Tuesday, November 5, 2013

NaNoWriMo Excerpt! Chapter 2

Still no time to blog! Which is a shame because I visited Boston this weekend and saw Colin Meloy in concert. Also toured MIT's campus and saw lots of amazing things. I will try to find time to write about it soon! In the meantime, here's chapter two. I've touched it up a bit because I have to turn it in for my Creative Writing class but it's still a rough draft. If you haven't already you can read chapter one here! Points if you can give me a better name for the chapter, leave suggestions in the comments. (Update: My sister gave me a great chapter title "Pick up the Torch")


Chapter 2
Pick up the Torch

Drip.
Drip.
Drip.
Orvar blinked; a bright disc floated distantly above him. He was lying on his side in a large patch of sand. Water dripped steadily somewhere nearby. The air was cool but suffused with a foul odor. He rolled slightly; groaning as every fiber of his body ached from the impact it had absorbed. They were in a dim stone chamber about thirty feet square. The only light in the chamber filtered down from above. A soft voice broke through his stupor. It was Fiorra.
“That fall should’ve killed us or broken our bones.”
Cazard, already standing, puffed himself up a bit, “You can thank me for our soft landing. I learned how to cast air runes with my feet a few years back. Shards, that was a good night at the bar. A little jig, wiggle my toes, gust of wind and up the skirts go! Innocent as a lamb I was.” He chuckled. “I hope there’s a tavern down here somewhere. I could go for a nice mug of ale.”
The thief, sitting to the side, muttered. “Shut up. Curse the gods to be stuck with a fool like you. You’ll get us all killed.” She slipped her hands out of her rope bonds as if they hadn’t been tied at all.
            “I’ll get us killed?” Cazard struggled ineffectually with his own bonds. “What about that stunt you pulled, mooring the ship when I had perfectly good leverage to get us all out of this mess!?”
            “Leverage? You call that leverage? You had a candle-flame. One of the guards to the stern had started loading a crossbow. I saved your life you ungrateful lout.”
            Cazard jerked his head irritably toward the damp dungeon walls. “And you call this saved? Better to have died in the light than starve to death in the belly of a mountain.”
            Orvar did feel as if some great beast had swallowed them.
            Cazard attempted to storm off to another part of the room before remembering that the chains prevented it. The thief snickered. He spun back to face her and sputtered. “I am The Great Cazard, You are but a common thief!”
            At this the thief smiled. “Oh really?” She knelt next to Fiorra and cut her bonds with a small razor she produced out of nowhere. She moved on to Orvar, motioning him to stand up. She began sawing through the rough cords. “Well then, Great Cazard,” she dragged out her words, “Go on and dance your hands out of those ropes.”
            Cazard glared at her. His face contorted for a moment, then relaxed into a mask of complacency. He spoke, his voice held no sarcasm or revilement, but his eyes betrayed his anger. “If you wouldn’t mind then, my Lady…?”
            The thief grunted in annoyance, knowing that the implication of nobility was a slight. “You can call me Padavae.”
            “Lady Padavae” He flashed a bright smile. “If you would be so kind as to cut me free.”
            Padavae turned and held the razor out to Orvar. “You can deal with him.”
            Orvar stepped over to Cazard and leaned in close.
            “I think you’d best play nice. If we’ve any chance of escaping from this place we’ll need all our strength. You may have to leave your ego at the door.”
            Cazard opened his mouth to protest, then thought better of it. He shrugged and held his hands out. Orvar cut through the bonds carefully.
            With his hands free Cazard immediately began inspecting the chain around his waist. “First thing to do, I should think, is get ourselves free to move more than five feet from one another.” He glanced meaningfully at Padavae then kneeled down and rapped the chain experimentally against the stone floor.
            Padavae shook her head. “It’s no use. I’ve been working on a way to remove them ever since we boarded the airship. They aren’t just locked, they’re welded on.” She glanced up at the small patch of sky visible through the shaft. “There’s no way we can climb this, I don’t suppose you could fly us back up there?”
            Cazard was holding the chain to his ear. “Softening our fall was one thing m’lady. Flight is a feat that was beyond the powers of even Jharbane Tenbolt.”
            “Who?”
            Cazard looked up at her, bewildered, “Do you know anything about magic?” He abruptly slammed a length of chain against the floor. The sound echoed hollowly around the room.
            “Damn. Well, I guess we’re stuck with these chains for a while.” Cazard trailed off. “If we could find a way to heat them…” He trailed off, still fondling the loops of chain.
            Orvar turned away from Cazard. “Padavae, huh? That’s a western name if I ever heard one. You’re from the coast?”
            “Yes, Daejon.” Padavae looked at him carefully “And you are from Malan Tael are you not?”
            “My name is Orvar. I’m from the village of Jonli, a ways to the north from there.” He handed the razor back to her. “But you are right, I moved to Malan Tael in adulthood.” Orvar glanced cautiously at Fiorra.
            “You work for the emperor.” Padavae said, her face blank.
            Orvar gestured to the distant sky up the shaft they had come down. “I believe I am unemployed.”
            Padavae remained motionless, razor in hand.
            He continued. “Listen, we’re in this together now. I’m not your enemy. If you had a bone to pick with the Empire I’m sorry. I used to believe in what the Empire stood for but I’m not too fond of them now. Things changed, that’s why I’m down here.”
            She shrugged and slipped the razor into her hair. “I didn’t have a bone to pick with them. Then they decided I was a Theraen spy and threw me in here.” She sighed. “Daejon may be part of the rebellion but Péca is just across the river. The trade barges carry more than goods across the river, they carry ideas. The battles may be fought on the Blooddrop Fields but the war rages quietly in Daejon and Péca.”
            Cazard gave up on the chain entirely and stood, holding up his hands defensively. “Before you ask, I’m not a supporter of the Empire or Theraea. They’re both useless.” He dusted his hands off. “Though I suppose life would be easier again if Malan Tael got it’s act together and wiped out the Theraens.
            Fiorra took a quick step and struck Cazard across the cheek. “How dare you! The Theraen people fight against the oppression of the Empire, we seek to end the evil which has spread from Malan Tael!”
            Cazard winced. “Ow. Fine then, wipe out the Malanians. I don’t care. You can start with Orvar over there. He’s one of them, high-ranking too from what I’ve gathered.” He rubbed his jaw and grimaced. “This is why I stay out of politics.”
            Fiorra glared. “That kind of callous disregard for life is what is wrong with the Empire.”
Still smarting from the slap, Cazard went on. “I’m sure you have a great reason to hate the Empire. Your father die in the war or something?”
        Fiorra glared at him. “My father is Samril Ashiyon.”
            “Who?”
            Padavae’s smile was smug. “Do you know anything about reality? Her father is the King of Nothampton, the leader of the Theraen rebellion.”
            Cazard balked. “You’re a Theraen princess? Why are you down here? Why aren’t you being ransomed back to your father or held as a bargaining tool to negotiate a surrender?”
            Fiorra’s anger quickly ebbed. Her eyes were downcast. “I don’t know. I was held captive for nearly a month before being sent here.” She looked around, as if realizing where she was again.
            The wind from the top of the mountain found its way down the shaft and they all shivered.
            Orvar felt his military training taking hold. “We need to get our bearings down here. Lets see if we can find anything of use.”
            He walked towards one of the walls. The others followed closely to avoid being tugged along by the chain. The light dropped off quickly as they moved away from the shaft to the surface. Cazard lit the flame above his fingers again and edged up next to Orvar. The walls were damp and slimy with algae. They worked their way counter-clockwise around the room. They came to a small alcove and stopped.
            Fiorra was behind the others. “What is it?”
            Orvar stepped aside, revealing a pile of human bones pushed up against the wall. Deep gouges marred the surface of many of the bones. Fiorra quickly looked away. They moved on silently.
            Eventually they came to a gateway set into the wall. Orvar gripped the grid of iron bars, testing them for strength. He lifted, but the gate didn’t budge. “See if there’s a crank to open it.”
            Cazard moved to the other side of the doorway, his flame illuminated the other wall where thick ropy vines partially obscured a torch resting in a sconce. “Hey! There’s a torch here.” He reached up and touched his flame to it. The torch roared to life, illuminating the room and part of a passageway beyond the cell gate.
            Fiorra ran her hand lightly over the wall opposite the torch. “There’s something written here.”
            Three lines of chalky white runes shone brightly in the yellow torchlight.


            “What does it say?” Orvar asked.
            Cazard studied the runes briefly. “It could be a spell.” Cazard pointed to a hexagonal rune with a dot in it. That one looks similar to the rune for balance, but none of the others even resemble the standard magic rune tables.”
            Fiorra whispered in astonishment. “It’s not a spell, it’s a language…”
            Cazard glanced at her. “What language uses runes like this? Even the insectoids have a proper alphabet, odd as it may be.”
            Fiorra ignored him and stared at the runes. She idly traced one with her finger. “This means ‘fate,’ and this one next to it means…” She trailed off then turned to face the rest. Orvar held his breath. Fiorra spoke quietly “Death.”
            “So we’re fated to die, that isn’t news.” Cazard said irritably.
            Padavae spoke up, “What about the rest of it? Surely there must be something else. There are dozens of runes there.”
            Fiorra nodded tiredly, “You’re right, but this is a very old language. I’ve only seen it a few times before. It will take me some time.”
            Orvar laughed out loud, startling the others. “Time, my dear, is something we have plenty of.”
            Fiorra turned again to the runes and studied them for a while. Cazard, initially excited by his discovery, soon subsided and kicked his feet in boredom. Several minutes passed. Fiorra swayed slowly to the side and then started suddenly, jerking backwards. “Did you hear that?” she breathed.
            Cazard whispered loudly, “What! What is it?”
            They all stood perfectly still for a moment, Orvar imagined some terrible beast crawling out of the darkness and devouring them. A few seconds passed.
            Padavae spoke up cautiously, “I didn’t hear anything.”
            “I thought I heard…no, I’m sorry, I think I drifted off there. It’s been so long since I slept.”
            Orvar relaxed, glad that the monsters were only in Fiorra’s head. “I suppose we could all use a rest. We’ll get some sleep, then you can try again at translating…”
            Fiorra turned to him, “No, I…I know what it says now.”
            Padavae raised her eyebrow. “The expression ‘sleep on it’ usually refers to more than a few seconds.”
            Cazard grunted, “Well, what does it say then?”
            Fiorra ran her fingers along the runes again. She spoke slowly. “Choose your fate. Perish in this cell or pick up the torch.”
            Padavae turned to the burning torch and grabbed the shaft. She lifted it out of its resting place.
            There was a small click and the sound of metal striking metal in quick succession. The gate lifted smoothly and disappeared into the ceiling.
            Cazard frowned. “I don’t like that. I don’t like that one bit.”
            Padavae turned to him, holding the torch aloft, “So you’d rather stay in here and rot now?”
            “It’s too simple. Even if we hadn’t deciphered that text odds are we would have picked up that torch. What’s the point? Besides, why is this gate closed? Surely the previous expedition made it past this chamber.”
            “Maybe they’re still alive, maybe they closed it.” Fiorra said quietly.
Cazard looked at her, “And went back into the mountain? It has to be someone else.”
            Orvar scoffed, “There was one who escaped from that expedition, he probably replaced the torch on his way out, is that so hard to believe?”
            Cazard stuck his head through the open gateway, inspecting the walls cautiously. “Maybe. I’m a little more concerned with the part where he’s the only one who escaped.”
            Padavae looked at Orvar “You know what happened to the expedition here? Anything useful we should know?”
            “Yes. I was there when the expedition left Malan Tael. It was a party of about two-dozen men led by Lord Perel of Kalevala. They were tough men. A few weeks later a messenger returned with the news. A young squire had escaped but had died of his wounds before he could say much. The majority of what he said was babble. He talked about demons and monsters, traps of flame and pitfalls. But it’s hard to say what was real and what wasn’t. All we can be sure of is that there is something down here that can kill an armed party of battle hardy men and drive a boy insane.”
            “Oh, is that all?” Cazard said dryly.
            Padavae brushed past him. The sections of chain holding them all together rattled. “It doesn’t matter, we have to move forward. There’s nothing here.”
            She moved out into the passageway. The rough stone brick appeared yellow and sinister in the torchlight. The others followed silently.
            The passageway ran straight from the gated entrance for a few dozen feet and then made an abrupt left. The walls remained featureless and bleak.
            Fiorra, her eyes drooping, faltered, and the chains rattled loudly.
            Orvar glanced back, “We need to rest before we move too far. We don’t know what we’re going to run into.”
            Padavae tugged on the chain. “We can’t stop now, we need to find food and water.”
            The passageway made another turn, this time to the right. The torchlight revealed that this section of the hall had small shelves cut into the walls every few feet. They were all empty. The hallway disappeared into the dark beyond the torchlight.
            “Why is this place even here? Who goes to all the trouble of building inside the tallest mountain in the world?” Cazard grumbled.
            Orvar laughed softly. “Well, that’s what the emperor wants to find out, which is why we’re stuck down here. I’m less worried about the why and more about how to get out of here. The guard captain said that there is supposed to be an exit further down. He could be wrong, but he wouldn’t lie to us. The only reason to send us down here is if they truly believe we can show them the way in from the bottom.”
            The passageway ended, emptying them into a small chamber. A short, wide pedestal occupied the center of the room. There was a small pool of water in a stone basin near the wall. There was another gate on the far side of the chamber. A wheel stuck out of the wall next to it.
            Orvar looked around, automatically noting the defensibility of the position. “We have to stop here. Fiorra will be a dead weight on the end of the chain if we don’t. There’s water here and we have no way to carry it. I haven’t slept since night before last and I know it’s been longer for Fiorra.” Padavae looked as if she was going to protest again but he could see the exhaustion in her eyes too.
            Cazard crossed his arms “Fine, what about some food?”
            Padavae surveyed the room and spotted some dark spots on the wall near the basin. She walked over and plucked one off the wall. She held her hand out to Cazard.
            “Here, eat up.” She opened her hand to reveal a small snail.
            Cazard hesitated. Before he could decide whether to protest or not, Padavae shrugged and deftly sucked the snail out of its shell.
            “It’s not a tavern with ale and cheese but if you expect to find anything larger or more appetizing I believe you’ll be disappointed.”
            She turned back to the wall and plucked another snail, finishing it off as quickly as the first.
            The reality of their situation sinking in, the other three wordlessly followed suit, grimacing as the slimy nuggets slid down their throats.  Fiorra only managed to get three or four down before she gave up to her exhaustion and lay down on the floor. The floor, mercifully, was only slightly cooler than the air above it. Clothed as they were in only ragged tunics and cloth pants the warmth was welcome.
            Orvar watched Fiorra curl up on the floor, her dark brown hair spread limply across the stone. The chain at her waist made harsh scraping sounds as she tried to find a comfortable position. She looked frail. Her outburst earlier had surprised him. She was tired in body, but not in spirit. He wondered whether the Emperor had sent word to King Ashivon what he had done with Fiorra. He suspected not, but knew that it had been a long time since he had been able to predict anything that the Emperor would do. Orvar sighed. He drank a few handfuls of water from the basin and splashed it on his face. The water was cool but had a sharp iron tang to it.
        Padavae turned to Orvar “How do we put the torch out? If we dip it in the water it won’t light when we wake.”
        Cazard, now taking his turn at the basin, looked up. “Just leave it on the pedestal until we’re ready to sleep. I’ll put it out properly.”
        Padavae did as he said, which told Orvar volumes about how tired she was.
            The chains dictated their sleeping order. Orvar and Cazard were on opposite ends of the chain with Fiorra closer to Cazard. Orvar propped himself against the wall near Padavae. She in turn lay down near Fiorra and rested her head on top of her arm. Cazard stripped off his thin, tattered shirt and tried to use it as a pillow.
            “Should we set watch?” Padavae asked.
            Orvar scratched at his head. “No use, we’re all too tired to fend off anything if it did show up. Not to be negative but keep in mind a fully armed party of two-dozen was wiped out by whatever is down here.”
            “Thanks for the reminder.” Cazard rolled over and flicked his hands into the air, drawing a few quick runes. A gust of air burst through the chamber and snuffed out the light. Orvar heard Cazard roll over again and soon there was a soft snoring.
There was no light. There was no shadow. The mountain was quiet. But not for long.