This almost did not happen. At least, not in the way that you’re seeing it. I knew this episode needed significant revisions, especially to the ending, which was a rush job last year to get the episode finished in time for its original release. On my first pass through, which is all that most of these episodes receive, I tried to get it right…and I failed. Oh, I tightened the writing, cleaned up the typos, and improved some of the dialogue, but staring at the document, I couldn’t figure out how to make the necessary changes. I was at the point of saying ‘well, that’s just going to be how it’s going to be,’ and I let it sit like that for two days.
Then, I told myself that no, I couldn’t just let it sit like that, and so, less than two days before the re-release was due, I set aside four hours and did a full-on rewrite of the whole story. I started from Vere’s first scene and rewrote straight to the end, only copying over the basic beats and a few hundred words that still worked for the new version. Ten thousand words in four hours, even as a rewrite, is a lot, and most of the story is much, much improved from how it was before that effort.
What undermined most of the story in the original was that I was doing too much telling and not enough showing. This is one of those fundamental writing concepts that I can increasingly identify when it is done well or poorly, but still cannot quite verbalize in a coherent way (when I can, there will definitely be a post about it). The new version changes that, letting the story develop more naturally, with less narration and a lot more dialogue. Maybe too much dialogue – almost every other line from the time Vere starts his tour with Drelta is dialogue.
All of that greatly improved the story, especially the middle sections, but I’m still not satisfied with the new ending. I thought about just ending it at a vote for acquittal, but that would have undermined most of the political intrigue that I built up through the rest of the episode. Giving Vere his moment during the trial made a huge improvement, but if the episode still ended with Vere making his escape, it would be little better than the original. But I don’t think that it’s in Vere’s character to not attempt an escape.
Hence the compromise, where we get an abortive escape attempt that ends in Vere realizing that he didn’t need to escape. In a way, Vere was rescued, just not in a smash-and-grab by his fellow guardsmen. He was rescued by politics, which strikes me as fitting for this episode. No, it’s not the concept of the ending that is flawed in the new version (unlike in the original). Rather, it is the execution. The ending still feels rushed, the councilors inadequately characterized and their motivations inadequately explained, and the final departure might be even more awkward than in the original version.
I might go back and change it again someday, figure out how to alter the ending so that it slows down and provides everything it needs to in order to be satisfying. Part of the problem is that Vere is really just a side character to the story that is going on here in Sankt, and we only ever see this little window of it through his eyes. If the ending is dissatisfying, that is part of the reason: Vere doesn’t know how it all ends. He was only there for a few days, after all, and spent half of that time in a dungeon. And unlike the reader, he’s not really curious about what’s happening there at a deeper level. So maybe it’s necessary for the ending to be dissatisfying for a reader in order for it to be true to a character? Even then, I think there is room for improvement.
Just not this time around. I hope that you enjoy the revised, rewritten, and much improved Blood and Steel.
As the audience chamber doors boomed shut behind Delvun, the ambassador from Old Sankt, Doil’s careful effort to maintain his composure fled. He turned to Prime Kiluron, opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, rephrased, opened his mouth to speak again, and closed it again. He needed to say something diplomatic, because just exclaiming to the Prime that he had made a terrible mistake was certainly counterproductive.
He opened his mouth once more, and a noise actually started in the back of his throat, when Kiluron held up his hand, forestalling Doil’s words. “Before you say anything,” Kiluron said, “let me see if I can do it for you.” Doil shut his mouth, and Kiluron continued, acting as if he were quoting. “’My lord, you’ve made a terrible mistake. I know that you want to help the people on Old Sankt recover from the typhoon, but look at the state of the Union. In less than a year, we’ve lost a Prime, had a war with a demon that included devastation of our existing reserves of natural resources, and suffered from a contaminant that has left our cities reeling. Don’t you pay attention when the ministers are meeting? We’ll be lucky to have enough reserves for the winter, much less extra to give aid to Old Sankt. And yet here you’ve promised them things that we don’t have.’” He paused. “How am I doing so far?”
Doil hesitated. “My lord, I wouldn’t presume to put it quite so baldly…”
Smirking, Kiluron waved him down. “I know. But as it happens, I do actually listen when my ministers meet, or at least I do some of the time. So, I do realize that we are hardly as a Union in a position to offer much in the way of aid to anyone. I even remember enough of your briefing to know that Old Sankt is still a political mess, and that we’ll probably never get any kind of benefit from the effort we put in now, and that there’s about no chance that they would come to our aid in the future. Despite all of that, this is not one of the decisions that I’m uncertain about.”
“But why?” Doil asked.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Kiluron replied. “And that’s all there is to it.” Standing, he gestured for Doil to follow him. “That being said, I do realize that just sending aid would probably be a disaster and would ultimately end up helping only a very few people who I’m not particularly interested in helping. That’s why I’m planning to send Vere.”
Doil thought about that for a moment. “That’s…downright politically devious of you, my lord.”
“And here I was just thinking it was a practical way to ensure that the aid gets to the people who actually need it,” Kiluron replied, but Doil could tell he knew he was being political.
As they walked, Doil began running numbers in his head. “It will take some time to put together the supplies and get the crews ready. We’ll probably have to divert some ships from the Nycheril expeditions in order to put this together. Admiral Ferl won’t be pleased about that. It would be convenient if there were a way to divert the ships directly instead of routing everything through the Merolate port, but I don’t think that’s logistically feasible.”
Kiluron smiled. “Thanks, Doil.”
Pausing in making mental lists, Doil looked at him. “Er, for what?”
“Once you knew I’d thought it through and made up my mind, you didn’t keep trying to talk me out of it, and you didn’t keep acting like it was a bad idea. You just jumped right into figuring out how to make it happen.”
“That is my job, my lord,” Doil observed, but he was pleased. He always worried that Kiluron thought he was too critical, and that he could never know enough to really be a good advisor. “I should go put together the necessary teams to ensure that the logistics for this expedition come together appropriately.”
“Good plan,” Kiluron said. “I’ll go tell Vere the good news. He’s seemed kind of restless recently, so I figure he should be pleased at the chance to get back out into the field again.”
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