Tag Archives: excerpt

Self-publishing a paperback – trim size and bleed

The following extract is taken from my how-to books and explains about two key printing terms: ‘trim size’ and ‘bleed’.

Trim Size

The term ‘trim size’ refers to the finished size of your book – i.e. after the pages have been glued inside the cover and trimmed off neatly.

There are many trim sizes available, but the most popular sizes for non-fiction are shown in Table 1 below:

As even the largest of those trim sizes is slightly smaller than a normal A4 page, the trim size you choose will inevitably change the total page count of your book.

Note: the size of a default Word document is A4, and A4 is 8.27” x 11.69” in size.

This change in page size will have consequences in terms of layout. For example, you may find large gaps on pages where the graphics no longer fit. As a result, some re-formatting will be required. Furthermore, as the spine of the cover depends upon the number of pages in the book, trim size will indirectly affect the width of the spine as well.

You can see a complete table of trim sizes available in KDP – in both inches and cm – at the web address below:

https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201834180#trim

Bleed

Although selecting the right trim size is the first critical step in printing your book, ‘bleed’ can be the second.

To illustrate the concept of ‘bleed’, consider the two pages below:

Note: the dotted green line represents the trim line.

The image on the left extends past the trim line into the ‘bleed’. When the page is trimmed, the image will have a crisp, clean edge with no white showing. By contrast, the image on the right does not extend into the ‘bleed’ and will have a thin white edge after it is trimmed:

Although most novels do not contain photographs, some do include maps and illustrations, and for them, bleed may be an issue.

If those images sit within the normal margins of the page, the book will not need bleed, but if they extend to the very edge of the page, the book will need bleed. This point is highlighted in the two pages below:

So keep ‘bleed’ in mind when you select the trim size of your book.

Another factor to consider is the length of your book.

A short book printed in a large trim size may end up looking too thin. A long book printed in a small trim size may end up looking too ‘fat’. More importantly, the spine may not be wide enough to allow for the printing of the title.

Note: KDP requires a minimum of 100 pages to print the title on the spine.

And finally, there’s the question of genre. Books are tactile objects and readers get used to a certain size in their favourite reading material.

Note: books that are either too big or too small for their genre may not be as ‘visible’ to a reader intent on buying a book.

Table of trim sizes – with and without bleed

The following is a table of trim sizes available with KDP:

I hope this proves to be useful. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 


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


Who is Alex Tang?

At the risk of boring you all silly, I thought I’d post one more, very short post about my mystery character, Alex Tang. It leaves a lot to the imagination, but I’m rather proud of how much I’ve managed to convey with these 400 something words. I hope this answers most of your questions. The video clip below is what I was listening to while I wrote. The track is called ‘Knights of Palmyra’, from Jo Blankenburg’s album Vendetta.

***

“No.”

The holos of the two government representatives glanced at each other before turning back to the slim, Asian man who sat perfectly still on the sofa opposite.

It was the older official who finally spoke.

“We do understand how bitter you must feel about your husband, James. But we’re pretty sure the people who set fire to the safe house were hired by Beaumont-…”

“If you refuse to testify they’ll get away with everything!” the younger official said.

Alex Tang’s face remained inscrutable as he said, “Your people should have thought of that before they left my husband to burn.”

“We’ve apologized for that a hundred times!” the younger official began.

“Steven!”

The older official cast a withering glance at his companion before continuing.

“Our people died in that blaze too, James. Jenny Martin was one of our best operatives, and she left behind a three year old daughter.”

The mention of Jenny Martin made Alex wince. He had liked Jenny. She had been a friend. And when the wall had imploded, shooting that ball of flame towards him, she had shielded him with her own body. Her sacrifice had saved his life…

“With two of his team down, and your husband…trapped under that wall, Phil Denning did the only thing he could…”

Yeah, he ignored Pete, and saved your precious witness

Pete, Alex’s husband of less than a year, had been furthest from the inferno. Trapped, but also protected by the heavy cupboard that had been blown on top of him by the explosion, he should have been the one to survive. Instead, he had died a slow, agonizing death.

Despite being blinded, and burned to a crisp wherever Jenny’s body had not protected his, Alex had remained conscious the entire time… listening to Pete scream.

“Won’t you at least talk to Phil? Hear his side of the story?”

Talk to Phil Denning? The man who had let Pete die?

A mirthless chuckle escaped Alex’s lips as he turned bitter eyes on the two holograms cluttering up his living room.

“I don’t think so.”

“But-…”

“We’ll let you think things over,” the older official said. “If you change your mind, you know how to reach us.”

when hell freezes over

Alex remained seated as the older official winked out.

“You know they’ll have to pull the plug? If you don’t co-operate,” the young official said. When Alex did not answer, he too winked out.

Alone again, Alex Tang turned his head towards the window. The glass was pristine once more, allowing him to see the Forbidden City in all its glory.

When he had first woken up inside Innerscape, he had smashed the window and thrown himself off the ledge. He had woken back in his bed. Unscathed.

But there was always more than one way of skinning a cat.


Introducing Alex Tang, a new character from Innerscape

I’ve had a great weekend writing, so I thought I’d introduce you to a new character.:)

Tragic house fire kills three

In local news, the bodies of two men, and a woman were recovered from the burnt out shell of a house on the outskirts of Stradwick.

Located in the once green hills of Macedon, Stradwick is a small, domed enclave that was rebuilt after the devastating fires of 2072 razed the original township to the ground.

Thirty years on, Stradwick has become the favoured weekend retreat of wealthy CEO’s and holo stars.

Francis Naismith, one of the ten permanent residents of Stradwick, told me the gutted house was a rental property administered by Greenhills Real Estate.

A spokesperson for Greenhills refused to comment on the identities of the deceased, or even if they had, in fact, been renting the property.

 Police also refused to comment, saying the relatives of the three deceased had not yet been notified.

Neither the police nor the fire services would comment on whether arson was involved. I did, however, manage to discover that the house had a sophisticated fire protection system of its own, above and beyond the protection afforded by the dome.

Why the fire protection system did not work is just one of the many baffling questions surrounding this tragic fire.

This is Jonathon Szabo for Victoria Today, reporting from Stradwick. June 2, 2102.

***

Alex Tang sat in his luxury penthouse, bottle of cognac in hand, as he looked out across the dark water of the moat.

The Forbidden City was a beautiful sight, especially at night when everything was lit up.

Once, he had dreamt of travelling to Beijing and seeing the city of the old emperors for himself. Now he hated it.

Draining the last of the Louis XIII cognac as if it were water, Alex rose from his chair, and threw the bottle at the plate glass window that framed the view of the Forbidden City.

The bottle shattered, and the Forbidden City disappeared behind a web work of crazed glass.

“That’s better.”

They should have let him die.

Barely tipsy, despite the cognac he had drunk, Alex looked neither right nor left as he walked to the bedroom.

A towel covered the large mirror on the wall, opposite the bed, but as the lights came on, he caught a glimpse of a slim, Asian man reflected in the window.

“Curtains close!”

Pulling off his t-shirt and jeans, Alex knelt beside his bed, and clasped his hands in prayer.

“I am James Milgrove,” he whispered into his hands. “I’m 6’2”, and I have blond hair and blue eyes. I was born in Perth twenty-nine years ago. I have an older sister…”

…and I was once married…

They really should have let him die.

***

I have known about this character from the very beginning, but until this weekend he was just a hazy shadow. On Saturday the name, the location, the whole scene just… happened. These are the moments writers live for. They give us the courage to soldier on during the lean times, when every new word feels like giving birth to a 20 pound gorilla. 

Cheers

Meeks


Old friends and new acquaintances on Vokhtah

This excerpt is also about the Forager and takes place a few days later. It is quite a bit longer than the first snippet so remember to make a cuppa first. 🙂

***

The Forager was standing in line with six other foragers, a bag full of fresh herbs in its arms, when the gong for true-dark sounded throughout the eyrie. They had all been held up because of a dispute between one of the foragers and the head Attendant of Stores. The forager only had half a bag to hand in and the Attendant was refusing to pay.

“But only needing one last credit for rock lizard,” the forager cried. “Bringing extra half on the morrow!”

“Pah,” the Attendant said. “And if to’pak catching again?”

“Ki! Promising-…”

“Out of way Scar!” someone else called angrily. “Missing all food soon.”

Other irate voices quickly joined the first, and the Forager gripped its bag tighter, in case a scuffle broke out. It too was just one credit short of a rock lizard, and had no intention of losing its precious herbs in a fight. Peering over the heads of the iVokh in front, it breathed a sigh of relief when it saw the desperate forager finally give up and step out of the line.

As the iVokh limped past, emaciated arms clutched tight around its half empty bag, the Forager could not help noticing the scars tracing an uneven semi-circle around its right wing and leg. Bite marks like that could only have come from a to’pak. Scar was lucky to be alive. The attack must have happened close to the eyrie or it would have bled to death before the healers could reach it.

But why had they left it half crippled? Letting it live without the means to feed itself properly was no boon…

When the line began to move again, the Forager promptly forgot all about the scarred forager, and shuffled along with the rest until it reached the Attendant.

“How knowing so much about herbs?” the Attendant asked.

The iVokh’s tone was more curious than suspicious, yet the Forager still felt its bowels clench in fright. The Attendant was one of the original survivors of the eyrie, and obviously thought it was one of the newcomers from Five Rocks. Unfortunately, the rest of the foragers still waiting in line really had come from Five Rocks. And they thought it was one of the survivors. If it said the wrong thing now it could end up betraying itself to both groups.

“Great parent teaching,” the Forager mumbled, hoping the Attendant would not question it further.

“Ah… fever balm,” the Attendant said as it picked up a twig with pale orange leaves and sniffed. “Parent teaching self. Being apprentice healer before coming to Needlepoint.”

Then parent failing apprenticeship early, the Forager thought as it nodded politely. The obvious pride in the Attendant’s voice stopped it from pointing out that the twig was actually sleep balm, not fever balm. Both were an orange colour, however sleep balm smelled sweet while fever balm had a strong, astringent scent.

“Healers being pleased,” the Attendant continued as it handed the Forager three credits. “Next!”

Clutching its credits, the Forager bowed with exaggerated politeness before hurrying towards the communal feeding area.

By the time it reached the huge cavern next to the animal pens, most of the other iVokh of the eyrie had already fed. And of course, the plumpest rock lizards were gone.

When the bored attendant saw the Forager coming, it reached into the lizard cage and pulled out a scrawny specimen with one hand. Its other hand held a large sack that bulged with credits.

As the Forager handed over its own precious credits it could not avoid a moment of bitterness. If it had only thought to keep a few of the credits it had bartered for the gem shard, it would not now be breaking its back for the privilege of drinking lukewarm blood…

Lizard in hand, it retreated to an empty spot by the wall, and began to feed. It tried to drink slowly, to make the moment last, but all too soon the body in its hand began to shudder.

Pulling away with regret, the Forager licked every last trace of blood from its mouth before going to collect its ration of dried vegetables. It was halfway through the unappetizing granules when it chanced to look up, and recognized Scar standing next to the baskets that held the used bowls.

The iVokh had its back turned to the Forager, and seemed to be transferring bowls from one basket to the other. Every so often it would stop and examine one of the bowls for a moment or two before placing it neatly in the second basket.

Strange, the Forager thought as it started eating again. A moment later its meal was interrupted a second time when an angry shout sounded from the direction of the baskets. It looked up just in time to see an attendant bearing down on Scar, who was backing away with a bowl clutched in its hands. As it retreated it licked frantically at the inside of the bowl.

Realization hit the Forager at the same moment the attendant hit Scar, and pulled the bowl from its hands.

“Cripple!” the attendant hissed in disgust.

“Not being cripple!” Scar hissed back, but it did not try to approach the baskets again. Instead it wandered over to a group of washers who were still eating, and sat down just a short distance from them. If it was hoping they would leave something in their bowls, it must have been disappointed when they got up as a group and moved closer to the attendant.

The scarred forager remained where it was, staring blankly into space, as if it did not care.

Apprentice looking like that

The Forager’s stomach seemed to turn over as it suddenly remembered that night on the Spine, when the Apprentice and the other two had been disowned by the rest of the Traders. Of the three it had managed to save only one.

Was the Apprentice still alive? Had it managed to get back to the Settlement on its own?

Despite knowing it had done all it could for the young Trader, the Forager could not help wishing it could have done more. Perhaps that was why it rose to its feet and crossed the cavern to where Scar still sat, staring at nothing.

Sitting down a short distance from Scar, the Forager made a show of eating as it watched the other iVokh from the corner of its eye.

Scar did not come any closer, but nor did it move away.

The attendants were just starting to clean up when the Forager belched, and put its half-finished bowl on the ground by its side. Then it rose and walked away without a backward glance.


Do you know this iVokh?

I thought some of you might enjoy a small snippet about an old friend. 🙂

* * *

The tall, thin Forager rose up in the air and carefully inspected the clump of boulders before landing, and plucking the fleshy pink shoots that grew in the shade they cast. Boulders and shade often meant to’pak, and it had learned to be extremely cautious when approaching either.

Moving away from the boulders, the Forager popped one of the round, succulent pink leaves in its mouth and chewed. The leaves of the lifeberry were not as effective as the fruit, and the flavour was rather unpleasant, but the moisture and small rush of energy were welcome. Spitting the remains on the ground, it popped another leaf in its mouth before it returned to the heat and back-breaking work of gathering.

When the Forager had first arrived at Needlepoint it had chosen to become a forager because, as a healer, it knew far more about the plants of Vokhtah than most ordinary iVokh. Foraging, however, had turned out to be a gruelling and hungry occupation.

At Needlepoint, every iVokh received one small bowl of ground seeds and tubers every day, no matter what their occupation. Food animals, however, had to be bartered for credits.

As one of the least valued classes in the eyrie, foragers received just one small, leather credit for every bag of seeds or tubers they gathered. By contrast, each rock lizard cost ten credits.

The small upland plateau that surrounded Needlepoint was still almost lush in comparison to the great plains, but even here, most foragers were lucky to gather three bags of food a day. That equated to one rock lizard every four days. They all grazed on whatever was edible as they worked, but a few berries, or the odd piipa fruit could not compensate for the severe lack of blood in their diets, and they all looked half-starved.

Thanks to its knowledge of medicinal herbs, which had a higher value than seeds or tubers, the Forager managed to feed on a rock lizard almost every second day, yet even so it was always hungry, and seemed to spend every waking moment thinking about food. It even dreamt about food. Strangely though, it never seemed to dream about akaht, or tukti. Despite having fed on akaht for most of its life, it could now hardly remember what either akaht or tukti tasted like. It knew akaht were supposed to be slightly salty, but it could not actually remember how the blood tasted on its tongue.

Shaking its head to dispel such futile thoughts, the Forager popped another lifeberry leaf in its mouth as it squinted up at the sky. Still another three hours to go…

…and no rock lizard this night…

The Forager’s sigh was lost in the swish of grass as it bent to its work.


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.”


From Queen to Kaati

It’s miserable outside so what better way to get the blood pumping than with We Will Rock You, by Queen. 🙂

And now, to prove that I have actually been doing something other than just cruising the youtube channels, here is a short scene featuring Kaati.  There is a very short fight scene at the end, and I’m really proud of it. I checked it out with a real martial arts expert [T.D. McKinnon] and it was given the green light! [I just knew my obsession with Bruce Lee would come in handy one day].

***

Kaati was crouching with its head down a waste pit, pinging to see if the hole led anywhere, when disaster struck.

“Ho! What doing there?”

The young Trader froze, its thoughts racing. As it straightened up, the small personal pouch hanging from its neck swung against its chest.

“Dropping credit,” it said as it turned to face its interrogator.

The drudge’s eyes travelled to the small pouch hanging from Kaati’s neck and stayed there.

“How losing credit when pouch still being tied?”

Kaati’s hand reached defensively for the pouch before it realised how pointless the gesture was. Throwing back its shoulders, it glared at the drudge.

“Calling a liar?”

“Ki,” the drudge replied, its gaze shifting to the ground by the young Trader’s feet. “Calling thief.”

Kaati did not need to follow the direction of the drudge’s gaze to know what lay by its feet. It was the broom, the broom it had stolen from the stores. It had meant to return the broom to its hiding place at true-dark, but had been in a hurry, and had wanted to check one last waste pit before returning to its own hiding place for the night. It had thought it was safe because all the drudges were at their evening meal. All but one, apparently.

“Hearing gossip about someone attacking guard to steal broom,” the drudge went on, “but not believing, until now.”

When Kaati still did not say anything, the drudge rolled its shoulders, and dropped into an aggressive crouch.

“Thinking healers paying well for capture of such a thief.”

Kaati had never been the best fighter amongst the apprentice Tellers, and had never fought a real fight to the death. Nevertheless, it had fought, and won, enough mating battles during the gathers to know the iVokh opposite could never win, not against a Teller.

The eyrie-bound was tall, and well built, but most of its bulk was fat, not muscle. And the way it crouched in one spot spoke of over-confidence. It would charge like a to’pak, relying on bulk and momentum to deliver a knock-out blow.

As the drudge lowered its head and bunched its powerful leg muscles, Kaati subtly shifted its weight to the right foot, and clasped its hands together at chest height, as if hoping to protect its face.

The drudge leapt with a roar of triumph.

Moving with studied grace, Kaati spun on its right leg.

The drudge barreled through the empty space where the young Trader should have been.

As the iVokh passed, Kaati brought its clasped hands down on the back of the drudge’s neck, just below the spot where the neck met the skull.

There was a sharp crack, and the drudge collapsed. It slid across the ground for a wingspan before coming to a halt just fingers from the lip of the pit. It was not dead, but its neck was broken. One terrified eye stared up at Kaati as the young Trader picked up a rock and put it out of its misery.

***

I appreciate this scene is a bit out of context, but I hope you enjoy it anyway. 🙂

cheers

Meeks


Vokhtah book 2 – another short snippet

I’ve had a great day writing, and just finished this little scene. I think you’ll know what it’s about. Enjoy. 🙂

***

The guard at the entrance to the Settlement was just an ordinary iVokh who happened to be quite a bit larger than average. Easy going, and just a little lazy, it usually allowed the hunters and foragers to return to the Settlement without too much scrutiny. If they were carrying food they were allowed in.

On this day however, the guard was feeling as nervous as the refugees who had arrived the day before. It had made the mistake of allowing them in without first advising the healers. That small deviation from protocol had earned it a severe reprimand, and a supervisor for a ti’m’akh.

The Messenger standing beside the guard, and watching its every move was only young, but it took its assignment very seriously, and had made sure the guard checked every iVokh who went in or out.

When an iVokh flew up to the flight ledge, almost an hour earlier than normal, both the guard and the Messenger narrowed their eyes in suspicion. Their suspicions were not eased when the iVokh landed badly, clearly favouring its right leg.

As the iVokh limped towards them, the guard stepped out of the shadows of the entrance and held its hand up.

“Identifying self!”

“Being Hunter,” the iVokh said in a hoarse voice as it untied the flap of its pouch and pulled out a rock lizard.

“Why returning so early?” the Messenger asked, as it too stepped out of the shadows.

The Hunter seemed taken aback when it saw the starrock chain hanging from the Messenger’s neck, but recovered quickly. It fumbled a lopside bow as it said, “Forgiveness Healer, not seeing.”

The Messenger flapped its hand impatiently.

“Being Messenger. Answering question!”

“Of course, Messenger. Begging forgiveness!” the iVokh said. “Being in hurry when retrieving rock lizard, and foot being caught in crevice. Returning early to seek healing…”

“Pah!” the Messenger said, its tone officious. “Healers having more important work than fixing twisted ankles. Soaking foot in cold water and being more careful next time.”

“Hearing and obeying,” the iVokh said, its voice just a tiny bit sulky. “Can passing now?”

The guard glanced at the Messenger for confirmation before waving the Hunter through. It watched the Hunter from the corner of its eye as the young iVokh limped slowly inside.

When the guard faced to the front again, its expression was carefully neutral, but a more experienced Messenger would have noticed that it appeared a lot more relaxed than it had been.

Of course a more experienced Messenger would also have noticed that the injured Hunter was now favouring its left leg.


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