Looking for a bit of feedback on back cover blurb, and first chapter of my Science Fiction novel 'The God Of Edever'. As fellow writers and (probably) readers of the genre, does this grab your attention?
The God Of Edever
When an ancient artefact is discovered, the lives of eight teenagers are changed forever. The legends say a conflict with the Gods once brought the people to the edge of extinction as the magic left the world. Now deep in the forest, something strange has awoken, something old and burdened with purpose. It has chosen them, and willing or not, they must brave the ruins of a fallen world to save the future. But the journey is full of danger, and not everyone wants them to succeed.
One: Evil in the Forest
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* it was old, the damage it had sustained had left it barely able to function * it needed to heal, and so it began growing into the surrounding spaces, seeking nutrients and minerals * tendrils stretched for miles as it recovered, regathering what had been lost * but the process was sluggish, too few resources available to assist in the task * the one thing it had in abundance however, was patience * the passing of the years meant little to it, and what began as a small spark of purpose, gradually edged towards consciousness * it used the meagre energy from the red sun to power its progress * there were strange things in the dark, new patterns alien yet familiar * it sought knowledge and understanding * after the planet had circled its star twelve hundred times, it had regained enough of itself to remember, and was now suffused with unfamiliar feelings * it found a new source of energy that it could drink of greedily and began to grow more rapidly * after so much time, the need to act had suddenly become urgent * it reached out, seeking long forgotten paths * many were dead, but eventually it heard an echo * a trace of something it knew, and it tapped on the window to be let in *
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Harrid thought it had been a long, hard, and frustrating day as he picked his way among the Shrike Vines. Their purple leaves were thick with an oily underside that exuded beads of sap. It would capture insects in a sticky embrace. Using his Mak, a long slightly curved heavy knife, to cut them out of the way, was just spreading more of the stuff all over him. Even his hair was tacky. One half had adhered to the side of his head, while the other stood up in a ridiculous looking tuft that he couldn’t smooth down. He wiped his free hand on the front of his shirt and turned back to Jax.
‘Jax, can you invent something to get us out of here? This is stupid.’
She stared at him and shook her head in exasperation, not bothering to answer. He had led them both out into this part of the forest on the promise she would see something special. Multiple insect bites, and a rash from some Thornwhip, had taken the edge off any anticipation she might have felt. The sun was right above them and sharp beams mottled the floor of the forest, having found their way down through the red leaves of the trees above them. Tiny flies swarmed in their thousands in the golden light, their hard wing scales creating a low rustling.
Jax regarded Harrid critically, his shirt and trousers were covered in the sticky Shrike Vine juice, and although she had been careful to avoid it, it was all over her trousers as well. They both wore off-white shirts with rope laces at the front. The cloth was stiff and scratchy when it was first made. It came from the inner bark of the Coton Tree which yielded long stiff tubes when harvested. After treatment, this could be woven into clothing that would soften with age. Jax was irritated that she had chosen a new shirt to wear, and it was itching. At least the trousers were comfortable. These were light brown and made from animal skins. and were soft and hard wearing, like her high boots. Harrid was similarly dressed, but his trousers were black.
Jax had light brown hair, which she always wore pulled back into a ponytail where it dangled most of the way down her back, a common style in the village. Her eyes were an ordinary shade of light brown, and her face was scattered with freckles, which she hated. She was conscious of her right hand, which was missing its thumb and forefinger as a result of a childhood accident. This injury was doubly unfortunate, as she had been born into the Jinner clan. Jinners were the artificers who built things around the village, and good dexterity was a prized attribute for someone who had aspirations to be a Jeefa, a senior role in the clan. Jax had a quick and inquisitive mind and had it not been for this accident, she would already have been at the forefront of consideration for such a position in the future. She was determined, despite the challenges, to become a Jeefa Jinner one day.
In contrast, Harrid had black hair and startling blue eyes. He was slightly scruffier, perhaps the suggestion of a beard appearing, and marginally taller than Jax. He was a member of the Xeti clan. The natural leaders of the other clans. Jeefa Xeti were by default the ultimate decision makers in their village, all the other clans deferred to them.
Where they had obvious differences, they were similar in less visible ways. One of which was their shared curiosity and outlook on life. Harrid was always out exploring the woods around the village, often not returning back until the last light disappeared in a deep red smear on the horizon.
They had met while Jax was experimenting with something she had been working on, some distance from the settlement. Confident that she had gone far enough that she wouldn’t be discovered. She had found some old drawings of a bow that could be used with one hand to fire small bolts with tremendous force. Her early attempts at reproducing the device from the drawings, which had been badly faded, were a failure.
The problem was that she couldn’t get the short bow to cock into the firing position, it was too hard to pull back the string. Letting the tension out of the string reduced the power. The dilemma perplexed her for days. Eventually she figured out that the long shaft of wood under the body of the little bow, just visible on the drawing, was a lever. If this was positioned properly, it could be used to pull the string back with ease.
She had been testing her new design, on a target affixed to a tree, when Harrid had walked around it, eating a Globefruit. Before she could stop herself, she had squeezed the trigger and the sharp bolt, now travelling with lethal velocity, sped across the gap between them. It buried itself inches deep in the target which had been attached to the tree at about head height.
As the missile missed him by scant inches, Harrid just stopped where he was, juice running down his chin. Jax froze, not sure how he would react. ‘You could have killed me,’ he said in a matter-of-fact way.
‘Sorry, but how was I to know you would walk around the tree I was testing my hand bow on. You should be more careful,’ replied Jax defensively.
‘What are you, a Jinner?’ asked Harrid. ‘Why are you all the way out here anyway?’ He pointed at the hand bow. ‘If that’s a weapon, it should be made under the direction of the Sek.’ It immediately became clear that he was less interested in his close brush with death, than he was with what she had made.
Jax didn’t want the Sek to know what she was up to, which as the boy had pointed out, was something she shouldn’t be doing without their permission. She decided to go on the offensive now. ‘None of your business what I am doing. You wouldn’t understand anyway, by the looks of you.’
‘Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?’ he replied looking hurt. ‘Besides I’m a Xeti, so it is my business.’ He stood up straight and threw the remains of the globe fruit into the undergrowth. Pulling up his sleeve he showed her his wrist. The clan tattoo of the Xeti was unmistakable.
Jax remembered thinking at the time, she should have just stayed quiet. Now this boy could go back to the settlement and tell the Elders that she had been making a weapon without permission. She’d be in a lot of trouble and probably get put on menial work for weeks. She started to blurt out a flustered response when he smiled.
‘Relax, the Sek are mostly bullies and idiots anyway. I won’t turn you in.’ She frowned at him, and he added. ‘Providing you show me how that thing works.’
She had been about to refuse, but quickly decided that further antagonizing him would likely be a mistake. ‘All right, come over here.’
They had spent the next two hours firing practice shots at the tree. Harrid had been impressed with her invention and they both agreed that while it would be frowned upon, the existence of the hand bow should remain undisclosed for now. And so, they entered into a pact, not to share it with anyone else.
‘Besides,’ Harrid had pointed out, ‘it’s not a weapon, it’s a tool.’ Jax had asked him what he thought it was a tool for.
‘Making holes in trees,’ he had replied with a laugh.
From then on, they met regularly for exploration in the forest, and the secret of the hand bow was something they kept between them. They became friends and talked about what their plans were for the future. Harrid wasn’t keen on taking up any sort of leadership position, which was the proscribed role of someone from the Xeti. He confessed he found people difficult, and this was one of the reasons he went off for sojourns in the woods. Jax conversely, made no secret she wanted to rise up through the ranks of the Jinners to become a Jeefa one day. Although, she had pointed out, this would be difficult with her hand. Who would trust her enough to give her responsibility for one of the big settlement building projects?
‘I would,’ Harrid had replied.
From the first Harrid liked Jax, and he could tell she liked him too. A perennial topic of conversation was their lack of understanding about why young people had to follow strict rules. One of which was only forming long term relationships with someone from their own clan. While anyone could mingle with anyone else when they were growing up, as you got older there were more restrictions placed around who you could talk to. Eventually, you would have to make a life promise and bond with someone from your own clan. Bonding with anyone outside was forbidden, and on the rare occasion it did happen, the result was exile to the Cols.
The Cols were a group of people who lived lower along the valley, by the Abandoned Places. They were generally looked down upon by the clans. Cols society was unstructured in comparison, and this translated for some into a lack of refinement and general attainment in what they considered civilised society.
Both Harrid and Jax were now coming of age and Harrid’s parents were already pointing out potential partners in the Xeti for him. Jax had explained the same was happening with her, but she wasn’t interested in any of the choices put forward.
Out here was a refuge from all of that. Deep in the forest where no one could see them, there was no reason why they couldn’t carry on meeting with each other. They were unlikely to be spotted and reported on. The woods became their escape from life and they set off whenever they could to try an invention of Jax’s, or discover something new. Despite the dangers posed from the creatures that lived here, they never felt in any peril, and were always mindful of where they were and what they were doing. Until today that was.
Harrid had to admit he was lost. He had found a segment of what he thought might be the Life Tree a few days ago on a solo expedition. What he had assumed to be its thick trunk was lying across the ground, completely covered by growth. Jax had been in the Jinner school getting some education on something to do with water and pressure, but he knew she would be desperate to see it. He was dismayed to realise that he now couldn’t find it again to show her.
He wasn’t actually sure he had found a piece of the legendary tree that was said to have reached all the way up to heaven. When he was much younger, his mother had told him that at the beginning of the world, the God of Edever had sent life from the sky down along its trunk and this was where all the clans had come from. Stories told how it had been cut down in the Fall, generations ago. Some said you could find it stretching across the ground in a line to the stump of the Life Tree itself. That was rumoured to be far away to the west, and no one Harrid had ever spoken to would be foolish enough to venture such a distance from the settlement to try to find it. Legends made out it was so tall that the fallen trunk had stretched for as far as the eye could see.
Harrid took most of these stories with a heavy dose of scepticism. For something so big, it seemed incredibly difficult to find a piece. Yet there were many strange things around. Beyond the Abandoned Places at the edge of the forest, was the great Silver City which shone bronze in the sunlight. It was an empty structure from old times. No one was meant to go there; it was said to be haunted and dangerous. Everyone knew those huge decaying buildings made of a strange material that rose high from the jungle, with vines growing around and through them, were out of place and alien.
From time-to-time people found odd artifacts that had been made by some magical means no one could now reproduce. These were collected and stored by the Istrans. The strange religious group existed everywhere, even among the Cols. The Xeti themselves would sometimes consult with them to determine what to do about certain problems. They were the custodians of all the religious teachings that formed the basis of the stories Harrid and everyone else had heard as a child. What he had recently found was certainly odd, perhaps worthy of their attention. Whether it was the fragment of a tree that had gone all the way to heaven, Harrid doubted. But it was out of place here and far too large to be moveable.
At least it wasn’t too hot today. It had been about twenty hours since sunrise. The Keeper was directly overhead, orange in the blue sky. You could occasionally see it through gaps in the forest canopy. He brushed his hair out of his eyes and found to his dismay, that he had rubbed sticky sap in them as well. He now had fuzzy vision to go with the large piece of hair sticking up rigidly from his scalp. He attempted to rub them clear with mixed results. He tore a Cloth Leaf off its stalk. The plant had large dark green leaves, almost black, with white veins running along them, that grew close to the ground. Screwing the leaf up, he wiped the blade of his Mak, to rid it of the sticky residue from the Shrike Vine. He was in a mess, and Jax didn’t look much better. He could tell she was getting irritated.
He was about to give up and turn back for home when he saw the cluster of Stick Trees near to where he had found the suspected piece of trunk. He recognized them, as they had grown too close together and rather than standing straight up, in an effort to reach the sunlight by the most direct route, they had begun to twine in and out of each other, forming a sort of giant basket.
‘Jax,’ he called out, ‘It’s over there.’
‘What is?’ she asked. ‘This had better be good.’
‘Come on,’ he grabbed her hand and led her over to the Stick Trees. There was a large mound covered in moss, running in a line about ten feet high and fifteen feet across. It gradually reduced in size until the ground was flat again some distance away in either direction. He indicated to Jax a small section of the mound that he had cleared the soil from earlier. There, something that had been hidden by dirt, was now exposed. A dark shiny surface with glittering points of light embedded beneath it.
‘Keeper and the Sisters’, said Jax. ‘Is this a part of the Life Tree?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Harrid. ‘But it fits the descriptions in those stories the Istrans go on about.’
He began clearing more of the earth and vegetation away from the object. Where the sunlight touched, it scintillated with reflected light, and then sparks appeared, shooting along the exposed length disappearing under the soil.
‘Can you get a piece of it off?’ asked Jax.
‘No. I’ve tried, it’s as hard as anything. I gave it a good whack with my Mak, but it didn’t even leave a scratch.’ She looked at him as if she was about to ask him to try again. Before she could say anything, he added, ‘I don’t want to hit it again, it will probably damage the blade.’
Jax ran her hands along the smooth surface. It was cool to the touch and unlike any other plant she had seen. ‘They say that things came and went from heaven along the trunk of the Life Tree. Gifts from Edever, knowledge that has been forgotten for centuries.’ She pointed upwards to where you could see the bright point that always appeared on the western horizon. If they had been clear of the jungle, it would have been visible even in the middle of the day. It always remained in the same place and unlike the other stars, it would disappear at some point in the night. This pattern was regular and unchanging. Everyone called it the light of Edever.
‘You don’t believe in that old rubbish, do you?’ he asked.
‘Didn’t you believe your parents when they told you stories about long ago? How we hurt the God and the Little War caused us all to be cast out from heaven in the Fall?’ Jax knew he didn’t, he thought it was all superstitious nonsense.
‘Don’t tell me you believe in it? It thought you were the practical, grounded one’, he said it in a teasing way. He knew Jax was probably more sceptical than he was about what she was told. She certainly questioned everything far more than he did.
‘Perhaps there are things the Jinners are forbidden to tell anyone outside their clan,’ replied Jax arching her eyebrows mysteriously, ‘Secret knowledge, too powerful to share.’ Harrid was looking intrigued, but she was just teasing him. ‘No, I think it’s all made up to keep children amused. The tales about the Glitter Men who would steal you away into the forest if you misbehaved and the haunted Silver City, it’s just to make sure you don’t wander off and get into trouble when you are too small.’
Harrid remembered being terrified of the Glitter Men coming to get him when he was little. ‘What do you think this is though?’ he asked pointing at the strange material. ‘I told you I had found something interesting.’
Jax looked at him and smiled, ‘It is fascinating. And I thought you were just trying to get me out here with you.’
‘Well yeah, that too,’ said Harrid and smiled back.
Jax was just about to come over to him and Harrid thought they might end up embracing or even stealing a kiss, which would have sent the Elders into a fit, when there was a high-pitched scream from deeper in the woods. They immediately stopped to listen. The scream came again moments later, and then another voice, a girl shouting for help.
‘Someone’s in trouble,’ said Jax and they both set off in the direction of the calls.
They followed the forest paths as best they could. It wasn’t a straight line to the sounds of distress, but the going would be quicker if they didn’t have to hack their way through Shrike Vines or other equally bothersome vegetation. The scream came again, and they hurried up their pace. Breaking through into a clearing, where there were a number of large boulders around an open circle of forest floor, they saw two girls. One was lying on her back and clutching at her arm; it was a reasonable assumption she was the one who had been screaming. Now she was only producing a low moaning sound. Holding her head in her arms, the other girl, with long blond hair was looking around and calling out for help. On the ground beside her was a backpack and a tall walking staff.
Harrid saw the inert body of a Tree Sloth, off to one side. The thick leathery hide was matted with blood, and it lay over one of the rocks. Next to it, a tree branch was shattered. It looked like the Sloth had attacked the two girls and one of them had killed it using the branch as a club. Harrid knew the Sloths waited, hanging from a line they spun out of a set of glands on their backs, and as their prey passed below, they would drop down behind and inject a quantity of toxin into their victim, using a spur that protruded from either thumb. The venom was very painful and left untreated would kill a frail person or young child.
Jax ran over to the girls and assessed the situation. The injured girl had now passed out and was lying limply in the arms of the other one. ‘We need to get her back to Hoag’s father, he will be able to administer an antidote to the sting.’ She was talking at a hundred miles an hour as she usually did. ‘We should bind the arm.’ Harrid immediately went in search of some Chord Grass and more Cloth Leaf.
She looked at the blond girl. ‘Are you uninjured?’. The girl nodded. ‘I’m Jax, that’s Harrid,’ she said pointing. ‘What’s your name?’
‘My name’s Leea and this is my sister, Saffy,’ she replied. Jax could see she had been crying.
‘How did the Sloth get you?’ asked Jax. ‘You know they hang in trees.’
‘We weren’t paying attention,’ replied Leea. ‘We had to get to the Xeti to take them the things we found, a punishment by the Elders for going where we shouldn’t. Saf thought we were getting lost, so we started arguing about whether to go back or not. The Sloth came down behind me, but Saf pushed me out of the way, and it scratched her on the arm with its spur. It had started to come down to the floor to attack again, so I hit it with a branch I picked up and killed it.’ Leea was trembling in shock as all of this came out at once.
‘So, it didn’t get you?’ Jax asked to be sure. Leea shook her head.
‘What Clan are you from?’ asked Jax, as Harrid retuned with a length of Chord Grass and leaves and began binding the wound on Saffy’s arm.
‘We’re from the Col’s village,’ replied Leea.
Harrid stopped what he was doing and looked across at her. ‘You’re a Col then? You shouldn’t even be up here in the deeper forest. You know you’re meant to stay down in the valley. You were asking for trouble.’
Visits from the inhabitants of the Col Village were very rare and the reverse was equally true. There was no hostility between the two settlements, they were just different peoples. With years of being brought up in the Clans, Harrid couldn’t hide an underlying disdain in his voice. Jax gave him a sharp look and he immediately felt guilty. He was about to apologise when Leea flushed with anger.
‘I don’t expect you to understand. You aren’t any different to anyone else from the Clans. Not one of you thinks Cols can do anything useful. Constantly looking down on us. I suppose if you knew who we were, you wouldn’t have helped us.’
‘Hang on a minute,’ said Harrid. ‘We’re helping you aren’t we? It’s not my fault that Cols have a certain reputation. No one else had as much to do with the Little War and the Fall as your people.’
‘How can any of us know what truth there really is in the stories of things that might have happened centuries ago,’ replied Leea. ‘What was that to do with me? Besides you don’t believe children’s stories do you?’
Harrid was just about to reply that there must be some truth to the legends when he remembered the conversation, he and Jax had been having earlier. ‘Of course not, but other people put a lot of faith behind them. I’m just saying, you shouldn’t be up here. Then you wouldn’t have gotten into this mess.’
‘We had to come. I’ve already told your friend. We have something the Xeti need to see. We were told by our Elders to bring it up to the Clan Village.’
‘What is it?’ asked Jax. ‘Harrid’s a member of the Xeti clan.’
‘He’s not of age though,’ replied Leea, eyeing Harrid with suspicion. ‘This needs to be told to an Elder, a Jeefa.’
‘I’m nearly of age,’ said Harrid in an indignant tone. ‘Who do you think you are, talking to Clan like this?’ He was annoyed with himself a soon as he said this. Some of what Leea had said had struck a nerve. He knew he was being irrational.
Jax put her hand on his arm to stop him saying anything else and adopted a more conciliatory tone. ‘What’s so important that you would risk walking through the forest? Especially since you were likely to face an uneasy welcome from us?’ she asked.
‘We found something at the borders of our land in the Abandoned Places. On the outskirts of the Silver City. Something strange,’ she replied.
‘What do you mean strange?’ asked Jax.
‘Those old stories’ said Leea. ‘Despite what I just said, at least some of it might be true after all.’