Defiant: Chapter Six

People have asked how much longer I’ll be working on my second novel, and the answer is, “I do not know, but I guess we’ll find out!”  The second novel’s journey is very different from the first novel’s.

The first novel stewed in my brain for almost two decades before I finally got it all down on the page.  That’s a lot of time to soak in everything, find out who the characters are, identify and fix massive plot holes, and come up with all the story.

On the second novel, I had an idea for a mountain which gave powers during the last Winter Olympics in 2018 (no idea why).  I created a character, and some dragons around that idea for a writing class that March, and wrote a draft first chapter.  Then I left it alone until late summer as the first novel was winding down.  I updated the first chapter and wrote a few more before the Writing Excuses Cruise, but then got post-conference blah-brain and forgot how to write for a bit.  In February, I finished the first draft.

With few exceptions, most people have to do a lot of work on their first drafts.  Sadly, it does not appear I will be one of those exceptions.  Go hard or go home, I say, so I decided to add two more Point of View (POV) characters to the story, which is a major rework.

Now that I count, I’ve only been working on this novel with any focus for less than ten months.  In comparison to Defiant, that’s not a lot of time!

I’ve also learned a lot more since writing the first novel, so I feel like I have more to do in revisions.  It is no longer a matter of only making sure what is going on is clear and that I haven’t misspelled any words.  Now, I worry about character development and backstory, emotional beats, how each chapter begins and ends, the overall dispersion of information, and many other things.  It takes a lot more time. I feel like I’m building the story in layers.

On the upside, I’m still having fun doing it, and I think the end product will be an improvement.  The worst thing that can happen is I learn a lot of stuff, and the third novel is even better.

Happy reading!

Aida stood on her toes and leaned back, stretching against the morning’s stiffness. Two weeks of too little sleep, the release of emotions upon meeting the Kort, and a mug of Zara’s hot tea had given her several hours of rest. She awoke groggy and sore.

“Try not to look bored.” Sienna stood in front of Aida on the path, Dominic’s sword drawn, point down. She had suggested the early morning practice, insisting Aida work with her mother’s blade. Now she glistened with sweat, and strands of her long hair dropped into her face, defying the tie at the back of her head. Sienna had to work much harder than Aida when they sparred.

Luca smiled as he leaned against an old, thick oak, Mason’s sword at his side. He tapped the top of the twelve flowers on the sheath. “She may not be able to help it with as bad as you are.”

“Don’t make me get my bow.” Sienna set her feet in a rough approximation of a fighting stance and raised the blade to aim the point at Aida. Although not skilled, she did wield the too-large weapon with grace due to some hidden strength. If she ever trained seriously, she might be dangerous. “Let me try again.”

Aida leveled her mother’s sword and stared at the gleaming blade. She shouldn’t have worried about being unfamiliar to it as it was the perfect size for her and of expert craftsmanship. It fit perfectly into her hand, and she realized she must be the same size as her mother had been when she died. I should give Sienna Dominic’s sword. I don’t need it anymore.

Sienna took several short steps forward and planted her feet again as she swung her arms in an overhead arc. Aida stepped to the side as the blade came down. Sienna reached too far with her weapon, lost her balance, and fell into several more steps past Aida. Maybe someone else needs the sword. She should stick to the bow.

“You need to move your feet,” Luca said, “and don’t extend as much on the attack.”

Sienna grunted and returned to her place, head down. Aida faced toward the village, watching as the overhanging tree leaves danced against the bright early sun. Patches of fog dotted the trees and the fields beyond, but the path remained visible. The unused trail west of town proved an excellent location out of the sight of other villagers. Aida came here often to practice, to think, and to admire the beautiful view.

She rolled her shoulders back and closed her eyes, tracking the two Warriors as they neared the village. Aida had known they were coming but waited until they were closer to attempt identifying them. It was the same feeling as the day before. “No Grady today, Luca?”

“No.” He stood upright and gazed east as well. “I think it’s strange you can tell he’s not with them.”

“Was he too bored yesterday?” Sienna sheathed her sword with a look of relief. For all her grace with a bow, she remained unable to master a sword.

“No. We scared off a beast.”

Aida opened her eyes. “Really? Where?”

“South of the village. He wanted to go that way so he could say he’d been farther than the other Kort.”

“And he doesn’t want to come back?” Aida also sheathed her sword, sliding her hand down against the birds imprinted on the leather.

“He’s going to be at the Kort main camp today.” Luca glanced at Sienna, eyes a mix of excitement and guilt. “He asked Dylan if I could go there instead of scout duty.”

“What?” Sienna’s head snapped up. “I’m sure Dylan said no.”

“He said yes.” Before she argued, he added, “Ma did too. So that’s where I’m heading after breakfast.”

“Perhaps I’ll go on scout duty,” Aida said as Sienna opened her mouth again. It would give Aida reason to avoid the green. “Since there’s a shortfall today.”

“Dylan wasn’t concerned about that.” Luca turned back to the two women. “Said nobody is going to be sneaking around with the Kort nearby. And we ran off the beast yesterday.”

“You can’t go to the camp,” Sienna sputtered. “We don’t know anything about them.”

“I know Grady. Aida knows Kezia, Ian, and Cugat. Grady told me all about Ferran, his master, and Ferran’s other ikast, Chandi and Estel.” Luca crossed his arms and glared at Sienna.

Aida focused on Ferran’s name. He was the Kort born to Isma. Were there other Kort from Isma? Ferran had to be Cugat’s first or second ikast, if he already had three ikast of his own. It was true, then, he had been with the Kort and Cugat before the attack on Aida’s family. He hadn’t been there for the slaughter.

Sienna was uninterested in the ikast lineage. “I can’t believe you’re doing this.”

“I promised Ma I wouldn’t join.”

“A lot of good that will do her if you do anyway.”

“Oh, now I’m a liar.” Luca’s head dropped and then turned toward the village. “I think I’ll go now. Skip breakfast.”

He glanced at Aida before he turned. Hand on his sword hilt, he strode back toward the village and morning light. It was the second time in two days he’d stormed off.

Sienna crossed her arms and stared at the sky, mouthing some prayer as he moved past the tree line and out of sight. She reached up and ripped the tie from her hair, and pulled all of it back again, the loose strands once again controlled. “He can’t leave. He’s just doing it because he’s upset I’m going to the Temple.”

Aida adjusted her belt and sword. It rested on her hip differently than Dominic’s sword. It was longer, and she wore it a little higher, though she doubted the necessity. She looked at the sheath’s tip to judge the distance to the ground and took some steps to test the placement. Once satisfied, she leaned against the same oak Luca had used as a backrest. “He isn’t going to join the army.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“He likes food. And sleep. Even if he did go with them, he’d be back within a week.” Aida and Zara had discussed this idea multiple times. Luca’s mother had no doubt the boy would stop seeking adventure the moment he found it. Sienna was the only one who didn’t recognize this. Sienna was right though; she was the reason he was testing his limits.

Sienna dropped her head. “He wasn’t like this before father died.”

“He wasn’t sixteen.” Aida paused. “And you weren’t going to the Temple.”

Sienna let out a sigh. She had been devout before her father died but had never considered going to the Temple to study as a priestess. Her adventure was in her studies and the possibility of travel, but she couldn’t see Luca yearned for the same excitement. Both brother and sister were lost after the death; they just didn’t know it.

I’ve been there. I’m still there. Aida turned her eyes to the west again, though she couldn’t see the mountains through the trees and hills. They were there though, and she would see them soon.

The Warriors arrived in the village and stopped, as Aida expected. She’d grown almost used to the soldiers on the green, their ever-present existence pushing against her mind. Warriors brought a much different intensity. Would she ever get used to them?

She didn’t need to. They’d given her the information she needed. Isma was straight west from the village. Aida would cross the mountains, which few did, but Isma’s Warriors and soldiers managed. With no knowledge or skill in mountaineering, death seemed likely before she reached the other side.

It was too bad she couldn’t recruit Ian for the journey. As his birth house was Lortun, he’d be good in the mountains. She shook her head to clear the idea. Her mind had been drifting back to the Venkri since their first meeting. She was the right age to notice men, of course, but there was no future with Ian. Warriors did not court Youth, and Aida was an odd case too. Her thoughts kept returning to him though, envisioning his warm smile and contrasting it with the deep sadness she felt within.

Aida untied her hair band and pulled it back again, this time braiding it in the silence of the woods. Squirrels scurried about the branches above, joining the birds in the morning hunt for food. She gazed at the blue sky through the leaves and wondered how Ian managed to be sadder than she was.

Sienna paced for a few moments and then sat under a tree across the path. She leaned her head back against the trunk. “I was thinking about your knife throwing. Are you as good as you are because of your blood?”

Aida had never told Sienna why she was almost perfect at hitting a precise target with her knife. Sienna was more aware of Aida’s skills now, though. “I would be accurate regardless, but yes, I can help it along.”

Sienna chuckled. “I always knew you were cheating.”

Aida smiled and then felt a change in one of the Warriors. She closed her eyes and focused on the village and the Warriors within. A stable and strong Tengarper remained still at the same location as the soldiers. The less controlled, wilder energy moved south, and then west.

“What is it?”

Aida opened her eyes. “Ian is coming this way.” As he distanced himself from Kezia, Aida could better track him. A much smaller, but familiar, presence walked with him. “Luca is with him.”

The two women stood. Sienna carefully wiped off her pants as they waited expectantly on the trail, watching through the trees for the two men to arrive. Aida would have been at peace standing there in the woods, but her heart raced as she wondered why Ian sought for her. She calmed her breathing, hoping to track him and to sense more of his motivation.

Luca and Ian appeared through the oaks, tromping along on the dirt path. Both men were smiling, but Aida knew Ian was troubled. The sadness remained and now joined with something else. Something darker. His mood was almost foul.

“Good morning, ladies.” Ian strode down the path, nodding at both women. He wore the same style of clothes as the day before, but the tunic appeared to be of finer material. Light broken by the leaves above shone on polished bits of metal on his belt, sheath, and sword. His hair was shorter, and his face was fresh-shaven.

Aida ducked her head to hide any blush at the man’s approach. “What brings you this way today?”

“I met Luca on his way to our camp and asked him where you were. I wanted to see you again.”

He was lying. It was easy to tell at this distance.

Luca beamed. “He said he’d spar with me.”

“I did. Shall we?” Ian took several steps forward so that he was even with Aida, but turned to face Luca.

He smelled of soap and sweat, and once again reminded Aida of her father’s ikast. This close, she read even more of his feelings. His apparent joy at facing Luca was entirely fake. There was sadness, fear, anger, and a mix of other things roiling beneath the surface. She stepped back off the path and out of the way of the combat, happy to put some distance between her and the mountain of unease before her.

“This seems like it isn’t safe.” Sienna remained still, too close for Luca and Ian to begin.

“We spar all the time,” Luca countered, shoulders stiffening. “I won’t hurt him.”

Aida held in her laugh at the ridiculous idea, but Sienna didn’t smile. Luca was a good swordsman. He might take on one of the new Venkri or Tengarper ikast. Ian wasn’t new though; he was at least in his mid-twenties and likely an ikast for several years. He’d been training with Cugat for longer than Aida had been in the village. Ian was as strong as Luca, probably more, and a trained Warrior.

Sienna shot Aida a questioning look, but Aida only shrugged. The other woman bit her lip, but walked off the trail to Aida’s left. At this distance, Aida could also sense her friend’s anger, if she hadn’t noticed before.

Luca stood to their left and Ian to their right on the rough dirt path. Both men drew their swords. Luca’s Temple blade was slightly lighter in color than Ian’s. A hand longer than Luca’s weapon, Ian’s sword appeared to be of Tengarper make. Aida couldn’t recognize anything about the unadorned piece.

Ian stood in the relaxed stance of a well-trained partner, while Luca’s posture was rigid and anxious. Too nervous about facing a Warrior, the young man had already lost.

Luca did not lack in bravery, however, and started the match. Ian parried some of his attacks and ducked out of the way of others, but did not push the battle back. The two men worked up and down the path as if dancing, though Ian undoubtedly led. Although his form was technically sound, Luca could not match the Venkri Warrior in speed or stamina. After a few moments, his face grew red with effort, and sweat dripped from his cheeks and chin. Ian’s breathing was even, and he hardly appeared tired.

“Your footwork is good,” Ian offered as he took a step back, “but you tell me where you’re going with your eyes.”

Luca grunted an acknowledgment and pressed in, this time keeping his entire head too stiff and eyes straight forward. The over-compensation cost him in footing, and Ian pushed him back down the trail as Luca’s confidence dropped. The boy’s rear foot caught on a patch of weeds sprouting in the dirt, and he stumbled back before catching himself.

“You still have to be aware of your surroundings. Just don’t tell me what you’re going to do.”

Luca nodded as he resumed his position. For as difficult as he could be with Sienna, Aida had noticed Luca was always willing to learn when it came to his interests, even if he was losing. She could defeat him easily when they fought but didn’t mind the time since he always learned something.

Sienna’s anger dissipated some as the men continued, but Ian never lost his secret aggravation. Aida caught him glancing at her more than once as he instructed Luca. Why was he there?

Finally, Ian sheathed his sword. “I think that’s enough for today. You’re very good; I’ve not met a Calas with as much skill.”

Though panting from exertion, Luca’s face grew into a broad smile. He’d worked tirelessly with Mason and with Aida on the sword. It was an ability he enjoyed and never would be able to employ as a villager. Aida was happy for him, but Sienna’s mood sank again.

Luca wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. “You should try, Aida.”

Ian turned to look at Aida, eyebrow raised. He laughed; a fake laugh different from his feelings. “I don’t know if I want to take on that battle. Did you know she’s at least twice as strong as me right now?”

“But you’re older than her,” Luca protested.

Sienna and Aida joined the men on the path as Ian shrugged. “Yes, but Warrior Youth are very strong. The only way for them to get any stronger is to become an ikast and then wait until it returns.”’

“How does that work?” Luca still wanted to be a Warrior.

“Tymon gifts Warriors with power,” Ian said.

“They trade their free will for power.” Sienna clenched her fists at her side. “Doesn’t sound like a gift from your ‘god.’”

Aida’s neck grew warm.

Sienna walked up to Ian and poked him in the chest. “Your house serves a demon. And you’re trying to recruit my brother to serve the same demon.”

“Sienna!” Luca stepped between his sister and the Warrior.

No offense rose in Ian, and his face remained calm. He put his hand on Luca’s shoulder. “It is alright, Luca. My house does serve Tymon. But I’m not here to recruit you.”

“What are you here for?” Sienna demanded.

“My master sent me to speak with Aida.” Ian looked from Sienna to Aida, who stayed behind her friend at the edge of the path.

Cugat? She tried to breathe, but couldn’t control it quickly enough.

Ian stepped beside Sienna toward Aida, leaving both brother and sister behind as he stopped in front of Aida. He stood so close she felt all his eagerness mixed with sadness. “He’s been impressed with your strength and skill since we arrived.”

“He only saw her once,” Sienna said.

“Yes, but Kezia and I met with her yesterday. Kezia is a master too, you know. You have great potential, Aida.” Ian leaned forward slightly.

She didn’t want to step back, but he appeared threatening at such close distance. Aggravated and sad, yet eager for something. And afraid. Aida slid her left foot behind her, giving her space and placing her in a fighting stance. “Potential for what?”

“He’s spoken with your council,” Ian grasped his hands behind his back, leaning back and standing tall. He was a regal messenger for his master, “and he will return later today to ask you to be his ikast.”

Aida’s mouth dropped open as she gasped, cold overwhelming her chest and stomach.

“I hope you will say yes and join us.”

“What?” Sienna moved again, this time planting herself to Aida’s left, almost between Aida and Ian.

Aida shook, unable to speak. The distinct chill of the battle so many years before washed over her. Many thoughts assailed her, but nothing coherent formed in her mind. She stared at him blankly while her friend rose on her toes to yell.

“She can’t become an ikast. She said her heritage prevented it.”

Ian glanced at Sienna. “Cugat is certain the Writings suggest he take her as ikast.”

“The Writings? You mean Tymon!”

“Tell me, priestess, have you read all of the Writings?” Ian cocked his head with the question, anger growing inside.

Sienna’s mouth snapped shut before opening again to answer. “The ones we have here. Nathan has read them all.”

“You should ask Nathan about the Writings and Aida.”

Nathan had never mentioned anything in the Writings about Aida. Her parents never said anything either. Dominic and Zara were both silent. The gods don’t care about me.

Luca stood behind Ian, confused and staring at Aida through the gap between Ian and Sienna. Eyebrows furrowed, he looked from Aida to Sienna, and finally at the back of Ian’s head.

“You’re lying.” Sienna tried to step all the way between the two, but Ian stepped forward, blocking her path. Aida stumbled back off the trail, barely managing to remain upright.

“Go and ask.” Ian locked eyes with Aida. “Regardless, my master will arrive in a few hours to ask you to be his ikast; my sister ikast. You can join the Kort, Aida. You can go west and be a Warrior. You can grow in power instead of waning away here with the Calas.”

Sienna put her hand firmly on Ian’s chest and shoved. Shaking his head, he slowly stepped back into the middle of the path.

Aida had never entertained the idea, aside from deciding she wouldn’t want to be an ikast even if she had the chance. She had too many concerns; too many fears. “No. Tell him I said no.”

Ian bit his lip, and let out a breath. “I think you should at least think about it until his arrival. Think of it, Aida! You could train with the best of the Venkri and Tengarper. Kezia is an excellent instructor. And there are many other Warriors at the Kort stronghold.”

“I’ve never wanted training.” Aida took another step back. “I’ve never wanted any of that. I don’t want to be like my parents’ ikast, who had no choice in coming over the mountains. I don’t want to be an ikast”

Ian looked hurt. “It isn’t forever. My master grows old. You would be his last ikast. When he dies, you would be free.”

Aida shook her head, overwhelmed by the idea. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

“Aida, think of it. You should become a master someday. You can bring honor back to your family.” Ian started to take a step forward again, but Sienna was already there.

“She said no.”

Behind him, Luca looked up, his face firm. “You should leave.”

Ian continued to stare at Aida. “You must join Cugat, Aida. It is for the best.”

“Don’t tell her what she must do,” Sienna snarled.

“Leave.” Luca’s hand found his sword hilt. “Now.”

Ian glanced back at Luca and down to the sword. “You need to think about it, Aida. Give it a chance, please.”

“No. I said no.”

Luca’s eyes darted from the Warrior to Sienna and back again, unsure of what to do. Sienna stood in between Ian and Aida, fist clenched.

Ian didn’t move, instead just stood and stared at Aida. His jaw worked as he thought, struggling with what to say next. “He won’t take no as an answer.”

“He’ll have to,” Aida said. “I know the rules.”

“My master doesn’t care about the rules.” Ian’s red face strained to control whatever emotion he held. Aida couldn’t read it over her own panic at the statement. “ He didn’t when he took me. He attacked Lortun to secure me as an ikast. He’ll hunt you down if you don’t comply. It will be easier if you do.”

How had she missed that? The anger, the sadness, the oddness of Ian made total sense to Aida in that moment. Ian was the right age and from the right house to be the Youth involved in the battle which had brought Biel so much anger. Cugat was the Kort master who had attacked Lortun when they refused him an ikast.

Ian clenched his fists and then relaxed them as he turned up the path toward the village. He let out a deep breath as he started to walk away. “I would pack for the journey back to the Kort stronghold. He’ll be here in a few hours.”

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