As you may have noticed, I haven’t been able to post for some time now. Even now, I don’t have time to craft the post that you all deserve. So I thought I’d just give you a preview of the novel I’m currently working on. This will likely become my NaNoWriMo project, but I thought I’d get a head start.
Here’s the basic premise: A Western-type story set on a giant lake where cities are built on islands, saloons float between the islands, and steam power is at its pinnacle. Jade Narscel, who has a rare ability that allows her to walk on the water, loses her daughter to kidnappers of a race that lives under the Lake. When the authorities are barred from conducting an investigation, Jade decides to take matters into her own hands.
Without further ado, here is the first chapter of the first draft of Lakerunner. Enjoy!
Jade walked on the water.
She scanned her surroundings, of course, to make sure the evening patrol wasn’t anywhere nearby. Fortunately, she was sheltered by a large wooden walkway that was bolted to the side of the island and supported by thick wood beams.
Jade looked down at her feet, unable to keep herself from smiling as the water drifting toward the shore moved around her feet. A steady wave of ripples spread away from her. She’d once heard someone say that Lakewalkers never truly touched the water of The Lake, they just exerted a force that held them right at the surface, but not enough force that it broke the surface tension. Jade didn’t care much about the science, she just closed her eyes, took a deep breath of crisp evening air, and relished the rare joy of walking on the water. It happened far too little these days.
“Are we going to get into trouble, mommy?”
Jade turned toward the small voice that had spoken to her. Cerise stood on the shore, looking nervously up at the wood walkways that spread out from the island cliffs above them. Her curly sandy blonde hair, tied back in a ponytail, swayed with the breeze. She turned back to her mother, little brow furrowed in concern.
“I thought you wanted to come out on the water, sweetheart,” Jade said with a soft smile. “Like mommy.”
“I do,” Cerise admitted, looking down at the water lapping at the edges of the rocky shore. Her little toes slowly wiggled up and down nervously. “I just don’t want you to get taken away like Mr. Ernly.”
Jade chuckled. Clyne Ernly was a Lakewalker too, but he was much more…vocal about his opinions surrounding the restrictions placed upon people like he and Jade. The lawmen had already been keeping a close eye on him, so it wasn’t long before he was arrested when he walked out onto The Lake in broad daylight, proudly holding up his middle fingers as the lawmen prepared boats to go out and catch him.
“Mommy’s not going anywhere,” Jade said, holding out a gentle hand toward her daughter. Cerise gripped at the fabric on her light blue dress, staring down at the water with thin lips. She got that look from her father. Once Cerise was finished assessing the situation, and apparently found it satisfactory enough, she looked up at Jade with a cute smile that bordered on mischievous.
Cerise took her mother’s hand and took a few steps off of the dry ground, watching as the water washed over her feet. She looked up at her mother with some disappointment in her eyes. No matter how many times the water passed over her feet, she still hoped that one day, she would step out on the water and would actually step on the water.
“It’s okay,” Jade said with another smile. “You’re still a Lakewalker, see?” She let go of Cerise’s hand and grabbed her just under her armpits. Jade gently lifted her until just the bottoms of her feet were touching the surface of the water.
Cerise took a few tender steps forward, grasping onto her mother’s arms for added support. She walked carefully, letting her toes fall first and then allowing the rest of the foot to slowly drop behind.
“See?” Jade said. “You’re walking!”
“You’re helping me, mommy,” Cerise said without looking up from her gaze locked on the water.
“No I’m not, you’re doing it all by yourself,” Jade said. “I’m just making sure you’re safe.”
Cerise giggled and took a few more steps forward, each footfall more confident than the last. Jade wished she could let go and watch the freedom light up Cerise’s eyes. It was a surreal feeling to be on top of the water, like Jade was defying the very laws of nature. She and Ander had seen if Cerise could Lakewalk not long after she had taken her first steps. After all, that was when Jade’s parents discovered her ability. But Cerise had just stepped into the water as anyone else would.
“I’m Lakewalking, mommy!” Cerise exclaimed, her pitch rising into a high giggle that made Jade’s heart feel lighter. Every time she heard that laugh, every time she saw that smile, every time she knew that Cerise was happy, she felt a joy that she could not explain. She forgot the looming deadline for the new steamship design, forgot about the tax rates that had been growing ever since Kaidell closed its borders to immigrants from the overpopulated Lake. All of the concerns that plagued her throughout the long days disappeared like fog in the sun when she looked at Cerise’s smile.
Jade kept holding onto Cerise as they moved steadily away from the shore, but remained under the shelter of the wide wood walkways above them.
“Why is the water blue, mommy?” Cerise asked, looking out over the surface of The Lake. In the distance, the island city of Eddinstal was a dark silhouette against the bright setting sun.
Jade thought for a moment, trying to recall if she’d ever learned why water was blue. She wasn’t much surprised when nothing boiled to the surface of her memory. She had never had a knack for science.
“I don’t know, sweetheart,” Jade responded. “You may have to ask your dad that one.”
Cerise looked back down at her feet. She moved her right foot in circles and watched as the ripples spread away from her. Still holding on tight, Jade looked back up toward Eddinstal in the distance. To the north, a small ship spewing billows of steam chugged toward the city, probably carrying crops from Calmarone to the northeast. Would those crops be enough to feed all of the people clogging the narrow streets of Eddinstal?
Jade’s attention snapped down to her daughter, wriggling in Jade’s strong grip. Her arms were starting to get tired from holding Cerise above the water. Her daughter was grasping onto Jade’s cream-colored shirt so hard that her nails were digging into Jade’s skin. Cerise’s eyes, wide with fright, darted across the surface of the water.
“What’s wrong?” Jade asked, following her daughter’s gaze but seeing nothing.
“There’s something under the water!” Cerise cried.
“Shhshhshh,” Jade hissed, placing a finger against her lips. The motion brought Cerise’s eyes up to meet her mother’s. Those sweet green eyes were alight with fear. “We have to be quiet, remember?” Jade looked up at the wood walkway above them, expecting the heavy footsteps of a patrol to come passing by. Of course, it would be easy enough for Jade to just drop under the water and act like she was swimming, but it wasn’t that simple. Lakewalking was not something one could just turn off, like a switch. Jade couldn’t go under the water; to her, it was as solid as concrete, though it definitely didn’t feel like concrete.
“It’s just a fish,” Jade said in a more comforting tone, leaning down to give Cerise a gentle kiss on the forehead.
Cerise’s breath slowed down and most of the fear left her eyes. Her furrowed brow dropped back into a line as she looked over the water.
“That was a big fish,” Cerise said.
Jade chuckled. “Do you want to go back?”
Cerise thought for a moment, brow furrowing again in concentration. After a moment, she slowly shook her head. “No…” she said thoughtfully, “but can you carry me?” She looked up at her mother as if ashamed that she was afraid.
Jade smiled and hefted Cerise into the air, prompting another soul-liberating giggle. She set Cerise on her shoulders and her arms sighed in relief. Jade felt Cerise gently grab onto Jade’s hair as Jade took a few more steps farther onto The Lake. They stood just under the edge of the walkway above them. If Jade went out any farther—as much as she wanted to—they would be seen, if not by a lawman, then maybe by someone who delighted in turning in their neighbor. Ms. Lymid would do that if she happened to be out on one of her evening strolls.
“Isn’t it beautiful, Cer?” Jade asked, squinting into the setting sunlight.
“Mm hm,” Cerise said, “The Lake is closing its eyes so it can sleep.”
Jade smiled. “Is that what they taught you at school?”
“No, you told me that, mommy,” Cerise said. Ah, right. One of the many ways that Jade had simplified something complicated when Cerise was younger.
“And what does it mean when The Lake is closing its eyes?”
“That it’s time for us to close our eyes, too,” Cerise quickly responded with confidence. To her, that was a fact, a given.
“That’s right, sweetheart,” Jade responded.
They were silent for a moment, both of them staring out toward the setting sun, even though Jade’s eyes weren’t really focused on anything. Her mind was elsewhere, wondering where Cerise would be standing when she was Jade’s age. She hoped that it would be somewhere comfortable, where she could enjoy beauty like this, whether it was on The Lake or somewhere over the mountains. Jade was much less concerned, though, with where Cerise stood, then how she stood. Were her shoulders drooping from the stress of her life? Or were her eyes alight with optimism and hope? Jade certainly hoped that it was the latter.
“I love you, Cerise,” Jade said as tears began to well in the corners of her eyes.
“I love you too, mommy,” Cerise responded. She patted Jade on the head for emphasis.
What had Jade done to deserve a daughter like Cerise? Certainly she wasn’t so highly favored in the eyes of Varnos that He would grant her such a well-behaved and curious child. Perhaps every parent felt the same.
“There it is!” Cerise hissed, pointing with one hand while still holding onto Jade’s hair with the other.
Jade followed her point to a shape moving in the water, just a few strides ahead of them. That was a big fish. Jade squinted and took a small step closer, craning her neck to get a better view without putting herself in the open. The shape just swam back and forth in a line. Jade had never seen a fish move like that before.
It wasn’t a fish. As it flipped itself around to go back the other direction on its line, Jade saw arms and legs push out to direct itself.
Something grabbed her ankle and pulled forward.
Jade yelped as her foot was pulled out from under her and she crashed to the surface of the water, sending out a series of larger ripples. Cerise screamed just before she was dunked underwater. Jade held tight onto Cerise’s ankles and moved to stand back up, but something pulled her back down. Not something pulling her, but something pulling on Cerise.
In a panic, Jade twisted herself around, still holding onto Cerise, to get a better view of the situation. Just under the surface of the water, Jade saw an arm wrapped around Cerise’s chest. The skin of the arm shimmered in the setting sunlight, almost like the scales of a fish, but not quite.
Jade screamed, holding onto Cerise’s little legs as tight as she could without hurting her daughter. But she could feel herself losing the battle. The abductor was stronger than Jade, even though she could push against the surface of the water for some extra strength.
No matter how strong the abductor was, however, Jade would not let go.
“Help!” Jade screamed, her voice cracking. “Help!” Up above, she heard the sound of boots against the wood and confused voices. “Down here!”
Smack. Something slammed into the side of Jade’s head and stars burst in her vision. It was a fist. Smack again. Her vision blackened at the edges and in a horrifying moment that seemed to slow down time, she felt her grip loosen on Cerise as her consciousness began to fade.
There was a final splash as Cerise’s foot kicked the surface of the water before she was dragged underneath. Her consciousness back in sharp focus, Jade got on her hands and knees and pressed her face right against the water’s surface. Bubbles escaped from Cerise’s mouth as she let out a scream that Jade couldn’t hear. Her eyes were wide with a horrifying fear that made Jade scream out in pain. There was nothing she could do. She slammed her fists against the surface of the water, praying to Varnos—or any god that was listening—that she could breach the surface of the water. Just this once. Just to save her little girl.
But her prayer went unanswered, and Jade could only watch, hands pressed against the water, as Cerise faded into the darkness.