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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Iliar met the Matriarch’s eyes. He wet his lips. Now that he was here, now that he was really doing this….
He asked the first question that came to mind.
“What is an orc-pit?”
The Matriarch growled, and her knuckles turned white as she pushed her steepled fingers together.
“They’re the worst of our kind. We’ve warred with humans in the past, but they prey on your kind. They have none of the honor of a true orc community.”
“But what are they?” pressed Iliar.
“Gambler’s dens,” the Matriarch said. She smiled tightly. “This much is known by all races, I know. But there’s little more to it. They are gamblers and thieves. They lure humans in with promises of riches, and then bleed their purses or, failing that, their bodies.”
Iliar’s face tightened as he remembered the man, pleading with Gan’ash for more time to pay his debts.
“They’re pits in truth; none of us know where the pit around here is, though we could find it easily enough. They use all manner of tricks, food and wine and beautiful slave-girls and slave-boys, to entice the humans to let down their guard. And once the human does…no man is ever free of an orc-pit, not even once he leaves it. They know you, and they’ll hunt you. If they can’t bring you back by lies and honeyed words, they’ll kidnap you and let you dice for your freedom. And once you start dicing, you always end in their debt.”
“How do I find them?”
The Matriarch shook her head.
“They’ll find you. I’ll give you new clothes, fine enough for them to think you’re worth their while. And I’ll tell you the direction they’re in. Walk that direction for a day, maybe two, and they’ll find you.”
“What do you mean?” Iliar demanded. “Why won’t you just tell me where they are?”
The Matriarch’s eyes flashed. “If I knew, I would tell you. This I swear. But we’ve never hunted them, and we don’t know where they are. Only the vaguest direction, and that only because we warn our scouts not to go in there.”
“Would they truly kidnap an orc?”
“We don’t know,” the Matriarch explained. Her gaze softened. “If they did, it would mean war between us. That is a hard thing for us, if perhaps not so for them.”
Iliar let it go.
“When I killed Gan’ash, the man I rescued said that I didn’t want the orc-pits to find me first. What did he mean?”
The Matriarch let out a long breath. When Iliar met her eyes, hers were sad.
“When they find you, they’ll knock you unconscious. When you awake, it will be with a roaring headache and no weapons on your body. They’ll let your hands and arms free, to make it seem like they trust you–and they’ll offer you wine to take the headache away. Don’t drink their wine. It is much stronger than anything we drink here, and they use berries to mask the taste. That’s the first mistake most people make when they find themselves in a pit, is drinking the wine.”
“What’s the second?” Iliar asked. The more the Matriarch told him, the more concerned he became. Maybe it would be better to rally the orcs, to try to convince them to fight the orc-pit with him.
He pushed that thought aside. The Matriarch had already said that the orc village wouldn’t help. He would be on his own, and he was already committed.
He wouldn’t be going in with weapons. He mentally revised his plan. He would have to lean more heavily on his magic than he had been intending to.
The Matriarch was speaking again.
“The second mistake is trust. Humans who awake in the pit trust that things are what they seem. That the slave girls begging to mount them are truly interested in them.” Her mouth twisted at that, and Iliar realized that he hadn’t seen a slave in the entire village. “That the orcs have their best interest at heart. That the entrances are where the orcs say that are, that there are no traps underfoot.
“The entire pit is designed to ensnare the senses and confuse the mind. Orc-pits upend our sense of honor and trust. There is incense there that will dull your ability to think, and lead you to see things that aren’t there. There are traps underfoot that a man wouldn’t notice. Watch where the orcs walk, once you try to fight; and step only where they step.”
Iliar took a deep breath. This was sounding harder and harder. He closed his eyes, thinking of Rorin. Rorin, who had admitted being scared on his last day alive but had told Iliar that some things needed doing. Rorin, who had risked his life to help Rachel and dozens of other children.
What would Rorin say if Iliar backed out? Iliar doubted the man would have judged him for it; he was woefully unprepared, and walking into a den of monsters twice his size. But Iliar would judge himself for it.
A man’s not a man without a purpose. He had a chance to do something meaningful now, to save people from a fate as bad as what he had experienced on the ship. Was he really going to cower from it?
He met the Matriarch’s eyes, black in the darkness.
“Then give me the clothes. When do I leave?”
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