Fellow Writers Anoner, Paul, has done it, he’s finished his novel and it’s now available to buy. But before you do, read this excerpt for a taste of his fantastical world with a touch of sci-fi.
Dark – the start of a new SF/F book series
Have you ever been somewhere dark? I mean really dark. Not a beam of light. Not a glimmer. This
is the world of ‘The Folk’: tribes of strange creatures living in the pipes and rooms of an abandoned human colony. Now, though, civil war rages among the tribes and threatens to pull the fragile world apart.
Dun is following his missing father’s map searching for a reason for his nightmares. Padg, his closest friend is searching for meaning. Tali is a young alchemist searching for adventure. The answers to their questions take them places they could never have imagined.
The alchemist’s guild was as far upstream of the village as it was possible to go. Dun and Padg could tell their proximity to it by two signs: firstly the sulphur and carbon smell was unmistakable, and secondly there was a high earth bank all the way round. The only entrance through this protective levee was river-side, down a small path.
They could hear a classroom style recitation, the echoes of call and response drifting out to them through the door of the large, low wattle-and-daub building.
‘… metal, earth, air and blood…’
On the right hand side of the alchemists’ front door was the traditional door announcer post. It usually featured a symbol of the house, hung, carved or in relief, and some kind of noise-making device. Tied to this one was a long piece of river string above a complicated six-pointed star. Dun stepped straight up and tweaked the string. A loud glassy tinkling noise came from further up the post; the string was tied to some of those glass tubes the alchemists seemed so fond of using.
‘…metal, earth, air and blood…’
The door creaked open with a whiff of sulphur and a sniffling noise.
‘Hello; can I help you?’ the small voice attached to the sniffle enquired.
Dun formulated a reply carefully in his head; he knew Tali, and quite liked her.
‘Only, if you could hurry?’ Tali said. ‘I’ve kind of left an alembic on the heater and… it’s a bit finely balanced…and…y’know…’
There was a faint tinkle from inside.
Then a ‘crump’, felt more than heard.
The whoomph that followed ripped the door off its post and threw it. Dun caught the door full in the face and Padg caught Tali.
They lay on the floor in that hiatus that follows an explosion. Dust, debris and the alchemist’s door chimes fell all around them.
‘Nice,’ said Padg, coughing.
‘Yeah,’ said Tali, ‘Can you… er…? You’re leaning on my…’
‘Oh, sorry,’ said Padg. Tali stood, brushing mud plaster off.
Dun rolled himself out from under the door. ‘I… er… don’t suppose your Master is in, is he?’
‘Oh Gods,’ said Tali. ‘You know I kind of thought I might avoid him for a span or two.’
‘Avoid whom?’ came a deep voice. From Dun’s air-sense he could tell that the person speaking virtually filled the doorway, in each direction. The smell of rust and sulphur hung with the question.
‘We need to talk to him now,’ hissed Padg to Tali. ‘Dun here has something important to ask him.’
‘Okay,’ said Tali.
‘There’d better be a good excuse for this. A very good excuse,’ said Gatryn in a voice not used to contradiction.
‘Can we borrow an alchemist?’ said Padg cheerfully.
‘Borrow?’ Gatryn said sternly. ‘An alchemist is not a piece of laboratory equipment, an alembic to be returned once washed!’
‘Rather,’ Dun back-tracked, ‘can we ask your permission to let someone come with us on…’ He stopped, not sure how to carry on without saying too much.
‘That is, we’ve been asked by the Alpha to go…’
‘… exploring,’ Padg butted in. ‘We’ve got the village map to update.’
‘How interesting,’ Gatryn said suspiciously. ‘And you need an Alchemist why?’
‘Well… for… making…’ Dun struggled.
‘Paper!’ said Padg. ‘Spare…y’know. Paper…’
The sound of dragging furniture and sweeping of glass came from within.
‘Can you take this one?’ said Gatryn.
‘Alchemist. Despite Tali falling behind in her studies by trotting off on some “scribe’s errand” that could equally well be done by traders, she might learn something at that. And we might all appreciate the calm round here for a while. You’d like to go?’
‘Great!’ she said, a little too brightly, then a little more levelly, ‘with your permission Master Gatryn, I’d like to go.’
‘Well, if that’s all the disturbance for now, I’ve got a class to finish. I’m sure you three have much to discuss.’
‘Thank you, Master Gatryn,’ Tali said.
Then as he left, over his shoulder, he added, ‘Oh and do try and bring Tali back in one piece; she is a handful, but we’ve all gotten used to her round here.’
He sighed, ‘though I don’t suppose it’s any more dangerous out there than it is in here, is it?’
As if to punctuate his sentence there was another low frequency ‘oumph’, then a faint whiff of rotted fish.
‘Nice,’ said Padg.
‘Ahh,’ sighed Gatryn, ‘duty calls. Good luck on your journey.’
When Gatryn was out of earshot, Tali said, ‘I think you’ve just saved me from having to clean the drains and the sludge-pit for the rest of my natural life.’
‘You’re… welcome?’ said Dun.
‘I’ve got stuff to get from here,’ Tali said. ‘Meet you by the bridge in a thousand clicks or so?’
‘Great; we’ll pick up food and a pack for you,’ said Padg. ‘What about weapons?’
‘Don’t really need any; I’m an alchemist!’ laughed Tali. ‘Find me a good knife, if you like. Smell you later.’
She headed inside, leaving the friends standing there. Dun stood the door up next to the frame and they turned back towards the village, giggling.
‘Do you think she means it?’ said Dun as they headed back to the market.
‘All that stuff about not needing weapons to fight.’
‘I don’t know,’ said Padg, ‘Gatryn seems impressed with her and he’s a cantankerous old stick and, I gather, quite hard to impress.’
Dun and Padg knew of Tali’s reputation, though the duties of an apprentice, especially one to the alchemists’ guild, meant that she didn’t get out a lot from her studies. She was the youngest apprentice to have been selected by the guild for many an age, chosen for her brains and ability to pick things up quickly. However, those things were often ones she’d dropped herself. That they wanted her to come with them was a simple acknowledgement between Dun and Padg. They knew it was right. But they had a couple of formalities to sort out.
They stuffed the rations of fish-mush in the extra pack that Padg had bartered from the Makers. Dun noticed the fine texture on the outside of the newly-made sack. Its straps felt sturdy and well-attached to the main body of the pack. It was a physical reminder of why Dun preferred folk-made goods to the more popular modified found materials. He knew what he was getting with a folk-made thing. Knew exactly what it would do, how it would perform, how long it would last. It was a view influenced by his father, but shared by few of Dun’s contemporaries. But for this expedition Dun was in charge and for all his friendship for Padg, he knew his position; all their carrying kit was folk-made, all their weapons crafted by Padg – all ultimately reliable. Dun knew that the trip on which they were about to embark was going to have many unpredictable aspects. He didn’t want their kit to be one of those aspects. In a way, that all informed his question about Tali. The whole idea of alchemy, experimentation: that unpredictability made him uneasy. He knew in a way that it was a failing in himself; he always took longer to adapt than Padg, who of course mocked him mercilessly for it, but that didn’t change Dun’s feelings. On their way to the bridge, Dun realised that at the same time, his unease was sitting alongside a feeling they had the right team. The chaos that Tali brought was right. He thought about it, hearing her singing en route to the rendezvous point at the bridge. Whatever she was carrying in her bags clinked in time.
‘As sure as the river flows in the tunnel,
As sure as the fish swim free.
As sure as the water runs in the runnel… oh. Hi.”
‘Hey,’ said Padg.
‘So,’ said Dun, ‘we’re going on a journey, far from here, far upriver, maybe where no folk have ever been.’
There was a long silence.
‘It may be dangerous,’ chipped in Padg.
‘Great! When do we start?’ asked Tali cheerfully.
They sat on the low curved earth wall at the village side of the bridge. They heard a hoarse male pant as a someone sped to the bridge. He stopped in a cloud of dust; it smelled like the village runner, Macky.
‘Alpha… wants you… back in the Moot Hall. Now, he says.’
‘Dark’ by Paul L Arvidson is available to buy now on Amazon and Kindle here.
Paul L Arvidson is a forty-something ex-lighting designer who lives in rural Somerset. He juggles his non-author time bringing up his children and fighting against being sucked in to his wife’s chicken breeding business. Dark is his first novel.