I know that a prologue is meant to be written after you've written most of the rest of the story but, screw it, I know where this story is going; I've got it planned out, the whole document. It probably means I'll fall into JK Rowling's trap where my final chapter is still doggedly trying to fit into a dress that is ten years too small for it, but we'll see. I'll be glad to get to the end of the book!
So here it is, the FIRST DRAFT (and those two words apply to everything else about Poisonroot that come onto this blog) of the first part of Poisonroot. This is a special project for me, because I'm writing it twice, effectively; parts of the world and setting are being used for my D&D campaign which I'm running with the brilliant Nana Li, John Aggs, Chippy and my beautiful wife Susan; somehow, miraculously, all four have blogs I can link you to!
The clouds above were brown, like old blood. Plumes of smoke curled up from burning buildings to join them, sparks flickering and rising on waves of intense heat to burn out against the angry sky. The ground was littered with bodies, some burned beyond recognition, others covered in blood from vicious sword thrusts.
Anila coughed, smoke irritating her throat, and looked around. She was pinned under a beam that had fallen from the ceiling, the ground hard against her back. Sweat poured from her as she wriggled, but it was no use; she fought down rising panic and tried to take a breath.
“Help,” she called out faintly, then she steeled herself. Taking in a deeper breath, she called out again and rode out the hacking coughs that followed. Over the crackling flames and a strange ringing noise in her ears Anila thought she caught an echo of someone calling back. She tried to take another deep breath that ended in more coughing. It was enough.
“Are you stuck?” She looked desperately up into the wrinkled eyes of Elder Jiram. His robes were more black than green now; his soot-stained hands were already pushing at the debris covering her.
“Can you hear me, Anila?” he asked calmly. She nodded, coughed and moistened her lips.
“I can hear you. I think I can get my hands under…” The girl scrabbled around in the ash, wriggling around for purchase, then her palms were on the beam pinning her in place. She took a shallow breath and pushed with all her might.
The enormous wooden beam crashed off onto the floor and she was free. She sat up and rubbed her hands down her legs; everything seemed fine. “Come on,” she said, but the Elder was no longer by her side. He was on his hands and knees, and suddenly the smoke seemed to thicken and take on a life of its own.
Clasping her sleeve over her mouth, Anila knelt and put the Elder’s arm over her shoulder. She heaved him to his feet and, together, they stumbled through the heat and smoke.
How they made it out Anila could not say, but when they finally burst into the cool night air it was almost painful. Her first breath ended in hacking coughs but it was good to breathe, good to live. Hands took Elder Jiram from her and guided her to a bench.
Anila raised her sweaty and soot-streaked face to the burning monastery, her home, and watched as the fire consumed everything she had known.
Slowly she became aware that people were talking around her, and then she picked out a voice she knew well.
“It was intentional?”
Any relief that coursed through her at her father’s words was dulled by the import of what he said.
“It seems so. A single fire begun in the Arboretum. It spread from there.”
The man talking to him was one of the myriad assistants that her father’s position afforded him. Anila bent her head and listened more closely.
“High Elder, there’s no evidence to say-”
“It was Gargorians,” her father stated, his cold gaze piercing the smoke-filled gloom. “Begin preparations to move the survivors to Fennica. We will make our plans from there.”
A fire kindled in her heart then, one which quickly grew to match the conflagration in front of her. How dare they? How dare the heathens invade her country, burn her home and threaten the lives of her friends? Her fists, blistered and cut, curled into fists on her lap.
They dared too much.