Hello, Writing Friends!
During National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last year, I finished the first draft of my debut novel. Exciting!
As I go through the editing process, I wanted to share a short story from my world of Symphonia, and give Helana Glasglo her debut to the world.
The story I am about to share with you is a work in progress, and I plan to make changes in the future. At the end of the story I will have my notes on revision and will share the final draft here when it is complete.
My concept for this story was the idea that when someone goes through a traumatic event their mind shuts down and sends them into a dream state to cope. The dream feels so real, though sublimely your mind will give you hints that you’re in a dream. You will hear and read the words “wake up” until you finally escape the dream to deal with the trauma.
Without further ado, here is my story:
Fog fills the clearing as I tend to the fire. The warmth is comforting. The energy reverberates through the air – eerie almost, with an unnatural stillness. This night is not typical. I cannot put my finger on the disturbance. It would be simple to ask Cera if she feels it, but the need for silence – right now – is paramount, lest our prey hears us. Going empty-handed to Father – embarrassing, but there have been no signs of wildlife. I’m sure Cera feels it too. Her tail hasn’t stopped waving.
The wind is relentless tonight. My skin is trembling, and goosebumps engulf Cera. The fire feels useless at this point; we might need to put it out lest we give away our position, assuming we haven’t already. My ears perk up as a sound begins to fill the clearing; A rumbling chant, steadily crescendoing in a rhythmic, chilling pulse – not an ordinary sound one hears in the middle of a forest. It is a rhythmic, rumbling chant, and it is growing louder.
“Be ready,” I whisper, grabbing my bow.
“I hear it too,” Cera responds, following me into the treetops.
The tamalir haven’t been in these parts for months, not since the dark days, but that chant cannot be mistaken. Those filthy pups must be hunting us — a tamalirian spell of necromancy. The vile, fresh-rotting creatures are about to emerge. The ground cracks open with a bone-chilling crunch as hands dig their way from a realm in which they ought to stay. The smell of rotting flesh burns through the nostrils; the scent of vomit would be a mercy in comparison.
“Run!” I yell as I race through the trees. The feel of the wind whipping against my face – exhilarating. The rush of adrenaline flows through my veins with Cera close behind. The undead make chase. “We need to find the necromancer,” I say. There is no place to stop and the undead – their limbs barely hanging on – climb into the trees.
“Hold!” Cera yells, her tail puffing out. “I will distract them. Use your elvine sight!” She jumps into the midst of the undead, unsheathing her sword. The Ul’rogian great sword: Bhaktilian, the purifier. The moon reflects off the blade as she slices through the undead. Oh, how I want to help, but my job is clear.
I sit in half-lotus breathing deeply, feeling the air caress my nose into my lungs. I exhale, letting everything go. My eyes close and my sense of self fades away – there is no me, for I am all life in Symphonia. All becomes clear, the energies all around me – connect as one. I can see the loving green energies of the trees around us. Cera’s light, fighting the undead. She is in a dance of death as she maneuvers herself around attack after attack. The undead have no visible vitality; I know they are there, but they have no life to connect to.
I need to focus – breathing in and out, I search the forest. I follow the vein of life until I see it. Hidden behind bush and dale is the truculent red energy of the tamalirian necromancer. His chant breeds the undead.
“The necromancer is north about 100 clicks,” I say loud enough for Cera, who nods while thrashing her blade through decayed flesh. I jump from the branch unsheathing my dagger, my mother’s blade – Ocukosh: the sword that sees. The eye-shaped amethyst in the hilt shines purple against the moonlight.
Undead close in on Cera, she barely has room to move. I need to do something quick, or they will overrun her. I slash my dagger, weaving in and out of the barrier of corpses, creating a space for Cera to escape. Her blonde hair catches my blade as I spin around her, stabbing an undead.
“Wake up, Helana. We can get them,” Cera yells, kicking the creatures before they snatch me. Something is odd about her telling me that, almost like a verbal hiccup, that isn’t quite her voice.
“Wake up?” I ask, extracting my claws and hissing toward the vile creatures – hoping to evoke fear.
Cera’s ears raise as she looks me up quizzically. Rolling her eyes, she jumps into the branch. “We need to make haste.”
I nod, following behind. We race through the trees, my tail fluttering as we swing branch to branch. The chanting grows louder as we approach the necromancer. I raise my fist, signaling for Cera to slow. The surprise is the best offense; however, the chant rings in my ear. A heart-piercing screech, continually ringing. The world is disorienting.
“Ohm. Ra. La. Hum. Do. Re. Ohm. Ra. La. Hum. Do. Re,” repeats out the necromancer’s mouth as he meditates, hidden within bush and dale. The sound needs to stop – my face won’t stop wincing as I struggle to keep my balance. A warmth caresses my back as Cera smiles upon me, a comfort that ends the pain.
We stop, hoping our presence doesn’t disturb the necromancer. It’s too late. The tamalir’s ears perk up as he stands to unsheathe his sword.
“Wake up, Helana. It’s time for you to pay for your injustice you rotten cats did to my people,” he says, walking toward us. That phrase “wake up” has been used twice today. It has only been about thirty minutes since Cera said the same thing. I cannot escape the thought that the phrase is haunting me in some way.
“What did you say?” I ask, approaching the man. I tighten my grasp on Ocukosh.
“It’s time for you to die,” he says, charging toward me. Our blades clash, and we exchange blow after blow. His eyes glaring at me – his hate, daggers, stabbing at me with an intent to kill. The war of the dark days has left an imprint on him. Cera dives in, slamming her sword. He dodges out of the way – tackling me. Pinned. Cera’s foot rams against the man’s waist, giving me space to move.
I grip my dagger, pressing the edge against his neck, returning his vengeful stare, the tamalir have caused more harm than us elvines. He grins while forming a purple ball of spiraling hatred into his palm. The mass violently rotates as he forces it into my side. I wince, feeling my skin burn and twist with its touch before it explodes, sending me flying toward a trunk.
My arms shake and tremble. I cannot get up, but I must. Blood is oozing out of my wound. Cera offers her hand, lifting me. I need to subdue this man if I am to get any answers. I take in a deep breath, focusing on the warmth of Cera’s touch. The love I feel for the world around me, the people who care about me, the animals, and the life of Symphonia. A spiraling white ball of love grows in my palm. The energy warm and pure; I throw it in his direction. The love blinds and binds him. He cannot move.
Cera emits an orange hue from her palm as she tends to my wound. “Wake up, Helana. It’s going to be okay.”
My ears perk up. That was not Cera’s voice. It came out of her mouth, but the sound is robotic — something not of Symphonia.
In an instant, Cera is gone, the man is gone, the trees – gone. I am surrounded by a brilliant white light that fades into a familiar place, my home: Ul’rog. The stone buildings of the village are everywhere –blues and reds outline the roofs of stores and houses. In the distance, I can see the castle. Elvines roam the streets. Their fur-covered ears perk up with tails waving back and forth as I pass.
“Wake up,” they all say, bowing at me. “Wake up. Wake up. Wake up!” It is turning into a constant yelling that I can’t escape. Watching – following – chasing me. I run toward the castle; if anyone can help, it’s Father.
The words “Wake up” dance around my head as I run. The castle grows farther and farther away. The buildings stretch apart. The world is changing as I try to progress. What is happening? At which point could I have entered the dream? I never fell asleep. I lose my footing, falling into a white abyss as the ground tears apart.
Suspended in the air, I see a woman walking toward me. She looks like me: long brown hair, a defined jawline, even the same height. However, she does not have the same fur-covered ears or tail – no claws in her fingertips. She looks like an ordinary human with my face.
“Who are you?” I ask, reaching for my bow and nocking an arrow. I keep it pointed at her, but I don’t want to kill.
“I am you,” she says with the same soft voice I have. “You need to wake up, Helana.”
“I am awake!” I yell. This reality is my reality. She is the imposter. I pinch my arm, wincing as I draw blood. “Who are you?”
“I created this world to protect you, but you need to remember,” she says, taking steps toward me with arms open. Inviting me in, but I take a step back.
“This is my world.” I draw my nocked arrow, stressing the bowstring.
“Remember the times with your little sister in the playground by the bookstore. Remember running through the fields at school, playing through your imaginary worlds. Your friends miss you.” She takes a few steps closer before her smile disappears into a frown. “Remember guiding your sister through the suburbs while the soldiers tore your town apart?”
I shake my head, trembling. Ul’rog and suburbia mix around me. The elvines turn into everyday people — the tamalir turn into foreign soldiers – Cera becomes my younger sister. My other self, steps closer, embracing me. Her warmth fills me with light.
I am remembering… My reality is becoming clear.
Darkness surrounds me as water drips from a nearby sink. It’s constant echoing a hypnotic metronome lulling me. The faint sound of a tv rumbles in the distance, playing what resembles some high-fantasy rock music. My sides burn as red stains my white shirt — something happened in my dream. I hear marching in the streets while tanks roll by.
I try to move my arms as they dangle above me, chained to the ceiling. I am trapped.
“I need to wake up,” I weakly mumble, knowing Symphonia is no more.
Note on Revision:
If you made it this far; thank you! I hope you enjoyed the story. This is the first look into the world and character of my work in progress, debut novel. I talk a little bit about it in my article here.
My plans for this story is to go back to the writing table and make a few changes. I want to come up with an opening that truly hooks the readers. Something that sets up the tone for the whole piece while make the reader want to know more. My current opening sets the scene, but doesn’t spark a ton of curiosity.
In writing this piece, I was focused on something I call “shotgun world-building”. I wanted to establish the world as quickly as possible without spending too much time on details that don’t affect the story. In doing so, it takes the reader too long to figure out what elvines look like. I need to make them more clear, earlier in my next draft.
And finally, the ending. I originally wrote this piece for a class in my graduate program. I was worried about it feeling too connected to my novel that I wrote this ending to avoid the connection. Sadly, it doesn’t work at all and ruins the world-building. In my next draft, I want to dive deeper into the world and see why Helana needs to wake up.
C. D. Baron
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