Hello, lovely readers.
I decided to post a bit of Chapter 1 of Out of Light. I don’t know why, just seemed like the thing to do. I will note, however, that you should remember that this is not a final draft. It still needs a pass by a real editor, another pass by me, and any beta reader I manage to sufficiently bribe. Everything contained in this excerpt is subject to change, polish, and/or deletion.
This is a significant amount of time after Out of Darkness ended, and that’s all I’ll say about that. Enjoy 🙂
Nathalie skidded to a halt, nearly slipping on a patch of damp leaves. The beacons in her satchel shifted, sending out a soft clink of crystal against crystal. The voice was lost in the din of water dripping from leaf to leaf, courtesy of the morning’s rain. She made her way back to the small, winding path she’d just left, her boots crunching on brittle leaves blown from the trees above by the late fall winds. The branches above were still dense with dark red and faded yellow leaves. Those would be gone soon, leaving behind a twisted cage of scraggly gray branches.
She flipped the walking stick in her hand, pushing the metal-plated end through a curtain of thornvines before maneuvering through the opening it created. The thorns, serrated and nearly a quarter inch long, were sharp enough to cut through her gloves, the same swirling green and gray as the rest of her leather gear, leaving her hands swollen and itching for days. If I were stupid enough to touch them.
“Hello?” She called softly, taking a few hesitating steps toward where she thought the voice had come from. If the Essential were still living, and it seemed she was, Nathalie needed to find her. Her job as a Beaconer was to search for Essentials, dead or alive. Most, of course, would be dead. Otherwise, they’d have retreated to safety on their own. There wouldn’t be any Non-Essentials, Nonnies, like herself. Most of her people were of no value in fights, no matter how skilled with weapons they might be.
Nathalie had the most dangerous, and therefore most useful job—in her opinion– a Nonny could have. Inside the satchel across her back were the tools with which she saved lives. Crystal beacons, some green, some red. The green ones alerted a duo of healers and the red summoned a Hauler, whose goddess granted abilities were a bit less helpful.
Most Haulers were little more useful than Nonnies themselves. Strength was always their strongest ability; their secondary power varied by their assigned areas. Those lucky enough to be sent to this forest, The Queen’s forest, usually had a weak teleportation ability. The horses that pilled Hauler carts had a tough time cutting through the thickest parts of the forest, and sometimes Essentials chose particularly inconvenient places to die.
A soft scratching broke into her thoughts and she stopped again. Something was moving, cloth scraped against stone followed by a soft whimpering. The movements were too loud, too pitiful, to be a Clicker. “I’ve almost found you,” she said
“Help me, please,” the voice repeated, raspy and faint. Nathalie followed it forward and stumbled into a small, roughly T-shaped, clearing. Near the center was the ruins of an ancient, and nearly destroyed, building. Little was left of it. A cracked and mossy foundation littered with dead leaves and twigs. Three tall pillars of dark gray stone twisted with thornvines. A fourth pillar had fallen, angled away from the others.
Nathalie crept forward, testing every step with her staff in search of traps and hidden holes left by Clickers. When she found none, she took more confident steps, circling the pillar. It had split into three large chunks held in place by strained ropes of thornvine.
Underneath the largest chunk, what had once been the top if the intricate designs that decorated it meant anything, lay a sweaty, dust-coated Essential. Nathalie knelt and pushed the woman’s muddy hair from her face. Somehow, underneath all the dust, her face still managed to shimmer with the Queen’s light. “I’m stuck,” the woman mumbled, her pale blue eyes glassy. She grunted softly and tried to wiggle from beneath the pillar. Her face paled, and she grunted in pain.
Nathalie gave a reassuring smile to the injured woman. She spoke, offering nonsense to distract the woman. “I used to be envious of you when I was younger. Growing up surrounded by all your shining glory.” Nathalie pulled her braid over her shoulder showing off the glossy blackness. A magic all its own, that glossiness, considering the dirt that covered Nathalie’s braid. The mark of the Dark-Mother, half of it anyway. “Not you in particular, of course. I don’t even know you. I just wanted, desperately, to be ice and light. Like my family. Like the Queen. I didn’t want to be the odd one out at all the silly functions my parents attended. Made me attend.” Nathalie tapped the pinned woman’s nose. Her response was slow, her nose, dusted with silver freckles, wrinkling a full five seconds after Nathalie’s tap. Another distraction to keep the woman calm. “What’s your name?”
The Essential’s eyes moved slowly as she struggled to focus on Nathalie’s face. She guessed the woman had taken at least a light blow to the head, considering her slow reactions, though there was no blood matting her white hair. “Rachael. Do you have any water?” The woman sighed and tried to move again, apparently having forgotten the pain it would cause. She cried out and Nathalie made soft, sympathetic noises. While the woman cried, softly, Nathalie turned and inspected the fallen pillar and grimace. Her legs were crushed, at the very least, and Nathalie was willing to bet her lower spine was shattered as well. Nathalie would eat her satchel if the woman ever walked again, even with a healer’s intervention.
“Hello, Rachael. My name is Nathalie and I’m here to help you.” Nathalie smiled and pressed her fingers against the woman’s neck, checking her pulse. It was strong, and she wondered if Rachael might have weak self-healing ability. Nathalie’s hand lingered on the woman’s neck. Even dirty and twisted with pain she was practically glowing. Essentials were the true children of Queen Lilith. Snowy white hair and frosty blue eyes. It was said they were born so bright that new mothers often had to shield their eyes, lest they go blind. That was nonsense, of course, but a beautiful sort of nonsense.
Nathalie pulled a small translucent bottle from her bandolier and pulled out the waxed cork. Rachael perked up at the sound, turning to face Nathalie, who tipped the bottle sideways. A faintly green water splashed into the woman’s thirsty mouth. She gulped loudly, getting as close to the bottle as she could without hurting herself. The mixture of herbs inside would dull her pain and, more importantly, her powers. Essentials could be dangerous when injured, especially if they became delirious. They’d stolen the mixture from the Clickers, who used it to keep their unwilling mothers docile. Clickers could not breed among themselves, it was said the females were barren, but no one had been able to test that theory.
Nathalie stuffed the cork back into the bottle and tossed it into her satchel with the other empty bottles before pulling out one of the thin crystal beacons from her bag. She stabbed it into the ground near Rachael’s head. It stuck easily. She flipped a switch on the side and there was a soft click of the spikes that latched it into the ground. The light flared, and a steady red beacon lit the area. The crystal inside was a bright, pulsating red. If Nathalie were to open the beacon, as she had before, she would find a bundle of copper wire laced around a small white crystal that powered the contraption.
Confusion darkened Rachael’s eyes. “Why is it red?” she asked.
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