Tag Archives: book-2

The Apprentice Returns

I don’t like posting great chunks of an unfinished story because once they’re out there, they tend to be ‘set in stone’, and I like to be able to change things, or even delete them entirely, if I think the story needs it. This time, however, I really need the feedback as I’ve completely re-written the first chapter in which I re-introduce Kaati. The basic intent is more or less the same, but all the nuances have changed, as has Kaati’s character arc. 

Anyway, this is going to be a long post so grab a coffee before you begin. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

Kohoh Mito

The Fourth Day of Kohoh

 

The rains of Kohoh were late, and nothing obscured the Arch of Heaven until a dark shape suddenly appeared in the sky above the Quarter. Powerful wings eclipsed the stars as it spiralled down to the flight ledge.

“It comes!”

On the rocky slope above the entrance to the Quarter, the spotter covered its face with a wing and disappeared into the shadows. In the tunnel below, its partner reached for the weighted net by its side. Once the Apprentice entered the tunnel it would be trapped, caught in a pincer movement with death the only escape.

***

Kaati landed on the soft pads of its feet, as silent as the great hunter for which it had been named. It did not expect to be challenged, but extreme caution had become a habit, and now it stared at the shadows shrouding the entrance as if they concealed the lair of a to’pakh…

“Fool!” it thought, a hint of embarrassment warming the dusty skin of its face; no to’pakh could climb the sheer cliffs leading to the flight ledge. “Starting at shadows like eyriebound.”

Yet despite the assurances of commonsense, it stayed rooted to the spot, ten wingspans from the entrance. It had dreamt of this moment every step of the way from Needlepoint, but now it felt neither triumph nor relief. It was back, but would it be allowed to stay? Traders rarely lied, at least to each other, but the Tellers were masters of subterfuge, and they had already branded it a traitor. Would the Clans listen? Or would they refuse to even let it speak?

As the Apprentice Quartermaster to the Clans, it would have been allowed to speak as a matter of course. But the na-Quartermaster had been disowned in that freezing cave on the Spine. Now it owned nothing but its life and its name. Kaati had become a Trader with less status than the lowliest drudge.

What would it do if the Clans disowned it a second time?

Only the strongest of the strong survived the season of rain. Once Kohoh began in earnest, the rivers would overflow their banks and devour the land. Mountains would turn into islands, and every fingerwidth of high ground would become a battlefield, a place of last resort where the great beasts fought to survive.

During Kohoh, only the swimmers prospered; lone iVokh stood no chance at all…

A hiss, half of anger, half of pain, leaked from Kaati’s cilia as it fought off the sudden despair. It had not survived the Wild for so long only to be defeated with victory in sight! Whatever the Clans decided, it had a purpose more sacred than life. It could not allow the slain to be forgotten. Each Trader who died, or was killed on the journey, had a right to be remembered.

They had done nothing wrong, yet one after the other, they had paid the final price. And for what? For placing loyalty and honour above tradition?

The Clans had strayed from the Trader Way and needed to be reminded-

The whisper of displaced air triggered instincts honed by a ti’makh of vigilance, and Kaati leapt to the side. The weighted net that should have wrapped around its head and upper body tangled only its right arm. It managed to free its arm, but not before the second Teller crashed into it from above.

The two of them fell to the ground and wrestled for dominance until Kaati managed a lucky swipe that drew blood. Keening in pain, its assailant withdrew, but the one who had thrown the net continued to advance, its expression cautious but determined.

“Why?” Kaati gasped as it backed away.

“Being traitor,” the wounded Teller spat.

“But life-debt not-”

“Deepwater,” the other Teller cut in, the loathing in its voice unmistakable.

Stunned, Kaati could only stare at the two Tellers in disbelief. How many more would die because of that one mistake? If it had known its mindspeech could disable every Trader in the caravan, it would have found another way to stop the fight. But it had not known, and the situation had turned deadly…

“Should not hurting Plodder!”

“Another traitor. Good riddance-”

That was more than the Kaati could bear. Launching itself at the Teller, it drove the heavier iVokh to the ground before tangling it in its own net.

“Killing!” the Teller cried as it struggled to free itself.

Blinded by anger, Kaati had not noticed the other Teller sneaking up on it from behind. It only just managed to avoid the rock aimed at its head. Staring at the two Tellers in dismay, it retreated until it could feel the cold air rising from the ravine at its back. It could go no further.

The arrival of two more Tellers, one armed with a staff, the other with a flensing knife, banished any hope Kaati still harboured. Staves and knives were weapons used to kill, not capture. It could fight and die, or it could jump and die.

Glancing over its shoulder at the ravine below its feet, the young Trader could not suppress a slight shudder. There was one other option…

A soft sigh leaked from its cilia as it rose to its full height and spread its arms wide, the empty sacks of its wings hanging limp in submission.

“Too late, Apprentice,” said the Teller with the staff. Raising its weapon, it lead the charge across the flight ledge.

now or never…

Closing the inner lids that protected its eyes, the young Trader turned towards the ravine and launched itself into the void. The Flyers said the trick to gliding on empty wings was to hold them taut…

Kaati was a strong flyer, but without the bracing effect of lift, the sudden pressure on its wings almost turned them inside out. It managed to keep its legs and outer arms spread properly, but its inner arms had evolved for maneuvering, not strength, and bringing them into a flat plane took every drop of strength it possessed. It succeeded, and its wings finally caught enough air to slow its descent, but the effort drew a wheeze of pain from its cilia. It would not be able to glide for long.

Sending a weak ping in the direction of the ground, Kaati was shocked at how quickly the echoes returned. Throwing back its head, it dropped its legs and cupped its wings. A moment later it hit, bent knees absorbing the initial impact. Instinct made it draw its wings tight before it tumbled end over end, like driftwood spun by the current.

The dry sand of the streambed abraded its skin, and every pebble dented its flesh, but miraculously, nothing broke. When it finally came to rest, every fingerwidth of its body hurt, but it knew it would live.

***

Up on the flight ledge, the Tellers skidded to a halt in a ragged line, all of them staring at the spot where the Apprentice had been.

“Must being dead,” the wounded one said as it peered over the edge.

“Thinking being dead on Spine too,” the one with the staff replied. “Why not waiting until Apprentice entering tunnel?”

“Because taking too long,” said the Teller with the net. “Fearing might escape if not attacking first.”

The Teller with the knife clicked its teeth but did not bother stating the obvious. Attacking the Apprentice outside the tunnel had failed miserably. If they had not arrived when they did, the young traitor would have escaped, again.

“Must finding body this time,” it said with finality.

“Down there?” the wounded Teller squeaked. “But to’pakh-”

“Rather facing hungry to’pakh than anger of Master.”

When no one else seemed inclined to argue, the Teller with the staff asked, “But how? Cannot flying in dark, and cliff being too steep for climbing.”

“Not if using rope from net.”

A sigh of resignation escaped from the owner of the net, but it began unpicking the strands of rope without protest.

“Being enough?” it asked a short time later as it held up the single length of knotted rope.

“Soon finding out.”

Matching action to words, the wielder of the staff grabbed the end of the rope and walked over to the far side of the flight ledge where a gnarled old salt bush grew out of the side of the cliff. The Traders often used it as an anchor to raise packs too heavy to fly up. Looping one end of the rope around the trunk of the salt bush, it braced its feet and nodded for the others to drop the rope over the edge.

When the rope was in place, its partner clamped the knife between its teeth and climbed down, pinging all the way.

“Safe,” it called as the rope went slack.

Motioning for the other Teller to take control of the rope, the wielder of the staff followed its partner down. When it reached the bottom, the two at the top lowered its staff. Fully armed, it joined its partner in the search for the Apprentice’s body.

***

Less than fifty wingspans further down the ravine, Kaati lay curled in a ball, too winded to move. It had survived the fall but had no idea what to do next. It could hide out in one of the many caves that dotted the Spine of the World, but that would provide only a temporary reprieve. Once its food ran out, it would have to hunt like all the other beasts…

The sound of the Tellers calling to each other as they climbing down into the ravine cut through Kaati’s thoughts with a jolt of pure terror. If they found it now, all of its worries for the future would be moot. It had to move! Pushing itself up onto all fours, the young Trader began crawling to the southwest. If it followed the streambed far enough, it would eventually leave the shelter of the ravine and arrive on the open plains…

Being dead before then, it thought as the sound of the Tellers drew ever closer. Think! If the Tellers did not get it, some hungry to’pakh would…

The thought of the powerful beasts that roamed the land cleared some of the fog from Kaati’s mind, and it struggled to its feet. To’pakh hunted at night, and while Fate had been extraordinarily kind so far, it could not expect its luck to hold for much longer. It had to get out of the streambed and find somewhere safe to hide.

Sending out a series of almost silent pings, it finally detected a fold in the rock wall of the ravine that might be the opening to a cave. It was seven or eight wingspans up, but a cluster of narrow ledges should help.

Kaati was just about to scramble from the bed of the stream when a whiff of its own scent made it stop in consternation. Even without the fear sweat that clung to it like a second skin, the grime of so many days in the Wild would make it ridiculously easy to track. Dropping to its belly, it clenched its teeth as it rolled over and over in the course sand.

The dirt bath reopened many of the small cuts and abrasions it had suffered as a result of the fall. It also hurt, a lot, but when the young Trader shook the sand from its skin, the worse of the filth remained behind, on the ground. A to’pakh would have no trouble tracking that scent, but even it could not track a scent through the air…

Quieting the incipient panic that urged it to run, no matter where, Kaati forced itself to stand still while the tiny sacs in its wings filtered every scrap of lift from the air it breathed. Only when its wings bobbed like over-filled bladders did it give in to the fear that drove it. Turning to face the bank of the streambed, it held its arms rigidly by its sides as it slowly opened the narrow sphincters located on the trailing edge of its wings.

The release of lift shot it straight up into the air, and a cloud of fine sand marked its passage as it rose out of the streambed and jetted towards the first ledge.

It was now in a race against time. If its luck held, it would reach the cave before the lift in its wings ran out. If not, it would become easy prey for the Tellers who were even now hurrying towards the sound of its jets.

***

Had Kaati been rested and not covered in a thousand small wounds, it might have made it all the way to the cave, but it simply did not have the strength. Three wingspans from the entrance, its jets sputtered out, and it had to hug the wall of the cliff to avoid falling all the way to the bottom.

Wings pumping like bellows, it was still trying to climb the rest of the way to the cave when a triumphant voice called out, “There!”

Peering down past the fringe of its cilia, the young Trader could just make out two dark shapes at the bottom of the ravine. One was crouched on the ground, but the other stood staring at the cliff face, one arm pointing straight at Kaati.

“Come down, come down,” it called in a cruel voice. “Being time to play.”

When Kaati refused to move, the second Teller lay its staff on the ground and said, “Race?”

A snort of amusement greeted its words as the other Teller accepted the challenge. Placing its knife next to the staff, it said. “Always enjoying a-”

The rest of its words were swallowed by the to’pakh that exploded out of the darkness. The creature’s massive jaws descended on the Teller’s head and left arm before closing with an audible crunch.

The surviving Teller snatched up its staff and aimed the point at the to’pakh’s eye. The blow did not connect.

Swinging its armoured tail like a battering ram, the to’pakh smashed the staff from the Teller’s hand and slammed it into the ground.

Injured, but not fatally, the Teller scrambled to its feet and took off at a limping run. Perhaps it hoped to reach the rope and climb to safety. Or perhaps it simply ran in a blind panic. Either way, it did not get far. Swallowing the last tasty morsel in its mouth, the to’pakh lumbered after it, six good legs quickly overtaking the Teller’s two. A truncated scream announced the winner of the race.

Still clinging to the cliff like an ipti, Kaati closed its eyes, but the image of the Teller’s head disappearing into the to’pakh’s maw remained imprinted on the backs of its lids. That was the fate that awaited it unless it reached the cave. Yet the thought of falling and giving the to’pakh another easy meal, kept it frozen in place. Not until it heard the great beast return did it find the strength to move once more. Sending out ping after ping, it climbed in desperate haste until the entrance to the cave finally appeared.

It was a very shallow cave and would not hide it from a determined search, but Kaati was too spent to care. If the remaining Tellers were brave enough to challenge a to’pakh, they deserved their victory.

Curling up as best it could in the confined space of the cave, the exhausted Trader closed its eyes and fell asleep.

 

I still don’t have a definitive image of the iVokh, but this is a concept drawing of the to’pakh:

 

 


Kaati – a new beginning

I began the second book of Vokhtah back in 2013, but then Innerscape captured my imagination and ‘Kaati’ disappeared into a digital drawer for five years. I finally restarted the project today by writing an 800 word Prologue. In it, I refresh my memory a little and set the stage for the story of Kaati, the young Trader who helped The Blue survive the crossing of the Spine of the World.

The words aren’t set in stone, but this part of the plot is. I hope you like it. 🙂

***

It was close to deep-dark when the Master was ushered into the Quartermaster’s presence, yet the leader of the Traders was neither asleep, nor alone. Five young Traders, all from the Runner clan, sat or sprawled drunkenly around a table littered with spilled pippa juice and half-empty bowls of dreamweed.

“Sit, sit!” the Quartermaster cried as it waved the Master to a vacant cushion. “Juice?”

The cushion was sticky, as was the goblet offered by one of the younglings, but the Master kept the distaste from its face as it sat and folded its wings to either side.

“May Takhti being gentle!” the Quartermaster said, raising its goblet in a toast.

“And Pah Hakh being short,” the Master replied as it raised its own goblet. Unlike the Quartermaster, however, it swallowed very little of the fermented pippa juice.

“S’so,” the Quartermaster said once the demands of hospitality had been met. “What bringing Master Teller here so late?”

That was not a question the Master wished to answer in front of so many witnesses, drunk or not.

“Just a few details concerning trade with Five Rocks. Nothing serious.”

“Details, details. Always details,” the Quartermaster sighed. Despite its long suffering tone, however, its eyes were sharp as it sent its guests off to bed. They went, but not without a good deal of grumbling so it was some time before the two older Traders were finally alone.

“Now,” the Quartermaster began. What-”

“Psst!”

Rising from its cushion, the Master tiptoed to the wooden door that separated the Quartermaster’s area from the rest of the clans, and threw it open. The light spilling from the cavern confirmed that all the revelers were gone, and the passage was empty. Nothing moved except for the same, slack-jawed drudge it had seen sweeping on the way in.

Satisfied they would not be overheard, the Master closed the door and returned to the table.

“What being wrong?” the Quartermaster asked, its tone more annoyed than concerned.

“Hoping nothing,” the Master said as it chose a clean cushion and sat down, “but receiving disturbing report from Five Rocks gather.”

“Caravan still being there?”

“S’so. Departing at first light, but-”

“Hoping not being more deaths!”

The hint of righteous indignation in the Quartermaster’s tone caused the Master’s cilia to flare with anger. The Quartermaster might not have ordered the deaths of the two young Flyers on the Spine, but it had certainly benefited from them!

yet perhaps still failing

That thought cooled the Master’s rage, and its voice betrayed no emotion as it said, “Ki, no more deaths, but…perhaps being a…ghost.”

“Ghost?” the Quartermaster said with a laugh. “Ghosts being tales to frighten iVokhti!”

“S’so. But if true, this one could causing great trouble.”

“Explaining.”

“Teller overhearing Traders talking about na-Quartermaster. About seeing na-Quartermaster at gather.”

“Impossible!”

Pippa juice sloshed from the Quartermaster’s goblet as he banged it on the table. “na-Quartermaster being dead! Messenger witnessing.”

The Master wiped juice from its chest before saying, “but no one seeing na-Quartermaster’s body so how being sure truly dead?”

“Ridiculous. Messengers not lying, especially to protect Traders!”

“S’so. But what if Messenger being tricked-”

“Tricked? How?”

“Not knowing, but Messenger being ignorant of Wild. Perhaps not seeing to’pakh at all. Perhaps only hearing to’pakh, then hearing screams-”

“Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps! Or perhaps na-Quartermaster truly being dead, and Traders only seeing what wanting to see!”

That thought had occurred to the Master as well, but it could see no reason for the Traders of the caravan to start a rumour about the na-Quartermaster if it really was dead. What would they gain? No, the one explanation that made sense was that the young Trader was still alive and getting ready to challenge for the leadership of the clans.

The Runners would support the Quartermaster because it was one of their own, but the Flyers and Plodders were still angry over the deaths on The Spine. If the na-Quartermaster were allowed to return, they would greet it as a hero, the only Trader to ever survive the Wild on its own.

“If being wrong and na-Quartermaster still being alive, clans could tearing Quarter apart.”

“Not being wrong.”

Taken aback by the Quartermaster’s self-assurance, the Master decided to take a more conciliatory tack.

“Perhaps being right, but what harm being in posting guards at entrance?”

“And looking like fool? Or coward? Ki. Not posting guards.”

Faced with the Quartermaster’s stubborn refusal to take precautions, the Master could do little but concede defeat.

“Hearing and obeying.”

Then it walked from the cavern, steps heavy with disappointment. Once out in the passage, however, its step lightened considerably. Just because the Quartermaster refused to post guards at the entrance did not mean the Tellers could not. They would have to stay out of sight, of course, but that was probably a good thing anyway. If the na-Quartermaster did try to return, they could catch it and dispose of it without the clans being any the wiser. Sometimes opportunity really did spring from adversity.

***

Right, time to go watch The Drum and cook dinner.

cheers

Meeks


The Godsend – Introducing Jaimie

The Godsend is the 2nd book of Innerscape and continues the story of Miira Tahn and the digital world she now inhabits.
In this short excerpt, Miira gets to meet Jaimie Watson for the first time. Despite his youth and apparent rudeness, Jaimie will become a pivotal character in The Godsend.

* * *

 

Miira stepped out into the Tokyo HUB and stopped, stunned by the sheer volume of people crowding the vast, circular concourse. There must have been thousands of them.

Shaking her head in bemusement, she was scanning the crowd for her next guide when she caught sight of a young man with shoulder-length blond hair and wild blue eyes. His long black coat reminded her of dark wings as he pushed his way through the crowd.

Stopping to watch the bright angel run past, she was caught off guard when he suddenly changed direction and barreled towards her. She managed to step out of the way, but her bags were not quite quick enough.

The young man tripped over the bags and grabbed at Miira on the way down. For one timeless moment, they teetered together, then momentum sent them both crashing to the ground.

“Oouw!” Miira yelped as her head hit the tiles. The yelp was followed by an ouff as an elbow knocked the breath from her body.

“Shit, shit, shit!” the young man muttered as he pushed himself to his knees and tried to help Miira sit up. “Just my fucking luck…are you okay?”

“I…think so,” Miira wheezed, one hand going to the back of her head where a small but uncomfortable bump was growing beneath her fingers. “Sometimes reality could be a little less real.”

“Yeah,” the young man said with a frown. “Look. I’m really sorry. I thought you were just a, you know, NRA.”

“Because I look Asian?” Miira snapped, shock giving way to anger.

“I didn’t mean it that way!” the young man protested. “I just… Ah, crap.”

Bending from the waist, he bowed in a very Asian way and murmured, “Gomenasai…”

Maybe he wasn’t being racist after all, Miira thought, impressed despite herself. She probably had looked like all the other NRAs milling around.

“So what did that mean?” she asked, her tone marginally less hostile.

“It means ‘I’m sorry’.”

“Okay. But is your Japanese good enough to get me a taxi?”

The young man’s lip curled in a sneer, as if offended by the very thought that his Japanese might not be fluent.

“Of course. Where do you want to go?”

That’s a good question, Miira thought. After being dwarfed by the Hilton in Aqaba, she had no desire to go to one of the big international hotels. Unfortunately, they were likely to be the only places where her own lack of Japanese would not matter.

“Do you know of any traditional hotels here in Tokyo where the staff still speak some English?”

“Hmmm… You’re not going to get traditional anything in Tokyo,” the young man said with a frown. “But I know a great ryokan in Kyoto where you can do the whole traditional shi-thing, and the staff all speak English.”

“Rio-kan? What’s that?”

“Boy, you really don’t know anything do you?” he retorted, his tone superior.

Miira just raised an eyebrow at him. Her head still hurt, and she was in no mood to be talked down to.

“Okay, okay!” he cried, throwing up his hands. “A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn dating back to the time when this place was still called Edo. Happy now?”

“Yes, thank you,” Miira said. Kyoto was where she intended to go the next day anyway, so it was not out of the question. “Would I have to go through the HUB again to get there?”

“No, Kyoto is part of Tokyo HUB.”

“Fine, in that case, you get me a taxi to this ryo-kan of yours, and I promise not to sue for grievous bodily harm.”

“Har de hah hah,” he replied, but his lips quirked as if he were trying to restrain a real smile. “C’mon then.”

“Wait!” Miira said to his retreating back. “I can’t keep calling you ‘hey you’. What’s your name?”

“Jaimie. Now c’mon, I haven’t got all day.”

Jaimie? As in Jaimie Watson? Miira wondered as she started after her bad-tempered young guide.

Now that she thought about it, he was certainly rude enough to be eighteen. But there was also a vitality about him she had not seen in many other Residents.

Maybe Nour was right? Maybe young Jaimie Watson had discovered the way to live a good life in Innerscape?

“Let’s go, bags,” Miira said with a shrug. “Our guide is definitely not going to wait.”

 

cheers

Meeks


Smithing in Vokhtah – how to forge the links of a chain

The creatures of Vokhtah possess many ‘skills’ that owe more to fantasy than sci-fi, but their world is as real as I can make it, so here is some real blacksmithing that I had to research today:

Those who’ve read the first book about Vokhtah will know that the technology of the iVokh is somewhere between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age of Earth. They have Smiths who work starrock – i.e. rock that falls from the stars – in firepits. Of all the items crafted by the Smiths, two play a vital role in Vokhtan culture – timepieces and shackles.

I introduced the concept of a water-driven timepiece in book 1, and the following is a concept drawing of what such a timepiece [with extra ‘alarm bell’] might look like:

 

In book 2, however, I’ll be introducing the idea of the shackles. Think old convict shackles like these:

If you go searching for images of shackles, please be careful how you word your Google search. I learned some eye-opening things about bondage before I found the above image on Ebay. Apparently you can ‘Buy Now’ for $25.97 USD…

But after all that research, how much actually ended up in the story?

Not much. The one thing that truly hit me from the video was that without that shaped anvil, the calipers and the hammer, the blacksmith would have been struggling to make anything resembling a chain link. So how about my Smiths. Would they have possessed such specialised tools? Probably not, at least to start with. So my research boils down to half a sentence, shown in bold below:

The silence of the small chamber was broken by the clank of starrock as Tatah strained against the shackles that bound her to the cot. Held aloft by her huge, red wings, she thrashed from side to side in a vain attempt to break free, but neither the shackles nor the cot showed any signs of weakening.

Exhausted by her efforts and still not completely recovered from the Cut, she slumped back onto her belly and lay there gasping as her wings slowly deflated.

She was bitterly disappointed at not being able to free herself but was not surprised. She had commissioned the shackles at a time when she thought she could conquer the world, so her Smiths had been ordered to produce nothing but the best. They had taken her at her word, spending a year just to craft the tools they would need to forge the shackles. Then they had spent another year refining the starrock and forging it into a set of bindings strong enough to hold even the strongest Vokh.

Tatah had been delighted. But, of course, she had never dreamt that the shackles would be used against her…

Happy weekend all. 🙂

Meeks

 


Vokhtah book 2 – decision time

Okay, I need some serious feedback. Book 2 is changing rather radically. From being a story about the Triad’s Acolyte, it has now become a story about the Acolyte and Kaati [the Apprentice from book 1].  Initially, Kaati’s story was going to weave into the story of the Acolyte, but in a subordinate, sub-plot kind of way.  Now,  just as in book 1, Kaati is demanding more space.

I kind of like where Kaati’s story is going but… if I continue I am going to have to change book 3. A lot.  The following excerpt is a whole chapter because I need to know if I should let the story unwind or reel it in by making Kaati’s return to power a more straightforward process.  I really would appreciate knowing what you guys think. Oh and this is only a first draft so be warned.

***

The small group of Watchers were sparring under the watchful eyes of the Old One when the guard stationed out in the main cavern came jetting in on a whisper of air.

“Intruder!” it called softly.

The three groups of Watchers immediately broke apart, each drudge hurrying to a torch and burying it in the sand. In moments the cavern was dark, except for the one torch held by the Old one.

As the six Watchers took up their positions in the deepest shadows, the lookout returned to its position in the outer cavern.

When all was in readiness, the Old One walked to its assigned place in the centre of the cavern, and sat down with its back to the entrance. It was the bait. It would distract the Intruder, allowing the others to seize the element of surprise. If the intruder was a Teller it could not be allowed to send an alarm.

The Old One sincerely hoped the intruder would not be a Teller, but it was also relieved the long wait would soon be over. It had taught the Watchers as much as it could, and had trained them until their responses were automatic, but neither they nor their strategies had ever been tested.

As the wait dragged on, the two Watchers hidden on either side of the entrance gripped their short wooden rods a little tighter as sweat made their palms slippery. The whole group had trained for this eventuality, but as the ultimate success of the strategy depended on them, both were nervous.

When the first soft footstep sounded from outside the cavern, the Old One made the sign for calm as it sat a little straighter. It was time.

* * *

Kaati had almost reached the bottom of the winding ramp leading down to the lowest level of the Quarter when something made all the fine hairs between its cilia stand on end. It could not pinpoint what was wrong, but the very air seemed charged.

It stopped, closed its eyes and reached out with its talent. In the last ti’m’akh it had become very adept at sensing the presence of the Tellers without them being aware of its probing. That skill had saved it a number of times already, but this time it could sense no minds nearby.

becoming as nervous as an ipti

Shrugging off the sense of being watched, Kaati walked around to the western edge of the lake and sent out a soft ping. The huge subterranean lake shelved sharply, and was a dangerous place to bathe, but it knew where all the shallower areas were, and was not afraid of drowning. Nonetheless, as it scrubbed sweat and dust from its body with fine sand from the bottom, it could not shake the feeling it was in danger.

Cutting its ablutions short, Kaati waded out to dry land and stood there, shivering with cold as it scanned the area again. It still could not sense anyone with the talent, but that only confirmed there were no Tellers in the area. Many Traders only had a very rudimentary talent, and drudges could not mindspeak at all, so they might not show up at all.

But why would any iVokh be down here in the middle of the night unless it was trying to hide something?

Kaati had gone to extraordinary lengths to keep its presence in the Quarter a secret. So far it had revealed itself to just two Traders – the Elder of the Plodder Clan, and one Flyer. It would trust its life to both of them, but they had been entrusted with the task of sounding out the other Traders. Had one of the others betrayed it?

pah… if being betrayed then Tellers being here, not an ordinary Trader

But still, if there was someone down here, that person would now know that someone else was sneaking around the Quarter at night. If it started gossiping about what it had seen, the Tellers would soon hear of it too…

As the young Trader gave itself a vigorous shake, it sent a delicate ping towards the southern end of the great underground lake. That whole area was riddled with smaller caves and passages that led nowhere. If someone was watching, that was where they would be.

The echoes did not reveal anyone, but Kaati had not really expected them to; pings could not go around corners so could not penetrate far into confined spaces. An iVokh who did not want to be found would have no trouble finding places to hide.

Moving quietly, but without making any great effort to disguise its footsteps, the young Trader walked quickly towards the ramp leading up to the main level of the Quarter.

* * *

Just before the footsteps reached the entrance, they stopped and a low whistle came from the cavern beyond.

“Intruder gone!” the lookout called softly as it came through the entrance to join the others.

An audible sigh of relief came from one of the hidden Watchers, but most of the others grumbled in disappointment.

The Old One remained impassive, but it too was disappointed, and a little concerned. If there was someone wandering around the Quarter, the group would have to find a safer place in which to train. Unfortunately, few other caverns were large enough, and private enough for the whole group to train together.

Rising to its feet with a sigh, the old drudge clapped its hands for attention.

“This cavern not being safe anymore,” it said. “Will sending word when-…”

“What happening here Old One?”

The whole group froze as the Intruder stepped through the entrance, cowl raised to hide its face.

The young Watcher to the left of the entrance was the first to react. Lunging forward, it swung its rod at the Intruder’s head.

* * *

When Kaati crept back down the ramp, it held its wings off the ground to stop them from rustling, and tested each footfall before setting its foot down. Like a nightwing on the hunt, it did not intend to alert its prey until it was ready to pounce.

The iVokh watching from the caverns was skilled in the ways of stealth as well, but it still made a slight noise as it rose from its hiding place just inside the first small cavern.

That small noise was all the confirmation Kaati needed. Someone had been watching, someone who was not a Teller, yet used Teller skills to good effect. And now that someone was headed deeper into the warren of caves.

Who could it be? And what was in those caves that had to hidden so carefully?

Kaati knew that some mating couples preferred to do their fighting in private, but even so, it could not imagine why they would meet so late, and in such extreme secrecy. As it crept after the other iVokh, it also burned to know how this particular Trader had learned skills reserved for Tellers.

Despite its greater skills, Kaati did not find it easy to track its prey as the other iVokh was still being very cautious. More than once, the young Trader had to stop and listen for some time before it caught another small noise.

The iVokh was some distance in front when it suddenly stopped and whistled – almost as if it were warning someone else of its presence.

The young Trader was still wondering who these iVokh were when it heard a voice it knew, a voice it had thought long dead.

Old One?

One of the first things Kaati had done after returning to the Quarter was to try and find the old Quartermaster’s retainer. It had hoped to enlist the old drudge’s help in setting up meetings with the Traders most likely to be sympathetic to its cause. Unfortunately it had found no trace of the Old One, and had eventually learned that it had gone out into the Wild soon after the Quartermaster’s death.

Hearing that distinctive voice now was a shock. Not only was the Old One alive and well, it also seemed to be the leader of some clandestine group.

Hope and concern combined to create a slight disharmony in Kaati’s voice as it said, “What happening here Old One?”

At the sound of the young Trader’s voice, all the iVokh in the cavern spun around to face the entrance. All that is, except the Old One who stared at Kaati as if it had seen a ghost. The torch in its hand trembled, sending smoky shadows leaping across the walls.

Stepping lightly into the cavern, Kaati allowed its cowl to relax so the old retainer could see its face.

“Na-…?”

The rush of displaced air coming from behind alerted Kaati to the danger, and it reacted without thought. Lunging backwards with its left leg, it brought its left arm up to shield its head. The blow deflected off its forearm, numbing its whole arm, but the young Trader was still moving. As it completed the turn its right fist hammered into its assailant’s chest.

Both iVokh hit the ground, but Kaati was on top. Rolling to its feet, it spun back and threw a savage necklock on its assailant. Using its right knee as a fulcrum it bent the iVokh’s back into a bow.

“Move and breaking neck!” it hissed.

“Stop!” the Old One croaked, finally managing to find its voice. “Na-Quartermaster? Being truly alive?”

“Na-…?”

“Na-Quartermaster?”

“But being dead!”

As the astonished whispers flew from iVokh to iVokh, Kaati nodded its head, but did not release the pressure on its assailant’s neck. It had recognized the other iVokh as drudges almost immediately, but was still reeling from the shock of being attacked by one of them.

Who were these drudges? And why was the Old One apparently leading them?

“Begging,” the Old One said in a stronger voice. “Not killing young Watcher!”

Watcher?

The Quartermaster had never openly admitted the Old One spied for it, but it had once mentioned that it had Watchers amongst the Traders. Could these savage young drudges be the Watchers it had referred to?

“Believing this young Watcher trying to kill self,” Kaati said in a flat voice.

“Forgiveness. Thinking being Teller…”

The Old One’s words made Kaati’s mouth fall open in astonishment. This drudge had knowingly attacked someone it thought might be a Teller?

Looking around at the other drudges lining the walls of the cavern, the young Trader noticed that all of them were brandishing rods, and looked as if they knew how to use them.

“Who training Watchers to fight?”

Something like embarrassment flitted across the Old One’s features, but it kept its voice steady as it said, “Watchers not attacking again. Please releasing, then explaining all.”

Kaati was not at all sure it was prepared to trust the Old One’s word, not any more. However it was in an awkward situation. By revealing its presence, it had already entrusted all these drudges with a secret they should not know. As allies, they could prove useful, but as enemies they could ruin everything it had worked to achieve. It might be able to kill two or three of them, but not all…

“Not making any sudden moves,” the young Trader commanded as it slowly released the Watcher, and stepped back.

“Now walking to Old One.”

Nodding to show it understood, the Watcher rubbed at its neck as it trudged towards the old iVokh, head down in shame.

“Others too,” Kaati demanded.

At a small hand gesture from the Old One, the other Watchers left their positions, and joined the small group in the centre of the cave.

That hand gesture chilled Kaati almost as much as the thought of drudges knowing how to fight. It was part of the sign language all apprentice Tellers were taught, and was a closely guarded secret.

Despite having learned to hate and fear the Tellers, Kaati still found the thought of drudges wielding such power disconcerting. Why would any Teller betray its clan and side with drudges?

“Who training drudges?” the young Trader asked again, its tone uncompromising. “And for what purpose?”

“Who being self,” the Old One said with a touch of pride, “and the why being to avenge murder of Quartermaster!”

“But how…? Ki! Wait! Quartermaster being murdered?”

* * *

The Old One had lived with the knowledge of the Quartermaster’s murder for so long the rage had become a cold, hard thing. But now, seeing the shock and disbelief on the young Trader’s face, it felt the outrage welling up again, fresh and raw. Its hand shook a little as it gestured for everyone to sit down.

Speaking in a monotone to hold its emotions at bay, the Old One told how it had found the cushion that had been used to smother the old Quartermaster, and how it had realized that only Teller assassins could have overpowered the old Plodder.

“Stop!” the young Trader said. “How Old One knowing so much about Tellers?”

“Because training as Teller apprentice once too.”

“Like self…”

“S’so.”

When the young Trader said nothing further, the Old One continued its tale. It touched briefly on how it had found the Watchers, and persuaded them to join its quest to find the murderers.

As the Old One spoke, the seven young Watchers all sat up a little straighter, and nodded solemnly. However, when it began talking about all the Traders involved with the old Quartermaster’s death, every iVokh present fell still.

“Master Teller, Runner Seneschal and all of top ranking Tellers?” the young Trader asked, its face ashen.

“S’so. Together with at least five high ranking Runners, including current Clan Elder.”

“Almost third of all Traders…”

Knowing how devastating this news must be, the Old One said nothing more, allowing the young Trader to absorb the news at its own pace.

* * *

The Old One’s news hit Kaati hard. It had known the old Quartermaster as a gentle giant who had always had the Traders’ best interests at heart. It had had its faults, but it had never allowed those faults to affect the Traders.

More disturbing still was the realization that so many Traders had hated the old Plodder enough to murder it. The only other Quartermaster to ever die at the hands of the Traders was the one who had initiated the Great Unrest.

“Why Old One? Why hating old Quartermaster so much?”

“Pride and ambition for some, fear for others,” the old drudge said.

“Fear? Why fear? Old Quartermaster never doing harm to any Trader!”

“Ki. But perhaps those Traders knowing Old Master would not believe about… life-debt.”

There was no hint of accusation in the old drudge’s voice, but Kaati still felt a rush of guilt. It knew it had done nothing wrong in bartering for the healing of the young Flyer on the Spine. That healing had been a fair trade. Nonetheless it knew it was not completely innocent of all blame. If it had not been so proud, and had trusted the Quartermaster’s judgement more, the old Plodder would have had warning of the brewing crisis, and might have been able to avert it. Instead it had known nothing of what was happening, and had died because of it.

“Healing of Flyer being fair trade Old One. But blaming self for not informing Quartermaster of conflicts in caravan…”

“Hearing some rumours, especially amongst Plodders, but those rumours also saying na-Quartermaster dying on Spine. Killed by to’pak.”

Kaati knew the way rumours could feed upon themselves, growing with each re-telling until they bore no resemblance to the truth. Nonetheless the specific nature of this rumour had it baffled.

“Why saying being killed by to’pak?”

“That being what Messenger saying,” the Old One replied.

“Messenger? Telling exactly what Messenger saying!”

“Only hearing gossip,” the Old One said with an apologetic shrug.

“Just telling!”

As the Old One spoke about the conversation the Messenger had had with one of the Flyers, Kaati’s eyes grew round in astonishment. If that particular rumour was true, the Messenger had deliberately lied to save its life.

However when the Old One spoke about the Messenger fighting and killing the Leader of the Tellers, right in the middle of Needlepoint gather, the young Trader jumped up and began pacing. As it paced, memories of that last night on the Spine came back with chilling clarity.

The Messenger had asked Kaati about its plans, and it had been tempted to ask for help, but then the conversation had abruptly veered away, and the moment had been lost…

because of ‘Guild business’

And then, the next morning, when they reached that small cave, the Messenger must have done something to put it to sleep because when it finally woke up there was all that food in the cave. And those credits.

Had the Messenger planned the whole thing… just to help Kaati survive?

No wonder the Tellers had killed the Messenger. After the Leader’s death they must have tracked it, and ambushed it as it was returning to the cave.

But why would the Messenger go to such lengths to help a Trader? Even if it had hoped to create a life-debt for the future, it would have had no guarantee that Kaati would even survive to pay that debt.

Had the Messenger truly been so calculating? Or had it been motivated by the same loyalty that Traders felt for each other?

some Traders only

That thought brought Kaati to a standstill. Traders had been loyal to each other, for generation upon generation. But not any more. Now something ugly had taken the place of loyalty. Traders might still talk about loyalty but their words were empty. Loyalty, like honour, came from actions, not words.

The first signs of that rift between word and deed had occurred on the Spine, when the Tellers had tried to force the Plodder into leaving the Messenger behind. And the cracks had just widened from then on.

And now the only Traders prepared to act to avenge a foul murder were drudges…

Turning towards the small group of clustered around the Old One, Kaati stared at the old drudge, as if seeing it, truly seeing it for the first time.

“Why doing this Old One?”

* * *

The Old One met the young Trader’s eye for a long moment before it looked away.

When it had first begun hunting for Watchers, it had been motivated by rage and a sickening sense of injustice. It had seen its vengeance as being a last act of service for the Quartermaster. But now, after getting to know all these bright, passionate young drudges, it was starting to see that what they were doing went far deeper than just vengeance.

But would this young Trader understand? It had spent the formative part of its young life wanting and expecting to be part of the elite. On the Spine it had defended the Trader Way, but just now it had made no attempt to hide the contempt it felt for the Watchers. Would it just use them and discard them when they were no longer useful? Could it really be trusted?

“Quartermaster being an honourable Trader,” the Old One said. “Not deserving to be murdered. Once having enough Watchers, intending to kill all those responsible.”

* * *

Kaati could sense the Old One was not being completely truthful, but at least it was not lying about its desire for vengeance. The cold resolve in its voice was genuine. It would kill those responsible for the old Quartermaster’s death, or die trying.

But would it risk its life for the Traders as a whole? Or for a na-Quartermaster newly risen from the grave?

“Forgiveness, Old One,” Kaati began, “but Watchers being no match for Tellers. Even if training for years, rods and physical skill still not being enough against Tellers. Tellers being trained to fight as a group, using mindspeech to co-ordinate attacks…”

An expression of pain crossed the old drudge’s face.

“Knowing,” it said. “But if can catching Tellers one by-…”

“Like catching self?” Kaati asked softly.

At the young Trader’s words, all the Watchers rose to their feet, bristling with anger.

“Taking by surprise!”

“Not happening again!”

Really? Kaati thought as it half inflated its wings.

Distracted by their anger, none of the Watchers noticed what the young Trader was doing until it suddenly leapt towards them like a stone released from a sling.

Kaati flew through the air, its leap powered by the thrust of air from its jets. It barreled into the group at head height and half of them went down immediately. Rolling to its feet behind the remaining Watchers, the young Trader struck left and right with its elbows. Two more Watchers went down as it somersaulted over them.

In moments, just two Watchers remained on their feet, but the young Trader ignored them. Turning towards the Old One it grabbed the old drudge’s arm and twisted it up behind its back… but gently.

“Now imagine,” Kaati said, “what damage could doing if being a fully trained Teller.”

A stunned silence met the young Trader’s words. It had not done any permanent damage, to any of them, but all those now struggling up from the ground were hurting, and would bear ugly bruises for a ti’m’akh.

“Enough, young one,” the Old One said. “Proving point. Releasing.”

As the young Trader released the old drudge’s arm it took two steps back, and stared at the group. Its expression was still wary, but all of the Watchers looked cowed, even those who had not been hit.

When it was sure it had their attention, Kaati began speaking.

“If helping regain power amongst Clans, promising to teach Watchers better techniques.”

The Watchers continued to look surly and defeated, but at least they were still listening.

“But needing still more. Needing one member of each group to have mind-speech. That means needing help of Traders.”

None of the Watchers looked pleased by the thought of being dependent on any Trader, but as Kaati explained how it would co-ordinate these groups into a deadly fighting force capable of taking down even the most highly trained Teller, their expressions changed to looks of grudging respect. Only the Old One continued to look defeated.

Turning to face the old drudge who still sat on the ground, Kaati extended its hand as it said, “Vengeance not being possible, unless working together.”

The Old One ignored the young Trader’s hand as it pushed itself to its feet.

“Together?” it asked. “Drudges and Traders, together?”

Kaati was taken aback by the vehemence of the old drudge’s words.

What had the Old One expected? To be praised for training these young drudges to die? Some of them would still die, that was inevitable, but at least now they would have a chance to actually accomplish something!

Looking around at the circle of drudges, the young Trader noticed that their expressions were all grim again. They had had a moment of hope but now it was gone.

What in Takh’s name did they all want if not vengeance?

perhaps wanting some respect

The voice in Kaati’s head was its own, but the words felt like something the old Quartermaster would have said. It had always been strangely courteous when talking to the Old One…

“Ki,” the young Trader said, loud enough for all the drudges to hear. “Not drudges and Traders. Watchers and Traders. Together.”


Vokhtah, book 2 – some plotting

I’m a pantster not a plotter, however there comes a time in any story when I have to take a step back, and really think about the wider ramifications of the story I am trying to tell.  This usually involves thinking about the world as a whole. 

What outside forces are at work? And how will they impinge on the lives of my main characters? In particular, how will history, culture and politics help or hinder their personal stories?

The following excerpt is something I’ve been working on for days.  The scene will impact two of my main  characters. One, the Apprentice/Kaati you already know. The other is a character I introduced in book 1, but only in passing. As such, the information in this scene is vital, so it needs to be clear. But I did not want to write just an info dump. 😦

I’d really appreciate your feedback on whether I got the balance more or less right.

***

The Master of Acolytes was something of an anomaly amongst the higher ranked healers of the Guild because it had a powerful talent, but very little personal ambition. It did not attempt to curry favour with either the Yellows or the Blues, and tended to avoid Guild politics where possible.

Nonetheless, even this mild, self-effacing healer nurtured one, powerful ambition – it longed to be the healer who finally freed the Guild from the Traders forever.

The Master did not hate the Traders. It did not even object to sharing the Settlement with them, but it did fear another Great Unrest, and knew the Guild would never be truly safe while it was dependant on outsiders for any of its important needs. And Traders held a monopoly on two of the Guild’s most critical needs.

Ever since the time of the Rogue, the Traders had been the Guild’s only link with the outside world. Traders kept the Guild’s maps up-to-date, and the Trader Quartermaster made it possible for the Guild to know where and when its Triads were needed. In return the Guild offered the Traders shelter and food.

This symbiotic relationship had worked well until the Great Unrest had disrupted the Guild’s ability to service the needs of the eyries, and their Vokh. The Guild had acted quickly, yet even so, the Nine had promised to withdraw the Vokh’s protection of the Settlement if such a disturbance ever happened again.

That was when it had become obvious the Guild’s dependence on the Traders was a weakness, a dangerous weakness. Nonetheless, despite over two hundred years of trying, the Guild had not been able to breed even one healer-seneschal. The two talents could not seem to co-exist in the one body. Those Initiates with healing talents strong enough to survive the Quickening could not mind-speak, while those who could always died because they lacked the healing talents that should have kept them alive.

The Master of Acolytes was well aware of this long, long history of failure. It had personally nurtured six young candidates with the ability to mind-speak, and had watched five of them die during the Quickening. Yet despite these failures, it continued to believe the mix of talents was possible. It was convinced the answer lay in finding candidates who had the potential for both talents… before the Quickening.

All five failures had been first rate apprentices who should have made good healers, yet they had still died. And now there was just one hopeful left. It possessed a very strong talent for mind-speaking, however it was the young iVokh’s empathy that made it truly special. Even as a first year apprentice, it had shown a natural ‘knack’ for soothing fractious newborn that was unmatched by any of the other apprentices.

Of course, empathy alone did not guarantee the Quickening would trigger the full range of healer talents. Nonetheless, experience had shown that natural empathy was the best indicator of latent talents.

In an effort to release more of this latent potential, the Master had arranged for the sixth candidate to work with a powerful healer in a safe eyrie. Unfortunately Needlepoint had turned out to be anything but safe, and now no-one seemed to know whether the Triad, and its precious Acolyte, were still alive.

The only one who might know was the Yellow Councillor, but it was the least approachable, and most feared healer in the Guild.

The Master had never spoken to the Yellow, nor had it ever wanted to, but after almost two ti’m’akh of fearful waiting it could wait no longer. It had to find out if its life’s work was over.

Taking a deep, tremulous breath, the old healer raised its hand and knocked on the Yellow’s door.


The proof of the pie

I had meant to post this excerpt from book 2 as my 280th post.  I like commemorating milestones, and while this chapter is not all that significant in its own right,  I am pleased with how it turned out as it incorporates all that research I wrote about in iVokh and the Poacher’s Knot.

Sadly Pippi, and fate, had other plans so it has become my 281st post. I hope you enjoy it anyway. I should warn you though, it’s a long one so you might want to grab a cup of tea or coffee before reading. 🙂

The third day of Kohoh dawned warm and clear, without even a hint of rain.

Up on the flight ledge leading to the Settlement, the older hunters waggled their heads in dismay as they prepared to fly down to the plains. The rains had been starting later and later the last five years, and they knew that did not bode well for the coming Pah H’akh. The Bad Times were always bad, but some were worse than others, Takh help them all.

***

Two leagues to the south, the dirty, travel-worn iVokh hiding near the Trader’s entrance to the Settlement silently blessed the lack of rain. Every day of clear skies gave it one more day in which to find shelter. Yet even as it gave thanks, its sense of urgency grew. It knew this period of grace could not last for much longer. It had to get inside an eyrie soon, or it would die and its long, gruelling trek would have been for nothing.

Hitching its stained travel pouch a little higher, Kaati turned its back on the Traders’ Quarter and slipped away with a sigh. It had watched the entrance for two days and two nights, hoping to sneak inside without being seen, but in that whole time, the Tellers on guard had not left their posts for even a moment. There would be no way into the Quarter from here, and that left the Healers’ side of the Settlement as its last hope.

The entrance to the Settlement would be guarded as well, however those guards would not know its face. To them, it would be just another hunter making the most of the fine weather to bring in some extra food.

The real danger would come from the other hunters who would surely know it did not belong. The trick then, would be to get past the guards before the real hunters returned.

The irony of that thought made Kaati shake its head in wry amusement. The word ‘Kaati’ meant little hunter, and signified the kind of Teller it had hoped to become – capable, and deadly if attacked, but more spy than assassin. But then the old Quartermaster had intervened, tearing it away from its old life to become a na-Quartermaster.

Perhaps that was why it had refused to find a more appropriate name for itself. Yet here it was, about to become a hunter of animals so it could fight for a position it had never wanted in the first place.

Once Kaati was far enough from the flight ledge it stopped, and began to inflate its wings. All Traders knew how to hunt, so it was confident it could trap a few rock lizards, however getting inside the Settlement before the day’s work was done would require something more than just a few lizards. It would need a good excuse as well.

Lifting its arms, the young Trader inspected the many bruises and scratches that covered its body. Most were old, but some were fresh, a legacy of the two days it had spent spying on the Traders’ entrance.

Would it look battered enough to convince the guards it had had a bad fall?

Kaati’s cilia twitched in distaste at the ripe smell wafting from its armpits.

not if smelling like this

It had scrubbed itself with dry sand every day to reduce the scent trail it left for predators, but nothing short of a proper bath would make it smell like one of the eyrie-bound.

Turning away from the direction of the Settlement, the young Trader squinted at the bright flashes of light coming from the Blood River.

This late in the season, the river was reduced to a string of brackish waterholes, but it was no less dangerous than when it was in full flood. Starving pakti would lurk in the deeper water, while the reeds choking the banks would be full of sidewinders, all of them lying in wait for any creature desperate enough to sneak down for a drink. Or a wash.

Nonetheless when the young Trader took flight it headed away from the Settlement, towards the river.

Landing a safe distance from the water’s edge, Kaati dropped its pouch to the ground, and pulled out the sling it had bought at the Claw Valley gather. Slings were useless for hunting food animals as they killed far too easily, however they were very good at making even large predators think twice about attacking.

With the sling in one hand, and three sharp pebbles in the other, the young Trader approached the waterhole from the downriver end, every sense on the alert.

Down the middle of the channel, where the flowing water would have been deepest, an open path still led towards open water. It looked safe enough, but the multitude of small footprints baked into the mud showed that many smaller animals used this approach as well. And where food animals gathered, predators were never far away.

Kaati was still some distance from the edge of the water when it saw the first pile of bones. The length of the thigh bone suggested the creature had been a young akaht. The great herds relied on numbers to keep them safe, but the predators always picked off the stragglers. A lone iVokh would be easy prey.

A few steps later, a soft plop made the young Trader look towards the centre of the waterhole. It saw lazy ripples fanning out from two, large beady eyes. Those eyes seemed to dare the  iVokh to come closer.

Locking eyes with the pakti, the young Trader fitted one of the pebbles to the sling and began whirling it round and round.

The sling hummed a song of death as it spun, and when it stopped the pakti was missing an eye.

Kaati kept its eyes on the thrashing pakti as it fit another pebble to the sling. It knew predators were at their most dangerous when they were wounded.

That was something the three smaller pakti discovered to their cost when they attacked their larger companion.

Maddened with pain, the injured pakti tore into its attackers, injuring one, and killing the other before the third managed to dart in on its blind side to deliver a killing blow.

The victorious pakti killed its injured rival before settling down to feed.

The young Trader allowed the new ruler of the waterhole to eat its fill before chasing it away with a few well aimed rocks.

The pakti’s tail lashed angrily as it swam out of reach, but it was too sated to dispute the iVokh’s right to enter the water.

Despite its apparent victory, Kaati knew it would be in danger every moment it spent in the water, and its eyes did not stop scanning from side to side as it waded into the waterhole. It only went knee deep, and scrubbed with desperate speed before wading out again. Near the water’s edge, it stopped just long enough to tear out two handfuls of wilted reeds.

Safe on land once more, the young Trader quickly stowed the sling and the reeds before retreating to the meagre shade of a pipa tree, high on the riverbank.

Once the rains began, and water swelled the river once more, the deep roots of the pipa would siphon life-giving water up to the withered branches. For now though, its branches were as dry and lifeless as everything else on the plain.

Climbing up into a fork of the tree, Kaati pulled out a reed and began tearing it into long strands.

A weaver would have soaked the strands, and pounded them to soften the fibres, but the young Trader had no time for such niceties. Once it had enough strands, it began to form them into lengths of rough string.

The hard fibres grazed Kaati’s hand as it rolled the strands against its thigh, but it persisted until it had enough string for three snares.

Looping one end of the string around the stub of a branch, it tied the loop off with a double knot before folding it in half to make two smaller loops. Once it had threaded the free end of the string through both loops it had a strong slip knot for its noose.

When all three snares were finished, it left the safety of the tree, and carefully arranged the snares on the ground, near where the smaller animals would come to drink. It sprinkled sand and dry leaves over each snare before tying the free ends to low lying branches or rocks.

Both suns were high in the sky before all the traps were set, and Kaati could climb back up into the tree to wait. And wait. Thanks to the scent of blood in the water, it had to wait until almost first-dark before a lizard finally emerged from the rocks, and crept down to the waterhole.

The wary creature skirted the first snare, and would have avoided the second as well, but some small noise made it jump in fright. Unfortunately it jumped the wrong way. As it landed, one of its hind feet skidded on the loose sand, and became tangled in the loop of the snare. As it tried to pull away, the slip knot tightened around its ankle.

The more the terrified lizard struggled, the tighter the noose became, and by the time the young Trader jumped from the tree and hurried around to the other side of the waterhole, the lizard was too exhausted to put up much of a fight. It could only hiss in impotent fury as it was hoisted into the air.

Kaati had hoped to catch more than just the one lizard, but with first-dark approaching it knew it could not delay any longer. It had to get to the Settlement, and talk its way inside before the rest of the hunters finished for the day, and recognized it for a stranger.

Tucking the hapless lizard inside its pouch, the young Trader used the heat rising from the ground to boost itself up into the air. In moments it was flying hard for the Settlement, and the dubious safety it would find there.


Nunc Incipitur

Nunc Incipitur is Latin for ‘now it begins’. It is also happens to be the prologue to book 2 of the Vokhtah cycle. 🙂

I have been struggling with book 2 because I spent too long away from the story, and because I already knew what book 2 would be about. There were no surprises, or so I thought. I am pleased to say I was wrong, and now I have my excitement back.

I wrote Nunc Incipitur just this morning and I rather like it. I’d really appreciate your feedback.

Nunc Incipitur
[now it begins]

The Female endured the healers’ ministrations in silence, but her anger was as loud as a shout. She still hated them as much as she ever had, and still longed to tear them to pieces – that had not changed – but since her recovery she had learned to fear their power. That was new.

During the mating she had fought the Seven without fear because death was the natural ending to every life. However there had been nothing natural about the way the healers had fought her. Even now, whenever they touched her head, her whole body would tense up, fearing the moment of blackness, of nothingness.

They called it sleep, but it was more like a small death from which she would awake, moments or hours later, with no sense of time having passed. And yet she knew time must have passed because things would be different when she awoke, she would be different.

The first time the healers used their power on her had been during a feed. The healer offering her the tukti had been afraid, and the scent of its fear had ignited her blood lust. She had lunged for it, ready to tear its hearts out. A moment later she had awoken to find her hands empty, as empty as her spirit. The bloodlust was gone, snuffed out as if it had never been.

The healers had done the same thing to her many times before she had finally understood that they were the ones stealing time from her life. And that was when the fear had begun. And the despair.

But she had been too strong for them. Instead of continuing her futile attempts to kill them, she had focused her hatred inwards, tirelessly searching shared memories for a way out. And she had found it.

Buried in the memories of a long dead Sage she had found a curiosity ignored by most Vokh. It was a way to cross the void to a place as different to Vokhtah as day was to night.

The Sage who found this strange place had only managed to force a sharing with one of the inhabitants for a very short time. Nonetheless, even that brief sharing had been hellish, revealing a world bathed in shades of black and grey. Little wonder the Sage had not experimented further.

But she had. Every night for the last ti’m’akh, she had honed her skills until she too could make the leap across the void, and she had discovered the world had a daytime face as well. The light was always as bright as when Takh was alone in the sky, however the colours had been all wrong, with none of the soft purples of Vokhtah. The smells had been strange too, but for all its strangeness, the world had teemed with life…

The soft thud of the door closing brought the Female back to the present, and a thrill of excitement made her cilia writhe. By the time the healers returned at first-light they would find nothing but a cold, dead husk! The part of her that mattered would be gone, treading the paths of that eerie blue world in a new body.  She would have to learn how to hunt in a body without wings or fangs, but she was a hunter, and hunters always triumphed.

Taking a deep breath, the Female focused her talent into a bright, hard point, and threw her awareness out into the void.

 


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