Friday, September 16, 2011

Monthly Post for September--I blame Magic

There never seems to be enough hours in the day. It sucks, but that's the price I pay for actually being employed and getting an income now. Being unemployed sucked, but at least I had time to write whenever I wanted.

The problem with that thought, though, is that I didn't actually use that time to write whenever I wanted. The internet is full of time-wasters, interesting blog posts, interesting websites, and 4chan (shiver). So getting back to work hasn't really done much to me except leave me tired when I get off, which, since I was sleeping 8-14 hours a day while I was unemployed, isn't a problem.

The problem is that I've recently rediscovered a time-waster that has cancerously attacked my free time and gobbled it up live a hungry bum at a hot dog eating contest: Magic: The Gathering.

Many moons ago, before I was into RPGs and storytelling, I was captured by the Magic bug. It was kind of a thing in high school, getting a bunch of disparate people together in the mornings and at lunch to flip cards. Then I got out of magic for a few years, until an interesting set brought me back. This happened more than once over the years--I'd see an interesting set, get really excited, and buy a bunch of cards. But then I burned out, because I didn't have that many people to play with, and I'd gotten good enough that many of my friends didn't want to play me anymore.

This latest time, however, is different for a few reasons.

First, I'm more social and have more friends than I did in the past. This means I have a larger pool of players to play with, and, even better, they aren't just playing me and losing all the time...they're playing each other as well, and slowly getting better and better. We're having fun and bonding, the same sort of bonding we were getting from the weekly D&D night with less time-commitment and burnout on my part.

Second, a card shop opened up in Prescott Valley. Like I'm Game in it's heyday, this place provides a space to meet Magic Players from all around the area, at all levels of competitiveness, so now I have a community to connect with over a common interest.

This is slightly problematic, since Magic eats up a lot of time and even more money. I think I've spent about $400 on cards in the last couple of months. That's a lot when you're job is on the low end of the wage totem pole. It also is a time sink...a game can last anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple hours, depending on what decks are in use and what format we're playing. And you never want just one game.

So that's where my time has gone for the last few weeks. The king of card crack.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bubbling ideas -- The Bradshaw Story

In the next couple of days I'm going to start posting bits of information on my current project, "The Bradshaw Story." I don't have a title for this thing yet...right now it's all sketchy outline, a few thoughts on character and setting, and a couple of short pieces written to get a sense of who the characters are and what the place is like.

The story is an urban fantasy set in faerie-haunted Bradshaw, Arizona, a place loosely based on my hometown of Prescott with choice picks from other places in the state and, of course, the introduction of the fey. Most of what I'll be posting is very rough, just ideas in vague shape and snippets of info. I'm very much in the place of throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks. It'll be fun. Hopefully.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Monthly Update -- Writing in cycles

My new job has been pulling a lot of my time away from writing, so not much progress has been made. I'm doing a bit of writing, but it's with a different setting and characters. The pendulum will swing back to The Tale of The Exile, but for right now it's on hiatus as my creative energy is pulled in a different direction.

I notice that my creative energy seems to do this every year. In the spring and fall I get locked on one idea (whether it be in gaming, writing, or what have you) but as it gets into summer I feel the need to start doing other things creatively. That seems how I work as a creative person.

But it's frustrating to get pulled like that. I'll have a project steaming along, then find myself stuck or find my attention waning and jump ship to something else for a few months.  This leaves a lot of literary debris in my path, and I don't like being that way. I can't seem to quite nail anything before the cycle flips. Gar.

Still, it's not something I can change about myself, so I need to learn how best to harness things. Harness the energy when it's there, work around the blah feeling when the energy ebbs.

Having a near full-time job doesn't help with the process. If I were making money of my writing talent, then it might be a little different, but at this point I'm not and I just have to live with it. I've heard, however, that you can't become a professional anything just doing it part-time, and writing is no exception. So it's a struggle of picking up the keyboard and typing something, even if it's just an email to a friend, to get some writing done.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

On Writing: Dan Wells' Seven Point System

Dan Wells is an author I have a lot of respect for. He's one of the three (now four) authors involved in the Writing Excuses podcast, and I've enjoyed his "I Am Not A Serial Killer" series. So when I heard that he'd done a lecture on story structure and posted it online, I knew that it would be worth tracking it down and sharing it here.

So here is his five-part series on story structure, as well as his seven point system.

Here are my thoughts:

I'm not a very organized writer. Shocking, huh? I write via discovery, sitting down with a noodling idea and working out things as I go along. While this process can be fun, sometimes I find that I get overwhelmed with the enormity of the writing tasks I've set myself up for, and find my path littered with half-finished and partial first pages and half-drafts. Writing is a time commitment, after all, and my time these days is somewhat limited.

Making the best use of that time, then, is a goal for me. Trying out new methods to get my brain in gear is helpful. Using this method of outlining might help me brainstorm my stories more effectively, get me past those bits of writer's block that trip me up occasionally.

On the Seven Point System:

Starting with the end and then working back to the beginning isn't a new idea to me...I've been exposed to it before. Oddly enough, it was through another RPG, Changeling: The Lost. Apparently, stealing ideas from RPG manuals works really well.

The problem I have in implementing this is that I usually start my stories from an interesting premise. A thief has to brave the dangers of The City of Shadows for seven nights. A mad artisan kidnaps people, replaces them with duplicates, then pits the duplicates against the originals because he wants to prove his imitations are superior to the real thing. Five serial killers converge on my hometown. These are the hooks that grab me and make me want to write.

 In the past I've started stories with this premise, but then choked because I couldn't write up to the really cool bits I wanted to include without delving into what lead up to the situation. Now I think that applying this method to my structures might help me get past those kinds of bumps by giving me a roadmap to follow. I consider this sort of outlining a brainstorming exercise, not something that I'm going to be locked into. That's the best way to deal with outlines if you get your joy from discovery writing, I think. noodle around with a structure, write a bit, and if the characters start going off in odd directions then follow them without regard for the path they're traveling. The outline is a tool to get an idea in the ballpark. I suspect I'm going to be applying this to the Fourth Night of TotE, and maybe looking at the remains of the Third Night through that lens--figuring out where I want to end up, and then working back from there.

The trouble is that I think I've got a lot of story cycles working at once in the part I'm writing now, so I need to figure out which bits go with which storylines before I can look at the resolutions of each. Applying this sort of thing to a work in progress is always a bit tricky.

On Ice Monster Prologue:

 I'm wondering if I need to write up a prologue. If I were to write one, it would probably cover the botched job that got Gaven into this situation in the first place. Or perhaps I should go further back, and show the botched job that ruined Gaven's life and made him the man he is at the start of the story. One in Calisapas, one in Miir. I don't know which would work better, to be honest, and I'm not at all convinced I need one yet. maybe I can handle one of those stories as a prologue, the other as bits of flashback. Still mulling things over. How much of Miir comes through in Gaven's experiences? How much do I need to set up beforehand? A small number of people who've read my story get a bit confused, since Gaven is a native to the world but not to Miir. It's a weird little looking-glass for a work, and I wonder just how much exposition is necessary. How should I establish that Gaven is a foreigner? Show his last job in his old environment, or his first job in the new one? Lots of thoughts going on.

On Try/Fail Cycles:

This concept is one I've heard before, but it's good to have a deeper explanation presented. Gaven's whole experience in Miir, at least for the first two nights (and in the future nights as well) are parts of the Try/Fail cycle.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bloggery update

Just a note to let people know I'm still alive. I started a new job (yay) waving a sign (not-so-yay), so I've not had quite as much gumption to get up and write as I had previous. Still, I have ideas and bubbly thoughts stewing, so I'm not going anywhere.

Anyhoo. I don't have a topic in mind aside from updating, though lately I've had Serial Killers and the True Fey on the brain. I might do some setting work for that as a diversion...my next poject after the Tale of The Exile is likely to be an urban fantasy heavily based on the RPG Changeling: The Lost. It seemed like a fun idea.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Seeds of a Character: Naros Miir, Part 2

In my last post, I began looking at the seeds that formed the character Naros Miir, which was also an exploration of how the city of Miir got its start. Today I look at how those ideas grew and changed to become the character you see today.

Summer, 2005: I decide to run a game set in Miir. Not only do I run this game on Shards, I also work out some ideas to run Miir in my Sunday night D&D group as a Ravenloft setting. Neither of these games goes very far. The Shards game stalls because getting a group of people on a chat-based client to meet regularly is like herding cats, so only a few things ever develop there. The Ravenloft game never gets past the character creation stage...instead, I wind up returning to the previous setting I was already running, my Rise of the Fallen campaign world.

However, the work I did for these stillborn games turn into canon for Miir. It was this period where I codified the Six Noble Houses, came up with several character ideas I'd use later, and develop the idea of Le Cirque d'Aberrations, the nightmare carnival where people are mutilated on stage for the pleasure of the gentry. There were no Caliban yet--that idea would develop thanks to the Ravenloft book (and later, the True20 RPG).

This was when I firmed up much of Miir's history.
The city was founded originally as a military garrison that guarded one of the very few navigable paths through the nearby mountains. When huge veins of gold, iron, and silver were discovered in the mountains after a giant earthquake, the town swelled in population. Within just a few short months, the place was a city, blessed with a mineral fortune and a chokehold on an important trade route. Since it was on the border of the kingdom's holdings, the Royalty couldn't keep close tabs on it, much as it wanted to, and the city grew into a seedy den of vice, scum, and villainy. And it was powerful. One of the nobles of the city, Naros Miir, desired to gain power over the city, from which he could build an empire, carving a claim from the weak monarchy. To do this, he needed support. He needed to control the city before he could rule an empire. And for that, he turned to Graumm.
 Naros Miir was, at this point, a ghost in the machine. He was the remnants of the mind of the first ruler of the city, who had built a device to control people's emotions by storing them and then playing the emotions back later. This device imprinted Naros' consciousness on it and became sentient. It began to manipulate the city's rulers through the emotion machine into creating policies that would ensure a steady stream of "food" for it through constant conflict and repression. This created a climate of intrigue and brutality that kept the machine fed, but limited its ability to create the empire it's ambitions demanded.

In these drafts, Naros Miir was an avatar of the Heart, an image projected by the machine to interact with normal people. The Shadows were manifested illusions that the heart generated to scare, mislead, and confuse the population, along with monsters that the Heart attracted to the city in order to breed fear of the darkness.

Sometime in 2006: I'm contacted by one Benjamin Midget, who runs a small company called Brushfire Press. He's recruiting authors for a bold experiment in collaborative worldbuilding called The World of Aldora. I love doing worldbuilding, so I checkout the site and create an author page. I decide to use Miir as my contribution to the Aldora project, and post a lot of my information from Shards and from the failed Ravenloft backstory. I take care to fit what I've written into the framework provided. I write a short story called "Alone in the Dark" about a thief being sentenced to spend seven nights fending off The Shadows.

Other writers on the site begin collaborating. A couple of authors take the stuff I've written about Miir and run with it, introducing excellent concepts. I chat and brainstorm with other writers, building ideas, sharpening concepts.

One of the major ideas I take from this is the concept of the Arani. The fey in Aldora are tied to certain natural objects. The fey get powers from this object, but are tied to it. If it gets destroyed or irrevocably altered somehow, the fairies tied to it die. I love this idea so much I incorporate it into the Miir mythos. Now the Heart of Miir is a corrupted Arani, and the Shadows become Shadow Fey, independent beings linked to the heart, drawing power from it. As I'm expanding "Alone in the Dark" into a full novella, I decide to use the Naros Miir ghost as the main antagonist. He changes from being an avatar of the heart to being a Shadow Fey, created from the Heart and based on the sentience within it but with his own independent existence and agenda. He is the first among equals in the Shadow Fey hierarchy, the incarnation of the city's first ruler and personification of Miir's nobility.

"Alone in the Dark" is what eventually becomes the First Night of The Tale of The Exile. In my first draft, Naros was more of an antagonist, and Gaven eventually got pulled into a fight with him. This didn't really work all that well. Naros had always existed as kind of a tricky mentor type, the Obi Wan with his own agenda. This is what Naros became in the rewrite.

2009: I lose my job as a delivery driver. One of the writers I chatted with regularly, C.A. Webster, contacts me and we get to chatting. Neither of us has had much to do with Aldora recently, but we talk about writing and editing and all sorts of stuff. One of the writing exercises I do is pull out a character and have C.A. question them, then let the character answer. This back-and-forth helps me develop my characters in spades, and strengthens their voice. Naros comes out quite frequently. This is about the time I start seriously rewriting "The Tale of the Exile" into a true novel. Naros' voice grows stronger and stronger.

2011: I'm just doing some research for a blog post, searching for songs on YouTube to match up with links on the soundtrack entry. While listening to a David Bowie song that has some random David Bowie clips, when all at once an image flow by. I search the webs for that image, do a little Photoshopping, and watch Naros appear. Here's the image for you all:

Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a man of wealth and taste.

Hello there, Naros. Nice to see you in the flesh.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Seeds of a Character: Naros Miir, Part 1

Writers often get asked where they get their ideas from. This is not an easy question to answer, because the ideas that a writer uses often percolate and bounce between various forms before settling. Some ideas come to fruition quickly. Others simmer for years before finding expression, and then get shaped over time.

Naros Miir, the founder of the city that bears his name, is one of those long-running ideas that grew over time. I'm going to take a trip back through memory lane and try to piece together the bits that fashioned him. Be warned...this might be a bit like a magician explaining how his tricks are performed. I hope I don't disillusion you too much.



Sometime in 1997-1998: I'm getting ready for work early in the morning, so this was a summer job (since I was still in high school). I have MTV turned on and this is before it stopped playing music videos entirely but after it started relegating all the rock videos to the buttcrack-of-dawn timeslots. On comes the video for Nine Inch Nails "The Perfect Drug." This is my first exposure to NIN. I like it a lot. I watch for the song again so I can figure out what the song is called, who it's by, and where I can find it. I buy Lost Highway Soundtrack on cassette tape. This song gets a lot of play on my tape deck. The image of Trent Reznor in full goth mode is an image that sticks with me. The seed has been planted.


December 1998: The New Years issue of InQuest Gamer magazine, issue #45, arrives. You can see the eye-catching cover right above. I used to play a lot of Magic: The Gathering, so InQuest was useful to me as an MTG mag. However, by this time I was starting what would be a long relationship with roleplaying games, and InQuest also had a lot of RPG material in it at the time.

One of the columns is called "Legends." It's a column devoted to presenting ideas of places, objects, and people for use in RPGs. All of these articles include stats for use in various games, as well as a mock-up Magic: The Gathering card. This month's Legends has a picture of what looks like a building eating a person. The title of the article is "The Necropolis of Miir."


The article describes a genius loci--a living place. In this case, the Necropolis is a tower in the center of a city that was built by a sorcerer named Naros. The tower became sentient and has ruled in Naros' name ever since it ate the sorcerer's mind. Using rules and decrees it had the city built around it in three concentric rings with the nobles close to the center and the slums on the outskirts.

This is where the idea for Miir caught and held my attention. This is where I was first introduced to Naros. I didn't know at the time that the name had been borrowed from Jack Vance's Tales of a Dying Earth series--I'd learn that much later. It was this seed that grew into the Miir you see in The Tale of The Exile. But there were several more seeds to go.

Six months later: Another InQuest magazine brought a "Legends" column on Gruamm's Cathedral. The Order of Gruamm was a corrupt church that built an emotion battery into their cathedral. The idea was to store and playback emotions as a way of influencing the flock. However, the clerics of the cathedral found themselves addicted to the emotions they gathered, vicariously experiencing the feelings they stole. They needed their fix, so the priests were taking ever more risks influencing the flock to convert more members. They were also building new cathedrals in other cities to gain converts.

This would eventually provide me with the idea for the Heart of Miir, though that would come much later. Several years, in fact.

In between 2004 and 2005: By this time I'm in college and frequenting a roleplaying chat site called Shards. I decide to create a horror setting, and use the half-remembered InQuest articles as a basis for the seat of a family of vampires known as the Kajes that I've been playing on the site. The first posts I have set in Miir take place in February of 2004. The initial description is filled with cliched and overwrought language that I thought was really good at the time, talking about a city where the shadows occasionally ate people. Here's an example:
Miir, the City of Shadow, is aptly named. The great city lies nestled against the Black Mountains, a treacherous range of sharp and jagged peaks. The city follows suit, with monolithic Noble Houses extending like claws above the wretched huts and hovels of the commoners who live below. Great, spidery shadows fall everywhere here, and many folk, though they never speak of it, believe that things live in those shadows, and that, if one is unlucky, one would be swallowed up and never seen again.

 If this seems familiar, it's because I didn't modify the language much when I had Miir make the jump from Shards to Aldora. It was during this time that I developed the concepts of The Shadows, the Noble houses (not yet named...at this point I didn't even know how many there were), Miir's location as a mountainous desert city, the ruler being named Damien Kaje...so many things. If the InQuest articles were the seeds of my city, Shards was where it sprouted.

I can even give you the exact point at which Naros Miir, in his current incarnation, was born. I have the chat logs.

[10:58 PM 12/20/2004] Damien Kaje (Narration) - "It's a sad sight to see, isn't it, madam?" says a cultured voice from behind her, breaking her reverie. "All this dust and nothing. It isn't what I intended for the place."

[11:05 PM 12/20/2004] Lady of Tears - Visibly tenses for a moment, but it melts away.. The sudden sound after all this disturbing sights could make anyone a bit on the edge, even though she found such normal logic as that to be cowardly thinking. " Indeed it is.." Closing her eyes to focus on her composure for the time, before they open and gaze toward his feet. " What else would you expect of it, Kaje? Everything has it's prices.."

[11:09 PM 12/20/2004] Damien Kaje (Narration) - whoever the figure before her is, it certainly isn't Kaje. Oh, he has the same sharp cast to his features, the same long, shiny raven-black hair, and the same sense of pride and confidence the vampire exudes, but where Kaje is large and chiseled, like a block of cold marble, this man is softer and more delicate, more like porcelain. And, of course, Kaje isn't transparent. He chuckles. "Funny. That's what I told the vampire, when he first came here. He didn't listen to me, either."
 
[11:15 PM 12/20/2004] Lady of Tears - Eyes shift lightly, the curiosity almost overriding her sense of judgment on what could be a very delicate situation.. " And.. Who, exactly, are you if I may be so bold, Sir?.." Canting her head, assuming it was a noble who spoke, but would look toward this new arrival as it it were a peasant until further notice of this individual..

[11:17 PM 12/20/2004] Damien Kaje (Narration) - He bows. "My lady, I am Lord Naros Miir, First Master of the Tower." he smirks a little at himself, as if thinking of some obscure joke that only he found funny. "Or what's left of him, at any rate."

 This was the first appearance of the character that would develop into Gaven's nemesis. Naros Miir was originally just a projection of the sentient Heart of Miir, and the Shadows were originally just nebulous extensions of the Heart's will. The Shadows were just shadows that ate people, and Naros was a ghost. This would develop quite a lot later on during the next stage of Miir's development.

I'll get to that next time I post.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

On Chapter Epigraphs

A witty saying proves nothing.
~Voltaire


An epigraph is a phrase, quote, or poem set at the beginning of a document or component. They're those pithy little sayings you find at the start of chapters or sections in a lot of sci-fi/fantasy works. They can serve as a preface, a summary, counterpoint, or just set the mood. There's two types of epigraph: ones from the real world, and ones pulled from the fictional universe the work is set in.


When I first started collecting my Tale Of The Exile tweets and formatting them into chapters, I used a lot of epigraphs as prefaces, scouring the web for quotes I thought would work well to set the theme of the chapters. I started doing this with just random witty quotes, then moved on to hunting specific songs to quote when I moved into the third night. It wasn't long after this that I decided to do away with epigraphs altogether. Here's why:
  • It takes a lot of effort to find a good quote. This is creative work, and entertaining, but it really doesn't help write the story. Trying to find good quotes to sum up or set the mood for Gaven's story takes time away from writing the story itself. It's an empty calorie kind of creative exercise. I didn't start looking for quotes until I had finished the first and second nights, so I didn't notice how much it was bogging me down until I had to do it for the third night. This is partly what lead me to stop.
  • The quotes were entertaining, but didn't add much to the story. Mostly they acted as summations for the chapters I was writing. I suppose if I were writing epigraphs from whole cloth, as pieces of metafiction about the world of Aldora, that might be different, but the epigraphs I used were bits of the real world intruding on my story. I shouldn't be making summaries of the chapters...I should let the chapters speak for themselves.
  • In some cases, the epigraphs were spoilers.  Along with setting a mood, the quotes sometimes revealed bits about the chapter ahead. I tried to avoid this as much as possible, but a spoiler is a spoiler. I recently read "Mistborn: The Hero of Ages," which also used a lot of epigraphs. I decided to read all the epigraphs first. Big mistake. Most of them were only counterpoints to the chapters, but some near the end lead to major, major spoilers. Someone reading my work the same way might decide to read the epigraphs I put in all at once before starting in on the chapters themselves, and in the process learn things that they shouldn't. That's always an issue with skipping ahead...epigraphs just make the unintentional spoilerage much easier.
  • Some of the epigraphs were getting really long. As I mentioned in my soundtrack post, I chose a lot of songs for specific reasons. I decided to use lyrics from those songs as epigraphs, but to get the context right I had to use several lines from each song. This started to get out of hand. I found myself tempted to quote half of some songs, just to get the right context for the quote. This was too much fucking work for something that was just supposed to be a bit of fun.
  • The epigraphs were breaking the fourth wall a bit. Gaven's story is told in first person, and it's being told as if the reader has a direct link to his mind while he's experiencing things. I chose to write the story this way to help with immersion (which is why it's done in the present tense, as well). The epigraphs are not helpful in preserving this immersion. They're bits of out-of-context text that you either read, or skip, but either way they aren't part of Gaven's experience. This would be true even if I were manufacturing world-specific epigraphs. Each epigraph jerks people out of the story just a little bit and reminds them that they're reading a story, not experiencing it. I decided to minimize this, and took them out of later drafts.
I don't hate epigraphs. I still plan to use them. However, I'm going to put them at the start of each Night instead of each chapter, where there are natural breaks in the story and I'm expecting the reader to break and digest what they've read. I don't think I'll be doing chapter epigraphs again in this book. The next book, which I believe will have multiple viewpoints, might be able to have more epigraphs in it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Soundtrack for the Third Night

I chose to name the chapters of the Third Night after specific songs that I felt represented the mood of the chapter. When I was heading the chapters with quotes, I used the lyrics from each song. When I went back and removed the quotes (as well as the attributions) a lot of context for the chapter headings got lost.

I'm still trying to decide if I want to open my chapters with quotes or not (it's a struggle I'll talk about in another post). While I grapple with that issue, I can at least put the context for my choices here.

"Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix: This one should be a fairly obvious choice. What better way to introduce a tale about a drug trip than "Purple Haze?" The fuzziness of the song complements Gaven's fuzziness after waking up with a mild concussion from his adventures in the previous night. At this point, Gaven doesn't yet realize he's been dosed with the Dreamlily, so any effects he's feeling at this point he ascribes to having been beat up and then treated by strange medications. He's about half right. The drug hasn't hit him yet.

"Ziggy Stardust" by David Bowie: This is the chapter that introduces Jereth Dythanus, and I wanted to pick a song that seemed to encapsulate the flamboyant elf. I modeled Jereth after Jarath The Goblin King from "Labyrinth," so I wanted a Bowie song to help the connection. "Ziggy Stardust" just seemed to fit like a glove. I also considered songs from the actual Labyrinth soundtrack, but none of them were really about the character of Jareth. So as much as I would have loved to use "Dance Magic" or "As The World Falls Down," I couldn't justify it. Though I might use "Within You" as a Villainous Breakdown song sometime.

"Play Me Backwards" by Joan Baez: Ah, the introduction of Aelia, as well as the first hints that something is very wrong in Lair Dythanus. This chapter represents Gaven's first brushes with the dreamlily visions as the drug starts taking hold. However, it's also opening him to psychic impressions left in Miir (this will be important later). Gaven doesn't know it yet, but he's gained a new ability--the ability to actually see The Shadows and their effects without them having to manifest themselves to him. This is very much a blessed with suck sort of power. The song I chose here is about finding the dark truth behind a hazy veneer of normality (the character in the song is undergoing repressed memory therapy and digging up "memories" of being in a Satanic cult as a child). I thought it fitting.

"Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite" by The Beatles: The first of (many) Beatles songs I chose for this night. I'm an unabashed Beatles fan ever since I was introduced to them through my mom's vinyl collection, so there will be many, many more Beatles songs referenced. And this was off one of the later psychedelic albums, so it fits even more. I wanted to find a song that suggested a dark, depraved carnival. There's a lot of such songs out there, but since this part of Le Cirque d'Aberrations is less dark than what will come later, I felt this song would be the best among the choices.

"Helter Skelter" by The Beatles: This was the point where Le Cirque gets very dark. I wanted more confusion, heavy riffs, and creep. I chose Helter Skelter because of the Manson Family connection. As a companion to the previous chapter, this worked well.

"How To Make A Monster" by Rob Zombie: This chapter went through several name changes. This is the downside of using the "name chapters after songs" technique...sometimes the name you want just doesn't work. I originally wanted to call this chapter "Wheel of Fortune" because of the dilemma The Jester presents to Eric. The two songs I found with that title were unsuitable. The first was a poppy 80's thing that just did not fit the mood of the chapter at all. The second was a piece from the "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men's Chest" soundtrack, which, while good, had no lyrics to quote (this was when I was still using chapter quotes, and part of the reason I gave up on them). I waffled about for a bit, then decided to go with "How To Make A Monster," which described what was going on in the chapter, had a depraved carnival/old horror movie vibe, and fit the tone. I'm not perfectly satisfied with the choice, but Meh. It works.

"Blue Jay Way" by The Beatles: Another Beatles track. I chose this one for the tone and the lyrics about being unable to find one's way. This was very much a tone-based decision. I'm going to be heavily revising this chapter, but the theme of being lost and wandering will remain.

"Gallows Pole" by Led Zepplin: Sometimes I choose a song because I like it. This was one of those cases. I might have to change the song to better fit the tone, but this was written before I'd decided on the Hangman being one of the Shadows Gaven would have to deal with. Still, it's about allies providing help but ultimately failing to deliver escape from peril, and that suits the ending of this chapter quite well.

"Welcome To My Nightmare" by Alice Cooper: I really wanted to use this as a title chapter, but it worked so much better as the name of the whole section. This whole part of the Third Night is a waking nightmare for Gaven. The title reflected that, and is a good song to boot. Welcome to my nightmare. I think you're gonna like it.

"White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane: I chose this for the same reason I chose "Purple Haze." The drug references, trippy images, and the Alice in Wonderland vibe of traveling from one state of mind to another just worked so very, very well. You'll notice a lot of drug references in this night...that's intentional.

"Break On Through (to the other side)" by The Doors: This was chosen because it's an active song, and it's Gaven's first battle with the Shadows. It seemed to fit Gaven's struggles. I suppose it also foreshadows the chapter "One" that comes later, which wasn't intentional but is fine with me...I like happy coincidences.

"Smoke On The Water" by Deep Purple: Mostly I chose this because I like the song. This is another title chapter I'm going to wind up changing later. As it is, the only connection it has to the action in the chapter is the reference to fire in the sky, tying it in to the volcano that Gaven and Aelia watch.


"One" by Metallica: Finding a song to fit this chapter was difficult at first. This was a very difficult chapter for me to write. Being trapped somewhere alone and unable to contact help is one of those deep primal fears I have buried away in my subconscious. This chapter took a long time to complete partly because I feared I wouldn't find a way for Gaven to escape. I chose this song after examining the lyrics...it's about a guy who is trapped inside his body after his limbs and face are damaged by mortar shells, leaving him concious but unable to see, hear, smell, move, or otherwise interact with the world in any way. The bleakness of the song is something that echoed Gaven's situation (and my own primal fear of being reduced to locked-in syndrome, a coma, or dead and existing in eternal darkness and somehow being aware of that fact) well enough to be put front and center.

"Happiness is a Warm Gun" by The Beatles: The chapter where Gaven flips out entirely. It starts out low and peaceful, but there are hints of disturbing mixed in. I chose this song because the structure of it follows the action of the chapter: Gaven cuts up his hand, then showing up to the suddenly re-appearing Aelia, then moves to Gaven getting sedated and treated, then Gaven flipping out entirely and attacking Aelia because he's gone all paranoid. In Gaven's case, happiness is a cold knife.


"Die, Die My Darling" by The Misfits, though I'm thinking of the Metallica cover here: I chose this song because of Gaven's threat to Aelia here. Gaven is not running on all cylinders, and this is an active song that mirrors Gaven's crazy as he holds the knife to her throat. Aelia is able to break him out of it before he crosses the Moral Event Horizon...I had trouble writing this because if Gaven had actually harmed Aelia here I would have lost all sympathy in writing him, which would have killed the book.

"Revolution 9" by The Beatles (noticing a trend?): The crazy comes back. This song is a collage of noise and random, and because Gaven winds up in a madhouse, that's what I wanted to convey.

"One Step Closer"by Linkin Park: I chose this for a couple of reasons. The first is that it's a song about getting close to that edge of madness, which is the theme of this whole section. And it also serves as an echo of the action, as the Wall that talks to Gaven is taking him closer to understanding and enlightenment about his situation and the nature of the dangers he faces. He's one step closer to the edge of understanding...and then Despair hijacks the voice and attempts to rape his mind with another Hannibal Lecture, driving him one step closer to breaking down entirely and giving up, at which point Despair will have him.

I'll be editing this post when I have more chapters to talk about, but here are my thoughts for now.

Friday, May 27, 2011

I do not write in silence

I've heard people bandy about the merits of whether or not they can write while listening to music. Some do, some don't. As you might be able to guess from the title of this post, I do.

I listen to music because I would be distracted without it. White noise of some sort is essential to my working process, and I'd rather be listening to music than the news or the rumble of my air conditioner. Sometimes I'll build a soundtrack for whatever project I'm working on, to help get me in the mood, but just as often I'll set my genre lists to Shuffle and let Windows Media Player play what it wills. Building a soundtrack is a lot of time, especially with the silly amount of mp3's I have, and I can get lost in the soundtrack process. So my standard lists tend to be my "go-to" lists for when I want to actually be productive.

My music tastes are ecclecitc and go in cycles. One week I'll be listening to the Alternative stuff I grew up on (mostly Grunge, Post-Grunge, Nu-Metal, and other rock), then the next I'll crank the Techno and Electronica, and then I'll put on Nine Inch Nails for two weeks straight, only to dip into the Classic Rock of Pink Floyd and Alice Cooper and Aerosmith. Or I might decide to hunt down a game soundtrack like the Silent Hill series, or listen to rock-turned-lullabye music from Rockabye Baby. It gets very eclectic sometimes, moving from Carmina Burana to Lady GaGa.

The point is, music seeps into my mind and helps me filter out other distractions that could derail me. That's why I tend to prefer instrumentals when I'm writing, and I hardly ever listen to the lyrics of songs...I'm more interested in how the lyrics sound as they complement the music itself. I'm pretty sure that this is because of my fondness for Alternative music, which is not known for song clarity. (I could tell you about the time that I embarrassed myself singing "Lola" during Karaoke, but that's another story entirely).

This is why I used song titles for the chapters of the third night (both parts). This was the soundtrack I was deliberately cultivating for Gaven's drug trip experience.

I can't think of anything else to say on this subject, so I'll just leave you with a song.

State of the Blog: May

A somewhat productive month. Not so many story chapters done, but I got some background info on Ivthia and House Dythanus done (even with Blogger eating the Ivthia post for a short time). And at least Chapter 8 of Welcome To My Nightmare is finished and in the can.

I estimate there's about three more chapters are left in The Third Night. Possibly four, so I'm breaking the rule I had about each night being 9 chapters long. I already broke that long ago, though...Le Cirque d'Aberrations grew in the telling.

Since I want to get more out of this blog, I'm going to start sharing some other behind the scenes info on the writing process. Some of this will be world-building stuff...this world is a lot bigger than just The Tale of The Exile, thanks to the World of Aldora project that spawned this story in the first place. Sadly, Aldora itself is defunct, though there are plans to publish the Encyclopedia and a selection of stories from the old site, rescued by one of our former members. And, of course, some of us still keep in touch and brainstorm world ideas...it's just a lot harder to keep track of these days. I'm going to need to launch an Aldora wiki with the information I have, but that project is a long ways off.

For now, I'm just going to noodle on with The Tale of The Exile. Gaven's story is going to grow in the telling. Enjoy it with me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Tale of The Exile Chapter List













In which Gaven Morren, a luckless thief, is sentenced to survive seven nights on the streets of the cursed and haunted city of Miir.


  
The First Night: Into The Shadows

In which the thief Gaven Morren is sentenced to Exile, and discovers the perils of Miir by night.



 
Part 1: The Sentence
Part 2: The Man in the Empty Room
Part 3: Miir By Night
Part 4: Lost
Part 5: Jolly Red Caps
Part 6: Jessamine
Part 7: The Shadows of Miir
Part 8: Over The Pen Wall
Part 9: Dawn


 
The Second Night: Through The Belly of Miir

In which Gaven Morren attempts egress through the sewers of Miir, with the help of another.




Part 1: Swallowed Down
Part 2: Another Version of The Truth
Part 3: Fortunes
Part 4: Saints and Jokers
Part 5: There's No Place Like Home
Part 6: Vermin
Part 7: The Nest
Part 8: You Make Your Own Hell
Part 9: Pain and Penance

 
 The Third Night: Le Cirque d'Aberrations

In which Gaven is captured by the nobility of Miir, and shown just how noble they really are.



 
Part 1: Purple Haze
Part 2: Ziggy Stardust
Part 3: Play Me Backwards
Part 4: Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite
Part 5: Helter Skelter
Part 6: How To Make A Monster
Part 7: Blue Jay Way
Part 8: Gallows Pole

 
 The Third Night: Welcome To My Nightmare

In which Gaven Morren faces shadows both external and internal.





 
Part 1: White Rabbit
Part 2: Break On Through
Part 3: Smoke On The Water
Part 4: One
Part 5: Happiness is a Warm Gun
Part 6: Die, Die My Darling
Part 7: Revolution 9
Part 8: One Step Closer (NEW!)


See also the Cast of Characters.

The Tale of The Exile -- The Third Night: Welcome To My Nightmare (Part 8)

Part 8: One Step Closer

“Number nine...number nine...number nine...number nine....number nine...”

Everything aches. I've had time to rest, let the adrenaline wear off, and as it goes the pain comes. Nothing's broken, hail god, but that just makes my thrashing feel that much more humiliating. I shouldn't have let myself get drawn into that stupid monkey dance with Gotz. I should have just run when I had the chance.

The cell is dark, but I still have those fireglass chips. I pour them out. Multicolored shards color the padded walls with light. There's a cot and a chamber pot, and the room has that stink you only get when you stick a man in one place for years and years. The guy in the next cell just will not shut up. He's been repeating that dragon-taken number since I got here.

This is a crazy place. It's bad for the mind. It's bad for the soul.

“Number nine...number nine...number nine...number nine...”

I ignore the rambler and pick up the shards. I've got five. Each is a different color—your standard orange and yellow, a deep red, green and purple. I have no idea how the elves got the fireglass tinted that way...it doesn't look like a glaze. The red one isn't even fireglass. It's a crystal, not a glass, faceted instead of chipped. It's odd, and probably worth a nice bundle out in the world.

Here, all it does is keep the Shadows at bay. I arrange the shards into a semicircle around me and lean against the padded wall. I want to sleep. My body is bruised and I just don't have much to get up for at the moment, but if I nod off the Shadows might come and get me. Jereth's promises to keep me safe are a load of dragonshit. Being inside in his nice little prison didn't keep that whispering darkness or that grim figure with the rope from stalking me half the night. Running and hiding from the Shadows isn't going to do me any good. I need to find a way to fight them.

“Number nine...number nine...number nine...”

Great. Wonderful. Easier said than done. How am I supposed to fight supernatural forces of evil? Boil it, what do I even know about these things that would be the slightest bit useful?

“Number nine...number nine...”

“And god's tits, would you JUST SHUT UP for a moment so I can think!?” I shout at the wall.

“Sod off, ye tosser!” the fellow on the other side lobs back.

“Cork it up your mother's backside with a plowhorse!”

“Least I know who me mother is! Yer the son of a thousand fathers, all bastards like you!”

“I'd rather be the son of a thousand bastards than a whorespawned git of a three-legged goat like you!”

“Ye come over here and say that, ye son of a bitch-dog!”

“What do you expect me to do? Tunnel through the wall with a spoon?”

There's a pause, and then we both break out laughing. “Well played, sor!” the man behind the wall says. “Well played.”

It's been months since I played the snaps with anyone. Anyone I insult in Miir takes it deadly serious. For a moment, it's not so dark.

“So if you don't mind my askin', what is so important yer thinkin' about that you have to interrupt a perfectly good madness mumble?”

“I'm trying to figure out how to kill the Shadows.”

Silence. Then, “Cor. Ye don't think small, do ye now?”

I lean against the pads. “Can't really afford to. I'm an Exile.”

There's a chuckle. “Well, I suppose that would do it. Maybe I can 'elp. Care to bounce some thoughts off me, see what sticks?”

“And how can I trust you?”

“I ain't the nutter talkin' to a wall, mate.”

“Point taken.” I begin smudging the floor with my finger, jotting thoughts down. “I suppose the big problem is that I just don't know what these Shadows actually are. Everyone I’ve talked to has given me a different sodding story. Demons, the sins of man, delusions, living stories...which am I supposed to believe?”

“Well, what is it ye know about them?”

“Not enough.” I sigh, then start sketching things out on the tiles. “They can make people see things. They can possess the dead. They can turn floors and walls into goo to trap people. They can take scary forms. They can be summoned by name. They can be solid or insubstantial. They can be in one place, then another. They don't like the sun. Lights go dim when they're around. They can make you lost.”

“Can all of them do all those things?”

I stop writing. “Good question. Maybe the Shadows each have different powers.”

“How many different Shadows have ye seen?”

I squiggle a quick tally. “Hmm. Naros, the Other inside Jessamine, that Despair creature, the Hangman, the other Exile...” and possibly Aeila, too. “Five or six in all.”

“Do they all do all them things ye mentioned?”

“Another good question.” I start drawing some connecting lines. “Most of them can just appear. I think most of them dim lights. The Other didn't do either of those, come to think about it, but it was the only one that possessed anyone.” Did Aelia dim lights around her? Every time I saw the lights dim tonight, she was there, but so were other Shadows. That's inconclusive. “Only Naros has attacked me physically.” I touched Aelia, though. She's the only one I've touched. The Other was inside Jessamine, Despair melted surfaces around me, the Hangman hasn't gotten close enough to strike...except that once, when he attacked Aelia instead. He could have gone after me, but didn't. Why did he go after her?

“And making ye see things?”

I can't be sure. I think Naros was behind the maze when I first tried to escape from his fetch quest. I think Despair was behind the other maze, before the Other confronted it. I don't know which Shadows were responsible for Eric and I being lost in the Belly, or for Aelia and I being lost in the mansion's halls.

If Aelia is a Shadow, she could have been misleading me, keeping me away from Jereth. But she seemed genuinely confused and upset by winding up in the wrong place when we came to the courtyard. The Hangman set that trap.

“Do ye suppose the Shadows are a unified force, or bicker among themselves?”

I make some more marks. Naros was chasing the Other to keep it from leaving. The Other chased away Despair. Naros couldn't simply appear and take Jessamine away from me...he demanded I hand her over. He also told me NOT to interfere with Eric's suicide attempt. He claimed he was keeping the other Shadows away from me. The Exile claimed he was tapped to help me because the Saints weren't allowed. Despair moved in for the kill only after I invoked the Hangman. Despair attacked me the first night, despite Naros assuring me he was keeping the other Shadows at bay, but the Hangman only appeared after he stopped helping me. Aelia helped me attack Despair, and the Hangman strangled her. Did he attack her because she helped me?

“There's something here.” I make a few more marks. “There's lot of pieces, but I think they're coming together. Give me a few more questions...I've got to write this all down.”

“Write? With what? What could ye possibly be using for ink, sor?”

A horrible chill raises all the little hairs up my back as I look down at my notes. The tiles are stained with crimson words and lines and diagrams. The bandages on my right hand are dripping red. I must have torn one of the stitches in my hand. The other exile was found surrounded by bloody writing...

I fight down the urge to retch again. Oh God in Heaven. Oh Dragon Below.

“Ain't that a kick in the 'ead? Ye're awful quiet in there, sor. 'Ad a fright, 'ave ye? It 'appens, 'ere in the madhouse. Makes ye want to scream an' scream an' scream 'til there ain't nothing left in your lungs but pain and the certainty that yer a broken wreck. Go ahead and scream about it, if ye like. No one'll come. That's why these walls are padded, ye know. T'ain't for our benefit. Oh no. It's so them pointies don't 'ave to listen to us. So they can forget about us 'til we're needed. That's the point o' them 'aving these cells 'ere in the first place, sor. They ain't takin' care o' Dreamers out o' the kindness o' their 'earts. We're just a bunch o' tools, stashed away 'til we can be useful.”

I stare at the bloody marks all over my floor. One part of my brain is trying to hide comprehension of what I'm staring at from the rest of it to keep me from freaking out entirely. It's not doing that good a job. I'm going to wind up like that empty-eyed Exile, babbling insanity and bleeding to death, my last words a bunch of bloody marking that won't make sense to any person that finds me. Just scribblings of doom to be talked about for centuries. My life forgotten. The real me swept away forever.

“And would that be such a bad thing?” The voice from the wall says. “You're not a good person, you know. Hardly worth being remembered at all. You're a robber and a murderer.”

“What the fuck do you know about it?” I scream at the wall. “What the fuck do you know about anything?”

“I know you're a parasite, Gaven.” The wall says back. It's getting very dark in here. “You take what is not yours because you believe the world owes you for your wretched beginnings. You justify it by telling yourself that you only take from those who have extra to spare. You do not see those people, Gaven. You only see what they can do for you. You take from them because you believe they don't deserve it. But what have you ever done to earn what you take?”

“Stop it!” I shout. The fireglass is barely glowing. Only the red crystal still shines with any strength. “Just shut up!”

“You had the chance to give it all up. To walk away. You knocked up that pretty girl, said you'd take care of her and the baby.” The begins to bulge in towards me. Stretching as something from beyond tries to push through. “You said you loved her. You lied, Gaven. You lied.”

“No!” I scramble towards the furthest corner away from the deformed wall, trying to squeeze myself into the cracks and hide away. “No! You're wrong!”

Wrong? Why did you really keep up your jobs on the side? You could have been a better shopkeeper if you'd put in the effort. But it was easier to keep burgling, wasn't it? Easier to just hurt others, take the things they earned through the sweat of their brow and feed yourself and your family. And if you'd had your way, you'd have just fed yourself, isn't that right?

“No...” I pull myself into a ball and shiver. That thing can't be right. It's not! I'm not this horrible man it's describing...

You're not? Tell that to the elf girl you traumatized, the one who tried to tell you the truth and who in your madness you almost destroyed. You didn't want to believe her, so you turned on her. No better than a dockside thug after all...

“NO!” I won't let this thing win. I won't! I grab the chamberpot. Large, round, iron. It's not going to do a dragon-taken thing to the monster in the wall...but there's the fireglass. All of them dim, except the red crystal. The red crystal shines as bright as it did when I pulled it out of the wall. It's not all light that goes away when the Shadows come after all.

Light. I need more light. Need to keep it away! I grab the nearest fireglass chip and start striking it against the chamberpot. Sparks bloom, fly, vanish. Need something else...the padding! I start flicking the sparks at the batting, and I'm rewarded when it catches. Flame licks its way up the wall. The thing stops pushing its way through, begins to retreat. I've done it! I've...

I've set my fucking room on fire.

I hear a chuckle in my mind. Congratulations, Gaven. Very clever. What are you going to do now?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ivthia


The Ivthian Subcontinent comprises nearly the entire southeastern quarter of the continent of Demurra. The population of Ivthia is primarily human, though they do not claim to have originated from the Western Isles and instead beleive their ancestral homelands lay somewhere to the east.

Ivthia is primarily semi-arid plateau, desert, and steppe, though small forests and marshes can be found in the coastal regions.


The Ivthian people have a clan-based, nomadic culture which espouses separation from the rest of the world, through violence if necessary. The city of Miir, the primary hub though which Ivthians conduct trade, is as much a fortress as a trading post and was built primarily to keep other cultures out.

During the Epoch of Dragons, great numbers of the beasts settled in the Targash and Western Ivthain mountain ranges, which helped enforce the legendary Ivthian isolation. The Ivthains revere dragons, and every generation a "dragon lord" is born who possesses the power to speak with the creatures and serves as an ambassador between the two races (though the draconic word for the Ivthian Dragonlord translates more accurately to "pet monkey" than "honored leader").

Ignorant Demurrans assume that the city of Miir is the capital of Ivthia, a mistake which most Miirians would make as well. Truthfully, most of the nomadic desert tribes view the "shadow-worshiping freaks" of Miir with only slightly less contempt than the "degenerate and decadent scum" who live to the west.

The Great Houses of Miir: House Dythanus

The following is an excerpt from  "The Traveler's Guide To Miir" by Volo Magrathe, published 1300 YA:


The Great House Of Dythanus is the youngest and most dynamic of the six Houses of Miir. It holds interests in the Physician's Guild and the Entertainer's Guild.

House Dythanus (the clan elders eschew the "von" honorific used by the other Great houses) is unique in that it is the only house primarily composed of a non-human race. The Dythanus family are the descendants of a clan of elven physicians, expatriated from Horeti for unethical practices.

History: When the Dythanus clan settled in Miir (circa 1174 YA), they sold their services to House Von Mordok. The alchemists coveted the elvish medicines and herbal recipes, and entertained notions of using this boost in their power base to reclaim the Tower of Miir, which the house had not controlled for centuries. House Von Mordok also wanted to check the recklessness of House Von Hastur, which had spent most of the 12th century engineering the fall of several of the oldest institutions in Miir, the Great Houses of Miir and Morgan. This paid off in 1179 YA, as House Von Mordok succeeded in ousting House Von Kaje from the Tower.

The Dythanus family expected to be well-rewarded for their help in raising their allies the Mordoks to Lordship. What they got was more demands from their masters, barriers placed on their ability to rise high within the ranks of the House, and about as much respect as the servants who shined the Mordoks' shoes. This lead to festering resentment. When House Von Kaje took back the Tower in 1196 YA, the Mordoks blamed the elves, imposing even more sanctions on elvish medical practices through the Magicians and Alchemists Guild, forbidding them to treat patients outside of their house, and generally being royal pains in the backside. The Mordoks thought they could whip the Dythanus elves into submission. Instead, they were sharpening a dagger pointed at their own heart.

Forbidden to make money off medical treatments for Miir's population, the elves could still make money off the medicines themselves. The first decade of the 13th century saw an explosion of narcotic use among Miir's lower classes, especially use of Dreamlily (an elvish plant that causes hallucinations in humans). The Alchemist's Guild sent investigators to try and track down the supply of these narcotics, but since this was considered scut work it was delegated to the elves. Since the investigators were also the ones with the supply, not a blessed thing was done about the "Dreaming Plague."

Also during the turn of the century a great number of new gambling halls started operating in the Cobwebs, halls owned on paper by Miirian citizens but overseen by pale, sharp-toothed, pointy-eared patrons. The same thing happened to a number of brothels. Word of mouth spread that those establishments with "the elvish touch" were the best--the brothels had the cleanest and loveliest girls, while the gambling halls paid the best odds. Elvish moneylenders offered deceptively good loans to those seeking quick investments -- the term "loan shark" hadn't made it's way to Miir from Arden yet. Many of these loans were made with money given to the Dythanus family from House Von Krueger, one of House Von Mordok's perennial enemies.

By 1206 YA, the Dythanus family was ready to make its final play, openly breaking from House Von Mordok to petition for Great House status from the Lord of the Tower. Lord Rudolf Von Kaje hose to grant the petition, and House Dythanus was born. It was the first Great House to rise since the end of the Imperial Occupation. In order to consolidate itself, House Dythanus threw open its doors to all elves and half-breeds in the city. Though the House has since closed those doors, this initial boost gave the House the numbers it needed to weather the retaliation of its former employer. To further cement itself, the House hired on a band of mercenaries lead by the ferocious Ten Monkey "Halfcheek" Xien.

The house took the motto "ingratis servire nefas," which is Imperial Demurran for "It is wrong to serve the ungrateful." This would turn out to be hauntingly ironic.

In 1217 YA, at the Annual Ball on All Fool's Night, Lorwyn Dythanus had an argument with Ten Monkey Xien, allegedly about the fact that Xien and his, shall we say, peculiar habits and customs were being flaunted for all of Miir to see, while his combat prowess was set by the wayside. Xien was of the opinion that Lorwyn had hired his band to act as warriors to defeat Dythanus enemies, not clowns to parade about for the elves' amusement. Lorwyn ended the conversation with the infamous phrase "Your job is not to question your betters. It is to do as your told! House Dythanus is the teat that feeds you sodomites, so get on your knees and suck!"

Xien stormed out of the ball. That night, he gathered all his followers, along with House Dythanus' servants, eunuchs, and concubines, and robbed the Lair of thousands of aecus in gold, silver, precious gems, and fireglass artwork.

Overnight house Dythanus went from prestigious up-and-comer to city laughingstock. Worse, the Von Mordoks chose this as their opportunity to strike back at the upstart elves, and the two forces got embroiled in a House War. That conflict ended in the Eagle Street Massacre, when both sides of the conflict were set upon by a motley force consisting of soldiers, whores, and eunuchs. The misfit band routed both sides, then vanished into the Belly.

This was the opening battle of what would become known as the Gorgeous Gang Rebellion. Over the next several months the Houses were attacked by the Gang, which seemed to be growing larger with every engagement. House Von Jeggett (the current ruling house) put the city under martial law and evacuated The Pen, and the Great Houses all put aside their enmities to hunt down the Gorgeous Gang. The Gang managed to outwit the Houses and had an uncanny knack for slipping behind the house lines, but eventually they were surrounded and cut off. The Gorgeous Gang made its last stand at the Drunken Crane bar and brothel, inflicting 3 to 1 casualties on the House forces before they were slaughtered to a man(/woman/eunuch). Xien's body was never positively identified, fueling rumors him raising havoc and striking at the nobility long after his probable death.

House Dythanus was not nearly as crippled as the other houses were by this fight. Their main contribution to the battles had been in support and medical roles, so their forces remained relatively lightly damaged. The elves used this opportunity to grab a firm hold on the prostitution industry of Miir's back alleys. Whereas before the house had been the largest player in that field, they became the only player. This monopoly allowed House Dythanus to pull in the funds it needed to push out independent pawnbrokers and moneylenders. With control over both gambling and moneylending, the elves prospered. They even managed to recover about a third of the treasure Xien had stolen from them (though the rest is still lost to history and rumors of The Gorgeous Gang Treasure has fueled folklore ever since).

The House grew so powerful, in fact, that in 1225 House Dythanus ousted House Von Jeggett from the Tower, an impressive feat for a house less than two decades old and still smarting from the Gorgeous Gang fiasco. This moment of glory was short-lived...the Nobles of Miir didn't take well to being ruled over by a foreign species. The Dythanus only held on to the Tower for 11 years, one of the shortest tenures as rulers of Miir since the Imperial Occupation.

Still, while House Dythanus hasn't managed to rise quite to the heights of it's former glory, it has remained a powerful force in city politics. The Physician's Guild is widely regarded as having the finest doctors in the city, as well as the most accomplished midwives. The Entertainer's Guild oversees all the city's prostitution, gambling, bliss dens, and theatres.

In recent years House Dythanus has started experimenting with alchemy and magic, accepting half-bloods and caliban into its ranks in defiance of the Magician's Guild ban on cultivating such members. House Von Mordok regards this development as a threat to their existence, since the elves have a strong alchemy tradition in their study of herbalism and medical remedies and it wouldn't be difficult for them to turn such knowledge to military purposes. There is no proof that the elves are secretly training an army of wizards, but then, there wasn't much proof that the elves were running brothels and gambling dens before they broke from House Von Mordok, either. It may be very interesting to see how this situation develops in the future.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Gar

I had a nice post on Ivthia, but Blogger ate it during the downtime. It sucks. While I mourn my missing post, I can at least repost the picture I put up for it. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Monthly Update

Wow. Four posts this month (aside from this one). Three of them are story posts. Two of them were written wholly this month. A redesign of the site's layout. A massive overhaul of the previous chapters, detwitterizing all of them and updating the tags.

I feel good. It's high past time I got back to work, especially since I all but abandoned my story last year. I've been working a lot on revision, but moving the story forward is important. And now it's moving again. I've added something like 5000 words to the story since I started, counting new content and rewrites.

I don't know how many people follow this blog these days. I want to know that there are people reading and enjoying the story. If you see this post, say hey. Post a comment. Let me know how I'm doing.

But even if you don't, I'm going to keep working on this. Let's see if I can finish the Third night this year and get into the Fourth.

If nothing else, I'm going to start committing myself to an update of some kind every month. Might not be story. might be background elements. Might just be some sort of random thoughts. But it's a goal to work towards.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Tale of The Exile -- The Third Night: Welcome To My Nightmare (Part 7)

Part 7: Revolution 9

I notice two things when I wake. I can breathe again, and my neck really hurts. I'm very, very relieved to be breathing. So very relieved I'm not dead. I could even move, if I had a mind to. Of course, I don't really want to as I’m already being moved. My neck and shoulders hurt because someone has my arms and is pulling me across the floor.

“Sodding ash-sucking fires of fate,” comes a growl from above my left shoulder. My clothes slide against the smooth tiles of the floor, slightly warm from the speed. “Of all the cells to pop open in the rumble why'd it have to be this sack of shit?”

“I can't say, Gotz,” says a voice to my right. So two people are hauling me, then. “Maybe it's just that poor luck you complain about all the time. Maybe the Shadows did it to spite you. Punishment for your sins.”

“My sins ain't the ones they should be feedin' on,” says the grumbler. “He killed Cobb. He ought to die a thousand tiny deaths for that. I still can't believe Lord Dythanus won't let me do what's proper and stick the gully bastard.”

Bullyboys. Great. Just what I needed right now. I briefly consider leaping up and knocking them around because I'm still lightheaded and stupid from whatever Aelia did to me, but blessed merciful sanity stops me before the idea gets me killed.

They haven't searched me - I can still feel my pouch of chipped fireglass bits flapping against my leg - but I have no weapons and I ache too much to really want to give attacking them a go. Mostly I just want to sleep. Put this whole night behind me. Refresh my brain and plan things out better without the Dreamlily to mess everything up.

I don't think that's much of an option, though. The Shadows can get at me anywhere. I'm sure Despair hasn't forgotten about me, and The Hangman might be lurking around any corner, ready to make me swing...

If they catch me in an enclosed space, I'm probably done for. And the bullyboys are dragging me right back to where I started.

I let out a sigh slow enough that the bullyboys don't notice I'm awake. As poorly as I'm feeling, I'm going to have to try and escape anyway.

I crack an eye open and do my best to stifle my flinch at the sudden light. I let the eye adjust before carefully opening the other, then wait for that flare to die down as well. I look about as best I can without raising my head. The Bullyboys seem too engrossed in their conversation about how much I deserve to be stabbed to pay much attention to me.

The bullyboy to my left has thick legs shoved into thick boots. He has a long, heavy stride. He's probably the larger of the two. I recognize his voice as the bodyguard who threatened to pull my guts out and feed them to me earlier.

The other one, to my right, has thin legs and soft, well-made shoes. He moves with effort, digging his heels into the ground to heft my weight. I'm guessing he hasn't had to pull much deadweight in his life. He's probably a manservant from his fine shoes. He might be an elf, I can't tell from down here, but he doesn't sound like one. I got the impression from Aelia that all the elves in Miir are nobles, and even a minor lordling wouldn't put up with the way the guard on my left is speaking to him.

“-collecting debtors, chasing escaped Dreamers all over the Lair...this is dog's work, Udo! Kostjak or Chevin should be doing this, not me!”

“Maybe Lord Jereth is giving you a reward for your loyal service by ordering you about personally, Gotz. Or maybe you should consider these last few days the next time you think of playing jack and trump while on duty. Be that as it may-”

Dreamers. Plural. I'm not the only one out of their cell. That means I might have an enemy of my enemy to work with, or at least someone else to cause a distraction to cover an escape. Either way, it's something.

I risk raising my head to catch a glimpse of where we're heading. I catch sight of a stairwell heading down into darkness. This isn't the way I came. There were no stairs I can recall between my cell and the infirmary Aelia patched me up in. If they're taking me to a cell, it's not the one I was stuck in before.

The bullyboys aren't gentle pulling me down the stairs, but I don't wait for them to bang my shins on every step down. As soon as I feel the first drop I tense, drawing my knees in and pushing against the steps while yanking my arms in to break the grips holding me.

It half works. The skinny guy in the poofy clothes screams like a little girl and drops my arm the instant I start thrashing about. The burly one on my left, however, has a grip like a vice. My sudden leap into the unknown unbalances him, and as he tries to keep me from squirming away he takes a step backward. Into empty air. We go tumbling.

We bounce down the stairwell. I feel a dozen steps slap against my spine. We collapse in a heap at the bottom. Somewhere in the tumble the big guy let me go, so I spring to my feet...and instantly regret it as a wave of dizziness crashes over me. I see spots and my stomach lurches, doubling me over. I don't have anything to throw up though so the retch just hurts. By the time my dizziness is gone so is the element of surprise.

The burly bullyoby finds his feet. From up top I hear the patter of coward's feet, so it's just us right now in the gloomy hall. He snorts like a ram and gives me a bloodshot death glare.

“So...Gotz, is it?” I say. “Good name. Fits your smell.” Then I slap his face with my good hand and try to duck back up the stair.

“GRAGH!” he bellows and charges, which is just what I had in mind. Angry fighters are stupid fighters. I duck away from his lurching grabs, sticking my foot out to trip him up as I do. He goes crashing into a heavy metal door and I realize we're in a hallway full of cells. Great. I don't see any way out except the way we just came, and there isn't much for me to work with. It's also hard to move quickly with just one boot on.

So I solve both my problems by stripping off my remaining shoe to use as a weapon.

Gotz gives another inarticulate roar and rushes me again, so I duck him again and start smacking at him with the hardened heel of my makeshift club. I can't tell if I'm doing more than raising welts, but he's certainly not thinking straight enough to get a good grab on me. I spy an open cell door...perhaps I can lure him there, shut him in. Then I can head upstairs and deal with his friend before he brings half the mansion down here.

Another rush. This one silent, determined. I shove my hand into the boot for better leverage and whack the heel across his face, sending him stumbling back. Blood pours out of his nose, and he rubs his jaw. I half expect him to spit a tooth out. He glares at me, but I think he's wised up. I step back towards the open door. He doesn't follow immediately.

“There's nowhere for you to go, Exile.” He says, moving toward me slowly. “Give up now, and I won't have to break you into pieces. Personally, though, I hope you resist and give me the excuse.”

“You and what army?” I say, matching his steps, backing toward the cell. “You aren't so tough when you can't sneak up and brain someone from behind, are you? Just another dumb bullyboy caught without his stick.”

He lunges again, and I dance to the side, but this time he moves with me and I realize he was feinting. His thick hands close on my wrist. He lurches, and I'm raised off my feet and into the opposite wall with a BANG!

“Thieves!” Someone screams from inside the cell. “Killers! Assassins! You'll never get me! I'll cut out your eyes with a spoon!”

Like a spreading plague, the screams spawn other screams, yells, and curses from the cells around us.

“No! Can't stop here! This is bat country!”

“...in my broken chair, my wings are broken and so is my hair...”

“Merciful Saints! What are all these goddamn animals?”

“...like being naked...”

“...number nine, number nine, number nine, number nine...”

“There's no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going...”

“...if you become naked...”

“...the girl! The girl with empty eyes! Follow her!”

“Is it raining? Is it snowing? Is old Mount Morrine a-blowing?”

All the screams and singing and weeping of a dozen Dreamers pouring into the air...it's suffocating. I hardly feel the next couple of blows, so lost am I in the madness, tugging at me like a foul tide, sweeping me away...I roll on my side, sucking back sobs...

I come back to myself after the third punch to my kidney knocks my face into the wall, splitting my lip open. I'm curled on the floor, gasping for air, with the huge bullyboy crouched over me, one hand shoving my head down while the other slams me to paste. I try to kick him in the dangles but he shifts his leg in time to catch my foot against his thigh.

So I do the next best thing I can think of to get out of his hold. I bite his thumb.

His bellows aren't much louder than the racket surrounding us, but he loosens his grip enough for me to wiggle free. My guts ache and I think I'm going to be pissing blood tomorrow but I'm free, scrambling toward the empty cell. I pull myself up on the door. I can still win this. I just need to get him there...

And then he's in my face again, all bloody-faced and wild-eyed, snarling like a street dog, and I swing the door between us to keep him at bay. He doesn't slow down, just uses his momentum to turn the door into a weapon against me, slamming me off my feet. I go skidding across the floor, and he's right behind me as I flop around. He grabs me, hauls me into the air...everything seems to slow...my hands clutch at his arms, desperate to get purchase...and then he drives me front first into the stone tiles. I see stars.

By the time the stars clear, he's rolled me onto my back and gathered me up in a painful pin, and he's counting. “...two...THREE.” He begins to laugh. “It's all over, whorespawn.” He twists my arm and I can't help but shriek. “Give me any more trouble and I'll break it off. Got that, cocksucker?”

“YES!” I cry as he twists again. “Please! Anything! Just stop!”

He gives the arm another yank just to hear me squeal again, then drops me out of the pin, grabs my shirt, and heaves me into the open cell. The door clanks shut behind me, and he laughs again as he locks it. The other madmen in the cells along the corridor echo his noise with babbling, cackling, hooting mockery, echoing my shame throughout the hall.