Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Inkweaver" Excerpt--Escape from Blackrope

"FREEZE!"

At the forceful command, all movement and noise ceased. My heart lodged in my throat. There was no doubt in my mind that the man who had been shadowing us had been waiting for this moment. We were all entirely at his mercy!
"W-w-wh-who are you?" I stammered, even as the vine from my shoulder crept nearer to my throat.
"Do not move and do not speak," the stranger said. I could hear him enter the clearing. "The blackrope vines are difficult to counteract. You in the center, I can free you first, but you must catch the covering I will throw over you and run out of here as fast as you can. You cannot speak, but your hands are free; flex your fingers twice if you understand my instructions."
I sent my hand in a flurry of motion that shifted my arm and sent the blackrope racing down my elbow.
"On my signal," the man said, "Three.... Two... One... Go!" Abruptly I heard a metallic snick and felt the blackrope pull away, and then I was nearly knocked over by a heavy blanket tossed over my head. I gripped it and ran instinctively, as he had instructed. Only when I saw the green leaves around my feet that signaled I was beyond the blackrope clearing did I stop. I turned and removed the covering. First Greyna then Larryn came charging out from the blackrope in a similar manner, followed by our mysterious savior, who wore a hood made of the same thick material.
Now that we were all safe, I dropped the blanket and demanded of him again, "Who are you?"
He threw back his hood, uncovering his thick dark hair and bright green eyes.
"Shereya," said Belak, "It's Belak."
Larryn clapped her hands and laughed, but I was too shocked to have any kind of proper response.
"Belak!" I burst out. "How did—you—what—I—" Why was he following us without making himself known sooner, and how could he possibly know how to escape something as insidious and unnatural as blackrope? I looked up when he started speaking again, as I realized that Larryn had asked him how he had known we were in danger.
"I've been following you secretly for about some time," he confessed. "Ever since you entered these woods. I was actually on my way back to Mirrorvale to—" he stopped suddenly and glanced toward me.
Right then I knew that this journey was changing me. Only a few days ago I thought he was the one I wanted to marry, but it took several moments now for the fondness to return.
"If you've been following us for so long," I spoke up, "Why have you not made yourself known before now?" It seemed rather disingenuous to me to wait until your subject was in peril and then prey upon their desperate need for a hero.
He shook his head as if he could not understand the frown on my face. "I wondered what you were doing so far from the village, and I figured you would not want me along if you did not need me. If you would have made it through the forest, I might have continued on my way."
Greyna watched him carefully, almost not even blinking. She looked between me and Larryn. "What do you think," she murmured, "is this man telling the truth?"
"Of course he is!" Larryn cried. "He's an old friend of Shereya's. He's not dangerous!"
I could see the expectancy in his eyes. Through my mind, unbidden, leapt the image of Belak in his plain clothes, standing before a village council and announcing, "I will stand up to this beast and fight! I will succeed where others have failed!" Would he really usurp our true mission like that? I imagined he would not be satisfied with just looking for the Inkweaver, especially if the most dangerous thing we faced would be blackrope.
Greyna was watching him carefully, "Do you—I mean, that is to say..." she blushed furiously, and Larryn giggled.
"Would you join us?" Greyna finally managed.
Belak glanced at me. "What exactly are you girls up to?"
"We just want to find somebody is all," I said quickly before the others could chime in.
Belak raised an eyebrow. "And so you left Mirrorvale, picked up a stranger—" he cast an appraising glance over Greyna, "entered the deep woods and got yourselves trapped in blackrope... To find someone?" He chuckled, "Admit it, it's me you're looking for!"
I stepped back and shook my head, "No, Belak, we had no intention of even seeing you on this journey. I didn't think I would see you after—"
Belak smiled at me in that irresistible way of his. "After I left Mirrorvale the night after the Decorum Banquet?" He shrugged, "To tell you the truth, I didn't either. For all I knew, I was just minding my own business when a girl who bore striking resemblance to a timid young maiden I once knew wandered into the Deep Woods and got trapped. Look at you, Shereya! So far away from home; looks like you managed to cross the Wall without me after all." He stepped toward me and reached up to push a loose strand of hair out of my face. "So what do you say? Can I please join you so I don't have to go skulking about any more?"
Truth be told, I didn't want any more people in our group! What did the Inkweaver expect? Would we arrive in Gramble with a small army? The more people, the more difficult it would be to make decisions. And besides, if Belak knew we were after the Inkweaver—my cheeks burned. Larryn believed, and Greyna did as well. What would he think if we told him the truth? What would he think of me then?
He kept watching me, waiting for my answer. I sighed, "Oh, all right."
Belak grinned.
Larryn thrust a fist into the air. "Huzzah!" she cried.
"What's this?" Greyna asked, and we all turned to look at the object in question.
She reached into the undergrowth and pulled out a small round shield. Greyna gripped it in one hand and brushed the dirt and grime off its front with the other.
I couldn't restrain a gasp when I saw the crest on the front: a black dragon on a white field.
"The shepherd-knight!" I breathed.
Belak glanced at me in puzzlement. "Who?"
I shook my head. "Nothing," I dismissed his question. Truthfully, I had no idea how I knew; for once I had not dreamed this story as I had Greyna's. It was purely some instinct, a definitive whisper in my mind that told me whose shield it was. But there was something else about the shield that I recalled, as well. I reached over my shoulder and pulled the tapestry out of my bag.
"What's that?" Belak asked as I unfolded it.
"It's just a ta—a map," I caught myself. "We think it might lead us to the one who made it." I chose my words carefully and shot warning looks at Larryn and Greyna, who only shrugged me off.
"Oh," Belak was studying the tapestry now. The happy kingdom at the very beginning had all but disappeared; all that was left was an impoverished, dying kingdom devoid of Wordspinners. "So that's the person you're looking for? The mapmaker?"
Larryn snorted, but I said, "Yes," very distinctly.
I shielded the part of the tapestry that displayed our current position from Belak's view. There was the tree with the blackrope, and the bush with the shield on it. There, also, was a figure not unlike Belak himself. So he was supposed to join us after all, I thought to myself.
After noticing the shield, further perusal seemed to designate specific objects in the other scenes as well: a sword in the hand of a villager, one with a very distinctive guard around the hilt. I also saw an old woman's gnarled staff; she wore the garb of a Wordspinner. There was also something like a medallion around the neck of the monarch and a crown upon his head, and a single oil lamp in the window of a house. Six items in all, and we had managed to find the first. Did that mean that in addition to our original goal, we had to also find and collect all the items?
"Okay," I said, folding up the tapestry. "The edge of the forest is not far from here, and then we should reach the next village by nightfall."
Larryn and Greyna nodded.
"Lead the way, Mistress Guide!" Belak joked.