Hopefully you remember from last month that one of my projects for this year involves revising and re-releasing the previously published episodes of Blood Magic‘s first season. When I first thought about undertaking this initiative, I mostly imagined it as an editing pass, finding grammatical and typographical errors and cleaning them up, maybe tightening up the narrative a bit. However, when I went back and actually began revising, I found that I had a lot more to change than I had expected. Some of this is the natural result of how my writing style has evolved since I first began work on Blood Magic‘s earliest episodes, but more than I expected consists of changes I’m making because of genuine improvements I’ve made as a writer. I had some sense that my abilities were improving over the course of this project, but these revisions are really serving to emphasize just how far I’ve come.
It’s actually very interesting to be able to go back to what I wrote before, and look at it and ask myself “what was I thinking, doing it like that?” This was especially poignant with the second episode, Here There Be Dragons?, since I had been going around for some time considering it one of the stronger episodes in the first season, and I expected to not have very much to change. That was before I ended up rewriting the entire opening scene from a completely different viewpoint, which I think significantly strengthened both the scene, the overall story, and the world-building. It turns out that I really didn’t have a very good idea of what I was doing with viewpoint in this story. A lot of it tries to do some kind of poor third person omniscient, when most of Blood Magic is written in third person limited. The re-released version that you can read now should be much, much stronger in this respect, and therefore also includes a lot more character development and better plot progression. It’s just a more engaging, more readable story than it was before revisions (which I suppose is the whole point of revisions).
One of the more fun parts of doing these revisions has been being able to add little hints, references, and allusions to things that I only figured out were true when I wrote later episodes. For instance, I introduce Priest Marinae in episode 2, but while I made vague allusions to her history with Borivat when I first wrote it, I didn’t really know in my head what that was about until I wrote episode 7. In revisions, I made those references firmer. This is just one example; the overall effect is, I think, to make the series feel more integrated and connected, while still maintaining the episodic nature that I consider key to what I’m trying to do with Blood Magic.
In this episode, I definitely flirted with changing things that would seriously affect continuity, which I had promised I wouldn’t do. Episode 2 is where I give the first real insight into how the magic system for the Blood Magic world actually functions, and let’s just say that the details of the magic system have evolved a great deal since when I originally wrote this story. Believe it or not, I didn’t even come up with the term “balancer” until halfway through writing the first season. There were even three planes originally, instead of two. I did ultimately change enough of episode 2 to make it consistent with the rest of the series in this way, since most of the differences have only minimal effects on the other, already published stories.
I’m really pleased with this newly revised version. It’s a much tighter story, and not just because I caught most (hopefully all) of the grammatical and typographical errors. Yet there’s a part of me that now wonders how much stronger I could make it if I were to sit down, open a new document beside the current draft, and go through and do a complete rewrite. I don’t intend to, but I do wonder. Still, this is a really enjoyable story, and thanks to the new revisions, I am back to thinking it is one of the strongest episodes in season 1. So I am very excited to present to you Blood Magic S1:E2: Here There Be Dragons? (Revised Edition):
Having reached the end of the row, Tragger stopped and leaned upon his scythe, wiping stray bits of plant and dirt and moisture from the old blade. It was older than he was, but the edge was still bright and keen; he had sharpened it before the harvest had started. Certainly it resisted the persistent, fine, misty rains of autumn better than he did, with his old, aching bones and weathered, calloused hands. Still, he was not about to let his sons do all of the work, no matter how strong and capable they had become in the past few years. They were good lads, but that was no reason that their father ought to shirk his own responsibilities. He had created this farm, moving out to this place that was halfway between a forest and jungle when old Prime Enderva had started the pioneer program. There was a new Prime now, he had heard, Prime Wezzix, but that didn’t matter much to Tragger.
The pioneer program offered a good enough life, at least for someone like him. He had gotten money from the merchant who had bought his old farm on the alluvial plains closer to Merolate, which was increasingly where the city folk wanted to be, and where the soil was poor from centuries of farming. It had been enough to hire some field hands to help him create his new farm, further from the city, where he could have some peace and quiet from the constant interference of merchants and nobles and other busybodies who had never worked an honest day’s work in their lives. People who didn’t understand the soil more intimately than they understood their wives could never understand somebody like Tragger, and that was how he liked it.
These days, he only went into the city once or twice a year to buy and sell goods, trading his crops for the few things he couldn’t make himself, and to pay his taxes. That elicited grumbling from all of the pioneers, but it was a good-natured sort of grumbling. They knew well enough that they had a fair deal with the province governors. They paid a portion of the excess farm goods they produced as a tax, and in return they were left as much alone as it was possible to be. That meant fewer protections against invasions or attacks compared with the towns and cities and villages, or even the more traditional farms, but there was hardly much risk of that about which to be concerned. No one alive could remember a raid from the Unclaimed Territories penetrating so far into Merolate.
Last time he had gone into town, there had been rural roads, oases, outposts, even lumber mills and other extravagances along the way, courtesy of the merchants. They just didn’t understand that the pioneers who came out this way wanted nothing to do with them or anyone else. Sure, the lumber mills would process the trees that the pioneers felled to clear their fields, albeit for a fee, and what use did someone like Tragger have for perfectly milled boards? No, the way he hewed them, with an axe or a hatchet or a saw, stepping down along the side and trimming as he went, was more than enough for his purposes. That was how his great-great-grandfather had done it, back when the city of Merolate had been more like a town, and it that was how Tragger hoped his sons and their grandsons would do it.
Besides, wrenching the stumps from the soil after the trees were felled so that a plow could get through the loamy earth was the real hard work. That, and keeping the cloying, overpowering undergrowth from overwhelming everything. With the trees felled, there was nothing to keep away the sunlight, and the normal undergrowth was in constant competition with the crops Tragger and his family needed to survive. Despite the challenges, they succeeded, year after backbreaking year, and this year had been no different. Now, it was time to harvest. Autumn brought cooling temperatures and perpetual rain that fell in a long, monotonous drizzle seemingly all through the season, and transformed the fields into veritable swamps, and left a lingering, chilly dampness to the whole grey-green world that could not be dispelled by the brightest fire in the homiest hearth.
Such was harvest time, the busiest time of the year. They had to pull in the harvest before the roots rotted and left the entire crop unusable, and then they had to get it loaded into the wagons and deliver it to town before the roads became impassable. Hefting his scythe again, Tragger confronted another row of crops, set his stance, and began the long, sweeping motions that would carry him down across the field. He would do it dozens more times before the day was done.
“Fire!” Sagger yelled.
Tragger caught his backswing short and spun around, searching. There was no way there could be a fire, not in autumn and its perpetual rains, but if this was a joke by his youngest son, he was not amused. To his horror, he saw flames leaping up from the old log barns. “Fire!” he echoed, for once not worrying about the quality of the blade or the effect of the water and simply dropping his scythe as he ran for the barn. His knees popped, and his hips grumbled, but there was no time to waste.
Surely the fire would not spread, with how wet everything was; even now the rain was falling in an incessant blanket of moisture that coated everything and made the footing treacherous; Tragger nearly tripped and broke an ankle more than once as he made his way awkwardly across the field and its many furrows. Yet he couldn’t take that chance.
From a doorway outlined in flame, he saw the blummoxes come stampeding out into the rain and muck, their shaggy beards wagging back and forth as their heads bobbed with ponderous motion, rapidly becoming mud-coated. As if the beasts of burden needed more encouragement than the flames chasing at their heels, Tragger saw Sagger stumbling out through a cloud of smoke behind the blummoxes, cracking a whip in generally the right direction, his other arm held over his mouth and nose as he coughed smoke. The lead blummox had just reached the edge of the field when a dark shape detached itself from the dense cloud of smoke and steam that hung low over the farm. The shape swooped down and scooped up the blummox in massive talons; the beast made a gentle lowing noise that seemed to contain not nearly a sufficient measure of panic as it was carried above the hanging smoke ceiling.
Tragger pulled up in his haphazard run, staring after the disappearing shape and its blummox cargo. As he watched, another shadowy form speared down like a hawk from the smog to snatch another blummox and disappear back into the clouds. Except that it was a hawk large enough to carry away an animal that weighed almost fifteen times more than he did. He cursed. “Leave them!” he yelled at Sagger and his other sons. “Get inside! Get everyone inside!”
They would lose the blummoxes, he was sure. Possibly the crops, too. With the barn in flames, there was nowhere inside to protect either the beasts or the crops, but Tragger put aside those worries; his first concern was getting his family to safety, or at least somewhere a bit more sheltered. Blummoxes, even crops could be replaced, in time. His sons could not be.
“Is everyone here?” Tragger asked, when he thought everyone had effectively crowded themselves into the main room of the cabin and barred the door. Once, this room had been the entire cabin.
“I think so,” his wife replied, looking around and trying to count her sons. She barely looked shaken by the chaos; she was sturdier than the stumps, that woman. “What happened? I saw the fire, and Sagger’s been babbling something about flying monsters…”
“I don’t know what happened,” Tragger grumbled. His daughters told him that he sounded grumpy all the time, but he thought that was just how he spoke. “Flying monsters is right – I saw some creature out of a nightmare come down and take up our blummoxes. Somehow the barn caught fire. We can only hope it doesn’t spread to the crops still in the fields.”
His wife swallowed, looking slightly pale. She knew the implications as well as he did. “In the middle of autumn?” It wasn’t so much that she was doubting him as that she needed confirmation of something that seemed impossible.
“I wouldn’t have believed it either, if I hadn’t seen it.” Tragger didn’t add that he had thought it a poor joke on his son’s part, at first. He strove to keep the weariness from his voice. His family needed him to be stronger than that.
“Maybe those monsters did it,” Sagger suggested.
Tragger exchanged a look with his wife. “I refuse to believe,” he said, “that we’ve been attacked by dragons.”
Click here to read the rest of Blood Magic S1:E2: Here There Be Dragons? (Revised Edition)
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