This is the FIRST DRAFT of the novel, flaws and all, that I am writing for National Novel Writing Month 2020. Please refer to these posts to see the entire creation of this, from scratch, should you desire. Comments will be closed as of January 1, 2021. For any comments prior to that, please… be kind. This is a first draft! It’s just meant to help inspire anyone to write anything, whether good or bad.
“Why are we here?” Vaeda asked after he had taken some time to think it over.
“Come with me,” said Go’Ranashu. “There is someone I would like for you to meet. I think he may be able to answer your questions further.”
Go’Ranashu started moving again, and Vaeda didn’t question following him. He’d grown to trust Go’Ranashu; it may have only been milliseconds in the grand scheme of their lifelines, but all the same, Vaeda felt, somewhere within him, that he had known Go’Ranashu much longer than mere minutes.
Go’Ranashu moved faster than Vaeda, more sure-footed and certain in his steps. Vaeda followed without much difficulty, and the vibrations of the rocks surrounding them grew stronger and more vibrant as they moved. If Vaeda didn’t know any better, he’d have thought that Go’Ranashu had been here decades with the ease he moved between the outcroppings that Vaeda may have fallen over if left to his own devices.
“Where are we going?” Vaeda asked after a few minutes of moving deeper into the cave.
“There is a place I have made my own further in. I don’t know much about this cave, just the immediate area surrounding mine. It is just me and my friend, Runavan, there, but his story is his own to tell.”
Vaeda nodded, again becoming aware of his nonverbal reactions going unseen despite his efforts.
Moments later, Go’Ranashu stopped, and Vaeda followed suit.
“It is I,” he said as they started walking again, slower this time, further into whatever pit of the cave Go’Ranashu had claimed as his own.
“Welcome back,” said another voice, softer but silted with more skepticism. “Who’s your friend?”
Vaeda raised an eyebrow and wondered if Runavan, as himself, could see the vibrations of his energy behind Go’Ranashu. Instead of ask, he said, “Vaeda.” And, even though he knew the answer, he asked, “Yourself?”
“Runavan,” he said without any delay. “I assume you’ve just become aware?”
“I have,” said Vaeda, making a conscious effort to speak instead of simply nod his head. “And, from what I understand, you may be able to help me piece some bits of the reasons why together.”
“It’s okay,” said Go’Ranashu. “He, too, comes from Hardmoure. I feel as though he can be trusted.”
“I would agree,” said Runavan, and Vaeda noticed the lines of his energies coming together around his hands. He rubbed his hands together and bobbed on his feet, which oddly put Vaeda at ease. He could empathize with Runavan’s hesitancy to meet new people, especially if he knew more of the ins and outs as to why.
“Why are we all in the Lanniswell Hollow?” Vaeda asked, option to head street into the questions instead of continuing to beat around the bush.
Runavan chuckled. “Impatient one, aren’t we?”
“I’ve just woken up inside of a cave with no memories prior to fifteen minutes ago and a random encounter with Go’Ranashu when I was child.” He paused and tried to see if some memory would come to him that would include Runavan, too. “So forgive me if I’d like to have an answer or two as to why.”
“None of us know why,” said Runavan. “It certainly doesn’t help the predicament, I know, but your questions run in the same circles as the rest of ours.”
Vaeda kicked the ground in frustration again, and his frustration grew even further with his inability to think of any way else to react.
“Go’Ranashu,” he snapped. “I thought you told me he could help me?”
“I didn’t say I couldn’t,” said Runavan. “If you’d have given me a moment, I’d have a continued.” He paused as though to give Vaeda another opportunity to interrupt. When he didn’t, he continued, “All I know is that anybody who is down here is here because of either an offense or a crime against the king.”
“Well, everybody knows that,” said Vaeda, his impatience growing as Runavan continued to prove of less and less use.
“I understand,” said Runavan, whose own patience didn’t waver as he spoke. “We have all offended the king in some way, shape or form. Some of us may have even made attempts at his life. Maybe we tried to steal from him. Perhaps we gave his wife a lustful look, or an unwelcome invitation.”
“Is there a point to these words you blather?”
“None of us know.”
Vaeda didn’t say anything as the weight of the words hung for a moment. He didn’t understand the full impact at first, but after a moment, it dawned on him how strange it was that none of them could pinpoint the reason they were there.
Outside of the Hollow — from what he remembered, as his mind continued to reform itself — people always talked of the random disappearances that occurred here. Even then, none of them knew why. Inside the Hollow or out of it, no one ever knew the crimes committed that damned the souls to the Hollow beneath the city. The only common agreement amongst them all was that anybody who went to the Hollow never came back out.
“So, what’s going on with the ‘awareness’?” asked Vaeda. “How do you know anything about that?”
“Because I have been aware for nearly twenty years,” said Runavan. “And the two of you are hardly the only ones I have encountered.”
Vaeda thought on that for a moment. “And are there others besides the three of us now? I called out amongst the cave when I first woke up, but Go’Ranashu was the only one to respond to me.”
“There are others,” said Runavan. “How many, I do not know. Where they all are, I do not know. How, if, or when we will interact with them is as much your question as it is mine. I have stayed here, in this hub, with Go’Ranashu for a small time now. I feel safe with him, and from what I understand, he feels the same with me. Not everything down here — person or beast — is so welcoming.
Vaeda swallowed and worked to steady his breath. Rapid breathing led to hyperventilation, and losing his ability to hold himself together was the last thing he needed in this moment. The longer the exhale, the more the breath informed the body it was safe. Despite whatever his mind told him about the lack of truth to that statement, he still worked to make his exhale longer than his inhale and keep himself steady as he thought about what else may live in this cave.
“What happens now?” he asked, his voice hardly above a whisper.
“We survive as long as we can until we die,” said Runavan. “What else is there to do?”
“And for years, have you survived with no food? Such little sleep? Battles with cave demons that may or may not awaken at any turn of the corner?”
Voice still soft, softer than it had been up until now as though he didn’t want to speak, Runavan said, “There is food. It may not be what you’d prefer, but when it comes to eating what’s offered or starving, sometimes one must do what one must.”
With bile forming in his stomach, Vaeda forced himself to ask, “The dead?”
Vaeda saw Runavan’s vibrational energies shrug. “When battles happen, what else are we to do with the bodies? Leave them there to rot while we go hungry ourselves?”
“But what is in here?” Vaeda asked, his interest now coming to light. He took a step closer and almost forgot about Go’Ranashu for a moment until his energies came to light as he moved out of Vaeda’s way.
“Unfortunately, for the most part… it is human,” said Runavan, sick with himself for saying it aloud.
Vaeda, although disgusted by the initial thought, felt the smallest rumble of hunger awaken itself in the deepest pits of his belly and already began to understand what may happen if faced with the very question of choosing hunger over human flesh.
“And your memories?” Vaeda finally brought himself to ask, eager to change the topic and hopeful the answer to this was something a little less grotesque. “Do you remember things from before? Is the only memory you still lack the one that landed you here?”
“There are waves,” said Runavan. “At times I remember things, and others I feel like my mind is only blank. Then again… I also struggle to decide what is real within my memory in the first place. Some contradict others and make me feel like I’m somebody else completely.”
“I think the same,” said Go’Ranashu. “In fact, Vaeda, the memory you and I shared earlier was the first time I’ve felt like the images in my mind were valid since I got here.”
Vaeda turned around as if hoping to find somebody else there.
“This isn’t right,” he said, although unsure to whom he spoke.
“And what would you think to do about it?” said Runavan. Despite the rudeness of the question, Vaeda focused on the sincerity in his tone.
“There are others here, you’ve said. We can find them,” suggested Vaeda. “Gather together and find our way out of here. There’s an entrance somewhere, and there has to be an exit, as well. There have to be boundaries here. If we come together as one, certainly we can find a way out of this.”
Neither Go’Ranashu nor Runavan spoke for a moment.
“It is valiant that that is your intent,” said Go’Ranashu, his voice calm as he spoke. “You are not the only one to have had such thoughts.”
“Nor the only one to attempt to enact them,” said Runavan. “I may have survived here, somehow, over these last years, but this isn’t a playground you’ve woken up in, Vaeda. We’ve searched. All of us. Do you think I’ve spent all these years down here only sitting in one spot? I may have stayed with Go’Ranashu for a time recently due to my fear, but I have searched. I have tried to maintain alliances and make friends that will help me make my way out of here. What I have learned, after all of this, is that there is no reason to carry out the thought that anything here will change. There is no way out.”
Vaeda turned his attention toward Runavan’s energies. “Of course there wouldn’t be, if giving up is the attitude you choose to take.”
“Even if there was a way out,” said Go’Ranashu, interrupting any potential altercation between Vaeda and Runavan, “no one here gets along. We are lucky to have each other, that is certain. Others do not think the same, and that is where the conflict lies.”
“The conflict wherein your answer is to eat each other instead of help each other?”
Another question met with silence.
“Once more, your intent is appreciated,” said Go’Ranashu. “I trust Runavan would agree with me that this, perhaps, may be a path you must learn on your own.”
Vaeda shook his head. “There will be a way, Go’Ranashu. I am sure of it. I will find it.”
“You can try that to your heart’s content,” said Runavan. “I will not stop you. Perhaps I’ll even support you to the best of my abilities. But you will learn, in your own time, that what you seek may not be what you find.” He turned and walked away from Vaeda. “Hardly, if ever.”
Once he was gone, Go’Ranashu said, “Don’t give his words enough credence to stop you from those thoughts for now. He has seen much and been trapped here much longer than either of us can comprehend. Or, at least longer than either of us have been aware.”
After a breath, Go’Ranashu continued, “He’s not completely wrong, however. I don’t want to discourage you from trying, if you think the best way to get through this is to remain hopeful and optimistic. As for myself, Runavan is the first I have met that did not try to kill me. It is fortunate we have had each other share meals with. I think it simply safe to say we both wish we’d just have different items on the menu.”
Vaeda willed himself not to be sick again. “The two of you may feel as though there’s no point remaining hopeful, but I do. There has to be somebody down here who knows something. Someone else who wants to stop the king. Someone who might at least know why any of us are here! What crimes did any of us commit, Go’Ranashu? Of all of the beasts you’ve slain and consumed down here, were any of them more guilty than you?”
“It is fair for you to ask these types of questions,” said Go’Ranashu. “I wish I had the answer. What I can say without having it is that, if you were to look at your other hand, what if they weren’t innocent? What if those we’ve slain and consumed were a threat to the world above us? What if we did a favor?”
“Is the same to be said for us?” asked Vaeda. “When none of us have the answer as to whether or not we deserve to be down here, who’s to say we’re guilty?”
Go’Ranashu looked in the direction Runavan had headed, said, “Who’s to say we’re not?” and followed him.