Nanowrimo Update: Opening Scene

So I’ve been ploughing ahead with Nanowrimo. That’s me at 27384 words which puts me on target to finish on the 28th according to nanowrimo.org’s excellent progress calculator. I’m keeping a diary which I shall probably publish here when I’m done along with my notes and observations on my progress. In the meantime here’s the opening scene of what is turning into a sort of grimdark, Lovecraftian Wuxia.


“This is going to be bad,” Silverhand said. He sat cross-legged on the prow of the junk, resting the mechanical fingers of his right hand on the painted naga figurehead.

At first, I thought he was talking about the dead bodies floating in the harbour. There were plenty of them, bloated and evil-smelling and some half-eaten. Then I noticed that he was not looking at the water. He was not even looking at the city surrounding the harbour. His gaze was focused on the sky far to the north. It had an odd glow to it, greenish light seeping through cloud gap as if some demon sun hovered over the northern mountains.

“It’s always bad,” I said. “Wherever they send us. That’s why we’re here.”

Silverhand’s gaze drifted back to me. He had the half-focused dreamy look he got when he loaded his pipe with too much mirkweed. He gave me one of his half-crazed smiles. His teeth were very white, his eyes were very blue. A morsel of rice was caught in the cropped grey hair of his short beard. “You know what I like about you?”

“Nothing,” I said. It was an old joke from our days in the Pit. Those seemed a very long time ago now.

“No, man, I’m serious. I admire the way you can assess the situation accurately and just get on with it.” He took another long drag on his pipe, held the drug in for a slow count of three and then exhaled a purple smoke ring. His voice came out squeaky. “I admire that about you.”

The weed had made him mellow and put him in one of his puppyish, slobbering moods. We were going to be best buddies forever. He owed me his life. And so on. I waited for the words to spill out but he must have sensed that I was in no mood for it. I didn’t like the look of Nagapore harbour, and I particularly did not like the way the skinny boys with rags wrapped round their faces were pulling one of the corpses out of the water near our junk and fondling its rotted flesh like chefs inspecting a particularly choise cut of meat.

One of them saw me looking at him, and gave a little wave that was somehow innocent and horrible at the same time. “Yes, it is going to be bad here,” I said quietly.

“Man, I just said that.”

“You got the wraithstone?”

“You don’t need more already do you?”

I pulled the amulet out from under my cotton shirt. Already thin threads of darkness wormed their way through its milky white core. “Not yet, but soon.”

Sleepily Silverhand pulled out his own amulet and held it before his eyes. The crystal rotated, catching the light. He opened his mouth as if to speak but then he saw something inside the stone that captured his whole attention and just stared at it slack-jawed.

I studied the harbour, wondering how many more bodies were down there. One floated nearby, a gull resting on it. Something white gleamed out of the greyish meat. Bone most likely. Most of the bird’s feathers were black and its beak was a foul iridescent red. I was tempted to throw something at it but what good would it do? The corpse was in no position to thank me for stopping its desecration. The bird’s eyes glittered with malevolence. I told myself it was just my imagination.

Wooden ships filled the harbour. Their decks seethed with people. Some of the craft looked as if they were about to depart. Most looked as if they had been converted into permanent floating homes. Washed clothing dangled from their spars and fluttered from their masts. Little kids, faces wrapped, conical hats on their heads, played precariously along their guard-rails while their mothers stood chatting. As I watched one woman reached out and caught a tottering toddler who looked as if he was about to fall into the death-polluted sea. The gesture had the casual quality of someone who had done the same thing a thousand times.

A number of hulks lay sunk in the harbour. In any normal port the authorities would have cleared them away. Of course, Nagapore was not any normal port. Screams and groans of pain came from one of the rotting hulls. The men on the deck wore reddish uniform and carried whips and blades. Prison of some sort. As I watched, the kids who had fished the corpse from the water poled their little raft up to another of the half-submerged junks and were greeted with cheers. I did not want to think too hard about why anybody would feel that way about the finding of a water-logged corpse.

The sailor Silverhand had healed came up. He saw where I was looking and said, “Dinner for today.” He did not sound particularly disgusted, just a little tired.

His voice brought Silverhand out of his trance. “How is the leg?”

“Good, excellency. It set perfectly. I have but the trace of a scar. You would never have guessed it was broken. Same with the arm.”

He did not sound afraid. Sorcerers were supposed to scare people but Silverhand very rarely did. He had a kind of stoned benevolence that made people want to look after him. The sailor smiled when he looked at Silverhand. He did not do the same when he looked at me. He seemed scared. Maybe it was the tattoos. Maybe it was the weapons. It didn’t bother me. Not really. In my line of work, looking scary is an asset.

Silverhand took another drag, blew another smoke ring and squeaked once more. “Birds look strange,” he said, jabbing in the direction of the gulls with his pipestem.

“It’s the Blight Wind, excellency,” said the sailor. “It changes things. Changes people. It’s changed this whole land or so they say. I don’t really know. What I do know is that the less time we spend in this harbour the happier I will be.”

“Sensible man,” said Silverhand, and he sounded like he meant it.

“You are disembarking here, excellency,” the sailor said. He sounded mournful.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Silverhand said. “We have work here.”

I glared at him. Now was not the time to be running his mouth off. Mirkweed too often loosened his tongue these days. If he noticed my daggered look he gave no sign.

“Work, excellency?”

“A man must make a living, eh?”

“Indeed, excellency, but I am sure a healer of your talents could find work anywhere. I am sure the captain would happily pay you to remain aboard.” He turned and looked at me and as an afterthought. “Your bodyguard would be welcome too. Pirates getting worse in these waters and the Drowned are always a problem.”

“I am grateful for the offer, but there are people here who need my talents too.”

The sailor nodded. He thought Silverhand was talking about his talents as a healer. “I suppose so, excellency. The people of Nagapore are lucky to have you come and look after them.”

“You have no idea,” said Silverhand. His eyes widened. His jaw dropped. He glared back over my shoulder and shuddered. The sailor turned too and his tanned features blanched. I craned my neck to see what had frightened them and felt cold rage settle in my heart.

An Ebon Galley oared its way into the harbour. The monotonous beat of its slavemaster’s drum echoed out over the water. The black cloaked captain drifted across its decks, seeming more to float than walk. It was a huge ship, large as the biggest ocean-going junk but built in a completely different style. It was long, low and sleek. An octopus-headed ram jutted just below the waterline of the prow. A double bank of a hundred oars propelled it through the water. Its black sails were stowed.

“Slavers,” said the sailor and made the elder sign over his brow.

“Bastards,” I muttered and clenched the hilt of my sword.

Silverhand broke off from taking another long drag on his pipe to say, “Be calm.”

He was worried though. I could tell he was thinking it was an evil coincidence that an Ebon Galley had arrived on the same day as we had. If coincidence it was.

The sailor bowed to him and rushed away to discuss the Galley with his comrades.

“I said it before and I will say it again,” Silverhand said eventually. “It’s going to be bad here.”

I could not disagree. “Let’s get our gear,” I said. “We’re almost at the docks.”

“Yep,” said Silverhand. “Time to go save the world.”


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Comments

  1. I’m really familiar with your work, but when reading this, it felt like something entirely new and exciting. It reminds me of Kormak’s world (perhaps the stories share the same world?) but it seems much more sinister and bleak, and there is something immediately appealing about the grimness of the opening scene. I look forward to future updates!

    • Thanks, Luke. I confess I am totally winging this. It’s not something I usually do but I am following the procedures outlined in Dean Wesley Smith’s Writing Into the Dark just to see what it’s like. So far it has been fun. It does mean that I tend to reach out for pre-fabricated parts like blight, wraithstone, elder signs etc which are certainly part of Kormak’s world. I am in two minds as to whether this is part of that world or another one through some portal. The Quan are in there as well now which is an element shared by both Kormak’s world and the Terrarchs. I intend to do a blog post about all of this closer to the end of Nanowrimo.

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