Teaser Tuesday

Tonight I am doing a reading at the Red Brick for ChiSeries Guelph, run by the peerless event organizer Angela Keeley and hosted by the Red Brick Cafe.

I am reading from Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden, mostly because it has some less familiar elements in terms of world building, but a more familiar narrative structure than the first two books.

Bloodlust TSM cover

“I grew up here,” said Auria. Chosen Brightloch’s daughter and Vintia were gazing upon the Spires of Kirif as their ships idled, waiting to Dock at an artificial beech outside of the defensive reefs. Some of the sailors and the Legionnaires were staring at the distant city, but many more were casting looks at the Kirifan dockworkers, especially the women, or the brutish looking Dolphins circling around their ships. “This is my home, not Krass. One of my first memories is a ride on one of the Fologi, the Dolphins you see below us, when I was a young girl. I thought they were wonderful pets then. They are actually equal under the law in Kirif, Spireless, of course…”

“The Spires are amazing,” said Vintia, trying in vain to process Auria’s expository ejaculations while taking in the view of the Spires themselves. They were immense, bigger than the tallhouses of Krass, the fifteen story tenements that were built to house the huge numbers of refugees that took shelter in the city during the Reckoning. Some of the spires were three times that height.  Unlike the square, rigidly structured tallhouses, the Spires of Kirif had an organic look to them. No two were alike, and their natural shape was rounded and smooth, sculpted in places where the inhabitants cared to add features to the structures that they could not grow. They certainly rivalled the majesty of all but the largest edifices of Krass.

More than just physically impressive, Vintia could sense life and magic within the Spires. These buildings were a product of The Reckoning; a mutant form of coral with which the strange-eyed Kirifans formed a symbiotic bond. The unfamiliar patterns, still wild after eleven centuries, dazzled her senses but she could still sense that those within were manipulating them.

“The Fologi are carnivorous,” said Auria, leaning in close, almost breathing in Vintia’s ear.

“… Pardon?” said Vintia; the idea of killer Dolphins snapped her attention away from the Spires and back to Chosen Brightloch’s wayward daughter. Auria was smiling playfully, almost like a girl showing off a favoured toy.

“They feed on the flesh of the enemies of Kirif,” said Auria. “They’re cunning too, dangerous beyond belief in the water. They operate in formations and such. Many of the [click] and [pop] Sounds in the Kirifan language are from Fologi communications. They have fifty terms for water, each a different…”

“Stop, stop, Auria,” said Vintia. “Take it slowly; did you say these Dolphins, the Fologi… are like citizens?”

The first glimpse of the spires of Kirif is an obvious starting point.

“FATHER!” Auria’s anguished voice seemed to tear from her throat.

A second explosion rocked the Spire. Vintia sensed tremendous elemental magic at play. Pieces of spire the size of cottages arced through the air, burning, to slam into nearby buildings and then crash into the sides of nearby Spires and onto the hapless people below.

The revels became a chorus of screams and shouts of confusion.

“We have to get out of the city,” said Katarina.

“No, we have to get to my father,” said Auria.

“We won’t do him any good without our weapons, girl,” said Katarina, severely. “The streets are going to run red now. This kind of Chaos is never good for strangers like us.”

“I need to get to him, ancestors curse you!” said Auria, voice tearing with emotion.

“What good can we do for him, girl?” said Katarina. “He’s a fucking Chosen – anything that can take him down will swat us like flies, especially if we aren’t ready. You will just distract him Auria!”

In response, Auria started to run. The Centurion made a grab for her, but the sly scout slipped around her, diving into the water. Vintia and Katarina started to run after her but Auria disappeared beneath the surface, navigating the dark water with the familiarity of a native.

“Bugger me!” snarled Katarina. “The bitch can swim like a fish.”

“I’ll go after her,” said Vintia. “I can protect myself with magic.”

“FUCK!” shouted Katarina. She stood staring at the water for a moment, fists balled, back hunched, eyes wide and glowing in the light of the distant fires. When she turned to Vintia she was calm again. “You’re right. We’ll gather the men. Hephus and I should be safe. Druin’s boys are on patrol, the camp is secure. If you can’t make it out, hide and we will come for you even if I have to take this place apart!”

Vintia pounded her fist against her breast in salute then they split and turned away, running.

Ash began to fall from the sky as Vintia sprinted along the walkways. The nearby Kirifans stood, shocked, as Spire [Click]kith, the proudest of the Spires of the city, smouldered. Closer to the ruin, screaming could be heard and people limped out of the darkness, some bearing frightful wounds. Vintia’s ears picked up the clash of metal on metal: fighting had already broken out.

Vintia could see no sign of Auria, and so she ran toward the remains of Spire [Click]kith.

A little bit of action without giving the main plot away…

Plumes of earth and rock shot up from the palisade as the cannons of Khazak Khrim loosed another volley. The debris filled walls of the fort were made to withstand such impacts, however, and were holding up so far. The Vvath were being forced to concentrate their fire to small areas in order to even have a chance of creating a breach.

Lightly armoured enemy archers fired at the defenders from behind the shields of their comrades or thick wicker screens. The shots they fired kept the defenders wary, sometimes even killing an unlucky Legionnaire. Vintia responded with attacks of her own, killing a dozen Vvath who strayed too close to Fort Nerus with lightning attacks.

The Krassian siege weapons returned fire. The Legion had fewer guns than the Vvath, but better engineers. Hephus and master Gunner Grannoch, cunning and methodical, had already knocked several Vvath cannons out, shattering them with precise cannon fire of their own.

Around the Vvathi engines the land was now a sea of slave soldiers armed with wicked looking weaponry. Once the Vvath judged that the fortress was sufficiently reduced they would unleash their horde in the hopes of simply over-running the fort.

Vintia was warding their engines, screening them with spells against Vvathi cannon fire. Behind her a group of craft-Vassals drew huge slabs of rock and earth from the ground with their magic. Some of this would go to reinforce the walls and palisades, while the rest would be sculpted into ammunition that would be launched from their own siege weapons. Teven said that, after the first day, this battle would be an endurance test, with both sides forced to manage crucial supplies. The Legion was doing everything it could to prepare for an extended battle.

The cannons boomed again, shaking Vintia from her reverie; this time a small section of the wall collapsed, spilling debris down the rise. The Vvath slave warriors cheered, a sound like the roar of a wave smashing against rugged coast. The defenders tensed and shifted, but the break was too small. The rubble fill cascaded into the breach, temporarily plugging the hole. Breach crews rushed to reinforce using magic and a quick-stone mix. The Vvathi began reloading their cannons, aiming for the new weak-point.

“Two volleys,” said the First Shield from beside Vintia. “Anyone?”

“I won’t bet against that,” called Hephus from behind the battery.

“Two for sure,” said Teven.

“I’ll call three, on ten to one odds, First Shield!” shouted Centurion Drusus from down the palisade.

“Fair enough,” said the First Shield, grinning broadly. “If the wall goes on two I make some money, if it lasts for three, I lose a month’s pay to Drusus, but get another ten minutes of rest. I win either way.”

The battery behind them fired. This time one of the Vvathi cannons suffered a direct hit, flipping through the air and shattering the wooden casings around the iron barrels. A cheer went up from the Legionnaires.

And a taste of the final battle!

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World Building and exposition: Xenophon’s Anabasis

Xenophon’s Anabasis is one of the key texts of ancient Greek literature. Not only is it a historical account of great importance; it is also a simply written tale of adventure that remains compelling to this day and has become the template for other works.

Xenophon was an officer in a mercenary force of Greek heavy infantry (likely hoplites) hired by Cyrus the Younger to help depose his brother, Artaxerxes II, and take control of the Persian Empire. They combined forces engaged the enemy in 401 BC at Cunaxa. (by comparison the battle of Thermopylae was in ~480 , and Alexander’s conquests of Persia began in ~334 BC). The leader of the ten thousand Greeks, Clearchus, arrogantly refused to follow Cyrus’ battle plan which led to the loss of the battle and the Prince’s death. After the battle Clearchus and most of the senior leadership of the Greek forces were tricked and betrayed when they tried to treat with Artaxerxes vassals. Xenophon is one of three leaders elected by the men to replace their lost leadership.

The main narrative occurs after the battle is lost and the Greek leadership is removed. The Greeks are deep behind enemy lines, no longer supported by friends, low on supplies, and with uncertain leadership. The Persians decide to let the elements destroy the Greeks rather than engaging them in a costly battle. Instead they harry them and force them into terrible terrain. And yet the ten thousand endure, marching North from Cunaxa to the Greek Colonies on the Black Sea, through desert and mountain, foraging, fighting, selling their services, and ultimately finding a way home. It is easy to see why this is a compelling tale, and how it can be used as a great template for militaristic fantasy. My favourite anabasis style work is Glen Cook’s Black Company series, although The Warriors movie  holds a special place in my heart as well.

Fantasy enthusiasts often create huge elaborate worlds with dozens of complex cultures, civilizations, places and so on. Take a look at this world building subreddit to see a few interesting examples of people’s imaginations run wild with world-building.

One of the problems encountered with this level of detail, when writing a novel, is that it is hard to download it on the reader without ruining the pacing that is expected of a good story. Games have a much easier time of this — especially open-world sandbox type games. The player being  free to explore and engage with a large world at the pace of their choosing is more or less the point, in that case. However the narrative structure of the novel is such that the author must dictate pacing, and paragraphs of exposition can really get in the way of a story. Nobody really wants to stop and read a long dissertation about where the Orc Barbarians who are storming the castle came from, and what their culture is like. Describing the culture of a people that the protagonists meet in passing, just once, in great detail can really make that escape from the oddly dangerous bandits that are tracking them seem a little less pressing. A lengthy discussion of history is also a great chunk of pacing issues, especially if it is not directly related to the plot. Exposition must be brought out organically, as part of the story in most cases, which makes it hard to show off s big, brilliantly built world.

The tried and true methods of allowing the reader to experience more of the world are

  • The Quest: In a quest base narrative the protagonists must travel to many different places to achieve their goal, often interacting with obscure arcana as part of the Quest. This arcana is a great way expose history and the journey is an excellent way to expose geography. The quest is the easy method of creating a journey that leads through many exotic areas  allowing the author to show off a lot of their world.
  • Multiple Character Epic: A multiple character epic allows the author to set different perspective characters in different parts of the world. In effect, each of those characters becomes the exposition for the part of the world that the author wishes to show off. This strikes me as the best way to showcase a huge world without ruining pace, but it seems quite hard to pull off convincingly.

The Anabasis Story offers an excellent alternative to The Quest for world exposition. Here are the main advantages of such a story type for world-building.

  • Exposition without dissonance: In the Anabasis form, the protagonists are strangers to the area they are in, picking up local customs and history as they try to get home. They have a legitimate void of knowledge that needs to be filled and real reasons to fill it.
  • Realistic Exploration: The easy way home is, of course, blocked. The group must take the unfamiliar path, which will require them to explore just to find that path. Climate, terrain, and food scources all become of utmost import to a group trying to find their way out of a strange environment.
  • Immediate Political Involvement: A small band wandering through an area is hardly cause for the high and mighty to react, an army on the move ALWAYS elicits a political reaction, and not always a hostile one. Opportunities abound: the Ten Thousand ended up selling their services in the their travels, after all. This allows the reader to experience even the most Byzantine political systems with great validity, since the members of the travelling army have a real interest in it and it is directly related to the story.
  • Home: because the characters will constantly be comparing every strange thing, to “the way it is back home.” it is easy for the writer to create exposition for the home culture as well.
  • Structure: The Anabasis narrative provides a strong structure for exposition without wrecking the pacing of a story. The band will explore their options, act accordingly, and move on. The hardships they face, the places they go, and the obstacles that they must overcome are all legitimate uses of your carefully built world that will not derail the story. It is an ideal form for a writer who wants to immerse the reader in multiple parts of a large Fantasy world.

Headed to Gencon

I am headed to Gencon, in Indianapolis for the next few days… so, no updates. The convention is full of gaming, geek chic vendors, and all kinds of fantasy and sci-fi fans. It will be fun. Since I feel bad about not updating, I’ll leave this little teaser from my upcoming short story (very rough so far)

Predictably, Harlson strolled into their workshop at shift’s end. The third-quarter shift sub-foreman had it in for Darius ever since he’d intervened to prevent Kaz from being transferred to Harlson’s crews. Darius saw it as a favour to an old friend, Harlson saw it as interference. Now he too every opportunity he could to snipe at them.

The whip-thin man began inspecting their work. He knew what today meant to Darius, and thus took his time inspecting the barrel for flaws. Darius sent the rest of the crew to the showers, but dared not go himself. It would be harder for Harlson to find fault with him here.

The big man suppressed a snarl as Harlson ran his fingers along the barrel with a gloved hand. He felt like a man watching a stranger dance with his wife. He hated Harlson. The man knew how important today was to Darius. How could someone always be so clearn working in a place like this?

Eventually even Harlson had to give up and sign off on the gun.

He looked at Darius as he passed, flashing perfectly white teeth in a vicious approximation of a smile.

“[Blue Gladiator] hit twenty-eight points in singles today.” he drawled. “Think your Reds can take us?”

Darius forced himself to be calm. Harlson was slick, he did not want to be tricked.Twenty-eight points was impressive. “Maybe,” he said, hating how faithless he sounded.

“Care to make a wager?” said Harlson, eyes glinting. “A week’s wage?”

“No,” said Darius. He felt himself deflate. He could not afford a wager like that. He’d saved for two months for the tickets to tonight’s match.

Harlson smirked. “I didn’t think so.” he began to walk away, leaving Darius feeling frustrated and defeated.

“I’ll take that bet, sir,” said Kaz, shocking them both. The orc grinned, as he reached for his cap. “Can’t leave this behind.”

“Your loss workman,” sneered Harlson. “Now if you’ll excuse me ,I have work to do.”

 Darius made a point of thanking Kaz in front of the rest of the crew. He felt a little sick inside. Twenty-eight points was a big spread. Even [Red Gladiatrix] would have trouble matching that. He would pass some money to Kaz’s wife if the bet was lost…

Yeah, I’m not entirely sure who I want to use in the fight yet. Oops. The story revolves around Darius taking his daughter to her first arena match, It needs a fair bit of work.

Gencon Woohoo!

Odysseus: The man with the plan.

“A man who has been through bitter experiences and traveled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time”
― Homer, The Odyssey

“Do you think the enemy’s sailed away? Or do you think
any Greek gift’s free of treachery? Is that Ulysses’s reputation?
Either there are Greeks in hiding, concealed by the wood,
or it’s been built as a machine to use against our walls,
or spy on our homes, or fall on the city from above,
or it hides some other trick: Trojans, don’t trust this horse.
Whatever it is, I’m afraid of Greeks even those bearing gifts.’” Vigil, the Aeneid

Don't mess with Odysseus

Nice art, but not really indicative of what was going on.

[Note: for those of you unfamiliar with ancient literature, Ulysses is the Roman name for the Greek Hero Odysseus.]

Odysseus is one of the greatest heroes of classical literature, and a personal favorite. The Wily King of Ithica stands out among the Greeks for his intelligence and good council. He is a secondary character in many ways in the Iliad, but he rated enough interest to get the second book in the series, the Odyssey, all to himself. Odysseus is a hero who is fated to wander. As I noted in one of my posts about Fate and Causality, you could take most of the islands he visits in the central parts of his travels and recount them on their own or even mix them up in order and the only way it would disturb the narrative is with the size of the ever shrinking crew. Odysseus is fated to wander and until he serves his time the plot is more interested in defining his character through his wandering than resolving any story.

Odysseus desperately wants to return to Ithica. The Trojan war has taken up ten years of his life. He has a son, a wife, and subjects who miss him. Sadly for him, his Trojan horse stunt has caused Poseidon to focus on him as the reason that his beloved Trojans lost (even though that was fated too). Poseidon, brother of Zeus, outranks most of the Gods, and so he calls upon her powers and his allies to drive Odysseus off course. Odysseus’ patron Goddess and her allies are able to ensure his safety and an eventual end to his exile by interceding with Zeus, but not until the Gods have toyed with the man for ten years. By this time Twenty years have passed, his wife is holding off a legion of obnoxious suitors,and his son has grown to manhood. Things are rather ripe by the time the wandering king returns.

In most cases Odysseus is depicted as the man with the plan. He overcomes obstacles not through brute strength or skill of arms, but with planning or trickery. He is certainly brave, strong, and skilled but his cunning is what sets him apart from Heroes like Ajax and Achilles. The Trojan horse is his most famous ruse. He convinces the Greeks to pull their fleet offshore and make it seem like their are leaving. Meanwhile they construct a giant hollow wooden horse and hide their elite warriors inside knowing that the Trojans would take it inside the city, which will allow them to come out at night and open the gate for the rest of the army. It is worth noting that the wooden horse is a sacrifice to Poseidon, a convincing sacrifice to give to the god of the Sea if one wishes safe passage for a large army. Thus we can add blasphemy to the reasons Poseidon takes a dislike to Odysseus. The Trojans cannot resist taking it, even when warned, partly because of fate but also because they wish to steal the God’s favour away from the Greeks. In the end the ruse works and Troy falls in a single night. It is not a pretty end at all, full of fire, bloodshed, and rape. One gets the sense that Homer feels it is right to punish Odysseus for the damage that his cunning plan wrought, although he sympathizes with the Ithican’s desire to end the war at any cost so he can return to his wife and son.

His ruthless pragmatism is a staggeringly modern trait: one that is largely absent from ancient tales of bloodthirsty killing machines like Cu Chulain or honorable, chivalrous killing machines like Roland or the Knights of the round table.

One almost feels bad for Odysseus’ enemies. The Trojans suffer, but they are fated to do so. The Cyclops Polyphemus, a foe that the entire crew could not overcome in battle, is quickly bested when Odysseus figures out how to get him drunk, blind him with a specially constructed “spear”, and escape by clinging to the underbellies of his flock of sheep when he lets them out in the morning. The cyclops gets what he deserves to a certain extent, but in many ways he is in the right for attacking the Trojans for trespassing on his land.

The tales of Odysseus also show another very modern idea, the perils of being too inquisitive. When Odysseus defeats Circe, he is forewarned of many of the dangers that await him. Thus he knows to plug the ears of his crew so that they do not heed the music that would lead them to their doom. Interestingly Odysseus is curious to hear this sound for himself and leaves his ears uncovered, lashing himself to the mast so that he can listen, and putting himself in grave danger just to satiate his curiosity. Indeed, wanderlust seems to suit Odysseus well, despite his loyalty to his family overcoming all obstacles. (Interestingly his loyalty to Penelope does not stop him from having sex with a few nymphs and a sorceresses, but one also wonders about Penelope and the suitors, if one reads closely.)

In the end Odysseus returns home, and passes a few trials that demonstrate his identity, then he kills the suitors rather viciously before he reclaims his Kingdom and his life. This is the only time he acts where brute strength is
emphasized over guile. The tale of a returning veteran finding corruption in his homeland is also one that resonates in modern day, and I often wonder if this was the inspiration for the the return of the hobbits to the shire.

Modern renditions of Odysseus vary in quality. My favorite is Damid Gemmell’s in the Fall of Kings, a book finished by his wife after he died. Mr Gemmell paints the Ithican as a master storyteller, whose vivid tales inspire his crew and whose plans often have a dreamlike eureka quality to them. The author must have been aware of his own mortality and the ending of the tale creates a parallel between Penelope’s longing for Odysseus and the loss of the writer and his own wife. It never fails to bring a tear to my eye.

Oh Brother where art thou also deserves an honourable mention. It follows a very Odysseus like character trying to re-unite with his family after escaping from a chain gang in the depression era. The Ithican easily adapts to this modern setting while remaining easily recognizable underneath the Hollywood veneer.

Odysseus is the archetypal cunning hero. He is brilliant and ruthless. He is a trickster whose main concern is furthering his own goals, noble as they may be. His genius gets him out of trouble all the time, but the consequences of his acts are often brutal. His curiosity is also the downside of his brilliance, often leading him into further danger. A very well made character that has stood the test of time and feels fresh even alongside the cutting edge of fantasy.

Edit: see below.

Logistics in Strange Worlds

“Lembas. Elvish waybread. One small bite is enough to fill the stomach of a grown man.” – J R R Tolkien.

My sister works in the Canadian North, a defence attorney on circuit around the vast, rugged territory of Nunavut, which encompasses some of the coldest, roughest, and most remote places in our land. This week, as she ventured out on a new circuit for the first time, she ran into a cascading series of travel issues that resulted in her being late to court, missing baggage and clothes, and then stranded in a the small community of Gjoa Haven. While she was there she reflected on how different the inconveniences of travel made life in the North, especially for permanent residents. Here is an excerpt from her ruminations:

“In the South (In this case she is referring to southern Canada, Ontario to be exact), we have so much choice. So much cheap and abundant choice about just about everything, from where we shop to who we have as our dentists to how we wish to travel; plane train, or automobile. When I lived in Ontario, I lived in a small town called Shedden, west of London Ontario and more than 200 km from Crieff, where my parents live. To get home, I turned right on the 401 and then right again on Hwy 6 South. It took me about an hour and a half on good day, less on a really good day. I could pursue my profession where I wanted and still see my parents and grandparents regularly, all thanks to the ease and low cost of travel in the South.” – Deanna Harris.

This got me to thinking. Travel is something we take for granted in modern day, but often serves as a plot device and an integral part of world-building in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Magical and mundane methods of travel that differ from our can drastically alter the feel of a setting. If a science fiction setting does not include some method of faster-than-light travel then it will limit the size of any Galactic empires. Here are a few logistical considerations that I think are key in world-building.

1) Speed — How far can a person travel in an hour/day/month/year? This is perhaps the most important travel question in any setting. Towns and inns will often be set up along major routes at intervals based on a day’s travel by the dominant method of travel (or the dominant method of travel when they were founded) and where major routes cross. If you have instantaneous travel like warp-gates or planar portals you can bet your bottom dollar that the dominant powers will build some form of post to control travel there, if only to prevent their enemies from catching them by surprise. Even road quality can make a difference: the Roman Legions were able to exert control over such a large area partly because travel within the Empire was made easier and faster by their roads. These roads also encouraged trade because they were safe and faster than dirt paths. The legions were also disciplined enough to march for long periods which allows them to cover a much greater distance during the day than most armies at the time. Speed is essential to any narrative involves a lot of travel. If travel is slower it means that rare resources from distant places command even higher prices from those who need them. Slower travel also means greater regional variation between dialects, languages, and culture. It makes central education and control harder as well.

2) Cargo — A ship might be slower than a horse, and even have to take an indirect route to get to a particular destination, but it can carry a hell of a lot more. This obviously matters a great deal for trade. Extensive trade systems involve moving massive quantities of goods. In areas where ships are impossible it might mean a need for massive caravans. Caravans carrying precious cargo attract raids and need guards and so on. In the Terminator, the titular character is unable to bring anything back into the past when he travels, which means he has to search for weapons and clothing immediately. Lack of cargo capacity can make a big difference in construction: it is hard to build a palace out of imported marble if you can’t bring it in by ship or some other form of bulk transport.

3) Fuel/Limitations — Gas stations are a ubiquitous sight in modern day. Expect something similar for whatever fuel is required by your dominant modes of transportation. Helium and Hydrogen stations for Dirigibles. Fueling stations for certain kinds of space ships. Fuel, as we can see with oil and gas, can become a plot point in an of itself in narratives with large scale conflicts. This is true even of muscle-powered travel where food is fuel. Fuel can limit travel on extended trips, especially into areas where provisions are hard to come by; even foot travelers will have to carry more food while vehicles rapidly become useless if no fuel is available. Cargo can make a big difference in this case, as can means variation. Brandon Sanderson does away with conventional logistics of large medieval armies in the Way of Kings, with certain types of mage being able to conjure food if they have an uncommon, but easily portable type of resource in the gem-hearts. Other limitations, like a need for a landing strip for a plane or the difficulty of a magic ritual can alter a method of travel, and how it changes the world, significantly. A steamship has different limitations than a sailing ship, and so on.

4) Knowledge/Exploration — It helps to know where you are going. In some cases a map or special can be more important than a method of travel in a story. Treasure maps, knowledge of where the next oasis is in the desert, and even hints of what exists where you are going can really effect logistics. Language barriers also effect travel and while their effects on world-building may be obvious on other levels, it is not often taken into account with travel and trade. Knowledge is something we take for granted in the modern day, even in our well-mapped fantasies, but it posed a real challenge to people moving beyond the thresholds of their homelands in the ancient worlds.

5) Means Variation — Different people have access to different methods of travel. If one group has access to a form of travel that others cannot match it can give them a tremendous advantage. This advantage can create Empires: think of British Sea power, Druids traveling between stone circles, or Dragon riders: their mobility is as much or more of an advantage than brute force because it allows them to leverage their assets over a much wider territory. Those with access to special forms of mobility will almost always be in the dominant classes, either because they can afford that rarer form of travel or because they can use it to gain power or wealth. Just think of the advantages that a man with access to a horse or cart-oxen would have in the old days over someone who did not. The navigators in Dune have tremendous power because they control much of the means of travel (though not the fuel)

6) Local Variation — Local variations in travel will change the way a specific place feels. A crossroads town that sees a lot of traffic will be more worldly than a mining town. A port will pick up some of the customs of the sea and attract faraway travelers.  You are unlikely to find a cosmopolitan place that is hard to travel to. Variation often depend on local resources. Terrain itself is the most important local variation. A desert is hard to traverse because of lack of food and water, as well as the difficulty of travelling on sand. Thus there are few cities in deep deserts. Mountains and swamps pose entirely different problems. In Science Fiction this often represented as planets/places that have access to space travel and those that do not. In Fantasy magic can make a difference as well, with magical barriers isolating communities or strange riding beasts that only live in one area. I was particularly enamoured of the Stiltwalkers in Morrowind, huge creatures that could traverse the island very quickly.

Other issues of logistics are equally important as the travel question, Middle-Earth or Westeros may be cool but we’d probably miss indoor plumbing after a while (Among other things). Crossing a desert or a mountain pass are rarely arduous in modern day, but can easily be the focal point of an entire book in a medieval fantasy setting.

1) Communications — is communication faster than travel? Instantaneous communication is still changing the modern world. The impact of being able to share information across vast distances is staggering when you think about it. If communications aren’t faster than travel methods it makes detecting invading armies more difficult, which leads to things like castles and stronghold to keep a permanent foothold in important territory. There are plenty of unusual methods of communication in fantasy and sci-fi each with their own quirks which influence the setting. Astropaths in 40k are living beacons that help guide ships and communicate over vast distances, but their rarity and the danger inherent in their powers inform the setting, making it isolated and grim.

2) Food and Weather — even if food is not the primary means of fuel, it is still a necessity in long distance travel. Water is an important consideration as well. Almost no cities were built away from convenient sources of food and water outside the modern era. Ease of travel has alleviated this, somewhat. Weather is another consideration for travel and local custom. In Europe, warfare was nearly impossible in the winter months, and “General Winter” is still credited with many victories even as recently as WWII.

In Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale the Chosen have access to many unusual methods of transportation. Steamships, magically enhanced horses, and even airships make an appearance. These methods of travel, combined with sophisticated communications, allow the Chosen to rule over a vast Empire. Gladiators are forbidden from using most of these methods of travel and communication because of lessons learned in past rebellions, which means they often have to travel by foot. The fact that the Gladiators have to travel with Grey-Robes also serves as a limitation. The Gladiators often feel out of sync and isolated from the rest of their world, and the limitations on their communications and travel are as isolating as the walls around the Gladiator’s quarters which separate them from the rest of the Domains.

The same is true for individual Domains in some cases. Chosen Eudora prefers to keep her Domain wild, which makes it very different than the rest of the Empire, and far less inhabited. Chosen Moltar’s Domain is isolated by cultural barriers and laws as well as mountains, very easy for men and women to travel to, but sometimes hard to leave. Because of their mystical prowess many of the Chosen are able to build and maintain structures in places that others could not, such as Brightsand Halls, raised on stone pillars,  Chosen Giselle’s garden fortress in the desert.

Overall the citizens of the Domains have an easier time getting from one place to another. The roads are excellent, and winter only limits travel for normal people in a very few places. Magical roads, steamships, and well organized trade routes make travel within the Empire much easier than in the world outside. Trade is very important within the Domains, and regional variations are such that goods are moved about with great frequency. I’d rank it as close to 19th century real world, but with much closer to the classical age in terms of contact with the outside lands and cultures outside the Empire. Other factors that influence travel are the dangers of the taint and frequency of attacks in any border area. One of the flaws of the first Bloodlust book is that I should have had an ambush or attack to demonstrate the occasional dangers of travel off the beaten path. Next book I guess.

In the timeline I am writing about the Domains are slowly adopting new technologies as the magic of artifice becomes more and more available. The Chosen are long-lived, which I have decided acts as a general hindrance to adopting new technology. However, they are now on the cusp of a revolution in travel with Steamships and trains and so on becoming not only possible for individual Domains but adopted by the people of Krass. The main effect of this will be to make it easier for the Empire to expand. New methods of travel make for better ways of bringing power to bear at distant borders. Of course, a new Chosen will need to carve out their own territory…

Edit: I have no idea why I originally wrote Brian instead of Brandon… oops.