Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Calidar Short Story Guide

Since last November, +Bruce Heard has been writing a series of short stories introducing us to the +World of Calidar.  Aside from being a blast to read, these stories also include many interesting details, giving us a sneak peek at various elements of Calidar.

Note: If you haven't read the stories yet, be warned: HERE BE SPOILERS.  I strongly recommend you to read the stories before continuing.

The series has three major arcs, each focusing on a single character.  We see things largely from their perspective.

For each episode, I provide the title, linked to the story where it appeared on the Internet, along with the date of publication.  Then I give a short description of the story in italics, followed by the concepts, characters, locations, and themes detailed in the story on a point by point basis.

Azar's Arc

• Episode I: Into the Vortex (23 Nov 2013)
The first Calidar story begins in the Caribbean, introducing us to Don Lázaro, a Spaniard unjustly convicted of a crime he didn't commit, and his faithful servant Pedro.  A ferocious storm hits the village where they are hiding, sucking up all of the inhabitants into its vortex and transporting them to a strange prison-like dimension.

The Vortex in action: This episode shows us how people from other realities are harvested and brought to the World of Calidar through a somewhat sinister magical vortex.

• Episode II: The Cleansing (25 Nov 2013)
Lázaro slowly succumbs to his prison, losing his memory and his very identity, but manages to cling onto his last remaining thought: his name, albeit shortened to Azar.  Imprisoned, we hear a bizarre conversation reminiscent of slavers, and Azar is the merchandise.  He is tested.

The Vortex: We get a fleeting glimpse of the being behind the vortex and its (his? her?) client, in what can only be some sort of divine marketplace.  The next story reveals the identity of the client.

• Episode III: Reborn (27 Nov 2013)
Azar stands before the Black Queen, a mortal before his (new) goddess, and is inducted into the Draconic Knights.

The Black Queen: We meet the divine head of the Draconic Order.

• Episode IV: Flesh of the Queen (2 Dec 2013)

Ten years after the last episode, Azar leads a battle for his queen against an opposing draconic faction.

Draconia: Lots of nice details of the dragons' home world in this episode.  The description reveals the action to be taking place in Inner Draconia – the vast hollow interior of the planet.  It's dark, but dimly lit by veins of dragon magic in the ground.
The Draconic Knights: We see the knights in action, and gain some insight into their Code and how they live.
The Red Dragon King: We don't see the ruler himself, but we can surmise that he is a rival of the Black Queen.  His army is made up of leathery red hounds.
Forever wars: A constant power struggle rages between draconic rulers and their factions, of which Azar is now a veteran.

• Episode V: For Queen and Glory (5 Dec 2013)
Flash forward again, and Azar is now a great leader – Grand Master of the Order, no less.  But how will his Queen repay his long years of service?

The Black Queen: We learn her name, and more about her character.
The World of Calidar: Mentioned for the first time.  Apparently some distance from Draconia, requiring a "navigator's ritual" to get there.
Divine progeny: The Black Queen explains that none can be born divine; divinity is a status to be earned.  There is also a hint about the Black Queen's offspring – part dragon, part human.

• Episode VI: Queen's Fury (8 Dec 2013)
Azar boards a skyship and embarks on his mission to destroy the mysterious ship about to come through the vortex.

The Evernight: The name for Inner Draconia's perpetual darkness.
Yashrem: Capital of the Black Queen's domain in Inner Draconia.
Merelings: Slaves of the Black Queen.
The Queen's Fury: Our first sight of a skyship – and it's quite a sight.  We learn details of her captain and crew.
Nérghiar: The power by which dragons – and dragonships – travel among the stars.  It is created by disintegrating treasure.  Installed in the navigator's chapel at the front of the vessel, and used in the navigator's ritual to defeat the bounds of physical space and travel among the stars.

Thus ends Azar's arc.  The ship he has set off to destroy is of course the Star Phoenix, and the story will continue in the fiction component of In Stranger Skies – albeit from Azar's enemy, Captain d'Alberran's perspective.  Azar is therefore likely to be one of the villains of the series.  It's great that Bruce has given him such an interesting backstory, not least because thus far he doesn't seem very villainous – quite the opposite, really.  The same cannot be said for Sayble, the Black Queen, who gives me the creeps.  Poor Azar is probably not going to have a good time of things in the ensuing stories...

Teobram Phibbs' Arc

• Episode VII: The Oracle (12 Dec 2013)
The view shifts to a new character: Teobram Phibbs, the titular Oracale and High Prior of Istra.  He has a vision, but someone is determined that his revelation will not survive the night.

Prior: The preferred term for priests and clerics in Calidar.
Meryath: The action has shifted to Glorathon, capital of the Kingdom of Meryath, in the Great Caldera on Calidar.  So this is our first sight of Calidar itself.  There's an interesting description of Meryath's climate.
Moons: Two of Calidar's three moons, Alorea and Manaan, are visible in the sky.
The Great Soltan: The name of Calidar's sun.
Istra: Teobram's patron goddess, who appears to have a strong influence on Meryath.
Queen Shardwen: Meryath's ruler.  Mentioned but not yet seen.
Assassins: Viper-like fangs, slightly scaly skin, and vertical pupils reveal a distinct reptilian strain in Teobram's would-be assassins.  Could they be related to the Black Queen...?

• Episode VIII: Eternal Glory (16 Dec 2013)
Queen Shardwen makes an appearance, as does her royal flagship, the Eternal Glory.  Teobram's mission becomes clear.

Queen Shardwen: The warrior queen makes her appearance.  Quite a formidable presence, we learn various things about her from her interactions with Teobram and his assassins.  Not least is that her queenship is based on her status as a legendary huntress.
The Eternal Glory: Royal flagship of Meryath.

Teobram's short arc ends here, with him and the Eternal Glory apparently on a collision course with the Star Phoenix – as well as, of course, the Queen's Fury and the Draconic Knights.  We can surely expect more of Teobram Phibbs in the main story.

This short stay in Meryath has showed us some interesting aspects of life in the Great Caldera.  For one thing, it's civilised and settled, if not entirely safe – and of course certainly not free from intrigue.  Meryath is apparently a meritocracy, with the queen ruling by right of her superior abilities.  Moreover, Teobram Phibbs, the High Prior of Our Good Lady Istra, is a former adventurer himself.

I found an interesting parallel in the description of Teobram and of Azar in his arc (especially Episode V): both are heroes in their own right, and both mourn the loss of too many comrades.  At this point, it is unclear which of them is "good" or "right" – and perhaps the answer will not be a simple one.  Shades of grey is a very interesting but not-so-often used concept in fantasy, and one which many fans of Mystara will be thrilled to see present in Calidar too.

Melchia's Arc

• Episode IX: Tyrran's Gambit (20 Dec 2013)
The scene shifts to Alorea, and the home of Lord Tyrran.  But the focus is not the elf lord, but rather his unwilling and rebellious gnomish slave, Melchia, who spies on her master.  She listens to his conversation with another elf lord, General Sardarre, before being discovered and forced to flee for her life.

Gnomes: Melchia gives us some great insights into the character and nature of her race in the World of Calidar.  On Alorea, gnomes have been enslaved since the Tòrr-Gàrraidh took over.
Alorea: The elven moon.  Ruled by the rather menacing Tòrr-Gàrraidh.  Its twin, at the opposite side of the same orbital path, is Kragdûr, home of the dwarves.
Lord Tyrran: Overseer of the Tòrr-Gàrraidh, which presumably makes him the moon's ruler.  Melchia thinks of him as sinister, and his appearance matches: black leather, very pale skin, silvery hair, and ritual scars.
Tòrr Gàrraidh: Elven clan which dominates the other two clans of Alorea, the Tolarin and the Sherandol.  Pronounced something like "Tor Gary".
Plants: The elves can commune with plants, and indeed their architecture is completely made up of living plants, instructed to grow into the forms needed by their masters.
General Sardarre
The Alorean Dominium: The Tòrr-Gàrraidh name for their lunar empire.
The Kragdûr Empire: The name of the dwarven lunar empire, enemies of the Tòrr-Gàrraidh.
The Neth-Galar: Presumably some form of magic which the Tòrr-Garraidh use to force gnomes into submission.  Judging by Melchia's reaction, it is also tantamount to torture.
Tarkeen: The Tòrr-Gàrraidh capital of Alorea, a living city.

• Episode X: Before the Storm (23 Dec 2013)
Melchia flees through the living sewers of Tarkeen, and boards an elven skyship in an attempt to escape from Alorea.

Tarkeen's sewers: The living city of Tarkeen has a system of sewers – living bowels, in which various nasties lurk.

Alorean weather: Apparently Alorea gets a lot of rain, to support all of its plant life.
The Neth-Galar: We learn that this is indeed a form of torture, used to extract information and to punish.  It is also indeed part of the magical conditioning used on gnomes to ensure loyalty and obedience.
The Wind Thorn: General Sardarre's ship.  Alorean skyships, like their cities, are living entities, grown in their masters' desired shape, and capable of continued growth and change.  Interestingly, they are not necessarily fully loyal to their masters – the extent of their intelligence is unknown at this point.  They also require sustenance to live.
Alorean animals: Alorea is home to eight-legged cats and rats.
Sky Tree: The skyship port of Tarkeen.

• Episode XI: Fire and Steel (27 Dec 2013)
The Wind Thorn is attacked by Kragdûras dwarves, and Melchia has to flee once more.

Nastar: A friend or relative of Melchia, with whom she communicates using a magical scroll.

The Netherworld: The alternate dimension through which ships travel to shorten journeys through the Great Vault.
Alorean skyship weaponry: The skyships of the elves feature organic weaponry to match their organic construction.
Kragdûras skyships: Our first sight of the ships of the dwarves presents us with two examples, a dreadnought and a smaller ironclad.  They are hulking metal affairs, with weaponry to match – cannons firing iron balls.

Melchia finds herself captive once again – this time in the hands of the dwarves.

Thaleera: Presumably a gnomish deity.

Kragdûras skyships: Lots of details about dwarven ships in this article.  They are lit by red lights, with a distinctly steampunk feel.
Kragdûras animals: While the elves are cat people, it seems the dwarves prefer dogs.
Dwarven language: The Kragdûras dwarves have their own language, which Bruce has detailed on his blog.

Inside the dwarven ramship Iron Maiden, Melchia is offered a deal with the dwarves.

The Iron Maiden: An ironclad ramship.  There are lots of interesting details about the ship and her crew.

Khrâlia: The chaplain's patron, presumably a dwarven deity.
Kragdûras gnomes: There are gnomes on both Alorea and Kragdûr, and both seem to be enslaved, or at least subjugated.
Alfdaín: The elven realm in the Great Caldera.  We don't know much more about it at this point.  Great Caldera nations are all independent from the lunar empires, but it is as yet unknown whether Alfdaín is sympathetic to the Tòrr-Gàrraidh.  Regardless, there are gnomes there, too, and slavers are capturing them to sell to Alorean vessels.  This brings up another interesting question: is slavery legal in Alfdaín?  Are the gnomes there free?
The Netherworld: Once again we see the netherworld.  The dwarven ship is apparently haunted by past crew members, who appear outside the ship while they pass through the netherworld.
Orcish raiding fleet: This is the first mention of orcs in Calidar.

Poor Melchia finds herself fleeing once again when the Aloreans ambush the dwarves.  Forced into an escape pod, she ends up in the Dread Lands of Calidar.

Dread Lands: Very different from the forests of Alorea.  Melchia tries to commune with them and is surprised to find a very different sort of presence.  The Dread Lands seem to be reacting to the destruction caused by the crashed ship.

• Episode XV: World Souls (9 Jan 2014)
Stranded in the Dread Lands, Melchia says final farewells to the dwarves, and witnesses the wild nature of Calidar's world soul.

• Episode XVI (Kickstarter Reward)
This episode will wrap up the short stories.  It will be available to Kickstarter backers as part of a PDF containing all of the Calidar shorts.  You can get this reward with any pledge of $5 or more.  There are currently no plans to make it available after the Kickstarter, although it's possible it will see a public release at some point in the future.

I didn't include everything in my notes, because there are a few things that have yet to be revealed – and much more that I don't have any more idea about than any of you.  The level of detail in this series is quite impressive, and Bruce has left a variety of little references such as place names, the names of wars and battles, and so on, that we will have to wait a while to find out more about.

Have you read the stories yet?  The whole series has had me enthralled since the start.  There's still time to sign up for the full story, In Stranger Skies, as well as the gazetteer section – in either PDF or printed form.  The Kickstarter ends on Thursday, and the retail prices are likely to be higher than the cost of backing, so if you're at all interested in Calidar, please consider coming on board.

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