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Samples: Peer 1

November 23, 2013

“So much effort devoted to worshipping nobody in particular,” Caspar murmured.

Below the balcony, the Allchoir’s song echoed through the temple, the deep voices of men and beats of drums mingling with the high, sweet voices of children.  Around the stage, six deep alcoves held the priests and followers of a dozen religions, still but for the movements of their singing.  They were dressed up, gaudy in ornamentation, masks, robes and costume.  No expense had been spared.  One even wore a mask of gold, molded to the appearance of a man’s face, with narrow, foot-long spikes radiating out from the edges.

“Subversive words,” a voice responded.

Caspar stood from where he’d been leaning on the railing, surprised but not startled.  “Lord Juris, sir.”

Lord Juris was taller than most, going prematurely gray in a way that didn’t match his unlined face.  His eyes were sharp and dark against his pale skin, his light gray hair had been slicked back with pomade, but curls had torn free in an artful way that didn’t make the man look any worse for it.  The tall collar and the straight, narrow lines of the ankle-length garment he wore made him look even taller than he was.  He carried a funny stone rod with blunted spikes running along the four sides, out of place and too short to be his cane.

The Lord of Letters.  In appearance, he was almost Caspar’s opposite.

The man that kept Juris company was close to Caspar in age, but otherwise just as dissimilar.  He had bearing, with a sharp chin, a black jerkin and leggings with cloth shoes that were more decorative than anything.  He had a pronounced widow’s peak to match a sharp chin, and narrow eyes that flickered over Caspar in harsh judgement.  Darios Nath.  He knew Darios, in passing.

Caspar glanced between the two, trying not to stare too much, while at the same time working to keep from looking furtive.  It was a balance he’d never learned to strike.  His hands… it was hard to know what to do with his hands.  There was nothing to hold, and he couldn’t clasp them in front of him without his arms framing his prodigious stomach.  He settled for folding his hands behind his back, trying not to look like he was trying to sort himself out.

Some would take offense, hearing you talk about their religion in such a manner,” Juris rebuked him.

“Yes, you’re right.  I’m… used to spending time with only myself for company.  It was uncharitable and inaccurate.”

Juris smiled, then chuckled.

Caspar waited.  As much as Juris was displaying sudden warmth, Darios wasn’t.  The young man’s eyes were almost colder and angrier, as Juris finished.

“Not to worry.  We intruded, after all.  I’m not offended.  I just finished speaking with your parents, they’re waiting outside.  I’d hoped to talk to you.”

Caspar felt an uneasy feeling stirring in his gut, butterflies giving birth to more butterflies.  He’d anticipated this would happen sooner or later.  No escaping it.  But to have no warning, and to have it be the work of the Lord of Letters, it was the nightmare of just about any young noble.

“Of course,” was all he could say in response.

“Is here alright?”  Juris indicated the balcony.  Curtains kept the balcony out of sight and out of earshot of the balconies on either side, and the height and position of the balcony kept it out of sight of the rows of seats below.

Someone who didn’t know better might think the balcony was a place of prominence.

The singing was dying down.  In moments, figures would be stepping out of the alcoves to make their own entreaties.

“If the noise doesn’t bother you.  Would you like to sit?”  Caspar indicated a chair.

“I’ll stand, if you don’t mind.  I’ve spent too much time lately hunched over my desk, writing to this foreign lord and that one.  My back is a ruin.”

Caspar nodded.  He would have preferred to sit, but he couldn’t when the Lord had deigned to stand.

“Do you have plans, Caspar?”

Did he?  His father had plans for him, but they were vague.  “No, sir.”

Prospects?”

Caspar felt his stomach plunge, the butterflies doubling in number.

“No.  No prospects.”

“Then I would like to make you an offer.  Your father says you’re well read in a variety of areas.”

“Yes.”

“A result of spending so much time on your own, as you said earlier.  That’s good.  Then you’ll know more of other countries and cultures?”

“Yes,” Caspar replied.  He could feel the pressure closing around his throat.

“I would offer you a temporary position, then.”

It took Caspar a moment to process the words.  He coughed, half laughter and half sputter.  The singing had stopped below, and the sound felt painfully loud, in the silence as one of the religious leaders made their way up to the front of the stage.

For a moment, Juris’ composure failed him, confusion and concern marking his otherwise serene face.

“Are you alright, Caspar?”  Juris asked, lowering his voice out of respect for the man on the stage who was now speaking, a song that was spoken like prose, or poetry set to music.  Something between the two.

“Beg pardon.  I thought you were going to marry me to someone,” Caspar admitted, matching Juris’ tone.

He didn’t miss the look of disgust on Darios’ face.  He ignored it.

Juris smiled as the pieces came together.  “Is that so bad?”

“To marry someone far away?  I know I’m not a catch.  A token marriage, to someone I don’t know…”  Caspar trailed off before he could self-depreciate too much.  Knowing that I wouldn’t be any woman’s ideal, and that it would be a marriage of suppressed resentment.  If there was even any chance of anything to begin with.

I’d rather be alone.

“Well, not to worry.  What do you know of the Kith?”

“There are a number of types.  Can I ask which?”

“We’re concerning ourselves with two.  Ogden and Aiah.”

“I know some,” Caspar replied.  He stopped before he could say anything more.  As if speaking the names were permission enough, two people approached, accompanied by Caspar’s parents.

He’d glimpsed the young woman that morning, but she hadn’t been dressed like this.  Kith of Ogden.  She had her arm around Caspar’s father’s.  She’d been given someone’s old gown, one that was now two years out of date, judging by the green color with silver trim.  The fashion of wearing weapons had been new, then, and the dress was made to accentuate a dagger at the waist.  Someone had altered it to put a scroll case there instead.  Whatever the case, it fit her well in both color and style, and it didn’t billow much below the hips, while still being floor length.  The dress showed off her decolletage, only to join back together into a high collar.  Her pale blond hair had been styled, pinned out of her face by a modest tiara.  In that, she was every inch the young lady looking for a suitor.  A foreign princess, even.

But she wasn’t human, not wholly.  Her nose was upturned beyond the point of being a snub nose.   The wrinkles and folds along the length of it were all the more pronounced with the addition of what must have been wishbone-shaped forks of metal, penetrating the folds with only a short spike each of the four folds.  Her upper lip, joining the bottom in a firm line without any color, had a cleft in it, surrounded by faint scars of varying age.  Her rounded ears had no rigidity, and folded over, though attempts had been made to hide them with her hair.

The second of the two Kith had made no attempts to dress in the local style.  He was shirtless, but wore a scarf and a complicated arrangement of a dun brown cape with a collection of wooden rods and feathers.  The idea was to give the illusion of wings, neatly folded behind his back.  His bare chest was muscular, but the arrangement of muscle and bone alike were different.

The man looked like Darios, with that casual arrogance, but more like a warrior than an aristocrat.  His brown hair was cut short, and his nose was as broad as two of Caspar’s fingers put together.  It was so flat and vertical it seemed more more an extension of the forehead than a protrusion.  His mouth was a thin line, but it wasn’t a matter of expression so much as a lack of lips.

His eyes, though, had enough expression to make up for his otherwise featureless face.  The expression wasn’t so different from Darios’, but the disgust and judgement weren’t directed solely at Caspar.

“Haeg Mora,” Lord Juris said, indicating the young woman.  He gestured to the shirtless Kith, “And Klaros, son of First Wing Vodan.  Please allow me to introduce Caspar Thorbay.  I do believe I’ve already introduced Lord Rolf and Lady Lizbeth Thorbay.”

No ‘lordfor me, Caspar noted.

When Mora spoke, it was with surprisingly good diction, “You are son of the brute?”

The question elicited just a little bit of shock from Juris and Darios both, as well as a small chuckle from Caspar’s father.

“I think I like her,” Rolf said, smiling a touch.

The brute.  Caspar glanced at his father.  His father didn’t fit the nickname.  Shorter than Caspar, just as heavy, he had a pencil thin mustache and a line of beard drawn from lip to chin.  His dark hair was unruly, standing out, and he wore an outfit similar to Darios’s, if somewhat heavier.  The only nod his father paid to the old title was the rapier he wore, a year after wearing blades had gone out of fashion.

The woman on his arm, Caspar’s mother, was tall, dressed in the black and red that was the style, with the scrolls and scroll cases that were so popular, conversation pieces as well as a kind of frail affectation, easily damaged by anyone who wasn’t careful.  She had sandy brown hair, and wore a great deal of color on her lips, painting them a startling crimson.

The brute and his wife.

“I believe you’ve picked up on an unkind rumor,” Lord Juris said, as gently as he was able.

“Unkind?” Mora asked.  It was hard to read her gaze, the black orbs giving away nothing in terms of where she was looking.

“To call someone a brute, well, it might make you enemies here,” Juris said.

“Where Mora comes from, brutes are… proud?”

“Respected,” Caspar offered.  “The word comes from your Kith in the first place.  Bute, I think?”

Bute,” Mora responded, nodding.  She turned her head Caspar’s way, “Someone who can be proud and feared as a ferocious warrior and leader.  You know these words?  Boor, shob, ohv?”

“We have very similar words, but those words aren’t compliments here, either,” Caspar said.  He had to avert his gaze, and he saw his parents looking on intently.  It was just as bad as meeting her gaze.  As if to try to get things back on track, he added, “They’ve been twisted in meaning over the years.”

“A line of discussion that could lead to hurt feelings,” Juris cut in, interrupting.  “Though I’m glad you seem to have some grounding, Caspar.  Perhaps this will work out after all.”

“This?  The job you mentioned.”

“The Kith tend to appreciate honesty, if in different ways, so I’ll be blunt,” Juris said.  “We invited Haeg Mora here because we’re hoping she will call off the bandit raids her people are launching against our traders at the southeastern pass.  It’s custom that one never deal with one group of Kith, unless the dealing is very personal, so we invited Klaros here as well.  The Kith of Aiah occupy a great deal of territory to the west, and while there is no animosity, the Lord of Trade thought we could open discussion about sharing between the groups.  It was my hope that we could…”

He paused, searching for a phrase, then settled for, “…Solve two problems with one stroke.”

Klaros didn’t react in the slightest.  Silent, he only watched, his eyes darting from one person to the next.  From the way he held himself at attention, there was no doubt he was a soldier.

“Can I ask where I come into the picture?”  Caspar asked.

“I’d hoped to leave the duties of welcoming them to Darios, but there was friction between him and Klaros.  I assume, Klaros, that you’re not offended if I say this?”

The shirtless Kith shook his head.

“I would ask you to please look after the pair for the next week or two.  Keep them entertained, ensure they’re comfortable, show them what we have to offer, and maintain an open dialogue on the issues I mentioned.  If you need more grounding in those issues, I could put you in touch with the Lords of Trade and Treasury and the Lord of Banners, and take over while you talk.  I would handle this myself, but I’m afraid I can’t make it a full time thing, with my other responsibilities.”

If there’s a failure, I take the fall.  If there’s a success, it’s your success.

“I’m… unsure,” Caspar admitted.

Juris raised his eyebrows, clearly surprised.  “I didn’t think you had any other obligations.”

“I don’t.  But…” he trailed off.

“But?” Juris asked, archly.  “I’d hoped my relationship to your father would be good enough.”

Caspar drew in a breath, not so deep that his chest and belly would swell, but deep enough that he could center himself and say what he needed to say.  “If my father asks me to, I will.”

Juris glanced at Lord Rolf.

“I won’t ask him to,” Rolf said.

“I thought we had a good working relationship, Black.”

“We do.  Making a good offer to my son would be a good way to maintaining that relationship,” Rolf said.

Juris nodded slowly, as if considering the idea.  He turned back to Caspar, “I could make you my third, if everything went well.  There wouldn’t be many responsibilities, but you would draw a modest pay.  You could expect periodic travel, likely at the most inconvenient times for your romantic and social life, and more than a fair bit of researching old documents.  When it came time for Darios to succeed me as Lord of Letters, the natural progression would be for you to become his second.”

The idea was a heady one.  The inner court was insular one, and there was a penchant for the magistrates to give their seats to sons and family members.  Excluding Lord Juris, there were only one or two individuals who didn’t have children, and who would be reaching out to other families and nobles to assign their seconds and thirds.

Caspar glanced at his father.  His father had a seat, as well, but it wasn’t one he was free to pass on.

He shook his head just a little.  “To be frank, Darios doesn’t like me.  It’s generous, even kind, but the appointment doesn’t get me any further in the grand scheme of things.  He’ll dismiss me the first chance he gets.”

Juris glanced at Darios, who nodded just a little.  Acknowledging that Caspar was on target.

“What would you want, then?”  Juris asked, with a measure of exasperation.  “And maintain eye contact, please.  You look like a kicked dog.”

Caspar met Juris’ eyes.  “That same modest pay, a job as a clerk or researcher, and Darios’ word that he wouldn’t dismiss me.”

Darios spoke for the first time.  “My word?”

Caspar nodded.  “You don’t like me, fine.  Put me somewhere you don’t have to see me, a tower would be preferable to a basement.  Give me something to do, and we won’t need to interact.  I’m not looking for confrontation or status.  I’m more interested in security.”

“You’re not putting yourself in a good light here, in front of our guests,” Darios observed.

“I was asked what I want, and this is it.”  I think.

“And if I say no?” Darios asked.  When Juris shifted his weight, Darios added a somewhat reluctant, “In theory?”

“Then I’ll ask Lord Juris to make me his third, and you’ll see me every day,” Caspar answered.  As much as he wanted to stare Darios down, he was the one to break eye contact first, glancing down at the stage.

Darios frowned just a little, a line appearing between his eyebrows.  “Doesn’t matter to me.  I have no objection to the clerk job, provided you do a passable job here, and you have my word I won’t interfere with the station.”

“Excellent!”  Juris said, clapping his hands together.  “Haeg Mora, Klaros, I’m leaving you in the care of Caspar here, unless you object?”

Klaros shook his head.

Mora, for her part, ignored him.  She let go of Lord Rolf’s arm and reached for the railing.  One step, then a hobbling limp forward, and she caught the railing for balance.  She made her way forward, one step, one more step that looked like it might fail her.

Haeg.  ‘Hag’ in common parlance.  An unkind word to use when referring to a teenage girl, but the Kith of Ogden could be brutal when they needed to be.  Many Haeg were the unmarried, old with nothing to occupy their time.  They became ritualists and lorekeepers, to mask what they really were.  Outcasts.

Mora would be the other kind of Haeg.  She was a cripple, and while she still had time to find a husband, there was no expectation she would.  She was the unmarriable.

Even so, Mora’s back was straight and her jaw set as she looked down at the noble lords and ladies, dressed in their tenthday finest for the Allchoir.  There was a girl on the stage singing, but her voice didn’t carry well.  Once or twice, she faltered.  Probably a peasant with a good voice, recruited by one of the smaller churches who now found herself out of her depth.

Juris extended the stone cane for Caspar to take.  The thing was heavier than it looked.

“I’ll be in my office this evening.  Bring them to me, and I’ll show you where their rooms are, and you won’t need me as a middleman thereafter.”

Caspar nodded.

With that said and done, Juris and Darios left, passing through the curtains to the hallway behind the balconies.

Caspar could see his parents.  His mother was smiling, sincerely happy.  His father…

The look was one of disappointment.

He had different aspirations for himself than his father had for him.  Caspar deliberately looked away, turning to Klaros, “Would you like to join us?”

Klaros shook his head, still rigid, standing by the curtain that Juris and Darios had passed through.

Figuring him out would be an issue.

With nowhere else to go, Caspar joined Mora at the railing.

“So much effort, for nobody particular?” she asked, her voice quiet.

He startled a bit at that.  “You heard?”

She raised one hand, to flick the tip of her ear where it flopped over, angled horizontally.  It wobbled momentarily at the impact.  “We hear better than you.”

“It was only an idle thought.”

“Explain this idle thought?”

He watched the young singer on the stage struggle.  Nobody offered her any assurance, and the result was that the scene was more painful than it needed to be.  A part of him ached to whisk the girl off the stage.  Except it would only make matters worse, an awkward interruption, doubly so if it was him.  Because he didn’t fit here, and he looked ridiculous.

He had little choice but to watch.

She was supposed to speak for her god, and now she’s kind of a sacrifice.

Caspar explained, “The Allchoir is an entreaty to the gods, an attempt to maintain a connection to them.  An invitation to partnership, if you want to call it that.”

“Partnership?  To spirits, perhaps, but we are mortal, they are gods.”

He couldn’t agree, pointing out the flaw in the idea, so he said, “It’s how things work here.  The gods we worship change from year to year, and there are a great many small churches, so the Allchoir is a compromise, for all worshipers, to all gods.  No two entreaties are permitted to be the same, so they invent new songs and rituals for every tenthday.  For the churches in small villages, they’ll usually play music to some recitation of the week’s events or something tame like that.  The idea is that some element in the works will strike a chord with some god and they’ll accept the entreaty with a big display.”

“Worshiping nobody particular,” Mora said.  “I see your meaning now.”

I don’t know that you do, Caspar thought, but he didn’t elaborate.

He couldn’t stand to look at the girl on the stage, who had at least managed to avoid breaking into tears, despite the increasing number of mistakes and the pressure of two or three hundred members of the upper class staring at her, but he didn’t want to turn around and face down his father.  He wasn’t sure what to say to Mora, and Klaros wasn’t up to conversation.

It was a little daunting, to think that the next one or two weeks would be like this.

“You waste your time,” Mora said.

“With?” he asked.

“With me.  Your ambassador sends a man to my people’s camp, and he asks for a guest to come here.  When they send me, it is… chortleg?”

“Chortleg?” Caspar asked.

She affected an attitude, acting, “Ho, ho, ho, thirteenth people now feed and shelter our Haeg with bad foot, bow and scrape.”

“Joking.”

“Yes.  Joking you.  I am Haeg.  We have power.  If our Kith fights other Kith, enemy hold their weapons back rather than strike us, will wait quiet while we hobble here or there, old women and a cripple like me.  We tend to the hurt and hold hands of the dead, carry last words for wives or mothers.  But we are not proud.  Not big in the eyes of others.  If I tell the great chiefs to stop stealing your wagons, they will nod, they will tell me they will consider it-”

Caspar finished.  “-and the raids will continue.  You have power, but not status.”

“Yes.  You take job, but you can not make me stop them because I cannot stop them.  You agree to get Klaros to accept trade for Aiah art and goods, but Kith of Aiah are above dealing with others.”

When Klaros spoke, his voice was imperious.  He had a strong accent, the ‘s’ sounds almost whistling, though sharp enough to not be a lisp, and his vocabulary was stronger.  “Piglets should not speak of things they do not understand.”

“I was not speaking ill.  Only truth,” Mora said, her tone terse.  “And I am too old to be considered a piglet, even if you are joking me.”

“Would you prefer swine?” Klaros asked.  Mora bristled.  “I might call you a sow, but swine that will never breed-”

“Enough,” Caspar cut in.

The pair fell silent.

At least they listen.  Caspar exhaled slowly.

“I am done with this,” Klaros said.  “I will be outside.”

Caspar frowned.  “You’ll stay close by?”

“Yes.  I will.”

The young soldier from the Kith of Aiah stalked out.

“You took this job, and you are doomed to fail,” Mora repeated herself for emphasis, very deliberately turning herself away from the door.

“Probably,” Caspar admitted.

“You do not sound surprised.”

“I’m not, not really.”

“But you took the job.”

Caspar nodded.  He gazed out at the assembled crowd.  The young girl had finished, but she seemed so flustered she wasn’t sure where to go.  It was the priest in the golden mask with the rays that approached her, ushering her off the stage.

One more performance.  He knew this one was typically shorter.

“From what I said before, you might have realized I don’t have an overabundance of faith.”

“Surely, seeing Kith in person, you recognize that spirits and gods have some power,” she said.  “Or do you think that boars with the faces of men and men with the faces of boars are made by accident?  That there are reptiles with the torsos of men sprouting from the neckhole because of sheer fortune?”

I would not call it fortune, whatever the case, he thought.  He bit his tongue.

“I understand that there are powers out there,” he lied.  “But I don’t ascribe to any one in particular.”

She mused on that for a few seconds.  “I see.”

“Then the question remains, why am I here?  I attend service every tenthday, I do not sing.”

“You have nothing to do with your time,” she said.  “You’re a layabout.”

He was almost offended, but he was able to stop and tell himself that the Kith were honest to a fault, and the Kith of Ogden were especially prone to bluntness.

“I work for my father most days.  Odd jobs, he doesn’t like paperwork and I have a good writing hand.  No, the reason I come here is to watch people.  Can I trust you to be discreet?  I’m not ashamed of what I’m observing, but others might take offense.”

“I do not like to lie.”

“I’m not asking you to lie.  Only to hold your tongue rather than speak of this to another.”

She paused.  “The Kith of Ogden understand a lie can still be a lie if it is silence.  Better to speak, let it be known.”

They’re going to eat you alive here if I’m not careful.

“You’re not only Ogden’s kith.  There’s human in you.”

“I am Ogden’s.  One drop of his blood makes me a member of his Kith, and I have more than one drop,” she said.  Her dark eyes settled on Caspar.

“What if the truth does more harm than a white lie?”

“It does not do this often enough,” she responded.

He nodded.  Have to be careful what I say, then.  “Alright.  Look.  Just in front of the stage, the benches just past the aisle.  An empty space.”

“I see it.”

“More powerful people sit closer to the front.  Right there, that’s the Lord of the Capitol.  The empty space is reserved for his daughter.  Others note her absence, and they make up scandals involving her and her bodyguard.  I try to pay more attention to the pattern.”

“Pattern?”

“Are you not sure what the word means, or are you asking what it is?”

“The second.”

“I can’t divulge all my secrets, because you won’t respect them, but I don’t think the scandals are right.  I think it has more to do with context.”

She frowned, but he couldn’t be sure if it was at the ‘respect’ comment or just confusion.

She finally said, “This ‘context’ is a word I don’t know.”

“The situation, Haeg Mora.  The surroundings, and the other people involved.”

Mora nodded.  “It is not what most people think it is, that makes her seat so often empty.”

“I don’t think so.  Now, because I’m pretty sure I know what that reason is that she doesn’t show up to service, I can figure out that this ‘reason’ might be afoot anytime I see her seat empty.  It works both ways.”

“Yes.”

“When you look at the rows further back from the stage, you get the lords and ladies of lower status.  Merchant nobles who bought their nobility with coin, the disgraced, and the ones who have little left but their names.  Less powerful individuals.  Do you see the tallest man there?”

“The fat one?” she asked, blithely.

Caspar winced a little, but he didn’t comment.  “Lord Mansel.  Unmarried, he’s… looking lonely.”

He’s spending a lot of time staring at the young ladies in the rows in front of him.

Caspar continued, “I know which district I can probably find him if I want to catch him tomorrow.  It’s just a question of having someone let me know when he leaves town.  I can maybe call in a favor or buy him a drank, and get some perspective on your Kith’s bandit activity that the Lord of Trade and the Lord of Treasury wouldn’t necessarily give me.”

“You watch all these things.  You seek advantages.”

“I watch,” Caspar said, closing his eyes for a moment.  “Taking this job, I don’t expect to succeed, though I’ll certainly try.  But it gives me another perspective.  Conversely, I don’t have anything to lose, in terms of status.  Because up here, on the balconies, we’re separated from all the rest.  We’re lower than even the penniless lords and the disgraced.  You cannot fall when you are on the bottom rung.”

“Who are you, then?”

“My father is the brute,” he answered.  He glanced back and saw his father’s eyes on him.  The man was listening in, though not interjecting.

“I do not understand.”

“It’s an explanation for another place and another time.  I’m thinking we should go.  The service is wrapping up, and the hallways will be crowded.”  And there isn’t always a lot of love for Kith, here, especially among the merchants nobles who your people have been inconveniencing.

“As you wish,” she said.

He stopped to bend down and give his mother a kiss on the cheek.  Still sitting, she took his hand and squeezed it.

“Best fortunes,” she said.  She smiled.

“Thank you,” he responded.

His father, though, looked more pensive.  Lord Rolf Thorbay made eye contact with his son.

“There’s no need to get into it.  I know what you’re going to say,” Caspar said.

“Those things you know I’m going to say can wait,” his father answered.  The short, fat man glanced at the Kith woman, “Haeg Mora, could I beg a moment’s privacy with my son?”

“You could,” the young woman said.

“I’ll join you,” Lizbeth said.  She offered Caspar a little smile.  “Mustn’t leave our guests without any company.  We’ll take a bit of a walk, maybe we’ll bring Klaros.”

Caspar smiled back, watching as his mother led the young Kith woman away.

When they were alone, his father spoke, “For now, a question, a brief explanation, and maybe a bit of a riddle.”

His father was in a mood, Caspar observed.  “Sure.”

“Question.  You don’t think you have anything to lose?”

“Admittedly, I have a lot to lose.  I’m fond of my health and my life.  But no, I don’t think I’m going to lose either, looking after the Kith.”

“Let’s hope.  Fine.  You don’t think you’re at risk, here.  Our status is low, we have no friends to speak of in the nobility.  Just the opposite.  But the Lord of Letters knows this.  Why didn’t he admit this outright?  You have nothing to lose, it could have been a bargaining chip for him, not only that you lack any obligations beyond the assistance you give me, but he could argue you stand to gain a fair amount and you don’t have very far to fall if you fail.”

“I can’t say I’m too worried on that front,” Caspar responded.  “Given the choice between telling the truth and lying, nineteen out of twenty people in this court will lie, and the remainder are children and lunatics.  The Lord of Letters let that detail slide because he could.  Besides, I didn’t ask for very much.  Why leverage a bargaining chip and risk offending me when he could just give me what I want?”

“Your compromise with Lord Juris is something we can most definitely talk about tonight.  Will you at least acknowledge that this may be more of a challenge and more of a danger than it appears to be on the surface?”

“You told me to assume that in every dealing in court.  Yes, of course.”

“Good.  Now for the explanation.  How much do you know about the Lord of Banner’s activities?”

Caspar thought back.  The magistrate hadn’t been at the last two Tenthday assemblies.  Given that he was tasked with overseeing the army…  he felt a moment’s fear.  “He’s been busy.  Imminent war?”

“Possible imminent war.  Nothing too serious, but Eter’s armies have been seen moving eastward and westward south of the passes.  Nothing indicating they’re coming in our direction.  Still, armies at our borders are armies at our borders, and there’s a reason the Lord of Letters is as tired as he is, with his sore back.”

“He doesn’t know what’s going on, not fully.”

“On any other day, he would be looking after the Kith.  Failing to reach terms with the Kith of Ogden means one less avenue to bring in supplies and break sieges.  We’re rooted in a narrow valley with only so many exits.  The boars are blocking one.  If it comes to war…”

“The stakes are higher than it first seems.”

“There’s my boy.  Now for the riddle.  Why you?”

“Why did he pawn this job off on me?  Because I’m available?”  Caspar suggested.

The Allchoir finished the final hymn.  The Alltemple started to fill with noise as people rose from their seats, breaking into conversation.

“I said it was a riddle, not a question.  What’s the difference between the two?”

“The question demands an answer, the riddle demands thought,” Caspar said.  A line from a lesson with his father, years ago.

Think about it.”

Caspar turned to leave.

Why me?

There were any number of potential nobles who would be fit as an ambassador.

The things that set Caspar apart were unflattering.  For one thing, he was expendable, one of the few individuals that could be turned into a scapegoat without making any meaningful enemies.

He passed through the curtains and entered the hallway on the outside edge of the Alltemple.  Tall panes of glass were protected by meshes of iron, set between elaborate pillars, with shutters folded back at set distances.  Beyond, the morning sun cut through the mist that had settled on the mountains.  smatterings of white dots in the distance marked the goats that littered the landscape.

This particular view was both a benefit and drawback of being up in the balconies.  The other nobles were treated to a more awe-inspiring view of the temple’s south, overlooking the deepest valley from the vantage point of one of the structures set highest in the hills.  There were no sheep or fields, but an abundance of mountains and a precipitous drop.

Illusions.

He’d assumed that Klaros would be here and his mother would be somewhere with Haeg Mora, or that they’d all be absent.  He hadn’t anticipated that Klaros would be gone, the two women a distance away.

“Where is he?” he asked.

“He wasn’t here when we arrived,” his mother said.

He’d already lost one of them.  “He said he’d stay put.”

Mora spoke up, “Some of Aiah’s children have different ideas of place.  You ask him to wait here, but here can vary in size from one pair of eyes to next.”

“You tell me this now?”  He glanced around.  “Mother-”

“I’ll continue my conversation with Haeg Mora.”

Caspar ran.

Well, ‘run’ was the wrong word.  His ‘running’ was another man’s ‘march’.  In terms of the effect it had on him though, the result was the same.

The Kith of Aiah were supposedly touched by the greater bird spirits.  It was a long shot, but he made his way up the nearest flight of stairs.

He arrived on the roof the moment before the bells started to ring.  Sending off the nobles.  In moments, his mother and Haeg Mora would be indunated by a tide of nobles in fine dress.

This was inconvenient.

He’d found Klaros.

Klaros spoke in that odd accent of his, his voice a growl, “It is inane.  All of it.  I will lose my mind before this time tomorrow.”

“We can find a solution,” Caspar said.

“I do not need your help.”

“Okay,” Caspar said.  He paused for a moment.  “If you want solitude-”

“-This is not the way to give it to me.”

Caspar paused.

Leave, bastard son of Ogden.”

Son of a pig, Caspar thought.  There was a reason he avoided people as a whole.  The Kith were honest and open as a rule, holding little back.  Every barb that they casually threw in his face had more weight because he could easily imagine that each insult the Kith were willing to say was evidence of ten or a hundred that they didn’t.

But he held firm.  He didn’t want much, in the grand scheme of it all, but he was willing to endure this much to achieve it.  He stared out at the horizon, in the same general direction Klaros was looking.  “I’m leaving.  You’re coming with me.  If you want quiet-”

The bell rang.  Caspar flinched, while Klaros remained upright, unmoving.

“-If you want quiet, we can find a better place for it, until I take you back to Lord Juris, tonight.”

Klaros stared at him.  He turned his head to meet Klaros’ eyes for a moment.

“Thank you,” Caspar said.  Please was too much.

Thank you worked.  The Kith nodded assent.

When evening did fall, Caspar staggered back to his father’s house.  In the capitol, there were neighborhoods where the houses were available to those of noble birth only.  Moats and walls separated each section of the castle from the next, meaning the gently curved path to the house was a nice one, shaded by trees with a river running along one side.

If this keeps up, I might actually lose weight, he thought.

Too many nights had been spent with a book or his father’s paperwork, his food catered to him.  It was more comfortable indoors than going out where he had to deal with people.

Home was where he could let his guard down.

Not always, but often.

Tonight, it seemed, wasn’t one of those nights.

He unlocked and opened the door to find the Brute in the middle of a conversation with two others.  A man and a woman.

They tensed at the sound of the door opening, then relaxed when they saw him.

“Fume, Hatch,” he said.  Too tired for politeness, he settled for acknowledging them, using the only names he had.

Fume was tall, her hair pulled back into a ponytail that was perhaps a little too lowbrow for the quality of the fabric and the cut of the clothes she wore.  As disguises went, it was a bad fit, and her obvious discomfort in wearing it was even more telling.

The man, Hatch, didn’t even try.  He was dressed like a laborer, and his knuckles were the scabrous ruin of someone who got in a lot of fights.  His hair was long and greasy, his cheeks covered in scruff, his eyes heavily lidded.  Simultaneously dangerous and someone who could get disappear on a crowded street in any other neighborhood.

Cynn, Hatch’s daughter, was on the other side of the room, stoking the fire.  She’d been brought into the household as a favor to his father’s old friend.  Even as a servant, it was a better life than she’d stood to have otherwise.  She was just old enough to have had a taste for life on the streets, not quite old enough to be even starting on her road to womanhood.  Beyond that, Caspar couldn’t begin to guess her age.  Malnutrition had stunted her growth from the outset, and she was thin even now.

“It’s not a problem with the pressure,” Rolf told Fume.  “It’s a question of the people who are buying the meat.  Take my word for it, back off, hunt in pastures that aren’t so green.”

Fume’s lips twisted into something resembling a scowl, but she didn’t respond.

“So that’s all?”  Hatch asked.  His voice was gravelly.

“This is more than enough,” Rolf said, his voice calm.  “I told you.  Days where I give you a little tidbit should be few and far between.  But you show up one month, you ask a question, I give an answer.  You show up the next month, two favors this time, and I answer.  Six months later, I do you three favors, risk a good thing to throw you a bone every time I do it, and oh, Rolf’s slacking now.  Rolf’s being a greedy old bastard.”

“Didn’t mean it to sound like that,” Hatch said.

“I know you didn’t, but sometimes we all need a dose of perspective,” Rolf said.  “Stop by sometime, maybe, and consider sharing a drink, instead of all the other nonsense.  I’ll bring the drink, you just bring yourself.  Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Hatch said.  He clenched a fist, then rubbed at the back of his damaged knuckles.  It wasn’t an aggressive gesture.  More contemplative.

“Same goes for you, Fume.  This isn’t a one way relationship,” Rolf said.

Fume nodded, looking more than a little sullen.

“Cynn!  Here!”  Hatch ordered the girl like she was a dog.

She scrambled to get things set aside so the fire wouldn’t escape the fireplace, then hurried to her father’s side.

He placed a filthy hand on top of her head, moving her head back so he could see her face, first one side, then the other, like he was appraising an animal.

“They good for you?”

She nodded, silent.

“You can tell the truth if they aren’t.”

She ducked her head.  “Used to be, maybe there was something to look forward to once a week.  Apples from the orchard on the way back from the temple at the crossroad.”

“Yeah?  Happy memory?”  Hatch asked.  He smiled a little, showing bad teeth.  “I’m glad.”

“Every day, now, there’s a couple things.  I like every meal, just ’bout, and the tidbits we get summa the time, and after everyone’s had their baths and I can have mine, I can dry off and climb into the softest bed ever, I think that’s the best part.”

She spoke like she was almost ashamed of it, as though there was a bigger, meaner person waiting just behind her to snatch it away just because she’d admitted it.

“That’s good,” Hatch said.

“I feel-” she started.  Then she looked up into his eyes and changed her mind mid-sentence.  She fell silent.  “It’s good.”

Hatch nodded.  He looked at Rolf, then put a hand on Fume’s shoulder and led the woman out.

The door shut.  Caspar locked it.

“Old business?”

His father frowned.  “Just old friends needing a little guidance.  Go see to the fire, Cynn.”

The girl hurried over to finish her task.

“So.  Your new task,” Rolf said.

“Things got a lot easier when we started meeting people.  Klaros could talk to two of the Lord of Banner’s newphews, and Mora was open to talking to anyone, even if her speech is a little clumsy.  The day went quickly.  I watched, I answered some questions, and I made excuses when Klaros got fed up with people and stalked out.”

“Just Klaros that got fed up?  Most time you’ve spent around people in the last ten years, easy.”

Caspar frowned.

His mother chose that moment to enter the room.  Caspar had to look twice to verify what he was seeing, then wished he hadn’t.

Naked from the waist up, the woman stood in the doorway to the cellar, her posture ajar, arms limp at her side.  A wildcat’s skull sat on her head, strapped in place with leather thongs, and she, the skull and the simple cotton dress she wore were drenched in blood.

“Lizbeth,” Caspar’s father said.  He sounded exceedingly unsurprised.

“Perhaps too much in too short a time,” his mother said, her voice dreamy.

“My dear,” Rolf said.  “You’re dripping blood everywhere.  Into the bathroom with you.  I had Cynn draw you a bath.”

“I’m not sure I can walk,” she said.  “Hold me.”

Rolf did.  He didn’t flinch at the blood that was smeared on his doublet and head.

Shielding his eyes, Caspar crossed the room, approaching Cynn.  The waif stared, slack-jawed, even as he barred her view of his parents.

“Cynn?”  Rolf called out.  “See to it that the floor is mopped up.  Leave the carcass for me to dispose of.”

With that, the bathroom door closed.

Cynn looked up at Caspar.

“Mother has peculiar interests.  It seems the latest trend is blood magic or blood gods.”

Cynn’s eyes went wider.

“Rest assured, she’s done nothing except amuse herself.  No gods invoked, no spells worked.  I promise,” Caspar said.  Nor have any of the priests or priestesses we’ve seen in the last year, the last decade or the last few centuries, but I can’t quibble.

The girl hadn’t moved.

“Do you want help?”

“My job, ‘sn’t it?” Cynn asked, but doubt was clear on her face.

“Good girl,” Caspar said.  “I wouldn’t be much use anyways.”

He collected a burning taper, abandoned her to the task of scrubbing the floor and retreated to his room.

Gods and lunacy.

Yet he couldn’t hate it as much as he wanted to.  It was the reason they were here, and not in the gutters with Hatch and Cynn.

The room was dark, and smelled of old smoke and dust.  The book he’d picked up on the War of Tears found its place on his desk, while he settled into the chair.  His candle was already lit, and had been waiting for him for an hour, placed beneath a cover that let the air in and the smoke out.

He used it to light another, taller candle, and opened the book.  The alleged origins of the Kith, insights into their natures and peculiarities, and-

The knock on the door interrupted him before he’d found the first page.

Rolf entered without waiting for a response.

“Do we have to?”  Caspar asked.  “I have a headache.”

“I think we should.  I’ve been slacking, and so have you,” his father responded.

“It’s cliche.  When something’s so common and obvious that people joke about it from the gutters of the city to the highest office, I don’t think the obvious path is to make that joke a reality.”

“No?” Rolf asked.  He drew a dirk from his belt, then turned it over, letting it catch the candlelight.  Short and heavy as he was, he made for an imposing figure, sitting on the edge of the desk, lit only by candlelight from below.  “They joke because they worry.  That worry is a good thing.  I like to think it’s a reason the Black Chair exists.  Because they need some doubt.”

The black chair.  When the magistrates met to elect consuls and discuss matters of governance, there were eleven chairs with titles, the backs worked with icons for each of the respective appointments.    City and Capitol, Treasury and Trade, Letters and Lore, Bludgeon and Banners, Sun Moon and Star.  So it had been, according to myth, since the beginning.  A hero had slain a mad god, then founded a kingdom on the bloodstained land.  He’d granted one appointment to each of the people who had fought alongside him or helped him along the way, ten seats in total, then took the seat as the first Consul and ruler of Surd for himself.

And one seat, not titled, but painted black so others would know what it was, had been given to his enemy, the high priest of the mad god.  In other stories, in history, the seat had been filled by villains, by murderers and raiders.

In myth, it had been at the god’s whim.  The annals of history described others in a different light.  Some were set up to be poisoned.  Others were pacified by a life of luxury until their old allies were disposed of.

Others, like Caspar’s father, had played along, being inoffensive enough that the magistrates were content to keep them in place rather than worry about the bad luck that struck when the seat was left empty.

Rolf ‘the brute’ had complicated matters further by surreptitiously romancing and then marrying an eccentric young woman from the nobility.

Superstition, mad faith.  It rankled, but Caspar could accept it.

What his father spoke of was something else entirely.

The man moved the knife between his fat fingers with a surprising dexterity.  He stabbed it into Caspar’s desk.  The candles rocked back and forth for a moment.

Caspar removed the knife from the desk, then rubbed at the gouge, picking away a loose bit of wood.

“Consider this a thought exercise,” Rolf said.  The angle of his head made the divide between candlelight and shadow even starker.  “What if you had to?  What if you wanted to?”

“Killing a magistrate.”

“Or supplanting them.  Or ruining them,” Rolf said.

“I’d make a godawful assassin,” Caspar said.  “I’d be just as bad as a turncoat or a saboteur.”

“Which means they aren’t expecting you,” Rolf said.  “They’re expecting me, so it would fall on your shoulders.  Aren’t you angry at the state of things?”

Caspar leaned back.  He considered.  “Not angry enough.”

“One day you’ll have a child, and you’ll want more for him.  For him or her.  You won’t be able to give that child what you crave to give them if you’re a clerk or researcher.  Status, power, self respect.  That’s all I ask of you.  To keep your eyes open for an opportunity.  Ten or fifteen years from now.  A dagger through the ribs, one act, clean and untraceable, from someone nobody expects.  Poison their wine.  One magistrate and their second are removed from the picture, and things change.”

“I go to the gallows.”

“Not if you’re clever, and you do have a cleverness about you, my Caspar.”

Caspar sighed.  He moved the knife between his fingers, sliding it into his sleeve with one hand.  He extended his hand, turning it over with fingers splayed, and then reversed the gesture to draw the knife.

“I know you intended that for dramatic effect,” Rolf said, “But you used to be twice as fast.”

“I used to care, because I didn’t know any better.”

“I’m asking you to keep an eye out for opportunity, nothing more.”

“You’re asking me to be amoral.  To gamble everything I have, everything we have, on a chance at climbing one step up a ladder.”

“Your mother and I have given you everything we can.  I would like to think my grandchildren will be better off than my children were, and my great-grandchildren better than them.”

Caspar clenched his fist.  He met his father’s eyes, and this time, he didn’t look away.  He knew the reputation he got, being furtive, not making eye contact.  It was a simple thing, but it made all the difference in conveying attitude, in forming a rapport with others.

“You took away as much as you gave me,”

Rolf didn’t respond, staring into his son’s eyes.

Caspar could see a shadow behind his father.  It distorted the longer he looked, like the air shimmering above a hot flame.

Ten seconds of eye contact, and he could see it.  A reflection of his father, a man that was tall, partially dressed in uneven, lopsided armor adorned with wicked spikes.  The features were the same, if far leaner, but the other Rolf looked wilder, more restless, unshaven, barely repressing his anger.   Blood flecked his face and covered his gauntlets, a testament to the many times he hadn’t repressed his anger.

The visual of the gauntlet being clenched was so clear he could imagine the metal-on-metal sound.

“You’re seeing something,” Rolf said.

“I see nothing,” Caspar said.  He looked away and blinked a few times, trying to banish the visual.  Some blinks seemed to reinforce it, while more made it fade.  It resisted, remaining in place.

“Nothing.”  Rolf watched as Caspar’s eyes tracked the figure’s pacings.

“Mother dragged me into the woods and poisoned me until my mind broke.”

“She would say your mind opened.  Her intentions were good.”

“I don’t see much of a difference.  Her intentions might have been good, but we both know she’s imbibed a few too many experimental poisons herself.  It was up to you to protect me, and you stood by while she did this.  You had Fume stake me down so I couldn’t get away.”

“I got your mother and her title, the cost is indulging her fancies from time to time.”

“Then you need to accept that this little indulgence cost me something.  I don’t think I can ever be around people.  Marriage and these children you want are impossible.  I used to think I saw people’s inner selves, then I realized I really don’t want that to be true.  It’s insanity, and that’s sad and scary in its own right.”

“Your mother says you could train it.”

“Train what?  It’s my eyes making up moving pictures when I let them idle.  A form of madness bestowed on me when the poisons riddled my brain with holes or ulcers or some other sickness.  Hardly a second sight or power.”

“Then train the madness,” Rolf said, his voice low.

Speaking from experience?

“If I let myself start seeing things, it’s hard to stop.  I’m content to avoid starting.  A glance here and there, nothing more.”

“Yet you accepted the job.”

“Because it’s how I can get what I really want.  And because I needed to test myself, to see if I can really endure people on any level.”

“Yet if you succeed, your reward will be the freedom to lock yourself away from everything.  Your failure… it leaves you right back where you started.”

Caspar lowered his eyes.  His fists clenched.  “I wanted two things.  I was in a rush to take them.  Nothing more.”

“I’ve taught you much of what I know.  You had good teachers, and a good enough mind to find out what the couldn’t teach you,” Rolf said.  He stood from the desk’s edge.  The afterimage of the half-armored thug glimmered behind him.  “Your mother’s gifts to you were her blood, and this, I suppose.”

Rolf gestured in the general direction of Caspar’s head.

“If you want something out of all of this, then take it.  Understand?  But I don’t expect you to settle.”

With that said, Rolf left the room.  The door closed with more force than necessary

The other Rolf remained behind, chest heaving with anger and frustration, the blood still dripping.  More unsettling, still, were the tears that streaked his face, as he snarled, white teeth bared.

Caspar disrobed and climbed beneath the bedcovers, turning his back on the specter, hoping it would be gone when he woke.

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From → Sample: Peer 1

153 Comments
  1. Lankhmar permalink

    Not a proper review, please don’t worry about anything I say as this is just a few ideas floating through my head immediately after reading:

    The ideas of this are introduced and developed well, and are very strong and interesting. Plotwise it’s hard to know what direction this will take at this point, Action? Political intrigue? Adventure? Some combination or something else entirely? That means it’s going to be hard to make a firm yes/no decision early on, I’d guesstimate at least needing another 1-2 chapters minimum before I’d confidently think I could judge that. Probably politics but you demonstrated Caspar has *some* lethal skills which suggests they are going to be needed at some point.

    Some might complain about infodumping but I think it’s managed well. There’s always the question of pacing, but the whole situation with the kingdom and its leaders, the murder of a god etc. is all important to the setting and (knowing you) going to end up shaping the story. So it’s important to introduce it early on, let it settle into peoples minds before pulling the trigger of the Chekhov’s gun. This links to one of the contrasts between serials and novels. Foreshadowing has more impact in serialized work as we see things develop gradually and have time to think, whereas people who sit down and read it all in one go won’t. But since these are samples, you probably won’t have time to trigger them which leaves the story seemingly filled with unnecessary content…which it isn’t.

    I suppose the selling point of this sample (and indeed all of them) will be selling the future, setting up the dominoes and showing off the type of plot (whether action like worm or something else) which will be developed. The issue with that is that readers don’t know the whole plot, only what’s in the first few chapters. So, please don’t take any of the comments to heart, A) commenters are all idiots and B) YOU are the expert on these stories and know how they’ll develop, so never feel scared to make your own judgment. I mean, I know you’ve stated that before, but hey it’s nice to have some kind of affirmation. Probably.

  2. The nation is called Surd, by the by.

  3. Well wildbow, I predict you are going to have a “nice problem” to deal with, because if this is to you your “weekest concept” every single one of your samples is going to well worth your time to write.

    I have noticed whilst reading the comments about worm that you have attracted a fanbase of people with many different reasons for liking your writing. Almost everybody who commented about worm liked all of worm but liked some parts more than others because of their own personal interests and those that express a total dislike for some of worms aspects particularly liked other aspects of worm.

    In other words a lot of your fanbase will really like this Fantasy type story and those that don’t will almost certainly find one of your other samplers greatly to their liking.

    So I am VERY pleased to predict you are going to have to write all of the “story concepts”

  4. Typo thread:
    There are multiple spaces before City and Capitol.
    The should be they in “and a good enough mind to find out what the couldn’t teach you”
    Comments:
    I wasn’t engrossed by this as an opening. I didn’t like it as much as I did Worm’s first chapter, honestly. I mean, I would certainly read it, and I think that it will be good, but I felt like I have seen better here.

    • “the mountains. smatterings of white” Missing caps.
      “his anger. Blood flecked” Extra space.
      “what the couldn’t teach” They.

    • Simultaneously dangerous and someone who could get disappear on a crowded street in any other neighborhood.

      Extraneous “get”.

  5. DasNiveau permalink

    To pull a somewhat usefull critic i will write a short pro con list of thing that come to my mind.

    Pro:
    – No “a hero with a sword” rpg like start.
    – more or less low magic setting, but with a hint of magic to come
    – no “a hero with a sword” fantasy like main character

    Con:
    – yet another fantasy setting
    – male protagonist
    – seems intrigue heavy right from the start

    • I agree with the male protagonist thing. It even takes some of the edge off the novelty of a fat protagonist.

    • Kim permalink

      Male viewpoint.
      Protagonist may very well be someone else.

  6. Typo thread?

    • the merchants nobles who your people have been inconveniencing…. should be “whom”

      You had good teachers, and a good enough mind to find out what the couldn’t teach you.. should be “they”

    • “Lord Banner’s newphew.”
      Should be nephew, methinks.

      Anyhow, I do like it.

  7. alex5927 permalink

    It’s somewhat interesting, and if this is the one you continue, then I will most likely continue reading. However, it isn’t as great as I would have liked. It was a bit information-heavy, and while that can be good, I don’t like that so much was in the first chapter. Also, the plot was a bit dull. It has the potential to pick up, but right now, it’s not doing anything for me.
    Another thing: I don’t like Caspar. I don’t know why, but he just doesn’t feel like a very good character to me.
    Honestly, I’m kinda waiting for Body and Pact. They are two genres that I like, and I feel that you will probably take them somewhere amazing.

  8. I like the setting and would happily keep reading this. Certainly has enough promise to become as big a world as Worm. (Yes, I know that technically, Worm is dealing with more billions of people than you’d ever fit here, but the same names keep coming up.)

    I like Casper as a character, but I’m not sure he’s really protagonist material. In particular, he doesn’t seem to have much of a point of view about his world. I mean, sure, some vague cynicism, some specific resentments, but I don’t really see what’s driving him forward besides general angst. That would be plenty for a secondary character, but it doesn’t seem like enough to build a story on.

    (The kith characters obviously have something driving them, and so do the various villains and family members and henchfolk… pretty much everyone else in the story. But none of them are suitable protagonists either, for different reasons.)

    I like that the animal-people aren’t cats or wolves or deer, but pigs. That’s different.

    I’m not really feeling the Draco Malfoy character. A little bit too stereotyped.

    • It’s strange that the enhanced senses of the pig-people start with hearing, rather than smell, though. I mean, enhanced sense of smell, in a medieval setting, that’s a curse for you.

  9. grinvader permalink

    We’re not even past the gates and there’s already mind games all over the place, what could go wrong ?
    I’m very interested in what will happen with the Kiths, and of course Caspar’s character development.

    I hope you’re going to write the full preview you planned on, it looks like this is going to be intense (in a good way).

    Also, a whole new fantasy setup requires infodumps, else we’d lack the perspective to judge things properly. If anything, we still don’t know enough about the world.

    tl;dr: “Damn, I want to read more.”

  10. The things I like about your writing are very present. A fair amount of implicit world-building, a shaping of relationships between people and organizations that doesn’t feel like an _arrangement_ because it seems to have consequence of its own beyond the needs of the protagonist. More than the usual amount of explicit world-building, but I think that’s unavoidable when you’re writing sample chapters in quick succession. (I’m honestly sort of worried that this method of proofing story concepts will not quite do justice to any of them, though I suppose that’s only a concern if the level of “injustice” is biased largely in one direction or another).

    I personally really like feeling the tension between things as they are, things as they appear to the protagonist, and things as they appear to the reader. Intrigue and magically altered perceptions leave a lot of room for those tensions to play around in, so I am quite excited to see all that here.

    I also see preserved the coherence of emotion and action that I enjoyed so much in Worm. Every action has a material and a mental consequence, every mental event has an effect on both the characters’ mental state and their actions. It was interesting to see some of the seeming contradictions in Caspar’s behavior explained at the end of this chapter: he has enough confidence in his opinions and his own self that he can challenge the validity of the religious proceedings, and enough social competence to be a good observer of the nobility and their various intrigues, but not enough confidence to make eye contact? Perhaps he just feels safer at a distance (strongly implied by the opening), but then he successfully negotiates with a member of the inner council, and in the presence of a hostile audience, while flouting his father’s intentions for him? But *still* refuses eye contact, to the point where he’d draw comment from Juris, then initiate and lose a staredown with Darios? What’s going on here?

    It was very satisfying, then, to see his vision at the end, which (among other things) explains the contradictions that we see, as well as the particular combination of patience, stubbornness, and subtlety Caspar possesses. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect from somebody who sees himself as having survived and made a degree of necessary accommodation to a lifelong affliction.

    The relationship with his father, ‘the brute’, is one I’d love to read more of. That sort of harsh, confrontational Socratic method of instruction is always fun to read, especially when the ‘pupil’ is clever and confident enough to defy his teacher outright. I thought it was also very telling that Caspar thinks of his father as “Rolf” when they’re at home, and that he calls his father’s friends by their first names.

    My biggest complaint with this sample chapter is that I feel like it covers the same ground a little too often. Each scene or chunk of narrative gives us new information in one dimension or another, about the politics, or history, or religion, or about the familial relationships, and so on and so forth. But many (perhaps too many?) of them seem to really be conveying how Caspar thinks about the world, and about himself, how he solves problems. This is stuff that is interesting to me, but I feel like I got more of that than I needed, here. Saturating the channel like that didn’t seem particularly engaging, unless it’s meant to establish habits that we’ll get to see broken later.

  11. Jessie Laurent permalink

    I really like it, though I can definitely see where it is something that will take a little time to digest. I like Caspar, Mora, and a think his father is pretty interesting. Though honestly, I’m a sucker for intrigue.

    So, I definitely will nee a second chapter to be sure. A bit more description of the location might be nice…though at the same time, that shades into the ‘infodump’ problem/disagreement.

    Also, Haegs. Nice idea, and now we know that you are secretly a Kith.

    *nods* It all makes sense now. The dominoes are falling into place, and soon it will be checkmate.

  12. Well wildbow, I predict you are going to have a “nice problem” to deal with, because if this is to you your “weekest concept” every single one of your samples is going to well worth your time to write.

    I have noticed whilst reading the comments about worm that you have attracted a fanbase of people with many different reasons for liking your writing. Almost everybody who commented about worm liked all of worm but liked some parts more than others because of their own personal interests and those that express a total dislike for some of worms aspects particularly liked other aspects of worm.

    In other words a lot of your fanbase will really like this Fantasy type story and those that don’t will almost certainly find one of your other samplers greatly to their liking.

    So I am VERY pleased to predict you are going to have to write all of the “story concepts”
    Way to go Wildbow!!! Your going to be very busy of that I am certain.

    • In fact the only question that is relevant in my opinion is which “concept” you decide to write first ?? I am certain based on this one there will be many fans for every “concept” you have listed!
      For me this concept is just as interesting as Worm was and I really, really enjoyed Worm!!!

  13. Avgasblomman permalink

    I will say it is interesting, I would read more of this.

    Trying to put a finger on what I like/dislike about it, I would say the best parts are the mystery; many things are hinted at which I would love to know more about. Furthermore, I always tend to enjoy settings which involve the interactions of different intelligent species, or drastically different races. I’m a sucker for well built worlds, and you’ve already given proof of being able in that department.

    What might be weaker in this story is that the main character seems like a bore. We are introduced to a person whose greatest ambition is to be left alone for the rest of his life. This isn’t something which is impossible to make really interesting, and even if you do not there are many good works of fiction have really lame protagonists. Especially in fantasy settings, where a more flavorful protagonist might obstruct some of the world building.

    Other things have been mentioned earlier, I think someone hit the nail on the head when they said that it seems odd to have a setting of political intrigue where people are so bluntly honest with each other. Especially since you, at a later point, write that lying is the norm rather than the exception. Perhaps this is more noticeable in a singular chapter, when the full cast is introduced and we see that the people/situation introduced here is, in fact, the oddity rather than the norm.

    • I like Casper as a character, but I’m not sure he’s really protagonist material. In particular, he doesn’t seem to have much of a point of view about his world. I mean, sure, some vague cynicism, some specific resentments, but I don’t really see what’s driving him forward besides general angst. That would be plenty for a secondary character, but it doesn’t seem like enough to build a story on.

      What might be weaker in this story is that the main character seems like a bore. We are introduced to a person whose greatest ambition is to be left alone for the rest of his life. This isn’t something which is impossible to make really interesting, and even if you do not there are many good works of fiction have really lame protagonists. Especially in fantasy settings, where a more flavorful protagonist might obstruct some of the world building.

      Might I say I most strenuously disagree with this? Speaking for myself, I find it enormously refreshing to find just such a protagonist. Not everyone wants To Be A Master or to Rule The World or to be The World’s Greatest Anything. Some people are just fine being quiet ordinary observers of the world. Why is this a bad thing and why can’t we follow such a character? Right, the truism that unambitious people don’t move the narrative along. Woop-de-doo. Events are going to occur regardless of whatever and he will be compelled to respond to those events regardless of his preferences. He doesn’t have to be yet another hotblooded farmboy with a destiny, does he? I think not.

      … Yes, fine. I bear a strong resemblance to the protagonist in temperament if not appearance and am strongly strongly biased toward him. Doesn’t make me wrong.

      • Good point. I think there was a fantasy author once who wrote an adventure trilogy where the protagonists were unambitious, everyday rural folk. What was his name? Tolk-something?

        From memory he did quite well with it. 😉

  14. I love it! It’s fascinating. Though, I feel like if this were to be a typical format novel, it exposes too much in the first scene or two. As serial writing, as a sample, it works fine.

  15. If we’re typo threading;
    leaves town. I can maybe call in a favor or buy him a drank,

    Drink, presumably.

  16. tealterror permalink

    I think this chapter gets better as it goes. The opening conversation between Caspar and Juris isn’t terribly interesting, in my opinion (and as others have noted, it’s strange that it’s occurring in front of the Kith themselves). If you were editing this, I’d actually recommend cutting it entirely and starting with Caspar already having agreed to supervise the Kith.

    The Kith themselves I like (though I had a bit of a difficult time visualizing them from the descriptions, but that’s likely a personal failing). Mora has kind of an interesting ironic detachment regarding her entire situation, while Klaros gives vibes of there being a lot going on under the surface.

    The end of the chapter was likely the best part. Caspar’s parents (I find it kind of odd when he calls Rolf by first name in the 3rd-person narration, incidentally) are probably the most interesting characters so far. Rolf in particular, while not a nice person by any means, is intriguing, and I’d like to read more about him. The blood magic ritual and the vision are both striking images and definitely grab the reader’s attention.

    I’d say there are two main problems with the chapter as is. First, there’s too much in it. Too much exposition, for one thing; I get that it’s fantasy, but we don’t yet need to know stuff like the history, the number of magistrates and the Black Chair, etc. This stuff needs to be doled out in small doses, as it becomes relevant. Moreover, though, you have too many characters introduced too quickly. Juris and Darios don’t really add much and, as I said before, can be cut without much issue. Fume and Hatch, too, while theoretically interesting, don’t add much; if you were editing, I might suggest moving their conversation with Rolf to a later chapter.

    Second, and more importantly, I have a hard time getting a handle on Caspar as a character. I think part of the problem here is you don’t give us his emotional reactions to, well, anything. So when he brings up a moral objection to his father’s assassination idea, I was actually kind of surprised, since I hadn’t got the impression he cared about much of anything from the preceding chapter. One reason the last part of the chapter is the best is because we finally get some insight into how Caspar feels, but until then he’s kind of a cipher. (This might be a reason a lot of people are saying he’s like Taylor, even though [IMO] they’re quite different; he doesn’t have many obvious qualities of his own so they’re reading Taylor’s into him.) While the infodumps and character introductions will end naturally, this will continue being an issue if it’s not fixed.

    While I’d understand a hesitation to continue with this one, due to the relatively middling reaction it’s received, I hope you give at least one more chapter of Peer. You say you’d need three sample chapters to “sell” the story’s concept, and the set-up so far is interesting enough that I want to see where you’re intending on going with it.

    • tealterror permalink

      When writing this comment, I had forgotten Caspar’s stated desire to “rescue” the peasant girl who was overwhelmed by the occasion and screwing up her song. This is certainly an emotional reaction, but also kind of a weird one; it’s not like it would be *less* embarrassing for the girl to be whisked off by some random functionary (quite the opposite). It was also extreme enough to not really fit with Caspar’s other actions and thoughts, which again didn’t evince much caring for anything, not even himself really, so I sort of discounted it. Even so, this is the sort of thing you need to include more of, IMO.

      • He says it would be counterproductive, but that doesn’t change the root desire.

      • tealterror permalink

        Good point. I still find it a bit strange since, in that circumstance, a desire more like “I wish this would end soon” would make more sense, though maybe that’s just me. I guess it sits a bit oddly since, in the rest of the piece, Caspar seems nothing if not pragmatic. I only brought it up because it does provide some insight into his character in retrospect, though for whatever reason while I was reading it didn’t really make much of an impact.

    • How could you cut Juris and Darios without much issue? It’s Juris who initially gives Caspar the job that sets events in motion. And Darios is intertwined with that decision – he affects the terms under which Caspar takes the job.

  17. kappa permalink

    Reminds me of Bujold – I’m getting strong shades of Chalion. (That’s a compliment.) But I’m going to put myself in the minority of readers who thinks it needed to be more informative, not less. Comprehensible fantasy requires you to front-load enough context that your readers understand what is going on and why it matters, and I mostly didn’t. The ratio of events occurring to details provided was way too high. If the main character understands what’s going on better than I do, then I want more of that understanding to show up on the page; if the main character is confused, I want to see his confusion.

  18. VantagePointer permalink

    I wasn’t a huge fan at the start of this, but I did warm up to this story by the end. There are problems (ones I often associate with fantasy), but I do feel like it improves a great deal as it goes along.

    I don’t actually have a problem with fantasy (that would be a pretty big generalization against the whole genre on my part), but from my experience, fantasy does tend to lend itself to many issues.

    One of the main things I’m worried about are the flood of original terms and words (Kith, Akai, “Lord of Letters,” etc.). With fantasy, there’s always a ton of stuff unique to the world, so it’s often hard to incorporate explanations for all those terms without seeming out of place, since they are all native to the characters of the setting. However, being almost immediately confronted with many fictional words often makes a story hard to understand and hard to get into, since you don’t what’s being said. I think that is a bit of an issue at the start of this story, but it then moves into more fantastical things that are not just defined by fictional words (like calling the specter Caspar sees some word like “Agkivor” and then explaining for a sentence or two what it means (that’s also a big issue in fantasy I find, just giving fictional words and terms to things that already have real names or words for them, or words that can be easily attributed to the things, like calling them “Gutterdamerungs” or something instead of just “Endbringers,” which is easy to understand)).

    To me, the Fire Emblem series is a good example of how to handle this. It has fictional terms and words, but it also has a good way of identifying each term, and they lead you into the meaning very well and gradually. For example, “Laguz” in FE: Radiant Dawn are beast-people. If I’m not mistaken (which I might be, since I haven’t played the game in a while), you run across the term Laguz a few times before you actually encounter one of them, and the term is quickly associated against normal humans, so you know that they are not part of “normal” humans. You don’t HAVE to understand the term right away, since it’s not important until later (how the Endbringers were talked about in Worm was a really good, well-handled example of this). It is also given a identifier in plain English as just “beast-humans,” so you can quickly grasp the general meaning, and then the explanation can be later expounded on. Having it identified in normal terms quickly makes it so that you have a clear enough idea of what it means that you can follow it.

    To me, that’s the main note of caution I have for this. Personally, I also hope it isn’t one of those grimdark fantasy type of settings. I like dark fiction, but I’m really bored of fantasy settings where everything is completely terrible and all human beings are complete monsters who kill children in the streets or whatever, and the heroes are all the most insanely jaded and bitter people ever (which makes sense for how terrible everything is, but is still off-putting). I don’t really expect that though, since in Worm you handled the tone of the setting very well I thought. It be really dark, and the actual world was in pretty bad shape, but it wasn’t oppressively hostile at all times in the story.

    The only other thing is that I hope it doesn’t descend into fifty layers of political jargon and back-stabbing. It’s very easy for fantasy to devolve into fifty separate groups and organizations all manipulating one another. It’d be like Worm having five different Cauldrons who were all trying to sneakily undermine one another. Having multiple dark, faceless conspiracies has almost always turned out badly/irritatingly in my experience.

    So yeah, it looks good I think. I’m interested to see where it goes.

  19. Personally I disagree with a few of the other responses here. About the male protagonist thing? I don’t get why people would use the gender of the protagonist as a downside to something. As for world building? This is a fantasy setting. World building is really important. We need to know what the world is like, what motivates people. Who are the gods that people are worshiping, who are the leaders. What are people using to murder each other? How many different races are there? I need answers to all my random questions damn it. Of course, I’m a lore junkie so my opinions are weird like that.

    • tealterror permalink

      Regarding the gender thing: science fiction/fantasy (including “sub-genres” such as steampunk, superheroes, etc) has a hugely disproportionate number of male characters to female ones. Worm is actually rather notable in that it’s kind of disproportionate in the other direction, to the extent that you even had some people complaining that by the end the only major male characters left alive were Defiant and Chevalier (not entirely true, but that’s a different matter). So I can understand why some people would prefer the post-Worm project to have a female main character, even though I disagree.

      As a side-note, I remember in a comment on one of the earlier Worm chapters, Wildbow mentioned that he found it easier writing female characters than male ones. While I don’t want to make general pronouncements based on one chapter, it’s possible that this is one of the reasons many (including myself) didn’t really take a liking to Caspar.

      • Reveen permalink

        Fantasy especially. Because the settings normally associated with it often have neat little tools writers can use to justify treating women as background props. And while some of them may have a point in that women doing stuff like ruling kingdoms and fighting people in a patriarchal feudal setting would be rare, they also ignore the myriad ways women influenced history. Eg. Caterina Sforza.

        Well, a lot of people who try to write quote-unquote realistic fantasy settings only want to have goons fighting eachother and politicking in a grimier, rapeyer setting anyway. Acknowledging the role of 50% of the population in societies throughout history aint on their bucket list.

    • Back to the issue of Caspar as a protagonist, I want to remind a few people about Worm. When I first started reading Worm, I found Taylor really, really boring. It had nothing to do with gender or anything, I just couldn’t find her interesting at all. I even stopped reading it for a long time. So, just give the new guy a chance will you? Because just like in Worm, when the ball gets rolling he might surprise you. Besides, the dude is seeing some crazy shit.

  20. Lovecraft16 permalink

    Hows this for a theory, Caspar’s visions really are madness but he convinces people that they are visions, and has to use that to his advantage. If that were the case this story would remind me a lot more of the clever use of powers in worm, and it sounds right up wildbow’s alley.

    Just in general I think this was pulled off really well, and despite the tone of a few comments I think that the setting is quite good. I don’t see many overused cliches at this admittedly early point, and everything that has been introduced so far is interesting and engaging. I look forward to seeing more of this one and the others to come!

  21. Oh yeah, I just wanted to say, I get what you’re doing with the language (Kith? Brilliant, especially with that little hint with “kin” close by), a really nice not-a-conlang thing where the words can be taken as the translation convention of a unrecoverable punster.

  22. Settras permalink

    Wow, I just…

    I really like it. Might be because I’m not a native english speaker, but this.. snippet is a very fine piece of work, with great world-building.

    Signed,
    your fan.

  23. Petra permalink

    I was thinking more of what about this didn’t do it for me. I’m a huge fantasy fan, and a sucker for worldbuilding, but this just didn’t work for me somehow. I think it’s because, like other commentators have pointed out, it feels like there’s too much going on at once in this first chapter. I actually liked the level of exposition you hit, painting the broad-strokes of societal concepts without going too in-depth in them at once. However, the actual details seemed sort of disjointed to me. There’s the Kith, which are fascinating, and the religion, which is fascinating but I’m not quite sure how that convention came together in the first place, and them BAM blood-soaked noblewoman, which… was actually a nicely striking scene, finishing up with the visions. Not one of these things was bad, but together they seemed sort of… underwhelming, somehow?

    Moreover, I agree with other people that I have a hard time connecting with the main character. Honestly, I’d probably like this a lot more if Mora was the viewpoint character, just because she seems more immediately engaging, and still able to tell Caspar’s story.

    I think you’ve got a very interesting world in the works here, and the prose is great at always, but I think you just fumbled the execution a little. I would definitely read Peer if it was the story chosen, but I thought you’d like some constructive criticism.

  24. I’m wondering, these new stories, do they have any leftovers of those hundreds of ideas that you eventually fused together to form Worm?

    • Not so much. Pact is actually closest to Worm in that it’s something that has a lot of foundation to work from. The rest are more recent.

  25. I was immediately struck by how your descriptions have improved since early Worm.
    I was surprised at how quickly I was hooked (with Worm, it took several chapters before I found myself unable to stop reading).
    The most common criticism I’m reading in the comments seems to be that Caspar is “boring”. I can see where that’s coming from, but for now it feels like an advantage. How likely that is to hold, or for how long, I couldn’t hope to guess. I also like how Caspar all but refuses to fit into any particular archetype.
    The world-building so far seems smooth and concise; the infodumps are either brief explanations in Caspar’s thoughts, or make sense in conversation (an advantage to having cross-cultural diplomacy in the first chapter).
    I’m interested in where this would go, and I expect I’d follow it if it continues.

  26. The Sandman permalink

    I think I’ll probably need another chapter or two to decide how I feel about this one in terms of it being expanded into a full story.

    In terms of things specific to this chapter, I’m having a very hard time figuring out exactly what Klaros looks like from that description, and Mora didn’t really click until the “cursed/blessed/touched by pig god” thing was mentioned.

    Also, clarifying what Caspar’s “hook” is. That he seems to want so relatively little out of life requires explanation given that he’s the protagonist, whether it be just from past experiences souring him on the prospects of achieving more or whether it be that he just honestly never wanted more and is going to be forced out of his comfort zone by future events.

    Maybe have it be a bit more obvious from the start that there’s a good reason why he doesn’t like to look people in the eye beyond his socialization issues? Include slightly more obvious signs that there’s more to him than just a depressed fat guy in his late teens or early twenties, or alternatively more obvious signs that he’s deliberately suppressing anything that might suggest he’s more capable than he appears?

    And as a general thought on these samples: given that (if I recall correctly) you’re using this to gauge the relative degree of interest in each of these ideas, maybe use one of the scenes that you really want to get to instead of the beginning of the story? The sort of slow build that works well for the first pages of a story where we know we’ll eventually see what that buildup leads to doesn’t work as well for a preview where there’s a good chance we’ll never see the rest of the story.

    Just as an example, the chapter of Worm where Leviathan first appears (the one that ends with the start of his attack and the armbands announcing the initial casualties) is the sort of thing that I think might work well for the purpose of getting people to want to read the story without actually spoiling any particularly critical points from the overarching plot.

  27. eduardo permalink

    As people said, it has potential. But lets wait for the next chapter before giving a better criticism.
    Oh, the amount of exposition is alright. In fantasy you need exposition and I didn`t find it heavy handed.

  28. TeaSpoon permalink

    Your third person isn’t as well-practiced as your first person, but that’s to be expected. A bit of clumsiness there and with the descriptions. The parts that are mostly dialogue are easier to follow.

    I’d be interested to hear why you decided to change perspectives. You spent nearly 1.7 million words practicing the first person. I guess you decided to shore up your weaknesses instead of playing to your strengths, as it were.

  29. mrizumi permalink

    I find myself intrigued by where this story could go. With that, I find just a bit of cloudiness and confusion when painting a mental picture of this story so far. Its probable because of this fantasy setting.

    Worm took place in a city with schools and the like. Even with the obvious (and not obvious) changes from reality I could picture. I suppose the setting was more “grounded” for me.

    I can picture this being great. In my opinion, more world-building (which I know Wildbow can do), is needed if this story is chosen to be the main one.

    Looking forward to Tuesday!

  30. Caladium permalink

    I quite liked the way this chapter played out. The world building fit the pace, none of the info dumps were excessively long, and there’s a very interesting dynamic between Caspar and his parents. The diplomats are very interesting characters, especially Mora and her honesty. With the intrigue that’s being built up, an honest character is a refreshing choice, as opposed to the usual cast of backstabbers and cutthroats. I also liked how Caspar sounds accepting of his lot in life at first, and then is revealed to have a lot more backbone–and secrets–than he seems. But personally characters with hidden depths and mysterious abilities are usually my favorite kind, which Caspar is coming off as so far. The conversation at the end was also a nice pull into the next part of the story–what does Caspar really see? How is it going to affect him/those he looks at? Is his mother crazy or does she know something we don’t? And so on and so forth.

    I thought that the conversation that started the chapter was novel and very well done. The fact that Darios was up front about the fact that, yes, he hates Caspar and yes, he would get rid of Caspar as soon as he could made both him and Lord Juris fairly unique. I actually can’t remember reading a conversation quite like that in any other story. The apparent honesty on both sides was refreshing and the whole thing seemed to go a lot more smoothly for the characters than it would have if the standard political lies were in play. Poor communication kills, and all that.

    In summary, I like where this has gone so far. Another chapter to get a better feel for this world would probably help assuage many of the other commentator’s doubts. If this is the story you decide to go with, I’d definitely read it. I am very much looking forward to the modern supernatural story, though, since that’s one of my favorite genres.

  31. furryninja permalink

    Curious- how do you/did you decide whether to have the story told in first or third person? The first-person with third-person interludes was something that I don’t really see much, as opposed to third-person, which is of course more common.Not that there’s anything wrong with that…just interesting how different literary styles develop.

    • Are you referring to Worm? ‘cos from memory all its interludes were first person, as well.

  32. I like it. I didn’t read enough of your plans but someone commented that you wrote somewhere this was your weakest concept. If that’s true, well, it’s still good. 🙂

    What I like, similar to worm, is that the protagonist is intelligent and a bookworm. And it looks like it’ll be a story where you can think about it a lot while reading it. And, again like in worm, the characters in the story seem to use their assets and skills intelligently to achieve their goals. That’s something Eliezer Yudkowsky mentioned when recommending worm and in hindsight it’s a huge part of what makes the story so enjoyable. So I think this story will / would be enjoyable and interesting too.

    PS: If some stuff that I said doesn’t make much sense that’s probably because I used words in a context where similar words work in german but don’t in english. Not a native speaker here. 🙂

  33. I’ll preface this by saying that I’m a sucker for fantasy, so I might be a little biased, but I liked it. The discussion on gods and the Kith especially hint at a complexity to the magic system that you just know will have some kind of mind-blowing resolution later on. That, and the rather novel suite of characters you’ve presented, means this definitely feels like a new kind of fantasy, not just re-done sword and sorcery.
    I agree with some of the other comments that I felt a little detached as I read it; it was hard to get immersed into it. While exposition is of course necessary, and the info given definitely gave me a feel for the world, it pulled me out of the story proper. There is also a very high character density here for just the first chapter: I think eight or so were named, which can be hard to keep track of in addition to the world they live in. Incidentally, if you reduce the opening character count, it might also alleviate the problem of the relative reader apathy to Caspar (which I didn’t feel, but I can see where it’s coming from) in giving him more screentime.
    Overall, I’ll reserve final judgment until I see the next few chapters, but it has potential and I like where it has gone so far!

    • This chapter was also long. It feels like it needs to end where it does – I don’t remember seeing a natural break in the middle – but it definitely felt longer than almost all the Worm updates to me.

  34. I enjoyed this quite a lot. Contrary to a lot of the comments here, I found Caspar to be a compellingly interesting protagonist, and political machinations are something I enjoy deeply – and that this chapter promises, in spades.

    And I really liked the surprise at the end with Caspar’s visions. That and the other fantasy elements have a flavor to them that I find intriguing.

  35. Orphiex permalink

    Okay, the first thing I want to say that this definitely has that je ne sais quoi that makes me want to read the next entry right away. Let me just cover a few of the things that I do know:

    The main character shows promise in many of the right places. The gender is irrelevant to me, but his mindset gives me all sorts of ideas. Introspective, analytic types with no motivation? That may not be a setup with obvious direction, but the potential is all there. Once he discovers a reason to take action, he’s going to be all kinds of scary. He’s got extensive analytical skills, an intricate knowledge of the interconnections and relationships of the body politic, and he’s incredibly easy to underestimate. He may not look impressive at the moment, but the potential as a protagonist is there.

    The setting feels high-end bog-standard to me. Don’t take that the wrong way, it’s a compliment. It’s just that when you’ve read as many works of fiction (from all genres) as I have, the setting becomes more of a secondary concern. What’s far more important (from my perspective) is the system on which the setting operates. That was one of the things that I deeply, truly loved about Worm; the systems of superpowers, multiple dimensions and political governance were innovative, deeply thought out and integral to the storyline. My judgement regarding Peer is that we’ve only seen the beginnings of all these things, but so far they reveal the same dedication to detail that we saw in Worm.

    In short, all I can say is that I’ll have to read more to make any kind of judgement, and boy am I looking forward to that.

    PS. I’m mentally fan-ficcing Peer’s mad god and Dishonored’s Outsider. Just saying.

  36. Billy Higgins permalink

    I’m definitely a fan. That first line set a really interesting tone, and I liked watching all of the political intrigue go on while the singers and priests gave worship to “nobody in particular.” Was the choir girl being in over her head supposed to mirror Caspar’s own predicament? Maybe that’s a stretch. Either way, I liked it, and I also liked the priest with the gold, sun-shaped mask.

    I really liked Caspar and his father, too. The Black Chair strikes me as a fascinating concept, and the idea that there’s a seat in the government basically reserved for the wretched has a lot of potential. (It also raises a lot of questions. What does someone in The Black Chair even do? I guess they know a lot about farming, given the advice Rolf gave to his friends. Heck, it seems like warding off the assassination attempts would be a full time job.)

    Then there’s the mother. I don’t really have anything to say about her but she needed to be mentioned because she’s really great, and her off-kilter mental state made me smile.

    As a lot of other people have already mentioned, I thought the second half was much stronger than the first. But I’m not sure I had so much of a problem with the character dumping in the first half, as that seems to be a really core part of your writing style. I vaguely remember you doing it a couple times throughout the course of Worm, and I think the character dumping here was much less extreme than in the aforementioned serial. Still, I wonder if this opening chapter might be better served by switching the first and second parts? That way we would be more familiar with three of the characters before introducing Juris, Darios, and the Kith. Of course, you probably wanted Rolf’s devilish side to be the sort of twist the reader was left to contemplate at the end of the chapter. I suspect that reversing the order would be worth losing the twist, but who knows? I’m not the writer.

    Despite my feelings on the first chapter’s placement, I did like it. As I already said, it has a nice background, but I also like the blunt political intrigue. It’s different, but that’s why I like it. You get the complex relationships and systems that come with it normally, but by making everything so blunt you can really speed up the plot and avoid stretching out bits that might not be so interesting.

    So yeah, I have the feeling this isn’t going to be the serial you go with, but I’d love to see more of this world, even if it was through some short stories or a novella or something. I can’t wait to see the next chapter or two, and I think you’ve set the bar high for the other serial previews.

    • Melmoth permalink

      The Black Chair is definitely the part I found the most interesting. There’s nearly no information on it, but I can think of a few reasons to have it.

      I think one part of it is simply to keep major enemies of the land pacified and under observation. Tim the Destroyer is less likely to topple the government and steal its goodies if he’s part of the government. Hell, you might even get him to help if something truly dire threatens the land. As well, if he doesn’t tone down the villainy and such, he’s close enough to easily murder.

      Another reason I can see is to have someone to play Devil’s Advocate. Whoever is in the Chair ought to be interested in keeping the game afloat, but not trust the other rulers or their policies. I’d think that whoever sits in the Chair is going to be looking for every chance to prove the others wrong, hopefully by pointing out flaws in whatever they’re up to, or proposing alternate ideas.

  37. TheLastOne permalink

    Interesting beginning. I’ll need to see more to guess where this is going, though I’m not all that fond of the secret doubter being shown wonder and magic is real.

    • …thinking on that, it would be a nifty twist if it proved that, while magic is real, Caspar’s hallucinations weren’t – that they just represented his brain going into overdrive analyzing whoever it is that he’s looking at and dumping that data into his visual field.

  38. chiusse permalink

    Hard to critique something like this based on only the first chapter. But, here’s my entirely subjective take:

    While I will say that this seems less familiar than average pro fantasy, it still leans a bit on a few standard fantasy cliches that I don’t think you’d be doing the genre any favors by perpetuating (or, at least, they’re pet peeves of my own). Viz:

    1. Religion

    In real classical antiquity or medieval history, religion tended to play a much larger role in everyday life–yet here its place is far in the background, just a part of the scenery. The protagonist and POV character is even an atheist! Sincere believers are treated as eccentric, like his mother, or foreign and exotic, like the Kith. Historically, faith was *everything* until the modern era; people credited the gods for success or failure in just about everything they did (including, probably, diplomacy and assassination plots), invoked their names in conversation, swore by them, and so forth. Even people who *weren’t* so pious still made shows of piety for appearances’ sake.

    Anyway, projecting a modern secular worldview onto a medieval fantasy world is soooo common and very jarring (at least to me), especially when there are elements of high fantasy (references to strange creatures) that are taken for granted–and lampshading doesn’t help. I mean, I can understand if it’s a story about a unbelieving protagonist in a religious world–that’s a thing, even though it’s not one I’m interested in–but at first glance, Peer doesn’t even seem to be that. The whole world feels secular, rather than just the protag.

    Don’t get me wrong, the vague religious syncretism you’re presenting is more unique than the standard pagan pantheon or monotheistic Catholic Church analogue. It would just be much more interesting if it ends up having a significant effect on the story. Experimenting with gods that, as someone mentioned above, no one takes seriously, is frankly not very believable.

    2. Proud Warrior Race Guys

    Not to judge this prematurely, but from what little I see of the Kith, they appear to be very stereotypical, as far as fantasy goes–tribal, warlike, mystical (see above), non-human, and unaccustomed to living in a city. Not exactly compelling. I’m sure you could go somewhere more interesting and nuanced with it, just not seeing anything remarkable there in this chapter.

    I realize all that sounds pretty harsh. But I’m not trying to put you out or anything. If I hadn’t enjoyed Worm so much, and didn’t know that you were capable of producing something quality, I wouldn’t have bothered at all. There’s plenty good about it–I felt reasonably drawn in by the plot, despite the heavy exposition. I liked Rolf, in particular. Definitely feels like it has the potential to be decent fare–but, personally, I would rather not read millions of words of a fantasy epic that’s just decent. To contrast: Worm started with an excellent idea that was clear almost right away. I wanted to keep reading on the strength of the first chapter. Peer doesn’t have any similarly strong ideas–just a premise that I can *imagine* being excellent with the right execution. And–a lot of the strength of that imagination comes from already knowing something about you as an author. If this had been written by someone I wasn’t familiar with, I might not keep reading.

  39. nomananisland permalink

    I felt like this has potential that needs honing. There is court intrigue – but the way it gets handled lacked subtlety or subterfuge. I don’t think experts at intrigue would be so open.

    The gods seem useless – and unless that’s going to be a plot point, that section reads as irrelevant material other than to establish Caspar as a snarker. Which comes across in many ways anyway.

    So it largely seems slow until the end when the mother is bloody, there’s talk of visions and assassinations. I would have probably started with the unseen “dragged to the woods and my mind broken” scene.

    However, the specter reminds me of Chevalier and then I’d rather read about him – so the most interesting aspects of this have too much overlap with Worm.

    If the scene could be more dynamic and the political intrigue more mental chess it could be potentially intriguing, but it isn’t leaping off the page impressive.

    I hope that’s not too harsh, because Worm was very impressive and I don’t want to put unfair pressure on a new story to right away live up to that – that would be silly to expect. But the intrigues were lacking finesse and I’ve seen you do psychological nuances better, so I thought it was a valid criticism.

  40. Figured I’d give this a shot. Not sure how valuable my opinion is, considering I didn’t read Worm, but I’m hoping to follow your next work as it’s posted. Worm seemed interesting ‘n all, but I just couldn’t get into it because of the sheer length. Was a bit too daunting.

    But um. My opinion of Peer 1. It didn’t completely grab me. Your post is roughly 9k words, and you lost me after about 6k. Skimmed through the rest but didn’t see anything that hooked me back in. I’ll go back and finish it if you end up picking this one as your next serial, but for now, I’ll just offer some feedback.

    Part of my problem was–as others have already mentioned–the large amounts of exposition. I mean, is it really necessary to describe every single character in such detail as soon as they’re introduced? I don’t feel you should cut or trim anything, but rather just save it later, when some of these characters’ roles in the story have become clearer. Clumped together like this just bogs down the narrative, in my opinion, especially because I’m just not going to be able remember all of these details.

    Haeg Mora, I found compelling. I felt her role as a cripple in Kith society was interesting and lent weight to her dialogue with Caspar. Though, this bit here is a bit backwards, I think:

    “Yes. Joking you. I am Haeg. We have power. If our Kith fights other Kith, enemy hold their weapons back rather than strike us, will wait quiet while we hobble here or there, old women and a cripple like me. We tend to the hurt and hold hands of the dead, carry last words for wives or mothers. But we are not proud. Not big in the eyes of others. If I tell the great chiefs to stop stealing your wagons, they will nod, they will tell me they will consider it-”

    Caspar finished. “-and the raids will continue. You have power, but not status.”

    Surely, their assessments are incorrect here. This should be “status, but not power,” no? Haeg are clearly respected–they are allowed refuge in battle, sent as ambassadors (even if jokingly), and able to speak to the great chiefs without incurring wrath. But they do not have an authority to affect change in any way, and thus have no real power. Coupled with Mora’s belief that “brute” is a term of reverence, it makes even less sense to me that she would consider herself “powerful” at all.

    As for Caspar, I found him interesting, but I don’t get the impression that he can carry the story all by his lonesome. I feel he would become a beloved character in an ensemble cast, but I wouldn’t want to read the entire story from only his perspective.

    • “Power, but not status” works. If your presence in front of an attacking warrior causes them to avert their blades and go the other way – that’s power. If people treat you as though you’re otherwise invisible, that’s low status.

      It arguably works both ways.

  41. “If I tell the great chiefs to stop stealing your wagons, they will nod, they will tell me they will consider it-”
    Caspar finished. “-and the raids will continue. You have power, but not status.”

    Sounds like the opposite; she has status (official recognition of power), but no power (ability to change things).

    [Hatch was] Simultaneously dangerous and someone who could get disappear on a crowded street in any other neighborhood.
    Should be either “could disappear on…” or “could get disappeared on…”, depending on if it’s supposed to be “He would blend in anywhere else” or “Anywhere else, he would vanish to some authority”. Probably the first, but hey, you never know.

    Having commented on typos, my thoughts on the story.
    It looks neat. I’m not sure what direction it will go, but I’m confident it will be a good story whichever path it travels down.
    One suggestion I’d make: Worldbuilding is key. I can tell that you tend to think your stories and their settings through (I do much the same); this setting is so fundamentally different from our world that these differences will make the story almost incomprehensible if not explained. I would not oppose some early interludes, or chapters focused on getting us up-to-date on what the world is–what kith are, where they are in relation to the human kingdom(s), any other races, etc etc. A map would also be a great thing to have.

  42. Sun Dog permalink

    I;m intrigued, if not exactly sold. The people of Surd seem very fickle and mercurial, changing fashions and fashionable colors, changing gods. Which may be reasonable with powerful intangible forces, offering a prayer to anyone who hears and cares to answer. It’s clear that Caspar and Rolf are not really a part of this society, Rolf seems to be some kind of warlord they invited into their body politic to keep peace and tradition.

    In a city full of scheming nobles and intrigue, true sight and a sharp mind are devastating advantages. Assuming that;s what’s actually going on with Caspar’s visions, knowing you wildbow, I doubt it;s that simple.

    Looking forward to the follow-up and other samples.

  43. Wildbow, I hope you don’t mind me making a suggestion here. It’s all well and good that you are giving us the opportunity to voice our opinions of what you are writing…

    BUT

    After you write all the samples, and read through them, edit them and play with them, and get a feel for all the different ways all the different characters could go in their respective universes, I think that the best choice will be the one that YOU like the most.

    Maybe we can help you figure that out.

    Maybe that’s your plan already? LOL

  44. RAG permalink

    Quick reply:

    So far, this seems like it could be very “wolf and spice”-y

    To elaborate, while Worm was a superhero story, Peer could be the story of a man in fantasy-land.

    If you drive it with intrigue/mystery, dialogue, and an immersive world it should be good.

    If you try to drive it with plot it will likely fail, regardless of your writing ability.

    Also you should keep this comparatively shorter than worm, while it has a lot of potential, this is the wrong sort of story to make an epic out of.

  45. goodol'vorbis permalink

    I for one would like to see more of this world

  46. Chiro permalink

    I like this idea and this character; the writing could be a lot smoother, but I guess this is only a sample first chapter.

    One criticism – For all Caspar’s claims that the court is full of lying and intrigue, everybody seems very blunt in this chapter. Not just the Kith, who would make sense, and Caspar, who you could assume prefers to cut past all the politicking, but Juris, Darios and Rolf as well, which is less fitting. It was kind of jarring.

    • Kim permalink

      Ah, darios tried to be a bit circumspect.
      Caspar is politicking as much as the rest,
      he’s just asking for small pennies while everyone
      else plays for quid.

  47. This is incredible!
    Two little things:
    “I’ve taught you much of what I know. You had good teachers, and a good enough mind to find out what *the couldn’t teach you,” Rolf said. He stood from the desk’s edge. The afterimage of the half-armored thug glimmered behind him. “Your mother’s gifts to you were her blood**, and this, I suppose.”
    *Should be “they”
    **There should not be a comma after “blood,” unless you reformulate the sentence so that “and this” becomes an afterthought.

  48. ciss permalink

    I enjoyed reading this. I grew up with David Eddings, so you know where I’m coming from.
    I didn’t think Caspar was boring. I’d like some strong, interesting women, though, especially to go with some strong, interesting men. 🙂
    I’d be interested to keep reading. The story it reminded me the most of is the Empire trilogy, about Mara, from Janny Wurtz and Raymond E. Feist. Well, it’s only the first chapter so that might change.
    Good luck!

  49. ciss permalink

    Oh, and one more thing… I was kind of confused about who Darios was and what he was doing in the scene. Maybe everyone else totally got this, and I’m just not attentive enough at the moment? Oh well…

    • Darios is Juris’s deputy. Which is why Caspar tells Juris that, while the job offer is very nice and all, he wants some assurances that Darios won’t just fire him the second he inherits Juris’s job.

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