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We start with a Vingan myth that I told at Convulsion, and than published on the Web just in time for the Millenium.
How Polaris joined the Storm Tribe
Then we go on to a sort of meta-story. You can blame Guy Jobbins for this. (Yes, same Guy who's running the Swords campaign). He invited me to join a new (earlier) PBeM he was starting up. Most people had to prove they could write by presenting him with a description of 'An Orlanthi warrior boasting about his victory'. He let me off, because he reckoned he already knew I could write. And I was very glad he did, because I hate writing that sort of story. So here's what happened when I had some help with it.
I stared at the screen again. It didn't look any more promising. "'An Orlanthi warrior boasting about his victory'. It's all very well this guy telling me he knows I can write, but I still can't write this."
"What's the trouble? It sounds easy enough".
I didn't bother looking round at the woman behind me. After all, she wasn't there.
Look, plenty of real authors have trouble with their characters getting out of control, and plenty of GMs find NPCs get a life of their own. So, I have Kallyr dropping in to criticise my plots. So? Does anyone have a problem with that?
"It's a 'then I hit him' story. I can't write them. I can't even hear them without falling asleep. A warrior, boasting: it flatters his ego, but it bores the socks off everyone else."
She shook her head. "Not to another warrior. You listen, you can figure out his strengths, his weaknesses, all the stuff you'll need if you have to face him yourself someday."
"Oh, sure. When it's for real. But as a story? Even the best writers make the fight scenes third person, real time, not first person recaps. Even Robert Jordan - look, in 'Dragon Reborn'. A first-person boast about a fight, and he gives it what, three sentences? Tolkein wastes even less space."
"So what you mean is, you're not a good enough writer to make it interesting?"
"Yep. I'm no Tolkein. And don't waste your time using those tactics on me, they don't work - well, not often."
"So how did you do that scene when I met Karath after all those years, and he was telling me how wonderful he was?"
"Oh, that was easy. I just sat back and listened to what he said, and wrote it down. That's not writing, that's taking dictation. Not that I've got that one finished, even now."
"Huh." She took another swig of my beer - not to worry, there'd still be the same amount left even if she drank all afternoon. "So if I told you about one of my fights, and you wrote it down, you've got your story."
"If you..... hang on a minute." But she's a figment of my imagination, so who...?
The dagger suddenly aimed in my direction wasn't real. I had to remember that. But the steely grey eyes made disagreement seem dangerous. "Don't think about causality loops! You start that sort of thing and half the HeroPlane vanishes. Maybe the real world with it: remember Falangian diamonds?"
I decided not to pursue that one. "So which fight were you thinking of?"
The dagger vanished. "The Sky Palace trip. Rescuing Morgeneth. You never did get the details of that, did you?"
"No, I never did. I know you used the myth about Polaris..."
"Which you had kindly provided for the purpose."
"Well, yes. I knew you could use that to get Morgeneth back, since Yelorna was in there. But I never did find out how you got so friendly with Polaris as a result."
"Ah." For once, Kallyr actually looked embarrassed. "That was a mistake."
"Fortunate mistake, then."
"Well, for me, yes. But not for the rest: look, it's a long story, and this is the wrong end of it. But basically, I was taking a tale I'd heard in a bar, and using it as if it was as strong in our minds as a full myth. It wasn't. So we had slips. In fact... now, there's an idea." She grinned at me in a way that made me unaccountably nervous. "I'll tell you this story, but on one condition. You write up that myth."
"Publish it. On your web site, whatever. I know a lot of people heard it at Convulsion, but not enough. I want it strengthened, made as real as you can get it."
"What was that about causality loops again?"
"So don't think about it, just do it." (Where had I heard that before?)
"Well, I'll try. I keep getting stuck on that one. Story-telling isn't the same as story-writing."
"So tell it. Then listen to what you said, and write it down. Easy."
"All right, I'll do it. I'll have to publish that at the same time as this one, anyway, or it won't make sense." [later note: or even four years earlier...!]
"I suppose not. Unless I tell you the myth as I heard it, and you write that down as part of this story."
"So I'm writing about you telling me a story that you heard from someone who got it from me… how many loops is that? No, I'll just do it myself, thanks. Who did you hear it from, anyway?"
"Oh, some kid in a bar." She frowned, trying to remember. "I never did get his name. They called him Bad-dream, or something like that."
I stared at her, stunned. "Not Bad-Dream Enostar?"
"Something like that. Why, who's he?"
"He's - no, he can't have been. Not that early. Unless my theories are all wrong - look, just forget it, OK?
You don't want to know." And nor did I, really.
"So, this story. You were rescuing Morgeneth? That seems wrong, now I think about it. She was an experienced priestess, recruiting everyone in sight to the temple she'd founded, and you can't have even been out of your teens?"
"Don't you start!" She laughed, remembering. "That was half the trouble, everyone kept saying I was to young to do anything much, so I kept having to prove them wrong - or try to. Morgeneth did yet another heroquest, she got it wrong. These things happen, to anyone. So she needed help. And - well, you never met her, so you wouldn't know, but the number of people she'd managed to annoy pushing her temple and her ideas down everyone's throats was incredible. She had her Unicorn tribe wanting to help, but they really were just kids, they had no idea where to start. And she was kin - sort of. At least, she'd been very good to me when I was little, even if half of it was a recruitment drive even then. So I had to help her out, somehow. There wasn't anyone else."
"Anyway, we needed a story where someone rescued Yelorna, since that's the only role Morgeneth would fit into. I'd have expected one with Yelmalio starring, but there don't seem to be many stories about Yelorna. So then I remembered this one, that I'd heard ages ago. The first time it was another Vinga story, so I listened. And the second time, there were some Yelornans in the bar, and he put in that bit about Yelorna getting her bow from Vinga. Probably just to wind them up, but it was all I had to work with. So we started looking at how we could turn the story into a quest."
"Yes, who did take the parts for you? You were Vinga, obviously. Which other ones did you cast?"
"Well, it starts with Elmal and Polaris. That's just scene-building, really, you don't need much depth. So I got Vega to do Elmal for me…"
"Vega? Yelmalio was close enough?"
"Must have been. Anyway, she was my friend, and Morgeneth had helped her, too. Then we tried to find a Pole Star initiate, but there weren't any. One of the Lhankorings read up about him, and reckoned he could do that for us. He only gets a few lines, anyway."
"How about Trickster, though? He's a major player all the way through. Who was your trickster?"
"Oh no, you don't!" That grin was back again. "I know what happens to tricksters in your stories. You leave mine alone.
If you don't know his name, you can't write him into trouble, can you?"
[Another later note - OiD gave his name away to me. But it isn't him I'm writing into trouble as a result.]
"Yes, you. It doesn't matter, anyway. He was Trickster. His mundane identity doesn't count."
I ran my mind back over the story. "How about Silonia? She's the only other named character, isn't she?"
"Ah. Yes. That was where we went wrong, really. Never mind her name, it wasn't her fault. We wanted the Goddess of Dance, and knew no more about her than that. So we got a dancer, and the Unicorn ladies persuaded the people at Yelmalio Hill to set things up so we could use that as the equivalent of the Sky Palace. She met us there."
"I knew I was on the HeroPlane proper and on the right path when the extras showed; the other women in the palace. They were shadowy, you couldn't talk to them, but they were there. The palace was less of a ruin, too. Silonia was more solid, of course. She had her lines down pat, and the SunDomers had gone to a lot of trouble to get her firmly on the other side.
"Anyway, she went through the bit of telling me - Vinga, that is - about the party and the wedding. I got in touch with Trickster through the wind, we arranged a meet, he got the guards drunk - all according to plan. And with three of us there, it was easier to let the myth flow. We just had to hope Morgeneth would get her cue."
"That's one bit I never did figure out. Morgeneth had never heard this story, had she? How did she know what to do?"
"You didn't? - but you wrote that bit of the story so well. All she had to do was be Yelorna, and react as Yelorna would have done. And she was good at that. She heard us, and she was still enough in touch with the mundane to recognise me as me, not just as Vinga." She grinned, with a flash of the quick mischief she must have shown more often at nineteen. "You should have seen her face when I offered her a spare bow, though. It was the same one she'd given me when I was ten years old.
"So then I cast my voice on the winds to distract the guards. I'd had to learn that spell, I didn't have it before. We got out, and I called Mastakos' chariot home. That was one reason why we'd used the Orlanth temple as a base, of course: that was where my spell was set for."
"Anyway, that was where it all went wrong. We got back, still on the HeroPlane. Fine. But Silonia hadn't had anything to do for a bit, and she'd only practiced this section in the mundane. When she saw Polaris himself coming to greet us she lost it: dropped out."
"How do you mean?"
Kallyr opened her mouth, then shut it again, shrugging helplessly. "You've never quested, so how can I explain? You have to really be whoever you are on a quest, as hard as you can. The story pulls you in to some extent, so it's not too hard: in fact, it can be almost too easy. But our Silonia decided she really didn't want to be who she was, she was too scared, and not very attuned anyway. So she just fell out of the plot, and landed back in the temple. And there we were with a Silonia-shaped hole in the quest."
I thought about that for a moment. "But if you were all back by then, and she landed safely: OK, so in theory you'd failed to rescue Silonia. But you'd succeeded in what you were really trying to do. You didn't need the HeroPlane anymore."
"Yes, but... look, no-one had done this story for ages, if at all, remember? We were almost defining it by doing it. So we couldn't just leave it hanging like that. We might end up with Silonia really not being rescued, no-one knowing how to dance, Polaris not ordering the stars, anything. The myth was so weak to start with, we just couldn't take the risk."
"So what did you do?"
"Vinga doesn't get any more lines after that, if you remember. If you'd followed all the rules about consistent viewpoints in story-telling, she should have done, but she didn't. So I swapped parts." She paused, seeing the expression on my face. "Look, it wasn't that hard. I knew all the lines anyway, I'd been coaching her. And like I say, there was a Silonia-shaped hole in the plot, so all I had to do was let it suck me in. When you do that role-playing stuff of yours, you run other people's characters at times, don't you?"
"Well, yes. But that's hardly the same thing. We all know role-playing isn't real."
"You do?" She raised an eyebrow, and I thought about that for a moment. And then stopped thinking about it. I wanted this story, without anyone vanishing.
"Anyway, it worked. Sort of. Maybe you're right about the role-swapping not being a good idea. You see, Polaris didn't exactly accept Silonia back as his wife. He accepted me-as-Silonia, and that's where things got really confusing."
"So you're actually married to Polaris? But you married for real, later: how does that work out?"
"I'm only married to Polaris while I'm being Silonia. Yes, I know, I said it was confusing. Look, it's like when I'm being Vinga, I can use Vinga's spells and powers. When I'm being Silonia, I can use her spells and powers. Like, say, a place in Polaris' stead, his protection, the loan of any of his powers I care to ask for: the usual stuff. Only Vinga gets shared out between a lot of worshippers. Being Silonia, the Orlanthi wife of Polaris, is a bit exclusive."
"I suppose it must be. Most Orlanthi dancers worship Donander, don't they? How many devotees does Silonia have?"
"None. That was the trouble. I sort of defined her, just by being her that one time. In fact we discovered afterwards that our Lhankoring friend had almost defined Polaris for us, though not as much. He's got a lot of Solar devotees, so the effect wasn't as bad."
"So you got back with unlimited access to all Polaris' powers? Sounds pretty good to me."
"Well, sort of. The trouble was, I had access to anything I cared to ask for: but I didn't know what to ask for. Like I said, we'd never found a Polaris initiate. No-one knew much about him. It's like, as a Vingan, I can ask for the loan of any of her father Orlanth's powers: but there I can find an Orlanth priest to tell me how to get them. With Polaris I had to be my own priest, and I didn't know how. It took almost twenty years all told, finding out what Polaris could do. Mainly by seeing Lunars use it, and dodging the results. And that's a whole lot of other stories."
"I've got this story, anyway. Thanks. Now all I have to do is finish off the myth, and I'm done."
"You're missing one important bit, though - I forgot. You can't use the story without this."
"When we got back. My trickster was being Trickster, even on the mundane: like I say, he's good at that.
He started asking if Polaris was good in bed, making jokes about bent spears, that sort of thing."
She paused, making sure I got the point. "So then I hit him."