A mix of guilt and vengeance drives Taner to defy his creed and secretly train to fight the Shadowcloaks. He activates the artifact, hoping to find the thieves, but what he discovers is not a portal or a passage. The artifact mods things, changes them. Taner mods his weapon and an auto-aim scope appears out of thin air. The action alerts Mitra, an apprentice realmkeeper modeling herself as a demi-god.
Mitra’s Elite Guards give Taner a choice: imprisonment, or conscription and a chance to use his instinctive military skills with the Guard.
At Guard boot camp, Taner follows a raiding thief into the Shadowcloak dome, and discovers the realms are holographic biodomes, driven by Mitra’s exploitive codes. Mods are part of the fight to control reality.
If Taner doesn't stop Mitra’s manipulation, the Shadowcloaks and everyone he loves in Kavala will be destroyed.
MIST OF KAVALA is a 59,000 word YA science fantasy novel. Kavala’s world rules draw on Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing games, the mods that plague them, and the ancient military cult of Mithra.
Creation never, ever worked out as a keeper planned.
Location: KAVALA VALLEY
Location: KAVALA VALLEY
A boy’s realm-bending theories meant nothing without proof. So Taner gripped his net and scanned the winter clouds. Grey, not quite opaque, they made the valley seem as if it would drown in a skyful of skimmed milk. Yet the shadow of an owl drifted across the farmyard. Same time as it appeared the day before, and the day before that. As if REWARD was written all over it.
Taner’s mind thrummed. The proving would be so much sweeter than the payment.
He pretended to contemplate the woodpile. Calculating until the silhouette fluttered over his hand, turning toward the owl just as it swooped past. Its silver eyes seemed to pin Taner to the spot, and the net drooped in his fingers.
The owl circled once as if it was getting a better look. Then it sailed off and vanished above the tree line, into the mist that secured Kavala’s perimeter with an impenetrable shroud.
What business did any creature have there? Taner balled up the net and threw it at the ground. Even if he could track it, the suspicious owl wasn’t reason enough to risk getting stranded. If his theory about hidden realm gates was right, the owl might return. If not-
“You planning to daydream all morning?” Father called down from the ladder on the far side of the barn. “We need to finish these repairs before another storm blows through and takes the rest of the roof with it.”
Taner shook off the chill snaking its way up his spine and went back to stacking firewood. “I’ll be up to help in a minute.” He swiped a stray hair out of his eyes, cursed the dirt-stiffened shock because it wouldn’t stay in place, and reached for a piece of wood.
In one thrust, the log flew into place on top of the pile, smacking against the foundation wall with a thud. Then the whack of his father’s hammer echoed off the hillsides cradling the farm, in alternating rhythm.
Bang. Thud. Bang. Thud.
Each repeat jolted Taner out of his thoughts. He threw a couple logs at a time, hoping to finish the chore faster so he could escape to the forest by lunchtime. A difficult trail would take his mind off the puzzle of the owl and its mysterious shadow. And the lost reward.
He vowed to find some other anomaly. Mitra was not a perfect god.
The ground shook beneath Taner’s feet, and he fumbled the log he was about to toss. His skin crawled at the screech of something sharp dragging on metal.
“Watch out!” Father yelled.
Pebbles rained down from the top of the barn. Taner jumped back as a large rock crashed to the ground next to him. A hammer landed where he’d been standing only a moment earlier. Father’s hat floated down and settled on the wood pile.
“Father!” Taner ran around to the ladder, his heart beating double time. “Father, are you alright?”
“I will be, once I get this blasted roofing in place.” The bald crown of his father’s head glistened with sweat as he tried to regain his balance, one rough hand clinging to the corrugated metal. He shifted another rock to temporarily secure the loose panel. Then he sat back on a finished section and exhaled.
“S’ppose that was a blowout in the mine tunnels.” Father twisted a strand of his greying beard between his fingers.
“Maybe.” Seeing his father was safe, Taner took a deep breath and went to retrieve the hammer and the hat. He bent down to grab the tool and considered the town across the lake. The houses there were only a series of dark dots up the mountainside. Threads of chimney smoke leftover from last evening’s fires meant no one was awake yet. It would be a long time before anyone came to investigate the tremor, if anyone even felt it that far away.
“Should we go check on the miners?” Taner asked.
“My fifty-year-old knee is not interested in mining guild business,” Father said. “Getting up and down this ladder is enough of a pain. I’ll be drinking willow bark tea for a week if I try those trails too.”
Taner turned and climbed up a few rungs. “It would be safer if this sheet gets nailed down before I finish stacking the wood, don’t you think?” He passed the tool to his father. “In the meantime, I can run up and see if they need any help.”
Father harrumphed as he pulled the hat over his brow. “Miners don’t want a farm boy mucking up their business.”
“No one else is near enough to raise the alarm if something is wrong.” Taner bit the inside of his lip, hoping a look of concern would mask the curiosity driving him. “Besides, they won’t even know I was there. I promise.”
“You’ll go if I give you permission or not.” Father sighed, a hint of knowing mischief in his hazel eyes. He waved Taner down the ladder. “Hurry back. I don’t want to explain to your mother.”
Taner hopped down to the ground and broke into a run. He made for the mine trail at the top of the hill. Even if he couldn’t help, getting a good eyewitness story would make him feel a little less invisible to the people in town. He could be the center of attention for once, something more than a penniless bluebie.
He clutched the blue farmer’s amulet at his neck, wishing for a way to change what people thought.
As Taner got closer to the mine, a cloud of smoke carried the stench of mildew and burning wood downwind. A methodic swooshing sound came up around the trail bend. He peered through the branches of a scrubby bush to assess the situation.
The iron gates at the entrance were blown apart. Inside, a group of men in mismatched uniforms passed buckets of precious ore up a line. Their shadowy camouflage kept adjusting, chameleon-like, blending with the surroundings as they moved. The last two people emptied the mineral grit into sacks and loaded them onto a cart.
Every incredible description of them ran through Taner’s head. None compared to the real thing. He blinked and blinked again, committing details to memory, wanting camouflage like theirs.
He cast an eye across the area for any sign of the miners. Crates of supplies, smashed open and looted, littered the tunnel entrance. On the far side, a couple of Shadowcloaks stood guard over a pile of miners who were bound and gagged, but seemed otherwise unharmed - proof that Shadowcloaks preferred stealth and would only kill when provoked.
Two more thieves pushed a full cart out of the tunnels. It creaked and groaned as it rolled into an iridescent puddle. Another man held up some sort of device, a sleek flash of black between his thumb and forefinger. He tapped on the screen a few times, and then focused the device on the load. The cart seemed to hover for a second before it disappeared in a swirl of fog. The surface of the puddle flashed white.
Taner sucked in a breath. That was how the Shadowcloaks escaped Kavala’s boundaries. His thoughts went back to the owl, the way it disappeared into the mist. If it belonged to the Shadowcloaks, what other secrets did it know?
He crept in through the brush for a closer look, as close as he could manage without being seen. Then he shrank back.
A thief stood relieving himself under a tree not three paces away. As he did up his pants, one of the devices slid out of his pocket. He spun on his heel, knocking it back toward Taner’s hiding place, and walked back down into the mine. The mysterious object winked up through the dust.
Taner licked his lips, evaluating the risk. No one was even looking up the hill, and such a unique thing would give credibility to his story. Earn him that reward. If he snatched the device, Father wouldn’t have to fix the barn roof ever again. Besides, the thieves wouldn’t miss the small device, and Taner would be long gone if they did.
He eyed a stack of crates between him and the tree. He crouched down, pulling himself forward and sideways with his arms. Then he tucked his elbows in, rolled down the slight slope, and landed without a sound behind the screen. He snaked a cautious arm out.
“Drop it,” a Shadowcloak growled.
Taner’s fingers froze around the device as he exhaled frustration. Above him, metal pulleys of a crossbow gleamed in the early morning light.
“Yeah. Shadowcloaks get all the leet gear,” the thief said. A mask hung loose around his neck, but thick hair and a rough beard hid most of his features. His dark eyes were alert, small and closely set, like the attack dog at the silversmith’s shop. His quick glance rested on the blue amulet around Taner’s neck.
The monotonous, inescapable farm life it promised weighed on Taner’s chest. Unless-
“Take me with you.” The words rushed out as the brash possibility crackled through his veins like a forbidden elixir. A thief could go anywhere, live anywhere, be anyone.
“We don’t recruit unproven teenagers.” The thief raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “But practice enough stealth like that, and maybe when you’re old enough we’ll let you join.” He chortled like he knew it would never happen. “Even if you are a bluebie.”
“Fifteen is old enough.” Taner straightened up to his full height, gripping a board on the wooden crate that hadn’t hidden him as well as he’d planned. Splinters dug into his hand, but he didn’t wince. “I can run a trail faster than anyone in Kavala, and I spotted your scout owl.”
“You’re still not coming with us.” The Shadowcloak shook his head. “Put the artifact down. Now.” He targeted the loaded crossbow on Taner to reinforce the threat.
Taner’s mouth went dry.
“Oy!” someone shouted behind the thief. “Who’s watching them?”
The squirming pile of miners caught Taner’s attention. One of them had wriggled over to the alarm. He banged the bell twice with his bound hands before a crossbow’s bolt silenced him. Shouts came up the trail from the guild barracks. The thieves dropped the last of their haul, reaching for their weapons.
“Pull back!” a Shadowcloak shouted.
One at a time, the thieves disappeared into the puddle, taking Taner’s chance to change his fate with them.
The Shadowcloak in front of him tilted his head toward the commotion, but kept his eye on Taner.
“Hand it over, unless you want me to shoot you in the leg.” He shifted his aim upward. “Or would you prefer the shoulder?”
Taner stared down the bright steel tip of the bolt. Branches cracked in the bushes behind him, but he didn’t dare turn away from the Shadowcloak.
“No!” Father shouted. He slammed into Taner, pushing him behind a crate.
The thief jumped back. His bolt whizzed through the air, piercing Father’s chest with a sickening thwack. Blood bloomed angry, vibrant, crimson across the dingy cotton of his shirt.
“Father?” Taner let the device drop to the ground. In an instant, he was on his knees by his father’s side, pulling on the shaft of the bolt, blood slipping through his fingers.
A gurgle filled Father’s throat as he tried to speak. Convulsions racked his body. His eyes rolled back, and then he lost consciousness. He stopped breathing.
Taner let his hands fall limp in his lap, palms upturned.
“I’m sorry, Father! I’m sorry!” He choked down the bile churning in his stomach. “I’m sorry!” His eyes flooded with tears, and the world around him spun out of focus.
“Come on!” someone shouted, snapping Taner’s attention back to the bearded Shadowcloak. The thief was headed toward the puddle, device in hand.
Taner’s fingers found a crate. Long iron nails resisted, and then bent to his will, sharp allies at the end of the board he ripped free. The makeshift weapon became the most natural extension of his arm. Taner took a running leap and buried the nail deep into the Shadowcloak’s neck.
The man’s legs gave out under him. The device flew out of his grasp. Taner caught it in mid-air and pocketed it in one instinctive movement.
“He’s getting away!” one of the miners shouted, still bound up in a tangle of ropes. He pointed at the injured Shadowcloak.
The thief had pulled himself to the edge of the puddle, crossbow in hand. Taner caught hold of the strap. The weakened man just let go and slithered into the puddle. Ordinary water closed over him, then seeped away through the cracked ground, leaving Taner staring at an empty patch of dirt.
Another miner ran up the hill, arms waving. “Go fetch us some help, farm boy!”
“I’ll tend to my father first.” Taner swung the crossbow over his shoulder, turned on his heel and headed up the hill toward his father.
The hoot of a distant owl echoed off the walls of the mine behind him.
Taner gripped the device in his pocket, the best chance of finding the Shadowcloaks. His only hope for redemption lay on the other side of the mist.