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Picture - The Chalice of Life

 
The first adventure concerns the search for a mystical chalice that creates healing elixirs.


 
The Carotian Union as seen from space.

 

 "The system itself certainly is strangely configured: three worlds similar to ours in climate and atmosphere. Well, that’s not strange at all, but it seems they share a single orbit, like points on an equilateral triangle, around a double primary. Its inhabitants are said to be—hmmm... interesting!—powerful workers of magic." He grinned whimsically. "Well, I should hope so—I don’t see what else could hold such a configuration together!"  — Paulus, Mosaia's house priest, to Mosaia



 

    
The author speculates on her intended audience:

 "I started writing for a general, young adult through adult audience already fond of this genre.  Like Tolkien, I wanted to try my hand at a really long quest series that would hold the reader's attention.  If anything, my objectives were to tell an engaging story that featured strong, well-defined characters (including female characters) who talked like real people and had the sorts of back stories, dreams, and frustrations that real people have. Humor comes into play because real people do and say silly or funny things and because sometimes the best way to describe an action, a feeling, or a facial expression, is to employ the sort of simile or metaphor I've found so enjoyable in the writing of Doug Adams and Terry Pratchett.

 

As the story evolved, though, it took on two added dimensions that I felt compelled to go with.  One was a sense of optimism.  I believe mankind has a future in a world at peace with itself and so deliberately began avoiding the post-apocalyptic view a lot of writers are embracing.  There are dark moments as there are in any good adventure story, and the characters have moments of self-doubt, but overall I wanted the stories to leave the reader feeling hopeful rather than suicidal.

 

The second element was a sense of the spiritual.  The series was not meant as Comparative Religion 101 or to further any religious viewpoint beyond a sense of hope for the future, but as I delved into the backgrounds of each character, a pattern emerged that I liked.  So, within the text of the books is a very gentle introduction to the sorts of thoughts from which our brothers and sisters across the globe draw inspiration.

 

Has the book met the target audience for which I was hoping?  Actually, it's exceeded it.  Later elementary-aged kids are enjoying  it, as are 81-year-old grandmothers who don't normally like fantasy.  And all those in between.  (If you're a parent wondering if your child should read it, it scores at the 6th to 7th grade level in terms of difficulty; there is a bit of combat and a romantic element, but I think it would barely merit a PG rating if it were a movie or a T rating if it were a game.)"  


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mistra and Habie discuss the misuse of magic 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

silhouette of a ballerina in pirouette

 

Mistra as Deneth first encounters her dancing in a woodland glade: "I

thought you were a woodsylph!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ruin

 

The Ruin

 

The Chalice of Life is the first installment of a larger series called Adventurers of the Carotian Union (see the "Series Overview" page for more on the other books in the series).  The entire story takes place in the aftermath of an interplanetary war in which one world, Thalas, sought dominion over its neighbors Caros and Ereb. Caros and Ereb (and virtue) triumphed, but rather than enslaving their vanquished foe, they sought to unite all three worlds into a system-wide confederation—the Carotian Union—that will benefit everyone involved.

 

Sounds properly New Age and charitable and virtuous. So, why do we need a quest?

 

Since the death of its despotic king and his heir in the war twenty years earlier, Thalas has had no leader behind which it can unite unilaterally. Eliander, a true king out of legend, is the one chance the world has to achieve unity, but strange magic imprisoned him millennia ago in a world that exists outside the normal flow of space-time.

 

Ooh, properly Arthurian! Some backstory, please?

 

The humans whose culture currently dominates the three worlds of the Carotian Union are refugees from a fourth planet, Thalybdenos, which destroyed itself millennia ago. Their progenitors were sorcerers of great power as well as warriors and magical healers of distinction.

 

The exiles founded colonies on the other three worlds — Caros, Ereb, and Thalas. Caros and Ereb became peaceful worlds whose inhabitants retained the gifts of their forebears. On Thalas, however, the paranormal abilities that the Carotians and Erebites accepted as a birthright dwindled. Rather than bemoaning this loss, the Thalacians touted it as the rooting out of a fundamental weakness in the race. They strived instead for mastery of the physical arts of war and became fierce aggressors, eventually declaring unprovoked war on their sister worlds in a bid for domination of the system.

 

Baaaad Thalacians. Glad they lost those powers: that could have been scary if they're as powerful as you say.

 

Yeah, that's what they get for generations of rebellion and violating this covenant they're supposed to have with their gods that designates the rightful monarch as the gods' regent.

 

But, you know, there are a lot of fantasy worlds out there where people use magic or embrace the warrior-mage thing.  What makes the Carotian Union different?

 

Caros and Ereb are essentially idealized theocracies, and the wielding of these powers—indeed, the very social order of the two worlds—is bound tightly to their concepts of mysticism. They practice a strict ethic (called simply "The Ethic") that stresses the use of these powers for the common weal and in balance with the other gifts bestowed by their gods. Since they view the intellect as one of these gifts, their technology is fairly sophisticated. Craftspeople take pride in creating their wares from scratch, since these abilities, too, are a gift from the gods.

 

How does magic work in practice?

 

The human refugees from Thalybdenos have two distinct areas of paranormal practice, the Disciplines (mental disciplines like psionics) and the Art or Art Inborn (what we mundanes would think of as "magic").  The Art involves "shaping the Ether" and is done entirely with one's force of will: no gestures, wands, books, spell components, pages of different colors, etc. The trick is that a practitioner must be able to visualize in great detail (sometimes down to the molecular level) what it is he or she wants to do: this requires both the skill to envision the result and the ability to understand to a refined degree how the universe works. (The sciences are a very big curriculum item in the Union's school system.)

 

So if I were a Carotian and I could envision decimating a planet, I could do it using the Art Inborn?

 

Well . . . Not exactly.  The Ethic, remember? Carotians and Erebites have it drilled into their heads practically from the womb that they never direct the Art or the Disciplines against a member of a race that cannot retaliate in kind; where a race could retaliate in kind, Carotians should never be the aggressors. Exceptions exist—the Ethic is a principle rather than a strict code of law—but they are aimed at allowing a Carotian to defend his or her life under extreme pressure and the threat of imminent death.

 

Boy, they can't be the aggressors and they have all these other talents they have to put to use.  When do they ever get to trot out the flashy stuff?

 

Good point. At home, the Art tends to be just that—an art, used for artistic expression or recreation. On the other hand, folk of the Union who venture out into the cosmos, especially if they go as modern knights-errant, will find lots of places where the flashy stuff is what will keep them and their companions alive! But the development of other talents thing has a practical application in all this: in the universe in which the Union exists, there are some place where magic enabled by a goodly pantheon of deities or a goodly construct is either opposed or simply doesn't function. That's where ancillary talents, brains, combat arts (Carotians favor blades and other melee weapons but realize there are places one needs to use energy weapons to, so to speak, fight fire with fire), and the trotting out of modalities like chanting come into play. As one of the questors observes, "If ever you see a Carotian gesturing frantically, chanting, or flinging around things like bat's toenails, you know you're in real trouble!"

 

You mentioned a goodly construct? Is there a source for the Art Inborn?

 

Glad you asked. While the ability to wield the powers is inborn, the force that drives them derives from substance of the worlds themselves. Constructs called Orbs, great masses of metal-like substance, form an essential part of the matrix of all of the worlds of the Union.  The Orbs feed on the energies of those who draw this power from them.

 

I get the feeling you're about to tell me that Bad Things happen to people who violate the Ethic

 

Yup. Two Bad Things, in fact. Bad Thing #1 is that any member of the Union, monarch or commoner, who violates the Ethic seriously or flagrantly enough, can be called to account and suffer Abrogation—the forcible interruption of his or her access to the Art. (The process can be reversed if the person abrogated makes a sincere effort to repent and mends his ways.)

 

Bad Thing #2 concerns the Orbs themselves. Righteousness (or drawing on them with benevolent intent) is as food and drink to them; malevolence on the part of the person drawing the power acts like poison. Unrighteousness waxed so great on Thalybdenos that its Orb eventually fragmented, destroying the planet. As the story opens, Thalas is but a step away from this fate.

 

Well, doesn't that serve them right, too?

 

Remember, we're being all benevolent and virtuous in the treatment of our vanquished foe.

 

Oh, right. Sorry!

 

Besides, with the odd configuration of the system, if Thalas goes kablooie, it will take Caros and Ereb with it.

 

I get the impression there's a story here...

 

Thought you'd never ask. Here you go:

 

In the first few chapters of The Chalice of Life, we meet the seven extraordinary souls the Carotian gods have chosen to find and free Eliander. Elements of the quest's background, nature and importance are revealed through these episodes. The questors also learn that seven separate magical portals lie between them and the ensorcelled prince; seven strange adventures await them.

 

(***Warning: some spoilers follow!***)

 

Still reading?  Then you probably agree that half the attraction of a good story, even one with elements of mystery or puzzles, is in the execution!  Like me, you probably enjoyed playing and replaying games like the old Zork and Enchanter series.  Please read on...

 

The questors pass the first portal to discover the magical gate that will lead them to their second task blocked by a huge, old, very inert dragon. Magic allows the dragon to reveal his story. His folk are dying for want of special gemstones that can only be gathered from a mine that lies beneath an adjacent ruin; all that has sustained him has been the magical force emanated by the portal. Concluding that helping the dragons must be their first task, they set out to find the mine.

 

They are not the only people scouring the ruin. A team of archaeologists is there; so is a band of smugglers. One of the archaeologists, Sally, falls in with the questors. She has made a study of the Hamani, the folk who once dwelt here. According to her, the gems from the mine on which the Hamani's wealth was founded reputedly had magical properties, and there are legends of a sacred chalice whose use in conjunction with the gems effected miraculous cures. The Hamani themselves vanished virtually overnight at the height of their power; Sally hopes to be the first to learn why.

 

Magical mischance opens the ground and chutes the lot of them into a deserted subterranean city. As the questors explore, they see that the place is honeycombed with time traps: entering certain areas or manipulating certain objects causes the questors to go back in time to different points in the rise of the Hamani Empire. Buried in the past are not only the chalice but objects integral to finding the gems and working its healing magic. They learn that the Hamani came to misuse the vessel, withholding its healing gifts from the needy for political gain and finally perverting those gifts to create poisons rather than remedies. Appalled, its priestly makers removed it from the circles of the world, scattering the elements fundamental to its use in space and time.

 

A final time trap leads the party to the mine itself. The real secret of the mine—which the questors only discover through trial, error, and some interplay with the smugglers—is this: Each cave in the mine filters through a different "humour" from the bodies in the Hamani graveyard above. It is from these humours that the gems are formed. The "proper humour" with which each gem must be mixed is a fresh sample of the fluid from which it arose. The caves themselves have an influence favorable to healing and inimical to violence. The latter property allows the adventurers to defeat the smugglers when the violence they try to direct at the questors turns dramatically back on them.

 

Upon their return to camp, the questors put the chalice and the gems to work and succeed in healing the ill dragon; he then flies them to his land so they can cure his folk as well. Where he needed but a single potion easily made, certain of his people need all five. Four of the "humours" are easily obtained; acquiring the fifth exhausts one of the questors almost to the point of death. Their only hope seems to lie in returning her quickly to the second magical gate. The now-healed dragons work together to transport the entire party back to the portal. (This does, in fact, revive their ill comrade.) The dragons assume the guardianship of the chalice but charge Sally never to let the legend of the vessel die; it will remain available to any who come seeking it with a righteous heart and a pure motive.