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> Seven Reimagined, A new view of an old story
SubRosa
post May 6 2018, 03:26 AM
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From: Between The Worlds



A while ago I wrote Seven, which is set in Tamriel. Afterward I thought about adapting it to an original setting. I did a lot of world-building, remade the characters to fit the new world, and got started into translating the story over.

I ran out of steam when I started looking at my over-arching direction, and started seeing some problems. The biggest one was that I had in mind a big High Fantasy story - an ancient race rising to destroy the world, champions rising from the dead, the army of light banding together to fight off evil, and so forth. The twist I planned to this standard format was that the protagonists were trying to stop the war, rather than win it. With finding a peace between all involved being the end goal, rather than destruction.

But the story I was starting out with - Seven - is Low Fantasy (at least the way I define it). Farmers and mercenaries vs. bandits. Ordinary people, with ordinary problems. I like that, as it feels very accessible, and makes the characters, even the extraordinary ones, feel more relateable. So that made me want to continue in that vein, and do a series of stories about a pair of hired spells who are part mercenaries, part private detectives. Sort of like Spenser For Hire or Magnum P.I. with magic. That in turn meant scrapping the entire over-arching story. Or trying to bridge the gap between Low Fantasy and High Fantasy. It left me with a lot of questions, and I was not feeling excited about the answers. So I ended up setting it all aside.

Instead of leaving it all collecting dust, I decided to post what I did finish up here. Maybe it will fire me up to get back to working on it again. People who have read Seven will recognize most of the main characters. Names have been changed in many cases. Some because the originals were Bethesda creations, others to suit the new races/languages. Speaking of which races and the like are entirely new, as is the geography, flora and fauna, how magic works etc... I will put some of that here in this post, and start the actual story in a second post. Let me know if you want to see more of the background notes, and I will put them in this post.


This is a world map

This is the continent of Aulerci, where most of the action takes place



Aela

Loria


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SubRosa
post May 6 2018, 04:29 AM
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From: Between The Worlds



Seven 2.0

Chapter 1.1

Aela rocked on her heels as a magical bolt crashed into her arcane shield. The raw mana flashed hot and brilliant, and she knew that to mundane eyes it would appear to be lightning. Her magical senses could see beyond the simple elemental force however, to the primal magical energy underneath.

It was the same energy that sang within all living beings, and flowed through the earth itself. Normally mana brought life and vitality, as water did to plants. But now it crashed into her like a flood. Just as tidal wave pulverized everything in its path, the magical assault sought to obliterate the threads of power that made up her aura. That would in turn carry the same terrible fate down to the flesh and bone of her body governed by those magical strands.

Her magical bulwark shivered under the assault. Aela reflexively poured more energy into her shield, so that even as the enemy magic ate away at one layer of defense, she wove a fresh lattice of force beneath. So in spite of the fury unleashed against her, Aela's ward held.

As the last remnants of the arcane bolt fizzled away into the aether, she found herself brushing aside a loose strand of hair from her eyes. She was thankful that she had tied it back before the battle. Otherwise she imagined that the brown strands would stand on end from the static, and create a frightful sight!

Staring down the megalithic passageway, Aela's eyes fixed upon the source of the attack. It was a man, given his shape and size. His race was anyone's guess however, given the mask of bones that covered his face. He wore a dark robe with long sleeves, overlain by a lamellar cuirass of black metal. Aela imagined that it might be lorcras, the black steel of the legendary Dark Elves. She hoped not, given that metal's well-known ability to absorb magic. In any case, Aela knew that this had to be the leader of the cultists they had come to stamp out.

The dark priest was surrounded by bodyguards. They were men and women of all the human races: dark-skinned Aymarans, olive-toned Rasenna, fair Arvernach such as herself, and pale Skanjr. All wore mail shirts and carried round wooden shields painted with images of voracious mouths. Most gripped swords or axes of mortal steel. But Aela noted several who brandished silvery-white aetherial blades. Swords conjured from pure mana, they looked like lightning hammered into solid form.

Aela felt Loria's warm breath on her shoulder, smelling faintly of mint. The Light Elf reached out beyond her with one hand - though still within the protection of her ward - and fire blossomed from his fingers. The bright red and orange flames sprayed down the passage before them. The blaze licked off the dry-stone walls, and rolled along the megalithic slabs of the ceiling. The tunnel between was transformed into an inferno of flame and smoke.

The dark priest lifted his staff however, and a bubble of energy rose up before him and his followers. Loria's flames crackled and snarled upon the protective wall of magic, but failed to pierce its glowing surface. It was a standoff then. As Aela had feared, this battle might have to be decided by force of arms rather than magic.

As if to give voice to the Arvern Witch's thoughts, a shout rose above the bedlam in the corridor.

"Frisverd!," the deep voice rang out, "forward!"

With a wordless chorus of bellows and cries, a tidal wave of humanity charged up from behind Aela and Loria, and swept past them down the hallway. Like the cultists, the Skanjr warriors were clad in good mail byrnies, steel helmets, and iron-rimmed shields. They raised swords and axes, and put them to use with ruthless effect.

For all their wild cries, the Skanjr mercenaries formed an even wall of steel before the Aela and Loria. They moved forward as one, axes and swords stabbing and hacking at the cultists. Aela could see little more than their armored backs at this point, as the Northerners stood far taller than an Arvern like herself. Even Loria's willowy elven frame was matched by their height, though he was certainly outstripped by their bulk.

Aela stretched her senses out through the aether, and the corridor leaped to brilliant life before her. She could not only see the magic around her, but smell, taste, hear, and even feel it as well. The brilliant energy ebbed and flowed like water, coursing around and through everything in the physical world. It might be invisible and intangible to the dull eyes of a mundane, but to her it was like standing within a living, breathing watercolor painting.

She immediately felt Loria standing beside her. His energy rose like a brilliant pillar of fire, spreading light and warmth out through the aether around him. Before the two of them she sensed the fainter auras of the Skanjr mercenaries. Not being magicians, their energy was cooler, dimmer, and less vibrant to her magical senses. They reminded Aela of the embers of a fire that had recently burned out.

The cultists beyond the hired swords were similar, in that their auras were dull and grey as well. Yet unlike the Northern mercenaries, their auras felt foul. Touching them reminded Aela of stepping upon slime under her bare feet. That feeling only worsened as she neared the dark priest. Unlike his bodyguards, his aura was brilliant and powerful, but far more sickening to behold.

Where Loria's energy was warm and clear as the noon-day sun, the dark priest's power reminded Aela of rotting flesh squirming with maggots. Aela felt herself momentarily recoil at the corruption that was so plainly etched upon the man's spirit, and could not prevent herself from curling a lip in disgust.

The stone walls and cold earth of the tunnel surrounding her felt nearly as bad. The barrow was darker in the aether than it was even in the mundane world. For that same sense of corruption which lurked within the leader of the cult seemed to permeate the entire barrow. This was clearly not a place where the dead found rest and peace. Rather it was an abattoir.

Clearly, horrific deeds had been done here. To have soaked so thoroughly into the aether, Aela knew they could not have been a rare occurrence. It was a legacy of long years of torment. Terror, torture, and worse things screamed out from the mana that surrounded Aela. It assaulted her senses like the effluvium of a midden heap. It made the Arvern want to retch, but seven years of training at the Ingenium had steeled her against such things.

She focused her thoughts, and rewove the threads of power that created the tapestry of her arcane shield. At the same time Aela poured yet more of her energy into the spell, causing those strands to grow and take new shape in the aether before her. Now her magical barrier extended out in all directions to fill the entire passage. Then she pushed the glowing bulwark forward, beyond the dim auras of the Skanjr mercenaries, until it slammed into the unyielding barrier of the dark priest's own ward.

Aela was just in time, as she felt a terrific wave of fire wash across the face of her shield but a moment later. The magical energy sizzled against her defenses, burning away the channels of power that defined the ward. It took all of Aela's years of experience and skill to continually reweave the strands that created the blanket of her defense. She worked feverishly, so that even as one thread was incinerated, a fresh one took its place.

All the while Aela continued to drain more of her mana into the shield. She wondered how long she could continue to channel such energy into it. This dark priest possessed a power the like of which she had rarely ever felt before, even among the sages of her old school. Aela had no doubt that without her shield to stop him, he would have literally just turned all of the mercenaries into dust.

Aela recalled the war between Alalia and Felathri years before. She had been part of the ritual team that had protected the Alalian army with a massive arcane shield. They had stripped away its physical layer of protection to conserve energy. Now Aela did the same. Her ward would only protect against spells, where moments before it had also warded off mundane blows from axe or sword. From now on the Skanjr would just have to trust to their armor and shields to defend them, as the Alalian army had done on the field years ago.

Those Skanjr appeared to be doing well. While she could not physically see what was happening on the front line of the battle, she could still discern that the mercenaries were steadily pushing forward. Her magical senses could easily place their auras, all neatly arranged in a solid wall that spanned the megalithic passageway from one side to the other.

The auras of the cultists were not so organized. Rather they spread out haphazardly across the passage. Sometimes one would push forward against the mercenaries, but rarely with any immediate support from the other cultists. The Skanjr however, met their foes together, never breaking their shield wall. Because of that the cultists never fought just the single mercenary in front of them, but were forced to contend with the warriors to either side as well.

One by one the auras of the cultists winked out under the crush of the massed Skanjr. While Aela was not trained as a warrior, she could clearly see that it was this teamwork on the part of the mercenaries that carried the day for them.

While the swords and axes of the Northerners steadily worked their way through the cultists, Aela felt Loria strike out once more. This time it was not elemental force which the elf wielded, but rather a more subtle magic. A counterspell that was neither visible to mundane sight nor able to be felt by non-magical blood, its power was nonetheless a brilliant flare before Aela's magical senses.

Loria's magic stabbed into the bone-masked cultist's ward like a chisel being driven underneath a great hammer. Aela felt the dark priest's defense shiver under the elf's magical strike. Loria followed with another blow, and another, and soon cracks formed in the opposing ward. The Arvern Witch felt the cult leader's attack upon her own ward falter, and flicker out. A moment later his own arcane shield likewise vanished. Wary of a trick, Aela maintained her focus and continued channeling power into her own defense.

Aela's caution was rewarded when she felt the cultist's ward flare to life once more. This time however, it did not span the hallway, but rather formed a smaller barrier that curved around the front of his body alone. A moment later she felt it buckle under a heavy, physical blow. She knew that had to have been from a Skanjr sword or axe. That meant that the mercenaries were upon the dark priest, and now he would be forced to split his energy between assaulting Aela's arcane shield, and protecting himself from her allies.

Aela stumbled forward, her body feeling numb and far away as her senses roamed the aether. She could not let the mercenaries get too far ahead of her, lest they advance beyond the range at which she could project her ward. Again, when she had been part of a ritual team, it had been possible to push the ward far from her body. But without a hundred other magicians in support, her abilities were limited.

Loria hammered with his counterspell once more. Again it smashed the priest's ward, and its mana scattered into the aether. A moment later Aela felt the hot pillar of the cult leader's energy snuff out like a candle being pinched under finger and thumb. She knew what that meant. One of the warriors had finished the priest off the old-fashioned way. As if to underscore Aela's ruminations, a great cheer rose from the Skanjr.


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Acadian
post May 6 2018, 06:55 PM
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By Julianos' little teapot it is good to see you posting some fic again!

You did a nice job of setting things up in your first post. We know this is a foreign world of your own making and, therefore, we are open to absorb how things (like magic) work here. The geography you provide is a nice touch.

Wonderful to see Aela again - even though I know she is different here. You did indeed provide lots of info in the first episode but it was most welcome and you did a masterful job of weaving it into a very engaging battle.

I simply love how Aela lives and breathes magic - it permeates every strand of her being. The descriptions of how the magicks of Aela, Loria and the dark priest all worked were easily understood and totally fascinating.

So far, this is a wonderful story and I'm looking forward to learning more as we go!


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Kazaera
post May 7 2018, 04:56 PM
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Hey, it's Aela! It's great to see her again, in Tamriel or otherwise!

Re: telling rather than showing... I see what you mean? It's subtle - I've read way heavier exposition hammers, definitely - but it's there. I think the problem is that this is an action scene, and as a result any worldbuilding digressions end up eating away at the urgency and suspense - especially ones that are a little further away from what's happening, such as the line of thought about how different races or blind people might sense magic. This level of exposition would be much less noticeable if it were, say, Aela regathering her reserves after the battle, or watching her allies train, or anything else where it'd be more viable for her mind to wander.

That said, this critique is brought to you by someone who errs very strongly on the side of avoiding exposition in favour of forcing readers to piece things together themselves (and reads fanfic for fandoms where they don't know the canon for fun, too). I find that almost every fantasy novel I read has too much exposition for my taste, so the fact that I consider it just barely too much means it's probably the perfect amount. :-P And I do think dropping us straight into the action was a great narrative choice, even if it makes the exposition trickier to balance! It definitely grabbed me, and I'm curious to see what will happen next (never to mention eager to see more AELA!!)

(PS: If you'd prefer not to have this sort of critique, let me know! I don't usually offer concrit unless it's been specifically welcomed, but since you explicitly pointed these things out I thought I'd mention how it came across to me.)


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Renee
post May 7 2018, 06:32 PM
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I really like the part where it says she could see magics, beyond what ordinary people can see in everyday life. Not exact words, but ya know, that is my favorite part. The way she must focus to maintain that magical shield is also intense!

So this takes place on another continent in Tamriel, interesting. I know nothing about Aulerci, so that's interesting.

This post has been edited by Renee: May 7 2018, 07:25 PM
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SubRosa
post May 7 2018, 10:26 PM
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Acadian: It is good to work on writing again. Finding the time is never easy these days. I need to get back into the habit again, to make it a habit again.

One of the things that always struggled with when writing fiction set in Bethesda's game world is how limited it all was, especially concerning magicians. To Beth a mage is simply another class, and their abilities have to be balanced with everyone else's to make the game fair and even. A fighter gets a sword, a mage gets a spell, a thief gets a bow. In the end they are all the same (or should be).

I like to show that being a magician is not simply one more form of doing damage to an opponent. It is a different way of perceiving the world, of occupying the world. IRL magicians are people who step from the physical world to the spirit world, and back again at will. They live between worlds. I really want to show that here in how Aela perceives reality. Which can be good for her, and bad for her (as the next few segments will show).


Kazaera: Hey, its Kazaera! biggrin.gif

That is exactly the sort of critique I hope for. In fact, that very paragraph you singled out is one I took out because I thought it was too much Telling. Then I put it back in, but still felt uncertain about it. I feel better taking it out completely now. It is not necessary for the reader to understanding what is currently happening. I think I am going to try to use that as a litmus test to decide what more to cut out, and what to leave in.

I also have done some more editing to other parts. I changed the comparison of an arcane bolt to a lightning bolt in the beginning. Instead I followed the comparison to water. There are also a few bits here and elsewhere, such as Aela ruminating about how in the war they took out the physical protection from their arcane shield, so she does the same. I pared that down so it flows better, but you can still see that she is acting from past experience. I also changed it so the dark priest's initial arcane shield protecting all of his followers instead of just himself. That makes the fight much more even until the end.


Renee: Writing about how Aela lives in the spirit world is one of my favorite parts of writing her. Her world is more than what she can see and touch.

I am glad the effort Aela put into using and maintaining her shield came across as being engaging. That is one of her major talents after all. She is defense while Loria (formerly Ungarion) is offense. I don't want her to come across as insanely overpowered. It should seem like a lot of work, even though she is good at it.

This is not set in another part of Tamriel. It is all created by me, and is entirely separate from Bethesda and anything they have ever done.


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haute ecole rider
post May 8 2018, 12:08 AM
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Infodump?? What info dump?

For the most part the exposition was minimal, I liked how you used Aela's memories as a means of providing information of herself and her world, which strikes me as being quite the far cry from Tamriel.

And yet, I felt at home here, in this world you've created for Aela. She was instantly recognizable, as was Loria as Ungarion 2.0. I loved how the two worked together and balanced different magics to form a cohesive whole.

Oh, and the way Aela perceives magic? That's exactly how I imagined witches, shamans and medicine men/women see their worlds. It feels like the Bosmer worldview taken up to notch eleven.

And starting in the middle of an action piece, ah, my favorite way to start a story off (or a chapter, for that matter . . .)

Hope you keep this up - I really want to see where Aela and Loria go after this!


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Renee
post May 8 2018, 02:01 PM
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QUOTE(haute ecole rider @ May 7 2018, 07:08 PM) *

Infodump?? What info dump?

I didn't notice this either, not that it makes any difference to me. smile.gif
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SubRosa
post May 9 2018, 10:06 PM
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QUOTE(haute ecole rider @ May 7 2018, 07:08 PM) *

Infodump?? What info dump?

For the most part the exposition was minimal, I liked how you used Aela's memories as a means of providing information of herself and her world, which strikes me as being quite the far cry from Tamriel.

And yet, I felt at home here, in this world you've created for Aela. She was instantly recognizable, as was Loria as Ungarion 2.0. I loved how the two worked together and balanced different magics to form a cohesive whole.

Oh, and the way Aela perceives magic? That's exactly how I imagined witches, shamans and medicine men/women see their worlds. It feels like the Bosmer worldview taken up to notch eleven.

And starting in the middle of an action piece, ah, my favorite way to start a story off (or a chapter, for that matter . . .)

Hope you keep this up - I really want to see where Aela and Loria go after this!

You missed most of the Telling. By the time you got to it I had already edited the worst offenders out. But I have still been making some edits. In fact I just changed the second paragraph a few minutes ago.

I am basing Aela's experience with magic on my own experience as a Witch. Also on several pen and paper RPGs like Shadowrun and Earthdawn (some of whose writers were also Witches, like Steve Kenson). One thing I find myself coming back to a lot is: "As above, so below", and how one world affects the other.



QUOTE(Renee @ May 8 2018, 09:01 AM) *

QUOTE(haute ecole rider @ May 7 2018, 07:08 PM) *

Infodump?? What info dump?

I didn't notice this either, not that it makes any difference to me. smile.gif

That is kind of you to say. It is much better now.


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SubRosa
post May 12 2018, 03:21 PM
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From: Between The Worlds



Chapter 1.2

Aela finally allowed her ward to drop, and pulled her senses back from the aether. She sighed as the drab reality of the barrow once again filled her vision. Her physical eyes - previously enhanced by a night seeing spell - could easily pierce the gloom. Yet for the moment there was little to see but the armored backs of northern mercenaries. The sounds of battle had ceased, as had their advance. Now the warriors milled about, and when they turned in Aela's direction the lightstones suspended from their necks created bright spots that hurt her enhanced eyesight.

With a command in the Skanjr tongue, most of the mercenaries spread out into the small chambers to either side of the main passage. One of them came back to Aela and Loria. He was a bear of a man, with a craggy face that looked as if it had been chiseled from the rocky mountains of his northern homeland. A beard of red bristles sprouted like trees from his rugged features. Sprinkled with gray in many places, his whiskers reminded Aela of a weathered old forest dusted with ash.

The newcomer held a giant Skanjr long axe in his meaty fists. Its single, crescent blade was fixed to a wooden haft over half as long as he was tall. She noted that not only was the steel edge stained with blood, but also bits of brain and hair. Aela felt power stir within the fearsome weapon, and it proudly announced its name to her as Skjoldbreki, which she imagined might mean 'Shield Breaker' in the Northerner's tongue.

"I expect that will be the end of it," the heavy-set man rumbled in the Rasen language. "But come, there may be more mages in the main chamber."

"Let's get cracking then Hrollaug," Loria said brightly in Elvish. The Light Elf emphasized his words by cracking his knuckles together, and he grinned with a zest that Aela had to admit she did not feel herself. There had already been a heavy battle outside of the barrow, against several mages and scores of armed warriors. Their bone-masked leader had been one of the most powerful magicians she had ever faced. So far it had been all Aela could do protect herself and the others with her shielding magic. She could not honestly say she was anxious for more.

The mercenary shook his head at the pair. Aela suspected that he did not understand Elvish. It was not a language many Northerners had a desire to learn, as elves were hardly well-loved by his folk. Aela had to admit that she felt much the same toward the Skanjr in turn.

She coughed as they made their way through the smoke-filled passageway. She noted Loria doing the same. The taller elf held up the long, flowing sleeve of his robe over his mouth and nose in an effort to filter out the smoke left behind from the incendiary magic that both sides had employed. Even Hrollaug and the pair of blond mercenaries who joined them labored to breathe.

At least there was something Aela could do about that. She let her senses shift to the aether once more. She pushed her awareness up through the great slabs of rock that made up the ceiling, into the turf that covered it, and finally out into the open sky above. Once she was clear of the noxious energy that suffused the barrow, she called out to the air itself with her mana, and it answered in the form of a sylph.

Aela entreated the air spirit for her assistance. She found that the elemental was more than willing to oblige. The spirit drew hold of her mana, and allowed Aela to pour the energy into her being. Using that power, the sylph was able to transcend the aether and take physical form in the passage below.

That form came in the manner of a strong breeze that whispered through the rough-hewn corridors of the barrow. Rather than simply stirring up the fumes, the wind pushed all of the smoke outside. In moments the air was clean and easy to breathe again, and a playful wind danced around the tips of Aela's bound hair.

The mercenaries looked around uneasily, and murmured to one another in their own tongue. That is when Aela noted that one of them was a woman. Not that it made much difference in the end. Professional warriors like those of the Frisverd company were fighters first, men or women second.

At the end of the corridor they came to a wide, semicircular chamber. They found a great, bubbling cauldron set up in the center of the room. Shackled to the ceiling above it was the corpse of a man. From his olive skin, Aela deduced he had been a Rasen. His body was missing from the waist down. Given the chunks Aela saw floating around within the pot, she imagined that his legs had not gone far. Entrails and organs dripped down from the poor man's torso to add spice to the unwholesome meal. If that was not enough, in several places along his arms the flesh had been filleted from his bones as well.

Aela could not help but to turn her head away for a moment. It was not the dissected corpse itself that made her feel sick. She had seen - and done - far more gruesome things during her years of training in the healing arts of Vitamancy. Bare muscle, bone, tendons, organs and the like were not the sort of thing to make her blanch. Rather it was the sadistic intent so clearly behind the act that disturbed her. That intent not only assaulted her physical senses, but violated her magical sensitivity as well. Just as the previous areas of the barrow had reeked of corruption in the aether, here the horror was at its worst in the spirit realm.

"What they said was true," Hrollaug rumbled, "damned cannibals!"

Another of the Skanjr mercenaries spat on the ground in disgust. Aela noted that even Loria's creamy features, usually so bright and cheerful, were now veiled in shadow.

"There's one still alive!" one of the Skanjr cried, pointing across the room with his bared sword.

Aela was instantly at the ready. Before even casting her gaze about, she focused her thoughts upon the symbol for her arcane shield, and prepared to flood her mana through the threads of its tapestry. When she did finally see what the mercenary was pointing at, she relaxed her guard, but only somewhat.

What had seemed to be only a bundle of rags at the far end of the chamber shook, like a pile of leaves in an autumn breeze. Hrollaug and the other two Skanjr warily moved toward it from both sides. Aela followed, just in case her shielding was necessary. At the same time she made sure to leave a clear field of fire for Loria, who waited near the doorway with arms raised.

"Help me, help me!" The bundle of rags exploded upward, and revealed itself to be a filthy man clad in shabby wool. Aela could see that his teeth were blackened from rot, and she could practically feel the lice squirming through his greasy hair. "They captured me, were going to eat me! Oh you have to save me!"

"Captured you did they?" the female mercenary asked slyly. Her hand darted down to his waist, and drew forth a long, single-edged knife belted there. "Then what are you doing with this?"

"And why are there no ropes or irons here to bind you?" the other mercenary demanded. He grabbed one of the man's hands, exposing his wrist. "And your skin bears no marks of them ever being there?"

"And a mail shirt at your feet?" With one boot, the female Skanjr poked the steel rings of a byrnie laying on the floor nearby.

"I can explain!" the dirty man cried. "I found that knife, I was going to-"

But Hrollaug and the other mercenaries were no longer listening. The war captain looked to his followers and nodded wordlessly. Before the dirty man could finish his sentence, the female Skanjr drew the cultist's own dagger across his throat in a crimson line.

Aela stood and watched as the life poured out of the man, her heart as cold as the glaciers of the mercenary's far-off homeland. She could feel the darkness that twisted and smothered the man's spirit, just as clearly as she could feel it choking the light from the barrow all around. She could muster no sympathy for the cannibal, not given the horror suspended above the cauldron, and floating within its depths. How many innocent people had he and his ilk kidnapped or lured to the barrow, only to meet such a terrible end?

"As I suspected, they are Manaha cultists." Aela followed Loria's voice, to find the Silaine mage standing before a shrine made of bones. They were not just any bones either, but entirely from the Manaborn races: those peoples with both sentience and the ability to recognize and manipulate magic, whether or not they actually used it. The bones were bound together in wire, forming the image of a creature taller than Loria, yet more slender, with limbs too long for the rest of its body.

"Bloody Fomorian filth," Hrollaug spat. Then he turned to the other mercenaries. "Take everything of value. Then let us be quit of this cursed place."

Loria moved away from the shrine, and the Skanjr went about their looting with a quickness that revealed their experience at such matters. Aela stepped over to her friend, and followed his gaze to the idol of bones.

Looking at the shrine set Aela's teeth on edge. For once she wished that she had not honed the magical ability that resided within her, that lay within all people. If she had not done so, she would be as blissfully unaware of the icon's terrible presence as the mercenaries were.

To the warriors it was naught but a grotesque curiosity. But even without consciously trying to aesense, Aela felt the deep and terrible hunger that rose up from the shrine. It twisted through her belly like a fiery snake. It clawed into her ears, like fingers across a chalkboard. It whispered of the power that could be hers. It gnawed and writhed, like a maggot in the flesh of her soul.

Aela felt as dark as the barrow. Darker still. Feeling the power of the idol, she realized that the worst victims of the cult had not been those they had murdered and eaten, but the cultists themselves. It was now clear to her that the dead were just the bait, like worms on a hook. It was the cultist's own spirits that were caught by that hook, rent and trapped by its corrupt promise. Their souls were the true victims of Manaha the Voracious.

Once the Skanjr were gone, and the two mages were alone in the chamber, Loria raised his hands. He loosed a torrent of violent mana across the room. Lightning arced and blasted the idol to pieces. The cauldron and the corpses followed as the elf turned his destructive power about the room. After shattering everything, he changed his assault to fire, and engulfed the chamber in an inferno of cleansing flame.

As far as Aela was concerned, it could not burn fast enough.




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Acadian
post May 12 2018, 11:38 PM
Post #11


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From: Las Vegas



Another fascinating episode! I simply love how Aela perceives her world. You really bring meaning to the title 'mage'. The way the battleaxe whispered its name to her spirit, her ability to coax help from the air itself, her sensing of the malevolence in both the prisoner and that grisly totem.

It brought a smile of satisfaction as Loria used some Delphine Jend level magic to tear apart and burn that cursed barrow.


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haute ecole rider
post May 14 2018, 02:53 PM
Post #12


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Skjoldbreki! Finally someone explains how we mysteriously know the name of enchanted weapons found as loot in the game - it’s not like someone hands it to you and tells you its name and enchantment. That little bit jumped out at me in an otherwise fascinating and immersive bit of storytelling.

More, please.


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Zalphon
post May 17 2018, 10:25 AM
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From: Somewhere Outside Plato's Cave.



I would like to start by saying I appreciate the scope of this piece as we've witnessed thusfar; it has a high fantasy feel (e.g. magic being commonplace), but the scope is narrowed in on low-fantasy concerns (e.g. the aforementioned farmers vs. mercenaries).

I'd also like to note a certain appreciation for the following phrase:

It was not the dissected corpse itself that made her feel sick. She had seen - and done - far more gruesome things during her years of training in the healing arts of Vitamancy. Bare muscle, bone, tendons, organs and the like were not the sort of thing to make her blanch. Rather it was the sadistic intent so clearly behind the act that disturbed her.

It gives us a lot of insight into your protagonist as one who is by no means squeamish about bodily fluids, but more about the darker sides of human nature. I feel it takes a lot of the focus away from the physical aspect of the sight and puts it into a more mental/emotional sphere, thus diminishing the need to be overly detailed with the physical aspects. I think how you handled it was quite well and revealing about the character's personality, as well as their abilities.

That said, there was one thing I wasn't a fan of. The use of the word rumbled (and other placeholders for said). I feel they sort of detracted from the prose slightly, such as here:

"I expect that will be the end of it," the heavy-set man rumbled in the Rasen language. "But come, there may be more mages in the main chamber."

But then your usage of the word "Cried" here I feel was substantially more effective than just having used said.

"I can explain!" the dirty man cried. "I found that knife, I was going to-"

I feel like in the case of the former, you used rumbled as a way to paint this figure as being large and imposing with a deep, gravely voice, but I may be wrong. If I was correct however, I think it might have been accomplished by giving a brief mention of his stature and how his deep voice carried.

That said, I really do like this chapter. The depictions of magic have a bittersweet charm about them as one thinks about them on the grand scale of the theatrics of it all, but also on the smaller scale of what it's like to be on the other side. I really do like this piece though. I think it has a lot of potential and I look forward to seeing its developments over the coming months.


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SubRosa
post May 19 2018, 04:04 PM
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Acadian & haute ecole rider: My goal here is to show that magic is not an inert force that just sits around waiting for someone to use it. Rather it is an active element in the multiverse, like gravity or electro-magnetism, always acting upon its surroundings.


Zalphon: Hi Zalp! I do tend to get away from just using "said" often, in order to add more feeling. I used to give it a lot of careful thought back in the old days. But now that I am more comfortable with my writing it just naturally comes right out at times. So I leave placeholders in those places.

I think High and Low Fantasy are being redefined lately. I believe the classic rule of thumb was that if it was set in a wholly other world it was High Fantasy, and if it was set in the real world it was Low Fantasy. But as we are getting away from the 'standard' Tolkienesque stories of Dark Lords and the Army of Light uniting to defeat them, I think Low Fantasy is now being applied less toward the setting, and, more toward the plot. The Dark Lord and Army of Light is still High Fantasy, while the grey characters with mortal, everyday concerns like making a living, getting revenge, accumulating political and military power are Low Fantasy. I think the Game of Thrones tv series really illustrates this. I would call most of it Low Fantasy, as it is a dynastic struggle between ruthless warlords. But the Big Bad Ice Necromancer and his legion of undead are pure High Fantasy. I don't watch the show, but I think the most recent season had some issues because it was shifting away from the Low Fantasy stuff everyone can easily relate to, to the more romantic High Fantasy of Light vs. Darkness.


(This next chapter is a big one, but I don't think there is really enough going on to break it into two)

Chapter 1.3

Aela pulled the Light Elf away from the blaze, and entreated her sylph to continue to keep the air around them clear of the smoke and fumes from the blaze. She led the Silaine down the long corridor of the barrow as the heat from the flames bathed their backs. Finally they stepped from the darkness and out into the light of the sun. Aela lowered her night-seeing spell, but was still forced to raise a hand to shield her eyes from the sudden brightness.

A collection of wooden and stone buildings were clustered around the entrance of the barrow. All showed signs of the battle that had preceded the struggle beneath the earth. Doors were broken, windows and shutters were smashed, and roofs were burned out. In some cases entire structures had been completely flattened. The wooden stockade beyond had fared no better, and was charred to ashes or smashed down flat in numerous places.

Just outside of the broken walls, a spring bubbled up into a wide pond, whose runoff trailed away as a narrow stream. Beyond that rose the jagged pinnacles of the Stone Forest. The irregular spikes of limestone rose up hundreds of feet into the air, and spread out in all directions. It was as if someone had taken a forest, and replaced all the trees with towers made of rock. Here and there real brush and small catechu trees sprouted up between the pinnacles of stone, and in some places vines and creepers crawled up the rock faces. But for the most part the uneven fingers of stone were bare as they clawed at the sky overhead.

The mercenaries of the Frisverd company milled about the ruins of the small settlement. There were at least four dozen of them, if not more. Most were Skanjr, with pale flesh and fair hair. However, Aela also noted the olive skin and black hair of the Rasenna folk among nearly a third of their number. There were even a few brown-skinned Aymarans from across the sea, and pair of granite-hued Guzuk orcs from the eastern mountains.

The humans all wore shirts of mail belted around their waists, with skirts hanging down to at least their upper thighs. Spangenhelms protected their heads, and many wore bracers of hardened leather about their forearms. Their round shields were faced with leather or rawhide, and painted in a riot of colors and designs. There were spiral and checkerboard patterns, animals such as boars, wolves, or dragons, and even the elaborate knotwork patterns that her own people - the Arvernach - were known for. Most were armed with either straight, double-edged swords with rounded tips, or single-handed axes. However, a few carried great long axes like the one their leader Hrollaug brandished.

The two gray orcs were unarmored, as was typical of their folk. Chaotic designs were painted upon their bare skin with ochre, and the red body paint glowed warm to Aela's magical senses. She recognized the ochre as bearing a protective enchantment. The orcs had never been renowned for spellcasting, but their alchemy was second to none. The same was true of their fame with the falxes they carried. Pole-arms bearing a long, sickle-shaped blade, Aela had already seen that they could cut through shield and armor in one blow.

Aela felt the warm glow of mana beside her, and out of the corner of her eye she noted a shimmer fall down Loria's body from head to toe. A moment later it was gone, but the magic had left his skin and clothing impeccably clean. Even the wrinkles and creases had vanished from his black and silver robe. The ring of gold and amethyst that decorated one of his fingers glinted as if it had just been polished, and like his robes, resonated with the mana bound within.

Loria looked as if he has stepped off the cover of one of the copper disme romance novels that were so the rage in Alalia. Lavender eyes slanted gently across his delicate features, while a roseate waterfall of soft hair spilled down to nearly his waist. Now freed from grime, his skin was revealed to be as soft and pale as cream, and drew the light to it as a flower did butterflies.

Aela took a moment to concentrate upon her own Cleanse spell as well. Another brief shimmer of light carried away the grime and sweat from the battle, leaving her skin feeling as fresh and clean as if she had just risen from a warm bath. With the fingers of one hand, she loosened the band that tied back her hair. That allowed the light brown tresses to spill down across her long features, past her soft chin, and come to rest below her wide shoulders.

Her clothing was now cleaned and pressed as well, like Loria's. However, the white chemise, brown bodice, and leather pants she wore looked nowhere near as fine as his wizardly attire. Yet they too were suffused with protective magic, and Aela knew her clothing would defend her just as stoutly as the hauberks of steel that the mercenaries wore.

Aela saw that the warriors had built up a tall pile of the loot they had collected from the barrow. It seemed that nothing had escaped the eagle eyes of the sellswords. Aela saw not only the obvious valuables such as mail armor, weapons, and jewelry, but also drinking cups, candlesticks, boots, a wall hanging, and even a few books. Off to one side Aela also noted the bodies of the cultists, stripped bare and thrown into a much larger pile. Next to the grisly mound waited a cart drawn by a pair of mules.

Most of the warriors were clustered around the loot, examining the reward for their labors. Many doffed their helmets and ran fingers through sweaty hair, or quenched their thirst with skins of water or wine. Here and there Aela noted men and women with rent armor or dented helms, clearly wincing in pain. It was to these folk that she reflexively moved.

"Give me a few moments and I can heal that." Aela stepped up to a man whose arm trailed blood from wrist to elbow. She reached out for his wounded flesh, but the Skanjr jerked his hand away with a sneer.

"Don't touch me!" the red-haired man cursed in broken Rasen.

Aela recoiled from the stinging words. Looking from one mercenary to the next, she saw many gaping, fish-like stares greeting her. She knew that look well. They could see that she had not been born a woman, but was instead an ardhanari: a two-spirit who had transformed herself from male to female with magic.

"How are you going to earn with a hand like that Bruni?" One of the female mercenaries piped up. "You'll be worthless for a month at least."

"Then I'll be worthless!" the Skanjr spat back to his countrywoman. "Better that than some unnatural he-she's magic."

Bruni stalked off, to welcome pats and nods of approval by several of his comrades. Aela was about to turn away herself when a male voice stopped her.

"I'll not mind your seid-working." Another Skanjr stepped up. "Something happened to my head, though by Teiwaz I cannot remember what."

The warrior wore his blond hair in one of the fashions popular among the men of his people. Cut short in the front of his head, his straw-colored locks were shaved entirely bare behind the ears, from the crown of his head down to the nape of his neck. Aela saw that what hair he did possess was caked in dried blood, staining its bright color to dark brown.

The Skanjr held his spangenhelm with one hand, and Aela noted a long dent within one of its steel plates. She imagined that his skull would have been split in twain if not for the helmet. But even still, she knew that much of the force of such a blow would have been sent through the metal and into his head. She suspected that this one might have more to worry about than just some bloody hair and lost memory…

"Sit down and tell me your name," the Arvern Witch said. The mercenary weaved unsteadily for a moment, then sat down hard on the ground with legs crossed. One of the female Skanjr stepped over to steady him. Then before he could speak, he pitched forward and vomited all over his legs and the ground beneath him. The stench of it assaulted Aela's nostrils, and the other sellsword made a disgusted face. But Aela did not bat an eye. She had seen - and smelled - far worse working at the Ingenium's hospital.

Many of the other mercenaries laughed however. Aela shot them an angry look, before laying her hands upon the injured man's temples.

"That's not unusual with a head wound," she said softly, "just relax."

Easing the warrior's head back so that he sat straight upright once more, she let her mana sink down into his body. His aura filled her magical senses, a dizzyingly complex tapestry of energy that wove throughout his body and spirit. There were far too many individual strands of power for her to follow and study. That would take months. But her training in Vitamancy had taught her to distinguish which threads pertained to his physical health, and it was these that she traced to his injuries.

Just as clearly as she could see it with her flesh and blood eyes, her magical senses revealed where the skin of the warrior's head had been broken by the inward-dented helmet. His scalp bled profusely, as all such injuries did. But this did not concern Aela. She had expected as much after all. As she feared, the real danger lay below his skull. While the bone had endured most the shock of the blow, Aela found his brain had not. It was severely concussed, and now blood was pooling and seeping through the barrier between it and its normal fluids.

Aela closed her eyes and blocking out everything else around her. The Arvern Witch concentrated solely upon his aura, and the torn and smashed fibers of energy that mirrored his physical injuries. Using her mana as a seamstress would a needle and thread, she sewed the strands of his aura back together. As she did so, his body followed suit. Blood was drawn back into its vessels, and then the veins and arteries sealed shut. Cranial fluids returned to their normal space, bruises healed, pressure was relieved, and bone was restored to full health.

"As above, so below," Aela murmured.

Once she was finished working inside his head, she let her awareness slip out of the aether and back to the physical world. She stared at the superficial wound along his scalp. Healing that was child's play compared to her earlier work, practically as easy as snapping her fingers. She did not even need to read his aura to do it. She simply willed his flesh to heal, and her mana made it reality.

When she was finished, the Skanjr's hair was still matted with dried blood and sweat. But she found that the color had returned to his fair skin, and he smiled back up at her. Before he could speak, she passed a hand over him. A shimmer of purifying light fell down the mercenary's body as Aela cast her Cleanse spell upon him. In its wake his body and clothing were left clean and fresh, as if both had just emerged from the wash.

"Don't suppose you could do that for a hangover too?" he winked.

With that the female Skanjr clapped him on the shoulder. "Now we know he's fine!" she laughed.

"You may have lost some of your memory," Aela cautioned the man, "especially of receiving the wound. It may come back eventually, or never at all. Let me know if you have any other problems."

"Aye," the Skanjr nodded. "Ergi or not, you are right in my runes. Sondulfr of Hjartsfjord owes you a debt seidkona."

Sondulfr clambered to his feet, and offered Aela his hand. She took it gladly. At least he was being civil. Still, she noted that even he could not resist using the term ergi for her: weakling. While she knew little of the Skanjr tongue, that word she did know, given how often she found it leveled upon her. Still, at least he had also called her a seidkona, their word for a female mage. That was the best she could ever hope for, from anyone.

"Anyone else?" Aela asked, looking from one mercenary to another.

"I've got something right here you can lay your hands upon!" one of the men laughed, gesturing rudely to his privates.

"Aye, here too!" guffawed another.

Aela shook her head and turned away. Before she could leave however, another voice cut through the afternoon air.

"I wouldn't let some man pretending to be a woman touch mine," a third voice stung. "There's no telling what you'll get from it."

The Arvern Witch turned around, feeling her anger bubbling like hot water in a pot. The wind whipped up around her as the sylph she had previously summoned reacted to her feelings, blowing dust and clods of dirt in all directions. She fought down the rage with an effort of will, and the nature spirit calmed, albeit grudgingly.

Aela knew that she should say something witty in reply. Loria always had some clever riposte for such situations. But as usual, her mind was a blank slate, and her tongue a stone in her mouth. Yet she was certain that by the time she laid down to sleep that night, she would think of exactly the right thing to say. Of course by then it would no longer matter.

"From what I've seen, no one is going to be touching yours for a long time." Loria's voice came to the rescue. "That is assuming anyone can even find that little thing."

"You have a sharp tongue leaf-ear," growled a man with dirty blond hair and a long mustache. He gripped an axe in one hand, and the men around him did likewise. "But we know what to do with you high and mighty alfar in Skanlond."

"That's enough!" Hrollaug's bull roar silenced all. The red-bearded Skanjr stomped between the pair of mages and the unruly mercenaries. "You all have weapons and armor to clean and maintain. I want to see cloths and oil out now. We'll have inspection before the sun drops a hand-span, and any not fit for duty will regret it."

The mercenaries groused, and some shot dark glances at Aela and Loria. But they followed their leader's commands, and set to maintaining their steel. In the meantime Hrollaug turned to the mages, and gestured for them to walk with him.

"Let us split up the loot here and go our separate ways," he said. The mercenary captain's tone made it clear that this was not a suggestion, but a demand.

"And miss the pleasure of your company's hospitality?" Loria replied sardonically.

"Hospitality is one thing. But you two…" Hrollaug leveled a hard stare upon Aela. "An alfar is bad enough, but if I'd known you weren't a real woman, I'd have never agreed to this partnership."

"I was real enough for you when I was saving your skin back in that barrow!" Aela snarled.

The Skanjr opened his mouth to retort, but was cut off when a strong wind suddenly rose up and shoved him back by at least an inch. Loria stepped between the two, and the unseen sylph relented, for the moment at least. Aela did her best to rein in her feelings, while the Light Elf put a conciliatory hand around the mercenary captain's shoulder and led him a few steps away.

"Perhaps you have a point my friend," the Silaine mage said in an assuaging voice. "Let us indeed part ways here. You may have the heads to collect the bounty back in Veia. We'll take that lorcras cuirass from the high priest, and a few of those mail shirts and swords from his bodyguard."


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Zalphon
post May 20 2018, 08:47 AM
Post #15


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From: Somewhere Outside Plato's Cave.



The thing I notice initially is a lot of telling in the first few paragraphs. I think the most evident example is this passage:

"...The irregular spikes of limestone rose up hundreds of feet into the air, and spread out in all directions. It was as if someone had taken a forest, and replaced all the trees with towers made of rock..."

I feel that this may have been better shown had you had a brief snippet of dialogue about it, or perhaps made mention of one of the characters being awe-struck by it. It'd have the same effect, but I think it would feel more organic and integrated into the story instead of having painted a background image for the characters to act in front of.

A great way I can see of explaining what I'm trying to say is look at the animation style of the recent fad videogame, Cuphead. The animation style was largely inspired by 1930s-era cartoons in which the background was significantly more detailed than the characters, because it required less animation than the characters.

The characters, requiring a massive variety of poses, facial expressions, etc. were substantially less detailed to save manhours, as well as to help them contrast to the background.

Now I am not saying that these passages are bad, in fact, I find them to be beautifully written. They are evocative with rich imagery, but what I am saying is that I see this as having been an opportunity to integrate the character and setting and reduce the amount of contrast between them.

That said, I will say that I really appreciated the following line:

"Then I'll be worthless!" the Skanjr spat back to his countrywoman. "Better that than some unnatural he-she's magic."

This has exactly the effect I was talking about earlier in the post. It is incredibly telling of the character and the setting without coming off as long-winded exposition. I am very much a fan of it.

I also like this passage as well:

[i]"The Arvern Witch concentrated solely upon his aura, and the torn and smashed fibers of energy that mirrored his physical injuries. Using her mana as a seamstress would a needle and thread, she sewed the strands of his aura back together. As she did so, his body followed suit. Blood was drawn back into its vessels, and then the veins and arteries sealed shut. Cranial fluids returned to their normal space, bruises healed, pressure was relieved, and bone was restored to full health."[i]

I like it for different reasons, but I do like it. I like it because it illustrates how magic works and allows me to extrapolate the logical extreme of her power if it really like a seamstress with a needle and thread.

Ultimately, I appreciate this update. I felt it did a lot to show more of the setting and develop the character dynamics.

This post has been edited by Zalphon: May 20 2018, 08:48 AM


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Acadian
post May 20 2018, 04:43 PM
Post #16


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This was a wonderfully engrossing episode with lots of goodness woven in. More world building as the adventurers filtered out of the barrow into their stark, sunny surroundings.

How very mage-like to use cleansing spells to spiff up after a hard dungeon crawl.

You did a wonderful job with the whole healing scene – showing us the pain and rejection she was clearly well-familiar with. The actual healing she did was mesmerizing and seemed as natural for her as could be.

Finally, you show us some of her limitations - a good counterbalance to her considerable arcane support skills. Unlike her smooth-tongued elven pal, she gets tongue-tied when searching for a witty response. Also, the degree of control she has over her nature spirits is unwillingly quite influenced by her emotions. Aela is becoming quite an interesting and endearing character here.

Nicely done – more please. happy.gif


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haute ecole rider
post May 21 2018, 03:35 PM
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I have to agree with everything Acadian said - he picked out the things I really liked about this segment.

I have to respectfully disagree with Zalphon on this:
QUOTE
"...The irregular spikes of limestone rose up hundreds of feet into the air, and spread out in all directions. It was as if someone had taken a forest, and replaced all the trees with towers made of rock..."

I feel that this may have been better shown had you had a brief snippet of dialogue about it, or perhaps made mention of one of the characters being awe-struck by it. It'd have the same effect, but I think it would feel more organic and integrated into the story instead of having painted a background image for the characters to act in front of.


Any such dialog would have occurred when the characters first entered the zone, prior to entering the barrow. Upon exiting it, they would have been more interested in dividing the loot and recovering from their injuries. The brief mention of the environment is, I feel, more appropriate to Aela's nature and her assessment of the exterior surroundings. It seems to me that you were going more for the contrast between the ruins of the settlement, which was damaged by the battle below, and the untouched splendor of the stone spires beyond, which Aela, being so attuned to above and below, would have automatically noted.

However, I do second the rest of Zalphon's assessment, especially the passage about healing with magicka! wink.gif


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