• Jeffrey Hall

An Update and a Glimpse


Greetings Fellow Creatures and happy holidays to those who celebrate them.

I thought it a good time to update you all on a few things.

First, my short stories. I've had a few nibbles over the last few weeks (made it to the final round for a couple of magazines), but nothing bit and I was left reeling in rejection letters to add to the overflowing bucket. That was until the other day when I received an actual bite. An acceptance for publication!

I can't give details yet, but it's for a story I had a blast writing and sets the ground work for future books in a universe I want to explore more down the road. More to come once I am given the green light to spill to the beans.

Second, the novel. I am busy doing the final pass, hunting down typos, gathering beta readers, researching how I will publish it/which agents I should submit it to. I am happy for the most part in the way it is turning out, and hope that you will enjoy it as much as I've enjoyed writing it and exploring the world it takes place in. And I since I am so close to end and am 98.75% sure that I know how it will start, I thought I would share the first scene from the novel (typos be damned).

Behold, the opening to the first book set in the world of Chilongua:

Irtha lowered her feet into the busy water. The familiar cold bit at her skin, and the current once again threatened to pull her into its grasp.

“Be careful,” said Soli, tottering on the river bank. “I always am.” She looked upriver. The other river folk were a ways away, and Irtha was thankful for it. Less competition. Less sets of eyes on her and her brother.

“Not always.”

She shot him a look.

“Last week you almost split your head on the rocks.”

“Because you always insist on talking to me while I’m doing it.”

Her brother looked down, dragging his foot upon the ground.

She didn’t mean to snap at him, but it was hard to keep herself under control when her seed ran low. She took a deep breath.

“Just don’t think about me drowning. Think about the big pile of plina we’ll have tonight if I can grab it.”

He raised his head, smiling. “Plina with honey?”

“Maybe. We’ll see how much this will get us.”

"I wish you didn't have to sell it."

"We don't have any other choice."

"We could make another pot," said Soli.

"You know how well those sell," said Irtha.

“Well, I hope the beads are worth enough so you can get a whole hive of honey this time.”

“Well, let me get it and see.”

Soli nodded, but his face said he was still unconvinced. She turned back to the river. Her body shook. She felt a shoot of primal energy crawl up her spine. She fought down the urge to yell and told herself if she could just come through with this she would be satiated.

She pressed her toes against the slippery stones, trying to recall the feeling of a hunting ropeneck, its webby feet wrapping around the uneven river-floor, its sturdy legs undisturbed by the rush of the water. She dug her toes into the stone and stood.

The current flexed its strength. Irtha stumbled. Soli squeaked. But Irtha caught herself, flapping her arms like a bird to recover.

“Be careful,” yelled Soli.

“I am,” she said back, but the river didn’t care about careful. Irtha knew that no matter how cautious she was, no matter how much she called upon her memories, if the river wanted to it could flush her away. And as she had thought many times before, she knew she had no fish memories to help her swim against such potent waters. But that didn’t matter. Only retrieving the beads shining at her from the bottom of the river did, whatever else happened be damned.

She pushed her leg forward, cutting the water with her ankle, and planted her foot on another stone. She tested its sturdiness. It barely budged. She brought her other leg forward and did the same test on the next one.

“Do you see them?” called Soli over the gurgle of the water.

“Yes, I see them.” A ring of beads fluttered beneath the strength of the river, caught between a pair of stones. Only three more steps and she’d be there. Three steps. She could do it. The ropeneck had hunted for hours in waters much rougher than this. What were three steps?

She inched forward. She thought she saw a slip-fish swim by. She was jealous of how easy it navigated the rush and- Another urge blossomed inside. This one she could not control.

She pounced.

She plunged her hands into the current, hoping to pluck the fish from the water, but missed. When her conscious came back it was already too late. She lost her balance and slipped, grabbing hold of the beads as she fell.

The river took her.

She heard Soli scream just as she went under. The world turned dark and blue. She clipped her elbows and knees on rocks. The water offered her a reprieve. She emerged, gasping for air, and saw her brother running along the stony river bank after her.

"Irtha!" he shouted.

She tried to yell back, tried to swim, but the current was too strong. It pulled her under and shot her down. She struggled and pushed, gritted her teeth and hoped a memory might blossom to help her. None did.

For a moment she stopped moving and thought how peaceful it was underneath the water, giving up control to the whim of its current. Her worries were gone. She had no one to take care of, no place she had to be, no desires that had to be fulfilled. She was free. She wondered if it was what a fish felt like. But then she heard Soli's muffled screams above the waters, and knew that she couldn't be done yet.

She fought again and attempted to swim, not only for her life, but for his. She reached and tried to grab onto anything, coming up only with water. Her lungs burned. She needed air, but the river refused to give her any. It pushed her further down, tucking her safely into its prison and she thought it was her time to finally meet the darkness.

But the afterworld was not ready for the introduction. Not yet.

She felt something hard catch her. The next thing she knew she felt herself rising through the current, being pushed up through the water as if the river had rejected her. Seconds later she breached the surface, coughing and gasping for air. She blinked and moaned. Her body ached. She could feel the touch of the river’s floor on her elbows and knees, even a lump on her forehead, but she was alive and laying on solid ground. She sat up and looked about.

A boulder had saved her. It rose above the water like a platform that had always been there, waiting to be lifted should an unfortunate land-dweller fall victim to the Silver Path's rush. But she knew it had not. On the river bank sat Soli, his knees folded into his chest, panting, crying.

"Are you alright?" he managed to say.

"Soli-" began Irtha.

"I know! I couldn't help it. What did you want me to do, watch you drown?" he yelled.

"Quiet down," she said. Some of the other river folk looked on in the distance. She hoped that they hadn't seen or heard anything. She jumped across the narrow gap that remained between the stone and the bank, grasping onto the high grass. Soli helped her up. Together they sat, breathing heavily, the heat of the great fire above drying her body and her brother's tear-stained face.

"You can't do that," she said finally.

"You were going to die. I had no choice. Do you think that I wanted to? I was scared. You were going to die."

"You need to control it better."

"I can't. And even if I could, I wouldn't. You were drowning."

She looked out at the rumbling waters of the Silver Path. The stone cut through the current like the fin of a giant fish. A soft urge to chase it stirred in the back of her mind, but she swallowed and it was gone, for now.

She knew he was right. If he didn't intervene she would have died. Better that than the world stringing him up after glimpsing his strangeness.

"Can't you control yourself better?" said Soli, as if he could read the surge on her face.

I will be able to once I refill my stock, she thought to herself, but did not speak. Instead she brought up the beads, still clenched tightly in her hands.

"You've got them?" His bright smile returned to his face.

"Of course." Irtha twirled the beads on her finger. Soli hugged her.

"What kind are they?"

She pinched the beads in her hands. "Red Seed, I think."

"Does this mean honey?"

"Maybe, you fuzzy little bee," she answered, rubbing the scruff of his shaven head.

He laughed, wiping his cheeks with his palms.

"Come on, I'll go to Trick Paw and see what we can get." She stood, her legs felt wobbly and achy. Blood dribbled out from her knees and elbows, but she did not mind.

"Can I-" Soli caught himself.

"What is it?" she said.

"Can I come this time?"

Irtha shook her head. "It's not safe."

They walked upriver in silence. She could tell Soli was disappointed, but it was for his own good.

"Will it ever be?" he asked, finally.

They rounded the bend of the rocky wall to their right. Above them the city of Mohii, the capital of the nation of Vinasa, rose high into the sky, reaching like a many fingered claw for the great fire. The dark skins of long-ago-defeated jagralls flapped dully against the high, tan walls that encompassed it. Strangle vines and snaghairs grew like earthly fur over the clay-stone buildings peeking over the walls' edges. They could hear the soft murmur of the nearby market on the other side, tempting them with a life that almost was and never would be. She wondered if Soli could ever remember calling it home. She wondered if he could see its bustling streets and smell the wafts that came from them. The merchants and performers, the socialites and soldiers, the criminals and priests... She thought deep down that he could, and maybe that's why he always wanted to go with her. To escape the loneliness of their current life. To be a part of something other than the impoverished river folk.

But it was too dangerous for someone like him.

"Not today," she answered.

"You always say that-," he began, but she stopped him by putting up her hand. Up ahead Mindergo stood watching them, a bucket in hand, his scaly plates gleaming, freshly scrubbed in the river's water.

"Quite the misstep," said the old pangolian, his long tongue licking the end of his snout.

"The water is in a hurry today," she said.

"I thought you were frog's food."

"Thankfully I wasn't on their menu today."

He looked from her to Soli and back. "It's a good thing that rock was there."

"Yes it was," she kept walking, ushering her brother to follow.

"I see you have beads..."

"I see you still have your sight."

Mindergo smiled, his tail swishing in the grass behind him like a snake. "I hope you make a good profit off others' dreams today."

She ignored him.

"How are you feeling, Soli? It must be unnerving to watch your almost sister drown."

Soli turned to say something back, but she pushed him onward. "Never mind him. That old hoatzin needs to mind his own business."

"Take care of her, boy," he yelled to them. "Everyone needs someone to look after them. Especially her."

She held up her fist and flashed her five fingers, fuck off. His laughter followed them up the bank.

They passed by the calmer waters of the river. The other river folk, the outcasts of the city who found a better living from the water than the street or who found the outside of the walls more comfortable, more safe, lined the land's edge. Some fished, hauling up the pink thresher-fins that used the Silver Path as passageway between the Northern Chilongua lakes and the Demon Sea. Others filled buckets up with the blue clay of the bank, using the raw material to sell or craft. And in the water, using their long poles to steady themselves against the current, were the reed rafts piloted by those river folk who had enough sense to search for tossed beads, out of water.

She wished she knew how to make such a thing.

People glanced at them as they passed, shifting to add distance between the two, and going back to their business. If anyone else had seen anything, they didn't say. Irtha was thankful for that.

Moments later they were clear of the crowd and under the shadow of Threndin's Tongue, the bridge that led out from the Scarred Mountains and into Mohii. Even as they walked beneath it a glittering ring dropped into the Silver Path. Another superstitious fool who thought their wishes would come true by giving offer to the river. Irtha shook her head. The water was not a god. She had given much more to it throughout her years and yet, her dreams had always stayed unfulfilled.

They watched for a moment as the reed rafts scrambled to fetch the token. A lucky Fossala claimed it as her own. That was one set of beads that would not be making it down to her. She sighed.

They arrived to their home, a rocky overhang that jutted out from the crumbling walls of the Western part of the city. Soli moved a small stone, revealing a hole that held all of their possessions. Two thin blankets, two plates, two wooden cups, a small ration of crackle-tart, a candle melted down to a nub, and an old scarwood dagger. Soli laid out the blankets and sat, folding his legs into his chest again. From deeper inside the hole he took out a pot, blue from the clay it was made from.

"Try to sell it instead," said Soli.

"No one's going to buy it."

"You don't know that."

"They never do," said Irtha.

"Well, try again. I don't like you selling other people's dreams."

She almost dismissed him, but she knew that he had already had a tough enough day, and taking it might allow her next request to be received easier.

She grabbed the pot and pointed to the dagger. "Take it."

"It's right there. I can pick it up if I need it."

She picked it up and placed it into his palm. "Don't let it go until I get back."

"But-"

"Soli, how many times do we need to argue about this? It's too dangerous to leave you here with out it."

"But-"

"I won't be long."

Soli hid the knife between his legs, refusing to look at it.

"Remember, if anyone comes you raise it up and threaten them. I don't care if you're too scared to use it. They don't need to know that."

Soli nodded. "Just be careful."

"I always am," said Irtha.

"That's what you said downriver."

She sighed and put her hand to his head. "I'll be back before you know it. Just don't put down the knife."

She took two steps away from him before he said, "Remember the honey."

"I will" she responded, and left him to the darkness of their home.

And there we have it. The first glimpse at my main W.I.P. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope to provide you more very soon. Check back in here for more news on the first book in the Chilongua series and the upcoming short story. Until then...

Stay searching,

-Jeff


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