I’ve been talking about the trilogy, nicknamed ‘the novel that never ends’, for over a year now, and I’m happy to say that I’m finally getting something done on it. I was glad to see that I actually had more done than I’d thought, and there are only five or six scenes that need writing before I can start revising. I’m not sure how long it will take me to get the first one completed, but I’m hoping to have it out by the end of this year. I can’t make any promises on books two and three, though three is pretty much completed, and book two is pretty complete in my head.
Below is the first chapter, though it still needs editing and revision.
Sister Gabrielle Corcoran darted behind Shadowhell, glancing over her shoulder to see if anyone had seen her. The building was quiet, the only sounds the occasional cry of a child or the hollow bark of an n’kita.
Gabby propped against the rough wooden wall of a housing complex and leaned her head back to catch her breath. For a moment she considered the folly of her actions; Sisters of the Arcana Maximus weren’t allowed out into the city of Freywater, and never after Middle Night Contemplation, but Gabby had to know the truth. She’d simply heard too many whispers over the last few months to remain cloistered within the Arcana.
Gabby’s mother had placed her with the Arcana Maximus when she was just thirteen winters old – she had never known why – and Gabby had devoted herself to the Arcana, learning the rituals of contemplation and working with the other Sisters to provide for their needs. When she was eighteen winters, she had been told that her mother died of natural causes in a hovel in the Warren, and Gabby had grieved but possessed no real reason to question the information. But now, almost ten years later, Gabby had overheard whispered conversations and begun to believe there was more to her mother’s death than she’d been told. That coupled with Gabby’s increasing restiveness and impatience with the rules of the Arcana had led her to slip out into the town in search of answers.
Gabby pushed herself away from the wall and turned to face the depths of the Warren. The entire area was a collection of wooden structures reinforced with sheets of metal, the few that could actually be considered structures. Pipe chimneys belched coal smoke into the air and caused a perpetual fog the dim gas lanterns couldn’t penetrate. Piles of refuse added to the acrid scent of the smoke, and rats scuttling through garbage reinforced the general sense of desperation. A feeling that Death himself stood as a barrier between the Warren and the rest of Freywater snuck into Gabby’s mind and made it nearly impossible for her to breathe.
Then there were the rumors.
Tales of mechanical biotic experiments gone badly were interspersed with stories of demons from Moirena. It was even said that a banished elf princess from the Kingdom of E’ma Thalas was hiding within the Warren’s depths, and that Oberon, king of that land, would pay heavy coin for her capture. These, coupled with the whispers she’d head, caused Gabby to shudder and turn back. Ludicrous. That’s what this was. None of it could really be true.
Gabby didn’t really believe the rumors. She couldn’t. In Gabby’s mind the Warren was nothing more than a place populated by the destitute. At least, that’s what she’d always told herself. She’d insisted that all the rumors came from drugs that could alter the mind to such an extent that reality could never be regained. She’d told herself the rumors were nothing more than vivid imaginings of those who had nothing better to do and nothing to look forward to.
But what if I’m wrong?
Footsteps echoing on the cobbled street in front of the building kept Gabby frozen where she was. Voices, barely head, drifted on the breeze, and Gabby held her breath while her heart tried to escape from her ribcage. Enforcers. It had to be. For they were the only ones likely to be strolling Freywater at three hours after midnight, especially with the rumors of animated corpses attacking people.
Gabby shivered as she waited for the footsteps and voices to fade into nothingness. There had been a lot of rumors lately, enough to penetrate even the cloistered halls of the Arcana Maximus. The rumors of elves crossing the Borderland Mountains and harassing the smaller towns north of Freywater led into whispers that the Ibunana, the head of the Arcana, had petitioned the emperor to reinstate the ban on all magical people put into play several hundred years before. Gabby wasn’t sure if she believed it, not that it affected her, but just the thought of the empire being invaded terrified her.
Gabby strained her ears, and when she was sure the Enforcers had gone, she took several deep breaths to calm her nerves and choked on the putrescence of rotting food and excrement. She trembled and looked up at a sky that was nothing but swirling gray.
Doesn’t matter now.
Then, with a sigh, she crossed the dusty street and plunged into the Warren.
Darkness closed around Gabby. She squeezed her eyes as the miasma of misery crushed her chest, then she gasped and forced herself forward on shaking legs. The ground beneath her seemed to radiate despondency, and Gabby had to constantly fight the urge to run. A discarded board reached for her legs and caused her to stumble, and the ramshackle constructions around her tried to trap her in their grasp.
A baby cried, and a cat rowled, and Gabby stopped, straining her ears to locate the distorted sounds. Shadows moved in the corner of her vision, and Gabby jumped as she tried to see what was there. But all that appeared was yet another pile of rubbish.
Candlelight flickered in a small wooden shack ahead, and Gabby made her way toward it. She used the feeble light to dodge a mound of refuse as high as her shoulders and to avoid puddles that reeked in the summer heat. She knew her mother had died in a hovel near the city wall, but Gabby had no idea just which home had been hers.
“I wish I could just come during the day,” she whispered to the darkness.
More sounds, distorted by the haze and night, reached Gabby’s ears. Her legs trembled and her gut twisted around a solid mass of terror. Something thunked then shuffled, and Gabby froze where she was. She tucked a strand of auburn hair behind her ear and strained her eyes. She could dimly make out hovels cobbled together with scraps of wood and bits of paper, each a testament to the tenacity of its residents. Mountains of garbage rose around her, and Gabby’s imagination provided myriad possibilities of what could be hiding behind them. Or within them. She reached into the leather pouch at her waist and removed the forbidden knife. She held it loosely, ready to use it if need be.
Gabby had no sooner convinced herself that she was being ridiculous when a creature emerged from the darkness bit by bit, the reek of death preceding it. It was a small child, a girl, dressed in a navy dress trimmed in pink. Long fuchsia hair matted with gore framed a baby doll face the color of creamed coffee. Gabby relaxed for a moment, prepared to help the child, but the malicious hiss that showed a mouth full of serrated teeth caused Gabby to stumble backwards and land on her butt in a puddle. She noted the child’s bleeding eyes and the vine-like stitches on her arms and legs and the way the girl shambled forward.
The corpse lunged, arms outstretched and fingers clawed. Gabby tried to raise her knife, but the creature dove at her before she could do more than scream.
The city of Freywater was dark, the only sound the chug of generators that kept necessary equipment running. Detective Timothy Hawkins trudged along muddy roads on his way home from his shift with the Enforcers and wished the city would add cobbles to this part of town. His black cloak billowed behind him in the gentle breeze, and the black pants and shirt of the Enforcer uniform lent him a commanding appearance. The bronze trimmed chest plate, the maces across his back, and the sword at his side caused him to look downright deadly. At least in his own opinion.
He paused a moment beside the Fading Jug Tradepost and contemplated stopping for a Fizzy Drink, then he shook his head and continued onward. He shivered when he passed Neverfair, one of the housing buildings common to Freywater. The structure loomed above him, its bottom built from stone and wood, while its upper floors were corrugated metal. Like the other housing buildings in this part of town, Neverfair was a tall building that somehow managed to look squat.
As he neared his building, Timothy stopped. The wind tickled the leaves of the few nearby trees, and tiny frogs plopped in puddles. Conversations buzzed in the neighboring homes, whispers that grew and faded, but Timothy could discern no cause for the sudden arresting of his attention, no reason for the stirring of the hated magic within him.
A scream echoed through the haze, high-pitched and grating. The sound bounced off the buildings around him and returned as a pitiful cry. Several n’kitas took up the cry, but no one lit a candle or lamp. The Warren held its breath and waited for the danger to pass, not daring to interfere.
Timothy took off into the Warren. His boots pounded the ground, and his breath came in gasps as the exhaustion of his long shift drained what little energy he had.
He skidded to a stop and pulled a mace from the holder on his back in one fluid motion. He swung the mace with a grunt and connected with the head of a little girl. Timothy grimaced and jumped backwards as bits of bone and brain matter exploded from the creature’s head. The woman on the ground in front of him tried to protect her face, but one of the corpse’s eyes bounced off her cheek anyway. The woman’s sea green eyes widened, and tears ran down her face.
“Are you hurt?” Timothy asked. He squatted in front of her and tried to make out details in the faint light.
The woman shook her head, and Timothy extended his hand as he stood. She grasped it and rose to her feet without speaking.
“Why are you out here, Sister?” Timothy asked in a deep whisper.
Timothy looked more closely at the woman and noted her soiled gray skirt. Her shirt buttoned high on the neck, and she wore a black leather bodice with belts over her left shoulder. A dark gray cape rested across her shoulders, and a small leather pouch hung from a belt at her waist. Her heart-shaped face was a mask of terror, and bits of blood and mud speckled auburn hair. Eyes wide and breath gasping, she stared at Timothy with a complete lack of comprehension, and Timothy feared she’d go into shock.
“I didn’t think they let the Sisters out wandering.” Timothy checked his clothes for corpse bits then looked back at the Sister.
He watched as she examined her own clothes with shaking hands, then she seemed to come to a conclusion of some sort and looked back up at Timothy. There was a resolve there that bespoke of an inner strength not yet tested, and Timothy was reminded of another, one he had known long ago. “They usually don’t, but I needed some information, and this was the only way I had to get it.”
“By creeping through the Warren in the middle of the night? Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? Do you know what kind of people live here?”
Gabby’s eyes widened, and tears again began to flow. “I’ve heard the rumors, but just because people are poor doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them.”
Timothy made a disgusted sound and turned away from Sister Bleeding Heart. “Sister, I know you’re taught to believe in the good in people, and no one knows more about the good in some of these people than I do, but there are those here who would slit your throat just for the knife in your hand.”
“Sister, listen. Whatever information you think you need isn’t worth the risk you’re taking by being here.”
“I came to find out about my mother!” Gabby’s cry echoed through the silence, and Timothy reached for his knife before the sound died.
“What about her?” he growled. His eyes never stopped moving.
“They told me she died because of her heart, but I’ve been hearing whispers around the Arcana that it was something else. No one will tell me anything, so I came to find out.”
Timothy sighed and rubbed his face with his free hand. Gods preserve us against all curious women. “Okay Sister, what was your mother’s name, and I’ll see what I can find out for you. There’s no need in your risking your life.”
“Lucy Corcoran.” Gabby lowered her gaze to the ground and nodded her head. “Thank you, Detective. I appreciate it.”
“Anything else what?”
Timothy rolled his eyes. “Any more information you can give me?”
“My father was a stone mason and died when I was little. Mother always said he left plenty of money, and she always had a job. I don’t understand how she could’ve wound up here.” Gabby waved her hand at the cramped buildings that closed in upon the muddy street.
“How long have you been with the Arcana?”
“Since I was thirteen winters. About fifteen years.”
Timothy raised his eyebrow in askance. “And you chose to go?”
Gabby shook her head. “Mother insisted. She never told me why.”
Timothy simply stared as something about the young woman tickled the back of his mind. Something she’d said, perhaps, or some oddity of energy from the Spear of Victory he carried. He wasn’t sure.
Timothy was quiet for a moment, then he sighed and took Gabby by the arm. “Come on, let’s get you back to the Arcana before your Ibunana finds out you’re gone.”