Saturday, 15 November 2014

The geography of the start of Demonstealer

As you might have worked out by now if you've been following my posts, I like a good geographical conundrum in the world of Fighting Fantasy. The Fighting Fantasy novels are an amazingly rich source of information on the world of Titan (and beyond) which, I think, is rather unexplored by FF fans (myself included), and they provide a number of intriguing geographical puzzles, especially since some of them came without a map. In this post, I want to explore one such conundrum - the geography of Arakel's initial movements in the second Fighting Fantasy novel, Demonstealer.

Let's summarise what we know:
  • The necromancer, Arakel, steals the scroll from Yaztromo's Tower and escapes on the back of a Giant Bat (pp. 20-24).
  • The remains of the Giant Bat are spotted "to the far western side" of Darkwood Forest, and Arakel is seen "limping away towards the Blacksand Road" (p. 33). The Blacksand Road must either be the road running through Mirewater or, more likely, the road running from Chalice to Blacksand, crossing the Catfish River some way west of Darkwood, on the map in Dungeoneer (p. 33).
  • Arakel narrowly escaped Chadda Darkmane at this stage; we are told on p. 147 that "the thief had fled further and further away from Darkwood Forest, narrowly slipping through his pursuer's fingers several times".
  • The next time we see Arakel, he is summoning the 'Skinless Ones' at the stone circle (pp. 34-43). The Skinless Ones take on the bodies of Wolves, but must change their bodies each day (p. 42).
  • The first time they do so is when they butcher the goatherd Ulrich and his grandson (pp. 44-48). I.e. this must have taken place relatively close to the stone circle, as it is within 24 hours of the release of the Skinless ones.
  • When Chadda Darkmane gets to the port of Rimon in Arantis, he had been chasing Arakel for weeks, trailing him to Port Blacksand, where Arakel boarded a fast boat to Rimon (p. 69). Arakel arrived in Rimon 3 days before Darkmane (p. 52).
  • Further information on this chase is given on p. 54; Chadda tells the Chervah that he has been pursuing Arakel for 5 weeks, the last two of which were in a coracle at sea (presumably from Blacksand, chasing Arakel aboard the fast ship (the Crown Runner).
So far, so good, but there is one piece of the puzzle we don't know from all of this: where was the stone circle where Arakel summoned the Skinless Ones? Did he do this before he got to Blacksand, in the three weeks or so before Darkmane pursued him by sea to Rimon? Or did he do it in the short space of time between him arriving in Rimon and Darkmane and Gan catching up with the Skinless Ones there? If he did it before getting to Rimon, we must assume that he parted company from the Skinless Ones (would they have been able to go by ship, needing a new body each day?), and then rejoined them in Rimon (it would be quite a journey for them from northwest Allansia by land). Alternatively, the summoning of the Skinless Ones and their feeding on Ulrich and his grandson must happen in the short period between Arakel arriving in Rimon and Darkmane catching up with the Skinless Ones' lair.

Let's have a look at some more evidence to see if we can come up with any more clues. We learn that Ulrich and his grandson live in an upland, mountainous area, where wolves are driven down from the uplands to prey on their goats during the winter months (pp. 34-35, 46-47). This perhaps suggests a northerly location, rather than the semi-tropical Arantis, but could conceivably be the result of the place being in an upland area further south (and the goats and upland meadows are maybe more suggestive of an Alpine/Mediterranean environment). The name 'Ulrich' (p. 44) also sounds northern rather than the sort of thing someone from Arantis might be called, but I don't suppose we can set too much store on that, as names in Fighting Fantasy can be rather random at times (this is a topic I'll no doubt return to in later posts). Then we have the following description on p. 34, as Arakel is preparing to summon the Skinless Ones from the stone circle: "Storm clouds were gathering in the north, sweeping inexorably down towards the coast". This suggests, though it's not concrete, that there is a coast to the north of the stone circle.

So what are we to make of all of this? If Arakel summoned the Skinless Ones before he left northwest Allansia, there are various places this could be, for example the eastern ends of the Icefinger Mountains (to allow for weather sweeping in from the sea), or the mountainous northern shores of the Desert of Skulls (which definitely does have a coast north of it). If, on the other hand, Arakel summons the Skinless Ones after he arrived in Rimon, the stone circle must lie in the hills and mountains north and east of the city. The first solution would explain why Arakel took three weeks to get from Darkwood to his ship in Blacksand and would also explain the slightly northern feel of the area of the stone circle, but leaves us with the conundrum of how the Skinless Ones also got to Rimon. The second solution leaves unexplained what Arakel was doing for the three weeks between Darkwood and leaving Blacksand, and doesn't fit quite as well with the northern feel of the stone circle area (the mountains north of Rimon are on the edge of the Desert of Skulls; could we expect essentially Alpine conditions there?), but it does avoid the complication of getting the Skinless Ones from northwest Allansia to Rimon, either over the vast Desert of Skulls, or on board a ship, where they would each need a new body per day.
Part of me likes the idea of the stone circle being in northwest Allansia, as I'm a big fan of that area and it's always good to learn more about that part of the world. But I'm not convinced it is. The evidence seems to point towards the area north of Rimon. I mean, when have wolves in northwest Allansia ever waited until the winter months to trouble folk in the lowlands?! The other option, that Ulrich lived on the northern mountainous fringe of the Desert of Skulls doesn't seem quite right either. Why would wolves keep to the uplands in such an uncivilised part of Allansia? And we'd surely expect that to be a desert area, and it would involve Arakel travelling south of Oyster Bay, then back again to Blacksand (though maybe that's what took him three weeks), and then the Skinless Ones travelling down the western fringes of the Desert to Rimon.
Anyway, as you can see, no definitive answer (unless Marc Gascoigne is reading and fancies giving us an insight!). Do any of you have any suggestions or opinions, or is there anything else I've missed?

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