25

May

by thefourpartland

The sound of a bell startled Yaden awake from where he had been dozing, nose down in a particularly dry and academic tract on the families of the High Arcanist, and what had caused each one to rise to that position.

Across from him, Canere was still awake, although with bags under his eyes. And sitting to either side of him was two stacks, one much taller than the other. As Yaden watched, the pamphlet in Canere’s hand was dropped onto the shorter of the two stacks.

“Canere, what time is it?”

The first answer he got was a yawn, followed by a stretch.

“Canere?”

“I think that was the dawn bell, although I’m not sure. I lost track a while ago. It’s the downside of being tucked into these archives.”

“The dawn bell? I said I was going to be finished at the midnight bell! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was too busy studying. You’ve known me how long and you thought I’d remember what time of day it was when I found something interesting?”

Yaden sighed. That comment was, sadly, entirely true. Canere had never been able to devote anything less than his full and undivided attention to something he found interesting. Hence why he was so suited for the life of an arcanist.

“Fine, fair point. But what do we do now?”

“Well, I have to go to classes soon.” The young mage paused. “Blast. No, I don’t. I have to teach the children’s classes. That’s much worse than I thought. You sure you don’t want to cover for me, Yaden? I’m sure you could cope…”

“I just spent a night helping you on your newest crazy idea and now you want to drag me into that? Not a chance. Me, I’m going in search of a good breakfast, and then a bed. It will at least keep up my reputation as the last roustabout of Yn Dref, provided no one knows why I was up all night long. If you want to rope someone into help you, I suggest Ira. She’s going to be fresh this morning.”

Canere snorted. “I prefer my legs unbroken, thank you. Her denials can be rather… vigorous sometimes.”

Laughing, Yaden waved goodbye to his friend as the two departed the archives.

***

Ira, for her part, was in fact engaged in something vigorous at the precise moment of Canere’s comment. And in much the same vein as he had meant it.

“No, you dolt. You don’t try and block like that, you step to the side. It’s much easier and doesn’t risk your weapon being broken. You really should have learned that by now, I’ve shown you enough times.”

The trouble of it was, the lad that Ira was instructing as part of guardsmen training was making the block work. He was the second son of one of the few remaining blacksmiths, and much like his kin, was the size of a small stone tower. And about as rugged. Which meant that if he wanted to block a strike and got his training blade in the way, the strike was going to be blocked, whether it should have been or not.

And no amount of shouting, cajoling, instructing, or other techniques had been able to get the trainee to adjust what he was doing. Yes, it worked, but it wasted energy and meant that the lad would eventually run up against someone with enough skill to take advantage of the hole.

That was the theory, at least, although in Ira’s experience, the only enemy the guards ever defended against was the wild and sometimes starving predators that roamed the peaks of the Ogleddol expanse, and against those creatures, brawn counted for far more than almost anything else.

There hadn’t been an actual invasion of Hania since the collapse of the skycities. Why should there be? If someone wanted the fabled magical artefacts of the Hanians, they could easily find a fallen skycity and plunder it, rather than invade the lands of the last working one. And no doubt that had been done, although the truly inhospitable terrain and hidden valleys that had proven so useful to the Hanians in the past were no doubt still serving to keep most treasure seekers away.

Frustrated with everything, but perhaps herself most of all, Ira waved off the few trainees, sending them to get some food and water. Trainees… There were eight of them, six boys and two girls, and that was the entirety of this year’s guardsmen class. And four of them would be useless in a fight. No courage, no willingness to take a hit, and no hint of skill with a blade.

Sitting as she was, she could only hear the approaching footsteps.

“Another rough day, Ira?”

A glance up showed her Vendol, Senior Guardsman and what passed for the leader of the ragtag Hanian fighting force.

“Even in the year I joined, some of these would have been turned away.”

“Aye, I know. But we make do with what the gods have chosen to give us, not what we wish we could have. I could wish for the serried ranks of the Dark Havoc to rise once more, but that elite corps is consigned to the pages of history. And so we take gutter orphans and make them soldiers.”

“How? I always thought I was good at training, until I met this lot. The blacksmith’s boy will be the best of them, but that’s his father’s gifts, not mine. Several of the rest will be functional, and the bottom few little more than animal feed. Three of them against a single of the winter wolves would probably see them all killed. And when the news of that filters back, it will come to rest on my head.”

Vendol clasped her shoulder, turning Ira to face him. “No one else’s death is on your head unless you run them through. I’ve done my best over the years with the guards, but that doesn’t mean no one has died. If someone’s standing livestock duty alone, and an ice bear charges him down, unless he’s got Fasnachu’s own luck, he’s dead. Doesn’t matter if it’s you, me, or anyone else. Not one of us can manage an ice bear solo. And you’re selling yourself and the students short. They’ll turn out to be better than you think in the long run, and you’ll be the one who put them there. So smile and bear up, because the gods know we need every living soul who can.”

That drew a slightly pained grin from Ira, but a grin it was. “Fair enough, Ven. And while you’re here and in a good mood, do you mind if I take the kids down below? There’s been reports of some wolves harassing the outlying livestock pen, and I’d like to check it out.”

“Just remember to issue them real armour. Having any crippled this early on would set back the whole class.”

Ira nodded. “I understand. Was planning on bringing my homemade bow as a just in case.”

Vendol sighed. “That monstrosity? Fine. But if you break your back carrying that thing through the brush, it’s all on you.”

“Always is, chief.” Sketching a rather jaunty salute, Ira trotted off towards her home.

22

May

by thefourpartland

Dinner had been a tepid affair, as it always was these days, with little to recommend it and no flavours to speak of. It was nutrition, pure and simple, and that was all that could be said in its favour. Indeed, it was a meal to dampen the spirits, as were all the meals taken on Yn Dref these days. It was in those dampened spirits that the three friends found themselves wandering the city streets, past grey mothers and greyer children.

Ira waved a hand at the Hanians that flocked around them. “Are you sure you don’t want to help these people, Yaden? There’s little reason not to.”

Yaden sighed. For once, the boisterous nature was gone. “Ira, I’ve nothing of what they truly need.” He flicked his hand into the air, and a light shower of sparks came from it, twinkling as they extinguished themselves in the night air. “You’ve witnessed something near to the extent of my powers right there. And what we stand on is the floating remains of a mountain top, ripped from the ground and upended by magics that we can barely comprehend. The gulf between my meagre talents and the arcanists of the golden era of Hania is so vast as to swallow all the valleys that feed us and then some. To save our people, we need gifted who can cross that gulf. Instead, the very best we have exhaust themselves daily just trying to keep what remains flying. And they’re failing. The old Market District is somewhere down below, now. As are the original barracks, some of the Temple Quarter, and who knows what else that fell before I was old enough to understand. The entire might of our existing arcanists is not enough to keep one skycity in the air, and yet in the history books, we learn of a time when there were dozens, if not a hundred or more, floating above the vast canyons of Ogleddol. So no, it’s not that I won’t, it’s that I can’t.”

Canere, ever the scholar, began to muse. “But why has our talent level fallen so far? We’ve the same bloodline as the arcanists who came before. Indeed, most of the upper families remaining can trace their heritage back to the greatest of the great, and are more intermingled than any twisted vine. So that’s the same. The world around us has changed, for sure. The old empire of Arhosa is no more, but Hanian society was long somewhat separate on our skycities in the first place. The Enayinbo magicians who helped forge Arhosa were our equals, not our betters.” He paused. “I’m going to the archives. The answer has to be in there somewhere.”

The other two groaned. They had seen what happened when Canere got caught in the throes of an idea, and it would mean him spending hours upon hours digging through whatever had caught his fancy. And then dragging the two of them into it.

“Tomorrow, Canere. Despite being the one who wasn’t a fool on the edge of the world today, I’m tired. Maybe that’s because I was doing actual work. So, before you have your mad moment, I’m leaving and going to bed. Yaden, I suggest you do the same.” Ira departed, shaking her head at the ideas that would sometimes sprout in that mage’s mind.

“Yaden, I kept you safe today. The least you can do is give me a little bit of a hand with the research.”

“Canere, I’m going to say yes, even though I’ll regret it within moments. I’ll help until the midnight bell, but then I’m off to the comforts of my bed, such as they are.”

With that, the two of them set off in the direction of the arcanist archives.

***

It had taken some begging and other whining to have the librarians allow the two of them access, but after being persuaded it was a historical topic, they relented. The librarians, mages themselves, had seen too many young fools hoping to find the secret to the lost power of Hania somewhere in the stacks. Usually followed by said young fool attempting to cast one of the spells he had found and killing himself and possibly others.

And yet it was precisely to those shelves that Canere first went. Although he did send Yaden off to collect a host of histories from around the golden age until the present. As a fully trained arcanist, albeit one quite far down the pecking order due to youth, Canere did technically have access to the shelves in the back, although his instructors had rather pointedly not mentioned them to him. He’d had to discover their existence for himself, as well as what they contained. But his studies in the dusty corners of the archives had given him some of the insights that allowed him to become the arcanist he was today. Which, on the whole, was not saying a great deal.

Yaden returned to find his friend nose deep in a scroll, peering at oddly scribed words. “I’ve got the mess of documents that you wanted. Now what?”

Canere poked his nose over the scroll. “Start reading.”

“I need to know what I’m reading for…”

“Something that’s not the same as it is today.”

“Canere, that’s everything. Aside from the fact we still, barely, live on a skycity.”

The young mage paused, marshalling his thoughts. “Okay, here. Look for things that aren’t done the same way as today. Especially magical things. Something’s changed between their day and ours, and I want to find it. Our connection to magical energy isn’t as strong as it once was, and it’s not the bloodlines that’s causing it. So somewhere in those documents should be at least a hint of what’s causing it. Habits, behaviour, something’s changed that brought about Hania’s downfall. And it has to be wide enough to affect a whole civilization.”

“And if there isn’t?”

“It’s either in your documents or mine, so start reading. Hemming and hawing isn’t going to get through them any faster.”

Shaking his head at his friend’s surety, Yaden began to pour through the stack of old books in front of him.

21

May

by thefourpartland

The Last City is the next in the series of short stories and novellas that take place in the land of Arhosa, a long standing setting of mine.

The city of Yn Dref floats among the clouds of the Ogleddol Mountains, the great expanse that spans the north-eastern region of Arhosa, inhospitable to almost all life. Peaks permanently covered in snow and ice rise from the mists that wreath their noble shoulders, and even the birds do not frequent these icy slopes, preferring warmer and softer climes.

But there is life here. Small creatures dash across the snowy covering, sleeping away the winter and reviving in the summer to eat of what little food they can find. And then there are the secret valleys, nestled between the forbidding peaks, full of cold and hard earth, barely fertile. These valleys are the lifeblood of the Hanian people, for, scattered and weak, they farm amongst the rocky mountains, providing the grains that feed their floating cities.

There is little of life here, up atop the crown of the world, and it is life that gets smaller every year, for the people of Hania breed slowly, and die at a faster pace. Once great mages who travelled the lands in their flying cities, they are now reduced to little more than maintainers of the past, holding on to the remains of what once was theirs. Their libraries are full of old texts on manipulation and modification, on making a stone as light as the air or a feather weigh the same as a boulder. Yet almost none of the mages living can manage those spells, and the shrinking brotherhood watches as their flying home crumbles into the mountains below.

***

“You might want to consider stepping away from the ledge, given how much of the city has fallen in recent years.” Canere stared over at Yaden, his lifelong friend. And a bit of a fool, in Canere’s eyes.

“But if I do that, I can’t see what’s below me. And it’s such a view.”

Indeed, it was, for although Yn Dref was failing, its perch high above the ground gave it a view of the world that naught but the birds had ever possessed. Well, the birds and once the entire Hanian civilization. Now most of the people who claimed that heritage worked down in the valleys below, harvesting grain and managing what livestock there was. In decades past, those hands would have wrought spells, summoned food with a flick of the wrist, but now they were the lowest of peasants, unable to do anything but grub in the dirt.

“Yaden, I don’t want to have to explain to your parents why you’re nothing more than a red coating on some rocks. Even if it is a lovely shade of red.”

“Fine, fine.” Yaden slipped back from where he had lain, peering over the edge. “But I still think you’re being overly cautious.”

“To you, being cautious is being overly concerned.”

Yaden shrugged. “Well, what else is there to live for? The glory of our people? We all know that’s long gone. A beautiful wife? Most of the people around here look more weathered than the stone. Good cheer? We eat gruel and stew, and pray to Challineb we have a harvest each year. So I take what pleasure where I can.”

“You could spend your talents bettering the situation, working on restoring Hanian and Yn Dref.”

Yaden snorted. “That’s why you became a mage, and I didn’t. I don’t have the scales over my eyes.”

Canere pointed at the implements that hung from Yaden’s belt. “You might not claim to be a mage, but you still have some talents in that direction. Talents that could help this city and its people.”

“Talents that I am perfectly happy using for my own amusements, I’ll have you know.”

“Oh? Is that why you use them trying to entice Ira?”

For once, Yaden had the good grace to blush. “I do nothing of the sort, I merely acquire presents for her when the moment seems right.”

“Presents for whom?” Ira laughed as she ducked around a fallen pillar, her reddish blonde hair drifting in the breeze.

“According to Yaden, anyone but you. You’re just too hideous to give anything but a mask.” Canere was already ducking the punch coming his way as he said it.

Although he ducked the wrong way, since he was expecting it from Yaden, and instead got smacked by Ira.

“Ow! That hurt!”

“Best be careful what sharpness comes out of your mouth then.”

Canere rolled his eyes at Ira, causing her and Yaden to burst into fits of laughter.

“On a better note, I’ve been sent to summon you lot to dinner. Not that the magister will be entirely happy, if he finds out you were up to your old tricks of hanging off the lip again.”

“I counselled against it, as I always do.”

“Canere, you’ve been counselling against it since Yaden was five, ad you’ve never stopped him once. At this point, that just makes you as complicit as him.”

Yaden smirked. “You see, Canere? You should be doing the things I do, rather than just standing around and watching. At least you’d have earned getting in trouble then.”

Ira glared at Yaden, who grinned and sauntered off in the direction of dinner. Staring over the edge of the world did give him a frightful appetite, after all.

3

May

by thefourpartland

The Veryan forces watched as the Lianese withdrew, picking their wounded up and pulling back to gather against the edges of the market square, building courage for another charge. Rhyfelwyr wished they had been able to take more advantage of the confusion of the broken charge, but that would have meant breaking the shield wall and stepping over the barricades, and giving up that defensive surety for a momentarily opportunity was not worth the cost. He called out, and the second, and last, round of spheres was brought to hand. There would be nothing but the sword after this, and if the Lianese were wise to that and started to bombarbed the Veryan forces with arrows, the only response Rhy could conjure would be a deadly charge over the barricades, into a waiting force. He could only hope that the battle was going well enough elsewhere, so that these Lianese forces did not have the time for a leisurely battle.

The second charge came, and it was repulsed in the same way as the first, glass spheres breaking the momentum at point-blank range. There spheres rarely killed, but the clouds of abrasive glass would injure many an eye, and the spray of sharpened waste would make the ground a spike-ridden mess, and for that Rhyfelwyr was grateful. In the brief pause as the Lianese forces gathered for a third charge, Rhy spoke with his squad, pulling them from the lines.

“We’ve lost three of the twenty men we started with, and three more are like Locsyn, wounded. They’re going to throw a third round of javelins, and we’ve already tightened the wall once. Do we charge?”

Taflen looked up, examining the Lianese forces for a long moment before shaking his head. “We stay, we’ll take more of them with us that way.”

Gwyth grunted. “Uplifting, you are.”

Nervously twirling the end of his moustache in one hand, Locsyn shook his head. “Rhocas, can you get us out of this?”

The young mage sighed. “I’ve been training as a mage for only a few days, I can just barely manage summoning fire when I want it. I can’t do one of the giant balls of flame. I’m sorry.”

Rhy patted the young man on the back. “Nothing to be sorry about, you signed on as a soldier and you do a soldier’s job. We stand.” Rhy turned back to his post in the centre of the barricade, and only Taflen heard him mutter that “I hope Llof comes up with something.”

The third trumpet called, and Gwyth readied himself, his shield held high to catch the incoming javelins. His arm ached and a slow trickle of blood flowed from where the arrow had pierced it in the morning, but he ignored the pain, and caught the first Lianese soldier over the wall on his shield, slamming it up into his foe as the man jumped from the barricades. A sword thrust around the side slammed into the Lianese ribs, and Gwyth dumped him off, shield reset to deal with the next foe.

Taflen steadied himself, one foot up on the wooden barrier, and as the first of his foes tried to scramble across, he caught the fool with a hard strike to the helmet, cleaving the protection and leaving his foe writhing on the ground. Two more followed at the same time, pushing Taflen back as he fought to keep his shield in front of one and strike at the other with his sword. The split attention meant neither succeeded, and a thrust at his ribs was only stopped by the quick attention of the Veryan soldier to Taflen’s left. That assistance allowed the historian to strike hard at the legs of the foe to his right, and the sword carved through the shin until it lodged midway into the bone, yanked from his hand as the Lianese soldier fell. With nothing but his shield left, Taflen put his right hand behind the boss and slammed it into the face of his second foe, knocking him backwards. The strike was too late for Taflen’s ally, for in stopping the thrust at Taflen he had left himself open, and a countering blow had left him dying in the dirt. In the brief moment of freedom that he had, Taflen grabbed the sword from his fallen comrade’s hand, stepping backwards and readying himself for the next foe to come.

The shield wall contracted further, with only ten of the original twenty still standing, of which five came from Rhyfelwyr’s squad. He was proud of them, that they would stand against the odds, but some twenty five Lianese soldiers remained to press in on them, and that left Rhy sore at heart. He could see Rhocas calling on his magic, and brief sputters of flame would appear, but the carnage and the chaos of the battle had stolen the mage’s concentration, and soon he fell back on his sword, standing in the shield wall and delivering blow for blow, his face pale with sweat. The young man had seen too little of life to die, and he fought with the strength of the desperate, fear lending power to his strikes, and speed to his counters.

28

Apr

by thefourpartland

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6

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.

26

Apr

by thefourpartland

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.

5

Apr

by thefourpartland

The third trumpet called, and Gwyth readied himself, his shield held high to catch the incoming javelins. His arm ached and a slow trickle of blood flowed from where the arrow had pierced it in the morning, but he ignored the pain, and caught the first Lianese soldier over the wall on his shield, slamming it up into his foe as the man jumped from the barricades. A sword thrust around the side slammed into the Lianese ribs, and Gwyth dumped him off, shield reset to deal with the next foe.

Taflen steadied himself, one foot up on the wooden barrier, and as the first of his foes tried to scramble across, he caught the fool with a hard strike to the helmet, cleaving the protection and leaving his foe writhing on the ground. Two more followed at the same time, pushing Taflen back as he fought to keep his shield in front of one and strike at the other with his sword. The split attention meant neither succeeded, and a thrust at his ribs was only stopped by the quick attention of the Veryan soldier to Taflen’s left. That assistance allowed the historian to strike hard at the legs of the foe to his right, and the sword carved through the shin until it lodged midway into the bone, yanked from his hand as the Lianese soldier fell. With nothing but his shield left, Taflen put his right hand behind the boss and slammed it into the face of his second foe, knocking him backwards. The strike was too late for Taflen’s ally, for in stopping the thrust at Taflen he had left himself open, and a countering blow had left him dying in the dirt. In the brief moment of freedom that he had, Taflen grabbed the sword from his fallen comrade’s hand, stepping backwards and readying himself for the next foe to come.

The shield wall contracted further, with only ten of the original twenty still standing, of which five came from Rhyfelwyr’s squad. He was proud of them, that they would stand against the odds, but some twenty five Lianese soldiers remained to press in on them, and that left Rhy sore at heart. He could see Rhocas calling on his magic, and brief sputters of flame would appear, but the carnage and the chaos of the battle had stolen the mage’s concentration, and soon he fell back on his sword, standing in the shield wall and delivering blow for blow, his face pale with sweat. The young man had seen too little of life to die, and he fought with the strength of the desperate, fear lending power to his strikes, and speed to his counters.

The Lianese line began to slacken and turn back on itself on one side of the square, and Rhy tried to look over the combat to see what could steal their resolve, but he could see nothing. The scene resolved itself moments later, as several Lianese soldiers collapsed with daggers piercing their throats, revealing a blood-soaked Llofruddiwr standing with two of his long-knives in hand, slashing into his Lianese foes. Caught between a suddenly surging shield wall on one side and a dervish on the other, the Lianese turned back to back, fighting desperately as two of them tried to slay Llofruddiwr. He dismissed their pitiful attempts, catching each strike on his knives before batting one Lianese weapon aside and kicking the soldier in the groin. One foe incapacitated, Llof turned his full attention on the other, and in a whirlwind of cuts and slices, hacked away at the wrist on the sword hand, wounding it until it could no longer hold its weapon. Both foes rendered incapable, he stabbed each, cutting an artery and letting them bleed out.

31

Mar

by thefourpartland

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6

So, I’ve spent the last four posts giving my thoughts on how to design a magic system, but I’m sure many of you are curious as to how all of this would work in practice, so I’m going to spend this post and the next on going through my process step by step. Usually, it isn’t quite as formal as this post will be, but I’m trying to make this as clear as possible.

You may have noticed at the end of the last post that I called the magic system I had in mind Ferrous Timber. The name will become clear as I go through the steps, but it’s an idea that has been bouncing around my head for a little, and I want to see how it looks on paper.

And now, on to the choices.

Choice #1: Strength – For those of you who’ve had a chance to pry back the covers of The Four Part Land or Splintered Lands, you’ll know that my primary choice as an author is fairly low powered magic, with strong effects being available only to a few, or in a limited aspect of the world. I will continue part of that trend here. The power available to Ferrous Timber mages will be limited, and there will be no collaboration between them.

Casters draw their power from the world about them, be it from the woods and the trees, or from the earth, and the iron that resides within the earth. Each area will, depending on its characteristics, only be able to support a given amount of magical draining. Too much, and the area will wither and crumble, dying as the lifeforce is siphoned away. Also, the more talented the user, the more efficiently the energy can be utilized, and the less damage is done to the environment.

This magic will exist in a gunpowder fantasy setting, and so there will be high quality ironmongery and effective gunpowder tools to balance out the magicians.

Choice #2: Prevalence – Moderately common. Magic will not require native talent, and so any inhabitant of the setting may choose to acquire some learning in the art, provided that he has the coin to pay for education. However, as each area only has a finite supply of energy, there are strong diminishing returns for having more than a few mages in a given area, and so even towns or armies often have but a small cadre, for more than that would be simply wasteful.

Mages are viewed as a undesirable but necessary part of everyday life. Undesirable because their talents require them to drain the land or the plants, necessary in that their talents help to insure the safety of living, and help produce much of the metal work that is rapidly changing urban life.

Choice #3: Style – Casters will find that they oft struggle to pull on the surrounding environment, for many of the users of the magical talents are little more than hedge wizards, taught a few useful spells by an apprentice in need of coin, but not given the proper grounding in how best to prepare mentally for casting a spell.

Proper ritual will be limited for most everyday use of spells, although any spell that will have a large effect will require longer preparations, as much to focus the caster as to ease the summoning of energy.

As the name Ferrous Timber alludes to, there will be two distinct schools of magic. Both will suffer from the same general restrictions, but the Ferrous half will have a very mechanistic, almost robotic sense to it. Actions performed repetitively, by rote, until such time as the final effect is desired. Each individual spell may not complete the task as desired, but that is no matter, for it is by the repeated and guided application of magic that the final objective might be achieved. The application of logic and of physical law will play into the casting of spells, and most users will have a background in ironmongery, architecture, engineering, or a related field.

By contrast, the Timber half of the magical system will be much more free flowing, with spells that often have no immediate impact, but ones that become stronger over time, growing into their full power as they pull on the energy from the world about them. Timber spells are less damaging to the world around them, but that does not mean they cause no harm, only that the harm, like the spells themselves, is spread out across time, rather than occurring at the resolution of the casting. Unlike Ferrous, Timber can usually accomplish the desired goal with a single casting.

Casters can use either side of the magic, but tend to specialize in one.

Choice #4: Powers – What does the magic do in the world of Ferrous Timber? As you might imagine, each of the two sides has a different range of abilities. Ferrous tends to focus around the shaping of metal, the creation of devices through which actions might then be accomplished. A common application is for a Ferrous user to be an armourer or a weaponsmith, using his talents to shape his output in a way that would not be possible without fine control of magic.

The application of magnetic properties is another area where Ferrous users find themselves at home, and through this, animation of metal creations through the application of tiny magnetic forces.

For their part, Timber users find themselves more at home amongst agrarian lifestyles, using their talents to promote the growth of plants, the diminution of wounds and sicknesses, or the subtle direction of aspects of nature. While many have tried, no mage has yet discovered a principle that allows them to control the mind or thoughts of another. Despite their ability to assist growth in nature, animals are often scared of mages, for at a visceral level creatures can sense the drain that is placed on the rest of the world in order to utilize the spells.

I realize that the powers enumerated here are fairly vague, but that’s because I do not want to list specifics. I find that as a writer having some latitude in what characters can do is of benefit to the creation of the story and the resolution of scenes. I cannot lock out all the inspiration that actually writing the tale gives, and so I leave room within magic to manoeuvre.

Next week, I shall finish up Ferrous Timber, and open up a contest. I look forward to seeing you all then.

29

Mar

by thefourpartland

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.

The Veryan forces watched as the Lianese withdrew, picking their wounded up and pulling back to gather against the edges of the market square, building courage for another charge. Rhyfelwyr wished they had been able to take more advantage of the confusion of the broken charge, but that would have meant breaking the shield wall and stepping over the barricades, and giving up that defensive surety for a momentarily opportunity was not worth the cost. He called out, and the second, and last, round of spheres was brought to hand. There would be nothing but the sword after this, and if the Lianese were wise to that and started to bombarbed the Veryan forces with arrows, the only response Rhy could conjure would be a deadly charge over the barricades, into a waiting force. He could only hope that the battle was going well enough elsewhere, so that these Lianese forces did not have the time for a leisurely battle.

The second charge came, and it was repulsed in the same way as the first, glass spheres breaking the momentum at point-blank range. There spheres rarely killed, but the clouds of abrasive glass would injure many an eye, and the spray of sharpened waste would make the ground a spike-ridden mess, and for that Rhyfelwyr was grateful. In the brief pause as the Lianese forces gathered for a third charge, Rhy spoke with his squad, pulling them from the lines.

“We’ve lost three of the twenty men we started with, and three more are like Locsyn, wounded. They’re going to throw a third round of javelins, and we’ve already tightened the wall once. Do we charge?”

Taflen looked up, examining the Lianese forces for a long moment before shaking his head. “We stay, we’ll take more of them with us that way.”

Gwyth grunted. “Uplifting, you are.”

Nervously twirling the end of his moustache in one hand, Locsyn shook his head. “Rhocas, can you get us out of this?”

The young mage sighed. “I’ve been training as a mage for only a few days, I can just barely manage summoning fire when I want it. I can’t do one of the giant balls of flame. I’m sorry.”

Rhy patted the young man on the back. “Nothing to be sorry about, you signed on as a soldier and you do a soldier’s job. We stand.” Rhy turned back to his post in the centre of the barricade, and only Taflen heard him mutter that “I hope Llof comes up with something.”

22

Mar

by thefourpartland

The Lianese soldiers pressed forward, seeing they had the advantage on this small band, and shouted up for more arrows to fall upon their foes. Their answer came, as a body plummeted from the roof to slam on top of a Lianese soldier, driving him to the ground and breaking his neck. Two more bodies fell, landing again on soldiers, and then arrows began to rain down, piercing the bodies of the Lianese as they sought to retreat from the suddenly charging trio of Rhy, Gwyth, and Taflen. The Lianese flight garnered only a few steps before they were cut down from behind, blades cutting through kidneys and spine to slay the foe. Rhy looked upward and raised his sword in salute, knowing that he would see Llofruddiwr standing there. Sure enough, his old friend waved back, captured Lianese bow in hand, before disappearing down behind the roof line.

A hand clapped Rhyfelwyr on the shoulder, and he spun round to see Rhocas standing behind him, along with two more squads of soldiers. “What are you doing here, lad? You’re supposed to be in the main van.”

Rhocas chuckled. “Always new orders. Didn’t you used to tell me that? I’m supposed to assist you in capturing the warehouses, along with this lot.”

“Good. Give us a few minutes and we’ll be ready. Llof is already scouting ahead.”

Rhocas nodded, and the soldiers sat down in the alleyway, free to rest. While they waited, a cutter came and attended to the wounds on Gwyth and Locsyn, breaking the arrow off and pulling it from Gwyth’s arm. The large man grunted once, then fell back into silence. For Locsyn, the cutter had to saw through the metal head of the javelin, and by the time he was done, Locsyn was white, his face sweating as he breathed rapidly. Pulling the spear from the wound saw Locsyn faint away, and the cutter stuffed herbs into both ends of the wound before wrapping it in cloth. Rhyfelwyr gave Locsyn a few minutes unconscious before prodding him awake. Sighing as he rose to his feet, Loc cut the straps from his shield and stuffed his now-useless left hand into his sword belt. Glancing around at the assembled soldiers, Rhyfelwyr nodded once, and set off towards the warehouses.

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.