Last time, Yuyu slaughters Dragonblooded.
And back to Wren again. You can really feel how the author’s just recently realizing that wait, he’s got to wrap things up before he’s allowed to end the book. No more time for new characters.
It’s sort of like a Miyazaki movie, only without the part where it’s awesome up to that point and you don’t really care about the end so much.
The door was ten feet high and six across, and looked as if it had been hewn from a single piece of found iron. Its surface was rough and cold, and smelled slightly of rust and the damp. A great handle in the shape of a beast’s head had been set in the door, and a heavy bar of ebony wood had been laid across it so that it might not be opened from the other side. The door’s hinges were also of iron, and were the size of a man’s two fists placed one atop the other.
No archway surmounted the door, and the black stone of the wall was blank otherwise.
It’s hard to put my finger on the precise reasons, but this is exactly old D&D module writing. I think it’s the combination of exacting detail and utter lack of any connection to the character thinking it – it doesn’t look to Wren like it’s hewn from a single piece of iron, he doesn’t smell rust and damp, the hinges aren’t as big as his fists placed on top of each other… It just is these things.
I can’t say there’s no place for this – honestly, the fact I read enough of them that I find this familiar says they weren’t that bad – but I think its place is a very limited one. It’s really more appropriate for something where the character is just there to let the reader see things, and should be as flat and unobtrusive as possible. The focus is all on the location or the puzzles, not anyone’s personalities.
It’s also got some overlap with some branches of lovecraftian writing – more his imitators playing with the concepts than him, I think. The stories where the narrator snaps in such a way that he just coldly catalogues every worsening horror, and taking the character out of it can give a story the sort of feeling of a nightmare where you’re just helplessly pulled along. Or a rail shooter. God, I hated rail shooters. So stressful.
Anyway, it could, at a stretch, be used for exploring the Prince’s castle, but not this far along. This kind of style is one of those things that really has to build properly, you can’t use it effectively near the end. Plus, the characters tend to be way too competent – this really only works passively, because once the character starts interacting with the setting, the fact they’re there is hard to miss.
Wren goes on a bit more about how there’s no sign saying where the door goes, because who doesn’t put signs in their own house? He also says there’s clawmarks on the door and stains of stuff, including blood.
The metal of the door was cold and, even through its vast bulk, Wren could hear strange, echoing sounds that seemed to be a mix of screams, laughter and the relentless tide of a devouring ocean.
He actually should have no way of knowing how thick the metal is, and also, that final bit? Trying way, way too hard.
Proving Wren isn’t much for survival instincts, hearing all this makes him incredibly curious. Proving he’s unimaginative, he doesn’t have any second thoughts about opening up a door that even the psycho running this castle seems to want barred. Proving he’s stupid, he thinks that maybe it’ll be the way out.
Something about that logic bothered Wren, but he was too tired to examine it closely.
Now, I’d grant this if the book wasn’t full of people doing things by author fiat already, but, the book is full of it. And he’s a Solar, he shouldn’t be easily getting mindfucked by random effects. Not only that, but priests tend to favor mental strength and anti-mindfuck effect integrity charms, and he exalts while dreaming about how everyone manipulates him, – so, while it’s not absolutely certain he’s a Zenith caste now, we can assume he’d favor those areas regardless. He should be particularly well built to resist whatever this is.
Wren then takes a moment to think about how much being anathema sucks and he didn’t think he was that terrible a person. He knows he should kill himself, but he doesn’t want to die.
Or as he puts it, But life was sweet, and freedom was sweeter, and the urge to live overwhelmed any such notions any time they arose. because I guess the author figures pathos works better when it’s flowery and dumb-sounding.
Wren explains he’s been making his way down, because he figures the people who captured him are up, which honestly speaks to a great deal of confusion about what they are. It’s also just very dumb on a more basic level – his best chance of escape was getting to the stables and hoping the horses are relatively normal, so he’d be better off dashing through the ground level even if it did mean running into a few servants, rather than going down, getting lost, ensuring they realize he’s escaped and put everyone on alert, and then probably having to fight his way all the way back up because why would you think the basement had an exit?
He then decides to feel bad for the guy who made this particular door (that he doesn’t seem to realize is weird and probably not just an exit) because he’s sure the Prince must have killed him to keep it a secret. There’s no actual sign it’s secret, Wren. Just that it’s at the bottom of everything. But it lets him emo that if the Prince finds him here he’s sure to kill Wren immediately…which is a lot better than his prospects otherwise, so I don’t see how that makes things worse.
Suddenly, plot happens and Unforgiven Blossom has found him right as he’s about to try to move the bar. She says he really doesn’t want to do that.
“Who said that?” he called, scanning the darkness anxiously.
“It is one of the perils of standing in the light when all around you is dark,” the voice continued, and now Wren recognized it as belonging to the woman who had accompanied the Prince and Ratcatcher. “One cannot see, but one can be seen. It makes one a target.”
Okay, but see, Wren should know this. This is darkness 101: light ruins night vision. He should also know such advanced lessons as “yes, but if there’s no light at all I can’t see where I’m going at all and it’s not like walking into walls is an improvement” and “if you can’t see, aim for the sound”. As the sort of person experienced enough to think about stuff like how he’ll be more visible because of the setting sun, he should even know that he could throw the torch in the direction of the sound, so that it’s no longer bright right near his face and it’ll better illuminate the other area.
Instead Unforgiven Blossom throws a deadly hairpin that hits right next to his ear and embeds itself in the metal door. Because mortal astrologer diviners who have a hit to their physical stats from being in shadowlands are also ninja, totally.
She then says to stop being so shouty because she’s not going to hurt him. It should be because she, being mortal, can’t, but this is only the beginning. But for now, she says that yes, she serves the Prince, but she’s employed to tell the future, not chase prisoners. Apparently she’s mistaken the guy for Lawful Stupid, because no other employer would respond to this with anything but murderous rage.
She says she’d like to chat before he’s flayed.
Seriously? asks Wren.
“Initially, yes.” Unforgiven Blossom’s voice took on a singsong tone as she recited what was undoubtedly an oft-spoken list. “Flaying, followed by a bath in salt water, followed by torment with hot coals, and then time with the hounds. You are a most esteemed prisoner. Normally the Prince does not plan such elaborate torments for his prisoners.”
No, obviously he’s new to the whole torturing business, or else only practices on ghosts most of the time.
I mean, if you know what this actually involves, it’s pretty awful. But it’s hard to quite keep that up when it feels like the author doesn’t grasp it, and if the author doesn’t, then the character will be fine. I mean, the list ends with the humadoggies, there’s clearly no grasp of proportion here. And even trying to take it literally, he’d just pass out and die pretty soon. You have skin for a reason.
They discuss Sandheart, and Unforgiven Blossom says that no one else liked her and she talked too much. Screw you.
Wren says that, you know, it’s not like he knew the place was warded to be anti-nemissary. Yeah, because I’m sure that makes a big deal.
I won’t apologize for leaving behind my little presents, though.” Wren caught himself being defensive, and with an effort forced his tone back to bantering. “I’ve got a problem with being followed, you know.”
So instead you trapped it for people you thought would come by decades later, for the lulz. Right.
She wants to know what he found. Uh, obviously nothing? It’s not like he could have carried that much and all of you should know it, plus the ghosts were right there, you could ask.
But no, instead we get it explained, again, that there wasn’t anything in the tomb before Wren trapped it.
“And you made yourself a much greater enemy than you could have imagined. You seem clever, in such small ways.” The insult stung.
“More clever than Sandheart, whatever she might have been.”
No, that’s stupid and you and the book are stupid for thinking it.
Missing a trap doesn’t mean you’re clever or not. In fact, broadly, not noticing a piece of information is a chance thing – very different from noticing information and putting it together right or wrong, which is a clever thing. We tend to put the two together, and they’re often related, but they’re not actually the same thing. There’s an amazing amount of information that could be potentially useful. Processing all of it isn’t necessarily the wisest thing either – just look at animals. The ones who hesitate may avoid the trap, but they also starve first. If caution alone was best, we’d never see anything else.
Anyway, they’re doing that fantasy thing where you ritually trade answers because it’s so convenient to write, so now she has to answer his question. He asks about the door. It’s to the Labyrinth, as you might have guessed. At least that’s not using information Wren would be aware of, although really, horrible sounds behind scary door should have at least been a clue it wasn’t a nice place.
At least he’s bright enough that when he’s directly told that it’s the playground of dead slumbering hate gods he figures it’s probably not the best direction.
Though not bright enough to realize he has no reason to think she’s truthful.
Consider this. She’s mortal, and he’s probably still glowing a bit. She really can’t stop him from opening the door and leaving. She could shout, and if she’s lucky someone will be near enough to hear before he kills her. That’s about it. But instead she decides to chat, burning valuable time, and then say that, not that she cares, but it’s in his own interests to just give up on that door.
“I propose that you walk with me to my orrery. I will brew tea there, and we will discuss the order of the heavens, the proper interpretation of the Immaculate Texts and the possible explanations for why the one who calls himself Ratcatcher is such an ass. Eventually, the Prince will find you there, and will remove you from my custody, but in the interim you will have had pleasant and informative conversation. And tea.”
This is what rolling epic successes on your manipulation roles looks like.
She then pauses and apparently just notices the mark on his brow, so she says that might change things, but just says she’ll show him in a mirror in her room.
And that’s how Unforgiven Blossom talked someone into giving up escaping only minutes after telling him about how horribly he’s going to be tortured. It doesn’t make sense, but you can’t have everything.
Actually, in a better written book, this kind of thing would be intended to stand out as anomalous. The exalted comic series, which was surprisingly good considering they’re both a tie-in and a short comic series, centers around a new Eclipse doing something very like this.
See, his friend is upset that a bunch of slaves have been left to die in a ghost-filled area. Another slave escaped to beg help. So, he grabs the slave and drags them back to the slaver. And he points out that the reward for retrieving an escaped slave is usually based on the slave’s value and how fast it was found, and he found this one before the guy even knew it was missing – but he doesn’t even want a reward! Why, he’d like to trade. See, he heard about those other slaves, and he’s got the resources to retrieve them. Why not make that his reward? It wouldn’t hurt the guy’s finances in the least, he’d already accepted them as a loss, but now he can trade that completely valueless batch of slaves in return for this one! Yes, what an amazing dealmaker the man is, getting something for nothing. Surely, with such a wonderful deal that’s so in his advantage, he can afford to throw in one extra slave, right? And there’s this one right here…
Of course, in the comic he’s lit up like a Christmas tree with how much essence he’s throwing behind each of his words, because no one actually thinks that makes sense on their own, and it’s meant to make you think that you too can get to twist reason into a pretzel if you play the game.
Unforgiven Blossom really should be doing something like that here. It’s sort of like taking refuge in audacity, only magic and internally consistent. Instead the book’s trying to pretend this entire thing actually makes sense, which is as lame as if the comic tried to make it sound like the Eclipse was actually making a regular business deal and that’s how things just work.