I have one plot line with a separate character point of view to layer in, another new chapter to write and then I'll be done. After that I'll have to read it through to make sure it all fits together the way I've done it, and edit that. It's getting closer to being finished - always an exciting time.
I thought you'd enjoy another short excerpt from it. This one didn't need much editing to make it fit. It's from another character's point of view from last time, but gives a nice view of the countryside.
The breath huffed out of Rim’s lungs as he stood on the rise and surveyed the city below them. They’d made it. After being on the surface a long, hellish ten days they were finally at Channing. They were lucky to get there alive. His men gathered around him like early morning campfire smoke.
Except they stank more. Every one of them had worn the same clothes for two weeks without break. Every shirt was stretched and torn and stained with the dust and detritus of harsh surface living. Boots were scuffed and chins ragged with unshaven growth. Rim grinned. He knew he smelled and looked as bad, minus the beard he never grew.
No one would assume he was the leader of the Analee Valley and the Protector of the Fifth Line. The Imperials would be more likely to think he was an Exile breaking into the city, but they’d made it.
Together they looked down on the field below them. Spaced a man’s height apart, silver-domed grates sparkled like scattered diamonds in the verdant grass as the early morning sunlight peeped over the hills in the east. Thin streams of steam wafted through the raised grates covering each vent and hung in the still air, the only outward sign a huge city was below ground. Most of the openings were for ventilation but every fifteenth one opened to one of the many corridors running through the underground city.
They needed to find one closest to the centre of the city, where the royal apartments were. He sobered. The danger wasn’t past yet. It was impossible to drop into the heavily-patrolled upper-echelons of Channing without triggering alarms but there was no time to follow protocol. He needed to see the King and couldn’t wait for court appearances to be scheduled.
Zar-be-willing they’d get the help they needed, and then they’d have to make the whole terrifying journey back again or lose everything.
“The sun is rising, Rim. We need to get to shelter.” Spook said beside him.
Sunrise. Just the thought had sweat dribbling down Rim’s back. He gazed at the grates that led to the city, attempting to count the grids. He glanced at the lightening sky, noting the position of the crescent moons before they sank beneath the horizon, one hanging below the other like a twisted comma. Time was running out. If they didn’t get help soon it would be too late.
An eerie screech split the chill air, echoing across the sparkling plain. The hair rose on the back of Rim’s neck as a rolling metallic clang travelled towards them, the rise and fall of the locking grates chased by fine ribbons of black that darkened the eastern sky. His heart pounded as, row by row, the grilles closed, cutting off the thin trail of steam, the clang echoing and blending with the cry of the Norrgel. In the eastern sky, more black threads lifted over the horizon. Hell, they were too late. The wings were upon them.
“Wings are up,” came the terrified whisper behind him. The sweat on Rim’s skin chilled and his breath caught in his throat as panic clawed his chest. They’d all grown up under the shadow of the wings, had seen what they could do but two weeks travelling in the open and the loss of three friends had brought new images to their nightmares.
They tumbled down the slope to the city. Rim ran west, searching for an access point. He slid to his knees next to a grille sitting higher than the others. It was an entrance, not a vent, and they didn’t have time to find another closer to the centre of the city.
“Here,” he called to his companions and scrambled for the catch at the edge of the grille. Other hands joined, dragging the heavy grate up from the hole.
“Down. Now.” Rim looked at the sky, darkening with the progress of the black threads flapping ever closer, even though he knew they were too far away for him to see them clearly. The clanging of the grids grew closer, echoing the thudding of his heart.
One after another his team dropped into the hole while Rim held the grille up. “Drop straight down. Watch your shoulders.” He kept an eye on the eastern sky, swallowing the bile that ebbed and flowed with each row of grates clanging closed, and watched the wings grow as they chased the ringing noise. As they moved closer, the wings became discernible as thin long-beaked birds. They were so close now he could see the threads hanging from the trailing edge of the wings and the tail. They swirled and fluttered with every rise and fall. Rim swallowed thickly, forcing his hands to remain steady as he held the grille open. His dreams still echoed with the screams of friends caught in those threads.
The last man dropped through and Rim swung his legs into the hole just as the grates in the next row locked closed. The grille lifted from prone to vertical and Rim shifted his grip from the edge to the centre, sliding fully into the hole and releasing his hold on it just as it slammed closed. The vents slid into place, sealing the underground city from the world above.
Air flapped the legs of his pants and whistled past his ears as he fell, his shoulders and elbows bumping against the smooth wall of the shaft, his hands flailing uselessly above his head. The floor hit him hard, buckling his knees, twisting his ankle and rolling him heavily onto his side. The breath rushed from him and his head thumped into the ground. He brought his arms in close, flexing his bruised fingers in an effort to gain control of his winded body.
“Come on, Rim. We need to move.” Rough hands hauled him to his feet. He stumbled a few steps then sucked in the pain from his ankle. It wasn’t bad. A few dozen steps and he wouldn’t feel it at all. He turned and loped south along the corridor.
“Spook, take point. Charl, tail end.” By the time he’d positioned himself midway with his men, everyone was in place.
The corridors in this section of the city were at right angles from all others and painted a dark charcoal. They were in the outer reaches. “Double guard,” he murmured, his quiet voice carrying in the silence of the deserted hall. If they were going to have trouble, it would be here where the misfits and unemployed lived. Three of his men moved silently, taking position to protect him from attack. Spook ranged further ahead but maintained visual contact.
The men moved in concert. Spook signaled ‘clear’, half the group moved forward while the rest covered against attack, then they moved under cover of the first group. It was a routine so well practiced none of them needed to think of it but Rim still mentally reviewed his men.
They traversed three corridors, seeing no one else, hearing nothing, then Spook stopped and signaled for silence. Everyone froze, Charl backwards as he watched for anyone from behind. Spook’s fingers stretched out behind his thigh, counting hostiles. Four. There was nowhere to retreat to; nowhere to hide their presence. They’d have to take them down and move on. Spook’s fingers counted down to contact. Three. Two. One.