Arcene – Dystopian Series for Young Adults and Adults
Kick-ass sword? Check.
Spare ribbon for pigtails? Check.
Long socks with pink bunnies? Check.
Leel, the stupid dog? Woof.
Ready for adventure? Hell yeah!
Arcene took one last look in the mirror, twirled so her kilt swished, her silver hair bounced and her sword nearly sliced off Leel’s ear, then closed the door to her home and stepped out into the madness.
Get ready for adventure in a world 300 years in the future where The Lethargy almost obliterated humanity and life is far from normal. Giant dogs, strange castles, ravaged cities, problems with sticks (yes, really), rooms that try to kill you just for fun, the occasional panther, dealing with stinky feet, trying to learn how to be young again, encounters with the rat people, and failing to understand the broken minds of corrupt men — If 15-year-old (sort of) Arcene had known what she was about to let herself in for then she would have gone anyway; she’s just that kind of a gal.
Al K. Line returns to good old fashioned adventure (for the young and the old), where the heroine is almost as bonkers as the world she travels through.
Hold on tight, the ride’s about to start. Don’t forget your socks (bunnies optional).
“Leel. Leel! You stupid dog.”
What’s wrong with her? Why does she still keep doing this? Ugh.
Arcene managed to grab hold of Leel by a floppy ear almost as big as her own neatly plaited pigtails and the huge Great Dane finally stopped, whimpering slightly at the rather painful end to her antics. The sound was muffled somewhat because she couldn’t actually move her mouth — the stick was wedged in tight, forcing her jaw open wide, pools of sticky slobber hanging from her muzzle like wobbly weapons.
“You need to be more careful. What if I’m not here when you get something stuck? You’d starve.”
Leel stared at Arcene in shock; she definitely didn’t want to starve. Leel loved her food almost as much as Arcene, the pair of them finding it hard to think of much else for a good proportion of the day.
“Stay still, stop moving.” Arcene took hold of Leel’s jaw, her pale hands looking like a small child’s against the massive head, and tried to ignore the coating of warm saliva sticking to her fingers like honey. Leel panted heavily, the odor of the morning meal engulfing Arcene, making her stomach rumble even though it had only been an hour since they ate. “Leel, I’ll leave it there if you don’t behave, and that means no lunch for you.” There was a pitiful whimper but Leel stayed motionless, so Arcene took the opportunity to grab the stick that was supposed to have been fuel for the small fire and with a twist it was free.
“Oi, geddof me. Geddof,” shouted Arcene, laughing as she was pinned to the floor, Leel towering over her, licking wetly and barking with joy at the freedom. Arcene wiggled about beneath her friend, pushing ineffectively at the dog’s belly, but it was like pushing a brick wall — Leel may have been a real softy but she was one big dog. Not just big, absolutely huge.
Arcene was of average size for someone of her biological age of fifteen, and Leel came almost to chest height when stood next to her. When sitting, her head was almost level with Arcene’s. In other words she was gigantic, and when she was in play mode Arcene found there was only one course of action: go with it and suffer the slobbery consequences.
Leel sat and pinned Arcene’s legs, then went in for one of her favorite moves: the full face lick. Arcene could see the mischief behind the huge hazel eyes of her permanent companion, a twinkle of amusement at what she knew was sure to be great fun, and, of course, just what Arcene wanted — who wouldn’t? The head lowered, the tongue extended, and in one fluid motion Leel licked from Arcene’s chin right up to the top of her head and across her silver hair.
“Haha, that is so gross Leel. Ugh. Now shift it you big lump, we’ve got things to do today.” Arcene waited; Leel just sat there, wagging excitedly for the next game.
This dog is so stupid, it’s like she’s forgotten everything I’ve taught her.
“Come on, up. Up.”
Leel finally obeyed and jumped off, running around barking as Arcene got to her feet and smoothed down her tartan kilt, knees slightly grass-stained. Arcene frowned at the mess she was in, something she would definitely not have cared about a few years ago when she was little but a feral child trying to survive on her own in a world that showed little sign of caring. Things were different now though, and Arcene smiled at the memory of the scruffy child she once was.
Reaching down, she picked up the stick and grinned wickedly as she threw it as far as she could, shouting, “Fetch,” rather pointlessly at the wobbly rear end of Leel, who bounded into the bushes surrounding their makeshift camp, startling a pheasant as she jumped over the squat growth, turning fast to chase the bird.
“Stupid dog,” muttered Arcene, walking back to the fire, burning clear and strong, contained by a ring of rocks to stop any more unfortunate accidents — Arcene had learned long ago that fires had to be treated with the utmost respect. There had been an ‘incident’ when she was nine and it had taken a long time for her hair to grow back. The surrounding forest had fared a lot worse.
She rummaged around in her leather backpack, a gift she absolutely loved. She’d never really been much interested in anything apart from food for many years, but the older she got the more she appreciated style and how well things used to be made many centuries before she had been born.
Sitting down next to the fire, feeling nice and warm despite the sharp breeze, Arcene unlaced her boots, then pulled off her socks. She replaced them with a new pair from the backpack, same color, same style, her absolute favorite, and part of what she now felt was her ‘look,’ and one that suited her outward appearance, if not her actual real age. She pulled on the knee-high black socks and retied her boots, then stood and admired the little pink bunnies intricately stitched up the outer side.
Arcene stomped down on the short grass — they were nice and snug — the boots as well-worn as her winter gloves. She twirled once, never tiring of the feel of the kilt swishing around her thighs, loving the sound as it lifted slightly — drama, it was all about the effect. Her arms were bare and slender, those of a child. Years of obsessing over her next meal, fending for herself since a youngster, meant Arcene’s figure still showed traces of the undernourishment she had endured: her frame was willowy, her chest rather flat against the skin-tight black vest, her hips quite narrow with little sign of the almost-woman she was in body, and in mind really, even though she was older than her biological clock indicated.
Turning at the warning, instantly alert, Arcene’s eyes darted off into the forest a short distance away, eagerness governing her movements as she put a hand up to her face to shield her eyes from the sun. Leel might have caught the pheasant, their favorite meat. At least one of them anyway: rabbit was a favorite too, as was boar, deer, fish if she could catch it, well, anything really — if she could cook it then they would eat it.
The smile of anticipation turned into a frown. That was not Leel’s bark of happiness. She wouldn’t come trotting out of the woods with a prize, this was her warning bark. Something wasn’t right.
Arcene snatched up the plain wooden scabbard holding her sword then dropped it quickly as she’d forgotten about her hair. She grabbed both pigtails, now long and coming to her belly, and flipped them over to one side, holding on to them as she picked up the scabbard again, fastening the leather buckle before making a quick adjustment.
She reached over her shoulder to check the position of the sword, ancient and one of the finest swords that had ever been made in a place named Japan — somewhere far away where men used to defend their honor and the lives of those they were charged to protect with blades just as deadly as this.
Satisfied with the position of her weapon, comforted by the red pommel so soft in contrast to the harsh steel, Arcene readied herself for whatever Leel had found in the woods.
There was the snapping of twigs and the sound of branches whipping back into position after the passage of Leel, the barking becoming more incessant, with a repetitive yip, yip, getting closer as Leel either ran from whatever she had found or was chasing it out from its hiding place in the dark cover of the forest.
Hope it’s not just some poor animal Leel’s playing with.
It was doubtful. Leel may have still been young at heart but she showed the proper respect when it came to hunting: she never toyed with prey, just dispatched it quickly and efficiently, never teasing it, or scaring it more than she had to before her thick jaws delivered the death hold.
Midnight flashed close to the edge of the forest, a blur of a shape weaving between the trees, lost in the twilight world of dense native trees that made it impossible to see more than a few paces into the thick growth of oaks.
Leel let out another high-pitched yip, and ran after the creature.
Arcene caught a glimpse of her pale-gray, almost blue coat, the white patch over the dog’s eye making her stand out even without the huge bulk that was the adolescent’s body.
Leel stopped, her excitement swept away in an instant.
What’s she doing?
It was hard to see, so Arcene crept forward cautiously, hand at the hilt of the sword, ready for action. She could just about make out the dark shape, motionless. It had stopped, turned to face Leel. Clearly the chase had not resulted in the outcome Leel had taken as a given.
“Here Leel,” whispered Arcene, her friend emerging instantly from the woods into the bright sunshine where her short fur practically glowed blue in the warm morning sunlight.
Leel padded over to Arcene obediently, obviously happy to have been given instructions that would get her away from the chase that hadn’t gone according to plan. Leel sat next to Arcene, her fast panting hot on Arcene’s neck. “Good girl. What you been doing eh? Not being naughty are you?” Leel just sat there, keen eyes staring straight at the dark shadow lingering at the edge of the woods, where a glint of angry orange was staring right back at her menacingly.
What is it? It must be something bad for Leel to want to get away from it.
There was slight movement from the woods and Leel stood, head craning forward, fur bristling along the ridge of her back like a mountain erupting from the sea.
“You not going to go check it out then?” asked Arcene.
Leel didn’t even turn her head to look at her, just kept on staring, a deep rumble from her expansive chest giving warning to whatever it was that it better not try anything funny.
The silence made time slow, almost as if the birds, the other creatures of the forest, the very air itself were waiting in anticipation for events to unravel.
The heat built as the sun burned away thin wisps of intrusive cloud and the lethargic breeze brought with it the smell of decay from the forest, tinged with the scent of oak and rich loam. As Arcene squinted into the woods she saw the shadow move once again. She knew what it was, had encountered one before, actually got scared — something that didn’t happen often and hadn’t for many years. When you grow up alone and your main concern is your next meal you learn very quickly that nothing is quite as terrifying as not knowing if you will eat again for days.
Experience told Arcene how to act, so whispering soothingly to Leel she got her companion to lie down on the ground, reaching to tickle her friend’s belly until she did as was asked, resting on the warm grass with her legs extended out front of her, the huge paws comically large, claws as long as Arcene’s own fingers. Arcene crouched down beside her friend, controlling her breathing by thinking of nothing, just letting the moment wash over her, accepting the situation for what it was, feeling in-tune with her natural surroundings.
Nothing to worry about, just nature doing its thing. I’m fine, we’re fine, and that… that panther is fine too.
Arcene waited; Leel waited. The forest waited.
Birds resumed their chatter, as if they too understood there was nothing to be afraid of.
Except there was, there was always something to be afraid of. Arcene was too innocent in some ways to understand when danger was very real — her positive outlook had saved her on numerous occasions, her intense curiosity and lack of sense of risk had also got her into many hazardous situations she could have avoided if she didn’t have to climb ‘that’ tree, or pull ‘that’ lever just to see what would happen.
A bee buzzed around Arcene’s face, freckles dancing wildly as she wrinkled her stubby nose when pollen-laden legs tickled a nostril before it buzzed away toward a patch of bright yellow buttercups.
The panther crept out from its hiding place, either curiosity or hunger driving it forward.
It’s like watching a shadow. Look at those muscles.
Arcene stared in fascination at the creature, a large cat she had learned, once taught how to read, was not native to the British Isles, but rather used to be found only in zoos — which sounded like terrible places where people gave what was called money to gawk at poor animals kept behind bars or in pretend natural habitats for no other reason than to be stared at or shouted at by kids that were eating ice-cream, something Arcene would very much like to try: it sounded delicious. It was only once The Lethargy came and nobody bothered to go to zoos, or anywhere else, and the people that were in charge of the animals never showed up for work, that some of them escaped. Over three centuries later some animals had bred and settled into the countryside until they were as natural as any of the native creatures — just a lot more dangerous.
“Hush Leel, you’ll frighten it.” Arcene bent before reaching out to reassure Leel until she rested her head on her legs, never taking her eyes off the panther.
The sleek cat moved cautiously out into full sunshine, eyes taking in everything, senses acute. Deadly. It watched Arcene and Leel intently, moving like a predator waiting to ambush unsuspecting prey. Dense muscles made every movement precise and perfect, like water flowing over rocks, its head low, nostrils flared and tail bowed. It was almost crouching its belly was so low to the ground, but Arcene could see the bunched energy, muscles coiled and ready to allow the panther to move at killer speed in a split-second.
Arcene watched; waited.
I hope it’s alone, if it’s got little baby panthers it might attack us.
Leel let out a quiet moan, wanting to please Arcene by being good, but also wishing to stand tall and proud, to show she wasn’t scared — Arcene knew her friend, and it was obvious she ached to be the one in control of the situation.
A bead of sweat tumbled into Arcene’s eyes but she didn’t want to risk startling the creature so she blinked it away, staying motionless. The panther crept to the west, heading towards where Arcene knew there was a fast-running stream. It had probably been on its way for a drink when it had met Leel and found its peace shattered by a very large and over-excited puppy. Hopefully it would keep going and that would be that. Slowly it moved away, walking almost sideways to maintain eye contact, until eventually it was past the cover of the woods and out in the open.
With a final look at Leel, then a glance at Arcene, it sprang into life and moved away fast, heading for the cover of long grass further away from the clearing.
It was gone.
“Good girl Leel, good girl.”
Leel let out a joyous yip and jumped to her feet, almost knocking Arcene over in her eagerness.
“Okay, okay. We just have to tidy up first, and put out the fire. Hey, what shall we have for lunch? I’m starving.”
Leel ran back to the camp excitedly, grabbed Arcene’s dirty socks and threw one into the air, catching it and covering it in slobber.
“Leel! Now I’ll definitely have to wash them. Hmm, maybe not at the stream though, maybe somewhere else.”
Arcene busied herself breaking camp. It was promising to be a very nice day, and her adventure had only just started.
Being stuck in the body of her fifteen-year-old self and having a small child to care for had taken some serious getting used to, but after seven years she had finally been given a break — Letje, her very best friend, ruler of The Commorancy and probably the most powerful person alive, had offered to care for Lucien for as long as Arcene wanted, and although Arcene missed him terribly she had to admit it was nice being off on her own, having an adventure with Leel, who never seemed to grow old either, even though the daft dog was almost nine now.
But it would be decades until Leel was properly grown up — she was part of a breeding program that had been going on for centuries so the dogs lived as long as the average human. Leel was just a puppy really, a perpetual child, just like Arcene. The difference being that Arcene had done it to herself, controlled her body chemistry to lock her physical age at fifteen — her response to events that would haunt her forever.
It brought a smile to her face just thinking of the final act of revenge, but Arcene had paid a terrible price for the violation of her body: she had Awoken and the first thing she had done was ensure that she would never become a grown woman. Now she could never have another child as her body had stopped producing eggs. Although her actual age was over twenty, because of the chemical balance she had locked into place it meant that she would in many regards always remain a fifteen-year-old in spirit as well as body. She didn’t mind, it meant she was always full of energy and perpetually inquisitive, just as she had always been. Some would call it naughty; Arcene liked to think of it more as just being curious.
She smiled at the thought of her child, but had to admit she was relishing her freedom.
“Come on, we’ve got an adventure waiting for us. Now, what shall we hunt for lunch?”