Anyway, here's the first chapter of my original story. It's only the third rewrite, so comments are greatly appreciated!
A note to my critique group (who may or may not be reading): there are a few slight changes made here, but not of much importance. Or is it. . .? :)
Chapter 1Astin peered down at the roads, watching for anyone to approach. The branch he stood on swayed in the wind, but he kept his gaze steady. If he fell from here, it'd take forever to climb back up. Not even the vines took people up here.
“All right, Limb 8, what's out there?” called a member of the Limb Watch command. Astin couldn't see who, since he couldn't turn around. The gruff voice seemed reminescent of Captain Harisheth, though.
“Nothing over here,” called a voice to Astin's right.
“Empty from my sight,” Astin replied.
“All is peace,” said a man on the left.
“Very well,” The captain responded. “As you were.”
The captain marched away to check the next limb, a thick thump accompanying every other step. Yep, that's "Peg-leg" Harisheth, Astin thought, remaining motionless. Any movement could be seen by an intruder, or so they said. How an intruder can see into the thick of a mile-high tree, I'll never know, he thought. And who attacks forests, anyway?
Somewhere behind him, children swung around from the tree's vines, shouting and probably chasing each other in a game of Seekers. He allowed himself a small smirk. It was only two days ago that he enjoyed the same life, running around without a care in the world. But now that he'd turned sixteen, he needed to join the responsibilities of the other adults. I still don't know why, he muttered to himself. I’m not even a true adult yet. Father needs to finish the ceremony, and he won't be back for. . .
A movement in the distance caught his eye. It looked like a box on wheels pulled by a horse, but Astin recognized it immediately. I can't believe he's here, he thought excitedly. He said he'd be busy for weeks still!
“Unknown approaching from the North-East,” called the man on the right.
“No, that's my father!” Astin shouted, grinning as he jumped off his branch.
“Oh. Hey, where are you going?” the man said, barely in earshot now.
“Tell the captain I’m going to see my father,” Astin hollered back, grabbing a vine. He loved traveling by vine, the air rippling his mottled-green Watch uniform, the smell of the forest so fresh and vibrant. This was life, not squatting on a branch for hours on end.
He reached for another vine and closed his eyes, concentrating on the entrance to the forest and trusting the tree to send him down to where he wished. In seconds, or what felt like seconds, the vine became slick, and he landed softly on the tree's second-level platforms. A sizable crowd already gathered around the entrance platform, everyone eager to hear the news and see the wares Astin's father brought from around the world. Astin made his way to the front to watch the Stiota at work.
Two people in flowing white robes stood at the edge of the platforms, with two others standing in the tree across from them. They removed the white gloves from their hands, revealing a large emerald imbedded in the back of their hands and smaller ones along their fingers. They closed their eyes and extended their hands, emeralds glowing as the vines followed their movements. The vines shot down to the wagon, wrapping around it and the horse. The wagon crept upward as the Stiota struggled against the weight, beads of sweat forming on their brows.
Once the wagon came to eye level, the Stiota in the other tree started their work, forcing the tree's platforms to grow and spread beneath the wagon. The vines unwound themselves and slithered back into the treetops, and the Stiota stepped back amid cheers from the crowd.
Dozens of children ran up to the wagon to view the exotic treasures while Astin's father climbed down to greet the adults, his gold Trader's sash glittering against his dark brown clothes. Everyone in the crowd shouted questions about the happenings of the world outside.
“Has the feud in the west calmed down yet?”
“What was the jousting tournament like?”
“Delrith, did you see the dignitary from overseas? What was he like?”
“Settle down, everybody,” Delrith called out, raising his arms. “I can't answer your questions right now. That'll have to wait until tomorrow.”
Most of the crowd nodded at this, but a few people complained. “Why can't we hear it now?” someone asked.
“I have family business to attend to,” Delrith replied. “My son's Sixteen-Year ceremony isn't finished yet, since I couldn't be there to finish the rites. I think it's best I do that as soon as I can.”
Now everyone nodded, and a few were walking away, getting back to their lives. Delrith smiled and strolled over to Astin, scratching his gray-streaked brown hair.
“You didn't mention that the last part of the ceremony takes place at sunset,” Astin remarked with a smirk.
Delrith threw his hands in the air in mock exasperation. “After all these years, I still can't fool my own son.” He grinned again and pulled Astin into a bear hug. “It's good to see you, Astin.”
“I still can't believe you're here,” Astin said, releasing the hug. “How'd you get here so soon?”
“Let me tell you, it took a lot of rearranging,” his father replied. “Had to cut most of my appointments short in the rest of the country, and I still only have two days to spend here. So we'd better have a great two days, all right?”
Astin nodded with a smirk as they leapt off the edge, grabbing a vine as they fell. Astin closed his eyes and focused on his cube-shaped home on the first level. This time, a minute seemed to pass until he landed on the house's platform, followed by his father. He seemed worried for some reason. “Is something wrong, father?” he asked, confused.
The worried look vanished, replaced with another smile. “No, of course not. So, have you felt different being a Sixteen-Year so far?”
“Definitely,” said Astin, walking through the door of the house. He explained yesterday's ceremony and how the Limb Watch signed him on to their team immediately after the Stiotan leader, Father Magun, finished his sermon of the Ancestors' acceptance.
“Really? They didn't even wait for me to finish the ceremony?” Delrith asked, resting on the feather down sofa from Traelsing.
“No they didn't. It was literally the instant I finished there I had to report to Captain Harisheth to start Watching.” Astin sat next to his father, who nodded as he fell asleep. Astin nodded to himself. He's been riding for hours, he deserves some rest, he thought.
He let his eyes wander around the house, at the things his father brought from his travels. The windows came from Traelsing, made of fragments of multicolored glass. A steam-powered stove stood in the kitchen, beside a cabinet with Ikanoran spices and cured meats. Each one gained through adventure and trials, each bringing a tale worthy of legend. At least, Astin believed they were legendary. And I’m stuck here, he thought, drifting into sleep. Standing guard against no-one-knows-what while he gets to travel the world. What kind of life is that?
He vaguely noticed himself slipping into sleep. That's not life; it's slow death.
<––>Astin jolted awake from a thunderstorm outside, shaking uncontrollably. His hair felt wet from cold sweat, and he almost couldn't breathe from his rapid heartbeat. Why am I so scared? he wondered, trying to remember if it was something he dreamed. He couldn't remember a thing, though, except that he'd been in some sort of danger.
Oh well, he thought. Just a dream.
“So you're finally up?” called his father from the kitchen. “Then how about you help me in here? I need a few vegetables chopped for the sauce.”
“Yeah, I'll do that,” Astin replied, trying to calm himself down. A difficult feat during a thunderstorm.
As he got to his feet, someone knocked on the door. “Actually, could you get that?” his father asked. “It might be Father Magun.”
“Sure,” Astin called back, a little confused. Everyone knows you shouldn't go outside during a thunderstorm. It cancels all the safeguards the Stiota create against lightning strikes. Maybe he can work it out since he's the leader of –
His explanation stopped when he opened the door to find Cadell, an old friend of his, standing in the pouring rain. “What are you doing here?” Astin asked.
“The rainstorm started in the middle of my Watch time,” Cadell replied, brushing his chestnut hair away from his eyes. “This was the first house I thought of, so the vines took me here. Do you mind?”
“Uh, no, come on in,” Astin said, stepping to the side as his friend entered. He felt a little embarrassed that Cadell would be there during his Sixteen-Year ceremony. Usually these only took place between the boy, his father, and the Stiotan leader. Even though the Stiotan leader didn't do anything except write down that the boy has technically become a man.
“Is that Cadell?” called Astin's father.
“Yes it is, Mr. Delrith, sir,” Cadell answered. Astin started to close the door, but stopped when he saw someone else outside. A flash of lightning lit up the outdoor branches, revealing the square jaw and wooden leg of Captain Harisheth. He stood on one of the waving branches, never losing his balance. He seemed to stare directly at Astin.
Whoa, Astin thought. That's. . . kind of creepy.
He closed the door and went into the kitchen, where his father shared a few stories with Cadell. “. . . I wasn't sure if I could do it, but I did. And not a drop of blood on the blade!”
“Wow,” said Cadell, glancing at Astin. “Your father's telling me about a tribe of sword-swallowers who made him swallow one in order to trade with them. It's amazing!”
Astin almost replied, but a foul smell reached his nose. “Um, father, I think your dinner is burning,” he said.
“No, I finished the dinner,” his father said, sniffing the air as well. “So what is that smell?”
There it is again, Astin thought as he searched for the odor; the feeling that I've seen this before. He couldn't tell where the smell came from, but it certainly smelled burnt.
A crack came from his father's bedroom. “No,” shouted Delrith, racing past the living room into his own room. Astin stayed out with Cadell, who seemed thoughtful.
Multiple rough voices shouted from the bedroom, and his father ran back into the kitchen, clutching a small box. “I've closed and barred the door to my room,” he explained, breathless. “That may not hold him back for long, so we need to leave.”
Another flash of lightning streaked against the windows, throwing fragments of color against the walls.
“No,” said Cadell. “You need to finish the ceremony, Delrith. And now.”
Delrith looked at Cadell, his face a mixture of anger and confusion. “And who are you to tell me –“
“I'm a Seeker,” Cadell replied, rolling up his sleeve. A blue compass seemed tattooed on his wrist, pointed at Astin. “This is what must be. Now, pronounce the blessing. Finish the ceremony.”
Astin stared at the compass in utter disbelief. He'd always been told that Seekers weren't real, that they were only figments of hopeful daydreams.
Because the Seekers were sent to find the Warriors.
Astin's father looked flustered as well, but a crack from the bedroom door brought him out of his reverie. “Yes. Of course.” He took Astin's hands into his own and closed his eyes. “ 'I, Delrith, son of Fristin, do name you Astin, son of Delrith. At the sixteenth year of your life, I proclaim you ready to serve the Ancestors in all they require of you. Whether as Stiota to exercise authority over the elements of their choosing, as a soldier to fight for the lives of those you love, or another path beyond our vision at this time, I proclaim you ready.' ”
Another crack sounded at the door, louder this time. His father went on. “ 'My son, the Ancestors know you well. Know that they will guide and strengthen you to accomplish your purpose, in the way best for you to grow. The road ahead will be hard, but know that the Ancestors will be with you to support and protect you. In the name of Axolbah, the High Ancestor, may this be as it shall be.' ”
“It will be as it shall be,” Astin muttered, echoed by Cadell. Astin's father released his hands, as Cadell placed his own hands upon Astin's.
“I, Cadell, a Seeker of Axolbah the High Ancestor, do proclaim you Astin Sarethon, after the Ancestor of –“
A burst of fire broke through the barred door, and Captain Harisheth ran into the kitchen. Flame cloaked his arms as he glared at Astin, hatred radiating from his eyes.
“It shall not happen!” he roared, throwing balls of fire at Astin. Cadell jumped between them and held out his hands, releasing a wall of light against the flame.
“You must leave now,” Cadell said, sounding calmer than he looked. “The location doesn't matter, just leave. Another must finish the work I've begun.”
“Take this with you,” Astin's father said, holding out the box. “It's a family heirloom, passed down from father to son. You might need it.”
Astin absently grabbed the box and ran for the back door, utterly confused. What is going on? Why is this happening to me?
He reached for a vine as he jumped, but a trail of fire followed him, slicing the vine. Flailing, he fell through the tree's smaller branches, unable to catch any of them. He glimpsed a small wagon on the ground before landing hard, collapsing into unconsciousness.