Monthly Archives: October 2014

It Figures: The Undead (First Form)

Because in the end you need to show, not tell

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Yes! I tried, I’m telling you the red-eye reduction is NOT WORKING!!

Hand over my heart (still there, thank goodness!) I did not think what week it was until I started writing this post. How gruesomely appropriate, that some deep-slumbering portion of my consciousness thought “yeah, and after the covers, take a week off and THEN do some of the Undead”. As I always say, it’s better to be lucky than good.

WHO:

The Lands of Hope have been blessed, in that the evil races and nations once Created with Nokia Refocuscontrolling it were ejected two thousand years earlier. Not surprisingly, adventure and peril were thin on the ground until recently: but the one threat that has always, if distantly, been there was the curse of Undeath, discovered in the first days of Hope’s battle against Despair and today something their descendants can never be sure has been exterminated. As the half-mad sage Faltus Fanem makes clear in his journal– aptly titled The Nameless Tome, as excerpted in Judgement’s Tale— it is really a plague of fear, which the liche-thane Wolga Vrule discovered and spread to the dismay of all succeeding generations.

Today I shall focus on what Fanem called First Form Undead, including skeletons and gaunts. These unfortunates have had their physical bodies pulled back to animation after death, and forced to do the bidding of the necromancer. In the absence of such instructions they generally await orders, moving only to destroy any living thing that comes near.

WHY:

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Classic black wash over white bones. Like red food dye and chocolate syrup in the movies.

First, because as I mentioned Undead beings are among the only challenges the current heroes of the Lands face on  a regular basis. Necromancy confers powerful advantages on the sorceror, enough to make one question whether the scales are fairly balanced (and I cannot answer that question with any certainty). No matter what a being wants, whatever their record of good deeds in life or their desires after death, it was possible for an enemy to drag their corporeal form back into servitude as First Form undead. The length of time since death certainly does not matter; and once created, the servitors evidently last for all time until destroyed. No ongoing strain for the summoner, no limit on the number summoned, no value-added taxes, and no union strikes. Makes me want to climb a tall set of stairs, bang on the door and demand to know who the hell’s in charge of all this.

But more than that, undeath takes advantage of the innate horror all Children of Hope have, of death and what lies beyond it. The supreme irony which Vrule discovered is that this fear is precisely what makes people vulnerable to being raised in the first place. And once the living catch sight of gaunts or skeletons shambling their way, the fear is guaranteed to last their remaining lives. Thus Fanem spoke of Vrule’s cursed discovery as a “plague of fear”. Very few resist it.

Skeletons, as the name implies, are just the bone structure of a former being; usually raised after a long period, skeletons also form if the necromancer summons a being whose body was burned (it appears to be somewhat harder, but not impossible to do this– thus the precautions of Hope in cremating the dead are not much protection). Skeletons, once chopped sufficiently, lose spiritual and bodily coherence and do not Created with Nokia Refocusrise again. Gaunts, however, are another matter. More freshly killed, for example in battle, gaunts have flesh and organs– particularly the heart, which the necromancer uses to create a more lasting impression. Gaunts need to be cut into pieces too small to do harm before the threat is quelled; that, or destroying the receptacle where the summoner has stored the hearts, are the only way to succeed.

These are by far the most common undead of the First Form. Briefly, there have been scattered reports by untrustworthy adventurers of mummified beings (buried in the Bedou-uu fashion) which are similarly mindless but possessed of unusual powers to repel Hopeful beings. And by “repel” I mean they can strike a full-armored Pious Warrior and generate a shock that hurls him bodily across the room. Tentatively called “RapsCreated with Nokia Refocus(also spelled “wraps), there is much more research to be done in this area, one in which the Sages are far more enthusiastic than the adventurers for some reason. And then there are Ghouls, awful beings which make an appearance in The Eye of Kog (next year); in short, they only think they’re undead.

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A side of the undead our heroes rarely see…

At some later date, when I’ve got my courage back I may show some of the Second Form undead, who tend to be either incorporeal or who have significant control over their own actions. The Lands occasionally see vampires, ghosts and revenants– oh my.

HOW:

No huge changes this time. My expectations keep rising, and I’m once again becoming frustrated that  I can’t get close enough (but now I’m trying for a face-shot without cropping in post). I couldn’t seem to get the proper sense of dross, dried blood and rot to show, so I turned off the main overhead light. And I “settled” for some out of focus, both background and foreground, to hopefully heighten the mood of ick.

Created with Nokia RefocusThe larger gaunt is one of my favorite figurines because he’s clearly a former Child of Hope gone terribly wrong. The Southern Empire, scene of The Plane of Dreams and the Shards of Light series, had become fairly decadent in the past two or three centuries. Some of the noble classes fell for a fad of “daring the demons”, by refusing to cremate on their deaths but to be buried instead, as Despair always did, in secret kemetaria. The Stealthic Feldspar discovers one in Old Cryss during his investigations in Fencing Reputation:

To my left in the nook of the next corner was a small area ringed with a low, two-foot fence of metal spikes; I caught only a glimpse of the irregular rows of stone markers within and turned my head away with a snap. I had heard the stories, but hoped like most children that this one wasn’t true. No such luck- they had really done it, those grand fools of long ago. So proud, so eager to show their spirit even in death, they had built a kemetaria, and allowed their bones to be put under the earth- an added challenge for their souls, to rise despite the odds and still attain heaven. Confident and sure, they had put their flesh into the ground, like the children of Despair. No wonder death had rained down on this place.

This dope was one of those, I don’t doubt, and thus deserves whatever happens to him. I picture him like this, richly dressed and fairly intact, as bereft of sense now as he was in life. Whether he actually rises and stalks the world, I won’t yet say.

Created with Nokia RefocusI hope you enjoyed this Halloween treat; perhaps this sight, or something coming up during trick-or-treating, will inspire you when it’s time for your heroes to face the undead. As the wise-mouth Alendic says to Cedrith in the upcoming conclusion to Judgement’s Tale:

“You see, with the undead, it is very simple: either you beat them, or you join them.” “You make the situation marvelous clear,” Cedrith managed, and Alendic laughed, quite literally in the face of death.

Join in here with your comments and feedback. It’s fun, and much less damaging! {And if your heart’s not in it… well, what are you?}

It Figures: By the Cover

Because in the end, you have to show, not tell.

A bit of a departure this week, I’ll be showing you more- and less- than the figures that “figure” in my tales. I freely admit I don’t always have the right one; sometimes it would take more than one anyway. But this is what concerns you- there’s another picture, one that all our readers see before deciding to download our work. Our covers are also worth a thousand words, as they say, and you have to show them this one, like it or not.

WHAT:

My faithful publisher has gone to great lengths to help boost my career; I should have known it was only a matter of time before Katharina Gerlach got around to a digital makeover for my tales. The first two books in my series Shards of Light are on tap today; see what you think.

WHY:

The Ring and the Flag was the first tale I published online (together with Three Minutes to Midnight, not part of this series). I cobbled together a cover based on a map of the area that Justin, the hero, operates in. I knew it wasn’t professional: but the image in Justin’s mind, of that land igniting in civil war if he failed in his mission, was a good one I thought. And the map itself hinted at some level of detail in the world I was introducing. Enough apology- here it is, and now the new cover by its side.

Ring_and-Flag_2011   Shards of Light I - 259x400Notice several things here. The new copy is better-shaped, looks more like a book cover and less like a poster. Plus, the smokey flavor of the first one, the scorches and brown marks, just failed, full stop.

Big make-overs are easy to see and appreciate. As for the critter in question, it is indeed a gryphon and that is indeed an important part of the plot. Here’s mine:

Created with Nokia RefocusThe hero of this tale, Justin, I’m not going to show you. And I’m not going to tell you why yet either. Suffice to say, the tale continues and there may come a time. It is enough, for me, that I can see him.

With Fencing Reputation, the hero Feldspar presents a different problem. It’s not that his figurine isn’t right. It’s that there are too many of him! But first, the cover-compare.

Fencing_Reputation_2011  Shards of Light II - 259x400

What can you say, right?  The difference is subtle, yet clearly better even before you get to the common elements with the one above (like the Hope symbol in the corner, common type-face etc.)

By exploiting a common feel for the series (two tales still to go in Shards of Light and I’m in love with both covers already!), I hope to raise visibility and bring the story-arc together. Even the color scheme is similar; I think they look like series-covers now.

As for Feldspar himself, the question is, what does he really look like? And the answer: depends what the job is. He is, at some point in a typical week, everyone you see here:

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HOW:

Created with Nokia RefocusI’ll try to stop repeating myself to faithful readers of the series. I used the wooden tray this time for a more natural look, but I think the sheen is actually a bit of a problem. Did not try to add light; maybe I should spring for a good desk lamp like the ones in the Pixar logo. As for the covers, of course Katharina took care of all that and credits the design course she recently took, but I’m well aware of the time and effort, and let’s face it, knack that this work requires. I can stare at a cover all day and my dull brain just says “done”. But when Kat showed me these… I began to pick up on the differences.

Hey, maybe I should get a makeover too? I guess there are limits…  but give me your Created with Nokia Refocusthoughts about the rest of it! And if you’re new this week, welcome and feel free to look back at the previous It Figures entries. I’m hoping they will spur you to some new thoughts about your own writing or reading. What would you expect from these tales, judging by their new covers?