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No’va Chapter 2 – Full

There was no telling how far into the mountains the tunnel went. With a single lantern, all Thomas Gracie could see was a small amount of light passing over gray stone wall. He was careful where he stepped, as the cavern floor was uneven. Stalagmites littered where water had contorted the stone with mineral deposits over time. Some were fairly large spikes, which Thomas Gracie picked his way around. He dipped to his left, avoiding a low-hanging stalactite. Another nearly caught his shoulder.

It must have leaked through this part. He hunched low to keep from smacking a whole family of them. Wonder how Jenario’s fairing?

He had to laugh, then listened to the echoes of his solitary musings fade down the tunnel. It was too easy to imagine the young man smacking into one of these long rock formations, though he hoped no injuries occurred in the frigid weather. Nickademis already had his hands full back at camp. Adding one of the four leaders would only dishearten the group from a survival perspective.

Gradually, the tunnel curved to his right. He was almost positive it connected to the one Jenario had gone down. A few others branched off here and there, but nothing that contained questionable sounds other than his own echoing movements.

“Jenario! Can you hear me?” He thought it odd no echoes could be heard anywhere else. A little farther down he called again. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this doesn’t connect. But if that’s the case, then where does it lead? It has to be parallel to Jenario’s!

As if to answer his question, the lantern’s light finally revealed a dead end. To his left, a smaller opening continued with the possibility of connecting to his friend.

With a sigh, he contemplated turning back. Having told Jenario not to veer from the main tunnel, Thomas Gracie was not about to chance his own luck. Other than watching his step, he had proven the cave empty – at least on his side, and he hoped Jenario’s was same. The thought of bringing in the group deemed safer by the minute.

Even if the air is still cold, at least we’ll be out of the wind.

About to turn back, a hint of blue caught his eye. It was a faint glow that illuminated the side tunnel entrance, so low in fact that his own light source had overpowered it. But once he turned away, the glow remained. Curious, kept the lantern behind him to better see.

Jenario doesn’t have any such light. Should I..? He peered into the opening.

There was something traced into the wall. The etchings themselves cast a faint aura that flickered along the mark like a slow pulse. Intrigued to its meaning, Thomas Gracie decided to take a chance. He stepped through the opening.

As soon as his foot touched the inside floor, more symbols lit up as though activated by his mere presence. Not one, but four of these marks, lined side by side down the wall. Thomas Gracie just stared in stunned silence. He finally stepped close to the first one and watched while the blue light faded away. It was hard to see anything once the color dimmed, but he swore the symbol looked like waves of water.

He stepped to the second. This one revealed a fiery crimson that reminded him of Shafari’s attempt at spell-casting, and he wondered if the two were related. The mark’s shape resembled something like fire before it too dimmed.

The third was harder to identify. Its fading color had been a light teal tracing several swirls winding into the stone. It reminded him of a drawing Jenario’s son had scribbled out one day. The simple forms of clouds swirling onto the top part of the paper slightly matched the etching.

Maybe it represents the sky? Unsure, he moved to the last mark. It was the easiest to recognize, being the shape of a leaf. Like all the rest, its green lighting faded until Thomas Gracie had to raise his own lantern again to see in front of him. Someone had to have made these, but for what purpose? What does a leaf, a cloud, fire and water have do with anything?

The tap of toenails over stone floor echoed from the tunnel he had just been in. Frozen in place, Thomas Gracie held the light steady as the tapping drew near. When a low growl penetrated the silence, he knew a hungry wolf was about to enter.

He started to back away, his light no longer able to reach the spot where he was sure the wolf’s head had appeared. Now only two glowing orbs of white reflected from what little light reached them, but it was enough to make Thomas Gracie turn on his heels and run. Armed only with a lantern, as the council prohibited weapons, his only defense was to flee.

Why didn’t I think to grab something from one of the Trappers? As a master huntsman, A Trapper was granted this title if the council approved their successful hunts. There was only one in the group, as the rest had been too proud to consider leaving the city. It was these the council had promoted to guard duty, and probably were the same tasked with eliminating those off Jenario’s list.

Thomas Gracie did not hear anything advancing after him. His steps, however, did not slow. He wanted to find Jenario and hoped he was on a connecting path. As he ran, the same four symbols lit his way, dimming when he approached and flaring up again when he had passed. The interest in them had vanished, replaced now by a rising fear that something may have happened to his friend.

“Jen—” His call was cut short when his foot tripped on a stalagmite. The lantern went flying, and so did he. All he could hear was shattering glass and the echoes of his own painful grunts when his arm scraped against jagged floor.

He lay still, waiting for the tunnel’s returning mimic to calm itself. Nothing approached from behind. Not a footfall, a pant of breath – had he imagined the eyes in the dark?

Frowning, he pushed himself up and brushed a patch of dirt from his pants.

Pull yourself together! You can’t go back with your wits a wreck when people are relying on you! Thomas Gracie fumbled with his belt, readjusting himself after the fall when he paused. How come I can still see?

He checked the spot where the lantern had stopped rolling. Its glass exterior lay scattered around the tunnel floor with no lit center. The crash landing had completely drained all the oil needed to light another wick. And yet, there was still a faint illumination that outlined the cavern walls. Curious, and deciding against returning in the dark without a proper light, Thomas Gracie continued.

As he rounded a corner, the air felt slightly warmer.

Has someone managed to light a fire? For a split second, his mind conjured a horrid image of Jenario’s clumsy nature somehow lighting himself on fire. He quickly threw the idea aside. Even so, the air wouldn’t feel like this so quickly. There’s something else here.

Another tunnel just ahead confirmed where the light was located, as a blue glow lit just inside the opening. The closer he came, the warmer the air felt. His heavy, winter clothing was not the proper thing to wear in the changing temperature. By the time he peered inside, Thomas Gracie had already removed a layer.

It was obvious by the cloak that lay on the floor that Jenario had also been in this part. Yet he was nowhere to be seen. The only other thing in the spacious chamber was an oblong mirror contained within a wooden, swivel frame. Light poured from its reflective surface and caught his own puzzled expression when he took a step closer. The air was warmest around its structure.

“Jenario?” Unless his friend had turned back, the room was otherwise vacant. The amount of light brightening the space allowed a glimpse to the far back wall. There was no other way in but the way he had come. With a sigh, Thomas Gracie stared into the blue glow and wondered what to do next. The group could use a little warmth, but how is this possible? Can I move it?

He reached out to touch when the image began to waver. As if a veil uncovered the truth, the mirror vanished, replaced by a single, oval ring hovering just above ground. Thomas Gracie had heard of portals, just never seen one. Fascinated, he watched until the opening revealed the location of his companion standing just on the other side.

Hesitating, Thomas Gracie slid a finger over where glass should have been. Yet instead of touching hard surface, it slipped beneath the rippling image to tap the shoulder of his friend.

Jenario jumped at the unexpected touch. He whirled around in time to catch a pleasant, yet somewhat relieved smile as his friend stepped through the portal.

“Am I ever glad to see you!” Jenario wiped his brow and tried to recompose himself.

“Were you expecting someone else?”

Jenario just shook his head. “You have no idea.” He motioned to the forested area beyond the cave entrance. “What do you make of all this?”

“Definitely something the group needs at the moment.”

“But where do you think this is? Obviously not Astra. It’s not even remotely cold here! For all we know, this portal could have taken us thousands of miles across the sea!”

“Perhaps. Would make sense with the weather.” Thomas Gracie examined nearby foliage. “The trees are still familiar enough. We can’t be but so far. If I recall, there was a map that used to hang on the wall back at Mayla that showed another landmass. No’va, I believe was the name. We could be there.”

Jenario kept glancing back at the portal’s flickering outer-rimmed light. “And if so, we’d have a long trek getting back if that thing decides to close on us.”

“Indeed.” Thomas Gracie eyed it for stability issues. Thus far, the opening to the other side remained clear. “I think we’ll be all right for a while. Let’s go ahead and check the area while we’re here.”

Jenario hesitated. “So you expect to just wander around in this nice springy weather while everyone else freezes?” A hint of anger rose in his voice, but Thomas Gracie reassured him.

“Jen, think about it. We went in the cave to make sure it was safe, which it is. But I’m not convinced, only because while we can come out, something else could go in? Therefore, we need to secure the area in both locations to make sure before risking everyone’s lives. Does that make sense?” He crossed his arms. “It’s not like we haven’t had our fair share of mishaps along the way.”

It was then that Jenario noticed that his friend no longer held a lantern, nor did he see it through the portal where his cloak was still laying.

“So yours broke too, I see.”

Thomas Gracie chuckled as he moved passed the young man. He glanced up to see a break in the leaves, allowing a glimpse of full moon. It’s pale light filtered over parts that were clear of shadows, but beyond the thick foliage of towering forest there was not much else they could see.

“If we stay in the moonlight, we’ll be fine.” He pointed out spots of light. “Just check the perimeter around the cave. Then we’ll go back and get the others.”

“That simple, huh?” Jenario counted the patches of light to his left while his companion started around the other side. A quick glance to the portal confirm it still locked in place. “So long as we make this quick!”

*****

Shafari reached into the snow to where his spherical light had dived. Fingers groped in the cold, unsure if where the light led was accurate or not. Had one of his friends become buried?

It had finally stopped snowing, though every now and then a brisk wind stirred up any loose flakes in the air. Most of the tracks made from earlier were still visible enough to follow without the need of light bobbing in front of his face. He clamped his teeth together to keep from chattering against the cold, fingers numb from rummaging in the snow longer than he wanted. At last, he clamped down on something smooth. Just as quick, the light popped back out, throwing bits of snow in the air when it did.

“Watch it, now!” Shafari scolded with a smile. He lifted the small, crimson pebble out and wiped off the excess flakes still stuck to it. “This was Jenario’s.”

As if to reply, the orb darted to his right, following a second set of prints to an opening in a rocky hillside. Shafari turned to follow and looked up at the mouth of the dark cave. He let out a quick sigh.

“Well, that’s convenient.” While the orb drifted about the empty chamber, Shafari took his time surveying along the walls and floor for signs of his companions. It was quickly noted that several tunnels branched from the main cavern towards the back. “I’m pretty sure the two are still together.” He signaled for the orb by holding up Jenario’s tracking stone. “Find Thomas Gracie.”

Without hesitation, the light sped down the left tunnel. Not expecting the swift response, he hurried after its trail of glowing dust. Its reaction to his request worried him that one or both had become injured on their quest for shelter and a way around the blocked road.

Nick would have a fit if I brought two more injured into the mix of what we already have. He thought back to the doctor waiting at their makeshift campsite. When he had felt the tug of Jenario’s tracking stone, he knew something had happened. Just the mention of venturing out to check caused a series of demands to make sure he knew what he was up against in this weather.

A dead end did not deter the orb from its path. It hesitated only a moment before swooping into a connecting tunnel. As Shafari stepped through the opening, he was immediately aware of several colored symbols that lit in presence of his light.

“Interesting.” He paused by each one, noticing how their pulsating glow faded when he had passed. When he realized his orb had moved on without him, his patience grew thin. “You know, an Assistant Orb was made to assist? Not fly off! See if I call upon you again if you plan on leaving me in the dark!”

For a brief moment, the tunnel remained devoid of movement. Gradually, however, the light returned with a slight droop to its motion. As though ashamed of its behavior, it dimmed and hung low while approaching the magic-user.

“I don’t care if you wander, just not without me.” This seemed to perk the orb up a bit, for it brightened and lifted to his eye level. “All is forgiven. Now, find me Thomas Gracie. But keep me in view!”

Shafari gave a sigh and just shook his head when the light darted around the bend. It soon returned when it realized he was not following.

“Better.” He gave a crooked smile and continued past the symbols, wondering if his friends had also noticed them. Elements are nothing to mess around with. I wonder if they set something in motion by coming here. With that thought in mind, he was careful to check for more while ducking under a family of long stalactites. The uneven floor crunched with bits of dirt and loose stone under his boots. When the crack of glass replaced loose stone, he called for his light to check around where he stepped. It did not take long to discover the broken lantern scattered across the floor.

Shafari’s breath caught in his throat. In panic, his voice croaked out their names.

“Jenario! Thomas Gracie!”

He followed the orb, which darted this way and that at its master’s hectic calls, until it paused in front of another opening. Halting in mid-step, Shafari watched it dim and hover just inside the passage. Strangely enough, a blue glow seemed to wash over the walls. The outer edges of the opening hinted a secondary light source, though he knew it was not from an ordinary lantern.

Why is it warm here? Shafari stepped to where his orb hovered and lifted a hand to extinguish it. “I’ll bring you back, don’t worry,” he whispered, peering into the spacious chamber. It was the oval mirror that captured his immediate attention, and when he came closer it revealed the same secret his two companions had discovered earlier.

Shafari looked on in curiosity as the mirror showed where his friends were through the portal; however, he himself did not enter.

“Let them make sure the area is clear then,” he said aloud, conjuring his spherical light to his side again. It darted in haste back toward the opening in eagerness to leave. “I’ll finish their work and bring the others in.” With a chuckle, he added, “They can thank me later.”

A weave of hand left a fiery message scrolling across the floor for the two to discover when they came back. Then, with a grin of satisfaction, the magic-user let his guiding light lead him back to camp.

“What took you so long?!” Nickademis was not happy to see the magic-user traveling alone when he returned. “And where are the others? Did they..?”

“Relax!” Shafari raised his hands in defense. “They’re fine. And I think you’ll appreciate what they’ve discovered, too.”

“Wait… You mean they actually found..?”

“Oh, it’s better than what you think.” The magic-user chuckled. “Wake the others. We’re moving tonight!”

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No’va – Chapter 1 – Full

I don’t think I’ve posted a complete chapter as of yet, and I have five of them done so far. So what I’ll do is post one a week. Any feedback is great. Let me now what you think as the story progresses.

If you need a summary, check Book 4 link to see what it’s all about!

Please Note: some formatting didn’t carry over, like italics, etc.

*****

The streets of the old city were silent. Colorless, as Jenario saw it, like the winter sky threatening to flurry at any moment. He fixed his gaze back to the lone corner, hoping no guards were on patrol this late at night. Closing his eyes, he thought over the escape plan. When he reopened them, his uncertainly was no different than his cold surroundings. It was pointless to turn back now.

He felt an inner pocket where he had last put the list of names. When the sound of crimping paper met his ears, he gave it a good pat before moving alongside a shadowed building. The list was proof enough that the council was targeting people. Jenario had even seen his own name, among countless others he recognized. At the corner, he held his breath before peering around its side – empty. He released his breath in a puff that he could see in the frigid air.

Get a grip, Jenario Onyx! You know the plan as well as any. Just wish the night were over! With the side streets vacant, he then turned and motioned for a small band of citizens to creep from shadow. To be caught past curfew was considered a crime, no matter the reason or age. It was night duty of a leading council member to watch over the streets. Yet the four who were responsible were the very ones organizing the escape. Each night, one member of the council led a group from the city. Tonight would be the last, and it was Jenario’s watch. Can’t mess this up.

Ahead, he could just make out the dark crimson outfit of Shafari waiting at the main gate. For many years, they had served together on the council, a council that seemed to be targeting those with magic. It was no surprise to read his friend’s name on the list, though for now he kept it a secret.

“Took your time getting here,” Shafari said when his companion finally joined. Pea-green eyes glanced over Jenario’s shivering form. “Afraid someone might see?” He waved the group forward until they crowded around for the next step in the plan. “I’m sure you could handle yourself. Throw some of that sour tea in their face, maybe. That’d stop ’em. It did Nickademis, that’s for sure.”

“Funny.” Jenario said without emotion. “Should’ve stuck to his medicines and not go poking around in my things.” Jenario hugged his arms closer to his chest for warmth. His outfit contained a high collar, but it did little against the chill. Being an ornate vest worn by council members, he had little time to prepare his own family before departing. He shivered again. “We should’ve been gone hours ago. Snow’s coming. And by the way, that was not tea! Hard enough they’re after magic-users when I can’t even practice alchemy.”

Shafari nodded with a slight smirk, his crop of curly brown hair bobbing with the motion

“Too close to magic, I suppose.” He held out a hand for a flickering ball of light to appear before clenching his fists. The light quickly extinguished. “Shame. Least I can boil water properly. At any rate, it’d be good if it snows. ‘Twould cover our tracks.”

Jenario blinked at his friend’s words. “I can boil water!”

“Hardly.”

“Wha—” But by then Shafari had already moved ahead, leading the people out into the wilderness.

“Just close the gates, Jen! I’ll wait for you ahead.”

Jenario sighed in a huff and made his way over to the control quarters just a little ways to the far right. The plan was simple. Shut the gates. Make it look like nothing happened. Time it so he could run out. Join the others.

Yeah. Simple. Once in the control room, he reached for the wheel that connected to a pulley system. A good tug unusually set its ball-and-chain mechanism in motion, but Jenario was finding it a little difficult this time. Thomas Gracie must have had help with this! He put all his weight against it, hoping to hear the clank of giant iron chains and cannon-sized ball weights activate. If the weights rose, the gates opened. Lowered, and the gates shut with a force that no man without proper strength could get back open.

The wheel suddenly gave, nearly taking his fingers off in the process. He staggered back, holding his aching hand as the familiar clank of chains rotated on its pulley system. Now he just needed to get through the gates before they shut.

The mechanism was slow, so Jenario took a final look at the gray buildings he had accepted as home for many years. He had met his beloved here, Tia. She would be with the others by now, safe from the clutches of the council. Anger stirred when he found her full name printed on the list: Jileathia. Although she had not accepted the name Onyx just yet, they already had a two-year-old son. The city just never suited the married way of life. Yet, with the promise of leaving, Jenario hoped she would reconsider.

The chains’ rotation was nearing an end. Jenario turned to scoot through the gates when silhouetted movement caught his eye. A thick arrow splintered against the heavy doors. A second zipped directly behind his chin. Jenario dived through the narrowing gap before a third ricocheted off a wall.

They started tonight? Jenario scrambled to his feet, flinging dirt from his hands in the process. He darted after Shafari’s group with little hope they would escape when those gates were let back open. He forced his legs to pump harder.

It was Thomas Gracie who grabbed him and swung him over into the thicket. That patch of white against thick black hair was a dead giveaway. Soon, Jenario’s pounding heart settled enough so he could speak.

“They saw!” Jenario gasped for breath. “We need to move!”

“And you would lead them right to us!” Thomas Gracie hunched down and stilled himself to listen. “Just wait a moment.”

In the distance, they could hear the echo of chain clanking in reverse. The gates, to their dismay, were being opened.

“They’re coming!” Jenario started to get up, but Thomas Gracie held up a hand for silence.

Footsteps drew their attention to the lone magic-user Shafari. Through a thin opening in the bramble did Jenario watch his friend lift a hand toward the city. Soft murmuring confirmed one of his dilapidated spells, and for a moment Jenario thought he would laugh.

Is he serious? Yet when he saw a red glow fill the palm of his hand, Jenario began to wonder. He could still hear the clank of chain, seeming to pause a moment. Then, as though someone viciously pulled on it, the chains pounded against the side of the gates until something heavy slammed down with a loud crack!

Shafari then turned toward the location of his hidden companions. “I doubt they’ll be following anytime soon.”
Thomas Gracie was the first to climb from the thick branches while Jenario struggled to get his footing. Random twigs kept scratching at his face or clinging to his vest. His noisy struggle silenced all other conversation until their friend stumbled out to the road, though not without tripping over some roadside bramble and falling face down in the dirt.

He lifted his head to witness the first sign of snow beginning to fall. It settled over the dirt in front of his nose before the hand of Thomas Gracie blocked his vision in attempts to help him up. Jenario quickly accepted.

“Interesting.” Shafari admired his handiwork while rubbing his curling goatee in thought. He ignored his companion’s embarrassed flush of pink warming his cheeks while trying to recompose himself. “Not exactly where I was aiming, but it’ll do.”

“What do you mean?” Jenario dusted himself off and squinted in the distance to what the thunderous sounds had meant. What he saw gave him chills. The weighted balls still glowed faintly, the light seeming to hold it against the outer wall that now had a giant crack up the side. The gates, he realized, were stuck without a functional pulley system.

Thomas Gracie sighed deeply. “You were going for the actual gates, weren’t you?”

Shafari shrugged. “Close enough.”

“So much for being foolproof,” Jenario murmured, but his friend flashed a look in warning.

“Foolproof?” Shafari’s tan eyebrows lowered in annoyance. “It was foolish to believe it couldn’t be broken. I’d like to see them get it fixed anytime soon, ha!” He turned down the road that led deeper into the unknown with his companions following.

Jenario glanced around the dark woods lining either side of the path. He had no idea where they were headed or how far the other group had traveled ahead of them.

“I’m assuming Nickademis took the others?”

Thomas Gracie nodded. “I made sure to keep everyone far enough in case someone got suspicious.”

“And Tia? How’d she fair?”

“She handles well under pressure when asked to leave quickly.” Thomas Gracie’s tone was reassuring. “Nickademis wanted his son with the first group, so she’s been watching over your son as well as Nicholas.”

“Shame the council would waste good doctoring skills,” they heard Shafari mutter ahead of them. He briefly glanced over his shoulder to add, “Nicholas would’ve made a good doctor as well, but for his magical talents they’d rather see him and others burn!”

YOU ESPECIALLY, Jenario wanted to say, but remained silent until they reached a makeshift campsite. Through magic, Shafari had marked a path only he could see off the main road. Soon they could hear the rustle of canvas tents being packed and the clink of cups and utensils finishing a quick meal for those who had arrived earlier.

Nickademis must have known the three were close, for the doctor was already heading their way when they came through the trees. His bearded smile was a relief to all three that they had safely escaped the clutches of the council. Now all that was left was putting some distance between them and the city.

At the far end of camp Jenario spotted Tia. His wave received that warm smile he missed ever since departing that morning. His attention soon reverted back to his companions.

“So it’s all settled,” Nickademis was saying. “We’re finally done with that place.”

“‘Bout time.” Shafari said without emotion. “I’m itching to practice my magic again.”

“Don’t worry, my friend. I’m sure we’ll have need of your magic soon enough – providing it works correctly.”

Shafari frowned, mumbling an incoherent curse under his breath, of that Jenario was certain. Since the council had built up a reputation of disliking magic, those with the ability had to ever hide it or leave. For those powerful enough to produce more than simple fireballs or illusionistic lights, practice time to keep control of their powers was limited. Yet being on the council had its perks, as night watch for Shafari meant no one would be around – plenty of time to practice.

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH. Jenario thought back to instances of abnormal plant growths and wrecked rooms of overturned, broken furniture. For Shafari, practice was never enough.

Thomas Gracie held out a hand for the snow to settle. They were getting larger by the minute and coming down faster. Already, a thin covering lay over the ground in certain areas. “We need to move out while the road is still passable.”

Agreeing, the four separated to their respected sections to help with packing.

Tia had the majority of their things already packed by the time Jenario crossed the clearing. A refreshing kiss on the lips kept the chill wind at bay a little longer before slowly drawing apart. Her pixie-cut hair wavered in a brisk breeze as she held up a wool cloak.

“I knew that outfit wouldn’t be warm.” She helped wrap it around his shoulders, its dark color similar to the one she wore.

“I could’ve used this earlier.” He halfway closed his eyes to the touch of her fingers caressing the beginnings of a beard across his chin. Barely breaching his twenties, he could not wait for it to darken some more over his cheeks to hide that ‘baby-face’ look, as Shafari called it. Even the hair across his scalp needed to grow out more, having been shaved back to a fuzzy spiked appearance when he had asked for the magic-user’s help in making look manlier. The frazzled spell nearly took off his head instead. “What of Abraham?”

“He did fine. Nicholas helped keep him entertained during the move.”

“That so?” Jenario could see Nickademis’ teenage son behind her tying a few items onto their packs. By his side, their two-year-old son jumped around in the newly fallen snow. His chubby dimpled-cheeks and bright eyes made his father smile proudly. “And you? I worry about you being out here when the weather’s about to bury us alive!”

Tia laughed. “Not for long.” She nodded toward the group preparing to move out. “Looks like your fearless leader is ready.”

“Better not keep them waiting.” Jenario gave his fiancée a quick peck on the cheek, then stepped around to help. “Everything in order, Nicholas?” He grabbed one of the bags and swung it onto his back.

“Yes, Sir.” Nicholas gave a sharp tug to make sure nothing fell out from the canvas sack. He started to pick up the smaller ones while Abraham ran over to his father to hug his leg in play.

Jenario patted his son’s head, careful not to let his heavy load slip. “Where’s Mama? Go see Mama!”

Tia held out a hand for her son to cling to while Jenario and Nicholas finished collecting their things and headed out. The clearing was fairly empty, as their family was last to depart. By now, the snow was falling so thick that it did not take long for their tracks to disappear completely.

It was easy to lose track of time, especially when everything looked the same. Snow blanketed the earth so deep that Jenario had to carry his small son at times. He worried about the cold getting to him, for every now and then his little body shook in a coughing fit.

Hours turned into days as the group continued to follow Thomas Gracie and Shafari’s guiding light he managed to conjure when nighttime fell. When they finally stopped to set up camp, Nickademis made sure to go around to each family to assess their health. Several had already taken ill in the severe weather, and it was only getting worse.

Jenario was glad Nicholas was around to help pitch the tents. He wanted his family away from the wind as soon as possible, but it was taking longer due to the deep snow. They dug out as much as their numb fingers would allow before nailing long stakes into the hard ground. When they were done securing shelter, Nicholas started toward another family who was struggling to pitch theirs.

“You’ll be all right, Nicholas?” Jenario called after the teen, who replied with a single nod.

After making sure his family was safely inside, Jenario checked a couple of his personal belongings. He counted the various sized vials and glass containers Tia had managed to grab from his secret home lab. While a few were empty, most contained ingredients for when they settled long enough to start testing his alchemy again.

Satisfied that none of his vials were damaged in the move, Jenario checked on their food supply. It was low. Wondering how others were fairing, he made his way out in the blustery wind to find Thomas Gracie.

“I’ll be back,” he promised before securing the tent flap once outside. A sudden gust nearly stole his breath, and he staggered back in surprise.

THE COUNCIL NEVER NEEDED TO DO ANYTHING, he thought in disgust. IT WAS ALL A RUSE JUST TO GET US TO LEAVE. THEY KNEW THE WEATHER WOULD FINISH THE JOB!

Holding both sides of his hood, Jenario fought against the wind to locate their leader’s tent. The snow was blinding, often blowing in his eyes with no way to rub out the sting. He flexed his fingers, trying to keep them from cramping up inside his wet gloves. They were not made for this type of weather as he buried them instead beneath his wool cloak. With nothing to keep his hood secure, it blew back in the storm’s fury. Head bowed, Jenario plowed forward.

He missed his name being called over the howling wind, but when he lifted his head he was relieved to find light closing distance. Then all went still. No wind or snow beat against his cloak or blew back his hood. Instead, it beat against a shield that encircled his body when Shafari joined his side.

“I’m good for some things, right?” The magic-user smiled in content with his doings and led the way with a ball of light dodging snowflakes across their path.

Jenario was just happy to finally enter Thomas Gracie’s tent. Dousing his light, Shafari went over to sit next to Nickademis. The doctor was still shaking snow from his long coat as Jenario joined Thomas Gracie. A low flame was enough to heat up a tin pot, and soon warm drinks were being passed around. Jenario could not stop thinking of Tia as he took a long sip. The warmth of it settling down his chest chased away a stubborn cough. His fingers wrapped around the tin’s hot edges, hardly noticing his flushed skin when it felt so much better than being outside.

“I put shields around some of the others,” Shafari continued. “It’s the best defense against this type of weather.”

“And they’ll hold?” Thomas Gracie eyed the crimson magic-user before taking a drink.

“An hour at most.” Shafari downed his mug before pouring another. “Enough to keep the frostbite at bay.”

Nickademis cleared his throat. “That IS a problem. I’ve a few who’re showing signs.”

“I hope your son doesn’t get anything.” Jenario motioned toward the secured tent flap with his cup. “He’s a good boy helping the way he does and doesn’t even mind the cold.”

Nickademis’ beard rose a little more around the cheeks when he smiled. “That he is. He’s a strong one, but I told him not to stay out long. This weather is not what we had hoped.”

“We need to find REAL shelter,” Jenario said. “An hour isn’t enough to hold against the cold, especially when we’ve got someone still with child.”

“I checked on Ahnalee myself,” Nickademis said. “Friend of Tia, isn’t she?”

Jenario nodded. “Very close. I’d hate to think she’s about to lose a friend because of a still-born.”

“I’ve heard of caves being up this way – cut into the mountain ranges,” Thomas Gracie said. “With luck, we’ll run into one. See if it’ll do ’til the storm subsides.”

There was a brief moment of silence while everyone just sat watching steam rise from the kettle. Now and then a slurp from their cups interrupted the howl of wind and flapping canvas parts not totally secured outside. It was in this moment that Jenario thought about the list. Reaching beneath his cloak, he pulled out the folded parchment and handed it to Thomas Gracie.

“I found this before we left,” he said as his friend unfolded it in puzzlement. The other two men leaned closer to better see. “If we haven’t left when we did, they were going to start eliminating us, one by one.”

Nickademis’ face turned a shade redder in sudden anger. He slapped his cup down, splashing some of its hot contents on Shafari’s sleeve.

“If they thought they were going to knock off my son, they’d-of had another thought coming!”

Shafari rubbed the stain from his clothing with a disgruntled look. “Doesn’t look like Nicholas was the youngest, either.” He glanced toward Jenario, who dropped his gaze at the thought of his young son being a target.

“Just because of the magic?” Nickademis was still on a tangent when Thomas Gracie located his own name.

“So why are you on there?” Shafari pointed to the paper. “I can understand myself, or even Jenario.”

At this, Jenario gave him a dirty look that read, NOT THE TEA THING AGAIN!

“So why you? You’re no magic-user.”

For a moment, Thomas Gracie just stared at the list. His friends waited.

“I knew too much,” he finally said.

“Ha!” Shafari chuckled. “I always said you were one shy of a mind-reader!”

Thomas Gracie handed the list back to Jenario. “Keep it. Might be useful to double check individuals in our group.”

With a nod, Jenario tucked it back inside his shirt.

“In the meantime,” Thomas Gracie continued, “Let’s be on the lookout for better shelter. The surrounding trees offer some protection from the wind, but it won’t be enough for long once Shafari’s spell dissipates.”

“We’re also running low on supplies,” Jenario said. “We should start utilizing those with hunting skills to help look for game in the area.”

Nickademis leaned back with crossed arms. The swell of anger had lessened, along with the red in his cheeks. He sighed loudly.

“Let’s start at first light,” he said. “The storm would’ve let up by then so they can better see—“ A sudden crack outside the tent shut his mouth. Startled, all four perked up to listen to the sounds of splintering bark ripping nearby.

The jolt across ground sent shivers down Jenario’s spine. Being closest to the tent opening, he flung the flap open to peer outside…and gasped.

“Get out! Get out!” His desperate shouts jolted his friends into action. They scrambled out just as several large trees rolled down the slope. Shafari nearly dived onto the others when a thick mound of snow-covered tree trunk nestled overtop their belongings, crushing everything into the snow.

“Or perhaps we can start now.” Jenario’s voice came in a breathless squeak, concerned that more might continue toward the other tents. For now, the trees remained still in the blustery night.

“I second that,” Nickademis was quick to agree. “‘Cause it looks like the way forward is now blocked.” He eyed Shafari a moment. “Unless you think your magic could move it.”

“Probably blast more than we want,” Shafari said dully. “I wouldn’t recommend it since the snow is still soft. Might bring more of THIS down on the group.” He pointed to their crushed belongings.

“I’ve a lantern back at my tent,” Jenario said. “I can grab it so Shafari doesn’t have to waste energy keeping tabs on all of us.”

“All right.” Thomas Gracie pulled the collar of his outfit up higher around his neck. “Nick, Shafari, why don’t you two stay here to keep an eye on things? Jen, grab that lantern and let’s search for a way around. Might get lucky and find better shelter.”
Jenario held the lantern out so he could better see through the winding trees. His other hand rested against a pocket containing a pebble – Shafari’s version of a tracking system. Both he and Thomas Gracie carried one, which the magic-user swore he could find should they get lost.

What about a protection spell? Why not that instead? He glanced over to his companion, who was busy looking off to the right. The wind was not as harsh once off the open road. Still, the crack of weighted boughs overhead gave Jenario the chills.

“Hope nothing falls on us.” He kept checking overhead. “Think there are bears around here?”

“I wouldn’t worry so much about bears. Maybe a wolf or two. Bears wouldn’t be out in this.”

“Yeah. They’re probably all in the caves we’re looking for.” The whistle of wind as it passed through the treetops startled him at how high pitched it sounded. A wolf howl added to the mix. “Do you think we’ll be able find our way back?”

“Sure, just walk straight.” Thomas Gracie chuckled. “Besides, we’ve got these.” He patted a side pocket.

Jenario kept checking the fabric surrounding his pebble. His fingers came away warm. “And we’re trusting our lives to a rock? Right. Don’t suppose they’ll catch fire, will they? Does yours feel a little warm?”

“Shafari means well. Besides, he hasn’t let us down entirely.”

Flashbacks of broken furniture kept coming to mind as Jenario tried to keep his balance in the deep snow. The words, “Look out!” did not register fast enough. A loud crack drowned out anything Thomas Gracie tried to say before both men dodged a clump of snow falling between them.

Jenario lost track of his lantern down an embankment. With everything covered in white, he had not noticed the dip beyond the set of trees he dived between. He watched the light disappear first before the soft snow gave way, and he followed after.

It was as though a wave of white washed over him. It was all he could see as he tumbled down the hill until he finally came to rest. Sprawled out, he figured his position was similar to the snow angels children made along the streets of Mayla. As strict as the council was, they did allow for some fun – but not much. Keeping up with their studies was more important than being with family, and most were enclosed in schools to be taught what parents were not aware of, save for council members. Being a member had given him and his friends access to those teachings, rules, regulations, punishments, and more. Jenario was only glad his son would never be a part of that system.

His cheeks stung from the wet cold pressing around him. It was a struggle to dig himself out and stagger to his feet. He wiped snow from around his eyes and glanced around the area. Thankfully, his lantern was still lit and slightly protruded from the snow not far from his landing spot. With limited vision, he quickly scooped it out and held it aloft to better see.

Light played along a rocky cliffside, long tendrils of icicles clinging to overhanging edges. The sound of wind whipping across hollow space suggested an opening. Jenario trailed the light down to his left until it failed to penetrate the dark mouth of a small cave. It was just large enough where a grown man could walk inside. He peered inside.

I NEED MORE LIGHT. Too dark to see how far back it went, Jenario checked the hillside to see Thomas Gracie’s light at the top.

“Jen, you all right?”

“Fine! There’s a cave here! Can you make it down?”

“Hold on! Let me find a way around this drop-off!”

Jenario waited, following the sound of crunching snow as Thomas Gracie made his way down the slope. It did not take long for him to join his companion in front of the cave.

“Good job.” Thomas Gracie slapped his hand over Jenario’s shoulder in good faith, then entered the cave. “You’ve always managed to do what you thought was best.”

“By falling head first?”

Thomas Gracie chuckled. “You use your head. That’s a good way to be. Me? I tend to act on impulsion. That’s why my name was on the list.”

Jenario followed his companion, the extra light allowing for a glimpse into the back caverns. The farther they walked, the more they realized the tunnels split between a left and right path. Thomas Gracie paused in front of the left passage and directed his lantern over to Jenario’s right.

“You take that side. See how far down it goes, but don’t branch off into any others.”

“What are we looking for?”

“Oh, just making sure no bears linger around, that’s all.” He winked before entering the tunnel.

“Wait…what!?”

An echoing chortle answered, his traveling light fading from Jenario’s sight. “You want your son out of the cold, don’t you? Just check the tunnel, Jen!”

Jenario sucked in a breath before proceeding to the opening off to his right. He swung the lantern around a bit just to make sure it was clear. Then he entered, hating the sound of his boots crunching over small pebbles and tripping over the occasional stalagmite.

Anything here would know instantly where I am…however far down this goes!

His foot caught against a stalagmite, jolting him forward in a flailing attempt to keep his balance. The lantern scraped across rocky surface, busting one side of the glass. While fragments streamed down the side wall, Jenario had no choice but to let go so he could bring up both hands in time to catch his fall. He was lucky no other stalagmites rose under him as he listened to the lantern skid across uneven floor. The palm of his hands burned where they had scraped the rough ground but managed to push himself to a sitting position. Ahead, the lantern winked out.

Jenario stilled himself, trying to listen for any other sounds. At the moment, his weathered breathing was the loudest. Despite his attempts at keeping quiet, the rustle of fabric and creaking leather boots still echoed down the tunnel. He thought about calling to Thomas Gracie, but dropped the idea.

I can’t even hear anything over myself! How am I supposed to hear him, let alone expect him to hear me?

Jenario squinted, barely making out a bend in the passage just ahead. What should have been complete darkness turned into a search for a possible light source. With his lantern now useless, he left it where it lay, though he could not avoid the multitude of shattered glass cracking under his footsteps. As he turned the corner, the walls took on a slightly different hue. A blue glow faintly illuminated the cavern walls. It was enough to see some of his breath rise in the frigid air.

“Hello?”

A returning echo of his question was the only response.

“Anyone here?”

Jenario pressed on, the walls slowly brightening the farther he walked. A chamber off to his right seemed to contain the source, so he hastened his steps. When he reached the room, he cautiously peered inside as if half expecting some frightening spectacle to jump out at him. What he saw instead drew lines of confusion across his brow.

An oblong mirror rested within a wooden frame. Its base was built to allow rotation for better viewing. Even from a distance, Jenario could make out intricate details carved into the frame itself. A crest of flora at the top secured the mirror in place, with its center being the source of light.

Like a curious child, Jenario was drawn in fascination. His mind was a whir of questions.

Shafari would love this! He’d be analyzing its magic and have an answer in no time on how it works! Remembering the pebble, he felt around in his pocket to see if it was still there. Wonder if he can be summoned? However, his fingers came away empty. It must have slipped out when I fell…twice!

Ashamed at his clumsiness, Jenario stood basking in the mirror’s light and wondering what to do. It felt warmer the closer he came, until he felt the need to remove his cloak.

“What is this?” He reached out to touch its glowing surface when the entire structure began to distort. Like rippling water, the mirror faded, leaving instead a portal. Its outer rim held a faint glow while the center image no longer reflected his surroundings, but someplace else. “What..?”

A snarl from behind made him turn just as a grey wolf charged. When it leaped at him, Jenario held up his hands with a shriek. Instinct jerked his body back – straight through the portal!

He landed with a thud on a grassy patch as the wolf sailed overtop. When he uncovered his eyes, he lay with everything upside down in his vision. The wolf stared back at him for a few moments before turning and trotting off into the forest.

“It’s…spring?” Jenario blinked. He was outdoors, but there was no snow. Leaves wavered in a warm breeze when he gazed up into the canopy. It was still night. A full moon shone brightly in between the movement of leaves.

He squinted at its unusual coloration. Its bottom hemisphere was stained a blood red that slowly faded to the milky-white look he was accustomed to. Confused and still slightly dazed from his crash-landing through the portal, only one thought came to mind.

What could that mean?

The Youngest Child

When I eventually reach book 7, Wisdom will have three children. His oldest will be Keith, named after himself because he too will be albino. The middle child, Gaily, will be human, and the third child will be mysterious and observant – a half-breed of human and Healer.

It is the third child that I will be most interested in writing: Koréken. The name and looks is in honor of Corrigan, the Black Wing that assists his father in previous adventures. But Koré is more than just a dark-haired child with pale eyes. He has strange abilities that neither Healer or humans use. What’s even stranger is his ability to manipulate the energy within someone else, but cannot use it directly within himself. He acts as a weather forecaster. Except instead of predicting weather, he can foresee the emotions or intentions behind someone approaching. Therefore, he’s able to give fair warning to flee or stay.

Koré is conservative in speech. He prefers quiet spots to enjoy reading the collections of books his father keeps in their home library.  He develops a method of touch that involves pressure points. Pressure points on the body can do a number of things, including but not limited to temporarily paralysis, muscle control,  or easing pain.

Koré is confused with another developing problem. Dubbed as Dark Ones, these are regular people who suddenly grow pale, with white eyes and black hair. Surrounding energy flocks to them and releases in such a way that it causes a mass of destruction before they’re able to learn control. But Koré  is able to help these people. By using his ability to manipulate energy, he’s able to give them enough time to learn how to deal with what’s happening to them. However, the threat of more becoming Dark Ones and why it’s happening is alarming.

It’s no surprise that many people see Wisdom’s son as a Dark One, leading him to defend his family to the point where he himself is being blamed for the outcome.

Vamperic Race?

Is there a vampire-like race in No’va? No. But I have had ideas about a race that once were feared by the living due to their blood-thirsty nature. It’s not until later when a new leader takes over that he realizes they’re wasting precious food by ripping into their victims and letting them die when they only need a few drops every couple of generations.

In steps the new, sophisticated being (unnamed) who dwells in decked-up caverns and ensure their selected “honored” guests that they will once again walk out to see daylight. The guests are dined and wined and pleasured beyond their wildest dreams until they are at ease with what is about to happen to them. The reason is fear. Fear petrifies the blood flow. Changes the taste. They want that fresh, succulent dip of ruby red, like fine wine to the tongue. Once they have it, the guest is free to leave.

I don’t plan to develop this any further. Just a passing thought.

Image

Corrigan Redesigned

Corrigan Redesigned

Work in progress…. painting in details of foliage and feathers.

Image

Corrigan Revamp

Corrigan Revamp

Work in progress

Chapter Teaser

The Beginning of the End

 

This is it… the final countdown until the end of book three, ending the first trilogy in Blue Moon Rising. This is the first chapter that marks that beginning.

From “Healer” – chapter teaser

 

There was an erie silence throughout the city of Lexington. People hastened their business with merchants in hushed tones as a dense fog settled in from the south. Fingers of dark mist crept through back alleys and poured over the cobblestone streets. It did not take long before all of Lexington was in its grasp.

Yet Lexington’s inhabitants were not the only ones unsettled by this uncanny arrival. Surrounding hillside provided the perfect lookout points for Healers to amass. Extending their animal senses from gained shifts, they alone could detect human movement and smells within the gray covering. Among them was Chronicles, ready to signal his people forward at the first sign from either Jangus or his son.

A White Wing brushed past some leaves to join his side, his wings neatly folding into a fade. Squinting at the haze of gray, Rusha turned to the other Healer.

“I hope this doesn’t last,” he said. “A fog like this will prove hard to navigate through in mid-flight.”

Chronicles flicked his gaze over to the harpy before refocusing on the city.

“Nevertheless,” was his unmoved reply, “it will help conceal your attacks.”

“Until we hit their structures!” Rusha countered.

“Leave the buildings to us,” Chronicles soothed the harpy’s doubts. He held out a hand to demonstrate his words by calling forth a small vine from the earth. “We’ll level everything they’ve built until the only mark of their existence is a barren field!” He clenched his fist, and when he did the vine crushed a small stone beneath the soil.

“As long as you’re certain,” Rusha replied. “Why wait for the others, then?”

“I want confirmation.” Chronicles waved a hand to dismiss the Wing’s presence. “Be ready to send your people in.”

Slightly offended at the leader’s abrupt end to their conversation, Rusha backed away in silence. When his presence could be sensed no more, Chronicles turned his attention to the southern skies.

There was a mere dot in the horizon. As Chronicles’ pupils dilated to sharpen his gaze, the dot grew larger until he could just make out the raven form of Jangus. 

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