Tag Archives: ivokh

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


Getting close…

Still some things to tweak, but the graphic is starting to feel more alive. Night all. 🙂


Progress report

I’ve been doing a lot of graphics lately. It seems to be the only creative activity I can focus on with all the craziness in the world, so here are the latest concept images of the iVokh:

These two images will never grace the cover of a book, but they have clarified a number of simple mechanical issues for me. One of them is that when the primary arms are held up above the head, the legs have to be a little bit apart otherwise there is not enough ‘give’ in the wings.

I would very much like to create an image of the iVokh flying, but I know that will be a major project so instead I’m working on creating a digital ‘collage’ of the Tukti. They’re cute little critters and have an important role to play in the on-going story of Vokhtah.

This is the original concept drawing:

And this is how far I’ve got in translating that concept into a more photo-realistic, 3D image:

Creating something that looks ‘furry’ with vector graphics has been a lot harder than I originally thought. Read…I didn’t think. Anyway, I’m pleased with how the head and body finally turned out, and once I have the legs done, I’ll do a post showing a little bit of the process. As per usual, I create my digital collages with Corel Draw X8.

Hope you’re all having a great weekend,

cheers,
Meeks


Not birds…bats!

Just found this amazing illustration of bat musculature:

https://www.anatomynote.com/animal-anatomy/mammals/bat/bat-muscle-anatomy/

Unlike bats though, Vokh and iVokh have an extra pair of arms whose sole function is to extend the surface area of the wing and, coincidentally, allow the legs to be longer. Of course that second pair of arms [hidden inside the wings], will require a shoulder joint that simply does not exist in our world. -sigh-

cheers
Meeks


When one thing leads to another…

I bought a super dooper video editor from a trusted brand, and it’s turned into my bête noire. But I paid for it, right? So I set about learning it and finding workarounds for its…idiosyncracies.

To learn the features I most needed to use, I began a project in which I had to weave bits of video with still photos that I could pan and zoom. How in heck can a simple zoom be so hard? But I digress. One of the still photos I wanted to use was a pic of an iVokh except…you guessed it. The more I looked at that pic in unfamiliar surroundings, the less ‘right’ it looked.

The perspective was the problem. 😦 For reasons known only to my subconscious, I began work on the iVokh body from a three-quarter perspective. At that kind of angle, the bits furthest from your line of sight appear smaller. Or at least, they’re meant to.

Now, I don’t know about you, my friends, but I tend to create images by feel. I keep tweaking them until they feel right. The one thing I don’t do is set up a vanishing point with lines to show where the tricky bits are meant to go.

Sadly, there’s a first time for everything:

So I managed to get the perspective more or less right, but then I faced another huge problem – how to represent light and shade. In the previous iteration of the iVokh, I’d cobbled together scraps of images to get both the texture and lighting effects I needed to create something approaching 3D. Now I had to do most of that again.

Digital collage is complicated by the fact that every piece has to blend in to the pieces around it. Trust me, that’s hard because even in what amounts to black and white, there are almost infinite shades of grey:

There’s no real explanation for what happened next though. Once I had all the shades of grey playing nicely, I thought, “Hmm…maybe it’s time to finally create the cilia!” So I did:

I did hunt for images I could use for ‘cilia’…

…but none of them worked, so I ended up creating a vector ‘cilia’ that I could resize, deform, and orient however I pleased. One by one….

I must admit I’m rather proud of the cilia I created. When your alien doesn’t have eyebrows to frown with, or nostrils to flare, or a mouth that smiles, smirks [hate that word], pouts, and droops etc., you really need some way of describing emotive facial expressions, so the cilia do a heck of a lot of work. Kahti peers through the ‘fringe of its cilia’, and sometimes its cilia ‘go rigid with dread’ or shrink, or droop, or wave around… You get the idea. 🙂

Oh, and while I was at it, I realised that the image needed to tell a story, so I changed the figure’s posture and gave it a starrock bead to stare at. Oddly enough, the bead and its leather thong were the easiest objects to create:

An acolyte’s starrock bead with a slight pinkish tinge

In the story, only metal objects made in the south of Vokhtah have a pinkish colour. This becomes a rather important plot point so I added the bead to the image as well.

The one thing I have not done is finish that video. Maybe tomorrow. 😀

cheers
Meeks


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


How to make a primitive torch

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?

I was extremely lucky to find this fabulous article online: http://www.junglecraft.com.my/index.php/how-to-make-a-burning-torch/ Not only did it explain which, easy-to-find materials were used, it also included a video showing exactly how the torches were made:

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.

Quote taken from: https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/instruments/violin/what-is-rosin-why-violinists-need-it/

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.

cheers
Meeks


#amwriting…to music

I’ve been doing a lot of creative type writing lately – thank dog – and music is an integral part of my writing process, so I’ve been actively hunting for tracks that ‘talk to me’. This is the latest one I discovered on SoundCloud:

You can find more of Myuu’s music here https://soundcloud.com/myuu

This music defies easy description. The closest I can come is to call it ‘atmospheric’, but more in an emotional sense than in a ‘world’ sense. It kindles emotions…in me, emotions that fit the characters I’m writing about.

The Vokh and iVokh know pleasure and pain, hatred and fear, honour and betrayal, and some even feel intense loyalty and protectiveness towards each other, but none of them feel the softer, tender emotions we humans take for granted.

To write the character of an iVokh, I need to feel the dark emotions it experiences, and for that I need dark, haunting music, like this.

Hope you like,
Meeks


My Favourite Bits…Vokhtah [2]

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.

cheers
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


%d bloggers like this: