Drafts – “The Tome”

Elise was mid-joke when the flaming bolt raged out of the dark.

She and Gwin were in a temple ruin underground, so you had to expect that sort of thing, but the townsfolk had hired them to investigate increased seismic activity, not to fight–

“Wizards?”

“I fucking hate wizards,” Gwin said. He was still covering her with one of his wings, its plate armor smoking where the bolt hit. His head was snapping, eyes darting to the extremes of the dining hall they’d just entered. “Nothing, but–“

A bolt of lightning arced at his head, so fast even he barely ducked it.

“Stop!” Elise was shouting, her ears still ringing. “Whoever you are, just stop!”

And, somewhere, someone snickered. “A voice changing spell? Really, Rutherford? Pathetic.”

“Rutherford?” Gwin asked, head tilting.

Elise shrugged. “Sir, we have no idea what you’re talking about, okay?”

“Still your foolsome tongue! You’re trying to get to the tome again! I know your patterns!”

“‘Foolsome tongue’?” Gwin asked, brow furrowed.

“I . . . am not Rutherford!” Elise shouted back. “And I can prove it if you’d just let me and my partner stand up!”

Silence from the other end of the hall as up echoed off the stone walls.

Finally, a weary, “Very well.” And, of course, an, “I’ll play your game.”

Elise nodded at Gwin, and together, they stood, her hands up, his wings poised to block another shot if one flared out of the dark.

At the other end of the hall, a dirty, old wizard blinked. “Oh shit. You aren’t Rutherford.”

“Nope. We’re goddamn wayfarers.”

The wizard cracked a gummy smile. “Of course, of course. Come to, eh, investigate the seismic activity, yes?”

“Right,” Elise said, heart already sunk. “Which I’m guessing you’re responsible for–“

The darkness on the balcony erupted in a wash of angry red. Fire pouring down on the wizard so hot Elise had to shield her eyes.

When it was over, another wizard was dancing on that balcony–a gangly shape in purple robes, kicking in the after image of the flame. “Yes! Fuck you, Tamsus!”

And the place that should’ve been a puddle–the spot where the first wizard, Tamsus, had been standing–rose from the floor. “Gods damn you, Rutherford! I am trying to get the food!”

Before anyone could speak–before Elise or Gwin could ask what was happening–Rutherford was hit from another corner of the room by spears of ice, fired from the wand of another wizard. Rutherford was pinned to the wall, absolutely dead until the spot where he’d been impaled blossomed with purple light–a chain that whipped to Tamsus, and then to the new wizard, each one of them screaming in pain before the tether passed to the next.

And, when it was done–when Elise and Gwin opened their mouths to shout questions over each other–someone else exploded (but then was whole). And then Tamsus melted in a rush of burning acid (but didn’t really). Each time, a new robed wizard jumped out of the darkness to drop stone spikes from the ceiling or cleave another in half with wheels of pure, furious light. And, each time, the death hit every single one of them in the same sequence, raging through them all so each of them felt it, but none of them died.

“They’re all tethered together with some kind of magic?” Elise whispered, but it was during the first lull in explosions and screaming–a full ten minutes since the last time she’d spoken.

One of them, (Archimestites?) grumbled. “Chain of Woe: a spell that deflects the vast majority of any injuries you suffer to the person you cast it on.”

“Unless that person cast it on someone else,” another wizard jumped in. “Then they only get a tiny fraction of the harm before it gets passed on! So I cast it on Dilamitrix!”

“And I cast it on Borf.”

“And I cast it on Marthes.”

“Yeah, and so on until Humphrey cast it on me and now we have a perfect loop where no one dies,” Archimestites cut back in. “I knew when I cast it that these sheep would do the same damn thing, but it was the only way I could be sure I didn’t die. The only way I could get that tome!”

“You?” Rutherford panted, “You’ll never get it you sack of shit! Rah!” and the explosions started again, only this time with more dodging and shouting: “You’ll never make it past my incantations anyway!” and “You’re not a real wizard!” and “Fuck you, Tamsus!”

Elise let them get into the thick of it before she slowly started to back out of the room, pulling Gwin with her.

But they only managed a few steps before the explosions stopped.

“Hey!” one of the wizards shouted. And then, when Elise and Gwin stopped: “Leave . . . the food!”

In jarringly dead silence, she and Gwin pulled whatever food they had out of their knapsacks, leaving it in a neat pile on the floor with movements that were as precise as possible.

“And don’t tell anyone in that town about this, you hear? Go back, say there was another, eh, giant mole or something, and get your pay!”

“Do it, or we’ll know!”

Elise wanted to ask how long they’d been doing this, remembering that the people in town said there were spikes in seismic activity around the temple every few weeks . . .

But then one of them said, “And say it was a worm, cause a giant mole is a stupid idea!”

And, just like that, they were back to screaming and hurling deadly forces of nature at each other like the wayfarers weren’t still there.

Elise and Gwin hurried back out of the ruined, subterranean temple.

And when they got to fresh air, Gwin sighed.

“I fucking hate wizards.”

~~~

I thought it was high time for another Draft, and, when this idea came to me (essentially an RPG side quest), I thought it was the perfect candidate for a creative writing session. It wound up being a more comical than the stuff I usually write, but that made it so much more fun to work on. Seriously, I needed to snicker like an idiot at my writing desk for a bit.

Also, I just wanted to bring back Elise and Gwin, the Red Markison, from an earlier draft. I am definitely still operating under the assumption that I won’t write a full story about them . . . but . . . man, I really love the idea of insane, overpowered wizards just being a problem in a fantasy world. Are they all like this? Do normal people seek them out for power, but the learning just drives them mad, and thus new wizards are born?

Goddammit. I have so many projects already.

Anyway, if you enjoyed this post and you want to be notified when I post again, you can follow my blog in the field on the left side of your screen (on PC), or via the hamburger menu on the upper right of your screen on mobile.

As always, thank you for passing by and take care!

There’s a Video Game Controller Out There, on That Roof

Disclaimer: I don’t want to write about what’s going on right now, because it’s all anyone is talking about. As an American, I find it so difficult to watch the news that I can only take it in 5-minute bursts at the end and beginning of the day. So, if you were hoping for my perspective on the pandemic, I’m sorry, but I just don’t want to write about it.

What I do want to write about though . . .

LS-Controller on the Roof

. . . is the Playstation 4 controller on that roof just across the way.

I saw it when I sat down at my window, intending to keep hammering at the timeline for my WIP.

But progress on the timeline was so slow that I kept glancing up at the shape of it. A black dot that, in different light, had been a plastic bag from a bodega, sun-stuck to roof tiles. But now . . .

“Is that a controller?”

I squinted, but still wasn’t sure.

I got my camera, but the zoom wasn’t good enough.

The magnification was, however.

LS-Controller on the Roof Zoom-In

“Son of a bitch,” I said aloud.

Why is it out there?

Who throws a controller, even a broken one, onto a roof?

Actually though . . . it doesn’t look broken. Is it even scuffed?

Did it land right-side-up like that?

Did someone just . . . climb up there and lay it down?

It wouldn’t be impossible. There have been weird things on that roof before.

LS-Controller on the Roof Boots

Like these boots left by construction workers while they were rain-proofing it.

But I didn’t just notice those boots–I noticed their absence. I’ve been checking that roof for more weird shit to photograph since moving into this apartment, so how did I miss this controller? And how long has it been out there?

It could’ve been tossed out there this past week in a really unfortunate burst of lockdown-gaming rage (it’s a PS4 controller though, so I doubt it, because Mario Kart isn’t on PS4).

Or it could’ve been a bizarre, bottle-flipping challenge? The kind where you get only one turn? No. That doesn’t make sense.

If I had to write a story about it, the protagonist would’ve stolen his friend’s only PS4 controller and put it on that roof as a prank directly before lockdown. Maybe he can see the friend’s window from his room, so he just waits for the reaction. Maybe he sends texts with hints about where the controller is, assuming his friend is looking, but that friend never answers. Never appears at the window. The protagonist doesn’t go crazy (too ham-fisted) but does devote way too much attention to that friend’s reaction, going through the trouble of moving things in his room so he can sit where he can both play his own video games and watch the old red curtains of his friend’s room.

But, of course, as time goes on and that friend doesn’t show up, the protagonist gets impatient–sends texts that are never answered. Maybe Summer comes and the protagonist’s parents put his AC back in his window so he can’t sit there anymore.

And then, maybe he starts to forget about it. His parents just leave the AC in the window until it snows. They finally take it out, but the roof is covered with snow, so our protagonist can’t even see the controller, the gag forced into hiatus.

And so maybe the protagonist completely forgets about the prank until the following Spring, when he looks out the window and realizes the controller’s gone. No triumphant text from his friend. No smug look from the window.

No idea if his friend took the controller back or even saw it there, water-logged and sun-dried.

Ultimately, it would be a story about a stupid kid, sitting at a window, finally noticing that the red curtains across the way, in his friend’s room, are blue now.

Drafts – Gwin, the Red Markison

The other wayfarers were eyeing Gwin, all of them shameless about it. Not just because he was the only Avian waiting in the mayor’s antechamber, but because he was a Red Markison.

There were over a hundred races of Avian across the world, with far more visual distinctions than human races. Dramatic differences in crests, wingspan, height, body composition, and–especially–color made it difficult for the average human to keep up, so many didn’t even try. Instead, they fell back on a handful of misconceptions. Ideas like dun-colored Avian being more intelligent than their bright-colored peers–possibly because of how common brown-feathered Dallings were. Or maybe because Dallings and other such birdpeople were closest to human skin colors.

Whatever the reason, there was a very real chance that, despite Gwin’s sharp eyes, and the Avian-altered armor he wore, the mayor of Greybrush would only see his bright red feathers. Or the inhuman shape of his torso. The bare talons of his feet. The mayor might, like the worst of humanity, just see an animal. A pretty beast, trained to follow Elise around and repeat what she said on command. Gwin would absolutely despise that . . . even though he called himself a “pretty beast” every single time he found a mirror.

Elise knew he wouldn’t do anything violent, but Avian were naturally prideful, and they held a completely different, entirely personal view of society. Gwin, no doubt, wouldn’t have spared a second for the mayor–or even the king himself–if Elise hadn’t convinced him they should.

She took it as a good sign that they made it to the mayor’s chamber without incident. But then they were ushered in, and the mayor was an old white man. The kind who used to chase Elise away from their shops in Albrook for the crime of looking at his wares while also being a dark-skinned child.

He was on his feet immediately, saying “Welcome, welcome,” offering a hand and gesturing to his seats. Elise shook his hand . . . and then watched the old man offer it to Gwin.

“He doesn’t have hands,” she said.

And the mayor chuckled a bashful, “Of course,” as he sat down without apologizing.

Gwin looked at her, sidelong, saying nothing, but walking away from his spot in front of the mayor’s desk, considering a nearby bookshelf instead; if there had been any chance the mayor would earn a spot on Gwin’s pecking order, it was already lost.

“I want to thank you for what you did the other day,” the old man said, just to her. “I don’t think Greybrush would’ve survived that rhind attack if not for your help.”

“We did what needed to be done,” Elise said. “We wouldn’t be wayfarers if we just watched the trouble.”

The mayor chuckled again. “Your bird was particularly impressive.”

Ugh. Gwin didn’t turn around, but his feathers bristled–a shudder that rushed over him.

“Did you train it to hunt?”

“His master trained him–to be a wayfarer.”

The old man smiled like it was a joke. “So you bought it then?”

My . . . god. “He’s my–” she started to say.

But the floorboards were shaking in rhythm to a chuckle. Gwin shook his head. “You are trying . . . so hard with this genuine idiot.”

The mayor was wide-eyed, mouth hanging open.

“He just doesn’t know better,” Elise said, still trying so hard to be patient, knowing that, somewhere in this meeting, there was a reward–or maybe a job offer. She could do with settling down in a small town for a few months.

But Red Markisons didn’t care about making homes, and Avian in general had zero tact for those they didn’t respect. That lack of care was always so liberating for Elise.

So she just watched Gwin chuckle. “Of course not. He doesn’t know anything. One look at that stupid fucking face, and it’s obvious.”

There was a moment where she tried to hold in the laughter . . . but she just couldn’t. Such an absurd, terrible thing to say that would solve absolutely none of their problems.

And the mayor, all balk and sputter. “Are you–is he–it–talking about me?”

She laughed harder, and Gwin joined her, his head rocking back.

When they were done, Gwin shook his head. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

A part of Elise wanted to turn, bow, thank the mayor for his audience. A much smaller part of her thought that she should apologize for laughing at him.

In the end, she just sighed. “Yeah, fuck it,” she said, and followed Gwin out of the chamber without looking back.

~~~

A few weeks back, on a snowy day here in New York, I took a walk with coworkers who are both bird enthusiasts. Idle chat about bird behaviors stoked the nerd fire in my fat soul, and I decided I wanted to try my hand at a fantasy bird race–if only because I’ve never seen a story that made them unapologetically inhuman.

In my experience, animal people in Fantasy are often just humanoid with animal heads. Worse, they’re very, very often presented as a replacement for existing human races and the social issues they face (i.e. the Khajiit and Argonians from Elder Scrolls standing in for human minorities, thus animalizing those minorities and devaluing their struggles).

Naturally, I fucking hate that. However, I thought it would be really interesting if a Fantasy animal-person race didn’t replace an existing race or shoulder their issues, but, instead, complimented them. Thus, this scene, which proposes a Fantasy race of bird people who were wildly, intentionally different from all human races, paired with a dark-skinned character who wasn’t.

If you enjoyed this experiment, and want to see more posts like this, or the other strange, manic writings of an adult man trying to get his life in order and get published at the same time, well, fuck, go ahead and hit that subscribe button on the sidebar to the left of this page. Or feel free to follow me on Twitter @LSantiagoAuthor.

Either way, thanks for reading, and, as always, write well.

Drafts – The Steelskins

Musa almost walked into them.

Coming out of Lucky’s, pulling his coat tight against the cloud-dimmed afternoon, he didn’t notice the steelskins until there were six of them, in varying degrees of contrapposto.

Only one of them eyed Musa–a stern look through a dented visor, promising there were no answers to be had here.

The others were fanned out, scuffed leather hands keeping other citizens back–away from two workers with a mop and brush. They shared a bucket between them, filled with water made frothy and pink by red bristles.

Musa knew he could ask what happened–anyone but the steelskins would be eager to gush about the person who had bled out front of Lucky’s.

But there would be significantly less heart in the asking. Someone had bled. Someone always did. If they were alive, good for them. If they were dead, Musa would rather not know.

Because it had happened so quietly–so quickly–that, if not for the steelskins, he would’ve walked past the blood without noticing.

“Alright, alright,” one of the workers said. “That’s enough.”

And one of the steelskins sighed. “The rain’ll get the rest.”

~~~

I like drafting short, throwaway scenes. It’s just practice on days when I feel like I haven’t written enough. I’ll be posting them here now, however, on an extremely loose, unreasonable schedule (Hi, 2AM!). I want to stay consistent with these . . . and I thought they might be interesting.

Thanks for reading. And, if you enjoyed and would like to know when I post again, feel free to click the subscribe button on the left side of the screen. You can also follow me on Twitter @LSantiagoAuthor.