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 knew every vile word that spilled out of Yaga’s mouth was laced with poison. When he lay down that night, all by himself, he allowed his mind to replay everything it had seen with Yaga and the king.
He had seen the way she spoke to him, the hatred in her eyes, the death in her stare. He could remember her wiry red hair as crystal clearly as if he were staring it now, and in his heart of hearts, he knew the truth.
And yet, as he lay there pondering that very idea, he found that he lost sight of the idea of truth. He wasn’t even sure he understood what that meant anymore. Truth was as subjective as an opinion on a story, but how could he make any sense of that? Was there truth to his workings with the king? Truth to the idea that he belonged here, no matter what?
His mind continued the circles as sleep forbade him. Eyes closed seemed far away from him now. Even with them shut, all he saw was darkness. Now, his mind filled only with things he’d thought he’d witnessed within the cave. But just as sure as he was that it was Yaga talking with the king, he had an equally certain memory that it was, in truth, Runavan with whom the king spoke.
And another, just as certain, but with Vaeda himself as the culprit. He could remember his conversation with the king almost as if he’d only had it moments ago. Standing there, in that golden room, heart beating and fluttered against his chest.
“How are things going down in the Hollow?” asked the king.
Vaeda shrugged. “As good as to be suspected, I suppose. They’re believing me when I tell them we’ll find a way out of there. That was what you wanted, is it not?”
“And yet you lead them closer to the exit,” said the king. “That is why I sent the soldiers down there, to remind you of what your true task was. You were getting too close to the exit, to letting them think they were about to be free. You are not being careful about what you are doing, Vaeda.”
Vaeda rounded on the king, and a momentary flash showed him Yaga doing the same thing.
Yaga, in her infinite wisdom… in all her glory… the one who could do no wrong.
Vaeda shook his head as his attention turned back to the king.
“Is there somebody else you wish to give this task to, then? Another whom you believe would get you the same results as I? No. No, you would not dare do something like that, for if you did, you would have chosen that other person already. You had your options, I know you did. You chose me because you knew I was the best. Isn’t that true?”
“Do not let ideas like that allow you to think you have any more use to me than a toenail cut too closely to the skin,” snapped the king. “You will never come near the levels of glory you insert into your mind. Why do you think I sent you down into the Hollow, Vaeda? It is not because you were the best. Good at what you do, yes. But the best? I wouldn’t send the best into the worst place in the world, now would I?”
The king crossed his arms and stood directly in front of Vaeda. Their eyes met, but Vaeda didn’t cower. The king stood taller than him by a small inch or two, but wasn’t nearly as intimidating as he thought himself. If not for the title of the position he held, no one would ever think twice about him. Perhaps that was why he was the way he was. Why he put so much more focus into the monetary, the flashy and the exuberant. He couldn’t make use of genuine human interaction, so he focused only on things that would make him feel rich in some way, shape, or another.
But then… why did the king put him in the Hollow, then?
The voice whispered into a blink that transported Vaeda’s mind back to the cave, but only for an instant before the same scene he was just in was replaced by Runavan, instead.
Runavan, shorter than the king, but only by a little, pudgy and balding, with eyes as emerald as the jewels the king collected.
“How are you doing down there?” asked the king.
“It is going to plan,” said Runavan. “None of them think there’s any way to get out of the caves. Well… That was, of course, until Vaeda…”
“The prisoner who came from nowhere, ae?” said the king. “I see. I thought you’d said you could take care of that the moment you saw him?”
“He does not eat, Highness. He does not partake of any of the things that allow us to alter the people’s minds as we do. And, worse…”
He drifted, but the king pressed forward. “Worse? What could be worse than a random prisoner breaking into the Lanniswell Hollow and freeing everybody else??”
“He cannot be killed,” whispered Runavan.
The king moved his head back, but for some reason, that information did not come as a surprise to Vaeda.
That is because you knew, whispered the same voice, and again his mind blinked back into the presence of the cave only enough to be transported back to the same scene, once again, but with Yaga.
Just as you know this, said the voice. You know this to be your enemy. You know she is in your mind, twisting it and turning it and altering everything you think to change it to her will.
“Vaeda is well within my grasp,” said Yaga as Vaeda’s mind spun around the conversation again. He remained as his invisible fly self, buzzing around the room unseen and hearing every word as though they were spoken directly to him. “It is only Go’Ranashu who stands in my way now.”
“Go’Ranashu?” said the king. “The Noverten beast? You’d let him stand in the way between you and your glory?”
Yaga clenched her fists. “There are things you do not understand,” she said. “You think it so easy to move about the caves, to keep the prisoners down there, especially when they’re so close to the exit. Do you realize how hard it is sometimes to convince people to eat other people? And besides, you’re sending us less prey these days, and our options are getting scarce.”
“I cannot keep sacrificing the lives of innocent civilians just to keep these magical beings trapped where they belong.”
“I suppose, then, that it is up to you whether or not you want to protect the rest of your people from what they would do if they were free.”
The king walked around Yaga, sizing her up as if to see if he could sniff out any more of her lies.
“How do I know I remain as immune to your power as you claim?” he said. “Who am I to say you do not twist and bend my mind to fit your will, as well?”
Yaga lifted an eyebrow the slightest and offered a tiny shrug. “I don’t know,” she said. “I guess that might be something you’d have to figure out for yourself, then, isn’t it?”
Another blink, and Vaeda was back in the cave, and back with Yaga.
Yaga, in all of her beauty and infinite wisdom.
In all of her holiness.
In everything he wished he could be.
A noise caught Vaeda’s attention, and he shot up to find the source of it. White energies rushed into the room of the cave, energies Vaeda had recognized as those that belonged to the soldiers that had come before.
His sword in hand — although he couldn’t quite remember where he’d gotten it from — and stood ready to fight.
Go’Ranashu, ever at the ready and having slept near his feet, was in front of him in seconds, fighting off the soldiers as well. This time, Vaeda threw a swing of his sword and it clashed with one of the soldier’s. He ducked a swing eyes closed warned him about, and found himself in the midst of a hand-to-hand combat battle.
Where part of him had thought he might not be able to keep up, another found that he was fighting as though he’d done it all of his life. Eyes open and eyes closed reconnected again with his inner mind and he saw every blow before it came. He ducked out of the way anytime a fist or a weapon came near him, and blocked anything that got too close.
Even through all of the fighting, he managed to avoid killing any of the other soldiers. Only he and Go’Ranashu fought, and Go’Ranashu took care of making sure the soldiers wouldn’t ever bother them again. Vaeda looked around for the others once the battle had cleared up a bit, and he stood heaving in the center as his breath fought to regain itself.
“We have to move,” said Go’Ranashu.
“Where are the others?” asked Vaeda as Go’Ranashu grabbed his arm and pulled him into a run.
“They are behind this attack, what do you think?” spat Go’Ranashu.
They ran for a moment, Vaeda closely following Go’Ranashu’s highlighted blue energies, before Go’Ranashu stopped and turned back to face him.
“I have tried to tell you Yaga is behind all of this. She is mutating your mind. She is doing the same to everybody. I do not know where she is as of now, but I will take my moment of peace away from her to try and talk some reason into you!”
Again, as Vaeda spent more time away from Yaga, his mind seemed to think more clearly. He remembered her standing there with the king, again.
“What do we do?” Vaeda asked. “Anytime she is near me, my head spins into a thousand circles.”
“We have to get rid of her,” said Go’Ranashu.
Vaeda thought on this for a moment, and the thought still didn’t settle well with him. Another memory crossed his mind, one that reminded him of the memories in his head telling him he couldn’t be killed. Without knowing how to point his finger on why, he knew the same to be true of Yaga. There was some power that surrounded her just as much as it came from her, and they would be foolish to try and go up against it so unprepared.
“Not yet,” said Vaeda. He also thought back to Go’Ranashu’s previous idea of questioning Yaga and getting to the bottom of her true intentions. “You say you are unaffected by her powers, correct?”
The blue energies tilted into something that resembled a nod. “I wouldn’t say I could confirm that, but yes. From what I have seen of the rest of you, it does appear that I am the only one who is able to maintain a level mind whenever she is around.”
“Then why can you not going back to questioning her? Figuring out exactly what she’s doing? We know she may be working for the king — or I do, at least. I just can’t make sense of these memories in my head. As soon as I have one that seems as though nothing can prove it wrong, it is replaced by one that is the exact opposite, but provides the same feeling. I feel as though…”
He paused and swallowed.
“I feel as though I’m losing my sanity, Go’Ranashu,” he whispered. “I know not what to do. This entire thing is just…”
“It is Yaga,” said Go’Ranashu. “Why can you not let me eliminate her?”
“You can try,” said Vaeda, “but I do not think you will be successful.”
“In my mind, when I’ve visited the king, I’ve seen her. And Runavan, and myself. In any memory, whomever it is actually talking to the king, it seems resoundingly obvious that I cannot die. This hasn’t been tested, of course, and I’d rather it not, but something tells me the same might be true for her.”
“That she cannot die?”
“Perhaps that is not a statement made in total, but I believe that there is something here within the caves that prevents the two of us from befalling any real physical harm. Think about it. I fell off a cliff not that long ago in the middle of an attack. Apart from getting the wind knocked out of me momentarily, nothing happened.”
Go’Ranashu thought about this for a moment. “Is this why you aren’t eating?”
The question struck a chord within Vaeda’s mind. “I think so! I think the poison of the cave comes from the human flesh…” He racked his brains trying to remember what he had just seen, but everything seemed lost on him again.
He turned around, and there she was.
Yaga, in her infinite wisdom, in all of her glory, in her inability to do anything wrong.
Don’t fall for it again.
His mind turned into an inner battle as she approached, but Vaeda refused to allow her to see she had any affect on him.
“Yaga,” he said, as casually as he could. “Where have you been? We were attacked a moment ago — I feared you may have been injured.”
“I am fine,” said Yaga. “But we must go.”
“Go?” said Go’Ranashu. “I thought you would have wanted nothing to do with us now? That Vaeda was the prime enemy?”
“We don’t think that, particularly,” said Cochava as she and Runavan joined them. “We just don’t think you actually know what you’re doing and think it might be time for us to move forward.”
“I’d have thought as much,” said Vaeda, who, somewhere deeper within him, felt as though he should have been more upset by this revelation. It seemed so natural, so obvious that this would be there choice. He knew he didn’t have it in him to lead them out of here anyway.
You’re leading them further in.
Further from the exit.
Closer to their deaths.
That same whispered voice returned to usher a completely different sentiment, and once again felt just as true as the ones that told him he would be successful in his mission.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Go’Ranashu. “If anybody should leave, I’d think it should be her.” His energies pointed to Yaga.
“It’s not her fault,” said Runavan.
“Stop,” said Yaga. “All of you.” Her red energies, usually so fire and exuberant, for the first time read as conflicted, yet calm. “I do not wish to continue arguing.”
“Then perhaps you should stop toying with people’s minds,” growled Go’Ranashu. “I’d think it should be so much easier that way.”
“You don’t understand,” said Yaga, and her voice came out hardly audible. For someone who usually spoke so boisterously and with such confidence, Vaeda actually rendered himself shocked for a moment.
“Don’t understand what?” said Surid, whose voice had changed, as well. In fact, it seemed now all of them had calmed down, in some way or another.
“Why I’ve done what I have,” said Yaga, voice continuing to lower so they had to strain their ears to hear her. “Why all of us are down here in the first place. You all think you have things so figured out, but you don’t. You hardly even know the smallest surface of the truth.”
For some reason, the way she said the word sent Vaeda’s head into another spiral. That was the one thing he searched for more than anything down here, but the one thing that seemed to get further from his grasp with every passing moment.
And yet, from every strange and conflicted thought that drifted through his mind, everything else told him to listen to Yaga in this moment.
But something else told him everything that was about to come out of her mouth was nothing more than the same lies she’d spouted from the start.
All five of them gathered around her, regardless. Even Go’Ranashu had calmed down and seemed interested to hear what she had to say.
“Well?” he said. “Go on, then. What is it we don’t understand?”
“You act as though it is so easy,” said Yaga. “I’d have thought you of all of us would have understood what it was like to be ostracized for something other people can’t see.”
“That is enough,” Go’Ranashu growled. “Every time you address me, it has something to do with my heritage. I do not think it necessary — or wise — to continue.”
“Apologies,” said Yaga, and it actually sounded like she meant it. “I’m sure you can understand, the same as I, how difficult things can be down here.”
“It isn’t down here we want to know about,” said Runavan, who had seemed to come back into his own mind, as well. “It is about up there. About before. What do you know about why any of us are down here? What do you have to do with the reason we are unable to leave?”
Yaga took in a deep breath. “Sometimes, I think, certain things are easier shown than told.”
“No,” said Cochava. “That’s all but asking us to let you into our heads. How are we to know anything you show us won’t be manipulated the same as anything else you do?”
“I understand that you all struggle with the idea of trusting me, despite anything I’ve done down here to try and help you think differently. Just because I expressed hesitancy toward pursuing the thought of finding our way out of here doesn’t mean I wish you all dead!”
Her voice grew steadily louder as she spoke, and when she finished, the last of her words — the last five, in particular — rebounded across the walls.
And, again, Vaeda was left to wonder as to the idea of truth.
Was it Yaga herself that told the truth — or the walls that held them captive?