Here is another sample chapter draft from Lord Vayne.
The crunch of autumn leaves sent the squirrels scurrying for the trees. Maria enjoyed this time of year for its rich colours and sounds, if not for its temperature. No longer a young woman, the cold hurt her joints. But even this pain would not keep her from her monthly visit to Grigor’s grave.
She placed a bundle of flowers and herbs wrapped up in a piece of cloth at the head of the grave and knelt at the foot. “Hello, Grigor, my love. The summer is over now and I’m preparing for the coming winter, as well as the fasting for the Elevation of the Cross.” She crossed herself and then continued.
“The cold always seems to come earlier than I expect and I feel it in my knuckles more each year. This morning, when I woke, I found it hard to open my hands — they were so stiff. My fingers kept stopping half way as I opened my hand. But I fixed that by warming them near the fire.”
She paused and stared at Grigor’s tombstone. She sighed, a ragged sound, reminiscent of a crow’s cry, as she fought down the tears that threatened. Grigor died two years ago but it felt like yesterday. She remembered the small ceremony, the priest’s voice — but not his words — Radu and his father lowering Grigor’s casket into the earth, and the tears streaming down her face, stinging her eyes and clinging to the corners of her mouth before moving on and then dripping off her chin.
A brave squirrel started edging down a nearby tree, one short burst of movement at a time, enticed to the courageous act by the smell of bread coming from Maria’s bag. Its reddish pelt was a contrast to the dull brown of the tree trunk so Maria caught the movement in the corner of her eye, bringing her back to the present.
“I look forward to the spiritual renewal the Elevation brings me. It reassures me that you are now in the great city of God, safe and well. But, I miss you.” Again, the tears threatened to break free from her eyes. She paused as she fought down the pain in her throat. After a moment, the pain passed and she continued.
“I know I say that every time I visit but it is always true. Of course, I tend to feel it more as the weather turns cold. I miss the warmth of your body next to mine at night. I miss the joy we felt in each other’s company, the fun we used to have, and the purpose that was so strong in our lives when we helped the gypsy refugees come here from Transylvania. It was exciting, nu?”
Noticing the squirrel getting closer, she almost carelessly, almost absentmindedly reached into her bag, broke off a piece of bread and tossed it toward the carefully approaching rodent.
“Dearest husband, I want excitement and purpose in my life again. The past two years without you have felt so empty. Maybe if I had something important with which to occupy my time, I might not miss you so keenly. Now that the refugees are no longer refugees and come and go freely, and also now that you are gone to the other side, I have nothing to do but tend the house and garden.”
She brushed a stray gray hair from her round face. The squirrel froze, alert for a hint of more dangerous motion.
“I know you still watch over me. Maybe there is something you can do? My only friend now is young Radu and I don’t see him much. There is always the market, I know, but the village is full of such simple folk.”
Radu sat, bored with his duties, on the top of a hill. He brooded, plucking bits of grass from the earth and tossing them away with a jerking motion. The goats bleated gently and bit their own blades of grass, chewing from side to side. The wind was cool, but light. He had lost track of time, lulled into a trance by the repetitive motion and non-activity.
“Being the goatherd of Liniste Sat is dull,” he said to himself, punctuating the last word with an abrupt toss of grass. “Why did my parents decide to settle here? Why not move on to Bucuresti? Or even Tirgoviste? The only excitement around here is the market. Dull, dull, dull.”
The wind picked up momentarily, blowing the bits of grass he’d tossed away back toward him. “If I didn’t feel responsible for my parents, I’d leave this locuintâ trist.”
Suddenly, there was a sound like the sky being ripped open, bringing him about. The goats bleated sharply in fear. He looked up and saw what he thought was a shooting star.
“Ah!” he cried. He stared at the light as it fell and thought it had a reddish tint to it. “This is an ill omen.”
Finally realizing that it was past time to head home, he quickly urged the goats down to the village. Before he left the hill, he turned once more toward where he saw the star fall and muttered, “Nothing good will come of this.”
Maria, kneeling on another hillock nearby, also saw the shooting star. “Dios mio!” she cried. She, too, watched it as it fell, but it did not to her appear so reddish. “Thank you Grigor! I knew you wouldn’t let me down. You never did before!”
She picked herself up off the ground, made the sign of the cross and scurried away toward her cabin in the woods. She knew down to her bones that this was an omen sent by Grigor. Somehow he had been able to work an answer to her prayer. She would need to prepare for the coming adventure, whatever it might be.
The squirrel, no longer brave, raced back up the tree without his bits of bread, which lay scattered to one side of Grigor’s grave.
An unusually white Dark-Breasted Barn Owl sat on a tree branch in the forest, his chest rising and falling rapidly. The loud noise had startled him from his flight and he was resting, catching his breath. A touch of blood still stained his talons, left from the kill he had let go in his fright.
He was stretching his wings when there was another loud noise, but different this time — not so much like a giant chain being dropped from a great height, but more like the sound of trees breaking.
Just then, a large — no, giant — silver obelisk crashed through the trees about 10 feet from where the owl was perched. Alarmed, he flew up, just in time to see the tree that was once beneath him plummet under the weight of adjacent trees.
“Who!” he cried and flew toward where he saw the obelisk heading.
“Argh! This isn’t how it’s supposed to go!” cried Arian as she futilely tried to regain control of Tengali. “It looked so much more simple in the manual!”
Alien trees snapped against the bow. Arian’s first planetary landing wasn’t going very well.
Then the ground rose up and smacked Tengali in the face. He recoiled in response, bouncing like an enormous twig, landed again and thrust the earth out of his way.
Arian was snapped forward onto the control panel and then back into her seat by the crash, the wind knocked out of her. By the time she regained her breath, Tengali had come to a complete stop. Only a sliver of forest showed through the window. The rest was dirt.
Arian’s head hurt, the pain radiating out from where she had banged it on the control panel to the back of her skull and working its way down her neck. “Computer, status,” Arian stammered, rubbing her head with her hand.
Static answered her at first and then the computer screen on the control panel glowed to life.
VOCAL INTERFACE PARTIALLY OFF LINE.
MINOR DAMAGE TO PORT AFT THRUSTER.
WILL RUN SELF-DIAGNOSTIC ON YOUR MARK.
DIAGNOSTIC WILL TAKE APPROXIMATELY 20 HOURS TO COMPLETE.
“Good. I haven’t had time to study the engineering texts yet. Start self-diagnostic but allow my free exit and entrance.”
DIAGNOSTIC ON DOORS DISABLED UNTIL YOUR MARK.
Arian looked about the cabin and decided what she really needed was a walk outside. She already knew from her pre-landing scan that she could breathe the atmosphere and she felt like breathing some fresh air just about now.
The owl followed the path of broken trees. The thermals created by the obelisk’s fall made the task easy. He could hear the wind blow through his feathers. How nice it is to fly, he thought.
Surprisingly, it only took him half an hour to locate the final resting-place of the strange object. It hummed loudly as he circled it.
The front third of the object was partially buried under dirt and debris. The remaining portion stuck up from the ground at a low angle, the end barely a yard above the ground. It glowed and the light pulsed in time with the humming.
Eventually, the owl landed on a nearby tree stump, folded his wings neatly and blinked his eyes. A slight breeze ruffled his outermost feathers.
He observed the object and thought, how strange.
Just then, a hole opened in the side of the object and a girl stepped out. Startled, the owl flew away shrieking.
Arian watched the strange bird flee, holding her head. “Ouch! What a loud creature! That or my nanites haven’t repaired the damage yet.”
She surveyed the newly created clearing. “Maybe I had a concussion,” she continued and stepped out of the Tengali to take a look at the situation.
“Wouldn’t surprise me, I banged the panel pretty hard.”
She picked her way over and around the wrecked foliage tossed and broken about Tengali. It was odd, she thought, how simple carnage such as this could be so calm, so quiet.
As far as Arian could tell, Tengali had not suffered any major damage, and if the computer was correct in its assessment, she should be able to flee again in a couple of days, if that proved necessary.
She’d always remember her flight from Hirth. Sometimes the anger at having to choose between self banishment and a life of being a walking experiment overwhelmed her. She wanted to rage and tear things apart.
They didn’t care that she had just watched her entire family die — vomiting blood, their hair falling out in clumps, sores all over their bodies and their skin sloughing off in small ragged sheets. Treylar had it easy! His death was quick by comparison.
But no! They didn’t care. They just wanted to test her blood. Submit her to further horrors to see if her nanites cured those as well. If it hadn’t been for Dr. Horak and Dariana, she would be there still, locked in a laboratory under “protective custody.”
Anger rushed through her like a blast of storm wind. Tears pushed their way out of her eyes and she fell to her knees in the debris. She stayed there a moment and let the sobs quake her body in quick spasms. After that, she collected herself and using a nearby log as support raised herself to her feet.
She went back inside and checked her supplies. Food was low but fuel seemed O.K. She hoped this planet had food she could eat — not that it would kill her or anything, just that she didn’t like being hungry and enjoyed the physical sensation of eating.
“Computer, lock all doors and run the diagnostic. Let only myself in — code word Treylar. Mark.”
Still feeling the affects of her concussion and her mind still cloudy with emotion, she set off to forage for food.
Her steps crunched loudly as she staggered out into the forest, her face stained with tears. Tengali’s humming slowed and soon quieted. Eventually, the natural sounds of the Walachian forest returned.