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Shadowed Souls

By: MoonlitShadows

Page 1, First chapter of my first attempt at story writing: Shadowed Souls. Planned to be a science fiction book based around two young characters, Ali and Mychel. Both are apprentices in a remote town, Aldburn, which is constantly loomed over by a vast mountain range, known locally as The Shadows. Despite the many dangers of these mountains, Ali uses the wilderness as an escape from her everyday life, increasingly drawing Mychel into doing the same.

 

The moon rose over a valley hidden deep in the remote mountains of the North, its silvery light illuminating the tips of the tall fir trees while casting the lower branches into shadowy darkness. The rocky sides of the surrounding peaks seemed to soar endlessly up into the dark sky, a blanket of blackness pierced only by the pinpricks of distant stars, a constant reminder of the world outside this lonely valley. High on one of these peaks, silhouetted on a overhang of rock, a small figure sat, curled up in protection against the crisp night air, watching over the place she had come to regard as her sanctuary against the demands of her everyday life.

“Ali.” The word hissed out of the darkness behind the overhang, breaking the peaceful silence and causing the figure to tense suddenly, gripping the harsh rock beneath her hands mindless of the rough edges. She turned slowly, poised to dart down the small ridge path leading to the overhang at the slightest sign of danger. As she did so, another lean figure emerged from the shadows, moving with the sureness of one well practised at moving over uneven ground.

“Mychel,” she sighed, relaxing and returning to her curled up position, “You scared me.”

“See? Told you I was getting good at moving quietly,” her friend laughed, moving up to sit beside her overlooking the moonlit valley and continuing in a quieter voice, “You really do like it up here, don't you?”

Ali lifted her eyes to look over their surroundings, taking in every detail like the hawk she sometimes saw during the day here, soaring high over the ground below but somehow still finding prey. She breathed in, savouring the fresh air before she replied, “It makes me feel safe.”

“Safe? Out here? All alone in this emptiness?”

“Yes. I understand the wild. I love the beauty of it, the harshness as well. It feels real, and everything has it's place here. The trees, the snow, the birds, the wolves... they all work together even when they're natural enemies. They help each other survive. That's more than most of the people we know.” They both fell silent, contemplating their individual lives in the town hidden the other side of the ridge. Both were young, working as apprentices to richer families in the town to try and survive the challenges of being alone on the streets of Aldburn, and while they had known each other for years, Ali had only recently introduced the older boy to her refuge.

“I don't understand how you don't get bored. You spend so much time out here, I barely see you in town other than when you have to be working. I swear it seems like you sleep out here!”

“I do, quite often.”

Mychel turned from regarding the silent forest to give his friend a despairing look. “Honestly Ali, are you going to keep doing this once we finish our apprenticeships? Do you even have plans for afterwards?”

“Why does it matter? I'll never be free of people telling me what to do. It's easier if I just do it as quickly as possible and know I can escape here once it's done,” her eyes seemed to grow darker as she thought about returning to her work in the morning, “it's not like anyone misses me, they're just glad to have me out of the way.” This, she knew despite her young age, was the truth. Ali worked for her harsh mistress in the central part of Aldburn, and although she was supposed to be learning the secrets of needlework, much of her time in the house was spent doing chores for the Gray family, especially the daughter who was several years older than Ali herself. “I'm don't want to learn about sewing anyway, I'd so much rather be doing the same as you, learning to be a ranger and guide in the mountains.”

“You know it's not so much fun as it sounds. It's hard, and dangerous.”

Ali snorted, defying the rules her mistress imposed in an attempt to make her act as a young lady suitable to work for the family. “I've survived out here on my own for years, I think I know something about the dangers you'd face.” In fact, she knew more than she would ever admit to. Thanks to an old ranger she knew from various trips through the mountains, she realised the value of her knowledge and the wrath she would incur if she spoke of the creatures and of course, other things, she sometimes encountered, those which were supposed to be a secret of rangers and guides alone. She smiled to herself, revelling in the secrets as one of the few things she could truly call her own. “Though, I suppose there could always be things I don't know about yet. Maybe I should go looking?”

Mychel glanced at her sharply, suspicious of the innocent tone and self-assured manner, to find the girl grinning wickedly back at him. He sighed. “You know I worry about you enough as it is, without thinking you're chasing something you have no idea how to deal with.” She glanced away, uncomfortable with keeping things from such a caring friend despite her glee at having something she didn't have to give up. In truth, she probably knew more than him about the mysteries lurking in the depths of these mountains.

“It's ok, I don't go far. After all, why would I risk losing the chance to work for the Grays?” Her eyes glinted with amusement as she joked, trying to alleviate the sudden seriousness of the conversation.

“Good question,” Mychel replied. “Though that reminds me, I should probably be going. I have a trip into the Beacons Glade at dawn tomorrow.” He grimaced, thinking of his last trip to the clearing. Beacons Glade was one of the safest locations in the forests of the lower slopes of the mountains, named for the fires set there at the meetings of ranging groups and their apprentices. Earlier that year, in his first excursion into the forest, Mychel had met with a group of rangers from a nearby town, Truebridge, including their apprentice, Willem. Having discovered an astonishing clash in their personalities, the two boys were then forced, as the only apprentices, to work together in many tasks set to them by the elders. “I really hope no other groups are there this time...”.

“That's ok, just be careful yeah? Even if other boys are the only danger, you know how badly it ended last time.”

“Don't remind me, please. I've never come off so badly in a fight. How was I to know his father was a defender?” Defenders, men who naturally excelled at fighting, were the town's protection against anything coming out of the mountains and by tradition taught their sons to fight in case new defenders were discovered. “Willem would never make the society, but he still had far more experience than me.” Mychel stood up, stretched, and grinned at Ali. “Of course, I have been practising since.”

Ali glared at him. “Oh no you don't. Unless you want to see how much I can beat you by?”

“Shadows no,” Mychel backed away, hands up. Despite her slight frame, Ali was surprisingly strong and moved with a nimbleness he could never hope to match. “I'd rather go across the Whiterock Pass alone. I'd have a better chance at surviving that one!”

“Hmmm,” Ali mumbled, seemingly already preoccupied with studying the valley. Mychel sighed, resigned. Although his friendship had begun to draw Ali out of her shell, and she was able to joke herself, his attempts at humour still tended to worry her. This time, he judged she was unsure whether it had been intended as a complement or insult, unaware that he wasn't serious. He would have to remember to be more careful about that.

“See you in four dusks then? Be wary tonight.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, waving goodbye as he slipped into the shadows again. She was always wary, but that didn't stop her taking risks beyond that which Mychel would approve of. Indeed, although tonight she was only planning to curl up in her sheltered hollow at the back of the overhang and sleep, her plans for the coming dawn would go far beyond even his darkest worries about the nature of her solitary activities. The moon rose over a valley hidden deep in the remote mountains of the North, its silvery light illuminating the tips of the tall fir trees while casting the lower branches into shadowy darkness. The rocky sides of the surrounding peaks seemed to soar endlessly up into the dark sky, a blanket of blackness pierced only by the pinpricks of distant stars, a constant reminder of the world outside this lonely valley. High on one of these peaks, silhouetted on a overhang of rock, a small figure sat, curled up in protection against the crisp night air, watching over the place she had come to regard as her sanctuary against the demands of her everyday life.

“Ali.” The word hissed out of the darkness behind the overhang, breaking the peaceful silence and causing the figure to tense suddenly, gripping the harsh rock beneath her hands mindless of the rough edges. She turned slowly, poised to dart down the small ridge path leading to the overhang at the slightest sign of danger. As she did so, another lean figure emerged from the shadows, moving with the sureness of one well practised at moving over uneven ground.

“Mychel,” she sighed, relaxing and returning to her curled up position, “You scared me.”

“See? Told you I was getting good at moving quietly,” her friend laughed, moving up to sit beside her overlooking the moonlit valley and continuing in a quieter voice, “You really do like it up here, don't you?”

Ali lifted her eyes to look over their surroundings, taking in every detail like the hawk she sometimes saw during the day here, soaring high over the ground below but somehow still finding prey. She breathed in, savouring the fresh air before she replied, “It makes me feel safe.”

“Safe? Out here? All alone in this emptiness?”

“Yes. I understand the wild. I love the beauty of it, the harshness as well. It feels real, and everything has it's place here. The trees, the snow, the birds, the wolves... they all work together even when they're natural enemies. They help each other survive. That's more than most of the people we know.” They both fell silent, contemplating their individual lives in the town hidden the other side of the ridge. Both were young, working as apprentices to richer families in the town to try and survive the challenges of being alone on the streets of Aldburn, and while they had known each other for years, Ali had only recently introduced the older boy to her refuge.

“I don't understand how you don't get bored. You spend so much time out here, I barely see you in town other than when you have to be working. I swear it seems like you sleep out here!”

“I do, quite often.”

Mychel turned from regarding the silent forest to give his friend a despairing look. “Honestly Ali, are you going to keep doing this once we finish our apprenticeships? Do you even have plans for afterwards?”

“Why does it matter? I'll never be free of people telling me what to do. It's easier if I just do it as quickly as possible and know I can escape here once it's done,” her eyes seemed to grow darker as she thought about returning to her work in the morning, “it's not like anyone misses me, they're just glad to have me out of the way.” This, she knew despite her young age, was the truth. Ali worked for her harsh mistress in the central part of Aldburn, and although she was supposed to be learning the secrets of needlework, much of her time in the house was spent doing chores for the Gray family, especially the daughter who was several years older than Ali herself. “I'm don't want to learn about sewing anyway, I'd so much rather be doing the same as you, learning to be a ranger and guide in the mountains.”

“You know it's not so much fun as it sounds. It's hard, and dangerous.”

Ali snorted, defying the rules her mistress imposed in an attempt to make her act as a young lady suitable to work for the family. “I've survived out here on my own for years, I think I know something about the dangers you'd face.” In fact, she knew more than she would ever admit to. Thanks to an old ranger she knew from various trips through the mountains, she realised the value of her knowledge and the wrath she would incur if she spoke of the creatures and of course, other things, she sometimes encountered, those which were supposed to be a secret of rangers and guides alone. She smiled to herself, revelling in the secrets as one of the few things she could truly call her own. “Though, I suppose there could always be things I don't know about yet. Maybe I should go looking?”

Mychel glanced at her sharply, suspicious of the innocent tone and self-assured manner, to find the girl grinning wickedly back at him. He sighed. “You know I worry about you enough as it is, without thinking you're chasing something you have no idea how to deal with.” She glanced away, uncomfortable with keeping things from such a caring friend despite her glee at having something she didn't have to give up. In truth, she probably knew more than him about the mysteries lurking in the depths of these mountains.

“It's ok, I don't go far. After all, why would I risk losing the chance to work for the Grays?” Her eyes glinted with amusement as she joked, trying to alleviate the sudden seriousness of the conversation.

“Good question,” Mychel replied. “Though that reminds me, I should probably be going. I have a trip into the Beacons Glade at dawn tomorrow.” He grimaced, thinking of his last trip to the clearing. Beacons Glade was one of the safest locations in the forests of the lower slopes of the mountains, named for the fires set there at the meetings of ranging groups and their apprentices. Earlier that year, in his first excursion into the forest, Mychel had met with a group of rangers from a nearby town, Truebridge, including their apprentice, Willem. Having discovered an astonishing clash in their personalities, the two boys were then forced, as the only apprentices, to work together in many tasks set to them by the elders. “I really hope no other groups are there this time...”.

“That's ok, just be careful yeah? Even if other boys are the only danger, you know how badly it ended last time.”

“Don't remind me, please. I've never come off so badly in a fight. How was I to know his father was a defender?” Defenders, men who naturally excelled at fighting, were the town's protection against anything coming out of the mountains and by tradition taught their sons to fight in case new defenders were discovered. “Willem would never make the society, but he still had far more experience than me.” Mychel stood up, stretched, and grinned at Ali. “Of course, I have been practising since.”

Ali glared at him. “Oh no you don't. Unless you want to see how much I can beat you by?”

“Shadows no,” Mychel backed away, hands up. Despite her slight frame, Ali was surprisingly strong and moved with a nimbleness he could never hope to match. “I'd rather go across the Whiterock Pass alone. I'd have a better chance at surviving that one!”

“Hmmm,” Ali mumbled, seemingly already preoccupied with studying the valley. Mychel sighed, resigned. Although his friendship had begun to draw Ali out of her shell, and she was able to joke herself, his attempts at humour still tended to worry her. This time, he judged she was unsure whether it had been intended as a complement or insult, unaware that he wasn't serious. He would have to remember to be more careful about that.

“See you in four dusks then? Be wary tonight.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, waving goodbye as he slipped into the shadows again. She was always wary, but that didn't stop her taking risks beyond that which Mychel would approve of. Indeed, although tonight she was only planning to curl up in her sheltered hollow at the back of the overhang and sleep, her plans for the coming dawn would go far beyond even his darkest worries about the nature of her solitary activities.

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