Okay. So here we go. I am posting a bit of the beginning of my MS. *deep breath* Here goes nothin’! NB. Respectful, helpful feedback is most welcome, tearing it to shreds (no matter whether it’s justified!) is not 🙂

She looked down to find her hands slick with blood, the knife falling with a clatter from her slippery fingers.

They say the first is the hardest. Andria marvelled at how it could be anything but hard; watching the eyes roll back in the head, the tongue lag. The flickering shadows from the torches lining the cavern cast a terrifying glow on the body as the blood pooled at Andria’s feet. Her ragged breathing echoed, sounding harsh in the quiet after the struggle.

She felt chilled, numb. The unseeing eyes mocked her, threatening to drag her along the path of Transcending in her wake.

“Oh no. It is only your time, not mine,” she said softly.

Hearing the thud of feet beating their way along the tunnel towards her, she bent over the body, wiped her hands on the woman’s skirts and tucked the knife back into her belt. She straightened as the owner of the footsteps rounded the corner and stumbled into the cave. The stone she had plucked from the corpse burned in her fist.

“Andria.” He took her shoulders, bending to look her full in the face.

“I’m okay, I’m okay.” The tremor in her voice proved the words were false. “She’s dead. I killed her.”

“Do you have the stone?”

“No…it wasn’t on her.”

Andria’s heart hammered from the lie as she watched Mikhel run his hands over the dead woman, cursing under his breath. She took the opportunity to slip the stone into the concealed pocket of her coat; sickened more by the lie than the killing.

Satisfied the stone was nowhere on the woman’s body, Mikhel turned to Andria, concern written in his eyes. Taking her hands to stop the trembling, he stared at her for long seconds, willing his strength into her.

“I’m fine. Really.” Her voice was steadier now, her breathing normal. Thankful he could not read her thoughts, or see the black spot of her deceit now blooming across their union like ink on wet paper, she squeezed his hands. “Let’s go. There’s nothing more to do here.”

They had followed the woman for days since being told by the sage that she carried the stone. She had proven an easy target, her predictability and lack of instinct her ultimate downfall. And now I have the stone, thought Andria, fingering it’s hardness through the fabric of her coat.

They made their way back through the underground tunnel, their footsteps breaking the silence between them.

“How could Sapere be wrong? He never has been before,” Mikhel wondered aloud as they broke through into the forest bathed in the dusk.

Swallowing the taste of guilt on her tongue, Andria steered the conversation to safer ground. “More importantly, where is Brackley? He was supposed to be here.”

Mikhel’s childhood friend, while a trusted ally in their task, had yet to prove himself wholly reliable. As fond as she was of Brackley, his tardiness and ability to forget details frustrated Andria. Mikhel laughed away her worries, forgiving his friend all and any transgression. Andria sighed inwardly at the ties that caused Mikhel to be so blinded where Brackley was concerned, and sat down on a fallen log to wait.

A slight rustle of the branches and Brackley stood before them, grinning that infuriating grin. Seeing Andria’s dishevelled state and blood stained hands, his face quickly became anxious, a frown creasing his dark forehead.

“Andria, what happened to you? Are you hurt?” Despite her annoyance, Andria was grateful for his concern, knowing that his devotion to her as well as Mikhel, far outweighed his shortcomings.

“I’m fine.”

“She killed the woman.” Mikhel said, the pair exchanging looks.

Brackley stared hard at Andria. “And the stone? You have it?”

Mikhel spoke for her. “No, it seems Sapere was wrong this time. The stone was nowhere on her. Back to square one, I guess. Any suggestions, Andria?”

“Well, I…we…” Both men looked at her questioningly. “We need to get back to Sapere, I suppose. See whether our interpretation of the runes was wrong.” She bent to adjust her boot; hoping they would put her vagueness down to what happened in the cave. And if the truth be told, it had set her off kilter; this task was forcing her to do things she had not thought she would be called upon to do. If the lukos had not sprung from the bushes, Mikhel would have been the one to follow the woman into the cave and not her. The injuries he sustained were mere flesh wounds; while hers burned a hole inside her, the knowledge of what she had done sinking in and settling itself deep within.

“Lead the way,” said Brackley, sweeping into a mock bow.

Mikhel looked thoughtfully at Andria’s back before following her along the path. When she was a little way ahead, he felt Brackley’s hand on his arm.

“Is she really okay? She seems a little weird,” Brackley whispered.

“I don’t know. She did just kill someone, Bracks. I think that might have some effect on a person, don’t you?”

“Yeah but she’s tough, Mikhel. You know that. Maybe she’s just disappointed about the stone.”

“I can hear you, you know.” Andria’s voice floated back down the path. Shooting each other a wry glance, Mikhel and Brackley hurried to join her.