2005: Atavist, the thing I was so sure was going to be my first completed novel and make my goddamn name and people were going to throw money at me all the livelong day.
For context - Reig got into a duel to the death with Naerian's brother, Seric. Naerian secretly put a curse on Seric so that Reig would win. Having just killed a prominent member of society, Reig decides it's best to skip town, and his bro Iziil wants to come along. NAERIAN CAN HELP WITH THAT, TOO. (Seriously though what the fuck was I naming people back then)
Though the crowd had for the most part selected a direction at random and stumbled off in a daze, Reig sighted Naerian approaching them. “Hold that thought,” he told Iziil, then walked over to the blond man. “Why did you do it?”
Naerian flashed him a somewhat sickly smile. “I never did like that old blowhard. Besides, you’ve just won me a small fortune. Though, of course, given my reputation, I’ll be expected to blow at least half of it on frilly clothes and fine wine within the next week or so.”
“And what happens if you get implicated in Seric’s murder?” Reig pressed him.
He assumed a tragic expression. “How could they accuse me? I didn’t think it was going to be a duel to the death, and I was just trying to make a little extra money, and I’m just oh so distraught over the whole ordeal,” he said in a disgustingly pathetic voice.
Reig nodded thoughtfully. “I’ve misjudged you, Naerian.”
“Good. That was my intention.”
Reig glanced back over his shoulder. “I’d better go. No matter how good you are at sniveling, people are going to suspect something if they see us talking.”
“I believe I can fix that.” Naerian punched him full in the face. “And that’s for killing my brother, you bastard!” he shouted loudly enough to be heard for at least a block and a half. He dropped his voice to a near-whisper. “There. That’ll buy us some time. I didn’t actually hurt you, did I?”
Reig scowled, but shook his head. “I’ll live. What are you getting at?”
“I absolutely loathe leaving debts unpaid,” the other replied cryptically. “Hey, Iziil,” he called. “Get over here.”
Iziil came to join them, eyeing Naerian suspiciously. “You’re not mad about Seric, are you? Because I’m not going to let you do anything to Reig.”
Seeing Reig’s appalled reaction to that statement, Naerian smirked. “How cute. Rest assured, Iziil, I have no intention of harming either of you. I’ve done enough evil for one day. Now, both of you follow me.” He set off down the street. The Bannek brothers fell in behind him.
“Can we trust him?” Iziil whispered worriedly.
“I heard that, and I am positively wounded,” Naerian replied. Iziil turned a rather distinctive shade of crimson.
2006: Ajskarn, proof positive that I hadn't yet gotten over giving people totally ridiculous names. And probably never will. (Though I did recycle some of the place-names from this one. Somehow Sabardo, Tuor, and the ruined city of Bannalynn ended up in Doors universe, go fig.)
The woman in the corner was a musician and a scholar of lore, but she couldn’t sing at all. For that matter, neither could she speak. She could write, but so few in Vayanne could read that this was not a viable means of communication. Nor was the hand-speak system she and Ranic had devised, since only she and Ranic knew it and particularly since she and Ranic had had a falling-out lately. And so she found herself sitting in the common room of the town’s single inn (which, incidentally, also functioned as the town’s single tavern) playing the town’s single harp in an attitude of what those who didn’t know her would call “sullen silence” and those who did merely “sullenness.”
She saw and heard a great deal, naturally. It was not only her muteness but also her appearance that led people to disregard her presence, to forget to guard their tongues. She was a small woman, academic and mousy-looking, and even had she spoken with the voice of a goddess, no one would pay her any heed. She resented that, sometimes. That was when she would accidentally knock over braziers or tread on someone’s foot, any petty display of ire she could conceive.
Her fingers found the chords of “Bannalynn” instinctively, unbidden. It was an old song, from before Sabardo, though no one could recall if it had originated here or if the Sabards had brought it here from their own progenitors. It was the first song she had learned, a melancholy tune taught by a father to the daughter who could not speak, would likely never marry, and could not give him grandsons.
She surveyed the room disinterestedly, seeing only the usual crowd. The men had had a good haul today, with the exception of Ranic, glowering sullenly into a tankard as someone jested that he’d been too preoccupied with thoughts of love to catch anything. Love, indeed, she huffed in the confines of her mind. She’d told him to stop drinking, hadn’t she? And here he was – well, if he was going to be so entirely unapologetic about ignoring her, he deserved whatever misfortune the Sea-God heaped on him. So there.
2007: a file entitled "worst vampire ever.doc". In which our amnesiac undead protagonist discovers that he can't eat food anymore and silver is a terrible idea.
He realized that the bartender had been talking to him and was now laughing wheezily, smiling a little too widely and looking at Enios as though he expected a response. “Pretty good, eh? Eh?”
Enios frowned thoughtfully. Should he lie? He didn’t think this man would appreciate having to repeat his witticism. Still, lying wasn’t –
Oh, hell. “Yes.” He gave a wavering smile. “You’re quite a funny man, sir.” He began rummaging through the interior pockets of his blue overcoat. He did have money, right? His fingers brushed against something round and hard. It was a coin of some sort, a good start. He reached in deeper and quickly withdrew his hand with a yelp as it inexplicably caught fire.
Well, all right, it wasn’t on fire. But it was smoldering. Smoke was pouring from his fingertips. He could see bone. That was when he made another discovery: he was squeamish. Not sure what to do, he put his hands into a different set of pockets and assured the barkeep that nothing was the matter, “no, nothing at all, thank you for your concern, kind sir – of course I’m not crying! I just got through saying nothing’s wrong, didn’t I? I’m, um, I’m sick. Uncontrollable eye-watering disease, you know. And – and – and that explains the vomiting. And the screaming. Somehow.”
2008: Tel'erium, my first completed novel, which we do not speak of. I picked a chapter at random and got the bit right after Protagonist's wife dies. Hoo boy.
The tree had been planted. The mourning period was over. Cieran could accept that, just as he could accept the fact that he would henceforth be hounded by all the unmarried women of the Greater Houses, with varying degrees of subtlety, until he married one of them. He was supposed to do that; he’d failed the city again in allowing to die the son he’d never cared for. He could accept that, as well.
Life could be remarkably simple if you made a policy of accepting everything indiscriminately. That could also make Belthamane refuse to leave your side under any circumstances. Or maybe that was standard dead-wife procedure – Cieran’s experience in that area was admittedly rather limited.
There was one thing he could not accept, however, and that was the idea that he would never see Celiael again. Weeks passed, then months, and still he found himself waking up in the dark of night wondering where she’d gone and when she’d come back to bed. Sometimes he decided to wait up for her, and sometimes it took consciousness long enough to slip back in that he started to wonder what could possibly be taking her so long and whether he ought to go look for her. When he was lucky, he fell asleep again before he remembered the answers. He’d never been a terribly lucky man.
Also 2008: my NaNo novel of that year, a really dopey fantasy parody where I tried to do a lot of meta things and totally fell down. Basically this couple runs an inn for GENERIC FANTASY ADVENTURERS and one of them accidentally brought along a demon lord, whoops. The inn is on fire and everyone's scattered around trying to deal with it. I'd tell you who all these names refer to but I can't fucking remember.
The best way to resolve his conflicting obligations, he had decided, was to go dramatically rescue someone else. Only Elaine had thus far been accommodating enough to place herself in what was most likely mortal danger. No doubt she’d decided she wanted a closer look, and either ignored the exchange between Jarek and Kylandra or concluded that her connection to the hero was tenuous enough that she couldn’t possibly be held hostage. The former was the far more likely; excessive amounts of thought didn’t sound like her. Either way, by now she was practically guaranteed to be dangling by one foot and flailing ineffectually at some huge and nigh-invincible monster. His imagination supplied a profusion of tentacles, as he’d never seen a demon king before. But of course he was about to.
“Best of luck, Mister Thrush,” said Ashvel. “The gods walk with you.”
He could name at least one who didn’t – where was that stupid cat, anyway, and why wasn’t he helping? – but appreciated the sentiment anyway. He took a steadying breath and gripped his crossbow like a talisman, which was really all it had ever been to him anyway, warding off trouble by its very presence and never once fired. “Everyone get away from the inn,” he said in a voice louder and clearer than he thought he would have been able to manage. “As you may have noticed, it is on fire, and anyone who catches this contagion will most likely be pushed to the ground and beaten.” He slipped away in the ensuing confusion, and even as he left he heard Ashvel beginning to take charge.
2009: Doors. I've blathered enough about Doors, I think. I've lost the rough draft, but here is a bit from the second draft, which should be pretty similar and slightly less verbose -
We found a door within the hour. Essio immediately slammed it shut and said maybe we ought to look for a better one. “This was a stupid plan from the start. Oh, it was all very fun pretending we might pull off yet another daring escape, I’ll grant you, but to persist in such delusions –”
I hadn’t had a chance to see the other side before he’d closed it. “What was it?”
“Snowing,” he said, in the sort of tone other people might use to refer to a leper colony that had just sprung up on their front lawn.
“And?” I said. I liked snow.
“And mountains, those great nasty tall ones where the wind comes down off them like a wall of knives. Knives made of solid coldness. And probably the only other door in the world is on the other side of those mountains, and when we do get there at great personal risk the door will just spit us out in some bloody desert. It’s going to be awful.”
“Are you sure? I could go for a bit more –”
I opened the door.
It let out into a small, cold cave of mostly ice. The cave, in turn, opened into a small snow-covered village. I could hear the wind howling outside, and as uncomfortably cool as it was in here, I knew stepping outside would only make it worse.
It was dark, too. “This is going to turn out to be one of those horrible places where the sun never rises,” said Essio. “Because life just wasn’t quite dismal enough yet.” He pulled a heavy cloak and some gloves out of his bag. “I put some in yours, too, for all the good they’ll do.”
I took my bag off and started rummaging. I’d been annoyed at him when he’d first shoved it at me as though he didn’t trust me to pack my own things, but there was some merit to that. He’d done a lot more Traveling (and traveling in general) than I had, and the thought of winding up someplace like this would never have crossed my mind.
I put the things on, and Essio did likewise, and he was right: the moment we stepped outside the cave, the wind hit so hard I didn’t feel as though I’d taken any precautions at all.
“Charming place, yeah?” he shouted over the howl. A horrible waste of breath, but then, he did so like to be right. He sounded almost smug. “As close to the door as the town is,” he said, then stopped a moment to breathe, “they ought to know about Travel. And if” – more struggling for breath – “they don’t have an inn, I expect I’ll die.”
Also 2009: The Cult of Carrion, my NaNo novel of that year. In which a wizard has been shanghaied into resurrecting a dead god widely believed to be a font of chaos and evil (but no one consulted said god about that).
A strong, cold wind blew from the hole in the air, one that filled Jarvis with thoughts of death as it passed. He assumed it was the wind, anyway, although he would admit to a slight predisposition toward thoughts of death to begin with under these circumstances.
And something came through, borne in on the wind. Feathers. Long, black feathers – but insubstantial. They didn’t hit him, like normal feathers would. They passed through.
And there was a crack, and the darkness collapsed, and in its place there stood the first god anyone had seen in six hundred years. Anyone sane, anyway, said a dry voice in the back of Jarvis’s mind, though it ought to be noted that some of those present today are still crazy.
He wasn’t, as some myths held, too blindingly glorious to behold. He was six and a half feet tall, so that counted for something, and the great black wings on his back rose even higher when fully extended – which they were. But his shape was still basically human. Not blindingly glorious, but sufficiently intimidating for most people’s purposes.
He turned one way, then the other, staring at the people gathered around him, his features twisting in bewilderment and rage. Then he looked down at himself, at his hands, and then flared his wings and turned his head to get a better look at them, and for a moment –
But that thought erased itself from Jarvis’s mind almost before it had occurred, because Daemaros, the ancient evil, alive again after so long dormant, was speaking to him. Specifically to him.
And the god spake thus unto Jarvis: “You. Fuck you.”
2010: incomplete NaNo novel. In which a Chosen One is supposed to go on a journey to save the land, but there are three different people who meet the criteria. Two of them, Medai and Nivara, form a weird alliance. The last one, Azerah, hates everything. Everyone's got weird Chosen One powers and everyone thinks everyone else is lying about being the one.
The next morning found Medai sitting in his window. Nivara looked past her once, but on the second time, he saw her, started violently, and yelled something extremely undignified and twice as profane.
“Do you know where we have to go yet?” she said, swinging her legs in and dropping to the floor. “I figured we should get an early start. We do want to get there before Azerah, don’t we? And I’m sure she was thinking about it all night so we’ll need any advantage we can get.”
He was not prepared to change subjects so precipitously. “What is it with you madwomen and your – your damn aerial entrances – am I the only one of us who doesn’t have miraculous flight powers or something? I have a perfectly serviceable door, you could’ve –”
She stared at him with an expression of polite bafflement, blinked once, and looked around his room. “Wow. Not very fancy accommodations considering you’re the Chosen One.”
He bared his teeth.
“Your uncle Jira’s a very nice man, you know. He’s sorry about having to hold things back from you. It would mean a lot if you went by to see him before you left.” He was about to snap that he wouldn’t, because Uncle Jira had never yet offered a convincing explanation and, considering the gravity of the offense… But then Medai tilted her head to one side and narrowed her eyes, like an unexpected thought had just occurred to her. “But you won’t, will you?”
Nivara sighed and made himself relax. There was nothing to be wary of in her figuring that out; he was not a difficult person to read. He’d never been good at concealing his thoughts, as he’d very seldom had cause to. He was the Chosen One. All his thoughts were supposed to be correct, unarguable – gifts to bestow upon others – but out here in the real world, he was starting to discover that these things called “discretion” and “restraint” that he’d heard of in passing might not be such bad things to obtain.
“No,” he said finally. “I won’t. And, if you don’t mind, I won’t tell you where we’re going just yet. I want to put this intuition of yours to the test. For the first three hours, we go where you think we should go. Hopefully that’ll tell me what I need to know.”
2011 was when I started consciously varying my style more, so I think it'd be even harder to see progress from then to now. SUDDEN JUMP IN FORMALITY? No no that's just because I was writing fake alternate universe quasi-Victorians rambling about fish. ...Then again, I also wrote a bunch of fake alternate universe quasi-Victorians in 2012 (though without the fish). Maybe I could look for stylistic similarities and differences between Gentleman Ichthyologist and VoH in their own category... BUT ANYWAY.
...I feel like I disproportionately sampled dialogue for this. That's probably to my advantage. My dialogue has improved over the years; my prose has largely gone from "awkward" to "less noticeably awkward," haha.