The Hollow March Anniversary Photoshoot

Yes, you read that right. This frigid little month marks the fourth anniversary of The Hollow March‘s debut, and for that, I decided to have a little fun (AKA be a dork and play with sharp, pointy things). For those of you lurking about Facebook and Twitter, of course, this will come as no surprise, but yesterday I garbed up and got medieval on the Internet, essentially cosplaying as one of my novels’ main characters, Rurik Matair.

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The results were filled with grim shadowplay, filters, and were ruddy mysterious, but had the added advantage of a fancy hat and a scimitar. I would like to have kept both, but alas, neither was within my photographer’s purview to grant (woe is me).

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It has been a long, strange ride friends. In these four years I have not only seen birthed a series I had been dreaming up for the better part of a decade, but concluded it as well. Three books in four years; not too shabby for someone still fending off the latter half of their twenties, wouldn’t you say?

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Like the silliness? Want more? Want to dress up, too, or have great cosplays from other literature to share? Pop your thoughts and links into the comments, and share around. It’s an anniversary, after all, and that means it’s time for a party.

And for those of you that have stumbled across this site for the first time, and for whom this is their first introduction to me: where have you been? Here’s the link to my books, so you know who I am: http://www.amazon.com/Chris-Galford/e/B007A9XDXK/

We Need Another Emperor

New segment time!

Trying something a little different from the norm today, fellows. In the past few months, I’ve gotten a number of requests pertaining to my novels: specifically, for a little more of that information we writers like to call “worldbuilding”. Now, I’ve long since ceased with the whole, “Inside Idasia,” topics, but I thought perhaps expanding on some of the characters of the Haunted Shadows might fit the bill and quell some appetites. With that in mind, I cracked open ye olde notes and whipped up the first of what I’ll call: We Need Another Emperor—stories of Idasia. We start, appropriately, with the emperor as of “The Hollow March”. Enjoy.

Excerpted from the annals of Die Geschichte von Idasia (The History of Idasia)

Matthias I

Matthias came to the throne following the death of his short-lived brother, Joseph III, at a time of uncertainty for the laws of Idasia. Though the Altengard—the electors—of Idasia had confirmed him with little debate, there was some question as to his legitimacy. It had been Joseph who had been groomed for the throne, and his sickly statue had been seen as a staunch rebuke of the Durvalle line. Matthias was viewed by many as a bookish scholar, a boy with his head in the clouds. Many a rebellious lord at the time urged the claims of his younger brother, Mauritz, instead, or even those of his uncle, also named Joseph, and a long established councilor of his father.

Though he began his reign under the regency of his mother and his protector, the Count Palatine Kurste, it was not long until he reached majority. Within three years, he married a daughter of the principalities of Ravonno, Noelia Tirozzi. Theirs was to be a fruitful marriage.

He has survived no less than three attempts at assassination, all of them stemming from those early days. The most prominent of these, later to be known as the Burning of Bruchsal, resulted in the deaths of no less than the Count Palatine Kurste and three lesser lords. The conspirators, a group of no less than fifteen nobles and courtiers, were found out, strung up, and quartered before the gates of Anscharde. Although the Emperor’s uncle was never implicated in the crime, it is worth noting that he resigned his commissions shortly thereafter, and retired to his estates, his claim all but forgotten.

Though young to the throne, and untested before that time, Matthias was to reveal himself from an early age as a true and able emperor. Decisive, shrewd, a fine warrior and a finer horseman, he often played the peacemaker, but would gain the sobriquet “the Bold” for his strategic and quick-moving mind in times of war.

His empress, Noelia, was less beloved of the realm. Though beautiful and keenly intelligent, she was a creature aloof, severe both to courtiers and subjects alike. Some said she ruled the empire as much as her husband, but there is little proof of this. It is a notion stemming largely from how quickly the emperor turned from certain old policies upon her death.

For sixty-some years, their marriage nonetheless held true, and for the most part it was a happy marriage, from which many children (and eventually grandchildren) would flow. A fact which, many have claimed, has contributed to the state of affairs in the realm today…but this is not our tale.

For all the love they held for one another, Matthias was never a particularly faithful man. No less than three bastardies are recorded as his issue, on different women of his court, and noblewomen even in Asantil have claimed children of his own bearing. Of Surelia herself, eleven children would be born. Only one would fail to outlive her mother—this being the second, Sarre, who fell to plague in the flower of her youth, and would bear her parents much grief.

With the help of his brothers and his councilors, Emperor Matthias set out to reform the realm. He took the unified code of the old kings and reworked it, diminishing the rights of the old blood and paving room for new, whilst bolstering those of the littlefolk who toiled beneath his banners. Roads that had been allowed to wear for years were reworked, and new ones ground across the empire. This, in turn, funneled the supplies and troops which tirelessly expanded the boundaries of the nation, boundaries Matthias would be constantly attending throughout his lifetime, such that it was said he scarcely rested anywhere more than a day.

In his youth, so too was Matthias heralded as a champion of the faith, his marriage to Noelia and his own carefully worded essays on Visaj seen as a growing (and troubling, for other nations) link between Idasia and Holy Ravonno. After Noelia’s death, of course, this would change. Today, Matthias is sometimes called the Scourge of Visaj, though this is hardly fair. The emperor has always remained staunch in his faith. What changed were his people. As Farrenism spread throughout his lands, he simply opened it to them, allowing them the same rights as his brothers in faith.

Tragically few see it as such, even amongst his own family.

Thus the greatest problems of the later years of Matthias’s reign would be two-fold: religious dissension, and the unheard of simplicity of too many heirs. Though his son Joseph was named heir apparent from birth, there was no love lost between the two men. Following Noelia’s death, Joseph openly rebuked his father’s policies of conciliation with the Farrens, and for his decision to take up a Farren bride. Some have pointed to the son’s days in the military less as a chance to build his character than as a means to remove him from the emperor’s daily sight.

Of his children from Noelia, only Princess Sara would embrace the new faith. The others would remain steadfast, and there are many who have spoken of “the great factions,” of the court, contained only by the will of Matthias himself, the personal loyalty of his bannermen, and the soothing words of his skilled Chancellor. That the Emperor has had two more children since from his marriage to Surelia Jerantus, a princess of the Jerantus line of the Farren-littered kingdom of Banur, had not aided matters, though.

Today, however, it is the war with Effise in the east which holds the attentions of the scribes of tragedy. For years, the two nations had seethed over their borders. Effise’s navy had long controlled the seatrade routes, while Idasia held all land routes to the west. Effise had long held the advantage of technology, being masters of the cannon, but Idasia was far the larger, and flush with the wealth of its conquests.

For all this, all accounts agree it was the Council of Anscharde which decided things. Matthias’s decision to allow equal rights of property and worship to Farren and Visaj alike, and the murder of an Effisian diplomat on his return from that same council were to be the sparks of a brutal war which has stretched for nigh a decade now. The Church of Visaj, as well, has used this proxy war to push its agenda in the court of Idasia, and to funnel money into Effise.

Matthias has proven himself on the field of Effise, and abroad. Under his reign, his military accomplishments have included:

  1. The Duchy of Walim, in the west, was brought into the sphere of the Empire’s influence. Its old duke, an uncle of Matthias’s, died without issue. Attempts to put a niece upon the throne were contested by Matthias, and the resulting war ended in a year’s time.
  2. The Kingdom of Surin, in the east, was reduced to a chaotic strip of land, generations of petty warfare between the two nations finally brought to a head and the waning power of the kingdom utterly smashed. The Idasian Empire seized the remainder of Ulneberg forest, and all of Surin’s holdings on the western side of the River Jurree. Surin’s king was rendered incapable, its royalty reduced to little more than first amongst many, a horde of barons squabbling for scraps.
  3. The aging Kingdom of Durscht was finally eliminated in the south, its lands split between the imperial provinces of Varstein and Karinth, and the southern Wine Coast thus secured for Idasia.
  4. The Margravine provinces of Momeny and Arlaine were founded in the east, with land seized from Effise.
  5. The Effisian navy was smashed by a resurgent Idasian fleet in the Crystal Bay and, consequently, the Effisian blockade of Imperial territory was lifted. Never before had the Idasians been anything but a land power, yet thanks to retrofitted cannons developed by an Idasian admiral, imperial cannon gained a ranged superiority unmatched by neighboring states.
  6. At the Battle of Halensa Fields, the Zuti menace was finally checked. After having consumed the Kingdom of Naran in the west, Zuti forces had moved to take Asantil and Lorace. Recognizing the threat to its western borders, the Empire joined the coalition of Marindi states on the fields of Asantil, where its cavalry, as well as the advent of gunpowder proved a decisive victory for Marindi nations, and spelled the end of Zuti ascendancy on the continent.

For more than sixty years, Matthias had led the Empire of Idasia to the very peak of its power and prestige. He is called “the Bold,” “He Who Rides,” and the “Good Emperor Matthias.” Yet as the war in Effise drags on, and initial victories have dragged into stubborn sieges, some question whether the aging Emperor, once renowned for his nightly travel from castle to castle and town to town, can still hold up the nation he so embodies…

(Haven’t read the books? Keep up on the fantasy and dive into The Haunted Shadows. Just click the image below!)

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It’s LAUNCH DAY! “As Feathers Fall” is here!

The Emperor is dead. Long live the Emperor…

As Feathers Fall eBook CoverAs fall the feathers of their signet bird, so too fall the great and mighty of Idasia. One after another, members of the Imperial family have been slain, through convictions forged in steel and vengeance fueled by dark sorceries.

The Cullick family stands in the ascendant, poised to snatch a crown long denied them, but they are beset on all sides by the chaos they themselves have sown. Winter saw the horrors of war, spring the sparks of rebellion, but as friend and foe alike surrender to unspeakable crimes, summer may yet bring the soul of a nation to boil.

And if Rurik Matair and his broken band of sellswords can cling to life a little longer, salvation may not be the prize, but they might find a way to balance the scales of their mad quest and put to rest the loss and bitter memories which have consumed all that they have known.

Get it here!

Sample Chapter: As Feathers Fall

Want to read a sample before jumping in? Have no idea what Galfordian writing techniques look like, and would like a fair shake of them before tossing yourself into a trilogy? Have no fear; a preview is here.

The following takes place in the early pages (as I’m sure the chapter header makes clear) of As Feathers Fall, taking place immediately following the events of At Faith’s End. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

 

It was bitterly damp wherever they seemed to move him. In his dreams—though he could no longer tell the difference between the real and ethereal—all smelled of urine and feces, and where his head rolled through the effort of drugged observation, they rustled through endless leagues of muck and thorny branch. Every turn enflamed the wounds that ate at his flesh. Every stumble through trails unknown and unpaved drew another whimper and threatened darkness.

In flashes, the world came to Rurik. They were less than visions, more like shades of shades—a flash of color here, a brush of wool there. There were hands on him even when he slept, and sometimes he came awake shouting, but another hand was always there to silence him. Sometimes he kicked, in his most violent moments, but they pressed him down and whispered his name until he had no more fight left in him.

Voren had hurt him with his blade. Bound and stuck him like a pig, until the blood had run hot across his skin. There were times, in his more lively moments, in which he felt the stickiness creeping along his sides and his hands and he told himself: more blood. There was always more. At least, for now. Eventually, he would run out. Men were lakes, dammed up by flesh. Without it to hold them back, they all ran out.

Rurik wished he were a braver man. He told himself he was dying and the very thought set him to whimpering. All the rest: an act. Face to face with the bowel-shaking notion of what the light would bring—if he could trust the light at all—he knew it to be so. He feared the dark that stalked him.

Somewhere between the boughs of the trees, pale fingers of warmth stroked against the shadows. He saw the forest. He remembered Verdan. Somewhere above him, eyes of green watched and waited, and he was not certain they would weep for his passing.

 

From the fragments of daylight, he sought some semblance of the madness around him, but what came to him was a fevered inability to reason. Thoughts jumbled and broke apart on contact. Yet he knew the pain was worse than the flesh. He felt as if his heart had sundered, pricking him by jagged pieces from within. This, he knew the baker had no ability to render. Those bloodied hands had never once laid the faintest touch upon his heart.

It was the needle that jarred him back. He screamed, but they were already half done before he came awake. Hands jerked against him and the weight of a swordsman forced him down, crying, “Easy, easy,” with Rowan’s voice. Still he thrashed, for the body fought against its pain with a single-minded will, and as the man’s cousin stitched together the serrated lines of his flesh, Rurik tried to retreat. Into himself. Away.

Breaths came in gulping, writhing waves. He whimpered, turning his head, and there, beside the dying embers of a small fire, he beheld the true reason for the pain.

Curses rode the wheezing figure of his guardian, wan beyond his years, nearly still amidst the forest weeds. His eyes were closed, the paleness spread even into the splits of his lips, so that Chigenda, set beside him, was as a great and terrible shadow over him. Nothing seemed large enough to encompass the madness of that vision.

He could not keep the sounds from coming. They burbled in his throat and warbled out with the dying of the light. Blood moved in him and he was cold, and fired in the same instant, and everything twisted up inside. His oldest friend. His guardian. Another father gone before.

They moved to let him retch his pain into the dust.

 

The sun had changed position again when he returned once more. For the first time in nearest memory, the pain within was a dulled thing—a constant, throbbing ache, but deprived the edge with which Voren Bäcker had carved him.

They had pulled him away, patched him up, saved his life, twofold salvations from the course of a day he never should have ended alive. Vaguely, he pulled at the memory of cannon and his brother’s eyes. These, too, had meant to be his end. Somehow, he had stepped along the path of the final circle, only to grow lost along the way. It was a boon he did not deserve.

Assal is not without his whims. What he offers to one must surely be taken from another.

All men had their paths, but all paths intersected, and all were equal. There was always an exchange when something so great as death became involved.

It took a long time for his shaking hands to press against his stomach. A blanket had been draped across him, but he shoved at its weight to reveal himself. What remained was more like a maze of thread than a body. Lines connected across his sides, his chest, and along the length of one arm—the very arm that had been broken, not so many moons ago. Every inch of him screamed against his rising, but he struggled, huffing, into the most terrible pounding he had ever known, and sat upright beneath the trees.

“Assal be damned. The idiots rise. Get you back down before you hurt yourself, child.”

Rowan spoke the words, but they did not still him. Fear was nothing before stubbornness. Before the need to know. He began to crawl before Essa cleared the gap and thrust her arms against him. She was stronger than she looked, and he, so much the weaker. Rurik sputtered and staggered, but she pressed him back, saying, “Stay, stay.”

But he would not stay. “I need to know,” he repeated. Their eyes met, dark and heavy as the double eclipse, and her hands faltered, but did not loose him.

“Your own wounds are not healed, Rurik. If you press them, they will bleed.”

The words rent him bitter. “And whom do we have to thank for that?”

The hurt was reflected in Essa’s eyes. They shuddered once, knowing, and the image sank away into their depths—devoured, accepted, with the weight of so much more.

“That was undeserved, Rurik,” Rowan chided him from across the clearing. He could not see Essa’s cousin, but the distasteful look was in his words. “There was not a one of us could have foreseen this day’s events. We’ll chalk up that talk now to pain, shock, and too little alcohol to numb it all up. But if you persist, I’m not above swatting a bloody man.”

The words bit. He retreated into himself, a lectured child, and felt all the more spiteful for his own bitterness. It was not his choice, merely bodily reaction—so he told himself, but so had Voren no doubt told himself, when his crazed mind propelled him to “defend Essa.”

Voren. Fire spread from his wounds deep into his heart and kindled there, surging against the merely mortal bonds that held him down. I will kill you for what you’ve done. You cannot run far enough. Nor fast enough.

The look Essa spared him suggested she peered into at least some aspect of his rage. She winced deeper, and wilted, but the rough touch did not leave him—it held him and even began to pick him up, to help him along toward their guardian. Whatever her own feelings, she was not above what needed to be done. She never had been. What fear lay in her was a different sort of fear altogether. Not a thing bred of weakness; a dread of what she knew would come to pass.

“I’m sorry,” he said belatedly. She did not look at him. “I didn’t mean—but this, all of this, let it change—”

“Now is not the time,” she answered sternly, and the tone as much as the words told him to let it be. They would speak in time, he knew. There was no need to press. So he fell silent, and looked to his oldest friend.

Shadows were longest where the old man lay. What time had not achieved in years, a blade had finally rent from him in hours. Days, perhaps—in the span between bitter rousings, Rurik had lost track of the time. Yet for Alviss, time was leaking out at an exponential rate. His skin was waxy, where once had surged the vision of a northern frost. Some of the braids of his hair had been cut away, and the grey strands in the blond seemed more prominent than ever before. He lay as if upon a bier, weaponless, defenseless, his eyes open—but scarcely—and his breathing shallow.

Rurik refused to accept what the vision meant. Could not fathom it. So in its space he attached other words, other thoughts. There had been worse, he told himself. Blood was like water to the Kuric, Alviss himself had once said. And he recalled his father’s own words on the man: that he was like a mountain, that man could not shape him with his hands, that only time could bear him out again. He was wrong, of course. They were all wrong. The proof lay before them in the dirt.

Over him, the shape of the Zuti remained unmoving. Hands folded over the Kuric’s breast, Chigenda’s lips twined again and again over the same silent prayer, eyes closed, head bowed. Tucked beneath him, his dark legs seemed to run into the very earth, though the dried blood upon his chest and his hands unraveled whatever serenity might be sought there.

As Rurik and Essa hobbled nearer, the Zuti looked up and stopped them with the same. It was the fierce, wary look of a mother lion scenting danger to her cubs. They tittered. “Can I…?” Rurik asked, but it was the motion of Alviss’s hand that bid him nearer, not the Zuti. Chigenda sat warily back on his haunches, but said nothing.

They huddled before him as children at their father’s feet. But there would be no nightly tale here. No sleep and no sweet dreams. Essa’s composure crumpled as she settled, and a tremor went through her, along with the wracking heave of a sob. Rurik could not bear to watch it. It was hard enough, he reckoned, to look on Alviss himself.

Alviss said, “No children anymore.”

Rurik reached out and took one of his hands. It lacked the warmth of flesh, though sweat slicked it. Words began to spill out. “I am so sorry, Alviss,” he said. “I didn’t want this. I didn’t want any of it. If I had just stayed, none of this would have happened.”

“I would have smashed your skull. For father, brother…you.”

The truth of that pain left Rurik all but speechless. In the end, he pleaded, “Forgive me. I always learn too late.”

Alviss grunted. “Nothing…to forgive. It is. Doubt undoes nothing.” In the same breath, he squeezed the hand that gripped him. Then the hazed mirrors of his eyes swiveled to Essa. “Sweet, you are stronger than this. Peace. Peace.”

“How? How, even now, do you act so—how? I don’t understand. I’ve never understood. We don’t deserve you,” Essa said quietly, as she bundled deeper into herself.

“I know.” Alviss laughed once, mirthlessly, though not painlessly.

“Rest. Dis wait,” Chigenda added.

Crossing the gap of the forest, where he had settled onto the watch, Rowan anchored down across from the Zuti, to join the vigil. “He is not the only one that should.” He looked to Rurik, but no anger moved him. He ran a hand through the copper stretch of his hair, wincing as it touched a bright bruise there. “If there is anything we can do, Alviss…”

Alviss’s eyes closed. For a heartbeat, Rurik feared it would be for the last time.

After a long moment, he seemed to find the strength to speak again. “They need you,” he uttered, without focus. Then, “Away. Nothing…here.”

“Alviss?”

“Free as wind. As…grey dreams, old hands wrought.” The Kuric’s head rolled with that, a shudder passing through the bulk of his frail form, and his lips opened as if to scream—as in any lesser man should have sprung shrieking from them—but made no sound. He blinked several times before coming back into himself, and by then, Rurik and all the rest had huddled closer. Clinging.

“Where is…Bäcker?”

Despite himself, Rurik flinched. That needled worse than all the rest, and he choked back a sob. It was not right. It was not fair. Any of it. Essa openly wept beside him then, burying herself against Alviss’s leg as Rowan, shaking his head, leaned closer still, until the old man could watch his lips.

“He’s not here anymore, Alviss. He’s gone back to Verdan.”

They had not told him. In all the rush, all the madness and the pain, they had withheld that final truth from him. If Alviss suspected, then he gave none of it away. His head moved in the slightest bobbing of a nod, and narrowed on some point between Chigenda and Essa.

“So should we. And you, Chigenda…”

Words trailed. They blended into some slurred nothing. Brows furrowed and the man lurched, seized, and Chigenda wrapped an arm around his shoulders, bearing him up. But it was no good. Alviss heaved, and rasped again, but nothing came. His eyes cast once, wildly, between them, yet seemingly saw nothing, before they fell on the practiced rage of the Zuti. Something passed there the rest could not see. Whatever it was, it chipped even Chigenda’s blank repose.

It was always different, the poets wrote, when Death came for a friend. It was never the end any man should wish.

There, in the midst of a forest in the middle of a burning province, so close to home and yet so far away, he shuddered once more and drew still. Soundless. Then Alviss was no more.

* *

It was dusk and the sun was in their eyes. They did not seem to notice. For all intents and purposes, they were blind from realms far beyond the reach of that mortal sun, with blood slick on their hands and a still man cradled in their laps. For hours, the hunter had watched them. Studied them. Waiting for his moment.

Remorse, like a tick, drank at his heart’s blood, for the man they laid to rest. Were it any other moment he should have—no, not cried, for there was no moment in which he should have so divorced himself from the world—but he would have liked to say his piece to the man. Let him go without any doubts.

The dead man was a good man, and a friend. He had trained them all when they were boys. He and Ivon. He and Rurik. Tonight, he was glad the man had passed, in truth, that he should not have to bear witness to their reunion.

An hour before, the Zuti had gone. Heated words blew between the trees as the girl clawed at him, screeched at and beseeched him, but the southerner’s ears were filled with as much mud as his flesh. He left them, with shadows wrapped about him and blood in his eyes.

More than one man had been laid in that ground.

Still, the hunter waited. Waited long enough to know the Zuti was not coming back. For then there were three, and though the act would not change, he liked the thought of having to strike but three more than he liked the notion of striking four.

He eased back a moment, motionless, holding himself above the earth. Listening. No wind through the trees. The squirrels had ceased their chittering. No sound except the weeping of the young and the huffing of an eager dog.

With anyone else, he should have used a bow. Somehow, that one small distinction struck him as profane for this.

If the Zuti did return, it would be too late. The baker would distract him. The hunter had seen to that—bound the fool and wrapped his eyes, and set him walking through the woods. He had played his part. Freedom was his, if only he found the courage to take it. The hunter suspected he would not.

When the moment came, he snapped his fingers and Cathal—his faithful wolf-hound—burst through the trees. He tore from the cover of the woods on anxious, loping strides, his shadows streaming across the twilit field.

The hunter leapt from his perch and slit the rope that bound him there as his body sank against the dirt. He came on wordlessly, exhausted from the long night of no sleep, but lurching on for all this. The wind reeked of sage and lavender—unexpectedly sensual.

Tonight, Isaak was going to kill his brother.

The other voices were silenced. His trail followed Cathal, followed his slobbering announcement across the ground to the specks of men huddled in the blanket of leaves. He heaved over a bank and between the trees, hair snapping back in heavy chains across his face. They came for his brother as a pack.

With the gathering dampness of the morning, his mind cleared. Purpose gave it an edge. He saw them, narrowed on them, alone among the trees, their heads twisting to the sound of his hound’s sudden baying. He could see the fear—it was a collar, and it pulled them back into the realm of the living with a sharper, simpler grace.

The girl came to her feet with tears wet on her cheeks and a bow going natural to hand. The hunter strafed out of Cathal’s path with a whistle, and the hound copied him, its bounds taking on a serpentine reproach. The other did not rush as the hunter had supposed; he drew steel and kept his ground, digging in to meet the hound’s approach. An old hand. Steady.

Only Rurik did not rise. He edged and struggled, but he seemed incapable. Feeble. Even in the washed-out light, he could spy the flecks of blood that dragged him down. So close. So close.

He could see the boy’s eyes the moment he broke the line of trees: when all other eyes had laid upon his hound, when he stepped from the trees with a blade of sunlight in his hand, the breeze crying out the vengeance no flesh could steal from him.

Some people spoke in moralities. None shone behind his father’s eyes. The longer people lived, the more chance they had to see it in all its myriad shades of grey.

As Feathers Fall

As fall the feathers of their signet bird, so too fall the great and mighty of Idasia. One after another, members of the Imperial family have been slain, through convictions forged in steel and vengeance fueled by dark sorceries.

The Cullick family stands in the ascendant, poised to snatch a crown long denied them, but they are beset on all sides by the chaos they themselves have sown. Winter saw the horrors of war, spring the sparks of rebellion, but as friend and foe alike surrender to unspeakable crimes, summer may yet bring the soul of a nation to boil.

And if Rurik Matair and his broken band of sellswords can cling to life a little longer, salvation may not be the prize, but they might find a way to balance the scales of their mad quest and put to rest the loss and bitter memories which have consumed all that they have known…

A little geography lesson…

Interested in learning more about the geography of The Hollow March and At Faith’s End? Like any bit of fantasy, it can sometimes seem like there’s a lot of names being tossed around therein, so it never hurts to provide a little point of reference for the undertaking. Here are some of the more important names to remember from around the world of Lecura:

A (*) next to a name indicates a capital city.

Those figures listed next to the provinces are the leading figures of those provinces.

Geography

Idasia; Anscharde*, and its provinces: (The Main Focus of the Novels, located on the continent Marindis.)

  1. Dexet—Duke Urtz
  2. Varstein—Count Palatine Veldhart (The Sheep) [As of At Faith’s End, Bishop Hargrove of Tennesburg]
  3. Karinth—Baron Yohan Wendoc
  4. Sorbia—Duke Burkhard Rusthöffen (Lord Steer)
  5. Baharia—Count Haisher Hendensleuce
  6. Thorinde—Count Corwick Ibin
  7. Usteroy—Count Palatine Walthere Cullick (The Lion); Fürlangen*
  8. Jaritz—Count Witold; and Verdan, with Lord Matair; Gölingen*
  9. Berundy—Count Palatine Diedrich Kurste
  10. Lucretsia—Baron Erim Pordill (The Black Goat)
  11. Momeny—Margrave Dustan Scheyer; Ungerührt Tor*
  12. Turgal—Count Herbst Irkaller
  13. Dornitz—Baron Milbard Bresche
  14. Fritensia—Count Palatine Hewlitt Mayse
  15. Brabeck—Baron Kraste Uschent
  16. Khetzen—Baron Othmann Joher
  17. Waibar—Baron Perstin Osich
  18. Wassein—Duke Turgitz
  19. Arlaine—Margrave Kasch Hiris
  20. Corvaden—Crown Land

Kingdom of Effise; Mankałd* (Located to the east of Idasia, sharing a border with its provinces of Arlaine and Momeny. It is presently in a state of war with Idasia.)

Kingdom of Surin (A chaotic, utterly decentralized nation to the east of the Idasian provinces of Jaritz and Baharia, beyond the River Jurree. Following a previous war with Idasia, a loose confederation of barons has seized control, with its king being little more than a figurehead)

Principalities of Ravonno; Turnina*; Palace of the Holy Seal (Located to the south of Idasia, separated from the Empire by a chain of mountains. It is the religious heartland of the Visaji faith, and dominated by four principalities united under the Patriarch of the Church.)

Frmr Kingdom of Narana (The westernmost nation of the Marindi continent. A broken nation now, reduced to a mere province of the invading Zutam Empire.)

Kingdom of Asantil; Calvijon* (Borders Idasia’s western provinces. A devout nation nevertheless viewed as responsible for the rise of the Farren heretics. Widely regarded at the last true check of Idasian power on the continent.)

Kingdom of Banur; Sayerne* (Located to the southeast of Idasia, this rugged land is an ally of Idasia, through marriage to the Imperial family and the Count Palatine Walthere Cullick.)

Dutchies and Baronies of Lorace (Once a collection of tribes, and now a collection of interlaced city-state-like baronies and dutchies, Lorace is located south of Asantil, along the sea. Regarded as vicious fighters, their independence is their own great issue.)

Grand Duchy of Walim (Often regarded as independent in name only, this erstwhile ally of Idasia sits on the Empire’s western border, serving as a sort of buffer state between it and Asantil.)

Island Nations of Karnush (Northwest of the continent lies the isles of Karnush–a smattering of atolls, sandbars, and large islands in their own right, regarded as some of the finest traders of the modern era. A fierce navy and savvy knowledge of the seas is their greatest shield.)

Confederacy of Forlia (Adjoining Banur in the east, this confederacy of states is a sort of half-effort in democracy, with an elected tyrant sitting over the citizens in question)

Holy Empire of Zutam (Zutam the Holy. Zutam the Mighty. Zutam the Terror. A continent and an Empire in its own right. Its origins lie in a continent south of these others’ landlocked existences–but since it crossed the sea and smashed Narana, its presence has become very real for all.)

Talimphate of Tajalik (The easternmost state known to most residents of the Marindi continent–a land of silks and spice, hard men and women, and a rugged landscape dotted at least as much by tribes as civilization–it is the subject of many tales among the Marindi nations, and few of them true. Its size is of some dispute, but its power and elegance is not.)

Species of The Haunted Shadows

For more information on The Haunted Shadows, the series of books in which these folk play a part, I recommend you go to this page. The following are simply excerpts from my bookishly worldbuilding notes which some (though far from all) of you might find interesting. Questions? You know who to poke. Though most the characters you meet in the novels are, in fact, human, it should be noted there are some other folk out there–some reduced to fleeting shadows, some more commonplace than others might suspect.

Care of PublicDomainPictures.Net.

Humans

Huldrene

  1. Aswari—Surface Huldrene. Endangered. (Call themselves Sattar. Often interned or on reservations.)
    1. Rough, almost bark-like skin. Provides chameleon-like effect in woodlands. Flakes with age.
    2. Thin, frail, but agile. Thin lips. String-like hair.
    3. Elongated feet and hands.
  2. Usird—Northern Huldrene. All but extinct.
  3. Otanil—Called Druwen by the Idasians. Dark-skinned Huldrene. Live side-by-side with the Zutam.
  4. Iruwen—Cave Huldrene. Black-skinned. Extinct.
  5. Lamara—Half-Huldrene.

Orjuks—Endangered.

  1. Greyish-green in color. Very hairy bodies. Bigger in frame to humans, and tend to be slightly stooped in posture.
  2. Quite strong. Nomadic in tendency, initially, but when their hordes banded together, and learned the power of their Curii steeds, waged war on the Huldrene nations. Those local to Marindis have a particularly strong hatred for Aswari.
  3. Originated in the hills and mountains of what is now Marindis.

Vell—thinly-scaled humanoids. Webbed toes and fingers. Simple-minded. Largely extinct.

* Anything sentient, but non-mankind, humans have taken to calling “Old Folk.”

Sneak Preview: At Faith’s End (Prologue)

Today, I have a special treat for you. With the release of “At Faith’s End” less than a month away now, I thought it time to tease out some of the facts contained therein. Where better to start than the prologue itself? If you can handle submerging into the crazy that is Usuri once again, I invite you to begin the sequel to “The Hollow March,” and step into the second chapter of the Haunted Shadows fantasy trilogy… More previews and goodies shall arrive in the weeks to come.

And remember: OCTOBER IS THE LAUNCH!

Prologue

Outside in the courtyard a dull, resonant clang issued from the gates. A dozen times a day they repeated that sound. They were never simply open any more. One never knew what might blow in on the wind.

Sword and smoke and always ash, rising in the east.

Outside, they were rattling the last bit of frost from the hinges. Pikes and bows bristled along the walls as soldiers stalked the battlements. They had been lax, at a time, but no more. The snow had gone, or near enough, yet the world never seemed to thaw. As the poets cried, the Winter King was nearly overthrown, but the young Spring Prince crept only slowly from his hole. The first flowers would be long in coming.

Seasons marched, like men, like countries. But there were no countries, and in time there would be no men.

Outside, they went about as if all the world was still the same—and so it was, and it wasn’t. They said an emperor was dead. Others had died before him. Those that lived on shedded tears wiped them on their sleeves and stepped over the graves into the twilight of their lives. Old men passed so new could arise. So this one had, and even now she could smell the stink of him, close her eyes and feel the horror of his ringing pulse battering her heart—the fervor of his face, looming orthodoxy sneer behind the thin veneer of snow and emeralds, and gryphons, as shepherds gliding beneath the setting sun.

All this she saw and felt, and all the while the world went on pretending she no longer was a part of it.

There was no country and no king, and all the fire in Hell bespoke.

Yet inside, she couldn’t feel the tumultuous summer’s pull. The walls assailed her. When she breathed, there was frost in her lungs. When she touched the glass, there was nothing but a mirror of herself, in all its horror.

Usuri had grown haggard over the months spent in Vissering Castle. She scarcely ate. Only when her body cried out agonized gasps for life did she oblige, and always questioningly. In rebellion against the eastern styles of longer hair, she had carved what little she had close to the scalp. There was something satisfying in the motion. Her father gnawed at her waking thoughts and Rurik at her dreams. Each mocked her from the flames. Both gagged her days with brimstone and stole her breath away.

For months her father had laid beneath the earth, but his blood was no longer the only thing coursing in her. There were other faces, other names, ghosts without homes save her own tormented mind. It was only right. She had done them. All of them. She had plucked the chords of their life away and forever silenced their notes in life’s song.

Three tunes for three dead princes.

It was their deaths that racked her, not their lives. Names. She did not like to think of them with names—merely featureless ghouls, stalking the periphery of her soul.

The soul—a fevered thing. It was breaking every day, piece by piece, bringing a skeletal paleness to the olive life of her body. When she killed, pieces of her died with them. Not literally. Will. A slow and purposeful dying within. Inside: blackness. She loathed to look into it, lest it become all she saw. A step or a bound—she did not know how far away she was, yet she was getting closer every day.

How long since she had killed? The princely pair were last in mind—the villain king and his dolled-up brother. She had kissed the one, felt his touch on her skin. It wouldn’t come out no matter how hard she tried. The stain was on her. It bubbled inside with her father’s voice, tormenting her.

“I see you,” it said, “I know what you did,” and she could not hide, no matter how deep she buried herself. Her hands were still wrapped from when she tried to dig the voices out. The blood had stopped flowing, but the bandages held—she knew the danger as well as they did. Yet the danger to herself was the least of her worries.

Somewhere down below, the blood stirred like a poison, threatening her sanity.

They were not alone in the castle anymore. There were others. Those things. They had its blood and they had its eyes, and they were laughing inside, where only her father could laugh now because they had taken him, as they took Kasimir, as they would take her. There was an empress and a prince, and it was their presence that saw her locked within a tower.

Before, she had been allowed to roam a little. She had her watchers, but so long as she was calm, she could roam. Then she had tried to put her claws upon the Cullick wench, the lying creature-creature-creature that had taken Rurik inside her and—they didn’t like that. Cullick saw her to the tower. She was too weak to object. Her deprivations took their toll on her body, as the killings peeled at the innards. They locked her in a tower, ostensibly for her own good, but she knew better.

Cullick couldn’t let her be seen. Cullick couldn’t risk what she would do if she saw them. Yet she did see them. In the yard. On the walls. They were everywhere.

“Father,” she cried as she had when she was small. “Father, I am weak! I have not the strength! I have seen the Sunrise! I have seen the Shadow, and the Lion’s mouth, but it is wide and it is terrible and what am I? Who am I to tip the storms? They will not change!”

Killer! The word barked back at her and she could not deny, but there were words in her head, pounding with the force of a thousand-thousand cannon, and she could not turn aside from them.

Everything slid slowly into place, piece by piece. Little pieces on the board, moving to fruition. Everywhere the kings and queens, riding onto glory and to death.

Their devil-angel rode on southron wings. That was what they said. She could hear it, when she wanted. It haunted her dreams. The terrible shadow in his robes of white—they could not see him for what he was. She ran from him, but he only grew and grew, fangs falling from his malformed cheeks as his body bloated and distorted. He would laugh at her, arms outstretched as the darkness spread around him. He was a devil, and in her dreams she would round the circle three times, and he would catch her, pin her, devour her in white, and she would be falling into pyre flames, and everywhere was her father, tortured in innumerable ways, and always by the same faceless woman, wearing her husband’s crown.

And as she screamed, the choirs sang—the children’s dirge, from little bodies without tongues. Sometimes, she saw Rurik there, and she would call out to him, but he could not hear her. Then it would be him on the scaffold where his father met his end, and it would be his head put before the chopping block, and Essa with the blade. Singers sang, the head rolled, and at her feet, Charlotte would raise it to her lips and the head would ask:

“Can you see the glory?”

Of the coming, of the coming—

The door rattled and she twisted back, watching how the shadows spread across the twilit planes. The room was always brightest this time of day. Keys jangled, real voices gossiped.  Her prison didn’t feel quite so small in these moments. Yet it wasn’t small, not really. Not terribly, at least. She had a bed and pillows, two mirrors—thrice broken each—and all the space for walking, wandering, twisting, dining on the open air—and the purity of that air was a marvel. There were no cobwebs. Not anywhere. She saw to that, day in and day out.

One day, she caught a spider weaving webs above the door. Spider-little-spider-May, she never saw it coming. Then there was no more spider above the chamber door.

If only she were just as squishy.

Weren’t they all?

Light broke from the hall beyond, in ringing dust. Usuri tried not to cringe. In the ring—a scream—then nothing, never.

Would that she could pluck her wings.

Charlotte filled the silence with her doll-like form—no ruffled wrinkles, no miscombed hair; curled, gold as the coins bitter men exchanged. Her skin—like porcelain. The light struck her angelic.

Tray in hand, the angel moved parallel to her, to place her meal beside the bed. Usuri inched a pace, on hand and foot, marveling at the novelty. Little Charlotte was not a rarity in her presence, for all the ill-will she bade her, but the girl never brought her food. Whether that was her desire or her father’s, Usuri could not say. All Cullicks are as kings before the servile—above, beyond, mere men with lofty heads. She watched, but she moved no nearer. A shadow lurked behind the angel, filling the doorway, then the room. She did not shrink from it, but she did not goad it.

It had struck her. It would have no problem doing so again.

She cringed, reveled—perhaps, again.

“A mess. As ever.” The angel did not look at her as she set each item on the bed. “How might a woman become a beast?” She paused. Usuri could imagine her smiling. “You teach us every day, bit-by-bit.”

Usuri kept her silence. Charlotte moved on, handing the tray off to her shadow as she gathered some unseen strength into herself. Charlotte turned, steadied, drank her in. Usuri waited, shrinking—she did not like it when those eyes were on her, when they would meet her as a person. She advanced, a river rushing on to swallow her whole. Usuri felt her breaths quicken, felt the tightening in her chest. Angel wings, all too near. False promises taking flight. She shut her eyes, tried to close out the voices.

“Can you see the glory,” her dead father asked.

“Go away,” she whispered as the body crouched beside her. Tiny angel wings, like a fly’s—she could crush them if she wanted. Just needed to reach out and…

“Usuri, please look at me.” She did not want to look. Hell is in the eyes, and in Hell you can see and you don’t want to see and everything is…“Please.”

Usuri lashed at her, crying “Out!” but the hand caught her wrist, Usuri’s shaking wrist. Another was on her arm and she did not want to look but Charlotte was there, and she was not leaving. They never left. Not really. They were everywhere and all around—but their walls, their halls, they could not hold her. Even with body broken, the spirit rose and swam in the deep recesses of the forgotten—self.

Usuri looked at her with eyes hollowed in the flame’s of man’s hate, watched the mirrors of the angel and the monster in their reflection. Her or her, she could not say. There was compassion there, though, staring back at the remnants of her life. The hand on her arm moved slowly, purposefully. She felt it, did not watch it, but it came to her, stroked the hair from her face and flecks of dirt from her skin. She must have been so thin.

Charlotte’s face shrank at the sight. Her eyes left Usuri’s momentarily. They found the floor, then back, creasing with care. “What is it like?” Charlotte whispered. Her touch lingered on Usuri’s cheek.

“There are things out there, you know. Waiting. We do not want to push you. You are so…”

Dead?

“Frail,” said Charlotte. A line of worry creased the woman’s brow. “Surely this does not…” Need to be? Apparently, Charlotte thought better of her path. Usuri could see the shift. “But you did this to yourself. And before that: them.” Charlotte’s hands folded in her lap. A place where so few things fell. Usuri would have thought her virginal, but all was poison there. Rurik was poisoned there. “It will get worse now. Our lord’s inquisitor would sit the throne. Ring about his neck, with bastard children in tow. There will be burnings, you know. Of course you know. Do you care?”

Underlying: would you have them do unto others as they have done unto you? She could imagine Charlotte burning, but the pretty locks always fell away until it was her father’s grimacing, screaming face—but she had not been there. The moment when the Inquisition’s flames finally split his screams. She could only imagine it now.

“Father wishes to see you. With them, between them—it grows dangerous. It’s just a matter of time before—it’s worse now. Much worse. We would end it. And you—I know you do.” Justifying, clarifying, always mitigating to the sound of its own sullen ring! A beast! A beast! Father, how of this breast, or of this beast, might any word yet change? “We could not spare Matair, but the rest—they still breathe, you know. Would you like to see them?”

And say what? Usuri looked at herself and in a moment’s clarity saw what they saw: the disheveled monster, in fine but ratted gowns; bound hands, black feet, hair crusted wet. All of House Matair was dead. She could smile for them and twirl in her little gown, as this creature did, but they would never know her as anything more than their father’s novelty.

“You will lie again,” she whispered.

Charlotte smiled faintly. “All men lie. Should we wish against it, we should not speak at all.”

“Does it sing? When no one is around to hear it?” Usuri watched the confusion settle about the lady. “Take heart. He moves in you. Never…I cannot touch them if I know not what to touch. I see them, but I do not know them.”

More than once, she had heard Rurik’s voice ringing in the dark. That faint cry from fields choked with frosted death. She tried to shut him out. To close her mind and her ears against it and pretend she couldn’t hear his pain.

“We can piece them for you. Or bring you to them. This is bigger now. You’re not a shadow, Usuri. You’re not,” Charlotte said.

“It says, the songbird without wings. In its cage, it speaks of wind. What does it know that she does not?” Usuri touched the hand and the hand faltered. She traced it down the wrist, felt it yield until the shadow stirred its steel. Such lines, such grace, majesty in a vase—the design was fickle. It never knew. They never did. It took something larger. “If it comes, then so will I.”

She released her grip on Charlotte’s skin, and the girl drew up and away. They always did. They had their purpose, and once they saw it done there was no other. Usuri folded her hands into her lap, watched the way the veins creased along the knuckles. So frail.

Rurik might have said that to the lamara whore, as he caressed her at night.

“Will you eat?”

Usuri smiled toothily at the woman until she left. Eat is the wrong word, she thought, as she looked over the bread Charlotte had left behind. She would consume—until she had grown fat on all the vagaries of her odium and burst forth in a requiem of deconstruction. How sweet the sugared tune that would sing them all to silence.

Inside Idasia: Vashra (Religion, Part 2)

When last we left our insipid heroes…

Wait, wait, I have that all wrong.

What I mean to say is, when last we left our discussion of faith under the banner of Idasian intricacies—humble, god-fearing folk that we are—I spoke of the two most prominent faiths on the face of the continent Marindis: the Visaj, and the reformer Farrens. We talked of rings (cue quips of “one ring to rule them all” and “One does not simply walk into Walmart…” Yes, yes, you’re all very witty, and I know it’s what you were thinking), and war, touched even briefly on the notion of blasphemy.

Which, mind you, is always a fun bit to prod in writing. Everybody has their own notion of blasphemy, after all, and it’s just such a fun word to say. Not as fun as shouting “Burn in righteous fire,” of course, but we can’t all be torch-wielding mobs…

…yet.

Persecution of witches

We humans have had some eh…rather disturbing periods. Persecution of witches. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I digress. This week, we continue the religion-minded train of thought with a wheel to the southern heat, where the scorching jungles of all Holy and all mysterious Zutam lie. While faith marks the cornerstone of most medieval cultures, the Zuti are curious even by these standards, for theirs is an Empire governed by the spiritual—and yet, at once, deprived of the fanaticism oft-seen within the boundaries of Marindis.

An area of the Sierre Madre jungle

Hot, wet, and sprawling. Hurrah for the jungle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Holy Empire of Zutam, which has come to encompass an entire continent (as a consequence now also called Zutam), and begun to press even into Marindi lands, follows the path of Vashra. They follow no gods, nor do they believe in an afterlife, per say.  Instead they follow spirits—the embodiments of all things, less personalities in their own right and more facets of the world given name. Ancestors, too, are often looked to for advice, or aid—but they are not worshiped. For in Vashra, all creatures are equal in spirit, living or dead. Even Uhnashanti–“the greatest one”– who birthed and protects both man and the world alike, is not heralded as a god; merely a piece of the universe that surrendered his self to give the masses form.

Death, for the Vashran, leads only to a joining of the spirit with the soil. The shackles that form the flesh are removed, and the spirit roams free at last, at peace with those around it. Life, to them, is the teaching, and the learning—the path that allows our minds to open to the fullness of the world. This is the reason life, in their tongue, is called “kujifunza”—learning.

Though they take the emperor of Zutam to be their holiest figure, Vashran do not see him as descended from the gods, or the spirits, or even a god himself, as some cultures might. Rather, the emperor of Zutam is expected to be the most enlightened figure—the guiding light, as it were. He is revered as such. Unfortunately, this also means that for those emperors proven to be reckless, and lecherous, and cruel, there has been plenty of precedent for removal. Historically, this has often enough ended in a fiery coup, culminating in the elimination of much (if not all) of the reigning royal family.

One could never say Zutam is not a turbulent place.

Various sects exist within Vashra, of course, owing to its essentially polytheistic routes. Numerous shrines litter the empire, in fact, dedicated to spirits of fire, and water, or even to the great mother spirit itself—the earth. Though some are more militant than others, as the equality of these sects is preached almost from birth, there are few squabbles between them—though human nature of course makes some conflict inevitable.

Dreamcatcher Español: Atrapasueños elaborado c...

Vashran believe the followers of Visaj, as well as the Farrens (a distinction of religion lost on them, by the way), to be something of misguided children, rather than outright heretics. While their path is no less valid than Vashra itself, it is the methods of its pursuit the Vashran frown upon: the praising of idols, the constant in-fighting, the forcible conversions. Faith as they see it is a matter of the individual—a stark contrast to the Visaji belief in the oneness of society.

If there were any one symbol of the Vashran—beyond the Emperor himself, of course—it would likely be the dream catcher. For the Vashran hold the dream realm above all others—a place where the mind is free to roam, and the spirit is able to break its bonds with the chaining flesh, however temporarily. Dream catchers and the “sterre spice”—a potent drug often used by shamans to induce deep and hypnotic slumbers—are, as such, some of the most spiritual assets at their disposal.

Inside Idasia: The Magic of Lecura

Magic, as they say, is often the difference between a wild sci-fi adventure, and a fantasy one.

The world of Lecura, in true fantasy form, has its share of the magical, though it’s somewhat different from what you might call “traditional” fare. Of course that’s something of a misnomer, as nearly all the great fantasies have their own unique marks on the magical realm, their own guiding principles and laws that truly lend that awe-striking element to the show (as seen on io9’s fantastic chart).

So what I mean to say is that for The Hollow March and its sequels, magic is not a “normal” affair. For the people and the world of these books, it is not commonplace or widespread knowledge. It is rare, it is scorned, it is terribly self-destructive, and it is bound by one of the most concrete principles of our own world’s precious science.

It is, however, an art learned (in most instances)–not an inherited trait. So let’s learn, shall we?

To begin, the magic of Lecura is based upon the concept of transfer, much as we often credit to alchemy today. Powerful as the stuff may be, matter can neither be created nor destroyed therein—merely manipulated, merely affected.

Take Usuri’s interaction with the overly-affectionate soldier in the opening chapter of The Hollow March. Therein, she puts her lips to the man and twists dark magic upon his very innards.

How?

Well first of all, she had a connection to the man. Skin met skin. Saliva met saliva. From there, it was merely a matter of manipulating that bond. He was the catalyst, and she took the man’s saliva—the very water of him—and simply edited its state, freezing it solid and killing him utterly.

Warning: not party friendly.

See, that whole water into wine thing? Much safer. Also tastier. (Image: Fire campfire by Titus Tscharntke)

In the same vein, I could hurl dirt to the wind and set its bits ablaze. I could take the same dirt in hand, rub its weight upon my skin, and let it color me dark as the mud beneath my feet. In theory, I could even pull a Jesus, and step upon the waves.

So long as I have a connection, I can work change upon it.

But could I kill outright? Could I touch a man and order him to death? The disturbing fact to consider is that yes, yes I could—but to kill outright is somewhat different from mere manipulation. It is a force of will—the forcing of things into their antithetical position: to render being unto death. All the ingredients are there, of course, but it is not so simple a manipulation as others. You cannot take without giving, and as this is rather distinctly a taking, it requires an equal trade to see it done.

Yes, I could kill a man, true, but I would have to sacrifice myself in the process. A life for a death.

See what I meant about alchemy?

That’s why the round-abouts are so important. Take the dirt I set afire. I could cast it on a man and he would die, writhing in flame, without any sacrifice of my own required. Why, you ask? Because it was the fire that killed him. Not me. I did not will him unto death. I set the dirt aflame and the flames burned him down.

Big or small, though, the change requires some fuel for the flame. Though all magic drains the body, the most potent of these works drains the soul as well. As I posited before—to kill a man outright, with touch and breath, would take the same sacrifice of the self. Yet to spark a flame on dirt would also take sacrifice—though at a much lesser extent. A spark for a spark as it were—a few moments’ pain, or a week’s. It all depends upon the size of the action worked.

Once upon a time, the magical of the world would track precisely how many years of their own lives they had shaved off their own lives using themselves as catalyst and ingredient.

Terrifying, and more than a little masochistic, to be sure.

emo/scene

Okay, okay, so sorcerers can probably get a little emo at times. ("emo/scene", Image by Wikipedia)

What makes the art truly terrifying, however, is that one can work it from afar. So long as I possess a piece of a person, or a place, I can work my will upon it, though we could be miles apart.

Perhaps the best way to lend the concept visual in the mind’s eyes would be to compare it to the overly simple western (mis-)interpretation of Voodoo, dolls and all. Say I held a doll. Say I wished to hurt a man with the doll, a hundred miles from my door. Well, the doll in and of itself bears no connection to the man, even if it is a rather fetching likeness. It lacks a ground. Now suppose I had a clutch of the man’s hair. Then, I have a ground, but no focus—unless I wish to ruffle the man’s hair.

In joining the doll and the hair, however, focus meets ground, and the doll becomes a focus for the man. Say I lit the doll aflame then, and focused my will upon that distant soul. He would light up like a Christmas tree.

Yet this process is, of course, also more taxing. As we lack the whole, physical connection, greater bits of the self are often sacrificed to lend weight to the bond, lest it prove too tenuous. Though all magic drains the body, the most potent of these works drains the soul as well.

Once upon a time, the magical of the world would track precisely how many years of their own lives they had shaved off their own lives using themselves as catalyst and ingredient.

This is also why, above all else, caution is key for any sorcerer.

And it’s a trickier lesson to learn than you might think—since most the teachers have long since gone to their good earth.