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The Apprentice Returns

I don’t like posting great chunks of an unfinished story because once they’re out there, they tend to be ‘set in stone’, and I like to be able to change things, or even delete them entirely, if I think the story needs it. This time, however, I really need the feedback as I’ve completely re-written the first chapter in which I re-introduce Kaati. The basic intent is more or less the same, but all the nuances have changed, as has Kaati’s character arc. 

Anyway, this is going to be a long post so grab a coffee before you begin. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

Kohoh Mito

The Fourth Day of Kohoh

 

The rains of Kohoh were late, and nothing obscured the Arch of Heaven until a dark shape suddenly appeared in the sky above the Quarter. Powerful wings eclipsed the stars as it spiralled down to the flight ledge.

“It comes!”

On the rocky slope above the entrance to the Quarter, the spotter covered its face with a wing and disappeared into the shadows. In the tunnel below, its partner reached for the weighted net by its side. Once the Apprentice entered the tunnel it would be trapped, caught in a pincer movement with death the only escape.

***

Kaati landed on the soft pads of its feet, as silent as the great hunter for which it had been named. It did not expect to be challenged, but extreme caution had become a habit, and now it stared at the shadows shrouding the entrance as if they concealed the lair of a to’pakh…

“Fool!” it thought, a hint of embarrassment warming the dusty skin of its face; no to’pakh could climb the sheer cliffs leading to the flight ledge. “Starting at shadows like eyriebound.”

Yet despite the assurances of commonsense, it stayed rooted to the spot, ten wingspans from the entrance. It had dreamt of this moment every step of the way from Needlepoint, but now it felt neither triumph nor relief. It was back, but would it be allowed to stay? Traders rarely lied, at least to each other, but the Tellers were masters of subterfuge, and they had already branded it a traitor. Would the Clans listen? Or would they refuse to even let it speak?

As the Apprentice Quartermaster to the Clans, it would have been allowed to speak as a matter of course. But the na-Quartermaster had been disowned in that freezing cave on the Spine. Now it owned nothing but its life and its name. Kaati had become a Trader with less status than the lowliest drudge.

What would it do if the Clans disowned it a second time?

Only the strongest of the strong survived the season of rain. Once Kohoh began in earnest, the rivers would overflow their banks and devour the land. Mountains would turn into islands, and every fingerwidth of high ground would become a battlefield, a place of last resort where the great beasts fought to survive.

During Kohoh, only the swimmers prospered; lone iVokh stood no chance at all…

A hiss, half of anger, half of pain, leaked from Kaati’s cilia as it fought off the sudden despair. It had not survived the Wild for so long only to be defeated with victory in sight! Whatever the Clans decided, it had a purpose more sacred than life. It could not allow the slain to be forgotten. Each Trader who died, or was killed on the journey, had a right to be remembered.

They had done nothing wrong, yet one after the other, they had paid the final price. And for what? For placing loyalty and honour above tradition?

The Clans had strayed from the Trader Way and needed to be reminded-

The whisper of displaced air triggered instincts honed by a ti’makh of vigilance, and Kaati leapt to the side. The weighted net that should have wrapped around its head and upper body tangled only its right arm. It managed to free its arm, but not before the second Teller crashed into it from above.

The two of them fell to the ground and wrestled for dominance until Kaati managed a lucky swipe that drew blood. Keening in pain, its assailant withdrew, but the one who had thrown the net continued to advance, its expression cautious but determined.

“Why?” Kaati gasped as it backed away.

“Being traitor,” the wounded Teller spat.

“But life-debt not-”

“Deepwater,” the other Teller cut in, the loathing in its voice unmistakable.

Stunned, Kaati could only stare at the two Tellers in disbelief. How many more would die because of that one mistake? If it had known its mindspeech could disable every Trader in the caravan, it would have found another way to stop the fight. But it had not known, and the situation had turned deadly…

“Should not hurting Plodder!”

“Another traitor. Good riddance-”

That was more than the Kaati could bear. Launching itself at the Teller, it drove the heavier iVokh to the ground before tangling it in its own net.

“Killing!” the Teller cried as it struggled to free itself.

Blinded by anger, Kaati had not noticed the other Teller sneaking up on it from behind. It only just managed to avoid the rock aimed at its head. Staring at the two Tellers in dismay, it retreated until it could feel the cold air rising from the ravine at its back. It could go no further.

The arrival of two more Tellers, one armed with a staff, the other with a flensing knife, banished any hope Kaati still harboured. Staves and knives were weapons used to kill, not capture. It could fight and die, or it could jump and die.

Glancing over its shoulder at the ravine below its feet, the young Trader could not suppress a slight shudder. There was one other option…

A soft sigh leaked from its cilia as it rose to its full height and spread its arms wide, the empty sacks of its wings hanging limp in submission.

“Too late, Apprentice,” said the Teller with the staff. Raising its weapon, it lead the charge across the flight ledge.

now or never…

Closing the inner lids that protected its eyes, the young Trader turned towards the ravine and launched itself into the void. The Flyers said the trick to gliding on empty wings was to hold them taut…

Kaati was a strong flyer, but without the bracing effect of lift, the sudden pressure on its wings almost turned them inside out. It managed to keep its legs and outer arms spread properly, but its inner arms had evolved for maneuvering, not strength, and bringing them into a flat plane took every drop of strength it possessed. It succeeded, and its wings finally caught enough air to slow its descent, but the effort drew a wheeze of pain from its cilia. It would not be able to glide for long.

Sending a weak ping in the direction of the ground, Kaati was shocked at how quickly the echoes returned. Throwing back its head, it dropped its legs and cupped its wings. A moment later it hit, bent knees absorbing the initial impact. Instinct made it draw its wings tight before it tumbled end over end, like driftwood spun by the current.

The dry sand of the streambed abraded its skin, and every pebble dented its flesh, but miraculously, nothing broke. When it finally came to rest, every fingerwidth of its body hurt, but it knew it would live.

***

Up on the flight ledge, the Tellers skidded to a halt in a ragged line, all of them staring at the spot where the Apprentice had been.

“Must being dead,” the wounded one said as it peered over the edge.

“Thinking being dead on Spine too,” the one with the staff replied. “Why not waiting until Apprentice entering tunnel?”

“Because taking too long,” said the Teller with the net. “Fearing might escape if not attacking first.”

The Teller with the knife clicked its teeth but did not bother stating the obvious. Attacking the Apprentice outside the tunnel had failed miserably. If they had not arrived when they did, the young traitor would have escaped, again.

“Must finding body this time,” it said with finality.

“Down there?” the wounded Teller squeaked. “But to’pakh-”

“Rather facing hungry to’pakh than anger of Master.”

When no one else seemed inclined to argue, the Teller with the staff asked, “But how? Cannot flying in dark, and cliff being too steep for climbing.”

“Not if using rope from net.”

A sigh of resignation escaped from the owner of the net, but it began unpicking the strands of rope without protest.

“Being enough?” it asked a short time later as it held up the single length of knotted rope.

“Soon finding out.”

Matching action to words, the wielder of the staff grabbed the end of the rope and walked over to the far side of the flight ledge where a gnarled old salt bush grew out of the side of the cliff. The Traders often used it as an anchor to raise packs too heavy to fly up. Looping one end of the rope around the trunk of the salt bush, it braced its feet and nodded for the others to drop the rope over the edge.

When the rope was in place, its partner clamped the knife between its teeth and climbed down, pinging all the way.

“Safe,” it called as the rope went slack.

Motioning for the other Teller to take control of the rope, the wielder of the staff followed its partner down. When it reached the bottom, the two at the top lowered its staff. Fully armed, it joined its partner in the search for the Apprentice’s body.

***

Less than fifty wingspans further down the ravine, Kaati lay curled in a ball, too winded to move. It had survived the fall but had no idea what to do next. It could hide out in one of the many caves that dotted the Spine of the World, but that would provide only a temporary reprieve. Once its food ran out, it would have to hunt like all the other beasts…

The sound of the Tellers calling to each other as they climbing down into the ravine cut through Kaati’s thoughts with a jolt of pure terror. If they found it now, all of its worries for the future would be moot. It had to move! Pushing itself up onto all fours, the young Trader began crawling to the southwest. If it followed the streambed far enough, it would eventually leave the shelter of the ravine and arrive on the open plains…

Being dead before then, it thought as the sound of the Tellers drew ever closer. Think! If the Tellers did not get it, some hungry to’pakh would…

The thought of the powerful beasts that roamed the land cleared some of the fog from Kaati’s mind, and it struggled to its feet. To’pakh hunted at night, and while Fate had been extraordinarily kind so far, it could not expect its luck to hold for much longer. It had to get out of the streambed and find somewhere safe to hide.

Sending out a series of almost silent pings, it finally detected a fold in the rock wall of the ravine that might be the opening to a cave. It was seven or eight wingspans up, but a cluster of narrow ledges should help.

Kaati was just about to scramble from the bed of the stream when a whiff of its own scent made it stop in consternation. Even without the fear sweat that clung to it like a second skin, the grime of so many days in the Wild would make it ridiculously easy to track. Dropping to its belly, it clenched its teeth as it rolled over and over in the course sand.

The dirt bath reopened many of the small cuts and abrasions it had suffered as a result of the fall. It also hurt, a lot, but when the young Trader shook the sand from its skin, the worse of the filth remained behind, on the ground. A to’pakh would have no trouble tracking that scent, but even it could not track a scent through the air…

Quieting the incipient panic that urged it to run, no matter where, Kaati forced itself to stand still while the tiny sacs in its wings filtered every scrap of lift from the air it breathed. Only when its wings bobbed like over-filled bladders did it give in to the fear that drove it. Turning to face the bank of the streambed, it held its arms rigidly by its sides as it slowly opened the narrow sphincters located on the trailing edge of its wings.

The release of lift shot it straight up into the air, and a cloud of fine sand marked its passage as it rose out of the streambed and jetted towards the first ledge.

It was now in a race against time. If its luck held, it would reach the cave before the lift in its wings ran out. If not, it would become easy prey for the Tellers who were even now hurrying towards the sound of its jets.

***

Had Kaati been rested and not covered in a thousand small wounds, it might have made it all the way to the cave, but it simply did not have the strength. Three wingspans from the entrance, its jets sputtered out, and it had to hug the wall of the cliff to avoid falling all the way to the bottom.

Wings pumping like bellows, it was still trying to climb the rest of the way to the cave when a triumphant voice called out, “There!”

Peering down past the fringe of its cilia, the young Trader could just make out two dark shapes at the bottom of the ravine. One was crouched on the ground, but the other stood staring at the cliff face, one arm pointing straight at Kaati.

“Come down, come down,” it called in a cruel voice. “Being time to play.”

When Kaati refused to move, the second Teller lay its staff on the ground and said, “Race?”

A snort of amusement greeted its words as the other Teller accepted the challenge. Placing its knife next to the staff, it said. “Always enjoying a-”

The rest of its words were swallowed by the to’pakh that exploded out of the darkness. The creature’s massive jaws descended on the Teller’s head and left arm before closing with an audible crunch.

The surviving Teller snatched up its staff and aimed the point at the to’pakh’s eye. The blow did not connect.

Swinging its armoured tail like a battering ram, the to’pakh smashed the staff from the Teller’s hand and slammed it into the ground.

Injured, but not fatally, the Teller scrambled to its feet and took off at a limping run. Perhaps it hoped to reach the rope and climb to safety. Or perhaps it simply ran in a blind panic. Either way, it did not get far. Swallowing the last tasty morsel in its mouth, the to’pakh lumbered after it, six good legs quickly overtaking the Teller’s two. A truncated scream announced the winner of the race.

Still clinging to the cliff like an ipti, Kaati closed its eyes, but the image of the Teller’s head disappearing into the to’pakh’s maw remained imprinted on the backs of its lids. That was the fate that awaited it unless it reached the cave. Yet the thought of falling and giving the to’pakh another easy meal, kept it frozen in place. Not until it heard the great beast return did it find the strength to move once more. Sending out ping after ping, it climbed in desperate haste until the entrance to the cave finally appeared.

It was a very shallow cave and would not hide it from a determined search, but Kaati was too spent to care. If the remaining Tellers were brave enough to challenge a to’pakh, they deserved their victory.

Curling up as best it could in the confined space of the cave, the exhausted Trader closed its eyes and fell asleep.

 

I still don’t have a definitive image of the iVokh, but this is a concept drawing of the to’pakh:

 

 


Vokhtan calendar – complete

This is the final version of the Vokhtan calendar. It shows the interactions between the two suns and the planet with respect to seasons [roughly] and the day/night cycle [also roughly].

For the days, I made an executive decision and decreed that the Vokhtan day would comprise 24 ‘turns’. I chose the number 24 because I needed to dissect a circle into ‘wedges’ of time. Now, a circle has 365 degrees and a ‘wedge’ of 15.2 degrees goes into 365 almost exactly 24 times. This is something Corel Draw does very easily:

Now, when I place these wedges of time over the visuals of the planet, I get a kind of clock that tells me how many turns of bright light, red light, orange light and dark there are in the day at different times of the year:

Bright light = yellow sun Takh alone in the sky.

Red light = red dwarf, Takhti, alone in the sky.

Orange light = both suns in the sky at the same time.

Dark = truedark, i.e. when neither sun is in the sky.

This is a representation of a day in the middle of Piihoh. The red dwarf is completely eclipsed, so Vokhtah has just a simple, day/night cycle:

This next graphic is from the middle of Tohoh:

The day begins with almost 2 turns of Takh [yellow star] alone in the sky [because the planet rotates to the east]. Then Takhti rises and creates an orangey kind of light. When Takh sets, Takhti is alone in the sky for a couple of turns and it’s like a red twilight. When Takhti finally sets, truedark begins.

This next graphic is what the Vokh see in the middle of Kohoh – half red twilight, half bright yellow day, no truedark:

And finally, the graphic from the middle of Tuhoh. This is a mirror image of the same time during Tohoh but…this time, it’s the red dwarf that ‘rises’ first [because the planet rotates to the east]. It’s alone in the sky for a couple of turns and the inhabitants experience a red, gloomy morning. Then Takh [yellow sun] rises to brighten the gloom. At the end of the day, Takh shines alone. When Takh sets, truedark begins:

So there you have it. Time on Vokhtah has been tamed. Most days start with firstlight, progress to secondlight, peak at midlight, dim with firstdark and end with truedark. Middark is the halfway point of any dark cycle, while deepdark is the ‘dead of night’ and corresponds to the time between middark and firstlight.

Was all this work worth it, given that it was all based on guesswork?

Yes, for me, because I’ve never been good at ‘fudging’ things, and I desperately needed to know what Takh and Takhti might feel like, to a creature living on the planet.

Why didn’t I just get an astronomer to help me?

Because I don’t know any, and none of the websites I visited had what I was looking for. So I made my own. 🙂

As this post is more for my benefit than yours, I’ve turned comments off. 🙂

cheers

Meeks


Binary star systems

Since starting to write the Suns of Vokhtah series again, I’ve tripped up on some unexpected hurdles, one of which is the effect the binary star system has on the day/night and seasonal changes as experienced on the planet.

I thought I’d worked it all out over five years ago, and I do have graphics to prove it, but as I looked at those graphics I realised that I couldn’t remember the thinking behind them:

Was it actually right? I no longer knew. And it niggled so much I knew I had to go back and reinvent the wheel. So these are the earliest of the new graphics:

Creating the day/night cycle in Corel Draw 8 stage 1:

As you can see, the planet obits the G2 [yellow] star in an elliptical orbit which makes EVERYTHING so much harder. The lines connecting the centre of the star to the centre of the planet are always at right angles to simulate the orientation of the planet to its star. Assuming the star and planet exist on a flat plane, I think that’s right, from the point of view of geometry. Seems logical, but I know very little about actual astronomy.

Anyway, the big yellow star is Takh and the small red one is its binary companion, Takhti.

Next step in Corel was to group the positions of the planet, and flip a copy of them horizontally. A bit of realignment was necessary to get it looking like this:

And finally, I filled in the gaps at the top and bottom:

I haven’t modelled the effect of the dwarf red star yet, so it’s hard to see the significance of the example at the very bottom, but mid-Piihoh is the time in the planetary cycle when the dwarf red sun is completely eclipsed by the G2 star.

The example at the very top is mid-Kohoh. This is when the planet experiences virtually no dark – i.e. night time. Again, this will become more obvious once I complete the red dwarf overlays. Of course, working /that/ out requires some hefty mental shifts on my part because the planet rotates in an easterly direction around its own axis, but revolves around the G2 sun in an anti-clockwise direction…

Nevermind, I sort of know what I’m doing, but it still gives me brain-ache.

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Vokhtah – cover reveal and an excerpt

First and foremost, the cover!

The blurb on the back cover hasn’t scaled properly, but that’s okay as the image used for the actual print cover will be the right size. The width of the spine will be adjusted as well, once I’ve got the trim size/page count finalised. Other than those small changes, the cover is done. 🙂

Oddly enough, the thing that gave me the most trouble with the cover was the red dwarf sun. Even as a binary, it will never look that big, but I had to take liberties with the size in order to make the image tell a graphical ‘story’. Getting the colour and ‘haze’ to look okay was hard too. Overall though, I am really, really pleased. I wanted something that looked more obviously sci-fi, and I think I got it. I also wanted the figure to be ‘brooding’ without giving too much away. The one thing I will say is that the figure is not wearing a cloak. 😀

And now for that excerpt. I rarely post excerpts because they rarely work well divorced from their context, but…well, I really like this scene. -shrug- To provide a little bit of context, the Yellow is the most powerful Healer in the Guild of Healers, and it’s also one of the bad guys. 🙂

The Yellow

“Forgiveness Honoured,” the young healer said as it skidded to a halt a respectful distance from the Yellow Councillor. “Traders confirming Messenger looking like Blue leaving with last caravan two circuits ago.”

The stocky, powerfully built iVokh standing over by the table continued studying the deep blue gem in its hand for a moment longer before turning to face the young healer.

“And Junior of Needlepoint?”

The question sounded casual, almost to the point of disinterest, however the young healer knew its master too well to ever mistake self-control for indifference.

“Junior being too… mmm…sick to leave with caravan,” it said carefully. “Triad estimating not being fit to travel for five, maybe six more circuits.”

* * *

The Yellow’s expression did not change, however there was a slight jerkiness to its movements as it dropped the gem, and its chain, into a pouch. It pulled the drawstring tight with a vicious snap of its wrists.

It had known the Master’s ridiculous story had to be true from the moment it had seen the Blue’s gem, lying abandoned on the table. But still, it had hoped. Now that hope was gone.

The Blue had made fools of them all by doing the unthinkable, and by now it had a two day head start. However it would soon discover that it was not the only one capable of doing the unexpected.

Turning towards the Master Timekeeper, who stood silently wringing its hands by the wall, the Yellow flicked its fingers in dismissal and waited in stony silence as the Master shuffled out backwards. The fool would have to be given a suitable reward for its incompetence, but for now it could wait; there were more pressing matters to deal with.

Throwing the pouch at the feet of the young healer, the Yellow said, “Taking that to Blue faction and then returning to Traders. Informing Quartermaster that Council needing special escort for Junior. Caravan must leaving at first-light on the morrow.”

“But Honoured—” the young healer began. Its cilia locked shut a moment after the words were out, but of course by then the damage was done.

“S’so?” the Yellow asked, its voice deceptively mild.

“N-nothing, Honoured…”

“Perhaps thinking needing authorisation, mmm?” the Yellow asked, knowing full well that was not what its assistant had been thinking at all.

The young healer blanched, making the finger-length scar beneath its left eye stand out even more. Nevertheless, its shoulders remained straight as it gave a silent nod.

The Yellow narrowed its eyes as it dropped a small yellow shard onto the sand at its feet. Authorisation. And a lesson in humility.

The young healer bent and slowly reached for the gem. The tips of its fingers were just curling around the shard when the Yellow’s foot descended on its hand.

“Being grateful for reminder,” the Yellow said in a genial tone as it ground the healer’s hand into the sand.

* * *

Crouched at the Yellow’s feet, the young healer knew better than to move, or make a sound, however it could not stop the sheen of sweat that suddenly broke out all over its body.

Only after the Yellow finally raised its foot and strode from the cavern, did the young healer release the keen of pain it had been holding back.

As it rose, cradling its bruised fingers against its chest, it spat on the ground where the Yellow’s feet had been. Then it fumbled the gem shard into the tiny bag it wore around its neck, gathered up the pouch and left at a quick trot.

On a different, but related note, you might be interested in this amazing article about Iron Age jewellery:

http://www.blog.poppyporter.co.uk/wordpress/2018/05/08/the-celtic-torc-how-iconic-iron-age-treasure-is-beginning-to-weave-its-magic-into-my-jewellery/

[My thanks to Dawn of Dawn Gill Designs for the link to that amazing article]

Even if you don’t have time to read the whole article, have a look at this:

Electrum torc with ornamented terminals. The torc is made from just over a kilogram of gold mixed with silver. It is made from sixty-four threads. Each thread is 1.9mm wide. Eight threads were twisted together at a time to make 8 separate ropes of metal. These were then twisted around each to make the final torc. The ends of the torc were cast in moulds. The hollow ends were then welded onto the ropes. The terminals are ornamented with embossed ridges, contrasting with areas filled by chased 'basket-work'.

That, my friends, is the Snettisham Great Torc, and it was made about 2000 years ago! Just goes to show what so-called primitive people can achieve. It also confirms that it would be possible for the iVokh, despite their low level of technology, to craft the kind of jewellery I’ve written into the story.

That may sound like nit-picking, but I believe that authenticity in the little things makes the big things easier to believe. And let’s face, I’m asking people to believe in flying, psychopathic aliens that happen to be hermaphrodites! lol I need all the help I can get. 😀

cheers

Meeks


The Piano Guys dispel writer’s block!

I’m sitting here listening to the Piano Guys CD and waiting for inspiration to hit. I’m really enjoying the music as I love both the cello and the piano but I’m not sure whether this elegant classical style is going to get my muse out of hiding. Nonetheless I’m going to keep writing whatever pops into my head because Bluey’s advice to just ‘write anyway’ is as good a way to get past this block as any I have discovered.

So who are the Piano Guys? The public faces of this interesting artistic endeavour are Jon Schmidt [piano] and Steven Sharp Nelson [cello], however behind the scenes are highly talented gremlins who create the amazing video clips that go with the Piano Guys music. In a very real sense the concept of The Piano Guys is a fusion of sound and image, often with a delightful sense of humour thrown in for spice.

I was first introduced to the Piano Guys through their Star Wars video clip which takes the idea of duelling light sabers to a whole new level. Steven Sharp Nelson [cello] plays the musical and visual roles of both Light and Dark and at times his bow becomes a light saber! The whole thing is fun and fantastic, great music as well.

In another video clip Nelson plays all four members of a chamber music quartet. The scene is a wedding and ‘they’ are playing Pachabel’s Canon as the bride walks very slowly up the aisle. But then one of the cellists begins to fall asleep from boredom and the music changes to a very up tempo riff upon the theme. The congregation begins to dance and my foot starts a-tappin’ as well. The clip is hilarious and takes serious classical music to a whole new level.

After seeing these two video clips I was so impressed I went to the Piano Guys website to find out who these brilliant maniacs were. I’m not a ‘joiner’ but I was so impressed I joined up as one of their founders and received their CD in the mail a few weeks later. [Everything takes forever to reach Australia].

One of the most beautiful tracks on the CD is ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables. The first time I heard it I was gobsmacked because I have never really like the sung version of that piece all that much. Somehow the lyrics and the difficult melody just never quite did it for me. It always sounded strained. The voice of the cello though  is so perfect and effortless that it makes me ache with the wistful pathos of the melody. Watch and tell me what you think.

Well I don’t know about you but I am feeling a million times better. The Piano Guy’s music has soothed my frustrations and, wonder of wonders, the advice to ‘write anyway’ has actually worked. Now hopefully I’ll be able to get some work done on The Book as well. I still have to rework my ideas of how the light from twin suns would actually appear to a native of the planet but… the kettle’s on, I have lots of coffee and I’m sure I can work this out. After all, a binary system can’t be that difficult to work out… can it?


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