Wednesday Words: Wraith Queen’s Veil

Lucky found the way out of the collapsed Portal cave.

lou hoffmann books square iconThis week’s Wednesday Words…

…are a little different. This is a long excerpt with a playful slant, but an important moment for Lucky. Book two of The Sun Child Chronicles, Wraith Queen’s Veil, opens with Lucky and Thurlock in the midst of a magical trip between worlds after having defeated evil in the form of Isa, The Witch Mortaine.

At fifteen, Lucky has to step up.

Lucky’s own newly recognized magical ability is responsible (in large part) for their escape with their lives. But when he begins to doubt, their conjured transport… well, crashes. Now he’d like to go back to letting other, more experienced people—like the wizard Thurlock—take charge, take responsibility, and get him out of trouble. But there’s no going back. He’s going to have to step up.

Here’s what happens when Lucky and a grumpy wizard crash land in a collapsed Portal:

Lucky stopped, everything stopped, as he slammed up against something rough—hit it hard enough to bounce off and skid over another hard surface flat on his back. All remained dark, but Lucky had a sense that the darkness had changed, somehow taken on somethingness. It felt cold and carried a mineral smell, and perhaps he could even feel its elusive presence on his skin. Skin that burned from numerous scrapes and objected painfully to the rough surface on which he lay.

What the…? Yes, that must be it. I’ve died and this is the Ethran version of hell.

It seemed plausible. He could smell sulfur. Although he couldn’t quite put that together with the cold. Aside from that, he smelled damp and stone, and heard dripping, and…. Tik-tik-tik, tik-tik. Like beetles and spiders with either big feet or else tiny tap shoes.

He might be dead and it might be hell, or maybe not. The best way to find out for sure would be to investigate. As sore as every part of him was, the prospect of moving alarmed him, but he tried anyway. It wasn’t going to be easy. Every time he shifted anything larger than a finger or toe, either his head started spinning or pain exploded like a geyser.

Gritting his teeth, he raised his arms—glad they were still attached and still worked—and felt around for nearby surfaces.

Maybe I’m just in a coffin, not hell.

Nothing close on either side, apparently, so not a coffin. Doing his best to ignore the ache in his head, he sat up. Or he tried to sit up. He didn’t make it all the way before he cracked his forehead on another unforgiving, rough surface. His “Ouch!” echoed back at least four times.

Lucky found the way out of the collapsed Portal cave.Feeling around with his hands, he discovered a wall, probably rock, behind him. What he’d smacked his head on stuck out from the wall, but not far. He surmised the darkness was really inside a large hollow space, like a cave, which explained the echo. He said to himself (and possibly to the echo), “But… where the heck am I?”

“How the heck should I know?”

That voice came out of the dark and dead silence somewhere around Lucky’s feet. Startled, Lucky again tried to sit up, again smacked his head, and this time his “ouch” turned into a scream. Before he had time to think, he kicked his legs wildly in self-defense. His foot met flesh with a crack.

“Uufh,” the voice commented, and then after a few seconds, “Luccan, stop! It’s me, Thurlock!”

“Oh.” Lucky waited for the wizard to say something else. When that didn’t happen, he gathered up his courage and asked, “Are you all right?”

“We-e-ell,” Thurlock said.

Lucky had not been aware that so much drawling sarcasm could be stuck into one syllable. Thurlock stayed quiet for quite a few seconds, and Lucky supposed he should try to say something. Before he thought of what might work, Thurlock continued.

“Well, certainly,” the wizard said. “Certainly I’m all right, Lucky, unless you count my head, which feels cracked like a melon; my ribs, which you just kicked in, undoubtedly all set to puncture my lungs if the pain of breathing is any indication; and my fingers, which I somehow jammed between two rather hard, sharp objects—just a guess they might be rocks—as we arrived here in our luxury accommodations, which are of course the absolute epitome of comfort, albeit a bit cramped.”

A brief silence followed, and then Thurlock said, “Perhaps you should breathe, Luccan.”

Lucky realized he had indeed been holding his breath. He remedied that and started to say thank you, but Thurlock had more to say.

“Oh, and of course I do feel a bit spent, having had a rather full day jam-packed with exciting activities such as rescuing teenage boys—”

“Boy,” Lucky corrected.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Only one boy.”

“Luccan, I’m feeling a bit out of sorts. Continue to breathe without talking for a moment while I finish. Can you do that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Not ‘sir,’ to you. Just Thurlock. As I was saying—”

“Whining.”

“What?”

Oh crap! I said that out loud. “Never mind, sorry.”

“Precisely. As I was saying, rescuing one single teenage boy, and battling one witch and one god, while short on rations. So yes, I feel like I’m a thousand years old.”

Thurlock’s voice had risen steadily on those two last sentences, and by the time he was done, Lucky could hear pebbles and sand falling, having been shaken loose, he thought, by the wizard’s booming voice.

Thurlock shifted and groaned and grunted. The bug feet went tik-tik-tik, and something somewhere continued to drip. After a while Lucky said, “Thurlock?”

No answer.

“Thurlock?”

“Hmh.”

“You are a thousand years old.”

No response.

“Thurlock?”

Tik-tik…. Drip….

Breathe, Lucky. “Thurlock?”

No response.

“I’m dizzy. Or something.”

The wizard grunted and said, “Post-translation.”

“Post-translation?”

“It passes.”

Next Lucky heard a deep wizardish groan and the sound of loud breathing. And, of course, tik-tik-tik.

“Thurlock?”

“Hmh.”

“I’m going to be sick.”

“Well, turn the other way, please!” The old man’s voice couldn’t have been gruffer, but Lucky felt a warm, familiar hand giving his ankle a reassuring squeeze. He lay still and he wasn’t sick, and he started to feel like he could tell up from down. He sighed in relief, but after he stopped worrying about throwing up and having his bearings, he started thinking about the situation, and fear came galloping in, riding roughshod over everything else.

“Thurlock?”

Again, a squeeze of Lucky’s ankle. Tik-tik…. Drip-drip-drip….

“Thurlock?”

“Umh.”

“Are we going to die here?”

A snort, this time, and then a groan.

“Are we?”

Sigh. “Don’t be silly, Lucky. I’m a thousand-year-old wizard, and you’re a smart fifteen-year-old Suth Chiell. Surely we’ll think of something. Just give it a minute.”

Breathe, Luccan, breathe.

Silence. Darkness. Drip-drip-drip…. Cold.

“Thurlock?”

“Still here.”

“Where’s everyone else?”

“Where we left them, I’m sure.”

“Are they okay? Han and everybody? Maizie?”

Silence. For a long time.

Thurlock cleared his throat. “I think so. I hope so. I can’t say for sure, because I’ve been with you. The last I saw them, they were outside the tower finishing off a fight with Isa’s people. And Han was preparing to finish off a great blue salamander.”

“A lizard?”

“Dragon.”

“Oh.” Lucky decided not to pursue that idea, because he had other things, other thoughts cropping up. Most troubling, he kept seeing his father as he was in the battle against the witch. His already maimed left side, his empty eye socket. But his amazing strength and skill in the fight, and… a smile just before he gave Lucky his cardinal name, and the peace he seemed to find in dying. There in the dark, Lucky sort of expected tears, but instead a vivid childhood memory bled through the remnants of the spell that had locked them away three years ago.

“I remember when I was a little boy. My father took me on his horse.”

“Yes, Luccan,” Thurlock said, not nearly as gruff. “He did.”

“He loved me… then.”

“He did.”

“He loved me when he came to the witch’s tower.”

“Yes.” Thurlock patted his ankle.

More silence followed, more darkness. More Tik-tik. Drip-drip-drip. Lucky shivered. He supposed he should try to think about getting out of this place, wherever it was, because it didn’t seem like the wizard was doing it. In fact, Lucky thought perhaps the old man had fallen asleep.

“Thurlock?”

“Not dead yet.”

“Why don’t you make some light?”

“This is the collapsed entry to a Portal, Lucky, a vortex. I told you about vortices. Magic doesn’t work, remember?”

“Why don’t we go through the Portal, then?”

“Key word here, ‘collapsed.’”

Lucky decided to wait for Thurlock to get ready to do whatever he was going to do to get them out of this. He had utmost faith. To his credit, he was quiet for a long time, during which he counted thirty-one drips and forty-seven tik-tiks.

“Thurlock?”

“I’m going to change my name.”

“I think there’s a glow. Over there.”

“A glow, huh? That could be useful.”

“Do you see it? Over there?”

“Well, Lucky.”

There was that sarcastic drawl again. Maybe Lucky had been mistaken when he thought the wizard’s mood had improved.

“For starters,” Thurlock said, “it’s very dark in here. Also, I’m keeping my eyes closed because my head hurts a little less that way, and with my eyes closed all I see are stars. With them open I see more stars—I think that might be my brain’s way of pretending there’s light in here. Judging from the increased pain in my head at those times, I’d say that has nothing at all to do with the reported glow. So you see,” he continued, “I can’t see your hand, and I will have no idea what direction you’re indicating no matter how many times you point and say, ‘Over there.’”

Lucky could tell the old man wasn’t himself—probably due to a head injury, he thought. Or rather, he was himself, only more so. Lucky tried to be understanding, tried to stay calm. But, even though Thurlock patted his ankle now and then and made a number of unpleasant old-man noises, Lucky felt like he was all alone with his thoughts, and the path they led him down wasn’t a pretty one.

Maybe we are going to die here. Maybe there’s no way out. Maybe that’s why Thurlock isn’t doing anything. Lucky shivered but then took his wandering mind firmly to task, determined not to rush to conclusions. If we were going to die, surely he’d be trying to comfort me. He’s just tired. I only need to wait.

He lay still, breathing, listening to the tiks and the drips, and the grunts, shuffles, and moans. He felt the air move over his skin. It felt odd, and it took a few seconds for him to realize what it meant.

“Thurlock? I feel a draft.”

“That must be refreshing. I feel pain and something hideous crawling on me.”

That bit of dry wit was all Lucky could bear. He felt pretty sure he was going to cry, and in his mind he counted off a list of reasons it wouldn’t matter if he did.

  1. They were going to die there.
  2. It was dark and no one would see him cry.
  3. They were going to die there.
  4. There was already a dripping noise so his tears would blend right in.
  5. They were going to die there.

Of course, none of the hideous background noises could hide the sob that escaped as he counted off number five.

The wizard sneezed, and then he spoke. “Lucky, listen, young man. Here’s what you should know at the moment. I am hurt and I feel sick. I’m sure it’s not serious—I’m pretty hard to kill—but for this moment I feel quite helpless. I do not like feeling helpless. I’m not at all used to it, and the result of it is that I am irritable.”

Tik-tik, drip. From Thurlock, a moment’s silence, but somehow Lucky knew he was only pausing for thought, so he waited.

“Well, more irritable than usual, I should say. In any case, don’t pay my grumpiness any mind. Truly, a glow and a draft—that’s very good. Exactly what we need. But as I said, I’m basically helpless right now. I’m going to need your help again. You know how getting out of a place like this works because you’ve done it before, when you landed in the cave on Earth. This time you’ve got a grouchy old man along for company. You can handle that, right?”

Thurlock waited, so Lucky very quietly said, “Right.”

“Try to get turned so you can move toward the glow and the draft—do they come from the same direction?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Good. Okay. Go carefully, so you don’t get hurt or fall into a pit or something. Go slowly, so I can hold on to your ankle when we’re crawling, or your shoulder if we get to someplace we can walk. That way I won’t get lost, and as long as I’ve got hold of you, we’ll both know we’re in this together. I am sick and half-blind at the moment, but if we run into a problem, I might still be good to have around.”

When Thurlock stopped talking, it only took Lucky a few seconds to realize some response was probably a good idea. “Oh, uh, yes sir.”

“Good, but you don’t have to agree so enthusiastically.”

“Sorry, sir.”

“Just kidding, and stop calling me sir.”

Lucky wasn’t sure how he could tell, but he was pretty sure Thurlock was grinning. Then he turned serious again.

“But, young man, here’s what else is important. Are you listening?”

“Um….” Tik-tik…. Drip…. “Yes?”

“Good. Pay attention. I trust you, Luccan, Suth Chiell. I’d trust you with my life. I am trusting you with my life. But it’s not a problem. As you will someday come to know, I and a multitude of other people would follow you anywhere. So face that light, let me latch on, and lead me out of here.”

“Me?”

“Get used to it, Lucky, it’s your job.”

Tik-tik. Drip.

“Move it, boy!”

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2 Comments

  1. Ahhh…so nice to read words from you! Some things, like fabulous writing, are always…well…fabulous. I enjoyed this excerpt and THANK YOU for the peek!

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