Dungeon Born: Spooky Dagger

Chapter Nineteen

An assassin (well, a thief who decides to get into the assassination business when his mark walks in on him stealing stuff) shows up to try and kill Dale. He fends off the assailant by ordering him to leave, which he is magically compelled to do. So in addition to rendering all organizational management problems – which are really just interpersonal problems with money involved, and therefore perfectly good fodder for drama – completely moot, this special law magic is also reducing assassination attempts to “assassin, plz go.”

Really, here’s the complete fight scene:

His reactions trained from months of battle, Dale jumped to the side, barely avoiding a slash at his throat. His mind whirled with options, but he was without weapons or armor so he froze up, earning a brutal kick to his knee. Knocking Dale to the ground, the masked man raised his dagger to deliver a coup de grâce, ending his existence. Panicking, Dale screamed the first thing that came to mind.

“Get off my mountain!” Dale ordered with a frantic squeal. Mid-swing, the man turned and started jerkily walking away, his dagger flying from his hand at the unexpected and unwanted movement.

Emphasis is mine, I’ve bolded all the extraneous words (and in one case an adverb that could stand to be replaced with something less awkward). I stand by my position that audiences don’t care about line-by-line craft nearly as much as writers and editors, but since I’m a writer, I’m still going to complain about all this cruft in what should be a fast-paced fight scene. Particularly since there’s not even any new maneuvers or weapons or tricks in this fight scene, which is the usual hang-up of slow fights. You want to show off your main character doing something awesome, which means you have to slow down and describe them doing it, because it’s a unique and cool-looking stunt. Having those is certainly way better than turning every fight into a narration of a PS1-era Final Fantasy fight where everyone is just lined up and slashing at each other until one side is out of people, but you need to set up the existence of these cool stunts in advance so that your reader has already seen them described once and you can refer to them quickly in a fight. Alternatively, figure out how to get a description of the trick down to a dozen words or less.

But I’m getting completely side-tracked here, because the only abilities being used here are “slash at throat” and “law magic compulsion.” About a quarter of the words in this very brief fight scene are extraneous for no reason at all, just feeling the need to remind us that a coup de grace will in fact kill its target. This is without getting into the weird word choice for some of these. “Earning” a brutal kick to the knee makes it sound like a training exercise where punishing mistakes is part of the point. Dale’s mind “whirled” with options like a merry-go-round, I guess, which kind of sounds like the author wanted to avoid using the phrase “mind racing” because that’s a cliche and there’s a weird aversion to using common, easily recognizable phrases in some writing circles. Given how much common writing advice the author isn’t taking I doubt that’s the actual reason, and instead probably “whirled” just came to mind before “raced,” but that’s after I sit down and do a word-by-word analysis because I’m feeling extra nitpicky right now. On first reading, it comes off like thesaurus abuse to avoid using a familiar phrase.

Dale reports the attack to Frank, who is not super concerned, and ultimately comes to this conclusion:

“[B]anishing him was a solid punishment. After all, he is now several hundred miles from any real civilization with no food, water, or equipment.”

Unless Dale and his best friend Swarthee Mann walked several hundred miles to get here, the assassin is much closer to a real enough civilization to produce food, water, and equipment than Frank is claiming. Equipment-wise, probably not very good equipment, and there might not be a proper armorer or anything so he won’t be in any condition to raid a dungeon or anything, but if he needs a mess kit and a backpack, even very small rural economies will have him covered.

Dale was taken aback. He hadn’t really thought making people leave would have such deadly consequences for them. Living off the land was easy around here, wasn’t it? His family had done so for generations…

Your family and the families of the several dozen other people living out here, who sustain that small town that the first adventuring party rolled through and caused all that buzz and rumor earlier. That small town which can only exist (as opposed to lots of spread out homesteads with no regular contact with one another) if there is some kind of market where people buy and sell stuff from each other, where the thief can buy food and water, because even if that isn’t normally sold around here because literally everyone is self-sufficient, there’s still some economic activity going on to justify the existence of that town, so the thief can just walk in and ask to buy food and water and people will have some to sell him and will want his money. They’re definitely not operating on pure barter because Dale said that a gold piece was enough to live “like a lord” for a year specifically in this region (technically, he said ten gold was enough for a decade, and the implication was that living like a lord would be more expensive elsewhere). Bearing in mind that a day’s wages is something like three copper in these parts, this thief could be carrying a single silver piece – not an uncommon drop from the first floor boss room – and still have enough to easily supply himself for a several week journey back to a population center big enough to sustain his thieving skills.

Just in case you were wondering whether or not the economics of this book were getting more sensible.

Chapter 19-Cal

Dani is complaining about how the quartz window is making the boss room clearly visible:

“Voyeurs.” Dani muttered, hostility coming off her in waves. “I gotta stay invisible all the time now.”

The weird emphasis is from the original text. Once again, the author seems to have a very specific inflection in mind and is trying to communicate it through italics, but I have no idea how to read this. Why is “time” emphasized so strongly? If it were “I gotta stay invisible all the time” that would make sense, since it’s emphasizing how this used to be an occasional thing and now it’s permanent.

Also, this is quartz:

Quartz

You will notice that, while transparent, it is not perfectly so, and tends to turn things behind it into a distorted blur. This effect naturally gets stronger the thicker the quartz is, and while I’m not sure it’s been stated exactly how thick this is, my impression is that it’s not a thin sheet like a window pane, but rather several inches (if not several feet!) of stone. So if Dani goes visible, all that’ll change is that people will see a blue-ish (I think? I forget her default color, but I’ve been imagining blue) blob moving around, which will be indistinguishable from a blue rabbit or mushroom, whose shape would also be diffused into an indistinct blob by the quartz.

Now, Dakota Trout seems to really like rocks what with all the anthracite and carbon molecules in this book, so it’s entirely possible that he just knows more about quartz than me and that there’s some perfectly good reason why quartz is able to serve as though it were a glass window here. The problem is, whatever geology knowledge he’s got, he isn’t actually sharing it, and when a book says “sheet of quartz” what I picture is not “basically a window.”

The Team is raiding the dungeon and wanders into a trap:

“Calm Down! There has to be a way out if we aren’t dead yet!” The ever calm Craig took control, looking around.

This book’s weird capitalization problem goes on. It’s no big deal that the author is prone to a specific, weird typo, but how did all these get past editing? Like, I sometimes randomly substitute words with similar-sounding words with completely different meanings – like, in that last sentence, I might write something like ‘words with competently different meanings’ – so I’m definitely not throwing stones about being prone to a specific and weird kind of typo in general. Just, for a book that you push to Amazon, at least get a beta reader to go through it and find the obvious ones.

Naturally, they escape the trap and make it to the boss room, where we see, uh…A rerun of the last boss fight. There’s enough going on here for the fight to be reasonably entertaining, except we’ve already seen this before. It’s not like this is one of those things where the hero and the villain are facing off again, but now something has changed, and this time the hero has the upper hand. This ain’t Luke confronting Vader in the Emperor’s throne room. This is the exact same boss against the exact same party the day after the last fight. The only thing that sticks out is this part:

I jumped, my temporary body angling to flatten Dale when an arrow slammed into the armor of the head I was inhabiting. The force didn’t penetrate, but it did knock my/Raile’s skull forward, creating an awkward landing that pushed my head into the wall, next to Dale.

Raile is the 500-ish pound stone armored rabbit boss that Cal is mind controlling for the fight. That is one Hell of an arrow, to throw something that heavy off-course.

At the end, the plot finally occurs, as Dale stabs Raile to death with a dagger he pulled from the assassin who tried to murder him earlier:

“I didn’t teach you to use a dagger! Is it new? Do you have a new teacher you like better?” Hans feigned hurt at the thought of another man teaching him how to use a knife.

It’s weird to me how uncommon it is for writers to realize that a dagger is a bog standard sidearm that basically everyone in the medieval world knows how to use to at least a basic level of competence. The reason assassins use them is partly because you can more easily conceal them in situations where weapons aren’t allowed at all, but also because it’s totally normal for a guy to walk around with a dagger in the medieval world. I’m not surprised that most people in a totally random population don’t know this, but I’d expect people writing primarily combat-focused stories about the medieval period (ish) to have a higher success rate in doing enough research to figure out which weapons are specialized assassination weapons and which ones are ubiquitous multi-tools that also get used as an emergency self-defense weapon. It’s like if people treated pocket knives as specialist assassin weapons rather than something you hand out to boy scouts without any instruction at all, because we can presume that they know how a screwdriver, scissors, and knife work without further instruction.

Craig looked up from the dead Basher, “Dale, you didn’t penetrate its brain, how did you kill it?”

“Craig.” Hans had a serious tone in his voice, which made everyone look at him. A serious Hans made everyone nervous. “This is a Demonologist blade.”

So there is at least some plot development here. It’s coming after the fight with Raile, and the fight with Raile was pretty incidental to it, so that doesn’t save the second Raile fight from being kind of pointless and meh, but at least we aren’t just novelizing someone’s eighth playthrough of Torchlight.

Cal snags the spooky dagger by distracting the party with a loot drop and then sending his shiny rabbit glitterflit thing to go and snatch it, so now he’s got an evil demon dagger he can drop as loot. Afterwards, they discover the new stairs and use them to get back to the surface.

They reached the top after a few minutes of huffing and puffing, three hundred eighty steps wears anyone down I’m told.

Firstly, these guys are supposed to be in supernaturally good shape, and 380 steps, while definitely a Hell of a climb for office workers, isn’t a big deal for people in very good shape (unless they’re taking them quickly for some reason). Secondly, the average stair height in the United States is 7 3/4 inches. Now, Cal is under no obligation to follow OSHA regulations, so who knows how tall his stairs are, but they can’t be more than a few inches off in either direction before they get cartoonishly distorted. Seeing as how, going by standard step size, that is nearly two hundred and fifty feet, it doesn’t matter if Cal’s stairs are 20% shorter than normal, that is still an order of magnitude longer a distance than I was expecting from this two-floor dungeon. Does each floor slope constantly downwards for some reason? Is the ceiling of each dungeon floor a hundred feet up from the ground?

The chapter closes on Cal experimenting with inverted runes, which reverses the usual effect of the rune, something the Team discussed after escaping the trap (they had to do some quick rune enchanting to get out, and mentioned that when working under pressure there’s the risk you might mess the rune up or accidentally invert it), and that is the chapter.

I should probably spend less time complaining about shitty economics and poor understanding of medieval combat if I’m going to finish this before September. We’re 59% of the way in.

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