I have three projects going on right now. I'm doing copy edits on all four e-books to put them in print, I'm sitting on the completed draft of Shadows of Absolution until I finish copy-editing so I can distance myself enough to see it more objectively, and I am in the planning stages of my next project (which has been gnawing at my psyche for a couple of weeks now). I was supposed to go to bed early last night, but instead I wrote the first chapter at 1am. I'm posting it as a way of holding myself accountable to the project. I started it, now I have to finish it. I'm at least partially hand-writing it, like I did for Mayfly Requiem. This is the same world as the other books, but a different era. It fills in some of the 4,800 year gap between SoA and the completed draft of The Crystal Lattice, which I'm going to sit on until the previous books are complete and published.
“Arden Muza Masiona.”
“You saw me undress. I'm still male.”
“Hair and eye colors?”
“Black. Hazel. Those haven't changed, either.”
“Four hundred and seven.”
“Really?” The deputy stared at me incredulously. He tapped his pencil on the desk, then tugged at his emerald hair.
“Really,” I replied.
“Half-Efi.” I stared at the wall. The blood coating my hands made me itchy. I wanted to wash them, but I was not only handcuffed but also tied to the chair.
“And what is the other half?”
“I have no idea what that is.”
“Yeah, most people don't.” I shifted in the chair. The wood groaned. I was not heavy by any means, but the chair was built for a Drey half my height.
“Height in hands?”
“What the hell am I, a horse? Let me think for a moment. Nineteen.”
“Place of birth?”
“Huh. Didn't know anyone lived there. Do you know what you are being charged with?”
“I was told murder. I disagree,” I replied. A thunderclap shook the building and rain beat a frantic cadence against the windows.
“Well, the witnesses would agree with the charge. Are you now, or have you ever been a mage?” The deputy asked, his bushy eyebrow raised.
I cringed and lowered my eyes to the floor. “No.”
“Are you lying?” The deputy asked.
Rage tickled my nerves. I closed my eyes and chased it away. It was teasing me. I could not set it loose. It wanted to come out and play, but it couldn't, it mustn't. I concentrated on my breathing and said, “No. If I was a mage, I wouldn't be here. I am hopelessly mundane.”
“You are a Masiona and yet you are not a mage?”
“I am a Web-damned anomaly and I am sorry if you don't believe me.”
“I do not believe you, and neither does anyone else here. You will be held in the secure mage confinement area to await your trial. Let it be known that your charge carries a penalty of death when you are found guilty. This is not an if, Mr. Masiona. You are guilty and I cannot see any evidence that may prove otherwise. There is a box of graphite under the cot in your cell. Feel free to write your confession on the walls to make the case easier for the prosecution. We will paint over it as soon as you're dead. If you cooperate, your execution will be gentler.” The deputy stood and motioned toward the door. “Come get him now,” he called to the officers waiting outside.
“Damn it,” I muttered.
Six Drey officers marched into the room. They untied me from the chair and forced me to my feet. I was so much taller they didn't know how to handle me. They shoved me toward the hall. I smashed my head against the top of the door frame.
“Hope the cell is taller than the rest of this place,” I said. I wanted to rub my injured head, but my hands were still cuffed behind my back. “Don't you get any humans or Efi in here?”
“You don't deserve comfort for what you have done,” an officer growled. They forced me into another doorway, shoved me down two cell-lined corridors, and deposited me in a tiny, bare room. A squat toilet sat in one corner and a hard cot took up the opposite wall. Three walls were flat, whitewashed stone and the fourth was criss-crossing metal rods. The other prisoners cackled at me.
The officers uncuffed my hands through the bars. I wondered where they found handcuffs big enough for me when they couldn't be bothered to build their town to accommodate the taller races of Melor.
“I hope your death is painful. Maybe the judge will decide on dismemberment. Haven't seen one of those for a while,” one of the officers said with a laugh. They double-bolted the door and left me alone.
I sat on the floor and rocked against the wall. My stomach growled and I wondered if they would feed me. My ears rang and my hands trembled as my composure wavered. The low moan rattling in the back of my throat rose to a wail. I repeatedly knocked my head on the wall. Just when things were starting to get better, this had to happen. I was going to die here. The Drey were going to hack me apart and laugh about it.
“Shut up!” a voice screamed from down the hall. “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”
“I could really use some help right now,” I whispered. I had no idea if my intended listener would pay attention or even care. I was once told I would never amount to anything, but I had chosen a poor way to prove my mother wrong.
I faced the wall and cried into my hands. Between sobs, I said, “I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I've made a terrible mistake and I need your help. They're going to kill me.”
“Who the abyss are you babbling at? Shut up!”
This time I listened. Nothing else I could say would make him come. I was lost, utterly lost, and it was my own fault. Everything was always my fault. Self-fulfilling prophesies? Yeah, thanks, Mother.
“Please,” I said, but my voice was hidden by the folds of my shirt. I had no desire to be yelled at again. “Please convince them I deserve to be free.”
Silence. Our communication was always one-way, and I was never prepared for the silence. I had a feeling he had stopped listening to me half-a-century ago. I was on my own and escape was an impossibility. I had no way to prove my innocence and I wasn't even certain I was innocent. Maybe I deserved this. I was unredeemable to everyone, now.
The rage broke free and I became a spectator to my body's brutal assault on the prison bars. I would hurt in the morning. I supposed it didn't matter anymore, since the next morning would likely be the last I would see.