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 few minutes later, Cochava stirred, slowly followed by Yaga and Surid. Go’Ranashu awoke shortly after, and as soon as they were all awake, Runavan said, “We should move forward. I have a bad feeling about staying here.”
“And why is that?” asked Yaga after a yawn. Vaeda saw her red energies flare up and visualized her stretch as she moaned. “Surely you can’t be scared, can you?”
Runavan didn’t have to speak for Vaeda to know he made attempts to read into her mind for her treachery. Of course, he once again relished the fact that everyone seemed to be more in agreement that Yaga was not to be trusted; although, he supposed the more true that statement became, the more danger they were all in if she chose to do something to harm them.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re safe here or not,” said Cochava. “I get bored and restless sitting in one spot, so I’m all for moving just for the fun of it. Better than sitting around here doing nothing, if you ask me.”
“Nothing is all we have to do,” insisted Yaga. “The sooner you all realize that, the better.”
“You know, Yaga,” said Surid, the anger rising in his voice as he stepped forward to speak to her. “No one is asking you to stick around here. In fact, I think it might be safe to say none of wished you would return after you left yesterday. Why did you? Could it be, perhaps, it is you that is frightened? Scared of what’s to come in the darkness of the Lanniswell Hollow?”
Yaga matched Surid’s puff-chest energy. “I have survived and seen things that would make your very skin crawl. You wouldn’t think yourself so brave if you really knew what lurked out in the world.”
“And you do?” asked Go’Ranashu. “None of us carry any memories from before. What makes you so different?”
Yaga didn’t speak. “I should think we’d all agree that bits and pieces of our former lives come back to us at random, Surid. I am no different from you.”
“Could beg to differ,” said Cochava with a yawn of her own. “I actually quite agree with Surid, I was looking forward to the moments of peace with you gone from here.”
“As do I,” said Vaeda, agreeing aloud for the first time and bringing the unwanted attention he desperately did not want toward himself. He didn’t want to fan the flames in his argument with Yaga, but he couldn’t allow her to carry on with this attitude if she wanted to stay with them. Surid was right, if she couldn’t match their levels of morale, she may as well stay behind.
If Vaeda didn’t know any better, he’d have said that she read his mind, too, when she said, “You are all right, of course. You have my sincerest apologies for all of my outbursts. I should hope you’d forgive me and understand that I only speak from fear, it’s true. The caves of the Lanniswell Hollow have steadily warped my mind and I do not trust my own thoughts sometimes. Do any of you feel the same?”
It was the poorest excuse for an apology that Vaeda had ever heard, but they all accepted it at face value all the same. There wasn’t particularly any point carrying on the argument if Yaga stopped her whining, and Vaeda thought back to Go’Ranashu’s statement of questioning Yaga when the time was right.
He hoped that time came sooner rather than later, for if Runavan was unable to see into her mind — and only blocked from hers — that didn’t help him feel any better.
Nevertheless, once the argument had finally been put to dust, the six of them carried on with their walk into the caves, guided only by the faintest drip of whatever water survived within the crevices of these cracked halls and whatever visions eyes closed sent Vaeda. He worked to put more trust into his inner mind, to have that work through eyes open on its own so that everything was one in the same, but he still felt lost. If anything, Yaga was certainly right in her claims of the memories coming and going as they pleased, but he wasn’t all too sure she meant everything she said, either.
The more he thought about her, the more he wondered if he should dislike her as he did. She may have been hard around the edges, perhaps a little cynical and overbearing, but did that make her so evil? Should he damn her to his own prison, away from him and the rest of them, simply because she didn’t think the same as he?
His thoughts drifted on their own as he tripped over something and fell forward to the ground. His hands came out to catch him, and despite the brief whip of pain that pushed into his wrist bones, he managed to dust himself off and regain his footing.
He looked behind him and put his foot back out, kicking at whatever slump he had just tripped over and realizing it was squishy, but oddly solid. He knelt down next to it and put out a hand to feel it and grabbed what felt like a shirt.
He continued to run his hand up what he now made out to be a body until it crossed over a fleshy section that made up the rotted face. Eyes closed showed him the maggots his fingers glided over as they felt across the skull, and he retracted his hand in a gasp.
“Looks like another poor soul lost themselves in these caves,” said Go’Ranashu as he stood behind Vaeda and looked down at the body with him.
“Seems as though the only enemy this one faced was himself,” agreed Surid as he checked the body, as well.
“It’s probably been here a week,” said Cochava. “It might not be the freshest, but there may be bits of him we can scrounge up. We haven’t had anything since the Veruxian, and I could go for some solid thigh meat.”
Vaeda once again the bile that came up to his throat at the thought of consuming human flesh. It seemed, even if he wasn’t the hand that caused the death, it still didn’t seem very appetizing.
“I’m not hungry myself, thanks,” said Vaeda.
“What else is new,” muttered Yaga as she knelt next to Cochava and cut herself off a slice.
“I don’t trust this,” said Go’Ranashu, more in Vaeda’s ear than anything else.
“You and me both,” Vaeda muttered out of the side corner of his mouth. “But what else are we to do?”
“Something is wrong here,” Go’Ranashu insisted.
“I’ve said the same thing this whole time,” said Vaeda as Runavan and Surid joined Cochava and Yaga in the meal. “I think all of the food down here is poisoned somehow.”
“Poisoned?” Go’Ranashu’s blue energies indicated he shook his head. “No, I don’t think it’s poisoned. I think it’s staged here.”
“Staged?” asked Vaeda. “What do you mean?”
“Every so often, the soldiers will put something in our paths like that. Something in the way of food. I suppose you could be right in your assumptions that maybe there’s poison in it… it usually doesn’t end well.”
“Isn’t that enough of the skepticism already?” asked Cochava. “We already got one of the whiners to quiet down, how much more do we have to do to get the others to be quiet, too?”
A low growl came from behind them, but was a sound unlike any that Vaeda had yet heard.
Everyone stopped moving.
“I told you,” said Go’Ranashu.
The growl came again, from a different corner of the cave. Vaeda jumped and turned toward the noise.
“What is that?” he asked.
“A Breckervie,” whispered Surid, who had stood up and looked toward the source of the noise. “A creature I have not yet seen in these caves.”
“And yet a creature whose reputation outweighs it,” agreed Runavan.
“What is a Breckervie?” asked Cochava. “If it’s supposedly some scary hell beast, how come I’ve never heard of it?”
A moment later, the roar was followed by the sound of rushing flames as if they had blown across the cave in an exhale. Everyone screamed, but the cave stayed dark for Vaeda.
His mind froze in the moment: How had he not seen the flame he knew just existed? Was his mind completely closed? Even with his eyes open, was he unable to see?
He didn’t have any time to think about that as Go’Ranashu grabbed his hand and they ran. Vaeda heard the footsteps of the beast chasing behind them, releasing a roar every so often as though to remind them it was there, in case anyone else like Vaeda wasn’t able to see clearly in the darkness.
How could he not see? When the only instance of light had existed, he was the only one unable to make it out and understand it. Was everything in his mind’s eye wrong? Eyes open, eyes closed, any amount of connection or disconnect didn’t seem to matter to him anymore.
His feet pat against the floor as he jolted through the cave, on the heels of Go’Ranashu’s blue energies. Energies he wasn’t sure how he could make out in this moment, when everything seemed so lost and confusing. How could he see any of their energies if he couldn’t see anything at all?
Another breath of fire, another opportunity Vaeda missed to see everything ignited around him. He never thought before about the possibility of actually losing his sight. Not until his eyes were taken away from him. Even still, in that moment, he had thought that only the darkness of the cave acted as the absence of light from his irises. To be here now, chased in this moment by whatever hell beast that went unmentioned until now, had him thinking something else entirely.
“Vaeda, this way!” called Surid, and Vaeda realized he’d gotten so lost in his thoughts that he hadn’t noticed the energies of his friends veering off to the right. Another hand grabbed hold of his, connected to the purple energies that made up Cochava, and Vaeda switched directions in a blink.
Another roar from the Breckervie, and Vaeda felt the heat of its fiery breath right behind him. If Cochava hadn’t grabbed him when she did, that lick of flame may have engulfed his body and killed him before he’d even had a chance to blink. Even the foot’s distance he had from it now felt like it gave his skin’s surface a first degree burn.
“Down here!” called Runavan, and Cochava’s hand once more grabbed Vaeda’s and they jumped a short distance.
Vaeda landed harder than he’d meant to, but the wave of flame that washed above them told him they’d at least currently made it to the safety underneath a rock.
“What is that thing?” breathed Cochava. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”
“I don’t know,” said Vaeda. “I can’t see a thing.”
Only the sounds of the heavy breathing from his friends and the angry growls from the frustrated Breckervie met Vaeda’s ears.
“What do you mean you can’t see?” asked Go’Ranashu. “Can you not see the flames that ignite every time the beast breathes?”
Vaeda shook his head, now not altogether unsure this nonverbal action went unnoticed. Perhaps everyone else had been able to see this whole time, and it was only he who had been blind.
“I do not know,” Vaeda admitted. “I had thought I was only unable to see due to the darkness of the cave, but —”
Another roar, another wave of heat, and still, only darkness.
“I can see nothing.”
A piece of rock fell next to him and Vaeda jumped. Eyes closed warned him of its coming, but he still remained unsure about the truth of that connection with his inner self.
“With all due respect,” said Cochava, “I don’t think now is much the time to have this discussion.”
Another roar and the sound of a beating thud as the Breckervie carried out its attempts to get at them from their little nook of safety. That nook didn’t go any further than where they were, and Vaeda wasn’t all the way sure how to get themselves out of this one.
“Can this thing be killed?” he asked after another piece of rock narrowly missed his head. This one didn’t announce itself like the other had, and Vaeda found himself grateful for eyes closed, whether they told him the truth or not.
“It can,” said Surid, “but it isn’t exactly known for being easy.”
“When is it ever?”
“I may be able to shove my staff up into the bottom of its neck,” said Yaga. “Then Cochava, if you try and slice at its underbelly, it may help. Surid, do you want to deliver the final blow?”
“What about me?” asked Go’Ranashu. “I would slay this beast with my bare hands, if not but for the fire it breathed.”
“And yet that fire remains a factor,” Yaga drawled. “This isn’t a contest, we can argue over who does what later, I’d think survival should be everybody’s top priority for now!”
She let out a little roar of her own and shoved her staff up toward the neck of the beast. Vaeda heard it make contact, and heard the little gust of air blow out from the Breckervie as she stabbed him. Cochava was quick to slice up in the underbelly, and Surid came forward to finish off what had been started.
A moment later, warm blood trickled over Vaeda’s face, and he hopped out of the way before the avalanche of it that followed. A thin stream of blood flowed down into his lips and he spit it out. He feared the blood was just as dangerous as the food when it came to alternating his memory, and his blackened eyesight filled with a haze as it was the moment he licked the small amount of blood off his lips that he did.
He hadn’t had much time to register all that had happened before the beast’s body flopped down into the little crevice with them.
“Oh, great,” said Runavan. “Now what?”
The size of the beast had blocked out their exit, and now that it was dead and next to them, Vaeda realized just how large it truly was. It could have easily eaten all six of them and felt like it had hardly eaten more than a few peanuts, and as Vaeda walked around the carcass, he found himself growing steadily more impressed that the beast had been slain so easily.
Runavan, however, had raised a good question: Now that the beast blocked their entrance in death more so than it had in life, what were they to do?”
“What do you mean, ‘now what?’” asked Cochava as she pulled out her weapon. “Same thing as before with the dead human, but more fresh meat this time. If this big old bloody carcass is going to stand in our way, I suppose we’ll just have to eat our way out.”
She didn’t waste any time waiting for any arguments or agreements, and dug straight into the body of the beast.
Vaeda wasn’t all the way sure how to go about pretending he was just fine on this go around. The subject of food was still a strange one amongst this group, and he knew that all thought him odd for not ever joining in their feasts.
And yet, this time, even Go’Ranashu had known something was wrong. He had said something about it, moments before anything actually happened with the attack of the Breckervie. He’d known that the body of the human was all but planted there for them. The moment Cochava had ripped into the flesh, the beast had awoken. Could it be that something similar would happen now?
“You don’t want to miss out on this fresh meat, mate,” said Cochava. “Who knows how long it’ll be before we get more. At this point, I feel like I’ve wiped out damn near almost all the Veruxians and Omitars in this place.” She licked her lips and made loud smacking noises as she did. “This Breckervie here? Probably the best raw meat I’ve ever had in my life.” She gagged. “Never thought I’d ever be in a position to say that. Raw meat used to give me the willies.”
“Yes, well, survival is survival,” said Surid. “Although, Vaeda, I do not know how you can go about so aimlessly without so much as a bite to eat. I’d have thought you would have fallen to death from malnourishment by now.”
Vaeda kept his thoughts on the matter to himself. “I’m just not hungry,” he said, as he always did. This time, he’d keep more of an eye out on the behavior of the others. How much might it change once the digestion of this new beast took place? He didn’t trust the arrival of the Breckervie anymore than he trusted anything else going on in this cave. He just wished he knew how to go about speaking his mind and gaining the trust of everybody else.
“Of course you’re not,” said Yaga. “All of you question me and act as though I’m the one who should be questioned when he is the one increasingly acting strange.”
“We have exhausted this argument,” said Surid. “Vaeda is no more of a problem than you or anybody else.”
Vaeda wished more than anything he could believe that, but now he wasn’t sure. Now, everything seemed as wrong as it had when he first got here. He looked over to Yaga and felt something shift within him again. He couldn’t explain what it was about her that had him so disgruntled, but he knew there was more to her than met the eye.
And with Runavan’s self-revelation of the power that got him damned down here, what of the others? None of them had spoken of their potential powers, and as far as he knew, none of them had even known what they’d done to get themselves trapped down here in the first place.
“You all can think what you want,” he found himself saying, after a time. “I believe there is a way out of here. I have seen it in my inner mind’s eye. You can either join me in my quest to find our way out of here, or you can sit here and rot. I no longer have time to convince people who care not about our way out of here.”
He left the group at that. He didn’t want to hear anything else they had to say. Whether they trusted him or not, he knew he had to find a way out of this mess, whether it was the last thing he did or not.
He just wished he could remember what it was he fought so hard to achieve.