Here’s some more of my current WIP, all in rough draft form. You can see how my understanding of the character has started to change in this segment, but those discoveries are fascinating. Valar’s still going, though there’s a lot of reasons to stop or distract him.
I hope that you enjoy.
Finally, he scrubbed his eyes with a dirty shirt sleeve, trying to deny the pain he felt. He recognized those explosions, though he desperately hoped he was wrong. Tearing his eyes away from where he’d last seen his daughter, he turned toward a church and started moving through the crowd toward it as fast as he could. Its bell tower was the tallest thing in the area, rising several stories above the other buildings.
The doors were open and Valar pushed through to stand in the darkness inside. Silence reigned here, causing his ears to ring, used to the ruckus outside the doors as they were. A few candles were lit near the alter, a priest leading prayer for a few souls who’d rather put their faith in Lura than in their own legs. It sickened him more than a little, but to each their own. He’d leave them to their faith and their fates. To his left, a narrow staircase led upwards. No handholds to aid the climb, but Valar didn’t notice as he took the stairs two at a time.
His legs burned by the time he reached the top. A brass bell, nearly his height, hung from rafters overhead. Slats covered the windows, preventing a clear line of sight with only an inch between them to allow the air to circulate. Dust hung in the air, which, combined with the humidity, made the room practically unbreathable.
Valar stuck his eyes to one of the gaps before moving on to another then another. Nothing gave him the view he wanted, needed. He’d have to create his own, but how was just as big of a problem as breathing. Gasping for air, he pushed and pulled at the boards. A good deal he couldn’t get a grip in as his fingers slipped off the wood before he could get a solid grip. Skin tore as he worked, blood making his grip even slicker than it already was. Explosions and crashes sounded all around.
This was hopeless. He was running out of time. Either he needed another way or he’d have to give up and hope for the best. Hoping wasn’t going to be good enough. Valar looked about then grabbed on to one of the few gaps that his fingers fit through and pulled. Not trying to dislodge it, but rather hauling himself upward. The toe of his boot found purchase on the framing and he pushed again. Slowly, his fingers and toes found places to go and he climbed. With each foot he climbed, the less breathable the air became. Soon, Valar found himself choking on fumes as he stared at the rope that connected the bell to the tower and allowed it to ring.
Pulling his belt knife loose, he started hacking at it with wild swings. Logic had started to fail him and sawing at it would have taken longer. Besides he wanted his arm to be as far away from it when everything let loose. The rope only needed to be frayed so far before. . . .
With a snapping and crackling sound, the rope gave way and the bell hit the floor with its own boom. It stood there for a minute gently rocking on a floor never meant to hold its weight. Wood half molded in the humidity and worn with age wouldn’t hold it for long. Without thinking, Valar scampered down from his perch and grabbed the length of rope still tied to the top of the bell. Throwing it around one of the corner braces for the tower roof, he finished tying the knot just as the cracking below him sounded the floor’s imminent doom.
Valar tried to retrace his climb to his perch as the floor fell away, taking half the tower with it. Wood and debris rained down on his shoulders as Valar clung by his fingertips to one of the slats. He closed his eyes and ducked his head to protect his face, breathing only as much as he had to. The air grew dustier than before for a moment, then it started to clear. And a cool, clear breeze swept in to the tower.
Opening his eyes, Valar could see the destruction the bell had wrought on its way down. Most of the stairs remained intact, but large chunks were missing here and there. A few new holes in the sides of the tower allowed light to shine in and making the settling dust look like snowflakes. On the floor, the bell sat on its side, misshapen and cracked. With luck, its collapse would be blamed on the oncoming armies, rather than a onetime farmer. He looked to his side, found a part of the floor which the bell hadn’t removed, and climbed over.
His arms ached as he sat on the edge of the floor catching his breath. He wished that he could have sat there for a few hours, but he couldn’t afford that. He couldn’t afford the minutes it would take for him to climb down. There wasn’t any time to waste. Groaning, he climbed up and looked through the hole torn in the side of the tower.
The city burned. Low lying clouds had turned to plumes of smoke, light reflecting and illuminating the night’s sky. Screams filled the city streets as people charged every which way. Gone were the few soldiers along with the order that they represented. Either they’d been pulled back or they’d been trampled to death as people fled. A mass of people, a living tidal wave of madness, rushed toward Valar. He could feel the pressure wave as a physical thing. But it was what was behind them that frightened him to his bones.
Somehow, some way, the horde which had clipped at his heels for so long had caught up to him. That was impossible. They had been too far away. There should’ve been no way for them to catch up so fast. Yet here they stood at the city’s edge. Valar could see bodies of their soldiers rushing across makeshift bridges unopposed. Explosions sounded as he watched cannon shot scream over the city and demolish buildings and people alike to bloody rubble. This was no battle.
It was a massacre.
Valar stirred at the voice. That oncoming wave of humanity—that was everything. There’d be no surviving it, nor the army behind it. The cry repeated itself. He’d heard that voice before, but no matter. Nothing would matter for very much longer. Thank the Immortal Lords, he’d sent Senar away. Maybe she’d survive this when so few—
The word, its sheer intensity, jolted him out of his shock. Rushing over to the hole in the torn floorboards, Valar peered over the edge. Down below, barely visible in the dim light. Was that a person or only the shadows playing tricks on his eyes.
No. No, no, no, no. I sent her away. “Senar,” he shouted back, “what’re you doing here?” I sent her away to safety. Why, you fool girl? Why?
“I came to find you.”
“Damn you, girl,” Valar mumbled under his breath. Senar’s face darkened and her hands planted themselves on her hips, as if she had heard him. She looked just like her mother when she did that. The thought came unbidden as he stood there. In a louder voice, he shouted down to her. “Stay there. I’ll be right down.” He ducked away, then popped his head back over the edge. “And close that door.”
Valar could imagine his daughter’s reaction to the order. It wouldn’t be a pleasant one, but this wasn’t any time to baulk. It better be closed by the time he got down there. But how was he to get down.
He looked into the hole again. Senar was gone. Good that. But even better was the first flight of the stairwell. It looked mostly whole and stable. With a little luck, he could jump onto it. Then it would be a matter of a few more well-placed jumps onto other flights in order to make it down. It was do-able, if not fun.
Taking a deep breath, Valar stepped back to the wall. This had better work. It was either work or he’d land on the floor, flat as a bug on the dinner table. Then he’d not have to worry about the oncoming army, horde, whatever it really was. Senar came unbidden into his mind. She wouldn’t be so lucky. Not if he armies hadn’t changed since— No. Very few things changed in life. He doubted that would be one of them. Taking several more deep breaths, he sprinted for the edge and jumped.
Either the space was wider than he’d expected or Valar some of the agileness from his youth had abandoned him. With a thump and a sudden excelation of air, Valar’s chest landed on the edge of the stairwell, his legs dangling over the side. His momentum carried him forward however, and he lost his purchase on the upper level. Flipping head over heels, he landed on his back on the landing below his target. It was a struggle to hold onto consciousness. Black spots flickered before his blurred eyesight. Seconds passed. Seconds he didn’t have, he knew, before his eyes could focus on the beams above him.
Rolling onto his side, then up to his knees, and finally feet, Valar pushed his body to obey him. It’d been years since it needed to move and react in such a manner. But it had once, and it would again. Unsteadily, he moved to the stairs, hand firmly on the inside handrail, and decended as far as he could go. His mind had cleared enough by the time he reached the bottom gap to feel like he wasn’t about to fall over with every step. A second more to gather himself and he leapt.
This time, the landing went much more smoothly. Taking only a moment to steady himself, he set off. His speed increased both as he recovered and as he became familiar with the pattern. That wasn’t to say that he wasn’t in physical pain. He was—enormously so. But the only answer was to move forward or die. Dying wasn’t an option, so he moved on.
Senar had reappeared by the time he’d reached the bottom. What had once been a white blouse now looked to be covered in ash. A tear exposed a decent amount of her shoulder. At least it fully covered her breasts. In a mob of soldiers, the last thing any woman wanted was to show too much cleavage. Her brown skirt had torn as well, exposing a fair bit of calf, but that wouldn’t matter as much.
She rushed to him and threw her arms around his bulk. “Why’d you do that? Don’t do that to me again.”
Valar couldn’t control himself. His arms reflexively gathered in his only surviving child and he could feel tears flowing freely down his face. Mumbling that he wouldn’t, he stroked her hair. Then the harsh reality of their situation pushed its way to the forefront of his mind.