Sunday, November 30, 2014
First 5 Pages December Workshop - Ungleich
Name: Amanda Ungleich
Genre: YA Fantasy
“Elsi, wake up.”
Warm hands grip my shoulders and startle me from sleep. Nadu stands over me, her grey hair barely visible in the dark room. I rise up on my elbows and glance out the window. Darkness presses through the glass. There’s no telling how late it is.
“The Council needs you,” Nadu says.
Well of course they do. Tossing back the covers, I stand and thrust my legs into the pants Nadu hands me. I throw my nightgown on my bed and pull on my tunic. Nadu doesn’t have to tell me to hurry like she does the others. I glance down the length of the room where all ten of the female heralds room together. The rest are all still sleeping. There are eleven boys in the room across the hall. Twenty other people they could send, but instead this is my third interrupted night of sleep in the past few weeks.
I tiptoe past the other beds and grab my cloak. The braid I sleep in hangs loose and messy over my shoulder. It will have to wait. I follow Nadu to the door of the house.
“I’ll spare you the lecture on how to act.” Nadu flashes a cheeky grin as she hands me the lantern.
The newer heralds have to be reminded of our protocol and how to act when called by the Council. You can hardly blame them. Everything is new when we come here, pulled from our families and lives as soon as our fate is known. I smile at Nadu. “I think I remember.”
I have been here for five years. Not the oldest herald, but I’ve been called to the Council more often than all the others put together. I bend down, kissing Nadu’s cheek. Her skin is old and wrinkled, and has been as long as I’ve known her. What was Nadu like before she was old? I can’t imagine her as anything but weathered. She holds the door open, and I step out into the darkness.
The woods are quiet, and I relish the stillness. Fires dance here and there - some have died down throughout the night, but others have been tended. Spring has finally found us here in Ilan. The air outside is chilly, and I’m thankful I had the sense to grab my cloak. I forgot it the on the last errand I was sent on, which was to Riffhaden in the dead of winter.
I make it to the Council building quickly and walk in without knocking. If the Council summons, it means they do not want to waste time with politeness. Inside, the center of the room glows in candlelight where the Council gathers around their table. The rest of the room lies bathed in darkness. Soft murmurs bounce off the walls. The room has the feelings of secrets.
“Elsi Aker,” a voice says.
I step forward into the light. “Yes.”
“A story awaits in Galvanour.” The voice has a face now. Rynn Lannard. There are twelve on the Council. He is not the oldest, but is usually the voice of the Council. “Can you find your way?”
I’ve never been there. But I can find it. “Yes.”
“Your Seeker has been summoned. She will meet you at the gate.”
I nod, ever the obedient herald, then turn and leave.
Nadu has given me Marion to take with me. She is young, just thirteen. Nadu wouldn’t let us put our pinky fingers through a portal before she has trained us for a solid year. Marion is capable, of course. It is a brutal, but thorough training that we heralds receive. We are ready for everything. Nadu sees to that. But heralds always start by going with someone more experienced. And as I’ve passed through about as many portals as I have actual doorways in the past couple of years, Nadu uses me to train the others rather frequently.
Marion is eager, her dark hair pulled back into a messy braid. I move and stand behind her, undoing the braid and doing it again, neater, just as I did my own earlier. Marion fidgets, a bundle of energy. I smile down at her dark head bobbing in front of me. She hasn’t traveled to another world yet, and her excitement practically reverberates off of her skin. I wonder when I lost that excitement, if I ever had it. All I’ve ever felt is anxious, and intent on my task. I finish the braid and drop Marion’s hair right as she nudges me.
“A Seeker,” she says in a hushed voice.
I look up to see our Seeker coming towards us. She is tall - taller than me and I am not short. Her hair is a mass of thick red waves that cascade down her shoulders, and her creamy face is dotted with freckles. On some freckles look goofy, but on her, they are beautiful. She’s so pretty you would want to befriend her just for that reason, but her green eyes are so intense that I think she intimidates most that she comes into contact with. She walks with an air and confidence that some would say is cocky. If she is cocky, it is deserved. Seekers have a gift, the rarest and most coveted. They find stories.
She stops in front of us. “Are you the herald?”
“I am Elsi,” I say, dismissing the title. “This is Marion.”
“I am Aya,” she says.
As if she needs an introduction. I’ve never been on a mission with Aya, but I’ve heard of her. Everyone in Ilan has. As a Seeker, her gifting is practically considered sacred, and she’s good at what she does. But the magic that flows through my veins is the same as hers. It just shows up differently. “Blood is blood,” my father would say. We all live and die the same.
Aya peers down her nose at us both with a look of not quite disdain. A necessary appreciation maybe? Seekers can’t go into other worlds without a herald. It is we heralds who know how to get through portals into other worlds. We rely on our knowledge and senses to find the portals, then use the magic we are taught to harness, and push our way through. Though we are not as desired or respected as Seekers, we are necessary.
“We have a task,” Aya says.
I’m impressed that she says “we” and not “I”. Most Seekers I’ve gone with are snobs. Though rightly so I suppose.
Aya’s green eyes flash at me. “You know our destination?”
I nod. I will know it when I am there.
“Then let’s go,” she says.
She takes the lead, which is ironic, given that I am the herald and am the one who will find our portals. Aya just heads off, assuming that I will find one no matter which direction we travel. I don’t know if she is generous to think this or not.
Regardless of her motives, Aya is not new to this. There are no portals directly in our village, so Aya leads us further into the woods. The path we take barely breaks the continuity of thick trees as it weaves through them, a ribbon of a walkway through the woods of Ilan. Morning sunlight filters down through the branches, making Aya’s hair shimmer like red waves of an ocean. She strides through the woods as if she owns them.