Saturday, May 28, 2011


A story of the Static-Lands Saga. The general world-setting is here: 

In small type because it's a rather long short story and I thought a smaller font would keep the blogger page from being stretched too much.  If this is a problem, I can change the type size upon request.  The scene with the gravestones - that was inspired by the cemetary across the street from where I live.  It is in current use, but there are some very old graves / limestone markers there that are like that. There are some where I can make out "1885," but not the name and some where I'm lucky if I can make out anything.  Whitt's horses are an homage to a pair on the farm I work for, often referred to as "Dumb and Dumber," but their real names are Jackson and Phoenix.

The Static-Lands Saga


The moon rode high this afternoon, a waxing crescent against a deep blue sky clean of clouds.  The trees were deep green with specks of limey yellow to a pair of eyes accustomed to the perpetual night enough to see them as the people of the day-land would see them in their native daylight.  Whitt sat upon the round stone altar in the middle of the woods. 

The platform was circular in shape and just high enough for her to sit on the edge and still have her feet touch the ground.  It was engraved with abstract designs and the simple forms of animals.  The well around it where Whitt’s hooves touched was rust-colored from many years of spilled blood, but the altar hadn’t been used in decades. 

The Panzau used to sacrifice lambs, goats and horses here to the abstract object of their worship – the Energy.  It was what some might term a “god,” but it was largely thought of as a creative force, or life or “soul” itself.  Somewhere along the way, the Panzau felt that the Energy no longer required sacrifices.  Whitt was glad she’d not seen any horses slain here.  A sacrifice in those days usually consisted of leaving behind or burning the skin and entrails of the beast while feeding the community with the meat.  People in the tribe still ate meat (although vegetarianism was on the rise), but only a few of the old people ever ate horse – and that rarely. 

Whitt’s family kept two horses, but they were for riding and considered treasured companions.  Whitt was one of the few who knew how to ride.  That was not only uncommon for Panzau, but for all Ilkhan.  Few of them rode due to having swiftness like that of deer on their own two legs and the difficulty those legs presented while mounting.  Oro told her that the slight speed-and-power advantage provided by a horse could be the deciding factor in survival and victory on the battlefield.

Whitt’s parents had cried when she’d told them what she wanted to do with her life. Her father had been especially distraught. 

The Panzau were a peaceful people, to the point that pacifism was the prime spiritual virtue in their culture.  When other tribes had sought their destruction or assimilation, they’d simply retreated further and further into wild places, uprooting their villages.  They’d been deep in the mountains for a very long time, living on an island of green woods and soft earth surrounded by jagged rocks like shards of dark glass.  The “Last Land” as they called it was frequently ice-locked in winter, but the Panzau depended upon nothing from the outside, anyway. 

A new threat had been sweeping the lands around them, soldiers without antlers from the Land-of-Always-Day.  The nation of Vale had been overtaking all of the tribes in The-Land-of-Always-Night. 

Although the Panzau were strict pacifists, they made an allowance: To defend them from various enemies, there was an order created long ago.  This order of warriors sprang from the tribe, though, of late, some individuals from friendly surrounding nations had been joining it.  The Lambs guarded the Panzau and were ready to go to battle if war were ever brought to doorstep to defend their friends, their families – their people.  This little army was called the “Lambs” in reference to the ancient sacrifices no longer performed.  The Panzau considered doing harm to others – especially taking the life of a “high souled” creature (a fellow humanoid), to be damaging to one’s own soul – even if it was necessary to save one’s own life or many lives.  The Panzau realized that they lived in a broken world and that, sometimes, a sacrifice of soul was necessary just to live. 

Whitt’s parents acknowledged necessity, but they still didn’t want her to join the Lambs.  She, however, had decided that her strongest pull was “to protect.”  She was by no means a violent youth, she just wanted to protect her family and knew that they were so concentrated upon “spirit” that they would fail to protect themselves if something terrible came their way. 

Whitt’s sensitive ears picked up the breaking of a twig. 

“Oro…” she said.  A tall woman bearing a sheathed sword strode to the altar and sat down beside Whitt. The two were a picture of rare things.  Whitt’s hair, ears and lower legs were white.  This was rare in Ilkhan, which mostly were shades of brown in the legs and ears and with various hair colors.  Oro was blond.  Her ears and her legs were a bright golden color.  Some in the tribe considered her a reflection of the old legend about the golden stag that took care of the dead. 

“You have decided, Whitt?” the woman asked. 

Whitt nodded.

“Are you certain?” 


“I have something to show you.”

Oro placed the sword on her knees and unsheathed it.  She gently placed it before Whitt. Whit held it cautiously. 

“Ouch!” the teenager exclaimed, watching a line of red appear on one of her fingers. 

“Careful of the edges!” Oro cautioned.  “You only brushed it lightly.  Now you know the feeling of being cut by a sword.” 

Whitt pondered her reflection in the blade.  It glimmered like a mirror in the late afternoon moonlight. 

“That sword has taken life,” Oro said.  Whitt gasped and almost dropped it.  Oro took it back by the hilt and slid it back into its scabbard.  Whitt looked up at her.

“I want you to think about what you are getting into,” the older woman said slowly.  “Being a Lamb is a serious thing.  You will never be as innocent as the rest of our people ever again.  Our current ranks are lucky.  Only a few of us have seen real combat.  We are usually able to drive off our enemies with scare-tactics, but I have known battle.  I suppose I am fortunate, as well.  I have only ever had to kill once, but once is enough for me to never be a true Panzau again.” 

“With this very sword?” Whit asked.

“Yes,” her mentor replied.  “Valien soldiers marched along our southern borders.  We met them in a meadow.  They intended to scale the southern pass to our land, but the Lambs went down to stop them, which we did.  That was four years ago.  I had injured many, but was caught unaware by a man charging me with a small axe.  I reacted by instinct.  I thrust my sword out straight through his middle.  The soldier dropped his axe and just looked at me so intensely. He was suffering, so I arched my right hoof up and kicked him off the blade and then swung around and cleanly took his head off.”

Whitt looked down, too afraid to ask the question that was on her mind, but Oro sensed it. “If you want to know what it felt like,” she said, “it felt like a premonition of my own death.”      

“I may have to kill someday.”


“I knew that.  It is why my father cried.  Even if it means seeing my own death mirrored, I want to protect my father, my mother… my friends. My people.”

“Then meet me in the east clearing when the horizon is lighter.” 

In the Land-of-Always-Night, especially in the wild reaches, the measurement of time was rather strange.  In the cities, the old system that was leftover from the days when the night and day cycles were regular was still in place.  People talked of mornings, afternoons and evenings in the perpetual .  Watches and clocks were kept running and Whitt had her own pocket-watch to mark the hours, but the Panzau, for the most part, began to measure time by the most subtle differences in the sky.  The sky was slightly lighter at the horizon during the hour that used to be sunrise in bygone times. 

Some people kept birds that were trained to sound to mark that hour and a few other times of day.  They were not chickens.  Chickens were unreliable and would crow, sometimes, when the time should be the middle of the night.  (As a person living in a place with a normal night and day cycle, you should know this if you’ve ever lived anywhere near roosters).

Whitt appeared for training along with several others.  Young men, a pair of young women… and a few older fellows came to the clearing, eager to learn the arts of fighting from the seasoned warrior-Lambs.  Whitt was the youngest among them.  Oro had been a friend of hers for a long time.  She was a friend of her family and saw her father for prayers and rites.  Whitt thought that she might be given a practice-sword on the first day, a weapon of wood.  She was given nothing.  The next few weeks consisted of learning to march, to keep one’s clothing neat and other excruciatingly regimented and banal behaviors.  These were designed to instill coherence and discipline within the group.  Whitt thought she might go mad.

She was given a practice-sword eventually and Oro took a special role in her training.  While the rest of the trainee Lambs learned the “proper” techniques from their elders, Oro took Whitt aside at the end of each day and taught her how to brawl.  The woman did this with others who were interested, but away from the eyes of the other senior warriors. 

“Etiquette means nothing in a real battle,” she said.  “You do what you must to survive.” 

After dinner one evening, Whitt sat in her family’s home threading a thick, curved needle through leather as her father sat serenely and watched her. 

“They’ve elected me to care for their horses,” Whitt explained, “and to teach those that do not know already how to ride.  Most have trouble with the stirrups so I thought that maybe I could design something that fits the feet better.” 

“It was not originally our way to ride horses,” her father said, “It was always more of a practice for those lacking antlers… with their big, flat feet.  Some good comes from all people, I suppose.  Many of them may be infected with hateful spirits, but I am glad that some beasts are not merely food for us anymore.” 

“I will protect our freedom – from the hate. To be who we are.”

“You’ll give up your peace so your mother and I can pursue ours. I really wish you weren’t a Lamb, my little one.  There have to be other ways to protect ourselves, without such sacrifices of soul.” 

“You said it yourself,” Whitt said with another stitch, “demons of hate infect them and such things are not easily gotten rid of.  They want our land. They want to change us. They want to subjugate us. Eliminate us.  It is not just our ways, but our very beings that they hate, father.  With our antlers and hooves, we have the right to exist, even if some of us have to fight for it.”

“The question is… in defending our people, have you become not one of us?”

“I’ve not gone to battle yet.  I’ve not killed yet.  Maybe I will be lucky and not have to. It all depends upon how aggressive others are.” 

“And what you must do to survive.  It doesn’t matter to me, dear-heart, if you stain yourself. I want you to survive. What I fear is you not surviving. This is the true reason I am upset with your choice.  Your mother and I worry about you.”

There was an urgent knock at the front door.  “Elder!”

“Oro,” Whitt gasped. She got up and opened the heavy wooden door.  Oro came in, ducking her head, along with three other elder Lambs and a man the village did not know.

“Sit down! Sit down!” Whitt’s father urged.  Her mother came in from the back bedroom. “What is going on?” she asked.

Oro motioned to the stranger dressed in red robes.  “This is Vinchinte Lapaz. He is of the Far West Tribe and the keeper of the Old Tower.  He is trying to unite the tribes to repel the invaders from the Land-of-Always-Day.”

“I need your help,” Lapaz said humbly.

“Not my tribe!” Whitt’s father proclaimed, “Not the Panzau! We are a people of peace. Do not ask us to commit to a war!”

“That is not what I ask of you, Elder,” Vinchinte Lapaz explained calmly.  “I am trying to unite all members of our race peacefully.  Sadly, I’ve only seen the tribes previously at enmity unite when they’ve found a common threat, but even that may be a start.  I am here on business from the Far West Tribe and the Cold Creek People.  Although the Panzau are a people of peace, I have heard of your Lambs.  I would like to borrow them for a small mission.”

“That is not up to me, it is up to their leaders. I lead only the common members of our tribe.”   

Vinchinte continued.  “My group has been intercepting the supply lines for the latest battle at Cold Creek.  We’ve been capturing wagons loaded with weapons.  The Valiens have been developing some devices that make use of explosive powder.  Dreadful, dreadful weapons!  It may give you comfort to know that our activities are not one-sided, Elder.  We’ve been interrupting weapons-supplies on both sides of the conflict.  Some of my group have been captured and executed for treachery by their own tribes for the sake of trying to keep people from killing each other.  In any case, the Valiens have started a supply-trail through a pass at the base of your mountains.  I would like to minimize the destruction that is going on.” 

“That sounds completely foolish!”  Oro exclaimed. 

“I’ll go,” Whitt said, standing up tall and straight.

Vinchinte Lapaz looked up at her from his seat upon the floor.  “Are you sure, young one?” he asked, “This task is very dangerous.”

“I have recently become a Lamb, sir,” she answered.  “I accepted the idea of putting myself in danger to preserve peace some time ago.  Besides, I am currently the swiftest rider of my entire tribe.  I know horses better than most in the village.” 

“It is true, sir,” Oro spoke up.  “She is the Elder’s daughter and he knows the beasts better than anybody, but he cannot fight.  I’ve trained Whitt personally and I believe her skill is up to a first mission.” 

“This is a capture-mission,” Lapaz went on.  “My men and women are warriors of peace, soldiers of mercy.  We shall not slay the men who drive the wagons.  We must not hurt them if we can avoid it.  We always treat our prisoners well.  Some, even Valiens, have joined my little movement.”  At this, the man in red laughed.  “Maybe we can save the Ilkhan tribe and the Valiens, too.” 

Whitt knelt down and looked him in the eyes.  “Will this save the Panzau?” she asked.

“I hope so.”

Whit took Jax and Pheo, her family’s horses, and left with the Lambs when the horizon was subtly lighter.  Vinchinte Lapaz’s people knew that three wagons were to take the pass that week – at least, that is what informants had told them.  After the interception, the combined group of Lapaz’s people and the Panzau Lambs planned to use some of the explosive weapons they would confiscate to destroy key sections of the road so that the supply-trail would be cut off completely.

Whitt followed Oro to scout out a section of the newly-cut road.  It ran near an ancient graveyard.  Little tombstones jutted out from among the undergrowth in the thick forest, white and nubby.  The names that had once been engraved into them had long been worn away by more than a century of weather.  No date in any reckoning remained, either.  These monuments pre-dated the Panzau’s presence in this land.  These were the nameless heroes of some forgotten war. 

Whit braced a hoof atop one of the worn nubs of stone and stared out at the scar of dirt and stone highway visible between the trees.  “I don’t want to die,” she said suddenly.  There was no fear in her voice.  She’d spoken calmly and flatly, as if stating a simple fact rather than making an emotional plea.

“Few do,” Oro replied, adjusting the bow and quiver on her back.  They rested against the scabbard of her sword, also strapped there.  Whitt had weapons, too.  She’d just been given her first real sword, which rested upon her back and a dagger, which she wore on her hip.  The sword was as long as her arm, simple and double-edged. 

“Our people believe in some silly things, don’t we, Oro?” she sighed.  “My father believes that the Energy will take care of us all, in its own good time.  He also thinks that peace will eventually win and that a person can win a battle without fighting.  What if he’s wrong – and if we’re all wrong?  What if we’re fighting the people who are right?” 

“There are many peoples that have tried to subjugate and destroy the Panzau, not just the Valiens. They’re just the latest and some of those they fight used to be our enemies.  Right, wrong… it doesn’t matter.  Even if we are wrong and they are right, they are trying to take away peoples’ right to be wrong.” 

“Not everyone in the tribe believes in the Energy or the spiritual realm.  Mother and father say that more people believe now than when they were children.  All the Panzau used to believe and do the old sacrifices.  It tapered off for a while, and now, though we don’t do flesh and blood sacrifices anymore, there are more believers than there used to be for a long time.  It all came back again because folk tried to tell us we couldn’t.  At least, that is what the old ones say.  It’s interesting – the idea that people can believe something out of sheer defiance.”   

“The people of Vale do not see us as equal beings, anyway,” Oro muttered.  “Physically, we look different. We have what they see as animal-traits. Sometimes, I’ve wondered if they are more animal than human - if they were truly among the ‘high souled.’  Your father thinks they are.  Most of the tribe thinks they are.  It would assuage my guilt greatly if they are not.  Maybe I never killed a man. Maybe I merely killed a beast, like our butchers do, or like the priests of old used to do in making sacrifices. Maybe the hate-demons in them have taken over and have made them only monsters.”  

“That sounds so cruel, Oro.” 

“It would be nicer to think that I had killed something that was unlike me than something that was like me,” Oro replied, “but I feel our concept of soul-sacrifice.  I am hoping I’ll not see the Barrens when I die, but I think I probably will, or the Shade at least, since I’m not entirely at peace.  Still, I’m a fighter and I’ll die for our people if it comes to it, but I do not long for death.” 

“Especially since there may be nothing on the other side of it,” Whitt ventured, taking her hoof down from the tombstone she had it rested upon.  “I don’t like to think about it, but maybe what I’ve believed in all my life is faerie stories.” 

Oro walked around the area, looking down at the stones and shaking her tail over the back side of her loincloth.  “We all tell ourselves faerie stories when it comes down to inevitable things.” she mused.  “There is little material evidence for the beliefs of our people. What we believe isn’t based on nothing, though.  All strong faith has some basis, especially if it persists many generations and centuries.  Still, it stands that we could be right, our current enemies may be right, someone else might be right… we do not know for sure.  Maybe we tell ourselves fantasies for comfort, but they do, too.  Look at these graves.”

“Yes? They are so white and pretty under the moonlight, even on a dark day like today, with the moon at a sliver.”

Oro brushed a headstone with the fingers of her left hand.  “You cannot see any names on them.  I cannot even feel a name here – that is how worn down they are.  No one living can provide names to the corpses we’re walking over, let alone remember their hearts, the way they spoke, or smelled, or the ways they each laughed…  People with nothing to look forward to after the inevitable like to tell themselves that they’ll be remembered long, that they were important, that their memories will live.  Not for long, my friend.  Eventually, everyone ends up like this – like these graves – forgotten.  If any of these people had children or even grandchildren, they are dead by now, too.  Maybe someone famous is buried here, some magnificent hero.  Given enough time, that mountain beyond the trail over there? Even that will become a plain.” 

“Oro,” Whitt said firmly, her ears perking. 


“Get on Pheo. I’ll take Jax. Everyone else should be in position.  I hear hoof beats.”

The capture was executed beautifully.  Riders whooped and hollered, pressing in upon the wagon.  The Lambs unfurled their standard, a triangular green flag with a stylized white lamb emblazoned on it.  This left the wagon-driver confused, as he was not used to such a gentle and weak animal used as heraldry. 

Oro rode up beside the front of the wagon on Pheo, a white horse so large it made the tall Ilkhan woman seem petite.  She stood up in the saddle, utilizing a pair of the special stirrups Whitt had made.  The man looked at her.  He was wearing a device over his face – something people had been calling “cat’s-eyes.”  They were like eyeglasses with green-tinted lenses and allowed for people from the Land-of-Always-Day to see in the Land-of-Always-Night in a way similar to the natives.  Colors, however, were washed out with the cat’s-eyes.  The man grit his teeth and snorted.  

Oro aimed an arrow at him.  “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stop the wagon.  Don’t test me. I am a killer.” 

As he stared slack-jawed at Oro, Whitt rode up the other side, jumped off her steed onto the seat and kicked the man in the head.  He slumped over and Whitt was quick to take the reins of the wagon-horses.  Although they were excited, she was able to calm them to a stop.  Jax, however had gone off the trail. 

Vinchinte Lapaz’s people made quick work of binding the man.  Whitt worried that she may have given him severe damage, but he talked without slurring and spat at them, so they stopped worrying and gave him over to the custody of those that had volunteered to be guards and was taken to one of the camps the group had set up along the trail in the woods. Lapaz came to inspect the weapons-load while Whitt and another young Lamb named Katto rounded up stray horses.  

Oro inspected one of the swords that was in the back of the wagon.  “I like this,” she said.  “A well-tempered blade… nice and new.  I’m taking it.”

“Um… go ahead,” Vinchinte said.

Another branch of the combined group took on a wagon on another part of the trail.  Whitt and Oro were called upon to take the last one.  The had both performed so well along with fellow Lambs, Katto and Shin that they were the obvious choice of interception-team. This wagon, like the others, was covered, but its covering was red instead of white.   

As the team of four thundered alongside the wagon and Whitt brought out her sword to make an empty threat (while her mentor took out her own in a not-so-empty threat), the wagon lurched.  The seat broke off its fixtures.  The driver was pulled off the wagon by the reins; the wagon rolled over him, veered, and came to a skid on its side in the dirt.  Katto and Shin rushed to the man.  Whitt stopped her horse, watching the wagon-horses speed off in most of their trappings.    

Vinchinte rode out of the woods on his little black mare, followed by a pair of his men. “Red-covered?” He exclaimed upon seeing the wagon, “Oh, no.” 

Katto helped the groaning driver up.  He screamed upon moving his right arm.  “Easy,” Shin said. “Believe it or not, we do not want to hurt you. We just want what’s in your wagon.”

“I suppose you would need medical supplies,” the man grunted. 

“Medical supplies?” asked Oro, her ears perking. 

“I didn’t know one of the wagons coming through was red,” Vinchinte said, dismounting.  “Red wagons are medic’s wagons.”

Oro, Whitt and Lapaz looked inside the overturned wagon.   Katto kept his sword out, eying the wagon-driver warily as Whitt passed Shin some specified items scavenged from it to create a splint for the driver’s arm.  More of the Lambs and Lapaz’s men rode or strode out from the forest. 

“Get this wagon up!” Vinchinte commanded. “Find the horses and fix the seat! Hurry! Hurry!” 

“You aren’t going to kill me?” the driver asked. 

“That’s not my style,” Vinchinte Lapaz said, “and I have sworn all I am working with today to go by my style.” 

“What are we going to do with the wagon?” Oro asked as she watched some of the strongest among the group right the wagon with great heaving.  “We can take it to the Cold Creek front lines, to the Ikhan soldiers. I’m sure they could use it.”

“No,” Vinchinte said, shaking his head.  “The Ilkhan camps are far from here.  The Vale lines are closer.  This man’s people are in need of it.”

“Urgently,” the man added.  

“Oh, you can’t be serious,” Oro huffed. 

“People are going to die.” the driver insisted.

“Yes, your people.  Not ours,” Oro said. 

“Oro!” Whitt whined. 

Someone behind them led the captured and calmed wagon horses back and hitched them up.  Whitt craned her neck, staring back at it. 

“Listen,” the driver said, “I’m just a medic. My name is Ezo.  I was conscripted.  The reason I don’t desert the lines is because people need me.  I just don’t want people to die, okay?  The word is that my army is suffering heavy losses.  It should be good news for your people, but it’s not to me.  My brother is a soldier, so are most of my friends.  I’ll be glad to give this wagon over to you for your casualties, but my first duty is to my own.  And now…I cannot drive the wagon.  A wheel rolled right over my arm and, trust me, it’s broken.” 

Whit had slipped away and was seated upon the seat of the wagon, reins in hand. 

“What in the? What are you doing?” Oro demanded of her. 

“Come on, Ezo,” Whitt said with a twitch of her right ear.  “We’ve got some medical supplies to deliver.  Help him up, will you?” 

Vinchinte Lapaz smiled and helped the medic into the seat next to her. 

“You’re going to die…” Oro gasped.  “What do you think the Valien army will do when they see an Ilkhan come ridin’ into their midst?” 

“Hopefully, they’ll understand and let me go,” Whitt replied.  “I am doing them an act of goodwill.  Besides, horses – I know them.  I am the best qualified for this and you know it.” 

Oro made her way to the back of the wagon. Whitt slapped the reins and it rolled forward before she could climb in.  “I don’t want you to die,” the girl called back.  “I’m sorry!” 

It was many hours into the endless night when Whitt and Ezo made neared their destination.  She had talked with the Valien man the whole time and they’d found a lot of things in common.  Ezo wasn’t a bad fellow at all, just a person caught up in circumstances beyond his control and as loyal to his people as Whitt was to hers. 

“I guess I am a true Panzau,” she said softly.  “I’m doing something my father would approve of – something crazy for the sake of peace… saving the lives of my enemies.”

“You wouldn’t need to do this if your group hadn’t ambushed me,” Ezo pointed out.

“True, but we only waylaid you because we thought this was a weapons wagon.”

“I won’t be good for surgery quick enough as I’m needed, but there are others and an apprentice that I’ve been training in our camp.  This is better than nothing, but I still think you’re insane – very risky. People don’t usually help the people who are trying to subjugate them.” 

“I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing, either,” Whitt sighed.  “Maybe it’s a step in the right direction.  All I really ever wanted to do was to protect my people and I may be doing the opposite.  My parents say that it the world isn’t changed as much by people in power – even Elders – as it is just by ordinary people doing the right thing at the right time.  Maybe that’s just a faerie tale that ordinary people tell themselves to feel better about life, one among the countless. I don’t know.  Even if it’s a lie, I like it – I like that idea.”

“I think I like it, too,” Ezo said.  The wagon rambled into his camp.  There were many shouts as they rolled in and many swords were pointed Whitt’s way.

“No! No!” Ezo insisted.  “She’s friendly! She’s helping! Commander, don’t!”

A soldier held him back, none too gentle with his injured arm.  The commander, a man dressed in shoulder and chest armor, grabbed Whitt by an antler and forced her to her knees in the dirt.    

“Just what are you about?” he sneered. 

“I am Whitt of the Panzau,” Whitt replied.  “I am among their protectors, the Lambs.  My people are a people of peace and we are to seek peace whenever possible.  Your medic needed help, so I helped him.” 

“Are you a spy?”

“I am not.  I wanted to help. I want no one to die needlessly.” 

Ezo yelped as the commander raised his sword.  The medic closed his eyes and heard the sound of a body dropping onto the dirt.  He opened his eyes again to see his commander holding a shaggy, white-haired head aloft by one of its antlers.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Broken Worlds

My latest article for Zelda Dungeon just got posted: 

Broken Worlds: The Meloncholy Settings of the Legend of Zelda

Won't make sense to readers of my blog who are not fans of the game series. If you are playing any Zelda games right now and do not want spoilers for plot events and endings, don't read the article.  Otherwise, enjoy. 

This is my second article for the site.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Static-Lands Working Map

Click for a larger view... I think.  I did save it small for viewing online, but it's not supposed to be tiny...

A working map of the Static-Lands.  Photoshop textured with a scan of actual paper I tortured and tea-stained.  I folded the paper so that it would look like it had been a map folded up all tiny in some traveler's back pocket.  I would have handdrawn it, but since I have only written about a few places around the Static-Lands and have only a few more in mind at the moment, I knew I had lots of empty land, so I drew it digitally.  I have a master Photoshop file that I can change.

It was inspired by the map in the PS2 game, "Shadow of the Colossus."  In that game, you start with a map that is covered in clouds, save for the Shrine of Worship - the central save-point/starter location.  As you travel the land, saving around little shrines and slaying the Colossi, the clouds on your map part, showing the locations you've been. I thought it was pretty genius, so I used a similar idea for my story map.  My map is covered in clouds.  As I write more stories and start naming new locations/getting to know my own land, I can go back into the Photoshop file and dispell sections of the cloud layer to reveal/draw them. 

The master Photoshop file is much larger - therefore, if am called upon to put anything into print, there is no problem as long as I have copies of that file and Photoshop handy to bring them up.   This JPEG is just the low-res version.

Locations so Far

The Land-of-Always-Day

Fortissimo - Grand capitol city of the nation of Vale.  Really not as big to the country as it appears on the map (the map is rough-locations, it's not to scale). Cited in several stories so far.

The Desert - Farthest charted part of The Land-of-Always-Day, home of the fiercesome, vulture-like Vule people.

The Edgewoods - Not named in story - just the area where Theresa of "Incurable" lives.

The Gloaming Lands

The Institute - Something planned for a story I have yet to write, "The Soulpainter."  It is the ruin of a defunct old "hospital" that was... not about healing the sick. Created by the government of Vale in its dictator-days, it was where healthy undesirables were taken for things such as forced organ donation to their "betters." Also, a zombie uprising happened there.

The Land-of-Always-Night

The "Last Land" - A story I am writing now involves a tribe of pacifists who retreated to this place in the mountains to survive and to keep themselves from warfare.  It's a rather pleasant place surrounded by graggy mountains and rocks as sharp as glass.  Yes, the Panzau *really* wish to be left alone to be at peace. 

The Old Tower - I'm thinking this may be where peace-activist Vinchente LaPaz lives. Also might be the place where the lady wizard who screwed up the night and day cycle used to live.

I realize that I forgot to include the location of the Green Plateau, which was mentioned in one of my stories. I can always draw it in there when I update the map.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Curing the Incurable

This evening, I got into a small text conversation on a board that brought to mind one of my short stories for the Static-Lands, posted below on this blog. 

For those that have not read it, Incurable is about an aging woman and her adult son and the idea of "forcing a cure" on someone.  The old woman has contracted a mysterious disease that enables her to see visions and to perceive the world in a way that normal people do not.  Her society does have a religion, but one that's very materialistic and aside from a central creator-goddess, holds everything supernatural or off-kilter to be silly and/or dangerous and so visions are contrary to it.  The woman's new way of perceiving the world leads her to start leaning toward a personal mysticism that is contrary to the dominant "normal" view.  The disease she has contracted is also slowly killing her physically. 

Her son, a rather self-important person and person of importance in their society, is dismayed at his mother's state and speaks to her of a new cure that's been discovered for her disease.  She tells him admantly that she does not want this cure, as rather enjoys her newfound eccentricities.  During a trip into the capitol city, which she thinks is innocent enough, he takes her to a clinic where she is "jumped" and processed - this lifesaving cure she did not want forced upon her.  To know of the aftermath, read the story. 

The point of the story wasn't whether or not the characters visions were actually real or true in any way at all. The point was about her wishes, her attitude about her own perceptions (even if they were skewed) and whether or not it was right to force another view or even her previous way of perception back onto her.

I wrote it to deal with both the "religion/faith/beliefs are a virus" idea that's going around in "rationalist" and evolutionary biology circles (as far as I've read), and with the idea of how society approaches mental illness. I, myself, am bipolar. It's an interesting ride, to say the least.  I cannot say that the condition does not make me suffer, but I honestly don't know if I would want a complete and total cure for it if one were found. I see being "non-neurotypical" as being a part of me. It also helps that it's a "disease" shared by a lot of creative people. I find that it helps my creativity (for example, some of more interesting things I write, I don't think I could if I didn't suffer once in a while from crippling depression, and some of what gets done, gets done becuase I have racing thoughts/ideas and manic writing sessions).  The medication I take to regulate it/balance myself helps me to focus, but is not a cure.

Both my (ever shifting but somehow central) beliefs and my strangeness/insanity really are a part of who I am and I get tired of seeing who I am as needing a cure. (I almost want to say "You might as well send me to the gas chamber" sometimes). 

Anyway, I got into a conversation with one of those people who are adamant that all religion is a virus.  I asked him (or her) about that.  I asked specifically about, because of his/her tone on the general topic... about how it really seems to me that a lot of people who are quick to say "religion is a virus, religion is a disease" don't treat people like they have a disease. 

Instead, they seem to be the quickest to treat it as a moral failing - while calling it a naturally-occuring disease. 

This has always puzzled me.  While people *have* judged and looked down upon people with AIDS (becausee they think they "did bad things" to get it), most of the time, we don't treat diseased people like moral failures.  Modern society considers it cruel to treat someone with cancer like they are unintelligent or someone with the flu like they are a failure at life.  Moral judgements and condmenations are typically reserved (in current times) for people who've done some "wrong" action or made "bad choices," not for hospital wards. 

This person inadvertenly gave me some insight as to why people like him (her) *do* treat the "disease" as moral failure.  When I asked this question, their response was that Reason was the cure. (And, yes, they capitalized "Reason").  

Now I know why people who are quick to label people who dissagree with them as "diseased" or "infected" as if by the flu are also quick to see it as moral failing and treat it like a choice:  They are offering the "cure." To them, the "cure" is obvious and seeing the diseased fail to take the cure constitutes "choice."  ---

---Enough to make people both diseased and moral failures at the same time. 

In other words, now I know why this particular "disease" is apparently a disease that does not warrant compassion.

Of course, maybe my connecting these patterns is just a function of my insanity.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It is a Secret to Everybody

Refer to the world outline here:  

A story of the Static-Lands Saga.  The title is a geek-refernce, but this tale has nothing to do with the thing I am referencing.  It is about a man who is the last of his people living among the culture belonging to the people who exterminated them.  

I'm not entirely sure what his religion is, either, but it's not the important thing, the "difference" is the important thing.  I also like the idea of "art as prayer." The idea comes from things in world culture - iconography, sand paintings... I don't know if any culture does tapestries as prayer/sacred art, I just thought it would be neat to have such a thing.  (In my mind, the pattern on the one mentioned seems a bit like the design on the outer garment Wander wears in "Shadow of the Colossus" because that game has become one of my obessions - and it's a nice pattern).  

The Static-Lands Saga

It is a Secret to Everybody

In the city of Fortissimo in the country of Vale there is a tiny bakery on the main market-street.  It is tucked away between a large shoe store and an abandoned bicycle repair shop.  It is, at intervals, the busiest bakery in the city and despite its size, the most expensive, and its products are considered a national treasure.  Although it employs several young people do basic tasks and to run the register, only one man mixes the spices for the cakes, breads and pastries and only that one man knows the full recipes for the things made there.  That man’s name is Zahm and he is the last of his kind.

His mother had taught him to bake, back when he was a little boy living atop the Green Plateau.  Zahm was middle-aged when his shop became well-known and he is now heading into his twilight years.  He wonders if there are any temples left on the Plateau, even if they are only burnt-out hollow structures. 

The bell on Zahm’s door chimed one afternoon as one of his regular customers strode through the door.  The old baker had dismissed his crew earlier as this was one of the slower times of day and slower days of the week, not that one could always tell since the sun held a fixed position.  It was nearly time to close. 

“Call!” Zahm greeted with his slight Green Plateau accent.  It was only a very light accent as he had not been immersed in his people’s idiosyncrasies of language since he was a child.  “Let me guess,” he continued, “Something nice and sweet for your dear mother?”

“What else?” Call replied with a slightly embarrassed smile, “That flakey honey-cake should do.” 

“I have some fresh! Here! Try some!  Nice and hot!”

Zahm proffered a spatula toward Call, laden with a flaky, sticky-dripping dessert.  Call took it, took a bite and closed his eyes in pure pleasure.  Zahm poured the man a cup of warm tea to wash it down. 

“Again, I am reminded of why you are able to set your own prices,” Call said.

“My prices are such because I am only one man and even with help, I can only create so much in a day. This isn’t manufacturing, this is art.” 

“If you shared or sold your recipes, you could make your business bigger.” 

“It is a secret to everybody,” Zahm insisted, “my recipes are one of the last remnants of my people.  I keep them close.  Seriously, is business all you Valiens are interested in?”

Call looked around the shop as Zahm boxed up his order.  Zahm’s Bakery smelled heartily of incense and there were tapestries hung on the walls.  Their patterns were abstract and colorful.  Zahm had once told him that the tapestries were “woven prayers.”  The man never let on what he personally prayed to and no one could remember what it was that the people of the Green Plateau worshipped, just that their ways went contrary to Vale’s ways. Call, like many of Zahm’s other customers, thought that the time for letting-go had come long ago and that the good baker should give up the hokum and identify as Valien.  Zahm was considered a full-citizen, after all, seeing that his skill had earned him a place and much acclaim.

“No,” Call answered, “it’s just that you’ve lived in Vale most of your life and unlike the deer-people, you are fully human.  You’re only as different as you choose to be.  Aside from a few eccentricities, you’re indistinguishable from a normal person.”

“Perhaps I do not wish to be normal, as you say,” Zahm said as he tied off the ribbon on the cake box and handed it to his customer. 

As Call left, Zahm prepared to close the shop for the day.  He looked at one of the wall-tapestries.  He had not woven any of them.  They had been a part of his childhood family home.  He stared at the weaving that represented the Prayer for the Dead.  It was a pattern in mostly blue and white with a brown border.

Zahm had been adopted by a Valien couple at the age of seven.  Being young, he was held to be innocent and salvageable.  His new parents had tried to re-educate him away from the traditions he’d been taught before.  They’d only managed a partial job.  Otherwise, they were nice enough people. 

The people of the Green Plateau had been the victim of Vale’s Great Purge.  The government was different now and had largely put the drama of dictatorship behind itself in favor of a generally democratic system, but the social ghosts of that time lingered.  Vale, when solidifying its rule many years ago, attempted to solidify its beliefs and morality.  Even today, any citizen that worshipped anything other than the nation’s goddess, Materia-Machina, or held un-Machinist values was subject to suspicion.  Sometimes, dissidents were even subject to incarceration and study at psychiatric facilities or were encouraged toward suicide.  This was mostly for the Ilkhan among Vale’s population, as their physical features were cause enough for many Valiens to consider them sub-human.

Zahm knew that the Valiens had a spirituality of a sort, but it wasn’t one he marked as particularly deep.  Most believed in the existence of their goddess, though few took it seriously.  Even with those that did, all Zahm saw was a reverence for a “goddess of gimme.”  People only prayed to Materia-Machina when they wanted something.  The few successful people that gave to charity in her name tended only to do so because they expected blessings of greater wealth in return.  Such donations more often than not went to the fine things owned by the people that solicited the donations, and generally only served to grease social wheels.  Zahm certain that if Materia actually existed that she was not withholding from the poor to punish them, but because mortals bored her and she left them to their own devices.  No one asked Materia-Machina what they could do for her or for others. They only ever asked her “Gimme!”  The ways of the old baker’s childhood home were far different.   

Only Zahm knew anymore what the people of the Green Plateau had worshipped and how they did so.  He felt some knowledge to be too sacred to reveal to people who would only mock it at best.  What brought the wrath of Vale upon his people a generation ago laid mostly in their general culture.  Zahm thought that his culture had probably only worked because of the Plateau’s low population.  The Plateau-people had believed in sharing all gains and all needs with one another and furthermore, in honoring and upholding the weak.  In Vale, it was the strong and the lucky who were respected.  On the Green Plateau, it was almost the other way around.  Strong people were praised, of course, but only if they used their power to help those weaker than themselves.

Back then, when the dictatorship that was running Vale decided that bringing the people of the Green Plateau into line with the common Valien values was an attempt at futility, the people were overtaken and killed.  They had not fought back in a way sufficient enough to spare them, for the thought of killing people for any reason was abhorrent to them.  Children younger than a certain age were taken to be a part of Valien families.  Zahm had been taken to the live in Fortissimo, where he remained ever since.  His adoptive parents had both died some time ago, first his father and then his mother.  Research had shown him that he was the very last of the Green Plateau people still alive. 

Even with a somewhat gentler government, Zahm was certain that the reason he remained alive was because of his formidable baking skills.  The entire city loved his pastries.  Even elected officials came by his shop every now and again.   

He was unmarried.  Zahm had been forbidden to marry on account of keeping to some undesirable bits of his childhood culture.  Vale, and Fortissimo in particular, wished to prevent individuals with “undesirable values” or of “undesirable mental standing” to reproduce.  This was alright by Zahm, for strange reasons.  The first was that he had no particular desire to mate.  “Spiritually minded” is what his true mother might have called him if she had not been the recipient of a sword through her heart.  The strangest reason, however, had to do with being the last of his people.  He wanted to retain that position.  Zahm had decided that when he was gone, so would go his people and he wanted to make sure that Vale would feel the loss. 

Another day, Zahm closed up shop with one customer still inside.  This was Sen, a very special customer with whom Zahm sat down and had tea.  Sen picked at his cinnamon-apple bread.  Sen had been quite depressed lately and Zahm offered a listening ear.  The bulk of Sen’s problems stemmed from his being a lifelong resident of the city and an Ilkhan. 

“I’m thinkin’ of doin’ it, ya know,” Sen said.

“What is that?” Zahm asked.

“One of the clinics,” the young man answered.  “I gotta face it, I got no idea how to live with my own people in the night-land and I ain’t wanted here.  Clinic’s supposed to be quick an’ clean, not like do-it-yerself.  If I jump offa somethin’, I might wind up all busted up and sufferin’ for a good long time.  You’re outta place, too.  You know how hard it is.  Future’s got no place for folks like me, even less for you.  You’re the last of yours.” 

“Which is precisely why I think talk of the clinics is stupid.  Sen… Sen… listen to me.  You should not succumb to what the world wants.  Live and defy the world.”

“You know,” Sen began, “There’s talk of a tribe of Ilkhan that were kinda like your people.  They lived up in the Draklore Mountains – some of ‘em are supposed to still be up there.  They say they’s innocent-minded, which is why the other Ilkhan tribes fought so hard to protect them in the last war.  They needed to be protected, like children.  They couldn’t conceive the worst of human evil, you see?” 

“The worst of human evil?” 

“Well,” Sen continued, “They couldn’t understand why so many of the Valiens hated ‘em – all of us – so much.  This tribe believed that the world was filled with spirits, both good ones and wicked ones.  After the first time they met Valien war parties, this tribe – get this – they start speakin’ ‘bout a kind of evil spirit, not one that can posses someone outright, but curls up inside ‘em.”

Zahm leaned forward, his elbows on the table and his knuckles on his chin.  Sen, noting the strange look his friend was giving him, continued.

“This kind of spirit,” he said, “it just sits inside a person, feedin’ off their soul, changin’ their brain all subtle-like.  They don’t make themselves known, but they change the will of a man so that he don’t even know his own will is bein’ changed.  This kinda demon is all ‘bout hatred.  It feeds offa it, creates it.  Accordin’ to the mountain tribe, these demons are responsible for reasonable people actin’ unreasonably – rational people holdin’ irrational attitudes and thinkin’ that they’re rational despite living evidence against their prejudice.” 

“What do you think, Sen?” Zahm asked. 

“I don’t think its demons,” the Ilkhan replied, taking a small bite of bread.  He swallowed hard.  “I can definitely see why that tribe thinks evil spirits are involved… some folks who pride themselves best on calm an’ logic make the least sense when they talk ‘bout things they hate – and even less sense when those things are people.  Seems downright reasonable to me for somethin’ supernatural to be involved, as strange as such a thought is, but no, I don’t think those demons exist.  Seems to me those poor mountain-folk are just too kind to face the fact that people are a cruel, unreasonable lot.  People’s prejudices make ‘em feel secure, ya know?  I won’t lie and say I got none of my own.”

“You are very smart,” Zahm replied.  “This is why you should go on living. Forget the clinic.  I’ll share with you a secret.”

“One of your secret recipes?” the young man asked hopefully.

“No.  Those are secret to everybody.  I even burned all my old recipe cards and notes, committing all of my secret mixes to memory.  I do not plan on passing them on to anybody, ever.” 

“Why?  Isn’t the honey-flake cake in particular one of the specialties of your folk?”

“It is, which is why I do not want to pass it on.”

“You don’t wish to spread your culture?”

“No.  When I die, so dies the last of my culture, including its recipes.  You see, to survive in a world like this one, a person must find a way to make themselves valuable – indispensable, if possible.  The reason why I am kept alive, dear Sen, is – I believe – because of my skills and my secrets.  No one in this city or nation knows how to make the things that I make.  Many guess at my secret blends and many have tried to replicate my work, but it stands as unique.” 

“Do you fear that you’ll be killed iffin’ you share your recipes?  Isn’t that a might paranoid?” 

“I don’t think they’ll kill me,” Zahm said, “just neglect me.  I do not worship what they worship and they cannot stand what I worship, although they do not know what it is.  They cannot stand that someone in their nation thinks differently than they do. A few think praying at all makes a man worthless in light of the indifference of existence. ‘How dare you hope for anything except what is!’ they’ve said to me and have asked me why I don’t just conform to the way they want everyone to be. Most who visit my shop regard me with a resentment that seethes beneath the surface, behind their smiles.  However, by tickling their tongues and filling their bellies, I have made myself valuable enough to be left alone and to be acknowledged as a person of some worth.  That is my revenge, dear one.”


“Of a kind.  I serve them, the people of Fortissimo, I mean – even those that are openly glad for the deaths of my people.  If my skills are the only reason they have for valuing me, so be it.  Even if I am only appreciated because I can make cakes that send people into fits of delight, it is enough.  My recipes were common to my people and now I am the only one left who knows them.  They enjoy my work now, but when I go, those skills and ways will be lost to them forever.” 

“I think I understand,” Sen replied, tracing a finger over the foremost point on one of his antlers.  “I should find a skill that will make people mourn should I pass – and that’ll make life worth livin’.”

“I don’t think you need a skill, in your case.  I would miss you terribly just because of who you are.”

Sen looked up at Zahm’s gentle smile and smiled himself. “Besides, you’re young,” Zahm added.

“And you’re not-so-young anymore ol’ man,” Sen laughed, “Sure you don’t trust me with makin’ this kinda bread at least?”

“I cannot share my knowledge with anyone,” the baker answered, “not a single soul.  This may be the only epitaph our conquerors respect.  When I die, so do my secrets.  If people don’t mourn me, they shall mourn the loss of their favorite foods, at least – something unique they will not see or taste the likes of again.  They will feel my loss for that, if nothing else.  Then, perhaps, they will finally feel the loss of my people.  With the loss of one life comes the loss of something unique and the same with the loss of an entire people and culture.  Even if conquerors only lament for how the lost ones could have served them, that is one small thing.” 

“I’ll miss more than your bakin’, so don’t die anytime soon, okay?”

“I know, my friend.  I plan on serving this city for a good, long time – to tickle their tongues and please them. That way, when my time comes and I go the way of the rest of my people, their hunger will be all the greater.”