A Dog’s Tale, Or When Character Strengths Are Weaknesses

“I started laughing when Nadia started sneezing.”

I got a nice email yesterday (I do occasionally get those!) from a reader regarding The Doom Guardian. Earlier in the book, it’s established that Nadia has preternatural senses, including the sense of smell. He got a kick out of the fact that it seemed that her enhanced sense of smell came back to bite her in one scene. Being a writer himself, he asked where the idea came from.

I have to give Chewy, my Doberman/German Sheppard mix, all of the credit.

I was doing spring cleaning and Chewy, as usual, was underfoot. He’s an exceptionally curious dog. And as dogs do, he has to sniff everything. So as I’m going around the house dusting and scrubbing and mopping, he’s going behind me smelling everything. At one point, he sticks his head over the mop bucket and promptly starts sneezing. He walked away until his sneezing stopped, and then came back to the mop bucket and sniffed it again (I said he was exceptionally curious, not exceptionally bright). And of course, he started to sneeze again.

The thing is, he’s a dog. They have a strong sense of smell. And when confronted by a particularly strong smell, it is going to overload their sense (thus, his sneezing.)

Later that day, I was working on the book when I began writing the scene in question. The characters were walking into a bat cave. Bat caves with large roosts are prone to high ammonia vapors. And while bat guano is considered “low-odor” compared to horse manure, high concentrations of it in enclosed areas still reek.

It occurred to me that this would actually be a problem for Nadia. Her sense of smell is documented early in the story. She uses it when she sniffs a footprint to determine if the print belonged to a human or a ghoul. And later she uses it to track the movements of Felsworn agents. She actively employs her sense of smell, much like Chewy does. So for the sake of world consistency and believability, this was something that needed to be addressed.

The result is an unfortunate sneezing fit that happens at an inopportune time.

The Scene

“So do we go in, or try to lure it out,” asked Darseidon. “I’m thinking we’d both be fine fighting in the dark, but the bats might be a nuisance and there is something not right going on here. We don’t need petty distractions.”

“The bats won’t be a distraction. They will smell me and stay away.”

“Well, ya know, as a woman you might…ah, nevermind,” said Darseidon with a sheepish grin.

Nadia drew her blade and started into the cave. “Been talking to the elf, I see,” she said. “Well, I wouldn’t talk if I were you. You’re a bit ripe yourself.”

“Phmph, that’s a manly smell, girl,” said Darseidon as he followed her. “Woman stink, that’s another matter.”

Nadia saw the first of the bats leave the safety of its perch and fly deeper into the cave. “Well, you might want to cover your nose. There’s a bit more than woman stink in here.”

They made their way down into the cave. Nadia’s hypersensitive sense of smell worked against her as they moved into the main chamber. What seemed to be thousands of bats flew in dozens of directions, hoping to put distance between themselves and the unnatural creature that had come into their home. Her boots made squishing sounds as she walked through the muck and guano that covered the cavern floor. Her eyes began to water, and then she started to sneeze.

“Don’t tell me yer allergic to bats,” said Darseidon from beneath his scarf. He had wrapped it loosely around his mouth and nose to offer some protection from the smell.

“No,” she said between sneezes. “Just sometimes when there are too many strong scents it floods my—ahchooo!—senses.” She tried to focus and determine if she could detect the smell of a wyvern over the smell of bats and guano, but her nostrils were overwhelmed. “All I can smell is—ahchooo!—bat shit. Any thoughts?”

Darseidon removed a small oblong stone from a belt pouch and performed his divination. The stone made sickening squishing sound when it landed in the muck, but it provided a direction. The pair moved toward a large tunnel to the right, and Nadia suddenly realized that it was the only passage the bats had not attempted to escape down when she entered the chamber.

“Didn’t you say—ahchooo!—didn’t you say Kinge told you they had seen the beast during the day?”

“Aye, they saw it hunting.”

“Was it flying when they saw it?”

“I don’t know if it was flying or not.”

“What exactly did they say?” They moved to the entrance of the tunnel. They both heard a slight movement, but neither could pick up any heat signature in the darkness before them.

Darseidon placed a hand on the stone wall, feeling the vibrations of the earth. “They said they saw it eating a cow, and then it shuffled off into the cave.”

“Shuffled? Not—ahchooo!—flew? Not ran?” Nadia’s voice was irritated.

“Aye, girl, shuffled. So what? What does it matter?”

They heard it coming up the tunnel. Doom’s Touch suddenly began to glow with a faint light. The light bathed the tunnel entrance in a ghostly blue glow. The light was not enough to repel undead creatures, but it was sufficient to let them see what they were about to fight.

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