Here's an excerpt from a pretty interesting scene in Blackflame. I'll do a more in-depth explanation of some of the (many) things that changed over Blackflame's development in my next post, but for now I'll just tell you the minimum to set up the scene.
This is an alternate take on Lindon's ascension to Jade. It involves a new character: Lezaar, the Arelius family refiner, who is contracted to a small fire-lizard named Ketaarus. Lezaar was removed and his role in the plot largely given to Cassias, but I had already written out this scene as a sort of test run.
For your amusement, I have left this scene exactly as it was when I wrote it in 2017. My notes are in there, a bunch of typos are in there, and probably some stupid lines too.
It's not even a first draft, really, just a sort of speculative scene to get a feel for the character. None of this was ever made fit for human consumption.
Go easy on me! (And click Read More to read.)
Lezaar twirled the black-stemmed flower between his twisted fingers. It must be burning him, but he gave no sign of discomfort.
“An ideal specimen,” he said. “Pity you couldn't keep the second one.”
Lindon bowed to express the regret he didn't feel; he was lucky to have escaped with his life and the pack on his back.
Lezaar chuckled, pulling his black hood back to see better in the fading evening sunlight that filtered through the windows of his private chamber. “I'm not blaming you, boy. It's a remarkable feat to have escaped Oerthon. Remarkable.”
The servant's chambers looked like they belonged to a strange alchemist that occasionally worked for a menagerie. It was spacious enough, but cluttered, filled with strange devices and loose animals. An owl looked blearily down from a square lantern that hung from the ceiling. Two rats swarmed around an urn with purple light bubbling out from under the lid. One decorative wall scroll depicted a horde of bulls charging beneath a fruit tree. A yellow snake coiled around an unlit brazier, and something scuttled behind a rack of jade bottles as soon as Lindon tried to get a good look at it.
Ketaarus, the red lizard, still slept on Lezaar’s shoulder. Lindon thought he could hear the tiny creature snoring.
Lezaar held the flower over a jade cauldron, intricately carved with twining dragons. “What do you know about the refinement of elixirs, young Lindon?” [NOTE: look at Lezaar's dialogue again. Also, how does he refer to Lindon?]
“Almost nothing, regrettably,” Lindon said, stepping around a clucking chicken to get a better look into the cauldron. A script ran all the way around its inner rim. “I would be grateful to learn.”
Lezaar dropped the flower into the bottom of the cauldron, then rolled up his dangling black sleeves. “In principle, it is very simple.” He cupped his hand, and a smooth, almost liquid-looking red fire swirled in his palm. Ketaarus jerked awake, as though startled. “You take your primary ingredient, and you place it into your refinery—” He gestured to the cauldron. “—and then you burn away its physical form.”
He tilted his hand, letting the fist-sized droplet of ruby flame spill inside the bowl. When it met the flower, the fire roared, black sparks dancing among the red flames.
“Fire is not always appropriate for this. Sometimes you must use acid, or crush it to a fine powder, or special types of madra.”
Lindon must have misunderstood the uses of a cauldron. He had always known the fire to go underneath the bowl.
For a few minutes, Lezaar watched the cauldron with an expression of intense focus on his twisted, lumpy face. Finally, at some signal Lindon couldn't see, he waved his hand.
The fire died out instantly, leaving an empty cauldron.
Lindon looked at him, but the old servant seemed satisfied. Finally, he thought to open up his Copper sight.
The inside of the cauldron rolled with Blackflame aura, fresh and dense. There were even a few other colors—a deeper red, some sparks of vibrant green, a steady yellow.
“Now, we have to capture that aura in a compatible physical substance.” He reached into a nearby jar, withdrawing something that looked like a dried-up worm, and dropped it inside the cauldron. A handful of pink seeds followed, then a pinch of salt that tried to squirm away from Lezaar's fingers, and finally a small ivory flask of water. A thousand pairs of eyes were reflected in the surface of that water, but not the room.
“These ingredients all have their own special circumstances. We often work with Soulsmiths, you know—they're concerned only with the Remnants, while we find the bodies they left behind equally fascinating.” The cauldron was now a riot of differently colored auras, with red predominating and a strong thread of black throughout.
Lezaar reached into a chamber beneath the cauldron, spilling another liquid-looking fireball inside. Within moments, a blood-tinged fire roared. As he waited for the strange soup inside to boil, he withdrew a rounded club of bone from a drawer.
“The ingredients you choose are all part of a delicate balancing act. You must counteract the prime ingredient so that it is not so powerful it cannot be digested, while at the same time, you wish to complement its effects to bring out the potency to its fullest. There is no substitute for experience in this, I have found.”
The water came to a boil remarkably quickly, and Lezaar began using the yellowed bone as a pestle, crushing the seeds and the dried worm, blending them in with the salt. Sparks of light splashed up, landing on his arms...but his leathery skin was covered in many glossy burn scars already.
Lindon took one prudent step away from the table, though he was already wondering if he could beg Eithan for one of these cauldrons. Refining didn't seem too difficult, in theory; he could at least start with simple recipes, as he had with scripting and Soulsmithing.
“Forgive my curiosity, but what Path do you follow?” Lindon asked. If refining only required him to have a fire-aspect Path, he could qualify with the Path of Blackflame.
Lezaar chuckled even as he crushed more ingredients. They were starting to form a rough, grainy paste. “The Path of the Falling Sun, I suppose. That was the Path of my family, but they were lost when I was only a boy. I was only trained up to Iron, and I lost the opportunity to adopt one of their Remnants, so I missed out on any skills I might have inherited in that way. Thanks to Ketaarus sharing his power with me, I was still able to reach Lowgold, but I fear the techniques I use now are...unique.”
“It sounds as though the heavens shone upon you, finding Ketaarus as you did.”
“I am grateful to him,” Lezaar said, pausing in his work to run a finger down the lizard's head. “He was the one to initiate our Contract, and he expressed his gratitude by doing so. He advanced himself in intelligence and awareness, if not in the sacred arts, and I was able to share his power.” Lezaar shot another red spark beneath the cauldron.
[NOTE: needs another personal touch here, probably.]
After only another moment of furious blending, Lezaar reached into the cauldron with his bare hands and scooped out the pink paste. It was smooth now, with the consistency of fresh dough, and he kneaded it on the surface of the table. There wasn't much left—barely enough to cover one palm, spread out.
“This is another tricky step, and it largely comes down to timing,” Lezaar said, folding the paste and crushing it into the table again. “You send your spirit into the material, sensing its changes even as you knead it. You have to sense small changes—work it too much, and you will lose potency in the elixir. Work it too little, and it will not form properly.”
Sweat was running down the lines of Lezaar's face, and Lindon watched in silence. At no signal he could see, the servant finally rolled the paste into a ball the size of Lindon's thumbnail, dropping it into a waiting saucer of what seemed to be milk.
Lezaar panted, wiping his face off with his sleeve. “This is a settling agent, which I prepared last night. It's the same recipe for most pills of similar type, though sometimes you have to make small adjustments.” Only seconds later, he scooped the pill out with a long-handled spoon. Now the outside was swirled white and pink.
[NOTE: thread this entire process with smells, starting from the smell of Lezaar's room with all the animals in it and coming to now.]
The resulting smell was heavy and sweet, as though he'd just pulled a honeyed roll from the oven, but it carried an undercurrent of spice. Lezaar weighed the pill on his palm, considering for a moment, before another liquid flame boiled up from his hand and covered the elixir.
The flame disappeared in an instant, leaving the pill looking glossy and firm, as though it had been lacquered.
“Allow me to present to you an elixir that the Blackflame family often commissioned when training their children: the Pill of the Burning Moon.” He held out the pill, turning it in his fingers so that the white-and-pink swirls caught the light. “They would give one of these to their children before every advancement. It contains weeks' worth of fiery aura, already purified and distilled, ready to be converted into madra. You will be cycling for days once you take this, but the result will be unparalleled. For anyone on the Blackflame Path, this is indispensable—the Imperial family used to confer a title and a fortune on anyone versed in the formation of this pill.”
Startled, Lindon looked up before he took the pill. “A title? Then, if you'll pardon my lack of manners, why...”
He hesitated, trying to think of the least offensive way to ask his question.
“What need have I for titles?” Lezaar asked, spreading his hands. After a second, he reached up and pushed Ketaarus back up onto his shoulder. “Cassias' father, the previous head of the Arelius family, defended my ancestors for centuries. Without him, I would never have been born.” He gave a hideous grin. “Besides, I never said I didn't take the fortune. Refining is an expensive discipline, and these little children eat like you wouldn't believe.”
A piglet squeaked from beneath his feet.
Lindon bowed and took the pill. “I am in your debt.” Before putting it into his mouth, he hesitated. “Should I take it now, or...”
“I suspect he will tell you what to do,” Lezaar said, bowing toward the doorway.
Eithan stood in the door, scooping up a puppy who was trying to escape and depositing him onto the floor. “What is there to worry about? Take it now; it should solve a good number of your problems.”
Lindon's memory was too clear to accept that without question. “It's only that, when I advanced to Iron, it was...” Unending agony. A feeling like he would never breathe again. A foul stench and humiliation as impurities were squeezed out of every pore in his body. “...a mess.”
“The advancement to Iron is unique,” Eithan said dismissively. “Raising to Jade does have an effect on the body, preparing it to handle the greater burden of the soul, but nothing so dramatic. Besides, this is simply meant to give you a head start on your Blackflame Path; I never said you would advance to Jade.”
[NOTE: make it clear that someone without a perfect Iron body would experience a much more dramatic advancement to Jade. His goes smoothly because his foundation is solid.]
Lindon gave a shallow bow in lieu of an apology, then swallowed the pill. It tasted like sweet fire.
“...I never said that, but you will actually advance to Jade. Right now. “
Lindon's eyes widened as he stared at the Underlord, looking for signs of a joke.
Eithan waved to the floor. “Sit down, start cycling. The last thing you want is Blackflame madra running through your body uncontrolled. You don't want to burn up from the inside, do you?”
Lindon dropped to the floor as though his knees had collapsed, hurriedly crossing his legs. He kept his pure core shut, channeling power from the red-and-gray core, cycling it into his madra channels.
A multi-colored light slid down his throat, beginning to creep into his channels. Red and black dominated, though many colors were present. The power of the pill.
He began cycling it hurriedly, bringing it back into his core and running it in loops throughout his body. If he could process it fast enough, then maybe...
The medicinal power of the pill started to dissolve into him, and he began to burn. Interestingly, it didn't hurt. At least not as much as he'd expected. The power of the pill flooded him, searing the inside of his madra channels, which he felt as a sort of heated pressure on his spirit. As though the red-and-black energy flowing through him was more like hot water than a dark flame.
He pushed the madra through himself in the same cycling technique he'd used in the cave, absorbing it into his core and pushing the excess out through his skin. He hadn't worn his parasite ring, which he briefly regretted; it would have made this process more difficult, but he hated to miss out on any advantage. If he could extract even a whisker more effectiveness from this pill...
But he quickly forgot about the ring. This was nothing like cycling aura. Nothing. Aura was hard to hold inside him; it seemed to fight against him, straining to be released. The power of the medicine, on the other hand, was even smoother and easier to control than his own madra. Where aura would have left a slight stain on his core, the excess to be vented from his pores, the energy from the pill flooded his core and stayed there.
When he tried to vent the extra power, only a vague black haze emerged.
With his madra channels scalded and his core filled to bursting, Lindon just kept cycling. He didn't know what else to do; he felt as though he'd tried to swallow a whole chicken, and if he didn't focus on pushing it down, he'd choke.
The core, stretched beyond capacity, began to change. In his spiritual sense, it swelled to a light the size of his fist, packed with black flames that were streaked with red. As he continued to process the Burning Moon Pill [NOTE: name?], it grew more distinct, until it was as though a Blackflame fireball swirled in his spirit, just to the right of his navel.
The smaller channels that twisted throughout his body, the ones that he'd created when raising to Iron, began to fill with Blackflame madra. When he cycled the power outward, flames began to burn through his Arelius sacred artist's uniform.
He was vaguely aware of Lezaar's hunched form shepherding animals away from him. Eithan leaned closer, yellow hair falling around his face.
“Jade is perhaps the simplest stage to reach, barring Copper. It works in conjunction with your Iron body, opening your physical form to spiritual senses.”
Indeed, madra was flooding every inch of Lindon's body, from his heart to his fingertips. His shoes burst into flames, but they didn't seem to hurt.
None of it hurt, this time; he felt only detached, as though his mind had separated from the rest of him and was trying to float away.
“Focus on your breathing,” Eithan advised him, voice still calm. “Keep the madra turning, keep your core under control, keep your second core closed.”
Lindon kept his mind turned inward, shutting out the physical sensations of his clothes burning and sloughing off. He sunk into the same timeless state of concentration he'd used to harvest aura from underground chamber number three, simply moving his madra like a hand turning a crank.
The heat in his channels grew fiercer, the pressure in his core greater, and more than ever he felt as though his brain would float right through his skull and into the ceiling...
Then the sensations slammed to a halt, like he'd hit the surface of a lake after falling for minutes.
His core was a seething ball of Blackflame madra, dense and steady, turning like a dark sun within him. His channels had been scoured clean until they felt fresh and tender, so that cycling madra into them would surely hurt like scraping an open wound. And his head was finally screwed back on; he felt solid again, whole again.
But he was aware of things he wasn't before.
Lezaar and Eithan both had a sense of presence he'd never noticed, as though he could point to them even if they were standing right behind him. They gave off impressions he couldn't quite explain, just like aura did—Lezaar felt like he should let off heat, even though he didn't, and Eithan gave the sense that he was sitting in the center of a constantly vibrating web. Like a man who was listening to someone else even when he was right there.
Eithan smiled and brushed off his hands. “Lezaar, if you don't mind, would you give me a spare outfit for him?”
Lezaar spun in place. “I...I'm sorry, Underlord, I'm sure I have an outer robe, but as for a sacred artist's uniform...”
“In your components cabinet, beside the stingworm. I put it there yesterday.”
The servant let out a sound of relief instead of surprise, as though it were quite usual for Eithan to hide things in his quarters.
Lindon reached out and covered himself with a book: Three Stories of the Green House. “Am I really Jade now? So...soon?”
So easily, he actually meant. He hadn't had to suffer through weeks of agony or a hellish trial.
“Yes, finally. You've already begun to notice the finer points, I think, but let's make sure everything is in working order before the real work begins.”
“The real work?”
“Don't worry about that. Now close your eyes.”
Reluctantly, Lindon did so.
“Where is the cauldron?”
Lindon started to say he wasn't sure, as advancing to Jade had ruined his orientation in the room, but he realized he could feel something in the corner of the room. It felt heavy and hot, as though it were cooling down.
He pointed, and Eithan said, “Now, where is Ketaarus?”
Lindon pointed to Lezaar immediately, whose presence still burned hot and clear in his mind...but he realized what the question meant an instant later. Ketaarus was a clear, bright pinpoint over Lezaar's shoulder. He adjusted his finger, and Eithan clapped him on the head.
He opened his eyes.
[NOTE: need some thrill here. He just gained a sixth sense.]
[NOTE: also need some kind of a joke about the fact that advancing seems to always cost him a set of clothes.]
“Congratulations on reaching Jade, Wei Shi Lindon Arelius.”
Lindon almost dropped the book. “My name...”
Eithan held two fingers to his chin. “You're right, it's long. Well, long names are impressive. I've often thought my own is too short, without any titles attached to it.”
Lezaar returned with a bundle of black and blue cloth in his hands, pleasure beaming on his ugly face. “Congratulations, young master,” he said, with a little bow.
Lindon took the clothes and bowed deeply over them.
He had no words.
“Put those on before you go bowing all over the place, if you don't mind,” Eithan said. “It's hard enough seeing everything when people are wearing clothes, this...just makes it worse. We have a lot of work to do yet today.”
Lindon ducked behind a standing cabinet to pull on the loose blue pants. He slipped the shirt on, tying a sash around his waist, and then put the robe on over the rest. This one was slightly different from what he had been wearing—the black crescent of the Arelius was emblazoned large on the back, as well as small and over the heart.
“I'm eager to return to work,” Lindon said, thinking of his pack. He had a jade badge waiting for him, and he was more than ready to put it on.
“That's good, because I prepared days ago. It's time for you to learn some techniques.”
Of the Cradle series
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