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A Rebellion of Most Brave and Beautiful Persons, Non-Persons, and Entities of Unspecified, Indeterminate, or Variable Personness

Approximately 5.34 giga-light-years away, in the galaxy Kadradax, approximately 192 petaseconds ago, the Ourokamaedian Star Empire was at the height of its power. With tens of thousands of star systems and over a million cubic parsecs under its control, no-one and nothing could stand in its way.

The capital planet of the empire – Ourokamaedia – was one giant city. The surface was a forest of glass and chrome skyscrapers, the foundations of which were just older skyscrapers. (If there was mud or rock beneath it all, it had not been seen in millennia.) The people of Ourokamaedia travelled from building to building by flying car.

And those people were most varied, for, over the years, many of those of species native to other planets in the empire had travelled to its capital. Some of those aliens had green skin, while others had blue. Some had skin that was luminescent, while others had skin that was transparent on Tuesday afternoons. Some of those aliens were made of bone, blood, and brain, while others were little more than spheres of fat surrounded by a thin, greasy film – whether they had any intelligence at all was a subject of much debate. There were, predictably, robots – of many different kinds. Some were made of polymer and titanium, of transistors and electrochemical cells; others were made of brass and glass, of boilers and flywheels. Some robots were the overthrew-their-creators kind, and others were the actually-we-get-along-fine-with-our-creators kind.

Any form of life that could exist existed on Ourokamaedia. However, the species that had evolved on the planet (and which had first set out to the stars and established the empire thousands of years ago) remained the majority of the population. They were similar in appearance to us humans in a way that is narratively convenient.

It was the year 3504, and the Ourokamaedian Empire was ruled by Emperor Zhang Song, the Fifty-fourth Emperor of the Karamaxium Throne. He was old and withered; he had ruled for a hundred and twenty-nine years. His hair was as wispy as broken spiderwebs, his skin tore as easily as wet paper, and his bones were as brittle as those flakes that fall off cinnamon swirls and stick to your jumper. But his wit was still as sharp as it was when he was in his youth, and his voice still cut through the pride of most. His grip upon his soup spoon was weak, but his grip upon power was strong.

And something that must be impressed upon you, dear reader, is that Emperor Zhang Song was evil. Not the kind of evil of a politician who takes a bribe from a large corporation. Nor the kind of evil of someone who violates the unspoken rules of queuing. No, Emperor Zhang Song was properly evil – the evil of skimmed milk, or sweet potato fries, or moussaka. The evil of boiled tofu or quiche. The evil of vegan cheese. Zhang Song was a person who savoured inflicting pain on others – whether it was a physical agony or a psychological one. Anyone who dared oppose him, or even just someone he didn’t like the look of, was sent to a prison camp on one of the moons of Renlor, where they were worked to death or simply shot. When a planet rebelled against the control of the empire, it was blown up. Zhang Song was the epitome of an evil dictator. The quintessential fascist. A person upon whom history will not look favourably. A person whose moral principles were highly questionable. A thoroughly bad guy.

As such he was despised by all of the people of the empire. Every day the people of the empire spoke of how much they hated the Emperor, and of how much they wished to remove him. They went on and on about it.

One day, there was a man sitting in a café on the eight-hundred-and-eighty-eighth floor of a skyscraper who had just about had enough. He was a man without any particularly unusual traits. He was neither particularly short nor tall. Neither particularly fat nor thin. Neither particularly ugly nor beautiful. He spent a lot of time watching holographic television and he thought punning was the highest form of wit. He had spent a good part of his life working in the ice mines of Ourokamaedia’s third moon – an occupation known for being arduous and one that didn’t get you much money. His past was bleak and his future was bleaker.

‘I’ve had enough!’ this man without any particularly unusual traits said, repeating what I already said to you in the last paragraph – which is something that some authors would call inefficient. ‘And I’m going to do something about it!’ he said.

‘What are you going to do about it?’ said a character who will not appear again in this story.

‘I’m going to kill the Emperor!’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘He is the cause of all of our problems. He is evil! He must be removed!’

The people in the café cheered.

The man without any particularly unusual traits stood up, feeling bold. ‘I will kill the Emperor! And all of us will be free from his evil rule! No longer will we suffer!’

The people in the café cheered louder.

‘This is the start of our rebellion! Who will join me?’

‘I will join you!’ said a man with green skin – he was an Ooloog-ogarian – they are similar to the Ourokamaedians in almost all ways, except that they have green skin, and green blood. He stood up too. ‘I will fight for what is right! And to overthrow this evil dictator!’

‘Welcome, brother! Together we will bring justice to this empire again!’

‘I will join you!’ said a woman with no arms or legs. She did not stand up like the other two … because she had no legs. ‘I will give every cell of my body to end the House of Zhang!’

‘Welcome, sister! Together we will bring justice to this empire again!’

‘I will join you!’ said a robot (a Tzi-tzio Tiriko’ to be precise) in a voice that sounded all techno-y, but which definitely wasn’t just lazy writing. ‘I will give every wire of my body to end this autocracy!’

‘Welcome … … … you …’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘Together we will bring justice to this empire again!’

‘I will join you!’ said a fat Ganrarian, in a voice that was coarse and guttural. The Ganrarians have a strong warrior culture, and this Ganrarian, like many, wore layers of thick, black armour, and his face was covered in tattoos signifying all of his great achievements in battle. ‘I will help to defeat this fascist for the glory of Ganraria!’

‘We will join you!’ said a purple blob (an Obloobe Powemblon, to be precise – they have no arms, no legs, no head – no discernible features of any kind – they are just blobs), in a voice like bubbling yoghurt. ‘We will help to rid the galaxy of this oppressive regime!’

‘I will join you too!’ said a lesbian. She was … just a lesbian. ‘I will help to rid the universe of Zhang Song!’

‘Welcome, friends!’ said the man without any particularly unusual traits. ‘Together we will bring justice to this empire again! We will march on the Emperor’s palace, break inside, find the Emperor, and kill him, for he is most evil!’ Everyone in the café cheered. ‘But not only this! For too long, so many of us have been second-class citizens in this society! For too long, robots have been treated no better than slaves!’ he said, gesturing to the robot.

‘It’s true!’ the robot said.

‘For too long, Ganrarians have been expected to fight the empire’s wars!’

‘It’s true!’ the fat Ganrarian said.

‘For too long, Obloobe Powemblotthlo have been ridiculed by the media!’

‘It’s true!’ the purple blob gurgled.

‘But no more!’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘Our rebellion will not be like this! Our rebellion will be fair! No-one will be a second-class citizen! No-one will be looked down upon or disrespected! No-one will be made to feel uncomfortable simply for who they are! For we are all brave fighters in this rebellion!’

Everyone in the café cheered.

‘We will be accountable. If any of our group does something wrong, they will not simply be allowed to get away with it, as the Emperor and his ministers are so often. We will take swift action to be rid of such a person, and in doing so we will keep our rebellion pure! For who are we to remove the Emperor if we are no better than him?!’

Everyone in the café cheered.

‘Our rebellion will never be tainted! From when we leave this café to when we take off the Emperor’s head, our rebellion will be fair, just, and equal! No-one will be mocked or ridiculed! No-one will be disparaged or disrespected! No-one will be made to feel uncomfortable! Come, brave friends! Let us storm the imperial palace!’

And the rebels charged out through the glass doors of the café, onto a balcony in the clouds. Everyone else in the café cheered and waved to the rebels as they got into a flying taxi that hovered next to the balcony.

The man without any particularly unusual traits, the woman with no arms or legs, the man with green skin, the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian first went to the home of the fat Ganrarian, for he owned a large number of laser rifles (which are rifles that shoot high-power laser beams) and laser grenades (which in truth are just regular grenades, but it sounds cooler if you put ‘laser’ in front). They landed on the balcony outside the fat Ganrarian’s apartment. He rushed inside, and returned moments later with weapons.

‘My fellow Ourokamaedians, Ooloog-ogarians, Tzi-tzio Tiriko’, Ganrarians, Obloobe Powemblotthlo, here is where our rebellion begins!’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘We will go to the imperial palace, break through its gates, find our way to the throne room at its centre, and kill the Emperor! Doubtless our fight will be hard! There will be many obstacles in our way! We may have to climb up tall walls, leap over perilous gaps, and crawl through narrow spaces. We will likely have to fight off the many guards of the imperial palace, and we will do so with these weapons! Take as many as you can carry!’

The rebels picked up the weapons, and searched through the other equipment that the fat Ganrarian had for things that might be useful.

‘Um … excuse me!’ the woman with no arms or legs said. ‘How am I supposed to fire any of these weapons?! How am I supposed to climb up tall walls, leap over perilous gaps, or crawl through narrow spaces?! I don’t have any arms or legs!’

The other rebels all stopped what they were doing.

‘I confess, I did not say at the café, but I do not think you will be able to join us in this fight.’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘Without arms or legs, you will not be able to do these things. I do not think you will be able to help us enter the palace and kill the Emperor.’

‘This is unacceptable!’ the woman with no arms or legs said. ‘I have just as much right to storm the palace and kill the Emperor as you do! This rebellion was founded on the ideals of fairness, justice, and equality, and yet now I am being denied an opportunity that everyone else has! This is disgusting! This is disgraceful! This is discriminatory! I am being treated as less than everyone else!’

‘No’, the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘It’s just that in order to break into the palace and fight off the guards you need to be able t-’

‘AND NOW I AM BEING SILENCED!!! THIS REBELLION CLAIMS TO BE ABOUT FAIRNESS, JUSTICE, AND EQUALITY, BUT NOW I SEE THAT IT IS ANYTHING BUT! THIS REBELLION IS ROTTEN TO ITS CORE! WELL ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! WE SHOULD END THIS HATEFUL RHETORIC ONCE AND FOR ALL!!!’

‘She is right!’ said the man with green skin.

‘Yes, she is right!’ said the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian.

‘This rebellion is rotten to its core!’ the man with green skin said. ‘We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of him!’

‘Yes!’ the others, apart from the man without any particularly unusual traits, said.

‘What?!’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said.

The man with green skin took one of the laser rifles, and shot him in the head.

‘At last!’ the man with green skin said as red blood washed over the fat Ganrarian’s balcony. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’ They kicked the man without any particularly unusual trait’s body off the edge of the skyscraper.

‘We must choose a new leader!’ the lesbian said.

‘Yes, we must!’ the man with green skin said. ‘We must take a vote!’

‘I vote for this brave and beautiful woman here!’ the lesbian said, gesturing to the woman with no arms or legs.

‘I also vote for this brave and beautiful woman!’ the man with green skin said. Everyone else voted for her too.

‘It is agreed, then! She will be our new leader!’ the man with green skin said. ‘What must we do next?’ he said to her.

‘We must go to the palace! Come, brave friends!’

The man with green skin, the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian lifted the woman with no arms or legs back into the taxi, and they flew off through the clouds.

Within minutes they came to the long avenue that led up to the front gates of the imperial palace. The avenue was suspended in the air, hundreds of metres above the lower levels of the city, by great chrome circles. Columns made of a marble-like stone lined the avenue, and two great iron braziers – which were lit 32/9 – stood at the end. The taxi perched right on the end of the floating avenue, and the man with green skin, the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian lifted the woman with no arms or legs out of it.

The rebels charged along the avenue towards the entrance of the palace, as the taxi flew away. The road leading up to the entrance is 2 kilometres long, so it was a while before they arrived at the gates – they should have landed closer – but when they reached them they found them to be open and unguarded.

‘Look, brave friends!’ the woman with no arms or legs said, being carried by the fat Ganrarian and the lesbian. ‘The gates are open! There are no guards! What luck that today of all days the imperial palace is unguarded! It is a sign! The black blood of the Emperor shall wash the floors of the palace today! Not a single drop of red blood – the blood of the fair, the just, and the true – shall spill from our veins!’

The rebels were about to charge through the gates into the palace, when …

‘Um … excuse me!’ the man with green skin said. ‘What do you mean “red blood”? Some of us have green blood!’

‘I confess’, the woman with no arms or legs said. ‘I forgot that not everyone here had red blood. I simply meant th-’

‘YOU FORGOT!!!’ the man with green skin (and green blood) said. ‘IT MUST BE NICE TO FORGET HOW OFTEN OOLOOG-OGARIANS ARE MOCKED FOR HAVING GREEN SKIN! THIS CLEARLY SHOWS YOUR ANTI-OOLOOG-OGARIAN BIAS! THIS IS DISGUSTING! THIS IS DISGRACEFUL! THIS IS DISCRIMINATORY! I AM BEING TREATED AS “OTHER”! I AM BEING TREATED LIKE I’M SOME SORT OF ALIEN!’

‘Well, technically you are an alien. We’re all ali-’

‘AND NOW YOU ARE TALKING OVER ME!!! THIS REBELLION CLAIMS TO BE ABOUT FAIRNESS, JUSTICE, AND EQUALITY, BUT NOW I SEE THAT IT IS ANYTHING BUT! THIS REBELLION IS ROTTEN TO ITS CORE! WELL ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! WE SHOULD END THIS HATEFUL RHETORIC ONCE AND FOR ALL!!!’

‘He is right!’ said the robot.

‘Yes, he is right!’ said the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian.

‘This rebellion is rotten to its core!’ the robot said. ‘We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of her!’

‘Yes!’ the others, apart from the woman with no arms or legs, said.

‘What?!’ the woman with no arms or legs said.

The robot raised his laser rifle, and shot her in the head.

‘At last!’ the robot said as red blood washed down onto the paved avenue. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’ They kicked the woman with no arms or legs’ body off the edge of the floating road. It fell down into a street in the lower levels of the city, crushing a man’s kamcha stall.

‘We must choose a new leader!’ the lesbian said.

‘Yes, we must!’ the robot said. ‘We must take a vote!’

‘I vote for this brave and beautiful man here!’ the lesbian said, gesturing to the man with green skin.

‘I also vote for this brave and beautiful man!’ the robot said. Everyone else voted for him too.

‘It is agreed, then! He will be our new leader!’ the robot said. ‘What must we do next?’ he said to him.

‘We must find our way to the throne room at the centre of the palace! Doubtless this will be hard – there will be many guards along the way! Come, brave friends!’

The man with green skin, the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian charged through the gates.

Beyond the gates was a narrow bridge over a moat that encircled the inner palace. The surface of the grey water, flat and glassy, was a hundred metres below. The inner palace was a towering structure made of polished, veined black stone. Turrets and halls, bridges and balconies piled on top of each other. The rebels stormed over the bridge, and through the main doors, which were a glossy black, decorated with gold inlay, and wide open, into the inner palace.

They went up a wide, polished stone staircase, then along a hall. Then they went down a different staircase with rich red carpets, and through a small garden that had a fountain in the centre and violet flowers in the borders. At no point did they see any guards. Then they went up another staircase, down another, up another, and after a short while they were completely lost.

‘This palace is a maze!’ the man with green skin said. ‘Doubtless it was designed to confuse enemies of the Emperor! But fear not, brave friends! Luck has been on our side thus far, and it is only a matter of time before we find the throne room! For our hearts beat with the vengeance of a thousand conquered peoples!’

They were about to continue running up and down staircases, when …

‘Um … excuse me!’ the robot said. ‘What do you mean “our hearts”?! Some of us don’t have hearts!’

‘I know – it’s just a metaphor.’ the man with green skin said.

‘OH I SEE!’ the robot said. ‘THAT’S VERY BIO-NORMATIVE OF YOU! YOU KNOW IT’S EXACTLY THAT SORT OF LANGUAGE THAT CAUSES ORGANIC LIFE-FORMS ACROSS THE EMPIRE TO TREAT ROBOTS LIKE ME AS NOTHING MORE THAN COMPUTERS! THAT’S THE SORT OF LANGUAGE THAT CAUSES SUCH HIGH RATES OF DEPRESSION AND SUICIDE AMONG ROBOTKIND! YOU’RE BASICALLY MURDERING MILLIONS OF PEOPLE BY USING THAT KIND OF LANGUAGE!!!’

‘How is that committing m-?!’

‘AND NOW YOU ARE TALKING OVER ME!!! THIS REBELLION CLAIMS TO BE ABOUT FAIRNESS, JUSTICE, AND EQUALITY, BUT NOW I SEE THAT IT IS ANYTHING BUT! THIS REBELLION IS ROTTEN TO ITS CORE! WELL ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! WE SHOULD END THIS HATEFUL RHETORIC ONCE AND FOR ALL!!!’

‘He is right!’ said the fat Ganrarian.

‘Yes, he is right!’ said the purple blob and the lesbian.

‘This rebellion is rotten to its core!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of him!’

‘Yes!’ the others, apart from the man with green skin, said.

‘What?!’ the man with green skin said.

The fat Ganrarian raised his laser rifle, and shot him in the head.

‘At last!’ the fat Ganrarian said as green blood washed across the polished, tiled floor of the hall. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’ They shoved the man with green skin’s body into a garbage chute. It dropped down eighty floors onto a pile of rotten food, and was incinerated moments later.

‘We must choose a new leader!’ the lesbian said.

‘Yes, we must!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘We must take a vote!’

‘I vote for this brave and beautiful person here!’ the lesbian said, gesturing to the robot.

‘I also vote for this brave and beautiful person!’ the fat Ganrarian said. Everyone else voted for him too.

‘It is agreed, then! He will be our new leader!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘What must we do next?’ he said to him.

‘We must find our way through this maze!’ the robot said. ‘Maybe there is a computer interface somewhere that I can connect to, to get a map of the palace!’

The robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian continued running along the hallways and up and down the staircases of the imperial palace. They didn’t see a computer interface anywhere – just smooth walls and pillars made of different colours of veined stone, rich tapestries with pictures of the Emperor woven into them, as well as oil paintings, statues, and holograms depicting the Emperor.

‘Damn it! There is not a single interface!’ the robot said. ‘The Emperor must have known that his enemies would look for one! He is most cunning!’

‘Look!’ the purple blob said. ‘It is one of the Emperor’s evil ministers!’

The other three turned and looked down a hallway, and saw one of the Emperor’s ministers walking across it. He had not seen them.

‘He must know the way to the throne room!’ the robot said. ‘Great friend!’ he said, turning to the fat Ganrarian. ‘Go and rough him up! Then he will tell us where it is!’

The robot, the purple blob, and the lesbian all looked towards the Emperor’s minister, waiting for the fat Ganrarian to charge ahead and pin him against the wall. But instead …

‘Um … excuse me!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘Why did you choose me to go and beat him up?!’

‘What?’

‘Is it because I’m a Ganrarian?’

‘No, it’s just becau-’

‘Do you think all Ganrarians are brutes who are only good for war?!’

‘No-’

‘You know it’s that kind of attitude that makes it so difficult for people like me to find occupations outside of the military! You are the reason why so many of my people are living in poverty, which is what leads to such high death rates among Ganrarians! You are basically murdering millions of people with that attitude!’

‘I just chose you because you were standing next to m-’

‘AND NOW I AM BEING SILENCED!!! THIS REBELLION CLAIMS TO BE ABOUT FAIRNESS, JUSTICE, AND EQUALITY, BUT NOW I SEE THAT IT IS ANYTHING BUT! THIS REBELLION IS ROTTEN TO ITS CORE! WELL ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! WE SHOULD END THIS HATEFUL RHETORIC ONCE AND FOR ALL!!!’

‘He is right!’ said the purple blob.

‘Yes, he is right!’ said the lesbian.

‘This rebellion is rotten to its core!’ the purple blob said. ‘We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of him!’

‘Yes!’ the others, apart from the robot, said.

‘What?!’ the robot said.

The purple blob enveloped a laser rifle, angled it at the robot, and shot him in the head.

‘At last!’ the purple blob said as wires, screws, and jagged, red-hot pieces of metal scattered across the stonework. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’ They chucked the robot’s body out of a high window – it overlooked the moat. The robot’s body fell down into the steely water a hundred and fifty metres below.

‘We must choose a new leader!’ the lesbian said.

‘Yes, we must!’ the purple blob said. ‘We must take a vote!’

‘I vote for this brave and beautiful person here!’ the lesbian said, gesturing to the fat Ganrarian.

‘We also vote for this brave and beautiful person!’ the purple blob said. Since there were only three of them left, they carried the vote.

‘It is agreed, then! He will be our new leader!’ the purple blob said. ‘What must we do next?’ he said to him.

‘We must chase after that minister, and force him to tell us where the throne room is!’

So the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian ran after the minister. They soon caught up to him. The minister wore flowing sable robes. His mouth was thin, his eyes were sunken, and his jet black hair was pressed flat. The fat Ganrarian held the minister up against the wall by the neck, but he couldn’t speak when they did that, so they let him down again. He immediately told them everything they wanted to know.

‘Go down that hallway, turn left, pass three doorways on your right and then go down the fourth. The throne room is at the end of that hallway. There you will find the Emperor.’

‘Come, brave friends! We are minutes away from victory!’ the fat Ganrarian said, and the three of them ran off. They forgot to kill the minister, which was most unfortunate, as he was the Emperor’s Minister of Re-education. After he was let go, he went off to the prison camp on one of the moons of Renlor to oversee the execution of a thousand dissidents.

The fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian followed the directions that the minister had given them, and, sure enough, they came to a long hallway, at the end of which was a towering set of doors, brushed with gold leaf, and inlaid with diamonds and emeralds and opals – the door to the throne room.

‘At last!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘Victory is at hand! The Emperor shall bitterly regret having employed such a foolish man as one of his ministers! Such foolishness is not tolerated on Ganraria! Our fight has been hard, brave friends, but we have stayed true to our cause and to ourselves! After all our trials, I am glad to be standing here next to the two of you! Onwards, brave friends!’

The fat Ganrarian and the lesbian stepped forwards, but …

‘Um … excuse us!’ the purple blob said. ‘What do you mean “the two of you”?’

The fat Ganrarian turned. ‘What do you mean? I mean the two of you! You and this lesbian here.’

‘Are you calling us one person?!’

‘What do you mean?!’ the fat Ganrarian said angrily. ‘You are one person!’

‘How dare you! You ignorant anti-multiplist! We are a collection of hundreds of symbiotic organisms!’

‘Well how was I supposed to know that?!’

‘WELL IF YOU CARED TO KNOW MORE ABOUT OBLOOBE POWEMBLOTTHLO, THEN YOU WOULD HAVE KNOWN! YOU KNOW THAT’S EXACTLY THE SORT OF ATTITUDE THAT LEADS TO OBLOOBE POWEMBLOTTHLO BEING RIDICULED IN THE MEDIA!’

‘I can’t be expected to know everything about every species on this planet – there are tens of thousands of d-’

‘AND NOW WE ARE BEING SILENCED!!! THIS REBELLION CLAIMS TO BE ABOUT FAIRNESS, JUSTICE, AND EQUALITY, BUT NOW WE SEE THAT IT IS ANYTHING BUT! THIS REBELLION IS ROTTEN TO ITS CORE! WELL ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! WE SHOULD END THIS HATEFUL RHETORIC ONCE AND FOR ALL!!!’

‘They are right!’ said the lesbian. ‘This rebellion is rotten to its core! We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of him!’

‘What?!’ the fat Ganrarian said.

The lesbian raised her laser rifle, and shot him in the head.

‘At last!’ the lesbian said. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’

‘What a brave and beautiful action you took!’ the purple blob said. ‘He was probably not a good fighter anyway! We’ve never seen a Ganrarian who was so fat!’

‘How dare you!’ the lesbian said. ‘That is a disgusting remark!’ She raised her laser rifle, and shot the purple blob in the goo.

Being many organisms, the purple blob didn’t die right away, so she fired several more times, until the entire purple blob had been vaporised. She did the same to the body of the fat Ganrarian, until there was little left other than smoking blood and brains on the floor of the hallway.

‘Alas! So many of those who were once in this rebellion turned out to be just as evil as the Emperor! It is up to me to finally rid the world of this evil!’

The lesbian charged along the hallway, laser rifle in hand, and kicked open the golden doors. (They were not locked. There were no guards.)

Beyond the doors was a great crystal hall. Pillars of agate held up a roof of quartz. The floor was tiled with squares of malachite and chalcopyrite. Copper-framed windows along the sides of the hall looked out over the rest of the palace, and over Ourokamaedia. The great hall was empty – there were no tables or chairs, statues or tapestries – not even a potted plant – except for at the far end of the hall, where the Emperor’s throne stood. It was made of a single, massive diamond – the largest ever retrieved from the planet Huruigon. Its edges were jagged and sharp, and a short flight of steps led up to the seat itself.

And on that seat was the Emperor. He was having lunch. On a plate on his right were some slices of crusty bread, some slices of ham, two or three different cheeses, and a bunch of juicy, red grapes. (By sheer genetic co-incidence, they do have bread, ham, cheese, and grapes on Ourokamaedia – a planet that has no biological connection to our own.) The Emperor chose a few grapes from the bunch and ate them, and took a sip of an iced drink – apparently unaware that someone had just charged into his throne room. There were no guards, and the Emperor had no weapon.

‘At last!’ the lesbian said. ‘I have found you! Do not try to run – there is no escape! I have come to avenge all the peoples of this empire, who have had to live under your oppressive rule! I have come to restore fairness, justice, and equality to this empire! I have come to end you!’

The Emperor did not look up. He continued eating.

‘Ha! Your arrogance is surpassed only by your malice! You have been outwitted. I have fought past every obstacle you have put in my way! Your ministers have betrayed you! No-one is here to defend you! Only the cold hand of justice is left for you! Not even your wife and children shall mourn for you!’

The lesbian raised her laser rifle, ready to fire.

‘Did you just assume that I’m heterosexual?’ the Emperor said. ‘I could be gay for all you know.’

The lesbian paused, shocked. ‘I … I didn’t … … … oh no. I am just as bad as all those other people! I am just as bad as you! I am no longer worthy of being in this rebellion!’

The lesbian turned her laser rifle towards herself, and shot herself in the head.

And thus ended that attempt to kill the Emperor … just like the previous 354 attempts.


Original story and artwork, Copyright © Benjamin T. Milnes

Featured

Magnathor the Forgetful

from
On The Subject Of Dragons

a sequel to
On The Subject Of Trolls

as told by
Aelfraed of Cirneceaster


Dragons. People always ask me about dragons. They always seem to be far more interested in dragons than they are in trolls, but I think dragons are the much less interesting beings. Dragons are very annoying, of course – not annoying in the various ways that trolls can be, but still annoying.

Most of the dragons that are found in Wessex or Mercia are smaller. They can still breathe fire, of course, and their teeth and claws are deadly, but their strength does not come from their size. These are, of course, meadow-dragons. A meadow-dragon can be brought down with just one well-thrown spear.

Much more of a problem are the dragons that live in the west. These are mountain-dragons – far bigger, far deadlier, and far harder to kill. Thrulgor the Bothersome was a mountain-dragon – the biggest I’ve ever heard of (at least, in Albion – I’ve heard that there are dragons even greater than him beyond the seas). These dragons stay in the mountains most of the time, but every now and then one will fly east – they are learning that that is where men and women live, with cows and sheep and horses – and silver, which they prize above all else.

But of course, dragons are not annoying just because of what they eat. Dragons are perplexing beings, subject to whims that men and women may never understand.

This is a story about a dragon, whose name was Magnathor. Magnathor was a truly ferocious dragon – twelve yards high at the wing-shoulder. His scales were as hard as diamond – the largest four hands across. His claws were long and yellow. His tail was barbed. His breath could melt a steel blade in a second, and his roar could cut down a great oak.

But he was also rather daft.

One day, Magnathor came down from the mountains, and he saw a river that he liked. It was, in fact, the Tames, near Oxford. There was a stone bridge over the river – wide enough and sturdy enough for the dragon to sit on. The dragon landed on it, and he stared down into the water, his tail swishing from side to side. (The river near this bridge is quite shallow and wide, and there are many small rocks beneath the surface. In bright sunlight, the water glitters and glimmers, and I believe it was this that drew the dragon to the ground – they like shiny things, I think (which is, I think, also why they like silver, though it’s difficult to know – the minds of dragons are ever-impenetrable).)

The dragon sat there for hours, watching the river. After some time, a man, whose name was Aethelstan, and who travelled over the bridge most days, came to it this day.

Upon seeing the dragon, Aethelstan froze, for it was far bigger than any dragon he had seen or heard of before. He tried to creep away from it, further into the woods, but dragons have excellent senses of smell and hearing (and sight, for that matter). The dragon turned its great head, so that its large, golden eyes stared straight at Aethelstan.

‘Hello’ the dragon said.

Aethelstan felt as though he had turned to stone. ‘… Hi.’ he said.

‘What are you doing?’ the dragon said.

‘Err … I was … err … hoping to cross the bridge.’

The dragon blinked at him. ‘Why?’

‘Well … ‘cause … that’s where I’m going.’

The dragon blinked at him again.

Aethelstan blinked back.

‘Aren’t you going to cross then?’ the dragon said.

Aethelstan looked at the hulking, shimmering mass of dragon that sat on the bridge before him. ‘Well … you’re sort of in the way.’

The dragon looked back at the rest of its body and its tail. ‘Oh yes, so I am.’ And he lifted his tail off the far side of the bridge, and coiled it neatly around him. Then he looked back at Aethelstan expectantly.

‘Right …’ Aethelstan said, and he began to shuffle forwards again. He walked across the bridge slowly, careful not to make any sudden movements – dragons are easily startled.

The dragon watched him the entire time. ‘What’s your name?’ the dragon boomed when Aethelstan was right behind it.

Aethelstan nearly shat himself. ‘Aethelstan’, he said. ‘What’s yours?’

‘I am Magnathor. If you need to cross this bridge again, and I am still here, just tell me your name – I will remember who you are, and I shall let you pass at once.’

‘Oh …’ Aethelstan said, not relishing the thought that the dragon might still be there the next day. ‘Okay.’

Aethelstan continued walking slowly across the bridge, and the dragon continued watching him with big eyes, blinking every now and then. Aethelstan reached the other side, and walked backwards along the road into the woods.

‘Bye!’ the dragon said, and he turned back to look at the river.

‘… Bye …’ Aethelstan said, still half expecting the dragon to turn back towards him and pounce on him.

But the dragon didn’t.

The next day, in the morning, Aethelstan came to the bridge again. The dragon was still there. It looked like it had hardly moved – except for the swishing of its long tail. It still hung its head over the side of the bridge, so that it could stare down into the shimmering water.

Once again, the dragon sensed Aethelstan before he even reached the edge of the wood, and turned to look at him. Aethelstan felt much more confident in approaching the dragon today.

‘Hello, Great Dragon.’ he said as he strode onto the stone of the bridge. ‘It is I, Aethelstan.’

‘Who?’ Magnathor said, not moving his tail from across the bridge.

‘Aethelstan.’

The dragon pondered for a moment. ‘No I don’t know who that is.’

‘It’s me – I walked across this bridge yesterday – you asked me what my name was.’

‘Doesn’t ring any bells.’ the dragon said.

‘I walked across this bridge yesterday! You asked me what my name was, and you said you’d remember it if I came to the bridge again, and let me cross!’ Aethelstan said. Was this dragon trying to trick him or something?

‘Well that doesn’t sound right.’ the dragon said. ‘I think I’d remember if I said something like that. Are you sure you’ve got the right bridge? Perhaps it was a different bridge that you crossed?’

‘I think I’d remember which bridge it was!’

‘Well how can you be sure?’

‘Because it was the one with a great big dragon on it!’

‘Alright, there’s no need to shout!’ the dragon said. ‘Tell me your name and I’ll let you cross. I’ll remember what your name is and if you come to this bridge again and I’m still on it, I’ll let you cross straight away.’

‘It’s Aethelstan!’ Aethelstan said, exasperated.

‘Aethelstan, Aethelstan …’ the dragon thought out loud. ‘That’s quite an unusual name, isn’t it?’

‘No, not really.’

‘No, I think I’ve got it – I’ll remember – it sounds like “tree”.’

‘It really doesn’t.’

The dragon pondered for a few more moments. ‘Very well – you may cross.’

The dragon moved its tail out of the way, and Aethelstan was able to cross the bridge. The dragon stared at him the entire time.

‘Bye!’ the dragon said as Aethelstan walked onto the road on the other side of the bridge.

‘Bye.’

Aethelstan walked away down the road.

The dragon continued to sit on the bridge and stare down into the water. It may have seen some fish – dragons like fish – they can watch them for hours and hours.

In the late afternoon, Aethelstan came back.

‘Hello, Great Dragon! It’s me again.’

The dragon turned and stared at him.

‘… It’s me! Aethelstan!’ Aethelstan said.

‘… Who?’

‘Oh my god! You saw me this morning!’

‘No I didn’t.’

‘YES YOU DID!’

‘Alright! There’s no need to shout!’ the dragon said. ‘Are you sure you didn’t meet a different dragon?’

‘Yes! It was you! On this bridge!’

‘Well how can you be sure?’

‘How many dragons do you think I meet?!’

‘Well I’m sure I don’t know.’

‘It was you! I met you! Here! On this bridge! This morning! And yesterday!’

‘Yesterday?’

‘YES!’

‘Well I have no recollection of this at all.’

‘Look, both times you asked me my name, and you said you’d remember it, and if I came back to the bridge and you were still on it, you’d remember who I was and let me cross straight away!’

‘Oh that’s a good idea!’ the dragon said. ‘What’s your name?’

‘AETHELSTAN!’

‘Is that a name? I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before.’

‘You heard it about a minute ago!’

‘Well I will remember it, and if you should ever come this way again-‘

‘I go across the bridge twice a day.’

‘-just tell me your name and I’ll let you cross straight away.’ the dragon said.

The dragon moved its tail out of the way again, and Aethelstan crossed the bridge.

‘Nice meeting you for the first time!’ the dragon called out.

‘That was the third time!’

Aethelstan walked away down the road, and the dragon went back to staring at the water.

The next day, Aethelstan returned. He was hoping that the dragon had gone, so that he wouldn’t have to explain to it again how they’d already met. But he saw that the dragon was, in fact, still there – its blue scales gleaming in the sunlight, and its tail swishing from side to side as it looked down into the rushing water of the river.

‘Hello, Great Dragon. It’s me, Aethelstan … again.’

The dragon turned to look at him and blinked.

‘… It’s me … Aethelstan … do you remember? From yesterday … and the day before.’

‘Have we met?’

‘Oh my god! Yes, we have met! Three times! Twice yesterday and once the day before!’

‘Oh I didn’t meet anyone yesterday. Or the day before.’

‘Oh my god! Yes you did! You met me! Do you remember?!’

‘Well I’m pretty sure I didn’t.’ the dragon said indignantly. ‘I haven’t met anyone since I came here.’

‘THIS IS A VERY BUSY ROAD! I’VE PASSED ABOUT TWENTY PEOPLE ON IT IN THE LAST HOUR! HOW HAVE YOU NOT MET ANY OF THEM?!’

‘Such a quiet part of the country – untouched by human hands.’

‘You are sitting on a bridge that humans built!’

‘Oh gosh – I’m in your way, aren’t I?’

‘Yes! Yes you are!’

The dragon coiled its tail around itself again, and Aethelstan crossed the bridge.

‘Oh I’ve just had a thought!’

‘Let me guess …’

‘Next time you come to the bridge, if I’m still on it, tell me your name. I’ll remember you and let you cross.’

‘What a great idea.’

The dragon looked at him expectantly. ‘… What’s your name then?’

‘AETHELSTAN! IT’S AETHELSTAN!’

‘Got it. “Uhtric”.’

‘WHAT?!’

‘“Uhtric”. That’s your name.’

‘NO IT ISN’T!!!’

‘Gosh, where’s Uhtric then? He normally comes by here twice a day!’

‘So you have met other people then.’

‘Oh hello! Who are you?’

‘Oh my god.’

‘Do you want to cross the bridge?’

‘No!’

‘Sure?’

‘I just did!’

‘No you didn’t.’

Aethelstan just walked away.

‘Well it was nice meeting you, whoever you are!’ the dragon called out.

The dragon remained on the bridge for many weeks. He never remembered who Aethelstan was. Aethelstan became more and more frustrated. Eventually the dragon left of his own volition.

And so this is how dragons can be annoying. It’s altogether a different kind of annoying to the way that trolls are annoying.


An original story by Benjamin T. Milnes

Copyright © Benjamin T. Milnes

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The Crumbs Are More Than The Cake

Also called Othoral and Hiadmath


There were once two people, by the names of Othoral and Hiadmath, who lived in a small house in the countryside. The house stood on a slight rise in the land, and was surrounded on all sides by field after field of tall crops grown by Othoral and Hiadmath.

Every day, Othoral made a cake for Hiadmath.

‘I am looking forward to this.’ Hiadmath would say as the cake was in the oven. ‘I do so like cake. I could happily eat the whole thing in one go.’

Once the cake had been baked, Othoral would take it out of the oven, and place it on the table. Once the cake had cooled, Othoral said to Hiadmath ‘Here, the cake is made. You may eat the whole thing.’

But despite his earlier eagerness for the cake, Hiadmath would say ‘I may have some of it later.’, for Hiadmath would be preoccupied by other things. Some days he would be sweeping the floor; some days he would be brushing soot out of the fireplace; some days he would be making a wooden chair. He complained about these tasks the entire time he was doing them, but he did them nevertheless.

Only after many hours would he sit at the table and have some of the cake, and when he did, he would only cut a thin slice for himself.

‘Why not have another slice?’ Othoral would say, once Hiadmath had eaten the first. ‘I know you will like it.’

But Hiadmath would say ‘No, I have had all I want.’ or ‘I may have some more later.’ (but even when he said this, he would always become preoccupied with other tasks again).

This happened every day. Othoral would make a cake, while Hiadmath talked of how much he was looking forward to eating the whole thing. But once the cake was made, Hiadmath would only have one thin slice.

After a while, Othoral was fed up with this, so one day, rather than just give Hiadmath the whole cake, Othoral took the cake, along with many plates, and walked around the fields and through the thickets near to their house. Every few paces, he placed one of the plates on the ground, and then broke a single crumb off the cake, and placed the crumb on the plate. Once he had placed every crumb of the cake, he returned to the house.

In the afternoon, Hiadmath, after many hours of working, said ‘I rather fancy a piece of cake.’

Othoral said ‘Look outside the front door.’

Hiadmath did so, and he saw a plate on the ground, on which was a single crumb of cake. He picked up the plate, and ate the single crumb of cake that was on it. ‘Mmm’, he said, ‘that was delicious, but I would rather like some more.’

Hiadmath then saw another plate on the ground, a few paces away. He walked over to it, and saw that it too had a crumb of cake on it. He picked up the plate and ate the crumb. ‘Mmm, that was also delicious, but still I would like some more.’

Hiadmath followed the trail of plates around the fields and through the thickets. He picked up each one, and ate the crumb of cake that was on it. By the time he got back to the house, he had eaten a whole cake.

‘All that cake was delicious!’ Hiadmath said to Othoral. ‘I could eat even more!’

Othoral had made another cake while Hiadmath had been wandering around outside, and he placed it on the table. ‘Here you go.’, Othoral said, ‘I have made another.’

Hiadmath immediately ate the whole second cake.

And this was how they continued. Every day Othoral baked a cake, and then walked around the fields, placing down plates, and placing a single crumb of the cake on each one. Every day Hiadmath walked around the fields, picking up the plates, eating the crumbs. And when Hiadmath returned to the house, he would eat a second whole cake.

Hiadmath ate far more cake than he had done before – before he had only eaten one thin slice of cake, but now he ate two whole cakes! He even ate more than he had at first wanted to – at first he had only wanted to eat one whole cake – for, as Othoral realised, the crumbs are more than the cake.


An original story by Benjamin T. Milnes

Copyright © Benjamin T. Milnes

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The Emperor’s Pink Elephant

There was once a great empire.

This great empire was vast – reaching from the pine-covered mountains of Arennia in the west, to the golden beaches and azure reefs of Marcanne in the east, from the freshwater lakes of Belgamon in the north, to the apple orchards and apiaries of Arganza in the south. It was so vast that evening on one side of the empire was morning on the other. And at its centre stood its Capital – a limestone and marble metropolis that was the seat of power for a hemisphere.

This great empire was also extraordinarily wealthy. Though it had started as only a small city state, it had fought many wars over the years against the kingdoms and principalities along its borders, and it had won most of them. With each new territory it had conquered it had stolen all the riches it contained, fuelling yet further expansion of the empire. And with each monarchy that fell before it, ever more convinced did the subjects of the Emperor become that they were the only truly civilised people in the world, and that all those beyond the empire’s borders were barbarians.

But most of the people in the empire were not wealthy – they were impoverished – for most of the great wealth extracted from the lands they had taken was hoarded by the Emperor and his Barons. By the time of this story, they were far wealthier than they had ever been. The Grand Imperial Palace at the centre of the Capital was a small kingdom of ivory towers, marble colonnades, golden cupolas, glass-walled orangeries, wisteria-wrapped pergolas, and mosaic-covered terraces. The statues that stood atop the walls, the painted domed ceilings, and the stained glass windows all gleamed with a brilliance that was taken as proof of the empire’s immutable virtue.

The Emperor and his Barons spent their days strolling through the lush gardens and great halls of the imperial palace, but for most of the people of the empire, such a life was but a whisper of a whisper. In contrast to the luminance of the imperial palace, most of the great city that was the empire’s capital was in disrepair. Fires broke out every month; the sewers overflowed; the bridges collapsed. The houses were small, cramped, and expensive. Disease was often a death sentence.

Most of the people who lived in the city worked twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours of the day. A person had to be a master of two or three crafts in order to survive. Many were in debt. Food, at least, was cheap – not fine food, but food that would keep you alive, and well, for a time. In what little free time the people of the empire had, they had fun, and some were able to find a reluctant contentedness, but none were truly able to change the circumstances of their lives, and the risk of deprivation, despair, and death remained constant.

Many of the problems of the empire could have been resolved if some of the empire’s extraordinary wealth were put towards resolving them. The ordinary people of the empire knew this. And why should this not happen? After all, it had been these ordinary people who had fought the empire’s wars in the first place. They had obeyed the commands of their divine Emperor and taken land in the name of their exceptional civility, and then been left to suffer.

The People of the Capital thought that perhaps if they could speak to the Emperor, they could persuade him to implement policies that would solve the empire’s many problems. But getting to the Emperor was difficult – the Emperor, his Barons, and his Ministers were isolated within the Grand Imperial Palace. They never went beyond its tall walls.

So the People of the Capital gathered together, and resolved to send one of their group into the palace as a representative, to become one of the Emperor’s Ministers. (Unlike the Barons, who passed down their fortunes and titles to their sons, the Emperor’s Ministers were chosen from the greater populace.) They chose one man from their group who they believed would succeed – he was eloquent, rational, and honest, if somewhat brusque.

It was on a bright day, just before lunch, that this First Man strode up to the golden gates of the imperial palace, to be admitted as the Emperor’s newest Minister. The gates swung outward, and the First Man stepped forward into a world he could not have imagined.

The Grand Imperial Palace is filled with a great many wonders of the world: the Hydrargyrum Fountain, which will amalgamate any coin that is thrown into it, to become part of its quicksilver jets; the Lotus of Charan’girak – the flowers of which are fifteen feet tall and only bloom on the day after a blood moon; the Tree of Rhonyssia, each branch of which produces a different kind of fruit – cherries, pears, bergamots, dates, pineapples, blackberries – everything.

The flowerbeds, the shrubs, the walkways were all kept perfectly tidy by the imperial palace’s many hundreds of servants. Every leaf that fell from every tree was caught before it even hit the ground. Every cracked paving stone was replaced before the Emperor could see it. Every oil lamp was refilled every hour throughout the night so that not a single flame would go out.

It was through this wondrous place that the First Man strode on this day. Though he was transfixed by the chiselled cornices, the viridian ponds, and the onyx statues, he walked past them all to the great glasshouse at the centre of the palace that was the Emperor’s Menagerie.

Though the imperial palace had galleries, chambers, and halls that were the official locations where the discussion of legislation took place, the Emperor and his Barons and his Ministers actually spent very little time there. Instead they gathered in the Emperor’s Menagerie, every day, at midday, to discuss and give assent to policy.

The Emperor’s Menagerie was bright and humid. It had tall walls and many glass domes. The fronds of the ferns and the cycads were a lush green, and the pools that sat and the streams that ran throughout the building were clear.

But despite the grandeur of the architecture and the greenery of the Emperor’s Menagerie, most of the animals in it were rather unspectacular. There were lorikeets and parakeets, lemurs and macaques, pythons, puffins, porcupines, and pangolins, chameleons, tortoises, sloths, a jaguar, a giraffe, and even a hippopotamus, but they all looked rather tired and grey.

There was one exception to this, however – a unique specimen that was the Emperor’s prized possession. In the very centre of the Emperor’s Menagerie, beneath the great crystal dome and on a circular plinth of gold and garnet, sat an enormous … pink elephant.

The elephant was truly gigantic – twice the height, width, and length of a normal elephant. But as remarkable as its size was, it was nothing compared to the colour of its skin. The elephant’s skin was a lurid, electric fuchsia – a hot, shocking cyclamen. It was such a vile and offensive shade of magenta that it stung the eyes to look at it. It was so fluorescent that it drained all of the colour from everything around it.

The elephant was also disgusting. It gave off a nauseating stench of bitumen, vinegar, oyster sauce, burnt aubergine, and piss – the entire menagerie smelled of it. This may have been caused by its diet. The elephant did not eat leaves and grasses as normal elephants do – it ate incredibly expensive foods, provided to it at the behest of the Emperor and his Barons: caviar, goose liver, lobsters, artichokes stuffed with white truffle, bluefin tuna, and it ate all of this food in vast quantities. The servants of the Grand Imperial Palace would drag great bowls – four feet across – filled with this food up to the elephant every half hour. The more recently-appointed servants were given the task of carrying away the elephant’s shit, which was produced almost constantly.

All of this makes the Emperor’s Pink Elephant difficult to ignore, but ignore it you must, because if anyone talks about the elephant – whether they go on about it at length or just mention it – that person will be swiftly removed from the palace, and never be permitted to return.

Almost all of the people of the empire, however, at this point, were completely unaware of the existence of the pink elephant. As such, when the First Man strode through the glass doors of the Emperor’s Menagerie, to begin his first term as one of the Emperor’s Ministers, he gawped at the pink elephant, in shock and amazement. The pink elephant stared back, grinding crabshell in its teeth, bored with the turn of events.

The Emperor’s other Ministers shuffled up to the First Man, with their hands clasped together and forced smiles on their faces. They nodded politely as they asked the First Man pointless questions and ignored his answers. And after a few minutes, the First Man said ‘I had no idea that the Emperor had an enormous pink elephant in his menagerie! What an unusual creature!’

The Emperor’s other Ministers continued to smile and nod, but did not refer to the elephant themselves. They changed the conversation to something meaningless and dull.

An hour after the First Man had arrived in the menagerie, and before the First Man had had the chance to speak with the Emperor (who always stood on a raised area at the back of the glasshouse, dressed in imperial green and guarded by a number of his Barons) one of the Emperor’s servants walked up to the First Man and said ‘Most honourable gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of the palace – there is a matter that requires your expertise.’ The First Man, suspecting nothing, followed the servant out of the menagerie and back to the golden gates of the palace.

He stepped through the gates of the palace. Once he was outside, the gates were closed behind him and locked, and the servant walked away.

The First Man, like those who had elected him to become a Minister, was naïve to the way that the palace operated, and so was confused. He had expected to find this matter outside the gates of the palace, but he did not. The servants had walked away, so there was no-one he could ask. He waited for an hour in case the matter reappeared, but it did not. Then he tried to get the attention of someone in the palace, but none came to him.

By the end of the day, he realised that this was not a mistake, and that he would not be permitted back into the palace, and could not take the people’s requests to the Emperor. What he couldn’t figure out was why.

He analysed the day’s events with the People of the Capital. He told them of everything that had happened while he had been inside the Grand Imperial Palace, and everything he had said to the Emperor’s Ministers. He told them that in the very centre of the Emperor’s Menagerie there was an enormous pink elephant that ate vast quantities of expensive food and gave off a foul odour, and that he had mentioned the elephant to the Ministers. But he had said so many things and made so many slight gestures that neither he nor the People could figure out which of them had led to his expulsion.

But the empire still had many problems, so, since they could not send the First Man back into the palace, the People of the Capital chose another from their group to become one of the Emperor’s Ministers in his stead. This Second Man was very similar to the first, but perhaps slightly more observant.

So the next day, just before lunch, this Second Man strode up to the golden gates of the imperial palace, to be admitted as the Emperor’s newest Minister. The gates swung outward, and the Second Man stepped forward into a world he had heard a few things about.

He walked the two miles from the entrance to the palace to the Emperor’s Menagerie, not stopping to marvel at the Opal Obelisk, Sereri’s Fresco, or the translucent chrysanthemums. But when he stepped through the glass doors of the menagerie, like the First Man, he was awestruck by the pink elephant. The elephant looked at him with impatience.

The Emperor’s other Ministers shuffled up to the Second Man, eyes eager and greedy. They chatted with the Second Man about things both tedious and irrelevant, and laughed at things that weren’t funny. And after a few minutes, the Second Man said ‘I must say, I knew that the Emperor had an enormous pink elephant in his menagerie, but I could not have anticipated just how vivid its skin is, or how pungent its smell is.’

‘His Majesty’s Menagerie has many wondrous and unique animals in it.’ one of the Emperor’s other Ministers said, though it wasn’t true in the slightest – all of the other animals were rather dull. ‘My favourite is the pigeons.’ he said, pointing up to the rafters, where hundreds of fat, grey pigeons sat.

‘Oh yes’, another Minister said. ‘Far better than those sparrows that used to be here. And I never liked that crane either.’

An hour after the Second Man had arrived in the menagerie, and before he had had the chance to speak with the Emperor, one of the Emperor’s servants walked up to the Second Man and said ‘Most honourable gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of the palace – there is a matter that requires your expertise.’ The Second Man, also suspecting nothing, followed the servant out of the menagerie and back to the golden gates of the palace.

He passed through the gates, and they were locked behind him. He was tricked just as the First Man had been, though the Second Man realised this as soon as he heard the lock clink behind him.

The Second Man also analysed the day’s events with the People of the Capital. He told them everything he said and everything he did, and the People realised the only thing that both the First Man and the Second Man had done was to talk about the elephant in the room.

As ever, the problems with the empire persisted. The People resolved that they could not give up, so they chose a Third Man from their group to try to get into the palace and speak to the Emperor. But this time, he would go in with the intention of not saying a single word about the pink elephant, and if one of the Emperor’s servants said he was needed at the gates, he would try to find a way of not going.

So the next day the Third Man went in. When he stepped into the great glasshouse, the Emperor’s other Ministers shuffled up to him, whispering and glancing at each other. He did not say a single word about the elephant, but he did stare at it – it was difficult not to – its skin was so blindingly saturated. And of course, it was right in the middle of the room.

The Emperor’s other Ministers watched the Third Man as they prattled at him. They didn’t look towards the elephant themselves, but they knew that the Third Man was looking at it – they knew that he was thinking about it.

And after an hour, one of the Emperor’s servants walked up to the Third Man and said ‘Most honourable gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of the palace – there is a matter that requires your expertise.’

The Third Man immediately realised what was happening – they were trying to expel him from the palace – he must have done something the other Ministers didn’t like. ‘I’m sure the matter can wait.’ he said to the Emperor’s servant. ‘The discussion of policy is very important; I would not like to miss any of it.’

‘Oh that won’t start for ages yet.’ one of the Emperor’s other Ministers said. ‘We’ll probably just be babbling on for another few hours yet, as we do.’

‘Yes’, another Minister said, ‘you won’t miss anything – I’m sure you’ll have the time to deal with this matter.’

The Third Man had not anticipated this. ‘His Imperial Majesty expects all of his Ministers to be in attendance.’ he said.

‘Oh he won’t mind.’ one of the Ministers said.

‘Yes, I’m sure he won’t mind.’ another said with a smirk. ‘You should go.’

The Third Man couldn’t see how he could reason his way out of this. Everyone wanted him to go to the gates.

‘Very well.’ the Third Man said, after a moment, and he followed the servant out of the menagerie.

He knew that the moment he stepped outside of the palace, the gates would be locked behind him, and he wouldn’t be able to get back in, so he tried to think how he could avoid going through them. He could just run to a different part of the palace, he thought, but they would only find him, and then tell him to go to the gates again.

He couldn’t think of how to get out of this. When he got to the gates of the palace, which were wide open, he stopped before passing them, adamant he would not go a step further.

‘Well, where is this matter then?’ he said to the servant.

The Emperor’s servant said with half-lidded eyes ‘It is in the marketplace a short distance away from the palace. I will take you there.’

The Third Man was still suspicious. ‘What on earth is this matter?’

‘It will be easier to show you.’ the servant said.

Once again, the Third Man didn’t see how he could refuse. But the servant would be with him – they’d have to let the servant back into the palace when they returned, and he could go in at the same time. So the Third Man stepped past the gates of the palace, and followed the servant to the marketplace.

The marketplace was bustling. The Third Man followed the servant through the dense crowd as they wound between the stalls. He was almost starting to believe that there was some important matter for him to deal with, but for a moment he looked the other way, and when he looked back, the servant was gone.

The Third Man immediately realised what had happened, and pushed his way back through the crowd to try to get back to the palace as soon as possible. But when he arrived at the entrance, the gates were once again locked shut, and there was no-one on the other side who could or would open them.

Like the First Man and the Second Man, the Third Man told the People of the Capital everything that had happened. They realised that not only would talking about the elephant get you thrown out, but even looking at it – acknowledging it in any way.

So the People of the Capital sent a Fourth Man to the palace. The Fourth Man did not mention the elephant at all, nor did he stare at the elephant when he first walked into the menagerie. He managed to stay in the menagerie for longer than the first three had – most of the afternoon. But though he avoided staring at the elephant, when its amaranth skin caught the edge of his vision, he couldn’t help but steal a glance at it.

The Emperor’s other Ministers had been watching him closely the entire afternoon, even after they had run out of things to blather on about. They saw the Fourth Man look at the elephant for a fraction of a second, so the Fourth Man was expelled too.

The Fifth Man that the People sent in was the first one who managed to remain in the menagerie for a while. He said nothing about the elephant and did not look at it even for a moment.

He went into the menagerie at midday every day for a week, along with all of the Emperor’s other Ministers. The first few hours of every afternoon were spent rambling on about things that didn’t matter. Many of the Ministers would wander around the menagerie with one of their friends – the menagerie had many winding gravel paths through it (walled by emerald foliage, which prevented anything the Ministers whispered to each other from being overheard by others in the glasshouse).

It was only towards the end of each afternoon that any actual discussion of policy happened, and it was usually very quick. The Ministers and the Barons were in complete agreement on almost everything. The Emperor did not question any of the policies that were proposed – in fact he didn’t say anything at all in the discussion – and he gave assent to everything that the Ministers and the Barons decided upon. The Fifth Man realised that it was not the Emperor that he needed to speak to, but the Ministers and the Barons.

Over the days that he was there, the Fifth Man tried to convince the other Ministers of the policies that the People wanted. He tried to persuade them to support the rebuilding of bridges, aqueducts, and sewers. He tried to persuade them to put some of the palace’s great wealth towards building more houses, so that the people of the city would not have to live in such cramped spaces. He tried to persuade them to end the constant war and expansion – the empire was big enough as it was – any bigger and it might fracture.

He went from group to group within the menagerie, repeating the same arguments. The Ministers smiled and nodded. They responded with things like ‘What an interesting idea.’, ‘I couldn’t agree more.’, and ‘Oh yes, we must support the common people.’. But when he asked if they could put the policy to the Emperor, they said ‘Let’s do that tomorrow.’, or ‘This will fit well with a bill I’m writing for a few days’ time.’, or ‘Let’s talk to some more people about this.’.

But they never did. Every day they would defer it. The reasons were slightly different each day, but the effect was the same. Though the Ministers said that they liked the Fifth Man’s policies, they would never allow them to be put to the Emperor.

But while he was in the menagerie, the Fifth Man also realised something else. You see, while he did not look at the pink elephant, he could still see it. When his eyes were focused on something else, the pink elephant might be on the edge of his vision, and he could turn his mind’s eye towards it. And of course, the menagerie was made of glass – he could often see the elephant’s reflection in a window.

He knew what the elephant was doing at any one time – they all did – all of the Ministers knew. They all pretended not to, but everyone in the room knew what the elephant was doing, and they all knew that everyone else knew. But what the Fifth Man realised was that the pink elephant must have been costing the empire a fortune to keep. It ate a great bowl of the most expensive foods in the world every half hour for every hour it was awake. A team of eighty servants had the task of preparing all of the elephant’s food and bringing it to the elephant. Keeping the elephant cost more than all of the palace’s other daily expenses combined! The elephant was part of the problem! If they didn’t have to pay for the elephant, they would have more money to spend on repairing and rebuilding the city.

After a week, getting nowhere trying to persuade the other Ministers to put his policies to the Emperor, and seeing just how ridiculous it was keeping this disgusting, useless elephant in the menagerie, the Fifth Man snapped.

‘This is absurd!’ the Fifth Man shouted so that all of the Ministers and Barons could hear. ‘All of you are twattling on about things that don’t matter, and then passing legislation that does nothing to solve the actual problems of the empire, all the while ignoring that revolting elephant that is partially the cause of those problems! What are you doing?! What are you here for?! Why do you keep ignoring the elephant in the room?!’

The Fifth Man was completely right of course, but while he had understood the Ministers enough to be able to get into the menagerie, and even stay there for a few days, he did not understand them enough to realise that there was no point asking these questions, because the Ministers would not answer them – they would never answer them. No amount of rationality or rage would ever make them answer these questions.

The Fifth Man was greeted with gelid silence. All of the Ministers and Barons looked at the Fifth Man with stony expressions, insulted that anyone would be so direct about the elephant. The Fifth Man, looking around, realising that he had no power in the menagerie anymore, did not need to be expelled by deceptive means – he left the palace himself.

But of course, the problems of the empire persisted, and the People of the Capital sent in a Sixth Man, then a Seventh Man. The Sixth Man remained in the menagerie for several weeks, and the Seventh Man for several months. Neither of them said a word about the elephant, but as time went on, the two of them, and the People who put them there, realised that it didn’t matter whether or not they mentioned the elephant. The Ministers and the Barons simply didn’t want to implement the policies they were suggesting. All of them were in agreement, and anyone who did not agree with them would be removed – that way they kept their control over the Emperor and the empire – that way they stayed in power. And though they all did this – they all knew that this was what they were doing – they never acknowledged it.

The Sixth Man and the Seventh Man were eventually expelled too. The Eighth Man to go in tried a more radical method of solving the empire’s problems. He took a pistol into the menagerie, hidden in his coat. As soon as he saw the elephant, he took the pistol out, and shot at it. But the bullet bounced off the elephant’s skin (who would have known that in addition to being quinacridone the elephant’s skin was also bullet-proof?), and instead struck one of the Barons in the arm. (The Baron didn’t die – in fact he recovered remarkably quickly.) The Eighth Man was swiftly removed and imprisoned for life.

And then … the Ninth Man went in. By this point, most of the ordinary people in the empire knew about the pink elephant, and many realised too that the elephant was part of the problem. The Ninth Man had listened to everything his eight predecessors had said, and he had an idea. He asked that the People of the Capital choose him to be the next person to be sent to the palace, but he did not tell them what his idea was, knowing that he would not need to.

And so the Ninth Man, when the sun was high overhead, strode up to the glass doors of the menagerie, and went inside. He did not mention or look at the elephant. The Emperor’s other Ministers shuffled up to the Ninth Man, as they always did, and started talking small.

The Ninth Man said similarly dull things back to them. He caught a glint in their eyes – they thought they’d got one of their own this time.

And then after a few minutes of meaningless words, the Ninth Man said ‘Oh, by the way, I have brought a gift for the Emperor.’, and he signalled to one of the servants to bring it in.

The servant wheeled it in. It was covered by a satin cloth. With a flourish, the Ninth Man pulled the satin cloth off, revealing a large copper cage underneath it. And within the cage was a magnificent … turquoise flamingo.

The flamingo was delightful. Its plumage went from cyan to aquamarine to cerulean to teal. Its eyes were a glimmering silver. And the bird had an aroma of blueberries and pears.

‘Oh what a marvellous animal!’ the Emperor’s other Ministers all sang together. They then looked for a space for it within the menagerie; the Ninth Man directed them towards one of the spaces on one of the paths that wound through the building.

And then the afternoon wore on as it usually did. All of the Ministers spent several hours warbling and twittering at each other, and at the end of the afternoon, they voted on some legislation. The Ninth Man played along.

The Ninth Man stayed in the menagerie for many months. He did not mention or look at the pink elephant, even though he, like those before him, knew that it was a big problem. He chattered and jabbered with the other Ministers, and they were not suspicious of him. Everyone in the menagerie was overjoyed by the turquoise flamingo – most of all the Emperor, who often came down from his malachite throne to stare at the bird in its cage. Unlike the pink elephant, the turquoise flamingo was cheap to keep – it ate the sorts of foods that flamingos normally eat: small insects, molluscs, and crustaceans, and it didn’t eat all that much of them. The flamingo was a far better centrepiece for the menagerie than the elephant.

After many months had passed, it was time for the people of the empire to elect another Minister – well, two actually. They did so, and two people showed up at the glass doors of the menagerie. The Ministers – not including the Ninth Man – shuffled up to the two newcomers, as they always did. They watched them eagerly for many hours, to see if they would talk about the elephant or glance at it. Neither of them did – clearly both of them knew that they must not do so.

The two new Ministers walked around the menagerie, talking to people and gazing at the other animals. And then they came to the flamingo, which the Ninth Man always stood next to.

‘What a marvellous animal!’ the older one said. ‘Where did it come from?’

‘Oh I found it atop Mount Sarabaya.’ the Ninth Man said.

‘On top of a mountain?!’ the older one asked.

‘Yes. I climbed the mountain in an hour, found the bird standing at its summit, and then was back down again before tea.’

Anyone who knew anything about Mount Sarabaya knew that it could not be climbed in an hour – it normally took at least two days to scale the icy peak, and the same time again to get back down it.

‘That’s absurd!’ the older one said. ‘No-one could climb Mount Sarabaya in an hour!’

The Ninth Man puffed himself up and said proudly ‘I’ll have you know that I’ve won the Arennian Mountain Climbing Championship seven years in a row! I am undefeated to this day!’

Believing he had insulted the Ninth Man, the older of the two new Ministers stumbled over his words, saying ‘Oh … er … well, of course an ordinary person could not climb the mountain in an hour, but I’m sure it’s quite easy for a mountain climbing champion.’

‘Indeed it is!’

‘What are you talking about?!’ the younger one said. ‘It doesn’t matter how many championships you’ve won – no-one can scale Mount Sarabaya that quickly – it’s more than five miles high!’

‘As the current Arennian Mountain Climbing Champion I dare say I am the expert on mountaineering in this menagerie, and it is absolutely possible!’ the Ninth Man insisted.

‘Mount Sarabaya Base Camp is ten miles away from the summit! Unless you sprinted up the mountain, it’s not possible.’ the younger one said.

The older one gawped as this argument was happening – shocked that the younger one would dare suggest that the Minister didn’t know what he was talking about or was lying.

But the Ninth Man had actually succeeded in his aim. ‘Well perhaps you’re right.’ he said to the younger one. ‘It was so long ago – it’s all just a blur now. Perhaps it simply felt like an hour.’ and the conversation moved on to other things.

Later in the afternoon, the Ninth Man took one of the servants aside and whispered to him ‘The older of the two new Ministers is a most talented person. I think we need to find ways to help him use those talents.’

The servant understood, and a few minutes later the older of the two new Ministers was expelled from the palace, in the same way the First Man had been.

The younger of the two new Ministers was allowed to stay. Both he and the Ninth Man did not talk about or look at the pink elephant. They smiled and nodded along with the other Ministers, and did not attempt to persuade them to support better policies, for both of them knew that they never would.

A few months later, and another two people were chosen by the public to become Ministers. They stepped into the menagerie one day, and they successfully ignored the pink elephant. They soon came over to the turquoise flamingo, where the Ninth Man stood.

‘What a marvellous animal!’ the shorter one said. ‘How on earth did it acquire such a colour?’

‘I believe it is a rare species. I saw a similarly-coloured flamboyance of flamingos when I was travelling across the Manjure.’

‘There are flamingos in the Manjure?!’ the shorter one asked.

‘Yes of course. Flamingos like hot weather.’

Anyone who knew anything about the Manjure knew that it was in fact freezing cold there most of the year. It was a vast, dense, boreal forest, interrupted only by icy streams and snow-covered mountains.

‘What on earth are you talking about?!’ the shorter one said. ‘The Manjure is freezing cold!’

The Ninth Man puffed himself up and said proudly ‘I’ll have you know that I have travelled along the Trans-Manjurean Railway no fewer than seven times! I’m quite familiar with the Manjurean climate!’

Believing he had insulted the Ninth Man, the shorter of the two new Ministers stumbled over his words, saying ‘Oh … well … I suppose you must be very familiar with the region then.’

‘You suppose correctly!’

‘That’s absurd!’ the taller one said. ‘The Manjurean caribou is famous for its thick fur. The Manjurean caribou would all die of heat exhaustion if the Manjure were a tropical climate!’

‘I am good friends with the leading expert in the climate and geography of the Manjure at the University of Marcanne! I dare say that I’m more familiar with it than you!’ the Ninth Man insisted.

‘Being friends with an expert does not make you an expert. Unless the climate of the Manjure has changed drastically in the last few years, it absolutely is not a hot region!’ the taller one said.

The shorter one gawped as this argument was happening – shocked that the taller one would dare suggest that the Minister didn’t know what he was talking about or was lying.

But the Ninth Man had once again succeeded in his aim. ‘You know what I think you might be right.’ he said to the taller one. ‘I’m thinking of Bansoor – that’s where I saw those flamingos. The service on the Bansoor Express is so awful I think I blocked it from my memory.’ and the conversation moved on to other things.

Later in the afternoon, the Ninth Man took one of the servants aside and whispered to him ‘The shorter of the two new Ministers is a most talented person. I think we need to find ways to help him use those talents.’

The servant understood, and a few minutes later the shorter of the two new Ministers was expelled from the palace. Now there were two Ministers in the menagerie who the Ninth Man had allowed to stay. They and the Ninth Man played along with the faux concern of the Emperor’s other Ministers.

And this was how it continued for many months – years even. Whenever a new Minister entered the menagerie, first the Cabal stalked them, to see if they would acknowledge the pink elephant, and then the Ninth Man countered it. The Cabal believed that everyone in the menagerie was part of the Cabal, since they expelled anyone who acknowledged the pink elephant, but really the only people who stayed in the menagerie were those who the Ninth Man did not expel.

Over time, more and more of the court was on the side of the turquoise flamingo. They waited not just until they could win any vote against the old Ministers and the Barons, but until almost all of the old Ministers had been replaced – otherwise the supporters of the pink elephant would realise that their strategy was no longer working, and would change it.

And once this had happened, those on the side of the turquoise flamingo started to put forward and vote for policies that would benefit the people of the empire – much to the shock of the Barons.

They voted for bridges to be rebuilt, for sewers to be maintained, and for houses to be built further apart so that fires would not leap from one to another so easily. They voted to pay for doctors to heal the diseased; they voted to nullify debts; they voted to end the wars of expansion. They voted to remove the Barons from the menagerie, and the people of the empire started to prosper once again.

And at the end of all of that, they voted to release the pink elephant back to the wild. It was taken over the sea and released into the humid forests of Bansoor.

But not just that – they also released the turquoise flamingo, for now that there was no-one left in the menagerie who would use the pink elephant for deceit, there was no need for the turquoise flamingo. Those coming to the menagerie would no longer be expelled for talking about the elephant in the room. They would only need the turquoise flamingo again if the pink elephant were brought back.

The pigeons left the menagerie, and the sparrows returned. And every now and then, on a clear day, the people of the city could just about see, flying high in the sky … a turquoise flamingo.


Original story and artwork, Copyright © Benjamin T. Milnes

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The Magic Money Tree

There was once a great city.

Hundreds of thousands of people lived in this city. But the people were divided into two groups: the Many, and the Few.

For the Few, life in this great city was wonderful, for the Few were very wealthy. They lived in grand houses on the banks of the river that meandered through the city. Each marble mansion was filled with drawing rooms and dining rooms and more than forty bedrooms. Each grand hallway was filled with gold-framed oil paintings and fine china vases. The baths were made of burnished bronze and the toilet seats were solid silver. Every house had an outdoor pool, an indoor pool, and a glasshouse. And the gardens stretched a hundred yards, all the way to the river, with orange trees and lemon trees to sit beneath in summer.

The Few lived lavishly. The mornings were spent dressing for lunch. At lunch they sat with their true friends, eating chocolate cake and cream-filled pastries, gossiping about who among the Few had the most money. The afternoons were spent dressing for dinner, and every evening they sat with their fair-weather friends and feasted on all manner of fowl, stuffed inside one another – a quail stuffed inside a duck, stuffed inside a pheasant, stuffed inside a grouse, stuffed inside a chicken, stuffed inside a goose, stuffed inside a turkey, all roasted in lard with potatoes, parsnips, and pork sausages. They talked about the fate and fortunes of the city, all the while trying to curry favour with the few of the Few who held the most power and influence in the city. And at the end of every evening, they shat out the feast from the day before, clogging the sewers that took their shit to the river.

For the Many, however, life in this great city was grim, for the Many were not wealthy. The Many lived far from the river, on the higher ground. In this part of the city, timber-framed houses overhung narrow cobblestone streets. The rooms of the houses were small, with low ceilings. Twelve would live in a house built for two. There were no sewers in this part of the city, so shit sloshed down the streets, and the Many had to step over the brown rivers as they pushed past each other.

The Many lived meagrely. They woke up early, and worked for twelve, thirteen, fourteen hours of the day, in factories making cotton or iron. The work was repetitive and the air was filled with coal smoke. They were given no time to rest, and if someone did not produce enough in one day, the factory owner – who was often one of the Few – found someone to replace them. They were paid little, and if they were lucky, at the end of each day they had enough money to buy fresh bread and vegetables, but if they were unlucky they would have to catch rats and pigeons.

The death rate among the Many was high. Those who did not die of starvation died of disease. Those who did not die of disease were killed in the factories. And those who were not killed in the factories killed themselves. The death brought more disease and despair, and always more young people flooded into the city from the countryside, believing it would be a better life.

It had been this way in the city for many years. No-one could remember a time when it wasn’t so. Indeed many believed that it had always been so – since the beginning of time itself. (But in reality it had only been this way for a few decades.)

Everyone in the city knew the myth of the Magic Money Tree. It was said that far away, deep in the icy mountains north of the city, there grew a tree … with leaves of pure gold. And the tree did not drop its leaves once a year, as most trees do, but every day, and each morning new golden leaves grew. The leaves that covered the ground could be gathered and melted down to make gold bars or coins.

If the tree were real, and the Many knew where it was, many of their problems would be solved. The Many could journey to the tree, gather up some of its golden leaves, melt them down into coins, and then when they were back in the city they could pay for more spacious houses, better food, and better clothes. They may even be able to buy many of the luxuries that the Few had. Sure, after a while, gold would be very common, and the Few would not have so much of it by comparison, but it would mean that a happy life was not so immutably the domain of so few.

But everyone (almost everyone) agreed that the tree did not exist. It was fiction. You might go into the mountains in search of the tree, but you would find nothing. There was no Magic Money Tree.

Except that … there was.

The tree … was real! The Magic Money Tree did exist! Its golden leaves, its copper bark, the sapphires and rubies that grew like fungi among its roots – it was all real …

… and the Few knew where it was.

But the Few did not want anyone else to know where the tree was, because they too realised that if the Many were given access to the tree, the Many would become wealthier, and the Few would become less wealthy by comparison. The Few did not want to lose their lavish lifestyle, and so did not want the Many to have access to the tree.

But if the Few acknowledged that the tree existed, and kept only its location to themselves, the Many might still be able to find it. A small number of them might venture into the mountains, and, given enough time, they would find the Magic Money Tree. So rather than just keep the location of the tree a secret, they also tried to keep its existence a secret. They pretended that it did not exist. Whenever anyone who was not one of the Few asked whether the tree was real, they would say loudly ‘Don’t be ridiculous! There is no Magic Money Tree!’. But in the evenings, when they were among the Few, they all acknowledged the tree’s existence, and shared the location of it with each other.

While most of the Many believed that the tree did not exist, there were some who knew that it did. This was partly because the Few’s deception was conspicuous – they were so fervent in their dismissal of the idea that the tree existed that it was suspicious. But it was also because they were somewhat careless in keeping their secret – lavishness and meticulousness are rarely found in the same person, it seems. Some of the Many worked for the Few in their mansions – as servants and cooks – and often did they hear the Few, through doors both open and closed, talk about the very real tree. This information found its way to those among the Many who were more vocal about the great wealth disparity in the city.

These more vocal people tried to convince the rest of the Many that the tree was real, and that the Few knew it. They tried to convince them that the Few were deceiving them, because if the Many found where the tree was, the Few would not remain so wealthy for very long. But as loud as they shouted, the Few shouted louder, and indeed the Few paid some of the Many to shout for them. And ultimately it was the intuitiveness, not the veracity, of what the Few said that swayed so many of the Many. ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ they said. ‘Have you ever seen a tree with golden leaves and copper bark? Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!’

Except that … it did.

One year, there was a great flood. It had rained continuously for two weeks, and the river through the centre of this great city overflowed its banks. The Many were hardly affected by this at all. They lived on the higher ground far away from the river – the water did not reach their houses. The Few, however, lost a lot. All of their houses lined the river, and all were flooded. The water rose half-way up the ground floor, turning all of their oil paintings to brown sludge, and warping all of their antique wooden furniture. The cellars and glasshouses, pools and gardens, were all turned into bogs.

The cost to repair it all would have been enormous. While most of the Few had enough money to pay for all of the repairs to their houses and gardens, it would have been a substantial fraction of their total wealth. And the Few were reluctant to give up so much money.

But as the Few knew the location of the Magic Money Tree, they decided that, rather than spend any of their current wealth on the repairs, they would simply go to the golden tree, gather the golden leaves on the ground around it, melt them into gold coins, and spend those on the repairs.

And that’s exactly what they did. A small number of the Few made an expedition to the mountains. They found the Magic Money Tree, which grew in a shallow between two great summits, its golden leaves and copper bark reflecting the light in a thousand directions down the valley. They gathered the leaves on the ground, cut away some of the bark, and dug in the soil around the roots to find the rubies and sapphires. Once they had filled the sleds, they hauled their riches back to the city.

When they got back to the city, they melted down the gold and minted hundreds of thousands of new gold coins. They paid a select few artisan stonemasons, decorators, and gardeners to repair their houses and their gardens, and any money that was left over they kept.

The Many saw all of this. Most did not see the sleds being dragged into the city, for they were brought in under cover of darkness, but they saw all of the repairs being made to the houses and gardens, and they saw all of the rubies and sapphires that were given out as payment. But they did not question it. They did not question where the riches came from.

Those among the Many who knew that the tree existed shouted that that’s where the Few had gotten the money from. ‘They have gotten all of this money from the Magic Money Tree!’ they said. ‘The tree is real – the Few know where it is! But why should they be the only ones who have access to the tree? Why are their problems important enough such that they can use the money from the tree, but ours are not? We have starved for years; we have died for years; and throughout all of it they refused to use the tree, and pretended it did not exist! But at the first inconvenience to them, they will use the tree.’

But most of the Many did not believe it, for they were so rooted in the idea that money did not grow on trees, that even though they could not explain where all of this new gold had come from, they refused to even consider the possibility that the tree might exist, and that the Few simply didn’t want them to know about it.

Twelve years later, there was a great fire. The fire ravaged the city, burning both the areas where the Many lived and where the Few lived. Much of the city burned to the ground, and many people died.

Fortunately, a lot of people had managed to leave the city before the fire had reached their houses. They moved to the countryside around the city. For many, life improved – the air was less stale, there was less disease, and everyone had more space.

The fire burned through everything it could, and by the time it had burned itself out, not much was left of the city but smouldering ashes.

The Few, who were now living in their country mansions, discussed what they wanted to do about this. While a number of the Few had inherited their wealth, a lot also had owned factories and machinery that had been destroyed by the fire, and they were dependent on the profits from those factories to maintain their extraordinary wealth. (It cost a lot of money to eat a seven-bird roast every evening.) They wanted to rebuild the city, and bring all of the people back to it – give them factories to work in and houses to live in – so that they could continue to get the profits from what they produced.

But rebuilding the city would cost even more than it did to repair all of their houses as they did many years ago. This time, the Few absolutely did not have the money to pay for it all themselves, and the scale of the disaster was far bigger than what it had been before, so it was easy for the Few to decide: they would once again use the Magic Money Tree.

They made another expedition to the tree, taking far more sleds this time. This time they gathered every leaf in sight, even grabbing the ones off the tree that had not yet fallen that day. They cut away more of the bark, and picked up all of the branches that had fallen over the last few months. They burrowed for more rubies and sapphires, and they even picked the fruit of the tree, which was shaped like a pear, but which was silvery-green in colour, and which instead of seeds at the centre had small pearls. (It was also said that eating the fruit would give you an extra eight years of life.)

They brought all of it back to the city, and they paid for all of the factories and houses to be rebuilt. This lured the Many back to the city – they moved into newer, but still just as small, houses, and began working in factories again, though the work was still repetitive, and the coal furnaces blasted out just as much smoke.

But still, even though the Many themselves were the ones that the Few paid to rebuild the houses and the factories – even though they had been given the gold and rubies and sapphires from the tree – they had held it in their hands – they still did not believe that the tree existed.

‘Where do you think they got the money from?!’ those among the Many who did know that the tree existed said. ‘They didn’t have all of this money before – where do you think it came from?! They went to the tree again!’

‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ the Few shouted. ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!’

‘Yes, don’t be ridiculous!’ the rest of the Many parroted. ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!’

‘There is no Magic Money Tree.’ they chorused together.

And nothing changed. Within a few years, the city had returned to how it had been before the fire. The Few still held control over the tree. Only when it was in their interest did they harvest its leaves, but always did they pretend that it did not exist. And never did the Many learn, that sometimes, when someone doesn’t want you to do something, rather than try to persuade you not to do it, they will try to deny that it is even physically possible.

When actually … it is.


Original story, Copyright © Benjamin T. Milnes

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Dramatic Dissonance

In my reviews of Star Trek Picard, I’ve started using the term ‘dramatic dissonance’ to describe something that we’re seeing on-screen. This particular phenomenon or quality may already have a term to describe it – if it does, I don’t know what it is, so for now I’m going to use ‘dramatic dissonance’ (to mimic the phrase ‘dramatic irony’). And while I’ve started using this term in my Star Trek Picard reviews, it’s something I’ve seen in lots of other shows too – like Star Trek Discovery and recent Doctor Who – so I thought I’d write a blog post about it in order to define it more clearly.

Dramatic dissonance is when the reactions of the characters to each other, or to the events of the story, are different to the audience’s reaction to the characters or to the events of the story.

Here’s an example of this: one character says something, and several other characters around them consider it a very awkward thing to say, or a faux pas, but the audience doesn’t think that it’s an awkward thing to say.

Here’s another: one character does something (it could be anything), and all of the characters around them think that this character is a genius for doing it, but the audience isn’t impressed by it at all.

This second example is one we’ve seen a lot in both Star Trek Picard and Star Trek Discovery – in fact this second example is often a way of determining whether a character is a Mary Sue. (Other characters will just think that they’re brilliant no matter what they do.)

Dramatic dissonance is a bad quality for a show to have. It is, by its very definition, unrealistic, and if a show has it, the audience will sense something is amiss, even if they can’t quite put it into words. The audience can sense it because things in the show don’t seem to make sense.

I’m not sure I could exactly say what the origins of dramatic dissonance in a show actually are, but I don’t think it’s an acting problem – I think it comes from the writing. It may come from writers thinking too much about ‘How do I want this character to react?’ rather than ‘How would they react?’.

A Week in Writing #5 – Two weeks in writing

I skipped last week’s ‘A Week in Writing’ post (not completely intentionally – I just kept putting it off), so this week’s post is going to be for the last two weeks. And why not? It’s my series, after all.

The last two weeks have been very productive, despite only being able to spend a relatively small amount of time on writing and writing-related projects.

The week before last, I did a good chunk of writing, and I managed to finish the fourth story for OTSOT 3 (which is going in fifth position in the book). This is great – after months of going very slowly with this book (for many reasons, which included getting distracted by other stories), I seem to have sped up again. It feels like I’m getting very close to finishing now.

I did also start on the fifth story for OTSOT 3 (which is going in fourth position in the book) the week before last, and I continued it last week. OTSOT 3 has now passed 20,000 words, and I think this book is going to end up being slightly longer than the other two. I suspect this fifth story is going to be quite long. If I remember correctly, OTSOT 1 is around 22,000, and OTSOT 2 is around 20,000. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one ends up around 23,000-24,000.

The ‘feel’ of this book is, I think, slightly different to the other two. (Similarly, I think the ‘feel’ of OTSOT 2 was slightly different to OTSOT 1.) I quite like this. To me, this suggests that each book is not just treading the ground of the previous books – they are each introducing something slightly different. I think this is good – I think this expands the world of the stories.

Also over the last two weeks, I’ve had tremendous success with part of the audiobook for OTSOT 1. The week before last, I went through the audio story for Fluncg the Indignant, and cut out all the bad takes. Listening back to what I had recorded, I still liked it – a good sign. Then last week (well, over the weekend just gone), I went through the track and arranged all of the clips – making sure that the timings between them were correct. I also applied all of the audio effects (normalisation, equalisation, et cetera).

I also added the music that goes at the start and end of the story. I was then able to listen back to the story in its complete form for the first time. I REALLY liked it. I thought it had turned out very well – not perfectly, of course – they never do – but really well. The voice, while not absolutely perfect for Fluncg, is funny and annoying – great for a short story like this – it’s entertaining, while also making its point.

And in fact I think this audio story might just be the best one I’ve made so far. It’s difficult to really say, but it might be. (That’s partly helped along by the text of the story itself – Fluncg the Indignant is shorter, with fewer details, than something like Throch the Cunning.) Spending all this time agonising over the audio has paid off, it seems.

The audio story has been exported, made into a video, and uploaded to my main YouTube channel. It’s going live on Wednesday evening at 10:00.

The audio story for Hluthg the First should be a lot easier – I’ve always known what Hluthg’s voice sounds like. I’ve already recorded the whole thing – I’ve just got to finish editing it (which doesn’t take that long, if I make myself do it – I just hate editing audio). With any luck I can get that out in a few weeks’ time (though I’ve said that before).

Do I even want to go and see The Matrix Resurrections?

This week, the official trailer for The Matrix Resurrections – supposedly the fourth film in the Matrix series – was released, and despite really liking the Matrix trilogy (I’m one of what seems like a minority of people who like the second and third films), I find myself wandering whether I should even go and see this film at all.

In recent years, Hollywood has created a lot of sequels to films and series’ that had seemed to be over and complete many years or even decades ago: Disney’s attempt at a Star Wars trilogy, the new Jumanji films, the Jurassic World films, the Fantastic Beasts films, Independence Day: Resurgence, and more that I can’t remember.

Many (but not all) of these haven’t been very good, and some – like Disney’s Star Wars films – have been absolute garbage. (You’d think that, given how obsessed Hollywood seems to be with sequels, that they’d have gotten good at them by now.)

And at this point, I have very little trust in Hollywood that they can make a sequel to a film or series – particularly one that was made over a decade ago – that doesn’t just completely ruin the whole thing. This is no longer a per-franchise problem – it’s no longer ‘Oh well that sequel film wasn’t very good but sequel films for other franchises will probably still be great.’ – I think we’re at the point (well beyond the point, some would argue) where we just cannot trust Hollywood with any sequel to any film or series.

This problem does seem to be particularly prominent for films or series’ made over a decade ago. (Unbelievably, The Matrix Revolutions came out in 2003!) I think this is partly because filmmakers don’t want to imitate the style of older films (even though they could do so very easily) – either the style of storytelling or the technical style. This is one of the apprehensions I have about The Matrix 4 after seeing the trailer – it seems very apparent to me that they have not tried to reproduce the visual style of the original three films. This will make it very difficult for this film to sit alongside the other three.

But even more important than that, the ending of The Matrix Revolutions was conclusive – the end of a war – it doesn’t get much more conclusive than that. Continuing the story after that necessarily means that you either have to have a ‘quieter’ period within the world of the story, where the necessary world-building can happen to build up to a more dramatic time period, or you have to undo something about the previous ending. Hollywood always seems to go for the second option, which is the incorrect option, as it undermines the previous story, and any character development that happened in it. (This is the option that Disney went for with the Star Wars films, and it’s a big part of what killed the franchise.)

Based on the glimpses that we get from the trailer, it appears that the matrix is still running, and Neo and Trinity are somehow back inside it, despite both dying at the end of the last film. (Now, it’s generally not a good idea to try to work out the story of a film like this based on its trailer – the trailers are designed to confuse you as to what the actual story is – but this is what appears to be true.) While the conclusion to the last film was that the matrix would continue, but anyone who wanted out would be freed, it does look like something is going to be undone with this new film.

(Also, Laurence Fishburne is not returning for this film, despite the character of Morpheus being in it. I don’t know why this is – it’s possible that he simply didn’t want to. But Laurence Fishburne was iconic as Morpheus, and it really lowers my confidence in the film that he’s not in it.)

So I really don’t know if I want to go and see this film at all. It seems likely that this film is going to undo part of the ending of the previous films. That will in turn make this film unpopular, reducing the chances that a subsequent film or two are made to complete what will almost certainly be a new trilogy of films (because how can you follow a big trilogy of films with just one more film – surely you have to have another trilogy?). That will leave us with the original trilogy, plus one, maybe two more films that undermine the original trilogy, and which aren’t in themselves complete. It seems to me like this series is likely to end up a mess.

I will probably decide closer to the time whether I actually want to see it or not.

A Week in Writing #4 – Success with the trolls

It’s been both a productive and unproductive week for writing.

I had my second vaccine dose this weekend. When I had the first dose, for the following two days I was extremely tired – particularly on the day immediately after it. This time it was the same – I had the jab on Saturday, and on Sunday I was completely knocked out – I could hardly move – I was completely shattered. I don’t think I was awake for more than two or three consecutive hours the whole day. And then Monday was mostly the same – until very late in the evening, when I started to get more energy again.

So effectively the whole weekend – that huge block of valuable time when I had been planning on focusing entirely on writing and related things – was just gone.

Despite that, there have been other small islands of time when I’ve been able to do things. Early last week I re-recorded the entirety of Fluncg the Indignant for the audiobook. It was very quick to do. (I’ve done it so many times now.) I did change the voice of Fluncg ever so slightly again, but it really wasn’t much – I just changed the way the gravelliness comes through in it a bit. The result is that it emphasises Fluncg’s arrogance and over-drama a bit more, which is fun.

I began editing that audio, but I haven’t finished – there’s still quite a bit to do. But … if you get into it, you can get through a lot of the editing fairly quickly – maybe I’ll be able to finish it this weekend.

The voice of Fluncg is enormous fun to do. (The voices of all the trolls are. I think my favourite of the ones published so far is probably that of Gogog. But the one I’m really looking forward to doing is that of the head of The Company, from More On The Subject Of Trolls. I’ve known that voice for years, and it is endless fun. It’s a completely full-body voice.)

I have also done more planning of Project 201811 this week – that’s been extremely useful. There’s lots of funny stuff going into that. If I ever write and finish the whole thing, that will probably be my funniest story.

And I have also written more of OTSOT 3 – about 1500 words – which doesn’t sound like a lot, but the OTSOT stories, being short stories, tend to cut out a lot of the … not ‘filler’ but sort of ‘adjacent’ material that you often find in novels. The stories in OTSOT often really try to avoid anything that isn’t directly relevant to the moral of the story. And so a lot can happen in 1500 words.

Also, with a much clearer outline for this story, writing it has become a lot easier – the value of planning is revealed yet again. It should be quite easy to finish it now, leaving one story left in OTSOT 3 to finish.

I have a great many three-day weekends lined up over the next few months. This is something I’ve done for many years in order to maximise my productivity on things I’m doing – arrange to have as many three-day weekends as possible. It’s amazing what one extra day can do.

A Week in Writing #3

Well the time has just evaporated this week. It seems like I’ve had hardly any chance at all to do some writing since the last of these posts.

I haven’t done a lot of writing of actual story words this week – i.e., words that might actually be part of the final book. In fact I don’t think I’ve done any. But I have done something else that’s very important – I have done planning for at least two stories.

I’ve mentioned recently how nowadays there are times when I can write out a story exactly how I want it first time. There are advantages and disadvantages to this, and one of the disadvantages is that you can sort of get used to it. If you have a few stories like this in a row, you start to expect it for subsequent ones – and that’s a problem, because it simply won’t happen for all stories.

But on top of this, sometimes not only has a story turned out well straight away, but the idea for a story had been fully formed in my head as I sat down to start writing it. This has gotten me into the bad habit of not necessarily planning stories before writing them. This is despite me being a strong advocate for planning stories. (It’s also worth pointing out that being able to write a full story without planning it is made a lot easier when it’s a short story (particularly one of my short stories, which tend to be about 3000-5000 words long).)

Writing the final two stories for OTSOT 3 has been trickier than I anticipated, so in order to make it easier, and in order to get out of this bad habit, I have made a deliberate effort to plan these final two (even though they are pretty simple stories). One of them I think I did over a week ago, the other one – the longer one – I did this week. And the value of planning is once again revealed – I was able to identify several important things that should happen early in the stories by planning them.

Also this week, I tried to do more on the audio story for Fluncg the Indignant. I did a lot of editing of the audio that I had, trying to produce the final cut. However, I found that the audio I had for the different lines in various places didn’t really ‘gel’. Some of the narrator’s lines didn’t really gel with the characters’ lines, and it occurred to me that the simplest thing to do would just be to re-record the whole thing. (It sounds like a drastic action, but I’ve gotten a lot better and faster at recording audio stories, and at least this one’s not as long as Throch the Cunning – this one’s actually quite short.)

In entirely non-writing news, over the last week I have made fantastic progress in drawing out my family tree. This is a project that I’ve been interested in and working on slowly for (I think) about two years. I had access to a lot of data for my family tree – both my parents had partial trees drawn out already, so I just had to copy the data in those. What I wanted to do was combine all of the data, and have a computer program draw out the tree.

I had previously started creating a program to read all of the data from a file, and then draw out the tree, in Python. However, Python’s built-in image-drawing abilities are very lacking, and I realised that in order to draw the tree nicely, I needed to switch to a language with better image-drawing abilities. So I swapped to using C# – a language I used to use a lot years ago, but which I haven’t used very much since. Doing this has allowed me to produce a much better-drawn tree. I also finished typing in all of the data from the existing trees. So I now have a very large image that shows the tree, and it looks quite nice.

I’ve been rather obsessed with this project over the last few days, so over the next week, when I’m not writing, I will likely be doing this. The next things to do are to improve the visual design of the tree even more, and to do more original research to find more ancestors to put on the tree.

A Week in Writing #2

It’s been a slow week. Many things have interrupted my writing.

I did write some more in Project 201811 – only a few hundred words, but they were good words. What I wrote almost certainly won’t change much between now and the final draft.

This is something that I find often now. I can often write something just the way I want it the first time. Many of the stories in OTSOT 2 and some in OTSOT 1 were like that, as well as many of the off-series short stories. This is different to Zolantis, and all of the stuff that I was writing before that, where the text changed drastically between the first and last drafts.

On the one hand, I quite like that this happens now – that I can get things right the first time. It saves a lot of time. Editing single lines to make the language better is a pretty quick thing to do, but changing the structure of a story once it’s been written, or adjusting the emphasis of a plot point or character trait, can add a huge amount of time to editing, because there are just so many things that need to be changed if you do that.

On the other hand, sometimes I try to aim to get something right the first time, and this is not ideal. When something just happens to turn out right the first time, great, but when you aim for it, you can end up spending a lot of time trying to anticipate every problem you’re going to encounter trying to write the story, and this is not so great.

Despite not writing very many words in the last week, I did do something else that was very important.

I have been trying to do the audiobook for On The Subject Of Trolls for two years. I thought it would take a matter of weeks, but it has taken years. That’s in large part because I keep getting distracted from the project – it’s more fun to write new stories than to record old ones. But it’s also partly because making an audiobook is not as easy as it seems.

Getting the right audio setup to begin with is quite difficult. Microphones can differ quite drastically in the quality of the sound that they produce – it’s only recently that I bought a new microphone that produces a really nice sound. The room that you’re in has a big effect on the sound. I do have a small, walk-in wardrobe that blocks all of the sound from outside, and which has almost no echo to it, and I did try using that when I first started trying to make the audiobook for OTSOT. However, you need to be able to sit down when recording an audiobook – it takes hours and hours to record, even for a short book like OTSOT – you can’t stand the entire time – and that room was too small to sit down in. So now I record audio at my desk (that you see in the videos). That’s in quite a large, echoey room, but with a certain arrangement of foam shields, the echo is mostly blocked.

There are many other technical hurdles to recording an audiobook, but on top of all of these, I had a creative hurdle too. I knew what the voices of Throch, Gogog, Hluthg, and Plolg sounded like long before I published OTSOT. (In fact, I knew what Throch’s voice sounded like the moment I started writing the first sentence of the book.) But with Fluncg, the voice that I used in my head when writing the story is not a ‘performable’ one – it’s entirely abstract – a voice that cannot exist in the real, physical world. So I needed to choose a real one.

I have been trying to come up with a real voice for Fluncg for two years, and none of them have been right. But this week, finally, I think I might have done it. I had an idea for a new voice, and I spent a while analysing it, to see if it really contained the essence of Fluncg. (That sounds like a rather disgusting perfume.) Fluncg has a very specific personality: Fluncg is easily offended, Fluncg is overly dramatic and self-centred, and Fluncg is infinitely spiteful. The voice must match that, but it must also be a fun voice – these stories are intended to be fun. I think this latest voice finally gets the balance between all of those things.

I recorded Fluncg’s lines with this new voice in just a few minutes. All I need to do now is edit the audio. I hate editing video and audio, so I always put it off, even though it never takes as long as I think it’s going to. But I’m going to try to drive towards finishing this audio story over the next week or two – it has languished for far too long.

A Week in Writing #1

The start.

This post is the first in a new series on this blog. Starting a new series is a dangerous thing for me. When it comes to blog posts and videos, I tend to start series’ and then not finish them. Hopefully this one will be different, and I think the format will help with that.

The idea for this series is just that, every week, I will write about what writing and writing-related things I’ve gotten up to in the last week. It will be quite similar to a journal. (I do in fact write a journal too – I write in that every day, and have done for (almost) eight years – I was doing it before it was cool.)

The reason for doing this series is partly so that I have more stuff on this blog. I don’t do very much with this blog – I want to do more with it. But it’s also because, every week, there are lots of things that I’m thinking about with regards to writing, and making videos, and all of the other stuff, that no-one ever knows about, and I think this can make it seem like what I’m doing is quite erratic and disconnected. These blog posts should hopefully connect together the various things I do.

They’ll also end up giving a look behind the scenes of the stuff I do. In the past I’ve tended to mention this sort of thing at the start of videos on my YouTube channel. However, I realised that it tends to stop the video dead if I start out with a long and rambly explanation of how the video came to be and why I wanted to make it, so I don’t do that now. I think that kind of information is better on here.

So that’s the introduction to the series. Will I make it to week two? Who knows.

Now to the actual point of the blog post: what have I been doing over the last week?

The last week has been a mixture of zero productivity and maximum productivity. During the week last week, I didn’t do any writing. Over the weekend, however – specifically, on Saturday – I did loads. I wrote over 2500 words in one story idea.

It wasn’t in OTSOT 3, however – it was in a different project. It was actually a project that I had the idea for more than three years ago. I couldn’t believe the date on Draft 1 when I came back to the project this weekend. I was sure I’d had this idea maybe only one year ago. This idea’s been swimming around in my head for three years.

I have tonnes of new story ideas at the moment. Everything about my stories stays completely secret until they are published, of course, so I can’t tell you anything at all about this one, or any of the others – I can’t even tell you the possible title or the genre. But I’ve got so many story ideas now that I’ve done something on, and may continue with, that I’ve realised that I need some codenames so that I can refer to them. The codename for this project is simply going to be Project 201811 – a name from which absolutely nothing about the story can be determined.

But as I say, Project 201811 is one that I had the idea for more than three years ago, and started writing almost three years ago. All I’d written so far was the opening to the first chapter. On Saturday, I wrote the remainder of chapter one, and started on chapter two.

This story’s just been sitting in my head for three years, and in that time, I’ve thought about it a lot – developed a very clear idea of what happens in that first chapter. So when I started adding more to it on Saturday, the words just flowed onto the page. I’m very pleased with how it’s turning out so far.

While I can’t tell you the exact genre of Project 201811, I can tell you that it is slightly comedic in tone. I seem to have ended up doing a lot of slightly funny stories in recent years – OTSOT has a slightly funny edge to it, as do many of the off-series short stories. I didn’t intend to do this at all – it’s just by accident that a lot of what I’m writing at the moment is more humorous. At some point in the near future I will pivot to more serious stories again.

As for writing-related things that have happened this week, I have continued trying to do more on the audiobook for OTSOT 1. This project has hung around for ages, and I could rant for ages about it. The first two stories for OTSOT 1 have been recorded and edited – they’re on my YouTube channel – and the fifth story has been recorded and edited too, but it’s not online yet – I’m putting them online in order. I’d previously recorded about half of the fourth story too, and that had gone well. But the third story – Fluncg the Indignant – has been a massive problem.

I have not been able to get the voice for Fluncg right. I have tried many, many times to get it right – done loads of recordings of Fluncg’s lines. But whenever I get something that I at first like, when I listen back to it a few days later, I don’t like it. It’s never quite right.

I’ve been trying to get this story right in audio form for months, and it just isn’t working. It’s this story that’s been holding up the audiobook for OTSOT 1, and consequently the audiobook for OTSOT 2. I think I’d’ve finished both of them a while ago if it weren’t for this story. (The story of Fluncg was always a difficult one to get right – even in its written form, it took longer than the others to get right.) I’m tempted to just say that it’s good enough with the last voice I’ve used. At some point you just have to stop spending time on something.

So on Sunday, instead of trying to do more on Fluncg the Indignant, I just recorded more of Hluthg the First. That went astonishingly well – I just have to edit that one now, and it’ll be done.

So that’s been the last week in writing: productive, but nowhere near as productive as I have sometimes been.

About Magnathor the Forgetful and On The Subject Of Dragons

I’ve just published a new short story on my website, titled Magnathor the Forgetful. You can read it here.

This story is the first in a series of short stories called On The Subject Of Dragons, a spin-off series of On The Subject Of Trolls.

I’ve mentioned before in videos that I had plans for two spin-off series’ of On The Subject Of Trolls. This is one of them. (The other one has a title, which I won’t reveal yet, but it is highly guessable.) I’d normally make a video to announce a new series like this, but I find making videos rather tedious these days.

The stories in On The Subject Of Dragons will be a bit different to those in On The Subject Of Trolls. They will probably all be shorter, and they are lighter – unlike the trolls stories, they are not trying to depict an extremely unpleasant phenomenon on the internet (though they are still metaphorical). Because of this, I’ve decided that I’m going to release them one at a time on my website, rather than waiting to have lots of them and putting them in a book. (They’re so short, and I plan to do them so infrequently, that it’ll take a long time for me to have enough to make a book out of them.) Once I’ve got enough for an OTSOT-length book, I will put them into a book, which will of course just be called On The Subject Of Dragons.

New Project: A Dictionary of British Place Names

I have started a new project today. In short, it is a small web-app giving information on the etymology of British place names. I’ve made it a sub-site of my main website – you can view it here: http://benjamintmilnes.com/dictionary-of-british-place-names/#/.

I decided to do this project quite spontaneously this morning. The idea’s been floating around in my head for a few days or so. I’m normally quite reluctant to start new projects of this kind nowadays – I have a lot of projects – too many, really – and each new project takes time away from the others. However, this project is quite valuable for the world-building for On The Subject Of Trolls, and it is relatively simple to do, so I decided to start it.

Amazingly, I’ve managed to get it to a ‘finished’ state in just a few hours. Now, when I say ‘finished’ here, I don’t necessarily mean absolutely complete in all ways. I find it useful to distinguish between different kinds of ‘finished’. A part of this project is actually researching and writing out the etymology for all or lots of British place names. (I may not do absolutely all British place names – I may only do a few hundred or a few thousand in total.) This is something that is very difficult to do all in one go – this is something that’s better to do gradually over time, so I don’t include this in what I mean by ‘finished’. Similarly, with any web-app, there are often hundreds of features that you could program into it – I don’t include these in ‘finished’ either. With projects like this, I generally consider them finished when I have something that I can put online, that works (even if it only has a limited number of features), that looks polished, and that contains well-formed data (even if it’s only a small amount of data). In the case of this project, I have managed to create 11 data files for place names, create the compiler (which takes those data files and outputs a JSON file that the web-app effectively uses as its database), and create a polished front-end.

So the web-app is now online and available. It describes the etymology of various British place names. In future you will be able to search for place names that have a particular suffix or that have a particular element in them. There are other fun features that it could have too – like rendering a map of Britain using the names that places had in a given century. It only contains a few entries so far, but I will add to that over time.

This is a very fun project to do. I have liked etymology for a long time – I can’t remember when it was that I started looking things up on etymonline.com several times a day – probably about seven or eight years ago – but it has been a fascination of mine for a long time. Place names is an area of etymology that is somewhat lacking online – it’s fun being able to create something new that’s useful.