I’ve been playing with digital ‘collage’ for days now, and the image below comes close to what I see in my head:
It’s not perfect but I did manage to create the ‘ramp’ which features in book 2. This ramp has been in my head for years :
‘A moment later, all thought of Vokh politics fled Kahti’s mind as the tunnel opened out into a cavern of mammoth proportions. Glowworms placed at regular intervals revealed a number of passages leading out of the cavern, but the young Trader could not take its eyes from the huge ramp that snaked around half of the cavern before disappearing through an arched opening near the roof.’
From the second book of Vokhtah, title still up in the air.
All of the scraps of texture and shape  that went into the final, composite image were manipulated in Corel Draw 8. No idea what I’ll do with the image, but it will be handy as a reference if nothing else. Just relieved it’s done.
All speculative fiction writers know about building worlds with words, but what if you need more than words to visualise the space in which your story takes place?
I’m a bit of a perfectionist yet even so, I recently discovered that a guestimate right at the start of Vokhtah was not only wrong, it was very wrong. That, plus needing a distraction from my first jab of AstraZeneca, lead me to Inkarnate, a brilliant, fantasy map making app.
Within the first week of playing around with Inkarnate, I had a map of Vokhtah that was a million times better than the dinky map I’d made using only Corel Draw 8. The trouble was, the more I worked on the map, the more I noticed the gaps in my worldbuilding. You see, the eyries of the Vokh don’t just appear as haphazard dots on a map. They are chosen for very specific requirements, such as:
the security provided by the cave system,
the proximity to water [and hence to food animals]
and the distance from other Vokh [the greater the better].
But if eyries have pre-requisites, so do the Trader caravans that service them. All iVokh can fly, including the Traders, but few can fly well. As for the Plodders who carry the bulk of the Traders’ goods, they can barely fly at all. And this is where biology and terrain combine to create problems, because if eyries need to be near water, but Plodders can’t fly over obstructions like rivers, how do the caravans travel from gather to gather? [A gather is like a human market place.]
In book 1 of Vokhtah, the only river the Traders had to cross was the Little Blue, and it had almost stopped running by the end of the dry season [Tohoh]. The ford across the river was dangerous but doable. But then what about the other seasons?
In my current WIP, I sidestepped that problem by saying that no caravans could travel during the wet season [Kohoh]. Neat. Unfortunately, when I came to filling in the Inkarnate map, I could no longer avoid the issue of terrain because the story of Vokhtah continues on past Kohoh into Tuhoh [the season of new growth] and beyond.
How in heck was I going to solve the problem of river crossings?
The solution to the problem of rivers required a complete rethink of the map, starting with geology and basic physics. Water always flows downhill, and depending on the slope and density of the material it flows through, it either slows down and spreads out:
… or it runs swiftly and carves out gorges. And sometimes it creates land bridges that span the gorge from side to side:
Or sometimes the bridge is actually the rim of a pool that sits high above the river. When the level of water goes back to its normal level, the rim provides a way from one side of the river to the other:
When there is too much water in the pool, it cascades over the rim and becomes a waterfall that feeds the river below:
And yes, I spent a couple of days just researching rivers and terrain here in Australia. 🙂 Much of the info. I discovered came from these videos:
The middle video was shot by an amateur so the helicopter noise is quite loud, but it feels real, as if you’re sitting in the helicopter, experiencing the trip along with the pilot and sightseers. Videos 1 and 3 are professionally produced and provide better visuals.
One of the things I learned was that Katherine Gorge, which is where most of the images were shot, is actually a deep cut through a plateau. All the images I’d seen before this were from the river level and made it seem as if the gorge had cut its way through a flat plain. Not so.
The realisation that the gorge was part of a plateau changed my whole perspective about the Inkarnate map, and how the eyries and caravans [of Vokhtah] would interact with the geology. The end result is this:
Click the image to zoom in closer. The legend on the left identifies the icons used in the map, including the eyries belonging to the Vokh, from the most powerful [large purple] to least powerful [tiny white].
The fuzzy purple areas represent the native vegetation of Vokhtah. As the planet is quite different to Earth, I had to re-imagine the evolution of plants without chlorophyll [the thing that makes Earth plants green and which they use to synthesize food from sunlight, water and minerals in the soil]. I pinched the idea from Earth plants that don’t have chlorophyll of their own. They’re basically parasites, but hey… 🙂
To be honest, I can’t remember exactly why I chose purple/lavender but you’ll notice that most of the water sources on the planet are shades of purple as well. A trick of the visible light off water in a binary star system maybe? The notable exceptions are The Eye [the lake at the top of the map], and the two rivers flowing out of the Eye [Little Blue and Big Blue]. The Eye is a maar lake and it was formed from a volcanic eruption.
…but I’m going cross-eyed so I have to stop for the day! This is the map of Vokhtah at about 95% complete, if you don’t count the rest of the globe. 😀
The map is HUGE, but you don’t know how huge until you start zooming in, like so:
And then, because I’ve worked my butt off on this, we’ll zoom in a little bit more…
See that waterfall? Pinky looking thing almost dead centre of the pic? That small, not-so-important image is made up of a photo of a lake that I vectored in Corel, layered with transparent textures, reworked a number of times to make the textures blend into the background in Inkarnate…and all that’s before I made the actual fall of water. Just a tad pleased with myself. lol
Okay, enough crowing. Inkarnate is a fabulous graphics tool that’s worth every cent of the measly $5/month subscription. Like all tools though, the more you try to get out of the software, the more you have to learn. For example, to turn that picture of a lake into a usable ‘stamp’ [that’s what the graphic objects are called], I had to work out how to avoid having a nasty white edge all around the vectored image.
Without going into a full-blown how-to, these are the basic steps:
I found an image of a meteorite that had a great texture:
2. I cut out small sections of the texture and made them almost transparent:
3. Next, I made a background colour that would make the texture blend in to the background colour of the Inkarnate map:
4. Then, I placed the vectored image of the lake onto the top layer of images, grouped all three and exported them as a .jpeg image.
5. Finally, I uploaded the new ‘stamp’ to Inkarnate and spent a few more hours finessing the placement so there would be no straight edges to betray where my custom stamp had gone. Oh…and then I had to get the waterfall right, but luckily there were some nice ready made stamps for that.
The map still needs the trade routes pathed in, and labels, and a legend to explain what all the brightly coloured bits are, but that’s a job for tomorrow. Have a great weekend everyone, and remember to stay safe!
Not so long ago, I complained about the timeline in Vokhtah being out by three days. After a LOT of time and effort, which included combing through book 1 to see exactly what I happened when, I discovered that the timeline was actually out by 17 days. -pulls hair and screams-
The problem with the timeline goes all the way back to the very start of the book in which I guestimated that the journey to and from Deepwater gather would take about 50 days. As guestimates go, that fudge would not have been catastrophic had I gone back at the end of the book and worked out exact times spent. But I didn’t. 😦
I solved my timeline problem, but it’s left me very wary of any and all fudges, so when I went back to book 2 and came across a scene that involved a bad iVokh rappelling down into a ravine to chase a good iVokh, my fudge-alarm went off straight away.
Why? Because everything I know about mountaineering comes from a couple of old Hollywood movies. I think one of them starred Sylvestre Stallone:
Clearly, I could not allow the fudge to stand, so I’ve spent most of today doing research on mountaineering. To my utter surprise, the scene I wrote is actually possible using a method invented way back at the start of the 20th century by a climber called Hans Dulfer.
To use the Dulfersitz, [I think that translates as Dulfer-sit] you secure one end of the rope at the top of the cliff or wherever you happen to be, wrap it around your body a certain way, and then ‘walk down’ the near vertical face of the cliff suspended only by the friction of the rope against your body:
You can see exactly how to do the wrapping in the short video from which the still shot was taken: https://youtu.be/CLQ0IltdYd0 While revolutionary for its time, the Dulfersitz was not exactly painfree:
‘For quite a long time the Dülfersitz was the most common way of abseiling and it’s still remembered today, mainly with nostalgic memories of those gorgeous burns on the right side of your neck and shoulder along with some far less pleasant ones right next to your genitalia.’
I’ve been struggling a bit of late. Part of that is due to our sixth lockdown, and part is due to the difficulties of writing one long story over a number of volumes.
The first volume is a joy because the world and its people are yours to create. The second volume is a pain in the proverbial because…some things are now set in stone. In other words, I’ve written things in the first volume that I cannot, must not stuff up in the second.
-sigh- And that, my friends, means doing some serious plotting.
At the moment, I’m back in book 1 of Vokhtah, trying to reconcile the timeline I created there. I wrote that there were only 51 days to go before the torrential rains of Kohoh stopped all travel. Therefore the ‘hero’s journey could only take 51 days.
Then I wrote about the character spending XX number of days at this spot and that spot and t’other. Unfortunately, I’ve just discovered that I’m three days short – i.e. if the journey follows a certain pattern, it will have taken 54 days rather than the allotted 51:
I can fix this shortfall, but I’ll have to adjust the map I originally created to show the route of the journey. This is what it looks like at the moment:
The dotted line marks the route…and now some bits have to be closer together to make everything fit…
Don’t judge me! I know exactly how anal this all sounds. 😦
Anyway, I’ll update the map etc in the next couple of days and explain why this level of detail is needed to get things right in book 2.
My favourite villains have always been the ones who were made, not born. This excerpt features both the Yellow and its Assistant, Death. I’ll leave it to you to work out which of these villains is which. But please do remember that all of the intelligent life on Vokhtah is sociopathic to some degree. 🙂
Two days later, Death stood quietly by the wall as the Yellow addressed a half-circle of Messengers, none of them more than sixteen. They had been told to bring their sleeping pallets and nothing else. Now all eight stood next to their rolled up pallets, cowls lowered respectfully as they waited to hear why they had been singled out.
“Being chosen for special training,” the Yellow began, its voice stern. “To save Settlement from rogue Escapees. If Escapees finding out, plan failing so what learning here must remaining secret from everyone. Even other Messengers!”
The thought of being chosen for important work must have reassured the youngsters because most responded by flicking back their cowls and standing a little straighter. Only two continued to look wary. Death took special note of their faces; when dealing with the Yellow, caution was a sign of intelligence.
“Until training being finished,” the Yellow continued, a hint of menace creeping into its voice, “only leaving cavern for guard duty outside door. If betraying secret in any way, being punished. By self.”
This time all eight looked worried. Messengers generally had less to fear from the Yellow than ordinary iVokh, but this threat was aimed specifically at them.
“Training being conducted by Assistant,” the Yellow said, gesturing towards Death with one hand. “In matters of training, Assistant speaking for self. Any disobedience being punished. Understanding?” Eight heads bobbed up and down in unison.
None of the eight made a sound, but Death knew the questions, and the rebellion, would come. The only unknown was how many. One or two would be acceptable, but any more than that would cause problems.
“Assistant?” the Yellow said.
Stepping forward, Death bow to the Yellow before turning to the Students and shouting, “Respect to Honoured!”
The young Messengers all snapped to attention and bowed so low their cilia almost swept the sand. They remained that way as the Yellow turned and stomped down the passage towards the door.
“Up!” Death cried. “Placing pallets against wall then returning here.”
While the young iVokh milled about, choosing a place to sleep, Death walked over to the table and picked up the large ceramic gourd that waited there. Returning to the centre of the cavern, it placed the empty gourd on the sand at its feet and composed itself for what was to come.
When the last of the stragglers had made it back to the centre of the cavern, Death struck an imperious pose and said, “Not being Master but may calling Teacher. As for selves, not being Messengers any more, or Acolytes. Being… Apprentices.” The young iVokh exchanged shocked glances as they digested the implications of their drastic demotion. The hierarchy of rank was strictly enforced in all eyries, but in the Settlement, the Healers and their Acolytes occupied a level above all other iVokh. By demoting the young Messengers to the rank of Apprentice, Death had effectively placed them above drudges but below all adult commoners. The choice of rank had been a deliberate first step with worse to come.
“Apprentices learning here, feeding here and sleeping here,” Death said once it was sure that none of its new students intended to leave. “Can using pool in bathing cavern, but trips outside to waste pit requiring supervision. By Guard or by self.”
That caused another ripple of unease, but still no one left. Time to increase the pressure.
“Taking off chains.”
That drew audible gasps from the Apprentices, but eventually all eight removed their chains.
“Now placing in gourd.”
This time no one moved.
The question came from one of the cautious ones, but Death knew it was articulating what all of them were thinking.
“Because until end of training, only Guards being allowed to wear chains. And only while being on duty. Everyone else remaining naked.”
“But why?” the Cautious One cried, cilia rigid with distress. “Why needing to remove chains to catch Escapees?”
The moment of truth. Rising to its full height, Death stared down the Apprentice before saying, “Escapees mixing with commoners. Probably pretending to be commoners. Therefore, if wanting to catch Escapees, Apprentices must pretending to be commoners also.”
Cries of horror greeted Death’s words, but one voice rose above all the others. “Ki! Not surviving Quickening so can being commoner again!”
The voice belonged to a tall, muscular Apprentice with an imperious expression. Matching action to words, it slipped its chain back on and marched down the passage towards the door. After a moment of hesitation, a second Apprentice scurried after it.
Death made no attempt to stop them. Instead, it looked at each of the remaining Students in turn, gauging their reactions. Most were unable or unwilling to meet its eye, but one glared back, eyes narrowed in calculation.
Cautious and clever, Death thought, pleased that at least one of its students had potential. If the young Messenger could be taught to dissemble, it would become the perfect spy to send amongst the Acolytes.
Just then, a shrill cry echoed from the passage leading to the door. A moment later, a single Apprentice stumbled back into the cavern, blood dripping from its face.
“Being warned,” the Yellow hissed as it too emerged from the passage, dragging a body by one arm. The body belonged to the Imperious Student and it was very dead. Dumping the body just inside the cavern, the Yellow advanced on the wounded Apprentice.
“Forgiveness!” the young iVokh cried as it backed away. “Not saying any-” Its desperate plea ended on a long, drawn out keen as the Yellow grasped it by the shoulder and sank within.
And then there were six.
“Any more not understanding need for secrecy?” the Yellow asked as the body fell to the ground, still twitching.
The remaining Apprentices all shook their heads, amber eyes round with terror. They had been trained to inflict pain on others but were too young to have experienced violent death at first hand. Now, they knew exactly what it looked like. Some things could not be taught; they could only be witnessed.
Once the Yellow was gone, Death pointed to the gourd and said, “Now.”
Six chains dropped into the gourd in quick succession.
“And those two,” it continued, pointing to the bodies sprawled on the sand.
For a long moment none of the Apprentices moved, then the Clever One shook its head and strode over to the nearest body. A moment later, the last two chains dropped into the gourd.
Well pleased with how the testing had gone, Death closed the gourd and placed it back on the table, right next to the Claw. As a reminder, if any were needed, of what happened to those who displeased the Yellow. Then it proceeded to teach the Apprentices how to dispose of unwanted bodies. Another valuable lesson in survival.
As always, I’d love to hear your reactions in comments! And yes, I was listening to Stillness Speaks as I wrote this scene. 😀
Before I begin, I’d like to apologise for being MIA lately. I discovered, or should I say, re-discovered that I write best first thing in the morning, when this ageing brain is still fresh.
As a result, social media has taken a back seat. But I’m happier than I’ve been for quite a while because the second book of Vokhtah is happening again. 🙂
So, what have I been up to? For starters, I went back and re-wrote the character of Death. Without meaning to, I’d made it too, um, nice. That’s the awful trap when writing about a race that’s varying degrees of sociopath.
Anyway, Death is now more like one of our corporate CEOs – not totally bad, but definitely driven by expediency rather than empathy.
In the following shortish excerpt, the Master Smith knows something that could get Death killed.
From Kahti, book 2 of Vokhtah – not quite gospel yet but very close. 🙂
Early the next day, Death made time to visit the storage caverns and pick up three small gourds of pippa juice. That night, it shared two of the gourds with its escort but drank only enough to wet its lips. Once the second gourd had been opened, it excused itself and retired to its pallet, leaving the Messengers to finish the pippa juice on their own. Face turned towards the wall, it listened as they laughed and joked, their voices gradually growing more raucous as their speech slurred.
At some point, the Messengers must have decided they could stand guard sitting down, because when Death eventually crept out to check on them, it found them both slumped against the wall, fast asleep.
Knowing firstlight could not be far off, Death quickly opened the last remaining gourd of pippa juice and poured a generous pinch of the yellow powder inside. A quick shake and it was done.
More relieved than it cared to admit, Death returned to its pallet and fell asleep with the gourd cradled in its arms. The next morning, it rose early and headed off to the forge, to fulfil its promise to the Healer from the South. As before, its escort stayed out in the passage, a safe distance from the noise and heat.
The old Smith accepted the gourd with pleasure and took a healthy swallow before promising to give the Healer’s chain a higher priority.
“Thanking,” Death said. “Healer being difficult and expecting Yellow to intervene!”
“Pah!” the old Smith cried, shaking its head in disbelief. “Healer being too long from Settlement!”
“Thinking so too,” Death replied as it watched the old iVokh take another long swallow. By the time it left, the gourd was empty. Smithing was thirsty work.
Death was in the feeding cavern a few days later when it heard two Healers at a nearby table gossiping about the death of the old Smith.
“Being sick?” one of the Healers asked as it opened the cage by its side and reached in for a fresh akaht.
“Ki, just old,” the other opined as it bit down on its own meal. “Although some saying not being well day before.”
“S’so? What happening?”
“Going to sleep and not rising.”
“A good death then.”
Over at the next table, Death silently agreed. It had always liked the old Smith, and was glad its end had been peaceful.
Have a great Tuesday, Australia! And good night to all those in the Northern Hemisphere. 🙂
One of the things that distinguishes the iVokh Traders from the normal iVokh is that Traders aren’t afraid of fire. In fact, they light their underground cave system with burning torches. This means the colour of the light is different – yellow flame vs blue glowworm – and the smell is distinctive.
That all came from my imagination, but now I’m writing scenes that require a more factual approach, so how did primitive peoples make torches?
The whole video is fascinating, but the highlight for me was around the 6 minute mark.
So, what are these primitive materials, and would the iVokh have access to them?
The main ingredient in primitive torches [in the Malaysia jungle] is rosin. If any of you have played the violin, you’ll know that rosin is vital for the bow [thanks Dad]:
Rosin is a solid form of resin, the sticky substance that comes from trees that is not unlike sap….Violin rosin is made by heating fresh liquid resin, until it becomes solid. It smells a bit like pine and has a glassy, orange look.
I underlined the bit about the smell of ‘pine’ because that too is a distinctive feature of the Traders’ caves.
But wait…there’s more. I did ballet as a kid and I remember putting rosin on the soles of my ballet shoes – for grip . In fact, as I went from link to link, I discovered that rosin has a million and one uses, even today. Not so primitive after all. 🙂
Anyway, rosin is only one of the ingredients used to make primitive torches; ‘punky wood’ [dried rotten wood] is the other. Crumbled together in a 50/50 ratio, this mixture will burn quite happily for a couple of hours.
In the Junglecraft video, the presenter used bamboo as the locally sourced ‘container’ for the torch, but I’m pretty sure most of the inhabitable parts of Vokhtah are savanah rather than jungle, so I think the iVokh would have used animal horns instead. I haven’t actually created a horned creature per se, but I’m sure there must be a few somewhere in Vokhtah. Maybe down south where where only the Traders have been… 😉
So there you have it, my latest bit of research. I had fun, and I hope you did too.
Before I finish though, I have a small rant to get off my chest: I HATE the new preview function in WordPress. With the old Preview function, I could preview my post in a new tab and can jump back and forth between the two tabs, fixing typos as I find them.
With the new Preview function, I get a floating [sic] pane that can’t be moved. As the ‘edit post’ screen is underneath the preview pane, I have to close the pane each time I find a typo. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit…
Grrrr! Do none of the ‘Happiness Engineers’ ever test run their ‘improvements’? Or do none of the testers bother to fix bloody typos? Ahem… Okay, end rant.
Flying. We’ve all had the dreams, and most of us have travelled at some point in our lives, so we know what it’s like to be up in the air, flying through the cloud layer. Or looking down, and seeing cars the size of ants. But back when I was young and stupid, I had the glorious experience of flying in absolute silence, with nothing to hold me up but the air. I’m talking about gliding of course:
As you can see from the photo, gliders have no engine at all, and rely on those incredible wings to stay in the air. Getting up into the air usually requires a ‘tow’ from a plane that does have an engine. The two are connected by a long cable and the plane literally pulls the glider up into the air. Once they’re high enough, the cable disconnects and the glider is on its own.
The most amazing thing, however, is being in the air. I was only ever passenger material, but I’ll never forget how amazing it felt to be up there, cradled in the thermal, watching the world change around me.
A thermal is a column of warm air that rises until it cools [at the top]. Birds and glider pilots use thermals to gain height and spiral up inside the thermal. Once they’re high enough, they can glide for miles until they reach another thermal, or decide to land.
Part of the reason I gave the Vokh and iVokh wings was because I never forgot how wonderful it felt to glide. Not all iVokh are good at flying though. In the following short excerpt, the main character [the Messenger] is trying to catch up to the caravan [on the ground] that had left without it. An expert Flyer is sent up to help:
Up in the air, the Messenger was focused so hard on reaching the cluster of tiny dots on the distant hillside, it did not notice the Flyer approaching. It almost stalled when the small Trader suddenly dropped down on it from above.
“What doing here Messenger?” the Flyer shrilled into the wind as it cupped its wings to match the slower speed of the healer. “Caravan…” the Messenger huffed.
The two iVokh flew side by side for a short while in silence as the Flyer tried to send a message to the Apprentice. The small Trader only had a very weak talent, and was not having much success until it suddenly felt the Apprentice bridge the gap between them. Huffing in relief, it quickly informed the Apprentice who was coming, and why.
“Thinking Messenger being very determined,” it added, “because not being very good flyer…”
There was a short silence before the Apprentice asked, “Can helping Messenger flying this far?”
“Can helping Messenger flying easier,”the Flyer sent back. “But healer already looking exhausted.” “Doing whatever can,” the Apprentice sent back.
“Messenger!” the Flyer shrilled. “Flying into wind being too hard. Following!”
The Messenger was well aware that flying into a headwind was difficult; it had been battling the wind since leaving Two Rivers. Unfortunately, it simply did not know any other way of reaching the caravan.
“Not…turning back!” it wheezed as it continued pumping its tired wings into the wind. “Ki!” the Flyer shrilled. “Taking to caravan!”
Despite the Flyer’s assurances, the Messenger continued straight ahead for a long moment before finally nodding in agreement. Even so, when the Flyer began banking to the left, away from the hills, the Messenger had to force itself to follow.
Its wings wobbled, threatening to lose their grip on the air as the wind began pushing it sideways. Panic was very close when it finally felt the sudden uplift of a thermal beneath its wings.
Delight erased fear as it rose effortlessly on the current of warm air. The Flyer had been right. It was much easier flying with the elements than against them.
I hope you enjoy this vicarious bit of flying. 🙂 Have any of you flown? Are any of you pilots? Gliders? Would love to hear your experiences.
Oh, and you can find direct links to the free download of Vokhtah here.