If you haven’t read the story yet, I highly recommend you do so. These author’s notes are very much a rough draft and full of spoilers.
I’ve known about the National Novel Writing Month for a long time – I discovered it perhaps a few years after it’s inception – and I’ve always thought, “hmm, that looks like something fun to do.” This year, I finally decided to do it.
And I really enjoyed the experience! I didn’t hang out on the forums much, preferring the IRC channel, which was filled with captivating writers, professional, published authors rubbing shoulders with people who are as far from professional authors as I am from the Moon.
Well, not really. I’ve been writing for a while. Next time I do NaNoWriMo, I want to do three things:
- write fast,
- build a great story.
I don’t think my story this year was too many notches past dozens of fantasy clichés stuck together. Nonetheless, I wrote it anyway, trying to add my spin to it.
What you see on this website will eventually be the complete story. I don’t plan on publishing this one formally, simply because of how much of the story is actually missing, and how many self-contradictions there are.
A few years ago, I started reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, a fantastic work of high fantasy which, although I never quite finished, was a rollicking, fantastic read.
But I liked ideas in it. The noble houses of Cairhien, I particularly liked, and I really wanted to play with those ideas some more. There were other ideas, too; certainly, I wouldn’t have channeling or anything similar…
The ideas slowly faded from my consciousness over about a year.
I dug out my Brother EM-850fx typewriter, and set to work, banging out a fantasy story about Elmiarraldereda and Elmindeldereda, twins, one from the under-city and one from the upper city. It was a short story (an assessment task, unfortunately), and I barely managed to show any of the ideas that I’d banged out in chapter 1 of U2S, but the germ of an idea was there… even the nomenclature and ideas are the same, although I altered elements of the language – for instance, Lancemen Stroman and Koenig were one character, speaking something resembling Jamaican Creole.
The First Iteration, Part One
Miarra slipped down a darkening alleyway, her face streaked with grime, her clothes hanging limply around her, heading to the Riimward Gate and to her home on the Riim Plains. Along the back alleys of Kihedra, the Shining City, the accumulated grime and dirt silenced the thudding of her boots.
Etched into her mind, the route out almost constantly remained the same, pounded with unerring accuracy over the countless years she had crept into and out of the city. All the routes, in fact: she prided herself on the perfect map she had of the unknown and unloved streets of Kihedra.
The curfew bell tolled mournfully across the city again, and she accelerated, taking corners with such speed that she was able to take a handful of steps on the wall, ancient paint flaking away in sheets. A dead end loomed, a wall with grout looking suspiciously new, and she scudded to a halt, raising the grime of years into a miasma, before darting back the way she came.
The bell tolled again, a deep, melancholic, foreboding sound that sent shivers down the incongru- ously clean back of Miarra’s neck, now beaded with droplets of sweat from her exertions. Finally, she broke out of the alleys, her heart pounding, the blood thundering in her ears –
But not just her racing heart-beat was ringing in her ears; the jangling, clanking, creaking of the gates and mechanism closing. She raced forward, but she knew it was too late, as the gates closed with a sonorous thud, inches away from her.
“No,” she whispered. She turned to run, . . .
. . . and collided with the muscular body of a City Guardsman, whose scarred and callused face split into a lopsided grin, with teeth visibly missing.
“Hello, little miss,” he leered, and grabbed her by the forearms, dragging her. She threw punches wildly, and landed many telling blows against his wiry, twisted form, but he displayed no sign of having felt any pain. Instead, a large, brutish hand closed like a set of manacles around her scrawny arms, and the other hand seized her feet and held them fast.
“Oi, sar’major! Got one!” called the burly Guard, and another hulking form strode over with a slightly bandy-legged gait.
“Well, ven, missie. You try’n’a sneak out onnus, ay? Well, ol’ Quin mam’ll have summat ter say ’bout dat,” he slurred, his accent making his words all but impenetrable.
Nomenclature and Language
The names follow a simple, easy-to-forget scheme. Take Elchalyahneldera:
- El- prefix: honourific ‘my lady’
- chalyahn: her name
- -eldera: her house
In Old High Kihedran that the Elders speak (chapter 3), this translates:
- El- prefix: High Tower (effectively, noble)
- chalyahn: “Vine Leaf Heralds The Sun”
- -el-: of [the]
- dera: [Tower of] the Earth
There’s probably a language here. But at the moment, I’m too lazy to figure it out.
For non-nobles like Cesca-Eldera, it works similarly:
- Cesca: her name
- -Eldera: her affiliated house.
There are two G2-ish suns, which orbit each other nearly perpendicular to the plane of the system, with a period of some five hundred days. The orbit of Kihedra is in the ‘habitable zone’ of that system. The planet’s orbital period is nearly equal to that of the solar period.
A Brief History of Kihedra
I envisioned Kihedra like this:
Human colonists arrive on a planet, some five or six thousand years prior – similar to Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern – by mechanisms unexplained. These people became the city builders, and the last of these were the Elders of Kihedra. The stone circle, I borrowed from Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony, along with the idea of communing with the dead, although that owes more inspiration to The City And The Stars by Arthur C. Clarke.
The City Builders (yes, I’ll capitalise it like this, to remind me of the bits of Larry Niven’s Ringworld series that I borrowed) built the city of Kihedra around five towers, the pillars of civilisation, and each was synonymous with (what now is) a Noble House – they were
- House Eldera: the Tower of the Earth
- House Elsolara: the Tower of the Sun
- House Eluna: the Tower of the Moon
- House Elysmos: the Tower of the Universe
- House Elilith: the Tower of the Elements
Naming here is obscure. Many of these are corruptions of English-derived words, and Elilith is retconned to mean ‘Elements’ – I chose it because it sounded particularly evil.
Yes, there is a bit of deus ex machina at play here. Please allow me my artistic license back.
The leadership of the city as a whole was initially a committee (who became the last Circle of Elders) – and they eventually decided that they needed a figure-head leader, who they gave power to; The Saga of Seven Suns by Kevin J. Anderson does something vaguely similar, except the puppet is really just a puppet. The Circle of Elders became the first Sitters of the Tower, ahem, Kihedra. (*cough*Wheel of Time*cough*).
Time passes. The monarchy rotates from one house to another, just the way the first Sitters envisioned. Then, for some reason, a promise was broken between Elilith and the other Houses, causing a major civil war throughout all of Kihedra. The reasoning behind this is unclear, but Tower Elilith fell, as did it’s power, and the four remaining Houses cut all ties with Elilith, who went underground for four thousand years, nursing hatred and resentment, which would eventually explode.
The Houses of Kihedra
Since Elilith fell, the succession broadly continued within houses, becoming partially a political game and partially a game of wit and skill; thus, instead of the steady rotation of the crown from House to House that was intially envisioned, the succession would become long lines of Kings, then Queens, from one House.
The latest rulers of Kihedra, in reverse chronological order, are (denoted as name of house, birth, ascension, death, age)
- Chalyahn of Eldera (b. 5542, a. 5561)
- Layna of Eldera (b. 5500, a. 5524, d. 5560; 61y)
- Mind of Eldera (b. 5485, a. 5522, d. 5524; 38y) – sickly for much of her life; died due to the stresses of high office
- Kami of Eldera (b. 5454, a. 5470, d. 5522; 68y)
- Kata of Eluna
- Wynna of Elsolara
- Wariya of Elsolara
- Lena of Elysmos
- Mana of Eluna
Broadly, though, most deaths are heart failure, or in the case of Layna, cancer, although this is not strictly mentioned. The Queens choose the direction of their succession shortly before their deaths. In some cases, the lineage does not follow the House but instead the bloodline; Elkata of Eldera, for instance, is Elkami of Eluna’s mother.
There are two main characters, Lyahn (Elchalyahneldera) and Ana (Elanalivieldera), identical twin sisters who are based on real people: their appearance, and aspects of Lyahn’s personality come from the kick-ass KA, and Ana’s personality is derived from the brilliant, lovely and awesome BLA.
Lyahn and Ana are about 6’1” (185 cm), with shoulder-length brown hair and normally dark blue eyes (in sunlight, they appear much lighter); they’re willowy, thin and wiry, with a scary sort of strength and flexibility about them. Lyahn, in particular, is especially prone to violence – because that’s just how she is – but has a quick sense of humour, matching very nicely to the more sedentary Ana, who has a much sharper wit and deeper cynicism.
They sleep in the same bed, on occasion. This has no sexual overtones (unless you choose to read it that way – and if you do, please don’t tell me about the ensuing scenario; I have enough bad nightmares as is); instead, consider that these two women have spent nineteen years of their lives apart, in which they would ordinarily be laughing, crying and living very similar lives. This is them being reassuring, folks.
… nope, that just dug me deeper into the pit, didn’t it?
I always see the first scene as a cinematic: a wide shot of the city, panning forward and down through the towers and buildings of the city, and finally stopping with a wide shot of Lyahn at the corner of the street.
The pickpocket is also based on a real person – the same person, interestingly, as Lanceman Koenig.
Cesca, named after a character in The Saga of Seven Suns, uses a variation on the naming scheme mentioned earlier.
Cesca discusses methods of assassination, somewhat like the Reverend Mother in Dune. Admittedly, the names that the Reverend Mother uses are much more awesome.
KNIFE FIGHT! KNIFE FIGHT!
I seem to have had a great passion for writing knife fights.
Reading ahead in the manuscript, out in chapter 8 or 9 (I don’t recall which), there’s a contradiction to this chapter. I still haven’t decided which one should be correct.
The idea of a neurograft is not my own, I’m afraid, but I don’t remember where I got it from. It’s the first indication of some non-fantasy origin, and ties into the technology of the long-past Kihedra.
I initially didn’t really like the idea of telepathic powers, but then changed my mind when I considered the intense psychological trauma that Elilith would impose on its trainees. The resonant genetic structure gives Ana and Lyahn at least some advantage in this area.
Repartee is almost certainly based on the concept of the rap battle. Somehow, I liked the contrast: Lyahn can kill with her bare hands, and Ana can kill with bare words.
One man, half a dozen hats. I’m amazed at the lengths he went to.
The plot went nowhere. This is a great risk when it comes to writing to a word-limit: you can chase the number, but never go anywhere.
Oooh, non-linear storytelling. It’s all, really, the thought processes of our darling killer.
And here comes the, uh, B-plot? C-plot? I don’t even know any more. The romance plot.
Yes, I have a romance plot. No, I don’t like it. Also, I plan to kill the character.
I love the reflection at the beginning of this chapter. I see a really fast, snappy montague of pictures, and then this all-mighty bellow.
The language, as I’ve already commented, is a bundle of sticks. I have no idea what it is.
Also, spot the plot contradiction.
Oh, and the stolen line, “pick it up and give it back to him,” which I believe is from, uh, hm, I don’t remember. Oh, yes, I do: Dune, when all the Fremen pledge loyalty to Paul.
Introspection sequence. The flowers mean something. I’m not sure what. Spot the half-finished
Dream sequences are cool. Especially when you copypasta them from something you’ve already written, and, in fact, this is where this incarnation of the story came from.
Oh, hey, fight scene, too. I like the idea that Lyahn is incredibly cunning and subtle as she does this.
Kidnapping, yeah, yeah, old hat.
To paraphrase The Incredibles, “You got me monologuing!”
This is as far as I got.
In it’s entirety, now, is the nearly 1000-word document that guided the plot. I estimate that, if I finished the story, it would have spiralled out to at least 200,000 words for just this story.
Kihedra. A far-away place, a place of beauty, even in the dark undercity, hundreds of metres below the glowing tower tips. It is in the undercity that we meet the protagonist, Lyahn, an orphaned girl who lives barely outside the walls of the great city, surviving a mediocre existence, working in the undercity. She enjoys the sunset, but fails to escape the city before the gates close for the night, forcing her to stay in the city.
Above the city, a noblewoman, Ana, is grieving the death of her mother, the High Queen, and deferring her decision about ascending to the throne, her loss clouding her judgement. Yet, she knows the other three Noble Houses – House Elsolara, House Eluna, House Elsmos – are all vying for the throne, and the deadline for her decision is a mere day away, to allow time for the coronation, which must occur on Turnover. Ana feels that she cannot become the High Queen as it reminds her of the mother she loved, and fears that she would dishonour her memory.
In the midst of a confrontation between Ana and her matron and nurse, Cesca, over the looming deadline of her decision, Lyahn arrives at the palace, under guard. Cesca recognises the name, and a locket that Lyahn had since her birth – and realises that she is Ana’s elder twin, who had been stolen while mere months old by an anarchist cell.
After a brief duel between the limber and street-smart Lyahn and the stuffier, more formal Ana, they accept each other for what they are: the noblewoman and the servant. Ana offers the throne to Lyahn, who initially refuses, but after seeking wisdom from the elders of their house, House Eldera, and contemplating what she could do for the city, instead accepts.
The manoeuvring becomes known to the other Houses, and to the anarchist cell who took Lyahn, nineteen years prior – a shunned noble House, their name all but forgotten – and they become the targets for two squads of assassins, selected carefully to destroy each of the twins by exploiting their weaknesses: Ana, in a duel for her life, and Lyahn, in a match of wits and knowledge of the city. Both twins come to each other’s defence as they are set upon, and, united, they prove themselves worthy to the other houses that they can rule the city.
Yet, Ana’s indecision has reached around to catch up with her. Her reputation is tarnished by her inability to make confident decisions, and she realises she cannot legitimately take the throne with her sister. Ana abdicates, opting instead for a life as a servant. Lyahn, now the Head of House Eldera, argues with her, but to no avail – Ana realises she cannot go back, wishes Lyahn the best of luck, and disappears.
The following day is Turnover, when the suns both align with the horizon – and also the summer solstice, making it High Turnover, and the first day of the new year. At midday, in disguise, Ana slips back into the Palace, nearly passing Lyahn undetected, who is also in disguise, about to sneak out. They duel, each getting only a single blow in, before they recognise each other, and embrace.
Ana spent a night in the undercity, and the range of cuts, bruises and the mess of hair tell of a struggle. She refuses to tell Lyahn what happened to her, but Lyahn tells her the story of the first night she had explored the streets herself, and was attacked, abused, and then turned out to the street, bleeding. She shows a scar, running down her body from her throat to her navel as proof. Ana tells her story, too – an attack, violent abuse, then a youth who saved her life before her attackers killed her. She describes him, not knowing his name, but Lyahn identifies him, and tells her not to despair of the fact she could never repay the debt to him.
At sunset, Lyahn is crowned, an ancient ritual in which she is cleansed of her ties to the world by the four Sitters, all bar one Heads of Houses, and becomes the thousandth High Queen of Kihedra. She realises that her entire life had been leading to becoming the sovereign. Her first act as Queen is to name Ana, already a Sitter, as the new Head of House Eldera, and then she calls the Sitters, forcing them to stop using the huge ceremonial seats and to, instead, sit on the floor, and drink simple tea. She tells the four Sitters of the fact she is the first woman to have experienced life below the upper city in a thousand years, and tells of the admiration of the Shining Crown turning to indifference, then to disenchantment, in the undercity.
Lyahn slips out of the Palace in near darkness, twilight well and truly gone, and only a little illumination from the upper city guiding her way. She finds the youth Ana spoke of, a man named Ohar, and takes him to her, where they meet formally, his tongue tied by her position of power. Lyahn leaves as they attempt to reconcile their differences.
Finally, she returns to her house, outside the city, collecting a few things of hers, before returning to the place she now belongs: the High Palace of Kihedra. She knows the challenge that faces her, now – and that does not deter her. She looks out, onto the city she loves, and hopes for the future.