Just last week, we posted the fourth episode of Blood Magic. If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it here, and if you’re not familiar with the series, you should probably start back at the beginning. However, I don’t want to talk about episode 4. I’d really like to talk about episode 5, and where the series is going. As you may recall, the concept for this is one short story released at the end of each month, making for a twelve episode season over the course of one year. That means we’re quickly approaching the halfway mark of the first season (there are currently three seasons outlined).

When I started working on setting up for Blood Magic to start coming out, back in January of this year, I had two episodes written, and a very loose outline for the other ten episodes in the first season. I figured I would easily be able to write a short story each month, and that way stay consistently two episodes ahead. That would leave me plenty of time to review and revise the drafts before I needed to publish the stories on the site. That was the intention, anyway. Reality ended up being a bit different. I had planned the third and fourth episodes to be quieter episodes, where not a lot happened, and the focus was mostly on introducing the settings and characters that would become more important as the story continued. That would also help to solidify the episodic nature of the series, rather than trying to have a focus on a long-term plot that spans an entire season. What I didn’t anticipate is how challenging that would make the third and fourth episodes to write.

Instead of having the third episode done in January, I didn’t finish writing it until almost the end of March, days before it was supposed to go live. The fourth one would have been a little better, but my real job got chaotic that month (the whole world became more chaotic in April), and I finished the fourth episode less than a day before it was to go live. As a result, I don’t feel that either of those episodes are as strong as they could have been. They were challenging to write by their nature, and made more so by how I had to rush them. For that, I apologize to all of you, my readers, and I promise to do better with future episodes.

Fortunately, the next few episodes are a bit more eventful than the third and fourth were, and I’ve already been able to make significant progress on the fifth episode. I’m hopeful that I will finally be able to recapture the feel of the first two episodes, which to my mind were a lot stronger than the third and fourth were. So if you enjoyed those, but were ready to put the series down after the most recent two, I encourage you to give it another chance in the next two episodes.

All of that is to say that I really am excited for the fifth episode, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with all of you at the end of May. In the meantime, here is a preview.

                When the dreary autumnal rains finally gave way to winter, it was fit to make everyone regret that they had ever hoped for the rains to stop, because the temperature plummeted, a wind tore out of the north like a pack of escaping wolves on the chase, and the snow fell for almost a week without cease.  The rain that had fallen before froze, leaving the cobblestone streets and especially the walkways on the walls and the castle slick with a layer of ice, obscured beneath increasingly thick blankets of snow.  At least, the snow started as a fluffy white blanket.  Soon it was a fluffy, white, down comforter, and then it passed any resemblance to bedclothes and became a suffocating pale mass of ice crystals that sealed doors shut and kept windows open.

                Finally, the blizzard passed, and the sun blazed forth, but it was scant comfort, for the tiniest traces of warmth fled with the snow, and the world seemed to freeze solid.  Even breathing became painful, and Guardcaptain Vere ordered his men to quarter shifts, giving them time to come inside and warm themselves frequently in front of burning braziers lest they lose ears and fingers to the pernicious, deadly cold, made all the worse by their constrictive metal armor.  Vere himself could be seen doing his rounds at a run, his cheeks burning red from the cold and the wind that whipped snow in blinding sprays whenever anyone happened to look in the wrong direction.

                Merolate’s vast bay never entirely froze, but it was already as frozen as it would normally be near the end of the winter, the ice extending far out past the docks into the water, almost as far as the Isle of Blood and its rotting piers.  Still, the navy kept its watchmen out at the ends of the docks, keeping watch for ships that might be trying to approach Merolate.

                “Do you really think anyone is sailing in this weather?” Feber, one of the watchmen, asked his companion.  “They’d founder on the ice long before they got to our bay.”

                His companion, Jolk, blew a steaming cloud of breath into the air.  “I sure wouldn’t want to be sailing in this.  I had a winter sailing once.  Thought I was never going to make it back.  You wouldn’t think it, but a bit of ice breaks off from these larger sheets can do a whole lot of damage to a ship’s hull.”

                “You mean like that ship?” Feber asked, pointing sharply out to sea.

                Jolk followed the outstretched arm, and cursed.  “How the blood are they doing that?”

                A narrow ship was approaching the edge of the ice that now rimmed Merolate’s bay.  A single, tall mast towered into the brilliant sky, gray sails hanging limp from it, and there was no sign of oars, but the ship was moving fast enough to leave a significant, foamy wake behind, back out towards the open ocean.  As the prow of the ship reached the ice, a distant crunching noise filtered towards the two watchmen, who watched in shock as the ship slowly pulled itself out of the water and onto the ice, and continued moving, gliding as if on skates across the ice towards the docks, its hull bare and gray, balancing on a double keel.  Bits of ice and snow skittered to either side as if seeking to flee the approaching vessel as it came slowly onward, appearing much larger than it really was, since it was entirely out of the water.

                Jolk yanked on Feber’s arm.  “Don’t just stand there gawking!  Go alert the dock master.  We’ve got a ship inbound!”

                Training overcame the bizarre circumstances, and muscle memory guided Feber to begin the docking procedures, more sailors rushing out to assist with the preparations for the incoming ship, although their work was punctuated by long, uncertain stares at the incoming vessel.  It was flying a flag, but it was not a banner with which any of them were familiar.  Whoever sailed that vessel, they weren’t from Lufilna.

                Still moving under no visible form of propulsion, the unknown ship came up alongside the prepared dock, swinging about and coming to a stop with hardly a shudder, just bumping against Merolate’s docks.  A ladder was lowered from the ship’s deck, spiked feet crunching through the layer of snow and ice on the dock to thud into the wood below, and a moment later a figure appeared at the top, nothing but a vaguely human dark smudge against the pale sky.  The figure began to descend the ladder, and two others followed.  Reaching the dock, the leader stepped off the ladder and turned around to face the sailors and city watchmen who had gathered.

                He was dressed in thick furs, with a helmet decorated by massive antlers, though they were broader than any antlers of a creature that would roam Merolate’s forests, and his beard was thick and blond.  A thick, black-shafted weapon hung at his belt: one side was a broad-bladed axe, the other a sort of pick.  The man lowered a fur-lined hood with fur-lined gloved hands, and looked around with eyes as pale as the sky, set in skin that looked almost grey.  Not the grey of someone who hadn’t seen the sun, but truly, deeply grey, going deep beneath the surface of the skin, where it was visible beneath his thick facial hair.

                “I am Captain Lorick’qu, of iceship Rofthox.”  His language was broken and his pronunciation was terrible, but he was at least speaking a recognizable tongue.  “If you no mind my asking, where am we?”

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