Damien Discovered

Damien focused. His posture, his breathing, his attention. His hand passed across the half blank page and the sound of the pen scratching out letters and images were the only subtle noise in the room. The large wooden table was flat, different from the ones the others used. There were a few blank pieces of parchment ready to be used next to him, and three completed sheets further away, having dried in the afternoon sunlight. His thoughts were on the flow of his hand copying the text. Its angle, its position on the paper relative to the original text beside him, how much he pressed the nib into the parchment.

In part the focus was to make the copy an exact match to the original. More importantly, it was to avoid accidentally invoking any incantations embedded in the text. It was rare to come across them in the advanced writings of the Archmages of the times before the War of Judgment. It was far more common to come across them in the texts of Demons and Fallen Angels. If one were to cast, it was usually destructive and deadly. Spells could summon dark creatures, or compel the reader to immolate themselves or murder others. But by focusing less on the meaning and more on the calligraphy of the text, even as hacked and crude as a Fallen’s Heresy, a transcriber could not form the incantation correctly in their mind. This disassociation was crucial. It was one of Damien’s strongest talents and it has kept him alive.

Damien found a beauty in all of the texts. As he mixed his inks for the Fallen’s journal, he thought about the passion embodied by the author. By picturing her emotional state, he could objectify it; try to understand how it affected their artistic style. It affected not just the penmanship, but the words they chose, their grammar; all helped to shape his understanding of their frame of reference and even their outlook on their existence. This ability to avoid contemplating the text itself had propelled him past most of the other Librarians and granted him the more difficult tasks. There were certainly others better at this than him, Mage Capric, Sensei Thendrick, Sensei Mourn; but he was the youngest and arguably the best illustrator among them. If the text had images, he could copy them. If the script was thin and flowing or thick and hacked, it would be difficult to see a difference with his copy. He could duplicate ink tones to match originals precisely, and knew how to make them last generations. He could even craft and cut the paper to either match the original or preserve the book many lifetimes. And he was quick, though that was usually only mentioned to annoy Capric.

He had worked the day through on the journal and the evening meal was almost done being served. He intentionally didn’t rush his work and decided to end. Typically he didn’t mind finishing in the middle of a sentence. Letters, symbols, they were all the same. But the author was recounting a complicated plot to avenge the seduction of her lover by a minor demon and he felt compelled to finish the paragraph. Unfortunately, it had been this way throughout the book. Arora, a Fallen of considerable magical power, had a way of expressing herself that drew him in. More than any other book, Damien found the story and the person fascinating. It was happening again, and he took a moment to run through a breathing exercise designed to center the mind.

He focused on the fact that the lines were thicker when the demon’s name was mentioned or the act of vengeance itself, implying that the pen was pressed harder. However; as she articulated the feelings of satisfaction, or the state he would leave the body, it was with pride – flourish and solid lines. His favorite passages came when she discussed her feelings for her lover. Originally, they were casual lines, simple and whimsical; she was enjoying her time with him and content. As the relationship progressed, the script was more deliberate and decisive; she became less enamored and more passionate. When she suspected the affair, the text was scratchy and frantic; she was more agitated and her thoughts scattered. Damien felt guilty for taking in so much of her and her story, and even that feeling served to distract him until the moment when he realized that he had triggered a summoning incantation. There was someone standing behind him.

“Tell me,” came the smooth, feminine voice a few yards behind him, “what is so intriguing about my journal that would make you want to copy my personal thoughts?”

Damien tried to process her words as quickly as possible. He had not heard the sharp, halting tones of Heresy in years, since training with Mage Capric. He stood slowly while he thought and set his pen on the desk. He tried to keep his heart and breath slow. He didn’t turn.

“Forgive my intrusion,” he started, “I have been given a task to copy the works of those that survived the years of War of Judgment. Yours was among them. I meant no disrespect.”

She paused and he could sense she was smiling incredulously. He hoped that the summoning had been noticed by the mages. The one outside the double doors warming at the brazier apparently did not.

“So, where is this?” she asked.  Her voice carried as she scanned the room.

“You are in a private scriptorium in the Library of Glauhaven.”

“I see,” she said.  Her voice trailed, indicating that she was glancing around.  “It’s impressive.”  She paused.  “So tell me what you think about the text,” she continued. Damien could hear her sharp footfalls across the stone floor and onto the large woven rug in the middle of the room.  He needed to stop her.

13 thoughts on “Damien Discovered

  1. calgal says:

    I like the idea of a mystical copyist. That’s interesting, and a great launching pad for a fun story. Here are my comments:
    I read the entire excerpt, however, I felt it was repetitious, and frequently found myself rereading sentences to puzzle through what was going on. I think withholding facts from the reader at the start of the story does not serve you well. For example, make it clear right away that Damien is a talented copyist, not an inattentive writer. I had to go back and reread the 1st paragraph once I figured out what he was really doing, and you don’t want that. Readers want to know what’s going on, and be included in the story, especially when they’re first getting to know the main characters. Small details also tripped me up (You mention he uses a flat table, unlike “the others.” Right away the flow of the story stopped while I thought “Who are the others, and do they use bumpy tables? Why does it matter?” “The others” never show up again in this excerpt, and we never find out why a flat table is an important detail to include. And maybe it’s not important, but it derailed my reading, and that’s the point.) Paragraph 3 feels repetitious – we already get the gist of what Damien’s doing; any vital information could be wrapped into paragraph 2. At the end, I assume “the voice” is ghostly, but again, withheld information is not serving you well. It made me impatient with the story, and unwilling to read further.

    I think you have a good idea and offer my comments in what I hope is a helpful spirit. Good luck with your writing!

    • Jeff Ziegler says:

      Thanks, Calgal. I do appreciate the comments and know they are meant to help. I definitely will take them to heart and do some sanding.

  2. chickinwhite says:

    I really like this one! Your voice has something that draws me in. Very good description of the athmosphere. I can see him sit and feel his passion for what he does. Well done.
    And I very much like the idea.
    I´m just not convinced by the beginning.I can´t say what exactly it is that disturbes me, but I would make a few changes, if only to alter the dynamic of the sentences.
    The sudden appearnce of the female voice is intriguing. I want to know more about who she is, and why he copies her text…
    All in all, I would like to read on!
    Thank you!…

    • Jeff Ziegler says:

      Thanks for the encouragement. The ‘dynamic’ of the sentences… can you elaborate on that? Maybe one example?

  3. Robert Buchko says:

    Overall, the descriptions were good and I liked the writing style. I kind of wish he was a forger, though. That’s what I thought when I started the second paragraph and I perked up a bit. Then I realized he was just copying the text and, while the idea of him having to ignore the text or there would be consequences made it somewhat interesting, I don’t think the dramatic tension is quite where it needs to be for an opening hook. There’s a lot of potential to ramp it up a bit and grab the reader, though.

    I did get confused over whether Damien is ignoring the meaning behind the text he’s copying or delving right into it. At first it seems like he’s divorcing himself, but then it sounds like understanding the text is essential to copying it. Plus, he gets into the stories, which would be tough if he wasn’t absorbing the meaning behind the words. I may have misread, but either way, it may need to be clarified a bit.

    I did notice at least one tense slip up that took me out of the story a bit; I believe it was present perfect when I was expecting past perfect. That’s just nuts and bolts though.

    Keep it up!

    • Jeff Ziegler says:

      Thanks Robert. Part of his character is that he is squeaky, but you sparked me a bit by the forger thing. Some tempting of Damien could be a good character test.

      I will put some effort into that clarification. He -shouldn’t- be paying attention to the text, but he is drawn into this one, and that caused him to slip. Just noting that a little more clear in the beginning will hopefully keep the hook in the reader.

      As for tense – thanks. I have a lot of hammering in that respect throughout the whole text. I know I will find that the hardest.

  4. Robert Buchko says:

    To expand on the dramatic tension comment, I’m getting the impression this job is sort of like being an air traffic controller. One slip up and KABOOM! Maybe go into some of the mistakes others had made in the past to add some weight to the consequences, and then have Damien be distracted by something (we won’t be able to wait to find out what could possibly be so important!) and almost dot a lowercase L instead of an i or something. You know, sweat trickling down the forehead, white-knuckled quill type stuff. 😉

  5. edgett2014 says:

    I love the idea and the way you describe it. My only suggestion would be to change the first paragraph which puts too much description before the hook. I think the following whole passage could be deleted:

    “His hand passed across the half blank page and the sound of the pen scratching out letters and images were the only subtle noise in the room. The large wooden table was flat, different from the ones the others used. There were a few blank pieces of parchment ready to be used next to him, and three completed sheets further away, having dried in the afternoon sunlight.”

    Then the beginning would read:

    “Damien focused. His posture, his breathing, his attention. His thoughts were on the flow of his hand copying the text. Its angle, its position on the paper relative to the original text beside him, how much he pressed the nib into the parchment. In part the focus was to make the copy an exact match to the original. More importantly, it was to avoid accidentally invoking any incantations embedded in the text.”

    You could bring in the room sounds, etc. later, after the hook.

    Other wise, well done! You create an interesting mood.

    • Jeff Ziegler says:

      Thanks. I was sweating when Ellen started the ‘when I stopped reading’ asked for only the first 250 words. My hook was over 700 words in. Getting there faster is likely better, so your advice is sound. I like someone else’s comment about ink color – I am thinking of the descriptions before she appears are more about the work (where he is focusing), and then more on the room as his attention switches. I appreciate the help.

  6. Alex Zaykov says:

    The story definitely got me interested. It has a The-Name-of-the-Rose feeling, which is great and I can relate to it in many ways. The hook with the summoning definitely works although, I think, the hard part from that point on is how the scene and the whole plot would develop to avoid turning into a cliché.
    now, my five cents:
    – For a talented and somewhat experienced copyist Damien falls too naively into the trap of summoning. There are quite a few safety measures and fail-safes that come to my mind when I read. I need more convincing about why Damien is fooled/spellbound/lured into it, but that may just be me. 🙂
    – The description of Damien’s work and craft may be presented in a more personal light to avoid overwhelming the reader. The color of the ink that he mixes for the particular book may be red like blood, the ribbon in the hair of the cow girl or something else he remembers. The technique of staying aloof from the meaning of the text may be shown, not told, through his mental effort, the pictures that run through his mind as he struggles to keep his mind away from the meaning. He may have a favorite letter or a drawing which tells us something about him as a person…

    I really like the story and I hope it turns into a bestseller. 🙂

    You’re welcome to take a look at my beginning – “The Paeonian” in Historical.

    • Jeff Ziegler says:

      Thanks Alex.

      Seeing why the hook is deep into Damien is good advice and would help draw the reader in. I will try to make it happen.
      The hooks about his needed ‘distractions’ is good, and I like tying it to the craft and his immediate surroundings. I mention a mental exercise – those play a more serious part later, and bringing it a bit forward may have benefits.
      Thanks again. I will make “The Paeonian” on of my (minimum) five. 🙂

  7. Melissa says:

    I really liked the idea of this story. If I had to comment negatively on anything it would be that Damien is supposed to be really good at what he does so in my opinion he falls into the trap to easily, I would try to add something more that makes him fall prey.
    Good luck,

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