November 4, 2009

Nano Snippet

I'm writing, but it's going slower than I'd like. The first day I met the minimal word count limit, but barely. Monday I was about 1000 words short and yesterday I barely got anything at all. I have good excuses, but excuses don't help the word count! Let's just say I have a lot to make up for tonight.

Instead of boring you with my excuses, though, I thought I'd post a portion of the opening chapter. Please be kind. This is rough (extremely rough) draft and I suck at beginnings. They usually take at least a half-dozen or more tries before I get them "right".

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Chapter One


Precious water, a rare and sacred commodity in the depths of the desert, filled the Acolyte pool. The scent of untainted purity, of life, filled the small room beneath the hot sands and limestone bedrock, beckoning those who aspired to be recognized as god-kin to replenish their bodies and spirits before beginning the first of their trials. Oil lamps, artfully arranged around the room, flickered the passing of time, counting down the last hours of preparation and purification.

Moswen El-Brideah shrugged the linen robe from her shoulders and walked naked into the empty room. She paused at the edge of the pool, closed her eyes, and took a deep, calming breath. Images of hieroglyphs, the pictorial script of the god-kin, danced across her eyelids. She had not been able to escape them in her sleep, either. Hopefully the pool would wash them away, for a time at least.

Opening her eyes on a weary sigh, she stepped into the pool and waded across the center. She sank onto a rock-chiseled ledge, water sloshing over her shoulders. Normally she would wait for her attendants to arrive, but today she would have to wash her own hair and scrub her own flesh free of impurities. Knowing the burning oil would not last indefinitely, Moswen began the cleansing ritual.

As she slid beneath the surface of the water, her fingers working through her hair, she tried to focus on nothing but the feel of her body, the texture of her hair in the current created by movements. For a small time she wanted to forget the cramped agony of her ink-stained fingers and the hoarseness of her voice from the hours of practiced incantations. The anxiety of failure would not leave her even though her last attempt had been successful.

She had shed her human form to assume the visage of a god. She had been unable to hold the form for more than a heartbeat or two, but she had transformed her flesh, something only the gods and their offspring, the god-kin, could do. She had succeeded. She only hoped the short-lived success would be enough to please her family’s ancient benefactor. Without Oryn’s approval, her family’s right to rule would be open to challenge for the first time in history.

Not that she was the only descendant at risk of losing the right to call herself god-kin. News of struggling Acolytes had been reaching her mother’s court for years. The reason, quietly whispered far from the temple steps, was blamed on the dilution of the bloodlines. Generations of god-kin had ruled the Continent for eons without any new infusions to bolster the failing powers of the long-ago chosen.

She broke the surface of the water and reached for the soap one of the temple attendants had left at the pool’s edge earlier that morning. She lathered her hair and scrubbed her face.

The embodiment of the god would be the last of her trials. She hoped she would have enough strength left to perform the task because, without performing any other feats of magic, she had little enough ability to force the transformation. Unfortunately, she knew she would have to expend some energy before entering the final chamber. According to her mother, she would be required to perform three different forms of magic. Each trial would be held in its own chamber, each one leading her further and further into the heart of Oryn’s Temple. For her first trial, she would have to heal someone. If she were lucky, and she suspected her mother would be sure to help her luck along, she would get a clean, open wound to heal. Anything more complicated would require the expenditure of precious energy.

She rinsed and began scrubbing down the rest of her body. The fire from the oil lamps danced and flickered until one of them extinguished in a pale wisp of white smoke. Shadows thickened along the back wall, encouraging her to hurry.

The second trial would be easier. It required the manipulation of earthly elements, a feat Moswen knew she would have little trouble performing. Quite the opposite actually. She would have to hold back, to downplay the ease with which she could perform any elemental magic.

She would also have to fake the magic.

The idea sent a bolt of apprehension down her spine and cast a ripple of goose pimples across her skin. She shivered. Of all the tasks, this one, the easiest, worried her the most. It threatened to reveal a secret she had protected since he had first convinced her of the truth.

Fearing her very thoughts would betray her, Moswen clamped down on the memory threatening to overwhelm her. She could not, would not, think about him or his revelations. Not today. Not here.

A second lamp flickered out, deepening the shadows. She had perhaps minutes before the room would be lost to the subterranean darkness.

She finished her bath and exited the pool. She did not stoop to pick up the discarded robe near the doorway, but made sure to avoid contact with its contaminated folds as she stepped around it to select a towel from one of the three pedestals in the room.

She toweled dry and, as custom dictated, dropped the damp cloth to the floor before moving on to the next pedestal. A fresh, clean robe unfurled after a shake or two. She folded it around her body and secured it with the decorative pin at her shoulder.

The last station had been positioned before a polished copper mirror. Its surface held a comb, pellets of ground carob, brushes of various size and shape, and a collection of simple containers filled with kohl, malachite and ochre.

Fearing the last of the light would disappear before she could finish, Moswen reached for the cosmetic brushes. She could comb out her hair with her fingers if necessary. Appearing before her patron god without her eyes outlined and her lips colored was unacceptable.

The light held. She left the room properly groomed. She knew she should feel calm and prepared, ready to face the challenges Oryn dealt her, but as she exited the room, anxiety settled into her stomach. It formed into a knot as she met her mother’s anxious eyes.

“You look well-prepared,” her mother said, leaving the lonely bench outside the acolyte pool. A stunning woman of indeterminable age, her mother was often mistaken for her sister.

Moswen inclined her head, but could not manage a smile. She did not feel well-prepared. She felt sick. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

“You’ll do just fine,” her mother said, but she could not manage a smile either. It seemed the knowledge that the next few hours could prove the undoing of a dynasty weighed heavily upon her slender shoulders, too.

They walked in silence toward the gentle incline leading up to the desert surface. As they neared the narrow passage her mother motioned her forward, falling into step behind her. “You remember the incantations? You need to be sure to emphasize the third and seventh glyphs, otherwise the spells won’t work. I realized while you were bathing that you sometimes forget to put your energy into the central glyphs. You can’t afford a lazy tongue today.”

They had covered all of this before Moswen had entered the pool. Fighting back a flash of annoyance, she nodded her head. She could use the reminder. If her spells worked every time and worked as well as legend said they should, she might have given in to the urge to point out her mother’s limitations. After all, she wasn’t the only one who struggled with the god-kin magic.

A litany of recommendations and criticisms followed her out of the passageway. She paused as her eyes adjusted to the brilliance reflecting off the sands and the surrounding sandstone structures. Towering statues lined a broad walkway. Her mother stepped out and stood beside her, raising a hand to shield her eyes.

The Temple had been built inland, far from the god’s ruling city. The pilgrimage from the lush delta to the interior of the ever-expanding and unforgiving desert was supposed to help prepare the Acolyte for their first audience with their god. The shifting sands, the dry, searing heat of the days and the bone-chilling cold of the night were meant to focus the energies of the both the mind and the body.

Moswen found the desert exhausting. The barren landscape was only marginally improved by the magnificent structures that had been erected to honor the god Oryn.

She missed the palm trees and the balmy wind off the Great River. She missed the comforts of the women’s quarters at the city palace. She missed the chatter of monkeys and the twitter of birds, the smell of the spice market, and the sight of foreigners in the streets and in the court.

“They’re waiting for you.”

The unwelcome reminder did little to ease her nervousness. Her trials must be completed before the sun set. If her magic were more reliable, she might have retired to her quarters for a quick repast, but she could not afford such a luxury.
She moved resolutely toward the temple.

At the bottom of the temple steps, her mother stopped. She inclined her head and offered yet another rendition of the forced smile. Anxiety filled her eyes. “You can do this, daughter.”

Moswen laid a gentle hand on her mother’s shoulder. The fleeting touch bolstered her courage as she began her journey. As she mounted the grand temple steps, Moswen could feel her mother’s eyes as well as those in her personal retinue follow her ascent. She hoped to those looking on she appeared composed and confident. It was not until she came to the top and stepped onto the broad approach leading into the Temple proper did she feel truly alone.