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.

When Vaeda awoke the next morning, Yaga lay right next to him. He rolled over and gave her body the slightest hint of a hug. He debated whether or not to run his lips across the soft skin along her neckline, but held himself back. She had responded to his initial touch, but he didn’t want to push his luck.

She rustled a bit, and he rolled away. He sat up and stretched, glancing around the darkness, still uncertain if he could actually make out the edges of the rocky formations or not. It didn’t matter whether he could see or not. He looked back down at Yaga, and the only thing in his life he needed.

“Go back to sleep,” she muttered, and Vaeda looked around at the dimly lit energies of everybody else as they stayed asleep, too.

“I can’t,” said Vaeda. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep, but it had felt like years again. He couldn’t even remember what was happening before he went to bed last. The days had become so cyclical. All they did was sleep and eat, and as his stomach grumbled, he remembered the fresh corpse that had been there before he last slumbered — although he wasn’t sure if it would still be fresh.

He scooted away from Yaga and felt along the ground in search of the dead body, and when he found it, he ran his hands along the leg until he reached the thigh, and when the smooth fresh turned more tattered and frayed, he grabbed hold of a piece and ripped it off.

It was halfway to his mouth when he stopped.

He wasn’t sure what prevented him — it’s not like he wasn’t used to the taste of human flesh. He’d had it every day he was down here, after all. The smallest grumble in his stomach returned as a reminder that he needed his daily nourishment, and he awarded himself a bite.

“How’s it taste?” asked Yaga as she came to join him.

“Are you eating?” asked Go’Ranashu, who had apparently awakened and came to sit with Vaeda, as well. “And a human, at that?”

“What do you mean?” said Yaga. “He’s eaten human every day he’s been here.”

“Exactly,” said Vaeda, but part of him didn’t believe that. A large part, actually. Yet it was so easy to believe what Yaga said. Her voice was so silky, so smooth and delicate when she spoke. Even without the light to accompany his vision, he could see it dancing in her eyes, in the way she looked at him. He knew she had her sour feelings about him here and there, and he was the same in some cases, but he needed her. She would be his source, his inspiration, and the only thing that would keep him alive down here.

“Vaeda,” said Go’Ranashu. “Are you sure you want to eat that? Come now, you know how I care for you. You know I wish only the best for you, and you know how much I’ve encouraged you to eat while you’ve been trapped down here, but… You have been so insistent on eating nothing, especially when it comes to human flesh.”

“Go’Ranashu,” said Yaga, “I do not understand where you have gathered these thoughts, but why would you insert them into his mind?”

Vaeda opened his mouth to speak, but held his tongue. Something flickered in Yaga’s red energies, while Go’Ranashu’s blue ones remained firm and unwavering. Vaeda blinked a few times, and even in the darkness, things seemed hazy when he looked at her. He wasn’t sure who to believe, but he didn’t finish swallowing the piece of flesh he’d started chewing. He spit it out and dropped the rest either way. His appetite didn’t seem as flourishing when he started considering the source material.

“What are you doing?” asked Yaga.

“It’s all right,” said Vaeda. “I’ve had my fill.”

He stood up and walked away. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt like he’d drank half a bottle of whiskey instead of taken a bite of a human.

“What’s wrong?” asked Yaga as she followed Vaeda.

“He doesn’t need your help,” said Go’Ranashu. “I think he’s capable of sorting things out on his own, thanks.”

“I’d also think he’s capable of speaking for himself!”

“When did you start caring so much about him?”

“That’s enough, both of you,” said Vaeda. “I don’t need either of you clouding up my headspace with this argument.”

“You don’t have to listen to him,” said Yaga. “That’s what you do with everybody else, and where has it gotten you?”

“What are you talking about?” said Go’Ranashu. “Vaeda, do you not remember what Runavan told us last night?”

“Exactly!” said Yaga. “Runavan. He’s spreading lies, spilling hate, and telling falsities. Haven’t you come to understand that yet?”

Vaeda’s mind got caught up in the argument, but before he’d had a chance to think a full and complete thought, Go’Ranashu said, “Excuse me? Making things up? Vaeda, you certainly can’t believe that, can you?”

“Why wouldn’t he? You saw him wake up next to me this morning, did you not?”

“You know what her power is!” said Go’Ranashu. “You know she has the ability to alter perceptions and memories. Why would you listen to her?”

Vaeda searched his mind, but anything he found in there only had him seeing good things about Yaga. She had supported his decision to leave the caves since the start. Everyone else had questioned him, but she had stayed by his side.

Go’Ranashu had been there too, of course. There was nothing Vaeda could ever do to forget about any of that.

But if they were each there for him all along, why were they each telling him two different things now?”

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“That’s because Runavan has been inside of your mind and tweaking your thoughts,” said Yaga.

“I think that’s a role better fit for you,” said Go’Ranashu.

“Stop it,” said Vaeda.

He tried to walk away again. One thought rang through as utter truth, unquestionable and unshakable: Yaga was the only person he could truly trust.

That thought was then immediately followed by another that was just as sure, just as full of truth: That statement was better fit for Go’Ranashu.

As his mind spun in circles, Yaga and Go’Ranashu did not relent. 

“Vaeda, you have to understand, Yaga is getting into your mind and changing your thoughts!”

“ENOUGH!”

In a moment, Vaeda blinked, and his mind transported elsewhere. He floated again, the same as he had when he saw the king the first time. His mind took him high above the ground, but this time the darkness filled the earth above him, as well. This darkness, however, still held a light, one that Vaeda could not see when he was trapped in the cave, even when a creature breathing fire chased them.

The castle was further away this time than it was before, and he realized they were walking further away from it than they were supposed to. His head sped forward and landed on the windowsill again, he did not see anybody fanning the king, nor any soldiers bowing at his feet.

It was Yaga, standing across from him, red hair just as wiry as he’d envisioned, and every bit of her existence in the physical form exactly as he’d pictured it in the blink of his inner mind.

And it was full of just as much malice, just as much hatred and ignorance as he had suspected.

His heart beat faster as he leaned forward and jumped into the room. He only existed here in his mind, and they could not see him. He walked forward into the king’s golden room, full of such rubies and jewels that glittered from every angle. His thirst for all of these exuberant materials oozed out of every corner of his existence, but Vaeda put his focus back on the topic that held his interest:

What Yaga was doing here.

“Everything is going just as I promised,” she said, hands held clasped in front of her. “They are all right where I want them to be, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t send anymore soldiers down there to try and muck things up for me anymore.”

“But there’s someone down there who’s not supposed to be,” said the king. 

“I have that under control,” said Yaga. “As I instructed your soldiers, I will take care of Vaeda when the time is right.”

A shudder rustled its way down Vaeda’s spine. He stood right behind her in this moment, but she didn’t know of his existence. This was all but a memory now, but eyes closed had connected with his inner mind and transported him into something he could only claim to be nothing more than the truth.

“Who is this prisoner? What is he doing there?”

Yaga shrugged. “As to that, I do not know. It’s rather frustrating, though. Ever since he’s come around, ever since he’s started encouraging the thought of escape, everybody’s been filled with such a sense of… hope. The feelings of despair dwindle, and he fights hard against my powers. It seems as though he has been placed there by some external force, as if he is actually meant to succeed in his mission by some sort of divine interaction.”

The king perked up. “Divine interaction? You say that with such ease, as if that is not… rather quite the claim, do you not think? Divine interaction is the type of nonsense you started to speak about that got you locked in the caves in the first place!”

Yaga rolled her eyes. “You and I both know you cannot threaten me with more time in the caves. You’d be doing me more of a punishment by not letting back in them than by thinking you’re keeping me trapped down there.” She sighed. “Let us also not forget what we are meant to do, and that is to get him to see the error of his ways.”

“And why can you not just kill him?” said the king. “So many innocent souls I’ve sent down there to be ripped apart so you could keep your power going. Why can you not feed on his?”

Yaga unclasped her hands, looked at the ground, and adjusted her dress. “I have tried,” she said, but her voice remained hardly above a whisper. “That is another reason I think he is… protected by something. It doesn’t matter what you think, whether you believe it to be true or not. The simple truth is, I try to kill Vaeda every night. Every time I try to get him to eat the poison in the flesh, just like everybody else, he refuses. He hardly sleeps, his mind is strong, and he’s oddly resilient for his lack of ability to carry through with anything he wants to do.”

The king walked forward and circled Yaga as Vaeda and done. Vaeda himself had made his way over to the king’s bed and plopped himself down on it, letting his feet relax into the feathery comfort as the two of them talked about all the ways to kill him.

“You say these things as though you struggle to keep things under control, Yaga. Are you giving me reason to question you?”

Yaga stood at attention. “Absolutely not, Your Highness. You know this. Nobody has ever bested me in the Lanniswell Hollow.” She turned to him to make sure he held her gaze. “And nobody ever will.”

Vaeda’s mind lifted him off the bed and carried him out the window, even though he gasped and struggled and tried to remain where he was to hear the rest of the conversation. Everything around him sped by in a blur, and he hardly even caught a glimpse of the starts before he was sucked down into the pit that held him prisoner.

Back into the face of his enemy.

But she was so beautiful down here in the darkness that matched her heart. So perfect in her existence… how could he ever believe she would want to cause him harm?

As he returned into his mind, he found Yaga, in all her perfection and wisdom, waiting for him with Go’Ranashu. They were no longer arguing, but bent over him in worry.

“Vaeda?” said Go’Ranashu. “Are you all right?”

Vaeda looked up into Yaga’s energies, and while so much of him remembered everything he’d just seen, like a dream, it faded into a distant and intangible memory the longer he stayed awake. He couldn’t fight away the feeling that told him she was up to something, but he couldn’t quite remember what it was…

What was he doing here?

His head spun in a rush and he massaged his temples.

Even though he was already sitting on the ground, he lost the feeling in his legs and felt like he sank even lower.

“Leave him be,” said Go’Ranashu. “I’ll take care of this.”

“No!” said Yaga. “I can help, please!”

“Why? Why the sudden change? What are you up to?”

Much to Vaeda’s shock, Go’Ranashu moved away from him and shoved Yaga. She stumbled back a few paces and tumbled.

“Go’Ranashu!” shouted Vaeda as he stood and grabbed hold of his arm. “What are you doing?”

“Vaeda, snap out of this trance!” said Go’Ranashu. “She is poisoning your mind, do you not understand?”

Poison…

Something in the food…

Something Yaga was doing…

Yaga, in all her infinite wisdom and perfection.

Anything that came tumbling from her lips was nothing but pure intoxication, words meant only for him.

She meant no harm to any of them.

“She doesn’t need to be shoved aside,” said Vaeda as he went to help Yaga stand. Electrical pulses, red in their swim up his bloodstream, filled every crevice of his body when his hand held on to hers. He saw them together, holding each other, smiling and happy without a care in the world. The strings around his heart gave a little jolt at the thought, and his stomach flipped over in knots.

“Thank you,” she said once she’d regained her footing.

“Vaeda,” said Go’Ranashu. “Can’t you see what’s happening? What she’s doing to you?”

“You’ve witnessed his violence for yourself,” said Yaga. “Cochava and Surid plan in secret behind your back. Runavan reads into your minds and reports back to the king. You are the prisoner who doesn’t belong here, but I defended you, don’t you remember? I told the soldiers to leave and not come back, and they listened.”

As she said it, Vaeda again remembered Yaga with the king, but she begged for mercy against his rage. She’d almost gotten herself killed by defending Vaeda as she did. It was Runavan who had called for the soldiers, Runavan who had informed the king that Vaeda was there in the first place, when he wasn’t supposed to be in the first place.

That thought was another Vaeda had a hard time grasping onto, but so long as he held on to Yaga’s hand, as she’d refused to let go since standing, the more love he felt for her. The more understanding he had for this woman, who walked around this life carrying blame cast upon her by those who would not give her the time to gain that understanding.

“It’s fine for you to trust Go’Ranashu,” said Yaga. “He’s got your best intent at heart, and besides me, it’s best for you to have somebody else you feel you can talk to.”

“Desist with your lies!” shouted Go’Ranashu, and although Vaeda worried he might charge at her, he stood where he was.

“My lies?” said Yaga. “Do you not want me to encourage him to trust you? Are you up to something we should all know about?”

Go’Ranashu walked forward, but stood over Yaga instead of physically touching her again. His blue energies, tall with the body that carried them, towered over the red ones that cast up a strength of their own that wouldn’t bow down so easily.

“Do not pretend as though you do not know of what I speak,” he said.

“She’s right, though,” said Vaeda, hopeful of avoiding another argument. “Surid and Cochava do talk behind our backs, I’m sure of it. Was that not what Runavan said, as well?”

“And I thought you weren’t supposed to trust him, either?” snapped Go’Ranashu, for the first time turning his peaceful energies more frigid when addressing him. “Vaeda, what has gotten into you? How have you allowed this woman to enter your mind like this? How are you not able to see reason? To see truth?”

“Perhaps,” said Yaga, “he sees the truth just fine. Perhaps it is you who struggles to see the reason behind his actions. Seems to me as though you’re projecting those insecurities onto Vaeda. Tut, tut. That’s rather embarrassing for a creature of your stature, is it not?”

“Yaga,” said Vaeda. “I think that’s enough from you, too.”

She seemed surprised that he’d talked back to her like that, and another flash of the truth blinked into his mind. Gone as quick as it came, he was once again left with a question of what it was, what happened in it, and why he couldn’t grasp onto it like he wanted. This memory would be so helpful, he was so sure of it. 

“You’d be wise to consider where you keep your loyalties, Vaeda,” Yaga said before she walked off, finally leaving Go’Ranashu and Vaeda alone.

“Vaeda,” said Go’Ranashu. “Have you returned to yourself?”

Vaeda rounded on him. “Did you have to do that, Go’Ranashu? Why can’t you trust her? What has she truly done to us?”

“It is not about what she’s done, Vaeda, it’s about what she can do. What she’s doing.”

“And what is that?”

Go’Ranashu slapped Vaeda upside the head, light enough that it didn’t hurt, but hard enough to catch his attention. “She is altering your mind, Vaeda,” he said, but the language he spoke was… different. It wasn’t the human language, the common tongue in which everyone spoke. It was one more beastly, more connected to his inner roots. The roots that, somewhere deep down, Vaeda shared, which would explain how he’d understood…

Go’Ranashu was right, of course. Vaeda’s mind was being altered, changed before his very eyes, with nothing he could do about it. But was it Yaga, as Go’Ranashu said? Or Runavan, as was Yaga’s claim? And what of Surid and Cochava?

At least neither of them had the power to enter or alter minds… But who was who in that situation, again? Go’Ranashu seemed to think Yaga was capable of altering perceptions, but Yaga said the same thing of Runavan, who may have agreed with Go’Ranashu, but Vaeda didn’t think any of them were right.

Were they?

Perhaps he should consider himself lucky that everybody at least seemed to agree that Vaeda could — and should — trust Go’Ranashu.

But if he was meant to do that, wouldn’t that mean it was Yaga whom Vaeda should keep at arm’s length?

Yaga, in her infinite wisdom.

In the beauty Vaeda only wished he could truly look upon, and not in his mind’s eyes. Eyes open wanted to have a feast. They wanted to drink in her every curve as his fingers felt along every inch of her body.

Another blink, and this time he saw himself, standing with Runavan with the king. Was this a memory from before? Or was this something altered and placed into his perception to throw him off? To confuse him and keep him even further from his goal?

He was close to that goal. They were heading in the right direction toward the exit. He just had to keep going forward.

But everything was his fault. He’d gotten himself thrown down here because of his own…

His own what?

What powers did he have?

What about him was so special?

Why couldn’t he know?

It didn’t matter.

All he needed to know was this was his fault.

He instilled false hope.

He made others thinks there was possibilities for a future that didn’t exist.

Everything that had come out of his mouth, every word he seeped into their brains was a lie. It was his fault that they would die thinking they’d find their way out of here. His fault that they even believed in something like that in the first place.

“Vaeda?”

Go’Ranashu, still there next to him. Go’Ranashu, still the only person Vaeda could trust.

Vaeda fell into Go’Ranashu’s arms and cried. He didn’t know what else to do. Everything in him fought so hard to keep it all together, but he couldn’t do it anymore.

“W-w-what’s w-wrong w-with m-m-m-me, Go’Ranashu?” he sobbed.

“It’s her,” Go’Ranashu whispered. “I do not know why you cannot see it, nor do I know why her powers have no affect on me. But she is at fault for all of this, Vaeda. I do not know how else to get you to see this reason.”

“It is me,” Vaeda said. “I am the one at fault for all of this.”

“Those are thoughts implanted from her,” he insisted.

Vaeda shook his head. “No. You don’t understand, Go’Ranashu. I have memories from before. Of me with the king. I deserve what I get down here.”

That is her talking, Vaeda.” Go’Ranashu stamped one of his hooves. “What happened? Was it the meat? Is that the problem here? How did she get this deep into your mind?”

“It isn’t like that,” said Vaeda. “It’s because I can’t see anything anymore, Go’Ranashu. Eyes open, eyes closed, it’s all just a mess. Nothing makes sense anymore. We’re spinning in circles, can’t you see?”

“No, I can’t. It is you who fails to see the reason, and it is Yaga to blame.”

“Can you be so sure it isn’t Runavan?”

“Can you be so sure it isn’t yourself?”

Cochava.

Vaeda jumped as he turned toward her purple energies, followed closely by Surid’s yellow ones.

“Oh, no,” said Go’Ranashu. “Not you, too.”

“What’s that to mean, Go’Ranashu?” said Surid. “From what we understand, the two of you are leading us deeper into these caves.”

What?” said Vaeda. “Deeper? No, we’re almost out. I saw the way, I can assure you.”

“Can you?” said Cochava. “Funny, that. You know, once you started hanging around, I started remembering more things. And I remember you… I remember you being an assassin for the king. You killed my sister. Did you know that, you bastard?”

She lunged at him, and Go’Ranashu stood between them.

“Hold on,” he said. “Vaeda hasn’t killed anybody before.”

“How do you know?” asked Surid. 

Because I’m the only one who can see reason,” said Go’Ranashu.

“I don’t believe that, either,” said Cochava. “I think it’s Yaga that’s going to lead us in the right direction.”

“I agree,” said Vaeda.

“You do, do you? That’s funny. I’d have thought you’d have wanted to fight to the death over the chance to lead us into our own.”

“Stop that,” said Go’Ranashu. “Neither of you know what you’re saying. It’s her, it’s Yaga! She’s getting into your mind and poisoning it!”

“No, she’s not,” said Runavan as he, too, joined the conversation. “She was right. It’s me with that power. Me with the ability to alter your minds and your perceptions, not her.”

For some reason, hearing Runavan say it struck Vaeda’s heart, and that was all it took for him to realize Go’Ranashu’s truth.

Yaga was at fault for all of this. She altered their minds. She turned them against each other.

“Don’t think that, Vaeda,” said Runavan. “It’s kind of you to still keep your mind open to me, even when Yaga told you the truth.”

“W-What?”

“The truth, Vaeda. Yaga told you the truth when she said it was that could change your mind, all of you. Is that so hard to believe?”

Vaeda’s mind reeled, and he still struggled to see reason. Yaga’s red energies returned to the group, and a calm seeped over him again.

Yaga, with her infinite wisdom.

Yaga, with her inability to do any wrong.

“There we are,” she said as she stood next to Runavan. “So good of you to admit your own shortcomings. Now. Who’s next?”

END OF ACT II

Read Chapter Nine Part Two

Read Chapter Eleven

Read the full story here.

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