So I have been thinking of a story since I was fourteen. A world really, and a thousand stories really. The world has gone through many throw away and fresh starts, but some of the basic premises have held through. This is 15 years in the making. I have no writing exp but have read a lot of great fantasy. My wife, after telling her about my world said "Holy hell just try and write something." So I tried to write the beginning of a book after a month or two of worldbuiling revitalization and they were horrible. So to practice writing and get my confidence up I began with short stories.
Please feel free to critique away. I want to get better and am not sensitive, moving a lot as a kid has its perks.
EDIT- I didn't realize some of the internal thought italicized went away. For now I'll bracket it. If I missed some and the text snaps to 1st person, its internal thought.
Welcome to the Flame Seeker Saga.
Jam whimpered as she crawled across the snowy glade. Her hands and knees felt ablaze from the deep powdered snow. She twitched her bare left foot as she dragged a knee forward, felt nothing. Blessedly the hot pain in her punctured belly was dulling. That had to be a good sign, didn’t it? Maybe the cold had made the bleed clot.
She arched her head over her shoulder. The trail of dribbling blood was evident, even in the falling snow. Like an arrow drawn with red ink on the whitest of parchment, it was a line that would lead her pursuers to her. She was drawing them a map. For the first time in a long time, Jam laughed, if cynically. Had Jam the energy, it would have become a wild sob. She bit down on the side of her cheek hard, and the taste of blood hit her tongue. The laughter died off.
“By the Eldrtich’s bloody bosom, I won’t die in this blasted snow.” Jam grumbled. She looked down at her right hand. “Move, damn you!”. The puffed little thing held still. She concentrated.
The hill was closer. Steam from haggard breaths crossed her eyes as she studied it. A small, pathetic seedling of joy blossomed within her. Memories of her walks across this glade a hundred times as a little girl fluttered across her vision. To that place. “It will still be there, it has to be”. The old oak door, with its chipped and flaking yellow paint would be there. She would have to wipe the snow from it and struggle with the rusted latch and hinges, but it would be there. If she could just die in that old forgotten place beyond the door, she would be alright with it.
Memories flared within her mind. Jam and sweet Jessin, exploring the old mine shafts together. The smell of wet clay and mineral and the cool moist air, how it could sweep away the hotness accumulated from a hard day’s work. The adventures of exploring an unknown place together, alone. A way to escape their misfortunes, a way to begin anew. The mines had taken away the pains of being poor, being overlooked, unloved. She recalled the way torch light had made the walls glitter, like the thousands of Sparks suspended in the Realm of Thought, had wished the false gold were real, and not worthless shimmering specks, like them.
She remembered her first kiss, stolen by Jessin right behind that old yellow. And the way the chipped paint had always fallen from the oaken shield when her father pounded on the other side. Raving, drunk, angry, cursing. The old splintered planks had defended her from many beatings, had protected her. It should have opened with his yanking as nothing but the latch held it shut. But he had never come through its framework, had never seen the beauty that lay behind the ugly, marvelous, impregnable oak door. He had never been allowed to hurt her in that sacred place.
Jam’s eyes snapped open, and she begun to attempt another lurch forward. The hill felt so close, she could touch it.The old spruce was still there, towering, beautiful, at the edge of the hill. The door laid to the left of it, pressed into the side of the hill. She half imagined a rectangle taking shape under its snow-capped branched. She longed to smell the spruces scent again. She breathed in deep, choked on cold air. It burned its way down her throat.
The last memory of the mine began to force its way in, like a hot iron pressed into cool water, it bubbled and hissed from where she had locked it away, behind all the lesser pains of her life. She felt tears well, felt her heart shift in her chest, as if trying to beat away from the cruel thing. Was she still crawling? She tried to look up again at the hill; to see if she could make out the outline of the frame of that old damned door below the snow. It was no use. The memory took her.
That last day she had gone to the old false mine behind the yellow door, the day that place had been truly desecrated. How she had longed to press against that old rough oak, pulling at the latch, excited to meet, Jessin, her love, for another day of adventure. The Realm of Fire had been to her back. She loved to unlatch the door in the morning, for while the way was open, the early rays of light shot down the first main shaft, giving the walls a shimmering brilliance that she imagined not one hundred torches could accomplish. But that morning the door had not been quite as yellow as it should have been, as it needed to be. Blood was smeared across it, drops of the stuff decorated the middle, and smears were on and around the latch. The finger marks were small. She knew at that moment, true hatred for the door, for the Realms, for everything. She imagined many things behind the door in the span of a few seconds. A thousand explanations that could ward off the fear in her stomach, in her heart. But she knew the fingers that had made the blurred lines. Small, thin, lanky little things, but strong. She had held those fingers, squeezed them, knitted hers with them.
When the door budged and the light poured in, she did not take in the beauty, did not focus on the rare radiance. They settled on Jessin. Her love. He lay still, propped against the wall of the little anteroom behind the door, near the mouth of the main shaft. His face was swollen, discolored by shades of yellows and greens and purples. His eyes had been forced shut by the swelling, dried blood crusted around his nose, and mouth, the chin and neck. A split of skin near the top of his forehead showed a slit of white. His skull. His arms lay across his lap, as if holding himself, the left one at a strange angle. It was broken, and underneath the ragged little coat he wore, she saw a strange protrusion. A bone, it had been broken so badly the bone had pierced his flesh. She fell against the wall when she reached him, sliding to the ground, and laid her head on his shoulder. Then she wept. After a while she began to wash away what blood she could with a rag ripped from the bottom of her tattered brown tunic. She used tears and spit for moisture.
Jessin was small. The other urchins and street rats had always picked on him. They had said, since he was so small, that he had not have been born with a full Ember, that he lived without even the soul of one man. She had liked that, for they had said that she had only been born with one Ember, not two, like most women. That she would not have the life blood to give her children. She died that day, among the glowing walls, in the place she was sure as any the Eldritch had created just for her.
She had not been strong enough to carry Jessin. She had to drag him down the shaft, by his right arm, to a place where the main shaft split. It was a larger width because of the split, and much of the red clay glittered with false gold nuggets from the morning light. It reached this far, but the sun was moving, soon this place would grow dark. It had held no beauty to her anymore, she cared not to see the sparkles. She started to rip at the clay. The false gold bits tore at the tips of her fingers. She began burying him under the worthless sparkling stuff. The light faded a little later, and she worked in an eerie twilight. When she had emerged from the tunnel the Realm of Fire had fallen from the Realm of Wind. Her hands were red, a mixture of blood and clay. The tips of her fingers shredded, she had left a small hand print on the old yellow oak door, next to Jessin’s, sealing the newly made tomb shut.
And now, she would die both in body and spirit, behind that blasted, damned door, if it was the last thing she would do upon the Realm of Earth. She would adventure with Jessin, so that her Ember could meld with the wet red clay, and find his, and they could become one, and glitter and move about the cave together in spirit again.
Her face felt hot. When had she collapsed?
“Jessin, you came for me.” Jam smiled.
Everything went black.
She awoke to the smell of burning wood. Pine by the bitter herbal smell of it. The popping of water escaping the logs was what had caught her ear, had awoken her. And the burning, the burning everywhere. Kaliban’s embrace had to be a reprieve from pain, surely, not a damnation to it.
“Ahhh so da’ little Lass awakens, ya’ are safe for the moment. I do not think ya’ could move even if all da' gods in all da' high houses willed it. Ya’ still be froze most of da’ way through, but I believe ya’ are thawing quiet nicely.” The voice was of a man, relatively deep. He had an accent she had never come across, not even in the trading squares of Xillod, with all its travelers and traders from across the mortal realms.
He raised the pitch of his voice in a strange way that gave her the impression of amusement at his own statement. “Now, little lass, yar’ right eye do be swollen shut, but da’ left one, I would bet, if I were a bettin’ lad, would open, if ya’ gave it a go. Yes, there now, ya’ are safe. An eye as beautiful as I have ever seen, ya’ do have there. Green? I had bet against me-self dat’ it would be a shade of gray this close to Xillod. Yar’ skin has the right shade to it to be an Xillian, it do. But green is nice too, I do rather fancy the color green, and a shock to one’s expectations do not always be a thing dat’ do need to be hated.” He allowed the word to trail off, her one-eyed gaze set upon him.
He sat against the yellow, chipped, oak door. Red clay and glittering sparks of gold framed him. The man sat cross-legged, dark golden hair winged with white framed the temples of his face, a hard part down the middle of his crown. Eyes, golden like the glittering walls, gazed into hers. A sturdy jaw line, stubbled over, sat upon a thick neck, which came down onto a quilted tunic of soft pale green. A belt of golden rope was tied around his waist. It looked as if it held the tools of a craftsmen to his side. Stranger still, the man wore no trousers. The tunic continued down the lengh of his legs like a lady’s dress, to mid-calf, where white leggings took over to reach thong sandals of all things. Who would wear blasted sandals in the snow?
“I am pursued. The slavers will find me, as I, quite literally mind you, left a bloody map for them to follow. Thank you, but soon, that door will open, and through it will come men that I, nor you, from the looks of it, will be able to stop. I mean no offense… But what kind of man wears a dress and bloody sandals about in the snow.” Her voice did not rasp out as she expected, did not feel stiff and burnt from the cold of the snow. She struggled with her head to look down; she was propped against the wall, near the mouth of the first shaft, in the antechamber, like before. Tears welled in her eyes again. The man had put some sort of bandage across her stomach to staunched the bleeding. If she died here, in this spot, surely her Ember would find his, would find Jessin.
She continued “Leave me, save yourself. I thank you, for bringing me here, to this spot, to let me rest, but I am done now, I would rather die here than have them take me away. They will cut you down without hesitation, save yourself, for, even if I die, you have saved me.”
“Do ya’ always have dat’ sad way about ya’ lass? Even as ya’ are saved ya’ sputter out death talk like a leaky spigot. I did put some ash-oak tea in yer’ belly, warmed ya’ up all cozy. I did go and stop that little bleeding bit in yer’ belly. And even-“ Sharp pounding cut the man off. Muffled yelling erupted. Jam could make out threats in the guttural Xillian tongue. They were yelling about taking turns at her, until she died from the pleasure of it, or the bleeding. Fear creeped into her heart, her mind. She looked past the man at the door. No crossbeam was in place. The door was unsecured, it pulled to the outside.
“I do hate da’ way dey’ yell and pound on da' door, as if it will make a difference. I could use a swig of mead or a splash of wine to wet my tongue. I do not typically do dis’ much talking out loud. Would ya’ drink with me little lass?”
Jam’s mind raced. His body is not jostled from the door. Are they even trying to open it. “Ah, um, yes, I guess that would be nice. But the door? The men?” Surely three or four men could shove the door in, snap the hinges, push the man out of the way. “ I do not see a wineskin about you. If it is up your skirt, I will politely decline.”
Jam’s heart stopped as the man stood, but the door did not cave inward as he lifted himself, legs bending, arms on knees, pushing himself up. “It is bad luck to travel with alcohol. Or so it was said among my people. Travel, dey’ said, needed a clear mind, a sharp wit, for the realms laying outside yer’ door are a dangerous place. To drink on a journey, dey’ believed, was to spit in the eye of Sytal, da' traveler, Goddess of Passage, by not taking da’ encumbrance of a journey to be had seriously. But I have never been much of a traveler. Always did see myself as more of a visitor I did.” The man hiked up his dress, bending his knees, and reached under its folds, producing a small silver chaste flask. He unscrewed the cap and drew a swig. “Ahh, but as ya’ said little one, nothing from under me…Dress. Haha, a dress you call it?” He was bigger than she had first took him for. His arms and chest now more defined under the quilted green cloth. He wiped at his lip with his forearm, spun, and pulled on door’s handle.
Jam let out a shriek, expecting a blade to catch the man’s hand, expecting a cold gust to stoke the small flame and steal what little warmth she had recaptured. Expected the muffled cries to grow defined, loud, more threatening. But the smell of dust and stale lifeless air met her. It was cool, but not icy like the air of the snowy glade. Strangely, the muffled voices of the slavers grew more distant, as if only pushing through the hard red clay.
“I would fancy an herbed mead, me thinks. Yes, Kalsin always do have da’ best vintages stocked. Well, his storekeeper always has da’ best vintages stocked.” Pressing against the door, the man looked over his shoulder, a big grin spreading across his face.
The door slid open, the man in the dress slipping in and hooking a hard left. A grandiose, although dusty, cellar of some kind opened to her. A shock took her.
To call it a cellar immediately felt unjust to the room. The view inside was framed with fine wood racks resting on smooth worked stone. The racks were filled with bottles of blues and greens and browns; shimmering in torchlight. Jam’s breath caught in her throat as she noticed the figure of a woman at the end of the racks against the far wall. But the proportions were all wrong she realized, the woman had to be fifteen feet tall.
She strained her eyes as light began to catch on the figure. A tile mosaic was set against the back wall. A woman, curvy and naked, covered only by an abundance of food held against herself in folded arms. Stalks of gold, circles of red and green and blue grew defined. Green leaves scattered in her dark brown hair. At her feet it looked like more food. An orange round oval caught her eye. She assumed it was a big pumpkin. Her mouth watered. Pumpkin stew was the best of slave meals in her experienced opinion. She had bit a boy once for trying to take a spoonful of her precious pumpkin stew. Purples for grapes, yellow oblong shapes of corn. It was becoming clearer as she strained for more detail.
The grinning face popped back into the doorway. “What do ya’ be squinting at like dat’ little lass. Yer’ face could end up all scrunched for an eternity if ya’ hold it like dat’ too long.” He glanced away from her, tracing her focus. “Ahh, ya’ did notice the fair likeness to Bassina back there did ya’. It do be a work for the ages, I have always said.” His voice continued the random rising on certain words. It struck her again as silly. She smiled.
“That is the Goddess of the Harvest? She is not worshipped well in Xillod. The ground is near barren, so there is never much of a harvest. I have never seen her likeness shown anywhere within its walls.” “Well, if she were here, she would demand all the titles recited. Bringer of the Bounty and on and on. Over the ages she has gained many titles from many mortal creatures she has.”
He proceeded through the door, closing it behind him. Muffled curses began anew. The banging was back, though it seemed different from before. Metallic. The slavers were hacking at the door now.
“Wait, what is happening.” She began to breathe quickly, the fear filled thought from moments earlier coming to fruition. “Am I dead? Why do you do this to me Kali’ban? Finish this game you play with me. I have suffered enough in life, why must I suffer too, now, in death. What have I done to deserve this?”
The man, still grinning, stood before the yellow oak door, brought a green dusty bottle to his lips, and bit down on the cork stopping the bottle. There was a loud and some of the liquid coming out of the neck at the violence of the sudden jerk. The man spit the cork into the flame. “Calm yourself, I am not dat’ old sack of bones, ya’ are not dead Jam, like I did say earlier.” He drank deeply. “Ahh, dat’ is a good brew though. A mead of honey and thyme, even Kali’ban would be tickled pink at da’ taste of life and all its pleasures held within.” He walked around the small crackling flame to her, knelt, and pressed the bottle against her lips. The smell and taste hit her as one. A sweetness, the smell of honey, and herbs, a flavor of the earth and the sky, tinged with a slight bitterness that would indicate the drink was strong in alcohol. She opened herself to it, gulping down as much as the man would let her. Surely something that tasted like this could not be held within the mortal realms. Surely this was the drink of gods and anointed and the dead.
The bottle pulled from her lips and she found herself gasping for air. A sweet stickiness laid on her lips. She quickly licked it away. “What is going on? Who are you? Does something that delicious really sit in an unguarded dusty old room?” She took another gasp of air. “And did you just call me Jam?”
The grinning man laughed, still crouching beside her. It made her ear ring. “I do see dat’ ye’ be shocked da’ door has held shut all dis’ time. But ya’ also do remember da’ times it held shut when your father did come looking for ya’. When it protected ya’ from da’ horrible things he did do to you on occasions.” Chills shot through Jam. The little hairs covering her body began to raise. “And ye’ do act shocked that I opened the door and something unexpected laid across its portal, something ya’ did not imagine could be there. But we both remember a time when ya’ did open that yellow door there and that which ya’ could not fathom laid bare for yer’ eyes to see.” She began to shake, her mouth went dry, the sweetness gone or forgotten. How did he know. She was dead, soon he would rip the flesh from his body, and the boney figure of Kali’Ban would eat her Ember. She shut her eyes hard with defiance.
“Ya’ have known da’ power of a door for most of yer’ life Jam. No use refusing dat’ knowledge now little one. Known dat’ a door do be something dat’ can protect, something dat’ can cut like a knife. What does hide behind it ya’ can never be sure of until da’ damn thing do be flung open. A room ya’ have seen one hundred times from a door frame can never be guaranteed to look da’ same again da’ one hundred and first time. You have known da’ freedom a door can provide, even when it do be leadin’ into some old forgotten shaft, or how it can make even the biggest room a prison without da’ proper key. You know da’ power of a door, like I do. A door can be a wonderous thing, once you decide to open it and step though. “
She felt tears rolling down her cheek. Why was she crying? His face was close to hers now, his breath was hot and she could smell the honey on it. She opened her eyes, he was not smiling anymore. Tears slowly welled from his eyes and ran down his face, the streaks like shimmering rivers in the firelight.
“My name do be Hinge, God of Doors. My titles did once include Creator of the First Lock, Fashioner of Hinges, and da’ Portal Maker. I do be forgotten now by da’ mortal realms. The right to claim dat’ I did create da’ first door long past. It do be a farce to call myself a god now. But in da’ eyes of mortals and da’ gods, I do have enough Embers to be an anointed, a true seeker of the flame. Though I would not take da’ title of Eldritch even if all da’ birds and bees did will it on me. Creating da’ first proper door was work enough. I couldn’t stand da’ task of creating all of da’ realms and da’ lives within them. But maybe I could stand to make a Paragon, a being who believes in the power of a door as much as I still do.”
“So, you are a god?” Jam whispered
“Well I do be a god of an object dat’ now do be taken for granted by the descendants of mine people, who have forgotten me. But yes, I guess I do still fancy myself a god.” Hinge stated in the strange up down drawn out way he spoke. The grin he had worn moments earlier began to pull at the edges of his lips.
“Well when you put it like that, I don’t know which is more ridiculous. The fact that you call yourself a God with no church, no followers, and no seat in a High House, or that you can apparently open a door and make it go anywhere, or at the least, not where it should, and you do so in a dress and thong sandals.” She let out a shakey laugh at seeing his grin become again full fledged at the quip.
“You do be wrong. I have had one follower for many years though I was too stubborn to come about and help her. I do feel for the troubles you did be forced to live through little one. But now a new door do open for ya’. The biggest conflagration of them all do be on the horizon. The Gathering of the Eternal Flame has begun in truth. A new Eldritch will be anointed, and the mortal realms as we know them will be sundered and born again. It is the opening of a new door, and I would have a partner with me to try and make sure it do open to a better place.” Hinge reached with his left hand, still squatting next to Jam, and placed it on her forehead. “I do name Jam, slave of Xillod, Paragon of Doors. I do give her the rights borne to me as God of Doors; may any door lead to where she deems it lead, and any door she wish stay closed be barred from the possibility of opening. I bestow to her da’ Embers of two thousand mortal souls, and bless her with the right to be Anointed, to be recognized as a True Seeker of the Flame.”
There was a great rushing sound in her ears. If Hinge said anything after flame, she could not hear it. A gentle warmth began to trickle from the top of her head, like bathing water dripping down her neck and chest, collecting in her stomach. The heat felt like the warmth she had worked up climbing the old spruce with Jessin, or the sweat that had gathered on her brow chasing him down the mine shafts, yelling and laughing. It felt like the warmth of life. Suddenly the heat grew to an intensity that Jam was sure would set her aflame. She opened her mouth to scream in a blend of agony and ecstasy. Her eyes shot open. The heat was gone.
Jam, slowly looked to her left to find Hinge still grinning at her, squatting, both hands resting on protruding knees. The pain in her gut was gone, as was the stinging in her arms and legs. She could feel her fingers, and she wiggled her nose. She could feel that too.
“Come now little Jam, we do be having many places to visit, and I do have much to teach you. This is the first of many doors open to you. But we must hurry, for with da’ great conflagration will come an equally great darkness. We must do what we can do to bar da’ doors for many and open da’ doors for a few. Dat’ is da’ job of a god and paragon of doors as I do figure it.”
“Yes, um do I say master, or lord, or sir?” Jam asked
“Hinge do be fine.” He said
“Yes Hinge. Um, can the first door we open be one to a tailor? I do not think I can respect a man god of any kind in a woman’s dress. And my rags are covered in blood.”
For the first time in a long time, the mine shafts were once again filled by a duo’s laughter.