I recently finished the second draft of a story I’m working on, and I decided to share it online. I’m sharing one chapter at a time, and the story is about 487,000 words right now (roughly 5 paperback novels in length, give or take), so this will take awhile.
I estimate that 2nd draft is about 80% of the way there, story-wise; but 80% is not 100%. This chapter might show up in the final story completely unchanged. It might show up with minor changes, or heavy revisions; or might be cut from the final draft completely. If it does remain, it might be in a new place in the story or the same place.
Danur stood on the crow’s nest, a wolfish smile on his hard, lined face. Home. He was coming home.
His knees flexed, effortlessly keeping his balance as the crow’s nest swayed beneath him. Wind whipped through his short-cropped black and gray hair, hard and cold against his face. His bare knuckles felt slashed with ice as they gripped the hard wooden railing surrounding the crow’s nest.
Home. After a year at sea, exploring the Isles of Shoals for more magics while Illidrea ruled her city, he was coming home to her.
Faster, he exhorted the ship, and it sprang forward, cleaving through the waves. There was no-one else aboard. The big spoked wheel on the bow of the ship moved as if under phantom hands, and the billowing sails captured every sharp gust of wind. The ship was controlled with his spirit and his willpower, one of the fragments of magic he and Illidrea had found floating around the edge of the world.
The waves were white-tipped and beautiful, but he barely noticed. The ship creaked and groaned beneath him, ancient worn wood sounding like it was barely holding together. The sound was deceiving–the ship had groaned like this for centuries, and had never even sprung a leak–and he ignored it. All he could think about was Illidrea. In a matter of three days, less if he forewent sleep, he would be home with her.
Danur shook his head, squinting into the wind. Six centuries ago, if someone had told him that he would fall in love, that the mighty Danur would be besotted with a partner, he would have laughed in their face if he hadn’t killed them for having the temerity to speak in the first place. Six centuries ago he had been a terror in the night, a dark force that no-one would cross, obsessed simply with hunting down his enemies and with collecting as many of the fragmented magics the world housed as he could find.
He was still that man in some ways. Still ruthless and power-hungry, still determined to live forever and willing to step on the poor fools beneath him to make it happen. Still dangerous, still whispered about and feared by people even in Illidrea’s city.
But overlaying that, he had fallen in love. Like a thorn bush that had suddenly sprouted roses, he had changed. He had found a woman who was his perfect match. As ruthless, as lethal, as fearsomely clever and as devoted to maintaining power as he was.
Illidrea. He missed her like an unlit candle missed flint and tinder. Without her, he was still Danur, still a legend that parents used to frighten their children and that could make even grown men turn weak-kneed and feeble–but without her, the light went out of him.
He gripped the crow’s nest harder, knees flexing as he effortlessly kept his balance. The small wooden platform swayed and bounced beneath him as his ship cleaved through the white-capped waves. They swelled ahead of the ship, rising and falling, whipped into snowy froth by the storm approaching; and the wooden prow of his ship, pointed like a hawk’s beak, sundered them, sending spray splattering over the waves and the deck.
Up ahead he could see the storm, dark on the horizon. Rain sheeted down ahead of him. In the few minutes before his ship could enter it, he pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket, smoothed it on the railing, and reread it.
The heavy, worn parchment was another piece of magic he and Illidrea had found scattered across the world. From the Isles of Shoals, where they had sailed for the first time five centuries ago and kept returning in the hopes of finding additional troves of magic.
Danur smoothed out the piece of paper and started reading, his heart lightening as he looked upon the familiar words. The letter was from Illidrea. This particular magic of the Isles had been two inkpots, enchanted to never run out of ink; and two long feather quills. Wherever the bearer of the ink pot was, the bearer of the other ink pot had only to dip their quill into the pot and write a letter; and when they were done, the letter would appear instantly in the other person’s possession.
Neither he nor Illidrea liked the fact that business often took him across the waves and kept her on land ruling her city, but these ink pots and quills had made it endurable. Without them, sending letters would have been impossible; Danur’s location was always changing, and no messenger or carrier pigeon would have been able to track him down. But with these….
They had written letters every day, the two of them; keeping each other abreast of their adventures. She told him about ruling the city, about rivals who had tried to kill her and whom she had effortlessly outwitted. About would-be assassins now rotting in the dank prison cells far beneath ground, about dissidents who tried to rile up the populace against her until she found out and crushed the leaders with an iron fist.
His face lit up as he remembered. He loved hearing about her days.
In return, he had told her of his voyages around the Mortal Realm. Of how he had explored islands, searching the dusty ground and sparse plant life for signs of the magics they sought. Of how he had brought his ship to precise coordinates on flat glassy seas at exactly midnight, the full moon making the dark waters gleam. Of how he had hiked across the jagged tops of snowy mountains, his cloak wrapped around him as he refused to shiver in the cold, drawing in life from the rabbits and lynxes nearby to fortify his body.
They had been searching for centuries, the two of them. Often Illidrea joined him, slipping out of the city when no-one expected her to, setting things up with her advisors so that the city could run for a time without her. Those were magical trips in more ways than one, full of her crystal laughter and her wicked smile. He still remembered their last trip together, how her eyes had lit up and she had clapped her hands like a girl as he poked at a large round stone and it rolled away to expose the cave they needed to explore. How he had made fun of her for not wanting to get her dainty white-and-silver shoes muddy, as she picked a path along half-submerged rocks and tree trunks that had kept them clean.
And how when a monstrous asp had struck at them from its hiding place in the shadows of one wall, she had lunged to the side and slammed her pearl-hilted dagger into its eye so deeply the creature didn’t even have time to thrash before it died.
He remembered a time before that, centuries ago but still bright and clear in his memory; when they had lain on the deck below as night washed over the craft, telling each other things they had never told anyone else. Listening to the creak and groan of the wood, and the waves sloshing against the hull, as she had rolled onto her side and stroked his face with soft, smooth fingers. How were they not calloused from all the sword work she had done, he suddenly wondered? He didn’t know. So much of what she did with the magic they shared, he didn’t understand. That clever mind, and how she could do things he hadn’t even thought of, delighted him.
On this night, two hundred years ago, she had stroked his hard features, her fingers sliding along his cheeks and chin. He gazed up at her, heart-stoppingly beautiful in the moonlight. Her fine golden hair swung over her face, lightly tickling his skin. Her blue eyes were big in the darkness. Her skin was colored like the moon, and with her white and silver dress he wondered for a moment if there truly were only two Gods, or if they had all missed the existence of a Moon Goddess right there on the deck with him.
And she had told him that she had never expected to find love any more than he had. Had told him that the day they met, when he had snuck into her city looking for fragments of magic and she had caught him, had been the turning point in her life–it had been a good life before him, she explained, but it had been made wonderful by someone to share it with. She had stroked down his chin, to his muscled chest, and told him that she was ready to start a family with him.
And he…Danur, the most feared sorcerer for a thousand years, the man known wide around the Mortal Realm as someone not to cross, the man who had buried thousands of his enemies and never looked back….he had kissed her and felt like his heart was shattering with joy.
And when she had slid off her white and silver dress, when she had smiled wickedly as his eyes widened, when she had mounted him clad only in the moonlight and screamed as she took her pleasure….Gods above. Every ounce of pain and frustration in his centuries-long life had been worth it, just for that one night.
Danur opened the letter, wanting to read her words to him again. He had already responded, the magic carrying his message to her instantly; but he liked seeing her words. Liked seeing her delicate, flowing script on the heavy, worn parchment.
My Dearest Danur, the letter opened. Each individual letter was a work of art, all elegant lines and swirls, each only as thick as a line of hair. He kept reading.
I apologize for the lateness of this missive. One of my advisors tried to kill me. A shame, that; I had thought I could trust her. But she’ll be executed tomorrow at midday, she’s in the dungeons now. I don’t mind people having ambition–it makes the world go round–but I do draw the line at them trying to end my life.
Hopefully my other advisors will learn that attacking me is futile, and that will be the end of it. Honestly, Danur. She tried to send a hired knife after me! Like a common queen!
He smiled. He could almost hear the scandalized note in her voice, could almost see her shaking her head.
If you’re going to try to kill a girl, at least show her a little respect. I dealt with the hired knife in moments. I didn’t even need any magic. Apparently he hadn’t even been briefed on the fact that I sleep with knives within arm’s reach of my bed, because he actually alerted me when he climbed in through the window! Like he expected me to cower like a child or something. It was all a little insulting.
He chuckled. He could almost see her rolling her eyes. And could almost pity the poor bastard who underestimated her. Illidrea was the best hand with a knife he’d ever seen, even when she wasn’t using magic to assist her.
You’ve got to get me out of this city; if this is the intelligence of the people I’m scheming against these days, I’ll go mad! How about a quick sojourn to the Isles of the Dead? I know it’s not in our books, but if anywhere has the magic we seek I suspect it’s there.
My endless love for you, Danur; if only because when you tried to kill me that first time we met, you showed me the respect of doing it right. I cannot wait to see you. This bed is too big and empty for one.
Danur finished the letter and read it again, smiling. His breath caught at that last line, like it always did. Her bed was a ten-foot monstrosity with midnight blue sheets. The thought of what she had been doing in that bed, alone these past nights as she thought of him, made his blood heat and made it hard to focus on anything else. Luckily the ship was on the open water; if he had been navigating a reef, he might have run aground while he thought of her, blue silk sheets sliding over her naked skin as she slipped a hand down between her legs….
He gave himself a jerk, bringing his eyes back to the ship and the storm bearing down on them. Three days until he would be at port, and then a matter of minutes to reach her castle. He might even summon the black wind; it left him exhausted after, but it might be worth it for the extra speed in this case. A few more nights, and he would be in her bed; and the sounds she would make would rouse the whole castle.
The letter vanished from his grip, and another replaced it. He looked down, his grin half-feral as he imagined what kind of message Illidrea would send him this time.
What he saw made him freeze. His eyes widened and the grin fell off his face like he’d been struck.
The writing of this new letter was blockier, less elegant. Messier, with thicker lines of ink.
This wasn’t Illidrea’s hand. Anger flashed that someone would try to take her magic from her. Then it was gone, replaced with horror as he read.
Danur, this is Alis. Come quickly. Illidrea is dying.
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