Rite of Awakening: Chapter 7 Part 1

Hey all!
Thanks for your comments on the past fragment. I'm glad I made the right choices to put just the right amount of description there. You're all great! Here's the next section. I hope you'll enjoy it!


“So…” Sefiren spoke while lying at the edge of one of Elyrdir’s deep lakes, his gaze fixed on the Melcryl Cathedral, faintly visible from their position. To unleash Sylenvia’s wrath. What had his father meant by that? He thought to tell Sivrial about it, but he wouldn’t; he couldn’t. “Um… it’s a really nice day, don’t you think?”

“It sure is,” she replied. Another moment of silence followed.

“And… you know…” Damn! Say something, anything, he told himself as he turned to look at the princess. To his amazement, Sivrial was also looking at him, and their gazes met. They did nothing but stare at each other. It was until a soft breeze blew across Sivrial’s hair that Sefiren turned to look at the cathedral once again. She gently laughed. “Wha-What’s so funny?” asked Sefiren as his face turned to a bright shade of red.

“Look at you. You’re blushed. You haven’t changed a bit.”

“I-I... no, I have. I’m stronger... and...”

            “I’m not talking about that. You’re still that cute shy boy I remember from ten years ago.” She looked at the city. “You know, I’ve missed Asaia-Laégel.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s so different to Aldi’theliga. Life here feels… real. Don’t take me wrong, I love my home. It’s just…” she paused for a moment. “I’ve never been able to be entirely myself within its walls.”

Sefiren felt very word. That had been his life as well; always following commands and living a feigned reality. It was comforting to see he wasn’t the only one, but frustrating at the same time. Life shouldn’t be this way.

“Sivrial, do you really want to become queen?” Sefiren asked.

The princess stared at the blue sky; her eyes challenging its beauty. “Hmmm, I haven’t really thought about it.” She paused for a brief moment. “I suppose so,” she answered with a sigh. “I really can’t say. I rarely left the palace, so I know almost nothing beyond its walls. My tutor, he practically raised me to become queen; taught me all there is to know about politics and religion. I suppose I have never considered taking any other road.” She turned around, her gaze meeting Sefiren’s. “And what about you? Would you be willing to take you father’s place as the Emperor?”

“I don’t think I could handle it.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Emperor embodies his nation, so he has to be strong, courageous, determined, and charismatic. He holds the world together and must make decisions that will change the lives of thousands without doubt or fear, to stand firm, unwavering in the face of overwhelming odds. It’s too much responsibility; too many expectations to fulfil.” 

“But look at your father.”

“I don’t have my father’s strength of will and I don’t think I ever shall,” he harshly replied.

The Princess giggled. “I still think you would make a great Emperor.”

Sefiren shook his head. “I want to live a normal and quiet life, doing whatever I wish to do, away from this life. Wouldn’t you like that too? To live to the fullest?”

The sparkle of a dream illuminated her face, extinguishing shortly afterwards. “That sounds nice, but we can’t. We can’t flee from our responsibilities.”

“And where does that leave you? Isn’t there something you’ve always wanted to do or a place you’ve always wanted to visit?”

“The Moonlight Fields to the north,” she confessed with a smile. “I’ve always wanted to see the blossoming at midnight.”

“Then let’s go,” he swallowed hard, “together. I-I mean... I’ll take you... If you want it, of course.”

“Do you promise it?”

“Yes,” he answered from the depths of his being.

Not a word was uttered after that. They simply stared into each other’s eyes.

Sivrial smiled and took off her necklace. “Open your hand.” Sefiren obliged. She placed the necklace on his hand. Sefiren looked at the object in confusion. “I’m giving it to you. I’ve had it since birth; a family heirloom as I understand it,” said Sivrial as Sefiren examined the necklace. It was of white gold with a beautiful sapphire suspended in between several entwining curves and a pair of wings emerging from its sides. “I’m giving it to you so you always remember me. So you never forget your promise to take me to the Moonlight.” Sefiren looked at Sivrial’s face. To him, she had a smile second in grace and beauty to none. “Consider it your lucky charm.”

“But this belongs to your family. It’s important to them.”

            “Don’t worry,” she said with a smile across her face. “If that bothers you, be sure to return it to me after you’ve fulfilled your promise.”

Without noticing it, their faces moved closer and closer, being separated by a couple inches. Their mouths came even closer.

“Your Highnesses, there you are!” The two of them quickly got away from each other. The soldier stopped to catch his breath. His face was colourless. Sefiren helped Sivrial to get on her feet. “Your Highnesses, His Imperial Majesty has ordered me to escort you back to the palace.”

“Why?” Sefiren asked. “Is something wrong?”

The soldier dropped his gaze. “Please, follow me. The Emperor is waiting.”

Critique - Sacrificial Kingdom - 21589 - 22687

Hey!

Great section, as usual. You have a way of keeping everything in just the right proportions: dialogue, descpritions, action... it's simply very well balanced. Not much to comment on this section save for the fact that I thing Rhia managed to surprise them with little effort. These are two experienced fighters, I'd expect maybe Sommir to be harder to trick and even when disarmed, I'm sure they have an ace or two up their sleeves to pose a threat to Rhia. Does that make sense? Otherwise, brilliant!

“Your hands, Lieutenant. Keep them where I can see them” Her eyes were hard, her hand steady.

“Is she doing what I think she’s doing?” Sommir said, voice muffled.

“Shut up.” Makki said.

“Shut up,” said the Princess at the same time. Makki’s head spun. He knew something was happening, but his mind seemed unable to put meaning behind what his eyes saw. But he knew when someone intended to use a blade. “I think this might be a good opportunity for you to answer some questions I have, don’t you lieutenant?”

“Very clever, Your Highness.” He said, raising his hands, wishing he had something metal in one of them; he really ought to start wearing rings. What am I thinking? That’s Princess Rhiharu! I can’t strike her down! “We are unarmed and Meluphotia can’t change form in such a small room.”

“You seem to have a habit of underestimating me. It may yet prove fatal, Makki.”

“From now on then, Princess,” Sommir said. “When we’re all together, you can undress first.” For a wonder, Rhiharu smirked. While he wasn’t looking had someone replaced the Princess with some doppelganger?

“Does he always talk so much?” She asked him.

“Only when he’s not eating.” Makki said.

“Or kissing a beautiful woman.” Sommir added.

“He talks while he kisses the ugly ones.” Makki said. The banter was instinctive, adding to the unreality of it all, as was his assessment of the situation. The window at the rear of the room was too far away, and certainly too small to dive through. The nearest metal was Sommir’s armour, but sewn into the leather it was all but useless as a weapon. He could slap the blade away left handed, roll right, but she had already shown how fleet of foot she could… (Hmm while the Princess is definitely a clever one, I’d say she cornered two experienced fighters way too easily)

“We’ll start with something easy. Who sent you?” Makki frowned, confused, before he realised that not once had he mentioned his orders. The tension in him evaporated, like someone had cut a set of ropes banded across his chest. It all made sense now.

“Of course! My apologies Your Highness for not saying sooner. We were sent by the King to protect and support you.” He said. Rhiharu’s blade didn’t waver.

“Protect and support?” She said. There was something in her tone Makki didn’t like.

“Protect foremost. When His Highness found you had ‘absconded’ yesterday morning he surmised you had undertaken some final act on behalf of Kavernath.”

“And you found me, how?”

“His Highness told us of the hidden passage by the Eastern Bridge on Brightwater Keep. He said it would be the most likely escape route. As for spotting you – Dragon Riders are used as scouts for a reason.” Even as the words came out, each one a piece of truth, he tasted their inadequacy. Makki tried to put himself in her place, fleeing and scared, and realised that he hadn’t said anything meaningful.

“You have a letter? Signed documents? Surely my Father would have given yousomething.” Makki’s looked at the floor.

“He had a lot on his plate at the time.”

“Do – you – have – any – proof?” Why didn’t he think of that? A seal, a stamp, a scribbled note. Blessed Hand, even a lock of hair would have been something. Makki chewed up some excuses and swallowed them.

“Nothing but my word, Your Highness.” He said.

“Your word? Well, now I’m convinced.” She said. “How did you escape? Brightwater Keep would have had five armies besieging it at the time, not easy to escape, let alone unnoticed. Especially on a Dragon.” She was mocking him, he was sure, but she had that right. It was true; other than a badge of rank and a Kavernathi accent he had nothing to identify himself.

“When the Mathir breached the dock doors, your Father fortified the Eastern wall. He held it until the Mathir were inside so Melu could fly out unchallenged.” He said. Never before had the truth felt so hollow, and the truth was his only defence.

“Who was your Superior, Lieutenant?”

“General Hrakkir.”

“And the Dragon Rider Captain?”

“Mare Konree. Look, your Highness, I can…” Makki said, but the Princess rode over his protest.

“I’m sure you can. Now Sommir, your role in this would be what exac…”

“Your Highness!” He said, loud and forceful.

Rhiharu swung her attention back to him, eyes fiery and as sharp as the blade in her hand. Makki realised he had no defences at all. “Your Highness, I’m afraid we won’t be able to give you the proof you need. For anything we say there will be a reason for doubt. We might be able to name the entire staff at your palace in Kaver, but that does not mean we couldn’t have found out by some means other than in service to Kavernath. For you to believe us takes two elements. We can supply information and truth, but you, Princess, have to believe we could be truthful.” Slowly Makki sat down, keeping his hands in sight, palm upturned on his knees.

“I see, I think.” Rhiharu said. (Well, they already fought side-by-side once and saved each others’ lives. Doesn’t that earn them some trust from her?)

“Not entirely, I fear.” Makki said. “You Father’s last orders were to protect you. All I have left of Kavernath now are those few words. Without them I’m…we're…just more refugees. You will do what you must, Princess, but you must know we will too. If you believe us, then all is well. If not and you choose to send us away, we will still follow at a distance honouring both your wishes and those of your Father. The third way...well…I don’t think it needs to be said.” Makki stared at his hands. He felt oddly lighter, as though proving his honesty was heavier than his life. But his heart raced, hammering at his ribs. He stared at his hands, the white rings of calloused flesh, the rough skin inside coarse from nearly ten years of clinging to a Dragon.

The room was silent but for the soft breath of Melu on the bed and muted voices, caught in conversation, floating up from the common room below. Then after a pause, Rhiharu took two steps. The glimmering tip of her sword pricked the front of his tunic; dimpled his flesh beneath.

“Place both hands on the blade, Lieutenant.” Makki stared at the beautiful craftsmanship. Folded steel drawn out into a smooth edge, ever so slightly curved. She couldn’t. He was an honest servant of a Kingdom still alive in maps and memories. Her Kingdom. But a servant he was and he raised his hands, clasping the sword between as though in prayer.


Critique - The Bok'Tarong Part 20

Hi!
Interesting buit for sure. It's still suffering from the lack of tension from previous posts, but there is some conflict brewing here. I like that! However, I think these fragments would be better suited for character development, rather than focusing entirely plot. Both groups have met, there is evident tension between Dragana and Raeb but they must somehow agree to form an alliance and discuss a plan. Make them doubt one another -or at least add more hesitation to Dragana's reactions. Aeo is clearly some sort of buffer, so I'd have him act impartially at first then evaluate -use his pragmatism there. It doesn't matter if this section ends up being larger than you originally planned, but since it's one of the most important parts in the story, I'd say it's worth polishing that aspect.


I do not like that blade,
 Aeo told Dragana. There’s something terribly evil about it.

She gripped the Bok’Tarong a little tighter, holding it protectively close. “What is that?”

Raeb’s eyes were glued to the blades. “I’ve nicknamed it Sunray. It reveals magic and the spirit world. It can absorb magic, and unravel enchantments.” He paused for a moment, and behind the admiration in his eyes Aeo caught a deep hatred for the weapon. “With it, I hope to separate the connections of the Hntaña.”

They were silent for a while, all eyes on the dark Sunray. Finally Raeb looked up and caught Dragana’s eye. “The Bok’Tarong is needed to destroy the Hntaña, but without a distraction, something that’ll hurt the Hntaña enough to keep them occupied, you’ll never get close enough to strike. Sunray and I can cause that distraction for you.” (Hmm I want to know more about this system! The Hntaña live in a sort of ‘spirit world’ so why would absorbing magic hurt them? And also, what makes the two so different that only the Bok’Tarong can destroy them but Sunray only hurt them?)

“And if we kill the hive, the individual Hntaña will die as well?”

“Yes.”

“What will happen to the -taken?”

“They’ll be freed.” (Freed in a loose sense of the word, since you’ve mentioned some are kept alive because of their connection to the Hntaña… might be a good idea to clarify)

Dragana stared into Raeb’s eyes, perhaps sensing his brief hesitation before responding. “Are you sure of this?”

Raeb and Saydee shared a look. “No,” Raeb admitted. “But everything I have learned suggests that it will.”

The warrior-woman rubbed her hands against the hilt of the Bok’Tarong. What do you think?she asked Aeo.

The Hntaña obviously aren’t controlling them.

What about their plan? Do you think it would work?

Aeo rolled the details over in his mind. I don’t see anything that I know won’t work. It seems plausible, though it’d be far from easy.

We’re talking about destroying the Hntaña here, Dragana reminded him. Of course it won’t be easy.

Aeo smiled in his mind. I think we should help them.

She paused, glancing discreetly at Raeb and Saydee. They both did their best to look casual and uninterested, though Aeo knew they were anxiously waiting for Dragana’s decision.

I don’t trust them, she said. They’re both keeping a lot of secrets.

We’re all keeping secrets from each other. That’s just the way these kind of things work. Besides, he added, I didn’t say we should trust them. I said we should help them. They want what we want. It makes sense to work together.

Dragana nodded. “I can’t walk away from an opportunity to destroy the Hntaña. But I also can’t easily put my trust in two -taken, one of them being the Taronese traitor.” (I’m very much loving the small conflict between Dragana and Aeo here; after all, I still think Aeo agreed too easily.)

She’d kept most of the venom from her tone, but Raeb still flinched when she named him that way.

“You’ll have my help, and that of the Bok’Tarong, as long as I’m sure this isn’t some kind of trick. If you betray our alliance, you will feel the sting of the spirit-blades. I can promise you that.”

Aeo watched their reactions carefully. Raeb and Saydee were both intimidated by her fierce threat, and the knowledge that she wouldn’t hesitate to act on it, but neither showed signs of nervousness or doubt. He had been very good at spotting cheats and traitors in his life, and he didn’t see any hints of that in them. They hadn’t been trying to trap Dragana. They were completely serious about this plan and their alliance.

He conveyed this to Dragana, and she acknowledged by relaxing slightly. Her hand didn’t leave the Bok’Tarong, but she leaned back and relaxed slightly. “Good food.”

The new allies settled into the camp, but talk was limited to necessary questions and uncomfortable, forced chatting. When Dragana finally lay down to sleep, she kept Aeo close by. Watch over me, she said. Make sure they don’t try anything.

Aeo smiled. Dragana might not fully trust him, but she certainly trusted him more than the -taken across the fire. It was a start.

He did his best to soothe her sleep, calming and comforting the lonely young girl who surfaced in her dreams. He touched the tender wounds in her heart and marveled at the beauty of the warrior-woman’s soul.

I’ll keep you safe, Dragana. I’ll always keep you safe.

Critique - Soulsong Ch5 Pt 3

Hey there!

First things first, I love that things are being explained to us across this section. It's really helping me to understand the plot and the world you've built, which is something I always enjoy when reading fantasy. Now, the POV jumps here feel a bit unnecessary and I think it would actually be enhanced if we experienced the whole thing from Jane's POV. That way, you could leave Troubere's thoughts/intentions a mysery and use them afterwards; give him some abiguity as to his true agenda. You could get rid of some parts and insert others, maybe have Jane try to decipher Troubere's body language so we are pointed in one direction -the right or the wrong one even. Otherwise, great job! I'm getting a clearer picture of things now
:)

“Volunteering?” she snorted.  “I think I missed that opportunity when I was brought here.”  Troubere looked down.  She got him on that one.  But she didn’t like to see his discomfort so took pity on him.  “Yes. I’ll do it.”  It’s good to finally know my purpose here. 

----- 

Troubere let out a breath of relief.  His respect for Jane increased ten-fold at her willingness to help.  His feelings of shame increased ten-fold as well.  After what happened to Tambour, Jane deserved to know exactly what she was getting into; that a creature called a Mordant is lurking out there somewhere, waiting.  But he dare not tell her the whole truth.  If she knew, she surely would refuse to help them.  Who in their right mind wouldn’t?  He felt ashamed of his omission, but his need to protect his guild and everyone in it overrode his sense of obligation to her. To assuage his feelings of guilt, he decided that, when the time came, he would do what he could to protect her. (I feel this could offer the reader a great bit of mystery regarding Troubere’s intentions and his true character, which is why I think you should not clarify his thoughts on the matter but rather leave it up to the reader to find out what he’s really up to.)

He watched her as she sat thinking.  Who is this woman with such generosity of spirit?  Such talent in music?  Jane is exactly what Tambour had said she would be; perfect.  He was completely unprepared for how perfect.  He was going to have to be careful. (I’m not quite sure she’s demonstrated this perfection of hers… so maybe ley the story unfold so Troubere can come to that conclusion afterwards and, perhaps, even the readers too.)

“Miss Picardy, thank you,” he said finally.  “You will be a very competent and capable teacher, I am sure.”  He paused.  “There is another matter.” 

“What’s that?”

“You will have the singular title of both teacher and student,” he said.  Jane looked puzzled.  “There has never been a student at our music guild who was also a teacher, yet it must be.  You must first learn control.” (I like this part, it alludes to how special Jane is without taking it over the edge just yet) Troubere rubbed his backside.  “I am feeling the effects of your handiwork from yesterday.”  Jane suppressed a smile and Troubere responded with a begrudging half smile of his own.

“You’re right about that,” she said.  “I really have no idea how I did that to you.”

“I suspect much of the responsibility lies with the baton itself,” Troubere replied.  “As I said before, it is capable of gathering its own energy, which is half of the battle when conducting vibrations.  However, the other half was purely you.  No one explained it.  You seemed to know instinctively how to manipulate the baton to your will.” (Another excellent part)

“You know, I’m completely overwhelmed by all this…,” she flung her hands up at a loss for words, “…magic. Before yesterday, I would have told you there’s no such–.”

“Just a moment,” Troubere interrupted.  “What we do here is not magic.  That we leave to stage performers doing card tricks and slight of hand.  What we teach is real – a viable, workable power.” 

“Fair enough. So, having never witnessed this… power before, sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mind.  I mean, everyone has fantasies of being able to make things happen by a simple wave of the hand.  But that’s all they were.  Fantasies.” 

“This is no fantasy.”  He hummed and swirled his finger, and a sheet of manuscript paper floated in the air doing lazy somersaults and twirls before landing gently back to its spot on the table.

“I’ll never get used to that,” she said, shaking her head.  “So, when do I start?”

“Almost immediately.  I will call for a convocation to introduce you to the students and inform them of your position here.”  He pursed his lips, thinking.  After what happened to Tambour the other night, there was really no time to spare.  Now that a Mordant had made itself known, they would need to begin without delay.  “I wonder… Jane, would you consent to performing for us?  It would give the students a suggestion of the power you hold.”

“Power?  I don’t hold any power.” 

“If you learn nothing else here with us Jane, you must learn that music is power,” he said, “and from what I have witnessed, you know music.” 

 -----

  He was right.  If Jane knew anything, she knew music.  She had spent her life pursuing it.  These people have no idea the music that will be coming in the near future.  She, however, did know, and she was going to knock their socks off! (Nicely done here!)

“I think I see what you are getting at,” she said.  “Yes, I’ll do it.” 

“Most gracious of you.  Might you be prepared as soon as tomorrow?”    

“Uh, yes, I believe so,” she replied, suddenly unsure.  She had no idea what to perform.  It wasn’t that she didn’t have any piano pieces in her memory to choose from, quite the opposite.  She had a rather large repertoire at her fingertips due to an almost photographic memory.  She had only to see something a few times before it was imprinted in her brain.  She could still play most of the music she had ever performed in her life.  The problem was that she could not decide which one, out of the myriad she had to choose from, she should play.  Should it be something slow and romantic; a Chopin Nocturne maybe?  Or, perhaps something fast and energetic, like a Rachmaninoff sonata? (Well, I’m not against giving her a privileged memory, but it sounds too convenient and I believe you could pull more from this section if, instead, you referenced the pieces she’s most familiar with. By learning what she’s practiced more, or even what she prefers to play, we could learn about her personality as well, since right now it sounds like she could play virtually anything.)

“I will be your accompanist,” Troubere said.  “However, you will have to write out something for me to play as I am sure you will perform a piece unknown to me.”  

Jane looked confused.  “You would rather I sing?” 

“Oh–  I simply assumed…  You mean there is even more to you Miss Picardy?”  Troubere looked pleasantly surprised.  “I know you can sing.  What else can you do?”

“Well, I am a pianist… er…  I mean, I am quite accomplished at the pianoforte,” she said. 

“I see.” he said, becoming more animated.  “I have a few students who are well on their way to becoming skilled at the pianoforte, but none can say they are accomplished.”  Troubere looked pleased.  “You have a pianoforte piece you could play for us?” he asked.  “Something never heard before?”  Troubere was truly excited now.  Then he seemed to have a sudden idea.  “Jane, perhaps I should be your first pupil.  Then, together we could teach the students what you know.”

Jane’s brow furrowed.  Troubere’s eagerness to learn the secrets of the future suddenly had her feeling uneasy about divulging them.  She had read enough sci-fi and watched enough episodes of Star Trek to realize that changing too much in the past would, in all probability, change the future.  What would be the ramifications of teaching these people music that had yet to be composed? (Hmm I like it but do be extra careful when dealing with possible time paradoxes. They’re excellent if properly managed but can easily make a mess of things.)

 -----

Troubere began to worry as he sat watching Jane think.  He mistook her reticence as an aversion to him personally.   She doesn’t want to be my teacher.  (Seems like an odd thought for Troubere to have.) Surprisingly, the thought cut deeply.  But he shrugged it off.  Tis of no consequence.  But will she still teach the students?  Or is she going to change her mind now?  Troubere’s mind raced and his concern grew with every moment that passed without a response from Jane.  Finally, he could stand it no longer.

“Have I said something to offend?”  Jane flinched when he spoke, as if she had forgotten he was in the room. 

“Oh, sorry.  No.” 

“Is everything all right?” he asked, his anxiety growing. 

“Yes, everything is fine.”  

She is telling me a falsehood.

“I’m just not sure it’s me who should be teaching. I mean, I’ve never been a teacher before.  I–

“Perhaps I have been too hasty,” he said, waving his hand as if to dissipate Jane’s uncertainty.  “I prefer that you concentrate your efforts on the students.  It is right that you should begin with them first.  If time allows, I will come and observe your classes.” 

Though his tone was nonchalant, inwardly he barely kept his distress contained.  He knew Jane was beginning to change her mind, and he berated himself for suggesting she teach him.  The guild desperately needed her so he tried to mend the bridge he almost destroyed.  Since she had already committed herself  he would draw on her sense of honor and integrity to convince her that she could not back out now.  He would do everything in his power to encourage her to help them. 

Troubere shot up, took Jane by the elbow, and led her to the door.  “It is not my wish that you be uncomfortable, Miss Picardy.  You are under no obligation to teach me, however, I am most humbly grateful to you for your willingness to teach the students.”

“What?  No, you misunderstand.  I think maybe…” 

 “Thank you for meeting with me this morning Jane.  You are going to be a vital addition to our society.  I shall see you tomorrow at the convocation, three o’clock sharp.”  He nudged her out into the hallway.  “You can find your own way back?” he asked smiling, then shut the door. 

Jane stared at the door for several seconds.  What just happened?  She realized she had really gotten herself into something.  The old adage of ‘Look before you leap’ came to mind.  However, she felt that, rather than having leapt before she looked, she had been blindfolded and thrown bodily!  How was she supposed to make an informed decision, when nothing like this had ever happened before?  She had nothing to go on to help her.  Not only that, she hadn’t asked to come to the eighteenth century.  She happened to wave a peculiar baton in the air and suddenly found herself here.  Yes, thrown bodily was exactly how she felt. 

Rite of Awakening - Chapter 6 Part 3

Hey all!

I went through this section before posting it. I feel it's too descriptive and tedious at times so I tried to edit it to the best of my ability (Mostly, I shortened the extremely long and detailed description of the cathedral and plan to spread those details across several different sections). The ending also gave me a bit of trouble... So I'm very interested to see what you'll make of it ;D


It had been a restless night thus far. Sefiren looked outside through one of the large windows in his room. The skies were clear but water was falling. There were no thunders or lightning bolts. The air was almost imperceptible and the drops fell in an almost gracious way, caressing the windows as they landed. Beautiful and yet... sad. It was as if the heavens themselves were mourning and Sefiren could feel it. No matter how many times he returned to his bed, he was unable to relax his body and clear his mind. The rain had carried his sleep away from him.

Walking usually helps. Besides, there was something drawing him outside; a hunch perhaps.

As he came out of his room, he noticed that the doors that led into his parent’s chambers were opened. It wasn’t common for both of them to be outside so late. On the other hand, his sisters’ rooms remained locked.

It’s been over a week since they left. The palace was pretty much empty these days; dispiriting. Even as he walked down the familiar corridors, he felt his home distant and strage. His father spent most of his time in meetings alongside King Caylsig, while his mother managed the day-to-day affairs. As for his brother, he seldom saw him. He’s never around anyway, he told himself with a hint of relief.

Only Princess Sivrial had kept him company.

“Sivrial,” he sighed as a furtive smile ran across his face. He would take some seconds every now and then to look at her, trying his best not to get caught staring.  She had a certain glow in her eyes that kept calling to him and her look whenever the wind deftly caressed her hair hypnotised him. Ten years had gone by since they last saw each other. Ten long years. Now, here she was; the girl from back then grown into a beautiful woman. And I can’t even talk to her without stammering.

“Have you lost yourself Sefiren?”

The unexpected question in the dark harshly brought his mind down to the sombre night. He stopped walking. Myt̆es walked towards him from the hallway’s opposite end. Though the light was very dim, Sefiren could see that his brother was clutching to the wall, barely able to walk by himself, threatening to fall anytime soon. Only shreds remained of his dark robes, exposing his chest completely. Sefiren managed to see several wounds over wounds scattered across his brother’s body. Some had been made in the past days and others were still fresh.

“Myt̆es, what happened?”

“None of your business.”

As he finished the sentence, he lost what little balance he had left. Sefiren ran to his brother and managed to grab him before he fell.

“Here, let me help you.”

“Don’t touch me!” Myt̆es shouted, taking Sefiren’s hands off him. “This is nothing.”

“You’re bleeding too much.”

“I don’t need your pity, Sefiren.”

Myt̆es walked past his brother, leaving traces of blood wherever he passed by, muttering to himself. Sefiren remained motionless until his brother disappeared from his sight. He’ll be fine. If there’s one thing he cares about that’s himself. With that thought in mind, he left the palace, deciding on his destination: the Melcryl Cathedral.

As he crossed from Elyrdir to Priódir, where all of the capital’s churches and temples were, he didn’t notice any guards at all.  There were no lights coming from the buildings either. Only the Melcryl Cathedral, standing high atop the sacred mount Ictromil, was shinning intensely. A beacon to remind the people about hope, his father always told them.

The top of Ictromil was covered in vivid green grass and a couple of tall Ant̆ flower trees, which had begun blooming. Four small chapels were lined across the place, accompanying the cathedral dedicated to the Goddess herself. Stained-glass windows adorned all sides of the cathedral, with several smaller ones below them. On its centre stood the Dome of Salvation with an ivory statue of Valcar Seralisel, the Goddess’ eternal protector, on its top. At the very back was the Apostle’s Apse, where the Apostle would be anointed by the Élyon Saint on her seventeenth birthday.

He stepped inside, soaking the clear marble floor as he did so. The cathedral was empty. Sefiren took a few careful steps across the central row of aisles, stopping in front of the carmine statue of Goddess Ataélina. Her face had one of the most tranquil expressions Sefiren had ever seen. As affectionate as mum’s own smile.

“Are you certain of that?” he heard from behind the statue, where the Apostle’s Apse was located. It was his father.

“Absolutely my lord. I managed to remove his helmet. It was him.”

Sefiren could not determine whom did the second voice belong to. He tried to peek through the side of the statue. His father blocked most of the other man’s body, but it was clear it was a projection. That explains the distortion in the voice.

“What will you do?”

“Nothing,” his father replied.

“You will allow his betrayal to continue unpunished? We both know he can’t be controlled.”

“The Crimson Knight is more useful to us alive. His treachery will be made known in due time.”

Hearing the Knight mentioned made Sefiren’s heart skip a beat. He recalled his father had refused to kill him that night. Why is he doing the same now?

“I hope you will not regret this decision.”

“I will accept the responsibility of my choices as I’ve always done.”

“And what about Marasia? When will you tell her the truth?”

“I won’t. I’ll let her uncover it by herself.”

“How? We destroyed all the evidence about her birth.”

“Not entirely. There’s a rather special book in Renisel’s possession; one that holds all the answers to Marasia’s past and future.”

His father turned his eyes, forcing Sefiren to crouch behind the statue. I’m dead, he told himself, waiting for his father to walk towards him. It didn’t happen. After a brief pause, he resumed the dialogue. Sefiren decided in had been enough. He crouched towards the exit, praying to the Goddess his father would not notice him. Before leaving, his ears caught a final part of the dialogue.

“You’ll need to get rid of him first.”

“And trigger Sylenvia’s wrath at the same time.”

“An eye for an eye?”

“That’s the only concept Gamar have of justice.”

Critique - Sacrificial Kingdom Words 20377 - 21588

Hey!
. Not much to say about this section. It was really good; great even. I'd say we only need more knowledge regarding Melu and her species, as well as other mystical beings - as I explain below. It would take away the only contradictory fragment in the whole section. Still nice job!

 The inn was stuffed with light, as though the night was a thing to be fought and defeated. Each small table burned with a lamp that would have lit a good sized barracks. The wide bar at the back of the room had four along the wall.

The whole place was built from rough trimmed planks, from the boarded tabletops, to the wide stairway in the furthest corner, to the cladding on the bar itself. Even the men who sat in pairs and threes were sun-blushed enough to seem wooden.

Hard stares greeted them and the conversational hum dropped, but did not stop. That was good. He hoped. Perhaps they were versed enough with travellers to only afford them the usual distrust: no small town ever truly trusted strangers.

Makki walked to the bar, feeling eyes not on him, but on Melu snuffling as she slept in his arms. In the exaggerated light her skin glowed like polished marble. By Blessed Therusamora, let no one see her as a bounty, but as an Etherling. A danger not a prize.

“I’ve hungry men and an empty purse, Agreth. Send the boy to get the salt from the barn and stop bothering me with each trivial problem you have.” A drape hung over the doorway behind the bar did little to block out the shrill, male voice. The barkeeper backed through it, cowering despite his angry words. He wore a neat black jacket over a white tunic, apron clutched in both hands before him like a shield. “And try and be frugal with the peppers in the stew this time. Last night I had more men ordering water than ale and....oh!” (Very nice detail!)

The barkeeper turned and stopped, jaw half open, eyes transfixed on Melu as Makki rested her on the counter. He was middle aged, wiry, with a preposterous moustache that cascaded thick over his lip and curved up to meet his sideburns. Each and every hair on his head was the brightest orange, as though he’d been dipped in a sunrise.

“We’re after rooms, Sir, preferably t...” Makki began.

“We offer no board to that!” The barman snapped, stabbing a finger and retreating a pace. Makki felt his anger arc through his chest. He grinned, a slow, evil thing. (Hmm I wonder why does he reject them like that? Are Dragons really that well known? I somehow had the idea they were somewhat scarce.)

“I could go outside and wake her up if you’d prefer.” Right on cue Melu yawned. Her slightly snouted jaw hinged wider than any human’s and lips peeled back to show a row of pointed teeth. The Barman blanched and clutched his apron shield. “But she tends to get rather unpleasant if she is woken before she is ready. You know how Dragons can get...” (So they require heavy sleep?)

Chair legs raked across the wooden floors, drawing a line under nearby conversation. Makki counted, by the sound of footsteps, three men scurry outside. The barman’s jaw worked, chewing on the words of an apology and the warm flush of Makki’s anger subsided beneath an icy wave of panic. (He’s scared now, but didn’t seem so a couple of lines before. Did he confuse Melu for some other being then? Otherwise his attitude it’s a bit confusing and contradictory)

Oh Makki, you cursed idiot!

“What...What I meant, good Sir, is...is...” The barman choked and Makki wrestled himself out of inaction. Stupidity is like milk: once it’s spilled there’s no putting it back. All you can do is claim it’s ideal for cleaning the flagstones.

“...Is you don’t offering stabling for her type,” Makki finished. “And so she’ll be afforded the same courtesy as the three of us.” He made a quick signal and Sommir unloaded his packs onto the bar; a heavy purse tucked in one of the saddlebags jangled suggestively. “We are not here for anything more than a bed, and a meal.”

“And ale.” Sommir added, folding his arms on the bar. “Plus of course if this town has a pretty wench or...”

“Ignore him. Being in the sun all day and has addled what little brain he possesses. A bed, a meal and ale. We may stay for breakfast, but probably no longer.” He adjusted the saddlebag. Coins rattled.

The barman looked to the purse, to Melu, to Makki and back to the purse. His forced smile accentuated the ripple in his ridiculous moustache.

“Of course, Sir, of course. You will be requiring how many rooms?”

“Three.” Makki said. “Adjoining if possible.”

“Do we have to,” Sommir said. “You snore loud enough to annoy the dead.” The barman, as per Makki’s request, ignored him.

“Three rooms. Certainly. If you’d follow me.” With a final glance at the saddlebags he scuttled from behind the bar and headed to the stairs at the rear of the common room. Makki fetched Melu back into his arms and followed, the Princess shadowing him

“Fine. I’ll carry all this again.” Sommir said, gathering up their possessions.

The inn’s second floor was small and, seemingly, unoccupied. More lamps burned along the landing and all of the six doors Makki could see stood open, the rooms beyond dark. The barman lit a taper from the lamp outside the furthest door and darted inside.

It was a deep room with two slim beds, a simple dresser and a small trunk. A battered and chipped washbasin rested on a shelf beneath a sliver of mirror, dusted with grime from its last, unsuccessful, cleaning. The patter of the patrons below was muffled to a faint hum, like some fat insect trapped beneath the wooden floor.

“I’ll prepare the other two, Sir. Please call me when you would like to eat. My name is Karu: At your service.” He sketched a rough bow and scurried out with a final glance at Melu.

Rhiharu held a finger to her lips and crept to the door. Makki looked at Sommir, who raised his eyebrows in approval and tapped his temple three times. A few minutes, a glance into the hall, and the Princess eased the door closed.

“He’s gone.” She said.   

“And the packhorse needs his rest.” Sommir said, unslinging their packs and dropping them on the trunk. “See how I played the hired muscle perfectly? Why I reckon I could join one of those troupes who travel from Kingdom to Kingdom performing the epics.” Makki moved to the nearest bed and eased Melu onto it. She rolled over, curling into a comfortable ball, looking for all the world as though she’d been sleeping there since last week.

“Why for a moment you had me believing that was exactly what you were. A brainless, uncivilised moron who thinks with his muscles. A simpleton who’s only worth is in what he can pull, or lift, or...”

“Is that the voice of jealousy I hear?” Sommir cupped a hand to his ear, as though trying to hear a whisper on the wind, then burst out laughing. Makki couldn’t help but grin. “Admit it. That Karu would be amazed to learn I can write.” Sommir undid his sword belt, placed it carefully beside the rest of their belongings, and began wrestling himself out of his armour.

“You can’t write. Your fingers are too thick to hold a...” A whisper of metal being drawn cut him off. Sommir froze with his banded tunic half over his head and Makki spun round, reaching for the dagger at his hip. Princess Rhiharu stood, feet apart, balanced like a swordsman. The slim blade of her sword pointed at his chest, the tip only a swift lunge away. (I can just say: Whoa!)

Critique - Soulsong Ch5 Pt 2

Hi!

Some questions got answered in this fragment. That's very nice! I feel like I've been given more solid ground to stand on in terms of plot and backstory. Still, I feel we need to know more about the magic in your world in earlier sections to fully grasp Tambour's story -I tried my best to describe my issues with that scene, but should you have any doubts, let me know!. Other than that and a few technical issues here and there, I loved this scene. Great Job!


They say you can discover a lot from an individual’s personal space, and Jane hoped to do just that.  But, her first glimpse of Troubere’s office served only to remind her of how displaced she was from her own time – it was like stepping into a museum recreation. There were musical instruments, the likes of which Jane had never seen, lining the walls.  A large desk cluttered with papers and writing supplies sat in a far corner in front of an equally large bookcase full of books.  A pianoforte filled the center of the room.  Jane’s eye immediately went to the music sitting on it, a hand-printed copy of music by Domenico Scarlatti.  Domenico Scarlatti!  Only one of the most important men of the Baroque era, next to Bach of course.  
(Italics here maybe?)Jane fought the urge to sit down and play it.  Instead, she turned her attention to Troubere who sat at his desk, busy with some unknown task.  After a moment he looked up, thanked Tuner for delivering Jane and excused him. 

Jane stood waiting for Troubere to invite her to sit down, but he sat at his desk and studied her.  Jane studied him in return.  She noted, again, how out of place his vivid white hair seemed framing a face not lined with wrinkles.  He looks stressed out, though.  She began to feel uncomfortable as she continued to stand there.  Just when she was about to invite herself to sit down, Troubere broke eye contact.  Ha! I won.  He seemed to remember his manners and came around the desk to offer Jane a large stuffed leather chair.  He pulled up a small, wooden one with a cushion for himself.  He cleared his throat and fidgeted, then tried to find a more comfortable position in his chair.  Jane could see he was uncomfortable, and not from the piece of furniture he sat upon.  His unease was beginning to rub off on her. 

“Sir.”

Troubere’s head snapped up.  

“I wanted to thank you for taking me in, for your hospitality.”

“Oh, of course,” he said, nodding.  “You are most welcome here.”  He seemed relieved that the silence had been broken.  “You did not ask to be here.  It is the very least I can do to repay you for being plucked out of your own element and conveyed through time and space to be here with us in our moment of need.”  Jane thought of Mistress Quaverly’s statement earlier, that she was “needed,” and her brow furrowed.

“What is it you need me to do?” she asked.  Troubere looked down.   Jane filled the silence with more questions.

“When will I be going back?  How do I get back?  Why me, out of all the people in the world?”  (Just the sort of reaction I expected from her since she travelled back in time. Nice!) He cleared his throat again.  “I will answer your questions, but first, let me tell you a story.”  He leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers in front of him. 

“There once was a woman who dreamed.  Hers were no ordinary dreams.  They were a source of inspiration for her; they facilitated her work.  These dreams were fashioned and shaped from the enigmatic power of her music; a gift that allowed her to see things others could not.  The dreams allowed her to help others.  Perhaps warning of a coming storm, or of an impending visitor, or even of a hole in a fence where the cows were about to escape.  Whatever they revealed, it was always something practical or useful, and the woman felt a sense of pride and purpose in using her dreams to help others. 

One day, however, the dreams became nightmares. They were so frightening she didn’t want to see them anymore.  She tried to avoid them by hiding herself away and refusing to participate in music of any kind, hoping she would never have to endure another nightmare again.  However, as you well know Miss Picardy, music is everywhere. A bird singing in a tree, the hum of a bee, or the steady tick of a clock on the mantle; we are surrounded by music.  It is truly unavoidable.  And so, the nightmares continued.  The woman had to do something about the horrible visions her dreams had become or go mad.  She constructed a talisman that could channel energy in a similar manner a funnel delivers water through the narrow neck of a bottle.  The talisman could gather its own energy, random energy, and store it for later use.  When it was finished, she charged the talisman with as much energy as it could hold.  Then, she set events in motion that would enable the talisman to do a very specific and important act; indeed, to accomplish the very reason for its creation.  It was to be activated at a specific time by a specific person to bring her to us from three hundred years in the future.” (There’s a nice mystical sense to these paragraphs. I also like that it reveals more about how Jane came to be where she is –which is something I’ve been wondering for some time now- however, I feel they need some polishing. First of all, being a bit more specific at the beginning would help lots; perhaps telling us the woman was a student/teacher at the institute or that her powers were unlike anything seen before or after, so we know it’s not a story about magic itself but a tale to help clarify the situation. Also, I’d say giving us a bit of an introduction to how the magic-music system works would make this part easier to understand; for example, the relationship between the talisman and her nightmares/dreams. Finally, two or three sentences near the end of the second paragraph only explain the obvious –such as the ‘to accomplish the very reason for its creation’.)

Troubere stopped when he saw Jane’s eyes widened in realization.  “Yes, you Miss Picardy,” he said, peering at her with blazing intensity through brilliant, slate-blue eyes.

“The woman was Tambour?”  Jane asked, though she already knew it was true.  Troubere nodded.  “And the talisman is the baton,” she said.  “But, I still don’t know my purpose in all this.”

“Tambour’s nightmares were of a crea–” Troubere stopped, seemed to reconsider his words, then began again.  “She saw the destruction of our kind, those of us who have realized our full potential with music and its power. However, along with our destruction, she also saw a way that we might save ourselves.  The key to our salvation is music.  Music is power.  You have experienced it personally in a few small ways since your arrival.  However, our music, the music we have presently available to us, is limited.  Music in our time is not sophisticated enough for our needs.  We must have a more powerful type of music that the muses have yet to inspire.  More plainly, it has yet to be created.  But we know it will be. (Hmm based on your story, I’d say your aiming for the Classical and Romantic periods, rather than modern times themselves – along the lines of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Verdi, etc.- because I can’t seem to fit, say, rock or rap into your story. Throwing some clues –maybe even ideas from Jane- regarding the meaning of ‘more powerful type of music’ would be great!)  

Jane thought she understood where he was going.  As a music major in college, she studied the history of music and understood that music slowly evolved through the ages.  It began as simple melody lines sung by monks in monasteries, then slowly progressed into more and more complicated compositions with more than one melody line going at once, the polyphony eventually creating harmony.  Later, instruments were invented that could be played along with a sung melody and the harmonies became thicker in tonality.  As more and more instruments were created people discovered that a sung melody line was not a requirement for a beautiful composition.  The symphony was born.  The harmonies became even more complex and intricate, using chords and instrumentation not thought of in the past.  Music continued to advance, reaching the sophisticated works of Jane’s day, and still continues to move forward. (The paragraph sounds a bit like a college exposition. Try to make this as compact as possible or substitute some parts with Jane’s thoughts instead. You can jump over most of the info, from ‘simple melody lines’ to ‘the symphony was born’.)

“You need music from the future,” Jane said matter-of-factly, “music from my time.   Which means… you need a teacher?” she asked.  Troubere gave her a sideways glance.

“A teacher, huh?”  She stared at him as she thought about it.  A slow grin spread on her face.  “I’ve always wanted to try my hand at teaching.  I suppose it wouldn’t be too hard.” 

Troubere returned with a tight smile and Jane wondered at it. 

“Are you volunteering for the task?” he asked her.

“Volunteering?” she snorted.  “I think I missed that opportunity when I was brought here.”  Troubere looked down.  She got him on that one.  But she didn’t like to see his discomfort so took pity on him.  “Yes. I’ll do it.”  It's good to finally know my purpose here. 

Critique - Bok'Tarong Pt 19

Hey!

Great section, nothing to comment on specifically other than the line I added. It's very very well written. Congrats! My concern is with the scene's mood. Much like I mentioned in the previous one, I'm expecting things to be more tense between both parties. Dragana was flaring moments ago and she's now happily eating, almost tame. I don't feel any mistrust, anger, or tension flowing from them. Everything comes from the plot itself, which while great, makes things sound too easy. Bring Dragana's emotions back to life; her intense ire and even Raeb's own heistation regarding the Bok'Tarong. I think this scene should capture all those feelings we've been experiencing along the way. Other than that, the plot is excellent and I can't wait to see what these four will do. 


They went back to the abandoned campsite, which Raeb and the girl had little trouble getting back into shape. Soon the three humans were sitting around a fire with a pot of stew over the flames. Dragana accepted a bowl, keeping Aeo in her lap so he could still see.

At first Dragana picked suspiciously at the food, but soon she was eating and clearly enjoying it. (I’d suggest either showing her a bit more hesitant about eating or saying something like how famished and tired she is to reject food)

Raeb finished his meal first, and he began explaining his situation. He glossed over the details of his past and how he got involved with the Hntaña, which left Aeo with more questions than answers, but as soon as Raeb began telling them of a journey to the spirit world, Aeo was fascinated.

“How did you get to this Hntaña hive?” Dragana asked.

“I was taken there by the Keeper of Secrets. He’s a sort of ambassador between the Hntaña and the humans,” he added before Dragana had to ask.

“Why did he do that?”

Raeb shifted slightly, betraying his discomfort with the subject. “He sensed that I was trying to get to the Hntaña. He wanted to humiliate me, I guess, for my useless attempt.”

How was he trying to get to the Hntaña? Aeo asked. Dragana voiced his question.

The girl – Saydee – responded. “He was using me.”

Dragana looked at her. “What?”

Saydee glanced nervously at Raeb, who gave a tiny nod. She took a deep breath, and a glamour fell from her. Dragana gasped as she recognized the Hntaña eyes.

“Because of my magical powers, little though they are, I have a two-way connection to the Hntaña. I can see and hear them. Raeb was trying to use that connection to send his spirit to the Hntaña and find a way to destroy them.”

Aeo could barely follow Dragana’s thoughts. She was so overwhelmed by this information that it took her several seconds to decide which of her many questions to ask first. “How did you become -taken, if you’re mage?”

“I’m not powerful enough to be a mage,” she said. There was a distinct sense of regret and anger in her tone.

“Even so, you should have been immune from the Hntaña. How did this happen?”

Saydee’s voice turned cold. “I’d rather not say.”

Dragana’s hold on Aeo’s hilt tightened as she struggled not to lose her temper. “If the Hntaña are learning how to take mages, then I need to know.”

“Our agreement was for a truce and a proposition to work together,” Raeb interrupted. “Our personal pasts, for good or ill, weren’t included in that deal.”

“This could have huge repercussions,” Dragana replied. “The Hntaña are already changing their tactics and waging a war of their own. Knowing how they came to possess a mage could be a key to helping us figure out what they’re up to and how to stop them.”

Raeb held up a hand to pause Dragana’s justifications. “The Hntaña are waging a war?”

They told us part of their story, Aeo said. We should return the favor and tell them what we’ve learned.

Dragana nodded and told them about the Mage General and the-taken berserkers. “Not only is the King breeding -taken for his war, but these people are accepting the possession of their own free will. We were told by one of them that the Hntaña were planning to spread to the entire world, and their willing servants were growing in strength and numbers. We think that this might not be the King’s war after all, but some machination of the Hntaña.”

Raeb shuddered. “Why would anyone accept the Hntaña?”

“Many are on the brink of death when the offer is made. The Hntaña save their lives.”

“At the cost of their souls,” he spit back.

“I wasn’t condoning it,” Dragana said, a hint of ice in her tone.

“Of course not. I’m sorry.” He took a deep breath, and Aeo could practically see his thoughts whirl in his mind. “If the Hntaña are working through a human army, the Keeper of Secrets must be behind it.”

“Which means that the Hntaña are working with the king,” Dragana said.

With the Mage General, more likely, Aeo corrected. From what you said about him, it seems like he’s really running the -taken soldiers. He just got the king to agree somehow.

Dragana told the others Aeo’s comment, and Raeb nodded. “That sounds about right.”

“So if the Hntaña are using the human armies to conquer more people, that means that in no time the entire population will become -taken,” Saydee said. “There won’t be anyone to stop them.”

“Yes there will,” Dragana said, hefting Aeo so his blades reflected the firelight. “The Bok’Tarong and I will stop them.”

“Not alone,” Raeb said. “You need our help to do it. Which is exactly what Saydee and I wished to propose to you.”

Dragana eyed the two -taken, but Aeo felt her curiosity pique enough that it momentarily overrode her suspicion. “What were you planning, that you needed us for?”

“We want to try to get back to the hive, with the Bok’Tarong. If we take the weapon to the source, we should be able to destroy the hive and the Hntaña completely.”

“Why can’t we do that by ourselves?”

“You’ll need Saydee’s connection to the Hntaña to get you there, and you’ll need my help to get into the hive. The Keeper of Secrets and I have…a history. I can get us past whatever defenses the Hntaña might have and into the heart, where it’ll be vulnerable. Besides, one warrior and a sacred blade won’t be enough. You’ll need another blade at your side.”

Raeb drew out a blade unlike any Aeo had ever seen – a horizontal hilt was surrounded by five blades in a semicircle. They radiated out from his fist like a deadly sunburst. Aeo sensed a great deal of magic coming from those blades, magic that was almost as dark and oily as the Hntaña. His spirit shivered in their presence.

Rite of Awakening: Chapter 6 Part 2

Hey guys!

Late again, huh? Well, I've some great news for you: Mid-terms are *finally* over! I can now get back on schedule with you :) I waited a bit so I could give your stories the attention they deserve and deliver some useful redlines. I hope I succeeded and well, I'm now rested and ready to keep reading/commenting, so keep your stories coming. Needless to say, I'm in love with all of them. Here's my fragment, I hope you enjoy it.


If there had ever been a place Regelial could not stand, it was the Senate’s Tower. Endless quibbling and pointless arguing. However, Senator Renisel, the Duke of Albeá, had called for a meeting in spite of the hour. Secrets have the most unpleasant way of revealing themselves, Regelial thought as the interrogation went on. 

The Chamber of Parliament had a semi-circular form with windows as tall as five men along the perimeter, elegantly draped with purple curtains and a translucent crystal dome on the ceiling to allow the entrance of a faint white light. The three hundred twenty-one Imperial Senators were directly seated in a number of rows in front of the main doors; they accessed their seats from an entrance at the back of the room. The podium, where the sovereigns and the governors commonly stood was located in the middle of the grand room; an elevated platform from where the most important commands had been issued.

Once, not so long ago.

Somehow, word had reached Renisel’s ears about the situation at Gamalarn before Regelial was informed, and the Senator wasn’t pleased. A lifelike projection of Marasia stood at the centre, bravely facing the Senators’ enquiry. They were trying to break her, but she endured, always looking at them in the eye. Hers was a strong spirit. As unflinching as she was meant to be, he told himself, racing his eyes from Marasia to his wife.   

“And how, exactly, did you let this happen, High Seraf-Magister?” asked Senator Renisel with a booming voice that was hard to believe came from such a frail-looking body. A tall man who supported himself on a strong oak cane, with white hair and a short beard barely concealing a scar that ran on his left side from his jaw up to the temple. Despite wearing silk robes, he wore fewer ornaments than the rest of the Senators.

Some things never change.  

“What happened was beyond my control, Your Lordship,” Marasia countered “It was unpredictable.”

“Will you now deny your responsibility?”

“I did nothing.”

“That is exactly the problem.” Another Senator stood up. Calyeri, Duke of Aneós. He had long, brown hair and was dressed in some clear yet heavily ornamented blue robes, carrying a cane as well, though he didn’t use it for support. “Had you served your purpose, one of Gamalarn’s armies would not be marching southwards as we speak.”

“The soldiers have not yet left Sethides.”

“But they will soon enough. Gamar are not known for their patience,” Senator Calyeri spoke.

“But Cratarean’s are. Gamalarn will never strike unless it’s backed-up by the Republic of Cratarea.”

“Stalling an unavoidable war.”

“I did try to prevent this.”

“But you did not try hard enough.”

“You have caused our peace to be broken,” Renisel continued. “A peace many irreplaceable people gave their lives for.”

“I have done more to uphold our laws and maintain peace than all of you put together. If half of you listened and acted almost as well as you talk, none of this would be happening, Your Lordships.”

The Senators were outraged at her defiant attitude; bellowing almost in unison. However, Regelial could not help but smile. These men weren’t used to being challenged like that. They thought her young and inexperienced, but there is far more to her than meets the eye.

Senator Renisel raised his hand and the Chamber fell silent. “You may outrank us as Seraf and Archduchess, but it would be wise to watch your tongue. I would not count on Regelial standing-up for you after you failed him. Choose whom to rely on better, Seraf Marasia, or make the same mistake I did,” he said, running his index finger across the scar on his face.

“A hundred-year old grudge that has perverted your purpose, Renisel,” Regelial spoke, taking a pair of steps to the front. “You know Marasia’s words to be true. You have grown blind and deaf to the needs of your people. The people Apostle Adirsa, your wife, died for.”

“How dare you speak her name after what you did?”

“I name her because I have remained faithful to her memory.”

“So have I.”

“And yet you would sit here while Gamalarn burns Sylenvia to the ground,” he glanced at King Caylsig through the corner of his eyes; pale and silent. Even ghosts have their uses. “If you really want to respect Adirsa’s memory, then you should authorise me to mobilise the army to protect Sylenvia.”

“This matter was settled months ago, Regelial,” said Renisel. “Whatever the outcome, we both agreed we are not to take sides. It is not our responsibility to clean this man’s mess.”

“My kingdom needs the help of the Empire if it is to survive,” Caylsig finally pleaded. “Surely you can’t be as cruel as to let your own brothers die while you do nothing but watch can you?”

“If that will ensure the perpetuity of the Empire, then we have no other option. Our duty as Senators is to protect the people and sovereignty of the Holy Laégelian Empire, even if we have to stain our hands with Sylen blood.”

“You humans can be so pathetic, Renisel. Power gives you a false sense of courage and wisdom; but they’re easily shattered by a greater power.”

“Do not forget you are human as well, Your Majesty,” affirmed Senator Calyeri. “You, too, must bend your knee to powers higher than your own.”

“Which only the Apostle commands, Duke Aneós. I am still waiting for an answer, Renisel,” he spoke before Senator Calyeri could utter another word. “Will the Senate authorise the full mobilisation of the Imperial Armed Forces in response to the potential threat posed to the Empire by the Gamalarn Nation?”

The Chamber fell silent after a while. Then, silence gave way to whispers. Ceaseless, annoying hissing.  Three hundred twenty-one voices and yet there was only one mind; the only one who endangered his plans. First his pupil and now his opponent.

“Unless an attack befalls imperial territory first, the Empire will not play an active role in this conflict,” Renisel declared.

“Is that the will of the Senate?” Regelial asked. Three hundred twenty ayes followed in quick response. Just as I expected. “Then I shall abide by your rule.” For now.

“And you,” Senator Calyeri pointed his finger at Marasia, “do not think yourself above out judgment. We don’t care whether you are the High Seraf-Magister or the Emperor’s preferred tool, henceforth, you shall answer to us as well or we shall deprive you of your title.”

“You can’t do that,” Marasia replied, losing the temperance she had managed to keep until now.

“I’m afraid they can,” Regelial declared. They could do as they pleased for as long as he had to answer to them; for as long as Renisel could keep his leash on him.

“Do not test the limits of our patience,” Calyeri spoke with an authority resembling Renisel’s.

“Meeting adjourned.”

Critique - Sacrificial Kingdom - 19337 - 20376

Hey!

Alright, for this section I actually have no specific comments to make. It's very well written and paced. The descriptions are vivid and the characters remain faithful to the personalities you've given them. My concern here would be regarding the plot (which might be due to the format we've been using until now). First of all: it seems too fast for them to be crossing into another country on foot. This can be solved by adding a couple of hints here and there as to their relative location on a map or something, but it seems to me that either they're moving too fast or perhaps I don't feel a strong footing regarding time to be able to relate time and distance travelled. Also, (again, might be due to the short fragments and the lapse between them) do we know anything about Rhia's true mission? Sure, she's on the run because her country lies in ashes and -throwing a wild guess here- she is fleeing to keep the Sword safe. But where is she headed and why? Does she perhaps want revenge? And what about Sommir and Makki? Seems to be they're just being dragged around by Rhia. i believe clarfying those points would make it easier for us to get a firmer grasp on the story and the characters. Otherwise, excellent job as usual.

Salt Well was a stone mining town, built entirely of wood. The clustered buildings were neat, sturdy, but the constant abrasion of the dust scoured away any hint of paint. Makki counted: thirty two. In the background the Yellow Sand Mountains rose from behind the horizon, tall enough that the last flickers of sunset painted a tide line on their broken peaks.

“Barely a village.” Sommir said from beside him and rapped his knuckles against the large wooden sign washed stone grey by sun and dirt. ‘Township of Salt Well’ had been carved in letters a finger deep.

“I’ll speak to the mayor; get him to rename it.” Makki replied.

“Assuming this place has a mayor.” Sommir said.

“Not a Mayor – an Overseer.” The Princess rode up, nudging her crisp white mare between their horses. She did that a lot, Makki noted, forced them to talk to her or over her, whether they intended to or not. “These mining townships are built and administrated by prospectors - businessmen. Size depends on the quality of the trade. Judging by this, the Overseer isn’t particularly profitable. Closer to the mountains you’ll see towns ten times this size.”

“Visited Mekbarim often, Princess.” Sommir joked.

“Knowledge of other nations is a prerequisite of my position, soldier, as making corpses is yours. One of us learned something.” Rhiharu snapped back. Sommir shrugged his big shoulders.

“You learn a lot about a people by how they fight.”

“And you learn more through diplomacy.” She countered. “What we need here won’t be achieved at the end of a blade.” Makki rolled his eyes. The little conversation they made was littered with the Princess’s disgust at, and misunderstanding of, Sommir’s humour.

“We should head down, find an inn. Or a hayloft at least.” He said before Sommir could answer. “The horses won’t go another hour at this pace.”

Princess Rhiaru nodded and led them down the slope towards the town. Ahead, in the eastern sky, the first stars floated like cold sparks from the fire kissed mountaintops. The dusty earth was painted with dusk shadows, long and deep in the hollows in the land. There was little grass, less trees, as the rough plains of north Mekbarim gave ways to the barren, sandy foothills of the Yellow Sand Mountains.

“Can’t you at least watch your tongue a bit?” He whispered, hanging far enough behind the Princess as not to be heard. “You may not have a General or Captain looking over your shoulder, but she is still our Sovereign.” Sommir settled his shoulders as though his armour had grown suddenly heavy.

“A Princess of no Kingdom.” Sommir said, words so bitter sharp Makki felt them stab him.

“She still commands our respect.” There was a long pause, filled only with the muffled thud of hooves.

“You’re right, Sir.” Sommir said.

“Don’t ‘Sir’ me. Not now, not ever.” Melu stirred against his chest, cradled between his arms. She had been in the comfortable folds of sleep all day, waking only to take a few sips of water. The silence grew, thickened with hurt. “I’m not chiding you, Sommir. It’s just small barbs grow into thick gorse given enough time, and us three, the last of Kavernath, must hold together.” Sommir puffed out his cheeks.

“Sorry, Makki.” He said. “Kavernath’s gone and the world has been pulled from beneath my feet, but all I can think of is we can’t conduct border patrols without any borders. And now...now...” Makki laid a hand on his friend’s slumped shoulder.

“I know, me too. And the Princess will feel the same way.” The cloud over them remained, but it no longer felt so bruised. Together they rode into Salt Well out of the burgeoning night.

Lamps burned in most of the buildings. They rode past a smith working in the grim, thick, red light of his forge, the tink tink tink of his hammer syncopated with the horse’s footsteps. Most others were residential; a few of the townsfolk sat in chairs on porches, smoking pipes, watching them pass. Almost to a man they were weather-beaten, as scoured by the sun and wind as the facades of their homes. No one spoke. Pipe embers burned darkly. A few sat with families, but most kept a company of none.

A broad thoroughfare clove through the centre of Salt Well, houses a double row on either side. At the far end Makki heard the first real sounds of life. Rich lamplight and the quiet burble of voices spilled from with three sets of windows flanking a wide door. Makki knew an inn when he saw one.

“Lieutenant.” Princess Rhiharu drew rein by the hitching post, on the edge of the light. “You and Sommir do the talking. There may be some merchant or slaver who pays too much attention to politics. Those tend to see profit in many things.”

“Melu will place us as surely as any description of Kavernath’s youngest heir.” He said. Salt Well seemed a haven from the open rolling scrubland. Now they had arrived, the town loomed over them. A thousand misplaced words or gestures hid in the alleys, in darkened windows, waiting to give them away. Makki suddenly yearned for the exposed plains where trouble only ever appeared on the horizon.

“It’s not unheard of for Dragon Riders to go mercenary. And that’s assuming anyone could tell between Etherlings. There are several breeds in Mekbarim alone.” She dismounted with the elegance of one well tutored and well practiced. “Besides, the more attention they pay you, the less they pay me.”

Makki bit his tongue and took a deep breath. He was here to protect her, and if that meant laying suspicion on himself – he was sure he wouldn’t put on a convincing show for anyone – so be it. But by the Blessed Hand he felt foolish. He took a lingering, longing look at the empty, unpopulated darkness outside town.

“As you say, your Highness.” He hitched his horse to the rail and settled Melu into his arms. Sommir shouldered both packs and Rhiharu clutched a bedroll, using it to hide the ornate sword on her hip. Makki took a long breath and lead them through the wide doors of the inn.