Why I’m Not Afraid of Dragons Anymore

I was part of a writing group for a while. I’m not going to name names, because it’s not important to the story. However, for some time now, I have been scared… of dragons. Let me explain. This was nearly ten years ago and my writing career was still very new. I hadn’t finished my first book, in fact, I hadn’t really even started it yet. However, I was a passionate and ignorant new writer. I was finishing up a master’s degree and would meet with the group at a local coffee shop once a month and submit a passage from the fantasy book I was playing at writing.

One lady was finishing up her second novel in an adventure book series she was writing and I remember being in awe of her. She had a book on Amazon for sale! She was making money from a book she had written! She was, gasp, published! Now, my ignorance at the time was that I didn’t even know that such as thing as self-publishing even existed, much less ideas like vanity publishing and traditional publishing, or publishing agents. This was all still a mystery to this newbie, heck no one knows what they don’t know, and I am most likely still in the dark about many aspects of these things.

I remember she got done reading a short passage I had written in which I had mentioned a dragon. She looked at me and said, “Dragons are on the way out. Publishers won’t publish a story about a dragon because it’s cliche now. Also, never mention a sword, there are too many fantasy stories about magical swords and dragons out there, and you will never get published if you have those things in your story.”

My author admiration was in full effect. She was the only person I had ever met who had finished writing a book, much less had one “published”. Oddly enough, I looked up her book recently and realized that she was self-published through Amazon. Now don’t let me mislead you here, that is still impressive. This is how my books are published as well. However, in my ignorance, her advice to me at the time took on much more significant weight than it should have. After writing three slightly successful books (to me anyway), and now working on my biggest project yet, The Fantasy Book Project, I am ready to admit something. I don’t like her advice. In fact, I am no longer following it. When I first sat down to write out the notes for my world and create the story, her rules of no swords and no dragons were still engrained in my mind, almost unconsciously. I had creatures in my books that I called Beasts, but let’s be honest, as I described them, and inside my head; they were dragons.

Now, none of my characters currently have a sword, but I am not against the idea any longer. The more I read and the newer books I see published, fantasy publishers are only worried about one thing, will the book be bought and read by people. I am one of the biggest fans of traditional, modern, and even odd fantasy and I am not tired of dragons. I like dragons. In fact, you put a dragon on the cover of the book and you have my attention. Throw a Gandalf-looking fella fighting that dragon on the cover and my wallet basically slips out of my pocket on its own.

These ten years into my writing career, here is my writing advice to aspiring writers, for what that is worth.

  1. Write what you know.
  2. Write who you know.
  3. Write what you want.

Let me quickly talk about each of those in a little more detail.

Number 1: Write what you know. Use your own life experiences to create realistic narratives, characters, and situations. Some of the most compelling stories I have read have come from or been inspired by an author’s real-life experiences. I believe this is a great way to write.

Number 2: Write who you know. Use the people that you know, meet, or get a chance to interact with as subjects to inspire characters in your books. As an example, I read once that Hayao Miyazaki (the famous anime artist) uses real girls he knows as inspiration for the girls he draws in his animes. Also, I remember reading that Charles Dickens did this a lot too. According to the book Mr. Dickens and His Carol, by Samantha Silva, it is a well-known fact that Mr. Dickens kept a notebook full of names he encountered. Apparently, the ghost Jacob Marley was based on a man Mr. Dickens met one time and felt that he was very unpleasant. Ms. Silva tells us that he then wrote down the name and decided that whatever character he turned out to be, he would be dead very quickly. As such, Jacob Marley is dead before the book even starts. Anyway, use real people to give your characters realistic personalities and life, just don’t use the person’s real name. That will get you sued.

Number 3: Write what you want. This is the one I am taking for myself. If you want to write about your dog, write about your dog. If you want to write about starships, write about starships. And by goodness, if you want to write about dragons, write about dragons! Don’t allow the fear of being or not being published to scare you off from writing a story you want to write. Write your book and after submitting it to a publisher, if they come back and say they don’t want dragons in your book and can you change it? Heh, there is a “find” option in Microsoft Word where you can find every single instance of a word in your whole document and it’s easy to replace the word “dragon” with “kitten.”

Side Note: Take my advice with a complete grain of salt.

D. Michl Lowe

The Tunnel: A passage from The Fantasy Book Project

After some time, Nicodemus was able to stand up, his back was stiff and he thought he might have a bruised ankle when he fell, but he could walk, and nothing appeared to be broken, amazingly. The loss of his friend and the heartache of knowing he was the one who ultimately brought about that death, weighed heavily on him. He took stock of where he was. There was no way he was going to climb back up the way he had come into this place, the sides of the cave were way too smooth and the hole he believed he had slid out of was much too far above him. There was a passage that seemed to lead off to his left, but it was extremely dark, too dark to see. However, he could hear a trickle of water coming from that direction.

Moving close to the wall, he trailed his hand along it as he walked, being careful to feel for each step before he took it. He didn’t want to fall further into unknown tunnels. Following the sound of water seemed like the best idea and slowly he worked his way further and further into the darkness. After a while, he found the source of the water sound. A small trickling stream seemed to be moving at a very slight angle down the passage he traveled. Several times, he stumbled in the darkness, banging his shin on a jutting rock and after a little while, the ceiling of the cavern started to lower. In the beginning, the ceiling was maybe thirty feet above him, but after what seemed like an hour of following the stream, he banged his head on the ceiling.

“Ash and fire!” he swore.

Bringing his hand away from his head where he felt a warm wetness. It wasn’t bad, but it still flaming hurt! He would have a lump if he ever made it out of here. Stooping down, he continued down the passage, after only a short time, the ceiling lowered again and he was now crawling on all fours. And again, it lowered and he found himself crawling on his belly, the ceiling so low that he felt like he needed to turn on his back and slide along that way, but the passage was too low for that, his shoulders were too wide and he was unable to turn over. Thankfully the passage was still wide enough to afford him some room on the sides. But when the ceiling came low enough that the rock above and below scraped at his head and compressed his back, he found himself scooting to the side to try to find a higher place where he could fit through. Moving to the right along the edge of the passage found him in about an inch of water, which wouldn’t have been so bad, but pulling his mouth out of the water was difficult, given he could barely turn his head.

“If I ever get out of this place, I’m commissioning the queen to have these tunnels fully explored by cartographers. None of this scrunching into passages too small for a brown-dog to squeeze through!”

He knew the tunnel was getting smaller with every foot he moved forward. It was unsettling. He stretched his arms out in front of him, dragging himself further and further in. Should he start backing out maybe, he wondered? But how would he get out of this lower cavern? There was no climbing the walls, they were too smooth and too high. He inched forward. No one would ever hear him yelling for help, his team was the first people to be in these tunnels for thousands of years, so no one was coming to help.

Nicodemus could feel the water pooling up around his body, pushing at him as he blocked the flow. The water began to gather around his face and he realized in a sudden panic that it was impossible for him to now go back, the force of the water wouldn’t allow that. He was a cork in a shaken bottle of champagne. He was able to move forward, but it was at a snail’s pace. In the back of his mind, Nicodemus had a rather morbid, and yet at the time, comforting thought; at least he would drown, and that that would be quicker than dying of starvation below hundreds of feet of rock. He began coughing out the water that attempted to force its way into his mouth, air was harder and harder to find. He was going to die. This solid blanket of rock and water was going to be his tomb. Pure panic set into his mind and bucked his back, which wasn’t much of a movement since the ceiling was maybe two inches above it.

He recoiled this way for a moment, but the futility of the movements became an immovable object in his brain and he slowed. He only had a moment left. There was no more air, no more life to pull into himself. Only a waiting death, a realization that the end was okay, welcomed and understood. His body relaxed and he reached up his hand above his head, more to stretch somewhat in that comfort that to move forward anymore, but as he did, his hand seemed to lose the rock. His hand reached further up, but there was no rock to touch that far in front of him, just water. He realized at that moment, that if he could only feel water, then that meant the passage just several feet in front of him must widen. His mind came awake and the lack of air didn’t seem so complete or dire. A flood of energy seemed to infuse his body.

Pulling back his hand he found the lip of the passage and grasped at it, his lungs burned for air and despite there being no light, he could see spots of red flashing into the peripherals of his vision; he was going to pass out soon. With his last rage of strength, he pulled at that edge and his body suddenly birthed itself into an open pool of water. He pulled at the water and kicked at the stone beneath his feet. Then he into the open air, barely able to tread water, but gasping for breath in the sweetness of the air. After floating for a bit on his back, he worked his way to the side, hoping this underground lake was not very large.

Even Stuffies Have Scars

My daughter came to me with her stuffed bear. We referred to all stuffed animals as a “stuffy”, or the plural form, “stuffies”.  She was maybe three years old and already the bear had issues. His fur was bare in many places, rubbed off from love. The velvet of his nose was rubbed down to the plastic underneath. He had both of his eyes, but he had been hugged and drug around our house so much that his stuffing had been compressed. When I say compressed, I mean that he looked like a limp rag just out of the wash, but my daughter loved him. She loved him a lot.

We had no idea where this particular stuffy had come from. When we had our first child, many gifts came into the house from so many generous people that often, where things came from getting lost in the shuffle. However, whatever generous person got my daughter this bear may never know the impact they had on her life with that gift. Not to embarrass her, but she is currently thirteen and still sleeps with this bear. So back to the point, at the age of six, my daughter came to me and said, “Daddy, my bear is all lumpy. Can you fix him?”

I looked at the little rumpled thing, its head flopping off to one side. By all accounts, this thing should be thrown into the trash. As mentioned above, this little stuffy had been worn down the quick, in my eyes he was worth nothing more than the bin for sure. However, when I looked at my daughter, that was not an option. In her eyes, this was a precious companion; useful, needed, important, and loved. Throwing him away was not an option, giving up on him was not an option.

I took the bear in hand and looked him over. “I can restuff him,” I said. “But he is going to have a scar.” I can sew, but I can’t sew well. However, while my wife does sew, she hates doing it, so the task falls to me. I am the clear choice when it comes to these tasks. That being said, I knew the stitches would show when I was done. She agreed. I took some stuffing, a pair of scissors, and my needle and thread and got to work. I snipped open the little bear’s hip and began the process of replacing the stuffing inside. When the stuffing was complete, I sewed his hip back up. As I had warned my daughter, the stitches showed; there was a scar. Over the years, many a stuffy in our home received scars from “stuffy surgery” by my hand.

I think about this and wonder if this is how God thinks about us. We may look at someone who seems worn out, wasted, lost, and by all accounts ragged. But God, just like my daughter sees someone precious, worthy, and in need. He calls out to us to reach out and heal this person, but we reject the idea. If I get involved, I’m not going to be able to help. There will be scars. God is okay with scars. In fact, I think sometimes he uses our scars to remind us to turn back to him. He calls us to intervene in the lives of others, even if our help might produce some scars. Scars are evidence that healing has been done. They are evidence that someone cares enough to request the healing for us.

D. Michl Lowe

Roller Skating and Maturity

-The beautiful skates my wife rented-

So my wife and I recently took the kids to a roller skating rink. First off, these still exist. Secondly. The one we went to could have been mistaken for a crack den. Or at least what I assume a crack den looks like. I nearly passed it for not realizing it was the place. It was built inside what I assume is a condemned school gymnasium from 1973. You might think I am kidding. I am not. See photo below. My middle daughter brought a friend and I apologized that she would need to get a tetanus shot after coming with us to this place.

-Literally an old grade school gym-
-The entryway was only slightly flooded-
-We weren’t allowed to go up stairs apparently-
-The skate floor (old basketball court) was nice-

Anyway, this got me thinking about how much things change. When I was a kid, going to the roller skating rink was a highlight of school trips. Thinking back on it now though, sure there was the fun going going fast, but the thrill of the place was finding a girl to hold hands with during the “couples skate” time. Also, the lead up to that time, there would be a whisper campaign of friends going to ask other friends if they wanted to be your couple skate partner.

As a child, that thrill of holding hands and the build up of who it was going to be was what made that time special. We were too young for real boyfriends or girlfriends, but playing the part was exciting. I walked out on the rink today and realized the thrill of childhood newness was gone. My wife skated by me and I realized I already had my partner to hold hands with. There was no mystery or thrill in wondering who, but that was okay.

That thrill has been replaced with the maturity of a deep and meaningful relationship. One that has led to my children being born and getting to see them experience things in somewhat the same way I did as a child. There was no couple skate today, but my girls come home from middle school talking about their friends who are “dating”. Alicia and I don’t allow boyfriends until they are 16 years old. Which might sound old fashioned, but we find allowing them to focus on childhood has worked out well so far.

I have often said that my current life is my favorite time of my life. I am 40 years old this year. That being said, I said that at 35 and also at 30. At 25 and at 20. I also said it at 15, and while I might not directly remember, I’m sure I said it at 10 and 5 as well. My point is, while I appreciate my past, I am happy with my life now and am looking forward to the future.

D. Michl Lowe

Being an Author with ADD

As a writer, I am often split in my attention. While I might be talking to someone or doing a task, my brain is always going over some aspect of my book. Maybe I am considering some part of the world of the book, here recently that’s been the magic system and religions of the people there. How do those things work? Why are they the way they are? Who are the major characters which will interact with those aspects of the world? How will the plot play into these things I am thinking up? All these types of questions are constantly running back and forth in my brain. I even dream about these things. The other night, I woke up and had to grab my phone to write down parts of my dream that would play into the story.

I have been told since I was a kid that I have my head in the clouds. Every single report card I ever got in grade school said that, “Michl is a great student, very smart, but he has his head in the clouds”. I get that I was ADD as a kid (it was undiagnosed), but I think that might continue today, but with very different distractions. Sometimes my wife will talk about how I don’t listen to her sometimes when she is talking. That might be true, but sometimes I think some of those times might be me being in my own head, running through characters, plots, world building, magic, and other things. Now to be clear, this isn’t a huge problem in our marriage, Alicia and I are actually doing pretty well.

However, I wonder if other authors have the same process in their minds. I keep notes on my phone and in my computer, but these things are never ending. There are always more notes, ideas, and characters to dream up and think about. I get inspired by a lot of things and new ideas constantly come into my brain.

I was rewriting a section where one of my characters is teaching a class. I decided to have the character open up to his class about a different part of his personality that I thought would be neat to explore. The issue was, I hadn’t written out that aspect of the character yet, so for the last couple of days my brain has been running through that part of his nature. I finished writing that new section yesterday and feel good about it, but it just makes me realize how much more I need to unpack the characters beliefs.

Am I alone in being borderline obsessed with the book worlds I am creating? I feel like it’s hard to talk to people about my ideas though. Partly because I don’t want to always be talking about my books, but also because there’s a part of me that doesn’t believe my writing is good. I think every author feels that way sometimes, but it’s still something I am acutely aware of. Does anyone else have feelings like this? Let me know in the comments below.

D. Michl Lowe

Religions in the World of Pillar

As a scholar of Riggleman Manor Archives, in good standing with the scientific and religious communities of Warrington. I, Nicodemus Pandit would like to present this general summary of the religions of Pillar and Bolster Heart to the community at large. I do this in order to bring about a basic understanding of them and lead the good peoples of this world into a way of belief that suits their interests and morality. As such, here is my list of the known religious beliefs of our world.

Akolian Religion: This is the religion where peoples worship the God named Akol, often referred to by His full name Akol Ramous. In this religion, they believe that Akol is the creator of all things and that he resides in a spiritual realm called Afterlife. From this realm, he is said to rule all beings. He is said to be nearly all-powerful, and nearly all-knowing, but is not considered omnipresent. Because He is not completely powerful, His adherents believe him to be a much more personal God than the Nameless. He is closer in relation to His creations and therefore much more involved in their day-to-day lives. Often people will pray to Akol hoping to gain his favor and hoping to call his attention to their plight or issues.

It is often important for the Akolian devotees to give thanks to Akol when things go well. Akol is most often considered male, even though He is not ever depicted as having a physical body. Several examples of scriptures from the long past have been found in archives and in these Akol is referred to as male, so that is how He is most often referred to. Adherents to this religion believe that when they die, their bodies will combust into flame (that much is not debated) and then their souls will go into Afterlife (the spiritual realm) and be with Akol for all time. This is achieved through good works and following the scriptures of Akol. The Smoke of a person who dies and goes up from the flames of their consumption is what they believe carries the person’s soul to Akol in Afterlife.

Worship of the Nameless: The Nameless is a deity to which the peoples of Pillar often worship when they reject the deity or belief of Akol Ramous. The Nameless is believed to be an all-powerful deity who has yet to make themselves known but is believed to exist due to the logical nature of there being some form of causer for the beginnings and endings of all things. While there are no scriptures per se about the Nameless, there are many philosophical writings about their nature. When considering the Nameless, it is believed they are all-powerful, all-knowing, and omnipresent.

As such, they are believed to be the creator of all things and the beginning and ending of all things, including life. The Nameless is not considered male or female, but a separate type of being with no gender at all. Believers of the Nameless say that one’s actions should be governed by an internal compass of morality. As such, each person is accountable for the good they are aware of. In this way, the amount of good a person adheres to within life will determine their afterlife and the good they experience there. If they are evil, they will experience evil. If they are good, they will experience good. This is no direct place peoples go to, but just an experience they will enter after death.

Enlightenment Worship: The worship of the Enlightened beings of Pillar. The enlightened beings of Pillar and Bolster Heart are the beings with the capacity to be aware of themselves and actively think about morality and others. As such, believers in this philosophy espouse that the greatest amount of good is seeking what is good for the most enlightened beings in any given circumstance. As such, they believe that debate and argument are some of the chief ways to understand morality. When in a debate, their rationale is not to change the mind of the person they are arguing with, but to win the argument and then to influence the people hearing the argument. When the greatest number of people are influenced, they see this as the greatest and rightest form of good and morality. While this might not seem like a formal religion, but more of a philosophy, the adherents would agree with you, but still consider this their religion. They do not believe in an afterlife for enlightened beings, believing that their current life is the only life they are able to live and as such should make this life as good as they can, given it is all that there is. Because of this, they are often given to excess and hedonism as well.

Flame Adherents: This is an off-shoot religion of the Enlightenment Worshipers which was discussed above. The Flame Adherents religion is one where the peoples worship the fact that all enlightened life comes to an end in the Flame of Consumption as they call it. If you will remember, in the world of Pillar, whenever an enlightened being dies, fifteen seconds after death, their bodies burst into flame and are completely consumed by this flame until only ash remains. This is a normal end to enlightened life on Pillar and is distinct to only enlightened beings. Non-enlightened or as they are often called, “wild” beings who are not thinking and rational beings are not consumed in fire upon death.

Their corpses remain intact. They believe that because only enlightened beings are consumed in flame at the time of death, this makes those beings special in a divine sense. Many of the precepts of the Enlightenment Worship are maintained here, believing in the utmost good for the most enlightened beings, but a large difference between the two religions is the belief held by the Flame Adherents that the combustion in flame at the end of life is a signifying event that the enlightened beings will be brought into an afterlife of some sort, either good or bad.

Dragon Worship: This is the religion that exalts the worship of the Great Dragons who sleep throughout the world. There are four known Dragons who sleep within Bolster Heart and a rumored two others that sleep on top of Pillar, but no one knows where they reside. However, the people of this religion believe that one day the Dragons will awake to lead the enlightened peoples of Pillar and Bolster Heart to a promised land; a land where they will live forever with the Dragons in complete harmony.

Believers in this religion often pray to the Dragons by name, believing that they can hear them in their dreams and will cause favorable outcomes. Believers of this religion believe that upon death, they will enter an afterlife made up of the Dragon’s dreams, awaiting the time they will awaken with the Dragon and be led into the promised land with all those still alive. Upon death, they believe the Smoke from a person’s body after combustion is what transfers their soul to the Dragons.

Superior Humanism: This is a racist cult where the adherents believe that the human race is superior to all other enlightened peoples on Pillar. Races such as the Flemi (rabbit/human hybrids), Kyoten (sheep/human hybrids), and especially Brown-dogs (intellectually equal, but physically similar to wild dogs), are seen as less than the human race. This religion is not currently widely accepted in most regions of Pillar. The island country of Rathen is the only known place where this religion is openly practiced freely. As such, other races present in this country are often enslaved or outright killed in the name of Superior Humanism. 

Soulism: Throughout the world, this cult is largely seen as evil and perverse. While this cult might seem similar to Humanism, it is very different. The adherents to this religion see themselves as an offshoot of Superior Humanism. Their beliefs line up with Superior Humanism completely save for one main difference. They do not believe that other races should be enslaved, but only that they should be killed. Along with that though, they see the smoke from those deaths as something that the other enlightened races stole from humans. As such, they often slaughter numerous peoples at a time and believe that breathing in their Smoke allows them to consume those beings’ souls and therefore restore balance to the world. They do not believe in an afterlife of any kind but believe that breathing in the Smoke of other enlightened beings will bring about power, wealth, and social status to them personally.

Atheism: This is the belief that there is no such thing as God or any form of the divine. As such, people who hold to this belief allow their own moral compass to guide their actions believing their personal beliefs and morals to the guide to right and wrong. They do not believe in an afterlife of any kind.

Nicodemus Pandit, Head Librarian for Riggleman Manor Archives

Taken from Religions of Pillar and Bolster Heart, by Nicodemus Pandit, Chapter 2, Section 1, Year: NL20317

Prologue: Destruction and Awakening

This is the rough draft of the Prologue for my upcoming book, Pillar of Smoke. Some of it has been released in the past, but much of it is brand new. I like it a lot better now. Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading.

– D. Michl Lowe –

Year: NL6655

An Ash Fairy could theoretically fly as high as it wanted. There was a limit in terms of being able to breathe, but fairies were odd in that. Being they were made of pure Smoke; breathing was not as vital as one might think. The winds were still an issue, but even that was not a huge problem. Vellum was more concerned about the temperature today though, that was her biggest issue. Hot fumes seemed to waft from the side of the thing she was flying up the side of. It was odd; when the Armatites had begun burying themselves under the ground, no one knew what was going on, and then the earthquakes had started, the edge of the world had cracked and split open, and then it had begun to rise. Thousands of Fairies had been sent up to look, and see the extent of the damage, their vision being sent back to each Opus of Conception they were tied to so the users could see what they saw.

Vellum had yet to go up to survey this thing they were calling The Pillar. She had seen it from the ground though, like a mountain that continued up forever. But being up this high, she could see that it did have an end, way beyond the height of clouds. As she rose up the side of the thing, she passed through the cloud level and still continued up. It took some real time to ascend. She passed by a large hole in the side of it and looked in. She was still about a mile from the top. The outside edge here created a large lip that led to the hole in the side of The Pillar. She flew down and looked inside. The cavern was enormous, big enough that it had its own curvature, like a planet’s surface.

There were what appeared to be concentric circles of stone inside, large enough that each one could make up a country on its own. She could see many Flemi down there, all working, building. They had on breathing helmets, they would need those, since the air up this high was scarce. She constructed a Sending in her mind and transmitted it to Sellvest back on the ground, the user of her Opus. She would be monitoring this flight.

“What is this?” she Sent.

“From our spies inside, they have told us that it is mainly Flemi inside of there and they are saying it is a new country with separate states. They call the country Bolster Heart. It’s basically a cavern almost as big as the top of The Pillar. The Flemi seem to be using the outer lip of it, the one outside of the actual cavern, as farmland. We believe the rebels intend to live up there, on top and down inside that cavern,” Sellvest Sent back.

Vellum flew out of the cavern and continued up. As she crested the top edge and continued to get a sense of its scale, her estimate was that it was over seven miles high. She continued up, higher and higher. The atmosphere this high was extremely thin, she went further, the curvature of the Earth fully visible at this height. The rings were clearly visible in the sky from where the moon had been destroyed. Every couple of minutes, a meteor would streak through the atmosphere. Scientists said that would happen for some time yet. The resulting tsunami’s that had come about after that had happened several years before now were terrible. Whole cities and even countries had disappeared overnight.

As she continued up, it was then, the full extent and size of the thing became clear. She knew now why it was called The Pillar; it was perfectly circular but immense in scale. It stretched from Firbank in the southwest all the way to Haxby in the northeast. While not the full counties had been raised, in fact, they had been nearly cut in half, which was a diameter of around one thousand miles. So, the top of The Pillar comprised a mass of land over a thousand miles across and raised into the air over seven miles, like a massive plateau. Calling the thing, The Pillar made complete sense to her now.

“Are you seeing this?” she Sent.

“I am,” Sellvest replied. “Why would they do this? What advantage does it serve them? We could always just send tricopters up the side of it and attack them that way.”

Vellum nodded her head, thinking. As she was doing this, a visible vibration ran along the surface of the Pillar. She descended to get a closer look. As she watched, across the land, large towers began to rise out of the ground. Every couple of miles as far as she could see, they would rise up. They were all easily over fifteen hundred feet tall, and then came the clouds, dark and muddy, they came billowing out from these towers, spewing up into the atmosphere. Quickly the land became covered in clouds, obscuring her view of anything. As the cloud cover came to the edge of the Pillar, she realized for the first time that a large wall encircled its lip. As the clouds hit this lip, they rolled back on each other like a wave. As the land filled with cloud cover, it began to slowly cascade over the lip and fall towards the earth below, like a waterfall.

And then it came, a shocking blast. She hadn’t seen anything, but the force of it began to push her away. She couldn’t stop it. It was like a hand of electrified air was punching her repeatedly, farther, and farther out it pushed her. The effect was not only startling but immensely painful. She closed her eyes and screamed. Over and over, it assaulted her. After what seemed like an eternity, it finally stopped and she realized she was falling. It would take some time before she hit the ground of course, but opening her eyes she saw she was falling down the side of the Pillar.

She was passing the lip of Bolster Heart and briefly saw Flemi removing their helmets as a wave of clouds burst from the tunnel entrance, she had first gone in. Vents on the side also burst out streams of clouds. As soon as those clouds came out to where she was, the pain started again. Wracked in agony, her mind couldn’t take it any longer. Blackness overcame her as she continued to fall. She wasn’t afraid, being only five inches tall and only weighing a couple of ounces, she would not be hurt when she landed, but it was a long way down. The darkness then overcame her.

Three days later:

Fredrickson was no longer a peaceful country. The moon had been blown into rubble only a couple of years before this and still, the sky rained flaming rocks from its destruction. Billions had died and devastation was the state of the entire world. War was now commonplace and there wasn’t a country not invaded or invading. Everyone had lost something, be it friends, family, or homes. All because humanity had wanted to be God. The power of creation in their hands and what did they make, a new type of people. The issue was that instead of welcoming these new peoples into the brotherhood of man, they instead forced them into labor and further experiments.

These peoples had revolted against their masters and in many ways, had surpassed them. The lessons of the old world had not been learned well it seemed. The human world was united in mind, through the power of Smoke. All thoughts had melded into a hivemind of human brains, but still, there was hate. Still, there was war. Still, there was evil in the world and the burning buildings and dead all around Patsu were like marked graves for man’s ambitions. The ambitions that were even now shaking the ground he stood upon.

A spider-like leg smashed the ground not twenty paces to his left and the earth heaved in revolt, the leg sinking into the ground. The leg was that of an Armatite, a monster created not by humans, but by the new peoples. Created to upheave the world. There were millions of these creations, and as four walked past Patsu on their spindled legs, they nearly threw him to the ground. However, Patsu’s Smoke enhanced senses allowed him to remain upright, riding the waves of earth as they shifted under him. His fairy, Lince held on to its ring and attached his left shoulder. Her feminine face scowled as she looked up at the thing.

“Those things still unnerve me,” Lince said. “They’re too big and way too loud.”

Patsu nodded his head in agreement, but he was too focused on what he was planning to do next to make conversation with Lince at the moment. She was talkative but also knew when to be quiet as well and a battle was no place to be having a conversation. She was right though, the Armatites were enormous things, nearly twenty stories tall, and their bulbous heads were flared off the back, making them appear to have odd tail feathers. However, it was the legs that everyone remembered. The legs, and the clicking songs. The singing, like the howls of ghosts. It was rumored that the creators of the Armatites had used the brains of whales as a host for the structures that went into making the artificial minds of the Armatites. Specifically, sperm whales. It was horrific to think about, considering their near-extinction status, but their brains were large enough and complex enough to house the needed information. As such, the monsters sang constantly, a haunting alien song, as the lifeforms devastated the world they had been born into, like a spider that devours its mother after birth.

The creature had seven legs; long and with too many segments, they appeared almost serpentine as they walked forward toward the edge of the great wall. Their arms were like that of an octopus and could stretch for several hundred yards. At the end of their arms were three-fingered hands, large enough to grab a carriage if they chose. As they reached the edge of the wall, those hands reached out and they began to climb. They had created it, of course, the wall, or The Pillar as the news was calling it. Looking after the creature, Patsu again wondered where his partner Trance was. There had been a scuffle with a pack of those talking dogs, one of the new races of Peoples the humans had created. The human-like dogs had been one of the first hybrids to have been created. He still couldn’t believe that was a reality now.

Trance had been cut off from him in the battle, and while he had been able to escape, Trance had run the opposite way and despite him directing multiple Sendings to him, all of them had gone unanswered. He tried again. Opening himself up to the vastness of the hivemind, he searched for the marker for Trance and found it. But no matter what he said, none of the Sendings seemed to make it through to his friend.

“Still no answer from Trance,” he told Lince.

“It’s not like him to be so quiet, normally he would be Sending all the time to you. It’s odd. I can feel that something isn’t right with the Smoke today. Something is changing,” Lince said, frowning again.

The Armatite continued past them. They rarely engaged with singular combatants, only attacking if provoked. In the last week, they had really been avoidant of battle. Ever since the clouds had come down from the top of the Pillar and that electrified field had stopped any form of surveillance at the top of the Pillar, the Armatites had been acting, differently. All of them had been moving towards the Pillar and climbing it. It was as if they knew something was happening and were fleeing. It wasn’t because the humans were winning the war, that was for sure. It had been a near stalemate for years now, but they were running.

He looked again at the Pillar. Over seven miles high, it had risen out of the earth only a couple of days before this. The sides of it were still red hot from being scraped as it had slid upwards out of the crust of the earth. Satellite photos showed that it was perfectly circular in shape; most of the eastern seaboard was now seven miles into the air, but why? Tricopters screamed past him, loosing their missiles as they passed, attempting to kill the Armatites. Was kill the right word? Patsu still wondered about that, were these things a biological or mechanical creation? The line was getting blurred. It had been tried before; everything had been tried.

The humans had created the Great Beasts in direct response to the Armatites creation. It was just like this now, biological weapon after biological weapon. The Genetic War was like nothing that had ever come before. No one was even sure if the Beasts were actually alive or were just machines. They acted like intelligent creatures, they could speak, and they even appeared to occasionally eat, but they were not in any way human. They were weapons of war; nothing was clearer than that. They bled like biological creatures, but they couldn’t be called natural. Nothing about them was natural and just because you bled, these days that didn’t make you natural.

Nothing about the Armatites was natural either though. As the missiles slammed into the side of the one that had just passed over Patsu and Lince they had to shield their eyes. Even still, spots of white flashed in Patsu’s vision. The thermal blasts these weapons gave off were brighter than the sun. Opening himself up to the Smoke from the world around him, Patsu pulled at the Smoke he knew was waiting there for him. Lince began to glow as she felt him start the spell. From the trees in the nearby park, the grass beneath his feet, and even the people who were running to get away from the battle in the city below, wisps of Smoke streamed into him; white Smoke, the raw power of creation, of possibility. The Opus of Conception was open in his left hand, the pages of the book fluttering by, first one way, then the next, the words on the pages fluttering past and scrolling down; too fast to be read by normal eyes. But Patsu wasn’t reading it anyway. Lince fluttered down to land on the edge of the binding, her eyes seeming to glaze over in ecstasy from the amount of Smoke the Opus was handling. This book was a conduit for the power of the Smoke and Lince was its Fairy.

Focusing his eyes on the nearest of the Armatites, he coalesced the Smoke around him and the book. The whiteness of the Smoke focused together and formed a spear in front of his body. It was pure white, so white that it was hard to see, the light of the sky reflecting off it. The white along its shaft and blade was so reflective that it was like the surface of the sun. And then it was loosed, a cannon shot of speed as it sailed through the air towards one of the legs of the Armatite. The spear landed and the leg was cleanly severed. The being, if that’s truly what it was, faltered for a moment, the leg itself falling and crashing to the ground like a redwood, smashing homes and buildings alike. Losing one leg would not stop it. It turned toward Patsu. The single eye on the front of its body narrowed as it scanned for the source of the strike.

It wouldn’t take long, the creatures were able to sense Smoke, and a collection of it like what Patsu held was easily seen. The Armatite turned its body and began running back towards Patsu the segmented legs slamming the ground; an earthquake that moved. They were surprisingly nimble when they wanted to be. When they first appeared, people were confused when fighting them, thinking all the weight was at the top of their giant heads, but the legs were the heaviest part of the creatures. So, when they began to run, the ground shook with their gait.

The arms of the creature shot out toward Patsu, but this was not his first assault on an Armatite. Lines of transparent shielding rippled into being around him and his feet lifted off the ground. As he hovered two feet off the ground, the shield he had created would have been hard to see, save for the slight shimmer in the air, like heat rising from the pavement. The arms slammed into the invisible shield as if they had struck solid stone. The singing was deafening and Patsu was glad for the helmet he wore; the clear ceramic not only protected his head from physical damage but also blocked out much of the sounds from these things. Sounds that would deafen someone were muffled, while normal sounds came through easily. That said, some of the soldiers were still getting hearing loss. While Lince’s hearing wouldn’t be damaged, she was pure smoke, after all, it was still uncomfortable with it and held her small pointed ears.

He yelled over the sound, “Lince, will the shield hold?”

“Against those arms? A bit. But its legs, not at all!” She screamed still holding her ears. She would have known what he asked even if he had never spoken the words out loud.

The scientists who studied the Armatites said that the sound was so loud, it was reverberating up through their bodies and still reaching their inner ears, causing damage over time. The creature was coming closer the legs shaking the ground. He understood what was needed, three more spears, white as bleached paper, were already formed in from of him and he sent them. Each one slashed a separate leg and the scream that came from the Armatite was immense, it reverberated the shield, and cracks spidered along Patsu’s helm from the sheer force of the soundwave. It was only a moment, but the creature made it to him.

The great head bent down, the fluid-filled eye reflecting the fires and devastation around Patsu. It blinked, a thin layer of lubricant, oily, spread over the surface. Then, it stopped, the head snapping up and the arms pulling back towards the body. The legs extended and it pulled itself up as tall as it could, looking northeast, away from the Pillar. Patsu turned and looked toward where the creature was looking. On the horizon, the night appeared to be sweeping in. But wait, it couldn’t be night thought Patsu. He looked at his watch, it was only 4:00 p.m. way too early for the night. But a black curtain was pressing forward over the horizon.

The Armatite appeared to glance up at that curtain, then it rose, turned, and began running for the base of the Pillar, its arms extending and smashing into the stone side, clawing at it to climb up. Patsu let the shield dissolve, then he heard something off to the right. Glancing over that way, he saw Trance walk up to him, staring off at the curtain quickly making its way toward them. Trance’s fairy Roc sat in the tuffs of Trance’s hair on the top of his head. He must have lost his helm somewhere. He held a Smoke blade, the blade of the weapon nearly seven feet long and almost shining its surface was so white. He would have wielded that blade with one hand, even with the blade being almost a foot wide, but it had no significant weight. He had a bad bite mark on his left forearm and blood trickled down to his wrist, but it would heal with time. His Opus of Conception hung from a chain he wore across his chest.

“Why didn’t you answer my sending?” Patsu asked.

“I never got a sending from you. I think this blackness is something new, maybe it disrupts Sendings? Any idea what it is?” Trance asked.

Patsu shook his head. “No idea. Lince doesn’t know either. But it must be Smoke, but not like any Smoke I have ever seen. There’s too much of it and it’s black. Why is it black?”

A sending suddenly came to the back of Patsu’s mind and he glanced over at Trance, and the man turned away from Patsu, obviously getting the same message. That was an odd holdover from the handheld devices that used smoke in the past. People would turn away from others when speaking or writing on them for privacy. With internal Sending’s, privacy wasn’t needed any longer, they were all in your mind, but some habits die hard. The sending was an announcement from the Fredrickson High Command.

The message said, “Akol has gone rogue. We are no longer in control of him. He has created and launched a worldwide attack against the human nations. He is calling it The Devonian Solution. The Ministry of Smoke has created domes of shielding that should protect specific structures, but we theorize nearly everything this new Smoke touches will be dissolved if it is not natural in its state. The smoke has been weaponized and is dematerializing everything it touches unless it is natural. Be aware that when it touches you, anything in a non-natural state, will turn to dust. Human bodies should be fine, but anything else will be destroyed. It will be easy for the…” the rest of the message cut off as if the data was missing.

Patsu glanced over at Trance and the man frowned. “Devonian,” he said. “It’s like a lame joke. Akol always did enjoy metaphors. He’s referring to a time in prehistory when humans were not the dominant species on the planet.”

The black wall closed in; it was rushing across the land. There was going to be no way the two of them could get to safety. Of course, did they really need to? Beyond their gear, it wouldn’t harm them, would it? Patsu wasn’t sure, but he was well-trained and fully devoted to the cause of liberty. He would not be conquered by a bunch of genetic abnormalities!

He looked back toward Trance and shook his head considering what he had said. “No,” he said grimly. “It refers to a time when humans didn’t exist at all.”

“Patsu, I’m scared,” Lince said, alighting on his shoulder again. “If the Opus of Conception is destroyed, what will happen to me?”

Patsu felt tears sliding down his cheeks. “I don’t know Lince. I don’t know.”

She flew up and placed her hand into one of the tears. As Patsu reached up to shield his fairy, the rushing wall of blackness enveloped them. The folds of his uniform lost tension and began falling to pieces, and the cold rust of the black wind causes him to shiver. He couldn’t see anything and the rushing air was deafening. The Smoke itself was so thick, he believed he could feel it sliding past him, dissolving everything but himself. Then he felt the Opus in his hand fall away, like trying to hold water, it fell between his fingers. In only a moment, the rushing blackness was past and he stood up. Everything was gone, he stood naked on the hilltop with Trance similarly standing as well. Lince lay on the ground beside him, but she was no longer white, her luminescence was dark. Her skin was no longer white, but a dark grey, nearly black. Her wings fluttered a moment and she glanced up at Patsu. Confusion, shock, and horror came over her face. She jumped up and then flew off toward the woods.

“Lince!” Patsu screamed, but it was no use. Roc, Trance’s fairy, was flying away too, but in a different direction. It seemed that when the Opus’ were destroyed, something within the Fairies had been destroyed as well. Patsu wasn’t sure, but something within him made him believe that he would never see Lince again. Looking down towards the town that had been below them, Patsu and Trance could see that none of the buildings remained, at all. There was nothing, just piles of dust where they had been, the wind picking up the leavings and creating a hazy blur over the horizon.

“What now?” Patsu asked.

“I don’t know,” Trance replied. “Maybe we can find something to use as some clothes first. Otherwise, I have no idea.”

They both stared down at the town, already seeing people climbing out from the piles of dust where the buildings had been. Cold nakedness and fear. What would Akol do next? A Devonian era was beginning again.

Over 13,000 years later…

Year: NL20326

The clouds rolled out of the vent pipes at the top of the cavern that was Bolster Heart. A great country that resided within the enormity of Pillar which was a separated and elevated world and the creation of Akol, God of the World, from the beginning of time. These clouds happened every morning and throughout the day, and as a result, it rained often. There was even lightning inside the cavern, and the clouds did reflect the lights from below, which helped with the general dimness of the place. As was normal, the mist had fallen low to cover the streets and the lantern lights along the paving stones had made a milky light that obscured the view more than enhanced it.

Thistlewart Mink, a stubby little fellow of a Flemi, was shuffling along down the sidewalk towards his job at the Bondwarden Keep, a prison of sorts. He was often teased. His neighbor at the boarding house would often flip off Thistlewart’s hat as he passed him in the hall, or tug at his irregular ears. Thistlewart was not an intelligent, clean, or even that likable a Flemi and was often looked down upon and made fun of for a myriad of things.

His room at the boarding house was a closet-sized hole with barely enough space for a cot and he shared the single sink washroom with about thirty other Flemi, there was no toilet, and the only one of those was two blocks away. They were rarely used anyway and only the richest Flemi had them where they lived. He had tried to get close to one of his neighbors once, an attractive female Flemi named Nass. She had perfectly smooth fur around her eyes and her ears were always tied back with a blue ribbon, but she was quick to laugh at him and make fun of him as well. He had cried himself to sleep that night.

His job, as it was, was mopping up the seepage from the center block of the prison. Every day, he walked the half-a-mile stretch down the boulevard, dodging the other people’s pushing carts or hauling goods on their backs, to the outskirts of the southeastern edge of Skalholt Prefecture, where many of the down-and-out Flemi lived.

While it might have been the center of all of Bolster Heart, Skalholt was also the place the poor lived. The good King Pompi had tried to solve homelessness and poverty by providing cheap one-room housing in Skalholt Prefecture, but it had just resulted in a rise in crime and other unfavorable situations. However, while Thistlewart may not have been the smartest Flemi, he was willing to work and although it wasn’t much, he got by. Truthfully though, unlike many of the top countries of Pillar, debt labor was illegal in Bolster Heart, but the ways in which the workers were paid, made it almost the same thing. In any given area, the workers were often paid in wooden chits that the companies around that area used as currency. So, whenever a worker was paid, they basically had to shop at a store owned by the very people that were paying their wage. The control of wages in chits was a way for the corporations to basically have debt labor. Everyone knew this, but there wasn’t much they could do to change it.

Muttering to himself, he passed the bakery on the corner and smelled the fresh rolls that the baker had just put out. He had stolen one of those rolls once when the baker’s wife had brought out a pan of them to place out front and left them unguarded for a moment. He had felt a little guilty about that, but it was honestly one of the best days he had ever had. It was much better than the tough biscuits the breadline gave out. You had to soak them for quite a while before they were even edible. As such, it was soggy on the outside and still rock on the inside, not pleasant. But the roll from Victor’s Bakery was just about the best thing he had ever eaten, even if he had done it in an alley, scared that he would be discovered.

As he came into the temple block, he was taken again by how much it didn’t remind him of an actual prison. There were prisons for the Flemi who committed crimes of course, but this was nothing like those, this looked, for all the world like a grand temple, and, that’s exactly what it was, but it was also a prison and Flemi referred to it both ways. It was said that this prison held one of the Great Beasts, legendary creatures that came from the time of creation. Of course, Thistlewart didn’t know much about any of that, he was just happy to have a job. It paid for his room and the stops in the breadlines, but not much else. Still, what was a Flemi to do?

As walked through the large iron gates that surrounded the building, one of the trucks nearly ran him over, “Out of the way, you flaming ash heap!” a man from the cab yelled and Thistlewart jumped to the side. The man wore a ripped tweed ivy cap with his ears pulled back behind it, a common way to get the long ears of a male Flemi out of the way, he spat out the window as the truck moved on through the gate, its fog lights bright.

Lady Flemi tended to tie their ears back with ribbons or a kerchief. Thistlewart’s long ears dangled into his face often, their edges clipped and nicked from the years he had worked in the automobile factory. The machines were always taking bites out of the worker’s ears. He had lost that job when one of them had caught his leg and nearly tore it off. He had recovered, but he wasn’t able to run from machine to machine any longer, so they had let him go.

Bum leg or not, Thistlewart was late today and while the Flemi were typically thought of as punctual, it was just a stereotype. The thought may have come from the fact that the Flemi resembled rabbits, their long fur-covered ears often being long enough to rest on their shoulders and their pronounced whiskered faces were a complete mimic of the animal. But of course, their bodies were much more like a human’s body, only covered in fur.

In literature, rabbits were always thought to carry pocket watches and always be on time, but still. Even as that thought skittered through his mind, Thistlewart looked up at the large inlaid clock on the outside of the main temple prison’s stone-worked facade, 9:09 a.m. He might be a little later than he originally thought. Nothing genetically gave them a greater sense of time or reliability. As it was though, he picked up the pace.

“You’re late Wart,” his manager Mr. Ruffle said, as he walked into the little office that held the equipment he would need for the day’s work.

He punched in on the time clock. Everyone at work called him Wart. A thistlewart was a relatively common flower on the cliffs of Husavik and his mother loved it, thus his name, but he was resentful of it, always. Mr. Ruffle was always mean to him.

“Sorry sir,” he mumbled and walked to the closet in the back room. “I’ll try to be on time tomorrow, this old leg of mine is acting up again. I’ll do better.”

“See that it doesn’t,” Mr. Ruffle grumbled. “I got a whole city full of little pukes just like you that I can fill your spot with. You remember that!”

“Yes sir. I will sir, thank you, sir.”

Someday he would make that man pay. He didn’t know how, or in what way, but he would make him pay. Always yelling, always critical, always a bully. He grabbed the tunic that he was required to wear over his trousers and button-down, then belted on the little tool belt over it.

“Hey, I’m gonna need you to go into the dome room today and manage the valves in there.” Mr. Ruffle said.

“The dome room? I’ve never been in there sir. That’s usually Calbert’s job,” he said. Was Calbert, okay?

“Yeah, well Calbert got canned for messing about and not doing his job. So even though you’re a pitiful excuse for an employee, let’s see how you do with this one, an important job. Just don’t go messing around with the dome itself or staring in at that monstrosity inside, it’ll give you nightmares for sure.”

Maybe Mr. Ruffle was just rough with everybody?

“No sir, I won’t sir. Thank you, sir. I won’t let you down sir,” he stammered a flush rising in his cheeks.

Maybe this was his chance to show everyone that he wasn’t a screwup. He could get things done. Maybe a pay raise would come with this.

“Well?” Mr. Ruffle said. “Get to it then!” “Yes sir!”

He rushed as fast as he could down the hall from the main passage. He took a doorway to the left. He came to a large steel door, that would lead him down to the dome. The door was massive, easily twenty feet tall, and carved all over with images of the Beasts. Mr. Ruffle was right, seeing one of these would give him nightmares for sure. It had to be that large, of course, to get the occupant of the room inside. It would have taken a door that size for sure. He stepped to the side of the door to a smaller one, this one designed specifically for Flemi. Opening this smaller door, he stepped through into the chamber beyond. These places were nearly all the same. Ratcheting the locks and door bolts back was second nature for him by now, the whole temple was full of these types of doors.

He closed the door but pulled out the small lamp he kept on his belt, so he could see somewhat.

Walking over to the valves on the side of the room he began cranking the wheel to start the motors running so the dim lights would blink on, then he could see the remaining valves and levers that needed adjusting just above him, the rest of the room remained dark while the system booted up. He stepped on a wet spot on the floor, a common thing.

“Dang, the valves must be leaking,” he said to himself.

These systems were always springing leaks and needing to be replaced or fixed. He wasn’t sure how long the whole system would last and with Calbert slacking off, who knew what all could be breaking down in this area.

The system had made it this far though, so he suspected it might last another couple thousand years before smarter Flemi than he would have to fully fix the system. He noticed the liquid he had stepped in was black and little boot prints were leading to where he now stood. He adjusted his tunic. Luckily the Beast within this place was one of the sleepers. All the known Beasts were asleep, but this one was different. While the Flemi didn’t like to say his name, Thistlewart had heard it mentioned several times and of course, had learned it in school when he was a boy.

This sleeper was Dumont, a Beast many said was equal to the leader of the Beasts and arguably the whole world, Ashlynn. She was said to be beautiful, elegant, and kind, while he was said to be dark and supremely cruel. All the beasts save for Ashlynn had been terrible when they were first created, but Ashlynn had tamed them all, save for Dumont, it was said he was untamable and too powerful to bend to Ashlynn’s will. But none of that mattered to Thistlewart, because the Beasts were all asleep and any good or bad, they might represent was locked sleeping away in each of their temples, including Dumont in the one he stood in now.

He twisted a wheel on the wall and it creaked slowly, the hum of the engines within the walls began to give off a sickly-sweet smell that he wasn’t used to smelling. The lights farther in were switching on now as he turned around and he nearly fell back. In the brightness of the now fully lit lamps around the hall, he saw the sleeper’s chamber, a dome the size of a small house, but several of the cords connecting it to the machines within the temple were hanging loose, black fluid dripping from their dangling ends.

He hobbled over to the window of the dome. The metal door was Flemi sized and he wondered how the beast could have gotten into the dome. Even though Mr. Ruffle had warned him not to look in, he stood on his toes to do just that. The sleeper’s chest was still rising and falling as it should have been. Dumont was a great creature indeed, easily the size of a small truck. His long neck was covered in hair, but thick, like quills. His head resembled a horse, but the teeth that jutted from their sides reminded Thistlewart of the pictures he had seen of the animals called alligators. His body was covered in a thick short blueish black fir, and his tail again reminded Thistlewart of an alligator, but much longer and thinner towards the tip.

He had wings like an eagle that were folded along his back, but they were limp and brushing the floor. There was more of the black liquid here and it was pooling around the creature. Its wings appeared to be edging into that liquid, staining their bluish tips black as it seeped up into the plumage. He started for the main door, ready to rush back out to the main hall, to let Mr. Ruffle know about the problem and he thought that the Counsel of Three or even King Pompi would want to know about this, it was serious business! A problem with the dome that kept Dumont sleeping was a big deal. He might even wake up and what would that mean Thistlewart wondered. It wouldn’t be good, that was for sure.

As he was beginning to turn from the dome, a smell of burning metal seemed to waft toward him. It took him by surprise, that he could smell it. In Bolster Heart, that smell was common with all the machines around, but that is why it surprised him, he was used to it and this was a much more pungent version of that smell.

“Would it not be nice, if your boss was nicer to you?” The voice was soft-spoken but deep and sonorous.

It was almost as if someone was down the hall speaking to him, or speaking up from the bottom of a barrel.

“Who?” Thistlewart began. “Who is this? Who’s there?”

 He looked around the room, but there was no one, only himself. There was a drip, drip, drip from the leaking valve. Maybe he had just imagined the voice.

“I can make him nicer to you. I could do even more than that for you. How would you like to run this entire facility? I could do that. I’m willing to. I am a very generous person.”

The voice tickled the back of his mind and he looked around again. It was closer now; he was sure of it. Clearer too.

“Seriously, who are you? Where are you?” he asked again, turning in circles now. “Is that you Brontly? Are you playing your tricks again?”

He was getting a little dizzy now, it felt like he was breathing in a mist.

“My dearest Thistlewart, you have lived such a difficult life. You still do. You are disrespected at your work, ignored where you live, and you have not even touched a female in years. You are alone and sad.”

The voice was empathetic and kind. This person cared for Thistlewart; he knew that. He could feel the emotion of it, even taste it, if that was possible. He was sure it was.

“Friend, I know what it is like to be alone. I too have been alone for so long. You and I are greatly alike, the same really,” the voice said.

Thistlewart felt hot tears sliding down the fur on his cheeks and he wiped his eyes, he hadn’t even realized he was crying until he had felt them. The sadness of his life was weighing upon him now, but he wasn’t sure why. What had happened? All he knew was that this voice cared about him and loved him. It had always loved him, how had he not known that before?

“I can help you, friend. I can bring you peace and happiness. I just need something from you first. A simple thing. Nothing of consequence at all. Will you do this simple thing for me?” the voice cooed, there was a trail of white Smoke slowly curling up out of a place where one of the hoses had been attached to the dome.

He thought maybe the acrid smell was coming from that, he really should get help to fix that issue… what was the issue again? Thistlewart walked slowly back towards the window. The dome’s slanting metal sides were glistening with perspiration as if the inside of the dome was cold. He pushed up on his tiptoes and looked again through the little window in the barred door. The beast was still inside, still not moving, but white Smoke curled from its nostrils and was slowly filling the top of the chamber within.

“Are you… the one talking to me?” Thistlewart asked, a little scared of the answer he might get.

“I am,” the voice said. “And I am not what you have heard about. Do I sound as if I am a bad creature? Do my words sound as if I am ready to bring about doom and dread? Just like you, people have spread nasty rumors about me and it is all lies! All of it. Lies. You believe me do you not?”

The voice was calming. He slid down the door and sat back on his haunches, considering, and thinking. It was all so obvious to him now, as it always should have been. He was embarrassed it had taken him this long to realize the truth about this creature.

“So, you aren’t evil, like they say?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

It was obvious.

“Do I sound evil to you? I want to help you, but I can only do that if you first help me. That is fair, is it not? That I would help you if you first would help me. You wish to be fair, do you not?”

Thistlewart did want to be fair. Wouldn’t that make the world a better place, if everything was fair? He thought. So many things in his life were unfair. It was unfair that he had to live where he did, that he got paid for what he did, and that no one liked him. It was all so unfair. Well, he would be fair, if it was the last thing he could do, he would be fair!

“I know you have been treated unfairly your whole life. The God so many would pray to does not even provide enough money for you to live on.”

The voice was sympathetic.

“You know, I could even heal your leg, and make you whole again. I can make Nass love you if that is something you would want. I can do great things Thistlewart and I am willing to do those great things if you do but one small thing for me… you must release the rest of those cables from this dome.”

Thistlewart nodded. It all made sense.

Ten minutes later:

Tolden Ruffle came into the heart of the temple after hearing the squeal of ripping metal. Everyone in the building came running in. People would have heard it for miles. He had to push through the throng of Flemi that crowded into the doorway leading to where the dome was located. When he had pushed his way in, he stopped, bent over, and nearly lost his footing. The dome looked like the petals of a flower, peeled back, and opened. Inside, it was empty.

The pipes and cables which normally connected to the dome were hanging from their ceiling mounts, the connectors not torn away, but neatly disconnected. The black liquid that had kept Dumont sleeping for as long as anyone could remember was pouring out onto the floor. In the middle of that pool were the ashes of what had been Thistlewart Mink, the small pile soaking into the black and disappearing. Tolden nearly vomited right there. He reached over to steady himself on his friend Monty who had just walked up and stood beside him.

“The fool,” Monty said, shaking his head. “He’s doomed us all, he has.”

Tolden Ruffle merely nodded his head. Doomed us all indeed he thought and tears began cascading down his cheeks.

A Brief History of Pillar and the Genetic Wars

Dates on historical Earth and the History of Genetic Hybrids:

Around the turn of the millennium of 6000 AD, humanity decided to change from the use of an AD (often seen as Anno Domini) to the new moniker of NL, which stood for New Life. It was around this time that artificial AI constructs were finally seen to pass the Turing Test and were seen as primarily sentient. This enhancement provided the world with a new form of intelligent life. This was further concreted into the mindset of the peoples of this age when it was 6500 NL, with the help of AI, humans were able to achieve new forms of intelligent biological life. Since the initial experiments were conducted on Animals, these creatures were the first to be seen as a new form of intelligent life. This is where we get animals that in appearance seem like normal animals, but have been given genetic enhancements to increase intelligence and often dexterity for speech and movement. This is why a Brown-dog may appear like a normal dog, but in fact has human-level intelligence, much more dexterity in facial and verbal apparatuses, and even enhanced joint movement in its legs and feet which allow them to function in many human-like ways.

In fact, Brown-dogs were the very first mass-produced genetic hybrid animal humans which were ever made. Soon after though, many more creatures were created that conform to a more human-like stature. We see this in the creatures called Flemi, a name they chose for themselves. Similar creations were the Mangalit, the Kyoten, and the Canidaen. These creatures are more human and less animal but retain many of the similar features of their animal ancestors. As such, they can sometimes even be confused with being human if seen from a distance.

Historical Smoke and the Genetic Wars:

From about NL6500 – NL6655, Smoke operated in a very different fashion as to how it operates at the current moment in time of NL20327. Historically, in the beginning, Smoke was only used for communication purposes. Humans would breathe in smoke, which would bind itself into their brain matter and then wirelessly communicate with other smoke particles outside of the human host’s body. In this way, humans were able to communicate with each other via their minds alone. This created a voluntary hivemind for humanity and pushed human technology beyond anything it had ever achieved in the past. This led to large advancements in science and the understanding of the human brain and its full capability. Because humans had access to all known human knowledge at a thought, the full extent of human knowledge became accessible to each person.

Because the access was near instantaneous, that knowledge became nearly indistinguishable from a person’s own knowledge. Many humans were unable to deal with this degree of freedom and quantity of knowledge. Some of them retreated into the vast sea of information, using stasis pods to keep them alive for as long as possible, but allowing them to live within that information. Others merely went mad and ended their own lives. Smoke can self-replicate using a physical medium to create new Smoke. This medium can be nearly anything, but it prefers biological mass. The process is similar to how DNA creates proteins. During the Genetic Wars of NL6650 – NL6655 the AI construct known as Akol lashed out at his human creators by siding with the genetic hybrids. At first, this defiance came in the form of helping the hybrids to organize a resistance, but in time, when established bases of power in the eastern mountain ranges, mostly housed in old mines, Akol was able to create the Armatites. With the power of the Armatites, Akol was able to create havoc on Earth, even going so far as to have them create the Pillar, which would separate Akol’s chosen kingdom from the rest of the world and prevent them from ever entering said kingdom.

However, the humans responded by creating the Beasts. These creatures, not fully biological and not fully synthetic, were able to begin to turn the tide of the war. That is until Akol was able to create his own Beast, which was able to infect the others with a virus that caused them to go into a hibernation of sorts. As such, the beasts were nullified and sealed away within Akol’s kingdom of Pillar, but he wasn’t done. To make sure the human countries of the world could not retaliate and find a way to enter Pillar, Akol instituted the release of a worldwide Devonian Solution. This involved Akol weaponizing the Smoke which permeated the entire Earth at this time. The smoke was called on to dismantle any molecular structure which was not in its natural state. So, anything that was modified from its natural state was turned to dust. As soon as this began to happen, the humans devised a way to block small areas of land from its effect, saving certain landmarks and buildings and everything within them. Still, every other structure, technology, knowledge, and even the Smoke itself became largely inert.

Around the world, buildings crumbled to dust, paved roads turned to sand, libraries crumbled into piles of dust, and even the clothes people wore fell from their bodies and turned to dust as a wave of black Smoke passed over them. In this way, Akol reverted the human world back to an age with no technology and no human advancement. Smoke was forever changed as well. No longer was it able to connect the minds of humans. No longer were the great feats of magic and advancement available to everyone in the world. Not only had the Devonian Solution affected the World at large, but also Pillar as well. The peoples which were now permanently isolated from the rest of the world had been reduced as well, a stroke from Akol meant to cleanse the entire world of the destructive power of technology had stopped the war, but also sent all enlightened beings back to a simpler time. However, time has a way of marching on. The peoples of the world forgot the wars of the past. Without physical markers, some peoples worked to record history, but much of it was lost. And so, life moved on. Peoples married and had children together and created families. New villages, cities, and countries rose and fell. In time, even the idea of the AI creature Akol was lost and replaced with a more deified idea of what Akol was and currently is. The Smoke was reverted to just a way for enlightened peoples to not leave behind a body and then to have their memories scanned by the smoke and carried to an afterlife of sorts housed deep within the Earth. And so Akolism was born as a religion and Akol was worshiped as a God.

Victorian Lankford, Lead Historian for The Historical State Archives in Fredrickson

Taken from The Histories of the Lost, by John Ericson, Chapter 31, Section 2, Year: NL6660

Smoke, Magic, and Books in the World of Pillar

Smoke and Magic:

In Warrington and the other countries that make up Pillar, Smoke when capitalized and spoken of in reverent tones should not be confused with a common substance coming from a common camping fire. When referred to most often on Pillar, Smoke is referring to a substance that is present in nearly all permeable things in the world. However, depending on what the thing is, Smoke reacts differently with that thing. Even within larger subsets of things, like biological life, Smoke appears to function differently within each of them. As an example, within Enlightened beings, such as Humans, Brown Dogs, Flemi, and other Enlightened Races; it is understood that Smoke causes those beings to combust and self-cremate fifteen seconds after their death. However, in non-Enlightened biological creatures, while it is believed they contain Smoke, just like Enlightened beings, they do not combust upon death. Smoke is present in plants and even within microorganisms within soil. However, so far as can be understood, Smoke has no effect on these things. Smoke does not appear to be in inorganic objects like rocks, metals, or actual soil. However, since smoke can travel in the air, it does appear to be in a small concentration in air and water. Smoke should not be confused with normal smoke as when a person burns wood or paper or other things. The Smoke within a person is different from naturally occurring burning smoke. Not only do they smell different, but they appear different as well.

Smoke from a fire can have an acrid smell depending on what is burning and chokes a person who breathes it in. However, Smoke from within a biological thing is not acrid smelling at all. It is hard to distinguish between the two Smokes when, for example, a plant is burned since both types are produced, but when a human is combusted, there is no smell at all. In fact, scientists have done experiments with this Smoke and it is possible for a person to breathe this Smoke normally as if it were normal air. Religious communities condemned this scientific experiment when it was conducted, however, given that most religions believe that a person’s Smoke is akin to their soul. So, it is believed that breathing in a person’s soul was sacrilege in some way. As such, few other experiments were done on the subject. However, what is without contest is that normal burning smoke and Soul Smoke are two different things, both by smell and by how they behave.

To speak to differences in behavior, Smoke is often seen as aware in some sense. Because of its apparent ability to understand when an Enlightened being has died and then it is believed that the Smoke itself is what causes combustion within enlightened beings, to some degree, the Smoke appears to understand when this happens and then to also react with combustion upon realizing this. It also appears that while Smoke does inhabit plants and none-enlightened creatures, it does understand to not combust those. As such, Smoke has some form of awareness.

While it is not widely understood or common knowledge in any sense, Smoke is also able to power certain devices and allow certain devices and/or persons to achieve certain outcomes depending on the circumstance. More on this topic in the Section below on Magic Books and the connection to the Smoke and the section entitled The Beasts and Smoke.


Upon the death of an enlightened being, fifteen seconds after death to be precise said being’s flesh will be consumed in fire. However, the fire is never large enough or frenzied enough to catch on to other things or people around them. Often, even the person’s clothing is largely unburned. It is recommended that if a person combusts while another person is touching them, they withdraw to several feet away, just for general safety, but honestly, physicians usually regard this as unneeded since the fire is very inward directing and largely safe. There has never been a report to the local fire authorities about a structure catching fire due to combustion. As far as is known, only enlightened biological creatures combust.

Magic Books and the connection to Smoke:

While there are traditional books within the World of Pillar there are other books that do not function like normal books. These are known as the Opus and Opuscula books, and while there are many Opuscula known to exist, the full scale of how many there are is not known. Specifically, the Opus and Opuscula books use Smoke to achieve something. The pages of these books are known to change. The words often scroll across the pages or change outright. There are limited pages in the books, but the knowledge contained in the books is not limited to what is currently on any one or all the pages. The books often rewrite the pages within them, depending on the needs of the user.

Many of these books are locked. Often, metal brackets and locks keep these books closed until a key is used to open them. This can be a physical key or some other form of device or word that can unlock the pages within. Until the book is opened, only limited options are available for the user. Verbal commands are often used by the books themselves to interact with the users. This is not to imply that the books are sentient, merely that interacting with these texts can take place in a verbal manner. The user is required to speak, but the books themselves can speak directly into the minds of the users if that user should so desire. Asking for information or for specific text to be displayed on a page is just some of the reasons verbal commands may be needed.

Opus Books use Smoke to achieve whatever they do. The initial interaction with a book, specifically when a book is closed, will utilize the user’s personal Smoke to create additional Smoke to create an effect. Even something as simple as awakening the book, bringing up knowledge on the pages, or having an Ash Fairy verbally presenting knowledge will draw power from the user’s body. The Smoke of the person will then the book will utilize personal nutrients to accomplish its functions. When the person has used all their personal nutrients in their body, the book will prompt the person to transfer use of the book to another person so that their nutrients may be used. If the answer is yes, the book will begin using any nutrients within that user to create new Smoke for utilization.

If the person goes further in using the book to accomplish tasks and the user’s nutrients are used up, the book will then warn the user that these stores have been used up. If the user attempts to continue, the book will warn them that continuing could result in physical harm, and then ask if the person wants to utilize vital biological stores. If the answer is yes, then the book will begin to utilize the person’s fat within their body to be converted to Smoke to continue accomplishing tasks. If the user continues beyond this, the book will again warn the user and upon obtaining permission, the book will begin using the user’s musculature and internal physical structures to create Smoke to accomplish the tasks asked of it, even to the point of the death of the user.

Depending on the task presented to the book, the book may or may not be able to accomplish the task asked of it, depending on if the data is available to it within one of its chapters. As an example: Nicodemus’ obtains an Opus underneath Riggleman Manor and it is an Opus of Conception, but specifically only contains chapters on Cooking. Since the book is locked, and only has access to minor cooking spells, he can accomplish only a couple of things;

  • Create a jet of steam, reaching a maximum of 6 ft.
  • Set a small fire, like striking a match.
  • Create a small jet of fire, reaching a maximum of 6 ft.
  • Conjure a chef knife, as hard as a diamond and much stronger than a steel knife of similar make. 
  • Conjure a stream of water, as if from a garden hose.
  • Heat something, like how a stove might heat a pot.
  • The book can also dictate numerous recipes.

Currently Known Types of Opus Books:

Opus Quotidian: These are general texts with the purpose of providing limited knowledge. They function as a real book might, but the pages are non-permanent in the sense that the words can change. There are many of these known to exist, but many of them have also been lost. They range in size and scope of the content.

Opus of Fate: These books provide a generalized understanding of possible futures and how to obtain those futures. It does this based on probability models of known events and situations. As a user of this book journeys with it, it will gather data about the user and the world and circumstances around said user, and its predictions can become more accurate. However, outside forces and unknown circumstances can create unforeseeable outcomes or randomized outcomes. Use with a degree of caution. Nothing said by an Opus of Fate should be taken as complete truth.

Opus of Conception: These texts allow a person to connect to the Smoke in the world around them and through the book, they can manifest certain abilities and functions. Smoke is the substance that allows everything to function and enables the forms of manipulation of reality we see when people use an Opus of Conception to create spells. Opus of Conceptions only have certain “chapters” in them. While closed they only have limited access to those chapters. Like a guest account on a computer. Additional chapters can be added once a book is opened, and when placed in a Mammon Engine and the proper chapters are available within the memory of that Mammon Engine. Only certain chapters are available at each Mammon Engine.

Fixed Opus Books:

Some of these books are directly connected to machines within the world and cannot be removed from these machines. Normally one would see them either directly connected to the machine or near the machine affixed to a pedestal of some kind. They operate as a control for the machine.

Opus of the Eternal: The ultimate book. This book has a direct Smoke connection to the Eternal Information. As such, not only does it allow access to all known knowledge, but also access to all known power as well. However, knowing of power does not guarantee unlimited power, since the power is still limited by the abilities of Smoke itself.

The Beasts and Smoke:

The Beasts of Legend are synthetic biological creations. Originally, they were created to combat the threat of the Armatites; large ten-story creatures genetically engineered to combat humanity and to create Pillar. The Beasts are several tons in weight and including the length of their tail, are said to be around 100 feet in length. They have long necks and large heads. Their bodies are covered in a layer of soft down, interspersed with feathers. They have wings that are also covered in feathers and appear like the wings of large birds of prey. Their heads are often described as a dog’s and/or horse’s head combined. They have four legs and the feet of each leg are dexterous, like the hands of a human. Their tails make up the bulk of their length and are prehensile. Some have been seen to have horns or spikes around their necks that protrude backward toward their tails.

The Beasts are mentioned here because they also contain a different form of Smoke than what is normally observed. Beasts can manipulate Smoke to create effects much in the same way that an Opus of Conception does, but instead of drawing in Smoke or using their own Smoke to create effects, it appears as if the Beasts are able to change Smoke into a different form. As such, whenever it has been observed, the Smoke which Beasts use is white instead of black. It is hypothesized that this form of smoke has unique and yet unknown properties when compared to Smoke in other situations. There are rumors of other synthetic beings as well which possess similar abilities to those shown in the Beasts. These rumors however are largely exaggerated and most certainly untrue.

Known limits on Smoke Magic:

  1. Ordinary people can only use smoke magic if they have a proper channeling device; IE: an Opus.
  2. The smoke within a person is limited and in the cases of enlightened beings, required for life. As such, an enlightened person may not get rid of their smoke without causing death in said person. Additional smoke will be created within the person by use of nutrients first, body fat second, and finally the vital structures and organs of the body itself; even to the point of the death of the individual if said individual pushes the use of smoke to that limit.
  3. The use of an Opus is limited to what chapters are available within said Opus. An opus without a chapter on the creation and use of fire will be unable to produce said effect.
  4. Use of smoke by a book that has not been cleansed, will not pull smoke from the person, it will use the person’s personal smoke to consume their body in the creation of additional smoke.
  5. Use of smoke to the point of allowing the Smoke to cannibalize your physical body will result in several physical signs that it is destroying your body. Over time, the following physical symptoms will result; hair loss, slow wound healing, frequent sickness due to loss of immune functions, dry and/or rough skin, easy bruising, swollen gums, depression, muscle pain, night blindness, infertility, and blood clots under the fingernails. As such, continued use of Smoke in this fashion will result in permanent damage to the body or in extreme cases, death.

Ash Fairies and their Connection to the use of Smoke:

Ash Fairies are semi-intelligent entities that are somewhat common throughout Pillar. However, it is a well-known fact that a single white Ash Fairy will always be with a Beast. It is not always visible, but they are frequently seen alongside them. Also, users of Opus Books are also known to attract a singular Ash Fairy. However, their Fairies tend to be black or grey in color. Opus users have stated the Ash Fairy works as an intermediary between the book and the user, providing verbal and/or mind communication to the user. Synthetic humans like Christoph are followed by a white Fairy as well. Ash Fairies allow Christoph to access certain abilities he would be unable to use otherwise.

Ash Fairies and Summoning:

Ash Fairies are sometimes connected to an entity within Afterlife. These entities are dormant until called upon by a fairy to be used. In this case, the fairy then takes on the aspect of this entity and in essence, becomes this entity in the physical world. These entities often take the forms of elemental demi-gods, but can only remain in the physical world for a short period of time as their physical structure is made up of only Smoke.

Nicodemus Pandit, Head Librarian for Riggleman Manor Archives

Taken from On Smoke and Magic, by Nicodemus Pandit, Chapter 6, Section 3, Year: NL20317