Friday, 6 December 2019

Yule, The Arkhamas Way

Part, The First

   Coarse voices were sharpened by the frozen air while frigid projectiles streaked through the branches, pummelling target and trunk with dull, powerful thuds. Screams deafened tiny ears, while oversized eyes watched the onslaught carelessly from higher in the boughs, chipped teeth crunching through seeds and nuts as the cackles renewed with every strike.
   One of the child-like Arkhamas hung upside down from his branch, numb to the chaos beneath him as he chewed and stared in thought through the snow-smothered forest. Until a stray snowball hit him in the face.
   "So I saw the hoomans gettin' ready for Yule," he said slowly, roused from his daydream as he wiped chunks of ice and hidden stones from his pale forehead. "Draggin' great big logs about, killin' their cattle, bakin', bakin', bakin'..."
   "Ooh!" Seppy chirped below him as she stumbled out of the way of another icy attack, her hair deliberately knotted around sticks and acorn caps each as frosted as the trees. "What was they baking?"
   "Pies, sweetbuns, cider bread..."
   The snowballs stopped as a collective yearning dribbled amongst the ten of them.
   "We should pinch some."
   "That we should," Dag declared from behind a thick tree, winding up another powerful throw and knocking the twig-antlers tied into his hair with each exaggerated pass.
   The upside-down Arkhamas pursed his lips, his huge, silver-green eyes narrowing once again in thought as the snowball hurtled past him. "We should try their Yule."
   "You mean kill their cows?"
   "No - the rest of it."
   "Why are they killing their cows?"
   "To eat 'em, right, so they don't have to feed 'em," replied Angk.
   "Why d'you wanna do what they do, Puck?" Dag challenged him, diving quickly behind his tree to avoid the throws of three others. "They're stupid, they just argue about things, get loud and set fire to things, and they don't even enjoy doing it! Every year I hear 'em whinging about having to talk to people they don't like, too! I don't even get why they 'have' to talk to 'em!"
   "Yeah but," Puck, the first Arkhamas, swung himself back on top of the branch, matted hair falling back into a mess around him and opening the small birds nest tangled into it, "we won't be doin' any o' that! And we haven't done it their way before, either!"
   "We did," replied Seppy, "but they was still sacrificing things back then."
   "Yeah but that wasn't us that tried that, that was...flippin'...more-than-I-can-count-ago!" He looked imploringly across the others as a small bird settled into his hair-nest, until Erra, with a particular yet haphazard arrangement of moss and lichen in her hair and across her skin, finally grunted in agreement.
   "Not a bad idea," she said at last, striking Dag from the rear.
   "I wanna do it," declared Angk.
   "Me too," Seppy chirped.
   A chorus of other voices inside their heads agreed - the opinions of far more than the ten present.
   Puck beamed a chipped grin from his place in the branches and absently reached up to stroke the bird on his head. It tried irritably to peck at his fingers. "That's settled, then."
   "What d'we need?"
   " Lots of food. And a ham - smoke, a smoking ham. A big log we gotta burn, and more wood; a big circle of twigs, that stuff they drink they make from honey, presents, and food."
   "You said food."
   "Yeah, we need a lot of it."
   "I don't wanna do presents," said Dag, wrinkling his nose and adjusting his twig-antlers. "It just makes the hoomans angry."
   "Yeah there's no fun in that."
   "Where d'we get it all?"
   Another chorus of voices clamoured, and the eyes of all ten glazed. A moment later, Puck nodded and jumped down from the tree. "Let's go."
   The snowball fight was promptly abandoned.
   Giant eyes squinted low over a frosted drystack wall. None of the villagers had noticed them, nor the twigs rising a good foot higher than the tops of their heads. The humans carried on with their business, moving things around the open streets to make way for their evening's celebration. The enormous log that would be at the centre of those festivities waited just outside the village beside a number of empty carpentry stools.
   The squinting eyes sank slowly below the top of the wall. The antlers didn't.
   "We can't cut one ourselfs," Dag whispered to the three other Arkhamas, each crouching as low as he in the snow, "but we can hardly lift theirs, neither. We need an alternatiff."
   The four of them looked around in silence, until one of them snapped back and grinned. "Don't worry - I got an idea."
   There was no argument. As he rose and hurried away from the wall at a crouch, the others immediately followed, then broke off into the trees until they had looped around to the far side of the village. There, Dag and the others stopped behind their companion, who pointed back towards the river. Then, when the villagers' attention was stolen away by the cry of either a child or a dying cat, they made a dash for the log.
   "Shove it shove it shove it!"
   They did just that. With the stubborn strength of the four of them, the Arkhamas forced the log off from its stand in the very same moment that another cry of alarm rose from much nearer in the village. None of them looked back.
   Grinning and cackling, they chased the rolling tree trunk down the slope that wasn't really steep enough for it to be any fun, kicking and steering it when they were able towards the water some way below. They could hear the crunch of snow and the shouts as the villagers gave chase behind them, but all that did was stretch their grins even wider and tug whoops of enthusiasm from their chests.
   The river rushed ahead of them; they heard it before they saw it, and the moment the unstoppable log crashed into the water, they leapt, straddling the wood and howling in glee while the fastest of the humans stumbled and swore at the splash thrown back across them.
   "It's ff-freezing!" One of the Arkhamas shivered as they rode along the river on their prize, leaving the hollering, fist-shaking, cursing villagers behind them.
   "What, you esspected it to be like landing in a freshly baked pie?"
   "Lady's branches, I'm so hungry..."
   They howled and hooted as they were carried deeper into the wild tangles of the forest, and jeered at the hiss of a disgruntled n├Ącken they passed in the water beside them. The vengeful water sprite sent a wave along behind them, which promptly caught up and threw both them and their log out of the river to land hard on the frozen bank.
   They stayed there, wide-eyed, dripping and still for a long moment in shock, until they burst out laughing. They picked themselves up, shook themselves off, wrung the water from their matted hair, and rolled their log onwards through the trees.

Part Two on December 10th

Monday, 11 November 2019

Read Chapters 1-6 Of The Zi'veyn For Free

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Thursday, 29 August 2019

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Wednesday, 14 August 2019

The World of The Devoted Trilogy

When the elves' faith in Vastal, the Goddess of Life, faded in their hubris, Zikhon, the God of Death, swept past Her failing defences and destroyed them overnight. But the faith the subjugated humans held in Vastal gave Her strength enough to fight Him back and save them alone, and to this day She holds the jealous god at bay. But should their faith wane in arrogance or neglect, the same fate will befall them.
As the Craitic Temple has taught for 700 years.

Magic found its way into the hands of the elves by Vastal. She grew so very fond of them that She gifted them each some small glimmer of Her power, perfectly shaping it to their physiology. They were grateful, and they used their magic with nobility, building homes for those unable and ever greater monuments to Her strength and beauty. But in time, as is inevitable of those with power, they grew selfish, concerned with permanence, status and possession, and they lost their way. They crafted for themselves opulent homes, ostentatious pass-times, and subjugated the humans they had once lived beside and watched grow.
Their priorities changed. Their culture changed. Their faith changed.
Then, one day, they were no more.

Humans rose in their stead, seizing the world they'd left behind without any question, the world they'd been forced to toil in for the benefit of another, and turned their skills to use. They quickly filled the elves' shoes and revived the lost faith.
But the magic had not been lost. It had found its way, through love or depravity, into human blood, though those few that bore it could scarcely use it. Only by concentration and utter focus of one's mind could it be utilised, and so the use of finger signs were born, aiding in the shaping of spells and intent and preventing the attention from wandering.

When the wounds of history had healed, the young, knowing nothing but ill tales of their past masters, turned to marvelling at the structures that surrounded them, the twisting towers and gilded archways, and when they began asking questions none alive could answer, the Historical Society was established. From here, humans began to learn of the elves and their lives before their magic, for some of their monuments and homes still stood, and a new understanding was formed. Greed was not born, but made, and the same would befall them should the extremity of their habits find its way into the human world.

But while lessons were to be learned of the past, new problems were born in their place. The age-old mistrust of their former masters hadn't died, and those that possessed magic were looked upon with increasing caution. As with anything that was not understood nor in the abilities of all, magic was feared, and the worry that mages might try to assert themselves as the rightful rulers drove some peoples and cultures to shun magic. Others, more trusting, allowed its wary practice, and others saw it purely as a means of protecting themselves from the magic of other nations.

And so the divides and borders grew wider across the lands than they had ever been under the rule of elves, and humans began to suspect one another. Wars broke out, monarchs kept secrets, and the division within their countries grew greater. The growing suspicion led to the need for spies, to watch and listen and discover their neighbour's plots - and even, in some cases, force their hand to lure them into a disadvantage. Politics blossomed alongside poverty, and the world became a darker place.

But the elves had left a reminder of their downfall. A reminder that now ravages the world regardless of a country's wealth, allegiance, perspective or prudence.

A reminder to be exploited by the desperate.

An introduction to the world of The Devoted trilogy.
Great Western Woods' podcast team recently hosted World Building Quest, where a daily prompt aided writers in the process of building a world for their fiction. Since I'm so deep into the world of The Devoted trilogy, I decided to use it as an opportunity to hone what I had as well as present the world itself to readers.