Worldmender Excerpt

As promised, here’s an excerpt from the second story idea I wrote about earlier.

This one is for Worldmender, and it takes place about a third of the way into the story. I wanted to get the feel for the atmosphere and how the character’s unique gift works.

            Tavener Dendriss squinted at swirls of sand and acrid smoke as he looked out from the wooden shanty. Scattered clouds shone in the night like soft lamps, reflecting the fires in the capital city of Sulkath below. A few buildings stand unharmed, the King’s palace among them. But the walls and defenses are rubble.

            Explosions rattled the shanty’s timbers. Dust fell from the ceiling. The Voices wailed in Tavener’s mind, and he winced.

“the burning, the ripping, it hurts, how it hurts, isn’t it over yet”

            He shook his head and ran his fingers through close-cropped red hair. The Voices have always been quiet in the city… but for ages now, Sulkath has known only peace.

            Tavener knelt and rested his palm on the floor. He imagined replying to the Voices, whispering pictures They would understand. They never listen to my words. Hardy thistle swaying in gusts of wind. Stoic mountains unfazed by storms. A tranquil pool surrounded by dry grass nestled between sand dunes. Serenity.

            A boulder crashed into the smooth waters. Wildfires swept across the grass.

“they come, they come at last just as she promised but they are no different, they are no better, they bind us and rip us and mold us and remake us into whatever they desire, so much fire so much flame, their hunger never ceases and –“

            Tavener steeled his resolve and tuned out. He caught one last whimper.

“why don’t they go back home”

            Silence filled his head, but it did not last.

            His companion, Brightwell, watched him with a furrowed brow. “You look pained.”

            She huddled in shadow at the back of the shanty. He caught her checking the contents of the deerskin pouch for the fifth time today. “All part of the plan,” she says. But I’d sure like to know what’s in that bag.

            Her wavy auburn hair, streaked with sand and dust, curled around her face. Most of her once-green cloak and robe now matched the color of milk tea. She looks like a street urchin in need of a meal and a bath. Or two.

            He glanced down at his clothes. I’m sure I look no better.

            And Tavener had seen what she could do. She is no child in need of your protection, his conscience warned. She has deep wisdom, even if you do not yet understand it.

            She rose and drew near. “Is it the Elements? The voices you spoke of?”

            “It’s nothing. The battle is upsetting them.”

            Brightwell laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “My king, the one true king, has come. All will be set right. Tell the Elements they will not suffer much longer.”

            “I stopped listening. It’s easier than trying to convince them.”

            “Few things worth doing are easy, Tav.”

            He looked away. The moon crested the ruined skyline of Sulkath. “Time to move. Benestayn and Gherris won’t be patient.”

            Without waiting for a response, he stepped into the night. Can’t tell her how I really feel. Sure… your King has come. But Sulkath already has a king. And King Nafalis is not going to roll over and die at the sight of an opposing army, even if it is from Kandurien.

            Tavener picked his way through chunks of stone and scorched wood. Every building on this street suffered damage in the battle. The lower castes call Kandurien heaven on earth. But Kandurien’s armies tore right through the slums on their way to Nafalis. Who’s to say their King Hun-Shin is any better?

            The Voices answered in song.

“we see… we know… we watch the lands below… wherever our winds go… all flesh yearns for kandurien… all men wish… all men pray that hun-shin will rule one day…”

            “Cute,” Tavener muttered.

            “What’s that?” Brightwell asked. She trotted down the street to catch up, picking her way between piled bricks and craters in the hard-packed sand.

            “Voices of Air love to rhyme.”

            “Oh.”

            Tavener smiled. She tries to understand. That counts for something.

            He stopped and crouched behind a crumbling wall. Brightwell bumped into him, but he did not notice. The Voices drowned out everything else.

they come, they search, they will hurt you if they find her, like they hurt us when they rip and tear and bend and

            “I hear footfalls ahead, marching,” Brightwell blurted out. “Soldiers.” She looked all around for refuge, like a spooked rabbit.

            Tavener tugged Brightwell’s arm and ducked into an adobe hovel with a gaping hole in the front. A fire across the street cast flickering light into the single large room. Brightwell pulled her hood down as far as it would stretch, then hid behind Tavener. He understood. There’s little chance any of them will recognize her, but she’s still a fugitive.

            He thought of her deerskin pouch and its secret contents. Even Kandurien cannot afford to lose their Lifesingers.

            Three soldiers marched up the littered street as if all was well. The crisp swing of their boots kicked rocks and rubble out of the way. Silver trimming glistened on their coats, silver gauntlets reflected firelight. Despite his doubts about the invading King Hun-Shin and the armies of Kandurien, Tavener caught his breath at the sight.

            Men of Kandurien, in the flesh, here in Sulkath. I scarce believed this possible.

            An image of a stocky red-haired Dendriss filled his mind. Sammal, brother, you would have rejoiced to see this day.

            One of the soldiers spotted Tavener and turned. He raised an empty hand as a sign of peace and proclaimed, “Citizens of Sulkath, King Hun-Shin has seen fit to liberate you from oppression and usher you into his merciful care. Do not resist. We are here to help. Food distribution begins in the Palace Square at dawn.”

            The soldiers then continued on their way, scanning the buildings for other survivors.

            Tavener glanced at Brightwell and winked. “Acting like refugees worked, just like I said it would. Nothing to worry about. Now we need the rain you promised.”

            She smiled and nodded. “It’s coming.”

“so dry so barren no rain ever, she knows much but she must not know how the Waters come, so thirsty, when will the Waters come”

            A glimmer of hope sprung to life in Tavener’s heart, and he patted the ground.

            Soon.

            He heard the faint and unfamiliar Voice of Water scoff in the distance. Tavener sent a picture of sheets of rain, remembering every detail from the one time he’d seen it as a child.

            He received an image of cracked, parched earth baking under relentless sunlight.

            Brightwell rose and jogged down the street, away from the soldiers. Tavener gave chase.

            Soon. But first, we start cleansing the city.

            Memory came unbidden. Tavener pictured the last time he saw Sammal. They were two of a dozen new slaves, brought from afar to entertain the crowds. The arena master paced in front of the line, reciting his expectations and rules. Sammal spat at him as he passed by.

            The man paused his pace but not his speech. He drew his sword and cut Sammal open like a rotten pomegranate, then warned the others, “You are easily replaced.”

            Seven years in constant fear of death…

            And now the high arches of the tall circular structure and the statues of arena legends loomed before Tavener. Brightwell strode forward without stopping, but Tavener paused, hardening himself for what came next.

            Brightwell turned. “Tav?”

            I’ve told her of the Voices here… but she can’t understand. She never had to hear them.

            He sighed. “I’m all right. Let’s get this done. I hope that rain is coming soon.”

            She smirked. “It’s almost here.”

            The Voices were a low buzz, constant in the city. It was difficult, but he learned to ignore them. At the Rose Garden arena, that was impossible. Twisted by centuries of violence, they raged without ceasing.

“break them tear them someone come and cut their flesh and spill their juices hot and tangy, metallic and thick and sweet to slake Our thirst for just a little while longer, so long since men danced upon Our soil to pour out their lives and wet our parched throats”

            Tavener trembled as the rants continued. He forced himself forward to the stairs that led down into the arena’s oval floor. Brightwell took his hand. “It’s going to be fine, Tav. I’m here.”

“kill her kill her slit her throat and rend her skin and carve her until the life drips down and fills us with delicious warmth”

            They stood on windswept sand in the center of the arena. Though the stands were empty, Tavener heard shouts and catcalls of spectators from his past. He felt the lust of the warped Voice of Earth here, and its constant desire for more blood.

            “Now, Tav.”

            “Now what?”

            “Now it’s time for you to convince the rain to pour from the clouds.”

            Tavener heard Water’s distant laugh again. He glared at Brightwell.

            “This was your plan?”

            She nodded.

            Few things worth doing are easy, indeed.

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