CampNaNoWriMo Day 1 - Nox tells a story

what-did-you-do “What did you do, Nox?” Starr asked, staring into the fire. The embers crackled and hissed. Nox didn’t seem to hear her—his eyes also transfixed upon the dancing flames. He took a deep breath, poked the fire with a branch from the beach, and sighed.

“I’m afraid this story may require more than one bottle of Isaru wine.” He tried to smile. His mouth wouldn’t move. Starr nodded, pulling her gaze away from the flames. She drew back the blanket from her lap and revealed not one—but two—bottles leaning against her thigh. The dark amber glass winked back at Nox in the twilight.

“I see you’ve come prepared.” Nox reached out and accepted one of the bottles, drawing his knife to work out the cork.

“I’m a resourceful woman. And I always have time for a long story.”

Nox grunted as he pulled the cork free and tossed it into the fire. He waited for it to catch fire, then drank directly from the bottle. Starr arched a slender brow but did not interrupt him. Instead, she took his knife and opened her own bottle. Nox did smile, then, after a long drink.

“I’m not really sure where to begin,” he said, letting the taste of Isaru wine linger on his tongue. The honey-sweet wine had never failed him before. He would find the beginning, and he would find the end. The bottle would help him with the parts in the middle. The ocean waves crashed against the beach in the distance. Far above them in the village of Tor’vic—the sound of drums and pipe music drifted down like a lullaby. The heat from the fire warmed his face; the wine warmed his stomach. The breeze against the sand tried to cool him down—but his memory was from a place and time much, much colder.

A chill sunk deep beneath his skin. He didn’t want to remember.

But remembering might mean saving lives. Any life.

He took another sip and let himself fall into the bitter, distant past.

#

“You’ll never become Captain if you can’t hold your wine,” Sarya said with a laugh, pouring from a water-skin. Nox’s gloved hands shook as he tried to hold the cup still. He was frozen to the bone. Ice lined the inner rim of his cup.

“What’s wine got to do with becoming a Captain?” He asked. The wine was still warm from the water skin—a habit he’d never gotten used to. Why the woman drank her wine warm—although, he supposed, it did help keep his stomach warm. He couldn’t feel much below his knees anymore. The ache in his thigh was gone, too. She was right about that, at least.

They trudged through knee-deep snow. Nox remembered now, how thankful he had been for the Beast that marched ahead of them, flattening some of the path. He had seen at least a dozen Beasts by that point in his training, summoned from Transcendence and held in place by magiked collars. Beasts of every shape and size—but Torryn’s was different. Angry. All the time. Something like an over-sized wolf with bright, white eyes—and feathers where there was normally fur.

The clawed footsteps were sporadic, left to right, as if always trying to run away. A trail of sluggish blood dripped down the Beast’s neck into the snow, marking their path. A long, ribbon-thin line stretched miles behind them, frozen to the ground. By now, wolves or other creatures would have picked up the scent.

“To make it to Captain, you’ll see—and do—a lot of unpleasant things. You’ll want to forget them.” Sarya said with a small smile and took a swig from the water-skin before re-attaching it to her belt. Her boots crunched against the snow as she passed him. The Beast’s head turned to study her with one bright eye as she approached.

“Captain Sarya has seen and done a lot of unpleasant things in the line of duty. Most of them were blood mages uglier than you.” Torryn laughed, turning in his saddle to study Nox. The Guardian’s mouth broke into a toothy grin hidden by his thick beard.

“Uglier than me?” Nox looked offended. His hand went to his chest above his heart. “I’m shocked. I thought Captain Sarya had better taste.”

“I don’t choose who my trainees are—I just make the best of it.” Sarya said. Torryn’s Beast stopped suddenly, clawed feet digging into the snow and ice. Torryn held up a gloved hand, signaling for them to stop. Nox took an extra step—his boots crunched in the ice like a hammer resounding from an anvil. Sarya would remember, and he would lose marks for that mistake. Torryn’s eyes scanned the distance. His free hand drifted along his saddle, reaching for the long sword he kept there. Nox couldn’t see anything through the falling snow. He’d be happy if he never ended up on some frigid mountaintop ever again. Whatever demon they had followed up this treacherous path, surely it would have frozen to death by now. He didn’t understand how any of this was going to make him a Captain like Sarya someday—

A screaming howl erupted in front of them, so loud it made Nox’s ears ache. Torryn’s Beast spooked and jumped sideways—straight into Sarya. The Captain was knocked sideways into the snow. Nox couldn’t help the laugh that escaped his lips. Torryn drew his long sword from the sheath and the sound of metal rang across the empty, frozen morning. The laughter died in Nox’s throat. He heard the sound of crunching footsteps, moving slowly towards them, one careful step at a time. Something was advancing down the path. A shadow began to appear against the falling snow. Then, the strangest sound Nox had ever heard—hissing, like the low hiss of a teapot over a fire. The sound of boiling water. Ahead, steam curled into the air beneath dangerously clawed footsteps. The surrounding snow and ice melted with each demonic step.

“Nox, help your Captain up. Slowly.” Torryn spoke beneath his breath without taking his eyes off the trail. Nox nodded and moved to the left side of the Beast. Sarya had stopped struggling in the snow when she heard the awful scream. She knew the sound of a demon when it called to her. She held out her hand and accepted Nox’s help. Together they rose and faced the trail.

Blood began to drip faster down the Beast's neck. It’s nostrils flared, eyes darted from side to side in the delicate light. The shadow became darker and darker as it approached, ice and snow turning to boiling puddles in it’s wake. A small stream of water began to run downhill. It mixed with the Beast’s blood and continued to run in watery-pink rivulets behind them. The smell was sickening and Nox regretted drinking so much. His stomach seized. Sarya reached with one hand to begin to untie the laces of her bracers. The leather straps were stiff from the cold. She untied one and handed it silently to Nox instead of dropping it in the snow. He tucked it inside his belt. Torryn shifted in his saddle, spurs guiding his Beast to take a step backward, putting the three of them side-by-side on the trail.

“Nox, no matter what happens—” Sarya’s voice was cut off by another scream, and suddenly the demon was upon them. The hissing sound filled Nox’s ears, snow and blood sprayed across his face in a warm slurry. The demon was there, long, clawed arms outstretched, black claws slashed through Sarya’s throat in an instant. Blood gurgled and sprayed from her throat as she fell to one knee. Nox’s eyes went wide. The demon’s dark, glittering eyes looked up—staring directly at him. The morning was silent except for the sound of Sarya’s life spilling out onto the snow. Nox’s heart began to pound in his chest. The demon was right in front of him. Sarya lay on the ground, bleeding out. Torryn—what was Torryn doing? Why wasn’t he doing something? Nox couldn’t move. His legs were frozen in place from fear as much a cold. The hissing, boiling presence of the demon thawed his legs just enough and fear did the rest. He scrambled backwards and fell into the snow with a curse.

Torryn swung with his long sword, metal whistling through the crisp air, steel screaming for blood. The demon heard the scream, too, and jumped to the side. It slashed out with another claw, this time raking alongside the Beast and catching Torryn’s leg. Flesh and leather ripped open like wet paper. Torryn cried out and only years of discipline kept him from dropping his sword from the shock. Muscle and bare bone were split open. Blood soaked his Beast’s feathers. Torryn spurred his Beast into action; a blur of claws and feathers as the Beast attacked the demon, rearing up as Torryn’s hands gripped the reins, spurs digging in desperately.

The Beast clawed at the demon, wolf-like mouth snapping with deadly teeth. The demon slithered across the snow like a snake; soundlessly, not of this world. It left only a trail of melted snow.

Sarya blinked slowly. She stared at the blood that sputtered and ran down her chest. She was kneeling in a pool of her own blood. She felt light-headed already. She could survive this; she only had to Transcend to save her physical body. She just had to concentrate. She closed her eyes—

“Sarya!” Nox yelled, his arms outstretched to protect himself from the demon. Torryn was off his Beast now, striking at the demon with his sword. Blood ran down his left arm and his left eye was closed with blood spattered across his face. Sarya’s hand came up to grip her throat, to stem some of the bleeding. She felt so warm, so incredibly warm, she just wanted to curl up in a bed next to Nox and sleep—but he was yelling for her, and the demon wouldn’t let them sleep any time soon. Her bracer was untied. She shifted her weight, turning towards the two men, towards the demon and Beast, as they each fought for survival. She clawed at the fabric of her shirt, fingernails digging like an animal until she ripped the fabric and exposed her rough, scarred wrist.

She could save them—but it would mean focusing on the magic, not taking the time to Transcend and save herself. There was no time. Fire erupted around her throat, sealing the wound enough to let her focus; it was unguided, undisciplined magic, crazed at the thought of death. It hugged her throat, burned skin and flesh alike—she worked past the pain and pushed the fire outwards, focused on the demon. Rippling, dancing red and orange flames jumped from her throat, shoulders, chest—wherever her blood touched her skin or the ground, it turned into fire. And it all flew towards the demon—and Nox.

A letter to convince myself to write

Author's note: I wrote this as a letter to myself (as the title suggests) to convince myself to write. I've been sitting here at Starbucks for two days (don't you judge me!), in a weird lull time between Spring and Summer semesters and moving to a new apartment. I have a lot on my mind, but forefront, always, is my writing. I know I can't realistically start writing a new story right now (there's just too much to do and I'm not ready), but I needed to figure out what I can do, so I just started asking myself some questions. It started as a word document:

screen1

And then I remembered I was in Starbucks, and they play their music really loud and there was just no way I'd get anything done. So I switched over to FocusWriter, put on my headphones, changed the background to one of my own photos to help get me calm--and started writing.

screen2

This letter is to myself, I'm OK with spoilers (they remind me to actually write the scenes!), and I wanted to share this process with you even if it does tell a lot about where I want to take the series and how I want to get there. So read on if you want to see what's happening down the road or what I'll be busying myself with, or how the story may change for better or for worse: but I warned you!

spoilers

Also titled: A scene you haven’t scene before

"Your job is to chase your characters up a tree, throw rocks at them, then get them down."

What is it about the Transcendence series that I love so much? Is it the demons? Is it the love story that will build between Malisyn and Nox? Is it the fantasy setting? Is it that I can tie characters directly to my own family and, in a way, keep them alive forever? I’m not overly knowledgeable about the Fantasy / Medieval genre. I think I write it well but--is it really the best genre for the story? Am I more of an expert on “modern” day?

My plan was always to have Malisyn inherit, from her biological father, his demon Bloodbane. When she Transcends for the first time she becomes the BloodGate Heir and therefore takes over his responsibilities. [Are BloodGate Heirs effectively “immortal” until their children take up their position? Is that why Jaq never wanted Malisyn to know, he was cheating death? And once she found out--perhaps, with help from Jaq’s enemies--she could Transcend, and after she had help Transcending--help from Nox, since she’s crippled by fear of death--then Jaq realizes what’s happening. It’s time to confront his daughter and train her.

Key characters, then are:

Malisyn Nox Jaq Allyn

Dawn, as Stephanie, will become a sister to Malisyn after she loses Allyn (if she does); or when she loses Taelor.

Kellea, as mine and Malisyn’s mother needs to play a prominent role somehow.

Av’niel, as Allyn’s father, and Malisyn’s effective step-father, needs to be involved.

Will Kellea and Av’niel act as Jaq’s “enemies”? Or do they stand to protect Malisyn, not wanting her to become a Transcender either? No, of course not, they know that lifestyle is hard and thankless--and dangerous. They’d want to protect her and Allyn for as long as they can.

Until life--and demons, and an antagonist--has other plans.

Just like real life, the enemies of Jaq will find his weak point--his daughter, the part of him that keeps him immortal--and they’ll go after her to get to him. Killing her would only keep Jaq immortal--but forcing her to Transcend would steal Jaq’s power and give it to her, then they could kill her [Wouldn't she be immortal now? Ok, yeah, need to think about that... slight delay? Waiting period?]. And then Jaq. And Allyn and Kellea and Av’niel as well.

But where in a story like this do we start? If Jaq is really the one the story is “about” why are we focusing on Malisyn? Because she is the one we can relate to. The unknown, the quiet one, the one without magic, the girl who wants more than what life has given to her--and can’t ever see it happening. She has no idea that she may be one of the most powerful blood mages in the world once she inherits her father’s powers--but she’ll realize too late that she really wanted him in her life all along. He won’t die instantly, no, but he’s going to get his first wrinkle or white hair and be very, very upset about it (he’s had a long time to get narcissistic).

Nox’s role, eventually, will be that of protector and friend--and eventually a lover. But he’ll have a personal journey of his own, through redemption for his past, for a life he lived before he met Malisyn that he’s not proud of. Kellea and Av’niel have their own story, a complicated past that involves keeping secrets from Malisyn, Allyn and even Jaq. They know more than they let on, know more about where Jaq is than they let on, and it’s those secrets that will lead to Jaq’s eventual whereabouts/life being revealed.

This has to start with Malisyn because she is the one that will have fate unceremoniously thrust upon her. We can all relate to having an unfair burden (or what we see as difficult and unfair at the time when we’re spoiled children) placed upon our shoulders and the bitterness and resentment that comes with it. Maybe Malisyn never wanted to be a blood mage. Maybe it isn’t her dream (I never had dreams when I was her age). Maybe she herself considers blood magic to be something evil or scary or unnatural. Obviously, now that she is one, she’s going to either have to change her mind--or accept her fate. And the train wreck that shows up in the fine print shortly after.

Allyn can be the shining beam of acceptance and optimism and excitement. He won’t understand the fear that people have or the prejudice that people have about blood magic because he’s simply too young. He can be a catalyst for change and if he dies, his ideals can not be allowed to die with him. Malisyn would go forward--even with Allyn--to help change the minds of people about how they view blood magic--did this just become an allusion to sexuality or faith or something? Well now.

The demons are important, I won’t cut them. Transcendence is important. The whole fucking world is important, I can’t change it. I can’t get caught up on “Oh my gosh, I don’t know how they heated up water or shipped things in medieval times.” Guess what, I’ll figure it out or I’ll make it sound convincing. I’ll ask people. I’ll watch videos. I’ll take a class--but I cannot let it stop me from doing what I want to do. I can’t change the genre because I’m feeling shitty about myself or the story.

It’s a beautiful story and I have to tell it.

It needs demons as much as it needs terrible humans capable of good deeds, and good humans capable of terrible deeds. The world isn’t fair, life isn’t fair, but we get to choose how we react to it: a choice my characters get that I never have. I mean, sure, I have a choice but I always choose to get upset by it. Malisyn doesn’t have to be that way, and neither does Nox or Allyn or anyone else. Intrusive thoughts, be damned!

Blood magic stays because it is a part of me. Interesting that I myself have a blood disorder that could kill me if left untreated--how can I “give” that to Malisyn? Does being a blood mage ultimately shorten your life? Not if you’re a Transcender. At least, not if you’re a BloodGate Heir. What about regular blood mages? Is Transcending kind of like drinking alcohol? Do they run the risk of a slow, painful death the more often they cross the threshold to dig at humanity’s secrets? But society keeps asking them to do it, to help, risking their own lives? Hard to say. I like the thought of somewhat sickly, physically weak heroes who have to depend on magic, charm and friends to succeed. Then when they reach the “bottom” with none of those things, it’s truly a sad experience.

I need to find the best parts of each chapter, of each character, and keep them. And throw the rest away. I need to find the heart of each chapter, “What does this chapter accomplish? What character does it illuminate? Does it take a step forward in the plot or does it pause to appreciate the world or character (which is also acceptable)?”

Although reading each chapter objectively isn’t really an option--I know at some point I’m going to start reading and I’ll hate it. I just have to be honest with myself. So what are my options?

1. Make a new outline and write it from scratch

2. Go through, highlight only what I like about each chapter (still requires re-reading it)

I think my best option is to re-write the whole damn thing with a new outline. There’s plenty about the story that I don’t like that makes it not salvageable.

The motivation for Tas’kara is weak and weird. Kellea’s role as a Nightwalker doesn’t make sense. The Trials of Blood held in a dinky little town because of one or two demons doesn’t make sense. It needs to be different. I don’t want to re-work the story, I need to remake it. So it needs to be a whole new outline and keep just the aspects and nuances from the first draft that I really like. It’s simply too much work (and anger) to try and fit back into a pair of jeans that doesn’t fit anymore. Buy a new pair.

So my goal now is to work on a new outline for the Trials of Blood--but actually make an outline for all three books (or at least notes for the 2nd and 3rd if there are broadly connecting themes and goals). I need to be critical about my characters and my plot. I cannot be afraid to radically change characters, setting, ideas, plots, characters: I need to revise fearlessly. I can always go back to the first draft (yuck) but I cannot always improve successfully. I need to just really look at the overall theme, the trajectory of the story, how I want my readers (and characters) to feel, and write to that objective.

#

So that's really my plan for the summer: to work my way through a new, strong outline so that I can start working toward a strong second draft. I can't rush this, I'll be juggling some accelerated (basic) math and chemistry classes that have to take priority, but I want to use this as my "down time" projects. Whenever I'm not working on school: I need to turn to this project, pick it up, pet it, make sure it's feeling OK and spend some time with it. My cat may get jealous. I'm a little jealous; I haven't spent this much time with my characters in a while. It felt good. Thank you for joining me.