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First chapter of "Vicadia"




Chapter One


In the days before humans even knew how to articulate a sensible word,  another people evolved, grew, reached a peak, fell and rose again, their society not limited to a world but worlds. Time, to them, was fluid and bodies interchangeable. They crossed the Universe, they did what humans now want to do,  but inevitably, they became bored.

 A castle spins on a central axis as it gains power and momentum. From the world’s core it draws strength, seeking pathways across the Universe. When its operator finds what he wants, the castle slows and becomes what people have always thought, a tumbledown ruin of an eight-sided fortress.

 Below, within a cavern, a seeker watches on a crystal screen. He needs two beings to play his game and to win the safety of the world he has created. One resides on Sele, the world he has carefully crafted, the other on Earth, a rival’s design.

 On Sele, an island sinks beneath the waves, its people irrevocably changed. On Earth, a vehicle slides on ice before plunging through a frozen river. On Sele, thousands of souls transform so one can be manipulated. On Earth, a woman clings to existence by a mere thread in the weft of life.

 Vicadia draws the threads parallel and for a nano-second they touch and connect.



 The Mazda hit ice. Carter cursed, fought for control, lost it in kaleidoscope swirls, and the vehicle hurtled down a steep bank, jamming me against seat and headrest. Terror clutched at my heart, breath refused to come and let out my screams. Stillness as the car stopped, engine running, headlights shining on pristine snow. Relief caught laughter until I realized where we’d ended up. The Coldwater River. Confirming my fears, ice cracked loud as a pistol shot. Carter released his seat belt. The button on mine refused to work despite my frantic efforts. Carter opened his door, got out the car, then bent to peer back in.

 “Goodbye Tori,” he said.

 I flinched as the car door slammed and he disappeared into the night. My heart pounded with sick fear. Things hadn’t been going well, no, but…. Perhaps he went for help? The mountains stopped cell signals here often enough. I deluded myself.

 A crack echoed, then another. If I waited the car could crash through the ice and I had no idea how deep the water was here.

 Carter had left.

 And you are sitting here like a dumbass? Carter’s favorite name for me lately. Perhaps he was right. I yanked at the belt, depressing the button over and over. Carter had meant to take it into a garage, get the thing fixed, but he never had. The car lurched, pointing its nose skyward, before it plunged through ice into water. The belt came free to my screams.

The door wouldn’t budge. I argued with the lock--stuck tight--needed something to break the windscreen. In the dark, fumbled for the glove compartment, rooted around until I found the multi-tool, took it out, cutting fingers on knives and saws and God knew what else. I didn’t care as I smashed the tool against the screen. Too dark to see if it cracked. Smashed again. Tears. Of terror, of anger, of frustration. Once more I thumped the screen.

Did something break? I leaned back in the seat, kicking and kicking and kicking, hoarse screams crying my dread, my world shrunk to survival.

 Water rushed in, terrifying, freezing. I took deep, sobbing breaths before it could overwhelm me. Let them out in terror-filled gasps. Took one last gulp of precious air and swam free of the car. Clothes, coats, tried to snag on metal and mirrors, the car tried to drag me with it, like great hands holding me back. I thrashed in darkness not knowing up from down, heart beating wildly enough to burst. I couldn’t reach the
surface. Currents dragged at my clothes, there was no light, my head wanted to
explode. I fought, reaching, reaching… All I had to do was breathe. Part of me
wanted to let go. End the struggle.
 
 For several moments I sank. Why did I even try? In that silence, with only the blood rushing through my ears, I wondered why. I’d wanted out. Out of Carter’s life, too afraid to take that final step, and now someone gave me the chance. I could just let go.

 Yes, give up, a small voice whispered. You know you want to. It was his voice. Carter’s. My husband. Who’d left me to drown.

 Bastard.

 A glimpse of light leant me hope. I stretched for it, lungs protesting. I fought terror rather than give in to that voice.
No. No I won’t die to please you. To make it convenient for you.

 I reached, broke the surface, and fought the hands trying to keep me down. Hit out, screaming. Pain blossomed across one cheek. Even numb with cold it shocked me.

 “Bastard! Bastard, I won’t let you murder  me.”

 “Be calm.”

 Hysteria rose in my throat as I twisted violently away from his grip, clawing at his arms, at the sodden hair blinding me so I could not see where to run.

 It wasn’t Carter.

 Astonishment held me immobile. “What?” I managed, still gasping for breath, for precious air. Nausea rose and I vomited forever until bile stung my throat. Sitting on my heels I stared with glazed eyes at the sand I tossed to cover the mess before I could heave again. Sand.

 I twisted and stared up at my rescuer. No one I knew. Wet as me. Carter was dark-haired and eyed. This guy had white-blond hair to his waist and the most vivid blue eyes I’d ever seen. He wore black salt-stained leathers and had beads in his hair.

 Yet it wasn’t him who held my attention but the ocean thrashing behind him and the brilliant sunshine pouring down.

 It was that sight which held me when I should have run. I had to be dead. This was some kind of afterlife. This guy must be an angel.  I breathed, just breathed for
several minutes, but when I looked up nothing changed. Gulls still cried, the sea washed back and forth. I wasn’t in Canada any more.

 “Where?” I gasped.

 The guy turned from his contemplation of the ocean and looked down at me. I met his vivid turquoise gaze for only a moment, and fell…

 
I saw—a life disappear in a giant whirlpool. No metaphorical lie but the truth; a great magic that had been beyond twenty thousand anai to prevent. I saw/felt/heard that dance upon the waves, the waves that had flung him free. He trod water looking for his people. Not even detritus joined his dance. Gulls cried overhead, which meant the shore was close. Currents pulled at his body. He let them take him, bewildered, angry, heartbroken. His mind refused to encompass the panic of a whole island spinning, of it sinking beneath giant walls of water. No mind could embrace such an act. Now he resonated with cries and the grinding groans of a dying land
.
 Something, just a glimpse, but something bobbed in the waves as he did. Hope rushed in as he swam. Someone else had survived. Joy flooded him, until he reached her, saw her dark, dark hair and knew she was human. She fought him though she looked half-drowned; fought him all the way to a beach, screaming obscenities at him.

 “Be calm,” he said, and finally she did, although angry lines of terror and hatred marked her face. Then she looked beyond him, sank to her knees and vomited in the
sand.

 I vomited again, caught in someone else’s thoughts. His thoughts. The guy I’d thought an angel. I thought my own misery was justified until I saw that. What the hell was this place? He didn’t attempt to help me, his face pale as milk.

 “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t…mean you to see that.”

 Somehow I sat up and wrapped my arms around my knees. I needed to stop shaking. I needed to think without anyone else’s thoughts intruding into my mind.

 “What the hell? What the hell happened? What was that?” My throat raw from vomiting, it came out as a croak.

 He stared back at the ocean again. “I don’t know,” he whispered.

 I felt as he opened his mind. Heard the call he sent. Felt his hope as just for a moment a flicker of life shimmied through, but the feeling passed as quickly as it arrived, flitting away like a fish scale caught in a sunbeam. Deep within the ocean he sensed one of his people, an anai, before it disappeared.

 Tears fled down my cheeks. “Please,” I wept. “Please stop that.”

 “You shouldn’t be able to hear me,” he said. “You are human.”

 Which meant he was not. Anai, it had come through the thoughts/images/intimacy blasted into my brain. Of course he wasn’t human, not if he could do that. I shook more, terrified of the idea of someone in my mind, as though I no longer had any control. Dizzy, disorientated I wished in some ways I had truly drowned.

 “Do you?”

 My stomach wanted to upend yet again. Somehow I swallowed, somehow I hung on and spoke. “What is this place?”

 “This land is called Fresovay, I believe.”

 “You believe?"

 He lifted an arm, pointed out to the sea. “My island was called Amnaem and was owned by the anai. This place is human and I do not belong. I should not be here.”

 But we are. Why? How could I go from drowning in a river in Canada in freezing conditions to this balmy seashore?

 “Because someone wished us here. Do you feel it?”

 All I felt was panic. I pushed the hysteria down as far as I could. What was I supposed to feel? That I’d gone insane? I deleted that thought because it was just too scary on top of everything else. I tried to breathe calmly, to stop the irrational feelings rushing through me. I was alive, at least I thought I was, and if I thought too deeply I would go mad.

 Then I did feel it. Like a string attached to my middle, tugging. I opened the eyes I’d closed to shut out the insanity and in the distance I could see a mountain range.

 “What do you see?” he asked.

 “A castle,” I murmured. “Mountains, trees, a castle, and fire.”

 “Fire?”

 “Yes, deep within the castle, or perhaps below it.”

 “Do you sense danger?”

 I shivered. “Not danger. Need. It needs us as much as we need  it. What am I saying?”




 
Vicadia watches on his screen. Phase one is completed. Two people from two different worlds are drawn together. Events have collided, actions begun and
numbers spinning. He sits back to wait.

 On another world, another creation, another screen, Xihatl senses the bringing together of threads. She searches for knots in the weave and finds them and who causes them. For a moment her fingers hover, then a smile forms on her features. Numbers appear on the screen, random numbers. She watches for a long time and then blinks. The numbers stop.


 We talked, because on that lonely shore there was just we two and the birds crying to one another like lost souls.

“What is your name?” he asked and while I wondered if he already knew, I said it out loud. “Tori Hughes.”

 I already knew his. I’d been inside his mind as he’d been in mine. Sarain Kelistir. An exotic name for an exotic location. I told him where I came from and watched his eyes widen as I spoke of cars and planes and the Internet, and electricity, and then I listened as he spoke of  magic.

 Islands, even in a world with magic, do not spin. Falling through a crack in the ice should not bring a person out in another world, but both events happened. There was a tenuous link between us that somehow calmed me enough to function. 

 Magic, although he didn’t call it that. It was just how I interpreted it, because I had no other label to give it. But I didn’t truly understand, not then. I don’t think I was capable of absorbing anything at that moment. I worked on automatic; survival instinct, I guess, shutting out what I couldn’t handle for later.

 As the surf thrashed the shore, kissing the sand and retreating like a shy maiden, I studied the man sitting opposite me in the sand. His tale of his island’s destruction made him seem quite human. He told me, and I am not sure why, that he’d lost his wife in a freak accident even before Amnaem’s sinking.

 Tragedy ringed his eyes, sorrow laced his voice. While losing a husband in my case might be a blessing in disguise, ending up in this place made me wonder if Carter had been right all along and that there was something deeply utterly wrong with me.

 Another world? Sarain had called it Sele. Nah, I’m not  listening.

 Because that was all too much. Part of me, should I choose to believe, should be screaming; the part that should have made me into a jelly-wreck curled up in a fetal heap on the sand. Instead, I took a deep breath, flipped my hair from my eyes, and tried to attack the problem at hand.

 “I don’t see fire. I see power,” Sarain said. “Perhaps we should go to this castle?”

 “What if it is a trap?”

 He hesitated before answering, drawing weird interconnected spirals in the sand, and then he said, “Does it matter if it is? What do we have to lose?”

 Point. Plus, hunger and thirst was a factor, and while the sea might offer up its bounties, there was no fresh water. If there had been hotels lining the beach, if I’d even heard a plane flying overhead, if I could have recognized anything, I would not
have gone with him. If I could have made any sense of this situation at all I would have run far and fast.

 We began to walk across the sand. As the tide pulled back, so it left treasures in its wake. A fisherman’s glass float tangled in netting bobbed as waves receded and left it behind. Sarain hunkered down beside it. Caught in the same netting was a piece of stone. He lifted the stone and brushed damp sand from its blue and yellow chequered
surface.

 “What is it?”

 “A sisean board. As far as I know, humans don’t play the game.”

 He looked around and climbed to his feet, movements lithe as a panther's. Here he found a carved piece of wood, there a child’s toy, and in another place, scraps of brilliantly hued cloth. He turned over pungent streamers of glistening, leather-brown seaweed to reveal the knotted pieces of a loom, where a rug hung half woven, the shuttle still stuck between the wefts. Pottery and broken glass gleamed like stars along the wave-formed sand, and a small chest banded in copper revealed a fortune in silver coins.

 “From your island?” I asked. The sadness on his face brought tears to my eyes. What might have been a treasure trove of delight were only the sad remnants of a people.

 “Yes.”

 But a thought occurred to me. “No bodies.”

 He turned, staring at me. “What?”

 “There aren’t any bodies, Sarain. If they were all dead, surely there would be bodies?”

 His eyes fathomless, he stared at the coins in his hand. “I have called but they do not answer. They may not be dead but they will never be the same. If they have become as the creatures of the sea to save themselves, it maybe they will never find their way back.”

 “I don’t understand.”

 “No, I suppose you wouldn’t.”

 I hoped he didn’t mean to be hurtful so I said nothing as he absently pocketed some
silver.

 We reached a border of dunes and slip-slided over their humps until we came to feathery wind-torn shrubs and beyond them to some fields. Sarain stopped to lean against a silvered fence rail.

 “There is something in you I can sense but don’t understand. It isn’t magic as I
understand it. In your world, from what you have told me, magic seems formed by
things rather than coming from the land.”

 I shrugged. “I guess.”

 “The anai are not human and humans on this world hate us for that.”

 “Why?”

 “Because we are beyond their control.”

 I scragged back my hair and leaned an elbow on the fence.  “Sounds pretty typical, actually. Why tell me now?”

 “Beyond the hills I can sense a village. They will recognize me for what I am. I need to change.”

 Without thinking, I said, “I’ll look the other way.”

 A smile hovered on his lips, the first I’d seen. So far he’d been such a solemn, sad man. I guessed he wasn’t much older than me at twenty-five. That slight smile transformed him, but then he sighed and straightened away from the fence. “Anai are shapechangers. Do you understand what that is?”

 I mouthed the word and stared, my heart tripping as images of werewolves and monsters conjured themselves into my mind. “Changing into what exactly?” I asked past the sudden fist blocking my throat.

 “The most practical creature would be a horse right now. Can you ride?”

 A horse. He could change into a horse? I could ride, very well as happened, but that was hardly the point. He didn’t give me time to speculate. Where Sarain stood, the air began to ripple so that he wavered like a mirage. Undulating waves that made me feel ill. I couldn’t just see, I could feel a whole change in the air surrounding him, as
though he bent it to his will. Desperate to understand, I tried to watch, but before I could focus on anything solid, a horse appeared before me. A black horse with a white mane and tail. It had beads in its mane, just like Sarain had in his hair. His hide was salt stained.

 I swallowed hard so I didn’t throw up again, while my mind ran on ten different levels, none of them normal. My legs refused to move. Why couldn’t I be dramatic and faint? I wanted to as blood rushed through my ears. Instead I sank to my knees.

 You are stronger than that.

 His voice in my mind. “I can’t do this. I can’t.”

 
Yes you can. Be brave, Tori. Your husband was a  fool.

 “No, he was right. I’m pathetic.”

 Anger laced the words bouncing in my skull.
You preface most of your thoughts with his name. Did he control you so well?

 For two years, everything Carter wanted he’d got and the one time I’d refused he’d hit me. That didn’t give a stranger the right to judge me. My life may have been spent placating one man to avoid conflict, but it didn’t help to be told by some jumped up shapechanging monster what I already knew.

 Tears I barely acknowledged falling dried and I sniffed, thinking about his island and the loss of his wife. “How can you go on?”

 Because we need answers. You are not what your husband made you. A man who would hurt a woman is less than a coward, too afraid to face himself. It was his weakness, his fury at himself that he could not control.

 He’d got that from two minutes inside my head? I didn’t like that at all. “How could
you know that? How could you know what I did or what he did, or that I am not as
pathetic as he said?”

 Because anai see beyond the surface to the true heart of what lies beneath. You aren’t pathetic, Tori. You survived, didn’t you, and you will survive whatever faces us ahead. I know it. I can sense the strength within you. Now, you will ride me as though you were born to it.

 Whatever the pep talk my knees shook as I climbed to my feet. My head ached from his intrusions. My situation couldn’t get more bizarre than this. I looked west, toward the mountains before I grasped a handful of mane and pulled myself onto his back. The tug I’d felt earlier returned. Maybe I was wrong; maybe it could get more bizarre. That castle felt alive.


 
 





 


Comments

03/21/2013 9:26am

So great to see this again! Hope to buy it soon!

Reply
Susan
03/21/2013 10:45am

Thanks Rhonda! It is definitely calling to me, but quite changed from how I originally began.

Reply



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