I'm watching the leaves swirl outside my window. Hopefully, nothing horrible will happen.
To keep you all entertained, I have a short piece from the first chapter of a longer book I'm working on. It will be called The Storm Lords. This first chapter may change from the time you see it here until its eventually published, so keep that in mind!
The heat hung over the village like a smothering blanket.
Rowen watched his neighbors carry buckets of water out of their hut, the image dancing in the heat waves that wavered off of the baked clay. The entire village was preparing for the daily gathering, always necessary during a heat spell. The gathering was a time for people to spread out precious goods like water and pit seeds, which would cool down the body and prevent heat death.
In normal times, goods were traded as per their worth. During a heat spell, however, nothing could match the worth of a simple bucket of water or a single pit seed. As a result, all shared, carrying the village through the spells that sucked the life out of the area.
Rowen had nothing to share. He only benefited, and he knew others resented him for it. He walked to the gathering with a heavy heart, his scalp burning from the sun as though his red hair were aflame.
The others who passed him glared, their eyes full of suspicion. None offered help when he stumbled in the heat. His store of food, the food he hunted for himself, had grown small, and the water bucket in his home was mostly dry.
He would never steal water, but no one would believe him. Not after what happened.
Alain, the village elder, called the meeting to order, his powerful voice carrying over the throng. There were fewer people here today than the day before-a bad sign.
“Report any losses.” This was how the meetings always began. Heat spells killed the young and the old first, and in the first week of this one there had been dozens of deaths. This heat spell was in its third week, the longest Rowen had ever experienced.
Hands went up, and Rowen looked down at the shady ground. “Talia.” An eight year old girl who had loved to play outside in the rain during winter. “Fredericks.” An older man who dyed fabrics. “Abigail.” The seamstress.
Had they died during a normal time, they would be cremated. Fires were too dangerous during a heat spell, so they would be buried on the edge of town instead.
“This is day 22 of the current heat spell, the second of the warm season,” Alain intoned. “We have suffered greatly so far.”
“Too much!” a man cried out. Rowen looked up. He had lost his infant daughter in the first few days.
“Something must be done!” a woman cried.
“There is nothing that can be done.” Questions like these always arose. People yearned for the old times, when belief in mythical rituals that could bring the breaking storms was rampant. The old beliefs had fallen out of favor, people realizing that the advent of the storms was unpredictable, but the longer the heat spells stretched on the more desperate people became.
“Erik has measured the temperature currently at 134 degrees, dropping to 100 at night,” Alain continued. “This is unusual, but it should only mean that the storm will come soon.”
“The heat spells are longer and hotter. We should go back to the old ways!” A man on Rowen's left stood up, redfaced in anger. Andrew, the blacksmith, who's shop had lain abandoned for the last three weeks. “This would never have happened when I was a child!”
“There is no point in wasting energy on a ritual that won't work.” Alain didn't bother raising his voice. “The best thing to do is to wait and keep calm. Exertion will bring death.”
“We must do something!” The same woman who had been ignored before yelled again, louder this time, and people responded, turning to her and some agreeing, whispering under their breath.
Rowen's heart picked up speed. The mood of the crowd was turning, from a tired group of people willing to help each other to get through hard times to something else. Something dangerous.
“What would you have us do? The dances will only cause heat death faster.” Alain rose his voice slightly.
“There is no need for dances.” A man spoke up from the back of the throng, an accent shading his words. Rowen didn't recognize him until he turned to look.
The speaker was a man with pale hair and eyes, a traveler who had settled here from the north only a year ago. The heat had been unkind to him, his skin burned red from the sun. He always told tales of his travels, and people naturally paid close attention to him when he spoke.
“Where I come from, heat spells never last this long.” He spoke slowly, calmly, with a soft commanding voice that bade you listen. Rowen immediately didn't trust him.
“How?” Andrew asked, some of his belligerence gone.
The man chose his words carefully. “Where I live, heat spells are...harsher. Everyone fends for themselves. We are not as quick to share.”
A few people seemed concerned, and the man quickly picked up his tale. “But we have found a way to deal with that. Some people are not worth sharing with, after all.”
Someone glanced at Rowen. He swallowed nervously, looking away.
“Surely this is not necessary,” Alain spoke up. He sounded nervous. “We will begin the dispersal of water and seeds-”
“Where I come from, we give up the people who do not deserve resources,” the man continued, ignoring Alain, and the crowd hung on his words. “Sacrificing them to the Storm Gods brings the storms faster, and makes those who survive more comfortable.”
Rowen took a step back. People were nodding, smiling. Someone behind him grabbed Rowen by the arm.
“This one killed his parents by stealing their water!” Andrew yelled. Rowen opened his mouth to deny it, but of course no sound came out. He had never been able to speak, not since it had happened.
“Criminals make perfect sacrifices,” the man said, looking at Rowen but not meeting his eyes. “The Storm Gods are vindictive.”
“He will suffer the way his parents did,” the woman said, and people around her agreed. His neighbors, the ones he had watched bring their water to the gathering, scowled at him and turned away.
Rowen didn't try to fight. There was no point. There were too many, and running during a heat spell would only bring on his death faster.
“Tie him up!”
Rowen heard Alain protesting, and then he was silenced. Those tying him worked quickly and quietly, stripping his clothes off and binding his ankles with cord, his wrists behind his back. For a sacrifice, it was all very civilized. Everyone knew not to waste energy in this heat.
“Leave him in the sun,” The man spoke. “One less to take your water, and one more death to bring the storms faster.”
Hot tears formed in Rowen's eyes, but he was too old to let himself cry. He hadn't wanted their water anyway.
They dragged him into the sun, and the ground underneath him burned. He shut his eyes tightly, and the sun baked him. Nobody watched.
Rowen knew that death would come quickly.
The sweating had already begun, and his head swam in the heat. He didn't dare open his eyes to the merciless sun beating down on him. His skin was pale, and if he lasted long enough he would be covered in blisters.
He tried to think of his parents. He had been close with them, as an only child. His father had introduced him to village girls, and had not shown disappointment when Rowen had confessed to feeling nothing for any of them.
He thought of Lucas. Lucas, blacksmith's apprentice, a boy his age with blond hair and an eager smile, full lips and bright blue eyes. Rowen had never told him how Lucas had made him feel, quickening his blood and stirring him in his dreams.
Lucas had died in the same heat spell that had killed his parents. Since then Rowen had felt nothing. Too much loss, all at once. He groaned on the heated ground, but it was useless.
He had survived the heat spell. It should have killed him, like it killed his parents, but he had lived, eating pit seeds that silenced him forever and leaving him mute to defend himself to the villagers when they claimed he stole his parents water.
A wave of nausea surged through him. Heat sickness was setting in. He rolled over to vomit, nothing but whitish bile. Rolling made him dizzy, and that made the sickness worse.
Soon, nothing came up. Heat surged through him, but he could no longer sweat. The ground spun.
This was fitting. He couldn’t survive again.
He opened his eyes, and was greeted with darkness.
Night had not come. He rolled, impossibly slow, to look up. The sun had been covered, a thick, dark cloud blanketing the village.
Rowen almost smiled. He had been sacrificed, and the storm had come.
Rain began to pelt the ground, the drops hitting as hard as thrown stones. Rowen opened his mouth, instinctively hoping to ease some of his dehydration, before thunder boomed, a fork of lightning splitting the sky and unleashing torrents.
More died during the heat spells preceding the storms, but the storms themselves were deadly too if caught outside. Wind lashed rain into his face, hard enough that if he were not already prone he would have been knocked over. He could no longer look up; opening his eyes only invited the rain, the cold drops making his dry eyes burn.
Rowen lay on his side like sodden rags, listening to the power of the storm. He had not expected to die this way. Water began to pool around him, the flood coming fast despite the dry ground underneath absorbing it. Eventually it would absorb it all, filling the underground wells, but for now the water would run into Rowen's nose and mouth, drowning him because he was too weak to move. He tried to drink; it tasted like dust.
Gusts of wind blew over him, whistling in his ears and hair, and he began to shiver with cold despite being overheated just a short time ago. The thunder deafened him, the flashes of lightning only visible as a red sheen behind his eyelids. If one struck him, at least it would be over quickly.
Suddenly, everything calmed. The darkness was accompanied by silence, the pelting rain gone, and for a moment Rowen knew he was dead.
“You.” A voice called, one that he did not recognize. He opened his eyes, watching the water flow by him.
“You. Look at me.” The voice called him again. Without the rain hammering him down, Rowen managed to roll over. If he was dead, why was the weakness, the pain, not gone?
A man stood over him. No, hovered over him, his feet not touching the ground. He was clad in dark green, a rare color here in this desert village. His short dark brown hair was plastered to his head, dripping onto his nose and chin, and he wore a necklace with a grayish stone around his neck. Rowen focused on the deep blue eyes, like a clear summer sky, so different from the hazy blue that had accompanied the heat spell. They promised something.
“Would you like to come with me?” the man asked. His voice was deep, reverberant in Rowen's chest. Around them, the storm raged, thatch blowing off of soaking roofs and water pouring from eaves and out of overfull water jars.
Rowen opened his mouth, but of course he could not speak. He shut it, blinking slowly. Was this death?
“Will you come?” The man moved farther away, hovering, and looked up. “If you don't, the storm will probably kill you.”
Rowen could not speak. But he reached out, and the man smiled.
“Come then.” He knelt down, grabbing Rowen and hoisting him like a child. Pain from the sunburns screamed across his body, but he could not cry out. If this was death, it was not what he had expected.
He didn't have the strength to hold on, but the man gripped him as they hovered higher into the air, then flew, up above the village and into the storm. Rowen did not look down, staring at the man's neck, secure in his muscular arms. The sky around them was gray-black with clouds, but here he felt none of the violence of the storm that was being wreaked below. Spots flecked through his vision, but he no longer felt like giving up.
“I'm going to take you somewhere safe.” The man's voice rumbled. “Don't worry. I will explain everything to you.”
He talked as though Rowen cared. His village had sacrificed him to die. He was not dead now, though was flying above the village he had grown up in...The world spun around him, and for a moment he thought he was falling, or flying faster. Then he passed out.