Yes! This is starting to reach the word counts of an actual, publishable epic fantasy novel. Still plenty of story to go, but the end game is starting to form. I finally figured out a fairly decent way to bring Stagger back into the book without having him be an omnipotent force that wiggles his fingers and fixes everything. I've got most of my major players reunited after all the various subplots that split them up. Now I've just got to get my choreography right on who's confronting whom in the next four or five chapters. Infidel obviously has to go fight a dragon, but which one? Someone gets to fight Numinous Pilgrim, the Omega Reader, but who gets to be the last person standing in the encounter? Oh, and right now Slate is half dead and unconscious in the hold of the Circus. Do I revive him and put him back in the mix? Or just bring him back for a touching farewell scene? Or do I change my mind about keeping him alive and decided he was killed off in the last fight? Choices, choices.
This week's excerpt, with the usual disclaimers that this is raw first draft:
Set up: Cinder, daughter of Infidel, has returned home from her journey to the netherworld to find her home village missing. As she searches through the tree tops, she hears a woman scream:
Knowing it might have only been her imagination, she set off in the direction of the scream, moving with reckless speed through a canopy that kept throwing her surprises. Vines she expected at her fingertips had vanished, while thick branches she’d never seen before provided new routes among the leaves. The morning jungle came to life. Parrots and parakeets danced around her as she ran, vibrant green snakes slinked along vines in pursuit of small gray monkeys that leapt from her headlong path.
In the sunlight, among the canopy, she covered in fifteen minutes the space she’d traveled in an hour along the dark, rocky ground. She paused in front of a knotted branch, realizing she from the pattern she was mere yards from a Bug Wood village. As confirmation, a shout came from just ahead, followed by a grunt. She pushed through a leafy wall to find a trio of blue-skinned pygmies wrestling with a dark green woman entangled in a net in the center of a large woven platform surrounded by huts. To the side of the scene, an old man with green skin lay on his back, his belly sliced open, his still fresh entrails hanging from the wound. His eyes blinked as he stared blindly into the sky.
“Let her go!” Cinder cried out in her best river pygmy dialect.
The trio of river pygmies turned their faces toward her, their eyes growing wide. She must have looked like some sort of jungle spirit, with her ebony skin and relatively gigantic stature, and her hair tangled with leaves following her mad flight to reach here.
If she’d hoped that her appearance might startle the river pygmies into flight, her hopes were dashed when they instead dropped the edges of the net and all drew swords. She frowned as she saw the metal blades. No pygmies crafted such weapons. They were only found in the hands of river pygmies who sold forest pygmies to the long men.
She clenched her fists and said, in a low growl, “A am the wrath of the forest. Flee me, or face destruction.”
To her great surprise, the two pygmies furthest from her lost their nerve and sprang away, leaping from the platform to dangling vines. The pygmy closest to her possessed an abundance of courage and charged toward her with a savage battle cry, his sword drawn back over his head.
In a move that would have made her mother proud, Cinder stood her ground, then, as her attacker came within striking distance, she reached up to the branch above her and pulled herself up, letting his blade slice through empty air before dropping down onto his back. As he went sprawling, she straddled him. Though he was wiry and strong, she had the advantage of size and leverage, and needed less than a second to pry his blade from his grasp. Without hesitation or remorse, she wrapped her fingers in his blue hair, pulled back his head, and drew the blade forcefully across his throat.
She rose and ran to help the woman, who’d crawled to the side of the fallen man, not bothering to fully disentangle herself from the net. The woman held the man’s hand and wept. Cinder reached out, intending to touch the woman’s shoulder, to ask what was happening, but stopped short. Let the woman have her grief. Cinder knew all she needed to know. Slavers had raided the village at dawn. They would now be marching their captives toward the nearest river navigable by canoe, a good three miles away. They’d travel along the ground, no doubt. River pygmies weren’t skilled enough at traveling through the canopy to do so managing a band of captives.
She set off for the river, sword in hand. If the slavers were active in the area, could they be to blame for the missing Jawa Fruit People? It made no sense. Even if they’d taken the people, the platforms and huts would have been left behind. Unless… how far back in time had she come? The Jawa Fruit people had migrated into the area after the Bug Wood people disappeared. But… that had been long before she was born. Even before her mother was born.
Scrambling through the canopy, she was glad to overtake a group of river pygmies winding there way along a rocky ledge below. There were five of them, adult warriors armed with swords, prodding and poking almost two dozen forest pygmies, mostly women and children.
Once more, her mother’s spirit flowed into her as she leapt down onto the rear-most river pygmy and plunged her blade deep into his back. His sword clattered on the rocks as he fell. As the others turned toward her she’d already reached the next in line. He had no time to raise his blade before she impaled him, driving her blade through his ribs until the tip jutted from his back. As he fell, the twist of his body tore her blade from her grasp, but without pause she caught his blade as it slipped from his dying fingers. She charged the next pygmy in line. He turned to flee, screaming in terror. She struck low across his upper thighs, dropping him, then leapt over to reach the next slaver. Unfortunately, the extra second of warning he’d had proved sufficient to keep him out of reach as he bolted like a frightened hare, on the heels of the last river pygmy, who’d also decided he valued his life more than his prisoners.
Cinder paused to finish off the ham-strung pygmy, then used his blade to free one of the captives, a boy perhaps ten years old who looked at her with calm and stoic eyes as she cut through the hemp rope that bound his wrists.
“Are you a hoorga?” he asked as she placed the blade into his hands.
She wasn’t familiar with the term, but every pygmy tribe had it’s own band of forest spirits, good and evil. Perhaps he’d mistaken her for a such a creature.
“What’s a hoorga?” she asked.
“The black bird who flies through the realm of roots,” he said. “The black bird who takes the shape a woman when she comes for the dead.”
“Rest assured, I’m not here for you,” she said. “Use the sword to free the others. How many more have been captured?”
“Everyone,” he said. Unfortunately, not all pygmy tribes had the vocabulary to express numbers.
“Then I’m going to free everyone,” she said, leaping to a nearby tree and climbing once more into the canopy.
Welcome to my worlds!
I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!