It's no secret that I've been trying to write a fantasy novel for... I don't know. Several years, now. Longer than that, if you count other fantasy novels that I've also tried to write. Over Christmas, I sat down and sorted out the various opening scenes I'd written for this one project. Doing this was both enlightening, and a little appalling. I have thirteen different approaches that I've tried, each with anywhere from one to eight actual documents. Taken together, it's enough raw text to constitute a novel in its own right, albeit a very weird and somewhat repetitive novel that was basically just variations on a character. On the other hand, it was actually constructive to look at all these different approaches and see how they fit with the characters, how well they did (or didn't) lead into the things I want to do with (and to) the character(s), and why they did (or, almost universally, didn't) work.
Writing, in a lot of cases, seems to be a lot like trouble-shooting. Maybe not for everybody -- I mean, I know not everybody feels compelled to start at the front of the book and write their way onward to the end -- but for me, usually, it does. In this particular case, I have an idea for a character, I have an idea for an overall plot arc for his world, and I have a couple of particular stages or developments (a real writer might call them "scenes") that I want to see him go through. This is where the problem-solving comes in. The basic questions are, "How do we introduce this character so that readers care what happens to him?" and "How do we get from that introduction, whatever it is, to the things that I desperately want to include in this story?"
Which brings me to the following scene. I'm not sure it's the start of the book; I'm not sure it's part of the book at all. But I think it's the start of the book in the sense that I have to write this, just to have the scene and situation clear in my head when I reach the actual start of the book.
Dusk slipped silently into the tiny camp, a dark, armored shadow intruding into the firelight. Somber had chosen the place well: it was a tiny clearing between three large and ancient trees, with the fire tucked down into the hollow at the center, and the bedroll spread out beside it. If she hadn't been following his scent, it might have taken her hours or even days to find it.
Somber was standing on the far side of the clearing, between the trees, looking out into the darkness of the surrounding forest. The nightmare on his shoulder was a dark blur, barely visible even to her beast-sharp eyes. For a moment, Dusk thought she'd arrived unnoticed; then, without turning, Somber whispered: "Be still. There's something out there."
Dusk paused for a moment, scenting the air. Then she twisted, slipping the roll of cloth off her back and dropping it nearly onto the bedroll. She looked warily around the clearing, and picked out three other beasts... only these were dead, immobile and scentless where they crouched in the shadows of the trees. They had to be Somber's work, but none of them were looking at her, either. Their were merely... waiting.
Oh, I do not like this, thought Dusk.
She could smell Somber himself, the slightly musky scent of healthy human male soured slightly by a day or two without bathing; a faint hint of fresh blood that was probably coming from his nightmare; the heavy earth-scent of the soil; a blend of plant-smells, pleasantly mingled, carried on the night air; and nothing else. She couldn't hear any movements, either, though the night wind pushing through the trees overhead might be disguising any number of softer sounds. The only movement she could see was the flicker of the fire, and the twitching dance of the shadows it cast.
Something moved, circling around the edge of the camp. She couldn't see it, or smell it, or hear it, but Dusk knew it was there all the same. The scales rippled on her back, and her claws gripped the soil. Somber stepped back into the camp. raising his arms defensively.
Darkness gathered where he'd been standing a moment earlier, coalescing into something that might have been a human shadow, except there was nobody to cast it and nothing but empty air for it to fall on. It gained depth, became solid, and before Dusk could even begin to react it became an almost-human figure, looking at them.
It would have been a man, tall, slim, and broad-shouldered, much like Somber himself; but it was built of blacks and grays, untouched by the orange-and-yellow light of the fire.
Somber spat a quick phrase and gestured, and a line of fire flared from the ground in front of the shadow's feet. "No further," he said.
At last... The thought drifted through the clearing. It was soundless, but Dusk heard it anyway. I apologize for the intrusion, and for what I must do to you--
That must have been enough, because Somber whispered a single word and the three dead beasts lunged towards the intruding shadow-man. They were quick and fierce: two wolves, and a tiny thing that had probably been some sort of rodent. Dusk had a brief moment to think that she might have survived that attack, but she knew the dead things were there, and in her bestial form she was armored and--
The intruder moved, almost blurring as something dark swirled around him, whiplike arms reaching out to smash the reanimated beasts. Very good, it acknowledged as the bones fell, and stepped across the line of fire. Dusk caught a hint of unfamiliar clothing as it moved: a sleeveless robe, a wide belt, loose pants, boots...
The camp was small, they were all too close together, and the intruder was fast. Before either of them could do anything, he had reached up to place the palm of his hand against Somber's forehead. Somber reacted automatically, with two-handed deflection that should have broken a man's arm, but his hands passed through the intruder. He jerked back at the shadow-man's touch, his body suddenly stiff.
Then the nightmare on his shoulder threw itself at the intruder. For a moment, it was visible: an inchoate darkness full of claws and teeth, something spreading out behind it that might be wings and a whiplike tail. It fastened onto the shadow-man's face, ripping and tearing, and he wrenched back. For a moment, his body almost mirrored Somber's, but his hand never left Somber's forehead.
Then his other hand came across, tendrils of darkness swirling around it, and tore the nightmare away. The intruder straightened, struggling to hold the nightmare at arm's length, and turned its attention back to Somber. Dusk tensed. Whatever this thing was, whether or not it was solid or even truly there, this was her best chance to take it down: now, while it was completely distracted.
She sprang, touched down, and then came up for its throat. If there was anything like flesh there, she was going to rip it out.
The world disappeared in an expanding ball of darkness.
There's another scene that comes after this, before what I think will be the actual opening scene. If it works the way I think it does, I'll post that on the blog as well.