Last month, I shared an excerpt of my short story The Search, which introduced Lina with her STAC Tosh. Now the real adventure begins in Summoned.
Summoned: Book One of The Elemental
Lina was born with the power to start fires with a mere thought – a trait which died out long ago. She had no plans to leave her beloved homeland. Then gypsies kidnap her and take her to a foreign land. There a strong urge compels her to travel north.
On her journey, she reluctantly uses her innate Elemental powers as she battles mystical creatures that have not existed for 800 years. When she discovers the shocking truth behind the calling, it will change her life in ways she could never imagine.
Stern Prison Excerpt:
The cold surrounded her, chilling her bones. She woke slowly, rubbing the sand from her eyes. Only a thin sliver of light from the narrow window barely illuminated the small room. Lina sat up, her boots scraping across the stone floor. Where was she? She glanced around; her fingers reaching out to brush the damp stonewall. She wrinkled her nose at the musty odor. A scratching sound came from the far corner of the small room. She thought of rats and quickly pulled her feet back onto the narrow cot.
As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, she saw the door on the other side of the cell. She pushed the thoughts of rats out of her mind and stood up. The room spun. She grasped the wall. Her body felt weird as if it was not fully hers. She vaguely remembered a man knocking her to the ground and the sweet smell of the cloth over her face. She had a faint memory of being thrown on the back of a horse and being forced to drink something with a strange aftertaste.
She leaned against the wall until the room stopped moving and then hesitantly, Lina shuffled toward the door, her arms outstretched until she felt the cold metal door. She pushed and pulled at the handle but the door did not budge.
“Tosh?” she called. Her voice echoed in the stone cell. She pounded on the door. “Val? Anyone?” She pounded on the door again but no sounds came from the other side. “Tosh? Tosh where are you?”
There was no answer. She glanced around the tiny room. It was bare save the cot. She edged away from the dark corner where she had heard the scratching. The lone window was too high for her to reach, and even if she could, it was barely a slit. Her only exit was the door. But even as she turned to consider it, she knew that her Elemental powers couldn’t help her. Maybe if the door had been wood, then she could burn her way out, but not metal. She would incinerate herself before the door would begin to melt. The walls were made of thick stone. There was nothing she could do. Wearily, she climbed back onto the cot. Cold and hungry, she curled into a ball. She wondered where her friends were and if they had survived the battle. She wished Tosh was there to tell her what to do. The thought of Tosh reminded her of her friends. Had they survived the battle? Were they looking for her?
There was no way for her to know how long she sat huddled on the bed, alone and afraid, before she heard movement outside the door. A faint click sounded at the door. She heard the jingle of keys. The door creaked opened. Then she heard something hit the ground. The door slammed shut and the lock clicked back into place.
Lina jumped up, rushing to the door. “Wait! Come back here,” she called. She banged on the door.
She turned, her eyes focusing on the object that had been thrown on the floor. It was a burlap sack. She grabbed it; her fingers tore at the rough fabric. Inside she found a hunk of bread and a flask. Her stomach growled. She quickly devoured every crumb of the dry bread. She opened the flask and took a sniff. No odor. She took a sip. Water. She waited for a moment. This time there was no strange after taste. Thankful to have something to wash the dry bread down with, she quickly emptied the flask. Even with the small meal consumed, she still felt empty. She heard the tapping of little claws on the floor and hurried back to the cot. She laid down, curled into a ball. She stared at the floor, wondering what was to become of her. Her body ached. She laid down and closed her eyes. Finally, sleep overcame her.
A faint metallic clicking woke Lina. Light streamed in through the narrow window. She sat up, tilting her head as she tried to locate the sound. It was coming from the door. Her heart pounding, she rushed over. She crouched beside the door, coiled like a spring waiting for it to open. If she could move fast enough, she might be able to escape and return to the others. Her mind flashed pictures of them, stopping the longest on Val. She shook her head. Now wasn’t the time to worry about them. She first needed to get out of here. The door slid open without a sound. She waited.
“Lina?” a voice whispered as the door slowly inched open.
The voice was familiar. “Coy?” she said in surprise.
Lina saw fingers caked with dirt grasp the doorframe followed by his face. A streak of dirt was smudged across the boy’s small pointy nose. His short black hair lay plastered to his head. His clothes appeared as if they hadn’t been washed in weeks.
“Coy! What are you doing here?”
“I was in the area,” he said, flashing an impish grin. “We had better move before a guard comes.”
“How did you know I was here?”
Coy didn’t answer. He disappeared into the hall, and she quickly followed. Torches affixed to metal rings on the wall lit the way. There were countless metal doors just like the one to her cell lining the hall. As they moved down the corridor, Lina could hear an occasional moan or movement from behind some of the doors. They reached the stairs and crept down several flights only to end up in a hallway that was a mirror image of the one above.
Coy led her through a maze of halls, finally stopping a few feet from a set of open double doors. He pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and unfolded it. He studied it before peering into the room. Lina looked over his shoulder. Inside, two men sat at a small round table playing cards. Their swords leaned against the fireplace. Boxes stacked to the ceiling lined the walls. In the middle of the room was a pile of wooden crates almost forming a divider between the storage side of the room and the area where the guards sat.
Coy ushered Lina away from the doorway. “We need to sneak past those guards,” he whispered. “There ought to be a storage room with a trapdoor on the other side.”
“Didn’t you come in this way?”
“Actually, I came in through the front door,” he looked up at her and smiled, “right past the guards.”
“On the supply wagon. I hung onto the bottom. They were so focused on checking the contents of the wagon they didn’t look underneath. I guess they don’t expect someone to break in.”
She pressed her body against the wall, glancing into the room again. They might be able to hide behind the crates as they made their way to the other side of the room. The problem would be getting in unseen. They needed a distraction. The dying fire caught her eye. She smiled as she began to gather her power. Her body tingled as it grew. Concentrating, she released it into the fire. The flames burst to life. The guards leapt to their feet, staring at the roaring blaze. Lina grabbed Coy’s arm and pulled him into the room. They dashed behind the crates. The crackling and popping of the roaring fire muffled their footsteps.
Lina peered between the crates at the guards. The flames were reaching out of the fireplace and up the wall. The guards furiously beat at them with their cloaks. One of the cloaks caught fire. The guard dropped it with a yell. Quickly, Lina and Coy dashed out the door into the dark storage room. She heard Coy moving around and then the click of flint against metal. A soft light illuminated the room as he lit a lantern from the wall. The storage room was crowded; sacks and boxes littered the floor. Tools dangled from the ceiling. The lantern barely lit their way as they began looking for the trapdoor. As they moved, dust swirled in the stale air.
Lina spotted a crack in the floor. She tapped Coy’s arm and pointed. He nodded, setting the lantern down. His fingers traced the crack. A large crate partially concealed the trapdoor. Together, they leaned on the crate. Whatever was in the crate was heavy but with the two of them working together, they finally moved the box.
It slid across the floor, banging into a saw blade hanging from the ceiling. The saw swung into a neighboring bucket, clanging loudly. Coy and Lina froze. They waited, straining to hear if the noise had aroused the guards.
After a few very long minutes, Coy knelt and lifted the trapdoor. It creaked open exposing a cobweb-covered opening. He brushed them away and held the lantern over the hole. It was ten feet to the bottom. Packed dirt covered the floor of the tunnel. Coy gestured at her and she quickly climbed down the ladder. He followed, pulling the trapdoor shut behind him.
Wood beams braced the ceiling through the walls were simply packed dirt. There was only one way to go. Coy held the lantern before him, the low light barely cutting into the dark. They began to follow the tunnel.
“Coy,” Lina began hesitantly. “How did you know I was here? We left you in Nor days ago.”
For a few moments, she thought he wasn’t going to answer. He didn’t look at her as they continued down the tunnel. She tripped on a rock, stumbling to the ground. Coy offered her his hand. She took it, brushing both cobwebs and dirt away as she rose.
“I was,” Coy began but stopped.
Lina looked sharply at him but his eyes were focused on the path before them. A wall of dirt and rock blocked their way.
“Dragon’s fire, I hadn’t considered the tunnel might have caved in.”
“What do we do now?”
Coy shook his head. He pulled a rock from the wall. “I guess we dig our way out. It will take some time.” He glanced at her. “It is too bad you don’t have a power that could move this dirt for us.”
Lina stared at the massive wall of dirt. She had never used her power for something like this. “I might be able to help,” she said softly. She briefly thought of the rage she had felt when Val had been in danger. The ground had trembled at her command. If only she could do something here. Last time it had just happened. If she did something wrong, they could be buried under the dirt she was trying to move. She saw Coy’s questioning look and quickly filled him in on what had happened when Val was in trouble.
“That was your doing?” he exclaimed, his eyes widening. “I felt that all the way over here.”
It was not possible. She could not have caused that powerful of a tremor. Coy must be mistaken. She was not strong enough to cause the ground to quake for miles, especially with a power she didn’t know she had.
“Could you try something here?” he asked.
She took a deep breath. “I’ll try.”
She ushered Coy back into the tunnel several yards for protection. Focusing on the dirt, she began pulling in the energy. Once again, her body tingled as she felt the power racing in her system. She picked a rock in the middle of the dirt wall. She touched it, releasing her power into the dirt wall.
Nothing happened. She concentrated harder, imaging the power leaving her hand and going into the rock. She took a deep breath and released more power. The reaction was immediate. The dirt simply burst outward clearing a three-foot hole in the wall and creating a four-foot long tunnel to the outside.
Lina turned to Coy. He stared at her, his mouth hanging open.
She smiled and scrambled through the hole, eager to reach the sunshine. The light pierced her eyes, forcing her to squint. She turned to look at the stone building on top of the hill. Two towers rose from a pile of rubble. Black stones lay scattered about as if some giant had smashed the structure on a whim. She glanced at the sun. A little after noon, she guessed. Her eyes were drawn back to the building.
“What is that place?” she asked not turning to look at Coy.
“Stern Prison,” he answered. “The owner rents out cells. No questions asked.”
Lina swung around. “Now who would want to pay for me to stay there? I don’t know anyone outside of Zena!”
Coy avoided her look. He was busy pulling branches toward the hole she had created. He glanced at her. “I’m not sure,” he answered softly. “I’ll tell you everything I know, but first we have to get out of here.”
She nodded, confused. She watched as he finished hiding the hole with branches and a few small bushes. Then the boy turned and slipped into the forest. Lina followed him silently.