Author Topic: Birth of a Lich  (Read 5930 times)

ahuggingsam

  • Posts: 10
  • Karma: 1
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Birth of a Lich
« on: April 02, 2023, 10:54:53 PM »
Hiya folks. This is a story I've been working on for the past two months or so. I know where I want the story to got but haven't figured out yet how to make it move in that direction. So far it's mostly setup, but I do like the vibe I'm building so far. I'll try and remember to keep it up to date as I work on it. Happy to hear what you think.


Even though the sun was on its way down to the horizon, its light was still bright and piercing. Piercing Lilith's eyes particularly. She rode about a pole behind her two knights, proper and respectful, just as she liked things. The paladin's immaculately polished armour shone like a beacon in the sunlight, only obscured by their perfectly white capes.

While she understood the symbolism behind the attire, she never really could reconsider the importance of that with the inordinate amount of time she had to spend washing to keep them that way. Even though someday she would have her own squire to help with the upkeep, she couldn't help but think there was a time and a place for spectacle, and out and about in the mud and dirt trying to do what paladins are supposed to do in the world was not it.

When she noticed that the knights were slowing down she slowed down as well. They came to a halt next to a small forest consisting of old pine trees. The smell reminded her of the pine forest next to her old homestead and water-bearing in the dead of winter from the nearby creek. Eventually, her Direct motioned for her to approach.

"Yes m'lord?" she asked.

"We will make camp here as we are approaching Vespers. Tie and feed the horses, then see if you can find water, sir Godfried and I will make camp."

"Yes m'lord," she said with a slight bow and dismounted, taking the reins of his horse as he dismounted too.
"Come Ester, Amos, Ira" she whispered to the horses as she led them to the tree range. She had always had a knack for animal handling, and the horses followed her diligently.

After she had tied and fed the horses, she walked off into the forest, listening intently for the sound of running water, all of their sac skins slung over her back. Luckily she found a small creek without much effort. After filling the sacks she washed her face with the icy water and sated her thirst. After a long day of riding the refreshment was more than welcome. She drew a small wayward glyph on a nearby tree, in case the paladins wanted to bathe. Even though the water felt colder than winter's breath itself, she did not know her new lords well enough to be certain that they wouldn't want to.

A silence came over them as they sat around the campfire, each lost in thought as they consumed their rations.
"Squire," her Direct said, "'tis time for Evensong. Do us the honour."
"Do you have a preference for a particular psalm my lord?"
The Direct briefly looked at the higher, who just shrugged dismissively.
"Whatever you think is appropriate," he concluded.

After some consideration, she chose "laudationem ad vesperam", one of her favourites. It was not a popular one, but she knew it well. It incorporated grief for the dying day, as well as a plea for protection from the serephea until Sol would rise again. It had always felt comforting to her. Especially as she wasn't sure yet what they had set out to do, a plea for protection and promise of the return of her god seemed appropriate.

"That's not one of the more well-known psalms, yet you carried it well. Have you been studying the psalms?" her Direct asked.
"Yes, m'lord. Though this is one of my personal favourites. Mother oft sang it to me and my siblings, it always helps me feel closer to Sol even when I cannot see him."
The higher raised his eyebrows.
"Is that so?"
"Yes m'lord," she said. Which is mostly was. Her mother had often sung it to her and her siblings, and it was one of her favourites as it made her feel protected and comforted. The bit about it helping her come closer to Sol was mostly exaggerated. Though she felt as though it ought to be true. Even if she could never quite tell what "coming closer to Sol" actually meant. At the very least it was the sort of language she knew the paladins and clergy liked to hear. So she sprinkled some of it in whenever she got the opportunity to and hoped and prayed that it would become true if she just kept repeating it.

"Squire." The voice of the Higher sounded solid and stout as a castle wall. She looked up towards the man, his eyes unyielding like a predator and that pale skin, loved so by the church.
"Yes, m'lord?"
"It is time we told you the purpose of our journey."
She sat up even straighter than normal, which was quite the feat since her posture was usually impeccable, to begin with.
"We are journeying to the Glassburrough cave system. Though thought long abandoned the locals have been complaining of howling wraiths of late. They are scared a necromancer has taken refuge in the cave systems. We are to go and investigate and put their minds at ease."
"I gather that you do not expect to find actual wraiths or necromancers there my lord?"
"Of course not, I'm sure the autumn wind has stirred up their plebian fears. Though as you know, cave systems can be treacherous, so we would do well to be careful nonetheless. We will be in formation during our exploration, if nothing else this should be a good first expedition for you. Now, have you mastered the first and second glyph circles?"
"Of course my lord."
"So says many a squire and yet I oft find their knowledge lacking. Recite them for me."
"Cantation or root form my lord?"
Though she told herself it was impossible to know, she thought she detected a hint of surprise in his features when she asked him that. Perhaps a faint flair of approval?
"Cantation." Of course, he had chosen the much more elaborate traditional form that was not often used anymore just to make it harder on her, but she was ready for it. She started to sing, making sure to annunciate properly even when going over the more elaborate story parts that were not actually magically useful.
When she was done, the Higher nodded.
"At least you have adequate knowledge of the basics." That was quite an understatement. She had recited everything perfectly, from the pronunciation to the tiny details and she knew it. She figured he was not one to give praise so easily but she thought she might have earned a little of his respect then, even if it was ever so small.

Next morn they set off early. En lieu of going to see the townfolk that had requested their help, the Higher insisted they go straight towards the caves. Lilith did not like this plan and she could see that her Direct didn't either, but neither of them felt brave enough to protest.

 When they neared the entrance of the cave system, after having tied the horses, the knights stood by the opening and looked at her expectantly. After Lilith froze for a few moments, not knowing what to do, her Direct coughed and motioned her towards the entrance.
"Up front squire, in enclosed spaces, we walk in arrowhead formation."
Hesitantly she approached the entrance to what seemed to her the primordial void, as the knights took up a position at both her rear flanks. After a moment she felt the gauntlet of her Direct on her left shoulder.
"Cast Iji," he whispered with some compassion, "You light the way, we will protect you if necessary."
And thus Lilith entered the cave system, a ball of light gently dancing in her palm, two paladin knights trailing behind her, and an ominous knot forming in the pit of her stomach.


Jubal

  • Megadux
    Executive Officer
  • Posts: 35395
  • Karma: 140
  • Awards Awarded for oustanding services to Exilian!
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: Birth of a Lich
« Reply #1 on: April 10, 2023, 11:53:21 PM »
I like it! Would love to see more, and sorry it's taken a week for me to actually get time to sit down and read it :) The world-building is really good, and I like the chant/musical nature to the sort of paladin-magic that seems to be going on. The use of prayer time markings like vespers also works really well for the paladins.

Some pernickety thoughts, mostly proofreading-level:
  • You have "The paladin's immaculately polished armour shone like a beacon in the sunlight, only obscured by their perfectly white capes." I think it should be "The paladins' immaculately..." for the plural?
  • I think the sentence "It was not a popular one, but she knew it well." jarred a bit for me given that you had the Direct provide exactly the same information a moment later.
  • The term plebian tends to make my brain think of an urban premodern lower class (plebian agitators in ancient Rome etc), and I don't know if that's what you're going for here rather than e.g. peasantry?
  • This is maybe a personal taste thing, but I think you could at times use more punctuation within the speech sections to make the flow more natural or emphasise pauses better. So for example I've have written "Up front, squire: in enclosed spaces, we walk in arrowhead formation." which gives the slightly heavier pause before the explanation, and the natural (at least to me) mini-pause one has before giving someone a term of address.

These are very minor things though, I really enjoyed it and hope you get time to write more :)
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...

ahuggingsam

  • Posts: 10
  • Karma: 1
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: Birth of a Lich
« Reply #2 on: July 09, 2023, 08:46:04 PM »
Hey folks, it's been a while. Despite the lack of posting I have actually been working on this quite a bit. I have moved it forward, though currently I'm feeling rather stuck. I know the major moments I want to go through and I'm happy with the vibes/notes I'm hitting so far, but I'm having some issue with the pacing. Currently there is very little connecting the major moments in the story, which bothers me a bit. To me it feels like the pacing is off a bit. I'm hoping to create some more time and space for the scenes to breath in between without dragging it out, or adding tons of unnecessary exposition. I'm hoping that posting here (and perhaps reading any replies) will help get me a bit more unstuck. I have actually edited the part I already posted a fair but so for the sake of continuity I'll post it again below. However for the sake of respecting folk's time, I'll post it in two sections so people who want to skip to the new part can. The first section will be the part that I posted above but the current edit thereof, and the second post will be the new part. Would love to hear what people are thinking! Thanks and stay safe out there <3

ahuggingsam

  • Posts: 10
  • Karma: 1
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: Birth of a Lich
« Reply #3 on: July 09, 2023, 08:46:48 PM »
Even though the sun was on its way down to the horizon, its light was still bright and piercing. Particularly piercing to Lilith's eyes as she rode about a pole behind her two knights. The paladins' immaculately polished armour shone like a beckon in the sunlight, only obscured by their perfectly white capes. While she understood the symbolism behind the attire, she could never really reconcile the importance of that with the inordinate amount of time she had to spend washing to keep them that way. Even though someday she would have her own squire to help with the upkeep, she couldn't help but think there was a time and a place for spectacle. Whatever that time was, out and about in the mud and dirt trying to do what paladins are supposed to do in the world was not it.

When she noticed that the knights were slowing down she slowed down as well, making sure to keep proper distance. They came to a halt next to a small forest consisting of old pine trees. The smell reminded her of the pine forest next to her old homestead. Briefly, her mind wandered back to that familiar place, and how her siblings would be preparing for winter. The Direct motioned for her to approach.

"Yes m'lord?" she asked.

"We will make camp here as we are approaching Vespers. Tie and feed the horses, then see if you can find water, the Higher and I will make camp."

"Yes m'lord," she said with a slight bow and dismounted, taking the reins of his horse as he did the same.
"Come Ester, Amos, Ira" she whispered to the horses as she led them to the tree range and tied their reins to a nearby branch. She had always had a knack for animal handling, and the horses followed her without protest. Ester even snorted and pressed her warm nose into Lilith's face, making the her giggle.

After Lilith had fed the horses, she walked off into the forest, listening intently for the sound of running water. Luckily she found a small creek without much effort. After filling the sacks she washed her face and assuaged her thirst with water that felt colder than winter's breath. After a long day of riding the refreshment was more than welcome, even if it stung a bit.

She looked up at the gradually darkening sky, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. For a moment everything melted away and she became one with the sounds of nature. The small creek below, the rustling of the pines in the wind, the tiny movements of birds around her moving about the canopy. Lilith drank in the serenity as she had the water each quenching a thirst within her. She drew a small wayward glyph on a nearby tree before she turned to return to camp. Perhaps either of the knights would wish to do the same.

A silence had come over them as they sat around the campfire, consuming their rations.
"Squire," her Direct said eventually, "'tis time for Evensong. Do us the honour."
"Do you have a preference for a particular psalm my lord?"
The Direct briefly looked at the Higher, who just shrugged.
"Whatever you think is appropriate," he concluded.

After some consideration, she chose "Laudationis diem", one of her favourites. It incorporated both grief for the dying day as well as a plea for protection from the serephea until Sol would rise again. It had always felt comforting to her. Especially as she wasn't sure yet what they had set out to do, a plea for protection and promise of the return of her god seemed appropriate.

"That's not one of the more well-known psalms, yet you carried it well," the Direct remarked, "have you been studying the Psalms?"
"Yes, m'lord. Though this is one of my personal favourites. Mother oft sang it to me and my siblings. It always helps me feel closer to Sol, even when I cannot see him."
"Is that so?" The Higher asked, focusing his intense gaze on her.
"Yes m'lord," she said with a nod. Which is mostly was. Her mother had often sung it to her and her siblings, and it was one of her favourites as it made her feel protected and comforted. The bit about it helping her come closer to Sol was mostly exaggerated. Though she felt as though it ought to be true. Even if she could never quite tell what "coming closer to Sol" actually meant. She just knew it was the sort of language the paladins and clergy liked to hear, so she used it whenever she got the opportunity. She hoped that it would become true if she just kept saying it, though she would never admit that to anyone.

"Squire," the voice of the Higher sounded stout and solid as a castle wall. She met his unyielding blue eyes briefly before becoming overwhelmed by his gaze which felt almost predator-like to her.
"Yes, m'lord?"
"It is time we told you the purpose of our journey."
Upon hearing that, she sat up even straighter than normal, which was quite the feat since her posture was usually impeccable, to begin with.
"We are journeying to the Glassburrough cave system. Though thought long abandoned, the locals have been complaining of howling wraiths of late. They are scared a necromancer has taken refuge in the cave systems. We are to go and investigate and put their minds at ease."
"I gather that you do not expect to find actual wraiths or necromancers there my lord?"
"Of course not," he huffed, "I'm sure the autumn wind has stirred up their peasant fears. However, cave systems can be treacherous, so we would do well to be careful nonetheless. If nothing else this should be a good first expedition for you. Now, have you mastered the first and second glyph circles?"
"Of course, my lord."
"So says many a squire and yet I oft find their knowledge lacking. Recite them for me."
"Root or cantation form my lord?"
Though she told herself it was impossible to know, she thought she detected a hint of surprise in his features when she asked him that. Perhaps a faint flair of approval?
"Cantation."
Of course, he had chosen the much more elaborate traditional form just to make it harder on her, but she was ready for it. She started to sing, making sure to annunciate properly even when going over the more elaborate story parts that were not magically useful.
When she was done, the Higher gave a short grunt of approval.
"At least you have adequate knowledge of the basics." That was quite the understatement and Lilith knew it. She had heard he was not one to give praise so easily, as indeed few of the order were. However, she did think she might have earned a little of his respect then, even if it was ever so small.

Next morn they rode again early. Instead of going to see the townfolk that had requested their help, the Higher insisted they go straight towards the caves. Lilith did not like this plan and she could see that her Direct didn't either, but neither of them felt brave enough to protest. When they neared the entrance the knights stood by the opening and looked at her expectantly. Lilith froze, not knowing what to do. Her Direct coughed and motioned her towards the entrance.
"Up front squire: in enclosed spaces, we walk in arrowhead formation."
Hesitantly, she approached the entrance of what seemed to her a primordial void, as the knights took up position at both her rear flanks. After a moment she felt the gauntlet of the Direct on her shoulder.
"Cast Iji," he whispered with some compassion, "you light the way, we will protect and direct you as necessary."
She took a deep breath and whispered the spell on the exhale as if breathing life into the ball of light that sprang into her palm.
And thus, at the Higher's cue, Lilith entered the cave system, cradling the small source of light in her hands, two paladin knights trailing behind her, and an ominous knot forming in the pit of her stomach.


ahuggingsam

  • Posts: 10
  • Karma: 1
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: Birth of a Lich
« Reply #4 on: July 09, 2023, 09:23:26 PM »

The cave air was wet and motionless. Lilith wasn't quite sure what she'd expected, but especially the lack of any air movement was making her feel on edge. As they walked deeper into the cave the light from the entrance gradually faded, leaving her ball of light to seem evermore fragile in the face of such dense darkness. All around them teethlike stalactites and stalagmites reached towards each other, giving one the impression they were walking into the maw of a giant beast.

With every step, the anxiety in Lilith's gut increased. She focused on her breathing as best she could, trying to anchor herself with a mantra as they did during prayers sometimes. "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell," she repeated in her mind over and over. It did not help much, despite her best effort. She could almost feel the thoughts in her mind swarming through her skull like an angry hornet's nest, violently disturbed.

"My lord?" she asked eventually without turning around.
"What is it squire?" the higher replied in an irritated tone.
"What are we looking for?"
"An empty cave," He said wryly. 
"Surely we're not just going to... wander around until we find nothing? How can we be sure there is indeed nothing neferious going on?"
"That is not for you to worry about squire, I will decide that."
"I know that my lord, I simply seek to understand..." she said, but he cut her off.
"You do not need to understand anything squire. All that is required of you is that you follow orders. All will be made clear to you in due time as befits your station."
"My lord, surely..." the Direct tried to interject but Lilith could practically feel the look the Higher gave him behind her.
A loose rock shifted under Lilith's weight as she walked and gave way, causing her to lose ballance. However, before she chould fall a hand reached out from behind her and gripped her shoulder tightly, steadying her but offering little comfort. She turned around to see the Higher's expressionless face, staring directly into her own.
"All you need to do, is follow orders, and I will make sure everything will go as it should. Can you do that squire, can you follow orders?"
Feeling too intimidated to speak, Lilith simply nodded.
"Good," he concluded.

"Hang on," the Direct said behind her soft and curious, "what's this?"
While the Higher directed his attention toward the Direct, something at the edge Lilith's circle of light caught her eye. It seemed to her like the silhouette of a woman, but almost translucent. Behind her, she could hear the knights move about. Though part of her was insistent that she should return to them, there was an unfamiliar pull in her that she could not resist. Lilith took a few hesitant steps in the direction of the figure, who seemed to be shaking somewhat, a voice echoing through the cave so, to faint for Lilith to understand.

"H-hello?" she said in a voice barely louder than a whisper.  She could hear the knights mumble behind her but felt her almost unwillingly direct all her attention towards the figure.
Soon, she realised that the figure was silently sobbing. She took another step.
"A-are you okay?"
Another few steps.
"They t-took h-him" the figure sobbed quietly.
"Squire?" she heard from behind, but the voice seemed faint and far away, as if it was but a mere echo from another life. One more step.

A terrible shriek erupted from the direction of the figure. It turned around and stared Lilith directly in the eyes with a more intense rage than Lilith had ever seen in her life.
"WHAT DID YOU DO TO HIM?" it screamed with what sounded like a thousand voices at once. The apparition stretched its hands towards Lilith and flew towards her, hair billowing behind it as if submerged in an invisible liquid.
 
Before she could properly react to the wraith's attack, her Direct stepped past her, magic light streaming from his eyes and mouth, his face contorted with rage. "AURATH" he shouted, as a ray of white light shot out of his outstretched palm hitting the wraith between the eyes. Even as the wraith disintegrated the screams seemed to keep echoing long after the apparition had disappeared.

It had been over before Lilith realized what had happened. As she collapsed onto her knees and hands, both the light from her spell and that of the Direct's faded rapidly, leaving them in perfect darkness.

"Squire?" The Direct asked after some time.
"P-present m'lord," Lilith croaked into the floor without moving.
The Direct sighed. "There is something very wrong here."

"That was a swift reaction Wulfred, well done," The Higher said resolutely and clasped him on the shoulder. "You, however," and Lilith didn't need to see to feel his scornful gaze to know it was there, "should be more careful, and remember your training. Next time, wait for us instead of just wandering off."

She could hear the Direct shuffle around in the darkness, then the sound of a gauntlet softly landing on padded armour.
"Let us continue, m'lord." the Direct said in a soothing tone.
in response, the Higher exhaled sharply through his nose but did not respond beyond that.

After gathering up her willpower, Lilith dragged herself to her feet and once again whispered the ball of light into life. Before assuming formation again, she turned herself towards her Direct. "What was it you found m'lord?"

"Look," the Direct said while he held up a short, elaborately decorated dagger. Lilith stared at it.
"What's it doing here?" she wondered aloud.
"Someone must have dropped it..." the Direct muttred, lost in thought. 
Lilith studdied the blade again.
"It's obviously a ceremonial blade, though I don't recognise the inscriptions."
"It's a sacraficial dagger," the Higher said wryly, "Perhaps someone who fancies themself a necromancer is running around these caves after all. Though why here? That's the only bit I don't understand."

And then it hit Lilith where she'd heard the name Glassburrough before. "Because we're at the crossroad between two major ley lines."
The Direct's face instantly lost all colour. "Oh no..." he mumbled.
"Do you think," he asked hesitantly, turning towards the Higher.
"Araketh, it has to be."
Lilith couldn't help but wonder what life someone must have lived that would lead them to try to summon the goddess of chaos. She didn't imagine it could have been a pleasant one.

"I think we should turn back and find reinforcements. Clearly, we don't know what we're walking into," the Direct said with determination.
"No," the Higher's face was as stoic as his voice, "If there really is someone practicing the dark arts running around We can't let them just run around unopposed. Surely two experienced paladins can handle a single clumsy necromancer. We must see this through to the end."
Lilith looks at the Direct's face, showering it for any emotion, but she found none.
"As you wish my lord," was all he said in the end.


Jubal

  • Megadux
    Executive Officer
  • Posts: 35395
  • Karma: 140
  • Awards Awarded for oustanding services to Exilian!
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: Birth of a Lich
« Reply #5 on: July 22, 2023, 11:44:19 AM »
Finally had time to sit down and read this, still enjoying it and looking forward to reading more when you have time to get it down :)

I think re pacing I'd actually like a little bit more visual description in places: certainly you could drop more about the three main characters' physicality at times, we get the shiny armour bit at the start but I don't feel I have much of a sense of age, colours, etc about them a lot of the time. Things like the dagger could maybe do with some elaboration too: rather than just telling us it's elaborately decorated, deciding on and telling us some details (blade shape, materials used) might give a stronger sense of the item. You get the character's general personalities across very well, though, and some bits of the description you do have are very good fun (the submerged-liquid hair is a really common trope in visual representations of ghost women but actually calling it as such in text feels surprisingly rare, I liked that). I think also you tend to do description then chunkofdialogue as fairly separate paragraphs, and maybe you could drop a few more bits of surrounding and description in with the dialogue?

Anyway, just some thoughts, there if useful, ignore if not. I'm certainly invested enough in this tale to want to know what happens next, so that's a very good sign!
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...

ahuggingsam

  • Posts: 10
  • Karma: 1
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: Birth of a Lich
« Reply #6 on: October 28, 2023, 10:47:32 AM »
Hi folks, it's been quite a while. I feel like I was stuck on this one for a very long time, but I think I finally got it to a draft that I'm (mostly) happy with. I've done a lot of tweaking all over the place, and the piece still needs an editors look, but I think I'm done with making big changes for now, so rather than keep reposing the altered versions over and over again, I think I'll just share the last part as it currently stands, and post a link to the final version when it's ready. I'm also working on a companion piece with some thoughts and my own analyses, that I could post here is anyone's interested. Before we get into the story proper I will also give a slight content warning, the story get's a little dark near the end, and there is mention of blood, though nothing is graphical or note worthy in that instance I think. I also wanted to thank everyone fro reading and in particular Jubal for their helpful comments and encouragement. I hope you all enjoy!

====

They continued as they had before, in formation. The tension induced by the necromancer's aura was still present but somehow knowing what was causing it made it somewhat easier to deal with for Lilith. The air had become noticeably dryer, and the sound of dripping water no longer accompanied them. After walking for some time, she noticed that the ground had become more level and the walls of rock started to form the frame of a corridor. 

As the corridor they were walking down took a shallow bend, a faint glow could be seen at the end, and the smell of a wood fire reached Lilith's nose. Normally this would have comforted her, but this time, knowing what they might find there, it was hard to enjoy. The light danced, raising and swaying, lowering and flowing by the whims of the fire laying at its source, luring them closer with false promises of succour.

With every step they took, Lilith became more aware of a slow and ominous sound, crawling past her through the tunnel. After a few moments, the sound revealed itself to be some kind of chanting that she didn't recognise.

"Ready yourself, squire," her Direct whispered in her ear, "I think we found our necromancer."
Something felt off to Liliith. Even though she had never heard this kind of chanting before, it still sounded familiar to her in a way should couldn't quite articulate.

When they entered the room through a doorless gateway, Lilith realized it was much larger than she had expected. The high roof of the circular room was hard to see clearly but had the shape of natural rock, suggesting this room had merely been repurposed rather than excavated entirely. In the middle of the room stood an iron braiser from which the light had poured into the corridor. Lilith looked around the room in awe. The floor was littered with sigils she didn't even know who to read, faintly glowing, and spell diagrams of circles she'd never even heard warning her to stay back, exuding the same energy as a hissing viper. Her gaze wandered up a set of stairs that curled around the back of the room up towards a raised platform. On the platform stood a plump figure cloaked in black and purple robes, their face obscured by their hood. Seemingly unaware of them, the figure continued to chant, swaying gently. 

Then Lilith realised why the sound felt so familiar to her.

"Ester?" Lilith asked in shock, "Is that you?".
Startled, the figure jerked back, and removed their hood, revealing a familiar, well-rounded face.
"Lilith?" she asked with equal bewilderment. "What are you doing here?"
"You know this necromancer, squire?" Lilith's Direct asked with a soft and wary voice.
As soon as Ester saw the two knights walking in behind Lilith, her face went from shocked confusion to expressionless horror.
"Y-you brought paladins with you?" she stammered.

"What do you mean, 'I brought paladins with me'?" Lilith replied. 

She said she could feel magic starting to emanate from the paladins behind her as they prepared their battle magic.
"Venerable ones, please," she said to the paladins without turning around, "this is not a necromancer. Ester has been a close companion of mine since our basic training. Surely there has been a misunderstanding."

"Identify yourself mage," the Higher said in a loud and demanding tone.

"My lord, please," Lilith said with as much urgency in her voice as she could muster. "This is Ester of Kharlan, ward of the White Lilly and heir of the commons. She is a dear friend of mine. We studied in the same monastery before I was summoned to the spire. Please, there is no need for violence."

"Former..." Ester mumbled. Her voice sounded weary, at the brink of breaking. "Former ward."

"Former?" Lilith asked in confusion, "How is that even possible?"

"See for yourself," Ester said with a faint quiver. She threw a white bundle of cloth down from the raised dais. It landed at Lilith's feet with a soft thud.

When Lilith picked it up and tried to unroll it, she finally realised what it was. It was a banner of the White Lilly, bloodied and torn, reeking of death and desecration. Lilith stared at the piece of fabric in her hands, mouth agape. She gently rubbed the familiar soft fabric between her fingers as if to assure herself it was there, while her eyes glided over the torn intricate stitching, all sullied and soaked in blood and mud. "But how?" she stammered, "and why?".

"I'm sorry, Lillith. I managed while I had you to help me, but after you left..." she said in a quivering voice. "I was never the theological prodigy you were. There had always been confusion but after you left, the monks' unyielding expectations turned that into doubt, then rage, and eventually shame and guilt. I could do no good, I could never repent enough no matter how hard I tried. They instilled within me a disgust of my own being."  Ester swallowed hard, fighting back the demons that were clawing at her innards as she spoke. "But the necromancers... They not only let me embrace myself but taught me to harness it. I can't go back now."

"Do you know the sentence for such heresy mage?" The Higher said threateningly, "Forsake this path, for that way madness lies!"

"You vilify me, sir knight," Ester replied, her voice nearly quivering with fatigue, "but am I not fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as you? The villainy you teach me, I will execute!"

The Direct took a step forward, hands raised as if trying to calm a dangerous animal.

"Come little dove," he said gently, "fly, ere evil intercept your flight. Seek pardon while it may yet be found." He went to take another step but had to duck swiftly as a ball of purple flame hit the wall where his head had been a second ago.

"Stay back dawnmonger!" Ester exclaimed, barely managing to keep the panic from her voice.

"Surrender yourself mage!" The Higher barked from behind, "This doesn't have to end in blood."

"Which way would you have me go then? Towards the infinite scorn which you call penitence? Or inward, seeking a serenity which you will never grant, pining for a space within me that does not reek of your judgment? Whichever way I go is Hell, for I have become Hell myself. "

"Just think this through," said the Direct in an urgent tone, "Don't let your emotions control you!"

"Must you always seek to divorce me from my humanity? Why is it not enough to have me defeated, but must you also dominate my very being? It is said that hell is other people, but the black tar of hell can so easily seep through the cracks of the heart and suffuse the soul. I came here to hide. Hide from myself, yet here you are, to remind me of what I must be: a failed and malevolent child, ashamed of all her being. All your eyes, once again, intent on me. Devouring me. What? Only three of you? There were more; many more, all hell-bent on my downfall so that they might postpone their own. If you have any grace left you will leave me to my grief, for it is all that is left within me that is still mine."

"Enough of this!" The Higher exclaimed. "If you won't stop this madness, I will heretic!"

The same white light that had poured from his eyes and mouth when he confronted the wraith started glowing once more. Finally, he raised his hand and prepared to cast his spell. But before he could unleash it, something in Lilith snapped. She'd had enough of this man and his snide comments, his ridicule and his belittling. He'd done enough to put her down, and she wasn't going to let him hurt her friend as well.

In one swift motion, she turned around and struck the inside of his elbow, causing his arm to bend and the spell struck the roof of the ceiling off to the side.

Ester's gaze turned from despair to rage. She threw something into the brazier in the middle of the room, turning it into a deep indigo, and spread her arms. "Awake, my kin, arise, or be forever torn from your sorrow!" She boomed.

After a second, which to Lilith seemed to last an eternity, there came a deep rumble from the fire. Something stirred from its core. First, a hand emerged from the flame, followed by an arm, and before long wraiths were crawling out of the beckoning flames by the dozen. Screaming with the same voices the wraith in the cave had, they swarmed around the room and eventually set their sights on the trio.

The Higher tried to advance but stumbled and fell as his limbs were grabbed by ghostly hands and dragged to the ground. So too did a legion of grasping hands and arms reach for Lilith and her direct. Try as they might, they could neither move nor twist.

Ester regarded the trio with a solemn look. "May these words eternally echo through your bones as yours have through mine. The rest is silence."

"What are you going to do to us, Ester?", Lilith asked, not even trying to keep the desperation from her voice, " Please don't hurt us, the Ester I knew would never do that!"

But Ester wasn't paying her any attention anymore. She just stared into the fire and started to chant.

"_ʋɐfɛl rɐikrɐ ħɛsħɛt eik ɔrväχnä. Aräkɛθ vɪl nɛθɪr ʊ vɛlɪn θɒl._" 

"ESTER, PLEASE!", Lilith screamed to no avail.

"_näkɛʑ ħɐvɛs lok nɪr ɪmkɛleθ_" Ester continued. 

The dagger floated out of the belt of the Higher into Ester's outstretched hand. She gripped the hilt in one hand, then closed her other hand around the blade and drew. Lilith could barely see the crimson droplets fall from Ester's hand onto the floor, but it felt like they hit the rock with the weight of all the world.

"_monʋʉätʼ_"  she whispered with the gravitas of a priest reading someone their last rights.

There was a long moment of silence. The air in the room felt like tension made solid. Slowly a formless cloud of smoke, thin but black as the void itself rose up from the fire in the middle of the room. It wafted over to Ester, who regarded it with genuine fear in her eyes. As the smoke started to envelop her, she tried to scream but no voice came. Suddenly she gasped for air and clutched at her chest. Eventually, Ester completely disappeared beneath the miasma and fell to the floor.

Lilith's mind was racing faster than she could keep up with. What was happening? Was Ester okay? Had the ritual worked? Or had she bitten off more than she could chew, and had it backfired?

Suddenly she heard a sharp inhale reverberate through the room, as if someone reached the surface after an eternity underwater, followed by a deep guttural cough.

Still held by the ghostly hands, Lilith couldn't see what was happening, but eventually, she heard Ester move. Thank the Light she was okay. But Lilith didn't recognise the woman that rose from the ground. A far cry from the full and friendly face she knew and loved. This woman had flawless skin with dark brown long hair draped over her shoulders. Lilith gaped at the full red lips and voluptuous chest, the radiant green eyes, and teeth white as polished marble and sharp as fangs.

"E-Ester?" Lilith croaked. A strix... Ester had turned herself into a strix.

"W-what is happening?" the higher groaned, his face still held against the stone floor. Lilith tried to speak, but no sound emerged from her lips.

Ester looked at Lilith again. That new face looked so unfamiliar to Lilith, yet there was still a hint of the woman she had known in it. "Was this really a monster now?" she wondered. But before she could wonder if Ester meant them harm Lilith could feel the grip of the wraiths loosening as Ester turned around, and simply faded into nothingness, leaving behind two disgruntled paladins and a now crying squire.

Jubal

  • Megadux
    Executive Officer
  • Posts: 35395
  • Karma: 140
  • Awards Awarded for oustanding services to Exilian!
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: Birth of a Lich
« Reply #7 on: December 09, 2023, 03:04:37 PM »
Right, some very overdue thoughts!

I like the scene as a whole, the description is good and and the narrative in general worked well for me :)

I think I'd maybe want to build the Ester/Lilith relationship a bit more before the reveal, possibly have some more flashbacks and memories involved? I think the "I was never the theological prodigy you were.... they instilled within me a disgust of my own being." section might need to be cut up a bit to make those points sharper, right now it feels a bit like a narrative dump, I'd like it to be more directed, given more actions/gestures towards Lilith, or something else to better emphasise Ester's fragile state of mind. Ester's dialogue might want to be a bit simplified given that, or you might want to call out the fact that she's speaking in a very full and rehearsed-sounding style for someone who also seems to be on the edge of a breakdown, perhaps another sign of the necromantic coaching.

I wonder if the tension between the Direct and the Higher could be made more direct? They're very clearly doing a good cop bad cop thing, intentionally or not, and giving us some idea of whether they're doing that as a team or whether their different approaches are getting different responses from Ester is something I'd like more of.

Disgruntled may be too soft a term for the feelings of the paladins at the end? I feel like this might be worse than "kinda grumpy" on the reaction level!

Very minor thing, but comma before a term of address so "Identify yourself, mage," etc would be better, the small pause helpse identify and add weight to the term of address. I'd also maybe make a couple of bits of the dialogue a bit more direct e.g. "the Ester I knew would never do that" might be better expressed as a "You know me! You're not like this!" Moving dialogue to a staccato as characters get more desperate I think might help amp up the desperation and panic involved here, if that's the vibe you want to get out of the scene (which was the impression I got).

More generally I'd like a little bit more visuals that take in the surrounding room - I liked your initial description of it but you could scatter in a bit more about the space in general: shadows on the wall from what the characters are doing, a scorch mark from the fireball, what the texture and colour of the stone is, how the magic sigils are reacting to what's going on, whether it's dry or damp, and things like that.

Anyhow, hope that helps as a bunch of random thoughts! Always keen to see more of this stuff when you have time to write any of it :)
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...

ahuggingsam

  • Posts: 10
  • Karma: 1
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: Birth of a Lich
« Reply #8 on: December 26, 2023, 09:00:01 PM »

Right, some very overdue thoughts!

I like the scene as a whole, the description is good and and the narrative in general worked well for me :)
Oh I'm so glad! this one's been a really long time in the making. Your comments are always super thoughtful and constructive so I'm thankful you take the time to make them, however long it takes!
I do think you raise valid points, though I'm not quite sure how I want to address them yet, so I'll respond to them in turn:


I think I'd maybe want to build the Ester/Lilith relationship a bit more before the reveal, possibly have some more flashbacks and memories involved? I think the "I was never the theological prodigy you were.... they instilled within me a disgust of my own being." section might need to be cut up a bit to make those points sharper, right now it feels a bit like a narrative dump,
You're absolutely correct about this one. I think the reason it feels like a narrative dump is that it kinda is one. I've done some editing in the intervening time, but it could definitely do with some cutting down again, so I want to do another pass for that. I think it's also just that I'm not very adept at doing twist reveals yet and there is just so much ground to cover there, especially in such a (relatively) short story. I'm not too sure how I'll resolve this one yet. I guess we'll see but suggestions are welcome 😅

I'd like it to be more directed, given more actions/gestures towards Lilith, or something else to better emphasise Ester's fragile state of mind. Ester's dialogue might want to be a bit simplified given that, or you might want to call out the fact that she's speaking in a very full and rehearsed-sounding style for someone who also seems to be on the edge of a breakdown, perhaps another sign of the necromantic coaching.
Again you're totally on the money here. The reason that Ester's dialogue in this part feels very different is that it's almost entirely composed of literary references (specifically paradise lost, no exit and the merchant of Venice in this case). It's kind of where the piece is the most overt about what it's "trying to say". I'm undecided on how much I feel it works, as I do agree that it's a bit of an awkward shift, but it's also where most of my darlings live that I'm feeling really attached to (perhaps that on it's own says a lot). I'm not sure what I'll do about it yet, but it's defnitely good to think about.


I wonder if the tension between the Direct and the Higher could be made more direct? They're very clearly doing a good cop bad cop thing, intentionally or not, and giving us some idea of whether they're doing that as a team or whether their different approaches are getting different responses from Ester is something I'd like more of.

they are indeed doing the good-cop-bad-cop thing but for me it was never coordinated, it's just emergent from their outlook on things and general demeanour/personalities. I think this is a good suggestion though I'm not totally sure yet how I want to address this, as it's not an easy thing to clearly showcase. I'll think on it.

Disgruntled may be too soft a term for the feelings of the paladins at the end? I feel like this might be worse than "kinda grumpy" on the reaction level!
Fair point, I hadn't really thought about that one too much, but I'm definitely sure there's a better one.

Very minor thing, but comma before a term of address so "Identify yourself, mage," etc would be better, the small pause helpse identify and add weight to the term of address. I'd also maybe make a couple of bits of the dialogue a bit more direct e.g. "the Ester I knew would never do that" might be better expressed as a "You know me! You're not like this!" Moving dialogue to a staccato as characters get more desperate I think might help amp up the desperation and panic involved here, if that's the vibe you want to get out of the scene (which was the impression I got).
hmmm good point. I think dialogue and especially punctuation is something I struggle with. I'll give it another whirl though, thanks for the suggestion :)

More generally I'd like a little bit more visuals that take in the surrounding room - I liked your initial description of it but you could scatter in a bit more about the space in general: shadows on the wall from what the characters are doing, a scorch mark from the fireball, what the texture and colour of the stone is, how the magic sigils are reacting to what's going on, whether it's dry or damp, and things like that.
Those are excellent ideas! thank you so much! I was struggling a bit in general with what descriptions to work in with this one but these are great suggestions, I'll definitely try them!

I also think I was getting a bit of tunnel vision when I was working on this one the last time. It was something that I was getting a little burnt out on and just wanted to move on. Now that I've taken some time away from it I'm hoping I'll be able to get back into it with some renewed motivation.


ahuggingsam

  • Posts: 10
  • Karma: 1
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: Birth of a Lich
« Reply #9 on: December 27, 2023, 11:53:54 AM »
Oh also, @jubal, what are the mores here about posting new versions? Should I just post new versions of the entire text as I write them or essentially post smaller new sections? (either with some common sense applied of course)

Jubal

  • Megadux
    Executive Officer
  • Posts: 35395
  • Karma: 140
  • Awards Awarded for oustanding services to Exilian!
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: Birth of a Lich
« Reply #10 on: December 27, 2023, 11:06:37 PM »
Oh also, @jubal, what are the mores here about posting new versions? Should I just post new versions of the entire text as I write them or essentially post smaller new sections? (either with some common sense applied of course)
You can do either! Whichever you think will be more helpful for you at any given moment to get feedback on, really :)

Re the reveal: I'm not sure either, but maybe it needs some indirect trailing (building up Lilith's experience and attachment to the place and her training through memories a bit more perhaps)? I don't think you need to kill your darlings in that speech at all, I'd just build up and address explicitly how the tone of the speech is in and of itself somewhat more formal, somewhat thus unsettling for the otherwise high tension situation.

Quote
I also think I was getting a bit of tunnel vision
Pun intended? ;)
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...