The day the dragons came, Neal kissed a boy. This span of months would later be remembered as the Awakening and condensed to precisely three pages in a tenth-cycle history text. Those three pages would lie nestled between twelve pages on the War of the Sea (when the merfolk rose up and attacked the trade ships in retaliation for an attack against their king) and twenty-four pages on the Reconstruction Age.
Among my University colleagues, I have a reputation for calm. Whatever the emotional upheaval around me, I can be counted on to keep my head, to make plans, to calculate the cost and consequences, and then to act. If they also say that I live too much in my head, that I lack passion and, perhaps, compassion, that is the price I must pay for being one of those still waters that runs much deeper than it appears.
The world’s greatest assassin lives on a private island. That’s so much a given that you must have known it already. You’ve seen all those movies about master thieves, brilliant scammers, unflappable secret agents, dangerous people who live on their own tropical islands and must be lured into one last job. He was the source of the cliché.
He huddled under the bridge and hid from the world outside, as he had done for as long as he could remember . . . No, he could remember a time before that, but he didn’t like those thoughts, and he buried them away whenever they appeared.The bridge was old and unimpressive, long ago marred by spray-painted graffiti, mostly faded now.
Cromdor the Calderian, thrice-cursed, thrice-condemned, (I’ve forgotten the rest, but believe you me, there is thrice-more) had nearly finished his tale when the traveler slipped in. As he had for the last ten days and ten before that, Cromdor had a packed house. ’Course, “packed house” is relative—last winter a mudslide tore away half the common room, and Yargin had been rebuilding when he fell through the thatch and died on that floor.
Once upon a time, there was a man who was born, who lived, and who died. We could leave the whole story at that, except that it would be misleading to write the sentence only once. He was born, he lived, and he died, was born, lived, died, bornliveddied. The first few words of a story are a promise. We will have this kind of experience, not that one. Here is a genre, here is a setting, here is a conflict, here is a character. We don’t know what is coming next, but we do know what is coming next.
The reality I was born in ceased to exist when I was three years old. So Mama and I moved to a different reality. We moved a lot, actually. “We can’t stay more than a few years,” Mama would say as she unzipped the fabric of the space-time continuum and scanned the flickering images inside. There were so many, I got motion sick if I looked too long. But Mama always knew which one to pick.
A woman from the street came in laughing from the cold. It was funny to see her with her black hair blowing all about her face. Her face was red. Red from the cold, red from the laughing, red from the rage that fueled that laughter. There are funnier things than a woman like that, but, well, she was the only one we got to look at that afternoon. Her name was some kind of long. It was Magnifica Angelica something at the end.
My story has a strange shape to it. It has a beginning and middle and, of course, I need not tell you that it has an end because it is the nature of all things to end, especially stories. But this story . . . well, it bunches up in places and twists upon itself in ways that no good story should. The sharpness of its arcs flare and wane in unexpected places because it is a story made of other stories.
I hadn’t heard from Miles for several months, when he wrote if I wanted to get together for lunch. Of course I did, and several days later I met him at a noisy, cheerful restaurant at South Bank. It was early February, London still somewhat dazed by the heavy snowfall that had recently paralyzed the city. The Thames seemed a river of lead. A black skim of ice made the sidewalks treacherous.