the note; she saw the shreds on her next foray to the tent. And on the next trip she saw her earlier note still there, unopened. She wanted him to betray his land, which she thought could be possible given his disdain for Drafeng. Instead, it seemed that he thought she was betraying him, either misunderstanding their conversations all along and destroying the connection they had, or else using him for her own gain and also destroying that connection.
Had she made a mistake? She knew for certain he hadn't touched the notes; at one point she left a tiny blade of grass on top that would be dislodged if he touched it. Was she really willing to sacrifice all of this for a mission, for her boss to believe her, for her career?
Agent Solace still has some secrets: most notably, that the renowned spy is female. Other misconceptions about her name and identity abound, though, and have been present since childhood. The word Damoiselle is simply this pet's title, not her name. It is much like Madame or Ma'am; however, the term is so obsolete that few recognize it for the title that it is or pronounce/spell it correctly. Most people call her Selle, either as a nickname for her equally archaic first name, Sellacia, or as an abbreviation of the more common title, Mademoiselle. Selle has often gone under the radar, as she grew up as the only child in her family and was left with just her father when her mother took a high-ranking position in the queen's court. She never returned, and Selle's father sold their home for the mother to afford extravagant clothing and other court necessities. Soon afterward, war broke out. Selle's father, who had gained his noble stature from his impressive leadership in the army, went to fight without her. Selle idolized her father and asked to accompany him, to be able to help him, but he adamantly refused, giving her what money he had, his warmest cloak, and a list of a few people she could go to for help and work. In two months' time, Selle was down to the final name on the list and no money left. Mercifully, she was able to get a job; however, she was paid in whatever food of which her employer had a surplus, and the job was one of the most dangerous in times of war: mail courier. Selle was required to cross enemy lines, both to deliver simple letters concerning court affairs and to acquire knowledge for the queen's military advisers about strategy. Given this job only because of her lineage and the trust her employer placed in her father, Selle had to quickly accrue the skills necessary to avoid becoming homeless. Each day she would rise while it was still pitch black and deliver the massive bucket of letters addressed to the castle on foot, handing them to Promise unseen. After that, the rest of the mail, that which needed to reach commanders in the war, had to be delivered, at which point Selle would begin her main career of espionage.
Selle, when not disguised as a male, tends to wear her reddish-brown hair down, its thick layers spread across her broad shoulders. Sometimes she loosely braids it back, and strands splay out of it like they're fighting to escape. Her piercing green eyes survey a room quickly and impersonally at first before settling in on an objective; her eyes and stocky build can make her seem somewhat imposing despite her relatively small stature. She tends to gesture with her hands frequently, though her voice rarely races at hundreds of miles per hour. Selle keeps herself poised and well-groomed, though internally her mind wanders like her hair in the braid, plans flying in every direction as she juggles her myriad duties and secrets. She tends not to wear the brown hat she favors in her masculine dress, instead carrying it in one hand – it is worn out, after all! Occasionally she replaces the hat with a simple chain necklace, a red bead attached to the silver chain, but she has been less apt to do so as of late after she forgot to take it off when switching into her soldier persona.
Drag the art to your address bar for full size. Drawn by Robin.
Here are my two weekly challenge entries for Week 37 - one writing and one art. The art is at the bottom.
This is, with all certainty, the last letter I will ever write, and likely no one will ever get to read it, so I might as well address it to myself.
It is strange that I – you – always feared capture so much. Here I am, awaiting retribution, but beset with a strange sense of calm. Qui sera, sera. Life goes on, maybe not for me but for others.
But I don't really have anyone I want to address here, nothing that I really want to apologize for, nothing I feel that I must say. Life is life, and apologizing all the time is like apologizing for living and learning. Something you just chalk up to life: taking a risk, being unsure, but being decisive. I have always been decisive.
Indeed, I think it is that quality that has kept me around for so long. Capture is almost inevitable in a place like this, a vast enclosure but one that seems to get smaller and smaller. There are more prying eyes, more intrusive technology, and most of all, no more viable options for leaving, what with the special 'surveillance fences' at the border and officers infecting the forest like parasites in a body. But it is not all the queen's fault; in fact, I'd assign most of the blame to the military. They're overly aggressive now – they haven't always been, to be sure – and I think this change stems from personal insecurity. Insecurity is the enemy of success because it impedes action, and when action is nonetheless pursued, it is pursued from a skewed perspective, causing further vulnerability. I've never been in school for more than a year or two at a time, but it doesn't take intellect to see. Sight is available to everyone, at least initially.
Sometimes I think the castle needs a few advisors who dispense advice simply as they see it, without education to color their judgment and temper their tongue. Education, and training in general, has its uses, but this is not one of those instances. But this sentiment is not motivated by any hedonic interests – to be sure, I'd sooner turn myself in as a traitor than work for the real ones. I don't feel personally slighted – as I said, I have a strange sense of detachment from the ordeal before me now – but maybe soon I will. The issue at hand is their deceit of the peasant community, one with which I once identified, and sometimes they betray the human condition. By this I mean they undermine their own purposes for living, their own usefulness.
Usefulness is a difficult quality to define. For example, is this letter useful? It is more of a ramble than a letter, really, and as such it likely has even less utility. But even if we call it a letter, no one will read it. I have no one to send it to; even if I did, the odds of a letter sent by a soon-to-be-condemned traitor leaving the castle are slim to none. Irucien has seen a lot of disappearances lately; I guess this is one way to make me disappear even before they've 'deliberated' and 'voted' on my guilt. The whole premise of deliberation is new, and it too is of dubious usefulness. It's not useful to me, as it is a façade. It is supposed to be useful to the castle in currying favor from the peasants – the premise is, with the war going so poorly, the peasants would be up in arms if not for the imminent problem of starvation, and so something must be done to prevent any chance of a revolt. Yet the castle seems not to have noticed that the time in which revolution would have been most likely has passed. It was only recently that the war took such a downward turn that the castle decreed that all sellable goods would be bought by the castle, not by peasants in the marketplace. This made foraging for food the only viable option, but overpopulation and a lack of practice in such endeavors compromised each peasant family's ability to survive. Before that point, peasants were surely angry, but also had enough food such that day-to-day survival was not their main concern, leaving the door open for revolutionary plans. I suppose the question for Queen Clemede is how long will this last? The castle is only secure as long as it is insecure – as long as we keep losing, the peasants will be too preoccupied to revolt.
Obviously, it is unacceptable to the castle to remain in such a tenuous state of irony, and so they have endeavored to increase domestic and international security at the same time. And again we return to the idea of usefulness, for this plan also carries with it a lack of logic. Logic, or a lack thereof, is a common flaw in political matters here that in part explains a few of my problems with the castle and a few of my perhaps perplexing decisions as a soldier in the very military I condemn.
Rambling is the mark of an old, tired soul, someone once told me, and while I am still rather sprightly, it is true that my soul is tired. I will explain the castle's flaw in logic, not because I myself need to remember it, but just so, in case this letter ever falls into the right hands, it can possibly be of actual use. Usefulness, yes – we were discussing how to make a life useful, a question I believe the castle has never pondered, for it is their single greatest hole in their arsenal. Indeed, it could render weapons useless: if everyone is against you, no one will raise their weapons in your name, for your defense, for your honor. The castle believes that suppressing the intelligentsia, the weapons makers for the peasantry (rhetorical weapons, to be sure, rather than the physical ones) will make the rhetorical weapons disappear, like everything else has been lately, and a cloud of faerie dust will turn all to peace. But memories and beliefs cannot be quenched so easily, and it is perhaps there that we find the greatest usefulness of all, for permanence is a highly undervalued attribute.
Even the human soul, my soul, is temporary, for it is tired. It is tired, for it has done the work of many souls, it has assumed the attributes of many others, it has fought for many sides, but it has worked all of this time for the mind and body of one: me. Why, then, so many conflicts?
Well, because beliefs change. Perhaps not the army, an organization in which a younger me desperately wanted membership but one that remains steadfastly loyal to the castle and its own hierarchy. But mine do. Alternately I feel proud of the work I've done for both sides of the battle, my time spent evenly but with honest intentions, insofar as that is possible for such a duplicitous endeavor. I like to think of it more as an observational study: which group would I truly feel proud to support? It is a more complicated question than one would think; although war is very black and white, the two sides both have their merits and flaws. I'm still not sure I've entirely arrived at an answer, my prospects for knowledge tempered by my guilt. I do not feel guilt for prolonging a war or anything like that – soldiers sign up knowing, at least abstractly, the possibilities of war. But the poor peasants, foraging for food in an environment that has grown increasingly hostile and dangerous – I didn't cause that, surely, but I feel twinges of indirect guilt for their plight. It would be presumptuous to think I have enough importance to really influence fate, but if I had chosen something else, would there be less of them with empty bellies? It's not that simple, as decisions spark cascades of chain effects, but if that answer could be shown to be yes, then perhaps that would explain my calmness, for perhaps disappearing is somehow just.
But, suppose the answer is no, and then we see more irony – an idea consistent with a political hierarchy that has been anything but consistent. The irony is that the reason I was visible to the castle, and then turned invisible here (not literally, but I might as well be, having vanished from society), was because of one of my decidedly less subversive actions. Promise and Magicless deserved to disappear safely – maybe the castle just doesn't like seeing its own strategies in the mirror – and their exit did not make anyone else more vulnerable. But they deserved to take the opportunity when they could, rather than becoming more vulnerable by maintaining steadfastly loyal to a political system that does not understand or dole out loyalty in return. Promise would tell you she's loyal to a few select elites (namely, Promise and Kimri), but to me that only makes the point resonate further that the risks of staying are prohibitive. No one will watch over you – not them, not anyone else, because no one else knows you're here in the castle. Do not watch over them. Watch over him, I urged her, gesturing to the sleeping Magicless. He is the only one that cares for you as much as you care for him. The elites don't need your help. If you should feel tied to anyone, it's the peasants, I ranted, with ample disdain placed on the word 'elites.' And she protested, defending her queen, but I cut her off. I know, I said, but that loyalty you have is worth nothing if things take a turn for the worse here. You have no power to change circumstance. The best you can do is save him, keep that loyalty in your heart, and return when it is safe to use that loyalty at the point in which you can be of some use – when those elites are rebuilding. You cannot prevent collapse. Get out before you collapse, too.
And here it is, in my mini world: my own figurative collapse. I cannot do anything to halt it, and I'm not sure if my soul will recover, or whether it will be forever buried in this rubble. But I can stand firm, for I have always been decisive, and now is no exception. I have nothing to apologize for, though I lament for the peasants and lament my own lack of power to give them sustenance. Most of all, though, I'd like to give them decisiveness. Hope, too, but hope means nothing without something. And by something, I mean a decision. An action. Anything to underscore the fact that they are alive, that they are visible, that they have not disappeared. I hope this letter keeps my soul beating, even if it's buried, such that maybe one day I will know somehow that change has occurred, that maybe I will have some vague idea that things turned out well, both for the political elites and the peasantry, and even perhaps the military. I don't harbor ill will, only a sense of what if? What if the elites, by freeing themselves from scholarly constraints, had been better educated? Had employed sound logic? This is the paradox I leave you with, and it is up to you to find the usefulness in it. Otherwise, this letter will wilt uselessly, like a flower that has never known sunlight. I hope this letter reaches eyes other than my own, but to my young self, I bid adieu. My soul remains, but the young body will soon fade, a useless souvenir of a life striving for decisiveness, for a real sense of living, for a sense of purpose and honor and truth. How naïve. But persevere, for such a goal is decisive, and such is the only way to live. I regret nothing. Qui sera, sera.
And this is why I don't draw anthro...
From left to right:
If I didn't need four phases for the challenge, that nurse image would never have seen the light of day...
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