From the Past to the Present

From the Past to the Present

I want to read you all something I found today while sorting through my journals:  

I really am just so lost,

And it is really awful.

I just want this year, this horrible, horrible year to bring some happiness by the end of it.

I’ll keep stumbling forward in the dark.

I don’t know the way, but I’ll keep stumbling.

I really don’t have any other choice. 

This journal ends as it begins, with me being lost in a lonely abyss of despair. 

Nothing changes. 

Kylie Leane’s Journal – Dated 3/7/2017

Several months later I began a new journal in a NASA themed notebook – 29th of December 2017. This is a quote from the first page.

It is amazing to be able to start this journal off so very different from all other journals that have ever come before…

Yes – the House is mine (sorta).

But I HAVE A HOUSE to live in and to make my own, and I am so, so happy.

Kylie Leane’s Journal – Dated 29/12/2017

Change. Change happened. Indeed, the small journal that sits between the 7th month of 2017 and the 12th month is packed with a considerable amount of content. I was rapidly reaching the end of my tether, but without realising it, I was also spinning towards a resolution I could not see.

My journal’s are a fascinating journey – some are very repetitive – but others are absolute gems into my life, and frankly, the life of my family. There are things in them that I have entirely forgotten about – events that lead into other enormous, earth-shattering events (such as my older brother’s heart attack). I started writing about my brother’s symptoms THREE YEARS before he had his heart attack. I had no idea I started writing about his symptoms so early. That just…that just freaks me out…
There are car-crashes, cars being stolen, trees falling on the house, pets dying, my siblings going on dates, camping trips, me betting with my sister who will get married first (she owes me 50 bucks!).  


Have you ever wondered what your teenage self would say to you?
You know, like those letters that sometimes pop up on the internet:
Sixteen-year-old me writes a letter to thirty-year-old-me” 
Well – having a journal is a little bit like that. 


What captured me tonight was a journal from 2004 – when I would have been fifteen. I started reading this journal because I expected something a lot more depressing, following 2003 – a very difficult year upon which I left face-to-face school, and went on anti-antidepressants, and if it wasn’t for my journals, I would have NO recollection of 2003 due to those drugs.  So, what did I discover from 2004, after my mother pulled me off Zoloft, due to its…ah…side-effects? I discovered a brilliant, articulated teenage girl who loved God. 
I know this might sound a bit…awful to say about myself…but for the longest time, I have had a very poor opinion of teenage me. I felt I caused immense amount of strife for my family, and I have been deeply ashamed. 
So, reading back a journal and discovering a teenager full of such happiness, such life, such enthusiasm and love  for her family just fills me with gratitude for that young girl. 
That was me – once upon a time – and if that was me once upon a time, doesn’t that mean that is still me now? 

I’ll leave you with some wisdom from fifteen-year-old me: 

You are a beautiful young lady. Smart and intelligent. 
No matter what, never give up.
You will get somewhere in this world.

Kylie Leane’s Journal – Dated 16/12/04

Are you unique enough?

I don’t know if other author’s experience this, but it is something I think about – especially after reading a lot of Tweets by agents and publishers that talk not about an author’s books or works but the author themselves.
One agent I happened across openly admitted that they where not seeking any type of unique work, they where seeking a unique type of person, and an author had to fit a mould. Is that my problem, I don’t fit a mould?

In today’s heavily visual, heavily marketing, heavily social media focused society I’m not surprised that publishers seek author’s who have a sell-able face, but not just a sell-able face, but a sell-able identity. Somehow, at some point, I blinked – and identity became this massive, important thing. What is your identity?
Are you unique enough to be an author?
It feels like, today, you have to have some sort of incredible personal uniqueness to win an agent, or a publisher – something that makes you stand out amongst the crowd – instead of your work.
But perhaps I only see one side of the publishing industry online, I would really love to speak to publishers and agents about this – because I find it utterly fascinating.

I am pretty sure it was how I was raised that instilled in me an ethic of believing that my work spoke for me. I didn’t want to be put on a pedestal, it was my work that I wanted to share – not me. I wanted my stories, my adventures, my worlds, my characters to shine for me.

The more I write, the more books I put into print, the more I have this intense desire to fade into the background and just let my world exist for me, to let my work be my voice.

Winter Kisses

I’ll admit – I am in a bit of a procrastination streak at the moment. I am avoiding sitting down to rework Book 3: Messengers – goodness – I don’t even think that will be the title anymore. I am just that unsure about the entire book now.
It isn’t that I don’t like the book, I think it’s totally fine, I just think it needs work and I’m just…dreading having to think about all that work. Every time I visit the cafe, ready for a ‘session’ in which to tackle this enormous task I just sort of think ‘NAHHHHHHH’ – I’ll just do this other book that no one will ever read. ^^;

Then when I get home, having promised I’ll work on the Book I just find other things to do.

Ah well, I know this has happened almost every time I’ve done a book so I’m not too worried. Eventually the whole terror of the situation will have settled and I’ll have rethought the book in my mind. Then I’ll be able to craft it all over again. It’ll be a much stronger story when I’m done. I don’t like writing something I regret later. ^_^

Besides avoiding Book 3 – editing on Book 2 of Northlands Rebellion has begun, and it’s already very exciting. Elle always has this way of bringing out a diamond.

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Aislinn didn’t think much of  being outside, apparently. 

There has been gardening to do, whenever the weather has permitted it. While I am a huge fan of the winter months, I am not overly fond of being cold, but I am learning the wonders of a raincoat.

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On the winter solstice (21st of June) I did a practice run for my Burning of the Yule Log that I am having with my family this Sunday. Yes. I know – it’s not Christmas – but everything is upside down in Australia. You might also be wondering? Why are you burning a Yule Log Kylie?
I’m a romantic, fantasy author, okay, I think old fashioned traditional things are just lovely. Also it’s an excuse to have my family over – and I finally have an open fire place to do something like this in.

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I made this to go on my fireplace. It needs a little bucket to hang from the hook still, and for my Dad to hang it up. I’ve got great plans for some signs in the garden too. I can’t wait to start on them.

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What I have also been doing is repainting these beautiful old gnome’s left in my garden. I started on this adorable house. I first had to sand back the crusted paint as much as I could – which took a lot more effort than I thought.

This is the final result. I have to admit, I’m really, really happy with how it turned out. It turned out better than I thought it would. It gave it a new lease of life. And yes, I did paint the gnome as a Red Shirt from StarTrek. He’s got a little StarTrek symbol on his hat.

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There was also this concrete duck that had lost its beak and one of its feet. I had contemplated what to do with it for awhile. Finally I decided to just rework the entire duck into…a DRAGON.

It is now Dragon-Duck. I’ll give it a good paint and a varnish and add it to my growing collection of dragons in my yard.

So, what else has been happening?
Well – I have some crows? Yeah…two crows are nesting in one of the trees out the back. One day I was sitting at my kitchen table, working away, and I hear this ‘Tap, Tap, Tap’ at the window. I turn around and there is this crow, staring at me through the kitchen window. It taps several more times, as if indicating the empty cat food bowel just sitting in front of it through the window.
I started laughing.
I got up, got out some cat food (because yes, you can feed that to crows) opened my door and set a plate out, sat down next to the crow as it happily gobbled away.

The next day it came back. “Tap. Tap. Tap.”

I looked up. Oh. Two crows! I have two crows! One was busily looking around for twigs to make a nest and the other was once more demanding food.

Thus for the past few days, like clockwork, I get a “Tap. Tap. Tap.” On my living room window.

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I do believe they’ve made a nest in the tree where I park my car. So I hope they don’t get to territorial when Mrs. Crow has her babies – or I at least hope they know who I am.

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And life continues to slowly move forward here in the Writer’s Cottage. I’ll keep you updated on the next books. Thanks for stopping by.
Keep well,
Best wishes,
Kylie

 

The Spirit Prevails

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Can I write a review of a book I published and written by my Nana, Gwenneth Leane?
Yeah. Sure I can, when I feel this strongly about the subject, I think it’s okay.

The Spirit Prevail’s is the type of novel I wish had been around when I was doing Aboriginal Studies at school – instead I was just doing boring sheet work, and getting told off for not being PC enough (apparently my Aussie slang was, well, you know, slang. And yes, I have never forgotten being called out in class, even if it was over the phone, and being told off, because of my country slang. This memory is with me for life.)
I wish we’d had a book like this: personally dictated by an Aboriginal but transcribed by a White Australian*, therefore making me, a White Australian, able to grasp the incredible and profound world that opens up within the pages of the book. It is eye opening. I highly recommend this book. It is a really fascinating journey, learning the life of an incredible woman who stood up to great oppression and fought for her people.
I am honoured that I got to meet her, and I just love hearing stories from my grandparents and parents about their times travelling with her.

*I really don’t like using the term “White Australian” – I’d much rather say European Australian, or just break it down even further, but, in terms of understanding this book and the cultural significance of ‘white Australian culture’ at the time this book is set, it is the most fitting term, even if it has been co-opted in our most recent generation.

You can pick up the paperback version on Amazon.com and for the Aussies Amazon.com.au

You can also find it at my Etsy shop, The Comfort Library, if you’d like a signed version from my Nana.

Scribbling Characters

The Mirror’s of Tikal is the second book in Northland Rebellion– the sub-series to Chronicles of the Children that started with Orphans and Outcasts. I’ve been having a lot of fun rewriting it – as I finally feel like the merging of Chronicles of the Children Book 3 and eventually what transpires in Book 5, is slowly coming together, and it is all very, very exciting. I can’t wait to write it all. It fills me with so much excitement.

If you have read my series, you’ll know a lot of what goes on has been spread over a long period of time – and Chronicles of the Children is really set in just a fraction of Livila’s history.

The focal character of Orphans and Outcasts and The Mirror’s of Tikal is Denvy Maz; the old Dream Master of the Northlands, who has lost his immortality due to a binding yoke placed upon him by Twizels. Denvy is one of the environmental programs created by the Zaprex Nefertem to replace the Elemental Titans after the Thousand Sol-Cycle War. It is Denvy’s history, why he fled the war, and what happened between him fleeing the war, ending back in Pennadot to be captured and shipped off to Utillia that is pretty much the immense chunk of history that needs to be filled in.

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I often get asked ‘Why Chronicles of the Children?’ It sounds like it’s a series written for children. It’s actually really simple – the over all series is about the children of the Zaprexes, and the family’s that emerge out of those children, and the impact those children have on a world history. And I’m not always referring to biological children either.

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In The Mirror’s of Tikal I decided to start weaving in some of the history that shaped Livila after the Thousand Sol-Cycle Wars.
In the ‘prologues’ before each chapter, you’ll be meeting Disgleirio – an ancestor of David and Daniel – who took it upon himself to raise up Pennadot after it’s collapse from the vacuum left by the fall of the Zaprex Empire.

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Disgleirio get’s his own ‘Prologue’ novel called ‘The King who Wanders‘ – but you know with how much writing I have to do, I don’t know when I’ll write it, so this is the best I can do to weave the story quickly into the narrative – as past events have ripples that alter the future. (For anyone wondering, Disgleirio is Malik’s younger brother…and it is to protect Disgleirio’s children that Malik establishes the Mahvash.)

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You’ll also meet Skri Mazaki – a distant relation to Skyeola and Chans – an outcast Tech-Talker of the Batitic Empire, one of the few remaining Tech-Talkers left after the Dragon ordered the execution of all technomancers during the Thousand Sol-Cycle War.
Have you been wondering where that Dream Stone Skyeola and Chans have, came from? How it relates to ANYTHING in this saga? Well. Oh. Well. Wonder no more, readers. In The Mirrors of Tikal you’ll learn about how and why the Mazaki Brother’s have a Dream Stone, and in Book 3 of Chronicles of the Children just let…let…it sink in…
Also, pay really close attention to any further mentions of Skri Mazaki because I promise you, his existence is practically the most important thing to the plot of Chronicles of the Children Book 5. Yes. It’s going to get complicated.

World-building – world-history – character scribbling – and eventually writing everything down into a narrative is truly satisfying.
Thank you all for giving me the opportunity to tell you my stories and share my world with you.

 

Tolerance

Tolerance fascinates me.
What tolerance has morphed into fascinates me, it also frightens me a little, but mostly, I am fascinated by things. As an author I tend to be very fascinated by changing cultures, by the world in general. I really enjoy thinking…a lot…I can just sit and spend time thinking in silence.
Thinking is a lot of fun.

Anyway.
Tolerance.

What does that word evoke in you?

For me, it used to mean two people of differing opinions having a level-headed discussion. It means respect no matter who you are. It means treating another person as you, yourself, desire being treated. It is acceptance on both sides, despite each others differences. We learn this – or should have learnt this – from a very early age, within kindergarten, play school and eventually high school. But, I don’t know, maybe I was lucky in living in an environment where I did learn it.
Tolerance is a foundation stone for a multi-cultural society.

Tolerance of today has become something vastly different than what it was. It is now far less of a respect now, it has become a demand, and it is a lopsided demand. There is no equality to the tolerance of today – there is inequality – we are wanting a society that desires more equality, but we are losing our tolerance.

I want to be tolerated again. If my opinion is different, ask me why, let me explain, I will have a reason – I think a lot – and if you don’t like my reason – that should be okay – I am neither going to harm you with my thoughts, my words or my rationality.
But then I remember – we live in a society today where apparently words are as sharp as swords, and someone can find themselves facing a prison sentence for saying something that might be deemed as “hate speech” so – perhaps – my fears are just. Maybe I should just continue to pretend to be who I am not, for I know that the courtesy of tolerance is not returned – that though I accept, respect and listen to everyone I come in contact with, even if they are saying things that scare me, goes entirely against everything I uphold, that tolerance would not be returned in the slightest.
So instead I wear a mask. I feel like I end up lying, and I hate lying.
What then, I am left wondering, is worse?
Being unable to voice my true opinions to people who I wish would accept me as I accept them, or lying to keep myself safe.

Have I become part of the problem?

Maybe this all come out of me thinking to much. I do have a lot of time to think. However, it really does fascinate me.

 

That Gift is Gone

It might surprise people who I interact with online to realise that I actually have very strong opinions about a lot of things, but that I silence myself – I suppose the saying would be I ‘self-censor’. I don’t say what I want to say because I am afraid – I am afraid of today’s society, the mob mentality that has been created due to social media, and because of friends that I love and respect. I would much rather let myself be told I cannot say something, cannot be someone, than loose friends – at least – that is what I keep telling myself.

Because. Well. I highly value the people around me. I consider everyone I communicate with as incredible – because you all are. Humans are incredible. Guys. We made it to the Moon, we have a Space Station, Elon Musk shot a freaking car into space. I can’t wait to see what we get up too.

Frankly, I hate hurting people. I always want to stand beside someone and offer support and be the best friend I can be – I was raised in a family of supporters and listeners and taught to *always* put the ‘other’ first, but this does have a negative, as we have discovered growing into our adulthood, we tend to get trodden on and walked over. We avoid conflict.

I avoid conflict.

I will choose words to make someone happy, to calm a situation, to appease people, to make sure they know they’re important.

It doesn’t help that I am very, very shy, so IRL situations are very rare. If you are one of the few people to have ever spoken to me IRL, congratulations on that achievement of a lifetime.

My mother once called us – my siblings and I – Peacekeepers.

But I don’t feel like I keep peace anymore. I feel like I hide. I hide my true-self behind a mask of smiles and flowery words on a screen, frightened of a world that would turn against me at a moments notice. If I tweet one wrong tweet, retweet one wrong person, if I write a character wrong or NOT include the right-type of character, use a culture wrongly in a book, say anything about my faith – I don’t know – ANYTHING – could get me in trouble. I have no idea anymore – and that is what frightens me.

I am a writer, and I want to write, I want to say things, I want the freedom to use my words and honestly I feel like that gift is gone.

I realise this is a really silly thing to worry about – but – it’s choked me up for a long time now, and I really wonder if the only way to get away from the worry of it all is to just delete Twitter, abandoned Facebook – other than for adorable pictures of nephews – and live free of those shackles?

Does anyone else feel this way, or am I just weirdly paranoid? I hope so. Then maybe I can just get over it and move forward. 😀

Finishing a Draft

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Last night I stayed up into the early hours, driven by an intense desire to finish Book 3’s first draft. I had left the cafe that morning two chapters away from finishing the novel and I promised myself as I got home, storing away a piece of cake, that I would finish the book no matter what – and eat my slice of cake! (It’s a tradition of my mine to have a piece of cake after I finish a book.)

I didn’t get a chance to sit back down at my computer desk until late in the afternoon, after a walk on the treadmill, by then I was in considerable pain, but I was determined – I wanted to finish this book. I had to finish this book.

Eight hours later I wrote the last words of the Epilogue – “He remained.”

Done. I was DONE.

Book 3: Messengers – standing at 113,081 words – which gives me plenty of breathing room for the second draft and the editing phase. I am very happy about that. It’s the first time I have felt comfortable about a word count.

Book 3 was VERY hard in the planning stages due to the sheer size of the Book and it was only after I decided to cut the novel down the middle – because, technically, looking at the plan it was really two books squished into one – that it started to take shape. I was loathed to cut it – I’m not joking when I say my series is already huge. Cutting the book in half makes my series just another book longer – at this rate I’m going to end up with a Wheel of Times sized series, not that I’d have a problem with that. ^_^

Splitting the book gave me so much more breathing room, I wasn’t confined to a word limit anymore. My panic drifted away and my writing just took off again.

I am really happy with how Book 3 ends. I don’t know if readers will be, but I am – there is a theme in Chronicles of the Children of circles, loops, of following a familiar path but you just keep repeating the same pattern, again, and again, but on a larger scale.
The idea, I suppose, that what has been done has been done before. I always got this feeling whenever I went hiking with my family, the paths we hiked on were so well taken, the eerie feeling that countless people had trekked the same roads before us I could never shake.

So, now begins the next step of the second draft, then hopefully the editing and maybe I’ll have a third book out in print, if all goes well.

KEY: Chapter Two

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The cycle is for Eternity,

 Eternity is the cycle.

The cycle was broken,

And we wept for Eternity.

Extract from the Song of Sorrows

 

A negative Zaprex darted through the city’s clogged metal boulevards. Despite his crippling age, Borukoshu maneuvered expertly around the large rolling machines that transported Black Fuel to the city’s ancient turbines. His visual circuits scanned the reflective, wavering, polychromatic glow of the force-fields, the inky black water sloshing lethargically against them. The secrets that kept the interlinked shields from collapsing under the weight of the sea above had long been lost. Even he, a Zaprex who had survived the eons since the Sinking of the Cities, had forgotten the songs of appliance communication.

Eerie artificial light smoldered a sickly emerald as it blended with yellow clouds of smog hanging over the vast underwater cities of Cal’pash’coo. Surrounded by the toxic sea, towering iridescent skyscrapers dwarfed tiny scurrying forms far below as the homebound crowd swelled in the tight streets.

The constant presence of the rusted, robotic carts chugging down the slug-riddled under-streets had simply become part of the unchanging environment. Those who dwelt above in the glorious tops of the skyscrapers knew naught of the muck and filth of those who were cast below in the foul network of forgotten alleyways and rusted pipelines.

With brittle fingers, Borukoshu tightened his overcoat around his frail form, protecting himself from the toxic world with the thick leather. The air might have been super-heated but acidic droplets from the air-ventilation for the upper-heights would eat through the green protective film over his fragile metal plating. At his age he could not afford the damage to his cybernetics.

It had been sol-cycles since he had bothered with a robotic upgrade of his systems and long ago he had lost the ability to regenerate philepcon liquid, the life-blood of a Zaprex. He was aging as his body dried out; rust from decay was creeping between his gears and circuits. Yet, oddly enough, unlike the endlessly young and beautiful residents of the crystal skyscrapers, he had discovered the wonder of growing old gracefully. In the journey of aging he had found a last, wonderful adventure in unchartered territory, for aging went against the Zaprex philosophy of eternal existence.

His race had been immortal in the eyes of the world, the gods of information and technology, rulers of time and space. Through songs, their supremacy and omniscience had developed: songs that morphed, reformed, and created with the ever-flowing energy of Livila’s magnetic field. They had named it the Data-Stream, the source of all things with a code, which they had cracked and woven into songs to build a vast empire.

Their gift to the aboriginal inhabitants of Livila had been to save the crumbling planet. For centuries, his race had used its technologies to weld together the fragments of the shattered world, and, with their machines, they had linked not only the lands together but also the many races that dwelled there.

Only the Zaprexes could do such a thing.

Once, they had carried the knowledge. Once, they had sustained the manpower, the strength in billions to stretch their resources to such a massive extent. Yet none of them, blinded by their prominence, had foreseen the awakening of deeply buried horror.

Now, they were only a shadow. A slowly rotting core of atheistic tendencies, for none now believed in the existence of other races or the lands beyond their sunken cities. Their society had become self-obsessed in their endless lives. They had forgotten, in their grief, the cycle in which they had once so fundamentally believed.

Sparks flashed through Borukoshu’s body in painful recollection of the reason he had hidden himself from the aristocratic culture far above. He grasped his bag of supplies to his thin chest. He still believed. Never had he forgotten the cycle, because he had been blessed with a gift.

A child.

Of all the things that could have been their civilization’s greatest weakness, it had been the inability to reproduce that had brought their downfall and the ruin of the world they had loved and protected like faithful wardens.

The aged machine skipped as the high-heels of his spectator boots threatened to dip into the holes of the wire meshing over the road. His long ears balanced him and he twisted, turning down a tight alley and barely avoiding the whirling spin of a robotic cart. He tipped his bowler hat to the driver as he glanced back, the exchange customary between dwellers of the under-levels. Words were very rarely spoken; secrets were easier to keep when one minded one’s own business. Borukoshu trotted down the alley, pausing only when a soft buzz vibrated from the hand-device beneath his coat. In the toxic rain he shuffled about, finding the slim hologram pad.

The lenses of his robotic eyes flickered, zooming in on the alert symbol. The flickering blue hologram swelled with pixels, forming numbers running down in a sequence.

The negative Zaprex hissed. His time was running out.

“Never enough time,” he whispered, and scampered up to the porch of a small apartment squeezed between the giant iron foundations of two colossal skyscrapers. He placed his free hand against the metal of the rusted door and watched as an azure glow scanned his biometrics.

He heard the whirring sound of the door’s mechanisms unlocking. The iron slab ground its way open. A rush of frozen air slapped into the aged cyborg and Borukoshu sighed in relief at the tantalizing chill. He scurried indoors, giving the iron door a boot. It swung shut, locking solidly into place to keep the hot, toxic world outside, and to confine within what needed to be kept safe.

From the upper room of his poky home, a harmonious, sweeping voice lifted in a tantalizing song. He could feel the melody down in the core of his soul. The song was just as familiar as the home he had built. He dropped his bag and slung his hat onto a rack. With a spark his antennaee sprung free, uncurling into the iron-rich air.

It was a rather stagnated dwelling, clean and neat as all Zaprexes characteristically desired a residence to be, but he had tried his best to give it a comfortable homey atmosphere. The floor was cobbled stone, but at least he had found a rug to cover the acid-damaged granite. The upper-floor was made entirely of metal, a frame welded together and fitted into the high domed ceiling to make the additional room.

“Semyueru! Tadaima![1]” Borukoshu called out sharply, voice scratching through his aged metal voice-box.

The singing stopped. There was a loud thump from upstairs that caused his ears to twitch backward as he opened a slot in the wall and shelved his overcoat within. The humming of an anti-gravity drive filled the small abode. Borukoshu twisted on his heels as the tiny hatchling[2] appeared over the upstairs balcony of the sleeping quarters, leaning over the rickety iron railing. A brilliant smile lit up like a gasoline bulb between cheeks still rosy with red blood that had yet to fully integrate into the cybernetic philepcon liquid.

“Biri!” The voice chimed out like a clanging bell.

Borukoshu chuckled at the affectionate abbreviation of his name. Semyueru’s phonological processing had yet to be fully programmed. Hopefully in time—time Borukoshu knew he did not have—Semyueru would grow out of his stuttering. Yet, for now, it was nice to be fondly dubbed a peculiar version of his name, for with it came the memory of his ancient cycle-companion who had suffered the same development issues as their child.

Hazanin.

The aged cyborg dashed aside the tangential thoughts. He had no time to think of Hazanin and the distant past.

Okaerinasai![3] Biri!” Semyueru squawked. He was pixie-sized, as delicate and beautiful as ever a hatchling could be. There was nothing unnaturally striking about the child; his cheeks might have been rounded, his hair a darker shade of raven, but overall he retained the lean humanoid form of a small cyborg, with green liquid skin covering still-forming metal plating. Large round eyes, like bright neon orbs sunk deep in pits of space-black, sparkled with inquisitive glee. The child’s antennae bobbed about freely.

Borukoshu felt his liquid lungs swell, the fleshy appliances inhaling far easier at the sight of the wonderful juvenile tearing down the spiral stairs with arms held high in exuberance.

“Careful down the stairs, Semyueru,” Borukoshu chided, dusting off his brown robe. “Your gown will get hooked in your anti-gravity and you’ll roll all the way down.” He bent; his hip replacement popped, but he ignored the sharp pain and gathered the bag from the floor.

Semyueru’s little form whizzed past, his home-spun gown a blur of blue, his voice a raw mechanical squeal as he skipped and looped through the air in a dance.

Out of millions of Zaprexes who had once lived, their declining society had produced one minute hope; this perfect little fairy was the only hatchling to emerge in centuries. Borukoshu touched a hand to his slender waist, recalling the months he had spent jailed up in his abode bearing the egg that had held his precious gift. Even if no one but he knew that his tiny hatchling existed, at least the Zaprexes had a legacy that would live on to save them.

A fusion child: neither a negative nor a positive Zaprex but both combined. It was a terrible burden for such a tiny creature. The sheer existence of a fusion hatchling went against the principles of the Assembly. No matter how shambled their society had become one ancient belief had been fed into the hard-drives of all Zaprexes; a hatchling would bring the fall of their safe cities.

And oddly enough, this one bleeding concept was the only one that had any truth to it and for this reason he had left the lavish palaces of the upper-levels to protect the only hope of the world—the product of his own programming, his egg, his hatchling, his little Semyueru.

Borukoshu hauled his bag to the main-room table, punching the cooling unit with the toe of his shoe as he passed. With a heave he dumped the contents of his trip to the upper-levels onto the iron table and pulled out the bottles of cold glucose liquid.

His weakened form tipped as he was hit roughly by the speeding Semyueru buzzing around in the air. He chuckled. It was always the same; Semyueru’s smile never seemed to fade. Though it was a joyful sight to witness, his heart never ceased breaking from the overwhelming emotions his cybernetic mind was not programmed for.

His time was running out.

The day of disaster was coming.

“Guess…guess what I..I…learnt…t’day!” Semyueru clutched his elder’s robe, fingers playing with the beads that weighted the fabric.

Picking out two bowls from the bench top Borukoshu flicked the lenses of his eyes downward at the child as he poured the glucose into the bowls.

The child’s eyes were enlarged by giant holographic glasses upon the tip of his nose. The spectacles glittered with moving cryptograms, still scanning data.

“What did you learn today, ne[4]?”

“The land of Pennadot…you…you know…the land with the Star-Kings! It…it once had de…dense gravity but the…the…the Zaprexes came and used machines to change it!”

Borukoshu raised his eyebrows, scooped the child up with one arm, and hooked him onto his bony hip. “I’m guessing you finished the data-pad on gravity-wells then, ne.”

Hai[5]! Hai! Is that dinner?”

“Correct assumption; this is indeed dinner. Did you learn anything else today?”

He considered it one of his main purposes in life to keep Semyueru’s mind filled with data from the long-forgotten archives. There was no telling when the hatchling would need to call upon information to solve a problem, and there would be many problems to solve.

Semyueru blinked, the soft click of his eyelids breaking the silence. “In our database there is information on only ten lands. Why are there so few?”

Borukoshu carried the child over to the small table, set him down in a high-chair, and placed the bowl in front of him. “Others could exist; our data-base has been corrupted over time, but ten is a nice, logical number.” With crippled fingers Borukoshu traced lines upon the table, drawing a holographic map. “Each land is connected by a border—”

“The tectonic plates, I know that…and they…are…falling apart because Livila…lacks a gravitational pull of her own. She is a half-planet and is collapsing into space. Our cities…will fall into the underworld soon… because the Black Sea within…which… we reside… is connected to a border…that has been breaking…a…a…apart.”

Borukoshu gave a sad nod, passing the child a spoon. “Hai, this world is dying…”

The hatchling’s attention was like the switch of a circuit, suddenly centered entirely upon a building rumble in the distance. Semyueru’s long ears twitched rearward. His face lit up as their abode’s dim blue lights fizzed. Through the air a shattering crack echoed as thunder vibrated the iron scaffolding.

“Smog, smog, smog storm! Yay!” With a spark of energy, Semyueru flew from his chair, around the spiral staircase, and up to the second floor with a high-pitched squeal.

Borukoshu laughed softly and scrubbed a hand through his graying hair.

“Guess dinner can wait…” He sighed, pouring his bowl of liquid into a mug and carrying it carefully up the stairs. As he reached the upper-level he noted Semyueru typing a code into a holographic screen over a crystal console. Shelves of data-pads lined the walls of the room, many of which he had saved from ruin on his trips to the upper-levels where the care of history was non-existent.

Semyueru darted away from the hologram and back toward Borukoshu, giving a whirl of delight as he clutched his guardian in glee.

The metal-encased ceiling folded back slowly, the iron blinds rolling away to reveal clear shield-glass and the sight of the expansive network of the glowing upper-levels experiencing the dimming of lights at night-fall.

“I love smog storms!” Semyueru let out a giggled shriek as thunder jolted the foundations of their small home.

Borukoshu snuggled into the cherished embrace, holding Semyueru tightly as lightning danced in the pollution far above and acidic rain clawed at the glass.

A sharp, blinding crack of lightning lit up the dimness and a roll of thunder vibrated the glass and walls to make the world sing. Semyueru bared his fangs, grinning in wonder at the results of the destroyed environmental systems of their cities.

“Biri? Why…why do each of the…lands…have…a…song?” Semyueru whispered. Innocently he looked up at the negative-parent to whom he clung.

Borukoshu settled himself into a swinging anti-gravity chair, Semyueru upon his lap, and brushed the child’s mop of hair aside from his holographic glasses. “The songs of each land speak of their individual splendor.” The elder held out his hand.

Semyueru grasped it with his tinier fingers and the spark between their green skins lit their faces with the passing of energy.

“Each land is unique. Just,” the aged cyborg poked Semyueru’s nose in play, “as each race is unique and each person is unique. Things are not the same twice. Once you understand this you will move mountains, my ko[6].”

“But when…I sing the songs, Biri, something…weird…happens!”

“Your voice is special, Semyueru. Someday…you will understand.”

The negative Zaprex gave a heavy sigh. “I’ve had a long day, how about… you sing me my favorite song, ne?”

Semyueru nodded, his antennae bobbing back and forth, and with an energetic spring he leapt into the air to spin through the emerald glow emanating from the sickly, drab world outside. Borukoshu settled back in exhaustion, loosening each tight metal limb into the weightlessness of the anti-gravity chair.

In the pocket of his robe he felt his hand-device vibrate in alert. Time was running out.

Borukoshu took a deep gulp from his mug. In the background, the song Semyueru sung as he danced in the air soothed the loneliness his soul felt. He studied the lines of the lightning, running in vectors through the yellow smog. They reminded him of the data-ways his people had once networked across the lands above.

Tomorrow’s dawn would be his last.

Time was running out.

The day of disaster was coming.

He sipped his drink in contentment, and smiled.

 


 

[1] I’m back! (home)

[2] Zaprex offspring of the equivalent of approximately ten Human years

[3] Welcome home!

[4] Usually found at the end of a sentence, and similar in meaning to ending an English sentence with “ , yes?”

[5] Yes

[6] child

 

Key: Book One of Chronicles of the Children on Amazon Kindle and Illustrated Paperback

KEY – Chapter One

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There is always a Key to a Door 

You just have to have the resilience to find it

 

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A Messenger does not deliver a message,

Without bearing a sword with which to strike,

A shield to hide behind,

And a friend to lean against…

When both sword and shield have failed.

Messenger Proverb

 

 

Land: Pennadot

High Moons – Sundate 8611DC

 

Zinkx gripped his bow between fingers calloused from welding armaments. The gloves that encased his worn palms squeaked against the wood of the fine weapon. His clothes, though intended for long, hazardous travel, were tatty and dirtied by battle and constant exposure to the elements. Olive-green paint ran in striped patterns over his tanned skin, mimicking the shadows cast by the canopy of the giant trees, their glittering leaves fiddling in the dawn zephyr. The chill of the night still lingered, and he could see his breath fogging before him. His slow inhalation matched the forest’s mesmerizing melody.

Every ounce of his lethal body moved with the forest beneath the twisted roots of the colossal evergreens, damp vegetation nibbled by fungi hiding his Human scent. Twigs nicked at his leather armor and caught in his long damp hair.

The pve’pt[1] he had been pursuing darted past him.

He gave chase, weaving through the mammoth ferns and leaping gracefully over roots. From childhood he had been trained in the art of gravity-control, manipulating the law that bound other creatures. Easily he kept pace with the creature, his feet tapping the moss-covered surfaces over which the animal raced.

Their chase stopped as suddenly as it had begun.

The high-hoofed mammal paused atop a large flattened root. It flicked its long ears, large black eyes observing the shrouded ferns.

Zinkx sunk into the murk, watching as the pve’pt waited. He eased himself forward, his boots leaving imprints in the dampness of the moss. Carefully he shifted his weight, making no sound as he slipped an arrow from the quiver across his shoulders. He raised the bow in line with the hunted animal’s neck. The cool breeze of the morning nipped his fingers as he drew back the bow-string. He took a deep breath, tightened, and fired.

The arrow buried itself in the flesh of a tree.

With a startled leap the pve’pt skittered away into the lifting mist. “Interesting…” A deep voice announced. “You’ve let it live.”

“I see no sense in killing it.” Zinkx lowered his bow. “There is a village half a day’s walk away. If I take the skins we’ve been collecting I can trade them for food.”

“I see.” A golden beast leapt from the blanketing ferns, landing gracefully on its hind legs.

Zinkx glanced at the overbearing form of his Khwaja, Denvy Maz. The creature towered higher than six feet, an average height for male Kattamonts[2]. His feline features had an eerie quality to them that was still disconcerting. Even after sol-cycles of being raised by the aged beast, Zinkx found it somewhat baffling how the Kattamont seemed to switch with unnatural ease between walking upright and his far more natural four-legged state.

“If I trade the skins, the pve’pt can live in freedom another day.”

With humanoid fingers, the Kattamont tugged his shaggy air-gills, draped over his shoulders like a crowning tousled mane. “Its freedom will be short lived…and your compassion will come to naught.” In the sunlight, graying hairs could be seen throughout the creature’s fur, his tangled beard glistening with silver beads.

“Allow me to trade the skins, Khwaja. What harm is there in this?” Spreading his hands, Zinkx implored.

A deep bass chuckle purred from the beast. He tilted his head to one side, folding broad arms together pensively.

“All right, Zinkx, you may do as you wish. I warn you though…” He turned, blending into the shadows. His long tail flicked through the undergrowth, fan-tip alight with ignited freckles illuminating radiant patterns through golden fur. “You’ve been away from Pennadot for many long sol-cycles. Customs could have changed.”

“I’ll be careful,” Zinkx called back.

The old lion smirked. “I fear that word isn’t in your vocabulary, my aiv’a[3].”

 

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Brightly colored prayer flags fluttered between the tightly clustered thatch-roofed houses. The Pulza region of Pennadot was a vast forest province, back-dropped by smudges of gray mountains. Since the dawn of Human memory Pennadot had been guarded by a circumference of highlands known as the Ovin-tu. The beastly-shaped pinnacles were the silver crown for the mammoth land of rolling plains and carpeted forests. Zinkx breathed deeply the air of his birth-land, its sweet taste a marvelous change to the toxic fumes that swamped the Trenches of War[4] he had been raised in. Eight months he had travelled, ordered by his superiors to leave the House of Flames. The Dreamathics Who Dreamed had said the Key could be found in Pennadot. Now he and his Khwaja wandered the ruins of long forgotten technologies in search of the illusive object that would aid in turning the tide of their war and mayhap even save the lands of Livila.

His dreams were haunted by the rumbles of distant thunder, the cries of the earth as the borders between lands were gradually torn asunder. A magnetic pull had once kept the Northlands welded together in the vague hope that as one continent they would be enough to create a physical spin. The continuous rotation was needed to sustain the existence of life upon Livila. He understood little of the incomprehensible technical analysis of the situation, indeed, he doubted anyone truthfully did. Undeniably, though, he knew that the world was dying.

Part of him missed war, the addictive adrenalin of battle and the companionship with his brethren. Beyond the Ovin-tu Mountains a battle was being waged, played daily like a game of gods. Pennadot had been safe, its people left to grow ignorant of the suffering war brought. Yet one could almost feel it in the air; the time of peace was slowly ending. The Overlord of the Dragon was gaining political power, manipulating events within Pennadot. Refugees were secretly being sent over the Ovin-tu alps to be processed into the Dragon’s armies.

He had his appointed task.

Even if no one knew what it was, or whether it was a tangible object, he had to find the Key before the Dragon and his minions did. If they gained control of the technology it would allow the terrible creature to spread his dominion over all the Lands of Livila, and there would be no hope.

Zinkx slid his hands into the pockets of his hip-bags as he joined the caravans and traders moving toward the opening gates of the village ahead. Sodden walls had been carved out of mangled roots surrounding the perimeter of the town. Trees grew to unimaginable heights and breadths in Pennadot, due to its low gravity and thin atmosphere, creating a world within a world, Human civilization was lost in the enormity. Yet, Humans and their internal drive for conquest had penetrated the mammoth forest with sheer determination.

He glanced around, admiring the work that had been achieved by hands alone; Humans had an inability to admit defeat. Streets had been crafted into thick roots, leading to small pockets of houses and market areas.

Color was abundant, the village bright and festive as he strolled into the welcoming hubbub of an established trading network.

Through large fungi sprouting between lavishly decorated stalls naked Kelib children, their green-skinned bodies painted in tribal oils of reds and yellows, darted after glittering sky-dragon kites. He had missed the sound of laughter; in the Trenches they were too deeply engaged in a war to find time to laugh, but here the children could squeal with glee. There was no fear of a death doomed upon them; unlike the children of his homeland who grew up knowing that their conscription into the armies would lead to dying young.

Zinkx scrubbed at his bristled chin and looked up toward the more obviously Human stone dwellings. Far up the twisted roots that twirled around each other in a spiral of roads, the sturdy castle of the region’s province lord loomed over the smaller, muddier homes of the Kelibs.

While Humans stood out like weeds, the aboriginal Kelibs naturally blended with Pennadot’s rich colors, their emerald skin and woven clothes mimicking the hues of their vast land. Though Kelibs were humanoid, they were shorter and stockier than Humans, yet far stronger. Their stalwartness stemmed from the naturally occurring high density within their skeletons, their near unbreakable bones often used in clan weapons after death. Effectively Kelibs were heavier in Pennadot’s weak gravity; unlike Humans they walked without a spring to their steps. They were a race of warriors, their Nine Clans in a constant state of war.

It was rare to see Kelib women in village life, yet he glimpsed a few wandering in their robes of threaded gold. Prized for their beauty, yet herded like cattle, Kelib females were a sad example of repression amongst the proud race. They were born for breeding, kept for their milk, and sold as prostituted slaves. It was distasteful to know they were considered no more intelligent than a mere animal.

He turned away. It was impossible to change a society deeply steeped in its beliefs and values. For now, the society worked, and it kept itself from civil war, even if peace had a price. He should not complain. It was, after all, still peace.

Bartering was a subtle skill, and Zinkx, being a commander of war used to bellowing out orders over a battlefield, found his communication skills rusty. The Kelib men behind the stalls gave him strange looks and refused his skins, despite their high quality. Dishearteningly he approached the final booth amongst the markets. He gave a warm smile to the young Kelib boy behind the counter and placed the cleaned skins upon the wooden surface. The boy blinked at him then gave a sudden wave and shout of alarm.

Zinkx froze as he felt a bag cast over his head, and his twin blades pulled from their straps. He went slack at the angry voices despite his body raring to move in swift, practiced action. He dared not cause a scene in the middle of the village; it would draw unwanted attention and possible deaths of civilians. Pain exploded in the back of his head as a swift blow brought him to his knees. He felt blood trickling down his neck and he cursed inwardly as his arms were bound from behind and he was dragged by the ropes along the muddied road. He heard Human voices, speaking Human tongue, and he could only presume that he was under arrest.

Typical.

His Khwaja always had to have the last laugh.

With ruthless vigor he was dragged through the village. Slowly he sensed a change. No longer was he outdoors but within the solid walls of the wealthier Human dwellings. Two men hauled him down into underground cellars that smelt of rich wines. A door was unbolted, and the bag ripped from his head as he was thrown into a dark cell. He slid over the sodden ground. Laughter sounded from outside as the door was slammed shut.

“The Lord will deal with you later.”

Groaning, Zinkx rolled in a puddle of foul water. “Wait…” He pounded the pad of his boot upon the metal door. “What did I do wrong?”

A roar of amusement made him cringe.

“No one hunts on the Lord’s lands, boy!”

“Should have seen that one coming,” Zinkx muttered. He pealed himself off the grime-encrusted stones. His skin burned as he brushed dirt from the bloody abrasions where the ground had shredded his threadbare clothes. He sat up gingerly, pressing his back against the surface of the damp wall. Slowly his racing heartbeat calmed, allowing the dizziness from the influx of blood to drift away.

The air was muggy, the cell clearly one that was rarely aired out. As his eyes adjusted, small phosphorescent fungi became visible in patterns across the walls. He focused on them, grateful for the meager light. It was the silence, though, that revealed just how far underground he had been carried, the layers of dirt and limestone causing an eerie sensation of lifelessness.

But he was not alone. In the stillness he noticed the fluttering of wings. A tiny flying pin-lizard whizzed past his nose and he watched it dart away. The little creatures that infested the forests were clustering around something in the darkness of the cell. Their brightly glowing wings made a faint halo around a figure. The pin-lizards were drawn to the salty sweat and blood of whomever the poor soul was.

The figure’s ribs were cracked, he realized, hearing breathing that was pained and shallow. It reminded him of a traumatized child he had once found, long ago. He gave a sharp breath as the pin-lizards’ glow brightened, giving him more than a shadow.

He caught a glimpse of her.

She sat, bound to a stake rising from the floor; her robust arms raised high above her head. Her long black hair, with blue strands that coruscated in the light from the pin-lizards, was tangled and matted. Someone had ruthlessly beaten her. The coppery scent of her blood was in the air. He could see the red gleam of it on her naked green skin. The pin lizards’ were nibbling at the fresh liquid.

“Kelib…” he whispered, and she cringed at the sound.

She let out a whimper, yet, despite her obvious fear, she glared at him in stark defiance.

Zinkx clicked his tongue, stumbling over the Kelib native language. It was rough and rubbery on his lips instead of smooth and slick like Human dialect.

“I won’t hurt you.”

“Liar,” she hissed back. “And you dirty your tongue with my foul language, Human.”

“Your language is not foul.” Zinkx managed the sentence with slow ease, “Just difficult to manage. I haven’t spoken it in a while, that is all.”

He gave a small bow of his head in the customary greeting of the region. “I am Zuksk[5].”

She raised an eyebrow at the oddity of his name. In Kelib tongue it sounded muddled but it was the best he could provide.

Shan’ta’lee[6] Shir-Hara of the Eighth Clan.”

“Shanty…Eighth Clan.” Zinkx repeated slowly. He eased away from the wall. Of the Nine major clans of Kelibs spread over Pennadot’s Human provinces, the Eighth was the largest and produced the best quality female Kelibs in their Breeding Farms[7]. They were usually prized highly in the markets, and treated with care for fear of damaging their beauty and productivity.

So why had one been savagely beaten and locked deep underground? Zinkx watched a tear trickle down her cheek. The glow of the blue strands of hair reflected off bruises and wounds now carved into her strong features. Even in the dim light he could sense that the strength that had kept her alive was beginning to wane.

“I have prayed to the gods for another to join me in my solitude. Yet I find you, Human,” she scoffed. “They have not answered me.”

“No, wooden gods usually don’t…” Zinkx muttered, looking down at the chains around his wrists with some disdain. “Still, I think a deity has heard your prayers.” He shuffled over the muddy stones toward her. The closer he crawled, the worse she appeared in the muted light. His throat dried at the sight of her mangled body. Such beauty in heavily-boned limbs and silken, emerald skin, long beaten into submission. Cuts lined her inner thighs and ran up her arms, joining tattoos engraved into the flesh with poisonous ink that shined in the darkness to display her as someone’s property. Up close, the sheen of the ink was breathtaking, enhancing her curved form with the twists and twirls that enveloped her entire form.

“Do you want to get out of here?” he asked.

She curled her upper lip. “Aye, but why should you care? You are Human and Humans have no care for Kelibs.”

Zinkx struggled to his feet. “Yes, it would appear that way to you. You’re right. Most Humans don’t care, but I’m not from around these parts. Things are different for me, and no one, Human or Kelib, should be tied up in the position you are in now. Let me help you.”

She snorted derisively. “I was cursed with this body. If I had been born thin and sickly like a Human female, mayhap I’d have been better off.”

“Maybe so.” Zinkx came to stand directly in front of her. For a moment fear shone in her eyes. He turned away from the haunted expression. “But you weren’t born Human. You are Kelib and you should not be ashamed of that. Here—” he lifted onto his toes. “Can you reach into the back of my pants? There should be a small pouch in there. I can’t grab it with my hands chained.”

He heard her sigh bitterly and he flinched as her hands began searching. Her fingers smeared his skin, cool with the blood that stained them. She yanked on a belt and pulled a tiny leather box free, dropping it on the ground.

Zinkx knelt beside it. “See, that wasn’t hard, was it?”

She snorted again, watching acutely as he opened the small pouch and slipped out a tiny silver stick. Carefully Zinkx pressed a slim switch on the side of the device. A heated beam of light flared to life, burning through the chains connected to his shackles. They fell apart, clanking to the floor. He sighed and rubbed his raw wrists.

“What is that thing?” Shanty inquired softly. Zinkx could see her curiosity piquing at the odd revelation of something new.

“A match-stick.” He waved it in the air. “Old piece of technology left over by a very ancient and talented race. Here, let me get your chains.” He stood over her. The air filled with the scent of phosphorus until finally the chains gave way. The Kelib woman collapsed in a heap. She lay, panting heavily as life returned to her abused limbs. Crouching beside her, Zinkx reached out, cupping her cheeks in his worn hands and smiling slightly as her large hazel eyes sought his briefly before looking away.

His smile faded. “Come with me. I can get you out of here.”

“Go with a Human male? I should not even be looking upon you nor speaking with you.”

“If you don’t want to look at my hideous face, then don’t. But if you remain here, you will die, and it would be a sure shame for that to happen.”

She seemed to hesitate, and then turned, looking directly up into his face, as if searching for something within his features to grasp hold of. He gave her a forced smile, and slowly the sides of her puffed lips twitched, her eyes shadowing in relief.

She nodded.

He reached out, taking up her hands, aiding her in standing. She staggered in pain.

“Your feet…” Zinkx glanced down in concern. He should have realized that the soles had been worn raw from torture.

The Kelib woman’s chin lifted in a defiant gesture. “They are fine.”

With one arm enfolding her sturdy waist, Zinkx led her to the iron door and rested her against the wall beside it.

“Give me a few minutes,” he whispered, pulling out the stick device and igniting it. It flared, becoming brighter as he held it to the steel of the door, pointing it to the hinge on the other side. It broke through the metal with a snap. He kneeled and applied it to the last hinge through the gap, cursing when it died away with a little whine only half way through. He opened the tiny box where it had been kept and cussed.

“That was my last one.” He searched for a new tool and pulled out a thin tube of faintly glowing liquid. He carefully tugged off the cap, and the air of the cell began to fill with a fetid stench. With a thin piece of wood he began to apply the liquid to the door. As the two came in contact, the corroding metal began to dissolve, hissing softly. The intense smell increased, until it ate at the tender flesh of his nose.

“Tell me if you see someone coming,” he muttered.

The Kelib woman nodded. She stood on her toes and peered out through the five small bars of the iron door.

“Who are you?” Her voice sounded raw and Zinkx glanced up at her.

She was rubbing at her throat. “Zinkx Maz.”

“No, I mean, who are you to have such knowledge and such tools? Why did they not take them from you?”

Zinkx paused, sitting back on his heels. “The guards took my hip-bags and my swords, but they did not strip me naked. You should always strip your prisoner. Not that it would have been a particularly pretty sight for you if they had.” The note of humor was small in his dark tone as he tried to ease the tension.

The woman seemed not to notice. “Tell me who you are.”

“Would you believe me if I did?”

“I am a Kelib woman; we are not stupid, despite what is said.”

“I wasn’t implying that you were.” Zinkx peered at her again. “I’m a Messenger.”

Her mouth opened but no words formed. Zinkx shrugged, looking back at the dissolving metal he was finally managing to penetrate.

He could feel her staring at him. He had heard some of the tales the travelling bards told of Messengers; fabricated ballads about murderous warriors, merciless and bloodthirsty in battle. Children would be scared to bed with such silly stories. For generations they had been considered myths and nothing more. Did she think him a cruel fiend from a story heard in her childhood?

“I don’t believe you.”

He grinned.

“Told you so.” He clicked his tongue as the metal hole he worked on gave way, cracking the hinge on the other side of the door with a soft snap. He stood with a slight groan of discomfort and returned the small pouch to the pocket in the back of his pants.

Then he leaned on the door and gave a heave, grunting as his boots skidded on the slimy floor. Slowly the door shifted, sliding gradually open. Light streamed into the dark cell.

“Think you can get through that?” He motioned at the small gap.

Shanty nodded. Zinkx slid his way through the opening and took her hand to help her through. Finally, in the full light of the tree-tar lanterns, he was given a clearer view of her, and she too turned toward him curiously. For a moment, they both stood in the corridor, staring at each other in slight astonishment.

Like all Kelibs, she barely reached his shoulders. She was forced to look up to his face and, from her gaze, she was obviously fascinated by his pale blue eyes. Despite her small stature, she managed to appear tall and aloof with her fierce, wild glare. The length of her inky hair trailed down her back and tumbled on the ground. He had to hitch his breath to keep his dismay from showing at the devastation done to her stocky limbs. Blood had caked itself over her skin, gluing together older wounds that were beginning to heal skewed. She barely seemed to notice the pin-lizards still pecking at the blood.

Her brow furrowed.

“You…you paint yourself green?” She whispered in awe and Zinkx touched his cheeks, feeling the war paint he had forgotten about. It was little wonder that she was staring. His wild, knotted, ebony hair and unshaven face painted to camouflage himself must have appeared rather beastly to her.

He shrugged. “It’s easier to hunt in the forests if you don’t stand out.”

“What color are you really?” A hint of interest was evident in her tone.

She stepped forward, wincing, as if trying to bridge the gap to touch his strange alien skin.

“Kind of brownish…like my…breed…ah…please tell me you’ve seen a Human before, right?”

Her stare was unnerving; she seemed to be studying every inch of him. “You do not look like the Humans I have seen. Your nose is wrong and your color is too light.”

Zinkx frowned, touching his nose self-consciously. “I am of the colored northern breed, a Wynnila. You would know the Soatrins; they live in the forests…”

“There are other kinds of Humans? How is that possible?”

Zinkx sighed heavily, his breath puffing back his bangs. “Okay…well, maybe we could have this…conversation later…at a more…appropriate time.”

“But you must see now what I am. You still wish to aid me?” Her hands gestured at her near naked form under the bloodied rags she wore. For a moment he made a movement to respond, then stopped midway and shook his head. He turned his gaze away from the woman bathed in lantern-light that revealed how every curve of her stout frame had been broken and beaten into false submission.

“Come on,” he finally tugged her hand, ignoring her question. “Let’s go. Stay close to me. If I tell you to drop, drop on the spot.”

He rushed her through the corridors, pausing when they reached a stairway leading from the dungeons into the castle’s upper wards. He breathed deeply as he listened.

“Two guards,” he hissed softly into Shanty’s ear, “Human, armored in…leather, not chain-mail…that’s interesting, must not be getting the funds for a blacksmith.”

“How do you know that?”

“Leather makes an odd sound when you move.” He crept back a few paces. “I need my swords. I won’t be able to deal with them with you in tow. One could grab you…ah, this way.” He turned, pulling her down another passageway. A door stood ajar between twisted roots. From within he could hear the sound of shuffling. He paused in the dim light and peered into the room, taking note of the weapons hanging on the walls and lining the tables. A Human man was polishing spear heads and smoking a stick wedged between his lips.

“Stay here,” Zinkx whispered.

He burst through the door and manipulated the gravity surrounding him with a mental command, using the momentum to sweep himself inwards, running swiftly up the wall with astounding speed. The guard’s mouth opened to call out and Zinkx lunged, smashing down upon him. With a twist he cracked the man’s neck and dropped his body onto the floor. He spun through the room and grabbed his hip-bags, reattaching the belts strapping his twin blades across his shoulders. Shanty stood at the threshold, eyes upon the slain guard. Zinkx grasped her hand and dragged her back to the winding staircase leading out of the sunken dungeons.

The walls morphed from slugged mud to solid limestone as they climbed, set together with nothing by the physical weight of the perfectly aligned bricks. Zinkx pressed Shanty against the smooth wall, one finger against his lips.

Cautiously, he released one of his thin blades, marking the passing of the soldiers he had heard. He could feel Shanty’s eyes on the weapon. He doubted she had ever seen such an elegantly crafted sword, for the smithing of birth elemental weaponry had been outlawed in Pennadot centuries ago. He was sure that, to her, the slender blade would have seemed something out of a myth.

He sent a spark of lightning gliding down the sword to puff at the tip as it met air.

“How do you expect us to escape?” Shanty whispered. “You can’t kill everyone. You are but one man.”

“Slaughter is not my approach here.”

“Then how do we escape, Human?”

Zinkx ignored her jibing. “Just stay close to me.” He twirled his blade expertly as he ran free of the stairwell, taking care to slow his pace enough to allow the injured Shanty to keep up with him. They burst into a hall that gleamed in the sunlight filtering in through long windows.

The two Human soldiers standing alert at either side of the doorway gave startled shouts at their sudden appearance, and grabbed for swords at their hips. Zinkx spun on his heel, pushing Shanty behind him as he curled his blade in a loop and thrust it into the marble flooring as though it was nothing more than clay. The leverage hoisted him into the air and he swung both legs upward and into a split, spinning in mid-flight. The iron soles of his boots shattered the skulls of the soldiers.

They collapsed into unconscious piles of arms and legs. Zinkx somersaulted, landed upright, and snatched his sword from the floor, the metal twanging. He grabbed Shanty’s hand and pulled her onward, winding his way around alabaster pillars holding up high ceilings.

“Move, come on!”

The sound of pursuit echoed through the castle’s halls. Zinkx threw aside anything in their path to block their pursuers. He navigated up a flight of stairs, his hand strengthening around hers in reassurance as she lagged.

“Just a bit further,” he added breathlessly. His feet, though booted with heavy iron on their soles, barely touched the surface of the cool marble. Shanty was slowing him, her weight keeping him grounded, and he could only imagine what she thought of their current pace. He doubted she realized that he was controlling her gravity as well as his own to speed their escape.

They turned a corner and Zinkx jolted to a sudden stop. Shanty thudded into his back, sending his far lighter body stumbling forward.

He missed the sweep of a guard’s sword by a hair’s breadth. Shanty’s lips spread into a cry as she was snagged by her hair. The guard sneered as his blade came down again in a heavy swing.

Ca vanka,” Zinkx shouted the curse.

Swiftly he dashed before the blow of the sword. His twin blades collided with the broader weapon with a shattering resonance. Zinkx twisted his full body. His twin blades slid up the enemy’s sword as he lashed out with a foot. The momentum of the thrust landed squarely in the heavily-armored man’s stomach and he tumbled down. His sword remained upright; its tip sliced across Zinkx’s unprotected back.

Shanty cowered as Zinkx’s face contorted in pain. A pulse rippled through him, like a sudden boiling of his blood, and his movements were no longer his own. He turned to the fallen man and dealt a blow through his plated leather armor. He slid the limp body off his blades, kicked the man to one side, and heaved open the doors to the hall beyond.

“Get in, now!” he barked.

Shanty obeyed. He slammed the bars down on the doors and shoved a desk in front of it. He paused, panting, feeling blood trickle down his back. He could see the red trail he was leaving on the luscious woolen rug as he moved around the ornate room.

“Human…” Shanty clutched her hands together as Zinkx returned to the desk and flicked through the files he found there. “You just saved my life.”

He glanced up.

She was looking directly at his eyes, as though seeing someone new in them. Quickly he scrubbed his thumbs into the sockets, trying to wipe whatever she saw away. He forced a reassuring smile.

“I took a life in return for yours.” He gathered a stack of papers, stuffing them into his hip-bags.

“What are you doing?” Shanty winced as a loud crash sounded against the door, followed by angry voices, the province soldiers finally alerted to their escape.

“These are files on refugees. I’m taking information that could be useful in my search.” Zinkx scanned the room and grabbed a robe hanging on a wall rack. He threw it to Shanty.

“Put it on. Can’t have you running around near bare. If we get back to camp, I’m sure my Khwaja can dream you up more clothing.”

“What is a Khwaja?” She slipped into the garment, watching Zinkx stalk the room.

“Khwaja.” He clicked his tongue, searching for the Kelib equivalent. “Means teacher, or lord.” He waved a hand in frustration. “Or father? I don’t know the Kelib equivalent. He is my master.”

A thundering crack echoed in the hall as the wood of the door shattered under the force of something hammering against it. Zinkx picked up a paper weight and threw it at the hall’s massive window. Glass rained around him, and for a moment the illusion that his skin shone like molten gold reflected within the sparkling shards.

He turned and held out a hand to Shanty. “Do you trust me?”

“No.”

“Well, I suppose that doesn’t matter. I don’t trust me either.” He gave a wiry grin as he hooked an arm around her waist. He lifted her heavier form with ease and bounded onto the ledge of the window. Shanty gasped as he bent and leapt.

No scream escaped the Kelib woman’s mouth as they sailed downward toward a tiled roof. Zinkx’s legs struck it first and he twisted, catching her weight with his own as the surface cracked. Shanty clutched at him as he ran up the tiles. He felt her bury her face into the curve of his neck and he tightened his grip on her.

A soft grunt escaped his lips as they landed, awkwardly, within the outer ward of the castle. Like walls the colossal roots of the evergreens surrounded them.

Shanty slid from his arms, pointing toward a pile of hay. “We need to reach the stables. The soldiers will find us.”

“Good point.” He seized her hand and pulled her across the courtyard. Shouts echoed from above. Zinkx glanced up at the windows of the castle; he gave Shanty a heavy shove into the stables as a multitude of arrows rained down. Horses reared high in their stalls in sudden fright at the battering of noise and their abrupt appearance. Zinkx pushed open the separate stalls, shouting at the horses and stirring them into a frenzy as they rushed from their shelter. Shanty cowered against a wall as the steeds cantered into the outer ward, the commotion that was already afire outside amplified as voices and the sound of stampeding hooves echoed off the stone compound.

The scattering of arrows stopped. The guards could not fire on their own animals; horses were far more valuable than escapees.

“Wait!” she cried as the last horse made for the stable door. “Take that horse!”

Zinkx bellowed back to her, “No, a horse would get tangled in the forest. We need a diabond[8]!” He rushed down the corridor of the stable.

He shoved open the door to the last stall, revealing a caged booth, the beast within asleep on a mat of hay. Its silky coat of melded gray and white gleamed with the motion of its deep breathing.

Fingers to his lips, Zinkx whistled loudly. The creature jerked awake, snarling aggressively. It leapt up, wolf-like in its elegance, a shimmer of flames glistening down its mane.

Zinkx stared into its keen red eyes; they studied his every movement, alive with intelligence. The language of animals was not something he had studied religiously, but what little he knew would hopefully gain him the trust of the magnificent creature. Lowering his tone Zinkx began to growl from the depths of his throat until the large hound whimpered and backed up.

“Let us ride you.” He held out a hand. “Let me set you free.”

It crouched against the hay, lowering itself in permission. Zinkx stepped forward and hoisted himself onto the curve of its back. He felt its muscles loosen as it rose and bounded out of the stall. Shanty gave a cry at the sudden emergence of the beast.

Zinkx grabbed her hand, pulling her before him onto the creatures back. He wrapped one arm firmly around her, gripping the mane of the diabond with his other hand. He felt the creature’s adrenalin as it leapt out of the stables into the outer ward of the castle grounds.

“We’re going bare back?” Shanty wailed.

All around them shouts of astonishment reverberated. The clanging of swords and shields resonated from all sides. The chaos swelled like a symphony and Zinkx could not help but let out a facetious laugh. Shanty twisted to look up into his face. He barely registered the terror of realization in her features as the familiar thrill of combat engulfed him. All the evidence she needed to see that he had spoken the truth reflected in his eyes.

He was a Messenger. He was real.

 


 

[1] Pve’pt [pahy–pit]: Pennadotian animal, killed for its meat, pelt, and stone-like bones.

[2] A desert dwelling race that live over the northern border of Pennadot in the land of Utillia. Very little is known of their nomadic kind, but they are said to be both man and beast, pertaining to their ability to both be bipedal and quadruped.

[3] An affectionate word used for a Human by any other race, a translation of it in Basic is ‘alien one’.

[4] Often referred to as the ‘Trenches’ or ‘Trenches of War’ – used to describe the battlegrounds between the Messengers’ and the Dragon’s armies.

[5] A direct translation of Zinkx’s name in Kelib tongue is Zuksk, meaning ‘boy-clad-in-iron’. In Human tongue Zinkx means ‘ironclad son’.

[6] Name meaning ‘Sun-through-trees’ in Kelib.

[7] Also referred to as ‘Clan House’ or ‘Family Hall’. The place where female Kelibs raise the young in mass numbers, separating males from females.

[8] A hound used instead of a horse by many of the higher class due to their elemental shifting and ability to move though the dense forest regions of Pennadot. Acutely intelligent, a diabond will form an attachment to its master if treated well, and will protect whom its master wishes upon command.

 

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Key: Book One of Chronicles of the Children on Amazon Kindle and Illustrated Paperback