The River Runners
In Kalonia, to publically express affection for another person is punishable by death. This Act, one of a list of five Acts of Sovereignty enforced by the government, has decimated the population. Every resistance formed to overthrow the Council has failed. Except one.
The Triste Vermanah come in the night, setting fire to towns with no warning.
Daniela du Kraser loses her father during the first attack when she was six years old. Now seventeen, Daniela and her four siblings are excommunicated from the town their father founded.
The night before their forced departure, the alarms sound. The Triste Vermanah have come again. The whole town is ablaze, and after a single, split-second hesitation: Daniela wakes the captive of a tribe she had been taught were extinct.
They are ready to sell her to the highest bidder. Her siblings are nowhere to be found.
The River Runners follows Daniela as she attempts to be reunited with her family and learns the cost of freedom.First Five Pages:
My family tries to forget November 12th, but it stares us in the face every time we see the empty chair at the table. Every time the younger ones ask what he looked like, sounded like. If the corners of his eyes wrinkled when he laughed. When we laugh, he manifests in the silence that follows, and all our thoughts are the same: it is my fault he is dead.
On that crisp fall day, my twin brother Thomas and I played hide-and-seek in the forests behind our house. I stood behind a large maple tree as he covered his eyes, counting. My long
dark hair tangled in the bark. I strained to hear the soft echo of my brother’s voice
I closed my eyes and listened for the crunching of leaves.
“Got you Daniela!” Thomas yelled as he tapped my arm with his fingers, and I laughed
and chased him back into the center of the clearing.
“How did you catch me so quick?” I accused.
“’Cuz you’re a girl and you only hid behind a tree!”
“Where would you have gone, then?” I shouted.
“You find me next! I’m not telling!” he sneered.
I lunged at him and he ran from my outstretched fingers. We wove around the tree trunks,
laughing and screeching, “You can’t catch me!” “I already caught you!” “Can’t catch me again!”
Thomas stopped running. Panting, my cheeks rosy, I tapped his shoulder. “Caught you.”
Crunch! Crunch! Snap!
My smile faded at the sound of footsteps. Thomas looked to the forest and we reflexively
grabbed each other’s hands for protection. I looked up and finally noticed the dark sky scattered
with silver clouds and stars. We weren’t allowed to be out after dark. I looked over at Thomas
and we started to hurry home. We didn’t want get into more trouble.
A shadow came around the bend of the path to the left of the clearing. I wanted to run, but I wouldn’t run without Thomas. I looked over at him again, but he kept his eyes on the path. Still clutching his hand, I took a step backward, readying myself to flee, when I saw that the approaching figure was our father.
Even from this distance, I could tell he was angry. His lips were pursed; his thick furrowed brow looked like a hairy caterpillar above his tawny eyes. His stride sent the dry leaves dancing. He scared me; I’d never seen him look so mad before. We walked over to him with our fingers still intertwined, heads hanging low. Without a word, he pried our fingers apart and stepped between us. He crouched down to our level.
“I told you two to be back before sunset,” he said firmly.
“Sorry father,” we said in unison. His eyes flashed with a suppressed laugh, and my
nerves calmed a little. He always laughed when Thomas and I said things at the same time. He
shook his head and remembered he was supposed to be scolding.
“Don’t think you aren’t in serious trouble,” father added, “in fact, you two can take over stable duties for the rest of the week. I’m sure Kencet would love to show you how.”
We nodded, but I wrinkled my nose. Kencet liked being in the stables, it wasn’t a
punishment for him. Let him do it. I knew father would hear none of that, so when he grabbed
our hands and started walking back to the house, I didn’t complain.
The distant silhouette of our white house came into view.
The three of us froze, and with one hand I covered my left ear. The alarms were always
so loud; I always covered my ears until they were over. Father wouldn’t let go of my other hand,
so I leaned against the soft fabric of his trousers. The noise would stop once the Councilwoman’s
voice gave the usual announcement: “Fear no spirits. Your Council is safe. This has been a test
of the Kalonian Alarm System for your protection…”
I could feel my father waiting for the announcement too. The alarm sounded again. And
again. The Councilwoman never spoke.
It was very dark outside now.
“Garrett!” I heard my mother shriek in the distance.
As if pulled from a trance, father ran with our hands still encased in his. I could not keep up with his long strides, feeling constant pulls in my shoulder as my feet flew from under me, dirt and leaves tearing at my white stockings. Father lifted me onto his hip, and let Thomas run ahead.
When we reached the back of the house, our mother looked frantic, standing at the door to the back patio. We came inside and she locked the sliding door behind us as quickly as her pregnant body would allow. Thomas and I followed our father into the living room. I wrapped my hands around Thomas’ arm as we backed into the couch. The backs of my legs pressed against the edge. Father looked out the front glass window.
I heard a thundering on the staircase and looked over to see my eldest brother Kencet coming down, holding our one year old brother Jameson, trying to cover his tiny ears from the wailing alarms.
“It’s just a drill, they wouldn’t come here,” mother said, her voice shaking. She is frantic, wringing her hands, peering out the front window.
“It’s happening, Feliciah,” father replied, walking up to her and cupping his hands under her jaw.
“They wouldn’t come here, they wouldn’t –” she cried.
“It will all be alright,” father said, kissing away her falling tear. “Get the children into the cellar.”
I didn’t like the cellar and I didn’t want to go down there. I let go of Thomas’ arm and crept backwards into the dining room, hiding just around the corner. Thomas pushed on the tiny door beneath the staircase, exposing the wooden ladder going down. Kencet and Thomas guided mother to the doorway, and she wouldn’t let go of father’s hands until she got her footing on the top rung.
“It will all be alright,” father said. “Kencet, help Thomas next.”
In the moment that Kencet’s attention went to our father, I turned back at our empty
dining room and stared at the forest of wooden chair and table legs. For all the times the alarms
rang, no one ever said what to do if the threat was real.
I looked back and saw Kencet pass Jameson into Thomas’ waiting arms. Jameson was screaming now, his wails one notch off pitch with the repeating alarms. Kencet turned and put one foot onto the top rung. Father clapped a hand on his shoulder, their gazes locked on each other.
“The Triste Vermanah are in the city,” father said to him. “Protect your mother, protect your siblings. They will need you.”
“Come down to the cellar, father,” Kencet replied.
“Do as I say, protect your mother, your siblings –”
Screams came from outside, piercing through the walls of our house. Thundering hooves drew closer, swords clashed and it grew louder.
“Get down there, and be quiet!” father yelled, and he clicked the cellar door closed on Kencet’s protests.
I kept expecting to see a monster outside, the monsters that set off the alarms. It was too dark. I stepped back into the living room and father stepped in front of the bay window, his back to me. His silhouette didn’t block my view of approaching flames.