Living Story Excerpt
While in the city, Seryth helped a child catch wayward balloons, bought himself a hat that was too big for him, and met a gnome with a pet bear named “Mangeclaw” that Seryth swore he had seen before, though it wasn’t clear to him why that’d be so, bears being a rare sight in Westfall.
Throughout it all, the calico cat continued to follow him.
As night fell, Seryth returned to the dwarf smith. Despite running errands for the local shopkeepers, he still hadn’t managed to make enough money for his foster father to be happy. The dwarf gave him a heavy package, and Seryth entered the Deeprun Tram. He had been on the strange underground train years ago, when his father once took him to Ironforge to sell the tusks of a particularly large boar that had been digging in their fields.
While he stood waiting for the tram, he noticed the calico cat.
“Oh, come on!” said Seryth impatiently. “Don’t you have something better to do?”
The cat bared its fangs. “Nope,” it said.
“I…beg your pardon?” Seryth asked, surprised.
“Hey, bud, you asked me if I had something to better to do, and I don’t. What more do you want?”
“Normally, cats don’t talk,” Seryth answered sharply, prickled that he was being talked back to by a cat.
“That’s true,” said the cat. “So would it make you feel better if I wasn’t actually a cat?” Seryth could only stand and stare as the cat stood up its hind legs and reformed into an imp.
Deeprun Tram = Bright Lake Ferry
See the Writing Process section for a fuller explanation of this.
fel green = sulfur yellow
The use of a vivid shade of green is a classic sign that demonic magic – the fel – is at foot in World of Warcraft. Since it’s nearly a trademark, I needed a different color, but I also I wanted a shade similar enough it would make sense that a cat’s eyes could be this shade: suggesting a supernatural nature but not an instant red flag something was up, either.
As other settings will use a sickly yellow to indicate evil or death, I searched for color names that would not sound too dorky (many are based on food, while others you will have only heard of in fashion shows or home decorating – hardly fitting to describe a devilish imp!) I eventually landed on mustard yellow, which led me to mustard gas, which is made from a kind of sulfur. Sulfur is also associated with demons and devils in popular culture. Perfect.
imp = ympe
Some settings will give their demon races special names. The term “daemon” is overused, in my opinion, as well as technically only referring to a divine being rather than an explicitly evil being. Still, I couldn’t resist taking a look at some other common synonyms and etymologies of the word demon, fiend, devil, and similar. It turns out that imp may derive from the term “ympe”, a small shoot or graft of a tree. This plays in so well with the natural origin of the imps in this story that I had to keep it.
Ironforge, Loch Modan, Mangeclaw = ???
As I’m rearranging these first few scenes regarding Sirith travelling to Castellea, these things haven’t been mentioned yet. They will come up later, I’m sure.
This chapter was difficult to translate. I could have chosen for this chapter to continue taking place in Timberfalls, or for Sirith to move to Castellea and finish the chapter there. It also brings up mention of his needing more money, which was already covered in the previous two chapters and is a bit at odds with the sizeable bounty he got off of the rukh-sham teeth: this might be a subject for a later edit. Finally, this chapter brings up the problem of the Deeprun Tram. Pondering through this translation for this ended up being pivotal in shaping the rest of the story for this chapter.
You see, while some races of the Little Folk in Talmenor are noted for creating clockwork contraptions, much like the gnomes of World of Warcraft, a full-blown underground train is a bit more advanced than I picture the technology being in this part of the world. (That may instead make better sense for further north in the continent, say under the Tuthei Shey mountains.) Instead I looked to magical or mundane methods of transportation to suit.
Teleportation magic is something that is frequently referenced in fantasy genres and is a common staple in CRPGs as a Fast Travel mechanic. However, you can’t put teleportation magic into your world’s lore lightly. Though highly useful for adventurers or authors just wanting to get to the next exciting step in their storyline, in the real world, teleportation translates to a speed and ease of shipping people and goods across the planet that we don’t even enjoy with the best of our modern technology. It has far-ranging implications across everything like the work commute, tourism, food production, global economies, the spread of genes and cultures, army supply lines, sleeping accommodations, communication, deterring burglars, and even the theory of relativity. So, it’s not suggested that you ever make it be a prominent thing in your setting unless you are willing to rewrite your entire world’s mechanics around its usage, which I am not.
This leaves the more mundane methods of travel for Sirith here, including things like caravans, stagecoaches, ferries, or even a less advanced version of a train.
Though this helped narrow down my choices, there is also the matter of choosing where this transportation system connects to. If I continue to fold Sirith’s experiences into the town of Timberfalls instead of Castellea at this stage of the story, then it would be odd to find a very robust system of travel here, given that Timberfalls is still in a very rural and backwater part of Tarith. So perhaps this system starts instead in Castellea. Does Sirith meet his imp in Castellea then? Or in Timberfalls, and then has to find yet another way of travelling to Castellea from there that doesn’t involve the Talmenor version of a Deeprun Tram to the Talmenor version of Loch Modan? As you can see, this was a lot to think about.
In the end, I started with something I did have a little bit of writing for, and that is when the cat reveals himself to Sirith. I worked my way backwards from there, describing the ferry, Sirith’s impromptu job, the docks, and a few more tidbits about the rukh-shami.
Sirith huffed and panted as he slid the crate into place on the dock lift. It was morning finally, the sun bouncing off the lake like a cache of diamonds, reflecting unwanted heat and light directly back into Sirith’s face. The route from Timberfalls to Castellea lay directly across the former’s twin lakes, and though there was a finger of land between them, cut through with multiple river crossings and tussocky beaches, Sirith had decided to pick up a few extra coins by helping load one of the ferries that plied the waters of the northernmost Lake Bright. An apt name, thought Sirith, as he leaned on a barrel, out of the glare, and tried to snatch a few moments of relief from the dancing, flashing lights.
None of the other workers seemed as bothered. Most of them were human, big and burly compared to the Little Folk, though Sirith had been surprised to find a few of the rukh-shami amongst the dock workers as well. These rukh-shami seemed even more dim-witted than those he had met in the forest, and after a few minutes of gawking, Sirith had spied a Little Folk following around behind them, waving a thin agate-pink rod like a wand at their backs. There was something about the rhythm of the wand’s waving and the rukh-shami’s movements, from which Sirith determined the creatures were bespelled.
“It’s more common up north,” grunted one of the dock workers when he noted Sirith’s observation of the Little Folk and her entourage.
“What—enslaved rukh-shami?” Sirith asked.
“I wouldn’t call it that,” said the dock worker. “The little lady makes them. Molds them out of blocks of clay and stone and gives them life. Quite the sight if you’ve never seen it.”
“Are all rukh-shami created so?” asked Sirith, squinting at the gemstone rod and remembering back to the glowing crystals in the hands of the rukh-shami in the forest.
The dock worker shrugged. “All the tame ones, anyway. As I said, it’s more common up north. Have whole docks full of them, not just these little rickety things here.”
Sirith followed the worker’s gaze up the docks. There were only a few wharfs with boats between them, mostly pleasure boats and a few ferries like this one so late in the day, as all the fishers had departed at dawn. Their own ferry had the added asset of a ramp leading down to it, horizontal planks like logs pounded into the ground at regular intervals for stability, and a lift which Sirith was helping to load now. A farmer’s wagon was making its precarious way down the ramp and onto the bobbing ferry, its horse blinkered and calm as if it had done this a hundred times before.
“They have real lifts there, too,” reminisced the dock worker. “With a winch as big as a man and a bunch of pulleys roped together.”
“Sounds complicated,” said Sirith. Their lift was just a simple raised beam with a counterweight on one end. Even now, another team of dock workers were loading the counterweight with sand bags so Sirith’s end didn’t swing up too soon and too fast while they worked it.
The big human beside him shrugged. “The Little Folk have clever ways of getting around their little height problem, I’ll give them that. Hey, look, if we keep jawing, we’re going to get in trouble, okay? So, budge up a bit.”
Sirith grunted and stepped out of the man’s way, pressing his fists into the small of his back and stretching. It would take a while yet for the farmer’s wagon to be fully embarked and tied down, and his back was aching from the unaccustomed movement. Farm work was hard, but it wasn’t as much bending and lifting as this was.
As Sirith watched the wagon’s progress down near the water, a flash of something orange and white flickered in the corner of his eye. He glanced over and saw the cat from the inn, easy to pick out with its flashy calico markings. As if emboldened by his gaze, it leapt down from its perch and trotted over to him, flopping over across his feet and then playing catch with his shoelaces. Sirith scowled and lifted his feet one by one, detaching the cat before returning to work. Not to be discouraged, the calico followed him, batting at his ankles and almost tripping him several times as he walked.
At first, Sirith did his best not to kick the cat as he shuffled to grab another crate, pushing the feline out of the way with his shins. By the third or fourth time however, Sirith stepped funny on his right foot, stumbling badly and just barely managing to keep the crate safely in his arms. He quickly set it down with a gasp.
“Oh, come on!” he snapped at the cat. “Don’t you have something better to do than follow me around?”
The cat paused, sitting and looking him in the eye as if it understood. It gave him a long, slow, conciliatory blink, then said quite clearly, “Yes. I do, actually.”
“I…beg your pardon?” Sirith stammered.
One of the other loaders had come up behind Sirith, grumbling at him to get out of the way if he was going to take a nap on the job. Sirith jumped swiftly out of the way, keeping his eyes on the cat.
The cat blinked back at him, its sulfur-yellow eyes seeming to glow faintly in the fading light. “Hey, bud, you asked me if I had something to better to do, and I don’t. What more do you want?”
“Normally, cats don’t talk,” said Sirith. He touched his forehead. He had been working hard most of the morning. Was it possible he had come down ill? The breeze off the lake was keeping off the worst of the day’s heat, but maybe some flu was going around.
Yet his forehead was cool and dry. The cat stood up again and sauntered over to him, tail raised like a long and beckoning finger.
“That’s true,” it said. “So would it make you feel better if I wasn’t actually a cat?”
“I don’t know; I’m not sure what you mean,” muttered Sirith, but the cat wasn’t listening. It stretched its paws up to brace on the crate, one white and one black. As Sirith watched, the fur lay flat, then flatter still, as it disappeared into the cat’s skin, which faded from a dappled pink, gray and brown to a slimy, shiny black shot through with yellow and dark brown streaks, each arranged like ancient lettering. Horns grew up between its ears, which shifted back and down it rounding head, and when the cat grinned, its fangs had lengthened into something sharper and more wicked.
Sirith had heard of such creatures before. The gangly ympe flicked its tail, tendrilled like the end of a twig, and rubbed long-fingered hands together.
“Better?” it asked.