Some of the episodes I’ve written for Blood Magic have been memorable to me, for one reason or another: the first two because I wrote them and revised them so many times before they became part of this series, the season one finale, Borivat’s story in Cracks in the Ice, or even the recent Contaminant. In some cases it might be because of the amount of time I spent on the writing, or how difficult the writing was, or, less commonly, how much I personally enjoy a given episode. Should I admit that I remembered very little about Unbalanced before I did my pre-revision re-read?
Actually, I prefer it that way: I think I can get closer to what a reader experiences with one of my stories if I’ve forgotten about it, or at least mostly forgotten about it. Even when I got into it and remembered the basic outlines of the plot, I mainly remembered the same worry that I had at the time when I was working on it originally: that the story did not resolve neatly. After all, I never answer what happens to the Prophet, or explain the weird weather events. What I had forgotten was how much of this story becomes about Kiluron and his personal problems.
I tend to think of myself as a plot person. I like stories with interesting places and interesting things happening more than I like stories about interesting people, hence my fascination with hard science fiction, like Rocheworld or Ringworld. Yet my enjoyment of something like The Name of the Wind, or The Way of Kings, implies that I can go for a character story just as well, and I have found in my writing of Blood Magic that the episodes that have strong character elements are stronger stories overall. If this episode works, I think it does because of the character elements, so I made sure that those remained a prominent part, with only a few tweaks to bring it more in line with other episodes and to be more character-consistent.
However, the reason this episode was put in the outline in the first place remained: I wanted an episode where significant, problematic events take place, where neither the problem nor the solution have anything to do with Blood Magic. While Blood Magic, both as a religion and as a magic system, should feature prominently in the series, I didn’t want the episodes to turn into predictable cases of “bad things happen, something wrong with the balance is to blame, Kiluron and Doil have to go get help from the Blood Priests to fix it.” Unfortunately, I fear that this episode in its original form, and especially how I had failed to resolve in any specificity the weirdness about the weather, had the opposite effect: the obvious conclusion most readers would draw is that the weather has something to do with the Guardian.
In revisions, therefore, I wanted to be certain to prevent that being the logical conclusion. It turns out that, in order to prevent the explanation for the weather from being a magical one, I did not need to provide an alternative, scientific solution that the people of Merolate would be in no position to provide. Instead, all I needed to do was make the weather slightly less remarkable. Changing a few words here and there in the weather reports was enough, to my mind at least, to make it seem like these are statistically anomalous, but completely natural occurrences. After all, anyone who has lived through or visited the site of a tornado’s destruction knows how odd they can be. I once helped with tornado relief, and there was one house untouched while the ones beside it had been leveled, and we found solid furniture broken in the basement while the fine glass in the second floor bedroom was pristine.
Aside from that, I did add a little more about our prophet. To be clear for those of you who care about such things, there is no in-world religion talking about the Black Crow and the end of the world. This episode’s prophet is just a little, well, crazy. He’s not supposed to be a major part of the episode, just a catalyst who makes for an interesting introduction and a suitable backdrop for Kiluron’s storyline, but I found in my re-read that the brief synopsis Kiluron gives him in the letter felt unsatisfying after giving him his own scene to begin the episode. I didn’t want Kiluron to talk any more about him, because he was supposed to seem minor to most people, just a blip, but from a reader’s perspective he did need a little more, so I think I managed to provide it. Yet I resisted giving a concluding scene with him, for two reasons. One, I thought that would legitimize him too much, when part of what I wanted to do by the end of the episode was show him as a false prophet. Two, I think some things are best left up to the reader’s imagination. We’ll talk a little about this in some upcoming posts, but I should probably write a post about this very idea at some point – I think it is part of what makes franchises with sprawling universes so popular. So beyond what Kiluron says in his letter, you’ll just have to imagine what the Prophet might have done after his efforts to convert Merolate fail and the apocalypse he predicted doesn’t happen.
Although this is not the most heavily revised of the first season episode re-releases, I might go so far as to say it is the most effectively revised (although we did a good job with All Cooped Up). Whether you read it the first time or not, I hope you give it a read soon, and don’t forget to mark your calendars for the end of the month, when the next episode of season two goes live.
“Return to your homes!” Avinon exhorted. “Flee, lock your doors, shut yourselves in your cellars! The storm cometh!”
Standing in the field beneath the weak sunlight of early spring, the farm laborers paid him no mind. Tornadoes did come through these parts on occasion, but not in the laggard days of winter when the ground was still almost too hard to work, and certainly not when it was as bright and sunny a day as they had seen since the solstice. An overseer noticed Avinon’s disturbances, and started to move towards him to interrupt.
Unphased by the lack of response, Avinon continued his proclamations. “The storm is nearly upon us! Flee, and you may yet survive!”
Still, no one moved, save the overseer coming to ensure that Avinon stopped bothering the workers with his blathering. Grabbing Avinon roughly by his canvas sack of a tunic, the overseer grunted. “Come on. Off you go.”
For a moment, Avinon allowed the overseer to tow him along the rough trail between the fields. An irrigation ditch, still full of snow, glistened blindingly. All of a sudden, he stopped, grabbed the overseer’s arm, and dove for the irrigation ditch. “Get down!” he yelled.
Taken by surprise, the overseer stumbled into the ditch with Avinon, just as the sky turned dark purple laced with traces of green, and a funnel cloud detached itself from the sky with a throaty roar, driving along the trail’s straight track for its length, before retracting back into the sky, which rippled like a snake swallowing its still-living prey.
“Blood and balance!” the overseer cursed, scrambling lower into the ditch without any further urging from Avinon.
Twice more, funnels like maws swooped down from the spontaneous clouds, snapping up trees, workers, and anything else higher than the ground itself, before disappearing as suddenly as they had appeared in the first place, leaving only Avinon, the overseer, and an empty plain of barren soil with a few irrigation ditches going nowhere.
Trembling, the overseer uncovered his head and neck, and climbed as far as his knees before stopping again. “How did you know?” he implored of Avinon.
Standing up, Avinon surveyed the desolate landscape, clasping his hands behind his back as if he were a lord surveying his estate, and not an emaciated scarecrow of a man wearing nothing but a sack. “Hear ye now the words of the Prophet. The End of Days is at hand. I, Avinon, Prophet of the Black Crow, have seen this. Hear ye, mortals, and yet may ye live to see the coming of the Great Dark!”
Still on his knees, the overseer reverently kissed Avinon’s calloused, bare, bleeding feet. “I hear ye, great Prophet,” he intoned. “How may I serve?”
Almost as if surprised, Avinon looked down at the overseer. He put a hand on his shoulder, and raised him, still trembling, to stand face to face with his prophet. “As you are the first to embrace the words of the Prophet, so let you be First among us, the last. First of the Last, go before me, that we may spread the word of the Prophet, the word of the coming of the End of Days, the Great Dark, the words of the Black Crow!”
“Where shall we go?” the overseer, once called Kund, now known merely as First of Last, or First, asked. “I am honored to serve you, great Prophet, wherever your words should take us. Send me not from your side.”
“Then ye will walk the road with me, the Prophet of the Black Crow,” Avinon proclaimed, “the road to Merolate!”
Click here to read the rest of Blood Magic S1:E8: Unbalanced (Revised Edition)
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