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It's already Day #5 of The World Building Blogfest, hosted by Sharon Bayliss. Today we're asked to post a segment of our work that demonstrates our world building.
I haven't worked on this manuscript in a couple of years, so in selecting it I identified some flaws that need to be fixed. Nevertheless, I felt it would be good to get some feedback just for that purpose. I apologize for the length, but it's an important scene and I didn't want to cut it down too much. This is where Gretchen meets Quirin, making possible all else that follows. This is also the first introduction to the Kentari and what they can do.
[Note: the reference to a "flying contraption" in the text is Gretchen's hoverboard]
Gretchen reached the shore and was about to pull herself out of the water when someone called out, “Are you all right?”
She snapped her head upward to locate the source of the voice. Her relief was cut short when she saw who it was. A Kentari male. At a glance, he appeared to be about her age and wore black, loose-fitting black clothing. He stood directly above her at the top of the bank, his curious face hovering amongst the vegetation.
While Gretchen normally avoided conversing with the Kentari, she didn’t see that she had much choice. “I slipped. My ankle looks bad.”
There was a brief silence while the young man pondered the situation. It wasn’t long before he came to a decision. “I am going to come down,” he informed her.
Gretchen watched with rising apprehension as he grabbed hold of a tree branch and used it to swing over the side. He landed cat-like on the sand less than a meter away. Although she was uncertain, Gretchen couldn’t help feeling envious of the ease with which he did this. The Kentari were, in many respects, more agile than Terrans. Even though she had considerable agility due to her hoverboard training, she hadn’t started out with such natural grace. And her current predicament did nothing to attest to her hard-earned physical prowess.
Now that she was able to get a closer look at him, he looked familiar. She’d seen him in town several times, though she certainly couldn’t claim to know him. He was of the typical lanky Kentari build and stood at a height just shy of two meters. He also had the standard gray skin and white hair. What set this one apart from the rest of the Kentari she had seen were his eyes. They were a deep shade of purple, which was virtually unheard of. At least as far as she knew.
The unexpected visitor looked her over for a moment before speaking. His eyes were bright, intelligent. There was a clear sense of recognition in his gaze. “My name is Quirin. You are Gretchen Taylor.”
His certainty unnerved her. She doubted that he knew her name from the hoverboard circuit like others who recognized her. She didn’t think the Kentari exhibited any interest in Terran sporting events. “How do you know who I am?”
Quirin shrugged casually. “Your parents are well-known for their opinions, so naturally I know about you.”
This made perfect sense. This meant that he could probably guess how she felt about his people as well. All she could say was, “Oh.” There was something humbling about being completely helpless.
A slight smile showed his amusement. At the same time, he demonstrated no real interest in making her feel belittled. He approached her and said in a kindly tone, “Would you like me to help you out of the water?”
She hesitated. Something inside her cringed, and she guessed that it was a combination of upbringing and her typical desire to maintain independence. Still, who else was currently available to help her? If she turned down his offer, she could very well be spending the night there. “I suppose.”
He had no trouble coming to her aid. Slipping an arm around her shoulder and another beneath her legs, he hoisted her up as if she weighed nothing at all. He carried her onto the sand, propping her into a comfortable sitting position where the bank began its steep incline. “How do you feel?” he asked once she was settled.
Gretchen didn’t appear to hear his question. She still marveled at his strength. He certainly didn’t look that strong, but she couldn’t tell him any of this. Instead she said, “Thanks for your help. If you get me my things, I should be able to make it the rest of the way by myself.”
His gaze intensified as he scrutinized her. “Are you refusing my help?”
“I just don’t want you to feel obligated.”
“You are uncomfortable being alone with me.”
He was reading her like a book, and it made her uncomfortable. Yet she couldn’t deny that his perceptions were true. She’d recently been embarrassed by her mother and father, but her stomach tightened as she realized she wasn’t much better. “What did you expect?” Resignation sounded in her voice. Resistance would garner her nothing.
Quirin’s smile now looked reassuring. And in spite of her fears, she found herself relaxing a little. “Nothing different. Do you mind if I take a look at this?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know what good it’ll do. I know exactly what the problem is. I broke my ankle for the second time in a year. What can I say except that I’m the clumsiest person I know right now?”
“I should look anyway so we know what we have to deal with.” He knelt over her ankle and proceeded to examine it closely. Neither of them spoke as he did so. After a few moments, he gingerly placed a hand on her injury. His touch was light and added no additional pain, which she appreciated. Then closed his eyes, absolutely focused on something he could not see.
Gretchen, while genuinely perplexed by this behavior, asked no questions. She was too busy convincing herself that he wasn’t going to harm her. If he’d intended to hurt her, he probably would have done it already.
After a minute or so, he came back to himself. Removing his hand, he returned his attention to the bank and scrutinized it. It wasn’t long before he let out a deep sigh. A sigh of obvious disappointment.
Gretchen’s stomach sank with this reaction. “What’s wrong?”
Quirin shook his head. “I can lift you, but there is no way I can carry you all the way up. Not safely, anyway. I would need you to be able to climb at least some, but your ankle is broken just as you said. Not that I doubted you.” Then he gestured up to the area where her things waited. “And if you want to take your flying contraption out, I would advise against it. It would hardly be safe for you now.”
“So I’m stuck here?”
Another sigh. He appeared to be thinking hard about something worrisome. She could feel his tension. Finally, he spoke. “There is something I could do for you, but it would be necessary for you to keep it secret.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “Why? What are you planning to do to me?”
“I cannot tell you until you promise.” He paused momentarily, then continued, choosing each word with care. “I understand how you feel, and I know this must be difficult for you, but I need you to trust me on this. It is the only way.”
For a moment, Gretchen considered telling Quirin what he could do with his precious secrets, but she wisely held her tongue. What she despised above all else in that instant was the idea of being stranded. She reluctantly nodded in agreement, although it went against everything she’d been raised to believe in. “Okay. Do it. I’ll keep your secret.”
In spite of her assurances, Quirin still seemed tense. “Relax now. No matter what happens, please, do not panic.”
Those words alone made her feel like panicking, but she did her best to comply.
He took a deep breath and placed one hand on the broken ankle. His eyes closed. It seemed he concentrated all of his attention on whatever it was he planned to do. This unsettled Gretchen even more. She started to regret her decision, but she didn’t have time to do anything before the tingling began. It was deep. Very deep. Then she saw the light. A bright yellow light had issued from Quirin’s fingertips. It burrowed its way through her tissues until it reached the bone. It settled there, and when the light faded a moment later, it took the pain with it. The swelling immediately subsided, and within seconds it looked normal.
The shock of what happened, however, did not disappear so quickly. When Quirin opened his eyes, Gretchen was looking from her ankle to him and back again in open-mouthed awe. “How?” she managed to say shakily. “How did you do that?” She moved her ankle experimentally. No problems.
“All of my people can do that,” he replied quietly.
She let this information process for a brief moment. “Your people are so secretive. Is this what you’ve been hiding?”
He nodded. “It is an integral part of us. We can use this ability to do many things. People fear what they do not understand. They might be afraid we’ll hurt them.”
“So you tried keeping these . . .powers . . .a secret?”
Quirin shrugged. “We merely refuse to flaunt them in front of others. Privacy is important to us. There have always been Terrans who knew, but it was never public knowledge. Your government, as well as mine, worried about what might happen if it were. Over the years some information about our abilities leaked out, and fear bred vicious rumors. Not all Terran people believe these rumors, of course.”
“But enough to stir up trouble.” Against her will, Gretchen’s apprehension was being replaced by intrigue. “My parents have told me that your people have the ability to control people’s minds, and that’s why it’s so dangerous to get close to you. I never really believed it, though.”
“Yet you avoided us anyway.” Quirin paused as he scrutinized her further. “To be honest, there are well-trained individuals who can do what you describe, but such power is not given lightly.”
“Oh.” Why had he just admitted to that? His honesty captivated her.
“It was never our intent to deceive,” he continued. “I never wanted to deceive anyone. We simply wished to protect ourselves. From what others have told me, my people planned to gradually reveal our capabilities once we were confident we could use them without being harassed.”
“And it never got to that point?”
“Prejudice is like cancer,” Quirin told her, his purple eyes intense. “It infests and destroys. The rumors only made it more difficult, because people were forming opinions about us before they could see who we really are.”
Gretchen faltered. She saw both sides, and she teetered precariously in the middle. Before she could decide on a response, his attention again focused on the obstacle in front of them. “I’ll climb out first,” he told her. “That way I will able to help pull you up. You still appear to be shaken by the fall.”
“Okay.” The miraculous healing of her ankle had more to do with her shakiness than the fall, but she didn’t say so. Gretchen couldn’t take her eyes off Quirin as he scaled the slippery slope with ease. He moved with steady confidence, as if gravity were inconsequential. Her mind still hazy with confusion, she couldn’t deny the results. When she stood and took a few tentative steps, an astonishing truth presented itself. Quirin did what the surgeons couldn’t. She was finally free of the awkward gait she’d been forced to live with for the past several months.
When Quirin reached the top, he called down to her, “Take your time.”
And she did. The pain of the first trip down still fresh in her mind, she definitely wasn’t prepared to repeat the experience. With each step she made doubly sure that her foot found a steady resting place. She also chose the path that offered the most opportunities for handholds.
Once she made it most of the way up, Quirin leaned over the edge and offered her a hand. She took it without hesitation. Within moments she stood safely beside him. Gretchen looked him over. After everything he did, he didn’t appear to be suffering from any ill effects. “Thanks for helping me.”
He gave her a warm smile. “You are welcome.”
There was a brief silence before Gretchen spoke again. “I’d better get home. Don’t worry. I’ll keep my promise not to tell anyone. My parents would be furious if they knew about any of this.” She turned to leave but immediately halted. Looking back at him, she asked, “Quirin, are there any other races out there that can do what you do?” She knew that the Kentari had dealings with other species in the past, though Terrans had yet to make first contact with any of them.
Quirin nodded. “Many of them possess the capability, though not all utilize it. The Terran mind is also capable of such things.”
This came as a shock. “Really?”
“Yes. There have been a few high Terran officials who have undergone the training process. It was not publicized, of course.”
She pondered this for a moment. “Even I have the ability to do what you just did?”
He nodded. “All it requires is proper training and discipline. The brain is the most powerful tool that any of us will ever have. It is only a matter of training it, becoming familiar with it.” With that final comment, Quirin set off down the path.
Gretchen stood frozen in place, her mind utterly consumed by questions and new, strange possibilities. It wasn’t long before she followed suit and began her journey back into town. She expected to see Quirin ahead of her. There was so much more she wanted to ask. Unfortunately, there was no sign of him ahead of her. He’d vanished.