Writing Contest Results
September 14, 2000
by Chris L'Etoile
Ja'afar al-Saladin, Solclaim
The Emperor's Blade
Loka Wu, Morningthaw
Loka Jii Learns to Hunt
Nandesu Ka, Leafcull
Journal of Nandesu Ka
Shadows of My Doubts
Aragorn of Arathorn, Thistledown
The Journals of Change
Anjwar al-Jaenth, Morningthaw
Recalling The Calling
Ariq al-Binara, Frostfell
We had approximately one hundred entries in the writing contest. It took me two days to read through them all and make the initial culling. There were twenty-five semi-finalists, with four finalists from each heritage group that seemed a little above the rest. From those four elite, three were chosen.
The writing contest was my idea and responsibility. I had seen a good amount of quality fan fiction circulating, and was frequently moved to lament that the better works could not be added to the game. Originally, I had not intended to suggest any sort of topic, but there are currents running through Asheron's Call that I believed had been largely ignored.
Consider the portal phenomenon. On Ispar, the world's best and brightest have been disappearing into violet-tinted holes in reality for approximately twenty years. Most of the lost are sure to be commoners, only missed in their own villages. Elysa Strathelar, the expatriate ruler of the Aluvians in Dereth and slayer of the One Queen, was merely the daughter of a scribe. Some of the disappeared, however, are sure to be noble: Musansayn, for example.
After twenty years of disappearances, surely someone has connected the phenomenon to those pretty magical effects. The original human inhabitants of Dereth sought to touch the portals in complete ignorance of what they were, or what their price might be. By now, they must be common knowledge on Ispar -- a topic of folklore and rumor in rural areas, of study and speculation by the scholars of Tirethas and Celdon. I can easily imagine Aluvian mothers telling their children: "If you're naughty, the portals will come for you," or strapping young Sho lads taunting each other into the courage to touch the light.
None have returned from those lights. If one should blossom open before you, bringing a strange compulsion to touch it, what would go through your mind? You know of the stories, yet the pull is nigh-irresistible. Is it possible to resist the call? Will you? If you let the portal close unheeded, will you always wonder, always regret? Or will it simply be an odd event that you forget, or tell to your grandchildren?
If you succumb, you find yourself dropped unceremoniously in a strange world. You felt uniquely summoned, needed, yet stand in an empty world, looking for purpose. Destiny seemed to have called you by name, only to melt and fade away. Do you feel betrayed? Outraged? Despondent? Baffled? Curious? How do you react?
I've always considered the Olthoi War to be Dereth's Viet Nam: a shattering crisis point that affected an entire generation. How many lost loved ones to those beasts? How many scarred humans do you suppose are hiding out in the woods, too damaged to be part of society anymore? How many may compulsively hunt the insects, as Jenavere does, seeking some easing of their memories through rote slaughter? Perhaps there are early escapees still in hiding, unaware of the passing of the One Queen, like the Japanese soldiers on the Pacific Islands who only surrendered in the 1980's.
Then there is resurrection. The teeth of Death are pulled. Consider for a moment: would you react with despair and horror, as Hamud does, or with delight and a certain smugness, as the Old Lords of Dericost faced eternity? Life is, after all, defined by death -- the concept of existence by the concept of non-existence. What happens when there is nothing left to define life with? If you have an endless amount of a given thing, be it pyreal or uranium, it becomes as worthless as water, as air. How does your attitude toward life change when it has no "scarcity value" whatsoever?
I'm the sort of writer (and reader!) who cares more for well-observed nuances of character than for epic plotting. My favorite moment in Star Wars TM is when Leia blurts, "I love you," and Han, being the man he is, can only express his feelings with, "I know." The thought of the personal and societal disruption the "Call" would cause in real life fascinates me. In the short term and the long term, what are the sociological repercussions? How does it affect individuals, and how do those individuals in turn affect the course of nations and history?
This is what I, personally, hoped to get from this contest. I wanted to know what your perspective is. I saw hope and beauty, given voice by Nandesu Ka and Anjwar al-Jaenth. I saw as well bitterness and ennui, howled into the night by Ariq al-Binara and Aytalya. By telling of your characters' reactions to the new world, I gained a perspective I would not otherwise have had. For that, I thank you all deeply.
There are millions of stories in Asheron's Call. I think about the possibilities a lot.
There were more than a few hard decisions made as the entries were read. As the winners would be accepted into canon, the entries had to not only be screened for sheer talent, but also for their faith to the back story -- not all of which is publicly known. That, in a way, also influenced the choice of subject material. We can be somewhat "freer" about Ispar. The home world of humanity is not directly involved in the game, and has been left somewhat underdeveloped due to our focus on the history of the world of Auberean, and specifically the island of Dereth.
Ranter Musashi, of Frostfell, turned in a remarkable story that would have won handily, had it not been more about the Virindi than the Isparians. It did not agree with our (as of yet unrevealed) back story on that mysterious race, and had to be disqualified. Nevertheless, his words haunted me for days afterwards, and I couldn't in good conscience let him get less than an "honorable mention." I highly recommend you go to his site and read "Liquid Moves The Air ".
Turgath Muk wrote an entry for the Heritage Group "banderling." Unfortunately, this category did not exist, so I had to disqualify him. His entry made the whole dev team laugh, though, and I hope we can place the "Banderling Guard's" story on an actual banderling guard in October.
There were also a number of "bon mots" among the entries, which artfully poked pun at the little foibles of AC:
He passed very close to a rabbit and was surprised when it didn't flee from him. He approached it and lightly kicked it to see if there was something wrong with it. He was shocked when it turned and started biting at his feet. Dereth was certainly different from his home world . . .
- Lava (Darktide), "A Second Chance at Life"
The old man smiled. "Shadows aren't as real as they seem. They can punch pretty hard, and they can use their Shadow equipment fine, but they have trouble using non-Shadow technology. Like doorknobs."
- Kuruk (Frostfell), "Asheron's Fishing Trip"
As I fell into a deep slumber, I wondered if I'd awake again with the foul taste of vitae filling my mouth.
- Serignuad of Avirogne (Darktide), "Fate"
" . . . What are you doing out here anyways?"
The little girl sniffled, her stubborn face falling into sorrow.
"My kitty got portal-stormed," Myriel said sadly.
- Basha's Shadow (Leafcull), "Firebrands"
An interesting note; "Firebrands" was one of the semi-finalists, and featured a cameo by a friend and allegiance mate of Basha's Shadow named Scimeron. Scimeron also wrote a story that was a semi-finalist -- and featured a cameo by Basha's Shadow.
"The Emperor's Blade"
My old high school friends and I have developed our own slang. When we see a cool, professional, and highly skilled butt-kicker, we call him "Darth Maul." Kokugawa is Darth Maul. The section of this piece where the blademaster dismantles the banderlings, while calmly explaining how he's doing so, is priceless. He's my favorite character from the winners. The comradery and teamwork between the members of Harima's fellowship is well-rendered, as are the mentality and values of a professional Sho warrior.
I was a bit surprised when I saw that this Sho tale was penned by a Gharu'ndim. But, on reflection, there was nothing in the rules that specified you must write for your own heritage group.
"Loka Jii Learns to Hunt"
This little fable charmed me from the first paragraph. Out of all the entries, it strikes me as having the most authentic heritage "voice." It sounds like a story the Sho would tell their children; encouraging the virtues of discipline, education, and preparedness, while maintaining a gentle, Taoist sense of humor.
"The Journal of Nandesu Ka"
We've all been impatient with "beggars" in AC, those who hang around populated towns to spam chat with requests for equipment, money, or a "p0r+41 2 +3+h." This piece talks about a small, scared young girl who goes begging, and makes a friend along the way. I imagine that many enter Dereth in such a way. What makes the piece timeless is the postscript. Nandesu Ka encounters her savior again, and reflects on the new lives the two of them have built for themselves.
Honestly, I didn't think I could let this entry win. As all winners become canonical, it legitimizes the existence of the mysterious Heritage Group known as "d00d."
But it was just so damn funny . . .
"Shadows of My Doubts"
There is a phrase, coined by the Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross, that describes the times when one who has great faith comes to doubt their purpose, their calling, their role in a large and uncertain world. This time of despair he called the "dark night of the soul." After many experiences in Dereth, the character of Aytalya has entered night, and seeks an answer. We never learn to whom her letter is written, although I have my suspicions.
Occasionally, someone will ask if we'll ever write an AC novel. I don't think we will, but there's always Aytalya's "The Call", a story she's been writing in installments for most of a year now. As I write this, it's almost 57,000 words long.
"The Journals of Change"
There were many pieces that described the differences between Ispar and Dereth. This one was more astute than the rest, noting things like food being more expensive, but weapons being much cheaper. It also featured a fresh and detailed "how I got here" opening. Little details like the annoyance of the tents sinking into the earth, and the brief discourse on the history of the Elmwood, help set the scene.
"Recalling the Calling"
The first days in a new land. Learning the rules. Maturing, and taking on an apprentice of one's own. Reflections on the life before. Philosophical ponderings on one's plight and purpose. The dubious blessing of eternal life, and what it does to one's sense of responsibility to your fellow human. In short, every single aspect of the Isparian experience in Dereth in one package, and told in a very human voice.
This was my favorite piece overall.
"Skies" lies one hundred eighty degrees from "Recalling." Part reflection, part rant, part poetry . . . and again, very human. Beauty, bitterness, and a sense of futility. I'm not sure how to define this piece, but I don't think it knows how to define itself, either. Mainly, I think, it is a Job-like demand for attention and explanation from the unconcerned force of destiny. This was the only entry that had the courage to give a voice to that sense of outrage that must simmer beneath the skins of so many in Dereth.
I feel a great sympathy for the "orphans" of the new world. They'll be important one day.
This called to mind one of my old English professor's maxims. It is a story in which nothing happens, and everything occurs. What happens? Al-Sha'im leaves Samsur. What occurs? A sensitive and painful separation between lord and vassal; between old, old friends. In a strange way, it is the saddest of all the stories, since we know how it ends. This piece showed a careful eye for detail, rendered with precisely the right choice of words. Of all the entries, I thought this one the most skillfully executed.
As a final thought to leave you with, I mentioned above that these stories have been accepted into canon. Please regard the words of these authors to have the same authority as Pierson's words, or Rei's, or Crowley's, or mine. This is how Wari al-Sha'im left Samsur. The Plains of Elmwood do exist between the north bank of the Celdon and Thrushhaven Wood. Kokugawa is Emperor Kou's master of the blade.
Again, I thank everyone who entered. Let's do it again in a few months.
May you never awaken with "Vitae Mouth."
Chris "Stormwaltz" L'Etoile