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Author Topic: A Sanctum of Swords  (Read 21746 times)

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Offline Alienscar

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That map looks absolutely brilliant. Couldn't say for sure why, but I have always liked maps when they appear in books. Somehow they make the story more 'real' for me.

It is rare nowadays for a book to include illustrations of any kind, let alone character illustrations. I imagine including them will greatly increase both the printing and sales cost of the finished book. Is your book going to be a digital release?
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Honestly Alienscar, we get it... you dont like painting!

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: The Embers of The Past - Announcement, A Glimpse, and a Ride to Battle!
« Reply #241 on: October 18, 2021, 10:31:56 AM »
That map looks absolutely brilliant. Couldn't say for sure why, but I have always liked maps when they appear in books. Somehow they make the story more real; for me.

It is rare nowadays for a book to include illustrations of any kind, let alone character illustrations. I imagine including them will greatly increase both the printing and sales cost of the finished book. Is your book going to be a digital release?

Hi Alienscar!

I'm glad you like the map so far  :), still a ways to go with it!

As for the illustrations, I am only planning to include the map in the book.

I am planning on using the illustrations for a website, once I start focusing on getting that up and running. Will also see how I can implement it into promotional material & other advertisement.

Maybe I can include some laminated, high-quality print-outs if someone decides to purchase a hardback through the website or something.

I am planning on supporting a kindle, hardback, and paperback release.

I've considered trying to get an audio book version as well, but I think that will come a ways after the initial launch. At that point I should be able to gauge if the expense would be worth all the cost of getting Embers into an audiobook format  :D.

Announcement!
Embers of the Past is entering another version cycle, as the narrative once again prepares to dial the timeline back by another 30 years.

The focus of this new narrative will be on the older generation of characters from Embers of the Past's current narrative - and feature some new ones.

A major reason behind this decision is so I can focus on the events of the past that set the current timeline of Embers into motion.

Such as the origins of God King Erasyl and the Children of the Gods

The Epoch of the Black Descent - where the Gods that reigned over Khios were defeated, slain, and their survivors scattered back into the celestial heavens by an enigmatic threat long forgotten to time by mankind, who was forced to climb out of the devastation alone.

Origins of Azat Zakarian - the Black Wolf of Irothis, Nishan the Scarred Child, Shoushan - Heiress of the Sun, etc, as well as a whole cast of additional characters - such as:

Mahir of the Severed Hand, Lucine, the Moon Maiden of Sarune, Heaven's Grand Disciple Tabia, Kalb of the Crimson Guard, Adofo of the Lavender Guard, and more...

As you can see, the last few chapters have been covering this era, I was just didn't want to announce it yet  ;D.

I am working on building the narrative, and I'm already coming across opportunities to expand into.

So, yeah, let's see where this road takes us  :).

Also, I will focus next on creating a prologue that focuses on the origins of our favorite God King of the Carth Dominion, Erasyl, and the ascension of the Children of the Sun across the decadent Carth Republic.

So, buckle in my dudes, here we go!

For the meantime, I leave you with this brief scene...

And, perhaps a gift, yet to be completed in full of one certain Daughter of the Goddess Alastrine...




And As the Fires Fade to Embers - 10/18/2021

A pale sun came to its zenith in the sky, billowing clouds of smoke that choked the Veiled Mountains taking on a symbolic aspect. Azat rode hard through the Southern Reaches, golden lances of light piercing the ashen gray smog, alight from within by dancing embers. Contrails of smoke roiled throughout the skies, coiling and fading to allow the sun's radiance to come shining through. Riding upon Mustaphen's back, the matte black engine of war that the horse was, galloped across the verdant hills with beguiling speed. Its speed was effortless, ironshod hooves quaking the earth underfoot, leaving a visible trail of disheveled Old Myrian soil where it came trailblazing across the verdant hills. Even weighed down beneath a heavy plate barding, the warhorse moved like weight and endurance were no impediment.

A dark tide of matte black armor, marked with chalky white accents that were sharp and angular upon them, the Black Wolves of Irothis rode alongside him. An amber gold lace interwove the iron scales creating their lamellar armor, ending in minute, ornate tassels that dangled with the wind's direction. Despite being twenty one in number, the Children of Irothis stole every gaze out in the southern fields. Hundreds of Old Myrians, garbed in pallid clothes to deflect the summer heat, tending the farmlands thriving on the empire's sparse frontier.

Azat could hardly call the Southern Reaches a land burgeoning with civilization. Even after centuries of prosperity, the greater whole of the Autumn Realms had long abandoned the region to build their great cities and monuments elsewhere. Centuries of intermittent warfare between the Carth Dominion and the Old Myrian Empire had seen these bountiful lands reduced to scorched earth repeatedly. Gazing eastward toward Cressa's Lantern hidden behind the Veiled Mountains, he realized that morbid piece of history was repeating yet again.

Yet the Southern Reaches still grew. Abundant grasslands and windswept valleys throughout the province provided opportunity for those humble in wealth, but diligent with their working hands. Year after year, a constant exodus of the destitute and laboring classes, alongside bands of lone hunters and other skilled workers of other dangerous trades besides, came to the last frontier to build their lives anew. For decades, the Southern Reaches have experienced rapid growth, villages springing up in the hills over yonder, until one gazed out toward the eastern horizon and saw nothing but prospering fields dotting the bountiful landscape.

Humble townships, founded in bygone years, burgeoned until they sprawled along the banks of the Alabaster River, a great trench from the Black Sea separating the Autumn Realms of Old Myria from the territories of the Carth Dominion. The Armada of the Royal Coalition, the Autumn Realm’s formidable navy, kept the Alabaster pure from the primitive warships of the other Khiosian powers.

Azat realized the Southern Reaches had created an enduring society, hardier than those found in any other corner of Old Myria. Though the bordering provinces burned from the fires of conquest, the Southerners watched the Black Wolves of Irothis galloping hard toward the near distant battlefield. Azat saw their stoic gazes, weary from honest toil, glinting with a pride and confidence he had not seen in the Shaira nobility since he swore his fealty to become the Autumn Queen's champion.

He supposed the Southern Reaches had seen the make and splendor of every Old Myrian army to march southward against the Carth Dominion. Her citizens remained defiant in the face of conquest, no matter how bleak the odds became. Children came racing through the fields in the wake of the Black Wolves' passing, their parents shouting their devotions to the Autumn Queen amid the prayers of others, hoping for another decisive victory to end the war.

The Children of Irothis forged ahead, pressing onward until the Southern Reaches became distant. Emerald and golden lands fecund with life withered, reduced on their approach to the Veiled Mountains, until the lands became the black soot of scorched earth. The Suranna plains churned like mud beneath the hooves of their steeds. In the near distance, the clamoring song of battle came within earshot.

Coming into the highlands at the foot of the Veiled Mountains, they crested the first outlying hills. Lord Zakarian brought Mustaphen to a sudden halt. The Black Wolves of Irothis came riding from behind him, reigning in their mounts to watch the battle unfolding before them. Spilling from the mouth of the Reaper's Lantern mountain pass, Azat saw only an ocean of cream and crimson, marked by innumerable battle standards of various designs and color. Azat realized the Zar'qin Legion must have numbered in the thousands, so endless in their ranks that their masters, the Children of the Sun, were absent from the ensuing battle.

Arrayed against the legion of slave warriors like a bulwark, the armies of the Autumn Realms coiled around the gate of the mountain pass. Embattled ranks from the Ardent Vigil, civilian warriors from the laboring class, closed upon the Zar'qin legion where it came flooding out of Reaper's Lantern. They contained the Dominion's flood from breaking farther into Old Myria like a dam. Behind the Ardent Vigil's bastion, rank upon rank of the Opal Sea Sentinels, marked by the lapis blue of their silk robes, scaled down lamellar for light armor, and flowing grayish-black plumed helmets. Arrayed behind them, the Knights of Old Myria gleamed beneath the pale sun, their polished plate steel gleaming like the Alabaster blades of the Black Wolves where it reinforced the black padded armor underneath.

Yet Azat could only bring himself to focus on the bloody quagmire at the forefront of the battle. Either opposing force dispatched embattled warriors on both sides, fought on in small pockets, between an ocean of the many dead, that threatened to swallow the survivors. Fresh formations from either army continued to march into the center ground, intent on forcing one another back.

The God King's proposal was nothing more than a lie
, Azat thought, steeling himself to enter the field, into the gaping maw of death itself. He would fight until this God King had no choice but to come forward in challenge.
« Last Edit: October 19, 2021, 07:41:47 PM by Myen'Tal »
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Myen'Tal

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The Embers of the Past - Come Dawn From the Night, Rev 2.5
« Reply #242 on: October 22, 2021, 11:29:30 AM »
A brief glimpse of the eastern realms on Khios continent  ;D:




Come Dawn From the Night - Rev 2.5 - 10/22/2021


Summer, Month of the Gaia Reborn 

Year 857, the Ascension of Kings 

Ember Hearth Palace in the city of Anahir, capital of the Old Myrian Empire
 

Amid black skies, a crescent moon shone brighter than its surrounding stars. Azat Zakarian kept his eyes to the heavens, every wink of light in the distance like beacons calling him into the gentle embrace of death. Somewhere in the tapestries of starlit voids and celestial bodies dwelled death's herald, a great raven said to blot out moon and stars to take away the souls of legends. An inescapable feeling that his end would come in battle lowered his spirits, but a defiance burned inside of him.

It could not be his time.

His twenty-fourth summer was coming to an end, and his fiance lounged beside him on the lone palanquin hidden in the garden. Her weight pressed into him, her head sinking into his chest like she sought to replace his heart with her own caring soul.

“Dreaming of the Hanging Gardens of Heaven again, my love?”

“You ask me as if you've never wondered what lies beyond this shining night sky?”

When she lifted her head to answer him, Azat could not quite bring himself to look her in the eye, and face the reality she believed in that twinkled there. She messaged his broad shoulder with a gentle hand, luring his gaze toward her anyway. Azat looked to her, and found the gaze of curious golden brown eyes. Bright like the precious gems found beneath the Amber Gold river, he thought, worth more than weight of the entire river's wealth.

Her skin was the shade of a lioness' burnished pelt, smooth and unblemished beneath his grazing fingers. Curiously, those same fingers coiled chestnut strands from the wavy coils of her hair.

“I cannot say the fate of something so distant concerns me at all. At least not in this moment. Should I be jealous of the goddess? You seem more interested in seeking her amid the stars than watching them with me.”

Azat smiled at her jest. He playfully dismissed her subtle accusation with a soft shrug. In response, Sameh wrapped the flowing sleeves of her lavender night gown around his neck. A subtle shift saw her head resting comfortably against his neck. She snaked a hand down the side of his neck to feel his heart beat within his chest.

High walls of trimmed hedgerows rustled like natural walls formed from branch and leaf. Secluded behind the gnarled barricade, the Sadoyan Sanctuary was almost hidden from sight. A scraping of leaves scattered on the cobblestone filled his ears. Azat studied them briefly, before turning back to the incredible vista behind the sanctuary's entrance. Without the burning dawn to reveal the countryside, Sameh and he continued to wait.

“I am not certain. Goddess Jumunah is said to be the most beautiful woman throughout all the Autumn Realms. One glance from her can reduce any man to throes of lust. Who could say if I could resist and remain loyal to you, if she had chosen me?”

The shrine was built of smooth granite floors and open alabaster stone archways. Natural light shined into its emptied space. Azat always came here to contemplate and brood to himself in solitude. Goddess Jumanah's monument, chiseled into breath-taking life by artisans forgotten to time, granted him a solace he could not find throughout all the Autumn Realms of the Old Myrian Empire.

In the sanctuary's heart, Azat watched the heavens from a palanquin of dark marble erected at its heart. It was built on a dais enclosed beneath the domed ceiling, behind the open archways. A hollowed opening at the dome's height let the crescent moon shine down on them. A soft wind ruffled his satin night robe. His Saroa was of similar black hues, baggy breeches of rougher and thicker material.

Sameh's laughter came more mocking this time. She sobered after a moment and her voice resumed its loving aspect. “Our Goddess is a stoic mother. You are a mere child compared to her, Azat, as are we all. If she had chosen you for anything, have you ever thought that your prize maybe right here in the Autumn Realms, right beside you?”

Overhead, the skies softened from black to the bluish hue of the dawn. Braziers burned from the archways, creating a halo of light around the sanctuary's perimeter. A marble fountain full of crystal water was outside, shining beneath the last rays of moonlight. Goddess Jumanah lounged upon her palanquin of stone built in the fountain's heart. The hems of her silk dress danced along the fountain water's surface.

Her monument in the fountain was symbolic. It represented the distant realms nearest to the Opal Sea, the Goddess of Portent & Omens unearthly domain. Where the laws of reality ceased to exist and heaven's realms flooded into the mortal sphere.

“I have thought about that many times. I know that is the truth behind the myth. If the goddess believes me a child, then I must be her favored son to be gifted her most treasured daughter's hand. But a man can dream, can't he? Of realms that cannot be seen by mortal eyes, and the eternal comfort rewarded to those who must endure on this benighted world of Thearus.

Crafted legends meant to inspire Old Myria's younger generations. Azat had gleaned as much from his ancient blood father Zulfiqar during his adolescent years. An inexplicable emotion stilled his unrestful heart for strange reasons he couldn't quite describe. He did not know why he found solace in coming to the sanctuary in the dead night. Something about praying beneath the Crescent Moon brought him comfort from death's constant threat. Hearing the mourning cries of the wind rustling through the Iryllian countryside, distanced him from grief. Jumanah's song of harmony overcame him like a blessing, delivered straight from her lips, even though her utterances were only silence.

Unspoken words remained the only language an absent deity could speak.

Lady Sahem Sadoyan's meek voice snapped him out of his reverie.

"Such a child, Zakarian." Sahem said, "always will you be."

Sahem's laughter mocked him playfully. A muse daring him to cast his burdens aside to focus his world on her. Azat wanted to mimic the emotion. A fervent desire to become several years younger burned inside his chest, though Azat admitted a child was the last thing he felt like.

A melancholy burdened his ability to smile. He could not banish his concerns away with another hearty laugh. From the subtle pause in her breathing, Sahem caught a glimpse of the weariness plaguing him. It threatened to break him down like a crumbling pile of stone. An embittered war with no end in sight had broken men far stronger than him. Warriors more capable and with legacies honored in the corridors of grand mausoleums.

"is it childish to find solace in the presence of something far greater than we are? Jumanah is far beyond my comprehension, born somewhere in the heavens beyond the reach of her mortal children. She is so ancient and enigmatic. How could such a creation of limitless power remain so benign and fair in her wisdom? Of anyone born on Old Myrian soil, you of all should appreciate the harmony Jumanah brings to the mundane world."

Sahem said, "It's not that, Azat. It's just that every time I come with you to this forgotten shrine, you sit there and watch the monument with such a glint of imagination in your eyes. It's like you're dreaming of some grand adventure waiting for you after your story comes to a final close.”

“Dying in the shadow of an absent god, I'm prepared to face any afterlife. The burden of never knowing fuels the imagination. Dreaming encourages me to hold fast onto the legends you believe are for children. A glimmer of truth hides inside of each and every legend known to man.”

Sahem's smile of innocence teased him further. “So, you really think that... what? You'll fall asleep on the night of your death and wake up on the shores of the Opal Sea? Do you think the Gates of Heaven are really waiting for us in the far eastern realms, beyond all civilization? Wake up, my love. Time to rise with the new morning. Your unborn children are almost here, any week now. You should cease your dreaming of the desolation and of some divine oasis hidden at its heart... Azat? Are you listening to me?"

"I wouldn't rather be anywhere else than here, beside you. But my elderly father, Zulfiqar, always used to tell me that believing in only what lies before you is to find despair. What lies before us is every reason humans have searched the stars for greater powers to begin with. Should I fall on the battlefields of Carth, far away from you, then it is my childish faith in crafted legends that will make my passing easier. For myself and each of my kin, who would grieve my death. Even if Jumanah and the Ascended Pantheon she is from is nothing more than a false myth... don't you think easing the burdens of those who must suffer in our stead is worth that alone?"

At that, Sahem said nothing for a moment.

Yet when she spoke, he found her answer like a key to the beating heart in his chest.

“It is worth a hundred lifetimes... it is the reason that I say nothing more than playful jests. I would rather you dream and live inspired, then hope for nothing and live embittered. Your sons will be the same way. I only hope they come to embrace more practical thoughts that can help the Autumn Realms we live in. One day, they may reign over all the Old Myrian Empire, and you'll have lived the life of a glorious king, retired by that time.”

“How do you know that our twins will be boys?” Azat arched his brow. “From what I know of House Sadoyan, male children have always been rare. Sometimes they are not seen for several generations.”

Sameh smiled, “I have only my intuition, but I believe Jumanah has gifted me with two boys... just to make you happy.”

He tried in vain to hide his knowing grin. “Of all the treasures I could reap in this life, I don't think anything else would make me happier aside from our marriage.”

Sameh looked up at him, grinning. “What do you think they will become in the future?”

Azat pretended not to know the answer. “I don't know... maybe one day they will become princes as you said. Men of wise intellect and fair in judgement.”

“Do you really believe a word of what you said? You know they will follow in your footsteps. Both will take up the sword to continue your legend and honor the Zakarian name.” She sighed. “so long as you are their father, Azat, that will be their destiny. I can feel that truth burning in my blood.”

“Does that truth frighten you, my love?” Azat asked. “it doesn't have to be so, should you wish that.”

“But it wouldn't make you happy, Azat, would it?” Her laughter returned, bright and cheerier than he had heard it before. “Else the Goddess would have given me daughters instead.”

“Our twins could still be daughters, Sameh.”

“Just promise me...” Sameh reached out to him, her open palm lifted out, almost to touch his face. “Promise that only you will teach them the way of the sword and of being men. Promise me that you'll oversee their lessons, no matter the education. Promise me that you won't let them set foot on a battlefield until the day you think them ready to fight by your side, and not a day sooner. Not even after the day they come of age... Azat?”

In silence, he returned her embrace, resting his head on her inviting palm. After a brief contemplation, he pledged his oath. “My duties as Ara and Aslan's father shall never tire, not when the dawn rises in the east and the sun sets in the west, and for every cycle to come afterward for the rest of our days. They shall not know war or death until their time has come when I know they have surpassed me in all things. Of this, I swear to you, my wife and love, until the day fate would declare my oath fulfilled.”

As dawn began to break over the Old Myrian Empire, Azat and his lover watched the sun crest the rolling hills in the east, where the spires of Annahir, the capital city, reached out toward the skies, dwarfed by the grand halls of Ember Hearth Palace, and the Sadoyan Sanctuary that overlooked it all from its great height, concealed by the hedgerow walls behind it.

« Last Edit: October 22, 2021, 10:58:30 PM by Myen'Tal »
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Myen'Tal

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The Embers of the Past - Though Long are the Shadows Cast From the Golden Sun
« Reply #243 on: November 1, 2021, 09:35:39 AM »
Just a small update, not too much content right now as I am planning out the entire outline for this narrative  :).

Though Long are the Shadows Cast Far from the Golden Sun

Ember Hearth Palace

As the dead of night spread across the evening dusk, Lucine stood before an oaken door. A crescent moon came shining through the open arches lining the corridor. It was the only entrance at this end of the hall, hidden from the rest of Ember Hearth's guest wing. As she approached, her quickened heartbeat steadied and her breathing calmed. Palace Guard of House Sadoyan patrolled the halls in greater numbers than she had seen since her coming to Ember Hearth as a child. A remarkable event, considering she had spent her entire life in the royal family's shadow. 

Avoiding the many patrols proved an impossible task. Hidden in the shady nooks of the palace, Ember Hearth's guards maintained their vigils from sunrise to the evening dusk, only to be replaced by more of their brethren for the next coming cycle. 

Lucine had done all she could to avoid suspicion, since moving undetected proved impossible. Warriors from the palace guard often called out to her by name upon noticing her presence. All of them were young males she had known since her earliest memories. Born in the same generation, the royal family had raised them together behind Ember Hearth's walls. Colleagues and devoted friends, many who came by the temples and shrines she tended as Ember Hearth Palace's Shaira, a caretaker of the holy grounds. 

She reached out with delicate fingers, coiling them around the door handle so that it opened without a loud noise. Whispering voices came creeping through the cracked open door. Lucine became frozen in place where she stood, startled by the revelation. 

Gates of Her Palace, Lucine thought, how could they know already? 

A young male's light voice drew attention to her intrusion at once. "Was that someone at the door? Come forth and make yourself known.”

Releasing her grip on the door handle, Lucine made to turn on a heel and vanish the way she had come. A seasoned warrior's grizzled voice came barking at the door from the other side. Its commanding authority locked her limbs in place like invisible shackles. Except, it created these from her own paralyzing fear. A physical condition she had possessed since her childhood, occasional attacks that made her heart race with a panic that could shut her body down against her own will. 

His voice lanced straight through her, the heart in her chest about to explode. 

"Gods, Vahe, sounds like you may have killed her by surprise. Get out there and make sure she's all right."

Vahe asked, his question skipping an initial beat. "And... should she be well, commander?" 

"Then our interrogation can begin. Quickly now, there is much ground to cover and an uncertain amount of time before these schemes culminate."

Her muscles becoming tense like a clock's jammed cogs, Lucine collapsed onto one side like a toppled statue. A frail hand broke her fall, keeping her upper body from striking the cold marble floor with dazing force. A loud creak from the oaken door echoed farther into the corridor. The patient steps of steel-shod boots drowned out the noise on their approach.

Lucine recognized Vahe of Grand Damira's voice without looking him in the eye. Between the crushing waves of terror and her racing heart, she could hardly focus on him or his questions at all. Vahe's physical presence registered as nothing more than a blur. A comfortable shade that cloaked her when he kneeled, leaning over her like a hero from old tales. 

"Lucine... what in all the mortal spheres have you done?" 

Vahe did not wait for her answer, but pushed his leather gloved hands underneath her. Lucine's body lurched, swept up into Vahe's broad arms to carry her into the humble Moon Shrine, where the Old Watchtower guarding the eastern battlements used to be. 

"Arpriar, grab that flask hidden under the shrine altar. It's a sedative she keeps for her condition. Krikor, open the door, please."

Old Krikor's voice came rushing through the opening upon throwing the oaken door aside. "Damn piece of driftwood needs fixing again... has a habit of locking out anyone who closes it behind them." 

Clasped in an armor of interwoven iron scales and thick layers of silk underneath, the one called Krikor beckoned Vahe back inside. Hidden behind a silver mask with a demonic creature's visage, she glimpsed briefly one dark-colored eye. His other eye was nothing more than a milk white canvas, damaged from battle. Yet the deep shadow in what remained of his gaze held a cold disregard for the quarry he had snared. Lucine's terror flared up the moment it subsided. 

An Immortal of Anahir, House Sadoyan's most sacred guardians and champions, had come in person to see her questioned. 

Arpriar's voice came from a near distance, audible over the disturbance made by several other young warriors searching the secluded shrine. She had failed to notice their rummaging before approaching the door, but the Palace Guard were destroying the holy ground. Crashing thunder from wooden pews being overturned and the tearing of parchment from works tossed out of their shelves echoed in her ears. 

"Here." Arpriar spoke, somehow much nearer than he had been a moment before. 

A swashing of liquid from inside a thick leather flask came near to her ear, followed by the sound of something pulled free of its housing. The next thing she noticed was a warm liquid pressed gently to her lips. Vahe did not need to say anything. Lucine swallowed the entire flask in one drink. At once, her heartbeat steadied, and her concentration returned. Her muscles unwound the tension that had knotted them up into tight knots. 

Her world came back into focus over a few minutes until Vahe seemed convinced enough to sit her down on one pew, toward the back of the shrine. His familiar face became the first clear image she recognized. He dressed himself in the fatigues of his Palace Guard uniform, layers of lavender silk woven over a Saroa, baggy breeches of coarser material. He did not wear a helmet, letting his russet hair grow a little unkempt where it wavered around the chiseled side of his jaw. 

He loomed in front of her like an attentive healer, his searching green eyes like a dark forest. 

Vahe did not look at Krikor when he spoke. "She should see a healer, maybe? Or a physician?"

Krikor's ghastly voice rumbled like rolling thunder. "If my suspicions are true, then our Moon Maiden's next destination is a dark cell beneath the palace. Or a summary execution would do us one better? Back away from our suspect. You will not want to be seen so compassionate toward her if the Sadoyan family's accusations turn out to be real."

Vahe seemed ready to argue against his commander's point.

Lucine stopped him before he could transgress against the royal decree set against her. "Vahe, your superior may ask his questions." 

"A promising start." Krikor nodded. His apathetic tone took on a more gracious aspect at her sign of cooperation. "Vahe, I won't say it again."

Fuming once through the nose, Vahe relented. He removed himself, standing out of arm's reach of her to stand beside Arpriar. 

Krikor gestured around the ransacked shrine, tucked underneath the Old watchtower. He said, "I can see that I don't have to explain anything. You seem aware of why the palace guard are here. Though you appear surprised to find an Old Guard like me leading this band of unseasoned boys. Considering your origins from beyond the Autumn Realms, it comes as a surprise to no one who understands your true origins." 

Lucine arched her brow. "I've never seen Sarune since my earliest years. Not since my memories became more developed. It may as well be a hundred lifetimes away... I don't have any contacts in that part of Khios." 

"A fruitless lie promises a fruitless interrogation." Krikor dismissed her claim. "Arpriar, run over to the Chambers of the Royal Sisters, and ask after our young Lord Azat Zakarian. We will need his judgement before we can remove her head. Lady Lucine of Sarune, the city of the Crescent Moon in the Kingdom of Surathar, I place you under arrest for high treason and attempted regicide."

Arpriar interrupted, "With all due respect, Immortal, does Lord Zakarian need to be disturbed at all for this?"

"Depends on who you ask," Krikor shrugged. "A champion of the Autumn Queen should hear about anything related to the Sadoyan family's safe being. Whether he is from the Isle of Irothis or born with Anahiran blood in his veins makes no difference to me."

Lucine arched her brow. "Is there any evidence behind these accusations that you could present?"

She winced from the Immortal's withering glare. He said, "She has courage enough to ask, but does she have enough to look at the gruesome truth she seeks?" 

Curious as to his meaning, Lucine contemplated at breakneck speed about what Krikor thought was certain proof of his claim. 

Six years of constant letters, encrypted languages scribbled down on parchment, that she had dispatched across Khios. Lucine had wondered if the cryptic commands from the so-called Den of Vipers were even legitimate after the first two summers. As a humble caretaker of Ember Hearth's palace grounds, she had endured her adolescent and early adult years inside these walls and could name about every face. Often attending to the Sadoyan family's personal spiritual needs, Lucine had garnered and gleamed secrets beyond count. 

Secrets vital to the upper echelons of the Old Myrian Empire's society. Six years stealing information that seemed harmless to the impregnable defense of the northwestern realms across the Alabaster River. Lucine realized that for Krikor himself to make the accusations on behalf of House Sadoyan, that every letter had made the once forgotten threats on the Khiosian mainland a resurgent force dwelling behind every shady nook and crevice. 

Should Lucine's outlook on the matter prove to be the truth... then the time for her extraction was imminent. But that depended on the grace of vicious vipers, born in the light-less den, hidden deep beneath the arid earth in the south. 

Lucine nodded, her expression stoic. "Fine. Take me under arrest. Our goddess will shed light on the truth behind your accusations."

At Lucine's mention of her role as a Shaira Priestess, Krikor's conviction wavered for the briefest moment. Without another word, he gestured for Vahe to lead her into the dungeon. 
~***~
« Last Edit: November 1, 2021, 09:37:32 AM by Myen'Tal »
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Myen'Tal

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A Sanctum of Swords - Title & Narrative Changes Announcement!
« Reply #244 on: November 11, 2021, 12:20:59 PM »
So, I've been really drilling down to the foundation of this narrative and discovered some interesting things about where this is all beginning in the timeline.

- Azat Zakarian is officially removed from the narrative. I am not certain what this will mean for Ara & Aslan in the future - but from what I am beginning to understand from my beta readers is that the Zakarians seem unlikable to them. This was my intention at first, as I wanted to create some characters with a good deal of flaws that they would grow past over the course of their character arcs. I will probably reintroduce them later in the series after thinking out how to change the characters and their narrative.

- I've reflected on almost two years of feedback from a variety of sources, since I began Embers of the Past sometime ago.
- I've found that upon starting with a clean slate, I can now implement everything I learned more freely.
- This means the narrative is going to change a lot, as I am kind of tilting everything into a new direction.
- I've written a short synopsis to help me better explain the plot. I should have done this a couple years ago, haha.

Synopsis:

It is the year 857 A.H. in the Ascension of Kings. The eastern realms on the continent of Khios have known a fragile peace for three centuries, since the Epoch of the Black Descent. A dark stain on the eastern realms of man, when the gods of the Ascended Pantheon were banished from the land or consumed by the Twin Deities of the Void. With the pantheon erased from the mortal histories of the realms, the disparate civilizations of Khios have arisen out of the ashes of their own desolation. Their destinies wayward and uncertain, the peoples of Khios restore a great measure of their former glory, the gods that forged their future nothing more than memories.

Yet the sands of mortal time dwindle in the hourglass, pouring through the cracks forming over the decades. The Cult of Golden Light spreads throughout the Khiosian Heartlands, searching for the means to resurrect their dead god of the sun, Sirius. Spearheaded by unyielding legions and fire-wielding missionaries of a civilization known only as the Children of the Sun and their Immortal God King - so does the threat of their desired dominion spread across the lands.

A new epoch is dawning over Khios, cruel tyrants and despots marching their armies to the four corners of the known world, consolidating the conquest of centuries' old rivals. A blighted era, where benevolent monarchs and enlightened sages sacrifice innocence amid the fires of war, hoping in vain that it will ensure their survival.

As the realms of man repeat the mistakes of the past, embers of hope smolder amid the abyss. The essence of dead and absent gods still saturates Khios, manifesting in pockets concealed in the primordial places of the world from mortal eyes. For Mahir, the Severed Hand of the Sanctum Queen, these places lie buried beneath Thearus' surface, shielded from knowledge by the labyrinthine cities of Khios' great empires and prospering kingdoms.

Altered from the wicked sharp and heroic man of his youth upon entering such an obscured place, known only as the Den of Vipers by the locals, Mahir is reborn in the image of the Goddess Alastrine, Sorrow's Child. Tasked to journey into the far flung realms of Khios for severed heads to place upon her altars, Mahir becomes the victim of conspiracy and treachery, slain in the attempt of fulfilling a contract with no chance of success.

Resurrected in the purgatories between life and death, Mahir offers a sacrifice in return for forbidden knowledge. Thus begins an arduous journey through the cycles of life and death to uncover the unraveling mysteries behind the Children of the Gods, and pass from oblivion's darkness into the light of absolution...


I am currently up to 17,000 words at the moment in A Sanctum of Swords.
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Myen'Tal

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A Sanctum of Swords - Offering
« Reply #245 on: November 12, 2021, 03:37:02 PM »
Offering

Village on the U'skar Steppes

A hallowed crack came bursting from thunderhead clouds, an entire formation sweeping across the U'skaran Steppes. Gadara listened to the Cosmic Serpent thrash amid the heavens, spitting lightning from its unhooked jaws, nebulous and all-consuming. Those fangs embedded themselves in the heavens, dripping necrotic poison into the dusk. The skies over Thearus turned black, a constant hail of lightning accompanying a torrential rain.

Shielded from the gale by walls of hewed lumber layered over cobbled stone, she heard the Wailing Widow screaming. Her cries swept through the insignificant village, but Gadara remembered the legends the U'skarite people feared more than the bellows of blackened storms.

To hear the cries of the Wailing Widow is to be marked. An uncommon phenomenon out here in these backward and primal lands, but an omen promising the violence of death to those scarred by the nightmare of her curse.

A crackle of firewood burning in the hearth called Gadara back from her musings. Her kindred's familiar voices came distant at first, but swelled in volume upon craning her head from the small slit between shuddered windows. A warmth capable of healing wounded spirits could not banish death's icy grip on her chest. Gentle laughter born amid conversation did little to shut out the shrieks ringing inside her skull.

A male's voice, whisper-thin, called her name. "Ghosts are wailing outside these walls, Gadara. The dead would beckon us to join them tonight. Should we believe the local legend, that is."

A shadow came passing over Gadara, its distinct black hue softened in the firelight. Her comrade, Mahir, approached to seat himself in the rocking chair beside her. She heard the worn out wood creak in protest to his relatively light build. He was whipcord thin, his robust physique appearing to have withered since she had last seen him several years ago. Garbed in the midnight robes of the Akarian Blades, clothes once snug upon his frame became creased and bunched where his flesh had become absent. Dark hair snaked down past his ears, cut roughly where he had shaven the strands back every few months on the campaign trail.

Gadara steeled herself. She dared turn toward him, searching for his eyes underneath the coiled strands. He had shorn it short by just enough not to conceal his gaze. All she found in the hearth's glow were pockets of shadow where eyes should be visible. In the darkness that lurked there, she almost fell into them and into an abyss with no chance of escape. Illusions of shade-tendrils writhed within the pits, almost sucking in her entire sub-consciousness like a whirlpool found in the ocean's depths.

Mahir appeared to notice her discomfort and called her name again. He extended his left hand in offering, pressing an object into her own waiting hands. "Gadara. Here, take this and wake up."

Gadara blinked, and the illusion came undone. Quiet conversation created from debating voices filled her ears. Reduced firewood crumbled deeper into the hearth. She listened for the cries of the storm and heard only the bellows of rolling thunder in the distance. Breathing deep, she swallowed the liquid contents of her brother's offered mug in one gulp. Gasping, her throat burned like she had put back a draught of molten fire. It banished death's snare on her soul for another day.

"U'skarite Hellfire Mead…" Gadara choked out the words. "Gods, Mahir, do I look like an adolescent boy who needs hair on his chest?"

Her elder brother's amused chuckles came grim and quiet, much like his reclusive nature since his Trial of Blades. Gadara couldn't fight back the memories of the powerful, wicked-sharp man who had been Mahir in the years of his youth. He had buried those years of himself before his departure from their home in Suann Sanctuary, in his prime years.

"U'skarites often believe their draught kindles a burning light in their souls. Once the Wailing Widow screams her curses, a wise man shall often knock one of these back to remove the curse of her vengeance."

Slumped back into her seat, sweat beads formed on her brow. Her vision became sharper than a hawk's, where she had expected her world to descend into a haze. Her pulse thumped in her wrists and her heart sang inside her chest. Her thoughts became uncluttered, organized into a semblance of order that helped her snap back to the present with refreshed eyes.

She said nothing, but nodded once in thanks. "That feels better. Goddess of Sorrow, but I can feel the winter cold recede before me. How did you know?"

Her brother lifted his head to better look Gadara in the eye. In the firelight, she glimpsed his eyes - his actual eyes, and watched them shine like gold veins running through obsidian stone. Uncaring, Mahir mirrored his younger sibling's slumped posture in the rocking chair.

"U'skar is an ancient land. I know her secrets lie with those who have survived here for centuries upon centuries… who am I to turn aside the wisdom of those who walk hand-in-hand with death?"

"Brother," Gadara shook her head. "U'skar is not so bleak a place."

"U'skar is not bleak because of the scarcity of the land, Gadara. Her warlords and bandit raiders have sowed these steppes with blood enough to drown all the realms beneath crimson waves. You've never given thought to how a quaint village like this survives against those kinds of threats?"

Her blood simmered beneath her skin, rushing through her veins. She held Mahir's gaze and answered. "Are you going to tell me some manner of blood sacrifice provides for divine protection?"

Mahir shook his head. "No. I was going to tell you it simply does not."

"Gods, brother, must you be such a Child of Sorrow?" She accused. "The Mahir that I used to know…"

Her brother finished her words. "It's been many moons since either of us have seen him… You come searching for specters long fled from this world."

"That's not the truth." Gadara insisted. "And you know that. Look me in the eye and tell me you truly believe that you've shed all aspects of your past self. Can't you remember anything about our family before your departure?"

Mahir held her stare, furious eyes burning him from the inside. He answered, "It's an arduous task for anyone to remember such things upon entering the Den. I am not here to remind you of forgotten days… I am here to see that you and every warrior in your Akarian Blades, entrapped in this blighted land for six months, continue breathing to the next coming dawn."

"So much help you've been." Gadara cursed. "You're so great at your mission that no one has even come into danger. Do you believe some sudden threat is coming out of this storm?"

Her brother answered. "All I know is that the Wailing Widow screams for death tonight. But don't concern yourself with her disquiet songs… drink another draught of what I handed you, speak with your kindred, and rest well into the coming dawn. I will keep guard over you until sunrise."

"You aren't a lone warrior here."

Mahir turned his gaze away from her toward the hearth. "A week has passed since you first heard her screams and you've not shut your eyes since… Go to bed, sister. I would not want you to succumb to madness from delirious fear, and your lack of rest is compounding that. I shall keep watch."

Brow arched, Gadara studied the side of Mahir's face while he rocked back gently in the rocking chair. "Did you hear what I did before we started talking? Are you hearing it now?"

Her brother decided against responding.

"Does it not frighten or unsettle you at least?"

He broke his silence, after heaving his shoulders. "I remember the last time I was afraid, upon my descent into the Den… maybe one day I'll explain to you what I encountered and witnessed in those light-less depths, but take comfort in your elder brother's shadow. He has not truly known fear upon leaving that place."

A chill ran down the length of Gadara's spine, but she knew better than to ask him to elaborate further. She nodded once, climbing out of her chair to signal her brethren to rest while they could. As she stepped around her brother's rocking chair, she paused, glancing at him a last time. "Promise me you'll wake everyone if something happens. Don't go running out into the storm alone with your sword raised. Understand?"

Mahir did not return her stare, his eyes fixed on the embers belched from the hearth. "Should I run out into the pitch black night, no foe shall find me nor a blade gleaming. Oblivion will take them to the Gates of Her Palace, and the Goddess of Sorrow will take comfort in another offering given when due."

Sighing, Gadara walked toward her room at the far end of the house. She called out into the storm's wrath. "I hope your arrogance will not get us all killed. Only the foolish warrior believes himself strongest when alone…"

She heard a whisper-thin utterance at her back, almost inaudible.

"Fall gently into the gods embrace, dear sister, and dream of cherished times."

~***~

Amid the quiet cabin, Mahir rocked back in the rocking chair, and watched the hearth burn into the late hours of the night.

Another storm came soaring out of the northern sea. Coming ashore near the midnight hour, thunderhead clouds assailed the U'ral steppe village. The Cosmic Serpent thrashed amid the heavens, but its throes were all but spent before the morning's earliest hours. Rain, once torrential, had calmed into drizzling curtains dancing across the land. Thunder, once quaking, became gentle, rolling into the eastern lands over yonder as the storm pressed farther inland. Though her battering winds never ceased, the screams of a widow in mourning carried from the shore into the night.

As the hours continued to pass, he removed a scroll hidden in his robes. Clutched between scarred fingers, creased and wrinkled parchment unraveled, coming past his knees as one continuous letter. Diligent in his boredom, he poured over the encrypted language scrawled across the parchment for the forty-third time in the last six months. He plucked each coded word from his memories, matching them in the vicious calligraphic scrawl where they lay embedded.

Severed.


Take the Sudhari Blade hidden beneath the U'ral well.


Guard the sentries assigned to your station until the Southern Rain's first light.


Claim the Sudhari mount hidden in between life and death.


Listen for the Wailing Widow to guide you into that place.


Claim the head of your quarry and offer it to the abandoned shrine.


The Goddess of Sorrow shall know your due is paid.


Gadara and her unit of Akarian Blades had come to U'ral to cipher information coming through the U'skar-Gorum provincial borders. The kingdom of U’skar was harsh, ruled by warlords and their nomadic tribes. Great hordes of mounted warriors at their back, these warlords competed against one another commonly. As the cycles continued on and winter approached an end, the realms of Khios continent could see the change happening on these once neglected steppes.

From the Khiosian heartlands, the Cult of the Golden Sun spread enlightened thought among many chieftains and their tribes. Sworn to uphold the Commandments of Illumination, champions of the faith set aside their armies and kept their tribesmen about their tasks. The U'skarite leadership pitted themselves against one another in contests of martial strength and strategic cunning. Victors anointed themselves into positions of great consolidation, expanding their strength. Their defeated foes came to rest in the wilderness, the ancestral home of the U'skarites, never to be heard from again.

A sudden pounding on the cabin door tore Mahir out of his musings. Forgotten, the scroll slipped out of his hand when the door came crashing open from a stranger's broad shoulder. Climbing out of his rocking chair, his scarred fingers coiled around the hilt of the gladius sheathed upon his waist. A shortened blade came into Mahir's grip, locked into a coiling motion to cast the weapon from his palm.

A male of the U'ral tribe, middling of years, staggered over the toppled door. Garbed in thick layers of black silk under armor, he had a leather cuirass equipped over that. Mahir halted a hair's breadth from letting the gladius soar into the messenger's heart. If the U'ral warrior had noticed that Mahir had come mere seconds from killing him outright, he appeared too haggard to care.

A mask carved from the bones of a beast, primordial ferocity chiseled into its skeletal structure, concealed the warrior’s terror from a helmet of iron scales. He barked at Mahir. "Cavalcades riding across the eastern lands through the storm! Scouting parties have overtaken the watchtowers, their torching the outskirts!"

"How many?" Mahir sheathed his blade, thunder reaching a deafening crescendo.

The U'ral warrior shrugged, staggering back into the village beyond the cabin interior. "An endless sea of burning lights and mounted warriors…"

Mahir chased the U'ralite to the cabin doorway, but did not step beyond it. He shouted into the storm, his voice deadened amid lashing rain and wind. Urgent shouts and a clash of steel on steel answered him. Against the night, small lights blazed in U'ral's eastern outskirts. Several perished almost the moment he noticed them, their fires snuffed by the storm. Others continued to persist and consume, fanning higher and higher until the pyres became searing to the eye.

Gadara's voice came shouting at his back, followed by crashes and urgent commands in the Su'khanite tongue. "Mahir!? Damnable hell, what's going on?"

Gadara and her Akarian blades rushed into room, armed and organized around the hearth.

Mahir turned to her, shrugging. "Ensuing raid. Scouting parties have cleaned out the garrison watchtowers. Small skirmishes in the eastern outskirts."

Gadara looked her brother in the eye and nodded. "It's about time we took our leave then, brother?"

"About time your Akarian Blades head back south. I agree."

She caught the words he did not speak, that he did not intend to leave with them. Gadara stormed up to him, coming face to face when a lightning bolt fell from the heavens and struck the horizon over yonder with brutal force.

Her gaze burned the veil of shadow cloaked over his spirit. "Are you being called back to the Den of Vipers?"

"No." Mahir said, "I am commanded by their omniscient hand elsewhere."

"Gods, brother, tell me you're headed anywhere but into the spear tip of an entire army?"

His response did not come quick as he considered on what to tell her. Several moments passed before Mahir pointed his chin toward the rocking chair he had sat in throughout the night. "On the floor near the chair I claimed for the night. A weathered and scribbled over scroll should lay discarded near the hearth. Read through the encrypted orders for yourself. You'll have your answers then."

Gadara gestured to her unit of eight Akarian Blades, dressed in the same midnight silk uniforms, golden yellow sashes tied around their waists. She commanded them, "Don't let him take a step outside that door…"

He watched her retrace her steps back toward the hearth, sweeping the area Mahir had mentioned. Her eyes glew against the hearth’s flames, sharpened still from the Hellfire Draught she had knocked back before. Her eyes settled on the scroll, discarded where he said it would be, and snatched it up in her leather gloved fingers. She glanced over the encrypted contents once, twice, and another seven times, calm even in the face of bloodshed spilling nearer into U'ral's heart.

Her features became scrunched, her brows arched in askance. "I don't understand these orders, brother. Find the Sudhari mount between life and death? The screams of the Wailing Widow will guide you into that sacred place? Whose skull do you need to place on the abandoned shrine in offering?"

"Does it matter, Gadara?" He asked. "None mentioned you being involved in any of this, aside from needing my protection until this moment. I cannot leave with you, but wait another moment and you'll never leave this land alive. Head back south, sister. I shall buy you enough time to ensure your escape."

Gadara cursed, "To the Gates of Her Palace with your orders… You'll abandon your mission and come with us or the Akarian Blades stand their ground. Your orders are not a mission,. It's a resignation and an honorable mention of your self-sacrifice."

Despite himself, a smirk tugged on the edge of his lips. "An Ashen Blade should be more certain about her purpose… should I fall into death's gentle embrace, Alastrine shall light a beacon to guide my way to the Gates of Her Palace."

"And her children never languish in the halls of death for long." Gadara finished the Alastrinite phrase. "Faith aside, you cannot expect some reincarnation to come to your rescue. I've witnessed no one - Ashen Blade or no, somehow come back to haunt us from the dead as living flesh once more. Our Queen of the Severed Hand only benefits from that belief."

Overcome with a smug confidence, he fixed Gadara with a smile. Realization dawned in her eyes that she knew Mahir understood something about that relationship she wouldn't comprehend without his confession.

"Then show me." Gadara insisted. "I shall stand beside you against this horde."

Mahir's smile twisted into a frown. "Show you what?"

"You buried your past upon your descent into the Den," Gadara reminded. "You've said nothing of what changed you, not in all these several years. I need to understand the Mahir standing in front of me, and I will not accept no for an answer."

"We don't have time to debate this, Gadara." He heard himself become insistent. "I can hear the screams of the dying coming nearer to us."

Gadara gestured toward the first mounted warrior coming through the storm. He galloped hard through the winding roads, slicing a gore-soaked blade across the throat of an innocent woman attempting to flee.

"Our time to depart has past." Gadara declared. "Are we going or not?"

His hand forced into the direction he least desired, Mahir sighed through his nostrils, but consented with a brief nod. "Follow each command I give you and make sure your Akarian Blades follow them to the letter. Stragglers will be left to their fate, so don't fall behind. Our mission is not a simple task, but to claim the head of a warlord known by the name of Dikran."

Gadara winced upon hearing the name. "The Black Tiger of U'skar?"

"Second thoughts? You could always try your hand at leaving despite the growing odds."

"Please, I've claimed my share of skulls in my own time. We're following your lead here. So let's stop idling beside this burning hearth where everyone can see us."

Mahir gestured for them to trail behind with a beckon of his hand. "Gather near around me, and let the Goddess of Sorrow veil you behind night's shadow."

He planted one step forward, and the night lurched into life around the Ashen Blades. Behind him, he heard Gadara gasp in alarm. He swept his arm out in front of him before she could fight against the shadow’s writhing tendrils. His vision lurched once again, as the void between time and space yawned open, and the landscape of the physical world torn out from under them in a blur of all-consuming abyss.
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Myen'Tal

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A Sanctum of Swords - Promotional Update - Finished Map of Khios
« Reply #246 on: December 1, 2021, 01:09:12 PM »
Morning 40konline  :)!

I have a special update for everyone today!

As mentioned some weeks ago, I've been coordinating with a professional illustrator I came across on the creation of a map for Khios. It's been an absolute pleasure working with him on this, and watching him take the original sketch I made and create all of this from scratch in a way that reflected my vision down to the gritty details. Couldn't be happier to share this promotional piece that I'll soon be sharing once I've taken a few steps to get the ball rolling on A Sanctum of Swords.

You can find Ferdinand's channel here if you would like to check out his portfolio :) . Mods, let me know if sharing the link to Artstation is okay. You can check out the artwork in more detail at his site, as the image I've shared here is a smaller thumbnail.

http://www.artstation.com/ferdinandladera



So there you have it! Anyone who has ever wondered - "Where is Old Myria located?" "What sort of climates/biomes reside in the Carth Dominion?" And all sorts of other question are hopefully answered with this map. I wasn't able to include everything - there's a lot of locations, notable cities, etc that I obviously could not place on the map without making it super cluttered.

Still a little ways to go, but I'm another step nearer to getting A Sanctum of Swords out into the wilderness  :).
« Last Edit: December 1, 2021, 01:39:06 PM by Myen'Tal »
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Myen'Tal

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A Sanctum of Swords - Cover Art WIP - Scene II, Legacies of Her Forebears
« Reply #247 on: December 9, 2021, 05:04:24 PM »
Hi 40k Online - another quick update here.

Here, I have the first initial thumbnail produced for the cover art of A Sanctum of Swords.

The process has only begun and most everything like the font and text are obviously placeholders until the art itself comes nearer to completion.



The Zar District, on the Seventh Canal Between the Haven Quarter and Artifice Quarter

Adofo listened for the ferryman, cycling his oar in and out of the Seventh Canal. From each rotation of the oar, a mix of foam and crystalline droplets sprayed his face and hair. A breeze, cool like an oasis amid northern sands, passed over the ferryman’s raft. As the solar star fell across western skies, his Blood Sworn had sallied out of the High Quarter with little notice or fanfare. Qin’sar and their noble wives and daughters had paid the retinue of Zar’qin little heed, not in the Royal Palace’s sacred corridors.

In silence, the Zar’qin marched from one end of the Royal Palace to the other, provisioned for a mission into the Golden Valley. Hidden in the shadows of their masters, the curious gazes of other Zar tracked them and their descent down the Golden Mountain. Quiet whispers had assailed their footsteps, unnoticed by their overlords, until the Blood Sworn came aboard a raft headed into the far reaches of the lower city.

The Languid Mermaid, the ferryman called her, a slab of cobbled wood banded into a palanquin meant to tread open and shallow waters like Tushik’s canals. His honored siblings, both brothers and sisters, scattered themselves about the sturdy platform. Eccentric conversation bounced back and forth between their isolated pockets. Bouts of joyous merriment ended impassioned debates and raucous conversation. The Blood Sworn’s voices resounded from the floating palanquin, reaching a dozen other passing vessels built for shallow waters.

Shoushan’s calling from the Old Ruin had proven itself a reprieve from the Royal Palace intrigues. He inhaled, breathing in the ashen smoke billowing from the Artisan Quarter, mixed into a potent concoction when combined with the Golden Valley’s crisp air. As the ferryman guided his palanquin on the open canal, Adofo had removed his leather boots near the platform’s edge. Seated where the cobalt waters lapped onto the raft, he submerged his saora up past the calves, his knees soothed by cool winter waters.

Elmas’ quiet voice proceeded her shadow creeping up from behind. “Are you concerned for Lady Sar Amun, lord?”

Considerate, Adofo watched the Palanquin Floats of other Qin’sar nobles drift past formations of fishing canoes scattered about the canal. Shadows cast by greater vessels, slender and steered by a hundred oars on either flank, eclipsed everything on the Seventh Canal in their passing. The iconography of the Zar trade fleets marked their sails. Sky Tortoises, cargo ships laden with trade goods and raw materials gathered from foreign realms.

He said, “Gods know your birth parents raised you as a scholar, Elmas, wicked sharp, like the master’s whip. What do you think about the matter?” He waited, then resumed when Elmas remained quiet. “Such an obvious question is not usual for you, my Second.”

Elmas shrugged, but did not disagree. “Correct. You have a bad habit of concealing your emotions behind a flawed mask, Lord. You seem to choose the stoic ones, cracked from age or made from brittle glass. I broached the subject in case you needed to vent some frustration or fear before our descent into the Old Ruin. Now is the time while we are aboard the ferryman’s raft.”

Adofo tilted to meet her stoic gaze. A blaze kindled in her emerald stare, struck from the right angle by the waning sun in the west. “You make me curious, Elmas. Of the Blood Sworn, you’re the most aloof of their number. I’ve always presumed this stemmed from some apathetic disregard for your brethren, or perhaps your commander. We’ve known each other for a couple years now and I cannot remember the last time you ever asked about me.”

Elmas smirked, though a weight of burden in her gaze remained. “It’s never often I ask after anyone. All of us mortal children can only look to ourselves in the end, when our sands dwindle in the hourglass. As time continues its course, I’ve seen enough souls ushered into the Gates of Her Palace to not bind my fate with those who may not know that they are dead. Lest survivors like us inherit their dark curse, dragging us into the grave with their own failures. I asked you this one time to remind you of the sword sheathed on your waist, instead of dreaming of another night in Heaven’s Gate.”

Adofo considered the wisdom behind Elmas’ words, her call to action burning away the dream haze clouding his mind. “A commander can appreciate a Second that understands her task. Your words are wise, and I will not fault them. I will think of Lady Sar Amun no more until we’ve achieved our mission in the

Old Ruin and have returned to the Golden Mountain.” He sighed, “It occurs to me we have never known each other very well, have we, Elmas? Come sit with me, rest your tired feet in the canal’s waters, and tell me something about you.”

She cupped her hands out before her, locked in place. “I am a sibling of the Blood Sworn. I’ve nothing to add to that one truth.”

Blood Sworn. An elite unit among the Zar’qin, their members distinguished survivors from the Dominion’s greatest campaigns or champions awarded for a feat of valor in battles marked for the histories. Qin’sar cared little for trivialities such as length of service. Each member of the Zar’s sacred elite considered retired from the legion by their masters. Children of the Sun venerated courage at the moment’s heart, strength enough to match a champion of any creed, and the iron will to complete any mission when commanded. A reward worth more than its weight in literal gold awaited a Zar’s achievement for any of said feats.

“Nothing about the past that shaped you then?” He asked, “there has to be someone Elmas used to be in brighter times?”

Amused, her smirk grew into a brief smile, before disappearing like it had never been there. “Another girl from a place long forgotten by time, so much less in experience and wisdom, but the greater sum of myself without question… I was born in the lands of Eastern Ashara, in the city of Sumara, some sixteen years before its fall. My mother tailored clothes from satins and silks. Father cared for and maintained the Libraries of the Forgotten Lores for the royal house of Ashara.”

Adofo nodded, recognizing the name. “I’ve heard of that place. A wonder engineered in ancient times, said to rival the citadels of lesser kingdoms in that era.”

“Correct,” Elmas replied. “The libraries also housed the palace of the royal king, who reigned in eastern Ashara. Our Queen, meanwhile, governed the western realms of our land. During my adolescence, my parents considered me a scholar in practice. I studied enlightened thought in my father’s shadow for years, content with lessons and rewards they handed down to me as time wore on. I had no reason to complain or to be ungrateful for anything.” She paused, sighing into the breeze. “I’m rambling, and fear that I’ve said too much. Apologies, lord.”

Adofo chuckled, despite the serpent coiling inside his chest until he could feel its weight on him. “Your stories aren’t a problem for me. All the Zar bear similar tales, and keeping those memories burning in our hearts is important for our caste. I relish those tales in recent years. A constant reminder that there is no one person born into the Zar. Our blood comes from every corner of the Khiosian heartlands, and the legacies are forefathers still seeded in the soils where we once knew our homes. The Children of the Sun would say otherwise, but nothing can change that.”

“And here I thought you content with the honors you’ve reaped during your service in the legion. Lord, could I ask you about something?”

As Qalzirai dipped beneath the western horizon, Adofo noticed dusk coming in from the east. “Ask your question quick, Elmas, we should arrive at our destination soon.”

Elmas pondered in silence for a moment, before broaching the subject. “Should someone ever hand you a choice, which of these fates would you desire over the other? A declaration of freedom, and the breaking of your chains to pursue your own destiny beyond the Dominion, wherever you desired? Or… would any of that mean anything to you, without Lady Siham Sar Amun’s love to look forward to?”

Adofo scoffed, “that is a very personal question.”

“I know.” Elmas answered. “I’ve always wondered about your answer for many moons now. A scholar’s curiosity if you could think of it as that. I’ve no other intention with your answer, but understanding.”

“Honestly? I’m uncertain how to answer that.”

“An uncertain answer talks more about your decision than you apparently think.” Elmas said, “she is born of the Children of the Sun, Adofo. Are you choosing to ignore the fact that you are her possession, or do you believe that she truly desires you?”

“Well, what does that matter to you?” Adofo asked. “Siham’s decision is her own, and she has gone to great lengths to shield me from the worst consequences of our relationship. She treads upon a sword’s edge even when she knows that not only should she not for only my sake, but for her future in the royal family as well. Siham’s love for me may seem like nothing to you, but each hour of her devotion to me is a debt that I cannot easily repay.”

Elmas nodded, “It’s not my intention to pry, lord. I wonder, though, about what you will do if she ever changes her mind about you. All the consequences you’ve somehow outpaced could come crashing down on you before you notice. As a Blood Sworn, you could just walk away with your freedom in just a few years.”

A promotion into the ranks of the palace guard seemed nothing near to actual freedom. A Blood Sworn’s ascension up the Golden Mountain for their induction rites dispelled those illusions. A reward of peace and solitude upon the rites’ completion, and an assigned post granted to the honored Zar, irrevocable in times of uncertainty and war.

“As I asked.” He insisted, “What does it matter? You’ve no reason to reap the consequences haunting my mistakes. Chances are rare that you’d fall into that pit of serpents.”

“You desired to know something about me, didn’t you?” Elmas cocked her head. “Well, I wanted to know your thoughts on the matter. An imperfect understanding has taught me more about you than simple observation. You’ve given me a conclusion to wonder more about in the future.”

A collision of lumber against granite docks seized their attention. At once, the Ferryman bowed, taking his leave amid the darkness of night. All conversation turned absent of mirth, amused smiles

reverting into faceless granite. The Blood Sworn gathered around Adofo while he re-equipped his boots. Elmas kept a silent vigil over him, standing in wait for a command.

“Brethren,” Adofo clambered back to his feet, fingers grasping his sheathed blade’s pommel like the talons of a hawk. Amid the dead silence of the outer Zar District, he heard only himself amid the disquiet rhythm of the Seventh Canal. “I’m certain we’ve all heard the dark myths that must dwell in the Old Ruin. I would give no credence to superstition, but… I would rather none of us tempt fate tonight. Understood?”

Set deep into ancient colonnades of craggy stone, their surfaces like volcanic rock, a pair of torches burned against the night. Both colonnades marked the discreet pier like a gate, unbarred and left open. A hidden back road of grime, mud, and dirt awaited the Blood Sworn to embark upon its path. It snaked between a dense collection of utilitarian structures built from tarnished stone, still ablaze with industrial fires shrouding the path ahead with smoke and a heat that seared the skin.

Adofo listened, picking up the distant clamor of voices raised in an arduous dirge. Other voices came quieter from farther along the path, where the way turned out of sight. He looked toward the night skies, and found a patchwork tapestry of banners, silk blankets, and discarded battle standards billowing between the rooftops. Almost blotting out the stars and moon, the dome of fabrics fluttered with wild abandon. Occasionally, he spied a beautiful night sky where the wind created sizeable gaps throughout the tapestries.

Gazing into the descent that would take them into the Old Ruin, his heart quickened inside his chest for a reason he couldn’t name. Beyond the tapestries and solemn male voices chanting, he swore he heard women in the distance, a rapturous song on their lips, burning with a zealous hope to bring light into darkness. Their voices ebbed when their song lulled, only to wax in volume, the higher notes of their music drawn out until the very moment he thought each would pause for breath again.

Their music reminded him of the hymnals often sung by the Priestesses of the Golden Sun, around the Celestial Altars. A compassionate call to gaze into the sun’s brilliance, to banish one’s fears of the immortal night. An illusion the sisterhood wove around their children, blinding them to the truth behind their sins, he had always thought. An icy chill crept down his spine. The thought that even the women of the Zar sought to perform the same rites for those laboring inside the hellish industrial complex before them, gave him pause.

Gasping, Elmas’ breath came in shortened, gentle inhales. “Gods’ light in the void… but what is this place? A small measure of beauty lingers here, but caked in soot and ashes.”

From the Blood Sworn’s number, Kalb spoke up. “A hideousness also blights this place, should the women of the Zar sing their songs to ward those misfortunates who dwell here.”

Magar mentioned when Kalb fell silent. “Let’s not stand here frightened of our own shadows like the Children of the Sun would. I’ve no desire to follow their example and don’t fear some buried over hovels from some forgotten era. Commander, give us the word and we’ll set the Old Ruin to flame, compelled by your direction.”

Adofo loosened his muscles, popping his joints with a brief exercise to warm himself up. “Magar is right. What use is fear to the Blood Sworn if our summons calls us into the depths to face the horrors of the past, anyway? Form a tight formation, and guard the backs of your brethren. Keep your weapons readied and shields raised. I want one torchbearer at each corner of the unit. Be generous with the light once we have truly descended into the Old Ruin. Expect nothing, but prepare for anything…”

« Last Edit: December 17, 2021, 09:28:04 AM by Myen'Tal »
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Dread

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Absolutely love the cover art. The story is strong as well. Glad your dream is becoming reality. 8)
"Burning thru the universe in search of peace only brings more war. Peace is an illusion, war is reality, that is the way of things"

                            Farseer Gol'Istria of    the Morea Nebula craftword

Offline Myen'Tal

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Absolutely love the cover art. The story is strong as well. Glad your dream is becoming reality. 8)

Thank you, Dread, that means a lot!

Will share when I have another update!
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Myen'Tal

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A Sanctum of Swords - Descent Into Timeless Eons - Action Scene Excerpt
« Reply #250 on: December 27, 2021, 10:16:03 AM »
Descent Into Timeless Eons

Scene Excerpt

Deep beneath the Southern Wastes, Enigma tread the abyss where mortal eyes feared to gaze. Amid the unnatural quiet buried far from light’s revelations, every graceful move made resounded upon the earthen bedrock. An invisible blade in the dark parted the stagnant air upon its removal from the scabbard. Each footfall committed by leather boots mimicked the alpha predator stalking about in the night. A quickened heart beat inside his chest like a ticking clock. The rhythmic pulses painted a target over him in the broken world’s unlit places.

Adrenaline coursing in the blood dialed up the internal temperature within him. A rush of heat saturated the insubstantial flesh underneath a flowing midnight silk uniform. Navigating forgotten passages bereft of warmth, Enigma tread upon craggy stone damp from waters trickling in from nearby flooded caverns.

An unfamiliar chill in the air stole away his breath. Each inhale came in shallow gasps, choked by a chilling, unseen fog.    

Enigma registered every brief disturbance within earshot. Subtle notes otherwise inaudible in near any other environment. A dozen leather boots on the earthen bedrock matched him for every step he dared make toward the Sanctum Gate. A chorus of hushed breathing betrayed his former brethren’s efforts to divide-and-conquer Enigma and his unseen master.

A quickened rush scrabbled up rugged bedrock from behind. He listened, hearing a wicked blade cutting through stagnant fog toward him. Enigma imagined the blade glinting beneath a bright sun. Yet no light revealed the weapon hurtling through the abyss–veiled by darkness until it hit home.

He feinted at the last moment. Tilting on the ball of his right foot, he slunk away beyond the Ashen Blade’s immediate reach. A lighter weapon, a dagger or Katar, lunged out of the abyss in front of him at that moment. Silken fabrics torn open by the reckless thrust filled the quiet depths. A shrill cry punctuated the sound, cut brutally short upon the reckless blade’s vicious exit through the Ashen Blade Assassin behind him.

He parried with an overhead deflection, spinning on the foe in front of him. Sparks kindled from their tested steel, blinding everyone unprepared enough to take advantage. Head cocked to the right of their deadlock, Enigma glimpsed a dozen Ashen Blades navigating the unlit realm like he did. Their movements lacked the innate certainty that came to him without too much effort.

Breaking the deadlock with a quick feint, Enigma leaped to one side. His opponent’s rapid counter lunged past him. Sweeping the blade out before him, he listened for the telltale sound of broken flesh. Cleaved open, the bleeding sinew and broken bones beneath the skin came neatly apart. Severed from the neckline, the Ashen Blade’s head toppled back behind the corpse.

A dull, wet thud hit the bedrock with the weight of a heavy quilted blanket. Enigma answered another foe with a sweeping blow. Sparks kindled again upon turning the pinpoint thrust aside. Sliding back again, the lethal counter that followed flew wide of him. He answered, driving the slender needle dancing between the fingers on his left hand straight between the Ashen Blade’s eyes.

He heard the Su’khanite seize up in violent reaction, picturing the corpse standing rigid in the dark. Enigma did not wait to hear the body collapse, intercepting a blade’s curved hook on the upward sweep to bring his own weapon back into a reactive position.

Enigma caught the blade by its curved hook. A beguiling counter to disarm the foe when using their own surprise against them. A shadow, somehow distinct against the light-less abyss, passed by both combatants. He noticed it flicker between existences, like a ghost trying to become substantial in the living world.

The Ashen Blade, disarmed by Enigma, had registered the unfamiliar presence too. He didn’t hesitate. He rammed the elegant blade in hand straight into the assassin’s chest, rupturing the heart beneath the skin and sinew.

He heard the rigid corpse in front of him crumble in a heap upon the bedrock. The Ashen Blade, impaled on the Sudhari sword beside him, sagged down onto both knees. The bleeding heart in the wounded kin’s chest beat a last time, before the body went slack.

Enigma removed the sword with a flick of the wrist. The Sanctum Gate lapsed back into quiet tranquility. He sighed, voice quiet out of reverence for the immortal night. “Four kills. A decent offering given up freely for Zahira’s blessing.”

Enigma waited for an answer. He registered a dozen merciful blows in the dark. One destined for each remaining Ashen Blade before the Sanctum Gate. His master, the Banished Blade, extinguished their lives with an unnatural efficiency. An old honor to Ashen Blades betrayed by their own kin–to be humbled by such a superior mastery over the Art of Death.

When the twelve remaining assassins lay dead before the Sanctum Gate, the Banished Blade finally answered. Enigma realized the dead had not even a chance to cry out before the master’s sword fell upon them.

“A living man should be honored with four deaths to mark one fight and a victory.”

Enigma snorted, “A living man? You’re not yet gone from this world, old man. One reason you’ve dragged me back into the Den of Vipers.”

“Are your wrists chained and bound to my will, Enigma? We’re not here to break the cycle over death and rebirth.”

Enigma quipped, “the Sanctum Queen made a gruesome display of your corpse at Zahira’s altar. I debated often when you had actually perished… you had become silent for days. Your breathing appeared imperceptible to anyone else, but I could tell there remained some glimmer of defiance within you… even if you could only dream it from the mind’s eye.”

The Banished Blade’s physical appearance appeared a corporeal, living human. The midnight silk robes of the Ashen Blades draped the scarred caramel skin upon the frame’s light build. Enigma observed the living specter before him, bright enough that the abyss could not swallow him.

His master smiled, a flicker passing through all of him upon a moment’s notice. Enigma watched the Banished Blade’s physical existence meld back into the divine void beyond the mortal sphere. The moment passed just as quick as it had come, and the bleak master of death asserted himself back into reality.

“I’ve taught you’ve better than to trust to hope. Hope is a weapon when wielded in the hands of an enemy who understands how to exploit it.”


Enigma considered what the Banished Blade did not confess. “Then you are not much longer in this world, are you?”

“If you’re searching for the truth, then neither of us have much time between your hourglass and my own.”

He made a shrug, the gesture almost weightless to him. “Well, I’ve signed my death contract upon heeding your warnings and coming back here to where it all began… It’s too late for either of us to turn back… especially you. I would see your soul cut loose from the Sanctum Queen’s snare.”

“And I’ve sworn to achieve the same for you and all your kin who may follow in your footsteps.” His master sighed. “You’re wondering if this is the only way?”


Enigma answered, “no… I’m only wondering if there is any way at all. We’re navigating an illusion… where your ghost lingers in the living world and I stand before the Sanctum Gate–between life and death. How could the Den of Vipers ensnare our souls even after death?”

“One reason I called you back here to face the Sanctum Queen. Her labyrinthine mind is ancient, having outlived entire empires, kingdoms, and the mortal generations whom built them. A Daughter of Shadows, sharing Goddess Zahira’s blood and an innate mastery over the immortal cycle of death and rebirth. Karyan is a dark phoenix… you must confront her to learn the truth that will change everything.”


Enigma affirmed him with a nod. “There isn’t much other option than death then.”

“Should you face Karyan, then correct. You’ll come to understand in your later years when I say that the pendulum won’t sway for you yet…”

« Last Edit: January 1, 2022, 09:56:28 AM by Myen'Tal »
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Myen'Tal

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A Sanctum of Swords - Status Update & Ashes of Genesis Excerpt
« Reply #251 on: January 2, 2022, 01:26:28 AM »
Status Update:

Hey guys, another update here!

Status - A Sanctum of Swords has surpassed the 20,000 word mark. It sits around 25,000 words and I've about brought Act I to completion. It'll need one more visit, then onto Act II.

Cover Art creation is set to resume in early January.

Map is finished - but I've another illustration to have completed around mid-march.

I've an editor appointment scheduled - and it's a big one! More information on that nearer to the end of that session.

Next near term goal is to get a website created - which I believe will also begin happening in the coming months.

I'm rolling on towards completion!

Ashes of Genesis - Excerpt
   
Hidden behind tapestries of patchwork blankets, the full moon withered until Adofo could no longer track it in the heavens. A gust billowed through the silk fabric ceiling. Each blanket wavered amid the storm wind, convincing him the entire work of art might come apart at any moment. Yet in the hour long descent from the Artifice Quarter toward the Golden Valley’s outskirts, Adofo registered only a breeze stirring throughout the bowels of the lower Zar district.
   
Kalb broke the silence upon leaving the hymnals and dirges of the higher Artifice Quarter behind. “Some years have passed since our descent into the Ardent Spire. You remember that journey? The Crimson Guard ambushed us upon this lonely road. The darkness became so black–all the Spire towering into the heavens appeared nothing more than a twisted den of rearing serpents.”
   
Adofo grunted, chuckling despite the unease brought about by the memory. “How could I forget? You about lost your eye to their War Leader.”
   
Kalb snorted, but did not disagree. “And you took an arrow straight to your chest. They had you bedridden for over a month. I’ve always wondered how we fought our way out from those relentless wolves.”
   
Elmas interrupted their recollection. “A tale woven before our time in the Bloodsworn, Magar. You’ll often hear Kalb recall many moments of near failure and death. He’s always been fond of cheating Zahira for greater reward.”
   
“And I’ve reaped enough–more than anyone here,” Kalb replied. Adofo detected an unsubtle note of irritation in the Old Guard’s grizzled voice. “I only mentioned that old tale because nothing seems to have changed about this place. Several years have passed me by and I’m not my young self anymore. I’d wager if someone swept their torchlight near enough to the path, you’d still find all the blood spilled upon them.”
   
Against the night, burning torches fought back the darkness clouding the road ahead. Continuing on, the dark nooks of the Artifice Quarter writhed against Adofo’s perception. Hazed shadows took on an animated sentience, detaching from the surrounding night to test their steel against one another. An ichor, sleek like oil, spilled from the first wounded shadows across the cobblestones.
   
As quick as the illusion came, did the world shift back into normalcy. Adofo recalled the memory of every fallen shadow, remembering whom each had been before their demise. The dead had arisen once again, each fated to fall like they had those many moons ago.
   
Breaking the illusion, Adofo realized Kalb had won the wager before anyone could say otherwise. He had perceived the path ahead as the black ichor leaked from dead incorporeal shadows. Yet revealed by the torchlight, anyone could spy the decaying signs of an old battle. A great graffiti painted in the blood of the deceased–their intact bones still scattered about the place in every alcove and storm drain. Some skeletal corpses still wore their armor through all the oxidized filth eating through it.
   
Kalb continued, speaking at a lower volume. “Children of the Sun must rarely venture into the Ardent Spire for anything. They did not even have anyone clean up the bloodshed left in our wake–not even after all these years.”
   
Elmas shielded her features behind a silk sleeve. “It must have smelled like an abandoned butcher’s shop here for sometime. It reeks like death even now.”
   
“Whatever you do, Elmas,” Kalb replied. “Don’t ask about the past repeating itself. You’re going to jinx us this time, I know it.
   
Elmas shot back. “I’m too superstitious to even think about it.”
   
Magar interrupted, “Looks like you’ve jinxed us yourself, Kalb. Someone’s lantern approaches up ahead, from the left bend where the road forks before that old tower.”
   
Elmas pointed toward the tower with the map bundled in her grip. “Auspicious, maybe ominous, depending on our approaching guests. We’ve arrived at the Forlorn Eyrie, Lord.”

Adofo considered the great foundation of granite stone brickwork that came up to the height of two tall men. He lifted his gaze to better take in the crumbling avalanche of stone piled atop that broken foundation. The Forlorn Eyrie appeared nothing more than a tragic disaster, so great in scope that it buried entire leagues of the surrounding urban sprawl down with it.

He spoke into the dead quiet, hearing each word echo into Gorum’s bowels. “Are you certain of this? Hand the map over. This cannot be right.”

Elmas scoffed, but flicked her hand out in offering toward him, the bundled map clutched light in her fingers. “Lady Shoushan would never be that careless, lord. Our path into the Old Ruin leads through the abandoned tower before us.”

Kalb snorted, pacing back and forth between shadow pockets within reach of the Bloodsworn. “A tower? It is a crumbling ruin, broken down to its foundations. It would come down upon us the moment we fool ourselves into thinking the path is safe.”

Another Bloodsworn spoke hurriedly. “I’ll hasten to remind everyone that these approaching strangers haven’t noticed us yet. If you’re wanting to avoid a potential confrontation, we should decide now.”

Kalb retorted, “if they do not see us, brother, then these warriors must have a great sense of premonition about them.”

Magar interrupted, “There must be another route? The Old Ruin lies beneath the entire city. I’d say several passages should be nearby for each area of the Zar District we borrow deeper into.”

Adofo silenced the others with a brief whistle. He replied, “Kalb speaks the truth. The Forlorn Tower appears to be ruined and could come falling down on us if we took that way. Alas, we will not find an alternative in the next minute.”

Elmas finished the First Blade’s thought. “Then we take the risk that there will be a confrontation and blood spilled. We’ll figure another route out afterward.”

“Elmas,” he commanded, “Select five Bloodsworn for a unit. Hide yourselves in that stairwell, where it bends up to the higher outlook, out of sight. Magar, choose another five for your own team. Tuck yourselves back behind those colonnades on our left, deep in the alcove there.

“Kalb, call every torchbearer into your unit and any remaining warriors. You will stand your ground beside me. Have each bearer plant their torches somewhere they can remain upright on their own. I want one torch planted in each general direction, like a circle around our perimeter.”

Elmas made an elegant bow. “Your will, lord.”

Magar affirmed him with a nod. “At once, First Blade.”

Kalb failed to acknowledge the order, but kept his gaze focused on the distant lights approaching ahead. All the torchbearers and warriors in his unit went about their task without being told. Instead, the seasoned warrior turned back to Adofo after being left alone for a brief interlude.
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Myen'Tal

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A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #252 on: January 9, 2022, 10:36:01 PM »
Hi guys, just a quick update here!

I'm currently backtracking and doing a full pass across Act I to tackle a number of issues.

The main problem that I'm seeking to address with this pass is purple prose & dialogue tags, etc.

Here is roughly the same excerpt I posted previously, but with all the implemented revisions made in the editing pass. It will read quite different.

Hoping to apply the entire revision to Act I before long.

I also have plans to break off the first scene in chapter one and make it a standalone chapter to expand upon. Same with the later two scenes in chapter one.

Thanks for reading!

Ashes of Genesis - Revision 2.0, Excerpt

   Hidden behind a patchwork blanket ceiling, the full moon became impossible for Adofo to track. The blankets wavered in the billowing gust, convincing him the entire work of art might come apart at any moment. Yet he registered only a breeze stir through the bowels of the Artifice Quarter.

   Kalb broke the silence long after they left the dock on the Seventh Canal behind. He said, “Some years have passed since our descent into the Ardent Spire. You remember that journey? The Crimson Guard ambushed us on this lonely road. The darkness became so black–all the Spire appeared nothing more than a twisted den of serpents.”

   Adofo chuckled despite the unease brought by the memory. He spoke, “how could I forget? You about lost your eye to their War Leader that night.”

   Kalb did not disagree. He said, “and you took an arrow straight to your chest. They had you bedridden for over a month. I’ve always wondered how we fought our way out from those relentless wolves.”

   Elmas spoke, “a tale woven before our time in the unit, Magar. You’ll often hear Kalb recall many moments of near failure and death. He’s always been fond of cheating Zahira for greater reward.”

   “And I’ve reaped enough–more than anyone here,” Kalb said. A note of irritation came from the Old Guard. “I only mentioned that old tale because nothing changed about this place. Several years have passed. I’m not my young self anymore. I’d wager the faded traces of the blood spilled here still linger on the stone.”

   Torches burned in the night, guiding them down the road ahead. Shadows in the nooks writhed against Adofo’s perception, taking on an animated sentience. Spectres detached themselves from their surroundings, testing their steel against one another. Ichor, sleek like spilled oil, sprayed from every wounded apparition onto the cobblestones.

   As quick as the illusion came, the world shifted back into normalcy. He recalled the faces of some he knew before death. As fading ghosts, they had arisen, fated to die like they had those many moons ago.

   Breaking the illusion, Adofo realized Kalb won the wager before anyone said otherwise. Revealed by torchlight, he spied the decayed remnants of an old battle. A mosaic painted in the deceased’s faded blood, their bones scattered about in every alcove and storm drain. Some skeletons still wore their armor, almost eaten through with an oxidized filth.

   Kalb spoke. His voice came lower. “Children of the Sun must rarely venture into the Ardent Spire. They did not even clean up the bloodshed left in our wake, not even after all these years.”

   Elmas shielded her features behind a silk sleeve. She said, “It must have smelled like an abandoned butcher’s shop here for sometime. It reeks like death even now.”

   “Whatever you do, Elmas,” Kalb said, “don’t ask about the past repeating itself. You’re going to jinx us this time, I know it.”

   Beside Adofo, Elmas didn’t spare Kalb a glance. She spoke, “I’m too superstitious to even think about it.”

   Magar said, “Looks like you’ve jinxed us yourself, Kalb. Someone’s lantern approaches up ahead, from the left bend where the road forks before that old tower.”

   Map bundled between her fingers, Elmas pointed toward the tower. “Auspicious, maybe ominous. It depends on our approaching guests. We’ve arrived at the Forlorn Eyrie, Lord.”

   Adofo took in the crumbling stone avalanche piled atop the tower’s broken foundation. The Forlorn Eyrie appeared to be nothing more than a tragic disaster. Leagues of urban sprawl lay demolished around it.

   He spoke into the dead quiet, each word echoing into Gorum’s bowels. “Are you certain of this? Hand the map over. This cannot be right.”

Elmas flicked a hand out toward him. The weathered parchment bundled between her leather-gloved fingers. She said, “Lady Shoushan wouldn’t be so careless, lord. Our path into the Old Ruin leads through the abandoned tower before us.”

Kalb paced back and forth between dark alcoves within arm’s reach of the unit. He said, “A tower? It is a crumbling ruin, broken down to its foundations. It would come down upon us the moment we fool ourselves into thinking the path is safe.”

Another Bloodsworn spoke. “I’ll hasten to remind everyone of these approaching strangers. They haven’t appeared to notice us yet. If you’re wanting to avoid a confrontation, we should decide now.”

Kalb said, “if they cannot see us, then these warriors must have a great sense of premonition about them.”

Magar spoke, “There must be another route. The Old Ruin lies beneath the entire city. Several passages should exist for every area of the Zar District we borrow into.”

Adofo whistled to silence the others. He said, “Kalb speaks the truth. The Forlorn Tower appears ruined and could fall down on us if we took that path. Alas, we will not have an alternative in the next minute.”

Elmas finished the First Blade’s thought. She spoke, “Then we take the risk. There will be a confrontation and spilled blood. We can seek an alternative route out afterward.”

“Elmas,” Adofo said, “assign five brethren to your unit. Hide yourselves in the stairwell where it bends up toward the higher outlook. Remain out of sight. Magar, choose another five for your team. Tuck yourselves back behind the colonnades on our left, deep in the alcove there.

“Kalb, you have command over every torchbearer and any remaining warriors. You will stand your ground beside me. Have each bearer plant their torches somewhere they can remain upright on their own. Plant one torch in each general direction, like a circle around our perimeter.”

Elmas spoke, “Your will, lord.”

Magar confirmed, “At once, First Blade.”

Kalb failed to acknowledge the order. Adofo followed his gaze toward the approaching light in the dark. All the warriors in their unit went about their task without being told. Instead, the seasoned warrior turned back to Adofo upon being on their own. 

“A sound strategy,” Kalb said. “You’ve always had a better head on you. Did it shake you at all, walking through that haunted path?”

Adofo spoke, “I’ve the Bloodsworn to guide toward our destination. Memories won’t tear down my courage nor my will to live. It’s an abandoned path, Kalb, nothing more.”

“I didn’t mean the Spire, brother,” Kalb said. “You think we’ll ever leave the Golden Valley? Would the Children of the Sun truly hand us our freedom one day and tell us to never return?”

Adofo paused, hearing Kalb’s Bloodsworn returning out of the shadows to join them. In their wake, a dim firelight burned about the lone road. The world inside their lit sphere danced against the dark. Adofo looked back at Kalb before anyone came within earshot.

Adofo asked, “Are you afraid of death? You think the shadows will drag us screaming into the Old Ruin?”

“No,” Kalb stated. “All I want to avoid is dying in this cursed place. Something doesn’t feel right. You know I’m prepared to do so for any man or woman here, even Elmas. Gods spare me their cruelty. I just wanted to know what First Blade Adofo thought about my question. If the best of us cannot answer, there isn’t much reason to hope, is there?”

Adofo said, “I believe we’ll walk out of Gorum one day. Should the time ever come, we’ll have to endure in our current lives to see it.”

Kalb spoke, “I’ll trust your judgement. You have the better head, brother. Always have.”

Their brethren rushed back to the center of the road, falling into single rank and file to block the path. Kalb and Adofo anchored themselves at the unit’s center. In unison, the Bloodsworn unslung round shields, wide enough to protect the bearer from knees to collarbone. A metallic rim hardened each shield, complemented with a wicked spike embossed in the center.

He heard blades un-sheathed from their scabbards. Shields locked together from one flank to the next.

An authoritative Qin’sar, a noble blooded warrior born among the Children of the Sun, emerged out into the light. Scarred russet skin, draped with the same cream and crimson robes all Zar’qin wore into battle, shone beneath the sphere’s light. A heavy scale mail suit protected them further, complemented with a sapphire satin cloak, dancing out behind him. A sash and tabard of similar colored material lent him a greater air of royalty.

The Child of the Sun stood three heads over Kalb, the tallest in the unit. An imposing giant, Adofo had never seen his like before, rattling the cobblestone road underneath a purposeful stride. He didn’t share the appearance of any Kharanite, another race of giants possessed of similar height. His physical frame appeared to burgeon with muscle, as opposed to the gaunt bodies of the giants eking out an existence on the Kharan Badlands.

A heavy helm tucked under an arm, the sapphire plume brushing against the giant’s knee marked him as an Exalted–an officer for the Qin’sar. A bare head marked the Exalted, save a short mohawk running along the scalp. A vertical scar streaked down a granite face from hairline to chin, several lesser scars etched around the greatest.

The Exalted said, “Anahid’s lantern guide your way, brave wanderers. And you’ve wandered quite far, I’d wager. Though I’d be remiss not asking about the other Bloodsworn journeying into the Spire with you? A First Blade wouldn’t lose a warrior on a quiet track through this lone road. Shouldn’t a Zar understand his way through the district where the masters keep his kin?”

Kalb spoke, “The only man lost here is you, Exalted. A Child of the Sun wandering alone in this maze of ghosts? You should see you only tread farther into your own demise.”

“Kalb,” Adofo said. He turned back to the Exalted standing just beyond the unit’s reach. “Exalted, our journey through the forgotten places has left us anxious and weary. Forgive our asking, but why do you seek us out without warning?”

The Exalted spoke, “Your bloodhound speaks the truth. I know Kalb, and he is used to stepping beyond boundaries. I know you too, Adofo, but only in name. Honor compels me to ask only once. Lay down all weapons and reveal your compatriots hidden in ambush.”

Adofo said, “Are you asking us to surrender? Do you have some accusation behind your request?”

Adrenaline coursed underneath Adofo’s skin. A quickening heart beat inside of his chest like a war drum. He knew the Child of the Sun had noticed when the noble clutched a halberd in one heavy gauntlet.

The Exalted spoke, “So be it. May you all die as you have lived.”

Adofo commanded the Blood sworn and their formation tightened. They readied themselves to receive a charge. Yet the Exalted withheld himself. The Child of the Sun whistled, a brief musical note fading into the night.

Hidden behind the bend at the forked road, rustling swept out of the night. Another three burning spheres rushed out toward them, rivaling the speed of a running warrior. Unveiled by bright fires, Adofo made out an oncoming horde. An entire patrol quaked the cobblestone path underfoot. Sixty Children of the Sun, equipped in their superior arsenal of cataphract scale armor and satin clothing.
« Last Edit: January 9, 2022, 10:42:42 PM by Myen'Tal »
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Alienscar

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #253 on: January 11, 2022, 07:07:13 AM »
Quote from: myen'Tal
I'm currently backtracking and doing a full pass across Act I to tackle a number of issues.

The main problem that I'm seeking to address with this pass is purple prose & dialogue tags, etc.

Here is roughly the same excerpt I posted previously, but with all the implemented revisions made in the editing pass. It will read quite different.

Wow you certainly don't mind working hard that is for sure. How do you find the time?

I hope you don't mind, but I have to say that I find 'Ashes of Genesis' to be too contradictory to work. Ashes are the remains of something burnt whilst genesis is the origin of something.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2022, 06:17:28 PM by Alienscar »
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Honestly Alienscar, we get it... you dont like painting!

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #254 on: January 11, 2022, 01:10:10 PM »
q[uote=myen'Tal]I'm currently backtracking and doing a full pass across Act I to tackle a number of issues.

The main problem that I'm seeking to address with this pass is purple prose & dialogue tags, etc.

Here is roughly the same excerpt I posted previously, but with all the implemented revisions made in the editing pass. It will read quite different.

Wow you certainly don't mind working hard that is for sure. How do you find the time?

I hope you don't mind, but I have to say that I find 'Ashes of Genesis' to be too contradictory to work. Ashes are the remains of something burnt whilst genesis is the origin of something.
[/quote]

Hi Alienscar,

Good to see you, it's been a bit  :). You ever get the leak in the water pipe fixed?

Well you get out of a project what you invest into it - that's why I don't mind  :). I try to put in about 2-3 hours of writing after work if I feel up to it or determine I have enough time to do it. Other than that, I try to get a lot done on weekends  ;D.

Thanks for your opinion on the chapter title. Do you think 'Fires of Genesis' will work better?

Thanks!
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Alienscar

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #255 on: January 12, 2022, 06:09:44 AM »

Thanks for your opinion on the chapter title. Do you think 'Fires of Genesis' will work better?

Thanks!

To be honest, no I don't think Fires of Genesis would work better. Generally speaking a phrase requires a verb and a noun to work, so two nouns (fires & genesis') don't really work.

I think maybe you are trying to use the wrong word by using genesis.

Genesis means the origin, or beginning of something, so by writing 'Fires of genesis' you have said fires of beginning. I would hope you agree that this doesn't work. Also genesis is used to describe the beginning/origin of something, so by just using genesis on its own the reader is left hanging.

For example:

The genesis of life on earth.

The genesis of the civil rights movement.


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Honestly Alienscar, we get it... you dont like painting!

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #256 on: January 12, 2022, 01:28:41 PM »
Understood, I will cast that chapter name into the fire then.

Thanks for the feedback  :).
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Alienscar

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #257 on: January 13, 2022, 10:05:45 AM »
Probably not a lot of help as you are working with a real editor now, but here are a few thoughts.

Quote
Leagues of urban sprawl lay demolished around it


A league is three mile in length, so now your description of the forked road and a tower becomes confused. Adofo and crew can see the tower clearly, but the tower is separated from the road by more than three miles of rubble!

Quote
We’ve arrived at the Forlorn Eyrie, Lord.
The Forlorn Tower appears ruined and could fall down on us

Forlorn Tower, or Forlorn Eyrie?

Quote
Several passages should exist for every area of the Zar District we borrow into.

Did you mean to write burrow?

Quote
Plant one torch in each general direction, like a circle around our perimeter

This doesn’t really describe anything as the expression ‘general direction’ is too vague to mean anything.

I think something more direct would be better: Set up the torches in a circle around us.


Quote
Hidden behind the bend at the forked road, rustling swept out of the night.

This is an incomplete sentence, or more precisely the thoughts aren’t connected enough to make sense.

Also I would say ‘behind’ is the wrong word to describe something out of sight around a bend. I also think you are making this one phrase work too hard. You are trying to describe something hidden and the road layout at the same time, and it doesn’t quite work. Additionally describing a sound as hidden doesn’t make sense as sound is invisible.

What about something like...

In the distance, where the road forked to the left, a rustling sound growing ever louder could be heard.

Quote
Sixty Children of the Sun, equipped in their superior arsenal of cataphract scale armor and satin clothing.

This is another sentence in which the thoughts aren't quite connected enough to make complete sense.

Quote
Adofo made out an oncoming horde. An entire patrol quaked the cobblestone path underfoot. Sixty Children of the Sun,

Describing the size of the opposing forces three times in such a small paragraph really slows the pace. As the aim of this paragraph appears to be the sudden appearance of a horde then I would say it needs to be more direct so as to provide more pace to the action.

For example:

In the distance, where the road forked to the left, a rustling sound growing ever louder could be heard. Suddenly, from around the bend, sixty Children of the Sun appeared rushing towards them. From the light of the lanterns Adofo could make out that the Children were much better equipped for war than his forces were.


Quote
Hidden behind the bend at the forked road, rustling swept out of the night. Another three burning spheres rushed out toward them, rivaling the speed of a running warrior. Unveiled by bright fires, Adofo made out an oncoming horde.

You have described the fork in the road as being close to the Eyrie, but you have described the Eyrie as being surrounded by three mile of rubble. This means the Children of the Sun are having to run for three mile before they engage Adofo.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2022, 03:58:35 AM by Alienscar »
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Honestly Alienscar, we get it... you dont like painting!

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #258 on: January 13, 2022, 12:42:58 PM »
Hey Alienscar,

Thank you for the feedback. Appointment with the editor is still a little ways away, so I don't mind the suggestions at all. You made good points, so I'll definitely make those changes in the next writing session.
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

 


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