Designing Z’han and the Octari

As I was imagining the world of Tantiss and the Kingdom of Z’han, I knew I wanted the people there to have a symbiotic relationship with something else. 

At first, I imagined them more as a forest kingdom. Ideas for the original symbiotes involved nature spirits that looked like will o’ wisps until they flew into a body. Then I thought about them being bonded to hyper-intelligent bears. I pictured them as druid type people who rode those bears into battle.

Ultimately, I scrapped the forest kingdom idea. Kimori is a world of a giant tree, and going to a forest world just felt a little too similar. I wanted a more dramatic change of pace. So I started thinking about what might make my characters uncomfortable.

Annea – close range combat specialist. What if she can’t get close?

Serena – Pyromancer, so how about lots of water?

Ivy- No access to plants (most of the time)

Dover Castle was a visual reference and inspiration for Z’han.

I decided to go for a kingdom on the coast, and that the ladies would have to do battle at sea. The half-kraken / half-hydra nastiness that is the leviathan popped into my mind right away, so I ran with it. 

Knowing now I was going in a nautical direction, my thoughts naturally turned to sea creatures. 

Many years ago, I read Timothy Zahn’s Dragonback series (the first 3 books, anyway). They featured a dragon-like creature that could slither onto and off of his’s hosts skin. I don’t remember how they communicated in that form, or it’s limitations. (I really need to re-read those) – I just remember the skin-riding concept, and thought it brilliant. The kingdom of Z’han is full of other, smaller references to Zahn’s work, as he is one of my favorite authors.

Now knowing I wanted something from the ocean as the partner, and a skin-riding relationship, my mind went octopus quickly. I like large contrasts, and boneless, tentacled creatures being best buddies to humans sounded like a lot of fun, so when that idea hit, I knew it was the one.

I already had the krynn (the fairies) down as the antagonists of Z’han, so I started thinking through what form the human-octari relationship would take. A population of humans set upon by such enemies probably needs a hell of a lot of emotional support, so I pictured the octari like the multiverse’s best emotional support beings. They tend to be very calm, loving, empathetic creatures. Being bonded to an octari is like simultaneously having great anti-anxiety and anti-depressant meds in your system, while your therapist is there to cheer for you at all times.

The relationship is transformative, and universally considered just pure GOOD by both humans and octari. I wanted to depict a relationship where both parties feel fulfilled, and there’s no exploitation going on. There’s enough darkness and bad times to be hand in other areas of the story / universe. The only downside would be the lonliness people feel when they have their thoughts to themselves again when the bonding ends. (This will come up later in the series, but the octari reach an age where they can no longer be paired to a human. Their cognitive decline and chemical processes related to aging can be dangerous to the human host, so the octari has to end their relationship and return to the ocean at that time)

Octari are brilliant scientists and engineers too, though that will be shown much more in Book 2. It doesn’t come up in what is written so far. The first 1/3 to 1/2 of book 2 will be a return to Tantiss, so look forward to more octari, krynn, and merfolk in the future!

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