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.

“Surely this is great news,” said Vaeda, pushing aside his embitterment. Why should it matter if he could see or not?

“I can feel your energies,” said Surid, and as he said it, Vaeda noticed he, too, could feel it. As with everything else, it was all about how things felt even deeper within the surface of his skin. He could almost hear the crackling vibrations of the ultraviolet rays that no one else could see anymore, either.

The realization dawned on him that perhaps, again, the king wasn’t completely mistaken in his desires to imprison any of them. If Cochava harbored the power of the sun, surely there would be logic behind the king’s desire to keep her hidden?

“I have something to say,” said Runavan, and Vaeda’s attention perked. He knew what Runavan had kept from the rest of the group, but he hadn’t expected him to be ready to tell everybody else yet. Cochava’s power seemed more useful than one that could invade everyone’s mind. He cleared his throat as a means of preventing Runavan from saying something he’d later regret, but he carried on and continued, “I think I remember certain things about the power I carry, as well.”

Where Vaeda had thought the rest of the group might gasp or show some sign of shock at his admittance, he found himself the one surprised, yet again, when Surid simply asked him, “And what can you do?”

Runavan, who seemed just as shocked as Vaeda, responded with a casual, “What do you mean? Is that it? All you have to say?”

Surid cleared his throat. “Cochava is not the only one who has displayed some form of power, or had some aspects of her memory returning to her of late. Until we know what it is you can do, there’s no reason for any of us to lose our senses. I, too, have started to remember things about before. So, tell us, Runavan, what is it that you can do?”

Go’Ranashu, who stood next to Vaeda, almost as though a shadowed bodyguard, crossed his arms and said, “Yes, please, both of you tell us what you’ve started to remember.”

Runavan cleared his throat and his green energies shifted toward Vaeda, who kept his mouth shut. He’d tried to keep Runavan from saying something he’d regret with a clearing of his own throat, but Runavan was on his own now for this one.

“I can, erm…” He cleared his throat again. Of course, Vaeda knew exactly why he hesitated; now he had to admit to all of them that he could see into their minds. He couldn’t blame him for wanting to backtrack now, but there was no getting himself out of this one. “I can see into all of your minds,” he said, just audible enough to be heard but not ushered with as much confidence as he’d started this conversation with.

“What?” said Yaga, whose red energies brightened as she stiffened. “And it is I you all question? I you all fear and talk about when you think I can’t hear you? He’s the one who can see inside of our minds!”

“Wait a minute,” said Runavan. “How do we know Surid’s is any better? Or yours?”

“Mine?” said Yaga. “Whatever do you mean?”

“Oh, come now, we all know you’ve got something about yourself you’ve kept hidden from us all!”

“He’s right,” said Cochava. “And we’re all being honest about what we’re starting to remember, so what about you?”

“Not all of us have been honest yet,” said Yaga. “I haven’t heard what Surid can do yet, have you? Nor Vaeda, or the beast.”

There was a whispered hush following her last statement, and Go’Ranashu released a soft growl, but didn’t push it any further.

“There is nothing I can do,” he said, although there was a hint of sadness in the statement. Vaeda, of course, still wondered if he should admit his own inner workings of trying to figure out the difference between eyes open and eyes closed, but he still didn’t trust them enough to be completely honest yet.

Although he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get out of it with the current conversation.

“And you, Surid?” asked Vaeda, hopeful to return the conversation back to its roots and avoid the spotlight turning to him.

“I can move and bend rocks,” he said simply, almost as if he had played some sort of trump card that acted as the best power to have. In some ways — a lot of ways, really — it was. Being trapped in a cave surrounded by rocky walls and accompanied with someone who could shift those obstacles at will could certainly come in handy a time or two.

“And why are we all remembering this now?” asked Cochava. “Or able to display these powers so suddenly like this?”

“One moment,” said Go’Ranashu as his blue energies turned toward Yaga and his puffed-chest energy increased. “I still want to know about her.”

Everyone else turned their attention toward Yaga, too, who matched everyone’s energetic shifts with a stiff one of her own.

“I don’t remember anything about before,” she said stubbornly. “I don’t have any of these ‘powers’ you all think I do, and I think you should be asking Vaeda why he’s not telling us what he can do, either!”

“Runavan?” said Surid. “You can look into her mind, can you not? Tell us if she’s lying or speaking the truth?”

Runavan sighed. “No, actually. Out of all of you, hers is the only mind that remains dim to me when I try to look into it.”

“That is because I am not daft enough to let you wander around my mind so freely!”

“Which begs the question of how you knew about his ability to read minds in the first place,” said Cochava.

Yaga stamped her foot on the ground. “You lot are all looking at the wrong person. I’ve told you from the beginning. Vaeda is the one getting soldiers sent down here from the king because he’s a prisoner who doesn’t belong. He’s the one who’s instilling some sense of false hope into all of us, and yet you want to ostracize me for simply trying to speak and see reason.”

“Vaeda’s mind, I can see into,” said Runavan. “Yours is the only one I cannot.”

“Tell us, then,” said Yaga. “If Vaeda will not tell us what powers he hides from us, why don’t you?”

“I don’t have anything special,” said Vaeda. “Just…” He drifted. He didn’t know how to say, what? “Inner wisdom”? How stupid did that sound? How could he voice that he could sometimes see, but only when his eyes were closed, and sometimes the images he saw were real, and others they made no sense? Yaga had him all confused, and he was still convinced…

Maybe she wasn’t as bad as he thought.

Maybe the reason he couldn’t figure out anything about who he was before was because he was in denial to it.

He didn’t want to believe that he couldn’t have been a good person, so he blocked himself off to the mere thought and insisted he was something he wasn’t.

That was why all the others were able to uncover their powers, because they were able to accept who they were with no questions. He couldn’t accept that he was a prisoner, cast away from society from crimes he couldn’t remember, all for the better…

But wasn’t he the one prisoner who didn’t belong?

The one that the king sent soldiers to find?

Was that not what Yaga had said?

And what matter would there be if he wasn’t meant to be here? If he’d chosen to come here on his own free will, that meant simply what he had done must have been so grotesque and inhumane he willingly threw himself into this pit of despair on his own penance.

“His intentions are pure,” said Runavan. “And he doesn’t have the abilities you think. Then again, he also has more abilities than even he realizes.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” asked Yaga.

“That he has the power to lead us out of here,” said Runavan, and a chill shot its way down Vaeda’s spine.

Even though he couldn’t see Runavan’s eyes, he felt them boring into him. He could see the amber colored irises tucked inside a haunted face that hadn’t seen sunlight in countless years until Cochava almost exploded a few minutes ago. 

“I don’t know what to say to that,” said Vaeda when no one spoke. “There are times when I question that myself.”

“I believe it,” said Cochava.

“As do I,” said Surid.

“I never questioned it for a moment,” agreed Go’Ranashu.

Yaga scoffed. “There is no out, but I will not waste my time trying to remind you all of pointless queries and thoughts.”

She stalked off again, but not far enough to disappear into the cave. Even a breath’s distance away from her was enough, in Vaeda’s opinion. Anytime she was away from him, he felt a fresher breath of oxygen sweeping through him, and it was like he could see clearer…

He thought about Runavan’s inability to see into Yaga’s clouded mind and realized how much more clouded his own mind seemed to be whenever she was around. 

Runavan responded to the thought as it crossed his mind. “I think the same,” he said aloud, and Cochava said, “What’s that?”

Runavan nodded toward Yaga. “Anytime she’s around, I feel as though I can’t see clearly, can’t think clearly.” He kept his voice low, but Vaeda wondered if Yaga could hear him anyway. She’d said she’d overheard them talking about her. Perhaps that was part of her power, an ability to hear… anything.

Perhaps even thoughts, as Runavan could.

“I agree,” said Go’Ranashu. “I don’t like it when she’s around.”

“But what can we do?” said Cochava. “It’s not like we can get rid of the poor girl.”

“Not unless we kill her,” muttered Surid.

Vaeda opened his mouth to argue that, but remembered that killing people wasn’t exactly something that went undone down in the Hollow, and Cochava was talking about getting hungry. Could they all sincerely result to killing someone that had been traveling with them for months? If that was how much time had passed? Vaeda didn’t even know anymore, but from what he’d understood about acts of cannibalism, it had usually come at the tail end of self-defense and not something pre-meditated.

As much as he didn’t like or trust Yaga, at least she hadn’t tried to physically harm any of them, and until something like that happened, Vaeda didn’t see any reason to encourage thoughts of physically harming her.

“We can’t do that,” he said. “Who knows, she may yet come in handy, still.”

“Says you,” said Cochava. “If you ask me, I think Surid’s right. I think she’s got something up her sleeve, and we’d be a wise lot to keep that in mind as well. She can hurt us, you know. Even if she doesn’t have any special powers or whatever, although I know I’m not alone in thinking it’s strange you can’t see into her mind.”

“No more strange than it is that you can see into any of ours,” said Surid.

“You can block me, if you wish,” said Runavan. “Now that you know, you can do the same as Yaga and keep me away when you want. I can’t fault you for keeping a wall up for general purposes, but if your intents ever came into question as hers, I’d hope you’d trust me to see the light and truth.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Surid, and a shutter in his yellow energies blinked the wall that blocked out Runavan before they returned to their normal wavelengths. 

For good measure, everybody else did the same.

Except for Vaeda. He actually didn’t care if Runavan saw into his mind; maybe he’d help him find something in there.

Runavan gasped, and everybody’s attention turned to him. Even Yaga’s seemed to flicker for a moment, and Vaeda could almost envision the slightest tilt of her head as if she were fixing her ear for the best results.

“What?” asked Cochava. “What’s happened?”

“I…” Runavan cleared his throat and whispered, “Nothing.” He coughed. “Thought I heard something, is all.”

Cochava and Surid walked away, and Runavan turned his attention toward Go’Ranashu and Vaeda. “Come this way,” he whispered once they had gotten a good distance away.

Vaeda and Go’Ranashu followed him further away from Yaga, who remained where she was, but her frigid energies told Vaeda she was still tuned in to what he was about to say, no matter the distance from her.

“It is… her,” Runavan said, keeping his voice low as if he knew she could still hear him but tried to keep her away anyway. “She… she…”

“What is it?” asked Go’Ranashu. “Come on, then, spit it out.”

“She can see into our minds, as well,” said Runavan, his voice not getting any louder. “But it’s different. When I see, that’s all it is; I can almost see the words of the thoughts, as it were. As if the words themselves were pictures imprinted into my brain as some sort of inherent knowledge. With her… She can change things.”

“Change things?” asked Vaeda. “What do you mean?”

“I mean she can get inside of your mind, inside of your brain at the center of its control and… and change it. Alter it so you can think something else entirely.”

Vaeda shared a look with Go’Ranashu’s energies. “She can change our memories?” he said. 

“Something like that,” said Runavan. “It was only a blink, an impression for a flash. I couldn’t make out anything detailed, but, if you ask me… I might even think she did it on purpose. Like she wants us to know what she can do.”

“Why didn’t you tell the others, then?” asked Go’Ranashu. 

“I think it’s best they don’t know yet,” Runavan admitted. “There’s still aspects of them I don’t trust, and they are the only others who shut off their minds to me. That is why I trust you two so fully; you remain open, and therefore I continue to trust you have nothing to hide.”

“What do you think we should do, then?” asked Vaeda.

“She knows,” said Runavan. “She wanted me to tell you, I’m sure of it. I should think it’s best to let her think she’s in control, for now, but… what can we do? If she’s changing our thoughts, altering our minds and perceptions… How are we supposed to know what’s real?”

Vaeda shuddered. No wonder she was the one who continued to influence the thought that there was no way out of this. No hope for any of them, that this was the end of the road. She was busy changing their minds and forcing them to think as she willed, so of course she’d try to continue to influence the thought as often as she could.

“But why?” he whispered aloud. “Why would she do this to any of us? What benefit would she get from forcing us all to stay down here? Shouldn’t she want to get out of here, too?”

“For that, I do not know,” said Runavan. “She allowed me to know what I do, but the rest is still kept from me. She has her reasons, I’m sure, but we’re all right to think she’s got our worst intentions at heart.”

Vaeda nodded and let out a sigh. He rolled his neck back and forth and felt a little pop at the top of his spine. His shoulders relaxed and he came back, again to his breath. 

“We will stay cautious, then,” he said. “But for now… I think it best we do not question her any further.” He looked at Go’Ranashu.

“It is understood,” he said in confirmation. 

They left the conversation at that, still just as weary as before, if not even more now. 

So, Yaga could see not their minds and alter their perceptions and thoughts.

It explained so many things, but raised so many other questions for Vaeda. For whatever reason, having some sort of clarity as to the powers exhibited by the others filled him with a sense of calmness that allowed him to be tired. He sat down and rubbed his eyes, taking his moment to be away from everybody as they all went off to be in their separate thoughts.

As usual, Go’Ranashu hung close to him, far enough away that he wasn’t crowding inside of Vaeda’s space, but close enough that he could jump to his aid if anything were to try and cause harm.

Who knew what was out there. He had a feeling he’d hardly even seen the beginning of it.

He might not have known much, but one thing remained certain as he curled up and drifted off to sleep:

The only person he could trust was Yaga.

Read Chapter Nine Part One

Read Chapter Ten

Read the full story here.

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