*Long post ahoy.*
So, the next book in my "Waiting On" Wednesday queue doesn't yet have a cover. That's the hazard of sharing books that won't come out for months! As such, I'm going to hold off on posting "Waiting On" Wednesdays until the cover is revealed.
Today, instead, I'll share the first chapter of the novel I'm revising right now, THE PROPHECY KEEPER. This is a YA epic fantasy novel that I originally wrote when I was a senior in high school. Right now I'm doing an intensive worldbuilding edit. Obviously, this is not the final draft, so do keep that in mind!
“Are you ready?” their teacher asked.
Josiah glanced over to his left, where his best friend Nitza sat, and then scanned the rest of the room. Each of the other seventeen-year-olds—nine of them, in total—wore the same expression of forced calm and determination. Josiah tried to match them, but with his heart racing and his palms sweating, it seemed an impossible task.
Today he faced the moment that would determine his future.
“The King’s Mage will arrive at noonday,” the teacher continued. “Because his daughter is one of the new adults this year, Governor Amos will first invite him to his home.” A whisper of movement surged through the room as everyone looked to Nitza. She held her head high, her curly brown hair set in neat braids underneath her cloth headdress. To Josiah’s eyes, a halo of perfect golden light surrounded her. “Then the Mage will go to each of your homes for a brief interview. He will already have all of your records, and he will know, based off of your abilities, which role suits you best.”
“Yeah, like how Josiah belongs in the garbage with the other Water-gifted,” Leetov snorted. A few of the others giggled in response, and the teacher smiled patiently.
Gifted by the Twin Gods with one of the four elements—the higher Air and Fire or lower Water and Earth—each of them possessed at least one specialized ability. One gifted of Air, for example, might be a Speeder, who could move at incredible speeds, a Thinker, who had a great propensity for logic and problem-solving, or a Leader, who knew how to organize groups of people to great success. It was a rare individual who possessed all the abilities of their gift. These Mages, after they received proper training at the King’s school in Lev, could even manipulate the gifted element itself.
Leetov was a Fire-gifted Heater. Nitza was an Air-gifted Speeder. Josiah was both a Soother and a Singer, Water-gifted abilities, and the people of Irakatan had always looked down on him for it. As a male with a lesser gift and ancestry connecting him to the corrupt Council of old, he was nothing less than an outcast.
Given his low social status, it seemed strange that Nitza had chosen him to be her closest friend, yet they had been inseparable since childhood. The others thought her eccentric for befriending the unfriendable, but it had little effect on the way they treated her. Nitza’s ability was one of great use, rarely gifted to females, and she had good parentage.
“Your assigned roles are unlikely to be a surprise,” the teacher stated once Leetov fell silent. “But you must not take this interview lightly. It will determine the rest of your adulthood. If the Mage sees your ability as being of more use elsewhere, you may be moved to a new town.”
Under their desks, Nitza reached for Josiah’s hand. He squeezed back, allowing a small measure of Soothing power—like a shimmering white heat in his chest—to flow from him to her.
“Is that understood?”
The nine students murmured their agreement. Then they lined up at the door before moving out, down the streets, and into the town square where all the rest of the people were gathered. Today was a holiday, full of merriment for most, and the loud voices and laughter could be heard from across town.
Only moments after the seventeen-year-olds reached the square and stopped walking, however, the gong struck, and Irakatan’s people fell silent. Josiah shivered, his throat clenching tightly, and forced himself to relax. It would not do to show weakness in front of the King’s Mage.
On Josiah’s right, Nitza wrapped her arms tightly around her chest, her face contorting into a faint frown.
Though barely a second ago the world had been full of joyful sound, now all was silent but for the flap of the decorative banners in the wind and the distant sound of marching feet. Soon, a procession of armored guards advanced into the center of the town’s square and stopped to take their stances while Irakatan’s people looked on, holding their breath. A moment later, the cloaked figure of the King’s Mage entered the square, mounted on a black steed.
A slight gasp went up, and the younger children in the crowd leaned forward to see. No longer a child himself, Josiah dropped his gaze in proper deference. Nitza uncrossed her arms and grabbed Josiah’s sleeve between two fingers as she did the same.
Governor Amos stepped forward.
“Great Master,” he said, speaking a vow so familiar, Josiah could have said it himself, “we welcome you to Irakatan. As always, we pledge our fealty and devotion to King Hevikaos and to our gods Ruchazuv and Eshazuv. Today, we present to you fourteen new adults to be accepted into the ranks of Bayit, to labor and to serve. We place their future into your worthy hands.”
“It is said,” the people of Irakatan chanted together.
“It is good,” the Mage replied, his voice creaky but even.
“You may begin at my own home, if it pleases you,” Governor Amos said. “My daughter Nitza has come of age and awaits your judgment.” Nitza let go of Josiah’s sleeve and stepped forward. Josiah didn’t dare lift his eyes to follow her.
“It is good,” the Mage repeated. He turned away from the line of seventeen-year-olds, and the waiting crowd behind him, and thus ended the ceremony. Josiah lifted his eyes just in time to see the back of the Mage’s head as he followed Governor Amos and Nitza down the street.
“Josiah.” Josiah’s mother, Orianthe stood behind him, holding out her hand for him to take. He glanced back at the Mage one more time, and then took his mother’s sleek light-skinned hand in his own rougher palm before following her towards their own home.
Together with his father and mother, Josiah sat at the dinner table, waiting, for what seemed like ages.
“Any moment now,” Josiah’s father said, over and over again. After the fifth time, Orianthe hushed him.
At last, a knock came on the door. They all jumped to their feet, and Josiah’s father went to invite their guest in.
“This is the house of Eliakim?” came the creaky voice.
“Yes, please enter.” Josiah’s father waved the Mage in, and Josiah’s mother pulled back one of the chairs for him to sit in. On the table stood a standard offering of bread and wine, which the Mage ignored.
“I am Kedem, servant to King Hevikaos and Mage gifted of Fire,” the Mage said to the room at large. “I am here to judge Josiah of Eliakim.” Mage Kedem turned to Josiah, who dropped his gaze, swallowing at the lump in his throat. After a small pause, the Mage said, “You look very like your father, though I see your mother in the way light glints from your hair. You, my lady, are from the North?”
Josiah glanced up to see his mother nodding at Mage Kedem, light shining strangely off of her fiery hair where it showed underneath her headdress. The Mage dipped his own head and turned back to Josiah. This time, their eyes met, deep brown against lighter hazel.
Josiah froze, a horrified gasp trapped in his throat.
Now that he was looking directly at Mage Kedem, Josiah could see, around the man’s head, a throbbing circle of black. It was as though all the light had been sucked from that spot, leaving only darkness. Josiah had never seen anything so unnatural or so chilling before, and it cut him down to his very soul.
“It’s a pity that a man with Fire in his hair would have no such gifts,” the Mage continued, unaware of Josiah’s shock, “but the Twin Gods have not chosen you for either of the greater gifts. Nor are you a Stonecrafter, like your father. I’m told that your abilities lie in the realm of Water.”
Josiah opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Josiah’s mother sent him a worried look as his father replied, “Yes, Josiah is a Soother and Singer, and quite skilled at both. However, he has never faltered in assisting me with my work, for which I commend him.”
“Yes, yes,” Mage Kedem said dismissively. “I do sense a great wealth of power in him. I will bring it up with King Hevikaos when I return. It is possible that Josiah qualifies for further education in Lev.”
When no one else responded, Josiah’s mother let out the appropriate sound of joy and amazement. It echoed oddly through the room.
“Until then,” Mage Kedem said, “I recommend you begin training for the appropriate Soother role. Your test scores are average, so you would do best as an infant caretaker or comforter of the sick. There is a place for an infant caretaker here, so I see no need to move you out of Irakatan.”
Josiah swallowed and tore his gaze away from the Mage at last, looking to his father, who beamed with pride. “I had hoped I would be able to build him a home, when he came ready to wed.”
“Yes, of course.” The Mage’s voice was monotone, brimming with disinterest. “He ought to wait a year’s time for that, however, so King Hevikaos may decide whether or not to train him as a Mage. Our kind are not encouraged to marry.”
Eliakim nodded. “I understand.”
“Does it sit well with you?” Mage Kedem asked Josiah. After a moment, his forehead crinkled in apparent confusion at Josiah’s lack of response.
“It is good,” Josiah forced himself to say, and though his voice cracked, the words came out clearly enough. Mage Kedem nodded and rose to his feet. In response, Josiah’s parents also stood, but Josiah could not trust his legs to hold him, so, rudely, he remained seated.
“So it shall be,” Mage Kedem said. “May Ruchazuv make your way easy, and may Eshazuv light your path.”
“The same to you,” Josiah’s parents replied.
With one last, suspicious look at Josiah, the Mage swept from the house and back onto the streets.
Immediately, Orianthe sat back down, grasping Josiah’s arm between her hands. “Josiah, what is it? Are you not pleased with the decision?”
Josiah turned wide, dazed eyes on her, blinking rapidly in order to see her through the encroaching fog. “No,” he said. “It is good. I am pleased.”
“Are you afraid of being chosen for the King’s school?” Josiah’s father asked, also resuming his seat. “I wouldn’t worry. Very few of those gifted in Water or Earth are chosen under King Hevikaos’s reign. Most likely, you will remain here, among your family and friends.”
His father’s use of the plural word “friends,” when Eliakim knew full well that Josiah had only one friend, snapped Josiah awake enough to try and explain himself.
“The Mage—Kedem—he—it—” Josiah sucked in a sharp breath. The echo of Mage Kedem’s image still blazed in his vision. “I have never seen anything like it before. I did not know it was possible—”
Josiah’s parents stiffened on either side of him.
“You’re talking about the halos,” Eliakim stated.
“Yes,” Josiah said.
Since a very young age, Josiah had seen radiating lines of light coming off of the skin of the people around him. These lights varied in brightness. Josiah had found that those with the greatest light, like his mother and Nitza, were his favorite to spend time with, while those with less light rarely saw him as being worth their time.
This unusual ability was known only to his parents, who matched it to a line spoken in Josiah’s birth-given Prophecy: that Josiah would “view intentions cast without a cry.” To Josiah’s knowledge, no one else could or had ever been able to see these halos. At his parents’ instruction, he had never discussed it outside his house.
Josiah saw the wisdom in this. After all, he was already enough of an outcast. He didn’t need it known that he also possessed a strange power with no precedent.
“I don’t understand,” Josiah said, his voice cracking yet again. “It was as though—not light, but pure darkness radiated from him. It was like a cloud of shadow over his head. Could he really have such ill will towards me? I have never seen that kind of a halo, not even with Leetov, and Leetov hates me!”
Josiah’s parents exchanged meaningful looks, and then Josiah’s father rose to his feet. His hands slammed down on the table in front of Josiah, making Josiah jump. The older man leaned in so that they were face to face.
“Listen to me, Josiah,” Eliakim said, his dark eyes more serious than Josiah had ever seen in his life. “You are never to speak of this again. Don’t even think of it. It will do you no good to dwell on what you have seen.”
“Never again.” Eliakim’s voice rose, and Josiah cringed. “I don’t care how unusual or frightening the sight was to you. You must forget it!”
Then he turned and left the room.
“I—” Josiah turned to his mother, who sighed as their gazes met. Not only did Josiah have streaks of his mother’s auburn hair mixed among the darker tufts, but also the same lighter hazel eyes. His skin was slightly less brown than that of his peers due to the Northern blood that ran through his veins. Looking at each other, Josiah and his mother could see the echoes of a heritage that had been left behind, miles away.
But even the North belonged to King Hevikaos.
“Your father’s right, Josiah.” A slight crease appeared between Orianthe’s eyebrows. “The King would not tolerate you speaking ill of his Mage. For your own safety, you must forget what occurred.”
“But I don’t understand,” Josiah said.
Orianthe shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. You will never see him again.”
Slowly, Josiah nodded, and Orianthe smiled.
What do you think? Let me know, and I'll be back again next Tuesday.
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