One of the joys of writing fantasy is that you get to tell fantastic stories. Our newest novel, The Tendrils of Fate (currently being queried), stars a creature called a naera–which is our mix of Nereid, siren, and mermaid. When submerged, Avaren Ensther transforms into a creature of legend, but she is not all fairy glamor. She is more monster than little mermaid; more scheming than love-struck.

Through the course of writing the book, Marzio and I spent a lot of time massaging the lore of our world and its magic. Our world is composed of extraplanar realms called the Dream (Yss) which surround the real world, called the Waking (Evéille). In between the Dream and the Waking is the great elemental divide where the purest forms of fire, earth, air and water are found. Sanctioned magic in the Waking is sympathetic in nature. At its highest level, it taps directly to the elemental planes. Unsanctioned magic, usually wielded by star-born individuals, taps into the realms of the Dream, which are ruled by capricious daemons–demigods who have crafted a mockery of the Waking. Denizens of the Dream cannot access the Waking unless they establish a conduit or pact with a soulbinder. Daemons often manifest themselves to these gifted, albeit persecuted, individuals and offer them great powers in exchange for passage. Though such interaction is forbidden by the creators, it does happen, leaving rifts where the Dream and the Waking collide.

Such a rift is what causes Avaren Ensther to be born half human, half naera.

shipwreckAvaren’s father is returning from what should have been a routine trading voyage when the journey turns sour. His ship becomes trapped in a sudden, supernatural storm. Rain washes most of his crew out to sea, but those that still cling to life see the worst horror of all. The sea beneath them begins to writhe with black tentacles. Above the crashing of the storm, the sailors hear the sound of sweet female voices. From the depths, emerge the most beautiful creatures they have ever seen—women with skin like moonlight, and long, streaming hair the color of snow. A score of them climb along the sides of the foundering ship and ensnare every man in their path. Avaren’s father loses his memory of what happens next. He reappears months later, disoriented and lost at the shores of a port city. In his arms, he holds a child he believes is his. Whatever happened to him at the hands of these infernal women is not something that he ever discloses.

The Tendrils of Fate, is the first book of many set in a fantasy world we hope to visit again and again. Each book will reveal a new layer of our homegrown cosmology. We came up with our fantasy world through a series of discussions and let the concepts evolve naturally. We didn’t try to approximate any kind of religion or fit our model into any kind of culture. And yet, the most shocking aspect of world building for us has been the sense that we are tapping into something deeper and greater than us. I cannot express the sense of awe I have felt upon coming across some ancient map in a museum that matches some of our ideas–and even our diagrams. We have found parallels to some of the concepts we thought we had invented in Indian, Assyrian, Mesopotamian, Arabic, Greek, Christian, and Native American Myth. As a result, we feel a hell of a lot more learned in our own civilization’s history then when we began.

After years of building a consistent world, I can totally understand why Tolkien was speaking Elvish on his deathbed and why he created Middle Earth as a backstory for said language. Marzio and I have poured our heart and soul into our fantasy world. We fuss, we add, we edit. We have written entire myths to better understand 3-4 sentences in the book.

Here’s a good example:

Marzio wrote the actual myth of Danikos Ensnaring the Southern Gale when I told him I needed something mythological for a painting I was planning on describing in one of the early chapters. The excerpt below is from the book:

The large canvas that caught his attention was set in a magnificent gilt frame of seashell and mother of pearl. The subject was a mythical scene painted in vibrant colors by a master’s hand…Two rough black rocks thrust out of a raging sea. Perched with one foot upon each rock, a muscular, naked man stood facing the ocean. The figure was hurling a fishing net with all his might upward into the raging tempest. Even a street rat could recognize the theme. The painting was based on the legend of Danikos snaring the Southern Gale. His father had recounted the story many times when he was boy. It was the tale of a man who achieved the impossible only to be undone by his pride.
This is the work that went on behind the scenes of that small paragraph:

The Story of Danikos Ensnaring the Southern Gale

Danikos was challenged by his friends to prove his boast that nothing was impossible for him to accomplish. He told his challengers to name a task. They challenged him to capture the notorious Southern Gale with a fishing net. Unwilling to back down from his claims, Danikos set out to achieve the impossible. He traveled the length of Laremlis seeking a net weaver to craft him a fishing net worthy of the task.

After ten years of searching, Danikos was beginning to despair of finding a capable weaver. He was trudging upon an unnamed windswept beach when he encountered a lone fisherman casting a net into the waves.  He marveled at the man’s skill, every toss seemed effortless and yet yielded a glistening, wriggling bounty when hauled in. To Danikos’ amazement, the weatherbeaten old fishermen released his catch, only to cast his net again.

windDanikos approached the old man and asked him why he had thrown back his catch.  The spry old man smiled, his white teeth shone against the dark brown leather of his wrinkled face, “The joy is the catching, not the keeping.”

Danikos appealed to the fisherman to teach him how to cast a net with such efficiency. At first, the fisherman politely declined, but the persistence of Danikos finally convinced him to agree with one condition. Danikos must swear to release whatever he caught. Danikos vowed to the fisherman that he would never keep what he caught.

Every day for a year, Danikos lived with the fisherman in his lonely hut on the desolate shore. From dawn to dusk, in sun and rain, they cast their nets into the sea until Danikos was the equal of his teacher. On that day, Danikos thanked the old man and prepared to depart to accomplish his impossible task. Only then did the fisherman ask Danikos why he had wished to learn net casting.

When Danikos told the fisherman his intentions, the fisherman did not laugh. Instead, the old man grew serious. He warned Danikos that the Southern Gale was the essence of freedom in the world, to catch it was a sin against nature.  He appealed to Danikos to give up his task. But Danikos, headstrong as always, smiled and told the fisherman that no man would ever say that Danikos stepped back from a challenge. The fisherman told him, “No great task is worthy if not achieved with a humble heart.” He then wished Danikos farewell and walked away.

Danikos then traveled to Land’s End at the bottom of the world, where he perched himself on two rocks that jutted from the sea.  Net in hand, he shouted into the winds, challenging the great Southern Gale to face him. Days passed with no response other than fair breezes and sunshine. Danikos stubbornly waited.

After a month of calling out for the gale to appear, he received his response. The Southern Gale arrived with a tremendous rush, dashing ships onto reefs and raising mighty waves. Again and again, Danikos flung the magical net into the storm. Every time his net fell empty into the roiling sea. Danikos grew angry, his challenges became insults that grew ever more vile with each fruitless toss of his net.  

Stung by the epithets, the Southern gale grew stronger. In the skies above,  the clouds thickened until mid-day was as dark as midnight.

At the height of the storm, Danikos cast his net with all of his remaining strength, calling upon the Gods to aid him in his task. The net suddenly billowed and thrashed as if a mighty fish had been snared. Danikos had indeed captured the southern gale in his net. Filled with pride, Danikos shouted out with elation as he looked around for his accolades. No one was present to witness his triumph.

Determined to prove that he had indeed accomplished the impossible, Danikos hauled the net in meaning to keep his captive to show his friends. The Southern Gale fought with savage intensity as it sought escape. Danikos ignored the burning in his limbs as he hauled his catch closer. Just as Danikos was on the verge of victory, his strength failed and his grasp slipped. Rather than let go and lose the Gale and thus the proof of his deed, Danikos struggled to regain his grip on the flailing net. Instead, his hands became entangled and the enraged wind flung itself and Danikos against the rocks in a frenzy. Danikos was smashed to death as the wind broke free and the waves claimed his body. 

After reading that you must think we are either crazy or have all the time in the world. I assure you, neither is true. It may seem like a waste of time to dote on such details, but it’s these very details that allow us to have such a visceral connection to our world. I cannot tell you how many times Marzio and I have joked about Danikos. He is as real as Theseus or Gilgamesh or any other mythological figure we’ve come to know and love.

The best is what’s in it for our readers. We love texture and detail and living, breathing worlds. When we read (and write), we want to be transported to another world. Not unlike Danikos, we keep casting the net hoping to ensnare the impossible, and guess what, I think we have.

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