Death on the Horizon (Chapter 1)

Death on the Horizon (Chapter 1)

A Chapter by Francesca

The air sparkled with the rush of commerce and tingled with anticipation.  Jewelry-sellers displayed showily in one smelly corner, pottery merchants swindled in another, and a man grinning with a gold tooth sold amulets that "Keep away the demons."
These were daily habits of a dusty market in the farthest reaches of Dhanet, Algeria, where not one bar of cell phone service nor one car remained, except for our used ninteen ninety-two Hyundai sitting in a back alley where we hoped no one would see it.
Dharla was busy with the map and the locals, and, just like a train, let out frustrated huffs of air every few minutes.  I expected smoke to billow out of her ears if no one came to rescue her in time.  
Normally I would help with the map, but the bright sun in Djanet, which was never once visible in Esperanfort, seemed to go the extra mile in making sure that it scorched every rat hole and shiny bald head, including mine, in the town.  The heat was so intense that I was getting dizzy and for one crazy second wished to be a woman so that I could wear the colorful, breezy dresses in fashion here.
Just then one of these women passed, wearing a sky blue dress decorated with flowers.  Her passing gave view to Dharla once again, who was bent over an empty table with both hands spread over the wrinkled map.
"Dharla..."
"No, I haven't figured it out yet, Raul, I'm sorry.  This map is over twenty years old, it's barely the same---"
"It wasn't that. I was going to ask if you wanted some water."  The lines deepening by the minute in her pale forehead made me worried that if Dharla became very stressed, the heat would affect her more than it did me.
I held out my thick hand, and at once, a steady and thin waterfall flowed perfectly from the tip of my pointer finger to her mouth.
"Thank you," she replied sincerely as she returned to the map.
I could not have asked for a more dedicated and efficient partner in my life, especially when we were involved in tasks as important as this one.
The National Security and Strengthening Organization of Esperanfort, NSSOE for short, assigned only its top two Acquisitioners, or Acquis for short, to the task of tracking down one of these local merchants.  The Acquis were Esperanfort's police and army.  The better skilled the Acquis, the more dangerous and important the mission was.  The missions could range from traffic control to stopping a natural disaster to apprehending a dangerous criminal wanted worldwide.
The merchant Dharla and I were looking for should be easy to find, as there were so few female workers in Djanet.  Unfortunately, however, neither I nor Dharla could speak Arabic or Berber.  We had repeated the girl's name more than a few times, but most people were either reluctant or too busy to give information.
While the name Afaf Fakhoury might barely be heard in a carrying whisper throughout this town, it had been heard nonstop at NSSOE for the past month.  About one month ago, our great leader Duvan II disappeared.  Six days later, his body was found laying in a stream, plastered with mud and pierced with sharp daggers.
Esperanfort was in shambles.  No one wanted to forget the man who had given our kingdom so much wealth and hope for the future.  Duvan II had been loved by all and barely had any enemies.  To this day, we had no clue as to who had committed the murder.
We needed a new king, however.  It was time to move on.  A short while after Duvan II's death, NSSOE found out that the only known and living close relative to the king was Herjuan Levanto, the husband of Duvan II's late sister Rose.
Mr. Levanto was found dead almost a week after his own disappearance.  At this point, we decided to stop announcing our new possible leaders' names to the public.
We were getting worried.  We had no idea who the next person in line was, whether there even was a next heir, who was killing the heirs, whether the murderer knew who the next heir was, and what we would do if there was not an heir.  We did not even know what the weather was going to be like tomorrow!
NSSOE and its Acquisitioners worked tirelessly in the days following Mr. Levanto's death, searching through records, family trees and interrogations of citizens, all to find the next leader of Esperanfort.  
Finally, by some miracle, an Acquisitioner questioning the servants of the palace where Duvan II resided told us a revolutionary piece of information.  One of the cooks informed the Acquis that Duvan II did have a son, but that he revealed none of the mysterious physical and mental powers similar to those shared by the people of Esperanfort.  This son was put into the human world to be better accepted, instead of staying in Esperanfort and always being a third-class citizen.  Duvan II had no more children after this, for whatever personal reason. 
Somehow, NSSOE managed to track down this son.  Turns out he was murdered too, but no worries, because his young daughter, Afaf Fakhoury, was still alive and owned a small flower stand in Djanet, Algeria, where two of the top Acquis in NSSOE, Dharla Fontaine and Raul Jimenez, were now searching fruitlessly, hoping the killer hadn't gotten to the daughter also.
"I want to ask more of the merchants here if they know where she is and how her father died." Dharla proclaimed in a quick whisper.  So I led her down a small road with only a few dilapidated stands, one of which was headed by a skinny man holding a screaming child and selling various kinds of grilled meat.
Before we approached him any further, Dharla muttered, "Sourdtre," moving her hands in small circles, three rotations, before a strange sound filled our ears.  Like being under water, except water was the least plentiful thing in Djanet.  This sound meant that no one could hear what we were saying.  The sounds of children laughing and men yelling at each other were muffled.
"Are you sure?" Dharla asked.  "This guy looks nuts."
"We have to start somewhere," Raul responded.  "If he doesn't have anything to tell us, we'll ask the other people on this street."
Dharla removed the underwater sound with a swipe of her hand in the air, and we walked to the vendor.
"You speak the English?" the man nearly yelled at us, trying to be heard over his little boy's high-pitched voice.
"Yes, we do," I walked directly up to the man, Dharla one step behind me.  I stayed at an arm's distance from him and talked loudly enough to be heard over the child screaming something in a language that was jibberish to my ears.  "We'd like to ask you something."
"Ask me all questions, I have nothing all day, nobody buys!"  It certainly did look like they had nothing.  The toddler was wearing only small orange shorts and sporting a cleft lip, and the man was wearing what looked like a humongous, brown pillowcase thrown over his body.  Although his voice was shouting in an angry tone, his face showed nothing but distress.
"Can you tell me where Afaf Fakhoury is?" I asked in a loud and clear voice.
The man's face sank piece by piece in a way that would have been comical in a situation that wasn't as serious as this.  His eyebrows curved down around the outside of his eyes, which fell several millimeters, and his mouth curled into a confused frown.
"She died.  She has no store now."
Dharla and I exchanged panicked looks for a moment, before she intervened. "No, you must be talking about her father.  We're looking for his daughter! A-Faf Fak-Hoo-Ree!"
"No, I tell you, the news said the wrong name!   Her father name is Afif, she is Afaf.  Afif died last year from angry heart.  Afaf died last week, but news said Afif.  You not have good knowledge!"
Dharla's face was picture-worthy.  Perfectly broken into little pictures of sadness.  Dull eyes and weak mouth, she suddenly knew our efforts had been worthless.
"I'm sorry, sir, but can you tell me how she died?"  I asked hastily.  I could only hope it was not the same way as Herajuan and Duvan II, which would mean the murderer was one step ahead of us again.
"She lost last two weeks.  They found her last three days, she died.  They find her in water.  Two knives in her."
"Thank you," I replied, defeated.  I put my arm around Dharla and was about to suggest that we should return home and give the news to NSSOE, when the man asked,
"But of course you buy some meat?  My son and wife and I are hungry.  No money.  No food.  Can you help us, please?  I beg you."
Years of Acquisitioner training clicked on like a light switch in both of our minds.  Paranoia, cautiousness, and task focus were very important in missions such as these.  We kept our minds on what we were supposed to do and we trusted no one.  What if this merchant attacked us before we could pay for the meat?  We had a mission to take care of, and could not allow ourselves to be fooled.
"No, thank you," I grabbed Dharla and started to walk away quickly, almost at a canter.  The man's voice and the child's yells went banging in our eardrums even far after we had vacated their presence.
"Wanna get a bite to eat before we go home?" Dharla asked, still slightly traumatized.
"Sure,"  I responded, equally grumpy.
There was one other belief holding firm in our minds that prevented us from aiding the man and his starving family.  This idea held together Esperanfort in modesty, patience and truth.  The first lesson taught to all new Acquis trainees and pounded daily into our minds was that "No matter what evil one person or group destroys, there exists catastrophic potential in assuming that this person or group contains no evil and all good in themselves." 
This most wise of sayings comes from Esperanfort's history, which showed that trust was not alwas guaranteed, even in the people who appeared to be the most trustworthy.  
Several centuries ago, witch-hunts became popular in Europe and the Americas.  Witch-hunts also occurred in Africa and some parts of Asia, earlier or later than those in the North and West.  These hunts filled nearly every history textbook in a way that made our ancestors look foolish and full of silly ideas about the existence of witches.
Surprisingly, these witch-hunters were correct in many of their assumptions.  They were correct in finding people who had abnormal powers and who were very different in physical make-up, abilities and disabilities from normal humans.  However, the humans only called us witches because they had no better explanation.
We called our race "Povras."  We were not, as the humans believed so strongly, sent by the devil to take over the human race.  No one knew where the first of our kind had come from.  However, we did know that there was a huge population boom beginning in the late sixteenth century.  The humans started noticing us.
What human would not notice people who, on the outside, were normal human beings, but could crumble boulders, breathe underwater, summon rain, and could produce almost any inanimate object with the right thoughts, words and body language?  The humans were scared.  We ourselves barely knew what we were.
After humans realized that witch-burnings were not really doing their job, the unofficial leader of the Povras people at that time spoke with a powerful leader in the human world.  They decided, after much stress, persuasion and bribing, that the best thing for both of their worlds was to live separately and unknowingly.  The priests of the human world passed on the message that the witches seemed to have left, and that the demons plaguing the earth for that time had given up and departed, thanks to the humans' efforts.
While that lie spread around, the Povras quickly separated into very widely spread out, small sections of the world where their powers best thrived.  We chose the group we wanted to continue with, set up simple governments to start, set up ways of communication between different kingdoms, and chose small locations for our individual kingdoms.  Esperanfort was a small but powerful old kingdom in the Pyrenees, between Spain and France, in a secluded area that humans would rarely be able to enter.  Those that did find us were immediately escorted away and given herbs produced by our Sages to give them temporary amnesia, so they would forget having ever found our city.
Esperanfort was composed of Spanish, French and Roma citizens who all had unique powers.  Each Povras had a hereditary dominant element, such as fire or ice, that they could control almost flawlessly, while still having control over other elements and powers.  Our people spoke a unique mix of Spanish and French and had almost as many customs and traditions as humans did.  We caught on to many customs in countries around us, such as cuisine, music and language.  Most Povras living in Esperanfort could speak our own language, Esperans, as well as standard Spanish, French and English.
Everything had gone wonderfully when our kingdom first formed.  However, early into Esperanfort's life, a tyrant named Claudis the Horrid came into power.  Torture, beheadings, slavery, corruption and terror were all a part of his game.  This was around a time when Esperanfort had been growing very powerful, despite the destabilizing revolutions occurring in human countries surrounding it.  Claudis went mad with power and tried to control his citizens with it. 
Using combined powers, hundreds of rebellious citizens unknowingly created an alternate reality to which they banished Claudis the Horrid and his followers.  No one knew whether they died there or whether they were simply trapped in the great black hole that appeared in the sky that day.  So many powers united in justice created something that could finally contain the evil befalling Esperanfort.  The main leader of the revolt, Armando Reville, became the new king of Esperanfort and ruled for only ten years until his death.  His descendants ruled ever since, until now, when the people of Esperanfort looked towards their security force, the NSSOE, to help them replace the heir. 
Only problem was, the heirs were quickly dying and no one knew why.  No one knew who could take over next.  Raul Jimenez, however, had an idea, one that churned his guts into dog food with fear and disgust.  It was an idea that had been tossing in his head for two whole weeks, one that he hoped had escaped the notice of his overseers.  He knew that was impossible, however.
They knew everything.
"Are you feeling all right, Raul?" Dharla asked me in her smooth voice, a croque monsieur halfway to her mouth.
I did not answer.  I kept running my fingers through what would be my hair, if stress, age and a desire for convenience had not made me bald.  I could feel that I was sweating, but my teeth were chattering as though I were stranded in a blizzard in Siberia.  
I had not spoken a word to Dharla since we found out that Afaf was dead.  Once we returned to our car and opened the cooler in the back, hundreds of tempting smells of different cheeses, meats and fruits wafted out but instantly made me feel sick to my stomach.  I was certain it was delicious, but I was so preoccupied that I could not eat an ounce of it.
"Look, I'm disappointed, too," Dharla began.  "But you've got to hold it together.  There was nothing we could do, and it wasn't our fault."
I did not respond again, so she shook her head as though saying I was hopeless and turned back to her sandwich.
I thought we'd find her for sure!  Certainly Afaf Fakhoury'd be alive, I'd thought.  How stupid!  They're coming one by one, and eventually they're going to come after the one I'm protecting most of all...
My arm twitched while I was lost in my thoughts, provoking an eyebrow raise from my trusted partner, Dharla.
"Sergain que tu n'ers enfermo?  You look terrible.  Do you want some medicine?"
Once again, I did not respond.  Something had caught my attention in the far reaches of the Djanet marketplace, and I stared at it unblinkingly.
I prayed it was just a combination of the sun and my worrying playing tricks on my eyes.  It couldn't be him.  Not that quickly...
It was him.  The blue dome bobbing in and out around customers could only be a head belonging to a Sage of our kingdom, using his incredible powers to make himself invisible to people he did not want to see him.  That was why I could see him, but none of the people flocking around the market could.  
Sages were special people, except they were not really humans, nor Povras.  Povras were essentially half-human and half-inhuman.  The inhuman part simply meant we had powers beyond those of humans, making us separate.  Sages were very rare, entirely inhuman, and had much more magic in them than the average Povras.  Povras parents usually bore Povras children, but about one in every hundred citizens of Esperanfort was, completely randomly, born a Sage.
This one was coming towards us, and in a hurry.  It could only be the Top Sage Advisor to our kingdom, Angelou.  The most important and high ranking Sage.
Dharla had not noticed him yet, but it was not as if I could just persuade her to move somewhere else in such a hurry.  Angelou was coming closer and closer, and he would be here before Dharla and I could get our things together in time to leave.  I contented myself by biting my knuckles and fidgeting. 
He appeared more quickly than I thought.  Through a family of excited Australian tourists came an angry blue man.  He had a large blue head and, like most Sages, was about a foot shorter than most adult Povras or humans.  Perfect circles formed a dotted line from the corners of each eye to the edges of his head, which were pointed.  His eyes were completely black and his mouth entirely red.  Angelou wore no less than twenty colorful necklaces around his thin, wrinkly neck, each signifying a new ranking he had achieved in Esperanfort.  His clothes were of the most expensive sort, adorned with our most precious jewels and finished with thick, silk shoes that curled at the tips, like his toeless feet did underneath.
"Raul Jimenez.  Dharla Fontaine." He bowed his head to each of us in turn, a somber expression playing across his stretched, dark blue cheeks.  
Dharla was never going to finish that croque monsieur, which stopped again, halfway through a trip to her mouth.
"Sage Angelou", Dharla began.  "I don't know whether you've already found out, but Ms. Fakhoury---"
"Is dead.  Yes.  We learned it at the same time that you did.  That is not why I'm here."
Dharla looked extremely taken aback.  Her eyes grew big, and her mouth lay open in a surprised stare, like the uncomprehending face of a two-year-old whose toy was taken away.  Angelou did not seem to notice, and instead turned to me.
"Mr. Jimenez.  The Sage Council would like to see you.  Come by tonight at seven p.m.  Bring your family."
With a twisted smile that failed to be reassuring, Angelou turned and vanished before our eyes.  Dharla merely stared ahead without blinking.  I would not be surprised if her face got stuck that way.
"What was that all about?" She exclaimed, dark blond hair swirling as she turned her whole body towards me, as though it would help her to better understand.
"I--I can't...I don't know.  But I'd better go now, to get ready to see them."
"They want you to bring your family?  That's just your daughter.  Unless they want your dog, too," she snorted with shaky laughter, trying but failing to hide her fear.
Dharla's fear was nothing compared to mine.  I stood up, ignoring her questioning face once again.
"Let's go.  To Esperanfort."


© 2011 Francesca


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I liked it. The opening scene was very remeanicint of a aravic market place, well thats what i had in my head, the heat, the stress. I can see your building up a bit of mystery and suspence and overall i liked it. I'd like to know a bit morea bout each charcter but as it's the first hapter that will come in time. The only thing that threw me were mentions of english and french. I'd like to know morea bout the setting in general, timeframe and is it our world htey inhabit. The dialog seemed very natural as well. I enjoyed

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

The beginning didn't really grab me, but I'm glad I kept reading. I don't know if it's the mental image of hot, dusty desert or what, but I tend to make the assumption that all stories set in the Middle East will be dull and full of fighting and cultural references I can't understand. Once I got into the story, I enjoyed the world you created with the hidden race of semi-humans. Very interesting. You did a good job of providing enough information that I felt like I knew what was happening and what the setting was, but I wasn't overloaded with unnecessary details.

Posted 8 Years Ago


Very interesting twist on what we thought we knew about history and how it wasn't what it appeared. Gotta love huge conspiracies that pull the wool over our entire races eyes. Keep up the good work.

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

"The air sparkled tingled with the rush"- You need something between "sparkled" and "tingled," be it a comma or the word "and." Otherwise, one of those words needs to go.
"not one bar of cell phone service" - Ah, the modern way of saying, "far, far from anywhere at all" :)
no comma after the parenthesis
"over 20 years old"- "twenty"
period, not comma, after "It wasn't that"
"We've repeated" - "We'd" (narration is in past tense)
"only known, living, closest relative" - "close"?
"Hell, we didn't even know what the weather was going to be like tomorrow."- funny
comma after "next few days"
no comma after "where Duvan II resided"
"Duvan II did have a son, but that he revealed none of the mysterious physical and mental powers similar to those shared by the people of Esperanfort. This son was put into the human world to be better accepted, instead of staying in Esperanfort and always being a third class citizen" - I like the matter-of-fat way that this is presented. It is the first time we're informed that the citizens of Esperanfort aren't "normal" people.
hyphenate "third-class"
comma after "the merchants here"
comma after "Dharla muttered"
comma inside quotation marks after "Sourtre"
"the last plentiful thing" - do you mean "least"?
"The sounds of children laughing and men yelling at each other was muffled"- "were"
"boy's high pitched voice" - "high-pitched"
"Yes, we do"- period, not comma (inside quotes), after
comma after "cleft lip"
period, not comma, after "before she intervened"
comma after "supposed to do"
period, not comma, after "No, thank you"
comma, not period, after "Sure"
"occured" - "occurred"
"every history text book" - "textbook"
"They were correct in finding people who had abnormal powers and that they were very different" - awkward - do you mean "They were correct in finding people who had abnormal powers and who were very different"?
comma inside quotes around "Povras"
I usually dislike stories that contain some variant on "Witches aren't human." THIS, on the other hand, looks to me like a case of people who really aren't human, who are only CALLED "witches" by humans because they resemble them. So I'm still enjoying the story quite a bit.
"and be able to produce" - "and can produce"
dash or period, not comma, after "knew what we were"
"with a powerful King" - "king" is not normally capitalized in this usage
"chose a small location"- "chose small locations"
"in the Pyrenees," - Well, that would explain the polydactylism connection. :)
"revolutions occuring" - "occurring"
There's a lot of backstory in the middle of this chapter, and I'm not sure yet if that is the best place for it. Will have to read more chapters to decide. At least the backstory is placed at a point in the plot when not a lot is happening - you don't disrupt something intense so you can explain the history of the Povras.
comma after "quickly dying"
comma after "I'm disappointed"
"I thought we'd find her for sure! Certainly Afaf Fakhoury'd be alive, I'd thought. How stupid! They're coming one by one, and eventually they're going to come after the one I'm protecting most of all..." - If any of this it direct thoughts, it should be italicized.
"except they weren't really people, nor Povras"- I would think that a Povras would know better to automatically equate "people" with "humans," being non-human person himself.
If a Sage is the result of recessive genes in hybrid (Povras) parents combining and expressing, would there not also be the occasional child of two Povras parents who was entirely human?
"was a sage" - Do you capitalize "sage" or not?
comma after "closer and closer"
"croque monsier"- "croque monsieur"?
no comma after "which stopped again"
"is dead" - "Is dead"
comma after "eyes grew big"
"a two year old" - "a two-year-old"
"at 7pm" - "at seven p.m."
"She exclaimed" - "she" (dialogue tag, not new sentence)
period, not comma, after "your dog, too"
The narrator's mention of 'one he was most trying to protect' makes me wonder if his own family has some connection to this whole missing-heir thing...
I like the skillful way in which you've merged the fantastical elements (subtle despite the element-controllers and blue people) with a very realistic yet still "exotic" tale of government agents searching for missing people.



Posted 8 Years Ago


Your Imagery is wonderful! I completely feel like I am in your book in the market place! I can tell you have put a lot of thought into the story there are key point brought up right away. I love that the minute I started to read it that there was some kind of problem. I have trouble reading books that start out slow. Sorry i have not commented sooner haha I also have problems reading books online for some reasons. it was an easy read and look forward to more.

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I enjoyed reading this. This opening grabs me, makes me want to continue onto the next chapter. Wonderful descriptions, great imagery and fine writing.

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I enjoyed this chapter. The opening grabbed my attention. it is well written and very detail. Well done.

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

You set the tone and tempo so powerfully.. .the tints of darker shadows mingle in the minds of the characters. This is stirring and solid writing!

Posted 8 Years Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.

Very good choice with words and descriptions!

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I liked reading this. The imagery was fine: not too descriptive that it would make us stop reading and not less descriptive that it won't give us a picture. I would soo read the next chapter.

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I liked it. The opening scene was very remeanicint of a aravic market place, well thats what i had in my head, the heat, the stress. I can see your building up a bit of mystery and suspence and overall i liked it. I'd like to know a bit morea bout each charcter but as it's the first hapter that will come in time. The only thing that threw me were mentions of english and french. I'd like to know morea bout the setting in general, timeframe and is it our world htey inhabit. The dialog seemed very natural as well. I enjoyed

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on May 11, 2011
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Author

Francesca
Francesca

San Francisco, CA



About
I'm Francesca, 19, and I go to school in San Francisco. I'm originally from Pittsburgh, PA, but moved out here about a year ago. I'm a really ambitious person and I work harder/am busier than 95% of.. more..

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