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A Wizard’s Forge is the first in a series called The Woern Saga, and it’s an onion, with a lot of layers of a plot that developed over a lot of years. The tone is dark; the story thought-provoking. Knownearth, the world of A Wizard’s Forge, has complex power structures, both magical and political.
“What’s your magic system?” is one of the first questions you hear when you’re a fantasy author. Because my fantasy is rooted in science fiction, my first response when someone asks me this question is, “there is no magic system, because there’s no magic.” At least, the people of Knownearth don’t consider their supernatural powers magical. Yet, they do have supernatural powers! In the novel, they’re called mindspeech and wizardry, but we would know them as telepathy and telekinesis.
When Vic, the protagonist of A Wizard’s Forge, is sold as a slave in the city of Traine, she doesn’t speak the local language, but she can nevertheless understand Lornk, her new master:
“How come I understand you?” she asked flatly. “I hear strange words come out of your mouth, but I know what they mean.”
“I speak to your mind as well as your ears, darling.”
The first people Vic meets who have mindspeech use it as a sort of universal translator to facilitate communication with people from other lands. When Vic escapes slavery and flees to the nation of Latha, she finds a whole society who use mindspeech as their primary means of talking to each other.
“Mindspeech is a nice power,” Vic said. “The people who had it in Traine, they spoke with their thoughts and their voices. But you use only your thoughts?”
Bethniel shrugged. “We do use our voices when we get excited. You heard the children yammering earlier. And we always speak aloud on formal occasions like funerals and on Landing Eve, to honor Elesendar.”
All Lathans use mindspeech for everyday communication, and Vic herself eventually learns to use it as well. However, some Lathans, known as Listeners, have a particular talent for mindspeech. The most powerful Listeners can do more than Hear a person’s secret thoughts, they can implant illusions in their minds.
Vic’s eyes darted to Wineyll. “How many people can you deceive at the same time?”
The girl disappeared. Carl cursed and leapt to his feet as Drak stumbled backward off the edge of the cliff, arms pinwheeling. Vic caught him in a net of air and set him down on the rock. Breathing heavily, he nodded his thanks.
“Do you see her?” Bethniel asked. When Vic shook her head, the princess said, “That’s at least four.”
Wineyll reappeared, and Vic gave her a hard look. “How many illusions can you do at the same time? How long can you maintain them, and in how many people?”
“I’m not sure, Marshall, but this is why you brought me, isn’t it?”
The source of Knownearthers’ telepathic powers is unknown, although everyone on the planet has the ability to learn mindspeech, just as all people on Earth can learn any spoken or sign language. However, some Knownearther scholars have speculated that mindspeech and wizardry share a common origin.
Wizardry is the term Knownearthers use to describe the telekinetic powers possessed by people who survive drinking a concoction variously called the Elixir or the Waters of the Dead.
“Why would they kidnap us?” Vic asked.
The princess shook her head, mouth grim. “I’m guessing the Waters of the Dead.”
“What are those?”
Bethniel cast her a scathing look. “Some history buff. They called it the Elixir in the time of wizards? You’ve never heard of it?”
“Beth, I studied real history, not the fancies of poets and hucksters. Frankly, I only accepted that your mother’s powers might be real last winter, and I’ve been too busy fighting a war to study up on how she might have gained them.”
Bethniel’s glare softened. “Well, the Waters are how. The Kragnashians make anyone who comes to Direiellene drink it.”
“So they make you a wizard?” Vic’s mind leapt at the advantages Elekia’s power, weak as it was, could give.
“It’s not a boon.” Bethniel’s shoulders hunched around her ears. “The Waters are the price of entry into Direiellene, and the price my mother paid for my father’s throne. The merchants who trade with the Kragnashians, they never leave the beach because the Waters kill most people, and it’s a horrible death. Of those who don’t die, most go insane.”
“Your mother didn’t.”
Bethniel shrugged. “I guess she was one of the lucky few.”
The Waters of the Dead contain a neurologic parasite called the Woern, which give those few who survive initial infection the ability to manipulate matter and energy with their minds. Vic can create fire and electricity and move objects as small as atoms and as large as boulders. However, Vic also suffers from severe migraines. She learns the nature of her power in A Wizard’s Sacrifice (due out in 2018):
“How do you feel?” Elekia asked. “Any sickness or headache?”
Vic’s fingers grazed a temple and the hollow space where pain usually throbbed. Her belly growled softly with appetite. “I actually feel normal this morning.”
The queen’s eyes shot to Bethniel, then returned to Vic. “I prayed you would survive taking the Waters of the Dead, but I learned long ago not to depend on prayers alone. That is why I sent my daughter to the desert with you.” Beth’s jaw dropped while Vic’s eyebrows knitted over the stirrings of a fresh headache. Elekia continued, “The Waters contain a parasite called the Woern, which kills most who consume it. Most of those whom it does not kill become wizards, like you and I.”
“But you’re not sick.”
“No. My father traces his family line back to Saelbeneth, leader of the very Council for whom your namesake fought in the war against Meylnara. She was reported to be immune to the ill effects of the Woern, and so am I. Last night I gave you an infusion of my Woern, which Saelbeneth would do for her allies on the Council, and which was said to heal them of their ills. So it worked between me and you.” Elekia nodded at Bethniel. “The Woern can be passed from one wizard to another through sweat, blood, tears, saliva—any fluid of the body. They are also passed from mother to infant in the womb. This is why I sent Bethniel with you—to help you survive.”
“I have no power,” Beth cried aloud.
“No, your Woern remained dormant, which has been a blessing. But you can pass them to Vic.”
Knownearth’s history includes a period when wizardry was quite common, but that era ended when the Wizards Council engaged in a pogrom to kill everyone, regardless of age or degree of power, who possessed the Woern without the Council’s permission. A thousand years later when Vic drinks the Waters, she and Queen Elekia are the only ones in Knownearth with wizardry.
Knownearth includes seven major nations, each with a different system of government and one composed of a nonhuman species.
Latha is a republic with an elected monarch who serves for life, assuming no crimes or misdemeanors force him or her off the throne. The Lathan Senate chooses each succeeding Ruler—usually the designated Heir—but the Senate often chooses another candidate. Latha’s current Ruler, King Sashal, gained the throne through a backroom deal orchestrated by his wife, Elekia, when she was seventeen years old. For almost twenty years, Sashal and Elekia have waged war—or, as they would say, defended the nation—against Lornk Korng, the Lord of Relm.
Relm is an inherited dictatorship ruled by a single individual styled the Lord or Lady of Relm or, informally, the Relmlord/lady. A Council composed of trade guild leaders, wealthy merchants, and the Relmlord/lady’s spouse—known as the First Councilor—provide advice and oversee government functions. The current Relmlord, Lornk Korng, is well regarded despite the long war with Latha and the fact that Lornk himself was born in Betheljin and only inherited the Relman Seat when his cousin and predecessor died without issue. Moreover, Lornk has never married, and his only heir is his bastard son Earnk. Relmans would normally be outraged by these indiscretions, but Lornk is a consummate politician, and his charisma, ruthlessness, and governing abilities have made him popular with the Relman people.
Insider Fact: Lornk and Elekia courted when they were young; at the same time, Lornk and Sashal were as close as brothers. Then, the brilliant and beautiful Elekia shocked the world by jilting the equally brilliant and handsome future Relmlord in favor of his humble wingman, Sashal. In revenge, Lornk seduced Elekia’s sister but refused to marry her, even when she bore his son Earnk. This scandalous breach of Lathan and Relman customs drove a permanent wedge between the friends and led to the decades-long war between Latha and Relm.
Betheljin is an oligarchy ruled by a single despot called the Commissar. The capital, Traine, is similar to Ancient Rome, with a huge wealth gap between the iron-mine-owning Citizens and everyone else. Coups, rebellions, and backstabbing chicanery are commonplace among the Citizenry. Whereas the traditions and political machinery of Latha and Relm generally ensure peaceful transfers of power from one ruler to the next, the Commissar often must secure his or her rule through violence. When they’re not betraying or killing each other, the Citizens revel in opulence and debauchery, and they keep slaves to perform menial labor as well as to satisfy their basest whims.
Insider Fact: Lornk Korng is a Citizen as well as Relmlord, and he divides his time between his family’s ancestral palazzo in Traine and the Seat of Relm. How does he manage to travel roughly 3000 miles between the two locations with only horses and sailboats? There’s a transporter called the Device in both his homes. Humans have used these portals for centuries, though no one knows who built them or how they work. The Master Device is in the Kragnashian capital, so it is likely the Device is a Kragnashian invention.
A vast, barren desert, Kragnash is the home of Knownearth’s indigenous people, a species of eighteen-foot-tall intelligent insects who possess not only the Master Device but also control access to the Woern. Nearly all Kragnashians live in their capital city, Direiellene, an oasis the Kragnashians created after the Wizards Council destroyed the rain forest that once covered their land. Despite this environmental disaster, the Kragnashians appear to bear no malice toward humans and enthusiastically trade with them. They do, however, force any humans who stray too deep into their territory to drink the Waters of the Dead, which leads to madness and death in nearly everyone.
Insider Fact: The Kragnashians have been waiting for centuries for “the One,” the embodiment of the wizard who freed them from enslavement by another wizard they call the Oppressor. Vic happens to bear the same name as the Kragnashians’ savior: Victoria of Ourtown.
The Caleisbahn Archipelago is home to a seafaring nation of traders, pirates, and slavers. The government is structured along naval command lines, with a head of state known as the First. Caleisbahnin and Betheljin are usually closely aligned, with the pirates acting as a mercenary navy for the Commissar. During the time of wizards, the Caleisbahnin considered service to them a sacred duty, but since wizards disappeared from Knownearth, Caleisbahn society has been mostly closed to outsiders.
Eldanion lies between Latha and Betheljin and is renowned for its wines and horses. A titled nobility famous for their frivolous and extravagant lifestyle leave the governing to the prime minister and parliament.
Proud of their nation’s tongue-twisting name, Semena citizens elect their leaders in Knownearth’s only direct democracy. The nation is home to the steeds, a migratory species of giant insects that Semena herders raise for meat and hides.
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