IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
By Dolores J. Nurss
Volume 1: Welcome to the Charadoc!
An Agent's Debriefing
So here it is—the story that
scared me away from Novatierre for eight years, that I dropped
mid-sentence to go hide in Tolkien fanfic, somebody else's cleaner
universe. But my friends know how that worked out, how I wound up in
Mordor anyway. And suppressing my dreams of Novatierre suppressed my
dream-recall in general to a slim fraction of its former volume and
intensity (seriously, I went from recalling 6-7 dreams a night to half
that in a week.) Eventually the compulsion to return became a torment,
no matter how much I didn't understand and didn't want to; I had to
come back. The muse is a ruthless master.
The first volume isn't all that bad, actually. But be forewarned, it gets darker volume by volume. The Outlaw God
scared me enough, exploring someone who deliberately descended into
evil. But the exploration of how good people, with only the best of
intentions, become evil, hits much closer to home. Then again, perhaps
that makes it the story we need the most.
I dreamed of
the Port Authority sort of resembling the old police station complex in
Old Town, San Diego, except that in my dream it stood in full view of
the ocean on one side, and Alonzo Harbor and its bordering beaches on
the other. My dreams often morph things that I have glimpsed–even one
time–into something else in Novatierre.
One of the strangest cases involved this theater in Til Institute–an
enormous thing, with an ornate arch over the entrance topped by a
gigantic clamshell fanning out. Many years later I felt the shock and
thrill of seeing a miniature (very miniature!) version of the same
building. It turned out to be the auditorium of San Diego High School,
though I felt certain I had never set foot in the place before. I
hadn’t, exactly, as it turned out, but I had been there. Right after my
birth, I learned, my mother had carried me there to show me off to
friends in school.
(It works the other way, too. I will sometimes visit a place for the
first time in waking life and realize with a shock that I have dreamed
I have never smoked in my life, but when I dream of Deirdre, in her
life from the Charadoc on, she often smokes, and when I become her, in
that time of her life, so do I.
Smoking is not a common vice in Til Territories; most people who do it
acquired the habit elsewhere, the majority of them agents. People look
on smoking agents with pity, viewing such addictions as an inevitable
hazard of cultural immersion, risked for the welfare of the world.
Folks see regular people doing it as just plain stupid, though. Unless,
of course, they immigrated from some other land that didn’t know any
Sometimes I wake up with actual cravings for tobacco. I can vividly
recall the smell and the taste of it, the feel of the smoke in my
throat, the brightening of the world, stimulated yet with a sense of
peace, too. I know how a cigarette feels in the hand, I know the snap
of the match and the hungry puffs. My body seems to remember what it
All the places that Deirdre describes seeing from Hernandez Island I
have visited in my dreams, as her or as others. Most of these dreams
will never make it into stories, as they involve peaceful times in the
life of Fireheart Friendclan, and people don't much want to read about
Tower Island, and the neighborhood behind it on the mainland I have
visited many times. Heritage Prado has become one of my favorite
places, with its beauty and its museums, its friendly living tourists
and its kindly ghosts. I have gone on business, quite often, to the
Glass District, mainly to arrange the details of missions in the
western hemisphere. But I especially love Shadowdancer Beach, in the
distance from this view, a favorite hangout of Fireheart Friendclan,
not hard to reach from the Peninsula if you have phenomenal sailors in
your gang, but remote to the crowds. Though they doubtless cobble
together various influences from my waking life, these places have
become distinct destinations in my dreams, and I always view them with
a sense of coming home.
(And who can say if my dreams don't borrow, from my mind, the closest
equivalents to actual places, somewhere, somewhen, somehow? After all,
things in the waking world snag my attention according to whatever
triggers my psychological issues, and yet no one would doubt the
reality of the motorcycle at the curb or the doll in the window,
objects with loaded associations for me.)
It’s fuzzy, now, how much of this I dreamed and how much I invented. I
do remember the swab of alcohol, and refusing the injection, admitting,
“There was a...problem.” I did not dream much in the way of dialog past
Sometimes the same face as Justín’s belongs to Manaan Mac Lir in my
non-Tilián dreams. But the body that goes with that fellow is plump,
and Justín is anything but. Also Justín has a darker complexion.
I had the clues all along that Deirdre might pick up all sorts of
thoughts around her without becoming conscious of it, but I didn't
immediately put them together. Multiple-viewpoint dreams, references
that other people have made within the dreams to her testing out as
having some sort of useless trace-telepathy, weird hunches about things
that she shouldn’t be able to know, etc. I never knew what to make of
And then I faced the problem of gathering together all of the dreams
about her experiences in the Charadoc, the Mountains of Fire–a far more
complicated business than any I had previously attempted, for I kept
finding all of these first-person viewpoints of different people and
wondered how I could possibly weave them all into a single narrative.
I'd read Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, though, and his pioneering of the first person plural seemed to offer a solution.
But then, when I actually started writing, a sudden inspiration–and realization of the nature of Deirdre’s other
gift, hit me. It was not, after all, a mere trace, but rather dyslectic
in some way—she could not consciously read what she absorbed. This took
my writing (and my understanding of Deirdre!) to a whole new level. It
struck me that in her the first person plural made exquisite sense.
Certain aspects of Charadocian folklore also reached a whole new level
of reality in her as a result of this odd trait. But I get ahead of
I dreamed of the pleasant cruise with Jonathan,
at night, in bed. But being Kiril thrown down onto the broken glass
came as a narcoleptic flash dream in church by daylight, and from those
two I reconstructed Cook’s quarrel with her.
I first encountered Jonathan in my dream of Deirdre’s initiation in
sixth grade (1966) recorded elsewhere and then later integrated into
flashbacks in this work, wearing his habitual Charadocian garb. Every
dream of him since showed him similarly attired, with minor
modifications as fashions changed. I remember what we wore on this day,
on the cruise to Sargeddohl. I remember the beauty off the bow, but I
don’t remember what we talked about, just that it involved some lessons.
I do remember a little sandy-haired waif coming up on deck with cuts on
her hands and forearms, and her sleeves torn off. I might have derived
her, in part, from a picture in Jethro Tull's album, “Warchild.”, circa
1974, which merged with earlier, thinner versions of her. She also has
larger eyes--hawklike eyes. Wild and fierce and desperate, yet too
proud to ask for quarter. A child who has not really known much
Regarding the telling, I have often felt overwhelmed by all the
different threads, viewpoints, folklore, sub-plots and entire
interlocking parallel-tales that I needed to weave together for this
telling. It will become either my best work or my most magnificent
disaster. As of this writing (August 7, 2012) I have not actually
finished fictionalizing the entire tale, although I have gotten quite
far enough along that it will take years of weekly postings to reach
the currently unfinished section of this serial. As someone given to
endless revisions (when I have no deadline) even this much feels like
pressure, but I'm sure it's good for me.