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[ATM] Exercise: Silence, Foggy Signifiers

1) Play with using deliberately foggy signifiers at key moments as an exercise in foregrounding these moments.
2) Play with writing a piece where one or more of the important bits are left off the page. (Some of these bits might include things people don’t say in dialogue.)

The markets of Thinner South were stretched and slanted affairs. Bright sailcloth strained, riotous against plain plaster walls, with wares propped carefully beneath them so that an inattentive touch would not send them rolling straight onto the rug of a downhill rival. Tol took small steps and deep, careful breaths as he angled through the crowd, wary of over-exerting himself even as he struggled to keep Ban in sight. He supposed himself fortunate that she was tall enough to be easily distinguishable amidst the shorter, stouter Remiellan crowd, since she alone seemed to know where they were going.

Rin was pressed into his left side, both her grubby hands tight about his forearm as she stared around them, bright-eyed and quivering as though she couldn’t decide upon a direction in which to bolt. He hoped that she would not. Ban had paused for them to catch up several times already, and her displeasure had been plainer on her face with every stop. When Rin tugged them off course again toward a food stall, Tol glanced in the vampire’s direction with an expression that he hoped would convey helpless apology at another pointless distraction, but Ban was not glaring at them. She was not even looking in their direction.

“Leave the pup to me.” Sanga’s glamoured human hand smoothed over Tol’s shoulder, and the illusory face he had donned while they were in the city jerked its chin in the vampire’s direction.

It took some careful manoeuvring to reach her. Ban’s eyes were impassive when she looked at him, but there was a softness to her mouth that prompted him to ask, “What did you find?”

For a moment he was certain she would ignore him and move on, but her eyes dropped to a nearby stall and Tol followed the path of her gaze. Small tooled leather pouches were arranged in neat rows on an Azran carpet. The trader called loudly for those with fortune’s favour to try their hand at a game he called simply ‘War’. Tol recognised the symbols for the base elements and glanced back at Ban with raised brows. “Do you know the game?”

“In Azra, it is known as ‘Shar’s War’. But also ‘The Oracle’.” Tol scoffed, expecting Ban’s usual wry smirk to find its way back to her face. Instead, she raised her brows at him. “You do not believe me?”

“I wonder that you believe it,” he managed truthfully as Rin reattached herself to his arm, gnawing on something warm and oily. He made a sound of disgust as either grease or saliva dripped down his arm, and glanced at Sanga with narrowed eyes. “I hope you paid for that.” The sprite’s laugh was not reassuring.

When he turned back, Ban was tossing a few coins to the Azran trader. She rattled the game pouch at him before she tied it to her belt. “Have some respect for folklore,” she told him with a smirk. “You’re travelling with much of it.”

They played Shar’s War in the privacy of their room at the inn beneath the ropeway. It seemed to Tol that there was little skill involved. All depended on the stones one drew from the pouch, and which element one had been assigned at the beginning of the game. After an hour in which Rin’s chin bruised both his shoulders and one thigh in her boredom, Tol was certain that either his luck was beyond abysmal, or that every other person at the table was cheating. He rolled into his blankets glad he had no coin to lose, and woke several hours later to Rin’s ever-present bony limbs and drool and the faint rattle of wooden pieces in the dark.

He extricated himself from the wolf-girl’s embrace and slid from the blankets as silently as he knew how. The sound of the game pieces did not cease, but Ban’s voice came to him at a mutter through the darkness: “Rest while you can. There’ll be no room for that while we traverse the Arrow.”

Their fire was down to embers: the best Tol could make out of the table was a large patch of similarly coloured blackness. There was a rattle, then the muted click of wooden marker against the tabletop. Tol groped for a chair and sat with his back to the fire, willing his eyes to adjust. “Are you playing against yourself?”

“What would be the point of that?” Rattle, click. Rattle, click. Rattle, click. Tol waited. Finally there were no markers left in the pouch. There were a few moments more of contemplative silence, and then the skittering of pieces over hardwood as Ban scooped them all back into the bag and, with a firm few shakes of the bag, began again. “I’m divining.”

Tol crossed his arms along the edge of the table. “And how do our fortunes look?” He grimaced. Well, the words were not as skeptical as the first that had risen to his tongue. Ban’s placement of the markers did not falter.

“Interesting,” she replied. “These are not made properly, of course.”

“Of course.” Tol frowned. It had been a long while since she had answered him so vaguely. “Are you going to do this all night? You’ll wake the others.” Ban shifted, and for a moment he caught a dim red flicker of her eyes against the darkness.

“Go back to sleep, boy,” she told him, and when next he woke it was at dawn and his face hurt from resting on the table.