J.C. here this time. Along with Barb and I relocating locally before fall sets in, we will soon begin the first book (under contract) in a new collaborative dark/high fantasy series to debut in January 2017. Around these imminent pursuits, there are other career duties to attend as well, so it might seem strange that I am driven to add one more big one. And then there is what to do to keep worthwhile content flowing at NobleDead.org until well after the move.
It has been too long since I last worked on a solo novel of my own. A scary thought amid an overloaded schedule. To keep myself motivated in this additional pursuit, I will try something I have not done in over a decade. In the following weeks, I will share with you the post-draft (pre-finalized) scenes from this new work. I will not likely go beyond Chapter 3 in this manner, but feel free to comment and point others this way.
Be mindful that this is a copyrighted work. I have a title in mind, but will keep that secret for now. And so, let us begin…
Within a maze of stone sewers beneath a great seaport city, dawn barely slipped through iron grates in each tunnel's high arched ceiling. A scuffle-n-scrape of too-big boots echoed in the near darkness. Only the rats heard this, though none of them ducked into hiding or leaped into a sewer trough to swim off.
Most paused, and a few actually scurried toward that sound. Some rose on hind legs while others wiggled their whiskers in anticipation as that awkward scuff-clop drew nearer. A small, bulky-floppy form took shape as it passed under the nearest iron grate above.
Pìnt Kōbanusk—or just Pìnt—shuffled along the tunnel's left-side walkway.
Dirt blond hair was messily cropped above his round-cheeked, freckly face and big brown eyes. Though spindly, it didn't show under his scavenged clothes. Not that he had to scavenge such, he just did so.
Dressed in an over-sized wool pullover, baggy too-big canvas pants and like boots, he was short for nine years. Meaning very short, as if he hadn't grown more than an inch per each of the last four years. The pants' legs were roll up to accommodate his bit boots; so were the sleeves of his pullover, yet they still covered half of his little hands. Obviously knitted for someone much older, he didn't care, even when he'd first found that wool pullover in an alley. And he didn't care about its stink, since it was warm and cuddly.
Most of the rats scurried along around his boots. He grinned at that, which always scrunched his big eyes half shut. As more rats joined in, he slowed and dug into his pants' pockets. Those huge and deep pockets carried everything he needed or found. And finding was Pìnt's great passion in life.
He was good at it, “lucky” some would say, though he didn't try to be so. It just happened.
So it was for all three “Kōbanusk Cousins”—himself, older Vàtz, and much older Dùlch, who was off on a ship somewhere. Luck wasn't always the good kind, but most often it was for Pìnt. At least since the fire, but he didn't want to think about that.
After muffled clinking, crinkling, crackling in both pockets, he pulled out a tin butter knife from the right and a crumpled bulk of brown paper from the left. The rats started squealing and peeping and hopping, so he squatted, drop on the walkway, and sat against the sewer's wall. One silky brown rat immediately leaped up on the left knee of his crossed legs.
Medium sized, Emi settled upright in preening her whiskers as she watched Pìnt. That always made him smile. Then he felt more weighty paws land on his right thigh. Sego, big as a puppy—though he hated dogs—was dirt gray with a black splash on his back. The big male scurried straight up the right pant leg, halted halfway, and chuttered under a quivering wide nose.
Pìnt unwrap the crumpled paper, revealing an apple a bit too aged for most people. Just the same, he gripped the butter knife like a stake and stabbed the fruit.
Sego surge forward. At Pìnt's scowl, the big brown hunkered down, quivering on all fours and still chuttering. Emi stopped preening but remained poised on Pìnt's left knee.
Unlike some people, rats are very polite, or so Pìnt thought. Emi more so; Sego not so much.
It took effort to carve the apple into bits small enough to share with everyone. He slipped more than once, but the dull blade never cut him. That's why he preferred it over any real knife that he'd ever found. He didn't truly have favorites among the gathering, though with Sego's bad manners, he held out the first slightly browned bit of apple to Emi. She took it politely in her little fore-paws.
After that, there was a bit of pushing and shoving among everyone else.
Little furred bodies tried to get close, one over the top of another, but Pìnt didn't make Sego wait until last. All the while, he glanced up and down the dark tunnel. The sewers were his best best place for finding, though he wasn't suppose to be down here. Cousin Vàtz would make his own stink about that, if and when he found out, and he usually did.
Certainly Pìnt wasn't big enough to lift sewer grates. And he was now too big to squeeze through the locked iron gates where the muck and stuff emptied into the bay. How he got in was his own secret, but anything small and occasionally precious that washed away in the streets above ended up down here. Of course, precious to Pìnt wasn't always precious to anyone else.
Sometimes something was just—what was the word, “unique?”
That seemed right, though he didn't say it aloud. In fact he didn't—hadn't—said anything in almost five years. Not since the night of the fire.
When all was eaten and done, Pìnt had a third of the old apple to himself, which meant enough for him and for everyone else. Now it was time for some finding, which meant he needed something he'd already found.
He carefully lifted Emi and Sego and others off his lap before shoving away the butter knife and paper into his bottomless pockets. He pulled out his left hand, but dug deeper with the right. When he pulled out the right, there it was in his hand.
The “glow-rock” was both a lucky and a precious find. He had three of them, actually, though he only carried one at most times. Of the other two, one had gone missing two days ago, but he'd fixed that—and he'd fix the sneaky one who took it.
Almost as thick as his little thumb, the six-sided clear crystal with like-sided pointed ends wasn't quite as long as his thumb. He rubbed it brusquely between his little hands, and even before he opened those, a light seeped between his fingers. When he did open his hands...
Sudden harsh light made Sego and others squeal and hop away. Emi ducked her head, blinking and scrunching her eyes like Pìnt. And the sewer tunnel lit up for quite a ways, both ways.
He'd found that first glow-rock where anyone might find such—at the “sages” guild, an old barracks given to those funny, robed people who'd come here from a faraway land. Vàtz often went to the barracks when he couldn't figure out something, and sages were mostly nice people.
That one of them had dropped one of their crystals under a table wasn't why Pìnt took it. That it was still there the next time he went with Vàtz meant nobody looked for or wanted it. The other glow rocks he'd found—or re-found—somewhere else.
Pìnt rose, held out the crystal, and headed deeper into the sewers. Some of the rats followed, including Emi, of course. He began peeking about, though he was careful not to step on or kick anyone scurrying around his feet.
Sometimes, when the rain came hard, the water would rise and spill out the center troughs and over the walkways, washing up all sorts of stuff. He studied every nook and crevice all the way to the tunnel's sidewalls. It wasn't always easy, for there was a lot of guck and muck that washed up as well. At one pile near the left wall, he paused, crouched, and pulled out the butter knife. Emi paused, too, settling on her hindquarters to watch as he poked and dug.
In the last moon, he'd found two copper groats, one copper penny, a silver groat, and three other funny coins from elsewhere. He'd kept even the latter, just in case. Once he'd even found a silver shil, though how anyone lost that much was surprising. This time he didn't find anything.
Finding took work plus luck. That was as it should be, and not every day was as lucky as others.
Pìnt rose up, shook off his hands and butter knife, but carefully so he didn't spatter Emi. And he went off down the tunnel again.
Along his way in more stops, he found another copper groat, a bit of rusty iron wire, three pieces of old wood, and a little brass knob perhaps from a drawer or cabinet. He stuff it all in his pockets except for the too-big wood, which he stacked by the tunnel wall for whatever. Then he spotted another corner ahead where the next down-chute would empty out below the docks of the city.
When Pìnt was a rock's throw from the corner—a distance far less than for most—he slowed to a stop. Other than the sound of mucky water trickling down the chute around that corner ahead, everything in the tunnel was suddenly too quiet. He turned slowly about as he lifted the glow-rock high.
At the light's far reach sat Emi alone on her hindquarters silently staring at him. All of the others were gone, or so he thought. When he looked ahead again, Sego was hunkered down in peeking around the corner to the down-chute, and he was so still and silent that anyone else might have thought him just a big gray rock. Pìnt took a step to go see what Sego saw.
Sego spun and raced back along the tunnel wall. The big brown paused once to look up at Pìnt, let out a shrill squeal, and raced away.
Pìnt stared after Sego as the big gray rat didn't even slow in passing Emi, who spun and followed. Both vanished into the distant darkness before Pìnt could call out—if he could've, that was. He turned to stare up the tunnel, but still heard only water trickling toward the bay.
Rats are smart, at least the ones Pìnt knew. When they ran from something, there was a good reason, especially big Sego. Of course, what scared a rat wasn't always what scared others. Just the same, Pìnt stood there a little longer in peering and listening.
All he heard was that trickle of water.
He closed his hands over the glow-rock's light and crept forward to peek around the corner. Down-chutes were just like other tunnels but shorter in height and length though not width. And they were sharply slanted. He couldn't see clearly, even with dawn's light coming through the iron bars of the locked gate below in the shadow of the port's huge docks. Water pooled in a trough below the gate was so mucky it looked black, but it was supposed to gather there, in a way.
Troughs caught medium-sized stuff somehow washed into the sewers. Workers cleared those out now and then, unless Pìnt got there first, and he usually did. Those troughs were the luckiest places for finding, so long as the water wasn't too deep.
It looked deep today, for it had rained hard last night.
The end trough's dark water spilled over as it should below the gate's bottom bar and into the bay outside. From what he could see, the port was mostly quiet and hadn't fully awakened. He opened his hands to let out a bit more of the glow-rock's light.
Water flowing down the broad stone chute wasn't deep or quick, so soon enough the trough might stop spilling over. And from that to the stained wall's and the domed ceiling, he saw nothing that should've frightened off Sego, Emi, and the others. So he rounded the corner and shuffled down to the gate.
Spaces between is bars weren't big enough for him anymore, but that was how the rats got in and out. They'd shown him that long ago when he could squeeze through. He didn't see anything scary, either inside or out, and since the trough was too full to climb in and scavenge...
Pìnt stopped before turning back up the shoot's walkway. Something glimmered in the trough's deep, dark water, perhaps catching the glow-rock's light. He froze rather than run, though whatever it was was too deep to see clearly.
He stared up the chute to the corner. It was always best to listen to the others, especially when both Sego and Emi agreed—showed—that something wasn't right. Still, luck was always on his side, and he looked down again. Something that glowed even down there in the filled trough had to be a lucky or even precious find.
One way or another, Pìnt just had to get it.
FINAL NOTE: Pending the big move, the next installment will likely not come for two more weeks. See you then.