Tag Archives: The Deep Engines

A quick break down of how I design characters

26 Dec

I posted a little bit on my twitter this evening about how I design characters as a writer who works with other artists. This is a little step by step for Juon Tiro, a character from a fantasy story The Deep Engines. There are actually a couple short stories featuring him on this blog if you want to check the Deep Engines tag.

To start out I do a basic write up of the character, background, place in society, general info. Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 5.59.57 PM

This is what it looks like when I start out. Then I refine a bit with personal details. These are things that would suggest how a character would hold themselves, how they react to stress. Details that would be shown on the page rather than told. The notes section is pretty brief and staccato. I think that’s helpful for an artist so they can get the distilled info without being bogged down with a 3 page essay trying to condense every aspect of the character. Just easier to parse.

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When I write for comics I cast it like a movie. If I see a photo of a model or an actor or whatever that I think suits the character it goes in a reference folder labled CAST. For Juon I stumbled over this guy who’s body type and facial expression would be at home in a scene.

Juon2

Handsome, cocky, trim, long limbed, dark skin. I can point to this and say, “Here is the basic physical make up.” But I want Juon to have long hair that he takes pride in and a little bit of an impish look. Model Cykeem White was an ideal stand in.

Juon3

With these references I have a visual I can point to and then refine. For example I’ve told artists who are interested in this project that the above model is a very good idea of Juons shape, but he’s a little too baby faced for Juons age and street wise experience.

So I take a crack at it myself.

unnamed-1

Sorry about the quality but fuck a scanner.

Now here is some advice that may seem super daunting to writers who don’t draw at all, never studied art or what have you but i strongly recommend it. Try to draw your character the way you picture them. What’s the shape of their build? do they have broad shoulders and a narrow waist? Well, shit, you can draw a triangle. In comparison to the people who collaborate with me I’m trash and I can’t illustrate my ideas as skillfully as I can construct a sentence but it’s a starting point for what I specifically had in mind. Also I think it’s good for writers to see how the other half lives. I hear from some younger or just starting out writers complaining that an artist isn’t capturing their ~vision~. Cut that shit out. Sit down and try to draw you vision. Can’t do it? Well then if the artist you are working with thinks a character would look better with bangs I guess that bitch is getting bangs isn’t she?

Anyway, this is my pass at combining the details I like from the references.

I also have stacks of reference for costume. Juon is from a race called the Kef. Over all the Kef like bold, solid colors, geometric shapes, asymmetry, and gold adornments. However the details vary from location to location. Juon is from Benga Loa, which is tropical. The colors his people wear are brighter and the outermost layer would typically have an embroidery or pattern that would be considered a frivolous but Kef living in other cities.

Keffashion

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Again, I have boatloads of images. When we get down to brass tacks of illustrating I can say, the color blue of the jacket, the shilloutte of the black costume above, but it would leave one shoulder bare.

Here are some sketches of Juon done by other artists using the information I’ve given them.

juondea

Juon by Dechanique.

Juon concept art by B. Sabo

Juon concept art by B. Sabo

Annnnnd by my frequent collaborator B. Sabo.

Last but not least, Anissa Espinosa.

unnamed

Three different artists, one character. Three different styles but if you were to read a comic series with Juon and each artist drew a section you’d be able to spot him from the get.

Anyway your milage may vary, but for larger projects this is how I communicate with artists and it seems successful thus far. Just remember don’t dump all the visual leg work on them! Drawing takes a lot of time and if you know how something should look, find a picture or something that looks close or evokes the general idea and give it to them. It’ll save time and effort and wont necessitate (many) redraws. And if you can’t find a reference? Try drawing it yourself to figure out the look. Sometimes the frustration of drawing something actually makes me better at articulating the thought in words.

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Hilo Tamarand, Somewhere in the west

27 Oct

Was the sky stained this color red from the fires they had been forced to set or was it the just the sun setting? From inside her helm she couldn’t tell, the burning in her eyes from the noxious loads of smoking poison the Upsheer had dropped on the advancing lines of Boneblacked wasn’t helping.

Hilo Tamarand, squinted through the eye holes of the faceplate styled in the visage of a snarling, golden fox. It took a moment before it occurred to her that there was no call to wear it at the moment. She had lived, slept fitfully, fought for a five days in full armor, so many hours that she had forgotten this wasn’t her real skin.

She wrenched at the base of the helm until it finally gave way and she hurled it to the ground with what remained of her anger and strength. It hit the mud with a noise that gave only barest satisfaction before melting, congealing and rising in a thin ribbon of gold to wrap around her neck again as an ornate choker. The cuirass bled a little more easily back into the golden bands that wrapped around her upper arms. Hilo shook her hands absently and the gauntlets and arm guards slunk back to form the ten rings on her fingers and the thick heavy bracelets. The greaves confounded her a moment. She stamped her foot to reinforce her bitter thought. ‘Come on, damn it. Bloody work is done for now.’

It was always harder to shake off the full armor, golden but impossibly stronger than gold (Hilo hadn’t yet found out what this bellisfah damned shit was.) after so long in it but eventually the lower half obeyed her will and settled back into the bangles that ringed her ankles. Left finally in nothing but her thin, black undersuit, Hilo was annoyed but unsurprised to find the foul breeze of the battle field was scorching. She dropped to a exhausted crouch and looked out across the uneven ground.

She could see the hulking pieces of the ancient engine the Deep Wright has cloaked itself in collapsed some yards away. The flesh of the Wright oozed and dripped over the ancient steel, bleeding back into the rift it had crawled from to congeal back in the stinking well at the center of the earth. Somewhere near it would be Ahmia’s cold corpse, hands covered in the inky black tar from where she pulled it’s heart out, mouth twisted and likewise covered from eating it. Ahmia had managed to crawl from the monsters body only a little way before catching sight of Hilo and begging her to do what needed to be done. One kiss Hilo accepted but did not return before sliding the dagger, made by and named for Hilo’s lover, between Ahmia’s shuddering ribs. Her body a coffin for foulness.

Five years to come to this conclusion. Five years since she left Gosslet Ahn, mouth warm from Ellette’s kisses and heavy with promises that, ‘Big Girl, wait. Just wait until after this expedition. I’m going to come home with so many rare jewels to hang on your body you won’t be able to walk. You won’t be able to do anything except lay in the rich house I buy us -away from this piss soaked slum- on silk sheets from the Branchlands while I fuck you.’

Four years since she dug her way up to the surface again, starved, terrified and bound in these golden shackles that she was foolish enough to think were merely jewelry with no idea where on the map she was. A banner thrust into into her hands she’d never set eyes on before, declared one of a handful of prophesied hero’s for a war she never even knew was brewing.

Where were those heros now? The banner she could see, ragged but standing still on the calved rift lip. That image of two closed eyes had put a fire in Ahmia’s open ones but when Hilo looked at it she could feel nothing but abandoned. When Hilo turned from Ahmia’s body to move, just away, just somewhere away from where it had ended, she had passed the body of Boursen Ran. The burly Eidlemark lay crumpled, one powerful leg bent at a sick angle under his body. One of his sleek, sharp antlers broken off in the stomach of a twisted Couslet that had succumbed to Boneblack. As she passed, in her bewildered tiredness, Hilo  congratulated him on his excellent kill. Spoke to him like a still living comrade she had drunk with in the Kef sanctuary.

“Good on you, goat man.” Hilo said, then tripped over the broken body of one of the Upsheer. She recognized the markings on the crumpled wing. One of the brave, who had held the brutal poison that could waste the flesh of Boneblacked to the core in their long beaks. Hilo had watched the legion of crane men dive from the sky into the ravaging hordes and to their deaths. That first devastating strike at the cost of so many of their people.

Some deaths she knew and others were a mystery she wasn’t ready to solve yet. Where was old Vespertine, and her great sword? Where were the Coustlet twins, hulking Veeta and Zouk? She had seen them back to back, swinging their war clubs before an arrow whizzing by her shoulder set her about more important business.

Where was Yamhill?

Hilo rocked precariously on her heels. She ran a hand through her dark, damp hair and listened to the cawing screams of the remaining Upsheer as they found the bodies of their loved ones. So many. It would take a long time for the smaller birds to pick apart the departeds flesh on the burial platforms, Hilo thought absently.

Because she didn’t want to look at death anymore she looked at her scarred, red brown hands and the gold rings, thought of Ellettes own calloused from working the forge braiding her hair into a que. The thick fingers swept over the stubbled sides of Hilo’s skull as Hilo drained the last of her weak ale and rose to tell the tavern that she would be joining the expedition into Mornay’s Rift.

When the braid came loose Hilo had mourned.

It was only the soothing chitter from over her shoulder that unmoored her from her absent thoughts. A considerate habit Yamhill and Hilo had developed over their years together to keep from startling the other. Thank Mother Sky, Yamhill did live.

“I was looking for you, Little Egg.” Yamhill said in the guttural chirps and whistles of the Upsheer.

She replied in the approximation of Sky Tongue her own mouth could form. The Upsheer could understand Trade Tongue but their beaks would never be able to shape it. Hilo considered it a courtesy to use his own speech as often as possible.

“I only needed to breath, Father Tall Neck.”

Yamhill slid his smooth beak across her neck, winding his own long feathered one around her. A supportive embrace as he understood her people gave each other when life became too much.

“No good breaths to be had out here.” He said. Hilo’s shoulders slumped in agreement. Yamhill unwound himself from her neck and she looked over her shoulder at him, frowning at the bandage on his wing. The crane man’s snowy feathers were stained with soot, the sticky tar of Boneblack blood, the more mundane red of their fellows. The emerald plumes of his tail were dulled with thrown dust.

Yamhill saw the wrinkle around her mouth and soothed.

“Very small scratch, Little Egg. I will fly again in a half moon.”

Hilo rose wearily to her feet. She twisted one of the golden cuffs absently, feeling the cold burn against her skin.

“Vespertine? The twins? Alive?” She asked dully.

Yamhill flicked his good wing outward and bobbed his head. “Old woman, we will see. A hole in her side that is very deep. The woman twin is dead. The man twin has a gone eye. One of my Wings found him clutching the woman twin and could not be moved. Until he wept to sleeping. A small mercy that sleep. He will recover.”

Hilo nodded. She twisted the cuff again. In the first weeks of taking the golden fox armor wearing it had been agony. She could barely bring herself to bathe, but now the feeling grounded her. She looked at the hulk of the Deep Wright, unseeing.

Yamill’s low squawk brought her back.

“We must continue, Little Egg. There are more of The Childrens machines buried d-”

“We go to Gosslet Ahn first.” Hilo said with finality and twisted the bracelet harder against the bones of her wrist. She felt the burn and thought of Ellettes mouth again.

“Little Egg,”  Yamhill started.

Hilo had come a long way in her studies of Upsheer language but the dam in her heart broke at his quiet reproach and so the words she spat were in Trade.

“No! I’ve spent years sunk knee deep in blood for this! I am OWED, Yamhill!”

He opened his beak but Hilo wasn’t finished.

“I’ve burnt and buried more friends than ever in my life. I’ve been away from my woman for so long I’m praying she remembers my face let alone forgives it. I put my blade into Ahmia’s heart because none of the rest of you were around to do it! Do you know what that was like? I had to hold her while she died! I did that!”

Yamhill ducked his head under her words and stayed silent when she stepped forward, accusatory finger leveled at his shining black eye.

“So this organization will fucking wait for me while I go see what’s left of my life. I’ll keep my promises but I will have this one thing first.” Hilo shook. “If anyone understands this I would expect it to be you.”

Yamhill raised his graceful head at that, because he did. He understood coming home to his nest, finding the eggs shattered against the carefully woven branches. Small unfeathered bodies laying in a pool of wet and his mates neck broken. He had laid his head next to hers and keened as one of his older hatchlings twitched and took it’s last breath. The sticky tar handprints of Some Kef or Child corrupted by Boneblack all over the entryway his nestmate liked to perch at while waiting his return during laying moons.

Hilo turned her back on him in despair to leave. She paused at the noise he made, the closest he could come to her name.

“Heee-luck.”

She turned.

“We go. To your old nest. For a time I follow you.” He said. “But Little Egg, we cannot forget what is to be done.”

Hilo shrugged, hitched up the crossed belts that held her daggers, Lady’s Kiss and Veldmark against the small of her back.

“As if it was possible to forget.” She said.

Juon Tiro, Outside the Shipping Quarter

24 Oct

“Hey, little JuJu.”

Juon sniffed and didn’t look up from his knees. He had curled into the seat of his favorite window in the Tiro estate, the one with the best view of the chasm edge. Koremi slid to sit next to him and Juon fought back more tears. He never liked for his fathers to see him cry.

“You did very well, JuJu. I know that was scary.” Koremi set his hand on Juons knee and he finally looked up. His stomach twisted when he saw the blood spotting his fathers bandaged arm.

“How’s ma?” Juon asked dully.

Koremi smiled reassuringly. “Just a nasty crack on the head. She’ll be fine. Your mother is ludicrously tough. Remember the time she headbutted that Coustlet?”

Juon ducked his head and smiled slightly.

“Come here, baby boy.” Juon let himself be pulled back into Koremis strong arms, let himself be rocked gently for the space of a few breaths. His Blood Father was the one who laughed, who was all excitement. It was his Half Father that soothed and comforted.

“It’s always hard the first time you have to kill.” Koremi finally said softly into the short thin dreadlocks his mother had only just begun to twist. “But that was quick thinking, grabbing the sword that assassin dropped. You saved your fathers life you know.”

Juon had been so angry when he saw the woman standing over his father, furious when he saw his mother crumpled on the flagstone, enraged at the sight of Daddy Koremi’s bloodied, useless sword arm. But Juon had two good arms still and there, glinting at his elbow, was the bad womans sword that had been struck away in the initial attack.

Until that moment the worst sound he’d ever heard was the mallet crushing the skulls of the river fish the cook prepared for dinner. Now it was the sound of a hard thrust blade severing a woman’s spine.

Juon began to cry again and Koremi hugged him tight.

“I know, JuJu, I know.” Koremi kissed the top of his head softly. “It’s a hard thing to understand, but listen;” Gentle hands took Joun’s jaw and turned his head. Koremi looked into his black eyes seriously.

“You do what you have to in this life.You protect the people under you. You protect this family.”

Koremi kissed Juons forehead.

“And if that means killing? Then sow death, JuJu.”

****

Juon concept art by B. Sabo

Juon concept art by B. Sabo

 

Juon Tiro’s breath left him when his back hit the alley wall but he didn’t relax his grip on the garrot he had wrapped around the huge mercenaries neck. The burly Engine Child choked and reared to slam him against the wall again, trying to shake him loose. Blood slicked his fingers from where the wire cut into the flesh of the thick neck and made his hold on the garrot tenuous, but Juon would not let go. Finally the pressure on the mercenaries windpipe brought the big man falling face first into the dirt. Juon twisted the garrot tighter and hissed between teeth bloodied by a punch to the mouth. “Just die, you son of a bitch!”

Out of the corner of his eye he saw his Eidlemark companion, Semni Ablenov, bent over a smaller mercenary while slamming a large chunk of rock into her eye. His oldest bodyguard Belafia Twist had finally gained the advantage on another of the murderous company and cleaved the man from shoulder to sternum with an overhand swing of her greatsword. Under him the thick mercenary struggled desperately, raking his nails across Juons straining forearms. Juon yanked tighter and after a moment the man finally slumped, dead. He slammed the mercenaries face into the ground one more time anyway.

An arrow thudded into the dirt, grazing his thigh. The second would have found his shoulder if Semni hadn’t hurled the gorey rock into the face of the archer, knocking her to the ground. Juon staggered to his feet and spat a mouthful of blood.

Stunned, the archer tried to wipe her face clear as she rolled on to her back. She coughed and tried to crawl backwards.

“Monster.” She gagged.

“No shit.” Juon put his boot into the archers stomach and bent to rifle through her pockets. “Did your employer let you know how hard Tiro’s are to kill? Hold still.” His hand closed over a thin round token and pulled it free to frown at the insignia stamped on it.

“That’s the Ketterjee family crest.” Juon didn’t look over his shoulder at Belafia who had come to stand behind him. He crouched to yank the archer to her feet and slapped her across the face.

“Go back to your boss and tell them if they want a fucking war they can have it.” Juon snarled as he thrust the girl towards the alley’s entrance, his boot on her backside sending her stumbling. “Get on.”

Juon watched her flee, Belafia’s reassuring bulk at his back. Semni clopped to their side, his right eye swollen.

“I came to Benga Loa to trade, young Tiro, not murder.” He said gruffly.

Juon pushed his long hair back from his face and turned. “Sorry you got caught up in that, Semni.” He said ruefully.

“I want ten percent off the top of the next refined shipments. All of them.”

Juon sighed, “I suppose thats fair. You did have to kill someone with a rock today.” He extended his hand to grasp Semni’s forearm warmly. “A pleasure doing business with you as always. And thank you again for your help with,” Juon gestured to the pulped skull of the assassin. “You know, that. Can I send someone to escort you back to the Set? Just in case?”

“Nah, miserable little piss slits probably had enough for today.” Semni said gruffly and trotted in the direction of the Shipping Quarter. “Besides, I need to make sure my girls weighed out that soloanite correctly. I’ll see you tomorrow, Tiro.”

Juons cheerful wave turned into a weary hand rubbing the back of his neck. “That was uncomfortably close.” He said to Belafia. “I don’t know who the Ketterjees brought on, but they’re smart.”

“I’m sorry, boss. I should have seen that coming.” Belafia said heavily.

Juon sighed. “If I didn’t spot a trap and you didn’t smell danger it means they’ve got a new element in their family. The Ketterjees haven’t gone the direct rout since Carissi left their last head lady with her guts strung out over the Patrician Quarter. Something’s changed.” A fresh trickle of blood filled his mouth and he spat again, felt a molar come loose. Juon worried it with his tongue impulsively and it came free.

He rolled it out of his mouth with his tongue and snarled. “Ah, fuck me raw.”

“Come on, boss.” Belafia clapped him on the shoulder with her thickly scarred hand. “I’ll take you back to the estate…”

“No.” He said shortly. “Too early in the day to go back home. I don’t want us looking thrown.”

Belafia raised an eyebrow, but was too loyal to speak out of turn. Master Juon always had his reasons.

“Clare should be looking after the people at Raw House today so I’ll see if he can do something about…this.” Juon waved his misplaced tooth. “I’ll catch my sister up on this bit of excitement,. Just make sure you send one of our best runners back to the estate to let my parents know about this shitfest.”

“I can go myself, young master…” Belafia started.

“I need you to go into the Throat.” Juon fixed her with a steady look. “Sorry, I would go myself but I’ve got to make sure Carissi knows what happened here fast as possible.” Juon pulled a newly minted copper token from inside his belted sash and handed it to her. On it’s surface was stamped a crossed hammer and chisel backed by the Tiros burning heart crest. He pressed it into her hand. “This will get you far enough down to get word to Marmont.”

Belafia’s broad fingers closed around it and she heard the levity in his voice stretched thin with worry. Juon was practiced at deception, but know a man long enough and you could read even the most subtle of tells.

“I’ll be fine, Twist. Semni is right. The Ketterjees played their hand on us for the day. Just… Go get my husband. Get him to Raw House, please. You’re the only one I trust down there.” Juon gripped Belafia’s shoulder and she ducked her head in deference.

“Whatever you need, boss.” Belafia slapped his arm and returned her great sword to its scabbard as she strode into the open air of the Shipping Quarter and towards the center of Bega Loa and beyond to the massive sinkhole that was the Throat.

Juon leaned against the mud brick wall of the alley, his tooth clenched in his fist and looked down at the bodies spilling sluggish blood into the dirt. He could have street kids clear them away for a pittance to keep the city watch off his back. That new guard captain, Ellette Veldmark, was especially tenacious. Still, Juon Tiro knew the value of a visceral reminder of his families savvy. One crushed skull, one split corpse would go far in reminding the competing families in Benga Loa that the Tiros may project an air of cordiality but that they would never fear to sow death when it was called for.

Juon tucked his misplaced tooth into an inner pocket of his tunic and squared his shoulders. When he reached the crowded streets of the Shipping Quarter he was again the untouchable Juon Tiro, even if he was a bit swollen around the mouth. He headed towards the northern district to see his sister.

10/17 Deep Engines: The cast

17 Oct

HILO TAMARAND is in the shit. Saddled with an ancient magic armor, being one of the few survivors of a catastrophic war and tasked with an almost impossible world saving mission that she can’t turn her back on she also has to contend with the icy wrath of her lover who she had been separated from for the past five years…and her new husband.

Personal problems are going to have to take a back seat to the more pressing matter of the strange beasts and sickness that are beginning to creep up from the depths of the earth however. The undying echo of an old civilization is calling for blood and that’s not going to wait for romance.


ELLETTE VELDMARK is a rock, a solid foundation. In addition to a formidable build she is steadfast and has an unwavering sense of duty and loyalty. For all of her life she lived and smithed in the scummy Rift City of Gosstlet Ahn until her lover, Hilo, vanished during what was supposed to be a routine deep rift expedition. Grief stricken, Ellette left her home and eventually settled in the sprawling multicultural Benga Loa, one of the largest of the Rift Cities. She spent some time as a mercenary and eventually found a place with the cities Watchmen.

She’s pretty raw when Hilo has the nerve to show up, not only not dead, but in the process of being arrested.

BISMUTH BEGORAH is a Snake Eater, a member of the secret police employed by the ruling patrician of Benga Loa. As a very young man he volunteered for service in their elite ranks and proved himself an unshakable recruit. His devotion to Benga Loa is  whole identity and after witnessing a bloody riot as a child that stretched from The Throat to the Shipping Quarter he understands the necessity of unsavory measures.

Bismuth is a brilliant marksman. His skills made him eligible for a rare procedure. His right hand is suffused with treated solanite granting him uncanny power.

He lives in the Watch Barracks in the upper district of Benga Loa with his wife, Ellette, a woman he wasn’t exactly expecting to fall in love with. While she is aware of his position as a Snake Eater due to the circumstances of their meeting back when she was a sad, wandering drunk his job necessitates a certain amount of secrecy. There are things he keeps close to his chest.

**`~*“ (YAMHILL) hails from the roosts of the heavily forested western rifts. Yamhill is his Trade name as no one other race can truly form the Sky Tongue of the Upsheer and the crane men prize their names to have it butchered by Thick Tongues.

After the slaughter of nestmate and hachlings by the ravening Boneblack monsters Yamhill found himself drawn into the world changing conflict at the borders of civilization. Despite their enormous differences in race and culture, Yamhill looks on Hilo as a daughter. After a devastating engagement in the West he accompanies her back to Gosstlet Ahn in search of her lover Ellette and then beyond to Benga Loa for the next piece in the puzzle of halting the Boneblack.

Yamhill has a difficult time in the cradles of civilization that are made up of the Thick Tongue races. It wasn’t too long ago that the Upsheer were thought dumb animals and hunted for their meat and feathers. However, anyone ignorant enough to pick a fight with Yamhill will have to contend with his sharp beak and lightning quick movements.

 

HAVEN ADALSON is the youngest daughter of a respectable Eidlemark family. Both beloved and black sheep, the hooved beauty turned her back on a prestigious career as a physician in the Wide Heart Academy of Medicine. Its rare for any of the Bengan Eidlemark to refuse acclaim by attending the school carved into the rift face, but Havens heart burns for the pursuit of truth. She works as a journalist for one of the many papers that circulate through Benga Loa. Something is going on in the city, something big and Haven is going to find out what it is even if it kills her.

And it very well might.

 

MARMONT SETLEBRANC:  Marmont is one of the descendants of the ancient underground kingdoms called the Engine Children. Centuries of intermarrying and cultural blending with the Kef have eroded much of the Engine Childrens cultural history, not to mention the ocean of time and the trauma of the cataclysm that split the earth apart. Very few of the Children could be called “pure blooded” and even less have the tattered knowledge of what their people were like before hand.

But the ones who are and do sometimes join the Buried Sons. Marmont Settlebranc is counted among their vaunted number.

The Buried Sons are one part sophisticated mining guild, one part religious order and one part keepers of history. They are experts at caving and the handling of volatile materials, some even claim they can smell the differences in seams of mineral deposits. They are exceptionally resilient and can survive long periods underground without going mad or succumbing to the terrifying new sickness, Boneblack.

Marmont is slightly less zealous about cultural purity than some of his other brothers and sisters in the Sons. Still he is devout, keeping his personal tools in perfect order and covered in the traditional miners tattoos that provide luck, protection, or homage to ancient gods of this dangerous trade. Marmont is a man with a deep sense of responsibility and once his word is given he will never go back on it. It’s only since contracting with the Tiro family that he has loosened up somewhat and come to understand the value of selective flexibility.

 

JUON TIRO: The Tiros are masters of balance. They hold wealth and power, much of which couldn’t possibly have been obtained legally. And that’s true- not that the city watch could ever prove it. The Tiro family have been working in Benga Loa so long they could be called a dynasty and have the purse strings of many highly regulated business such as mining, ore refinement and even prostitution. The eldest daughter, Carissi, runs the most successful brothel in the entire city, Raw House. They operate at every level of Bengan society, from the respectable to the shadowed.

Juon is the youngest son in the family. Charming and quick spoken he is the face of his family’s mercantile efforts. He maintains a personable and professional face to the city watch while maintaining the Tiro stranglehold on black market shipments of outlawed ores and dangerous artifacts. Almost nothing goes on in the rift cities without Juon Tiro knowing about it.

Juon may as well be smoke on the wind when it comes to catching him in the act of suspect dealings. He presents an attitude of a man unused to physical confrontation. This is only a half truth though. Juon is a brilliant and creative artificer and more than one business rival has come for a meeting only to meet their end at one of Juons cleverly designed traps.

Not that you could prove it was a trap though. Accidents can happen anywhere and people can be so careless sometimes.

10/13 The Deep Engines: Myth

13 Oct

We were more numbered than the people under the sky once. From what I’ve heard, anyway.

A hundred thousand kingdoms and empires in secret places. So many gems even the children of commoners were draped in them, played with little carved toys made from rubies. Caverns so vast they formed clouds of vapor and rained on buried gardens of moss and fungus. Sweet wide rivers and deep lakes full of food.

You see the things we build in the rift cities now? All that ingenuity? Imagine that a thousandfold. So much wealth and power. The Engine Children have been a shadow since the earth split and we spilled upwards like ants.  Now it’s just thieves and monsters and wrecked cities. Who knows what the gardens look like anymore?

No, I don’t know what happened, only that there is no going back. Besides, it was a very long time ago, child. You need not concern yourself with it now.

Now I told you your story. I’m very tired now. Let an old woman go back to her nap.

10/6 The Deep Engines: Light

6 Oct

Don’t panic.

That was the first rule. Every dungeoneer heard that before they even set foot underground. Never, ever panic. You might die in a cave in or cornered by slakers but death was certain if you broke and panicked.

“The leading cause of death on expeditions is losing your shit.” Hilo Tamarand was lectured by the senior caver on her first expedition into the caverns of the old kingdoms as a younger woman. “Keep a calm head on your shoulders and you’d be amazed what you can live through.”

But there wasn’t anyone left alive to see her panic now and so she indulged.

Hilo picked her way over the broken columns of what may have been a temple, greatful for the spires of light giving gemstones that grew throughout this particular cave system. Her strike stone was barely a pebble at this point. It was all she carried with her now, that and her daggers, a frayed length of rope and the even more frayed remains of her composure. She had been trapped in the underground before, but not like this and never for so long.

Weeks. Enough weeks that maybe it had turned into months? Hilo was no Buried Son. She couldn’t tell time for such a long period underground. Her blood was mostly of Engine Child stock but blood wasn’t a honed skill. She had traipsed the ruins of the underground often enough to know the distance between what her people were and what they are now. And since she was no Buried Son she would never be foolish enough to believe that distance could ever be bridged.

There were eight of them when the expidition started. Now just one in the swallowing dark. No supplies and very little hope.

There were things that stalked the cavernous tunnels and narrow crawl throughs. That hung upside down from carved ruined ceilings, damp and sightless and hungry. It wasn’t a good idea to make too much noise but she was so alone. Hilo carried on imaginary conversations with the people she had left up there in the light.

“This was stupid, Ellette. Really stupid. You were right.” He voice thin and echoing among the ruined stone. “I shouldn’t have taken this fucking job.” A tunnel was cut into one side of the cavern and she cut towards it. Even though she was starving a terrified she had at least begun to get something resembling her bearing again, heading towards what she knew to be at least vaguely ‘upwards’.

“I found this amazing crown. Emeralds all over the thing. You would have loved it. I’m sorry I had to drop it.” She muttered, “I was going to pry one out before I sold it and have it set into a necklace for you.”

One of the glowing crystals had grown on a toppled carving of some dead emperors face and Hilo snapped it off. She lept lightly over a sunken crack in the cave floor without much thought, stumbling slightly as she landed. She didn’t stop talking.

“I had handfuls of queens jewels. A solid gold dowser. We would have been set.” She plodded into the dark tunnel on raw feet. “What? I know, I know, Big Girl. Can’t spend if you’re dead. Like I said, this was stu-”

A dull clattering sounded far down the tunnel, stalling her babble. Hilo froze.

Silence for a moment then a low, questioning moan drifted from the gloom. Hilo panicked again, turned and fled beach the way she came, leaping, ducking, bare feet bleeding through her wrappings and in her fear lost her bead on what was ‘upwards’.

10/1 The Deep Engines: Dying

1 Oct

“What do you think, goat man? We all die here today?”

 

“You can’t think like that. Ignore death until you see it’s shape in the corner of your eye.” Boursen Ran told Hilo when they stood on the wall of the ruined fortress with the others. Over their heads the tattered banner of the Unseen flapped in the wind sweeping up from the gorge, the shut eyes painted on the yellow silk looking like a sad send off.

 

Hilo Tamarand fidgeted in her golden armor, scratched under the gorget absently with the edge of her dagger. From their vantage point they all looked down into the darker rift at the bottom of the gorge as a black shape armored in steel was beginning to rise. Before it the terrible corrupt army was starting to claw upwards.

 

“So optimistic.” She said dryly.

 

Boursen Ran tossed his head, the sharpened silver tips of his antlers glinting. “Not optimism.” He said. “No time for that and no time for thought.”

 

On his left the Upsheer, Yamhill took to the sky with a flap and screech, summoning the rest of his bird men to the first assault. On his right he saw old Vespertine test her grip on her great sword. Ahmia raised up her fist and from the high granite outcropping he knew without looking hundreds of arrows were knocked and held. The Coustlet twins, Zouk and Veeta licked their teeth and crouched. The gibbering roar from below grew louder.

 

Boursen Ran glanced over at Hilo as the terrible noise crested. He took the time to give her a wide white grin before raising his heavy short sword. “Only time for a slaughter.”

 

He didn’t think when he charged forward. He didn’t think when he cleaved through the bodies of open mouthed slakers or when one of the towering monsters knocked away his sword. He also didn’t think when he headbutted the beast in the stomach, felt one of his antlers snap and give way or when he felt the thing claw his stomach to ribbons.

 

Now laying on his back in the mud, twisted and crumpled next to the huge body of a Coustlet oily slick and stinking with Boneblack corruption with his guts spilling from the hole in his middle Bousen Ran had nothing but time to think.

 

He thought of the Hanging City. The daughter he had fawned with a textile trader who wasn’t interested in a Setmate but had wanted a child. He thought about the way the sun looked when it slanted through the kitchen window that faced out onto the open air of Durthan Rift as he wrapped gold wire around his daughter’s budding horns.

 

He thought about what her mother had said.

 

“It’s so far away though. You don’t actually think there is anything to worry about do you?”

For his entire adult life Bousen Ran carried a sword to guard the Hanging City. He kept the Traders from Benga Loa and Sekmets Climb in line, forged outside of it when need be to protect the seat of Eidlemark culture and prosperity. When the rumors came from the west that some unheard of threat was crawling it’s way up from the buried kingdoms he listened, even when the Set Council did not.

 

Boursen Ran saw the shape death in the corner of his eye grow closer.

 

“I don’t know. I hope not.” He had told the mother of his fawn. “I just want to be sure. It’s close enough to the city to make me concerned.” He kissed his daughter between her horns and bounced her on his strong red furred knee.  “I’ll be away for a while in any case.”

 

“Ah? So you’ll be back then?”

 

“The Hanging City is my home. If I don’t return…” He handed the little girl back to her mother. “If I don’t return you know something is wrong.”

 

It had been three years.

 

Boursen Ran coughed and gagged on his own blood. He hoped the mother of his child had taken him at his word.

 

From somewhere over his head he heard a clacking noise. The sky tongue of the Upsheer. He had never really gotten the hang of it. A long orange beak dipped into his dim field of vision, one golden eye fixed on his midsection in consternation.

 

“Hello, beaky.” He said weakly.

 

The Upsheer made a concerned noise and dipped her white wing in front to his face so he could see the red paint across the feathers. One of the healers. The Upsheer began pulling dried moss from the pouches tied around her long legs. He gurgled a wet laugh when she tucked it into the gashes in his flesh.

 

“Leave it, beaky. It’s done.”

 

The Upsheer trilled, a high distressed noise. A young noise from someone who hadn’t yet seen so much dying.

 

Bousen Ran thought about the arboretum’s planted into the cliffs, the swinging rope bridges, his first boyhood fight where he had broken a Set Brothers nose. The scolding he had gotten afterwards. Unflitered sunlight. The rooms he had in the center of the city. Most Eidlemark lived in the cliffside dwellings but Boursen Ran had liked the constant breeze.

 

He thought about his strange unwanted companions and hoped some of them had lived. Verpertine, Hilo, Yamhill, the twins. The sounds of fighting had dulled. Maybe it was just because his heart was so slow and loud though, maybe he imagined that.

 

He tried to tell the Upsheer still peering down at him, Stay with me for just a little while. It’s not going to be long now and I’m far from home and I’m afraid… But all that came out was another gurgle of blood.

 

“Pl-” Boursen Ran’s fingers twitched.


The shape of death became clearer as the Upsheer laid her warm, long neck across his throat to try to still his shuddering and Bousen Ran thought of how his daughters horns would look fully grown and wrapped with gold and gems. He thought of the swaying tenements in the Foreigners Quarter, the bouquets in the springtime market, drinking during new moon fairs and the last warning he gave the mother of his child.