Vir's Archive

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Precipice Part 14: Bring the Beast Down!




... [continued from part 12]

The Elemental’s fist came down again, this time to finish off one of the wounded guards that was no longer mobile enough to stay out of the Elemental’s path.  Its attacks were uncoordinated and appeared to focus only on the wounded and those directly in front of the Elemental.  Jarious ordered the men to concentrate on flanking the Elemental and only occasionally stand in its way to slow it down. 

Again, the creature’s massive fist swung in, a green ball of light streaked in and struck the Elemental’s hand dead center.  Arrious’ arrow flew true, and its enchantment was enough to disrupt the Elemental’s form.  At the impact point, small arcs of green lightning danced on the creature’s form and then radiated in irregular patterns across the Elemental’s body.  The Elemental’s swing abruptly stopped, all the momentum from its attack evaporated in a magical flash.  Two heartbeats later, the interrupted swing continued - this time slower and with no momentum.  The break in the attack gave the injured guardsman the crucial time he needed to get beyond the Elemental’s arm radius.  The remaining guard and volunteers took the initiative to continue their attacks, hacking away at the creature and removing large patches of dirt and detritus.  The Elemental healed much of the physical attacks against it, though Jarious could see the guards and irregulars were, indeed, slowing the creature down. 

“AGAIN!” Jarious yelled at Arrious.  “Drive it back.”  The creature didn’t show any meaningful emotion, and it was immune to pain, but Jarious was sure he was finally turning the tide of the battle. 

Arrious was not a fast bowman.  His strength was in his unerring accuracy - easily the best, steadiest, and most consistent archer Jarious had ever known.  Luckily, speed wasn’t what Jarious needed at that moment.  With the remaining guards and irregulars pushing at the Elemental ’s flanks and the shaman assaulting the creature with spirits, what Jarious know needed was deadly accuracy. 

Arrious swiftly drew and knocked an arrow from his quiver.  His trained hand pulled the string back as he lifted the bow and aimed in one continuous action.  Jarious saw Arrious mouth the word “now” and the mage finished the incantation for the sickly green incandescent manifestation of the spell that slithered from the spellcaster’s hands onto the arrowhead.  When the spell was completed, the caster stepped back and Arrious exhaled slowly, holding completely still and waiting for the right moment to strike. 

There.

The arrow loosed with a purpose, defying attempts by the wind and sky to slow it down.  It flew true and struck the Elemental  just as the construct's other fist was at its apex in the midst of a swing.  Again, the green magic erupted into arced lightning on the Elemental ’s fist.  Again, it stopped moving for a few heartbeats.  Again its renewed swing was perceptibly slower. 

“Again!  Press the advantage,” Jarious exhorted.  The Elemental had lost the initiative, but the humans had yet to truly capitalize.  They simply didn’t have enough crucial magic to hold it off. 

“Need help?”  Jarious turned around to the familiar voice of Fovreh. 

“Tyrant’s balls, about time.”  Jarious pointed to the guards and militia.  “Help them bring it down.”  

“Fine.”  Fovreh, annoyingly relaxed, began a spell that took only a few seconds to complete.  He reached outwards with his right hand which was enveloped in blue swirling light.  The light shot from his arm towards one of the two remaining guards.  Jarious noted that Fovreh chose the last remaining guard that had not yet been wounded.  The guard’s axe flashed a brilliant blue like the color of the sky on a humid summer’s day, and the next swing that made contact with the body of the Elemental  saw minuscule lightining arcs, like those of Arrious’ enchanted arrows.  Again, with the lightning came sluggishness from the Elemental . 

“Finally,” Jarious thought, “the axes and swords did something besides give the soldiers and irregulars a false sense of confidence.”  Fovreh mumbled a few obscenities for reasons Jarious could not comprehend, and let loose a series of similar long-range enchantments.  They didn’t do anything more than make the weapon magical, but that’s all that was needed.  Plus, Jarious knew the simplicity of the spell meant that Fovreh could cast it from a distance.  More intense magical processes required proximity to work.
 
Arrious’ arrows continued to fly, hitting critical areas of the Elemental in yeoman-likefashion.  Now with stronger enhancements on their melee weapons, the men under Jarious’ ad hoc command began to make real damage on the Elemental ’s form.  Dirt, stone and earth were hacked away and not replaced.  With each hit, the Elemental slowed more.  Even the spiritual attacks appeared to be doing significant damage where only a few seconds earlier they were only a nuisance. 

In the corner of his eye Jarious could see Grawfn run in from the city directly towards a large collection of the dead and dying.  Rather than axe in hand Grawfn had already pulled his poultices and waterskin. 

Arrows flew.  Spirits attacked.  The wounded were administered to.  Soldiers and irregulars swung their weapons with renewed vigor.  Jarious commanded.  The battle was in hand, but he was damned sure he would not allow some overconfident fool to piss away their advantage. 

The Elemental, reduced to half its colossal size to something akin to simply "huge," unexpectedly exploded, its magical essence unable to hold its humanoid form together any longer.  The closest men fell back, and shielded their faces from the earthen assault, but no one seemed to be seriously injured in the immediate aftermath – simply very, very soiled. 

Jarious looked for Gral, but could not see him among the living. 

“Good day,” Fovreh muttered to no one in particular.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Precipice Part 13: The Fight Continues (continuation of part 12)


...

Jarious pointed at the men vainly fighting the Elemental.  “Shield them.  I don’t care how you do it, but get those guards some sort of magic to make that Elemental’s fists hurt less.  We need time, and those men can buy us a few minutes.”  Jarious looked over his shoulder, hoping one of the wolfings would arrive son.  He looked back at the mage who was already moving his hands in slow circular patterns to start the invocation needed to summon magical energy which he would then craft into a spell. 

The shaman had stopped his interaction with the spirits and stared at Jarious, the look on his face was expectant.

Again, Jarious had no time to deal with fools.  “Order one of your spirits to find the shaman Morrow and guide him here.  He is probably already on his way.  When Avorian’s messenger found me in my mother’s house, I sent the messenger to find my compatriots.  With luck, some or all of them are not far.  Find Morrow.  Then find the mage Fovreh.  Then the warriors Arrious, Torrain and Grawfn.  In that order.” 

Jarious turned back to the battle and shouted for two of the guardsmen who were slowed by injuries to form up a second row.  Gral barked the orders in response, ensuring his guardsmen followed Jarious’ directions. 

“Oh.”  Jarious turned back to the shaman.  “And once one of your spirits finds one of my men, then concentrate on finding reinforcements.  The closest guard keep should be in the leper district.”  Jarious paused to meet the man’s eyes, “Find my men first, only then will you raise the guard.  Understand?”

“Yes commander.”  The shaman turned away from Jarious and started another ritual.  The shaman began to whisper into the air, his eyes darting to the invisible spirit-things that danced around his body.  Without looking at the shaman, Jarious repeated his request, “Morrow.  Fovreh.  Grawfn.  Arrious.  Torrain. ” 

Jarious ordered the two wounded guards in the back row to back off from the fight and stand guard next to the spellcasters.  The number of able-bodied guards was steadily dwindling.  Only six appeared to still be largely mobile.  The heavily wounded, each bent over in their own personal agony while holding broken or fractured bones, moved to the back, still looking forward at the Elemental and trying to stay out of its way. 

The defensive line was one more broken arm away from crumbling.

The Elemental surged forward.  Gral barked orders and the Guards smartly shifted and hacked away at the looming earthen creature’s flanks.  Still, the effort was giving too much ground too quickly.  The Elemental was only about 300 meters from the first buildings and what would prove a much more difficult fight if it could start ransacking buildings.  Jarious had fought smaller Elemental s before in a city environment, and it was a miserable experience, not the least of which was because of the high death count in each case.  An Elemental  of this size would be devastating to Junction.  It had to be stopped.

First though, it had to be stopped from making it to Jarious’ position with the spellcasters.  While closing in on the city, it had veered slightly and was now rumbling towards Jarious’ position.

“Mage?  Shaman?  Finish whatever spell you are working on, we need to move shortly.”  Jarious evaluated the magical creature’s speed.  “And I mean very shortly.”  The spellcasters muttered affirmatives.

Just as Jarious was yanking the mage’s arm to force him to break concentration and move, he saw welcome movement from the corner of his eye.  Arrious was running in at a full sprint.  Once he realized the situation, he pushed himself even more, eyes forward, sweat covering his brow, and spittle trailing from the side of his mouth.  As Arrious approached he placed his hand on his sword and adjusted his momentum to take him away from Jarious and towards the Elemental. 

Jarious shoulders slumped ever so slightly in relief.  He now had resources he knew he could use.  As he pointed to a new spot on a small hillcock for the spellcasters to mount and continue their efforts, he placed his tongue against his upper lip and let out two quick and sharp whistles.  Arrious immediately slowed down and looked at his brother and commander.

Wordlessly, Jarious shook his head no.  Arrious pushed his sword back in its scabbard.  Jarious then pointed to the horizon with his fore and pointing fingers.  Arrious slowed to a stop, withdrew his bow, and feverishly worked to string it. 

“Pour it on, fools!”  Jarious yelled at the guards and spellcasters.  Arrious was a steady hand with his bow.  So steady, in fact, Jarious knew no better shot in all of the freedlands.  He needed to buy Arrious the time to string his bow correctly and find a good position to fire from – both of which required concentration and a steady hand.  Jarious needed to keep the Elemental  as far away from Arrious to keep his older brother steady and calm for the next few seconds. 

Another guard fell.  Only three remained.  They hadn’t broken as Jarious would have anticipated, but their strikes were now nothing to the Elemental .  Only the spells and spirit strikes were slowing the monstrosity at all.

It was up to Arrious. 

Jarious grabbed the mage’s chin and forcefully pointed to Arrious as he finished stringing his bow and stood up to begin the draw.

“That man there with the bow?  Run to him now.  Take his arrows and enchant them…”  The mage opened his mouth to object, likely to ask what spell effect the arrows needed.  “Horseass?!?  It doesn’t matter,” Jarious preemptively interrupted.  “Get to that man and cast any spell that will cling to those arrows.  Now. Do it now!" 

The mage ran as if his life depended on it. 

It did.

In the few seconds it took for the mage to run to Arrious, more relief came.  Hardscrabble men armed with a motley assortment of weapons came running from the city.  Irregulars.  They were all wearing red pieces of cloth tied around their right arms, the symbol of volunteers to the patrol.  They were unseasoned fighters and would trip over themselves as they wildly swung their weapons.  In a normal situation, Jarious would see them for what they were, a dangerous nuisance on the battlefield.  In this case, Jarious planned to use them as essential fodder to buy time for Arrious to do the real damage. 

“You men!  Rally around Sergeant Gral!” Jarious ordered the new arrivals to Gral’s position.  The city guard commander was on a knee, crucial steps away from the trajectory of the Elemental.  He continued to command the remaining men, only two of which appeared uninjured.  The dead and dying trailed behind the Elemental along a path of upturned soil and rock, serving as grim markers of the Elemental ’s path. 

The volunteers blindly ran forward, obviously aware of the supreme danger but ignoring their senses.  The Elemental’s fists swung in long, raking arcs as it systematically fought the new arrivals.  Fist swing after fist swing saw more and more of the foolhardy volunteers crushed to death or desperately gasping for air as their chest collapsed.  Still, they pushed on, motivated by Gral’s exhorts and the fear of what the Elemental would do to their homes.  They stood firm as their friends died. 

...

To be continued... 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Head Cold


Fighting a crazy bad head cold and the kiddos seem to be fighting something similar.  No update this week.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Reflections on Part 12: Editing Is The Real Work




Editing is where the rubber hits the road for writing.

A turn of a phrase is great and all, but editing is where its at, boy-yo!

I remember when I first started freelancing, I assumed that writing was about sitting down and putting words to paper.  I expected that I would edit as I wrote, correcting grammar and spelling as I went and would craft compelling combinations of words through inspiration and emotion.  That's not exactly wrong, but its not the whole story.  Editing is what makes good sentences readable.  I am sure there is some writer/author out there that can craft solid sentences and paragraphs in the majority of their first drafts -- I am not that guy.  

This is my work before editing... its not pretty.  
Fact is, I need three of four editing passes to make my work into something compelling.  Edit one is for grammar and spelling.  Edit two is for flow and to make sure I haven't gone apeshit with the use of adverbs and adjectives (Its a problem. I am seeking counseling), and Edit Three is about refining all of my previous work into something lean and mean, and Edit Four (or Five, or Six...) is all about verisimilitude.  Of course, if Edit Four reveals a particularly glaring mistake, it could require entire rewrites which will start the editing process for that section back to Edit one.

The thing is, when i started writing years ago, I budgeted about 15 minutes of editing for every hour I vomited words.  I could not have been more wrong on managing my time.  These days, it a straight 1:1 process, which doesnt include the extra work put in by my volunteer peer editors (hey Aileen, Alicia and Mel!).  -- all told there is a lot more time that goes into my writing than actually writing.

I am not a successful writer, but I have enough credits to my name to give some sound advice.  The most important advice I can give an aspiring author is to learn to love tough edits.  When someone invests the time and energy to redline the ever-living-shit out of your work, its because they care.  The people that don't care?  Yeah, they are off playing playstation and ignoring your latest masterpiece.  When someone you trust tells you your work is crap, take that advice for the constructive spirit its offered.  Sometimes our stuff is crap, and thank god there are editors out there with the courage to tell us so.

Hm.  I think I am going to start national "Thank Your Editor" day.  Federal holiday, perhaps?

perhaps not.



+++


Incidentally, what you see in these proto-chapters is usually edit two or sometimes three -- never four.  Edit four + I keep for myself.  At some point when I am finishing, there is going to be yet another series of comprehensive edits to try to pull everything together.

And in case there is any question - its always worth it.  Always.  The more time I spend editing, the better my words become.  In a perfect world I would edit and edit for eternity - constantly refining the interplay of the words and intent. Its not a perfect world, and so one day in the near-ish future I will walk away from this manuscript and consider it (mostly) done.

That will be a good day.

But that day is not today.

Today?  Today I have pass two to do on Chapter 16.


+++


P.S. it took 10 minutes to write this post and 18 minutes to edit.  Go me.



Monday, April 7, 2014

Precipice Part 12: Junction Under Attack


(okay, still have tons of editing to catch up on, but I had a week off - time to get back to posting)

Jarious raced through bustling streets into alley after dark alley.  He pushed, and each time he saw a crowd or obstacle such as a pushcart that might slow him down, he followed his instincts and chose another route.  He was short of breath, but had no time to lose.  

Street.  Alley.  Alley. Street. 

“Out of my way!” He screeched, violently waving his arms in a futile attempt to will a passage through the gaggle of people in front of him. 

Street.  Street.  Crowd.  Alley.  Alley.  Low Wall.  Street.  Go. 

As he ran, the alleys became wider, the streets more spacious.  Still at a full sprint, he could stay on the main roads as he reached the northern edge of the city.  Buildings whizzed by less frequently as urban became rural.

He could hear the sounds of combat – men screaming mostly – before he saw it.  One more turn, and the road opened into a lazy rolling hills and fields that disappeared in the distance.  Dominating it all, though, was a four meter tall Earth Elemental.  The Elemental was a stone and earth mockery of the human form with a rough barrel-like torso that extended upwards from the earth.  The Elemental had no legs, its body just melded in one large stump into the ground.  The creature’s robust arms ended in three thick fingers on each hand.  The creature had no head to speak of, just a round bulbous outgrowth where a humanoid head should be.  From that outgrowth glowed two white eye-like lights, burning with the intensity of bonfires.  It sloughed off dirt, detritus, and stones as it moved through the earth, gliding instead of walking.  

Around the creature were a dozen or so city guard, most armed with polearms of some sort.  A few wielded axes and shields.  All were armored in the light leather and chainmail Junction’s guards used as a uniform.  They vainly hacked at the towering Elemental, knocking off stone and earth, but doing no discernible damage.  The smarter of the guard used their polearms to try to push the creature back.  The foolhardy would rush up to the creature, usually from the sides or rear, and tack a few swings at the Elemental. 

As Jarious slowed and concentrated on slowing his breathing, the Elemental reached down and grabbed one of the guards wielding an axe.  The creature practically vibrated with pent-up magical energy siphoned from the earth, and the inhuman strength of the creature was too much for the guard’s fragile body.  He was squeezed like an overripe banana, bones snapping and organs squishing in the effortless grip of the stone monster.  His death-scream was mercifully short due to the ruination of his lungs.

Even at this distance, the hairs on Jarious’ arm started to stand up.  The eldritch energy that animated the Elemental permeated the atmosphere like long-lingering remnants of a lightning strike.  The battlefield smelled like stale bread – a smell Jarious associated with Elementals and the magical creatures of nature. 

In front of the Elemental, but well away from the havoc it was wreaking, was what appeared to be the nominal commander of the guard.  Jarious guessed he was in charge because he was the only one not fighting.  To the commander’s right and left were two spellcasters.  The one to the commander’s right wore a light and flowing robe.  The eldritch blue glow from his eyes and hands marked him as a mage.  The spellcaster to the Commanders left wore leather armor and moved his arms and hands as if he were dancing – clearly a shaman enticing the spirits to do as he wished. 

The mage yelled out the last two undiscernible syllables of an incantation and thrust both hands forward, palms towards the Elemental.  Blue light burst forth from his palms and, like sun rays, raced almost instantaneously to the Elemental.  The magical blue rays lasted only a few seconds, but burned away a swath of dirt from the Elemental’s torso that were slow to be filled in.  Where the magical energy disintegrated the Elemental’s body, angry red swathes of molten earth fell away making it appear like the Elemental was bleeding.  The Elemental , had been advancing steadily towards the city’s edge and a nearby storefront, stopped to assess the damage from the mage’s blasts. 

Magic, unlike the weapons of the guards, appeared to be having a significant effect on the Elemental.  

For a few long seconds, the Elemental did not move except for a few uncoordinated sways of its arms. Then, abruptly, it started forward again.  One guardsman was caught off guard by the Elemental’s restart, and was caught in the arc of the creature’s powerful swinging fists.  A single bone-shattering swat later, and the guardsman lay lifeless on the fields, a bloody pulp of flesh and bone.  Being hit by the Elemental had the same gruesome and inevitable result as being crushed by a boulder. 

Jarious ran up to the commander who still had yet to move, “Who are you?”

The man looked back, startled to be directly addressed.  “I’m Sergeant Thadmium Gral.  This is my district.”  He looked at his men as they continued to try to slow the Elemental s advance towards the city.  He unconsciously took a step back.  “You here to help?”

“Yes.”  Jarious had no time for dealing with the Sergeant.  “I’m in charge.  Get your weapon.  Lord Captain Avorian personally ordered me here to take command of this disaster.”

Gral looked to Jarious and then back at the Elemental .  He opened his mouth to protest.

Before Gral could utter a sound, Jarious moved his left hand to the scabbard on his belt and the hilt of the Legacy Sword.   His right hand went up over his shoulder to pull Eartaker free and ready it for combat.  Upon seeing that Jarious wore a Legacy Blade, the Sergeant closed his mouth.  When he saw Eartaker emerge from behind Jarious’ back, his eyes went wide.  The Sergeant wordlessly drew his axe and nodded once.  His head hung just a bit lower. 

Jarious pointed to the Elemental.  “Stand with your men.  Tell them to create a line in front of the Elemental to slow its advance towards the city.  Don’t worry about hitting it right now, just get your men to harass it and slow it.  Can you do that?” 

Gral nodded.  “Yes.”

“Then go!”

Gral drew his axe and started running to the remaining city guard, shouting orders and pointing. 

As Gral drew near to his men, the mage let loose another series of blue rays.  His first two attacks hit the Elemental  and forced it to pause again.  The third bolt went astray and hit one of the guards.  The man’s armor glowed a feverish red, then an intense white.  His flesh evaporated and boiled away.  He took a couple of stumbling steps with what was left of his face buried in his hands.  He did not get far.  He stumbled once, and fell over dead.  Large parts of his face and torso simply gone. 

Jarious turned to the mage, anger in his eyes and frustration in his voice.  “Hold off with those fool magics you are throwing.  You killed one man with your carelessness already; I won’t have you kill another.  Stand right next to me.  Right.  Here.  If I move, you move.  When I tell you to do something, you figure out the best spell you know and do it.  This is about results, not the process.  Understand?”

“I do,” The mage cocked his head to the side slightly and frowned.  “…Commander.”