For the most part, revisions to season two episodes are going to consist (I hope) almost exclusively of editing functions, rather than substantial revisions, and as such I doubt that I will have many original and interesting observations to include in these re-release posts. However, I intend to continue doing them for two reasons: 1) they are an opportunity to share insight into my thoughts as I do re-reads for these episodes after being a year removed from them, and 2) they serve as an excuse to further advertise Blood Magic to potential and current site visitors such as yourself.
Flailing in the Dark, though, almost had me deciding to do a total rewrite right from the start. Not that the story was bad – it has a lot of good character moments, and I found both Kiluron’s and Doil’s struggles to be relatable in the re-read – but the writing was bad. If I wanted evidence yet again that my writing improved over the course of writing season 2, it is right here. This episode in its original form was a mastercourse in telling where I should have been showing. Almost all of it is character introspection, presented as character introspection, with very little happening outside of that.
If I were going to do a full-on rewrite, I would take the basic shell, and the character moments, and I would dramatically build out the cremation and investment ceremonies. Also, since I was able to retroactively lay some groundwork for the Prime’s council of ministers in the season 1 revisions, I would make that interview process clearer and smoother. Why didn’t I, then?
Part of the answer is laziness. I really want to have time to fully revise, or at a bare minimum thoroughly edit, the new season three episodes before they go live, which means that I need to be finishing them ideally about a month ahead of schedule, and that will eat into my revision time for season two. I’ve also renewed my determination to write Verdon’s Tragedy for you, which requires an additional two to four thousand words of writing per week. If I am going to give both of those things priority, then entirely rewriting an episode from season two just isn’t viable at this time.
The other part of the answer will perhaps come across as an excuse, but part of me wants to preserve these episodes in something close to their as-written form so that I can look back on them and see how my writing has evolved. As I continue to study writing, and practice writing, my writing will (I hope) continue to improve. It’s hard to notice day to day, but looking back on my writing from a year ago, or two years, or more makes it startlingly obvious. That is encouraging to me.
Despite all of that – despite this episode having too much telling and not enough showing, despite it being ten thousand words of Kiluron and Doil essentially complaining about their respective personal problems – my other main thought as I was re-reading this was: wow, that felt really short. The whole investment and cremation ceremonies happened far too fast, without nearly enough description. I could justify that as being intentional to show how they passed in a blur for the viewpoint characters, but that would just be making things up to justify the fact that I really didn’t build this episode out enough. Again, though, fixing those deficiencies would require a full rewrite, scrapping its current form and starting from the beginning.
Maybe, one day, I will do just that. I will take a year, and completely rewrite all of Blood Magic from episode one to the yet-unwritten episode thirty six to put them into the best possible form I can, and re-release them as a combined volume. Then again, maybe I won’t. At some point, I have to accept that these stories are what they are and reflect whatever my current writing ability is, and that inevitably I will in the future look back on them and think that I could have done it better. Releasing my stories out into the wild means coming to terms with that, and it’s still something with which I am not entirely comfortable.
For now, though, whether you’re reading it for the first time, the second time, or the seventh time, I hope that you enjoy Flailing in the Dark.
Lounging in his chair, Kiluron tried without success to juggle a handful of odd, thick-skinned fruits from Nycheril. They were long, slim, and greenish-yellow in color, with firm flesh that was starchy with almost no sweetness to it. According to Doil, they were called ‘plantains.’ Whatever they were, Kiluron had no more success juggling them than he’d had last autumn when he’d tried to get some of the guardsmen to teach him how to do it with much more familiar apples, and he reluctantly uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, refocusing on the interview.
Ostensibly, he was the one conducting the interview, since these were supposed to be his advisors, but in reality, he just let Doil do the talking, and followed his recommendations. It seemed less likely that he would mess up and get someone killed that way.
“How would you handle the political relationship between Merolate and Rovis?” Doil was asking. Apparently, the fellow across the table being interviewed was interested in the position of Minister of Affairs and Relations with Alien Lands. Until Doil had told him, Kiluron hadn’t know the position existed, but apparently the man currently interviewing had been the minister for Prime Wezzix, back before…Kiluron pushed that thought away. It turned out that there were a lot more people involved in Merolate’s government than he had realized. Before, it had always just seemed that it was up to Wezzix, Borivat, and Vere to decide whatever needed to be done.
“Merolate suffered the most from the Heart War, so we should expect Rovis to be unusually aggressive, and deploy additional troops to the border to compensate. However, they were affected, as well, so a moderate force ought to be sufficient. It is of more concern that we continue to deter them from pursuing exploration and exploitation of Nycheril.”
The man’s answer certainly sounded confident; Kiluron wished he could share in it. It seemed wrong somehow to be worried about Rovis when the Union was still in shambles from the Guardian’s attacks, which were being referred to as the Heart War. Most people either didn’t know, or weren’t prepared to accept, the reality of an ancient demon attempting to wreak vengeance and secure dominion over the entire continent of Lufilna.
Doil, however, seemed to find the man’s answers adequate, and made approving noises before dismissing him. When the interviewee had gone, he turned to Kiluron, who had turned to making a concerted effort at studying a thick stack of papers Vere had handed him. He had made it through the first page – instead of being about something exciting, like strategy or small team tactics, they were about the castle guard finances. That seemed a dirty trick. Especially since included in the finances were the settlements owed to the families of guardsmen who had died during the battle at Heart City.
“You know, you could at least pretend to pay attention and contribute during these interviews,” Doil huffed. “These people will form an important part of your governing team.”
“My governing team?” Kiluron repeated, looking up from the page, which he hadn’t really been reading so much as staring blankly at without comprehension. “Doil, my first decisions as just the acting-Prime led to the death of Prime Wezzix, along with dozens of guardsmen and Blood Priests. Not to mention the number of people who died from the sickness and corruption that the Guardian exuded.”
“My lord, your decisions saved thousands of lives. Arguably, you saved the Union. If you hadn’t been willing to act decisively and in a way that no one else would have dared or even considered, reaching out to the Isle of Blood for help and pushing them to take a bold risk that paid off, the Guardian may well have prevailed.” Doil sighed, probably in frustration. “Regardless, you’re Prime now. You’re going to need a governing team.”
“Like anyone’s going to listen to me,” Kiluron retorted. “I’ve been listening, actually; all of these people are just hoping that I’ll let them continue to operate as they did under Wezzix. It’s not like I have any real power to change anything.”
Doil threw up his hands. “If you want something different, you have to do something about it, my lord! You’ve given me almost nothing to go on, so I’ve been falling back on Prime Wezzix’s team and policies. Tell me you want something different, take an active role in this, and you can change things.”
For a moment, Kiluron glared at Doil, and then he slumped back in his chair. “Better if I don’t, really. Everyone would prefer that Prime Wezzix had survived.”
Rubbing his forehead, Doil blew out a breath. “Of course everyone would prefer that Prime Wezzix survived.” He met Kiluron’s eyes. “But that doesn’t mean that they won’t obey and respect you as the new Prime.” He hesitated. “Speaking of which, we really need to discuss arrangements for the formal investment ceremony…”
Kiluron groaned. “You know, you were almost managing to reassure me a bit there, before you went off on that particular topic. I still say it’s wrong to have a big celebration the same day we formally cremate Prime Wezzix.”
“The investment ceremony is an important part of the functioning of the Merolate Union,” Doil recited. “It formally recognizes the transfer of power from one Prime to the next, and gives the governors of each province an opportunity to reaffirm their allegiance to both the Union and the new Prime. It simply makes sense to have it at the same time as the cremation ceremony, since the governors will want to be able to attend both, and they can’t afford to leave their provinces for too long or too often while their still trying to recover.”
“Then can’t we at least make it less of a celebration?” Kiluron asked. “Just the formal ceremony and forgo all of the fancy feasts and so forth. That seems a bit more respectful to Prime Wezzix’s legacy.”
Doil hesitated. “I – that’s actually a good idea. Why didn’t you suggest it before?”
“No need to act so surprised,” Kiluron muttered. “I didn’t suggest it before because I didn’t think of it before. So we can do that? Just have the ceremonies, and not an entire festival while the Union is still trying to recover from the Guardian’s attacks?”
Nodding, Doil was already scribbling away. “Yes, we can do it that way. I’ll see to it that appropriate invitations are sent to all of the governors, and of course the nobility.”
Somehow, that made Kiluron feel better about himself. It probably shouldn’t have, but he decided to seize the feeling while it was there. “Alright. Now, the governing team. Tell me again why I can’t just have you advise me on everything?”
Sitting down again, Doil looked relieved as he pulled another stack of papers over and began shuffling through them. “My training with Borivat is designed not so much to make me an expert in any one thing, as to make me extremely conversant in a wide array of subjects and fields. There are people who will devote their entire lives to any tiny subset of the subjects in which I’ve been tutored. Mostly, we need a governing team to help filter information and provide suggestions, serving as experts in various fields: alien affairs, economics, agriculture and industry, health and sanitation, defense, and law and policy. They will each assemble their own teams of even more specific experts. Then, that information is made available to you, either directly or through me. Prime Wezzix preferred to have his ministers brief Borivat, and to then consult almost exclusively with him. You can choose to do the same with me, or to hear from the full council of ministers on a more direct basis.”
“Alright. What are my options?” Kiluron asked. “I’ll figure out how much I want to deal with them myself later. You’ve been busily interviewing people while I’ve been wallowing – which I’m probably not done with, but I’m trying for the moment – so who have you been interviewing, and how are we picking?”
Doil consulted his notes. “For the most part, I’ve been interviewing Prime Wezzix’s ministers. Most have expressed interest in retaining their roles, save the minister of law and policy, who was planning to retire this summer, anyway. But they all serve at your pleasure. It would be unusual, but not unprecedented, for you to take on an entirely new council of ministers, although I wouldn’t recommend it at the current juncture. Let things settle down a bit first…”
“Alright.” Kiluron took a deep breath. “Please tell me if you think any of this seems completely crazy, but here’s what I’m thinking. Keep the economics, agriculture and industry, and health and sanitation ministers the same. Make Vere defense minister, and Borivat alien affairs minister. Not sure about law and policy, though. Who would be good for that?”
“Vere won’t take the position.” Doil sounded surprised. “He never talked to you about it? He’s refused every offer of any command other than the Merolate Guard. If we were to call up an actual army, he wouldn’t even be in its command structure. Also, I’m not sure about putting Borivat in a ministerial position. Usually, advisors to the Prime are expected to retire with their Prime.”
“You don’t mean…” Kiluron interrupted.
“No, nothing so barbaric,” Doil assured him. “But giving him an official position within the government could be…awkward.”
Kiluron sighed. “I’m not sure that I care. That other guy you were interviewing seemed slimy to me, and I know Borivat. He’d do a good job.”
“Well, I suppose it would serve to assuage some of the usual turnover concerns…” Doil mused. “I think we should conduct a few more interviews, but it’s at least worth considering.” He paused. “All of this begs the question, though, of what you intend your governing style to be. What is your policy vision? We should try to tap ministers who share a similar vision and will work to support the outcomes you desire.”
Scrubbing his face with his palms, Kiluron looked at Doil through his fingers. “That’s an awfully big question to spring on a person like that. How am I supposed to know? I figured it was going to be at least another ten years before I needed to worry about that kind of thing.”
Doil folded his hands in his lap and contemplated Kiluron. “Well, I know you’ve expressed that you thought Prime Wezzix’s governing style was too inflexible and rigid at times. Maybe that’s a place to start? Wezzix saw the law as an instantiation of philosophy and almost a morality of its own. Your governing philosophy could be based in an idea of the law as a secular entity separate from morality.”
Kiluron blinked. “I understood what some of those words meant.”
“Sorry.” Doil blushed. “It’s one of the big debates within the legal community: is an illegal action necessarily moral? Is morality dependent on a system of laws, or is there some absolute moral code that we as humans simply don’t yet understand, like we don’t yet understand the precise ways in which the world works?” He paused. “All of which is somewhat tangential to whether you would like to make the idea of greater flexibility within the legal structure a mark of your governing philosophy.”
“Maybe?” Kiluron shook his head. “I just don’t know. It was a lot easier to disagree and have my own opinions about the best way of doing things when it wasn’t up to me to make all of the decisions and be responsible for so many people’s lives.”
Doil nodded. “I understand, my lord. But I know that you’ll do what is best. We don’t need to come up with the answers right now, but we should plan to have the ministers selected and a basic governing thesis published by the time of the investment ceremony. Especially since you’ll want to know what that is for your speech.”
“My speech?” Kiluron looked up sharply. “You didn’t say anything about a speech.”
“Didn’t I?” Doil hesitated. “Well, yes. You’ll need to deliver two speeches. One for Prime Wezzix’s cremation ceremony, and one for your investment ceremony. I can write them for you, if you wish, though you’ll probably want to go over them to make them sound more like you and less like me.”
“Oh. Well, that’s alright then,” Kiluron said. “As long as you tell me what I’m supposed to say, I can’t mess it up too badly. It’s not the giving speeches that I have a problem with – it’s the knowing what to say.” He sat back and thought for a moment. “Is there anything else we need to go over?”
“No, I don’t believe so,” Doil said after a moment’s thought. “At least, not at the moment.”
“Good,” Kiluron declared. “I feel a need to go swing a sword at something, clear my head. All of this sitting inside with papers all day is making me twitchy.”
He leapt to his feet then and hurried from the chamber before Doil could come up with something else that he needed to do. Honestly, he didn’t understand how Doil could bear to spend so long couped up inside, pouring over dusty tomes and piles of paper with cramped, tiny, nearly illegible script upon them. After less than a morning of it, Kiluron was inevitably ready to scream from the tedium. That the feeling only made him feel even more inadequate for his position as Merolate’s Prime only made it more intense, so while going down to the practice yard to vent his frustrations might help the former feeling, it only made him more guilty.
Click here to read the rest of Flailing in the Dark
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