A Chapter from Ashes and Dust

Tonight I’m sharing a chapter from a novel work in progress, which I’ll hopefully be working on once again next month or in January. I haven’t got very far with it yet, just 30,000 plus words, but I keep coming back to it and feeling that it has potential. Enjoy!

by Sarah Ann Loreth

A short blurb for the novel so far:

Set in a dystopian future, supernatural human creatures populate a London that is segregated and divided. Humans are marginalised and poor or occupy seats of power alongside the supernatural creatures around them. The fae Queen Titania summons a small group – the empath witch Kat, looking for answers about her origins and birth family, the formidable Ty, a vampire struggling with an unknown magical affliction, the werecat Cleo, plagued by dreams of her murdered mother, and the fae soldier Dylan, hiding his burgeoning magic from his Queen. All four embark on a journey of discovery and adventure, learning more about themselves and the unsettling truths hidden in the volatile world around them.

*Notes:

Sarabande is Kat’s fae-made sword (made by Dylan in another lifetime). In an earlier chapter we get some backstory.

Kat is one of the four main characters in the novel. She’s a fire-witch and also deaf. She’s experiencing strange unsettling glitches with her magic, and Dylan recognised those glitches as being more like fae-magic, so he’s taken her to his home to try and teach her to control it better.

Chapter 8: The Rips in The World

‘Fly without wings;
Dream with open eyes;
See in darkness.’ – Dejan Stojanovic.

When Dylan was young, he heard the dryad Eurydice die. The crack in Faery had been small, just small enough for someone to step through, into the Forest of Dean in the human world. Chasing a cackling band of pixies, which had vanished through the crack and disappeared, he had stuck his head through, wandered in a circle looking at the sliver from all angles, and had decided to stay in the land he knew best.

He settled next to a tree, playing haunting pipe music taught to him by his father. He heard her before he saw her, a dryad of astonishing beauty, otherworldly even by Faery’s standards. Her breathing was sharp and shallow, her eyes weeping bitter tears, and she vanished through the crack between the two worlds. A man, surrounded by the buzzing of bees and a wind that whipped the trees into a frenzy, pursued.

‘Aristaeus, let me be!’ Eurydice had called. Her voice floated from the crack in the world.

Aristaeus halted, the bees surrounding him becoming angry, insistent. The wind thundered. ‘If you will not have me, nobody will!’ he roared.

A cloven hoof dangled from the tree above Dylan. ‘Ah, all is fair in love and war, as such things are,’ Pan’s familiar voice floated down.

‘She does not love him. She belongs with Orpheus,’ the young, naïve Dylan had said.

‘Yes. Yet the covetousness of other eyes will always lead to disaster,’ said Pan. ‘Such a tragedy. She was beautiful. The Gods will regret this, some day.’

‘Regret? But she is not -’

A scream had ripped through the two forests, reverberating, and silencing all that heard it. Dylan had rushed to the crack in the worlds. Aristaeus was nowhere to be seen, but Eurydice lay in the human world, a spotted viper slithering back into the undergrowth. Pan had vanished, as he was often wont to do, at the first sign of disaster.

Dylan’s heart had ached. A beautiful male voice, taut with misery and grief, sang a searing song of loss, Orpheus mourning his wife and love. The forest had stayed silent for days, the only noises keening and weeping. Her body was taken to the underworld, where Orpheus went to retrieve her, believing that she could be resurrected.

Dylan had studied the gap in the world for days. Every day, he would come and look through it, wondering. For all the dangers of Faery, every danger was balanced by everlasting life. The human world was not the same, he had discovered. If he had gone through that crack, a few moments before Eurydice, would the viper have struck him instead? The thought haunted him.

Pan stood with him, one afternoon. ‘Best not dwell on the folly of the Gods,’ he said.

‘Where are these Gods you speak of? They are not here.’

‘No, they are not. Yet you stand here, looking through an impossible thing. Fix it.’

‘I am only a faun.’

Pan had laughed, deep and rich. ‘You underestimate yourself, youngling. I appear to you, not your brothers and sisters. Think on that.’

Dylan had thought on that, in the years since. He thought about it now, telling the young witch what he thought she needed to know. He thought about how something was broken inside him, how that something allowed him to sense the cracks between the worlds, allowed him to open a third eye that had lain dormant for millennia, but which only now had chosen to show him that there was something deeply wrong with the world. He felt it moving through the human world, like large black wings beating a heart rhythm. The Unseelie, he knew in his bones, had the answer.

‘You’re saying that some third eye has opened and you hear black wings beating through the air?’ the witch sat across from him with her sparking hands held at arms-length. Her eyes were narrowed. She avoided his eyes. ‘And how does this connect to what is happening to me?’

‘This,’ he said, rolling his right hand in a graceful motion. Iridescent bolts of green and blue ignited in his palm, in a similar electrical sparking as hers. He took a moment to acknowledge her shock. ‘It started before I met you. It is wrong. It feels -’ he shook his hand and the sparks disappeared. ‘As if Thor had landed a thunderbolt on the wet plains of Elysium.’

Kat frowned. ‘Wet plains of Elysium? Uh…Thor?’

‘Please take my word for it.’ He didn’t have time for a history lesson. ‘All you need to know, witch, is that I can help you control it. In return, you’ll come with me to the Unseelie court to see their King.’

‘Hold on a minute -’ Kat took a breath. ‘I need some time to think.’

For a moment, he had forgotten witches were part human in these strange days. He rolled his eyes. Kat shot him an incensed look. Most definitely a fire witch, he thought. She had that unmistakeable undercurrent of fire.

‘Look, I’ve had a long day. It’s been one thing after another. I’ve had a dead wolfman from Circe knows where wreck the office, the Fire Institute issue us with another penalty notice, then yeah…all this…’ she trailed off.

Dylan shrugged. ‘We all have – how do you say – shit to deal with? Is that the right expression?’ He was intrigued by her comment about a wolfman. They were extremely rare, more common on the full moon, moonstruck wolves driven to lunacy. Usually lone wolves, without a pack.

‘Ugh. You have no patience.’

‘I have much patience. It is already another day in your world.’

‘What?!’

‘As a point of interest, what happened to the wolfman?’

‘He died. Death by Sarabande.’

*****

Dylan led Kat twenty flights down to the back of the house, where there was a locked room that often shifted floors. He stood in the passageway, tapping the complicated rhythm on the door. The locked clicked, and the door hissed open, as if expelling a long-held breath. The sickly-sweet scent of honey and pine tumbled out, and Kat coughed behind him. This room was his own, in a house of shared rooms. The trick being that nobody except he knew that it was here. A furtive surge of guilt licked through him, and was gone just as fast. He would tell his clan one day.

‘Is this a spelling room?’ asked Kat.

He turned to face her. ‘Yes.’ He regarded the shelves. A number of them had shifted. He would need to rearrange the order again. ‘Blasted Circe,’ he muttered under his breath. Circe and all her minions and –

‘Huh?’ asked Kat. She was wisely staying away from the walls, which often looked as if they were breathing.

‘Nothing of consequence. Please, sit.’ He gestured to a stool in front of the table and pulled up a stool of his own.

Kat sat stiffly opposite him. This close, the scent of smoke and faint wood-based perfume was stronger. He noticed the ear modifications, a small scar below one of her ears. He wondered why she didn’t just use healing magic. What was the point of mechanical modifications when you could have a cure? She caught him looking.

‘I was six when I was adopted. I chose not be healed. Nothing wrong with being different.’ A flicker of an emotion he didn’t quite understand washed over her face. It reminded him of the expression that Erin wore when another elf told her that the small amount of human genes she had made her inferior. It usually ended with Erin challenging them to a duel. She always won. A ghost of a smile crossed his features.

‘I want you to close your eyes and pay attention to the way your hands are feeling. Pay attention to the feel of the magic. Remember what they look like, where the power is located. Then imagine taking that into yourself, strand by strand.’

‘That’s too simple.’

He laughed. ‘You have not tried it yet.’ He picked up a bundle of white sage and lit it, dropping it into an earthenware bowl. ‘Try it.’

The sage filled the air with its cleansing herbal scent. The witch closed her eyes, and he opened his third eye, noting her confused aura, taking a closer look at the circulatory strands of silver radiating out from her centre. For the first time, he noticed how they connected to her heart, rather than her lungs, as Unseelie strands were. Curious. As she breathed deeper, concentrating, the silver pulsed, two wisps rushing down to meet the blue electricity on her palms.

Fascinated, he saw the silver wrap around the blue, coating the magic, and dragging them back into her skin. His third eye snapped shut, aware of being watched.

‘Did it work?’ she looked down at her hands. ‘How is that even possible?’

He frowned. There was something even stranger afoot than he thought, but he couldn’t explain it. ‘I am not rightly sure.’ He still needed the Unseelie, but maybe she wasn’t –

‘Look. Thanks. I’ll help. Just let me go back first, there’s a few things I need to do.’

For once, Dylan was taken aback. ‘Of course.’ Was it normal for human witches to behave in this way?

‘Do you have a pair of gloves I can borrow?’ she stood up, a little too close, and he looked up straight into her eyes.

She looked right back, not looking away, as most did. His eyebrow raised. This witch was intriguing.

‘No need.’ He held out his hand. Once again a spark of static raised the hair on his arm, but it was manageable this time.

*****

They landed in the dark, a thick mist pooling through the cobbled streets of Bloomsbury. The moon was waxing gibbous, the day before the full moon. Dylan once again felt the strange unbalance in the centre of his body, a shift, as if the gravity of the world would release its hold.

‘There’s something -’ Kat said behind him. He felt it slide over his skin too, prickling, wrong. Something else – a sense of being watched. An expectant, full silence, in a busy part of London. Pushing back into the shadows, he squeezed Kat’s hand. He decided not to take out his saber, but instead reached for the silver knife from his belt.

A scent of heavy musk passed in front of the alley where they hid. It was just as well they were downwind, and that the stink of the bins in front of them were masking their scents. A wind slid down the alley. Dylan froze. A ripping noise. An oily slither of magic wrongness oozed over Dylan once again, and he shuddered.

The sense of watchfulness receded, and the musk disappeared. Relief crashed into him. He squeezed Kat’s hand again, telling her that it was safe to move. Moving out from the darkness of the alley, he looked back over his shoulder, and stopped short.

A crack – a gash between worlds – gaped in middle of the street. It was large – human height – and the late afternoon sunlight of Faery shone through onto the pavement. Not possible. Kat, just as astonished, reached out as if to touch it, but he pulled her hand back.

‘What is it?’ she murmured.

‘Something impossible,’ he said. He was transported back to the day Eurydice slid through a rip in the world. The only portals to Faery were hidden, deep in forests and deserts and uninhabited plains, perilous mountain passes. This was in full view of any human. Anyone could walk through. Anything – anything – could come out. He cracked open his third eye. Silver and gold threads streamed from the jagged, ripped hole. It was messy.

He reached out and touched one of the strands, and it broke off, as easily as snapping a thread, and crumbled to ash. Inside the crack, a dark shadow slid through the forest, pausing. Its silvered gaze caught Dylan’s. A roll of ancient malevolence glittered in the depths, and a searing pain jolted through Dylan’s third eye. Kat pulled him away. A low baying sound caught the shadow’s attention. The Wild Hunt would begin soon. The pain abated to a dull throb. Yes, anything could come out.

© Elizabeth A. Ward, 2019.

5 thoughts on “A Chapter from Ashes and Dust

  1. I’m totally intrigued! Keep working on it, I want to be able to read the whole thing someday! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Book sounds interesting and like a good read. I even liked the blurb.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Hopefully I’ll get it written and finished in the next couple of years 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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