This is an excerpt from the novel I started writing in 2017 for NaNoWriMo. It is not finished, it is not line edited, and this is in no way reflective of what will be the final version whenever I get around to editing and finishing it. However, I'm sharing cause reasons.
This novel follows the deuteragonists Ryhka and Niead, rivals trying to obtain the same artifact. The novel switches back and forth between their varying perspectives, as each follows their own leads to locate the artifact.
Cool rain mist permeated the shrine’s air as Ryhka sat poised on the stone floor in front of the marble figure of Anthelwen. Though her knees were aching at this point from putting all the pressure on them, she continued to remain in her stance waiting. The pitter patter of the rain echoed throughout the shrine, and it’s smooth, cascading sound indicated no one was really about lurking outside. It really seemed Ryhka was the only one daring enough to be out into the world today.
However, none of this particularly interested Ryhka as she silently stared up at the statue. Her white hair fell around her in waves, nearly reaching the ground due to her proximity to it. By the level of dampness, Ryhka could tell she had been waiting in the shrine for about thirty minutes, give or take a few given she had rung out her hair a bit when she arrived. Though boredom threatened to move her from the spot several times, she continued to play the pious visitor and at least look like she a ruminating over the nine gods of Faeaidra.
Just as her thoughts turned to examining the quality of the marble for the fifth time, the dull thud of steps began to approach her from the left. Her muscles tensed slightly in anticipation, though she forced her gaze to remain squarely on Anthelwen. At least mentally, however, she followed each footstep’s rise and fall. With each complete cycle the steps became loud, and Ryhka could be sure that they were indeed heading in her direction.
Upon hearing the distinct echo that indicated the owner of the footsteps was in the room, Ryhka’s eyes quickly flitted to confirm the figure was not a threat. The sight of the familiar sky blue and gold raiments of the priesthood assayed her worries, though, and her eyes nonchalantly returned to Anthelwen. In this time the figure had continued to their approach and only stopped two feet short of bumping into Ryhka. With a little bit of creaking and cracking of bones, the priest brought himself down to the ground to join Ryhka in a similar (albeit more practiced) sitting pose. The rain’s pitter-patter returned for a few moments as the dominant sound, as Ryhka patiently waited for the priest to speak first.
“A strange time to be visiting Anthelwen,” the grizzled voice of the priest stated as if it was simply a matter of fact. “The last visitor during the rain came in the hopes for more powerful lightning magic to destroy his neighbor’s crops. Tell me, young one, are you here for the same?”
“No, sir priest,” Ryhka replied calmly as her gaze finally turned towards the priest to take him fully in. She noted he was much older than she first though, perhaps in his late 60’s. Though his standard priest hat covered his hair, she could see his short, salt-and-pepper beard clearly. The only thing remarkable about him, perhaps, was the scar on his chin where no facial hair would grow.
“Ah, I see,” the priest chuckled, interrupting Ryhka’s mental ponderings about him. “For the best, perhaps. Though I imagine you are not here simply to stare at the goddess’ form.”
“No, I’m not.” Ryhka paused in silence a moment, giving the priest a chance to interject. When the silence continued, she spoke again. “I was told that you might know where IT is.”
“To what ‘it’ are you-“
“You know which IT I am referring to, sir.”
The amused look at had been on the priest’s face for a moment quickly washed away. His hand unconsciously rose to his face and stroked his beard, one finger in particularly lingering on the scarred area. It was clear this had not been the first time the priest had been asked the question, though it was clear the question brought him no joy. Rather, it seemed to weigh on him as if knowing the answer was to know death. For a moment the priest’s blue eyes met with Ryhka’s pink and green eyes, as if to assess something about her person. What he found in the gaze, however, Ryhka would never know. Whatever it was, it caused him to have a long and low sigh.
“If I said it was a fool’s legend, you would not believe me, would you,” the priest questioned, though his tone suggested he knew the answer.
Ryhka merely shook her head in response, and the priest sighed again.
“I do not know what led you here, though I imagine I don’t care either. I will be frank with you, young one: I do not know where the Bane of Faeaidra is. I do not know anyone who for certain does. What I can tell you is where you must go next in your journey. Will this suffice?”
“Yes, that will suffice,” Ryhka exclaimed with confidence, though a disappointed pit formed in her stomach anyway.
“Very well. In the North there is a city called Lentina. Head there and talk to the priestess who keeps Kjelduino’s shrine there. She will guide your next step,” the priest instructed with some amount of reluctance as Ryhka drank the information in.
Ryhka pondered over this information momentarily. Lentina was at least two week’s travel away by foot, though supply stops would surely slow the trip. The thought made Ryhka a bit nervous, though she couldn’t be sure the lost time would make a difference either. Everything was up in the air, far more so than Ryhka preferred to tolerate.
“Is there anything else you can tell me? What will this priestess say?” Ryhka verbalized, her sitting position shifting to be even more uncomfortable in her uncertainty.
“Do not ask, for I do not know. She knows things I do not. The only thing I can say to you is to take heed. No one I have told this to has ever succeeded, and to my knowledge most have died during the journey.”
Ryhka paused, opened her mouth, paused again, and then finally nodded. With a few twitching of stiff muscles, Ryhka rose from her position to stand for the first time in a while. Though her muscles threatened to cramp and cripple her, Ryhka banished the soreness from her mind so that she could leave with her dignity intact. Quickly adjusting her sword on her right hip into a more comfortable and ready to use position, Ryhka took one last look towards the priest.
“Thank you, sir priest. I will make for Lentina and consult this priestess,” Ryhka said with immense formality and a small and courteous nod.
The priest nodded back and stared at her for a long moment before simply uttering, “Survive by your strength, young one.”
“And you, sir, survive by your faith.”
Ryhka began her trek to the door less entrance of the shrine, but stopped suddenly short of exiting.
“Sir priest. A favor?” Ryhka inquired while looking back at him from over her shoulder. When the priest’s eyes made contact she continued her request. “If a boy with blond hair comes and asks after IT or myself, keep silent.”
Before the priest could answer, Ryhka took her final steps through the archway and exited the shrine. The entrance only had the smallest of covers over it, and she quickly found herself being drenched by the continuing downpour of rain. The light droplets danced on her skin as she walked through the small city towards the inn, and all around it was not an unpleasant sensation. The only thing that made Ryhka uneasy was the lack of people on the cobbled pathways. Though of course most would take shelter during such a storm, it was times like these where the very shadows felt like attackers ready to pounce. Even at her skill level, or perhaps because of her skill level, luck and mistakes could mean the difference between going home on two feet or no feet. Thus, she wasn’t very keen on such loneliness.
Thankfully, the inn was only a 10 minute walk from the shrine, and Ryhka quickly found herself hobbling up the wooden steps that marked its entrance. As soon as she entered the inn, she was overcome with an immense change in atmosphere. The shrine, being lite only sparsely by candles and being somewhat air had not only been cold, but gave the feeling of immense distance. It was barely a step above just being outside. The inn, however, was a different world entirely. Candles were littered about everywhere, from the window sills to the tables in the entrance’s common area. A strange, gold chandelier hung from the ceiling as well, and it too had its share of candles to the light the inside.
What truly made the difference in atmosphere, however, was the fire that roared in the common area’s fire place. Even from Ryhka’s faraway distance, warmth had immediately begun to seep into every pore of her being upon entering. Something about the sheer temperature difference seemed invigorate her, and any energy lost from sitting in the shrine so long was regained. Given the rambunctious nature of the other patrons taking refuge in the common area, she imagined she was not alone in this feeling.
Ryhka continued to stand at the entrance for a time, trying to dry off enough to not drip water all the way to her room. Even if she had felt like being so inconsiderate, some glaring glances from the innkeeper told her the gesture would not be appreciated. With nothing to do but stand and wring her hair and clothes out, Ryhka found herself taking in the image of the common area. Several patrons were loudly and boisterously involved in a card game of some sort, though which Ryhka couldn’t even fathom to guess. Two girls stuffed away in the corner were whispering quietly, though a quick stolen kiss between them told Ryhka it must be an intimate affair. Further towards the small bar sat a few patrons; one was sleeping, and the other two seemed to be engaged in some sort of angry debate (perhaps about which drink was better during rainfall). Last but not least was a lone figure sitting by the fire seeming to stare at nothing. As Ryhka squinted at them a tad, it finally dawned on her that the figure’s short and scruffy black hair belonged to her companion Nayalin.
After waiting a few more moments to dry off and be tolerably damp, Ryhka softly approached Nayalin. The loudness of the common area became more apparent as Ryhka got closer, and she purposely tried to make her normally soft footsteps louder so Nayalin might hear her approach. However, given Nayalin’s lack of movement, it was hard to tell if Ryhka had been at all successful to this in any regard. As Ryhka made her final approach, she cleared her throat audibly so Nayalin might finally make the connection before Ryhka spoke.
“Nayalin? What are you doing down here?”
Nayalin inclined her head slightly in Ryhka’s direction, though the targeting was clearly off due to the ambient noise in the room. A slight and humored smile graced her face, however, and Ryhka could almost see a sparkle in Nayalin’s white, semi-translucent eyes.
“Eavesdropping,” Nayalin giggled softly. “That group playing cards. They’re trying to get as far south as they can. They stepped on someone’s toes in the capital and think they’re being hunted.”
Ryhka’s eyes slowly glided over to the group for a second, before sighing and returning to Nayalin. “That’s a bad habit.”
“I did not force the information from them,” Nayalin retorted with a joyous voice. “I don’t think you value how much just listening can achieve.”
A frown marred Ryhka’s face slightly, though it was one of reluctant acceptance as well as frustration. Even Ryhka couldn’t deny the usefulness of Nayalin’s eavesdropping sometimes.
“How was the shrine?” Nayalin inquired in Ryhka’s silence, her face now in a more relaxed and serious expression as well as pinpointed on Ryhka’s position.
Ryhka paused for a moment longer. “As well as it could be. Are the others about?”
“Aliciva and Feolend are out on the town despite the rain. Miroleq is in his room, as expected.”
“I had hoped they’d all remain, though I don’t blame them for leaving.”
“Did you need them here?”
“We leave for the north tomorrow. Where I dare not say in such a public area.”
As the words left her lips, Ryhka gave a somewhat suspicious look to the people around. To the surprise of the cautious part of her conscience, not a single person seemed to even acknowledge her existence; any sort of Nayalin-like behavior was ridiculous to even consider. Yet, still, Ryhka’s mind issued warnings of security for such information. Even a single person could reveal her intent to the one person she didn’t want to know.
Slowly Ryhka’s eyes found their way back to Nayalin who was simply nodding an acknowledgement of Ryhka’s concerns. With an amount of grace Ryhka couldn’t dream existed, Nayalin stood from her spot on the couch.
“I think we shall retire upstairs then,” Nayalin stated simply as she grabbed her walking stick.
Ryhka exchanged a small smile with Nayalin, though whether it was by coincidence or an unspoken mental connection Ryhka couldn’t say. Nayalin’s stick tapping along the floor as Nayalin moved halted any pondering Ryhka might have about it, though. Taking on a slow gait, Ryhka followed Nayalin up the stairs to await her companions’ return.
Word after word danced up to Niead’s brain as his eyes scanned the pages of “Ancient Legends of Faeaidra: When the Gods Walked.” With each passing word, his brain was more assured of the title’s inaccuracy. In fact, it was more baffling to his brain they’d let this particular scholar write at all. The most he’d learned in the past three hours was the ancients had trouble deciding how the god Mananay’s name should be spelt. Otherwise, every passage was mere diatribe that could be learned from any of the priesthood in Faeaidra. None of this was anything Niead hoped to find.
As his fingers purposely turned to the next page in reluctance, an irritated scoff to his right brought their attention away from the book. Next to him, Sanhiko seemed to be pounding her head into the book she was reading once again. Her short, brown braid flopped about awkwardly as she did so, and her ebony skin bore the mark of someone who’d spent too long being propped up on their elbow. It was truly amazing to Niead, in actuality, how she could do so many actions at once to convey the simple idea that she was bored.
“That’s not how you read,” the smooth voice of Kazgrim stated from the other side of the table they sat at, his eyes trained to the book in front of him. However, given his stiff sitting position that was more of a squat on the chair, it was more than likely he was less than thrilled with their current occupation.
“Thanks your help. I’m pretty sure if I just slam hard enough though the knowledge will just pop into my brain,” Sanhiko spat back, each word oozing with more sarcastic venom than the last.
A sigh passed Kazgrim’s lips, though the half face mask he wore over his mouth dulled the sound. It was audible enough, however, for Niead and Sanhiko. At the very least, the sigh had lulled Sanhiko out of her book abuse. Now, for at least a while, she would return to an awkward reading position and keep focused on her reading material. With each bout of her breakdown’s though, less was getting read. At their current pace, Niead imagined he’d only be able to squeeze an hour more of reading out of her before she just laid on the ground and gave up on life until he felt it was time to go.
An hour was an hour though, so Niead continued his task as if nothing had happened at all. Words began to engulf and absorb all his concentration quickly enough again. The book continued on discussing magical symbols and when the earliest was thought to have been discovered. Though some mention of ruins caught his eyes on a few occasions, the book dropped the topic as quickly as it was brought up. During this time, though he was sure Sanhiko was having her little boredom breakdowns, nothing entered his mind accept the words of the book. Eventually, though, the lack of progress even grated on him, and he found himself closing the book before the hour was up with a sigh.
“Wait, what? Are we done? Can we go?” Sanhiko interrogated excitedly as soon as she noticed where and what had caused the sigh. To exaggerate the questions, she had even already stood up ready to bolt for the door.
“We can go. I don’t think we’re going to find anything useful here. Unless one of you two had something to add?” Niead explained, glancing over to each of his companions for a moment.
“Nothing. Not unless you want to know an eternity’s worth of information on how to ‘properly’ sign metal,” Sanhiko sighed as she performed the sign for it, though the lack of channeling made the gesture a mere moving of air.
“I found no hints of the artifact either,” Kazgrim interjected simply as he stood up and stretched out his legs some.
Niead nodded in understanding, though their words seemed to cut him with an extra dose of stress. For a moment, he reached under the half mask he wore to rub his eyes, the motion somehow relieving some of the tension he felt. Readjusting the mask, he himself stood up and stretched a bit. After checking that the saber on his left hip was secured, he gathered up the books silently and returned them to their proper places. With a curt nod to the caretaker of the library, he gestured to Kazgrim and Sanhiko and the three of them exited the small stone building.
The sun high in the sky was immediately apparent, and the heat bore down on them in a semi-uncomfortable manner. Though the city they were in, Rysgo, was more open-air due to most of its buildings being one story, this only allowed for the loud sounds of the nearby market to permeate the air. Granted, the cobbled streets around the trio were also fairly busy, so any journey was doomed to be one of noise. The only thing Niead could be thankful was that the noise made it impossible for him to retreat into his own thoughts, which made him acutely aware of how hungry he was no.
Looking through the crowds, Niead spotted a relatively tame looking shop selling bread and other food goods. After pointing it out to Kazgrim and Sanhiko, the trio all agreed reading had given them a terrible hunger, and they meandered over to the shop. Thankfully, though people were coming and going, the inside of the shop was empty outside of the shopkeeper and the baker hiding out in the back. Buying some bread, cheese, and water, the group sat themselves in a little corner sitting area the shop had set up for the few patrons who chose to eat in. They divvied up their purchase equally, and munched in silence as they watched patrons come and go for a while. However, Sanhiko had never been one for silence, so Niead was not surprised when she chose to broke their ruminations.
“So, this reading thing. I don’t think it’s working out like you want it to, Niead,” Sanhiko began with a bit of hesitation, taking a bit bite of her bread after. “And before you accuse me of just disliking reading, I like reading. Just not several hours’ worth of scholars debating who has the bigger brain.”
Niead remained silent, thinking the afternoon over. At the very least, the book he’d read today did not instill confidence that research was yielding a worthwhile result. Yet, being who he was, Niead had no real idea of where else to start.
“Unless we pick up the trail, research is all we have,” Niead finely chose as his curt reply, though the spark in Sanhiko’s eyes told him she noticed his lack of conviction.
“Well we could always try something different. Like what I suggested? Ya know, going north and asking some people I know in Panshore?” Sanhiko leaned forward as she suggested it, as if somehow the increasing proximity would make Niead agree to the idea.
“You think these ‘people you know’ would truly have a clue where to look for the Bane of Faeaidra?” Kazgrim cut-in, his eyebrows scrunched in reluctance.
“I do. Well, I think they’ll have a better clue than us just sitting in a library reading dusty old books. The people I know might not be scholars, but information travels way faster by mouth than by book” Sanhiko elaborated on her scheme, giving Kazgrim a hard look of challenge.
“If we had kept with her trail, Sanhiko, we wouldn’t be needing to find other methods,” Kazgrim spat in retort, though the smoothness of his voice seemed at odds with his sense of bitterness.
“Enough,” Niead interrupted with authority in his voice.
Silence immediately captured hold of the group with a sharp grasp, though it was not at all tense. Kazgrim and Sanhiko seemed to understand that Niead often did best when given time to think about their traveling destinations. Hunting an ancient and legendary relic was not the easiest of tasks, especially when so few mentions of it had ever been made. There was an extra challenge in that there was an unspoken time limit hovering over the group, though the time limit could be anything from five minutes to 10 years. Each move had to be decided carefully, lest the wrong destination set them farther from their goal.
After a few moments passed, Niead finally sighed and declared, “We’ll head to Panshore. Even if Sanhiko’s plan doesn’t work out, they should have a few libraries we can check.”
“Finally! Something other than sitting and reading,” Sanhiko sighed in relief, leaning back in her chair a bit as if relaxed for the first time in ages.
“If you’re sure,” Kazgrim near whispered in response, though his turned away gaze gave Niead little idea about whether Kazgrim agreed or not. “We do need to proceed with caution. There are ill rumors about.”
“What sort of ill rumors?” Niead inquired with a raised eyebrow, though his platinum blond bangs made it hard for anyone to see.
“I’ve heard of large groups of bandits on the way north. They seem to be well-organized.”
“Bandits? Kazgrim, I think we can handle a few bandits,” Sanhiko laughed confidentially as she unconsciously grasped the hilt of the two-handed sword on her back.
“I’m only saying we should be ready for a fight,” Kazgrim grumbled as he looked at Sanhiko sternly.
“I’m always ready,” Sanhiko mumbled back, though the blush on her cheeks indicated even she didn’t quite believe the declaration.
“We’ll prepare. Let’s finish eating, resupply, and head out. We should be able to get halfway to the next town by nightfall,” Niead said with an affirmative nod which was returned by the other two after a moment.
With decisions made, the trio returned to their modest meal in silence, each overtaken by their own thoughts on the journey to come.