Sunday, December 14, 2014
First Five Pages Workshop - Ungleich Rev 2
Name: Amanda Ungleich
Genre: YA Fantasy
It’s the footsteps in my dream that tell me Nadu is coming. The sound of her feet on the hard wooden floor echoes in my head. I ignore it, fighting for a toehold in the story my brain has given me while I’ve been sleeping.
“Elsi, wake up.”
The words collide with my dream just as warm hands grip my shoulders, startling me awake.
My dream scatters, and I force my eyes open. Nadu stands over me, her grey hair barely visible in the dark room. Sweet fate, not again. I rise up on my elbow and glance out the window. Darkness presses through the glass. There’s no telling how late it is.
“The Council needs you,” Nadu says.
I roll my eyes. Of course they do. Tossing back the covers, I stand and thrust my legs into the pants Nadu hands me. She doesn’t have to tell me to hurry like she does the others. I’m old enough to know we don’t have the privilege of extra time. And besides that, the disapproving glare and extra chores I suffered from Nadu the one time I didn’t move fast enough have kept me from lingering ever since.
I glance down the length of the room all ten female heralds share. The rest are all still sleeping. Eleven boys are in the room across the hall. Twenty other people they could send, but instead this is my third interrupted night of sleep in recent weeks. I suppress a sigh, careful of Nadu’s presence. The cold from the wooden floor creeps into my bare feet that I quickly shove into boots.
I tiptoe past the other beds and grab my cloak. The braid I sleep in hangs loose and messy over my shoulder, and I suppress the twitch in my fingers to fix it. I follow Nadu to the door.
“Should I spare you the lecture on how to act?” Nadu flashes a cheeky grin.
The newer heralds have to be reminded of 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. She’d never admit to it, but I’m her favorite. Mostly because I listen, even when she reminds me of what I already know. “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. No use complaining about what I can’t control, even if it leaves me with little sleep. And it’s not like this isn’t worth it. The Council and the things they have me do are keeping our people alive. 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. The cold air nips at my cheeks. Spring has finally found us here in Ilan, but as usual, will be late in showing herself and forcing out the chill of winter that still lingers in the night air. At least the cold will help me wake up.
Darkness blankets the path as I weave through the forest. The huts I pass barely stand out, wedged in between trunks as though they sprouted from the trees themselves, those inside fast asleep behind the rough wooden doors of their homes. Fires dance here and there, the towering trees above me holding the heavy thickness of their scent close to the ground, as if they are unwilling to let anything out, even the smoke from our fires. Just another thing in Ilan I can’t escape.
No light comes from the Council building, but its rounded walls peek through an opening in the trees. I reach one of the outside doors and walk in without knocking. If the Council summons, it means they don’t want to waste time with politeness. I ease the door shut behind me. Wide steps lead down to the front of the room where the Council gathers around their table. All the chairs in the amphitheatre are empty, as they so often are these days, the Council instead meeting in hushed, frantic tones as they do now, seated before me. Candlelight bounces off their faces. The rest of the room lies bathed in darkness.
I stand and wait. Even if Nadu hadn’t trained me to be silent and ready, I think I would still tuck myself in the safety of the shadows. It’s amazing what you can see when people don’t think you’re paying attention. Soft murmurs bounce off the walls around me. The room has the feeling of secrets.
“Elsi Aker,” a voice says.
I step forward into the light on the stairway. “Yes.”
“A story awaits in Galvanour.” The voice is Rynn Lannard’s. There are twelve on the Council. He is not the oldest, but usually speaks for them. He is young, but not as young as me, and I wonder if he bears his responsibility with the same resolve and regret that I do. He stares at me for two breaths, his eyes full of the hope so many in Ilan have forgotten. “Can you find your way?”
I’ve never been there. But I can find it. “Yes.”
“Your seeker has been summoned. She’ll meet you at the gate.” He cocks his head, studying me. “Take a trainee with you.”
I nod, ever the obedient herald, then turn and leave.
Nadu has given me Marion as my trainee. 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’s a brutal, but thorough training we heralds receive. 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. And for whatever reason, Rynn insisted I take someone with me.
Marion’s dark hair is pulled back into a messy braid. I move and stand behind her, undoing the braid and doing it again, neater. Marion fidgets, and 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 her skin. I wonder when I lost that excitement, if I ever had it. Usually all I feel is anxious, and intent on my task. I finish the braid and drop Marion’s hair right as she nudges me.
“A seeker,” she whispers.
I look up to see our seeker coming toward us. Her hair is a mass of thick red waves that cascade down her shoulders, and her creamy face is dotted with freckles. Far from detracting, they only add to her beauty. She’s so pretty you would want to befriend her just for that reason, but her green eyes are so intense I bet she intimidates most she comes in contact with. She walks with an air and confidence some would say is cocky. If she is cocky, it’s deserved. Seekers have a gift, the rarest and most coveted. They find stories.