New year about to start, I figure I might as well show some progress. My idea is to have the first episode of Shadows Rise ready by February or March (the latest), and that is because I want to run every chapter through beta readers and make more changes before release. This chapter here’s already been subjected to feedback (although I won’t say no to some more) and I’ve already made note of changes to be made in it, but still… I figure I’d post it as a little preview.
Make note, guys, that the actual finished product will be posted on the Shadows Crew blog, so you might wanna follow that.
[City of Blackpond, Lacus 25th, 2 hours until Midnight]
A razor sharp wind swept across Blackpond. It whirled through the torchlit streets and extinguished several flames, causing exasperation on the already strained city guard; now also tasked with rekindling the street lights on top of their usual duties. Kyle Rivers snorted, watching as a guard strolled past one such unlit torch without giving it a sideways glance. If there was ever one constant in the glorious City of War, it was the ineffectiveness of its city guard.
If that guardsman had paid attention; or bothered to relight that torch, he might have found something suspicious in the thirteen-year-old leaning against the outer walls of a closed down bakery. Kyle’s form was partially concealing a half-opened ventilation grate on the side of the building and the boy was nearly dancing in place, trying to fight away the cold air penetrating his thin layers of clothing.
Inside the baker’s shop, another thirteen-year-old had been busy in search of something specific, albeit with no success. Now Sebastian’s quest was for anything that could possibly be of use to him and his brother. The boy had meticulously searched the front of the shop, the storage room, the kitchen, there was nothing there he could make use of or take. After a moment of hesitation, Sebastian decided to not leave empty handed until he exhausted all possibilities. With slow and steady steps, he made his way to the second floor of the building.
The upper floor had almost just as little to offer, the boy searching the small office and finding nothing more than a table full of financial documents. The little he could make out of them in the dark; for what he could understand, told him business wasn’t going great lately.
The last place to search was the master bedroom and, while hesitant to do so, Sebastian slowly cracked the door open and spotted a large man collapsed in his bed. There were empty bottles all over the floor, some of them dusty like they’d been lying there for days. It took a little bit of finesse to navigate the littered floor without making a sound, but Sebastian managed. The first thing he noticed was the man’s coin purse laying partially open on his bedside table; a few silver coins catching the moonlight coming from the window. For a moment, he almost reached out for it, but eventually turned away, instead grabbing a cloak hanging from a hook behind the door. It smelled of cigarettes and liquor, but it was warmer than anything the boys currently owned. It was also three times Sebastian’s size, which immediately posed a problem when the boy moved. The cloak dragged behind him, sweeping several empty bottles across the floor. Sebastian froze in place as the bottles rolled noisily through the wooden surface, knocking against several other bottles and causing even more of a ruckus. He turned to the bed and the man was now wide awake and glaring daggers right into him. “Shit.”
“Come on, Seb… Hurry, before I freeze to death,” Kyle muttered, his breath coming out in small puffs of condensation. At first, he’d been amused at his twin’s idea to go on a search for birthday cake, but now this was turning out to be more trouble than it was worth. This was the third bakery they had broken into that night and for the time it was taking Sebastian to come out, Kyle doubted he had gotten anything good.
Kyle stepped away from the grate, peering around the corner of the building into the dark streets. There was no light coming from any houses, no voices, footsteps, not even the pitter-patter of scurrying rats. It was like that almost every night in Blackpond, as though all life completely drained from the city along with the last rays of sunlight. There was one place in the area still alive after hours, though. It was further down the road, but Kyle could almost see it from his spot in the shadows. From that distance, the Inn was just squares of orange light coming from the front windows, shining in the darkness ahead. “I bet it’s nice and cozy in there too,” he muttered under his breath.
Whatever thoughts Kyle was having about warmth were abruptly cut short by a loud crash coming from within the bakery. He rushed back next to the grate, but it became instantly clear to him his twin brother wouldn’t be coming through it.
“Oh, for Twins’ sake, Seb!” he exclaimed in a rushed whisper.
Sebastian was climbing out of the building’s second story window, an oversized cloak hanging from his shoulders and a large glass bottle dangling from his left hand. “Catch!” he called out, dangling the bottle over Kyle’s head and releasing it.
Kyle caught the bottle in his arms, almost sinking under the unexpected weight of the object. Sebastian was now gripping the windowsill and hanging over Kyle’s head himself, more noise coming from inside the building causing him to abruptly let go and land on the stone paved street with an uncomfortable ‘thud’ and a pained grunt. “We have to run now,” he warned.
“What did you d-…”
Before Kyle could finish his question a large man poked his head out the window, eyes wide with rage. “Thieves! I’ll kill you!”, he shouted.
“Now. We need to run right now,” Sebastian said, grabbing Kyle’s arm and pulling him into the streets as the man’s angered shouting still resonated within the walls of the bakery.
The twins were only a few steps away from the building when the door flung open with a ‘bang’, the angered man rushing out of the bakery brandishing a heavy rolling pin as though it was a weapon. This caused the boys to quicken their step even more and they soon lost the man in the city alleyways.
“What… The… Hell…” Kyle breathed as they finally stopped to catch their breaths.
“I couldn’t find any cake.” Sebastian grinned. “So I decided I’d just take whatever came in handy.”
“A giant cloak and… What is this?” Kyle hoisted the glass bottle up with some difficulty and tried to sniff its contents.
“Liquor,” Sebastian answered with a small shrug, removing the cloak from around his shoulders and wrapping his brother in it. “Here, you’re turning blue.”
“Liquor?” Kyle repeated, pushing the heavy bottle on Sebastian and rolling his shoulders to ease his muscles. The thing was sure heavy. “I don’t know, Seb.”
“We’re thirteen now, I reckon is about time we have a taste. It’s like a rite of passage, isn’t it? We’re practically men now.”
Kyle snorted a chuckle. “I don’t know about that,” he mumbled as they continued on, now in a more relaxed pace.
“We’re going to need to find a new hiding spot soon, it’s been two weeks now,” Sebastian pointed out, changing the subject. “If the Guard catches us this time I don’t think they’ll just drop us back at the orphanage.”
“We could join a group. Some of them are not so bad. That kid, what was his name, Thorin? His crew seemed okay.”
Sebastian shrugged as they approached an abandoned building and slinked their way in through a gap in the back wall. “Taking what we need is one thing, but…”
“We have to do what we have to do, Seb,” Kyle insisted. “If we are to survive here, we have to stop thinking of ‘right and wrong’ the way we were taught. I mean…” He sighed. “It’s been almost a year and our options haven’t changed; we either go back and sit in that orphanage until we’re old enough to be shipped to the military or we find a way to live.”
Sebastian shrugged once again. Their current place of residence was far from what anyone would call ‘living’. The building was beyond saving, the very walls were rotting where they stood, it smelled of mold and dead rats most of the time and was now empty of anything useful. Even the furniture they had originally found within the house had been mostly burnt in the first few weeks of Winter; only a few broken chair legs left, waiting in the unlit fireplace. Sebastian dropped the bottle of liquor in a mess of dusty blankets at a short distance from said fireplace, silently searching his pockets for a tin of matches to light the kindling with.
“You know what would be great? If you, oh, I don’t know, actually take part in this conversation. Just once,” Kyle complained.
“You don’t want to hear what I have to say.” Sebastian’s answer was distant like he was speaking of something that had already been decided for them both.
Kyle groaned under his breath, sitting down in the pile of blankets and watching his twin brother work to light the fireplace, his back turned as though the conversation was already over. “You know I hate it when you do that. Just say it; whatever it is, and if I don’t like it, then I don’t like it! Don’t have conversations with yourself, in your damned head, and act like I had a say in it.”
“We should leave the city,” Sebastian said, his tone still distant. “I don’t think anything we do here will ever be anything more than just staying alive for the sake of it. There is no life for us in Blackpond.”
It was now Kyle’s turn to be silent, his gaze darkening as he stared at the now lit flames burning the last remains of what used to be someone else’s home. “We can’t do that,” he stated, his voice flat.
Sebastian snorted through his nose as he joined his brother in the pile of blankets. “The White Shadows would take us in a heartbeat, or the Crimson way up in the desert.”
“This is our home, Sebastian. I don’t… We’re not leaving.”
Sebastian heaved a weary sigh and stood. “I’m going to see if I can find some cups in the kitchen somewhere,” he declared, wanting to end the conversation there.
Kyle, on the other hand, wasn’t done talking. “You could honestly do that? Just leave this place, forget everything that happened?”
“I have better memories of our sister than her death. Is it so wrong for me to want to cling to that instead?” Sebastian muttered as he stepped into the kitchen, raising his voice so that Kyle could still hear him. “Kat did everything for us, Kyle. Seeing us barely scraping by like this, you still clinging to that place the way you are, she would’ve…” He paused for a second and sighed. “What are we really doing to her memory if we don’t amount to anything?”
Sebastian walked back from the kitchen holding two slightly rusted metal cups. He sat down in the pile of blankets, grabbing one and wrapping it around himself. “Here,” he pushed one of the empty cups to his brother. “Happy birthday.”
“For me, really? Wow, thanks,” Kyle spoke in an unenthusiastic mumble.
Sebastian snorted a laugh. “You should be thankful. The baker said he was going to shove that rolling pin up my bumhole if he caught me.”
“That would have been an entirely different rite of passage,” Kyle chuckled, removing the cork from the large bottle and pouring some of its contents on each cup. “There we go, little brother, happy birthday to us!”
There you have it, guys. Sebastian and Kyle’s introduction. They’re freaking cutie pies, both of them. I wuvs them. >.>
Seriously, though, guys… Don’t let the ‘childhood antics’ tone of this chapter mislead you into some illusion of safety in this story. I’m serious.