Chapter One

Time to give you another chapter. This is the chapter that starts my fantasy book. ( Well that’s the plan at the moment. As any writer will tell you, things change.)

It all begins.

CHAPTER ONE

The Kand

As she ran she grew her wings. It was not easy. First the major bones and muscle, tendons, the smaller bones, the detail of the feathers; she had to concentrate to do it properly. It was nothing like growing wings just for show. Showy change was easy. Growing wings that might be used for flying was very different. Every time she practised, it got a little easier, her wings worked a bit better. Run and grow.

She pounded through the scrub concentrating on her back. Part of her was watching where she ran, but only a small part. She was forcing the growth on her back, but with meticulous care and with great effort. Out, out, out they grew. A quick and small flutter then a long stretch to full span. It felt so good; the height of them above her head and whisper touching at her heels.

Her mothers were right about one thing. The more you practise something the better you get at it. Of course they were encouraging her to practise with musical instruments, mathematical calculations and the use of various hunting weapons, not the growing of functional wings while running. The idea was still the same however. Every time she ran alone, she practised.

Not that mothers had much idea about anything these days. They knew little about what she practised or where she went to do it. The reason she didn’t tell them was simple; they were sure to be frightened. Then they would either forbid it or, much more likely, want to closely supervise where and when she did it. All, or any of that, would inevitably involve a new set of rules created just for her to obey. The Rules For Ange were already endless.

She fluttered her wings again. She was ready to try a launch. Step one, two, three; instead of dodging around the few bushes ahead of her, she jump-flew over them. She cleared them easily, though she had to tuck her legs up a little. Her landing was smooth back into a run.

Soon she was flying more than jumping, pointing her breasts into the air ahead of her and keeping her arms and spear to her side. Getting height into her flying would be another thing completely. She knew that already from past attempts. First she needed to get this part right. The rhythm of toe-tipping the earth and thrusting forward felt wonderful. Her body felt fluid. Her wings were working well.

Then suddenly, as she launched into another flight-jump, she felt her wings wither slightly and she landed heavily. Underneath her feet she could see a streak of grey earth. It was hardly noticeable between the bushes but its presence was unmistakable. She had hit the beginning of the Kand already. There was no use trying to practise the run and grow now. The pull and stench of the Kand would only intensify from here.

She stopped running and shed her wings. They collapsed into aureash which sprinkled across her shoulders and past the back of her legs. The sight of the sand-like particles no longer disturbed her. She had long stopped trying to gather it up. It was her little gift to the earth, that is how she thought of it now. As she pulled up her tunic to cover her breasts she wriggled to loosen the aureash that had caught in it. Oh how her mothers would hate all of that.

It was then back to dodging bushes as she ran. The grey of the Kand grew around her. The fly-jumping and practice had brought her to the wasteland much quicker than any other time she had attempted this trek. Getting to the real edge of the Kand was not so easy. The real edge that is, where there were no bushes ahead, just the grey earth and spindly clumps of half dead grass that withered into a vast grey nothing, where even the sky became an endless dull grey. She knew so well the Kand was deceitful, it could lead you to hilltops of grey earth or down grey trickles which would widen to river-like swathes, but would end in another disappointing bush gully. If you didn’t stay true to your course you could end up wandering for days and never find the true edge.

The grey ahead grew and grew until the heaviness of it slowed her. Her run became a jog, her jog became a walk. She kept walking until she could no longer tell the Kand from the sky ahead. She turned to look at the scrabble of bush behind her. It was a distant edge, a low dark line. The afternoon sun glowed thickly red through the grey above it. She had never been so far out before. She had never seen the sun through so much Kandish air. It was wonderfully awful. For a moment she thought of going even further out, but the grey was suddenly so heavy she knew she would need to use her spear as a staff just to walk a few more steps. This was far enough. This was reckless enough.

People who ventured too far into the Kand did not come back. It was ‘a simple fact’ her mothers told her. Their simple facts, she knew were often not simple and sometimes not even facts. Mothers can be like that. Nevertheless, she knew adventurers would regularly try to cross the Kand, because surely there must be another side. True, she had never heard of any who had returned. Others, like her, would come as far out as they dared, to wait and listen.

She sat, careful to tuck her tunic under her so as little of her bare flesh as possible touched the grey dirt. She lay her spear down beside her, and settled in to listen. She sat so still and silent even another Clouthe close by would have had difficulty seeing her.

The sand under her moved a little, as though a tiny wave had passed under her. Surely not, it must be the echo of her leap flying. She rocked her body, just a little, to settle more. Another wave. Unmistakable. Under her feet then bottom, lifting her just enough to feel it.

Almost immediately she heard two voices clearly. It was unexpected, startling in the wake of the sand waves. In one swift move she was on her feet with her spear ready. Yes there were two voices. This was a first. She had never before heard two separate voices. She could see no-one around her. She peered into the grey. Nothing. A low, darker line wavered in and out of her sight as she squinted. Was it a cliff face way in the distance or just more of the grey Kand? She was ready to see anything.

There were definitely two voices. The voices were so much clearer than the usual sort of buzzy noises she heard all the time when she visited. Mostly what she heard were moany sounds, like small animals fretting in a distant nest. Sometimes the noises scraped like a snow wind looking for leaves. Often there would be nothing at all. No sounds from the Kand, just the beat of her own blood and the hush of her own breaths, slow and soft, as she listened.

This time was so different. Sand waves, now she could hear different words, separate words. Such a strange sound. The voices were so soft but clashed in pitch and tone. An argument perhaps, and it was getting closer. Ange sat down again, a slow and soundless stop. No more waves, and now the voices and words were so clear. She knew she should turn and run back to the scrub line. But this was the reason she came to the Kand. This was why she ventured so far out from the scrabble of bushes and spindly grass that marked the edge.

She would finally be rewarded for being so audacious, so daring. Anticipation pricked. Not all encounters were benign, Ange knew that so very well. Her mothers always delicately skipped the details when handing out their warnings, but she had heard enough from others about the worst kind of things that might happen. None of that would happen to her of course. She was too skilled and too alert for any of that.

She was also too smart to believe that somehow these living things existed among the rank smelling dunes and endless twilight of the Kand. She doubted that widely held belief. She was convinced enough, from visiting here, that nothing would stay alive for very long out on the Kand. The idea, however, that the edges were meeting places, either by accident or intent excited her.

The voices were closer, louder. Ange stood up again, trying to look everywhere at once. There were stories one very lush Hebrian had met one somewhere around here. Some said the Hebrian had also touched it. Ange wondered again what that might be like.

She mouthed silently the strange and difficult words of greeting her mothers had taught her. It was a morning routine to say them to her little brother. He would screw his nose and watch her carefully as though she were saying the most important words in the world. Perhaps they were. They were certainly bizarre and awkward. She had to say them with a sort of whisper in her throat. She often wondered if her mothers had any clue whether the words were correct or not, given neither of them had had a personal encounter, not to mention actually had a conversation to test the words out.

Many times she had played out her own private daydream in anticipation of her first encounter. How gracious she would be, sure of her young limbs and ways. With a perfectly executed bow of her head she would say her ponderously respectful, and oh so soft greeting words. A response would be given with similar gravity and ceremony.

Recently Ange’s daydreams had included a moment where she would slowly and gracefully reach out with one hand, and one of the others would similarly reach out, and they would touch.

It was a moment so full of emotion and connection that her daydream would pause on the spot, to allow these profound and deep felt feelings to emerge. She felt she could hold that exquisite pose of beauty and charm forever if she needed to.

Inexplicably and suddenly, now that such a meeting might really happen, all rehearsed elegance deserted her, anticipation fled, the grey earth clung to her shoes and ankles with all their gritty Kandness.

The boys didn’t walk out of the Kand in front of her they sort of stumbled out. One almost fell at her feet. This was it. Her encounter.

“Shit,” the boy said, and looked up at her.

“Holy Shit,” the boy spoke again and reached out to poke her with a finger.

Startled at the move Ange stepped backwards away from him and tried to form those whispering words. It was not so easy to speak such difficult words when a real Whisperer was trying to jab you with a finger. The Whisperers were much bigger and lumpier than she thought they would be, and the one in front of her had a strange root-type smell.

“It’s trying to speak,” said the second boy. Even larger, but a much smoother shape than the first, this boy stayed back, watching, as the smaller one stood up from where he had stumbled and stepped closer to Ange.

Ange tried again to say her Whisperers’ words as she stood. The effort and heightened senses of the moment made the sounds come out of her mouth much louder than she had intended.

The smaller boy jumped back in fright at the noise she made.

“It’s clicking. Stupid Clicker,” he said. Ange curled slowly down in the hope it might calm him.

“Let’s kill it Gus,” the boy added in fear-crusted bravado. He held what looked like a small hunting machete in one hand. He raised it slightly. “We’re gonna have to start killing them. They’re coming out from everywhere, Warden said.”

“Warden is full of shite,” said Gus. “They are living things. You don’t kill them.” He looked at her in wonder. He had truly green eyes. Ange had never seen anything like them, they shone at her. His face was round and almost childlike. It was a face that would have fitted quite well into one of her daydreams. She tried to smile at him.

The smaller boy’s face was leaner and looked older, even though Gus loomed taller behind him.

“When you kill them there’s not much blood and guts. Warden told me,” the small boy said. “They sort of disintegrate he said.”

“Don’t be so stupid,” Gus rounded on the smaller boy, “ The troms will have your guts if you hurt it.”

Ange could see the conversation was an argument. She tried her words again, lifting her hand out to the smaller boy as she spoke.

The boy reacted instantly to her movement and raised his machete. Gus held out his hand to her and shouted, “No.” But the small boy had started his swing. He swung the machete at her with a strength that almost lifted his feet off the ground.

Ange did not think. She rose in sheer terror. Her leap took her far above the heads of the boys and as she hit its height she changed involuntarily. It wasn’t a conscious change. It just flowed out of her like a huge flush. But it was all wrong. Every bit of the change was bad. Her skin became slick and damp. Her face was nothing like her mothers’ much loved Angchelk’s face. It was fierce with fear. Her hair sparked with heat. Her shoulders and arms grew, full of muscles that should have been on her wings, and burst through the tunic she was wearing. Her wings grew huge and haphazardly and fluttered like a cage full of pigeons.

Both boys screamed. They turned and ran. Ange heard them screaming across the sands. Then they were gone.

She fell to the ground. It was swift and hard, pushing all of the breath from her body. She heard the terrible crack of bone breaking. As she lost consciousness the last thing she saw was the machete on the grey earth close to her face, covered in aureash.

© Maralyn Parker 2015


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