CC.030–32.L.2 | Rise of the Undead Fisherman

CC.030 - Rise of the Undead Fisherman

“How does one get onto a boat!?”
“You step onto it.”
“F%^& you, James…”

In this section, I was tasked with getting our heroes into the City, but instead of a secret passage as we originally conceived, we decided getting in by boat was a better idea.

We were wrong. 

I struggled a lot with how to get them onto the boat, because boats don’t just let people on, especially when the officials are looking for stowaways. Nothing about the situation we’d created made sense to me, and I ranted and raved at the screen just wanting to get to the undead fisherman and finding myself unable to for days. What this really manifested as was a writerly struggle, one I almost ran from; thank you James for keeping me on the path! I won’t say much more here, but know that I really, really hate boats now, and that a more complete article on the matter is coming.

[Special Note: The cue card you can see above depicts Blue fighting off a couple soldiers, originally outside the city, that will be used to hide his bony visage once they’re inside. This still, kind of, happens, but we moved the when, changed the where, added some why, and most importantly, the who…]

The disguise was less than perfect; a pair of pants with a hole in the knee, a sheet draped around his bony torso like a toga, and a scarf effectively hiding his clacking jaw but not his domed skull. Charlotte was convinced no one would immediately think “skeleton”, however, there were sure to be follow up questions upon spotting Blue that none of them would be delighted to answer. Charlotte had intended to take good care of the items and return them to the lonely homestead, but there was no time to wash off Blue’s face before he wrapped the scarf around. Even now she could see him grinding his jaw, the fabric inevitably caught in his boney teeth. Perhaps the owner would prefer gold instead. I hope the scarf didn’t have sentimental value…

The trio had moved quickly since the homestead, covering ground that gently rose and fell, rose and fell as they got closer and closer to the wall that protected Fort City. Charlotte had always thought of it that way, as the protective layer keeping her people safe, but she had never approached the city from this direction before. The wall was ominous. Approaching on foot it slowly creeped over the horizon, rising bit by bit until it filled the sky. Charlotte had never realized the land dipped just before hitting the wall, making for an even more impressive edifice. But when the brick, 1 stone, and mortar were not an open embrace as she had always seen them, it became a monstrous obstacle crushing the little hope one carried inside.

“Impressive,” was all Raul had said, telling in and of itself.2

The trio walked in silence for a long time as the wall loomed up. Charlotte was still dreading the conversation she would have to have with the king, but the more immediate concerns of getting over the wall, avoiding Vilnius’ thugs, and protecting the sword kept her mind busy. They were still a distance away—how tall is the wall, anyway? Charlotte made a mental note to find out later—but activity was visible on top of the wall, and when Charlotte looked to the south, where the main gate was, she could see commotion and further activity of some sort.

“Interesting,” Raul said.

“It’s only been an hour, and you’ve downgraded it to ‘interesting’ already? We must be losing our touch.”

“Perhaps he’s struck with the…whatsit?…” Blue trailed off staring up at the wall. Charlotte’s heart jumped into her throat and she dropped to a crouch, trying to scan the horizon while staying low enough to dodge arrows. She couldn’t see anything moving, and realized they were still well out of arrow range. What is it about crouching that makes me think it’ll be easier to dodge arrows? But her heart was still racing and her hands were clammy.

“What is it, Blue? Blue? Blue!”

“…Whosit!? Hmm?” He looked at Charlotte who stared back. “Lassy,3you wear that face long enough,  y’er bound to get…whatsit…needs a key but for y’er face?”

Charlotte had no idea what he meant this time, so turned back to Raul. “Interesting?”

“Indeed! Why—clan Madera aside, of course, thanks to our naturally occurring fascination with change—the Cottonwood people have been slow to adopt the new ways, even though they agreed to,” Raul paused for a heartbeat before continuing, “Augusto’s plans. Why, we even stopped raiding the highway with regular frequency. Only irregular frequency since talks began. It reminds me of—”

“Raul, your point?”

“Yes, well, it’s inspiring to see your city take to the accord as quickly as clan Madera.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, before we began the peace talks—not that we attempted to raid this far often, if at all—Cottonwood folk would be stopped long before we got to your fancy wall.” He smiled, and Charlotte pre-cringed.4 “I guess you could say we were … mistrusted.”5

“We were practically at war, we’d have to stop you if you showed up on our doorstep.”

“Indeed! And now you don’t, even though your troops are on high alert. It truly is exciting times. Perhaps I shall have new stories to bring to the Cottonwood of the great city beasts I was able to wrestle.”

“High alert…? Raul, what are you talking about?”

He started pointing to places along the top of the wall, before gesturing to the gate to the south. “I’m no soldier—”

“By the Great Goat, y’er sure not a soldier, you …ah…whatsit…man, kind of wild. Lives in the wood? By the screaming goats, I know this one!”6

“—but your people are on alert. There’s a lot of activity, like they’ve gotten word from an ally that clan Heartwood is preparing an assault, but they don’t want clan Heartstab to know they know until it’s too late.” He squinted and stuck his entire head forward, the bob waving at Charlotte. “It’s almost like they’re looking for something.”

Charlotte stopped. “Of course!” She looked down at their Cottonwood clothes, and felt the weight of the sword on her shoulder. She dropped it to the ground, hoping it wasn’t too obvious to anyone watching on top of the wall.

“We disguised Blue—”
Savage! Haha, knew it was in there. Who’s this guy?”7

“—but never thought to disguise ourselves! They’ll never let us in wearing these clothes.” Her eyes lit up. “Stupid Charlotte, of course they won’t let you in. Raul, they are looking for something—us. Vilnius would have sent a runner ahead to tell the king…well, he could have told him anything. The king won’t believe any of it until he hears a report in person, but if the Count told him to watch for two Cottonwood assassins, the whole City would be on alert. And if Vilnius was able to send a runner ahead….”

“He’ll have sent one of his men. Looks like that arrow is real threat after all.”8

“Bloody screaming goats!” Charlotte looked back up at the wall. “How are we going to get in?”


“A wall is just another goat path, of sorts,” Raul said.

“There are no convenient ledges to toss ourselves from—except for at the top—and we’ll get a lot more than one arrow if we tried that, even at night.”

“There be a bunch a9 …whatsit…go through places all over the…whosit…ground gets big. Kind of pointy….” Blue pointed off into the distance.

“Mountains?” Charlotte asked.

“Yes! Those be them. We used to patrol them goat-herds. Plenty a…a…go through places, all over.”

Charlotte looked up at the Razorbacks. “They’re even farther away than the wall. Do you know where these paths are, Blue?”

“Of course. There’s the Skinny, that runs through Old Sojo’s Tongue, which takes the elevation for a pint and home again, let me tell you.” Blue went on listing off ridiculous names while Charlotte and Raul starred.10

“Do you know how to get to any of them from here?” Charlotte eventually asked.

“Oh, yeah. Easy—ah, whatsit… when the world farts?”

“Volcano?” Raul said.

“Yeah, that’s the…one. All paths start from the Skinny, right behind the old guard house.”

Charlotte sighed. “And where’s the guardhouse?”

“It be on the other side o’ that damn big wall. We get over that thing, I’ll get you to the … whatsit….it’s a whatsit with the…volcano!”11

Charlotte walked a few paces ahead of the others, remembering several breathing exercises that Lucinda had taught her. We can’t go through the wall, she thought, we can’t go over the wall. The front door and the mountain passes are unreachable in enough time to make a difference. That means…

“The river,” she said.

You’ll note, this cue card mentions a “secret passage” into the city that Blue helped build. One of us named James felt that was to deus ex machina, so an impossible river and convenient “boat” were offered up instead.

They were cresting a particularly high rise in the golden green land and rolling hills cleared way to the river’s edge. The SHARKLE POINT flowed south west12 from beyond the Cottonwood. Though the road through the Wood was the most direct to the city, years and lifetimes of Cottonwood raids had made it the more perilous of journeys. That left the SHARKLE, though its journey was nearly four times that of the path, as the prime source of shipping13 both in and out of Fort City. Charlotte, surprisingly, had spent little time by the docks. Though she had on occasion viewed the strange land from nearby rooftops, she rarely set foot on the docks themselves. Fort City was not widely known as a port city; the river, as it flowed out of the City on the westside, down into the ocean, picked up speed and danger making it practically impossible for ships to travel east to the City. That left Fort City as the final stop on any voyage East or West.14

In fact, it had been a long time since Charlotte even considered the river. After beginning her training with Lucinda, she had rarely had time for the explorations of her youth, and Lucinda would only use the place when necessity dictated. Charlotte, for her part, found the place barren, bureaucratic, and boring. It was her first lesson from Suzannah that perhaps not everything that happened to the Barbarian Queen was as similar in Charlotte’s world.15 Suzannah’s docks were fetid with human detris, a constant supply of stories, trouble, and violence. You were just as likely to be pickpocketed as a ship was to sail. Yet in Fort City, the only trouble you were likely to find was a missing stamp on your Form 3 docking papers. Charlotte shivered at the memory.16

“We’ll use the river to sneak into the City. It means crossing the road—which is bad—but it’s likely to be the least guarded entrance.”

Raul was nodding. “Yes, a river entrance is a mighty choice. Shall I swim us across, or perhaps—much like the time I swamp raced an iron oak shaving across the Great Cottonwood17—we can boogie board over.”

“Boog…ie?” Charlotte asked.18

Raul beamed. “My own creation. You take the shed skin of the iron oak and work it in layers of beeswax, slowly unbending the natural curve, but not too much of the curve, because you’ll need it for speed in the water. Anyways, you—”

“There are no iron oaks here on the planes,” Charlotte cut in.

“Ah, yes. That would make the boogie difficult. Perhaps we can—”

“When you say, ‘least guarded’, do you mean ‘relatively’?” Blue asked with too much innocence in his voice.

Charlotte looked at the poorly concealed skeleton. “I don’t know, a couple soldiers, a few bureaucratic inspectors… I didn’t spend my time by the docks.”

Blue nodded, pointing. “Traffic’s picked up. Err, I mean ‘slowed down’.”

Charlotte squinted and looked down the hills to river, where she could just make out a long shadowy chain on the water. “I don’t…”

“They’re ships,19 lass.20All…whatsit?…bloated on the water. They ain’t moving fast at all.”

“They’re all ships? But… Fort City has never been a… The Accord.” Lucinda’s voice came unbidden from the depths of Charlotte’s memory again.

“Charlie, are you paying attention?”

“Yes, Lucy.21 The Accord is important. I understand.”

“You don’t. You would not be more intrigued by that fly if you were. Charlotte!

“Yes! I’m here.”

Lucinda had done that exasperated sigh she does so well. The one that said you’re a fool for not listening. “The Accord is more important than any other engagement we’ve taken on. Do you know why?”

“To end the years—or can we call it lifetimes?—of strife between the peoples of Fort City and the Cottonwood. To bring on a new era of prosperity for both.”22

“The ripples of the Accord will not end there, Charlie. Fort City is a powerful beacon—an all but inaccessible one, at the moment. The risk the Cottonwood represents to merchants is amplified by ten for any other body of people wishing to make the trek. Merchants can throw more money at their problems. If only one in every three caravans makes it through unscathed, then they send six. A family on the run from prosecution—they have only themselves to send; and lose. Mark my words. Before the Accord is even forged, word will travel. When people begin to hear of our success—”

“Are you not being a bit premature? We haven’t even met this Augusto yet…”

“—They will travel in droves to get here. The ripples from our agreement will swell out into the world and where they touch people, they will riot and invigorate. Like a blue beacon in the night, it will call to the moths of the world. Fort City is going to change, Charlie. For better or worse, the Peace Accord with the Cottonwood will change everything.”

Lucinda was real23 quiet after that. Charlotte remembered her staring out the window over the City. She, for her part,24 had rolled her eyes. Everything we do changes Fort City. But she had never seen Lucinda be so distantly reflective. Usually she remained completely grounded. X would change Fort City with Y because reasons.25Solid, tangible reasons.

Charlotte could see her teacher now, at that window26 looking out. She wished they were both back there in that moment. She could tell Lucinda that she was right, the Accord would change everything. Nothing would be the same after.

The window and Lucinda slowly faded away, reforming into a Cottonwood buffoon and a not quite dead soldier.

“Charlotte?” Raul asked.

“Yes, I’m fine,” Charlotte said wiping the tears from her eyes. “The ships. They’re from beyond the Cottonwood. Well, that’s obvious, where else would they come from. I mean they’re from Fjordtown, Reckonshire, maybe even further—the Swamplands, perhaps. Blue, is stealth a part of your training?”

“A soldier that doesn’t know stealth is a soldier as good as…whatsit… Screaming goats, had it on the tip of my tongue.” He reached up one bony hand to rub a beard27that wasn’t there. There was a soft, scratchy sound as his thin fingers went back and forth over his skull. “You know, whosit,28 not moving or fighting or doing.”

“Dead?” Raul asked.

“That be29 the one! A stealthless solider be as good as dead. What do you need, Ambassador?”

“I want to know what’s going on at the river. While you’re at it, find us a good place to get across the road.”

With several bony gestures Blue jerked to attention, saluted, and spun on the spot. He took off at a quick trot, and soon Charlotte’s attention faded away from him. She had to admit he could do stealth which, if Blue’s saying was true, may account for much.30

Raul gave Charlotte a perplexed look. “What do you mean the ships are from beyond the Cottonwood?”

She smiled, and laid out the sword on the ground. Her fingers gently strode over the words etched in its steel. She could feel the soft thrum of the magic inside, imagined the glow embracing her hands.

“The Accord, Raul. It’s more than just for you, and me. Fort City and the Cottonwood. It’s for the world, whether we want it to be or not.” He knelt and she took his hands, laid them out on the sword, too. “Feel the words. Touch the magic coursing through the sword. Let the Accord become a part of you.” More of Lucinda’s words came back to Charlotte, and she smiled. “‘We don’t carry this burden for ourselves. We carry it for those too taxed to be able to safely carry it themselves.’ This is our responsibility now. Lucinda—Lucinda and Augusto are gone. They gave their lives for this sword and everything it represents. But before they left… They trained us.” The tears came again. “This sword. The two of us. That’s their legacy.”31

Charlotte looked up and was surprised to see tears in Raul’s eyes, too. She thought he would tell some ridiculous story about onions the size of her head to cover, but he just sat there silently with his hands on the sword, the tears slowly crawling down his face.

“The–the last thing Augusto said to me. He had all those arrows in his chest—I remember thinking this would make for a grand story we would tell one day, he with a dozen arrows for every one I had32—he said, “You’re the Cottonwood now, my boy. Go. Trust in Charlotte and her wisdom. She’s going to need your help.”

They were quiet for a long time. Until finally the soft click-clack of old bones rattling drew them back to this moment.

“There’s a huge…ah, dang, whatsit?…one after the other after the other? All up and down the river. There’s a bunch of…whosis…high-falutin’ types looking at each—makes waves on the big puddles?”

Charlotte nodded. “Fort City Inspectors33 going over every boat. Thank you, Blue. They’re the first stage of shipping—or in this case, immigration—bureaucracy. They thrive on this type of setup. The longer the line gets, the more thorough they’ll be. This may have nothing to do with Vilnius, but I doubt it. We still can’t take that risk. He would have sent a runner ahead, and probably has a least one of the dock officials working for him.”

Raul was standing with this back to the skeleton, using his hands to wipe his face. “So if we can’t get in by river, how do we get in?”

“Oh, we’re going in by the river. Blue, the line, it was long, right?”

“Longer than my age.”

“Are any of the ships moored to the side of the river?”

“Yes, and there’s people all up and down the river’s edge. Looks like some o’ been there for days.”

“Excellent. That actually helpful for us, even though it’s going to make our task even more difficult.”

Charlotte turned to her companions, looking each in the eye. Raul’s were a rich, dark brown, reminiscent of the Cottonwood itself. Blue’s glowed a faint, deep blue, with hints of a turquoise penumbra.34 “But there’s no two people with which I’d rather make the attempt.” They smiled at her. Charlotte turned to Raul and said, “Besides, if we take an arrow or two, at least it makes for a really good story we can tell later.”

“Oi, that it does, lass. Though I fear it’d go right through me.”35 Charlotte looked sidelong at Blue for a moment, wondering how much more there really was to the skeleton, just before he said, “I move so fast, you know. Old Arrow Hopper they used to call me in the Dashing Woods.”

“Blue,” Raul said, taking a rare moment to address the skeleton directly, “That’s a story I’d like to hear one day.”

Charlotte smiled, looking up into the dawning sky. It was early, and the sun was still very low. “Me too. But for now, get us across the road. We have a boat to catch.”

They crossed the road without incident36 and worked their way to the edge of the river. Even in the dark, they could see the line of boats snaking its way out from the one gate that led into Fort City. Dozens, if not hundreds,37 of boats were backed up along the water, waiting their turn to go through. Charlotte had never seen so much traffic. But the thoroughness with which the inspectors were traversing38 each boat made it obvious how the backlog had happened. With what little time Charlotte had spent by the docks, she knew they took their jobs seriously, but the scrutiny that each boat underwent made it obvious that something had changed. Just as Raul had pointed out, they were looking for something.

They’re looking for us, she thought. Whether they knew it or not, the backlog on the river, the maneuvers at the front gates. The increased activity on the wall. All of it was in order to find them. Three fugitives, Charlotte mused, and a six foot long sword.

She gripped its handle tightly through the layers of cloth wrapping she’d wound around it to mask its appearance. Still, it was hard to guess what else someone might think it was.

They spent an hour hidden high on the banks of the river, watching the line of boats. They needed to hitch a ride on one likely to get in quickly, but with enough cover that they wouldn’t be noticed. Several guards were patrolling the river’s edge, a lone inspector among them making complicated notes on a clipboard. She spoke to several of the boat-goers, likely informing them of their place in line. The mind of a bureaucrat, in theory, was easy to read, but with the heightened tension and possibility they were actually looking for people, it was hard for Charlotte to guess how which boats would be let through first.39

It was Raul that had spotted the boat obviously laden with fruits. There was a merchant on board, lavishly clothed with fine furs and enough jewelry to lower the boat in the water. The fruits would be intended for sale that morning, and his obvious wealth meant he had the means to ensure his fruit wasn’t left to rot. Just before the inspector continued down the line, an apple was tossed across the water to her—along with an small, unobtrusive purse. Despite it’s size, and her distance away, Charlotte thought it looked heavy.

“Good eye, Raul. Looks like this one will be up soon. But where do we hide when we get on? The deck is all exposed. There’s just boxes upon boxes…”

“We don’t sneak on—we ask.”

“We can’t just—wait, you want to just ask?”

“Of course! How else does one get on a boat?”

Charlotte had to admit, she was stumped for an answer to that one. “Except for negotiating with the pirates, I didn’t have much interaction with the boat part of that mission. Fine, we’ll try it your way. So how are you—”
“Oi! Ship’s thane!”

Charlotte covered her face with her hand. “They’re a captain, Raul.” This was going swimmingly already. From over the side of the barge a face appeared with a disgusted look, squinting at the figure that had called out. Maybe we should have tried to swim. Raul walked off to the river’s edge to, Charlotte could only guess, negotiate. She looked at Blue. “But what about you?”

His disguise, if it could still be called that, wasn’t great to begin with, but as the sheets got muddy they started to cling to his frame, revealing a sickly body underneath.

“What about me? You feeding me the pointy end of a thing? That’s … whatsit… electrocution40 with a porcupine!”

Charlotte’s forehead wrinkled in concentration. “Persecution?”

“If the foot sleeve fits, lass.”

“They’re called boots, Blue.”

“And mine ain’t getting wet.” His grinning face looked down at the tough bits of leather clinging to this ankles. They were old boots, covered in mud, and damp from the river’s edge. “Well, anymore than needed.”

“Blue,” Charlotte asked, “Are you afraid of the water?”

“I’m not afraid of…Why would you… The whatits from the whosit…Arg!” His eyes lit up a bright blue and as he exclaimed, the light came erupting out of his mouth, too. For a moment he was a beacon in the early dawn light. Charlotte looked around for something to cover his face, but the glow faded away almost immediately as Blue’s shoulders slumped.41

“You know my…whatsit?…shame I can’t tell.”

“Your secret, Blue.” She took his bony shoulders in her hands and shook him to attention. “There’s no shame in a secret like that, just a moment to overcome.” Charlotte thought of Lucinda—it was another of her lines—but could see already by the slump in his jaw it wasn’t enough. Then she thought of her other adoptive mother, and smiled. That’s exactly what this moment needed.

“And overcome it you shall! This is the moment, Blue. When your City needs you the most. Danger lurks on the other side of that gate,” she pointed to Fort City, “and we’ll be defenseless without our mighty protector. For the good of the…for the good of two nations, you will rise up by sinking below! This is your moment, Blue! Not for glory, not for riches, but for the righteous might of justice!”

The meatless man’s chest jutted out and he stood straight tall, his eyes burning a blue fire. 42“By goats, you’re right, lass! For Fort City! Water—coming at you!” He then proceeded to turn to the side, fall to his knees, and retch into the weeds.

Charlotte took a step back, unsure what might appear when a magical skeleton started throwing up from fear. Thankfully, all Blue could do was dry heave. After a few moments, he stood back up.

“No worries, lass,” he said, wiping his chin with his exposed forearm. “Just getting the fear out.”

Charlotte heard wet footsteps approaching behind them, and turned to see Raul grinning his way up the bank. Only Raul, Charlotte thought, would ask to board a stranger’s boat in the middle of a Fort City lockdown and expect—

“We’re on for regular rates, but get no meals and must be done before lunch!”

—to be hired.

“Luckily,” Raul said, elbowing Blue in the ribs, “I’m a mean sneak when it comes to gruel.” Blue didn’t say anything, but even with his gaunt face she could tell he wanted to ask who was this guy?

From the back of the barge, there was a splash, and a boat with one occupant started rowing toward the shore.

“Raul, you obnoxious lout, I don’t know how, but you’ve done it!”

“Well, the real trick to—”

Charlotte cut him off. “Tell me later. Right now, we need to get Blue into character. His motivation—barnacle.”

Both men looked at her, at each other, and back again.

“Barnacle?” Raul eventually asked.

Charlotte just smiled. “I guess you could say Blue’s going to _________.43

As the boat drifted into the harbour with as much haste as the captain could muster among the crowded, backlogged entrance, Charlotte stood at the railing and stared up at her home. The mixed feelings still warred inside her, that feeling of release and relief that usually accompanied crossing the wall absent as the boat drifted beneath the waterway arch. Sailors hustled back and forth behind her, preparing to unload. She could hear Raul directing several of them with a story of moving giant acorns across the Cottonwood floor. There was always the risk such a story would give them away, but she was learning to trust in Raul’s luck, if not his ability to connect. Or tell puns, she thought.

The boat moved up to the inspectors’ platform, and several more heavy bundles went overboard. The ship, its crew, cargo, and two fugitives, were waved on through. Charlotte turned from the railing and busied herself helping a man push a large crate. She kept her head down, and tried to will her Cottonwood garb to disguise itself. The ship’s crew came from beyond the Woods, but the inspectors were home grown from the City, and might recognize their origin.

Charlotte took a moment to worry about the sword, but reminded herself that—though a skeleton—Blue was a competent warrior and a City patriot. He knew the value of the sword, and would guard it with his…unlife.44

As if reading her thoughts, Raul sidled up to her alongside the large crate and asked, “Do you think the skeleton is okay?”

Charlotte nodded. Aloud,45 she said, “He has to be.”

They worked in silence for several moments, helping the crew ready for unloading, but Charlotte could tell Raul was working up to something. Strange, she thought. When I first met him, he would say whatever came to mind as it came to him.46 Has he learned contemplation these past few days, or was I just not paying attention at first? Charlotte felt a bit out of character, thinking she had missed something so obvious. Perhaps, she wondered, I owe him an apology—as well as my thanks.

“What’s on your mind, sailor?” she asked him.

He heaved on a box and it went sliding along the deck. Standing up straight, he looked over their heads as the last of the archway was cleared. Before them, rising in majesty and filth was Fort City, the Jeweled Cork,47 last home in the Western Lands, first in the passage East.48 Like broken teeth, buildings rose up at differing heights as the City sprawled upwards along the rise of the Razorback mountains. Tin, copper, wood, straw—any material that could be used to make roofs was and the eclectic vision was stunning. Charlotte had heard it described as a mismatched quilt, thrown together out of necessity with no concern for beauty, but she disagreed completely. The history of the City, from it’s birth as a fort protecting the only pass West through the mountains marred it with the burden of necessity, sure; but the people had rose to the challenge as the City rose from its humble origins. For hundreds of years it had served its duty while continuing to grow, becoming a beacon of culture and intellect. Until it stopped, of course, Charlotte thought.49

Dangerous times had come upon them, ones should couldn’t describe, but after the last week she was starting to understand some of the rot eating away at her City.

Sudden inspiration hit, and she turned to Raul. “You’ve never been here before.”

He shook his head. “No. There was…never a chance.”

Charlotte nodded, understanding. The talks had always taken place in the Cottonwood, ideal neutral ground, ironically enough. She wondered why Lucinda hadn’t realized the damage they were doing by not meeting in the City. Not at first, of course, but later on, when the Accord was almost ratified. Augusto, he would have no concern crossing the city walls, but his people, perhaps, would have felt the same caution Raul was facing now. Charlotte wondered—and realized she was doing so perhaps for the first time—what the image of Fort City and its people was in the Cottonwood. Truthfully, what she knew came from stories Fort City told itself. She couldn’t believe that the Madera clan were common representatives of thoughts throughout the Wood. At the very least, they had taught her that the Wood, as much as the City united it in their minds, was as diverse and fractured as orchids in the castle garden.

Charlotte patted Raul on the back, and in hushed tones so only he could hear. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Fort City and the Cottonwood, we’re allies now. There was an accord with blood and swords and everything. Wonderful shrimp.” She winked at him. “You’re the ambassador from the Cottonwood now; I won’t let my City do anything to you.”

“Thank you, Charlie. But I’m afraid it’s not me they’ll try to do it to.”

Before Charlotte could probe his statement, the boat lurched to a stop and her feet gave out beneath her. Raul’s arm shot out and caught her, hauling her back to her feet before she sprawled on the deck. Never been on a boat in his life, and he’s got the sea legs—jerk! But she was thankful for the catch all the same.

Around them, the sailors changed their tactics from milling to full on work. Ropes were thrown, a wide gangplank pushed over the edge, and crates, barrels, and chests were moved with real purpose. Charlotte instantly felt in the way, and was jostled several times by sailors rushing past.

“We better start blending,” Raul said, putting his shoulder to a large crate. Charlotte dropped into place next to him and helped push. The crate stood shoulder height, and whatever fruit was inside it had to be the heaviest fruit Charlotte had ever experienced.50 It took them several minutes to push it towards the gangplank, and place it with the other items ready to go off. Sailors were using some wheeled contraption Charlotte couldn’t get a good look at to get them down the plank, but it took time, and the piles of boxes were starting to backlog at the top of plank.

Two sailors, unable to place their own burden with the others, opted to move around and place it on the higher deck, apparently disagreeing about the best way to do so. Charlotte, sensing trouble, tapped Raul on the shoulder and moved him out of the way. The crew moving the boxes down were just leaving with another load and Charlotte and Raul ended up standing at the head of the plank.

As the two sailors swayed back and forth, their crate weaving back and forth, Charlotte noticed that the lid was cracked open a bit at one corner, and thought that a horrible safety concern. Still, she needed to stay incognito, so ignored the thought of reporting it. Who does one even report such a thing to, she wondered. It can’t always be the captain.

She leaned in to Raul. “How are we going to get off the ship without—” she started to whisper, but was cut off by the a verbal commotion on the dock below, followed by the creaking wobble of the plank as several heavy someone’s strode its length. She turned in just enough time to push Raul to the side of the plank as a crew of inspectors, along with half a dozen guardsmen, stormed onto the ship.

Just as the last of their boots hit the deck, the two sailors playing pick’em-up disagreed for the last time and one swayed left while the other swerved right. The box between them, already precarious, lost any semblance of control in their hands and toppled to the cabin, falling onto the step between the different leveled decks. The top jerked sideways and the loose corner let go completely, taking its companions with it as it crashed, side first, onto the boat deck. A bushel of apples came rolling out of the open crate, followed closely by tightly wound packages of, what Charlotte would guess, was some sort of powder. It seemed a strange way to ship apples, but as more and more of the tiny packages drooled onto the floor, she started to wonder if this was actually a fruit merchant vessel after all.

A moment fell onto the ship’s deck: sailors paused with heavy crates hefted between them; the Captain paused on the top deck, eyes darting from the inspectors back to the broken crate’s contents, and once or twice to the far side of the ship; the flamboyant merchant, mighty hat51 and all, stood stock still with an intense look on concentration, as if willing himself, the small packages, or perhaps even the inspectors themselves to become invisible; all six guards suddenly found their hands on their hilts, gripping tightly; and the inspectors, standing firm, glared at the contents of the broken crate.52

Charlotte nearly jumped when, practically in her ear, she heard a voice speak, but she suddenly found that strong hands were laid flat on her shoulders, willing her to be still. “Be still, but ready,” Raul breathed.

One inspector stepped forward, cautiously, pulling from a thin scabbard a narrow, delicate bar. It wasn’t a sword, but the tip was barbed, and as she poked the contents of one of the small packages it tore open and a puff of white powder drifted into the air. The smell of oranges, with just a hint of burnt wood, drifted into Charlotte’s nostrils. The inspector’s eyes flicked up to stare at the merchant, without any other part of her body moving.

“And…” Raul said, one of his hands now in the middle of Charlotte’s back, a single finger just touching her shirt.

“Burnt Offering?” the Inspector said, smiling. “Seize them!”

“Go!” Raul hissed. As he spoke, his finger hovering around Charlotte’s back pressed forward, low but firmly, causing Charlotte to move forward without thinking. But without knocking me over, either, Charlotte noted, even as her feet were stepped into motion. She threw herself at the gangplank, Raul close on her heels, and they bolted down the wobbling wood. She wasted no time looking behind her to witness the bedlam she could hear on the ship’s deck, aware that in every story she’d ever read that looking behind them only caused a long, drawn out fight for the hero. For Suzannah, Barbarian Queen’s case, that was to be desired, but for Charlotte Hargrave, tired, sore, probably already named dead but yet still kicking, speed, distance, and a clear path were the more thrilling options.

So it was that Fort City’s new ambassador returned home, by smuggler’s ship, her feet flying freely beneath her as she touched City ground.53

Charlotte didn’t think, just ran, trusting to the instincts of a thousand childhood adventures to help her disappear into the city. But before she could go ten paces, there were Raul’s hands again, one poking her side while the other grabbed at her arm, spinning her from the direction she was headed to deeper into the mysteries of the docks. Not losing speed, she was practically flung between two boxes before Raul let go. There would be words, later, but for now she continued to run, dodging boxes and crates, first those unloaded from the ship, then new, even more mysterious cartons. They two weaved in and out of shadows, but Raul kept urging them back towards the water’s edge. It felt a foolish idea—away seemed so much more prudent—but again and again he pushed them onwards to the water’s edge until, as the docks opened up to another mooring station, both collided into the back of a broad figure. They stopped immediately as the figure was flung to the ground, while a second…person…turned slowly to stare at them, his companion splayed out on the ground, then back to them.

“Sarge, they knocked you over.”

“I can see they knocked me over, what with being on the ground. Arrest them.”

The short…man—I guess—turned to Charlotte and Raul.

“Sarge says you’re under arrest.”
“But what do you say?” Charlotte said.

“Uh…what Sergeant Nolon tells me?”

The sergeant was pulling himself up by this point. Raul stepped over to help him, hauling the round man bodily to his feet. He shooed away Raul and brushed off his dented chest plate, though Charlotte assumed it was more from lack of care than his most recent fall. “Cobbs, what did I tell you about asking questions of criminals?”

“‘That every criminal is out for themself and will only try to trick me into letting them go.’ Which is something I shouldn’t do.”

“Absolutely not. You two! You’re under arrest!”

“For what?” Charlotte asked.

“For assaulting an officer, that’s what!”

“But we didn’t assault you, we couldn’t see you when we turned a corner at speed and collided with you. We helped you up, and, more importantly, didn’t continue any sort of ‘attack’, if that was our intent. This was an accident.”

“One we’re quite sorry for, my good man! Though, as surprise tumbles go, it does not compare to the time I took a Hedgling over the Grand Bank turn due to a debt and the unfortunate misplacing of a pair of tongs.”

Both inspectors stared at Raul. “What were the tongs for?”

“Cobbs! What did I just say about asking the perps questions?”

“‘That every criminal is—’”

“Yeah, yeah, no need to repeat yourself.”
“‘Course not, Sarge. It’s already been said.”

“Then listen to your own advice and stop asking them questions.” He turned back to Charlotte and Raul. “Right! Where were we?”


“What, Cobbs?”

“You’re asking the perps questions.”

“I know!”

“But didn’t you tell me to—”

“Yes! But this is different.”

“How’s it different?”

“Well, you see, you shouldn’t ask criminals questions because they’re a crafting lot, right? They’re always devising never do-well 54 schemes, and the like. Makes their minds all slippery. And words come from the mind—”

“I thought words come from the mouth.”

“They do. They come from two places. Mouth and mind. Yeah. And because their minds are all slippery, it stands to reason their mouths are all slippery, too. Slippery mouths, slippery words.”

“Makes sense, sarge.”

“Right. And if they have slippery words, it’s real easy to slip you up.”

“I see what you did there, sarge.”

“‘Course you did, because I been working against the criminal types so long I gots some slippery in me to. Which is why I can see it so well in them.”

“Wise words, sarge. Is that why you ended up on the ground?”

“Righ—no! What?”

“When they come barrelling around the corner like that, they must of slipped one of them words under your feet.”

The sergeant nodded, recovering quickly. “Right! Good eye, Cobbs. We’ll make a real detective out of you yet.”

“Aw, thanks, sarge. I learned from the best.”

“That you did. So,” he said, turning to Charlotte again, “Where were we?”



“You’re asking the perps questions again.”

“I know!”

“But you said—”

“I know what I said. But it’s okay when I do it.”

“Because you got a slippery mouth?”

“Yeah. And,” Sergeant Nolon tapped his arm where his chevrons hung on precariously. “Because I’m a sergeant.”

Cobbs’ head went up as his mouth went down. Then he nodded, as if finally getting in on the joke. “Gotcha, sarge.”

“Right. So, as I was saying, where were we?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure I could tell you,” Charlotte said.

“Aw, up-strucking55 the law, eh! Cobbs, write that one down too!”

“Already on it, sarge!”

Charlotte glanced at Raul, and tried to convey her desire for him end matters here by butting both men’s heads together. What was the appropriate eye gesture to convey such language? Apparently she hit it right, as Raul seemed to instantly understand, though his response gave much to be desired.

“These are good men, going about their job.”

“Are you giving lip, boy?” Nolon asked.

“Careful, sarge, don’t want to slip again.”

Charlotte pinched the bridge of her nose, breathed deep and heavily. “Listen, we’re very, very sorry we bumped into you. If there’s something we can do to make it up to you, please, let us know, but I think we know it’s a bit ridiculous to arrest someone for a simple jostle on the street. Clearly, two inspectors of such intellect and clout have many more important things to do on a dastardly day such as this?” Charlotte, hit by inspiration, ran with it. “Why, I bet you were over here because you had been summoned for a task of the utmost importance, one only two of the City’s best, uh, slippery-knowledgists56 could handle. Shall we step aside and let you ensure the real criminals are apprehended?”

Sergeant Nolon stared long and hard at Charlotte, who for her part, tried to look as sheepish and meek as she could.

“We are on assignment…Alright. I can let you off with a warning. This time! But don’t let me catch you slippin’ up any more upstanding citizens, you hear?”

“Yeah, no making any more downlaying citizens.”

“We wouldn’t dream of it,” Charlotte said.

Behind them, in the distance, the clatter of metal, bodies, and voices rose on the docks. Without really knowing why, Charlotte was sure it was fallout from the smuggler’s boat they had just escaped.

“Well, it sounds like you’ll have your hands filled over there, we’ll just be away to leave you to it,” she said, trying to step around the two inspectors.

“Wait a minute…” Sergeant Nolon said slowly, the gears in his brain clearly slipping on the excess grease picked up from years on the street.

“Hey, sarge, look at their clothing. Don’t it look kind of…familiar?”

“That it does, Cobbs, that it does. Almost…forest-like.”

“Who wears a forest, sarge?”

Oh, bother, Charlotte thought.

The light was slow, but steady. Charlotte could practically see the thought arrive, take root, and start to sprout in the sergeant’s brain.

“Forest dwellers, Cobbs. That’s who wears a forest.”

“Ain’t we supposed to be looking for some forest folk?”

Sergeant Nolon’s sword rang as he drew it from his belt. “That we are, Cobbs. Steel up, inspector! Looks like we caught us some Cottonwood fugitives!”

Though clearly the epitome of buffoons—Raul, I swear, I will apologize one day for giving you an inaccurate title—their steel was sharp. She took a step backward, her hands in the air. “Gentlemen, please…”

Matters were not helped when Raul, playing into the ridiculous tropes of the chivalrous hero, stepped in to stand between Charlotte and the inspectors and slipped on an errant patch of water and collapsed into a heap on the ground.

“Look at that, sarge, they must be perps! They got so many slippery words they’ve tripped ‘emselves up with it!”

Heavens help me, Charlotte thought to herself, we don’t have time for this farce. She had no idea where Vilnius and his would-be entourage were, but she could feel—like the magic of the world plucking at her like she was a string—that time was running out. How do we outwit two buffoons too ridiculous to know they’re being outwitted?


“Quiet, Cobbs! We’ve got to hold these here inter-loafers57 until back-up arrives.”

“Did you call for back-up, sarge?” Cobbs said, his voice shaking.

Sergeant Nolon was quiet for a moment. “I am ascertaining the correct level of response required for these particular individuals, and will call when I have done it, Cobbs.”

“Okay, sarge. But sarge?”

“What, Cobbs?”

“When you do, will you make sure it’s enough to take care of that?”

“Take care of what?”58

Charlotte watched the pair of inspectors look past her and Raul, to the end of the water where the end of the dock met the river. Cobbs was pale faced, and his whole body shaking. Sergeant Nolon’s eyes opened wide, his mouth following. He started to stutter, trying to get words out that just would not come. Charlotte slowly turned…

Rising from the river was a shadow. Covered in black mud, backlit by the sun, a grotesque sea monster covered in vines was pulling itself onto the dock. It was thin, ethereal; sharp points at its fingers and joints. An otherworldly glow emanated from around its body. Its face cackled in a silent, still visage of horrible humour, two points of black burning silently in its gaunt face. As the mass of its body made it onto the dock, it reached back and slowly pulled up a sword, impossibly long. The creature shuddered, then stepped forward; each footfall sizzlingly as water dripped onto the dock. Through jerky movements the creature came closer, one arm dragging the sword, the blade scratching a horrible rift into the wood as it approached. Its other hand was raised, a bony claw grasping for the souls of the living.

It shuddered its way to within a metre of the group. Its jaw, twisted together by vines and seaweed, cracked open, shifting on its hinge until finally dropping open. What hellish words it meant to speak Sergeant Nolon and Cobbs never heard because, as a pair, their eyes rolled up into their heads and they collapsed backwards, unconscious.

“Well that was…whatsit? A cold bath on a hot day.” Blue said. “Whatsit with them?” He pointed to the fallen inspectors, raising his other hand to give Charlotte the sword. She took it, and began brushing off the seaweed.

“Some people just can’t take your stunning good looks, Blue. Thank you.”

“Oh, it was no bother. Once ya get over the sense of—uh, crushing, in a place that’s not up but down—it was quite pleasant.” He spat onto the deck, his ribcage echoing with the strain while it dripped water onto the ground. “I swallowed a tonne of river water, though. I’ll be spitting that up for a week.”

Charlotte looked over at Raul, who was doing a good job of composing his cool, even though he too—if only for a moment—had lost it as an undead swamp skeleton had risen from the abyssal depths. “You’re timing, as ever, was perfect.” She handed the sword back to Blue. “Please hold this for a moment. Raul, help me with them.”

Raul seemed pleased to have a task to focus on. She pointed to the larger of the two fallen inspectors as she grabbed the smaller—though she instantly regretted her choice as Cobbs, though tiny, brought with him a multitude of unexplainable smells and texture. She dragged him between a few crates, out of sight, and began unbuckling his armour.

“What are you doing?” Raul asked.

Charlotte gestured back to Blue. “We need a new disguise. He can’t make the whole city faint—although that would be helpful. From here to the castle we’ll have to pass through every part of town, and I’d prefer to do so incognito. We’ll attract too much attention, not to mention screams I’d hazard, walking openly with a skeleton. Plus,” she finished yanking off Cobbs’ breastplate, “who better to go through the city unharassed than a pair of the Guards inspectors.”

“A pair?”

“Of course. You’re a dashing image of the mighty Cottonwood warrior, but right now, that’s a hinderance to us. For this afternoon’s production, you’ll be playing the part of Nolon. Think you can do that, sergeant?”

Raul smiled, and stuck his chest into the air. His quaff waved at her like a minstrel looking for a tip. “There is no role to obscure, no breeches too wide that Raul, master of the performing arts, cannot rise to the challenge of portraying! Why, it’s common knowledge that my rendition of Julee made the greatest of the Cottonwood’s warriors weep like little babies.”59

“You know Julee is a woman’s role, right?”

“When a show is on the line, there are no gendered roles—only the performance!”

“Right. Well, get to stripping that guy, master. We have a war to stop.”

“Indeed! But there are only two soldiers. What shall we do for you?”

“For me?” Charlotte looked down at her own clothes. They were a bit stiff with mud from the riverbank, but otherwise the most comfortable get-up she’d ever been in. The freedom of movement, the breathable warmth—she had never been more content in a pair of pants…

But they’re Cottonwood pants, she thought. Charlotte sighed. “I guess I’m as good as a Cottonwooder in this gear, aren’t I?”

Raul was uncharacteristically silent before making an exaggerated face. “Absolutely, you look the part, no doubt!”

“But in the woods I’d be easy to spot a kilometre away, right? I know I’m no woodsperson, Raul. You’re not hurting my feelings.” Raul breathed a sigh of relief. “But we’re not in the woods anymore.”

Charlotte looked around her at the crates. Most were unmarked, a testament to the mysteries of the dock, but with an air of serendipitous providence one stood out with a familiar emblem burned into its wood. Of course, Charlotte thought. How fitting. “Blue, will you please open the top of that crate for me.” She pointed, and the skeleton man went to work prying off the top. She stood up, loosening the sturdy leather jerkin that covered her shirt. Blue finished opening the top, and Charlotte stepped up to the crate. Peering inside she saw what she was looking for right away. “Boys, avert your eyes60

and finish getting dressed. Also, Raul, I need to borrow your knife.” Charlotte grabbed a folded package from inside the crate and stepped deeper into the shadows of the boxes, where she wouldn’t be seen. “And when you’re done, don’t forget to wrap up the sword again. It’s too recognizable in the open.”

It was hard to part with the Cottonwood garb, but for now, Raul was right. It was too conspicuous, and was likely to get them all killed, not to mention start a war that would, ultimately, be the end of two peoples. “No pressure,” Charlotte thought, using Raul’s knife to open the package. She held up the garment and let the material unfurl. “Lucinda, this one’s for you. Still,” Charlotte said, looking at the leather jerkin she’d tossed to the ground, “I can’t let you have it all your own way…”

Moments passed as Raul and Blue donned the guise of the inspectors. Raul, expecting to help the skeleton get dressed, realized quickly that it actually knew how to lash up the armour, whereas Raul had never actually touched metal armour before, let alone worn it. He turned to the skeleton to ask for help, but it was already holding up the back plate, gesturing for him to get in. They worked in silence, tightening each others straps, until they were fully clothed. Raul had to admit, once finished, they did in fact look the part. The armour, for its part, was doing a better job of disguising Blue than any of the other disguises they’d found for him so far.

“It’s as if you were born to wear that armour,” Raul said aloud.

“Who are you, savage-land? I was born to wear it. Fort City is my home!”61

“Yes, I know, but…nevermind. Here take my helmet.” He could tell that the smaller Cobbs’ helmet wouldn’t fit over the skeleton’s large…skull. Mostly because he had watched it try for several minutes to press the hunk of metal over its face, to no success. Raul wondered if there would be scratch marks left behind the attempt had been so engaged.

Blue took the helmet, eyeing Raul cautiously. “The other…ah, the other… whatsit? Upside down bucket for yer noggin’? It won’t fit you either.”

Raul tossed his hair back and let it bounce. “Oh, I won’t be wearing a helmet. Besides, uh, with only one that fits either of us, you should wear it because, umm…Fort City is your home! Yes. You wear it, and the whole look, better than I ever will.”

“Well you’ve got me there, savage,” Blue said, dropping the helmet onto his skull and completing the look. It went over Raul breathed a sigh of relief. The skeleton, if you could call it that anymore, now just looked like a soldier. Using a bit of tarplin over one of the crates, Raul wrapped up the Accord sword, lashing it with one of the inspectors’ belts.

“If you boys are done playing around, I’m ready to go.” Charlotte stepped out of the shadows amongst the crates.

Raul’s jaw nearly dropped to the floor, her change was so unexpected. She had found a dress, not unlike the one she had been wearing when they first met at the party. Charlotte, however—using Raul’s knife and bits of material from her Cottonwood clothes—had stripped out the useless bodice and replaced it with the leather jerkin. Bits of leather and vine-string mounted the flowing dress to the more versatile leather, and the effect was formidable. Charlotte went back to the open crate and rooted around until she found a thick, knit shawl, which she threw around her shoulders.

“As good as a Lady headed to the ball.” She tossed Raul’s knife back at him point first, then knocked three times on Blue’s hollow chest, causing the metal to clang with an echo. She scooped up the packaged sword and threw it over her shoulder. “Let’s go stop a war.”

  1. James: I always assumed it was just large stones! our imaginations differed slightly. HOW DARE THEY!

  2. James: I see what you’re going for and I like the idea, but we can say it better

  3. Luke:  As discussed previously, blue probably wouldn’t use this word… but overall, I’d say you’ve got his voice pretty much down now! Great success!

    Luke: Agreed, I keep trying to put slang of some sort or another into his mouth. Maybe to see what sticks? To help me understand? Just because…? I dunno. But glad to hear you think I’m starting to get his voice.

  4. James: ehhhhhhhhhhhhh

    Luke: Not sure if you’re on board, or not…

    The idea is that by this point she can tell when Raul’s failure-to-pun is about to happen.

  5. Luke: It’s not a pun. But what if Raul can’t tell puns. But tries. We’d have to go back and undo any successful ones he made.

  6. James: I think this might be too self-aware for Blue

  7. James: lol

  8. Luke: A call back to our conversation (I think it was us, and not in the story…) about why they can’t just talk to a large group of City soldiers. They have no idea who is a V thug, and all it takes is one arrow through her heart and it’s all lost.

    So, if it’s not already in there, I want to try and put that conversation in somewhere. So Raul can call back to it here.

  9. James: “there’s a bunch of”

  10. Luke: If we like this, show him doing it rather than telling.

    James: actually, you’re probably right on this one… though I’m forcibly reminded of a gag in Guards! Guards! where on the of the elucidated brethren continues to interrupt the conversation with complaints. I know its supposed to be funny, but after a while it felt a bit much. Something to keep in mind with blue in general, I suppose. We can’t have him pulling the same gag all the time… and we need to keep him useful!

    Luke: Good point. Once we have “cover to cover” complete in first draft, we can look at all the Blue moments and do what we do to make sure he’s not repeating himself (in a bad way), or boring an audience.

  11. Luke: Hmmm…I’m still struggling with Blue. I realize he’s the first character I have to right that someone else put personality into.

    I’m brewing an article, here.

    James: I made an earlier comment about how you seem to have got the hang of his dialogue, but you’re reverting back into fake bad scottish here and there too. Its easy to fix, BUT, just as an aid to your thinking here: think about who Blue is when you’re writing him (obviously – I don’t need to tell you that). Re-read his character sketch if you need to. Always fall back on his one defining trait: habit. Everything blue does is about preforming actions he made a habit of in life. Telling tall tales, recounting adventures, being a cliche old man… The way you’re writing him now is kind of inconsistent. Also, for the record, if he uses ‘whosit’ at all, it should probably be in reference to a person, not a thing. A thing is always a whatsit.

    James: ALSO: his accent should be the same as Cahrlotte’s, just a little more ‘lower class’ (thus ‘yer’ instead of ‘your,’ dropping g on an ‘ing’ word etc.)

    Luke: Hmm, I wonder if a “word conversion list” would help me?

  12. James: uhhhhh… the water table. Things flow south and east. Fort City is the furthest west our story goes, and is far up stream this smaller river. Anyway, this sentence should probably read “the river flowed south east out of the city”

    Luke: The St Lawrence flows in a North Easterly direction… It’s the height that matters, non?

    I picked the direction so ships could just float to the city, but boats can go against current I realize now, so it doesn’t really matter. We just need to know which is the highest point, i.e. where the water starts from and flows down to. (Though I still like the idea of “all [water] roads leading to Rome [i.e. Fort City]

    James: Water always starts at the high ground… ie, the mountains… y’know, the ones the city is built against

  13. James: word choice – is shipping alright? I know we use ‘shipping’ to describe freight, but its actually incorrect, because shipping goes on ships. Technically, the river would always be the source of all shipping. Stuff coming in by road would be overland freight. I’m not trying to make a mountain out of a molehill here, either, I actually think your point is getting lost in this paragraph

  14. James: I have the impression that this paragraph happened when you were feeling bad about this section. The information is all there, but it feels… not-up-to-typical-luke-standard.

    Luke: That, and I’ve never felt wholly comfortable with physical description paragraphs. I’ve noticed that I skim them fairly quickly as a reader, and often don’t bother to picture them clearly in my head. Which to me explains why I struggle with writing them.

  15. James: this is unclear

  16. James: this is great

  17. Luke: Name of river in Cottonwood? (Do we have one already?)

  18. Luke: Trying for a joke. I wanted a ridiculous reason as to why Raul named it “boogie”. Maybe I change the name of the tree…

    James: No, it totally stands to reason that Raul would invent the boogie board. Although we might want to lose the elipses in the middle of the word

  19. James: “barges” might be more thematically appropriate, though I own that might mess up some stuff that happens later I haven’t read yet

    Luke: Barge, ship; nah, I think it’s okay…

  20. James: there’s that scottish word again

    Luke: What would be an informal term Blue would use to describe a young woman?

    James: He wouldn’t be informal – he is subordinate to her. Miss, maaaaaybe.

  21. Luke: Have we come up with Charlotte’s name for Lucinda yet? To match “Charlie”?

    James: I don’t think Lucinda would put up with a pet name, least of all from an apprentice. Sort like how I refuse to go by ‘jim’ – its just not my name

    Luke: Fair, but I think of it like a child/parent relationship: there’s affection there, but a kid doesn’t call their parent “Sharon”, they call her mom. Mother when they’re peeved. I think we need something that’s not just Lucinda for Charlotte to use with Lucinda.

    Also, I don’t think Charlotte would care if Lucinda didn’t like it; in some instances, would use it because of that.

  22. James: “though some might say it is actually to bring a rebel feifdom to heel” or something to that effect could be a good addition here – Lucinda – and charlotte, by extension- might see it as two nations and treat it like any other international meeting, but technically, the Cottonwood belongs to Fort City’s faded empire.

  23. James: omit

  24. James: This phrase is coming up a lot in both your writing and mine

    Luke: Hmm, I wonder why?

    (Because both of us are intelligent, reflective people that know we can never really know someone else’s whole story, and don’t want to attempt to prescribe understanding upon someone, even when we literally created this fiction being? No? Just me then…)

  25. James: I hope these are placeholders… cause if not, we can say this way better without sounding like the internet

  26. Luke: We could use this window as the place where C. and R. have their last convo. (I always pictured that on a balcony, though.) Could change this window to a balcony.

  27. James: Just sayin’, he shaves every day. A chin… some stubble, maybe?

    Luke: On a skull? No. This is Charlotte’s perspective, remember. She sees and knows that there is no beard there. What Blue thinks about his face is inconsequential to this moment.

    James: But it is of consequence, because he shaves every day. He wouldn’t ever have scratched a beard thoughfully, because he probably never had one

    Luke: You don’t have a beard—have you never rubbed your chin like you have one?
    But I think I understand what you’re saying now. Charlotte has seen him
    shave. (I think this is also helpful that you literally just wrote the
    scene on it, thus it’s fresh in your mind ;-})

  28. James: omit

  29. James: is

  30. Luke: Well this line doesn’t make much sense.

    James: nope! But that’s okay

  31. James: excellent! (Though I’m not buying the tears)

  32. Luke: Foreshadowing? Can Raul get shot with an arrow in the final battle? Or maybe as they get into the castle? Original plan called for C and R to run to the king’s room together, maybe…No, nevermind, leave that be. You need C, a CWer, and the sword to prove a point.

    Still, arrow in the knee? ;-} (I’m actually picturing the shoulder. A flesh wound only.)

  33. James: The inspectors would be in the city… or just at the wall, right? Their thorough scan is what is causing the hold up? This line makes it sound like they’re all up and down the river on the boats… which doesn’t make much sense, because an inspected boat given a pass could then sneak stuff on board and enter the city after an inspection.

  34. James: I’ll be honest… I’m not so fond of this. I mean, if your heart is set on it, sure, but I like blue being just a skeleton, y’know? A faint magical glow that is just beyond the edge of vision, okay, but glowing eyes? its a bit much. What’s the rationalization for it?

    Luke: Sometimes I feel you’re too hung up on complete rationalization of everything. Blue is alive, even though he’s just a skeleton. He’s held together by magic, and I like that magic manifesting in his eyes. Also, maybe he took on a new name in his time alive, and “Blue” actually came from his remarkably blue eyes. So in death, and afterlife-life, he held on to that. Conveniently, magic manifests with a blue tinge.
    THERE’S your rationalization. ;-}

    James: Still don’t like it. And i know you think i’m hung up on it… its because i’m teying hard to makeyou think about your magic. In the e d, it all comes down to “its magic!” So the point may be moot, but this goes back to pur earliest talks on the subject. Thi gs happening just because isn’t the best way to tell a story

  35. Luke:  A quick “he doesn’t know he’s a skeleton” joke I did at the end of a session and is not funny or making of the sense. I added to it at a new session; I don’t think I fixed anything.

    James: I actually rather like the joke

    Luke: But the language, the wording… It’s not there yet.

  36. James: after the buildup in Charlotte’s dialogue? I expected some sneaking or something at the very least

    Luke: Irony?

  37. James: exactly how many boats can fit in the docks here? Hundreds might be a stretch (but might not! I am again asking non-rhetorically. I haven’t actually thought it out)

    Luke: Well, if it’s not actually hundreds, why would there be such a delay? I guess dozens is still a lot, but the whole point is that there’s a backlog… I dunno. This is part of why I struggled with getting them on a boat. I don’t think I ever fully understood / got invested in this “get in by the river” thing.

    Whatever happened to there being a sewer. We talked about a sewer way back when…

    They could go through a sewer, come out in the docks, face off against Cobbs and Nolon, steal their clothes because sewer, gross…

    James: The sewer was where they met Blue!

  38. James: word choice

  39. James: whoever is at the front of the line, I would imagine. Think crossing a border.

    Luke: Yeah, I don’t like this whole boat thing.

    NOTE: At our next conversation, James and I had a long conversation about why I “didn’t like this boat thing”, which didn’t necessarily resolve anything, but was a potential change we’ll make in the future. I mean, really—line or not, one doesn’t just get on a boat…

  40. James: funny, but – is there electricity?

    Luke: There’s magic, there’s lightning, there’s a dead man that’s just a skeleton. The genie quoted Shakespeare, our skeleton can’t see the future?

    Yeah, I heard it as I typed it…

  41. NOTE: We also discussed Blue’s “eyes” lighting up. I really wanted tiny glowing lights, and James didn’t. But he talked me into it because I went back to the three times I mentioned Blue’s “eyes” and tried rewriting them. It worked smoothly and the last time, which is near the end of this section, put in a joke so good I couldn’t pass it up. Anyways, for this part, my rewrite was this:

    “He slumped, his bones sagging within the invisible muscles and tendons that held him together. “You know my…”

  42. Luke: “His empty face somehow conveying a sense of pride and honour.”

  43. Luke: Water based pun. (A real one.)

    James: “… have a hull of a time” [<—Luke’s favourite] “… ship out.” “… finally have a porpoise” “… keel himself” etc.

  44. James: italics

  45. James: This word is perfectly fine and proper, but I still have an irrational hatred of it.

    Luke: Noted. Ignored.

    (Though I’m actually okay cutting “Aloud, she said.” Just have her say it. Not telling required.)

  46. James: true story: I have Raul not immediately saying something that comes to mind in the section I’m working on right now. Synergy!

  47. Luke: Fuck you, you can’t stop me from calling it that! Mwhahaha! I am drunk on my writerly power! WRITERLY POWER!!!!!!!!1

    James: I actually really like it. I mean, it doesstop up the only pass over the western razorbacks in the region. Thematically, its great

    Luke: ;-} I knew you would

  48. James: uhhhhmmmm…. are you getting east and west backwards?

    Luke: …depends on what I was thinking. Which are the Western lands? The Cottonwood and all the places that exist with it? Or did I intend the “Western lands” to be that from which Fort City-ers originally came, i.e. over the water?

    I honestly don’t remember.

  49. James: given how often she interrupts the narrative, we might not need these signifiers.

    Luke: Sometimes, I like them. 🙂

  50. James: encountered?

  51. Luke: Is the mighty hat still described earlier? Double check.

    James: nope!

    Luke: I’m questioning whether there will even be a ship by the end, so I’m not too worried about a hat now.

  52. James: the action in this bit is good, but I’m a little lost on what shape this boat is. Its been various described as a boat, a ship and a barge, all of which float, but are different. We’ll need to iron it out a little, get a better picture of what this thing looks like in a re-draft

  53. James: this played out quite differently than I imagined, but I dig it

  54. Luke: I know it’s ne’er, but Sergeant Nolon doesn’t. Get it?

  55. Luke: Again, I know ;-P

  56. Luke: Charlotte knows, too, but she’s trying to get them to understand.

  57. Luke: What? I’m pretty sure this is actually how it’s spelled…

  58. Luke: Well. That was fun 😀

    James: It was, but I’m worried the names are too on the nose, especially when Nolan and Cobb are real names.

    Luke: It still makes me chuckle every time, so you’ll get no support here.

  59. James: “babes” may be more Raul-y

    Luke: Agreed.

  60. NOTESo, here’s the moment that made me agree to “no eyes for Blue”:

    “…avert your…’ Charlotte looked to Blue, his empty sockets ernest, “, and, your, uh…things you use for seeing.”

    Chance for a joke because Blue has no eyes, and a chance for Charlotte to use Blue-speak.

  61. James: “Hell, I was born IN it!”

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