Just throwing some new stuff out there

Spoiler on at least 1 bad ending for the new book.  All content subject to change.

“Hurry up, Erill!  The sun’s almost down; they’ll be burning Goash soon!”

Erill ignored Caius, the young son of village brewer, and remained reclining on the pile of straw watching the purple-grey clouds slowly drifting about the horizon, tinged majestically by the setting sun.  When that fat golden ball disappeared, the torches would be dropped and the Goash, a sacred effigy of an ox-headed harvest-god, would go up in flames.  All of the people of Altier would dance as the giant bull made from the woven straw of the year’s first wheat blazed away, celebrating another season’s end and successful harvest.

This would be Erill’s last Goash festival in Altier.  He’d determined to leave the village of his birth forever.  This year had seen his mother taken by illness and his father slain by thieves.  Erill had resolved to stay and finish the harvests with the other farm folk, but there was little left to keep the young man in town of his birth.  Kara, Caius’ older sister, had been noncommittal towards Erill in the past, and her recent attention felt more like pity for the man who’d lost both parents than genuine affection for him.

Now seemed like the best time to leave.  The last harvest was in, his parents’ affairs had been set in order, and a caravan hauling a bounty of unworked Ungoza crystal along the Long Road had stopped in the village to take part in the celebration.  Erill’s belongings were packed and ready to go.

Altier, a small agrarian community in the demesne of the Barony of Nortune, had been Erill’s home his entire life.  Now, severed from ties to family and obligation to community, Erill had the whole of the Empire in which to pursue his fortunes.  He’d already spoken with the caravan master about the possibility of joining up with them when they continued onward to the port of Syflanis.

Erill had other options, though.  Banditry along the Gatlian portion of the Long Road had been on the rise in recent years (indeed, his father’s death was testament to it), and the nobility had been trying to levy men in an effort to do something about it.  He could offer his services to one of the barons or even join the Imperial Legion in Pelliora.  The options seemed without limit.

“I’ll do you proud somewhere, Dad,” Erill swore aloud, taking to his feet and brushing the straw and strawdust from his clothes.

The young man wondered if he should at least say goodbye to Kara and her brother.  It would be the polite thing to do, at least.  Maybe even watch the lighting of the Goash.  Who knew if he’d ever see it again?  It was an impressive spectacle.  He could enjoy the night and leave with caravan in the morning.  On the other hand, he could leave tonight with no real regrets.  He was ready.

Erill took a deep breath.  Kara had been extra nice to him these last few months.  Even if her feelings for him were not what he would’ve like them to be, it would be nice, he thought, to see her one last time before he left.  And Caius deserved a goodbye, too.  Though he could be bothersome, the lad seemed to look up to Erill like a brother.  And did he really want to miss out on watching the Goash burn?

Torches were already being lit by a few of the villagers who’d been delegated to overseeing the annual festivities.  While sometimes the Goash would be erected and burned in the spacious square, with a sizeable caravan in town it was thought safer and wiser to place the 15 foot effigy on the outskirts of the community after the last harvest came in.  Erill had been among those who moved the idol from the barn that had sheltered it since mid-summer to the fallow field and could not help but feel pride when his eyes fell on the great golden ox.

“You’re here!” Caius shouted.  “This is going to be great!  This is the biggest Goash I’ve ever seen!”

True enough, this was one of the larger effigies the villagers had made, at least within Erill’s lifetime and certainly Caius’.  The year’s first wheat harvest had been a bumper crop, so the Goash had been made correspondingly grander in hopes that the successive crops would have yields as bountiful as the first.  And despite the trouble with bandits and thieves, the subsequent harvests had been plentiful.

“Yes, he is,” Erill patted Caius on the head, “and he’ll be watching over Altier all through the winter, too.”

The boy craned his neck and stood on tip-toes to get a better view of the straw idol then turned to Erill.  “You’re leaving soon, aren’t you?”

Erill sighed.  “Yeah, I suppose I am.”  Young Caius looked at Erill with sad half-understanding, a confused look of sympathy and disappointment.  Erill wished that he could put into words his reasons, explain how he’d felt these last months in his parents’ house by himself, haunted by the memories of their passing and his own failings as a son.  Instead, he could only say “I’m going to miss you, Caius.  You take care of yourself while I’m gone, alright?”

The boy nodded.

“Do you know where your sister is?”

“I think she’s still back at home getting ready.  She said something about a surprise.  What do you think it could be?”

“I couldn’t tell you,” Erill laughed as he ruffled the boy’s hair.  “Now don’t look so sad.”

“I’ll try,” Caius patted down the cowlick Erill had stirred.  “Kara might be here soon.  Or she might take forever!  You know how sisters are.”

“I’ll see if I can go find her.”

“Okay, just hurry back before they light Goash.  It’s going to be amazing!”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Erill left the gathering crowd behind him and half-jogged, half-ran through the gloaming toward the small house where Kara and Caius lived with their parents.  On his way, Erill hurried past the few caravan guards who’d drawn the short straws and were forced to take the first night watch and remain with the carts while others joined in the opening revelries.  It was a shame that such precautions had to be taken even in a normally peaceful village such as Altier, but failing health of the Baron of Nortune and political intrigues in Syflanis were being exploited by the robbers and outlaws who hid out in the forested midlands of Gatlia.  Such trouble in the province had cost Erill’s father his life, so Erill would dedicate the rest of his to doing something about it.  And that’s what he would tell Kara.

Erill arrived at Kara and Caius’ home, a piled-stone cottage on the edge of one of the many freshly reaped fields.  The windows were faintly aglow with pumpkin-orange light.  Erill knocked on the thick-planked door.

“Just a second!” a lyrical voice answered his rapping from within the small house.  Erill shifted nervously on the uneven flagstones sunk into the ground about the house’s entrance and gazing down for the moments just before the door swung open wide.  Erill looked up and saw Kara’s silhouetted form, her hair carefully coiffed and many-ribboned dress hanging in bustles about her waist, standing against the gentle glow of a table lamp and the hearth fire.  “Erill!”

Erill saw her face light with a smile even in the post-dusk shadows.  He was suddenly at a loss for words.  Kara’s dress was new, made from velvety blue fabric and cut in the style worn by the fine ladies of Syflanis.  She looked stunning in it.  “You look…  Your new dress is lovely.”

“I wanted to surprise you,” she swished her skirt proudly.

Erill was indeed surprised.

“I bought it from the traders for the festival tonight.  What?”

“I wanted to tell you…” Erill stammered.

“Yes?  Couldn’t even wait for me a few more moments?”  Kara’s blushing laughter tied Erill’s guts in knots.

He took a deep breath.  “I wanted to let you know, I’m leaving tomorrow…  Probably with the traders; they’ve already…”

“You stupid…” Kara’s comely face became contorted with a mix of emotions, not all of which the young man could identify.  The young woman punched Erill in the shoulder with considerable force.  “And you didn’t even think to tell me before tonight?”

“I…”

“And if you weren’t going to tell me till tonight, you could’ve at least let me enjoy the festival first!” Tears were streaming down her face, glistening with light from the Goash which had just gone up in flames.  “Who do you think I was wearing this dress for?  Well, come on, at least let’s go watch and maybe have a dance before you go off on your big stupid adventure.”

Kara angrily grabbed Erill’s hand and started dragging him toward where the revelry was occurring about the base of the towering inferno, not giving him even the slightest backward glance.

Not ten of Kara’s angry paces from her abode did Erill notice that the Goash was not the only pillar of flame visible against the night sky.  And the screams and shouts coming from the edge of the village were not those of celebration but of fear and panic.

“What’s happening?” Kara stopped, causing Erill to awkwardly bump into her.

“Bandits!  They must be raiding the village!”

“What are we going to do?”

“Stay close!” Erill barked, yanking Kara behind the corner of a nearby barn.  “It sounds like they’re attacking near the road, by the Goash.”

“Caius!  He’s probably in trouble!”

“The wagons are in the square,” Erill said, peering out from the cover of the wooden building.  The armed men about the wagons were shouting, pointing and scrambling about. “They probably mean to draw the guards off; they could be here any moment… I have an idea.” Erill took another glance toward the commotion. “I’m going to go first, open the gate, then you follow.  Can you do that?”

Kara nodded.

“Good.”

Half-crouching, Erill scuttled over to the barn door, lifted the latch and swung it open just enough to enter, hoping that since he’d yet to see any of the nighttime raiders, they would’ve yet to see him.  He motioned for Kara to follow, and the young woman quickly scrambled to join him.

“Now what?”

“There are pitchforks, hoes, and spades in here,” Erill pointed out a rack of implements hanging on the far wall of the barn.  “Might be able to make some use of them.”

Erill went to the rack and grabbed a pitchfork.  Its wrought-iron tines could pierce a man as easily as a bale of hay.  He’d seen it before another time a couple of thieves had been caught slaughtering a calf by a neighbor.  It hadn’t been a pretty sight.

“You’re seriously going to try to go out there and fight them?”

“Will you be safe here?”

“How should I know if I’ll be safe here when raiders are out killing everyone?” Kara cried.

“Well, I have to do something! We should stay here and wait,” Erill admitted.  If the raiders had bows, he wouldn’t stand a chance against them.  Neither did any of the other villagers, for that matter.  Erill swore under his breath.

“But what about Caius?” Kara pleaded.  “Mom?  And Dad?  They’re out there!”

“They may already be dead, Kara,” Erill bitterly retorted, frustrated by the feeling of helplessness that gripped him.  It was the same feeling he had felt when he had heard his own father had been mortally wounded defending his village.  “But I’ll make sure that nothing happens to you.”

Kara hid herself in a corner behind a stack of loosely baled hay while Erill placed as many objects as he could lay his hands on in pile behind the barn door.  It would not keep the door, which swung outward, from being opened, but would at least prove difficult to clamber over or thru and might give Erill the opportunity he needed for a well-placed thrust of a pitchfork.  When he felt the door was sufficiently barricaded, Erill stood between Kara’s hiding spot and the door, his pitchfork held at the ready.  The sounds of the chaos that had once been distant were steadily growing closer.  The shouts of the men-at-arms and the clashing of steel were audible through the dry and cracked wooden boards of the old barn.  The sounds of hooves bearing down, arrows flying, and cries of anguish filled the night and rung in Erill’s ears.  This was no mere raid; Altier was being massacred.

Over the cacophony of fighting, Erill could hear Kara pleading to the gods to protect them.  There was a crackling thump on the thatched roof of the barn, following a harsh male voice urging a steed forth.  The dry thatching quickly burst into dazzling flames.

“They’re torching the village!  We have to get out of here!”  Erill tossed aside the pitchfork and began moving aside enough of the junk he had placed by the threshold that they might climb over.  Kara rushed to his side, but the embers from the roof were falling all about them, and runners of flame had begun to engulf the walls.  Smoke filled the air, and neither Kara nor Erill could stop coughing.  The barn was turning into a death trap.

Reaching deep within himself, Erill knocked the door open and pulled both Kara and himself out of the flaming structure.  They fell flat on the ground and managed to belly crawl away from the certain fiery death they had just escaped.

All of Altier was alight.  Horsemen, all wearing masks, galloped to and fro, some empty-handed, others with their torches still held aloft.  No building was spared.  By the road on the north edge of town, the Goash mockingly blazed away, towering over the smaller fires that consumed the homes of the slaughtered villagers.

Erill and Kara scrambled to their feet.  Their hope was that the raiders would be so pre-occupied with the destruction they wrought that they would not notice the pair racing across the fields, southward away from the village.  Alas, such hopes were in vain.

The illumination from the several fires reached far, and the movement of two caught the attention of one of the riders.  The rider spurred his mount on, triumphantly holding aloft his torch, and ran the pair down.

The last things Erill heard were Kara’s screams and the beating of the hooves that were swiftly upon him.

The End

 

This represents about 5 nodes out of the dozen or so I’ve got mapped already.  I’m half a dozen to another dozen nodes away from finishing the first true ending/path (not a “you screwed up and died”, but a “your choice led you to this final outcome”).  Whatever this ends up being, it promises to be bulky.  Not all, but a few nodes will have more than two choices, which will certainly up the page count.

Relevant Encyclopedia Entry Links
Goash
Nortune
Gatlia

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Too Early to be Talking About a Sequel?

Especially since no one has bought the first one yet?* Maybe, but I’ll talk about it anyway. I’m trying something a bit different this time. One of the points some folks made about City was that the nodes were a bit long, especially compared with typical 80s CYOAs, and there weren’t as many choices as they would’ve like to have seen.

Well, I’m hoping to remedy this in the followup. This second book will have a good bit more player/reader agency to it, I hope. I’m avoiding overly long nodes, while trying not to sacrifice setting too much. I’m drawing heavily on the Encyclopedia for this. In many ways, this next book is going to be a gamebook style rewrite of the original Cirsova campaign.

The difficult part will be trying to follow all the branching paths to their necessary ends. I want to avoid some of the “doubling back” from City at the Top of the World. I could justify it there in part because of the relatively confined space it took place within. This next book, however, will take place all across Gatlia. I want to look at the trade along the Long Road, the banditry, the political system and unrest, pirates, and, of course, the mysterious Polarans.

The downside (for me) is that this will mean a significantly longer book and longer writing period.

But I have a few cool plans for if I’m able to make myself finish it. For one thing, I want to commission Dyson do redraw the map of Gatlia and make it not terrible so that it can be included in the book. I don’t know what I’ll do about a cover; I got really lucky with the first one, but Selfpubcovers.com is much better for sci-fi than it is for fantasy insofar as covers without ladies on them. Not that there’s anything wrong with covers with ladies on them, but this particular story is not starring a lady. Nor is it starring a ripped shirtless dude.

No, this book stars a young man from the village of Altier in the Barony of Nortune; orphaned by circumstance, he has decided that with the final harvest in, his parents affairs settled and the festival of Goash looming, he will leave his home and try to find some way to devote his life to stamping out the banditry on the rise in Gatlia which cost his father his life. Epic stuff? I hope it’ll turn out that way! Proud as I am of City at the Top of the World, there was plenty of naval gazing.

After that, I’ve got two more books in the Cirsova setting planned out (more or less). Maybe I’ll have enough money to get Susan Van Camp or Rebecca Guay to make me a cover by then?

*: It’s only been a little over a week and 80 eBook versions have been given away, however, so that’s a start!

Auna

One of the many old Cirsovan deities who is still worshiped in the riverlands is Auna.  Auna is an often good-natured trickster goddess, sometimes sower of discord and oft-times patroness of thieves.  She is also the goddess of love, as it is said that hearts are one of the many things she steals.

Though not all thieves worship Auna, and not all worshipers of Auna are thieves, many women who have mastered the art of getting what they want by less than honest means may often be heard whispering a prayer of thanks to Auna.

Auna is more publicly beloved, despite her reputation among thieves, than her husband, Karras, and many cities have a statue of her in some public square.  Under the shade of these statues, women who propose courtship to their beloved receive the blessings of Auna.

In the heartlands, though she is still worshiped, her cult is in decline.  Oftentimes, whether they are involved in organized crime or not, Auna’s priestesses have been held by authorities in some suspicion, as deceit is one of the goddess’s sacraments.  Outside of Cirsova, there is no organized worship of Auna, however there are rumors of a group of thieves in Gatlia, led by a young beauty named Ellyra, who steal in her name.  The bandits, however, have not claimed responsibility, nor been proven culpable, for the recent uptick in violent raids against caravans travelling through the baronies of central Gatlia.

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.

Bartland Brothers and a Bottle in a Case

Being a major port city, goods from all over the empire may be sampled here.  Midtown Syflanis is one grand bazaar, where food, drink and drug of all variety can be found in the markets, stalls and taverns.  One of the taverns of some renown, Bartland Brothers, has in a wooden display case behind the bar what may be the only publicly available commercial bottle of Shuul.  Drafts from the bottle are expensive, infrequent and often disappointing (it has been said).  No one who has sampled it has ever reported anything beyond its strong and unpleasant taste.  Whether the bottle is real or not is subject of numerous urban legends throughout the city.

Uptown, Syflanis

Uptown is the oldest quarter of Inner Syflanis.  The southern boundary of the quarter is still marked by the old city wall.  The seaward wall and a large portion of the southern section were removed as the city grew southward.  After it became apparent that Syflanis would likely never face martial threat, plans for a wall that would completely encircle the city were abandoned; the newer walls along the lower quarters are often unmanned and largely for show. 

Uptown is home to the old city hall (which has become disused since the new one was built in the lower city), a number of multi-family units, serving the families of sailors, dock & construction workers, and the old Syflanis keep, which has been repurposed into a prison for undesirables throughout Gatlia.  Though Guard Captain Kaern has kept the peace by cracking down on petty crime with great severity, criminal networks are said to have sprung up in the poor sections of Uptown, and a neighborhood code of silence has protected those at its core.

Temple of Water, Syflanis

People come from far and wide to visit Syflanis’s Temple of Water. The Temple, which is found in the West Downtown quarter, is large, shallow lake with a tiny island at its center. On that island grows a single giant tree. The lake is man-made, and it is said that the first Duke of Gatlia had it dug to protect the tree, which was beloved to him.

Today, couples pay boatman a coin that they may take their luncheon upon the lake under the shade of the great tree. Dining upon the island itself, while not forbidden, is frowned upon as low-class.

No botanist has been able to say with certainty what species the tree is, as no other tree like it has ever been identified in all the empire.