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    Jeff the Green's Avatar

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    Default [Unfinished Novella; PEACH] A Tale of Living Wood

    I kind of suck at writing character backgrounds, or at least skirt-like ones. I so often fail to finish them because I keep adding details and extraneous characters and subplots.

    This is the background for a dryad character I'm playing right now in an Eberron campaign. And per usual, it's growing by the day. Since one of my goals for the year has been to work on my fiction writing, I thought I'd post it here as I work on it. I'd appreciate any comments, questions, critiques, or suggestions you might have. Feel free to rip into it on any level, from typos to grammar to sentence structure to characterization to plot.

    Prologue:
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    It was the first day of Atalanteia's 300th year and Art had taken her to The Oak and Vine, an establishment in the Platinum Heights that made up for its name with the best wine in Breland and a view of the Dagger River that was rivaled only by the towers of the the city's richest plutocrats. 'Teia—the full five syllables were far too cumbersome for everyday use—would enter her tercentenial in style if her friend had anything to say about it.

    The establishment was built around a single central bar. Inside the oblong bar were shelves stretched to the ceiling like a library full of liquors and wines. Tenders drew beer from taps and masterfully juggled bottles and shakers. Their dress was tasteful and understated black, though more than a few displayed or even flaunted their Hospitality Marks. Patrons sat on rich leather stools around the bar or in the more secluded booths along the walls. Tapestries and rugs hung from the ceiling, no two alike, nor indeed from the same place, yet all blended together into a beautiful, and above all chic, atmosphere.

    In the space between the walls and the bar, couples danced to illusory music provided by some celebrated bard that had caught the proprietor's ear. In a week it would be a different one, but the dances would be the same. Art and 'Teia moved through the crowd to one of the more secluded booths.*

    (Perhaps merely saying "moved through" is too vague. 'Teia slid between the whirling couples as though she were part of their dance, her long legs darting and weaving and pivoting.*Art strode. He tramped. He moved through the crowd and allowed the dancers to whir around him like water rushing around a particularly heavy and stubborn boulder.)

    Both arrived at their booth unjostled and a sommelier soon arrived with a wine list, a liquor list, a beer list, and a menu. Forty pages, all together, and not a price to be seen. The Oak and Grape was nothing if not chic.

    After some time consulting the compendium of spirits, the two decided on a bottle of deep, robust red wine from Aundair. Neither of them inquired about the price, but the look on the sommelier's face implied that Art would be parting with a subtantial number of gold coins before the night was through.

    The wine came. The sommelier opened and decanted it, then poured the first glass and handed it to Art. He was not precisely male, but 'Teia projected such an aggressive femininity that the sommelier defaulted to her friend. (Sexism is, of course, the bedrock of fashion, and the Oak and Grape was nothing if not fashionable.) Under normal circumstances 'Teia might have objected to this form of chivalry, but this night she allowed Art this conceit. Art sipped at the wine and smacked his lips. Or at least made the sound of smacking lips. He nodded to the sommelier and poured 'Teia a glass. Before long they were enjoying their second bottle, and then a third.

    Granted, neither of them was particularly affected by the alcohol, but the taste was rich with the notes of chocolate and raspberries and melon that they had learned to distinguish since their retirement. Nearly as sweet was the almost perverse pleasure they derived from the shocked stares of the other patrons; apparently very few warforged patronized the Oak and Vine, and fewer came in with a dryad on their arms.

    "Ah," 'Teia sighed contentedly after her third glass, "this, Art, is why we started adventuring. I'm glad you found this place."

    "Strictly speaking," he corrected, "I started adventuring because you owned me."

    "I didn't own you, I set you free as soon as I was discharged."

    "You can't set a hammer free, or a sword, or even that bow of yours. Until two years ago, you owned me."

    "Do you really resent me that much, Art?" She pouted just slightly, enough for Art to know he was only teasing.

    He gave an exaggerated sigh. "I could never resent you, 'Teia. D'Cannith, maybe, but not you."

    "Well, good."*

    'Teia glanced around the room at the young men—and more than a few women—who had been altogether obviously ogling her in her green dress with the short hem and plunging neckline. It was autumn in Sharn, and 'Teia's crown seemed aflame with red and yellow and orange. A predatory grin spread across her face. "What do you think, should I break a few hearts tonight?"

    Strictly speaking Art couldn't grin back, but he tried. "You always do whether you try or not. I'm going to see if they've managed to discover a drink that works on those of us without brains made of meat."

    As 'Teia fluttered about the bar flirting shamelessly and promiscuously, Art downed liquor after liquor. With his booming business and inorganic brain he could afford it. No one flirted with him, though. Not that he minded—he didn't have the equipment required to act on lust even if he felt it—but it gave him time to think. And as it often did the cogs and springs and mithril and wood that made up his brain drifted to his first memory.


    Chapter 1 (unfinished):
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    There was pain. Momentarily. His thoughts moved jerkily, like he had been pulled into existence against his will and was still trying to catch his balance. His eyes suddenly started to function, his sight blurry for a few moments while the lenses adjusted. And then he saw a woman standing over him. Her skin was milky white, with streaks of a dark brown here and there. In places it peeled into papery plates where new silver bark shown underneath. Her eyes were the bright orange-brown of polished wood, and her crown—it was a crown, not hair—was a rustling riot of greens and yellows. If he had entered the world knowing anything about people except how to hit them, he would have thought her quite strange.

    The woman waved her hand in front of his face. "Did it work? He hasn't moved," she said.

    "I don't know. Can you hear me, Designated 1?" a man's voice asked from out of sight. Designated 1. That was what Art was called before he was Art.

    "I can." Designated 1 responded.

    There was a whoop of joy as the man leaped into sight and twirled the dryad around the room in an awkward jig. He was far shorter than the woman, and Designated 1 tried to sit up, but found that he was restrained at his forehead, chest, arms and legs. Art would have struggled, but Designated 1 accepted the straps and buckles.*

    Once the man released the bark-skinned woman from the dance, she came to Designated 1's side and stroked his arm appraisingly. "So what's next, Aaren?"

    Aaren suddenly reappeared with a curious contraption of lenses and gears across his face. He peered at Designated 1's head through some of the lenses. "Now we test him, my dear."

    The tests were not enjoyable. The first were tests of his senses: could he see, could he hear, did he have proper "nociception." (The artificer was, perhaps, more than moderately obsessed. Consumed. Deranged.) Designated 1 didn't know this word. At least not at first; he grasped it quickly enough as Aaren fired various spells and used various devices to induce various pains. Fire. Cold. Stretching, crushing, cutting. And when the tests broke something like a finger or singed his wooden exterior he'd be repaired, and the test repeated. Though he could, without doubt, run miles without rest the unrelenting pain left Designated 1 exhausted at the end of each day, and though he could not sleep he spent each night in a torpid haze until his tormenters came to begin anew.*

    Throughout these trials only the bark-skinned woman showed concern for Designated 1's pain. When one of his ironwood plates was scorched or split she carved a new one; when one of the delicate livewood tendrils essential to his function snapped under stress she worked subtle magics to make them regrow. She talked to him, soothed him, made sure he could rest some few moments between "tests." Aaren was too engrossed in the numbers he was collecting from the magical sensors he'd attached to Designated 1's body.

    Next came tests of agility, strength, weapon use, endurance, and skills. He apparently succeeded, if the two experimenters' reactions were any reflection. His affinity for magic items was so great he was able to release gouts of fire from a wand with only a few moments of experimentation.He learned to read and write in only a few weeks of practice. His eyes were sharp, his arms strong, his armor impermeable. The tests went on for several weeks, and Aaren and 'Teia—Designated 1 had learned the dryad's name in the first few days—were unguarded in their conversations around the construct. Soon, they said, they could make more like him and he and his brothers would join the War.

    "War." Designated 1 liked the word, the way the sound of it vibrated in the drums and gears and springs that made up his ears, the way his mouth twisted when he said it, even the shape of the word written down. He knew that even if he didn't quite understand what it meant, War was a good thing. It was something he wished to see.

    ***

    It was a week after Aaren and 'Teia had finished the first of Designated 1's brothers—Designated 2—and Aarven was upset. Designated 1 didn't understand why. Hadn't 'Teia told him that she'd just received her papers (whatever "papers" were) and would be going to the War? That seemed like a wonderful thing, and Aaren seemed to like 'Teia. Shouldn't he be happy that she was going to the War?

    Clearly Aaren couldn't, because he was about in his workshop at night, pacing and muttering to himself. Phrases like "the girl's going to get herself killed," "how can I finish without her help with the joints and neural networks," and "blast it" made frequent appearances, along with their more expletive cousins. Eventually Designated 1 spoke. "Why are you unhappy, Aaren?"

    Aaren was taken aback by the question, or maybe by the fact one was asked at all. It took some moments for him to respond. "Ms. Livebow is going to get herself killed."

    Killed. Yet another word of which Designated 1 didn't yet quite grasp the meaning. "You do not want her to."

    "Of course I don't want her to, you stupid automaton. She's too flighty to be a Captain. She'll want to lead from the front, and the war is getting to that point where they're just throwing soldiers at each other like waves against the shore."

    "War seems a grand thing to me."

    "It's not," Aaren spat acidly. "That's why I made you."

    "Can you not help her so she will not get herself killed?"

    Aaren simultaneously laughed and pulled at his hair. "I suppose I could tie her to a chair, but then she'd just command me to let her free. She's very good at it. No, I'm afraid she's quite determined to go, and I can't exactly go with her. Not when I'm so close to mass production."

    Designated 1 was quiet for a long while as his clockwork mind processed this new information and Aaren returned to his work, this time silently. Eventually an idea came to the construct.

    "You could give her something."

    Aaren looked up from his drafting board. "Pardon?" he said.

    "You could give her something. Something that would protect her."

    Aaren's pupil narrowed and he looked at Designated 1 appraisingly. "I can't believe I'm taking advice from a golem," he said. "Still, it's not bad."

    The old man stood and walked over to the corner where Designated 1 stood. He reached up and put his hand on the construct's massive shoulder. "Thank you, Designated 1." For some reason, those words made Designated 1's chest swell and put the springs and gears in his head into a position they'd never been in—he felt something he'd never felt before. It was a pleasant something. It made him feel big, important, full in some way that he had never realized he was empty. Aaren looked into Designated 1's eyes for a moment, then turned and left for his chambers.

    ***

    Designated 1 didn't see either of his creators for days. It didn't bother him. He could stand still as long as he wanted, and Aaren hadn't included the mechanisms that would have been required for him to feel bored. Most of his musings were rather elementary and frequently redundant. Certainly boring, at least to a meat-based brain, save perhaps one topic: words.*

    He thought a great deal about words. His creation included a certain familiarity with the common tongue, but only what Aaren thought was necessary for a good soldier. And what Aaren thought necessary was quite limited. Words like "friendship," "killed," and "pride," he'd had to learn listening to Aaren and 'Teia. Some of them he understood better than others. Friendship was easy. His creators called themselves friends, so friendship was whatever they did together. It seemed to involve dancing, talking, and eating together. Designated 1 was disappointed with this last requirement. It, along with his lack of anything resembling a digestive system, seemed to exclude him from this particular relationship. Eventually he concluded that he could probably feign eating by chewing and then regurgitating, and this would be sufficient.

    Pride, well, he understood that it was good, and that you felt it when you were good. It was, most likely, the same as the swelling, glowing feeling Aaren's praise gave him. He didn't really know what "killed" meant. Unlike war—another word he didn't understand yet—Designated 1 didn't instictively feel that it was good. He didn't think it was bad, either. Aaren certainly believed it to be so, but 'Teia didn't seem to care. Maybe "killed" was like kettle-fried spider, and some people liked it and some people didn't.
    Last edited by Jeff the Green; 2012-10-09 at 07:05 AM.