Novel in a Month - Chapter 1, Part 1

Okay guys, we're gonna give this a try. I'm not totally sold on this idea yet, but I'll listen to feedback and take it from there! This is the first three ish pages of the novel I've been writing off and on for about a year now. I'm taking the Novel in a Month challenge this November to try and get another big chunk of it done. 

I'm very interested in feedback on this one, and unlikely to get too many readers since I won't be sending it to the various WMH facebook pages, so if you have some comments for me, please share!

Alright...here we go. 

Chapter 1, 20 years ago:

Jareed paused on the crest of a red-stone ridge. The dying sun glanced off the worn rock, sending crimson hued rainbows dancing through the air. Despite his caution, puffs of dust curled around him, evidence of his passage. He crouched low, trusting that distance and poor visibility would mask his presence. Gradually, the particles drifted back to earth, the sun sinking ever lower on the horizon.

A small settlement, not much more than a slum, had latched onto the banks of the winding Lessinar river untold years ago. In time past, lights would be glowing onto cramped streets at this hour, wives would be welcoming their husbands from the fields with food and drink, and children’s cries and laughter would split the air. Tonight, nothing stirred, no lamps shone through little windows.

Sunlight flared for a long second, as if in its dying throes the star defied death and night, and then disappeared over the mountaintops. Jareed lay still, pointedly ignoring the stiff grasses poking into him wherever they found gaps in his leathern armor. The shadows grew, joining with others in smoky congregation until the whole valley lay sheltered in their deep embrace.

The rocks and grasses were slick with dew before Jareed stood, slowly stretching arms and legs and urging blood and feeling into his body once more.

His descent was slow. Even with superior vision, even with the Sight, Jareed took extreme care in his footsteps. Should the danger he sought lurk ahead in the gloom, a stray rock echoing off the many cliffs would kill any hope of success this night.

Many arduous hours later, he dropped the last few feet onto the grassy plain. To the North, crops stood tall in their fields. The smoky odor of ripe tannis filled his nostrils. The plants swayed softly, a fortress of living cover long overdue for harvest.

Jareed paused in contemplation. The road felt too exposed, but fields of yellow tannis surrounded the village from both the North and South.

A gentle breeze ruffled Jareed’s cape, moving through the field in a wave. The wind picked up both speed and intensity very quickly, whipping through Jareed’s hair and setting his cloak out like a signal flag. The whispers of swaying plants quickly became a deafening cacophony.

Overhead, clouds rolled across the sky. They extinguished the stars, leaving inky blackness in their wake. Faster and faster they came, pouring across the heavens. The rows of tannis swayed crazily in the wind, whipped to an incredible frenzy by the storm.

For all the fury of the wind, there was no rain as Jareed had hoped. He waited for a few moments as the shrieking air grew ever louder in his ears and the world around him pulsated with the gusting wind. Finally, he decided he could not wait any longer.

He took off at a sprint, trusting the noise of the moving air to mask his presence. As he moved, the speed and power of the wind increased, and he felt unseen clouds above him covering the valley.

He reached the edge of the field closest to the village within minutes, heart pounding in his chest. The thatched roofs of the little houses danced and shook, the only movement that Jareed could see. The center of the town hid behind several outer rings of houses and animal pens. Tonight, no horses whickered in their stalls, and no chickens shrieked or clucked.

By all appearances, every residence appeared completely deserted. Reaching over his shoulder, Jareed slowly inched Dactylan out of her sheath.

This isn’t right. Her telepathic voice entered his mind as he grasped the hilt of his blade.

He nodded to himself, Agreed.

He could very easily be walking into a trap here, although by all accounts his last appearance had been on a battlefield hundreds of miles away just days before. If the enemy knew of his presence here...He caught himself before the thought finished. Now was not the time for such doubts. If they already knew of his abilities, the war might be over before he returned.

Crouched low, Jareed moved into the maze of empty buildings, Dactylan gleaming in his left hand. The wind roared all around him, rattling shutters and slamming unlatched doors open and shut in turn.

As he wound his way towards the center of the town, Jareed slowly abandoned any pretense of stealth. The wind was too fierce for any to hear him over the shrills, and neither friend nor foe would venture into the open with such forces brought to bear against them.

The town mill towered over the rest of the desolate village, standing on the very banks of the Lessinar. The large water wheel still turned, although whether the great stones ground together, Jareed could not tell over the wind.

He stood underneath a brightly colored archway, staring into what was probably an open marketplace. Tarp stall roofs strained at the edges of their bindings. One of them had come untied and flapped madly in the stormy air.

Seconds stretched into minutes, and Jareed stood still, motionless but for the undulating movement of his cape dancing with the air, sword gleaming in the occasional light from the twin moons through the cloud cover. Something fell worked this night. Chanting sounded in his mind, unheard in the mortal plane. He strained to triangulate the direction of the sound, listening with other sense beyond his ears.

At last he moved, striding towards the mill with purposeful steps. Dactylan warmed in his grip as he approached, confirming his direction. Jareed took the last dozen strides leading to the stone steps at a sprint, bent almost double against the storm. Rain fell sporadically now, cutting into his skin as tiny knives of cold.

Heedless, he closed his eyes against the driving rain, trusting his other sense as he bounded up the rough hewn rock, lowering his shoulder to the door. He could sense them beyond the wooden frame, waiting for him? He could not guess.

The planks shattered before him, sending sprays of wooden shards hurtling into the great room beyond. Jareed ducked and rolled, coming to his feet while bringing Dactylan in a mighty arc before him.

He felt the impact run up his arm as his blade connected with something, heard a growl of surprise and agony, and saw the inside of his eyelids turn red as light flared beyond him. He cracked his eyes open, peering through their dark lashes.

His vision was blurry and inaccurate, but he had saved himself from light blindness. The fires burning in the mill were nearly agonizingly bright compared with the inky night hiding behind him.

A Shirg lay at his feet, a great gash across its chest. Beyond, the heavy millstones spun, surrounded by at least a dozen Shirg warriors. Jareed felt the air move behind him and threw himself forwards, diving over the body lying prone on the ground.

A great clang rang out as he spun around, the result of a cruel axe blade biting deep into the recently emptied stone. The other Shirg were running at him, he could hear gurgled shouts and pounding feet behind him. He threw himself at the ambusher, slashing a great tear in the beast’s throat before it could regain its guard and then turning to face the rest.

He could feel a feral grin creeping across his face. He was the most alive when close to death. He was the master of this craft, as many others had found in their last moments. With a mental snarl, Jareed forced himself back into a logical frame of mind. There were too many of them, he would be overwhelmed unless he revealed abilities best left secret for now.

Reluctantly, he began to step towards the door, but was stopped by a piercing wail. Jareed’s head snapped back towards the grind stones. Without the cover of bulky warriors, the space in front of the hopper lay exposed.

Three crouched figures swayed over a squirming little bundle of rags while a fourth knelt, a jagged knife held point down in both hands. It was a snap decision, one more unconscious than not, but Jareed broke into a sprint, all thought of stealth gone. His need to get to the infant lying on the floor, to protect the little one from the evil and horror in this room was overwhelming.

Dactylan met the first Shirg throat in a spray of crimson, red droplets flying in an arc. Two more fell before the main body arrived. Jareed hacked and sliced, dancing amongst glinting axe blades, but there were too many bodies. The swaying figures’ chant was audible now, even over their shrieking bodyguards’ cries, and he was making such slow progress towards the feverish voices and the mewling child.

Jareed felt the first waves of panic course through his body. Redoubling his efforts, he ended another Shirg and another, stepping inexorably towards the screaming babe lying on the floor.

Too slow! Dactylan cried, Move faster!

The chanting had reached a feverish pitch, a crescendo of sound and sorcery louder than even the storm outside. With a scream of desperate rage, Jareed slammed Dactylan point first into the ground.

A pulse of incandescent red light raced from the pommel, lancing out in a widening ripple of sound and heat. Around him, bodies fell with deep thuds, the chanting cut off mid-word.

Before the wave had reached the edges of the room, Jareed was moving again, sprinting towards the infant, now the only source of sound in the room apart from the raging heartbeat in his ears and the mighty grind of the millstones.

He dropped to the ground, scooping the bundle of clothing into his arms. A small, pink face looked up at him. It still had the slightly squashed look of a babe just barely welcomed into the world, and it was screaming at the extreme edge of its range, terror written across the little face.

A throaty, bubbling chuckle snapped Jareed back into the moment.

“You’ve awoken the old powers light-wielder.” The hooded figure still clutched the knife, even as life drained from it’s cold eyes. “Our master will be...well I think he’ll be quite plea-”

The words were cut short as Dactylan lodged into the creature’s chest. Jareed cursed to himself, jogging the baby in his right arm while cleaning his blade on the creatures cape. He should have let the child die, that would have been the smart thing to do.

His actions might well spell destruction for countless warriors in the razor plains, hundreds of miles away. Soldiers he knew and liked, men he had led through countless battles.

The babe quieted for a moment, then convulsed, spewing white vomit across Jareed’s arm and chest before resuming its cries at an even louder pitch. Sheathing Dactylan, Jareed moved the child to his other arm before tearing a piece of cloth away from a corpse’s robe and wiping the worst of the mess off his armor.

The baby’s cries lost intensity as he briefly swept the room, scanning for any other unexpected surprises. One corner held an oaken door, which opened at his touch to reveal a dark stairway. The stench rising from the emptiness below shamed that of open battlefield graves on blistering summer days.

Retching, Jareed slammed the door home and stumbled away, eyes watering. There was little doubt in his mind where the inhabitants of the village now lay.

He scanned the room, nothing but barrels and sacks of grain meeting his eyes. He needed to leave, his every instinct screamed for flight, but the dead demanded an honorable rest.

Crossing the room, Jareed laid the child on a plump sack of grain before moving to the main collection of wheat and barley. Pulling a flint from a belt pouch, he struck a shower of sparks onto exposed burlap, quickly igniting the cloth.

He tucked the items away and moved back to the baby, sliding him onto one arm before leaving the building.

Outside, the sky had lightened visibly, although raging winds met the pair head on once the protective shelter of the mill lay behind them. The baby screamed at the lashing wind, although a much weaker, hoarser cry than that made a scant half hour earlier.

Jareed pulled his cloak over the child, checking to secure an airway by looping the corner underneath his chest strap. Behind them, the mill disappeared behind houses, smoke billowing out the many cracks in the woodwork before being demolished by incessant gusts.

Jareed’s exit from the little town was far less careful than his entry. The wind lay, for the most part, behind him, giving his legs the freedom to stretch long strides without much effort. Occasionally, a stray burst of air would catch him from the side, nearly lifting him off the stone road before passing.

He reached the foothills at last. Here within the crevasses and ridges of the mountain, the storm could not reach him. The little child held in his right arm still moved, although with increasing weakness and lethargy. The cries were fainter too.

The exposure to the elements combined with unknown hours of neglect were taking their toll on the baby. Jareed worried that the child would expire before he could make it back. The journey had taken him several days, although he had been moving very slowly to preserve his stealth. He did not have that option if the babe were to survive.

Jareed began to climb. The first few hundred yards of ascent were easy. The next few hundred yards were difficult with one hand, and ended in a terraced wall of red-stone ridges.

Jareed paused to catch his breath. True dawn was close, and the light was strong enough for him to scale these relatively easily on his own. The wind had died somewhat as well, a light breeze with the occasional stronger gust. He scanned the craggy face above him, weighing the best place to start his ascent.

Once satisfied that he had found a path to the very top of the ridge, Jareed pulled his cloak off, swaddling the baby with it like a woolen hammock. Tying the bundle tightly around his shoulders, he breathed low, warm words to the child, dredging up memories of his father from long ago to guide him.

He continued speaking as he reached upwards, bent over completely, and then stretched his arms and torso in all directions. Satisfied that the child was secure, he reached up with his strong left hand and began to climb.

The first terrace gave him the most trouble. Twice he had to pause and shift left or right before continuing up the rocky face. The top few yards tilted towards him, with fewer handholds than the rest. He had to chance a leap to reach over the top, timing it between gusts of wind. The sudden motion startled the child, and a fresh bout of screaming assaulted Jareed’s ears as he reached the top.

He paused to rest his fingers, rocking the baby gently. The child’s cries slowly quieted and soon the little eyelids drooped into sleep. Jareed slipped off a glove and gently touched the cheeks and then hands of his charge. Both were dangerously cold, and the tiny chest raised and lowered with worrying shallowness.

Jareed sighed, checking the sky. It would be difficult but he had to try. He opened a conduit, letting the sun roll limpid flame over the surface of his ungloved hand. Jareed’s skin grew hot to the touch, steam rising off rapidly drying leather.

With a thought, the flames running through his fingers winked out, though heat continued to pour off his body. Donning his glove once more, Jareed continued to climb.