[The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of my upcoming urban fantasy novel, (still awaiting its proper title) which I hope to have completed by the end of this year, all things going to plan 🙂 I hope you enjoy it!!]
It was the sunlight that woke me, or at least what passed for sunlight in Undercity.
In reality, what had woken me was more like the sallow amber glow from the cast iron gas street light that hung from its rusty chain just outside of my bedroom skylight.
Being in the constant shadow of Altéga, or ‘The Immortal City of Altéga,’ at least to those of the ‘Gifted’ classes whose families hadn’t spent the last eight or so fairly uncomfortable generations, scraping out a meagre existence beneath the vast shadow cast by its floating, oh so majestic, several thousand-ton bulk.
Yes, with all of that rock floating fifteen or so meters above your head natural sunlight was in pitifully short supply.
The little that did manage to shine beneath the rim of the floating city above only did so for a few short hours a day when the sun was in the right position in the sky. Even then, its rays only covered a small strip of land at the very perimeter of Undercity.
This fortunate area was, by necessity, comprised solely of poor quality fruit and vegetable allotments which yearly tried, and inevitably failed, to provide food for the SUB families who tended them, and the inner-city residents who lived their whole lives solely by gas and candlelight.
SUBs, or sub magical beings, were a section of the supernatural community who, although innately magical by birth, had minimal to zero actual usable powers. Trust me this was definitely not a title of our own choosing but rather one used, to great effect, to create a crystal-clear divide between us and the magically ‘gifted’ world floating above our heads.
The title also came with its own neat little set of rules and restrictions, including the one dictating that no SUB was to be allowed to build or farm outside of the shadow cast by Altéga. Unfair…totally! But then we wouldn’t want the gifted on high in their gilded towers to suffer the supreme insult of an interrupted view of the countryside surrounding the city…especially not by lowly creatures such as ourselves.
Okay so bitter ranting aside, the SUB community itself was one of warmth, friendship and love which in my opinion beats gilded cages and loveless political alliances hands down.
For the young ones like myself, who had spent their entire lives in the Undercity, we didn’t really know any different.
Passes to Altéga were incredibly rare so most of us (black market traders aside) had only visited the Immortal City once, on the morning of our fifth birthday, in order to be officially registered on the Census of Supernatural Beings.
Stretching with a loud jaw-cracking yawn I threw back the covers and sat up. Swinging my legs off of the bed, I winced a little as my bare toes came into contact with the cold floor.
Stuffing my feet into my well-worn wool slippers I shuffled out of the door and down the narrow flight of stairs to the small family bathroom that I shared with my parents and eight raucous siblings.
As the eldest child, I at least got the luxury of a loft room all to myself up in the eaves of the house, which when you have eight younger siblings was a solid must-have.
Sadly, the house in which we lived only had room for one bathroom. A fact that meant that I wasn’t altogether surprised when I tried the door handle and found it firmly locked.
‘Are you going to be long?’ I called, pulling my heavy dressing gown tighter to ward off the early morning chill that was still in the air.
Nothing. Raising my hand, I knocked the door but my only response was the low sound of badly muffled giggling coming from inside.
‘Farlan, Brodie…I know you are in there, open the door. I have to get ready for work or I’ll be late to open the shop.’ Putting my ear to the door I heard what sounded very much like a scuffle, followed by a pained squeak before Farlan’s high-pitched voice piped up from the other side of the door confirming my previous suspicions.
‘Ah will ainlie open th’ door if ye promise ye willnae be aff tellin Mom aboot Brodie’s hair.’ I rolled my eyes skyward and sighed deeply.
Eight-year-old Farlan fancied himself a budding scientist and was continually getting himself into trouble with his fantastic concoctions and wild experiments. Brody, his twin brother, and partner in crime had the unfortunate habit of being the test subject of said experiments with a range of rather colourful outcomes.
‘OK fine, just let me in and I’ll see if there is anything to be done before Mom gets back from Mrs Delfries.’
There was another whispered exchange and then the old brass key finally turned and the door opened up a crack.
One bright green eye appeared in the opening scanning to make sure the coast was clear before the door was whipped open and I was yanked through it into the room beyond.
The door closed and with a snick the lock was firmly back in place, leaving the three of us standing in total darkness.
‘Farlan, it might be easier for me to help Brodie if I could actually see him.’ I said as patiently as I was able to manage at 6 am whilst standing in the freezing cold in my nightwear.
I stubbed my toe on the heavy oak dresser cursing under my breath as I attempted to find the light cord.
‘Ye hae tae actually say ‘I promise’ foremaist or it daesn’t coont!’ his tone was desperate now and I felt a flicker of worry spark to life. It must be really serious this time as normally the twins just accepted their punishments with a cheeky smile and went right back to terrorising the family two minutes later.
‘Brodie, are you hurt?’ I asked the darkened room not knowing exactly where to direct my question in the pitch black.
‘Na a’m a’richt Penny. Bit Mom is aff tae hae a fit whin she sees me if ye cannae help.’ His words were muffled but he sounded alright and my worry faded again. With another resigned sigh, I turned to where I thought Farlan had been standing.
‘Fine. I promise that I won’t tell Mom. Now, can you turn the blessed light on so I can actually see what mess you have made of your brother this time.’ From his silence, I could tell he was carefully weighing the truth of my words but then a moment later the light popped on, blinding us all for a second or two before revealing a small form draped head to foot in a large fluffy white bath towel.
‘Brodie. I’m assuming that your nefarious brother hasn’t turned you into a bath towel so let’s have that off of you and take a look at the damage.’ Farlan smothered a giggle from just behind my shoulder and I heard Brodie give a long-resigned sigh. He raised the towel a couple of inches, exposing a small pair of brown, fur-covered feet.
‘Brodie whilst the expectation is thrilling I really do have to get ready for work now so let’s speed things up a bit shall we.’
‘Dae ye promise nae tae laugh Penny?’ Brodie whined plaintively.
‘I promise I’ll skelp your behind for you if you make me any later for work!’ my voice was stern but I had to fight a small smile all the same.
The towel finally began to lift again exposing brown furry legs to match the feet and as the towel rose higher, I was instantly glad that I hadn’t actually promised not to laugh.
From the knobbly knees up my embarrassed looking little brother was bright blue!
At this point, I should probably explain that my family and I are a little different from most other families, even in the Undercity.
When I was very small Muira and Tavish McBryde found me on their front porch with only a wicker basket and a worn blue blanket.
There was no indication at all of who had left me there, why or where I had come from not even a note with my name on it.
Fortunately for me, being the kind-hearted people that they are, the McBryde’s without a moment’s hesitation took me into their home and decided to raise me as one of their own.
That day 28 years ago I got a new name ‘Hapenny,’ or Penny for short, named for the most treasured of their possessions and became their first child (this was several years before the first of my younger siblings arrived on the scene)
Muira and Tavish or Mom and Dad as I had always called them were broonies, an innately magical people whose clans mostly hail from Scotland or Ireland.
Broonies are small in stature with soft brown fur covering most of their bodies, large noses, pointed ears and an almost magical affinity for housework and metalsmithing. They are also an incredibly long-lived race with individuals often spanning several human generations or more in a single lifetime.
Dad always told us in bedtime stories and around the cooking fire that his family line were descended from Broonie Kings and that his family had, at one point in time, sat at the feet of the Goddess Brigid of the Celtic peoples as her loyal servants and trusted advisors.
How much of this tale was true I could never be sure though, as broonies are also incredibly fond of a good yarn when the moment calls for it.
It is safe to say though that my adoptive family has deep roots that stretch very far back into history and that this is something they are inordinately proud of and happy to talk about at length.
‘Descended from Broonie kings huh.’ I muttered to myself as I took in the bedraggled looking fluffy blue creature in front of me.
My comment immediately sent Farlan off into peals of raucous laughter and he merrily rolled around the floor for a moment or two, before his brother snarled and dived on top of him and yet another scuffle ensued. Wading into the middle I tried my best to separate them
‘Argh! Brodie did you just bite me?! Right, that’s enough from the both of you!’ I grabbed a still giggling Farlan from the midst of the wild tangle of flailing furry limbs, unlocked the bathroom door, and pushed him out into the corridor shutting and locking it again before he could push his way back inside for round two.
I turned to Brodie with a scowl on my face but at the sight of his watering eyes, I felt my expression soften. Walking over I patted him on his furry blue head.
‘It’s alright Brodie…really. I’m sure a little salt, lemon and water and a couple of baths will have you back to your normal handsome self in no time at all.’ He smiled at that, brushing a hand over his face and bounced to his feet.
‘Weel let’s git aboot it then. Farlan ‘n’ ay are gauen huntin fer gudgeon ower at th’ Marl Hole wi’ th’ Fitzwilliam twins. An ah dinnae want tae be late!’
Even though I spent every day with them, the sheer changeability of broonies never failed to amaze me.
Like many of the innately magical, their emotions could turn on the head of a pin, one second elated the next furious.
It definitely made for entertaining family gatherings that was for sure!