Here y’go, first part of TKM for you. In case you’re blind or you don’t usually follow me, this story will be available on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, and All Those Other Places very soon (7/21/15). It’ll be free to start out with through Smashwords, and .99 on Amazon until I can make it free there as well. Hrmmhrmmm. My gift to you.
The girl had been down in the earth for a long, long time.
She had once–weeks ago, months ago, maybe even years ago–been a bright and chubby little thing, full of laughter and smiles. But they had been traveling through the Mountains of Vigilance–her parents had turned away, for just a moment, to consider the crossing–and she had fallen, playing on an outcropping of stone.
She had fallen into a ravine. She had fallen father, deeper. She had fallen into this place, this sunken city, cold and dark and lonely. There had been dead brush, to save her from the worst injuries, but there had also been silence, and limitless dark.
She didn’t know if they had tried to find her. They probably had–she had been well loved.
There were mushrooms and lichens to eat, glowing faintly in the dead libraries and bedchambers of the swallowed city. There were pools of water, dripping from cracks in the wall and forming in buckets and plates from long ago. There was a constant filth, a mixture of soot and new soil that wouldn’t scrub off. There was the sound of her own voice, echoing down the endless stone halls.
There was nobody else.
She was sure of it. Looking and calling had been the first things she had done. Her mother had taught her this, to look and call if she got lost. No one will hurt you, her mother had said. You’re only a child. They will help you find the way back to us.
The little girl remembered her mama, and her papa, and in this dark place, lit only by phosphorescent fungus and the eyes of sightless creatures, she wept.
There was nobody else, and no way out. All the paths curved downward. All the doors led downward.
She didn’t know how many tons of rock were over her head. She had walked down many hallways here in the dark, gone down many flights of stairs. She could feel the weight of it all above her–crushing weight, impossible to lift or navigate.
All paths led down.
Even when she tried to turn around, go back the way she had come, all paths led down.
Which is why, when she woke in this dark place at some unspecific time–it could have been midday, for all she knew, and she could have slept a hundred years–she was surprised to hear voices.
They were indistinct, these voices. Gauzy shreds of whispers. Barely real. She had to strain her ears to catch them, and her hearing had become very keen indeed.
But they were voices. Up ahead.
She ran. She left her tattered cloak and the handful of mushrooms she had planned for breakfast behind her.
Down, down, down. All the paths went down, but the rock overhead didn’t seem quite so crushing, the place quite so airless.
And, like her mama had taught her, she called. Her own voice seemed deafening in the darkness, a thing meant for the world of light and movement.
“I’m here!” she screamed. “I’m here! Here!”
The echo came back to her: here, here, here.
The voices–were they louder now? Sibilant whispers. They might have scared her, if she hadn’t been scared for so long already.
Her little boots were loud against the paving stones, flap flap flap. She ran through what must have once been a great hall, its ceiling extending neverendingly up into the darkness, ornate columns receding with each footstep to her right and left. She passed through a meaner hall, its columns plain, its ceiling low.
The voices were almost deafening now, hissing, whining, cajoling.
There was a door in the hall. There was frieze on the door, a hunting scene, figures so worn they were barely visible. The voices came from behind the door.
“I’M HERE,” the girl shouted, with all her might.
From below–though how there could be more below, with all she had traveled, she was not sure–there were cracks and scrapings, as though something vast had stirred from its sleep.
The door creaked open.
Inside, in a room that was dark but not quite as dark as it should have been, it was very cold. The girl wished instantly for her forgotten cloak, for the stout fur vest that existed somewhere above with her parents. Frost coated the walls and the flooring, turned the few furnishings remaining into half-visible lumps.
There was a man in the room, lying on one of the tables. She thought he was asleep, until she crept closer–though he lay very still, his eyes were open. They were the color of old blood. His breath–so shallow it might have almost been her imagination he breathed at all–let wisps of white frost into the air.
She might have been afraid of him, in the world up above. He lay so very still, and the face underneath his long pale hair was as cold as the room around him. Here, he was the only other person she had seen.
She jumped into his arms, buried herself in the ancient blanket someone had wrapped around him. He blinked, once, twice. He raised himself a little off the table. His movements were slow, careful, and filled with terrible certainty.
“Hello, child,” he whispered. “Are you, then, the one the earth powers have chosen to wake me?”
“Help me,” she said. “You’ve got to help me. We were going through the pass–through the mountains. I fell. I can’t find mama. You’ve got to help me find my mama.”
“Shh,” the man said. “Shhh.”
There was calm to him. Terrible calm. Though she should have felt comforted, should have been overjoyed, she felt only lightness, only unending cold. His hand twisted through her hair–a hand nearly skeletal, white as frost, thin and long-fingered. She didn’t want him to touch her, but it had been so long since anyone had held her, had comforted her.
“I’m looking for someone, too,” he said. “A boy. He’d be–about your age, perhaps a little younger. A golden-haired boy.”
“I want my mama,” said the girl.
The man smiled. It was not a comforting smile, and there was little pity in it.
“Your mama is long gone,” he said. “There is no time, in these deep places. There is only the earth.”
She began to cry. She had forgotten why, precisely–she had forgotten why she was unhappy. The tears froze to her cheeks. The pale man picked them off, his spiderlike hands gentle.
“Your home is here now,” he said. “You are the Waker, and for you to be the Waker there must be something of the old powers in you. Did you hear the voices, little one? Did the earth speak to you, as it speaks to me?”
She nodded. She remembered, vaguely, thinking the voices were something else–human voices. The memory was tinged with white, as though seen through a thin sheet of ice. It was silly, to have thought they were human voices.
They were the voices of the earth–of the hefenta, of the deep powers of earth. And this man–this man was their creature. She knew it, somehow, though she did not know why or what precisely it was she now knew: the earth was a part of her people, the Norchladil people. The cold was in the bones and the blood.
The man wrapped the blanket around her. She noticed, distantly, how very old it was–the threads breaking with the gentlest touch, something staining it that may, long ago, have been blood. The man’s robes were stained as well, their style ancient. Even as she watched he drew the robes closer to him, and they brightened and whitened, as though touched by frost.
“Who are you?” she asked. Though she knew the answer–though her bones, and the ancestral memories inside them, knew the answer.
“I’m a magician,” the man said. His mouth twitched. “A Northmage. A relic of a time long before. A ghost. The worst sort of ghost–a ghost that knows your name.”
And, bending to adjust the blanket–bending so his cold breath blew right in her ear–he whispered it to her, in the old language of blood and death and the angry earth.
And she was no longer what she had once been.
Some things are that simple.
“Come,” the man said, standing and stretching his ancient bones. “If we’re to find the boy, we’ve much work to do–and you’ve much to learn. Macher tanith ii, they will call you–she who is servant of the dark world.”
Twisted up in his hair, a white comb winkled–the warrior’s comb, malat ma’a. The man withdrew it, held it out to her–its teeth were sharp and long, and its weight was cold and deadly in her hand.
“You shall hold this, for a time,” he said. “You shall learn of its power. But don’t grow used to it, for it must go to the boy. We shall pass it along, when the time comes for me to deploy you.”
He was almost handsome, creature of ice and frost that he was. His hair like white silk, his eyes the same blood burgundy as the eyes of the carving on the comb.
She could almost love him, almost. After all, who else did she have to love?
“Papa,” she whispered. The word died unheard in the airless dark. The man had turned, begun to walk. He didn’t turn around or even pause to witness its death.
Her last thought, as the final pieces of her mind that belonged to her dissolved, came to her in a strange woman’s voice, a voice she no longer recognized or cared for.
No one will hurt you. You’re only a child.