NaNoWriMo update, and Chapter 2
I got off to a strong start on National Novel Writing Month, but that didn’t last. I got stuck trying to figure out what to do next, and wound up spinning my wheels a lot. I’m trying to adopt a philosophy of “I’ll fix it in the second draft!” but it’s not coming easily.
I don’t know what my wordcount is right now, but I’m sure that I’m far behind. It may already be too much for me to get to 50,000. And that’s okay, I’m going to keep working on it anyway. For all my whining about this project, I’ve gotten more actual story written than I have for the space opera setting I’ve been planning for over a year and a half now!
Chapter 2 could be subtitled “In which there is much pointless talking, and very little happens.” Neither me nor my characters knew what to do next, so I wound up writing dialogue as they flailed around trying to figure out what to do. There are a few good moments, but mostly it’s just boring.
NaNoWriMo is about quantity, not quality. I’m trying to remember that. When I’m done, if I hate it, I’ll fix it in the second draft!
I honestly hadn’t planned to post any more of this, but since I’ve had multiple people ask me when I’m posting the next chapter I may as well. This means, of course, that you have only yourselves to blame. Read on if you dare!
(Or, go back to Chapter 1)
The surf washed across my bare feet and swirled around the cloven hooves of a mighty creature standing next to me. Its shoulder stood as high as my head, and it had a glossy black hide, a horse-like head, a goat-like beard, and a huge ebony-black horn, more than a meter long. Blood dripped from the horn’s needle tip.
We looked at the sea, this creature and I, and watched a red light appear to sink into it. There were a few clouds in the sky painted shades of orange and pink by the light. They looked like watercolor paintings, not entirely real. The red orb in the distance shimmered as it touched the water, as if distorted by heat.
I looked up at the empty sky. Blue fading to orange fading to black in every direction, I couldn’t see the curve of the world rising on the horizon. I felt gripped with a sudden terror that I was going to fall off the world, fall into that vast empty sky. I looked back at the red orb, so bright and potent that it lit the whole sky, yet falling, falling into the water. The air was warm, but cooling. The orb looked hot. It should have been hot, yet there was no steam. It seemed almost to pass behind the water.
I felt a drop strike my cheek, and reached up to wipe it away. Blood stained my fingers. I turned and the great black horse-monster was looking at me, it’s huge horn angled so the dripping tip was just over my head. It’s black eye looked into mine, it looked more like a deep abyss than an eye, and the thing nodded it’s head as if to say, “You may be next to get skewered, but again you may not.”
Then it turned and walked away in the surf, and I heard a banging noise far away.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling. It had to be morning, because there was light in my window, right? The light was a bit bluer than I was used to, but it was light.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
Someone was knocking on my front door. My actual door. Actual knocks.
I forced myself to sit up and shook my head, the dream still lingering, then yelled something about patience and virtues as I dragged myself to my feet and pulled on a robe.
Damien was on my front porch. I probably would have murdered him on the spot if he hadn’t handed me coffee.
I had got dressed, toasted a bagel, and was halfway through the coffee when I realized I might have walked into a trap.
“Hey Damien, where did you get this coffee?” I asked casually, with a nonchalant wavering tremor in my voice.
“From the cafe two blocks away. It’s mortal food, not fairy-make. Thou needn’t worry.”
Well, that was one worry down, but I had plenty of others. Martin Degauss had eventually called me back with what amounted to “Keep the cops on speed dial and be careful, you’re on your own. Let me know if you find anything. Good luck!”, but at least he’d included an inside police phone number and promised me that they would take me seriously if I called for backup.
He explicitly didn’t promise that they wouldn’t laugh at my title.
The fairy files were… complicated. They had a lot of words, but actually said very little, at least very little that was useful to me. The bits about how they knew there was bad juju going on was sort of… technical, in the magical sense, and I suspect I’d need to talk to Damien about that because it sounded like there were implications that I was missing.
About the only immediately useful information was a series of locations along with times that things had happened. The locations were scattered around the city, almost all of them near the river. The times were sometimes very precise, to a minute in one case, and sometimes vague, sometime during a two-day period. I didn’t know if that was because of what was being done or the methods used to determine that something was being done at all. More questions for Damien.
There was also a short primer on the nuts and bolts of magic available to mortals. And that scared me a lot after I’d read it.
The short version is that mortals can’t do magic. But they can sometimes get other beings to do it on their behalf, through several methods which all boil down to doing something for this otherworldly being which then provides magic for you. There are simple transactions, which are as simple as you provide some service or commodity that the other being needs and then it does the mojo for you, contracts where you have an agreement that anytime you need it you pay a small price to the being in exchange, sponsorships where you can use the power pretty freely as long as it’s in the sponsor’s interests, and indenture where you’re on the being’s staff and can use it as much as your master allows.
It briefly mentioned a few other methods such as evocation and possession, but didn’t go into detail since the Fae were pretty sure it wasn’t one of those.
It also contained Damien’s contact information. I’d never added a fairy to my phone book before.
We stepped outside and I locked my front door and then looked up at the sky. I was almost never out this early. The sollux was still lighting up, a blue line streaking north/south across the sky. Looking straight up I could almost make out the far side of the world past it, which would soon be washed out in blue skies and blazing light. The horizon curved up to the east and west, the way it had my whole life, and I shook away thoughts of the dream.
Work to do.
We took a rickshaw to City Hall. Damien wanted to go check out the sites right away, but I had other priorities. If I was going to have to play detective, I wanted to do all the boring, safe parts first and hope I wouldn’t have to get to the dangerous bits.
I explained that a little to him. I’d swear he was disappointed.
My first stop was to check in with Degauss. Martin Degauss was one of those guys who looked like he was in his mid-to-late-40s from age 25 until around age 80. I think his hair had gone silver when he was still in school. I’d seen a picture of him that was nearly 20 years old, and it could have been taken that morning. It was kind of creepy, really.
I didn’t give Degauss any time to think, but swept into the break room where he was pouring coffee and made introductions, “Martin Degauss, this is Damien of the Summer Court of Faerie. Damien, Administrator Martin Degauss of the City of Jioda. Damien is here to represent the Court’s interests while we look into this whole black magic thing.”
I was magnificent, I’d dominated the room and made it sound like I did this every day, I’d talked to the boss I’d barely seen as casually as if we’d been comparing lunches and I’d said “black magic thing” like it was a minor, every day hassle that we just had to put up with. His eyes should have popped right out of his skull.
Degauss didn’t even so much as blink. He just took it in stride and didn’t even seem to notice me deflating. “Ah, yes, good morning Ms. Hunt. A pleasure to meet you Mr. Damien, hopefully we’ll get this taken care of quickly and smoothly. I’ll have my secretary get you a visitor’s badge, you’ll probably need one. Coffee?”
“No, but thank thee,” said Damien warmly, “We should really get straight to work.”
“Of course, of course. Ms. Hunt, I hope you’ll forgive us for the lack of resources, but we don’t have much to go on right now. When you have more information we’ll be able to give you more to work with, but until we have a good idea what you’ll need you’re not going to get much. I can lend you the use of an intern and temporarily raise your database clearance, will that do for the moment?”
I found my tongue, “Yes, that should give me enough to narrow things down a bit. Um.” I hesitated, uncomfortably aware of the Fae in the room, listening, “If I could hire or at least consult a detective it would be very helpful, I’m not really trained for this sort of investigation.”
His eyes narrowed. What was he thinking? Was he, as he appeared, an understaffed and under-equipped administrator doing his best to help me, or was he being polite in front of the stranger and sure I was wasting everyone’s time?
He didn’t make a fuss about Damien being a fairy, he just accepted it.
“I think I can help you at least a little on that count. I’ll send some things over with the intern. In the meantime, your anthropology training should be enough to get you started, so head over to your office. Your new clearance should be active by now.”
We thanked him and headed towards my office, and were almost there when I realized that he must have ordered the change in my clearance first thing this morning, or even last night, for it to be active this early.
We started by comparing dates and times to incident reports. It was slow going at first, but after about a half-hour an intern named Irwin arrived with a temporary pass for Damien, a folder for me, and more knowledge of the city’s database system than anyone younger than me should be allowed to have.
While Damien and Irwin the intern compared incident reports to the Fae records, I opened the folder and found a profile of a retired police detective. A sticky note in Degauss’s handwriting provided a current phone number. The retired detective’s name was George Degauss. I decided it would be best to exhaust other options first and put the folder in my desk drawer.
There were two likely connections between the incident reports and the fairy list, both in a warehouse district right up on the water. In both cases, someone reported screams and other sounds of violence and fear less than an hour before the fairies reported bad mojo in that same area.
I was feeling a lot less confident about this when I thought about that a little. It got even worse when Irwin the intern pointed out that most of the other sites on the fairy list were such bad neighborhoods that it would be unlikely that anyone would report violence in the area. I had a nasty feeling that it was only a matter of time before I visited each site.
I examined the map we’d put up with circles showing the rough areas where Fae bad mojo detectors had detected bad mojo. There was some overlap right by the river, and only one was appreciably far from the waterfront. The areas were too vague to really pinpoint a building. They weren’t rich areas or happy fun places, they were parts of town people wouldn’t go to unless they had a reason, but there was nothing to suggest a connection between them except perhaps the river.
I turned to Damien, who was sitting in my chair also staring at the map, and asked “What can you tell me about the methods used to find these spots?”
He scrunched up his face as he thought, which I’d never seen one of the large noble fairies do before. It looked almost cute.
“It’s difficult to think in magic terms here, but thou could think of it as ripples in water. When something moves between the worlds without a spirit portal, it makes waves. We picked up the waves from the first one here, “ he pointed to the largest circle, the one farthest from the river. “nine days ago. It was already at least an hour old. We used other methods for the rest, they didn’t make any waves.”
“Sooo….” I tried to follow the weird magic thread, but couldn’t get past the blindingly obvious, “the others weren’t something passing between worlds, they were something else. Would you have found the others if you hadn’t been looking for them?”
“No, we would not. The others, they were more like…” his face looked almost pained as he tried to find a metaphor, “holding a sheet of paper in the rain, and counting droplets to see how much ’tis raining…” He sighed, clearly dissatisfied, “This conversation would be much easier if thou spoke High Sidhe.”
“I’ll bet. So there could have been more before you picked up the splash?”
“Thy surmise is correct, there could have been many more of them before we started looking. To answer thy next question, we could have missed earlier ‘splashes’, too. This has been going on for at least ten days, but perhaps much longer.”
I looked back at the city’s incident reports. The two that looked related were both in the last four days. Escalating? Getting sloppy? Totally unrelated?
“We have way too many questions here.” I grumbled. Then I asked some more, “Damien, why are your people so sure this is bad? I mean, couldn’t it be something harmless?”
“What sense did my mother use to describe it?”
“Taste, then. It tastes of the grave, Liaison. Whatever it does involves death in some way, and beings of power do not lend to mortals who have conflicting goals. If we are fortunate this is merely purchased power from an apathetic being, but there may be mortal agents serving to further a darker agenda for a powerful entity. We must find out soon, bad things are likely already happening and left unchecked will get worse. Even now I can taste the grave. Anyone want some more coffee?”
Which a slightly dazed look on his face Irwin shook his head and I handed over my cup, and the fairy man stepped out of my tiny office and walked towards the break room.
“He’s serious.” Irwin said, slowly. “I mean, he really believes this.”
“Yes, and so do I.” I sounded a lot more calm and confident than I felt. Go me. I sat down in my comfortable office chair. “We need to find something to go on here, right now the best I’ve got is going out to those sites and looking, and that doesn’t seem likely to get us anywhere because if there was anything obvious someone would have reported it by now.“
Irwin was still having a culture shock moment. So far he was dealing with it better than I had. “And he’s really a fairy?”
“Laella says so, though he looks a lot more human than any fairy I’ve ever met. You wouldn’t even doubt it if you saw her, she’s shaped like us, but she doesn’t look like us. Maybe that’s why she sent him, he can blend in better.”
We sat in silence for a moment. I studied his face as he sort of stared off into space, wheels turning behind his eyes. Then, because I needed to know, I lowered my voice and asked, “Irwin, are you going to be able to work with this?”
His eyes snapped into focus on mine, “Yes. It’s a little weird, but I can work with it. If it’s for real then it’s important, and if it turns out you’re all crazy Degauss won’t let it hurt my career.”
On that happy note, Damien came back with the coffee and sat on the edge of my desk. I turned to him and started monologuing, putting more effort than I should have into sounding like I knew what I was doing, “The way I see it, we don’t have enough information to act decisively, so our options are limited. We can wander the city looking for something weird and asking questions, which might get lucky, but has a chance of tipping off… whoever or whatever is making grave-flavored mojo. We can try to guess where the next event will be and set up a stakeout. Less likely to tip our hand, but also needs more luck to pay off. Or we can squeeze the Fae for more information.”
Damien suddenly looked uncomfortable. “Er, how much squeezing didst thou have in mind?”
It really wasn’t fair to him, it wasn’t his fault. But I was annoyed and frustrated, and still a little scared by the whole thing, so I gave him a shark’s smile and answered in an extra-sweet voice, “As much as it takes, of course.”
Irwin totally ruined my dramatic moment by barking with laughter, and my smile lost its vicious edge. I may have giggled a little. “Seriously, Damien, we’re stuck here! Is there anything else you can tell us? Will that juju detector tell us if there’s another incident?”
Damien glared at us for a solid minute before answering, “It’s not like an alarm system, it needs to be checked periodically. Right now it’s being checked every morning, it is a spell of mine own devising and I checked it before meeting thee. We will be informed if there’s another ripple in the waters between worlds, but otherwise we are on our own.”
I drummed my fingers on the desk.
“This is stupid,” I declared, “We aren’t trained for this, and it’s not our job. We should be handing this off to the cops or someone and just running messages between each other. The best I’ve got is to go poke around occult bookstores or cafés, or later the Vampire Club, and hope we get lucky.”
“You have a club for vampires?” asked Damien.
“Where you’re hoping to get lucky?” added Irwin.
I glared at the both, but death rays utterly failed to shoot from my eyes.
“A thousand comedians out of work in this city, and you two are auditioning here and now?” A sudden thought hit me, “Er, Damien you were joking, right? I mean, vampires aren’t real, are they?”
“So far as I know, vampires are entirely fictitious.” he reassured me, “I presume this is a theme club?”
“Yes, nice place if you like wearing black. Mostly it’s just people who’re a little melodramatic, but some of them seem to take the occult theme very seriously. I figure a real spellslinger would either love that place or never be caught dead in there. It’s gotta be worth a try.”
“Irwin, can thou continue looking for correlations here?” the young man nodded, “We’ll probably need thy skills if we find something, so keep thy phone nearby.”
They swapped contact info, and Irwin said, “I just added a fairy to my phone book.”
“You get used to it.” I said it so casually I wished I had someone to high five.
We were ready to go, but there was something I had to do first.
Okay Damien, if we’re going to do this, I need you to promise me that you’re going to be backing me up. I want your word that you won’t betray or abandon me during this, er, investigation.”
“Thou has it.” he said with magnificently dramatic gravitas.
He wasn’t going to like this. I braced myself and pushed on, “Say it.”
His eyes widened, but he went with it, “I give my word that I will not betray or abandon thou during this investigation.”
“Swear to me that you won’t betray or abandon me while we’re working together.”
His face grew cold and still as he realized what I was doing. “I swear,” he said in a quite, solemn voice, “that I will not betray or abandon thou while we are working together.” When I hesitated, he nodded at me to go on.
“Damien, promise me that you won’t abandon or betray me while we’re working on this.”
“I promise, Liaison,” for an instant I thought I saw tiny flames blaze in his eyes, “that I will not betray or abandon thou while we are working on this. Thrice asked and done.” he said with finality.
Irwin looked confused, and a little concerned by the sudden change of tone in the room. “What was that about?”
Damien nodded at me, so I answered the intern. “Fairies have this… connection to the truth. It’s easy for them to be dishonest, but very hard to be untruthful. I’ve never seen one actually lie. If a fairy says something three times it sort of… becomes true. If he’d planned to betray me, he wouldn’t be able to now. Not until we’re done working on this, at least.”
“That may not be as simple as thou thinks, Liaison.” the fairy man interjected, “While I am Fae by law and custom, my mother Laella adopted me. My birth parents were human mortals, just as you are.”
“But…” I stopped. I took a breath.
Irwin’s jaw seemed to be actually on the floor.
I tried again. “How…” I trailed off. I closed my mouth and thought a moment. “You can do magic. How can you do magic if you’re human?”
“As I just said, Laella adopted me. Legally I’m Fae.” At our blank faces Damien sighed and rolled his eyes, then said in a very irritated voice, “The worst part about mortals and the mortal realm is the complete lack of respect for the law!”