Although I don't speak about it much here, I've been busy these past couple of months taking a second stab at my practice novel. My earliest readers may recall that I'm writing this so-called "practice" novel based on the old Nintendo video game, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. This game was a huge thing back when I was 14 yrs old. I remember literally saving up PENNIES for its release, and going to the nearby K.B. Toy Store with my younger brother and friends--and a brown bag full of loose change with which to pay for it! That's some dedication there, boy! And although there are better games in the series (Super Castlevania IV and Symphony of the Night, to name two), I felt this was the best game for me to try and novelize, being that it had a bare-bones plot and is a prequel to the very first game which came out in 1987.
A while back I wrote a brief book flap synopsis to give my friends an idea of what was in store for this novelization of mine. You can read it below, if you'd like:
DRACULA IS DEAD!
Or is he?
Wallachia is on the brink of civil war. The great noble houses vie for control of the throne left empty by the demise of their prince, Vlad Dracula. Yet rumors persist of renewed activity at Dracula’s haunted mountain citadel. Dark clouds brew above the tallest parapets, while ungodly beasts stalk the forests below. Some say Dracula has turned strigoi—vampire!—and means to spread his unholy influence all across Europe.
The people pray for a hero to appear. They whisper the name:
Armed with a legendary heirloom bequeathed by his ancestors, Trevor Belmont answers the call. But if he ever hopes to see daylight again, he’ll need to enlist the aid of a motley trio of unlikely allies:
Grant the adventurer, charming and deadly with a dagger.
Sypha the warlock, cryptic master of the arcane arts.
—an enigmatic immortal who’s hatred of Dracula may surpass Trevor’s own. Adrian
In the highest tower above Castle Dracula, the
clan's eternal foe patiently awaits. Can Trevor overcome the fiendish traps set before him? Or will he and his companions surrender their souls upon the treacherous battlements of . . . Belmont
Well, I'm still down and dirty in the trenches writing this thing. It's been a whirlwind of an experience so far as I learn the rudiments of novel crafting. This is my very first attempt at a novel, hence the "practice" part. I have no intention of selling this or making anything from this work at all. In a sense, it's a glorified fan fiction--although it's actually more of a dramatic re-telling of the events that happen in the game. I've added way more than the game provided in terms of story, dialogue, characterization, and even plot. The outline still remains the same--a Belmont is summoned to deal with a horrific vampire--but I added varying levels of nuances not immediately found in the game itself. This is what a novelist is supposed to do with an established media vehicle, after all.
Below is an excerpt taken from fairly early on in the novel. It's in its draft stage, barely edited, and very rough around the edges. But I wanted to give you all an idea of what I'm writing so far--in terms of tone, pacing, dialogue, and character fleshing. Its not much, but I hope some of you enjoy.
By the by, the artwork above depicts three of the characters who appear in this scene, including my main protagonist Trevor Belmont. If I knew who the artist was, I would credit them.
And now, on to the excerpt!
Trevor crouched beside the trunk of the large Cyprus tree, clutching the Vampire Killer’s handle impatiently. Down the side of the embankment along the stream’s edge, Grant made a show of stumbling over his bare feet. The torch in the sailor’s left hand had been reignited, and the demon hunter forced his eyes from following the flame’s hypnotic dance through the gloom.
Something coarse and yielding pressed against his ear. Trevor glanced up to find the mysterious mage suddenly standing beside him, his voluminous habit billowing in the gentle breeze left in the wake of the storm. The hooded figure watched the scene below them in silence.
“You’re back,” Trevor whispered to the man after stretching to his full height. The mage had been gone a good while, forcing Grant to redouble and begin his farce all over again half a dozen times. The agile seaman’s colorful choice of epithets, however, had not all been for the benefit of the ruse.
“Did you find any sign of the beast?”
Sypha turned to him. “The lycan is near. I found her den hidden behind a fallen tree a hundred yards west of here. And fresh spore along the trail as well. I believe she has picked up his scent.”
Trevor’s gaze returned to their acrobatic companion, who had decided to splash his way across to the opposite bank. He went down in the mud on one knee, which elicited another round of overly loud swearing.
“I can’t say I approve of this plan, master Sypha. A lycanthrope is serious business. And one who feels she’s being hunted, thrice as dangerous.”
“Be at ease,” the mage rasped in reply. “This will work.”
Trevor waited for the other man to continue before realizing his silence was intentional. He sighed and continued to play at the handle of the tightly coiled leather on his hip. “I don’t think our seafaring friend down there enjoys being the bait in this deception of yours.” He sniffed at the sudden realization. “There’s some irony in that, I suppose.”
The downturned cowl raised fractionally in his direction.
“You know,” Trevor continued, deadpanning, “being the catch rather than the fisherman in all this?”
The demon hunter felt the other man’s gaze linger on him for far longer than comfortable. At length, an odd choking sound emerged from beneath the hood. He realized with a start that the mage was laughing.
“I say, master Trevor . . . you are not at all as I imagined.”
“Oh? Now I must confess intrigue, seeing as how we never met before tonight. Tell me, how is it that I come to be the subject of your personal musings, sir?”
Once again he felt the man’s gaze heavy upon him behind the mask and cowl. “Ever since I was a . . . child, I’ve drawn strength from the tales of your courageous and noble family. The Belmont name still brings hope to the beleaguered people of these lands. Hope that a legendary hero may emerge to banish the Darkness.” Sypha paused, as if carefully choosing his next words. In the gloom, Trevor thought he saw the man’s delicate hands flexing open and closed by his sides. It was difficult to tell for sure.
“I’ve always imagined myself kin to your noble lineage, Lord Belmont. If not in name and blood, then surely in spirit. Should I never afford the opportunity to profess it when our quest is done, sir, allow me to say it now: it is an honor to fight by your side.”
The demon hunter cursed inwardly, but despite his best effort he found himself flattered by the mage’s touching words. Yet before he could find voice to reciprocate the unexpected kindness, Sypha’s pale hand flashed toward him, index finger raised to solicit his silence.
“She is near!” the mage hissed. “Now is the time, sir. Be on your guard and wait for the signal.”
Trevor unfurled the Vampire Killer in a quick gesture, dropping into a half crouch. “How do you know . . .?”
But the mysterious practitioner was gone just as silently as he had appeared. Trevor echoed one of Grant’s choicest epithets under his breath and watched the stream bed below. For his part the mariner appeared aware of his imminent danger, pausing from his slow climb up the far side of the muddy embankment to wave his torch from side to side as if seeking the source of some unknown sound.
Then Trevor heard it. A curious snuffling emanating from the dark undergrowth north of where the wiry seaman stood. The sound raised the hairs on the back of his neck, and in his hand the whip glowed a deep shade of heliotrope. He started to crawl forward toward his companion’s direction, but paused after remembering Sypha’s earlier warning.
She must believe her prey is helpless and completely alone.
Trevor checked to make sure he was still upwind of Grant’s position. He hated having to wait knowing the man was in danger, but their mysterious mage had reassured them both that his stratagem was sound.
I hope so, my cryptic friend, Trevor thought darkly. For your sake.
The sniffing sound suddenly turned into a menacing growl, as if the unseen creature had caught the full scent of her quarry at last. The brush alongside the stream bed parted, and out emerged a hideous huge brute of a were-beast. She hunkered low to the ground, the werewolf did, her human-like hands ending in fearsome looking claws which scraped the dirt. Upon catching sight of the truly frightened Grant, the beast raised her head and howled triumphantly to the leaden sky above. Her parted muzzle revealed vicious curved fangs dripping ichor from her last meal.
“Neptune’s balls!” Trevor heard the sailor cry out. Grant stumbled down the embankment and fell onto his back in the middle of the flowing stream. The lycan padded softly along the uneven ledge above, confident in her imminent kill.
“By the Prophet!” Grant turned and yelled to the trees, “Please, I don’t want to play this game anymore. Get this thing away from me!”
The hell with this! the demon hunter swore, but suddenly a robed figure appeared from out of the darkness on the south embankment. The lycan paused and swiveled her massive head in the mage’s direction, eliciting a sharp bark of surprise. Sypha wasted no time and raised his arms swiftly above his head. He uttered a single ancient word of power that resounded loudly above the murmur of the stream. The air grew still and ominous as the staff in his left hand blazed to life. A streak of orange flame erupted from the jeweled knob atop the rod, jumping across the banks between them. The creature howled in dismay and fell down the embankment, scrabbling frantically across the smooth, rounded stones at the bottom in an effort to escape her flame-wielding tormentor.
Trevor remembered his cue and launched himself out of the trees. Down he flew, turning once in midair and landing heavily on his feet amidst the flowing, cool waters of the stream. The werewolf came to a stop mere yards from where the demon hunter stood with legs spread wide apart and brandishing the terrible weapon of his ancestors. The Vampire Killer flickered wildly so close to the preternatural beast, an effect which caused the lycan’s eyes to grow wide as saucers.
“Back!” Trevor commanded, lashing viciously at the air with a crack of the whip. “Back you demon!”
The werewolf snarled viciously, but each attempt she made to rush this new opponent met with another ear-splitting flash of braided leather. She backed away slowly, cautiously, her feral eyes switching back and forth between the demon hunter and her former prey. Grant climbed to his feet and began launching stones along with taunting threats at the creature.
It’s actually working, Trevor thought. That crazy wizard might just know what he’s doing after all!
The lycan turned and ran, scurrying claw over paw past the energetic Grant. She stumbled down the narrow channel away from the duo, but made it only fifty meters before realizing her mistake. Sypha slid down the embankment and cut off her escape.
The werewolf howled in frustration and crouched low to the stream bed, obviously ready to fight to the death. Trevor had warned the mage of just such a danger, but Sypha stood his ground as if expecting this outcome all along. In his hand he now held aloft a wicked looking four-sided star. The object glistened like polished steel despite the darkness, eliciting a promise of pain and death to all unholy terrors which stalked the night. The demon hunter could feel the weapon’s potency even from where he stood.
Their cornered prey scraped angrily at the soft soil beneath her large, curved hands. Suddenly she leapt for the mage’s throat . . . and caught the swiftly tossed weapon in her exposed belly! With an injured yelp, the werewolf slammed face first into the stream, tossing and splashing through the cold water before sliding to a rest at Sypha’s feet.
The mage’s staff appeared from beneath his flowing robes without pause, a swift blur of vicious strikes which rained down on the creature’s head mercilessly. By the time Trevor and Grant caught up to their companion, the lycanthrope’s skull was a ruined, pulpy mash.
“Holy hells,” Grant exclaimed, splashing to a sudden stop before the sight. “You showed that beastie you were the right boss of him, you did!”
The mage once again conjured an incandescent ball of light above their heads, flooding the stream bed with its bright orange illumination. With no apparent sign of wariness, Sypha bent down and tore the cross out of the dead creature’s stomach.
“It was a properly executed plan,” he intoned simply. “Thank you for the opportunity to practice my skill.”
Trevor wondered if the man was thanking them, or the beast he had just slaughtered.
“What sort of weapon is that?” He pointed at the large star in the mage’s hand. From this close, he saw clearly now that it was in the true shape of a Holy Cross—ringed by a sharp edged band of steel.
Sypha held out the object for both men to see. “It’s a chakram,” he rasped, “a prized weapon among tribesmen in the Orient. Combined with the sign of the crucifix, it’s perfect against all manner of unholy beasts. And when properly cast, it strikes a target before returning to the wielder. I suppose I got carried away in the moment, however. That was not a very noble end, even for such a misbegotten creature.”
“Ingenious,” Grant murmured appreciatively at the sight of the cruciform weapon. “What will they think up next?”
“Indeed,” Trevor said. “Although, you might have explained to us beforehand why it was so important to lure and kill the beast. We have more important matters which concern us this foul evening, sir.”
“I first came across the lycan’s tracks on my way to investigate the Cyclops’ whereabouts,” Sypha explained. “I promised myself I would destroy her upon completion of that task. But as you of course know, my plan was not executed as intended. An oversight which I am proud has been rectified thanks to you both.”
Grant’s eyes went huge. “You used us just to feel better about yourself? You’ve got quite the hairy pair on, don’t you mister?”
Trevor appraised their cowled companion knowingly. “I sense you had another purpose for this detour. Am I correct, sir?”
Sypha was bending over the carcass once more, pulling at the fur and examining it closely. “I’m guessing you packed light for your quest, master Trevor? I can tell by the way your pack moves upon your back when you walk.” The masked face turned up toward him. “I suspect you never imagined this quest would last very long.”
“Now that you mention it,” Grant said thoughtfully, “it does appear we’ve been expending ourselves overmuch lately. And we haven’t even reached the castle proper yet.”
“Precisely,” Sypha replied. “I expect our labors will only increase tenfold the nearer we approach that vampire’s cursed fortress.”
Trevor crossed his arms. “And your point being?”
“The point being, sir, that we shall need our nourishment to keep us going when all reserves are depleted. Do you have provisions?”
“Some salted goat and a half loaf of bread,” he replied, then stopped short with terrible realization. “Wait, you’re not suggesting?” His gaze fell to the hirsute corpse at their feet.
Grant followed his eyes—then leapt backward, one hand covering his mouth in horror. “Oh-ho! But . . . but that’s disgusting!”
Although the cowl and mask effectively hid the man’s features, Sypha appeared to regard the two of them with disbelief.
“I’ll have you know,” he began in a reproachful tone, “leg of werewolf is a delicacy. Not to mention its recuperative properties, which are legendary in the field.”
“I don’t know which field you speak of,” Trevor replied pointedly, “but I’ve heard no such stories in my travels. And I’ve been places.”
“No doubt you have, my lord. Trust me: I’ve had it before. With the right herbs it’s actually tasty, if perchance a bit gamey.”
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Grant said, groaning. “How can you suggest we eat one of these beasties? Aren’t they still human? Lad, I might be a man o’ the sea accustomed to long stretches with no proper grog between ports—but I’m no cannibal!”
Sypha actually laughed outright, a hollow and grating sound unlike anything Trevor ever heard before.
“No, master Grant. I mean . . . yes, some have been known to transform into wolves at the advent of a full moon. It’s a rare affliction, one that is usually brought about after some poor unfortunate’s been bitten by a real lycanthrope. However, such is not the case with this ‘beastie’ here. This one’s a true creature of the wood, more akin to actual wolves than men. It just so happens to walk upright.”
“And hungers for human flesh,” Trevor added.
Sypha nodded. “Yes, this is correct.”
“I don’t know, lad,” Grant said dubiously. “I still want no part o’ this madness.”
“That’s quite alright, master Grant,” the mage rasped. “No doubt you shall have chance to change your mind before the night is through. If I can ask but one indulgence from you?”
The shorter man eyed him suspiciously. “Aye? Be out with it."
The arcane practitioner held out a slender hand, palm opened upward. “May I please borrow your dagger, sir? Skinning a werewolf is tough business.”
The blood appeared to drain from the sailor’s face. White as a sheet, his hand trembled as he handed over the requested weapon without protest.
“What ails you, Grant?” Trevor inquired innocently. “Surely you don’t expect a delicacy like leg o’ werewolf to prepare itself?”
The sailor blanched again and appeared to teeter on the balls of his bare feet. “If you lot will excuse me now,” he announced, voice quavering and eyes unfocused. “I believe I shall take a spell over by yonder tree where I will spend the next hour introducing it to the insides o’ me stomach.”
The mage’s hood followed the man as he climbed up the muddy slope of the streambed slowly. Then, with a regrettable shake of his head, Sypha returned to the messy task at hand.
* * * * *
What's funny is: this scene isn't actually in the game. But I felt it was necessary to build a sense of teamwork between my characters before they face some big time challenges ahead when they reach the actual castle. Also, "leg o' werewolf" is an inside joke for gamers, and I thought it would be fun to take that and expand on it here.
Sounds yummy, doesn't it? What? Don't look at me like that!