From the Beginning of Time through the Storm Century

But of course I can tell the Story, what do you take me for? Do you not see the mark of Brightnail on my chest, do you not hear the song on my lips? Ach, pass me that flagon and I will say the words. We are all travellers, and it is good to return to the beginning when we can. And push those sugared figs a bit closer, my dear. Now, let me see, let me see — ah, yes, I have it — just as it has been spoken by the members of my order, just as old Prago told me when I was small.

Before Time, we do not speak.

But then the first minutes washed up on the shores of the dark ocean, and a story blinked its eyes and brushed sand out of its hair. We can hear its voice even now, we listen carefully to the quiet groan of the earth, the sky, the jangle of stars in the black belly of night. We tell the Story as it tells us.

At first there were only Two. Father Order and Mother Chaos found themselves here, on this simple globe. The Story does not know if they were born here or if they came from the dark ocean, but suffice it to say that in the first minutes they were here and it was a Beginning.

And they danced.

Mother Chaos would break and tear as fast as her dark hands could move and Father Order would build and mend just as quickly. Father Order would raise tumblr_mwq90d4TZF1sppixgo1_500great towers and shining bridges with his bright hands and Mother Chaos would laugh and shatter and bring them all tumbling down.

And for a time, it was enough.

But then the Two grew bored.

“It is so lonely here,” Mother said. ” So flat and empty. I grow weary of breaking the same towers day after day.”

“As I grow weary of building the same towers,” Father grumbled. “I’m guessing that you have a suggestion.”

Mother grinned “Yes, of course I do. Let’s play a game.”

“A game?” Father mused. “What kind of game?”

“A Game of Making! Together we can fill this world with all sorts of interesting things. We’ll take turns! It requires both of us to create, but we can take turns and see who makes the most interesting thing.”

Father Order scratched his nose and grinned. He was certain that Mother wanted to trick him in some way, but it was a grand idea nonetheless.  Chaos saw the excitement in his eyes and skipped in for a quick kiss before they began.

The Two joined their hands and began to make.  Order and Chaos met and the first living things drew breath. The first plants and the first insects, lichen and moss, fish and fowl, claw and talon, feather and hide. Father and Mother took great delight in the making, growing ever more inventive in their competition, endless variety in the nature of their creations. And in the heart of everything that lives an equal measure of Chaos and Order, the gift of the Creators.

And for a time, it was enough.

But then Father and Mother created People.

They had many shapes and sizes, many bends and ways — different races and faces and gazes, but still all the same, all People. One strange accident made them different than all the breathing things that had come before — or one careful trick that Mother Chaos had laid carefully across the long Time of Making, a tiny tip of the scales. Where before their children had shared equal measure of Order and Chaos – People had a little more of one, and a little less of the other. They gravitated ever so slightly towards rhythm or ruin — and since they were created last, they were the most intelligent, the most elaborate — perfect pieces for a new game.

Mother Chaos crowed with delight and Father Order frowned.

Father freed his hands and sighed. “I’m afraid this last batch is no good, they will be nothing but trouble.”

“No, they are perfect,” Mother insisted. “See, some of them are building away — they are your children, just as mine are blithely breaking and shattering. New dancers, new pieces for the game, they are wonderful.”

“Yes, some of them are quite industrious, and I’ve already been surprised at some of the things they’ve built,” Father sighed with regret. “But they must be destroyed. They are ever-changing and mercurial, see! Those over there have have fallen to you and are setting fire to the tall grass — and those over there have stopped breaking rocks and started building houses. What good are pieces that change sides? No, no – they must be destroyed.”

And Father Order raised his hand to end the People, and found Mother Chaos’ hand raised to thwart him. They locked eyes and the First Argument began.

A century of storms, tireless, ceaseless battle. The first People did their best to weather it and provide shelter to all of the other creations — though many of them were lost, obliterated by the tireless wrath of Mother and Father.

And thus our world would have remained, if not for one clever child and one stupid goat.

Ah, this is my favorite part. Drown my flagon again if you please, I don’t want to pause when I continue. Oh no! Can my plate of figs already be empty?

— Talespinner Marxo, Cleric of Seto, Idolobha

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World Under Construction – Matters Divine

Pray to the Gods if you must, but do not mention my name if you catch their ear.
—  Dwarven saying.

Cynus is a strange land, filled with an extremely diverse population both racially and culturally. Some scholars have made note that the widespread worship of the Balance across many geographic and ethnic divides is less than likely  but those same scholars keep these observations private. This pantheon of primal gods are not known for their positive attitude towards criticism or mortal interpretation.

The Six, as they are sometimes called, also provide ample proof of their existence on a regular basis. Sometimes in the form of a vicious sandstorm or a unexpected drought or an earthquake on the eve of winter. Other times in the blessings of a bountiful harvest or a sudden break in a heatwave or a gentle breeze on the eve of summer.

The foremost are Father Order and Mother Chaos. Their names are never spoken, one out of respect, the other out of fear. These deities affect and scope are so beyond the mortal ken that they have never recognized any sort of church or acolytes. A few have appeared throughout the centuries, but none were able to display any sort of true connection or divine power, so they soon were discredited and forgotten.

Mortals have much more luck with the other four gods, the children of the Two. Or perhaps it is misfortune, because the other gods never tire of meddling in the affairs of the world. And much like the four elements they represent they can bring great bounty and great destruction to the world in even measure. It is said that Father and Mother ceased their tireless battle only once to couple, but only with the foreknowledge that their children could multiply the conflict between Chaos and Order a thousandfold.

Seto – Goddess of the Sun [Fire]
Banu – God of the Sea [Water]
Marrus – God of the Sky [Air]
Jocasta – Goddess of Stone [Earth]

The gods are neither malevolent nor benevolent, not truly. Human experience and custom has lead many to consider Seto and Banu as generally more giving and understanding than their siblings — but a flood can still drown, and the sun can still scorch.

The Children of the Balance speak when they have a will, through their chosen vessels – clerics, paladins, druids, oracles. But any can invite the gods’ attention through the proper rituals — though this is usually done only at times of great need.

A few other deities are recognized in some locations throughout Cynus, and they seem to have similar influence to the Balance. The worship of these minor gods seems to have begun during the Blank Time, a period of years where the the entire pantheon of the Balance seemed to have vanished entirely.

World Under Construction – Matters Divine

Pray to the Gods if you must, but do not mention my name if you catch their ear.
—  Dwarven saying.

Cynus is a strange land, filled with an extremely diverse population both racially and culturally. Some scholars have made note that the widespread worship of the Balance across many geographic and ethnic divides is less than likely  but those same scholars keep these observations private. This pantheon of primal gods are not known for their positive attitude towards criticism or mortal interpretation.

The Six, as they are sometimes called, also provide ample proof of their existence on a regular basis. Sometimes in the form of a vicious sandstorm or a unexpected drought or an earthquake on the eve of winter. Other times in the blessings of a bountiful harvest or a sudden break in a heatwave or a gentle breeze on the eve of summer.

The foremost are Father Order and Mother Chaos. Their names are never spoken, one out of respect, the other out of fear. These deities affect and scope are so beyond the mortal ken that they have never recognized any sort of church or acolytes. A few have appeared throughout the centuries, but none were able to display any sort of true connection or divine power, so they soon were discredited and forgotten.

Mortals have much more luck with the other four gods, the children of the Two. Or perhaps it is misfortune, because the other gods never tire of meddling in the affairs of the world. And much like the four elements they represent they can bring great bounty and great destruction to the world in even measure. It is said that Father and Mother ceased their tireless battle only once to couple, but only with the foreknowledge that their children could multiply the conflict between Chaos and Order a thousandfold.

Seto – Goddess of the Sun [Fire]
Banu – God of the Sea [Water]
Marrus – God of the Sky [Air]
Jocasta – Goddess of Stone [Earth]

The gods are neither malevolent nor benevolent, not truly. Human experience and custom has lead many to consider Seto and Banu as generally more giving and understanding than their siblings — but a flood can still drown, and the sun can still scorch.

The Children of the Balance speak when they have a will, through their chosen vessels – clerics, paladins, druids, oracles. But any can invite the gods’ attention through the proper rituals — though this is usually done only at times of great need.

A few other deities are recognized in some locations throughout Cynus, and they seem to have similar influence to the Balance. The worship of these minor gods seems to have begun during the Blank Time, a period of years where the the entire pantheon of the Balance seemed to have vanished entirely.

World Under Construction – Notes

An adventure needs a place. A simple place, to start — familiar, but just barely. A starting place, a place of no particular importance other than it is the place where We Began.

I want this one to have trees. A forest, though not an old one. A forest and a small town, a simple town.

Or is that too easy? Is that too much of a cliche?

I already did that one, in Riddlewood and Creon. The Young Heroes.

I’ve already done the Prison, and the Festival. The Devil’s Forge, a stone prison locked in by heat and thirst — -the Festival of the Grove, celebrating bounty among the dust and death of the endless desert.

What else is there? They Meet in the Bar? Drawn by Destiny? A Final Request?

Eh, if the cliche is boring, I’ll add an adjective. The trees are tall, the spire pines. They grow as fast as bamboo, you can hear them groaning in the night — tumblr_mrfenj0Axx1rcagdmo1_400but they never break, except by the touch of crystal axe. Does the town mine the crystal? The wood is useless, it burns poorly, and once cut from the trunk it becomes brittle and gives off a pungent smell, like stinky leather shoes left in the rain.

The town was once a city, but now the vast expanse of it is in ruin.The Spire Pines were summoned by a vengeful [druid? demon? god?] because the people angered him, most of the population migrated because of it — only a small…mine keeps the town in operation.

Is the mine too obvious? Because clearly the first adventure would take place there. Hmm.

What if the mine is suspended in the air by the spire pines? The metal contained there was so dense, that the pines could not pierce it, pushing it higher and higher into the air every year. The miners must first ascend the trees, and take great care, because a cave-in could result in a thousand foot drop to the city below. The denizens of the town take great care that their homes are outside the blast perimeter, as clearly one day the mine will fall. Should it be adamant? A precious resource in Pathfinder, but maybe too useful to give the party access to this early. But it would be unrefined…maybe.

There would have to be an inn directly  under the mine, the Pancake. Hard-scrabble miners and unsavory types. Last call is always the toast ‘Fall flat! or ‘Squish me before I have to go home.’

Why is the party there?

The Misplaced Adventures of Talitha Brown III

“VAGABONDER.” Talitha called sweetly at the top of her lungs. “HEY, VAGABONDER.”

There was no immediate sign of her engineer, so she took a moment to enjoy the sprawling mad-tumble of her ship’s cargo bay. The interior was all darkwood, gleaming with fresh seal and polish, the sizable bay split into five sections — four small rooms in each corner: the Galley, Toolroom, Engineer’s Quarters, and Miscellaneous Stuff — with the main floor-space occupied by the Floatstone Engine.

The blonde girl smiled as she approached. Something about the cool magenta light and sedate turn of the stone always made her feel good.  The main part of the

Epoch - Chrono Trigger [Artist Unknown]
Epoch – Chrono Trigger [Artist Unknown]
engine was in the center of the bay, on a raised platform. A vast glass cylinder lay on its side, over twice her height in diameter, capped on each end with brass and steel, bristling with lights, toggles, and wires — the largest of which fed down into the under-deck of the ship, and up into a massive console that sat adjacent. But her eyes were only for the stone, the Floatstone.  It was roughly shaped like a potato, pocked and asymmetrical. It neatly filled its glass container, spinning in a calm gyre. Talitha knew that if the stone were ever removed from the Engine, it would shoot right through the roof and never stop going until it left this planet behind.

Maybe I can strap myself to it. The captain’s plan wasn’t quite as reckless as Floatstone Riding, but she would work on a saddle just in case. Ultimately, it would have the same effect as her current strategy. Out. Out and about.

“Okay, seriously. Where are you?” the blonde girl spun slowly.

Her engineer swung into view, not from his quarters or the Galley as she had expected. But horizontally from behind some nearby crates, as if he were standing on the righthand wall of the bay.

“Oh, Captain!” the tall goblin’s olive-green face split in a bemused smile. “What a pleasure, what a delight!”

Talitha walked over and saw that her engineer was wearing his Molasses Moccasins, a cunning device of his own design that allowed him to stick to surfaces as ably as most spiders and some roaches. It also left a dank, black residue everywhere he walked, requiring furious scrubbing with a mop on an extended pole when he would complete his wall-walking jaunts. There were several magical objects that had an identical effect without all the sticky goo and cleanup, but Talitha had learned early that her Engineer had a particular way of doing things. his own primrose path of popcorn and baling wire– and often would come upon most peculiar solutions on his way.

The Vagabonder slowly squelched down the wall, more of his tall form coming into view. He was nearly seven-feet tall, with a wild brush of cotton-white hair a stark contrast to his green skin. Long, spidery fingers danced on a control cluster hanging from his belt, and absently pushed the delicate safety glasses he always wore up onto his forehead. Talitha had bought him some proper goggles, steel reinforced with smoked lenses — but he had politely refused, much preferring the transparent plastic ones he favored that could be bought by the box at any well-appointed lab supply store. She had never known him by any other name than ‘The Vagabonder’ and he seemed to require nothing further. Only time to explore and improve his one true love, the Lodestar.

The goblin slid out of his moccasins and placed them delicately in a nearby pail dedicated to that purpose. He cast around for his Long-Mop. “You seem excited, child. I can only assume you have devised some new adventure, some hidden place on the globe that we will soon be flying?”

Talitha took a breath. She was the captain, and her first mate was older than she was — but the Vagabonder was a Full-Fledged Adult. And while she and her crew were allowed to come and go as they pleased, her extended family had made it very clear that the engineer was ultimately in charge.  He would never allow her – or his beloved ship — to go into any true danger. Not without a surreptitious call or two to make sure the Cavalry was in the wings. She would have to approach this topic very carefully, and with a degree of tact.  She ran a hand through her poorly coiled skull-locks to collect her thoughts before she began, keeping her tone determinedly casual.

“Oh, I don’t know. We’ve run around the planet so much, and seen so many things. Maybe it’s time to turn my attention, you know, to different things.”

Desert by ~thefireis
Desert by ~thefireis

The Vagabonder nodded affably as he dunked his mop into a nearby basin of soapy water. He thumbed the flashing green button that slowly extended the tool to sufficient length to clean his footprints off the wall and ceiling.

“And I remembered something you told me, about the Lodestar. I mean, I know it was made by the Precursors and all…”

“Yes!” the goblin swabbed with excitement. “And can I say, it does my heart good just thinking about you, the last Scion of that fabulous race, as captain of their greatest ship.”

Talitha puffed our her cheeks. The Lodestar was fast, the fastest, but she had seen far greater devices in her travels. The great city of Kythera alone — she shook her head. She was the last descendant  of the Precursors, as far as anyone knew, and that fact had put her in a great deal of danger, and lead her to some pretty destructive moments. Not everyone has destroyed a city by singing a song. It was something she didn’t like to think about much, but the tall goblin was excited about the topic, so she changed tack.

“Right, right! I am, yes, no other Precursors anywhere. That’s what I was thinking. And I started thinking about how you’re always talking about the ‘black boxes’ all around the ship, the secrets of the Floatstone Engine…” she let her voice trail off, encouraging the engineer to pick up the trail.

The Vagabonder did not disappoint. It was one of his favorite topics.

“YES. After all this time aboard, I am still so far from truly understanding their purpose. During the War, we were doing our best to stay ahead of the devils, or doing our best to catch up with you and your kidnappers to really delve into the true power of this ship. Ah, the ship was barely at Level Zero when I came on board, but with patience and work we brought her up to Level Four…but then, ah I hit a brick wall. There’s something I don’t understand, some tool I lack. I had hoped to spend some time delving into the Arkanic Computer that Captain Carbunkle found on Kythera, but he took it with him back to Pice. The Lodestar is the fastest ship in the world, it’s true, but I know she can do more, if only we could find the way,” the engineer’s long fingers flexed on the handle of the Long-Mop with excitement.

“Right, right,” the current-captain smiled. He’s on the hook. Time to reel him in. “That’s what I was thinking. I think you’ve been missing the right tool. And what better tool to unlock the secret of the Precursors then…”

The Vagabonder gasped and let the Long-Mop fall to the floor, suds and mollasses stains forgotten.

“…the last of the Precursors?” Talitha grinned, innocent as a baby sheep nibbling on the first green grass of spring.

The Riddle Box: First Read Impressions

I like my book a lot. More than I did Spell/Sword the first time I read it.

Now, the caveats. I am obviously the least objective reader this novel will ever have. The very first draft of Spell/Sword was an unqualified mess. I had never writtenriddlecover1a book before, after all! I wrote it in sequential order from beginning to end, with only a very loose idea of where I was going and what I was doing.  I write in third person – limited omniscient — but my character POV/ focal point would wander like mad. I didn’t write in chapters, just one long narrative, with horizontal lines when I hit the end of a scene, or the location shifted. The jokes were terrible — or rather, it sounded like me telling the joke, instead of the characters. The plot stutters along in fits and starts, and only really gets cooking half-way through the book. [It’s when Jonas and Rime wake up in the caverns, if you’ve read it.] I had no idea what the Gray Witch was about, or the Brothers Jack, or my fixation with wyverns.

But I loved it of course.

And hated it, too. That’s how my brain works. My normal relationship with any art that I make is to despise it and beat it into shape via cruelty and malice. [Ask anyone who’s been in a play that I’ve directed.]

So, I edited. For months on end, and then I sent my darling into the caring hands of my Alpha and Beta Readers. They liked and hated it too. I learned more from their feedback, suggestions, and — let’s be honest — frank corrections than from any writing tutor or English Professor. Probably because many of my Alpha/Beta Readers are writing tutors and English Professors. I moved chapters and deleted chapters and chiseled and filed.

This is to indicate, that a lot of the reasons why I’m so happy with my second book is due to the lessons I learned the first go-around. I’m reacting primarily to the absence of the same stupid mistakes I made when writing Spell/Sword. For starters, The Riddle Box had a structure from the beginning. When writing a murder mystery, you kind of need to know whodunit from the outset.  Then you reverse-engineer the plot to reveal the suspects, clues, red herrings in a semi-logical fashion. I purposefully wrote in chapters. I had a very specific – GASP – theme that I was trying to get across. This is a very personal book, in a very strange way. [I’ll save that topic for further woolgathering at a later date.] The first draft of The Riddle Box is a book instead of just a pile of pages, I feel, and that makes me very proud.

Impressions

  • I was very worried that there wasn’t a big fight early in the book. I think Spell/Sword readers will expect a certain level of skulduggery and action from the sequel, but it just didn’t serve the narrative this time out. [*pushes up monocle*] There’s a murder right off the bat, of course, and plenty of Agatha Christie intrigue — but no standup fight until about 1/3 of the way through. After the first read, it didn’t feel like a long time before the first true fight, so that pleased me. And don’t worry, the last third of the book is non-stop He-Man Action Figure smashing time.
  • Also, no Random Encounters this book. I loved fighting the dinosaur and the frog-men, but all of the combat in this book is against named characters and directly serves the plot.  I know. I’m disappointed in myself too.
  • As opposed to the first book, which is a ‘road picture’. The Riddle Box is a closed-room murder mystery. The entire novel takes place in one location, over one night. I kept the location details fairly consistent throughout, but I marked tons of places to double check. For example, mid-way through the draft I started referring to the ‘black and white marble floor of the Lobby’, but I had been very clear at the beginning that it was all white.
  • Need to work on character voice. There’s a lot of characters in this one, and some of them I didn’t find their voice until near the end, I need to go back to their first appearances and keep that voice consistent. Also, character voice got very wonky during the MAD DASH, need to polish those sections as well, especially the big soap opera moments.
  • The Mad Dash: The draft is 160 pages long, I wrote the final 60 in a week. It was the most startling experience, and I loved it — but there are some dodgy, dodgy bits. Mainly some of the chapters are more than a little breathless as I tried to write and stay on top of the wave. Some sections it adds, but the climax and the denouement need some room to breathe.
  • Speaking of soap opera! I love the trappings of Victorian and Agatha Christie mysteries — and I also have started to embrace the need for some light romance in my genre fiction. CALM DOWN. Whatever you are thinking, I didn’t do that.  Jonas and Rime are never getting together. I introduced some potential crushes for our heroes and watched to see what happened. In brief, it was fun times. I need to work on the resolution of Jonas’ romance subplot though — it is super damn creaky. The intent is correct, but I was throwing bricks at the hoop for that section of dialogue.
  • Aufero World History: I’m mostly pleased with the world-building stuff I put in this book. Lots of stuff about the Precursors, the further history of Aufero, Wood Elves, Sea Elves, the Nameless God, Gilead, bards, and the Seafoam Trading Company. As with everything, there are some creaky bits, but I wanted to give plenty of nerd fodder for the readers who wanted more world information. It still is secondary to the plot, where it shall ever remain in Swordpunk.
  • Back Story: Huge reveals for Jonas’ dark past! I was surprised by what I wrote down, which is always a neat feeling. I knew the basic outlines of course, but a couple of salient details completely floored me. Oh, Subconscious — you are a tricksy devil.
  • Jonas’ Master – I love names. I love coming up with good names. I’m more than a little proud of the names I come up with. I AM HAVING A TERRIBLE TIME COMING UP WITH THIS VERY IMPORTANT CHARACTER’S NAME. I used a placeholder, Sir Bentwight, in the draft — but I am having a miserable time with this one.  To me, names are very intuitive. I think of the character, and make an empty place in my head – -and generally a name falls right in. But not this time, man. I can be a little metaphysical about my craft – so maybe it’s not time for me to know this character’s name? Maybe I’m forcing it?
  • I really like all of the new characters, even though I kill off a fair amount of them — even my favorite. 😦
  • It works. The theme works. The machinery of what I want to say is there. Just got to make it look prettier.
  • There is a character in this book that I am literally terrified of. I can’t say more until people have had a chance to read the book, as it is a major spoiler. Here’s how scared I am of this character: Soon I will be recording an audio track of the draft to help me with editing. I honestly don’t know if I can read this character’s lines.
  • I high-fived myself four times while reading.
  • Beta Readers better get ready — I am very, very eager for feedback and praise.  And critique! I will be lurking in your shrubbery watching you read.

Okay, enough for now. Back to editing!

 

Reason Number One Why My Book is Worthless : Sideways

This will be an n-part series leading up to the Amazon Firesale for the Kindle version of Spell/Sword. It is going to be absolutely free 8/30-9/3.  The plan is to write one of these a day to really crank up my self promotion levels, so when I’m at Dragon*Con, I won’t feel any remorse about begging total strangers to read the book.

But hey, I’m super lazy, so n could very well equal 2.

Reason #1: Sideways

Sideways the Assassin. Official FanArt
Sideways the Assassin. Official FanArt

If the damn book wasn’t ridiculous enough, I had to stick in this goddamn character. Those of you that have already read the book are currently nodding sagely, maybe pursing your lips in disgusted agreement. Those of you who have not read the book, let’s play a game. I’m going to describe this character, and you yell when you hit your personal Preposterous Fantasy Drivel Maginot Line. [PFDML]

Okay. Deep breath.

Sideways is an assassin. A mercenary, a sellsword, a blade for hire.  He’s extremely fond of witty banter mixed with his obscenely

Unintentional Cosplay. But still, get the horns right , loser.
Unintentional Cosplay. But still, get the horns right , loser.

talented swordplay. He also seems to have some sort of moral code [AHHHHH.] he doesn’t kill for pleasure, and seems to have an overall genial position for a hired killer. He is also a devilkin. [YELLING.] The blood of devils is in his family, mixed with human heritage. He has orange skin, [NOOOO.] eyes the color of ketchup [WHAAAAA?] and ‘horns’ that look more like misshapen coral growths than anything that would appear in Lucifer fanart. His constant companions are a pair of shortswords, a flaming sword named Sunhammer [ARGGGGG.] and a gray sword of indeterminate magical function named Chester. [BLUH!] ‘Chet’ for short. [ALL OF THE SCREAMING, LIKE WHEN ALDERAAAN WAS BLOWED UP IN STAR WARS. EXCEPT IT NEVER GOES SUDDENLY SILENT. JUST SCREAMING FOREVER.]

Sigh.

He also fights a minotaur, kills about 75 sky pirates, crashes an airship, rides a wyvern, and takes a nap on a porch.

So, you see, it’s a very good thing that my book is going to be free in about 10 days.

Spell/Sword

FREE KINDLE EBOOK ON AMAZON

8/30 — 9/3. 2013.