Magic can change a person, twisting them into something they weren’t before. Some kill for this, some try to slow it down, but there is no cure. Not one that’s known, anyway.
Genre: fantasy, LGBT
Expected length: 85-100k words
Status: work in progress, expected finish date November/December 2015
Type: Projected to be part of a series
Series: Possible name: The Prototype Wars
Relationships: Primary couple: m/m. Secondary couples: m/f, possibly f/f
I made the cover, with the usage of some images that I took myself and other images that were available through creative commons rights. I edited all images to some extent, primarily by adding effects or layers on Photoshop. Most notably, for the man I layered two photos of his on top of each other and then edited the eyes to create the all-white orbs, added the scars, and the blue light.
This is a temporary cover to be used as a placeholder for now, until the book is at the point of self-publishing or submitting to a publisher. At that point, it will get an official cover made, most likely, by a professional.
With new resolution, he rolled off the bed, and felt around until his hand connected with the bowl. He brought it with him as he paced the room and located the exact center. There, he sat down crosslegged and rested the bowl lightly on his fingertips at the center of his lap. He closed his eyes and tipped his head forward, feeling his dreadlocks falling forward over his shoulders.
He breathed evenly; a long pull in, a slow draw out, until his heartbeat evened and the room fell away around him. The center of his forehead itched. When he had been a child, he had hated the feeling. He still remembered their training. The way Robin had laughed at him and had repeatedly flicked him hard on the spot, until Oz had protested and Robin had told him, “Now the itching doesn’t bother you as much, does it?”
Now, he felt it with relief. Here was the only way he would ever see again, under his own control.
Blue light burned first at his fingertips and third eye, then raced outward along the surface of his skin until it connected at his arms, and raced down his torso. He couldn’t see it but he could feel it so strongly it lent a solid image in his mind. It had always been the same, even when he could see. He remembered so clearly the look of those veins hovering outside his skin, outlining the capillaries around his body in a complex cloud of thin lines. The pulse of the power along with his heartbeat.
The mark of witch’s blood.
They were in the basement.
The place was pitch black.
Era let out a low breath, took a moment to regain her bearings, and froze when she felt Nuse gripping her upper arm. He pushed her arm to the side, and she followed the direction.
A ghostly form flicked in and out of focus about three yards away. A young woman, her white dress dirtied and bedraggled. Her hair fell in tangles past her shoulders, and there were only bloody holes where her eyes should have been. Her lips were bloodied, held shut with stitches that criss-crossed her mouth and led up on the edges in a mockery of a smile. Her skin was made of large patches, different shades of skin that didn’t fit next to one another.
She tilted her head, and didn’t move. The pale blue glow of her skin gave just enough light to show she was standing next to a corner.
Era hissed quietly and stood very still. She looked around the room with her eyes only. At first she thought it was only the woman, but then she saw the others flickering into view. Each of them more damaged than the last. A woman whose arms and legs had been cut off and swapped, crouched forward awkwardly to balance her feet on the floor along with her hands. A man with half a head. A young boy whose insides had been surgically removed and were sewn outside his skin. A little girl with no face. More and more until at least a dozen dotted the room around them. They all stood, oriented toward the three of them, regardless of whether they had heads or eyes.
“How far to Riel?”
Oz’s voice seemed sudden in the quiet. Shine nearly jumped. She looked up at the sky, then turned her attention to the trees. She walked to the nearest trunk, and placed her palm against its side. She loved the feel of the bark against her palm. It pressed into her with just enough roughness to feel so very Thaeanan. Everything here was rough around the edges, not quite smooth, not quite easy. It was so messy and beautiful. She didn’t think she would ever tire of the simple pleasures here.
It was endlessly distracting, though. She closed her eyes and focused. She felt the insects lift into the air around her, darting around her face and encircling her arm. The worms underground in a five foot radius began a slow crawl in her direction. The plants leaned toward her, as if she were the sun. As if she replenished their life the way she felt rejuvenated by their presence.
She released the smallest pulse of energy. It rolled along the ground, passing between the root systems and arcing through the dirt between. Up the tree branches a part raced, leaping along stems and jumping between leaves in a laughing dance. Joyful, the energy twirled outward in a race between sky and ground, until both reached the edge of the forest at the same moment.
Ahead, she felt the yawning opening of a field of wild grass. The magic moved slower through the grassblades, smooth and graceful, rolling leisurely until it hit another forest and sprinted once more. Then a cycle through a river, racing even faster than before with such excitement it couldn’t be withheld, until it arced to the side and made its way to shore. There, it slowed to the tumble of a stone in the lazy current, and landed at the edge of civilization.
Shine withdrew the energy, and felt it pull back simultaneously quicker and more smoothly than it had left. She drew in a great breath as her eyes snapped open, and for a moment the world was full of light too bright to see properly. The green of the leaves, the flowers, they glowed like the sun; the bark was rough to her eyes like to the touch of her hand, and she could see every minute shift in the worn pattern.
When she stepped back, the world settled back into meaning around her. She felt the change from the second level of sight like the loss of a limb.
The faint flicker of light was nearly consumed by darkness. Era lay completely still, her gloved fingers curled around the binoculars as she watched. Waited.
The second sentry was long gone by now; this much she knew from the messages left behind. It was cool and quiet but she had the patience to wait.
Upon arrival of the third sentry, she studied him as closely as she had all the others before. She came to the same conclusion:
Trained. Alert. Doing their job well.
When the third sentry looped back to the first, she packed her belongings and left.
The forest towered around her, accepting her into the comforting hush she had grown accustomed to in the past few years. Without Shine at her side, the presence of the trees was far less grand. She didn’t see the trembling of their spirit, nor feel the cooling heat of their energy tingle along her skin. But she could feel them over her, sheltering her; watching every choice she made in the placement of her feet, and deadening the sound as if the forest, too, wished to protect her.
It had felt this way since the moment she had met Shine, and for that she wondered how much was a shift in her perception, how much was in her mind only, and how much was the spirit of the forest reacting to one who would shelter its kind.
Although she was immeasurably careful on her trek, paying close attention to every sound that was even approaching abnormal or worrisome, it still felt like her journey was not as long as it should have been. Soon, she crested the small hill that showed the entrance to their cave.
The entrance was unassuming: a patch of deeper black framed by a glimpse of rock nearly overcome by grass and brush. Vines trailed over the hole, partially shielding it from view. She pushed her rucksack higher on her shoulder and ducked to keep the vines from catching in her hair. When she entered the cave, her right hand buzzed ever so faintly as it always did. She rolled out the kinks and ignored it. She didn’t need to trace the resonances here; she knew them all by heart. The charmed rocks Shine had placed along the floor at intervals sucked up the excess sound, turning what would have been a study in echoes into the quiet skritch of her worn boots on cold stone.
The main passageway continued to the left, but Era ducked through the hidden break in the wall on the right. As she passed through the slim corridor, she could always tell where Oz’s obfuscation marks ended because the darkness receded quickly. From ahead, light flickered as faintly as it had on the walls of Teraset: blue that did little more than tinge the surroundings, shifting in and out of the shadows in candle flame flickers.
The corridor opened abruptly into a larger cavern.
Oz was there when she walked inside. As she passed by, she dropped the rucksack on the stone they used as a table. Oz’s face shifted slightly, one cheek showing curiously over his shoulder at her entrance. He didn’t need to ask the question because Era was already speaking:
“It’s going to be difficult.”
Seated with his back to the entrance to utilize the sole outcropping that worked as a table surface, he didn’t turn his attention from his work. The sleek black stone board that sat on the outcropping was blank to Era’s eyes but Oz’s fingers flew across it, marking words in a way she would never understand. A cracked piece of glass was propped in front of him, connected by touch to the stone. The glass, too, looked blank to her but it wasn’t to Oz. He had told her in the past that the information he swept onto the stone delayed significantly before entering the field on the glass; a situation that never ceased to frustrate him.
All she saw were thin lines of blue light that bled from Oz’s fingertips; barely visible and disappearing in elegant arcs across the flat black stone.
She hardly slowed her stride to her preferred chair in the corner. It had started as branches but Shine had fashioned it into something extremely comfortable when given a layer of cloth-wrapped leaves for padding.
When she dropped into it, she rested one leg idly over the chair’s arm.
“Impossible?” Oz asked without pausing in his writing.
Era shook her head even though the gesture was meaningless. “No. Just difficult.”
He let out a low, quiet breath. “Well. That’s something.”
Era rolled her neck, feeling the kinks ease out in sharp twinges and cathartic burns. A popping of vertebra felt good to Era but caused Oz to frown. She could just barely see his expression reflected in the occasional glow of the screen.
“You know I hate it when you do that.”
A smirk flashed across Era’s face and bled into her voice. “So sorry.”
“No you aren’t,” he muttered.
The background rumble of his fingertips tapping without pattern on the stone was a relaxing lull that often bled the tension from Era’s shoulders. This time was no different. When she closed her eyes and tipped her head back, one arm cast over the back of the chair with the other resting on her stomach, she let the darkness overcome her.
Era didn’t know how long it was before Shine arrived, tromping loudly through the cave and scattering the fairlets before her. The woman was as loud as a pack of hounds when she had a mind to be. Era didn’t bother peeking an eye open even when she heard her counterpart’s arrival, complete with the flittering of tiny insects in a minor whirlwind.
There was always something moving around Shine, whose very existence seemed bent on challenging the status quo.
“Well, I struck gold,” Shine announced cheerfully. Something heavy hit the floor with a resounding clatter. “Literally. I was walking through the forest and stepped right on a stash, piss-poor buried. What kind of idiot leaves that just lying around?”
“No one,” Oz said absently. “Which is why you didn’t randomly find it. You’re just lucky right now.”
“Luck is a curse and a pleasure.”
Era could hear the blitheness in Shine’s voice, and sighed as she straightened. “We’re going to have to look into this eventually.”
“Oh, come on. It’ll wear off. It always does.”
“Not all enhancements are the same. Come here.”
Shine scrunched her face but complied. She stopped by the chair, holding out her hand so Era could move it this way and that. On the back of Shine’s wrist, a design glowed red. It moved up her forearm, around her wrist, and down her hand with strong, straight lines that were beginning to branch out like tree branches or capillaries.
Era pressed down on the main line at the point of infection; a circular scar as small and unassuming as a freckle. Her gloved thumb continued to glow even after she pulled her hand away; a pale crimson that pulsed for a full second before it faded into nonexistence. All that was left was a brush of ash.
Shine’s carefree smile had fallen away sometime during the inspection. “It’ll be fine. I’ve dealt with worse.”
Shine disentangled her arm from Era’s hold and pulled her sleeve over it once again. “Like I said: I’ve dealt with worse.”
“I don’t trust this–”
“You don’t trust anything. We’re lucky you trust us.” Shine tugged Era into a brief, one-armed hug. “Calm down and let me handle it.”
Era shoved Shine away with a scowl. “Don’t patronize me. I’m perfectly calm, I just think you’re a fucking idiot for ignoring the implications. The luck doesn’t have to extend to your life. It’s entirely possible it’s leeching away anything you had to begin with and you’ll be left with nothing in the end. Assuming you survive.”
Shine rolled her eyes. “And there’s our little nugget of joy, back with us again.”
“I’m being practical. You get too invested in the idea that everything will work out just because you want it to. It doesn’t work that way here. You’re going to get hurt if you keep believing that.”
“Yes, yes…” Shine said dismissively. She walked over by Oz and dropped into the chair next to him. He seemed to have been ignoring the two during their conversation and only interacted again when Shine shoved him lightly on the shoulder.
“So, Ozzy-boy. Find anything yet?”
He shook his head. “Nothing yet, but I’m close.”
“Well, tell us when you hit on something, yeah?”
Shine settled back in her chair, rocking back and forth slightly while Era stared at her flatly. They might have made their way back into an argument if Oz hadn’t abruptly straightened.
“Teraset?” Shine asked interestedly.
“Not yet. Era only just returned; it’s going to take more planning.”
Era sat forward, forearms braced on her knees. “Then what?”
Oz turned to face them fully for the first time that night. The low lighting made his dark skin seem even darker, and cast sharp relief on the scars spiderwebbed out from his eyes, nearly overcoming his eyebrows and curling down his cheeks. It was difficult to tell the direction of his gaze by his eyes alone, with the irises and pupils as white as his eyeballs, but being blind wasn’t a hindrance to him now anymore than it had been since the moment they’d met.
“Power spike in Amoston. A halfling is coming.”
When the Rain hit, it was without warning.
The clouds had been gathering all day, starting a pure white and turning over time into a deep grey and eventually a heavy black. They heard it afar at first; a sheet of Rain that poured down and, faster than seemed possible, swept across the land. Everywhere in sight, the light was filtered into something grimy and muffled, and every window and door was sealed tightly shut.
The Meninessi watched from their covered wagons, parked against a building to shelter from potential wind. The toxic water came down so fast it was nearly impossible to see through the glass, not without blurring everything behind it.
There was no wind, no change in color of the water– nothing to separate this Dead Rain from any other summer storm, except the word of the Prophet and the consequences of being infected by even a drop of the water.
“Strange, isn’t it?”
Era shifted her view to Melana’s reflection in the window. She was still seated next to Era, a warm mug of tea resting on her thighs and cupped in her hands.
“The Rain.” Melana gestured lazily to the window. “When I was a child, I used to love the rain. If it started slow, on summer days I would run out and lie down where it was still dry. If I stayed there long enough and then stood back, it left funny shapes, that dry patch against the wet.”
“Much different now,” Era agreed.
Melana made a noise in the back of her throat. “Now the children run even if it isn’t Dead Rain. They’re too afraid it will hurt them.”
“Better to be cautious, in this case.”
“Better,” Melana allowed, “but still sad.”