Tag Archives: aliens

Re-think, re-start, re-do

I don’t post many excerpts from works-in-progress because I know there’s a good chance I’ll change things before the story is finished. But…sometimes I need a kick in the butt to get me going, so this excerpt is more of a goad for me than a post for you. That said, I’d be more than happy to get your feedback.

So here it is, the first chapter of the new book 2 of Vokhtah, The Acolyte of Needlepoint Eyrie. [The bits about Kahti and Death will now become book 3. Or I may get rid of them entirely.]

The Senior felt the sleep take hold but knew the battle was not yet won. A misstep now, and the bubble of compulsion holding the sleep in place would unravel like dew melting in the sun. And then they would have to do it all again…

The thought of having to subdue the Female a second time made the Senior ache with exhaustion, and its tone was harsh as it said, ”Self and Second holding. Junior releasing…gently!”

The young healer’s face puckered with effort, but it lacked the control of the two senior healers, and as it withdrew its hands from the Female’s foot, the fingers of its left hand twitched. The compulsion bucked in response, like an ipti throwing itself at the bars of its cage. The Second immediately tightened its grip on the Female’s hand, but the compulsion continued to lurch from side to side until the Senior corralled its erratic motion.

As soon as the compulsion was steady once more, the Second closed its eyes and released its grip, one finger at a time. Pain leached some of the finesse from its touch, but the surface of the compulsion barely rippled as the last finger withdrew.

And then, only the Senior was left. It stood by the Female’s head, long fingers splayed to either side of her echo chamber, its breathing controlled and steady. It was just as exhausted as the two younger healers, but its touch never faltered as the pressure of its hands slowly eased. Soon, only the tips of its fingers remained in contact with the Female’s skull and then, even that breath of touch faded away.

“Sleep holding,” it said as its hands fell to its sides. The Female would sleep now until they chose to release her.

“Thank Takh!” the Junior whispered as it stared at the powerful red shape draped over the cot. The Second just puddled to the floor, body curled protectively around its damaged hands.

Depleted in mind and body, the Senior was too exhausted to feel much of anything, even relief. They had won, but for how long? The sleep was supposed to be a last resort, not a cure. How long could they keep the Female alive if she would not-

“Senior? Can feeding now?”

The Junior’s plaintive whine broke into the Senior’s thoughts, and anger flared, but it was too tired to rebuke the young healer for its lack of courtesy.

“S’so…but helping Second first.”

A whiff of resentment leaked from the Junior’s cilia, but for once it did not argue. Jerking the Second to its feet, it supported the older healer as they both limped from the chamber. A moment later, the door closed behind them with a weak thud.

Alone at last, the Senior’s upright posture wilted as it finally gave in to exhaustion, and the fear that had been growing since firstlight. Not all Females survived until the birth, and no healer knew why. Physical strength had nothing to do with it, and neither did age. Some simply stopped feeding and faded away as the foetus consumed them from within.

Placing a trembling hand on the Female’s back, the Senior pressed its fingers into the muscle-hard flesh and extended its senses within. The foetal life signs were still strong, but the pregnancy was not very far advanced. The Foetus would need at least another three ti’makh of growth if it was to have any chance of surviving on its own.

There were techniques that might keep the Female alive for that long, but they were taught only to Raised Seniors like itself. If the Second, or Takh forbid, the Junior found out, they would both have to be killed, making the task of keeping the Female alive that much harder. 

Of greater concern, however, was the toll those techniques would take on the Senior itself. Yet what choice was there? If it did not try to keep the Female alive then they were all dead anyway. If she died, the foetus would die with her. After that it would only be a matter of time before her Triad died as well. The Seven had been quite clear on that point. It had not mated the Six out of lust. If it had, it would have killed her outright or allowed her to die of her wounds.

No, The Seven of Five Rocks wanted Needlepoint eyrie and for that, it needed an offspring to hold the eyrie. This offspring…

A dispirited sigh filled the small chamber as the Senior cursed the Seven for its ambition, and the Blue for its promise of hope. For a short time, the Seven’s arrival had seemed like the fulfilment of that promise, but that hope had been false.

should killing Six when having chance!

If it had killed the Six when it had the chance, the thrice-damned Seven would have had no one to mate!

Yet even in the throes of despair, the Senior was too proud to admit defeat. It had come too far, given up too much to meekly accept the dictates of Fate. It would do what had to be done, no matter what the cost. But the others could not, must not know how high the stakes truly were. 

Indulging in one last sigh, the Senior drew on a lifetime of discipline and forced its cilia to straighten. Breathe in. Something would happen. Breathe out. Only the weak allowed themselves to become the playthings of fate!

As one deliberate breath followed the other, the Senior’s body seemed to gain height and strength until every finger-width of flesh radiated confidence and purpose. Head high and eyes imperious, it exited the chamber without a backward glance.

cheers,
Meeks


The Acolyte

I was going to do a cooking post today, but everything fell into place with the graphic I’ve been working on so I couldn’t resist showing you:

The blue background is only temporary as it helps to make the image ‘pop’ much better than a plain white one.

Apart from showing off, I’d also like your feedback on what you think is the ‘feel’ of the image. I’m hoping for something to come through the body language, but as I already know the story, I lack the ability to view it objectively.

So, the red beastie is a Tukti. This is the concept image I finished a while ago:

Happy Tukti

The figure holding the Tukti is the Acolyte. I introduced the Acolyte in the first book:

‘The Female was fast asleep when the steady drip, drip of the timepiece was joined by the scrape of wood across sand.

It was a small sound, as was the gap that appeared between the edge of the door and its frame. The gap was just wide enough to admit two twiggy fingers tipped with blunted claws. The fingers strained at the wood to no avail.

A dull thump sounded from the other side of the door as something heavy hit the sand. Two more fingers appeared and four blunted claws dug into the wood as the fingers jerked at the door. Each jerk widened the gap a little further until persistence finally triumphed, and the opening became wide enough for a small black face to appear.

Everything about that face was small, except for the eyes, which glowed huge and golden in the soft, blue light of the chamber’s single glow-worm.

After darting a timid glance from left to right, the face disappeared only to be replaced a moment later by a small black rump. Over-sized, jet black wings swept the sand as the hunched shape of the small iVokh backed into the chamber, dragging a sloshing leather bota. The water sack was almost as tall as the iVokh itself.

Diminutive by any standard, the healers’ acolyte looked more like an iVokhti than a fully-grown iVokh. In fact, the only parts of its anatomy close to normal size were its wings, and they seemed far too large for its small frame.’

Excerpt from Vokhtah, book 1 of the Suns of Vokhtah

The Acolyte, and the Tukti, have important roles to play in the ongoing story so I’d love your feedback on both of them. Do you get some kind of a feel from the image? Does it tell a ‘story’ or is it just a static image? If you saw this image as part of the cover of a book, would it pique your interest at all?

I know that not many of you are scifi tragics like me, but I’d still love to know what you think.

Many thanks,
Meeks


The Making of a Tukti, (or digital collage with bitmaps and Corel)

In my previous post I showed you the finished Tukti graphic (shown on the left). In this post, I want to show you a few of the techniques I used to create the graphic.

I call this style of making graphics ‘digital collage’, but real digital collage involves taking whole photos, making them very small and then building an over-arching image out of them. Think tiled mosaic. If you zoom in far enough, you can still see each image in its entirety.

My version of digital collage is rather different. I cut snippets of shape and colour and texture out of photos and then build up a multi-layered image out of all those snippets.

To give you some idea of what I mean, these are some of the 40 snippets I used to create the Tukti:

And those bits don’t include the many transparencies I used to blend the colours and textures into an apparently seamless whole. But before I confuse you too much, let me show you what I mean by some of this terminology.

First up, you need to get an idea of the difference between bitmap images [derived from photographs] and vector images [derived from geometry]. The image below is part of the original concept drawing and shows the Tukti eye blown up so you can see the pixels:

Pixels are tiny squares of colour which is how digital devices represent an analogue image – i.e. a photo, drawing or painting. There are literally millions of pixels in an average photo, and the gradations of colour help to create both smooth colour transitions as well as ‘outlines’.

By contrast, vector graphics are all about outlines. You have lines, closed shapes and solid colours like the image below:

The beauty of vector graphics is that images have transparent backgrounds. That means they can be layered, one on top of the other. Bitmaps can’t.

In the example shown below, the two images on the left look as if they have a transparent background, but that’s only because the page is the same colour as the background. When you place the bitmap on top of a darker coloured background, like the image on the right, it becomes obvious that the red circle sits inside a white background.

Luckily, Corel has a couple of ways of creating a hybrid vector image out of a bitmap. The first method uses nodes to draw the outer perimeter of the bitmap into the area of interest, node by node:

If anyone’s interested, I gave a fairly detailed explanation of this technique in a post entitled How to vector a bitmap. This is the technique I’ve used for most my graphics, but for regular shapes there is another way of ‘hiding’ the background of a bitmap:

Using the example of the eye again, you draw a vector circle on top of the eye image [white circle on top of left image above]. Next, you select the circle, hold down the Shift key, and select the eye image so you end up with two objects selected.

The sequence in which you select the objects is important because it tells Corel which object is the ‘do-er’ and which is the ‘do-ee’. In this case, the circle is the ‘do-er’ and the eye image is the ‘do-ee’.

Next we click the Object function and select Intersect from the Shaping menu:

The Intersect function uses the circle to create a duplicate of the image, but only of the bits inside the circle. The new object is still a bitmap, but all the bits outside the circle are hidden.

Hidden but not deleted.

This is important because each ‘snippet’ you create still has the entire bitmap image in it. That means Corel is working with the whole image even though it looks as if it’s only working with a small part of it. That can, and does, chew up computer resources.

Despite the issue of resources, I love this technique for the images it allows me to create. I hope you enjoyed this small insight into my techniques and how vector graphics work. 🙂

cheers,
Meeks


I’ve been interviewed! -dance-

I’ve been a huge fan of author D.Wallace Peach [Diana] since I read her speculative fiction novel, The Bone Wall , so when she asked if I’d like to be interviewed about Vokhtah, I felt honoured. Then I read her questions, and I could barely contain my joy. Here’s a taste:

THE most original sci-fi book I’ve ever read is Vokhtah by Andrea Flory. The depth of her world-building and character-construction is highly creative and intensely alien, right down to the language these insect-like creatures use. I’ve been wanting to interview her and finally got the chance. Welcome Andrea!

1. You decided to create an alien world without humans. Lots of authors do that, but their characters are often “human in disguise” with human-ish thoughts and emotions and cultural variations. Your characters are definitely NOT human. What inspired you to create a completely alien species?

Aaaah Diana! Thank you for inviting me, but…you’ve opened a real Pandora’s box here. What inspired me? I could say it was the original Mr Spock played by Leonard Nimoy, or the character of Dexter, the ‘good’ psychopath, or the aliens of The Left Hand of Darkness by the late Ursula K. Le Guin, but that would only approximate the truth.

To give you a genuine answer I would have to change your question to ‘Why do so many humans create aliens in the first place?’

To that question, my answer is that we’re looking for answers about ourselves.

You can read the whole interview, and Diana’s review of Vokhtah here:
https://mythsofthemirror.com/2021/08/05/vokhtah-sci-fi-world-building-with-acflory/

I’m off to chat to people on Diana’s blog, and I’d love to see you there as well.

Hugs,
Meeks


That dark scene I mentioned…

I know I should be writing a post about Vokhtah, but I haven’t been this inspired in a long while, so here’s that dark scene from my latest WiP instead. And because so much of that inspiration has flowed from Lucas King’s incredible compositions, I’m including another dark track that I discovered today. It’s called The Grinning Man:

Excerpt from ‘Kahti’, book 2 of the Suns of Vokhtah

The Escapee took a long time to die, and all the Messengers stationed outside the door breathed a sigh of relief when its wordless keen finally stopped. All, that is, except for Death; it stayed silent and unmoving until the Yellow opened the door and ordered it inside.

Once inside, however, Death could not suppress a hiss of disgust as the melange of blood and body wastes assaulted its cilia. The stench grew progressively worse as it followed the Yellow down the short passage from the door to the main cavern.

“Throwing in pool,” the Yellow said, pointing a long finger at the body curled up in the middle of the floor. “And not forgetting…head first.”

A wet stain had spread around the body, blurring its outlines, but there was no sign of a wound until Death grabbed the Escapee by the ankles and flipped it onto its back. Only then did it see the bloody ruin where the groin sack had been, and the two eyeballs lying orphaned on the sand.

Jumping back with a hiss, it stared at the body in shock. It had seen bodies, or parts of bodies before, out in the Wild, but never anything to rival this deliberate, careful savagery…

The Yellow’s mocking laughter echoed from the passage until it was cut short by the slamming of the door.

Quivering with hatred, Death dragged the body into the bathing cavern and hauled it into the pool. Wrestling it into the correct position, however, proved to be an exercise in frustration as the current kept trying to suck the wings in first. In the end, it was forced to pull the body out of the pool and roll it up in its wings before feeding it into the fissure again. This time the Escapee was sucked away without a trace.

Once the body was gone, Death grabbed the slop bucket and returned to the main cavern where it sank to its knees beside the stain. It had almost finished digging out the filthy sand when it noticed a glimmer of white on the floor, near the Yellow’s perch. The glimmer turned out to be a jagged shard of ceramic, roughly the length of a finger…

And sharp“, Death thought as it hurriedly withdrew its hand. A drop of fresh blood dripped from its finger as it scurried back to the bathing cavern. Grabbing a drying cloth, it hurried back to the main cavern where it kept one eye on the passage as it wrapped the shard in the cloth and placed the bundle in the bucket. It had just shovelled the last of the dirty sand on top when a voice said, “Still smelling bad.”

Startled, Death spun around and saw one of the Messengers standing at the end of the passage.

“Yellow wanting to know how much longer being,” the Messenger said, its cilia retracted to half their normal length.
“Just finished,” Death said as it reached for the bucket. “Only needing to empty rubbish.”

Out in the main passage, the Yellow and the other Messengers flattened themselves against the walls as Death edged past with the bucket.

“Pah!” one of the Messengers cried as it fell in behind Death.

As expected, both Messengers stayed well back to avoid the smell, and neither followed Death into the waste pit. The moment they were out of sight, Death put the bucket down and hurried over to the edge of the wooden platform that jutted out over the waste pit. The platform had been part of the ramp building project, and each plank rested on two massive beams that had been attached to the walls of the shaft with arm-long starrock spikes. Some of the spikes stuck out more than others.

Dropping to its belly next to the wall on the left, Death dug the claws of its feet into the gaps between the planks and hung its upper body over the edge. If it twisted just so…

The small ceramic pot hung in a cradle of sturdy leather that was hooked over the end of one of the spikes. Unhooking the cradle, Death pulled the pot up onto the platform and quickly undid the knots.

It had stolen the pot of fast acting poison four years before, soon after being assigned to the Yellow. But the Yellow had never eaten anything prepared by its Assistant, and so the pot had remained unused. But not discarded. Death had thought about the pot many times during that first terrible year, but things had never been quite bad enough…

And now having something better,” it thought with glee as it held the pot out over the void and opened its fingers.
The pot fell for a long time before a distant smash signalled that it had finally met its end. The easy way out was gone.

Hurrying back to the bucket, Death dug the shard out of the sand and hissed in dismay when it saw that the soft cloth was already worn through in spots. The fat end of the wedge would have to be blunted or it would useless. Luckily sand was an excellent abbrasive.

Wrapping the cloth around the tip of the wedge until it formed a thick, padded lump, Death dug the fat end into the sand, again and again, until the sharp edges were scraped away. If there had been more time, it would have bound the blunted end in overlapping layers of leather, but there was no time so it cut a rectangle of cloth instead and wrapped it around the blunted end of the shard before securing the lot with a strip of leather.

The knife was far from perfect, but Death’s cilia quivered with joy as it gently inserted its new weapon into a crack and hid the end with a couple of pebbles. Messengers did not use weapons, but Tellers did, and whatever else Death may have become since entering the Settlement, it still knew how to use a knife.

“What taking so long?” the Junior Messenger demanded when Death finally emerged from the waste pit.

Death knew it should ignore the question, but as it pushed past its escort, a daemon of mischief made it say, “Trying to escape, of course.”

The two Messengers snorted in contempt, but when Death finally lay down on its pallet and closed its eyes, it slept like a newborn.

For those who haven’t read anything about the iVokh before, they’re humanoid-ish aliens who are all hermaphrodites. Because of their biology, they only ever refer to each other using gender neutral pronouns. And because the iVokh are distant cousins of the much bigger, aggressive Vokh, they follow the Vokh custom of keeping their personal names a secret. Thus they refer to each other as either ‘it’ or as the position in society that they occupy – e.g. Healer, Acolyte, Teller, etc.

Oh, and they all fit somewhere along a continuum of sociopathy. A subset of iVokh called Traders are the least sociopathic and have a strong sense of community, and honour. Death was once a Trader, but now it’s a Messenger, one of the enforcers of the Guild of Healers.

I hope most other things in the excerpt you can work out for yourselves because now I want to talk about this music! Widds commented in the last post about the bass notes of The Silent Place, and how it made us feel ‘wibbly-wobbly’. 😀 Well, this piece is very similar in that the melody is carried by the bass notes, all of which have a…resonance…that is almost visceral.

In most of the music we’re used to, the melody is carried by the higher notes while the bass provides a kind of ‘rhythm section’; it’s subordinate to the treble. In the Grinning Man this pattern is almost completely reversed with the higher notes [played by the right hand] being an almost hypnotic accompaniment to the growling melody played by the left hand. Most of that melody is also in a minor key – the ‘sad’ key. Put it all together and you have a piece of music that you, or at last I, cannot forget. 🙂

I’ve come across some brilliant Indie composers since I discovered SoundCloud, and I’ve showcased some of them on this blog, but Lucas King is the only one I would unashamedly label a ‘genius’. His music is classical but different, yet he isn’t going all atonal just to be seen as ‘different’. He’s simply writing what he feels, and boy does it speak to me. And he’s still in his twenties.

Okay, I’ll stop gushing now. Thank you for reading, and listening.

Love you all,
Meeks


Whetstones – what are they, and what are they for?

Back when I was a kid, my Dad used to sharpen all his own tools with a whetstone. This is a modern day whetstone, and how to use it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdNBHmA6Pts

I really enjoyed that video because it was instructive and funny. Unfortunately, the iVokh don’t have modern day tools, so the next step of my research was to see how primitive peoples sharpened things. This is what I found:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohFx0smhX6c

This video explains how to sharpen a stone arrowhead, but what I really want to know is how to sharpen a claw…a to’pak claw. Luckily, the tool used to knap the edge of the arrowhead is an antler, and antlers are made of bone. As an aside, the presenter sharpened his antler tool on a piece of sandstone. Yes! Getting closer.

And here, at last is what I was looking for – a [replica] black bear claw with a sharpish point that could be sharpened even further with that sandstone!

In the scene I’m currently writing, the Yellow sharpens a to’pak claw and uses it to carve Death’s hide…as a punishment. Thrilled that it’s possible in my world as well as theirs. 🙂

Happy weekend,
Meeks


Free book schedule

All my science fiction books have now been reduced to 99c, and they’re now on Kindle Unlimited as well. As promised, I’ve also set up the free book schedule on Amazon. Starting January 19, 2021, Miira will be free for five consecutive days. The other five books are scheduled to be free as per the following table:

As you can see, the last book ends its free run on April the 3rd. I had to mess around with the dates a bit to make sure it didn’t finish on April Fool’s Day! -cough-

The 99c price point is so no one who wants a book misses out. If possible, though, please grab the book[s] during the free promotion. And it goes without saying that I would love reviews, any kind of reviews, even critical ones.

And finally an apology. I’ll be talking about these books a lot in the weeks ahead. I’ll try not to bore you silly, but there’s only so many ways of saying ‘read my book’. Bear with me!

-hugs-
Meeks


Oh my darlings… :(

Remember that post about info dumps? Well, I’ve just cut two, and it’s breaking my heart. One of them was a cute little scene that I really enjoyed writing, but even as I wrote it I knew what it’s ultimate fate would be.

The other though…the other was about how Kaati picked a primitive lock with the claw of its little finger. I spent well over a week refining the description, trimming it, massaging it, loving it. But this morning I finally admitted the truth: describing the lock and how it was picked had absolutely nothing to do with the story. It may have added a little unnecessary background to the story, but nothing substantial. Nothing necessary.

So I killed it with those bloody great shears. But as the pieces lay twitching on the cutting room floor, I realised that I could write a post about them. Just in case anyone ever needed to know how an ancient lock worked…mwahahahaha!

Okay, ahem, way back in the mists of time, the Egyptians invented a lock that looked something like this:

diagram by Willh26 at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Egyptian_Lock_Mechanism_Locked.png

The yellow bar is the locking bar. It goes through the door and into the doorframe. At the top of the locking bar are three holes and a long slot. When the locking bar is lined up correctly, the three pins inside the lock drop down into the holes in the locking bar and stop it from pulling out of the doorframe. Effectively this keeps the door ‘locked’.

As you can see from the diagram, the pins do not extend all the way down into the locking bar. This is so that a key can be pushed through the slot. The key has three teeth, each of which lines up with one of the ‘pins’.

When you want to unlock the door, you insert the key and push it up so the pins pop out of the locking bar, allowing it to move. You can then pull the locking bar out of the doorframe with the key:

diagram created by Willh26 at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/39/Egyptian_Lock_Mechanism_Unlocked.png/1024px-Egyptian_Lock_Mechanism_Unlocked.png

To make the lock work for Kaati, however, I had to simplify the design at bit. This is what the iVokh lock looks like:

Instead of three pins, the Vokh lock only has one. When Kaati sticks its small finger in the keyhole, the tip of its claw fits underneath the pin. When it pushes its claw up, the pin slips out of the locking bar and unlocks the door.

-grin- I feel better now.

cheers

Meeks


Motivation and muddying the waters

The iVokh are winged, sociopathic aliens, but their motivation is not that different to our own – pride, a Machiavellian lust for power, fear, hatred – and none exhibit those emotions more clearly than the Yellow. As the most powerful Healer in the Guild of Healers, its power is absolute, but only in the Settlement. While its rival, the Blue, remains free, danger could strike from the shadows at any time.

The following is a critical scene from the second book of Vokhtah in which the Yellow’s Assistant brings the news that the Blue may be dead. But it learned this news from someone who might be a Trader. The distrust between Healers and Traders goes back generations, and the Assistant itself was once a Trader.

To get at the truth, the Yellow uses its power to feel the Assistant’s emotions while it’s being interrogated [think paranormal polygraph test], but it’s the Yellow’s own emotions that colour how it interprets the results.

This is a critical scene, and I need fresh eyes to see if it makes sense, if the motivation and the thinking it engenders ring ‘true’. All beta responses gratefully accepted!

Scene in the Settlement between the Yellow and its Assistant:

The Yellow’s eyes narrowed to hard, vertical slits as it stared at the head beneath its hands. A Trader, on the very last day of Tohoh, and carrying the chain of a dead healer who might have been the Blue?

Sitting back on its haunches, the Yellow wiped its hands in the sand as it tried to sort fact from fiction. It very much wanted the Blue to be dead, but that was no secret. Was it being told what it wanted to hear, or was its Assistant reporting what actually happened? Yet if the Refugee really was a Trader, then the story of the Healer’s death was almost certainly a lie, but to what purpose?

“Where being this…Trader now?”

“With other Refugees, Master,” its Assistant said eagerly. “Thinking might being useful…”

Useful, yes, but to whom? If the Blue died while travelling with the caravan, why not simply return the chain it was wearing? Passengers died in the Wild all the time. No one would have given it a second thought. Why lie about how it died? It did not make sense unless the Traders wanted the Guild to think the Blue was dead. But again, to what purpose? They gained nothing from-

but what of Blue?

The gears inside the Yellow’s head seemed to click and whir as the events surrounding the Blue’s disappearance suddenly took on a new significance. First the report of a stolen chain. Then a few days later, the return of the missing Timekeeper’s ladle, along with the description of a ‘tall, thin Messenger’ who had paid for passage on the last caravan of the season…with a blue gem shard. Clearly, the so-called Messenger had been the Blue, and now it was beyond reach.

But what if the Blue had not left with the caravan at all? What if its disappearance had been nothing but a cunning charade? What if it had been hiding in the Traders’ Quarter ever since, spinning a web of deceit to undermine the Guild-

Ki!…not Guild, the Yellow thought, its stomach suddenly churning with bile. Self!

The two had been rivals for decades, and the Blue had always hated being second best. It would never just slink away. It would want to revenge itself on the one who had brought about its downfall, and what better place to do so than in the Quarter? Close enough to sneak in and out of the Settlement, but the one place no one would ever think to look. And, of course, the Traders would not be averse to undermining the Guild as well, especially if they were paid well enough.

It all made perfect sense, except for one thing: why had the Blue waited until the very end of Tohoh to have the chain ‘delivered’. It would have been far better to have the Trader bring the chain into the Settlement while there were still genuine Refugees to mask its arrival.

That was what the Traders had done in the past when they tried to infiltrate the Settlement. Waiting until the last moment, and then sending in a lone Trader was simply stupid. They must have known the Guard would turn it away…

but guard being Assistant

The sense of betrayal was so overpowering, the Yellow almost lost control and killed its Assistant there and then. Leaping to its feet, it retreated to the other side of the cavern and poured itself a cup of pippa juice, sipping slowly until the bloodlust subsided. Killing its Assistant before extracting every last detail would not be wise…

especially if being others

Because Messengers were never assigned to gate duty. Yet that was precisely where the Yellow’s Assistant had been sent, by the Master of Acolytes. Coincidence? A desire for maximum humiliation? Or a sign that the Master was part of the plot as well?

The Yellow put the cup down with exaggerated care and forced itself to breathe, long and slow. It had not clawed its way to the top of the Guild hierarchy by being precipitate. Its Assistant might be capable of conspiring with the Blue, but the Master of Acolytes possessed less guile than a rock. That was one reason it had never been elevated to the Council, that plus the fact that it had never shown the slightest interest in politics. Every speck of energy it possessed had been expended on finding a healer-seneschal. And it had not deviated from that obsession despite decades of failure and the open contempt of most healers. Making a fuss in public was very much in character, plotting in private was not.

Yet if the Master was not involved in the Blue’s plot, then the Assistant could not be involved either because it could not have known that it would be assigned to gate duty. Of course that did not preclude the young fool from helping one of its own when it saw the opportunity, but again, the Blue would not have known that. So why would it initiate a plan so likely to fail?

To successfully infiltrate the Settlement, it would need everyone to believe that it was dead, without question. Yet this botched plan had done the exact opposite, raising questions where there had been none. It would have done far better to simply leave the chain somewhere for the guards to find. The gate guards were not known for their intelligence, but even they would know better than to leave seven starrock links out on the…

“Takh preserve!”

Shock held the Yellow frozen for a moment. Was that it? Was the Trader supposed to fail? Was it supposed to be turned away…after it delivered the links? Because of course the guards would take the links to someone in authority, and of course that someone would try to discover who the dead Healer had been.

Once the links were connected to the Blue, its supposed death would be accepted as fact because there would be no one to interrogate. In the meantime, the so-called Refugee would be safe inside the Trader’s Quarter, mission accomplished.

A cunning plan, and worthy of the Blue, but something had gone wrong. Instead of being confronted by a stupid gate guard, the Trader had been met by a Messenger with divided loyalties, and now that Trader was languishing inside the Settlement with the rest of the Refugees!

A trill of pure delight burst from the Yellow’s cilia as it stared at its Assistant. Far from being a conspirator, the young fool may have inadvertently helped foil the Blue’s plot!

But only if being true, the Yellow thought as it strode across the cavern and dropped to its knees in front of its Assistant. Arranging itself comfortably on the sand, it reached out and initiated the truthsaying once more.

“Why hiding Master’s visit?”

“Not hiding! Just…not wanting to bother Yellow with…”

The Yellow felt a surge of contempt rise and fall beneath its fingers.

“With?” it asked gently.

“Having great respect for all Healers! Truly. Especially Masters but…”

Again that surge of contempt.

“Speaking freely.”

A swell of anger rose beneath the Yellow’s fingers before its Assistant finally spoke again.

“Everyone knowing healer-seneschal being impossible! Master being-…”

The angry out-pouring cut off mid-word, but the seething anger continued for some time as the young Trader struggled to control its feelings. It clearly blamed the Master of Acolytes for its current predicament.

Well pleased with what it had learned, the Yellow sat back on its haunches and considered its options. It was convinced its Assistant knew nothing of the Blue’s plot, but the young Trader might still prove to be useful in other ways, at least for the moment. None of the other Messengers knew how Traders thought. That could be important during the interrogation. If the Trader could be convinced that its story was believed, and it was then allow to escape, the Blue might feel safe enough to return to the Settlement. A lot of ifs and mights, but well worth the effort if the Blue could be killed once and for all.

“At first light should visiting Healer from South. Finding out if chain being one stolen by Blue.”

“Thanking, Master! Thank-”

“Then should visiting…Refugee. Finding out if truly being Trader.”

“S’so! Not being disappoint-”

The flood of gratitude turned into a squeal of pain as the Yellow sank its claws into the body beneath its hands. The squeal turned into a high pitched keen as it dragged its claws through the soft flesh. The wounds were not fatal, but the scars would demonstrate what happened to any iVokh who dared to cross the most powerful Healer in the Guild.

Thanks for reading,
Meeks


Editing as a Pantster

A pantster is a writer who ‘writes by the seat of their pants’ – i.e. doesn’t outline in advance. I’m a pantster, mostly, and I learned a long time ago that pantsters have to trust their subconscious. If that little voice says ‘no’ then we have to listen, even if that means deleting thousands of perfectly good words.

Today I deleted 3688 words from the second book of the Suns of Vokhtah. I replaced all those words with just 490. To give those 490 words some context, the MC, Kaati snuck into the Healers’ Settlement as a refugee, not knowing that refugees were locked up like caged animals. It needs to escape but the other refugees are too beaten down to help. Or so it thinks :

Kaati woke to the sound of voices raised in anger. Propping itself up on one elbow, it peered across at the lattice and saw that the Big Twin was shouting at a group of iVokh armed with buckets and baskets. Clearly, the drudges had arrived, and they were not happy.

Rising to its feet, the young Trader was edging closer to hear what they were arguing about when Hands appeared by its side.

“Wait!” the Refugee hissed, grabbing Kaati’s wing with one hand. “Drudges not wanting to take body. In case being contaminated. Insisting that Healers should being called.”

“Not being sick!” the Guard shouted as it flung open the door. “Seeing for self. Dying of wound.”

Two drudges entered and placed their loads on the sand before gingerly peering down at the still form lying on the ground. One of them nodded, albeit reluctantly, and the Guard retreated back down the tunnel.

“Getting ready,” Hands whispered as a small group of Refugees began drifting towards the door. Were they trying to escape?

Apparently not. As soon as the small group reached the baskets left by the drudges, they darted in and began cramming their mouths with food.

“Ho!” Hands shouted, its voice shrill. “Should sharing!”

“S’so!” Someone else cried.

The cry was quickly taken up by all the Refugees in the cavern, and in moments the area directly in front of the door was a pushing, heaving mass of angry iVokh.

“Guard!” a drudge shouted as it pushed inside, using its basket as a ram.

But the Refugees were in no mood to be intimidated. One tore the basket from the drudge’s hand while the others shoved it up against the lattice. The whole structure creaked and groaned as more and more iVokh pressed against it.

“Now!” Hands whispered as the space before the door suddenly cleared.
The two took off at a run but were still five wingspans from the opening when the Big Twin stormed into the cavern. Shrilling in fury, it began lashing out with its switch, and wherever the switch landed, iVokh keened in pain, Refugees and drudges alike.

They all fell back, except for Kaati. Ducking under the Big Twin’s arm, it grabbed the switch with one hand and a bunch of cilia with the other. And then it snapped the guard’s head down onto one bony knee. The iVokh was dead before its body hit the ground, delicate echo chamber smashed like an egg.

The young Trader roared in triumph as it brandished the switch in the air.

“Out!”

The drudges in the tunnel dropped their loads and fled. A moment later, a bone jarring crash came from behind.

Spinning around, the young Trader saw a band of iVokh pour over the fallen lattice. At their head was Hands. The two locked eyes for a moment before Kaati turned and ran after the drudges.

It felt good to be a hunter once more.

Despite losing so many words, this scene was very…therapeutic to write. This is the music that drove the words:

Aeterna by LiquidCinema

For those who are interested, LiquidCinema is a music production company similar to Two Steps From Hell, but not as well known to listeners. I’ve just discovered their music myself, and I’m totally in love.

Now I’m going to log on to ESO and kill some different kinds of monsters.

cheers
Meeks


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