The Same Story Told: Excerpt

TSST-c-9So I haven’t actually announced this on the blog, but I will be publishing The Same Story Told, a novel(!), in just a couple weeks! The Same Story Told is a post-apocalyptic pastoral fantasy told six times in a row. After a gale of sappers has devastated the world, a group of five friends attempts to rebuild a farming town. When their stores of food are raided, the Whistler of the group must place some of them in a magically induced deep sleep to conserve resources, alternating in year-long shifts. Each member of the group experiences unique fragments of the same struggle to create a sustainable source of food, deviating, echoing, altering format and style. You can read a bit more about it and preorder it on Smashwords or Amazon.

The book is divided into five sections, one for each of the characters, and a sixth section for the apocryphal legend that has risen about “The Lost Expedition.” This sixth section is actually the first in the book, so to give you a look inside the book I’m posting it here in full:

The Lost Expedition

In the year 1,240, the same year that yits lit all the streets of Opasis, the same year the harvests overfilled the storehouses of Nesten, in the year 1,240 Bellengrew gripped the Seedlings with a rigid claw, then fell, and cracked, and desolated the world. The infectious sappers that had brought prosperity and advancement to the other city-states, Bellengrew used to raise enormous fanged animates and roll bombs five feet in diameter. The incantation for infectious sappers, a guarded secret entrusted only to the most sage scholars, the most loyal civil whistlers, was passed around loosely between the power-hungry commanders and captains of Bellengrew, until finally a spark caught within that overstuffed tinderbox, and burned across all the Breath.

It took a day for the gale of sappers to reach Opasis, and in that time a message was passed from the Bellengrew Military Academy to twenty-two professors at the Hoogur Academy of Sibilant Arts, warning them. These professors had feared such a thing would happen, and instantly contacted various trusted colleagues and students, disseminating the red incantation to them, and telling them to infect any friends and family with sappers—this was the only way to immunize someone against the all-consuming sappers of the Gale. The youngest whistler given the incantation was Klobs, a thirteen-year-old first-year student from the small Abonrovi farming settlement of Supchas. She had come to Opasis, Library of the Breath, to learn about agricultural whistling at the HASA, and then return to Supchas with her newfound knowledge. Her older brother, Binlev, had come with her, and the two stayed in a small stack-house below the blue canal, along with three other students. Klobs was the only whistler of the group, so just before the Gale hit she infected all of them with her sappers. Over the next days, Klobs and a few dozen other whistlers made their way to the HASA campus, with their groups of non-whistlers in tow. The largest group held thirty people, while the smallest—Klobs’s group—held just five, Klobs included.

In the riotous ruins of Opasis, the HASA soon became a citadel of civilization, the only strong standing remnant of the city. Enough food to last a year was gathered in the first day, and more would be scavenged later. But the professors, wise enough to foresee the Gale, now foresaw a famine. Opasis had always relied on the Nesten Valley to supply its food, with no fertile land around Opasis to be developed. So nine expeditions were sent north, each composed of one whistler and their group. The largest went to Nesten itself, to discover if any fragments of civilization remained, and salvage food if not. The other eight went to farming communities around Nesten, to revitalize the farms and create a sustainable source of food for the HASA. All of the whistlers in these groups had studied agricultural whistling, but none had worked on a farm before, and only had experience in the walled, orderly gardens of the HASA campus.

Klobs had worked on a farm, and her brother Binlev, two years older, had even more experience, training to take his father’s place overseeing the family farm someday. But in comparison to other groups, Klobs’s quintet was far too small to venture north, toward the epicenter of the Gale. The professors debated whether it would be worth it to send out a first-year agriculture student at all, or if she’d be of more use in the city, maintaining watcher yits and lights. Daltob, the eldest of the group and a student of sibilant theory at Sleen, privately met with the professors, and made his case for Klobs. The stack that they all lived in was in his name, and so he had grown quite familiar with Klobs over the past year, he explained. While she struggled with sibilant theory, and often asked for help with assigned texts, with plant life she was an adept. On her first day in the stack, she noticed mold growing on the windowsill, too deep in the grain of the wood to clean out. She’d muttered an incantation and the mold vanished before Daltob’s eyes, undone by a simple farmer’s spell to cure blight, which Daltob had never heard of.

The professors argued amongst themselves some more, and finally determined to send Klobs and her group out on expedition—however, her expedition would go south, to Supchas. The northern townships of Abonrov had supplied Opasis food in the past, so there was some reason to re-establish farms there. However, it was clear to Daltob why they had been sent there—the professors did not believe their group up to the task of the Nesten farms, which were their real goal, so they sent Klobs back to her hometown, which they imagined to be a primitive farming community with meager harvests—albeit a safe one. They promised to send another group to Supchas in a year, to check on their progress and collect the harvest, if there was any.

In the meantime, Klobs, Binlev, Daltob, and Hakleen and Boos—the other two members of the group—were well provisioned, and Professor Toltrew rode south with them, arriving in Supchas after three days on the road. Just as with the Seedlings, the area appeared completely deserted. Strangely, though, when they entered a house on the edge of the river, they found it truly was deserted—no corpses or stiffened bodies being sapped at fourth balance.

“Maybe they’ve all retreated to the town,” Binlev suggested, excited. He and Klobs were full of dread and anticipation in equal measure, not knowing whether their family or friends had survived. Finding the Teentom Estate, where they established a home base, completely deserted didn’t confirm anyone’s survival, but it was certainly more promising than finding bodies, at fourth balance or otherwise.

Toltrew left the next morning, riding one of the horses that’d pulled the cart, and leaving the other along with the cart behind. It was up to Klobs and her group to explore now.

The township of Supchas was cut in half by the Nasosek river. On the north side lay the Teentom estate, several farms and pastures, and the highway leading to the seedlings. On the south side lay a few more farms, including the home of Klobs and Binlev, as well as the town center. After finding the houses near the Teentom farm equally deserted, Binlev, Klobs, Boos, and Hakleen headed straight for the town center—Daltob stayed behind to take inventory of their food and determine how much should be used for seed.

Strangely, the town was just as vacant as the Teentom manor, and, stranger still, in perfect order. Unlike Opasis, the cobblestone streets of Supchas were not cracked by bombs and spit, storefronts were not rent apart with the contents of the store cleaned out. As sunset approached, and still no Supchasi in sight, everyone headed back across the river. Binlev and Klobs wanted to return to their family home, but they’d promised to return to Daltob at dusk, and they didn’t want him to worry.

When they returned, they found the front door of the house knocked from its hinges, and they rushed in in a panic, calling Daltob’s name. Daltob responded from where he sat by the fireplace, shivering despite the enormous blaze he’d stoked.

“Daltob, what happened?” Hakleen cried.

“Whistlers,” Daltob said. “You didn’t see them?”

They’d seen no one at all.

“They came from the south side of the river,” Daltob said. “They broke into the storehouse and the manor and robbed most of our food. I ran and hid in the grass—they spat at me, but they didn’t hit. I thought I’d made it out safe, but then a sickness took me. My bones went cold, and my breath deserted my lungs. Poisoner yits. They left then, with a cart full of our food, and it was all I could do to drag myself back to the manor and start a fire. I’m better now, in the warmth, but the yits are still in me. Whoever whistled them is sustaining them, still.”

“How did we not see them?” Boos asked. “We were in town all day!”

“They must be hiding somewhere,” Daltob said.

“So how much food do we have left?” Hakleen asked.

“Not enough to last us all the year,” Daltob said. “But—”

“Then we have to go back,” Boos interrupted. “We can’t steal the food back, and we can’t raise a harvest fast enough—”

“No,” Daltob said. “We can’t go back. They’re running out of food too. No. There is a way that we can make it to the harvest, all of us—in a way. We have to take shifts.”

“Shifts?” Binlev asked.

“Klobs can keep some of us at fourth balance—we’ll still be alive, but we won’t need to be fed. That will also give Klobs more pulse to whistle with, and she’ll be able to defend us if those whistlers come back.”

“Defend?” Klobs said.

“How many of us will have to be asleep?” Hakleen asked.

“For the next two years, two,” Daltob said. “And I will be one of them.”

Everyone protested, but Daltob quieted them with a wave of his hand. In his small, wavering voice he said, “I’m of no use to anyone like this, so I’ll have to be ‘asleep,’ as you say. Binlev will stay at first balance—he knows the most about farming, and I don’t want to separate Klobs from her brother. However, that does mean …” he looked to Boos and Hakleen. “One of you will have to live a year without the other.”

Boos and Hakleen looked at one another. The two had met at Sleen Academy, where Hakleen studied history, and Boos cooked in the kitchens. Hakleen was one of those students who spoke constantly of the suffering of the low classes, and the need for a revolution—however, unlike his classmates who did the same, Hakleen treated the low-class citizens he met with respect. He’d clean up after his table when dining in the cafeteria, and he brought the kitchen gifts of Hirreskian dessert wine when he and his friends showed up just past the allotted mealtimes, still demanding food. He got to know some of the cooks, and became quick friends with Boos.

Boos had been working in kitchens alongside her mother since she was old enough to see over the countertop. When she met Hakleen, her mother was in failing health, and she had no time to accompany her new friend in strolls through the Kiaps District, because she spent all her time in the Sleen kitchens or at home attending to her mother. So the two courted and fell in love in the early hours when Boos stoked fires in the kitchen and counted out plates, and the evenings as she swept the mess hall floor.

When Boos’s mother passed away, she went to live with Hakleen, where she met Daltob, Klobs, and Binlev in the stack they all shared in Poolach District. They had barely lived together a month when the Gale arrived, and now they would each have to spend a year separated from the other—divided by the strange phenomenon of fourth balance, split across time. It was what they had to do though, if they were to have any hope of saving the expedition.

The next morning, Hakleen, Daltob, and Klobs headed to a small house near the woods surrounding the north side of the township. Daltob and Hakleen lay down on beds, and Klobs set them to fourth balance.

Throughout the first year, Klobs, Boos, and Binlev explored the north side of Supchas, scavenging some extra food and farming tools, and finding four horses. Klobs tinkered with the sapper incantation for a while, but eventually found a way to infect the horses, and gain a little extra pulse. Riding on horses, they could venture south of the Nasosek and investigate their old family house—but they found it empty, like everywhere else.

In spring they planted corn in the Teentom farm, under the guidance of Binlev, and with Klobs’s whistling to help the crops grow. One night, just days before the harvest, Klobs spotted something with the cloud of watcher yits she kept above the house, and ran to tell Boos. “There are people out there,” she said, “in the field!”

Boos flung open the door and shouted, “Who’s there?”

Three figures bolted out of the field and vaulted onto horses by the edge of the bridge. They took off before Boos could say another word, and left behind them a field half-infected with their sappers.

The next day they cut down all the infected plants and burned them, and harvested the rest to make sure no one got to them. “How is this even possible?” Boos asked Klobs. “How can a whistler infect plants with sappers?” Klobs had no idea. Before coming to Opasis, she hadn’t even known it was possible to infect other people with sappers. She certainly didn’t know how to do it with plants.

Boos took inventory of their remaining food, then went with Klobs to visit Daltob. They woke him from fourth balance to ask how to proceed. From Daltob’s view, he had only last night explained the plan to them, and was now waking to an unforeseen challenge. All his calculations were still fresh in his head, so he told them how much corn to set aside for seed, and how to ration it out. “But,” he said, “that still won’t be enough. This winter, you must hunt.”

Klobs set Daltob back asleep, and they did as he said, ending up with enough food to see Klobs, Binlev, and Hakleen through to the next harvest.

So the next year began, and as Hakleen learned of what had happened in the previous year he decided to build defenses around Teentom and wall off the bridge across the Nasosek.

Klobs had improved at her whistling, able to send flying animates about to prune leaves and dispel blight as casually as she breathed and blinked, so they expanded to grow squash in a second farm. When they weren’t farming, they were deconstructing the fences of empty pastures, moving the wood to form a wall around the manor. By the time the second year came to a close, a five-foot wall ringed the farm, and a ten-foot wall with a gate in it, made from old barn doors, closed off the bridge. With the harvest of two farms, they were able to bring Daltob up to first balance, and all five were once again united under the same roof.

For the first time in a year, Boos and Hakleen were together again, and for the next few days they spent hours recounting stories from their respective years. They had only been reunited ten days when they had their first real contact with surviving Supchasi. Early in the morning, as Boos cooked a breakfast of onion flatcakes, Klobs spotted figures running across the bridge. She shouted that there were people coming, and everyone ran outside to reach the enormous gate (except Daltob, who was still weakened by poisoner yits, and had to follow slowly behind.)

Klobs reached the gate at the same time the two figures did and looked out through a crack in the door. “It’s Mabab, and Kalev!” she cried. Binlev instantly shouted a greeting, excited, and he and Klobs conversed with the two in Abonrovi.

“Klobs? Binlev?” Hakleen asked. “What is happening?”

“This is Mabab, and her mother Kalev,” Klobs said. “They lived in the town, Kalev was a butcher, and Mabab was the only whistler my age—but now, they say they’ve been infected with sappers, and they’re being held prisoner with a bunch of other townspeople. Something happened to the whistler infecting them, and they escaped—we have to let them in before the whistlers come and catch them.”

Boos and Hakleen worked together to lift enormous wooden beams off the gate, throwing them to the ground.

“Wait!” Daltob shouted from the porch, but no one heard his frail voice. Klobs and Binlev flung the gate open, and Mabab and Kalev rushed in. Mabab was indeed Klobs’s age, and Kalev looked to be around thirty. Hakleen and Boos moved to close the gates behind them but Kalev shouted, “Stop!”

Hakleen looked to the Abonrovi woman in surprise. “Why? Are more coming?”

“Be careful!” Daltob shouted, and this time everyone noticed him. “They—” but he had to stop to cough.

It finally dawned on everyone that something was wrong. Why did these two escapees want the door open? If they had been kept at fourth balance for years, why didn’t Mabab appear younger than Klobs now? Where had an Abonrovi woman learned Sochua? And most perplexing of all, the problem that Daltob had noticed right away—how was it possible for a whistler to be infected by another whistler, when being infected with anyone’s sapper yits immunized you against all others?

Klobs, who had been about to hug Mabab, pulled up short. “Mabab,” she said, “why can’t we close the gates?”

Instead of answering Klobs, Mabab hissed an incantation and puffed up her cheeks, a volley of shots forming in her mouth.

“Mabab!” Binlev shouted.

“Don’t move!” Kalev said in Sochua. “Or else I’ll tell her to spit.” In the dead silence that followed, they could hear hooves beating the ground. The sound grew louder and louder, until an enormous cart came riding along the bridge, two men standing in it and one woman driving it. All had pale skin and dark, night-black hair. The cart drove through the gates and headed to the large storehouse where the harvest was kept under preserver yits.

“That’s them,” Daltob murmured. “The ones from the first day.”

Under the barking orders of the woman, the two men loaded the cart with as much food as they could take, clearing out the last of the potatoes and oats from their original stockpile, and taking most of the harvest of squash and corn. The cart groaned under the weight of it all, and the four horses pulling it strained, but the woman had spur yits in the horses’ ears, which she flared to set them moving.

“Mabab, Kalev, get in!” she called down to them as the cart approached the gate. The two climbed aboard and hung on to either side, Mabab still puffing her cheeks and glaring at Klobs.

“Is our family still here!” Klobs suddenly shouted, as the cart rolled through the gate. “Mabab, please!”

“Don’t ansher her,” the driver said, her Bellengrew accent becoming clear. “And hold on.” She flared her spur yits so hard that veins burst in the horses’ ears, and blood spilled down into their manes. They charged ahead, away across the bridge.

Boos moved first. She slammed the gates shut and hefted the large wooden beams into place by herself. Then she lead Klobs and Binlev back inside, Daltob soon following, to finish breakfast. Hakleen, meanwhile, went to the storehouse to see what was left. He returned and told Daltob, who mentally calculated rations. He thought for a while, chewing the flatcakes that had gone cold by now, and when he had eaten everything on his plate, he said, “Two. But we should store half of the food in the cabin, just in case.” He left it up to Klobs to decide who would accompany her for the next year, and she took all day and night to come to a decision. Finally, she chose Hakleen, because she wanted to learn more about whistling, and she needed someone who could read Sochua to help her understand the texts she had brought with her. If she were a better whistler, maybe she could protect them the next time those Bellengrew raiders came.

Before Daltob, Boos, and Binlev left to be put to fourth balance in the forest cabin, Daltob talked privately to Hakleen. He told him that there were, in fact, only rations enough for one person to survive a year, and they would have to get creative somehow to find a way through. Instead of actually moving half of their stores to the cabin, it would all remain in the barn, but appear to be half the amount of food necessary to feed them—because it truly was.

So, in the third year, Hakleen and Klobs explored throughout the north side of the river. To the west, they found a series of fish traps set up in the Nasosek, to Hakleen’s great relief. Klobs had grown so good with her animates that she was able to till the land, sew it, and then tend to the crops all while doing something else. During the day, that something else was checking fish traps, and at night it was sitting with Hakleen and reading through her texts. She read each of the three books, printed by the HASA press, from front to back, and then read them all again. She finally understood the basic theories of whistling, but she was no closer to what she really wanted—to learn the incantation for infecting plants with sappers. If she could do that, she’d have enough pulse to sustain multiple farms. But each time she reread the books, she only felt further and further from her goal.

By the end of the year, Hakleen and Klobs had stored up enough food to actually sustain two people, without needing to spend so much time fishing. When Klobs woke Daltob and told him how much food they had, and he told her it was still only enough for two people, that was when he let her know how perilous their situation had been. Now Klobs had to decide, again, who to awaken. She didn’t want to keep Hakleen away from Boos for another year, and she’d gotten as much from his reading abilities as she could. She could wake Boos or Binlev, then. At this point, she didn’t need much more help farming, and she didn’t want to put her older brother—who was now, in a sense, the same age as her—in so much danger. So she chose to wake Boos, and spend the next year with her.

She could’ve woken Binlev and Boos, but that would’ve meant more fishing to keep everyone fed, and she’d prefer to spend her time doing something else—exploring the south side of the river. She also wanted to stock up enough food that Daltob could go north to the HASA—far enough away that the poisoner yits would die—and bring back some books for her, as well as any aid the HASA would be able to give out.

THE SIEGE

At first, when Klobs told Boos that she wanted to investigate the farms south of the Nasosek, Boos told her no. When Klobs pressed, Boos said it was too dangerous. Klobs pointed out that she had survived here in Supchas longer than anyone—two years longer than Boos in fact—and that Boos was now only four years older than her. Finally Boos relented, on the condition that Klobs only explore the houses within sight of Teentom. Klobs did so, while Boos stayed on the four farms where they now grew food, working alongside Klobs’s farming animates.

Klobs recalled a large book kept in her family’s house, a volume of incantations and harvest songs collected by Abonrovi Botoist whistlers throughout many generations. Her father, who was not a whistler, used it to make prayers in times of drought or harsh weather, and sing songs of praise when the harvest was plentiful. The year before she left for Opasis, she had been old enough to read it, and gleaned a few incantations for strengthening roots and driving off pests. She was hoping that the houses she searched would have a copy of the book, or something like it. It was an enormous volume, and she had only barely peeked at the first few pages, but she was sure it held all kinds of valuable knowledge that could help her care for their crops.

She searched the houses thoroughly, then searched them all again, but only found small prayer booklets, or books of ancestry. She tried to convince Boos to let her go even further south, to their family’s house, but Boos would not allow it. Klobs and Binlev had lived on a farm just east of the town center, where the whistlers that kept attacking them now lived. Klobs argued that she could protect herself if it came to it, but Boos wasn’t convinced. After still more arguing, Boos made Klobs a promise—if she could raise an animate taller than herself, an animate that could fight and protect her, Boos would let her go to the family estate.

Klobs happily set to her new task, but found it more difficult than she had expected. She could raise and control animates the size of rabbits with ease, but changing the size to be even twice as large, let alone four or six times, was impossible. The animates collapsed in on themselves, their limbs dragged them down.

After the harvest, Klobs put all her energy towards these attempts at animates, while Boos counted their food and, after waking Daltob once to consult with him, began measuring out provisions for a journey north. By the time winter set in, Klobs could only raise an animate that came up to her chin, and keep it steady for just a few seconds before it inevitably fell apart. Klobs suddenly wondered if she would ever be strong enough to defend herself. Maybe when Daltob went north, instead of coming back with knowledge and extra provisions, he should bring an entirely different group to take over for Klobs, and she could go back and garden in the HASA.

Boos noticed Klobs’s withering spirits, just like the dying grass and graying sky, and decided to do something nice for her. Instead of measuring out the meager portions they normally ate, she filled a large pot with vegetables and fish and beans. Boos had just begun ladling some into a bowl for supper when Klobs shouted—the whistlers were coming.

“It’s okay,” Boos said, “we have the walls, they can’t get through, and they won’t trick us this time.”

Klobs rushed out to the bridge, where three figures on horseback had just arrived. Klobs recognized them as the same three that had ridden in on a cart a year ago.

“Open thish gate or we’ll burn it down!” the woman shouted.

“If you try it, I’ll shoot you!” Klobs shouted back.

The woman laughed. “Open the door!” she yelled.

Klobs responded with an incantation, forming a bomb in her mouth, which she then spat over the wall. It was a small bomb, but it caused the horses to rear up when it burst on the ground, almost throwing their riders.

“You can’t shtand guard forever,” the woman hissed. “You’ll need to eat eventually, and your barn ish at the other end of thish field. We’ll be watching you until you grow hungry. Once you leave the houshe to fetch food, we’ll break right through thish door. Or, you can open it now.”

“We have plenty of food in the house,” Klobs lied. “We can last for months. Just go away, grow your own food, stop stealing ours!”

Klobs put up a cloud of watcher yits right over the bridge, then slowly walked back to the house. The whistlers didn’t attack—they knew if they did, Klobs could instantly run out and spit at them. They just stayed there, on horseback. Meanwhile, Boos and Klobs discussed their situation. The only food they had in the house was what was in the pot. It was fortunate Boos had chosen to make such a large dinner—divided into normal rations, it could feed both of them for two days. Divided into half rations, four days. But even that wasn’t enough time. Boos feared the whistlers would stand guard for far longer. There were three of them, so one could leave and bring back food and provisions, as many times as necessary. Whenever that happened, that would be Klobs’s only real opportunity to attack and drive them away. She and Klobs needed to stay fed long enough for that opportunity to open up, maybe open up twice. So Boos decided she should be set a fourth balance. Klobs tried to argue with her, but Boos wouldn’t budge. Klobs needed all the food in that pot for herself and, as the only whistler among them, she was the one who would have to defend the house.

Klobs set Boos to fourth balance and kept herself at second balance, letting the world speed along around her. At second balance, she only had to eat one ladleful of stew each day.

On the third day, she got her opportunity, but when she started spitting at the whistlers, they just moved further and further away from the bridge, until they were out of reach. If she could raise an animate, she could chase them down—but still, even with the addition of Boos’s pulse, she was unable to control anything close to her own size.

After her failure on the third day, after which the whistlers maintained a tent at the other end of the bridge, Klobs put all her effort into raising an animate. She pushed herself as hard as she could, even set herself to third balance, but that only seemed to make things worse. Her animates melted, cracked, evaporated.

At dusk on the thirtieth day, her ladle scraped the bottom of the pot, and came up empty. She was hungry, and exhausted, and at that moment the Bellengrew woman approached the gate. Klobs walked outside to stand opposite her.

“Pleashe,” the woman said, “give up. You can’t go on much longer like thish.”

“Neither can you,” Klobs said.

The woman returned to her tent. Klobs went back to the house and attempted to create an animate one more time, but once again failed. She went to sleep and was woken when she saw fire through her watcher yits—no, fires. On both sides of the estate, whistlers were burning down the walls. But how did they even get on the north side? The bridge was blocked off, and the river was far too cold and deep to cross.

But Klobs didn’t have time to think about that. She rushed to the gate to spit bombs at the whistlers, but instantly saw the problem. She couldn’t run back and forth, from end to end, fighting two groups of whistlers at once. She couldn’t be in two places at the same time—unless, unless she could.

Klobs tried again to raise an animate, even one just four feet tall, but it fell apart immediately. Desperately, her mind turned to her last resort. She set all the horses to fifth balance. Again, she tried to raise an animate, four feet tall. Again, a stream of yits poured out and formed a wispy body, but then it solidified, grew taller, taller still, it towered over her until it was twice her size, and steady as a tree trunk. With her animate at the gate, she ran to the other side, and fired at the three whistlers seated on a cart there. Klobs recognized one—it was Mabab! The instant the shots started falling, the whistlers relented, and they whipped the horses to take them away. Meanwhile, the enormous animate was reaching down over the wall, slashing at the three whistlers that had been there since the beginning. When they saw the animate looming above them, all but the woman fled. She tried to raise her own animate of equal size, but it fell apart instantly. Klobs slashed at the woman, who fell back, then scrambled to her feet and ran away. She shouted at the other two, then all three of them mounted their horses and galloped away, leaving their tent and all their supplies behind.

All this time, Klobs had thought it was her own failing as an uneducated Abonrovi whistler, but really the only thing stopping her from raising larger animates was a lack of pulse.

But the pulse she had used had cost her. All the horses were just skin and bone now, sapped to death—if the whistlers came back, she’d have no way of putting up such a strong defense again.

Klobs knew what she had to do. She had to find a way to sap plants, and she wasn’t going to find it in any HASA texts—even if the professors did know something about it, with no horses they had no way to send Daltob there anyway. No, she would have to go to her old family house, and she would have to find that book.

If they still had a horse, and Daltob had been able to travel to Opasis, he would have received nothing. At this point, all the expeditions sent north had returned with little to show for their efforts. They had been rebuffed by hostile whistlers who already controlled the land, or if they’d managed to start farms, harvests had been meager. What food they did bring was mostly scavenged, and it was quickly devoured. Everyone in the HASA was now on half rations, which would only last them another year.

A new expedition was formed from multiple groups and sent north to Chosee, the nearest farming settlement in the Nesten Valley, the last hope of survival for the HASA. Klobs’s expedition had been written off as a failure—either the small group had perished, or they’d decided to stay in Abonrov and abandon the HASA. Either way, they were called the “Lost Expedition,” and no one had any expectations of them returning.

The fifth year after the Gale began, Klobs’s group now had enough food to support three people, so Klobs was joined by Hakleen and Binlev. Binlev was now a year younger than Klobs, though he still treated her like a little sister, and Klobs still turned to him when she needed guidance.

Klobs wanted to rush to her family’s farm right away, but the stand-off had dragged on so long that it was now spring, and everyone had to work hard to catch up on the farm work they would normally have started a week ago. When the three fields were planted, Klobs told Hakleen that she and Binlev were going to search their old home. Hakleen, like Boos before him, refused, but Klobs told him it wasn’t up to him. She was the whistler, she had to protect all of them, and she knew that this was the only way to protect them. She and Binlev set out on foot, heading south, closer and closer to the city. At one point they saw a figure on horseback watching them from a hill far off, and Binlev thought he recognized Mabab. But when they stopped to look at the figure, it took off, disappearing down the other side of the hill.

After an hour of walking they arrived at their old home, six years after they first left it. Like all the other houses, everything was in perfect order, and perfectly deserted. Klobs searched for the book in her parents’ bedroom, in the family room, on all the shelves and in all the cupboards, but she couldn’t find it. Meanwhile, Binlev searched the barn for any tools or bags of seed they could use. What he found instead were two horses—the family’s horses, Spot and Stripe. They were thin, but they were alive. Looking around the area, Binlev could tell they had been grazing on the wild grass that had sprung up on the land in place of regular crops. He led the horses back to the house and waited for Klobs to come out. He waited for a while. Inside, Klobs double-checked everything, to no avail. Finally, in desperation, she looked in the room she and Binlev had shared, and there on her bed sat the very book she sought. But what was it doing here? Was it a gift for when she returned? Or the last act of her father, before he was captured by the whistlers?

Klobs picked up the thick volume and rushed out of the house with it clutched in her arms. She thought she couldn’t have been happier, until she saw Spot and Stripe, and then she set down the book and hugged them each.

The moment she was back at Teentom, Klobs began to read. She read the book as studiously as she’d read the HASA texts, front to back. One chapter in particular caught her attention—an old Abonrovi method for turning an incantation for livestock into an incantation for plants, or vice versa. She read it again and again, then tried it out with the infectious sapper incantation, replacing words here and there, switching the order, until she had what seemed like a completely different incantation. She spoke the words, then whistled out the yits over a small white flower, and watched the sappers take hold. She couldn’t feel any more pulse filling her, so she whistled more yits, until all the grass and flowers in front of the porch were infected with her yits, and then she felt just the slightest increase. She would have to infect far more plants to get the same amount of pulse she could get from a person, but she could do that. The north side of Supchas was all overgrown with thick wild grass, so for the remainder of the year Klobs rode Stripe from farm to farm, infecting all the plants that now grew there with her sappers, sleeping in the empty houses. She returned with more pulse than she’d ever had, even when she’d set all the horses to fifth balance.

At the end of the year, she consulted with Daltob. Even though he had aged the least of all of them, he was still the eldest. She asked if he wanted to go to Opasis to be healed of his poisoner yits, and how much food he should take with him. Daltob, hearing how much progress Klobs had made, said no. It was time to go on the offensive. It was time to have all of them awake, and attack the whistlers in the Supchas town center.

Meanwhile, in Opasis the first harvest from the Chosee expedition arrived just as the last stores of food were running out. It had taken a year to grow this food, but it was only enough to last the next three months, even with all non-whistlers set to fourth balance, and whistlers on quarter rations. Time was running out for the HASA.

In Supchas, Klobs wasted no time in attacking the whistlers. After searching the town with watcher yits, she found all the whistlers holed up in a Botoist temple, the one she and her family had gone to once every month. She tried to break through the front doors with an animate, but the whistlers inside shot it to pieces. She needed a way to attack from multiple angles, like the raiders had done during the siege, but the building only had one entrance. She couldn’t bomb her way in because she didn’t want to damage the sacred building, or hurt any of the townspeople kept at fourth balance within—and that’s when she got her idea. If she could kill just one of the whistlers, all the townspeople they were sapping would be freed, creating a distraction from within.

Klobs watched the building day and night, poised ready to spit at anyone who exited. After six days of watching, as the sun set she saw a figure peek out of the doors. Without hesitation Klobs spat, and the figure dropped to the ground. Instantly Klobs heard screaming within, and she raised an animate and pushed open the doors.

Inside was chaos. Supchasi rushed at the five Bellengrew whistlers in the building, who completely ignored their fallen friend at the door. When Klobs’s animate approached, the Supchasi scattered back, freeing up the whistlers—but by then it was too late. Klobs’s animate cut them down, until only the Bellengrew woman remained. By this point all the Supchasi townspeople, who had been stored as “sleeping” bodies in the prayer chambers attached to the main hall, were flooding in, surrounding the woman. She shouted at them to stay back, and began to speak an incantation, but they tackled her to the floor and gagged her before she could finish it. Klobs tried to reach her, but the townspeople did her work for her, choking her to death under their weight. The Supchasi cheered, but Klobs frantically searched the crowd—all the Bellengrew whistlers were dead, but she knew Mabab had been working with them too, and she could easily be blending in with the rest of the townspeople now. Klobs let her animate die and rushed into the temple to see for herself—but just as she crossed the door, she saw where Mabab was. Dead in the entrance way, the figure who had peeked out, the one Klobs had instantly shot.

Klobs started crying, knelt down beside Mabab and cried still harder. Her tears were interrupted when she felt strong arms wrap around her and lift her up, and she found herself face to face with her father. Right behind him was her mother. Klobs tried to speak, but just started crying harder, and hugged them both.

Over the next few days, Klobs talked to all the townspeople and ensured that they agreed to let her infect them, in order to immunize them against anyone else’s sappers. Those who had lived out in the country made their way back to their farmhouses, to find them completely altered. Klobs’s group moved out of Teentom so that the real inhabitants could live there again, and they came to live instead in Klobs and Binlev’s old home. The Bellengrew raiders had stored up quite a lot of food, which was enough to see them through to a harvest. With all the pulse of the Supchasi people, and much of the vegetation, Klobs was able to help out in dozens of farms with her animates. In later summer, for the first time, the Lost Expedition returned to Opasis, with two cartloads of food driven by Daltob and Oolev (an old Supchasi farmer who spoke good Sochua.)

When the food arrived, the people of the HASA couldn’t believe their eyes. They had been on quarter rations for months, used to meager shipments of food from the enormous Chosee expedition. Some had completely forgotten the Lost Expedition, forgotten Daltob, and thought he and Oolev were messengers of the Singer. They soon found that the food was very real though, and everyone gathered around to hear Daltob explain what had happened throughout those six years they’d been gone.

Klobs and Binlev stayed in Supchas, making fond reunions with old friends, repairing damages, and helping with the farms—just as they had always planned to do. Hakleen and Boos were reunited for good, and they moved into a little stack in the town center, and in the Spring of the next year were married in Abonrovi fashion. Daltob continued to travel between the HASA and Supchas, maintaining the HASA’s only sustainable supply of food, and bringing news between the two communities.

The professors studied, as professors do, the approach that Klobs’s group had taken—the novel idea to work in shifts instead of putting all the non-whistlers to fourth balance, the refusal to return to the HASA empty-handed, the commitment to their mission, and the use of old Abonrovi farming and whistling techniques. As they studied, they began to wonder if Klobs shouldn’t lead another expedition, to the north this time.

But that is a future history that the Singer has yet to tell.

That’s it! The rest of the book is that same story five more times! Well, not quite, but sort of.  See you on the 22nd!

One thought on “The Same Story Told: Excerpt

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