Either I forgot, or I thoroughly repressed just how bad episode four was. At least, I hope it was one of those two, because I would hate to think that as either an author or a reader I ever looked at this episode and thought it was good. When I went to start revisions on this episode, I floundered around, looking for some way to start, because I thought that it was so bad that no amount of revision could help. I was very nearly tempted to throw out the entire original text and start over again, and the only thing that restrained me was that I’m still nominally calling these revisions, and have promised to be somewhat true to the original episodes. That meant, unfortunately, that I was stuck with the silly plot involving some thieves, some poison, and some gold.
Then I came to the realization, as I was staring at the first few pages in dissatisfaction and not making any progress on revisions, that the biggest problem with this episode was motivation. We never find out who the thieves are, why they’re doing what they’re doing, how they got their information, or anything else at all about them; they just randomly show up near the end of the story, and get two sentences wrapping them up immediately after their appearance. That led me to realize that I needed at least one POV for the thieves, but I still needed a motivation, something to raise the stakes and make things interesting. It was in considering this that I struck upon the idea for a single thief on a mission to steal, not gold or jewels, but a very particular artifact that Merolate happened to have in its vaults.
Making that decision radically altered the story and arguably means making very significant changes to the original events and occurrences and canonical facts – this is one episode that, even if you’ve been skipping the revised editions for the rest of the first season, you should definitely read. Since I was changing so much, and since it fit well with my need for a motivation for something to steal things from Merolate, I used this as an opportunity to do some world-building that will become relevant as season two progresses, and on into season three. In other words, yes, you can expect Darphon’s mysterious benefactors to return in future episodes, as well as their even more mysterious enemies.
Even with the revisions I made, I’m not entirely satisfied with this episode. It is much, much better than what it was, but I still worry that I didn’t strike the right tone with it, and the pacing feels a little off to me (you know, I probably shouldn’t spend so much of these blog posts criticizing my own stories – that’s not likely to encourage you to actually read what I write). It still has a certain silliness to it that I was reluctant to cut entirely, but which feels a little out of place now with the new framing story I added. And I worry that the ending is too clipped, but in truth any more denouement would be rather dry, with Vere giving a report and some of the characters getting together and musing over how they managed to all be poisoned. Thanks to the poison, Vere barely even remembers what Darphon said, and they all discounted Darphon as just a madman who somehow got into the vault. The mystery of the cut bars and locks is chalked up to the odd dagger, which is left in the vault in essentially forgotten. And if I gave more insight into what Darphon’s benefactors think of what happened, it would give far too much away about their nature than I want to at this time (you’ll get to meet them finally in S2:E10: Older Than Stone).
Someday, I might put these episodes through yet another round of revisions, and I would pay special attention to this episode, but for now I really do think it is much better, and probably as good as I can make it while leaving at least some parts of the original intact. Please head over to the Blood Magic pages to read the newly revised All Cooped Up and No Place To Go.
Dry heat, like from a hot forge suddenly opened to the air, washed over Darphon as he descended the rough stone corridor. It was dark, oppressively dark, and the corridor was vast, so that in truth he was not even certain how high it might go, although he had walked back and forth between the walls to determined how wide it was. The hot air billowing up from the depths smelled of age, a sort of oddly spicey, dusty tone that sparkled in his nostrils; to him, it smelled a little bit like home. His soft rabbit skin shoes were nearly silent as he strode, but the slightest of sounds echoed hugely in the deep, underground space that led all the way to the very heart of the mountain.
In places the way became steep and treacherous, and though the space was still large he would himself be clinging to only a narrow shelf or lip of rock, threading his way down roughly carven stairways that twisted back and forth through great slots within the mountain’s structure. Always it went down, down, deeper and deeper. Though he was surrounded entirely by rock and knew of no other living things that dared to dwell in that place, Darphon could not entirely suppress the overbearing, timeless sense of the halls he walked. There was a heaviness, a temporal heaviness that had little to do with the huge monument of stone that towered far above him and all around him. Through it all, the summons thrummed in his mind.
As far as he knew, he was the only human to ever trod in those places; the steps and stairways that he used had been created for him, summoned straight from the stone by powers greater and more ancient than he could fathom. It seemed more than he deserved, but Darphon had no illusions about personal merit entering into the considerations of his guardians. Whatever had prompted them to succor him when he had been a toddler, lost and wandering alone on the frigid mountain slopes with a storm closing in, he would likely never understand; even after so many years, his guardians’ motivations and reasons were inscrutable. They simply did not think in the same ways he did.
Regardless, they had sheltered him from the storm, and raised him, teaching him the ways of the mountains and in the process a little of their own identities and histories. A little it had to be, for one of the few things of which he was certain was that his guardians were profoundly, unimaginably old. Older, perhaps, than the very existence of humans, on Lufilna or otherwise. Nor were they old in the sense that their species was old; they were themselves that many centuries and millennia old. They had no spoken language, for they communicated telepathically, but they had translated as best they could their name for themselves into terms Darphon could understand: Gruordvwrold. It meant roughly “world-guardians,” but even that was a gross approximation. In some way, the Gruordvwrold were the world.
Deeper and deeper beneath the mountains Darphon travelled along, feeling the expanding presence of the Gruordvwrold in his mind. His furs, perfectly suited for the cold mountaintops and piney slopes, became stifling, and the leather thong that held his knife against his thigh chafed from his sweat. The knife was a beautiful piece, given to him by the Gruordvwrold when they had taught him a little of the ways of Balance; though it felt and looked like stone, it cut better than steel, and needed no sharpening nor honing. It was a relief when the passage at last leveled out, for that meant that Darphon grew close to the end of his pilgrimage, his journey to the very hearts of the mountains, where dwelt the Gruordvwrold.
At the end of the passage was a huge opening that leaned out over an enormous chasm that shot in infinite darkness apparently straight down to the center of the world, though the Gruordvwrold insisted that it did not; Darphon himself had never seen the bottom, nor, for that matter, had he ever seen a Gruordvwrold. Only rarely had he been summoned within the mountains to stand on this stony perch high above where, somewhere in the infinite darkness below, the Gruordvwrold were nestled. The darkness was so complete that he knew where to stand only by their direction, and he thought at times that he could sense the void around him, and especially gaping below him, like a visceral substance. He had never heard a fallen stone crack against the bottom.
“Be not afraid, Manling,”spoke a voice from out of that depth into Darphon’s mind. “Think thee after we succored thee, that we would allow thee to come to harm here in our own home?”
“No, no, of course not,” Darphon stammered. He dropped to his knees. “I’m deeply sorry for my foolishness.”
A rumbling, perhaps the Gruordvwrold version of a good-natured chuckled, seemed to arise from the chasm. “Apologies are not necessary, Manling. But now, take heed. There is much to consider.”
Darphon nodded, not even considering that the motion would almost certainly be invisible in the darkness. There seemed an odd hesitation before the Gruordvwrold spoke again. “There is a task which completed must be. Only after great consideration do we ask of thee if thou will aid us in this matter, but the danger becomes ever greater. Our old enemies exist, the Ipemavs, and they seek again our subjugation, but weaker we yet are than of old we were.”
“I don’t understand,” Darphon replied, his voice trembling. There had been a note of fear in the Gruordvwrold’s voice, and that alone was enough to nearly set him to panicking; he could not imagine what could frighten such powerful beings. “But I’ll help however I can.”
“Danger there will be unto thee: beware. Beyond these mountains we can little aid thee. And far beyond these mountains must thou travel if thou would render this aid unto us. Unto the city of Merolate must thou go, into the very heart of the castle that the manlings have there erected, wherein there is a vault. From this vault thou must take and return unto us the Heliblode.” Here an image of a large, globe-like object, jet black and shot through with streaks of red, as if the black shell were around a molten core straining to escape, was projected into Darphon’s mind, and he marveled. “Only with the strength of the Heliblode might we parry again the strength of the Ipemavs.”
Only slowly did the implications of this request work through Darphon’s brain, but he was no less incredulous and overwhelmed for the process when he finally understood. “You want me to steal something from the Merolate vault?” he asked. “But…but that’s one of the most heavily guarded places in the world! And it’s many many days’ journey from here. And…and I don’t even know the way!”
Sadness and concern came from the Gruordvwrold, but also comfort. “We will help thee in this task as far as we may, and indeed compared to the manlings we are yet strong in might and wisdom. And know that we would not ask it of thee of another option there were. Yet even in this extremity of our danger, we will not force this duty upon thee; it must be freely undertaken, as is our way. Wilt thou aid us, Manling Darphon?”
There were far more reasons to decline than to accept, and Darphon could easily list many without even turning his thoughts too closely to the task, but he found himself nodding in agreement. “Yes, I will help you however I can,” Darphon promised. The idea of something being a threat to the Gruordvwrold, who he had thought at times might be some kind of gods come down to Lufilna, was enough to convince him that the risks were justified, if it would give these magnificent beings a fighting chance against whatever incredible danger it was that they faced. Besides, his life was theirs, anyway, ever since they had saved him from certain death.
“This is good. If thou succeeds in this endeavor we of the Gruordvwrold will be in thine debt.” A satisfied rumble rose from the chasm. “Preparations as may be needful thou shall make for an imminent departure, but first let us tell thee of the plans we have made to enable thine journey and thine ultimate success. Thou shall journey from these, the Uir Mountains, unto the south and the east, until thou comest to that land which manlings name Merolate, but be wary on the path, and go not near the city of the Ipemavs. Thou shall come unto the city named Merolate with the coming of the dying of the year, when the ways of Balance are most potent, at which time a great feast is held in the castle of the manling rulers. Poison shall we prepare that thou may administer in the kitchen, that all present at the castle may be induced to slumber whilst thou accomplishes thine retrieval. Administer poison also to the bread, that the officers of the guard may be affected, and a greater concentration to the one called Vere, for he hast resistance to many poisons beyond that of other manlings. With the teachings we have granted unto thee of the ways of balance, thou shalt not have difficulties accessing the vault. With thee in thy journey shall we be, until thou reach the city of Merolate, for there are adjacent to it manlings trained in the ways of Balance, to whom we at this time care not to reveal our existence, lest they be made slaves to the Ipemavs.”
Further details poured forth into Darphon’s mind, so that it seemed in flash of lightning he had gained knowledge and understanding far beyond what any manling had ever approached; then the presence of the Gruordvwrold receded, and his mind was his own once again. He bowed several times to the chasm, despite what the Gruordvwrold thought of the gesture’s utility, and then hurried back along the passage down which he had come to return to the sweet, fresh, open air of the mountaintops. No matter what the Gruordvwrold offered as reassurance, he found in his heart that he did not believe he would ever return to again look upon the beauty of his home.
Click here to read the rest of Blood Magic S1:E4: All Cooped Up and No Place To Go (Revised Edition)
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