You may have seen my recent announcement of the serial I'm launching, hopefully in about a week's time. That's contingent on getting a quick beta read and polishing edit done on the first installment, but I don't think it needs a lot of work (unless my instinct is wildly misfiring again, but the story feels ready). In the meantime, here's a preview:
The Second Realm part 1: Van Raighan’s Last Stand
Episode 1. I Can See Clearly Now
Wind blasted up the hillside and shattered into whispers on the hedge that lined the canal path. It was impossible to forget how near the Second Realm was. Rel shifted the leather strap of his backpack, trying to loosen his already-stiff shoulder. His boots slapped in the puddles and sucked in the mud of the path.
Ahead, the canal turned slowly North around the curve of Fibor Hill towards the brow above Federas. Rel blinked, squinting against the wind. There were three - four? No, five - women coming his way along the path. Four wore stout travelling dresses in brown and green, but the fifth looked to be wearing purple. An odd group, and an odd time to be leaving Federas, with the trap awaiting Van Raighan still unsprung. Unless they’d been lucky and he’d come early. Or something had gone wrong.
Rel ground his teeth. Far more likely something would go wrong, even after he’d been right to the Court to hone his Clearsight. Twice. Both times, the Clearviewing had shown Van Raighan’s entry to the town, right through to his capture. It stopped, though, almost the moment that the guardsmen surrounded the master thief. Rel would be there, would have to do something. Clearsight never showed you your own part in events.
So Rel had perhaps another hour - clouds covered the sun, but he thought it was still well shy of noon - to get back to the town, talk Sheriff Pollack around again, and get settled in before Van Raighan was due at the Warding Hall.
He resisted the temptation of using Clearsight to see who the women were. The Second Realm was close enough still that it would be easy, but this close he might see something more than faces. He would see who they were soon enough.
A plastic bottle bobbed in the brown canal water. One of the small, white ones shaped with a handle, and a green lid. Rel thought about stopping to fish it out - it was filthy, but if it was watertight enough to float it was worth at least a good meal and a drink. But he didn’t have his fishing rod with him, and trying to reach it with a broken-off branch would risk falling in. If he turned up in front of the Sherriff sopping wet, he might well get sent to Dora in case he caught cold, and then there was no way he’d get free in time for Van Raighan.
Maybe the bottle would still be there later. Rel glanced at the sky, counting hours of daylight remaining against how long the excitement in town was likely to last. Out across the valley, darker cloud and grey haze spoke of another shower closing in. Maybe the bottle would still be there tomorrow.
He hissed through the gap in his teeth, then caught himself as he realised how close the women had got. He didn’t know the lady in purple - purple linen, not wool - or the plainer-dressed woman next to her, but the other three were familiar. Dora walked in the middle of the group, tiny and slight, her fair hair straw-like and wild as ever, the Four-Knotted cord cinching her faded green robe almost tight enough to give her hips. The only thing not completely underwhelming about her was her eyes; even as she nodded gently to Rel, cheeks rounding slightly with a smile, her eyes were flint and diamond all at once.
Beris Webberat and Notia Tollan made almost as strange companions for the Four Knot as the two out-of-towners. Both scowled at him as they passed. There was no question of stopping to chat. Maybe on a good day, Dora might have a word for him if they were alone out here, but the Second Realm made more than Clearsight complicated.
If Dora was out here, though, with two women who hated the Second Realm and two strangers, something had probably already gone wrong in town. Rel put his head down and picked up his step -
- and noticed that the canal surface wasn’t rippling with the wind. As he watched, holding himself dead still, it started moving again, but not all at the same time. The still patch was following the women, ripples gently sliding back in its wake. Plenty of Children of the Wild were untouched by the wind. The list of known species that would stalk humans was shorter, but still long.
Rel still didn’t move, trying to breathe without using a single muscle. Whatever it was would be able to sense his Gift of Clearsight, even while he wasn’t using it, but maybe it hadn’t noticed. He turned his head slowly, following the still patch along the canal, and surrendered his eyes to Clearviewing.
Icy cold spread up under his eyelids and round into his eye sockets. Suppressing the urge to blink was second-nature, but he could do nothing about the shiver. There was a slight sensation of tension inside his face as if his eyes were sticking out on stalks, and then he Saw Clearly. The canal looked much as it had, except that he could vaguely make out the shape of its muddy bottom. Sparks glittered from the grass and bushes.
He forced himself not to look up. The clouds were not thick enough to cover the painful, colourless Realmlessness. His gut grumbled just thinking about it. Instead, he kept his eyes on the still patch - not still, of course, to Clearsight. The air danced above the canal and the path, a jumble of tiny motes of a colour that was almost like green. No two ever seemed to move the same way at once.
Nothing special, then. If there had been no motion at all, Rel would have worried, but wherever the Wilder was, it wasn’t powerful enough to manage negation. Instead, it was breaking the wind’s motion up into eddies too small to pick up a hair. It was the trick most Wildren used. On a good day, with a fresh head on his shoulders, Rel might even be able to manage it himself.
Where was the Wilder? The air danced, the grass glittered, but there were no footsteps - the ground still glowed faintly where the women had set their feet - and none of the strain lines that would betray a Wilder concealing itself.
Rel looked at the women, already half-way around the bend in the canal, and his mouth ran dry. There were only four women; the lady in purple was nowhere to be seen. His eyeballs ached with the cold, fought his eyelids, but he forced the blink and Clearsight fled. The lady reappeared. Gifts of the Second Realm were given to protect humans against the Children of the Wild, but the Gift-Givers, Wildren though they were, had always insisted on protecting themselves too. They could walk right through any Warding they hadn’t set themselves; they could not pass through any Gateway a human made; and they were invisible to Clearsight.
What do you think? My main concern is that maybe I'm introducing stuff too quickly; could you follow what's going on?
(Pst. There's an additional teaser for The Second Realm here.)