Yes, yes, I realize that Frankenstein was the scientist (if you can really apply that term), and not the creature he cobbled together from parts, but sometimes even I succumb to an abomination like this “frankenstory” term that just seemed too apt to fail to employ here. Sometimes, I write stories based around a single idea, or a couple of ideas, but they start out in one form and carry on that way through the whole writing process. Sure, there are changes, but the basic plot remains the same, and so do the characters. Fo’Fonas is like this, as is Blood Magic (despite all of its challenges during the plotting process). I guess you could call these Athena stories, but fortunately I don’t have to call a blacksmith to get them out of my head.
Other times, I’ll have an idea, and I won’t have a story for it at all. Some of these ideas end up as writing prompts here on the site, since I have no associated story for them yet, but I’d love to see a story based on the idea someday. Other times, I’ll write a story start, or a couple of story starts, or do some world-building, but then let the idea languish, usually for want of a plot, but sometimes for want of a compelling character. Sometimes, it will even be for want of both. When I was in high school (which was when I first began to work semi-seriously on my writing), I suffered a bit from “world-builder’s disease,” which led to a lot of this kind of situation.
Perhaps the most tragic example of this was a world I call Hiarathala. The world-building I did for this was immense. I had a map, a detailed timeline stretching almost two thousand years, a list of in-world weapons, flora and fauna, unique systems of measurement, technological innovations and inventions, a magic system…and no good plot. Several times, I tried to sit down and write stories in this world, to no avail. The characters always came out flat, the plots came out overly contrived, and it took me awhile to accept that there was something missing from what I was trying to do with Hiarathala. When I finally did, I set the world aside and turned my attention to other projects, which is how things remained until very recently.
On the opposite side, I had an idea for a story that focused on someone without any magical ability in a world where everyone had magic. I tried in fits and starts to find a way to write this idea, but I never got very far. The magic systems were always poorly defined, the characters shallow, and the plots barely existent. I knew I wanted to write this idea someday, but I decided I needed to practice my writing more before I could tackle it. I put it, too, aside.
That’s actually a fairly common phenomenon for me, having ideas for stories I’d like to write someday, but which I find myself unable to tackle at my present level of writing ability. My Computer Consciousness story is an example of this: I wrote probably half a dozen starts to it with which I was unsatisfied before I struck on the story as it stands now, and then I had to put it aside halfway through because I found that I was again stuck. I’ll return to it eventually, when I’ve further improved my craft.
Between working on Blood Magic and Fo’Fonas, which while very different are both larger-scale projects than anything I’ve attempted before, I’d like to think that I’ve been getting a lot better at building characters and plots. Certainly Blood Magic has forced me to stretch in this respect. Since I’ve been working a lot on them, I decided that I needed another, newer project to keep my writing fresh, since I find that if I sink too much into one or two projects I start to get too deep into the world and the storytelling suffers as a result. I turned to one of the starts I had made on a story involving someone without magic in a magical world, and I still couldn’t get it to go anywhere. The biggest problem was that I lacked world-building. If everyone had the kind of open-ended magic that I was envisioning, then what was the problem? They could just magic this character into having magic again. There simply weren’t enough limits.
So I put it down again, turned back to Blood Magic, and then on a whim decided to take a look at Hiarathala again. As I was reading through the world-building I had done, I realized that the magic system I developed for Hiarathala, and indeed the world itself, was almost perfect for the story about magic/non-magic that I had been struggling to tell. A few tweaks to the in-world history, and a couple of small modifications to the magic system, and I had exactly what I needed. And, the best part of all, there was a plot just sitting there in the combination of the two, waiting to be written.
Below, I’ve included the first draft of the prologue I wrote for this “frankenstory” (not a title), which hopefully will help appease those of you who are upset that I worked on something besides Blood Magic or Fo’Fonas. I know it needs some tightening up – I don’t think I got either of the main characters in this section quite right just yet – but it is stronger than anything else I’ve written before for either of the two concepts alone. This would be another epic, probably on a scale similar to (or maybe even larger than) Fo’Fonas, so it will be awhile before anything is publishable, but as with my other projects, I will do my best to keep you up-to-date on my progress.
Note that there is a very, very steep learning curve on this story. I’m doing that intentionally in this prologue, so that readers can get “thrown in the deep-end,” as it were, but intend to pull back a bit and give some more exposition and development when we hit chapter one. Now, without any further delay, here is is the prologue to what I’m tentatively titling Curimac, first in the Aliawera Trilogy, part of the Hiarathala series.
Lurking in the shadow of a rotting log, Wrstklshrklp was a poised puddle of black danger. That was how it saw itself, although the High Archmage who had awakened it from the haze of pre-sentience had simply called it Fend, after its species, the fendrasoni. Since the fendrasoni did not communicate with each other verbally, on those rare occasions when they communicated at all, spoken names was not a concept with which it had been familiar. In truth, Wrstklshrklp did not truly remember how it had gained its original moniker; it could remember very little of its time before the High Archmage had awakened it, and that only through a dim haze. Normally, the fendrasoni were semi-sentient, capable of rudimentary culture, but not truly aware. There certainly was no fendrasoni civilization.
Sometimes, Wrstklshrklp wondered what had become of Shephtra, the High Archmage who had freed it from the haze of semi-sentience and granted it awareness of itself. Unfortunately, even with self-awareness its memory of the past and the passage of time was inconsistent and porous, leaving it mostly with impressions of events and places it had experienced. How long had it been since it had seen Shephtra? It must have been nearly two thousand years…there was something significant about that number. Wrstklshrklp was certain that it was supposed to attach some importance to the passage of two millennia, but it could not quite conject what that importance might be. Curse its distributed fungal consciousness!
In the brush ahead, something moved, a duiker from the thigmonasty of it. The jungles of Iglor were dense and dangerous, and wilder now than they had once been. There had been more people there, for a time, but it had been a wild place when Shephtra had first come to the island, and it was wild now. Wrstklshrklp considered that perhaps it could not remember much of the intervening time because it had been dormant. Yes, that sensed familiar. There was something important that was supposed to happen, something for which it was supposed to be waiting. That was why Shephtra had brought it back to Iglor, and placed it into a dormant state. Then the fragile network of its memory was disrupted by the duiker taking another leap closer, triggering again Wrstklshrklp’s thigmonasty. Its consciousness became dominated only by a sensation of hunger.
From the shadowy concealment of the log’s underside, Wrstklshrklp oozed slowly into the clearing, seeming at first to be nothing but an extension of that shadow. It came right up to the duiker’s hooves, forming itself around the hard foot-structures and firming its substance. When the duiker went to step again, it discovered its plight. No amount of struggle could free it as Wrstklshrklp slowly morphed to engulf the frantically flailing creature entirely, already beginning the digestion process. Other hunters were so messy with their eating, leaving so much waste. That was not the fendrasoni way; it was much better simply to engulf the prey, and slowly digest it – the hair, the skin, the flesh, the bone marrow, everything. Even a small meal like the duiker would provide Wrstklshrklp with enough energy for more than a moon, though it would take several days for it to extract all of the available nutrients. When it was done, there would be nothing remaining but hollow fragments of bone.
Once the duiker had ceased its fruitless struggles, Wrstklshrklp settled down to feed in earnest, releasing the enzymes most optimized for the materials it encountered. As calories and nutrients began to fill its hyphal strands, it found its memory improving and its consciousness sharpening. It had been in hibernation, at Shephtra’s request, for some nineteen hundred years, and it was awake now because, because, because…Wrstklshrklp found that it was still having difficulty forming full, coherent thoughts. Very rarely did it envy humans, with their single, immutable form and their inefficient digestive habits, but at least having their brains contained, rather than distributed throughout their bodies, allowed them to think more clearly. There was some reason that it had been in hibernation for so long, and that it was important it be alert now, a mission that Shephtra had entrusted to it before she had disappeared, but it could not recall what that reason was.
Lacking eyes, ears, a nose, a tongue, or any other defined features, the fendrasoni were limited to perceiving their surroundings through thigmonasty, the fungal sense of touch, and some limited light detection using their hyphal strands. In awakening Wrstklshrklp, Shephtra had granted it an additional sense, modifying some of its hyphal strands to detect magic. To it, magical artifacts, or active spells, sensed as dazzlingly bright sunlight, which sometimes made it difficult to tell if what it was sensing was light, or magic. It had been much better at understanding the difference before, but it found that to be a skill that had dulled from want of practice during its long hibernation. It wondered if any other fendrasoni had ever hibernated for quite as long as Wrstklshrklp had.
Casting about with its limited senses, Wrstklshrklp realized that its initial conviction that it was daylight was, in fact, false. It was night, but there was an artifact nearby of such powerful magic as to give the impression that the whole area was bathed in light, at least to its hyphal strands. Altering its form around the partially digested duiker to orient more hyphal strands towards the source of that magical illumination, Wrstklshrklp was able to resolve that source into the form of a sword clasped in the hands of a crumbling statue, though the sword itself was unblemished. This was significant, Wrstklshrklp recognized, the sword pertained in some way to the charge with which it had been left before it began its hibernation.
Further examination of its surroundings in this fashion revealed that what it had first assumed to be raw jungle was actually the decaying corpse of a temple or fortress of some kind, the stone eroded and broken by untended exposure to two thousand years of the Iglorian jungle. As this image began to build in Wrstklshrklp’s form, more memories, encouraged by the energy from the dead duiker, began to surface. When it had begun its hibernation, this fortress had been old, but maintained. There had been white stone, magic used in its construction, and Shephtra had considered it terribly important. No, not the fortress itself, but what it was intended to contain. The sword. There was something about the sword. Wrstklshrklp’s mission had something to do with the sword.
It bothered Wrstklshrklp that it could not properly recall the task Shephtra had given it. The High Archmage had seemed very worried during the time in which Wrstklshrklp had known her, and it could recall that she had mentioned being among the very last of the Archmages. Why that was, Wrstklshrklp did not now know; perhaps it never had, but part of why she had awakened Wrstklshrklp, helping it gain sentience and individual existence inaccessible to others of its kind was the worry that she would need the help of someone with its abilities…yes, that was important. Shephtra was gone, and she had known that she would have to leave. To die? Wrstklshrklp was unsure, but it knew it had been left on Iglor because Shephtra had feared for a future in which she would not be able to do…something.
Had Shephtra known about the ambiguous, porous quality of fungal memory? If she had, Wrstklshrklp did not think she would have chosen it for the task. Strain as it might, Wrstklshrklp could not draw forth any more memories from its fungal matrix. Perhaps, as the chemical traces of its prolonged hibernation were flushed away, and it finished digesting the duiker over the next three days, more memories would return. All it could do was wait, surrounded by the ruins of a fortress it could remember experiencing whole, and wondering what had caused a High Archmage to grant sentience to a predatory fungus for a two-thousand-year hibernation.
Three days later, with the duiker reduced to nothing but hollowed bones, Wrstklshrklp found that it was feeling much more like itself. Its distributed fungal mind had sharpened considerably, and it could even form itself properly now, instead of oozing along the ground like an animated, black tar. Spreading enthusiastic tentacles all about itself, Wrstklshrklp left the duiker’s skeleton behind and frittered its way towards the center of the ruined temple, to where the statue and its sword still stood. Its thoughts were clearer, and came much more easily now, but its memory was still frustratingly porous. Even some of the memories it had recovered of Shephtra seemed to be slipping away, like a half-remembered dream. It wondered if other fendrasoni dreamt, or if it was a concept unique to its enhanced mental abilities.
Its hyphal strands had given it some idea of its surroundings, but the amount of magical “light” suffusing the environment from the sword made it difficult for it to gain much insight. Instead, it took the time to explore the ruins with its thigmonasty, moving around and touching here and there until it had built the structure up again in its mind. Though it had begun the process with some hope that doing so would help activate some of its missing memories, the fortress was so far deteriorated from what it had been that all it did was make those memories seem even more unreal and removed in their relevancy. This world into which it had awakened was a different world from the one in which it had gone into hibernation. Perhaps it was simply coincidence that it had awoken now, and there was no significance to it, no mission.
Yet Wrstklshrklp could not bring itself to accept that conclusion. Shephtra, it was convinced, had brought it to consciousness for a reason, and had set it in this fortress to hibernate and wait for…something. Something that was to happen soon. Yet try as it might, even after it had completed its explorations of the fortress and found only a handful of other magical artifacts, the closest it could come to an answer, to knowing for what it was it had been set here to wait, was the sword. There was an immense significance to that sword, Wrstklshrklp was certain of it, if only it could remember what it was.
It couldn’t be that it was supposed to use the sword. Even if Wrstklshrklp could have devised a way of manipulating such a massive object, which would at the very least have taken a great deal of time and energy, if it were possible at all, it could not fathom what use it would be. Fendrasoni had no use for such weapons; they were themselves weapons. If Wrstklshrklp had need of a cutting implement, it would extrude one from itself, forming the fungal matrix into the proper shape and stress-hardening the form until it could hold an edge. It would use a similar process if it had need of a blunt instrument, or any other tool. There had been occasions, Wrstklshrklp thought it could recall, when it had marveled at how inefficient it was for Shephtra to have to carry all of her tools with her, instead of simply creating them from herself. And to be limited to a single form all of her life…it hardly bore thinking about, in Wrstklshrklp’s mind.
Humans were decidedly strange creatures, that was certain. In its time since awakened from hibernation, Wrstklshrklp had noticed a few lurking about the fortress’s ruins. One of them had even carried an artifact that emitted magical “light” to Wrstklshrklp’s hyphal strands, but when it had tried to approach, the humans had fled into the surrounding jungle, and it had not considered it worth the energy to pursue them. They had come back, acting nervous and more cautious than before, and now it knew they had built a fire and seemed to be waiting for something, though what, it did not know. Perhaps they were waiting for the same thing it was.
Making contact with them was, of course, out of the question. Wrstklshrklp’s main mode of communication with Shephtra had been telepathy; the High Archmage had allowed it to connect to her mind with a series of mycelial filaments, and in that way they had been able to exchange thoughts directly. It was the only way for Wrstklshrklp to efficiently communicate with humans, and it doubted that these who had demonstrated such fear of its initial appearance would be receptive to such a procedure. Besides, it was a very intimate connection, and not one that Wrstklshrklp was interested in sharing with just anyone. True, it could form sounds into words, awkwardly and with enormous effort by shaping its form in just the right way and building up enzymatic pressure in a hollowed chamber for the purpose, and it could detect human voices with its thigmonasty, after a fashion, but that required more patience than it thought the humans possessed. In its experience, humans were an impatient species.
Even Shephtra, who Wrstklshrklp recalled had been functionally immortal, although it could not remember the difference between being immortal and being functionally immortal, if it had ever known, had been remarkably impatient by fendrasoni standards. Fendrasoni could move quickly when they needed to, but they were also perfectly content to spend angles, days, and even months simply existing in total quiescence. Sometimes, Wrstklshrklp missed being with others of its own kind, though it knew it did not belong with them anymore and could never return to them. In giving it full sentience, Shephtra had broken its mycelial connection to the other fendrasoni. It made for lonesome times, but it was a tradeoff with which Wrstklshrklp was satisfied, because what it was doing was important.
If only it could remember what it was doing. With the fendrasoni equivalent of a sigh, which had nothing at all to do with the moving of air but nevertheless consisted of the same emotion, Wrstklshrklp settled itself near the base of the statue, turned its hyphal strands to the enchanted sword held there, and sought to remember its purpose in life.