Curiously nerdy posts.
You know, writing is a funny thing.
I attended DragonCon last weekend. For a lot of people, DragonCon is all about partying, dressing up as your favorite character, and meeting your favorite actors/actressess from your favorite nerdy TV show or movie. But for me, it’s always a different experience (although I did meet Jim Butcher, and he did sign my copy of Dead Beat – that was amazing). My favorite thing to do is to go downstairs to the dungeon of the Hyatt Regency, to the writer’s track room, and listen to the veterans talk about craft. It’s almost like going to church for me. I come out with a different outlook, and invigorated and motivated in my own writing life.
The major lesson this year? Write, write some more, and shop what you’ve already written. Otherwise it’s just a hobby.
Well, I took that to heart this year. I’ve started on my first novel in the past couple of years, and predictably, I’m pretty rusty at writing prose. Especially third person prose, since I’ve mostly done first person. The last major third person story I wrote, I finished when I was 23.
I wrote this as a possible prologue for my story. I may use it, I may not. But regardless, I’m glad I wrote it. Writing is amazing in that you can approach a story with a set idea in mind, and the instant you start writing, more ideas to supplement your original plans come out of nowhere.
As a result, my main story will prove much stronger for it. My original idea for an opening to chapter 1 was awful, and now I have a good one.
But anyway. For the heck of it, here’s my first draft of my prologue.
It was already well past midnight by the time the two men approached the house, but the sun still gleamed in the horizon. It was like a bonfire constantly burned in the sky ahead, glowing aggressively just past the treetops. It was the dawn that never came.
Bram shuddered, and pulled his coat closer to his body as he looked around. There was a slight haze over everything he could see, like a cloud of dust from the road after a horse galloped by. A fell taste lingered in the air, more bitter than the foulest brew he’d ever tasted. It made him thirsty, and want to piss at the same time.
“Are you coming, or not?” Villy, hissed at him from where he stood ten paces ahead. Bram nodded slowly, and moved to catch up.
The large manor loomed tall above them, with 3 floors, pale ivory bricks, and coppery trim that still shone through heavy tarnish. Any fool could easily make it out as a good mark for loot. A good mark, maybe, except for the fact that all of the windows were smashed, save one that had been boarded up. Add to that the garden that had been long swallowed up by tall grass and weeds, and he was starting to wonder if there was a mark here at all, good or bad.
He fingered the hilt of his dagger nervously, watching the line of trees around the house. It almost looked like the forest was grinning back with black teeth, inviting them in with no promise of ever returning. Every forest looks like that at night, he reminded himself. He knew that, all too well. He’d spent enough nights sitting in them, waiting for richer people than himself to pass by on the road. And that meant basically anyone.
He wiped the sweat off his brow, and scowled at the light in the sky above as he followed his partner around the side of the house. He hated coming to Volletara. The place made his skin crawl. It was a land that had not seen a day nor a night for as long as anyone could remember, and hadn’t been home to a single civilized soul for almost as long. Was bad luck, doing this kind of work while light was in the sky.
He wouldn’t have come at all, if he’d had a choice when Villy had come to him with the promise of a haul more than either of them could carry. To tell the truth, he’d almost left his drink and ran when the older, pox-faced man had even spoken the name of this cursed kingdom to him. But caution wouldn’t feed his wife and three children. And Volletaran silver would feed them for months, if he found any to sell. Collectors paid more money for a sliver of the stuff than he would see in a year.
“Strong as steel, and bright as the stars themselves,” he breathed the old line to give himself courage. Villy looked back at him quizzically.
“Watsit? Oh, right, right. There’s more here than we can carry, I can swear ta that. Came and checked it myself, before coming to share it with you,” the man replied with a gap-toothed grin.
“Right, cause’ you’re so generous,” Bram muttered. They had done jobs together before, but that didn’t mean he trusted the man at all. Trust was a good way to get a knife in your neck. He’d taught that lesson before, and had no plans to learn it himself.
“Always, mate. Always,” Villy replied, almost jovial as he effortlessly vaulted through a broken window, even with his large rucksack on his back. Bram followed him more carefully, taking the time to climb over carefully and not touch any broken glass. He noticed that the glass wasn’t the clear stuff – it was stained different colors, and was probably a picture before it had been smashed. Suddenly he figured maybe Villy wasn’t lying.
The inside of the house looked as cavernous as the Emperor’s palace in Mallabal – not that he had ever actually been inside the real thing. But then, any room with a ceiling several paces above his head, and enough room to comfortably house a horse felt like a palace to him.
Even so, he’d been in enough scraps in his life to know that something bad had happened here. The marble floor was cracked, and threatened to cave in at several spots. He could look up, and peek at the restless sky through the floors above and the roof. What little furniture that still looked like furniture was broken into scraps, maybe for firewood. There were several dark stains on the walls to match the carefully painted frescoes arcing along the doors and ceilings. He couldn’t tell if it was water, wine, or worse.
He ignored every instinct roaring in his mind, warning him to run. If he was already here, he wasn’t about to leave empty handed.
“All right,” he said, forcing himself to stop thinking about what had happened here. “So where is this haul you told me about?”
Villy was already on his way past where an oven had once stood, eagerly swinging open a cellar door and leaping inside. Bram walked over slowly, and looked down into the darkness. His eyes widened at what he saw.
Even with no light, he could see shelves glowing. Glowing with Vollaran silver, sparkling like stars in a real night sky. Forks, knives, spoons, even bowls and plates were lined with it, like whoever owned the house had so much they could’ve bathed in it. Amid it all, he saw Villy’s greedy face lit up with satisfaction.
“Well, are you comin’ down for your share, or am I gunna have to take it all?” he said, snatching a fistful of forks and shoving them into his bag. Finally ignoring his worries, Bram leapt down too, and started taking the spoons. Doing the numbers in his head, he wondered if it would be better to melt them down, or try and fence them as a set. He would keep three for his children, of course. The days of them using wooden spoons was over, he thought with a tinge of satisfaction.
“How come no one’s ever found this stuff?” he asked between the controlled cacophony of the two of them stuffing their sacks with the priceless metal.
“Cowards, afraid of ghost stories and the like. I can’t even count the good hauls I’ve made simply by crossing the Lawrian mountains once in a while. I spit on this curse, or whatever they’re calling it these days. Ain’t nothing wrong with this land. Some men just get scared when the sky ain’t blue, and there ain’t any other people around to make em’ forget that they’re alone. But it’ll take more than a little dust in the sky to scare off ol’ Villy, I’ll tell ya that much!”
Bram paused once he had all the spoons. Villy was already divvying up the knives.
“What did happen here, then? I always heard about some war destroying Arulsiam, about dust filling the sky, and not a soul surviving any of it.”
Villy raised a shaggy eyebrow.
“Best not to ask too many questions, if you want to live as long as me. Keep your nose to the ground, and your eyes to the sky. Shut up, and finish filling your sack!”
Bram immediately took that to mean that the older man didn’t know. Not that he could hold that against him. There was a lot of things he didn’t know either. The two men filled their bags in silence after that. Bram filled his to the point that he had to take off his belt and use it to keep his closed, else it would burst from all the silver instead.
His mind started racing excitedly as they dragged their loot up the stairs. With this much, he could buy a house, and a plot of land out of the city. He could farm for the rest of his days, and make an honest wage. His muscles started to burn from the sheer weight of the silver, as it raked across the floor. Maybe he would just hire a few men to farm for him.
Hell, with this much he would never have to work another day at all.
Hefting it over his shoulder as they walked out of the manor, he held up his pants with his other hand. It would be a long walk to do that all the way back to Mallabal, but he had more Volletaran silver than most kings did. That thought pleased him so much that he didn’t mind the dusky sky half as much. Even so, he felt an itch run up his arm. That bothered him. It never itched, unless he was in trouble. Live long enough in a job when your dagger is your closest friend, you learned to pay attention to your instincts.
They walked slowly around the corner, back to the front of the mansion where the main road lay. Both men stopped short.
In the clearing ahead, there were six men standing motionless in the haze. It was too dark to see their faces, but too bright to mistake them as anything but men.
Bram scowled. He knew he should’ve smelled the treachery coming. He’d thought of it the moment the job had been offered, but the lure of the silver had been too much to resist. Now that same silver weighed even heavier against his shoulder.
“Just how many other men did you tell about this haul?” he growled, reaching for his dagger. Villy shook his head.
“No one else, I swear to ya. Only a fool would want to split this into less than halves,” the older man grunted, reaching under his cloak to draw his sword. The blade was broken at the end, and rusted, but Bram had seen him use it many a time to best men with cleaner steel.
“Get out of our way, unless any of ya got a sudden desire to wear yer own guts as a necklace!” he bellowed, brandishing his sword with a skinny arm. One of the men close to the middle cocked his head to one side, like a dog would’ve. The only real reply was a faint gurgle from the one on the left.
Bram frowned. If all they wanted was the loot on his shoulders, they’d be talking by now. There wouldn’t be any walking out of this. They wanted his haul, but he wasn’t going to give it up without a fight. He’d come too far to go home empty handed.
Bram drew his dagger, pointing it at the closest man. He counted his heartbeats, and took a breath. It wasn’t the first scrap he’d been in; he’d lost count a few years ago, really. At least none of them had a bow. That made it a little more fair.
He started to open his mouth to offer his own threat, but he was too late. One on the right reared his head back, like a wolf, and screamed until Bram’s ears rang. Another one joined in the chorus, then another, until all of them were screaming and jabbering like a pack of wild dogs. Bram had heard his share of screams, but had never heard one like these before.
Then they all came running at him. There was no precision or plan in it, he could tell that right away. It was like an angry mob, coming to tear him apart with little more than their bare hands. He scowled. He’d promised his wife that his killing days were behind him, that any jobs he took now wouldn’t harm anything but his victim’s wallet. But these men weren’t going to give him a choice.
He took a long step forward, and swung his bag of silver, catching the first man in the face mid-stride. The man flew up feet first, landing flat with his back on the ground. Bram immediately dropped to his knees, dagger ready, intending to end this one quickly. If he did it well enough, the rest of them might back off, and give him and Villy a chance to escape. A good stab to the face or throat would do it.
But the face glaring back at him didn’t belong to any man at all. It was hardly even a face. Shattered teeth gnashed at him, with eyes tinged green and red. The man’s entire skull was misshapen, like bone had exploded, and only the flesh held it together. Even so, Bram could see chunks of white protruding from the man’s face. It snarled at him, already coming for him again.
“What in the hell…?” he breathed, hesitating for a shred of a moment. The thing howled again, sending flecks of foamy spit into his face. Each little drop burned, digging into his skin and inflaming his blood. His vision blurred as the thing hit him in the jaw with a big, calcified fist. It felt like a stone battering ram, slamming into him over and over again. Somewhere in the melee he dropped his dagger. He fumbled for it blindly, until he felt teeth sink into the flesh of his hand. More burning.
He screamed, and his throat felt like it had been slit and salted. He wanted to hurt someone. He didn’t even care who. Someone needed to feel pain for how he felt. He needed to share it.
He suddenly understood what their screams meant.
Behind him he heard the unmistakable sound of steel finding flesh. Villy had stabbed one for certain. But to no avail, as he heard the other man shriek as the creatures tore into him with their teeth and nails. He knew they had him too.
The one he had knocked down was on top of him now, hammering at him relentlessly with both fists. Bram tried fighting back, then just tried to cover his face as he lost his vigor to resist. But it was as if the monster above him knew nothing beyond its rage and bloodlust.
He finally gave up as he felt his jaw go numb. He saw nothing but blood, red in his eyes. His last thought was of his family. They would starve in the gutter without him. Compared to that, his fate would be a mercy.
Despite himself, he screamed again. Another creature lumbered over, and bit into his neck. He suddenly couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t see.
Soon after, the screaming stopped.
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