To The Core – A Fantasy Short

[This story was originally written by Michael K. Eidson and previously published October 16, 2012, on Burrst. About 1000 words.]

Wearing a long cloak in hot weather wasn’t always a sign you’re concealing something or intend to, thought the elder Cornraind as he watched the younger Nachford walking amongst the carts and stalls in the marketplace. Cornraind had seen Nachford around here before, knew the man to have only half a brain and no couth. The older man had not seen the younger one take anything from a cart that he hadn’t put back, but Cornraind was still suspicious. Not that it was his duty to patrol the marketplace, but even in retirement he had the mindset of a City Guard.

Cornraind stayed his distance, but maneuvered his way through the stalls to keep Nachford in sight. Something didn’t look right about the young man. Cornraind couldn’t put his finger on it; maybe Nachford had put on some weight, or grown an inch taller. Maybe he had already stolen something and carried it under his cloak. But it wouldn’t do for Cornraind to confront the young man; any ensuing incident would have bad consequences for Cornraind even if Nachford were concealing stolen goods. The City Guard would lock away anyone for the night, even a former City Guard, who caused a disturbance in their fair city without due cause.

Shrill laughter cut over the noise of the crowd. Nachford had apparently just told one of his strange stories to Pwervara, an older woman selling apples. She held out an apple to Nachford, and the man placed both hands on it, one on either side. He bowed to the stall owner and kissed her wrinkled hand as she released the apple.

At the same time, a hand covered with mottled gray skin snaked out of a pocket of Nachford’s cloak, grabbed another piece of fruit from the apple cart, and hauled it into the pocket. As Cornraind hurried closer, he could hear munching from Nachford’s direction. When he stood right behind Nachford, he heard a belch and saw an apple core thrown at high velocity out of the pocket.

Cornraind had just witnessed what was obviously a theft of an apple, and he clapped a hand on Nachford’s shoulder.

The young man turned around with an inquisitive look, holding the apple Pwervara had handed him. “Yes?”

“Excuse me, young Nachford, but your stowaway stole an apple from this nice lady.”

“Stowaway?”

“The gremlin in your pocket.”

“Gremlin?”

“In your pocket.”

Nachford reached into his pocket and turned it inside out. It was clearly empty.

“I know what I saw.” But doubt gnawed at Cornraind’s gut. Had he been wrong? Was his sight playing tricks on him? He looked for the discarded apple core, but didn’t see it anywhere.

“I think you need some herbs and prayers, old man. You’re either seeing things or you’re possessed.”

Pwervara shooed him away with her hands. “Nachford was just about to buy an apple, and I don’t need you ruining a sale for me. Or should I call the real City Guard and have them carry you away? Guard! Guard!”

“I’m sorry,” muttered Cornraind, and he trudged away, his conscience weighing heavy in his chest. He’d been so sure of what he saw.

As he passed another apple cart, one belonging to Raugal, a man about Cornraind’s age but too poor to retire, the mottled gray hand reached out of one of the lower pockets of Cornraind’s cloak and snatched an apple. He heard munching and crunching, and then the apple core went flying. “Why you little…” he shouted, and dove a hand into his pocket. His hand met no resistance other than the cloth of the interior of his pocket. He turned the pocket inside out, and it was empty.

“Can I help you?” Raugal stepped around the cart and looked askance at Cornraind.

“I saw it again,” mumbled Cornraind. “It stole an apple from your cart.”

Just then a hand reached out of one of Raugal’s pockets and grabbed another apple. Cornraind moved quickly. If he could catch it while it was eating, maybe it wouldn’t have a chance to get away.

“Get off!” Raugal shouted, striking Cornraind over the head and shoulders as the retired City Guard bent over and stuffed a hand into Raugal’s pocket.

Cornraind clutched something hard and clunky and drew it out of Raugal’s pocket. Coins fell from his clenched fist.

“Thief!” shouted Raugal.

Cornraind dropped the coins and ran. He managed five quick strides before he collided with a cart loaded with fish. He and the fish and the fishmonger landed on the ground in a tangled, smelly mess.

A stern voice boomed over him; it belonged to City Guardsman Gavaeld. “What is going on here?”

“The old coot tried to steal from me,” said Raugal.

“He’s ruined all my fish,” said the fishmonger.

“He interrupted my making a sale,” said Pwervara.

“He accused me of stealing,” said Nachford.

“Come on, old man,” said Gavaeld, hauling Cornraind to his feet. “Of all people, you should know better than this.”

“But I–”

“Save it. You can sleep it off in a cell tonight, and Chief will decide your fate in the morning.”

Cornraind knew better than to argue. If he were still with the City Guard, he’d have done no differently than Gavaeld, given the same circumstances. He went along, keeping his mouth shut, and stood there looking forlornly through the bars of a cell with no furnishings except a small straw cot against the back wall. Gavaeld turned the key in the lock to the cell door, wagging his head in pity but not speaking one word of comfort to his prisoner. Cornraind knew he wouldn’t receive even a morsel of food until morning; it was part of his punishment.

As Gavaeld turned to walk away, a hand zipped out of his pocket and threw an apple through the bars. The fruit landed at Cornraind’s feet. The retired City Guard picked it up, rubbed it on his cloak, sat on the edge of the straw cot, and quietly yet gratefully ate his meager dinner. He even ate the core, eliminating any evidence that he’d somehow avoided a part of his expected punishment.

Dark Light – Author Interview and Book Excerpt

Cover art for Dark Light, the second book of the Web of Light YA Fantasy duology by Kyra Dune.
Cover art for Dark Light, the second book of the Web of Light YA Fantasy duology by Kyra Dune.

The Web of Light, a magical force lost for three hundred years, has been recovered by the heirs of the land of Solice. But its return bears a heavy price. A price that will be paid in blood.

Seva and Valdor have fled to the Outlands, where an unanswered question drives them apart. And as Valdor seeks to prove his worth, Seva struggles to control the power threatening to consume her.

But the web is not what it seems and by the time the truth is discovered, it may be too late.

I love it when I give an unknown fantasy author a try and their work turns out to be a great read. Kyra Dune’s work is known to some, but I’d never read any of her books until recently, when I checked out Web of Light, the first book in the Web of Light duology, from the Kindle Lending Library. I enjoyed the read and admire how the book is structured. For the most part, each chapter is written in five sections, one section per each of five different viewpoint characters, giving the reader insights to events that none of the characters have individually. It’s a pleasure watching events unfold and interweave.

Dark Light, the second book in the Web of Light duology, has just been released, and while I’ve not yet had a chance to read it, I’m looking forward to it. I don’t want to miss seeing how everything set up in the first book plays out. Continue reading “Dark Light – Author Interview and Book Excerpt”

Love After Death – Cover Art

Love After Death cover art So here’s my first stab at a cover for my debut fantasy novel, Love After Death. Click on the image to see a larger version. I rendered the 3D portion of the cover in DAZ3D Studio using the Genesis model. Postwork and titling were done in Serif PhotoPlus X5. The title font is Showcard Gothic. The font for the rest of the text on the cover is Century Gothic.

It’s not easy picking fonts for cover art. You want them to stand out even when the cover is displayed at a small size. I think the fonts I chose will work well for that. LoveAfterDeath-5 Here’s a smaller version of the cover art, at the size you’d expect to see used in an Amazon ad or brief listing for a published book. I have to lean close to the screen to read the text at the very top of the image, but I can definitely make it out. I can read the title okay, but then I already know what it says.

What do you think of this cover art? Does it pique your interest in the novel? What kind of story does this cover make you think the novel will be? Any suggestions for changes?

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Love After Death – A Synopsis

Here’s a synopsis of my debut fantasy novel, “Love After Death.” That’s still a working title, but I’m thinking more and more that I’ll keep it. See what you think.

The story takes place on a world called Pharas, where magic is the norm. Humans on Pharas are said to have come to the world from Earth a couple thousand years ago through a magical portal that is still operational. The protagonist is a thirty-two-year-old human man named Alonso. He’s married to a shadow elf woman, Ngozi, whom he’s known since he was sixteen. They are childless and since being married have discovered they can’t have children. They own a tower by the sea and now they are broke. Ngozi works but Alonso doesn’t because he’s too depressed. Alonso wants a daughter, and although he has secretly “adopted” the ghost of a twenty-year-old woman as his “daughter,” he wants a flesh-and-blood daughter.

Tax time is coming soon, and Ngozi isn’t making enough money to pay the taxes. So she takes the initiative to find Alonso a job that she is sure he can do: a job delivering hats in the nearest city, Hooblaport, which is where Ngozi works. The city was founded by a lizard-like humanoid kindred called the hoobla, hence the name Hooblaport. Alonso’s employer is a hoobla milliner, but it’s a human sorceress called Lady Ryley who got Alonso the job, and she has some requirements of her own. It turns out that more is expected of Alonso on the job than he or Ngozi realized. Alonso is expected to do a little more than deliver hats.
Continue reading “Love After Death – A Synopsis”

Sex Scenes in Fantasy Novels

I need your help, big time. My debut fantasy novel, now tentatively titled “Love After Death,” includes a number of explicit sex scenes. I’ve written them this way because that’s how they flowed onto the page. I have no qualms myself about publishing the novel with the sex scenes remaining as explicit as they are currently written. But I know there are some readers who are turned off by the inclusion of such scenes. Are there that many readers who feel that way, or just a few? I’m at the point where I’m ready to revise as needed and I’d love to have your input.

When it comes to sex scenes, I see four basic approaches:

  1. Not having any sex scenes at all, not even to mention that sex happens
  2. Mentioning that sex happens or alluding to the fact, but not describing any details beyond kissing, hugging or other activities that many people might do in public
  3. Describing or alluding to actions that most people would not do in public, but glossing over the specifics, and not mentioning people’s private parts in any way
  4. Placing no restrictions on descriptions of the actions involved during sex, typically being specific about what is done to or with people’s private parts

I say these are “basic” approaches, because between any two of them, there are many degrees of explicitness.
Continue reading “Sex Scenes in Fantasy Novels”

To Usurp the Usurper

This story first appeared on Burrst.com. All other rights to the story were retained by the author.

Nelvon jerked his head around, afraid that the creatures might be hiding somewhere just off the forest path. His spell of Disreputable Provision had caused them to avoid contact with him for the past three miles, but the spell wouldn’t work on them again.

He reached in his pocket and pulled out a scrap of paper. On it were the words “Discount. Savor. Regress.” He had discounted the hell hounds, in one sense of the word. He had savored the taste of ambrosia, the nectar of the gods. Now he hoped to regress. He stole a glance at the backs of his hands; they were still as wrinkled as before he had entered the ruined temple, before he had found the goblet of god food. His body still suffered from the effects of aging.

He wheezed as he hurried along the path, moving his ancient legs as fast as he could. One, two, one, two, one, two. He kept a rhythm, just as he’d been taught when a member of the wizard corp. One, two. Glance left. Glance right. Were those red eyes peering out at him from the bushes to his right? Was that a dark shape skulking behind the trees to his left?

Nelvon stuffed the paper back into his pocket. His cloak flapped loudly as his legs pumped, continually propelling him forward. Yet his ears were alert, his eyes keen. The smell of wet leaves after an afternoon rain filled his nostrils. What did wet hell hounds smell like?

A low-pitched, deep-throat growl caused his legs to break rhythm and spin him around. There was not one hell hound, but five, the largest of them in front, and only five yards away. They bounded towards him on silent feet that didn’t quite touch the ground. Their eyes burned red, like living coals in a blazing bonfire. The leader came within leaping range, and leaped.

With no time to think, Nelvon spat out the first spell that came to his mind, the spell of Sound and Thud. It was foremost in his mind because of the silence with which these creatures ran. It wasn’t natural.

And he’d used up most of his other spells already.

The leader smacked into him, hard, knocking Nelvon onto his back. His head cracking on the gravel of the forest path exploded like thunder. The lead hell hound hesitated at the sound, its front paws on Nelvon’s chest, its drooling snout hanging over Nelvon’s face, it’s foul breath seeping into his lungs. In that moment of hesitation, Nelvon reached up and took the hell hound by the throat. He twisted, and the hell hound’s neck snapped, while it’s head lolled limply to one side, and then it slumped onto his prone body, lifeless, but heavy in death.

Laughing, he effortlessly rolled the hell hound’s body off him and sprang to his feet. Looking at his hand, he saw the wrinkles had all gone. Pulling up his sleeve, he saw rippling muscles. He lifted his head and laughed, shaking a fist at the sky. “I have done it!” he exclaimed, and the power of his voice surprised him.

The other four hell hounds stood their ground, staring at him, their tails between their legs. Then they moved slowly backwards, retreating to the protection of the treeline behind them.

“I don’t think so,” said Nelvon. “I have defeated your leader. I am now your leader. You belong to me.” He knew the laws of magic and the supernatural. “Follow me, and protect me as best you can.”

They understood him. He was their leader. Their tails still between their legs, they formed a V formation behind him and followed him along the forest path. He did not look furtively about him. He knew that any other hell hounds out there would think twice before attacking him now.

“I am coming for you, Aggreth,” Nelvon murmured. “You usurped me, and now you will pay.”

No one would stop Nelvon from returning to his position as chief wizard on the Wizards Council now. As a demigod, he could rule the council for eternity.

How Quick is Your Magic?

Cover Art for The Crimson League I just finished reading the fantasy novel, The Crimson League, by Victoria Grefer. The book was about sorcery and those who deal in it, and presented magic in a way unlike most other fantasy tales I’ve read or fantasy role playing games I’ve played.

In The Crimson League, magic is powered by Lin, for which not a lot is explained, but that’s beside the point. There’s a power source, and it has a name, something other than manna or The Force or kremm. To tap into this power source, one must have inherited the talent to do so, a status to which not everyone in the world qualifies. If you have the talent, then you must focus your mind and speak the correct word or short phrase. If you don’t focus correctly, the casting may produce an effect not quite what you want. With practice, you can learn how to focus correctly without as much effort. If you don’t speak the magic words correctly, the spell doesn’t take effect. If a magical word is supposed to end with an e and you say it with an a, it isn’t going to work, even though the untrained ear might not be able to tell the difference.

In Herezoth, the land in which unfurl the events of The Crimson League, learning a spell can be done by simply hearing another sorcerer cast it. Fortunately, you don’t have to shout it, or even speak it in a normal voice; if you don’t want your enemies learning your spells, you learn to whisper them when you cast them. But in the heat of battle, it might not be that easy to remember to whisper. And if someone has the ability to read your thoughts, they can learn your spells that way. It gives a whole new twist to using and learning magic.

Take all of the above and put it together with the fact that a sorcerer can fire off spells as fast as they can be spoken, and you can see that sorcerers in Herezoth are damn powerful. It’s no wonder the general population is highly prejudiced against all sorcerers. An experienced sorcerer could take out a band of sword-wielding warriors in a matter of seconds, without a single warrior having the time to swing a sword.

I think every other system of magic I’ve read about, whether in fiction or in role playing game rules, is more constrained than Grefer’s. In one popular system, the sorcerer must memorize the spells that can be cast that day, hanging them as it were on a spell rack from which the sorcerer may choose until the spells on the rack have been expended or the next day arrives. Most of these spells can be cast fairly quickly, but there are a limited number of each spell that may be cast per day, according to how the sorcerer chose them when the day began. Still, it is unlikely a sorcerer can cast multiple spells before any warriors in the area would have time to launch a physical attack on the sorcerer.

In the magic system of the role playing game Tunnels and Trolls, sorcerers don’t have to memorize spells beforehand, but is limited by the amount of kremm the sorcerer can manipulate at any given time, with more powerful spells requiring more amounts of kremm. After a spell is cast, the sorcerer must wait two full minutes before casting another one, presumably because the casting has temporarily disconnected the sorcerer from an immediately available source of kremm.

Yet other magic systems require lengthy rituals to invoke magic. These rituals might take hours or even days to complete, may require multiple participants, and may require items or lives to be consumed or sacrificed. They are more easily interrupted if you can find and reach the location of the ritual, but the effects of successfully cast ritualistic magic are typically extensive, causing or solving problems for vast numbers of people in one casting.

In fantasy fiction, it is typical for magic systems to be constrained for dramatic effect, especially if the protagonist is one who works magic. If sorcerers are magnitudes more powerful than warriors, a tale with a sorcerer protagonist fighting warriors becomes too predictable and boring, since it is expected that the sorcerer will handily defeat the warriors without problem.

Stories abound with a warrior protagonist and an extremely powerful sorcerer antagonist. These stories work because the warrior will be a sympathetic underdog character, but the problem here is to make it believable when the lesser warrior character defeats the all-powerful sorcerer. It’s just easier to tell this sort of tale if magic is constrained in some way, so the warrior character can figure out how to take advantage of the constraints to defeat the sorcerer.

In a tale with a sorcerer protagonist, such as The Crimson League, where users of magic are so much more powerful than warriors, the antagonist pretty much has to be an even more powerful sorcerer. This can make for an entertaining read, as Victoria Grefer proves with her tale. But the direct combat encounters between the protagonist and the antagonist can’t be too numerous—if the antagonist is that much more powerful than the protagonist, then the antagonist should handily defeat the protagonist after only an encounter or two.

My point in all this is that it depends on the kind of story you want to tell as to how constrained you should make your magic system, whether in fiction or a role playing game. In The Crimson League, combat encounters involving sorcery are deadly. To maintain the suspension of disbelief, characters of which the readers/players may have grown quite fond must become casualties. If the author/GM must kill off numerous characters, there will need to be a lot of characters around to start with, or more will have to be introduced as the story progresses. It’s not always easy for the author to manage a large stable of characters or for the reader to keep them all apart. If characters are continually introduced into the story just to be killed off, it becomes difficult for the reader to identify with or care about any of these characters.

If your tale concerns a sorcerer protagonist with few or no companions, you need some clear constraints on your magic system, so it will be believable when your protagonist is able to avoid being immediately incinerated by the more powerful antagonist, and so your protagonist isn’t expected to be able to automatically pulverize warrior foes.

But if you can pull off a tale of high-powered, low-constrained magic involving a sorcerer protagonist, a more powerful sorcerer antagonist, and lots of supporting characters ready to become casualties, and you can do it without making all the characters two-dimensional cutouts, then I applaud you, as I applaud Victoria Grefer with The Crimson League. If you like fantasy fiction and you’ve not read her book, I highly recommend you do.

My Goodreads Review
The Crimson League by Victoria Grefer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Crimson League I’m a sucker for fantasy novels with sorcerers and sorceresses as POV characters. In The Crimson League, the POV character is the sorceress Kora, but because of magic we are made privy to what is happening with other characters, including some that are miles away from Kora, without losing Kora as the POV character. This is genius on the part of the author.

When I read how magic works in the world of this novel, I wondered if the author would be able to pull it off in a manner that would allow for the continued suspension of disbelief. Those who practice magic can cast spells as quickly as they can speak the words, if they are able to focus properly. Spouting off three spells in immediate succession, within a matter of seconds, is possible in this world. That makes for quite a different story from one in which spells require rituals or material components or at least a minute or two of focusing, gesturing, and chanting. It’s not easy to interrupt the casting of a spell. About all you can do to defend yourself is put up a shield in the split second before the spell effect strikes you. So you can imagine that conflicts involving magic are deadly, and the author does not hold back in this regard. Characters that I cared about were slain, some within view of the POV character and others not, and so the reader is made privy to the details of some of these deaths and not others.

In a review of The Crimson League that I read elsewhere, a reviewer didn’t like the character of Menikas. I did. Menikas always tried to do what was right, and not just for himself. He saved Kora’s life, but she didn’t appreciate it and refused to make peace with him. I’m confident that if I had been in the same situation, I’d have done the same thing Menikas did. Because of the way magic worked in the world, with it being so easy to fire off a spell with but a word, and in a situation where Kora would have been outmatched by enemies who had magic, she would more than likely have been killed if she had tried to do what she wanted, which Menikas stopped her from doing. She blamed him for what happened after that to some of her friends, but realistically if she had intervened when she wanted she would have been unable to prevent the outcome anyway.

The situation with Menikas, a “good” character who acted in a manner he thought honorable and which another “good” character thought was deplorable, is just one example of the complex natures of the characters in this novel. Even the antagonist in this novel has some redeemable qualities, including the ability to love someone other than himself.

I never have time to read a book of this length through from beginning to end without putting it down multiple times, so I appreciated the breaks where I could put the book down. But I must also add that I could not put the book down once I had read 70% of it. I had to finish it then, and stayed up way too late, until the wee hours of the next morning, so I could finish without putting it down. I wanted to put it down and get some sleep, but I always found myself starting the next chapter just to see how things were going, and then I had to finish the chapter.

This is not epic, save-the-world fantasy fiction, and it’s not urban fantasy, but it has elements of both. There’s a touch of romance, some underground crawls and above-ground treks and a lot of hiding out in cities, an ample supply of adventure and misadventure, sword and sorcery conflicts, trolls, and complex characters. It’s my kind of fantasy tale.

So, yes, I loved the book. I’ll be reading the other books in the trilogy. I was able to obtain this book as a free download, but I’ll pay for the next two, because I want to support this author. I’ll publish some of my own fantasy novels some day, and hope they are on par with The Crimson League.

Fire and Magic

Some of my visitors have seen this essay before. It is posted on writing.com, but I’ve added to it since the last time I mentioned it to my fellow Tunnels and Trolls fans, and some people who have started visiting The Troll Mystic more recently may not have seen the original essay. I post the updated essay here in full. Though it is written from the perspective of a fiction author, designers of role playing games and adventures might also find it of interest. Enjoy.

If you are writing a fantasy short story or novel that includes Magic, have you thought much about its nature, or is it just something that is there to be used whenever you need it? If you have a clear picture in your mind of how Magic works in your fantasy setting, it will help give your writing that consistent feel that readers expect. With this essay, I put forth one possible view of Magic, not necessarily for you to emulate, but with the hope that it will spark some creative flame within you to devise your own concepts of Magic.

I view Magic as akin to Fire. It isn’t there until the conditions are right for it. The wizard knows how to bring about those conditions. The right conditions might also happen accidentally, whether it be nature starting a random Fire or creating a random outburst of Magic. The careless handling of Fire can be dangerous, just as can be the careless handling of Magic. Continue reading “Fire and Magic”

Personae Generator

Generate random personalities for use in your RPG adventures or fiction projects. Click the Generate link, and a personality is randomly generated. Click again for another random personality. Continue reading “Personae Generator”

Magic Effects Generator

Generate random magical effects for use in your RPG adventures or fiction projects. Click the Generate link, and a magical effect is randomly generated for you to customize for your needs. Click again for another random effect. Continue reading “Magic Effects Generator”