Snippets 1: The Broken Kingdoms

Going to try something new now, as I lead up to the publication of The Kingdom of Gods (remember, kids: October 27th!). I’ll try to post these once a week or so.

Like many authors, I make lots of false starts in the process of writing a novel. Some had legs, but just didn’t go far enough toward my goal; some were badly-written crap; some would have been beautiful — in a different novel. I tend to keep most of my significant text cuts, just because I’m a textual packrat and I’m always worried I might change my mind about that turn of phrase, this patch of description, and be unable to recreate it just that way if I delete it. So instead of deleting those bits, I store them in “snippets” files, one for every book. I’m going to share a few of the better snips here and explain why I wrote them, and why I didn’t continue them. Note: spoilers will abound in these posts, so consider this your fair warning.

The first set of snips are from The Broken Kingdoms — since it just came out in mass market paperback this week. To explain, I wasn’t sure at first that I wanted to write the story ten years after The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, or from Oree’s point of view, so I wrote a few “test chapters” in order to figure out the voice and direction I wanted. First, I experimented with writing it from Itempas’ PoV (yeah, really):

There was a time when I ruled the universe. Most powerful and glorious of all, I was worshipped and adored, my every command obeyed and my every whim satisfied. In my name, the world trod a shining path of peace and enlightenment that has never been matched in mortal history.

This is not a tale of those times.

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Vomiting is painful. I have determined that I do not enjoy it at all.

Being beaten is more painful still. But with beatings there is the promise of unconsciousness and oblivion, so I do not mind that pain quite as much.

This one didn’t get far, because the voice was completely wrong. Itempas isn’t supposed to be a snarky guy, nor a pathetic one (though there are reasons to empathize with him, I didn’t want to evoke sympathy). A look inside his head, IMO, should be incomprehensible, because he thinks in laws and declarations, not thoughts. He has only the thinnest veneer of a subconscious; he exists in a state of perpetual denial; he has nothing approaching recognizable morality. I tried to come up with some way to depict this internal weirdness for awhile, and eventually realized I would have to make the narrative so alien that almost no one would be able to follow it. Including me. So I scrapped that one.

Next, I contemplated writing the story as a prequel set at the start of the Gods’ War, and using Itempas’ half-human son — the one whose blood eventually killed Enefa — as a viewpoint character (though not the protagonist, or the one whose decisions drove the story; Shahar Arameri would’ve been that). I intended to start fairly early in his life:

In darkness I float. Most of the time the only sound in this darkness is a steady, soothing rhythm of sounds: pulses and sighs, punctuated by the occasional arrhythmic gurgle. I enjoy this, though I like better when new sounds intrude upon the rhythm because they are more interesting. So when soft, oddly muffled voices invade this cozy darkness, I do not mind. Indeed, I am curious.

The first voice is deeper than my love’s. I have learned to identify such voices as male. “Shahar.”

“My lord!” My love’s voice fills me with wordless, inexplicable joy. I quiver for it. “If I had known — Please, let me bring you — ”

“Be at ease, Shahar.” The voice draws closer. “So this is the result of my weakness.”

“Yes.” Anxiety, now, in the voice I love. I do not understand her worry. “Are you… displeased?”

There is no answer for several long breaths, and in that time, the pulse above me quickens.

“I should never have touched you,” says the male voice at last. It is very soft.

“You needed, my lord. I was happy to provide.” I hear my love move, stepping closer to the male voice. “I wish you had stayed.”

“I would not have,” he says, as if she hasn’t spoken. “If not for…” There is a long silence.

I will never leave you,” says my love. I feel her anger, though it makes no sense to me. “I will love you for the rest of my life. I will love no other, my lord. I am yours and yours alone.”

“Yes,” he says, slowly, “yes.” After another long silence, he says, “Tell me of the child.”

I hear her exhale. “It grows quickly. The sages think it will be born around the winter solstice, a full four months early.” Something presses against me, even more comforting than the dark. This is how she touches me. I wriggle with pleasure. “They are certain this is… well… all the signs are that…”

“The child is mine, of course.” There is a pause, and then new pressure joins the first. This is less comforting, somehow, so I pause and frown, trying to understand why. “There can be no doubt. Even now, he is aware.”

“He?” The one whom I adore inhales, and I perceive her delight. “A son?”

She is pleased with me! I wriggle anew, so excited that I no longer mind the additional presence. He is irrelevant to me. I dismiss him from my attention. To my great annoyance, this seems only to amuse him.

“Definitely my child,” he says with a hint of wryness, and then the new pressure goes away. Then: “You grow thin. The child taxes you.”

“I don’t mind,” she says firmly, and I swell with her pride. “To give you pleasure was my greatest joy. To bring a child of yours into the world is an honor. Your son will be born strong and healthy, I promise you.”

I feel his surprise, this stranger. He likes her determination, accepts her devotion as his due, but along with this, there is concern. And something beneath that; something unsteady and yearning, which confuses me. He steps closer. I do not like his nearness — or his effect on my love, who is happier than I have ever felt her. This realization fills me with jealousy. I twist with it, unable to express my feelings any other way.

“Oh — ” I hear her exclaim, as she so often does when I move. “He’s kicking.”

The pressure returns. I know her touch and this is not it. I turn toward the interloper, trying to figure out how to make him go away. Something rises in me, hot and bright, and in anger I fling it at that offending touch.

There is a cry and a jolt. The pulse around me skips a beat. At once I realize my error, and my horror: I have hurt her. Hurt my love!

“Sit here, Shahar,” he says.

“M-my lord, I… It’s nothing, I’m fine.”

He knows that she is not. So do I. I wail anguish, but the sound of my own voice is thin, weak. I despise both it and myself. I curl in on myself in remorse.

“Be still,” says the male voice, and suddenly I realize it is talking to me. So startled am I by the novelty of this — no one has ever spoken to me but her, my joy — that I fall silent.

Fresh warmth suffuses us, healing whatever part of her I have damaged and soothing her pain. This startles me too, for I have never felt anything like it. It is something like the bright hotness that I used, but much, much greater. Blinding, searing. Only control as perfect and precise as a diamond’s edges keeps this brightness in check; I am infinitestimal in comparison. It could destroy me easily, I realize with some trepidation — and for a moment, while it looms over me, I feel the presence consider doing precisely that.

“My lord.” My beloved’s voice is suddenly edged. Fear and protectiveness fire her blood, sharpen my awareness. She has guessed what he is thinking. “Please, my lord. Please.”

There is a long, long silence. He does not waver in it; to him, the course of action is clear. Only her plea stays his hand.

Of course. She is wondrous that way. So I uncurl and offer myself to that hot, ready power. I have caused my love suffering, tainted her with fear. I do not want to leave her, and I am afraid, but I understand that the bright man is right; I am dangerous to her. So I let him know that I want him to do it, even if she does not.

Surprise from the bright man. Then, quick as lightning, a new decision.

Wordlessly he teaches me, sending knowledge into my core in a swift, stunning flood. It is almost more than I can bear, this infusion. It hurts. But I refuse to be overwhelmed by it. I defy it! I swallow it into myself, and as I do, understanding comes.

The hot brightness that I have felt is power, and never again must I use it as I did unless I wish to cause harm. This is how it works and this is how to control it and this is why it matters. I drink down the first two draughts without qualm, but the third annoys me; of course I realize why it matters. Does he think me a fool?

“No,” he says, amused again. “Clearly you aren’t that.”

“What?” asks my love, my — my mother, yes, this too he has given me. She cannot hear me as he can, and for a moment this makes me sad.

No matter. I know how to take care, now, so that I never hurt her again. Reluctantly I offer thanks to the bright man, though I still do not like him much.

“His name,” he asks her. “What do you plan to call him, Shahar?”

“Call him?” Something in her relaxes as she realizes he has decided to let me live. She laughs, louder than usual. “I hadn’t decided yet.”

He strokes me again, and I feel that same swift, almost brutally decisive shift in him. Now he is possessive. I have proven myself worthy of his attention. “Shinda.”

“Shinda.” She seems to taste the syllables, considering their flavor; she likes them. “Does it have meaning?”

“Swift-burning star,” he says. “In a language your kind no longer speaks.”

Her pleasure fades. “You chose this name because he will be mortal.”

“In part. But also because the stars with the shortest lifespan are the brightest in the heavens.” Another of those proprietary caresses. “This one will burn bright.”

My mother is pleased. I consider the name and decide that I like it too. Very well; Shinda I am.

“I’m glad you approve,” drawls the bright man.

Then his hand is gone. “I will stay with you,” he says to my love, and because this makes her happy, I decide that I will tolerate him. He knows many things, after all, and he has great power. Someday, perhaps, I will love him too.

This had potential, and I actually wrote several more scenes from Shinda’s point of view. I’ll post more of them later. Ultimately, though, I decided to remove them because the history of the demons works better as a distant, imperfectly-understood thing — and because Shinda’s story didn’t really add anything to the story. After all, we know his tragic fate. Detailing it would’ve added wordcount, but no forward movement to the plot.

Ultimately this was why I decided against tackling a pre-Gods-War prequel. We know already how it ends, and while it might be interesting to see how we get there, it still adds nothing to the series. Still, I gave the idea of a prequel a good thinkover before I finally discarded it. Even wrote a kind of prologue set even further back, at the time of the extermination of the demons.

It is the sun the demon notices first. The light is too bright. And the wind, too brisk. These are warnings.

It is the winter season. The village is a small one perched on the edge of a vast plain; thatch-roofed flotsam atop a wavering tan sea. A plague came recently and took some of the old and some of the young, leaving the inhabitants with several huts more than their population can fill. The abandoned huts are in good condition; the villagers keep them up as well as they can. They are simple people, but they understand the nature of their universe: death, birth, and the progression of time. Eventually the huts will be needed again.

For now, however, one of them makes an excellent hiding place.

From within the cracked-mud walls, the demon listens to his unwitting neighbors as they chatter and go about their daily lives. They have also spotted the strangeness of the light and the weather. The villagers worry that it might be a bad omen. For once, the demon thinks, the humans are correct.

The abandoned hut is stuffy and close. The demon has sealed the windows shut with flaps of oiled hide and thick antler-glue, stolen from the tanner’s hut. He has stuffed more hide in the gap under the door. A magically smokeless fire smolders on the hearth, lending hue and warmth but little real light to the small chamber. The wind is dying as the day’s light fades but still the demon paces, restless, now and again peeling back a flap of hide to peer outside. Sunset approaches; he is worried. The twilight is more dangerous than the day or night alone.

From a basket on the hut’s rickety table comes a muffled whimper which distracts the demon from his fears. He goes to it, crouching to gaze into the eyes of his son. Such bright little eyes. He has swaddled the child tightly to discourage squirming and encourage sleep, but it seems the child has other ideas. Pulses of simple fear which reflect some of the demon’s own anxiety come to him and he sighs, leaning down to kiss the small upturned face.

“Soon, my little love,” he says; it is the softest of murmurs. “Very soon now, you will be safe.”

The words are beyond the child, but the reassurance which underlies them is not. The child’s fussing softens into occasional hitches, then silence. Those bright little eyes search the demon’s face, and in spite of himself the demon smiles.

“If only they could look at you and feel what I feel,” he says. “They see only the danger. Now you and I may be the last.” He forces despair away from his heart lest the infant detect it. “No. Others must have survived. One day, perhaps, you’ll find them.”

The child murmurs softly in response, clumsily mimicking his mouth-movements and speech.

He strokes the down-soft cheek and then pauses, alerted by sudden silence from outside. The wind is gone — all of it, and not just the swift, searching gusts that have blown through the village all afternoon. Nor can the demon hear any of the usual sounds that humans make as they go about their fleeting lives: the crack of the stoneworker’s adze, the chanting of the women and craftsmen as they work, the giggles of playing children. There is only silence.

Quietly the demon creeps to the window and opens the flap again. There is a circular area of hard-packed earth in the center of the village. The people gather in this circle sometimes to tell stories, to share work, to talk, to dance. Now the people he can see are motionless and silent, mouths agape, staring. Their collective fear and awe is as loud as a scream. When the demon sees what has silenced them, he fights hard to control his own fear lest it cry louder than theirs and be noticed.

Two of them stand in the circle, back to back, turning slowly in opposing directions. Searching. Both are beautifully, terrifyingly perfect; they complement one another with exquisite precision. One is black, imposing as a mountain, with hair like a snowcap. His eyes glitter gold as he scans his surroundings. The other is pearl-white, his hair a drifting darkness in constant motion. His eyes flick toward the demon’s hut.

The demon quickly shuts the flap and crouches, pulling the basket close and concentrating on dampening the subtle emanations of his presence. Through the effort he hears the voices again, speaking in the language of will and power.

“Was there any sign from this village?” This is the deeper and gentler of the two voices, although the demon knows that gentleness is only an illusion.

“Just a whiff. Old spoor, perhaps.” A richly-timbred tenor, commanding and warm.

“I must thank you. You’ve left me the last one.” Hunger fills the gentle voice; hunger and cruelty. “The cleverest, perhaps? I hope he’ll give me a good chase.”

Dry amusement. “You’re enjoying this more than I expected. I thought our sister’s wrath would have spoiled your fun.”

“It has. Just not entirely. Appeasing her is a matter for later. The hunt concerns me now.”

“It may be impossible to appease her, you realize. I’ve never seen her this angry.”

“Now who’s spoiling the fun? I need not explain myself to her, Tempa. You do it, since you fear them so.”

“I fear nothing. There is simply propriety to consider.” The tone is mild, but the demon hears warning beneath the calm. A sigh follows. “She can be reasoned with, though, and these mortal ones will die anyhow; we do no harm to hasten them on. Were you not troubled by Asni’s death?”

There is a moment of silence in which the demon feels the aftershocks of grief and anger and tight-jawed madness. “Yes. Yes. His blood still burns on my hands. His soul fled, fled like a mortal’s, and I could not follow where it went, I could not… I could not…”

“Then we do what we must to protect our pure children.” The voice is reassuring, soft. “I would not see you suffer more.”

“Ah, Tempa. I would not have thought you sentimental.” More silence, broken at last by a sigh of impatience. “Twilight has passed; the hunt is mine now. Hurry up and leave.”

“As you wish. Enjoy yourself.”

Excitement grips the demon: an opportunity. He clutches the handle of the basket more tightly, keeping his senses trained on the circle outside. Now; one of the two entities vanishes, returning to the unimaginable dimension they call home. As the energies of the village flux in his wake, the demon rides them, using the surge to conceal his own small exertion of power. A skip along the turbulent waves of aether and he is bodily transported elsewhere — though not far.

He materializes in the hut next door. This one is warm and clean and brightly lit; it is the village chieftain’s. He stands within a partitioned area that holds sleeping pallets and personal items — and in a shadowed corner, a basket similar to the one he carries. The chieftain’s basket is empty, however, and draped with a gray animal fur to symbolize mourning. The human infant’s death still leaves a palpable emptiness in the hut’s confined space.

The demon unwraps his own child. So full of life, this little one! A gift that should more than fill the emptiness. The chieftain’s family will take the child and raise it as their own, he feels certain. His son will be safe.

The child wriggles and whimpers again as the demon sets him into the chieftain’s basket, reacting to the anguish the demon cannot help but feel.

“Forget,” he whispers. “Be human now. Forget what you truly are. That will help keep you safe.” The child stops moving, blinking up at him in confusion. The demon hopes — not prays, too dangerous — that his words will make their own truth.

For now it is like dying, like mutilation, to leave. The demon does it anyway, transporting himself back to the abandoned hut. His meager belongings are here and he gathers them, forcing his thoughts ahead to the next hiding place, the next contingency. Anything to avoid thinking of those bright black eyes. He will build a new hiding place in the forest, perhaps, or find a cave. Or possibly in the tunnels of a volcano, where the wild energies of the earth might conceal his presence for a time —

“Not so clever after all,” says a voice behind him, and even before the demon turns he knows it is too late.

The Nightlord Nahadoth stands in the dim hut, his presence already turning every shadow bottomless and deadly. He is unarmed, but the demon is not fooled. He has seen Nahadoth shatter galaxies with a thought.

Nahadoth paces forward now, slowly, his expression a mockery of disappointment. “Clumsy, that last jump. Too long after the magic had settled. Foolish, to do it right under my nose. Perhaps you wanted me to find you?” The dark head shakes, hair roiling like a black thundercloud. “I’d hoped for a longer diversion.”

“Father,” the demon says in reflex. Nahadoth’s face freezes, then grows solemn, dire intent eclipsed by something that is almost human.

“A mistake on my part,” Nahadoth says. “One I must correct. Though I begin to wonder…” He falls silent.

The demon says, “Were we such terrible children?”

Nahadoth looks at him for a long moment before answering. “No,” he says at last, solemn. Sad. “No, you were glorious. And I am sorry.”

A moment later the demon ceases to exist.

…But when I latched onto the idea of a story set ten years after instead of tens of thousands of years earlier, all this early stuff had to go. Ah, well.

I’m happy with the final version of The Broken Kingdoms, of course — wouldn’t have continued it, finished it, and turned it in to my editor if I hadn’t been. Oree was the right character to tell this tale, and forward was the right direction to go; I believe that completely. Still, sometimes I do wonder what might have been.

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3 Responses »

  1. Oh, thanks for sharing these snippets – very intriguing, and I’d have loved to read them! But then, you’re right, the ending would have been known, and I’d been very sorry to miss Oree’s story.

  2. Though these didn’t make it to final publication, still I’m very happy to read them :)

    It’s interesting, to see Itempas and Nahadoth *not* at odds. Though of course we know it was not always that way.

  3. That was very interesting. This is cool to read as I eagerly await the next book.