Reflection: Harbinger of the Phoenix is almost ready for release! Sumo was so excited to share Chapter 1 with you today that he could barely contain himself! Fortunately, I was able to capture his excitement on video.
Please note that “go outside” is Sumo’s code word for “share chapter 1” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Sorry for the vertical orientation on the video. In my excitement I forgot to turn the phone sideways. ^_^;
So, without any further ado, I present the sneak peak:
Records of the Ohanzee Book 2
Reflection: Harbinger of the Phoenix
The scene out the window was the kind of gray gloom that threatens rain all day but fails to produce even a single drop. The leaves on the trees were a mix of vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges dappled with just a splash of lingering green, but even those hues were dimmed by the overcast sky. Charis laid her open book over her thigh and reached down to tuck the blanket tighter around her cold feet. This was perfect book-reading weather. From her perch in the cushioned window nook high atop the stacks, she could see the entire Special Collection Room. It was a beautiful view. Ornately carved wood in the shapes of vines and leaves laced up from the floor and crisscrossed the ceiling. Bookcases lined the walls, some open to the room and some protecting their contents behind glass doors. Rolling ladders were positioned along each one to provide access to the topmost shelves as well as to the reading nooks interspersed along the windows above them.
Unfortunately, Charis’s enjoyment of her favorite reading spot was diminished by the presence of Amon, hard at work on his research at one of the large tables in the center of the room. He happened to glance up as she looked down at him, raising his eyebrows and giving her a small smile. Charis turned away and picked up her book again, pretending that she hadn’t seen him. The Special Collection Room was the Library’s repository for rare or particularly valuable books. Not a single one stored here was less than a hundred years old, except for the novel Charis had brought in with her. The room was isolated from the main body of the University Library, so the bustle of the art show currently taking place there faded into the background.
She tried to resume reading, but her eyes just skimmed the page without actually taking in any of the words. Charis reached into the pocket of her oversized cardigan and ran her thumb across the folded cloth inside. She still hadn’t returned the handkerchief Amon had lent to her the night that she had gone to the ruins of the Manor. He had helped her out of a tight spot then, and she was grateful. If she had been caught, Charis was certain she would have been forced to hand over Nerissa’s spirit chimes to Casimer’s lackeys. Then they would have become just another spoil of Casimer’s conquest. Even if he was only one step up from the lackeys in Charis’ mind, it was Amon’s intervention that allowed her to get away unnoticed that night. It was thanks to him that the precious memento of her friend now hung in front of her bedroom window.
Charis had intended to return the handkerchief to Amon months ago, but each time the opportunity presented itself there had always been an excuse not to. Enough time had passed that it seemed awkward to return it to him now. She was frustrated, not wanting to throw it away or give it back. If Nerissa were still here, she could have helped Charis sort out her feelings. She curled her hand into a fist, squeezing the handkerchief tight as she felt her eyes begin to burn. This was the first Arts Festival that she would be attending without Nerissa. It was yet another event in a seemingly endless list of events that passed without her friend. Charis let her head loll to the side and she sighed, staring out the window at the rainless clouds.
The sound of a chair scraping across the floor, the rustling of papers, and the soft thump of books being closed echoed through the room. Amon was finally leaving. Charis listened to his footsteps and felt mildly annoyed that he didn’t at least say goodbye before he left. Not that she really cared. When his footsteps stopped, Charis stubbornly continued to stare out the window, refusing to look to see if he glanced back before walking through the gate.
Suddenly, the rolling ladder beside her rattled, and her head whipped around in surprise. A moment later, Amon appeared at the opening to the nook. There was only enough room for one person at a time in the window seat, so he remained on the ladder. He leaned his elbows on the cushions and rested his head against the end post of the small railing that edged the nook.
The usual lock of black hair had strayed from his neatly combed part. It had flopped onto his forehead and covered the bridge of his nose. Charis instinctively wanted to reach out and brush it into place. Instead she said, “I’m surprised you can see well enough to climb the ladder with your hair in your face like that.”
Amon ran his fingers through his hair, pushing back the lock temporarily. His brows furrowed for a moment, and then he grinned.
“What are you grinning at?” Charis asked impatiently.
“Seduced at the Edge of the Ocean,” he read aloud. “I didn’t know you were a fan of romance novels,” he teased with a mischievous look in his deep-blue eyes.
Charis snapped the book shut and flipped it so that the cover was facing down. “I read a little bit of everything,” she replied haughtily. “It’s called being well rounded.”
One corner of Amon’s mouth turned upward in a lop-sided grin, revealing the dimple in his cheek that always appeared when he smiled. “It would be nice to read something for fun, but that will have to wait until my research is finished.”
“And when will that be, exactly?” Charis asked.
“Don’t worry. It will be quite some time before I am finished,” he replied. “I still have a lot of work to do.”
Charis folded her arms across her chest. “Why do you assume I’m worried about that? Maybe I’m looking forward to it.”
Amon’s expression turned serious. “Have you considered that, perhaps, I hope you don’t want me to leave any time soon?”
Charis bit her bottom lip. She didn’t know how to respond to that. Was he really sincere? She decided it was safer to change the subject. “I doubt that you came up here just to chat. What do you want?”
“It’s getting late. We should go home to change clothes before the play,” he said. “Would you like to walk with me?”
“You’re right, it is getting late, but I’d like to finish this chapter first,” Charis replied coolly. There was no way he could know she hadn’t actually been reading.
“I don’t mind waiting for you,” he offered. “We’re going to the same place anyway.”
Most of the University students from out of town lived in dormitory units on campus or in nearby apartments. Much to Charis’ dismay, Amon stayed with her and her father in the President’s campus residence instead. As Casimer’s nephew, he could certainly afford an apartment, but Amon had been concerned that his presence could attract unwanted attention and be disruptive to the other residents. So, Charis’ father had offered one of their spare rooms. Their home had privacy and the convenience of being on campus.
“I don’t want to make you wait. I’ll be along shortly,” she said. His persistence was becoming annoying.
Amon glanced out the window at the darkening sky. He rubbed his forehead and brushed away the errant lock of hair once more. “It’s getting dark earlier now, especially in this kind of weather. It would be safer if we walked together.”
“I’m not convinced I’m any safer with you than I am alone,” Charis retorted.
Amon froze, staring out at her from between his fingers. His expression was a mixture of anger and hurt. “I’ll be on my way then. It’s not like it’s a long walk anyway,” he said flatly. “Be sure to lock the gates before you leave.”
The ladder rattled as he climbed down and then shuddered on its track as he shoved it roughly to the side. Charis watched as he stomped out of the room and listened as his footsteps echoed away, gradually blending in with the dull hum of the art show. Crawling to the edge of the nook, she grasped the railing with one hand as she leaned over the side. She reached towards the ladder, stretching as far as she could, but it was just beyond the tips of her fingers.
No matter, Charis thought. He will feel sorry and come back for me soon. She scooted over to where she had been sitting and settled herself on the pile of pillows. Opening the book again, she stared absently at the pages and waited. Outside, the sky grew increasingly darker. After a while, it became apparent that Amon wasn’t going to return. She hadn’t really been that rude to him, had she?
Charis chewed her bottom lip and crept to the railing. When she looked down, her stomach dropped. The ceiling in this room was nearly two stories high. If she tried to jump, it would be almost four meters to the floor. Her grip on the railing tightened reflexively at the thought.
“Hello?” she yelled out. “Is anyone around?” She waited for a response. Maybe Amon was lingering in the hallway just outside the door. Charis called out again and again, but there was no answer. No one was near enough to hear her.
She considered climbing down using the shelves to support her. They should be strong enough, but if they weren’t, then the books they contained would be damaged. Never mind the thought of how far she would fall as a result. She swallowed and adjusted her sweaty grip on the railing. Could she tie the blanket to the rail and climb down that way? No, the blanket was far too short. Charis cursed Amon under her breath as she looked at the ladder. If only there were some way to reach it from here.
Again, she stretched out as far as she could, straining to reach any part of the ladder, but it remained just beyond her fingertips. With shaking hands and sweaty palms, Charis turned around and gingerly stepped down onto the topmost shelf. She clung to the railing posts as tightly as she could and swung her left leg out to try to hook the ladder with her foot. Relief flooded through her when she caught it on the first try. She awkwardly dragged it toward her until it was close enough that she could climb on.
Upon reaching the bottom, she paused momentarily to collect herself. Her knees felt like they were made of jelly. How dare Amon leave her stranded! Charis was about to storm out the door when the sight of Amon’s workspace in the middle of the room caught her eye. An evil grin spread across her face as she approached the table. All of the books here were related to rare and antique paintings—Amon’s area of study. Most were collections that documented various works: the history, artist, style, symbolism, interpretation, types of paint used, and other relevant information. Some of the books dated back to King Gared’s time and, as such, were written in one of the ancient tongues. They were dead languages now, having nearly disappeared after the institution of a national language for all of Renatus.
One book sat by itself, directly in front of the chair, so it seemed most likely that this was the one Amon had been using last. Since several markers jutted out from the pages in the same place, Charis opened the book at that spot. Loose papers, covered in Amon’s tight, precise handwriting, were wedged inside. She was tempted to tear them up but hesitated as she skimmed through them. She wasn’t well versed in this dialect, but she could translate well enough to see that Amon’s notes weren’t quite an accurate interpretation of the text on the accompanying pages. That was odd. Amon was a meticulous researcher and fluent in multiple languages. It wasn’t like him to make such a fundamental mistake. She would have to point out the discrepancy to him later.
Charis’ thoughts immediately flew back to her escapade with the ladder. Then again, why should she do anything to help him after that? She sifted through the stacks, arbitrarily pulling bookmarks from their pages and placing them into other books in random locations.
Satisfied with her mischief, she then turned away from the table and hurried from the room, cursing Amon under her breath with every step. The hinges of the open gate squeaked softly when she passed by. As soon as she got home, she was going to burn his handkerchief.
Check back for the release of Reflection: Harbinger of the Phoenix in E-book and paperback formats at the end of this month!
© 2015 Rachel R. Smith