Excerpt: "Thought Power"
By Sarah E. Seeley
Papa had lied to her again. He said he’d lost the twine bracelet she made for him when he’d gone away on patrol duty last week. But in the murmurs of his mind, between his memories and words, she learned he had cast it away; ashamed to keep a childish thing in his possession for fear the other sentries would tease him for it. She could have saved the clay beads and thread for something else if he hadn’t wanted it. He also said he didn’t know anything about the bundle of sweet dumplings the mountain girl she’d befriended in town had given her, let alone what became of them. He hadn’t eaten them or given them away, which still would have hurt, but she perceived that he’d taken them to the port at the edge of town and thrown them to the fish in the East Sea.
It was evening, and the heavens poured their cold, bitter element upon the high-peaked roofs of glowing shops and dwelling houses in a plinking cacophony as thirteen-year-old Xandyra pressed forward alone along the foggy streets of Nos Okar. Despite the lateness of the hour and the dreary weather, she heard the whispers of many restless minds wandering the city. The Festival of Tides—a tradition that had been suppressed by imperial occupation for two years, but which the nearby coastal villages and mountain clansmen were once again free to celebrate—was three days away. Many travelers came this time of year as they had in the past to hunt squid and sea scorpions, making the city as crowded as the capital.
Because Papa had come home early from his sea patrols, and Aunt Junn and Uncle Tigonereen had taken her younger cousins away to visit a friend dear to their side of the family south near Ixel, she wasn’t allowed to join in the festivities. Her father, a settled Aukasian seaman rather than a clansman, was a strict man who cared little for frivolous celebrations, games, sports, or leisure. Whenever he was home, he kept Xandyra busy until her bedtime. It kept her out of trouble, he said, though she never seemed quite able to please him whether she was helping him clean his armor, tidying the cottage, reading aloud for practice, or fetching a bucket of water from the nearest town well.
She elicited little praise or joy from him, but received plenty of criticism. Complaining to him about anything that seemed to be going wrong in her life usually incurred a lecture to grow up, which made her embarrassed to be so stupid as to have stumbled into any normal human problems in the first place. He was right in many ways, though. The world was a chaotic, unhappy, and cruel place. Her life in Nos Okar had been pleasant until the empire had turned seedy and the town military had imposed strict regulations on its citizens in the months leading up to the war. Her father hadn’t been called directly into that conflict, much to her relief. But it had still taken its toll on the pride, trust, and morale of many commoners under Imperial rule. This festival was, in many ways, a triumph for Nos Okar, if only for the Tuchian nomads and settlers who preferred to descend into this half of the mountain divide.
Papa let her go work in her uncle’s smithy like she wanted to, at least. Her aunt and uncle were Tuchians, mountaineers from whom the Tuchian pass, a little further south, was named; tenacious nomads who refused to be assimilated by either the Amigus or the Aukasian domains. The mountains from the Frontier valley to the northernmost Icelands proved to be challenging territory to control for those who were not accustomed to its treacherous terrain. Tuchian clans, small as they were, had managed to avoid the latest major conflict between the two nations, which had ended with the death of her father’s cold- hearted emperor and a shift in the general atmosphere of their town.
Her uncle seemed skeptical of ever showing her how to actually work steel, whether it was horseshoes or blades, but she liked to hope she could persuade him to change his mind if she persisted long enough. Her eldest cousin, Wendar, had returned from his own frequent travels and, much to her surprise, been left in charge of the shop’s affairs this week. He had shown her how to cut nails from a spool of wire and let her pour some recycled molten tin into molds to make three tiny squid figurines. These she was allowed to take home at the end of the day. They fit in her palm and would make enjoyable necklace pieces if she could find twine or a leather string to put them on.
The excitement of scrounging around the cottage for string was the only thing which stayed her confusion and displeasure of returning to her father’s company. Had she been staying with her much more relaxed aunt and uncle, she would have been free to do what she liked for the rest of the day after they fed her supper. Instead, she was running late errands following her day’s work in her uncle’s smithy, and could expect stern restrictions and extra chores if she didn’t return home before the ninth hour.
While she loved tagging along with her aunt, uncle, and cousins, she hated having to do things in public by herself. She knew that something as simple as going down to the late market to pick up a jar of seasonal soft cheese on her way home shouldn’t have been a difficult expectation at her age. Father was always quick to let her know he wouldn’t tolerate her infantile anxieties about crowds. But when the inner thoughts of so many people buzzed in her head at once, she had to fight to keep her attention on things like her list and the exchange she needed to have with vendors. Else she’d become overwhelmed and her own words would disappear from her mind.
The evening market bustled with the wet and weary looking for hot food, stables, and shelter. The smell of burning torchwood, spiced calamari rolls, honey pastries, and roasted sea olive skewers mingled unpleasantly with the scent of wet animals, mud, and people. Though Xandyra’s long bearskin cloak hid her sooty work dress and blouse along with the modest satchel slung over her shoulder, she felt self- conscious about the grime and sweaty smell on her skin after a long day of shuffling coal under the refining ovens and polishing brand new spades and shears. The satchel carried a small purse her father had given her that morning filled with the silver and copper coins, along with the squid charms and a few personal items she always kept with her: a handkerchief, a tin of thick salve for the occasional insect sting or nick, and an old ivory comb.
The comb was inlaid with black, red, and gold pigments imitating the outline of mountain wildflowers. This was all she had of the woman connecting her by blood to Uncle Tigonereen, the woman who had given her life and mysteriously vanished out of the lives of everyone else. Papa hadn’t been married to her. Xandyra got the impression he hadn’t liked her very much either, though she knew very few details. That fact, and the contrast between typical Aukasian culture and the Tuchians distanced him a bit from her uncle’s family. No one talked about her mother. They just said she lost her mind and ran away. It was hard to miss someone she’d never met, but she often wished she knew more about her mother’s fate.
First Publication © Copyright 2017 by Sarah E. Seeley
Re-Release © Copyright 2020 by Sarah E. Seeley
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Valcoria Awakenings is part of Jason King's series that includes Valcoria: Heroes of the Crystal Star (formerly titled Valcoria: Children of the Crystal Star). I loved writing in Jason's fantasy universe, and I'm excited to see this anthology title re-released today!
If you enjoyed this excerpt of "Thought Power," you can read the rest of the story, and other fantastic stories by other authors in this collection here: https://www.amazon.com/Valcoria-Awakenings-Jason-James-King-ebook/dp/B087TGSJ2H.
About Valcoria Awakenings
The battle with the darkness is not over. It has only just begun...
The battle for Amigus is over, and orphan-turned-hero, Yuiv, is settling into his life as junior lord of the house of Trauel. The loving family and peaceful life he’s so long yearned for seems to be within his grasp; that is until Yuiv starts having vivid nightmares. His glowing Kalyra eyes mark these dreams as supernatural, proof that he has the gift of Farsight—a power held only by the Al’Kalyra or Arch Sage.
As frightening as the idea of being Valcoria’s prophesied savior is, the terror of what Yuiv witnesses in his sleep is much worse. Pain, grief, blood and death descend upon him as he sees through the eyes of men, women, and even children who have been touched by the light of YaJiann.
The Children of the Crystal star are awakening, rising above turmoil and strife to embrace their destinies as defenders of Valcoria. But all light casts a shadow, and with the heroes come the horrors born of blood and shadow. A dark threat looms; monsters that are far closer than anyone realizes—anyone except for Yuiv. And the revelation is nearly too hard for him to bear as it can mean only one thing.
Join the adventure today!