This is an excerpt out of my current work in progress, "Liquid". Pelya and Tina enter a shop and speak to the proprietor.
While reading this, please keep in mind that this is the first rough draft and has not received the multiple rounds of editing I will put it through.
Chapter 8, excerpt
The person sold me a cup that was made by the Rojuun.” Tumera reached under the counter again. The cup she handed them was orange with an etched painting of a river all the way around it. “The water seems to move.” She handed it to Tina.
“What material is it?” Tina held it in her hand, weighing it. “It’s light, but feels sturdy.”
“I don’t know.” Tumera put her hands on the edge of the counter and stretched her back. “I would say clay, but it’s too light. It’s just as fine as porcelain, but I made the mistake of dropping it and it didn’t even chip. It’s extremely strong.”
“Who did you buy it from?” Pelya ran a finger over the side of the cup still in Tina’s hand and marveled at the texture of the river.
“A woman with a thick accent I’ve never heard.” Tumera picked a figurine from the shelf behind her and began cleaning it with the cloth while she spoke with a cadence befitting a bard. “I have a talent for getting people to talk and it didn’t take long before she was telling me about her entire life. ” She winked. “Her name was Yvilla and her people lived in the Pacivakai Fens in the northern part of the Iynath Empire. Her parents were part of a rebellion against the empire when she was a child. The people of her village were captured and taken across the empire as prisoners to the Caaldith Mountains.”
“It’s common for prisoners to be taken to mines,” Tina said. “Most don’t survive the experience.”
“Yes, but they weren’t taken to mines. They were given to the Rojuun as slaves.”
The news twisted Pelya’s gut. “The Rojuun want to enslave us?”
“Yes.” Tumera’s voice deepened with the gravity of her words. “From what Yvilla told me, that is exactly what they want. Rojuun believe that humans are here on this world to serve them.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Tina growled.
“I’d like to believe so,” Tumera agreed. “Yvilla’s tale is fascinating. She was eight when her people descended below the Caaldith Mountains. The men were separated from the women and younger children. Yvilla stayed with her mother working in caverns where they tended odd six-legged beasts and harvested plants that glowed.”
“Didn’t they try to escape?” Tina’s rigid stance and folded arms made it clear how angry the situation made her.
“Yvilla told me a few did, but they were never heard from again, so whether they succeeded or failed was unknown.” Tumera leaned one hip against the counter, her story taking a life of its own. “The caverns they worked were vast. Entire villages and even cities fit in some. Other cities took up multiple caverns. Yvilla didn’t see the cities when she was a child, just the farm caverns that were extensive too from what she said. She lost track of time while down there, so she doesn’t know exactly how old she was when they took her away to another Rojuun city far away from her mother, though she thinks her age was around fourteen or fifteen. Yvilla doesn’t know where her parents or any of her siblings are, or if they’re still alive.”
“That’s terrible,” Tina said in despair. Pelya felt much the same way.
“I agree. From there, she was taken to a city to work as a servant to a family of Rojuun. After a year or so, she was exchanged to another family. After six or seven more exchanges, she finally saw the sky again in a Rojuun city named Puujan on this side of the Caaldith Range.” Tumera talked hypnotically while concentrating on the details of the figurine. “The Rojuun placed wings on all the buildings that flutter in breezes. Yvilla called it the Winged City.”
“Why would they put wings on buildings?” asked Tina. “Do they fly?”
“No. From what Yvilla said, the Rojuun are artists. They sing, paint, sculpt, recite poetry and anything else that has to do with art.” Tumera pointed at the Rojuun cup. “Even their dishes are beautiful. The Rojuun consider the wings to be art. The part I found most interesting in her stories is that the caverns extended from one side of the Caaldith Mountains to the other.”
“That’s a lot of distance.” Pelya considered the maps she’d seen in her life. Commander Brynin’s dragon globe showed the most, but Pelya had never proper time to study it in detail. “No one’s ever been able to map the range. It’s too vast. You said there are entire cities of Rojuun?”
“Yvilla couldn’t tell me exactly how many or how big they are, but she said there has to be tens of thousands of Rojuun in the caverns.”
“That’s a problem.” Pelya hadn’t believed there were more than scattered groups of them. “Did she say if they have armies? I know some are wizards.”
“I don’t know that they have armies.” Tumera finished cleaning that figurine and picked up one of a forgotten king. “Yvilla mentioned that they all carry long knives and know how to use them as weapons, though they rarely fought amongst themselves. The warriors that captured her village were human soldiers of the Iynath Empire. She did confirm that Rojuun practice magic, but they don’t have wizards. It sounds more like a natural ability.”
“So a race of knife and magic wielding slavers.” Tina rubbed her forehead. “If she’s telling the truth, they’re a bigger problem than we realized.”
“And because they hide underground, none of the kingdoms realize it.” Pelya drummed her fingers on the counter. “How did Yvilla escape?”
“Puujan is in the Willden Forest,” Tumera said. “The Rojuun believe that humans get killed by Druids and built a wall to protect it. During the day, they let humans go out to forage and hunt. When the humans disappear, they just get more humans to replace them.”
Tina grinned. “The Druids rescue the humans, don’t they?”
“Yup.” Tumera winked. “Yvilla was foraging one day and saw a Druid in the distance. The Druid smiled, but made no move toward her. When Yvilla approached, she was offered freedom. They brought her to the edge of Swelth, gave her a few supplies and set her free. The items she sold to me were basics she had in a pack while foraging.”
“I’ve only read about Druids,” Pelya said. “Aren’t they dangerous in their own right?”
“Only if you threaten the forest,” Tina explained. “I’ve met a few in my youth. Tipimn is on the edge of the Willden. The forest is beautiful as long as you don’t go far into it. It’s haunted on top of all the other dangers. I even saw a ghost wandering through the trees once when some friends and I camped there.”
“Now I want to go explore.”
Tina rolled her eyes. “Every time you hear the word ‘danger’, you say ‘oooo, let’s explore’. The more dangerous, the more excited you get.”
I'm currently on chapter 12 of the book, getting close to the halfway mark. Writing this is fun and there are some plot twists I didn't expect. The characters are interesting and I'm really starting to wonder how they're going to react to what's ahead.
I'll try to give you another update soon.
All my best,
John H. Carroll