Today my daughter has been very clingy, so I have been writing in brief sessions, switching between the novel and this week’s SF Signal column. The year-end break was good but I am happy to be writing The Bellowing Ogre again. I have only written about 400 new words on the novel, partly because I went back and revised the first scene of Chapter One, but also because I am trying to stop endlessly spewing out background and write something more intense. I hope to add to my word count on both of these later tonight.
For now, here is the first scene I mentioned, still rather rough but coming together. Currently the novel is entitled A Fine Day to Watch the Dragons Die, after the short story that has inspired it (which a few folks out there have read), I think that will end up being the title of the first part of the novel instead, and I am casting about for a better book title.
CHAPTER ONE: BENEATH AND BEHIND
Cathien stepped out onto the balcony to see the Argent Moon rise. The Copper was nearly down and the Iridium was racing to catch it. It was yet another cloudless night, and the reflection of the moonslight on the roof shielding of the city made for a strange glow that rose up and was lost in the darkness. The Argent was waxing large in the sky, sending its brilliant shine down only to have it shone back, creating a gray zone of illumintion. Cathien looked out over the city and tried to imagine it as it was when he was a child, when there were spires and terraces and aediculae and turrets all crowded together, stone and metal and phashear and plasters of every sort jumbled and angled and buttressed as far as one could see. The keening minarets, the iridescent pleasure-cupolas and the belfrys sending drumbeats and billows of incense into the sky were all sealed under thick, groaning plates of gorgon-stuff.
It was a shrouded city, cowering under slightly curved chitinous shields, all at the uniform height of twenty-three stances. From atop one of the nine great azuchi the metropolis was an endless plain of mottled gray plates. The College of Astute Profundities was the westernmost of the azuchi, and Cathien’s balcony faced that direction, its shutters half-open and the railing crackling with wards. Just at the edge of his vision the field of escutcheons gave way to the older methods of defense, to massive fronds of howling palm and jagged latticeworks of “fire-aprons” and billowing ribbons of shadowsilk. All was silent and still upon the plain of plateworks; far off some evening noises could be heard in the older districts but the shields soaked up much of that as well.
A shadow passed over him, and Cathien took a step back and looked up. It was already gone over sloping tile roof. He muttered an additional ward into existence and then it came: the thunderbolt roar that made the protections on the balcony glow and pulse, sussurating in the wood and plaster and threads of silverweave and shadowsilk that twisted within and around the railings. The entire azuchi trembled slightly. Cathien gestured and the shutters moved inward, leaving a gap wide enough for Cathien to slowly step up to and peer out from, looking up with his shoulders hunched, ready. . . .
This time it swooped low over the balcony, so close to the top spire that the snap of a wing-whip made Cathien wince. The creature roared again as it skimmed across the shielding, then began to arc upwards, until with a bellow it loosed its cargo onto the city’s protection. With a series of wet thuds the globs of excrement spanged onto the shields, some caught in the central curves of the bulwarks while more of it slithered down in-between plates. He watched until he could no longer see it. Even from where he standing, so protected, he could smell the tangy acidic odor of it and could hear cries of alarm and panic rising from the smouldering area where the dragon had emptied its bowels.
Trembling, Cathien went to the edge of the balcony and opened the shutters. Chimera-riders in a five-point formation soared over his head, following the dragon’s flight away from the city. It was already too late; the moonslight showed him that a few shield sections were being eaten away, and the glow of bluish fires began to rise. There would be a gap, the first in weeks, over a residential neighborhood. The dragon’s target, whether by chance or intention, was a vulnerable one.
Cathien spat his hatred of the monsters over the railing of his balcony, a glob of bluish phlegm from his newest gland. It spiraled down to the shielding far below and hit noiselessly. He took a deep breath and bent his neck, let a bit of pleasure radiate out from the spirit modulator behind his left ear. Better. He could think again. He turned away from the endless shining horror below and went back into his sanctum.
Ommacht was waiting with a pipe, a lovely silvered one with a large, winged bowl and a flexible, impossibly thin neck. “Thank you,” Ommacht said in a low voice, handing it gently to Cathien. The older man inclined his head slightly, smiled just enough, and took the pipe’s neck and placed the tip in his mouth, allowing the bowl to float and follow him. From within the sealed bowl something mewled, and Cathien inhaled deeply of its contents.
“One last look, My Glory?”
Cathien closed his eyes and drew from the pipe again before answering, letting the nib float next to his cheek as he let it slip from his lips. “Three dawns from this moonrise I will purge all memory of this barbarity from my minds. I wanted one more image for my imps to annihilate before it all goes away, one more ruined night to feel eaten from the pulses and surges of my thoughts.” He caressed the sinuous neck of his pipe and it shuddered. “I will have my city again, Ommecht. We will all have it.” He puffed on the pipe once more, opened his lips and let a bit of crimson mist escape. “You have never seen Chamambra in her full splendor, have you?”
Ommecht bowed his head. “I have not.”
“You have never walked her causeways and avenues with the full effulgence of the Golden Uncle on your face, or the beaming of the Moon Cousins on you as the pipers and janglers play in mad midwinter?”
Ommecht bowed lower. “I have been to the sunning plazas, My Glory, and taken sojourns in your name to the Outer Districts in the gleam of avuncular benevolence.”
Cathien arched an eyebrow, sullen gray and wispy against his dark, bald face. “And, perhaps, snuck out onto the balcony a few times to bask for a moment between ablutions or experiments?” He smiled more broadly as the younger man bowed his head nearly even with his knees, braided topknot flopping over to touch the ground, a perfect reflex of obeisance. He released the smile as Ommecht straightened back up. “It is a great temptation. I do not begrudge you giving into it.” He gestured towards the curtain-wall. Ommecht bowed again, deeply, and back out of the room.
“Endless thanks, My Glory.”