Hi! I posted my first story a while back, the first chapter of Luminous. This is a new, edited bit of the first, second, third, and fourth chapter. It's less rambling, more dark, and get's right to the point instead of dumping a bunch of unwanted exposition on you guys. I also made the main character's personality more defined and even changed her appearance and backstory a bit. Once again, I probably won't be posting anything more than these first few chapters. But anyways.. go ahead and tear this apart! :D
(Also, feel free to make predictions on what will happen)
Blood dribbled from my lower lip. I gently traced the new bruise on my cheek.
And I forced myself to smile.
I lay on my bed, spread-eagled across the worn quilt and still wearing my workclothes. A shapeless grey smock and baggy, dark-colored trousers. The attic ceiling pressed in on me- just low enough so that my fingers could brush against the cobwebs.
I breathed a long, pent-up sigh and absently reached up to wipe the blood from my chin. Once again, I felt broken. A heap of bones, skin, and grimy workclothes, exhausted and beaten down. Too tired for anger at the unfairness of it all, or sadness even. Life is life, huh?
With a grumble, I slowly, painfully sat up and ruffled my hands through my short-cropped hair. I blinked at my room, taking in the familiar things. A rough, wooden door in one corner. A bed, a chest, a three-legged stool. Hm. Looks the same as it did when I turned up here eight years ago. Maybe I should redecorate.
I smiled again, deciding I didn’t want to feel the sting of my split-lip or the ache of the bruises. Bam- just like that, I can block it out.
Maybe if I convinced myself well enough, the pain would actually go away. Maybe if I smiled.. maybe then, I would be given a real reason to smile. Worth a try, right?
…Fray. I really am insane. But I guess it’s better this way.
A fist hammered on my door.
I jumped, quickly getting out of bed. I shuffled across the floor in the dim light from the rafters and pulled the door open.
“Get out, Ryn. I can’t fit into your little rat’s nest,” the voice rumbled like thunder before a storm.
I scrambled to obey, climbing through the little door and blinking my eyes at the sudden torchlight. I got to my feet, shoving down my growing fear and hoping my hands weren’t trembling.
I stared at his chin instead of his eyes. When you arrived, the first thing you learned was that the quickest way to provoke Boss was to look him straight in the eyes.
The burly smith shook his head disdainfully.
“Clean yourself up and get back to work. It’s your fault that you were punished- and I expect that order to be done before tomorrow.”
I nodded stiffly, feeling a sharp jab of anger. I didn’t let it show. If Boss detected the slightest spark of rebellion he would pound it back down, literally.
“Speak to me, little girl. Say yes sir, Thord.”
“Yes sir, Thord.”
“Good girl- and wipe that blood off your chin.”
His mouth twisted with cruel amusement and he turned to go. My eyes bored into his back as he pounded down the stairs. My hands shook, clenched into fists at my sides. My mouth was bursting with the words I wanted to scream.
But I didn’t scream. I cleaned myself up. And I got back to work.
The Forge was beginning to empty at that late hour, but a few furnaces still fumed with their dim red glow- casting a parade of shadows dancing along the metal racks. The apprentices and workers were all familiar faces. I had been there longer than many of them and knew almost everyone by name.
I could already feel the sweat dripping down my neck as I walked across the smoky room towards the small workshop in the back of the building. In there was my own furnace- which was cluttered with unfinished work. Most of the workers were used to me now, but a few of the apprentices glanced at me with bemused grins as I passed them. I knew they called me “Thord’s Little Rat” behind my back. I guess they’re confused at why Boss would let a girl work as a smith. Yeah, well, I didn’t get it either.
But I did know one thing. I was good at what I did. Better, even, then the brawny senior smiths who had been at the trade their whole lives. They couldn’t stand that a scrawny little girl did their job better than they did. I slipped into the privacy of my workshop and sat down at the bench.
I still had so much to do on this sword. Usually this would take at least a day- and Boss wanted it finished before tomorrow. My stomach twisted into knots and I closed my eyes. I can’t do this. A few hours aren’t enough to finish! But Boss… he’ll be furious if I don’t. I opened my eyes again and took a deep breath, already reaching for my tools. Quit panicking and get to work- this sword isn’t going to shape itself. I had done it hundreds of times. I could do it again…
I went over the steps in my head. First, the sword- rather, the lumpy metal stick- would need to be heated in the furnace until the iron was red-hot and soft enough to be shaped with a hammer. Then came the hard part. Every warp, dent, or bump would need to be pounded into shape. After all that, the finished sword will be quenched in oil and sharpened with the grindstone-
I spun around, a hammer gripped in my right hand.
“Hey! Just me! Fray- you’re jumpy, aren’t you?”
Tam, one of the new apprentices, eyed me with sly, grey eyes as he slipped through the open doorway. He was only a year or two older than me, but more than a foot taller and stocky for his age. I rolled my eyes and turned to get back to work. They’re not supposed to come in here… I guess Thord’s busy or something. “What are you doing? And you shouldn’t swear.”
He gave me an odd look, his eyes crinkled with amusement. “You’re living in a forge, ya know that? Another reason why girls should stay at home and stick to… well whatever girls do.”
I ignored that, instead changing the subject.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Oh that- I’m on food break.”
To demonstrate this, Tam stuffed a piece of cheese into his mouth and started to chew noisily. I groaned inwardly. I don’t have time for this. I knew what he wanted- the new guys all turned up at some point to needle me for my story- an explanation. What they didn’t get, however, was that I didn’t know much more than they did.
“Why’d your pa let you come work at the Forge anyways?”
Here we go.. I sighed and turned to look the apprentice in the eye.
“Go bother someone else, will you? I don’t have time to chat. I only have a few hours to finish shaping this sword.”
Tam’s grin only got wider.
“From the way you talk to Boss I thought you were timid.”
“Anyone’s timid around him.”
“Why’d he give you your own workshop?”
I snapped, “Leave me alone!”
A hand suddenly grabbed my arm in an iron grip and a voice snarled at Tam, “Get back to work boy.” The apprentice blanched and immediately ran off to obey.
I turned around- and looked straight into Thord’s stormy black eyes. When did he come in? Why didn’t I notice? Heart pounding with terror, my gaze dropped to his chin and I was a weak little rat once again.
“I need this finished before tomorrow, girl. This order is for the Royal Guard and I need to make a good impression.”
On that last word, he squeezed my arm. I gasped in pain, struggling to keep my composure. Usually- Usually if I’m pathetic, timid, afraid enough, he won’t take notice of me. I can become invisible.
This time I wasn’t so lucky.
“Now get started. I’m going to sit right here and watch until that sword is finished.”
He finally let go of my arm and moved back into the shadow of the workbench to watch me. With shaking hands, I reached for the hammer and began to work.
It wasn’t so bad the first hour. I knew what I was doing. All I had to do was keep going… Keep going until the sword is done... Because Thord was watching from the shadows of the workshop. I felt his eyes on me, just waiting for an excuse to punish me. I won’t give him one.
After three hours, my body was sticky with sweat and my hair hung in limp strands around my face. My arms burned and my whole body was shuddering with fatigue. I continued to work, pounding away at the red-hot metal. Suddenly- the hammer slipped.
I cried out, clutching my hand against my chest. My first slip-up…
The murmur of talk outside the workshop quieted for a single, heart-stopping moment. I could imagine their eyes. Pitying. But they didn’t care enough.
I heard Thord get up and move forward until he was looming behind me. He pulled me back up to my feet by my hair and roared, “Keep working!”
Far past midnight, when every worker and apprentice had long since gone to bed, I finished sharpening the sword. Without waiting for permission, I dragged myself back upstairs. He didn’t stop me.
I collapsed on my bed, head swimming with fire, smoke, the screeching whirr of the grindstone, the ringing sound that the hammer made when it hit metal… and the heavy thud when it slipped. Every painful hour in front of that furnace was burned into my mind. That cursed sword, stained with the blood from my hands. Every dent, every warp, I had hammered into shape.
I told myself to smile. Smile.. Smile.. Smile Ryn, and maybe everything will get better.
But I’m so tired… I’m so tired of trying to be strong..
I cried instead.
“I thought I would find you here.”
I was in a place of scattered light. Rich gold, deep scarlet, royal blue spirals… A glassy blue sky was spread out above me and I felt like a bird… I turned around to see her.
She wore boyish clothing and a sword at her belt for some reason, but it somehow fit her. Long golden curls pulled back into a tail… Piercing, slanted yellow eyes. A slender- yet strong- hand on my shoulder. Something was swinging from her neck. Something cold and made of silvery metal.
I blinked my eyes open to the shadowy attic ceiling, and to the pain of my bruised hands and aching arms. I sighed softly, closing my eyes again and wishing I were back in that dream instead of reality. Reality isn’t pretty. But I was already starting to forget the woman’s face.. I reached inside my shirt and fingered the silver necklace at my throat, wondering if it had been a memory or a dream. Maybe she was my mother once… Not that it matters now.
Severed souls- Can’t tell if it’s night or day in this room. I reminded myself not to curse, even if it was only in my thoughts. Boss cursed like a Sedaran mercenary and I wasn’t about to follow in his footsteps.
I got up with a pained groan- seemed like I got up like that more often than not, lately- and slipped out of my workclothes. For a minute, I stared at my hands. They were mottled with dark, splotchy bruises. And almost every finger was blistered.
The memories of last night flashed through my mind. The hammer clanging against metal… a chaotic mantra that pounded against my skull… The boiling heat of the furnace.. Sweat dripping into my eyes..
Despair started to take over. Boss is going to keep me here forever… I’ll never leave.. It’ll go on forever.. Like a nightmare that I’ll never wake up from. I breathed deep, and exhaled- slowly regaining my cool.
Someday I’m gonna get out of this place.
Carelessly tossing the grimy workclothes over my shoulder, I began to rummage through my chest for something clean. I eventually put on a faded yellow blouse and a skirt of some muddled color- maybe it had been red once. Pulling out a cracked mirror, I stared at myself for a few moments- just barely able to make out my features in the dim light of the half-open door.
Bloodshot green-blue eyes. An angular face and pale, hollow cheeks- and the bruises only made them look paler. Short, messy black hair… Looks like a corpse. I made a face at my reflection, feeling an odd ache in my chest.. Shaking my head in disgust, I realized that I was feeling sorry for myself. No point feeling down if you know nothing’s gonna change, Ryn.
I crept down the steps into the workroom, silent as a cat. The usual cacophony of a whirring grindstone, the workers’ hoarse bellows, and ringing hammers greeted me. I kept to the sides of the room with my eyes down as I walked towards the scullery. Boss always took a while to cool off- and I wasn’t about to draw attention to myself. Even if I hadn’t done anything he would deem worthy of a beating, Boss had a habit of taking it out on me when jobs went wrong.
I finally made it to the scullery, where fresh bread was laid out for the Forge smiths. I took two of the loaves and sat against the wall to eat. As I shredded the soft brown bread, I listened to the sounds of the Forge and let my thoughts wander.
Someday, when I get out of this place, I’ll travel to Kyria... Maybe Thelendar.. Or the capital Idenrae. Where food can be conjured by Luminous at the wave of a hand and no one goes hungry… Where the great Acarian palaces tower higher than any of the Crown’s mountains.. I snorted. And pigs will fly.
A voice jolted me out of my daydreaming. “Ryn?”
I glanced up at the apprentice. He was new, I could tell. Soft features and pudgy pink hands that hadn’t seen a day of work... The Forge will quickly get rid of that.
“Thord says you’re to deliver a message for him, to the buyer of those swords- and after that you can take the day off.” He added after a moment, “For your hands.”
The boy’s eyes flicked to my bruised and blistered fingers, full of undisguised pity. I shoved my hands into my skirt pockets.
“Okay then. Where’s this message going?”
A few minutes later, I was out the door and on the streets of Davet, sighing with relief. I was breathing in the crisp morning air, instead of the bitter odor of smoke and metal dust. I stood for a moment, a gentle breeze ruffling my skirt, to take in the view.
Davet was a large city compared to most, its river making it a center of trade. The bustling city sprawled chaotically across the foot of the Crown- a crescent-shaped range of jagged mountains that stretched for miles in either direction. On one side, there was the river, swarming with barges and ships loaded with goods. On the other were the quiet woods and grassy slopes that got gradually steeper and steeper as you moved up the side of the mountain.
Home- indifferent, chaotic, crowded, and dirty… but home nonetheless.
I started walking.
After this I’ll get the day off.. An entire day. I inhaled the mingled aromas of spices, fresh bread, leather, and sawdust- and the less-than-pleasant smell of a tannery. The faded multicolored buildings… Mossy cobbles slick with morning dew.. Distant, unfamiliar voices calling out among the crowd.. I was almost breathing it all in.
Suddenly I stopped in my tracks.
A beggar lay slumped against a building- like refuse that someone had kicked to the side of the road. Her hair was matted, her ragged clothes torn and clotted with dirt and grime. Her hands were outstretched to passerby, who didn’t spare her a glance.
I realized I was biting my lip. My hands were clenched at my sides. A memory... of some other crowded street. Another girl in rags with outstretched hands and pleading eyes… I shook it off and forced myself to keep moving.
I could almost feel the beggar’s eyes boring into my back as I walked away- even though I knew that the street was too far behind me for it to be possible.
I struggled to shake off the sudden onslaught of emotions… Dread. Terror. Sorrow. Forget about it. Forget. Just forget. But… what am I trying to forget?
I realized with a jolt that I was standing in front of the place- known as The Golden Bird and one of Davet’s better taverns. Good. He should be inside. I tried to clear away the emotions and the disturbing memory, focusing instead on delivering Boss’ message and getting the day off. Yeah- that definitely helped my mood. Think about that, Ryn.
The doors of the tavern were thrown wide open to customers and a strain of violin drifted across the street. The sounds of wild laughter and soft voices alike poured from the open doors. The cozy normalcy of the tavern was comforting, and those troubling memories slipped away once again… Some quiet part of me whispered soothingly, Why would you want to remember anyways, Ryn? Remembering hurts. It only brings pain…
The keeper of the tavern took Boss’ message with the promise that he would get it to the right person- and then I was free. No pounding away at red-hot metal. No sitting in the boiling heat of a furnace. No cowering under Boss’ rage. I was free.
For six hours, that is.
I left the tavern, stuck my hands in my skirt pockets, and idly drifted past the crowded shops of Davet. I didn’t have any money to spend, of course, but I was in no hurry to get back. And it was interesting to see what new shops had opened since the last time I had left the Forge…
That was one thing about Davet; a constant flow of people was always moving in and out. Traders and travelers came on the river and left on it. New stalls would spring up overnight. Like mushrooms. And the next day the stall could have been taken down. It was absolute chaos. The stands in their garish, eye-catching colors strung with jewelry, or spices, or metal pots that clattered together whenever the wind started up… Hawkers on every corner yelling their heads off in some attempt at getting attention from passerby.
“My lady-” a man’s reedy voice pleaded.
“Silence, Lanis.” A woman’s high, arrogant voice.
“That woman is a fraud. She sells you pretty lies, but only that!”
“Shut your mouth, you old fool. I will not repeat myself.”
I finally saw them. A young woman wearing a stiff yellow dress, a bobbing hairdo of brown ringlets, and enough makeup to repaint the Forge. I assumed that her servant was the older man in the silly violet suit- silly meaning that it fit the aristocracy’s current fashions, of course. He was close behind her and wringing his hands in agitation.
Well, nobles are always amusing to watch... I stood out of the bustle of the road to keep an eye on the ridiculous pair in their glaring violet and yellow outfits. They stopped at the shop directly across from me- a building made of crumbling bricks riddled with cracks and mottled with faded yellow paint.
I crossed the street just as they entered the door. This place is definitely not a jewelry shop.
A string of crooked letters was carved into a panel mounted above the doorway. Well that’s not very helpful… I can’t read, after all.
The front door was wide open to welcome in all its nonexistent customers, so I began to step through the doorway- and stopped as I heard voices.
A woman’s voice said unenthusiastically, “Dear girl, how nice to see you again…”
The noble replied, “Good morning. I came to-“
“Forgive me, I’m afraid you’ll have to come later. I already have a customer waiting on me.”
“You don’t have another customer-“
“Elita, I am certain that another reading won’t yield any different results from the last three.”
After a moment, the noble said stiffly, “I’ll be back tomorrow then.”
I swiftly moved out of the way as the sour-faced noblewoman rushed out of the door in a flurry of silk, followed closely by her servant.
I wonder what that was all about. I stepped into the shop. Despite the less-than-welcoming exterior, the inside was airy and lit by three glass windows. The small white room, probably a foyer, was decorated with three faded rose-red poufs and a threadbare sofa.
The sound of approaching footsteps echoed from another room. Whoops. I quickly dug around in my skirt pockets for a leftover crescent or something- so I could have an excuse for being there.
“Dearie, I said I wasn’t going to-“ a woman said agitatedly as she walked through the room’s other doorway.
The woman stopped to look at me and immediately dropped the sickly-sweet tone she had been using. “What do you want?”
She was almost a foot shorter than me- but stood, hands on her hips, with a confident attitude that belied her stature. She had an oddly stocky build for a woman, but was far from ugly- with a strong jaw, high cheek bones, slanted, long-lashed brown eyes, and sleek dark hair that fell past her waist.
She wore a gauzy violet shawl, a midnight blue gown, and the most jewelry I had ever seen in my sixteen years of life.
“Erm. I’ve never been in this shop and I was just curious-“
I struggled not to look as uneasy as I felt. How does she fit so much condescension into two simple words? I mustered up the courage to speak.
“What sort of shop is this?”
The woman’s expression didn’t change. “I don’t serve just anyone who wanders into my shop without so much as a copper crescent.”
I quickly held up the silver coin I had just dug out of my pocket.
The woman swiftly adopted a pleasant smile when she realized I was a potential customer. Before I could react, she had snatched the silver crescent from my fingers and waved a hand for me to follow her.
“This is a fortune-telling shop, dearie. And you can call me Santha.”
I stopped in my tracks. “A fortune-telling shop? You’re joking.”
Santha waited in the doorway to the next room and answered sunnily, “No joke, dearie.”
“Stop calling me that! My name is Ryn,” I snapped. “And give me back my money. I never said I wanted you to read my palms- or whatever it is you do to trick idiots out of their coins.”
The woman regarded me shrewdly. “Are you sure you don’t want to hear your fortune, Ryn?”
I grabbed the crescent from her open palm and turned to go.
“If I were you, I’d stay. Don’t you want to know if you’re fated to live out the rest of your years as that smith’s slave?”
I froze, my eyes still fixed on the open door. “How do you know about that?”
“I already told you, love. I’m a fortune-teller.”
“Magic doesn’t exist.”
“No, it’s doesn’t. But Luminous do.”
I waited nervously on one of the poufs, looking around at my shadowy surroundings. Silky violet drapes hung all over the walls and the numerous bookshelves were loaded with stacks upon stacks of musty tomes. On one shelf was what looked like a human skull- and a misty-grey orb sat in the center of the desk.
I wonder what’s real and what’s for show… Still, Santha does have power. I know that much. She said she was Luminous.
But what did I know about Luminous? People who could fly, read minds, create gold from stone, and teleport across hundreds of miles… That’s what the stories say, at any rate.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, dear. Let’s begin.”
Santha floated through the door in a whirl of midnight-blue silk and sat elegantly on the moth-eaten armchair across from me.
I shifted in my seat, my hands stuffed into the pockets of my skirt so the fortune-teller wouldn’t see them trembling. If this actually works, do I want to do it?
Santha closed her eyes, looking regal, solemn- and very real.
What if she tells me I’m going to be stuck slaving away for Boss the next thirty years? Ignorant I at least have hope that things will change. Knowing the future could break me.
A voice whispered a vicious reminder. But you can’t break something that’s already broken, can you?
Santha’s eyes fluttered open.
And they began to glow.
The deep brown color of the fortune-teller’s irises brightened to amber- then to the blaze of molten gold, illuminating her elegant features and the violet shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Her eyes were glazed and empty as they stared straight ahead.
This is real. This is why they’re called Luminous.
I stared in disbelief, frozen to my seat in the eerie silence… and felt something on the edge of my mind. A nudging thought... Go away. Go away. Like an itch I couldn’t reach. The feeling faded- then came back stronger than before. Like a creature scratching at the door… trying to get in… Go away. The feeling eventually dulled until I could hardly feel it. What was that?
Santha’s brow was shiny with sweat. I couldn’t make out the words she was muttering under her breath… Her blank, open eyes narrowed with concentration as they stared ahead.
The scratching, howling, pounding noise at the edge of my thoughts returned. And left almost as soon as it had come.
I waited… Then it was finally over. Santha’s eyes darkened to their original color, her face cast into shadow once more. The fortune-teller slumped in the armchair, looking very tired without the elegant poise she had held herself with beforehand.
For a moment, there was a tense silence.
Then, bursting with nervous curiosity, I spoke up.
“What did you see?”
Santha slowly looked up, her eyes wide and her hands shaking slightly as they gripped the armrests of her chair.
“They sent you.. They sent you early..” she whispered. There was no trace of the controlled- almost regal-looking- woman that had been sitting there moments before.
I stared, feeling increasingly unsettled.
“What are you talking-“
The fortune-teller jumped to her feet and hissed, “Vallas. They sent you to do this, didn’t they? I told them.. I told them they could trust me…”
I got up in alarm and backed towards the door.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Santha’s eyes bored suspiciously into my own. She slowly sat back down on the armchair, and I perched on the pouf again, heart pounding. She’s crazy. Who does she think I am?
“I get it. He sent you, one of his younger pawns. A powerful Luminous with great potential, to scare me… Well. What does he want?”
“Of course... You know what you are, don’t you?” Santha frowned. Then her anxious expression cleared away in an instant. “Ahhh… I see now. You know nothing.”
I took the mug from her with shaking hands and collapsed into the armchair she had pulled up for me. I felt… numb. She’s lying. She has to be. I can’t be Luminous. How many times have I been beaten? Crying, bruised, and broken? If I was Luminous I’d have done something about my messed-up life by now. And what was all that about a person named Vallas??
Santha sat down in the other armchair, elegant once again, and sipped at her drink. She patiently sat there and watched as I stared into the bottom of my mug. I finally spoke.
“What is this?”
The fortune-teller answered promptly, “Tea. Drink it- and help yourself to the biscuits on the desk. You haven’t eaten since this morning.”
I got up and headed for the tin on the desk, grumbling in response, “How did you know that?”
“I saw it in your head. One of the only things I could see besides that little bit about your recent history at the smithy…” Santha watched closely for a reaction as she continued, “You really don’t know anything?”
“I don’t know anything. Who’s Vallas? Aren’t you just a fortune-teller?? Answer me!” The words came out in a frustrated rush.
Santha chuckled, completely relaxed. “I can answer one of those questions. I can’t actually see the future- that’s impossible, of course. I can, however, look at memories and surface-thoughts. I tell the customer what they want to hear and make it believable. They love that.” She gave me a sour look and added, “But I couldn’t see too much in your head... You blocked me out.”
I ignored that last remark and said, “But how are you sure I’m Luminous?”
“It’s obvious, dearie. At first I could only see a few scattered memories, but once I dug a little deeper later on… so much power,” She eyed me, looking impressed, though I had no idea why.
For a moment there was silence. I said quietly,
“Santha. I’m an orphan. I was pathetic. An eight-year old dying on the streets and all I could remember was a name. I was forced to start work as a smith two years later by the man who took me in, Thord. He’s never seen me as anything but a thing that he can use. I’m a slave. Less than nothing.”
It came out as a cracked whisper-
“How am I Luminous?”
Santha took a sip of tea, holding the mug to her mouth for a long moment. Then she lowered it with a sigh.
“You say you’re a smith? A skinny little thing like you?”
I said angrily, “Don’t change the subject-“
I reluctantly muttered,” I’m the best smith at the Forge.”
Santha shook her head with an annoyed sigh.
“You want proof? I’ll prove it to you. Ask yourself how you, a scrawny teenage girl, can do the work better than those tough senior smiths. Ask yourself why your boss took in a homeless child when he’s obviously selfish and cares only about the weight of his wallet.”
She finished grimly, “I understand now… That smith has been using you in more ways than you know.”
I opened my mouth to ask how she would know. But before I could say a word, Santha stood up. There was a shadow of concern on her face.
“I forgot that I have visitors coming soon.. You’ll need to leave now, dearie.”
“Don’t worry- I’m sure we’ll meet again. And when we do I’m sure you’ll have a thousand questions to ask me- most of which I’ll have answers to. But that will have to wait. Goodbye.”
I was taken out of the study, guided through the foyer- and the door was slammed shut behind me.
I walked in the rain.
It was a misty, sticky sort of rain. Not heavy enough to force everyone inside, to choke gutters with swirling puddles of trash, or to leave you soaking… It was simply enough to cast everything into a dull greyish hue. Just enough to be annoying.
I ducked under the overhang of a street vendor’s now-empty fruit stand and stood there for a moment. Well.. What now, Ryn? Even if Santha was telling the truth.. what’s changed? I stared out at the street. Grey sky. Grey buildings. Grey people… shuffling along the street and never looking at me for more than a moment.
Gonna shoot fireballs at Boss until he treats you better?
You’re Luminous? So what. You know there’s no way out, even with this. It’ll only become another way for Boss to use you. Those softly repeated whispers threatened to drag me down.
I screwed my eyes shut and balled my hands into fists, defiant. Stop thinking about all of that.. Don’t you dare pity yourself. There’s always a way out. Smile, huh?
“HEY! You! Get away from there!”
I whirled around to see a man, probably the owner of the stand, shouting from the other end of the street as he ran over.
“If you touched anything... filthy brat..”
“I was just-“
I finally moved away from the stand and started heading for the Forge. Then- when the stand was a few hundred yards behind me- I stopped and turned around.
“No one’s gonna steal rotten fruit!” I shouted back at the vendor. I broke into a run before he could retaliate.
I pushed open the heavy door, rainwater dripping from the ends of my hair, and was bathed in a hot, smoky haze. For once it was a slight relief to enter the Forge.
The workroom was silent and, as usual, lit by a few smoldering furnaces, but the clamor of raucous laughter and chatter drifted from the scullery at the end of the room. The smiths must be on dinner break already.
I headed to the scullery. I’ll just grab my share and go upstairs... I never ate with the others. They didn’t like to be reminded of my existence.
The stools and tables of the scullery were strewn with tired, ash-stained bodies. They sprawled over the rickety wooden furniture with abandon and wolfed down a dinner of bread and potato soup. Delicate table manners existed somewhere I was sure… Just not at the Forge.
I finally managed to sneak around the edge of the room and seize a bowl of soup- and then I was out.
Later, I lay on my bed in the darkness- idly chewing on a tough scrap of potato and inspecting my bruised hands in a shaft of light from the rafters. Don’t know how I’m going to get any work done with these.
Crisp, clear blue sky- stretching out above me. Colors shattered upon the grass and cobbles…
“No, sari. You hold it like this-“ She took my hand and moved it up the sword handle.
With laughter dancing in her yellow eyes, she said in a voice brighter than the sun itself, “Go ahead. Give it a swing.”
“But why is this important? I want to go play… And this is boy stuff.” I had always looked up to her- even adored her, but I didn’t want to be reminded of swords. Of fighting- or of death. I wanted to keep pretending. Like everyone else did.
“Maybe not today, but someday it will be very important. It may save your life.”
“But I have you to protect me.”
She met my eyes, suddenly solemn. “You will not always.”
I opened my eyes. Cobwebs. Darkness. Pain. More memories, huh?
Dressed in my workclothes once again, I made my way down the stairs to the scullery for breakfast- or whatever it was they kept insisting was edible.
I wonder who she was. What did she call me? Sari? I remember… It means “child” in the Thelendarian language.. I hesitated, slightly unsettled. Why do I know that?
I grabbed a bowl of root-mush from a table. Leaning against the wall, I didn’t give any thought to the food I was eating or the voices outside the scullery. Just going through the motions. Once again… I took those few minutes of freedom to think about Santha and what she had told me.
I dropped the spoon back into my bowl of root-mush.
She said I was Luminous. If that was true.. I could be free. I’ll make Santha teach me how to be Luminous. I’ll finally escape. And maybe I could find that woman again.. that woman who was my mother. Mother.
I did something dangerous. I began to hope.
But remember Boss…
“You- girl!” a rough voice cut through my thoughts.
I jumped to my feet, dropping the bowl with a clatter and turning to see none other than him. Fray.. He’s real angry this time. I lowered my gaze and promptly took on a shy, nervous demeanor. I didn’t have to fake the shaking hands.
“Get over here,” Boss growled. He got up to his feet- shoving the chair to the side with a clatter, and roughly grabbed my arm. I struggled against the urge to resist- letting him drag me out to the workroom, fear drowning out my anger.
He hauled me over to my workshop, slammed the door shut with a foreboding thud, and turned on me with a snarl. I backed against the metal rack, my head bowed low and my hands clutched to my chest- the picture of meek, helpless, fear…
“Frayed brat. Where were you yesterday?” he growled, hands balled into fists.
I mumbled, disguising the rising hate and fury inside me, “Y-you told me… I delivered the message so I could get the rest of the day off…”
“I never said that, you little-“ Boss finally came for me, swinging at my head with a fist like a sledgehammer.
I curled up against the rack, arms over my head, whimpering and backed into a corner like the rat I was. It’ll be over soon. And remember? No pain… You don’t have to feel it… It’ll be over soon.
“-lying..” He roared.
I didn’t lie. I get it now. I heard them talking. He lost a customer yesterday…
And he’s taking it out on me.
The next blow left me sprawled across the grimy stone tiles, blood streaming down my chin.
I didn’t do anything to deserve this…
Boss kicked aside the workbench and loomed over me.
I waited patiently. Then… at the last moment, rolled out of the way and jumped to my feet. I looked straight at Boss and realized, Why am I still here?
The smith’s eyes widened in surprise, and his raised fist wavered. Then he growled angrily and charged at me. I ducked and snatched a hammer from a rack, shaking with fury.. loathing towards this man. My jailor. He’s wasted eight years of my life. Chained here, slaving away for him… And what have I gotten in return? Scars. Bruises.
Thord slapped the hammer out of my grip and kicked me to the ground. I glared at him, refusing to feel fear. I hissed, my voice rising with each word, “I won’t.. I won’t be your slave any longer.”
“You’re pathetic. You think this is bad? You prefer the streets where I found you?” Thord said, shaking his head in disgust. “You wanna dig through the frayed trash heaps for your dinner?”
“I found out- I’m Luminous, Thord. I’m leaving and you can’t stop that,” I coughed, wiping the blood of my chin. I no longer felt afraid of him. He was just a smith in a little Acarian city that didn’t matter. Time to do something. I’m sick of this. I don’t know what I was waiting for.. but I’ve waited long enough.
I looked up, stunned. The man stood there.. and laughed.
“You think I didn’t know that? That you were Luminous?”
“You think I’d take in a scrawny orphan girl off the streets to work for me when I have more apprentices than I need? Yeah, I knew what you were when I took you in. There were stories about the odd little urchin… so I went and found you.”
He continued carelessly as he kicked aside the fallen hammer, “The powers. I don’t understand them well, but I knew that using them you could make a sword bend just right. Sharper and more durable than any sword I could make. You idiot. You never knew what you were doing.. Even when I gave you your own workshop so no one would know what you were… You think you’d have the strength to do what my senior smiths struggle with? It’s all those powers you were born with.”
He finished, now leering with amusement. “You built up my reputation.. Made the Forge so well-known even the Royal Guards sent all the way from Idenrae to buy from me.”
I stared in shock, suddenly understanding everything.
“Let me teach you a lesson, girl. You’re never leaving.”
He turned the rack and chose a heavy iron-headed mallet.
I tasted the sour tang of blood in my mouth, my heart racing. Do something. Do something! The voice screamed in my head, more distant every moment. But I was frozen. Ryn.. You need something to fight back with. Remember the sword? That cursed sword, stained with my own blood… how much I had hated it.
Suddenly my thoughts flashed back to that night. Thord had been watching, waiting for me to mess up. Hours in the boiling heat, pounding away at red-hot metal… I could remember every dent, every imperfection in that sword that I shaped. I had listened to the screeching whir of the grindstone until my head reverberated with the ringing… and that sword had become sharp enough to slice a hair.
Reach for it. It’s there… You know it better than you know yourself.
I reached out, wondering if I was delirious from the pain… and the sword, a common steel sword with the faintest tint of blood-red, materialized in my hand.
Thord finally turned around- to see me, holding up the sword in bloody hands.
“Where did you get that?” For the first time, he sounded afraid. No, terrified. It’s the sword…
The sword cast a bloody red light around it. I could feel it in my hands… it almost seemed alive. It echoed with an aura of pure despair. Hate. Terror. Pain.
I recoiled from the thing, holding it out from me. Thord backed farther away, eyes wide. He felt it too.
“Your eyes..” the smith whispered.
I spoke, grim and quiet. “I’m leaving. And I’m never coming back to this cursed place.”