Marli was vaguely aware that she was laying in water. Someone was talking to her. She blinked her eyes open trying to focus.
“Marli, Marli,” Gynea said, coming into view. She was standing over her with a concerned look on her face.
It was dark, the night sky clear. She shivered from the cold and wet.
“What happened?” she said, scratching her aching head. It felt like she had run headlong into a tree.
“The crystal,” Gynea said. “It exploded. Remember?”
Marli sat up, her head spinning as she did so.
“How long have I been out?”
Gynea shrugged, offering a hand to get Marli to her feet.
“Not sure,” she replied. “We were all knocked out.”
All? Marli ignored the pain in her head and took unsteady steps forward.
“Is everyone OK?” she asked.
“I think so,” Gynea said. “We’re still looking for Drummond.”
“We were thrown pretty far apart.” Gynea pointed to a spot on the moor. “I woke up over there.”
Marli looked into the distance, and could make out the blue glow of what she assumed was the crystal.
“Where are the others?”
“Out there,” Gynea said, again pointing into an area of darkness, “looking for Drummond.”
Marli listened and could faintly hear through her ringing ears the shouts of the others.
Marli tried to move in the direction of the shouts.
“Easy,” said Gynea. “There’s pools everywhere. Jaxx has already fallen in twice.”
As much as Drummond could annoy her, he was still part of their little enclave. If anything had happened to him…
She let Gynea guide her in the direction of the voices.
“Red,” she called out. “I’ve got Marli.”
“Thank the Moonfather,” she heard Red shout back. “I’m going to kill Jaxx.”
“It wasn’t my fault,” the boy’s voice shouted back.
“You touched the crystal.”
“I didn’t know it was going explode did I? And if you hadn’t noticed, I got thrown the furthest.”
“Guys,” Marli said, “cut the chat and find Drummond.”
Her legs no longer feeling like frog spawn and her head starting to clear, she tried to take charge of the situation.
“Let’s make sure we’re not wandering around aimlessly. Create a line and fan out.”
They gathered by the crystal as the only source of light on an otherwise pitch black moor.
Jaxx’s face was blackened, although Marli did not know if this was from the explosion or from landing face first in the mud at the side of one of the pools.
“How are you feeling?” Redajinn asked her. He looked concerned.
“My head feels like it was hit with an anvil,” she said. “But otherwise I’m good.”
“Like us all then.”
“Unsurprising,” huffed Gynea. “We were just blown up.”
They found Drummond submerged up to his waist in a little pool. His head was laid back against the side of the bank and his breathing was making a strange sound.
“Is he… snoring?” Gynea asked.
“How can he be asleep?” Jaxx protested. “We were all knocked out and he’s having a nap.”
Shame he didn’t land the other way up,” Gynea said. “Would have saved us all a lot of hassle.”
“Gynea!” Marli snapped. “That’s not nice.”
In response, Drummond opened one eye.
“Love you too, Gynea,” Drummond said dryly.
Gynea shook her head unimpressed.
“Wait,” said Jaxx, “were you awake all this time?”
“Thought I’d wait for you guys to come find me,” he said. “You all need work on your tracking skills”
Jaxx threw his hands up in despair.
“Drum,” Red said hauling Drummond out of the pool with his one hand. “That’s not acceptable. People have been worried.”
“Yeah, so it seems,” Drummond replied, flashing a glare in the direction of Jaxx and Gynea.
Marli was well aware that Drummond and the youngest members of the group didn’t get along. Jaxx and Gynea were barely adults, and he was a hardened soldier old enough to be their father. He seemed to resent the fact they laughed and joked. Marli doubted that Drummond even knew the meaning of fun.
Chalk and cheese is how she had described it to Red.
“We’re all in need of a good night’s sleep,” she instructed her crew. “Gather your things and let’s get home.”
They were all outcasts, brought together out of their inability or unwillingness to serve Laird Quentin. Marli knew each had their reasons. Drummond had been a soldier and it had left him so battle-scarred he’d vowed never to serve another man again. Gynea and Jaxx were expelled from the estate for stealing, Red for losing his hand. And her? Well if the Laird could expel a man from his service from losing his hand, think what he could do to a woman who had carried his illegitimate child.
That had been over thirty years ago now. Her mother had died in the ruined cranig they called home five summers ago, and since then, she’d been in charge; welcoming new outcasts into her company, trying to keep them safe and teach them to stay alive.
Laird Quentin’s soldiers rarely came this side of the mountain. All the arable farmland was the other side, leaving Marli and her friends to forage a life from the mountain slopes and woods.
They still had to be careful. Red got caught poaching the winter before last, and still has the whip scars to prove it. He was lucky. She’d known some of their number who had been hung. Or worse.
“What about the crystal?” Jaxx said, as they readied to head home.
“Leave it,” Red said. “It’s caused us enough problems already.”
“But it’s still shining like Drummond’s nose when he got stung by that bee. We can’t just leave it. What if a patrol comes by?”
“Then they can search for each other in the bog.”
“Come on, guys. It’s not even pulsing now.”
Jaxx was right, and Marli noticed that instead of still being in the shape of a crystal, it was now just an orb.
Jaxx noticed as well.
“That was the cover coming off, that’s all. It’s free now.”
Jaxx leant over to pick it up.
“Jaxx, no,” everyone shouted in unison.
If there was one thing Jaxx was good at it was keeping everyone’s spirits up. He was a bundle of energy, always willing to entertain. What he wasn’t, was good at taking orders.
He reached out and touched the orb. Everyone else cowered, ready to be flung off their feet again. They stood there for a few seconds, waiting for it before realising nothing had happened.
“Moonfather, Jaxx,” Red cursed.
“You of little faith,” Jaxx replied, carrying the orb over to them.
“Jaxx,” said Drummond.
“I told you it would be fine…”
“Jaxx!” said Marli.
“…it was just some sort of booby-trap…”
“JAXX!” shouted Gynea at a volume that deafened everyone.
Jaxx stopped in his tracks.
“What?” he said.
He turned round and looked behind him.
It was as if the real world was a bed sheet that someone had cut with a knife. Through the tear, Jaxx could see sunlight.
“What the…” said Drummond, walking towards it, unsheathing his knife.
“Drummond, stay back,” Marli ordered, but Drummond wasn’t listening.
The others were also approaching the tear with the same bewilderment. Marli tentatively followed.
She could make out light coming from the tear and as she neared, she saw trees and plants the like she’d never seen. There was the sound of birds chirping.
“What is that?” Red asked.
They circled it, the tear looking the same no matter where they stood.“I don’t know,” said Marli. “But it can’t be good.”
Some days you write when you just don;t feel like it. It was hot today, and that always makes me sluggish. The characters and events are new and as such I always have to push through on early chapters.
This chapter is designed to show off some of the dynamics between characters. Originally it was planned to end when the soldiers came, but revealing the portal seemed like a natural break.
Things like how Jaxx opened the portal are likely to become important going forwards, and if this were a novel, likely to change as the project progressed. I could see this chapter getting heavily revised or even rewritten in any edits, not because it is particularly bad for a first draft, but because maybe I’d want to focus on different things, different dynamics.
The crystal becoming an orb is a bit of a clunky way though to explain why only our protagonists get magic and no-one afterwards does.