The Enchantress and the Warrior

I am pleased and honored to announce a collaboration with Zaki Asakura, known as Akizz on DeviantArt. We have followed each other for over a year, and developed a good working relationship. For some time, we’ve wondered what would happen if his character Viona, the Warrior of Beauty, met Aura Lockhaven.

We decided to find out.

To see what happens when Viona enters Aura’s world of the 11th Century, start here at this page: http://nathanomir.deviantart.com/art/The-Enchantress-and-the-Warrior-01-690670626

To see what happens when Aura enters Viona’s world of the 21st Century, start here at this page: http://nathanomir.deviantart.com/art/Early-days-690510555

Country Come to Town

Country

“It’s this one!” Holdric growled. He thrust his dagger down, pinning the card to the table.

“Yes, sir, you’re absolutely right,” Chumley stammered. “Today is your lucky day. You win the jackpot. I’ll even throw in a few gold coins for the lovely lady.”

“You’re a smart man,” Sieglinde said.

Chumley vowed to himself never again to try to take those naked rubes from the hills. It was just too dangerous.

Tariman the Druid watched, a gleeful smile on his face. For years, he sought a way to put the conniver in his place. These “hicks” from the country just did it for him, with no effort on his part. Leave it to the unclouded eye of someone unaccustomed to the city’s ways to see right through Chumley’s scheme. Tariman thought the leatherclad Holdric and Sieglinde might make splendid company for a round or two of ale.

DAZ Studio 4.9 Pro -> Reality 4.3 -> Luxrender 1.6 -> GIMP 2.8.

 

“The Fires of Tallen Hall” Update

For weeks, I was stuck on the first chapter of The Fires of Tallen Hall, with only nine written. That first chapter was just too choppy. Not poetic enough.

My wife had a brilliant idea. She suggested I write the entire book. Just write it, as a skeleton. Then go back and flesh it out. That way, I progressed and would end up with at least an outlined complete story. Capital!

A skeleton for me is dialogue, action, and description. Then, I add the muscle (the expository that holds it together), and the skin (the lyrical language). I planned to focus on the skeleton, and ignore the muscle and skin.

I am happy to report that as of last Friday, I have completed nineteen chapters. They’re anemic and emaciated, but they have flesh and skin over the bones.

This is an interesting point in the story. I began Aura’s initial tale in 2010. It morphed through six different incarnations: the first graphic novel, and five novel versions. At no time did I ever complete it. From Chapter Twenty forward, I am in new territory.

It would be easy to say that I have the story outlined in my head. In fact, it’s outlined on a dry erase board to my left. However, it has changed. In Chapter Eleven, I wrote a few paragraphs to reintroduce a character from A Path of Stones so the reader wouldn’t forget he exists. Those few paragraphs radically altered what I planned to be a confrontation with the villain’s henchman. Based on those paragraphs, someone else will have to deal with him.

So, there is no telling what Chapter Thirty, or Twenty for that matter, will do to the ending.

To the Death

Duel

Ygraine Pagel looked up from her work table as Aura Lockhaven entered her chamber. She cast Aura a cold glare. She said, “I know who you are.”

Aura frowned. There was a note of cynicism in the sorceress’ voice. It was not that of a merchant receiving a customer. She said, “You should. I wrote you last week. I’m interested in the emerald sphere you have for sale.”

“Hmm,” the sorceress said. “We’re both initiated magicians. There is no need for subterfuge.” She looked Aura up and down, and sneered. “Crimson. I expected death to wear black, and reveal much less skin.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Feigning surprise is disingenuous of you. My order sent you here to assassinate me,” Ygraine said.

“Wait. Excuse me?” Aura asked. She couldn’t believe her ears. Rumors abounded that Ygraine had turned her cloak, surrendering to the lust for power that seduced some sorcerers. The idea that the Order of Sorcerers would send someone from another magical order to deal with one of their own was ridiculous. The mere thought that that someone would be an enchantress, a member of an over-wrought and far-too-sensitive order that the aristocratic and rib-numbing tightly-corseted sorcerers despised, was beyond absurd. The sorcerers had the best internal constabulary of all eight magical orders, and were notorious for dispensing swift justice against members who violated their oath of non-manipulation. If they wanted to execute Ygraine, then Aura would have found a week old corpse. Aura shivered at the thought that she may have just walked into an unpredictable situation. Still, Ygraine was the finest purveyor of magical crystals in all of Ayrdland. “I’m here to buy a stone, Ygraine. I am customer, not an assassin. I don’t kill.”

“Then, that shall be your downfall!”

With that, Ygraine launched herself at the young enchantress. Before Aura could brace herself, Ygraine knocked Aura’s staff from her hand. Then, she grabbed her by the throat. Aura did not need to ponder what the sorceress had in mind. She felt that intent in Ygraine’s right hand as a malignant spell poured down the woman’s arm and flooded Aura’s neck. Aura knew some of the sorcerers’ spells, but not enough to counter them. This one was new. She didn’t have to tighten her hand. The spell did the work for her. It felt like an iron vise upon soft pine wood. Aura felt her windpipe cramp.

“Ygraine,” Aura said with a gasp. “Let me go. You’re killing me!”

“That’s the whole idea, you stupid tart!” the sorceress said.

Aura grabbed Ygraine’s arm, trying her best to break the sorceress’ hold on her throat. Ygraine’s hand was fixed to her flesh as ivy to brick. All of Aura’s respect for elders vanished. The sorceress meant to murder her. She threw her considerable weight and height into Ygraine, but her hand and spell remained fixed. Around the chamber they danced their waltz of death, knocking over the bookcase, overturning a chair, then spilling a rack of tinctures. Dozens of small bottles shattered on the stone floor, their contents mixing in a bubbling brew. Then, Aura slammed Ygraine against her table, in an effort to knock the woman loose. It only served to upset the table, sending books, rats, and even a skull into flight. A lit candle fell onto the ruins of the tinctures. The mixture erupted in flame.

The inferno diverted Ygraine’s attention long enough. Aura employed an old tactic she used against boatmen who lusted for her budding breasts when she was younger. A woman lacked the necessary external appendages, but it would still hurt. She kneed the sorceress in the groin. With a yelp, Ygraine released Aura’s throat and fell back against the table.

“Ygraine,” Aura wheezed, trying to catch her breath. “We have to get out of here.”

“I shall. The only way you’re leaving is in a coffin, assassin!” With that, Ygraine advanced.

Oh, merciful heavens, Aura thought. Ygraine was mad. It was bad enough that she wanted to kill Aura. Now, she continued her murderous assault as fire spread the floor of the windowless chamber. Noxious smoke, the result of igniting tinctures that should never be mixed, filled the air. The flames would soon reach the wood of table and bookcase, and the chamber’s timbers. If the fight lasted much longer, both women would die.

Ygraine pounced. Aura turned, dashing toward the back of the chamber. The sorceress grabbed Aura’s cloak and pulled her backwards. Let her have the cloak, Aura thought, gripping the clasp and tearing it open. Ygraine threw the garment across the overturned chair, and dove toward Aura.

As the enchantress turned to flee around Ygraine, she slipped on broken glass and spilled potion. She went down on one knee. That was all the sorceress needed. Again, she gripped Aura by the throat. Again, the vicious spell poured into Aura’s neck. Again, her windpipe constricted. Aura tried her best to wrench free, but her boots kept slipping on the wet floor. If she fell, Ygraine would simply sit on her and kill her. She had to maintain her footing. To keep herself upright, she locked onto Ygraine’s leg with her own.

Black specks appeared in front of Aura’s eyes. The spell was strangling her, ending her life one failed breath after another. Her mind reeled in panic. Aura gasped for air. None came.

“Here’s a kiss for the leader of my order,” Ygraine said.

A ball of pure life force formed in Ygraine’s left hand. It was enough to turn a human inside out. This woman not only could cast one spell, while maintaining a second of a different type, but she cast both without a single incantation. Aura had to speak an incantation, and speech was now lost to her.

The Enchantress of Hartshorn had only moments left. She lashed out with her left hand. She grabbed Ygraine’s face. Claw her eyes! Tear her skin! Rip her mouth! Anything to get her to let go. Not enough. Her hand still grasped Aura’s neck, the vile spell pouring into her throat.

Aura felt her fear and desperation coalesce into a ball of pure vitality, will, and emotion. It formed on its own volition, without any conscious thought from the enchantress. It formed without an incantation. It rushed from her chest, and poured into her right arm. It erupted in her hand as the most lethal spell in her entire arsenal – the Divine Thunderbolt.

I don’t kill, Aura said only moments earlier. If Ygraine did not release her throat, then Aura would violate that statement by shoving the ball of solid light into the sorceress’ face. The woman’s skull would survive. At this range, her flesh would be incinerated. Aura knew, as entwined as they were, that she too would take the force of the spell. She would crawl away with massive burns, burns that could be healed tomorrow. If she did not launch the spell, there would be no tomorrow for healing anything. Aura gritted her teeth. Someone was about to die, and the determining judge was Aura Lockhaven herself.

DAZ Studio 4.9 Pro -> Reality 4.3 -> Luxrender 1.6.

This is not canon.

The Evolution of Aura Lockhaven

For the fun of it, I put all three of Aura Lockhaven’s 3D incarnations in the same scene. The result reveals her evolution as a 3D character, as well as serving as graphic touchstones of her evolution as a fictional character.

Left: Victoria 6 incarnation. Center: Victoria 7 incarnation. Right: Victoria 4 incarnation.

Auras II

Victoria 4 Incarnation (April, 2010 — January, 2013):  She wasn’t even Aura Lockhaven when I designed this character. She began as my feeble attempt to create a model based on Playboy Playmate Lindsey Vuolo. Since I didn’t know what I was doing, there is no resemblance between the figure and the Playmate. How she became Aura is chronicled on my website if you’re interested. This is the graphic novel version of Aura.

Victoria 6 Incarnation (January, 2013 — August, 2016): I suspended the graphic novel when I started grad school. Upon graduating, I decided to write a fantasy novel, using the graphic novel as the foundation. That required a new physical representation of my heroine. So, I chose Victoria 6. That base figure much more human like roundness than the earlier V4 (I skipped Victoria 5 completely). Her appearance is based on her written description, so there is no resemblance to the V4 counterpart. Around 2014, I decided the gold body jewelry was too blooming difficult to describe in a written narrative, and gave her the outfit worn by the V7 version.

Victoria 7 Incarnation (August, 2016 — Present): I refused to upgrade to Victoria 7 for an entire year. Eventually, the improved posing and sculpting systems won me over. I transferred Aura from V6 to V7, slider by slider. They don’t quite look alike. The V6 base face is more heart-shaped than V7’s, but the new version is close enough. I really like the new muscular body. Aura’s transfer from V6 to V7 occurred at the same time I determined to finish her first novel by the end of 2016 and publish it. It also happened at the time I cut the opening trilogy down to a duology. This is the incarnation who appears on the cover of A Path of Stones. It is how I see Aura at the end of the series, transformed from the unsure wizardess in the brown dress into the powerful enchantress who fights tyranny.

Most of us in 3DLand anticipate the release of Victoria 8 this June. I said no to Victoria 6 and Victoria 7. We see how well that resolve lasted. So, I shall see what Victoria 8 has to offer. She best impress me. As in, she needs to step off the computer screen, perform one heck of a lap dance, and build me a stiff Manhattan. If she does, I will once again, transfer Aura to a new rig.

This is what that one, silly, little Victoria 4 figure back in 2010 started.

The Fires of Tallen Hall

2017 hasn’t been friendly to writing.

I lost January and February to releasing A Path of Stones and the subsequent marketing campaign. March fell to a hard drive failure, and doing my best to keep the old computer running. April was consumed with learning the new computer, as well as a few bouts of depression.

It’s May.

Yesterday, I resumed work on The Fires of Tallen Hall, the second Aura Lockhaven novel. I am happy to report that it is 50% complete.

In honor of that mark, here is the first promotional image of the second novel.

TallenHallSM

Aura Lockhaven in Iray and Comics

Yes, you read that right. Aura Lockhaven comics!

I’ve been experimenting with the Iray rendering engine, and the results are beyond what was expected. So, I had to see what Aura looked like.

Usually, I render her in Reality-Luxrender. That texturing system and render engine gives me more control over the look, and has far greater textural fidelity than Iray. It is, however, slow. Luxrender is the Treebeard of the rendering world. It never does anything hasty. A six hour render is just too time consuming for a comic, or even an illustrated short story. A page of a comic per week is reasonable. One panel per week is not.

Iray, however, is lightning in pixels. I can expect a render to complete between 20 minutes and 90. Extremely complicated sets and lighting require more time, but that is usually limited to fine art pieces, not the panels of a comic.

So. Here is the first image of Aura, rendered in Iray.

AuraIraySM

Aura looks great! Her skin is fantastic, and comparable to Reality. The clothes, however! They’re too orange. I can control the colors better in Reality. She’s the “red enchantress,” not the Orange Bowl Queen. Well, they are three years old, and date from her incarnation as a Victoria 6 figure (she’s a Victoria 7 now). Time to give the lady a new wardrobe.

This scene was … interesting. Iray should have rendered her in 20 minutes or less. It’s just one figure, a few clothes, a simple set, and two lights. She took an hour to reach 15% completion! That is not acceptable. This required some drastic measures. I could only surmise that the issue lay in the fact that Aura is a custom made, slider-by-slider, character. All those morphs had to slow her down. So, I made a single character morph and applied to to a stock G3F. If you don’t know what that means, I essentially turned her into a character I can sell. Instead of ten different morphs for her mouth alone, I have just one that says Aura Lockhaven, and it controls both face and body. That cut load time in half, but did not significantly increase render time.

Oddly enough, I experimented by rendering her in the Beta edition of DAZ Studio 4.9, instead of the public release of 4.9.3. She rendered much faster. At eleven minutes, she had only reached 10% completion. Not great. Not good enough for a comic. Better than 15% after an hour. At that point, I stopped the render to check her pose. Satisfied, I resumed the render. Within four minutes, she shot from 10% to 55%.

What the heck! There is no difference between 4.9 Beta and 4.9.3. They are identical. Why would stopping and resuming the render cause that much of a speed increase? My wife speculates that stopping it freed tied up resources in either the cache or VRAM.

It does matter. I’d like to know the answers so I can correct them. However, this opens the door for Aura Lockhaven illustrated short stories and comics.

I plan a few short comics, as in ten to twelve pages. They will fill in the gaps between novels, and provide a bit of backstory to some of the characters and situations. They will be free, on my website. Why not? Give them away as promotional items, and as fun things to fans.

This also opens the door for the Sarethian Seven to be that series of illustrated short stories I’ve envisioned for three years.

I will leave you with a scene I call “Night of the Wraiths.” Aura seems to be in a wee bit of a predicament.

Wraiths

The Painting

A friend of mine on Facebook found a copy of John William Waterhouse’s gorgeous painting “The Soul of the Rose” at a garage sale. She contacted me and asked, “What’s her story?” Well …

===

The young woman didn’t know why she stopped at the garage sale. It offered nothing she needed, just clothes and toys and furniture of toddlers now outgrown them, and CDs for her father’s favorite bands. Ancient DVDs for people too silly to abandon that antique form of entertainment. Stuff called books. Oh, look. A blender. How quaint.

Then, she spotted the painting. It was a simple painting, really. Just a woman stopping at a wall and smelling a rose. She liked the woman’s face, caught in a moment of rapture, the same look she had when she closed a major account. The painting would look pretty against the teal semi-gloss walls of the entertainment room. So, she bought it for a measly $ 50. She made that much it one minute.

For a week, it hung over the Harmon Kardon stereo on the western wall. Most of her friends cast it a quick glance as they sipped their martinis, before turning their gaze to the latest movie she acquired on Amazon.

Then, seven days after the painting’s purchase, the young woman sat in the entertainment room. She pondered which of the Netflix offerings upon which to spend her leisurely afternoon. She heard an unmistakable feminine voice. It said, “Look within.”

The woman leapt up. She glanced around. She lived alone, and the alarms had not alerted her to anyone entering by door or window. If the two Persian cats talked, then she would check herself into the hospital immediately. Someone had said, clearly, “Look within.”

“Who’s there!” she snapped, trembling.

“You are,” the voice answered.

The woman turned her gaze from one side of the room to the other. In the direction the voice seemed to come from, she saw only the painting. She gulped, and whispered, “That’s impossible.”

“Is it?” the voice asked. “You brought me home. Did you not expect me to talk to you?”

This only happened in movies and to lunatics, she thought, slumping to the floor. “What … what do you want?”

“I already told you. Look within.”

“What does that even mean?”

“You live alone in a 3,500 square foot house. You make six digits a year, working only twenty hours per week. Yet, you have never once examined your life. You have never looked at your own mind and heart. Have you ever stopped to sniff a flower for its own sake?”

“That’s silly,” the woman said. “How does smelling a flower get me ahead?”

“It doesn’t. It just makes you more human. Try it. Look within. Find the flower inside yourself, and sniff it.”

“How?”

“Close your eyes. I will guide you.”

She did. All she saw was darkness. The voice said, “Now. Imagine yourself as me in the painting. Smell the rose. Can you?”

“No. I’ve never smelled a rose. It’s silly.”

“Try. What is the most wonderful aroma you’ve ever smelled? Your mother’s chocolate chip cookies? That first cup of coffee in the morning? The sweat on your lover’s chest?”

“The leather upholstery of my new Lexus,” the woman said, with the first hint of enthusiasm since this ordeal began.

“Oh, dear,” the voice said with a sigh. “Well. Just watch.”

The world erupted inside the woman’s closed eyelids. She saw the painting. A woman in a morning gown, her hair elegantly tied back, paused at the wall of her estate. She clutched one of the pink roses and drew it to her nose. The woman’s face changed from that of the figure in the painting to her own. The aroma of the rose intoxicated her. It smelled like life. It smelled like freedom. It smelled like a world beyond corner offices and titles and new imported automobiles and exorbitant houses and vacations to the Caribbean and lovers wearing Rolex watches and carrying stock portfolios. It smelled like the Earth and Creation and being pursued by Pan in the forest and deliberately not running fast enough. In the heat of her back against the floor of the forest and Pan’s body and hands and piercing eyes, she saw the entire world. For once, it was beautiful. She saw beyond the accounts and clients and meetings and cocktails and sometimes betrayals. In one single rose petal, she saw it all. In one single whiff of a perfumed flower, she inhaled it all.

Then, the woman saw all of Denton, all of Dallas, all of Texas. She flew over the United States. She flew over the hemisphere. She saw the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Parthenon. She watched the first man walk on Mars, the battle of Gettysburg, the Great Pyramid being built, and the first strike of flint against stone bringing fire to people. She saw her father, her mother, her brother, herself, you, and me. She saw … a puddle on a road in Texas in August. The water shimmered in the sunlight for the briefest of moments. Brilliant, like a diamond held up to the light. Then, the water vanished, turned into steam by the relentless heat. It left behind a hole not even deep enough to bump the car that passed through it.

The next day, the woman held a garage sale. The tables held the usual items of someone of her status: last year’s purses, last season’s shoes, the previous model Cuisinart, a stack of CDs for a band that no longer played headlines. After all, she had to make room for the newest offerings at Macy’s. The tables also held a single painting, marked $ 5.

 

dawn