Tuesday, February 5, 2013

First Words, Revised

In my previous post, I shared with you, my loyal readers, the very first scene I wrote for my current work-in-progress. In a sense it was intended as a prologue, and in another sense it served as some major foreshadowing for what the story was truly about. After finishing it, I remember feeling quite proud of myself. I had set out to write a scene that evoked some sense of fantasy horror, introduced the main conflict of the story, and foreshadowed some of the pivotal scenes from the latter half of the book. And if nothing else, I had at last started on the journey of taking the tale that had been churning around in my brain for weeks and bringing it to life on the page. After years since I had seriously worked on anything resembling fantasy fiction, I was finally at work once more.

Of course, for those of you who read it, it should have been painfully obvious that it had some serious flaws. Looking back, here's some of where I went wrong:
  • Although it isn't clear initially, this entire scene is actually a dream. Generally speaking, unless you have a very strong reason for doing so, dream sequences are now typically avoided.
  • This scene is full of over-the-top language. There are way too many metaphors, some of which are mixed or even contradictory.
  • There is almost no action in the entire scene. It's simply a long and detailed description of things for which the reader has no context and no connection. It's also completely lacking in any real conflict.
  • Given that the story isn't really fantasy horror, this makes promises to the readers the book probably won't deliver on.
Like I mentioned before, I didn't get very far before I realized this whole scene would get discarded. I ended up reusing some of the prose for what is currently the new prologue for the story. Below is what this consists of currently. Like last time, I'd love to hear your thoughts, especially about the changes that I made. Enjoy!

           Clad in a dark robe of silk tied at the waist with golden cord, Klemens sank down onto the large four post bed. He willed himself to relax, even as he clutched a jeweled crown to his breast. The crown was ancient, its silver blackened with age, and so delicate that it appeared that it might snap apart in his hands. It possessed no magic of itself, yet it was his most potent connection to his master. A distracted glance at the mantle of the cold hearth showed the face of a ticking clock, illuminated only by the dying light of two candles. The hour was late, but his appointed tasks could only be accomplished by night, when he left behind the false trappings of the man all thought him to be. Annoyed by the thought, he closed his eyes and again forced himself to relax, falling into the familiar pattern of light breathing that would usher his body to sleep.
            His thoughts slipped away, and then his eyes opened upon the strangely twisted landscape of his dreams. A great city was laid out below him, lit by green globes of magelight that illuminated its broad avenues and majestic towers. He stood upon a rocky slope above the city, within the courtyard of a massive fortress whose black stones seemed to absorb, rather than reflect, the light from the city below. The castle rose towards the heavens in twisting spires and arches of which the city below was a poor imitation. 
            Then, in the way of dreams, the courtyard abruptly changed. Like fireflies on a spring night, one by one faint green lights began to appear, coalescing into the form of thirteen cloaked figures. The green light illuminated their skeletal features, which were garbed in decaying purple robes inscribed with eldritch runes. They were ornamented with ancient crowns, silvered rings, and steel breastplates as dark as midnight. Jewels glittered upon their crowns, rings, and breastplates, shining in the eerie light like a malevolent gaze. Yet it seemed they were not yet fully real, for they flickered and spluttered in the endless night like a candle flame about to be extinguished.
            Klemens fell to his knees, eyes cast downward before the assembled host. For a moment, he felt panic rise within him, and only through sheerest effort of will kept him from returning to his slumbering body. He trembled beneath their unblinking gaze, but forced both thoughts and body to stillness. For all the power at his disposal, there was no question who was servant and who was master. It took only moments for him to finally master his fear, and only then did he dare raise his eyes from the broken stone of the courtyard.
            He watched as the tallest among the skeletal figures stepped forward. Thin white hair hung down in waves from his otherwise bare skull, the pale tendrils strangely mimicking the shape of long hair and beard. The other figures vanished suddenly, and somehow he seemed more real, more present, than he had moments before. For a moment all was silent. Then a faint breeze rustled the decaying cloth of his robes, carrying with it the scent of death and rot. And then the tall figure spoke, and it seemed the stones and earth alike quivered in resonance to his voice.
            "You may rise, Blackguard Klemens."
            He rose as instructed, and discovered that his dark robes had been transformed into his suit of blacksteel plate mail, complete with the massive two-handed sword that now hung from its sheath upon his back.  While it was no more reality than anything else about him in this place, it eased his fears somehow. If this was how his sovereign looked upon him, he truly had no reason to fear this summons.
            "I have come as requested, Your Grace."
            "So you have. The time of the Dissolution is nearly at hand. How fares the world in the north, Blackguard?"
            "All is as you have foreseen. The Lady-Heir has left Sutheron and will arrive here in Conwyn within the week, accompanied by her bondslave. I have made the necessary arrangements for her arrival, and she will be met and escorted to the monastery. Meanwhile, the Order has been thrown into confusion and doubt by the seeds of dark magic sown in their midst. Many speak openly of their doubt and fear regarding the Night of Dissolution."
            "Then I am pleased by your diligent service, Blackguard. The time draws near. Baelfegor must be reborn, and I must be released from this endless torment. But the future is yet wrought with the many possibilities of fate. It is time for you to bear witness to the course that events must take. This will be your final test. Succeed, and you will stand first among mortal men in the kingdom to come. Fail, and you join me in this torment."
            "I will not fail you, Eternal One!"
            "Bear witness then, servant, of what is to come." 
            The skeletal figure opened his mouth, and a grey mist rushed out with like a gust of wind. The mist enveloped Klemens, and as he breathed in the cold, damp air a strange vision filled his senses. He saw two young women, one pale and one dark skinned. They stood at the edge of a great divide between darkness and light. They stepped forward from the light, towards the darkness, when the dark skinned fell to the ground and vanished. The other knelt at her side, shedding bitter tears.
            "The servant of the Heir must fall. She must not be allowed to enter the Dissolution."
            A young man appeared next to her, dressed in shining mail. Somehow the light seemed to shine more brightly upon him. He knelt by the young man, then helped her to stand. Unheard words were spoken between them, then he drew his sword and knelt before her, offering his life to protect hers. Then he rose, and offering the handsome young man her hand, the two strode forward and into the darkness.
            "The Knight must accompany the Heir. Attraction will create a bond of darkness and light. Together they will enter the Dissolution."
            Another man appeared, old and grey, dressed in mages' robes. With every step he strove to enter the darkness, but at each turn a ghostly assailant appeared before him, pushing him back. Then another mage appeared, tore the robes from the body of the first, and bound his hands in front of him. Then the second mage began to drag him bodily away from the boundary between light and darkness.
            "The Mage Lord must be cast down, and his path blocked at every turn. Should he enter the Dissolution, the strands of fate may yet unravel."
            Both mages disappeared. The woman and the warrior moved deeper into the darkness, barely illuminated by the faint glow from his armor. Then others appeared in their midst. Young and old, mage and warrior and priest, they formed into ranks. All was still for a moment. 
            But then the ground was split asunder, and creatures born from man's nightmares emerged from the earth like hatchlings from their eggs, no two alike. Some were naught but yellowed bones, skeletal fingers clutching rusted blade or scythe. On other dark, rotted flesh still clung to their forms, concealed beneath leather rags of clothing. Still others seemed as if just awakened from sleep, save for their pale complexion, blackened claws, and lifeless eyes of deepest scarlet. In what seemed like moments a mighty host emerged. Then, united by one will, they ran heedlessly towards the other forces, and a great battle was joined.
            The images faded from his mind, and he was overcome by a fit of coughing. It continued for several moments, and he felt as if his body was trying to expel the mist from his lungs. When he recovered, he and his liege were alone once more in the dark courtyard of the ruined castle.
            "Do you understand what you have seen, Blackguard?"
            Klemens clapped his fist over his heart. "I have seen and will obey as in all things, Great One."
            "Then you are dismissed. Do not fail me. On the Night of Dissolution, before the sun rises again in the east, Baelfegor shall at last live again!"
            Overwhelmed by a sudden blast of dread, tasting blood upon his tongue, Klemens fell hard to the ground, in deep obeisance before his powerful sovereign. He felt as if his eyes rolled back into his head, and in sudden disorientation he nearly lost consciousness.
            And then he awoke with a start, bolting upright in bed. His heart raced, and his breaths came in ragged bursts, as if from great exertion. His robes were drenched with sweat, and he shivered in the frigid air. He leapt out of bed, and with shaking hands managed to fumble open his firebox and light a fire in the cold hearth. Then casting his robe from him, he huddled under a thick woolen blanket, waiting for the flames to restore both light and warmth to his chamber.
            It would probably be another sleepless night, but there was nothing for it. There was much to be done, and little time remained. In a mere seven days, the Night of Dissoluton would come.

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