So I can finally add the missing chapter of Poisonroot, the one I wrote when I was having mild writer's block. It detailed the aftermath of the fight, and was another Interlude chapter... except this time it isn't an interlude.
This is essentially the start of chapters that are Anila-centric but are not interludes from the main action. I foresee a sequel to this (am, in fact, already planning a sequel to this) where Anila is a main character with her own POV chapters, alternating with Trip.
Anila is a wonderful character, with great motivations and a real mystery surrounding her. Who is, or was, her father? Is she some sort of experiment gone wrong or a real human child? Will she be able to find Victor and Trip, or will something else come up?
Find out in Tangleroot, starting soon!
There's at least one more chapter of Poisonroot to get down first, though, and an epilogue. And, of course, a NaNoWriMo to win!
Anila gasped in surprise as she awoke. Adrenaline flooded through her body, sparking her into startled readiness, and she flipped herself over and stood into a crouch. How long had she been unconscious for? Her eyes alert to any movement, she carefully looked around. It was eerily silent.
She was under a large piece of turf, and as she pushed it off she realised that it had probably saved her life. The grass on it was blackened and burnt, and she went cold as she realised that she could have burned to death in her sleep.
The Tree’s cloister was a ruin. Where the mighty Tree had once stood, the largest of its kind on Lyrian soil, now only a burned and splintered husk remained. Already a kind of grey darkness seemed to have settled over everything, though at this point Anila knew it could only be psychosomatic, or a product of the billowing clouds of smoke. She shook her head and continued her careful examination.
She was standing at the bottom of an immense bowl that had dropped out of the ground, centred on the corpse of the tree now stood. It was as if everything inside the circular cloister had simply subsided. The graves, hundreds of them, were completely jumbled, their bones scattered all over the ground and in amongst the rubble created when the roof had caved in. Incomplete body parts were everywhere she looked, but no sign of life was evident.
Someone looked over the edge, called something down; Anila realised that she could only see their movement, observe their mouth flapping open and shut.
She could not hear.
Rising slowly, her balance apparently unaffected, she walked over to a large pile of rubble. A charred booted foot was sticking out of it, the boot on. She shifted a few of the larger pieces of rubble off to reveal the blood-spattered face of Lord Rennin.
She stared at him for a moment, then looked round for her father. A flicker of movement as she turned away caught her eye. He twitched, coughed. Blood bubbled out of his mouth and dribbled down the grotesque burned ruin that had been his face.
“Water…” he said. She heard him as if from a long way away. Her hearing was returning, a dispassionate part of her noted. The first word she heard was accompanied by a rushing sound inside her own head.
“There’s no water,” she said, her voice echoing strangely in her ears.
“Who… who is there?”
She looked down at him, evaluating the damage. He was well-buried, under several large pieces of masonry, apparently fire-scorched as well. There was a good chance he had broken ribs and internal organs may well be bleeding out as they spoke. His face looked like someone had beaten it viciously with a lump of wood.
“Anila,” she said. It made no difference now.
“Your… father,” he said, and coughed. Agony spasmed over his face.
“I don’t know.”
“Your… father should hope… he is dead.”
Anila looked down at the knight with cold eyes. Then she calmly reached down and picked up a large piece of rubble; she hefted it, stretching muscles that already felt like that had been wrung out. It felt large enough for what she wanted.
His eyes sightlessly roving about, Rennin gasped out “You are… not cut of the same… cloth, Anila.”
“The same tailor made us, though,” she replied, and placed the rock over his head. It covered him neatly, balanced on the debris either side of him and sealed his voice and face away. Then she went to look for her father.
She found him, eventually, at first not recognising him. He was some distance away from the Tree, as if he had been flung there by some sort of backlash. She knelt next to him for a closer inspection and the smell of rotting vegetation wafted up. His skin was brown, withered fingers hung like claws from arms that bore several cuts and growths. He was stripped to the waist, and his habit hung around him in tatters. Several of the cuts were leaking some clear sticky fluid that looked unsettlingly like sap.
She bent down and gently picked up his arm, hoping for a sign of life. The limb’s skin was papery and crumpled under her touch. Before her eyes, the entire body seemed to crumble away into a pile of dust and plant debris.
“Father…” she said, hanging her head.
It was a trick, she decided. Her father was alive somewhere; the horrifying visions she had seen just before she had been knocked out were surely either a product of some sort of illusion or a plot by… whoever stood to gain the most from her father’s apparent death. The Gargorians? The SIC? Someone. It was impossible to believe that the Tree itself had done something to her father, and he certainly didn’t have any special powers; far more likely some external force was at play here and her father had been the victim.
Still holding a small crumb of the puppet that had lain there instead of her father, Anila stood up. She crumbled the leafy fragment in her hand and let the dust drift down to the floor. Then she began to find a way up to ground level.
With every step she took, every aching foot of progress up the almost-sheer sides of the crater, she added another flame to the fires in her mind. They would all pay. The monk boy, Trip; his alliance with the Gargorians made him a target. The old man; his neck would snap as easily as any other’s. Lauren, the bitch they travelled with; even Emmeline, the Duchess now that her father was dead, wasn’t above justice.
Rennin, she thought, I should have just killed him. Another one who thought he knew what was right. The city guard, probably, were compromised by association. And they’d been downright sloppy in the time she’d been with them.
The Science and Industry College, they were always anti-Tree; not a day went by without someone somewhere having a spat with an SIC member. With the immense natural resources they used every day, they had to be stopped. Someone had to take a stand.
She reached the top of the crater. The scene up there wasn’t any better; dead bodies, some dressed as courtiers and others and simple town folk, were littering the paved floor. A few guard bodies lay around as well. Most of the deaths seemed to be incredibly painful and yet leave no mark, though more than a few were missing limbs or simply had sword gashes in them.
She heard someone coming along the cloister corridor and moved quickly to the archway, crouching low. A guard, his armour creaking as he moved, walked slowly out and looked at the devastation. Slowly Anila moved to stand behind him.
Some sixth sense alerted him. He turned around and Anila relaxed.
“My god, you’re alive,” his semi-distorted voice came. Anila shook her head and tried a quick smile.
“Yes, still alive.”
“Wait. You’re the girl, Anila?” the guard said, his hand apparently unconsciously going to the hilt of his sword.
“Lord Rennin’s orders are that you’re to be brought in for questioning, ma’am.” His grip on the sword-hilt tightened. “I’ll need you to come with me.”
“Really?” Anila said, walking to the sheer drop she had just climbed. “Lord Rennin saw me just a moment ago, he seemed quite ok with me.”
The guard looked puzzled and Anila beckoned. “He’s just down there,” she said, pointing.
He came close and looked over the edge. Quick as a flash her hand came up and took him in the neck, then she grabbed his head and twisted. His neck snapped with an odd noise and, as she dropped him, he fell to his knees and then over the edge.
“Damn,” she muttered, and headed towards the nearest palace exit at a jog.
Finding everyone who had done this to her would have to wait. Her own safety came first.