Isle of the Dreamer, Chapter 2: The Man in the Library

Soren attempts to leave the island, before being stopped by mysterious circumstances. Then he heads to the library to try to find a way to finish his crew’s last job.

After spending several days looking through the wreckage, trying to find some special cargo that stood out, Soren found nothing. Not one thing that didn’t seem any more extraordinary than what they would usually be carrying. Regardless, he gathered up whatever supplies he could and moved it to the village, storing anything he thought could be useful in the small shed on Aryia’s property and selling the rest to a local merchant in the village, Otto.

Otto was a peculiar man. A Shelezar, like Soren, with a bald spot atop his head that shone brightly, well-kept hair on the sides of his head, and a scraggly beard that would have most certainly matched Delmore’s hair far more than his own beard. His eyes were a muddy brown and he had a hooked nose that looked more like it belonged on a bird than a man, and spectacles sat on top of it – a sort of elven witchcraft that gave sight to the blind. Though, Otto claimed they were no such thing; “Not witchcraft, but invention. They bend the light such that it enters the eyes right, so that things do not blur.” Soren knew better than to believe such nonsense.

No matter, he made a good deal of money selling what he could, which he decided to pocket in case it would be useful for him later on. He spent the next while healing as he helped Aryia tend to her garden and fixed the fence every few days. During that time, he also met some of the townsfolk – namely the ones that Aryia provided food to.

Perhaps the most interesting was a family of two Shelezars who had five children on the island already with another on the way. They, like Soren, had been caught in a terrible storm and thought themselves dead, but somehow survived, washed up on the shore. The next part of their story, Soren found particularly hard to believe.

You see, when they awoke on the shore, a raven landed in the sand beside them. Then it spoke, telling them that they would be stranded there forever, but that there was a man by the name of Otto up a path that led away from the beach. At that time, there were few people who lived on the island, many of which had died or otherwise disappeared by the time Soren arrived. Thus, the married pair were of the longest to live on the island. But as time passed, their appearances had changed little.

When they’d first been marooned on the island, they were in their early twenties, having just been married in the church of Alesia, and were going on a voyage to celebrate down in Mikron when they were caught in the storm. Their eldest son was now nearly a man, and yet, they still appeared to be in their early twenties.

It seemed to Soren that anyone on the island not born there never aged at all.

Two weeks after resolving to complete his crew’s shipment, he all but abandoned the endeavor, determining by reason that Tyrell had simply not been in the miraculous wave that seemed to carry the rest of the crew ashore, and that the cargo itself had perhaps been stolen by whatever god summoned the storm. Instead, he spent the latter two weeks helping Aryia with her garden in the morning and building a raft on the beach in the afternoon.

Almost exactly a month after being stranded on the island, his raft was complete, and he made his way back to town as the sun began to set.

He ducked into Aryia’s hovel, where she was cooking soup over the fire. “I’ve completed the raft.”

“Oh?”

“I’m planning to leave tomorrow.” He grabbed two bowls and spoons from a shelf and set them on the table, along with cloth napkins for each of them. “You’re welcome to come with me.”

Aryia seemed to ignore him as she stirred the soup a few more times before tasting it. “Soup’s done.”

“If you don’t want me to leave, you can just come with me.”

“Everyone who’s attempted to leave has died,” Aryia replied, keeping her attention on the bowls she was serving soup into, “washed up on the shore, just like the rest of your crew.”

“Well, I survived that once. If – if I fail, I suppose I’ll survive it again.”

Aryia would usually wait until he finished praying to begin eating. Tonight, she gave no such respect.

After praying, Soren continued, “Will you be there to see me off at least?”

Aryia shook her head as she stared into his eyes. “I will not watch you go to your death.”

Soren shook his head as they continued eating.

***

The rest of the night was uneventful and the two went to bed without a word. Soren woke before the sun the next morning, anxious to sail away. He would be the first to be able to chart the island on a map. If only he could see the stars from the island – the sky was always too cloudy.

No matter, he made his way to the shore as the light of the sun began to shine over the horizon. By the time he’d reached the shore, a slight sliver could be seen. He moved the raft closer to the water and waited. He imagined what his return could be like.

Many ships that sailed in the Sea of Stones would break due to its namesake. Many of them, maiden voyages or ships that were in desperate need for repair. But the Imya’s Retribution was a ship of great renown. Its crew was experienced and its parts in good repair. That such a ship would go down and have a single survivor would gain Soren great fame. Or infamy. Regardless, he needed to get back, so that no one would crash on the island again.

As the first half of the sun came into full view, Soren got up from where he sat and pushed the raft out to sea. He began to row until the current began to pull the raft away from shore. He went for what felt like an hour – a very slow hour. The weather, despite the clouds above, was calm. Not a bit of rain in sight. He turned to see the island behind him, far in the distance, when, suddenly, it vanished.

Everything was dark, save for a faint light from the symbol he wore on his neck, which now burned his chest. He was submerged in water. It was cold – almost freezing – as a fish brushed his side before he felt something lightly bite his leg.

The salt burned his eyes as he thrashed, trying to fight off whatever was biting him as it continued to tear into his legs. He tasted his own blood in the water as his consciousness faded. He knew he was dying.

As he clenched his teeth and pushed through the pain, he tried to swim back the way he came from. It was a struggle, but, eventually, the sunlight over the island came into view as his vision faded.

***

He awoke on the beach. It was night and he was positioned to stare at a fire as the salt of the ocean burned the wounds on his leg, which were tightly bandaged.

A familiar captain sat at the fire beside him, a cloth cap covering his hair, with a neatly trimmed beard covering his rough face. His mismatched eyes stared into the blaze.

“Don’t do that again,” the man, who was the spitting image of captain Delmore, said.

Soren tried to sit up, but the pain in his leg pinned him to the ground. “You’re dead. I held your funeral.”

“That you did.” The captain looked to where the funeral pyre had been built. “Which is why you shouldn’t try that again. I can’t save you a second time. As my soul fades from this world, so too does the power that the unnamed god has offered me.”

“What am I to do, then? What is this place?”

The captain looked around him. “This is the Isle of the Dreamer. A cage of sorts.”

“How do I leave?”

The captain chuckled. “So many questions. You always were the curious sort.” He looked up to the starless sky. “The short answer is, you can’t. Not without losing everything you hold dear – not that it hasn’t already been taken from you.”

“So, what, I just live here forever?”

“You do as you promised – fulfill the last mission of Imya’s Retribution. A mission which would not require leaving this island. Under Imya’s direction, I supplied you with all that you would need from the outside world. This task is one that is millennia in the making.”

“So, what? I’m destined for this? Born for this?”

“You chose this path, Soren. You demanded the notice, not only of Imya, but also of the unnamed god. When you chose to reject the life fate handed to you, that is when you were added to the plan. When you were chosen to be their champion. And the task still remains up to you.”

Soren let out a huff as he turned to lay on his back. “What is this ‘mission?'”

“The gods have not permitted me to tell you.”

Soren slammed his fist into the sand, screaming curses to the starless sky. What sort of employer doesn’t tell it’s employee what they are hired to do?

“But, know this: you will know your mission when the time comes that you should complete it. Your first step is to find the Dreamer. There is a man in town – an academic. He may have a way forward.”

Soren let out a sigh as he closed his eyes. The crackle of the fire and the orange light that pierced his eyelids faded.

When he looked again, his captain was gone, and no sign of the fire remained.

***

Unable to stand, Soren slept on the sand. He awoke in the morning to the water lapping at his feet, and a raven watching him.

“You going to talk?” he asked, staring into the bird’s black eyes.

The raven craned its head before flying away.

“Guess not.”

Soren sat up, no longer racked with pain from whatever sea creature was attempting to eat him. A young girl sat on a log nearby.

“Do you normally talk to birds, sir?”

Soren gave the girl a blank stare as he stood. It would probably be best if he stayed off his leg as much as possible for a while.”Do you normally watch strange men sleep?”

The girl stood up and started following him. “No, only when I think they might die soon. Figure if they’re dead, they won’t miss what’s in their pockets. Aryia’ll be glad you’re still alive, though.”

Soren gave a cynical smirk. “Sure she will. And what have I told you about calling me sir?”

“I’ve called grown men ‘sir’ for the last twenty years of my life, sir. Don’t think that’ll change much soon.” The girl was named Maya. She’d been stranded on the island for the last ten years, when she was being transported to Felshra by a group of slavers – she was the only surviving cargo, and after a couple nights of careful planning and execution, she came to be the last living person from the ship.

She was a Birik, with pale skin, wavy, black hair, and a tiny little nose. Her ears almost looked a bit pointed, making Soren wonder if she had an elven father, but he reasoned it would have been impolite to ask. She always wore the same traditional garb of her people – a thick robe, one side overlapping the other, fastened with a wide belt that covered her mid section. It’d been taken from her by the slavers, but when they all mysteriously died in the night, it came to be back in her possession.

As they approached town, they first passed by the lodge of ‘the madam.’ Her name was Leondrea, but she refused to answer to anyone who didn’t refer to her with the aforementioned title. She was a Shelezar noble who crashed in the same ship that the honeymooning couple were on – she was on her way to a hunting trip in the southern continent.

As they drew near to the lodge, a growl emanated from the large shed that sat beside it, before a wolf, whose shoulders reached the top of Soren’s head, charged out, stopped only by the anchor chain that connected somewhere inside its shed. Its tail flailed wildly as it barked ferociously at the pair.

“Do you know any academics in town?” Soren asked as Maya blew a raspberry at the madam’s mutt.

Maya shrugged, smiling, as she focused back on the path ahead. “I’m surprised you haven’t met everyone in town yet.”

“Well, I didn’t plan on staying here too long, but plans have changed.”

“Well, there’s Otto, of course, the inventor. There’s also Arakim, I suppose – he’s usually at the library.”

Soren chuckled. He’d never expect a library to be built among such a crude village as Ortus. “Sometimes I forget just what kind of people end up on this island – and the sorts of things they feel the need to add.”

The two made their way to the library. It was a single room, not much larger than Aryia’s hovel, but it was chock full of bookshelves, most of which had no empty space. A good portion of the books there were written or copied from memory by one man – Arakim.

As they entered, a Mikri sat at a table in the center of the shack, writing yet another book. He had the dark skin that was an intrinsic quality of the southern continent, along with very curly, black hair that grew out into a ball-shape that sat on his head. His hands were covered in ink and he held a quill, which he pinned into his hair as the pair entered. He stroked his hand through his full beard, which likely would have become the color of his ink if it wasn’t already.

He spoke with a smooth and collected voice, reclining in his chair. “What can I do for ya?”

Soren sat on the other side of his table. “I’m looking for the Dreamer.”

“Hmmm.” Arakim stared down at the pages he’d just been writing on, waiting for the ink to dry. After a moment, he blew on the pages before closing the book when the ink didn’t budge. “The Dreamer. Haven’t heard too much about that one. Rumors – here and there.”

Maya began looking at the spines of the books on the bookshelf, reading their titles under her breath.

“Tell me what you know.”

Arakim pursed his lips as he looked over to the bookshelf Maya was looking at. He drew in a deep breath before standing up and looking through the books himself, tracing his finger along the spines before stopping on one. He tapped it a few times before pulling the book out and strolled back to the table, placing the book and opening it carefully.

He turned through a few pages before stopping, studying the page and exclaiming, “Ah!”

He turned the book to face toward Soren and pushed it forward, tapping his finger on the page. Specifically, a line that read, “The inscription is of a dialect of Giant, though not one I strictly recognize. From what I understand, it reads, ‘… So now the mighty Dreamer (one who imagines?) slumbers/Atop the mountain, slumber keeps.’ It should be noted that no distinction is made in Giant between plural and singularly linked verbs, nor is there any distinction between upper and lower case lettering, so I wonder if it is the mountain which keeps him slumbering or perhaps a mountain named ‘Slumber Keep’ upon which he sleeps.”

Soren sighed as he pushed the book back toward Arakim. “So, what? The Dreamer’s sleeping on a mountain?”

Arakim shrugged. “Or the mountain is keeping him asleep. Perhaps the mountain in the middle of the island need be destroyed for him to wake.” He carefully closed the book before making his way back to the shelf and returning the book to its proper place.

Soren wondered if he could make better sense of the inscription should he see it himself. “Where was this temple?”

Arakim sat back down in his previous seat, once again lounging in his chair as he pursed his lips. “Tell me” – he paused as he held out his hand, waiting for Soren’s name – “Soren, how much Giant do you know?”

“Enough.”

Arakim squinted before spouting off sounds that might have been words, mainly made of grunts, clicks, and vague growls.

Soren raised a brow.

“I know every Giant dialect nearly as well as I know the language I speak to you now.” (They were speaking to each other in Shelezar, which Soren could tell by Arakim’s accent and occasional pause in speech was not his native language.) “I could gain no further insight from this inscription, what makes you think you can do any better?”

Soren sighed. “I just want to take a look for myself. Were there any murals or anything in the temple that may offer insight?”

Arakim squinted at Soren once again before standing from his chair and making his way to another bookshelf. He scanned his way through the shelf until he found a set of three books, all with the same title: The Most Complete Atlas of this Forsaken Island. “I believe so,” he said, slowly flipping through the pages as he returned to his seat. “I didn’t particularly see the temple as important at the time – simply a place of worship of dead gods – but it could be that you could find such insights.” Arakim chewed on his cheek as he slid the book across the table to Soren. “The way to the temple is described in this book, I suspect you should find it otherwise useful – I will require payment in the future for the supplies with which to make another copy, of course. Regardless, I would advise against going to the temple without preparations. It’s a truly treacherous place.”

“I can look after myself,” Soren said as he stood, Maya returning to his side. Soren took the book in his hand before the pair made their way out the door.

Creating Kithria: Freedom of Creativity

Xavier explores the process of creating a world, Kithria, and addresses the issue of assuming inclusion or exclusion in fantasy tropes.

World building is a long and arduous process. Depending on how its gone about and how much detail is desired, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few decades. I started world building as a hobby when I was around 10 years old.

I was sitting around, in Junior High, with my rudimentary understanding of how the world works, and thought, “Hey, maybe I can make my own world.” And that was when my creation of The Void Jumper’s Continuum began (as described here). Since then, I have experienced multiple renditions and restructures of the VJC, and attempted creating many more worlds alongside it – mainly to use in tabletop roleplaying.

VJC was much easier than any other world I have tried to create, of course, on account of I have had to do very little other than take our own real world, take aspects of various mythologies around the world, make a few twists and turns here and there, add my own unique pieces (such as the Zedekiah, which I may explain in a different post), and call it my own. Making those other worlds was much more difficult.

My most recent rendition of this would be the world of Kithria, the setting for both my web novel, Isle of the Dreamer, and the default setting intended for Lady Luck’s Chosen Few. Kithria itself began as a world I created for D&D to be used in the web-series D&DE (RIP). I created it as best I could to incorporate the standard D&D races and monsters into its lore and history, and to have as unique of cultures as possible while sticking to that. In that state, I was pretty happy with it. But then I came up with the idea for Lady Luck’s Chosen Few.

I wrote up a few basic rules, got some groundwork laid, and then it just kind of sat there. It was probably in a working state at that point (at least as much as it is now), with one exception. You see, LLCF is designed to be played as a story, not as a game. To simply plop characters down in Fantasy Land and go at it didn’t seem practical in my mind, but at the same time I had no world to really use. Every world I had made in the past was for a system intended for high-fantasy: Pathfinder, D&D, Open Legend, etc. While they certainly could have been used for Mid to Low Fantasy, that wasn’t the purpose of the system and anytime I tried, it simply went off the rails when my players all decided to be magic-users.

Then, D&DE got cancelled – it was a disappointing process as I watched delay after delay come about, extending it further and further. It was only when I gave up on that project, however, that I finally gained some direction with LLCF. You see, my issue there was that I felt I had to start from scratch. I had to build my own low-fantasy world from the ground up, something I had tried to do a million times before, but always seemed to fail at for the aforementioned reasons. Now, I had a chance. And what better way to do it than with the world I just created. The world that was originally designed to be low-fantasy, made with the pressure of being in public domain, subject to the scrutiny of, like, 10 people (but possibly the entire internet)?

Now, it should be important to at least give a brief overview of Kithria’s original creation. I’m going to skip the original brainstorming, though, and go straight to the point where D&DE started becoming a reality. At that point, there were four human races (five if you include orks), three elven races, and two dwarven races. At that point, I had little intention to include any more races, trying to limit it. On top of that, my original intention was that magic would be rare. That was the plan. But, best-laid plans. Players threw fits and I felt a need to include more. I added, for that reason as well as others, two races of halfling, three of gnome, all the goblinoids, an additional elven race, half-orks, half-elves, the Touched (my own spin on Tieflings), dragonborn (as a human race in the lore), and kobolds.

Most of it, I was content with, but the only added part I was particularly happy with were the gnomes (who had been given reason to their pranking antics and were perhaps the most horrifying creature in the world – I say were because, when I created the LLCF version, I also added the Haklos, an original race of mine that is wholly alien).

All I had to do to create the world I wanted for LLCF was gut the world, getting rid of everything that didn’t have a reason. For once, I didn’t feel obligated to include things because they were part of the default. I didn’t feel like I needed to include certain things and omitting them had to have a specific reason. I felt I could work from the opposite direction: only including things because I had a specific reason. And because I felt I could omit things, I felt my world-building benefited.

No longer did I feel bound to include standard fantasy races, and I felt like those that I did include, I could do what I wanted with. I removed goblinoids, dwarves, halflings, dragonborn, and kobolds entirely; I made my elves a bit more mysterious and a lot more powerful – and a lot less numerous; and I made humans a far more diverse race, with 8 different human ethnicities (9 if you include orks) rather than the original 4 human races (6 if you included the orks and the Touched). For those who aren’t certain of the difference, I am assigning the terms as follows (using real-world examples): race would refer to European, Asian, African, or American; ethnicity would refer to German, English, Spanish, Italian, etc.

As well, I felt the freedom to completely change the geography of the world – something I did incorrectly when I made Kithria before – to be more fitting for these 8 different human ethnicities. Each ethnicity, you see, comes from a different region of the world; originally, each human race was tied to a different continent.

This resulted in another major change: Kithria went from the name of world at large (four continents closely connected together), to the name of the continent, with multiple regions (in a similar vain of the Roman provinces). Kithria went from the four continents of Kapfas, Shelez, Gelth, and Mikron to two continents: Kithria and ‘the Southern Continent’. The former is now made up of 7 regions: the cold highlands of Kapfas, the mountainous lowlands of Barush, the river-crossed Felseth, the forested lands of Gelth, the desert basin of Imin, the lush plains of Biria, and the rocky plains of Shelez; and the latter is made up of one charted region on its northern edge, facing Kithria: Mikron, a region full of lush rainforests and foreboding wildlife.

From these unique regions came unique cultures, shaped by the geographical features of their places of origin. However, I believe I have gone a little off-track, so I’m going end this post here – but my process of creating cultures is where I’ll pick up next time I talk about world building.

Just remember: don’t let the norms of world-building and fantasy limit what you create, or force you to create things that you don’t want to in the first place. Start your world-building not by asking yourself what to omit, but instead by asking yourself what to include. By limiting your options, your world-building will be much better as a result.

So, I guess that’s the main takeaway: sometimes bounds can be limiting, but they can also be more freeing than having none at all.

Planners vs. Pantsers

A little blurb about the writing process, some info on Devilspawn, and a hint of life advice mixed in.

A common divide in the writing community is that of Planners and Pantsers. For those who are unaware what this divide is, the former is as their name suggests. They plan their story, outlining, creating all the major characters beforehand, and knowing, from the beginning, exactly what the story is about. Ultimately, things will change – perhaps things don’t go exactly as they expected, or they noticed plotholes that weren’t evident in their initial plan.

Pantsers, on the other hand, do the exact opposite. Their name is in reference to writing ‘by the seat of their pants.’ They do little to plan beforehand, simply starting to write and seeing where the story takes them. They create settings and characters as they emerge, often having a vague idea of where they’re going with things, but with no clear path to get there.

The divide between these two is most evident in that each often finds their own methodology superior. Planners will give new writers the advice to outline and plan everything beforehand. This will often result in a very hardlined story and the finished product will look very much like the first draft. Pansters will give new writers the advice to let the ideas flow through them – let themselves have a trash (or other, less savory, words, if they prefer) first draft. Then, write the second draft in such a way that it seems you knew exactly what you were doing the whole time – much like a Planner first draft. So, ultimately, it would seem, they end up at the same point, just with a different methodology to get there – a methodology dependent on the personality and thought processes of the author.

This can also be compared to the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI – a popular personality assessment) dichotomy of J and P (Judging and Perceiving, respectively). J’s, within the MBTI, are those who dutifully plan, creating schedules and itineraries, while P’s are those who tend to be more laid back about planning – they still plan, but, for those who strongly lean to the P side, every plan is penciled in; nothing is set in stone. It is known, among those who properly hold to the MBTI, that being strongly one way or the other is unhealthy, and, should someone strongly lean one or the other, they should practice moving more toward center, living in a more moderate manner. As stated by Aristotle (and, to a degree, Solomon before him and Paul after), the key to living a good life is moderation.

The same could easily be said of Planning and Pantsing. To lean more toward one side or the other will not result in an opportune story. Planning everything beforehand – having an outline, with specific characters, settings, and whatnot – disregards the minute, yet important, details that, on the surface, have little impact on the story, but can, in the end, inspire fantastic subplots or twists the author never would have thought of otherwise.

On the other hand, pantsing everything – writing with a vague direction – will result in unfinished stories, with a shoehorned ending that attempts tying up every plot thread in a neat little bow while leaving plenty of frayed ends and holes in the finished product that can be difficult to fix with new drafts without scrapping or adding entire chunks of a story.

I have, of course, seen ups and downs with both these methods in my own writing. My beta readers’ favorite characters (one of which ultimately became the actual main character in Devilspawn: Tara) wouldn’t have existed had I planned everything beforehand. As well, any time I try to plan something, I forget those small important details in the planning that are so important to the story itself. But, when I plan little, I find an issue with knowing where I’m going. With Devilspawn, I got to nearly 70,000 words in the first draft with no end in sight. I did as I previously described and shoehorned in an ending that was satisfactory to my beta readers of the time, but felt lackluster to myself. It felt like it was the ending of an entirely new book as I introduced new plot threads by tying them up. Ultimately, this is what led me to write Devilspawn as one novel in two books – the first book is what was the first two-thirds of the first draft, with more details and shorter, though more frequent, time jumps, made to be longer than the entirety of the first draft (the original first draft was around 85,000 words while the ‘first draft’ of Book I is over 90,000), and ultimately tying up the two main plot threads: Agathon’s search for his brother and his loved ones’ reaction to his disappearance. The second book will take on a couple subplots from the first book as main plots to round out the narrative itself.

As well, I’m much better at making up characters as I write than making them up beforehand. My original plan for Agathon and Sarah (a supporting character who was originally planned to take much more of a front-line role, similar to Tara) was hot garbage; both characters, and the ones I made up while writing (because when I was making the Satanists because my brain went ‘yes, 7, that’s a good number’ – should you read the book, you’ll notice I removed one as he turned out to be underutilized and didn’t serve a strong narrative purpose) turned out to be much better than the ones I prepared beforehand. I believe this to be the result of the fact that I was creating the lore for characters, rather than actually making character’s as described by Matthew Colville in his video on Lore vs Writing.

But I digress.

On the nature of Planners vs. Pantsers, I propose this: do both. If you are good at planning things out beforehand, do that – but not too much. Maybe plan a few chapters ahead as you’re writing (this is what I’m doing with Isle of the Dreamer, though the actual second chapter was never outlined at all and the outlined second chapter will be the actual third chapter). If you aren’t too good at planning things ahead (like me, see the paragraph above), write chapter by chapter, asking yourself at the end of each if you’re moving toward the end of your novel (if your novel is the sort which has a main plot). In both, remember to keep the end in mind.

So I suppose the two main takeaways can be found in the Bible: do everything in moderation, and keep the end in mind.

Isle of the Dreamer, Chapter 1: The Girl on the Shore

Soren awakens after a terrible storm and sets out to find out what happened to the rest of his crew.

Soren tossed and turned; as he slept nightmares haunted him. He dreamt of the great waves which rocked his ship, the lightning that struck the water all around him. His mates’ cries for help. He cried their names, but they didn’t seem to hear him. As a bolt of lightning struck the mast of his ship, he awoke with a start.

The light of a crackling fire lit the room. It was dim, but it was enough that he could see what was just in front of him. A face stared down at him as he attempted to get his bearings.

The face was beautiful and belonged to a woman, a northerner by the looks of it. What she would be doing so far south as the Sea of Stones, he was uncertain. Curly red hair, like autumn leaves, framed her pale face – dotted with freckles. Between her emerald eyes was a small button nose, with pencil thin lips and a rounded jaw. She wore a ragged burlap dress, which hung low on her chest; Soren found that enjoyable, though it certainly would have been better if she had more to show off.

“You’re awake!” she cried as he sat up on the straw mattress, a toothy grin spreading across her face. Her teeth were certainly in much better condition than most of the tavern wenches Soren knew in Ingaard.

His ribs were certainly bruised, and his arm didn’t feel too good either – lucky it wasn’t his sword arm, in case the woman sitting over him wasn’t as friendly as she appeared. Not that he had a sword with him. He’d stored his below deck when he went to man the crow’s nest. The charm that captain Delmore gave him still clung to his neck, cold on his chest.

He was in a small hovel, made up of a single floor where he could see a dining table opposite the hearth from the bed where he lay. Another bed sat a few feet away, currently unoccupied, and a chair had clearly been stolen from the table for the woman watching him to sit in.

“I found you on the shore nearly three days ago,” she said, frowning slightly, “you’ve been asleep ever since – though you’ve certainly been active, what with your tossing and turning and calling out names in your sleep: Delmore, Tyrell, Ambrigon, …”

“My mates,” Soren interrupted as he groaned. Perhaps his rib was a bit more than bruised.

The woman reclaimed her beaming face as he spoke.

“We were caught in a storm.” Soren rubbed his forehead, another thing to add to his list of pains. “Last I remember, I was thrown from the crow’s nest when lightning struck the mast. Then everything went black.”

She frowned once again as her face downcast. “There was a wreckage on the shore where I found you, and bodies scattered on the beach. You were the only one still breathing.”

Soren quickly put his fist to his mouth, biting down on his thumb knuckle – a habit Tyrell tried hard and in vain to break him of. “So, no one else survived.”

The woman shook her head. “I’m sorry. But you’re certainly welcome to go down to the shore and check for yourself – or at least bury your friends.”

Soren nodded as he shifted, placing his back to the wall so that he no longer had to hold himself up. “The name’s Soren, by the way.”

“Aryia.”

Soren chuckled. “A Shelezar name for a Kapfian beauty – a perversion if ever there was one.”

Aryia pouted. “It was a name given to me by the people of the town. I’m told it means ‘song.'”

Soren smiled wider, baring his yellowed teeth – one of many ugly parts of him, at least in his mind. “You are not the perversion here, Aryia, but to assign a name from such an ugly culture to a beauty such as yourself.”

Aryia craned her head to the side. “Are you not Shelezar?”

Soren’s smile became uncomfortable. “That I am.” His appearance was as Shelezar as could be: lightly curled brown hair, like a mop soaked in mud placed atop his head, skin that was too dark to turn his blemishes to beauty marks but too light to hide them, and a pointed nose and jaw. The only part of himself he liked were his eyes – a beautifully dark brown, like rich chocolate.

“Tell me, where are we?”

Aryia took on a curious smile. “How do you mean?”

“What land, what kingdom, village, town, city, whatever?”

“Well, I suppose we’re in Ortus.”

Soren drooped his brows. “We’re in a place called ‘sunrise?'”

Aryia shrugged. “I suppose so.”

“Alright, well, which region are we in? Shelez? Mikron?” He paused for a moment. “Felsheth?”

Aryia furrowed her brow in confusion as she shifted in her seat. “I’m not familiar.”

Soren squinted at her. “You’re not familiar with your own land?”

“Ortus and Zapad are all I know – they are the only villages on this island. Well, only human villages, I suppose.”

Soren bit his thumb knuckle again before swinging his legs out from under his covers to sit upright on the bed, facing her. He worried for a moment as it seemed she’d undressed the rest of him – a normal thing when you find a drenched man, he supposed – but was relieved upon realizing she’d left him his drawers, and, with them, his dignity. It was then he noticed his tunic, breeches, and boots drying by the fire, with his cuirass lying on the ground next to them.

He let out a sigh as he stood up and started wandering the room, limping due to pain in his knee. He fidgeted with the herbs and meats that hung from the rafters and scanned the house once more. “Why is it you have two beds? Does someone else live here with you?”

Aryia bit her lip as she stared at the fireplace. “No, it’s only me.” She rested her arms on the back of her chair as she leaned against it. “My mother died when I was a babe, and my father disappeared almost a year ago on a hunt in the forest to the west. They say orks got him – or worse. So now I just live here. Me and my garden outside, keeping me well-fed enough, I suppose. Speaking of food, would you like something to eat? I’ve been making a little extra soup each day since I found you, hoping you would wake up, and I’ve mainly been feeding it to the mutt each morning. But I’ve still got some if you’d like – a bit cold, mind you – and I can’t imagine you aren’t hungry.”

Soren ran his hand over the top of one of the two chairs that still sat at the dining table before smiling at her. “That I am.”

She grabbed the pot, which sat in the corner of the small house, and lugged it over to the table before filling two bowls with soup. It seemed she had certainly made far more than enough for two people. She happily sat down and started bringing a spoonful of soup to her mouth when Soren’s calloused hand touched her arm.

“Do you not bless your food before you eat it?”

Aryia shrugged. “Why would I?”

Soren squinted at her as he craned his head a bit before answering with a bit of a stammer. “To appease the gods, that they would let it nourish you.”

Aryia shrugged once again. “It nourishes me just fine.”

Soren smiled softly as he pulled his hand away. “Humor me.”

Aryia dropped her spoon in her bowl as she watched Soren close his eyes, bow his head, and put his hands, palm-up, on the table.

“Oh, great Tyrus, may you bless this bounty, that the subsequent crop may be plenty. Oh, great Imya, may you bless this cook, that she may be protected by your watchful eye. Oh, great Golaan, may you bless this food, that it would nourish us and give us strength for tomorrow. So let it be said, so let it be done. Gods be praised.”

Soren nodded before lifting his head to see Aryia watching him curiously.

“Do you know nothing of the world? Nothing of the lands, nothing of the gods? Nothing at all?”

Aryia shrugged as she quickly put a spoon of soup in her mouth.

Soren shook his head as he did the same, muttering before each bite entered his mouth.
“What are you doing?”

Soren looked up from his bowl. “If blessing a whole meal is beneficial, how much more must be blessing each bite?”

Aryia stared at him in bewilderment before shaking her head and continuing to eat her soup as fast as she could.

“What’s in this anyway?” Soren asked as he chewed.

“Vegetables and spices from my garden and pigeon from Madam Leondrea’s most recent hunt.”

“It’s very good.”

“Why, thank you.”

The two sat in silence, save for Soren continuing to pray over his food, before Aryia interrupted one of his prayers.

“So, where are you from? Or, rather, I suppose, what are you from?”

Soren paused and set his spoon in his bowl. “How do you mean?”

“Well,” Aryia began, “father always said that many people ask where a man is from, but all too few ask what he is from. What has happened in his life to lead him to where he is.”

“Ah.” Soren nodded as he wiped his mouth with the cloth napkin Aryia had placed next to his bowl. “Well, I suppose I came from a good childhood. My parents were nobles, I was of noble birth, born with mountains of coin to my name. But it wasn’t for me.

“As I grew, I watched as the other nobles around me became more greedy as their pockets became more filled with gold. There came a time where I had a choice – go down the path they were on, or find my own.” Soren nodded. “I decided to find my own.

“I left my house, not a coin in my pocket and made my way to the docks for honest work. That was when I met Tyrell – he was a member of the crew I’d now call my family, see.” Soren laughed and smiled as he spoke before his current circumstances crept into his mind. “We were a merchant ship. This must have been my thousandth voyage across the Sea of Stones” – an exaggeration, of course – “just as routine as any other. At least, it seemed that way.”

“You must have been on many adventures – surely your work was more than just sailing back and forth?”

“Aye,” Soren chortled, “A great many beasts we fought on the seas – some weren’t even men. And occasionally we took on the odd job or two.” He went on to recount his time hunting a goat-sucker in northern Mikron. A great and fearsome beast, he claimed. The woman needn’t know that it turned out to simply be an infestation of thumb-sized mosquitoes on the farm that the crew fled from in terror upon seeing, taking their advance with them.

He also told stories that were decidedly less exaggerated: the time they fought off a giant squid that nearly took down the ship (though it was perhaps not as large as he made it out to be), the time they fought off an entire ork horde that was attacking a small village under the dominion of Ingaard (alongside the village’s own militia and a detail of knights), and – the only story he told as it happened – the time their first captain died, when Delmore became first mate. The story no one would believe, because the creature they fought didn’t exist – certainly not anymore.

It was the story of when Soren fought off a dragon – alongside their old captain, Ishmere. The two of them had stayed back so the rest of the crew could escape. When everyone else was on the boat, the two of them ran for the last remaining dinghy. Soren jumped in and turned to help Ishmere step inside, but he – and the dragon – were gone. He later learned that when Ishmere told him to run for it, he stayed to fight the dragon. He was devoured in a single bite before the dragon flew off. No body remained. Nothing to bury and nothing to remember him by.

Soren watched a tear fall into his soup as he finished his story and he placed the spoon carefully in the bowl. He didn’t feel much like eating anymore.

“I sleep in that bed?” He gestured to the one he’d woken up in an hour or so prior.

Aryia nodded solemnly as compassion twisted her face into an expression of sadness.

***

Soren’s sleep was restless, haunted by nightmares of that stormy night which separated him from his crew. He once again called out to them, only for none of them to respond.

He awoke, feeling even more tired than he was when his head first hit the pillow. But he was ready for whatever the day would throw at him. And, evidently, the first thing the day would throw at him was eggs and bacon.

He rolled over to see strips of bacon lain over the metal rod hung over the fire and a skillet set next to the fire with four eggs frying on top.

“This is the last of the bacon that Gar’nesh cut from the boar the madam killed a few days back. A special treat for waking up.”

She took the bacon from the fire and scooped two eggs onto a plate, sprinkling the eggs with salt before carrying it to him.

“Are you planning to go visit the shore today?”

Soren sat up as he took the plate from her hand. His body still hurt. “Of course. If for no other reason than to bury my mates.”

She put bacon and an egg on her own plate before sitting down at the foot end of his bed.

“Tell me about your captain.” She took a bite of bacon. “Unless you don’t want to.”

“No,” Soren replied, “I mean, yes, I can. I suppose it may be good for me.” He began eating as he told her of Delmore. “He always fought as if he was the last bastion of humanity … never went anywhere without his good luck charm – always seemed to keep him out of danger … prayed before every voyage, every meal, everything he did, always to the same god, no matter the circumstance – Imya the Watcher.”

As they finished eating, Soren set his plate down on the bed before putting on his clothes, which Aryia had folded and neatly placed on the chair next to his bed. He wore light-colored breeches, with a blue tunic under a leather cuirass, and cavalier boots, which he buckled to go up to his knees. As soon as he finished getting dressed, he made his way to the door.

“Is that his?” Aryia asked as he started to duck through the doorway.

He stopped and turned around. “Is what whose?”

“The charm around your neck. Was that captain Delmore’s? His good luck charm, I mean. You clutched it in your hand when you prayed to Imya last night.”

Soren held the small symbol in his hand. “That it is.”

***

“Another round for me and my comrades!” Soren shouted as he planted a firm slap on the rear of the poor tavern wench passing by. He then thrust his current mug of ale in the air. “To another joyous voyage!” He’d forgotten that she’d just delivered another pint for each sailor at the table.

“Here, here!” The rest of the crew shouted, followed by laughter as they drunkenly sung the anthem of Ingaard to the best of their ability. The best of their ability, of course, meaning that it was far from anything that could be considered a tune and each of them sung different verses, all in the wrong order.

After they each sung through two verses, the captain stood on his chair, quieting the crew down with the wave of his hand. To the crew, he was standing just fine, to the rest of the tavern, his standing on the chair was most definitely a safety hazard.

“We have received a job!”

The crew began shouting again, but quickly quieted as the captain waved his hand once more.

“It’s a pretty basic job! We take the boxes! We put ’em on the boat! We go over to Mikron!”

At his last statement, the one Mikri in the crew shouted ‘boo’, followed by the rest of the crew.

The captain waved his hand once more. “Now, now, they’re our neighbors. We get some pretty good pay from this, I hear.” He paused for a moment, scanning the crew before shouting, “So let’s do it good!”

The crew shouted with glee as the captain climbed down off the chair. They banged their mugs against each other once more, probably spilling more ale on the ground than they would drink for the rest of the night – well, assuming the tavern wench hadn’t just switched the beer out with water. It was certainly a possibility.

After a few more rounds of probably-water (on account of the crew sobering down a bit before leaving), the crew made their way back to the ship, a few mates with wenches in tow, to sleep before overseeing the loading of the cargo the next morning.

As Soren lay down on his cot, staring at the one above, Delmore sat down on a stool beside him, holding his good luck charm in his hand.

“I need to tell you something, Soren. As first mate.”

Soren looked at Delmore with his eyes alone as the giggles of a tavern wench sounded through the grate to the deck above.

“This is no ordinary job. What we’re going to be transportin’ is far more important than anythin’ we’ve done before. The guildmaster says even the gods may fight against us.”
Soren sat up on his cot. “Then why would we take the job?”

“Because the one god who matters is on our side.” Delmore grabbed Soren’s hand and kissed the symbol of Imya before placing it in Soren’s palm. “Imya tells me you’ll need this. That it’ll do you a good deal more good than it’ll do me. I’m trustin’ you with this, Soren. Tell no one. Don’t even mention it in your prayers tonight.”

***

After a half-hour’s walk, the wreckage came into view. Bodies and driftwood were scattered everywhere. Broken boxes. Barrels. A rare few pieces of cargo were intact. He thought it strange that so much wreckage would make it to the island. When the lightning struck the mast, there was no land in sight. The entire ship should have sunk to the bottom of the sea. But instead, it washed up here.

Soren began searching through the bodies. Hoping. Praying.

Larius was the first body he found, notable by his red hair and the scar that traced down from his forehead to his waist. Never liked to wear a shirt, that one. Thought he’d snag more women that way.

Then there was Ambrigon. Big fellow, with hair that reached halfway down his back and a beard to match. He was the crew’s cook – always gave himself extra helpings, not that anyone cared.

Nishon. The one Mikri in the crew. Everyone in the crew hated their own homelands, not that they would let anyone outside the crew know it (unless they got particularly drunk). His dark skin glistened as the sun reflected off the seawater that covered him.

Several bodies later and he finally located Delmore. The rat nest that he usually kept under a cloth cap was able to roam free, and his usually well-kept beard was damp and scraggly, braided with seaweed. It was as he saw the captain’s wooden smile that he fell to his knees, letting out a cry that echoed across the waves.

Tears streamed down his face. They would have soaked the sand beneath him if it had not already been soaked by the tide.

Aryia knelt down beside him, placing a hand on his shoulder, which he promptly shook away.

“It’s – my fault,” he sobbed, clutching his stomach. “They’re all dead and it’s all my fault.”

“But how can it be?”

“Delmore charged me to mention nothing to the gods in my nightly prayers that we had a special cargo in our hold. He said that we would be fighting even the gods to have it delivered. I thought it would be a good idea to pray to the god of travel, to ask him for guidance, so I did. And it’s all my fault!”

He punched the sand and fell onto the body of his captain, continuing to sob. He continued in a similar manner for nearly an hour before regaining his composure.

He continued looking through the bodies. All the crew was accounted for, except one. With Aryia’s help, he built funeral pyres for the crew. As the tinder began to burn, he stepped away, watching his comrades bodies burn, offered up to the unnamed god, keeper of the dead.

“I need to get off this island,” he said as he fastened Delmore’s sheath around his waist. “I need to find Tyrell and the cargo. And I need to deliver it – whatever it is.” He wiped tears from his eyes as he watched the pyre turn to a blaze. “I will see my crew’s last job through.”

Lady Luck’s Chosen Few

Another project I’m working on is a tabletop roleplaying game (ttRPG – for those who don’t know what that is, D&D is the most popular ttRPG) called Lady Luck’s Chosen Few. It is intended to be a rules-lite system that is easy to pick up and easy to play. The creation of it began a few months ago after reading a blog post by The Angry GM (post itself here) about disregarding Tabletop conventions (such as ability scores) to create a better system.

In short: the article explains that when sitting down to create a Tabletop RPG, you should not ask yourself, “How am I going to handle ability scores?” but rather answer the question that ability scores were created to answer, “How am I going to resolve situations that characters get themselves in based on chance, where the character’s capabilities are taken into account?” Another way to word this is, “How is action resolution handled?”

From the problem this article presented, the idea evolved into: I want to make a ttRPG that is easy to pick up and play, is more oriented to low-fantasy settings (magic is limited or extremely dangerous and mythical creatures are a rare sight), where death lurks around every corner, combat can be easily resolved in a few minutes (thereby lowering its prevalence in the system), and character creation is based on a character first mentality, rather than stat-based.

After the jump is a brief introduction to the rules so far.

Character Creation
A staple of the game itself is that the player’s characters (PCs) are extraordinary, not because they were born that way, but because they made themselves that way by garnering the attention of some cosmic force which now guides their path. Character creation requires determining 3 simple things: what your character looks like, how they behave, and what the life event was. None of these have to do with rules or game mechanics.
After determining those three things, play can begin. But, obviously, there needs to be some way to define a character’s capabilities through game mechanics, otherwise, everyone’s the same.

Action Resolution
Any action that has a higher than ~20% chance of failure requires the roll of a standard six-sided die. Before the action is rolled, a certain threshold is determined by the Game Master (GM – controls all the NPCs [non-player characters] and the environment). If the player who is controlling the character rolls at or above the pre-defined threshold, their character succeeds in whatever they were trying to do. If they roll below that threshold, they fail. Each roll can be affected by a character’s ‘Aptitudes’, which apply to different situations on a case-by-case basis. Any given aptitude will, at most, affect a player’s roll by 1.
Practically, any injury received counts as a death blow – a roll is made to determine if a character survives that death blow.

Character Capabilities
To represent their connection to some cosmic force, a given character has a stat known as ‘Luck’ (hence, the name of the game). They can use this luck in two ways: spending it (lowering the current value) to increase a roll by however much is being spent, or burning it (lowering the max value to gain an aptitude).
Characters also start with a Wealth stat (that can only be burnt) which is used to determine what equipment they can have.

I will likely put the rules for this system on its own page of this blog as I am able.

The Origins of the Void Jumper

I am currently working on my second draft for a book called The Void Jumper’s Chronicles: Devilspawn.

I started my writing, not by sitting down to write a book, but by building a world while I was bored. It began with a simple concept: what if different worlds were at different points on a fourth dimension, and there was someone who could move across that dimension? That idea eventually evolved into ‘The Void Jumper’, which is why the series I’m beginning is called ‘The Void Jumper’s Chronicles’. The world that the books take place in is called ‘The Void Jumper Continuum’.

The idea of the void jumper was originally a much wider a concept, starting with a group of people with latent abilities awoken by intervention from some higher being. The list of abilities available to those people were based on the list given by Paul for those who are filled with the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. The unifying factor among all those who were of this people group was that they had the ability to move between realms (initially called ‘voids’), hence, this group of people were called ‘void jumpers’.

It came to be that I decided this group was not a physical race, but a form of soul. So, someone could be physically human and spiritually a void jumper. As well, there were other physical forms, such as what eventually became known as Deos, and other soul forms, such as what eventually became known as Powers That Be (or Beta Powers).

After many revisions to the idea, void jumpers were split into two different soul types – Jumpers and Gifts. Gifts retained the plethora of latent abilities, activated by the higher power (at this point objectively named ‘Truth’, though different groups call him by different names within the Void Jumper Continuum). Meanwhile, the Jumpers have three different kinds, which can move across different dimensions: Time Jumpers move across ‘Primary Time’ (the combination of two time dimensions), Spirit Jumpers can move across the fourth spatial dimension, called ‘Spirit’, and Void Jumpers can move across the fifth spatial dimension, called ‘Void’, which separates the realms.

The idea of many dimensions eventually evolved into there being nine total dimensions: five spatial (categorized into the three physical dimensions and two metaphysical dimensions), three chronic dimensions (split into primary and alternate time), and the True dimension. While the Void dimension splits up different realms within one Universe, the True dimension is what divides Universes from one another. And each Universe has its own Truth reigning over it (or perhaps different representations of one indivisible Truth).

It was from these basic elements that the rest of the Void Jumper’s Continuum was based on.