Cafe Life

 

As I brush through the fly screen into the quiet atmosphere of the early morning lull, I am greeted with a call “Morning, Kylie.”
I lift my head. “Good morning,” I chime back in reply as I dump my heavy bag on my usual table. A single table, with two chairs, second up from the door, far enough away not to the catch the breeze. I would have preferred a seat by the window, in the comfy chair, but I loathed taking up two tables and four chairs for hours at a time – just for me and my laptop, didn’t seem proper, you know. 

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The new owners of my cafe – my cafe, funny that, it’s away’s been MY cafe in my head, even though, technically, I don’t own the place – anyway – the new owners are delightful, cheerful and always up for a chat. I still haven’t managed to figure out their names yet, but considering it took me several years to learn the names of the previous owners, I’m not to fussed, it will come in time.

I have been told to find another place, to move on – time and time again – but I am a creature of habit, someone who loves familiarity. Perhaps it isn’t a good thing, perhaps it is, perhaps I am stuck in a cycle that circles around and around, I do not know, but I love the comfort that comes with knowing a place and the people within it, and watching the world change gradually, year by year. I have seen women marry, new born children grow up, start school, all from my seat within this cafe. I’ve talked with war vets, listened to their heroic tales take me to Germany, England and to the skies within planes, or the fields of Africa, all while mulling over a cappuccino. 

My cafe is like the TARDIS. 

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It can transport me anywhere. Through the people within it, that share the magical place with me. 

Before the previous owners left one of the patrons painted a painting that now hangs in the cafe. When I first saw it, I just smiled, thinking; “Oh, that’s lovey, they put in some of the regulars…” I was a little sad, as I couldn’t see myself in my regular spot so I thought I must not have been included. 
Silly me.
Silly, silly me.
I was standing by the counter one misty winters morning and the painting had been hung on the wall nearby. As I was waiting for my turn, something caught my eye and I started laughing. It was me. There I was, sitting towards the back of the painting, wearing my black coat, my beanie, with my laptop and my  books. My eyes grew damp and my chest tightened. Was this what I looked like in the eyes of the other patrons?
It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen – myself – in a painting. 

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Perhaps this sounds ridiculous, or maybe it’s just me, but I feel, almost as though I have become part of a mythos, that is gradually being crafted, day after day, year after year. A mythos that is our incredible little pocket in the world. And here I am, sitting it, writing stories of other worlds. Isn’t that just the most delightful thing.  

 

 

Bonfire Night

 

 

Last weekend my parents had some visitors from the Philippines over. It was wonderful to see them again after many years. I am the only one of my family who hasn’t visited the shanties, so I am always enthralled by the stories they have to share about the children we’ve supported over the past couple of decades.

As everyone was swapping stories, my Dad happened to mention something interesting – as he often does – Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night – due to him mentioning the time he, my mother and older brother spent in the Philippines on New Years Eve and just how alarmingly loud the fire works there had been. I was fascinated when he said that as a child, here in Australia we’d had a celebration in which fireworks and bonfires had been a major part.

My father turned to me with his knowing smile. “It was a celebration about the day when Guy Fawkes didn’t blow up the British Parliament, didn’t you learn about it at school?”

I was moue. “No,” I replied. “I didn’t learn anything interesting about Australian or British history at school.”

A couple days later and I was on Facebook and I stumbled across this trailer for a new mini-series. What’s it for? Yeah, the story behind that plot on November the 5th. I just sat there laughing, thinking how ironic it was that my Dad and I had just been talking about it on the weekend.

Our history, and our culture is so interesting – it is full of such incredible tales that I was never told. I sort of had an idea there was something behind the 5th of November because I’ve seen “V for Vendetta”, but I’d never researched into it. I rather wish at school, in history class, our teacher could have told the fascinating tales that gradually lead to Australia being the nation it is. Sure, we don’t celebrate Guy Fawkes Night now (though, I really wish we did, what an interesting tradition, and traditions create bonds, culture and stories within a country –  I understand why they stopped it though) but I feel the story should be told, and kept on being told, so the history can continue, and become legend, and that legend remains a part of the culture we’ve become. We shouldn’t forget where we’ve come from, and what has made us, shaped us – what scars have crafted us into the nation of Australia.

I love it when my Dad tells me a piece of history that reminds me we’re all stories, just waiting to be told.

 

I never wanted to be a stereotype…

A stereotype.
I recall hearing the word frequented in writing classes I attended – telling me to avoid stereotypes, type-casting characters into cookie cutter blocks, that I needed to give them flaws and backgrounds, something to make them seem human to the readers.
I was young, gosh, I had to be – fifteen – yeah – about fifteen. Gracious me – FIFTEEN – I didn’t know anything about what the world had to offer.
Sweet sixteen, they say, don’t they, when you get your first kiss?
No, I had my stolen from me at twenty-eight and it was the worst experience ever.  I’m filing that under memories I wish I could erase, clean my whiteboard from all the smudges that horrid recollection drudges up, every time I re-loop the memory. I’m such a broken record.

I find, though, that stereotypes in writing can sometimes be useful. It simply depends on how skilled the author in question is, in using them – much like all other tools in the library of tools at the disposal of an author.

However, a stereotype of real life is another discussion all together.
Some stereotypes can have negative continuations.
I wanted to be a particular sort of stereotype – I wanted to be a stay-at-home-mother.
It was the dream. I didn’t care what anyone ever said, it was my dream.
It is a dream that is gradually fading away. Is it my fault? Perhaps. Sometimes I think it is.

I am an author, an illustrator – and I fear I have become a stereotype of that – I live at home, with my parents. I am a lover of pop-culture, a collector of stuff, (or junk, as my family would say) and I even have a cat, who I’m a little bit…ah…overly fond of. I mean, if she dropped dead, yeah, I’d be sad, but I’d just get another one. But she is my companion. I do love her, but she’s just a pet. I just happen to not have…many people to talk to…so…I talk to a cat.
It’s weird.
And so, I am weird.

And I am ashamed of this.
Yet I cannot change who I am. I like who I am. I love this young woman I have become.
I adore the enjoyment I get out of simple things. How I light up at entertainment, and can see the beauty in art that people often scoff at, how the stories in anime utterly delight and enthral me, and I can get lost in their worlds for days thinking on their deep, deep topics. I might not manage large crowds of people, and I’m awful in big groups, but get me started on a topic I love, or world politics, or the creation of the universe, or the beauty in this world, and I could talk for hours.
Sure, I am weird – but I am weirdly wonderful.

A part of me truly hopes that someday I will be that mother, but if that dream never comes to pass, then I am already living a wonderful dream.
I am a fantasy author – with a cat.
I’m going to write, and keep writing, until all my stories are told.

Pain

This was written about a month ago, on a very bad day when my pain was excruciatingly bad and I couldn’t take it – so I decided to try and write what it felt like. Since then, nothing much has changed, I’ve just been coping with the ‘new normal’ which is a steady increase of overall pain levels.
However, upon re-reading this with a little bit of more level head, I felt it was still worthy of a share. There might be others out there who deal with chronic pain, or a chronic illness, who have similar experiences. I simply do not know.
If you do – know you’re not alone, even if the battle is a lonely one. 

Pain is exhausting.
It eats at me, every single day. Piece by piece it consumes. It started as an ember, so small, years ago, and now it is a fire, fuelled by existence alone and sometimes it is all I seem to know.

It hurts to even breath. Each lung full is like stretching skin over barbed wire. When did my chest start betraying me, I am often left to ponder? There is not a day that passes when my head is not ripping itself apart with hatchets. What would it be like to live without a headache? Would I even know myself if I ever woke up without one?

Pain has blurred memories together, and years have become a long string of time wasted away in a body that is young, but feels so decrepit.

I should be relishing in youth.
So young, people tell me. Oh, Kylie, you are so young. You have so much time. Don’t worry – don’t worry – you are in the prime of your life. Their words are like mockery. I haven’t felt young in a long time. Not in a body that I am forced to drag through a day. The vigour of youth is long past, despite the youthful years of my unwrinkled cheeks. Yet, what life have I truly lived? Can I say I have lived at all? People my age seem so falsely carefree. They are like adverts in front of me, flashing on a movie screen, portraying a wondrous example of just what I do not have:
Freedom from an invisible tower, created by bricks of pain, built up day by day.
And there is no prince to save and comfort, just endless staring out a window, wishing for the seasons to change.

Pain has already worn me down, it’s a grindstone and I am the dull blade never to be sharpened.

The fingertips on a keyboard become sharp, stabs, as if I’ve pounded them down to the very bone—but if I had, would they hurt anymore? Everything is heavy, even smiling is an effort I just can’t be bothered with doing. Am I beautiful, without a smile? Have I ever been beautiful?

The first man to call me beautiful, other than my father, was an elderly gentleman in a café.
No man has ever told me again.
It is just a word, I always tell myself—
But it is word with such potent meaning.
Like pain.
A word becomes a dagger in the heart—if you let it.
Don’t let it.

My entire world has shrunken into a room. I am Rapunzel in her tower. Sleeping Beauty waiting to wake up from a dream. Snow White poisoned by an apple. Ariel wishing to explore a world above. Moana trying to escape to the ocean. I can almost reach—but I just can’t make it.

I try, I try, I keep trying. I fight, I fight and I keep fighting.

Some battles are lifetime worthy. Some princesses pick up the armour of a dead knight nearby, and battle their dragons alone.

 

Grey Skies & Yellow Fields

There is something wonderful about stopping and taking a moment to breathe the fresh air of the country. To hear the birds chirping in the high branches. There is a peacefulness here that is precious and trusting. Every so often you hear a distant car rumbling along the single main street, or a child on the school oval, shouting victory at a goal, but otherwise it is the leaves dancing in the wind that sing a clean melody. 

There is a soft, cold chill on my cheeks. A freeze that is gradually encasing the land. It runs up my legs through my tights as evening creeps ever closer. A stillness falls. The twilight hour tinges the sky mauve. How do you describe the tranquillity of being under the shadow of a mountain as protective and cloistering as the great Mt. Remarkable. It is a guardian to the small town that hugs it’s skirts. I wonder of the tales the mountain could tell us, if it could whisper them on the wind, of the lives that have come and gone under it’s shelter.  Of the hardships the first settlers faced, battling against a foreign land, carving their mark for future generations. South Australia is young, Australia itself is an infant compared to the elders that surround it, but the lives of those European pioneers were harsh. The land threw every torment it could upon them, and yet they prevailed to give us the South Australia we have today. Why, I have to ask, is it that I must seek the legends of their times myself, when their tales are still so young?   

As I turn from my walk, heading back the way I’d come, to seek out the warmth of the hearth waiting for me, I pause and stare out across the green pastures, and yonder them, to the bright yellow canola fields. The mauve tint of the sunset has turned, and grey clouds is what remains, but it is still a startling beautiful contrast against the green and yellow of the meadows. I wonder what the settlers of yesteryear would think of us now. Would they be disappointed in their children, or glad of what we have made here in the land they toiled upon? 

From my Journal – 24/8/2017

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This past week my sister (Melissa) and I went to Melrose. It was a trip to partly get away from the hustle and bustle of life, but to also do some research for a book I am currently working on that is set in the District around Melrose and within Melrose itself.
While I grew up in Whyalla, and we stayed in Melrose a few times while I was a kid, I didn’t have the clearest memories of the area so it was wonderful to have a chance to return.

And it was beautiful. So beautiful. What a glorious time of the year to visit the Flinders. The canola fields are in bloom, the wattle blossoms are in bloom, and everything is green from rain. Melrose also boasts some gorgeously large gum trees.

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I didn’t get the chance to do any hiking — I didn’t want to do the 13km hike up Mt. Remarkable on my own without a workable phone. Also, apparently, it’s super steep, and my knees are bad, so everyone told me not to do it. BUT. I just really like conquering mountains. I really need a hiking/camping budding…okay, so I need a boyfriend/husband in general, but a hiking friend would be great too! However, even though I didn’t do any hiking, I wasn’t really there for that. I was there to spend time with my sister, to get away from Adelaide, and learn about Melrose. I felt those things were achieved.

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Mel and I stayed at a utterly beautiful place called Bluey Blundstone Accommodation – it was once the old Blacksmith Shop of Melrose, and the owners have been gradually renovating and restoring it. I cannot recommend it enough, it’s amazing what they’ve done. Every night we sat by a little open fire, sometimes chatting, sometimes just quiet while I wrote. It was beautiful, peaceful and away…away from everything
My phone didn’t even work! What luck! ^_^ I was really away from everything. (Though it was a good thing my sister’s phone worked, we’d have been a bit lost without Google.)

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There is one memory I have very clearly of Melrose from when I was a child and that is the Swing Bridge. I recall this bridge being really, really awesome in my mind. The coolest thing EVER. I remember running across on it, being totally awed by it, freaked out by it, thinking it was HUGE.

I told Mel about it, saying how amazing it was, that we had to go and see it…
And…
Well, my memory was shattered into reality.

Yeah, nah, it’s actually tiny and not that awesome. (Don’t get me wrong, childhood memory me still thinks its amazing!!)
I think Mel thought it was all pretty hilarious. But I am pretty hilarious. If you can’t laugh at yourself, what’s the point, right?

I am very grateful to have such a wonderful sister to go on adventures with. Who is immensely understanding of my physical condition and illness, and who puts up with me being a pop-culture nerd. It’s great to be able to make the most of the moments we are given. Times change, slowly, rapidly, who knows…but they do change. It’s nice to have memories to treasure forever.

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Stone Table Books – Cover Illustrations

This year I’ve had the amazing opportunity to work with Stone Table Books on some front covers.

Two of those books are to be launched soon. So I have permission to showcase the art here.

For DA.jpg This illustration was done for the cover art of Lizzy’s Dragon written by Melissa Gijsbers. It is a lovely little mid-range reader about a little girl who discovers a dragon who can breath water instead of fire.
I loved the opportunity to illustrate such a beautiful coloured dragon. And on the front cover when printed, this just pops, so I’m really happy with how it turned out.

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This illustration is for the cover art of the book Hidden written by Sif Dal – a young adults adventure that reminded me a lot of what I used to read when I as a teenager, so I quite enjoyed the story. It was really a treat to illustrate the book, hopefully I did it justice.

 

It’s really an honour to be entrusted with the chance to illustrate a front cover of a book. As an author myself, I know how important front covers are, so I really hope to do something beautiful for both the author and the publisher.

If you get the chance, check out the books, they’re both really wonderful.

Keep well, dearest readers!

KL

Trying to Inspire Hope

So recently I have been struggling with a lack of motivation to continue writing.
It isn’t so much that I don’t want to write, or to create – it’s just that I haven’t been getting much ‘joy’ out of it lately. It has become a real slog to get through. The imagination hasn’t been flowing.

I’ve been asking those questions, “Why? Why do I do this…?” – “Do people even care for my story?” – “What is the point of all this work?”
Those questions have been circling my mind over and over.

And I’ve been trying to remember the childlike innocence and wonder in which I first went into writing with. The obsession, the excitement and the passion that fuelled me and the late nights I would spend writing. To do so, I have tried to remember…
I’ve tried to remember what inspired me to write this long epic.

When I was a little girl I had a dream:
I stood upon the verge of a bottomless canyon. Pieces of earth would collapse into the abyss from the rumbling ground, and I had to kept trying to steady myself. Not just against the shaking earth, but the roaring of an intense wind ripping across the land behind me. The side I stood upon was green and lush, blanketed by a forest and mountains rising up yonder. Across the yawning canyon, as wide as several streets, a golden ocean of sand awaited me. The sun was just cresting the horizon, sparkling on the dunes. I recall that standing on either side of me were two young men, and yet I had no idea who they were, for I had never met them, but I woke relieved by their presence and in such awe of my dream that I wrote it down in my journal.
It was this dream that eventually led me to the creation of the world of Livila, the Borders that divided the Lands. What I was seeing became Border between Pennadot and Utillia. The two young men being Zinkx and Daniel. Their appearances haven’t really changed from when I saw them in that dream.

Chronicles of the Children is an epic about good vs. evil.
About being broken to the point that all hope is lost, finding yourself so entirely defeated that you desperately desire to give up, and yet, you don’t.
You just keep trying.
Because you don’t know how to do anything else but try.

As I’ve been staring at the blank pages in front of me while attempting to write Book 3, I’ve thought about the character of Sam and just what it is that he experiences in Book 3 and I think I better understand — going through my own despair — the motivation Book 3 has been lacking. I’d forgotten about what the book is supposed to represent in the series.
It’s a book about being broken.
So badly broken.
But picking up the pieces regardless, and still moving forward.
Every word I write should reflect that.

I think, if I continue to remember that…
I’ll get back on track.

 

Update – Burnside Libcon

Can you believe it’s already July?
I can’t.
Honestly, it seems the older I get the faster time just seems to rush by. Each year’s pace quickens, and yet, nothing really changes around me. It is a very odd sensation, to feel the days roll into each other, day fading into night, and night blooming into day, at such a rapid pace, and still discovering myself in the same place I was the year before, and the year before that.
Is this truly what adult life is? I often find myself pondering…
Is this…all life is?
Anyway, before end up telling you all about my existential crisis, and trust me, I could waffle on about it, I have some exciting news to bring to the table.

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On the 15th of July, at Burnside Library, here in my beautiful city of Adelaide, I shall be attending Libcon. I’ll be on a panel of other amazingly talented, wonderful and fantastic authors. It’s a real honour and privilege and I am’s really excited. (Hopefully this time I’ll actually <i>smile</i> at bit. XD Gotta learn to smile.)
It’d be wonderful to see you there, if you can come along. Libcon will be between 10AM and 4PM and I’ll be selling both KEY and PROTECTORS there. Sorry, I haven’t managed to get Orphans and Outcasts out yet.
Want to see the list of all the illustrations I have to do that book? By the end of September, well, technically SOONER, so that I can actually make the book and then order the copies, so it all arrives before Supernova in November. Gosh, I’m cutting this closer. Oh gosh, I am so worried.
Tah dah…my list.

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Yeah. Bit of a list.
But I’m prepared for some late nights if I have to. I love it. I love creating these things, and I love bringing a book out. It is SO exciting to see it come together in the final stages. I just can’t wait to hold the book. *squeeee*

You can see me working on some of the illustrations on my Youtube Channel:

 

At the back of Orphans and Outcasts I’m also working on some comics that will be added.
These are taking awhile to do. Here are pages from a comic called ‘Trench Ealdo’ (and it connects with Book 3, because everything in my world is connected…) just to show you how it’s going. They’re not in order…by the way… 😀

 

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I am also continuing to write Book 3 of Chronicles of the Children, though it is going very, very slow.
Encouragement would be welcome. I’m really struggling with it at the moment…just an immense lack of feeling like it’s worth it, really. 😦
Also writing a much shorter novel too, that has utterly NOTHING to do with the Chronicles of the Children world, that I won’t talk about until I know more about the publication possibilities, but it has been a fun endeavour to write something so very different.
So yeah, lots to do, lots to keep me busy — and I’m still having that existential crisis…funny heh.

Hope you’re all keeping well.
Thanks for all your support.
*hugs*
Kylie

Experiencing Your Own World

A couple weeks ago I was reading a book by a friend of mine “Water Off a Dragon’s Back” by K E Fraser and as I turned off my kindle and rolled around to go to bed a thought struck me:

Was what I thought the characters looked like the same as what my friend thought of them as? Was I imaging her world the same as she did? Turns out what she envisioned of her characters and world was entirely different from my vision and this utterly fascinated me. (I recommend her books by the way, they’re enjoyable reads if you love fantastical romances – plus there is a dragon.)

This fascinated me because I’ve been writing Book 3 of ‘Chronicles of the Children’, and editing Book 1 of ‘The Northland Rebellion’ recently. I’ve been inside of the world of Livila for a good eighteen years now – I know the world I built rather well now, and it’s annoying sometimes, to have created a world over such a long length of time, and while I was a teenager (because I assure you, teenagers do not always make great decisions in world-building.) Thinking about my friend’s world and her characters and how I envisioned them drew me to this odd realisation:

I will never be able to read my book and experience my world and characters as a new reader. I will never have that pleasure, that joy, that incredible wonder of exploring the world I built in that exciting, thrilling way that happens when you open a book and are introduced to a new adventure.

I was…a bit sad, and a little jealous.

It became even more obvious to me this past week when I had my first ever conversation with my editor, Elle, via Google chat. We’ve talked back and forth via email for years now, but we’ve never actually chatted face-to-face. Elle is amazing. Without Elle I wouldn’t be able to release my novels, she works so hard and I am so lucky to have such an incredible editor.

While talking with Elle, she pointed out a couple interesting things about my characters that I had never thought of before.
Zinkx chuckles because he picked that up from Denvy.
Skyeola’s picking that up from Zinkx.
I have characters who sound conservative and old fashioned, and younger characters who sound modern and I need to keep it that way.
Things like that.

The more I thought about it the more I noticed such things. The characters had their individual tones and traits. How come I had stopped noticing this over the years? Was it all just becoming blurred together because I was so used to being inside the world.
I am grateful for people like Elle, who remind me to take a step back, to come outside of the sandbox and review how I am writing and why I am writing.

I don’t know how other people picture my world, nor my characters – likely entirely differently to me. I know from talking to my second cousin, her picture of Sam is vastly different from mine and that makes me really happy. I write books to expand imagination, never to limit them.

So, if you ever do read my books, feel free to tell me someday what the world looks like in your eyes. I’d be so curious to know, because I really wish I was you, able to meet Zinkx, Shanty, Sam and Skye for the first time. It would be magical.
Zinkx and I go way back now. I feel like we’re bored old friends who sometimes randomly meet up at a tavern to tell stories to each other because I’m single and he has a wife and kids and needs to get out of the house. That’s the extent of our author/character relationship.
Hopefully you all have a much better imagine of Zinkx than I do… 😀

Excerpt – Orphans & Outcasts – Chapter One

 

Hello friends and readers.
I thought I would upload an excerpt from ‘Orphans and Outcasts’ since the editing is getting pretty close to finished. Just a few chapters to go. Front cover and illustrations are still way off done, but hey, at least editing is on track! Yay!

Enjoy. 

 

CHAPTER ONE

There is nothing left.

Kemet is gone. Kemet is gone. How could we have allowed this to happen?

Had we truly grown so complacent in ourselves that we believed we were invulnerable?

We believed we had tamed a Dragon—(why, why did they not listen to you? Why did they not slay it?)

I sit here, my dearest Sekhmet, surrounded by the mirrors that reflect my failures.

What have we done?

Kemet is gone.

There is nothing left.  

 

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A’aldryn dashed lightly across the sand, the fine grains roasting his foot-paws despite them never touching the surface for longer than a moment. The wind sang a howling song in his ears as he raced Utillia’s wide skylines. In the distance the bow of the Lawless Child crashed down, cutting its way through the mighty sand-waves like a blade. The Sun, low behind the dunes, was a herald of the coming Twin Winter months. The cooling air from the higher dune shadows tangled between his legs, dulling the heat of the scorching sand.

These precious moments of freedom were just for him and Khamsin. The wind-god who dwelt within him cherished the running of the burning-sea. In these few scarce hours they were one in mind, lost in the immensity of the horizon.

It has been a good day. The wind-god stroked the filaments of his awareness. It was not so much a voice that he heard but a sensation of lingering like an old etching carved into stone, for Khamsin was as ancient as the Ovin-tu Mountains[1] and always it felt as though he was a call echoing off distant cliffs.

“Indeed,” A’aldryn replied. “I hope we uncover something in that null-zone. Thanks be to the Rythrya[2], maybe we’ll finally get enough funds to upgrade the generators.”

A horn hollered, spiking his pelt. Thick lines were flung over the edge of the Lawless Child, breaking the waves. A’aldryn breathed deeply through his air-gills. A thrill chilled his under-pelt as he watched the sand-ship spreading her outer wings. She was not an overly large vessel—a nyhot class[3], crewing only a hundred and fifty able-bodied burning-seafolk—but she did them proud and he adored her almost as much as he adored his mate.

He dropped to all fours, increasing his speed. The wind surged around him, spurring his body forth with leaps and bounds until he latched onto a rope, clawing up the hull with strong hauls. With a flip, he twirled into the air and landed with an expert swagger on the decking. He caught the movement of the sand-ship as he stood upright on his hind-paws. His fan-tail unfurled, steadying his posture.

The two upper-decks of the sand-ship were busy with scurrying crew members, obeying the orders of the queen, all paying him no heed despite his rank of chaplain. The vessel shuddered under his foot-paws as the Lawless Child took the brunt of a strong gravity swell, thrusting out from the null-zone yonder.

They were vagabonds and orphans, cast-offs from the Ruling Prides, coming to the Lawless Child for the same reasons—protection, shelter, food, work—a home, a pride. To the unobservant it was not so obvious, but to his eyes it was easy to see those who were unique like himself—the misfit-born, cursed with mutations caused by the rising radiation leaking free of the null-zones and the Zaprex technology beneath the burning-sea.

In many ways it was better to be dead than to be born a misfit; whether Human, Kelib, Kattamont or half-breed, the shame was a cutting blade and life within the Ruling Prides was impossible.

A’aldryn curled his extra digits into the hooks of his dangling belts. The scars had long been hidden by his silver pelt, but he could still feel them pull from time to time, reminding him of his childish attempts to cut off what he had once considered an abomination.

Through the commotion a commanding voice called, “Prince A’aldryn, get your tail up here! Report!” A’aldryn caught sight of his mother aloft the stern deck: Zafi’ashid Silvertide, exiled queen of the Silvertide Pride. The glow of the Sun was raw behind her, casting a glinting halo around her glossy unkempt fur. She was dainty behind the heavy weight of the helm, the magnificent contraption of wheels and levers dwarfing her in size, and yet there was no doubting the queen’s prowess.

She might have been an exile of the burning-sea, cast aside like trash by the Silvertide Pride that ruled the Trading Routes between the Wind Cities and Isles, but her queenly strength was unwavering. Like raw silver, pure from the ground, she had been born to rule the strongest pride of Utillia, and that air of royalty had never left. It was something she had passed to him, in the way he sashayed up the stairs to the helm. She did not glance his way as he stationed himself directly beside her, but her flamboyant air-gills briefly flashed in greeting and, within, Khamsin berated him sharply for forgetting Kattamont customs.

Zafi’ashid cared not that she mingled with the low-life scoundrels of the outlaw trading posts, or the criminals and pirates that winged through the outer sectors. That, he knew, was true pride—that she had been outcast but had never lost what she had been born to be.

“Mother, I scouted ahead and the null-zone is over the next wave-bank. Ni’xlye was correct in her dreamings; there is a ruin inside.”

Zafi’ashid spun the wheel, locking a lever in place with a foot-paw. Her tail balanced her weight as she guided herself around the controls. “Good, good. Does it look like anyone has discovered it already?”

“It looks unscavenged.”

“All the better; we shall be the first.” Her grin grew wild, bright azure eyes ravaging the horizon yonder in anticipation. She did so love the hunt. A’aldryn swished his fan-tail lazily, envious of the colours his mother’s had; it glinted like a precious opal, while his had the pristine blues of scarce water. Mother had never told him why she had been outcast, but he had gathered enough over the sol-cycles. It had been because she had birthed a misfit. It perhaps explained the intense drive he had inherited to search for and learn more of the Zaprexes, following in her unwavering paw-steps.

What truly lay beneath the burning-sea? Wonders untold—long uncharted cities, sunken and left to slumber. He had barely scratched the surface of their great towers in his countless dives. They called to him. He had to follow. It was because he was misfit-born, and all misfit-born shared in common the dream of the cities paved in gold.

Mother knew he craved answers. That was why they had become archaeologists. It was a dangerous profession; they were labelled heretics by the Ip’osti——for their beliefs that the Zaprexes were not invaders but saviours. Honestly, he was not afraid of being branded a heretic, but what he truly despised was the dirt they had to put up with to fund their research. For the upkeep of the Lawless Child and food for the crew, they had been forced to allow Scavengers to use the sand-ship and accompany them on exhibitions.

It went against everything an archaeologist upheld to tolerate Scavengers pulling apart the wonders of a Zaprex ruin. He felt filthy just thinking about it.

“Must they come, Mother? This is truly a marvellous find and they will destroy it.”

Zafi’ashid’s brow lifted under the linkage of her air-gills. A’aldryn unfolded his arms, spreading them in protest.

“And, yes, I detest the man.” He spat.

“It is simply your pride instinct. Resist it.”

“I want to stab him in the face whenever I see him.”

Her laughter rang high into the Mist sails. “That is what you get for being born a pure-blooded prince.”

“Mother!”

He had been born a prince, and the prince’s place in a pride was to protect. Queens and princesses lived for the hunt. A’aldryn stiffened as he caught the scent of the leader of the Scavengers. Zafi’ashid was smiling and he rolled his eyes, feeling his fur spike as the heavy footstep of the Human thumped up to the helm. There was no way he was going to duplicate his mother’s gesture of greeting towards Torka. The stinky Human could go throw himself overboard for all he cared.

“Greetings, Queen Zafi’ashid! I see we have been in luck and found some fair winds.”

Zafi’ashid cocked her head toward him and A’aldryn shrugged nonchalantly. He might have given Khamsin free range to push the Lawless Child along; it was not a bad thing to have a wind-god permanently residing within his mortal shell—he was personally going to take every advantage it brought. After all, he was the sand-ship’s chaplain; taming the wind was his role on the vessel—the Pride had just never seen fit to inform the Scavengers about Khamsin. To the vultures he was, quite simply, a very good wind-tamer and he did so enjoy how much it vexed them.

“Indeed, Torka, the Rythrya Stones have smiled upon us.”

The Stones do not cause the winds. Your mother needs to remember who it is that truly rules these oceans. Khamsin stirred, bristling under his fur like hot-fire. A’aldryn snorted, insulted on behalf of Khamsin for being compared to the monuments scattered around Utillia.

“Mother, the Rythrya are guide stones, nothing more. They do not create the winds.” A’aldryn glanced over the tossing dunes in the distance. “The Simoon forge the winds.”

“Ever the scholar, A’aldryn,” Torka said. “You fill your head with useless facts from a useless past.”

Torka’s bass laugh was heavily weighted with a gurgling of tobacco use. It was never a good thing for a Human to abuse their lungs in Utillia—the air was already too thin for a first-generation Human of Pennadotian birth.

“The past is not useless, Torka,” A’aldryn muttered. “It is from the past that the future shall be reborn.” He could not understand how so few who dived deep into the burning-sea, down into the depths of the Zaprex wonders below, came out not seeing that the rebirth of their world was beginning. A’aldryn unfolded himself from his perch, levelling the man with a glare. “Besides, it is my useless facts that bring you coinage to fill your useless pockets.” He had not encountered many Humans Torka’s age; most who sailed the burning-sea died before they had the chance to reach more than fifty sol-cycles. He was not entirely sure if Humans could get much older. Half-breeds he had encountered—they had many amongst the crew—but pure Humans usually remained in the Wind Cities and the Isles, preferring the life of mist-farming or trading. Torka, though, was beginning to go gray and he smelt of foul decay that was off-putting. His long hair was always bound back, and he often wore a broad smile as though life was pleasant. His skin had long since seen better days, wrinkled and blotched by the boiling Sun and the radiating burning-sea. Yet it was still the smirk that A’aldryn detested the most—so smug and self-satisfied, like he knew something no one else did, some grand secret he was content to let sit on his lips but never to tell.

“I think what the prince is trying to say, Torka, is that the ruin is un-scavenged. If you and your men will prepare for the dive, I will get close enough to drop you off.”

“This is good news Queen Zafi’ashid. My men have been holding out for a good bit of scavenging.”

“I hope this will be fulfilling for us all.” Zafi’ashid heaved on a lever and the vessel beneath them lurched forward. A’aldryn steadied himself as a side-wing caught an up-gust of gravity and he seized a nearby handle, throwing his full weight upon it.

He bellowed over the deck, “Tie down that wing! Why is it still open? Someone tie that cursed thing down. We’re closing on a null-zone. The gravity is destabilizing. I want the wings buckled down.”

Zafi’ashid laughed and he shot her a glare, fluffing the fur of his chest in frustration. “I would be grateful, Mother, if you took better care of the sand-ship I will inherit when you cross the Osiris Gate.”

“You will not inherit it, my prince. Your queen will.”

“It will still be my sand-ship.”

Torka cracked a laugh. “Maybe we might find your queen some legs this time, heh, boy. Some records did say those Zaprexes could rebuild limbs better than our Kattamont mechanics.”

A’aldryn quenched Khamsin’s internal raging tornado. The indecency of the Human man was beyond insulting. It was enough to justify cleaving his head from his shoulders and putting it on a stake. Had this been any other Pride, he would have.

“I will prepare myself for the dive, Mother.” A’aldryn turned sharply, his fan-tail coiled irritably. Maybe if he had wind-blessed luck, Torka would take a bad fall this scavenger hunt and never come back up. After all, the burning-sea took no prisoners. He heard his mother’s laugher as he stomped away. It was troubling, though; he was not entirely sure if he was happier to be away from Torka or his mother.

Neither his mate nor his blood-brother were in their cabin, their usual hiding place from the crew of the Pride. A’aldryn breathed in their lingering scents. It calmed his nerves. Collecting his assortment of archaeological and dive equipment from a locked chest he donned the hand-crafted belts and foot-paw pads and snatched up the face-mask. It was a ghastly thing, made all the more uncomfortable by the tubes that attached to his air-gills, but the presence of toxins could be possible in any ancient Zaprex ruin, and that could not be taken lightly, even by a Kattamont. He had seen Humans melt when exposed to spores and gases below the surface of the burning-sea.

He headed topside. Zafi’ashid’s voice was shrill over the groaning of the Lawless Child and the bustling of the crew as they anchored the sand-ship on the edge of a high dune wave. Khamsin’s spirit soared through him and A’aldryn breathed out deeply, sensing the delight of the wind-god as its tentacles danced around the metal of something beyond his sight. They had found it—something old, and yet it felt impossibly new and undamaged by the passage of time and the burning-sea.

A’aldryn sighted Ni’xlye on the deck leaning over the railing. Her tail poked through a hole in her wheelchair, flapping in a clear display of joy. He smiled. For a half-breed, his mate leaned more toward a Kattamont nature, and to that he was eternally grateful. Her Humanness was in her peculiar hands and her cute little nose. She had none of the magnificent Kattamont air-gills but had at least inherited a tail and fur. She was already a queen, though she pretended otherwise for the sake of their Pride unity and his mother’s sanity—though neither queen would admit it to the other.

At the death of a queen, such as his Pride mother, the waiting neutral princess would mature and take her place, inheriting the Pride, including the princes and neutrals under her rule. His mother was not dead; she was an outcast, staying alive by her sheer desire to win back the honour she had lost. Ni’xlye was not a neutral princess, but, out of deference to his mother, she kept the façade as his mother’s princess. He was sure this was only possible because his mate was half-Human and their Pride was one of misfits. It was the part of her that was Human that did not mind being a second queen to his mother.

After all, in truth, it was his mother who suffered—she had no , no one to care for her; she was alone—like a rythrya stone amongst the sand dune waves, weathering the storms of the burning-sea’s rage.

Ni’xlye was the true queen; the shadow queen his blood-brother would often say.

With stubby ears twitching, she caught his stare. The glow of her rosy fur brightened at his admiring gaze.

“Ryn!”

He smiled at her shortened version of his name. It bothered his mother, which was perhaps the reason both his blood-brother and his mate used it so often.

“Oh, Ryn, isn’t it beautiful! I wish I could go with you.”

His chest ached as she rolled the wheels of her chair around. Under the patchwork blanket of her own making, he knew her legs lay limp. Only he and his blood-brother had the privilege of seeing her uncovered. His mate was strong, not only in spirit, but also in body. Her life was one of tribulation. He had been childish, thinking his little extra digits were a blight on his life. Ni’xlye had still been in the womb-sack of a female, and, due to the mutation of her bones, her legs had never developed correctly. It pained him to think that were it not for the softened heart of one Ip’osti she would not be alive to love him.

He hooked his extra digits into his belts and levitated over the deck, landing beside her in a swell of wind.

“If the Human oafs were not coming I would take you, love.”

“You shouldn’t speak ill of Torka; he is a nice man. Besides, I am half-Human, so you should be kinder to my people.” Ni’xlye fluffed her chest fur, settling back in her chair.

A’aldryn rolled his eyes. Ni’xlye’s insistence on acknowledging her Human side extended to wearing Human clothing, which was bothersome to get off her at night, and it ruined her adorable rosy pelt. Why keep fur as luxuriant as his mother’s under that much fabric? He did not see the point. Kattamont fur was supposed to be without restriction; otherwise it did not absorb sunlight or starlight—but, no, Ni’xlye refused to listen to his nattering on the subject.

“You’re judging me; I can feel it.” She eyed him.

“I’m undressing you in my head,” he sniped back.

Her tail thumped him, causing him to stagger forward, more in surprise than at the force of her strike. He caught her cocky grin and the shine of her mottled eyes.

“Find me something, Ryn. Bring me back a gift.”

She so loved the beautiful wonders they uncovered, the artefacts of centuries past that her fingers could touch and her mind process. He promised himself he would find something for her to cherish, just to see her happiness.

The wheels of her chair grated over the deck and her hands grasped the surface of the railing. Ni’xlye stared wistfully over the horizon. “Be safe, too,” she murmured.

“I will, I promise.” The adventure of discovery was thrilling, but it was still dangerous. Even with all the caverns of secret wonders, the possibility of finding clues as to why Utillia existed as a land of scorching irrational sand, there always remained the danger he might not return from below. He had been raised a warrior-scribe, and he would always seek the answers, despite the risks.

A’aldryn fluttered a soft breath of wind across Ni’xlye cheek, causing her to laugh as she tucked her hair behind a perky ear.

“I can feel it, Ryn.” She tipped her head toward him. “I don’t know what it is, but I know we’re getting closer to the source of our dreams. We’ll figure it out—what happened to us.”

She was speaking about his extra digits, his mutation, and how she even existed at all—half-breeds—they should have been impossible.

He did not know which was sadder: the fact that his mate believed unswervingly in the Zaprexes or that, no matter how much they searched, they never came any closer to that which all misfits dreamed of—the cities of gold.

A’aldryn bent and nuzzled her cheek. “I trust our dreams. They have carried us this far.”

“As do I.”

A’aldryn straightened at Zafi’ashid’s low voice. He stepped aside from Ni’xlye sharply, bowing to the queen.

“There is an island nearby; we shall dock there and await your return. It is far too dangerous to keep the Lawless this close to a null-zone; we could destabilize the gravity and collapse the area onto you while you dive.” Zafi’ashid approached, brushing a paw through Ni’xlye’s hair tenderly. A’aldryn curled his foot-claws against the wooden planking.

“Yes, Mother.”

“Then you have your orders, prince. Come back alive.”

“Always.” He sent a swell of wind toward Ni’xlye to caress her cheek as he turned and skipped over the edge of the sand-ship into the burning-sea below.

 

***

 

One of A’aldryn’s great pleasures in life was annoying Torka with his ability to walk on the burning-sea without sinking. Only skilled Ip’osti chaplains could do this, and the fact that he, a young prince, flaunted it, irked the Human scavenger to no end. He could tell from the twitching of Torka’s eyebrow and the way his lips curved into thin lines. The man loathed him, and the feeling was well returned in kind.

The surging pulses of the destabilizing gravity of the null-zone made his fur spike. He would never get used to the sheer power that Zaprex technology radiated, nor come to understand how and why pockets of emptiness would open up within the burning-sea and leave vast sectors unstable. Some burning-seafolk called them holes, but they were not holes in the term of a visible gap one could swing a rope into and drop down into the dark depths. It was an area of no sand, no burning-sea, just nothing—appearing suddenly and without warning in a sector. They could be big or small. If they occurred when a sand-ship was nearby, or right beneath a sand-ship…well, he had seen it happen from a distance and it was never pretty.

Somewhere in the pocket of nothing lay a Zaprex machine, a wonder of extraordinary history just waiting for him. Waiting for him to discover why the null-zone existed and why Utillia had become a land of moving sand, why misfit-children were born, and why the world they lived upon was crumbling, piece by piece.

“What do you think we’ll find down there, cub?”

He glanced at Torka as the man strapped his booster pack to his hips. While he did detest the Human, he had to grudgingly admire him for being the best in the scavenging business.

A’aldryn fitted his mask, attaching the tubes to his air-gills.

“The null-zone is small, so I suspect it won’t be a city entrance.”

Torka nodded. “Good, good. Last time we got a city entrance I lost three men.”

A’aldryn shuddered. Ah. Yes. That had not been a good hunt. The crystal-spores from the Zaprex corpses had been particularly lethal, but they had gone down so far, and so deep, he had almost expected to never resurface—and they had only reached level six, the very tops of the cityscapes.

He had been glad Torka had been unable to scavenge the Zaprex remains due to the spores. Desecrating the fairy-kin’s castles felt disrespectful enough, let alone taking the hollow bodies for spare parts.

“It is unlikely that will happen this time, Torka.” A’aldryn shook his head. “But I do suggest caution. I suspect we will encounter some crystals, so full protective gear if any of you want to father children.”

“You heard the cub!” Torka shouted to his men, “Don’t mess up your suits this time!”

“Why doesn’t he wear one?”

A’aldryn glanced back at the questioner, giving the new-comer a smile as he stepped over the edge of the null-zone.

“I’m already tainted. Misfit-born, remember.”

“It’s why he’s here, numbskull. He can sense the shiny-crystals and warn you not to step your foot in it.” Torka whacked the young man over the head and A’aldryn smiled as he released Khamsin, beginning his dive. It was disorientating, as he knew he was going downward, but there was no reference point for the slow movement when all around him was entirely nothing. When he had first begun his expeditions into null-zones he had thought his eyes were playing tricks, catching signs of life, trickles of sand, and whiffs of light. He had tried to reach out and catch the strange fragments only for them to break up and disintegrate in his paws. Khamsin called it corrupted information and now whenever he took the plunge into the odd world of nothing he knew that surrounding him was not mere darkness but a lack of anything at all. It made him feel very alone, very empty, and ever more frightened of the world he lived in. The burn of the scavenger crew’s booster-packs glittered in his eyes, he watched them pan out, creating a formation. Torka swirled around him; finally the man was in his element. A’aldryn eyed the booster-pack, wondering how easy it would be to accidently kick Torka hard enough for the booster-pack to grow unstable—

A’aldryn, I have promised to protect all the lives upon the Lawless Child, and that includes Torka. If you desire to fight him, you will have to do it as a Kattamont prince with a grudge, then mayhap I will aid you with throwing him overboard. Currently, the man has done nothing to slight you but ruffle your kitten feathers.

A’aldryn winced at Khamsin’s berating.

“You are no fun,” he muttered.

Faint light appeared below them. A’aldryn glanced up, shaking his head at the sight of the small sliver of daylight some distance above. Despite how long he felt the dive was, they had not truly travelled far. On his deepest dive he had reached the sixth level, the very tips of the ancient Zaprex cities, and that alone had taken days to achieve. They had barely broken the surface during this dive. He looked at Torka. Honestly, he should get along with the Human man he spent so much time diving with.

Torka manoeuvred his booster-pack controls, swinging towards him, his cheeks flushed rosy against the burn of the pack. “Any idea what it is, cub?”

A’aldryn squinted. This close he could finally make an outline of the old Zaprex monument. His chest inflated sharply with surprise. This was a spectacular find. If only his mate and blood-brother were with him. He could imagine their delight.

“A flying machine.” He barely managed the words.

Torka clapped his hands. “Oh, oh!” The scavenger whirled back around to his men. “Lads! We got ourselves the catch of the sol-cycle.”

It must have crashed here. Khamsin nudged his mind. It is strange…

A’aldryn frowned. Yes, it was strange—the way the eerie shape was suspended in the nothing, globs of sand surrounding it. Crystals were scattered, as though they had been shattered when the null-zone had been created. Others protruded through the hull of the ancient vessel in such a painful manner it made him cringe. He could only liken it to a pin-cushion from his blood-brother’s healing kit. The crystals’ glow was an allure though, drawing him closer as a moth to a flame.

There is something inside. Something different…something…new…

“What?” A’aldryn raised his brow. “Really?” His tail flicked. New was good.

Khamsin’s wind rippled over his fur. Sometimes, young one, it is not always good. The wind is the element of change, and not all change is good change.

Tah.” A’aldryn waved aside the wind-god’s concern. “We will bring Ni’xlye back a grand treasure.”

***

[1] The mountain range that rings the borders of Pennadot.

[2] Rythrya – means ‘Guiding Stone’. In this case it is in reference to the ‘Seven Rythrya’ which are the great guiding stones worshipped in Utillia by all Kattamonts. However, scattered across Utillia, there are many ‘rythrya’ used to guide sand-ships through the burning-sea. Chaplains use them to navigate the winds and currents.

[3] Nyhot – medium sized sailing vessel, two masts. Typically equipped with twenty-five guns, five officers, a doctor, chaplain (wind-tamer), purser, and up to one-hundred and fifty able-bodied burning-seafolk.