Category Archives: Bordermarches

Beneath the Willow

[Found on Widescreen Wallpapers ]
[Found on Widescreen Wallpapers ]

Under the stars, I’ve made you a bed
Forget your cares, find rest now instead
Shoremists your shroud, grass for your pillow
Lay your arms down beneath the Willow

Duty is done, your battle is finished
Fear not the dark, though light be diminished
Under the moon with comrades and fellows
Lay your heads down beneath the Willow

If dreams disturb and peace slips away
Ancient fears stir, no longer at bay
If nightmares come, and shouts of war echo
I’ll whisper a prayer for you, beneath the Willow

When my day comes, I’ll lay my life down
No longer by burdens and memories bound
Say my farewell where the ocean breeze billows
And I’ll join you there, beneath the Willow

Under the Willow, down by the seashore
We’ll be together as we were before
Under the Willow, beneath the moonlight
We’ll sleep under stars forevermore


This is a piece I wrote to introduce a villain for my Worldmender project. I aimed for a present tense “in the bad guy’s head” style that is different from my usual efforts, and of course this is about a villain so it’s a bit dark. I’d love to know what you think!


“Don’t care ’bout the letter from Hagron,” Dagger Bandit mutters and draws twin blades.

He probably thinks I can’t hear him. He turns toward me, all thin and hunched over, ready to pounce on smaller prey. He’s breathing hard. I see it in the chill air. I hear his heart pounding.

“Letter from a noble or not,” Dagger Bandit continues, “Shuuka’s getting on my nerves.”

That’s what these robbers call me. They don’t know my name. They only know their boss sent me. I don’t know their names either. I don’t need to. Tools should be called by their function.

Maybe they think I’m not listening. Maybe they know I am. I keep playing my bonerattle to the Rhythm as I watch the firelight dance across the sands and the boulders.

shhuuu-Ka shhuuu-Ka shhuu-Ka shh…

It’s cold tonight. I see wisps in the wind when the bandits breathe. I can’t feel the cold, and the fire doesn’t warm me. I can’t feel anything.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

I feel the Hunger. My body needs fuel, so I take a bite of dried meat. It tastes like sand in my mouth. I can see the spices, but I can’t taste them. I can’t taste anything anymore.

The Rhythm is the only thing that keeps me calm until I can satisfy the Hunger.

Dagger Bandit hesitates in his approach and glares at me. The stocky bearded man next to him speaks up. “You saw what he did to Namir yesterday. Fought him one-handed, one blade against Namir’s two.”

I call this big one Meat-shield. He seems to be the smartest of the bunch.

He looks up at Dagger Bandit now. “You think you can take him, have a go. I won’t miss the noise.”

“Never seen Namir lose a duel,” Dagger Bandit admits and sits down.

“Lost his bleedin’ hand is what he lost.”

Meat-shield has a point. Plus he’s in charge.

I would have liked very much to take more from Sword-dancer, the one they call Namir. He sits in the shadows, nursing his bandaged stump. The Hunger clamors within me always, and Namir might have satisfied it. For a time. But I don’t want them to know about me yet. I kept my glove on during the fight, kept the Darkness hidden.

I chose to be patient then. To listen to the Rhythm a while longer. But I think today’s the day.

shhuu-Ka shhuu-Ka shh…

Footsteps rush toward us. My fingers rest on the pommel of my blade. Our scout bursts into the hidden campsite. “They’re coming,” he pants. His chest thuds in my ears like a horserace. My right hand twitches. I want to consume him. The Hunger roils within, and I suppress it with a shudder.

I focus on the rattle again.

“His letter,” Farsight blurts between gasps, pointing at me. “It’s true. The caravan, nearby, three guards, four others.”

Meat-shield hands Farsight a waterskin. Only a few drops in it. Enough for another day here in the Waste. Then Meat-shield hisses “Get ready,” as he kicks out the fire.

I stop the rattle and head for the dunes around the camp. It’s time. Away from the firelight, I remove my right glove. Shadows swirl and flow like oil in the shape of a hand. I’m not sure I really have an arm under there anymore. Only the Darkness remains.

I don’t mind the loss. The power is worth it.

Meat-shield is smart. Good position. The rocks and dunes hide the camp in darkness. Anyone would have to be on top of the nearest hill to see the firelight. But the robbers take no chances. Prey in the Waste is skittish and dangerous. Predators must be crafty.

Meat-shield sends archers to the tops of the stones where they can get a clear view of the merchant route. His best bowman has a monocle that Meat-shield got from Lord Hagron.  It makes night like day in the wearer’s eye. I can think of many uses for such a device.

Trueshot looses a flaming arrow to mark the caravan. I hear it sink into the wood of a wagon with a thok. Now everyone can see it. The travelers cry out. The four robbers on foot rush the prey while Trueshot and the others take aim at the guards.

I take aim at Trueshot. I creep forward, unnoticed, black hand extended.

His monocle slips into my open palm as he dies. I lay his body down atop the stone and turn to the next archer. The night makes it easy. The rush of adrenaline, the thrill of the kill–that makes my victims delicious. The Hunger feeds on life, but strong emotions and passions are the sweetest. I can taste those. I can feel them as they are consumed.

Meat-shield and his allies are busy fighting guards or chasing the unarmed. They don’t notice that the arrows stop flying. Three of the guards are wounded. One fights on. It’s easy to sneak up on the bandits.

Sword-dancer dies first. I catch him rifling through the goods in a wagon, out of the view of the others. Greed–lust for the prize–it’s not delicious, but it will do.

He expires with a quiet sigh, the noise lost in the din of the fray.

The lone guard shouts as he cuts down Mace. I’m not surprised. Mace isn’t a fighter. He’s Meat-shield’s cousin, or brother-in-law, or some other relationship with obligation. Doesn’t matter. With that steaming wound in his belly, he’ll be dead soon.

One of the other bandits is down. Arrow in the back. Maybe Trueshot or another archer had some score to settle. I don’t care. And now Meat-shield is fighting the guard that killed Mace.

I sense two more heartbeats, one pursuing the other. Dagger Bandit finished off a couple of the passengers and is chasing the last one. A woman’s scream pierces the night. I can feel Dagger Bandit’s lust building. The Hunger longs for him, and I shiver. He’ll be tasty.

But first, Meat-shield is fresh, and this final guard is weary. Not a fair fight.

I stretch my right hand toward Meat-shield. No one can see it in the dark, but I know tendrils of black are forming around him, slowing him, hindering him. I hear him rage against invisible bonds, swinging wild punches as he tries to break free.

The guard sees his opportunity and thrusts a sword into Meat-shield’s ribs. Meat-shield roars and draws a knife as he grabs the guard by the throat. I turn away, releasing the bonds. I hear choking and gurgling behind me, weak cries, labored breathing in the dark. They’ll both be dead soon.

Dagger Bandit’s heart is thudding in my mind. It’s all I can think of. Maybe it’s all the Darkness can think of. I’m not really sure how this all works.

All I know is I want him.

He has the woman cornered. I sense her fear. It’s a powerful emotion too, but it’s the only one the Darkness doesn’t like. She doesn’t interest me, not with Dagger Bandit near.

I hear his voice telling lies, his tone meant to soothe. I can’t make out the words. The pounding of his heart is so loud in my head. My shadow hand can barely retain its form. It yearns to stretch out and take him. I resist.

The woman cowers. Dagger Bandit steps forward, knife shaking with delight. He slowly reaches for her, and giggles as he grabs her shoulder. She writhes and screams, but she can’t get away. He raises the knife.


Shadows wrap around him, wracking his body into awkward positions. I think bones snap but I don’t care. His eyes are wide, reflecting firelight. His mouth is filled with darkness. His intense emotions are captured and consumed in an instant.

The lifeless body crumples to the ground. A wave of pleasure washes over me, the reward from the Darkness for such a perfect feast.

The woman sees me, knows that somehow I’ve saved her. She doesn’t question how, just bows and babbles profuse thanks. I am not interested.

…until the Darkness senses her overwhelming relief. Her fear is gone. I step into the light.

“I swear to you,” she continues, “I will tell my father of how you saved me and he will reward you with greater riches than what we carry here. I cannot thank you enough.”

“No, dear,” I frown. “You can’t.”

I stretch my hand once more and close my eyes, awash in satisfaction as she dies.

A minute later, the night is quiet. I start collecting provisions. I’m not sure where I’ll go. Before I came here, Hagron spoke of war in the city of Sulkath, and invading armies from Kandurien.

War always brings out strong passions. It sounds like the right place to be.

Meat-shield mumbles something behind me, dying on the ground, tangled with the body of the guard. “Hagron… that letter was fake… he didn’t send you…”

“No, the letter was real. But Hagron didn’t send me. I took it after I fed on him.”

He looks confused, so I explain. “You worked for Hagron. I killed him. So you serve me now.”

Meat-shield coughs up blood.

“Rest now,” I say as I turn. I can’t help a grin. “I have been well served.”

I take out my bonerattle as I walk away from the ruined caravan. The Darkness is sated.

shhhuuu-KA shhhuuu-KA shhh…

I can hear the Rhythm clearer than before. For now.

Break Time

There is some news that is relevant to my interests. It might be relevant to yours as well. I know some of you who read my ravings also do some writing of your own.

Harper Voyager is accepting unsolicited submissions for their planned Digital releases.

I have about 100K words poured into a rough manuscript, and so I am going to dedicate some time to editing and polishing it for submission. It’s a roll of the dice, and I’m sure they’ll be swamped with tons of other aspiring amateurs. But if nothing else, I end up with a completed and stronger manuscript than I have now.

Alas, this means no daily blog posts, and possibly very few at all until the project is done. I apologize, because I know you all don’t click Follow lightly. But I hope you’ll bear with me as I put in some effort to accomplish a project that has been waiting a long time.

With respect,

Introducing D'Ten

For this Storyline post, I thought I’d introduce a villain. I’ve had the idea of the Bloodsworn for quite some time, but they were a faceless foe and an alien culture to the characters in the Bordermarches. There’s no fun in that. It’s more interesting to see life from the villain’s perspective now and then (at least to me). So, allow me to introduce the new Chronicler of the Bloodsworn, D’Ten.

Saturday Storyline

From the Eldest, life was given to the Newborn;
To the Eldest, life is given from the Bloodsworn.

The Ancient Rede filled D’Ten with pride as he drew the sharp side of his hook-dagger along his forearm. His eyes widened as pain seared his nerves, but he kept silent as he finished the cut. Blood ran down his upturned palm, warm and wet, to drip off his fingertips onto the stained stone altar. A collective roar went up from the gathered crowd on the steps below, and D’Ten looked out over the masses.

Over my people.

They would follow him now. They would look to him as they once looked to Kasheta; they would trust his wisdom as they once hung on her poisonous words.

He raised a glittering goblet in his left hand, and the blood began streaming toward his elbow. Kasheta abandoned the old ways. She forsook the sacrifices meant for the Eldest Ones, dismissed the power and truth of the Rede. Under Kasheta’s guidance, D’Ten’s people were docile, quick to retreat and slow to respond as the bastard children of the Cerune Empire once again came across the mountains.

“Not the will of the Life-givers,” she would say whenever he pressed her to attack. “This Cycle will end in trouble enough for all; we need not add to it. We will depart, and not engage them.”

Foolishness. Weakness.

Kasheta was one of many Chroniclers to interpret the Rede in a figurative sense. She taught the people to give their lives–their time, their resources, and their energy–in service to the Eldest.

But D’Ten learned the truth. He knew how wrong she was, and the trouble that would come. He even knew the will of the Life-givers. One of them spoke to him directly, granting revelation about the long-forgotten paths his people once followed.

Blood was required, for the blood was life. For centuries, the devout among the Bloodsworn offered up a portion of their lives back to the Creators, a fitting tribute and offering of thanks for what the Eldest Ones first gave to mortals, a completion of the cycle that satisfied the Life-givers and turned away Their wrath.

D’Ten shuddered as he held the goblet aloft, almost spilling its precious contents. If the cycle was ever broken–if blood was no longer offered to the Eldest–then the Creators would return to undo what they began. The world would be shattered, all life extinguished… for those who gave life could surely take it away.

That must never be.

Kasheta had led the people astray. It was time to correct her error.

“Offerings shall be made once more,” D’Ten called out, “now and forever, in accordance with the Rede and the ancient ways, and in accordance with the words of the Eldest.” He tipped the goblet until a steady stream of crimson splashed across the altar, mingled with his own blood. Another cheer burst from the crowd, but D’Ten’s deep voice rose above them all.

“To the Eldest, life is given from the Bloodsworn!”

The words of the Life-giver’s visitation echoed in D’Ten’s mind as he poured out the last drop of Kasheta’s life from the goblet.

Who said that the offering had to be your blood?

As his people cheered, D’Ten grinned widely. They were focused on their ritual, but his mind wandered west, to the mountains where the Dunnestanni and their Cerunae allies swarmed like gnats in spring.

The offerings to the Eldest had been neglected for so long; D’Ten was certain he could feel Their anger.

You will have sacrifices. Many sacrifices. We will give You life for the life You granted us. The cycle will not be forgotten.

Walking Death pt. 2

Welcome to the first Saturday Storyline post. This certainly isn’t the first story I’ve posted. But this category gives me the opportunity to post a weekly piece of fiction, from ongoing projects or from writing just for fun. And for this post, you get part 2 of Walking Death chapter 1. (See the first part here.)

To recap, the Assassin fought her way to her target, Lord Tarrandin Condral, only to discover he’s not the easy mark he seemed.

Walking Death, Chapter 1, part 2

Tarrandin Condral moved with inhuman speed. The Assassin expected this of Cursebearers. The demonic curse, the Kem, imbued Tarrandin with the strength of ten men.

But this speed, this agility… it’s not possible, even for Kem’neth. He is in two places at once!

A blow across the jaw shook every thought from her mind. Strands of black hair came loose from her headband as the grey-cloaked Assassin crashed onto the head table. Dinnerware rattled and glass shattered, pieces tinkling on the hardwood floor

Her quarry-turned-assailant leapt upon the table and landed nearby. He thrust massive black-clawed hands at her. She rolled to the side to escape, but somehow he was already on the other side of her, sinking sharp nails into her skin.

Her shoulder burned as she twisted out of his grasp. She Stretched, trying to push him away, but her powers seemed muted. She slid backwards across the table, sending plates and silver flying. Tarrandin stepped back at the Stretch, unaffected.

She Pooled as she rose. Tarrandin strode through the darkness with ease. Pooling slowed Tarrandin’s guards, but it doesn’t faze him. Three past encounters with the demonically augmented beings were similar. Two ended with the Assassin fleeing. The one I managed to kill was a lucky shot while he was unaware.

The Assassin slid backwards, eyes on Tarrandin. Safe to assume all Cursebearers are immune to direct attack from my powers. Time to shift tactics.

A heap of utensils, goblets, and plates rose and hovered in the air before her as she Pooled. One by one, she Stretched metal missiles at Tarrandin.

The projectiles missed each time. Some passed through the cursed lord. She Stretched others at him only to find he was not where he appeared, his preternatural speed outpacing her senses.

This looks like another retreat.

Her mind raced, recalling all she knew about various Kem’neth. She dodged and weaved, always backing up, always on the defensive, trying to avoid the swipes of his claws. His eyes burned with yellow light. His teeth seemed elongated, a beast’s fangs, hungry for flesh.

And always he stayed ahead of her.

Her back screamed in agony as his nails raked her, rending cloth and skin alike. Blood trickled down her spine and her left arm. Pain is clarity. Pay attention. Tarrandin’s fist swung out at her, and she ducked. His hand reached out, grasping for a hold. She twisted out of the way, then rolled and kicked behind her. My foot passed through his groin, but struck nothing.

I cannot defeat what I cannot hit. Retreat became the priority.

Tarrandin slid to her left now, slashed her hip with his claws. She lunged to the right.

Deceit. The symbol he drew, a lidded eye of blood upon his forehead.

His Kem was Deceit, casting false images. She would see what he wanted and no more.

A fist caught her right cheek. Tarrandin stood a safe distance away to her right. Or so it appears. His meaty hand slapped her, and her knees wobbled. His foot came up and kicked her square in the chest. Air rushed past as she flew across the room.

The Assassin crashed into the rubble left by an Arcanist’s fireball. Sharp rocks dug into her back. Darkness Pooled about her again, even though it did no good against this foe. The hundred spikes of pain in her mind drove her onward. She stumbled to her feet, gasping. Her body wanted nothing more than to stay down in the shadows and rest.

Tarrandin approached on her right, aiming a short kick for her ribs. She covered up her left side, anticipating more deception. His boot struck from the right and knocked the wind out of her.

Of course he would expect me to figure out his power. Sometimes the best ruse was to play no trick at all. She coughed. A fine red mist sprayed into the air.

She tried to roll over. The hole in the wall beckoned. Escape.

Tarrandin watched and paced, the cat at play with a trapped mouse. She crawled away. His boot rested on her rump. He kicked, and she slid through rubble toward the opening.

Weakened, she tried to Scatter, hoping to clear a path through jagged rocks and broken wooden beams. A thousand cuts shouted from her arms, legs, and chest as she skidded through debris.

Need to get out.

The Assassin Stretched against the ground and lifted into the air. At the same time, she Flexed toward the hallway through the hole. Tarrandin stomped and cracked the ground where she had been.  She pulled herself over the burned rim of the opening in the wall. Once through, she released her powers and flopped to the ground, landing hard on one knee.

Light shone from a doorway down the hall. She struggled to gain footing, then lurched toward the door. No chance of success… have to withdraw…

“Heading for the ballroom balcony?” Tarrandin spat, hissing with a voice not his own. It’s dominating him. Kem’neth were like dogs on a leash at times. Sometimes the dogs broke free, and the demons enthralled the Cursebearers. Tarrandin’s a shell now, a form of flesh to cover the demon like my cloak covers me.

She felt hot rancid breath on her neck. It spoke again. “Very well. I will make sport of you before my guests. They don’t understand yet, but they must suspect that Lord Tarrandin isn’t all he claims.” Clawed hands closed around her shoulders. She fought the urge to shudder.

“They will recall why they obey him,” Not-Tarrandin went on. “Why they should fear him.”

He shoved her. The bright doorway rushed at her as she tumbled down the hall.

The Assassin landed in the darkest portion of the hallway, between the door and the nearest glowing magic Shackle on the wall. The silhouette of Tarrandin strolled toward her.  Yellow eyes shone in the shadows as he blocked the light of the Shackle.

I need darkness… not for my powers, but for his eyes.

The Assassin pulled at the shadows as if trying to rein in a wild horse. Her muscles shot fire through her veins. More. Shadows flowed like rivers toward the dim hall. Streams of black swirled around her and blocked the light of the Shackle and the doorway, plunging the two foes into a tangible darkness. Even Tarrandin’s hungry eyes disappeared.

Not that I can trust the image of them in the first place.

Her chest ached like a man lost in the desert who drinks too much upon finding an oasis.

But she felt his presence in the mass of darkness. She crouched, ready to strike. I can’t touch you with my powers, and your powers blind me.

He stood still, hesitating as shadows rippled about in waves.

You can disappear, but you can’t dissipate.

Wind whistled in the black as she drew her bootknives and slashed both arms outward, crisscrossing the demon’s abdomen with deep cuts. He howled. The force and fury shook the walls of the Baricund, disorienting the assassin. She lost her hold on the mass of darkness, and it rushed away in all directions, revealing the doorway behind her. Spurred on by success, she ran.

Tarrandin bellowed in that alien language and gave chase. Each stomp shook the floors. He moved slower than before, his breath raspy and labored. That wound would kill anyone else. The Kem is the only thing keeping him alive. She neared the lit doorway.

There’s only one way to kill a Kem’neth. Now I have a chance at it.

Ahead, she heard confused chatter from the thousands of gathered guests. The music and conversation stopped with the echoing scream. Many eyes were on the balcony where Lord Condral addressed the crowd earlier in the evening. The crowd gasped and murmured when the bloody Assassin appeared instead of Tarrandin. Some cried out for guards.

The Assassin ignored the crowd for the moment, turning to face Tarrandin. He lurched toward her. Murder burned in his yellow eyes. A string of saliva waved back and forth from his chin with each step.

I can’t affect him with my powers. And he’s still too strong for direct combat.

The magic light of the Shackle sparked her memory. The eyepieces Arcanists wear are immune too. Tarrandin was essentially a living, moving Ocular, untouchable by her powers.

I only need something else I can touch.

She reached behind her for the two sword-breakers in brown leather sheathes on her back. Each slender shaft of razor-tipped steel had two prongs curved out to the sides, designed to catch enemy blades and snap them with a twist.

While the crowd looked on, she took a ready stance on the balls of her feet. No need to run now. Tarrandin closed in on her. She Pooled once more.

I have one chance at this.

The balcony and doorway vanished in darkness.

Bordermarches: Magic

An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.

That’s Brandon Sanderson’s “First Law of Magic.” His comments on the subject are well worth reading (as is any book he has written, in my experience). He has a Second Law posted as well, and in that post he explains a great deal about limitations, weaknesses, and costs associated with magic.

I presented a broad introduction to the world of the Bordermarches, and I later posted an explanation of how science relates to the setting. However, my goal has always been to write a fantasy setting, and that almost requires some form of magic.

Magic can be very vague, something “out there” that the populace is aware of but no one really understands. The Lord of the Rings is a great example; there just isn’t a lot of detail about what sort of powers or limitations are placed on Gandalf.

Then again, Gandalf’s magic isn’t the point of the story or the solution to the conflict.

Magic can also be clearly delineated, almost a “science” of sorts for the populace in a given setting. I think of Sanderson’s Mistborn series as an example of this, where most of the “rules” are well-known or at least are discovered in the course of the plot. I’d even toss Wheel of Time into this category to some extent, as those who use the One Power are usually taught specific patterns and weaves which accomplish various goals, almost like combining precise amounts of chemicals to get a desired reaction.

I loved Mistborn (and most of Wheel of Time), so I’m not surprised that I automatically wanted to come up with an explanation for magic and a system to lay out most of what is possible by its use.

What I wanted to avoid is the ubiquitous “I can do anything because *poof* MAGIC!”

Video games can use systems like “mana” or “willpower” to explain and limit how much magic a person can wield at any given time. But for my taste, that doesn’t work well in writing. I can’t really see writing, “Lyllithe wanted to cast a spell, but she was tired.”

Tabletop RPGs have their various systems as well; in old school D&D, your wizard had to choose from the spells he or she knew and memorize a few for the next day. The character would only have access to those spells, so the player had to guess what might be useful for the next few encounters and choose accordingly. In the newest D&D, your wizard has a few powers that are “easy” enough that he or she can use them all the time, but the really powerful abilities still have to be chosen on a daily basis.

Still, I can’t see writing, “Lyllithe had already used up her memorized spells that day, so she took out a dagger and began stabbing Deviols.”

And again, most of these are systems that let you use magic simply because you can.

I wanted a somewhat technological “magic” for the Bordermarches, and I wanted something more pseudo-science than just “Magic does whatever I want.”

So, in a butchering of the physics I learned in school, I thought about potential energy and kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is the energy of a thing in motion; potential energy is the energy that could be released if the object is set in motion. Borrowing from Wikipedia’s explanation, think of a roller-coaster. As the coaster is lifted up to the top of the hill, it builds potential energy. Something is working against gravity to raise the roller-coaster. So when the coaster stops at the top, it has its maximum potential energy. When it goes over the edge, it has kinetic energy, and at the bottom, its kinetic energy is greatest.

Matter (or technically the mass of matter) has energy.

Magic in the Bordermarches is about “refocusing” that energy from a body of mass into… well, whatever. It can be refocused into different mass — turning a sword into liquid, turning a rock into a ball of fire that the caster hurls at enemies, making the stone floor of a building temporarily gelatinous in order to trap an enemy when the stone reverts back to its original form.

Mass is energy is mass, so you can shift one to the other to another using whatever resources are available to you. Imagine siphoning the kinetic energy of a waterfall into a super-heated stream of fire you spray toward your foes. Picture “catching” and refocusing the arrows of your enemies into balls of lightning you throw back at them.

There has to be a limit to this world-bending. 

I came up with a few.

1) If you’re a natural human, and thus not tied by blood to the elemental races (more on that later), then you have to have an eyepiece called an Ocular in order to manipulate magic.  I liked the idea of an eyepiece because it can be almost anything: a monocle, a pair of glasses, a special lens installed in a plate metal helm, a glass suspended over one eye like a pirate’s patch, and so on.

An eyepiece can also be removed in combat, rendering the caster ineffective. And these eyepieces are numerous, but given the “fallen empire” setting of the Bordermarches, the means of making new Oculars has been lost. There’s a limited number of devices out there.

2) Having an Ocular doesn’t give you access to limitless power. The quality of the device affects the amount of energy it can refocus. Push too much energy through it, and you risk burning it up, like a blown fuse.

3) Your available power also depends on what resources you’re willing to use. The exchange from one form to another is not favorable. The thousands of gallons of falling water in the waterfall may fuel a stream of fire for mere seconds.

4) Perhaps the most important limitation is that you cannot take energy from a living thing; you can’t refocus a person into a puddle, or turn a dog into a fireball.  Only inanimate objects can be used for refocusing.

So how does Refocusing work?

First, the caster takes energy from a source he or she can see. Since I like the idea of borrowing from Christian themes and concepts without going full Narnia-style allegory, I chose from Scripture (with my wife’s help) the terms of binding and loosing. The wearer of the Ocular looks at a source of energy and Glancebinds, drawing energy into the Ocular, up to the device’s inherent limit.

The caster can choose to draw on more energy than the Ocular can safely handle, but this risks great pain, permanent injury, and probable destruction of the device in the process.

After Glancebinding, the caster has a choice. They can Loose that energy, turning it into a different kind of mass or energy. This is how they can liquefy a stone floor or turn a waterfall into a fireball.

They can also Shackle the energy instead, charging up a ring or circuit of metal on their person. A wealthy caster might wear several circuits, and a wise caster will keep all those circuits charged, ready to be Unshackled as a source of immediate energy in time of need. The drawback is that charged circuits glow bright, so it’s tough to keep their presence a secret.

I feel like I’ve touched more on Sanderson’s Second Law than the First.

Oddly enough, though I was inspired by Mistborn and Sanderson’s First Law to create a magic system with clear rules, I believe Refocusing follows the Second Law more closely. The caster can do almost anything with the energy/mass they Glancebind. They’re just limited by what and how much they can Glancebind.

I did better capturing the First Law in my system of how Divine power works… but to explain that, I need to explain the relationship of the Divine to the world of the Bordermarches. So that’s next.

Bordermarches: Science

“You can have faith in science and the wisdom of men, or you can have faith in what God has said. I choose God.”

Welcome to the Bordermarches series, where I hope to introduce the fantasy world and the story I am writing. I provided a brief introduction, but now I want to talk about what makes this different from all the other fantasy books out there vying for your limited reading time.

More than anything else, frustration at that sentiment above inspired me to make a change to the world.

A long-time friend on FaceBook had been posting a variety of arguments about evolution, questioning the science behind it. I can understand some skepticism and the desire for “proof.” It’s natural to want to see evidence before accepting someone’s claim about a subject like the origins of life.

But the idea that science and faith are incompatible or diametrically opposed bothers me.

Watch out, your mind is about to explode.

Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining how science actually works.

I dislike the black-and-white idea that says I can either accept a particular literal interpretation of Scripture, or I can reject God by accepting the work of the scientific community in various areas. I really dislike the thought that “There is no in-between.”

And the fact is, I often hear this point of view expressed in the Christian community. So that made exploring science and faith even more interesting to me.

My friend and I talked at length about this supposed dichotomy, and always the argument came down to “If you believe science, you’re rejecting God’s Word. If you believe God’s Word, then you have to reject science that doesn’t line up with God’s Word.”

In what sort of world is science a problem?

The “theocracy” angle is the natural first answer. I could certainly set up an extreme religious government opposed to technology and progress. But I didn’t want to go that route. It just seems too easy… or like I’m pandering too much to my atheist and agnostic friends who are even more frustrated than me by American refusal to accept what science teaches us.

Even though I do not intend to use this sort of storyline, I can still employ it on an individual level. Surely there are some religious leaders or people in power who might say:

“Thoughts are like arrows; dangerous if not guided by a skilled hand and a disciplined mind.”

I could try for “science running amok” and have some villain or evil government using technology to accomplish twisted goals. But that is the opposite end of the spectrum, playing to my religious friends who question what science tells us based on how it may affect beliefs we hold dear. This held no interest for me, either, though I can certainly use this on an individual level as well.

Science is a tool for discovering the world around us. Not only that, but pure science gives us a logical and orderly way to record and accumulate knowledge about the workings of… well, everything. Those discoveries inspire inventions which change our lives and drive progress as a civilization. We build on the lessons learned over generations before us.

I have always pictured a world whose pure scientific technological development is right on the cusp of gunpowder. Sure, there are “magic” devices and artifacts of power that defy the norm. But the common person is limited to mostly medieval technology prior to the widespread use of gunpowder to wage war.

I never thought about why that should be the limit, other than “that seems to be the case in the settings I’m familiar with,” and “that works for a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.” (Keep in mind, this was originally developed because I was trying to write a campaign for a tabletop RPG group.)

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I also never considered this an imposed limit. It was just where this world was at on the technology development tree in my head. (Yes, I’m picturing the tree from Civilization II, and the little pop-up message announcing that ‘The Bordermarches has discovered Gunpowder!”)

The thought hit me: What if a pattern had emerged over thousands of years and dozens of civilizations? What if those peoples and nations who continually sought scientific advancement met in every case with a terrible and inexplicable calamity?

Put yourself there in this world. You’re a simple farmer in a small mountain village. You feed the miners who dig up the ore that the smiths in the cities need.

You know that the city of Athoni several leagues to the east has an advanced education system. In their schools, students experiment with all sorts of natural materials, recording their observations and discovering new ways to mix various elements together to create powerful compounds.

They have doctors who have pierced the veil of flesh to reveal the inner workings of the human body. They have looked on the matters of the Divine, and now they claim we are not much different from the animals we hunt. You should see the drawings they have made.

These doctors believe that they can find medicinal uses for some of the compounds created from plants and minerals. They expect that with the right compounds, they can heal various ailments and wounds even better than the healers who minister by the power of the Divine. The order of healers, the Devoted, are not happy about this development at all. But the Lord of Athoni favors the path of learning, and refuses to stop the doctors’ progress.

They promise amazing discoveries and world-changing advances within your lifetime, and even though you’re just a farmer, you’re curious to see what comes of all of this.

Then one day, the ground shakes like a leaf in a gale. The skies darken. Word eventually comes from the east. Travelers report that Athoni is gone. Everything and everyone in the city have completely vanished, and all that remains is a scorched crater. There is no explanation.

After over two millennia of this, as several civilizations and population centers disappear or are destroyed with no explanation, people would make the connection.

You start messing with science, bad things happen.

“Maybe there were a bunch of freak accidents. Maybe science is dangerous like that.”
“No, maybe it was the wrath of the Divine instead. We weren’t meant to know these things, and so we get punished when we push too far.”
“No, maybe those people destroyed themselves; perhaps it wasn’t an accident at all. You know how twisted scientists are…”

At the very least, I want pure science to be a taboo of sorts, frowned upon and whispered about when no one is looking. To some of the people in the Bordermarches, it will be a heinous and self-serving evil. “How could you put your pursuits ahead of the safety and welfare of the city around you?” To others, it will be viewed as deviant and repulsive. And to a select few, it will be thought of as a legitimate approach to unlocking the mysteries of the world around us.

Given the above, any experimentation or methodical study must meet the approval of the Sages of the Academy–remember, that arrow needs a hand to guide it.

Perhaps this is the sort of world some want, where a religious order ultimately decides what science is permitted and what is not, what science is in accordance with the will of the Divine and what does not conform.

But the Sages do this not to enforce a religious view or prevent their religion from being disproven. They know that there are craters and ruins around the world, a testament to what happens when a society goes too far and learns too much. Learn from history, or you will repeat it.

Their fear is not that their precious beliefs will be shattered, but that their society will be.

So… enough of the fear-mongering. That’s a rough, mostly spoiler-free synopsis of how science is viewed in the world of the Bordermarches.

Next up, what would a fantasy novel be without some element of magic?