My little works, 2/3

The last bit closed with a mention of Microsoft Word, the instrument of my scribbling until I discovered LaTeX (and later, WordPress); and that idea of writing software, though, leads from these school-related preludes to the first big thing that I really wrote and was excited about. Though it remained unfinished it was for a long, long time the longer thing I wrote; it was probably at the range of 50 000 words (or the NaNoWriMo limit); and it was a beauty.

The story begins with a computer game. The game’s name is Angband; it is an ASCII-based dungeon crawl much like Nethack. Unlike in Nethack, you don’t die of starvation or eating monster flesh. You, rather too often, die by being beaten to death by a yellow worm mass, a green slime, or an obnoxious drunk. (“What? How come these village people can hit back aaaaargh.”) The game’s basic situation is this: there’s a village with weapon shops and magic shops and the like; and there’s a staircase underground, with one hundred levels of monsters to kill and treasures and better weapons to find; at the bottom is Morgoth Bauglir himself, and you’re out to clobber him. Not quite the original Tolkien setting, but a smashing good game. Some years later I became rather attached to my then-character, Ocula the cyclops with an enchanted leather jacket and the fearsome Chainsword for a weapon; but back in the days of the junior high, when I was fourteen or fifteen or so, I happened to play a half-orc, who then took and died, as happens a lot when I play a computer game. (A half-orc because that version of Angband didn’t let one play a full orc; orcs’re for clobbering, not for playing.)

It struck me that the structure of such a game would be a perfect fit for my talents as a storyteller: a character or characters buy weapons, go downwards, do derrings and smite everyone they encounter; then they go back up, to presumably drink and carouse, whatever that might be. I wrote a beginning of a story; it had a dwarf and a high elf and (probably) a human mage in it; then (a) “What? It’s too long for Notepad to handle? What is it with this Microsoft shit?” and (b) “What? I deleted it by accident? Dag nabbit!”

After some fuming I opened a new document in Microsoft Word, wrote two sappy lines along the, er, lines of “To the memory of characters #1, #2 and #3 — may your memories never be forgotten.” Then the same in a Tengwar font. Pretty pompous for the stars of a few thousand words of irrevocably lost narrative; but that’s what being under eighteen is.

Then I got to work: and that was the genesis of “Angband stories II : the Half-Orc”, an epic-gritty adventure narrative which ran for over one hundred shortish chapters, for tens of thousands of words, and actually was in part read and rather liked by my brother. As this was a younger brother, the older one of those two, his approval doesn’t necessarily mean it was any good; but I loved it and he liked it and that was all that was necessary for it to go on.

The plot began deep in those dungeons of one hundred levels; from the beginning on they were dungeons whose final denizen was at best unknown, and at worst just a legend. The Tolkien references dropped away quite immediately; no Sauron nor Saruman ever came in. Instead, something a lot more difficult stayed in.

Our main character, the inspiredly named Gluk, was first met in slaughter; his troop of orcs, marching upwards under the command of a lately demented chieftain, was ambushed by a band of high elves that were, on a Deep Secret Mission X, taking a part in the general adventurer-raider activity that was the game, and gave the story its various other main characters.

The high elves kill all of the orcs and leave; the much-bullied half-orc Gluk crawls from under a pile of corpses, shivering and retching, and finds himself all alone and on his own for the first time in his life. Not that the company of full-blooded orcs has been all that nice, orcs being fiercely racist bastards, but there are worse things down and around in the dungeons. Luckily, the elves’ leaders had a bit of a spat between them before they, too, left the scene: the gruff and ruthless veteran was angry at the young, inexperienced and very noble new commander that had been sent from the big high-elven cities in the west. The veteran engineered a murder that looked like a wight attack; after the elves left, this left our half-orc Gluk to loot the fallen elf’s body of all its various high-class magical treasures. (Come to think of it, this was supposed to be a sympathetic, spunky, a tad cowardly and a lot ignorant main character — didn’t happen to think if looting a still warm corpse was likely to make him more so!)

After thus acquiring more magical objects than he could have ever imagined existed, Gluk pranced round the caves (my inspired name for them was Luolat — i.e. “the Caves”) with ever-growing confidence, until he fell into the proverbial deep shit, and was rescued by someone who thought Gluk a fellow adventurer and dungeon raider come from the world above — and this rescuer was a diminutive, stocky person with a hint of hairiness in his feet.

Yes, without much thought at all I plopped a Hobbit adventurer into the story; that was either the smartest or the dumbest thing I ever did.

Dumbest, because while elves and dwarves and orcs have grown quite generic, there aren’t really that much Hobbits outside Tolkien.

Smartest, because this led first to the Dungeons and Dragons solution (“Let’s downplay the hairy feet and call him a halfling!”), and then into seriously and at length think-writing about what the world of the story actually was like; what was it like up there somewhere?

Meanwhile, Gluk and his newly found, stereotypically diverse and obscenely lucky and combat-proficient friends vanquished a few warlocks, re-encountered the shadowy-sinister high elf rangers, sneaked in disguise through a vast encampment of bad people, and otherwise engaged in the heroic stunt and waking from a coma to hear the rest of the battle trade. Then they headed back upwards, to R&R, to drink wine and beer and repair their gear, and the like.

(It’s a bit funny that I wrote a few getting-drunk scenes and a few more cataclysmic hangover scenes, but I’ve never drunk alcohol in my life. Then again, at one youth camp I played the part of a druggie-alkie for educationary purposes (“How would you do if this person asked you for money?”), and was much praised for the realness of my performance. How are you supposed to answer to something like that?)

The troop came up to the surface; and my frenzy of trying to find out where they were exploded into maps and scales and histories and gods and the like. (“I’ve said this brawny character Bron is a northman from a cold place — let’s say it is there. And because that place’s not frozen, I need a barrier range!”) And then my characters decided they didn’t want to go back into the caves just yet.

Gluk and a few others struck west over the hills and through a wood to visit a mage’s old master, and then south to destroy a frightening and possibly apocalyptical crystal ball in the fires of a dragon. The dragon was lying in an open-air hall atop a mountain, with steps leading down to the capital of the elven kingdom it had a long time ago ravaged to make and decorate its home.

The dragon was not of a mind to be used as a blowtorch, and a battle ensued, ending in the near-accidental destruction of the crystal. The dragon’s hall was a whole level carved out of the top of the mountain, the very top of it held up by four immense pillars that gave the hall four huger window openings into the thin airs outside. There was a battle-related development of crystal-released sheets of power, which struck out these pillars, and the dragon was squished by the top of the mountain. (As was the majority of his treasure.)

After that the rest of the Gluk crowd went into varying directions, new characters and relatives of the old ones appeared; there even was a low-key romance between an elven mage and a human priestess; low-key because I had, for the reason of inexperience, no idea whatsoever of how to write it. (Also, this might not have been a persuasive argument to present to a possible future girlfriend.)

Then the seven avatars of the element gods appeared, anointed the elf mage as their supreme vessel of power for the coming crisis, and a crisis came. (I, the writer, scratched my head and said: “What the heck is going on?”)

There was a whole lot of the plot thickening, then: an orc-city of the Bloodrose coming back from the dimension of its demon allies, where it was banished by the gods at the end of a particularly nasty war a long time ago (basically the gods decimated both the orcs and the elves and told them to behave or there would be some really big shit raining down), and two half-orc, half-demon brothers who were bad news had now come back, immortal and immoral and unchanged and driven by their full-demon mother and her allies; and there was an army of Easterlings marching in from the south, and a giant Serpent rising out of a lake in the east, and in the west there was a ship crawling to a vast crooked tower rising from the last of a finger of islands stabbing into the sea, to there find a portal into a land of elemental fire and a sword of flame with a Chosen Bad-Ass Female Barbarian Wielder With Facial Scars — even a flying fortress of the three kinds of mages, out to rescue victims of demons and orcs, give dumpings of info, and be the base of greedy and also self-sacrificingly noble attacks by an individual black robe. (“You thank me for saving you, elf? Thank me if you will. I acted out of my own greed; all else was secondary to my desire.”)

So yeah, the story kind of grew in the telling and got out of hand. The reader can probably see a lot of Tolkien and Dragonlance parallels that, while writing, I didn’t.

Finally I committed the ultimate mistake of thinking “Maybe I won’t write it tonight”; and I never got back to it. I still have the file; but if I got back now, more than ten years later, I would have to rewrite the whole of it before continuing it into any kind of a finish.

(I’ve toyed with the idea, now and then. It would be a question of rooting out the last of the halflings, and making the story a bit more ambiguous and gritty while still keeping it as the sword-and-sorcery slash dungeons-and-dragon stuff it irrevocably is. The sad thing is, when I started it I vowed to myself: “This won’t be one of those world-saving stories! No, this won’t be that!” — which, as related above, the story eventually bloomed into. The genre cannot be denied, indeed. Curiously, I don’t think I ever got as far as into telling how all these portents of the apocalypse tied together. The orcs with demon allies were heading burning and pillaging to the lake where the serpent steamed, but were they allies? Old friends? Rivals, enemies, looking for a pet or a resource? And what did the Easterlings and their cruel king have in mind? And what on earth was the burning sword for? These are the dangers of plotting by the rule of cool.)

The adventure of the Half-Orc was actively written for… a year, maybe? It was started after getting in the junior high, maybe in the second of its three years; and I think it was winding down, unfinished in a tangle of possibles, before I left and entered the real, actual high school and my time of pottering around and not getting much anything of real length done.

Maybe I’ll, some year, take that old scrawl as an extended “plot note” and take the ideas for a whirl with NaNoWriMo. (That’s the only sure way I’ve found to start anything big and get it finished.)

* * *

When in (junior) high school, I wrote a handful of horror stories, too. As it felt altogether unoriginal to copy the Cthulhu mythos tropes (which I was a big fan of), I filed the names off and made up new ones. (Seriously. “I changed the names! Now it is all original!” That’s youth.) There were half a dozen to one dozen of these stories, of Ylyctl who apparently was an old monster god just coincidentally sleeping not dead underwater somewhere; Norua the messenger god of witches that appeared in many forms; even the names echo Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep.

One of the latter’s manifestations was in a story of the venerable “diary of a missing person” form; a recluse documents a recurring nightmare (or was it?) where some malign liquid entity slides over him in the night, forming a mask over his face; and as the mask slides over his eyes, he can see into a different world. He comments if he ever won’t wake before the eyes are in place and he can see the whole of the figure standing in that other place in front of him, he will surely go mad and run screaming into the woods or the world of the monster. Then boom, he disappears, this is his diary, end of story, ominous demented shrieks of laughter.

Then there were stories of car-sized paws of dog demons clawing through dimensions at those who dare to spill blood on sand-buried Egyptian altars; people running around because there were evil cult leaders and pseudo-werewolves around; and a city gent who was afraid to go outside because he feared the wind would snatch him up and carry him away. This last was, I think, inspired by Merkilliset kirjoitukset, a collection of Lovecraft pastiches and other writings by S. Albert Kivinen, a Finnish academician. (The story Keskiyön mato Ikaalisissa, “The midnight worm in the village of Ikaalinen”, was an eye-opener: what a shock to notice you didn’t have to set these stories in New England backwoods; you could take the cold, quiet Finnish countryside you knew and have dholes and ghouls there too!)

* * *

Third and last part drops tomorrow: after fantasy and the weird fiction, the really weird fiction!

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