A little while back I posted the first chapter of my story in the review section. The process went well, and if you're interested you can see my original thread right here. To read the latest version of Chapter 1, click on page three. My second to last post is, I believe, my most recent version.
Whether you're interested in reading the first chapter or not, this one is still pretty easy to get into since it introduces entirely new characters. In fact, starting here really wouldn't be so bad since it would put any potential reader in the same shoes as the protagonist.
So, I'm posting here because I'm not ready to submit this chapter for review yet. I haven't participated in enough reviews myself yet to warrant a new post, and I'm not sure I could dedicate the time and attention necessary to give each of my reviewers the thanks and attention they deserve right now. If you'd like to comment or review my progress, you're welcome to do so, but I'm certainly not expecting it at this time. Thanks for reading!
Jane was asleep when the chancellor pounded his fist on her chamber door. Violently awakened, she scrambled around in the dark, reached for her fine silk night gown and pulled it over her shoulders. The air was frigid and Jane resented the disturbance this late after dark.
“The King and Queen are dead.”
The words pierced through Jane’s chest like a dagger. She stood by the foot of her bed paralyzed as the sentence echoed spastically in her head. She watched the door of her chamber expecting that the chancellor would enter and explain, but she was only greeted by the pale blue light seeping through from underneath the door. She waited until she heard the same pounding on the door next to hers. It was dull and muffled.
“The King and Queen are dead.”
The words were quieter but still icy clear. Jane’s feet carried her to the door and she slowly opened it and peered down the hall. Though the flickering light of his torch was apparent in the distance, the chancellor had moved on, leaving only a small hand written note in his stead.
To Jane Wathrin:
Emergency council meeting tomorrow at noon. All information regarding the untimely deaths of the King and Queen must stay away from public ears at this time. Speak of nothing until the meeting.
C. Salowitz and the senior officials
Upon reading the signature, Jane crumpled the sheet of paper and threw it into her waste basket. Christopher Salowitz was the King’s top advisor and he had never liked Jane. He was raised by a noble family and knew nothing but wealth and privilege. Jane’s humble origin left her with little respect from her contemporaries, and Salowitz was the most influential one of all.
Jane would have loved to go back to sleep and postpone her heartache until morning, but the pounding in her chest and the stinging in her stomach gnawed at her too greatly. She swept her short brown hair back and put on the first set of clothes she could find. Quietly, she slipped out of her quarters to take a walk.
Before she reached the stairway that lead out of the commune and onto the street, Jane saw a man standing outside his own quarters smoking a pipe. He slowly exhaled a heavy pillar of smoke that gently dissipated before it reached her.
“I doubt anyone will be able to sleep tonight,” he said. His voice was deep and smooth. He was a tall, thin man, and he appeared to be at least twenty years older than Jane. Through the darkness it was difficult to tell for sure.
“I can’t believe this,” Jane said. “The queen is my dearest friend. I grew up with her.”
“It’s terrible,” the man said. “I wish the note had said more, but hopefully the meeting tomorrow will be more enlightening. Are you going on a walk?”
“Yes. I need some time.”
“I can respect that Miss Wathrin, but you know the streets aren’t safe for a lone woman this late at night,” the man said.
“…You know me?” Jane asked tentatively.
“I recognized you, yes. I’m sure you’d recognize me too if it weren’t so dark. I’m Gareb. Gareb Naga. I serve on the council as well.”
But Jane didn’t recognize the man or his name. She felt the urge to escape and take her chances on the streets by herself. She turned towards the stairs and thought about the most polite way to abandon the conversation.
“You really shouldn’t attend the meeting tomorrow,” Gareb added.
“What? Why not?”
“Christopher Salowitz isn’t going to react well to your presence now that the queen isn’t there to protect you. I know him well, and he might even send somebody after you.”
“You seem to know an awful lot.”
“I’m sure you don’t think it’s my place, but I would really hate to see you get hurt.” Gareb inhaled deeply and blew out another cloud of smoke. “For your own sake, stay away from the council.”
“I have to go,” Jane said, simultaneously turning towards the stairs.
As she descended, Jane was relieved to have dismissed the strange man. Three steps later, something behind her began to stir. Slow, shuffling footsteps, heading in her direction. She walked faster, but the flight of stairs seemed longer at night. She heard the heavy footsteps behind her keeping pace. She jogged down the rest of the steps as her heart began to race.
She reached the bottom of the staircase and ran to the end of the hallway where a heavy wooden door lead outside. She tugged on it, but it seemed stuck. She pulled again, but it refused to budge, perhaps barricaded from the other side. The footsteps behind her grew louder, each reverberating down the hall as it landed on the next stair with a heavy clump.
Jane pushed and pulled on the door. Deliberately. Frantically. A dark shadow loomed behind her, blocking off the faint moonlight that provided her only visibility. Jane stopped struggling and slowly turned around. The man, Gareb, was standing silently at the foot of the staircase. He approached her.
“Do you know why this door is locked?” she asked.
“Maybe to contain the knowledge of the massacre,” he said.
Jane inched as close as she could to the door, leaning her body against it. “What massacre? You know what happened?”
Gareb outstretched his hand towards Jane. She tightened every muscle in her body and peeked at his approaching palm. He was holding something.
“Take this,” he said.
Jane slowly pulled a small white card out of Gareb’s hand. It was completely blank.
“That won’t do you any good now,” he said. “But when the time is right, it will show you where to go.”
Jane studied the card and looked back up to meet Gareb’s eyes, but he was already walking back up the stairs.
He paused for a moment. “I think it just sticks easily when it’s this cold out. Give it a good kick.”
After watching Gareb leave, Jane plunged her adrenaline soaked body into the door. It burst open and she nearly crumpled onto the icy ground below as the cold breezy air rushed against her face.
She stood up and walked outside, attempting to ignore the low temperature as she headed down the street towards town. She walked gently past two men who were sleeping restlessly on the side of the road, bunched tightly in ragged blankets. A few steps later she realized that the market district ahead was not really calling to her. She stopped and looked down a narrow alley that was shielded from most of the light provided by the two moons above. She found something soothing about the darkness, and the alley beckoned to her.
Jane began walking down the alley. She had never noticed it during the daylight and was not sure where it went. The blindness ahead peeled away more with each step she took. There was something ahead at about Jane’s height. The gray round shapes composing this figure were difficult to make out, but as she continued approaching, it looked like it could be human. She walked slower towards it, fixated on the figure, hoping her eyes would adjust. It moved slightly, pulling away from Jane.
Jane kept walking. The figure came into view and was a man leaning against the wall. He muttered to himself unintelligibly as she passed by, but paid her no attention.
Struggling to see as she made her way further down into unfamiliar territory, Jane couldn’t help but focus on the unfamiliar noises around her. A few feet ahead she heard whispering, but could not make out the words. In the distance violent shouting corrupted the relative peace, and through it all, the sounds of scattered movement in every direction peppered Jane’s consciousness with every step.
Jane wanted to follow the shouting. It sounded like her chest. But as the noise levels around her increased and an ominous orange glow began to flicker vibrantly in the distance, something gently nipped at the back of her neck. Against her nature and her instincts, Jane turned around, lowered her head, and went back home.
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