The Importance of the Impossible
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Gravity’s Revenge: First Chapters and Illustrations

Posted by A.E. Marling in My Writing

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I’m as happy a djinn freed from his bottle to include multiple internal illustrations in this first act of my upcoming novel. I hope to garnish this section with three to four more internal illustrations, pending the successful funding of the Kickstarter.

Chapter 1

Half Bridge

Half Bridge

Enchantress Hiresha thought the day rather brisk for walking up cliffs. A path of blue marble ascended from the valley floor in a vertical line. The straight-up-and-down road climbed a horizon of stone, cutting through sediment bands of yellow, grey, and white rock. The Skyway’s destination lay too high for glimpses, among the snowbound peaks of the Skiarri Mountains.

The chill air that sluiced from those heights prickled Hiresha’s face. She stepped out of her carriage, resting her hand on her maid’s offered arm. Enchantress Hiresha walked with her dress hems rippling ahead of her on the cobblestones, layer upon layer of silks and velvets of every color swirling about her feet. The maid beside her wore a stark grey, the dress a somber veneer for a woman who was anything but.

Today the servant and mistress walked arm in arm toward a girl waiting for them at the base of the Skyway. Hiresha squeezed her maid’s hand to reassure the woman that her daughter would succeed at her trial. She would make her journey up the cliff. The enchantress knew Maid Janny had to be frightened. She had waited over a decade for this day.

A pet fox in Hiresha’s other arm squeaked. The enchantress held him with care because the desert fox was small as a kitten and fragile. The fennec fox shivered, made a sound close to a mew, and burrowed deeper into the layers of fabric under Hiresha’s arm until only his tail was visible.

Maid Janny narrowed her eyes at the fennec’s tail then turned an adoring gaze to the veiled girl at the base of the cliff. Janny fluttered her free hand above her chest.

“It’s finally happening, isn’t it?” Janny asked. “My heart hasn’t beat this fast since that time with the two men in the hot springs, and would you look at her? My Minna, walking her way to higher learning. Any mother would be dripping with pride, but we won’t have that. Tears of joy can’t be harder to hold down than soured rye beer. Not frightened for her at all.”

By the gallop of Janny’s words, Hiresha could that tell her friend was not frightened. She was terrified.

“She’ll make it to the top,” Janny said. “But do you think you should leave that fox down here? With the guards. Minna is a skittish girl, and I don’t see a call for that beast frightening her while she’s scared walking up a cliff besides.”

“You mustn’t call him a beast.” Hiresha stroked two purple-gloved fingers along the gold fur of the tail to its black tip. “It’s sacrilegious.”

Janny snorted at that.

The two women and the fox passed several men in ornate armor, jeweled swords strapped to their backs. They kneeled before the enchantress. A guard tower shadowed the town lane, the structure a tiny thing beside the cliff.

The maid called out to the girl who waited at the base of a bridge leading up to the mountainous wall. “Oh, Minna, you mustn’t wear that veil. You haven’t a thing to be ashamed of, and not a one in the Academy will poke fun at you. Couldn’t, with this walking jewel parade for a patron.”

Janny elbowed Hiresha, the maid’s arm sinking without harm into the myriad folds of fabrics sparkling with gold lace and gems. To Hiresha, the jab had felt less than a poke.

The girl gripped the yellow strip of cotton covering her face, her frost-nipped knuckles standing out like red berries on her pale hand. Hiresha noticed the girl was trembling.

“Told you I was w-wearing it,” she said.

“Nonsense.” Janny scurried to her daughter, shooing the girl’s hands away from her face. “Today’s your fresh start. Just let me take it for you.”

“Mother!”

“No daughter of mine is going to skulk about behind a mask. There!”

Hiresha itched with discomfort to see her maid and best friend rip away her daughter’s veil. Minna gasped, one hand groping after the stolen fabric, the other reaching up to try to shield her face. Hiresha could not help but see the redness of the birthmark that spilled over the bone white of the girl’s nose and cheeks like a wine stain. Tears spurted from her eyes.

“Janny, let her wear it if she wishes.” Hiresha touched the maid’s shoulder. “It is only sensible in this chill. The Skyway is prone to gusts.”

The maid yielded the veil with a grumble. “She doesn’t need to be sorry for who she is.”

“This face isn’t who I am.” The yellow cloth soon covered all the girl’s features but her eyes, with only a trace of the birthmark visible between them. Darker blotches discolored the skin beneath her lashes, either from frequent weeping or sleeplessness. Her eyes themselves were beautiful, a light pureness with a corona of green around the pupil.

The girl gazed up at the enchantress with the same glistening gratitude as if she had witnessed Hiresha slay a sea monster. Hiresha supposed she had felt much the same way about her own mother when she had been that age. A pang of half-remembered bitterness lurched in Hiresha’s chest. She knew all too well the feeling of being uncomfortable in her own skin.

Hiresha straightened the girl’s veil and said, “Someone once told me only the flawed can be flawless.”

The girl asked, “Was she an enchantress, too?”

“He.” Hiresha could say no more, since magic users of his sort were not a subject for polite conversation. Even now she could remember the tingling heat of his hands on her waist as they danced.

A deep clearing of a throat drew attention to a guard. He knelt holding out an amulet. “Will Elder Enchantress Hiresha, Provost of Applied Enchantment, guide this woman, Minna Barrows, on her journey to become a novice of The Mindvault Academy?”

Hiresha said she would and took the amulet. The bronze disk bore the school motto “Nothing not first imagined,” inscribed in seven languages, from the box lettering of her homeland to the hieroglyphs of the empire’s capital. The words wove around the pattern of four concentric circles.

As the enchantress clasped the amulet around the girl’s neck, Minna tilted back her head to try to see the top of the Skyway and the Academy. The skin exposed below the veil looked waxy and bloodless. The girl swayed backward as if in a faint, and by the time Hiresha thought to catch the swooning girl, Maid Janny had already nudged her daughter upright. The girl jerked away from her mother’s touch.

The spellsword said, “Will you, Minna Barrows—”

Hiresha interrupted the guard. “Of course she’ll train as a novice. She’s here, is she not? Now let us be about our business before someone freezes.”

The spellsword frowned as he touched the amulet. Hiresha sensed him use his power to activate an enchantment of Attraction in the bronze chain, and the links tightened about the girl’s throat to turn the necklace into a choker that could not be removed without violence. The girl’s fingers ran along the length of metal.

“It’s necessary,” Janny said, thumbing down her grey collar to reveal her own gold amulet. “Without it you won’t go far, except downward.”

The girl’s eyes climbed halfway up the cliff again before she gave up. “Anything else horrible you’d like to remind me of? Monkey bites? Bee stings?”

“My little minnow,” Janny said, “I know you’ll pass the test. You won’t fall. You won’t run from the Skyway. No matter how much you want to. You’ll get through it.”

The girl shuddered.

Hiresha extended her hand. Minna took it, twining the enchantress’s purple glove with trembling fingers as white as snow. Enchantress and novice walked together at arm’s length, the girl apologizing every time she stepped on the flood of glittering skirts.

They ascended a bridge that curved up to the cliff in such a way that allowed horse teams, lords, court ladies, and others with skittish constitutions to believe they would soon step on level ground. Only a rocky plain. A craggy field of stone. Certainly not a vertical cliff and road leading straight up half a mile of empty air.

The girl was not fooled. She stopped at the end of Half Bridge, her pose rigid and brittle, her grip tight on the enchantress’s hand to the point of pain.

Hiresha worried for her. If Minna lacked the discipline to walk up the Skyway, she could never be trained as an enchantress. Janny will be devastated, Hiresha thought. The enchantress wanted the girl to find both her calling and acceptance in the Academy, in spite of her flaws. As I once did.

Minna clawed her fingers at the bronze choker, but not so much as a pinkie slipped beneath it. “What if the magic doesn’t work?”

“The amulets are all tested in controlled environments.”

The girl did not look reassured.

Hiresha’s brows furrowed. She lectured on the finer points of magic more often than she reassured twelve-year-olds. The enchantress cleared her throat.

“Your amulet is already working. Look down and see the proof. You are standing at a slant in relation to the ground. See how the cliff now appears to be a slope, not a wall? Half Bridge contains transition enchantments to attempt to convince the more delicate organs that you walked across a true semicircle.”

“You—you can’t fall partway up the cliff?”

“Gravity, like many things, is a matter of societal agreement,” Hiresha said. “Through enchantments we may command gravity, and we have decided that here it should pull to the side, into the Skyway.”

“What if gravity fights back?”

“It is people who fight,” Hiresha said. “Gravity is a constant, on which enchantment adds exceptions.”

The girl remained petrified, not moving, not speaking, only making a clicking noise under her veil. It sounded like pebbles plinking onto each other. Her teeth are chattering, Hiresha realized, poor dear.

A muffled chirp came from the fox nestled at Hiresha’s side. The girl’s eyes widened at the sight of his gold tail swishing over the jeweled gowns.

“It’s alive?”

The enchantress lifted the fennec, and he yawned, pink tongue curving upward toward his black whiskers. An idea came to Hiresha. “Hold him for me.”

“Those ears are huge.” The girl cradled the fennec. A collar of purple amethysts glittered around the fox’s throat.

Hiresha checked a matching bracelet of gems around her own arm and found it still there. “He is most dear to me, and I’d only allow you to carry him on the Skyway if I was confident in the Academy’s enchantments and your safety. Which I am.”

“Oh,” the girl said. The furry cones of the fox’s ears shifted upward to point at her face. The corners of Minna’s eyes pinched together in mirth, and Hiresha thought the girl’s veil must hide a grin. “Hope you don’t mind me stealing him forever.”

While the girl was acquainting herself with the fennec’s furriness, Hiresha glanced back, past the green tendrils of her headdress, to the guard tower. Four men were carrying a boat out from its reinforced doorway. Bronze discs ran down its hull, each similar to the amulet given to Minna. The men rolled the boat upright and plopped it into a town waterway.

Hiresha watched with apprehension as her maid loaded the boat with a chest. The cedar box contained vials of mercury. The enchantress’ magic had extracted the quicksilver from the smiths in the town’s asylum, poisoned from years of metalwork. She would not care to see her healing efforts undone by the mercury falling into the river, no matter how watertight the chest was purported to be. When Janny stepped aboard, the boat rocked.

The men rowed the vessel to the cliff side. Then upward. The Waterfly River flowed calmly vertical in a channel carved in enchanted rock. Ice frosted the edges.

Alongside the Waterfly River, a blue walkway lead into the sky. Hiresha clasped the girl’s arm, guiding her to the upright path. “Are you ready to proceed?”

“If you think it’s safe….” The girl pulled the fennec closer to her chest.

“The enchantments that alter gravity around the Academy were designed by the Goddess of the Opal Mind herself.”

Hiresha swung a foot over the smooth stones of the Skyway. Swaths of red and orange silk fluttered ahead of her leg. Minna lifted her foot as well, her boot bound in leather with grey yak fur poking up from the inside. Their feet cast no shadow because they faced the noonday sun.

The enchantress said, “Nothing can go wrong.”

Next chapter…

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