It’s been two years since my last novel, The Punishment Hand, the third in my ongoing non-magic fantasy series. My story is high or epic fantasy but simply without magic. I’ve been working on the fourth book, Bone Weary, on and off for the past couple of years.
The series started with me deciding to hammer out a story that had been brewing in my mind for National Novel Writing Month. The result, Adversaries Together, is a bit uneven but I like it. The sequel Winterfinding is a better book and The Punishment Hand probably the best of the three.
The books of my Ascendant Realms series
I worry that I may have lost not momentum but skill by not keeping on top of my prose. Also, I don’t want to not finish the series. I’d like to collect all the books into one volume eventually, but that would mean I actually have the story done. So, this November, I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month with the goal of completing book four of my series.
I will provide weekly updates this month and some samples of what I’ve written for viewing and comment.
Here’s today’s contribution. It’s following the character Fery Landis as she searches for Declan Rainway, who had fallen into a chasm in the last novel. This picks up not long after the end of Fery’s storyline in the previous novel, The Punishment Hand.
The mist clung to her. She had already thrown away her first mask, its filter turned from a clean grey to a wet green. Still the air crept its way under. It felt like invisible tendrils were slowly crawling into her nose and eyes. She stopped, blinked several times, then squeezed her eyes shut letting the tears of irritation do their job. Bracing herself on the damp irregular stone wall, she tried not to lose her footing and slip into the racing stream on the other side of her.
The water had thick, gummy looking collections of foam all over it. If Declan had fallen into the stream, he would have been carried away immediately. Fery reckoned that if she following down the river far enough she might be able to find him washed to one of the sides. In the miasma seeing the river for what it was, she grew conflicted. The river moved fast and had several gigantic sewer tunnels that emptied into it, each maintaining a steady feed of waste fluid. The tunnels had bars over their faces, but they were evenly spaced and large enough for a body of her size to slip through with some effort. The river ran had into queer square lagoons where it suddenly calmed and seemed to thicken. They were similar to the locks used on the trader rivers, she thought, the water pooled, stilled (at least, on the surface) and was poured out below the lagoon through three small culverts. Fery was hopeful that Declan had made it to one of these lagoons and to safety. Yet, she also feared finding his body lodged in one of the culverts or floating in the lagoon eddies like some piece of debris.
Fery had been down along the narrow bank for most of the day. What little light that had made it down the chasm and through the miasma was now gone. It was getting dark quicker than she had expected. She needed to find a place to rest and think through what she was doing. There wasn’t much space but she finally made it a second lagoon where there was more room for her to sit, rest, and think. She could just barely make out the opposite bank maybe sixty feet away. It wouldn’t make sense to keep going on her side if Declan had washed up on the other; she needed to be able to see. Could she make a fire, she wondered, or at least, a torch? The air was damp, maybe too damp, she didn’t really have any spare clothing, and there was hardly any useful wood.
Leaning with her back to the stone face, she pulled her knees up to her chest. She was tired. Suddenly, it felt like there was an immense weight pushing her down. Her father was likely captured or dead, as was Goshen. The chances of her finding Declan’s body were getting smaller and smaller. Declan’s body, she thought. Already she wasn’t thinking of him anymore but of his corpse. She tried to dispel the thought. Where was Kira? Had she and Jena gotten away? Even if she found Declan, where would they go? Returning to the city, to the Cathedral, was out of the question. The zealots would be on the lookout for them and skittering through the back alleys of an unfamiliar city was a recipe for being captured or killed.
Fery wanted to go home. No, she thought, not go home, rather just be home. Her home. Her house. In her own city, before it had been gutted by The Blockade, with her parents alive and well, and with no thought to the ruthless machinations of the faith or these politicians. She was sick of all.
Her hands dangled over her knees loosely holding the extra mask. If nothing else, she needed to get out of this place, to escape and breath clean air again, and feel warm light on her face. She wanted that, but it was so far away. She sighed closing her eyes. Maybe just some rest, maybe some sleep would rejuvenate her, she thought. Her body ached. Fery was finding it harder and harder to keep her head up. The sound of the water moving was lulling her to sleep. She knew she had to keep going, that this wasn’t a place to stop. There was the fear in the back of her mind that if she stopped she wouldn’t start back up again.
She would though. Fery stood. She wouldn’t leave her friend dead in the filth. She’d find his body and…
Something moved across the bank. She squinted through her mask’s slit wondering if she had imagined it. There it was–a smear of dark brown rising up then collapsing. She stood motionless unable to call out because of the miasma. Glancing to her left, she searched the lagoon dam searching for a path across. Everything was wet, slick, but she was sure she could make it across. It would have to do because there was no way she’d be able to swim across and not arrive on the opposite bank poisoned by the river.
The sewage lapped at the cusp of the damn lock as white-grey water spewed forth from the open culverts to keep the stream flowing. The lagoon surface was oddly calm. Fery scampered along the lip of the dam edge. She could feel how slice it was. Her heart was racing as she moved faster and faster; she was sure her momentum was the only thing keeping her upright. If she fell down into the stream, there’d be little chance of her finding her way back here. In fact, she really doubted if she’d survive in the vile flow.
The last ten feet her fears found their footing. She could feel herself losing any grip, but barely kept her balance and had to leap the last few feet to the narrow path carved into the stone face. She landed hard. Her ankle rolled leaving her just a moment to put her hands out to brace herself to hit the rock wall. She face planted into the rock, and if not for the mask, she’d have broken her nose. Testing out her ankle, she was glad to realize it wasn’t twisted. With both hands and her forehead against the rock, she paused to take some deep breaths. Turning she made her way along the cut path. It was narrower than that on the bank she’d just come and much more slick. Fery had to shuffle, her back against the rock wall. She could only just see out of the side of her vision the crop of large stones where she’d seen the movement.
The path ended in a collapse of rock and a rough-cut niche. There was a small swirling pool of fetid water from the river but also a trickle of what looked like fresh water dribbling from the niche. Looking it over, it appeared to go back further into the rock wall. Perhaps it was a natural cave. The trickle of water suggested it could be a path out of the Chasm. Just then, Fery heard a thick, phlegmy cough. She turned and saw the shape she had caught a glimpse of across the river. A man in wet leathers, skin whiter than anything she’d ever seen, he was bleeding from a nasty gash above his eye and a wound in his upper chest. He held his forearm to across his chest, Fery could see that bone was protruding from it. His eyes were closed, half his body was submerged in the pool and he looked like he was about to slip under.
Fery raced to him. She called out his name, but the mask kept her voice from being intelligible. She grabbed his head turning him to face her. His eyes fluttered but never opened to see her. Reaching down, she curled her arms under his trying to hoist him out of the pool. She couldn’t quite get enough purchase. He slipped down further; she had to wade into the pool to get around behind him to pull him up to the hollow. His body refused to cooperate leaving Fery winded after just a few feet. It felt as though it took ages to get him out of the pool and into the relative shelter of the cleft.
When she was finally able to get him to sit up properly, she checked his pulse (faint) and put her extra mask over his head. Hopefully, she thought, breathing some cleaner air would help him a bit. She looked him over then began to take off his leathers. She tried to be gentle but his clothes were wet and tight. Fortunately, he was passed out or else Fery was certain that he’d be screaming in pain. She was able to get his arm free. The bone protruding was a sickening bright white and the flesh around it a mix of angry red and an unnatural blue. She had nothing on her to use to bind the wound let alone anything to set the break. Looking around she saw a few bit of twig and guessed that there might be some more substantial pieces further in the cleft. At least, she hoped.
She squeezed through the cleft looking around for anything that might be firm enough to use. The fissure felt as though it were tightening around her but then it opened up into a proper cave descending into an all-encompassing darkness. She needed a torch. She could hear the water of the sick river behind her but also the faint though constant dripping of the stream at her feet. Following this cave offered no promises. It could lead her to a dead end or open up even larger to send her falling down into oblivion. The possibilities left her unsure and afraid. Then she remember what she had been looking for. Feeling around at her feet she discovered a few sticks but they easily bent or fell apart in her grip they were so waterlogged. Finally, however, she was able to find a couple that would be serviceable.
Coming back, she saw he hadn’t moved an inch, but his breathing was noticeably better. She had to cut up his jacket sleeve for makeshift bindings. Taking ahold of his wrist and just above his elbow crook, she pulled trying to straighten the bone to set it back in place. She thought for sure she heard tearing which nearly made her wretch. A bit of luck found her though and the bone slipped back into the gash. She pressed her fingers over it trying to get it as aligned as she could. His skin around the wound was wildly hot. After lining up and wrapping her shoddy splint, she set her focus to his other wounds. She had nothing to sew up his head gash so she had to wrap his head with what she could cut from her own tunic. His upper chest wound was another problem. An arrow wound, but it appeared that it was through and through, it had been bleeding steadily even with her pressure on it. Everything was wet and nothing was clotting. She worried that he might have had his artery nicked. If so, he’d bleed out before she could do anything more for him.
His skin was more pale than usual. He must have already lost so much blood. He was cold all over like a corpse. Yet, he breathed. His pulse was faint, but it was there. Where was she going to go now? She wouldn’t be able to drag him along the river. The path would be too narrow for two shoulder to shoulder and there was no way she had the strength to haul is shockingly heavy body. The cave was an option. Utterly unknown. So there it was: a path she couldn’t go down and one that she didn’t know if she could. It wasn’t a fair choice. It wasn’t a choice.
Taking off her own topcoat she torn it into scraps with her knife. She had a flint but wasn’t at all sure the air or her cloth was dry enough to catch a flame. Still, there was no sense in not trying. It took her about a half hour to finally create a reasonable torch. When it did finally take, it seems to glow in a queer way as though the air around it was feeding it somehow. Fery made her way back through the cleft hoping to get a better sense of what she was about to wander into before she brought his body with her. Satisfied, she returned hoisting him up on her shoulder she dragged him, herself nearly bent in half holding the torch out before them. They moved at a snail’s pace as she struggled with him. Her low flame only threw light a few feet in front of them. Fery focused on what she could see moving along with a grim determination. The cleft opened up into a proper cave. She stumbled a few times and had to make frequent stops to catch her breath. She guessed that they had barely gone a hundred yards and it had been more than an hour. The darkness hovered all around them, not oppressive but certainly bleak. Fery refused to let it get inside her, she would find her way to daylight.