Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Creating names for the besieged cities

In the complex art that is writing, one of the most difficult things for me is naming.

The names of some of  my characters come naturally from I don't know where. Some I've never heard before and it turns out they are real names (like "Ogden"), some are just names I like or that fit a character:
- Lany
- Ogden
- Markus
- Regis
- Karyn
- Isabella
- Jason...

Some, I have to really work on for a while, like the names of the Comanche (they are actually all real names).

But the hardest thing for me is naming places and cities. I struggle because I can't just make up cool names: since Yaghan is supposed to have been colonized by Earth, I think the colonists would have used names they knew and loved, and modified them as time passed. So I have to really figure out cool variations of real names, as well as figure out which communities emigrated where, so that I can place the cities in the right places. Tricky.

I really struggled for months, and then I remembered a writer's advice: to get good at it, work on it.

So I just took the list of all the capitals of the world, and started working on them, modifying the order of the syllables, adding some, removing some... And I finally came up with a few names that I actually like. I want to present them to you because as I showed them to friends, it became apparent that some that I did not like very much turned out to be really good and conversely. So here is a little list.

- Ondinia (from "londinium", London).
- Pirea (for the Athenian port, the Pirée)
- Istan (Istanbul)
- Shekako ( old algonquin name for Chicago)
- New Eofor (New- York)
- Denhagen (denmark, copenhagen)
- Ersalim (old Jerusalem)
- Kuala Syurga (from Kuala Lumpur, confluent of mud, here, syurga == heaven).
- Madhjerit (Madrid)
- Tawwa (Ottawa)
- Ashtown (Washington)
- Dajijing (from Beijing, means "great new city")

I look forward to your feedback!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A few inhabitants of Yaghan

Cassandra

Cassandra is a native from the Archipelago. She has webbed feet and lightly webbed hands (just a very thin layer of skin). Her hair is blue, even though it doesn't serve a real purpose and the mutation seems useless, it could be a side effect of the expression of one other gene, or just a cosmetic effect due to the belief of people that mermaids have blue hairs and things like that. Remember, on Yaghan, where magic is real, belief is sometimes more important than cause and effect.

She is a fisher on board of a small and fast fishing boat. The waters of Yaghan are dangerous with numerous large predators that could be compared to Earth's dinosaurs, and of course, the ever present menace of the morlocks. There are relatively few morlocks at sea and they are mostly solitary (except on one of the islands of the Arhipelago, were it is said that there is a whole horde that lives mostly underseas). The morlocks encountered at sea can be thought of as sharks, solitary hunters that are extremely dangerous.

Cassandra can swim very well thanks to her adaptations, and she has a pair of gills behind the ears. Those are not sufficient to breath indefinitely underwater, but it does help her staying under longer (ten to twenty minutes), also thanks to a third lung in her chest. It is a small organ that actually stores oxygen providing a sort of secondary, emergency supply. She mainly dives with her brother Kahmel, they take turns watching each other's back. They rely on their last ability, a kind of sonar, that enables them to detect unusual movements around them. They are extremely well trained, and know the movement patterns of most sea creatures, which is how they know when a morlock is nearby, because they give off a weird "signal".

She mainly fishes precious crustaceans and algae because her boat, that needs to be very fast to escape predators, can't haul much cargo. She fishes a kind of shellfish that has a large round  shell that is extremely hard and well suited to build shields and to add armor to structures. She also tries to find "knifeshells" a kind of long crustacean that cuts extremely well and is about 10 inches long by one inch wide, making great daggers that cut better than most steel weapons. Finally, she fishes "lemon seaflowers", a kind of algae that is shaped like the flower of a rose, tastes like lemon, and has great curative properties for a variety of diseases. She also fishes "spiderwebs", an algae shaped like, you guessed it, a spider's web and that is very resilient and suited to make lightweight cordage that doesn't degrade because of salt water.

 Cassandra loves the sea, despite the obvious dangers, and she loves the fact that she gets to sail around the globe selling her products to the coastal colonies of Petrel's Rock, New Ergane, and sometimes even the Living Cities of the Rainforest. She dislikes the Callistan Magiocracy with a passion though, because they are extremely racist towards mutant humans, and will never sell to them even if she can make a great profit. She is a solitary soul, that enjoys the long hours being alone with just her boat, her brother and their friend, captain Leon Griffold. She'd like to settle one day and dreams of a family with numerous babies, but her love of the sea has been greater so far.

Gwern Ronces

Gwern is a middle-aged mercenary that comes from the Thorn Forest, in the northern part of the Great Rainforest.

The Roncians are a peculiar people. They have evolved a particularly weird way of protecting themselves from the morlocks: they have turned into living brambles (note: yes, there are similarity with the blood elves of Earthdawn. This is meant as an homage).

Gwern's skin is rugged and thick, the color and texture of the bark of an old oak, with lots of hard cysts and nodules that make it even tougher. But the most striking of his features are his hair. They are tousled, messy and disheveled. They used to be a nice, deep black but he has more and more streaks of grey and dark green as time passes, like the color of dark bramble leafs. It is not the only similarity with brambles though: they are very thick and quite unpleasant to touch I must say, and their tips are hard as steel. In fact, Gwern can actually harden them as will, turning them in a literal crown of thorns. This is why Gwern's skin (and his people's), is as thick as it is, to prevent puncturing it with his own hair.

This peculiar mutation has enabled the Roncians to live in the thick of the forest, where normal humans would constantly get stung by all the nasty plants. Instead, they build cities using the magic known as "Tree Shaping", like in the Living Cities on the southern part of the continent, to mold trees into walls, fences, gates and houses. Their ramparts are inextricable meshes of thorns that are as strong as they  are impassable.

The Roncians are a simple people, they are mostly hunters/gatherers. Their living cities do not need a lot of maintenance, so they can leave them for weeks at a time, and they usually go from one to the next as they follow their quarry. Because of that the morlocks tend to ignore them, as the monsters tend to attack anything that is not natural. The Cities of Thorns tend to blend in and thus are, most of the time, left alone. Also, the fact that the Roncians are all tick and thorny makes them quite unpleasant to eat, and the morlocks like normal humans better.

Gwern has started traveling, like most, because of a desire to see the world. He is torn between the simple, close-knit community life and his need to see the greater world. Unfortunately for him, the Roncians are seen as simple people, almost barbaric, and he has faced the prejudices of many communities. He especially hates the Callistans and will refuse to work for them whatever the price (not that they would hire him anyway). He feels torn between his need to see his family and the communal life of the Roncians, and the freedom of travelling. So far, wanderlust has been stronger but one day, he might settle and bring back his tremendous military expertise to his city. The unfortunate thing is that he is now very  different from his kind, and might come back a stranger in his own land.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Magic on Yaghan

Yaghan is a very magical place. There are two reasons for it. First, the influence of the Twin Suns do seem to play a role in the ambient "energy" in the air. But second, reality is extremely malleable. The reason for this is up for debate, but people are starting to realize that the fact that there is so little sentient means reality is not fixed by the collective culture of society. It also as a reinforcing effect: when people started to see magical acts, they started believing... And reinforced the idea that magic was possible.

That said, there are very few real magicians on Yaghan.

The collective beliefs of humanity seem to direct evolution, in a Lamarckist sense: people wish they had such and such adaptation, and their offspring are born with them. They then get selected or not through normal Darwinist evolution, of course. This explains countries such as the Living Cities of the Great Rainforest, where people are almost not human anymore (tails, short oily fur...), and places like the Magiocracy of Callista where mutations are shunned,  and mutant babies killed at birth. As a result there is far fewer mutant babies to start with.

The real magicians are called Shapers, because they "Shape" reality to their will; The greater the effect, and the less likely it is in the first place, the greater the Drain, fatigue that occurs after the effect takes place. As a result, a lot of Shapers practice what could be called "spells", effects they know and have rehearsed, of which they more or less know the drain involved. Improvised magic is tricky and can get you killed very quickly.

A Shaper is distinctive in the Astral Plane because his soul shines brightly: it's called and Awoken Anima. All Shapers share the same distinctive trait, golden sparks somewhere on their bodies, usually the eyes, but not always. Most of them have a limited perimeter of thing they can affect, an affinity with an element, or with some kind of magic, and mostly can't do anything else. It could be an affinity with metal, with water, with the human body... They are sometimes called "Water Wielders", or "Wind Wielders", and so on, but it's an approximation, and they should not be mistaken for the other types of magicians of Yaghan, those with innate powers but a sleeping Anima. Essentially, the Shapers do what other sleepers do consciously through an alteration of reality, whereas sleepers do so in the same way that they breathe or run.

Most Shapers are limited by their beliefs (lifting a ton should be impossible, so they can't really picture themselves doing so), by an unknown factor where they can't control some things (they can affect only water for example, everything else is static to them),  by their magical training, and by the innate strength of their Anima.

So far, Erg, the hero of the novel, is the only one able to affect reality globally and on a much larger scale.

There seems to be a link between the "elements" involved and the abilities of shapers: each Shaper has abilities to modify the outside world, but also their own self. Water Shapers often have mind powers, Earth Shapers can modify their strength, Wood Shapers their healing abilities, Fire Wielders their stamina and Metal wielders their speed. These are general considerations though and there are many exceptions based on the beliefs of each individual Shapers.

Most Shapers, if conbat able, are seen as Elite Soldiers in the War against morlocks. When they are too old to fight, they retire and become "City Pillars", people that help wherever their talents are more helpful. The fact that reality is more static in cities still really encourages Shapers to travel, and it is also seen by officials as a way to control them and make sure their abilities don't give them too many ideas.

A few example of Shapers: the crew of the Veronica.
- Erg's able to do anything but his favorite elements are Wind, Metal and Fire. He fights by making his blades impossibly sharp, moving at an incredible speed, and if he can get his hands on something that burns (like buckets of coals provided by the crew) he creates fireballs and explosions.
- Ogden is an Earth Shaper, and is impossibly strong. There are actually no limit to his strength, but he does not realize it. He wields gigantic weapons that he only can carry.
- Jason manipulates the ambient moisture to cripple his enemies (drying their eyes and so on), and is also a gifted Wood Wielder. In a jungle environment, he can direct the growth of trees to entangle you and so on. He is also a gifted swordsman.
- Karyn is also a Water wielder, and has the power to blend with her surroundings.
- Isabella is a potent Wind Wielder and can create gusts of wind to disorient her opponents.

Mundane magic is very different. It's abilities that are innate, usually that can't evolve much through practice (although, training always helps), and is very cultural. As the people on Yaghan start to differentiate, more types of mundane magic appears.

A few examples?

  • The Wind Wielders of the Great Plains. An ability that has evolved because of the threat of constant tornadoes, Wind Wielders can modify the weather and even create gusts of winds that are focused enough to knock back an opponent
  • Healers are common in every community, people that can help the body regenerate, that instinctively feel what is wrong, that can help the blood clot and so on. 
  • Skinchangers of the Lower Rainforest: these people live a symbiotic life with small animals that they use for combat and hunting. Some people are starting to show the ability to morph portions (or all) of their bodies in animal form.
  • Musicians: A rare ability, exhibited only by Lany so far, to change emotions profoundly on the people hearing the music played by the magician. He can lull somebody to sleep, literally. 
  • Psionic powers are common in the Magiocracy, with more and more people able to astral project, and to confuse people. Mind reading is so far impossible, or if it is, it's not known, but the psionics are able to influence behavior, help a body or a mind heal and so on
  • Spirit Magic: Spirits are a real thing and some shamans are able to communicate with them and ask them to lend them their powers, thereby enabling them to do real "Shaping" even though their Anima is asleep
  • Tree Magic is an essential of the Living Cities, with people able to communicate with trees, direct their growth and so on.
  • Dreamers believe they can change the world through their dreams. They are taken as lunatics, but careful inspection would show that cities where a Dreamer dwell actually do better than other... Are more "lucky" in a way... So maybe they do change reality, after all. 
  • Some inhabitants of the jungle can create electrostatic fields, an ability that appeared to zap insects but that has numerous combat and technical abilities. 
  • In mountainous environments, more and more people acquire an innate relationship with Earth and can feel metal veins, can discern the weakness of a rock and so on. 
  • The darians are people that hid underground and who forsake the use of their eyes. They use a sonar to echolocate. Some of them can also blend in shadows. 
  • Some tribes of the Desert have evolved the practice of henna tattoos. Their beliefs that the tattos have magical powers actually do empower them.
  • The Tribes of the Plains have a special relationship with their horses, that can communicate telepathically, also, many of them have a gift called The Eyes of the Eagle, that enable them to see many times farther than normal people. In the northern plains, where there is a lot of Blade Grass, a type of grass that is coated in sharp metal, the inhabitants have evolved metal skin, their skin can turn metallic and resistant to cuts.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The Law of the Plains, chapter 16 (and last chapter!)

(This is chapter 16 of the Law of the plains. In the previous chapter, Kanaretah, the War Chief of the Tribe fell before the horde. The whole tribe has perished. Is it over?)

Tabbananica and Bowahquasuh had to really work to loose the razorcats. They had distanced the youngest ones easily, but the older males were almost as fast as the braves' horses. In the end, it was just a stamina contest. The horses could maintain a brisk pace longer, so after a few hours of a deadly race, the predators finally gave up. Wisely, the hunters still pressed on for a little while before stopping and changing mounts. It was time to return to the tribe and Tabbananica, using his gift, started to look for signs of the convoy.

He finally caught sight of the cloud of dust that hinted at the presence of horses, focused his Eagle Eyes… And blanked for a second. He took another look, unable to comprehend what he saw, and another one, all color draining from his face. Then he realized, he was not dreaming, it was all real. He screamed in despair, a long scream that spooked the horses and hurt his throat and ears, a scream that was as hideous as the spectacle that laid before him. He clawed his face with his nails, he wanted to pluck his remaining eye out, he would have done anything to stop the nightmarish vision, but he could not look away. It was his tribe, his people, his family…

"What is going on?" asked Bowahquasuh. He asked the question but he already knew the answer. Nothing else could have horrified his friend, nothing but...
"Morlocks. They are all dead".

In silence, they waited for the horde to leave the scene of its atrocious crime. They did not speak, there was nothing to say. Then finally, the horde disappeared. It was strange, for a long time it was there and just like that it was gone. Tabbananica surmised he must have had dozed off, which very well could be considering the hellish day they had gone through.

In silence still, they rode to the massacre's location. The plain was silent as a tomb. Just the muffled sound of the hooves of their horses on the soft grass and the soft sound of the wind. The wind . It kept blowing, the wind was always there and did not care of the lives of morlocks or humans. it just blew as it always did. It felt unreal, the life of the plain went on, but all around, all they could see was death. The two survivors wept as they saw the bodies of their friends horribly mangled, but it wasn't the worst part. Some people rose from the dead and turned into morlocks themselves after dying, so it was a survivor's task to ensure  eternal peace to their loved ones by stabbing them all in the skull, destroying the brain.

On they went, doing their disgusting task, body after body, corpse after corpse, stabbing the members of the tribe one by one at the base of the cranium. Bowahquasuh fell to her knees when she saw her father's remains. She did not even cry, she was beyond crying. She just knelt there, staring  at her father, as if she could bring him back by staring at him hard enough. Tabbananica got her up and made her turn away then covered the disfigured face of his friend's father.

That day, they had to drive their knives into friends, parents, loved ones, horses even. When they were done, they were mad with grief and burning with hatred and with a need for revenge. Finally they turned to the corpse of Kanaretah. She was covered with the carcass of Neraquassi. The poor horse was half-eaten but she was surprisingly spared from that fate. Maybe the morlocks finally had had enough and had moved on.

Bowahquasuh struggled to lift Neraquassi's collar in order to retrieve her Chief's body. She was panting with the effort, the horse weighed a ton and she could not move him. She almost yelled her frustration, she was on the verge of breaking down. After all the horror  of the day, even granting peace to her beloved Kanaretah was denied to her. She was about to crumble under the weight of her despair when a movement startled her. She almost fell on her butt when something moved from under Kanaretah's body.

"Quanah!" she yelled. "Tabbananica, young Quanah is alive!!".

The hunter rushed to her side to help her. Moments later, Bowahquasuh was weeping with joy as she held the young kid against her breast.

It was a miracle.

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Wind Trains of Yaghan

The main mean of transportation between major fortified cities is the famous Wind Trains.

It can come as a surprise that humanity, despite being constantly harassed by hordes of murderous creatures, managed to build railroads that cover whole continents. It is a very valid question that deserves an explanation.

The first thing that is important to understand is that the major railways actually predate the arrival of morlocks and were built by the colonists that came from Earth. This important fact actually raises another question: why did a civilization that has mastered faster than light travel (actually not exactly but I will explain this later) and that has been able to colonize a planet in a different galaxy choose to build railroads as the main mean of transport instead of more sophisticated things such as planes, or helicopters, or cars on roads?

The explanation is actually quite simple and is a combination of several factors.

The first one is resilience. Trains are sturdy, quite cheap, and their maintenance is simple compared to, say, a VTOL jet. Even more important, on a single railroad, different levels of technology can coexist: you can have a steam train, a train that runs on fossil fuels, an electric one... Railroads actually enabled remote colonies that were far away from the industrial centers of the planet to still be connected to the rest of civilization: they just had to adapt the type of train they use to the resources they had. In the most extreme cases, a train could be pulled by horses. Once the railroads were built, the infrastructure became very flexible.

Speaking of building the infrastructure, it was also one of the major reasons to favor rail over roads: building roads would have meant finding oil, refining it, and producing tar... But Yaghan is quite poor in terms of fossil fuels, making its use as a power source quite a wasteful one, and the infrastructure needed to build roads is more important than the infrastructure needed to build rails: to build a railway, you just need steel, timber, and to build a stable bank (something you would have to do to build a road anyway). Then, different colonies could use different power sources: the most advanced ones used the electricity generated by the fusion reactors that were stripped from the spacecrafts, and the most remote ones could use wood. This meant that the only infrastructure needed to transport fuel was electric cables next to the railroad, instead of pipes, fuel storage and so on if roads (or aircrafts) had been chosen.

Oh, this raises the question: why not using aircrafts?

Well, again, it was a question of infrastructure: everything had to be built from the grounds up on the planet, and manufacturing planes, helicopters or VTOL jets was far more complex that building electric trains. Moreover they are much more prone to malfunction and need more maintenance, with probably more complicated parts needed in case of repairs... Not a good choice on a planet that is mostly empty. Oh, of course every major city on major continents did have planes they could use in case of emergencies, as well as shuttles able to go in orbit but these were not suited for hauling cargo and lots of passengers.

There is also a purely practical reason  to the use of trains: the first continent to be colonized was the Great Plains, and railroads were particularly easy to build there, whereas the violent storms made flying quite dangerous. Railroads also made sense in the Rainforest, the Jungle, and the Desert, where the particularly rough terrain excluded planes and all terrain vehicles. The only continent where roads would have been a practical mean of transportation was the continent now known as Callista, but since there were factories that built trains already, it did not make sense to build something that could only be used there and they also went with trains.

So, the spacers, for a variety of reasons, built railroads between their major settlements. But after the Fall, the main cities collapsed and were largely destroyed, and the main fortified cities that rose from the ashes of the Space Age were sometimes quite far away from the original ones, the ruins of the modern cities being now hellish zones teeming with morlocks... Well, yes, that is true, but even so, building small rail sections to connect a major route to a city made way more sense than building a road from scratch, even more so with the constant menace of the morlocks. Moreover, the presence of the old rail system meant that once connected to it, the workers could flee an attack using the existing rails. They basically had to build, lets say 200 miles of railroad, then could use the remaining 4000 miles.

Building those connections still proved to be quite a challenge. Hot air balloons kept watch over the construction sites and warned the workers of coming hordes, and sometimes airlifted them to safety, delaying the project for days or weeks at a time. Thankfully the morlocks never seemed to be interested in the rails or the tools and machines left by the fleeing workers: once a section was built, the morlocks did not seem to realize its utility. This led to the discovery of an interesting fact: morlocks react very strongly to things that are not natural or polluting in any shape or form. A machine that is very noisy will trigger an attack by a horde and will be dismantled in minutes, but the same exact machine, kept silent, will be ignored. Something that produces a toxic smoke will attract a horde in the same way. Another example: a barrel of water will be ignored, whereas a barrel of oil will be destroyed. The morlocks don't actually seem to realize that by spilling the oil, they pollute the land far more than by leaving it alone: they just destroy things that are not natural in a mindless frenzy.

This has two interesting consequences: the Wind Trains, that are quite respectful of the environment (they are not very noisy, far less than if propelled by engines, and they are made of wood and steel, things that occur naturally and that don't attract the morlocks), are not usually targeted by a horde. If a train crosses the path of a horde, it will be attacked, because the morlocks will smell the humans on board, but on the other hand, a train passing by under the wind, in the distance, will be watched placidly by most hordes.

The other interesting consequence is that dedicated teams could act as bait, setting a machine that produced loud noises somewhere in the plain, far from the construction site, and then stopping it and fleeing up in the air with a balloon. Wash, rinse, repeat: this method kept most hordes busy for days.

Another mean of defense that has been used in a more recent past is the Callistan psionics. Callista is the most temperate continent on Yaghan, with the interesting consequence that there is far less physical mutations there compared to places like, say, the Rainforest, where people have evolved prehensile tails to live in trees as well as a thin oily fur to protect themselves from the humidity. This has made the Callistan quite racist, they despise any physical mutations and try to preserve the "purity" of the human race at all cost, often killing babies with unusual features. This has also led them to be very suspicious of mages. On the other hand, since they need an edge against the morlocks, they have come to trusts and revere people with mental powers. They do not realize that their belief that mental powers are superior to magic actually leads reality to adjust to produce more individual with mental powers, which is exactly how magic works: a modification of reality by the beliefs of humans. One of the mental powers that is the most useful in the war against the morlocks is the ability to attract or repel them: a few very rare individuals act as beacons that can attract a horde from hundred of miles away, or repel them in a similar fashion. This cannot be used to protect a city because it is extremely tiring, but it can be used to momentarily distract hordes when travelling in the wild.

Despite all this, disaster struck several times, leading to the death of entire crews. Some morlocks defy all known patterns and are known as Abominations. They can be loners instead of being pack animals, or react differently to things that normally attract a horde, or be immune to psionic powers... They cannot be predicted, and even with the presence of Battle Mages (the only people that can fight a morlock one on one) on every construction site, sometimes a particularly vicious monster wrecked havoc on a construction site.

Nowadays, all the ancient railroads have been connected together, and more routes are being opened to reach more isolated points of the planet. The process is painfully slow, much slower than before because of the lack of infrastructure, but there is progress nonetheless. It will take decades before some points of the planet are connected to civilization, but there is hope.

A word on Wind Trains. Why using the wind to propel the trains, and not more conventional means such as fuel or steam?

The explanation is twofold. First of all, as we have seen, they attract the morlocks much less than more technological engines. But even without this, they are actually kind of a necessity: fuel sources are scarce on Yaghan, and very hard to harvest because of the menace of the morlock hordes. Wind, on the other hand, is plentiful, especially in the Great Plains. It is also quite reliable despite what you could think, thanks to the Wind Mages. There are two types of people that can manipulate the wind: normal humans that have evolved an innate ability to manipulate the winds (it is something they can do naturally, just as we can breathe or think), or True Mages, that manipulate reality to essentially achieve the same effect. The latter are much rarer but much more powerful and typically used on military convoys, such as the flagship of Gond's fleet, the Veronica (that can be seen in the novella The Law of the Plains, and that is also one of the main "characters" of the novel I'm writing).

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Law of the Plains, chapter 15 (penultimate!)

(This is chapter 15 of the Law of the plains. In the previous chapter, the elders of the tribe, their mounts and their gifted hunting hounds fought the horde valiantly, trying to buy some time for the rest of the tribe. Despite their incredible bravery, they still all died and the horde pressed on.)

Kanaretah barked orders as she tried her best to get the tribe to disperse. She yelled so much her throat hurt and her voice croaked and broke. At the same time, she grabbed a young Nʉmʉ, almost an infant, Quanah was his name she remembered. As she was haranguing the stragglers, she held him tight against her and sent Neraquassi in a gallop.

It was useless.

She stared in utter disbelief as she saw snarling morlocks running on all fours gain ground on the horses. Some of them ran past her, trying to catch the humans that were the farthest from the horde, those that were in front of the convoy. She cried as she saw people, the very same people that she could have sworn moments ago were going to make it alive, people she knew and was supposed to protect, being cornered by the ravenous monsters.

She did not understand why the horses could not outrun the damned demons. It did not matter anymore. She grabbed her bow and dropped a few morlocks with well placed shots, but a beast pounced on Neraquassi and tore his throat open. She felt her friend's pain in her mind, it seemed she felt his pain more than her own as she hit the ground. Instinctively she had held the boy tight against her and had rolled on her back so as to break the fall and protect him, but because of that her head hit a stone. The concussion did not kill her though, even the mercy of such a quick death was denied to her. Neraquassi fell on her, breaking her leg, then morlocks swarmed the three of them and dug their filthy fangs in their helpless bodies. There was so many monsters fighting over her broken bones that she did not even know who or what killed her, but she would have been proud to know that in her last instants, she never let out the slightest cry of pain, and that she managed to pull her knife out and gut at least one of the monsters.

The whole fight wasn't one, not really. A lot of morlocks died, it was true, and the Nʉmʉ would have been proud to know how long they had managed to survive, but as Yahneequena had realized, they never had a chance. Within minutes, they were all dead and the only sounds that remained were the slow breeze rustling the grass and the morlocks feasting on their still hot bodies.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Law of the Plains, Chapter 14

(This is chapter 14 of the Law of the plains. In the previous chapter, the horde of morlocks has caught on with the tribe, despite the desperate efforts of Tabbaquena and Yahnee to slow them down.)

Kanaretah cursed the old shaman for daring to take a decision in her stead but she knew he was right. She could save more lives by doing what she did best: leading and inspiring her people. She was the War Chief.

"Disperse!" she yelled. "All the hunters and the teenagers, disperse in random directions! Take 2 horses each if you can, go in pairs! One hunter, one young! Take the closest person to you! Don't think! Move, move, move!"

The band had been paralyzed by the sight of the horde coming out of the fog. Thankfully they were galvanized by their leader's presence and decisiveness. The hunters scrambled and grabbed the nearest kids. A form of order started to emerge from the chaos, they collectively had a purpose. Kanaretah steeled her resolve. The Law of the Plains was very clear as to what had to happen next but she abhorred it. "You leave the infants behind if you can't carry them! You're not a hunter, you take arms and you give these bastards hell! Nothing else matters!" she shouted again. She did not realize it but as she said that, tears rolled down her cheeks.

Boyahwahtoyehe suddenly appeared next to her.

"You did good, dear." he said. "We are all dead anyway, we might as well try to save the few that have a chance of  surviving winter."
"Maybe they could reach Gond." she said, her voice trembling. "The city would give them asylum for winter as their Duty orders them to. Or they would send them to Petrel's Rock by Wind Train, or to a place where there is enough food…They would... "
The old Peace Chief raised his hand. "Stop. Our laws allowed us to survive the pʉetʉyai against all odds for nearly six centuries. Do not doubt them now. Go. It's time for me to die and for you to try and live."

Kanaretah knew he was right, but she hated it, she hated the Laws and her Duty. No, she hated the morlocks, the wretched beasts that had turned the plains into a hellish war zone where parents had to leave their children and rush to their deaths.
Boyahwahtoyehe raised his lance above his head. Behind him, many voices echoed him. The elders of the tribe had gathered around their leader, ready to fight.
"Go, old friend. Make the Great Spirit proud." said Kanaretah.
The horde was getting closer. They heard the winds rise, the dark morlock growl and the winds die. Time was running out. Kanaretah gave one last smile to her friend, then asked Neraquassi to head towards the stragglers. She did not look back.

As a single man, the elders of the tribe charged. Their war cry was so powerful that for a few seconds it covered the sound of the thousand morlocks  feet stomping the ground.
They all killed a morlock with their first strike. But it was only what, maybe twenty dead enemies over a thousand? It was hardly enough…And then  the horde stroked back.

Morlocks were all different. According to legends, they were humans that were once corrupted by Tanasi-pʉetʉyai, the evil Ghost King. They were mostly still humanoid in shape, but their size varied greatly. Some were 7, even 8 feet tall. Some were dwarfish creatures, no more than 4 feet tall. Some were strong, some were fast, some were both. Some had claws that could tear armors, others horns that could punch through steel. The most dangerous ones had fur that turned into blades like the razorcats, others into armor like the morduans. There was no rule, except one. They were all very hard to kill, they could survive most wounds as if they were nothing and heal them in minutes. The only way to kill them for sure was to land a killing strike, either by destroying their brain,  their heart, or inflicting enough damage for them to bleed out before they healed. The problem was, sometimes they had more than one heart, or more than one brain or did not need blood to survive. Each morlock was a particular, deadly problem.

Twenty Nʉmʉ warriors, even veterans such as those that had charged the horde, had absolutely no chance. Twenty morlocks would have killed them all, after a long fight maybe, if they were lucky enough. In front of a thousand, they could only hope to slow them down and even this hope was slim at best. So they did not even try to kill the monsters after their initial deadly charge, they just tried to incapacitate them enough by wounding their legs or blinding them by hitting their eyes. Their only hope was that the morlocks sometimes turned on each other when wounded but even that would not delay them long enough. Even if a fight broke between a hundred morlocks, the horde would keep pressing forward all the same.

Boyahwahtoyehe had landed his lance squarely in the face of a mean looking beast that was covered with chitinous plates all over its body. He spat.
"Should have worn a helmet!" he said defiantly.
He pulled his lance out with the help of the momentum of his horse and described an arc. Half by design and half by chance, because the morlocks were so packed, he grazed the face of several of them, cutting a few eyes and noses, enough damage to drive them to a frenzy and turn them on each other. One had blood drip all over his eyes and was momentarily blinded. When another crashed into him he rammed into the offender. He had barbed bony ridges on his chest and grabbed his adversary in a bear hug, crushing him. When the wretched creature went limp, the barbed morlock bit its neck and tore it open. Driven mad by the smell of blood, the other morlocks around jumped on them. Soon, the indistinct mass of fighting creatures was trampled by the horde that was still rushing forward.

Boyahwahtoyehe's heart sank. It was hopeless. Nothing would ever slow those morlocks enough for the band to make it.
Furious barking around him. The dogs of the band, huge hunting hounds that were either semi-feral or Gifted in the same ways as horses, launched themselves at the morlocks. They killed a few monsters and fought bravely. Even in their simple dogs mind, they knew they would die, but they still fought to protect the tribe. They were a part of it as much as any human or horse.
The massive, muscular canines were ferocious in their own right. They were used to hunting the dangerous beasts of the plains. They were deadly and brave and more than a match for most morlocks... But bravery did not win a fight, especially one with such odds. One by one they died, taking an enemy each in death with them. Still, it wasn't enough.

Boyahwahtoyehe lost his lance. It was jerked off his hands when it got stuck in a morlock's ribcage. He grabbed two arrows from his quiver and slammed them in the face of a small morlock that was holding his foot with arms longer that its legs, trying to topple him down. Another small one jumped on his horse's back, grasped his leather vest and finally managed to throw him to the ground. He landed heavily on his back and was momentarily stunned. He just had time to reach for his knife when a morlock with a mouth as large as its head leaped on him. It opened its maw impossibly wide, revealing three rows of teeth. Boyahwahtoyehe was not Bowahquasuh's father for nothing. With one hand he grabbed the lower jaw of the beast and pulled it towards him. The surface of the old man's skin gleamed, it was as strong as iron and the teeth did not puncture it. The morlock tried to jerk free but Boyahwahtoyehe held him tight and drove his knife in its palate, then through its brain. The thing fell on him, completely limp.
"Ha!" yelled Boyahwahtoyehe in a frenzy. "No dinner for you!"
He never knew what killed him. A huge morlock well over 8 feet, with huge hooves instead of feet, stomped on his head, crushing it. Even iron skin could not protect you from six hundred pounds falling on your face.

One by one, the Nʉmʉ elders died. They fought bravely and fiercely and their horses and their hounds were equally courageous, but they still all died. Despite these overwhelming odds, they killed an incredible number of morlocks, almost a hundred when the last Nʉmʉ fell. If anyone had been there to see that, they would have written songs about it, but there wasn't anybody. They were alone, a small band lost in the vastness of the plains.

Implacably, the horde pressed on. 

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The Law of the Plains, chapter 13

This is chapter 13 of the Law of the plains. In the previous chapter, the tribe faced a huge horde of morlocks. According to the law of the plains, Kanaretah fled to try to save the tribe. Yahnee, his horse Wakaree, and the shaman Tabbaquena stayed behind to try to slow down the horde.)

Tabbaquena saw Wakaree and Yahnee rush at the kʉtsʉtoya. He knew that they were going to die, but he was happy in his heart that the kid would do so with honor, not petrified like a spineless city dweller.

He dismounted. His own horse was not nearly as gifted as Wakaree, he would not really realize his rider was dead, so the shaman slapped on his rump and sent it back to the rest of the herd. Maybe he would be able to save himself.

The horde was closing in. They were running fast, way too fast. The tribe would never be able to escape, loaded as they were. He had to buy them time. He prayed to his spirits and asked them to help him in this last fight. He got his drum out and started playing a beat, a mean and aggressive beat, the strongest beat he had in him. As he did so, he felt his spirits come to him and lend him their powers. He started feeling as if anything was possible and in some way it was true. He was a Friend of the Wind, like Towasi, but a much more powerful one. So he mustered all the power he had in him, all the power of the spirits that walked with him, and in a great display of will, he manifested the vision he had in his mind's eye, a great tornado that would sweep the morlocks aside.

The winds started to rise and howl and scream their rage at the blasphemous presence of the morlocks. The monsters were shoved aside, they tumbled and collided against each other. For an instant, the rushing line of monsters was disrupted and fights broke out in their ranks as the winds slammed the lightest into the bigger ones.

Tabbaquena saw the disruption he had caused and he was happy in his heart. Maybe he would manage to slow them down enough after all. Sadly, he would never know. All of a sudden a great tiredness overwhelmed him and he fell to his knees. Magic was very demanding, which made it a very dangerous thing. There was always a price to pay for shaping reality and the greater the feat, the greater it was.

Creating a tornado was a great feat indeed.

Tabbaquena felt blood drip down his nose and eyes. His vision blurred, the sounds were muffled. He could only hear his heart beat like a drum against his ears, he could only faintly see his companions rush at the gigantic animal in front of him.

Yahneequena and Wakaree crashed into the kʉtsʉtoya with all the force they could muster. They had years of hunting experience and at the last moment, Wakaree jumped aside, allowing his rider to stab the beast with his short lance.  Yahneequena knew he had only one chance. Normally hunters would wear down their prey with multiple stabs but he was alone. So he went for his only chance to drop the thing. He thrust his lance in the beast's nearest eye. It was a small target but he miraculously hit it with his weight and his horse's combined, with all their speed behind it. Such a powerful strike could skewer a man, it was powerful enough to go through bone and it did. The long leaf-shaped blade punctured the animal's eye as if it was not there, destroyed the eye socket behind it then finally lodged itself in the kʉtsʉ's brain.

Yahneequena would have yelled his victory but the force of the impact was too great. He rammed into his lance's shaft, broke a few ribs and was thrown to the ground. He tried to break his fall with one arm, but he was falling way too hard. The bone shattered and he crashed to the ground. Stunned and barely alive, his body in excruciating pain, he managed to lift his face from the earth and take a look at his enemy. The monstrous animal had been killed on the spot, its legs had buckled under it and it fell heavily. Its rider had not been thrown down however, despite the momentum. Yahnee's heart sank. He had hoped he could have at least wounded him, but the only thing he had managed to do was to piss the  thing off.

The horde was still closing in. The morlock leader let himself down his mount, sliding almost gracefully to the earth. He started walking towards Yahnee, a burning rage lighting the strange golden rings that circled his eyes. He was almost over the young warrior when a massive gust of wind sent him to his knees, his face right next to Yahnee's. The young Nʉmʉ laughed and spat blood to the face of his enemy. "Our shaman is stronger than you, demon!", he croaked.

The morlock rose, standing his ground against the raging winds. He turned towards Tabbaquena and did a sweeping motion with his arm, growling.

"No."

To Yahnee's horror, the winds died down. He coughed more blood and screamed "What are you, monster?".

He had never heard a morlock say a single word before. They were supposed to be barely more clever than a horse! Then he started to realize. "We never had a chance, had we?"
"No." said the lipless morlock once more in his strange guttural voice. He started walking towards Yahnee again. Around them, the horde was surging, but it was avoiding its leader and circled around him like water flowing around a rock. The strange morlock grabbed his black sword ("morlocks never had their own sword" thought Yahnee frantically) and lifted it, point down, poised to plunge it in the boy's body.

A deafening neigh forced him to recoil by a step or two. Wakaree had turned around and had come back to protect his brother. He reared, trying to strike the comparatively small morlock with his hooves. Their enemy was too fast, way to fast. He moved back, just enough to avoid the deadly strike and as Wakaree's forequarters touched the ground, the dark creature ran toward him, jumped and landed a massive blow on the side of the horse's head. Wakaree fell down like a rock, his legs twitching in agony.

"No!" screamed Yahnee. "No, Wakaree, no!" +

He did not grieve for long. The morlock drove his sword in the young brave's heart, then pulled it out.

Yahneequena fell flat on his back. In his last moments, as his life poured out of his chest, he tried to turn around, reaching for and almost touching his brother's mane. "Brother Wakaree, I love you." he had the strength to tell his friend. "Brother Yahnee. Happy." answered the horse weakly. Then they were both gone.

Tabbaquena the shaman saw the amazing strike landed by Yahnee on the morlock's mount. It was his last sight. His spirit had put all its energy into this last magical act and he had none left to keep on living, so he died, like a candle blown by the wind. He died proud of his fellow tribesman and though he never knew it, him and Yahnee died as warriors, their back away from the enemy. He was on his knees but he was still gripping his lance and pointing it towards his foes, as it should be.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The cities of Yaghan: An overview of Gond

Gond is probably one of the most important cities on the face of the planet for a variety of reason. I wanted to write a short description of the city since I need to write stuff about my world to know it, and I thought, well, why not sharing it with you guys?

An overview 

The natural formation that protects the city is actually completely unnatural. In the middle of the Great Plains, suddenly, a massive wall of black rock emerges from the horizon. Riders that get closer to it soon realize that it's not a wall but a kind of cylinder that emerges from the earth, somewhat like a volcano but with its sides way steeper than any natural mountain.

Facing west, there is a massive chasm at the foot of the cylinder, and across the chasm, one can see a great gate carved in the rock's face. This is the main entrance to what lays inside of the protective walls of rock. But what exactly is behind hidden in there?

No one could expect it from the outside, but the mountain hides three bowl shaped valleys, somewhat like 3 volcano craters right next to each other... Each valley could also accurately be described as the inside of a bowl. The valleys are loosely connected by passes, and like the external rock face, they do not look natural at all... Because indeed, they are not.

Inside those valleys lay the different parts of the city of Gond, one of the most advanced cities on the planet. All of the valleys have the wall facing south covered with terraced fields that provide a good portion of the city's food. Similarly, the rim top of every valley is covered with fortifications (more on that later) and windmills that provide electrical and mechanical power to the city. Yes, the city does have electricity, although it is used only in the most important facilities. People's houses typically do not have electricity.

One valley houses the main city, with the south face being covered with terraced fields. The second one houses the heavier industries, that can be polluting and unpleasant to live near to (tanneries for instance). Finally the last one is the buffer with the outside world: it contains all the accommodations for visitors, the hospitals, the guard houses, the open market...  And it is protected by the legendary Battle School. The presence of those elite warriors discourage any kind of trouble in this cosmopolitan part of the city. This buffer used to restrict the access of strangers to the main city, not because they are not trusted, but mainly to prevent the eventual propagation of diseases coming from the Outside.

The whole city is completely autonomous when it comes to its energy. It is provided by the wind, and in a smaller fashion the sun. The Wind Wielders insure that there is always enough wind to power the city. There is very little dependency on fossil fuels, they are only used just for things that can't be done any other way, like smelting ores for example. The city also has it own source of water in the form of an underground water nappe. The only thing the city has to import is food. The output of the terraced fields is barely sufficient to provide for the most basic needs of the population (with a vegetarian diet), and the city imports vegetables and spices from the Outside, as well as meat that is hunted from the Great Plains. Also, virtually every unused space of the city is used to plant crops: the roof of houses, the side of the roads, the parks, the walls of the buildings... There are no spaces in the city that do not have a use and the landscape is actually really green, with things growing everywhere. Even the caves of buildings are used to grow fungi and certain molds. The only thing really lacking is meat. It is actually one of the main exports of the tribes that roam the plains. Gond also has to import its natural resources: ores, fossil fuels, wood... The city is located above an iron vein, but it is reserved for crisis and not exploited. Gond depends heavily on the other cities of the federation and mainly those near the Rohini mountain range, that provide it with most of the materials it needs to develop. This dependency is what prompted the construction of the railway system that links the cities of the federation.

The origin of Gond

The rock formation that protects the city hardly seems natural and indeed it is not: it is a product of the greatest magic ritual ever seen on the face of the planet. This ritual happened during the darkest days of humanity, during the Dark Age that followed the Fall. Scavengers from a small community of survivors discovered extremely well preserved artifacts from before the Fall, and in particular, they found something that could help humanity rebuild: working generators, that could be hooked up to windmills to produce enough electricity to power the artifacts they found. They also found electronic devices, with most notably a library containing video movies and archives from Earth. It was only a small personal computer and not one of the massive supercomputers that once powered Yaghan's network so there was very little usable technological books, maybe what would be found in the files of a moderately curious computer geek. Even though, a lot of the information proved useful to rebuild: things like calculus did not have to be reinvented from scratch, basic chemistry did not have to be re discovered and so on. It could not enable humanity to rebuilt to the 23rd century standard, but it was a start, and a good one at that. 

Shortly after, the community that had discovered the artifacts came under attack by one of the biggest horde of morlocks ever seen in those dark days. They survived only thanks to the help of the  newly formed Numu tribes, and had to flee the scene. But a man in the community, a powerful mage, saw the potential that laid in this treasure trove of knowledge. He was the first to have the idea of a fortress that would be used to protect and disseminate all that information.  He managed to collapse the ground under the artifacts, burying them in order to protect them, then fled. 

This man made it his mission to become the greatest mage on the planet so as to realize what he had envisioned. He traveled the continent of the Great Plains, then the planet, in search of more and more knowledge and power. When he came back, he was vastly more powerful and he tried once again to build a rock fortress with several of his companions. They all died in the effort, killed by the drain of such an impossible endeavor and he only survived, but his body was broken and unable to do large scale magic anymore. 

But he did not give up. He founded a school for mages that he called the Battle School. For a long time, it was located in one of the fortified cities on the foot of the Rohini range, the mountains where most communities of survivors had hidden themselves. There, the man took upon him to teach what he had learned, and trained what would become the best warriors of the planet centuries later. His pupils went around the planet, trying to teach their talents in order to improve mankind's odds against the morlocks... But they had another goal: they recruited gifted individuals that exhibited the powers they sought: individuals that could heal, individuals that could manipulate the earth, individuals that could strengthen the magic of others... The Old Man had a plan, a way to make the ritual work. But he never saw it because the required individuals were not found during his lifetime. 

It took almost three generation but at last, 9 gifted humans were reunited (one could say they were bred) that had the requisite abilities. Together, they decided to try the ritual the Old Man had envisioned once more. The only way for such a great feat to be performed was to be able to withstand an incredible drain (the drain of a magic act is proportional to the effect wanted, and creating a mountain ex-nihilo is something that should not be possible), and for that, the Old Man had devised a plan: one of the mages had to turn into a morlock, thus benefiting from their increased health and resistance before he completely turned into a monster. 

What happened next is not well known. The ritual worked, that's for sure, the city is the proof of that... But of the mages, only 3 survived. They never spoke of what had happened so it is open for conjecture. Some say the "lost" mages are buried under the city, but nobody knows for sure. After they recovered, one of the mages, of Callistan descent, left to bring back his magical knowledge to his land. For reasons unknown, one of the other survivor went after him, and they were never heard of again. The last survivor became the head of the Battle School, but she refused to teach the ritual, and she forbid the other mages of the city to do so. A vast amount of knowledge about magic was lost during that period, and it is open to conjecture as to what exactly the survivors feared. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The law of the plains, chapter 12

(This is chapter 12 of the Law of the plains. In the previous chapter, the rescue party met the rest of the tribe, only to realize they were somehow tracked by a horde of morlocks that seemingly appeared out of nowhere...)

Contrary to what the people of the besieged cities of Yaghan believed, the Nʉmʉ rarely came into contact with morlocks. Their mobility and the vastness of the plains usually enabled them to stay way clear of trouble. The only time they ever got near the monsters was when they applied the hit and run tactics their ancestors were renowned for in order to destroy smaller packs of morlocks with minimal losses.

But when morlocks came into contact with a settled camp for whatever reason, usually because the scouts had failed, disaster was almost certain. The only warriors that could fight morlocks and win even if they were outnumbered were the legendary Elites from the Battle School of Gond, soldiers that were trained from infancy to fight and use magical Gifts that dwarfed those of normal men. The Nʉmʉ were probably the best warriors of Yaghan, second only to those fabled combatants, but even they had no chance when outnumbered by morlocks. In that situation, the most important thing was to make sure that the band lived on and passed its legacy on to the next generation. That goal trumped everything else, even if it often meant that a lot of people would sacrifice themselves to allow a few to live.
A tribe needed its best hunters to survive winter, so when tragedy was almost certain, they were ordered to flee. Turning their back to their sworn enemies made every Nʉmʉ sick to their stomach, but their duty trumped everything else.

Kanaretah knew this, she knew that she was important and that she needed to find a way to save the assets that were Tabbaquena, Yahneequena and herself… But she did not see how, not with the monsters almost on them. If death was certain, do your best to save the band, she reminded herself.
"Towasi!" she yelled. "Towasi, you need to ride out, tell them to flee, take the hunters and the kids with you and flee! We'll delay them!"

Towasi was not a coward. She had fought morlocks many times before, despite her young age. But that wicked creature perched on a tame kʉtsʉtoya was more horrifying than anything she had ever seen. In a moment of clarity, she realized that even if she fled, her chances to make it out alive were slim at best. So she ordered her horse to turn around and galloped back towards the caravan. She was weeping as she rode, for she knew her friends were dead.

Kanaretah felt a slight relief. The girl would make it, maybe. A small victory, better than nothing when you faced extinction.
"Tabbaquena", she yelled. "You too!"
"We're doomed and you know it!" the old shaman snapped back. "I can buy you time, they'll need you if you survive this!"
He was right. It was the Law of the Plains, she had to survive and make sure the band did too. But she could not do it. She could not leave the sobbing Yahnee or her old friend.
"You're loosing time!" shouted Tabbaquena. He slapped Neraquassi on the rump and ordered him to flee with all the might of his mind. The horse was less stubborn than his rider and leaped in the direction of the rest of the band.
"Yahnee, get up." said the old shaman firmly, turning his attention to the sobbing boy.
The young brave stopped clawing his face and looked at him, jolted awake by the implacable presence of the shaman.
"You are a Nʉmʉ, a Lord of the Plains. Act like one and die like one! Stop shitting yourself and get up!" the shaman said again.
Being called a coward was the worst insult for a warrior, and Yahnee was no exception. Anger swelled in him and it brushed his fear aside.
He yelled his rage and frustration, vomited and shakily jumped back on Wakaree.

"I'm sorry old friend", he softly  said to his horse. "Tonight, we are meeting the Great Spirit."
Wakaree did not really understand the concept; only one thing was clear for him. He would go anywhere with his brother, even if it meant running towards those foul beasts that smelled like death and corruption.
"Wakaree and brother Yahnee hunt. Together. Happy." said the horse.
"Yes, together" said Yahnee with a sad smile.

Head held high, together, they started towards the horde, towards a worthy death.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The law of the plains, chapter 11

(Happy new year everybody! After a long break for the holidays, here is the next part of our story. 

This is chapter 11 of the Law of the plains. In the previous chapter, the rescue party encounters razorcats on their way and have to split up to deal with them....

As planned, the razorcats had followed the two braves in a fury of growls and snarls, enabling the rest of the rescue party to continue safely towards Wakaree. Yaghan's twin suns were lazily rising above the horizon and their slow orbiting around each other created incredible changing pastel tones. As always, the Nʉmʉ were awed by this magnificent spectacle. This was why they lived in the plains, despite the morlocks, despite the predators, despite the tornadoes and the cold of winter. They were free and lived in harmony with nature. They could ride with their heads high, proud Lords of the Plains, crowned by the shimmering rays of the suns, breathing the fresh and pure air, savoring the pristine and savage beauty of the monumental landscape that they called home.

Kanaretah was worried sick. She did not show it, but still, she took a moment to thank the spirits of the plains, the spirits of the suns, of her horse and her own guardians. Such beauty inspired respect and thanking the spirits properly was a way of asking forgiveness for intruding on their territory. She knew the other riders  were doing the same. It was important, and not doing so was bad luck on the hunt.

As it turned out, finding Wakaree was quite easy after that, despite the rising morning fog that started to blanket the landscape. Maybe the spirits were pleased indeed. The party kept in the general direction indicated by Tabbananica and Kanaretah was soon able to find tracks typical of a horse with a rider on its back.

As they cautiously approached Wakaree, they could see a slump on his back. No doubt about it, it was Yahneequena.
As  they got closer, Pisunii started shaking and pawing the ground.
"She is afraid, Wakaree has made contact with her, he is scared beyond belief apparently. It's rubbing on her" Towasi said, responding to the inquisitive gaze of Kanaretah.
She nodded and asked her own mount, Neraquassi, to try and calm Pisunii, when suddenly, Wakaree spotted them and to their consternation, started to trot in their direction. Immediately, Kanaretah made the gestures for a circling maneuver. Tabbaquena and Kotsoteka each split on both sides, positioning themselves on Wakaree's flanks. They gripped their bows and nervously glanced aside, keeping watch for any kind of danger.
Kanaretah made another gesture, ordering Towasi to go meet the scared horse. Pisunii immediately sprang forward. These two did not need words to communicate and acted as a single mind. The young rider grabbed her short lance, ready for anything.
When she got close enough to seize Wakaree's reins, her heart sank. What had happened? The beautiful palomino looked like a shadow of himself. There was white foam around his muzzle, his flanks were heaving rapidly and his eyes were raving mad. He closed the distance and burrowed his head in Pisunii's neck, as if he could hide there. The mare started showing her rider images from Wakaree's incoherent mind. He was relieved that help was there, but more than anything he wanted help for his little brother.
Yahnee was an even worse sight that Wakaree. His knuckles were white from clinging at his friend's mane, his mouth was twitching uncontrollably, he had evidently peed himself… But the worst thing was his eyes. They were open wide, but unfocused. It was as if he was not looking outside but inside and as if what he saw there scared him beyond belief.

Soon, the Nʉmʉ determined that there was nothing around that could have frightened him that much. They were great trackers of course, so they had no difficulty retracing the events of the night, like the fact that Yahnee had stopped, then turned around to fight carnirats. It was what had happened after that that was a complete mystery. He had evidently done extremely well and had dispatched the pack of vermin quickly, a rather impressive feat for a lone warrior. But after that, nothing. Wakaree had started galloping, to flee what? They had no idea.
If it had been a predator, there would have been no reason for Yahnee's madness. If it had been morlocks, there would be have been signs of battle, or more likely he would have been killed and devoured. Moreover Wakaree would have remembered it, but he did not recall anything strange apart from them routing the rats.

Finally, Tabbaquena reached for his drum and started a slow hypnotic beat. Soon after, he was spirit walking, but even that yielded no results. He was not able to reach the young Nʉmʉ, and the only thing he got from Yahnee was an incredible wave of fear. His mind was very elusive, always trying to escape as soon as Tabbaquena got near him. Finally, the old shaman had to give up. This needed more power, more time, a sweat lodge maybe. Something terrible had wormed its way in Yahnee's psyche, and trying to excise it on horseback in the middle of the plain was beyond the shaman's strength.

Completely flabbergasted, Kanaretah ordered them back to camp. They tried to get Yahnee on a fresher horse, but he would have none of it and sensing his anguish, Wakaree turned on them, biting and kicking. In the end, they gave up, the camp was only a few hours away at a slow pace anyway. Towasi changed horses however, and started to gallop towards camp with Pisunii in tow. Kanaretah could see no reason to move the whole tribe, but she was preoccupied by the incident, and just for the sake of security, she wanted them to move east slightly. That would get them closer to Gond, and it was always prudent to move if there was any doubt anyway.

And that was it. A few hours later, they had caught up and they finally were in sight of the caravan. As they drew closer, Kanaretah got Neraquassi closer to Wakaree and tried to grab Yahneequena's attention. "We've arrived boy, you can relax now. You are safe, all the band is here to protect you", she said in a soft and motherly tone.
Yahnee did not react, but his grip seemed to relax. Moments later, he was sniffing the air. They were smelling whiff's of the band's smell, the common smell of hundreds of horses, of dust in the air, of leather jerkins and equine dung. A stench they were all used to, that they  called home.
Towasi was already there and she was helping herding horses along the caravan, but when she saw her friends in the distance, she turned around and came to greet them.

"Ooh haa", she said. "Well met, travelers. We're happy to offer you hospitality tonight" she joked, smiling from ear to ear. She was happy to see them back safe and sound.
Suddenly Yahnee seemed to regain consciousness. He straightened up on Wakaree, startling the already spooked horse.
His eyes darted around, going from Kanaretah, to the caravan, back to her. +
"Why are we here!" he shouted.
"What?", said Kanaretah, alarmed by the violence of his outburst.
"No!" he started wailing. "No, no, no, NO! He is here, he is inside me, he knows where we are!"
"Stop!" ordered Kanaretah. "Explain. Who knows we are here? What are you talking about?"
But Yahnee was not listening. He was on the verge of madness. He looked around deliriously.
"No, he is here, he is here, it's my fault, it's too late!" he yelled. Then he fell from his horse, sobbing and staring at something behind them.

Kanaretah turned around slowly. The morning fog was slowly dissipating, revealing the shadow of a huge creature. A monstrous kʉtsʉtoya.
A monstrous kʉtsʉtoya with a great morlock riding on it. +
She could not believe what she saw. She had not heard or smelled or felt a thing. How could this monstrous thing have followed them?
The morlock raised an arm clad in an assortment of mismatched armor parts. A lipless, ashen mouth opened, revealing a row of sharp triangular teeth. Then he howled, a terrifying bellowing call that had her hair stand on her arms. She had never heard such an awful noise, it promised violence and pain and death and chilled you to the bone. It was not like her but she was transfixed, too much was happening at the same time, Yahnee sobbing and clawing his face with his nails, Wakaree neighing with fear, all the horses starting to loose their temper and this nightmarish creature unlike anything she had ever seen...

Finally the long howl stopped, and she regained her wits. But as she was about to yell her orders to her stunned comrades , she was yet again stopped in her tracks.

As the mists parted, more shapes started to emerge from the shadows and slowly solidified.

Morlocks. Hundred, no, thousands of them. +

"We're doomed", cried Yahneequena. "I've doomed us all!". +