The Ninth Power – An Excerpt

It’s Day One, and I’ve written like 2,182 words for NaNoWriMo. Not bad.

Here’s what i wrote today. Ambiguous enough that I don’t care if you read it, it’s not giving anything at all away. In case you don’t know, this is the third part of my science fiction novel The Ninth Power (formerly The City of Light, formerly This Wretched Orb).

“Bear Clan” and “Pilgrim” are placeholders. I have intentions to come up with better words. For example, “Urd’thas Sol” used to be a generic “Mages”.

Only 47,818 words to go!

Vella Tun watered the plants more with her tears than the waterskin she clutched in her lap. Kneeling in the black soil of her meager vegetable garden, her bent back convulsed with sobs. Her husband, Garran, had been especially brutal to her that morning before leaving to take his place among the other members of the builder caste. The beatings were getting worse, and it was all she could do in the mornings to rise from the growing pool of her own blood and go about the chores he expected her to complete.

It seemed that with each passing of Sol overhead, with each ending of the day that she spent trying to predict what small thing Garran would find out of place, her husband’s scrutiny would grow more exacting and trivial. With that increased scrutiny, his rage grew exponentially.

The night previous, upon returning from his long shift building a new addition to the Bear God’s massive temple, Garran had found a hair under his pillow. Vella swore to herself that she’d checked the bed a million times that day, removing every tiny mote of dust from its surface, often forcing herself to remake the bed again and again. She couldn’t believe she had missed it. She did not even suspect that Garran might actually enjoy beating her, and therefore she would never truly understand how easily Garran found ways to discern fault in her work.

Vella knew the cause of his rage, and that it had nothing to do with cleanliness.

Many seasons prior, Vella and Garran had been invited to participate in a sharing ritual with another couple from the vision caste. It had been an opportunity of a lifetime. It wasn’t often that a member of the vision caste found a builder’s work to be skilled enough to request cooperation on a project. Those of the vision caste were primarily artists and sculptors, writers and musicians. Typically, they did their own creating with materials they were familiar with. This particular artist, a man named Dai Randis, sought to create something larger, and thus needed a builder’s expertise to pull off his grandiose design.

The business arrangement was simple, but the sharing ritual was an act of friendship, offered with good intentions. In the castes of the Bear Clan, open sexuality was a choice of the individual or couple, not the caste at large. Most couples in the builder caste tended to be monogamous, where those in the vision caste were open and rarely strictly defined.

It had been Garran that accepted the offer, without discussing it with Vella. The first liaison between the four had been awkward, with Garran being the most timid. Compared to Dai, Garran seemed an oaf, hairy and thick, clumsy and brutish. Vella had not intended or expected to enjoy Dai as much as she did. Likewise, Garran had not expected Dai’s partner to be a male.

The sharing ritual ended almost as quickly as it had begun, only with Garran pulling Dai off of Vella by his hair. For many days, the grievance trial that resulted wound on before the court until finally Dai revoked his offer of collaboration and Garran and Vella were left with nothing but their caste.

Garran had beat her for the first time that night.

Their life had been pleasant and simple before those days. Now, she lived in fear of each day’s passing.

The idea had only tickled at her mind at first. Garran had beaten her severely and required a healer to visit. The healer didn’t flinch at what he saw – domestic violence was quite common in the builder caste.

“Don’t spend more time than you have to,” Garran had told the healer. “If she’s meant to die, that’s fine by me.”

She imagined herself jumping from the cliffs for the first time that day. It was a brief vision, but enough to ignite a small fire deep within that tortured mind. Every day Garran beat her, her mind turned to that simple thought. To die, to end the suffering, to feel the wind passing by as she plummeted to a blackness that never ends – it seemed pleasant.

Maybe it was the way the wind tugged at her hair that day. Perhaps it was the scent of the mist rolling up from the cliffs just on the other side of the trees that protected their small farmhouse from sight and sound. By some suggestion, she found herself rising from the dirt and casually walking from her garden to where the sound of the mighty river grew louder.

Absently, she wandered to the large bridge spanning the canyon, letting her hands caress the thick ropes that kept the bridge steady enough for a team of pack russok to cross easily. The wooden slats creaked even with her light weight on them. Wind caused the bridge to sway slightly. She walked out toward the center of the bridge until she was directly over the raging river that had cut the canyon out of the ground for centuries.

Her face wanted to smile, but the gesture was foreign to her. She had not smiled for a very long time. Looking into the clouds of mist rising up from below her, she toed the edge of the bridge. Unexpectedly, she thought of Dai, and bile rushed up her throat, burning the back of her mouth.

Even now, suspended above the release she was beginning to feel she wanted, she felt the guilt of that pleasure. Garran had been right to be jealous, she thought to herself. Dai was ten times the man Garran was, though two times as slight. She had dreamed of him, imagining that she was his partner, and not the male that truly held that designation. She imagined walking the decorated roads of the Stone City where the vision caste made their homes, speaking to other women of colors, and materials, and dreams.

Vella took a deep breath and let all her guilt, and fear, and love dissipate from her body. She would meet her death empty of all emotion. She slipped under the barrier rope, and held on to it, leaning out over the expanse before her. The canyon curved on before her into the haze of the desert to the south. She thought it more beautiful at that moment than she had ever thought it before. Regret bubbled up from her soul that she had not taken time to appreciate the beauty of the world around her.

Garran would come home to an empty house – without her attentions for the rest of the day, he’d likely find it inadequate. She imagined his unconcerned shrug when he learned of her fate. A tear fell from her cheek and disappeared into the mists. She had loved him, even as recently as that same morning.

Vella closed her eyes and let her grip loosen naturally.

Above the continuous din of the roaring river beneath her, above the howl of the wind in her face, she heard it. A twig broke in the distance on the side of the canyon away from the domain of the Bear Clan.

Without a thought, with an instinct so primal as to never be truly absent from her existence, she renewed her grip and vaulted backwards over the barrier rope, landing deftly in a crouch. She had no weapon, but she knew she didn’t need one. Vella crossed the distance to the far side of the bridge in seconds and pulled herself up to hide behind one of the large posts that served to anchor the suspended bridge across the canyon.

Peeking around the post, she saw a thin man in grey robes in the distance. He carried a small pack on his back, and a staff in his hand. Her keen ears could hear him humming a tune underneath the strange mask that he wore.

Though she had never seen one before in person, she knew from teachings that this man was a Pilgrim, an Immortal whose people had left the City of Light.

The man was an enemy, and for him to be so close to their homelands, boded ill for her people.

The release of death gone from her mind in an instant, the pain of her existence erased, she shot from her hiding place and sprinted to the man, fully intending to neutralize him, and then rip the Mark from his back with her bare hands.

The man was not unready for her.

Her momentum carried her past him as he casually stepped aside. His staff stabbed downward and caught her ankle, sending her into a tumble away from him. From the cloud of dust rising from the spot where she had fallen, she heard him say something in the language of the Forbidden Tongue, that which may only be spoken by the Bear God himself. This infuriated her and she leaped to her feet with a renewed sense of purpose.

Her second attack flew on the speed of her legs. A foot, clenched tightly like a fist, shot forward with uncanny speed, intending to break the face beneath the mask, but the Pilgrim’s staff blocked the blow.

The Pilgrim kicked out at her planted leg, but she hopped back and spun, hoping to catch him off guard. Again, the Pilgrim blocked her high kick with his staff. Moving to offense, the Pilgrim swung the staff in an arc downwards to bludgeon her, but she caught it. Pulling it down, she snapped the thick staff over her knee. In almost the same motion she then kicked upwards and connected with the man’s chest, sending him staggering back. Pushing forward with the attack, she punched twice catching the man’s blocking forearms each time. She kicked at his vulnerable midriff, but he athletically dodged and fell into an unusual combat stance, tossing the remains of his staff aside.

Vella took a couple of steps back, not knowing what to expect. In her arrogance, knowing her training and her glorious purpose on this occasion, she smirked.

The Pilgrim’s mask wrinkled with his own smile.

Renewing the battle, Vella cartwheeled forward and rounded her body straight, then propelled her self in a spinning attacked meant to entangle her opponent. The Pilgrim seemed to expect the move and countered by leaping and hammering down with both fists. The blow caught Vella on the back and she fell roughly to the ground. Expecting a death blow, she rolled away and scrambled to her feet, only to see the Pilgrim fleeing in a sprint.

Roaring with primal rage, she shot forward in pursuit.

The Pilgrim was swift and deftly maneuvered through the loose rocks that made up the approach to the canyon. Vella followed his movements easily but was unable to close the gap even after several minutes of running.

As the Pilgrim approached a rise that Vella knew gave way to gentler terrain, she saw her chance. Palming a fist-sized rock from the ground as she ran, she covered several more yards before planting her feet. With all her might and skill learned from the greatest warrior instructors of the Bear Clan, she threw the rock. It struck the Pilgrim in the back of the head with enough force to kill him. Neutralized, he disappeared over the rise.

Running after her prey, she too topped the rise and froze at what she saw. Dozens of Pilgrims stood staring at their fallen comrade. Seeing her, they all fell into defensive stances.

Vella sighed. She had sought death and release, and death in battle would be so much greater than her planned suicide. Again, she smiled.

Before she could charge to her death, a voice cried out, “Vella!”

Shocked, Vella’s arms dropped to her sides. She recognized the voice.

A poorly clad women broke out from the mass of Pilgrims and ran towards the rise.

“Vella!” the woman cried in shock and joy, running to her with open arms.

Vella had not seen her sister in many years – not since members of the Urd’thas Sol had captured her and taken her away to be a plaything of the Immortal governor, Cassius. Many of the Pilgrims relaxed as Talbot, the leader of their small band, motioned them to stand down.

Vella felt tears flow from her eyes like never before. After all she had suffered, nothing compared to this. No violence, no hatred, no pain could stand against the joy of seeing her sister alive and well.

The two women of the Bear Clan embraced and collapsed to their knees. Several other of the women that had been rescued from the City of Light made their way through the Pilgrims to join them in a cluster of weeping joy.

Two of the Pilgrims moved to attend to their scout, who still lived but had curled into a ball of pain not far from where the women embraced each other.

“Keep your eyes and ears open,” Talbot whispered to his men. “These people are not to be trifled with. We still may not make it out of this alive.”

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