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Excerpt for Finding the Sun by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Finding the Sun

~~~

A Tale of What Darkness Hides

by

J.M.D. Reid

Copyright © 2019 by J.M.D. Reid

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the expressed written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Published in the United States of America, 2018

Cover art by Amber Naralim

Edited by Poppy Reid

Dreaming Between Worlds Publishing LLC

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Finding the Sun

Was the sun a lie?

In my dreams, I saw it shining around Mother’s throat. Golden. Flashing. Bright. Liquid. A beacon of hope that warmed me. In my dreams, I could forget about the Dark. Once again, I saw all the bright colors beneath that shining orb. Greens. Reds. Blues. Yellows. Oranges. Purples. More.

Hues that had become just words whispered in my thoughts.

When I woke, it was to the Dark.

No one understood what had happened. They say it was noon when the Dark fell. All across Hamiocho, the city grandest in the world, a barrier fell. A dome that followed the city’s massive walls. In an instant, it snuffed out the sun and trapped of us in endless night. Wherever torches were lit, Death came.

It took Uncle away screaming, hauling him into the sky, his brand snuffing out in a flare of sparks.

I didn’t care why the Dark happened. I just had to survive. To learn how to live in a world without the sun.

After all these years, did it ever even exist? Did I dream that life of innocence and fun?

As I fell to my knees, I felt the ash billow around me. The dust filled the air, landing on the naked flesh of my body. The air currents rippled around me. I breathed in the scent of burned wood, remembering the conflagration that had consumed the southwestern corridor of Hamiocho. The powder was dry. It hadn’t rained in two weeks. The longest I could remember. Things were drying out.

An opportunity had formed.

I wished to see the sun again. Mother was dead, murdered in the chaos when the Dark fell. I was a boy then. Young. Scared. Frightened. Brother tried to protect me, but a man brained him over a moldy wedge of cheese. Sister lived longer before she stepped on a rusty nail.

The nightmares of her screams as she slowly died sometimes found me.

I gathered handfuls of the ash, moving without seeing. You just . . . knew where your body was. I couldn’t see my fingers through the inky weight of the Dark even when they wiggled right before my eyes, but I knew they were there, floating before me. The world didn’t cease to exist just because I couldn’t see it.

It whispered. It breathed. It reeked.

My skin felt the changes in air currents as I moved. I could tell by the stillness that there were ruined walls rising around me. Bones from the great firestorm that had burned through here. When I moved, the echoes came back to me. My ears, skin, nose, and tongue had replaced my eyes.

There was so much to the world around me.

I scooped handfuls of the ash and smeared it across my wiry limbs. I thought I was scrawny. Not as big as I should be, but it was hard to judge things against the others who ghosted through the ruins of Hamiocho. My stomach growled. I hadn’t eaten today.

Nothing surprising there.

I smeared the ash across my skin. I needed to be darker. Where I journeyed light still existed. I didn’t hurry. I felt the soot coating skin—what color was it now after so many years in the dark?—in smearing black.

I sneezed.

The ash filled the air. My nose wrinkled as I rubbed dirty fingers into my cheekbones. I covered every inch of my flesh. The soot felt powdery and greasy all at the same time, a strange mix. Dust fell off of me as I smeared it across my face. I adorned myself, readying me for the dangers ahead.

I scooped up great handfuls of it. I poured it over me like Mother would water when washing my hair. I closed my eyes, struggling to imagine not grimy dust but refreshing liquid spilling over me.

How did you ever manage to get so much dirt in your hair? Mother whispered in my mind.

When every inch of my naked body was covered, I piled handfuls of ash into my pouch. If I lost any, I could reapply my camouflage. I rose on my bare feet. I remember wearing shoes, but mine had long rotted away along with most clothing. Only the sturdiest of leathers could survive so long.

In the Dark, what did clothes matter? Who could see you?

I moved through the Dark without fear, but with caution. The soles of my feet felt the changing air pressure with each step, alerting me if a pit yawned before me. I didn’t rush. Didn’t run. That lead to pain. To death. First, the heel came down, then the flat of my feet, moving slowly, waiting for any sharp prick.

I wouldn’t die of rust poisoning. I wouldn’t break my ankle.

I crossed charred lumber and spilled ash. My ears pricked for movement. I couldn’t trust anyone in the Dark. On the horizon, the faintest glow appeared. Not enough to attract Death. Arcane runes shed so little light, they were all but invisible before the Dark’s arrival.

The ones ahead marked the Rubble, the wall constructed by the Glowers to segregate the wealthy from the rest of us. While the rich had died with the poor, their resources gave them a better chance. They paid for soldiers to guard them and mages to ward their homes. They seized the stockpiles of food and found new ways to grow it.

The closer I came to the rubble, padding through the burned swath of the city called The Sun’s Ashes, the brighter the runes grew. They almost hurt my eyes. I didn’t look at them, but at the wall’s base. Details began to pick out around me. The shape of collapsed buildings, of burned rubble and piles of ash. The shape of my own limbs, almost as black as the dark.

The soot worked.

I reached the Rubble, the wall of piled debris. The runes glowing along the top held such a haphazard structure together. In the pale light, I could make out the mix of stone and lumber. Shattered building material dumped on top of each other. It was constructed in haste; the Glowers eager to segregate from the rest of the city as madness descended.

Climbing it proved no challenge.

I was up and over it in a flash. Sneaking into the Glowers section was an old game. Breaching their warehouses . . . Stealing food . . .

My stomach rumbled as I moved away from the wall. I hurried before a patrol would come along. I moved through three blocks of destruction, of buildings torn down to build the Rubble; the houses of lesser men sacrificed for their betters.

The streets here were free of debris. I felt the cobblestone beneath my feet. I padded over them as I moved towards the first walled villa. I didn’t have to worry about the occupants staring out their windows: none would risk any radiance spilling out from their interiors. It was said Glowers couldn’t even move in the Dark. They had to be led by soldiers, their senses ruined by the light.

I moved at a crouch, keeping beside buildings, staying in the shadows of the faint runes that glowed everywhere. I reached back to my dimmest memories of walking these streets with Mother, her skirts swirling about her feet, a bright smile on her face lit by the sun around her throat.

I let those shadowy recollections guide me as I padded through the streets. I was a living shadow. An extension of the Dark. When I heard any noise—the clatter of marching boots, the jingle of wheels turning—I pressed myself on my belly. I controlled my breath. I made no sound at all as the Glowers passed me.

They wore clothes. Had boots. The soldiers were armed with metal spears and wore jerkins made of boiled leather. The Glowers themselves were shrouded in loose cloth of faded hues. They clutched to the arms of servants as they stumbled.

They were blind.

A giddy thrill rippled through me as I moved deeper into the Glowers section. I scurried passed walls that rose above me, the stones gray and fitted together. No rot filled my nose. No decay. I didn’t hear rats scurrying through refuse piles. No reek billowed on the wind from Phosphor Lake and the Rotting Orchard.

These Glowers didn’t know I polluted their pristine section. That I padded down their dim streets. I smeared soot on the walls. I dirtied their streets with my footprints. I felt a smile curling my lips. What a wonderful thing to do. Grinning.

How long had it been to feel any joy?

I rounded a corner and froze. There it was. A dark shape that loomed out of the gloom, a rich man’s house surrounded by stout walls. Flashes of my childhood, standing in the street and clutching Mother’s hand filled me.

If you ever need help, that’s the house,” Mother had said.

Those words were lies, but I knew the sun would be in there. I felt it in my heart. I had such strange dreams of Mother removing that glowing disc about her throat. The light shone through her fingers. She traded it away. The man took it. His fingers clenched over it. The Dark came. It snuffed out the brilliance.

My breath quickened. It echoed down the street, my skin feeling the other buildings rising around me, shaping the way the air moved and sound reflected. I quivered as I stared at those walls.

Over them, I risked death.

I rushed forward to the walls.

I leaped. Air flowed passed me. It was strange being able to move with such bold certainty. The glowing runes splashed their ethereal light on the streets. The hue was a spectral mix of sky and grass, bleeding together, highlighting the joints in the wall. The place where stones were piled upon stones and cemented together. I grabbed crevasses, digging fingers into cracks. The balls of my feel gripped the rough surface, my toes feeling small indents to gain purchase.

I climbed. My spindly arms reached over me. My legs worked. I grunted. The runic light grew brighter the closer I climbed. I winced, squeezing shut my eyes. I didn’t need to see to climb. Only feel. My hands reached out, searching, finding points to grip. I remembered previous handholds and placed my toes into them.

Up I went, ears pricked for the thud of footsteps, skin sensitive for change in air currents. With the runic light spilling down the wall, I could be seen by guards or pedestrians.

Maybe even by Death.

My skin crawled. The radiance bled through my eyelids. My heart hammered. I could feel Death moving above. Circling. No one knew what it was save for the flap of leathery wings that rushed before it snatched away life.

I reached up and my hand found the wall’s lip. A tingle raced through me. The hue pressing on my eyelids shifted from that soft mix of grass and sky to the harsh of blood. Red. The runes changed colors.

“Muck and grime,” I cursed, scrambling up the last foot. Warning runes seared across the wall.

Dogs barked somewhere beyond. The baying of vicious hounds. How long since I heard one? A year after the Dark? My heart burst into frantic beats as I straddled the top of the wall. The way sounds echoed and air swirled, I sensed a large opening on the other side of the wall. A courtyard, perhaps.

Men shouted now.

If I dropped over . . .

I swallowed. I could go back the way I’d come. Slink out of the Glowers section, return to my place in the Dark. Back to scavenging while memories of the sun grew fainter and fainter.

I threw my left leg over the wall, both dangling inside, and pushed off. I landed in a crouch. A blind jump was stupid, but so was what I was doing. My heart pounded as the echoes bounced around me.

The building lay to my left.

I darted in that direction.

“Where’d the alarm trip?” a voice boomed.

“Don’t know. Dogs got a scent!”

My bare feet slapped on paving stones. The bricks shifted beneath my feet. They felt newly placed, not settled into the soil before. Claws scratched on them, hurtling towards me. A dog snarled, hungry.

I reached the house. I felt the walls, detecting the mortared joints between bricks. The dog was almost upon me I had to do something. My skin crawled. Memories of savage teeth tearing scraps of meat off bones.

My bones if I didn’t think of something.

All I had on me was my pouch full of ash to touch up my camouflage and . . .

The dust had made me sneeze.

It was something.

My hand shoved into the pouch as the dog snarled, almost on me. Claws scrabbled. I smelled it, breath foul and fetid. I ripped out a handful of ash and threw it at the barking.

The scent of wood ash filled my nose. The dog whinnied. Its form hurtled at me. I pressed against the wall as it bayed and whimpered, landing before me. It let out a frustrated snarl. I heard the shake of a coat, a dog trying to get clean.

Other dogs barked and charged closer. I whirled to face the house. I climbed. Fingers found purchases. Toes dug into crevasses. The dog snarled beneath me as I hauled myself higher. My skin crawled.

The dog’s claws scrambled. Hot breath washed over my foot. Teeth snapped, spittle splashing on my heel. The dog landed and barked. Claws scrambled and scratched at the stone. I worked higher, my heart laboring.

“Sounds like the dog’s got something!” a guard shouted.

I shuddered, climbing higher. My fingers swept up and brushed a protrusion. I examined it and found a small ledge to grip. I scrambled up onto it, feeling something smooth on the other side. Glass. A window. I leaned against it, panting. A smudging, streaking squeak echoed as I shifted against it.

The dogs bayed beneath.

“Where he at?” growled a gruff tone.

I risked opening my eyes. I was far from the runes. They still burned scarlet, spilling blood across the courtyard. I had just enough light to see the guard with a pair of dogs, one snarling and barking up at me, triangular ears pricked.

I pressed tight against the window. The man looked up.

I didn’t breathe.

“Come on, let’s find him, stupid mutt,” the guard growled. He kicked a booted foot out. The dog jumped back and snapped. “Hey! Go.” He slammed the butt of his metal spear down, the light from the scarlet runes picking out the sharp point.

The dogs charged off into the night. I exhaled. My heart felt squeezed tight. Cold shakes trembled through my limbs. With care, I turned myself around, the windowsill barely as wide as my feet. I faced the window, a darkness beyond.

I struggled to remember before. Glass was expensive. Only the wealthy had it. Mother had a single window with it. She would peer out at the street. It could break. It was also sharp. I shoved my hand into my leather pouch, ash spilling out.

My nose tickled.

I fought a sneeze as I drew back my protected fist and slammed it into the glass.

The sound of the pane shattering was the loudest crash in the world. My heart leaped in my throat as shards crashed down on the courtyard below. Others spilled into the room.

The dogs howled. Guards shouted.

“Mold-infest middens!” I snarled at my stupidity. I punched out the shards of glass remaining in the frame, cleared a gap, and dove into the room.

I landed on polished wood. I rolled up into a crouch. The room echoed around me. It wasn’t large. From a tiny gap to my right bled a sliver of radiance. I darted for the door, stomach tight. Opening it would flood this room with light. A heartbeat . . .

Was it enough to summon Death?

“Bloody middens, the conservatory window!” a guard shouted. “A mucking darkling’s in the house!”

I wrenched open the door.

Light blinded me. It stabbed my eyes. I squeezed them shut, but the brilliance bled through my lids. This crimson radiance shot pain down into my brain. I slammed the door shut behind me, clenching teeth against it.

I clamped a hand over my eye, hearing the first floor erupt with activity. Shouts echoed. “Secure the pantry! Flush out the darkling!”

They thought I was here for food. Nothing else held value any longer. So many had died not from swooping Death or accidents, but starvation.

I was here for the sun.

I felt I was in a hallway. Air flowed from the right, a current rushing past me, funneled by narrow walls. The echoes from down below came strongest from my left, the direction the air blew. I went right, feeling the air on my face.

I hit stairs, raced up them. Behind me, footsteps thundered. A woman shouted. Men bellowed. Metal jangled. My feet slapped on the floor. I panted, cold exhilaration flowing through me. I struggled to remember. Where had Mother hidden it?

She brought it here. Placed it in the box. The sun had glowed so brightly.

The highest floor.

I hit another hallway. The air continued to rush down it. It had to be flowing from the top floor, cooling and moving down the house. I sprinted blindly ahead, the slap of my feet guiding me on. The slight change in air pressure warned me of a barrier.

I slid to a stop, hands smacking into a wall, the wind shifting, coming from the right. A door opened behind me as I darted around the corner and hit another staircase. I slowed at the sounds of boots stepping into a hallway. A man, steps heavy.

I padded up another set of stairs as the man called, “What is going on?”

Darkling, my lord,” a guard answered. “Came in through the conservatory. We got the food secure. He’s got to be prowling the lower floors.”

“I see,” the man’s voice said. His words sparked a memory that flared through my mind.

Why are you here, Miodrea?”

I trembled. This was the house. The sun was here. I would find its brilliance again.

I kept climbing the stairs, my body trembling with each step. I reached the top and . . . I could see the hallway. Not with my eyes, which were still tightly closed, but with my memories. Clutching to Mother’s hand, trailing after her as she rushed down the hallway. She was frightened. The Dark had recently fallen. It was the first light we’d seen in days. It had hurt at first, but then I kept my eyes open. I witnessed as we went to . . .

This door.

My hand grasped the polished knob. The metal cool. Brass. I twisted it. Hinges creaked as I slipped into a room, my memory blazing with recollection.

A large bed dominated it, four posters reaching towards the ceiling and draped in gauzy silk netting, the type used in summer to keep insects away. A man stepped out of another room, wrapped in a robe, his eyes narrowed.

Why are you here, Miodrea?” he’d asked.

Mother held up the sun. “This has to get us some food. I know you have it, Lechenio. Please. Please. You don’t know what it’s like out there. We’re starving.”

I opened my eyes.

There was no light, only what bled from beneath the door. The room’s lamps weren’t lit. I made out the shape of the massive bed, though the netting was gone. It wasn’t needed. Windows weren’t opened in the summer to let the day’s heat bleed out. Seasons didn’t exist. You couldn’t escape the heat in the Dark. Ornate shutters hid all the windows, their carvings lost to the gloom.

I didn’t care. This was it. He put the sun in . . . My eyes darted past the bed to a dressing table, an expensive sheet of copper hung on the wall, a mirror only the wealthiest of women could afford. An ivory-handled brush lay neatly on a doily beside an ornate box worked in gold and inlaid with pearls and onyx. It was larger than a loaf of bread, tall and deep.

My grubby hands lifted its lid. My chest felt so tight, breathing difficult. I peered into a collection of jewelry. Bangles, earrings, necklaces, rings, and more. Gems were dark pools attached to shining gold or pure silver. I rooted through it, heart thundering in my chest.

The sun had to be in here.

Mother blazed in my memory, the sun about her throat, her finger touching it as she laughed. The music of her voice sprang around me. Tears burned in my eyes. I pawed through the worthless baubles. No one cared about gold or gems. You couldn’t eat those. Earrings spilled onto the doily. A necklace of pearls snapped, the rolling spheres sliding across the polished wood and . . .

My breath caught.

I felt it, the disc inscribed with the narrow, triangular rays. I trembled as I lifted the pure, gold necklace. In the light flooding through the doorjamb, I beheld the sun. My entire body trembled. My ash-coated fingers stroked the front, smearing grimed across it.

It shone so brightly. The sun. The necklace about my mother’s throat. She wore it every day until she died. She traded it away to this house’s owner for food, then we hurried home to where Brother and Sister waited.

“Why did they knife you, Mother?” I croaked. My body shook. “They’d already taken the food from you.”

She gave up the sun for nothing. I pressed the medallion to my chest. My heart screamed with my grief. My entire body shook in the dark room. Tears spilled down the ash coating my cheeks. I brought the amulet to my lips, kissing it, feeling the cool metal.

Worthless and yet . . . It was all that was left of Mother. It was something bright. Something the Dark could never swallow. I clutched the golden chain tight in my hands. Below, the guards yelled. Their boots thudded.

I couldn’t stay here. I had to get out. I might die, but . . . I found the sun.

As I went to put it around my throat, the door opened.

Light flooded in around the silhouette of a man. I froze, my fingers just pressing the clasp together. The medallion felt heavy against my chest, rising and falling as I breathed. The man marched in, something long and gleaming clutch in his hand.

A sword.

I didn’t know what to do. Where to go. He was between me and the only exit. The windows were shuttered tight behind me. If I tried to unlatch them, he would run me through. I finished clasping the necklace with trembling fingers then slowly lowered my hands.

“Did you think we hid food in my bedroom, darkling?” he asked.

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t think they would search up here so fast. They should be in the lower part of the house, looking for the intruder trying to steal their stores. Everyone knew Glowers had not just plenty of algae and mushrooms to steal, but meat. Milk. Even cheese.

Then I noticed, in the light spilling around him, my dirty footprints. The soot I coated myself in had left a trail that led right to me. I quivered as the man advanced. It was him. The one Mother met with.

“You came for my wife’s jewels?” The man snorted. “Don’t tell me you thought any would trade for those?”

“Just . . .” I swallowed and lifted my chin. “Just reclaiming my mother’s sun.”

The man froze. His outstretched sword quivered then lowered. He stepped to the side. The light struck me fully. I flinched, raising a hand against the glare burning from the runed lamp, powered by their glyphs, set in the hallway. The man’s features became clearer to me. Older than I remembered, lined, his hairs streaked with gray, his skin faded to a pallid sallow, his nose big and bold like Brother’s.

“Your . . . mother’s . . .” The man spoke with a breathy tightness. “Gehamio?”

The name almost struck me. Gehamio. Mother used to call me that. “My little sunset. My Gehamio.”

The man’s already pale face became almost sheet-white. His hand shook violently. “Gehamio, it is you?”

The door was clear. The man stood dumbfounded, sword lowered. I didn’t hesitate. I charged past him, racing with my prize. I had it. My mother’s sun. The man called after me, but my feet slapping on wood drowned out his words. I threw myself down the stairs, leaping towards the bottom, landing spry. I had light. I used it. I turned and followed my smudged footsteps, the shouts still echoing below.

He chased after me. I heard metal clatter, something dropped. I caught a glimpse of him racing after me empty handed. I wouldn’t let him catch me. I would survive with the sun. I found it. I burst around the corner and leaped down the next stairs.

I reached the door covered in my handprints. I flung it open and slammed it shut behind me before the light could attract Death. I raced for the shattered window. It was so dark in here now. My eyes felt useless. The runes glowing on the wall were too dim. I could hardly see them as I climbed out the window.

I didn’t need to see to escape.

I twisted, descended the walls. Dogs still barked, but I was quick. I raced like the wind. I reached the far wall, scrambling up it fast, my heart thundering in my chest. The sun swayed before me. I reached the top. The runes flared red, barely illuminating my arms now, spilling crimson across the medallion.

“GEEHAAAMIIIOOOO!”

The shout drifted behind me as I leaped over the wall and into the street. I scurried off into the night, stroking the sun. My stomach growled. I’d have to find food the next day and return to surviving.

This day, I rejoiced. I raced through the glower’s streets. I exulted. I had a piece of Mother back. A piece of my life before the Dark. I scrambled over the Rubble. I vanished into the ashen ruins. I collapsed onto my back, closed my eyes, and dreamed of better days.

Gehamio,” the man said, laughing as he bounced me on his knee.

Mother was smiling, the sun shining on her neck. It blazed with such brightness. I might never see true light again. I might spend the rest of my days creeping through black night, but I just had to touch the medallion inscribed with the sun to know it had existed.

Everywhere I would go, it would shine.

END

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About the Author

J.M.D. Reid has been a long-time fan of Fantasy ever since he read The Hobbit way back in the fourth grade. His head has always been filled with fantastical tales, and he is eager to share the worlds dwelling in his dreams with you.

Reid is long-time resident of the Pacific Northwest in and around the City of Tacoma. The rainy, gloomy atmosphere of Western Washington, combined with the natural beauty of the evergreen forests and the looming Mount Rainier, provides the perfect climate to brew creative worlds and exciting stories!

When he's not writing, Reid enjoys playing video games, playing D&D and listening to amazing music.

You an follow him on twitter @JMDReid, like him on Facebook, visit his blog, and sign up for his newsletter.





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