Where There’s Smoke… (Prologue)

I like prologues. I’m not afraid to say it.

My current work in progress almost got by without a prologue, and then this week it hit me that it could benefit from one. Since it’s deeply from my main character’s point of view, it’s proving difficult to figure out how to tell the story of what the antagonist is doing in the background. I’m hoping to break the ice of that with a prologue.

I’ve been struggling to write this week. So I want to apologize, as I don’t feel this is as polished as I’d like it to be.

Let me know what you think. Would this interest you enough to keep reading the book?

Where There’s Smoke…

Solaes danced in a hypnotic display of skin barely hidden by shimmering orange sheer and complemented by tendrils of flame. Tongues of red and orange fanned before her fingers and reflected in the unblinking eyes of her audience. They rained coins of gold and silver before her, and Solaes traced snaking trails through them with her bare feet.

The music alternated between slow and fast and her body knew every beat–her feet, her hands, her torso, keeping in time. Teasing and snapping, dancing and flipping, sinuous movements merged limbs and fire until they were one. A tap of her foot sent a column of fire spinning into the dark sky. A sweep of her arm twirled a dancing fan that lit her face and her dark eyes.

She watched the flames as intently as those who paid to see her. Faces faded into the darkness beyond until only Solaes and her dancing fire existed.

Slowing again, the music cued her to conjure a new fire. She built it before her until she all but disappeared behind a wall of orange that twisted and swayed to the beat. It took shape until a dragon of fire danced with her. Tempo building, Solaes and the fire dragon followed until its wings snapped open and a roar of flame jetted from its mouth.

The dragon disappeared and Solaes stood there alone, arms raised, skin glistening, chest heaving, in the shadow and afterglow.

Applause exploded and a smile lifted Solaes’s lips.

Then the jeering began.

“Blasphemer!” a disembodied voice called. The voices were always stronger when they hid in the dark crowd. “You dare flaunt Bael’s dark image? His vengeance burns hotter than your evil magic.”

“Come forward and face me, critic,” Solaes replied.

As she expected, the man attached to the voice disappeared. Only her true fans remained, but they had grown quiet.

“Thank you for coming, folks. Tomorrow night I’ll be at the closing of the summer festival. I hope to see you there.”

As they dispersed, Kargen, the innkeeper, approached her. “Let me walk you home. It’s late.”

Solaes gave him a humoring smile. “I’m fine. Go home to your wife and children.”

“Maisy’d put me out if she knew I’d let you walk alone.”

“She worries too much.”

“You worry too little.”

Solaes met Kargen’s unrelenting gaze. “Alright.”

She started walking and Kargen took a few long strides to catch up. He didn’t speak but his presence comforted her more than she let on. Her fans were loyal but her critics were becoming more vocal.

The farther they got from the inn, the darker it got. It was high summer and the sun retreated late, but it was nearing midnight, the darkest time and the best time for her show. The day’s weather had been scorching and the humidity still hung in the air, but Solaes shivered at the warm breeze that brushed her sweaty skin and raised the hairs there.

The cobble streets were quiet and empty, only the buzz of cicadas and the flicker of glow bugs keeping them company.

Several uneventful blocks later, they reached the building were Solaes rented a room above a bookstore. She placed a hand on the railing that would lead her up and turned back to Kargen. “See? Nothing to worry about.”

Kargen grunted. “I’ll wait until you’re inside.”

“I do appreciate the gesture–” A sound cut her off and they both looked into the dark alleyway between her building and the next.

Kargen held up a finger and took a cautious step toward the sound’s direction.

“It’s probably a stray,” Solaes said, but she realized she was whispering. A warm prickle traveled up her neck and scalp and she crossed her arms tightly over her chest.

Kargen was already half-hidden in darkness, sweeping his gaze back and forth. As Solaes watched, a thump caused him to shudder and buckle. A gasp caught in her throat. Four men detached from the shadows, more dragging Kargen’s limp form out of sight. They wore dark clothes and carried metal-shod staves.

Solaes licked dry lips and summoned a small flicker of fire to her palm. The four hesitated. The woman smiled with a confidence she didn’t feel, but she refused to let them know that.

“I suggest you run along before I make you all very crispy.”

Sneering faces looked back at her, catching the small orange light weirdly.

A hand grabbed her arm and Solaes jumped in fright. She yanked back but it tightened until she cried out in pain. She tried to twist and aim fire at her attacker but he stayed behind her. Solaes grit her teeth and conjured it all around her, flaring up from the street in a column but not scorching her.

The unseen attacker shouted and stumbled away, freeing her arm. She raised it with a flick of fingers and a spray of flame.

Her remaining attackers scattered.

Solaes gripped her chest as it tightened and burned. Her show had tired her out. Using fire this way exhausted her. Using so much at once hurt.

They seemed to realize this and were already surrounding her as she tried to recover and summon more fire. Her next spray was a weak flicker of sparks. Several hands grabbed at her. Solaes tried to struggle but her arms were like lead and her chest ached. She fought to draw breath but it merely fanned the flames in her breast.

One of the faces came close to hers. “We don’t appreciate your kind here.”

“My kind?” Solaes asked, her voice a hoarse croak.

“You bring your magic and destroy our kingdom.”

“You’re mad.” She couldn’t get more words past the razor blades in her throat.

A grin that seemed to justify her accusation was his only reply. The hands tightened on her arms as the first of many blows from the man’s metal-shod staff bruised her flesh.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

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