Thursday, August 29, 2013

Craegen : Cassie Aldracks [part 1] (Friday Fiction)

Hi everyone! 
I have the lovely distinction of hosting Friday Fiction this week. I've been trying to smooth out this piece out between my weekend homework today, so I hope it doesn't sound too much like all the Shakespeare and Melville that I've been reading. It is part of a gigantic creature-topia style world that I've been working on for the better half of nearly three years, featuring dragon-like creatures called Craegens. I'm really excited to share the first introduction/chapter piece. This is one of fantasy worlds, so be warned that my imagination is running at top-speed. Synopsis is below. 

To join in the Friday Fiction fun, just add the link to your story to the linky widget below. Remember to keep your stories PG-13. Don't forget to read and comment. We all love the feedback. Happy weekend!


Newly-turned 18-year-old Cassie Aldracks isn't looking for anything exciting to happen as she works towards earning her Healer's Ribbons. Her quiet existence is turned upside down when the worst swallows her whole--a creature inheritance? Her family was supposed to be human--and Craegens are supposed to be extinct! Her transformation, new powers, new friends and new enemies, have her rethinking a peaceful realm on the brink of war over a centuries old cycle. 

My claws came in before the scales.

I had plenty of time to panic by then and it was easy to hide them under standard-issue gloves. My hands simply curled in in themselves and the rounded nails lengthened and grew to points. I thought I was hallucinating the first time.

By the ninth time it happened, I’d realized that they were claws and had ruined three pairs of black gloves. No one else seemed to notice, as it was approaching our midterm season and everyone was focused on their studies.

I could excuse myself to study in my room and that worked until the dorm leader threatened to lodge a complaint about maxing out my indoor hours. I hid myself in the library then, searching out books and scanned pages of obscure legends to explain away the fact that my eighteenth birthday had brought me nothing but pain.

The good part was that I was no longer required to return home during the breaks, I was now considered a legal adult and thus able to stay over at the academy as long as I had less than five demerits. I only ever had two and that was usually because of my idiot roommates who refused to break tradition, even when it cost them a mark on their academic record.

My uncle was never forgiving of those two marks though, so I would find myself up to my elbows in all kinds of volunteered work to make up for the transgressions. I soon learned how to deal with it. Showing up to class with claws for hands was definitely one way to ruin my carefully balanced reputation.

I preferred to remain just under the radar as far as my fellow students and professors were concerned. Creature inheritances were quite rare among the population and even though they were protected to some degree, the restrictions that came with it made you out to be an exotic pet of sorts.

The scales came in as the semester progressed. I woke up to find my hands covered in silvery-white scales with a peach tint if held up to the light. The claws seemed more natural then. A frantic scrubbing session in the private showers only showed that there were more of them than I’d realized.

The sides of my face, patches along my arms and legs, a few splotches along my torso and then my ears. My ears were the worst, instead of the normal, natural, human-looking appendages with rounded tops, I had dainty, pointed elf-ears.

Very real, very pointy, elfin ears that would not go away. This was not supposed to be happening. I could hear just fine with them and there was no shortage of sensation. In fact, they were more sensitive than before. The pain was excruciating when I tried to stretch it in a useless attempt to return them to their original form.

Several long minutes of panic eventually melted away to sheer exhaustion. I’d spent most of the night trying to decide how I could hide the scales, only to finally look up in the mirror and realize that my original appearance had returned. No pointed ears, no shiny scales and definitely no claws.

I almost thought I was imagining things, except for the fact that there was a very distinct nightmare that chose to surface. For my eighteenth birthday, the most important day of my young life, I had the worst dream I could recall. I’d fallen into some sort of personal torture where everything ached, burned and cracked.

This nightmare remained burned into my memory. I couldn’t recall any other that was so vivid. I don’t know how long it lasted, only that I couldn’t wake up from it, no matter how hard I tried and that no one heard me, even though I screamed and cried for it to stop. I clawed bloody marks into my entire body and ripped up the sheets, coverlet and pillows. I made a mess of everything and there was so much pain.

But when I woke, I found that I’d screamed myself hoarse and could barely whisper. The destructive details that would have proved the nightmare to be more real than a dream were conspicuously absent. My bed was in perfect condition, there were no visible marks anywhere on my body, but there was a dull ache that lingered as if I’d pushed myself too hard in basic training or something.

I chose to believe it was a nightmare, even though I had skipped the underwater basic training regimen that week—for a field outing with my specialty Healer’s class—and never took part in any of the workout sessions. The aches faded away, except for the occasional phantom pains in my shoulders and lower back. I couldn’t figure out what they were and my monthly physical didn’t show anything out of the ordinary.

Not even my claws or scales came out that day.

If I hadn’t seen them that very night, I would’ve been sure that I was imagining things. I searched the library for all the information I could about creature inheritances, hoping that I could find out whether there was anything buried in my family history. Some of the ancestry records were sealed though, and I couldn’t learn anything beyond my father’s parents, which, predictably, didn’t explain much.

I was hardly up for company or the remaining weeks of school when I stumbled out of my student quarters for the day.

“Oi, Cassie!” Kima came bouncing down the hall, pausing to sling an arm around my shoulders. “You look terrible,” she poked my cheek. “Are you still staying up to watch Lolly-dramas after curfew?”

“Kima!” I tried to pull away from her, wincing at the slap of her blonde pigtails against my face. As my self-appointed best-friend, Kima had a habit of filling in every single gap in my personality. If I was quiet, she’d be twice as loud to make it up for us both. Today, she was ridiculously hyper, if the constant twitching of her fingers were any indication at all. “Ow. Hey, watch it. What’d you do, clean out the dessert bar again?”

She gave me a look, then reluctantly released her gorilla-grip to wave her little flip wallet with her meal tickets in it. “Actually, I kind of used them all up and I was sort of hoping that-”

I dug into my pocket and handed over my own wallet. The sooner she stopped talking, the sooner I might have a few moments of piece for my troubled mind. “Just take it, whatever you want.”

“Really? Aw, you’re a sweetheart.” Kima happily flipped through the week’s tickets and tore out all the ones for the dessert bar. “I can trade you a fruit one, if you like.”

I made a face. “Actually, this week I feel like eating steak.”

“Steak?” She stopped in mid-step, pulling me to a stop beside her. “Cassie, you never eat steak.” She snapped my wallet shut and tucked it down the front of my jacket. “How are you feeling? Fever?” She slapped a hand to my forehead. “You look terrible, but you feel fine.” She bit her lips. “How was your monthly check-up?” Her worried look changed to a frown, “and for the record, the next time you feel like skipping the practicals, warn me ahead of time!” She produced a plastic folder and generously whapped me over the head with it. “I had to give your nonexistent excuses to Healer Surrey, how do you think she took it?”

“Er, thanks?” I took the folder, meekly. “Sorry, I didn’t know that I would—I kind of overslept.”

“Lolly dramas,” Kima retorted, referring to the overly dramatized web series that the art students took turns producing. It was a wild, wacky show that was somehow addictive in spite of everything to the contrary. “Quit watching that stuff after curfew.” She sighed, “Quit watching anything after curfew. You need sleep. Every sane person needs sleep. Anyway, I told her that you were helping Conner with his science project, so she was fine with letting you off this once. The second time, I told her that you were slated for a check-up, but she didn’t really buy it that well and the third time-”

“The third time she said she saw you in the library, which only worked, because I told her that you were helping me on a proj-” Conner’s dry voice cut into the conversation. “Kima, are you filching dessert tickets off of Cassie again? That’s rude, you know.”

“She never uses them!” Kima protested. She danced around to walk on my other side, to make sure there was distance between her and Conner. “I’m just helping out,” she frowned. “Hey, don’t you have a few steaks on your menu this week?”

“Steak?” Conner looked at her and then at me. “You don’t eat steak.”

“It’s ah, a craving,” I flashed a smile. “So, hey. How’s the project I haven’t helped you with?”

“You can show up tomorrow afternoon so I can test it,” he said, smoothly. “Here,” he reached into his pocket and produced two dinner meal tickets with pictures of a juicy steak printed on the glossy card stock. “You can have these. I’ve already bargained with the others.”

“Bargained? With who? For what?”

“With whom and why,” Conner corrected. “With the Seniors in the Athletics department so I can see if my experiment can really have a positive impact on idiots with brawn for brains.”

“Hey, they’re not all that bad,” I defended. I took the tickets and retrieved my wallet to stick them inside. My friends were right, I generally avoided most meats and sweets as a general rule, but lately, I’d been craving red meat like it was going to be extinct. If I wasn’t so tired, I might have bothered to care why.

“That’s ‘cause they’re all nice to you,” Kima sighed. “You have no idea what it’s like to be competing with them, the blockheads. Do you have any idea what I went through this past week? I was supposed to take three volunteers through my study, for the midterm project and two of them bailed. If I see them again this semester, they’d better hope they’re heading home for the summer holidays.”

I sniggered. “That bad?”

“Worse,” Kima shook her head. “I can’t believe I’m putting myself through this on purpose. Being a duel-enrollment student is horrible. Say, Conner, why didn’t you ask me to help with the experiment? I wouldn’t have minded. I still count halfway for the Athletics department. ”

“You’re a girl,” Conner wrinkled his nose. “You’d ruin the data.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” She sputtered.

The bickering started up and I laughed to myself, watching them walk on ahead. It was nice to have friends that were just mine, who didn’t care that I had picked the most troublesome department to specialize in. Their strange friendship included me and overlooked the fact that technically all of our chosen departments were always at odds with each other.

Well, the science tech heads and the sports ones, anyway. Our academy was divided into the four departments that consisted of the cornerstones of our society. First, Technologies and Sciences, second, Athletics, third Medical and Healing, fourth, music and the arts. The Medical division was fairly neutral and the art types were considered to be too strange and offbeat to mingle much. Most students stayed within their departmental confines and were content in doing so. The boundaries between each are fairly strict, but students were allowed to interact with the other departments.

We still had our general studies classes together, but our mornings were often filled with specialty classes. Kima was holding a special position as dedicated Athletic Healer by her choice as a dual-enrollment student. Conner held the highest GPA for his department—Technologies and Science—consistently winning and holding either the top student award or the runner-up position.

I was just happy to be an average student working to keep up decent grades and maintain the necessary levels I’d finally reached in my healer classes. There was nothing spectacular about me, compared to Conner's amazing techno-whiz abilities and Kima's amazing Athletic feats, but I was happy enough to belong for the time being. Maybe I'd find a dream or a better career path later. 


Having a Healer's ability was almost good enough, as far as uniqueness went. 

Unless you had a magical gift, you were classified as a Doctor, if you were blessed with magical talents, then you earned and maintained the title of Healer. My talents were respectable enough that I had tested and earned entrance into the program where I felt I could make the most difference.

A wave of weariness washed over me and I made myself hurry up to stand between Kima and Conner, half-leaning on them for some support.

“Cassie?” Conner pinched the bridge of his nose. “Are you alright?”

“Perfectly fine. Just need that steak,” I made myself smile and followed them into the mess hall. The past week had left me feeling increasingly tired with each passing day. I slept through the entire weekend and scrambled to complete my homework during class.

Insomnia, which had plagued me on and off since my thirteenth year, had vanished in the wake of this extreme exhaustion. I’d taken to chugging energy drinks in between of everything, paying out of pocket with all that I’d saved up from the past few years.

My generous relatives did not care to grant me an allowance, but I never bothered to tell them that I could earn some extra credits by lending a hand on weekends. Thanks to some of the kinder superior officers on board our floating-rock-in-space-station academy, I was able to find and accept odd jobs that were safe and decent, earning some credits in the process.

The mess hall was humming and bustling with the usual mass of students filing through to collect their necessary meals. The entire process was fully automated and thus foolproof. For tracking purposes, we all scanned our ID cards upon entering and started the timer for the allotted hour and a half given to the midday meal. We shuffled through the serving line after scanning our meal tickets. Our trays were collected at the end and the appropriate credits deducted from our personalized meal plans.

Our usual table was in the corner and of the eating courtyard, just within view of the exits and close enough to the trash receptacles so that we wouldn’t have to wait too long in line to clock out. The steak looked appetizing enough, but a little too cooked for my new craving. I hated the thought of wasting food, so I ate it anyway and then felt an overwhelming urge to sleep again.

Pushing the tray away, I folded my arms on the table and rested my head atop them. Conner and Kima were still arguing over his experimental project and I knew they were giving me some privacy, when neither of them commented as I closed my eyes.

Surely a little nap couldn’t hurt…

(c) Sara Harricharan

A/N: Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this opening installment. 


Catrina Bradley said...

Sara, this might be one of my favorite stories - I was hooked from the get-go. I love the humor in this creative work. I am in awe of how each world you create is different, original, and oh-so imaginative!