Tag Archives: Short Stories

State of Tellest, October 2017

Holy heck! I had no idea it’s been so long since I did a blog post for Tellest. It’s about time to change that up then, I suppose, and what a time it is!

I have got an awful lot to talk about, so let’s get down to business, shall we?

 

Tellest Legends Books

The Tellest Legends project ended up getting a lot bigger than I expected! While Tales of Tellest was a set of novellas, each of these Tellest Legends books is a little bigger. Silver Serpent, the next one up in the queue, is much bigger than the books I’ve done recently.  Intended only to be about 50,000 words for last year’s NaNoWriMo, it ended up becoming a 210,000 word novel. It’s the biggest book I’ve worked on since The Enemy Within, and is nearly as long as The Bindings of Fate.

Now, part of this is awesome news. In my opinion, this is the best book I’ve ever written—not because of the word count, but because of the time and care I put into it. The downside is that there is a lot of work there, and it needs to be carefully curated in order to be ready for release. It’s already put me at a bit of a delay. It’s gone through its first editor pass and come back to me, and I have to clean it up before it gets delivered to our second editor.

Originally, the plan was to get it released last month. That unfortunately will not happen, but it will be out soon. Unfortunately, its delay has impacted the other books that are also coming out—Arise, Heart of the Forest, Stealing Seramore, The Maelstrom and the second short story collection are all coming a little later because of Silver Serpent. I thank everyone for their patience while I get these stories prepared.

 

Quantum Quest

Another big culprit of the writing delays is our upcoming tie-in tabletop game.  Quantum Quest is a massive undertaking spanning almost three years, and we’re trying to give it the best chance it has to shine before we go to Kickstarter with it next month.  We’ve been holding playtests, gathering fans, working on new cards and so on all summer long. As we draw closer and closer to November, you can be sure I’m going to end up losing my mind a little more each day—I can’t wait!

Fans of Tellest are going to get an early preview of our campaign page in the next couple of weeks, but I can give you a preview excerpt right now:

“This is where things start getting really awesome. We’re offering up a pack of adventurer cards that you can only get here on Kickstarter or directly from us when we attend conventions—these will never be available at retail. And that’s just to start—the more we raise, the more you get. “

Suffice it to say, we’re incredibly excited for Kickstarter next month. I feel like we’re batting 1000 with this game, and I can’t wait to show it off some more.  If you’re at PAX Unplugged, definitely consider stopping by our table to play a game yourself!

 

NaNoWriMo 2017

This one ties into Quantum Quest in a big way because… it’s the Quantum Quest novelization!  Yep.  My aim is to get 50,000 or so words cranked out by the end of November that will add some lore and backstory to our upcoming tabletop game. Since we also have the Kickstarter going on, this is the first year where NaNoWriMo has to come secondary, so I’m not 100% certain that it’ll be finished, or that it’ll be 50,000 words.  That said, I’m going to make sure the book is complete and polished by the time Quantum Quest reaches backers in May of 2018.

Here’s another bonus: Everyone who backed the Tellest Legends Kickstarter is going to get a copy of the ebook since it’s pushing off the other books.

 

Short Stories

Short stories are going to continue to fill in the gaps between the big releases.  We have a couple of stories that are currently backlogged, and we have two holiday stories coming as well.  Once Silver Serpent moves onto the second editor, we’ll make sure these stories get their chance to shine.

 

That’s it for now, but you can be certain we’ll be talking a lot in November, on account of the Quantum Quest Kickstarter.  See you soon!

State of Tellest, March 2016 (Quickie)

Hey all.  Just wanted to give you a quick one today.  There’s nothing so imperative that I want to bother anybody, but I thought it would be nice if someone knew what I was doing.  I’ve been relatively quiet lately, with the exception of the Newsletter and the promos we’ve been doing for other storytellers of the Otherworld.

Of course, we have also had a few short stories thrown into the mix lately, and we hope to keep that up for the near future.  But there’s a little bit more going on that might spark your interest.

 

Short Stories

As I said above, we’ve been trying to make sure that there are weekly short stories available for you to read.  Now, these shorts are typically broken up into multiple parts, and that’s not unlikely to stop anytime soon.  You can get them all in one place—and early—if you’re supporting us on Patreon.  Sometimes, even if you’re not!

We started courting two more authors lately, and we’re hoping that we’ll be able to bring you some of their stories sooner rather than later.  And 2016 will also see Kevin Gallagher step back into the spotlight, as he begins to release more of his own material.  He’s come a long way, and the quality of his writing is very indicative of this.  With luck, and his help, we’ll have handfuls of stories for you throughout the first half of this year.

There’s also one other thing I want to let you know about.  Members of our newsletter were treated to an exclusive story today that features two brand new characters, each with interesting new abilities.  If you’re interested in being a member of our team, all you have to do is sign up.  You’ll get a slew of bonuses over a few weeks, including that short story (as well as a full copy of Awake, one of our Tales of Tellest that we released with your help in 2014).

 

Tellest Phase II and Longer Form Stories

Speaking of what happened in 2014, I think we’re officially calling that our opening move for Tellest.  That’s Phase I, and it’s been a very nice experience for us.  We’re on the hind end of fulfilling our rewards for all the great people who funded our Kickstarter, and paperbacks are going out this week!

With the more administrative stuff out of the way (finally), we’re looking ahead at the future.  And while we’re not quite launching specifics on the site yet, we aren’t afraid to tell you that things are moving into place a lot quicker than they did the last time around. We’re not coming forward until a substantial amount of the work is done (we weren’t happy with making people wait last time), but the pace has definitely increased.  Michael is working on four stories simultaneously, and despite that awesome feat for our slowpoke creator, he’s actually right on schedule.  With luck, we’ll be able to drop the first official details in just over two months.  By the end of May, we hope to give you a deeper look at what’s coming.  We’ll just leave you with one word, in the meantime: Sequels.

 

Super Secret Side Project

A bunch of you that follow us know that we’ve been working on side projects for years.  We’ve had Heart of the Forest up on the menu there for much longer than we care to admit, but we’re actually making a lot of progress on a related project.  In fact, we’ve recently begun collaborating with another sprite artist who we hope can help us get our vision across even better.  You’ll get some looks at his work in the first week of May.  And hopefully soon we’ll be ready to divulge more information on this project, but we hope you understand our secrecy for the moment.

 

 

In any case, we hope that you’ve enjoyed what we’ve brought to the table so far, and that you’re looking forward to more from the world of Tellest.  We’re so excited for the next big things that are on the horizon.  Thank you for helping us reach that path!

Remembered in Gold – Part 3

Hi everyone!  So sorry for not getting stories or art to you last week. I ended up getting rather spontaneous LASIK out of nowhere, and it kind of hobbled my productivity (but luckily not my creativity).  In the interest of doing the same thing everyone with LASIK ever does, I’d really recommend it if you’re interested in it.  My eyes were awful, and I thought that I wouldn’t even qualify, but now, a little over a week later, I can see with around 20/15 vision.  Not too shabby!

Anyway, before I so rudely interrupted myself, we were working on the story Remembered in Gold.  I’d like to leave you off with the final part today, and I hope that you enjoy it.  Looking back, the story came out of nowhere for me, but I’m happy it did.  It let me venture away from the tried and true locales that I’ve already explored and gave me insights into other places in Tellest.  Cheers!

 

 

Remembered in Gold
Part Three

The pale gardens were hauntingly still in the setting sunlight.  No longer filled to the brim with people, Kunal’s journey back to the palace was quiet and lonesome.  It seemed that not a soul was awake, only the distant silhouettes of the palace guards clashing against that notion.

Kunal, dressed in black, walked ahead at his leisure.  In the darkness, the golden trim of his shirt was unperceivable.  As he drew closer toward the massive gates, he looked himself over again and again.

His heart beat furiously, and he found the only thing that steadied his breathing was the sight of the wildflowers, just illuminated by the multicolored abdomens of Lakmari’s lumibugs.  They danced about, leaving beacons of blue and violet in the air.  Some rested peacefully upon the statue of King Drupad, scattered halos of yellow upon his marble flesh.

The young man smiled as he considered that perch, where his life had been set to change.  Taking a deep breath, Kunal strode forward.

At the gate, two burly guards held firm grasps on their spears.  They said nothing as the visitor arrived, merely stepping aside to let him pass.  He hesitated for a moment there, observing the silent guardians.  Swallowing away his apprehension, he stepped inside the courtyard.

He halted again once inside, casting his gaze across the square.  Though the palace was close to his home, he had never seen beyond the walls.  Rows of golden statues lined the perimeter, their lustrous bodies catching the faint moonlight.  Those ranks of effigies led past the courtyard to the palace proper, which Kunal stood in awe of.

“Impressive, is it not?” he heard.  From the lighted entrance to the building, a tall broad silhouette gained clarity.  A lighter-skinned man with a full beard approached, his physique nothing less than imposing.  “When I first came to Lakmari, it left me with that same wide-eyed stare.”

As the man drew near, Kunal recalled where he recognized him from.  This man was one of the prince’s advisors, who stood beside him during the Gathering.

“I’ve lived in the city all my life,” Kunalsaid.  “But this is my first time seeing it this close.”

“It’s even more impressive on the inside.  Come, I am to lead you to Sazim.”  The man offered no time to reflect on that command.  He pivoted on his heel and began back into the palace proper.

Kunal fell into step beside the fellow and entered the building with him.  Despite the grandeur of the place, there were no guards beyond the pair at the main gates.  Kunal looked this way and that, attempting to discern if any sentinels lurked where the chandeliers’ lights could not reach.

“Something the matter?”

Shaking his head, Kunal cleared his throat.  “It’s very quiet in here.”

The stranger nodded.  “Prince Sazim prefers it that way.  Most days it’s just his highness, Cascadia, and me.  Ah, forgive me.  This lack of human contact has me forgetting to make my introductions.  I am Rohan.”  Though he kept walking, he held his hand out.  Kunal hesitated for a moment before returning the gesture.  The man squeezed, and the visitor nearly winced in reply.  Rohan’s grip was fierce, but he released it after only a moment.

They proceeded, passing by many tapestries and portraits and beneath ornate archways that all seemed different than the last.  To Kunal, it seemed they had walked for miles and in circles.  Finally, they arrived at a large feasting room, a long table filled with food before them.  From that distance, the room seemed otherwise empty, but as the two men approached, the chair on the far side of the table pressed out.  Sazim rose and clapped his hands together.

“Ah, you’ve arrived,” he exclaimed.  “I was worried Rohan had lost his way and we wouldn’t have a chance to give you a proper sendoff.”

The large man furled his brow at that notion but continued leading the young winner to the table.  He pulled a chair out for Kunal and walked along the length of the furniture until he reached the prince, who looked somewhat smaller standing directly beside his advisor.  Rohan leaned down and forward, speaking in hushed tones Kunal could not discern.  Finally, Sazim nodded, dismissing his companion.  In his absence, the prince took his seat once more.

“Let us proceed,” the prince bade.  He reached forward, grasping a glass goblet filled to the brim with crimson liquid.  “But first, a toast.  To the many adventures you’ve yet to go on, and the safety and prosperity you will bring to Lakmari.”  The prince spoke quickly, forcing Kunal to be prompt in finding his glass and lifting it before the toast ended.  He noticed his glass was considerably emptier than that of his host’s.  Despite that shift in the balance, Sazim finished the contents of his goblet before he placed it back upon the table.

His lips smacked together, and he brought his hands together in a hasty clap.  “Let’s get to it, shall we?” he asked.  Kunal nodded but nearly leapt from his seat when a pair of servants passed him on either side.  They carried silver trays that remained covered, but the overwhelming aromas snuck out beneath those shells.  “You’ve lived here all your life, haven’t you, Kunal?” the prince asked, much less interested in the food than his guest.

After a brief pause, the young man cleared his throat and shook his attention from the trays of mystery food.  “Yes, my prince.  Since birth.”  As he spoke, another servant approached from one of the side chambers and brought a swollen wineskin to Sazim’s side.  Once again, his goblet was filled to the brim.

“Then you have likely been made blissfully unaware of the outside world,” the prince said.  “Lakmari is such a wonderful place because we have no worries.  Not a care in the world.  There is no fear of poverty.  We are one of the safest places on Tellest.  We never even have to worry about a shortage of food.”

At that, the servants who delivered the food returned and removed the covers from the trays.  The aroma nearly knocked Kunal from his chair.  Succulent white meats were stacked high on the largest trays, while exotic spices and vegetables lined the table’s perimeters.  Plates of rice and curry and fruits were placed between the main courses.  Kunal’s mouth watered at the sight of the spread.

Sazim flashed a weary grin.  “Eat, my friend.  Your task is not one I would want to endure on an empty stomach.”

The young man did not take that permission lightly.  At once, he reached forward, scooping the various delicacies onto his tray.  He reached as far as his seat would allow him.  Even then, heaps of food found their way to his plate.  He looked up at his host, who had accepted his servants’ offer to acquire his food for him.  Kunal swallowed, and as the scent of the fowl wafted into his nostrils, he swore he could taste the tender flesh.

“What many of the Lakmari people do not know,” Sazim said, peering past his servants, “is that we are not as safe as we appear.  There are bandits out on the roads.  Not some worriless rabble like you might expect, but experienced highwaymen that could easily topple an entire town.  This would cause great problems for our city, you understand.”

His mouth already full of food, Kunal could only nod in reply.  A loud, satisfied sigh escaped him, and he leaned back in his chair as if that could disguise it.  Though Sazim’s plate of delicacies was similarly arranged, he yet relied on his wine and nothing else.

“What if I told you we’ve found a way to keep the bandits content with their own territory?  What if I said we could stay their unruly tendencies and keep them at bay?”

Kunal took a moment and swallowed all his food at once, leaning forward to accommodate the large task.  “My lord, I am no great master of diplomacy or politics, but I would say that is a good path to tread upon.”

“Right you are, Kunal,” the prince said.  “The answer to our problems lies in the hands of a group of sellswords we’ve worked with for some time.  When one of our citizens leaves, it is to seek out these mercenaries.  They protect our borders, enforce our way of life outside the walls of Lakmari, and in a way, keep the peace.”

“Our people are joining the sellswords?” Kunal surmised.

After a brief pause, Sazim took a last swig of his wine.  “In a manner of speaking,” he finally said after a satisfied smack of his lips.  He rose from his seat, the chair pressing out so fast it nearly tipped.  The prince leaned upon the table with both hands, his eyes seeming to glare upon something quite distant.  “Please, allow me to show you something.”

As he lifted himself off the table, he moved with a renewed vigor.  Before Kunal rose from his seat to follow, Sazim was already on his way under one of the side arches.  It was quiet but for their footsteps and dancing flames upon the candles in the many chandeliers overhead.

Before long, the two men arrived at the throne room of the palace.  A darkselection of colors affronted Kunal, who was surprised to see the browns, auburns, and blacks about the room.  The throne was significantly brighter, with golden trim beneath a plush red fabric.

Just at the bottom of the steps leading to the throne, another golden statue, like those Kunal had seen outside, stood sentry.  Sazim turned to his guest with a wry grin upon his face.  For the first time, Kunal could see how young the prince was.  His highness must have only been several years his senior.

“Today you join among the ranks of all the men and women who have preceded you, including your father.”

As Kunal followed his prince, he neared that golden effigy and nearly tipped from his feet by the sight of it.

“Then this is your father, Johar?”

After steadying himself, Kunal took a deep breath and approached the statue.  He reached out and touched the effigy’s broad shoulder.  “In my mind, he’s so much older and greyer,” he laughed.  “It’s good to see him as he was when he left.”

“How long has it been?” Sazim asked.

A quiet chortle escaped Kunal’s lips.  “Sesha and I were much younger then.”

“Sesha?”

“My apologies, Your Highness.  Sesha is my sister,” Kunal said, looking back to the statue of his father.  “If what you say is true and I am to see these sellswords my father was sent to, he and I will be reunited soon.”

“Sooner than you might think.”

Both men turned to the throne then, and the antechamber behind it.  The fair blonde woman sauntered forward with grace and confidence.  She met eyes with Kunal, who found himself as entranced with her as before.

“Priestess Cascadia,” Sazim spoke, agitation clear in his throat.  “You are early.”

“The night grows long, my prince,” she returned.  “Perhaps you discussed things while you supped on dinner that you could have left aside.”

Cascadia passed behind Sazim, and Kunal could feel the tension in the room.  He looked again to the effigy of his father.

“We needn’t waste time here,” the priestess went on.  “Shyamal is not known for patience.  Neither are the rest of his men, including the one you call advisor.”

Their conversation went on in quiet, tense tones.  Kunal ignored it as best he could, focusing instead on the golden figure of Johar.  It looked so like his father, every nuance just as he remembered all those years ago.  The only thing that seemed at odds with the man he remembered was his eyes.  They appeared so full of concern, so wide and apprehensive.

Kunal felt the tender grasp on his hand and looked down.  Cascadia’s delicate fingers wrapped around his digits.  His eyes slowly lifted from her waist until he was caught in her hypnotic gaze once more.

Though he felt the shiver ripple down his spine, he could do nothing to shake it free.  The priestess had him locked in place, her eyes narrowed and a scowl set upon her face.

He tried to speak, but no words would come.  He tried to move but could not flex a muscle.  Cascadia lifted his arm, holding it out before him, and turned him toward the statue of his father.

“It is time,” the priestess said.

A regretful sigh escaped the prince as he approached his guest.  He set his hand upon Kunal’s outstretched arm.  “I’m sorry about this,” Sazim insisted.  “Truly I am.”

From his wrist, a burst of pain nearly shook Kunal to his core.  He could neither wince nor scold, only caught in Cascadia’s perpetual gaze.  But he could see, in his peripheral vision, the transformation that occurred.

His caramel-colored skin took on a new hue.  An inch at a time, Kunal turned to gold.  He could feel the pain coursing through his body and the change taking place.  As the enchantment surged up his arm, his body felt heavier.

Cascadia looked on with those spiteful eyes, but Sazim bowed his head as his power transformed his visitor.  The gold leeched past Kunal’s shoulder, festering in him like a plague.

He only wanted to howl out in pain, but his lips refused to budge.  Instead, as the magic moved up through his throat, he felt his breath slipping away.

Kunal saw his father in a new light then, even as he could feel his head growing heavy.

Johar had never left Lakmari.

And neither would he.

 

Commission_Kunal_Cascadia Sized

Remembered in Gold – Part Two

After introducing the Gathering, Lakmari’s interesting random celebration, we’ve got just a real quick one for you this week.  The second part of Remembered in Gold focuses more on the goodbyes than the glory that Kunal has the potential to find out in the world.

There are some potential links to follow-up material down the line if we find that people really dig Kunal’s story.

 

Remembered in Gold
Part Two

The journey back to his house was much more eventful than the one to the Gathering.  Countless citizens, even ones he was unfamiliar with, stopped Kunal in the streets to offer congratulations and advice.  All the while, Param was at his side.  When they finally did reach his home, the young men paused, hesitating to part.

“This is going to be the last time I see you, my friend,” Kunal said.

Param shrugged.  “It doesn’t have to be.  I’ve got nothing keeping me here.”

“I wouldn’t call your family nothing.”

“All older cousins who don’t even notice I’m around.  For all they know, I’m sleeping with the pigs.”

“I couldn’t ask you to do that.”

“Say no more,” Param insisted.  “I’ll even do the noble thing and leave them a letter.”

Kunal laughed and shook his head.  “You know much of this is kept in secrecy.  We’ve never seen one of the winners leave.  They’re always gone before sunrise.”

“And when the sun does rise, you can find me at Nordakai Falls.  I’ll be there all day tomorrow waiting for you.  Whatever mission the prince sends you on, you won’t be alone.”

A bright smile curled Kunal’s lips upward.  “Thank you, my friend.”  Both men stepped forward into a warm embrace for a moment.  “I shall see you in the light of the morning.”

Param clapped his friend on the shoulder and moved on.  Kunal watched his friend depart for a moment before pushing the door to his house open.

The sound of fitful sobbing was stifled abruptly.  When the young man closed the door behind him, he was surprised at the darkness of the abode.  The curtains had been drawn in the living area, and he could see the rest of the house had been similarly shrouded.  Still, dim shadows were cast upon the wall of the kitchen, their presence leading him there.

His mother sat upon one of the chairs surrounding their petite wooden table.  Her daughter had collapsed against her, buried within the folds of her sari.  Garati, his mother, looked up as Kunal entered the room, a weak grin appearing on her face.

“Why does Sesha cry, Mother?” he asked.

Garati shook her head.  “She knows you are leaving, child.”  The older woman gently patted her daughter’s head before allowing her hand to weave a gentle path through her dark hair.

“Sister,” Kunal said, “this is a great honor.  I go to follow in father’s footsteps – to find glory for our people.”

“You go to leave us alone,” Sesha cried.  She spun toward him, staring at her brother through tears.  The dark lines beneath her eyes had faded and run down her cheeks, and her mocha-colored skin was flushed.  She rose before her family realized and sped out of the room past her brother.

“What could be expected of me?” Kunal asked, sinking into a seat on the opposite side of the table from his mother.  “I am to tell the prince I decline?”

“Nonsense,” Garati said, waving her hand to dispel that notion.  “But your sister is right, you know.  Once you are gone, we two will have to fend for ourselves.  This house is too big for two women – too expensive.  Your father’s cousins will likely purchase it from us, and we’ll have to work their fields.”

“I won’t let that happen, Muhma.  I’ll send back whatever I can.”

“And your sister,” Garati went on.  “She is already an outcast.  With you gone, she will wither away in the shadows.”

“Sesha is growing up to be a beautiful woman,” Kunal contended.  “Why should she hide?”

The matriarch cast a sidelong glance toward her son.  “You know there is more to that girl than just a pretty face.  When the other children her age look into her eyes, they see the darkness there.”

“They’d be wise to steer clear of her then.”  Kunal stood again, placing his knuckles against the table.  “If Sesha doesn’t put them in their place, I’ll hear of it and return to exact my revenge.”

A sigh shook Garati’s weary frame.  “There’s no need for empty boasts, my son.  You and I both know none of the chosen have ever returned.”

Kunal circled the table and grasped his mother’s hand.  “I will, Muhma,” he said, lowering to his knees.  “I will do all in my power to make sure you are taken care of.  Sesha, too.”

Garati gave a gentle tug, pulling away from her son.  With her hand liberated, she tapped several times on his forearm.  “Better prepare yourself.  Wouldn’t want to show up to the prince in rags and smelling of sheep dung.  Go clean yourself in the river.”  She rose from her seat, tousling the boy’s hair as she followed in Sesha’s footsteps.

He could watch his mother depart for but a moment.  Kunal bowed his head.

 

 

 

 

Part One.

Remembered in Gold – Part One

Hi everybody!

Today, we have a special treat for you.  This is the beginning of a new story, which is going to take us away from The Fall for a little bit.  This tale is a lot more personal, without any groundbreaking revelations or world-troubling conflicts.

No, this one follows a man from the pseudo-Indian city of Lakmari, a beautiful place where everyone is happy and healthy.  But surely no place like that could be without its secrets.  Read on to see what a new hero experiences in his time among the people.

Remembered in Gold
Part One

 

The commotion outside woke him well before he heard the distant silver bell.  Kunal rose to see his house had emptied, his mother and sister having already vacated their home.

The Gathering had come once more to the city of Lakmari.

Kunal rolled from his bed and scooped the discarded vest from the floor.  As he moved toward the exit, he brought it overhead and pressed his body through it, bumping into the doorway as he went.

He skittered down the steps, stumbling several times but managing to stay upright as he dismissed his waning stupor.  He only hesitated for a moment at the exit of his home.  There, a mirror revealed his disheveled appearance.  He licked his fingers and set to work on his dark, tousled hair.  He shrugged, finding himself acceptable.

When he opened the door, the commotion was already overwhelming.

“Did I already miss the selection?” he whispered.

The streets ran rampant with the fervor of those rushing toward the palace.  Lakmari was not known for being one of the biggest cities in Lustra, but when that silver bell rung, everyone paid heed.  Kunal turned to the north, looking at the distant, ornate instrument situated above the palace gates.

Even from his home, the young man could see the crowd converging on the white marble steps.  He brought his hand up to his dark eyebrows to stave off the morning sun.  While scanning his fair city, he was nearly slammed back into his home by an eager man’s broad shoulder.

“Hey!” he cried.

“Get to it, boy,” the man offered, spinning about briefly.  “Before long, you’ll be better off watching the ceremony from the roof of your house.”

As he ran off, Kunal was left to contemplate those words.  His brow furled as he watched the crowd filter through the streets.  They bounced against each other, led like sheep by a royal shepherd.  The man who had bumped into him was right.  Against that tide, he would never have a satisfactory vantage.

No, what he needed was a pair of wings.

While the people of Lakmari bleated and made their way toward the palace, Kunal slipped around to the side of his house.  That far north, each home sat tightly packed together.  The young man could nearly extend both arms out wide and have a hand on each abode.  But he was not content to merely touch the stone walls.

Without hesitation, he sprung against the side of his house and bounced off it.  He shifted in the air and mimicked the action on his neighbor’s home, rising with each hop.  Before long, he hoisted himself to his wooden roof.

Kunal took a moment to steady his arms and legs.  Though he had drawn no closer to the palace, the grand silver bell seemed somehow bigger.  He could almost read the etchings on its side.  As he scrutinized the oversized instrument, it rang out again, tilting forward toward the people that neared it.

The young man rose to his feet.  It would not be long before the Gathering proceeded and the prince of Lakmari took to the stage to announce the selection.  Clapping his hands together, he rid himself of the dirt on his palms.

He burst forward, quickly reaching a full sprint atop the slight slant of the roof.  Before long, he reached the edge, though he did not begin to waver in his pace.  He leapt out, pulling his legs in close as he crossed the gap between that house and the next.  While the people below pressed against each other in a futile attempt to reach the palace, Kunal raced across rooftops, far outpacing them.  Swinging around chimneys, leaping over laundry lines, and balancing across slanted eaves, Kunal moved in haste.  Before long, he arrived at the last house before the pale gardens.

A sea of white marble stretched out before him, paths swirling this way and that toward the palace exterior.  Between the paths, vibrant wildflowers grew among a verdant expanse.  Leafy trees grew about here and there, offering some shade among the paths.  No one dared traipse upon the flowers, though.

Kunal landed upon bent knee on the marble rail below and hopped down to the path.  Briefly, he was among the crowd, sifting through them as they carried him like a tide toward their destination.  Fighting against that momentum, he clambered to the rail on the opposite side.  He could hear their concerned prattles.

“Not my fault none of you lot thought of this,” he mumbled.

The citizens of Lakmari were so densely packed that many were forced to a halt, standing on their toes to peer past the crowd.  The pale gardens opened up between two of the main paths, where a statue of their king, Drupad, stood embodied in marble upon a tall pedestal.  Lowering his head, Kunal raced across the railing.

That uncommon action drew murmurs from the crowd as he passed, but the bell rang again, drowning out their confused whispers.  The grand doors were opening.  The ceremony was beginning.

Far ahead, where the marble paths converged, the citizens crowded together like too many reeds in a bundle.  They began to rise from the throng, lifting themselves to the railing.  Kunal was too late to reach that northernmost area of the pale gardens.

The young man dipped his head and charged forth upon the railing, leaping out over the forbidden wildflowers.  Reaching up, he clung to one of the branches of the garden’s sturdy trees.  Kunal’s fingers worked into the grooves of the bark, but he did not allow himself time to consider the sensation.  Kicking forward, he flung himself over the flowers, landing upon the grass beyond.

As the adrenaline left his body at a gradual pace, a bright smile crept to his lips, framed neatly by his caramel-colored skin.  He strode forward at his leisure, the statue of Drupad in his sights.  A chorus of brass played in the distance upon the wall that housed the silver bell.  That music hastened Kunal’s step once more.

He reached the statue a moment later, clambering upon it.  The pedestal stood a mite higher than he expected, eliciting a small grunt from the extra exertion.  The trumpets and kombus ceased their song just as the young man rose to his feet, holding Drupad’s burly biceps for balance.

A great cheer rose up, followed by a wave of applause.  Ahead, the anticipated guest arrived upon the pavilion.  A quartet of young maidens, their faces veiled in silk, preceded him.  Those young, beautiful women seemed to float upon the marble pavilion, casting out handfuls of bright pink petals.  Even from afar, that floral aroma was intoxicating.

Kunal focused on the closest girl, narrowing his eyes to cross the distance.  She wore a jeweled headdress, a crystalline facet hanging just between her eyebrows.  Her dark brown irises only appeared more enticing surrounded by the dark lines of black highlights.  A single blink later, he was sure she had caught his stare.

Averting his eyes, Kunal instead looked upon the statue.  Drupad’s effigy was imposing, yet from his proximity, the young man felt it had lost some of its splendor.  Standing upon the pedestal with the king, Kunal was only shorter by several inches.  A glimmer upon the statue caught his eye then, and he focused on a golden fleck on Drupad’s otherwise marble skin.  Raising his arm, he extended his finger toward that queer flaw.

“Kunal!”

He abruptly stopped and turned to the east, where he saw a cheerful face.  Dark skin and round cheeks accentuated his friend’s smile, which remained even as he hoisted his stout body over the railing.  He landed upon the wildflowers, his sandals crushing a trio of them with no hope of survival.

“Param,” Kunal scolded.

Oblivious to those warnings, his friend traipsed over the flowers until he reached the grassy clearing.  He ran as fast as his sandals would allow him, the footwear clapping loudly.

“You’ve got the best vantage in Lakmari,” Param insisted.  He reached the statue of Drupad and leaned against the pedestal.  “Perhaps the king will bestow luck upon you and your family.”

“Perhaps,” Kunal muttered.  He barely registered his friend’s words, for the celebrated guest, Prince Sazim, neared the altar.  Two of his most trusted advisors followed behind him but ceased their advance as he took his first step upon the dais.  A hush fell over the extensive audience, the sea of citizens looking upon their ruler for the latest great reveal.

Sazim’s complexion was much lighter than many of his subjects.  The sun seemed to catch upon his olive skin tone, leaving a luster upon him.  A wide smile raised his thin beard and mustache, and he nodded at the few folk he made direct eye contact with.  Finally, he raised his hand and took a deep breath.

“People of Lakmari,” he called out, his voice deceptively low and loud.  “The time has come for another choosing!”

Zeal spread through the vast crowd.  Cheers and applause could be heard from anywhere in the city.  It went on for some time, hands clapping together like the fluttering of a bee’s wings.  The prince beamed and shook his head as he considered that excited response.  Following a laugh that went unheard, he raised his hand to silence the crowd once more.

“It has been –” He stopped, waiting for the final rambunctious citizens to quiet.  “It has been two hundred and sixteen days since the last choosing – two hundred and sixteen days since Tarak Taran left our great city to set out and find his glory.”  He raised his hand again, ceasing any interruption before it could start.  “This tradition has been in place for thirteen years, ever since my father, the great King Drupad, ventured to the far corners of the globe.”

He gestured to his right, where the fair-skinned blonde advisor behind him stood.  “The priestess Cascadia has seen the signs in the flames.  It is time for another of us to be chosen, to make our way into the world.  We follow in my father’s footsteps, leaving the safety and beauty of our city behind.  Out there, among the wilderness and foreign soil, life is waiting for us.  We need only to reach out and grab it.

“As has become part of the tradition, the priestess will provide me with the sacred stone – the sign of who was already chosen that night in the flames…”

Prince Sazim had a flair for the dramatic and an overly colorful way to describe a simple process, Kunal realized.  As those words rolled on, the young man found himself drawn to the priestess.  Her foreign graces captivated him.  Golden hair fell upon porcelain skin, both shining in the sun’s light.  She glanced up at that distant statue, and their eyes met.  Kunal attempted to avert his gaze but found he could not.

“… and that is why it is my great honor and privilege to announce our newest champion and ambassador,” Prince Sazim said, turning the stone over in his hand.  “Kunal Johar!”

Cascadia turned her attention to Lakmari’s prince, and Kunal finally found the power to look away.  The crowd burst into applause, and he felt Param’s hand tap against his shin.  With a furled brow, he watched as the people he lived beside turned about, looking upon him with great respect.  His eyes widened as the prince’s spoken words hit the correct resonance, landing softly in his ears.

“As is custom,” Sazim went on, “you shall have the afternoon to spend with your friends and your family.  At sunset, you will report to the palace.  We will feast in your honor and prepare you for the road ahead.

“People of Lakmari, you have learned the great silver bell indicates the upcoming Gathering.  It also indicates the loss of a citizen from our great city.  While the chosen is honored by all of us, their absence stings to precious few.  All who would remember Kunal and gaze upon his effigy can see him whenever they choose in the palace grounds.

“That concludes the twenty-third Gathering,” Sazim spoke.  “While it ends for you and me, it is just beginning for Kunal Johar.  If you see him in our streets, wish him well.  Thank you.”  The prince bowed following his speech, inviting another round of applause.

Sazim’s two advisors turned inward as he pivoted on his heel.  While the prince began his return to the palace, the rest of Lakmari turned their attention toward the Gathering’s chosen.  Kunal watched as they set their gazes upon him, and he suddenly felt the weight of his mission.

He also felt a firm tug on his pant leg.  Looking down, he saw Param there with a wide smile upon his face.  “Better get out of here,” he said.  “Otherwise you’ll spend your last day here listening to jealous folk say how happy they are for you.”

With a nod, Kunal leapt down from the pedestal, his vision settling on the road to the south.