For the longest time I studied revenge to the exclusion of all else. I built my first torture chamber in the dark vaults of imagination. Lying on bloody sheets in the Healing Hall I discovered doors within my mind that I'd not found before, doors that even a child of nine knows should not be opened. Doors that never close again. I threw them wide.
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We wrap up our violent and mysterious world in a pretence of understanding. We paper over the voids in our comprehension with science or religion, and make believe that order has been imposed. And, for the most of it, the fiction works. We skim across surfaces, heedless of the depths below. Dragonflies flitting over a lake, miles deep, pursuing erratic paths to pointless ends. Until that moment when something from the cold unknown reaches up to take us. The biggest lies we save for ourselves. We play a game in which we are gods, in which we make choices, and the current follows in our wake. We pretend a separation from the wild. Pretend that a man's control runs deep, that civilization is more than a veneer, that reason will be our companion in dark places.
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I'll tell you now. That silence almost beat me. It's the silence that scares me. It's the blank page on which I can write my own fears. The spirits of the dead have nothing on it. The dead one tried to show me hell, but it was a pale imitation of the horror I can paint on the darkness in a quiet moment.
Do you know why the leaves change colour, Makin?" They did look spectacular. The forest had grown around us as we traveled and the canopy burned with colour, from deepest red to flame orange, an autumn fire spreading in defiance of the rain. "I don't know, " he said, "Why do they change?" "Before a tree sheds a leaf it pumps it full of all the poison it can't rid itself of otherwise. That red there-that's a man's skin blotching with burst veins after an assassin spikes his last meal with roto-weed. The poison spreading through him before he dies.
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We're built of contradictions, all of us. It's those opposing forces that give us strength, like an arch, each block pressing the next. Give me a man whose parts are all aligned in agreement and I'll show you madness. We walk a narrow path, insanity to each side. A man without contradictions to balance him will soon veer off.
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When they killed him, Mother wouldn't hold her peace, so they slit her throat. I was stupid then, being only nine, and I fought to save them both. But the thorns held me tight. I've learned to appreciate thorns since. The thorns taught me the game. They let me understand what all those grim and serious men who've fought the Hundred War have yet to learn. You can only win the game when you understand that it IS a game. Let a man play chess, and tell him that every pawn is his friend. Let him think both bishops holy. Let him remember happy days in the shadows of his castles. Let him love his queen. Watch him loose them all.
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Battles are all about strategy, and strategy pivots on priorities. Since my priorities were Prince Jalan, Prince Jalan, and Prince Jalan, with 'looking good' a distant fourth, I took the opportunity to resume running away. I find that the main thing about success is the ability to act in the moment. A hero attacks in the moment; a good coward runs in it. The rest of the world waits for the next moment and ends up as crow food.
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Brother Row you could trust to make a long shot with a short bow. You could trust him to come out of a knife fight with somebody else's blood on his shirt. You could trust him to lie, to cheat, to steal, and to watch your back. You couldn't trust his eyes though. He had kind eyes, and you couldn't trust them.
And that's how it is in this world, boy. Start a tale, just a little tale that should fade and die-take your eye off it for just a moment and when you turn back it's grown big enough to grab you up in its teeth and shake you. That's how it is. All our lives are tales. Some spread, and grow in the telling. Others are just told between us and the gods, muttered back and forth behind our days, but those tales grow too and shake us just as fierce.
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Cold has its own taste. It tastes of a bitten tongue. It coils around you, a living thing, a beast that means to kill you, not with wrath, not with tooth nor claw, but with the mercy of surrender, with the kindness of letting you go gentle into the long night after such a burden of pain and misery.
It's often said that cowards make the best torturers. Cowards have good imaginations, imaginations that torment them with all the worst stuff of nightmare, all the horrors that could befall them. This provides an excellent arsenal when it comes to inflicting misery on others. And their final qualification is that they understand the fears of their victim better than the victim does himself.
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Genuine surprise is a great help when faced with an unwelcome duty. Of course, when it's the paying of debts you're forgetting, that can lead to broken fingers. And worse. I guess it's a form of lying- lying to oneself. And I'm very good at falsehoods. They often say the best liars half-believe their lies- which makes me the very best because if I repeat a lie often enough I can end up believing it entirely, no half measures involved!
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Never having been troubled by a conscience before, I was far from sure what to expect of one, and so when for a minute or two each day at dawn a voice began to whisper to me to be a better man, I decided the shock of recent events had finally woken mine. My conscience had a name- Baraqel. I didn't like him much.
As a child there's a horror in discovering the limitations of the ones you love. The time you find that your mother cannot keep you safe, that your tutor makes a mistake, that the wrong path must be taken because the grown-ups lack the strength to take the right one... each of those moments is the theft of your childhood, each of them a blow that kills some part of the child you were, leaving another part of the man exposed, a new creature, tougher but tempered with bitterness and disappointment.
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He broke off his explanation, seeing in his daughter's eyes the exact moment that a child first understands there are limits on what her parents can do, rather than just limits on what they choose to do. He knelt before her in a moment's silence, somewhat less than he had been just seconds before, and Emy a half step closer to the woman she would one day become.
And when pain bites, men bargain. Boys too. We twist and turn, we plead and beg, we offer our tormentors what he wants so that the hurting will stop. And when there is no torturer to placate, no hooded man with hot irons and tongs, just a burn you can't escape, we bargain with God, or ourselves, depending on the size of our egos.
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As a child there's a horror in discovering the limitations of the ones you love. The time you find that your mother cannot keep you safe, that your tutor makes a mistake, that the wrong path must be taken because the grown-ups lack the strength to take the right one...each of those moments is the theft of your childhood, each of them a blow that kills some part of the child you were, leaving another part of the man exposed, a new creature, tougher but tempered with bitterness and disappointment.
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Everyone likes a bit of variety. I'm sure none of my readers only want to read about anti-heroes or villainous protagonists any more than they only want to read about square-jawed heroes doing the right thing. I just write characters than entertain me and hope they'll be ones that other people want to read about, too.