NaNoWriMo update, and Chapter 1
So here we are, near the end of Day Two of NaNoWriMo. I’ve been setting my word count goals at 2,000 words per day, on the theory that this gives me some leeway for when I inevitably screw up.
Right now my word count is just over 5,000. I’m feeling pretty good about that, and taking the rest of the night off to watch classic (or at least old) horror movies with popcorn & beer. I’m going to post the first chapter of my incredibly rough draft here for your reading… er…. for your reading.
I haven’t really found my tone for this book yet. And that’s okay, NaNoWriMo is about quantity, not quality. So far it’s looking like a sort of fanfic crossover between Discworld and the Dresden Files. I’ve had a lot of fun dreaming up the world these characters live in. This chapter is going to be under the same Creative Commons license all my blog posts are, which means you can share it as long as you take no money, give me credit, and link back here.
This is a real adventure for me. I never learned to write a proper outline, you see, so while I have a few ideas for how things might turn out, I’m really making this up as I go. With only a few exceptions I honestly don’t know what’s foreshadowing and what’s a red herring or just flavor filler.
I don’t know how long I can keep going before I paint myself into a corner, but I have a few ideas for escaping if I get stuck, including radically changing the genre of the book if things get desperate.
Without further ado, here’s the first chapter of my as-yet-unnamed novel. (The footnote might be a little awkward, sorry about that.)
They say the world used to be a sphere.
That’s about the only thing the stories agree on, really. The world was a sphere and something happened and now it’s a cylinder. It’s amazing how many wildly different stories you can get out of that. Giants molding it into a new shape, or the old world being destroyed and remade into the new, or people abandoning the spherical world with a new one they made themselves.
The one my grandmother told me was that people lived on the outside of the sphere, but found the sky too terrifying to bear. So they turned the world inside out, but they had to leave a hole when they did it. They remade the world into a cylinder with the hole high up one side, so no-one could fall out of it.
I don’t think my grandmother’s story was true. On clear nights the University lets people use the big telescopes, and when I look at the stars through the hole in the world I can’t imagine people being afraid of a sky full of them.
Whatever the true story is, we live here now. My name is Charlotte Hunt, and I live in the city of Jioda near the southeastern coast of the Tessil Sea. Jioda is one of the larger cities in the Tessil area, and so far we’ve avoided the feudal wars on the far side of the continent.
We watch them, of course. Presumably they watch us, too. Professionals studying their telescopes and recording the sky even during the day, and amateurs using their own equipment or even the University’s public telescopes. There are blogs and newsboards dedicated to tracking the wars.
So far none of the feudal lords have been willing to try anything more hostile than insulting trade agreements and thickly veiled, obviously impotent threats, to my knowledge. There may be more going on that I don’t know about, of course. I’m not exactly part of the inner circle, though at least a few Members of Parliament know me by name.
To be honest, that’s probably not a good thing.
See I have a problem with fairies. Except you never have just one problem with fairies, because fairy problems have a tendency to multiply. The details are really embarrassing, let’s just say that due to a few minor slip-ups, (simple, honest mistakes that anybody could have made and clearly no fault of my own) I owe favors to a couple of Fae. And possibly insulted some nobles, or perhaps one of the entire Fairy Courts1 enough that they’ll look for ways to make trouble for me if they can.After my second fairy favor wound up exposing a nasty plot within the city government while seriously embarrassing several powerful civil servants, the city gave me a job. My official title is “Liaison to the Fae”, but my actual job is to keep fairies from making trouble in the city, or failing that try to turn any of their interference into something beneficial, or failing thatjust keep them from embarrassing anyone powerful. The pay sucks, but the benefit package is nice.So that’s why, as I was sitting at my desk at home trying to work out what I needed to do to get reinstated at the University and back on track to graduating (Again. Stupid drunken elves.), the telltale sparks of the spirit portal opening in my front yard produced a sigh of resignation rather than screams of panic.
At least I hadn’t actually filed any of the paperwork this time.
I opened my front door and faced a small woman entirely colored in shades of green and gold. I don’t just mean her clothes, either. She wore an ankle length green dress and a green and gold woven belt with a pouch and a dagger on it. A crown of golden flowers with green stems sat on her head. Her feet were bare, and her toenails glittered. Her eyes were shockingly green on gold, the pupils vertical slits, like a cat’s, and though I couldn’t see her ears beneath the waves of golden hair I knew they were long with pointed tips.
Could have been worse, at least it wasn’t Diat.
“Sage Laella, welcome. What brings you to my home?” I greeted her politely partly from instinctive good manners and partly because it’s unwise to provoke the Fae casually, but mostly because as annoying as it was to be interrupted and to know that life was about to get complicated again, I honestly had nothing against Laella. Sure, she was a vain, petty, alien being of frightening power with all the empathy and compassion of a feral cat, but she’d never done anything deliberately cruel. Well, not to me, at least.
“Liaison Charlotte, how good of thee to receive us without an appointment. I apologize for approaching thee outside thy office hours, but the matter could not wait. May we enter?” They all talk like that. I’m not even sure they’re using the grammar properly, I kind of suspect it’s just an act because they think we expect them to talk funny.
I stood aside and let her enter, and got my first good look at her companion.
He was the most human fairy I’d ever seen. He stood average height for a human man and was all shades of brown, with dark skin and long black hair in dozens, maybe hundreds of little braids. He wore a loose shirt under a tight waistcoat mottled in shades of brown, brown trousers with tall brown boots and gold rings in his ears. The effect was sort of a pirate crossed with a lawyer, but it worked for him. He bowed politely and Laella decided it would be dramatically appropriate to remember her manners.
“Liaison Charlotte, allow me to introduce my son, Damien. Damien, this is Liaison to the Fae for City Jioda, Charlotte.” I thought there might have actually been a touch of pride in her voice, but it was probably her imagination. The two looked nothing alike, but that meant nothing with the Fae. It’s a glamor thing.
“Nice to meet you, Damien. Is this just a social visit? If you’d called ahead I would have made tea.” I kept my voice polite, but there was no use trying to mask my impatience. She’d used my city title and that made me nervous, if she was here for my official capacity and not cashing in a favor then it would probably mean a lot of trouble that wouldn’t get me any more out of debt.
This was only slightly worse than cashing in a favor, of course, since those always seemed likely to get me arrested or killed or dressed in lingerie near drunk fratboys with good wifi.
But maybe I was being too negative, maybe she just wanted to visit and chat and introduce her son. Maybe she was just trying to set us up on a date or something, it could be totally innocuous.
Yeah, and maybe a million flaming winged monkeys would fly out of the river and perform aerial ballet for the delight of the city’s nightlife.
Laella had the decency to get to the point.
“There is a problem which I think falls within thy professional purview,” she said, crushing my dreams as casually as brushing lint off the furniture, “and as there might be some danger I think it would be an advantage to everyone if Damien were to accompany thee.”
The drama of the moment felt like I should argue against taking Damien with me, maybe shout something over the top about how I work alone. Which was not going to happen. I wasn’t a maverick cop in an action movie or a hard-boiled detective out of a cheap novel, I was an anthropology student who got sidetracked. He looked strong and had fairy magic, if I couldn’t squirm out of doing this I was absolutely taking all the help I could get!
My “professional purview” mostly consisted of reminding the Fae that they’d be expected to obey Jioda laws while in the city and assuring Mrs. Feotesi that it was probably a neighborhood dog that dug up her garden and not gremlins, but if she can get a picture of it I’ll see what I can do.
Increasingly, I was also taking complaints from fairies about mortals. Nobody had expected that when they invented the job and gave it to me, but the title does imply diplomacy. The Fae had decided that if the city had a liaison for them, they must therefore be entitled to liaise with her.
So I get a couple visits per week from urban sprites about the attitude of street vendors, or the color of the buildings, or the quality of the graffiti, or how all the street signs use the same font. Even in this city most people probably don’t believe fairies exist, they’re so unobtrusive, but the little ones are everywhere. And since the city appointed my their liaison, they tell me everything they think about the city. Once in a while they just stop in to chat.
On the one hand, it keeps my office hours from being interminably dull, but on the other if it becomes generally assumed by the Fae that I’m a sort of universal complaints department for all things mortal I’m going to be swamped. I need to do something to discourage but since I don’t have a clearly defined job description it’s difficult to tell them “Hey, not my job,” so other than making it clear that it’s unlikely anything will be done to change the aesthetic design of the fountain in Circle Square I don’t know what options I have.
I file a report on every complaint. I don’t know if anyone else ever reads them, but they’re in the database so nobody can say I’m just ignoring the plight of the pixies.
Thinking about doing something potentially dangerous as the city’s Liaison scared me. It would set a terrifying precedent where I’d be expected to do dangerous things again. For the lowest pay grade offered for government work. Without even shaving a favor off my fairy debt.
I had to nip this in the bud right away.
“Sage Laella, I don’t see how my, er, professional capacity could include anything dangerous, my position is entirely, uh…” and here I hesitated. If I said “diplomatic”, I was probably inviting a lot more work that I didn’t really know how to do negotiating with crazy Fae, but it was probably the most honest thing I could say that wouldn’t be insulting. Better go for vague, “…clerical.” I finished lamely.
She smiled warmly, while her eyes went cold. Neat trick.
“Thou does thyself an injustice, surely thy position is one of respect and diplomacy. Nothing less would do for the official conduit between mortal government and the Fae courts. And any danger would be small, as this mostly concerns one of thine own people.”
Yes. Because normal, mortal humans are never, ever especially dangerous to other normal, mortal humans. She’d checkmated me on the job title though, I couldn’t possibly play it down without insulting her and what passes for her government. If I’m going to have to deal with this sort of thing, I should really have staff.
“Why don’t you tell me what’s going on.” I prompted, in the mad hope that I might be able to get a straight answer. To my shock, she nearly gave me one.
“There is dark magic at work on the riverfront, and none of mine own people are involved. Other forces are at work, including at least one mortal. There may or may not be other Fae involved, but I have reason to believe there is outside influence at work. It needs to be dealt with, and it needs to be dealt with now.”
There was an uncomfortable silence as I digested that. Okay, it was totally lacking in details, but by Fae standards Laella had been astonishingly straight with me. I don’t think a fairy had ever given me so much information simply for asking. That itself made me nervous.
And if it needed to be dealt with now, it couldn’t wait for me to kick it upstairs to the government which may or may not take it seriously. Which was probably what I should do, what my job really entails. But Laella wouldn’t see it that way, she’d brought it to me so it would be my responsibility to make sure it was dealt with.
I was trying to calculate how long I could live on my savings if I just got on the next train going far away when a thought distracted me.
“Laella, even if a human is involved, if magic is the problem how does it include me? I mean, humans can’t do magic…” I trailed off as she tilted her head just ever so slightly to the side. My blood ran cold. “Laella, that’s a very ominous silence. Humans can’t work magic, right?”
“Strictly speaking, no. Humans cannot practice magic.”
“And from a more… practical standpoint?”
She smiled. She actually smiled! I could have hit her.
“There are ways through which a mortal can command magical forces. They tend to be difficult and dangerous and have a very high price, but they do exist.”
“And you think a human’s gotten ahold of one of these ways, and is using it to do bad stuff. At the riverfront of my city. And you think it’s dangerous, so you want me to take your son as backup while I deal with it.”
“Succinctly put, yes.”
“What kind of magic?”
“We are not sure, but it tastes bad.”
I blinked. The magic tastes bad? She must have read it on my face because she added, “Thy language is not always up to the task of communicating concepts of magic and perception. ‘Smell’ would probably be more accurate, but it would be easily confused for actual smells.”
I was about to ask her why they weren’t telling the city government, if the Fae weren’t going to handle it themselves, when I realized that she was. I was Liaison to the Fae, so if they needed to talk to the city, they talked to me. I’d never seriously interacted with the other people at City Hall, whether they believed in fairies or not they all thought my job was a joke. If I took this in, would anyone even believe me? Could I just call the cops about this?
So far my dealings with fairies had played out like demented sitcoms or goofy college movies. Embarrassing, wacky hijinks that were weird and scary and a lot of trouble, but nobody got seriously hurt and the people still in jail were those who clearly deserved it. This was more like a cloak & dagger horror story where people got killed.
I could get killed.
I added “Hunt down the pompous bureaucrats who decided to call me a liaison and make them suffer” to my mental to-do list, right behind “flee the continent” and then I realized I was starting to panic. If I didn’t do something soon I was going to start crying in front of the fairies, and that would probably look bad.
I was startled by Laella’s hand on top of mine. Her face was cool and relaxed as if we were just chatting over tea, but the touch was surprisingly kind. Her hand was soft and very cool. She looked into my eyes and said, “We have every confidence in thy government, and thine own capabilities. You should have little trouble dealing with it.”
That actually calmed me down a lot. Obviously, if it were really dangerous she wouldn’t send her own son into it, and she wouldn’t be capricious enough to bring me a problem she didn’t think I could handle. Of course, she also said “you”, which to a fairy is plural. She expected me to have support that I wasn’t sure would be there.
I took a deep breath as surreptitiously as I could. Best bet was to try to pass the buck, and if that failed at least make the best of a bad situation, “Well, um, why don’t you give me as much information as you can about it and I’ll see what we can do. It may be difficult to involve your son in any official capacity, though, do you really think it’s necessary? Most likely my involvement will end with a meeting where I tell everything I know and pass it on to other parts of my government.”
She was way ahead of me, of course. This time I’d counted on that. “My son will serve as thy contact to my people, we would like to be kept informed of developments. As he is as-yet untitled, we would take it as a personal favor if he could be involved as much as possible, as any chance to distinguish himself would be beneficial to his future.”
Right, he was a spy.
“A personal favor? So this would reduce my debt?”
“No, thy debts are not to my person, but it will create new debts to thee, which may be useful to paying thine own.”
“Two favors, then. One from each of you.”
“Agreed. We will email files shortly, and Damien will meet thee here tomorrow morning.”
“Okay. I’ll contact my government as soon as you leave and tomorrow we’ll see what can be done.”
“Shall I bring thee coffee tomorrow?” I realized it was the first time I’d heard Damien speak, I’d run right over him during our introduction. He had a resonant tenor voice that reminded me of his mother somehow.
“I would appreciate that, but it wouldn’t count as your favor.” I answered, and he smiled the smile of someone who hadn’t really expected it to be that easy, but thought it was worth a try anyway. I felt a little smug.
As I locked up behind them, I heard Damien speak and stood with my ear against the door for a moment.
“Is this going to work, Mother?”
“She’s more capable that she looks. If she has the sense to be eavesdropping on us now, she’ll manage just fine.”
Then there was a crackling, tearing sound and sparks flashed in my window as the spirit portal back to Faerie opened.
Martin Degauss was my nominal boss at City Hall, so I called him and got his voicemail. I left a fairly long message telling him pretty much all I knew and doing a very good job of not pointing out that I was now being treated like a diplomat by a foreign government because he’d never got around to specifying exactly what I was supposed to do.
Then I went into my tiny kitchen to make tea and reheat some pizza. While I was doing that my phone dinged. Fairies had just emailed me.
As I took my dinner back to my desk to see what I could learn about black magic on the riverfront, I felt suddenly certain that I wasn’t going to make it back to school this semester.