Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Grey Queen Gathering Forces in the Wastes

A single jackal padded his way across the vast dead wastes of the Sill. Above him, no moon hung in the sky, blackness even to the borrowed night eyes of the creature of the night whose skin Aki wore. He reared back his head and let out a whooping howl, calling into the black for others, be they jackals or men.

Somewhere far away, Aki thought he heard an answer, like a whisper, not a howl but a laugh. “Ey, ey, ey. . .” A shudder went down his spine and he padded onward across the chalky dirt, too black and lifeless to even be called sand that covered the wastes. He moved fast, panting as he went, trying to cover as much ground as four legs could cover as fast as possible. For a minute he let himself entertain the thought of turning back, of ignoring the call which had come out to him to meet this new moon night.

Then he saw the bird. Ears shot up, fur stood on end, tongue curled back to show teeth and a growl formed in the back of Aki’s throat. A single raven stood atop the burnt remains of a stump, charred so long ago in this land so dead that not even worms and beetles would eat away the remains. The raven shot up its wings and let out a screech, “Kaw!”

And somewhere in the distance Aki heard in answer, “Ey, ey, ey.”

Aki stood up onto two legs, letting the jackal fall away and taking back the form his mother had born him into the world wearing. He blinked to let his weaker, human eyes adjust and found the raven too had stood up to two legs. Aki looked the man over, skin black as midnight and eyes bright as the moon, pale white teeth showing through his smile, “You’ve walked a long way from the Crescent Bay, Aki.”

The younger man smiled, scratching at his black hair, pulling out a single sand flea that had found its way amongst the fur he had worn, “Papa Sizwe. I should have known an old meddler like you would be involved in this. I could admit to taking on a pair of wings myself for part of the journey.”

Sizwe took the measure of the young Denier, observing his long black hair and soft featured jaw, his skin the color of dark brewed coffee, “Why the two of us, I wonder?”

Aki laughed, “I assume me for my good looks, and you for your charm and wit.”

Sizwe scoffed at that, “You mean to seduce the Ghul Queen, do you? Hah!” And somewhere out on the wastes something laughed back, “Ey, ey, ey!”

Aki went to speak again, but Sizwe held up his staff to silence him, the gourds that hung atop it rattling as he cocked his head to listen and wrinkled his nose, “Something else is hear.”

“I think, Papa Sizwe, that if there were another creature here, my jackal nose would have sniffed it out.”

Sizwe leaned down to the dirt, grabbing a handful and mumbling a few words he threw it into the air, sparking and crackling as it lit upon the form of a creature. She stood six feet tall, or would if she stood up straight, but the creature before them hunch over, he ruddy brown fur hanging low and long, flowing as she let a peel of laughter escape her tooth filled mouth. And somewhere, very near in the ruins of the Sill something answered her, “Ey! Ey! Ey!”

“Speak your name, Dokkaebi,” Sizwe snapped, “I’ve no love for your kind, pack of rabid dogs that you are.”

“Eh, Papa, that may be because you do not know how to laugh. We Dokkaebi like to joke with menfolk like yourself, so dour and scrunched. Did one of my brothers ascertain the hiding spot for the jug of your beverage of preferentiality?”

Sizwe held his staff out at her, crouching for a strike if the need arose. He fingers curled tight around the thing bone club she clutched, growling at the old medicine man’s unspoken threat. Aki interjected himself between the two, “Come, Papa, sister! We have all been called here for the same purpose, let us save our weapons for the Sun worshipers!”

Sizwe sneered, not loosening his grip on his staff, “Your name, Dokkaeibi.”

“Rippina.”

“You’d do well to keep to straight talk then Rippina—any backwards nonsense Dokkaebi speak and I might forget we share a common purpose.”

“I shall assure the execution of your most ignoble of desires, oh venerable one.” Aki could not help but laugh at the response.

And very close in the wastes, the pack of hyenas answered, “EY! EY! EY!” Sizwe and Rippina spun now, turning their weapons outward to ward off the scavengers, Aki backing up to join them, reaching at his belt for his jambiya.

Before them, the largest of the hyenas, a massive female double the size of an ordinary beast stood up, shedding the hyena’s skin, stepping forth into the circle her pack had formed round the three mortals. Her nakedness clung to her, perfect breasts and buttocks gleaming in the dark, skin the grey of rotting flesh, eyes burning black against the moonlit sky.

“Bow before the Queen of the Ghuls,” he words were but a whisper into the night, but the three proud loners bent their knees that night, some of them perhaps for the first time, while Akeelaya Gia’Anar Ri stood before them.

Diversity in the Marvel Universe

I should probably start with a disclaimer– I’m a white dude. I am also, admittedly more of a DC fan than Marvel when it comes to comics. Despite that, its clear that Marvel has been dominating the live action movie section of the super hero genre– and deservedly so. Their films are typically spot on, filled with interesting characters of all varieties, well plotted, and exciting.

There has been a lot of speculation about what movies will be announced to fill out the release schedule that runs through 2018. Some of these we know will fill in with Captain America 3, Avengers 3, Thor 3, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Dr. Strange, and Ant-Man. That leaves very few remaining slots.

We already know that an Iron-man four starring Robert Downey Jr. is highly unlikely. The other titles that have been rumored to fill into the remaining four slots between now and the end of 2018 include the Inhumans, Black Panther, another Hulk Movie. We also cannot discount that another direct sequel (Cap or Thor 4, GotG 3, Ant Man or Dr Strange 2) might seep in to take one of these spots. There could also be a spin-off from Guardians, most like Rocket Racoon.

Marvel has basically declared that there is no female oriented movie dedicated in this lineup. Ms. Marvel is highly unlikely, and they do not own any of the X-Men women, or conceivably Spiderwoman. Elektra has come back to Marvel with the Daredevil character, but if she gets a project it will conceivably be in the Netflix model tv lineup. I would suggest, despite the long time between now and the start of DCs own cinematic Universe Wonder Woman will have a solo movie before any Marvel universe heroine well.

So where does this leave us in respects to having a Marvel superhero movie not headlined by a white dude?

The only project rumored at this point which might not be, is “The Black Panther.” I think this would be a serious mistake for several reasons.

1. “The Black Panther” debuted in a time when diversity in comics was low, and yes, many of the first African or African American super-heroes had the word black in their names– Black Panther, Black Lightning, Black Eagle, Black Spider, Blackwing, Black Goliath. Its a somewhat problematic legacy which really only affects two characters that are still modern heroes (Black Panther from Marvel and Black Lightning for DC– Black Adam is a somewhat different story as Black describes his soul not his skin color, since he is of middle eastern origin, but deserves mention as a corollary).

Needless to say I don’t feel Marvel needs to use a character which uses this legacy “code-word” in the title of the first African or African American headlined super hero movie (since either Hancock or Steel depending on how you feel about Hancock, a property not related to either of the big two comics publishers).

What purpose does it serve? Is the black here to tell African American audiences that they can watch this movie, because, you know, “Black Panther! see, we do movies for you too!”

Is it there to tip-off Marvel’s current mostly white audience not to bother with this one? “Black Panther– leave that for them, no need for you to bother”. This could lead to another, doubly problematic issue if the movie goes over, an attitude of “See, we gave you Black Panther and it flopped, we’re done with that; now more white dudes for the next 10 years.”

2. The Black Panther, aka T’Çhalla, is an African prince from a make believe country known as Wakanda. That’s fine in and of itself– the character is what he is and a Black Panther movie could be interested. But what it is not is an African American superhero. Is the message that the only positive dark skinned heroes worthy of being venerated are mythical princes from Africa?

Why not any of the other African American characters in the pantheon of Marvel heroes?
Storm would be a Fox owned movie; Mile Morales as Spiderman would be Sony. Luke Cage and Deathlok have been given over to Netflix and ABC TV respectively. Blade already had three movies.

Unfortunately, that leaves the roster of Marvel African American characters somewhat thin. (Don’t believe me? take a look at this list here– http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_black_superheroes).

Outside the characters already discussed, the Marvel list gets slim fast (Brother Voodoo? The Human Top?) But there are two notable exceptions– which come with built in reasons for why they should be chosen instead already– Falcon and War Machine.

3. Falcon or War Machine would make better movies. Both these characters are already in the Marvel Cinematic Universe from their supporting roles in Captain America and Iron Man franchises already established. Both come with quality actors attached who are familiar to the general audience and who were excellent in the roles (Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle.)

In the comics, the character of Falcon is currently doing a turn as Captain America, donning the red white and blue and slinging the shield while Steve Rogers is aged to his natural age. Why not give him his own starring movie role? A flying, soldier character could certainly carry his own movie.

Even more than Falcon, however, I would like to see James Rhodes aka Warmachine given a chance to carry a movie. Cheadle has the acting chops to work in this kind of role, is highly respected so a movie that focuses on this established character from two movies (Ironman II and III, a different actor played Rhodes in the first installment) could be a huge hit?

The Ironman franchise has been the most successful of the solo films to date, so continuing in that segment of the universe even with the departure of Robert Downey Jr. would seem a logical choice.

Besides this, the movie could fit into the continuity easily as a pure continuation– who among us wouldn’t go out to see “Iron Man 4” starring Don Cheadle?

If neither of these movies are on the schedule by 2018, it goes without saying that 2019 or 2020 will likely be too late, and neither an Anthony Mackie as Falcon movie or Don Cheadle as Ironman/Warmachine will ever come to pass.

To conclude– Up to now, African American super heroes have been banished to supporting roles– Marvel has demonstrated they will put non-white male actors in strong roles, so long as they are the buddy/ side-kick role rather than the starring turn. I sincerely hope this trend doesn’t continue through the next series, but simultaneously want to see Falcon or Warmachine before a “Black Panther” movie.

Mother and Daughter in the Market

parua merchant 1_edited-1Annika at her stall.

 

Mitzia ran her long sinewy fingers through the short brown tufts of fur that sat atop her head usually beneath the cap that sat on the edge of the apple stall that her mother stood in front of still calling out in her measured squeak to passersby as the Healing Sun of Padaga settled lower in the sky.

She filled her paws once more with dirt and scrubbed them at her face before grabbing her cap and bounding round the carts out from under the pavilion. “I’m scrubbed, mother, but why did I have to now, it’s almost night?”

Her mother stretched out a single hand, halting Mitzia’s progress, “Because tonight is a special night child. Tonight the Healing Sun is setting, and we have to begin our journey to the rock.”

Mitzia crinkled her nose, frowning, “Why do we have to go to a rock?”

“Not any rock, child—the Night of Stories is coming, when all the Parua from across the lands gather together to tell the ancient tales of our people. You’re over a year old now, so you will have to behave like a grown adult, child that you are!”

“But momma! Who will watch our stall?”

“Your uncle Tomas will watch our things while we are gone as he did last year.”

Mitzia stuck out her long pink tongue and batted her tail tuft into the ground at her mother’s answer, “I don’t like Tomas! He’s fat and stinks of seaweed!”

“Hush, child! Tomas cannot help that he smells like that! His people come from the sea. You were but a tiny pinkie when I made this journey last, eyes not yet open, but you will learn much from the stories when we get there.”

“Tomas will steal all our apples and figs mamma!”

Annika swatted her daughter with her long, russet tail, “Not another word! Our fruits will spoil if no one sells them while we are gone—he is welcome to them and whatever money they bring in. That way when we get back our pavilion and stands are still here. We will get new fruits to sell.”

Mitzia shuffled her padded feet in the dust of the market, casting her glittering black eyes downwards, the cotton puff on her cap hanging down by her nose. She batted at it with her long pink tongue.

“Mitzia!” her mother’s voice focused the young Parua’s attention and she suddenly realized her mother was popping open and stuffing the pouches on her belt full with figs, apples, and plums. “We have a long way to travel tonight before we can rest, and we will have nothing to eat but what we find and take with us now until we reach the Story Stone.”

“Travelling tonight? But I’m tired already, why can’t we go tomorrow when Padaga rises?”

“Tradition, child. You will learn that all at the Rock—but we Parua were a people of the night before Padaga gifted us, and many of our kind still sleep away the time the Great Father shows his face and run free beneath the stars.”

Mitzia stuck out her tongue and flustered her hands to close the assortment of pouches her mother had opened. “But we don’t.”
“Humans, Pitr, and Jinn walk the day— we sell to them so we work the market underneath the Sun. It may surprise you to know, child, that when your mother was a younger pup even she ran free and wild beneath the stars.”
“What did you do?” Mitzia looked at her mother’s dark eyes, as they focused in on her own.

“You will have to learn that at the Rock, if someone calls my turn to tell a tale. But know this Mitzia—I was much before I became a fruit seller in the Grand Market of the City at the Center.” Annika’s eyes seemed to gleam as she spoke, her tongue pulling back and her front teeth flashing like knives in the lessening light.

“Why did you ever become a fruit seller then?”

Annika scooped her daughter up into her arms, tickling at the younger Parua’s hips and elbows then kissing her softly on the cheek, holding her close. “Some things are more important than adventures underneath the stars.”

Image by Michael Jaecks.

Behind the Scenes of the Sun Cycle

The Sun Cycle is a labor of love for me personally.  These first few stories which I am publishing on my site have been years in the making.  They fit into a larger world, originally envisioned as a campaign setting for 3.5 Edition OGL centered in the myths and stories of the middle east and other non-western traditions while drastically departing from the tropes of the Tolkien inspired society.

The release of 4th edition coupled with my own deployment to the very land these stories rely on for inspiration effectively killed the project, however I never fully abandoned it– I knew there was something in those pages I had done, even if it was only stories.

Storytelling, you will see, plays a central role in this grand epic– but that as they say is another story.  Here I would like to share with you a larger look at one of the few images I had commissioned initially for the original project– one of the new races you will meet in the Sun Cycle, the Parua.

The artist for this piece is veteran fantasy artist Michael Jaecks.  He has worked on Pathfinder illustrations and I was lucky enough to have commissioned a few pieces for the story world of The Sun Cycle several years ago.  Since then this image has been collecting dust on my hard drives, luckily making a few transitions to new devices in the span.  His work will speak for itself, but I think you all will see why I feel so truly blessed to be able to share this sliver of my imagination brought into manifestation through his hands with you.

 

parua merchant 1_edited-1

The Brothers At the Tomb

Lumian sat cross-legged on a tall rock, alone. Padaga rose into the sky three times and still Lumian sat. As Padaga rose a fourth time, Lumian opened his eyes, blinked three times, and turned to the south. A caravan camped three miles out, a single camel moving further, closing the gap before the wind wearied prophet. To the east a hawk could be seen in the sky. As the camel’s rider dismounted the hawk alighted, resuming his former shape. “Remian, Gellian, brothers—the Council of Three Suns is now in session.”

Remian regarded his eldest brother carefully, his head cocked to the side showing his recent dalliance with the Hawk’s form in his habits. “You have called us here earlier than we would otherwise have come.”

Lumian remained calm at his brother’s query, “Circumstances have dictated it so.”

“The Burning Sun has not risen a twelfth time yet—the land is yours to guard.”

“Come, Remian!” Gellian broke in, “We are all aware of the schedule we have laid out, and while it hurts my business to be called away months before my time, but I can assume our eldest brother had his reasons.” Gellian spoke smoothly, as one accustom to making speeches, a sharp contrast from his older brother, Remian, who seemed unused to his vocal chords.

“I am needed at the aerie.”

“The affairs of your avian life can wait, Remian.” Lumian spoke harshly, his wrinkled face showing the years of worry he had over his brother. “The Shrine has been disturbed.”

At these words, Gellian’s jovial expression faded into a grim visage. “For nearly thirty years we have kept the Shrine safe—each four months of the year. I have kept my part, and Remian his—tell me, Lumian, is it you have failed us?”

“By the Healing Sun I serve I have let none pass the way we guard. The disturbance came from within.” The two younger brothers realized now the reason for their brother impudence in summoning them before their turns, after centuries of slumber, Alak Ret Ken’akare had awakened.