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Friday, July 10, 2015

FICTION FRIDAY! Blackmagistrate Chronicles: A Brief, Necessarily Incomplete Plotline Sketch of Each Arc

This picks up from the character introduction of Blackmagistrate, from last week's Fiction Friday Episode: "Hi What Do You Do? I Break Spells"

Ok, so hold onto your tits.

These are going to be 250-399 page paperbacks. Novel sized. None of your fricken' EPIC-DOORSTOP BULL SHIT.

Pardon me while I sketch this out.

1st will be simply Blackmagistrate. Published first, that is. Properly it's book 1 of the 3rd story cycle, and with "story cycle" = "trilogy" in every case, it'd be book 7 for anyone wanting to number it that way, but for various reasons, the story really is to start here. Here we see Blackmagistrate at his nominal height, already in charge of the Ministry and not only chief-among-equals in the high council, but remaining an active field operative to boot - their top agent by far, no threat considered a match for him one on one, and a hero to the public besides (albeit, they think his "magic is bullshit" stance is something he unabashedly believes - and he's convincing a damn lot of them). But plenty of bad bad backstory, alluded to in dropped hints. We find he's just finished vindicating himself beyond anyone's realistic doubt, after the crisis of his demon doppelganger's rampage - which made the world and most of the Ministry believe he'd gone rogue (said demon remains at large, current #1 on the Ministry's hit list). In addition, the fairly recent death of his beloved (their love a secret known only to them both, plus everybody fucking else too polite to mention how fucking obvious it is - was) "Gal" - L. Gallaea Cole'en Roarke, previously AKA code named "Demonwitch" and later "Demonwish" (and according to B'm, "Damonwish" once she'd ill-advisedly disclosed that her pet demon "familiar" looked quite a lot like Matt Damon, and that they'd secretly had an on-again-off-again thing together - with an OTHERWORDLY SPIRIT BEING? Sick dude! PERVY) as a nonsanctioned magi, recruited to the Ministry after great pains and back-and-forth duels and battles by Blackmagistrate and subsequently developing into a field agent nearly as fearsome - and about three times better-liked (not an asshole).

Yes, by the way: people do refer to him as "B.M." for short. Even to his face! He finds it perfectly appropriate, as he is after all "The Shit."

We later see in Books 2-3 of the 1st Cycle show how it was Blackmagistrate who eventually convinced her that her "demon familiar" was no demon at all - was not even a being, but was instead her poltergeist given shape by her imaginative will, and her fancy that she was 'witching it in from the elseverse. Its beingness was fully convincing to her. This thing - powerful, recalcitrant at first, but eventually blooming into her personal and pretty protective-of-her spirit slave/guardian. It was clearly a being, with will, or seemed to be. Blackmagistrate convinced her of his poltergeist theory by wammie-ing it to look like HIMSELF (instead of Matt Damon) from then on, which was a big damn jolt - but especially, because he did a bit too good a job. In the process of this pseudoexorcism, his newly double acquired/absorbed a convincing imprint of his personality. What he'd expected to happen was that the double would simply behave as Gal would expect it to, based on her idea of him - figuring this was the case with her "demon" familiar's "personality." Instead she got a version of her definitely-disliked rival and in-some-sense nemesis who was - shockingly - a good and decent, even a basically humble guy. Blackmagistrate had no chance to see any of that - the double, still obedient to her will, whisked her out of there and into hiding. She needed to have an awful lot of long heart-to-hearts with - herself, basically, but she'd gotten so used to talking to and relating to it as an other. It seemed in some ways the same being - or "being" - certainly in terms of loyalty and devotion, only now in the jarring guise and character of her enemy, who somehow accidentally or not had imbued it with an imprint of a non-asshole version of himself. She remained out of sight for some time, trying to come to terms with the change. When she reemerged, the conflicts between her and the Ministry were to take on a different color entirely. Soon, between the fake version as her uneasily-confided-in substitute-demon confidante, and the real version's continuing asshole efforts, Gal came to believe the real guy's true best self maybe wasn't an asshole at all. That the real Blackmagistrate, shorn of his public act, was somewhere deep inside himself - the guy that he'd projected onto her soul. For the poltergeist is in essence, a part of her soul: either she was born with an outsize soul and the poltergeist is the outside portion, the part that won't fit in her body's mind and that consequently is essentially mindless, or else it's some sort of a conjoined-soul deal, as if she had had a much larger and much stronger twin, born with no mind of its own because there was no body of its own. Either way, it is for all intents and purposes, consubstantial with her soul. Her theory takes shape: maybe somehow, this jerk, without really meaning to, projected onto her the guy he wanted her to see him as. The guy who doesn't really otherwise exist - the guy he had no way (and apparently, no desire) to show anyone else. The guy who, in a nutshell, she feels that she knows "the real you" from, from waaaaay too much time talking to and agonizing over and interacting with the imaginary version. That imaginary version came, in some way, from the real. This best (or at least, better) self has to be really in there, someplace - so she reasons.

Long story short, by the beginning of the 2nd Cycle, for mixed reasons she makes a pretty big professional transition. She ditches the rogue Witch act and embraces her true practice as an Enchanter, but one with a very unfair psychic advantage: a poltergeist of such power is extraordinarily rare. A poltergeist that is at all controllable - let alone eagerly obedient - is as far as anyone knows unique. People really can't understand how in the world Blackmagistrate guessed this unlikely a truth. She suspects a lucky guess, which she's pretty sure is how most of his success has come: lucky hunch, plus mad talent, backed by extremely thorough theoretical mastery. Anyway, she signs up, gets her sanction, and begins her tour of duty. Her rise through the Ministry ranks is spectacular, but in some sense as far as she's concerned, it is uneventful...until the one day the veil drops. When suddenly, by the way she's acted since joining up, by the way she's said things, and by what she accidently lets drop out of habit of talking to the double, Blackmagistrate puts it together that he put more of himself than he meant into her "demon" - her poltergeist: his double. His first concern is what info his imprint has let slip, but he needn't worry - its as secretive as he is on any classified shit. After a bit of dueling and interplay, he realizes it really does have, somehow, an imprint of his best tendencies and motives. Parts he doesn't think about now, parts he hasn't thought about in years, let alone shown. With a shock, he realizes she believes he actually has all of that within him, and reachable. A non-asshole best self. Somehow, by both of them leaping to this same mad belief in THAT crap, it catalyzes them. Alchemizes them. Bewitches them. She can save him - and that guy is the guy for her, and even he believes it! They fall for it together, very suddenly and irrevocably in love.

The 2nd Cycle is dominated by the emergence from deep background of a threat no one knew was there: a real honest-to-God evil magician, such as people had come to think were no longer a problem due to B'm's brutal reign of insincerity and terror. A mad magus who has been operating deeper and more subtly than could have been guessed, all along, all alone in the background - and who finally gets pissed enough at this punk's grandiosity and constant slights (to magic in general) that he has to spring a masterplan, against Blackmagistrate, against the Ministry. At the climax of book 6 (3rd book 2nd Cycle), Blackmagistrate's top hand-picked all-star all-world field team witnesses in helpless horror as their leader, for most of them a hero-worshipped idol - deliberately kills first Gal - in a shocking act of beyond-masterful sorcery - and then immediately thereafter utterly destroys the big bad villain. Much to that dude's shock. The team wouldn't've minded the latter killing at all, of course, but Gal's murder was utterly senseless. She had risen to become the clear #2 agent, in some sense a rival, and Blackmagistrate's treacherous murder of this much-beloved by all rising star and his immediate subsequent disappearance pretty much puts him on everybody's shitlist of ultimate hatred. It was of course, not Blackmagistrate. It was Gal's "demon," which the bad guy had somehow wrenched from her, invested with physical form and possessed. He was extremely surprised to have a mindless poltergeist recoil in horror from the murderous deed, break what ought to have been an unbreakable control, and kill the FUCK out of him - but this thing is no longer what it was. It's got at least a very convincing counterfeit of a conscience and a will. Basically we have a being, sapient only soulless, half-mad with guilt and grief - to say nothing of jealousy and hatred for its spitting image! Who has been actually loved by the woman IT loves. She used to love it, it fumes - and personality transplant notwithstanding, it remembers all of its previous next-thing-to existence. It loved her as deeply as beings can, far as its concerned. Maybe deeper, given how empty it was to begin with. She was what filled it up. Blackmagistrate took her from it, or at least, came between. It views Blackmagistrate's actions and negligence as leading directly to her death. The resulting damage to that man's reputation is the only consolation the demon (or whatever it is now) finds in any of this. Cue demon doppelganger rampage.

The 3rd Cycle concerns Blackmagistrate's escape from imprisonment, clearing of his name, consolidation of his position as #1 top dog at the Ministry, pursuit of his demon doppelganger, and his slow descent into actual magic as he embraces witchcraft out of sheer desperation. Not to track or beat the demon. To find Gal.

He cannot believe she can have passed on. Not all the way. Not leaving him here. He needs to find and contact her. Even though he knows - she's dead. She is dead. There's nothing under any known theory that could bring her back alive, not after what was done to her. He doesn't care. He's incapable of love if it can't be hers, and he'd rather just live by her side, unable to touch or love her if that's all he can have, if only she'd be there. So he heads down what to him is an unconscionable path. Well, for anyone really - at least, the way he does it. This is hardly standard practice for good-guy Witches. He begins contacting, summoning, harassing, BULLYING his way through the realm of spirits, basically trying to beat it out of them if he has to: "WHERE IS SHE?!!!!!" (fake throaty Batman voice from the Joker interrogation scene). One or two demons, very ill-advisedly, appear to him in her form - and what he does to them in his fury at such an idiot move only sends ripples of terror and indignation through the spirit world. But even if the spirit world wanted to tell him - they have no idea where she is. She's just gone.

He knows she's somewhere. He can feel her in his head. She wouldn't move on. Not like that. She's never done less than amaze him. She has it in her to have survived this. Some trick, some sign she's left that he's missed! He must find it, and he will.

What happens is, in the midst of all this search (which by far has replaced his work in his mind) he finally does, almost by accident, track down and kill the demon doppelganger. Total solo operation. Not like him. Won't allow a trainee on this one. Refuses to put together a team. He's already exposed the truth, more-or-less cleared his name - though his relationships with most of his colleagues will never fully recover. The shine's off him, in their eyes. They see him a little clearer for what he is, after having their starrier vision of him destroyed by the demon rampage in his name and image. On top of that, he's lost the best part of his sense of humor, which was what used to make the asshole act seem charming. He's quite aware it's not going to be the same now, and could give a shit.

And he tracks and trails and unexpectedly blunders onto, and kills the thing. The last thing the demon does before it dies is turn into Gal. Begging, pleading don't. Blackmagistrate cannot fucking believe it would even try that. In his fury he wipes the thing out of every plane of existence simultaneously.

And he's killed her.


dogimo said...

In case the chronology seems potentially confusing to anyone - don't worry about it. The release chronology does jump around a bit for purposes of dramatic reveal. Within each book's story, though, we find a fairly straightforward, modern novel narrative. Part of the cool part is how that lets references in a given book to past events function as suspense!

For story purposes, they are intended to be read through in release order. There's a certain meta-narrative that has its own dramatic build, there, and that's probably the best way to take in the story as a whole. But of course, the books themselves are written in a straightforward way to allow any reader who wishes to go back and re-immerse in a given unbroken arc to do so easily, and be satisfied. A reader could even read all first time through in chronological order, after the full series has been published - but that'd be a shame, as you'd never really experience the pull and push and out-of-time suspense that forms a pretty neat part of the reading experience, or at least, in the author's view.

Still, no wrong way to immerse one's self in a story! And ultimately, from a strict critical standpoint each book needs to be able to stand on its own merit. To a reader who has read none of the others, THAT BOOK in their hands is where the action begins, and it has to work. Whatever happened in some other part of the character's life - that's just backstory such as every character has.

Today's tale has always got to be the main event.

dogimo said...

The below text was just cut from the post. It's still largely valid, but I felt from a dramatic standpoint, we needed to end the preview with "And he's killed her." I'm also not sure I've figured out something that will ground the Blackmajesty arc as anything more than a clichéd supervillain face-heel turn. Perhaps if most of what he does proves beneficial? But of course it would. That goes without saying.

Picking up from "And he's killed her."

And he's killed her.

Because that thing, that piece of her soul that the evil mage had ripped from her and possessed - the piece Blackmagistrate had stamped himself onto - somehow, in the last moment before it killed her, before her literal and actual death, she'd managed to flee into it - some part of her, some tattered vestige, but HER. Her soul, not whole, damaged, but containing the essence of her self and mind and memory. Unfortunately it had no awareness or control to use. The shock of her death had rendered her basically catatonic, and amnesiac as far as the dominant "demon" personality was concerned - it had no idea she had fled into it. They were of one piece to begin with, it couldn't feel the difference. For months she existed totally subsumed into what amounted to a split personality.

But the shock of Blackmagistrate's imminent victory, its own shock as the demon persona prepared to be destroyed, drove its terrified consciousness out of the driver's seat - and she suddenly came to herself. Full consciousness in the instant of what was happening. No time left in which to act, to talk, to save herself. She became herself for a split second, and so was utterly and finally killed - by the only human being she'd ever loved. Whose only love she was, and would ever be.

Blackmagistrate will simply not ever put together or let himself put together what really happened at that moment. At that moment he shrugs, turns away from the smoke and brimstone, and heads further down his chosen path in search of his lost, and now truly gone, love. His love whose presence he suddenly can no longer feel in his head. He does not, will not put that together.

The 4th Cycle - which in publication order is intercut with the 1st Cycle's fun-and-glory-days Origin arc - concerns his increasing alienation from the Ministry, the rising suspicions of his descent into and increasingly mad dabblings in things he has no business in, his eventual piqued resignation from the Ministry, and his transition to Blackmagus in the 3rd book 4th Cycle.

The 5th Cycle is known collectively as Blackmajesty. It concerns his war with the Ministry, which for all the personal drama involved is essentially a sideline. As far as he's concerned they got nothing for him, and it tends to appear he's right. He's moved his sights to a campaign to, for all intents and purposes, establish himself as the chief power and one-man court of judgment with oversight over the world itself. Specific aspects only, of course. All governments to continue doing their little fucking jobs...don't bother me... but with the full public and tacit acknowledgement that in any matter of disagreement - you clowns would do better to report to me. They don't fucking know what they're doing, he thinks. He thinks he does.

He has no idea.

What comes next is horrific.

All the books are represented as extracts from Blackmagistrate's journals, blended with deep-background research to unearth what really happened plus all the key eyewitness accounts (including Gal's journals as well, which he discovered and kept secret, and never once could bring himself to open) to tell the full story in narrative form. All through the stories though, we catch little hints and dropped tone from the narration, things like "unsurprising, in light of what he later became..."

Well you can just about guess.