I was a writer when I set out to tell this tale, a writer of some renown in the world beyond these closed walls. That was, I fear, a great long time. Or so it would seem, for my experiences have reshaped my life, yet I believe chronologically little more than six months have passed. But that is of no matter for this telling, for I cannot look forward. I have seen many things, and when I have recorded a warning of their existence, I think that might life shall be at an end.
What I inscribe in these pages will seem fantastical, nonsense, the product of a fantasist. I say that this is not the case, but I pray that you do not find the truth behind these scribblings. It will eviscerate your memory, and render you little more than a shambling dreamer.
As a writer, I journeyed through a great many lands, some lost to posterity, always in search of material that could be woven in amongst the leaves of my books. This latest was merely the next in a long series of these travels, but on this I had chosen to go north, for I sought inspiration in the cold.
North I went, until I was forced to hire a dog sled. I paused there to load my belongings and speak with the locals about places of interest, but little came to ear, and so with the sledge prepared, I set out once more. Days I travelled, then weeks, until all about me was ice, and I stood the northernmost member of humanity.
I had arrived at the changing of the seasons, and each day the sun had sunk lower in the sky, until on this night, it would touch the horizon and disappear, not to return until the following spring. And so I placed a roll of film into my camera, and photographed this once a year occurrence. Yet I found as I looked through the lens there was a strange dot that afflicted my pictures, one that grew in size as the solar orb vanished.
I wiped at the lens, convinced it was little more than a spot of snow, and thought no more of it until I returned to a civilized country. There I borrowed the services of a dark room and developed the negatives I had taken to jog my memory. It was upon perusal of the developed film that I found something strange, for a wisp had encroached upon all of my attempts at capturing that glorious sunset.
Each photograph bore this strange imprint, and two red dots stood out upon the face of the sun, somehow appearing much closer than the rest of the glowing sphere. I muttered into my drink that night, bothered that each and every image of that sunset had become corrupted by some mechanical failure of my camera. Or perhaps some atmospheric effect had fouled the reproduction.
I thought little of it, until such time as other photographs from other journeys showed the same effect. Always taken of the sun at the close of the day, they had the strange swirling wisp and two red spots. In Asian temples, atop Roman ruins, in the depths of an Amazonian jungle, all struggled under the writhing illusion.
For my next research expedition, I bought myself a new camera, one with better film and a crystal lens, for at the time I remarked to myself that the markings had to be an artefact of the camera’s shutter. Yet when I returned from that journey, once more the strange items had placed themselves within my frame.
It then began to appear on images that had been taken before my journey to the northern climes. I found that photographs that had resided on the walls of my house for a great many years now bore the two red dots. Despite the strangeness of these occurrences, my curious nature overwhelmed any good sense and I delved into research, attempting to discern the nature and the meaning of two red dots upon the sun, surrounded by a wisp.
Rare books at the Royal Museum yielded nothing, nor did the most ancient texts with university archives, and even those contacts I maintained within the occult world found themselves puzzled by the reference. A year’s study did little more than deepen my curiosity, and so I undertook journeys to places simply on the off chance that they might house a document that could explain the phenomenon.
At last I found a reference, a single scrap of ancient vellum parchment that had to be translated from a language long lost to man. Yet even that yielded little, and what writing it contained was of uncertain use. Night comes. Twin red orbs upon the day. Night comes. It was only later that I discovered the meaning of that phrase, to my sadness and my loss.
They are not orbs, nor are they marks upon the sun. They are eyes. And the wisp that surrounds them is what little corporeal form they have. They have followed me, and I have been their Moses, leading them from a barren waste of hellish form to a paradise. I hear their language within my head, and I sorrow, for it means that I have little time in which to finish this memoir.
They are all about me now, a great profusion of whirling hosts, for they have been feeding upon those around them, drawing sustenance from humanity. Soon, they will become a plague, and then the rulers of this world, and we will be little more than a shadowed memory.
There is but one hope, and it rests in the light of a false dawn. God bless you all, and may he forgive me for what I have done.
So it’s been a little while since I’ve updated this series, and for that I apologize. However, in the meantime I’ve been working on finalizing the contest that will run after this post is over, as well as being delayed by the real life monster. I am now back, and have enough free time that I’ll be able to resume posting fantasy writing tips each week.
With that said, lets get back to Ferrous Timber. For those who can’t remember the first post about the magic system, it’s here. So we’re half way through the Creating a Magic System posts, and we have Magical Interaction and Items and Artefacts to go, as well as Other Considerations. Lets get to it.
Choice #5: Magical Interaction – How does one half of Ferrous Timber affect the other half? There will be no direct counterspelling, no clear opposition from one side to another, but if spells from both halves of the magical system are cast on a single object, they malfunction, either through collapsing and having no effect, or ending up with a result that is entirely not the desired one for either side.
This does not mean that they cannot be used together at all, but that there are few occasions where that is possible. Because of the mental and stylistic differences between the two halves, very few people have had cause to learn both, and even they rarely try and combine both aspects of magic into one.
People have accepted that magic is a part of their daily lives, although they will always treat mages with a strong degree of wariness and dislike, because of the drain that is placed upon the lifeforce as spells are cast. Part of this is because anyone can utilize magic, and much of what the populace sees daily is farmers, iron apprentices, and others using magic poorly.
Because it is available to anyone, even a moderate degree of skill does not confer any considerable social status or respect from outsiders, any more than being a particularly dangerous warrior might do. However, those with extreme skill and fame are known in the same way that other rulers of legend might be, and are accorded treatment fitting their fame.
Choice #6: Items and Artefacts – Items that store magical energy exist in Ferrous Timber, but only with very low energy levels stored in them. Higher energy levels tend to bleed off into the surrounding environment unless the containment is designed exceedingly well. Most of these items are used as energy storage batteries, places that mages can gather energy and hold it, waiting to use it at a later date, rather than draw on the surrounding environment.
Because of that, the group that has the best quality and highest quantity of these items is the military, because otherwise they could be without magical support on the battlefield. For people working in a day to day environment where magic is needed, such as a farmer or a blacksmith, they have generally located their shops so as not to interfere too greatly with one another, or come up with an arrangement where local mages only use their powers at certain times of day or certain days of the week, insuring that there is enough energy to go around for the creation of magical items.
Tools and other objects that are made with magical energy are very common. Most of the better muskets, cannons, and other heavy machinery has been designed and built by someone with a Ferrous bent, using magic to strengthen and reinforce the metalwork being used, while someone with a more Timber leaning would use it to perhaps shape a tree into a particularly elegant piece of furniture, or craft an exquisite children’s toy out of wood.
As items made with magic are so commonplace, no one finds it out of the ordinary for even a poor person to have acquired one or two pieces, although usually only the quality that would be made by an apprentice, rather than the real goods made by a master of his craft. Most of these items have been blessed with durability, be it a knife that stays sharper longer, or a bowl that doesn’t break when dropped on the ground. Very little in the way of magical energy remains in these items after their creation, for it has been drained and shaped to a given purpose.
Great artefacts are thought to be possible, as people shape their skills into ever more elaborate foundations, but there is little in the way of truly powerful items. There is one exception to this, and that is Ferrous mages have discovered how to animate objects using magnetic fields. Because manipulating these fields is quite difficult, most of the items that utilize them are small, a toy, a clock, a microscope or similar. There are a few who have experimented further, and managed to scale up the magnetic fields to create true automatons, but as of now they are still clumsy and given to breaking under the stress. One day, perhaps soon, they will become much more, but for now they remain little more than curios.
Randomness – Magic in the setting is not random, but can certainly be misapplied. However, when the two sides interact, it is very likely to produce an unexpected outcome. Most people assume this is due to randomness, but these interactions do follow rules. It is simply that no one has ever learned what all of those rules are, and so cannot fathom what happens.
Sourcing – Magic is an external force, an energy that surrounds and comes from all things, but finds itself concentrated in iron, in other metals, and in wood and trees. These can be drawn on with the proper application of skill and ritual, but draw too much and the source in question will crumble, splintering apart and dying.
Range – What magic can be performed in Ferrous Timber tends to have line of sight qualities. If it cannot be seen, it cannot be effected. Certain supremely powerful mages can affect large areas, such as attempting to change the weather over a town, but that requires a stupendous amount of energy, and will usually kill off all the surrounding magical sources before the spell is complete. Most magic is performed on something that is actually being touched, as that gives the mage the most precise means of guiding the energy properly.
That wraps up the Ferrous Timber magic system, and I hope it gave you an insight into designing and building your own. Now, I’m sure some of you scrolled right down to the bottom to see what kind of contest I was talking about, so here goes. This is a two parter being run in conjunction with the brilliant L.M. Stull, and will be judged by myself and by Amy Davis.
Contest Part 1 – Create a magic system, using roughly the format outlined here. 2,000 words is the goal.
Contest Part 2 – Use that magic system to write a 5,000 to 10,000 word short story, and submit both it and the magic system to L.M. Stull. She’ll blind them and pass them on to the judges, and we’ll pick which ones are the winners.
Prizes – And the part I’m sure you’re all wondering about. We’ve got a $50 Amazon gift card for the first place winner, and a $25 card for second place.
The contest will start from today, and run until May 31st, which should give you plenty of time to plan and get your submissions in. That said, I hope you enjoyed this series, and best of luck to you in your writing going forward.
Several times they were struck from the side or the front by opposing Lianese soldiers, but each time, the Lianese were repulsed, although one close encounter had hung in the balance until Rhocas had gathered himself and sent a jet of flame playing across the Lianese front lines. Their moral broken, the Lianese tried to flee, and were slain by the charging Veryan forces.
Each skirmish brought Rhocas, Rhyfelwyr and their forces closer to the warehouses, and now they could see the bulky shapes only a few streets away, the heavy forms promising food and sustenance for weeks to come. Calling to his troops to rally on, Rhyfelwyr trotted round a corner to find himself in a market square, still filled with the stands and stalls of the hawkers. Cautious for an ambush, he gestured left and right, sending Taflen and Gwyth to scout through the remains. The other soldiers tucked themselves in tightly, forming a small square of shields at the edge of the open area.
Taflen advanced cautiously, his sword and shield held at the ready, eyes as much on the roofs around him as they were on possible foes hidden behind the stalls. Gwyth strode forward, openly challenging any who would dare to come stand with him, using his shield to swipe the stands aside, knocking them to the ground. After both had passed through two-thirds of the square, they glanced at one another, and nodded at Rhyfelwyr. The sergeant led his forces forward at a steady pace, until he glanced upwards and saw Llof standing on the building opposite, waving and point down at the street below. Rhy cursed, then shouted at the men around him. “Square, form a square! Pull the stands in as barricades! Now! Now!”
The Veryan soldiers leapt to obey, with Gwyth picking up two stands at a time and stacking them into a deep wall in the direction that Llof had gestured. Within moments there was a shielded square of Veryan forces, wrapped around by an outer barrier of wooden stalls and market detritus. As they finished readying themselves, Lianese forces poured from two of the streets into the market. Combined, the two forces outnumbered the Veryan three to one or four to one, and Rhy steeled himself for what was to come. Leaning over, he tapped Rhocas on the shoulder. “Don’t both using your magic until we’re engaged. Otherwise, you’ll be a pincushion.” Turning to bellow to the soldiers around him, the sergeant cried out orders for the defence. “Grab spheres! Meet their charge at five paces! Then swords!” The soldiers readied appropriately, their faces showing the strain of half a day fighting in the alleys of Horaim, for the sun stood high overhead, and it had barely crested the horizon when the fire had first struck the north gates of the city. Here and there, a shield or a sword sagged towards the ground, but their comrades would jostle the arm back to its proper place.
A trumpet rang out from within the Lianese forces, and Locsyn saw the javelins being readied that would precede the charge. His arm pained him greatly, and was still all but useless, but he had been able to sling his shield from his shoulder and strap it to his upper arm. He could barely move it, but it covered half his body, and that was better than before. Wordlessly, he took the sphere of glass that Rhocas proffered him and tucked it away in his belt pouch. A second trumpet sounded, and Locsyn ducked down as the Lianese charge began and the javelins flew overhead. Most were deflected away, caught in the barrier or glancing off shields, but a few pierced through the shields, and others found gaps in the defences, opening small holes in the Veryan forces. Men stepped forward to fill the holes, leaving an already thin line even thinner. Soon, Locysn knew he would be called to step into the line, and do the best he could with but one arm.
As the Lianese forces reached three paces from the barricade, Rhyfelwyr cried “Throw!”, and the glass spheres were hurled outward, smashing into the face and shields of their foe, shattering into clouds of abrasive shards and cutting splinters. The front lines of the charge stumbled and collapsed, blinded Lianese soldiers collapsing to the ground with broken and bloodied faces. Those behind tripped and fell over their comrades, leaving the charge a ruin before it even reached the barriers. And now, when they tried to charge again, there would caltrops scattered across the ground, promising injury to any who tried to step forward.
For the first time in a long while, I’ve written another entry in the Jenny serial. With luck, I shall finally get around to finishing the story this time.
It hurt. Badly. But JNY-35197 was still alive. He tried to move. Couldn’t. The console had fallen on his legs, crushed them. Suit had numbed him. Waist down was probably gone. Jenny shrugged. Hope his owner hadn’t wanted a sex change.
Propped on his elbows, he surveyed the room. Stirring forms there and there. Three humans up and at the door. He shouted at them, a quick question. Hmm. Six made it, four dead in the crash. And no fire coming through the hole in the blast door. Jenny’d been in worse spots before. Unless the ship blew. He’d never died before, not for real.
A repeater spat through the opening. The humans answered. Jenny dumped covering fire through, not able to see what he was shooting at. Better not. Save the ammo for someone who can fight. Might make it last.
Command better remember which dropship was which. Course, they didn’t care about the organ replacements inside. He didn’t want to die yet though, so Jenny tried raising them on the radio. Static. Damn hull. Jenny sighed and passed out. He needed the rest.
He woke to more fighting. Four humans firing, and another carcass on the ground. Aliens still fighting for the cockpit. Meant they thought the dropship could still fly. A curse, then only three organ replacements firing. Jenny tossed his repeater towards the sound. Ammo was almost out, then.
No grenades. Odd. Guess the alien battlesuits didn’t want to damage the consoles. A glance towards the hole. Three firing again. A soldier dead or out of bolts. The end wouldn’t be far off, then.
Static on the radio. New static. Jenny shouted at the others to get down, but they were already diving for cover. Superheated plasma blew through the hole, melting everything it touched. JNY-35197′s armour started to glow. Infiltrator suits could dissipate an awful lot of heat, but this was ungodly.
Then it stopped, and the radio crackled. No, cackled. And cackled. Well shit. The other infiltrators pulled the console off of Jenny, one of them throwing him over their shoulder. So only four of them had made it.
Ducking through the hole they found a Devastator. Of course. This one had plasma jets where the criminal had once had arms. It hissed and chittered. Then it pointed. There was a tunnel straight through the hull of the ship. The Devastator had melted his way through everything. Guess they were going out.
Daylight. Then Command called. The four organ replacements were going to get promoted. Whatever the hell that meant.
There are days that are good, and days that are bad, and a great many that fall into a morass between the two. That was one of those days, a little bad, a little good, all mixed together into a great serving of life.
Hanging out with friends, relaxing, doing nothing but talking. That was the good. True, to some people it might seem meaningless or unimportant or wasteful, but most people will tell you they remember a silly story from a friend more than a lecture from a teacher. And then there was the bad. Getting shot down by a girl, hearing about a death in the family. That went a fair way towards counterbalancing the good times. But overall, it was a middling day.
Now, the next day? That was a bad one. The shelter we were staying in got hit by a mortar round. A couple of friends died. They were right under the impact. The girl got it in the neck. Well, she didn’t really have much of a neck left, was more what I’m saying. Me? I got off lucky. I was on the crapper, and we’d put up a dirt berm for privacy. I’d just sat down, too. Fastest shit I took in my life. Not that there was much I could do when I finished. The wounded were going to make it without my help, and the dead, well, they didn’t need any help.
They got bagged up and dragged away, living and the dead. Some to surgery and some to the morgue. Turned out a few were just stopping off at the hospital on the way to the freezer. They’d looked okay, but concussion had pulverized a few organs. Lost a few more friends than I’d thought. They’ll ship in fresh meat, replace the bodies. Souls are dead though, and that sucks.
I might make a few more friends, but my tour’s up pretty soon, and I don’t see the point in learning their names. Not worth the loss. Maybe I should though. Not like I can go home and talk to anyone. They didn’t get me after the last tour, so I came back. Nothing says I’ll like it at home this time around.
Yeah, I’ll be back. And I’ll probably die in a mortar attack when I could sitting at home on a couch drinking beer. But I’d just rather be here, y’know?
This is an update of one of his older postings, and too damn funny to pass up on reposting.
The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Libya and have therefore raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.” The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.
The Scots have raised their threat level from “Pissed Off” to “Let’s get the Bastards.” They don’t have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.
The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from “Run” to “Hide.” The only two higher levels in France are “Collaborate” and “Surrender.” The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France ‘s white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country’s military capability.
Italy has increased the alert level from “Shout Loudly and Excitedly” to “Elaborate Military Posturing.” Two more levels remain: “Ineffective Combat Operations” and “Change Sides.”
The Germans have increased their alert state from “Disdainful Arrogance” to “Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs.” They also have two higher levels: “Invade a Neighbor” and “Lose.”
Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.
The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.
Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from “No worries” to “She’ll be alright, Mate.” Two more escalation levels remain: “Crikey! I think we’ll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!” and “The barbie is canceled.” So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.
– John Cleese – British writer, actor and tall person
The Lianese forces on that side of the barricade were soon finished, but two more Veryan troops had fallen, rending their total count down to nine, now that Llofruddiwr had returned to bolster them. That left those nine against fifteen of the Lianese, and the Veryan forces were exhausted. Locsyn could barely stand, having been cut along his thigh, unable to lower the shield to defend himself. Rhocas had gained a wound across the back of his sword hand, and his arm trembled each time he tried to lift the blade. Gwyth stood like a rock, but this rock bled from cut after cut, and even his prodigious strength had slowed and weakened. Only Taflen stood unwounded, for even Rhyfelwyr and Llofruddiwr had been struck. Knowing what must be done, Rhy called out “Charge!” and leapt over the barricade, followed by Llof on his left and Taflen on his right, with the other soldiers a step behind.
Rhy could feel the energy fast draining from his body as he pushed it beyond all limits, and he staggered on his third step, nearly falling to the ground as he struggled with the enemy in front of him. Only a Llof knife-thrust stopped that stumble from being the end, and in a moment Rhyfelwyr was back on his feet, his sword sweeping around in a low arc to cut the ankle of an enemy, shield held high to protect from strikes to the head. Gwyth summoned his massive strength for one last blow, and simply slammed his blade into a Lianese shield, cutting through the wood and metal to drive the tip of his weapon into his foe’s neck. Sword caught in the shield, he let it go and grasped his shield with two hands, laying about him as if it were a club.
The far end of the line was anchored by Rhocas and Locsyn, and they fought as a team, one blocking strikes, the other leaping forward to thrust through the openings created. The style of combat was alien to the Lianese troops, and two fell before they began to understand the rhythm of blows, and drive the two Veryan soldiers backwards. Stumbling, Locsyn was only just able to turn his body to catch the attack on his shield, and he saw Rhocas take a further step back, leaving Locsyn fighting two on his own. Locsysn did all he could to defend himself, not even trying to counter, only trying to deflect the strikes as they came at him. He was rewarded for his skill a few moments later when a lance of blue flame flew over his shoulder and played upon the nearest Lianese troops, incinerating the two he had been fighting, and then turning down the line to catch two more.
The burst of flame from Rhocas left the young mage in a near faint, kneeling on the ground and retching, but it had shattered the Lianese soldiers entirely, and they scattered, a few caught from behind by the daggers of Llofruddiwr, but most escaping, the Veryan soldiers too exhausted to try and follow. Gathering themselves in a tight circle, Taflen applied bandages to the various wounds, cutting strips of cloth from the dead soldiers around them. They waited there for many minutes as the sun passed across the sky, sprawled upon the ground like so many dead, their bodies shut down. Only when the sun began to touch the tops of the buildings did Rhyfelwyr stand again, and gesture the others onwards, towards the warehouses.
I danced and spun among the midnight wave
A thoughtful soul amid my nave
I saw and heard the dancing night
swirling it around me in my delight
It cloaked and covered and comforted my soul
and whispered that it was time to go
And so I danced and sang on down the shore
searching and hunting for my door
It opened wide and opened bright
and took me safe out from the night
and here I wake within my bed
the dream of joy lost instead
Yet both at once…
Perhaps I dream?
Or are they yet me.
If you aren’t cracking up by the end of the first sentence, something is wrong. Yes, it’s an April Fools joke, but if there was a novel, I’d be buying it in an instant.