An up-to-date sample of chapter 1 for my beta manuscript. I’m looking for beta readers. If you’re interested, let me know, and perhaps we can arrange something after I get to know you. Regardless, I hope you enjoy my chicken-scratch! 🙂
Shadows crept around the ancient blade. Its destination was a red-haired young woman with a brand of fire and ice. Two armored knights, one a dark twin of the other, created a crescendo of intensity within their shadowy arena. The redhead missed her mark, and the dark twin found its own. The defeated girl fell to her knees. She retreated into silence before the enemy’s blade finished its job.
“Damnit,” cried the defeated youth.
The girl gazed at the legendary sword in her left palm, now a worn oaken stick. Through extensive use, the practice sword was little more than a wooden splinter. She tossed the makeshift sword away and sighed. Dirt mounds next stole her attention. She stood and brushed the dirt off her tan work clothes. “Enough daydreaming–and swordplay for the day. It’s time to get back to work.”
Pepper yawned and stretched her tall body. The bright light from the Twins, two stars of the sky, outlined her developed feminine figure and athletic build. She winced at the view of midday and combed her head, running fingers through long strands of fiery red hair. Touching the knot of her long ponytail, she withdrew her hand. The girl’s tanned and freckled complexion radiated a youthful look, no more than twenty-three. Shielding her vision from the bright rays, she noticed round air vessels gliding through the skies. Further still, she recognized three moons. One of the satellites emitted a bright commercial flash of activity from its surface.
She curled her bare toes in the soft, luxurious dirt, feeling the warm earth swallow her flesh. Her gaze turned to the sloping leas, circumvented by clusters of distant snowy mountains and tall thickets. The sound of insects tickled her ears. She closed her eyes and allowed a gentle gust to rustle her hair. Humid but balanced with a dry wind–typical weather.
The scarlet woman examined her hands, well callused from horticulture. “That dream was surreal, fighting with a shadow duplicate. Maybe someday I’ll become a knight and get a chance to explore the world again and figure out what to do with my life.” She frowned. “Yeah right, maybe when I learn how to fly properly.”
Pepper dug into her pocket and withdrew a coin of gold. Despite the worn edges, the depiction of a gauntlet shrouded in vines shone clear as day. Underneath the design, curvy Atlasian cuneiform, engraved with a master smith’s arm. “The Slyhart family emblem,” Pepper said. She smiled and squeezed the coin before setting it on the ground.
The bauble flashed and a pillar of light shot up a few inches high. The image of a tall man with red hair and a long ponytail emerged. He wore a blue jacket with a sword strapped to his undershirt.
“You’ll get your chance at adventure, Pepper,” he said. “Life isn’t easy for everyone, especially us. Treasure it like I treasure your mom.” He fiddled with outstretched arms, as if for a weapon. “When we get back from this war, I’ll have some thrilling stories to share. We’ll take some epic voyages too–hoo-hah!”
An image of a woman in a silver dress and a green braid hugged his side. She bore a stubby tail and pointy ears. A pair of leathery wings folded behind her. She frowned. “We hope this message reaches you well, dear. We love you very much.” Pepper rolled her eyes. “There’s extra food in the shed and a month’s worth of gold if you need it. Please promise to stay out of trouble. Don’t forget to water the fields.”
“We’ll have these demonic invaders routed by month’s end,” the red man averred. “We’re sorry about the delay, Pepper, but we’ll be home as soon as we can!” He clenched a raised fist as his silhouette wavered with the green-haired woman.
The vision vanished and the coin’s light dulled. Pepper pocketed the coin. She hesitated and brought a hand to her rear. At the base of her spine, there was a short stubby tail of scales. It twitched at her touch.
“A tail but no wings,” she said.
The girl picked up a fist-sized crystal of aquamarine where the dark twin had once been, its mirror-like surface still reflected faint images. “Yes mom, I’m right on it,” she said.
Her focus fell on the rock. Mist spouted from forth, intelligently drenching the rows of crops around her. The crystal gave a low shriek and a flash of light as it finished.
“I miss them more than I thought I would,” she thought with a frown. “This is the third message this month.”
“I see you’re still having fun with the farm plots, Miss Pepper Slyhart,” said a calm, masculine voice.
Pepper turned to the voice. She smiled and ran towards a youthful and slender looking man of white robes who had approached her from the far road. His blond hair flowed down his back like a stream of gold, broken only by a pair of long pointy ears. His youthful and slim complexion suggested him in his early twenties. He was a head shorter than she was, with an oaken staff tipped with crystal and some prayer beads, nested inside a metal circle. Vir’gol, they were called, or conduits for divine miracles.
“Tarie Beyworth, I wondered when I would see you again,” she said. The redhead and the monk exchanged bows and clasped their hands sideways–a native sign of Atlasian greeting.
Glancing over his robes, she examined a symbol of a roaring flame imprinted onto the center of his habit. Numerous herbs and medical bags hung at his waist. “How are you, my friend?” she asked. “I see you still haven’t grown a beard.”
“Nymphians don’t grow facial hair,” he laughed, “you know that. You Hyers are the ones with all the fur on your faces.”
“I’m only teasing. What news do you have of your abbey and the rest of the world?”
The monk stroked his elfin chin and grinned. “Well, affairs around the planet keep my church busy enough. One involves a clan of brigands and cultists causing mischief in several cities.” He hesitated. “I’d say our planet Atlas still recovers from the war from years ago, let alone the previous conflicts.”
Pepper clenched her fists. “Those damn Elemental invaders. If they hadn’t shown up, we wouldn’t be in such a state.” She punched at a nearby bale of hay. It scattered over the vicinity. Gritting her teeth, she let out a deep breath to relax. “Now we have these Nog’roth demons plaguing our planet again. What I wouldn’t give to enter the Royal Guard and show them what for.”
Tarie gave a start. “I-I understand your frustration Miss Slyhart. Maybe someday the Royal Guard at Midvale will accept your application as a knight. Though, I remember you’ve tried applying ten times already.”
“I suppose I can only keep trying, as depressing as it is for me. The best I qualified for was the rank of squire.” She kicked at a rock. “I know I’m worth more. Maybe it’s because my mother is a Dragonite. That makes me half-dragon and half-Hyer.” Her stubby tail gave a twitch of agreement.
“Dragonites are guardians of the planet,” Tarie said, “what with their supernatural strength. Their breath has dominion over temperature, spewing deadly breaths of flame or frost at will and their wings create powerful storms.”
“For all that’s worth, I can’t do any of that,” Pepper said. Her voice acquired a husky tinge, “Here I’m stuck defending the farm plots from hill bears, crag wolves, and heavens know what else. My father was a renowned war hero for goddess’ sake. He taught me swordplay and for what? How did it come to this?”
Tarie frowned and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Not many know of your dragon heritage. Thank the Aspects too. They say there’s a terrible curse, in which dragons trade their sanity for power.” He grimaced. “Anyway, you’d sooner be imprisoned rather than denied employment in the guard.”
“Society doesn’t condemn us half-breeds without cause,” Pepper grumbled, “but they sure keep us on a tight leash.”
He shook his head. “Take heart, Miss Slyhart. Good things come to those who are patient. If there’s anything the church or I can do, please feel free to ask.”
She smiled. “I appreciate the concern Beyworth, but maybe I’m not cut out for the guard. I do well as a farmer anyway. It’s been months since I’ve seen my parents. I hope they’re okay.”
“Perhaps it best you ask around this area for ideas? You may get inspired that way.”
“I had this nasty dream last night,” she said with a pout. “Actually, I’ve had it on a routine basis. I face off against this shadow variant of myself. I’ve used training holograms from crystals to replicate it; every dream I get killed by this doppelganger. She’s always two steps ahead of me.” She leaned up, hands behind her head. “I don’t understand it–and the dreams are painful…too painful for a normal dream.”
“You’ve had a lot on your mind,” he observed. “I do believe some food and time off the farm may help you consider the idea better. This will be on the church.” He winked.
“You’re serious? You’ve been so busy with the abbey, and I wondered if you–” She hesitated. “I mean, that sounds fine with me, Beyworth. Let me grab a couple things at my house first.”
She ran towards her conical residence. An oaken barn stood next to the egg-shaped house, painted with a worn polish. Metal bars bolted the door tight, but with metal rusted and bent from use. A small brick alcove opened towards the end, where a smithy stood. Smoke trailed through a metal pipe in its stone roof. The glimpse of an anvil and a rack of hammers and metal tools caught the corner of Tarie’s eye.
“Alright,” said he, “I’ll take in the scenery here while you prepare.” The Nymph found a pile of hay for rest. He smiled at the sky and white clouds.
He stood when his pointy ears twitched from approaching footsteps. Pepper now dressed in long emerald skirts, guillotined with white and opal gemstones. Her fiery earrings glinted in the afternoon sunlight, a match for her hair. The fragrance of pleasant herbs wafted into Tarie’s nostrils. He studied her speechless and slack-jawed, the image of the young woman a stark contrast to the rugged, dirty farmer. He cleared his throat. “That green dress looks exceptional on you, Miss Slyhart. The place I have in mind shouldn’t be too far.”
Pepper blushed at his compliment. “I’m guessing Traveler’s Rest.” She smirked, hands akimbo. “Judging by that astonished smile, I’m right, aren’t I?”
“Yes, Traveler’s Rest is a small local town, but it has its share of marvels and plentiful commodities.”
How should we get there? My parents took the family’s ship.” She folded her arms, staring at the farming plots. “I wonder where they are right now.”
Tarie pointed above. “I take it you still remember the art of flight?”
Pepper bit her tongue and glared at the sky. “I was never good at it, but I do recollect the basics. Can we try something safer like riding an airship? Then again, ships cost a fortune, unless you work for the Grust Cartel–a bunch of greedy and corrupt merchants they are. We’d be lucky to rent a small shuttle for the day selling my whole farm. I have a Yazell ostrich mount I use for business trips.”
“That wouldn’t be fun,” he teased. “Come on, I’ll guide you through it, Slyhart. Ships and Yazell are better for long-distance travel anyway. Traveler’s Rest isn’t too far.”
“Frankly, I’ve only practiced Atlasian telepathy from time to time, but with my reclusive and dutiful life, I rarely get many chances to leave the farm.” She sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “My parents never taught me the basics of flying for fear of me traveling abroad because of my genetics, I think. They wanted to keep me around the Crescent until I was ready, and I had the habit of going off on little adventures when I could. The one time I did try an extensive flight trip as a child, I ended up in a coma for a week.” She cringed. “It’s been years since I attempted it and the idea makes me uneasy.”
“I’ll keep an eye out for you. You can fly close to me,” Tarie said telepathically. The voice echoed in her mind and filled her cells with a warm tingle. “Be sure to ease into it,” he added, switching back to vocal speak. “Remember to first still your mind and then visualize a sphere of force around your body. The air of the Ether should surround you like a bubble.”
“Fine, I’ll give it a shot again,” she telegraphed, “You go first.”
Tarie nodded and kicked off from the ground with his oaken staff. His long blond locks flowed like gold curtains in the breeze. Tarie gazed down.
Taking several deep breaths, Pepper shut her eyes and wrung her hands. The air churned about her, swirling against the force of gravity. Pepper heard a popping noise as gravity weakened. The refreshing breeze of weightlessness filled her being. “Heavens, it has been a while,” she said, lifting into the air unsteadily.