Name: Janis Seminara
Genre: Middle Grade, Science Fiction/ fantasy
Title: The Seedsower
Chapter 1: Discovery
A strange notion crossed Logan’s mind every time he hiked up the mountain; the notion that he had to go up in order to go back to the beginnings of things. All of the answers of life in Illium were obscured up there in the halo. He just knew they had to be. Logan had hoped the onset of spring would have set the beautiful fires-stars, Magnus’ golden flowers in bloom to brighten this hike, however the ever-present halo fixed atop Magnus’ summit hung darker than usual, feeling heavy, like wet clothes, spreading a gray mist over the entire valley. Creepy. He was close now; the familiar warning sign bobbed in and out of view. A few more steps and the threatening plea: ‘Danger - Do Not Enter ’ set against a red slashed triangle with a gray circle on its tip; a sorry rendition of the glorious mountain and her ominous halo. Logan laughed out loud; how many times had he made it in and out, no problem? Of course he only went a few feet in, always inching his way a bit more every time, nonetheless, it did stand true. Many a hiker disappeared in that halo in hopes to reach the ever-elusive summit or to make a new scientific discovery. Corey Blane, one of Knowledge Gate’s most promising scholars disappeared ten years ago. He had been sure, much like Logan was sure, that the halo held scientific secrets. Logan had been practicing getting in an out for years, and he knew just how to do it; a well-planned lunch on Logan’s part of Uncle Hephaestus’ favorite meat-cakes, and sweeties – a special delicacy of sugar and fruit and Hephaestus would be out cold, slumped against a boulder, just long enough for Logan to do some exploring.
Logan rested his walking stick up against the backside of the sign. He wouldn’t need it now; the trail fell flatter in the halo, and quite softer. Today the air had a strong chemical odor and taste to it. Logan knew all about chemicals, he had been top Chemistry student at the Knowledge Gate School three years in a row. Final projects were due in just under a month, and he still hadn’t decided on what to do. In the name of Science, he just had to hike in the forbidden zone. Perhaps he would discover a new element. His secret goal was to discover what compounds made up the halo, then to break them down and eventually disintegrate the halo so the summit would be free. Logan wished for nothing more than to be Illium’s greatest scientist; the one and only who cracked the code of the halo so he could be the first to reach Magnus’ summit. What a wondrous way to celebrate the centennial of his world! His heart pounded with excitement.
The halo thickened the further he went, hanging like an iron door. He had taken just ten more steps in than the last hike and yet whatever gases made up the halo seemed to be eating up the oxygen. He threw his pack down and took out a telescoping shovel he had rigged up himself. He figured he’d need height on the dig, in case he had to use his foot to shove it deeper into the ground. The air seemed to choke him with the least bit of exertion. Logan kicked the spade shaped blade of the shovel down into the ground, gripping steady onto the shaft. The air choked him with the least bit of exertion. He wasn’t sure, but it almost felt as if the ground pulled back at him. He pulled the shovel out, and then shoved it back in the same place this time, using his heel on the tip of the blade to give it a good kick so it would go deeper. Again! He was sure the ground pulled the shovel back. He let go of the shovel, and it spun in a complete circle then fell backwards to the ground, leaving a gaping hole no more than a few feet deep. Something shone back at him, even in the drab gray mist, something caught his eye. Without thinking, he fell to his knees and dug his hands into the soft reddish soil to grab the illusive object. The ground grabbed his hands, deeper and deeper until he was both elbows in. Gasping for air, his head dizzied and pounded and he couldn’t get his hands to move.
“Ouch!” The mountain let go and Logan sprung backwards. He felt a warm liquid oozing down his hand. Stuck inside his index finger was a blue shard, about two inches wide by three inches long. Logan winced. He’d have to pull it out. It had gone in pretty deep – almost straight through. He braced himself; goose bumps traveled up his arm. “One, two…” gasp, “Three.” Logan clenched his teeth through the pain. With his free hand he fished around his pack for something to wrap around the wound and stop the bleeding. It hurt plenty and within seconds, blood soaked through the thin yellow cloth his mom had wrapped his meat-cake with. He wiped the shard across his shirt to examine it.
The stone had four sides, sort of free form, transparently blue in some places, deep cobalt blue in others. The edges were sharp and clear, except for the red stain where Logan’s blood deposited. It felt weightless, and so wrapping his fingers around it secured him that it was truly there; Logan wondered what molecules made up the mass of it, what atoms made the molecules, and then what? Where did this shard come from? It felt as if Magnus herself handed it to him. Could it be from Before? Whatever this shard was, he’d soon find out. His fingers itched to start experimenting. A roll of thunder quaking through the halo made it even darker. The odor became much stronger now, and he could taste sulfur. He slipped the shard in his pocket with his other hand, tucking it carefully into the deepest corner, and then patted the outside of the pocket to make sure it stayed put. When his breathing became normal, he headed back out of the halo. He couldn’t show his uncle, just in case there were any consequences from the Board, he didn’t want Hephaestus to get in trouble. Soon the heavy veil dissolved into a soft mist. He went for his walking stick, but it wasn’t exactly where he left it. Instead, Uncle Hephaestus, leaning against the sign, waved the stick above his head and he didn’t look very happy.
“So, you did it again?” Hephaestus’ shiny, bald head shimmered with a soft covering of mist in-line with the halo on the Warning sign. Logan couldn’t help but laugh.
“You think it’s funny?”
Logan pointed to the sign. “No it’s just that the sign behind you…you looked like you had a halo.” Hephaestus shook his head, looking even unhappier with every passing second. “C’mon Uncle Hephy…” Even addressing his uncle affectionately didn’t alter Hephaestus’ grin. He held out Logan’s walking stick with his short, muscular arms. Oak chips showered Logan’s hand as he grabbed it with his right hand, placing his left hand quickly behind his back. Logan tried to avert Hephaestus’ round, steady eyes, but Hephaestus held steadfast onto the stick.
“I notched it. This is our 26th hike.” Hephaestus folded his arms, tilting his head to the side.
“Twenty-four, I don’t count the ones I actually didn’t walk my own way.” He matched his uncle’s grin, angry now that the one person in all of Illium he thought would understand suddenly didn’t. Now he was sure he wouldn’t show him the stone.
“Well, nevertheless, whether I held you or not, two hikes for every year.”
Logan barely recalled those earliest hikes, when Uncle Hephy would wrap him up like a package and tie him to his back. They didn’t hike very far, but Logan remembered the way the mountain smelled sweet in the spring and bitter in the fall. As he grew older, the hikes became longer and longer, until Logan had reached the warning sign. Then came the day Logan had finally stepped into the halo; he had just turned ten. Uncle Hephy had fallen asleep after over- indulging in sweeties. Logan had been just inside the halo a few feet, and for only a few minutes, and yet he totally recalled how his body trembled with excitement from head to toe, how he felt like he belonged there. He had heard Uncle’s hysterical cries, and really had wanted to get out and assure him that he was fine, but the feeling in the air, and the opaqueness of whatever the halo was made up of fascinated him. He wanted to dissect it, taste it, study it. Logan still felt that way. For some crazy reason, Logan had a knowing about this mountain; a knowing that the halo held secrets about the Before. Before Illium. Before this beautiful mountain ever existed. But the Before was forbidden in Illium. Perhaps that is why the Halo existed. Could the Board have created it? Logan would use science as a way to get some answers. Science was acceptable in Illium, and so Logan chuckled, “I’ll beat them at their own game!”
Hephaestus licked his lips, the softness returning to his eyes. “Those sweeties are irresistible kid. Gotta hand it to ya. Works every time.” He circled Logan, slowly checking every feature of his nephew. “So, what’s behind your back?”
Before Logan could swing his hand away, Hephaestus caught his cuff.
“Now, how am I going to explain that to your mother?” He grabbed Logan’s hand closer, gently touching the bloodied yellow wrap.
“Tell her that you’re teaching me how to carve walking sticks.”
“Now you know I can’t say that.” Hephaestus slowly opened the yellow cloth and heaved through his teeth. “She’d kill me if she thought I was teaching you contraband.”
“But you can carve walking sticks.” Logan grabbed his hand back and re-wrapped it.
“I’m not a scientist. My job is to make walking sticks so people will use their vouchers to buy ‘em. Your job is Science.” Hephaestus drew an imaginary circle with his hands. “The wheels of progress go round and round. We do what we do for Illium.” Suddenly, his eyes grew serious. “You’ll get the two of us rafted, and that would break Naira’s heart.” A chill shook Logan to the bone because he knew Uncle was right. Getting ‘rafted’ meant removal from family and friends, tied to a raft and set out to sea, alone. Who could survive? Nobody ever came back; in fact much like the haloed-summit, no one had ever seen the sea. If the halo doesn’t kill you, the Board will. Logan threw back his shoulders, suddenly justified in his secret trips through the halo. He’d be careful. His mother would never find out. But he wouldn’t stop. Not until he stood atop the summit.
“Beside, Naira would never forgive me.” Hephaestus’ doughy wrinkles drooped so heavily over his eyes, his bulbous nose, and pouting lips jutted. “She’d never forgive me.”
Logan shook the thought out of his head. The thought that occurred to him every time Hephaestus said his mother’s name like that. He knew they weren’t related, but he also knew his mother had broken her pairing, and that under the rules…