This is a draft of the first chapter of a book I am considering writing. I really love feedback of any kind, because I am split between two versions of this idea that I have.
Does this story interest you? What do you like most about it? What do you like least?
It’s what we’re all longing for, isn’t it? What we’re all expecting to happen.
What we’re all hoping for.
Katora, a young man of about twenty years old, walked along a mountain path. He wore a loose-fitting shirt, known as a kaal. A kaal was slightly longer than a normal shirt, reaching down to about mid-thigh, and had slits up the side of it that gave the wearer a breath of fresh air from the unrelenting heat in the lands of Ignii. It was made of the softest material known to his people, said to be drawn from the Nuvectem themselves, the cloud-serpents who slithered through the watery skies. He wore a garment wrapped around his head, an article of clothing generally dipped in water before long journeys through the rocky landscape.
Katora’s, however, was dry.
And the sun beat down upon him like the unrelenting fist of the heavens.
It’s the ending of all the stories. It’s the everliving hope that burns its way into all our souls. Things will turn out right. Everything will turn out good in the end.
It’s that optimism, that longing, that expectation—
The mountains of this region were wide as they were tall, stretching out into various shapes and forms like the Gaa settling across the horizon, giants who were said to have roamed these lands in the ancient days. Katora continued his way up this giant’s tumultuous back, always moving closer to the looming peak. The color brown occupied every direction, in nearly every shade or tone imaginable. It was a kaleidoscope of the color, a truly breathtaking landscape. Katora stepped over the many rocks and divots that occupied his path, maneuvering around the numerous boulders and sheer walls of earth that blocked his way. The path was mostly comprehensible, so it was a bit difficult to get lost, but there were times when he had to find his own way — a fallen slab or a newly opened fissure interrupting the route — before he could rejoin the trail up further ahead.
Still, the peak called out to him, as loud in his mind as the mighty roar of one of the Gaa. It was not much further.
According to his people, the peaks of mountains and tall hills were considered holy places; ones where the presence of Ignii existed in power. It was thought that Ignii rewarded those brave and strong enough to reach the climax with his blessing and favor. Ignii himself had never said as much, however. Only the elders in the village have even claimed to have seen him.
Katora often wondered why this god was so discreet.
The thing that gives meaning and purpose to these lives of vanity. When all else is lost and when all that surrounds are the sands of desperation, it is what we might cling to.
It is a branch to grasp onto that keeps us from falling into the Abyss of Inferata.
The light that marks our path.
Katora suddenly heard the buzzing flap of wings as a breath of wind rushed over his neck and a soft weight pressed upon his right shoulder. Without looking, he knew what was there. They were called Caemedii, translucent little creatures that were human looking despite being completely see-through. They were slightly shorter than Katora’s head and had large butterfly-like wings that, though they were also translucent, had intricate swirling patterns shaped into them.
“To the peak, you go? Kee! To the tippy-top, kekee!” the Caemedii cried into his ear.
Their voices were light but piercing, like whipping of the mountain wind. Katora brushed the creature from his shoulder without a spare glance.
The Caemedii fluttered off, its high-pitched tone cackling into the distance. “To the tippy, tippy, tippy-top! Kekee keeee!”
They were troublemakers, those Caemedii; impish little beasts. Katora’s friends had warned him not to do this — no, commanded! Sera, Begaala, Alroi, Teeko, they had all been of one mind on the issue. In fact, when he first spoke of what he planned to do, they thought he was joking. They laughed nervously, searching his face for the true meaning. But the true meaning was plain.
Katora would do just as he said he would.
They all called him crazy. Sera even yelled at him and punched him, asking what in the world had gotten into him. Truth be told, he had no idea himself. What had gotten into him? Whatever it was, the case was surely that it had gotten into him.
They could not possibly understand.
Hope is the light of all worlds, the sun that reigns over their skies.
It is the waves that roar, and the land that stands eternal.
It is everlasting — hope.
Hope of what, you may ask?
Hope of happiness, of course.
Hope of joy. Fulfillment. Satisfaction. Love. Peace. Contentment.
Today, and tomorrow.
There it was.
The end of his journey.
Katora climbed the final length that awaited him, and stood on the precipice, gazing out over the edge. The sky was a bright, blinding blue shining back at him. Nuvectem swirled across it, wrapping over one another before parting ways. As far as the eye could see it was rock and desolation, the beautiful but barren landscape presented before him in all its breadth. Far, far off in the distance, the slightest hint of the green foliage of a forest could be discerned — but of course, it was much too far to pay any real mind to.
Katora could only see the empty, arid land.
He shuffled his feet slightly. A few pebbles crumbled underneath his weight and tumbled over the side of the cliff. He watched them for as far he could see them; slipping down and down, bouncing off the jagged cliffside multiple times before they had finally fallen too far down for Katora to make out their tiny forms any longer.
He probably stood too close to the edge. Sera would have yelled at him to back away and smacked the back of his head when he did so. One misstep and he could tip over, falling to his death, she would say. But Sera had been gone lately. Her family often traveled into the city, where some of their relatives stayed.
Katora missed her.
As he gazed downward, his heart began to thump in his chest, and his muscles tensed like a drawn bowstring. He could still hear the damn Caemedii’s voice echoing in his head and those annoying noises they made.
“Keeke! Tippy, tippy, tippy, tippy, tippy-top! Keee!”
I no longer have any.
Katora drew in a deep breath, and stepped over the side of the cliff.
“Teek, there he is!”
“Fire of Ignii, what happened?!”
“I have no idea. You don’t think he…?”
“I don’t know, check if he’s breathing.”
“Yeah, he seems to be breathing.”
“Then, quick, let’s get him on your back B!”
Katora was vaguely aware of his two friends, Teeko and Begaala, moving around him. He felt one of them grab him and could dimly sense himself being lifted.
So, he wasn’t dead.
But that… That’s impossible.
Katora, his senses slowly coming back to him, began to wrestle more and more with the fact that he had not died from the fall. Anyone would’ve died from a fall of even half that height — no, even a quarter of the way up should have killed him. But here he was; semi-conscious on the back of his good friend Begaala, awareness gently descending back upon him.
And with this awareness, came pain.
Unbelievable, unbearable pain.
Katora groaned as the aching came to dominate his senses.
“Was that your stomach B?”
“Of course not! I think it was Kato!”
“Hang in there Kato! Hurry B, we need to get him to the Shaamka!”
“Ooh, I don’t like that guy. Creepy guy.”
“Yeah, but look how messed up Kato is! He’s the only one who could even have a chance of fixing him up.”
“You sure we shouldn’t take him to Chief Alrod? He might know what to do.”
“Shut your fat mouth up B! I’m the brains, you’re the brawn. Come on, I know I’m right.”
“My mouth isn’t fat!”
“Well, everything else is. Come on, we don’t have time, run faster!”
Katora could feel every bump and stride as his friends rushed him off, his bones screaming with each thump.
Definitely broken… Most of them. Maybe all of them. I think I broke literally every bone in my body.
Katora shuddered, groaning again. Now he wished even more that he had died. Besides that, they were taking him to the Shaamka?! It was equally possible that she would cause more pain, rather than lessening it. No, actually, it was probably more probable that the Shaamka would make matters worse. Shaamka is a title referring to a practitioner of dark and strange magic; one who was, at best, disliked, and, at worst, despised. They were feared, ignored, or avoided by nearly all — all except those who shared their strange fascinations or who were truly desperate.
His friends, of course, were the latter.
But why did his two stupidest friends have to find him?
Best case scenario, he would’ve died after stepping off the mountain. If he was going to live, he would rather at least have his pain relieved. He doubted very much that this would be the case under the care of the Shaamka. They should just take him to the Chief, or just let him lie in his tent. The Shaamka liked to… to experiment with her patients, he had heard.
In any case, that was where he was being taken. Numbness spread over him as if he were submerged into a lake of it. He groaned again, the pain screaming at him as his listless mind sat in silence.
Soon enough, more noise began to filter into his ears. They were approaching the village. He heard shocked voices muttering as he passed by.
“That boy, he…”
“Is that… Katora?”
“Great Blaze of Ignii take me…”
Wow. How bad do I look?
Katora attempted to open his eyes for the first time since he had hit the ground. He could only just, seeing a little slice of the world. The light brown, rocky turf swung back and forth to the rhythm of Begaala’s footsteps. He tried to turn his neck to look over to the side, who his whole body instantly seized up in the effort, and pain engulfed him to an even greater degree.
“Agh,” he spat, his body crumpling back limp and his eyes shutting again.
“Don’t move, you idiot!” Begaala yelled in his ear, continuing to run. “Do you realize how screwed up you are? It’s a miracle you’re alive.”
“What?” Teeko called over. “He tried to move?!”
“What an idiot!” he seethed.
But their words fell on deaf ears; the exertion had brought Katora back into the realm of unconsciousness.
The smell of blood and decay shot into Katora’s nose like an arrow’s bolt. His head snapped upward before agony grabbed him by the throat and pinned him back against the warm, dirt floor. His eyes shot from left to right as he tried to gain an understanding of his surroundings, though he didn’t dare move his head again.
The first thing that came to his attention the dark green-ish smoke that was rising up beside him and filling the tent, like a poisonous Nuvectem being born into the world. Secondly, he saw many clear jars filled with strange-colored fluids and even stranger objects. It was hard to discern from this angle, but some seemed to be fingers, some small, dead animals, and a great number appeared to be eyeballs of different shapes and sizes.
A shudder pounded its way through his spine; his body in turn was racked with further pain.
On the other side, he could make out a few forms — people, surely, but he couldn’t tell who. Or, how many. His vision was blurry from the pain and even more obscured by the smoky atmosphere of the tent he was in.
It was, undoubtedly, the Shaamka’s tent.
“Yes, yesss. Lie still, ye’ please. Is ain’t time to be moving, ye’ please. Broke many a bone, ye’ did. Yes, yes, ye’ did,” a high, scratchy voice admonished him.
The Shaamka’s voice.
“Is he awake?!” Begaala’s voice.
“Ye’ sit down, ye’ will!” The Shaamka screeched at Begaala, her cry accompanied by a ruckus of crashing objects. “Ye’ seen! Ye’. Seen! How if I told ye’?! How if?! If you’s in, you’s is a sit; you’s is a quiet. You’s aint a sit or quiet none! Dumb, fat, goof, ye’ is. Like the Gaa’s turd, ye’ is.”
The Shaamka continued mumbling to herself as she began picking up whatever it was that had fallen over. Teeko could scarcely contain himself with laughter, trying to keep it in as much as possible.
“She said you were like a piece of giant’s poop,” Teeko whispered over to him, a bit too loud, clutching his stomach to try and keep his laughter hidden.
“QUIET, ye’ is!” The Shaamka snapped, her voice cracking a bit. “Now, sees here… Yes, is there, yesss.
Her voice, old and scratchy as it was, almost sounded snake-like at times, the way she carried the “s” sound on certain words. The place made Katora’s stomach roll. He didn’t like being here at all. His present distress brought his mind back once again to his failed attempt at killing himself. It had been hundreds of feet he had fallen, perhaps over a thousand! There was no way he should have survived. It was not possible for him to be here now.
Suddenly, the Shaamka’s face appeared just above his own. Katora had only ever seen her from a distance, so this was his first real look at the witch. Her face was old and wrinkly, like you might expect, her eyes dark and bloodshot. What you might not expect, however, was the small patch of light green scales on either cheek. Then she opened her mouth and a serpent’s tongue rolled out. Her tongue, which stretched out at least a foot down to his face, began to lightly brush over his skin, quickly flicking this way and that. Katora closed his eyes in disgust, unable to move or protest. After several seconds of this, and another quick dab on his forehead, she stood up a bit and began rummaging through her shelves.
“Yessss. Yes. Is a rock, is a dirt, is a sed-i-ment. Where did a fall, ye’ seen. Very certain, where did a fall,” the Shaamka told Begaala and Teeko.
“Kato, I can’t believe you actually —” Begaala began in a sad voice, before the Shaamka cut him off.
“Quiet, ye’ is.”
“Quiet. Ye’. Is,” she repeated sternly.
Katora’s stomach sank. He knew his friends would take it hard.
Of course he knew that.
That’s the only reason he had stayed so long.
Katora then heard a pop, as the Shaamka removed a cork from some vial. A few seconds later, he began to feel a cool tingling sensation spreading over his skin as the witch gently poured drops of some liquid onto him. As she got closer to his face he was able to see a bit of what was happening. It was a deep, purple fluid that she dropped onto him a few inches apart. When the drop hit his skin, it instantly turned many shades lighter and began spreading over him, a grayish-purple smoke rising up and hovering over his body.
As she began dropping the potion onto his neck, he noticed her snake-like face again.
“Parvectii,” Katora managed to announce.
Of course she was strange to them, she wasn’t even human. She was a race of snake-people he had read of once, called the Parvectii.
The Shaamka smiled.
“A very close, ye’ has. This one Magvectii, ye’ seen. A very close. Is like some cousins, Parvectii and Magvectii. Much of intelligence, ye’ has,.” Then, in a voice that could almost be called affectionate, she said, “But quiet, you’s need find. Quiets now.”
With that she dropped the liquid onto his face, and all he could see was swirling purple smoke. Immediately after, he began to feel a strange sort of breeze rushing over him, as if that Caemedii had returned and was brushing its wing lightly across his body.
Then, the Shaamka began chanting — a slow, rhythmic chant.
“Os Et Foir Maat. Os Et Foir Maat. Os Et Foir Maat. Os Et Foir Maat. Os Et Foir Maat.”
Suddenly, Katora’s bones began to shift underneath his skin. It felt like they turned into worms and began crawling their way through his body. At first, it just felt strange. Then, after a few moments, pain flared to life worse than any he had felt so far. It was like a fire blazing within his limbs, burning and searing and consuming him.
Katora screamed out in agony as the Shaamka continued to chant, louder and louder.
“Os Et Foir Maat. Os Et Foir Maat. Os Et Foir Maat. Os Et Foir Maat. Os Et Foir Maat!”
His skin began to bubble and contort as if something inside of him was trying to force it’s way out. Katora wailed, no longer aware of anything else around him, engrossed only in the torment. The purple smoke wafted around him, like an evil aura containing him. For a moment — just a moment — Katora was somewhat aware of Begaala yelling. His body suddenly bent backward at an unnatural angle, his skin continuing to morph and churn like sea waves.
Then, he felt his back lift off the floor.
The Shaamka was crying out her hymn by now, the words seeming to take on a form of their own and penetrate into Katora’s own body.
“Os Et Foir Maat! Os Et Foir Maat! Os Et Foir Maat! Os Et Foir Maat! Os Et Foir Maat!”
Then a blinding white light washed over Katora. All the noise fell away, along with the pain and the tension of the moment. It all faded to nothing just as the strong wind sometimes gives way to complete stillness.
And then, in the next moment, he was back on the floor of the witch’s hut, the purple smoke departed and the green smoke quickly dissipating as well.
And he felt no pain.
“What did you do to him?!” Begaala was screeching.
Teeko, holding him back, shouted, “B, stop it! Stop!”
The Shaamka was muttering something under her breath, sitting cross-legged to the side with her eyes closed.
“B. Teek,” Katora called out softly, sitting up.
They each froze in place, their mouths open and their eyes wide, as they gazed at a fully healed Katora.
“Kato!” Begaala yelled, before launching himself over to him. “You’re oka—”
“Outtt!” The Shaamka cried, pointing an oddly shaped finger at Begaala. “Fat one! You’s is outtt! Ten of times I’ve talked ye’. Crassus! Outtt!”
“Come on guys, let’s talk out in the open,” Teeko suggested, moving quickly from the tent himself.
Begaala nodded and gestured to Katora to follow him. Katora did so, slowly making his way out of the cramped structure, being extra careful not to knock over anything.
I can’t believe… I can’t believe she actually healed me. I feel… fine. Absolutely fine. No pain at all. How could she…?
Katora pushed the tent flap to the sight before another thought hit him causing his stomach to flip inside of him, nearly throwing up.
My friends. B. Teek. Even Alroi and… and Sera. They’re…
They’re not going to understand.
“Guys…” Katora began, tears running down his cheek. “I don’t— I’m sorry, I— I can’t—”
He stopped, squeezing his eyes shut and clenching his fist. He couldn’t even begin to understand himself, how could he possibly expect his friends to understand? More tears fell, his chest seeming to rip apart, like a Kruzaak splitting it open with its massive claws.
“I’m… I’m sorry.” He managed to squeak out, his eyes shut and head down like a door bolted shut and covered in chains.
A few moments of silence lingered before he felt a hand grasp his shoulder. Katora opened his eyes and tilted his head just far enough to see the arm that reached toward him. It was Teeko’s. He blinked once and shook his head before looking Teeko in his eyes.
“Look, man…” Teeko began, looking away from him for a moment before meeting his gaze again. “We’re… We’re just glad you’re okay.”
“Yeah,” Begaala chimed in. “When we saw you like… like that, we were pretty scared of what might have happened.”
“But somehow,” Teeko continued, looking suspiciously at the Shaamka who was standing outside of her tent, staring at them, “she was able to fix you. I mean, you are… fixed, aren’t you?”
“Yeah…” Katora mumbled stretching his arms and turning his head to get a good look at his body. “Yeah, I think so.”
“Yesss, this one has a fixed,” the Shaamka cut in, her reptilian voice sounding much thinner out her in the open. “So that one has a monies, yes? Yesss.”
“That’s the thing,” Teeko said in a low voice as he scratched the back of his head, his mouth clenched in a fake smile. “We promised we’d pay her without anything to really pay her with…”
“We, uh…” Katora started, turning toward her. “We don’t actually have any… money.”
The Shaamka glared at the three of them, her stare as piercing as any blade. Her tongue flicked out into the air for a moment, and a low hissing sound came out of her mouth.
Silence ruled over them for a few moments, the tension mounting as it looked like she might lunge at them at any moment. Katora gulped, sweat beginning to build on his forehead.
Begaala was the first to break the silence. “We’ll get y—”
“You’s. No. Speak,” she growled, each word falling from her mouth like a boulder.
Her gaze locked onto Katora. And she waited.
“We’ll… We’ll get you money! Or, we can do some favor for you, or whatever you—”
“Favorsss,” she hissed, her stare intensifying.
“Favors?” Teeko chimed in, looking at Katora. “No, no, no; a favor. Like, one.”
The witch’s eyes narrowed.
“Okay,” Katora said, raising his arms in a sign of peace. “Okay. Okay. Favors. How can we… er, start?”
“You’s start where is a Lake of Initii. Where is Lake of Initii you’s has a find of special plant. Purple, stem is a gray, is a smalls, like thisss,” she said, holding her hands just a few inches apart. Her eyes suddenly darted to the side, and then back to them. Then she said, in a softer voice, “Is a same from incaantia where in you’s, ye’ seen.”
“She, uh… She said it’s what she used on you?” Teeko whispered to Katora, never taking his eyes off the Shaamka.
Katora nodded. “I think so.”
“Alright,” Teeko said. “We’ll do that for you.”
She smiled, baring her yellow, sharp-looking teeth. “Yesss. Threes. Sure to has threes, yes?”
“She wants us to get three of the flower,” Begaala spoke up from behind them, translating her strange speech.
Suddenly, her face turned sour and her eyes narrowed like a snake coiled to attack.
“Maybe you shouldn’t talk anymore until we leave,” Katora suggested quietly over his shoulder.
“Yeah, shut the hell up,” Teeko whispered harshly back to Begaala.
Begaala made a frustrated sound, but stayed quiet.
“First of favorsss, ye’ seen. When seen two tomorrows, yes?”
“Yeah,” Katora said, looking nervously to his two friends again. “Yeah, we’ll have them to you two days from now.”
The Shaamka nodded, then sitting on the ground just by her tent cross-legged, continuing to stare at them.
“Let’s get out of here,” Teeko whispered urgently, still not daring to take his eyes off the Magvectii woman.
Katora nodded and the three began to walk away.
“Kato…” Begaala mumbled as they moved. “I’m just, I’m so glad you’re okay.”
He stopped, turning to stare at Katora with tears spilling out onto his cheek. Katora’s own vision grew blurry as he felt the pain that radiated out from his friend. It was the conflict that had haunted him his entire life, following him everywhere he went like a knife lodged in his side. It was the struggle between his own demons and dark thoughts — the ones that had led him to the peak of the mountain — and the loves of his friends.
All the pain of the broken bones and the Shaamka’s rituals is nothing compared to this…
No matter what I do — these thoughts keep coming, these demons keep tormenting.
I have to stop it somehow.
But there is no other option.
And my friends…
With every step to escape the pain, I bring them more.
“You must’ve been… pretty high up the mountain,” Teeko said awkwardly, snapping Katora out of his own mind. “You were… pretty messed up, man.”
“Yeah, pretty high…” Katora repeated, his voice sounding far away like a distant echo.
“Where is from the top!” The Shaamka called out, to them. “Yesss, the tippy-top, ye’ seen.”
The three spun back toward her in shock.
How did she know that?! Did the… Did the Caemedii report back to her, or something?
As Katora’s mind spun, he felt two large hands grab him by the shoulders.
“From the peak?” Begaala asked him, his face red and streaked with tears. “From the very top of the mountain?!”
Katora pushed his hands off him, turning to the side. He’d had enough tears for the moment, if he could help it.
“But Kato…” Came Teeko’s voice. “If you jumped from the peak… How could you have possibly survived?”
Suddenly the Shaamka’s sharp cackle began to emanate across the land, ricocheting off the many rocks and mountainsides, giving it an almost transcendent effect — as if the gods themselves were laughing.
“This one knowsss,” the Shaamka sang, giggling. “This one can sssay.”
They were all three fixated on her now, waiting for her to explain the mystery of Katora’s miraculous survival.
She smiled, devilishly. “This one saysss…. After more favorsss.”