Monday, August 18, 2014

DSD.1: A Private Sanctuary

DSD.1: A Private Sanctuary

By: Matthew D. Hammond

Date: 1st of Rubalkun, 351 6gc
Warnings: N/A

At'mavi had been cast into shades of brown and grey by the tide of the seasons. Trade had slowed between the Basai’van estate and the neighboring banners as the year cycled into its coldest months, and the weather became harsh weeks earlier than what had been anticipated. The slaves had been worked with cruel urgency to turn over the soil and replace the crop before the first deep freeze, and fatigue had set in hard over the workforce, but the task had found completion. Until the next harvest, the work would fall into a lax and steady routine.
All alone, at the end of a wharf, sat a solitary troll, holding his tail at a curve over his lap. White, misty vapor rose in calm puffs from his flared nostrils. His chest heaved as he sucked in deep breaths of the morning fog that rose in ghastly wisps from the still pond before him. His amber eyes followed fallen pine needles as they bobbed along gently on the water's surface beneath his feet. Locks of jet hair spiraled in natural messy waves from his mane, veiling his somber face. Callused fingers hugged a small stick that had fallen upon the dock, and with a sigh, he cast it into the water.
Ripples spread across the deep, stagnant waters, lapping against the mound of debris that kept the pond walled away from fresher waters. Once, there had been a creek connecting the small old dock to the river beyond the dense treeline. When a chain of severe weather washed uncountable fallen trees down stream and wedged them tightly in the mouth of the creek, the plantation owners dug a trench at a more favorable point for business, creating a channel to the river. The construction on the southern edge of the field rendered the little wharf obsolete. The churning current of the river could be heard babbling just out of sight.
Alone in the quiet of the morning, the troll pondered the similarities that he shared with the old wharf. He, too, had been busy and useful once: a fine young warrior and scout for his people. His name once carried weight; his actions brought pride to his clan. In one swift falter, he had lost everything. He was captured and stripped of his clothes and his name, forced into servitude some place far from his home woods. His bones, like his sense of self, had been broken by his keepers’ rods and fists over the course of some months―how many he had forgotten. The people that had once loved him now thought of him as long dead. His spirit was as withered as the old boards he sat upon.
Just enough of his heart still stirred within him to inspire small acts of defiance, such as sneaking away from the bedding lodge before dawn. The cramped wooden chamber was little more than a glorified stable with hay and shelves to sleep upon. He and the three other trolls belonging to the workforce were made to sleep on the cold ground by their fellow captives, and they were too vastly outnumbered to stand against the ragged gathering of convicted criminals. After all, this was an At’mavan plantation, and even the slaves had a hierarchy to go by: humans had more authority than trolls, and outlaws serving out their paltry sentences were of higher social standing than those enslaved for life.
At least against the wall, opposite of the bunks, he could sleep without being shoulder to shoulder with the otherswhen he could find sleep at all. Something in his thoughts or dreams always seemed to roust him from his slumber; he had not felt the benefits of a decent rest throughout most of his captivity. He would rise in the darkness, lost in the same eddy of emotions that haunted him every night, and he would creep out to walk the plantation grounds. If there was one thing he had a talent for, it was remaining unseen, and the night patrol remained none the wiser of his hobby. He could find some peace in exercising his old skills. The severe consequences should he be caught only made each excursion more enjoyable.
He had found the dock months ago, when part of him still sought to make an escape. The small trail leading to it had long ago become overgrown with briers and shrubs, shielding it from the main road. He would come to sit and study after scoping out the roads and the property, and gradually, as his desire to flee the plantation subsided, he found himself getting away from the lodge just to be alone. It was a secret that the guardians of the plantation were not wise enough to uncover, and in that fact, he found a trace of pride reminiscent of his former self.
An uncanny feeling swept the troll that brought his introspection to a halt. Every muscle in his body tensed and his ears flicked alert. A gentle fragrance kissed his senses as he inhaled. It was the smell of a sweet floral tea, faint and alluring, but too distinct to spring from any natural source. He hampered his breathing, turning his full attention to the sounds around him. His lips pursed grim at what he heard: the sweep of a fold of fabric kissing another, as sleeves against a body or folds in a moving dress.
He took a deep inhale and heavily released it, the hairy tuft at the end of his tail markedly churning about in his lap. “You may come to watch me from a more leisurely vantage, o onlooker.”
He waited. Everything around was unnaturally still, and the birds had silenced in the wake of his voice. As each second passed by, absent of response, his demeanor relaxed and his shoulders lost their tension. A guard would not have spied upon him, he thought, and anyone intending to run for the guards would be gone. Whatever the person was doing, his mind was too tired to unravel the mystery.
“You impress me with your silence in the brush, but your scent betrays you. If it is that you fear for your safety,I feel obligated to remind you that I am the lowest of the lowly here. I am of no authority, of less value than the soil in the fields. Verily, whoever you are, I am at your beck and call.” He turned to sit cross-legged with his back to the water, allowing his tail to drape over the edge of the dock and hang at rest. He scanned the trail head and wood line, the epitome of patience.
At last, the silence broke. There was a crackling of twigs on the carpet of the woods, and a sandaled foot slipped out of the cover of a dense, hardy bush. Carefully minding that no thread of fabric was caught on its thorny leaves, the figure emerged at a slow and docile pace, preserving what silence could be kept.
What appeared from the wood line was a sight he could have only dreamed. He looked on in vested curiosity as a woman in a long, silken dress stood shyly before him, dainty in posture and frame. Her garments were of rich, quality handiwork, from her shoes to the black, sleeveless cloak that fell loosely to her ankles. It was clasped where her hood came together beneath her neck with a large medallion bearing the crest of the Basai’van family smoothly chiseled in jade. The broach alone spoke volumes, and he no longer had reason to ask of her identity. It was the estate owner’s daughter.
She met his eyes in an expressionless manner, but her uncertainty bled through her professional facade. She hesitantly curtsied in the noble At’mavan way, uttering a small greeting as she stood. “Hello.”
The troll tilted his head and slowly nodded once in recognition. His calm presence colored her a deeper shade of puzzled as she studied him, and after a bout of thought and composure, she began a steady approach. “What manner of creature are you?”
“Golboren, as are any other trolls in bondage to your family,” he answered frankly, watching as she came to a stop at the middle point in the wharf, just a few arm's lengths away.  
“No,” she replied, “you look as any other troll, but hardly in bondage. You sit alone here, not with the other workers, yet not on the run. Your words are calm and rife with poetry.”
He lowered his gaze in study, folding his palms over his knees to form a triangle with his arms over his lap. “What of you, mistress, coming in regal trappings from your manor to traipse through the woods alone on a plot of land teeming with men? Your vulnerability is surely no mystery to you.”
She pondered for a moment. In a tone that ever grew in intrigue and confidence, she responded, “Mine is a less vulnerable state than that of a delinquent slave, alone in the woods of the very property of the guards he has eluded, weaponless and taxed of energy. I believe yours is the bigger mystery.”
He lifted an eyebrow and raised a palm to the sky, shrugging submissively. “Admittedly, m’lady. You've more than earned my compliance. I’ll not challenge you further.”
“Let me rephrase my inquiry, then. Who are you, and what in the heavens are you doing out here that is worth risking your life over?”
The troll’s shoulders slumped as he pulled his knees up to his chest. He rose briefly to turn around and seat himself as he was prior to his disturbance. He folded his tail into his lap and met her dark brown eyes with a glance over his shoulder. “Should you prefer to sit, m’lady, feel comfortable to do so at my side. I implore you.”
There was enough room to his left, if she chose so, to sit out of his reach, but her feet wouldn't move. Predisposed fears and suspicions kept her on high alert. She breathed deeply and slowly, tossing the notion about in her mind. Once she had calmed herself, she walked to the end of the wharf and leaned on the old post at his far left. Her eyes fell upon him, and he could feel them beckoning him to proceed.
“Firstly, who I am is a slave in bondage to your family. My name was once important, but it has no meaning or purpose here,” he began, but she raised a finger to halt him.
“Humor me,” she said, “if nothing else.”
He nodded and tightened his lips for a moment, preparing to revisit the past. “My name was Dugalan Koldroskaro.”
She studied. “I do not know your language,” she confessed, “but I understand that Koldroskar must be your tribe?”
“It was,” he consented, “though my cousin was its founder, I was permitted to take it as my surname as well.”
“And Dugalan? I understand that your names mean specific things, while ours do not.”
“I cannot describe  it directly in your tongue,” he explained, “as the way our words form differs from yours. To define it would be akin to ‘born with the spirit of honor,’ if you would.”
“I see,” came her soft response. She leaned her cheek and chin into her hand as she maintained the conversation, seemingly mesmerized by the strange creature before her, but ever ready to take flight. “I've never heard of a Golboren able to speak our language with such grace and understanding. Your dialect is more sophisticated than most of our hired men. Some of your words come from the old tongue, and that died over a millennia ago.”
“I must inquire, m’lady, if you've heard another Golboren speak at all.”
She withdrew into thought and revealed a hint of a smile from the corner of her mouth. “I suppose not, if you must know. To be more concise, what I meant was that you've undone every predisposed expectation I've ever had towards the Golboren people. Tell me, honestly, are you all so educated and savvy with our language?”
Dugalan cast a deep stare into the heart of the pond. “No,” he grunted, “There are those such as I and then there are those such as Brenugan Kuto, who cannot read a word and whose ethics in war and governance are boorish and uncivil. There may be more ignorance abound than education in Koldrogan, but we have resources and many yet show promise.
“What you expected to meet, I suppose, was a feral soul, eager to shed At’mavan blood. That is the picture At’mavan texts from every age prefer to depict, regardless of their basis in embellishment. I direct no judgement towards you, m’lady. Your people have every right to hold disdain and contempt toward my people. The influence of politics in this war was boiled away long before our time. What we’re left with is nothing more than a hate war, your people and mine.”
She nodded respectfully. “Your logic is sound, Dugalan. I cannot disagree with you.“
He subtly raised his eyes to her. "May I ask your name, m'lady?"
"Erdinai. Erdinai Basai’van.”
“You’re an interesting person, Erdinai. I've never known an At’mavan to so openly agree with a troll of any sort.”
She smiled shyly, looking toward the forest across the pond. “I assume you know already that I am the estate owner's daughter."
"It was my suspicion, yes."
A spell of pensive silence fell between them that was cut short by a bugle that sounded thrice to the south of the treeline. Dugalan’s ears perked attentively and his expression lost its depth. It was replaced with a look of hollow resignation. “...Mistress, that is the waking call. I must return before the second horn sounds.”
She studied him and nodded knowingly. “Alright. Be safe.”
He passed her without acknowledgement, his tail nearly dragging the ground as he strode by. She looked on, a detached and studious air coming over her. “Sir Koldroskaro!”
He slowed and engaged her with a look over his shoulder, stopping completely as she voiced her quandary. “Are you willing to meet with me again?”
He wanted apathy to govern his response, but he couldn't force it. The situation stirred a latent curiosity within him, one that he had thought was dead, and he couldn't place why. They both knew the consequences of such a meeting. An accidental encounter in the woods would have been understandable. An arrangement by both parties would merit a more severe punishment. If they were found together, no matter the circumstances, he would be beaten within an inch of his life or killed entirely, and she would be punished in other ways of which he was uncertain. He had nothing to lose, but she had everything―including an astute rationality that he could read from the look in her eyes. She was willing to risk her well being to meet with him; he could not turn her down without knowing why.
With a heavy sigh, he gave a respectful bow. “I would verily receive you, mistress, should you desire to speak with me again. Be discretionary.”
She breathed a quiet “of course” as she leaned against the old corner post. She was quickly abandoned, left to solemn contemplation, as the troll disappeared into the undergrowth of the treeline. New feelings swelled inside of her that she could not put words to, but the message was undeniable: she needed to know his full story. She had to meet him again.

Matthew D. Hammond

~ 2014 ~

Author's Notes: This is the story of Dugalan, cousin and confidante of Antegga, the war lord of the east, and how an unlikely encounter slowly leads to his escape. I will be covering this side-plot as a series of installments, and in each one, Dugalan will confide in Erdinai a secret or a story. This plot will be linked into one of Antegga's books, happening parallel with it, and eventually tying into it, but not all of the stories featured in this series will make it to the book. I hope you will follow this journey as it advances forward, watching as this unlikely friendship unfolds and hearing some great stories in the process.

Friday, August 15, 2014

At'mavi vs Koldrogan: The 3000 Year War

At'mavi vs. Koldrogan: The 3000 Year War

One of the biggest central plots in the book series will follow the ending of a wide scale war that has been going on for over three thousand years. In this article, I will be lining out the facts as of the in-world year of 300 6gc and provide teasers for what is to come in the books that follow this story.

Warring Parties

This war is waged between two parties: The At'mavan Empire and the banded war tribes of Koldrogan. Koldrogan is divided into two parts by At'mavan territory and mountains, east and west. Occasionally Torlynn, across the waters to the east, or Jen'wendas Isle, to the west of the continent, become involved, but they mind their own for the most part. 

File:Golboreh Habitation Map.png

How the War Began

In the ancient days, when the second era civilizations had crumbled, a large void was left on the continent of At'mavi where the Dega empire had been. What few humans survived the cataclysmic destruction of Dega were misplaced and reverted to tribalism to survive. As generations passed, the humans began to spread, and the Golboren trolls, who were driven into hiding by the people of Dega, began to flourish again. 

Things were peaceful between them for hundreds of years, but humans, adaptive as they are, began to develop civilization once more, and as the built farms and villages and cities, the trolls became wary and kept their distance from  the humans, returning to the forests and mountains. Over the next few centuries, they made themselves so scarce that most of the At'mavan humans began to think that the trolls were no more than myths.

In the third great cycle (early in the 3000s), under the reign and command of emperor Khadmar Izhodas, the At'mavan people began to send settlers into the southern heartlands of the continent, driven by a need for its rich timbers, as they had depleted their own forests. A scouting party sent back a report of a strange tree in the central southern woods, in the Painted Forest region, with a description that enticed shamans to investigate. An investigation party was formed comprising of soldiers and shamans, and the mission commenced.
This tree was called the Tantagruhk by the native Golboren trolls, and it held a special place in their hearts. All tribes throughout the region, and occasionally pilgrims from others, came to this tree to give prayer and offering to this unique, ancient being. The tree was a living fossil, growing from the large base of an even more ancient, dead tree that had long turned to stone. Cracks in the petrified base revealed beautiful opal.

The Golboren treated this as a magnet for sacred spiritual energy. The At'mavan party, as they approached the Tantagruhk, found the native trolls gathered around in celebration of the landmark. Curious and afraid, the trolls tried to communicate with the At'mavan people, but when they would not leave their weapons at the perimeter, the trolls became hostile and loud, trying to push them away from the landmark. 

The soldiers reacted by slaying the few that tried to push them back, hoping to frighten the other trolls into retreating. The action had the opposite effect, and all of them came to the defense of the slain, throwing themselves at the soldiers now with every intent of killing them. The soldiers killed every one of them, suffering nothing but light wounds, and their guarded shamans began prospecting the Tantagruhk. 

But, watching from the treeline, was a survivor. A young man whose name would some day be heard the world over: Koldroga. The At'mavans caught one glimpse of him standing above them, watching with calm acceptance, before he turned and ran into the forest. He was not pursued, and after studying the Tantagruhk,  the At'mavans sent word that the area was to be settled.

Koldroga had other plans. After witnessing the slaughter, he ran to the nearest tribe and alerted them to the situation. They took up arms and gave him a Lors, which is very comparable to the extinct Irish Elk of the Pleistocene age of Earth, so that he could ride and alert the other tribes. On the back of this Lors, he covered all of the trollish territory, spreading the story and preparing them for what may come. 

He ended his journey where he began. Many local tribes had banded together, awaiting his command. In the time it had taken him to unify his people, the At'mavans had constructed a settlement around the Tantagruhk, but they had not expected retaliation of the size Koldroga had rallied. A battle was waged, and the At'mavans were decimated, the trolls only allowing women and children to live and return to their people. The trolls reclaimed the Tantagruhk,  marking the true beginning of the war.

The Rise of a People

During his reign as the first war king of the Golboren, he lead his people to many victories and secured vast tracts of land. For the first time, the trolls had a unified cause. Over the next decades, they grew a strong cultural identity and sense of purpose. The many tribes were working together and successfully eliminating invaders within their territory. Lines were being drawn and mapped, forming what would some day become their country.

Although the trolls could not hope to see At'mavi's cities conquered without more resources and more warriors, their ability to hold on to what they perceived as their territory was unmatchable. The best At'mavan scouting parties could not compete with the trolls' advanced guerrilla tactics and knowledge of the land. The consistent defeats wore away at emperor Khadmar's patience, and soon, he appointed a new general, Hespar, whose sole mission was to see Koldroga killed.

Koldroga's and Hespar's victories from this time period are countless and still recounted and sung thousands of years after they occurred. One of the most famous victory stories told by the trolls is of the time At'mavi sent a war ship down the Heskegi River, hoping to deliver a regiment of warriors behind enemy lines to ambush the trolls. Koldroga and his trusted warriors leapt onto the ship as it passed through a narrow bend in the river, climbing its sides and setting it on fire. The startled At'mavans were slain, if not by the fire, then by the river or the trolls, who awaited them on the shoreline.

Birth of a Martyr, Dawn of a Country

Koldroga converged with western forces, and with their combined might, they were able to wrest control of the Degahar region from the At'mavan troops. Unbeknownst to Koldroga, he had played right into the hand of Hespar, who had brought the bulk of his war force west. The opportunity was too great to pass up, and he readied for an ambush. Koldroga separated from those stationed in the west, taking a smaller band with him to allow for quick travel back to the east, where pressure had mounted.

In a low basin, where the forests broke in the north to reveal open sky and grassland steppes, the At'mavan forces came down upon them. They were overwhelmed immediately, pushed back from the road and into the treeline. Hespar watched from an escarpment to the southeast of the battle, and as Koldroga cried for his people to retreat, he drew his bow and honed in on him. 

With a deep, steadying breath, he fired the first arrow. Koldroga, just as he turned for the forest, took the arrow deep in the right shoulder. Hespar, utilizing his martial technique and discipline, swiftly had a second and a third shot fired. The second shot struck his target in the middle of the back, and the last one caught Koldroga in the back of the head. Miraculously, the troll king did not stop running.

When the battle was done, Hespar had his men remove the tip of the tail of every troll for accurate recording of the dead, and demanded that he be alerted as soon as Koldroga's body was found. To the shock of Hespar and his men, the body was never found. A blood trail was picked up but, after a length, the blood abruptly ended and no more leaves were disturbed. Rumors spread amongst the people of both sides of the war that Koldroga had simply melted into the forest, becoming one with it.

In honor of his greatest sacrifice, giving his spirit and body to the forest so that he may always guide them, the Golboren trolls took heart in his disappearance and declared themselves an independant country by the name of Koldrogan, meaning "Spirit of Koldroga" in the suffix-based Golboren language. A new leader was chosen, and a system fell into place so that the country would never be without one. 

After Koldroga's Fall

Hespar went on to commit many victories in the name of At'mavi, despite never finding proof of his greatest  kill. His reign was finally ended within two decades later, killed by a troll on the battlefield that used Hespar's long hair to yank him into a vulnerable state. From that moment to present-day At'mavi, warriors in the At'mavan military keep their hair cut in honor of their first great war hero.

The war was destined to carry on for three great cycles, equating to three thousand years. At times, the combat was fierce and hellish, but at times the conflict would simmer down to only the occasional skirmish for a handful of decades. Neither side was ever able to mount a strong enough force to take each other down, and what began as a turf war, over time, morphed into a war fueled by hate of the other race.

The Tantagruhk became the proud symbol of Koldrogan, and the Golboren people built a strong, vast fortress around the holy site. It became their capital, where all war kings and war queens would hold serious meetings and conduct official business. A second base of operations was set up in the Degahar region to handle immediate concerns in the west.

The At'mavan people, in the fifth great cycle, managed to wrest the Heskegi region from Golboren control, separating the east from the west by a thin line of territory. 

The At'mavi-Koldrogan Shaman's Symposium was founded to allow pacifist shamans to gather and discuss issues pertinent to their profession, to trade medicines, and to allow masters to adopt new apprentices. The event is held annually and is protected by forces on both sides of the conflict. Political discussions are banned for fear of violence.

The councils of the World Senate have begun to turn their eye to the Golboren people, debating on whether or not they will permit an ambassador from Koldrogan to join their ranks.

Where the Story Begins

Antegga Portrait 2012The story will follow a young warrior by the name of Antegga Koldroskaro, who is cast out of his tribe by his mother after the accidental murder of his father, the war chief, during a coming of age duel. With only his cousin to support him, he must learn to survive in the harsh wilds of Koldrogan as he comes to terms with the consequences of his error and learn how life functions outside of home.

 His journey begins meager, with only the clothes on his back and his father's sword, and with one companion at his side, but his heart is not snuffed out by the conditions. Instead, he blossoms, building a following of his own as he sets his sights upon the title of War King of Koldrogan. 

Over the course of his story, the audience will come to learn the Golboren people's culture and lifestyles from within the system itself and see firsthand how the At'mavan people are, in fact, not the only bad guys anymore. The many factions of Koldrogan will be revealed, from the Kamunagi (warriors of the night), to the shamans, the chrut (nomadic silent druids of the deep woods), sorcerers, witches and warlocks, political intrigue, and how the entire war has become nothing but a display of heated racism.

This will be one of the most action-packed, richly detailed series in the entire franchise, and one of the first chain of books to get started chronologically, so I hope that I've cultivated some interest in this story and these characters within you. I hope you look forward to it at least a fraction of how much I do. (I know about a lot of events that you can't possibly know about, so I don't expect the kind of overzealous enthusiasm that I have.)

Anyway, that's all for this summary for the moment. I will run follow-up posts on any further details as  I  feel they are ready to go live. 

Until next time,
Live a Little, Read a Lot,
Matthew D. Hammond

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Three Eras of Novan-Gan

    In the realm of Drumlore, the planet, Novan-Gan, has seen three great eras of civilization. Two of them had risen to an elite, world dominating status before crises struck them and they were (almost) entirely annihilated. The book series and short stories will all take place in the third of these eras. Here, let me break it down:

The Third Era

     The third wave of civilizations to grow on the face of Novan-Gan. Civilization has not reached its peak; technology is comparable in most places to the late BCs of Earth and countries still haven't expanded to their maximum capacities. There are still many places on the world map that have not been explored and documented, and arts of philosophy and logic have just been embraced by the masses. It's an era full of mystery, growth, progression, and enlightenment.

The Second Era

    Throughout the series, many ruins and relics are encountered from ancient civilizations. These are the ruins and relics of the second era. At the peak of this era, there were three countries: Dega, Calle Dhima, and Kimhalan. These three massive countries had amazing architectural sophistication, and where their cities were at their densest, sprawling ruins still remain after tens of thousands of  years.

    Little is known about the people who once inhabited these vast cities or what lead to their demise. There are reoccurring plazas, each of a similar design, scattered throughout the ruins of each civilization. They emit strange particles of light that drift through the air and are mostly visible at night. People refer to them as wisps and tell tales of people falling ill after encountering them. The wisps have been linked by scholars and philosophers to magic and to alchemy, but none of their theories have been proven. Shamans are warned away from entering the spirit realm in these ruins or around these plazas, as oral tradition says that most who do never return to the world of the living. Shamans occasionally relate the wisps to demons because of this.

By the way, I know what destroyed the civilizations and what the wisps are all about, but I'm not going to tell you right now, because that'd destroy any suspense I've built surrounding the matter!

The First Era era that the people of the second and third eras did not/do not even know existed. This era existed hundreds of thousands of years before mankind and trollkind began crafting tools and building shacks. ...A time when a race that is now lost to history ruled the world as one collective entity. They were called the Noctuid, and, although every trace of the people and their cities are gone, their strange creations still roam the world. That is all that I will say for certain. The details? You'll have to wait on the books for that. 

That wraps up today's official lore tidbit. As always, feedback and questions make my day, so feel free to comment me here or on facebook with anything you want to say! Live well, and read more!