I am very excited to present to you the first episode of a brand new season of Blood Magic, the short story series that I’ve been publishing for over a year now on IGC Publishing to minimal fanfare. If you’re not already familiar with it, I encourage you to go over to the main Blood Magic page or any of my myriad posts on the subject to learn more. Better yet, I encourage you to start at the beginning, and read the first episode. We even have a newly revised edition here on the site, newly re-released for 2021.

We have another post coming out on Tuesday where I reflect extensively on season one (be sure to follow IGC Publishing to get notifications about new posts), the writing process I used to create those episodes, and the things that I liked and didn’t like about them. However, I wrote that post before I started writing the season two episodes, which was a very deliberate decision: I wanted those lessons learned to be front of mind as I worked on the second season. After all, a major part of why I’m writing and releasing this series the way that I am is to improve my craft. With Flailing in the Dark, I think that may have worked.

Season one had its troubles, but I’d like to think it ended on a high note – at least, I enjoyed writing the final few episodes quite a lot, and I think that they’re strong, story-wise. Unlike most of the Blood Magic episodes, they did not reset at the end with all of the characters essentially returning to where they were at the beginning. We have character in different positions, characters who are no longer with us (read Old Blood to find out what I’m talking about), and the whole Merolate Union was just subjected a terrible disaster. That meant that I had a lot of material to work with for the first episode of the new season.

In a way, I almost had too much material, and yet too little. I needed to clean up from the aftermath of the conflict during the season one finale, and show the characters settlings into their new roles, basically getting them into place to start the new storytelling for the season. However, I also wanted to give us some insight into some of the new conflicts and problems that will be popping up throughout season two. Although I wrote this episode fairly rapidly, it stretched long, coming in over eleven thousand words (most Blood Magic episodes are closer to seven or eight thousand). Despite that, I don’t think it’s slow.

The hardest part of this episode was not overdoing it on the character conflicts which form the core of the story’s conflict. I struggled to show, rather than tell through in-character narration, what the characters were struggling with as they sorted through the problems of the day. Doil was easiest in this respect, since he is the most naturally self-reflective character, and his conflict – primarily the amount of work he had to do, and the fact that no one seemed to be willing to help by doing their jobs – was easy to show. Kiluron, though, was very difficult. He wasn’t depressed – he’s not that kind of character, and he didn’t have that kind of a relationship with the Prime – but he was frightened. Yet Kiluron is not nearly as self-reflective or self-aware as Doil is, and the main way that I’d usually draw him out, using Doil, wasn’t available to me. You’ll have to let me know with your reviews and comments whether or not you think I succeeded.

Overall, I’m pleased with this episode, and I think it’s a solid start to the second Blood Magic season. Now, the trick will be keeping up that momentum during the early episodes, where if my experience with the first season is any guide I will find most of my struggles. You’ll get to read all about how I do with the second episode at the end of next month. For now, allow me present Flailing in the Dark:

               Lounging in his chair, Kiluron tried without success to juggle a handful of odd, thick-skinned fruits from Nycheril.  They were long, slim, and greenish-yellow color, with firm flesh that was starchy with almost no sweetness to it.  According to Doil, they were called ‘plantains.’  Whatever they were, Kiluron had no more success juggling them than he’d had last autumn when he’d tried to get some of the guardsmen to teach him how to do it with much more familiar apples, and he reluctantly uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, refocusing on the interview.  Ostensibly, he was the one conducting the interview, since these were supposed to be his advisors, but in reality he just let Doil do the talking, and followed his recommendations.  It seemed less likely that he would mess up and get someone killed, that way.

               “How would you handle the political relationship between Merolate and Rovis?” Doil was asking.  Apparently, the fellow across the table being interviewed was interested in the position of Minister of Affairs and Relations with Alien Lands.  Until Doil had told him, Kiluron hadn’t know the position existed, but apparently the man currently interviewing had been the minister for Prime Wezzix, back before…Kiluron pushed that thought away.  It turned out that there were a lot more people involved in Merolate’s government than he had realized.  Before, it had always just seemed that it was up to Wezzix, Borivat, and Vere to decide whatever needed to be done.

               “Merolate suffered the most from the Heart War, so we should expect Rovis to be unusually aggressive, and deploy additional troops to the border to compensate.  However, they were affected, as well, so a moderate force ought to be sufficient.  It is of more concern that we continue to deter them from pursuing exploration and exploitation of Nycheril.”  The man’s answer certainly sounded confident; Kiluron wished he could share in it.  It seemed wrong somehow to be worried about Rovis when the Union was still in shambles from the Guardian’s attacks, which were being referred to as the Heart War.  Most people either didn’t know, or weren’t prepared to accept, the reality of an ancient demon attempting to wreak vengeance and secure dominion over the entire continent of Lufilna.

               Doil, however, seemed to find the man’s answers adequate, and made approving noises before dismissing him.  When the interviewee had gone, he turned to Kiluron, who had turned to making a concerted effort at studying a thick stack of papers Vere had handed him.  He had made it through the first page – instead of being about something exciting, like strategy or small team tactics, they were about the castle guard finances.  That seemed a dirty trick.  Especially since included in the finances were the settlements owed to the families of guardsmen who had died during the battle at Heart City.  “You know, you could at least pretend to pay attention and contribute during these interviews,” Doil huffed.  “These people will form an important part of your governing team.”

               “My governing team?” Kiluron repeated, looking up from the page, which he hadn’t really been reading so much as staring blankly at without comprehension.  “Doil, my first decisions as just acting-Prime led to the death of Prime Wezzix, along with dozens of guardsmen and Blood Priests.  Not to mention the number of people who died from the sickness and corruption that the Guardian exuded.”

               “My lord, your decisions saved thousands of lives.  Arguably, you saved the Union.  If you hadn’t been willing to act decisively and in a way that no one else would have dared or even considered, reaching out to the Isle of Blood for help and pushing them to take a bold risk that paid off, the Guardian may well have prevailed.”  Doil sighed, both in sympathy and frustration.  “Regardless, you’re Prime now.  You’re going to need a governing team.”

               “Like anyone’s going to listen to me,” Kiluron retorted.  “I’ve been listening; all of these people are just hoping that I’ll let them continue to operate as they did under Wezzix.  It’s not like I have any real power to change anything.”

               Doil threw up his hands.  “If you want something different, you have to do something about it, my lord!  You’ve given me almost nothing to go on, so I’ve been falling back on Prime Wezzix’s team and policies.  Tell me you want something different, take an active role in this, and you can change things.”

               For a moment, Kiluron glared at Doil, and then he slumped back in his chair.  “Better if I don’t, really.  Everyone would prefer that Prime Wezzix had survived.”

               Rubbing his forehead, Doil blew out a breath.  “Of course everyone would prefer that Prime Wezzix survived.”  He met Kiluron’s eyes.  “But that doesn’t mean that they won’t obey and respect you as the new Prime.”  He hesitated.  “Speaking of which, we really need to discuss arrangements for the formal investment ceremony…”

               Kiluron groaned.  “You know, you were almost managing to reassure me a bit there, before you went off on that particular topic.  I still say it’s wrong to have a big celebration the same day we formally cremate Prime Wezzix.”

               “The investment ceremony is an important part of the functioning of the Merolate Union,” Doil recited.  “It formally recognizes the transfer of power from one Prime to the next, and gives the governors of each province an opportunity to reaffirm their allegiance to both the Union and the new Prime.  It simply makes sense to have it at the same time as the cremation ceremony, since the governors will want to be able to attend both, and they can’t afford to leave their provinces for long or too often while their still trying to recover.”

               “Then can’t we at least make it less of a celebration?” Kiluron asked.  “Just for the formal ceremony, and forgo all of the fancy feasts and so forth.  That seems a bit more respectful to Prime Wezzix’s legacy.”

               Doil hesitated.  “I – that’s actually a good idea.  Why didn’t you suggest it before?”

               “No need to act so surprised,” Kiluron muttered.  “I didn’t suggest it before because I didn’t think of it before.  So we can do that?  Just have the ceremonies, and not an entire festival while the Union is still trying to recover from the Guardian’s attacks?”

               Nodding, Doil was already scribbling away.  “Yes, we can do it that way.  I’ll see to it that appropriate invitations are sent to all of the governors, and of course the nobility.”

               Somehow, that made Kiluron feel better about himself.  It probably shouldn’t have, but he decided to seize the feeling while it was there.  “Alright.  Now, the governing team.  Tell me again why I can’t just have you advise me on everything?”

               Sitting down again, Doil looked relieved as he pulled another stack of papers over and began shuffling through them.  “My training with Borivat is designed not so much to make me an expert in any one thing, as to make me extremely conversant in a wide array of subjects and fields.  There are people who will devote their entire lives to any tiny subset of the subjects in which I’ve been tutored.  Mostly, we need a governing team to help filter information and provide suggestions, serving as experts in various fields: alien affairs, economics, agriculture and industry, health and sanitation, defense, and law and policy.  They will each assemble their own teams of even more specific experts.  Then, that information is made available to you, either directly or through me.  Prime Wezzix preferred to have his ministers brief Borivat, and to then consult almost exclusively with him.  You can choose to do the same with me, or to hear from the full council of ministers on a more direct basis.”

               “Alright.  What are my options?” Kiluron asked.  “I’ll figure out how much I want to deal with them myself later.  You’ve been busily interviewing people while I’ve been wallowing – which I’m probably not done with, but I’m trying – so who have you been interviewing, and how are we picking?”

               Doil consulted his notes.  “For the most part, I’ve been interviewing Prime Wezzix’s ministers.  Most have expressed interest in retaining their roles, save the minister of law and policy, who was planning to retire this summer, anyway.  But they all serve at your pleasure.  It would be unusual, but not unprecedented, for you to take on an entirely new council of ministers, although I wouldn’t recommend it at the current juncture.  Let things settle down a bit first…”

               “Alright.”  Kiluron took a deep breath.  “Please tell me if you think any of this seems completely crazy, but here’s what I’m thinking.  Keep the economics, agriculture and industry, and health and sanitation ministers the same.  Make Vere defense minister, and Borivat alien affairs minister.  Not sure about law and policy, though.  Who would be good for that?”

               “Vere won’t take the position.”  Doil sounded surprised.  “He never talked to you about it?  He’s refused every offer of any command other than the Merolate Guard.  If we were to call up an actual army, he wouldn’t even be in its command structure.  Also, I’m not sure about putting Borivat in a ministerial position.  Usually, advisors to the Prime are expected to retire with their Prime.”

               “You don’t mean…” Kiluron interrupted.

               “No, nothing so barbaric,” Doil assured him.  “But giving him an official position within the government could be…awkward.”

               Kiluron sighed.  “I’m not sure that I care.  That other guy you were interviewing seemed slimy to me, and I know Borivat.  He’d do a good job.”

               “Well, I suppose it would serve to assuage some of the usual turnover concerns…” Doil mused.  “I think we should conduct a few more interviews, but it’s at least worth considering.”  He paused.  “All of this begs the question, though, of what you intend your governing style to be.  What is your policy vision?  We should try to tap ministers who share a similar vision and will work to support the outcomes you desire.”

               Scrubbing his face with his palms, Kiluron looked at Doil through his fingers.  “That’s an awfully big question to spring on a person like that.  How am I supposed to know?  I figured it was going to be at least another ten years before I needed to worry about that kind of thing.”

               Doil folded his hands in his lap and contemplated Kiluron.  “Well, I know you’ve expressed that you thought Prime Wezzix’s governing style was too inflexible and rigid at times.  Maybe that’s a place to start?  Wezzix saw the law as an instantiation of philosophy and almost a morality of its own.  Your governing philosophy could be based in an idea of the law as a secular entity separate from morality.”

               Kiluron blinked.  “I understood what some of those words meant.”

               “Sorry.”  Doil blushed.  “It’s one of the big debates within the legal community: is an illegal action necessarily moral?  Is morality dependent on a system of laws, or is there some absolute moral code that we as humans simply don’t yet understand, like we don’t yet understand the precise ways in which the world works?”  He paused.  “All of which is somewhat tangential to whether you would like to make the idea of greater flexibility within the legal structure a mark of your governing philosophy.”

               “Maybe?”  Kiluron shook his head.  “I just don’t know.  It was a lot easier to disagree and have my own opinions about the best way of doing things when it wasn’t up to me to make all of the decisions and be responsible for so many people’s lives.”

               Doil nodded.  “I understand, my lord.  But I know that you’ll do what is best.  We don’t need to come up with the answers right now, but we should plan to have the ministers selected and a basic governing thesis published by the time of the investment ceremony.  Especially since you’ll want to know what that is for your speech.”

               “My speech?”  Kiluron looked up sharply.  “You didn’t say anything about a speech.”

               “Didn’t I?”  Doil hesitated.  “Well, yes.  You’ll need to deliver two speeches.  One for Prime Wezzix’s cremation ceremony, and one for your investment ceremony.  I can write them for you, if you wish, though you’ll probably want to go over them to make them sound more like you and less like me.”

               “Oh.  Well, that’s alright then,” Kiluron said.  “As long as you tell me what I’m supposed to say, I can’t mess it up too badly.  It’s not the giving speeches that I have a problem with – it’s the knowing what to say.”  He sat back and thought for a moment.  “Is there anything else we need to go over?”

               “No, I don’t believe so,” Doil said after a moment’s thought.  “At least, not at the moment.”

               “Good,” Kiluron declared.  “I feel a need to go swing a sword at something, clear my head.  All of this sitting inside with papers all day is making me twitchy.”

               He leapt to his feet then and hurried from the chamber before Doil could come up with something else that he needed to do.  Honestly, he didn’t understand how Doil could bear to spend so long couped up inside, pouring over dusty tomes and piles of paper with cramped, tiny, nearly illegible script upon them.  After less than a morning of it, Kiluron was inevitably ready to scream from the tedium of it.  That the feeling only made him feel even more inadequate for his position as Merolate’s Prime only made the feeling more intense, so going down to the practice yard to vent his frustrations might help the former feeling, but it only made him more guilty.

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Click here to read the rest of Blood Magic S2:E1: Flailing in the Dark

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