Sample: Chapter 3 and some musings about how to name a novel

5 Jun

I’m considering ‘Fourth Sword’ as the name of the novel. There is a sword, or rather, two magical swords which do play an important part, so it’s descriptive, and ‘sword’ presumably says ‘fantasy’ pretty well.

Main problem with names which have ‘sword’ in them is that pretty much every possible combination has already been used for something, novel or game. Now of course there is no law against using a name which already is in use somewhere, provided we are not talking about something which has been trademarked. But all sorts of sword this or that sword type of names are (hopefully…, I did do some checking and there seems to be a song called ‘The Fourth Sword’, but no other hits) too generic to be trademarked. Still, I don’t think it’s good to either pick a name which is well known as the name of an already existing novel, movie or game, and it’s not good to pick a name which is used in lots of novels and perhaps also by a game and a movie or two because that makes it much less likely anybody will take a look. Or lots will, realize this is not that novel which is the one they were looking for, and will leave fast.

And the name should sound enticing. Like this might be something worth looking at. I do, personally, like both descriptive and short, but with the first novel I felt just ‘The Demons’ had the problem of being too generic, that could  be horror, or maybe a thriller, or urban fantasy, or literary, or… well, lots of alternatives besides fantasy, and it was also something already used. Without the article, by Dostoevsky actually. I’d rather not start competing with him. So I put the name of the place there too. Can always change it later. Although I probably won’t, I like the idea of naming the later stories as something or somebody of someplace. 🙂 And yes, there probably will be at least a couple more stories, I think Tikka wants to get where she does have that secure place for herself before she will stop bugging me.

Okay, back to this novel. So this will probably be ‘Fourth Sword’. Now this story is first in several, the story turned out to be something that was just plain impossible to tell in the space of one book, unless I would have gone for a true goat gagger (great description, by the way, I think it may have been invented by Sarah Hoyt, at least I have not seen it elsewhere). And even then, it might have been about two goat gaggers. So I’m trying my best to write each one as a something that does have a satisfactory resolution and can be read alone, but it is going to be obvious the ending is more ‘will be continued’ than a true ‘The end’. I think I may get to where I know it should end in about four. Or five. Probably not more than that.

And so I still need to figure some other name as the name of the whole series.

Oh dear.

Chapter 3

Conan the Barbarian. He should be somewhere here. This looks like his world. That looks like a fucking human sacrifice by some fucking goddamn devil god worshipers…

Oh God please, I want to go home.

I’m not the right type of hero for this story!

Please… somebody… this can’t be happening.

The ‘Conan’ stories had been among Laura’s favorites when she had been in her teens, both the originals and many of the adaptations. She had even liked most of the movies. Right now she thought she might change her mind about them.

She didn’t look very long at the stage, but long enough to see the form the red and black -robed men were cutting up. It was a man too. Or had been. She was way too sure of that.

This time she also noticed that the almost naked men standing in line against the wall to the further side of the crowd from her were chained. They had collars around their necks. A chain ran from the collar of each man to the wall and from the wall to the collar of the next man, and so on through the line of the prisoners. Their hands and legs seemed to be free though.

She could count a bit over twenty of those men. If that chained line reached unbroken to the area where the red-and-black dressed ones were… killing… You have to think that, that is what is happening, it is fucking real… them, there might be something like close to a hundred of the prisoners. Or at least eighty or ninety. Many.

Laura stared a moment more, feeling frozen and starting to shake.

All the people seemed to be men, victims and priests and crowd, although she wasn’t quite sure of the gray-robes as they all had shaved heads and their robes were loose.

Laura closed her eyes and swallowed, then, trying to suppress her shivering, withdrew her head, got up into a sitting position, her back against the wall. And almost started to giggle. So what was wrong with the picture? Hey, there was no luscious female victim to be saved, at least she had seen none, and she was definitely not the musclebound male hero who would rush down there to do the saving. This needed Conan, it did. And that sexy woman. She was neither.

What a pity. It would all have been just perfect otherwise.

Wrong story here, let me out… Why couldn’t this have been Alice’s Wonderland? Or something…

Then she slapped her hand over her mouth and bit it, telling herself to calm down. There had to be some logical explanation. Laura found herself wishing Mr Spock was here to tell her what it was, and never mind the fact that she had never been that big a fan of that series, in any of its incarnations.

She was still shivering. A few deep breaths helped a little. She didn’t take too many though. She was scared she might start hyperventilating.

OK. Theories.

Think.

Maybe… she had amnesia and had during that part which she couldn’t remember somehow wandered into a movie set.

Okay. I’d better check. If this is a set there will be cameras and stuff…

She swallowed and again sneaked a look into the hall. No, there didn’t seem to be any cameras anywhere. And as far as she knew movie cameras needed light, lots of it. There were no spotlights in sight, even unlit ones, only the smoking torches and the bigger bonfire on the stage and the firelight produced by them playing on the walls and the skins and robes of the men. Bright enough for a human eye, too dim for cameras.

She withdrew her head and had to concentrate on her breathing again for a few moments. Her gut felt tight, and her hands were shaking a little. The panic was getting closer to the surface.

She could not afford that. She just could not.

Maybe you are not Conan, but you are still the hero. Think that. Well, maybe not the type of hero who saves those victims, just the hero of her own story, but that does mean you will survive if you keep your cool. Okay, you are the hero who witnesses the evil and has to stay alive to tell others. Yes, that will do. Think that. Think. What would that hero do? Figure this out…

OK. So maybe this wasn’t a movie shoot. So could this be one of those live role-playing games? She had never taken part in one, but she knew people who were into them. From what they had told they could be very, well, real-looking sometimes, there were many talented people who liked to play. Maybe what had looked like the body of a butchered man had been only some sort of special effects doll? Or man wearing some sort of special effects prosthetics, or something…

Right…Would any group of role-players have the money for something like that? Stuff like that had to be very expensive.

Or… maybe those people on the other side of the wall really were dead serious.

Dead. Right.

Real devil-worshippers killing real living human victims. For real.

That smell of burning meat…

Oh God, oh God, oh God… She had to find a telephone. She had to call the police. It was their job to figure out, and take care of, things like this. Not hers.

Again the drums and the chanting stopped. Laura covered her ears but heard the screams anyway. If those were role-players they were taking their acting very seriously. A scream like one of those would hurt one’s throat.

Too real. Those screams had sounded too real. She decided she’d again better proceed from the assumption that all she had seen was real. She could laugh at herself later if it turned out to be a game or a play or… something.

Oh God, I hope I am hallucinating… that I’m in a nice, safe cell in some mental hospital somewhere and hallucinating…

Laura didn’t want to but she just had to take one more look. Maybe she would find something that would make it all not-real.

The prisoners. Most of the ones she could see fully wore only some kind of breeches, except for two who had on… uh,  dark, knee length skirts? Okay, kilts. Even if they weren’t tartan. The breeches on the others mostly looked like they might be underwear. All were barefoot. No decorations, no jewelry or wrist-watches or anything. They really did have their hands free. The chain, or rope, no, it did look more like a chain, still on second look seemed to be running from a collar around a man’s neck to the wall to the next man’s collar. The crowd of the gray-robes was standing well away from the prisoners, as they – the sacrificial victims – were not taking their part in the scene very gracefully. As she was watching one of the gray-robes on the back of the crowd strayed too close and fell as a prisoner kicked him. Two members of the crowd reached down and dragged the curled up figure a bit further away from the prisoners, then ignored him as he stayed down and cradled his stomach.

She hoped the prisoners would be able to get at least a few more of the crowd-members. That was about the only thing she could think of doing for them, wishing them that opportunity.

Unless she found that phone.

Somewhere, in the back of her mind, was that thought of an – other – world. It had been there from the beginning. An another universe, a paraller world, one more like Conan’s Hyperborea, or maybe Lankhmar, or Lovecraft’s Dreamworlds… but she would not let that thought come up. She wanted to go home. If this was somewhere on her Earth she would be able to go home.

She refused to think of any other alternatives.

Oh crap, why didn’t I buy a new cell right away…

Her old had broken, presumably from being dropped once too many times. But she could use the old landline in the hall, it was part of the rent, and it was not as if she was going to lose some swanky job for not being reachable all the time, not with her job history. So she had been pushing getting a new one into ‘real soon’ for well over two weeks now. After her next pay day.

Just swell.

Back to present. Concentrate. You have to concentrate. You need to stay in the present now. And figure out what to do next. You’re the hero. Think that. You’re the hero. A hero who will survive and speak and blow this thing sky high. That’s good enough. Hell, I might even get on television for this.

She couldn’t start looking for a phone when she had no idea whether there would be one anywhere in here, all she could do would be to keep her eyes open for one. The next logical step then, now, would still be to find a way out. Without being spotted. Laura realized she was still shaking and took a few moments to breath deeply with, this time, an almost successful effort to calm down, then surveyed the corridor she was in.

It continued for a little way beyond the opening into the sacrificial hall. Then it ended in a wall, but there were two small doorways there. She’d have to get there. Because she was not going back into that darkness she had come from, crazy devil-worshippers or no.

There was no balustrade in the spaces between the columns. Laura got down on her stomach, crawled to the wall opposite of the gap and then slithered past it, feeling sick and praying the red and black robed ones were too busy to look her way. She didn’t think she was completely hidden from them, even in the dark and on her stomach. At least her clothes were mostly dark, except for the white sneakers, and even those were pretty dirty.

She did get to the other side of the gap with nobody raising an alarm, then got back on her feet and walked the couple of steps which took her to the two doorways, her legs feeling rubbery.

She was pretty sure she would never again be able to enjoy any Conan story. Or anything else which might remind her of what she had just seen.

***

One of the doorways led to a narrow corridor which seemed to continue on straight, staying on the same level with the hallway. The other one opened into a stairwell. The stairs went down. Laura hesitated a moment, then chose the stairs with the vague idea that finding a way out would be more likely from the level the people she had seen were on, even if the risk of them noticing her was greater.

She descended slowly, praying that nobody would decide to take those stairs up while she was there. After only a couple of steps she was out of the lit area and was then once again proceeding blind, having to rely on touch and hearing.

Woohoo. Another mysterious corridor.

I’m getting a bit tired of them.

The stairs went down until she was probably more or less on the same level as the floor of the hall. When the stairs ended she again found two doorways, chose one, found a corridor and encountered a dead end after a short walk and had to go back. The next doorway she tried opened into a corridor that kept on going, with no additional openings of any kind, at least she stumbled on none.

This passage was probably next to one of the walls of the hall of the priests, and the wall wasn’t quite solid for after a while she could hear the sounds coming from there, at some points hardly muffled at all, and there were points with holes big enough to let the light of the fire through. The noise made her almost turn back, but then she decided to go on just a little bit further, still hoping there would be a way out of the place somewhere near to the priests’ hall.

They would not live in here. And even if they did the victims surely had not. There had to be a passage to surface somewhere.

At some point she realized she was starting to see better again. A short distance later she found herself in a small stone room with doorways, this time three of them besides the one she was standing in, one in each wall. Two were dark, one brightly lit, the sounds of the drums and chanting coming loud and clear through it.

Laura picked the doorway furthest away from that one and ran to it, then stopped.

There had been something hanging on the walls of the small chamber.

She looked back.

Two of the walls were not bare, but lined with what looked like weapons. She squinted her eyes and looked harder.

Those shapes were weapons, swords and daggers and axes alongside with other sharp and pointy things she had no names for. Real ones?

Her mouth felt very dry. She swallowed, swallowed again and tried to produce some spit.

Okay. Something sharp and pointy might come in handy. Having some sort of weapon with her would definitely make her at least feel better. A little bit better.

But she’d had to go close to the lit doorway to get one.

For a while she didn’t move, just tried to peer from where she was standing through that lit doorway into the hall beyond. She couldn’t see anyone. So presumably no one on that side could see her either. Maybe. She swallowed again, then, moving very slowly, one step at a time, and keeping a nervous eye on all the doorways but most especially on that one she went towards the weapons, then stopped where she could see both walls where the weapons were hanging for a better look.

There were no firearms among the arsenal. Not that she would have known how to use one, anyway.

They were not made of fiberglass. They had been there a while, all were covered in thick dust and many were rusted. She stared at the collection for a moment, then almost went for a sword. Such a classic, a sword. Except to use one effectively one should have at least some training.

“Not smart,” she whispered to herself. Now which ones might I actually be able to use to defend myself if I had to…

And where the hell were the robes kept? She sure could have used a nice, concealing robe. One with a big cowl.

She took a look towards the doorway, saw nobody, took a deep breath to calm herself. That didn’t work much better than it had any of the previous times she had tried it.

Laura realized she kept alternating between feeling almost too scared to act to nearly completely disbelieving everything she saw.

She wasn’t doing very well here. Freezing might get her killed, but so could getting careless.

All right. Concentrate. Keep focused.

She stepped close to one of the walls and leaned her brow against the smooth, cool stone and tried to get a grip of herself. After a few moments she felt a bit better.

So…She still didn’t have a clue of what had happened to her or what was going on. She just didn’t have enough information. But – again she told herself she had to proceed from the assumption that what she saw and heard and felt was real, however unbelievable. Hopefully she’d get the chance for hysterics later. But that time was not now.

Okay. The weapons. One step at a time.

Laura finally took two daggers, one small, the other long enough to almost qualify as a short sword, thinking herself more or less stupid as she took it down and hefted its solid weight in her hand, and tried the edge of its blade – pretty sharp – before stuffing it into the confines of her big bag with the handle outside for, hopefully, easy access, but unable to totally resist the temptation. Blame it on too many fantasy books of swordwomen and on watching stuff like the old series ‘Xena’. Not that she thought she would have any real chance against such people as those on the hallway right on the other side of the wall, armed with anything. She most definitely was no warrior princess.

Still having those daggers did made her feel better.

She again wished there would have also been something like cloaks hanging on the walls. On all the stories the heroes always found something to use as camouflage when they had to get in or out of such places as the one she was in.

And what is this place anyway? Temple of an evil god? Sure as hell looks like one.

Unfortunately there was nothing. She felt rather conspicuous in the blue jeans, faded violet T-shirt and dirty white shoes she was wearing. At least those shoes were meant for running, and the jeans and even the shirt were dark enough not to be very visible in the bad lighting here.

Then, belatedly, she realized that those were the exact same clothes she had worn to work – that evening – and they didn’t look, or feel, as if she had been wearing them for all that much longer than those few hours she remembered wearing them.

That strained her amnesia theory a bit.

Laura turned to go, then saw a movement in the corner of her eye. She jumped around, tried to get the longer dagger out of her bag and managed to rip both the lining of the bag and the hem of her shirt in the process, then stood there, panting and holding the blade in her shaking hand.

There was nobody else in the room, nor in any of the doorways. That part of the hall she could see was also still empty. Then the movement repeated. Her eyes focused on the wall right next to the doorway.

She saw the end of a chain, secured with the simple system of two rigid metal rings fastened to the wall, the chain between them and a large pin through all three.

The chain jerked again. The chanting and drumming were going on full blast, had been going on all the time she had been in the room. Laura started to approach the doorway warily, muttering to herself quietly “Idiot, I’m an idiot” as she went, but going anyway.

The doorway. She swallowed, hesitated, then pushed her head to the other side till her eyes were able to see what was on the other end of that moving chain.

As if she didn’t already know.

She found herself staring right into the frightened eyes of a blond teenaged boy.

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