Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Beyond the Fifth Gate by Donna Sundblad

I'm happy to announce that my second fantasy novel was released yesterday at Fictionwise and should be up at Amazon by the end of the month.

This book originated while I was writing Windwalker as I used the writing prompts and exercises found in Pumping Your Muse. The Flip Side exercise required me to take an existing scene and flip one or more details. As a result, my first female protagonist was born. Little did I know that she'd grow into such an interesting character who faces the challenge of not only traveling through five portals into strange worlds. Developing different world that are somehow connected challenged me, but as it came together I enjoyed the thrill of creation. To limit my time in these worlds, her quest had to be completed within seven days -- before the planets move out of alignment.

Here's a peek into her world and the circumstances that set her on the path to save her people.

Chapter 1

Elita sat at her father's feet among a small group of locals meeting within a tiny cottage nestled in the rolling foothills. His finger traced the words on the ancient scroll. "Did you hear me? Listen to these words," he repeated in his teaching voice. "It doesn't say we who live in the country will be exempt. It says, 'Every town and village,' and that means us. We can't hide from the widespread 'increase in evil propensities.' I've heard they've taken over the cities and it's just a matter of time ... We have to fight back while we have the chance."

* * * *

A few of the men and women who had gathered in the small room nodded. Others looked with blank expressions out the windows facing north as if studying the nearby mountains. Elita stifled a yawn. The other children no longer attended. She wanted to ask what propensities were, but from the looks on the adult faces now was not the time. Not everyone had patience for her questions, and some thought she was too young to participate at all at times like this.

Too young. The very words irked her. After all, at age 12 she was only three years from marrying. Not that she knew anybody who wanted to marry her. Things had changed so much since the mantids' arrival. Her father restricted her comings and goings. He believed the mantids were trying to take over the world. It was their fault she had to sit through these teaching times without a playmate. Her father insisted that the prophecies be handed to the next generation to prepare them to recognize and fight the evil presence.

"The Chosen One," he said looking up at an invisible presence with a hint of awe, "will save our world." He placed his hand on Elita's head and smiled.

Torkel, their closest neighbor, from a farm five miles down the road, shifted on his hard chair next to the fireplace. "How will we know who this Chosen One is? What is the sign so that we will not be misled?"

"Good question." Elita's father looked down into her eyes. "Elita, would you like to answer Torkel's question?"

Elita glanced at the floorboards and pulled in a deep breath, but nodded. She looked at the men and women gathered with them. Some were friends, others strangers. "We'll know by the alignment of the five planets." She glanced toward her father who tipped his head for her to go on. He knew this aspect of the prophecies fascinated her. "Kamali will appear in the east marking the first gate. The Chosen One will see his light and has one week to travel through all five mystical gates and return to our world. Upon their return, the Chosen will carry with them something from each gate. Something to save us..." She looked to her father for affirmation.

"Thank you, Elita."

Her chest swelled with pride, and he turned his attention back to his guests. "Those living in the time of the alignment will know who the Chosen One is. It's not important that we know now, unless..." He leaned and stared into the sky through the window. "No, I don't see anything other than our sun setting in the sky, and it tells me it's getting late."

A few of the people chuckled. Elita shifted her weight on the wooden floor and rubbed her knees through her trousers. Her mother walked into the room balancing a tray of crisp sweets and bent to offer one to her husband.

He plucked one of the honey-sweetened treats from the tray and while her mother served the others, her father snuck his crisp into his daughter's hand. She sat up a little straighter and sucked the golden treat. It lasted so much longer that way.

The people exchanged farewells at the door until the last of them left the small family to the peace Elita enjoyed. The size of the gatherings had diminished over the last couple of years. It hurt her father so she didn't talk about it. Many called him a fanatic.

"Elita, you did well this evening. Before our next meeting, I'd like you to make a list of the prophecies you know." Her father walked across the small square room to rekindle the fire in the fireplace.

Elita's heart dropped. Not another child in the province has to complete assignments like this. It's not fair. "Why can't I just tell you?"

He brushed soot from his hands and propped them on his thighs as he knelt before the growing fire. "Very well, what can you tell me?" He placed a log on the flame.

"Well..." She played with the dark braid draped over her shoulder. "There will be deceit, lying and criminal activity."

"Very good. And what do you think that means?"

She shrugged. "I guess it means by the time the conjunction of the planets happens this world won't be a very nice place to live. Is that why you want to fight back?"

Elita's mother looked at her father and swallowed hard. She wiped her hands on her apron out of nervous habit.

"Can I ask a question?" Elita asked.

"Of course, and please sit in the chair." He pointed.

She scurried to the chair and sat while searching for the right words. "It's ... well ... there's five planets and five gates, right?"

"That's correct."

"And there's seven days to complete the journey?"

"That's correct."

"Here's what I don't understand. Why is it seven days when there are only five gates?"

"That's a good question, a perfect example of how people misread the prophecy. It is true there are five gates and five planets. However, when the planets align it marks the fact that the Chosen One will have seven days to make it through all five gates. What if it takes three days to find the first gate? How many days are left?"

The realization of her father's words brought new understanding. "You mean if they don't see Kamali's light for the first three days they only have four days left to make it through all the gates?"

"That's right." He nodded. "And once the Chosen One enters that first gateway there is no turning back. The gate closes. It's a one-way journey."

"That's scary. The Chosen One will have to be brave."

"Another thing to realize is that if there isn't faith enough to see Kamali, the alignment of the planets will come and go without the journey taking place."

"Part of me hopes that none of this happens until I'm old."

Elita's mother chuckled. "I know what you mean." She patted the seat beside her and Elita moved to sit beside her mother, who started to unbraid her long hair.

Her father shook his head. "It's not about us. It's about all of mankind."

In her heart, Elita trusted the prophecies, but they also scared her.

"Why would people miss the coming of Kamali? He is to shine like a bright light in the east."

"Those who are not looking for him will not see him."

Her mother brushed her hair. "Go to the well and wash while I set dinner on the table."

Elita stepped into the twilight and wandered to the well at the back of the clearing. A cacophony of birds called to one another as the sun slid toward the horizon. I love this. She missed being outside, riding her horse freely and hunting with her bow. Even though she'd never seen a mantid, part of her already hated them. It was their fault she had to stay with her parents all the time.

The cool water refreshed her. She dried her face on her sleeve when an odd sense of foreboding stopped her. Silence. Not a bird or cricket sounded. She hurried toward the cottage, the crunch of long grass beneath her feet. Smoke scented the air. In the distance she saw the glow of a large fire. The village!

She turned the corner to the front of the cottage and skidded to a stop. Large ugly creatures hunched to fit through the door. They stepped outside dragging her parents with them. "Father!" she ran toward him when something cool and hard clamped her forearm and scraped her skin as she struggled to free herself.

The diminishing sun highlighted the horror on her mother's face. Her usually happy eyes widened with fear.

The mantid dragged Elita toward a cart without a horse or oxen hitched to draw it. A large cage filled with young people lay on the bed of the cart. She kicked and screamed, but to no avail. The monster threw her into the cage. She stumbled and landed face-to-face with a boy; his red-rimmed eyes stared at her blankly. Elita scrambled to her feet, pressed her face to the bars and stretched her arm toward her parents. "Mother! Father!"

Her mother broke free and ran to the cart; her fingers grasped Elita's and held tight. "Elita, do not forget..." Four mantids rushed toward them. One of them ripped her mother's hand from hers and yanked her mother to the ground where two others dragged her toward her father.

"What are they doing?" Elita's voice tore at her throat. "Father! Father help me! Don't let them take me!"

Her father struggled against the mantid, but they outnumbered him. They blocked his way like an armored wall. He shouted over them. "Elita, the oracle is the answer--" A sharp sickle-shaped mantid claw clamped around her father's bicep cutting his words short. His arm dropped to the earth with a sickening thud. Blood spewed across his shirt, shot into the mantid's face and sprayed her mother's tunic. Her father's eyes rolled, and he crumpled to the ground.

Stunned, Elita shrank to the floor of the cage. Evil propensities. The cage-cart moved under its own power further into the country. At each home, the mantids collected the young. Her eyes drifted from face to face in the dim light and then to the sky. She prayed to Kamali hoping to see the planets appear. Instead only the moon climbed into the sky. How could she get free and help her parents? For now, in her mind, she did the last assignment her father had given her. He'd be proud of her. Mentally she made a list of the prophecies she knew.

The sun melted into the horizon. An eerie twilight cast elongated shadows across the crying children. Elita looked away from the misery; an emptiness sought to fill her. She watched the sun disappear and wrapped her arm around the little girl beside her. Beyond the horizon dawns a new beginning. That was her mother's favorite prophecy and now she claimed it as hers. It gave her a little hope. The wheels of the mechanical cart churned up a cloud of dust. Elita closed her eyes and prayed to Kamali. Her father's words echoed in her mind. "It's not about us. It's about all of mankind."

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