Hello Fiction Lovers!
For this week’s post I thought I’d some more of my writing. It’ll be the first chapter to The One Who Speaks, the manuscript I’m currently working on editing. The manuscript is about a young woman who loses her voice under mysterious circumstances and tries to figure out what happened and how to get it back. Her journey takes place in a land that is blessed with prosperity and ruled by elemental spirits. Thanks for reading!
Irene shoved aside a branch blocking her way, only to stumble over a root. Cursing, she caught herself and paused to catch her breath. She picked through her hair, pulling out an errant twig and several leaves, while pointedly ignoring the autumn colored forest around her. As the crunch of her noisy passage faded into the air, animals slithered and slunk and crept from their hidey-holes. A fox appeared not ten yards from her. It sniffed the air and looked at her with intelligent eyes. Irene froze, but the fox only bobbed its head before disappearing back into the undergrowth.
Irene let out a shuddering sigh, eyes focused on where the fox had been. Then she scowled and kicked the root she had tripped over. This was ludicrous. Here she was tromping through a forest and jumping at every animal that so much as glanced her way when she could be at home having a warm bath and drinking tea.
But she wasn’t at home, because being at home meant fending off the marriage proposals her parents arranged for “the good of the family business”. Apparently, if she was going to be a disappointment she might as well be a disappoint having some mindless rich boy’s babies and providing a connection for the family to expand its influence. Not that they needed any more influence. Irene started forward again. She could be walking along an actual path if she wasn’t afraid of being found out by one of her mother’s minions.
At least this was a blessed territory. She wouldn’t last two minutes against the cruel and weird and unsavory creatures that were said to live in the unblessed lands. Irene shuddered. Just the thought of ever leaving the blessed territories was enough to twist her stomach. Here, at least, she didn’t have to worry about being snatched so one of the forsaken lands could rise to being blessed. A twig snapped behind her. Irene whirled, heart pounding, before spotting the animal that made the noise. Annoyed with herself, she stomped forward and ignored the next small noises the forest and its inhabitants made. Yes, despite the toll of trying to keep from her family’s reach, staying within the blessed lands was in her best interest. Only those with a death wish or a martyr complex willing went down into the unblessed lands.
“And who is this disturbing all the residents of my forest?”
Irene cursed again before turning to face a spirit in the shape of a man with mottled brown and green skin and leaves for hair.
She lied, “Sally Coor.”
It was the most base born name she could come up with.
He gave a slight bow, “I am Crean, ruler of this forest and territory.” He gestured to the distance, “Perhaps you would accompany me to my temple and give the residents here some peace?”
Irene’s jaw clenched. She generally tried to avoid the ruler spirits and their temples and their reshi that blessed their lands, but to refuse one would be a crime. A crime that would no doubt would lead her mother straight to her. Irene attempted to smile, “Of course.”
He nodded in return and led the way.
The temple was modest compared to the one in the city she came from. Plants grew and twisted together to form three large buildings. Leaves floated down from the branches that created the buildings’ ceilings. Golden grasses and orange flowers decorated their bases with red butterflies flitting in between. A large statue of the ruler and his reshi stood as a centerpiece in the area between the three buildings.
When they arrived worshipers waited in a long line holding small trinkets and the traditional chappa: a figurine of the reshi they worshiped. This temple’s reshi waited at the front of the line and used her powers to place blessings on the items as they were brought to her just as she blessed the territory in which she was trapped.
Crean led her past the worshipers with a knowing smile at his reshi, who nodded back, and into the building in between the other two. Sunlight, turned an orangish color from filtering through the leaves above, rested on a surprisingly bare area. The only things in the building were a rug to sit on and a low table that rested in the middle of it with snacks and goblets of water already prepared. Crean sat and motioned for her to the same. After a moment’s hesitation she did.
“So, Sally Coor,” Something in his tone hinted that he knew it was a fake name, “What were you doing tromping through my woods?”
Instead of answering, she asked a question of her own, gesturing at the table, “When did you have time to prepare this?”
He chuckled, “With the racket you were making we had plenty warning. Now…?”
She put on her best innocent smile, “It was such a nice day out I thought it would be relaxing to walk through the woods. Evidently I was wrong.”
He popped a small fruit into his mouth, “A city girl like you?”
She drew back, “Why would you think that?”
Crean looked her up and down before spreading the hand that wasn’t supporting his weight. Her eyes narrowed, forced to concede the point.
She leaned forward again, “What do you want from me?”
At that moment there was the sound of someone entering the building. When she turned to look she saw the reshi and the fox she had encountered earlier coming toward them. The fox settled to her left of the table and the reshi nestled right into Crean who wrapped his arm around her waist. Now that Irene was forced to give her more than a passing glance the woman’s beauty was hard to ignore. She was a raven haired beauty—red lips, willowy build and all—and she smiled invitingly under Irene’s gaze. Irene sharpened her look to a glare and shifted her focus to the fox that seemed more intelligent and comfortable in the ruler and his reshi’s presence than a fox had any right to be.
Crean drew her attention back to the reshi, “This is Frase and,” the spirit gestured to the fox, “his name is Vix. Good find, Vix.” Crean focused on her, “And you are the daughter of a distinguished trading family, Irene Kadera.”
Irene’s jaw clenched, but she managed to keep the curse that rose to her lips from spewing out.
He continued, “It came to my attention while you were bumbling about that your mother is offering a sizable reward for your return. It is a wonder that you made it this far from the glistening city without getting caught, but I must thank you as it was to my benefit, I suppose.” His gaze sharpened and a sly smile slide onto his lips. “Of course, your family’s continual efforts to get you married off was also brought to my attention. In my opinion, they are looking entirely too much at the human state of affairs.”
“What are you getting at?” Irene fairly spit out the words.
He popped another small fruit into his mouth, “What I’m getting at, Irene, is that you have the makings to be a reshi, do you not?” Irene’s mouth ran dry. He grinned back her suddenly pale face, “I’ll take that as a yes.”
Irene had to take a gulp of water before speaking, “You can’t know that for sure.”
“Well.” He spread his hand again, “Tests will have to be done, of course, but as I’m sure you know that they’ll come out positive I currently have four choices.”
Irene closed her eyes and opened them again, “And those are?”
He lifted a finger for each point, “I could return you to your family, collect the reward and let them do what they will with you. I could sell you to the highest bidder and give them a chance to make you their reshi, and that, I assure you, is a very lucrative business. I could kill you now so no one else gets the chance to use you to bless their lands. Or,” the sly smile returned, “I could keep you for myself.”
Irene, the fox, and the reshi all jolted at the last unexpected remark.
Frase gripped the ruler with panic in her eyes, “But you already have me.”
Irene’s hands had turned into fists, “There’s a fifth option: you could let me go.”
He chuckled, “And let someone else reap the rewards? I think not.” He turned to Frase, “Calm yourself, darling. She wouldn’t take your place.”
Frase relaxed physically, but there was still trepidation in her eyes when she looked back at Irene.
Irene glared at Crean, “You already have a reshi to bless your lands, you don’t need another.”
He tapped a finger to his knee, “Oh, on the contrary, Irene Kadera. Having direct ties to your family could help my trade agreements and relations to the humans substantially. Not to mention the fact that having more than one reshi can elevate one’s standing among the spirits very thoroughly; your kind being so rare and all.”
“I refuse to be trapped you or any other spirit by giving my blessing.”
He rose, bringing Frase up with him, “Then you will be trapped in this hall until you change your mind. Vix, guard her.”
Anger and humiliation burned bright on her cheeks and neck but words seemed to have failed her.
The ruler and his reshi left the hall. She rose to follow them out the doorway after a moment had passed but stopped when a growl sounded from her left. Irene sank back down onto the rug.
Irene shot a look at the fox, “This is your fault.”
Vix’s only response was to yawn widely, showing off his canines, as he moved to stretch out in front of the doorway. She let out an explosive sigh and, resisting the urge to kick the table across the hall, settled back to wait for Vix to fall asleep. There was no way she going to just listen to some spirit’s demands. She had left her family for that very reason.
The sunlight faded until the hall was only dimly lit by the rising moon. The fox’s eyes glimmered back at her from the doorway. Her head itched. If he was going to take her prisoner, Crean could have at least left her a bath. As it was, she only had the food and water which she sullenly ate and drank when her stomach rumbled.
The night wore on but still his eyes didn’t close. Irene fought back a yawn. Was he going to stay awake all night? She grumbled something about stupid foxes and stupid spirits getting in the way of her plans. Irene looked up at the ceiling of leaves. Not that she had much of a plan other than getting away and avoiding her mother’s people. Irene’s fist hit the rug. Great lot of good that did her. Now she was in a worse position than when she was still listening to her mother’s plotting and her father’s insistences back home. They, at least, hadn’t known about her potential.
How had Crean found out about her so easily and quickly? Irene glared at the fox again. She had a feeling he had something to do with it. Irene stalked over to the fox only to balk a few feet away when he growled.
She stabbed a finger at him, “This is all your fault. I kept it from my family for years even when they were watching me like a thief watches a mark for potential. How did you figure it out? How?”
He lifted his head from his paws to glower up at her before getting all the way up and slipping through the curtain in the doorway. Irene stared at where he had been before her eyes rose to her now clear path to freedom. Swallowing a chuckle, she didn’t waste any more time and dashed out into the courtyard.
She barely made it past the statue when she got caught by a thin, but strong arm. The man hauled her up onto his shoulder. Irene only had one moment to be stunned by his red hair and another by his lack of shirt, which he promptly picked up from where he had dropped it, before she could only focus on his shoulder jabbing into her stomach as he walked forward. She struggled to get free with muttered curses and hitting his back but the man didn’t let her go until he deposited her on the rug back in the hall.
The man shrugged on his shirt one shoulder at a time before cinching it closed at the waist. When he looked at her his mouth was pinched into a frown, “Rather rude of you to throw around accusations when a man can’t properly answer and then try to run away when he’s making it so he can.”
Irene’s mind struggled to make a connection, “Vix?”
He snapped out, “What?”
Her stomach plummeted, “H-how?”
Vix clucked his tongue, “It’s not like my kind are that obscure, woman.”
Her jaw clenched, “My name is Irene.”
He huffed, “You didn’t seem to care so much about what your name was before.”
“I care when it sounds like I’m being addressed as no better than a sack of meat!”
Vix licked his lips, “I’d much rather be with a sack of meat.”
Irene threw her hands up and walked away until she was on the other side of the table. After a deep breath and some imaginings of wringing a certain fox’s neck, she turned back around, “Crean is your father?”
His mouth pulled into a grimace, “The one and only.”
She eyed him, “Huh. You look like you could be brothers.”
His grimace looked even more pained at the thought but he refused to acknowledge what she said with words.
Irene remembered his beautiful, fluffy red and white fur, “And your mother was the most beautiful vixen in the forest?”
Vix studied the rug before raising his eyes to meet hers, “Something like that.”
Irene crossed her arms, “How did you know?”
He tensed at the accusation in her voice, “How did I know what?”
Her arms tightened around herself, “That I-I have potential to be a reshi.”
He smirked at her discomfort, “You smelled like Frase.”
Irene screamed in outrage, and before she could stop herself, swept up the tray the snacks had been on and threw it at him. He dodged it easily enough and the dull clang of it hitting the ground once, twice, before stopping sounded through the hall as they stared at each other. A small breeze snuck through the twining trunks and branches that made up the building to play with Irene’s hair.
Breathing heavily, she demanded, “Let me go.”
He shook his head in disbelief and went to go sit in front of the doorway. Irene settled back down on the rug, intending to glare him into submission, but the moon had barely moved in the sky before her breathing shifted to the deeper breaths of sleep.
Irene gasped awake as cold water splashed down on her. The first thing she saw was a bucket whose handle was being held in a hand which was connected to an arm…the various parts of the human before her resolved into whole image and she sucked in another breath to shout, “How dare you–”
Vix looked down at her with annoyed eyes, “Get up so I can take you to get tested and then go sleep.”
When she opened her mouth to argue he snarled and yanked her to her feet. He proceeded to drag her out of the hall and into the forest. She was sure to keep up a running stream of all the indignities he was doing to her and random, made-up reasons why she shouldn’t get tested and that no matter what she would refuse to give her blessing until he halted abruptly and swept around to face her.
Vix took a threatening step toward her, “Look, woman, I don’t give a mouse’s ass about your complaints and prattling; I just want to go to sleep, and I get to do that once I deliver you to where we are going. So be quiet unless you want leaves shoved in your mouth.”
Irene looked up at the still pristine leaves on the branches above and down at the ones on the ground. She spotted a mound of droppings on a pile of leaves not far away. Deciding she knew what leaves he would go for she settled for glaring back at him and keeping her mouth shut.
The next time they stopped was in front of a gray rock with what blue gemstone looked like after it was cut and sanded jutting from the top. The sunlight shone down into the clearing to highlight the gray veins running through the blue stone and casting a shadow that shifted and flickered on the small red flowers dotting the ground.
Irene trembled as she looked at the stone, “Why is there a whole boulder of Galietine stone here?”
“My father,” Vix said the word with the slightest sneer, “is quite proud of the unusual bounty and says that it rose out of the earth to show all that he is the greatest spirit, not Darakas.”
Irene eyed him, “And your opinion?”
He barked out a short laugh, “That it was a matter of chance.” He looked at the flickering shadow, “At least now my father knows not to doubt my sense of smell. The stone is reacting to you.”
Irene took a quick step back, “It could be reacting to you. You are the son of a spirit.”
Vix’s lips pressed together, “You know that’s not how it works.” His gaze slid to his hand around her wrist, “But…just to be sure, for the sake of my father’s questions, you should stand in the shadow by yourself.”
Before she could react he jerked his arm forward and the movement caused her to have enough momentum to stumble into the shadow just as his fingers left her wrist. For a moment the shadow stilled. Then it rose up and swallowed her whole.
Irene didn’t even get the chance the scream. One moment she was standing there and the next a feather light mass, like a smoky membrane, had enveloped her and wouldn’t let her go no matter how she punched and kicked. The shadow pushed past her lips as she tried to yell and coated her mouth. Irene clawed at her throat. She was choking, choking…
And then the mass was gone and she was lying on the ground and the shadow was just a shadow with no flickering to speak of.
Irene tried to sit up but fell back, dizzy. Her mouth and throat felt so raw she thought she should be spitting up blood, but there was none. She closed her eyes and when she opened them again Vix filled her vision. She hadn’t even registered the impulse by the time she slapped him. He reared back, cursing. She would have joined in if just breathing didn’t make her feel like her mouth and throat had been scrapped a hundred times over and then dipped in salt water.
Vix stopped in the middle of a curse as his eyes swiveled back to her. He took a cautious sniff, and then a deeper one, “You smell different.”
Irene’s face flushed and she moved to slap him again, but he caught her wrist. Vix stared at her, “No, you don’t understand. You smell different; not like Frase anymore. You used to smell like…like the sun and a fresh spring morning and mist and like the stone,” he waved to the Galientine stone, “but now there’s something else. Something added or taken away or…” he trailed off.
Irene just stared back at him.
He dropped her wrist, and shifted to look around them. He whispered, “The shadow’s no longer moving.” He turned back to her, “What did you do?”
Irene shoved him. Then, after she pointed back in the direction of the temple, the shadow, and her throat, she waved her arms in a big circle and finally jabbed a finger at him.
Ignoring her obvious accusation, his eyes narrowed, “What’s wrong with your throat?”
She pointed at him again.
His voice took on a threatening edge, “What’s wrong with your throat?”
Irene pictured punching him in the neck but held herself back when she heard a animalistic growl coming from a human throat. Instead, she pointed at the shadow, mimed it covering her body and then clawing at her mouth and throat before pointing back at him.
Vix sighed, rubbing his temple, “If you can’t speak, even in the short term, that means you’re no use to my father because you can’t give your blessing. His game is ruined.” She thought she saw a glimmer of guilt in his eyes before he snarled, “I should never have let that comment slip that there was a girl tromping through the forest that smelled like Frase.” He drew in a deep breath and locked eyes with her, “Run, now, if you want the chance not to be killed in his tantrum.”
Something in his voice warned her he didn’t think he’d survive his next encounter with his father either. Irene’s body tensed as she glanced back in the direction of the temple. She had run away because she was sick of her mother’s manipulations and the daily reminders of what a disappointment she was unlike her older sister, but she had never been afraid of her parents murdering her. Irene grabbed a hold of his wrist and brought them both to their feet before tugging him in the opposite direction of the temple.
She got him a couple of steps before he halted and she couldn’t tug him forward. His voice was short, clipped when he spoke, “What are you doing?”
Irene rolled her eyes and then gestured to both of them before miming running in the direction away from the temple. He hesitated and then looked back at her. Irene looked down to see her whole body trembling. She brought one hand close her face, not quite believing what she was seeing. That seemed to harden Vix’s resolve.
He commanded, “Get on my back.”
Vix scowled back, “Get on my back. We can’t afford to waste time. You’re still weak from whatever just happened and you have all the skill of a city girl at walking quietly through the woods. We’ll have a better chance at escaping if you just listen to me.”
She eyed him, remembered tripping over every other root the day before and climbed onto his back. He gripped under her knees and set off into the forest. At first Irene startled at every little noise but the strain from whatever the shadow had done and trying to pay attention to every little thing soon caught up with her. When she slumped against his back and let out a small snore, Vix paused to make sure she was alright before continuing on.
Irene woke to moonlight and Vix stumbling. His breathing was ragged and now it was his body shaking. She tapped his shoulder and, when he glanced at her, motioned for him to put her down. He did with a sigh, but then refused to rest with a growled, “Not until we leave my father’s domain.”
She had to comply with that because she now had no idea which direction to go to head away from the temple, nor did she want to imagine what would happen if Crean found them while they were still on his territory.
They continued on into the night. Once they had a scare when the whole forest seemed to shake. Vix just muttered, “He does that sometimes when he’s angry. He did it earlier too, when you were sleeping.”
After about another hour or so they reached the forest’s edge. Vix cast his gaze about the grassy plain that greeted them. His lips slipped into a small smile, “This is Mandra’s territory. He’s never liked my father or anything that has to do with him. He won’t hand you back over to him even if just to make things more difficult for my father.”
Irene gestured at him with concerned eyes.
Vix shrugged one shoulder, “He likes me little more than my father so if he finds me here it’ll depend on how gracious a mood he’s in if he tosses me back or not.” He rubbed his eyes. “Let’s find a place to sleep.”
A few miles in they came across a farm. Sneaking into the barn they climbed into the hayloft and fell asleep to the noises of the animals below.