The first chapter in my novel in progress: Empty Skies
|The rain came down so heavily that it flooded through the thatched roof in small waterfalls. The downpour stifled the sounds of the night, the flashes of lightning illuminating the doorway for brief moments at a time. Drops landed on the tables and on the dirt floor, turning to mud and creating puddles
Jaercy slept through the storm, but stirred as the approaching thunder grew louder. He dreamt of the clouded night sky. A sense of urgency, despair, and fear gripped him. In the dream he passed over the landscape, unfamiliar to him. He passed over rivers, mountains, and plains, and suddenly, a landmark stood out. He noticed a river that appeared familiar to him. It lay outside of his village and forked to the north and south just past the miles of plains to the east. At the fork of water nestled in a small group of trees rested a small cottage which once belonged to a legendary hunter.
What became of this hunter is unknown. He disappeared years ago when Lord Sigrum began his tyrannical rule. Systematically Sigrum had his army slaughter the clans of Dragonmasters who didn’t swear their allegiance and kneel at his feet. The resistance was led by the Silver Dragonmasters known and was known as the Silver Riders. Dragonmasters of every talent and color joined the ranks in their fight against Lord Sigrum. This resistance called themselves the Silver Riders, but nothing could stop Lord Sigrum and his Black Dragonmasters from destroying everything in their path. For every Dragon Lord Sigrum slew, he gained their power. And with Gabrielle’s death, the last of the Silver Riders were destroyed, and now all he needed was her dragon.
As Jaercy slept the storm worsened, and in his dream the skies became dangerously dark. He was yet again gripped by fear, constantly looking over his should back west towards the setting sun. He felt as if he was being chased. And suddenly he felt a wrenching in his heart as if his life had been cut out of him. He writhed in mental anguish as he watched the ground rush up at him. But as it sped towards him, he slowed and entered the trees, not far from his own village. He writhed again in anguish and the ground sped the last few feet to catch up to him.
Jaercy awoke with a start, sitting up in a cold sweat as a lightning strike cracked the monotonous droning on of heavy rain. Jaercy removed the hide from himself and placed his feet on the wet muddy floor of his thatched hut. He sat there, letting the cold muddy waters shake him from this torment he’d just witnessed.
What did it mean? Jaercy thought.
The pain was so real he could feel a tingling in his leg where he thought he’d crashed to the forest floo. He stood up, a shiver going down his spine as he took a step towards his door. He put his weight on his right leg and a pain shot up to his lower back, buckling his legs and dropping him to his knees. The mud splashed up around him and he felt it drip down his bare stomach.
What is this? Jaercy thought, gripping his stinging leg. I must have slept on it wrong.
He stood again, feeling the stinging turn into a light burn. He massaged it with his right hand as he hobbled to the doorway, placing his hand on the left side of the opening. He poked his head out, and squinted through the darkness as his head was pounded with the rain and the fall of water from his roof. Stepping back inside he ruffled his hair, shaking it to get the water out. He stared out the doorway again, trying to decipher what just happened in his dream. He stood there, staring, for what seemed like hours. As the storm lessened and the hard rain seemed to let up a little, Jaercy turned back to his bed where he’d decided to return for the remainder of the night. Pulling a nearby bucket full of water over, he washed his feet of mud and slipped back under his warm bear hide he used as a blanket.
He lay there awake, pondering what to do. It was late and Jaercy knew he’d need his sleep for his hunt the next day, but he couldn’t get the images of what he saw out of his head. Something was gnawing at him, driving him from falling back to sleep. A sense of terrible urgency gripped him. He stood again, the cold mud feeling good on his still waking body, and the pain in his leg was still too real to have been from ill positioned sleep. He marched to the wall and grabbed his father’s greatsword and the bow he’d fashioned for himself not a year back. As he picked up the quiver, the bed that was next to it stirred. Jaercy looked down to be certain he’d not woken his younger brother who slept through the storm like he would through a silent summer night.
Jaercy bent down slowly, planting a firm hand on his brother’s arm, “I’ll return shortly Eonas.”
His brother stirred slightly, grunting as he turned away from Jaercy’s touch, clearing his mouth of dryness and craning his neck for a more comfortable position. Jaercy stepped to the door, swinging the quiver over his head and tightening it. He held the sheathed greatsword in his right hand and the bow in his left, his lean yet strong physique silhouetted against the doorway. Darting from the house into the rain was like putting a damper on all his senses. The rain was loud and the thunder deafening, his visibility limited from the harsh downpour masking the trees ahead of him. His normally keen sense of his surroundings was smashed by the waves of harsh raindrops.
His village was completely dark, no covered torches were lit, and every house was dark. The road was covered in small rivers, flowing down the slow incline towards the forest. Jaercy looked up at the pitch black sky, lightning showing the dark ominous clouds racing across the sky. He stood in the rain, carrying the heavy sword with ease. After being a hunter for his entire life, Jaercy had built a strong but wiry body. His constant physical activity had kept him in tough shape and the extra water weight posed no threat of slowing him down.
The bright flashes of lightning guided Jaercy into the forest just west of his home. Passing into the foliage the rain lessened from the thick canopy now above his head. With the trees now obscuring the falling rain, the silence of the trees was frightening. The occasional drop of water landed on a nearby fern leaf, startling him as he passed slowly through the dense vegetation, keeping his eyes peeled for anything unusual. The flashes of lightning showed parts of the forest for only moments, and urgency pressed harder into Jaercy’s mind. Something was terribly wrong, and he had to find out what it was.
As he pressed into the woods, it grew darker and the night began to chill him. The wind picked up and the trees began to sway with its force. Suddenly Jaercy realized he was where he’d been in his dream. The canopy broke open and a tree lay in pieces before him. The rain poured down through the gaping hole and the water formed a river that flowed south. Jaercy stepped into the waterfall of rain, resting a foot on the fallen tree. He looked up into the drops and searched the sky for signs of anything.
Lightning struck close by and the explosive crack startled Jaercy. He shielded his eyes from the sky and began to wipe the water from his face with his arm when an unusual sound caught his attention. It sounded like a short and almost inaudible gasp. Jaercy froze. Fear gripped him as he suddenly knew he was not alone. He dropped his bow and drew his father’s greatsword from its sheath, turning slowly, peering into the trees for any sign of the noise.
He hopped off the log, and called out, “Who’s there?” After a short pause with no response, he called out again, “I know you’re there! Show yourself!”
An almost equally silent gasp was heard again, this time just beyond a large tree that split into a twisted mess of branches. He shifted in that direction and began to make his way towards it cautiously. The gasp came again, this time a little louder, sounding like a sharp intake of breath. Jaercy’s heart raced. Whatever it was in his dream was behind the tree in front of him.
He stepped closer and a flash of lightning cast light upon the area in front of him. Jaercy thought he saw a foot, but if it was there, it was pulled away as quickly as the light withdrew. Again he froze in place. There was no doubt anymore, it was there, behind the tree, and he knew he must confront it.
He took the last few steps towards the tree and as he did whatever was there became suddenly aware of him, for it made to scramble away. Jaercy swung around the tree, his sword held at his side. As he turned around the tree whatever it was attempted to escape, but ran directly into him, knocking him down. The thing fell back a few feet with a high pitched shriek. Jaercy scrambled back up and held his sword to its throat.
“Who are you?” He bellowed, but the being cowered at his intensity.
The only sound it made was a terrified whimper as it shook from what appeared to be both fright and cold. Jaercy’s fear suddenly turned to confusion as he realized whatever it was posed no threat. He lowered his sword and stepped towards it. It shrank back into the tree, obviously terrified of him. Lightning struck again and Jaercy was stunned at what he saw: A young girl, no older than himself, hardly an adult, and completely naked. Her hair was bizarre yet brilliantly silver, falling just past her elbows. Her icy blue eyes pierced into him, innocent and pleading. Her skin was smooth and beautiful, shining if only there’d been more light.
She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever laid eyes upon, and her terror at the sight of him suddenly made him ache. She whimpered and pushed against the mud with her left leg, pressing herself back into the tree. Jaercy set aside his sword, holding out his hand and inching backwards, looking to the side as to not try and embarrass the girl.
Trying to calm her he spoke softly, “It’s alright. It’s fine. I’m not gonna hurt you. You’re safe.”
Jaercy’s words seemed to take affect, as the girl calmed a little and stopped scrambling backwards. Jaercy noticed the girl was in pain. And he looked down at her leg. A clear gash could be seen and blood covered the greater part of it. A deep bruise was forming as well, and Jaercy knew it must be broken. Jaercy looked back towards his outstretched hand. The girl was looking him in the eye. It seemed as if she begged for help. Jaercy reached out a little farther and touched her cheek with his fingertips. He brushed her cheek off of dirt, feeling the perfectly softy skin and trying to reassure her, “I’m going to help you.”
Jaercy stood up and looked around, the darkness forcing him to squint to make anything out. He removed his quiver, dropping it to the ground and began to take off his silk shirt. The girl gasped again as it seemed to worsen. She tilted her head back in pain and bit her lip. Jaercy tore the bottom of his shirt and moved it towards her leg. The girl squirmed a little but didn’t seem to object. Jaercy began to wrap the wound tenderly, making sure not to hurt her any more than he had to. As he wrapped the shirt around her leg she groaned in pain and reached out, gripping him by the arm forcefully. Jaercy winced in pain, her grip stronger than he could have possibly imagined. He finished wrapping her leg and moved closer, placing a hand under her legs and another behind her back. As he lifted her, she bore into his chest for warmth. Her skin felt cold and clammy. He looked down at her face, which was pressed against him. Her eyes were closed and her face was scrunched in an expression of pain. Jaercy felt her shivering against him and knew he had to hurry. Her whimpering grew quieter and her grip on his arm loosened with every passing moment. Jaercy grew frantic as he dashed through the trees, trying desperately not to get lost on his way back. As he broke from the forest he sprinted through the fields towards his village. The rain came down in heavy sheets, but it didn’t slow him down. The lightning grew closer and more frequent. The sky lit up for a passing moment, giving Jaercy the foresight as to where to place his feet next, and this is how he made his way back to his thatched home.
Flying in through the door, Jaercy shouted, “Eonas! Get up! Get up!”
Eonas rose with a start, “What? What is going on?”
Jaercy’s brother froze when he saw him carrying what looked like a body. “Wha—”
“Get out of your bed Eonas, she’s dying!” Jaercy screamed. “Take your hide and sleep in mine,” gesturing to his bed, “but throw me my hide! Quick!”
Eonas scrambled from the bed and ran past Jaercy as he set her down on the already warm straw bed his little brother had been sleeping in. He turned around to catch the hide Eonas tossed to him.
“What happened Jaercy?” Eonas inquired, “Where have you been? Who is she?”
“No time for questions! Just shut up and sleep.”
Jaercy placed his hide blanket on the shivering naked girl, “She’s hurt bad Eonas, I need you to dump the bucket and fill it with rain water. Hurry, please.”
Eonas began to grip the seriousness of the situation and did as he was told. He picked up the bucket as he passed by it, turning it over and spilling its contents onto the already wet and muddy floor. He held it up to the sky as he stood partially out of the doorway.
Jaercy pulled the hide up on the girl’s wounded leg, and pulled out his cleanest shirt from the wall of clothes he’d just dried the day before. Eonas returned with the bucket of fresh rain water, handing it to Jaercy quickly and looking at the quaking girl under the hide.
“Is she going to be ok,” he asked.
“I don’t know Eonas. It looks pretty bad. She’s bled a lot and I think her leg’s broken.”
“How did you find her?”
Jaercy tore off the corner of the clean shirt and dipped it into the cool water. Wringing it out, he placed it on her forehead. A drop of water ran down her face, as if even it didn’t want to mar her beauty. It soaked into her shining silver hair and Jaercy ran his fingers down her beautiful face down to her chin where her skin reached the soft hide he’d placed over her. Fixed momentarily by her beauty, Jaercy seemed to forget the direness of her condition.
“Jaercy?” Eonas began. “Do you know her?”
Jaercy snapped back to reality and took out his hunter’s knife, cutting away the shirt he’d wrapped around the wound in the woods. Tearing off another piece of cloth, he dipped it in the bucket and dabbed it gently on her exposed and bloody leg. The blood came off onto the rag, and he took care to clean the surroundings of the cut.
When it came to the gash itself, Jaercy stood up, leaning over the still shivering girl. He put his hand under her cheek and turned her face up towards him. Her eyelids fluttered for a moment as she struggled to open them.
Jaercy looked pitifully upon her, speaking softly to try not and discomfort her, “I need to clean the leg. It’s going to hurt, but I need to do it.”
He knelt back down onto the muddy floor and pulled her wounded leg off the straw bed, leaving the still bleeding cut hanging. He lifted the bucket of water and began to turn it over the wound slowly, pouring the water over the top of the injury. The girl squirmed and her breath became sharp as the water ran over and through it, but Jaercy knew he had to finish cleaning. He poured the rest of the water over the cut and wrapped the new shirt tightly around it like he had before. Taking great care not to hurt the girl, he lifted her leg gently back onto the straw bed, and pulled the hide over it.
He plopped down on the floor, exhausted. He turned his eyes to his younger brother, who sat now in his older brother’s bed, looking concernedly at both Jaercy and this strangely beautiful girl. Now that the urgent matters were attended to, Jaercy took a deep breath and began to draw connections of what had just happened. He was sure his dreams led him to her, but he was uncertain as to how and why. In a world where magic was rare enough already, Jaercy wondered what purpose it served that he knew where to find this girl, and why he was the one to find her.
“Jaercy?” Eonas asked quietly.
Jaercy turned around slowly, looking at his little brother. “What is it Eonas?”
“This girl… do you know her?”
Eonas seemed to dislike the answer, as he scrunched his face and opened his mouth to ask another question.
“But wh—” Eonas began, but Jaercy cut him off.
“I don’t have answers for you now Eonas. I don’t even know what’s just happened.”
Again Eonas seemed displeased, but he knew he’d have to wait. The girl’s hand was resting just outside of the hide Jaercy had placed over her with her palm towards the thatched roof. He went to grab the corner and cover it, but as he did, her fingers closed slowly, tugging at his hand with a gentle elegance. Jaercy sat silent for a moment, and the girl’s fingers unfurled again began to close again. Jaercy took her hand and held it firmly, but delicately. With this, the girl seemed to relax a little and Jaercy sat, watching her pass into an uneasy slumber.
For what seemed like hours he just watched her pained expressions come and go. He could hear Eonas’ breath quiet as he too fell asleep on his bed. He held her hand for the eternity that he waited for sleep to take him. Eventually he became drowsy, and he put his head rest at her side. The storm continued to rage outside, but the lightning had moved on, and now the calming droll of rain lulled Jaercy to a dreamless and sweet sleep.