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.
A moment later, they sped around a corner and stopped.
“Wait here,” said Yaga as they all fought to catch their breath. “I’ll go see if the coast is clear.”
Her red energies disappeared as the rest of them steadied themselves.
“That was close,” said Cochava. “Lucky you woke us.”
“How did you know they were here?” asked Runavan.
Before Vaeda had had a chance to answer, Yaga rushed back to the group.
“They’re coming! Run!”
The six of them started their sprint again, and Vaeda found that, as he let instinct guide him, he didn’t worry as much about the paths before him. Normally he would have tried to find the balance between having his eyes open and closed to get himself around down here, but he followed the energies of the others as they bounded through the halls, his sword at his side and hoping beyond anything he didn’t have to fight anybody to the death.
“We’re gaining on them!” called one of the soldiers from behind, and they were closing in.
Vaeda pushed his feet harder, willed his toes to usher him a deeper launch with each passing footfall. He turned over his shoulder to see if he could make out any of the energies of the soldiers, and as he did, he lost his footing and slipped.
The path opened up down one of the cliff sides, and he had no more time to register he was in the air before he’d landed on the first rocky outcropping on the way down. He released the grunt that begged to surface as he flew off the ledge and down to another one. He hit three more before he finally crashed into the bottom of the ravine.
Winded, but grateful nothing had broken, he pushed himself over and leaned up on his elbows as he regained his bearings. Heaven only knew where he’d fallen into, and now he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to find his friends again.
Plus, there was the ever-growing problem of getting deeper into the caves. He knew the general eastern direction he was meant to travel if he wanted to get out of here, but he might have been a mile underneath the surface by now, and the deeper he went, the further away he was from his goal, no matter how close he might be to it.
His name bounced around the walls and he recognized it as Go’Ranashu. He heard footsteps rushing toward him down a path, and a moment later, the colored energies of his friends lit up the darkness around him more than they had up until now.
He also allowed himself the brief moment that passed and told him he’d allowed himself to use the word “friend” when considering this group of now-former strangers.
“We have to keep moving!” said Surid once they’d caught up to Vaeda. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” said Vaeda, but he heard more noise from the soldiers and knew they wouldn’t be if they stayed put. “How do we shake them?”
“There’s usually only the one way,” said Cochava. “You know, the one that results in the survival of only one of us.”
Vaeda wished, still, that they could avoid that as long as they could. He knew the king had sent the soldiers after them, and it seemed as though their lives were on the line one way or the other. He hated the thought that the king would kill them if they didn’t, but he also still couldn’t swallow the thought of being the one to do it himself.
“They’re close,” said Go’Ranashu. “Let’s run!”
“No,” said Surid. “They’ll keep chasing us. Cochava is right, we must fight them off.”
A moment later, the soldiers had found them, and no one moved a muscle as the first of them said, “It’s all right. There’s no need for any of us to befall any unnecessary harm. We just need the one that doesn’t belong.”
“Doesn’t belong?” asked Cochava. “Whatever do you mean?”
“This isn’t the time for questions,” said the second soldier. “We know you’re hiding somebody. Just give them up and we’ll be on our way.”
“Hiding somebody?” asked Vaeda, testing his luck as it dawned on him they might not know who didn’t belong. If they couldn’t see his energies, if they were as black as he assumed when he tried to look at them himself, did that mean they couldn’t hear him speak, either? “How could we be hiding somebody in a prison?”
“He said no questions!” said the third soldier. “Which of you leads the attempt to find a way out of here?”
No one spoke, and Vaeda’s heart raced in his chest. His eardrums played out his heartbeat for him, and he tensed as he waited to see if any of them would say something. This would be their opportunity, especially Yaga, to turn him in, to free themselves of his thoughts of freedom and hope.
He waited, but they said nothing.
“A way out?” said Surid after nearly a minute had passed. “Do you think any of us would be stupid enough to believe we could find a way out down here?”
“We’re obviously going to question you when you don’t make the smallest lick of sense!” snapped Cochava. Her purple energies flared with the tone of her voice and she stepped forward. “Do you have anything of use to say or question? We can’t help you.”
For a moment, Vaeda thought the soldiers were going to continue arguing, but to his surprise, the second soldier said, “Come on, Scrub. These ones here are all accounted for, we can see that.”
They can see what?
Could these soldiers physically see all six of them standing here? Was the darkness only ushered to the prisoners down here? There had to be some sort of magical protection down here, after all. How else could they survive without the food, whether they ate or not? How else could they wander so aimlessly before becoming “aware” of their existence?
“We can’t know that for sure,” said the third soldier. “King Meckevin —”
“King Meckevin couldn’t tell a horse’s ass from a woman’s pussy,” snapped the first soldier, Scrub. “He wouldn’t know whether we were successful or not even if we didn’t do a thing.”
“There are others who could tell him,” insisted the third. “You and I both know it isn’t worth it. Maybe we should just kill them all, and then we wouldn’t have to worry about any of them again.”
“N-no!” said Yaga. “No, no. Y-you can’t do that, can you? Don’t you need the prisoners down in the Hollow? Isn’t there the legend?”
“The legend?” said Vaeda.
“Yeah,” said Scrub. “Says if ever the Hollow is empty of souls, the city of Raelevarre shall parish.”
“Exactly! So, you need us.”
“Assuming we’re the only ones down here,” said Surid.
“Which you’re not,” said Scrub. “But I think you lot are lucky all the same. I don’t have the patience to deal with this today. We’ll report back to Meckevin that the task has been complete, and we’ll deal with the rest of it as it comes. Meckevin might consider himself lucky if we don’t do something that might permanently damage him.”
The soldiers walked away, still arguing amongst each other, and leaving Vaeda and the others completely stunned.
“I can’t believe that happened,” said Runavan. “The soldiers never simply… let people go.”
“What is this legend you spoke of?” asked Vaeda. “How did you know this and why have we not heard of it before now?”
“Do you expect me to lay out every last fact and detail, Vaeda? We’re all trapped down here, isn’t that enough to know? The real question should be why they wanted you, and how you knew they were here in the first place.”
Even though he couldn’t see their faces, all of the energies of the people he explored these caves with turned toward him.
“Valid question,” said Cochava. “Why did they want you?”
“I don’t remember them asking for Vaeda specifically,” said Go’Ranashu.
“Apart from the fact they wanted the person who tried to lead us all out of here,” said Surid. “Who else could that be?”
“And how could they know?” added Runavan.
“That’s precisely my question,” said Yaga. “If you ask me, it’s Vaeda who knows more than he lets off. He tries to make me glossing over a Lanniswell Hollow history lesson as an excuse to cover up his own actions!”
“What?” said Vaeda with a growing feeling of incredulousness. “N-no, that’s not it at all!”
“Then, tell us,” said Surid, with no accusation in his voice. “Why do they say you don’t belong here?”
“And how did you know they were coming?” said Cochava.
Vaeda’d never thought it possible to feel five pairs of glaring eyes in total darkness. He wasn’t all the way sure how to navigate this one, for as much as he wanted to tell them the truth, he wasn’t sure he trusted the accusatory tones they already held, and he wasn’t sure they’d believe him if he spoke honestly.
But honesty became his motive as he told them all everything. All the differences between eyes open and eyes closed, his blackened energies as compared to theirs, what he had seen in his mind with the king.
When he had finished, much to his shock, Yaga said, “See! This proves everything. He’s working with the king, and he led those soldiers straight down here to us!”
“Excuse me?” said Go’Ranashu. “Were the two of us listening to the same story? Vaeda saw things in his mind, he did not communicate with the king himself.”
“I agree with Go’Ranashu,” said Cochava. “Although it doesn’t explain why Vaeda isn’t supposed to be down here.”
“Or how they knew about him in the first place,” said Surid.
Yaga stamped a foot on the ground. “You fools! How can you not see reason? Vaeda is working for the king, and we might have all gotten lucky this time that those soldiers let us go, but we might not always be so fortunate. We’d be wise to remove ourselves from his presence while we still can!”
No one said anything.
“You’re more than welcome to do that,” said Cochava after a beat. “If you ask me, that’s the real favor, right there.”
Yaga growled and stormed off, but Vaeda exhaled a sigh of relief. He’d thought surely, for a moment, that everyone would have followed her away from him, but instead, found he couldn’t express his gratitude that they didn’t leave him.
“She’s a right pain in my ass,” said Cochava. “I wouldn’t worry too much about her, as I’ve told you before. Maybe this will be the push she needs to leave us all alone.”
“Really might be a favor to us all,” muttered Surid.
“I still don’t understand why you’re not supposed to be here,” said Runavan. “I’m not saying I believe Yaga’s thinking, in the least, but I do wonder about you now.”
“You and I share the same questions,” said Vaeda. He didn’t want to argue over something like this. “But if you ask me, it explains why I’ve just come into my awareness, and why I think it’s so fresh. There’s other questions here, questions it seems we all have. I wonder why the soldiers decided to let us go, in the end.”
“Yeah, well,” said Cochava, “I suppose sometimes we just have to count the blessings as they’re handed to us, don’t we?” She yawned. “As it is, I was right in the middle of a wonderful dream when those soldiers decided to do… whatever it was they just tried to do down here. Does anybody else think it’s a good idea to lie down for a little while? Prepare ourselves for another battle that’s surely bound to happen sooner rather than later?”
There were various mumblings of agreement as everybody settled down, and Yaga didn’t return to the group. Vaeda, again, sat in wonder about the things he had witnessed, and couldn’t silence the questions that rattled in his mind.
He knew he wasn’t supposed to be here…
So what had happened?
And why could he still not grab hold of but one thought to answer that question for him?
He sighed, rolled over, and did his best to find whatever version of sleep awaited him this night.