Begin Journal Entry.
Chicago, a few months ago. Snow in the gutters colored black-flecked gray. The wind off the lake, knife-like.
I walked up Wentworth Avenue holding Anpenpan onto the top of my head as updrafts cuffed it. Chinatown laundromats, discount DVDs and unlocked cellphones, herbal dispensaries, mahjong parlors, dim sum Sunday specials.
I was about to meet with a brother Archimage. The first time in years I’d even seen another in the Order. Since the Battle of San Francisco and its aftermath, we no longer communicate—it’s not safe to do so—and I don’t know how many of us are left. Not many. Not an army. Not an Order, not anymore.
Yet we leave signs for each other, wherever we go. A scrawled glyph on an alley wall. A deposit of residual power masked with blood from a cut on the palm, smeared across a fencepost. A psychic flare placed like an arrow, hidden in the subconscious mind of a random passerby. After San Francisco, I’ve only come across these signs twice. Chicago was the second time. I followed them to Aydin Yilmaz, who was living in a fourth-floor room above a butcher shop. Next to the building entrance, behind a smoked-glass storefront display, skinless ducks swayed gently, hanging from their necks.
Yilmaz had known I was coming even before I approached his Sanctum. The door to the long, narrow room was unlocked. He was sitting by a window at a cheap plastic table, looking down at a battered wooden chessboard. Unplayed pieces waited for a first touch. I imagined that he had been sitting there, as still and silent as he was, for many days already, the sun through the beveled window refracting prismatic color across the chessboard’s black and white—at night the light of Chinatown street signs pulse in a semaphore of neon pink and blue—with the next morning’s sun restarting its progress through the room, where Yilmaz remained, waiting.
We didn’t speak. I sat down in a wire-frame chair at the plastic table. My pieces were white. I opened with a queen’s gambit.
Chess is one of the secret languages of the Archimages. The game was created by our Order as a system of exchanging concepts, of advancing ideas against opposition to test them, to harrow them down to their pure forms. Over the centuries, we’ve also developed an offhand slang with it, a way of conversing in imagery and emotion. This is why certain chess masters have lost their sanity—they sense and know there’s a deeper meaning but they can’t ever reach it, not without the Archimage’s ability to interpret potential realities layered through one moment, one move of the game.
Linna has never played chess, not once in her life, which makes it difficult to teach her how to perceive the world. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We spoke, Yilmaz and I, through the moves of the game, in silence. We sipped Turkish coffee from small white porcelain cups on thin white saucers. It was a lengthy game with two cautious, defensive positions, resulting in a draw. Above all else, we allowed ourselves to express the loneliness that had become a permanent part of our lives. In this rare meeting of a fellow Archimage, that loneliness was both assuaged and somehow intensified.
I learned that Chicago was unsafe. The Enemy had a heavy presence here. They were close to Yilmaz and he expected to be found. He was tired, he could see no reason to continue. In the mid-game I began to attack his position with my knights, insisting that he shouldn’t give up, he should leave Chicago and find a new place to remain hidden. I abandoned this offensive as soon as I started it, realizing that I was only trying to convince myself. I was equally weary of this shadow life of ours. Weary and ready to leave it.
Our game drew to its end. At once, as if triggered by this meeting with Yilmaz, I was opened to the Sorrow. I sat hunched over, my forehead pressed down against the edges of Black’s captured pieces on the table. Yilmaz poured me a glass of lukewarm water at the sink by the hotplate, then stood next to me with a hand on my shoulder while I sobbed as if my heart was breaking.
It was New Year’s Eve.
Later, feeling like I deserved it, I went to a restaurant for a meal. Talked to the waitress, a nice young woman from the South. You would have liked her, Little Wing. It was then that one of the Enemy’s Trinities found me. If not for Tataille, I would have been killed or caught. I may have wanted that.
Yet I continued on. I fled Chicago, walking west.
Outside the city there was heavy snow. I felt the cold only a little, as something that echoed a vague discomfort—this was part of a working I had done in Paris, in the days that followed the Battle of San Francisco, when the last of us had...