She lay on her back, knowing that she was pinned down, but gasping for breath nonetheless. With wide eyes, Sifani stared up at her attacker. What she saw was something she had no name for.
Claws. The first things that Sifani took in were the claws. Yet in the split second that followed, she was more dumbfounded by the thing the claws were attached to.
The creature that crouched on her sat on trembling, horse-like haunches of stringy muscle, but its resemblance to a horse ended there. Nothing about its shaggy covering of fur, large lurid eyes, or short-necked head – like an earless dog – was normal.
All that in one moment, and then Lorin was upon the creature, tumbling over Sifani as he tackled it off her chest. To her own fleeting chagrin, Sifani screamed when yet another black body streaked past her from behind. There were two of the things! And they were both going for Lorin now!
With a yell – Sifani had gotten her breath back, damn those things! – Sifani stumbled to her feet and ran to Lorin’s defense. Even as she did, she saw three blazing figures of light approaching the fight in speed. Squinting, Sifani jerked her face away by instinct. It was Jatan, and Antian and Namiss! What in the Deities’ names did they think they were doing?
Bracing her body, Sifani sent one monster reeling with a sound kick to the side of its head. The blow knocked it away from Lorin, and its pained whimper immediately became a snarl as it turned its fangs toward Sifani. She forced down a shiver, staring at those fangs. This is a creature of the epheria, she told herself quickly as the thing stalked toward her, so if I leave the epheria, perhaps it will disappear, in turn…
Sifani pressed her eyes closed to the blue-washed world, hoping desperately she was right.
When she opened her eyes to the real world, the dogs were still there.
Luckily for her, Namiss appeared at Sifani’s side, knives in either hand, while Sifani was still gaping.
“Don’t just stand there, Sif!” Namiss screamed.
Dark hair swinging, Namiss slashed one blade across the monster’s snout. Even then, it took Sifani another moment to reorient herself. As the creature continued to train its ruby-eyed gaze on Namiss, Sifani took advantage of its distractedness and flanked it. Snarling, she charged, flinging her arms around the creature’s body and grappling with all her strength. Its head twisted, snapping, searching for something it could clamp its jaws upon.
Sifani managed to snake one arm around the monster’s muscular neck. She used her other hand to grip its lower jaw, forcing its snout straight upward. Namiss moved in, her blades flashing. A crimson line bloomed across the creature’s throat, spraying blood.
Simultaneously, Namiss and Sifani let the body fall and turned to where the other monster had been attacking Lorin. Lorin and the two men with him were standing, thank Donis – Jatan was even holding a stout branch for a club – but the creature was eyeing them all with unalloyed hatred. Moreover, though it was limping, it was still moving toward them.
Namiss held aloft a knife. “Move, Antian!” she shrieked. “Move!”
Antian turned and saw them. He had been with them long enough to know that people moved when Namiss said to move, and staggered aside.
With a vicious flick of her left wrist, Namiss let loose her second, still unbloodied knife. It took the monster in the eye, and it released an outraged, injured cry – a long-lasting screech that made Sifani want to claw at her ears.
“Run!” Sifani ordered through the pain of the noise. She heard Lorin’s voice shouting the same thing only a hair behind her.
Five pairs of feet pounded across the hard-packed ground of the park as they took advantage of the monster’s wound. As each one of them fled through the entrance, Lorin counted them under his breath and then spun and closed the gate, its metal frame ringing as he slammed down the latch as well.
Sifani watched numbly as the creature threw itself against the gate. Its cry was rife with rage. She and her companions simply stood outside the park and stared at it for a minute, shocked into complete silence. As its maniacal eyes darted from face to face, Sifani couldn’t help but wonder, however foolishly, if it had been sent to hunt – to kill – one of them.
Her companions’ silence lasted through their pulling up their hoods and making for the tower once more. There would be much to talk about once they were back in the privacy of their hideout.
Don’t miss out on the complete story! Catch up with the rest of “Bloodlines of Epheria” via the links on the part five page.
Antian and Jatan had their cloaked and hooded heads pressed together, conversing, the whole time they led Sifani, Namiss and Lorin out of the tower and into the weed-ridden park Sifani knew well. Huddled in its shadowed corner of Hashiram, the park was one of the group’s only safe havens in the city. Between its state of disrepair and the cluster of old gravestones in one of its corners near the gate, the place was remembered only for being “cursed by the Deities.”
If the Deities cared about the group’s trespassing, though, they had never expressed it. Feeling the thrill of anticipation in her veins, Sifani jogged ahead of Antian and Jatan and pushed the bent park gate open. She felt a slight jolt of surprise, then, not at the metallic screech that followed, but at Lorin’s suddenly appearing at her shoulder, matching her stride for stride.
Antian followed after both of them, lips pressed into a smile of merry satisfaction. “That’s what I like about you, Sifani,” he said, folding his hands as he stepped inside the gate and surveyed the crumbling walls and overgrown paths within. He chose a narrow section of wall devoid of creepers and settled back against it. “You are enthusiastic, and no one can learn anything well without enthusiasm to fuel her learning. Start canvassing when you wish – that is, of course, if Jatan has no objections…?”
Jatan, steady eyes seeming to focus on Sifani and yet see everything else as well, nodded serenely as he joined Antian at the wall.
Namiss entered a few seconds behind Jatan. She was just in time to cough loudly and shove her hand in her pocket when Sifani looked at her, reminding Sifani of her gift.
With the slightest roll of her eyes, Sifani turned her back to her watching companions and reached into her pocket for Namiss’s sphere of Lightleaf. Though Lorin looked at her questioningly when the plant was already halfway between her lips, Sifani just shrugged at him and popped it the rest of the way in. Drug or not, it would make both their jobs easier.
Only moments later, Sifani felt a surge of intense feeling – anticipation, ecstasy, even the sharp tang of fear – as Lightleaf entered her system. She reached out to grip Lorin’s arm, and together, they canvassed.
The world became awash with ethereal blue, and the objects around her lit up like candles. More than candles – they were flames of white, flames of life, burning comfortingly and dimly in stones and earth, and yet fiercely, almost threateningly in grass, trees and flesh. Sifani had to turn away when she glanced over her shoulder at Namiss – the light emanating from the girl might well haved seared Sifani’s eyes to blindness.
A hand, hard and thick, took Sifani’s arm firmly and turned her about. She found herself staring at a stone-faced Lorin, the only thing in this reborn world that the light and color did not touch.
“Time to remember, Sifani.” Lorin’s lips barely moved – he was whispering so that the others could not hear, Sifani knew, but his voice resounded loudly in the epheria. “Let’s talk about Jans, the man you worked with in the Head Counselor’s home.”
The Head Counselor’s home. That alone was enough to make Sifani’s blood heat to an angry simmer. It had not been her fault. If there was any justice in the world, the Deities had not granted it to her that day. She had stood against a traitor, defied him like a heroine of her childhood stories, and was rewarded with madness she could not control, destruction she could not stop, fear, and finally, banishment.
The anger and the Lightleaf made her tremble from toes to fingertips, but as long as she deferred from reconstituting, Lorin would go on.
“Jans was winsome, wasn’t he. Clever. And he used you and your trust. He used you, Sifani. He used his familiar voice and soothing smile to make you let in the killer. You were almost responsible for the Head Counselor’s assassination, and all because money meant more to Jans than duty or loyalty ever did.”
Or than I ever did. The unbidden thought made Sifani writhe with pain and frustration. Such sentiments were the only thing Lorin didn’t know about herself and Jans, yet would that he knew nothing at all!
Sifani realized her hands were clutching at her stomach, but she did not stop them. She was angry, so angry at that dung-heap of a coward. Jans was the epitome of what she hated – a person who would twist words, promises, knives, anything to serve himself and his own dishonorable goals. And the worst of it was, she thought she might have loved him once.
Her emotions were all anger, now, a tangled mess building pressure in her head she couldn’t withstand much longer. Gods, but this stuff from Namiss works.
Doubled over her own clenched fists, Sifani raised her head to look at one of the pitiful trees in front of her. Once, she had made “every leaf of a tree into fibrous strands,” as Antian had put it. She had been able to see those strands at the time, somehow, with her eyes or some other sense.
Only now, she would swear that she could see the strands of those strands she saw the first time. Her mind was stretched out over a canvass of a million paint-like dots that she knew without a doubt she could arrange at will.
She knew she had never felt this, before. She had never gone this deep – didn’t know she was able to – so deep that she knew she could build, even destroy, with the tools lying before her.
Sifani reached down into those millions of dots as if dipping brush into paint, and knew what she wanted the leaves to become…
I’ll make them into rain, as it was raining that day… The paintbrush of Sifani’s thoughts whirled into action, breaking down, rearranging, casting aside.
What of the leaves she could turn into water, she did. Droplets formed, large and looming and all around her, in her mind’s eye. Everything else…everything else she made dust. Water and dust. Fitting, the only two things that Jans had left behind in his wake.
The voices, even cries, of those outside the epheria were faint and echoing as always. For a moment Sifani thought the noises were wails, but then she made out delighted timbre that marked them instead as shouts of excitement. Wanting to view the aftermath of her work, Sifani pushed her manic thoughts of Jans and the Head Counselor into the background, though the Lightleaf made doing so a visceral struggle.
She was still fighting to get her anger under complete control when fear knocked it aside completely. One moment, Lorin was moving toward her with a slight smile, the next his eyes were fixed on something just beyond her, wide with fear.
“SIFANI, LOOK OUT!” His sudden yell had a strangled sound.
Sifani tried to turn around, but something large and heavy barreled straight into her stomach. It knocked her to the ground, and all the air fled from out her lungs.
Did you happen to miss “Bloodlines” part 1, 2, 3 or 4? Catch up with Sifani’s story and join us back here!
Antian was indeed bent over his notebook when Sifani, Lorin, Namiss and Jatan climbed two flights of stairs to his level of the tower. His light hair fell lank over jug ears, and his thin right arm moved rapidly with the scratching of his pen. He bolted from his chair when Jatan said his name.
“Sifani!” Antian’s expression was all pleasure as he approached her, and he and Sifani touched each other’s shoulders. “I could hardly wait for you to come back. Welcome, welcome.” He hauled two rickety chairs from the wall and brushed a layer of dust from each of them with his hand, gesturing for Sifani and Namiss to sit after he did. “Did Jatan tell you about our next test?”
“Only that there was one,” Sifani replied, declining the seat. “What is it this time, Antian? I expect a great discovery from you today, as always.”
Antian’s nervous foot-shifting, which had long since ceased to irritate Sifani, commenced as he told her of the plan. “Well, it’s quite clear – as you know – quite clear that your power to reconstitute is much fiercer than we originally thought. Your breakdowns in the real world have allowed you to do things we didn’t think possible. We saw this in the test where you turned every leaf of a tree into fibrous strands, somehow, and of course, made the Head Counselor’s home—“
Blessed sweet man – he covered his mouth in mortification, realizing the incident he had just called up. Sifani waved her hand to indicate it was fine. Even if she let herself think about it, she would never admit that she continued to be disturbed by what happened on the day the study and practice of reconstitution was outlawed in Hashiram and its joint cities of Enell and Ashare.
Though Namiss had been with her, the situation had been entirely Sifani’s fault. That was the first time Sifani had experienced a breakdown – a particularly fierce one, for few things angered her as much as betrayal – and she had accidentally brought the Head Counselor’s manor down in dust.
Lorin studied his fingernails as he addressed a still humiliated-looking Antian. “Are you going to finish describing the test, or is this where we insert our own ideas for consideration?”
With an abrupt shake of his head, Antian remembered himself. “Ah, yes, Lorin. The test.” He regarded Sifani again. “Because we know how strong you can be in moments of anger, we’d like to see what your anger, coupled with control, can do within the epheria.”
Sifani tilted her head, resting her chin on one fist as she stared at Antian thoughtfully. “It’s worth a try. Though, who’s to say that my anger will yield that level of power whenever – and wherever- I use it?”
Namiss’s mouth formed an awed “oh.” “Imagine, Sif,” she said breathlessly, “if your anger is as strong in the epheria as it is in the real world…the possibilities!”
Namiss had always been captivated by Sifani’s description of the epheria. There was no Reehler blood in the girl’s veins, so she’d never truly know what it was like – Jatan had recruited Namiss as a scout or sorts, as she outstripped most street toughs in terms of survival instinct and ability.
“It would be amazing,” Sifani admitted. “What do you need me to do, Antian?”
“We’ll go out, as always,” he said. None of them wanted to an accident to happen in their home in the tower, since it had been hard enough to secure the building for themselves as it was. “Lorin will canvass with you, and help anger you, if you need help. Then, I want you to try to reconstitute something you accidentally reconstituted during one of your breakdowns in the real world. Only if you judge it safe, of course,” Antian amended swiftly. Jatan hadn’t wanted them to dare test the limits of reconstitution. There had been no stories, no lore, that even Ileniel the scholar could find of what happened if a Reehler tried something beyond his or her ability. “Pour all your concentration into it and see what you can do. If that goes well, you can try something even more difficult next time.”
Sifani heard Lorin snort behind her. He always chafed at rules. She knew the importance of them, though, and submitted to Jatan’s final judgment about such matters even when it was difficult. There was so little known of Reehlers, anymore. So much had been lost after the Fifth Era Migration that Sifani was determined to see the precious knowledge they gained preserved for future generations this time around.
“Perfect,” she told Antian confidently, to offset Lorin’s scoffing. “Take me where we need to go.”
Sifani picked up the sphere of Lightleaf she had set by the tub and pocketed it. “Thank you, Namiss,” she relented.
The girl’s night-dark eyes lit up appreciatively.
Sifani jerked her thumb at the door good-naturedly. “Come on, let’s go to supper. I’m sure Lorin’s starting to miss me.”
Sifani gave herself a cursory glance in the mirror as she headed for the door with Namiss on her heels. She saw what she expected to see – a woman less boyish now that she was out of her dusty riding clothes, but with a face that was still too babyishly round for beauty, and long hair not light enough to be called golden yet not dark enough to be called brown. Fortunately, it was not her job to impress anyone, only to show up and let others weigh, measure and categorize her and Lorin from sunup to sundown until they figured out something new about Reehlers and the epheria.
The two women’s booted feet echoed in the empty stone corridor that stretched away from the room they shared. As usual, only one torch burned at the far end of the hall, just enough to fitfully illuminate the doorway beside it.
Sifani opened it, and she and Namiss passed through into the circular chamber beyond.
Jatan was already sitting at the head of the long table on the other side of the room, hands folded as he watched Lorin sink his teeth into a juicy rabbit leg. His aging head swiveled toward Sifani and Namiss as they entered, and the light of a smile touched his thin olive cheeks.
“You made good time.” Jatan stood, gesturing to the empty chairs and the food spread out on the table.
“I would never dawdle,” Sifani replied pleasantly, taking care to make her exclusion of Lorin in that statement as egregious as possible.
Namiss rounded the table to take her regular seat beside Lorin. Balking suddenly, she rapped her knuckles on his head as she passed behind him. “Unblessed!” she exclaimed as she sat, eyeing his already half-eaten food.
Sifani touched Jatan’s shoulder in greeting, then settled down in her chair across from Lorin. “Were you really so hungry you would risk dishonoring the Deities by starting without us?” she addressed him.
Lorin grinned, one cheek still stuffed with food. “What can I say? Carrying as much weight as I did this afternoon really wore me out.”
Namiss gasped exaggeratedly, pretending offense on Sifani’s behalf. Lorin winked at her roguishly.
Jatan looked back and forth between them with ever-present longsuffering. He seemed to give up trying to understand, and instead went right to business, his soft accent full of that quiet earnestness that had always endeared Sifani to him.
“Sifani,” he turned to her, “Lorin has told me of Ileniel’s agreement to return to us. It will be well to have him back again. His knowledge of the forgotten literature will be invaluable in the coming days. Perhaps you were right – perhaps he has missed his partnership with us after all.”
The image of the screeching Pipers and the trotting, robed men flashed across Sifani’s mind. “Trust me, Jatan, the life he’s leading now looks positively oppressive.” Her voice dropped to a wry murmur. “I suppose it would have to be, for him to agree to come back into my presence so quickly.” She glanced around, and only then noticed the empty chair next to her. “Where’s Antian?” She had grown used to Antian’s presence, after all those days of him trailing her around the tower with a book and pen.
“Buried in his notes, I’ll wager,” Jatan shook his head with something approximating affection. “He can hardly wait to observe you in the epheria again. Since our discovery last week, he’s barely budged from his writing table.”
Namiss piped up vehemently after slapping Lorin’s hand away from the roll on her plate. “Don’t you think you all know enough about Sif already? Bother Lorin for a while, and give her a little rest, why don’t—“
Shaking her head, Sifani interrupted. “It’s fine, Namiss. I want to learn about the epheria as much as anyone else here. The more we understand it, the more we can teach other Reehlers to act properly within it.”
“And, the more we have an advantage over those who would misuse reconstitution,” Lorin added.
“That, too.” Though so far, the only one who had managed to misuse reconstitution was her.
“Eat up, then,” Jatan said. “It seems you have work to do, Sifani.”
Sifani nodded and prepared to dig in to her food at last. When she looked down, though, her roll was gone. She trained her eyes on Lorin with brows furrowed.
As always, he somehow managed to balance very beautiful with very stupid as he pretended to examine the faded tapestry hanging on a nearby section of wall, innocent as a lamb.
Sifani sighed. “I’m always working, Jatan,” she said.
I thought some of you might be interested in what it looked like for me to write my first novel.
I began my 130,000-word fantasy novel for school…kind of. “Writing the Novel,” the much-anticipated class required for OU’s professional writing degree, started in the fall. However, I jumped in to my novel the summer before.
What can I say? I couldn’t wait! I spent the summer hammering out a general outline, plus the first few chapters of the book. So:
Summer ’10 – I wrote the outline. The outline was not comprehensive – if anything, it was a mere skeleton of the story. It included the backstory, introduction, a handful of central plot points that moved the story along, and the conclusion. The outline continuously guided me to the next big thing, but hammering out the murky places in between was a do-as-I-go process.
August – December ’10 – I wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. Even when I hated it, I kept going. I didn’t edit as I wrote – my professor insisted we would get too hung up on little mistakes, and probably not finish the manuscript, if we didn’t simply plow through. He wanted us to prove to ourselves we could do what seemed so out of reach – finish – before we nit-picked at details.
I finished the required 50,000 words demanded for class halfway through the semester, but I was only halfway done with the novel.
January ’11 – May ’11 – I wrote the ending, since it was required for class whether or not we had completed the manuscript, but I was about four to five chapters shy of actually completing the first draft of my novel.
May ’11 – June ’11 – First draft, complete! I took a break from the manuscript for a little while, then moved on.
July ’11 – September ’11 – I began the draft number two, which meant running a wide-toothed comb through the story to fix glaringly obvious mistakes, fill in plot gaps, add in chapters that needed to exist and didn’t, and rewrite scenes. It was pretty frustrating at times.
September ’11 – I found out I was pregnant! Chris and I were extremely joyful. However, I experienced profound sleepiness at all hours of the day during the first trimester of my pregnancy. After that, I pretty much dropped writing until after the baby was born, so distracted was I by this new phase of life.
Fast forward 8 months…
Our first child, Ellie, was born!
Fast forward 1 more month…
I decided to jump back into novel writing full-force. Not least because enough people were speaking doom and gloom over my life, and how it was going to crawl to a standstill once the baby was born – I really wanted to prove them wrong (And I did! HA! Take that, you naysayers)! My awesome husband made sure to give me a solid three hours to write, twice a week, away from the house at a coffee shop while he cared for the baby.
June ’12 – September ’12 – I finished the second draft, which meant the novel was really, truly finished and in a complete, coherent, readable form. I was pretty excited about this, and psyched myself up to send off the manuscript to an agent.
September ’12 – Beta Reader 1 suggested significant structural changes. I had a meltdown, after which I ate an entire banana split all by my lonesome. I sent a query letter to one agent to test the waters. I haven’t heard back, yet. If I don’t hear back from him, I’ll return to the manuscript and make the suggested changes in *deep breath* DRAFT THREE, and that will definitely take a few more months at the least. As I am fond of saying, blarglesnorfs.
October ’12 – I’m waiting to get feedback from Beta Readers 3 & 4 (2 just emailed me with an extremely comprehensive commentary, which was simultaneously awesome and overwhelming), as well as hear from the above-mentioned agent. Until then, I’m working on the serial that I’ve already mentioned far too many times in previous posts.
And that, my friends, is what it looked like for me to write my first novel. It’s been a rollercoaster ride of a relationship, but – as I know on my more clearheaded days – worth every minute. I’m a much better writer for having completed the project, and it’s an accomplishment to have finished at all. As the fortune cookie paper taped to my laptop reads, “Do not let great ambitions overshadow small success.” So, even if nothing ever comes of the thing (eh, it could go on Kindle, at the least), here’s to the acquired skills that I couldn’t have learned in any class or workshop, skills that come from practice.