This is a sneak peek for my newest novel, Murder in Color, coming out Feb. 21st. It features paint and murder and sexy men! Genres: fantasy mystery/gay romance.
“Out there, I could smell something other than topoyi paint and feel the grit pelting against my body, reminding me I lived in the real world, that I wasn’t as dead as the corpses I cut open on a regular basis.”
A Short History of Topoyi
Topoyi plants were first discovered in the northern wastelands of the Sconda Desert. As of today, only four breeds of the plant are thought to exist.
The largest, the Great Topoyi, is unstudied, but is believed to be indigenous to the land at the base of the north reaches, an area dubbed DaRellino or the Sand that Swallows, by the original nomadic tribes of the Sconda. Oral history states the tribes would give the area a wide berth out of fear from stories told of people disappearing. For many centuries, the legend of the swallowing sand persisted, but was believed to be referring to sinking sand or quicksand pits that might have existed in that territory.
The expedition of Morollini Nattali—dates unknown—is supposed to have discovered the truth in the matter—that the “sand that swallowed” referred to the persistent growth of the Great Topoyi and not sinking sand at all. Unfortunately, there are no texts documenting this expedition and it is entirely possible Morollini Nattali never existed since descendents of the nomadic tribes have differing accounts of the supposed expedition. A few stated that the man was a creation of some storyteller while others believed he perished during his own expedition, leaving only a few survivors to escape south once more across the dunes.
There is no known information on any other expeditions into the north end of the Sconda Desert, thus there is no other information on DaRellino or the huge breed of topoyi plants supposedly dominating the land there.
In the southern half of the desert, the nomadic tribes encountered far more cases of smaller topoyi plants, originally thought to be good for pest control.
Of the three well-known, smaller breeds of topoyi plants, all are succulents and two do not grow taller than half a meter high. They thrive in dry, sandy soil, their root system is shallow and they propagate asexually so they tend to be found in patches rather than speckled throughout the desert. Their thick leaves grow in a fractured rosette pattern and are smooth to the touch, devoid of needles or thorns. However, each leaf has a single concave channel running along its underside. It is postulated that the channel is to allow the sap of their outer leaves to leak cleanly in one direction where it can pool against the soil.
When threatened, generally from an influx of small mammals, those outer leaves along the rosette will slowly split. The sap will then collect around the base of the plant, creating voids. The nomadic tribes called these spaces ‘hell maws’ after the way small mammals are sucked into them without a trace. These voids are weak and inconsistent and can generally only trap small rodents. Snakes have been observed to be able to sense the voids and slither around the sap. And though there is a bedtime story about a void dragging a disobedient boy into the nether, any possibility of the voids being capable of affecting larger mammals has been debunked.
A woman by the name of Aerilla Yeteri discovered she could use the sap of topoyi. Mixing a large amount of it with mashed fruit, she painted a mockup of a picture outside her home that ended up protecting her from a nearby coyote pack that had been getting too large to be sustained by the closest water source. The coyotes ran straight through the picture where many ended up lost permanently after Yeteri scrubbed the sap-fruit mixture off her home. This method of protection from wild beasts helped the first nomads to create more permanent lifestyles within the Sconda.
Thousands of years later, topoyi-based paint—engineered to be far more versatile and long-lasting—is rarely used for protection. Instead, artists specialize in creating luxury commodities with topoyi paint. These topoyi paintings are interesting because they stand apart from astral creation. An anomaly, generally far smaller and of lesser quality than a plane created by a skilled astral mage, yet far more easily accessible since no mage is necessary to enter a topoyi painting once the painting is completed.
Thus, where astral creation falls short, topoyi paintings have expanded, taking over the market share among the middle to higher castes around the world. It should be stated that this market expansion was greatly influenced by the mages in the astral towers becoming locked within their borders by the Empire, making it all but impossible for a new generation to become full-fledged astral mages.
Not only that, but in order to retain control over the international market, the Governor of DaSunder—the only city within the Sconda Desert with the capacity to produce and export topoyi at any worthwhile level—has an embargo on both the plant and the paint made out of it, greatly restricting world access. In this way, DaSunder drives the prices of its powerful artwork, an action that is quickly turning the city into the center of a thriving nation from the once humble, broken beginning it had as a neutral tribal gathering oasis.