I’ve written (or will write, from your perspective) about my struggles with endings, and I mentioned that when I wrote the release post for the season two finale. That ending was abrupt, perhaps too abrupt, but I had a good reason for that; this first episode of season three has long been plotted as more or less the denouement for the Pifecha episode. It can be thought of almost as a three-part episode, but I wanted more time to explore the ramifications of the Pifechan invasion than would be available in a typical denouement. It would have engorged Pifecha beyond even its final, concerning length, and more importantly thrown off the story beats (another post on that concept coming soon), diluting the emotional impact of Kiluron’s and Doil’s climax.
For many reasons, therefore, writing the first episode of season three as a denouement for the Pifechan invasion made a lot of sense. Unfortunately, it left me with a small problem: plot. More specifically, it left me with a profound lack of plot. Kiluron and Doil having to pick up the pieces from the invasion is not really a plot, and that made the writing difficult. In my typical, reckless fashion, I decided to jump into the writing without solving that small problem.
The first scene, however, was easy. One of the things that I wished I had been able to figure out how to do justice in the season two finale was Borivat’s reaction to Marinae’s death. It just didn’t fit, so the opening of season three seemed the perfect place for such a powerful scene. Not only would it help assuage my guilty conscience for killing off Marinae and then not putting in place any characters who would mourn her and give that death meaning for the reader; it set a tone for the episode, and introduced a major theme of season three (no, I’m not saying that season three is going to be about death and depressing things). It also, eventually, gave me the plot for this episode, but it wasn’t until I was two more scenes into the story and struggling with how to continue it that I realized as much.
Borivat’s role in the series has been fading since the end of season one, but I really enjoy his character, and think he’s an understated but important part of the current leadership dynamic in Merolate. Another episode highlighting him, even if it is a relatively minor highlight, helps to emphasize that, and also allowed me to explore a different side of the coming-of-age story. While season one, and part of season two, can be considered partially Kiluron’s coming-of-age story, there are far fewer treatments of coming-of-retirement-age. Just as Kiluron initially felt that he was too young and inexperienced to be Prime, I think that it is realistic that Borivat would begin to wonder, especially in the face of such a major, cataclysmic event as the Pifechan invasion, whether he was growing too old to be useful anymore. A much longer story could explore the topic in far more depth, but I was glad to be able to give it even this relatively light treatment.
There was so much more that needed to be explored in this episode, however, and so I wove a great deal of exposition into the writing. A lot of exposition, really, but I had a lot of groundwork to lay. I needed to establish the consequences of the Pifechan invasion, and set up the foundation of season three. This is the third and final season, and it has to wrap up the arc for the whole series, as well as the season three specific arc. While you might find parts of this episode rather slow and tedious the first time that you read it, you might find in retrospect that parts of it were far more relevant than they initially seem. In other words, pay attention, because there are hints about the whole major arc of season three littered through this story.
It’s hard to believe – and, indeed, has not yet become fully real to me – that I have only eleven more episodes of Blood Magic to write, and it will be a very strange feeling when they are all finished. I’m very excited for season three, and I hope that you readers will be pleased with the final product that is Blood Magic. In the meantime, allow me to present: Shards of Glass.
Drawing rein on a hilltop, Borivat looked upon Merolate City. It was only early spring, but the place appeared a bustle of activity. Lines of men, carts, and blummoxes snaked in and out, the gates were thrown wide, and even from this distance, Borivat thought he could hear the shouts of laborers about their tasks, the clanging of metal tools, and the thundering of stonework. Such energy reassured him; this was not a city ruined by conquest. Yet at Prime Kiluron’s direction, it would never be quite the same city it had been before the Pifechan invasion. The same energy that would rebuild it anew where thundercasters had destroyed it left Borivat feeling every moment of his old age.
The caravan with which he travelled did not stop for him, parting around him and continuing towards the city. Murmurs of relief and excitement accompanied them on this last stage of their journey. By evening these people, thrown together by necessity and grown close in the trials since being driven from their homes, would be dispersed to their own microcosms in and around Merolate, most likely to never again gather in such a way. It was a new beginning, a sign of renewal and regrowth and recovery just as surely as the green buds on the branches and the flowers pushing up from the ground, but to Borivat it felt like an ending. So many things did, these days.
“You appear a man lost in deep thoughts,” an old voice interrupted from behind Borivat. “Are you not pleased by your Prime’s victory?”
Borivat did not need to turn his head to know who had spoken to him. Last in the caravan with which he had been travelling these past days, the Blood Priests, such as had survived the escape from the Isle of Blood, the flight from Merolate, and the desperate days of the Pifechan invasion, were now making their way past him. There was a solemn deliberateness about their motions, nothing of the eagerness that marked the passage of the others with whom they travelled. Though their red robes were unchanged, they appeared a people in mourning, kept always apart from the others in the caravan. No one could have said whose choice that was, or if it was mutual. Sometimes, Borivat felt he shared their attitude. “Prime Kiluron has accomplished a great thing,” he answered High Priest Yorin’s question. “Many, in truth. He is a Prime who shall be well remembered.”
Hooves clopped, and High Priest Yorin reined up beside Borivat, and looked long at the old adviser. “Yet you dread returning to your home?” he asked.
“Yes.” It was a clipped answer, and Borivat grimaced. Perhaps he should be diplomatic, but this conversation was not occurring in an official capacity. In truth, Borivat did not know if he even deserved an official capacity any longer.
To his annoyance, Yorin nodded in understanding. “Age brings with it perspective. Not necessarily wisdom – that lies in applying and interpreting that perspective – but perspective. From the vantage of youth, one can look upon a mountain to move, and see only one rock after another, with no understanding of the monumental nature of the task at hand. Not so men like you and me. We have seen too often the mountains left half-moved by the young men, broken in the moving.”
“The men, or the mountains?” Borivat asked, the question as bitter as he felt. He did not want to speak with Yorin, but there seemed no escape from the conversation. Most, he feared where the conversation would go. Some regrets were his to bear, and the High Priest of the Isle of Blood had already been too involved in this one, far too long involved.
Yorin chuckled. “Hm. Both, perhaps.” He was silent then, and something that could almost have been companionship stretched between the two aged, mounted figures. It made Borivat’s skin crawl.
“Well, neither of us it is getting any younger,” he muttered, and prodded his horse into motion. Yorin followed suit, and they rode together towards the ruins of their homes.
For a city that had been conquered, then reconquered and liberated, Merolate was in surprisingly fair condition. Its outer walls were largely undamaged, since the Pifechan attack had come by sea, and the castle had not been sacked at all. Many homes and other buildings had been destroyed by the thundercasters, but those were already under repair. Worst off were the docks, which was where most of the bustle of men and stone was directed. It would be some time before Merolate’s harbor was a sanctuary again, and Borivat wondered if they would ever feel it was as secure, knowing what they now knew of what lay over the wide Cruman Ocean.
A lad was standing at the wide-open gates in a baggy uniform, kicking the dust with boots that moved too much on his feet as he nominally watched for suspicious activity in the intermittent stream of people and goods flowing into the city. He blanched upon spotting the red robes of the Blood Priests, stiffened further upon noticing the official sigil on Borivat’s cloak, and stood to an approximation of a position of attention. “Ah, er, my lord…Sir, that is…” he stammered.
The Blood Priests had stopped and were watching the boy intently, so Borivat rode up and bent down from his horse to present his personal seal. “We’re an officially authorized party with special dispensation from the Prime to travel through Merolate. I am escorting the Blood Priests to the Isle of Blood.”
Relief was obvious in the boy’s voice as he pretended to inspect Borivat’s seal. Just the pretext of a higher authority would have been enough for the lad, whose training had not prepared him for a procession of evil sorcerers come to his gate. “Very good, Sir. Welcome back.”
“Thank you, Guardsman,” Borivat replied. It spoke to how devastating the war had been, no matter how brief, that someone so young would be tasked with guarding the gates. Everything about the city felt transient, a sense Borivat did not appreciate in a city as old as Merolate. This was not some frontier boomtown, and yet it felt as likely to bust.
They rode on into the city. Even amidst the chaos of the return, the Blood Priests drew attention, but not the kind of attention that several dozen Blood Priests riding through Merolate in their red robes would have drawn in normal times. They were noted, but they were as quickly dismissed as just one more aberration in a very strange world. At least there were people in Merolate again, working to rebuild their lives and pick up the pieces that had been left behind in the flight from the Pifechans. That reassured Borivat.
Past the castle they rode, towards the docks, and the energy increased the closer they drew to the harbor. Though Borivat longed to return to the castle, to take stock of his own rooms and begin putting his own, dry life back into order, there were still tasks remaining to him: one official, and one personal. He wasn’t certain which was looming over him more heavily.
At the docks, the evidence of the destruction wrought by the Pifechans was most acute, but so too was there the most evidence of Merolate’s regeneration. New wooden docks were beginning to spear out into the harbor, with a few small boats already secured to them. Stone was being replaced and reworked, and in the distance, near the mouth of the harbor, Borivat could just squint and make out people working to form new structures.
“Remarkable,” High Priest Yorin observed, as the rest of his Blood Priests settled themselves into boats supplied for the purpose. They would have to row themselves, and only six could sit in each boat, but the boats were sound and made from freshly felled timbers, supplied by Merolate and donated to the Isle of Blood. “It is enough to make me think that perhaps the Balancers will also recover, in time.”
Borivat just grunted and settled himself into the prow of one of the rowboats, deliberately choosing the seat upon which only one person could sit. To his relief, Yorin sat on the opposite side of the boat, and four Blood Priests occupied the two middle benches. When all were ready, they took up the oars, and pushed away from Merolate and out into the harbor, paddling awkwardly out towards the Isle. Quiet conversation flitted between the craft, more optimistic than Borivat had heard from the Priests since the evacuation, though there was sadness as well. Borivat had to swallow past a lump in his own throat.
As the Isle came into view, Borivat sucked in a sharp breath; if Merolate had been relatively spared the usual ravages of invasion, the Isle had experienced the opposite. The compound of obsidian buildings had been smashed, the towers collapsed and strewn over the island, and craters dotted the shore, even on the Isle’s more sheltered side. As the boats drew closer, shards of obsidian in sizes from razor-sharp boulders to finger-sized bits like shattered glass could be discerned dotting the land like the detritus of a retreating glacier. It almost seemed wrong that the craters no longer smoked, but were cold and inert.
The rowers slowed as the boats approached the Isle. Little remained of the always decrepit dock, so they beached the rowboats on the shore, leaping out and dragging them onto the sand. Had Borivat been asked, he would have said that where the Isle was not jagged, forbidding rock it was black sand, but the sand was quite ordinary, and there was no trace of the perpetual mist that usually shrouded the Isle and its sanctuary. Indeed, the island looked quite banal, save for the ruin, and even that appeared less ominous in the bright sunlight of the afternoon.
Levering himself out of the rowboat, High Priest Yorin shuffled slowly up from the shore. There was a road that led to what had been the main gates; it was mostly intact, save for a few craters marring its paved surface. The other Blood Priests had congregated in a loose grouping near the shore, eyeing their old home and appearing wary even of approaching it. Against his own feelings, Borivat found himself sympathizing with their plight.
When Yorin had passed through the surviving Blood Priests, he turned back to face them. “Like many of you, this place has been my home for so long that I barely recall where I lived before. And though it does not look like our home anymore, though it is not welcoming us as it has, though it is haunted by sour memories and the taste of defeat, it is still home. It is our home, and we must now set ourselves to the task of picking up the pieces and rebuilding what has been destroyed. This is our nature, to balance such destruction with creation, though it be a long and difficult task.”
It was not a speech that appealed to Borivat, but the Blood Priests were nodding. Perhaps part of his distance was his dread for what he knew would come next. High Priest Yorin bowed his head. “There is much that we must do to render this place habitable even for tonight, but a more important task confronts us first. Our friends, our companions, our siblings in Balance, gave their lives that we might live and carry on our solemn duty. We owe it to them that we honor and remember their sacrifice, first and foremost, now that we have returned.”
To the southern face of the island the Blood Priests went, and Borivat with dragging steps accompanied them. He had not been there to witness the sacrifice of which Yorin spoke, but he had heard a little of it from Kiluron and Doil, and Yorin had told him personally of who had been martyred. It was the only reason Borivat had come.
“It is good that you are here for this,” Yorin said, walking behind his followers and alongside Borivat. “You are of course not obligated to participate in our ritual, if you would be more comfortable being only a witness, but know that you are welcome amongst our number.”
“I…” Borivat had known this was coming, had been dreading and anticipating it, and he still did not know how to respond. Everything in him recoiled from participating in some obscene ritual, and yet. Whatever their flaws, Marie had made a life and a home on the Isle, after Borivat’s own failures. If this was how her memory would be honored, then perhaps it was the least he could do to overcome his personal revulsion. He had regrets enough where Marie was concerned without adding another to them. “Alright.”
His answer appeared to please Yorin, who patted his shoulder and then increased his pace to walk amongst his Balancers. Borivat continued to lag behind, preferring the unpleasant company of his own thoughts to that of the Blood Priests. He was there only to honor Marie’s memory, and then he could get back to Merolate, and what was left of his role.
Click here to read the rest of Blood Magic S3:E1: Shards of Glass
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