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.

Aura Lockhaven’s New Old Clothes

Those of you who have followed me for some time may have noticed a shocking transformation in Aura on the cover of A Path of Stones. She isn’t wearing her usual red bikini, gloves, and boots.

That garb is Aura’s enchantress outfit. She won’t wear it until the third book. She wears a brown dress in A Path of Stones and The Fires of Tallen Hall. I wanted the covers of those two books to reflect the character inside. Yet, she isn’t wearing a brown dress. Why? Necessity!

If you’ve ever worked with 3D art, you know what I’m going to say about dresses and dramatic poses. Anything in 3D is a wire mesh. Getting a dress to fit an action pose is like bending chicken wire. It ain’t happening. So, if I won’t put Aura in her enchantress outfit, and I can’t use a dress, that left only a blouse and pants.

aurablog

This outfit conforms to whatever pose I choose. Nice. I added the cloak to give her more of the appearance of a wizardess.

Is it permissible to dress a character in something other than what he or she wears in the book? Yes. I’ll name two examples. The first is Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. On every cover, Harry Dresden wears a hat. He never does in the story. That is an inside joke between Butcher and his artist. The second is Frank Frazetta. He usually painted Conan the Barbarian in a loincloth, and otherwise naked. Yet, in half the stories, Conan wears armor or clothes like everyone else. If Frazetta can get away with it, so can I.

This outfit also reflects something Aura will wear in upcoming books. Not everyone views an enchantress with respect. It’s that seductive reputation. So, when Aura travels, she will dress as a middling merchant until she learns the lay of the land.

Aura Lockhaven’s Latest Incarnation

auraptswebsite

This new image marks the transition of Aura Lockhaven from Victoria 6 HD to Victoria 7 HD. It also coincides with the completion of her first book, A Path of Stones.

Like her V4 and V6 counterparts, this incarnation of Aura is totally custom morphed. Aura’s skin is hotrodded Elyza by Vyktohria. Her clothes are identical to her V6 counterpart. In fact, I simply imported the V6 version into the V7 file, and changed the fit to for the clothes. Done. For the record, Dynamic Clothing fits V7 just fine. The only new item is the cloak. The V7 edition has better movement control. With the new version, I thought some new hair was in order, so Aura sports Aave Nainen’s Free Spirit Hair.

Technogeek stuff here. Transitioning Aura from one model base to another was easier than I suspected. In fact, the idea of transitioning her is why I delayed using the Victoria 7 model base for a year. But simply copying the morph slider settings from V6 to V7 gave me an almost identical duplicate. The main differences lay in the shape of the faces. V6’s face is heart shaped. V7’s is more oval. That required some adjustments to the settings for Heart Shaped Face and Oval Shaped Face, but at least, I know what I’m doing.

This opens up the possibility of transitioning the Sarethian Seven to Victoria 7. They’re pretty muscular women, and V7 has superior muscle definition. Also, there is a script to actually change an adult figure into a child, without requiring the construction of a new character. Half of the Sarethian Seven tales occur when they are eleven years old. The script makes illustrating those tales easy! But that is a project for the future.

Poor Aura has been through some changes. If you’re interested to see how she evolved from a very primitive V4 incarnation back in 2010, please check out the page “Creating Aura Lockhaven, Part II: The 3D Effect,” on my website.

DAZ Studio 4.8 Pro -> Reality 4.3 -> Luxrender 1.6.

Cavewoman

Cavewoman

Meriem Cooper, the curvaceous, Cretaceous Cavewoman. And Klyde, of course. A tribute to Budd Root.

DAZ Studio 4.8 Pro -> Reality 4.2 -> Luxrender 1.5.

Preliminary work in GIMP 2.8, Hexagon 2.5, and ShaderMap 2.

I don’t usually do fan art. It just ain’t my bag, man. However, after creating Jenny here (she replaces Allyson, who handled the bulk of my non-Aura 3D work in 2015 but has been permanently assigned to the cast of Dandelions), I noticed how much she resembles Budd Root’s Meriem Cooper. So, I thought, why not. Let’s have some fun! Too bad the dinosaurs on Renderosity are outside of my budget.

Jenny is a custom morphed V6HD, with Addy’s Valerie for V6 head. Her skin is modified Ashleigh for V4 by Vyktohria. That set has a wonderful optional tanline map that Jenny will wear in future scenes. Yeah, I know. The French manicure is a bit much, but let’s just say Meriem had a makeover before going hunting today. Besides, Jenny refused to remove the nail varnish for just one render. The bikini began life as Mada’s Jungle Girl for G2F, fitted with custom trans maps and new texture maps made with a free stock snake skin. As for the teeth on the bikini, they came from the necklace. Hexagon is my friend.

 

Sword and Sorcery

Captain Elisabeth Lovejoy (Sword) and Aura Lockhaven (Sorcery) team up to take down a nasty ogre.

SnS2

Elisabeth’s importance in the Aura storyline is growing. The Aura tales are sword and sorcery. If Aura handles the sorcery, someone has to handle the sword.

The two friends obviously have different fighting styles. Aura fights from a distance. Her accuracy is pinpoint up to fifty feet. Using bladed weapons, Elisabeth has to get up close, and personal. This ogre is already dead; he just doesn’t know it yet.

DAZ Studio 4.8 Pro -> Reality 4.2 -> Luxrender 1.5.

 

 

Women in Fiction

The central characters in my two story arcs are all women. I simply find women more fascinating. If I give a sword or staff to a man, I pretty much know what he’s going to do. I can’t say the same of a woman. I have no idea what Aura Lockhaven or Iryndelle are going to do until they do it.

There is a reason for this. Strong men, and weak women, still dominate the American culture and consciousness, and by extension, our historic timeline of fiction. I can put my hand on any number of books in five hundred years of English fiction, from Le Morte d’Arthur to the Dresden Files, and find strong men. During that same timeline, most of the women were princesses, damsels in distress, or love interests for the man. At best, they were mouthy comic relief. At worst, the evil sorceress.

This wasn’t always the case. I work in the Northern European tradition, which stretches from today back to the Icelandic Sagas and the Mabinogion. In literature of the distant pagan past, women protagonists were common. This is even true of Greek mythology. While mortal women were often princesses or damsels in distress (Andromeda was both), the goddesses were not. Not even the mighty Zeus told Hera what to do! Even in society, women stood shoulder to shoulder with men. Some societies were matriarchal. Some kings descended through their mothers. We discovered recently that half the Viking raiding and trading parties were women. The Greeks did not consider a public debate concluded until they heard the opinion of at least one woman, as the debate would be imbalanced.

So, what happened?

Rome.

When I say Rome, I mean the Empire, not the Church. The Church served as a convenient carrier for Imperial attitudes. When Caesar Constantine declared Christianity to be the state religion of Rome, he did not Christianize the Roman Empire. He imperialized Christianity. He turned a small band of lofty-minded people into a powerful cudgel in the hands of the Emperor (namely, himself). One can’t blame the man. He ruled an empire trying to split in half, with a bunch of provinces in rebellion, and those damnable Germans pounding on his gates. A national religion seemed a good tool to hold it together.

Constantine’s Church quickly became infected with the attitudes of the Empire. Imperial priests (although I am no longer a Christian, I am not going to insult Christianity by calling those men Christian priests, because they bore little resemblance to Christ) were quite successful in cherry-picking the Bible for scripture to support Imperial attitudes. After all, St. Paul was a Roman, as he so often said, and the Romans were nothing if not authority and obedience fetishists.

One of the easiest existing Roman attitudes the priests found to support was the one toward women. Unlike Greece, Gaul, or any of “those barbarians to the north,” Rome never saw women as equal. Women were property. They existed for only two reasons: as wives to provide men with heirs, and as mistresses to provide men with pleasure. This attitude quickly spread throughout the Church through a gross, and probably deliberate, misreading of St. Paul. They could do nothing with St. Paul’s admonitions against sexual pleasure, so the mistresses were removed from the scene (officially, if not in practice). However, by bending St. Paul’s words a little, they undergirded the attitude that women were breeding stock. Breeding stock only behaved in certain ways, and those ways did not include ruling a country, carrying a sword, or even having an opinion.

The Roman Empire has been defunct all these centuries. The Western half fell in 480 AD, while the East survived in the form of the Byzantine Empire until 1453. Yet, Christianity survived. The faith remains infected by Roman Imperialism to this day, in all branches save perhaps the Mainline Protestants (Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Lutheran, and Disciples of Christ), but their liberal theologies and attitudes date to only the end of World War Two. We don’t have to discuss the far-reaching influence, for better or worse, of Christianity upon history, culture, or literature.

Thus was born the still existing concept of women in fiction as helpless princess, damsel in distress, or love interest for the hero. Those who thought outside this tiny box of confinement, such as Lady MacBeth or Iseult, met with nasty ends. That isn’t a Christian attitude. It’s an Imperial Roman one.

Fortunately, this is changing.

I pin the origins of the woman as capable fictional protagonist on Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (1936). Scarlett O’Hara appeared at the right time in American history. By 1936, American women had the right to vote for sixteen years, and were beginning to realize that life existed outside the kitchen. Scarlett exploded into the national consciousness when Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937, and the movie adaptation appeared in 1939. Despite fawning over Ashley Wilkes, Scarlett actually detested the aristocratic gentility he stood for, and by implication, the dutiful Melanie. She was quite capable of using her mind to maneuver, and sometimes manipulate, people and situations to her advantage. Rhett Butler, himself a master of social chess, was the only one who knew how to deal with her. He saw her as an equal. Scarlett was not unique; she had precedent in the books of Jane Austen. But Pride and Prejudice belongs to Great Britain, not the United States, and did not take hold in this country with the power of Gone with the Wind.

Then came Wonder Woman. She appeared in 1941, on the eve of World War Two and on the heels of Scarlett O’Hara. Even more so that Scarlett, Wonder Woman was no mere love interest. She was a princess, but this one kicked ass! She had the strength of Superman and the brains of Batman. She told bad guys to sit down and shut up, and if they didn’t listen, she pummeled them until they did. Wonder Woman inspired an entire generation of girls, the daughters of the women who earned the right to vote, that they could do more than just look pretty. One of those girls was my own mother, who may have been the most socially defiant woman I’ve ever known. My poor mother is a true case of having owned Wonder Woman #1, until her mother cleaned house one day … but I digress. Diana Prince quickly rose to the top of the comic book pyramid, a position she still holds as one of DC’s “Trinity,” along with Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne. You have to be durn good to stand shoulder to shoulder with those two guys.

Since then, women characters who are protagonists in their own right have emerged. Red Sonja. Modesty Blaise. Xena. Lieutenant Uhura. Princess Leia. Buffy Summers. Zoe Washburn. Sookie Stackhouse. Rachel Morgan. Arya Stark. Occasionally, a Bond Girl does more than just have sex with James, as when both Tatiana Romanova and Domino Derval saved his life by killing the villain (From Russia with Love, and Thunderball). I’m sure there are others, but those are the genres in which I work and that I read.

I want to add the names Aura Lockhaven and the Sarethian Seven to that list, because the list is still too short. With the exceptions of Scarlett O’Hara and Wonder Woman, each and every woman character I named was created during my lifetime, and I am only 52 years old.*

Scarlett O’Hara, Red Sonja, Rachel Morgan, Aura Lockhaven, and Iryndelle are a return to the women prior to the Roman Empire, in both life and in literature. They are archetypes, in that they more closely resemble the historic figures of Boadicea and Queen Elizabeth I, or the goddesses Cerridwen or Athena. They bare no resemblance to more common cultural and fictional characters such as Mary Jane Watson (Spider-Man), Daphne (Scooby Doo), Pamela Barnes (Dallas), or any of the “exist only to be raped” women in potboiler novels (such as those of John Jakes), or the vast number of airheads that populate sitcoms or daytime dramas. Aura and Iryndelle are no damsels in distress. If they get in trouble, they get themselves out. Aura is prone to seduction, but that is a weakness, not her role. Half the time, she does the seducing, making the man the love interest. While Iryndelle may be a princess, she refuses the crown and takes up a sword instead. Both kick ass and leave the name taking to the gods.

Joss Whedon said it perfectly. When asked why he wrote about strong female characters, he answered, “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

Yeah. As long as that question is still being asked, as long as I’m still surprised by what Aura and Iryndelle do, I am going to continue to put women in the fore and center of my stories. I owe that to Scarlett O’Hara, Diana Prince, and Red Sonja. I owe that to Hera, Boadicea, and Queen Elisabeth I. I owe that to Dolores Hartshorn Boutwell.

* Tatiana Romanova, the Bond Girl in From Russia with Love, was created in 1957, so yes, she’s older than me. However, it’s in the 1963 movie version (I predate it by a few months) that she shoots Rosa Klebb. Tatiana does not in the book. Thunderball was published in 1961, but again, I’m basing Domino Derval’s action upon the 1965 movie, as the movie is how the story entered the American psyche. Red Sonja was created in 1971 by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith. However, she was based upon the character Red Sonya (and is still credited as being), created by Robert E. Howard in 1934. So, I could say that Red Sonja is the oldest character in my list, although that may be hedging.