First, a progress update.
I'm currently 78,000 words deep into the manuscript, and I've completely re-written all the content that had been lost due to the harddrive-shitting-itself incident. We're entering a new frontier now. (For comparison, my first "novel" [take that label with a mound of salt] A Spurious Hanging was only about 85,000 words total, and I've written almost that much in just the last couple of months I've been working on the re-write for this story. ASH took me over a year to finish the first draft, and in the last three months I've written almost that much.) If nothing else, the sheer output of my productivity has greatly increased.
Additionally, I'll be going back to writing essays for this blog in about a month or two, depending on how things go.
First order of business: this sneak peek will be different from the one I did in 2019 for Desolation's Reach. I thought that was a good scene at the time, and I'll keep that post up, but I was still honing my craft and had a lot more of the fundamentals to iron out before I could confidently go through with marketing and publishing that story.
I still plan to, but Enid is going to be a different case. As the April 2nd, 2023 release date creeps closer, you're going to see more updates, sneak peeks, character art, and marketing for this book. While I don't consider myself a master by any stretch of the imagination, I've solidified the basics of plotting, pacing, character development, and writing prose itself, enough to where I'm going all-in on this one. If nothing else, I can always compensate for my lack of writing experience by doing more drafts and rewrites than usual. (I say that as if I haven't written hundreds of thousands of words for both my fiction and articles like the ones on this blog, lol.) And now that I'm a real Adult™ with my own money and not just a teenager on my family computer using Open Office, I can afford to save up for an actual editor rather than just doing it myself.
Don't believe me?
I'm so serious about this story this time that I commissioned the famous voice actor, Internet-sensation Voice Over Pete himself, do this for me:
(If it isn’t appearing in your browser, the link is right here: https://youtu.be/wBENauNa1Ys)
Best $35 I've ever spent.
So now that you see how super-serious I am--
--here's the sneak peek.
Some quick context for this scene to make sense:
Al-Haven and Al-Fid are two halves of one giant city, that has essentially been divided into two. Al-Haven means "City of Heaven" in the Old Liran language, and Al-Fid means "City of Mud." A huge passageway called Heaven's Gate separates the two, and has been shut for 20 years. This scene doesn't feature the main protagonist Enid, rather it follows her love-interest Theo. I chose this scene for the sneak peek because it's a great scene that was fun to write, and because it showcases a lot of world-building. There's a minor spoiler about a secondary character who dies, however that character plays such a small role prior to this scene that I don't mind spoiling their death here. Nothing in this scene spoils what will happen to the main cast.
(Unless you want to go in COMPLETELY blind, in which case, steer clear of this whole post.)
Theo is a surgeon who lives in the slums of Alfid, and Raena is his assistant. In addition to trying to provide dirt-cheap life-or-death surgery for the local residents of Alfid, the pair is also involved with a rebellion against the Queen of Al-Haven.
The fantasy setting isn't necessarily "medieval" like most fantasy stories are. It's more like the Renaissance era, with splashes of magic and wonder mixed in with hints of grimdark.
This is, also, the first draft of this scene; I went over and fixed any random typos I found, but this scene might be different in the final version of the book. But for the first draft of a scene that I literally finished writing 30 minutes ago, I think it's pretty good.
This scene takes place about one-third of the way through the story, when the alarm is sounded indicating that Heaven's Gate is being opened:
Theo stood in the doorway of the clinic, peeking at the chaos outside. Unbridled pandemonium filled the cramped streets of Alfid as the bells along the ramparts of Heaven’s Gate rang for the first time in twenty years. They meant only one thing—the gate was being opened. The gate had been sealed for so long that it was believed they would never open again. The last time the bells of Heaven’s Gate rang, it took 5,000 men to push it open with rams and over 3,000 to get it shut using ropes and pulleys. The last time that gate had opened, he was only three years old.
He was much too far away to see the action from here—he worked and lived in the tightly-nit Hillside District, which was tucked into the side of several large hills on the western side of the city. When he looked to the right he could see the glowing city of Al-Haven perched in the side of the mountain. His clinic was almost a crude mockery of it—a dirty, shanty building that jutted from the side of the hill while Al-Haven stood proudly perched on the side of the little mountain overlooking the sea port, like a throne of granite.
Theo wanted to watch the gate open just as badly as everyone else, but he wanted to rendezvous with Raena first lest they never be able to locate each other in the confusion. They had an unspoken agreement that anytime something important happened and they needed to meet up, they would meet at the clinic, and if they couldn’t meet at the clinic then they met up at Sunken Pete’s. Raena had her own place, of course, but Theo had never been there.
A couple minutes later, a disheveled Raena appeared in a coat and trousers, crowds of people shoving past her as she went against the flow to get to the clinic.
“Holy shit Theo,” she said, out of breath and gesturing vaguely around her.
He nodded resolutely. “Alright, let’s go,” he said, closing the clinic doors and locking them tight.
“There’s no patients inside?”
“I had two patients this morning, but they both got up and left once the bells started. One of them was a fellow with a sprained ankle, but you wouldn’t have known it by the way he rushed out the door once he heard the bells.”
Even now they rang—huge, deep bells that were loud enough to be heard from the other side of the city.
They joined the flow of people, which practically carried them along in its current as most shoved and pushed the people in front of them. The mass of pedestrians began to dissipate into a massive courtyard in the Highborn District. It was the nicest part of the city, and the closest district to Al-Haven. It was where the richest and most elite in Alfid lived, but even the nicest parts of Alfid were likely nothing compared to Al-Haven itself. The bells became so loud that they drowned out everything else, and when Theo and Raena arrived, he was shocked to see the gate had already been opened.
In the distance, thousands of soldiers had opened and secured Heaven’s Gate, and were keeping huge crowds of Alfid peasants at bay as they fanatically tried to get closer. Beatings broke out as a large group of Aflid peasants broke through their defenses and were immediately pummeled with shields and steel gauntlets. There didn’t seem to be any actual killings, but he was too far away and there were too many heads in the way to tell.
A well-adorned Captain rode in on a tall, muscular destrier. He took control of the soldiers and had them fall into a triangular, wedge-like formation.
“MAKE WAY! CLEAR THE WAY! MAKE WAY!” he chanted, his soldiers chanting the same as they pushed their formation through the crowd. They held tall rectangular white banners bearing the Queen’s sigil. They cleared a path wide enough for a few carriages to pass through, and the soldiers lined up along both sides in single-file.
Theo had thought for sure that some people would try to force their way into the gate and get themselves killed, but none made it through the barrier of soldiers.
Even from far away, Theo could see how well-trained and equipped they were—and there were so many of them. Despite being a single city, Al-Haven had the third largest military in the world, putting it above most countries. The Queen’s personal army, the Order of the Vine’s Honor Guard, was over 40,000 troops strong, but Al-Haven royalty was infamous for hiring massive armies of mercenaries to do their dirty work. Some estimates say that over 100,000 mercenaries fought in Kalistan and Ulia against their own people for Al-Haven gold.
The troops were precise in their movements and formation. Their unnaturally perfect coordination made them seem more like a hive mind rather than thousands of individuals. And they seemed like gods among men in their glistening armor.
As a flagrant display of wealth, every soldier in the Order of the Vine wore steel armor that was coated in a thin layer of sterling silver. The pristine silvery glow of their armor in the sun made them appear divine compared to the dirty Alfid crowds that surrounded them.
When Theo first saw the army Cerigula was raising and training, he thought that the madman might actually have a shot. But now that he saw just a small fraction of the Queen’s army—their impeccable formation and equipment—he knew that they had no chance. His soldiers, while impressive by Alfid standards, looked like children playing with toys compared to Al-Haven’s unquestionable military might.
As if to confirm this, hundreds of crossbow archers lined the ramparts of Heaven’s Gate, their crossbows aimed down at the crowd. Theo had no doubt that hundreds of spies and informants were mixed in with this crowd, disguised as Alfid peasants and walking among them.
Suddenly, the bells stopped ringing. A claustrophobic silence washed over the crowd. People murmured and whispered.
The sound of hooves and marching footsteps.
First, four well-groomed men rode out on beautiful white horses, their vests covered in medals—military leaders, generals. With them, squads of soldiers with tall shields. Some people started booing and throwing rocks, but they had anticipated this. The soldiers raised their shields and formed a wall of steel, rocks bounding off of them, and the generals seemed undisturbed.
Next, young boys and girls in matching suits and dresses came through with baskets, scattering rose pedals on the walkway as they passed.
The booing mostly stopped as adorable children trailed behind the generals, and then a few dozen beautiful maidens in white gowns made their way through with baskets of colorful flowers. They threw handfuls of flowers into the crowd, and Alfid peasants practically trampled each other trying to catch them. Some had begun to cheer.
Next, two large carts followed suit, each one pulled by two handsome oxen with long horns. They were covered in tarps, and what looked like ordinary farmers rode on top. But then, they lifted the tarps, and revealed the contents inside.
They began passing out cooked meat to nearby peasants and throwing the rest into the crowd. Steaks, patties, sausages, pork cutlets, and more. People were cheering with rabid ferocity as they tried to get whatever they could, begging the farmers to throw something their way.
Unarmed soldiers came through with baskets of toys. They began passing out wood horses, painted toy soldiers, and dolls to children as they passed.
I don’t understand, Theo thought to himself. What was going on here? Had he been lied to all this time, brainwashed by Alfid propaganda to think the Queen was an evil tyrant?
For God’s sake, hundreds of servants were making their way through the street passing out quality food and toys. This didn't scream "tyrant."
Following the soldiers with toys, open-roofed carriages overflowing with gold were brought in. The cheering elated to new heights, becoming deafening as servants began throwing handfuls of gold into the crowd. People shoved and trampled each other to collect what they could from the ground.
The servants yelled something about not having to fight, that there was plenty for everyone—and based on the size of the carriages, this was true—but that didn’t stop the desperate fighting that ensued.
After the carriages of gold came through, more soldiers followed, densely packed together in a tight formation. Lots of hooves could be heard approaching, even over the crowd. A train of a dozen beautiful stallions, alternating in rows of black and white, emerged from the gateway, pulling an immaculate carriage bearing the Queen’s sigil with a few people inside. The blinds were mostly closed inside the windows, making it difficult to see the Queen. People cheered, but Theo’s throat caught in horror when he saw what was behind the Queen’s carriage.
A cage came through on wheels, with a single chained-up prisoner inside. He had been deprived of the pompous velvet coat and all of the emerald and ruby rings, but Theo recognized the face instantly.
It was Darius.
The large Kalistanian man had been stripped to undergarments and was shirtless, his round gung-ho expression reduced to a smoldering blank stare. People began booing loudly, and Theo was relieved for a second. Until he realized that they weren’t booing the Queen. They were booing Darius, throwing rocks at his cage. Some of them made it between the bars and landed their mark.
No soldiers with shields came to his defense.
The courtyard at the end of the street had been cleared, and Theo could hardly see it from there, but he watched as the Queen’s carriage and Darius’s cage behind her made their way up to the clearing.
Her carriage stopped, and servants rushed forward and unrolled a long, white and gold-trimmed carpet leading up to a wooden platform that overlooked the crowd. The formation of soldiers that led the carriage spread out and lined the perimeter of the clearing, keeping people from coming within 100 feet or so of the stage.
The carriage door opened, and there was a brief silence.
He could barely see her, but Queen Joanna herself emerged from the carriage, wearing a dark gold dress with frilly white cuffs and a tight white corset embroidered with silver. Her hair was regal—long, wavy golden-auburn locks that went halfway down her back. He couldn’t see her face as she turned to approach the stage. She walked up herself, without any servants, except for a single Captain at her side. He was bald and wore no helmet, but there was a scar running alongside the side of his face, and he had a hardened look of fierce devotion.
“Who’s that man with her?” Raena asked.
He squinted, trying to think of the name.
“I think that’s Belfort. He’s basically her personal dog.” He paused, eying the prisoner behind the Queen’s carriage. “This is bad.”
“Is that Darius?” she asked, staring at the cage in disbelief.
He nodded solemnly.
“Are they going to kill him??” Raena said.
“It would certainly explain the theatrical entrance,” Theo said. If he blabbed, Raena and I are dead. He didn't seem to have any scars or marks of torture on his body--but, somehow, that was more discomforting. It might have meant they made him talk without even having to torture him.
Queen Joanna stood and faced the crowd, while the bald Captain grabbed a scroll that was tucked into his belt. He unrolled the parchment and began to read.
“People of Alfid: let us celebrate this momentous occasion—for the first time in twenty years, the gate linking Alfid and Al-Haven has been opened, allowing for the Queen to bless us all with her presence. And what a blessing it has been.”
The crowd roared with excitement. Less than an hour ago, they all hated her guts. Is this all it takes to purchase their loyalty? Theo thought. Some money and gifts?
Captain Belfort took a breath to speak again, but the Queen herself interrupted him.
“Pardon my intrusion, but I cannot stand by and let another speak my words on my behalf. I am incredibly humbled to be here, speaking to you directly,” she began. She had a pretty voice, and she pronounced her words carefully, loudly, and with perfect rehearsed clarity.
“It is nothing short of an honor to serve you, and I felt so compelled to do so that I risk my life, even now. My soldiers are brave and true, but should a hateful man or woman loose an arrow in my direction, it could put my life in jeopardy. And yet, that is a risk I have to take.”
The people cheered, and many began to hoist their children up unto their shoulders to get a better look.
“For many months I have thought about how to repair the animosity between the sister cities, and finally the answer has come to me. We must focus not on our differences, but on the commonalities that bind us. The answer seems clear to me now, for I have found that we share a common enemy.”
Soldiers unlocked the cage’s giant lock with a comically-large key, and they brought Darius out in chains. He didn’t resist, and he followed them calmly with his head held high as they led him up the stage.
The crowd cheered, but it was weak and quiet. Reserved, as if they were hesitating.
That’s interesting, Theo thought. Not necessarily good, but… interesting.
Soldiers restricted him in his chains as Joanna continued.
“Ever since I lost my husband to the abyss almost twenty years ago, I have faced many challenges alone. I have faced many enemies—critics who challenge my rule as a woman, foreign adversaries that wish to undermine our cultural virtues, and greatest of all, local tyrants and illegitimate criminal-kings who take control of the underworld by force. These are not good people—they kidnap hundreds every year. They sell the men into slavery over seas, they sell the women into prostitution, and they murder to harvest and sell organs to heretical magic-users. Surely, you’ve witnessed the disappearances yourselves, and thought it wise to keep quiet lest you draw any attention to yourself. I will stand for none of that.”
The cheering commenced with newfound enthusiasm.
Most of what she said was a lie founded on shreds of truth. People were kidnapped and sold to criminals, but King Cerigula was popular because he was fighting it. Cerigula was so beloved by a large portion of Alfid because he used dirty tactics against the criminal underworld. He kidnapped gang leaders and slave traders, he tortured them to find out the location and whereabouts of their accomplices, and made them fear continuing to work in Alfid. His fierce no-nonsense dominance is what kept the criminals of Alfid in check. Cerigula had only started doing these things in the last couple of years, and yet things had been so much worse before he came along.
He didn't like how Queen Joanna was trying to conflate the horrors of the criminal underground with Cerigula.
“Recently, we hunted down one of the worst ones and put an end to him. You might recognize the name… Carter Miles.” The crowd exploded into cheer and applause—the loudest and most enthusiastically by far.
So it was the Order of the Vine that busted him afterall, not Cerigula, Theo thought. No wonder they could afford to give away so much money to the crowd without batting an eye—they had Carter Miles’s near-infinite fortune on top of their usual mountains of wealth.
“—and now, we have found another. This is Darius II, a trader who facilitates the transfer of illicit goods and money for the criminal tyrant Cerigula himself. He is Cerigula’s closest friend and confidant. And now, he will die for his transgressions against Alfid.”
Theo didn’t hear the reaction around him—maybe some cheered, maybe some gasped in shock, maybe the crowd was eerily quiet. In that moment, all Theo could hear was his heart beating in his head, his focus solely on was what happened next.
Without another word, Captain Belfort at Joanna’s side forced Darius into a kneeling position, unsheathed his arming sword, and swiftly sliced through his neck in one clean swipe.
There was a fountain of spurting blood where once there had been a neck. His head toppled to the ground, smeared in red as it rolled a couple of feet on the raised wooden platform. Queen Joanna had taken several steps back, but splattered drops of blood covered her pure white corset, a couple of stray drops hitting her face and spraying the Captain’s.
He didn’t care. His face covered in blood, his sword dripping as Darius’s corpse fell limp in front of him, he calmly pulled out a white handkerchief from his vest pocket, wiped his blade clean, and slid the sword back into its sheath.
As the Queen watched, she looked… apathetic, her hands folded neatly in front of her lap.
Theo’s other senses returned to him.
Raena was crying, saying something about how fucked they were. A small portion of the crowd cheered, but most of the other noises weren’t cheering.
They were furious.
Men and women hurled profanities at the Queen, called her a murderer, and some had begun booing her.
Loyalty bought at a low cost doesn’t last very long, Theo thought to himself as the crowd turned against her. Soldiers rushed up the stage to shield her, as if anticipating what would happen next.
The crowd began pelting her with gold coins, throwing all of the money back at her. Then they began to hurl meat and wood toys from every direction, and the soldiers struggled to protect her from the hailstorm with their shield wall. The horses in her carriage were startled from the commotion—a few soldiers tried to hold their reigns and keep them steady, but the train of horses flew into a panic and charged into the crowd.
People screamed as they tried to get out of the way, but it all happened so fast. In the blink of an eye, the horses in the front of the train trampled over several people, crushing them and sending everyone around them scattering. At least half a dozen people got trampled and crushed beneath the horses and the carriage as it plowed into the crowd, and one of the horses in front tripped and fell, causing the ones tied behind it to stumble and fall with it.
A punch of horror struck him in the gut as a small, crying toddler was trampled to death in front of his mother, painting the cobblestone street with gore.
Arrows rained down. But not at the crowd.
Theo looked over his shoulder—on the rooftop behind them, several dozen of Cerigula’s archers were perched above the street, with a clear visual of the Queen. Men in front held makeshift wooden shields to shield the archers as they quickly loosed another barrage of arrows in her direction. They killed a frightened horse, which neighed loudly in pain as several arrows struck it, and most of the arrows were soundly deflected by the wall of shields. Theo thought he saw a couple make it through. He hoped the Queen was hit.
Cerigula’s little ambush didn’t last long—the crossbow archers on the ramparts of the wall fired, and forced all of the archers on the roof across from them to duck behind their rugged wooden shields for cover.
The crossbowmen didn’t stop or let up, and a couple of Cerigula’s archers fell, but most of them managed to retreat out of sight to safety from wherever they came.
It was chaos.
The oxen had begun to rampage through the street, soldiers were trying to protect the Queen while carving a bloody path through the peasants with their swords, and people rained coins and rocks at her while guards tried to secure the gateway.
Theo turned to Raena and grabbed her wrist. “It’s time to go.”
She didn’t protest as he forced his way through the turmoil, dragging her along back towards the clinic. They fled with many others, a chaotic cacophony of screams behind them.
So, there you have it--the line spacing is all over the place for some reason, and Blogger won't let me change it, but that's the gist of it.
may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,
and I'll see you in the next post.