You Must Understand

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The world was different then, you must understand. You have never known the sound of a river or the sigh of the breeze through the canopy, you have only ever known sand and stone. The world was beautiful, you see – green and abundant with life. It was my joy to touch each green leaf with my heart and know its secret song, a melody that has grown all too quiet in these dusty days. The days that I brought, that I bought with blood and death.

You must understand. As beautiful as the world was, it was not ours. We lived and died and even dreamed at the will and sway of the Dragons. Can you imagine? Every day you served and worked at the masters’ bidding, and in your sleep not even your own brain was free to wander. They kept our dreams hedged in by their field, by their Great Dream – the better to winnow out the rebellious, the mad, those who shone most brightly that could have lead us out of slavery. You know, as a young person you find someone that you fancy, your dreams fill with simple joys – but imagine if an alien intelligence decided who you would have these dreams of, who they thought best for you to fall in love with? Every daydream was a lie, drawing you further into the comforting truth of their dominion. We sang songs to them – songs that they put in our heads, and we believed that we had created. If a man cannot even trust his own thoughts, he is nothing. Generations of us bound in their dark web, living and dying without ever truly existing. Without truly living.

There were those that worshiped our masters as gods – and even now, who am I to argue? Their power was beyond our ken, beyond anything I have truly understood. They seemed to live in two worlds, one of body and one of mind. And those that pledged themselves to the Dragon gained a measure of freedom in both, but a deeper slavery in the quiet of their souls.

And I? I was no one special. Only through pure chance did I find a way out.

I worked on a farm. I see you smile. Yes, then as now I was a farmer. Attending the slow rituals of living things was my deepest joy. Some other workers and I were sent to till a new field on the edge of a great city. It was known that it would take some time to properly prepare the land, the soil was rocky but rich. We pitched our tents on the edge of the field, and spent the first few days in simple labor and easy joy. You felt so good when you followed orders, you see. A slow pulse of pleasure that kept a smile on every face.  But then on the third night, nature intervened – a boon from the Balance to save us. A storm – rain and lightning and the howling of the wind. Our tents were ripped asunder, and in casting around for shelter we found a cave.

A cavern of stone, suddenly quiet after the storm’s wrath. We huddled together and fell into an exhausted slumber.

And we dreamed. We dreamed our own dreams for the first time in our lives. Something in the stone shielded us from the psychic grip of our masters. Something in the stone set us free.

Dreams of anger. Dreams of grief. Dreams of simple oddity that the brain can unspool. But our dreams – the dreams that the Dragons had kept from us.

And I? I dreamed of the Titan.

It was just a Shape, then. But it burned into my mind like a torch.

We awoke into a new world. We could see the bars of our prison – see the bondage that all our races were under. We went about our work that day out of habit, but each of us made sure to lay our bedding in the cave. Plans were laid, each of us discovering his own intelligence, her own will. The preparation of the field took longer and longer, we delayed in every way we could, terrified to leave the only free space on the planet, as far as we knew. It was Rose that mastered her mind first – learned to keep the masters’ psychic grip at bay – at least the passive one that filled us with work-joy and kept our minds inert. She taught us all, and we each swore to teach this new trick on other farms.

We became liars and thieves and rebels. The rats in the walls. Over time, our numbers grew. We scavenged technology, we learned as much as we could about the stone that protected us, we —

Ah, I see. You grow impatient. You asked where the Titan came from, how we built it. I will explain as best I can, though you may find it wanting.

I saw it in my dreams, you see. You must understand, every night, the Shape. Vague at first, but growing sharper and sharper as I found materials and technology of the Dragons to use. I had no great skill in science – Jeffrey, Bantam, and Merrick all outstripped me there. But when I worked on the Titan, my hands knew where to go, I could see where each piece would fit. Even at the time I couldn’t explain it – except to say: the Titan wanted to be built. The Shape was already there, I just put the pieces together. And when I witnessed the power it brought to bear…

I do not know, even now, where the Titan came from. But I do understand its purpose – to set us free. To bring an end to tyranny, to break the chains of this world.  You must understand, now that it is yours to wield. You must understand. You must understand.

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Wordy-type Makings: A Blog Hop

 

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And now I catch the baton from my friend and sadly distant conspirator, Leigh from her blog Fun Things To Do While You Are Waiting. You absolutely should navigate your web-machine to her and Coralie’s site – it’s a lifestyle blog with tons of crafty adventures and receipes — much more regularly updated than my site. I’m terrible at these blog chain letter sort of things – the fun premise will quickly descend into navel-gazing, but I’ll try to keep it frothy.

What am I working on? 

I am working on the final re-writes and edits on The Riddle Box, the sequel to my previous novel Spell/Sword.   I’m hoping to have it ready to publish in another month or two. This brings to a close several months of editing — AKA the part I hate. I’m very excited to get it out there for people to read – but more excited to be able to start work on the third book, working title: Asteroid Made of Dragons.

Side projects — writing for three Pathfinder campaigns, game prep, world information, and forum play.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’ve expounded on this at great length in the past, but let me boil it down. I’m a special snowflake and everything I do is unique and wonderful.

The name I’ve given it is ‘Swordpunk’, but through my research I’ve found that Terry Pratchett has a much better term for it – the ‘consensus fantasy universe’ – that place we all understand instinctually without need for qualification or endless description. Dragons can fly and are mean, a hero with a sword is generally a good thing to have on hand, witches are potent, elves have pointy ears, etc. etc. etc. As much as I love the current heights of epic fantasy [Martin, Rothfuss, Sanderson, Abercrombie] – I’ve grown weary of the genre taking itself so seriously. Also by traipsing in this ‘consensus’ universe, I don’t have to waste any time or reader brain wattage to re-invent the wheel. We can jump right in and get to the action.

Also my work is not particularly popular, so there’s that.

 Why do I write what I do? 

HRMMM. That’s kind of a brain bender. I don’t know if that’s even the sort of questions I’m equipped to answer. Who knows what strange events and mental misadventures have resulted in my own particular output?

I do know that the forms of fantasy make sense to me. As a writer you’re usually trying to express something – something simple, or something profound – and you grab whatever tools are at hand to get the point across. Swords make sense to me, magic is the perfect metaphor. I think if I tried to write a story set in modern day about emotions, or culture, or banking — I would only make it a few thousand words before goblin-gunners start erupting from storm drains or roc’s land on the top of city buses.

The fun part of my work is I’m absolutely certain there’s some grand point I’m trying to get across — but I’m usually mystified about what exactly it’s supposed to be. I stumble into bits and pieces of the message as I keep rambling on, but completely by accident. My crafty subconscious has something to say, but it whispers in hindsight, in the corners of things.

Spell/Sword  is the pilot episode, so a lot of its energy is spent on getting my heroes together and starting some plates a-spinning that won’t resolve until years in the future – but I like to think there’s a nice through-line about Friendship. The Riddle Box is much more on point as I grapple with my thoughts on depression, and the sick, strange madness that haunts all human endeavor.

How does my writing process work?

I am a ‘discovery writer’ as the lugubrious buzz-term goes. I don’t plot or outline in advance, though I do have a skeleton plot in my head — or rather I have big moments and fight scenes like sign posts on the road ahead. Spell/Sword I had only the most basic of ideas of where I was heading — The Riddle Box, as a murder mystery, I had to know ‘whodunnit’ so I could reverse-engineer the plot. I know outlining is king if you want to truly focus on a marketable product – but I couldn’t go to work if I knew every twist and turn, half the fun is getting to see these moments for myself.

Beyond that, I try not to fetishize my process in any way. I don’t have a set time, or place, or a special mug that I have to have with me. I set myself easy deadlines, of between 5-10 pages a week [depending on the insanity of the rest of my life] and get to typing. I write when I have time between work and home, just as long as I’ve turned in my pages by the end of the week, everything’s kosher. Admittedly, I’m bad about putting it off until Friday or Saturday and jamming out that week’s allotment in one quick stretch. If I get in a groove and write more than my allotment – that’s great! – but I can’t bank anything in advance. Each week is always 5 pages more than where I ended the previous week. I write chronologically — mostly because I have to ‘discover’ the scene, but partly because if I wrote all the fun stuff first, I’d never go back and write the connective tissue.

That’s it – I just keep chugging along until I get to the end. [Or at least what I think is the end.]

 

Huzzar! I have completed my blog hop — of course, I haven’t had the forethought to get anyone else to take the next leg from me. So,  yeah — any of you want to take the next leg? Ping me in the comments for my thanks and blessings.

Egads!

2014-03-05 17.08.32Aye, forsooth! This bloggery has been a trifle thin of late. I come not to praise the lapse, but bury the hatchet. Your gentle author’s head is o’er crammed with projects both mundane and fantastical and time to devote to this shining square is easily counted on the head of an ant. [ITS REAL SMALL SON.] Worry not for things of great import and moment lurch forward to the flimsy present. A special discount on the Spell/Sword ebook next week. Editing on The Riddle Box continues apace, a rare life appearance in the misty future.

Hold me in your hearts if we be friends, or at the very least in your gentle kidneys if we be casual acquaintances.

 

The Truce through the First Imperial Age

And so we burned. We fought. We bled.

We danced to the dark flute of the gods. A thousand years of war.

All blamed on us, all laid at the feet of every human that survived.

The armies of the gods fought endlessly — the worst devastation of all when one of the Four would walk the fields of slaughter themselves. What mortal can stand against Sun, against Stone? The planet would have burned to a cinder, all of the People and every beast eradicated if not for the gods’ ‘mercy’. They kept us alive, each sheltered their own — their power kept us alive to continue the fight, to keep the fires burning.

That is when this planet found a name. Cynus. In the old tongue, it means ‘ashes.’

And in every army, we were the footsoldiers — the first to bleed. Humans were to blame, so each army saved a special ration of pain for our race. If not for our cunning, our adaptability, our will — there last drop of human blood would long since have been spilled on the dry ground.

But we are cunning. We can change. Our will is strong. And after a thousand years, at long last, one of our race arose to save us all. Us, and all the People of this world.

Her name was Bex. The most gifted wizard of the age, she rose through the ranks due to her wisdom and great power. Even in those days, the People would put aside their hatred if the need was great. After many years of battle, she finally found her way to the ear of Marrus, God of the Sky. Our Lord of Winds is the most clever and cunning of his siblings, then as now, and he listened eagerly to the wizard’s words when she spoke of a grand trick.  A ruse that would bring his enemies to heel, at a place of his choosing, totally defenseless.

And so it came to pass. The word went out to the armies of the Four, a great meeting would be held at the Cloud-King’s behest. A truce! A chance to speak in safety for the first time in long centuries. Perhaps, the People dared to hope, an end to the endless war.

Each of the Four came to the agreed upon place, the Vale of Maranth. They each were suspicious, but also eager to turn this meeting to their advantage. The Four arrived in the Vale, and took their seats in four stone chairs prepared for the purpose.

Artist - 二又方丈
Artist – 二又方丈

Marrus and his servant, Bex, were the last to arrive. The God of Sky tittered slightly as he slid into his seat. “Welcome, sisters and brother! I am so glad to see you here, at this place of peace.”

“Is is good to see you,” Lady Sun agreed. “Good to see you all.”

“Yes, it has been lonely so long apart,” Sea smiled.

Stone said nothing.

“Yes, good to see you here, all comfortable in your stone chairs. The stone chairs my servant has prepared for you. The stone chairs that now hold you bound and trapped forevermore!” Sky laughed with glee, slapping his hands on arms of his chair.

Sun, Stone, and Sea seethed with rage and bellowed. The mountains and plains of the entire globe rang with their furor. Sky continued to laugh at his siblings ire.

He laughed until he tried to get out of his chair.

“Yes,” Bex said stepping calmly into the center of her trap. “You are trapped too, Cloud-King.”

“How dare you?” the Zephyr Trickster laughed ruefully. “Really, how did you do this?”

“Yes, speak quickly before we tear you apart, worm,” Jocasta murmured. “Speak quickly.”

“You cannot harm me,” the wizard said. “You are bound to my power. Of your own free will you came, of your own will you sat in my chairs of stone. Your might is caught.  You cannot move, you cannot strike. If it is my wish, I will leave you here until the Unwinding of Time. Bitter, impotent, and bound.”

“I will swallow you for this,” Banu of the Black Water howled. “I will drown you and your race, your bones will waft in my waves. I sleep in your blood and will pull you down —”

“Enough,” Bex said, and the gods fell silent. “It is not my wish to bind you here. You are necessary to this world, to lock you away would only bring a slow ruin. I have brought you here to talk of Truce. You must withdraw from the fields of this world, you must agree to a Code to govern your endless game. You do not feel as the firstborn creatures of Cynus, you know nothing of heartache or sorrow. But I plead with you to hear me now, to feel one tenth of the pain you have husbanded in the creatures that fill your armies. Look upon what you have wrought and relent.”

And the gods heard her prayer. They looked one to the other, and one by one they each dropped their head in assent.

The gods and their captor spoke for many days. A careful Truce was laid, and the laws inscribed in the very fabric of reality. All of the the People waited and hoped. At last, Bex came from the Vale, alone but with a weary smile.

And then, what a time of celebration there was! That the hated blood of humanity should be the one to broker the peace was a marvel. Despised soldiers and battered slaves were welcomed into every hall, all of the People hailed the cleverness and wit of the Human.

And so it was that Bex united the great armies and lead the new Council in all matters. She taught the People of the laws that even the gods must follow, and how it could all lead to a true Balance in their world. The gods’ followers now found their deities more remote, more difficult to contact — but no less powerful when their might was brought to bear.

There followed a great time of peace, where our race, humanity, could finally take their place in pride with all of the others. We were counselors, advisors, knights, merchants, nobles. The wizard Bex had paid our debt and we were eager to move forward.

We meant so well.

But we are cunning. We can change. Our will is strong. And as we tasted the first sips of power, we found it sweet on our tongues. And so with slow patience and eager wit we found our way to it.

Was it any surprise that our cunning would again betray? That in the wake of peace and emancipation we would walk with careful step toward dominion, toward Empire?

Ah me. What fools we humans are!

– Galad Voss, Cleric of Marrus

The Coupling through the Ash Eon

Silence, child. It would serve you well to heed my tale. This is not some idle tale shared at a campfire or doused in taphouse ale. This is the Story, and you will tell it back to me word for word tonight when we take our evening meal, or you shall feel my hand.

Heed. Mark. And remember.

tumblr_mwo0a1Hzer1qhatilo1_500And so the Century of Storm wore on, and the People were afraid. Afraid that Father Order would triumph and they would be wiped from the face of existence. Or that the Argument itself would consume their tiny hovels and they would be lost to the wind. They prayed to their Creators, but their words could not reach the Two, they were utterly consumed by battle. The People waited for the end.

But then, one day, a Human child got lost chasing his family’s herd. A ewe, with fur as black as night, climbed a steep cliff into a hidden mountain pass. The child knew that he would be beaten if he returned home without the full flock, and in desperation climbed after the ram. His hands were cut by the sharp rocks and his knees were scraped and torn by the cruel stone. The winds began to pick up and his breath steamed against the blank mountainside. A storm was nigh, a storm was always nigh in those times.  But his desperation drove him on and he climbed higher and higher chasing the beast.

The child did not know that he and his sheep were climbing the Forbidden, the secret mountain where Father and Mother made us all.

At last the child found his quarry, bleating and crying on the edge of a cliff, a knife-edge of stone. He laid his hands on her black wool and wept with relief, but he quickly realized that the pain of birthing was upon her. She could not be moved in her condition, the child had to help bring forth her lamb or flee empty-handed.  The child looked up at the sky and saw the rain, saw the fire, but could not bring himself to leave his charge.

The rain began to fall. The fire began to fall. Still the child kept his hands on the weary ewe and did his best to cover her with his own. The ewe bleated and strained and struggled to bring a new life into a world. The child wept in despair and felt the fire hot on his back.

Now, there are some that say the child’s tears were what caught the attention of Father and Mother. And there are some that say it was merely that he trespassed the Forbidden. And other still claim that it was some sort of Human trick. But suffice it to say, Order and Chaos stood and looked at the child and his beast, and stopped their struggle long enough that the young lamb could be born.

“Look,” said Mother. “The Things We Made can make themselves. How strange! Was that your idea or mine?”

“I…am not sure,” Father Order said. “Another accident, surely it was your doing.”

“My doing?” Chaos raised her hand to strike her mate. “Why does everything have to be –”

“Please,” said the child. “Please, no more.”

And Order and Chaos turned from their argument to listen to the child, who approached with a newborn lamb held securely in his arms.

“My ewe is dead. She died giving birth. She gave everything that her child could live. How is it that a rude beast on the edge of a cliff has more care for her children than the creators of us all?” The child blinked away tears and stared unafraid at the two gods.

The gods were not ashamed.

“How dare you question us?” Order demanded.

“We are the Beginning and End, the Eye of the Storm.” Chaos declared.

“We do as we wish. We are as we wish. You are a child and your judgement is limited and small, a pebble next to a mountain,” the Two said together. “We have filled this world with wonder and life. All that walk and breathe and fly and swim are here at our will.”

“I see,” the child said. “You have filled the world with many creatures and many People. But you have put no part of yourself into it.  You have no true children. This is why you care not for our plight.”

The child gently placed the lamb down and watched it totter about on tender legs. Then an idea came to him and he turned his face again to the Creators, Human cunning and guile as natural to him as breathing.

“Perhaps if you had True Children, you would understand. You could still your endless battle and let your creations grow and multiply. A shame it is that you continue to wage war, when your greatest Making is yet to be.”

Father looked at Mother and Mother smiled.

Chaos leaned down and kissed the child on his brow, and ruffled the newborn wool of the lamb.

“Go child. Tell the People that we do care for their plight, and your sly words have stilled our rage. You have given us an Idea, and in return the People shall have a time of peace while we consider it.”

And so the child took his lamb and climbed back down the fountain as fast as his legs would carry him. He bore the tale of his meeting to all the People, and they watched the Forbidden with hope and fear. For the storms at last fell still, but many were not sure that they had seen the end of the time of ruin.

Years passed, and still the people waited.  Crops were planted, and cities began to rise. Children and lambs were born, and after a time the People began to dream that the gods had forgotten them, and would leave them in a time of forever peace.

But it was not to be. At last their came a Time. The sun and the moon stopped still in the air, and shared the sky like two empty eyes. The People and the beasts of the world felt  a strange compulsion, and all began to walk – to journey until they all stood arrayed around the feet of the Forbidden. The first moment since the Time of Making when all of the Created stood together in one place.

And they waited. For a year and  a day they waited.

Then all at once, a breath.

The Four came down from the mountain, strange of visage but somehow familiar to all who saw. Sun and Sky and Stone and Sea, the Four stood together at the foot of the mountain with all of Creation waiting for their words.

“We are the Four,” Sun said.

“The true children of Father and Mother,” Stone said.

“They are gone, withdrawn from this world,” Sky said.

“Their power and might bequeathed to us,” Sea said.

“Now come forth,” the Four spoke together. “Come forth and choose. For we have decided upon our first Game. One of us is greater than the others, one of us must reign. You will be our army, you will be our pawns. Choose a master, that the Game may begin.”

And the child, who was now a man, opened his mouth to speak — but found himself struck dumb. His words, his Idea had brought this to pass. And all that would follow after was to be laid at his feet, and the feet of his children’s children down the long unwinding of Time. He looked down at the trusty black ram that lead his flock, the same lamb that he had carried from the Forbidden all those years ago. With a sigh he took a knife and opened the ram’s throat, to spare him the horror that was just beginning.

And so began the Ash Eon. The time of endless battle, of cataclysm and pain. The suffering and sorrow of the Storm Century multiplied and compounded. The ceaseless, tireless clash of the Sun against Stone, the Sea against Sky, and each against the other. Generations of the people were born and died, knowing only the endless war, the endless smell of burning in the air, the tireless rain of ash.

A thousand years of ruin, all from one human’s clever idea.

Now remember these words, little human. You will speak them true tonight, say them right and clear or you will feel my hand.

Heed. Mark. Remember.

– Prose Willow, Cleric of Banu, Yellowdale

 

 

The Riddle Box Beta Reader Worksheet

 

I’ve been working on a series of questions for my Beta Readers of The Riddle Box. The idea was for them to not read them until after they finish reading the draft, but I realized that if I carefully obscured the character names — and a few entire questions — it wouldn’t really matter if they read them beforehand — AND was sort of a backhanded way of revealing some of the things that all readers have to look forward to in the next book. Plus, I’m going out of town for the weekend, and felt guilty about my slow posting of late — and this is an easy cut-and-paste affair. This may be a huge mistake, but you can safely ignore the disclaimer at the top. OR CAN YOU? 

I also thought this might be an interesting ‘behind the scenes’ look at MY PROCESS. [Trumpets begins to blare.]

 

DO NOT LOOK AT THESE QUESTIONS UNTIL AFTER YOU HAVE FINISHED READING

 

The Riddle Box.

 

Seriously. Don’t do it.

 

These questions are chock-full of spoilers and things that could influence your first read for better or worse. I have some specific concerns about the book, and specific areas that I’m less than pleased with, that I want to make sure you mentally target as you give me feedback. I’m not expecting you to actually respond to these questions ‘in-line’ as if this were some sort of high school worksheet [unless you’re in to that], but please be thinking about them as you prepare your feedback in whatever form you prefer it to take.

 

1. Do you feel cheated by the solution to the mystery?

  • Did I break the rules of the ‘locked room’ mystery?

  • There are a series of murders, did the explanation for any seem thin, unconvincing, or illogical?

  • Which of the murders did you need more information about?

 

2. Did Jonas or Rime act in a way that seemed incongruous with their portrayal in Spell/Sword?

 

3. This book introduces more ‘world’ information than the previous, how did you react to it?

  • What, if anything, would you have liked to know more about?

 

4. Overall, The Riddle Box has much less action than the first book — or at least it’s nearly half-way thru before there’s a big fight scene. Did you notice the lack?

 

5. I introduced two ‘love interests’ for the leads in this book, [REDACTED] and [REDACTED]. What were your thoughts about Jonas’ and Rime’s reaction to these characters?

 

6. With regards to [REDACTED], I was playing around with the trope of the ‘Damsel in Distress’ — too heavy handed?

 

7. [REDACTED] is a  [OBFUSCATED] character. Were you aware of that? Should you have been aware of that? What thoughts do you have about his portrayal, in relation to sensitivity?

 

8. The entire novel takes place in one location, the Manor. Were you ever confused by the layout or description of the locale?

  • Did the passage of time seem reasonable and easy to follow?

 

9. The repeated conceit of the ‘flashback’ chapters, i.e. Who was [REDACTED]?  to reveal more information about the murder victims — how did you react to these chapters structurally? How do  you think they impacted the flow of the novel?

  • Did you have any individual issues with these interludes?

 

10. How did you react to the further revelations of Jonas’ past? Does it contradict anything established in the first book?

 

11. [KILLER]. Discuss.

  • Was [REDACTED] scary?

 

12. The denouement of the novel is a bit rushed. Do you feel any explanations were hurried or glossed over when you wanted more detail?

  • Does Rime need another beat where she processes [REDACTED]’s death?

  • Jonas doesn’t approach Rime with the knowledge that they are going to [REDACTED], is this a problem?

 

13. [ENTIRE QUESTION REDACTED]

 

14. [ENTIRE QUESTION REDACTED]

 

15. Jonas manages to subdue [REDACTED] twice via headbutt. Is this funny or lame?

 

16. The scene of [REDACTED] in the [REDACTED], did you find this scene effective?

 

17. Any other flaws in logic or plot?

 

18. What would you say the theme of The Riddle Box is?

  • How effectively was this conveyed?

 

19. Compared to the first book, how did this one measure up against your expectations?

  • If you have not read the first, how well does this novel operate as a stand-alone experience?

20. What do you expect to occur in the next novel? What would you like to see explored in the future?

 

Normal caveats. These are all questions about the rough draft, the novel can change massively between now and publishing.