After almost two full seasons of writing Blood Magic, I can say with some confidence that the episodes seem to oscillate like waves. There will be lulls, where the episodes are in my opinion not as strong as they could be (like Contaminant), and there will also be peaks. If season one has a peak, Who’s Afraid of the Dark? might be it. As much as I find Cracks in the Ice fascinating for the glimpse it gives into the magic system and Borivat’s past, and as much as Here There Be Dragons? is somewhat classic, from both a storytelling and writing perspective I think Who’s Afraid of the Dark? is very likely the strongest episode in the first season.
Doing my pre-revision re-read, I actually found myself thinking that I didn’t know what I would write about in this re-release post, because I wasn’t sure there was anything significant I wanted to change. I could make it longer, showing more of Doil’s interaction with his personal ghost, or giving Marinae more try-fail cycles before she comes up with her Empire-inspired idea, but the story was already sitting comfortably close to ten thousand words, and I did not think adding significant new content like that would improve the telling very much. I could add another sub-plot or side quest, perhaps for Kiluron, but again, I thought this would detract from part of what makes this story work so well in the first place. I could make the ending a little less rushed, giving more opportunity for Yorin to explain what happened and giving more information about what might be coming later, but aside from it being part of his character to favor semi-dramatic pronouncements of doom, that would end up revealing too much about the season one finale too soon, and I really wanted to leave a lot of mystery around what happens in this episode – it’s not like Doil or Kiluron have the background to understand what’s going on, so it actually works well that the reader doesn’t, either.
In the end, most of the revision work I did on this episode was continuity related. When I first designed the magic system for Blood Magic, or at least when I first got beyond “you spill blood to make magic happen,” I had just been working heavily on some stories called Impressions (not sure if I’ll eventually go back to those and make them publishable for the site). This is relevant, because in those stories there is a magic system that involves two, parallel planes of existence. So when I realized that I needed a place for demons to come from in Blood Magic, I called for three planes of existence, and the original versions of all of the first season episodes reflected this choice.
There were two major problems with the approach, though. One: Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere also features three planes, and while the idea is hardly unique or original to him (his implementation is certainly highly original, don’t get me wrong, and his Cognitive Realm is one of the more interesting world-building aspects of a writing universe that abounds with fascinating world-building), I did feel a little like I wasn’t stretching enough for this idea. Two: three planes didn’t make sense based on everything else that I’d set up about the magic system. Once I got beyond the state of “blood spilled, magic happens,” and the magic system/religion became focused on balance, three planes stopped making sense. There’s a reason the Blood Magic symbol is a set of scales. It made far more sense for there to be two planes, and so, in these re-releases, I’ve been slowly bringing the old episodes into conformity with this idea. Fortunately, because the main characters understand very little about Blood Magic, and the third plane had proven superfluous for plotting purposes anyway, this had little to no effect on the actual stories, which is why I was able to get away with it at this late stage.
Aside from cleaning up continuity, I also made some minor technical changes to things like sentence structures, and word choice. Changes or no changes, I really enjoy this episode, and I am pleased to present it to you.
Rationally, the days were getting longer, and for that matter they were theoretically getting warmer, as well. With the snow falling gently outside, in a steady, light flurry, it should have been a beautiful, pristine, peaceful night, if a bitingly cold one. Perhaps, under other circumstances, it would have been, but even knowing all of that to be true, it did little to convince Doil that there was anything benign about the present darkness. There was something about the castle halls in the deepest parts of the night, especially in the heart of winter, that he found unrelentingly ominous. It almost seemed like there was a weight to the halls independent of their physical masses of stone and metal, perhaps an echo of their long histories. No wonder he studiously avoided leaving his chambers whenever he could.
But he had finished the pile of books he kept in his chambers, and he hadn’t been able to sleep, so he had determined to put aside such an unreasonable fear of the castle halls in the dark, when he found them quite unremarkable during the day, and venture forth to one of the studies to retrieve something else to read in the hopes that he would eventually be able to find some comfort in sleep. It seemed increasingly unlikely; there was something about this night that was putting him on edge, and his journey out of his chambers had only exacerbated that irrational intuition of impending doom. It would be more prudent, he supposed, to simply return to his room now, burrow under the covers like some kind of small, furry animal, and hope that hibernation found him before morning came and he had to go through a whole day without having slept.
He had just determined to turn and return to his room, when a soft rustling sound filtered through to his ears, like cloth rubbing over stone, perhaps someone dragging a cloak that hung just slightly to long behind them as they strolled through the corridors. Doil hesitated, and crept reluctantly towards the corner to peer around towards the source of the noise, but when he looked, he saw nothing but empty darkness. A cold wind filtered down, and he shivered, turning back the way he had come, when he heard the noise again, this time in a different direction. He looked again, and there was again nothing there.
“You’re just overtired and freaking yourself out,” Doil muttered, choosing to speak aloud with the thought that the sound of his voice would be reassuring, but it only served to make him feel smaller and more vulnerable.
“You’re just overtired and freaking yourself out…” The voice sounded almost exactly like Doil’s, but it definitely had not come from him. He spun around towards the source of the noise, but there was nothing there, only a patch of shadow. Doil pinched himself, scrunched and rubbed his eyes, and blinked hard, before looking at that patch of shadow again. There was still nothing there. Wearily, and warily, occasionally casting glances behind him that revealed nothing untoward or unusual, Doil made his way back to his rooms, and shut the door firmly behind him. He bolted the door shut, too, which made him feel a little more comfortable, but he didn’t really feel safe again until he had crawled back beneath the covers on his bed, no matter how irrational a battlement those might be.
Still, he could not quite shake the feeling that there was something watching him. Peeking out from beneath the covers, he saw nothing, so he swung his legs out of bed and scurried across the cold floor to his dresser, where he fumbled around until he found a candle. A few more moments of fumbling around at the hearth produced enough heat to light a taper, and thence the candle; its flickering light was some small comfort as it pushed back the gloom. “You must be really overtired now,” Doil muttered as he crawled back into the bed. “Good thing Kiluron’s not here to see you being afraid of the dark.”
“You must be really overtired now…” the voice was the barest of whispers, still sounded like Doil, and it was clearly coming from inside his room. Doil sat bolt upright in bed, eyes straining for the source of the voice, looking around with frantic motions, but found nothing. “Good thing Kiluron’s not here to see you being afraid of the dark…”
“Who’s there?” Doil demanded, attempting to project more confidence than he in fact possessed at that instant. “If this is some kind of a trick, it’s not funny anymore.”
There was a long silence. Then: “who’s there…” A pause, of precisely the length that Doil had paused, before “If this is come kind of trick, it’s not funny anymore…”
Convinced sufficiently that whatever this was not likely to be deterred by a few blankets, if it chose to be threatening, Doil swung himself out of bed again, went to the dresser, and returned to the bed with a dagger, which he gripped tightly as he sat cross-legged atop the covers, shivering in the chill winter’s night, for all that he was inside. “Alright! What do you want? Who are you?”
Again, the only response was his own words, parroted back to him in his own voice. “Alright…What do you want…Who are you…”
“Blood and balance!” Doil swore. “What is wrong with you? What is wrong with me?”
The only reply he received was his own questions repeated precisely as he had presented them, albeit softer and trailing at the ends of each. Doil rested his forehead on his wrists before looking up again. “Fine,” he snapped. “I can sit here all night, if I have to. I bet I can keep this up longer than you can.”
“Fine…” the mysterious voice replied, in a perfect mirror of Doil’s own frustration. “I can sit here all night, if I have to…I bet I can keep this up longer than you can…”
Click here to read the rest of Blood Magic S1:E8: Who’s Afraid of the Dark? (Revised Edition)
Click here to read the rest of Blood Magic Season One
Click here to read the most current Blood Magic episode: Contaminant, Part Two
Click here to learn more about Blood Magic
Click here to join the discussion on our Blood Magic Forum