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Novel Hook: The Gates of Achera

AeternisJul 21, 2019, 1:34:12 AM

This is the first scene (the "hook") of a modern fantasy novel I wrote in 2017 and have edited into a reasonably final version since. I am in the process of soliciting beta-readers for this text while I work on other manuscripts, and am also looking for critique trades with other SF/F writers who want opinions on their work.

I will probably need to secure a commission for cover art if I am going to self-publish this story (which runs about 100,000 words) on Amazon or similar, but I'm not sure when I'll get around to that.

"The Gates of Achera" is not the first book I started working on, nor is it representative of my work in general. It is however the only full text of its size I have completed until the "Sundiver" project (which will get a permanent title after it is done) reaches its end in a few weeks.

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I was getting very good at not remembering what had been taken from me when the visitor arrived.

As my tiny cell's darkness was shattered, I squeezed my eyes shut and did my best to scramble into a corner where the shadows still promised safety, struggling against a leaden numbness in my limbs. The unwelcome light spilling in through the doorway seemed to claw at the walls behind which I had sealed the past, and I knew they could not endure its assault for long.

The visitor, slipping inside quickly and shutting the door, allowed me a cruel moment of darkness, but it was not their intention to let me keep it. They had brought a light with them, a harsh, white beam that seemed almost to cut through my flesh as it swept across my face. I wanted to shout at them to leave, that I had nothing left worth taking, but the memory of words was locked securely away with the rest, and I found my voice too weak to accomplish anything more than a groan.

When the light turned away, I dared to open my eyes. A slim, dark-skinned woman knelt in front of me, the scourging light in her hand pointed mercifully toward the floor. Her black, form-fitting clothing and cap seemed more fitting to troublemaking than social calls, so I naturally assumed that she meant to cause me harm. I wanted to flee, to run away and bury myself in the darkness once more, but there was nowhere to go. Her vividly green eyes, at once achingly familiar and coldly alien, pinned me trembling against the wall. If she was going to kill me, there was nothing I could do about it.

The woman spoke to me quietly, but I refused to interpret the sound to see what it meant. The only way to do that would be to consult the horrors I had so consciously set aside, and even death seemed preferable to undoing all my hard-won forgetfulness. Doubtless she expected me to remember something, but any secrets worth taking from me had certainly already been taken. Whatever errand had brought this strange visitor to invade my comfortably dark world was doomed to end in failure.

After staring at me for several expectant seconds, she shook her head and looked away, muttering bitterly. The woman was obviously furious, but I was, for the moment, relieved not to be the object of her wrath. She had a look about her that suggested killing was among the least horrific things she might do to anyone who stood in her way.

When the woman finally looked back in my direction, my heart nearly stopped with fright that I might by action or inaction draw her fury upon myself. When she fell on me and wrapped her arms around me tightly, I struggled weakly, only slowly concluding that it was not a hostile gesture. Her whole frame shook as if she were battling to control powerful emotions, and I could not avoid concluding that her distress was not for a lost and valuable secret, but for the wretch who had once carried it. Against her obvious agony, all the forgotten horrors that prowled where I dared not tread seemed hollow and feeble, just as I was.

With one last whispered word, the woman withdrew, her furious demeanor returning in an instant. As she stood and crept to the door, I wished that I could help her. Perhaps I had once known how to ease her mind. Searching for such knowledge would risk all of the peace I’d gained, but I was certain that risk couldn’t be worse than the grief my visitor was already suffering.

Knowing she would soon be gone and that I had little time, I closed my eyes and turned my attention inward. I had studiously forgotten what had been taken from me, but I could remember that something had been taken, and I knew with that ominous thread I could unravel the partition I’d made of myself in order to forget. With only the slightest hesitation, I took hold of this strand and tugged a little, hoping to remember at a careful, measured pace. I dared to hope that I could find the words of comfort my visitor needed, then forget the rest all over again.

That was of course far too optimistic a goal. Among the first gleefully-escaping memories, I found the meaning of what she had said, in the hopes that I might recognize it: “Allan Owens.” That was, of course, my name, and I recognized also the voice which had whispered it.

The knowledge of who I was – a name, and all that followed – seemed to shake very foundations of my forgetting. When an understanding of who it was who’d come to find me added its force, the barrier between memory and thought collapsed completely. My measured trickle of memory exploded into an overwhelming, unmanaged torrent. I remembered everything I didn’t want to recall – what had been taken, and how it had been torn writhing from my psyche, leaving only jagged, festering wounds where once there had been words – ancient words, still bursting with life. As the flood of clarity touched each of these sores, my head seemed filled from ear to ear with rending agony, as if the words were being ripped away all over again. I fought it, but it was like fighting the rising tide. As it rose, I was forced to recall where it all had started - with a whisper from another world.