It's Monday, and that means more To Look Skyward! This chapter introduces Danas, our second main character and our second plot thread. I hope you enjoy reading it; it's one of my favorite chapters, and I love Danas as a character. It seems that alpha readers have as well, and hopefully you're one of them. As always, you can find the Google Doc version of the chapter here, and thanks for taking the time to read!
She was on her normal route today: a sweep of the western side, looking for miscreants, troublemakers, or slacking workers. It had been uneventful so far, which was just fine with her. She didn't care much for the casual encounters with society's more unseemly characters that usually filled a soldier's day, and was content to just wander the streets, unbothered by anything more pressing than a lizard scurrying across her path. She wore the typical blue and grey uniform of a Lower City soldier, made of simple thin linen, and held the hilt of a short sword sheathed and buckled to her waist as she walked, whistling tunelessly to herself. In her other
The buildings on either side of the street were made of dark
It was hot and humid, and Danas felt a drop of sweat trickle off her nose as she came to the end of the road. But it was always hot and humid in the Lower City. Today seemed worse than usual, somehow, but when you spent your life in a perpetual sweat, it was hard to tell.
She stood up and began to make her way along the edge of the cliff face, ducking behind the furthest building along the street and then beyond, to where the city broke off and a muddy field filled with rocks began. She continued walking close to the cliff, and the light grew dimmer as
She walked down the initial tunnel, counting her steps. When she reached thirty-three, she took a left and followed another branching tunnel that twisted and turned deeper into the mountain. Soon, she began to hear quiet
"You have no idea how much fun that was,"
"You almost tried, anyway,"
After Danas retrieved her sword,
The cave they entered was large and high-ceilinged, and stalagmites covered the floor like huge teeth in the mouth of some great beast. Bowls of
Seated at a low table filled with maps and other important documents, a broad-shouldered man with a shaved scalp wearing simple brown shirt and trousers was scribbling on a piece of parchment with an absent expression. Beside him, sprawled across two chairs and wearing black leather, was a thin man with long light brown hair pulled up into a ponytail. The second man smiled as he saw Danas, and stood, initiating a mocking little bow directed towards her.
"Our great leader has returned to give us more orders, Mikis," the thin man said to his companion. His voice was nasal and wheedling, and his smile turned into a wicked grin as Danas and
The man with the ponytail gave Mikis a disgusted look. "It's always business with you, isn't it? Do you think small talk is beneath you or something?"
Nast made a face. "Oh, isn't that little nugget encouraging?"
Mikis hadn't ceased his
"Mmhmm," Mikis mumbled, his face focused once again on his parchment. "They got here just this morning."
"Pirates are very accommodating," Nast said, sitting back down and swinging his legs up
"I just got here,
"'Proper' she says!"
"Well, they didn't have to."
"And you look like you were just crapped out the back end of a
"How could you forget anything about that?"
Nast grunted. "It takes a lot of very strong drink. Most of the time, it's easier just to deal with him." He sighed, and then produced a flask from one of his numerous pockets. He took a long swig and then sighed again. "Most of the time."
Mikis looked up from his writing. "Are you three just going to stand here and chat all day? I do have to concentrate, you know."
Never tire of doing good, her father had always said. She still missed her father as keenly as the day she had lost him. Even after all these years. She didn't know if he was out there somehow, in the sky, watching over her, but if he was, she knew that he would be proud of her. She had taken everything he had ever taught her to heart, and she lived every day trying to uphold his beliefs. And until her dying breath, she would never give up on the Lower City. Even if everyone else had.
After they had visited with the rest of the revolutionaries, the two of them started off on one of the tunnels, hand in hand, ignoring the whistles and jeers from a group of soldiers nearby.
"You're even more beautiful than you were the last time I saw you,"
"Stuck as the kindest, gentlest, and most amazing man anyone would have the pleasure of knowing?"
He nodded solemnly. "Well, one of us has to be the plain, boring one. I've heard that's always how it is. If this is true, then I will humbly sacrifice myself for the good of our relationship." He closed his eyes, and clenched his fist, trying to look as dramatic as possible.
"I'm just bawling over here," she said, rolling her eyes. "You're so noble."
He laughed and hugged her to him, and they were silent again for a while, leaning on each other. The drip of water from somewhere was the only sound in the cave, and the jar of
"I missed you," Danas said, looking up at him.
"I missed you too,"
She kissed him back, and they clung to each
But...something was wrong.
It was something so small that she at first shrugged it off, just an uneasy feeling that had no ground. She was trying to forget all of those doubts that were clouding her mind. But, no...something was wrong. It was in the way
She had a fraction of a second to react. With all of the strength she could muster, she pulled away from him, breaking free of his grip for just long enough to grab the knife in her boot. Without thinking, without any feeling whatsoever, she sliced the knife across his throat.
A gurgle of blood came from
She started to tremble, and tears came unbidden to her eyes and then rolled down her
"Ath-Ath--" Danas tried to speak, to say something, but every time it just degenerated into sobs. What was there to say?
"It wasn't me,"
She stumbled away and
Her nightmares that night were the worst she had ever had.
"What do we do now?" Mikis asked, sitting on a chair next to Danas' cot.
They were all surrounding Danas, who sat on the edge of her cot, face in her hands--Mikis, Nast, and Pohn. The most trusted members of this rebellion of hers. Of course, Atheor had also been among the inner circle, but that had changed. So much had changed.
Danas glanced up at them. They were still all looking to her leadership. Didn't they realize that her entire world had just been shaken to its very core? Why couldn't they just leave her be? No...they need me. The Lower City needs me. I can't give up, not even for a second. "We continue with the plan," she said, trying to portray as much confidence as she could.
"But..." Nast said, leaning against a nearby stalagmite. "What if we're compromised?"
Pohn nodded. "If Ath--" he glanced at Danas, sympathy in his eyes. "If he was being Dominated, then someone knows about this place. At the very least, we need to move the camp."
Danas sighed, looking to Mikis. "Make the arrangements. We'll move to the Lake. That's close enough to our tunnels to still be able to work on them, and far enough away from here to throw off the trail of whoever might know about us."
Mikis nodded and headed off to begin the preparations.
"I don't want to make this any harder for you than it already is, Danas," Nast said, stepping over and taking Mikis' seat. "But we have to look at the possibility that Atheor might not have been Dominated after all. If he was working on his own accord..."
Danas looked at him with a steely expression. "He was Dominated, Nast. I know it."
"Still, we should..."
"Nast!" Danas said, suddenly angry. "Atheor was a great man. The best of men. I will not dishonor his memory by speculating about whether or not he tried to kill me of his own free will. I saw the look in his eyes--the horror at what he had been forced to do. With his dying breath, he told me that he didn't do it. 'It wasn't me', those were his words! And curse you if you say otherwise!"
Nast's features betrayed his sadness. "I was just trying to help, Danas. I'm sorry. I loved Atheor as a brother--I didn't mean..."
"Please," Danas said, holding up a hand. "It's alright. Nast, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you like that...it's just..."
"I know," Nast said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay."
"Could you..." Danas said, struggling to say the words. "Could you please find him and bury him? I don't want to just leave him there...but..."
He nodded, and then stood. "You don't have to say it." And then he left to do as she had asked.
Danas glanced at Pohn. The man was watching her, his deep blue eyes seeming to bore into her very soul. He really was a brutish, ugly looking man, but he had such a sincerity about him. A deep abiding love for people that seemed to shine through everything he did, even if he was teasing them. The two of them locked eyes, and after a moment, Pohn left his own chair and sat beside her on the cot, taking her hand in his.
"Don't tear yourself apart, girl," he said. "I know how hard this must be for you, but the last thing I want you to do is put any blame on yourself. It's not your fault--none of this, so don't be caught up in thinking that you might have said something or done something different that might have changed how it turned out. That'll just make it hurt more."
He patted her hand once, and then left her sitting alone. Danas just stared at the empty space where he had been a moment earlier, not having the motivation even to move her head. It all felt so pointless. Everything they were doing. She had always clung to Atheor, relied on him, even when he had been gone. She knew that he would come back, and someday, when all of this was over, they would be able to raise a family, like he had always wanted to.
Now that someday would never come. Danas didn’t know if she could bear it.
She finally garnered the strength to move her neck muscles, and turned her head to watch her soldiers milling about, preparing to leave. A small stab of guilt hit her. What about them? These fellow slaves to society, these men and women who had put so much trust and faith in her. If she gave up now, what would they say of her? What would they do? She wasn't so arrogant as to think that the revolution they were planning couldn't happen without her, but...they did need her. They needed her to be strong, to lead them as she had done for so many years.
She didn't have time to mourn any longer. She needed to be a leader. She couldn't dwell on this--on any of it. She had to keep going, keep moving, and hope that would be enough. Maybe she would be able to feel something other than hurt if she just kept on. Maybe she would be able to deal with it, and get it taken care of. But right now, she couldn't afford any of that. It didn't matter what she felt, or what she needed. What mattered was that she had a job to do, and she had wasted too much time already.
So Danas stood, burying all of her emotions and all of her hurt as deeply as they would go. She took one step, and then another. She found that each progressive step hurt less. Soon, she felt nothing at all.