The Staves of the Istari
By Marcella Riley, Ph.D.

A.U.: Frodo chose the Gap of Rohan over Moria
A.U.: No Gimli

Two old men—one white, one grey—stood at the pinnacle of an impenetrable black tower, gazing out at the flooded ruins below. Their robes ruffled subtly in the winds of the high altitudes.

There was silence for a time.

“So much lost,” Saruman the White eventually intoned, his face an expressionless, craggy mask.

“All will be restored in time, old friend,” said Gandalf. “Under guidance of the Ents, the trees will grow again. The land will heal. Isengard will be what it once was.”

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Heaven Below

So I talked to the Devil the other day.

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A long time ago, I was working on a novel called The Difference Engine but my enthusiasm for the project waned when I realized it was just a lot of really self-exposing anthropomorphic animal fiction. Sometimes I think I leapt right over the part where you’re supposed to write what you enjoy and immediately onto “write what you enjoy but only if it has a modicum of respectability to it.” My inability to write without self-consciousness eventually killed the project. As with many of my old ideas, I never know whether to leave it buried or to heave it up and try a proper reboot. One of my favorite characters in the project was the irrepressibly weird blind electronic musician Neon Green Daugherty, who was for a short time my single most present and connected character. She went a little something like this:

* * *

“It’s called ‘gestalt music’,” said the dark-glasseded woman I knew only as SpaceBatAngelDragon. I myself do not have a fancy Internet nickname; the peculiar young woman was probably thinking of me as ‘jscott’ right now, which, for the moment, was fine by me. “Audio fusion. It’s like pointillism for the ears. Two distinct tones blending in the middle of the head to create a richer audio experience than any monophonically-presented chord.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s kind of a basic tenet of stereo sound.”

“Right!” said SpaceBatAngelDragon. “Anyway, the whole thing fascinates me. So when I started experimenting for real, that’s where I started. My first piece was designed for headphones, and it consisted of two, well, pretty different tracks of music. Different time signatures, musical styles, all that. All designed to harmonize in interesting ways when your head tried to put it together. Sadly, I no longer have access to that piece, because I wrote it in Andante for the Archimedix 2000, and the world’s last functioning Archimedix 2000 died a peaceful death in Hobart, Tasmania in 1998. I still have the discs, but nothing on this earth can read them. I think it’s sad that the Archimedix never actually made it to the year 2000 after all.”

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When the Charioteer finally released his horses from their traces after a hard day of travel across the broad, windy skyways that ran along the near edge of heaven, the beasts were thirsty and in need of rest.


Thankfully, there was a tavern nearby.


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“Night Falls”

Night falls, and they arrive. They are not welcome, not invited per se, but they arrive regardless, sweeping across the darkening countryside on silent, membranous wings.

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The kobold gazed forlornly at the leering gargoyle faces decorating the titular well at the center of the Well Chamber. The surface of the water was heartbreakingly still.

“She can’t still be alive,” said the kobold, whose name was Hubert. “How long has it been?”

“I dunno,” said the intellect devourer lounging casually nearby. “Feels like years we’ve been waiting here.”

“Check her again?”

The intellect devourer, who had not until recently had a name (but who was now apparently named “Eidey”), gave a deep psionic sigh. “All right, fine.” There was a brief, sharp whine. “There,” he said. “Done. Yep, our high-AC friend is still alive down there.”

“I hardly believe her AC is all that high,” said Hubert. “Did you see that armor she was wearing? That should put her down to at least a three. Maybe even a two!”

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Her name was Lower Fleet Captain Marya Irina Nkmraaou D’Arcangel, and like most of her people, she resembled nothing more or less than a very large, biped-shaped Russian Blue cat. Her ready-room was paneled in synthetic polywood the color of well-stained oak, she kept a decanter of Old Earth brandy on her desk and she always, always, carried an electrolash. And she was unhappy.

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