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Author Topic: Echoes in the Fire (Fantasy Adventure)  (Read 1495 times)

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« on: September 30, 2017, 01:45:58 AM »

I posted the first five pages. Now, here's the whole first chapter. I need to incorporating notes, but I think I'll save major revisions for the full chapter.

Chapter 1 - Refuge Day

“Are you ready?” Dez asks.

Rain thought she would be. She almost panicked when she heard him coming up the narrow stone stairway. Dez is her best friend – her only friend – he knows better than to open the curtain to her tiny bedroom, but she knows he can see her through the holes in the tattered cloth.

“One more thing!” Rain says. She’s been staring out the window, watching the canyon, the people, wondering if today will end in the embarrassment she saw in her dreams.

Her windowsill is a scattered collection of polished stones, rocks that look like ancient arrowheads, and other worthless treasures. Rain picks up a jar labelled ‘Tinct’ and notices how warm it is from the morning light. She takes a long breath to steady her hand. Rain pulls the cork from the jar and gently dips a finger into the container, leaving a dab of black liquid on her fingertip.

With her other hand, Rain holds back the thick white feathers on her head. She looks out her window and imagines herself in the reflection she sees every night when Yora and Ilo are gone from the sky and the only light beyond is the starlight on the canyon walls. With the tinct on her fingertip, she draws a symbol on her forehead. She strains her memory for every detail, summoning the essence of what it means. Finished, Rain wipes her finger on a piece of cloth. The skin that touched the liquid will remain darkened for a day or two before fading. She focuses past the pane of warped glass to the bustling city outside.

It is Refuge Day. The only day when Gold Bluff welcomes outsiders with open arms. The city is busier than any other time of year. Tradespeople have set up stalls. Merchants wander the streets with baskets of candies and meats to sell. Crafters, smiths, and artisans from nearby towns and hamlets have brought their wares on carts and wagons led by beasts of all kinds.

A small, familiar voice startles Rain, “I hope you get to play today.”

Rain turns around and looks down to a young girl who melts her heart. Jueln is Dez’ little sister. Five years old. She wears a new yellow dress for the holiday and has already managed to add a stain on the hem.

“I do, too,” Rain whispers to the girl, kneeling to look her in the eyes. Rain smiles when she recognizes the contagious excitement on her face. “What do you want today?”

Jueln looks away, shyly. “I don’t know. I hope someone has Soluna Cake.”

“There will be cake in every flavor,” Rain says, fixing the feathers on Jueln’s head – yellow, just like her dress. “What else?”

“I hope Revero wins,” Jueln answers with a smile. She notices Rain’s forehead and struggles to make out the black mark against Rain’s brown skin. Jueln and her brother have pale skin with a subtle green hue that is common among the rectar people. She asks, “What is that?”

Rain declares, “This is a magic symbol,” convincing even herself.

“You don’t have magic, Rain,” the five-year-old says, shaking her head. She tries to recognize the symbol. It is not one the kids draw on their hands when they play.

“I think I do today,” Rain says, managing to hold back a smile on only half her face. “It means ‘luck’.”

Dez steps into the room behind Jueln. “Ready?” he asks, trying to control his impatience in front of his sister.

Rain gives her friend a worried look. “Are we?”

The three burst out of the arch of Rain’s home, down the uneven chiseled steps, and sprint into the dusty streets. Rain wears her nice shirt. Grey. It’s not as torn as the other one, but too big. Most rectar clothes leave her too much room. Her best pair of pants are tan and don’t have holes in the knees, but are short on her legs.

Rain holds Jueln’s hand until Dez becomes frustrated with his sister’s pace and snatches her up and on his back. He regrets it immediately. He would have a hard time keeping up with Rain anyway. The crowd is thick, but Rain maneuvers like a fish through a reef. Dez follows with less grace, wheezing with his sister swinging on his back and pinching his windpipe.

Above the sea of patrons and colorful tents are the homes of Gold Bluff, carved into the walls of the canyon, stacking on top of each other, and connected by an intricate web of steps and ladders. Most of the city is orange or red. Lines of clothes hang out to dry between the dark shadows of arched windows. The citizens climb down from their homes and flood the streets and markets of the canyon.

Rain is in the center of the city before looking back and realizing she lost them. She has no perspective over the throng, despite being taller than most teens in the city – one of the many differences that make her stand out. She steps onto the back lip of a nearby wagon and pulls herself up to rest an elbow on the flat roof.

The sight is remarkable to her. It is the only day of the year when many other races can be seen walking the roads. Traders come and go, but Rain rarely sees a day go by where she isn’t the only one who is different.

Hundreds of years ago, Gold Bluff was settled by rectar people. Today there are thousands, but only a few dozen of the other races call it home – and there are even fewer hybrids like Rain. Rectar are broad-shouldered, strong, and growly in voice. Rain is thin, lanky, and sounds birdlike in comparison. The other girls her age developed pronounced curves years ago. Rain has grown some of her own, but feels shrinkingly waifish next to them.

“Found you,” Jueln says, looking up to Rain from Dez’ back. Dez would complain if he wasn’t busy catching his breath. He’s shorter than most boys his age, but his broad shoulders and bald head make him look like a crushed adult. He has yellow feathers like his sister, but only for thick eyebrows and a few loose ones forming on his chin.

“I thought I lost you,” Rain says. She isn’t finished with her thought before hearing a sharp buzzing sound beside her.

Dez sirens, “Raaaaaaiiiiiiiiin!”

She turns her head and finds herself nose-to-nose with the long, pointed beak of a tinther. Its nostrils blowing fetid hot air in her face. Rain has never seen one of the giant birds from this angle. Their intimidating heads are usually high above her.

“Good girl,” Rain says. It comes out sounding like a question.

“Skaaaaw!” the tinther bellows. Rain catches a glimpse of the back of the beast’s throat. Fear opens her hands. She drops to the dirt road with a sharp thud.

The tinther is startled and leans backward on its long legs. “RaaAAck!” it screeches. Rain crawls to Dez’ feet. The tinther scratches grooves in the hard dirt with its talons and pulls on the rope tethering it to the wagon, lifting the wheels on the opposite side off the ground for a moment before dropping again with a creaking, squeaking rattle. Several metallic clanging sounds follow each other inside.

“Who’s there!?” the owner shouts from inside the wagon. “Ya think you can rob me?!”

Dez helps Rain get to her feet. She brushes off her knees and says, “We’re halfway there, Dez. Try to keep up.”

Dez says nothing, still catching his breath. He follows Rain into the peddling, bartering, meandering mob. The wagon owner watches them shuffle away, calming the tinther by patting and stroking its long neck. He shakes his head and hurls them a curse or two that get lost in the noise.

Rain has taken a turn with Jueln on her back. The streets join into one clustered road to the Arena on the lake. “I can’t see anything,” Jueln says while shuffling to get a higher perspective.

Rain turns her head and whispers, “We’re not far. Do you feel the wind?”

Jueln closes her eyes to focus on the breeze in her feathers – a telltale sign they are near the water. At the northern mouth of the canyon, the walls drop away and the sky becomes larger. The perfect cloudless blue is broken by the jagged white peaks of the mountains to the north.

Dez brushes next to Rain and says, “We should get off the road here.”

Pushing and squeezing, they break away from the crowd and find themselves in Oldorus Square. The people shamble behind them into the stadium, eager to claim their seats for the games. The square is alive with preparations. The travelling merchants feverishly arrange stands. Performers crack open chests full of props and costumes. Vendors chop portions of korenu fruit, stir pots of jawfin stew, grill molare shanks, roast candied pella, and other favorites.

A line of people ends in the middle of the square. The front is hidden by the serpentine queue. “The games will be over before we get through this,” Dez laments while running to secure his place at the end. Jueln wanders off to pester the travelling performers with questions.

Dez dreads waiting. He hates it more than physical pain. Rain was never as bothered by it, so long as people were around. Some grow comfortable in isolation. Rain was not one of them. As soon as she was old enough to have some independence, she was out the door and into the city. It was her playground. She would listen to the women gossiping outside open windows. She hid around corners to catch the guards trading dirty jokes. She even tucked herself under tables to observe the merchant transactions. When there was nothing to witness, she would sit beside the lake, listening to the water brush the shore and watch the zails fight over patches of riverweed. Anything but silence. Silence meant she was alone.

Rain stares at the long brown hair of the woman in front of them. No one in Gold Bluff has hair so long. Rectar women have feathers. Men often have a bit of plumage, but never on top of their heads, only around the temples and around the back. Only visiting races have hair. Rain’s feathers would have made her feel like she belonged among the rectar, if they weren’t thicker than anyone else, and white. The older people turn grey – none are pale white. Rain taps on the woman’s shoulder and introduces herself. Her name is Sulvy and she works as an importer in a town to the south, Velisar’s Anchor. Rain recognizes her as a karu. They are shorter than most rectar, with longer arms and fingers.

“I couldn’t pass up the chance to meet both candidates for Defender,” Sulvy says before rambling on about business being about who you know and who knows you and other things Rain didn’t find interesting. “Anyway, I have never been to Gold Bluff before,” Sulvy continues to ramble. “The rectar here are very stingy on who they trade with.”

“In the canyon, there are friends. Outside, there are enemies,” Rain recites a motto she has been told her entire life.

“Yes, I think I have heard that.” Sulvy stares at Rain, growing more confused as she surveys. “Why do you want to meet the candidates?”

“We’re here to submit for the game.” Rain fixes her posture and notices Dez doing the same.

Sulvy lets out a sigh of realization. “Oh, that’s right. I heard the candidates play some sort of competition.”

Rain is only concerned with the two Jarels because they are Captains of the Vabo teams, but the tradition is far more important than just the game. The Jarels are also making a case for who should be elected Defender. Gold Bluff is the smallest and most often forgotten of the eleven provinces of Dawnwatch. Today, Gold Bluff decides who will represent them in front of the Queen. Rain can’t understand why Sulvy would wait all morning just to meet someone. “Have you ever seen a Vabo match?”

“Oh, dear, no.” Sulvy sounds as if she doesn’t care to ever see one either. “That’s the one where they ride zails, is it? The rectar are the only people I know of who ride those slimy things.”

“They only look slimy,” Rain interjects with a knowing excitement. “They’re really just soft.”

Sulvy bows her neck, scanning Rain and Dez, “How old are you?”

“I’m new 17. …Dez is nigh 16.”

“Really? Isn’t it dangerous? Aren’t you too young?”

Dez finally breaks his silence. “N-no. The Adjudicator said we can submit. We’ve spent months training.”

“Well, who do you hope to play for? I bet you want to be on Guard Captain Ofenea’s team. Everyone expects she will be the next Defender.”

Dez snarls, “We will only play for Revero!”

Rain whispers to Sulvy, “His cousin.”

Sulvy attempts a confident smile. “Then, I wish you luck.” All good merchants are expert polemicists.

“I am luck,” Rain says, pointing to the symbol on her forehead.

From a reach away, the tinct mark is hard to make out against Rain’s dark skin. There is a silence. Sulvy leans toward Rain, then takes a hesitant step away, holding her breath.

Rain responds, “…What?...”

Sulvy whispers something. Before, she had a sweet voice. High and inviting; fair and kind. It’s different now: Deeper. Heavier. “You should never use marks of the old language. Real magic is best not taken lightly. They may tolerate little heresies here, but it is forbidden most places.”

Rain looks to her eyes; dark green spheres that are black as a cave in the center, pulling her into them. They have seen a world Rain has only heard about.

Since Rain was old enough to write, she drew the strange marks. The older people frown upon them in Gold Bluff, but it never occurred to her the mark would be a problem. When she was a child, she and the others would trade symbols back and forth or make up new ones. They would run through the canyon, conjuring swords of white ice, barriers of protection, and the screams of their ancestors – in their imagination.

One of the oldest customs on Ember is known as the ‘Traveller’s Trade’. Merchants, politicals, and those passing through offer stories in exchange for drinks. “A mug of cider and I’ll tell you of Valiar’s first battle,” is the kind of phrase often heard in taverns. In Gold Bluff, there was no better place than Nosera’s Inn. Rain and Dez used to spend all their copper flits to hear legends from the reaches of Ember. From time to time, Rain still sits on Nosera’s stone floor to listen. Rain was 12 before she realized that the older merchants were much more skilled and saved her flits when an apprentice goodseller was telling the tale. Some play songs to accompany their performance. Others have speeches memorized. Rain heard all kinds: Legends of noble warriors. Lovers. Monsters. The burning skies of Ember, before the Immortal Queen. The more magic the better. Nothing was more exciting than magic. Rain has never seen it, but knows it is real. She believes because it scares the older people; the same fear she finds in Sulvy’s knowing eyes.

“Hey Dez, I thought you had to be taller than the sticks to play Vabo!”

Rain doesn’t have to turn to know Mag and Curol have wandered into the square. Her teeth start to grind.

Curol is taller and larger than almost anyone his age. He went through a growing phase over the last year and is not used to his new size. He is quiet and never far from Mag. Mag has plumage so red, from afar you could swear she was set flame. She is nearly the same age as Rain – a point of contention between them, since Rain’s exact birthday is unknown. Rain can’t see Mag without remembering the fights. She’s the reason Rain toughened her fists.

“Shut up, Mag!” Dez snaps.

“And it’s the hybrid boy! Does she think they’ll let her in the game?!” Mag never misses a chance to remind everyone that Rain is different. She sometimes calls her a boy to point out Rain having a smaller chest and hips. Mag throws a brown block of candied netello* fruit into the air and catches it with her mouth. Curol grabs a netello out of Mag’s carton and puts it in his mouth directly.

Rain forces a nervous smile and asks Mag, “Are you playing? Have you learned how to swim yet?”

Rain doesn’t have time to react. Mag lashes out with all the force in her arms and pushes Rain. She falls to the ground and feels all the wind knock out of her.

“Leave her alone!” Dez puts himself between them.

“What are you gonna do?!” Mag pokes Dez in the chest. Her claw is rough, but sharp. The larger Curol steps beside her in support.

Clenching his fists, shaking, Dez says, “You won’t like it.”

“Why are you always defending her?” Mag disregards his threatening posture. “It’s not like she’s going to play. It’s for rectar. Not whatever she is.” She spits on the ground, not far from Rain.

A man’s voice says, “At least she’s part rectar. Unlike you. You’re mostly durthyn.”

Mag and Curol twist around at the intrusion, leaving room for Rain and Dez to recognize an old man with a pet pango on his shoulder.  

“This has nothing to do with you, Hilgrom” Mag argues. “You don’t belong here either.”

“We can ask the guards who belongs. Should I find them, young lady?” Hilgrom asks. His pango catches his sentiment and makes threatening chuffing noises. Hilgrom is an old gullian. He has a beard and mane of grey feathers. Like the rest of his race, he has a slender frame and long features.

Mag takes a couple seconds to imagine the consequences. She spits on the ground again and says, “She’s not gonna play, anyway. Let’s go.” She walks away. Curol shakes his head and follows Mag into the market.

“Why is it always the red ones?” The old man says under his breath. “Was she never there when I told ‘Drukli and the Hidden Mountain’?”

“I don’t remember that one either, Hilgrom,” Rain says. She brushes the dust from her clothes and keeps her eyes on Mag as she walks away.

“Did you never hear it?” Hilgrom asks. Dez shakes his head. “Hmm. I always liked that one.”

Rain has let something nag her long enough, “I’ve never heard of a durthyn.”

“Oh, they’re nasty, venomous creatures with long sharp teeth and big legs for jumping. You can smell them from far away.” Hilgrom reaches into a pouch on his belt. He pulls out a small orange object – barely visible between his thumb and forefinger. He holds it up to the animal on his shoulder. The pango grasps it with both front paws and obliterates it with a flurry of tiny bites.

“Have you seen one?” Rain asks. She tries to figure out which stories are first-hand, or based on other stories or rumors. Hilgrom is an excellent storyteller. He rides the edge of truth like an acrobat.

“Once.” Hilgrom pulls out another little orange sphere.

Rain grabs it and holds up the treat. “Hi, Bax,” Rain says to the little mammal.

The pango jumps to Rain’s shoulder. He climbs behind the back of her neck to her other side, holding on gently by its claws. He wraps his long, scaly tail around Rain’s neck and lowers himself onto her chest to grab the yellow morsel from her hand. Once Bax is in blissful feast, Rain cradles him in her arms. He closes his black eyes in pleasure when Rain rubs his soft belly until he twitches and curls himself into a hard ball of scales. It is a defense against predators, or excessive pampering. “You silly pango,” Rain says as she puts the ball of Bax on her shoulder. He uncoils himself and wraps his tail along the length of her arm while nuzzling her neck with his nose.

Dez says, “Thanks for the help, Hilgrom.”

“You were handling yourself fine,” Hilgrom says.

“She only gives you trouble because you defend me,” Rain says. “You shouldn’t do that.”

“You can’t let her get away with saying those things,” Dez argues. “She acts like you’re not rectar.”

“She isn’t all rectar,” Hilgrom says. “I’ve seen hybrids, but few are as mixed as she is.” He recognizes the sad reaction in Rain’s face and the anger in Dez. “Hear me out. Only my people have white feathers. And your skin is darker than karu.” Dez is about to lodge another defense of his friend. Hilgrom cuts him off. “But she is definitely part rectar. You can tell by the feet. Thick, short, and wide. No one’s got feet like rectar.” Hilgrom laughs. “Cobblers hate your people.”
Dez compares his bulky bare feet to Hilgrom’s thin boots. “That’s why we don’t wear shoes.”

“You would if you walked the jagged stone roads I do,” Hilgrom digresses, shaking his head. “Your feet would be bloody if you walked one end of Dayreach to the other.”

Hilgrom follows them in the line for a while, sharing stories of places he has been – a welcome distraction from the anticipation. Hilgrom is Rain’s favorite travelling merchant. Not because he tells the best stories. Nor because he often continues long after everyone is out of flits. Not even because of Bax. It is because Hilgrom has been to all the places Rain had never seen, but genuinely loves Gold Bluff. That small fact makes her life a little more content.

Rain and Dez are half-way through hearing one of Hilgrom’s merchant tales, when they notice the light.

From the south, brighter to the daylight than the brightest star is to the night, floating up from far beyond the canyon and leaving a streak of dusty black in its wake. Those facing it squint at the brightness and hold their hands up to cover. Those looking away notice the shadows stretch suddenly and everything else wash to white. Rain is looking right at it when it explodes in a flash of red.

For a moment, the red is all she can see. Then, everything else in the daylight feels dark. She looks around, but the only movement is the pulsing echo of light that follows where she tries to focus. There is a silence of a thousand people holding their breath. Rain is able to focus again, and looks around at the shocked searching faces of those doing the same. That is when the sound comes following.

A roar. A wave-like wind bounces around the canyons. It trembles against the surrounding Barrier Mountains, breaking away soft snow and dropping drifts to lower ground. No creature or thing goes undisturbed for horizons in all directions. Then it is gone, leaving the city in a haze of dust shaken down from where it was undisturbed for decades.

The town erupts in the shouting of voices. Confused questions and panicked cries of those who know what it means. Hilgrom stares at the sky. He seems older without a smile. His beard suddenly appears unbrushed and frizzled. Bax has leapt to his master and tucked himself under his arm, coiled in fear.
“Hilgrom,” Rain says before swallowing, “have you seen that before?”

“Not for… it must be 20 years,” he says. He looks down at the ground and tightens his satchel before straightening it high up on his waist. “I have to go.” Bax recognizes his master’s walking posture and pulls himself onto Hilgrom’s shoulder.

Dez asks, “Do you… Is something wrong?”

Hilgrom stands there for a moment, taking in the square. “I wish my family lived here. This is a good place to call home.”

“Wait!” Rain pleads. “What was… that?” She can’t find the words to describe it.

Hilgrom backs away – south, the direction of the light, and his home. He says loudly so they can hear, “Wish Revero luck from me! Remember the stories, and be safe!”

He disappears into the crowd. The locals continue heading into the arena. Many of the visitors are quickly packing to march the other direction. Rain and Dez don’t realize it, but the red light in the sky is only the first sign that everything they know is about to change.

THANK YOU for reading. Comments, criticism, questions, and notes are absolutely welcome.
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« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2018, 11:40:54 AM »

I see this has been posted for some time with no replies. Probably the length (which makes little sense because a chapter usually requires a moment or two to read!) However, myself included, people sometimes drop in here for a quick glance of a read and shy away from longer passages.

I very much enjoyed the voice here. I am not a fan of fantasy or adventure but the earthy quality of your descriptions/scene settings appeals to me greatly. Even before revealing the "where/when" world of your characters I could feel the environment. Very nice. clap

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« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2018, 11:32:24 PM »

Thank you. That's encouraging.

I'm still going through a lot of revisions for the whole book. Some of my writer friends have been generous with their time and given me notes. I'm still working on integrating them.

I welcome any other notes or observations.
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« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2018, 03:58:57 AM »

Hey Alrune,

I may not be right at all, but for me I started reading and was immediately jarred by the 3rd Person Present Tense. Since most fiction is written in past tense, and when it is in present tense it's usually in 1st person, I really just feel unequipped to able to give a justifiable comment because I'm so off-kilter. I would be interested to know if any of your writer-friends who have forwarded you notes commented on the tense you've chosen, or if you considered going 1st person or past tense.
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