“It was impossible to believe at first. For a long time, Issek felt he must be dreaming, or maybe dying. Whatever the case, he was disappearing in the brilliant, wonderful sunlight. The air around him was fantastically open, amazingly free to circulate in whatever vast currents the atmosphere chose to ride across the vaulted crown of the singular universe revealed. Miraculously, the impenetrable claustrophobia of the caverns and tunnels had been replaced with the alternatively flat, spiky vista of the Bloody Gouges. Issek could see again for real, though, admittedly, there wasn’t much to observe.”
The following scene occurs after one of the main characters, Issek, the heir to an incredibly powerful family escapes from an arduous subterranean journey on a desert continent. At the start of the journey, he has befriended a native and they now await their rescue at the top of a cliff in a desolate land. The Law of the Primes tells the story of a civilization at the peak of its power, but about to collapse when magic, a magic their rulers deny even exists, reawakens in their world after a periodic meteor shower turns deadly. I’ve got aways to go to finish this thing, but the pages are coming fast and, for the first time since I started five years ago, I have a clear pathway to the end of the first book, and no shortage of ideas for the second and third.
It was impossible to believe at first. For a long time, Issek felt he must be dreaming, or maybe dying. Whatever the case, he was disappearing in the brilliant, wonderful sunlight. The air around him was fantastically open, amazingly free to circulate in whatever vast currents the atmosphere chose to ride across the vaulted crown of the singular universe revealed. Miraculously, the impenetrable claustrophobia of the caverns and tunnels had been replaced with the alternatively flat, spiky vista of the Bloody Gouges. Issek could see again for real, though, admittedly, there wasn’t much to observe.
The Gouges themselves were as stark, foreboding, and repetitively black, bleak crimson as ever. He could make out the next ridge, barely, in the distance, a huge, flat wall of deep red onyx scratched from the sands, and then one other peeking out even further afield. The ground in between was level, more greyish in color and completely uninteresting, save when a gust of wind kicked up a short-lived swirl. The sky beyond remained a dusty mess, yet never did he think such a memory could be so barrded delicious, savoring each and every sensation: The drops of sweat in the heat, the slight stirring of a breeze on the caked and matted hair of his arms, enough to cause the occasional goose bumps on the few areas of flesh that weren’t scraped and torn.
Funge, however, didn’t seem nearly as pleased. Since their escape from the underworld, Issek had barely been able to coax him out of the tunnel for more than a few moments before he scampered back in. He remained in a perpetual crouch, hidden in the shadows several yards back from the entrance; if the man were dark skinned, like those of proper Deyrun stock, his entire body would be reduced to nothing except the gleam of teeth and eyeballs. As it was, he seemed more albino ape than human, so hunched and little clothed, the occasional grunt one of the few visible signs he was alive and not some statue to half a monkey man.
In retrospect, the Urdling should’ve reckoned his friend had seen the endless sky few enough times in his entire life that two full hands weren’t required to make the count. In fact, the first time Funge ventured above ground was barely six months ago, in the immediate aftermath of the Llusna’gollyd, when the crown itself looked doused in oil and set on fire. Even from Newood Grove, the roiling clouds had been so thick, bloody, and billowing the Dragon could’ve slithered in from the depths of space and consumed the entire planet without making much difference in the panorama.
Further, Funge had little experience with the basics of seeing itself. Living underground, sight wasn’t a sense his people used frequently, relying on whatever powered the bond vision for their day-to-day activities. Actual vision, complete with the feeling of images emblazoned on the back of your skull and colors so rich you swore they vibrated, was only used when required or as part of certain rituals. Thus, even hours, nay days, later, Funge kept his eyes shielded by a hand or arm at all times, peering from beneath a crinkled brow though he was well into the shadows, looking out at the ruddy sky like it would swallow them both without a second thought.
There was, unfortunately, some truth to the idea that the sky itself might swallow them up. They’d escaped the underworld, but their salvation was at the top of a sheer, sharp cliff. Beyond a small area around the cavemouth, the crystalline face of the Gouge continued both up and down, looming over their heads like a dark crimson mountain on the verge of an avalanche, and down at least one-hundred-one feet to the packed sand, the view not exactly agreeable in either direction. The sky above it all was a rusted, ancient anvil a thousand-one swords couldn’t scratch, hanging close enough you could feel it like a smothering cloth.
There was only a patch of sandy dirt around the cavemouth, roughly oval in shape, about thirteen yards across and seven wide. The loose gravel of the ground here was different from the crystalline material of the Gouge, deposited over the eons by the sandstorms, a layer of crem on top of the near-diamond hard surface. The onyx crystal poked through the sandy floor around most of the ledge, jutting out like the claws of some tremendous trapezoidal reptile. Black, shiny and sharp, the rock seemed almost curled into cruel, gleaming points, a few feet or even a couple of yards high and angled slightly inward, as if the Urdling and Funge really did sit in the palm of some monstrous beast.
There were a few patches that went straight out, however, eerily similar to the space between fingers in Issek’s increasingly delusional state. From that close, you could see a good slice of the Gouge’s massive, unmoving face to the North and South East by his reckoning, curving slightly inward on both sides, a shallow crescent from above. The surfaces between their perch and the ground were either perfectly flat planes of varying width and height or dagger sharp creases, the distance down as finely honed as any sword blade.
Painfully and painstakingly, the Urdling had crawled his way across the small patch many times over the course of their close to imprisonment on the ledge, leaving a shallow trail in his wake, wiping it away for another on the next pass. On several occasions, he lay at the edge of the sheer drop, leaning against one of the onyx talons, getting as close as he dared. Once, he even stuck his head out over the side, studying the desert from an almost perfectly perpendicular angle, watching for anything that might help extricate them from the heights, not that he thought a miracle would be forthcoming.
The air was hazy enough to turn the sand a little dull and blurry, like it was undulating beneath him waiting to rise up and strike, or he was trapped on the other side of a mist, watching the world through foggy glass. Issek tried to prod some explanation from Funge as to how their winding, treacherous path to long-promised freedom ultimately left them there, high yet at least dry. The man offered only an odd mental shrug in response, an image that somehow indicated, despite its simplicity, that he’d never been this far from home and couldn’t be responsible for the specifics. They were out of the tunnels, after all, and that had been his job on this mission, along with personally dragging him the entire way, one might add.
This thought was followed by what could only be described as an exclamation point upon it, brooking no further discussion. If nothing else, their communications through the bond had become more frequent and finely detailed since the incident with the invisible octopus or whatever it was. Perhaps, the intensity of the experience tied them more tightly together or some such barrdshit crazy phenomenon that should never have existed, much less happen to him personally, but that wouldn’t explain why his bond with Elliana had also grown deeper.
To think, just a few hours earlier, they’d both been blinded by the light of salvation, trickling in through an unseen opening some not short distance ahead, more precious than liquid gold. They’d started their ascent two days before then, after they left the underground lake. Funge continued to dutifully drag Issek through tunnels with a slightly cheerier feel than those originally leading down. There was no difference in the light that deep, of course, everything continued black as pitch without the bond vision, sight a sense that might as well not even exist. Regardless, Issek could feel the pull of some vague, primal instinct to seek the twin suns, the mere promise of light enough to call him forward with no idea when or even if the glorious reunion would ever occur.
Now, in the true light of day, or what passed for it after the Llusna’gollyd changed everything including the very sky, it was dawning on Issek that they might have to venture back into the tunnels and seek another passage to the surface, if he couldn’t figure some miraculous way down.
The thought alone was too ridiculously terrible to contemplate. He’d rather die out in the open than spend another moment in the perpetual dark, the weight of stone grinding them both to dust, leaving behind nothing in some lost tunnel. If Funge were to go first, he’d be completely and irrevocably blind until his own demise, doomed to imagine terrors lurking just beyond his reach. Whether huddled in some hidden corner or flailing about frantic, throwing himself down a corridor hoping he smashed his head into a wall and spilled his very brains out, there’d be no reprieve, only the ever present, all consuming, crushing, suffocating dark…
No, it’d be sometime before he was even able to enter a tent, or sleep without a glorb by his bed, assuming they made it home, of course.
Their only hope was that the rescue team had better luck with the scrying stone. He’d taken to coveting the clear, small rock around his neck, grabbing at it constantly, obsessively polishing it with sweat, his unlikely salvation in physical form. It didn’t help that their supplies were perilously meager; a half a skin of water and a few mushrooms taken from the tunnels, nothing worth obsessing over, though that didn’t stop the constant checking, rechecking, examining, and weighing in his mind how long it would last.
Issek also wondered how long before the ridiculous hope they could slide down the sheer cliff—like the bannister of a really big staircase at Rhesymon Palace, as insane as that image truly was—sent them over the edge, suicide to escape a far worse fate. Surely, anything was better than dying of dehydration, just withering away, leaving an empty husk for the next sandstorm.
Funny how he’d only recently concluded that dying alone, blind and lame, lost in a rocky cavern, or being consumed by a mutant octopus was the worst possible fate. It was equally unclear whether accurately measuring the passing of time made things better or worse. In the underworld, there was no day or night, only the unchanging darkness. Even with the bond-vision, it was impossible to mark one hour from the next, everything blended together into an absence so profound you could barely recall the object lost.
Back in the open air, however, he could carefully chart the slow path of the twin suns; even when hidden by the haze, Bywin’sul was easily recognizable as a much brighter blotch, Tywin’sul a small, dark smudge hugging close. He could gaze out into the far East and imagine Elliana glancing West at the same moment, their eyes locked on one another despite a thousand-one miles between. He could even conjure an image of his brother, Jaer, likely mooning after Elliana, or his poor mother in constant tears, though certainly not over Elliana, for she’d never fully embraced his beloved to say the least.
His father, however, was much, much harder to see, the great, difficult, lovable tyrannical, fool. What would the exalted Caasmyr Valoorun, famed Royal Regent, say to his eldest son now? Probably blame him for getting into this predicament, Barrd knew the man never wanted him stationed halfway around the world in the first place. That had surely been his mother’s doing, though they’d never spoken of it. In truth, he’d said the oath mostly out of spite, voicing the words in public to deliver on a threat he’d made to his mother over Elliana herself, of course.
It all seemed so ridiculous now, his entire life, as he and Funge huddled together in the tunnel against the implacable cold of a desert night, mostly beyond the reach of the occasional burst of wind a few yards from the entrance. There was no choice except to wrap themselves in each other’s arms for warmth, once again close as lovers, closer than he’d ever physically been to any woman in fact. For whatever reason, Issek made sure he could see out at all times, past the cavemouth, to at least a sliver of night sky. Lying on his side, unmoving except for the occasional shiver, just looking up at the world, almost like he was at the bottom of a well.
The golden Dragon and the milky fragments of the moon above struggled to press through, gazing down from the vaulted crown as ever before, even if dimmed and darkened. He watched the first evening unfold like sands slipping through an hourglass, whether or not he could make out each individual star or just a blur of them smearing the night. Time pressed visibly forward, offering no answers to the intricacies of fate, but giving him the power to predict almost precisely when their rations would run out, barely two days more.
Some small part of Issek knew it was better not to know, but it was also the only real power within reach; this odd, unwelcome ability to count the minutes until your doom. Oddly, he spent most of the time considering how best to tell this tale, pretending he whispered to Elliana at some indefinite point in the future, describing the feeling of each instant as it unfolded. Issek was no storyteller, however. He didn’t even attempt to remember the words chosen, neither by scratching them in the sand only to be taken by a strong wind nor holding them in his mind, hoping they didn’t dissipate like a forgotten dream.
It wasn’t even recollection or recognition he was after, merely something to pass the time, words to seconds, sentences to minutes, pages to hours. Funge fell into the rhythm before long, dulling his fear somewhat, the beat of their hearts marching them from one moment to the next.
A day past in this strange fashion, and then another, but on the third, the suns shown their dulled beams on something coming for them, a cloud growing on the horizon. Issek looked out from the Gouge, as close to the edge as he dared, studying the pale, flat sands, all the way out to the dull smear of the next one in the distance. The world was peaceful from so high up, the motion of the desert too subtle to observe set at such remove, nothing changed during the day except for the arc of the suns behind the rare wisps of ruddy cloud. It was impossible to miss a new storm of dust, some ways off, yet unmistakably taking shape against the usual stillness, slowing emerging from the surrounding gloom and sand, a plume mysteriously reaching out to him, like the desert itself was raising a hand to help.
The single cloud resolved itself into five streaks, driving across the flat.
The rescue team: How he hoped they brought a ladder, a really tall one. Was that one of their protocols?
Check back for more in the coming months as the novel comes together.