The Ashes of Alladag is the only book of the three that I actually sat down and wrote an outline for. In fact, I wrote three drafts of the outline and saw that each time I went through it, I was changing the story so significantly that there was no real point to treating it like gospel. I was simply going to have to write the novel and see where things went.
Below is one example (of many) of how differently things were between the outline and the final story. In the book, Donal finds his way to Peant Nier, a Ascayáviëwen realm hidden on a mountain in a secret valley. Along with the inhabitants, he flies south with a convocation of giant eagle to help attack the Vozhan Bur. While in Peant Nier, he meets Ziza Ze'id's mother, Je-zmiz, and has a long talk with her about things.
In the original outline, Peant Nier (although not called that) is still a secret place in the Yoram Mountains but it's carved out of the side of a mountain with the Ascayáviëwen living in caves there. Instead of eagles, their companions are giant wolves. In front of their mountain is a lake inhabited by a monster which, when quiescent, resembles leaves floating on water. When it is aroused, the leaves gather into the monster's form. After getting past it, Donal meets the Ascayáviëwen. He discovers that they used to have a magical gem which protected their realm from harm and them from aging. It was stolen by a mysterious traveller (Pheramunion Dolenthangion, who at that point was actually the villian and not a dupe) and they want it back. On the spur of the moment, Donal lies and says that he knows where the gem is and that if the Ascayáviëwen help his friends, he'll tell them. They agree and together they ride off on their wolves to the Great Temple. When they get there, they discover (and Donal is floored by being inadvertently right) that Pheramunion is using the gem to drain all of Oa-neth's powers while she sits trapped inside a magical crystal that accentuates those powers.
The other major change is that in the original draft, Themor Durban, the last Lord of Alladag, does not die holding off the Vozhan Bur while our heroes escape (as per the book) but survives and travels with them. In the final battle, he has a wizards' duel with Pheramunion while our heroes rescue Oa-neth and battle the Vozhan Bur who have come to the Great Temple to protect their benefactor, Pheramunion. In the end, Themor pushes himself and Pheramunion through the gate to the Astral Realm and seals it from the other side, writing himself out of the story.
Over time, this all evolved. Donal still wound up at Peant Nier but in the way familiar from the book. The first half of chapter 17 survived to the final draft but the second half of the original version was quite different. Having "killed off" Themor a few chapters earlier, I had to reintroduce him somehow and link him back up to our heroes. Also, I was (temporarily) thinking of not having the Ascayáviëwen ride to the final rescue.
Here then, is the original final half of chapter 17 of The Ashes of Alladag. Note how, after having recovered from shrum addiction, Donal almost falls back into it.
* * *
“So I’m stuck here?” Donal picked up his mug and took a sip of the shining liquid. It felt cold in his mouth but warm in his throat. As it reached his stomach, a sense of relaxation came over his muscles. He looked at Je-zmiz and blinked. Her hair seems to be glowing in the light of the torches and lanterns and the smile on her face mesmerized him. For a moment, there was nothing else he wanted to do other than stare at her.
“I don’t know if I would use the word ‘stuck’,” she answered. “In time you will realize that you choose to be here, as all who come here do.”
“Sure,” Donal said slowly, slurring his word. “Say, what is this stuff?”
“It is called antruellas da piessins,” Je-zmiz replied. “The Ascayáviëwen brew it with great skill. Is it to your liking?”
“Yeah,” said Donal. The warm feeling made him feel like he was wrapped in a warm blanket. He took a deep breath and raised the mug again. “It tastes kind of familiar. Where does it come from?”
“A common herb that grows throughout the North. It is called d'axcrámant da cunurd by the Ascayáviëwen but Men and the other races know it as shrum.”
Donal’s hand suddenly went weak and the goblet slipped through his fingers and fell to the ground. The earthenware utensil shattered as it struck the stone floor, spilling the antruellas in all directions. As the cup fell, he jumped off, throwing his chair back as well. With widened eyes and a look of fear on his face, he began backing away from the table.
“You gave me shrum,” his whispered hoarsely. The warm feeling had already begun to recede and in its place the familiar craving had appeared. “I can’t believe it. You’re all addicts.” His voice grew louder as he spoke. “You’re all freakin’ addicts! I don’t get it. You’re a rich noblewoman. Why are you poisoning yourself?”
“Calm yourself, Donal,” Je-zmiz said in a soothing voice. “Do not presume to know who and what I am based on the little time we have shared acquaintance. You do not understand the nature of the Hidden Realm. There is no addiction here, nor misery or suffering. We live in contentment, enjoying the bounty that Bulëenion Carandelothion and Esgalminuial Belegrûthion have granted us.”
“He really is evil,” Donal groaned as his hands began to tremble slightly. “He gave you something which blows your brain away bit by bit and you happily take it!” He looked around and saw that a crowd of Grinuaollis was forming around him. “What are you looking at?” he shouted angrily. “Don’t you have anything else to do?”
Je-zmiz stood up slowly and began walking towards him. Her hair was no longer glowing and the light of the torches accentuated the aging features on her face. She was no longer smiling but instead wore a definite frown. “They are looking at you,” she said in a voice that betrayed a subdued rage. “They are not used to ingratitude.”
“Ingratitude?” Donal gasped. “You’re trying to poison my mind. Don’t you know how many lives this stuff has ruined? It destroyed my marriage, my relationship with my son, my position as one of Tzuba’s premier legerdemains! It was only through the great efforts of your son and that Themor guy that I even recovered from it. Do you let any of this stuff reach the outside world?”
“I am sure that if Ziza and Lord Themor understood the benefits, saw things the way we do, that they would agree with what we do. Look about you. All this contentedness has its price and the antruellas da piessins supplies the money to pay that price.”
“No,” retorted Donal, “no they wouldn’t. You’re freakin’ drug dealers, that’s what you are.” He turned and took a shaky step back towards the building they had emerged from.
“Where are you going?” Je-zmiz asked.
“I’m going back to my room,” Donal answered. “I’ve got to sleep this off and pray to Melilot, Master of Stealth, that I don’t relapse. Oh Amarantha, protect me!” He took a few more steps and felt his legs begin to go weak. “Oh crap,” he muttered as he collapsed to the ground. “Could someone maybe help me up?”
* * *
This time Donal opened his eyes before sitting up. As he suspected, he was in his alcove. Rolling over to look, he saw the room was as he had last seen it. He was alone however and the door was closed. He held up his hands in front of him and saw that the tremor that had begun to afflict them was gone. Must have only gotten a little bit, he thought.
He rolled over and walked over to sit at the table. The jug was empty but there were some patties made of unidentifiable vegetable matter on a plate next to it. He sniffed it but could not make out any trace of the scent of shrum. Happily, he began to eat the food and it was only after the first few bites that he finally realized that he hadn’t eaten in days and was, in fact, ravenously hungry. When he finished off the plate, he walked over to the door to open it. As he had suspected, it was locked from the outside. Turning away, he decided to explore the room. In the wall opposite the door, he found a drawer. He pulled it open and saw it contained a set of dark clothing, his boots and his belt. After checking to ensure there were nothing suspicious concealed within them, he dressed and put on his belt. To his relief, his tools that he had stored in a hidden compartment near the buckle had not been discovered. After ensuring that he was ready, he sauntered over to the door, pulled out his favourite lock pick and opened it.
The hall outside was empty. Using all his skill, he silently darted down the hall back towards the staircase he had used earlier. Instead of ascending, however, he began walking down the stairs. A few time she had to dash off the staircase and hide himself in a connecting hallway as Grinuaollis approached but those encounters were few and fat between.
The further he descended, the hotter and more humid the stairwell became. Finally, after descending for what felt like an eternity, he saw a light ahead. It was a sheet of blue light which covered ten consecutive stairs like a carpet. Stopping quickly, he climbed onto the wall and navigated his way past them. Then he returned to the stairs and descended to the bottom of the stairwell.
He emerged into a large open chamber. It had a low ceiling and was lit by rocks covered in a soft, glowing material. The far wall could not be seen in the gloom but he could make out the sound of something bubbling. The air smelt strongly of shrum and he drew his shirt up to cover his nose. Hugging the wall he made his made around the chamber towards the far end As he drew near to some of the light sources, he could see that there looked like giant collections of fungi, glowing with a natural luminescence. How different it is down here, he thought. Up above it looks so peaceful and civilized and here it’s, like, totally gross.
After walking for a few minutes, he saw the source of the bubbling. It was a large pool full of what looked like antruellas da piessins. Near the edge of the pit was a large pile of what he easily recognized to be dried leaves of shrum. Emerging from the pit were several large pipes that disappeared into the ceiling of the grotto and attached to them were odd looking pieces of machinery with many wheels and pedals.
As he inspected the machinery, Donal’s ears began to twitch. He dashed to the wall and did his best to disappear into one of the crevices lining the chamber. A moment later, a dozen Ascayáviëwen appeared. They were dressed in long, white shirts and black sandals. Two of them were carrying large wooden poles which they dipped into the antruellas da piessins. As Donal watched, they began to stir the liquid slowly. The other Ascayáviëwen walked over to the various machines, sat down on small seats and started to pedal, slowly at first and then with greater speed. The pipes emerging from the pit began to shake slightly and bubbles appeared in the antruellas da piessins.
They’re pumping the stuff up top, thought Donal. He held his position and began to consider his options. On one hand, he thought, it was none of his business if the Ascayáviëwen wanted to drug themselves into oblivion. On the other, would it not be decent of him to save them from their peril? Or perhaps, he considered, since they weren’t going to let him leave anyway he might simply give up and join them in their bizarre existences. What would the harm be, anyway?
The Ascayáviëwen worked over the pit for the better part of an hour before the level of the antruellas da piessins dropped too low for the pumping to continue. The ten Grinuaollis on the pumping machines walked over to the pile of shrum leaves and proceeded to shovel in several handfuls of the material. As the other two stirred the leaves into what remained of the antruellas da piessins, five of them went and brought out several barrels full of what looked like water. These they emptied into the pit while the other five produced several small containers full of powder which they also emptied into the pit. When the water and powder and been emptied into the pit and the stirring had been completed, the Ascayáviëwen disappeared the way they came, leaving the room silent.
When Donal was sure they had left, he emerged from his hiding place and walked over to the pit. Steam wafted up from its edge and he watched as the water, powder and shrum mixed with the antruellas da piessins to form a new batch of the liquid. A craving filled his mind and he knelt down eagerly at the side of the pit. What harm would there be in trying some?
As he bent over, something caught his eye. He looked at the wall on the far side of the pit and gasped with surprise. There, carved into the stone, was a large skull with a small crown over it. He looked at it curiously and then a memory came into the back of his mind. It was Nitzi’s voice, walking about some hidden door she’d found and couldn’t open. It had also had a large skull engraved on it. Was there a connection? He sat up and rubbed his eyes. Poor Nitzi! How much did I suffer because of this stuff? How much did I cause her to suffer? And why did she put up with it? I’ve got to redeem myself and win her friendship back. But to escape, I need a diversion.
Shaking his head slowly, he turned back towards the pit. He knew what he had to do even though it meant messing in the business of everyone in this Hidden Realm, and even though he owed them his life. He walked over to the wall where he saw the two stirring poles lying. Picking one up, he walked over to the pit and drew up some of the concentrated fluid from the bottom of the pit. Using the pole like a writing implement and the antruellas da piessins as ink, he drew a curved line on the floor. Dipping the pole in over and over again, he eventually traced a very indirect path all the way to the entrance of the chamber. Then he carefully replaced the pole where he had found it and picked up a few of the remaining leaves of shrum. Standing in the stairway, he pulled out a little flint he had transferred to the belt with his lock pick, shortly after acquiring it. If there’s one think shrum does, he though, it burns.
A few sparks later, the small pile of leaves was burning quickly. As he watched, the flames spread to the antruellas da piessins and slowly started to travel down it. As soon as he was sure it would not go out on its own, he began running up the stairs, bypassing the glowing steps as he had done before. After several minutes of climbing, he reached the level his room was on and dashed down the hall. He stopped briefly at his door but stopped before opening it. I should warn them, he thought. They’ll lynch me but I owe them that much.
He turned back and ran straight into Je-zmiz who was coming down the corridor, accompanied by two larger Grinuaolli dressed like the Sentinels who had found him earlier. They were each carrying a sword and wore grim expressions on their faces.
“That you escaped is most impressive,” Je-zmiz said. “Please, Donal, return to your room. There is much we need to discuss. So much is there that you don’t understand. I want to talk to you, see if I can reach you. You could be so happy here in the Paent Nier, if you just give it a chance.”
Dona looked nervously over her shoulder and down the hall. “Lady Ze’id,” he said hurriedly, “there’s something you don’t understand. We have to…”
I saved your life. The least you could do is hear me out.”
The sound of a distant explosion and the sudden rocking of the floor underneath them ended Je-zmiz’s protest. Donal leapt forward and pulled her to the ground as a jet of flame shot down the tunnel, setting the two unprepared guards alight. They screamed and ran down them hallway, disappearing around a corner. Smoke filled the passageway as Donal rolled over and checked on his companion.
“What has happened?” Je-zmiz asked.
“Some kind of explosion, I think,” Donal said using the most innocent tone of voice he could muster.
“You,” Je-zmiz said. “You knew something was going to happen. What have you done?”
“Chitzos are blessed with an amazing sense of prescience,” Donal said firmly. “At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
Covering their faces, they crawled slowly down the hallway away from the stairwell. They passed the bodies of the two guards who had rapidly succumbed to their immolation and after passing a few curves in the hall, emerged onto a balcony which opened onto the northern part of the valley. Donal stood up, rubbed his eyes and quickly took in the scene. All around the dark green canopy of the forest rustled with unseen life and a myriad different sounds. In the distance, the blue mountains rose majestically to white peaks which were enshrouded in grey clouds. Smoke poured out of the tunnel behind him and drifted lazily into the open air. Looking around, he could see more smoke pouring out of every opening in the side of the mountain. A large black cloud had already formed over the peak of Paent Nier and was growing larger by the moment.
“Stay here,” Donal ordered as Je-zmiz stared in wonder at the smoke. Using his skills, he swiftly climbed up the side of the hill. It took several minutes but he finally reached the top and vaulted over a low railing set at the edge of the peak. What he saw amazed him. One of the large buildings near the centre of the mountain had collapsed and black smoke was bellowing out of it, rapidly feeing the dark cloud above. Ascayáviëwen everywhere were running in a panic while Sentinels spread out through the crowd trying futilely to maintain order. Donal slowly made his way towards the edge of the buildings and watched as the crowd dispersed to the edges of the mountain. Finally he spotted the Ascayáviëwen he was looking for, the one that had performed the healing ritual on him. He ran over and grabbed the Ascayáviëwen by the arm. The hooded figure turned and looked towards him, his face still hidden by his cowl.
“Chitzo,” he barked. “What have you done?”
“Nothing,” protested Donal. He had come too far to being telling the truth now. “Why? What’s happened?”
“This smoke comes from the very heart of Paent Nier,” the figure replied. “Someone has created an inferno that will consume the entire mountain.”
“You mean the place has to be evacuated?” Donal’s hopes rose and he desperately tried to ignore that part of his consciousness which was beginning to suggest that his escape had been bought at too dear a price.
“No, Paent Nier is stronger than that,” the figure said. The mountain shuddered again and another building, to the left of the first, collapsed. A second pillar of smoke emerged from the ground where it stood and rapidly ascended into the sky. The figure pulled his arm loose and disappeared into the crowd, leaving Donal staring appreciatively at the cloud above.
A moment later, he felt someone grab his arm. He turned around and found himself staring in surprise at the person holding him.
“Themor Durban,” he shouted happily. “Boy, am I glad to see you.”
Themor looked down at him and he marveled at how the Grinuaolli’s face had changed. Scars covered his once flawless visage and one of his ears had been severely burned. “What have you done?” he said in a hoarse voice.
“You know,” protested Donal, “what’s the point of trying to get away with something if everyone is just going to accuse you of doing it anyway? All right, fine. I blew up the antruellas da piessins they keep in the basement of this place, okay? I thought I would be doing them a favour and that I’d be able to escape in all the confusion.”
“Fool,” growled Themor. “You don’t realize what you’ve done. Come.” He grabbed Donal and held him close, then closed his eyes and began muttering in Angerthine.
“I didn’t realize we were on a hugging basis,” exclaimed Donal as a red light surrounded them. An instant later Paent Nier disappeared around them.
* * *
Donal turned and looked around him as his vision cleared. There was standing high up the slope of a mountain, overlooking the valley of the Hidden Realm below. In the middle of the forest stood Paent Nier, wreathed in smoke. They heard a loud rumble and saw several giant cracks appear in the base of the hill. A large chunk of rock broke away and crashed into the forest below. The black cloud above had grown and now covered almost the entire valley. To his left stood Themor. The Grinuaolli was looking despondently at the hill.
“Is it going to collapse?” Donal whispered.
“No,” replied Themor. “There wasn’t enough antruellas da piessins to do that, but there’s going to terrible suffering when they used up the last of their shrum and can find no more.”
“I’ll say. Hey, what were you doing there anyway? We saw you get killed.”
“You couldn’t have,” Themor countered, “for I am obviously still alive, if somewhat damaged. The Vozhan Bûr did almost overcome me but I managed to escape their attacks before they could inflict a final blow.”
“Okay, fine. But why were you so ticked off with what I did? I thought everyone realizes that shrum is evil and should be destroyed.”
“I didn’t wish to speak of this matter to anyone,” shrugged Themor, “but events have left me no choice. Did you ever wonder where shrum came from?”
“It grows in the wild,” replied Donal.
“No, foolish thief,” snorted Themor. “Consider that it only appeared in the affairs of the world after the Revolt of the Black Cult. There have certainly been other plants known to the Five Races which can intoxicate one’s mind and addict one’s soul but none like shrum. Yet it appeared out of nowhere only a few decades ago.”
“So?” Donal asked. “Just ‘cause it hadn’t been discovered doesn’t mean it wasn’t around.”
“It had been around,” Themor answered. “It had been around long ago, very long ago in fact. All the way back in the Elder Days.”
“Huh?” Donal’s ears twitched as he heard the expression of that lost period of history. “I thought nothing survived the Night of Utter Devastation except the Qilivs. I have it on good authority.”
“Your authority is correct. Shrum was created by fell rites during the Elder Days to keep the population of the world dull and docile. It never grew again after Paskanah was repopulated. The earliest settlers knew better than to carry its shoots with them into exile before the Night. Yet it grows again all across the North, and nowhere with greater proclivity that in this valley.”
“Hang on,” Donal said. “Are you implying that the Ascayáviëwen discovered some and reintroduced it to the world?”
“That’s why I’ve been here for several years. I have some knowledge of the Elder Days and was quite alarmed when shrum reappeared in the world. So alarmed was I that I left my mountain seclusion and began to investigate its rebirth. I traced the evil weed to Paent Nier but after careful deliberation, I came to realize that the Ascayáviëwen were also victims of its terrible power. Yes, they produced it, and antruellas da piessins in tremendous amounts, but they were simply filling their own needs, not intentionally trying to destroy the world.”
“That’s why what you did is so stupid,” Themor shouted, slapping Donal on the back of his head. “I was getting close to learning about how shrum first came to this place when you interfered. Now my investigation is for nought.”
“Well, sorry,” Donal muttered. “I didn’t know. What do we do now?”
“What do you mean, ‘we’?” asked Themor as he narrowed his eyes.
“I mean you’re not just going to leave me by myself on this remote, barren mountain, are you?” Donal smiled weakly as he realized the vulnerability of his position.
“I should,” Themor said. “It would be fitting retribution.” He looked down at Donal who was now pouting and doing his best to look apologetic. “All right, fine. I wouldn’t want you to abuse your dignity. I shall bring you with me until we reach an inhabited land.”
“Shows what you know,” Donal smiled. “I have no dignity to abuse. And anyway, I think I know where the source of the problem is.”
Themor raised an eyebrow. “Do you? Let me hear, Chitzo.”
“It’s the Grinuaollis of the Great Temple,” replied Donal. “Think about all that’s happening south of here. An invasion which bypasses your race. A drug which renders the population docile and stupid. And the guy running the Great Temple with his torture chambers and attempts to secede from the Empire. I think there’s a connection What do you think?”
“I think you’re stretching it,” Themor replied, “but I can suggest nothing better. Very well. We will travel to the Great Temple of Bulëenion Carandelothion in Bamfortia. Perhaps there are some answers to my questions there.”