The Thursday Blog: Tales of Lesser Earth Edition, Part 1

This short story, taken from the Lesser Earth universe, introduces several new characters unique to the upcoming book, New Heroes: A Novel of Lesser Earth. I wrote it as sort of a character sketch of a few of the players in the book, just to give me some insight into their personalities. The book itself depicts events which occur forty years or so after the end of the Heroes of Lesser Earth webcomic, although this story is some ten years prior to that. This is both a gift to you, and a teaser of things to come.

 

Preface

Their world was called Corlianth by learned men and magicians, the Lesser Earth by the gods who occasionally scraped the mud off of their boots there, (on their way to more exciting locales) and simply ‘the world’ by everyone else. It lay at the bottom of a cosmological heap of existences, dimensionalities, and vibratory planar realities.

Also, it leaked. Ideas, creatures, devices, language, bigotries and more occasionally  seeped in from higher universes, creating a world in which much was possible, although pretty much nobody understood how any of it worked.

 

Children Shouldn’t Play With Any Things

 

It had been a hell of a fight.

Dred had sent his best two bounty hunters, Venaldo and Rake, to bring back the head of the necromancer Yerpen Mortballs. Both men were allowed to pick the members of a small team of mercenaries to bring with them, and while Venaldo had dismissed Circe out of hand citing her youth and inexperience, she knew that Rake wanted in her pants enough to invite her along without a second’s hesitation. Which is exactly what he did.

In a group full of frightening looking professional soldiers and a few women who were even scarier, Circe was perfectly well aware that she was a painted target for the cocksure Rake.

Because Yerpen had been a necromancer before he had so recently gotten his head chopped off, the hunters had been obliged to battle their way through numerous undead things (and even a demon) on their way to the wizard’s tower. Circe had seen other towers like this before — there was an almost identical one in her home village of Domsalt, although it had been ages since a real, guild wizard had lived there.

In the topmost room, velvet drapes had been torn down for better light. Rake was holding Yerpen’s head, stuffing it into a bag. The necromancer’s limp form lay on the floor opposite Venaldo’s stiff one.

The brusque hunter’s arms were outstretched and propping him slightly off the ground, giving him the impression of a mannequin that had fallen onto it’s face. Circe kneeled beside the muscular Venaldo. Leech, the mercenary team’s de facto medic, had just retired from the room.

“Leech says you’ll be fine,” she told him, running one index finger along a ridge of his black leather armor, and twirling an errant strand of her pale, blond hair with the other. “You got hit with some kind of, um, paralyzation dart? He says he thinks it’ll wear off soon, ’cause, um, you’re still breathing and everything.”

She placed her hand on his chest, feeling the warmth of him. He was big, dark, and scary. (Though a bit less so for being paralyzed.) She had fallen for him almost immediately.

“I was thinking, you know, maybe after we get back —”

“Hey Circe,” Rake called out. He had bagged the head and was standing over by one of the windows. “C’mere.”

Circe turned and made a face only Venaldo could see, just to let him know that she was not excited to be called over by Rake, then got up and went. “What?” she asked.

Rake was tall and rangy, with an easy smile and friendly eyes that she could just imagine had gotten him into huge amounts of trouble. Hell, if it weren’t for Venaldo, she could see herself getting into that kind of trouble. 

As she approached, Rake looked up from her chest to her face with visible effort.

“Did you see that dart gun thing whatsisface shot Venaldo with? I can’t find it anywhere.”

Circe could feel the weight of the necromancer’s tiny steel crossbow in her bag, pressing against her back. It was pretty, with intricate whorls and designs spun out of the steel. She thought it might be ancient. Maybe even elven made. She had snatched it almost before Yerpen had finished falling to the ground.

“Uh-uh,” she replied, “Maybe one of the others has it, or something.”

Rake scowled and looked around the room, absent-mindedly feeling his pockets, maybe in case he had picked up the device and somehow forgotten, she thought with an internal chuckle.

“Hunh,” he said and shrugged, “It’s not important.” He turned to her with his most direct smile. His eyes practically glowed blue. “So I was thinking, maybe after we get back —”

“What do you think those giant stone balls are for?” Circe interrupted, pointing out the window. Yerpen’s lawn was littered with them. Stone spheres, some mere inches in diameter, some as much as ten feet across, lay in haphazard non-patterns, as if dropped randomly from height.

“Since the magic guy is already dead, I’m thinking I don’t really care anymore,” Rake said, sliding up to her. She liked Rake, he was close to her age, and there was no denying that he was kinda sexy. Wait, was Venaldo looking at them? She couldn’t be sure, it seemed he was staring at the floor — could he even move his eyes?

“Um, Leech said Venaldo would be mobile again in a minute,” Circe said hurriedly, trying to back away sideways.

“So? He’s no fun. Certainly not as much fun as I am.”

“I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have gotten, you know, hit by that dart thing or whatever it was if you hadn’t, um, tripped and pushed him into it.” She spoke without looking him in the eyes. No need to complicate matters. “He might be pissed or something when he wakes up.”

Rake moved a half-step back, taking stock. He looked at Venaldo’s rigid form and tugged unconsciously on his own short beard. “There is that,” he said distractedly, “It probably wouldn’t be a terrible idea to be elsewhere when Mr. Crabby-Pants comes to. Give him a moment to cool off.”

Rake paused, considering, then turned back to Circe and grinned. “And, I’ll get to be the one to hand the necromancer’s head over to Dred, annnnd brief him on how amazing I was during the mission!” He leaned in, hooking her around the waist with an arm. “Fantastic! Let’s go, Killer!”

Circe was about to protest when there came a shout from the yard below, followed immediately by a thunderous crash which caused the stone floor beneath them to jump and lurch abruptly to the left.

“What the fuck?” Rake exclaimed as he released Circe and leapt back to the window. She followed and dared a peek outside.

Below them the stone spheres were shifting, cracking, and shattering as hammering blows rained against them — from within.

Enormous stone insects, snakes, animals and other monsters with huge, sharp-looking teeth, claws, and horns erupted from the rock eggs surrounding the tower. A ten foot tall granite ape was directly below their window, smashing the wall to dust with his powerful fists.

“No kiddin’,” Rake said to himself as he calmly stood, looking out the window. “So that’s what those things were.” He smiled again at Circe. “That’s one question answered.”

“They’re all around us! How are we gonna get out of here?” Circe yelled, eyes wide as she stared out the window. She turned and grabbed Rake by his leather and ring jerkin. “We have to get out of here!”

Below them the rest of the bounty hunters had begun to pour out of the tower into the yard. They were shouting and trying to beat a path through the stone monstrosities. Somehow Circe had no problem making herself heard over the din.

“Yeah, darlin’. You better stick real close to me,” Rake said. There was another crashing boom below and a crack began opening across the floor beneath them. “It’s looking pretty hairy out there.”

Circe nodded, and with Rake leading, they began making their way back to the staircase, swords in hand. At the doorway Circe grabbed Rake by the shoulder. “What about Venaldo?” she cried.

“You’re right,” Rake said. The young bounty hunter ran nimbly across the room, hopping over the deepening split in the floor. He grabbed Venaldo by one stiff arm and pulled, flipping the black haired hunter over to face him.

“You’re not getting paid for this next part, you lazy bastard,” Rake told him with a grin. Then he ran back, grabbed the reluctant Circe, and sprinted down the stairs towards the cacophonous battle in the yard below.


53 Responses to The Thursday Blog: Tales of Lesser Earth Edition, Part 1

  1. rofl I likes. I likes a lot. I’m sitting over here reading the latest George RR Martin since my reservation finally came up at the library. There’s plenty of room in fantasy for shit that’s actually good these days…

      • My early attempts at writing were a bit….shall we say…melodramatic?

        “Deep shadows loomed and glowered in the dark recesses of the cavern, and from its depths came the constant drip…drip…dripping of water from the massive stone behemoths that hung, pendulously, from the hidden ceiling far above. Little disturbed the ever-present gloom, which seemed even darker for the dim glow of phosphorescent lichen that flecked the walls.

        Unlike many caves, this massive cavern housed no bats, for there was only one opening to the surface world for many miles, and no bat could open that.

        Within this quiescent tomb, moving through the brooding darkness with the surety of creatures of the night, two dark figures approached that one egress. One was larger than the other in both height and girth, as his name testified. The shorter one bore a strange device made from metal and glass. These were the trolls named Squinter and King Massif the Large.”

        Then again, I was still in college…I was a dang vocabulary showoff obviously…I think all writers look back on their old stuff and think: “I wrote this crap? AHHGGGGHHH!”

          • Alas, I put it up on my website..back when websites were brand new…Interestingly, I may have been one of the first people who tried to experiment with Webcomics…but I never found an artist who was interested in working on that…and my drawing is…well let’s just say, any attempt of mine to draw a character makes OOTS look like rembrandt. I started the website in ’95 and pretty much stopped updating it in ’97…

            for those with a masochistic desire to see where that quote came from, here is the story (It’s based in the world of Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini): http://www.sonic.net/~rahubby/fiction/CHERIS.HTM

          • Eesh, I recently ran into a notebook with my high school era “poems” and “songwriting”. I threw up a bit in my mouth…

  2. I give you a Jack Handy quote:
    If they ever come up with a swashbuckling School, I think one of the courses should be ‘Laughing, Then Jumping Off Something’.

      • The coolest thing is when you have used moral and political ju-jitsu against your players and they become sufficiently evil-overlord that you can send a swashbuckling hero against them.

        “No you jackass, those are the villains!”
        “Oh really, this roll of charges is for smuggling silk and gems without paying the duties.”
        “Because that’s all we could make stick, they’re trying to supply an orc army modern weaponry to conquer the world.”
        “Oh, I hardly believe that. None of them smell like orcs, although I promise to give this redhead a very thorough investigation.”
        The redhead assassin chick whose thing is busting through walls and crashing through ceilings to attack her targets plays like a grateful bimbo and flutters her eyelashes at him while your players lose a layer of tooth enamel from grinding.

        • That would be hilarious. Of course he PCs in my game are more like super-powerful children, if you attract their attention, there’s about a fifty-fifty chance they will kill you, and morality doesn’t actually have a seat at the table.

          Now here’s something interesting I’ve noted. (Changing the subject again…) The male players at the table play relatively “good” characters. A ranger who is reliable and interested in lifting up the community, and a thief who began as a cur, but has been seeking redemption. However, they are outnumbered and frequently bowled over by the girls at the table, who are amoral slaughtering machines. This may be the subject for another blog, but I do find it fascinating.

          • Your psychopathic-women are just acting a lot more like actual medieval warriors and warlords would tend to than idealized chivalry-fantasy warriors and warlords.
            If I were to try and invent a pop-psychology over-generalization to explain it that would go something like this: I blame that on gendered upbringing standards in Ameri-Canada.
            Boys are taught not to hit women, hear people give at least lip-service to sportsmanship and honesty, and in general are given heroic role-models that go out and solve problems for people in ways that don’t directly benefit themselves at all… with the promise that someone else will reward them. In contrast, a lot of girls teach each other that status is what counts and status is always a zero-sum game. In that situation the only way to get anything worth having is to be a duplicitous, crazy bitch willing to do anything it takes and that cheating is what wins (except in situations where counter-cheating tactics are employed correctly to manipulate others against the cheater). Cosmopolitan and most other “women’s publications” are full of stories that show that manipulation, dishonesty and exploitation of advantages is necessary to succeed in zero-sum competition with unreasonable opponents.

            However, the above is an easily repudiated set of stereotypes more than it is a valid theory for explaining and predicting the behaviours of individual men and women. I can’t say I know and understand the situation and its psychology well enough to do better.

            • That… sounds uncomfortably like you’re on to something, AC.
              “Desperate Housewives” comes to mind.

              Also keep in mind that after centuries of women being taught to act demure and feminine, today’s girls and young women are overwhelmed by new stereotypes, the “kickass bad grrl” in black leather catsuits, Charlie’s Angels style. Of course, Charlie’s Angels have nothing to do with female empowerment but a lot with male fantasies of females who are beautiful, sexy and dangerous (thus reducing the chance of other males having any chance to score with them, except you, the designated hero!) but at the same time the Angels willingly serve the wishes of Charlie, who orders them around from a position of power… unseen, in the shadows, a voice only.

              “Cosmopolitan and most other “women’s publications” are full of stories that show that manipulation, dishonesty and exploitation of advantages is necessary to succeed in zero-sum competition with unreasonable opponents.”

              Makes me glad I never read “women’s publications”. On the other hand, unfortunately, the idea that women, being “weak”, have to gain power by manipulation of men, is far far older and goes back at least to Roman times.

              • I would list that under the contributory self-esteem issues. No matter what version of “femininity” a girl/woman tries to follow there are a lot of people who will tell them they are doing it wrong and being stupid for making that choice. A person has to be nigh-sociopathic to be sane against such a culture war.
                Again, this is a combination speculation, cultural interpretation and overgeneralized prejudice and stereotypes however. I’d like to see interpretation of this stuff taken out of “Women’s Studies” and “Sociology” departments and turned into something scientific.

            • I have found that the easiest way to deal with it is to give them lots of things to kill and to stand back.

              However, I asked Lena about it and she said it was likely that the guys are all experienced players while the girls are not, (except for one) and that everyone goes through this phase. That may be, although the one girl who is an experienced player is the worst of the bunch.

              • Fantasy escapism means different things to different people. She wants a shooting gallery because she doesn’t play enough FPSes perhaps. I say give her one in spades–it’s my favourite way of teaching players that there’s more to roleplaying than simple teenage fantasies.

              • I think all or most of us went through this phase of wanting to play someone who can just say ignore all the rules and laws with no repercussions and be the biggest baddest MoFo on the planet. Heck, who Hollywood character stereotypes are built around that, like the sociopathic 90s antihero.

                That phase hits you usually at some time between 17 and 24 years of age. For university students, it’s usually towards the latter end of that time window. Non-students mature quicker emotionally as they usually have a job and start thinking about founding a family etc. after age 20 while students are still busy cramming knowledge into their brains and living with their parents or alone in a student single-room flat.

                Playing emotionless killers is pretty obvious phase for players who have been emotionally hurt by a bad childhood; to them, it’s a protective reflex that they have to grow out of. But I’ve seen a mild-mannered, sunny young woman strike fear into the hearts of the male players when she decided to play a bloodthirsty broad-sword wielding crusader knight who cut down anything that moved. I’ve known a laid-back engineer guy who kept playing basically the type of same character –space marines and emotionless cyborg soldiers and badass clone troopers– for YEARS, until suddenly one day he stopped and surprised us by playing a ditzy giggling blonde actress during a Indiana Jones GURPS Pulp Adventure campaign. Best female character portrayal I’ve ever seen from a guy (admittedly in a Pulp scenario where every character is required by genre to be stereotypical and ham it up to eleven). Hilarity ensued.

                (If you’re wondering, I played Indiana Jones, and my friend at the time played Jones Senior.) 😉

          • I will admit most of the women I have played with scare me at times. And that actually starts with as young as 15 for the girls just starting out in rpgs. They just start out vicious. I mean 15 years old guys are all about killing every npc they find, but the girls don’t just kill them, they do “things” to them! And my when my favorite GM really wants to screw with us, he has his wife write up the plot for a game. “shudder” Those are the weeks you wish you had stayed home! I don’t know what women do in the bathroom together, but it must be scary!

      • Thanks, guys. I do intend to do some more of these as time goes on. They’re fun and they also serve to help me with the characters and personalities in the book. My literary hero, Roger Zelazny, would almost always write little scenes between principal characters that were never intended for publication, so those characters would have some history and to nail down their personalities. I love the idea, but with the internet today, I could think of no reason not to go ahead and let everyone see.

        • Well thanks! It’s appreciated Kevin. At first all I could think to comment on were other folks’ comments about “balls”…but I got over it*. I *did* notice that, despite your explicit statement that this (the short story) takes place 30 years after the H.O.L.E. events, I kept picturing it as a more primitive, earlier, less developed world. I guess possible because it comes “before” other events?

          * OK, I lied….”It seems we’re all easily distracted by Kevin’s balls.”

          • I think that some of that is the slight difference in tone between the comic and the book. The book is not quite as outlandish, although it is still frequently silly. Note too that all you see here is a single tower (built out of a catalogue by a country wizard) and a reference to a small village. There is a LOT more to the world than this.

              • Although it is not mentioned here, the tower is from the guild wizard catalogue, and is “economy” version. The original wizard is loooong dead and Mr. Mortballs has simply appropriated it.

                Towers purpose-built for evil wizards are much more stylish.

  3. Thanks Kevin that was great! I like even in such a short story how you continually play on the dynamics between the characters. I think that is your biggest strength coming from the webcomic.

    …and balls.

  4. I really like the introduction. It sets the tone and reminds me of how Terry Pratchett opened many of his early books.

    The second one I have mixed feelings with. On one hand it has some great moments, and captures the feeling of the characters, plus a sense of fear of capturing a wizard’s tower.

    On the other hand, without knowing the rest of the story, or what part of the story this will play, as a taster, it almost feels like a mills and boone novel extract.

    So I guess what I am saying is you need to write the complete book before I can give proper feedback 🙂

    • This story has no part in the novel. It addresses a question I had as a writer about a character concerning a specific moment of their past, but that question doesn’t even come up in the book. Mostly I thought it would be interesting to play with these people as younger versions of themselves and see how they might interact. This story is simply part of the process of the novel that you are getting a sneak peek at.

      So… as far as this scene is concerned, there really is no “rest of the story.” Sorry if I didn’t make that clear enough before you read it.

      • A bit like a scene out of the Silmarillion…Background info…maybe one or more of the characters may Reminisce about this, but it’s not part of the story as a whole.

        (There goes that dang vocabulary again…I even spelled “reminisce” right…)

        • Yeah, damn auto-spell check always getting it wrong when I type in colour too. Technology sucks if it can’t get that one right.

  5. Meh. The story is okay, but I really need the visuals. If you had drawn all of that out in comic form, I would’ve read it 6 times while I was waiting for the next update. I really loved HOLE, btw.

    • It’s no good, he’s interested in the writing a story part but not the minimum of four hours of effort to draw what he can write out in three paragraphs. It’s a common problem with these author-artist multiclass characters that after a while they sort themselves out into only one class. In this case he’s also a professional visual artist for hire so the itch he wants to scratch more is the writing part.
      It’s something he’s doing entirely on his own budget and he’s his own boss (with his wife as the CEO telling him to cut time-costs so he can worship her more/do more chores). That means you can tell him all you want that it was the hilarious visuals and the cartoon boobies that you liked and it’ll pass right over and through without making a difference. You’re arguing at him to spend hours more on a story he thinks is “done” to make it something you want to see instead of something he wants to write.

  6. Interesting. I like it, Kevin. Nice solid fantasy setting. The tone of the dialogues is very “modern”, though, maybe that’s intentional, since this is basically a D&D world.

    The characters and atmosphere reminds me a bit of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, –with weird wizards and everyone being out for themselves– except for thankfully not quite reaching the levels of raging narcissistic arrogance that most characters in Dying Earth novels exhibited.

    So, will we be seeing Martin again? Or his handywork as a Lord of Darkness?

    • Hadn’t really considered it, although I LOVE Elfguy’s idea there.

      I thought you hated Martin anyway?

      BTW, the modern dialog in the fantasy setting has always been a sort of hallmark of Lesser Earth. I like it, and would be very unhappy to let it go. I kind of feel like Discworld blazed that trail for me, so I’m merely following in Mr. Pratchett’s esteemed footsteps.

      • Although characters on the Discworld don’t speak in modern slang and more like… well… colloquially, with the occasional anachronism thrown in (which is explained by the Discworld being a mirror of other worlds i.e. Roundworld), although Pratchett himself lampshades this at times by having characters like Vimes think, “We can’t have people like him blundering about like a loose…. a loose siege weapon.” seeing how there’s no guns on Discworld (with the exception of the gonne, which is gone) so the phrase Vimes was looking for doesn’t exist yet

        • Well you won’t find people of Lesser Earth referencing current culture, although modern slang (dude, cool, I know – right?) are all on the table. Anything that doesn’t reference something they don’t actually know about is fine, and comes from the fact that things from other worlds (such as ours) leak in. Language is specifically mentioned as being something that leaks.

          Fuckin’ permeable-ass dimensional barriers.

  7. Kevin seems to be busy, or dead or something today so I propose we share one video each, with a comment which may be a joke, warning, reaction, explanation or exposition or fiction related to the video content.

    This is something which may be boring, puzzling, baffling, disturbing or even horrifying depending on just how familiar you are with modern Japanese culture. Please nobody ruin the surprise by telling others what it is:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_X7mMU6Gb0