Arcana: The Fallen Star

Shown also Reversed for symbolism.

Fifth card in The House of Suns (aka The Cosmos,) The Fallen Star is a card of ephemeral grandeur, temporary prominence, and the passing of what we thought enduring.  This card is curious amongst the invariable Cosmos, The Fate of Stars, for it shows their grand illusion for the facade it is.

It is often a card of sorrow, and loss, and yet a bright flare of hope in an ageless world.  All we have is a glimmer, all we know passes.  It is as implied among its siblings one of the greatest cards of Illusion, and foolish presumptions.  It shows that little is as we perceive it.  The Fallen Star is not a star at all, but for a moment outshines many.  The stars we think permanent change.  Our understanding, and perspective changes.  That which is enduring most often is also cyclical.

Reversed this card is the Comet, and the ephemeral becomes no more than what waxes and wanes.  Repetitions, and returns.  A card of ascendance, with an implied warning, as a new light in the sky, chases the sun.  Yet the price of such a rise, is well known.  None have ever taken the sky’s throne.

Here we see an odd arrangement of constellations not found together in the night sky.  The Vessel (aka Traveler) The Ladle, and The Scythe.  One looks not to the prominence of stars however, but to what thoughts drove mortals to see such images in the sky.

Before 200 B.E. The Scythe constellation would first rise above the equator on the first evening of Anumn, during the festival of harvests in Anderhale.  This event drifted twenty days later over the next four hundred years, but has come nearly full circle back in the intervening centuries.

Below this we find The Ladle, half a sky out of position.  The constellation Supper Minora appears after sunset for a few hours in latitudes north of the Sea of Helm.  It is more visible in the summer.  The Southern Ladle conversely is only visible north of Napir during late winter.  It is larger, and has two more stars in the handle.  Similarly though it is an evening constellation, and so it is popular in many lands to say:

“When stars a ruddy cooling sky stir, and twinkle doth the handle shine, tis then a right and proper time, for all good children to dine.”

Children’s Rhyme, possibly pre-imperial Napirees, or Thebian.

Lastly, and even more dramatically out of position The Vessel, or Traveler is a constellation never seen bellow the latitude of the North Sea.  Here again harkening to the Comet interpretation of the card.  “What travels returns.  All that rises falls.”

In addition to The Scythe, The Tower clearly makes an appearance here as well.  The mortal folly of standing against the inevitable, and yet, it stands.  We have only our determination to endure.

Most interpret these details as all maters of cycles, and returns.  Both that which is earned, and that which meets the worthy, innocent, and cruel in certain measure.  As many cards of The Cosmos.  The Fallen star is the certain of variability, and the variability in the certain.  From the meal we must all eat to live, to the wages of life being death, and what goes around comes around.  To the wanderlust that drives us out to seek a grander place.  To prognosticate, and write our little fates in the stars.

This brings a final interpretation, with the card reversed.  The Traveler Returns.  What is wayward and wandering, comes back to where it began.  Just as the procession of the stars have nearly brought the Scythe full circle.


Commentary I:13

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A Tower by the Sea

I’ll be honest, the first time I wrote Arlen I did simply relegate him to Knight Commander.  What first inspired the idea of how titles are structured in Avrale I really am not sure.  A fun bit of playing telephone with hereditary power structures.  Heritable knighthoods, a knighthood attached to every duchy, automatically granted to the second heir, unless the first born refuse duke to serve as a knight commander.  There by creating a Duke Regent of his brother.

It was, and I suppose remains a novel construct, but I like it.  Arlen by this move gains a whole lot of extra authority, an automatic penultimate rank among knights at court.  All the while shirking the responsibility of having to rule a bunch of fish mongers, traders, and malcontent miners.  He also conveniently keeps his distance from his wife, who is far too worldly minded for his tastes, and his son mostly under his thumb.  Mostly.

If Arlen keeps Charles long enough from Wesrook, his wife comes calling.  Neither one of them wants that.  Though a third child may be in either’s plans eventually.  Arlen does want a second male son to insure that both the knighthood, and the duchy remain with his line.  A duchess is a plausible claim, unless his brother gets clever.  Still Meloria might leverage the idea herself to have another.  About the only joy she has gotten from her marriage.  Politically arranged she was wealthy enough before being saddled with a less than blissful partner.  In most ways she considers that her life never really changed, save her darling children.  After all, she knew Arlen nearly as poorly before they were qws.  Nothing really changed.

Wesrook is a fairly libertine city in truth.  Sailors, merchants, traders.  Wesrook is the seat of a massive portion of Avrale’s wealth via gold mines.  It is the only major harbor in the land, as most of the coast line is perilous, and ocean exposed.  Wesrook has both a harbor, enhanced artificially, and some shelter from direct ocean waves by Carth.  Meloria delights in living vicariously through the more reputable sea captains, and ship owners who pass through her port.

It is indeed Meloria’s port, as the Duke Regent gladly leaves managing the affair to her, rather than deal with those sorts himself.  If it lends him any credit, then let me imply it may be a question not of him offering a woman credit she is due, necessarily.  He could just look down even farther on commoners and their commerce.  Maybe a mixture.

Varmun.  Oh you delightful charming man.  I always liked him, but when my first beta reader went on about him, I grew much more fond.  He was created primarily because I did want to settle some cultural aspects of the world.†  What he became however, is a fascinating man of mystery, not that he keeps a great deal to himself.  Yet one gets the impression that there is always more to the story.

Some of the things he lays out here are quite critical.  They represent me coming back, and adding in some foreshadowing for things that come later, that were literally always the plan.  A core story arc, though he did help me begin to realize its even deeper role in the world.

I really am curious if I can find a larger place for illusion magic in the world.  It really isn’t a unique thing per say, just very delicate, and may have its own tricks, and techniques.  To an extent mages perform the basics all the time, light orbs, and other visible spells.  Illusion however is the crafting of form, and motion, and likely more art than science.  Still, for every art, there will be a science, if someone has the will.

†Osyrae is a northern land, closer to the equator, but not the end of the world.  They treat all other peoples as their inferior.  For their great gifts, and enduring heritability of their most striking physical traits.  We will hear some mention of their gene for red hair (~10% of the population,) that can take generations before it finally vanishes.  Though it does sometimes decay into auburns, and browns.

Fools May Tread: Book III: Interlude 2

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I’ve imagined this scene for incredibly long time, but always kind of known it wouldn’t go in.  It sets the stage for the begging of Book III, but that book has always begun one way, and just doesn’t leave room for this little encounter between old friends that were never quite more.  If you will forgive ‘more’ in relation to friendship and romance. One can have a lover who is not really a friend. One can certainly have a friend who is not a lover. I don’t think though that it is unfair to imply that the combination is more than one or the other, without arguing too much about relativistic feelings on love and friendship.  A complex topic to say the least. This occurs fairly soon before the start of Book III, sans some necessary travel time. I won’t give it a precise date to avoid sorting the logistics of that.


Fools May Tread

The Blight.  It wasn’t always called this, and in all likelihood the name would pass again into obscurity.  Seen from high above the world one might see some resemblance to a depiction of a complex mathematical set, plotted roughly in the dead trees of the once vibrant Evergrove.  The spread had stopped. The damage done lingered. Quite in spite of the best efforts of some of the worlds greatest minds, who owed what success they found to the work, and peril of one young woman.

Kiannae Ashton.  Raven haired, and a bit tall for a woman, or even a man of her native Avrale.  Her sun touched skin could almost hide the freckles around her nose, and emerald eyes just the least bit off the mark from human.  She had always had a tendency towards being a loner, and so to noone’s surprise sat on a marker stone, well apart from friend or foe.

Spellwork glowed around her, visible to even ungifted yes.  Living grass spread, and sprouted beneath her chosen seat. A flower cropped up amidst it, and turned her eye.  The presence approaching had not. Mostly out of indifference. She had thought he felt familiar. She looked up on the face of a young man who stood with trepidation at the edge of her freshly grown lawn.

“You’ve a lot of nerve,” she said.  “Sneaking up on me again, after all these years.”

“As if I could ever sneak up on you,” Zale answered.

She stood up, and stepped through her spell work without a care.  It dissolved, and swirled around her. The rapid growth ceased.

“You really did all that?” he asked, and noticed that she was maybe even a little taller than he remembered.

“All that?” she said with ill humor, gesturing behind her.  “Oh yes, probably. You’d have seen it, if you stuck around.”

“I’m not here to fight,” Zale protested.

“Why are you here?”

“Because someone asked – very nicely – that I please convince the crazy girl to stop antagonizing the Storm Queen.  Sitting right on her border. I told Landri, that if she thought I could convince you of anything, she was out of her mind.”

“I’m not antagonizing the Storm Queen,” Kiannae said.

Zale gestured exasperatedly at the sky.  “That’s a dragon! Up there! On the borders of Niven, for all the further trouble that makes.  Don’t try and tell me it’s some coincidence.”

“Oh, what?” Kiannae looked up as though surprised.  “Calista? Eh. She’s an old friend. Gentle as a kitten.  She circles overhead on the border, while I sit here on a rock.  We chat at least twice a day. Commiserate over all the unnecessary fuss everyone makes over it.”

“So you, just chat, with an ancient dragon?” Zale said incredulously.  “Daily occurrence for you now. Is it? Do you think I’ve gone daft since we last met?”

Kiannae smirked.  “I wouldn’t say gone, no.  Fairly sure you started there.”

“Don’t flirt, or, whatever this is,” Zale said exasperatedly.  “Nothing’s changed. Well, except, I’m sure you are sleeping with him now.”

“Not much sleeping,” Kiannae said.  “Though, he did figure out how to, eventually.  So I guess, now and then.” Her nonchalant facade held for a moment, before her gaze fell, and she brushed back her hair.

“What do you hope to gain?” Zale asked.

Kiannae just pointed towards the horizon.

Zale looked where eyes most often did not want to go.  A massive tree that stood like a mountain over the low plain of the blight.

“It’s nearly a thousand feet tall,” Kiannae said.  “Reportedly still growing. A little less than a foot a day since it sprouted. Since… Shadow gave his life for my mistakes.”

“You can’t possibly be taking credit, or blame, for that…thing,” Zale said.  “I had heard the stories. I knew, you had to be involved, but, that’s not something a person does!”

“Who said I’m a person?” Kiannae challenged irritably.

“Me,” he said tersely, sighed, covered his face and shook his head.

Kiannae stared at him definitely, but when he did not meet her gaze, she turned away.  “I think it’s all my fault.”

“All?” he asked, legitimately doubting the scope of her claim.

“Literally, everything,” Kiannae said.  “I remember it. A world without Osyrae breathing down our necks.  Growing up in the cloister…my…first kiss. Fates, I’m sure you would love to know about that, wouldn’t you?  Not at all who you would expect. All these little things that didn’t play out the same, and all these horrors that never were.  I don’t know how any of it fits, but I know it’s all my fault. Prophecy is one thing, but now I see pasts that never were. Tell me, is that a gifted practice, or just madness?”

“What happened?” Zale asked, and stepped a bit closer.

“I’m glad you left,” Kiannae said crossing her arms.

“Because, ‘A great many people would have to die around you,’” Zale quoted as best he could, not taking the bait of the obvious meaning.  “Before anyone offered you a crown?”

“Maybe you do listen, after all,” Kiannae grumbled.

“And I hear too,” Zale said.  “I hear you were offered one, and turned it down.”  He took a breath. “I found that seer. When I went back through Thebes, after I left.  I paid him back his two silver, for the rest of that reading. Not sure it was worth it, but, he told me what you wouldn’t have listened to.  That your sister was alive. That I had walked in the circles of gods. He told me things I knew somehow in my heart, and yet still do not believe.  Even now. I knew something far simpler. You had made up your mind.” He set his hand on her shoulder.

“Had I?” Kiannae said, and turned around, to stare him down.  “I don’t trust prophecy, but that out there. That isn’t the future.  It’s the past. I want to understand what happened. What is still happening, but the Storm Queen will permit no one, certainly not from outside Napir examine it.  Least of all me. I offended her it seems, rejecting her son.”

“What happened,” Zale said rhetorically, ignoring her intractable implications, and focusing on her first challenge.  “A man knew he could not compete, not with a living part of your own will.”

“Who said you had to compete?” Kiannae asked.  “Seems my sister is fond enough of wandering fancy.  Maybe, I should have just taken you all up. Let you all decide to stay, or go.  Kept you like pets. That’s what you called Taloe, isn’t it?”

“You aren’t her though, are you?” Zale countered.  Pushing past the distractions. He remembered how it worked.  Focus on the detail in front of you, not the deflections around it.

She turned, and walked back to her rock in a huff.  “This doesn’t end well,” Kiannae said.

“Nothing ever ends well,” Zale said.  “The ends are all the same. It’s the living, that makes the story.  What lies between the beginning, and the end. We begin in nothing, we end, in that which we did with our lives.  We end, when we stop making those differences.”

“Fates,” Kiannae muttered, but kept staring south.  “When did you get so verbose?”

“I’ve had a lot of time on the road.  Working a few hours a day, traveling or waiting the rest.  Not much else to do, but play with the wind, and read. I’ve found the writings of Sylvia get a man a long way, with, some women.  She made a life out of loving them after all.”

“Some, women,” Kiannae stressed.

“I’m not here to fight,” Zale repeated, “and I can’t imagine being with you, as anything but a fight.”

“Then why – I ask again – are you here?”

“I met some druids coming south from Lundan, on the way into Niven.  Quiet lot for the most part, but I heard them gossiping amongst themselves that the Archdruid is talking about doing rounds of the local kingdoms.  It’s not…typical to make such visits. I saw my grandfather last year, and am not keen to indulge him on some final tour, but, that would mean he is visiting Avrale.  I thought you might like to know.”

“Wouldn’t he have already done it?” Kiannae asked.

“It’s not usual, he wouldn’t rush something like this.  You’ve at least till the spring.”

“Not like I’m getting anywhere here,” Kiannae said.

“The growth…”  He hesitated. “You did that with a spell? Seems like somewhere to me.  I didn’t even think that was possible”

“I knew the quote,” Kiannae said.  “My sister gave me a copy of that book.  That woman claimed to have done no less. She started on plants, when she burned herself trying the first time.”

“I hadn’t read that version,” Zale offered.

“I didn’t do much.  Just followed the patterns already here.  Someone did this. Whether it really is a spell as big as the world, or just this, I can’t tell.  The Evergrove was built. It was a spell. It…made everything grow, and dire creatures sprang up, and learned what it had to teach.”

“What dire creatures?”

“Dryads.  Not like near Lundan, but, I can’t say if they might have been intelligent, in some other way.  The spell doesn’t go all that far, but the dryads cast it themselves. Much like the fungus we have almost wiped out.  Were both in some sense intelligent? I raised dire wolves. Animals, who were, more like people. Or are we all more like animals than we admit.  Just a fire, trying to burn out our fuel? All stories end the same. That’s the phrase, right? Spells and people, stars and worlds. We all end the same.  At least in that we all end. Everything ends.”

“If the story does not end, then how does next begin?” Zale countered.

“That, doesn’t sound like Sylvia,” Kiannae said curiously, and half looked back over her shoulder.

“Clarion, Saint Darius of the Ascension,” he answered.  “I had a lot of time to read.”

Kiannae flopped back onto the stone, and caught her head in a spell.  She stared at him upside down. “I did love you,” she said. “You insufferable boy.”  She sighed. “Fine. I’m not accomplishing anything further here. I’ll head to Avrale, see if I can’t get there ahead of your grandfather, and greet him properly.  I leave it to you, to inform Landri she’s not out of her mind.”

She smiled a bit to broadly.  “Oh, but first, I’m going to introduce you to a dragon.”  She put her fingers between her lips, and made a sharp whistle.

Commentary I:12

Northern Midland/Mountain Region Vietnam: Inspiration for the Long Valley (source)

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A Road Less Traveled

This chapter was part of the first large scale overhaul of Book I post split, and closely associated with the initial change of Kit to Wren.  A natural collision of a lot of little things that wanted to happen.  First and foremost to see some more of Avrale, and get a feel for the goings on.  The nation is really quite small.  I’ve left my self some wiggle room around the edges, which I think I’m going to use to make the land a little less dinky.  Yet in some ways the utter smallness of Avrale was always intended.  A tiny nation at the intersection of world events.

I really had been playing around with the mythos of the Lynx the Wolf and the Moon for well over a year before I introduced it here.  Most of the text tucked in a file waiting for a place.  I have copious notes on the almost forgotten creation myths of the world.  In part I wanted to give the world some of the texture of our own, gods of various lands immortalized in traditions that have lost half their meaning.

Aldermor just felt right in the over all flow.  It let me narrow in on a few things without being explicit about them, though the extra is admittedly more so.  The Long Valley, where Aldermor sits was really half the inspiration for the chapter.  The image above I stumbled across one night, which so accurately captured a lot of the feel that I had intended Avrale to have.  The rest coming from a trip through central Oregon, and having grown up in Washington state.

I’m honestly less than sure what precisely inspired the Daven’s flame.  I think I really liked the idea of injecting this singular oddity into the middle of this mundane late renaissance style port city, and the long journey down from the mountains of inner Avrale.  I’m not sure if this is the first reference to Carth that appears in the books.  This island nation is utterly a nod to the earliest inspiration of O&E an obscure late 90s mac only MMO called Oberin that never really got out of beta.  Carth was a somewhat dangerous northern island filled with valuable volcanic ash for spells.  More obscurely my re-orientation of the northern island to a western one is actually a personal dig at the retroactive continuity in Blizzard’s Warcraft franchise in which by all evidence they at some point rotated their world 90° and the west became the north.

The final section of the chapter is utterly inspired by my memory of reading the Lark and the Wren, which really left a lasting impression of the idea of pre-industrial city life.  The eternal uphill battle against the forces of entropy, and well, dirt.  Same difference right?  It felt it fit well.

Arcana: The Lovers

Reversed as with many dualistic cards, the symbolism can be a parallel, or even supporting.

The Lovers, 6th card of the House of Peasants (aka The Lower Court). The Lovers much like The Scythe is a poorly understood card. Though literal interpretations are easy, and often valid, this is a card also of deep attachment, friendship, and transcendent empathy. It can further represent obsession, and what is injurious in our desires.

Reversed one easily finds jealousy, shame, or a loss of trust. More clearly though this can harken to rivalry, and a jostling for position. Yet may also signify letting go, moving on, releasing our grudges, or a reversal of roles. As in ones lowest day the kindness shown is returned, and cruelty imparted avenged. This card can be as the reaper a sign of reaping what is sown.

Depicted here in fairly traditional form are Layfet and Damun. Younger of Osyir’s two rebel daughters, and the lover she took from among the Tethes tribe. It is notable though that per tradition all clear sign of gender for either figure is obscured. Hair worn long as a man of Tethes would have. Still one could determine that Layfet with her Osyrean skin, and red hair is the upper left figure, and Damun the man in the lower right. Such distinction however is rarely, if ever, used in traditional interpretation, and many cards depict far less identifiable persons.

One might mistake this card as a victim of Clarion modesty, but the truth is hidden in plain sight. “Onthu Jezel Volled,” is ancient Lycian for “Fully Yourself Reveal.” Thus we see instead a mockery of Clarion shame, in a thin veneer of false modesty, extolling the Sylvian virtue, “offer the last of oneself, hidden from the world.”


Commentary: I had originally added a more lackluster banner in an attempt to mitigate prudish discomfort.  Then was encouraged my darling wife (who was a big help cleaning up other details) that the censorship was quite unnecessary.  However by then I had already become quite attached to the lore description of why the banner was really there.  Also that I needed a few more cards that would use the motif started with the Sword.  So she helped me make the banner work.  Love her so much.

This card makes me very happy for other reasons that would be spoiler adjacent.  Sufficed to say I see an echo of these historical figures in our future.

The Story So Far: Book II

Haunted by prophecy since their youth, twin girls have grown into women of night and day.  Shaped in form as much as manner by the forces of their life and magic.  Yet they share still that same emerald gaze.  That same face, seen across the span of ages, by prophets clear eyed, and mad.  That one has taken the mantle of silver hair.  The other battled ancient spirits.  These things cannot answer the question of who is the second born, and first to die.

Years have passed since the Mage Council demanded Laurel’s return to Mordove.  Years in which what was to be a brief absence, has become unreasonably long.  The Council offers no explanation, and instead asks ever more challenging questions.  Thinly veiled threats surrounding Avrale’s dangerous position of having killed – a possibly rogue – Council Mage.  While the nations standing leadership has launched counter claims over likely involvement in a plot to assassinate the immediate heads of state.  That claimed prominent members of the court.

Troubled, and restless Kiannae returned to her life in the wilds, to help heal the blighted Evergrove of Niven and Napir.  Returning with caution to places she seemingly challenged the very nature of, and fought a terrifying thing of nightmare.  Her love, and elemental-ghost Taloe, ever at her side.  She is sent home by a young man she once fancied, as word reaches her of curious moves within the Druid order.

Katrisha has stood in absentia as Court Mage in her mentor’s extended absence.  A woman in open defiance of convention.  Rebellious against the Clarion morals twisted to bringing dark days on the kingdom.  Politics have moved, shift still, and have cost her more in the intervening years.  Yet in her intrepid way she has soldiered on, grabbing any fleeting moment of love she might, in a life that seems determined to leave her nothing permanent.  Her controversial appointment cannot hold.

The young Wren has woken up from several years perhaps a bit too happy, to find himself suddenly alone by his own making, and uncertain what future he wants.  His dubious powers remain just below the surface, but in peace have not bothered him further.  As the shifting hands of fate draw his sisters east, he must wrestle with a fear that his impulse to follow, will lead him into dire straights, and test powers he does not know, or understand.

Commentary I:11

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An Errant Chapter Makes Fools of Us All

By far the most awkwardly short chapter of either Book I or II.  One of these days I’m going to do another editing pass to add some abridging text to smooth the book, and hopefully this chapter will feel better after.  In truth this chapter is in some ways the repository of a bunch of things that didn’t fit other places after editing.  Necessary understanding of the changing disposition of dragons in the north.  Filled with the bewilderment of our protagonists and supporting characters trying to understand what is happening behind the veil of Osyrae’s schemes.

I think it manages to be a fairly coherent narrative.  Following various threads of goings on, and tying them together.  That said, fragments of this chapter come from so many different editing passes.  I do worry that shows in how it is a bit scattered.  The fall out of the unprecedented capture of a feral dragon, turning into confusion.  A sister passing through town again, and bringing trouble with her.

Sasha.  A delightfully problematic distraction in the midst of dragons and trade routes.  I like Sasha a bit more than I probably should.  She has few boundaries, and plays by no one’s rules but her own.  For those who have read the Afternoon in Aldermor extra, Sasha is very specifically on Renae’s mind when saying ‘the most troublesome sort.’

Still, on some level she always means well.  She certainly thinks she is right in what she does.  She treats all of life as a game, but that doesn’t mean she plays anything but seriously.  I say I like her more than I should, because she causes some trouble, and arguably crosses some lines down the road.  How specific about her impact I will ever be, I remain uncertain.  She is toying with inserting herself into Book III in ways I had not originally planned.

I suppose Sasha has some qualities of an antagonist.  More of an agitant really.  Which is intentional I guess.  She’s a troll, a pot stirrer, someone who pushes to see what she can get out of people.  Some find her charming.  Some find her annoying.  Some find it deeply annoying how charming they find her.  Samantha is on that list.  Sasha enjoys the challenge.

I find it fascinating to consider how different most peoples opinion of her would likely be, if she were a man.  Not always for the same reasons.  I also intend her to be deeply self aware of this.  She’s a smart woman, and what she spends most of her time thinking about, other than the obvious, is how people work.  Why they do what they do, and how she can use that to change perspectives, or moods to her liking or at least amusement.

One could presume her a sociopath of sorts, but this implies a lack of empathy.  Quite the contrary, Sasha is intended to be immensely empathetic, but if it makes sense to say, has very little sympathy.  If she thinks someone is wrong, or have wronged her, she really just enjoys knowing how much she is making them uncomfortable, or irritated.  Particularly if she gets the impression they can be won over, and do not want to be.

Again the interesting aspect of the common perspective differences on a man, or a woman behaving in this way.  Because in common cultural expectations at least, men are threatening, and women aren’t.  When she intrudes she is not likely to be viewed as dangerous, just annoying.  If she felt she was actually threatening someone, she would pull back, be more measured, and try a different tact.  Yet when ever she is looking up the presumed power spectrum, she seeks to turn it on its head.  Just to see if she can.