After a bit of a hiatus, I bring you a general project update in this weeks writing vlog.
After a bit of a hiatus, I bring you a general project update in this weeks writing vlog.
After a bit of a hiatus, I bring you a general project update in this weeks writing vlog.
The ranch house was quickly becoming Hernando’s least favorite part of the homestead. Janice was spending most of her time there. Something about the ramshackle pile of sticks created a powerful attraction that kept her there. He found her standing naked in the kitchen when he returned. A bucket of well water sat on the counter beside her as she carefully adjusted the coils of hair on top of her head. Soft whimpers came from the master bedroom. Hernando scowled.
“What are you doing?” He demanded, striding through the great room to the tall cabinet by the root cellar door.
She hesitated, a long pin closer to a weapon than an ornament half impaled into her hair. “You said to clean up after-”
“Why haven’t you eaten yet?” Hernando demanded, irritation lacing his voice. “You’re as bad as Larry. It will take time for the gold to bond to new blood and give you command of it yet here you are playing with your food instead of eating it.”
Janice turned to face him, arms folded under her breasts. “Hernando, what’s got you so wound up? It ain’t like you to rush through things so much, you ought to be lookin’ at your diary and plannin’ out our next trip but instead you’re all fired up to move on tomorrow.”
“Today, if possible,” he snapped. “The people of Columbia take their holy orders so abominably seriously that we can’t hope they won’t look into the loss of a Watchpost. I thought a day here would let us lay in some iron and gold for emergencies. We’re hours past that and we’ve barely started on the process.”
“They had ranch hands up on the ridge,” Janice said with a helpless shrug. “Did you really want more people escapin’ to rat us out?”
“No,” Hernando snapped. “It’s not anyone’s fault that things didn’t work out perfectly. It is your fault that you won’t do as you’re told. Now go and finish your meal so we can put him with his sister and go about turning them.”
Janice perked up. “So you will give him the change?”
“Only if you have him ready for it before sunset.” With a disgusted shake of his head Hernando rummaged through the cabinet until he found the box he’d spotted there on his initial pass through the building the day before. He took it out and moved it over to the dining table in the great room and emptied the contents there.
“What is that?” Janice asked, still ignoring his instructions to gawk at the pile of paper and tools that spilled out.
“Maps,” Hernando said. “We’re on the edge of territory I know well, I’ll need to look over the counties north of here before I can decide where to go next.”
“Why not go west to Winchester county?” She asked. “There’s a bunch of skytrain stations there. We could fly anywhere in Columbia in four days time.”
“Because the Storm’s Watch is likely to bring in a team of their own to investigate what we did to their Post. Any team they send is far more likely to know a gold drinker than regular men are. And the Storm’s Watch can move their team a lot faster by sky train than by foot or wagon, so we’re going to stay as far from them as we can for the next few weeks.”
Janice sighed. “When you put it that way, I guess we’re gonna have to avoid the skies. To bad. I never been flyin’ before.”
Hernando didn’t mention the other problem with flying – as gold drinkers collected blood iron under the sway of the gold in their veins they quickly got heavy enough to fall right through the floor of most skytrains. To say nothing of what that weight did to throw them off balance. Although he’d taken most of the blood iron Janice drank she was still far heavier than she looked, and probably wouldn’t ever be able to fly without giving her nature away.
Not that her weight was a topic he was eager to broach.
This same difficulty made horses or stage coaches impractical, so they were going to have to walk wherever they wanted to go. “We need some place that is sparsely settled but close enough we can reach it in two or three days. Any ideas?”
“Honey, we been farther north than I’ve ever been since you changed me. But I know ranches, and they’ll have a map with their routes for cattle drivin’ somewhere. There’s usually some kind of way station along them routes we could lay low in for a few days. No one’d miss ’em for weeks.”
Hernando grunted, unhappy with her familiar language but willing to let it pass. Her plan was sound, if he could find those maps. “These don’t look right.”
“Nope. Those’re claims and deeds. The route maps are proably in the boardin’ -”
“Hernando!” Danica charged into the house, eyes wild. “Hernando, they got Larry!”
He set aside the paper and sighed. “Do you mean Larry is missing? Has a group shown up and captured him?”
“He’s dead.” She skidded to a stop and pointed frantically towards the barn. “They cut his head off and all his blood is gone!”
Hernando pursed his lips, stymied. “His blood is gone? How is that possible?”
“I don’t know,” Danica said, “but I couldn’t smell any in his head or his body. He’s pale, Hernando. So pale…”
He didn’t understand how it was possible to exert control over a gold drinker’s blood. The tome he’d discovered that laid out the gold drinker ritual was long on process but very short on details of how that magic worked. It basically laid out the need to feed and how acquiring blood iron would allow them to concentrate their power. It was possible to restore a badly injured, or even decapitated gold drinker, with enough time and blood iron.
However if Larry had lost his blood somehow Hernando was certain he couldn’t restore him with the resources he had on hand. He glanced at Danica. “Did you collect his excess blood before he died?”
“No,” she whispered.
“It can’t be helped.” He loosened his sword in its scabbard. “Did you see any signs of who killed him?”
“No…” Danica seemed to be coming back to herself now. “But I did notice something smelled charred. The barn was smokey.”
Hernando grunted. “I’m surprised we didn’t hear anything. Most sulfurite weapons are on the loud side. Perhaps a spear? Some of those are on the quiet side.”
“Does it matter?” Janice asked.
“I’m wondering how many men are out there. If they were a large group I don’t think they’d be so sneaky about this, they’d already be beating down the door.” He gave Janice a look. “Get dressed, Janice. We’re going hunting.”
Once she was given sufficient motivation Janice could move very quickly. She got dressed and retrieved her machete. It was more tool than weapon, without even a mounting spot for a sulfurite crystal, but it was deadly enough at close range. Hernando had tried to train her in the use of a sulfurite blade but so far she was more a danger to herself and her allies than their enemies. So for now the machete would have to do.
They found Larry right where Danica left him. Hernando glanced at her. “Has anything changed?”
“No, he was like this when I found him. I – I just got scared and ran to find you so I didn’t look at him that closely but he looked like this as near as I remember.” She knelt down and studied the floor. “I think he was in a puddle before but it may have drained away or dried out?”
Hernando squinted his eyes and looked around the barn. “Where are the horses?”
“I don’t know. They weren’t here when I found him.”
Janice walked to the back and looked through the rear door. “They’re not in the fields, either. Do you think it was horse thieves?”
“Simple horse thieves wouldn’t know how to do this. I’m not even sure how this was accomplished.” Hernando knelt down and studied the stump of Larry’s neck. The cut was not particularly clean. In fact it looked more like the last bit had been torn off more than cut through, suggesting the blade that made the cut was on the dull side. Larry didn’t have enough blood iron to be unusually durable, so decapitating him wouldn’t have been any harder than cutting the head of a normal man. But that was still a difficult task.
Hernando picked up Larry’s head and set it aside to reveal a second wound in the stomach, not a cut but a deep stabbing wound. “That would be the spear,” he murmured. “They moved the body for some reason.”
“Maybe as part of how they removed his blood?” Danica said. “And they used the water to wash away the evidence.”
“I don’t understand why they would be so secretive,” Hernando said. “It’s a lot of time wasted for negligible return. Still the kill itself was quite masterful.”
He studied the two women with him skeptically. For all his erratic nature he was a dependable fighter when the need arose, where as the womenfolk were very early in their training. He definitely didn’t have the resources to revive Larry so he was going to have to be left behind. “I don’t think this is a fight we want to have. Janice?”
She turned away from the doorway. “Yes?”
“Go collect the boy, eat your damn meal and take him to his sister. Danica, look for the horses. If you can’t find them in a quarter hour, meet me at the slaughterhouse and we’ll perform the change on our new members.”
“Where will you be?” Janice asked.
“I’m going to find those maps.” Hernando grimaced. “It’s time to move on.”
“Yes. I’m not tangling with the unknown when we’re this far in the red. One day there will be a reckoning for this, but it’s not today.”
Setting writing goals for the year is a big part of making sure you meet those goals. Here are mine for 2022:
Thanks to all my faithful readers for sticking through another year! If you’re new, thank you for joining up. I’ll be taking this week an next week off for the Holidays and we’ll return to things next year! If you’ve been following the story I’m-sorry-not-sorry for leaving you on a cliff hanger but the twisted tale of the de la Feugos will continue on January 6th.
Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
It’s posted a day late but here’s yesterday’s writing vlog:
You have to set goals to hit goals. I’m thinking about my writing goals for next year, tune in to hear all about it.
“I like that one,” Larry said, patting Danica’s head eagerly.
She grabbed his hand and forcefully pushed it back to his side. “Stop it, Larry. No one cares what you do or don’t like, we just need you to stop making these messes.”
Larry sighed and picked up the bound and gagged man and carried him out to the dining room with the others. It was strange and unsettling to see the overweight ranch hand being carried like a sack of potatoes over Larry’s skeletal shoulders but she had to keep an eye on him or he would eat another one of the dwindling ranch staff before Hernando could make decisions about them. She was fairly certain de la Feugo wouldn’t want to keep any of the ranch hands. They were all muscular men, most on the larger side. Changing them would require a lot of gold that they simply didn’t have on hand at the moment, especially since he’d already chosen the rancher’s daughter as one of his converts.
Also, she’d noticed he liked to change women far more than men. The only other man she’d seen him consider changing was the scrawny cleaning boy at the Watcher’s Post who had about as much wit and sense as Larry, which was to say none at all. However outside of the daughter, women were in short supply in these parts. So if Larry partook before Hernando got around to inventorying their latest catch it probably wouldn’t effect the ultimate outcome.
But Hernando would be angry.
As Danica looked at the three dead humans Larry left in the bunk room she wondered if it was even worth trying to deflect that anger. Larry was a mindless idiot. Let him take the brunt of Hernando’s anger, that was what he was best for. If the de la Feugo patriarch didn’t kill Larry himself the wiry creature would undoubtedly be used to slow down some hostile pursuer, like he’d spent Danica’s sister to distract the druidic mayor down south in Ferry’s Landing. Much like Katharine, Larry was too poor in mind for anything else.
On the other hand, if Danica didn’t do something to make herself look useful she was likely to share her sister’s fate as well. So she started looking over the bodies to make sure he’d at least gotten all the blood out. Once it was clear he had – perhaps not surprising given Larry was the hungriest of them all – she started carrying them out to the dining area as well.
Larry was looming over the three surviving ranch hands and muttering to himself.
“What’s your problem, Larry?” She asked, watching him warily. “You tied them up real good, didn’t you?”
“Sure did,” Larry yelled back. “But he’s looking at me wrong, Danica. He’s gonna hit me.”
“They’re tied up Larry,” she replied, setting the first body down. The eyes of the living ranch hands widened. “How’s they gonna hit you when they’re trussed up like they’re goin’ to market?”
“He always hits me!” Larry shrieked, suddenly rearing back and kicking at one of the ranch hands with his heel.
Cursing the cretin’s lack of wits, Danica ran across the dining room, bowling the massive wooden table out of her way easily, wrapped her hands around his waist and leaned back. “Stop it, Larry!”
Larry did not stop. But, despite their appearances, she was the older of the two of them and had more iron in her veins. Even Larry’s gluttonous nature couldn’t balance the scales. Hernando always took everything but what Larry needed to keep going when the wiry man overindulged himself, where as he’d only drained Danica once, a few weeks after she was changed. Her superior weight dragged Larry away from the living ranchers one step at a time.
“Make ’em stop lookin’ at me!” Larry screamed once he was out of reach of his victims. “Make ’em stop, Danica!”
“Give it a rest,” she muttered into his back. “Only one way I can make ’em stop and we gotta let Hernando look at ’em before we can do it. He hits a lot worse than they do.”
“I certainly do.”
The room’s sudden chill was all in her mind but the knowledge of that fact didn’t stop Danica’s shudder. She carefully loosened her grip on Larry and turned the two of them to face Hernando. He stood in the boarding house’s entrance, silhouetted by the afternoon sun. The light washed out the aristocratic features of his face and reduced his luxurious suit, silver trimmed sword belt and leather duster to overlapping shadows. The baleful glare from his eyes outshone that from outside.
“What have you two done?” The calm question belied his wrathful expression.
“Hernando…” Larry shrunk away from him. “Just did what you told me.”
The Tetzlani man stalked into the room, towering over even the man who’s nickname was “Long,” and grabbed his face in a vicelike grip. “Is that a fact?” He pried Larry’s mouth open and sniffed. “I don’t recall telling you to eat whatever you want. Did I?”
Unable to speak or shake his head, Larry just whimpered.
Hernando just snorted and threw him to the ground in disgust. The wiry man scrabbled back and tried to get up but Hernando stamped on one of his hands as he scuttled about. Larry groaned but kept his mouth shut. “At least you know you must close your mouth some times,” Hernando said, voice low and soft. “Learn to control it better, else I will close it for good. Do you understand me?”
Larry nodded once. Hernando lifted his foot up and Larry started to get up again when Hernando’s boot came back and smashed him across the face, sending him sprawling across the floor. Danica watched the whole thing without speaking, hoping Hernando would forget she was there. But no such luck was with her. He let the backswing of his kick spin him around and crossed over to her immediately. Murderous black eyes stared down at her from beneath the brim of his narrow brimmed hat.
“I…” Her voice failed her for a moment. “I rounded up the horses like you wanted, sir. The iron is all there still.”
“I saw them in the barn when I passed through.” His immaculate fingertips pressed together in front of his stomach. “I believe I instructed you to remain there with Larry until I came to get you, did I not?”
“There was a horse that wandered into the north field and I went to retrieve it,” she said. “I left Larry in the barn with the other horses but he was gone when I got back.”
The world spun around Danica in a flash of light. She had crashed into the floor before Hernando’s hand striking her with the weight of all the iron and gold he’d taken behind it registered. The floor swam in front of her eyes for a moment. One of the greatest upsides of her changing was that she no longer felt pain and damage lingered briefly. But she knew better than to get up quickly. It was a lesson she’d learned right away, where Larry hadn’t figured it out yet.
“Idiot.” Hernando stalked back over to the bodies, living and dead, that they’d piled there for him. “Do you think horse blood is one tenth as important to me as the freshness of human iron? You should have left the gelding and kept ahold of Larry.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, carefully getting up to a sitting position. “If I’d known I had to wrangle both the horses and Larry I wouldn’t have let him go off on his own. But you gave him different tasks than me, so I didn’t think it mattered.”
For a moment, as their eyes met over Hernando’s shoulder, Danica wondered if she had gotten up too soon. Then he toed one of the living farm hands and snorted. “I suppose these will have to do. You will collect the blood and bring it to me, Danica, just as you will for the horses. Collect the excess from Larry as well.”
Danica suppressed a grimace. The change took away most touch and smell but enhanced the other senses beyond the human norm. Horse blood tasted terrible and old blood filtered through Larry’s innards would be worse. Turning it all over to Hernando wasn’t any fun either. “As you say.”
Hernando stalked out of the boarding house and Danica set about carrying out her tasks. First she sent Larry out to round up the horses, or else he would try and finish the ranch hands on his own and she was tired of trying to keep a handle on him. If he collected some iron from the horses for her she wasn’t about to complain.
Then she had to drain the living ranchers. Even with them tied up it wasn’t easy given the enormous size difference between them. The only one of his changed that Hernando let keep any major portion of the gold or iron they collected was Janice, so Danica didn’t weigh much more than she did before her change. A far cry from Hernando, who was easily seven or eight hundred pounds of densely packed metal.
After a little experimentation she settled for dragging the hands one at a time over to the table, looping their bonds under a table leg to hold them in place, then draining them dry. As an added benefit, the table leg kept their worst spasms from throwing them around too much. However, with Larry out of the building the last ranch hand nearly crawled his way out of the boarding house before Danica caught up to him and dragged him back inside.
With all the thumping, hauling, bleeding and screaming that went on, it took her almost an hour to finish that simple task. For a moment she considered finding Hernando and asking if he wanted to change any of them. But she’d spent a lot of time watching him over the last five months and knew if he’d wished to change any of them he would have said so already.
So she wiped her mouth off with one of the rancher’s bandannas and walked out towards the barn calling, “Larry? Larry, where you at?”
The gangly menace was nowhere to be seen in the dirt circle that surrounded the well at the heart of the homestead. Her eyes slipped over the buildings to the field behind the barn. The barn door was still open so he should have heard her calling if he was in there, but if he’d gone to the back fence to find a horse he might be out of earshot. Huffing and grumbling, Danica made her way around the barn to the back field.
But Larry wasn’t in the field. He wasn’t beyond the fence, there were no footprints in the dirt path leading down into the gully that passed through the ridge beyond and there were no signs of horses that might have tempted him in that direction anyway. It was like Larry had vanished.
Danica knew he always sulked a bit whenever Hernando got angry at him. Frankly she didn’t blame Larry on that count, Hernando was quick to anger and rarely raged with good reason. But even Larry wasn’t so stupid as to ignore Hernando’s orders just because their creator was angry with them. That way lay starvation and eventually a second death.
So Larry had to be doing something. Maybe he had just buried his head in horse innards and hadn’t heard her calling him. So Danica went back around to the front of the barn and looked in. The first thing she noticed was the lack of horses there. Which was odd. She’d left all the horses she’d rounded up in stalls not two hours ago. They weren’t in the barn and they weren’t in the field, so where could they have gotten to?
The second thing she noticed was a faint smell. Although the change had left her with almost no sense of smell even she noticed the scents of smoke and charred meat lingering in the air.
The third thing she noticed was Larry himself, propped in a half seated position by the water barrel. His legs were folded in the Sanna style, his hands resting in his lap. His severed head cradled in his hands.
PROJECT UPDATE: What it’s like to spend time writing a villain. Spoilers: Not always fun.
“The highest magic we know is gold.” Hernando de la Feugo rolled an obol through his fingers, the yellow cast of the coin catching the afternoon sunlight and reflecting it to the darkest corners of the room. “Even iron, which wars with all other magics, submits to the power of gold. It’s still a proud and stubborn metal but it recognizes the power of gold as king. Yet the nature of gold is to bind with other metals. It does not enhance magic, as copper might, or take on a false life of its own, as silver does. A conundrum but a beautiful one, almost as lovely as you.”
He ran his fingers through golden waves of the girl’s hair, released from their braids like a river released from it’s banks. “You know, the druids your ancestors served in Avalon held life as the highest magic. For centuries they considered iron the magic of death, since it leeches even the magic of life. But in time, what did we discover?” Hernando ran his fingers down the side of her cheek, along the bottom of her chin and finally over the graceful curves of her neck. Then he licked the blood off of them with relish. “Iron is the very foundation of the life’s blood, a part of our own existence we cannot escape. And if iron bows to gold, so too must life.”
He placed a single obol over one of the girl’s unseeing eyes. “Beauty.”
Another coin over the other. “Wisdom.”
A third in her mouth. “Joy.”
He wrapped her right hand around a fourth coin. “Skill.”
And a fifth in her left. “Strength.”
A coin on her heart. “The past.”
Another on her womb. “The future.”
He lifted his golden knife, still red with her iron. “All these submit to the power of Charon, the-”
“I found the books, Hernando!”
Hernando carefully set down his bag of coins and placed his knife beside it. “Thank you, Janice.” He pressed his palms together gently they held them there with all his strength. “This couldn’t have waited until I was done here?”
“They have the symbols, Hernando.” Janice bent forward a bit as she looked up at him, her eyes wide in a sickening imitation of childish innocence. “You said I should let you know if I saw the symbols right away, no matter what you were doing.”
Her shoulder length red hair was held in a loose ponytail, swept over her left shoulder. Hernando grabbed it and used it to pull her into an upright position so she would stop her noxious simpering. “I did say that, Janice. Thank you. Still, it’s surprising that you saw them here.” He looked around at the rough wooden walls of the slaughterhouse, where the previous owners of the cattle ranch had prepared their food much as he was doing now. “I wouldn’t think ranch hands or cattle barons would have much use for those kinds of books. Show me.”
Janice’s eyes wandered to the girl, laid out in full ritual fashion, and licked her lips. “You promised that I would have one this time.”
“And you will. After you show me what you found.”
“I have one picked out.”
This time he just stared at the woman until she withered a bit and took him where he wanted to go. The ranch compound was four buildings in total, the slaughterhouse, the barn, the boarding house and the ranch house. It was this last building where Janice led him. The house was relatively luxurious, with a wooden floor, lovingly sanded, a loft for storage and sleeping children, a great room with a brick hearth, a generous kitchen and not one but two bedrooms. In size it wouldn’t have been out of place on a wealthier street in Tetzlan City. The furnishings were rough, mostly handmade wooden furniture with no padding or upholstery, but that was to be expected. Such finery wouldn’t have lasted long in the Columbian wilds.
But, to Hernando’s surprise, there was a floor to ceiling bookshelf in the master bedroom, stuffed to bursting with books. Perhaps that made sense. So far from civilization any sensible person would have to stock up on whatever knowledge they could, since no libraries or monasteries of learned men were on hand to consult with. And sure enough, the Mark of Eternity was there.
Two of the books had a simple rectangle flanked by twin triangles on its spine. Below that was the feathered triangle of the Avaloni coat of arms. With a sinking feeling Hernando reached out and took one of the books, flipping quickly through the first few pages. Then he slammed it closed and held it under Janice’s nose. “Do you know what this is?”
Her aura of satisfaction quickly wilted under his stare. “I… it looked like a book with the symbols on it?”
“It is a History of the Forever Wars.” He cuffed her on the ear. “The worthless lies you Avaloni tell about your so-called First King. That’s all. I know Avalon is full of pathetic minds and empty lies, and Columbia can’t hope to be any better than its founders, but I would think you could at least recognize your own childish fairy tales.”
“Ain’t like I learned reading, Hernando,” she muttered, cradling the side of her face. “I heard about Arthur fighting Eternity from the Hearth Keepers but I didn’t know that symbol had anything to do with it.”
He ignored her excuses and threw the book over on the bed, skimming over the other titles on the bookshelf. Nothing really stood out to him. Most of it was simple Hearth Keeper texts, like the History, basic veterinary texts or penny dreadfuls. Exactly the subjects he’d expect from books on a cattle ranch, just more of them than he’d expected. “Pay more attention in the future, Janice. The popular conception of the Mark is different from what I showed you. The triangles lay flat against the center, they don’t stand apart from it like fangs.” He’d explained that the firs time but to his complete lack of surprise she’d forgotten. “I shouldn’t be surprised. Why would a place like this have anything bearing the symbols of the Army of Eternity?”
“Well if you didn’t think it would be here, why did you tell me to look?”
Hernando gritted his teeth. “Because it’s important to be open to possibilities.”
“Well, if you’ll be taking in someone who can learn me my letters, I can tell the difference in the future.” She straightened up and pulled her hand away from her ear. “Speaking of which-”
“No, Janice, you may not take one for yourself.” He jangled the bag of loose coins they’d found in the ranch thoughtfully. “Unfortunately the paymaster didn’t keep many large coins in the paybox. The problem of working for a tightfisted owner. We have enough gold to change one or perhaps two more, the rest is silver.”
Janice’s hands slipped up to massage his shoulders as she whispered in his ear. “If we do things my way we can get two for certain.”
Hernando sighed, knowing the best way to get her to be quiet about her idea was to hear it out. “Who do you have in mind?”
“The boy. He’s small, he’ll cost you a lot less than an adult. Add him to the woman you’re working on and there you go – you’ll have two! He can grow the investment easily, like Danica. And just think, then we’ll have a boy and a girl!”
That was the kind of reasoning he’d come to expect from Janice but he didn’t see any value in it. He was already coming to regret letting himself get talked into changing Danica, who was proving a lot less useful than he’d originally hoped. “I will consider it. In the mean time, you may take him for your meal. Do as you like with him, just remember to clean yourself out when you’re done. We’ll need to gather in the remaining ranch hands and add them to my reserves before the day is out.”
“What’s the rush, darling?” She wrapped her arms around his chest. “This place is nice and we could take our time with the meat. It’s so much better when we take it fresh.”
Hernando suppressed a shudder at the notion that anyone could find the place nice. “I don’t disagree. But the escapee from the Watcher’s outpost must have reached a settlement by now and sooner or later a posse is going to come looking for us. This is the natural place to start. We need to be gone before they arrive.”
“You don’t think we can deal with them?”
“I’m not willing to risk it, not yet.” Hernando fingered the gold in his bag, turning an obol over in his fingers as considered. “If we add another four to our numbers perhaps we’ll be ready to fight off a few dozen armed men. Even then, such actions will only draw greater and greater wrath. We must move with care.”
Janice sighed. “Of course. And the boy?”
Annoyed, he pulled her arms off of him and shoved her away. “Don’t get attached to your food. I’ll decide if I change him later.”
“Fine.” She crossed her arms and sulked. “Do whatever you want.”
Hernando straightened his clothes and marched out of the house towards the barn. Only once he was across the threshold, looking through the stalls to find Long Larry, did he remember he still had to ask Charon to bring back his own meal and change her into one of them. Then there was still a half a dozen ranch hands to work their way through and the livestock itself to deal with. When the old texts he’d found in the Tetzlani archives promised him the Rite of Golden Thirst would ensure he never went hungry again he never expected the business of it to become so tedious.
He’d been careful when they ate the Storm’s Watch on the northern ridge. But at least there had been something interesting in breaking up their powerful wards and clever use of plant magics. He didn’t want to spend his life running from posses but he wouldn’t mind another challenge like that to break up the monotony.
Not that there was likely to be another man equal to the head of the Watchers in three counties. Perhaps someone could afford to hire The Strongest Man in the World to hunt him down. That was another legend that had the ring of a fairy tale to it. Over the last two decades the mercenaries of the West had grown in reputation until they overshadowed even the soldiers and gentry of the surrounding nations and Columbian firespinners were supposedly the toughest of the lot. None of them could hold a candle to the pride of Tetzlan. He looked forward to the chance to prove it.
Not everything about life is exciting, fun or happy. In fact many of the most evil things in the world are mundane and boring. That said, they don’t always make for the most interesting storytelling. When telling stories about a struggle between good and evil it is difficult to encompass evil without showing some of the more extreme, clearly despicable things it does. The mundane evil of keeping time on the train to Auschwitz isn’t as stark as we’d like to think.
All of this is prelude to something I find myself saying more and more often these days – Fire and Gold isn’t always the most uplifting thing I’ve written. Perhaps my mind is dwelling in darker places than it did in my more optimistic days. But these details are a part of a bigger picture and before you decide whether Fire and Gold is something you want to read let me make my case.
Action Comics #775 is an iconic issue of the series. Titled “What’s so Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way” it features a fascinating story about Superman literally and figuratively answering criticisms of the way the character is traditionally written. While that story is undoubtedly worth its own standalone analysis that’s not my purpose here. A lot of great storytelling was done there but one thing that really stood out to me came in the third act of the story, as a band of self-righteous supervillains suddenly found themselves on the run from Superman as he implacably hunted them down, one by one. It was a bizarre subversion of a horror story.
In the classical horror story grossly disproportionate retribution is brought on a person or group of people for a simple moral failing. They’re morality tales, but the creature at the heart of the story is just as evil or twisted as those it punishes. (Incidentally, this is why the most pure and innocent member of the cast, usually a young woman, is the final survivor in most horror stories – morality is a defense against the horror.) But in “Truth, Justice and the American Way” Superman becomes the monster in The Elite’s own personal horror story.
I have always wanted to explore that idea as the core of a full story. I never really had the right characters or setting for that story until I came up with Roy Harper. Once I had him clearly in mind and realized I wanted to tell his story from multiple viewpoints I knew I had the core elements for this kind of horror story in hand. In time Fire and Gold was the story that grew out of that.
The premise is simple. A truly evil man will find the notion of justice terrifying, and the notion that justice is interested in him personally doubly so. I hope that walking through that shadowed valley to the final dispensation of justice will be satisfying. But, like C.S. Lewis before us, we’ll have to spend some time with the Uncle Screwtapes of Roy’s world before we can get there.
Hopefully you’ll be willing to come along with us.
Writing is slowing down for the holidays, but we’re still doing some work. Details in this week’s vlog.