Hi there! I’m still plugging away at book four, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share this scene from book one. This post’s title is a tad misleading, as the scene wasn’t entirely deleted, just reworked so that the important elements found their way into the final draft. But reading what follows should give some insight into my editing process – and entertain you as well! 🙂 If you’re curious about why I reworked this part, I’ve explained at the end.
For reference, these scenes take place in chapters 12 & 13 of Catalyst Moon: Incursion.
Alright, back to book four. 😉
He was upright before his eyes had opened fully. Mage Halcyon still sat by the fire, but her back was straight and her gaze was fixed on some distant point in the darkness, well beyond the spread of light from their camp. Seeing that he was awake, she whispered his name again and gestured to the woods. He rose into a crouch and reached for his daggers.
Stay here, he mouthed to the mage, who nodded once. At first there was no sound, then came snapping twigs and the rustle of dried leaves as something approached. Stonewall tightened his grip on his daggers, though he did not pull them free of their sheaths; he took a calming breath and stepped forward.
Someone was weeping. “That sounds like children crying,” the mage whispered.
“Aye, and they’re close by.”
Halcyon sucked in her breath and darted forward, avoiding his grasp as she hurried to the source of the sound. “They could be injured. Come on, Stonewall!”
Apparently he had no choice but to follow, and drew his daggers. “Right behind you.”
There was no knowing if true danger was present, so normally he would have tried to pitch his voice low to keep his presence stealthy…but she’d pretty much blown that opportunity away. All he could do now was keep up with her and hope that he could strike first if something tried to attack.
Seren hung above the forest, making her way for the horizon’s edge, but even the faint silver light through the trees was welcome. Once they reached a relatively open patch of ground, they came across two brown-haired children: a boy and a girl dressed in soot-stained clothing The moment the children spotted the strangers coming towards them, they froze.
The mage reached them first. Rather than rush up to them, as Stonewall thought she was about to, she paused a few steps away and dropped to a crouch, keeping her bound hands tucked out of sight beneath her cloak. “Hello there,” she said in a warm voice. “You poor things…where are your parents?”
The girl was the taller of the two; she swiped at her runny nose with the back of her woolen sweater and hugged her brother close. “Home,” she whimpered as the little boy pressed his face into her side. “They told us to run away when the bad people came.”
She was probably between nine and ten summers, and the boy perhaps five or six. Stonewall’s stomach plummeted to his knees. What had happened to their parents, to make them send their little ones away in such a desperate act?
He sheathed his blades and stepped beside Mace Halcyon, keeping his voice calm as well. “’Bad people?’ What do you mean?”
The boy cried into his sister’s side and the girl only looked at the sentinel with fear on her face; Stonewall was at something of a loss. Sentinels were widely recognized as being peacekeepers. He’d rarely met any non-mage who was not pleased to see him, let alone act so frightened in his presence.
Halcyon ignored him and extended one hand. “My name is Kali and this is my friend Stone,” she offered. “I know his armor looks a little scary, but he’s very kind. We both want to help you. What are your names?”
Scary? He bit back his first reaction, which was to object to the description. Perhaps compared to Kalinda’s smaller, unarmed form, he was the more imposing figure.
So he, too, tried to look as friendly as possible. The priority was getting the children to safety and assessing if either was injured, though he had a hope that he could get some more information out of them and maybe see if he could help their parents face “the bad people.” Likely it was brigands or some other cutthroats who preyed on the innocent.
“Coplin,” the boy hiccuped, his face lifting from his sister’s side. She scowled and tried to shush him, but he looked between Kalinda and Stonewall. “My sister is Saph.”
“Cop, you’re not to talk to strangers,” Saph hissed as she took a step backward, further into the darkness of the forest.
“Ma said we had to find help,” the little boy replied. “That man can help Da fight the bad people.”
Despite his fear, Coplin’s voice held nothing but conviction, and Stonewall’s blood beat faster in his veins. That conviction was why he walked this path. Protecting this child was what Tor asked of him.
He nodded to the boy. “I can help, and I will. But we must get you two to safety.”
Mage Halcyon glanced his way, but he could not read her expression in the darkness. The children were silent, then Saph twisted around behind her to look the direction they’d come; her face was pinched with worry. Stonewall couldn’t hear anything, but he kept his hands within reach of his daggers, just to be safe.
Kalinda’s voice was gentle but it nearly startled him into grabbing one of his daggers anyway. “You will both be safe with us. You have my word on that, Saph and Coplin.”
“And mine,” Stonewall added. “In Tor’s name.”
The children exchanged glances, then Saph nodded once and took Coplin’s hand, and the four of them they made their way through the forest to the glow of the campfire. Everything looked as it had when Stonewall had gone to sleep. Stonewall added fuel to the fire while the mage offered the children the blanket, which Saph wrapped around herself and her brother as they sat before the fire.
Once they were settled, Stonewall knelt beside them. “Where is your home?”
Coplin answered. “Over the creek where all the frogs live in summertime.”
Not quite descriptive enough. An urge to be moving, doing something useful other than sitting here, waiting, flooded him, but Stonewall held it in check. However, he could not help but cast a look at Mage Halcyon, who shook her head.
“How long were you traveling before we found you?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Saph said, her lip trembling. “We woke up after Ma put us to bed. It was nighttime, and she told us to run away-”
The mage made a soothing noise and moved to sit beside them; she tried to put an arm around the girl, but her progress was halted by the cuffs. Still, neither child seemed to notice her wrists were bound beneath her cloak.
When Kalinda’s dark eyes met his again, he caught her look of worry. If they wanted to help these children’s parents, they were running out of time, if they hadn’t already.
He took a deep breath. “I want to help your mother and father, but first I must find them.”
“Is there anything else you can tell us about where your home is?” the mage added. “Do you have neighbors, or livestock of any kind?”
Saph shook her head but Coplin looked up at Stonewall, his eyes streaming with tears but alert and hopeful. “The goats,” he hiccuped, blinking at the sentinel. “Ma raises ’em.”
“They never shut up.” Saph sat up and hugged her brother close. “Them and the bees. And Da’s got his turpentine ‘still. It stinks.”
Again, Stonewall glanced at the mage, who gave him a look that held a trace of amusement, though her words were serious. “Follow the sound of bees and goats, and the smell of turpentine. Do you think you can find it?”
He considered the landmarks he remembered from this area; there wasn’t much out here, save a few humble villages and farming communities. By his reckoning, the closest township of any true size was Fash, and that was leagues away. Given the direction the children had been traveling from, he thought he could find their home – eventually.
Hopefully there would be something left to find.
“I’ll do my best,” he said, rising from his crouch and hurrying to the horse. “Stay here and keep them out of any more trouble,” he added to Mage Halcyon as he slung the saddle and bridle over the dapple gray, forgoing the saddlebags for now.
He stopped again at the sound of name. She’d risen to follow him. At his look she twitched back the cloak and presented her wrists; she said nothing, but he knew what she asked.
His mouth opened, but no sound came out.
She shook her head once. “I can do nothing for them while bound. You know that.”
She was right. Damn her. Tor help me. As quickly as he could, Stonewall freed her from the cuffs and stowed them on his belt, then turned his attention to the saddle. When he looked up again, he was startled to see something glowing close by. Kalinda held a small branch that held a crackling flame at its tip; the fire’s reflection illuminated her dark eyes.
“You shouldn’t be running around in the dark,” she said as he tightened the saddle’s girth. “This will last for a few hours.”
Mage-fire. Of course. Gods above and beyond, she was quick. Another time and place, he would have spared himself the notion of how unsettling such speed could be. But now, he was glad to have a source of light, so he accepted the branch. Behind her, the children were huddled together by the fire and he fought back a flare of worry. Would they be safe here, without his daggers to protect them? Would Kalinda’s magic keep herself and the children from harm? He had to trust that it would, so he looked into her eyes again and willed his worry to go away because it would only distract him.
“Be careful,” Kalinda said quietly.
Nodding again in acknowledgment, he made one final check of the girth, then mounted the gray in one fluid motion. “I’ll return as soon as I can,” he said to her as he guided the horse beyond the shelter of the oak trees. “Tor protect you.”
He may have been mistaken, but as he urged his mount forward into the darkness he could have sworn he heard her add: “You too.”
Even guided by mage-fire’s glow and the eventual, acrid scent of turpentine carried by the wind, the journey through the dark forest was treacherous. Stonewall pushed the mare as much as he dared, but lives were at stake. At one point they came across a winding path that threaded through the forest, and he prayed it led to the farm.
By Stonewall’s estimation, it was about three-quarters of an hour into his journey when he came upon the silent, smoking farmhouse.
Please, Mara…let them be alive. Please let at least one of them be alive.
Until this moment, he’d not felt the chill in the air, but as he pulled the mare to a halt and scanned the area, he noticed how her breath blew from her nose in little eddies of steam. There had been a fence at one point; now, it was little more than kindling. The farmhouse was charred in sections but he hoped the structure would be salvageable.
But it was so silent. He raised the torch, hoping to make himself appear as a viable target, should anything in the area still be looking for a fight. As he moved the horse closer to the farmhouse, the sound of weeping tricked through the darkness. It was a female voice, likely the mother of Saph and Coplin, and his throat went tight.
“Hello?” Stonewall glanced around, searching for the source of the noise. “Is there someone here? I mean you no harm; I’m a sentinel. I’ve come to help.”
“Here,” came a muffled sob.
Stonewall urged the horse to the source of the voice; to the right of the farmhouse there was a wooden barn that was mostly unscathed. The barn was dark and quiet, and every battle-honed instinct advised caution, so he paused the mare before the wooden double doors.
“I’ve news of your children,” he said.
“Saph? Coplin?” One of the doors slid open and a woman stuck her head out, her eyes huge and dark in the shadows cast by the torch. Even she took in the distinctive appearance of his armor, she did not approach. “Oh, Ser Sentinel…you’ve seen them? Please tell me they’re safe!”
“Yes, your children are safe. They’re with a friend of mine, not far from here. Are you or your husband injured?”
At this, her face fell and his whole body felt heavier. If he’d only moved faster, if he’d not shown so much damn caution–
“He’s alive, but I don’t know if he’ll make it through the night.” The woman hugged her arms to her sides and ducked her head. “There’s so much blood. But he’s alive. For now.”
Something in Stonewall’s chest lifted. There was hope. “My friend has a gift for healing. If you don’t need my sword, I’ll bring her here right away.”
“Those monsters are gone. They didn’t stay long, but it was enough. Please, ser, if you can help at all…”
It would not be an easy – or quick – journey back here with one horse, but he was not about to leave the children unguarded, and he certainly wasn’t comfortable with letting Kalinda set off on her own, especially since he more or less knew the way here by now.
“Do you have another horse?” he asked.
Thank the One, she did – of a sort. Several minutes later, Stonewall led a lanky brown mule away from the farm, with promises to return as soon as possible. It occurred to him that she was placing a great deal of trust in him, a stranger, but she seemed too shaken up to care.
In any case, it didn’t matter. He would abide by his oath.
Honor. Service. Sacrifice.
Kali didn’t believe in miracles, but both Saph and Coplin were, for the most part, physically unharmed, so she decided to just be grateful for the fact and worry about the semantics later. Between them, the children had a few cuts, bruises and scrapes, probably from their trek through the dark forest, but nothing worse. Nothing that needed to be healed with magic, though Kali itched to be of more use.
Once she’d cleaned them up, she gave them some bread and cheese, hoping to provide a sense of normalcy. It seemed to work. About fifteen minutes after Stonewall had left, Coplin and Saph were seated before the fire, clutching the blanket around their shoulders and enthusiastically working their way through Kali and Stonewall’s supplies.
Well, Coplin was more enthusiastic than his sister, who picked at her bread with only mild interest, her watchful gaze set on Kali as the mage tended the fire. Aware of her audience, Kali only dared to bolster the flames a little bit, just so they would last as long as it needed to without her having to collect more fuel. Hopefully that would be until Stonewall returned, which she told herself would be very, very soon.
“Is your friend really a sentinel?” Saph’s voice broke Kali out of her thoughts.
Glancing up, she blinked at the brown-haired girl who regarded her with red-rimmed eyes. Coplin looked up as well, a few crumbs of bread clinging to his lips from his meal. “He is.” Kali tried to appear as calm as possible and not like her stomach was twisting in knots for fear of what Stone would come across. “He’s quite skilled, too.”
Coplin looked up at his sister. “See? We did right.” His eyes fell on a chunk of bread that lay in her lap. “D’you want that?”
As her brother tore into the bread, Saph glanced back at the mage. “Da says sentinels are good fighters. But the bad people were,” she shivered and closed her eyes, “strong.”
“And funny lookin’,” Coplin broke in. “Their eyes were real funny.”
This made Kali sit up, though she tried to keep her words steady. “What do you mean?”
The brown-haired boy spoke through a mouthful of bread. “They were real bright. Like stars.” A chill passed through Kali and he continued. “Wasn’t they, sis?”
“They was. Just like stars.” Saph swiped at her runny nose with a trembling hand. “I saw them run up through my flower garden. They moved strange. Like…wolves or somethin’.”
“They moved like wolves?” Kali asked.
Saph nodded again. “There was only three, but they moved all together, all at once. Never seen no people move like that.”
Apprehension coiled within Kali, tighter than before, but she tried to keep it at bay. “You also said they were…strong?”
“Aye,” Saph said. “Saw one of ’em tear right through the gate like it was made of grass.”
Coplin had finished the bread; at this, his eyes widened and his lips began to quiver. “And Da…Da’s tough, but they got him, didn’t they?”
Saph made a soothing noise, but it was too late and he began to sob again. The girl wrapped her arms around her brother and he wept, while dread rushed through Kali’s veins as the words of the Sufani leader came back to her: Rumors of packs of them moving like lycanthra, hunting their prey with the same ruthlessness as those creatures. Rumors of men and women with eyes that burn like stars, who bring terror and death wherever they go.
And Stonewall was out there alone. Hopefully his gods would protect him better than they had Saph and Coplin’s parents.
In the meantime, she had two frightened children to care for, so she tried to push the worry for Stonewall out of her mind and focus on the little ones. “It will be all right,” she said, somewhat lamely. “Even if it may not seem that way, now.”
Hollow words of comfort; she’d repeated them to herself a hundred times, and they never felt any less hollow. But something seemed to resonate with Saph, for the girl gave her a look that was far too discerning for a child of ten summers.
“Are you a glimmer?”
Kali blinked at her. “What?”
“A glimmer.” Saph stretched out the word. “One of them fairies.”
“Fairies…?” It took a moment’s thought, but at last Kali recalled where she’d heard that term before. “You mean one of the Fata?”
Saph’s brows knit, but she nodded. Coplin, red-eyed and sniffling, looked at Kali as well. “What’s a glimmer?”
“It’s a nickname for the Fata,” Kali replied. “The mythology around them indicates that they were the first inhabitants of this world, long before we humans ever came around. It’s difficult to say exactly what they could do, as there are only a few references to them outside of folklore. There are a few accounts from the first pioneers who settled Aredia many centuries ago–”
Saph sighed loudly, cutting her off. “They have powers to heal any hurt,” she said to her brother. “They can’t touch metal, but can make flowers grow anywhere.”
“Can you do that?” Coplin’s eyes were round as saucers as he looked between his sister and Kali.
Kali shook her head. “I’m no Fata. I’m just…” Her hands weren’t bound, but the memory of the hematite cuffs made her wrists heavy, and she tucked them within her cloak. “Just me,” she finished.
But Saph, it seemed, did not miss much. “But you did magic. You made a fire out of nothing, So…if you’re not a glimmer, then you’re one of them mages.”
Rather than answer immediately, Kali studied the girl. There was no way of knowing how pious her parents were, or what kinds of things she’d heard about mages. Well, this was Kali’s chance to educate them.
“You’re half right. I am a mage, but magic can’t exist in a void.” She was met with frowns and furrowed brows, so she tried to clarify. “Mages can’t make something from nothing. It’d be like trying to grow a flower from a handful of empty air.”
Saph’s face scrunched up in thought. “Is your magic the same as the glimmers’?”
“That’s an excellent question.” Kali’s words were slow but her mind raced ahead. Folklore and fairy-stories; none of this was anything to take seriously. But perhaps that had been an oversight. Assuming the Fata’s existence had some basis in reality, what if the mages and the Fata had different kinds of magic? Had anyone really studied either?
Someone should. Mythical or not, the Fata were the only other beings in Aredia’s history who could use magic. Perhaps there was a connection, though unsought. Surely not, though. Surely this was not a unique concept.
But what if…?
Through her correspondence with her friend, Eris, Kali had learned that Whitewater Bastion was home to a great library, full to bursting with research and information on magic, written by mages and non-mages alike. Perhaps there was something more to be found in that city than a healed knee. Kali’s blood quickened at the possibility.
“I wish I knew the answer,” she said at last.
Both children looked disappointed, but it faded quickly in light of Coplin’s next question. “Will you do magic for us?”
Saph brightened. “Can you turn Cop into a frog?”
“She should turn you into a goat,” Coplin said, pulling a face.
“Hush.” Saph’s eyes were still on the mage. “Could you, though?”
Kali tried to keep her expression neutral while she cursed inwardly. Of course they’d want to see some “real” magic, but she was reluctant to expend her energy on anything trivial in case her healing skills were needed when Stonewall returned. Besides, she’d never been much good with plants.
She was about to disappoint them when there was a snapping sound, like something huge moving towards them through the forest. Saph shrieked, but Kali caught sight of Stonewall’s torch approaching through the darkness.
“There’s nothing to fear,” she told the children as she got to her feet. “It’s Stonewall.”
“Kali’s right,” came his voice, just before he stepped into the circle of light cast by the fire. He led their gray mare and a brown mule; he was whole and unharmed, and Kali’s foolish heart lifted.
“Biscuit!” Coplin jumped to his feet and hugged the mule’s chest, though his arms barely reached across. Saph said nothing, just buried her face in the mule’s neck.
Stonewall dismounted and skimmed his gaze across Kali as he approached. “Whoever attacked the farm is gone, and their mother is waiting for them.” Once he was at her side, his voice dropped in pitch so that the children couldn’t hear. “Their father is gravely injured. Can you help him?”
Eyes the color of honey regarded her; where wariness had once been when he spoke of her magic, now there was only hope. Kali nodded once. “If it’s within my power, I’ll help him.”
The reason I reworked this scene is mainly that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I needed to get Kali and Stonewall to the Bywater’s homestead, but so many aspects here didn’t work: Stonewall’s back and forth trips, the farm being on fire (?), the lack of “real” directions or guidance to the Bywater’s home, the clunky “as you know, Bob” dialog, etc. The final draft features Kali and Stonewall meeting Jennet (the kids’ mom) on her way to get help for her injured husband; she brings our heroes back to her home. It’s much more streamlined and sensible.
But Kali’s convo with the kiddos is pretty cute, so now it’s immortalized online. Technology at its finest. 😉 Thanks for reading, and stay awesome!