It all started with a simple writing prompt:
“Smoke hung so thick in the library’s rafters, that she could read words in it”
A fellow member of my favorite writing group on Facebook (here) posted a ’30 Day Flash Fiction’ list of writing prompts… and seeing as how I’ve been stuck on all my other projects, I figured I’d try my hand at it.
On the downside, I only made it to day 2.
However, I’m now 2000+ words deep into a new story, that’s been incredibly fun to write, and also very well received by the Facebook group members.
Will this end up being the next New York Times bestseller? One can only hope. But even if I only get halfway through and hit a brick wall, it’s been a good experience so far. A completely new genre, a new writing workflow, and a couple new characters that I’ve completely fallen in love with…
I present the first chapter (of many – fingers crossed!) of… well, I don’t know what it’s called just yet. And I haven’t reached the smoke in the library rafters bit either, but I hope you enjoy!
She stretched her neck up from her reading, and glanced off into the far reaches of the old library, almost mysticized by the immensity of the room where she now sat. Row after row lined with shelves, each packed with ancient tomes and all the great literary works of the world, reaching up towards the heavens. She’d walked past two-story buildings that were shorter than the shelves here, and thought to herself that they had to be 30 feet tall.
Then there was the staircase. Oh, that staircase! She’d fallen in love with it at first sight. It’s rich marble, elegant curved wood, and such intricate bronze scrollwork, that it had to have been constructed by some god, or gods in antiquity. If ever a structure personified the pure beauty of the Elven race, this was it. She’d traced her fingertips gently over the glossy wood banisters many times on her journeys up and down those marble steps, imagining her fingers gliding over the soft, warm thighs of a female lover; the mahogany finials at the end of the rails, her lover’s curvaceous breasts.
Alethia sighed deeply, inhaling the unmistakable smell of parchment paper and leather binding, and the oily residue of millions of fingertips that had grazed their surfaces throughout the ages. She was home here, there was a comfort that she just couldn’t seem to find anywhere else. An elder hume caught her attention as the little, white-haired man shuffled across the tiled floor from an alcove near the stairway towards a nearby bureau. His hunched back and gait seemed to emphasize the wisdom held in his tiny head, as though he were some sort of oracle from the days of old.
She watched as he lugged a stack of books and scrolls from one location to the next, then climbed up onto a stool, and adjusted his spectacles. He lit an incense stick and positioned it away from the pages, so that the ashes fell to the floor. Across the massive first floor, a female elf called out to him in a hushed, old language Alethia did not understand. But, she immediately recognized the tone and let out a stifled chuckle at the scolded elder gesturing dismissively at the librarian.
She’d always been curious about the humes, and had more than her fair share of offers to be wooed by them. All of the ones she had encountered, dark and light skinned, old and young males and females had intrigued her. Their bodies so similar to her own, yet still so different. Her deep dark eyes and perfect turquoise skin had an almost entrancing quality, and the males especially prattled on about the flowing obsidian-black hair that stretched down past her buttocks.
She could have any one of them she desired, but her father had strictly forbidden any relationship with them. And she understood why. Even though it was centuries ago, she’d still seen some of their past, near-primal tendencies in the present day.
When they first came to this world, before the realization that they could live at peace with the elvish tribes, they were savages; destroying their villages, murdering the males and ravaging the females and younglings. Her people had suffered for nearly a hundred years. And though relations had improved since then, tension remained. Especially after the marriage of the elvish queen Nel’ya to their emperor, Julian IV some twenty-odd years ago.
The bespectacled elder seemed to notice her quiet laugh and glared in her direction, then flashed a quick grin at her when he spotted the beautiful elf. She shrank back into the book she’d been reading, timidly tugging at the amulet that hung from her neck, and cautiously glanced back moments later to make sure he’d move on. He had, thankfully, and was busy yet again trawling through the ancient writings he’d been collecting.
A short while had passed, not more than an hour, and the room was now basked in an amber hue. She peered up from her book again and noticed the sun setting low on the horizon through the glass panes high on the adjacent wall. Alethia quickly marked her page with the silken ribbon attached to the spine of the book and tucked it carefully into the leather satchel that had been handed down from her grandmother shortly before her passing. The family matriarch would have been thrilled to know how many books had been toted to and fro in the old rucksack.
Alethia’s thoughts drifted back to her childhood, seated with her three brothers in a semi-circle around their grandmother, who had a never-ending supply of tales to tell, and a smile crept across her face. Standing up from her chair, she slung the satchel over her shoulder and made for the door.
She managed to protect her coin purse from the various street vendors on her way through the market, which was quickly growing dark as the sunlight faded. After a brisk hike, she approached the stone wall surrounding her city and slipped inside unnoticed, before navigating the narrow alleys to her humble home on the west side. She had helped her father Vestuq, and oldest brother Mehrak, piece together the simple two-room cottage three years ago when, after much debate, she left her childhood home at the age of twenty-four. For an unwed female, leaving the tribe was quite the ordeal, frowned upon by the village elders.
Her father knew she would never be happy, feeling trapped there unless she married. From an early age, she had been an explorer And throughout the years had proven herself, time and time again, as a valiant warrior. And so Vestuq, well respected within their community, supported her decision, coming to his daughter’s defense when the elder council vowed to banish her from the tribe.
She couldn’t seem to be bothered by their threats, however, and thoroughly enjoyed being out on her own, only ever returning home on one occasion in the three years she’d been away. She was due for another visit, though. Her father was growing old, and she was beginning to doubt he’d be able to make another trek to Farcross, where she now lived.
The city of Farcross was one of the largest in the world, constructed centuries back as a permanent hume settlement, built in subsequent layers, with the ancient library at its core. If the city could be viewed from above, from the perspective of a bird, it would appear as the rings of a chopped tree trunk, one outside another outside another. And while the city was a melting pot for humes, elves, orcs, and a myriad of other unseemly characters, they tended to stay separate from one another. The humes lived mostly in the inner ring of the tree trunk, intermingling with the orcs in the middle rings, while the elven folk were left with the outer rings almost entirely to themselves.
It was dusk by the time she arrived at her Door of her cottage and reached for the handle, another hand-me-down from her grandmother’s old home. the sound of a snapping twig behind her snatched her attention to the light skinned hume male stepping forward from the shadows, holding his finger to his lips. “Shh! I didn’t mean to startle you…”
“Curse you, Nolan, you can’t just sneak up on someone like that!” Alethia whispered as her heart rate slowly returned to normal. “It’s dark out, you’re lucky my dagger is on the other side of this door! Come on in, quickly now.”
The young man couldn’t help but smile, as he followed her into the cozy den, slipping his boots off, and standing them by the doorway.
“Bolt the door, will ya,” she commanded as she dropped her satchel onto the table, “Then, make yourself useful and get a fire started.” Even with the midsummer humidity, the temperatures on the continent of Daelry dropped rapidly once the sun set, and most nights a small fire in the hearth was a welcome sight. “Have you eaten?”
“Not since noon,” he replied while carefully stacking logs the size of his forearms into the fireplace on the opposite side of the room. “Spent the better part of the day carting bushels of grain from the storehouse to market.”
“Hmm,” her only response, as she thumbed through the pages of the book she’d picked up earlier, eager to delve back into the wonders it held. He admired her, and she felt sorry for him, the main reason she tolerated his stupidity. Along with the fact that she considered him to be quite… oh, what was the term his people liked so much? Pretty. That was it.
“When are you going to teach me to read?” he asked, grasping wildly for a reason to spend time with the stunning elf. He longed just to be in her presence; to breathe in her intoxicating aroma, and touch her flawless skin. Hume or elf, to him, she was the epitome of beauty.
She cut her eyes in his direction. “Had no idea you were interested…” He nodded enthusiastically, and Alethia wondered if it would even be worth trying to teach the poor fool. Her mother and father began working with her at an early age, and she quickly learned to read and write the symbols that made up the Daelric language. Vestuq believed it was of the utmost importance for her to absorb as much of their culture as possible before being indoctrinated into the hume world. He wanted her to know who she was, and where she’d come from. Daelric elves, he’d once told her, were direct descendants of the gods, the creators. She wasn’t so sure how much she believed that anymore, yet she remained proud of her heritage nonetheless.
The fire ignited with a sudden flash, taking him by surprise, and he tumbled backward onto his rear. That’s what you get for being distracted, idiot, he thought to himself. Embarrassed, he pulled himself to his feet and found his way across the room to where she stood, still flipping through the book. “I know a few of the symbols,” he stated, recalling some of the signs he’d seen in the marketplace.
“We’ll see,” she replied half-heartedly before continuing. “Are you staying the night, again?” Nolan was born and raised in the city of Farcross, and for the last few years, had been living with, and taking care of his younger sister, Lavelle. She’d been born with some crippling defect and had recently succumbed to the disease, passing silently in her sleep a week ago. He truly struggled with her loss and had been having trouble being alone in their home ever since.
“You don’t mind?” he replied.
This would be the third night in a row. They’d met some time ago when he had had to deliver some meat to her home that she’d purchased from one of the market vendors. And though she Didn’t consider him close, Alethia figured he was as close to a friend as she had in this city. “No, I don’t mind.”
She turned from the table towards the back room, when he reached out and grabbed her wrist. Her immediate instinct was to break his, but before she could move, he’d wrapped both arms around her, clutching her tight in his powerful arms. “Thank you for your kindness…” She wasn’t quite sure how to handle the gesture, as affection was typically seen as weakness by the elven race, though she knew it was very common among his kind.
“It’s no trouble,” she started, but was interrupted when he planted his lips on hers, before immediately withdrawing and releasing her.
“I’m… I’m so sorry,” he stammered, immediately regretting allowing his emotions to take control. “I – “
This time, it was she cutting him short, pinning his shoulders back against the wall, and forcing her mouth onto his. After a long moment, she pulled away and stormed off in silence back towards the bedroom before slamming the door behind her. He was absolutely astounded, his thoughts and heart racing. He’d waited so long for any sign of emotion from her. But, what exactly did that mean? And what now?
After another moment of awkward silence, she seemed to read his thoughts. The bedroom door creaked open, and he could just see the azul glow of her skin as her face peered out, half-shrouded by the frame of the door. She spoke quietly. “Find yourself something to eat in the pantry, and come sleep in here tonight. I don’t want you to catch cold.”