Preview Excerpt: Ignite

D’Ayna and the Lift

D’Ayna’s fingertips brushed the sides of the narrow tunnel that lead upward from her underground home to the garish, sunlit lands of her distant Elvish cousins. Her mission was clear: move as close as she could to the tree city, gather information, and then return to her guild master. This was a test, one of the final challenges she would face before becoming a warrior to defend her people from the above ground dwellers that threatened their existence and sought to drive her people from their Father, Ikara.

Moving in near silence as she was taught, D’Ayna paused for a moment and checked her weapons before she emerged from the tunnel, blinking into the sun. Her eyes soon adjusted, and she replaced the brush that covered the entrance. She followed the path that led to the massive trees her ancestors had climbed and used to build their homes, and had to stop for a moment just to look at the city when it came into view.

Of course, her tutors had taught lessons about the so-called wood elves and their civilization that spread upward toward the tree canopy, but to see it in person was very different. Platforms jutted out from the tree trunks, easily ten times the circumference of the tree itself, supported by massive iron pieces, woven and curled into intricate knotwork patterns. The platforms joined with each other via swinging wooden bridges, and D’Ayna could almost make out bodies scampering back and forth across the bridges. Tiny huts made of wood were decorated with more of the knotted black ironwork and filled the platforms, and as she drew closer D’Ayna saw signs on the front of some of the bigger huts. She had not learned to read the language of the other elves, only D’leesh and a bit of Eldyr, but she assumed those were places of business rather than residence.

Finally, she spotted her mark: two wood elf females sat in a clearing near a platform on the ground. She snuck over to them and hid on the other side of the dais from them, settling in to listen. Most of what she overheard was useless to her because she could understand their language well enough to know that they were discussing males, their tutors, and other such insipid topics. She was about to move away from them when a loud noise erupted from above her. D’Ayna flattened herself against the stand behind which she had been hiding and then looked up toward the sound. Something was descending; but with her limited vision in the bright sunlight, she was unable to make out what it was.

The wood elf females were on their feet and heading for her hiding place. D’Ayna gripped the hilt of her sword, still in its holster over her back, and made ready to draw it. Her heart pounded in her chest. These were just children no older than she… As they drew closer still, she began to lose her determination as fast as her sweaty palm slipped off the hilt of the sword. The object slowed its descent and as D’Ayna watched, it settled onto the platform as though it had been there all along. After stepping up onto the platform, the two females resumed their conversation, this time turning to the topic of how one braided hair for an important dinner, and then one of them waved a hand over a short, iron pillar attached to the center of the platform. 

D’Ayna was so close to them that she could see the individual leaf shaped decorations that wound around their boots and up the greaves over their knees. With a creaking sound that nearly made D’Ayna jump in surprise, the platform top separated from the base and began its return ascent toward the tree city. It was a lift!

The dark elves had such things in their own underground home. The tunnels only went so far, and then the rest of the journey into the underground civilization took place in a tube hewn from the rock. There was no control, though, like the one the wood elf females had just used, and one simply had to wait for the lift to return once it had started its journey. D’Ayna remembered with a wry smile many times she had not escaped in time to avoid being shut back in and taken back up to the surface where her journey had begun.

But this was important information! Barely remembering to check if the path was clear first, she scampered away from the lift and back toward the hidden tunnel. The wood elves had no defense against intruders entering their city; even those like D’Ayna’s own people who had no skill in tree climbing whatsoever. All they would have to do is assemble near the lift under the cover of darkness and ride it upward! The tree city would be theirs for the taking! D’Ayna smiled as she ran toward the tunnel. Her guild master would be so proud. Surely, this would earn her a place alongside the other warriors. This was her chance to make a difference. She could hardly wait to see his face.

Her eyes adjusted much faster to the darkness of her world than they did to the sunlight, and in no time she was running along the familiar maze of tunnels that led to the great underground city of her people. The walls, hewn from the rock and thick clay of the subterranean level of Orana’s surface, dripped with moisture here and there. Rather than placing torches along the damp walls, her people had powerful sorcerers that would create magical strips of light in a variety of colors and place them along the path. Blue lights led to the residential section of the city, while reddish lights directed toward the military barracks where D’Ayna headed. There were other lights that appeared at crossroads in the tunnels; yellowish gold lights would lead to the commercial section while the brightest of them all, the white lights led directly to the Temple of Ikara.

D’Ayna took a moment to stop and catch her breath, and marveled at the now-purplish hue of her arm, bare from the shoulder downward, as the red light bathed her skin. Her red velvet tunic was sleeveless, and bore the insignia of the military on the front: a pair of crossed swords with roots and vines wrapped around them. At her bicep, on both arms, she bore the tattoo of military service, a simple black band. As she advanced in the ranks, she would add more bands to that tattoo. 

She resumed her rapid pace toward the barracks after reverently touching the amulet she wore around her neck. It was a simple gold chain with a pendant that bore her house crest – the same sort that all those of her kind received when they left the home of their parents for guild training. Her fingers had lingered over her family name, Turlach, written in D’leesh in fancy script around the edges of the crest. Her family had not planned for her to be a warrior, as females in the military were rare, but she would show them. The wood elf intelligence that she brought would be just the beginning.