It’s Done! 1st Draft of City at the Top of the World is Done!

The story is written, the nodes are written, the endings are written.  The main part that’s left is to number and link nodes.

Maybe I got lazy?  I don’t know.  While there are a lot of paths and a lot of endings, several choices funnel into one particular node, but part of that was wanting to avoid the quantum nature of a lot of CYOA type books.  You get captured by the slavers, you end up going to auction.  And I wasn’t going to write totally different slave auctions for every variation on getting captured.  If I were writing classic CYOA style nodes with 50-150 words per node, maybe I would’ve done it differently, but some of these nodes are as long as 700 words.

42 nodes and 12 endings.

Yay.  This is one of the first real writing projects I ever ‘finished’ since I decided not to write a 10th book in the fantasy cycle I’d written when I was in highschool.

Some Tidbits About the Upcoming Cirsova Book

This going to be the story of a young desert woman, Aeryn, who is a member of one of the tribes of ancient Paelnor. The people of Paelnor are sometimes known as the Children of the Eye or the People of the Eye, because of their myths that they are watched over by a great eye in the deserts.

Aeryn has been taken by the Northmen (the Tyuravelinai, though they have not yet come to be called that) along with a number of others from her tribe. They are part of a recurring system of tribute to the great northern kingdom.

While the story takes place in a city called Polaris, it is Old Polaris, a truly Polar city, far to the north of Gatlia and Ungoza, perhaps farther north from Elefloe or Jorgora than those ruins are from Solaris. The Polaris known to the modern Cirsovans is named for this great lost city.

This story takes place in the distant, almost mythic past, long before the ice, long before the migration of the Akhirs, and very long before the foundation of the Cirsovan Empire. As such, while some names and places may be familiar, they may also be different from what may be found in the Encyclopedia. For instance, the Sabrio valley is still heavily jungled.
Because I needed to actually write something that has something to do with Cirsova and can be published. Besides, why not?

Gaciall of Many Things, White Lady of Polaris

Gaciall, sometimes referred to as “the White Lady of Polaris”, is the “queen” of the far northern city-state, though she is never called such.  It is unknown who or what she is to the people of Polaris, but as far as the Cirsovan empire is concerned, she is looked to as the ruler and head-of-state for all matters between the empire and the Polarans.

For all of the nearly 200 years that the Empire has been in contact with the city of Polaris, Gaciall of Many Things, or a woman bearing the name and title, has held court in Polaris.  All accounts describe her as a young woman, dressed all in white, though all who have met her claim to have forgotten most details beyond that shortly after leaving her presence.

It is customary that any personage of importance who have made the journey to Polaris (whether travelling with supplies and traders or not) are granted audience with Gaciall.  Oftentimes, these audiences are simple formalities, during which dancers are brought in, food and drink are offered to the visitors, and a songstress will sing a lay of the ancient Norther Peoples.  Sometimes, however, after the lays are sung, and the dancers sent away, Shuul will be brought forth, small azure vials resting upon ornamental red pillows with gold trim, and offered to the visitors.  Gaciall will bid them drink, for she will show them amazing visions of things both wonderful and terrible as they lie in the throws of the drug.

Gaciall is a seeress and a sorceress of unknown power.  She is quick-witted and highly intelligent, both qualities are essential in an experienced Shuul user.  It is not know whether the magic she wields in the Kingdom of Shuul can manifest itself in the physical realm (as was the case with the unnamed dreamer in the Legend of Jorgora), though it is possible that she may know how and simply chooses not to use her power in such a reckless way.

Those wishing to see the true power Shuul and be instructed in its safe use for purposes of scrying are advised to only do so by seeking out the tutelage of Gaciall.  Gaciall, however, does not grant this privilege except to a very select few who strike her fancy as those worthy of her knowledge and power.  Shuul is not a drug to be taken lightly, as its use may incapacitate an individual from anywhere from several hours to a number of days.

The Ice Shall Take Us

Originally posted here as part of the Winter Is Coming Blog Carnival.

This song arrives to us in a fairly ramshackle form, such that its origins and meaning may be open to debate for some time, however the grim outlook contained in the poem, its link to the lost Northern Civilization in context of what we know of them through Polaris, brings sufficient concern to the academic community in regards to how we perceive the Northern Civilization, how Northern Civilization perceived itself and how the Polarans perceive their relationship with the heartland Cirsovan culture.

The song itself is only known to have been committed to writing in recent history, not long after the rediscovery of far Northern culture.  A linguist from Delivals, who travelled with one of the first parties to entreat Polaris to open her doors to trade, claims to have heard the song sung in the court of Gaciall.  It is important to note that the linguist claims to have never heard the song in its entirety, nor did the song sound the same upon subsequent hearing.  The order of the three stanzas he preserved is an interpolation; and a note accompanying the manuscript remarks that each of the three stanzas was never heard in accompaniment with the other two.  It is therefore thought that there are either three different songs, with similar structures, themes and lyrics that were sung in the court during their visit, or a single long-form song that may have been sung over the course of many nights.  In either case, these three stanzas are all that remain of what is probably a significantly longer piece.

Also problematic, the text is based on an early attempts at phonetic transcription of the then unknown language of the Polarans (who, it is said, were able to pick up Cirsovan in a matter of days “…as though the tongue had been their own, once, in a near forgotten dream.”).  Since the poem was written down, much has been learned about the language of the Polarans, and from that, corrections, interpolations and a translation has been able to be made.  This translation, which has been more or less accepted by the scholarly community, was done (unfortunately) with little to no direct input by any delegation of Polaran academes, who refuse to acknowledge the manuscripts as anything but fabrication and deny that it was ever sung by the minstrels in the noble houses of Polaris.  Despite this insistence, the corroborating reports and similar transcriptions (which have been used to eliminate many lacunae in the earliest version), indicate that this song, or a variant thereof, was still being sung for a few years after initial contact. At present, the song is not sung in Polaris or anywhere else.

1          Someday, the ice shall take us,(1)

And thus we wait and dream.(2)

Our brothers and sisters have gone before us (3)

Taken by the ice.

5          What sins we must atone for,

Grave they were indeed,

That we must forget them, lest we commit them again.

Ignorance is our curse, to take with us to our grave

The unspeakable atrocity to our name (4)

10        That none below us know. (5)

Someday, the ice shall take us,

And thus we wait for death.

The wizards of old had conspired against us (6)

Condemning us with ice.

15        Their sins are ours and ours theirs,

Grave they were indeed.

We still remember in our dreams, where we commit them again,(7)

That which we forget upon waking, yet strain our thoughts

To remember that which we must remember to forget(8)

20        That none below us know.

Someday, the ice shall take us,

And thus we wait to starve.

When traders will not brave the roads for us,

And all remains is ice. (9)

25        Our beds and dreams are all we have

And Graves they are indeed.

We shall sleep a final sleep, and in dreams shall come again

To that distant land we called dominion, kingdom, home,

That we may escape our past (10)

30       That none below us know.

1. This line appears as the first in all stanzas, in all transcriptions, in all accounts of the various songs.

2. Because we know so little about the Northern Civilization, we are unsure if the use of Shuul is exclusive to Polaris or if it were ubiquitous throughout their culture.  As the ice sheet grew, more and more of their cities must have been either abandoned or destroyed.  Thus, it cannot be said with any certainty that the song originated in Polaris or was an older traditional lament.

3. The words here used for “Brothers and Sisters” are actually proper names (Tyurani and Velina), either of gods or historical figures whose name have become synonymous with Men of the North (“Tyurani”), Women of the North (“Velinai”), and when used together, as here, “People of the North” (“Tyuravelinai”). No Polarans have ever confirmed or denied that they are or refer to themselves as “Tyuravelinai”

4. Lines 5-9 refer vaguely to a crime or betrayal, but many of the Polaran words used here have awkward translations; some Polaran linguists claim this is best described as “the Thing Which Should Not” (be done, be forgotten, be remembered, etc.; this is a commonly used phrase in Polaran).  Some anthropologists argue that this may be a reference to the story of Jorgora. However, since neither this song nor the tale of Jorgora have any known dating other than that they were composed before Cirsovan contact, the Jorgora connection cannot be confirmed.  A more popular theory supposes that it refers to something which occurred deeper in the heartland of the Northern Civilization.  Whatever it was, many theorize it is part of a deep-seated cultural guilt on which they blame (justly or unjustly) the Ice age which pushed their civilization to ruin.

5.  The word Polarans use for outsiders, “wyhossa”, means “those who live below (to the south) of us”, hence the choice of translation for this refrain. Whether “wyhossa” here means outsiders (non-Northerners) or more literally “People to the south of us” is uncertain, muddying speculation on whether the song was Polaran or had its origins further North.

6. Some versions, “dreamers” instead of “wizards”.

7. Lines 15-17, again, the collective guilt for a deed they feel has doomed them.

8. Lines 18-19 are a commonplace riddle or tongue-twister, still used now and then in Polaris by Shuul users.

9. Though lines 22-24 appear to refer to the Long Road, the circumstances could very well be universal among Northern Cities that were falling victim to the encroaching ice.  There would come a point that the surrounding areas would be too barren to provide enough food for the populace and the city would be forced to rely on imported food to sustain itself.  As the cold moved further south, the cities could be cut off from roads and slowly starve.  One case made for the farther north origin of the song is that scholars question why Polarans were already singing of the trade-route closing just as it was being opened.

10. Lines 25-29: Little is known about the beliefs of the ancient northerners, but it would seem from this, and other writings, many preferred to remain in their doomed cities than migrate to warmer climes. Oddly, neither the word “Shuul” nor reference to “the Kingdom of Shuul” is found in any transcriptions. Again, we do not know if these songs reflect the contemporary and modern views of the Polarans, as the songs have not be sung there for some time.  Still, it gives us a fascinating glimpse into the outlook of the first Polarans encountered by the Empire, and perhaps a snapshot of a culture that had resigned itself to disappearance.


A strange and bitter drink, brewed by the alchemists of Polaris, Shuul is a potent drug used principally by the inhabitants of the DreamingCity for either recreational or religious purposes.

Both the ingredients and the manufacture process of Shuul are unknown to any outside the City, though its effects are known to most, via word of mouth, from travelers along the Long Road in Gatlia.  When imbibed, Shuul induces a comatose state in which the user is said to have fantastical, highly lucid experiences in a dream-state.  Surviving writings of the late Northern Civilization which remain in Polaris also refer to the dream-state itself as “Shuul”, the Land or Kingdom of Shuul.  It is not known whether the dream-state derives its name from the beverage, or if the beverage itself is named for the dreamland of Shuul to which it supposedly transports its users.

Shuul is thought to be fatal if consumed in sufficiently large doses.  The legend of Jorgora, which has been passed down to us through Polaran fragments, is more than likely a simple parable extolling the dangers of excessive use, conveniently utilizing an unusual geographical feature as a prop for the tale.

Of note, the efficacy of Shuul as a portent aid (or any of its psychotropic effects, for that matter) seems to correlate to the proximity of the user to Polaris.  There have been a number of theories on the reasons for this.  A popular belief is that the beverage is a key to the gateway (to the Land of Shuul), which itself is in proximity of the DreamingCity.  However, a more likely explanation is that the active psychotoxins in Shuul break down fairly rapidly after it is brewed.

For example: it has been said by merchants who have had the opportunity to consume Shuul within the dreaming city itself, that they would often sleep for the better part of a day, sometimes more, depending on the amount consumed, and experience every hour of sleep and dream as though they were waking.  However, reports of Shuul being consumed even only as far away as on the road south to Norigon have shown far less significant results; though a potent sleep aid, the dreams of the Shuul-user are said to be only somewhat more vivid than normal.  Usage further south along the Long Road than Syflanis proves to be no more potent than your typical tavern-swill lagers.  Hence, Shuul use is virtually unknown throughout much of the Empire, and this drink, while having both tremendous potential for use as a recreational drug and a reputation for its mystic connections to the lost Northern Civilization, is rarely traded for by merchants or even particularly sought after, except by the odd noble who swears by its acquired bitter taste.


The City State of Polaris

Known colloquially as “the DreamingCity” or “City of Dreams” throughout the southern empire, Polaris is the northern-most occupied settlement of the Cirsovan Empire.  First, it is important to note, while throughout this Guide, Polaris is referred to as the northern most city of the Empire, it is also the southern most city of the now lost Northern Civilization.  In fact, all that is known about the Northern Folk, their religion and culture may only be gleaned from Polaris and the known ruins at the southern end of the great ice sheet.  Hundreds, if not a thousand, years ago, the Northern Civilization, whose name seems lost even to their descendants in Polaris*, flourished to the north of what are now Gatlia and Ungoza, however a cataclysm of nature must have struck the far north, and the cities were subsumed by an encroaching sheet of ice, making the lands uninhabitable, and the cities of a once might people were buried under a sea of white.  Even within recent history, we have seen the ice force the near abandonment of Old Cratera (though many other factors were in play here as well).

Polaris is widely known throughout the empire for the intricately carved crystal goods fashioned by their craftsmen (it is for this reason that the Long Road exists!) to take the milky green and white crystals from the great crater of Ungoza to the city of Polaris, to be transformed into all manner of wonderment.

The methods by which the crystals are transformed from their natural state to the intricate, sublime and sometimes grotesque graven goods is a secret of the Polaran tradesmen, none of whom have ever been seen at their work, at least by visitors who chose to wrote what they saw of the city.  As all but the poorer common folk, or those in the most isolated parts of the Empire, know, the craftsmen are able to make all manner of ornamental item; indeed, a successful merchant in any port town might have a piece of Polaran cutlery in their drawer.  However, it is said that many of the finer, and larger, items make their way into the homes of the wealthiest nobles and gentry, who acquire the pieces out of a fascination with the lost culture of the Northern peoples, of which Polaris is the last remnant, or merely an obsession with the truly grotesque wonders which the greatest masters of the craft, all of whom must be certainly mad, have wrought from their own drug addled dreams and frozen forever in glassy green.  A less scholarly or more ill informed mind might think that these trinkets and fetishes may be imbued with some lost northern magic, rather than the fevered nightmares of their creators.

Polaris gets its name, “City of Dreams”, for its pastime.  Merchant and travelers who make it to the far northern city will often never see any of its inhabitants, save those they are engaging in trade with or being entertained by.  From those who have visited, we have learned that a potent drug known as Shuul is brewed from an unknown plant or substance and imbibed for either recreational or spiritual purposes.  The drug allows the user to engage in long bouts (ranging from half a day to three days) of uninterrupted lucid dreaming.  Therefore, it is thought that most of the inhabitants of Polaris are spending their days hidden away, dreaming of the past glories of their once mighty civilization.

Polaris’ status within the empire is something of a mystery, understandably, to the common folk of the Empire.  It is typically seen to be something of an independent city state with vassalage owed to the Gatia, though its only known political linkage to the empire is through a token delegation of four Lordly Representatives sent to represent the city in the Gatlian seat of Syflanis.

Polaris is, and has been for some time (at least 150 years), ruled by a woman known as Gaciall of Many Things.  The accounts that exist all describe her as “the White Lady of Polaris”, wearing “shimmering gossamer”; her title “Many Things” seems to refer to strange things which the travelers were shown on the occasions she entertained guests.  Additionally, all accounts (over the 150 year span of writings that bear mention of her) describe her as a young woman, though other physical details seem inconsistent.  Therefore, it is not known whether Polaris has had the same matriarch over all these years or if “Gaciall of Many Things” is merely a title passed down to the current “White Lady”.

It is said that the only people in the empire who have any real knowledge of Polaris, their culture and customs, are the Gatlian councilmen and their staff who have direct dealings with the envoys of the city (who are rarely, if ever, present within the city, much less the council offices) and the hardy traders who partake in the final leg of the Long Road, ensuring that shipments of crystals from Ungoza make their way safely across the Highway of Ice.  Our Emperor seems perfectly content with this; as long as the trade routes remain open and the graven goods from Polaris make their way to the Capital and throughout the Empire, Polaris may have its reclusive ways.  Some historians claim that no representatives of the Dreaming City have set foot in the Imperial city since the original agreement which made Polaris part of the Empire.  In fact, outside of fairy tales, no one is known to have encountered Polarans outside of the province of Gatlia for generations.  Therefore, much of what is written about the Northern Folk and Polaris is speculative.

*: In the language used by the people of Polaris, the portmanteau “Tyuravelinai” appears infrequently to mean “People of the North”; whether this is the proper name for the lost civilization is unknown.