Hi all! Just wanted to introduce you to my fiction writing style so that you know what you are buying yourself into. Here are the current first five pages of my novel-in-progress, SUNRIDER.
Laila crested the hill on her dappled chestnut mare, Morea, and gazed upward at the mountain range encircling Aurora’s Greater Mound. Iyapé, the tallest peak, stood tall and imposing as ever. Somewhere in her foothills, in one of the Disconnection Dens, Maaya was brooding.
Laila was brooding too, in her own way. Disconnected again, so close to the birth…damn her! She clutched the reins tightly, and her aura wavered a little.
Morea snorted gruffly. They were mindlinked, and Laila’s agitation wasn’t sitting well with the mare, who generally had a more serene and perfunctory demeanor. Laila sent an apology. She was in no mood for this either, but Maaya’s nightly invasions into her dreams—images of her screaming or tearing at her hair and clothing, pushing Laila to semi-consciously do the same—had brought her to the edge of exhaustion. The others were feeling it too, Laila knew—anytime one Sunrider disconnected the effects would ripple outward to the rest of them—but nobody had it half as bad as Laila, given her history with Maaya.
Maaya, Maaya, Maaya. Laila shook her head bemusedly, almost wonderingly, and shivered a little, goosebumps rippling over her body like wind over water. A ripple of memories passed through her mind as well, unbidden. Maaya, dewy-eyed on the bed. Maaya, tangled in the sheets. Maaya, disconnected and blank-eyed, huddled in the corner of the Disconnection Den, eyes momentarily fixating on invisible phantoms that seemed to dissolve as her gaze re-slackened. Maaya, tearing through Laila’s Garden, through her dreams, through her nightmares—
Morea brayed softly, insistently, and Laila snapped back to the present, sending another apology, and instinctively formed the warding-off gesture with her right hand, moving it to the right while opening and closing her fingers in unison, banishing the thoughts. “Not now, not yet,” she said aloud, to…she wasn’t sure who yet. Maaya? Aurora? Laila’s infernal brain?
Laila unpursed her lips and let out another sigh. Tomorrow will be easier.
Gently nudging Morea with her heels, she kinetically willed herself into the present. Together they trotted, then cantered, then galloped through the long descent down the hill, down and down, and then more slowly through Longmeadow, trotting along its great length, past closing market stalls, laden picnic blankets, and children playing hoops, sunhiders and chasey, past them all to the foothills of Feronia, the dense woodland that covered the lowlands of the south side of Iyapé.
Pulling gently and firmly on her mane, Laila brought Morea to a halt at the edge of Feronia to make the gesture of entrance, given always when crossing from one ecosystem to another. Feeling a rush of acceptance from Aurora, Fiora and Morea entered slowly and was engulfed by the familiar and enticing scent of damp pine needles commingling with fallen leaves and rich, fertile each. She stopped, breathed deeply, and exhaled. Home.
Morea, having passed this way with Laila countless times, found the requisite trailhead right away, heading into it at a gentle, steady mountain pace. Laila, soon lulled into a tranquil place by Morea’s pace through their home forest, could feel heat radiating from the mare’s warm, sweaty body. It felt good, that heat, as predictable as the artificial sun shining almost directly overhead. Sweat pooled where Laila’s legs straddled Morea’s girth, bareback. The familiar coarseness of Morea’s mane—coarser than her mother’s but finer than her messy little brother’s—lazily intertwined with Laila’s fingers, filled her with reassurance. Nothing, Laila thought idly, was more comforting than accumulating time with the ones she loved.
About a quarter of a mile up Morea turned a corner and halted, jolting her awake suddenly, where a tree, felled during the most recent storm, obstructed the path. Some local Feronians were giving the Rites of Return to the tree before dismembering it for firewood. The Feronians marked Laila for a Sunrider immediately, noting the soft pink energy that halated her presence. They parted reverently to let Laila and Morea pass. Laila made the sign of blessing over the Feronians and their work, and then jumped Morea over the tree with a rush of delight. A decidedly non-Feronian Temple Keeper had been in attendance at that ritual, Laila noted as she flew past, noting the saffron applied in a thick horizontal band across her forehead. Curious. Was there a temple around here that Laila didn’t know about? Perhaps the Keeper had travelled here for a birth or death?
Laila slowed Morea and turned her around, trotting back up to the gathering to face the Temple Keeper, fixing her with a penetrating gaze.
“Greetings, Temple Keeper,” she said. “My name is Laila Sunrider. And this is Morea.”
“Greetings, Laila and Morea. My name is Viva.”
“What brings you so far to Feronia, Viva? I see from your garb that you are from the plains.”
Viva looked away. Something private. Laila sent a quick query to AURORA, and was flooded with instantaneous knowing:—her name is Viva she lives in Mantus and keeps the temple there she has a child the child Maxim is change-body she came to meet with Flametree who makes herbal medicines for children like Maxim with ashwaganda ginseng yohimbe pine nuts pine pollen sassafrass wild oats deer antler saw palmetto white button mushroom—
Laila brought her fingers together with her left hand impatiently, ending the data-flood. Aurora was overwhelming her lately. Even simple queries were met with tidal waves of information.
“Truly you are blessed,” Laila said to Viva pointedly. “Think not to hide your child from the world as they change. Aurora is pleased. May you have success in your endeavor.”
Viva blushed. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Laila then added, smiling broadly, “I know a great deal of change-bodies, Viva—they change you, too.”
Laila bade them farewell, pushing aside images of Twig, erect, long fingers pushing into her, or Jack, writhing, birthing, shirtless, scars glistening with sweat. Morea turned to face the trailhead and continued their ascent.
The Disconnection Dens lay at another ecosystem edge, where the lush and temperate forests of Feronia gave way to the more alpine forest of Vegoia, which covered more of the rest of Iyapé. The trees were sparser up here, and the ground was steeper and rockier. The trail switched back several times up the mountain, and Laila, as usual, couldn’t always stomach the view, so she closed her eyes and held Morea’s mane tightly, trusting her to carry them both. Sure as harvest rain, Morea and Laila arrived in good time, cresting the ridge where the dens, short-shadowed, finally came into view, the afternoon sun still riding high in the sky overhead. Laila visibly exhaled. Reaching the dens was always somewhat of a relief to her.
The dens were not much to look at, Laila thought each time she saw them, but they served their purpose. They were three small, low baita, built into a rocky outcropping of Iyapé, constructed with dry-stone and wood and roofed with stone slabs called piodi, which provided protection from Iyapé’s deepwinter snowfalls. The dens were designed as hermitages, places for recovery and contemplation, and therefore very modest in construction.
Laila dismounted, touched her face to Morea’s in gratitude, and turned toward the dens. Morea would graze, water herself in the alpine spring between the dens, and explore the perimeter of the property, as she routinely did on their visits. Maaya’s ebony mare Oké would be nearby, and she and Morea were old friends too; they would probably graze together for a time, and conspire on horse-things. Oké is probably feeling as isolated as Maaya up here, Laila thought dully, and felt a surge of resentment toward Maaya at all the trouble that she caused everyone, every time she disconnected.
Laila sighed again—this time sharply—collected herself, and knocked softly on the door to the middle and largest den. When, after a time, she inevitably heard a resigned grunt of permission from within, she entered.