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.
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It was after midnight, according to the white orb of the moon making its way across the dark sky; and Ke’lal stood above decks having a heated conversation with his companion.
“I want to kill him!” the other sorcerer growled. He looked menacing, big and dark in his black cloak and cowl. His voice issued from within the confines of his hood. “I don’t know how the bastard made it up to above decks, how he was conscious enough to hit me, but it’ll be the last mistake he ever makes.”
“Peace, my angry companion,” said Ke’lal. He raised his hands in a soothing gesture, even as he considered.
“How did he get up here? That’s the question that concerns me.”
Log’al shook his head dismissively. “It’s obvious, isn’t it? Bastard is a mage; we didn’t sift him out properly when we were kidnapping them, and he’s been biding his time this whole time. Must have heard we’re approaching the whirlpool and decided it’s do-or-die, so he sucked some life-force from a passing shark or something and tried to kill me.”
Ke’lal sniffed. There were so many holes in Log’al’s story it could have been used to grate cheese.
He shifted his weight on the gently rolling deck, setting one bare foot behind him and lowering his center of balance in case Log’al didn’t like what he had to say next. Ke’lal was the more senior of the two by ten years, had spend almost the full twenty years on the Death-Ship; and in theory his subordinate priest would never try to hurt him. In theory.
Still, it wasn’t worth taking the risk. He measured the distance between them–ten feet across the largely empty deck, shining white in the moonlight–and watched Log’al’s body and weight and balance.
“You know that’s ridiculous, Log’al. Come now.”
Log’al lifted his head to glare at Ke’lal; even through the lowered hood, the older man could feel that glare like a brand. He chose his next words carefully, but kept the steel in his voice. With a man like Log’al, you had to show him you were stronger than him. And you had to keep showing him, especially when he was in one of his moods.
Why in the Gods’ names Log’al had been chosen for this honor, Ke’lal didn’t know.
“He’s a mage, no doubt. You’re right that we didn’t sift through them properly now, and I wish we had a way to send a message to the Citadel to help future stewards of the Death Ship to avoid the same mistake but it’s too late now.
“But do you really think he has conscious control of his magic? Do you really think he bided his time, for three centuries while we slowly sucked the life out of him and turned him into one of the waking dead, who wouldn’t notice if his own mother appeared before him–and then decided consciously to use magic? None of these other poor bastards below decks even has a thought in their head at this point–all the life-force they have left is for rowing and eating and staying strong, nothing left for thought or emotion. They’re corpses that move. And you think one of them could have consciously had the wherewithal to use magic?”
He sniffed again. His companion’s glare had faded, like he was considering. He would give Log’al this, he conceded. The man was angrier than a bull with a toothache when someone wronged him, but once you put him in his place he could start to see reason.
Well, sometimes. Ke’lal didn’t shift his weight off his back foot, or let go of the gentle bend in his knees that kept them from locking up in combat. Just in case this was not one of those times.
“No. If you ask me, the man’s a mage but an untrained one. That’s why he didn’t try this stunt two hundred ninety-two years ago when he first became a man. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. I think he reached out without knowing it, groped for something, anything, to get him out of the catatonic sleep of the waking dead; and accidentally pulled a burst of life-force from a passing sea animal. That’s what woke him up.
“By the time he wakes up tomorrow, he’ll be back as one of the waking dead, and he wouldn’t notice if a pretty girl sat on his lap wearing nothing but the sea-spray.”
“I still want him dead,” Log’al growled. He rubbed his face where the young man–could you call a man young, who looked eighteen but had lived for over three hundred years? He wondered–had punched him, hard enough to shatter his nose; like it still hurt. Ridiculous, of course; Log’al pride was the only thing wounded. Ke’lal had healed him himself, had pulled life-force from a nearby dolphin into the other man to accelerate his healing; and now there was not even a scar.
“I don’t care about the whirlpool, I don’t care that he’s going back to being part of the waking dead tomorrow. He punched me and I want him dead for it.”
“You can’t kill him,” Ke’lal said. He advanced on the bigger man, bare feet slapping on the wooden deck with each deliberate step. He refused to let the taller man loom over him, stood up straight and stared down his crooked nose at the younger man.
This was going to be a hard conversation. Best make sure Log’al knew who the power on this ship is.
“You swore your oath, ten years ago when you came on this vessel. To cause no harm to its inhabitants, but to keep them fit and healthy while the ship sucked away their life-force. The math is too delicate, as you well know–or you should, assuming you didn’t pass your way through the Citadel on brawn and threats. We don’t know how many bog-cats there are, but we do know from our spies that the spell is working; it’s keeping them in check. If we kill one prisoner of the Death-Ship, if we have one less lifeforce for it to draw from to maintain the spell, the whole delicate balance might shift.
“Are you really willing to spit on your oath, not to mention your king and people and the Citadel itself, just to enact some petty revenge? Gods above, Log’al; the man’s been part of the waking dead for three centuries. He had one breath of life, and tomorrow he’s going back to that–the odds of an untrained sorcerer pulling enough life-force from passing sea-beasts to overcome the spell of the ship two days running are astronomical.
“He’s already suffering a fate worse than death, just like these other poor bastards. And you want to kill him? Knowing he’ll be dead in a few days anyway, just like the rest of us?”
“I know about the whirlpool,” Log’al growled. “And I take my oath seriously, if that’s what you’re implying. But the Death Ship can spare one passenger in five hundred. Especially since we only have a few days left.”
“Then you don’t take your oath seriously at all,” Ke’lal said. He advanced another step, his voice cold and hard. “Your own words betray you, Log’al. Go belowdecks and prepare for the whirlpool. I, at least, intend to go down with full honors and an unbroken oath. I hope you intend to do the same, but hear me when I say you will do the same whether you want it or not. I won’t let you interfere with our mission, not even for a single day.”
Log’al opened his mouth like he would argue. Inside the shadows of his long sleeves, so long they draped over his hands, Ke’lal could see the outline of his fists clenching and unclenching.
Ke’lal looked him in the eye and didn’t so much as blink. They both knew what would happen if the younger man tried to fight. Quite apart from throwing away a life that had somehow–Gods alone knew how, Ke’lal thought irritably–been lived in honorable service to the Citadel, he wouldn’t last a minute against the older man.
Ke’lal’s bones might be fragile with age, his skin drawn tight over them, but he could do things with magic that the brash man in front of him had never bothered to learn.
Log’al glared for a moment longer, then threw up his hands in angry dismissal and stalked to the cabin bolted into the aft of the deck.
Ke’lal watched him go and sighed. The big man would be trouble before the whirlpool. That, he knew in his bones.
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