…There’s Fire (Excerpt)

A fantasy short story continuing to follow Solaes.

A recently discovered cave used by the Knights Templar

Last week, I was very surprised to find out my throwaway, I’m going to kill you at the end of the prologue character, Solaes, had quite a few fans. This included my alpha readers, as I call them, my mom and my boyfriend (AKA my story guinea pigs). As soon as he finished reading, my boyfriend said, “You better not kill her.” At first, I laughed it off, but as the week progressed, I realized I liked her too.

This created a whole slew of unexpected problems… How do I fit her into my story? Who is she? Where is she from? How is this going to affect the story I’ve already written? It even made me rethink the entire structure of the Church of Bael, but I think there’s a lot of depth to it now.

It solved other problems as well, like explaining things my MC wouldn’t be able to witness along his path. A new viewpoint is opening up some previously frustrating problems.

I had already started to write this piece. The first line came to me while I was trying to fall asleep one night, and about a third of the High Priest’s speech I had written before I knew where this was going. But it didn’t have a path or a point of view character. Then, suddenly, I had a character who might have a reason to be there: Solaes got roughed up and is trying to find out WHY.

So this is sort of a continuation of last week’s piece. There’s quite a jump in time, though. I’ll be filling in the middle soon.

The image above was an inspiration for the setting in this piece. A farmer discovered a rabbit hole that led to a cave that had once been used by the Knights Templar. Fascinating stuff.

I hope you enjoy this piece as much as I do. I’m really excited about Solaes’s addition to my WIP.

~ Effy

…There’s Fire

Far from the eyes of the fair-weather faithful, the Baelish prostrated and prayed until the candles guttered low. Then they prayed more. They prayed to their two-faced god in deep underground grottoes and waited.

Solaes made the motions, holding her hood tight around her face and wishing it would end. She still disguised her appearance but took no chances. The other handmaidens ignored her, focused only on the idol at the room’s highest point, flickering in the candlelight, light and dark, half-man, half-dragon.

A robed man came from the hidden darkness behind the idol. A cowl covered his face, hiding all except what the candles lit, glimmering eyes and gleaming teeth. He looked predatory. Solaes had never met him before but knew him to be the High Priest by his starkly contrasting half-white, half-black robes.

The gathered Baelish let out a collective murmur of excitement and the High Priest waited as they calmed and grew silent. A whispering shadow, High Priestess Favalie appeared behind him and settled to his left.

The High Priest addressed the gathered Baelish:

“As champions of Bael the Grey
 We must walk the fine line
 Between Darkness and Light
 Between Inferno and Elysium.
 For how can we save those
 Who fall to the Darkness
 Without being intimate with Shadow?
 How can we preach Light
 When we know only the Sun?”

Whispered agreement rippled through the Baelish, accented by nods and bobs and clasped hands. “Embrace the light. Embrace the dark,” came the collective reply.

“For far too long
 We’ve denied our nature
 Our human nature.
 Bael accepts humanity
 The good and the bad
 The Light and the Dark.
 He embraces it.
 Bael is the Light.
 Bael is the Dark.
 Bael is the shades of grey
 In between.”

“Praise be to Bael,” the Baelish said. Solaes shivered at the unanimous monotone and the hairs it raised on her neck.

The High Priest’s eyes seemed to meet hers, and Solaes’s heart skipped a beat. He couldn’t know her, even if she had been without her disguise. She tried to look cow-eyed and enrapt.

“Our purpose as priests of
 Bael the Grey,
 The two-faced god,
 Is to save souls.
 Save them from
 Fiery Inferno
 And lead them to
 Everlasting Elysium.
 We do this daily–
 We feed their body
 And nurture their mind.”

The High Priest gestured to High Priestess Favalie, and she nodded, never unfolding her arms from where they crossed in front of her chest, forming a haphazard slash of black and white on the front of her robe. The priestesses and handmaidens around Solaes rose their voices in praise of their High Priestess. “Feed the body. Nurture the mind.”

The High Priest’s eyes grew hard as he continued, his voice more urgent.

“But Bael seeks
 To test his faithful.
 For magic has come
 To our fair kingdom…”

The gathered Baelish murmured in a distraught moan at the word “magic.”

Solaes’s chest tightened. The young man she had seen pulled off the street and beaten in an alley flashed across her mind. Unlike with her attack, it was in broad daylight. The Baelish didn’t even try to hide anymore. They didn’t have to. She had tried to rush to his rescue, but one of the priests had struck him in the temple before she got there. She flinched remembering the sound and the sight of the light leaving his eyes.

“Dark magic and
 Those who use it,
 They seek to
 Test our commitment
 Test our strength
 Test our loyalty.”

His voice rose and quickened with each proclamation. The collective response rose to match it, and someone shouted, “We are loyal!”

“Yes, we are loyal.
 We walk in the
 Word of our god
 But many stray–
 Our flock is vulnerable.
 They walk in the path of
 Bael’s dark eye.”

The Baelish resembled a stormy sea, a ripple of grey movement, as they agreed with growing fervency.

“Bael’s distress
 Shows in the weather…
 A harsh, bitter winter
 That killed many
 Through its bite.
 Now a sweltering summer
 Parching with drought
 Searing with heat.
 Our livelihood withers
 In the field and
 On the branch.”

One of the handmaidens began to cry. Solaes heard her wailing to her right. She thought it might be Jordana, but she didn’t look. She dared not bring more attention to herself.

“Yes, sister,
 We all mourn.
 But we must do more.
 We must destroy
 This evil blight,
 Destroy this magic,
 Before it can
 Destroy us.”

A cheerful sob escaped the handmaiden and the gathered raised their voice in praise.

Solaes tensed, and her arms quaked beneath the heavy folds of the robe, fatigued with holding her weight up as she knelt on the dirt floor. She felt as if she were at the center of the room, though she was not, and retreated deeper into her hood.

“How do we destroy it?” a priest asked, desperation in his voice. Others agreed in a collective nod and a whisper of, “Yes, tell us.”

The High Priest smiled, and to the gathered Baelish it was surely a reassuring smile, but to Solaes it dripped with malicious intent. Once more, he looked the predator. She became mesmerized by his dark, glittering eyes. She felt he looked straight at her and into her soul.

“Brothers and sisters,
 We must root out
 Magic’s source.
 We must save those
 Who don’t know they
 Need saving.”

“Bael, save us!” a handmaiden cried.

“We must save ourselves!
 Duke Victus was not
 Strong enough
 To see the truth.
 He fell because
 He ushered doom
 Into our land.
 He welcomed it
 Into his home,
 Into our home.”

The Baelish became agitated. The response became a cacophony of noise, mixtures of crying, sighing, swearing, and moaning.

“Fear not!” At the High Priest’s sudden booming voice, the collected Baelish silenced under it like a command.

“Fear not,” he repeated quieter, and all hung on his words, leaning closer.

“Bael has prepared us.
 We do not go
 Forward alone.
 Together
 We are mightier
 Than the enemy.”

Solaes swallowed at the dryness in her throat. It felt packed with cotton. The High Priest remained fixated on her, spoke straight to her. She retreated further into the shadow of her hood, wishing she could meld into the shadows.

“That enemy who is among us!” The High Priest said it so suddenly Solaes flinched.

A collective cry went up and every acolyte, every priest, every handmaiden, every priestess, looked around them, to their neighbors, desperation in their eyes.

Looking for the enemy.

“Who is the enemy? Point us!” someone begged.

Solaes couldn’t convince her legs to obey her. She knew she should run. She knew the High Priest’s focus before his finger pointed her out. But where could she run? She was surrounded, and as soon as the accusatory finger settled, hundreds of feverish, rabid Baelish descended upon her.

Robed bodies crushed her, clawing and punching, and Solaes summoned air to her lungs without thinking about it. She gasped it in, though she couldn’t expand her lungs fully.

Panic overtook her, and she retreated inward. Blows fell, bruising her. Panic changed to angry self-preservation. Solaes burst upward, lashing out in an explosion of fire, radiating out a sphere of flames.

Screams rained around her ears but the press of bodies receded. Only the smell of burnt flesh and hair surrounded her.

Solaes forced her legs beneath her and ran, clutching her chest as fire burned within her breast.

The High Priest’s voice rose above the confusion:

“Capture the magician!
 Smother the flame!
 Your salvation lies
 In her demise!”

Solaes ran through a maze of corridors. Each looked the same. Each carved from the dirt and rock. Each formed of the same curving archways. Each lined with flickering, candle-crowded alcoves.

Her previous descent was a blur. She couldn’t even know what direction she headed. The corridors were flat. They didn’t rise. Solaes didn’t either. The surface was impossibly far.

Each corridor continued on in an unending mirror of the previous.

Footsteps, multiplied by a hundred, echoed behind her. They grew closer.

Solaes hesitated where several corridors met. She gasped the stale earthy air. She glanced behind her. She went left.

She met a dead end and exhaled a sob.

The stampede of feet slowed, and it was the High Priest who first came through the archway, a press of bodies walling off the way through. He smiled at her and didn’t speak right away. He merely looked Solaes up and down, taking in her borrowed robe and her borrowed face.

“Drop the masquerade, my dear,” he said, his voice a dangerous purr.

Solaes did.

“Ahh, the fire dancer.”

She didn’t know how he knew her, but kept quiet. She waited, expecting him to continue, but he did not. She blinked back the hot, angry tears that stung her eyes as she held his gaze.

The High Priest gestured and two priests came forward. “Do better this time. Don’t let her get away. But don’t kill her or you’ll answer to me.” He disappeared through the packed bodies of acolytes and priests. They expanded around him and contracted back into place, crowding the archway and cutting off her escape.

The two priests grabbed her arms and Solaes struggled. Fingers pressed into her flesh like steel clamps and twisted her arms behind her until she cried out in pain. She flared her skin with fire, but the priests wore gloves this time and merely blinked at the flames and sneered at her.

She looked up.

The priests looked up.

The ceiling above began to rumble. It started with a few pebbles, then larger clods of earth and stone, and then the entire smooth-carved ceiling above them crashed down around their ears.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Solaes awoke in darkness.

She swore. She was still alive. She hoped she had at least taken out those two priests.

Cold metal bound her wrists and ankles, clanking as she moved her arms and legs. They kept her from standing.

Metal. A material she couldn’t manipulate, but maybe she could heat it.

She focused on one of the links until it began to glow red in the darkness. The molten red metal began to drip. Half a dozen drips fell as Solaes tried to hold her concentration. Perspiration sprung on her brow. Her chest became uncomfortable, but she tried to ignore it.

She pulled her focus away, panting. She’d misshapen it, but not even broken through the single link. Getting through one chain would take forever. All four? She slumped against the wall, the shackles clanking.

“You awake in their, girlie?” a voice from outside her small space said. A yellowish light appeared before her as a window in the door opened.

Solaes hid her hands and blinked in the light as she watched the eyeballs studying her. They were wide with most of the white showing, and they swiveled in their sockets searching the darkness where she sat, helpless but hidden from his sight.

She didn’t answer.

“You want some food? I can get you some food. You’re allowed that.”

She still didn’t answer.

“Okay then.” The window closed and the light disappeared.

“Wait!” Her voice cracked, and her throat felt like she’d swallowed razor blades.

The window opened a tiny bit.

“I want something to drink.”

“Okay then.”

The window closed. There was silence and Solaes thought the jailor had left. She was about to shout again when metal clattered and the door opened. Her jailor’s eyes fell on her as the light from the corridor intruded, making her squint. She couldn’t raise her hand enough to block it.

He opened the door wider, letting more light into the cell.

He approached cautiously, as if he thought she might already have slipped her bounds.

He crouched and dropped a tray to the floor with a clang. A bowl of colorless sludge slopped around, some splattering out. Solaes was more interested in the cup in his hand.

“Water, please,” she croaked. Her tongue would barely work, dry and thick in her mouth. She raised her arms and they jingled a discordant tune, only half-raised before the chains stopped her.

“Okay then. You behave and I’ll give you this.” His other hand held a staff, oaken and metal-shod. His boots slid across the floor, one at a time, inches that took hours.

Solaes realized the man was scared of her. Or scared of her magic.

She took the cup when it was finally within reach and guzzled it. It caught in her throat, and she coughed half of it back up until she was gasping and her throat was screaming worse than before.

“Now, now. That’s no way to drink it.”

Solaes glared at the jailor as she fought to catch her breath.

He dropped back a step. “Okay then. I’ll let you eat in the dark.” He scooted out faster than he had come in. The door clanged behind him.

The cell went black.

Food didn’t interest her, only escaping before she had to face the High Priest again.

She waited for an opportunity to attack her jailor, but he didn’t come back. She fell into a restless sleep, leaning against the wall in the only comfortable position she could manage, which made her neck sore.

She awoke with a start when the jailor began to speak. Her head rolled on her neck as she tried to shake off sleep. The words were muffled, whether by the door or her sleep-fogged mind, she wasn’t sure. She realized with a sigh that he wasn’t talking to her. There was a second voice, a second jailor.

Jailor number one left. Jailor number two stood silently outside the door.

He opened the window a crack, and though it pained her eyes, Solaes was glad for the light. “You be good and we’ll have a nice quiet night, you and me.” Jailor number two was younger and the fear in jailor number one’s voice was absent.

An idea came to Solaes. She hoped she could summon the energy.

She disguised herself and her voice. “Hey! Lemme outta here!” she said in what she hoped was a good enough impression of jailor number one.

Jailor number two spun and opened the window wider. “Jakie? That you?”

Solaes didn’t know his name, but played along. “Yah, open the door!”

“How’d you get in there?”

“That magician. She attacked me and locked me up.”

“How? I just talked to you. You just left.”

“That was her! She must be able to disguise herself, to look like me!”

Jailor number two looked dubious. “How do I know this isn’t a trick?”

“No trick. How else would I be in here?”

Jailor number two didn’t reply.

“Gimme outta here! We gotta catch her before she gets away.”

Jailor number two fumbled with the keys in the door. It opened wide and Solaes blinked, hoping her disguise was holding.

“Jakie, how dumb are you?”

“Okay then, pretty dumb, but it don’t matter. The High Priest will have our skins!”

Jailor number two nodded and sorted through the keys again. “I can’t believe it,” he mumbled. He found the key he was looking for and put it to each shackle.

Still looking like jailor number one, Solaes rubbed her wrists. “Okay then. Let’s go.”

Jailor number two nodded again. He tucked the keys into his belt and walked to the door. Solaes came through behind him.

His staff stood just outside the cell door. Solaes grabbed it, swung, and knocked jailor number two on the head as hard as she could. It made a sickening soft thunk, but jailor number two didn’t drop like Solaes had expected.

Her eyes went wide and so did his.

“You! You tricked me!” He felt the bloody lump on his head. Frowning, he charged her, reaching for his staff.

Solaes let him grab a hold of it and they struggled with it. She drew him close enough that she could smell the garlic on his breath.

She inhaled deeply, and jailor number two’s eyes went wide. He gasped, and his grip on the staff lessened. He fought for breath, his hands going to his throat, clawing there as if trying to pull away squeezing hands.

His face turned red, then bluish.

Solaes took a step back, holding the staff out before her like a shield.

Jailor number two fell to his knees, still gasping, his face turning a darker shade of purple.

Finally he collapsed to the ground. Solaes looked at him for a moment, horrified at herself. She shook it off and dragged him into the cell. Luckily, he wasn’t much bigger than her. She shackled him to the wall, locked the cell door behind her, and disappeared into the corridor.

This time, she blended herself into the shadows and took her time, without a hundred Baelish right on her heels. She’d had more than enough of this place.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.

Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.


Originally published at awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com on April 16, 2017.

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