Today, I bring you 2 more chapters from the original draft. I would remind you again (as always, I’m sure it gets old, lol, but it bears repeating) that these are unedited, so will certainly contain typos and other mistakes that will not be present in the final version of the book. Enjoy!
Chapter 8, Taliesimon
I’m going to die, Taliesimon thought as she flew through the air above the chasm, though certainly much to low to make the jump.
She felt as though she were hanging, frozen, over the sharp stakes at the bottom. Surely, in a jump like this a person shouldn’t have so much to think. So much time to dwell on her failure, to recognize her jump was much too low to make it.
In a near-panic, she arched her back and stretched out her right leg in front of her. She prayed to Trevandor to save her from her folly and let her survive this.
Her foot struck the edge of the pit and her leg crumpled beneath her. Her left knee crunched into the hard stone a pace back from the lip and she feel forward, he face striking the hard ground yet again.
Darkness began to encroach on the edges of her vision and she ground her teeth together, determined not to black out again. The sound of clapping next to her helped to keep her conscious. Driving her palms under her chest, she pushed up to get back to her feet. Blood dropped down her chin, darkening her tunic.
“you’re trying really hard ot mess up that pretty face,” Okara laughed above her. Taliesimon grimaced, supposing it was working, whether it was intentional or not.
With a grunt, she pushed her way to her feet. Her knee almost crumpled beneath her when she put weight on it, but the smaller girls caught her by the arm.
Taliesimon nodded. “I will be. Just have to walk it off.” Turning back to the chasm, she almost jumped. A hand gripped the hard clay at the lip of the pit.
“Gods,” she whispered as she limped toward the edge of the pit, where she dropped to her belly, wincing against the pain her knee. She reached down and grasped the boy’s forearm with both her hands. The blond boy jerked his face up and stared, wide-eyed, into her eyes.
“You’re… helping me?” he gasped.
She smiled. “Am I that transparent?” Before he could respond, she turned her head and called, “Okara, help me.”
The girl growled softly behind her.
“Okara, come on,” her voice was pleading now. She gritted her teeth and wanted to kick herself for allowing such a weak sound to come from her mouth.
“He’s one of them,” Okara growled.
Sweat slicked Taliesimon’s palms and the boy’s arm started to slip from her grasp. “Okara,” she called, desperate now. “He didn’t hurt us. The older boys hurt him as much as they did us! He can help us, Okara!”
This is hopeless, she thought. Does she just hate all boys? Why is she even here?
Soft footsteps to her right surprised her, and she smiled when Okara crouched and reached her hands down to the boy. “Give me your other hand,” she said.
The boy offered a grim smile and swung his left hand up to Okara. She pulled him up almost a pace, then held steady. Still gripping the boy’s arm, Taliesimon struggled to her feet and adjusted her grip on the boy’s arm.
Together, they pulled the boy up and over the edge of the pit. As him feet cleared it, Taliesimon fell backward in exhaustion, the boy lying on the ground half on top of her.
Okara cleared her throat pointedly and the boy raised his head from Taliesimon’s shoulder and flushed bright red, the rolled off of her. He panted for breath, which didn’t seem to come, regardless of how hard he breathed.
“What’s… your… name?” Taliesimon gasped between breaths.
“Jonah,” he whispered in a ragged gasp.
“This is very sweet,” Okara said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “But if we want to have any chance of moving forward in the testing, we need to move. Now.”
Taliesimon took a deep breath and nodded. She rolled onto her stomach and pushed her way to her feet. Jonah followed after her, his arms trembling with the strain. Okara turned away, but Taliesimon saw the disgust on her face.
So he’s weak! she wanted to scream. So what! After how long he hung there, from that ledge, you would be too! Wouldn’t be so bad if you’d helped him sooner!
She clasped the boy’s shoulder and gently pushed him forward. She limped forward herself, pushing her steps to a jog as often as she could handle the pain of it. She winced with the agony every time, but with each once the pain in her knee lessened a bit more and her steps grew a bit more fluid.
Unsurprisingly, Okara loped ahead easily.
Taliesimon clenched her teeth in frustration and tried to focus her mind. But try as she might, she couldn’t recall which part of the course came next. She still had the various obstacles in her mind, at least she thought she did, but couldn’t recall the order they came in.
“Jonah,” she gasped.
He nodded, but kept silent.
“Do you… remember which… which part of… of the course… comes next?”
He shook his head, and she clenched her jaw tighter.
What is wrong with these kids? Did they think they’d just come in and figure it out as they went?
By the time they turned the next curve in the path, Taliesimon’s knee had stopped hurting and she was back up almost to full speed.
Okara stopped her sandals skidding to a stop in the dirt path. Taliesimon slowed and stopped next to the smaller girl, Jonah doing likewise beside her. She stared at the shocked, wide-eyed look on the girl’s face for a moment before she turned to look at what had caught the bald girl’s attention and felt her own jaw fall open.
“Oh, gods. How could I have forgotten this?”
The other two nodded vaguely, as they though barely heard her. She supposed they probably did.
She gazed out over the field before them and only just repressed a shudder.
For hundreds of spans ahead was a huge mud pit, but it didn’t look right. The mud was too dark. If it wasn’t black, it was near enough as to be indistinguishable. How did mud get so dark? She couldn’t fathom it. Around the edge was a row of thick logs sharpened to points and angled into the inside of the mud pit. At several points across the center of the pit, the mud roiled and steamed, but everywhere else it was smooth and still. At the center of the pit stood an oak tower with smooth legs sticking down into the mud, which roiled more violently under the tower than anywhere else.
A number of braided vine ropes seemed to be tied to the other side of the tower and stretched up to the trees several hundred spans above, but there seemed to be no way to get up to the tower aside from walking the mud, as several boys were doing. The black mud coated their bare backs like nothing she’d ever seen. It glistened wetly in the crimson light, as though it had no intention of drying.
“Maybe we can go around?” Jonah asked.
Taliesimon shook her head. “It would take too long. And besides, they want us to ride out on those vine ropes.
“Are we even big to push through that mud?” he asked. “Look how deep they are in it. That would probably come up to my chest, and Okara’s chin.” He shivered.
Taliesimon nodded. “I’m open to suggestions.”
Okara stepped over to the stakes at the nearest edge of the pit. She rubbed her palm across her mouth several times, as though in thought. She ran a hand over her bare scalp, leaving it to rest on the back of her neck for a moment.
Jonah looked helpless and Taliesimon watched Okara. What is she thinking?
Okara reached out to grasp the stake and pulled on it, but it didn’t budge. She tried again, but with no more success. A third try, but still nothing. “Help me,” she said.
Taliesimon shrugged as she glanced at Jonah. He nodded. They moved around to either side of Okara and gripped the stake above and below Okara’s hands. “Ready?” she asked.
Taliesimon nodded, and Jonah did likewise.
Okara nodded in turn. “One, two three!” and the three pulled together, each grunting with the effort.
Slowly, excruciatingly, the stake began moving toward the trio. Taliesimon tried not to smile, but she couldn’t stop the grin spreading across her lips. The farther the stake moved, the easier it became to pull. After almost a minute, the log pulled all the way out of the mud and the solid earth beneath it. The suddenness caused the stake to flip toward them and all three stumbled back and fell. Taliesimon’s backside struck the earth with a numbing thud.
Okara held the stake tight to her chest, hugging it. Taliesimon giggled madly at the sight as the sticky, black mud clung to the girl’s bare chest and leather breeches.
After a moment, Jonah sat up, looking confused. Then he glanced from Okara to Taliesimon and joined her helpless giggling. Looking down at herself, Okara joined them as well.
“What are you doing?” asked a deep voice to Taliesimon’s right.
She froze. the silence was palpable. Slowly, she sat up and looked. There stood a dragoon clad is a diamondwood chest plate who carried a spear tipped in shiny black bone.
Okara cleared her throat. “I’m going to use the stakes to speed through the mud. Unless, of course, that is somehow against the rules?”
For a bare instant, the dragoon’s eyes widened. His lips remained a thin, grim line. “You are welcome to try. But,” he gestured to the boys who’d reached the legs of the tower in the center of the mud pit. “I’d suggest you hurry if you want to proceed.”
Taliesimon nodded, and found her companions nodding with her. as the dragoon withdrew, disappearing behind the treeline next to the pit. She turned to face her companions and found them looking at her, Jonah expectantly and Okara with wide, hopeful eyes.
“So what’s the plan?” Taliesimon asked.
“Let’s get one more stake, then we’ll see if it’s going to work.”
Taliesimon sighed. She didn’t like not knowing what the younger girl had in mind, but since she didn’t have a plan of her own, she stood and followed, repeating the process with the other two, pulling a second stake from the ground. Having already learned the process, the second one came easier.
Instead of answering, Okara stood with a stake in hand and stepped to the edge of the pit. Raising the stake in both hands, she plunged it straight down into the mud. It stabbed in deep. Okara leg go and turned back to grin at Taliesimon.
The stake held but a moment, then tilted to one side as it began to fall.
“Okara!” she snapped, pointing at the falling stake. The smaller girl jerked her head around and snaked her hand out, only just snatching the stake before it was lost in the mud.
“Well, so much for that idea,” Okara said, despondent.
“Let me try,” Jonah said.
Taliesimon nodded. “Me too,” though she still couldn’t see what the other girl intended.
Okara eyed her askance, then shrugged and sat down. She stared at her knees with narrowed eyes.
Taliesimon and Jonah each took a stake and stepped to the edge. She let Jonah go first. He thrust down with all his might. Without waiting to see if his stuck, she lifted her own stake, took a deep breath, and slammed down with all her strength.
She released her stake and it leaned a moment before Jonah’s did.
“Tevandor’s axe!” Okara swore.
“Other ideas?” Taliesimon asked, forcing the despair from her voice.
Jonah pawed at the ground with a sandaled foot. “I think… maybe I might have one.”
Taliesimon wished he didn’t sound so meek. What hope did his idea have if even he didn’t think it was good? But she nodded. “Go ahead. Let’s hear it.”
“I’m sure it’ll be better than mine,” Okara muttered.
Jonah shrugged. “Well…” he trailed off before he’d even begun.
“Come one, Jonah,” Taliesimon said. “Any idea is better than nothing, and we’re running out of time.”
“Okay,” he said with a tentative smile. “Well, even diamondwood floats, doesn’t it?”
Taliesimon thought for a moment. “I… think so. I think I remember hearing father talk about it once. About river rafts made of it. Maybe.”
Okara nodded, her face uncertain, though she kept silent.
“What do you have in mind?”
The boy stood a little straighter. “Well, assuming they do float, we could lash three or four stakes together and ride them across. Like a raft, as Taliesimon says. It’s the simplest water craft that might work here, I think.” He lowered his eyes to his feet.
Taliesimon considered, looking for any problems with the plan.
Okara stood. “What will we lash them together with?”
Jonah’s slight smile faltered. “Oh. I didn’t think about that.”
“Our shirts,” Taliesimon blurted without thinking. The other two turned to look at her, eyes wide and mouths agape. “What? Will it work?”
Okara’s face lit up. “You. Are. Brilliant!”
Taliesimon allowed herself a congratulatory smile.
Jonah pulled his shirt off immediately and started tearing it into strips for maximum length.
“Come on,” Okara said. “We need at least two more stakes, maybe three.”
“Right,” Jonah said. “We’ll need a pole.”
With a smile, Taliesimon went to the edge with her friends to work on the additional stakes.
When they finally pulled the fifth stake out of the ground, Taliesimon collapsed into the dry dirt near the edge and stared out into the pit.
The last of the boys in the mud were just reaching the stilted legs of the tower. A larger boy pushed a smaller boy into the violently roiling mud between the tower’s legs and the victim shrieked. He leaped up from beneath the mud, his flesh crimson.
His shriek ripped at Taliesimon’s heart, her soul wailed with the boy, and her eyes filled with tears.
“You okay?” Jonah asked from above her, somehow still standing.
“It just disgusts me. I understand hurting others in the competition. I understand violence.” The boy shrieked again, louder than before. “But that was just sadistic. There was no reason for him to do that! Cruel bastards.”
Okara sat up and shrugged. Clearly nothing about this bothered her.
Jonah nodded. “I understand, but this is the world we live in, Taliesimon.”
She grimaced. “I know. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
With a shake of her head, Okara leaped to her feet and rolled the stakes next to each other. That done, she collected the strips of Jonah’s shirt and started lashing the stakes together with them. She yanked on the strips as she tied the knots, color rising to her cheeks.
Jonah turned from Taliesimon and knelt at the end of the stakes opposite Okara. “We need your shirt, Tal.”
“Oh.” I didn’t think mine would actually be necessary, she thought. Hmm. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea. “Um, are you certain you truly need-”
“Tally,” Okara snapped. “There’s nothing else we can use. Unless you’d rather lose you breeches. I sure don’t. Come one, we’re both shirtless. Stop being such a grauk and take off your damn shirt so we can get to that tower!”
Taliesimon nodded and gritted her teeth as she pulled the wool shirt over her head. The rush of blood warmed her neck and face and she imagined her flesh must now be the color of ripe strawberries.
She struggled against her instinct to cover her almost-flat chest with her hands as she tossed her tunic down to Jonah. She winced as he tore it into strips and began lashing the stakes together.
When the knotwork was finished, Taliesimon helped her companions push their makeshift raft into the black mud, with she and Jonah each carrying an additional stake to push the raft across the surface with.
The raft slid into the thick stuff without resistance. Jonah stepped onto it and plunged his stake into the mud. The raft seemed stable, He tested pushing and pulling the stake and the raft obediently moved forward and back, if a bit slower that Taliesimon would have liked.
Okara leaped the short stretch of mud and landed, cat-like, with bent knees in the center of the raft. The craft drifted a few spans out with her momentum, but was otherwise unaffected.
Taliesimon took a deep breath, stepped back a few steps, and ran toward the pit. At its edge, she leaped toward the raft.
Oh, no, she thought. It’s still drifting!
After a small eternity, she landed at the left edge of the raft with her feet only half of its surface. The raft dipped toward her with the added weight and a foot slipped off the raft. Her arms pinwheeled as she tried to maintain her balance, but she leaned farther and farther out of the raft. She shrieked as the bubbling mud came up to meet her.
The screaming face of the boy who was pushed in below the tower to boil alive flashed through her mind and she prayed it ended quickly. She slammed her eyes closed to wait for the end.
But that agonizing end didn’t come.
She hung, suspended. The heat of the roiling mud warmed her face and she became aware of the pressure on her right hand, an insistent squeeze.
Am I already dead? she wondered.
“Come on, Tally, you’re killing me here,” Jonah grunted.
Taliesimon snapped her open open and found the roiling black mud less than a pace from her face. She turned to her right in a daze. Jonah had a hold of her right hand and Okara gripped him around the waist, anchoring them all onto the raft.
“A little help here,” Okara growled.
Taliesimon blinked and finally comprehended what had happened. Glancing down, she realized her feet were balanced around the curve of the stake at the end of the raft. With a mental cringe, she turned her body and reached up to grasp Jonah’s hand with her other hand and pulled. With their combined effort, the three finally pulled her up onto the raft and all three fell to their knees, panting with exhaustion.
“What in the nine hells was that?” Okara spat, furious.
“Sorry,” Taliesimon panted. “I though. I was dead.”
Okara rolled her eyes and turned toward the front of the raft. “Let’s go.”
Taliesimon nodded and climbed to her feet. She reached down for her stake before she realized there was a problem. “Oh, torthugra fangs!”
Turning, she found Jonah with his stake in the mud, pushing the raft toward the center. More than a dozen boys were there now, struggling to climp up the tower legs. They tried to jump up, out of the mud, to grasp the legs, but slipped down. One boy gripped the leg leth his feet and struggled to pull himeslf up. He did well, pulling himself upward until just after his feet cleared the mud and he slipped back down to the laughter of his peers.
“Are the legs greased?” Jonah asked.
“So it would seem,” Okara said grimly.
Taliesimon nodded again and said distantly, “I’ll take over the paddling whenever you want, Jonah.”
Okara scoffed. “Why?” Her voice was bitter and deprecating. “So you can lose the other one too? We’ve wasted enough time already.”
Taliesimon’s mouth fell open. But… but I didn’t… Even her thought faded as her vision clouded with tears. She wiped at them angrily.
Jonah smiled at her, sympathy in his eyes, and nodded toward the tower. I’m a lot more worried about how we’re going to deal with that.”
Chapter 9, Dargon
Dargon’s rage cooled in an instant, and he stared at the raging flames in shock. Above the flames, a glittering image appeared of a winged serpent the color of lustrous, shining gold. It’s crimson eyes glared at him.
“By holy Trevandor,” he whispered in horrified awe.
The natural-looking flames flared up and turned bright red, then dimmed down to cobalt blue as it engulfed the metallic serpent which grinned at him, showing its long, sword-shaped teeth of ivory-white.
Then the flames flared even higher and burned pure white. Ina moment, the serpent vanished and the flames died. All that remained of the book was a pile of white ash in a roughly rectangular shape.
“No!” he wailed, tears filling his eyes. Several thoughts came to him then in rapid succession, so fast it made his head spin.
First, the tales of Veralon! Dammit! Now I’ll never find out how the story ends!
Then, how am I going to explain this? That book was older than grandfather!
Then, Wait, no one comes down here. I don’t have to explain anything to anyone.
And finally, but while we’re on the subject, just what in the name of all the gods happened here? How did that fire start in the first place?
“Sparks,” he said, seizing on an idea. “Father always says not to stand too close to a fire because the sparks can fly and light clothing on fire. If that can happen to a tunic, then surely a book is equally susceptible. Of course. That must be it.”
And what about the serpent? asked a small, insistent voice.
“My imagination. Brought on by the image carved into the library doors.”
And the leaping blue flames, followed by white? Have you ever even seen flames that hot before? How does fire go white, exactly?
“Look,” he said, frustrated with himself. “I don’t know. Maybe I imagined that too. I didn’t even feel the heat of the flames anyway!”
If you didn’t feel the heat, why is the book ash now?
Dargon growled. “Of course. This is me, sitting here arguing with myself because I can’t explain what in the nine hells I just saw.”
Not true, the annoying voice came again. You have an explanation that makes perfect sense. You just don’t want to think about that.
Dargon huffed an angry sigh. “No. Just no. I’m not a bad person. The gods would not curse me so. No. I refuse to accept that. It can’t be.”
Fine. Bury your head in the sand.
Dargon growled again, but otherwise ignored the thoughts. It didn’t happen often, but this was one of those times that made him wonder if there was another personality in his head. How can a person argue with themselves as strongly as he did? He couldn’t understand it.
Standing, he took the stone-handled hand broom from the mantle above the hearth and its matching ash pan and stooped to clean up the remains of the book. “Dammit,” he said again as he dumped the ashes into the hearth.
Replacing the tools on the mantle, Dargon rested his arms on the mantle and rested his forehead on his arms.
It seemed a long time passed while he stood over the hearth, alternating between watching the dancing flames and squeezing his eyes closed against the surrealism of the day.
Strange images danced in the flames, with his eyes open or closed, they continued. Images of armies of war, or numerous races uniting against… what? The creatures were strange, in many ways they resembled the torthugra. They were more or less serpentine, with long necks and tails and narrow, scaled bodies. But these also had four legs each and most of their heads were horned. And there seemed to be numerous types of them. Of different colors and shapes.
What are these things? he wondered. He closed his eyes and saw a battle between three of the creatures and an army of odd creatures that seemed almost human, but not quite. Almost like the mythical races of elves and dwarves, perhaps. The creatures were immense, easily hundreds of times the size of the humanoids.
“What?” he whispered. Such strange creatures, working together in battle. Even according to the myths, that never happened. But what were the things anyway? Everyone knew elves and dwarves weren’t real. But what were those strange winged creatures? He felt certain he’d never seen anything like them, the closest thing he knew of were the torthugra, and calling them similar was like saying trolls were similar to gnelwyn. Technically there were similarities, but they were so different they could have been from different worlds.
Opening his eyes, Dargon turned from the hearth to leave the library.
Raising a hand to the door, he froze. The torches, he thought. The room darkened behind him and a dozen sparks flew into his hand from all directions. They burst into bright azure flames around his hand.
“I am not a sorcerer!” he screamed vehemently.
Finally, please do remember that while the finished book will be available everywhere ebooks are sold, I’m not doing pre-orders on Amazon due to peculiarities of Amazon that make doing so not beneficial. If you’d like to pre-order on another retailer, you may do so here: books2read.com/calamity1-shadow