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.
Vaeda slept, for whatever that was worth. Eyes open and eyes closed both allowed for his mind to take a rest, to be at peace for a moment, and to rejuvenate itself. That suited him more than whatever vain attempt the food had made as such, and when his mind resurfaced to his body, he finally felt refreshed. He stretched and allowed his muscles to enjoy the feeling of pulling apart, lengthening and releasing all the stiffness in his joints.
He rolled over and sat up, still trapped in the darkness of the cave, still wishing more than anything they could climb higher toward the exit. At this point, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to relocate the stairs to the surface, anyway. “East” could have meant anything after the soldiers chased them, and maybe that was another reason they left them alone.
Still, he knew they were digging deeper toward the earth’s core instead of inching toward the surface. He willed away the growing feeling of despair that told him he should align his thoughts with Yaga and Runavan. Maybe there wasn’t any hope down here. Besides, if the king knew of his attempts to free these prisoners already, would be just be putting them in more harm by continuing his plot?
He sighed as he crossed his legs and straightened his spine. He tilted his head to the right, inhaled, and let the exhale sink him further into the stretch. Back to the center, another breath and an exhale to the left. His neck released a little pop on this side, and he gave it another full length’s breath before he returned back to the center.
“Do you feel better?”
Vaeda turned toward the blue energies that moved toward him and sat next to him.
“I do,” he answered, truthfully. “Sometimes I forget how simple a thing like taking a deep breath can release so much stress.”
Without knowing why or how to explain it, Vaeda saw Go’Ranashu smile. The blue energies lit up, flared bright for just a moment and revealed a further depth of warmth. “You learned that in Hardmoure,” he said, not a hint of question in his voice.
Vaeda returned the smile. “Did I? And how would you know?”
“It sounds like a thing someone from Hardmoure would say,” chuckled Go’Ranashu. “From what I can remember, anyway.”
“And what is it that you can remember?” asked Vaeda.
“Fleeting thoughts, same as you,” he said. “I wish the thoughts could do more than simply linger for seconds here and there and disappear again. It’s strange, though, because even though I cannot arrest the thoughts, the imprint of them is still there. It’s as though I can still access them, that I’m aware they exist within me, but I cannot make them out or examine them in any more detail.”
Vaeda nodded as excitement rose within him. “I know exactly what you mean,” he said. “This whole experience has been so… odd. What else do you remember about Hardmoure? Perhaps, if we put our minds together enough, we can recreate it for each other?”
“The thing I remember most was the landscape,” said Go’Ranashu. “The rolling hillsides, the glorious trees, the lush green fields underneath a sweeping sky. I remember the smell of the dew in the crisp morning air, how you could almost taste the grass as it bathed in it. The gentle rustle of the trees in an otherwise silent place, disrupted only by the occasional person there only to enjoy it for all that it was created to be: A sight.”
By the time he’d finished speaking, although he hadn’t said much, Vaeda had found tears burning the underlinings of his eyes and leaking down his cheeks. They carried on their path down his chin, some streaking further down his neck and others dripping freely to the floor.
He remembered. He remembered the mountains as they criss-crossed against each other, pointed peaks protruding toward the sapphire sky. The scene Go’Ranashu described was the same Vaeda’s mind had been in right before he became aware, and something about hearing Go’Ranashu say it all now reminded Vaeda it really existed, after all.
“What about you?” Go’Ranashu asked, when Vaeda had yet to say a thing.
“There is little I remember,” he said. “The nature, as do you. I remember the quality of life being more… at peace. It’s hard to remember a time where I did not feel happy there.”
The blue light shuddered for a moment, then returned to its brightness. “I wish I could say the same. For the most part, I suppose I can. But being of the Noverten…”
“You were feared,” Vaeda finished when Go’Ranashu could not. “I know. There is much I wish I could have done about your circumstances, but they were not the same that I was brought up to believe. If you ask me, I trust you more than anybody else here, and it isn’t just because you’re from Hardmoure. You stick up for me when others don’t, and I think you actually believe we can get out of here, too.”
Go’Ranashu chuckled again. “I have to. It’s difficult to remember things, to be sure, but it’s even more difficult to know they still exist, whether you remember them in detail or not. We know there’s a world out there outside of the Lanniswell Hollow, so it isn’t a matter of questioning that. None of us were born and raised here. It’s just that none of us have been able to figure the way out yet, and it seems like every time we do, there’s some cave beast or soldier or enemy that steps in the way to stop us. It’s almost like we’re tracked down here. Like—”
“Wait a minute,” said Vaeda, who’d been struck by something Go’Ranashu had said.
There was a tracking system set in place down here. That was how the king, or someone else, at least, had known about an intruder down here. That was why he had called the record keeper. Some sort of tracking system kept everybody away from the entrance anytime they got too close. It also explained the colors of the energies, why Vaeda’s wasn’t black, why he knew he didn’t belong.
Except he did belong, in some way, and the closer he got to accepting that, the faster he would be able to get them all out of here. That was what he’d been sent down here for. Although he still didn’t know what had sent him down here, he slowly started to believe, more and more, that he was here specifically to rescue whomever he met.
“What?” asked Go’Ranashu, and Vaeda realized then that he’d drifted into silent thought again.
He shared his thoughts aloud, careful to make sure everyone else still slept while he spoke. There was still something off about the group as a whole, at least one or two that Vaeda wasn’t all the way sure he’d want to know about things like the tracking system. Not that he wouldn’t want them to know, per se; more that he wouldn’t want them to know he knew. He had a feeling the spy for the king was closer than they thought, and Go’Ranashu agreed.
“I think it’s Yaga,” he said. “There’s something about her that makes my fur raise.”
“Yes, well, I haven’t felt right about her since that interaction I thought we’d had when she was apparently with you.” Vaeda sighed. “There’s something strange going on down here, and it runs deeper than cave monsters and prisoners. Something tells me that if any of us found out our reasons for imprisonment, we’d find more than a few answers.”
“What do you mean?”
Vaeda looked over his shoulder again to make sure everyone else still slept.
“I think the king is frightened of us,” he said. “Any of the people in the Lanniswell Hollow. I think that’s why none of us can remember anything.”
“What?” said Go’Ranashu. “That doesn’t make any sense, does it? Everyone knows the prisoners in the Lanniswell Hollow are only exiled due to the most heinous crimes.”
“That nobody ever knows about,” said Vaeda. “Did we? Even before, when we were up on the surface, did we ever know about the reasons people were cast away down here? Forgotten about like they meant nothing? Didn’t we all simply accept that they were ‘criminals’ and leave it at that?”
Go’Ranashu didn’t speak for a moment. “No,” he said, at last. “From what I remember, I suppose you’re right. I can’t remember a single reason anyone has ever been locked away down here.”
“Which wouldn’t make much sense, would it?” said Vaeda, almost desperate now. “If we were criminals, wouldn’t we be sent to suffer for our crimes? If we’d taken lives, wouldn’t they want us to hear the cries of the last moments of our victims as we sat in solitary confinement? Dwell on our sins? Why wouldn’t they want us to remember a single thing if we were such criminals?”
Go’Ranashu stayed silent for a moment again. “The king is afraid of us,” he whispered after he’d had some time to think.
“And you’ve come from a life of being misunderstood,” said Vaeda. “Of being thought you were violent, or something that you weren’t. Everyone’s always been afraid of you. Of your whole clan. What would make this any different?”
“Hmm,” said Go’Ranashu. “You raise good questions and valid points. I think you also were correct in thoughts of us sharing memories perhaps solidifying them even more. Perhaps that should be our first area of focus, to start remembering.”
“I agree,” said Vaeda. “I think we all need to figure out what we did to get us thrown away down here. Good or bad, I think we need and deserve answers.”
“Well, most of us.”
Vaeda looked toward the red energies he knew Go’Ranashu’s eyes had drifted toward. She had returned, of course, but never said a word when she did. She just went to sleep, but Vaeda was sure he wouldn’t hear the end of her questions as soon as she awoke.
“You really don’t trust her either, do you?” he asked.
“No,” Go’Ranashu admitted. “And I don’t think she trusts you, either.”
Vaeda chuckled. “You don’t say.”
“I think she knows more than she’s letting on. More than any of the others, too. I don’t think I’d go so far as to say I trust any of them, but it’s Yaga I want to question.”
Vaeda raised an eyebrow. “Question her? Whatever do you mean?”
“I want to know why she was so quick to accuse you of wrongdoing. Why it seems like she’s so eager to turn everybody against you.”
“Go’Ranashu, you don’t have to —”
“It is not about any of that,” Go’Ranashu interrupted before Vaeda could continue. “Whatever it is you might have said, I don’t trust her because of my own instincts. I want to question her on my own accord, not on your behalf.”
“But still,” Vaeda argued. “She already doesn’t trust me as it is, I don’t think you questioning her about me is going to help anything.”
“It’s not going to only be about you,” Go’Ranashu assured. “And I promise only discretion. Neither of us know the real reason I landed myself down here in the Lanniswell Hollow, but for some reason, I feel like I’ve got some sort of thievery or interrogation blood inside of me. There was a time in my life when I fell into the stereotypes of my clan, more due to the negligence and almost feeling forced from everyone to do so than actually wanting to on my own. I am sure I can figure out some things from Yaga, one way or the other.”
Vaeda sighed. “You do whatever you think you must,” he said. “I do not think it wise to start creating rifts among a group that already has a hard time trusting each other, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t partially interested in what else she may know — or what she may be hiding.”
“I sincerely think she’s chosen you as the scapegoat,” said Go’Ranashu. “Whatever power you have, whatever reason the king would have to send his soldiers after you under the pretense that you are not supposed to be here, has her thinking she can turn everyone against you so they don’t see her true desires.”
Vaeda didn’t want to think that Yaga would want to spend any more time down in the Lanniswell Hollow than the rest of them, but he kept his thoughts on that silent, for now. If Go’Ranashu wanted to talk with Yaga and see what he could discover from her, there wasn’t any reason to stand in the way of that. Besides, if Go’Ranashu uncovered some plot that the rest of them needed to know about, it wouldn’t hurt to get that information sooner rather than later.
“You do what you feel is right,” he said after he’d thought it over.
“And you focus on finding a way out of here,” said Go’Ranashu. “If there’s anybody in here who could do it, it would be you.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you have the inner power.” Go’Ranashu almost whispered it. “A resilience most others would potentially kill to have. Don’t take that for granted. Besides, now we all know the king doesn’t want you down here, even though how we got out of that situation with the soldiers is still beyond me. But you can free us, Vaeda.” He clapped Vaeda on the shoulder. “I know you can.”
He stood and left Vaeda, then laid back down. Vaeda did the same. There wasn’t much else to do in the Hollow, except sleep, run, and eat whatever tried to kill you. But something about the way Go’Ranashu put his faith into Vaeda inflicted a pressure he hadn’t felt until now. Before, nobody had seemed to believe him when he brought up the idea of finding freedom, but to have someone speak such faith in him…
He hoped he could succeed, but he knew he had a target on his back. That could mean a multitude of things going forward, but one thing was certain: Eyes open and eyes closed were one step closer to being one in the same.