Here you have the first part of the second half of my novella-in-progress.
In it, we are introduced to a new character and a new place in the novella’s world. You do not need to have read anything else in the as-yet unpublished novella to read this, and I would really love for you to do so.
I’ve been working on this book for an embarrassing amount of time, but I set myself a deadline and am planning on submitting to Apex’s open submission period.
Here you go:
Sand & Glass
Part Two: Glass
We do not get to prepare for the defining moments in our lives. They arrive unexpected, thrust themselves upon us in a rush and then they are gone, leaving us destroyed or changed. It is merely our reaction to them that determines who we will become.
This afternoon, Talek is getting ready to go back out to the fields for the afternoon’s work.
Talek lives in a city surrounded by a giant wall. The wall keeps them safe from the outside world, a ruined and waterless wasteland, where nothing grows. Monsters roam and death is a lonely ruler. Inside there is water and food and safety and the only life Talek has ever known.
His parents remember the other world, having lived in it as children, though they say they remember it as one does a dream. As the years pass, they become less confident in the truth of their memories. Did water ever really fall from the sky? Was it possible so many people had existed?
Talek knows nothing but the wall and the small city within it. His life is one of work and heat, a life pulled out of the ground with dedication. A life they live in the shadow of an absent Master.
It has been seven years since the Master left.
Redrez was a tall and intimidating man, to Talek’s young eyes at least, who made the world do as he wished. He had created the Wall and the city within it and had saved the people he had taken with him to live here. Another city had been here, much grander, but as the world collapsed the Master, the great mage-wielder Redrez, has made a Wall and kept the people safe.
Now, blue constructs in human form kept a rough peace in his absence. They prodded the people on in their daily work, as if they wouldn’t tend to the crops without them. They kept a peace with batons that shimmered and brought pain, though the people seldom needed it. It was a peaceful city, this only city, this last city, and the automatons that kept the Master’s peace were overinterpreting the Master’s directive.
The people hoped the Master would return, though as time passed more and more people allowed themselves to say how they truly felt about him. What they really thought he did with the people he selected and “showed paradise to”. How they would be better off without him and his blue peacekeepers.
Talek walks over to the small table in his quarter and grabs a sweet-fruit. The main part of his private quarters is just a room with a food-preparation corner, a table and chairs and a room off to the side, a room with three steps leading down and a domed roof with a little hole to let the heat out. It is usually slightly cooler than the other room. Much cooler than the outside.
Talek sometimes spends the hottest midday hours with the other independents but today he had wanted to be alone. He read a few pages in one of his mother’s books and the the midday heat had knocked him asleep.
Talek is tall for his age, and strong, but has learned to be careful. He bumps his knees when he stands up from tables and his elbows would always manage to find people. He walks now with his hinds firm against his sides. He had little sense of himself, forgetful even, and would sometimes neglect to drink for hours at a time and would get dizzy from thirst but he never forgot a name or a person’s birthday once he heard it. He also remembered most things he read in books, though he does not believe them.
Talek had been allotted his own quarters in this part of the city, “The Rise”, when he turned fifteen and became legally independent from his parents. He sees them in the fields, of course, and sometimes eats his evening meal with them, but he is his own person now. He is just getting used to it, a forced independence that the young take to differently. He would rather still live with them, but the Master’s constructs interpreted one of his directives to mean that children should be made independent of their parents as soon as possible.
He remembers to drink a glass of water before going back outside, takes his tools and walks out into the sun-bleached world. The world ended before Talek was born. Or, more precisely, a world had ended. Not his world; the heat, the golem guardians and the fields fed by the well-water are all he has ever known.
The city falls away to his left as he walks, rises to his right. It is built against the side of the wall, growing higher as it gets closer to the wall, like a bowl. This part, The Rise, is called so because when you stand on the ground it rises up to about half the height of the Wall. Wide walkways and steps made moving about easy but made the Master’s original ambition clear, as four people could walk abreast on walkways that were devoid of people much of the time.
“The Master has great things in store for us,” was the mantra as Talek was a boy. Spoken only by the older people now. Talek has an itch to see the outside world, even though his parents have assured him many times over that nothing lives there and nothing can.
A great number of the quarters are empty. The city was built as if it had been meant to house three times the amount of people who now lived in it, with the dwellings are built on numerous levels. The independents live in the top levels, where the heat is the worst. As the people age and have children they are given new dwellings. Lower, closer to the fountain.
The other half of the city contains the Master’s quarters and the communal buildings. Built in a grander style though not rising nearly as high as The Rise, squarish and looming over them, this part of the city had the Master’s labyrinthine suites and the houses of the golems. Mostly off-limits, they stood out and reminded people of the Master’s abandonment. A black flag was draped over a balcony high above, signaling that the Master was away. There is a red flag as well, to signify the Master’s presence, but Talek has not seen it in a decade.
In the center of the city lies its heart; a huge fountain of water shimmering in the heat. Golden and bright now, as if the sun itself were bathing in it, a deep well of water that ever threatens to overflow and flood the fields.
Talek looks at it now, standing outside his quarters, and wonders if he could drown the sun in it, and be free of the endless damned heat. He looks on the city, the Rise slanting downwards toward the green of the fields, the many crops that take up most of the space at ground level, and sees two golems standing on the walkway a few levels below. One of them has his pain-stick out.
Talek stops thinking of the death of the sun and looks at them. Why would they have a pain-stick at the ready? Talek heard nothing of a disturbance, no laws violated. Something in him sends him vaulting over a guardrail and onto the roof of a domicile on the next level to get a better look. He slides along the roof, undetected by the golems.
He has reached the level just above them before he realizes that this is not his business.
The Master’s golems have been getting harsher as time goes on, interpreting the orders given by the Master anew to usurp authority. A blanket ban on weapons was ordered after someone took their own life with a knife. The smallest fistfight was dealt with severely, Talek has even heard of those arrested being beaten by the golems.
He is getting close now, can hear them.
“Leequa,” one of them says in that intolerable almost-human voice they all have. It makes them even more removed from the humans the protect. “You need to come with us.”
“No, please, I haven’t done anything.” Talek couldn’t see her but knew who Leequa was. And in the short seconds between realizing who they were after he knew her crime. Leequa was pregnant, but unpaired and without authority to breed. In the past this would mean the child would just be housed with another pair that already had a child.
One of the directives the golems took it upon themselves to overinterpret was how, exactly, they kept the humans safe. They have reason and powers of deduction but no empathy. They reason that the city could only sustain a certain amount of people before the resources, water and food, were strained and had taken it upon themselves to decide that overpopulation was a problem. Leequa, therefor, was now a threat to the very existence of the city, or that was how the golems saw it.
“Leequa, you will come with us now. You are to be jailed until the Master returns or upon the birth of the child.”
“No! You’ll take the baby and I won’t see it. You did it to Mapela’s, or where’s her baby? She ain’t seen it. What did you do with it?”
The Master’s automatons do not experience time as humans do. A wait of five minutes is the same as waiting for years. Their view of imprisonment differs from ours.
The golem with the pain-stick steps into the doorway below, out of Talek’s sight. Talek looks out to see if anyone is coming to help Leequa. Most of the people are still inside, he had wanted to get an start in the fields so he was out earlier than most other days. A few people were mulling about down by the fountain but they couldn’t see what was going on.
“No! Please no, I want to keep the baby. My baby.”
Talek looks down at the golem standing by outside Leequa’s home, looking around to see if any humans would be interfering with their peace.
Talek, gentle soul with his elbows ever to his side so not to hurt anyone accidentally, has a temper. It flares up and blinds him but in seconds it is gone. Talek feels it now, a heat fueling his hate of them.
When he was thirteen, as law dictated, Talek Ameshen was “emancipated” from his parents and given his own quarters in the city. He had not been ready. A boy big for his age and smart, too, he was also somewhat more emotionally attached to his mother than most children. They had taken him, the Master’s blue automatons, dragged him away from his parents kicking and screaming under the guise of orders and laws and pushed him into a hole they would have him call a home. He fought them but it had been like fighting the Wall itself.
He cried for three days straight. He couldn’t stop, something in his head or his heart just wouldn’t let go. He stopped crying but only because something broke, not because he felt better. Not because he overcame anything.
He hears the crackle of the pain-stick and rage becomes him. He drops his tools, keeping hold only of a short shovel and jumps down, slams and breaks the shovel over the golem’s head. It looks confused more than hurt, stares at him. There’s a slight dent in its head and one of the eyes is now looking upwards, off kilter.
“Talek,” it says in that inhuman voice. “An attack on the Master’s golems is an attack on the Master hims-“ but Talek has charged it and pushes it over the rails and it falls down a level, slamming into the ground below, throwing up dust. The sound booms and echoes through the city.
Talek turns and walks into Leequa’s home.
“Leave her alone,” he says. He hear’s an oddness to his voice, a broken bravery.
What am I doing?
He is outside his body, almost an observer. Leequa lies on the ground, clutching her belly with eyes full of tears unshed. Her cheek is reddening. The golem’s pain-stick is flaring, sparkles throw a blue light into the room. It has just been used.
“Talek,” the golem says as it recognizes the human before it. “You are interfering with the Master’s law. You are under-“
And Talek steps forward and kicks with all his might. Everything Talek has held within for years comes out, he remembers crying alone, crying for his parents, hate of the golems and the Master’s rules festering within. And it powers his kick.
The golem staggers backwards, not expecting a fight from humans who have remained passive all these years. Not expecting a fight from someone who is barely fully grown.
The golem stumbles and falls an Talek jumps on it, grabs the pain-stick from the floor and slams it into the golem’s head, again and again as he remembers being pulled unwillingly from his parents at thirteen, a boy not ready to be alone in the world but taken and put alone into a small dark hole in the wall he was to call home and he slams the pain-stick again and again and again and it crackles blue in the darkness inside Leequa’s home, illuminating the walls.
The golem twitches under Talek and he stands up and stomps it where a heart would be and the chest gives from Talek’s strength and breaks.
It is still. Talek’s heavy breathing is the only sound in the room. Leequa stands with both hands over her mouth, staring wide-eyed at Talek.
A shuffling in the doorway.
“Talek, you are under arrest for attacking the Master’s golems.” The other golem stands there, dusty and scratched from the fall, one eye still looking upwards.
Talek catches up with himself. His life is over, he realizes. There may only be half as many golems as there are people but they are strong and can endure most things. This is the first time Talek even sees one hurt. The golem on the floor lets out a sound and Talek stomps on it again. He has nothing to lose now.
“Come get me then,” he says.
The golem brandishes the pain stick and steps into Leequa’s home.
That concludes the first chapter of the second part of Sand&Glass. I’m sure I should put some sort of copyright notice here but I’m not overly worried about someone stealing this. I just hope you enjoyed it.
Let me know n the comments.