Vir's Archive

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Jarious Final - In Glorious Color!


Our fearless hero...



Credit to Eric Quigley.  As you can see, he did a lot of modifications and tightening up of the piece.  The background is glorious and adds alot of movement to an otherwise (intentionally) static pic.  The adition of the short sword was done by Eric before I could ask him to do so -- that short sword will have a bit of a role to play in the story (or, at least, serve as a hook to do some more discussion on the background/setting).

His primary sword is based on a Chinese Nine-ring sword.  Nine-ring swords are usually ceremonial, but not here.  When Jarious unfastens "Eartaker" he means business.  It is a loud weapon, it brings attention -- not normally stuff for sneaking around and backstabbing -- not that Jarious doesnt do that, he just uses more suitable weapons to do so. Earbiter is for fighting.  Knock-down, drag-out, overpower-your-foe fighting.

I really, really love this pic.

Or is that "illo?"

Next up is some thoughts on Pt 5, I think.



Sunday, January 26, 2014

Precipice Part 5: City of Adventure


Inside Junction proper, the streets were bustling.  People of all shapes and sizes moved around the cramped alleyways and larger, but less well-kept, streets.  Clotheslines crisscrossed through the air, displaying their colorful shirts, dresses and trousers like pennants.  Children shouted, running from one another and tormenting the street dogs, some of whom playfully barked back and others who growled menacingly – to the children’s fascination.  Fierce smells competed in the air; the comfort of fresh bread, the smothering smoke of burning wood, and the sharpness of blood and meat from the butchers and hawkers that lined the streets.  Of course, there was the ever-present odor of humankind, the foul flatness of body order that hung over the city. 

Sights, sounds and smells all danced and fought for the attention of the residents in a great cacophony of the senses.  The city, with its vibrancy and sense of motion was a welcome change of Jarious’ wolflings -- all except Morrow. 

Jarious took it all in, enjoying the first minutes of being back in the middle of human civilization.  “It’s good to be home,” he mused.  In a few short days, he would grow tired and complacent with the constant press of humanity in the city.  Shortly after that he would become agitated and anxious to get back into the field.  But for now?  Now he enjoyed the bustle of the world around him.

*SLAM*

A door to Jarious’ right swung open violently, unhinging it at the top after which it hung awkwardly like a rag doll.  A man burst through the doorway at a full sprint.  His momentum carried him forward into the street and in front of Torrain.  The stranger was dressed in a simple white shirt and brown cotton pants.  He was unarmed, but he carried a bag tucked under his left arm, straps unsecured and flapping behind the man as he ran. 

Torrain’s instinct were as quick as ever, in the blink of an eye he dropped into a defensive stance – legs steadied under him, knees slightly bent to offer maximum speed and mobility, and hands at chest level.  In those hands were two of Torrain’s serrated combat knives.  He was ready.  The other wolflings also prepared themselves. 

The man from the house slowed his sprint as he turned away from the wolflings and deeper into the city.  His eyes watched Torrain as he readied himself, but as he made the wide turn, his eyes slid off Torrain and to the streets ahead of him.  After the momentum-defying turn, the man took a few steps away from the wolflings, indicating he was lining up for a straight run down the street and into the heart of the city. 

From behind him in the ruined doorway, a woman emerged.  She held her left arm with her right hand.  Hand and arm both stained crimson with blood.  Her clothes were ripped and her hair was simultaneously unruly and unkempt.  “Help.  I need help.  He took our things.” She stared forward at nothing in particular.  Her gravelly voice was barely above the loudness of her normal talking voice. 

Torrain was the first to look to Jarious.  Torrain’s eyebrows were raised, he had not moved and remained in the poised position he took earlier.  The other men in the unit followed suit.  Morrow was curious but undecided, like Torrain.  Grawfn pursed his cheek, shaking his head in the negative.  Morrow gave a small nod, with a slight eyeroll - approval with a bit of annoyance - imperceptible to everyone but Jarious. 

This wasn’t just about his decision.  It was never just about him.  This was about gauging his men and weighing the risk with the rewards.  Jarious’ men would broadcast their wants and desires just as any human or dwarf did, and Jarious knew the telltale clues to look for.  A twitch of impatience here, a last minute glance to the right to avoid eye contact there.  Jarious took the vote instantaneously and knew the wolflings were of one mind on this, some more than others, but there was no doubt about the consensus. 
He gave one short, curt, nod of approval to Torrain. 

Torrain smiled his thanks, and burst into a full sprint as he chased the escaping thief.  His knives seamlessly moved to positions with the blades at the base of his hands, ready to take the fight to his prey.  His legs loped in long strides.  Torrain was not a tall man, but he knew how to run.  It was a predator’s run this time, the same smooth strides of a carnivore using its final burst of stored energy to bring its chosen prey down.

Torrain, as good as he was, should not be left alone.  Jarious pointed to Arrious.  “Go to the Red Banner Inn, we’ll catch up.”  Then the commander took off at his own top speed, following Torrain, not the thief. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Jarious Sketch


From the wondrous hands of Eric Quigley (his webpage)


Eric and I are going to work on some art of Precipice over the next couple of weeks.  This is the draft he worked up for Jarious.  Definition and color coming soon.

This isn't the first time I have worked with Eric on characters from the Ecumene World.  If you look closely at his website you may recognize a couple pieces I commissioned last year in anticipation of doing something with the Elves and Humans of the Ecumene World.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Reflections on Pt 4


One of my favorite authors is Steven Brust.  If you aren't familiar with his Dragera novels (the Khaaveren Romances and the Taltos cycle) you really should be.  Brust is one of the models I seek to emulate.  The man constantly is pushing his craft, adopting new and difficult prose and framing techniques.  Its fascinating to be part of as a reader.  His stuff doesn't always hit the mark, but even the stuff that doesnt quite work still is really, really good.  That means that when he is on, the man is ON.

One thing that Brust always does well is dialogue.  His stuff reads the same way Tarantino directs.  It flows.  Its lovely.

I want to do that.

So, Part 4 of my proto-chapters was all about pushing myself to work on dialogue.  I'll be the first to say I don't think it quite works.  I read and re-read it a number of times and its about 80% there, but that last 20% is really elusive.

Well, either way, this proto-chapter was also about highlight Arrious, who has been in the background until now.  He is going to play a pivotal role in a couple upcoming chapters and I needed to introduce you all to him.  He's a good guy, a bit naive, but he does things for the right reasons... which is pretty much a juxtaposition to all the other wolflings.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Precipice Part 4: Friendly Banter (or, "Torrain is a Horseass")


Junction was a nasty, dusty, sprawling mess of a town.   It was also, by all accounts, the largest human settlement since the fall of the Kandorian cities so many years ago.  The heavily rutted paths that flowed like dirty rivers into the city radiated out from the city center mostly to the north and south, but a few obstinate small paths cut right through the mountains the enfolded the city.  To the west, were the massive Waterbreak Mountains - a bloated march of jagged mountains that stretched along the continent’s eastern edge from the north to the south.  To the east was the Fractured Sea, and the primary source of Junction’s fishing and trade-based wealth.  Junction itself sat next the foothills of the Waterbreaks, a few kilometers from the seashore.  Much of Junction was built into the hills and cliffs, a reflection of the paranoid mindset of the humans that called Dev’Arana, the continent dominated by the Eternal Empire, home. 

Jarious’ wolflings passed the scattered wood and daub houses and haphazardly organized fields that marked the edge of Junction proper.  The villages this far out didn't enjoy regular patrols from the guard, so the homes and farm buildings clustered together on raised-earth embankments in the middle of the fields, with a view for miles.  Most of the compounds had bridges and high wooden walls that controlled access to the buildings and their inhabitants.  It was common for the wolflings to hear children playing, but they rarely saw them except for flashes of color and movement through gaps in the fences.  Adults they saw routinely as they worked the fields with their sturdy bovine aurochs and equine tarpans.  No one waved. 

They traveled in marching order, now with Fovreh on point.  The city was stretched, and by the time they entered the city limits many hours later, they were already surrounded by multi-storied stone and plaster buildings.  Much to Jarious’ chagrin, the roads only got worse as they traveled in.  The ruts, in particular, became deeper and more treacherous as if they were designed to break someone’s ankle. 

Near the city edge they saw a man, clean shaven with a light complexion, sitting on a wooden dias at one of the larger crossroads that fed into the city.  To his immediate left and right were lightly armored city guards, each with a large axes strapped to their backs.  The man they protected sat with his eyes closed, mumbling to himself, as his hands made small circular gestures just in front of his chest. 

Grawfn walked up to the dias and acknowledged the two guards, indicating he was no threat.  They allowed him forward.  In a small clay bowl in front of the dias, he dropped a couple items, too small for Jarious to see.  Grawfn touched his eyebrow in a mock salute, and ran to catch up to the wolflings.

“How much, Grawfn?” Fovreh whined.

“Not much… and it was my cut,” he hesitated and thought for a few seconds.  “One of the small rubies,” he admitted.

The group simultaneously moaned, grumbled, and cursed. 

Torrain pointed accusingly at the dwarf, “Damned right that was your cut.”

“I know.” Grawfn shrugged.

Jarious exhaled sharply as he planned his next words very carefully.  In his head, he chided the cosmos for burdening him such a sharp sense of right and wrong.  Life, and work, would have been so much easier without acknowledging the consequences.   

“No,” Jarious stated in his stern commander voice to cut off any further accusations against the dwarf.  The rest of the unit looked at him.  Years of instinct reacting to that particular voice served him well.  “No.  Grawfn is right.  The sentinels protect the city and we should tithe.  That was money from all of us he put in there.  The last thing we need is for Junction to take it on the chin by an Elemental raid.  We have too many contacts, too many roots, and too much money to spend to watch it go away.  Grawfn did the right thing by tithing to that sentinel.

“You guys are just pissed the right thing just cost you money.”

The wolflings resumed their grumbling, except Morrow.  Morrow simply nodded his head visibly to show his support.  With Jarious, Grawfn and Morrow of the same opinion, the others knew they had lost and possible leverage they had.  Torrain continued to shake his head dejectedly, but he didn't voice a complaint.  Arrious, silent, and Fovreh, less so, walked on. 

In no time, the men were upbeat once again and chattering among themselves about the various useless items they would buy, the amount of beer they would consume, and the women that would, against all odds, find them attractive.  Jarious, too, found himself sucked in to the airy conversation.

“… horseass, Torrain.  There’s no way you brought a young-eyed doe from the old country to your room last time, I was with you almost the whole visit.”  Arrious ribbed Torrain.

“You weren’t with me the whole time, old man,” Torrain winked.  Arrious was older than Torrain, and Jarious for the matter, but younger than the rest of the wolflings. 

“Like I said; horseass.  You haven’t even kissed a woman since you discovered hair down there,” Arrious absentmindedly threw a rock into the bushes along the roadside.

“You know better, grandpa.  You been with me last time, but you claim you didn’t see anything?  Didn’t hear anything either, I gather?”

“Nope.”  Arrious made an innocent face and continued to throw rocks into the fields.

Torrain turned to Jarious, “Is this how your parents raised you?  To lie and make an upstanding man, like myself, doubt his abilities?”

Arrious and Jarious simultaneously answered, “Yes.” 

Jarious playfully pointed to Torrain, "You deserve no better, scoundrel.  If we didn't check your ego, it would grow to such a size that you would give away our positions while on patrol.  As the commander of this motley crew, I cant have that.  We destroy your ego not only for the laughs, but as a service to the unit and, indeed, to all humankind.”

“Gee, thanks.” Torrain mumbled, shaking his head and looking at the ground in order to avoid the grinning faces of his mates.

“At your service,” Arrious quipped.

The conversation remained simple and flowing as they entered the city center.  Temperatures dropped as the long shadows of the mountains and tall stone buildings grew merged into larger and deeper traces of darkness across the ground.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Reflections on Pt 3


This proto-chapter was all about establishing the characters - what they look like, how they interact, their mannerisms... who they are.  I really wanted to establish Jarious as the leader, not just because of the label, but in how he interacts with the wolflings.  This chapter was the beginning of that process that likely wont end until the final words are but to e-paper.

I'm worried that I haven't really established agency for the characters yet.  I'm worried I am shifting tense and not catching it.  I am worried that my characters aren't very likable.

That's a lot to be worried about.

I spent more time on Morrow than I expected, and I think it will serve me well later.  Morrow is the strong, silent type.  His words mean something (juxtapose that with Torrain as we get to know him).  So, letting the reader meet Morrow this early and understand his role in the group is key... because there are going to be other chapters where he is just silently there.

Torrain and Fovreh got some spotlight time last chapter so I decided to give Grawfn and, to a lesser extent, Arrious some of their own face time.  Since these are proto-chapters (yes, thats what I am calling them now) I end up going back to previous entries and doing a lot of editing and adding.  So, what you, dear reader, see here is almost certainly not the final version.  This is a living document and I go back to past chapters to do some tinkering (a lot).  If nothing else, I still need a good editor to catch my editing mistakes.  So, yeah, not final versions.

Which is a long-winded way to finally tell you that Pt 2 has already had a lot of additions - based on stuff I wrote in Pt 3 and then said, "hey, I really need to go back and link these two events," or "since I did that here, I should do it there as well..."  Notably, Torrain and Fovreh got a bit more attention in the master copy - including some additional physical description.

You want that physical description?  You want to know what those guys look like?

Oh, dear inquisitive reader, you are in for such a treat in the next post.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Precipice Part 3: Managing Friends


It was dusk, Jarious’ favorite time to have the unit march.  Not too hot and not too dark, with enough light to plan a few hours ahead. 

They walked in a loose cluster as they made their way towards Junction.  Grawfn had point as he usually did, and ranged ten meters ahead. Assigning Grawfn to point kept the pace leisurely and allowed the Dwarf to set the pace in order to not be left behind.  The rest of the unit surrounded Jarious in a dispersed halo, with Torrain taking up the rear.  They all had their primary weapons secured, but smaller weapons like throwing knives were kept handy.  Fovreh used a walking stick, which to any trained eye would note that he put very little of his weight upon. 

Morrow was the first to break the silence after hours of traveling southeast.

“Jarious?  Beyond Junction, whats the plan?”

Jarious raised his right arm and made a fist, the wolflings stopped.  He made a quick sharp whistle to get Grawfn’s attention, who immediately turned around and joined the rest of the wolflings.  They dropped their bags and pulled out waterskins.  Most stood, but Torrain and Grawfn took a knee.  The commander looked Morrow up and down, making sure this wasn’t a challenge to his leadership or decisions.  The wolflings all came from different backgrounds – Torrain was originally a hunter from Alt’Arana; Fovreh was an escaped mage-Thrall from the Empire; Grawfn grew up on the run as his clan constantly tried to stay one step ahead of Imperially-bonded Orcish trackers; Jarious and Arrious, the sons of a blacksmith, were raised by their parents in the human cities on Dev’Arana; but Morrow? Morrow was still largely a mystery. 

Morrow stood just under two meters tall.  He kept a savage look, with unkempt hair matted and cured with animal fat.  He had the dark complexion of those who came from the Hell Isles.  It was in those isolated lands that he learned shamanism and survival from the uncivilized humans of the islands.  Morrow was always emotionally and intellectually distant.  He didn’t talk much and only rarely gave his opinion on even the most pressing matters.  No one called him a friend, merely a compatriot in arms. 

Jarious never knew where he stood with Morrow, and that made the commander uneasy.  Jarious wasn’t the smartest or fastest, but he was the one who held the wolflings together by knowing their motivations better than they did.  He wasn’t sure of Morrow’s motivations, though.  Jarious’ best guess is that Morrow felt just comfortable enough with the unit to stay on with nowhere better to go.  Morrow would leave for extended periods of time and then show up just as abruptly, refusing to give any explanation for his absence.  Morrow even dressed oddly, stubbornly holding to rough-hewn animal skins and simple jerkins as all the clothes he needed.  Where Fovreh, the other spellcaster, used minor cantrip spells to keep himself comfortable in bitter cold and blistering heat, Morrow dared the elements to bother him.  The shaman was tough and at home in the wildlands. 

Despite the uncertainty that came with Morrow, he was extremely important to the unit.  His shamanism was a wildcard against the Elves and their Imperial lackeys.  As learned as the Empire was, the vast majority of its members, Elvish and slave-alike, had never even heard of shamanism.  On more than one occasion, Morrow’s use of spirits and their magical ways was the razor’s edge between victory and catastrophic defeat. 

So, when Morrow raised a question about their next step, it brought head-turns and curious eyebrows from each of the men. 

“We go to Junction, rest, recoup, and reequip.  That last run was a good one.  We have lots to sell.  Some of the stuff, like the gems, may take some time.  We enjoy ourselves while we work to move the stock.  You guys earned it.”

“And then?” Morrow pressed.

“Then?  Then we come back.  That Thrall told us that his run wasn’t isolated.  The fact that there was a follow-on Imperial force tells me that House Vilandallaril is putting some weight behind that route.”  Jarious paused to consider his next words.   “Thra Nar.  You guys know the stories.  Failed magical experiment wiped that city right off the map, like *that*.”  He snapped his fingers.  “Vilandallaril wouldn’t be there if they didn’t think there was something to gain and tis going to take some significant resources just to establish a base camp.  Vilandallaril is rich…”

“All Elves are rich.”

“Shut up, Torrain.”   Jarious theatrically rolled his eyes and shook his head for the benefit of the rest of the unit.  “Right.  Thra Nar is bad news for Elves.  So, we see how badly the House wants a presence in Thra Nar and then we see how long it takes them to do something about us.  If Vilandallaril wants to serve it to us on a platter, who are we not to accept their gracious hospitality?

“I figure we can put a bit of hurt on Vilandallaril and get a bunch of our people away from one of the worst of the lot.”  Jarious let a confident grin slip when he saw the unit nod or shrug their agreement. 

“Sounds good to me.”  Arrious nodded in support, looking right at Morrow as well.  Morrow watched Jarious passively, usually a sign of his approval. 

With Morrow hopefully mollified, Jarious looked at the rest of the unit.  He focused on Torrain who pushed dirt around in little piles with one of his many, many knives.  He cleared his throat, shuffled his shoulders, and finally brought his eyes up to Jarious.

“And Karsh?”

Jarious’ train of thought was immediately disrupted by the mention of their wounded member back in Junction.  It took him a few pregnant seconds to gather his thoughts again.  Last time they saw the half-orc half-human Mongrel was two months ago before the current campaign.  Karsh took a poisoned arrow in the belly and went down hard.  He was left behind with Jarious’ and Arrious’ mother in Junction in the hopes she could help foster his return to health.  Tangean wasn’t much of a healer, but she knew many people in Junction, and had the wolfing’s remaining funds to hire real chirgeons and apothecaries to tend to Karsh’s health.  They had all hoped the intervening two months would be sufficient to get their compatriot back on his feat.  Karsh was brutal with his lochaber axe and was often the anvil by which the rest of the unit became hammers. 

“Right.  Karsh.”  Jarious sighed.  “I’ll go see him first.  Arrious will come with me.  Mother is taking care of him and I need to see her as well.  Assuming everything is okay, Torrain will have second watch with Karsh.”

Torrain nodded once in appreciation and scratched at his goatee.  Jarious knew from years of serving with Torrain that fiddling with his goatee was often a sign that Torrain was content. 

“Karsh won’t be well, Jarious” Morrow said as he looked at the clouds on the horizon.  “I sent a spirit some days ago to check on him and it came back to report during the raid.  It tells me that Karsh is no better.  We will likely be without him on the campaign you just outlined.”

“Damn.”  Grawfn and Arrious voiced their frustrations simultaneously.

Jarious reflected on the Orman Mongrel back in Junction.  “He’s resilient, all Ormans are.  Part Orc and part Human makes them angry and stubborn.  I want to see him myself before we make any decisions.”  In truth, Jarious had no doubt that Morrow’s messenger was correct, but he felt that the unit needed to focus on other things other than losing one of their own. 

“Morrow?  You hear any more from your spirits, you let me know first.”  Morrow shrugged dismissively, slowed his steps, and fell behind the rest of the group but still within earshot.  Jarious looked around the unit to make sure he hadn’t lost any of them.  Torrain was especially touchy about Karsh, they were two of a kind; simple, bloodthirsty, and loyal to a fault.  This was not the first time Jarious worried about Torrain’s reaction to Karsh’s situation.  Torrain didn’t have the stare he had when he was thinking hard -- that was good.

They were still fourteen or so days out from Junction.  He needed to focus the men on something, anything, other than Karsh.  Morale would flag, even after the successful campaign. 

“First thing we do before we all go our separate ways is we get a good price for these Vilandallaril sapphires.  Grawfn?  That will be your job.”  The little dwarf looked at Jarious and nodded, his head bobbing quickly as his legs pumped to keep up with the longer strides of the humans.  Grawfn was typical for a dwarf, no more than a meter tall, grey skin, nearly hairless, and with oversized doe-like eyes.  A veterinarian by trade, Grawfn was the unit’s healer.  He knew his stuff, and was quite good with herbs as well.  He wore a hooded cloak over his leather clothes and padded armor,

“You got it, boss,” Grawfn, more than the others, tried to hold to traditional Car’Had Hadad hierarchy and respect Jarious’ position as the commander.  The other men gave Grawfn a hard time for his obstinate use of “sir” and “boss” -- but they all made sure not to push too hard.  The dwarf was the one with the medicinal and recreational drugs, after all.  For his part, Jarious was often thankful for Grawfn’s holding to the old ways.  Simple things like “sir” went a long way to keep even a basic level of decorum and respect in the unit. 

“Thanks, Grawfn.”  Jarious gave the dwarf a wink none of the others could see.  Grawfn stayed stoic, but gave a quick wink back.  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Ecumene World in Map-form

The world of Precipice - known as the Ecumene World 

Designed by me, expertly illustrated by Robert Altbauer.

The big continent, Dev'Arana is the civilized home of the Elves and the Eternal Empire (and the dwarves, but thats a long and tragic history).  The small continent, Alt'Arana is the savage home of the orcs and humans.

Each of those entires on the map has a history.  As I add more sotry, more locations will appear on the map.

I'll do some focus discussion later (along with some callouts and more detail of portions of the map), for now, just marvel at how cool the world of Jarious and crew really is...

Monday, January 6, 2014

Reflections on Pt 1 and 2


I plan to write these reflection pieces after important posts for Precipice as an opportunity to talk about what I did and why I did it.  I will endeavor to be careful about spoilers for the handful of you that are reading this, as part of the reason I am posting this is to see what people's assumptions and takeways from the fiction will be.  If I tip my hand too early, then that may color the reader's assumption and understanding of the prose and the character's position in the larger world around them.  I really want the fiction entries to build on one another to not only tell a story, but to build a vibrant and living world.

So...

Pt 1 was a breeze to write.  Its fast, punchy, and I think does a pretty good job of catching the readers' interest.  Two of the best prologues I have read are the entry for the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (Lews Therin walks among the remnants of a holocaust he created) and the entry for the Expanse series by James Corey (dilettante hides in a locker for seven days to escape pirates, discovers mind bending stuff when she finally emerges).  Both examples are fast and exciting, and a bit divorced from the rest of the series... giving an "outsiders" snapshot of an important historical event as it happened.  Tanjean's situation was written with those elements in mind.

Pt 2 was an attempt to really push myself, and I am not sure it is successful.  It was not originally supposed to be an "intro" chapter, but as I rolled the concept over in my head, I kept thinking it would be a great opportunity to show the reader what Jarious and the wolflings are all about.  Problems developed quickly as I started writing.  First and foremost, its damn hard to make a protagonist anything but a D-bag if your first encounter with him is during a torture session that he is conducting.  Torture =/= sympathetic.  I had to rewrite large portions of the interrogation (and start to use the word "interrogation") in order to make Jarious' position more identifiable and sympathetic.

I wonder if a "slow" piece like pt 2 is the best way to intro the characters.  I do like that the speed of the entry allowed me to casually bring up the names and positions of the other members of the wolflings... a preview to more detailed chapters and discussions of the other members coming up.  That said, "slow" pieces like this aren't my strength, so I am concerned it comes off as a bit too much -- too many in-setting words, too many new names, too new of a situation.

I love this world.  I've been working on it and fleshing it out for the better part of five years now.  I've run in a Burning Wheel game set in one of the tangential portions of the setting.  I've written a comic book.  I've got reams of background.  I commissioned art.  The Ecumene World is very much a passion of mine, and I also worry that sometimes I get too far into the weeds.  When I insert in-setting terms like "Car'Had Hadad" and "Kandorad Kingdom" I want the reader to be intrigued.  Its a fine balance between piqued interest and bewildering mumbo-jumbo, though.  Hopefully, I hit the right balance.

Here's a biggie; Too long?  Pt 2 goes on for much longer than a normal blog post, but is the complete chapter.  Is it too long?  Should I have broke it up into a couple entries?

Pt 3 will give us more on the members of the wolflings and continue to define the world around them.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Precipice Part 2: In The Face of the Enemy


Jarious allowed his center of gravity to shift forward, placing even more weight on his knee to add acute pressure onto the sternum of the Thrall he pinned to the earth.  The Thrall shifted wildly as the discomfort increased.  Jarious kept his balance.  There was no real threat of the Thrall escaping since the leather manacles binding his hands and feet ensured his movements were minor thrashings and acts of defiance rather than any meaningful attempt to run.  Still, Jarious had no desire to have to endure the snickering of his mates were he to fall off the prisoner, especially as he was trying to look menacing in advance of the interrogation. 

Jarious, the rest of his wolfling unit, and the elf-slave prisoner were all secluded in a copse of woods that dominated a low hill.  The woods were thankfully thick, giving the unit a good amount of cover.  The thick underbrush and heavy canopy would muffle the screams as well, if it came to that.  Two of Jarious’ men, Fovreh and Torrain, stood nearby in the opening where they had secured their prisoner.  The others, Arrious, Grawfn, and Morrow were all out of sight and, presumably, staying busy. 

In the distance carrion birds landed amidst the burning carts – the remnants of an imperial supply convoy Jarious’ crew had successfully ambushed. 

He brought his head in close to the Thrall’s while maintaining eye contact the whole time.  We both know where this is going, he thought.  Deep down, his crew knew just how much Jarious detested these interrogations.  While necessary, he hated being the one to have to do them.  He constantly flirted with the idea of giving over the process to either Fovreh or Torrain, but he knew their personalities were not suited for this type of work.  Fovreh, the mage, had a bone to pick with his former slave-masters.  Torrain, the stalker, was just plain angry.  Sure, they would love to take over, both of them, but they would enjoy making their prisoners hurt.  They would lose focus, and the focus had to be on useful information, not trying to right past wrongs.

The problem was, even with Jarious’ high minded ideals about the necessity of violent interrogations, he found himself straying, and as often as not concentrated more on venting his frustrations through his prisoner than with the mission.  If he couldn’t avoid allowing his emotions get in the way from time to time, then there was no way he would allow Fovreh or Torrain to take over. 

There was also Arrious, Morrow and Grawfn, but they too didn’t have the personalities to do the job.  Arrious hated torture and interrogation even more than Jarious and was much more vocal about it.  Morrow, the unit’s shaman, outright refused.  Further, Jarious was reluctant to force his big brother to do something that distasteful.  Grafwn… well, interrogation by a dwarf was a laughable and losing proposition no matter how he looked at it. 

So, that left him to do the deed.  Again. 

Great.

To make matters worse, Jarious had to get what information he could as quickly as possible.  Imperial reinforcements were likely on the way.  He had Arrious on lookout outside of the copse of trees they currently hid inside watching for signs of battle-troops.  Grawfn fiddled with the unit’s packs, balancing out provisions and poultices in an all-too-transparent effort to make busy work.  Fovreh and Torrain looked on, just a few steps away. 

Jarious looked the Thrall up and down, it was a standard example of the human slaves that served their elven masters.  The Thrall was clean-shaven and bald, which showed off the many whorl tattoos across his body, arms and head.  Stripped of everything but his pants, the tattoos swirled and arced across every bit of exposed flesh.  The markings indicated the Thrall as the direct personal property of an elven house, and not just a mere nameless slave.  Normal slaves didn’t have the tattoos.  Fovreh, a former slave himself, had informed the unit that the tattoos were a form of Siandar, the elven script.  The tattoos named the thrall, indicated his owners, and his duties.  There was a lot more to it and the color of the script also conveyed information, Fovreh had once informed them, but no one other than the mage had any desire to learn the “letters” of the Eternal Empire. 

On close inspection, small raises, scarring and regular imperfections on the Thrall’s skin communicated the tell-tale signs of abuse to Jarious’ trained eye.  Like rings on a tree, Jarious could read the scars and get an idea of how long the Thrall had served directly rather than just as a slave, and just how torturous their service had been.

This Thrall, a man, hadn’t served too long.  Fovreh said the tattoos indicated the Thrall was in service to House Vilandallaril, a House known for its brutality and excesses with human, orcish and dwarven slaves.  The many irregular scars across the Thrall’s back and face reinforced the belief that he was a Vilandallaril Thrall -- they tended to hold to the old ways and use blades to motivate their property rather than whips or magic.

So, this guy is used to physical pain, Jarious surmised.  Fair enough. 

Fovreh once told Jarious that Vilandallaril didn’t allow their Thralls to learn arcane magic.  Most elven Houses did, but Vilandallaril disdain for their servants went deeper than most.  The Vilandallaril elves kept magic exclusively to themselves, and used it to awe and frighten their slaves. 

We break his mind, then. 

He pushed his weight even farther forward bringing his head in close to the Thrall’s face, staring into the prisoner’s eyes the whole way – never breaking contact.  The pressure on the prisoner’s sternum finally yielded results as Jarious could detect wheezing and labored breathing.  Not coincidentally, the Thrall’s thrashings slowed considerably. 

This battle was won.  The Thrall just didn’t know it, yet. 

“Where were you headed?” Jarious asked in as level a voice as he could muster.  He was speaking human, not the Imperial tongue nor Siandar. 

No answer.  More thrashing.

“Where were you headed?”  Jarious paused.  “Look, this can go easy or it can go hard.  Personally, I want it to go easy.  I am tried and angry and am liable to take it out on you.  From the looks of it, you are pretty used to physical abuse so I figure you are thinking that you can outlast me.  Trust me, slave, that’s not the case.  You are in my world.  In my world, I sleep cold.  I don’t eat enough. My compatriots are sarcastic jerks and way too good at dice.  As hard as you think you may be, I am harder.”

Still nothing.

“This ends one of two ways and you have the power to decide how it goes down.  In the next few seconds you answer my questions and we let you go.  We’ll probably beat the living daylights out of you just before hand, but you will live.  Otherwise, I let the former Thrall over there do very bad things to you with magic.  You don’t want that to happen.  He’s depraved and an emotional disaster due to his time with your masters.  He’s unstable and unpredictable in his use of magic.  There is no doubt you will not be the same when he finishes with you.  This is not physical torture we are talking about.  Worse, I’ll make sure he doesn't kill you, so you will have to live with the things he is going to do.”  Jarious paused for effect.  “Long story short, your life will be miserable.  Your mind will break.  You will hurt for the rst of your days.  Your masters will not have you back.  Your people will shun you.  You will have nowhere to go.  I expect your life will end in some sort of pathetic suicide, probably in your own feces.  Its going to be that bad.

“Know who you are dealing with, slave.  We are the children of the great Kandarod kingdom, the legacy of the Car’had Hadad company.  That’s who we are.  Even when our forebears were legitimized, they didn’t play by the rules.  You weren't lucky enough to have been captured by the Sha’at Hadad legacy, you got us.”

With the mention on the Car’had Hadad the Thrall’s eyes reacted, growing just a little larger at the mention of the historical military company with the unfortunate tendency to ritualistically eat their prisoners after a successful campaign.  Other than the ever-so-subtle reaction, the Thrall tried to remain stoic. 

Jarious nodded over to Fovreh.  Fovreh acknowledged the order and bent over to put down the pack he was holding, drew out two skinning knives, wiped his bald head once, and stood back up.  The look on Fovreh’s face was the epitome of greedy joy, the same look a starving man would give to a well prepared meal.  His smile was unnaturally wide, and his eyes positively sparkled with anticipation.  He walked over to Jarious and the prisoner, picking a piece of food out from his teeth with the larger of the two skinning knives. 
If Fovreh’s eyes didn’t convince the Thrall to talk, nothing would. 

“Tai Droon Nar,” the Thrall said in Imperial through gritted teeth.  “Tai Droon Nar.  The Imperial Manse.  We were going to the Manse.” 

Jarious stuck with the human tongue despite the Thrall’s answer.  “Wrong.”  He slapped the thrall using the back of his hand with as much force as he could muster. 

Fovreh slowly bent over the Thrall and let the point of the largest blade rest in the middle of the prisoner’s forehead.  Despite Fovreh’s light touch he drew blood.  He held the blade steady. 

“You were traveling southwest, and nowhere near the Manse.  Try again,” Jarious demanded.
The Thrall’s eyes were large and fixated on Fovreh.

“Thra Nar!” the Thrall practically yelled in the human tongue.  “We were going to Thra Nar.  Truth!  Our travel was from the city of Su Tavish to Thra Nar, with goods from the mountain city.  It was a simple supply run for the House, that’s all.  Now get him away from me!”

Curious
Fovreh, who was eye level with Jarious, looked at his commander with a cocked eyebrow.

“Su Tavish hasn’t been inhabited for lifetimes.  Its just ruins,” Jarious noted, “why would you be going there?”

“I don’t know!” the Thrall desperately stammered as Fovreh’s knife seductively traced circles on his cheek.  At that very moment the blade started to glow asickly acidic green, heated by a previously prepared spell Fovreh had worked on in anticipation of the moment.  Where the blade touched skin, a fine trail of painful melted skin followed.  The addition of the magical effect was pronounced.  The Thrall started to tear up. 

“Look!  Look at my markings!  I am a retainer.  That’s all, you freaks.  I don’t deal directly with the Lords.  I merely manage their stock.  I don’t know anything.”  The Thrall was nearly apoplectic as the knife burned more skin away.  “Thirty two slaves.  We had thirty two before you attacked and had them run off.  We had ore and building supplies as well.  Nothing special.  Just… just stuff.  Please.  Please let me go.”

Jarious paused, steadied himself, and looked at both Fovreh and Torrain.  They both nodded.  Fovreh removed the knife from the Thrall’s ruined face. 

“Okay.  One more question.  Was this a single drop, or is it going to be the start of a regular supply run?”
“I… I’m not sure.  I think so.  I think we were the second run from the mountains to Thra Nar.”

Before the Thrall was done speaking Arrious jogged into the clearing.  “Jarious, it looks like the follow forces are making their way to what’s left of the convoy.  They are kicking up quite a dust cloud, so I am guessing a hundred or more.  Moving at a good clip.  They probably see the fires and smoke.  Not sure how many are combat forces.” 

“I’d rather not find out.”  Jarious said, still with locked eyes on the Thrall. 

Time to go. 

With what he needed in hand, Jarious unceremoniously leapt up from the Thrall’s chest.  He heard a sharp “POP” with the last bit of pressure applied by his knee– probably a broken rib.  The Thrall’s breathing immediately became significantly more labored. 

Okay, maybe not just a rib, but a punctured lung as well.  He gave a quick nod to Torrain, who got to work removing the manacles and replacing them with old rope.  The Thrall stayed still during the switch, emotionally and physically exhausted. 

Jarious addressed the Thrall as he gathered his things.  “Look, slaver.  You are a disgrace to our kind.  You may have been forced into your life, but you had the freedom at any point to abandon your House.  You willingly put men, women and children into bondage.  Being from House Vilandallaril it is a safe bet that you learned from your masters and did very bad things to our people.  I don’t want to imagine what.  For that, you are no better than the elves.  You deserve to die and we probably should eat you.”

That last bit Jarious threw in for dramatic effect.  He and the boys would laugh about it around the fire tonight.

“But we won't.  Not this time, at least.” 

Jarious turned his back on the prisoner and made a quick circle in the air with his finger and signaled the unit to grab their packs, weapons and supplies and get moving.  Their advantage over the Imperials was speed, and they needed it now.  The wolflings jumped into action.  Morrow, who had been off on his own until a few seconds ago, trotted off to alert Arrious that they were leaving.

“Hey. Hey!  What… about me?  I am… still tied up.  You promised.” The Thrall wheezed after Jarious.

Jarious turned around.  “Yell really loud.  Imperial forces are bound to come by to see what was lost.  You may get lucky.”  He spit on the ground and turned back around to walk away. 

Arrious caught up to the rest of the wolflings as they left the copse of trees and come up beside Jarious.  Jarious waved Arrious away without making eye contact; he was in no mood to talk.  

+++

I'll post thoughts on this in the next couple days.  Until then, please feel free to comment or analyze.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Precipice Part 1: Encounter at Crossroads


Encounter at Crossroads

Tanjean’s reason for existence at that very moment was to run and save her youngest son’s life in the process.  Run away.  It didn’t matter where “there” had to be, only that it was “not here.”  Jarious, her son, whimpered in her arms.  At nine years old and in a calmer situation, he would have been ashamed of the tears cascading down his face, but not today.  The village of Crossroads, their home for the last two years, burned around them.  Heat raked and pushed against their bodies like waves of coarse sand.  Tanjean ran not so much towards a destination, but in whatever direction offered even the smallest amount of relief from the constant searing heat and predatory pain. 

Arm ahead to shield your eyes.  Covering mouth.  Covering Jarious.  Always Jarious. 

Crossroads was under attack.  Human Thralls and Orcish hunters, all in subjugated service to the Eternal Empire, tore the village down plank by plank.  In the absence of flames, the Empire’s slaves did their work.  For Tanjean, there were precious few escape routes.  Thankfully the roar of the flames muffled her startled cries and Jarious’ sobs while the panicked scrambling of the other free humans served as motion-distraction so that the Thralls and Orcs didn’t key in on her and her son.  The God’s own luck was with her.  So far. 

Sprint!  Straight.  Go.

Wood burned and sagged.  Daub roofs melted into the homes they used to shield.  Broken tools, food, and clothes littered the ground.  The streets, inexplicably muddy, defiantly held her feet for a few energy-sapping microseconds with each step.  The sky was dark smoke covering the village, heavy with the actinic scent of burning flesh, blood and hair.  Each breath was a trial as her lungs struggled to grasp onto the few pockets of breathable air.  Still, her blood pumped.  He legs churned.  Her arms held Jarious with the strength of steel.  Her will was greater than the violence that surrounded her and threatened to overcome their escape.
 
One street, then the next, and the next.  Left turn, left turn, right turn.  Pause.  Breath.  Breath.  Breath. 

Stop. 

“Tyrant’s desire,” Tanjean cursed.  Through the monotonous orange and red of the flames and the browns and blacks of the village’s dying skeleton of wood and stone she could see something different.  In the distance was a humanoid.  Human in stance, it held itself high and graceful, not like the hunched lumbering walk of an orc or the scurrying of a dwarf. 

“Jarious,” she said towards her son but not really to him, “that’s an elf.”  The last word, “elf,” slipped passed her cracked lips as a mere whisper but with the weight of a boulder.  Even if Jarious had been listening and not trying to ignore the world as it fell down around him, he would have never heard.  Tanjean couldn’t help but continue to stare, in spite of the heat and screams of the dead, dying, and captured. 

She had never seen an elf.  Most humans never had.  It was a great omen of ill fortune to see an elf and live to tell the tale.  The Eternal One walked casually through the debris-filled streets of Crossroads, oblivious to the heat and flames.  A shimmering bubble of glowing blue light and energy surrounded him.  His ornate golden armor hugged his form, commanding respect for the protection it clearly offered while not appearing to hinder his soft and fluid movements.  Its torso was fully protected, though only the upper arms and thighs were similarly completely protected.  Its forearms and shins graced smaller independent pieces of armor, offering maximum flexibility.  In the gaps on the arms and legs she could see its alabaster skin.  Its left hand gripped a long thin blade held just in front of its body in a position of guarded readiness. 

The helmet was as equally casual, ornate and menacing as the rest of the armor, and from the shadow within she could see wisps of light where its eyes would have been.  The elf’s head traced slowly from side to side as the Elf surveyed the destruction it had brought.  In what felt like slow motion, Tanjean watched it stalk casually towards her in the distance.  It mouthed orders she could not hear.  It pointed to objects she could not see.  Where its eyes fell, its loyal human and orcish slaves scurried to do its bidding and destroy Crossroads. 

“An elf.  Here?  Why?” she asked no one other than the Gods. 

They did not reply. 

Like a flood, her senses came back to her, as her vision expanded back and she heard the roar of the flames again all but demanding she resume her escape.  She did not realize she had focused so closely on the elf and had no idea how long she was entranced.  Jarious, still in her arms, was touching her face, tears still in his eyes but no longer crying. 

“Mom?  Mommy?  Go.  We have to go.  Mommy?” he softly pleaded. 

With those words, the elf, Crossroads, and the complete destruction of all they had no longer mattered.  She found her breath and strength again, and fled away from the flames into the night. 

+++


This isnt a story about Tanjean, though her story is compelling, and should be told someday.  No, this is the story of an adult Jarious and his desire for revenge -- a desire born on his ninth birthday in the heat, flame, and ash of the village once known as “Crossroads.”  


Bad Fiction (Precipice and the Ecumene World)


New 

I think its time to do something a bit different and step away from TDE for a while.  Orson Scott Card (OSC) once gave the advice to aspiring writers that the best ideas are ones that marinate.  The longer they marinate, the better they are since you, as the prospective writer, refine, edit and revise each time you mull over your creative entry.  So, the longer it stays in your head and not on paper, the more ready it is to finally see the light of day.

Or something like that.  OSC says a lot of crazy shit, but that piece of advice not only sounds reasonable, it feeds my creative desire to move on to new things constantly.

So I am doing that.  I am going to leave TDE for a while and gat back to it fresh.  I like where TDE stands, I just need a bit of distance, I think.

So, whats next?  Bad Fantasy Fiction, thats what.

I have had this idea for a comic/novel in my head since a 2009 drive to GenCon with my buddy Jason.  Its a dark fantasy world where the core fantasy races exist, but are defined by their biological roles as much as their traditional fantasy tropes.  Its also, to no one's surprise, got a lot of political philosophy at its heat (DUNE is my favorite novel of all time).

So, over the next few weeks, I am going to stake a stab at writing entires for the novel and posting them here for comments and critiques.  It may be a bit of a shotgun process, but I think it might be a fun experiment if I can give the reader a bit glimpse of the world in snippets and self-contained bites of story.

The title of the Story?  

prec·i·pice
ˈpresəpəs/
noun

  1. 1.
    a very steep rock face or cliff, typically a tall one.
    "we swerved toward the edge of the precipice"
    synonyms:cliff face, cliff, steep cliff, rock face, sheer drop, heightcragbluff,escarpmentscarpMore
Origin

Elements of the setting (aka the Ecumene World)?

+ Dark Medieval
++ Dirty Villages
+ Racial juxtaposition
+ Prehistoric mammals
+ Biology
+ Hard people doing hard things
+ Orcs
++ Elves
++ Humans
+ Dwarves
+ Axes
+ Gods
+ Gitmo
+ Special Forces
+ Empire

- Halflings and their ilk
- Swords
- High Fantasy
- Weak females
- Magic without consequences

+++

Lets see how this goes...

On the plus side, already have some visiuals I can share in a few days.