EXTRACT | ‘Children of the Storm’ by Cavan Barry
Children of the Storm, published by Chalk Creation, tells the story of a young man, Twelve, living in a perpetually rainy town. He is poor; an orphan who spends his days as a runner, clearing the debris left in the wake of pummelling storms. When a supernatural light explodes uncontrollably from his own hands, with deadly consequences, Twelve is labelled a murderer but is rescued from certain death by a stranger.
He embarks on a journey of discovery, leading him to both love and war. He has to make decisions that affect not only his life but the future too.
A century later, reclusive translator Callah receives Twelve’s leather-bound diary and finishes the quest he had started. They are linked through time by their responsibility to uncover the true beginnings of the Spire empire and the order of the Marshals.
Topside consisted of relatively huge dwellings wrought out of stone on the hill above and behind both the walkway and the entrance hall. In addition to more spacious surface houses, Topside had the added perk of carved stone walkways that led right into main Hollowall. A Topsider need only walk out the door and head down some flights of stairs to go to work, shop at the market, drink at the Dusted Dell pub, or whatever else it was that rich people did. There was no real need for a Topsider to own a coat at all.
Although the district’s opulence did gnaw a bit at some of Twelve’s more jealous sensibilities, his real concern with Topside was a professional one. The pathways and alleyways between the enormous dwellings caused constant blockages and damage that needed repair. This, in conjunction with the fact that many Topsiders would insist on constantly adjusting the architecture of their houses, meant that the stone above the entire area was erratic, shifting, and very prone to problems.
Almost all of the runner’s routes had them skipping along the rooftops of Topside at one point or another. The runners spent significant portions of their days clearing debris that gathered on the complex network of stone roofs above the unwitting, uncaring residents of Topside. And so, after traversing half the exterior of the town, it was at a high point in the district of Topside that Twelve found himself resting. Centre Topside, as the runners called it, was the largest of the stone canopies that funnelled the Topsiders down to the main town. It ran most of the length of the district.
Twelve had been running the entire morning. He was starting to feel his heart pumping in his chest. He knew the spot that he stopped at was roughly half of his route and, truly, there was no better place to rest. From his perch on the roof of the pathway Twelve had a completely unobscured view of the valley.
He fished some of the dried meat that he’d taken along out of one of his pockets and ate quickly. Twelve still had a way to go and he wouldn’t want to be outside after dark.
He raised himself to a stand and prepared to set off once again, but just as he did he felt a warmth touch him and the rain pelting his coat subsided. Twelve lifted his hood and looked up to see the sun shining, radiant, through a parting in the grey clouds. The sunshine was a rarity in the valley. Occasionally bright beams like this one would sneak through the blanket of clouds above to create startling poles of light reaching towards the ground, but it was extraordinarily lucky to find oneself underneath one. They wouldn’t have full days of sunlight for another five months at least.
Twelve shed his thick coat. He rolled up the sleeves of his tunic. He held his arms out as if to embrace the sun itself. And it warmed him. He felt the cold drain from every nook inside his body. He imagined tickling tendrils of light surrounding the skin of his arms and moving to cross his face and chest, leaving trails of bright warmth that seeped into Twelve like an invigorating elixir. The heat filled his chest and emanated from him in waves, pulsing with his heart.
Twelve felt happiness, and freedom. His moment of transcendence was interrupted, though, by the sting of a shouting voice that made him start. “Oi, runner!” He turned to face the voice, still giddy. He felt dazed by the intense heat that flowed inside his bones now. The head and shoulders of a young man were emerging onto the canopy top as he climbed up from down below, through the partition. Twelve called out, “Sir, you shouldn’t be up here. It’s not safe.” “Calm down, runner. I saw the sun. I thought I’d climb up here to dry my damp boots. I thought I might find one of you dirt dusters up here. It looks like you’re not doing much work, though. I didn’t know the town paid you to laze about in the sunshine.”
The man’s boots didn’t look wet at all. In fact, there was not a drop of water on him. He had the signature look of a Topsider, dressed in colourful fabrics draped in layers all over his body. Twelve bent down to pick up his coat, intending to walk away, but the Topsider looked him up and down suspiciously, moving towards Twelve once he’d lifted himself up onto the surface of the platform. “Don’t I know you, runner?” Twelve shook his head, “I don’t think so sir, I best be getting on my way.”
In truth, Twelve knew exactly who he was speaking to. The man’s name was Victor, a name he shared with his father, who was the acting chief of Hollowall. Victor junior was roughly two years older than Twelve, but he towered over his head. His loose fabric clothing belied his muscled physique. The man was as imposing a figure as Twelve had met in town, and unfortunately Twelve knew that his fears were more than justified. In his youth, Victor junior was known for terrorising the Gristlehook orphans. He would seek them out to deliver savage beatings, using the orphans as punching bags apparently to train himself up. Being the son of the chief, not a soul would dare lay a hand on young Victor. Folk would prefer to turn a blind eye rather than defend a couple of poor orphan children.
Twelve himself had been the subject of a number of these physical run-ins as a child. With only a few years difference between them, they had been at a similar stature for a long period of their childhood, so Victor would pounce on any opportunity when he found Twelve alone. Victor junior was one of the last people Twelve would have wished to run into, and apparently Victor’s memory was not as lacking as his compassion. “I do know you. You’re that Twelve kid ain’t ya? Yeah… Twelve. We used to scrap when we were kids.” Twelve shuffled as Victor kept approaching him. He wanted desperately to leave the situation, but if he fled outright he’d only create more trouble for himself later on. Twelve began to shiver. Victor would surely be keen to test the force of his blows just as he did when they were younger. Victor lowered his voice as he neared Twelve, his tone more menacing, “I remember you, boy. Orphan Twelve, yeah? You were abandoned here by your madman father. They say your life is an atrocity, that even your loony daddy wanted you dead. Said you were a blasphemy. Said you were cursed. Is that true, boy? Are you cursed?” Twelve’s stomach turned. He felt fear mix with anger inside of him. He wanted to avoid a conflict, he was no match for the large man, but Victor’s words stung like biting insects. Despite himself, a trembling fury stoked within him. He hung his head and clenched both his fists. Victor smiled, pleased to see his words aggravate Twelve, “You know what I think? I think you’re the curse. I think we’d all be better off if you were dead.” The sneering man gained on Twelve. There was a vicious eagerness in his voice. His ill intentions were clear. Twelve tried to disregard the hurtful words, but something would not allow him to turn away. Victor continued to close the space between them, persevering with his stream of insults. “I think that if it hadn’t been for you, your daddy wouldn’t be dead, your mommy wouldn’t be dead, and we’d all —” Victor’s words were cut off as he was struck in the chest by a bright white beam of light. He was flung back violently. His body arced into the air, slammed into the ground, and skidded some feet to lie, unmoving. Light plumes of smoke began to rise off of his still form. A smell of singed flesh met Twelve’s nostrils. A resounding crack had accompanied the burst, shaking the air around them and echoing throughout the valley. Twelve stood stunned. The light had come from… him.
It felt as though all the heat in his body had bled from his bones to meet at his fists and his chest. He’d felt a flicker of movement across his hands and torso converge into a blinding bolt of light exploding from his body. Twelve sank to his knees. He felt drained and exhausted. He struggled to comprehend what had happened. Black shadows skirted the edge of his vision and sounds were muffled. He heard voices as though they were far away; people scrambling up onto the canopy top, shouting, screaming, “He’s dead! He’s killed him!” Twelve was vaguely aware of strangers crowding around him. They seemed distant, as though they were from another realm. The rain once again began to fall, wetting Twelve’s hair and tracing its way down his forehead. He felt rough hands around his shoulders. He was forced to a stand and turned around to face a man he did not recognise. The blurred image of a furious face spat its words at Twelve, “You’re coming with me. “Once a murderer, always a murderer.”
Extracted provided by Janine Daniel on behalf of JDoubleD Publicity
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