Chapter 1 – Rebooted

In the last post I mentioned the new and improved first chapter of THE PROVING… but failed to share! So the new creation is posted below.

There are two significant changes surrounded by dozens of small edits. Most notably, Kir’Ana is no longer trying to re-create a past event when she passes through the door at the Steward’s Gate. Instead, she discovers her talent for passing through solid objects right there on the spot. The other major change begins with a brand new set of opening sentences designed to draw the reader further into Kir’Ana’s perspective.

I am always open to sharing the entire book with anyone out there who wants to be an early reader. The only requirement is feedback; any and all is welcome, and the more critical the better!

Thanks!

~Kevin

* * * * * * *

THE PROVING

Chapter 1 – Rhythm in the Night

Kir’Ana awoke with a start, wind whipping through her hair and garments as she plummeted through darkness. Below, and getting closer by the second, loomed the castle’s moonlit courtyard.

Instinctively, she threw her hands before her face as if to somehow block the approach of death. As Kir’Ana closed her eyes for what she knew would be the last time, the castle’s courtyard still sped closer in her mind’s eye. She realized that it was not what she expected. Shouldn’t she instead be seeing her life – all sixteen Summers of it – flash before her eyes while she faced such a brutal end?

She cried out as her hands, head, and knees smacked the unforgiving pavement. She rolled onto her back as a wave of dizziness struck. Clutching her forehead and panting as pain shot through her body, she sat up, opened her eyes, and fought to orient herself.

Her eyes stung. Was it sweat? She wiped her face and saw a smear of crimson across her beige skin. Blood ran down the bridge of her nose from her forehead. She used the hem of her nightgown to wipe it away then looked around at the deserted courtyard filled with silvery light from the half-moon above. The ever-present sea breeze brought the brackish smell of the bay to her nose. She would have to —

The dizziness faded and her mind snapped into order. Patting her face and torso rapidly, she took stock of the obvious truth. She was alive, and this was no dream.

She looked up at the castle walls looming high above her, having no idea what she expected to see. There had not been a way in or out of the building above the east-facing courtyard for nearly forty years.

It suddenly occurred to her that she may have been attacked. An assassin! I was pushed, or thrown, from the heights of the castle’s roof. After being drugged maybe?

A chilling realization hit her. Assassins could still be in the castle! With one loud shout she could bring scores of the Royal Guard running from their posts, and within moments any invaders could be located and seized. But calling the guards would mean calling attention to herself, the girl who had just survived a hundred foot fall with only superficial wounds.

I didn’t die. It’s another symptom, which means I am completely hopeless. And I definitely can’t call for help and risk revealing the truth.

She stumbled to her bare feet, remembering Sir Jason’s strong voice repeating his favorite phrase. Stay in rhythm… Stay in rhythm. The knight had drilled Kir’Ana since she was a child to focus on the immediate, rejecting distractions of any kind. Keep your mind and body immersed in the rhythm of the moment, he would say, whether during combat or the delivery of a speech. Stay in rhythm.

“I have to get back inside,” Kir’Ana whispered as she crossed to the inner wall of the courtyard. “I have to stay out of sight in case there are assassins… and I have to bandage this wound.”

She tore a sleeve from her nightgown as she crept towards the Steward’s Foyer on the north side of the castle. It was the only entrance that might be open at this hour. Late night deliveries of food or beverages to the royal kitchens were rare, but not unheard of. If the gate was closed—

Stay in rhythm. Sir Jason’s words again rose to the surface of her mind. One thing at a time. Live in the moment.

Nearing the corner, she tied the long white sleeve around her brow like a sweatband, wincing at the pain of her raw forehead.

Even if I do make it back inside without being noticed, and make it back up the upper floors unseen, how do I explain my wounds? My bloody knees and toes are likely leaving a trail that anyone-

Stay in rhythm.

Kir’Ana peered around the castle’s northeast corner, crouching low. She watched and listened for a full minute before deciding it was safe and creeping over to the Steward’s Foyer awning.

“Nightwings!” she cursed under her breath. The massive foyer doors were closed.

A group of three guards stepped into view from across the Steward’s courtyard, talking quietly. Kir’Ana dove behind a stack of barrels just a few feet from the Foyer and held her breath. Her heart pounded and her wounds throbbed painfully along with it. Panic rose within her throat. The troop walked to within feet of her hiding place, then continued their march into the courtyard. Kir’Ana exhaled, then crept over to the ten-foot high wooden doors barring passage into the Steward’s Foyer and the kitchens beyond.

Maybe it’s not latched? But she knew the chances were slim. She placed both hands on the cold wood and pushed. The great doors didn’t budge. She pushed with even more intensity, putting all of her weight against the locked portal. I must get inside!

Her vision blurred with exertion and pain, forcing her to stop. This is foolishness. I’ll have to find another way.

With a deep breath, she rested her aching head on the cool wooden door and closed her eyes.

And landed with a thud on the stone floor inside the Steward’s Foyer.

She stifled a scream as she lay there on the other side of the still-sealed door. Her feet were not completely through. Her legs simply ended at the surface of the door’s planks as if sliced off. Her feet were still on the other side of the solid wood, the night breeze chilling her toes.

With a whimper-like yelp she yanked both knees towards her chin and rolled to a crouch. Her feet and legs looked fine, as if nothing had happened. Trembling, she stared at the door as if somehow it were to blame. A tentative touch to the darkened door revealed that it was, in fact, solid. But she had just passed through it as if it were no more substantial than smoke.

No, no, no! Another Emergent skill? I’m getting worse! Oh, no…

Long minutes passed before Kir’Ana regained her composure. She slowly stood, pulled her eyes away from the door and focused on getting back to her rooms. She sped across the foyer, through the empty kitchens, and into the castle proper. Sneaking around the great keep after dark was one of her favorite hobbies, so remaining hidden posed little challenge. She knew every guard station and hidden passageway. More importantly, she knew which guards were most likely to be dozing.

If I can just make it to the kitchen rear stairs, and if either Hunlon or Pistarak are on duty and napping…

“Kir’Ana, is that you?”

She froze in a crouch, then realized the voice was familiar.

“Jerine?”

The tall, redheaded Jerine crept out of the gloom and into a shaft of moonlight let in by the narrow windows near the staircase. She wore a long, dark nightgown and slippers.

“What are you doing sneaking around without me?” Kir’Ana said, stepping out to take her friend’s hand and pull her away from the silvery light. “Have you seen or heard anything unusual tonight?”

“No, nothing. It’s been quiet, as usual,” Jerine replied as she reached out to touch Kir’Ana’s impromptu bandage. “Are you bleeding? Were you sleepwalking again? What-,”

“I can’t explain right now,” Kir’Ana interrupted quietly but firmly. “I don’t think I was sleepwalking but–,” Something clicked in her thoughts, taking her words away. She had passed through a massive closed door. Her rooms were along the high, windowless castle wall directly above the courtyard where she had landed. Given her history of sleepwalking, could she have passed through the wall and fallen without any assassin involvement whatsoever? Besides, why would an assassin throw her from the roof instead of just cutting her throat? Her shoulders slumped.

“When we sneak around for fun, that’s one thing,” Jerine said seriously, unaware of Kir’Ana’s revelation. “But you’re hurt! Just go to the guards and let them get a physician. You are the princess. Your mother will not care about some harmless sneaking when your health is-,”

“No!” Kir’Ana breathed furiously. “I can’t.”

Jerine stepped even closer.

“What is going on? You haven’t been yourself in weeks, months even. You know you can talk to me. Tell me what’s happening.”

Kir’Ana sighed quietly, realizing she had little choice but to level with Jerine. Besides, she might need help carrying out her plan.

“You must promise to tell no one. Especially my mother or any member of the royal guard. Swear to secrecy, right now, and… I’ll tell you everything.”

Silence. Blood dripped into the young princess’ eye, stinging badly. Her throbbing head and the pain in her knees and toes intensified, reminding her of all that had just happened. Kir’Ana again considered the multiple new symptoms she had just displayed, and felt the crushing weight of their meaning.

Stay in rhythm!

“Swear it, Jerine Masterson!”

“I swear it. I will tell no one.”

A quick glance up and down the broad hallway confirmed that they were still alone. Kir’Ana drew closer to her old friend. “I leave for Pallas in just a few days,” she murmured.

“For your apprenticeship with the Grey Shields. Is there a problem? I know it took you forever to convince your mother to let you go.”

“I’m not going the apprenticeship. I’m leaving, and not coming back. Ever.”

Jerine stood quietly as if waiting for Kir’Ana to offer the punch-line. When none came, Jerine lashed out. “Stop it, Kir’Ana. Just stop it. That makes no sense at all. What do you mean you’re not coming back? Where would you go? Why would you want to? Your mother-,”

“Keep your voice down!” Kir’Ana interrupted. “I am doing this for my mother. And for the good of the Protectorates. I have to go.”

“Why?”

“Because I am Emergent. Because the Crown Princess of Touran is going insane. And if my mother finds out, she will move the foundations of Pasaron to try to help me, putting the kingdom at risk. I can’t let that happen.”

The truth of those words stung Kir’Ana as she uttered them aloud for the first time. If a Touran Queen’s only child were to die or go missing, by law she must give birth or adopt a new heir. But Kir’Ana would soon go mad; all Emergents did, and often violently so. She knew her mother well. It would kill her to replace her only child if she still lived. However, there was no cure for Emergence. With all of the other problems plaguing the Protectorates, both foreign and domestic, a leadership crisis could be disastrous.

So Kir’Ana would disappear, allowing everyone in Touran to consider her dead. Freeing her mother to do what she must in the name of the kingdom.

Jerine said nothing. Kir’Ana found her hand in the dark and led her through the hallway.

“Follow me back to my rooms. I could use some help with these wounds. And I’ll answer every question you have.”

* * * * * * *

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