I finished rewrites on The Crystal Lattice last night, so now it is time to return to Absolution. I can't publish the former until I publish the latter because of chronology, so I'm waiting to do my final edits until Absolution is published.
The following is a completely unedited passage from my draft of Absolution. The story takes place sixty years after the fall of Malora, a post-apocalyptic, dangerous world. The narrator, a young woman named Isen, has joined the Aulor Bethel and gender-switching mage Dacibrega on a quest to find the last lost city of the Tenjeri.
I felt Holly's presence well before I saw him. Fatigue, not overwhelming, but subtle, a malaise which begged me to lie down on the beach and allow the waves to crash me into submission. As I did with everything else in my life, I resisted and stumbled behind my companions. I had expected to feel Holly's aura after what Bethel told me, but I did not expect the accelerated ease with which despair tickled my psyche further into depression. The farther south we walked along the Aloran Bay, the more rampant my desperation became. I wanted nothing more than to turn around and run north, but my stubbornness kept me trudging ever forward.
The ocean was infinite and unforgiving, churning waters of an unrelenting elemental soul. I was lost in it and I was not even touching the water. Ara was its name, her name. At least in this manifestation. Omalara was the name of her spirit, the spirit of all oceans because there was only one ocean in all the world. Different names in different places, on different shores, but Omalara was the true name of her soul. There were fourteen elemental deities in the Web, but on that shore all I could see were Omalara and Rima, the ocean and the sky. Even the stars were diminished by the brightness of the full moon. My senses were ebbed by the roar of the water and the incessant pulse of what I assumed was Holly.
“Isen, are you all right?” Bethel asked. He was the color of the dunes, and walked barefoot in the shimmering grains of shattered quartz.
“Fine,” I mumbled. It was not true. I was utterly hopeless. Why had I come here? I would never find what I was looking for. I did not even know what it was I was seeking. Nothing. Maybe nothing. Nothing would ever get better for me. I was unwanted, unloved, and I was certain no one in Jata missed me. They had forgotten about me, already I was only a wisp of a memory, intangible, and unnoticed.
“No, you are not fine,” Bethel said gently. He walked toward me and laid his hand on my shoulder. “I think I left him too long by himself. Whatever you are feeling now, it will pass. He doesn't want to hurt anyone, and he is learning to control his power, but he is still too strong for many people to tolerate. We must still find him. The despair you are feeling will subside once I have seen to him.”
“It is not so bad. You'll get used to it, though I do not think anything he can make you feel is as bad as what you have already done to yourself,” Dacibrega shouted. She had her back turned to us and continued walking down the shore. She had not spoken to me since we left the ruined city. It was better that way. I could not do anything right, and I especially could not be around people for any length of time without hurting them. Especially an anomaly like Dacibrega. I hurt her and the acknowledgment of my chaotic feelings forced hot acid to rise in my parched throat.
Bethel took my hand and urged me forward. I trudged slowly beside him through the sand, feeling nothing but the slight roughness of his skin and my own sedating remorse. I was tired, too tired. Why wouldn't he let me stop? All I wanted was to lie down on the sand and stare into the waves until I faded into nothingness. It would be better that way, to be nothing, to wane with the moon into an inky black and star-filled sky. I was ready to surrender what little sanity I had to the oblivion. I was resolutely fearless, but my soul was an abyss.
Bethel let go of my hand and the gloom brightened to a dim haze. There was still no cheer in the crashing of the whitecaps on the sand, but there was a sense of acceptance. The pain of my soul subsided and I finally saw my cousin, who lounged sleepily on a dune overlooking the sea.
The moonlight kissed Holly's golden hair with a glaze of silver fire and auric dust. Bethel walked away from me and knelt behind Holly. Bethel placed his fingertips on the young man's temples and the melancholy I was drowning in fully abated.
Dacibrega was smiling and whispering a greeting to Holly, but I could only stare at him. How could someone so beautiful have caused me so much despair? Holly's eyes were brilliantly blue, yet held an air of perpetual worry. His hair fell framed his eyes in short golden waves. With his prominent cheekbones and willowy frame, I realized had a significant resemblance to Bethel. I wasn't surprised, as my grandmother told me how much her brother Aridani looked like their father. Aridani had five children, and Holly was his youngest. According to Bethel, Holly was the most uncontrollably powerful of the five. He was several years younger than my father, but he did not appear any older than I did.
“How are you doing, Holly?” Bethel asked. I sat on the sand and watched them. I was a bit ashamed of myself for feeling so sorrowful, but was grateful the feelings were now diminished. I was only numb, and the sand was comfortable under my tired legs.
“Better now that you two are back, and you even brought a little friend,” Holly said. I snorted into my hands. Little friend? I was not certain I liked his condescending commentary. “I made a friend, too, but she won't come close enough for me to talk to her. She keeps writing me messages in the sand.”
“What friend?” Bethel asked. He spoke so softly I could hardly hear him above the rush of waves.
“You first,” Holly challenged.
Bethel smiled at me. “This is Isen and the lovely furball is her familiar Zade. She's your cousin Zoli's daughter, and will be helping us get to Trieskel. You were chewing on her energy on the way here. I was afraid she wouldn't make it without needing to be carried.”
“I made it,” I mumbled.
“Sorry about that,” Holly said. His teeth were just as even and white as Bethel's, though he had a more squared jaw. “I felt Bethel and Daci approach. I guess I was reaching for them a bit and didn't realize you were with them. I apologize. I'm not so scary, really. Sometimes my little inner turmoil decides to run off and play with others, that's all.”
“I am fine now,” I returned.
“I know you are. Hopefully it won't happen again,” Holly said. Hopefully? That did not sound promising. “My friend is down the beach a ways. I saw her hair through the rushes before it got dark. I think she's one of Solace's. They can't come near me, you know, never could.”
“Really?” Bethel asked hopefully. “You said she leaves you messages. What is she skulking around for?”
“Waiting for you, I assume. She won't let me close so I know she's not looking for me. Solace will never let me be with them. She saw to that years ago. It's too bad, really. The ocean is the only place that seems to welcome me anymore, even if her people are afraid. At least Omalara likes me, even if no one else does.”
“I like you,” Bethel said with a laugh.
“You like everyone,” Holly replied. “Even those you pretend not to.”
“Where is the boat?” Dacibrega asked.
“Didn't move it, it's still in the cove,” Holly chirped. “North. That's to my left, Daci.”
“I know north. It is warmer in the north,” Dacibrega said, and I could not hold back my laughter. She pretended to be so smart, but she obviously could not figure much of anything out and I doubted she was even capable of functioning without Bethel's help.
“That is southern hemisphere. We're north now. It's opposite,” Bethel said gently. I thought he was glaring at me, but it was difficult to tell in the dark. Holly's quizzical expression only made me laugh harder. “Be nice, or at least pretend to be.”