A Novel Excerpt
Elbi’s waking vision was a twisty black cloud backed by a bed of stars. Something shook his shoulders.
“Hey, hey… wake up—shush,” Claudia whispered.
Her dark curls bobbed in starlight as she shook him. Elbi sat up, rubbing his eyes as she went on.
“Zin and I could barely sleep. Morning’s coming. Before the others wake up, I want to show you something—a pond nearby, and tons of blueroots. Nobody else knows. I found it yesterday.”
Elbi slipped from his sleeping sack. Zin waited for he and Claudia on the far side of the camp clearing, beside the high yellow grasses of the valley, which barely overshot their kiddish faces. The three moved carefully into the grasses. As they distanced themselves from the encampment, their pace grew and Elbi voiced questions with excitement.
“You guys really found a mirror? What was it like, seeing yourselves? Is it like they say—like you said? Did you have visions? Did you feel divine?”
“Yes. You wouldn’t believe it, Elbi,” Claudia lit the nighttime with her elation. “It was another world. It took the wretched, dusty room that harbored it and turned it into gold. And me—looking at myself through the mirror like that—it was… freeing. I was so tired when I finally reached the top of the spire, but the mirror cleansed me. Its light filled me and made me powerful. It showed the truth within me, that I can do anything.”
“It was something,” Zin thought after the right words. “Like reversed prophecy for her. What gets to me is that it was made so long ago. It proves the world was purer once, that the black spires once had a brightness.”
How would you know?” Claudia elbowed Zin “Zin never even looked into the mirror. He just ogled his own dumb face—ooh, we’re getting near.”
Claudia rushed ahead, knocking through the tall yellow stalks of grass.
Walking faster to keep pace alongside Zin, Elbi chuckled with relief and said, “I’m just glad that you and Claudia got out well enough.”
“Yeah, you were worried, from what I heard from the others.” Zin cocked his head, grinning. “No confidence in us to make it out of a spire alive?”
Elbi wished that he could enjoy Zin’s casual attitude, but he turned serious. “Alde and Evangeline talked of leaving you behind. Told me that if you were dead, your bodies weren’t worth the hassle. Kian said that Eva was just testing me, gauging my reaction—she probably was—but Alde seemed happy with the idea of never seeing you two again.”
“Well, then.” Zin stopped and smiled at Elbi “Not one bit of that surprises me. And if any of us ought to be left for dead, it’s Alde—that tall bastard.”
Elbi laughed, then Zin. Their laughs grew, competing with one another.
“Shush,” Elbi quieted. “They might hear us. What if Eva wakes up.”
“So what?” Zin hooted, “We found a mirror! We’re divine! We’re untouchable!”
He and Elbi kept laughing until they heard a splash from ahead.
“Guys!” Claudia called quietly. “Come on, just up here.”
They caught up and found Claudia with a teal glow by her feet. Thousands of phosphorescent stalks encircled a shallow pond, splashing light blue luminance along the pale palisade of tall grasses which concealed it. The lucidity of the water rivaled the beauty of the mirror, despite its wavering reflections. The soil underneath looked like another world with its own mountains, trenches, and fields, all blanketed by a softly rippling crystalline sky.
Claudia kneeled and gently grabbed the narrow, rooty base of the glowing, oblong bulb of a blueroot, tugging it up from the moist earth. She pinched its bottom free of mud and lay it on her tongue, then pressed it against the roof of her mouth. The small bit of pressure burst it, staining euphoria into her throat, her gums, the roots of her teeth, the back of her eyes, and then her mind. The soggy air of the valley suddenly felt cool as it circulated her lungs; she breathed a deeper breath than she ever had before.
Claudia plopped down in shallow water and reclined into thought of the mirror, of the Clerics who would thank her, of her village that would be so proud. Across the ten generations of her people who settled beside the the Lake, there were only six unbroken mirrors. Claudia thought of The Grove, the murky woodland at the foot of Sun Summit, housing the cave that concealed mirrors from the world. She longed to go there, to see the six unbroken others, to compare and contest her finding against her people’s history.
Meanwhile, Zin and Elbi also indulged and felt the cool rush of the blueroots’ nectar. Bursting blueness through flesh and soul, they lay back, water up to their ears in the pond, watching and feeling twilight recolor the world into morning. Each of the three children knew that they should have returned to the camp by now, but none voiced the thought because every consecutive instant was more splendid than the last.
The perfect silence grew into giggling after a little grumble resonated through water that lapped their ears. With a splash, Elbi sat up and looked at Zin.
“Hungry, ay?” He laughed, lightly slapping Zin’s stomach before splashing some water at his face.
Zin tucked his head fully into the pond and filled his cheeks with water to blow at Elbi in retaliation; when he resurfaced, Elbi was no longer before him and he heard the abrupt end of a scream. Elbi sat limp at the bank of the pond, opened at the neck by the six-inch biters of a valleycat.
Zin choked as his mouthful of pond water assaulted his lungs through terrified gasps. He jolted up and tripped backwards into the grasses. Elbi’s life polluted the water with redness. His collar tore further as the valleycat’s furry, gore soaked jaw and claws ripped his limp body away into the grasses. Claudia lunged past Zin, through the crimson water, screaming indiscriminately after Elbi and five hundred pounds of cat. Zin grabbed her arm and they slipped back down into the pond. She fell atop one him and mud splashed over their teary cheeks. Zin saw a harshness in Claudia’s eyes. He pushed her off him, clamped a hand around her wrist, and pulled her up.
“No!” She shook, unable to break his grasp. “No!”
Claudia ducked to bite at Zin’s arm as he pulled her toward the grasses in the opposite direction of the valleycat’s escape. She tripped, pulling Zin aground with her, and screamed.
“Let me go! He—he—let me—no! Let me go!”
Zin stood again and pulled her arm so much he thought it might tear off. He dragged her through the mud and into the grasses until she stood, and then he yanked her harder, forcing her to run with him before she thought to resist again. As they distanced themselves from the pond, Claudia’s fury faded into shivers and sobs that nearly crippled her sprint.The thick roots of the grasses snagged her and Zin’s bare toes. They whipped at their cheeks and knuckles. Gripping one another’s arms, they were an aimless disruption of their now still surroundings. They tackled their way through the grasses, wailing between seconds of shocked and sorrowed suffocation, unable to escape that sight by the water.