First order of business: I’ve been playing around with book covers for Child of the Kaites. Originally, I made this one:
Then I thought, we can do better than that. So I procrastinated actually editing and instead made these covers:
Now I must ask you:
Tell me why in the comments 🙂 And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for (Hamilton reference intended):
My heels bang against the cliff. I blindly scramble back onto the ground. Bats screech, my people shout.
“Rai!” Savi yells. “Where are you?”
I hack at the air with Luemikaroeth. It vibrates when it hits the flying creatures, and bats thump to the ground around me.
“Aivenkaites again!” Laen shrieks.
Forziel yells, loud and long.
“Rai!” Savi shouts, panic sharpening his voice. “Rai, are you okay?”
“I’m here,” I call back. I shudder, but only because of the unpleasant flop of leathery wings against my bare arms. “They’re not aivenkaites, just bats.”
I see Luemikaroeth again, white-blue blade shining between the bats. The bats thin, just enough that I catch a glimpse of the other side of the room. I have to get across.
Once more, I scoot back as far as the rope will reach. Then I start screaming. I sprint for the edge, leap, and fly back over the gaping ground.
Bats blind me still. Savi shouts my name again.
The rope reaches its zenith. I let go and throw myself forward.
My knees slam into the ground. I remember what the kaites taught me long ago and roll. My good shoulder scrapes over sharp rocks.
Then I’m standing, panting hard.
Savi crushes me in a hug, but scarcely has it begun than Forziel shouts, “Follow the bats! They’ll lead us out.”
The bats are winging out of the room, back the way they came. Savi snatches up my hand. We all sprint after Forziel, chasing the webbed wings up the bends and turns of narrow halls.
“Faster,” Forziel orders. “They’re getting away.”
He’s right. When we left the room, we ran in the midst of the creatures. Now, they flap ahead of us.
Then only the stragglers linger as we round each new corner.
Then we follow their screeches.
Then we come to a branch in the hall, and Forziel slows to a stop. He tilts an ear toward first one path, then the other.
We draw up behind him. I breathe hard and touch my scraped shoulder, which stings. “Which way?” I ask.
Forziel pushes his lips to the side and looks at me. “I don’t know. We lost ‘em.”
“Well,” Savi says slowly, “which way do you think leads out?”
Forziel bounces on his toes, then drops back to his heels. “I don’t have any idea. I’m all turned around now. Did anyone keep track of which way we were heading?”
No one did.
“Well, this is just fantastic,” Drigo says.
“We’re going to die,” Laen moans.
Unease gnaws at my insides. I let out a deep breath and ignore the feeling. “We’ve come this far, at least. We’ll choose one way and make marks as we go. That way, we’ll always be able to find our way back. One way or another, we know there must be another way out. A city in the canyonside can’t have only one entrance.”
That spurs a debate about which path to try first. “We go right. The first hall led up the canyon, in the direction we wanted to go,” Hoenna says. “Chances are, this one will keep going in that direction.”
“I’m sure we turned left at least twice as much as we turned right when we were chasing those things,” Drigo argues. “We’re heading back the way we came, toward the west. If we wanna get out of here, we should turn left again. That way’ll lead us out.”
Laen’s face is pale in the sword’s light. “We’re going to be trapped down here forever,” she predicts, hugging herself.
In the end, Savi flips his sandal to decide the direction. It lands pointing right. He scratches an arrow in the rock with his sword’s point, then we follow that hall with as much haste as is safe.
Our path takes us past hollow doors into rooms whitened by cobwebs. Our breaths echo off dust-cloaked columns. Whenever the hall branches, Savi marks the ground and we take the right turn. Whenever the right turn ends in a flat wall or room with a single exit, we retrace our steps and try again.
The air grows thin and cool. Forziel points at top of the wall, where molding abuts the ceiling. Perspiration drips down the mossy wood. “It looks like we must be near water.”
“There you are, Laen,” Drigo says. “We’ll at least have water if we’re trapped in here.”
“You’re not helping, Drigo,” Laen grinds out between tight-clenched teeth.
“They get along worse than Maylani and Anik,” I whisper to Savi. He snorts.
A couple turns later, Drigo exclaims, “Oh, definitely not.” By the time I turn around, he’s already back at the corner.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
He backs up another step and points. “I am not going near one of those creepy little things.”
I step closer to where he’s pointing. A saurian creature as long as my forearm clings to the wall with spindly toes. Though I can’t see through its lizard-like body, its skin seems transparent. The creature is entirely white, whiter than anything I’ve ever seen, except for pink feather-like ears. It has no eyes, and its nose is a rounded snout.
A shudder runs through me.
“Don’t touch it!” Drigo squeaks.
Laen laughs at him. “Are you seriously afraid of this? It’s just a lizard.”
She moves toward it. Drigo starts hopping between feet, his finger still outstretched. “That’s a salamander! Don’t you–it’s skin is poisonous!”
Laen snatches her arm away from the salamander.
Movement in the corner of my eye. I whip around. A salamander scampers out of the nearest doorway. Another flits down from the ceiling.
Drigo screeches and flies back up the hall. The salamanders turn toward us, blindly flaring their sucker-like snouts. A couple more scurry into the hall.
“They don’t have eyes,” Nihae groans.
Without discussing it, we race after Drigo. In the next hall segment, Liwin looks back and squeaks, “They’re chasing us!”
The salamanders wriggle silently over the stone walls and floor, seeming indifferent to the direction in which their ground points. Their pace is halting–dart forward, stop and flare their snouts, dart to the side, dart forward, repeat. Even so, we barely keep ahead of them.
How quickly would they catch us if they were actually trying?
Another shudder shakes my spine. I grab Nihae’s hand and tug her along.
They chase us most of the way back to the place where we lost the bats. After a few turns without sight of the salamanders, we slow–all of us except Drigo.
“We’re okay,” Hoenna calls after Drigo. “They stopped chasing us.”
“You don’t know that,” Drigo shouts back, and keeps running. With sighs, we follow.
Drigo only stops when we reach the first marked intersection. Then he clasps his knees and pants. “I ain’t ever going back there. Let’s–let’s keep going–let’s try this way instead.” Drigo flops his hand toward the hall in question, then smacks it over his heart.
“We very nearly checked every other path, anyway,” Savi says. “And all the moisture back where we ran into the⎼”
“Don’t say their name,” Drigo interrupts.
“–okay. All the moisture back there means it probably led to an underground river even further away from the surface. Going left is our best option now,” Savi says.
“There were some paths we didn’t try,” I point out. “What if one of them is a way out?”
“I don’t think that’s likely,” Savi says.
“But we can’t be sure until we try them,” I say.
Drigo crosses his arms. “Like I said, you’re not getting me to go back there. Nuh-uh.”
Laen worries her lip. “But what if the only way out is that way, and we miss it?”
“That’s ridiculous.” Forziel grins. “Would you build a city under the ground that only had two ways in and out? There’s gotta be tons of exits. We just haven’t found ‘em yet.”
I don’t like the idea of leaving any path unchecked, or of being trapped under the canyon for longer than we need to be. The salamanders make matters even worse. We’re still just as likely to run out of water as we were before, but now poisonous amphibians guard our only chance of refilling our water skins.
Drigo won’t try the right path again, though, and we should certainly not split up. I hope Forziel knows what he’s talking about.
“Fine. Lead on.” I step aside and gesture for Forziel to walk ahead of me.
At first, this hall is indistinguishable from the other. We pass dark room after dark room, never stopping to inspect. If we find an exit, we’ll smell the fresh air before we see the way out at this time of night.
Then something throws Luemikaroeth’s light back at us from a nondescript doorway. “What’s that?” Forziel asks, curious as always.
We file in, and my eyes widen. The room, almost as big as Tatanda’s house, overflows with piles and piles of gold, silver, and fordue. Rubies, amethysts, emeralds, and more gems whose names I don’t know throw glittering color over the cold metal.
I never dreamed this much wealth existed.
“The insurgent sultan’s stolen treasure,” Forziel breathes.
Drigo laughs, a giddy sound unlike his usual scoffing. “Now this is a good break.”
I stare at the glistening, shining horde and swallow to wet my mouth, which has gone dry. “It’s a good break we can’t take.”
Hoenna clears his throat. “We, uh…”
“We need to keep going,” Savi finishes, with more resolve than I feel. He takes Nihae’s arm and nudges Drigo. “Rai, after you.”
“Right.” I pull myself away from the treasure. Why, with this wealth we could probably buy freedom for all of Maraiah!
In the hall, I realize the impracticality of using the treasure to purchase our freedom. We have no way to transport the treasure, and Izyphor would confiscate it as soon as they saw it.
So we keep walking. The path takes a few sharp turns right, then runs up a flight of stairs. The air, still dry, loses its musty smell and fills with the aroma of dew on clean rock. Here and there, cracks appear in the wall to the right. The indree shine and clean air flows through the gaps. I drag in deep breaths every time we pass a window into the night. I don’t smell that invisible charge of nearby aivenkaites, but I check every time.
When the hall branches into stairs up or down, Forziel leads us straight on.
“Some of those might lead to an exit,” I say.
“Maybe. But Champion Saviayr’s still marking our path, so we may as well try the direct route first this time.”
The indree are returning to hiding by the time we find a door to the outside. Laen sighs deep and collapses on the floor. “Hae-Aia, we made it.”
“Let’s stay in here until evening,” I decide. The aivenkaites probably think we’re still trapped. Better to hide here in the ruins of Tivanik than out in the open where wicked spirits can more easily discover us.
We make camp with ease. It’s not hard with our meager supplies. We each get a barley cake and a few sips from the water skins. Nihae and the bandits get our few blankets.
That’s when I realize Luemikaroeth’s light has gone out. When did that happen? Why? I pick the sword up, will it to shine.
I try to feel angry again, like I was when it first started glowing.
Hoenna volunteers for first watch. He perches on a fallen wall and pulls his knitting from his pack.
I barely notice, experimenting with Luemikaroeth. No matter what I try, it won’t start shining, not even the faintest glimmer.
“What are you doing?” Savi asks, coming to my side.
I hold Luemikaroeth up so he can inspect it. “The sword stopped shining. I don’t know why.”
He is quiet for a moment. “Huh. Well, at least we don’t need its light now.”
“I just wish I understood why it happened in the first place.”
“Maybe you can figure it out in the morning–I mean, after some sleep.”
A yawn forces itself out in answer to his suggestion. I chuckle. “Yeah, sleep would be nice. It’s been a long night.”
We find a level piece of ground and settle in for the day.
The wind blows a haunting melody through the abandoned city remains. Its song lulls me to sleep.
Angry voices wake me. There’s as much light as when I fell asleep, but the air is hot–evening.
Hoenna presses his fingertips against his skull. Unintelligible words stream from his mouth, probably in Rhilissi.
“What?” Savi asks, voice slurred. “What’s wrong?”
“That two-timing, double-crossing, low-life spawn of an Izyphorn!” Hoanna roars.
“That’s rude,” Forziel says.
“He offered to take second watch, said he was having nightmares. Never trust a Kedi, I should have known the⎼” and he drops back into Rhilissi.
I’m fully awake now, and am fairly certain Hoenna is cursing more than anyone I’ve ever heard. Liwin’s red ears and open mouth confirm it.
“Hoenna, what did Drigo do?” I ask.
He flings his arms away from his head and scowls into the dark corridor. “He ran away, and took all our supplies with him.”