Tag Archives: Healers

The Testing – an excerpt from book 2 of Vokhtah

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.

“Any questions?”

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.

“Why?”

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. 😀

cheers
Meeks


When the middle becomes the beginning…

I’ve been writing this damn sequel for years now, yet the beginning has never satisfied me. Or perhaps I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t right, that one of its hearts was missing. Sorry, small pun there.

Anyway…after the umpteenth rewrite of the beginning, I gave up trying to massage the existing story into shape and sat down for a rethink, another one. I knew that Kaati [the Apprentice from book 1] had to meet a character called Death in book 2, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t work out why Death would be at that location.

Everything I tried felt contrived. Either the social constraints didn’t quite work, or the internal motivation of the characters didn’t gel. I knew I was on the right track, but for my internal bullshit-o-meter to be satisfied, everything had to slot into place with a sense of ‘oh…of course.’ But it wasn’t. And then…

Eureka!

I remembered something I’d written ages ago, and suddenly I felt as if a key had turned in my head, a key that made everything else slot into place. And this, with a slight change of emphasis, is that key:

The Master of Acolytes stared at the closed door in dismay. The Assistant had promised to speak to the Yellow, but something about its response had not rung true. Its expression had been too polite, too controlled…

As if just humouring self, the Master thought with an unaccustomed spurt of anger. Its hand rose, but the anger faded before it could knock again.

Surely the Assistant wouldn’t dare ignore the request of a Master?

Of course not. The Yellow would never allow its Assistant to overstep the bounds like that.

Nevertheless, as the Master of Acolytes headed back towards its own quarters, it decided to check back in a day or two, just in case. Because whatever the Yellow’s Assistant might think, finding a healer-seneschal was important. Very important.

The Master did not hate the Traders. It did not even object to sharing the Settlement with them, however it did fear another Great Unrest and knew the Guild would never be truly safe while all communication with the outside had to go through the Quartermaster.

All the eyries had to communicate through the Trader Quartermasters, but at least they had Seneschals of their own and were not forced to share an eyrie with the Traders.

The Settlement, however, had never had a seneschal of its own. Ever since the Great Unrest, the Guild of Healers had debated the value of employing a non-healer as their seneschal, but the move had always been stymied by the need for secrecy, and trust. Out in the eyries, Seneschals bonded with their Vokh, so their loyalty was unassailable. In the Settlement however, the Guild could only form such a relationship if its seneschal were also a healer, and so far they had not found any.

They had tried and failed, for two hundred years, because the two talents seemed to be mutually exclusive. An iVokh could either heal, or speak mind-to-mind, never both.

Or so the common wisdom said. The Master, however, had never been completely convinced by the common wisdom. Despite past failures, including its own, it still believed a healer-seneschal was possible, but only if the iVokh possessed both talents in sufficient measure before the Quickening.

Finding iVokh with the mindspeech was relatively easy as the talent tended to manifest itself at a young age. The talent for healing, however, was much less straightforward and seemed to need the shock of the Quickening to reveal itself. Thus, creating new healers was always a hit or miss affair. Often those who seemed to have the most potential turned into the worst disasters. However the records showed there had been exceptions, even to this rule.

Before the devastation wrought by the Rogue, healers had always arisen naturally, but their numbers had been few, and only the most powerful Vokh could claim them. After the death of the Rogue and the Great Nine, however, the new Nine had decreed that the remaining healers had to be shared by all the surviving Vokh. That was how the Settlement, and the Guild had begun.

In the hundreds of years since then, the Guild had perfected the Quickening to the point where most candidates survived the process. Picking good candidates, however, still involved a great deal of guesswork as very few displayed clear signs of talent before hand.

Of course wild talents did crop up, even now. In fact, the former Blue had been one such talent. Sadly, it had never shown the slightest ability to mindspeak. The young Tanner though…

A shiver ran down the Master’s spine as it remembered how close it had come to dismissing the claims of the Senior from Deepwater. How could a Tanner’s apprentice possess even one of the great talents much less two?

Yet, right from the start, the young Tanner had demonstrated an uncanny ability to soothe the newborns placed in its care. When asked how it did what it did, it said that the newborn were simply uncomfortable; once their needs were met they settled down easily. What it could not explain was how it always seemed to know which particular discomfort to ease.

But the Master knew. Despite the young Tanner’s small stature, and the lingering stench of the Tanning pits, it possessed the ability to feel the newborn’s discomfort. It was something all Healers had, at least to some extent.

Of course, feel alone did not guarantee that the Quickening would trigger the full range of healer talents. Some could feel but not control the ability enough to actually heal. Others, like the Messengers, could feel but were not distressed by another’s pain.

Nevertheless, the Master was convinced that a natural ability to feel was the best indicator of latent talent. That was why it had arranged for the young Tanner to take the position of Acolyte at Needlepoint. The Triad assigned to the Needlepoint eyrie was lead by a Raised Senior of exceptional ability. If anyone could bring out the youngling’s latent abilities it was that Senior…

Who could guessing? the Master thought as it entered its own quarters and closed the door behind it.

Needlepoint was one of the best hidden eyries in the north, yet the Seven of Five Rocks had taken it anyway. Neither the young Tanner nor the Triad were harmed, but in raids, anything could happen, especially if the Triad attempted to save its Vokh. And now the Challenger was heading north as well. It seemed to attack eyries at random, but those it chose were destroyed utterly. If the Nine did not rise soon, the Challenger would decimate the north as it had the south.

Something had to be done. The Guild’s one chance of securing a line of healer-seneschals could not be left to chance. Returning the young Tanner to the Settlement was vital, no matter what the Assistant to the Yellow might think!

Apologies for the long excerpt, but I just had to share.

cheers
Meeks


Backstory, World building & Motivation

As a reader, one problem I’ve always had with plot driven stories is that the motivation behind pivotal events is often paper thin. The author wants Character X to do something or be somewhere because the rest of the plot depends on it. A flimsy excuse is offered, and the story moves on, usually without me. I’m fussy, no apologies.

Well, imagine my dismay when I found that I was in precisely the same situation with book two of Vokhtah. 😦

I’m a pantster by nature, meaning I don’t like to outline, but the second book of a series inevitably constrains how freely you can write because much of the world building and ‘rules’ have been set in concrete as part of book one. You can’t suddenly unwrite details that are no longer convenient.

And that’s the problem I’ve been tiptoeing around for weeks. I have a character who calls itself Death*. It appears in book one as the assistant to the Yellow. In book two, however, I need Death to be at the entrance to the Settlement when Kaati** arrives. The trouble is, for higher level Messengers*** like Death, gate duty would be seen as a dreadful punishment.  I’m talking maximum humiliation here.

So what could Death possibly do that would result in such a public punishment?

I already had some of Death’s back story and the world building from book one, but the ‘crime’ and its motivation eluded me. I tried to fudge it, but my subconscious wouldn’t let me. Every time I sat down to continue the story, I’d find myself going over that scene, again and again and again. Yet no matter how much I polished the words, it still felt like a bloody fudge so last night I spat the dummy and decided to delete the whole scene and start from scratch.

Oddly enough, I had a great night’s sleep, and this morning I started writing the outline, yes the outline, with a clear head. Two thousand words later, I finally have all the background and world building needed to explain Death’s motivation for being where it needs to be. Yes! 😀

I won’t spoil the story by giving it all away, but I will explain some of the world building that emerged. It revolves around the Guild of Healers and how their Council works. In a nutshell, the Council is made up of a total of seven Councillors who are the most powerful Healers in the Guild.

But Councillors are not chosen solely on merit. When a Councillor dies, or disappears [as happened with the leader of the Blue faction****], a replacement is usually chosen by a vote amongst the remaining six Councillors.

Now this is where things become interesting as the Councillors are divided into two dominant factions. Those in the Yellow faction believe that all Vokh abominations must be killed. Those in the Blue faction believe that not all abominations are dangerous. In fact, they believe that some abominations actually decrease the aggression of the Vokh and thus should be allowed to live and breed.

And finally there’s the Green. It has no faction of its own and its purpose is to break any deadlock between the two major factions. In the past, Councillors chosen as the Green tended to be strictly neutral. In book one, however, the current Green tends to side with the Yellows more often than the Blues. In book two, it continues to side with the Yellows until Death does something that really ticks it off.

If the Green lends its vote to the Blue faction it will cause a deadlock in the selection of the seventh Councillor – i.e. three Yellow faction members versus two Blues plus the Green.

In situations where the Council is deadlocked, the vote must be thrown open to the entire Guild. If that were to happen, the Yellows might still manage to get another Yellow voted onto the Council, but it would not be a certainty, and the delay could seriously disrupt the Yellow’s plans [the Yellow is the leader of the Yellow faction].

I can’t tell you what Death did, but it works perfectly with the Machiavellian politics of the Guild and its own, personal motivation. At this point I have no idea how much of this world building/back story will end up in the actual book, but at least I’ve stopped fighting my ‘muse’, and we’re both happy for the first time in weeks!

The sun is shining, the wind is mild and my Sunday is turning out to be a really good day. Hope you enjoy your weekend as well.

Cheers

Meeks

* Both Vokh and iVokh keep their personal names secret, and in public are known solely by rank or profession.

** Kaati is the young Apprentice from book one. Book two follows what happens to Kaati after parting company with the Blue/Messenger at Needlepoint gather.

*** Messengers are Healers who act as ‘enforcers’ for the will of the Guild of Healers. They are distinguished from ordinary Healers by their ability to inflict pain without suffering any of the empathic consequences that affect true Healers.

**** The leader of the Blue faction was known as the Blue. This powerful Healer left the safety of the Settlement to stop the guild from shooting itself in the foot. See book one, Voktah.


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