Life — The State of Spear Gate

To be honest, I don’t have a whole lot to say today. I’ve had a particularly exhausting weekend, and with the first week of the fall semester happening just prior, I’m a little out of breath… not to mention the fact that I still don’t have a desktop of my own, and that isn’t likely to change until September. So, good on me for being a functioning human being without a real computer for a sizable amount of time, I suppose.

But anyway, I thought I’d talk for a little bit about the state the Spear Gate universe is in right now. There’s a lot going on, but on my blog the only attention it really gets is in the fiction section (obviously) and the little chunk in the monthly updates. That said, it occupies a huge amount of my time and thoughts, so where are we at?

The book just passed 10,000 words, which I’m pretty excited about. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s historically the point at which I get bored with whatever the project happens to be, so the fact that my feelings towards it have only shown the slightest hint of boredom (in regards to the rewrite) is a good sign.

Consequently, I am starting to plan a little bit further and further ahead. I intend to keep the vast majority of that to myself, but know that I am starting to look further than “what happens in the next chapter” as far as what the characters are doing. The strange thing is, they are starting to surprise me with how much depth they’ve naturally evolved with, and I’m scared I’m not taking enough notes! In fact, as of writing this right now I’m creating a Google Doc of stuff I need to not forget.

I have mighty big plans for this universe. A lot of it is too big for the book I’m currently working on, and require things to be established that aren’t. If it does upset me enough, though, I can throw it in anyway and blame it on a “first draft” thing, promising myself to foreshadow stuff in later. For example, ‘Death Warden’ is a special rank in an army unit that has a very specific job (use your context clues). However, Tebrein’s army has never been mentioned and, for where the story is, it isn’t important. So, I don’t know how to fit it in, but I have a cool scene envisioned. This example is one of many.

The Spear Gate universe is huge. Each planet is intended to be capable of comfortably housing several book series that may or may not be relevant to each other, so I can’t possibly fit all of my ideas into the first book alone.

Also, the more I write, the more I realize that I’m sort of accidentally emulating Brandon Sanderson. I don’t think anyone that knows the author would even put the pieces together because on the surface they’re so distinct, but there are points. Now, I realize this is a consequence of my very picky reading habits, but it is what it is. As I plan further and further ahead, Rozire is starting to feel a lot like Hoid. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it.

Story — (SG) Chapter Four, Pt. 3 Rewrite

(I’ve gotten feedback that the things I was trying to do at the end of the chapter didn’t work. Coincidentally, those were also sort of pointless. So I decided to fix it up and go down a different route. This takes place after Esmina speaks with her father and goes to pack her things. I’ve included that second part even though it has changed little because now the original 4.3 post is redundant, and as far as the blog goes, you can go straight from Chapter 4.2 to 4.3’s rewrite without having to read the old 4.3 in between. In simple terms, this is the “correct” Chapter Four, Pt. 3.)

 

“Very well. Am I dismissed, then?”

“Yes, yes,” he nodded, waving his hand. “And be quick about it. We leave just after the Shadow ends.”

With that, she removed herself from his presence, though she was careful not to seem too hasty. As she walked down the porcelain and velvet halls back to her room, she realized that a small part of her was actually excited to get out of the house. She had only been to Tal’Doraken once, and she could barely stand on her own two legs back then. Anyone in the world would have been better company, of course, but her father sapping the joy from her bones in a new and exciting place had to be better than him doing it here.

When she got back to her room, Esmina immediately opened the trunk at the foot of her bed and began emptying it. It was mostly filled with clothes, and she also kept some of her writing implements, older notes, and a few failed experiments. She removed these, as well, since they would be no use to her in the city.

The chest vacated, she thought about what she might need. The chest was a bit large for travel purposes, but that just meant she had more room for bringing whatever she wanted. Clothes, of course. No doubt her father would want her to wear dresses the entire time. A few books perhaps. Some on history and art to appease her father, and a copy of a scientific journal written by a scholar from Thornwall that Gaelin had given her for her birthday.

She thought about bringing her new research notes about the dot. Maybe learned people in Tal’Doraken would be able to verify the authenticity of her findings. Her father wouldn’t approve, though, and he would probably want her at his side at all times. There was no reason to bring her notes, then. She did grab her spyglass and put it in the trunk, however. Not for notes, but perhaps she could find a few moments to sneak away and look at the stars.

She couldn’t think of much else to bring. Personal effects aside, anything she might need would be brought by the servants or else easily purchased in the city. In fact it occurred to her that she wouldn’t even need this much, since they’d only be gone a day, but there was no harm in bringing so much. She would rather bring too much than too little. Her own coin might come in handy, though.

Esmina crawled under her desk and pulled her secret coin purse from behind one of the legs. Nearly two hundred dragon marks, last time she checked. In addition to what she carried around with her, it was enough to buy her own horse-drawn carriage. It did sound more appealing than going in the same one, but obviously, her father wouldn’t approve of such a waste of money.

Placing her savings under her dresses, Esmina closed the lid. It was still relatively light, given the contents, and still had for room for twice as much besides. She could probably lift it herself, if she was so inclined, but that was what servants were for.

(New part.)

Now that she was finished packing, she had to find Gaelin.

Closing the door behind her, Esmina walked down the hall, away from her father’s bedroom, and went down the spiral staircase to the first floor. The servants quarters were behind the kitchen, and nobles didn’t go back there. Of course, it wasn’t as though it was prohibited. She was a noble, after all.

Since lunchtime was over, the kitchen was relatively quiet. Some servants were milling about washing dishes or eating now that their work was done. They noticed her as she passed by them, but none acknowledged her presence save for a defferential headbow. Unusual as it was for her to be here, it wasn’t their place to question.

She went into the servants’ hallway, and as always she was surprised with how cramped it was. The upper hallway was wide enough for three people to walk side-by-side, and that was including the furnishings. In this one, two people passung by each other would have to sidestep or step into a nearby doorway. The wood floorboards also creaked, and didn’t have a carpet like she was used to.

Gaelin’s room was at the end, much like the master bedroom in the hall upstairs. The door was closed, unlike many of the doors she walked past on her way.

The door wasn’t locked, of course. She doubted if any of the servants’ rooms had locks. As she pushed it open, she heard a hasty shuffling and a crash. “Don’t come in!” Gaelin called, a little frantic.

But the door was already open, and Esmina was more than a little curious. He peeked out from behind the bed, only the top of his head visible. When he saw her his eyes went wide again.

“Oh! Miss! My apologies. I’m not decent. I don’t mean to be rude, but would you allow me a moment of privacy?”

“You’re unclothed?” she asked.

“Well, not exactly.” He glanced downwards. “I was in the middle of replacing my bandages. My arm is exposed.”

“Oh. Is it that gruesome?”

“What? No. It’s just… not right.”

Esmina frowned. “Tenshari keep their right arm hidden for a reason, but they’re pretty tight-lipped about it.”

“It’s the way things are.”

“It’s not deformed in any way?”

Gaelin sighed. “Miss, I am bound to serve you in any way I can, but I am allowed my own comforts and needs. If we must continue this line of questioning, may I at least have the privacy so that I may be presentable?”

She thought about that, and nodded. “I’ll sit down and promise not to look.”

He didn’t respond immediately. “Thank you, miss.”

Esmina walked into his room and took the only chair, facing it towards the door and away from him and sitting down. “You may proceed. You have my word I will not turn around until you are prepared.”

“Very well,” he replied. Behind her, there was a slow shuffle of cloth. When Gaelin spoke again, he was higher up, sitting on his bed. “I will answer your questions.”

Keeping her eyes on her dress, she thought about what he had said before. “Your arm is completely normal?”

“That isn’t the word I would use, but yes. It is, in theory, functional.” There was a soft rustling as he spoke. Presumably he returned to wrapping his arm back up.

“Then why don’t you use it?”

“My people are forbidden from using it or even showing it to others.”

“Why?”

“It is a privilege we have lost the right to. For a crime long forgotten. To reveal one’s arm would be the greatest sin.”

“What crime did your people commit?”

“I do not know. I said it was long forgotten.”

“Then what does it matter?”

“It is simply the way it is. For our crime, we are doomed to spend the rest of our days as servants impaired.”

“Is there a way you can be redeemed?”

“No.” He took a deep breath. “You may turn around.”

She did, and was disappointed to see that he looked completely normal. His arm was clothed in a full bandage that covered everything, and he was in the middle of using his other arm to button his tunic back up.

“Not even other Tenshari can see your arm?”

He placed a hand on his bicep. “It is part of our punishment.”

Esmina couldn’t help but frown. It was an entire piece of him that nobody could ever know. She had fantasized about falling in love with somebody and being able to share anything with them. Nothing would be a secret. But Gaelin could never know that feeling, because there would always be that part of them that the other could never know.

It seemed strange and arbitrary. There would be no consequences of revealing himself, just as there were no consequences for her being outside during the Shadow. But he didn’t seem to see it that way. It was his place not to question but to obey, and that was the way it had always been.

“Gaelin!” somebody called from down the hall. “The Shadow has passed! Lord Berold is really pissy and wants his daughter in–”

A servant whose name escaped her walked through the doorway and, as soon as he saw Esmina, his face paled. Servants weren’t supposed to name their masters. “Milady, I didn’t realize you were here. My sincerest apologies, your father has a noble soul, I meant no offense.” He spoke more and more quickly, and she held a hand up.

“You don’t have to lie to appease me. I’m well aware of how abhorrent my father is. But I’d advise you to watch your loose tongue.” She looked to the side. “My father isn’t quite so understanding.”

The newcomer looked both relieved and alarmed by her response, but he simply nodded. “The master wants to leave as soon as possible.”

“That reminds me,” Esmina replied, turning back to Gaelin. “I had come down to tell you to get some of the normal servants to bring the trunk in my room down. I’ve prepared it for the journey.”

“I will have it handle that immediately, milady,” the new servant responded before leaving as quickly as he had come.

“I really don’t like ‘milady’,” she noted after he had gone.

“I’ll be sure to tell the other servants that, miss,” Gaelin smiled.

“By the way, are you coming with us to Tal’Doraken?”

“I’m afraid not. Your father asked me to stay to tend to the manor in his absense.” The shadows on his face deepened.

“‘Tend to the manor’? Gaelin, we have dozens of servants. Why do you need to be here?”

He shrugged. “He’s given me a long list of duties I must attend to.”

“Worse than usual? Like what?”

“I prefer not to say. Unsavory business you wouldn’t want to hear about, I’m sure.”

“You’re avoiding my eyes, Gaelin.”

“It’s best we avoid the subject, miss.”

“Very well,” she frowned, standing up and smoothing her dress. “I suppose I should go anyway, before Father grows even more impatient. Have you been to Tal’Doraken?”

“A few times, yes.”

“Is there much to do?”

“Certainly. It’s a city. But I’m not sure how much would interest you at your age. Beyond that, your father is sure to want you at his side at all times.”

She turned back to him at the doorway and smiled. “Well, we’ll see about that. Anyway, I’ll be sure to bring you back something. And when we return, perhaps we’ll have time to discuss my latest findings!”

He bit his lip, but nodded. “I’m sure we’ll have much to discuss, yes. Goodbye, miss.”

Story — (SG) Chapter Four, Pt. 3

“Very well. Am I dismissed, then?”

“Yes, yes,” he nodded, waving his hand. “And be quick about it. We leave just after the Shadow ends.”

With that, she removed herself from his presence, though she was careful not to seem too hasty. As she walked down the porcelain and velvet halls back to her room, she realized that a small part of her was actually excited to get out of the house. She had only been to Tal’Doraken once, and she could barely stand on her own two legs then. She could have asked for better company, of course, but her father sapping the joy in her bones in a new and exciting place had to be better than him doing it here.

When she got back to her room, she immediately opened the trunk at the foot of her bed and began emptying it. It was mostly filled with clothes, but she kept some of her writing implements, older notes, and a few failed experiments. She removed these, as well, since they would be no use to her in the city.

The chest vacated, she thought about what she might need. The chest was a bit large for travel purposes, but that just meant she had more room for whatever she might need. Clothes, of course. No doubt her father would want her to wear dresses the entire time. A few books perhaps. Some history and art works to appease her father, and a copy of a scientific journal written by a scholar from Thornwall that Gaelin had given her for her birthday.

She thought about bringing her new research about the dot. Maybe learned people in Tal’Doraken would be able to verify the authenticity of her findings. Her father wouldn’t approve, though, and he would probably want her at his side at all times. There was no reason to bring her notes, then. She did grab her spyglass and put it in the trunk, however. Not for notes, but perhaps she could find a few moments to sneak away and look at the stars.

She couldn’t think of much else to bring. Personal effects aside, anything she might need would be brought by the servants or easily purchased in the city. Her own coin might come in handy, though. She crawled under her desk and pulled her secret coin purse from behind one of the legs. Nearly two hundred dragon marks, last time she checked. In addition to what she carried around with her, it was enough to buy her own horse-drawn carriage, which sounded much more appealing than accompanying her father in one all the way to the city.

Placing her savings under her dresses, she closed the lid. It was still relatively light, given the contents, and still had for room for twice as much besides. She could probably lift it herself, if she was so inclined, but that was what servants were for.

Leaving her room again, she went to find the nearest one–an older housekeeper that was dusting one of the hallway shelves. “I need you to go find Gaelin and have him move my trunk in my bedroom to the carriage outside?”

“Gaelin, miss?” she asked, putting her duster on her belt. She looked confused, but didn’t object outright.

Sensing what she meant, Esmina stopped her. “Right. The arm. Actually, go have some of the normal servants do it. Just don’t spend too much time in my room.”

The confusion shifted into a subtle hint of annoyance, but she nodded and left the other direction.

That done, she set off in search of Gaelin. She wasn’t halfway down the hall when he stepped outside of her father’s room, head down as he closed the door behind him.

“Gaelin!” she said, excited. “Did he tell you? Are you coming?”

He rubbed his bandaged arm and didn’t meet her gaze. “I’m afraid not, miss. He asked me to stay here to tend to the manor.”

“Tend to the manor? Gaelin, we have dozens of servants. Why do you need to be here?”

He shrugged. “He’s given me a long list of duties I must attend to. You know how he is.”

She frowned. “All too well. Have you been to Tal’Doraken?”

“A few times, yes.”

“Is it as nice as they say?”

“I don’t know who would s– well, miss, it depends on what you’re going for, I suppose.”

“Father didn’t say.”

“He does like his secrets,” Gaelin mused. The shadows on his face deepened as he said that.

“Well, I’ll be sure to bring you back something. And when we return, I’ll tell you what I figured out with all my notes!”

He nodded. “Yes, I’m sure we’ll have much to discuss. Go wait in the carriage, I’ll let your father know you are prepared.

Story — (SG) Chapter Four, Pt. 2

Within ten minutes, Esmina was fully dressed, shoes and all, outside her father’s chambers. She exhaled, taking pleasure in the last moment of solace as she knocked on the door.

“Esmina,” a low voice from the other side rumbled. “Come in.”

She opened and shut the door in one motion, as silently as possible. The room was tidy, though not by it’s owner’s hand. To her left was her father’s bed, neat and proper since the moment he got out of it. Now, his form was hunched over something on his desk, his silhouette outlined by the bright shaft of light that poured in through the window next to him, which was the only source of light. He wore a bright coat, which was contrasted by the black hair that masked his face. She gulped.“You sent for me?”

He did not look up. “I sent for you hours ago.”

“Gaelin told me–”

“Girl, that Tenshari is nothing more than a servant. It would do you well to remember that.”

“Yes, father.” She had her fists clenched, but her voice was polite. Gentle, even.

“Come here.”

She did as she was told. With every step, her apprehension grew. When she stood beside him, he glanced behind and sat up. He held a quill, and on the desk was a parchment. He had clearly just signed it, but Esmina couldn’t recognize it without examining the words.

“May I read it?”

He slammed his fist on the table, causing the inkwell and a few books to rattle. Her heart skipped a beat at the motion. “If you cared more about your education you would be able to recognize it. This is a Night Seal.”

She frowned. Was this some sort of test? “Forgive me, father, but Night Seals aren’t written on parchment.”

He sighed, an angry rumble beneath it. He stood from his chair and pushed the seat in, looking out the window, at the distanct city nestled in the hills. “Night Seals are bought and finalized through a written document. Then, you go and turn it in, where it is traded for the Seal itself. This parchment serves as a temporary Night Seal until I get the official one in my hands.”

“I don’t understand. You forged a document in order to receive a Night Seal?”

A harsh impact against her cheek sent an involuntary gasp of pain from her lips. The stinging sensation only grew worse as she held a hand to her face.

“I will not have my own family slander my own name,” he said, as casually as if he was setting down a cup of tea. “I care not what silly presumptions enter that head of yours, but you would do well to keep them to yourself. I did not come by this parchment by unsavory means. I traded it.”

Esmina was about to ask if he had won it gambling, but held her tongue. One throbbing cheek was bad enough.

“You are coming with me to Tal’Doraken tonight to go fetch the official Seal.”

“Tonight? We’re going after dark?”

“Are you suddenly deaf as well as daft, now? Yes, at night. This parchment will suffice. That is the point of it, after all.”

She held back a retort about how Night Seals were only meant for one person each, and she would therefore be in danger. Instead, she asked, “Why must I come?” Her voice cut short at the end, and she swallowed.

“There are things I want you to see. It’s a long trip, however. Pack your things. We will be staying the night, but we shall return before tomorrow’s Shadow.”

Story — (SG) Chapter Four, Pt. 1

Esmina scanned through her notes, examining every single number and mark. It checked out. She tossed the parchment aside and grabbed the other one. It had the same numbers and the same equations, and she looked through it as thoroughly as before. She had double checked her work, and both papers came to the same conclusion.

Three quick knocks on the door. “Are you awake, miss?”

“I am,” she replied. “Enter.”

The door opened slowly, Gaelin using his back to swing it outwards as he carried a tray precariously with his unbandaged hand.. It held a plate of food and a cup of tea. “Your breakfast isn’t quite hot anymore, I’m afraid,” he said.

She didn’t move anything from her desk. She didn’t even turn away from her work. “Thanks, Gaelin. Just set it on my bed.”

The Tenshari did as he was told. “It’s already an hour until the Shadow, miss. You’ve been sleeping in lately, I noticed, so I thought perhaps you need your rest.”

She tried to rub the weariness from one eye, but wasn’t about to tell him just how little sleep she had gotten. “I appreciate that, Gaelin. You’re very kind.”

“Miss?” he asked.

Esmina turned to look up at him from her chair. He seemed worried. “Yes, Gaelin?”

“I… Are you alright? You haven’t been yourself lately.”

She frowned. “On the contrary I think I’ve been more myself. Father hasn’t asked me to do anything in days, so I’ve been focusing on my research. It’s kept me up a bit longer than usual.”

“All because of that dot you found a few weeks ago.”

“Yes. And I think I’m onto something quite spectacular, you know.” She couldn’t contain her smile as she thought about telling him about her suspicions. “I may have made the discovery of a lifetime, in fact.”

“You already told me it seems to be a tiny planet. Like the sister-planet only smaller and further away.”

“If all my math is correct, it may be so much more than that, though. Look,” she held up one of the pieces of parchment. “This is the–”

“Miss,” Gaelin interrupted. “Believe me when I say that I am interested in your work. The things you’ve managed to come up with are quite impressive for a girl your age, but I’m afraid we can’t talk about it now. You see, your father has asked to speak to you.”

Her excited demeanor froze in it’s tracks. “I’m sorry?”

“He told me to bring you to his chambers some time ago, in fact. I managed to convince him to wait until you had woken and eaten, but his patience seems to be growing thin. It would be in your best interest to see him as soon as possible.”

She sighed and started organizing the notes on her desk into a neat pile. As always, her interests came second to her father’s command. “I see.”

“I’m sorry, miss.”

“No need to apologize. You’re not the one constantly trying to ruin my life.”

When he didn’t respond, she turned around again.

He stood in the middle of her room, staring downwards. She arched an eyebrow. “Are you sure you’re feeling alright, Gaelin? You’re being far more unusual than I am.”

“Oh, yes, I’m quite alright. I’ll just be about my business, then. Do hurry and eat your breakfast, miss. I’d rather us both avoid an unpleasant confrontation with your father.”

“I will. Thanks again.”

He nodded and left her in solitude, closing the door behind him.

The last few days spent in her room had been blissfully quiet. Nobody telling her to meet with any tutors, nobody making sure she was dressed properly to be presentable for guests, and no lectures about how she was wasting her time daydreaming. She had thought that maybe she had earned some time alone, or her father was too busy to give her any orders.

Whatever the reason, it was nice while it lasted.

Having cleared it of most of her notes, she got up from the desk and grabbed the tray of food. Sitting back down, she realized how famished she was, but the prospect of meeting with her father soon put her in no mood to eat.

Story — (SG) Chapter Three, Pt. 2

Varra Selandin stared out the window of her new room, staring into the courtyard below. The sense that she was being watched was constant now, but there was nothing to be done. It was all in her head. A burden those of her rank must bear. Still, perhaps the meeting with the other Hands would do some good on her conscience. So long as her inability to sleep didn’t have severe consequences.

Three quick knocks on the door. “Are you awake, ma’am?”

“I am,” she replied. “Enter.”

The door opened and warm light spilled into the room, which was otherwise lit only by a small candle. The tall, slim form of a Tenshari stepped in, dressed in simple leather armor. His right arm was completely concealed, hand resting on the pommel of the sword he kept on that side. He flinched at the sight of his superior wearing only a shift, but it didn’t deter him long. “There is word of commotion outside the city, ma’am. In the Meadows.”

Varra’s brow furrowed. “What sort of commotion?”

“It seems as though one of the constructors is hunting something.”

“What’s odd about that? Infrequent as it might be, it does happen.”

The Tenshari made an expression she could only guess was uncertain. “Well, you ordered us to report anything unusual to you, even if it might seem trivial. The strange thing is that it has been hunting for quite some time now. Maybe over an hour. Eathe said I should come tell you in case it doesn’t stop.”

That was strange. Often a target wouldn’t last more than five minutes. “Understood. Return to your post. I will investigate.”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s traveled a fair distance at this point. Right now it is just south of the West Gate.”

“Thank you. Dismissed.” She glanced back out through the window and into the night. Behind her, she heard the door close as the Tenshari left her alone once more.

It wasn’t strange enough to be troublesome, but a constructor behaved very predictably. Perhaps she would learn something that could gain her leverage in the meeting. Anything to help her get through to them.

She pulled the curtains over the window and stripped, changing into more suitable clothes. A simple long tunic over breeches followed by some leather armor of her own. After tying her hair back and pulling boots on, she blew out the candle, grabbed her umbrella, and left the room.

After a brief walk through the palace, she stepped out into the open air, opening the umbrella and resting it on her shoulder. A Hand of Aenias was protected from the night, just as the Tenshari were, but the child in her still preferred having more shelter, especially these days when her indescribable sense of unease was growing stronger.

The streets of Upper Terrace were quiet, as everywhere in Tebrein was at night. Since so many of the nobles here could afford Night Seals, however, there were still a number of people milling about even in the darkness. Since they were primarily used for the day’s Shadow rather than a full night, she was the only one with an umbrella. It made her feel all the more childish and it earned her a few looks, but she shrugged it off. A few more eyes watching her made no real difference.

The majority of the people Varra passed as she made her way to the wall were still the ashen-skinned Tenshari, but a few of the more informed folk gave a nod of “Exalted One” to her as they crossed paths. She gave little more than solemn nods in reply.

As she reached the West Gate of the city, she saw the Captain of the Guard, Eathe staring out into the Meadows from atop the wall. The young man wore plate over a muscled build, and even the way he stood did some measure to validate his title. At the moment, he stared opposite her over the other side of the wall, and was too focused to notice her presence. She made a sharp whistle, and he turned to face her, the pensive frown he wore lighting up into a warm grin.

“Honored to serve, Exalted One,” he bowed, which was an odd gesture since he stood several feet above her.

“Spare me the formalities, Eathe,” she chided as she ascended the stone stairwell to join him. “I got word of what was happening. Any changes?”

Eathe’s frown returned, his expression darkening a bit. “No. But that’s no comfort. Look.”

He gestured out into the Meadows below. Having just walked through torchlit streets, Varra’s eyes were unadjusted to the blackness before her. Still, she could just barely make out a discernable gap in the forest, as if a river parted the trees, or else something large felled them.

“The constructor has made a beeline west towards Lower Terrace,” Eathe explained. “You can’t quite hear it anymore, but it’s still in the area. What do you make of it? I’ve never heard of a constructor going crazy or breaking, but you’d know better than me if that’s a possibility.”

Varra shook her head. “If it’s behaving abnormally of its own accord it would be a first. My guess is that some outside force has done something. It’s either chasing something it can’t kill or its senses have been tampered with somehow.”

“I heard somebody managed to blind one a few decades ago. You mean something like that?”

“Yeah. It’s bad news for us, regardless of what it is. I should go take care of it.”

“What?” Eathe said. “You’re going to go down there while it’s rampaging?”

Varra glanced at him. “I’m the Hand of Defense, Eathe. That’s one of the most important duties of my rank.”

“But can’t you calm it down from here?” Eathe’s face held genuine worry on it, which was flattering in its own right.

“My mother could,” she replied. “But I’m not experienced enough for that sort of thing. You stay here. I’ll be back before too long. If something does happen to me, You may send a small search party in the morning.”

Eathe sighed, his lip tightening. After a moment his face became that of a respectable Captain of the Guard once more. “Very well, ma’am. Good luck.”

Varra nodded and descended the stairs. Behind her, Eathe called out orders for the portcullis to be raised, and she stepped through it as it did so. The drawbridge that made a long ramp between the Meadows floor and the ground level of Upper Terrace was already down, as it always was, so she didn’t have to wait for it.

With nothing barring her way, she set off into the night. “Well,” she said to herself. “I suppose it beats spending another sleepless night staring out a window.”

Story — (SG) Chapter Three, Pt. 1

The ground trembled in his pursuer’s wake. Dirt fell as Maelys ran, and all around him trees uprooted and fell against one another as their once sturdy foundation sunk and swam. Twice Maelys tripped, but his momentum carried him through and he managed to keep his feet beneath him. The monster roared behind him, and the blaring of the horn made the leaves shudder with terror. He wasn’t even sure if it was gaining on him, but he dared not look back.

“Rozire!” he called into the forest. He hadn’t seen his mentor since the thunderous footsteps began.

“Calm down, I’m here, I’m here!” came a familiar voice. Maelys stopped and turned around to see Rozire pacing up behind him. “No, don’t stop, you fool, we keep running!” Pushing on the boy’s shoulder, he sprang into motion once again.

“I was worried you had died!” Maelys choked. “After I fell, and that swordsman appeared, I–”

“I’m alright. We need to focus on getting away from that thing.”

“What about the swordsman?”

Rozire glanced at his pupil and winked. “I told you I’d protect you.”

“Funny,” Maelys grinned as he leaped over a particularly large root. “I don’t feel very safe at the moment.”

“Imminent death at your heals adds a spice to life, wouldn’t you say?”

The forest quaked when the creature stomped on the ground once more, and the ground before the two of them climbed upwards, defying gravity as it rose to their heads and then some, halting them immediately.

“Hallowed One’s curse,” Rozire muttered. “This way.” He shoved Rozire to the side, parallel of the dirt wall, and they took off once again.

“What is going on? Did that thing just do that?” Maelys said as he followed orders. He tried to swallow the fear, but with his chest heaving from the exertion it became a cough.

“It’s called a constructor,” Rozire nodded. “They can mold the elements around them to suit their needs. That means it can shape the dirt however it wants, and it can also create water to boot. Those things are the keepers of the Meadows. They make sure it looks pretty for the folks in the upper city while they keep it treacherous to discourage the less fortunate. Not to mention the creature itself can kill us in lots of creative ways.”

“So it’s not a man, but it’s intelligent?”

“They do have some intelligence, but I’m not convinced it’s a living, breathing animal, actually. Nobody’s sure. The constructors have been around as long as the cities they guard have, though. Lots of speculation, but nobody is stupid enough to get close to one on purpose.”

“You keep saying ‘they’,” Maelys trailed off.

“Yeah. There are over a dozen of these things in the Meadows.”

“What if we run into another one?”

Rozire chuckled a bit, though he was clearly starting to lose his breath. “Can’t get any more dead than we will be if this one catches up to us.”

The deep, horn blaring roar shook the woods once more. Again, the ground ahead of them lurched upwards. Before they could change course, the two adjacent sides walled them off as well. There was nowhere to run but back towards certain death.

Rozire clutched his staff and let out a long breath. “Looks like we have no choice.”

“What?” Maelys cried. “You want us to run towards that thing?”

“No. We’re going with ‘Plan B’.” Rozire was calm, but serious.

“What’s ‘Plan B’?”

His mentor looked up at the sky, where the outline of Eranos was only barely visible through the cover of the trees. “Remember when I got to your little town? So far away that the sister-planet looks nothing more than a distant hill in the horizon?”

Dread sank into the back of Maelys’ throat.

“I told you I was looking for an apprentice in cartography. A young man with a thirst for adventure and a willingness to get into trouble.”

The deep thunder of approaching death was getting louder, but something about Rozire’s demeanor calmed him. “You never really taught me anything about map-making.”

“Yes, well. Here’s the truth. I am a cartographer, as surprising as that may be to you, but it’s the least of many occupations of which I may claim. I wasn’t looking for an apprentice.”

Maelys frowned as his mentor turned to face him. “I don’t understand.”

“No, I don’t suppose you could even if I told you everything here and now. But I’ll tell you some, to get you started. You see, I was looking for your mother.”

His breath caught in his throat, eyes widening. “My… mother…?”

“She’s always been the elusive type. I’ve been looking for her ever since she left Upper Terrace. When I found you I knew I was on the right track, only to find out the trail had gone cold when I learned that you had never known her.”

Another thunderous boom, beating in sync with Maelys’ own heartbeat.

“I wish I could tell you we were going to Upper Terrace because that’s where she is, but the chances of that are slim at best. I gave up my search, and instead I was going to finish my true task. I brought you along because,” he paused at that. “Well, never mind that for now. What’s important is that you make it out of here alive.”

He pulled out the vial of Red Teeth.

Maelys snapped out of his stupor. “What? What are you doing with that?”

“When we were separated, I tried to use it on the constructor,” Rozire explained. “It had no effect, as I feared. Things can never be too easy, I suppose. Here.” He offered the bottle to his pupil, who took it with quivering arms.

“I wish it didn’t have to be this way, leaving you with so many questions, but I can’t say anymore. Do you trust me?”

Rozire had asked that question dozens, if not hundreds of times over the past few months. It had become a catchphrase of sorts. But now, there was no joviality in his tone.

Maelys nodded.

His mentor’s face was grim. “I need you to drink that. All of it. Constructors have some way to detect the presence of life around them, and it targets the biggest threats first. If you drink that, you will be effectively invisible.”

Trees exploded and fell. Through the thinning foliage, Maelys glimpsed gold.

“Once you get to Upper Terrace, they’ll take you to an infirmary. Unless the city has drastically changed since I left, the worst they will do is kick you out of the city when you’re better. Go there, and find Varra. You can trust her. Now drink.”

Maelys took a deep breath and exhaled. His hands were still trembling, but he managed to pull the cork off and, before he allowed himself to hesitate, drank the bottle.

The liquid was cold, but as soon as it fell down his throat, he felt as though he had been thrust into an inferno. His vision darkened, and he could feel the hard slam of dirt against his knees. He heard his mentor’s words swim in and out as he lost consciousness.

“…st of luck, Maelys… Aeni… your path…”