my second novel, NEVER KNEW ANOTHER, began as a character sketch. i took two player-character pictures from Icewind Dale 2, and imagined a scenario that juxtaposed them in some manner of interpersonal conflict.
the names have all changed. the situations have all changed. the characters are all completely different. fortunately, so – i might add – because this early character sketch is just not good enough to unravel spirits from the rafters of haunted houses. there’s nothing holy about this sketch.
anyway, the final book is out a few interesting places that i really can’t tell you about – you know how that story works, writers.
take a look at the barest of beginnings:
Mari spent the night sifting through the back alleys and the secret basements. She threatened bouncers with magic fire. She threatened bartenders and card-runners and pickpockets and bums and wild eyed prophets of doom.
She picked up her half-brother’s trail.
In her mind, she thought of her half-brother, Tenk, as two people. The first was the young man that fought to the edge of life to save his sister from the wicked inside of her and the pious all around. The second was the dying man that faded into the city with a lick of the lips and a hungry fist.
It was the second brother whom she was hunting tonight.
“Wake up, Tenk,” whispered a voice. “Tenk!”
“Tenk!” shouted the voice. It was his half-sister, Mari. He felt her fingers on his hands.
“I’m awake,” he said. He opened his eyes. His legs and arms still weren’t working right. In his hand, he still held the long stem of the hookah. He smiled. “I had a horrible dream.”
Tenk looked around the room. A low pink of smoke hovered in the air. Soft pillows stank of vomit and smoke and smothere the filthy cellar floor. Tenk’s sister was so mad that her tongue dangled past her teeth. Nobody cared about demon blood in this room. In the streets, she’d be arrested for her tongue alone. Here, she was a purse with women’s legs.
“I was looking for you all night!” she shouted. “I didn’t know where you went!”
Tenk laughed. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“You spent all of our money, didn’t you?!”
“No,” he said. His body slowly discovered solid ground below him.
“How much did you waste this time?”
“Not all of it,” he said.
Two dwarves watched listlessly as the siblings fought. From upstairs, a bouncer peered down into the cellar. The light and the noise of the tavern spilled in from the open door. He shouted, “Take it outside!”
“I had to pay just to come down here and find him!” she shouted.
“I don’t care!” shouted the bouncer, “But you gotta keep it down and stop fighting if you stay!”
Tenk nodded. “We’ll go,” he said, “Will you help me outside?”
“No,” she said. She let go of his hands. She had been holding his hands. He sank back down to the pillows. She snarled, and grabbed his hands again. She dragged him to the stairs.
He struggled to work his legs. He couldn’t quite make them work.
“Hey, you!” shouted Mari to the bouncer. “Hey! I’ll give you a kiss if you throw my brother outside!”
The bouncer shrugged. “Sure.”
Tenk dropped asleep when the bouncer picked him up. Tenk dreamed of flying. He woke up lying in an alley behind the tavern, his face covered in mud. He looked up to see his sister’s frowning face. He grimaced. “Hi,” he said, “Have you been here long?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Have I been here long?” he asked. He tasted the rising bile on his tongue.
She folded her arms. “How much did you spend?”
He threw up in the mud.
The two lived in a room above a bakery. The smell of the baked goods wafted up into the open window on the damp sea storm winds. The siblings sat at the table next to the window. Tenk stared at a cup of tea she had made for him. He didn’t feel well enough to drink it.
Mari sat across from him, and stared at his tea. She didn’t want to look at him.
Finally, she said, “You used to come up with excuses,” she said. “You used to tell me a woman left you, or you were making a deal and your partner went there. You used to tell me about my father.”
“I know,” he said. He coughed. He tasted bile in his mouth when he coughed.
She leaned back, calmly. “Aren’t you even going to say you’re sorry?”
“Probably not,” he said.
“Are you sorry?” She looked at his face, desperate to see remorse in his crevices.
He thought about his answer. He looked up into her eyes. “Yes,” he said.
“You’re always sorry,” she said, “If you’re sorry, why do you keep doing it?”
He coughed again. He shook his head, and looked at the tea. “I don’t know.”
The tea’s waves of steam faded into tepid nothing. Time passed in silence.
“Drink your tea,” she said.
“I’m not ready, yet.”
She sniffed. “Drink it anyway.” She was calm. She was angrier when she was calm.
He nodded. He took the cup in his hand. He considered the orange liquid. He held his breath, and swallowed as fast as he could. It burned down his sore throat. When it landed in his stomach, it sunk like lead weights.
Tenk swallowed down rising bile. He held his breath until the urges passed.
“Feel better?” she said, bitterly.
“Good. What are we going to do with you, Tenk?” she said.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“We have to leave the city. I would rather spend the rest of my life sleeping under a tree than watch you do this to yourself. We have to leave the cities.”
“Where will we go?”
“You took all of our savings. Do you have any money left?”
“I have a hundred good coins in my pocket. I think I won it gambling. I can’t remember what we were gambling over, but I think I won it.”
“Did you steal it?”
“The thing is… I don’t remember. You know how it can be. Once I get started, everything fades.” He looked down at his hands. “I hope I won it.”
She coughed. She shook her head. “That’s what will happen if you keep this up. You’ll fade. People will find you in a ditch. A merciful soul will take you to a temple. You’ll spend the rest of your life staring at the ceiling and drooling.”
She clenched her fist, and pounded the table. The tea trembled. “If you know…!” She hit the table even harder. She snatched the teacup and heaved it out the open window.
“I don’t know why I do it, Mari,” he said, “If I knew, I’d stop.”
Mari scratched at the scales beneath her shirt. She scowled. Her scales itched when she was angry.
Tenk’ bottom lip trembled. He closed his eyes. “You could just leave me, you know.”
She frowned, dropping calm again. “I’m not leaving you,” she said, “I want to help you.”
He opened his eyes and looked up at her. “Have you ever thought about…?”
She stood up from the table. She looked out the window at the tea cup. It had fallen into thick, wet mud. The cup hadn’t even scratched from the two-story fall.
“I’ve never thought about leaving you, Tenk,” she said, “We have some money left, however you got it. We’ll sell everything. We’ll buy some gear. We’ll sign on with a merchant. We have to get out of the city. We’ll find somewhere new, somewhere far away. We’ll start over.” She sighed and took a deep breath. The baking bread from below smelled too good to her right then. She didn’t want things to smell good..
“I’m sorry,” he said, “You liked it here.”
She held the rest of her words inside of her. They burned.