Once upon a time, a little girl wrote a novel, and she thought it was brilliant. Said little girl sent many a query, and received many a pass in a self-addressed, stamped envelope. (So were the days, once upon a time.)
Today this little girl reads and sells terrific novels, and maybe just a little bit, in her spare time, tinkers with a new one of her own.
The heart of Emperor Lukas has rotten black, and he moves to finish the thousandth year of imperial ethnic cleansing—secretly seeking artificial means to extend the lifespan of royal blood, beginning with his own.
Desperate to forever secure this imperial dynasty, what remains is for him to destroy the impossibly-traced diaspora of the Vanished: gypsy believers in the legend of a living flame that creates life itself. Were its power salvageable, off-the-grid gypsies could rise to thwart his persecution and imperial destiny both. He will forfeit no end to find the last of them, including manipulating the galaxy’s rain to dehydrate them into extinction.
What Lukas does not expect is that the flame is working out an end of its own, and its chosen instruments lie in a past-less rain tracker from inside the imperial kingdom—of all places—and a gypsy girl raised by the flame itself.
Soon, all will discover that imperial pride bears no match to this flame, and unless the galaxy is returned to right order, skies will turn to fire, stars will fall like ashes, and all its people, royal blood or no, will drop like swamp flies.
RAINBORNE is a 140,000-word epic science fantasy, a deep thriller element integrated, Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky meets Treasure Planet for adults.
Before men forgot, they spoke of me in whispers.
Whispers, which bestowed power over the earth.
Bestowed glory, for they were to be like gods.
I hear different legends now.
Mothers to daughters, fathers to sons.
They are legends of men who bear within them a kind of dying living. Men who survive in body, eyes empty of softness and light and destiny, and pass living death from one generation to the next. Their hearts no longer live, and they would be corpses were it not for the unity of body that keeps integrated their organs, their mind and their will, their heart despite its death.
These hearts have ceased to live in the fire, and so it is
that—where otherwise the world inside of one truly alive brims with flames,
releases the sweet perfume of union with others, and bears an infinitely full
presence—the dead know none of it, walking the earth as shells dark with
The sniper comes to the academy with the sandstorms.
Raph watches from the observatory as she emerges over the gates, small and cautious, a pack over her shoulder, and leaps to the cobblestones in silk moccasins. Swirls of bronzed gold heave behind her, alive and roaring against imperial walls, a crystal sky their very distant backdrop. Sand wipes across her cheeks, and she tucks her face into the linen of her shoulder, seeking an angle at which she can breathe.
It is Lukas III who has called her.
He will soon send her with a rifle to strike against diasporas beyond these walls: bullets through brains and hearts and muscles, guaranteed expulsions of blood, bodies skinned in statements of royal hegemony.
Stories of the martyred ones leave sulfur along the lining of Raph’s stomach. He has never seen them, but the very promise of more stories of ravaged bodies turns him to his post. His palm tests his lamp for its heat as pieces crystallize in his mind: The grander ships, docked more often. A constant flow of military gear through hall arches with long, lean rifles. Shackled prisoners shuffled in behind guards, with skin shades new, some a darker, richer hazel, others so pale that Raph muses whether sunlight ever touches them.
He moves the flame housed in the lamp to the thread that runs through the wiring of the wall, lights it, and watches it shred eastward toward the imperial tower, gentle beneath the sandy onslaught that threatens to kill it.
Awake, this flame says.
For she has come.
In a shack built into a deserted island, the Vanished track oncoming rainstorms in the height of black nights. When rainfall moves closer to the island globe hanging in mid-sky, the commune of the Vanished emerges in forbidden quiet, in hidden solitude, to hold vases open to the gift of life that falls.
Their arms loop around ceramic and gold, vases etched and marked by use. When the Vanished feel the tears of rain over the vase rims, and know them to be full, they descend to store supplements in dark, musty cellars.
Quiet, and solitary.
Cool to the touch.
In cellars the vases stand, from which the Vanished draw when the rare drought slams its impact over territories lost to imperial maps. Nighttime militia never checks these posts, but were the commune to be found stealing rain, the emperor would drive his stake home until their heads fell.
In the autumn watch a year prior, rain did not come: a drought. Droughts can be expected, in the same way certain years pass without snowfall to enchant the inhabitants of islands lost to memory.
Now: the second season passes without rain, and the skies stand empty.
Nel of the Vanished bends her head before the thought. The commune has never risked dehydration, and certainly not extinction by dehydration. But vessels in the cellars have stood dry for weeks.
Just one vase, lined with gold centuries old, holds in a fresh collection left sunsets ago by nomadic fishermen in thanksgiving, ese molecules from the isa yet to split. Another six weeks shall pass before this split, and in that time, cups of it will evaporate, victim to time.
That will be too long.
Po needs isa to brew hleb, to enflame human hearts.
Go too long without it, and the hardening of the heart begins. Nighttime screams escape as lungs and brains of the Vanished suffocate without nourishment, the integrity of heart to mind to body shattered.
Gifts weaken, then cease.
Love, with its union, crumbles—the last of the heart before it dies entirely. Then, death lurks upon the members of the commune, final.
Nel’s heart clenches.
Behind her, the Vanished stand, all heads bowed.
A mourning before firm skies impregnated with silence.
Where the Vanished once kept to the promise of re-awakening, re-appearing, returning home, this same promise now feels empty and impossible.
Po steps before all of them.
“And so it is,” he says. “We shall move.”
Move into the open, and risk, thus, life.
Raph purses his lips as Andres slams down a card with a hand-sketched dagger, its length barely the size of the pointer finger, designed to rupture throats, and grins.
“Say it one more time,” Raph says. “You what?”
“Saw her, yesterday. We should fine her. Cobalt eyes, this one.”
The one about whom he is not permitted to speak.
Hairs on Raph’s neck stand on edge as memory flicks backward. He saw her also, sent he was to observe, but the rule Lukas always has is that only one observes whilst the others sleep. For many to catch her would be a risk to many a heart and mind; the men would seek after her in the mornings, and busy their gazes with her figure instead of their codes, the numbers with which they play, the dances which they prepare.
How Raph wishes to know more before the sniper leaves grounds: the chance for one question, or one story of past targets shot. The librarian this morning could not explain to Raph why Lukas insists on the return of skulls to hang in the throne room, and he wonders whether, in her arrival on imperial grounds, she brings with her any answers, any context, any stories from foreign lands that have gone untold in this one.
Perhaps she might even test a snipe.
It would be bloody worth it to find her.
From the west wall, with half an hour to spare before the next test, amid an attempt to salvage his honor, there is nothing he may do to realize his wish.
A naval cap hangs skewed over Andres’ head, an attempt to loosen the pieces of himself over which he has some control—in the hours free prior to the next training run, when it will be all perfect edges, ironed trousers, shoulders pitched back, fingers together. He reshuffles his cards, quick and sure, a toss of one set from his right to left.
“Play,” he says.
Raph shifts his own cards, and lays out two imperial crowns. He knows that Andres, with his memory, has counted every card played, and has bets in his mind on each one that remains in hand. The plays are running hard toward his loss. Again.
Andres moves his hand halfway to the table with a card before he pulls his arm back to reconsider.
Raph snaps. “Oh, come on! Bollocks!” He slams his fist, and the table reverberates fury. “What do you mean, you saw a sniper?”
“Came in as the sun was setting…”
Andres, Raph thinks, needs a good whipping. The first target the smirk on his face.
“And?” Say more.
“She had the rifle and scope with her, and was carrying one of those full-length packs on her back.”
“Think Master will say something?” Raph asks.
Concerned. Andres saw her too, when he was not supposed to.
Saw more than him, maybe, but he cannot ask for the details. He has already crossed over his boundaries.
If we ask?
“Course not.” Andres gives Raph a hard stare, then sighs. “Ye always expect him to put more effort into telling the truth than ye ought, you know. The man doesn’t have it in him.”
Not that Master Tomas lies. He speaks only when he must. Which is, Raph thinks, very much a kind of lying.
They all lie.
The Master of Trackers, who trains him, and Emperor Lukas VI, who sends him, alongside the imperials guardians and their tomes that acquire library dust on shelves in backroom corners.
They all lie, if lying includes rewriting history—or denying events that make history up. A standing by, as if it doesn’t matter that a story told without all the details means that those details won’t survive. Or cannot survive, when the emperor burns whole passages of poets in their first and sixth editions both, alongside carved statues with such perfect etches that curiosity arises in Raph about the makers of the tools even before the sculptors who carve.
The first trace of the limits to storytelling he discovered with a streak of bitterness with the story of his own origins. Their status: unknown. Just an indecipherable letter, damaged in a pool of spilled tea, left with his little body upon an imperial doorstep eighteen years ago. Some mothers abandon.
The second trace lies in the tomes themselves, when curiosity about his own person opens a curiosity with all persons. He picks them up, shifts them from one hand to the other, and traces his hands over parchment ridged, a habit never old—then runs his imagination through facts contained within until they dance as living stories in his mind, to take shape when he awakens from slumber and follow him until he lies down again. Sometimes they blur even with his dreams, and on the days after, his heart aches to break through the structure of the academy, to step past the books and empire and see the facts beyond. To watch facts be written, so that he can better grasp the art of history-making as he has had twelve years to grasp the art of tracking.
Years into reading as a novice imperial historian he realized he wanted an answer to the one unasked question: Why an imperial history at all?
He dared to pose the question, to speak it out loud in words sounded with desire. Mistress Coralie, at the library front desk, with a bent in her back grown by years behind it, neglected him with a firm purse of her lips.
Raph tried once, twice, thrice more, and left her to records. The question persists.
Something in him inquires.
The highest of his cards is a double-rifle, so he sets it, and takes the cards on the table into his hands. Thirteen more to discard now.
Andres lays down a sniper—oh, the games chance plays on card players—and shines his teeth at Raph with a tip of his head.
“I can’t do this anymore.” Raph sets his down, and punches in with a fisted hand, a dramatic flair. The phoenix on his neck, calligraphy of the thickest paint, gazes out from unformed eyes.
“Ye mean it?” Half-serious, as if Andres believes him.
The poor bastard would not survive the academy without cards. Only reason Raph plays him.
“Not at all.” Raph muffles words against the table before he raises his head and slips the scorecard between them. “One hundred games played—and I’ve lost eighty-three.”
And wins are the ones you let me.
He has learned that Andres is the most excellent of card players, without habit of losing, especially with a game of crowns and daggers. “So much hope for me, Andres. So much. I had best absolutely give it up now, entirely, before you butcher this reputation I ought maintain. First on track for corporal, you know.” He juts his chin.
Andres laughs, and sounds his maturity, a small hint of pride in games won. Raph rises up and fists Andres’ head into the crook of his elbow, his uncut blonde hair loosing from its catch, the other hand hard against the other’s chin. “You’re lucky to have such a memory for cards, you rat, because otherwise there’d be no chance.”
The shaking of laughter in Andres’ shoulders loosens Raph’s grip.
Before he knows it, Andres has wrapped one hand up behind his back, onto his shoulder, and dragged him to the floor.
But Raph’s weight is light, and it takes just one adjustment, with Andres above him, to push this weight into his arms and flip back to the place of judge.
His hand rests against Andres’ throat. Tighten a little more, and he could kill him.
Bells ring from the eastern wall, then: high noon.
They are late—these the lessons they learn, and practice.