I’d like to consider it a testament to my improved revision abilities that I was going through and making minor changes to Old Blood, Part Two I identified an entire scene that should probably get cut. I identified it, I wrestled with it, I came to terms with cutting one of the scenes that was the most fun for me to write, and ultimately I decided to leave it intact.
The scene in question was the mission Vere led into Heart City. There are so many good things about the scene: the plotting of the mission, the magic (and associated exposition), the introduction of the Blood-powered assassins, the fate of Prime Wezzix…I really liked writing this scene, and it’s a lot of fun to read. Its problem is that it doesn’t tie very directly into the primary plot of the story, which is mostly about Kiluron’s attempts to deal with being acting-Prime, negotiate with the Isle of Blood, and vanquish the Guardian. While the scene with Vere is tangentially related, as I was re-reading I found myself thinking that it seemed somewhat outside of the main plot, like it should have been the sort of thing to happen off-page, as it were, and just have someone reference it in a later scene.
Considering that I have added in entire scenes and plots to certain episodes (like All Cooped Up and No Place to Go), you might think that it would be an obvious choice to remove the scene and adapt the rest of the story around the deletion once I identified that it didn’t quite fit properly. While I’ve tried not to drastically affect the continuity, or necessitate that people re-read these revised versions of the season one episodes, I have made exceptions, and this choice would barely even be necessitating an exception. It would not change the continuity, just what is seen directly by the reader. I could just add a new scene to replace it that focuses more on the primary plot, and the whole thing would be patched and clean. So, why didn’t I?
Well, part of the answer, if I’m being completely honest, has to do with laziness. It would have required a lot of work to take out that scene and come up with something completely new and plot-related with which to replace it, and then I would have had to go through and patch up the rest of the story to avoid references to that scene that didn’t align with however I decided to communicate the information that used to be conveyed directly through Vere’s mission. As I’m working on writing season three, and several other projects for the site, both writing related and otherwise (you should hopefully see an announcement about the latter coming soon), this was not an insignificant consideration.
Storytelling played a role, though, and I’d like to think it played the dominant role in my decision to preserve the Vere scene. While the scene is not strictly needed for episode 12, and the information contained therein could be communicated in other ways, two story considerations lead me to not cut the rescue mission. First, this is part of a two-part episode, and one of the things I try to do in the two-parters is relax my plotting a little and include scenes that are not quite as directly related to the plot, to build out character and the world, and just provide a little more story. I’ve vastly improved my short story writing, but I still enjoy the opportunity to write in a slightly longer form, which is offered by these two-part episodes.
The second storytelling reason, and the one that is most practical, is that while building Vere’s character is fairly irrelevant to the plot of Old Blood, it becomes much more important to several season two episodes, in which he features as a prominent, or even primary, viewpoint character. Fallen Angel and especially Bread and Steel both feature Vere as a major viewpoint, and giving the occasional taste of his viewpoint in season one keeps him present in readers’ minds as a significant character in the series. Knowing as much as I now do about season two, this seemed like a convincing reason to keep Vere’s viewpoint scene in episode 12 intact.
Other revisions for this episode were mostly minor, but I did make some more substantive changes to the climactic scene. I remembered being displeased by it while I was writing it, but in re-reads I found that it worked rather well, so instead of rewriting it as I had expected to, I was instead made smaller tweaks to make Kiluron a little less whiney and a little more active, while still preserving his major character arc and conflict. The balance probably still isn’t perfect, but I think it’s improved, and I am pleased that the scene has aged well.
This wraps up the season one revisions. While the episodes still aren’t perfect, I think they’re much improved from their original state, and I’m glad that I went through this process. Season two revisions should be largely minor, but I will at least do a read-through for grammar, punctuation, and word choice, so look forward to those on the fifteenth of each month in 2022. I don’t intend to touch these episodes again from a writing perspective until such a time as I might decide to create some kind of compilation or revisit of the series. Maybe in 2025 or something we’ll release some kind of fancy, compiled version of the seasons, maybe even with a special Blood Magic novella or something. We’ll see – that’s definitely not a promise. For now, I hope that you enjoy the holidays, and Old Blood, Part Two.
Sweat prickled around Kiluron’s collar, which was much tighter than he usually preferred to wear, and he wiped more sweat from his brow with a handkerchief. The coat was military in cut, although it was not technically a uniform; Doil said it was appropriate finery for a leader of a nation at war, even if the nature of that war was completely alien to anything Kiluron had ever imagined. He tugged at the collar, trying to make it slightly more comfortable, and earned himself a cross look from Doil.
“You shouldn’t sweat so much,” Doil admonished. “It will make you look nervous, and that will make you seem weak. You don’t want to appear weak before High Priest Yorin.”
Kiluron gave Doil a sour look. “Thanks, genius. I’ll just turn off the sweat like closing a door. That’s how it’s supposed to work, right?” Though he admitted that he was nervous, and that he was sweating more than usual. That seemed to happen a lot, since he had become acting Prime, and he wondered if Prime Wezzix had experienced the same thing. That made him wonder about the old Prime; they had heard nothing from him or the soldiers who had accompanied him to Heart City in more than ten days. “When is Yorin supposed to get here?”
Doil glanced at the sun outside. “Very soon, my lord. I believe that his ship just docked, and that he and Borivat will be making their way towards the castle as we speak.”
With a deliberate effort, Kilruon kept himself from fidgeting again with his collar. “Can we go over our position again?” he asked. Though he knew that he couldn’t see the castle entrance from his window, it didn’t stop him from glancing out of it nervously.
Instead of arguing, Doil just nodded. Kiluron appreciated that, especially when they had already reviewed this same discussion at least a dozen times. “What are the points we must get from the Isle?”
“Warriors. Or weapons, or something of that nature. Whatever else the negotiations include, we must have Blood Priests who can help us fight the Guardian and free Prime Wezzix.” Kiluron closed his eyes. “Ideally, we’ll also gain their help in banishing the Guardian from Heart City, though containing it there would be acceptable.” He sighed. “I feel like I sound too much like you.”
“That’s just because of how much you’ve rehearsed,” Doil assured him. “What are we willing to cede?”
“The ban on Blood Magic within Merolate’s borders, the prohibition on Blood Priests within the Union, financial support for the Isle,” Kiluron rattled off. Under his breath, he added: “just about anything, if it will return the sky to normal and defeat that demon.”
“Very good,” Doil affirmed. “Now, we have a relatively weak hand, going into this, but we don’t need to let High Priest Yorin know that. However, we should assume that he knows as much or more than we do about the Guardian and the level of danger we’re in.”
Kiluron adjusted the formal sword on his belt, wishing that it was the standard guardsman sword he usually carried. “I know.” He took a deep breath, and locked eyes with Doil. “I don’t feel ready.”
Doil bobbed. “No, my lord. I don’t, either.” He tapped the side of his head. “But I think we are. And I trust you.”
“Then I hope I don’t let you down. Let us all down.” Kiluron stood for a moment, and then took a deep breath. “Alright. Let’s do this.”
Though it was morning, it was dark in the audience chamber where he and Doil had decided to receive High Priest Yorin and his delegation of Blood Priests. Lanterns, braziers, and candles all burned throughout the room, but their light seemed wan and weak, unable to alleviate the dismal aspect. It was odd how flame could be so warm and welcoming against the full darkness of night, but the same flame would then be so weak and insignificant against a partial light. With the Guardian’s influence spreading across the land, even when the sun was up it was a sickly grey-green, along with the sky, and neither seemed to brighten much beyond predawn levels throughout the day. It made Kiluron nervous and snappish, and he knew he wasn’t the only one. There had been more altercations and incidents throughout the city in the past days, but that seemed among the least of Kiluron’s present concerns.
Guardcaptain Vere tromped in, a scowl marring his features that Kiluron didn’t think had left since the Guardian had first shown itself. He snapped a salute that seemed to draw attention to his deeply shadowed eyes as he stood before Kiluron. “Glad I got in before your higher profile visitors,” he said. His voice was monotonous, as if he no longer had the energy for normal human inflection. “The soldiers I sent with Prime Wezzix just got back. They wanted to stay and wait for him, but I told them they were needed here. They report no movement from the Guardian since Prime Wezzix entered Heart City.”
“Do you still expect an attack?” Kiluron asked. Their best guess at the Guardian’s intentions were that it wanted to reclaim all of Lufilna, and it had certainly seemed poised to do so when it had been massing forces along Merolate’s border with the Unclaimed Territories. Then it had gone straight to Heart City and hadn’t since stirred from that place.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Vere admitted. Kiluron wondered if he needed to remind the man to sleep, but decided that Guardcaptain Vere was at least a decade or two his senior, and should know when he needed rest. Just because he was acting-Prime did not mean he should start treating everyone the way Prime Wezzix might. “At this point, the Guardian won’t need to conquer us; there won’t be a country left to conquer.” What hadn’t changed after the Guardian’s return to Heart City was the sickening of crops and people, and the decaying of infrastructure. When letters actually got through to the capitol, Doil said the governors were reporting more of the same: streams of refugees they couldn’t house or feed, metal and stoneworks crumbling, woodworks rotting. The whole country seemed to be falling apart, and he was at a loss how to fix it. Wezzix’s Minister of Health and Sanitation had provided little of substance that could help, and ordinary military options appeared worse than useless. His desperate gamble was that the Blood Priests would be able to fight this force that was clearly beyond his ken.
“Thanks, Vere,” Kiluron said. “Keep the guards on alert, just in case.” He glanced at Doil, who nodded slightly, and he took a deep breath. “Also, begin preparing for a significant movement towards Heart City. That’s where all of this is coming from, and one way or another, I can’t help but think that we’re going to have to go there if we want to get out of this nightmare.” Saying it like that made it sound like he had a lot more substantial of a plan than he truthfully possessed.
For a moment, Vere hesitated. Then he snapped another salute. “I’ll see to it, Sir.” Then he turned on his heel and disappeared, leaving Kiluron and Doil again alone in the audience chamber.
“He looked exhausted,” Kiluron remarked to Doil, who raised a tired eyebrow at him.
“Aren’t we all?” Doil remarked. His own eyes were almost as deeply shadowed as Vere’s.
“Can’t afford to be tired,” Kiluron mumbled, ignoring his own need for sleep. Even when he did find a few moments to lay down, he found he couldn’t really rest. Not with Prime Wezzix a captive of the Guardian, and that horrible, oppressive force lying over everything. Even though half the time he felt like there was nothing he could do, it didn’t stop him from feeling like he should have been doing something.
A firm rap upon the door came, and Kiluron straightened, scrubbing at his face and straightening his jacket. He glanced at Doil, who gave him a thin smile that was probably supposed to be encouraging but looked almost sickly, and squared his shoulders. “Enter,” he proclaimed, in what he hoped was a suitably authoritative tone. It came out sounding hollow and echoey, unable to fill the space as well as he would have wished.
When the doors swung open, they admitted Borivat, who took a few steps into the chamber, then bowed to Kiluron. “My lord Kiluron, acting-Prime of the Merolate Union, vested leader of the six provinces, and the sixth of this line, I present High Priest Yorin of the Isle of Blood.” He bowed again, and then stepped off to the side as Kiluron rose.
The tapping of a gnarled, ebony cane preceded High Priest Yorin as the ancient man shuffled into the audience chamber. His red robes and black sword as always seemed a little too large and heavy for his frail frame as he made his way to the seat at the table across from Kiluron. Two other priests accompanied him as attendants, gathering up his cloak for him and helping him with his chair before retreating once he was situated.
“I don’t suggest getting old,” High Priest Yorin mused, meeting Kiluron’s eyes. “It makes simple things an enormous bother, and contrary to popular belief, I’m not entirely convinced that it makes one any wiser.”
“I only hope that you’re wrong,” Kiluron said, hoping he didn’t sound as forced and unnatural as he thought he sounded in his own head. “It seems to me that we could all use the wisdom of age in these fraught times.” He hesitated. “High Priest Yorin, I am pleased that you have made the time to see me on such short notice.”
This was greeted with a wheezy chuckle. “You’ve roused my curiosity,” Yorin admitted. “Acting-Prime of Merolate for less than a month, and already courting a change to policy that has stood for centuries?”
“There have been time of greater cooperation between the Union and the Isle before,” Kiluron protested. “I wouldn’t paint it as quite so unprecedented as that.”
“Oh yes, surely,” Yorin agreed. “Yet I find that it gives me hope for the future, this gesture you’ve made, this openness you’ve shown. And that is a rare thing for an old man living beneath this grey-green sky.”
Kiluron couldn’t quite suppress a wary glance upwards, though of course the sky was invisible through the stone of the ceiling. He refocused on Yorin. “As it happens, you represent hope to me at the moment, as well.”
Somehow, more furrows appeared on High Priest Yorin’s wrinkled brow. “Is that so?”
“Yes.” Kiluron shifted in his chair. “I know that your priests were studying something regarding this Guardian while on the joint Heart City expedition. In the same spirit of cooperation, I’m hopeful that you might be able to share with us some of what you learned from those studies.” From what he had rehearsed with Doil, he knew that the next line was to explain how he thought that Prime Wezzix had made a mistake, keeping the Isle out of the struggle with the Guardian, but sitting there he found he couldn’t go through with it. “Right now, I don’t have any idea how we’re supposed to fight this demon, and I’m really hoping that you’ll be able to help us.”
Settling back in his chair, Yorin rubbed his chin, lips pursed. “This is an unusually open admission, from someone in your position.”
Kiluron swallowed and nodded. It was the same thing that had gotten him in trouble when he had tried to negotiate with Governor Parl, yet he thought it was also what had ultimately saved the negotiations when the Blood Priests arrived. “I know that. But we’re not going to get anywhere without honesty. Besides, I think you know already just how bad of a position we’re in when it comes to the Guardian. Might as well be up front about it.”
Yorin was silent for a long moment, and Kiluron began to worry before the High Priest answered. “I have long asserted that the divisions between us would come to ill one day. The Blood Empire was a terrible thing, but it has been centuries since they ruled, and we are no more the same as they than you are the same as you were when this continent tore itself apart in endless war. This is an inherently magical land, and hiding from that is perhaps what has, in part, brought us to this juncture.” He held up a slightly trembling hand. “Not that I hold my own Priests blameless. Both of our peoples ought to have done more to bridge the divides and distrust between us…”
“Then let this be the first step,” Kiluron declared. “Help us free this land, and Prime Wezzix, from the Guardian.”
“It cannot be quite so simple,” Yorin observed. “All things require Balance, even if in some respects our interests here align. It is true that the Isle would not flourish with Lufilna dominated by the Guardian, but any attempt to defeat the Guardian will be costly for all involved.”
“What kinds of costs?” Kiluron asked. He was aware of Doil and Borivat on the sidelines, and he wished he could have conferred with them. They would know what was appropriate. “If you can give us tools to fight, we can do the fighting.”
This produced a wry smile from Yorin. “If only such a simple solution existed.” He seemed to hesitate, and then met Kiluron’s eyes. “If we are to do this, if Merolate and the Isle are to work together in an alliance against the Guardian, the Blood Priests will require concessions that you may find…distasteful.”
“What do you have in mind?” Kiluron asked. It would at least be a place to start the negotiations, though he worried about Yorin’s allusion to concessions. What kinds of concessions would he find particularly distasteful? Would he demand that Merolate cede territory to the Isle? Conduct a forced conversion to the Balancing religion?
“I want the borders opened to the Blood Priests again, that they might preach to the faithful within Merolate’s borders,” Yorin declared. “I want an exchange of scholars between the Isle and Merolate’s universities, on a standing basis. And I want you, Acting-Prime Kiluron, to become Prime permanently, effective immediately. I’ll also require guarantees that any agreements we make will be honored, regardless of the outcome in the conflict with the Guardian, provided we are both still in a position to honor our agreements.”
“But, part of the goal is to rescue Prime Wezzix!” Kiluron protested. “That’s why I had Borivat reach out to you in the first place!”
High Priest Yorin nodded. “And if we reach an agreement, we will make every effort to see that he is brought back to Merolate alive and well. But whether he survives or not, part of our agreement will be that you, Kiluron, will be Prime.”
“I – “ Kiluron hesitated. “I need to consult with my advisors. Would you give me a moment?”
He barely saw Yorin’s gracious nod of assent before he was pulling Doil and Borivat to the side of the chamber. Pitching his voice low, though he still felt like he was probably speaking to loudly, he addressed them both. “I – I don’t know what to say to that demand. The others I can understand, but this? Forcing Prime Wezzix out?” He didn’t acknowledge that there was a good chance he might not even still be alive. “It doesn’t seem right. Is it even legal?”
Doil glanced at Borivat, who sighed. “Technically? I think so. There’s certainly no case law or precedent upon which to base something like this; we’ve never even had an acting-Prime before. But the charter that created the Union gives the Prime almost complete authority, short of making substantive changes to the charter. You could not, for instance, change the charter so that the position of Prime is passed down through your lineage, nor could you choose a sub-Prime from the same province as you. But it also says that the position of acting-Prime should be assumed to have all of the powers commensurate to being Prime, which means that the acting-Prime is, in effect, the Prime.” He paused, hesitating. “So you could, in effect, declare yourself Prime, and have the power to strip Prime Wezzix of his title. However, he would have equal authority to strip you of your title, under the eyes of the law. It’s a flaw in the charter that no one foresaw, I think. In this case, Prime Wezzix would likely agree to honor your agreement and step down, but it would set a terrible precedent. I fear for what mischief could occur in the future if we pursue such a course.”
“Well, I’m a little more concerned with what’s happening right now,” Kiluron grumbled. “It just doesn’t seem right. How can I bargain away Prime Wezzix’s position for him? And why is this such a major point for them?”
Borivat glanced at Doil, and then looked down at his hands. “I believe that High Priest Yorin sees you as being more amenable towards the Isle than your predecessors. Remember, relations between us and the Isle of Blood fell to a low ebb after the incident with Esaphatulenius, and Prime Wezzix was not inclined to improve them. Your record thus far suggests that you might reverse that course.”
“I have a record?” Kiluron mumbled, more to himself than to Borivat. He sighed. “So what do I do?”
“I can only offer advice. I cannot make the decision for you,” Borivat observed. “Under other circumstances, my advice would be to deem their demands unacceptable, and hope that they might come back with a more reasonable offer eventually.”
“We hardly have time for that,” Kiluron protested.
“I know,” Borivat soothed. “But that places us in a poor position. And this is a decision that only you can make.” He hesitated. “Though I cannot speak formally for Prime Wezzix, I do know that he would not have put you in this position if he did not trust you to do what was best for Merolate. I think he will abide by whatever agreement you choose to make.”
Kiluron took a deep breath, wishing that it came in more steadily, instead of trembling as it went into his lungs. “Alright. I’ll see what I can make of this.” Somehow, he brought himself back to the conference table, and faced High Priest Yorin again.
“An exchange of scholars sounds like a great idea,” Kiluron said, doing his best to meet High Priest Yorin’s eyes and keep his courage from flagging. He had to succeed here, even if he hated what it might force him to do. There was no other choice he could think of; it was the choice he had made when he had resolved to have Borivat travel to the Isle and contact the Blood Priests, and he was still convinced that it was the only way to give Merolate a chance of standing against the Guardian. “Instead of fully opened borders between the Isle and Merolate, I’ll authorize construction and manning of a Blood Temple in each province, for which Merolate will provide half of the funds and resources necessary for construction and maintenance.”
Somehow, this seemed to please High Priest Yorin more than outright acceptance of his own terms would have. “I find this acceptable,” he said. “And what of you, acting-Prime Kiluron? Will you fulfill my final term? Will you assert your claim to the throne of Merolate?”
Meeting Yorin’s eyes, Kiluron took a deep breath. “In return for a mission to rescue Wezzix from Heart City, training and resources to help Merolate’s forces fight the Guardian, and a combined military operation to defeat the Guardian permanently, I will see that Prime Wezzix retires and that I am made permanent Prime of the Merolate Union.”
“And you shall have that aid,” High Priest Yorin promised. “I will see to it personally.”
Sitting back in his chair, Kiluron let Doil and Borivat take the lead in determining the specifics of what was to come. A strike force of Blood Priests and Vere’s best guardsmen would be dispatched within two days to Heart City to provide reconnaissance and attempt to rescue Prime Wezzix. Though Kiluron tried to pay attention, he found it difficult to do so. Making a decision and successfully negotiating with High Priest Yorin should have alleviated some of his concerns, but instead he found himself even more anxious than he’d been before. As much as he tried to tell himself that the decision was made and he shouldn’t keep agonizing over it, he kept feeling that somehow he had made a mistake.
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