the villain who took over my plot

Imagine, if you will, a party of heroes trapped with Whirling Blades of Doom! ™ coming down on them slowly from above. Stone sides, no secret doors, no weapons or ‘I forgot I had these’ moments.

Suddenly, the door is kicked open! Maxwell has arrived!

Maxwell grabs his son, turns, and slams the door on the rest of the heroes’ faces, leaving them to their fate. Hey he never said he’d save them, after all.

This isn’t something that happened in my story. Yet, this is somewhat typical of Maxwell’s behavior. The greatest jerk you’d ever meet– an animated man in his late forties, armed with his black clothes, top hat and cane. A mad scientist in every way.

Since making his appearance on camera, he’s enslaved a dead man, drove through the countryside in a giant mechanical crab (terrifying more than a few farmers in the process), left my heroine to die, broken into a water factory, pulled his gun on more than a few people… only stopped short of killing because of the nice people he had to team up with.

He was supposed to be a villain. So why isn’t it working?

I can’t tear my eyes off of this guy.

nano excerpt

Maxwell’s goal was the very back of his laboratory, next to the drafting table. Uriel’s hibernation put him standing against the wall. For extra safety, Maxwell had had him strap himself into a set of electro-magnetic cuffs at the wrists, the waist, the neck. “This is Uriel.”

Samin looked the man up and down, more than a little disturbed.

Uriel looked human.

He was a big man, just about the same age as Samin if looks were to be any judge. His skin was tan, and because Uriel wore a worker’s undershirt Samin could see that Uriel was heavily muscled. His hair was black, pulled back into a knot behind him, his nose and jaw very strong. He looked like a beast of a fellow, someone Samin would want his axe nearby should he prove unfriendly. Samin turned back to Maxwell. “What is this?”

“He’s… we’ll call him my servant.” Maxwell reached around the back of Uriel’s head and tapped a button he’d installed there– a ‘kill’ switch, should Uriel ever become dangerous. Now Maxwell mostly used it as a way to shock him out of hibernation.

Uriel’s eyes opened. They were red, and they glowed slightly.

“So… is he human?” Samin asked. “I can’t tell.”

“He used to be,” Maxwell said. “I needed a prototype to resurrect after Leo died. I couldn’t try blind on my son.”

“He’s a dead man?”

“I didn’t kill him, if that’s what you’re asking. Filched him out of a hospital morgue. There were some problems, of course, with doing it that way. He’d been dead for at least an hour, and he’s never remembered anything about his life.” Maxwell gestured with his cane brandishing it up and down Uriel’s chest. “This man can carry over a literal ton, and yet delicate enough to reassemble eggshells. Mind like a calculator, memory like a written book. A few extra toys built in here and there. I think this is the pinnacle of my life’s work.”

Maxwell walked to a control booth well away from Uriel and flipped a lever. Uriel’s cuffs were released.

“Why do you keep him locked up?” Samin asked.

“Because he’s dangerous,” Maxwell replied. “Most great artificers are killed by their own creations, you know. I mean to see that that does not become me. Uriel…” Maxwell handed him the list he had written. “I need these things. Load up the crab and ready the hatch doors.” Uriel nodded and left to start collecting things. Maxwell frowned and turned back. “Except for Leo’s personal effects on the bottom… I’ll get those.”

Maxwell seemed to have forgotten about Samin– he left him in his laboratory alone with Uriel.

Samin was fascinated and horrified at the same time. “But…” he finally said, “What is the difference, then, between what Maxwell has done to you, and what Gennyson has done to Leo?”

He hadn’t expected an answer.

“I’ll need a detailed description of what Gennyson did to the younger Gallows before I can answer that,” Uriel said without breaking his work. “But given context and the evidence of grave robbery combined with Gennyson’s history with Maxwell Gallows, I suspect Gennyson had stolen the boy’s body?”

Samin blinked. “Stole, stored, deconstructed, cobbled together badly.”

“Then the difference is that Maxwell is better at his art than Gennyson. In matters of freedom, I have more– the difference between slavery and prison, retrospectively. In situation, his was the better, as Leo continues to have allies after his remaking.” Uriel mounted the ladder at the far side and began to pull it back and forth, taking parts and pieces from selected shelves, packing them into bags for transportation.

“You’re a slave?”

“Yes and no.” Uriel hopped down from the ladder, slammed the stone floor with both feet on landing. “The technical definition of slavery is, ‘a person that is owned by another’. Now, if that definition was expanded, all machines and devices of civilization are the slaves of men, as are all beasts, pets, livestock. The question you must ask is, ‘am I human, or not?’. What is a person? Is it a mind, or a will? Can a dead man yet retain a soul? What is the elusive quality that defines humanity?”

Samin’s mouth was dry. “Do you want out?”

For a brief moment, Uriel stopped working. His voice had such intensity that Samin stepped back. “Yes.”

Samin did not interrupt Uriel again.

I love my villains.

nano excerpt

(My apologies if the names are hard to keep straight. It makes complete sense in context.)

Merrily took them to the town’s bar first, shrieked and tried to tackle the bartender as soon as she passed through the doorway. He caught her in one arm without spilling the drink he was pouring. “Gamble!” he roared, slid the drink down the bar counter, capped the bottle, and gave her a hug. Leo was beginning to see why she had grabbed him that morning in the woods. He had hardly been able to bring himself to talk to her since then.

“Trouble!” Merrily called, entirely louder than needed. Her brother set her gently on the ground. “Trouble, listen. We got an artificer.”

Her brother’s head snapped up, and he looked beyond the bar at Maxwell and Leo. After a moment’s consideration, he stepped forward and offered Maxwell his hand. “I’m Matthew Soarin,” he said.

Maxwell didn’t shake his hand. He tried to stare Matthew down.

Matthew stepped close. “You think you’re better than us, don’t you?”

“Don’t you shoot my brother, Mister Gallows!”

“I don’t think his hand could get to his holster in time, Merrily.” Matthew’s eyes did not move from Maxwell’s. “Mister Gallows. Welcome to Rathberry. I can tell that you don’t want to be here, so I will be brief. My mama means the world to me. You are going to take very good care of her. Is that clear?”

Maxwell nodded.

“Good.” Matthew stepped away, returning to a polite distance. He looked askance at Leo.

“Leo Gallows,” Leo said, and was quick to offer his own palm.

Matthew shook it. Leo noticed that he kept a blade in his sleeve. “I’m very pleased to see you. I hope the farm is to your liking.” Matthew returned to the bar and hugged Merrily again. “You have a way to get home?”

“Not yet.”

“I’ll pass word around the patrons that you’re looking for a ride. Stick around for two hours, and I’m sure I can get you the back of a cart at worst.”

“I’m visiting Joel and Marc first. Send them on over.”

“Right.” Matthew turned and grabbed a bottle and a short glass. “Before you go…” he poured one drink in, then a bit of another, handed it off. Merrily grinned and poured it down her throat.

She started choking almost immediately. “Gah!”

Matthew laughed. “That’s what you get!”

“Trying to poison me…”

She was still rubbing her neck when they left the bar, muttering uncomplimentary things under her breath about Matthew’s sense of humor.

Maxwell cocked his head to look back at the tavern. “I like him.”

“Why do you call him Trouble?” Leo asked.

Merrily made a face. Her mouth was still burning. “Why do you think?”

“I very much like him,” Maxwell said. “Fine gentleman.”

nano excerpt

Though granted, it’s a rather small one.

Chapter Two
In which illegal activities are pursued with the very best intentions.

Maxwell Gallows was in the habit of seeing people with labels above their heads.

His butcher and grocer at home, for instance, had had the label ‘food source’ hovering over them. His wife had had several labels before she’d died, including, ‘bed companion’, ‘house cleaner’, and ‘constant source of irritation’. Uriel had been given the high honor of ‘living calculator/ongoing experiment/baggage service’.

Miss Soarin’s title was still pending, but as present Maxwell had given her the tentative title of ‘Map*’, beneath which the footnote read, “* Violent – Not to be touched.”

nano practice

Still trying to get down characters, setting, and feel for my new novel. I’ve never written steampunk before, but this was immensely enjoyable.

“Are you certain that this is a good idea?” Paul asked.

Abraham’s hand, covered in grease smudges, did not waver. He had careful hands, good hands; a good mechanist could keep a level palm as the world collapsed around him. He paused, said, “Yes,” and flipped the switch. The wires trailing from switch to device swayed. Electricity arched, hit the grounding wires, and dissipated.

At the Soarin farm, Leo stopped halfway between the coop and the farmhouse, a basket of eggs in hand. It was all he could do to keep the basket held up as he collapsed. He hit his head hard on impact, but he saved the Soarin’s breakfast.

Fifty seven miles away, the lights in Maxwell’s secret laboratory shut off one section at a time as it lost power. Five blocks of white lights, then a panel of red glowing buttons, then one last green light by the back wall flickered and died. For a moment all was still.

Then a steel marble, freed from its magnet, ran along the metal track, into a cup, tipped over a weight, triggered a line, and turned on the backup generator. The emergency systems hummed, then roared back to life.

Uriel started the rebooting process. First his core functions, the platform that supported power, air intake, communication lines. His fingers moved on their own as the system checked each component of his rebuilt body. Red eyes glowed briefly in the dark, dilated in and out. Uriel looked down, where his hands were forced to rest at his side by electro-magnetic cuffs.

But electro-magnets needed electricity to run.

The beep behind his ear signaled the start of his auxiliary functions. That included links to the artificer, access to Maxwell’s private data files, locked tools… but it also included a behavior control procedure.

Uriel ripped his hand free of the cuff, grabbed the first tool on the nearby bench– a brass compass fit with a charcoal pen, and rammed the sharp point of the instrument though his temple, several inches into a mechanical brain. Uriel’s right half went numb, and he lost vision in that eye. Auxiliary booting halted mid-procedure.

He screwed off his head and placed it carefully on the table, pried out his left eyeball and navigated his way through the room to the emergency kit. He took two mirrors, four beeswax candles, a pair of candle-sticks, fancy matches, and set up his workshop: one candlestick for the light, the other to perch his red eye on. Uriel opened his own head from the back, pulled away the hair, and began to repair the damage, adjusting the angle of his eye by hand every few minutes. If he’d had his mouth, he would have whistled.

Free. Free. Free.

Back in the study, Abraham wiped his hands on his work pants. “Power off. I told you I knew what I was doing.”

how do you prepare for nano?

Personally, I’ve been haunting the fantasy forums and coyly posting whenever I see some opportunity to show off (at least I’m honest?), then wondering if I could be writing out a detailed plot. Notes on the church bulletins during the announcements, daydreaming situations… really, though, I think the best way to set out a tone is to write out bits and pieces.

I had an idea for a scene and tone that I liked a short while ago. I can’t write for nano yet, but so long as I don’t use my samples for my wordcount, it’s all good.

Here’s something that I came up with:

“You’re going to spar, Miss Soarin?” Leo asked, and forced a smile. He stepped carefully away from Merrily, hands held behind his back in what he considered a respectful pose.

“Yep!” Merrily hoisted up the hem of her lemon-yellow gingham skirt. “I’ve got trousers on. See?”

Her trousers were brown, the sort of stiff canvas that the Soarin boys wore about the yard. The garment fit her so well that the cut suggested tailoring. He could imagine a healthy Misses Soarin laboring by lamplight with measuring tape and needle… Leo stopped his imagination there and tried not to think about Merrily’s legs. “But… why not just wear trousers? You might take off your skirts…”

Merrily’s smile turned at once, and she sent him a pointed glare, dropped the hem of her skirt, and marched off toward her brothers and their sand bag targets.

Leo fumbled, grasped for something else to say. He certainly hadn’t meant it as an insult; he needed to make it better. “… Mechanics wear trousers!”

That probably wasn’t it.

So… anyone else doing NaNo want to write snippets along with me? Comment with a link; I’ll post them on my site.

link for writers / gamers – medieval demographics

This is perhaps one of the most useful fantasy tools I’ve run across in a long time. I’m just sorry that I didn’t have it for last year’s ‘World Building Month’ event.

Medieval Demographics Made Easy, by S. John Ross.
“Numbers for Fantasy Worlds.”

Basically, this page discusses how many people can fit onto so much land– medieval population density, how big a town must be to support certain occupations, and how this all pertains to world building and specifically, gaming or writing in a fantasy setting. For anyone who ever wanted to add realism in an economical set-up, this is for you.

world building: weapons

Weapons, like clothes and architecture, fall into and out of fashion. The weapons described here are what is usually used in Vastii at the time of my novel.

Knives, Daggers, Dirks
These weapons are not only common, but expected. A man walking around without a blade of some kind is just asking for trouble.

Knives are most common; commoners make their knives from rock, bone, or iron, if they can get it. Steel is prized, and knives made out of it are prized, as are very well wrought bone dirks, and they’re a common form of currency (the most common being steel coins, not for their mint, but for the material– more on that later). Handles for humans are usually made of braided rope or wood, as the cold of frozen metal still penetrates gloves.

Noblemen tend toward larger blades, and while they carry knives, they probably also carry something larger. Dirks are currently very popular weapons, while throwing knives are not common.

Swords come in a variety of styles. Because the city is underground and open space can’t be taken for granted, short swords are prevalent, and they don’t make anything approaching the size of a claymore. Stabbing is often more effective than slashing.

The common sword is shorter than a man’s arm, with a small or nonexistent hilt. The sketch of the Roman Gladius (from wikipedia) is a fairly good depiction of this style. Patrols that move along the Spiral Highway and the larger caverns often carry longer swords, taking advantage of the common short blade.

There are also much thinner swords that resemble needles or icicles than ordinarily blades. These are easy to shatter with larger weapons, however, and have fallen out of style.

Hammers, Axes, Splitting Mauls
The biggest problem with these weapons is that they require room to swing. Small axes, pick-axes, and hammers are less restricted than larger equivalents, but also do less damage to an opponent. Holding a very large hammer or axe is also considered a sign of power at the time my novel takes place in.

A splitting maul is an axe with a large blunt weight on the opposite side of the blade, which can also be used like a war-hammer. These are great for splitting large amounts of wood. They’re better as weapons of war, if there’s enough space to swing them.

Polearms have largely fallen out of style. The exception to this rule is hunting on the surface.

Tigers have adapted to the cold, and know that a warm cave entrance will likely have prey inside if it doesn’t smell of gas. Human communities (the troglodytes) fight them off frequently with long spears, cross-guarded so that a stabbed tiger is held at bay much like a boar-spear. The Mordache have taken their idea, and navigators that travel between the cities on the surface carry these weapons on their runs (traveling on a sled pulled by teams of dogs– the spear snaps to the side, and most sleds are made to hold at least two).

Polearms are also used in the arena. A troglodyte forced to fight a tiger will be given a spear and a long, curved knife made of bone.

The half-spear
The half-spear competes with the short sword as the weapon of choice. Fast, agile, and ideal for stabbing forward, the spear is an aggressive weapon and is associated with speed and cleverness.

The Crossbow
The rise of the crossbow was the downfall of the throwing knife. Currently, crossbows are made in several styles. Large crossbows hold bolds an inch in diameter and come with gears to wind the string back in the mechanism. Small crossbows hold much thinner bolts, and can be held in one hand and loaded more quickly.

Ordinary crossbows are made for short range. Since the limit of its use is dictated by the available light, most are not accurate at long ranges.

There is a specialty crossbow that is designed to hit far targets. It requires a second machine to draw its string back, since it puts several hundred pounds of force on the draw. The bolts are very long, carved special. These are hard to find, expensive, and illegal; they’re primarily used for assassinations, aiming at a lit target from over a long distance.