This is the first chapter of my most troublesome little baby, Sand into Glass, which will be released on May 6, 2015. I've switched this book from first to second in the Emergence trilogy despite taking place before The Crystal Lattice. It is chronologically sixth in the Malora octet. If you read the earlier version of my draft, you'll note a major change. The 407 chapters are now all in present tense, and I think the reason will become obvious as you read it.
“Name?” The word is diaphanous poison on the air. It shrivels as soon as it reaches my ear and drops to the ground as a concentrated pod of malice. “Name?”
“Arden Muza Masiona,” I say.
“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 stares at me. His left eye twitches. He taps the butt of his chewed pencil on the desk, then tugs at his emerald hair.
“Really,” I reply.
“Half-Efi.” I stare at the wall. The dried blood makes my hands itch. I want to wash them, but I am both handcuffed and tied to the chair.
“And what is the other half?”
“I have no idea what that is.”
“Yeah, most people don't. Bethel Masiona is an Aulor.” I shift in the chair. The wood groans and creaks. I am not heavy by any means, but the chair was built for a Drey half my height.
“I know who he is. Height in hands?”
“What the abyss 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 reply. A thunderclap shakes the building and rain paints the grimy windows.
“Well, the witnesses would agree with the charge. Are you now, or have you ever been a mage?” the deputy asks, his single eyebrow raised.
My cheek twitches and I lower my eyes to the filthy floor. “No.”
“Are you lying?” the deputy asks.
Rage tickles my nerves. I close my eyes and chase it away. It is teasing me. I must set it loose. It wants to come out and play, but it can't, it mustn't. I concentrate on my exhale and say, “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 that 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 ward 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. If you cooperate, your execution will be gentler.” The deputy stands and motions toward the door. He calls, “Come get him now.”
“Damn it,” I mutter.
Six Drey officers march into the room. They untie me from the chair and force me to my feet. I am so much taller than them that they don't know how to handle me. They shove me toward the hall. I smash my head against the door frame and stumble.
“Hope the cell is taller than the rest of this place,” I say. I want to rub my injured head, but my hands are still cuffed behind my back. “Don't you get any Toli or Efi in here? Humans, even?”
“You don't deserve comfort for what you have done,” an officer growls.
They force me through another doorway, shove me down two cell-lined corridors, and deposit me in a tiny, bare room. A squat toilet sullies one corner and a hard cot lines the opposite wall. Three walls are flat, whitewashed stone and the fourth is a network of uneven, criss-crossing metal rods. The other prisoners in the ward cackle at me.
The officers uncuff my hands through the bars. I wonder how they found handcuffs big enough for me when they couldn't be bothered to alter their city to accommodate any of the taller races of Melor.
“I hope your death is painful. Maybe the judges will decide on dismemberment. Haven't seen one of those for a while,” one of the officers says with a laugh. The door is double-bolted and locked. I am left alone.
I sit on the floor and rock against the wall. My stomach growls and I wonder what they will feed me, if they will feed me at all. A shrill whistle assaults my ear and my hands tremble as my composure wavers. The low moan rattling in the back of my throat rises to a wail. I knock my head on the wall. Once, twice, over and over, not hard enough to damage, only hard enough to hurt. Just when things were starting to get better, this happens. I am going to die here. The Drey are going to hack me apart and laugh about it.
“Shut up!” a voice screams down the hall. “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”
“I could really use some help right now,” I whisper. I have no idea if my intended listener will 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 right.
I face the left wall to muffle the sounds of the ward. I cry into my hands. Between sobs, I whisper, “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 listen. There is nothing else I can say that will make him come. I am lost, utterly lost, and it is my own fault. Everything bad is always my fault. Always. Self-fulfilling prophesies? Yeah, thanks, Mother.
“Please,” I say, but my voice is dampened by the folds of my shirt. I have no desire to be yelled at again. “Please convince them I deserve to be free. I don't want to die here.”
Silence. Our communication always has been one-way, and I am never prepared for the silence. I have a feeling he stopped listening to me half a century ago. I am on my own and escape is an impossibility. I have no way to prove my innocence and I'm not even certain I am innocent. Maybe I deserve this. I am unredeemable to everyone now.
The rage breaks free and I become a spectator to my body's brutal assault on the prison bars. I will hurt in the morning. I suppose it doesn't matter anymore, since tomorrow may be my last day.
I wake to the vibration of a distant rumble. I don't know if it's thunder or mine explosives. Either is possible in the Drey city of Atalor. Palladium mines flank the city like festering sores.
The damp cell smells of burning cedar and petrichor. I roll onto my side and sit to face the condensation on the back wall. My entire body aches and my hair is wet.
I AM ALONE. I AM ALONE.
i am wrath.
I AM ALONE. I AM ALONE.
The words coat the wall along the floor, gashes bleeding from the whitewash. They are ruddy and smeared. The box of graphite under my bed is untouched.
I hold up my hands. The first finger on each is tender and bloodied. I had written the words with my own blood.
“Really, Arden?” I mumble. I vaguely remember biting my fingertips to scrawl on the wall. I thought I was past this. I thought I'd escaped the abyss of my rage, but here it is again, chasing me through reality instead of remaining chained to my nightmares. The centuries of work my father did with me and the years of learning to avoid my triggers were wasted, because here I am, right back where I started. I am an uncontrollable, brutal mess.
I cover my mouth with my hands and sneeze. The petrichor bothers my senses. My eyes burn and my lungs feel wet. That's right, I am an Efi-Aulor with allergies. Unusual, but not unheard of. I'm also allergic to cabbage and raspberries, severely in the case of the latter. It's just another thing that makes me less than normal.
A sobbing wail drifts through the cell bars. I bury my face in my knees and press my hands over my ears. I don't need this. Crying, crying, crying, I don't need to listen to crying.
“Knock it off,” I whisper, but the rage begs the crier to continue.
“You got no right to tell nobody nothin'. Not after your outburst last night, boy,” yells a voice from down the corridor.
I shove the rage into a cabinet and lock it in. My father called my problem by its ancient name – Neyril. I just call it a problem, and no matter what I do to eradicate it, the damned thing is determined to remain immortal. The sobbing continues, but I ignore it and focus on the competing rhythms of my breathing and the distant rumbles.
“Sorry about that,” I say politely.
A loud clink echoes down the corridor and the prisoner directly across the hall drums his foot against the bars. He clears his throat and says, “Hey, that accent of yours sounds familiar. You from Yolane?”
I creep to the bars and hang my arms through the openings. “Yeah.”
The prisoner presses his scarred forehead to the bars and whistles. White hair sticks out in awkward angles from his pallid, pointed face. Normally I would feel his chill from this close, but the dampening field in the mage ward keeps him unnaturally warm. He flashes sharp teeth through drawn lips and a clenched jaw. His plush tail flicks the air. I knew him before I was exiled from Yolane. He is one of my father's former students, a Masai Emergent. His power is snow and I imagine he feels quite feverish without it. His name was Koraa Nightsong before he emerged. I struggle to remember his true name because I knew him by his birth name for a couple years before his emergence.
“Arden?” he ventures. He clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth and tilts his head to the side.
“Hello again, Ikuren,” I say.
“What the abyss are you doing here? Your little problem finally get the better of you?”
“More like the worse.”
“You're no mage. Why are you here? This ward here, not prison here,” Ikuren asks. His nose twitches and he raises a slim hand to rub it.
“The Masiona name is not consequence-free. Hardly a person of worth in Melor who doesn't know my father's name. They think I'm lying. They think I killed someone,” I say. I don't expect him to believe me. I gave him two of his scars.
“Huh. Did you?”
“I don't know.”
“That doesn't surprise me. Rest of the world is safer with you in here, you know? Funny, considering the middle name your dad gave you means 'peace' in the Elemental language. You're a sweet kid most of the time, but you're dangerous and you shouldn't try to convince yourself otherwise,” Ikuren says. He taps his foot on the bars again. “Your dad know you're in here?”
“Don't know. Doubt he cares.”
“He does and you know it.”
“Doesn't matter now,” I say. I rub my eyes in an effort to stave off the tear barrage welling in my sinuses. “They're determined to pronounce me guilty and execute me.”
Ikuren whistles and drops to sit cross-legged on the floor. He reaches for me through the bars. I stretch my arm out. My fingertips graze his. We never got along before, but the bars separating us suddenly make our relationship almost amicable.
Ikuren draws back his hand as if touched by a flame. “Damn it, kid. Sorry. Can't say I'm surprised, but I'm sorry. I don't understand you. Your dad can tame anyone. He tamed me, and that was an abyss of a task in itself. Well, to a degree at least, considering where I am now. Why couldn't he tame you?”
I shrug and run my fingers along the outsides of the bars. “Don't know. We tried, I mean we really tried, both of us. Something like three hundred years and he never figured out what to do with me. I think it's because he only knows how to help mages and I'm mundane.”
“The abyss you are! You're no mage, but you're no mundane, either. You're what, four hundred, and you're not even middle-aged? You slip in and out of this anger thing like it owns you. Why don't you try owning it for a change?”
“Oh, I have,” I reply. “I've tried everything. I'm a slave to this wild bitch and everyone knows it. I was doing well up until yesterday. I was in control for over twenty years, and now it's back.”
“You were quite out of control prior to that. I was eighteen when you sliced my leg open with a corkscrew. Nineteen when you threw your dad's sword into my gut. Lucky we had Asaina there to fix me up or I'd have been a goner. I'm in here for larceny, not so bad. You finally killed someone. I think everyone was expecting that to happen eventually. How did a sweet kid like you go so wrong?” Ikuren asks. He clicks his tongue again and turns around to face the back wall of his cell. His tail swings side to side. My limited knowledge of Masai body language tells me it is an insult.
“That would be my mother's fault.”
“Oh, come now!” Ikuren says with a hiss. I struggle to understand him since I can't see his face. I tilt my head toward him and his words become a little clearer. “Don't go blaming your mother for your own problems.”
“You didn't know my mother,” I say. “Face me when you speak. Please.”
“Sorry, forgot about that,” he says after he turns around. “Can't imagine Bethel would've kept a woman around who was anything short of wonderful.”
“Heh!” I snort. “Oh, the stories I could tell you about my mother. My father doesn't always have the best judgment when he's lovestruck.”
The door on the far end of the corridor opens with shudder and a groan. The hall erupts into whoops and growls.
“Breakfast time, kid,” Ikuren says. “Eat up, will be another twelve hours before they feed us again. Tell you what ... why don't you write a bit about your dear mother on the walls so you can read it to me later when you're less frazzled.”
A portly, pink-haired Drey pushes a cart in front of my cell. He unlatches a tiny panel at the bottom of the gate and shoves in a steaming bowl. I crouch over it and inhale. Cabbage.
“Sir? I'm allergic to cabbage. Don't want to kill me before the allotted time, do you?” I ask. The last time I accidentally ate cabbage, I had hives and intermittent asthma attacks for a week.
“Cabbage for breakfast or starve all day,” the Drey mutters.
“I'll eat it for him,” Ikuren chimes.
“Shut it, thief.”
The Drey pushes a small water pitcher into my cell and slams the panel shut. He leaves me with the cabbage and continues down the hall. I nudge the bowl into the corner and stare at it with disdain. My stomach rumbles and cramps, but that's better than the inevitability of another allergic reaction. I know the others are slurping their soup and I grit my teeth. Water will have to do. I hope dinner isn't so offensive to my flawed body.
I crouch to retrieve the box of graphite from under the tiny cot. My fingers throb from the pathetic attempt at writing my rage on the walls. I have nothing better to do while waiting for my execution than darkening the whitewash with memories of my corruption.