Friday, June 22, 2012

A Story Behind the Story

It occurs to me that as I am fast approaching the release of Nobody, Aggadeh Chronicles Book One, instead of talking about industry stuff I'm learning, it is time to start actually talking about the story I'm writing. A good place to start, I think, is with the main character and a bit about his world.
Nem Aster was a character I created a very long time ago. I just didn’t know what to do with him. I have a couple characters like this, I just keep them boxed up until I come up with a story that fits them.
Nem Aster started out as Gah’velle Nem. Gah’velle meaning, the thief
The original Nem was a much darker character; or rather, his story was much uglier.
Nem Aster is more of a Benjamin Franklin kind of character, a self-made man. Like Franklin, he starts his early life with a criminal act. Franklin ran out on his apprenticeship, which back then was considered a crime. Nem got into trouble when he made a poor choice. Where Franklin was a runaway, Nem was sentenced to be banished from Aboria for seven years as soon as he came of age.
Nem, in an effort to protect his father’s cattle from an old dragon, offered the dragon an old bull his father had taken in for a friend. Only, the bull was a prize stud hired by Nem’s father to increase the family heard, even though it was getting near the end of his days. Nem took responsibility for his mistake when people blamed the dragon, earning both respect and his sentencing at the same time.
Nem was well prepared for his life away from home when the time came for him to leave Aboria. Despite the circumstances of his departure, Nem was well-liked in his community.
Gah’velle Nem, was not.
Gah’velle Nem was a street rat. A thief. Ultimately, a convicted murderer. Nem Aster was given an education to prepare himself for his eventual banishment, Gah’velle Nem’s education came from trying to survive in the streets. Honing his wit with the effort to stay alive.
This version of Nem is tortured, mutilated, survives being hanged and burned at the stake before he is finally tied to a camel to be dragged out into the desert to finally execute him. Through all this, he survives.
It is single act of kindness to him that inspires him to look beyond the inhumanity he has suffered and try to do the same for someone else. When he realizes he has contracted the plague, he decided he didn’t want his death to be meaningless, and grabs at an opportunity to save someone else even at the cost of bringing about his own demise.
Only, his selfless act was witnessed by the a force that could give him a second chance at life and salvation. And potentially lead him to his doom.
And thus began A Warrior Out of Time, the original story about Nem.
Aggadeh Chronicles draws many of its elements from A Warrior Out of Time. Both Nems are given a sword cut from the claw of a dragon. Both swords can cut through anything and have the nature to disrupt magic for different reasons. Both of them received unusual educations. Both their worlds are being driven to war and chaos by hidden powers manipulating events. And they find themselves in the role of disrupting those plans.
In many ways, they are outcasts in their worlds. They are rejected by those around them, yet they walk the path that all others will follow.
Both Nems have the power to destroy their worlds.
At some point, I will write Warrior… as an alternative universe to Aggadeh Chronicles. A way to show readers where the original idea came from. Maybe tack it onto a collection as a extra or just sell it as a standalone. It is the story behind the story.
As Aggadeh Chronicles begins, Nem Aster is a fairly passive character. Things happen to him and around him, but he is not fully in control of those events. Like a ship driven on the sea by the wind, he can only go with the flow and must yield to the currents. As a sailor on a ship, his actions affect how the ship behaves, but he is not in command of that ship.
When he leaves the sea, Nem begins to become more resistant to the flow of events around him. More assertive in what choices he makes and actions he takes.
When he fulfills the promises he made, only then does he become free to become authoritative in his role.
In the Aggadeh Empire, this independence gets him into trouble with those who feel only they have the right to dictate authority. They need his power but cannot command him. Nem is the new order that they cannot control. To them, Nem represents chaos.
Aggadeh is, in my mind, similar to the Roman Empire if it had never fallen. It has several thousand years of history, but is in stagnation. Aggadeh is technologically at the level our world was in the 18th century.
Many years ago, during a class in Greek history, the professor—a native Grecian himself—made a comment that has stuck with me all my life: “Two thousand years ago, the Greeks had everything they needed to put a man on the moon.” His explanation went on that they understood the mathematics, physics and other sciences needed to pull that off. The scientific curiosity to consider such possibilities. They certainly had the engineering knowhow to design complex designs, including the basics of rocket engines. Hell, they even had computers back then!
So, why didn’t they?
The answer is, necessity is the mother of invention. The Ancient Greeks did not have necessity, therefore, they didn’t invent.
They didn’t have the necessity, because they had slaves to do all the grunt work. There was no need to invent some tool that would make the work easier. Therefore, any technological advances were reduced to being used for parlor tricks and curiosities.
The Romans took engineering to a whole new level in the ancient world, but like the Greeks, they didn’t go much farther. Romans built incredible water and sewerage projects that were so well built, many of the components are still standing today, and many are still functional after thousands of years. Those waterworks were developed and built because there was necessity.
Yet, the Romans never built combustion or steam engines. They had slaves that could provide the muscle work to power cranes and other machines needed for construction.
Even the United States of America was nothing more than an agrarian society until slavery was abolished. Only then, did the industrial revolution catch up with the U.S. and turn it into an industrial  and world power.
In the world of Aggadeh, they have magic to do the grunt work. As a result, there was no need to turn to technology or even slavery. Slavery only exists where magic is not used, such as on the continent of Arabon.
But magic is this world has a price. The energy to run a spell, or curse, or any other magic, is life force. A connection called a ‘lease’ must be created between the spell and the source of energy for the spell. The quickest and most potent way to cast a spell is to power it with oneself. But do this too many times, and one can drain one’s life away. A mage who casts magic  around indiscriminately could potentially kill his- or herself. A spell doesn’t have to activate immediately, but create too many delayed spells or curses, if they are activated too suddenly, the caster could drop dead when his life is drained away.
After casting a spell, it takes time to recharge and be at top energy again. Like athletes who can run quickly in short bursts or long distances with great endurance, some people have deeper wells to draw from and/or some who can regain their energy faster. Pretty much anyone can use magic, but it requires a certain level of education to use effectively and safely. Those who have deep reserves of energy and can recover the most quickly are understandably the most powerful.
There are ways to get around this limitation of energy. A mage can create a connection called a ‘lease’ between the spell and another living being as source of energy. This could be another person, an animal, or a plant. An animal can often supply a strong burst of energy to run a complicated spell, but depending on the size of the animal, they often don’t have much of a well to draw on. An angry mage could lease a curse to the cattle of a farmer and place a curse on the farmer; leaving the farmer with the choice to either endure the curse, or kill off his cattle to end the curse. Plants, especially old trees, often have very deep wells, but the energy can only be drawn off at a lower rate. So, simple spells can be leased to a tree, but these spells can run for a long time. Often, villages have a grove of well-tended and large trees in the town green for use with defensive spells to hold off attackers for long periods.
This means there are limits to the use of magic.Therefore, it was necessary to develop a certain level of technology to perform those tasks not worth draining away the energy of one’s life. The balance reached in the world of Aggadeh is a pre-industrial level of technology.
There are other ways that a spell can be powered: One way is to create a contract with a non-corporeal being from another plain of existence to act as a power source for a spell for a limited period of time. Because such beings are connected to the universe in a far deeper manner, the power they can supply is almost limitless. But they will only agree to such a contract if there is a limit on the time it lasts and there is some sort of compensation for their sacrifice. Demons are more than happy to oblige, but only for short periods of time, and their compensatory demand is usually quite dear.
A second way to power a spell is with a power stone. Such stones are incredibly rare. They are crystals, usually gemstones of the utmost purity, that have been imbued with energy from the very basis of the universe itself, at a much deeper level than the life force normally used for spells. Often such stones are embedded into magical tools—such as a wand or staff—with a spell attached that can be used for specific purposes. A power stone can be as large as the largest gem stone, or as small as a grain of sand.
There are only two sources of a power stone.
While anyone can learn to use magic, only the most accomplished at the unnatural arts are labeled as mages, witches, or wizards. But there is a fourth class of magic user: the sorcerer. A sorcerer is considered the physicist of the magic users; delving into the very source of the universe’s power directly. Most sorcerers have a natural talent for manipulating magic right down to the most precise minutiae. Nearly all successful sorcerers are those who were born prodigies at using magic. Sorcery, or elementalism, is incredibly dangerous, because if the flow of power isn’t controlled properly, it will rapidly go out of control, killing the practitioner—and everyone in the surrounding countryside—in a spectacular explosion.
The majority of those who make an attempt at sorcery usually don’t survive very long. Nor do their neighbors and fellow townspeople. Practicing of sorcery near populated areas is greatly frowned upon. In any given century, there may be fewer than two or three successful sorcerers.
But for those who succeed, there is great demand for their talents. For only a sorcerer can create a power stone, by forcing the energy of the universe into the crystal structure of the stone. But, the stone must be attuned to the type of magic that it will be used to power.
The second source of power stones are dragons. Creatures of energy whose very habitat is the flow of the universe, who can make themselves corporeal and therefore manipulate power into the stones. A dragon can push the most pure of power even into the lowest purity of crystalline stones. A power stone created by a dragon is so pure and harmonious that its power can be used for any magical purpose. Possessing a power stone created by a dragon could lend its wielder enough power to become the next emperor.
There are only three known power stones created by dragons. Dragons don’t interact with people, except under extraordinary circumstances. The Aggadeh Empire was founded when the first emperor managed to steal a power stone from a dragon and used it to crush his enemies. The Holy Empire of Caltha has two such power stones in its possession. While much smaller than the Aggadeh Empire, Caltha manages to maintain a d├ętente with Aggadeh on the merit of these two stones. Each of the emperors keeps his power stone in an imperial staff. After thousands of years, each of these stones in nearly out of power. The third is embedded in the tiara of the Great Lady Oracle and is actually powerless at this time; many erroneously believe that the Oracle’s power comes from the stone in her tiara.
People who are uneducated usually cannot use magic. They are often driven out by bullying and other social pressures and tend to settle in the outlying lands of the empire.
Nem hails from the land of Aboria.
Aboria is only marginally marked on imperial maps. Separated from the Aggadeh Empire by the Abor mountains and only accessible via sea to the east or through volcanic regions to the west, Aboria is fairly isolated. Add to that, Aboria has a large population density of dragons. Imperial maps usually have Aboria marked as, “Here, there be dragons.”
Aboria was settled a few centuries ago by those disenfranchised from the empire because they couldn’t use magic. Because magic users are generally dangerous to dragons, the fact these people could not use magic led to the dragons tolerating their presence. The Aborians learned to work with their hands and tools in the place of magic and became great artisans and craftsmen. Their society became one based on egalitarianism, where individuals proved their worth by their efforts. They believe strongly in education, so that skills and knowledge are properly passed on to each generation. Technologically, the Aborians are probably a century ahead of the rest of the world.
The Aborian respect for education brought them to be viewed in a more positive light by the dragons that lived in this region. While still very rare, there is more interaction between humans and dragons in Aboria than anywhere else in the world. In Aboria, there are a number of family lines scattered about the land where there are individuals who are born with the rare ability to understand dragons. If a dragon needs to interact with humans for some reason, they will seek out these people.
Most of the top luxury products purchased by the nobility of the empires, are manufactured in Aboria. Many merchant seamen strive to obfuscate the source of these luxuries through complex trade routes and practices. Many of these merchants retire as very wealthy people in Aboria.
Many Aborians would also prefer to not draw imperial attention, and therefore tend to have isolationist tendencies.
This is the world in which Nem Aster lives.
Aggadeh Chronicles simply proved to be a more interesting story than A Warrior Out of Time. But, I would still like to tackle Warrior… at some future period. As I said above, it might make a nice addition to a special edition collection when I am done with Aggadeh Chronicles. The reader will have to understand that A Warrior Out of Time is not a rehashing of the Aggadeh Chronicles. Rather, Aggadeh Chronicles is an expanded retelling of A Warrior Out of Time.