I Typed a Thing Part 2
I suppose this is part of the “fun” for seeing a first draft. I’m not particularly happy with this section. Nor the next chapter. In fact, considering what I’ve written so far, I’d probably cut most of it and tie it into the story later. But since I’m the type of person who doesn’t plan out the structure of my stories, I don’t really know what works or not until I’ve done it and seen it in the grander scheme of things.
So what don’t I like about this? Well, for one, I feel it’s a bit too much of a tonal shift from what I’d like the story to cover. I’ve got to great lengths before about magic systems in fantasy work and I wanted to relay that in the D&D shorts that I write, magic does work slightly differently than a high fantasy setting. In particular, wizards (or sorcerers) are far less prominent due to the inherent difficulty of working magic. See the Balls story for an indication of the work required to pull of a spell.
However, I knew I wanted to have a magical element and this gave rise to binding subset of magic. It’s based on demonology from the Lesser Key of Solomon of Christian mysticism because, really, all fantasy works are explorations of ideas and thoughts from our past given new spins. I kind of like the whole bargaining imagery of medieval sorcery where mystics were required to enter pacts and negotiations with otherworldly beings in order to obtain their power. Course, for this to work, the mystic would need something to bargain in my world. While souls work for a Christian based mysticism, the flavouring for my D&D world has always been unapologetically Norse. Thus, the actual body and reliving of life for these otherworldly entities seemed more appropriate.
Unfortunately, the nature of these pacts is bit too edgy for my tastes and while communicating how much is required to even obtain this “shortcut” to using sorcery, it wasn’t really the direction I wanted to roll the story. So, if I were to clean this up, I’m sure this entire portion would be hacked. Also, it does have a lot of passive voice which was done to keep the piece feeling mysterious but I’m sure it just comes across as annoying more than anything else.
But that’s the thing with writing. Sometimes you’ll just write whole sections that you need to ultimately sever for the good of the piece as a whole. It’ll be maintained here for posterity I suppose.
He made for the stables. The horses were gone, naturally. The door hung loose on its rusty hinge. The heat wafting from its interior hinted at the bodies it once stored. He pulled the door wider, stepping into the dung and sweat choked shedding. The stones were still cold to his steps but they were a relief from the frigid ground outside. He proceeded past each stall. His steed was gone, naturally. Only the keeper’s old mare remained.
Keirn had a mind to take it.
“But you won’t.”
“I’m better than them.”
“You’re truly not.”
“I’m smarter than them.”
“That’s more likely.”
The creature stirred at his approach. She raised her head, nostrils flaring. Her large, almond eyes fell on him. For a moment, they were still like a rustic portrait for decorating the mantel.
Her nostrils flared again and she cried. Her hooves stamped the ground and she retreated from her door. Her rump butted against the wall as her head snapped in her building frenzy.
He raised a hand and the horse kicked the stable wall. “They always do.”
“You weren’t riding her anyway.”
The was a reason his steed was blind. He wondered how far the thieves would get before they made that realisation.
Fully in her stall now, Keirn closed the door behind him. He stared at her, placid, while the beast nearly threw herself through the wall to get away from him. It would make quite the sight. There, the tall, lanky man in garb that draped loose and heavy over his buckled shoulders and stooped form while she, the formidable animal more than twice his gaunt size, near injured herself to keep as much space from him as physically possible in the stall that could nary accommodate the pair.
It probably would have been comical had it not occurred in the stretching dark before daybreak. Or had his worn clothes and pale flesh not given him the horrible aspect of a Pale Herald come to collect the frigid queen her charges. It was always the same in these northern settlements. The icon of death was one of endless winter.
It was a fate that didn’t terrify Keirn. He’d never cared much for summer.
With methodical precision, he removed his hood. A thinning crop of dusky walnut hair clung to his scalp. He pulled the strap through the buckle, removing his belt and leaving it to clatter against the floor. His shoulders twisted like tight knots beneath his skin as he shucked his shirt and folded it neatly on the ground. In the dim lighting, steam rose from his bare flesh to give the skin stretched over taut muscles a truly spectral quality. Here the pink of the cuts and scars glowed with their own life. Lines crossed his trunk in chaotic patterns. A whole history of pain was charted in the flesh but the destination it mapped was unreadable to most.
And those who could identify the markings beneath the wounds would have recoiled from the sight and fled the small stable.
The mare was not afforded such mercy.
His trousers and loincloth joined the last of his belongings on the ground. For a moment he stared at the animal in his nakedness. The vaguely human form beneath all the wounds afforded the creature a fleeting sense of familiarity and she paused at this miraculous transformation.
In that moment of vulnerability he approached.
“What are you doing?”
The stables shook with the impact of the mare’s body. Her cries were deafening as she thrashed. Her hooves raised, kicking the air before her. But she dared not touch him. She dared not bring a limb against the thing that now stood with her blood crawling down its long fingers. She would not be aware of the wound on her flank. All she would know was the pain and fear.
And his nose widened to drink it in.
“Stop! You can’t do it!”
The man hunched over. His spine jutted grotesquely as though it would pop right from his body. He kept his sanguine hand in the air, the warm blood rolling down his forearm and dripping in thick drops from the crooked elbow. With his other arm, he brushed a patch of the floor clean of the hay and horse manure.
“You’ve made your contract!”
A red finger extended and scratched across the boards.
“You promised me!”
Slowly the symbols took wretched shape. They were twisted things completely alien to the runes in common use by the holy Gothi. They bore no semblance to the learned letters of the scholars in their secluded towers. They weren’t even the queer symbols of the secretive Oathstealers or even the coded language of the Forbearers from Kiga though none this far north would have heard of that latter group.
No, these perverted things were far more profane. Such were their loathsome curves that the mere sight of them caused the mare to shake before collapsing. She sprawled upon the ground, convulsing as he worked, pausing long enough to gently remove her leg from his circle.
“I shall not be denied!”
His flesh flared. He gritted teeth into lips, drawing his own ichor from darkly blue veins that pumped slow beneath his prickling skin. He pressed on, ignoring the brightening of his flesh. Beneath the curled lips of age old scars glimmered lines and shapes horrifyingly similar to those scratching themselves upon the floor.
Only once did he need to dabble in the mare’s fresh wound to complete his work but when he was finished, he stood. He panted short bursts of icy breath. His skin sweated despite the cold. But even the mare had grown silent now, her sides rising in the shallowest of breaths.
Feeble was the reply to the sight of the thing drawn on the floor. “The Hounds-master is gone.”
“But yet the Hound still bays.”
He stepped into the centre of the thing on the floor. He peered around uselessly for an implement. Drawing up short, he drew his cracked fingers to his chest. The nails turned inward, digging deep into the frail skin. He pulled across. Red ridges charted the path. It was hard work as the old scars were the most unyielding but finding flesh unmarred was near a treasure on its own. With enough of his own blood mixing with the mare’s, he held up a hand and squeezed what drops he could upon that most obscene construct.
“Be still,” Keirn said, cracking a grin amongst that macabre scene. “You will not be upset from your post.”
“You don’t mean-“
The mare jolted at the howl which shook the very shingles of the roof. The creature stirred itself to consciousness amongst that otherworldly sound. She knew it as surely as any creature knew the sound of a predator on the hunt. It was the sound of impending finality. It was the sound of inevitability.
The stables shuddered upon their flimsy holdings. It was as though some unseen giant were attempting to wrestle the structure from its foundation. The mare stared wide-eyed at that which could not be there. She was paralysed by a grip far stronger than simple fear. Only instinct could make sense of the shadows that twisted in the corners of her stall. Only that primal spark could prickle at the presence which arrived unannounced and not through any door or window. But it was assuredly there just as much as that dreadful howl that clawed at the boards.
“You can’t bear two. It’s never been done?”
“Perhaps there is knowledge beyond even your ken,” Keirn said. “After all, yours has been a long exile.”
He smirked as he looked upon that bloody swathe across the floor. His pupils enlarged at the sight of the etchings that now bubbled and boiled. The howling grew louder, if such a thing were possible. In the gloom of the stables, the man nearly glowed with abyssal light.
And in that light, the mare could see another. It was as though it were transposed over the hunched form of the naked man with the maniac grin. There was something of tattered robes and a dented crown that took shape as though it and the man were in the same spot. The darkness seemed repulsed by this intruder, peeling from its faded glory and the crumbling tome clutched achingly in one hand. But for all its fearful fleetingness, this other recoiled at the scrawled iconography. It drew within itself, shrinking far smaller than that scarred man it had once towered. And, nipping at its tatters were hundreds of thousands of sharp teeth.
Heavy was the smell of carrion that welled from the stall, washing like a fetid wave over the only two living things in its midst. The man’s smile faltered as he turned, retching a meagre stream of bile upon the hay. Amongst his wracking coughs, sounds emerged but they were not the tongue of man. He raised a puffy and swollen wrist to wipe his mouth. When he turned, his eyes were not his own.
Bright and yellow were they. He raised his nose to the air, nostrils flaring. In that whiff, he smelled it all. He could smell the fear of the mare. He could smell the stench of her unkempt stall. He could even smell the growing tangle of rotted cells in her lungs that would claim her fading health.
Even more impossible was the seeming change to the man’s body. He seemed less pale. His skin was somehow less sickly. A more healthy red flush returned to his body and even his frame was a little fuller. It was as though he had turned and slipped on a mask but one that covered his whole body. The twist of muscles were grander, set like springs ready to uncoil. There was a frightfully muzzled energy to him now, tinged as it were by that old worn and faded skein that wrapped him prior. Even the hair on his head was thicker and the sprigs along his arms and legs were darker and longer.
He turned, stumbling from the stall. But he made hardly a few feet before stopping.
“Aren’t you… forgetting something…”
He turned, reaching for his clothes. His eyes fell upon the mare’s and a dreadful hunger filled them. His lips peeled back to reveal savage canines.
“No! I… forbid it!”
Nails scratched against the wood, leaving long and deep gouges. But at last the Hound was reined and the man turned, stumbling out of the stable into the cold morning.