Friday, October 15, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2009 - Under the Hood

I mentioned my emergency list a few days ago, containing my notes and things I could throw in if I get stuck.  Here's last year's list, available to the public for informational purposes. 

It's probably not very coherent to other people but it was a godsend when I was writing Sailors on the Sea of Dead Gods last year.  It mutated as I went, of course.  The strikethroughs were for crossing things off as I used them.

I'm also sharing one of my favorite chapters from Sailors last year in it's unedited form:
Chapter 7:

Though Captain Thanatops was tight lipped about the Grim Harbinger's next destination, it was apparent that it weighed heavily on him. He kept his own counsel, speaking little unless asked a direct question, and doubled the size of the nightwatch, even drafting Jhalen, Medrod, and Tolek for the task. Where they were headed and what Thanatops expected to find when they arrived was a mystery. Days rolled by, tension mounted, and the general mood on board the Grim Harbinger blackened.

Jhalen aborted his study of the magical arts for the time being. The summoning of the whale had left him feeling hungover for the better part of a week. The shipmates avoided one another's company apart from meals and watch duty. While Bokko kept a bed in the poop cabin, he rarely occupied it, preferring to sleep hanging upside down from the mast using his prehensile tail and hand-like feet. After a few confrontations with Medrod, Bokko disappeared for two days. When he returned, he wore three ruby rings on his right hand. No one bothered asking where they'd come from.

Watch duty was tense but largely uneventful. No one as sure what the captain was afraid of. Twice they sailed through debris-littered stretches of ocean, as if ships had been torn apart. Once they came across a still-smoking hulk, the water around it littered with bloated and rotting corpses.

Eight days after rescuing Bokko from the demon skates, Captain Thanatops summoned the four adventurers to the forward cabin for a palaver. They arrived to find Thantops pacing along the walls of the cabin while Meladon mopped his brow nervously.

"Take your seats," Thanatops said.

Bokko chose the desk chair while Jhalen and the rest took places on the couches along the room's perimeter. Thanatops sat down hard in his high-backed chair in the corner and took a deep breath.

"The lodestone is leading us deep into the bowels of the territory of the Reavers of Llisk. For days I've been hoping the lodestone would change its course but it has finally stopped. Should the Reavers overtake us, our cause is doomed."

Jhalen rubbed his eyes. He was getting tired of not knowing what was going on. "And who are the Reavers of Llisk?" he asked.

"Slavers, from what I've heard," Medrod said.

Thanatops stood from his seat and crossed the room. "If only they were slavers. Slavers can be bribed. No, the Reavers of Llisk are religious fanatics, devoted to an octopoid god whose coming will herald the end of the multiverse. They scour the worlds touching the Purple Current, taking captives when they can and leaving corpses when they must."

"Captives? I thought you said they weren't slavers," Tolek asked.

"For sacrifices," Thanatops whispered.

Tolek turned toward Jhalen. "When this is over, I may find another tribe," he said.

"So far," Thanatops continued, "we've been lucky. The Reaver fleets haven't crossed our path. But as we move deeper into their territory, a confrontation is nearly a certain thing."

"How long before we find our next man and move on?" Medrod asked.

"Two days at most," Thanatops said.

"Good luck, we will need," Bokko said.

Thanatops nodded. "Go about your business and stay sharp. The fight of our lives may be around the next corner."

The next thirty-six hours were spent in a state of nerve-fraying anticipation. Jhalen tried to read the logs of past captains of the Grim Harbinger he found in the forward cabin but couldn't concentrate. Instead, he spent most of his time staring over the sea, expecting to see the Reavers of Llisk bearing down on them. As they travelled deeper and deeper into Reaver territory, the air cooled and fog banks grew increasingly common. Visibily was limited but Thanatops forbid anyone to light lanterns for fear of their discovery.

In the midst of a particularly dense fog, Jhalen experienced a strange yawning sensation he couldn't explain. Seconds later, the fog vanished as if it had never been and the Grim Harbinger scythed its way through emerald green waters, the indigo ones of the Purple Current having been left behind under the cover of fog. Jhalen ran to the forecastle where Thantos maintained his vigil.

"We've sailed through a gate much like the one I brought you through on Enrik's Hope," Thanatops said. "Our man is close, no doubt."

The Grim Harbinger plowed its way across the featureless green expanse, the emerald waves lapping against the hull. Jhalen was relieved when the call came that an island had been spotted on the horizon. As they drew near, the captain gave orders to circle the island and look for a settlement.

On the eastern side of the island, a great stone pier jutted out into the sea from the red sand beach. On a nearby hilltop, a town of small stone buildings stood over the harbor like a sentry.

"That's where we'll dock," the captain said.

As the Grim Harbinger sailed into port, a sinking feeling errupted in Jhalen's stomach. The only other boat moored at the pier was a battered lifeboat, half-full of sea water.

"This island may be deserted," Jhalen said.

"Easy plunder," Bokko said, licking his lips and cracking his knuckles.

"Let's hope it has at least one occupant," Tolek said.

After the crew tied off, the captain gathered them around.

"We're in Reaver waters and can't afford to spread ourselves too thin. Medrod, take Jhalen, Tolek, and Bokko and make for yonder town. The rest of us will stay near the ship. We'll have to leave in a hurry if the Reavers find us."

Medrod turned to Jhalen, Tolek, and Bokko. "You heard the captain. Follow me!" he said.

Bokko and Jhalen fell into step behind Medrod as he strutted down the stone pier. Tolek brought up the rear, shaking his head. Medrod's already large ego would surely burst its banks now that Captain Thanatops had delegated authority to him.

The pier began on a red sand and gravel beach. Bokko stopped and grabbed a handful of sand, watching it slide through his fingers. He stuffed a fistful in his pocket and continued across the beach. After crossing thirty yards of crimson sand, they reached the steps leading up the hill to the village. The steps were made of a deep red stone veined with black and each step was two yards across and nearly two feet high, making for rough climbing.

By the time they reached the top, all four men were out of breath, though Medrod tried hard to conceal it. A road made of flat read and black stones led into the village. The buildings of the village were composed of the same black-veined red stone as the stairs, though most of them were encrusted with green moss and thorny vines. The scene was eerily silent. They cautiously walked down the street, speaking only in whispers.

"It doesn't look as if anyone has been hear for a long time," Medrod said. "We may be on the wrong island."

"I hope not," Jhalen said.

Tolek looked around and noticed Bokko wasn't with them any more. The sleeg moved silently with disturbing ease.

"Bokko is gone," Tolek said.

"Looking for something to swipe, he is," Jhalen said, doing a passable immitation of Bokko's voice.

Tolek chuffed despite the tension in the air.

Bokko sidled out of an alley up ahead and walked back to the group, shaking his head.

"Desserted, this place is. Worth taking, nothing is," Bokko said.

"Let's press on," Medrod said. "I trust Enrik Wode's magic more than I do the word of a sleeg."

Not for the first time, Jhalen rolled his eyes at Medrod's arrogance.

They walked for a little while longer, passing the empty remains of shops, houses, and temples. The inhabitants of the island must have fled in a hurry, Jhalen thought. Medrod signaled for them to hault and Jhalen nearly bumped into him.

"Listen! Do you hear it?" Medrod said.

Jhalen listened hard for a few seconds before he heard the sound. "It sounded like a child giggling," he said.

"I hear it as well," Tolek said.

Bokko pointed down one of the side streets. "From there, it comes."

The four men walked down the side street and entered a warren of alleyways wreathed in shadows. They turned corners and went down side paths, the source of the giggling was always just out of sight. Sometimes, it seemed to be coming from two directions at once. Jhalen thought they must be nearing the village's edge when he finally caught a glimpse. It looked like a filthy human child, clad in hides, less than three feet tall, topped with a shock of bright white hair.

"I saw it. Why does the child run from us?" he asked.

"Playing games, it is," Bokko said.

The four men quickened their pace but it seemed the child did the same, leading them deeper into the labrythine network of alleys.

"Stop! We only want to help you," Medrod called, his voice echoing off the alley walls.

Jhalen had no idea which direction the Grim Harbinger lay in and dearly hoped Medrod did.

They quickened their pace yet again, Medrod's impatience getting the better of him. The tantalizing glimpses of their quarry grew more and more frequent. Finally, the rounded the corner into alley that formed a T at the end. The child sat huddled beneath a discarded wooden desk near the junction, clearly out of breath.

Medrod turned to Jhalen, smiling. "Tend to the child. Try to find out if its seen anyone on the island recently."

Jhalen looked at Medrod, defiance on his face. "Why me?"

"Just do it. The captain appointed me leader of this expedition and the longer we tarry, the longer it is before we find Enrik Wode."

Jhalen shook his head and left his companions at the mouth of the alley, cautiously making his way to where the child was sheltered. The child looked androgenous to Jhalen but he estimated it was no older than three. It curled up into a ball at his approach. He reached the desk and squatted down on his haunches, his knees popping audibly.

"Don't be afraid, little thing. Can you talk?" he asked.

The child raised its head enought to look at Jhalen with one eye. Jhalen was startled to see its pupils were cat-like slits.

"What's your name," he asked the unresponsive child.

The child folded more tightly into its ball.

Jhalen stroked his chin for a moment, then decided to try touching the child. He reached out with his left hand and the child struck like a snake, sinking its teeth into Jhalen's wrist and ripping bloody furrows across his forearm. Jhalen cried out and cursed violently at the child, who tittered and lept its feet, bolting down the alley.

"What happened?" Medrod called.

"The little teat puller bit me," Jhalen said, clutching he bleeding wrist.

"After him," Medrod yelled.

Medrod, Bokko, and Tolek ran down the alley after the feral child. Jhalen wrapped a rag around his wrist to staunch the bleeding and joined in the chase. The child twisted and turned, never more than a few strides away from the quartet. The chase ended when the child led them down a debris strewn alley that dead ended up against the rear wall of a large church.

"Jhalen," Medrod said.

Jhalen shook his head. "Not this time," he said.

"Fine. I'll talk to the little brat," Medrod said.

Medrod strode down the alley. "Where are your parents, child?" he asked pompously.

The child hissed harshly at Medrod, revealing its mouth full of pointed teeth. Medrod crossed the gap between them. He knelt before the child as Jhalen had minutes before and looked into its eyes. The child smiled and jumped at Medrod's throat. Medrod backhanded the child away, sending it sprawling into the dirt. Jhalen prepared to chide Medrod but the debris littering the alley began rustling. Feral, white-haired children appeared from every nook and cranny, all cat-eyed and sharp toothed. The sounds of the hissing of the feral child-like beasts filled the alley.

"I think I know what happened to the people of this island," Jhalen said. "They were devoured."

"We've been lead into a trap," Medrod said.

The sound of weapons being drawn joined the hissing sound.

Medrod and company slowly backed down the way they'd came, the feral children advancing toward them step by step.

"Run," Medrod yelled.

The men broke into a run, the ravening child-beasts on their trail. They reached the T junction where they'd first made contact with the feral children Medrod stopped in his tracks.

"They're herding us someplace," he said. "I'm sure of it."

"Then we make our stand here and hope for the best," Tolek said.

Jhalen clutched his kurki and punch dagger tightly. He wasn't feeling enthusiastic about fighting beings that so closely resembled human children.

The first of the feral things rounded the corner and flung itself at Medrod. Medrod swung Kymortis in a deadly arc, decapitating the thing as it neared his face. The rest of the pack advanced, heedless of the loss. Tolek charged the advancing mob and swung Tree-Feller as a farmer wields a sickle, mowing down four of the humaniform vermin. Bokko bashed at the child-things with his buckler, piercing any that came within range with his rapier. Jhalen's heart was heavy as he joined the fray, swinging his kurki in vicious downward strikes, kicking at the creatures threatening to bite into his ankles.

The bodies piled up, making it treacherous to maneuver on the battlefield. Medrod's armor kept him largely protected from the enemy but the others were not so lucky. Bokko's tail had a notch missing from where one of the creatures had bitten it. Jhalen upper arm bled from a similar wound. Tolek bled from multiple bites on his stumpy legs but had done the most damage to the enemy by far.

The enemy numbers had dwindled to a handful when a sound reached Jhalen's ears. It was the sound of laughter, the laughter of innumerable children, coming from down the alley at their back.

"More of them, coming from our rear," Tolek called out.

"We can't hold them off forever," Jhalen shouted as he impaled one of the creatures on his punch dagger.

"Retreat, we must," Bokko hissed.

The horrible cacophany of laughter grew louder. Medrod carefully considered the odds. The pack of flesh eaters they'd nearly vanquished was but a fraction of the horde that was quickly closing on them.

"Run!" Medrod shouted.

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