Rite of Awakening - Chapter 5 Part 2

Hey everyone! Your comments on the last section were varied and interesting. Thanks for the useful input! Here's the next section, where we follow Marasia while on her mission in Gamalarn. Hope you enjoy:

Orange, Marasia thought as she looked up. Orange was the only colour in the sky above Sethides, capital of the Gamalarn Nation. A perpetual dusk, when it wasn’t covered by thick clouds. Hot, pale, and bloody.

Ever since her arrival a couple of days back, Marasia could not help but drown in her homesickness. With no water in sight, Sethides was very different from Asaia-Laégel and even more from Atlasis. Five volcanoes surrounded the city, all inactive since time immemorial and home to Niflän, Essential Spirit of Fire. Even breathing is hard here, she noticed as she walked down the busy markets searching for a sign that read ‘The Blazing Sword’.  Crammed, tight, and maddening with coarse yelling. No wonder fighting is a central part in their lives.

Her time at Queen Edleán’s court was no different. Plentiful banquets abounding in red meats, dark wines, and Gamalarn’s traditional liquor; of which only a sip had been enough to dry her lips and burn her throat. The Queen would sit beside her husband and her three surviving children.  

A duel was hosted after each meal. Men and women alike fought to their deaths to earn honour and respect. Marasia could swear one or two participated for the mere fun of it. Metal would clash mercilessly and the fighters danced to the cheers and laughter of a wild crowd. The Queen had lost her two eldest children in this slaughter. They were very different from her countrymen. Different and hard to decipher.

Last night, Marasia had tried once more to approach the Queen after the blood bath, when everyone would retire for the night and they would be left alone.

“I still do not understand your purpose here, girl,” the Queen said sitting on her throne beside her husband, her braid falling as heavy as her speech. The King looked paled and weary; almost insignificant beside the Queen. A languid shadow of a man at best. “My country’s affairs concern but me and my people.”

“With all due respect, Your Majesty, your affairs became our concern as well when your decisions placed the Empire at risk,” Marasia countered, never breaking eye contact.

“We have done no such thing,” she replied without a moment’s hesitation; her voice surprisingly controlled. “The Holy Laégelian Empire is of no interest to Gamalarn.”

“And the other nations?”

“Gamalarn only wants to reclaim what was always ours: the desert handed over to Sylenvia. A land suited only for true warriors. That is our only objective.”

Marasia saw no lie in the Queen’s face. Violent as they were, Gamar were known to scorn verbal cowardice almost as much as physical gutlessness. However, there was something undeniable as well. “His Imperial Majesty has reason to doubt it after the assassination attempt on Prince Sefiren and himself.”

“Unfounded accusations at best,” she heard a voice creep from behind her, followed by loaded footsteps. Through the corner of her eyes, Marasia was able to spot the Crimson Knight making his way across the room. The King could only make a fist and grit his teeth as the Knight stood beside Queen Edleán. “Choose your words carefully, Seraf-Magister. Gamalarn is a dangerous land and one where you hold no power at all.”

“Your Majesty, may we discuss this matter in a more private place?”

The Queen shook her head as the Crimson Knight placed a hand on her shoulders. “If you want to say something, girl, say it now. But I warn you, we will not tolerate Emperor Regelial trying to command us from his golden throne.”

“I’m sure that is not the Emperor’s intent, we only mean...”

“Gamalarn’s role as the Emperor’s lap dog will never return,” the Knight interrupted. “You fulfil that role much better, Seraf-Magister.”

Queen Edleán cackled.

For an instant, Marasia’s emotions flared and her muscles tightened. The Queen is as stubborn as she is deaf to reason. Her gaze fell on the King, whose presence she had nearly forgotten. Not even a shadow was left of him. What is wrong with him?  

With nothing left to say, she retired for the night. On her way to her chambers, while rushing across one of the halls thundering with the noises of drunk cheering, someone pulled at her arm.

“Shhh,” the man whispered in her ear, “take this,” he said, placing a piece of paper in her hand.

He vanished as fast as he had appeared; swallowed by the wild crowd. She unfolded the torn paper.

Tomorrow. The Blazing Sword forge. We can help.  

It had taken her half the night and several readings to make her mind. Until now, this seemed her best and only choice. In spite of the possible danger, she was determined not to fail her uncle. I can take care of myself, she told herself, trying to shake the Crimson Knight’s words from her mind.

After much searching, the finally found it: a small building, almost the size of a tiny house. An old wooden sign hung at the front displaying a carved sword surrounded by fire. The Blazing Sword.

She pushed the door; her arrival announced by the creaking it made. The windows were closed and the floor covered in dust and filth. The place had been clearly abandoned for some time.

Three cloaked figures walked towards her from the other end of the room. Marasia placed one hand on her sword’s hilt.

“Your Excellency, thank you for coming.”

“That voice... is that you Ducrat?” The tallest of the three removed his hood. Ducrat’s familiar face complimented his voice. Marasia’s nerves relaxed. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m sorry, Your Excellency, we don’t have much time,” he hastily replied. The other two figures took their hoods off as well. “This one here is Paleór Falcar, one of Gamalarn’s Seven Dragons, and this one...”

“Is one of Queen Edleán’s sons,” Marasia cut-in. She remembered seeing him at court every time, always sitting near the Queen. Up-close, she could tell he had the same fiery eyes and thick hair of his mother, albeit slimmer than most of the Gamar men she had seen. A boy, she thought. However, she knew very well how deceitful looks could be.

“Correct,” the young man said. “I am Third Prince Nardan, heir to the Gamar Crown.”

“And why would the heir want to help me stop the Queen’s plans?” Marasia asked.

“Because they are not my mother’s,” Nardan explained.  “We have all been tricked by the man pulling her strings; the one who is bent on this war.”

“No doubt you have already met him, Your Excellency,” Ducrat said.  “The one who calls himself the Crimson Knight.”

Paleór growled at the name.

“You said you could help me, how?”

“There might still be a way to prevent this war,” Prince Nardan stated. “We kill the Crimson Knight and if necessary, the Queen.”

Critique - Sacrificial Kingdom Words 15554 - 16571

Hey! 
Not much to say really. Praises as usual. The scene has a nice flow to it, and the characters are simply wonderful. The ending is brilliant. Just the couple of comments I wrote below. Not only is the story awesome, but your writing as well. Bravo!

That’s a relief. It was a brave thing you did, your Highness. I’m impressed with your swordsmanship and your quick thinking.” Makki said and Rhiharu bristled. His tone wasn’t patronising, he sounded genuinely surprised, which in itself was an insult. “Without your intervention it would have got far more bloody and likely ended in stalemate. Your courage...”

“Am I not of the Blood of Kavernath?” She snapped. Makki had the decency to blush.

“Yes, of course, your highness. I just meant that your actions allowed...”

“I’m well aware of what I did. I suggest you remember I have been tutored since I was twelve, Lieutenant. Daily. And by the best Kavernath has to offer.” Makki suddenly found the soil very interesting, cowed. (I agree she was helpful, but I also recall you showing her as stricken with nausea and fallible. Didn’t they notice it in the heat of battle? I’d like to know why does Makki bow with such ease)

“I meant no offence.” He said and Rhia felt a pang of guilt. Their arrival had been vital, and without it she’d either be dead or on the way to a slaver’s market in Mekbarim by now.

“I know. I’m grateful for your aid, Lieutenant. But I suspect there will be more of their ilk about, and I can’t hope to be underestimated again. Surprise played a greater hand than it held today.”

“I agree, your Highness.” Makki answered. “We should leave as soon as we can. Melu will do what she can to break their camp and keep them from heading for reinforcements, but she’s exhausted.” Rhia could empathise with that. She hadn’t slept more than a couple of hours huddled in a ditch since she had fled the Keep. Fled a crumbling Kingdom, knowing it was doomed but wanting to stay until it’s last breath anyway. A surge of sorrow welled up in her.

“The attack...Kavernath. When...when did it fall.” A dark shadow fluttered across Makki’s features.

“We left at sundown, your Highness. The Mathiri had just breached the dock doors to the east. The Amu’nari, I fear, and the Gelders had already made it inside.” He swallowed, seeing something from the previous night in his mind’s eye. “Our defences wouldn’t have held more than a few minutes after that. An hour if the civilians took up arms. But they would’ve surely been slaughtered if they had. I’m sorry, Princess. Kavernath is no more.” Makki’s words were bitter, defeated. To Rhia’s surprise she felt hot tears burn in her eyes. (Nice way of connecting the events up until now and show Rhia’s feelings as well.)

“No! I am still free. Kavernath dies with me and not before.” Anger, determination and grief stabbed at her heart. Kavernath may have died in name, but its legacy, its role in prophecy was not over. She stalked off down the slope towards where her sword lay, a few meters from the corpses of Kavernath’s enemies. It belonged either there or in her hand, bloodied in preservation of a Kingdom with no lands.

Melu didn’t announce her arrival. The Dragon dropped from the blue sky and glided over her head, affecting an unsteady landing. Dust smoked off the earth. The horse in Makki’s grip reared, eyes spinning in fear, and the tall, slight Dragon rider grappled to keep it from bolting.

No sooner had Melu settled than she changed. Though Rhia had seen the squadrons land a hundred times in the great courtyard of Kaver Castle, the sight never ceased to amaze her. Melu reared up, wings outstretched, serpentine neck stretched as though trying to snatch the clouds from the sky with her dagger long teeth; the vision lasted barely a second before the Dragon...collapsed.

Every scale, sinew and claw crumpled inwards. The Dragon’s form…..folded, again and again, smaller and smaller, with the speed of falling rain. Impossibly a tiny girl stood where moments before a monster the size of a house had been, red skin glowing compared to the iridescent gleam of Dragon scale. Only four gouges in the dirt of great talons, and the deep groove where a tail may have rested, remained of the Dragon.

Melu sighed and sank to the ground, curling into a comfortable ball. Still frightened, bestial scent still in its nostrils, the horse fought Makki every step of the way as he dragged it to where the girl lay. He scooped her up in his arms, and hand stroking her hair with great affection; feeling awkward as though spying on their privacy, Rhia turned away and saw Sommir walking towards her.

“Every time she changes it makes me dizzy.” He said. Four sets of reins, two in each hand, led strong looking horses. One of them was Moondust, and the silvery mare was the only calm one; the others looked ready to flee clear across two Kingdoms. None of her packs had come loose, and Sommir had strapped two packs to the shortest of the rest.

“We should get moving. The Mekbari will be back.” She said, Moondust nuzzling her shoulder.

“Aye, Princess, and in greater numbers. With the speed they were heading to the horizon, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had reached the Capitol by now. Cursed dogs were flying.” He started up towards Makki, who had hefted Melu into the saddle and was climbing up behind her. Rhia considered kicking the big soldier for his tone, but now wasn’t the time. She fell in behind him.

“Everything’s saddled up Makki. Where now?” Makki settled Melu in his lap. The girl dozed, only the rise and fall of her chest any indication she was alive. Rhia swung up into the saddle, feeling the ache’s and bruises of the morning. They always amazed her, Etherlings. So alien and spectacular, and yet in human form their behaviour was normal, mundane.

“Your Highness?” he said, and Rhia realised they’d invited themselves along. She sighed. There was no point in turning away help just to prove a point, and the deference was a pleasant change.

“Accompany me east.” She said, setting her shoulders and turning into the breeze. “If we ride hard we can be in sight of the Yellow Sand Mountains by nightfall.” Far to the West, beyond her sight, Brightwater Keep had fallen and Kavernath slumped into its coffin, awaiting the last rites prophecy demanded.(POV change?)“That’s as far into Mekbarim as I want to go tonight.”

Critique - The Bok'Tarong Part 15

Hey!
What a story you've written! I'm thrilled to find out what will happen next. Your dialogue flows smoothly and is as excellent as always. I'm still a bit confused because of the lack of background knowledge, especially regarding the -taken and the Hntaña which, being as important to the story as they are, could do with further explanation as to their nature. Otherwise, I'm finding it a tad difficult to follow at times, since I'm not able to understand them completely. Still, it's a great great novel with a brilliant plot. :D



Dragana unconsciously straightened her spine and spoke not as a warrior-woman but as the bearer of the Bok’Tarong and unofficial ambassador of the Taronese. “I have seen troubling things, Mage General. I would like to know why there is a large number of -taken wandering freely around your camps.”

“All those in my camps are servants of the King’s army and of myself.”

“Then you admit to sheltering -taken without the knowledge or permission of the Taronese?” (Hmm makes me wonder what sort of authority do the Taronese hold for Dragana to speak like that and why do they have it)

“I wasn’t aware that I needed your permission to employ soldiers for a desperate war.”

Yes you were, she thought. “Hntaña-taken are not to be treated as normal people, Mage General. Their minds can dissolve at any moment, making them an even greater threat than the enemies you fight.”

“And yet while they possess their own thoughts, they are free of fear and pain. They are the perfect soldier. They can charge into a situation no other solider would dare enter and emerge victorious. They fight on after losing limbs or bleeding from terrible wounds. Without them, this war would already have been lost. They are saving this kingdom.” (I like the –taken concept and the salvation/destruction duality they embody. Still, I’d like to know more about how they ‘work’. Since we have pretty much only have contact with hostile taken –or important characters- I’d like to know what makes one –taken grow into a hostile drone while another one can retain his intelligence and, perhaps, even his allegiances.)

“They aren’t fit to be in society.”

“This isn’t society, my lady. This is war.”

“Even so, they are -taken. They shouldn’t be here.”

“Would you truly stop them from fighting, knowing the greater good they are doing? Innocent people would be dead now if these -taken hadn’t stopped the advance of the enemy. The kingdom would be lost. If you remove them now, that will still happen. Are you willing to do that?”

“It isn’t my call to make. I must follow the orders of the Taronese, and that means these -taken are mine.”

Dark anger crept into the Mage General’s eyes. “You have no right to intrude upon the way I run my army.”

“I have every right. The Taronese have jurisdiction over any and all Hntaña activity, and the -taken are our responsibility.”

“These men and women are members of the King’s military. They are protected by his decree of sanctuary for anyone who bears his crest.”

Dragana took a deep breath, hoping it would cleanse her words of their venom. “Sanctuary cannot be provided to those who are a danger to themselves or those around them. None are more dangerous than the -taken. We cannot allow them to be used as weapons.”

 “My -taken warriors are granted to me by the King himself. If you wish to remove them from service, they must be released by him. The King will ask my advice on the matter, and I will inform him that my -taken are an essential part of his army. That is the truth. I cannot win this war without them, and I will not allow us to lose simply because the Taronese cannot accept that we use the -taken to save lives.”

Dragana matched the Mage General’s stubborn expression. “I will take this matter to the King, if you force me to.”

“Go ahead. Try all you want, but you will never get my -taken.”

Dragana stared at him for a moment before silently ducking out of the tent.

She grabbed the Bok’Tarong from its resting place near the terrified guard and slung it over her shoulder. She didn’t try to hide her irritation as she stomped away from the Mage General.

Dragana’s seething thoughts slammed into Aeo’s mind as soon as she laid a hand on the Bok’Tarong. He was overwhelmed by the sheer rage roiling inside of her. She hadn’t even been this angry when she’d discovered he’d hijacked his way into the sword. (Abrupt POV change here)

It was easy to piece together what had happened with the Mage General – she was going over their conversation again and again in her mind, adding uncomplimentary comments along the way.

You didn’t have to scare the guard, he said, trying to distract her. Touching the sword wouldn’t have hurt him.

“I know. But it was a good way to make sure nobody messed with it.” (While the meeting could be described as brief, considering people where noticing the sword before, I would have expected it to have caught someone’s undesired attention)

Aeo quietly listened as she returned to her rant. I don’t think the Mage General would appreciate you talking about his mother like that.

“I can’t believe he would recruit -taken like that.”

I think you’re more upset that he refused the demands of the Taronese and their right to the -taken.

“They are mine. He has no right to shelter them from me.”

Do you believe the King will relinquish them?

“The Mage General will fight, but the Taronese have always been given the rights to any -taken. We will get them.”

Aeo cringed at the vicious thoughts Dragana associated with “getting” the -taken, but didn’t say anything. She was too riled as it was.

He felt her glare at each of the -taken she ran across on her way out of the camp. Even as he counseled her against violence, he had to admit that he didn’t completely disagree with her reaction. Now that he was the Bok’Tarong, he itched to battle the Hntaña. And with so many of the parasites feeding around the camp, the desire to start slicing at them was enormously strong.

Aeo was envisioning the grand battle he and Dragana could wage against these -taken soldiers when revulsion washed over him. It saturated him as if he’d just walked under an oily, sewage-saturated waterfall. He suddenly felt as if he had to scrub the filth from his soul. His reaction was so visceral that for a moment he forgot that he no longer had a stomach to vomit from.

Dragana had sensed his disgust and stopped. “What is it?” she whispered.

It’s vile. Damn it, it’s vile!

She scanned the area. “There’s a medical tent over there. You might be feeling the suffering of the wounded.”

No, it’s more than that. Something terrible is happening in there. Something that’s against my very nature. I want to go in there and slaughter it. I need to.

Dragana drew the Bok’Tarong from its sheath. “Hntaña.” (Great ending!)

Critique - Soulsong Ch4 Part 1

Hi!
Whoa! Nice section. I don't think I would have ever expected the twist you're giving your story. I'm very much intrigued by the Professor's actions and motives. I also like this 'back-and-forth' format you've planned for your story. I think it enahnces  it a lot. My main conern is with the beginning. I felt it a distant and cold narrative; everything's detailed below and I think a quick edit would greatly improve on this paragraph's emotional impact. Well done!

Brian was still managing things at Jane’s house the next morning.  Last night, when she failed to return, he went out to look for her, and of course, found nothing.  The fire department had come and gone.  Brian dozed fitfully on Jane’s couch all night, waiting for her.  He finally called the police when morning came and she still had not come home.  The police questioned him a dozen times already.  The police officer currently speaking to him scribbled on a clipboard as he answered questions. 

“Does Miss Picardy have any relatives we should contact?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Brian replied.  “She grew up as an only child and her parents, John and Susan Picardy, died three years ago in an automobile accident.  I’ve never heard her speak of any aunts or uncles, or even grandparents for that matter.”  The officer thanked Brian for his cooperation and left him to help organize the small crowd of people in the house and help coordinate the search and rescue effort.  Just as he started to move, there was a knock at the front door.  Whoever it was did not wait to be let in.  It was Glenna.

“Brian, what’s going on?” she asked, worry creasing her smooth, tanned face.  “Where’s Jane?”

“There was a fire on the hill last night after you left,” he said, exasperated at having to tell the story again.  “It was caused from a lightening strike. Jane went out to investigate while I called the fire department and she didn’t came back,” Brian recited mechanically.  “The lightening strike occurred at approximately eleven o’clock p.m., I called the fire department, and they showed up at about eleven thirty.  I told the fire chief she was up there, but they didn’t see her.  I waited here for Jane to return, but she never did.  A search and rescue team has been dispatched, but so far, all they have found is a small lock of hair snagged on a branch and the pair of shoes she had been wearing which, apparently, she had meant to take off because they were set neatly along the side of the trail leading up the hill.” 

(Ok, so far it’s been a nice section. I like the fact that you’re exploring more of the characters we initially met. However, up until here, it feels like a fast catch-up scene, sort of like a summary of everything that’s happened (both known and unknown to us)  However, I felt it was just that: a narrative, where I would have expected some more feelings from Jane’s friends. For example, in the above paragraph, you wrote ‘Brian recited mechanically’. While I can understand that he might be doing so after repeating the story many a time, I felt it distant, emotionless)

--- 

“She’s been missing since eleven o’clock last night?”  Glenna nearly screeched.  Brian nodded.  For a moment she could only stare at him as a million thoughts ran through her head.  How could she be missing?  Where could she possibly be?  Maybe she’s just lost.  As soon as she thought it, though, she dismissed it.  Glenna knew Jane was not lost.  She knew Jane’s love for her home and for the vast playground the property had been for her as a child.  She could never get lost out there.  She knew every tree, every rock, and every rise and fall of the grounds around this place.  Glenna began to get a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.  If Jane isn’t lost, then where is she? (This here is a much better paragraph in my opinion, where we get facts, backstory, but also emotion)

Glenna and Brian both helped with the search effort by making sandwiches and cold drinks for the volunteers.  They answered the telephone and even gave a statement to the press concerning Jane’s absence, which was due to air on the local six o’clock news.  Professor Alexander called at about twelve-thirty.  Glenna picked up the phone.  He sounded very surprised to learn of Jane’s disappearance and asked if there was any way he might be helpful. 

“At the moment, even I am making up things to do to keep busy,” Glenna said.  “But if anything comes up I will call you.”

---

The Professor sat in his custom leather executive chair in his office at the University.  He stared out the window for several minutes before finally picking up the telephone again.

“Hello, Merve?  It’s William Alexander.  There’s going to be a change of plans.  The girl has gone missing.” He paused as he listened to the voice on the other end.  “I don’t know.  She’s just missing.  Now listen, we can still do this.  I need to know how long I have to wait before I can begin taking over her estate.  I want you to get on it right away.”  He paused again to listen.  “It will be fine.  If she turns up, then I will go forward with the plans we have laid out.  But if she doesn’t, I want another plan ready to go.  I’ll call you in another day or two to see what you’ve come up with.”  Professor Alexander hung up the phone and grabbed his sport coat.  Jane’s house is full of commotion and people. I doubt anyone will notice one more.  This is my chance to go looking around.   (Whoa. I wasn’t expecting this at all. Excellent!)

Professor Alexander came up the long lane to the house but had to park a bit down the hill due to the cars and rescue vehicles already taking the space in the driveway.  He checked himself in the mirror and put on his best anxious face, then headed for the house.  He was greeted by that obnoxious young man from last night who wouldn’t leave him and Jane alone. 

“Yes?  Oh, it’s you.”  Brian looked him up and down.  “Jane isn’t here.”

“Yes.  I thought I would come and lend my support in this most trying time,” he replied in the most concerned voice he could.  “May I come in?” 

Brian didn’t say anything, just backed away enough to let him enter then turned away and headed for the kitchen.  He must be a bit annoyed to see me.  Professor Alexander, however, was glad for the opportunity to look around unhindered.  Last night he’d had a chance to survey the music room, which he found precisely how he remembered it.  Today, he planned to explore other rooms on the first floor.  He wanted to go to the second floor rooms, except he didn’t think he could come up with a good enough excuse as to why he was there if he happened to get caught.

He went around a corner and found himself in the same room where he had spent the evening with Jane.  It had been rather pleasant being with her.  Too bad I’ll have to get rid of her.  But perhaps not.  It seems as though she has gone and done that for me.   He went to the sofa they had shared and sat down.  The view took his eye immediately to the grounds outside.  How much property is there in this estate?  He could see a hill swathed in trees and greenery on the far side of the grounds.  He noticed the wall of windows that allowed him such a stunning view and marveled at the craftsmanship required to construct it.  The glaziers and stone masons who built the house were true artists. 

He studied the panel of stained glass depicting the hill covered in oak trees.  Why would the artisans portray a hill that one can see in real life just outside?  Was it put here by the original builders, or was it added later?  He glanced across the room to the far side and noticed a hallway leading off to another room. 

“I suppose I can start in there,” he mumbled as he hoisted himself up off the low couch. 

Rite of Awakening - Chapter 5 Part 1

OK everyone. Here's the next fragment. Thanks for your useful feedback on the last section, I'll have to go back and make some corrections. I hope you enjoy this new chapter, and as always, keep up the excellent work!

The palace was ancestral and housed many a secret; including hidden passageways and thin walls that had allowed Sefiren to overhear his father’s conversation with his sisters. Three days had flown by since then but he still went over the scene in his head. The Anaseós Isles? thought Sefiren as he rushed from the palace to the Central Laégel Airfield. But there’s nothing there! Not even the sun hits that place.

The Anaseós Isles were covered in several metres of snow during most of year and when they weren’t, the rocky ground beneath the snow would be exposed. The landscape was filled with giant mountains, surrounded by an impossible-to-sail sea. The light never hit the ground because some very dense clouds always covered the sky and a deep fog, the ground. Only the Imperial 3rd Prison, reserved for the worst of the Empire’s criminals, and the Empire’s Gas̆ditul and Nanerel Mines were located there. Why would my father send Myrelle to such a dangerous place?

He crossed the palace’s doors and into the Balace Plaza, part of the beauty of Elyrdir, Asaia-Laégel’s centre. Much like his father, Sefiren enjoyed admiring the many trees that made their home there, along with several birds, squirrels, and other tiny animals; the always green grass and the thousands of different lively flowers. He preferred to be outside. Unrestricted. Unchained. Free.

Yet today, he could not afford to rest under a tree’s reinvigorating shadow or sink his feet into the sparkling lagoons while staring at his reflection and the rushing fish beneath.  

“The Sylen Royal Family will arrive tomorrow morning,” his father told him the previous night, “I want you there on time.”

As he crossed the plaza, the soldiers saluted and the people bowed at the sight of him dressed in his military uniform. There was not a place within the capital where his title did not replace his dreams, adding to the discomfort imposed on him by his burdensome attire.

He took a final left, crossed the diving wall, and stepped into the Central Laégel Airfield; an expanse that stretched beyond the horizon. It was the resting place of dreadnoughts, cruisers, and carriers, as well as the bulk of the city’s war machines, including long-range aerial cannons, impenetrable tanks, and the dreaded DOGMA’s; the latest in military technology, developed by the Empire almost thirty years ago. The Empire’s ultimate weapons, he remembered someone calling them thus at the Academy more than once.

He rushed past the marching troops to where his family waited for him; an imposing airship in metallic green and yellow rested in front of them. It wasn’t the largest Sefiren had seen, but it was enough to fully captivate him. Somewhere around a hundred and fifty meters long, the size of a large cruiser. A pair of folding wings at the back and another one of propelling engines near the front. The bridge is high near the middle. Very similar to most of our cruisers.  

“The last one as usual,” his brother said, bringing his attention back to the ground. “I don’t know why you even bothered at all.”

“Sefiren is as important as you are, Myt̆es” his mother said. “You’d do well in remembering that.”

“I try not to, mother.” Their father shot a glare at Myt̆es that could have very well pierced through his core. “Fine. Whatever you say.”

 “I’m sorry to be late,” Sefiren bowed his head. His father simply turned around, apparently ignoring him. Not good.

“Come Ysara,” he said, extending his arm for his wife to take.

A long ramp came down from the deck. Several soldiers in green armour marched down its sides in two columns. They presented their weapons and turned to face the centre.

 “The Laecath Guard,” Aš whispered, “the bodyguards of House Sylenvia-Valedar.”

Out of the cruiser came King Caylsig, a tall, slender man of dark hair and beard, both with traces of white, whose appearance had been ravaged by the responsibility of ruling a country, and Queen Mylina, who retained her hair’s natural honey-colour and looked much younger than her husband. As they descended, his parents went up the ramp, meeting at the middle. They stopped centimetres away from each other. The rulers of Sylenvia bowed to the sovereigns of the Empire, to which they replied with a similar act and shook their hands afterwards.

“It’s been far too long old friend. I trust you had a pleasant journey?”

“Why yes, thank you Lord Ilorsil.” As the king said this, a third figure came out of the vessel. “Ah, Sivrial, come here.”

Back at the bottom, Sefiren was awed by the beauty that had emerged. His sisters looked gorgeous and his mother sublime, but they paled in comparison to the radiant girl at the top. Sivrial had changed much in ten years. He was captivated by her deep, icy blue eyes like tiny glaciers and long, auburn hair; the gracefulness of her swaying hips and the subtle frailty she displayed.

“Sivrial? My goodness, you’ve grown. Look at you; you’ve become a gorgeous young lady.”

“Thank you Empress Ysara,” Sivrial replied as she bowed. Her voice was soft and melodic.  

 “I’ve also heard that you have quite a prodigious voice. I would very much like to hear you sing sometime.”

“It would be an honour, Lord Ilorsil.”

The five figures walked down the ramp, the men in front, the women in the back. His heart pulsed faster as Sivrial came closer, but he could not take his eyes off her. Not until she met his gaze with her own, to which he reacted by rapidly turning his head to the side.

“I believe you are aware of the situation Lord Ilorsil?”

“Of course my friend, that’s why I’ve requested your presence in such a hurry. I’ve devised a plan that’ll help us deal with this ever-growing threat. However, before going into further detail, I would like to speak with you about a more private matter.”

“Private matter? What’s it about? “

Regelial turned to look at everyone. “King Caylsig and I have important businesses to attend to and have no time to spare. With your permission, we take our leave.” 

Critique - Sacrificial Kingdom Words 14472 - 15553

Hey!
Nice section. Easy to follow from last week's fragment. Very well written; I could picture the whole battle in my mind clearly. My issues would be why are the Shapers so easily dispatched? The scene begins with a vulnerable Rhia who is somewhat hindered yet she easily takes care of them. I'd like to see more of a struggle there because it feels like you've weakened Rhia but she's still powerful enough to easily handle Shapers. Other than that and the minnor redlines below, brilliant as always!! 


Sight crept back to the edge of her vision as though shy. Something, it looked like the Shaper, lay next to her. Any details had been scoured away, but it didn’t move: dead, unconscious, it didn’t matter. Rhia rolled to her knees, scrubbing at her eyes with the back of her hand, sweat and dirt abrasive.

Her vision finally cleared. Sommir had managed to interpose himself between the remaining mercenaries and her, using one gripped round the throat as a shield. Makki strafed left and right, harrying nearly two dozen horsemen but no doubt riding his mount to death to do so.

Melu roared and tore overhead. Rhia turned. One shaper, hand raised, sent blue bolts into the bluer sky. The other swung a length of rope round his head like a bolas, one end weighted with steel. Somehow, by the Blessed Hand, they hadn’t seen her.

Still unsure of her balance she snatched up her sword and surged to her feet. In the five paces she needed to reach them she nearly fell twice. Blade braced before her like a lance she crashed into the Rope Worker. He tried to scream but all that came out was a wet croak. They crashed to the floor and she rolled aside, ripping her sword free in a spray of blood.

It was too much. She tried to get up but her legs were as solid as water. Her chest felt like it was on fire, each breath ripping her lungs with cold claws. (I’m having a bit of trouble with the use of both fire and cold in the same sentence. Made me read the sentence a couple of times to fully grasp the meaning)

Wild eyed, the last Shaper turned to her, a steel bar gripped white-knuckled in one hand - such a simple thing, but so deadly in the right hands. Rhia could almost see the Ether running along its length, springing out, punching a hole through her chest.

She dug her fingers into the soil, skinning knuckles, ripping nails. A stone rammed itself into her palm, sharp as any needle. But she clutched a handful of dirt and flung it.

The Shaper was too slow. He crossed his hands before his face, sending the Ether blast high over her head, and the busy wind dashed the dust into his eyes. He cried out, stumbling backwards. (Hmm… I love that you’ve made Rhia seem fallible and vulnerable. Great! However, I think the Shapers are dealt with too easily, considering they’re endowed with some form of ‘magic’ and Rhia is not feeling in her prime it seems)

There was a sudden pause and the riotous cacophony around her fell into a lull. A strong hand of air swept past, followed by the flash of red scales, and then only half a man stood before her. Lacking a torso, it stayed upright for a few seconds before falling, spilling blood like wine from some overturned casket. Rhia leaned to one side and vomited.

“Sommir. Your Highness. Get back! Clear the field!” Makki’s voice rose above the din. Rhia sat, transfixed by the half-a-man, still drunk with shock. In her mind the wet, fleshy noise replayed over and over and over and over. Makki thundered past without slowing.

“You feet, your Highness. Get Up!” He circled and galloped back towards the melee, roaring at Sommir to disengage. Rhia’s legs wouldn’t work. Her whole body had fused together, forever to regard the bloodied rags soaking into the bare earth.

Heavy footfalls, the rattle of armour racing towards her, and she managed to turn her head. Sommir pounded up the slope, blade slick with blood, more splattered across his face and chest. Behind him four mercenaries gave chase.

“If you would come with me, Princess.” He said and barely slowed to snatch her tunic, hauling her to her feet. Half dragged, half running, Rhiharu stumbled alongside Sommir. The battle had been brief, but already exhaustion had her. Drained, she knew she was slowing him down. Sommir pounded upslope anyway, never releasing her, eyes grim beneath his heavy brow. She could almost hear the mercenaries gaining pace by pace.

“We hold here, Princess.” All of a sudden Sommir halted and turned. Rhia managed to keep her feet and reached for the sword that was no longer at her hip. Sommir levelled his blade, feet splayed, at once still and calm. He faced four men, and then Rhia realised she didn’t need a weapon.

Makki rode up the slope behind them. Blue Ether punched into the back of one of the men, knocking him to the floor. Another turned and met a similar fate. Out manned, out manoeuvred and faced with a Shaper on horseback, the men could only do one thing. They threw down their weapons and fled, charging away across the hollow. Makki let them go.

The battle had ended the moment the last Shaper fell. What was left of the Mekbari cavalry retreated over the rise, heading for their camp far beyond, making erratic and tacking patterns to avoid the claws and teeth of the Dragon. Rhia watched Melu soar, turn, tuck in her wings and dive; a deadly rhythm of rise and fall.

“Always good to exercise before breakfast, wouldn’t you say Makki?” Sommir jabbed his sword point first in the earth and leaned on the pommel. Makki jumped down from the saddle, the horse too exhausted to run off, and gave the infantryman a sidelong glance. The metal in his hands steamed with cold and he stripped them off, revealing red, raw palms.

“Aye, and a few laps around Brightwater Lake to finish I suppose? Your bluster can wear sometimes.” Sommir grinned, shrugged and walked down the slope.

“My stomach is telling me you should be cooking something.” He called over his shoulder. “I’ll see if I can round up a few of those horses. We could use the spares.” (By the way you’ve built this scene, I’d picture Rhia feeling even more sick at the thought of having breakfast after the fight, in the middle of the battlefield. She just seems too calm in the following paragraph with respect to her previous experience.)

Rhia watched him from under a frown. Not a word of deference, and yet he thought of something she had not. A packhorse would’ve been a smart thing to bring with her from the Keep. His pragmatism both annoyed and impressed her. Next to her, Makki massaged his blistered, swollen hands and mumbled something under his breath.

“Pardon Lieutenant?” She asked. Makki, at least, seemed to show a grain of civility. He looked bashful, like a child caught with his fingers in the honey jar.

“I wouldn’t like to repeat it, your Highness. Soldier language.” He looked her up and down, an economical movement, almost just a jerk of the head. “Are you injured at all, you Highness?” Rhia was about to say she was fine, but realised she probably wasn’t. The fire of the fight was still in her blood, keeping pain at bay.

“Bruises and scrapes, plenty of the former I’d wager, but otherwise my hide is intact. Mostly, I’m just exhausted.”

Critique - The Bok'Tarong Part 14

Hey there!

I was already missing these two :P Great fragment. :D The dialogue and plot were, as always, brilliantly developed. Just some issues which I believe have more to do with our lack of background knowledge - such as why is the Bok'Tarong so widely known? Wouldn't that make it desirable for many people? Also, you set an atmosphere of fire and death at the beginning that makes it look like they're running into an enemy camp -which I've commented on below. I'm not sure whether my mind is still clear on that matter, but maybe it's just a personal problem. Any doubts let me know!

Dragana had seen plenty of battles. Her entire life had revolved around them. (I think by now some sort of ‘timeline’ could be nice. While the plot itself is great, I do get lost in the where and when, so it makes it hard for me whenever you switch characters to land on the scene)

Even so, the war-ravaged lands near the border were shocking. The fields and farms were stripped naked by thousands of hungry soldiers. Tents were scattered everywhere, sounds of pain and approaching death heard from many of them. The villagers were obviously scared, and rightly so.

And through it all, Hntaña-taken soldiers in their strange uniforms strolled as if they hadn’t a care in the world.

Dragana’s hand twitched towards the Bok’Tarong with each -taken she saw. Aeo had no trouble feeling the strain on her willpower it took to leave them unmolested. He had no doubt that if it was up to her, each of these abominations would be bleeding out on the streets. (I love the concept you developed about their connection and the sword. Nice!)

Once she was in the town proper she drew the Bok’Tarong from its sheath, but not to attack. She gave sight to Aeo, allowing him to see the hordes of -taken roaming the village

“How can they not know these men are -taken?” she muttered.

They know, Aeo replied, noticing the frightened glances and hurried steps of the villagers.

“Then why don’t they do anything about it?”

They’re peasants. They don’t have the power to do that.

“Then who does?”

If these -taken really are fighting with the knowledge of the army, we’d have to find a high-ranking official to even get a hint of power. The civilians will be helpless.

Dragana nodded and scanned the area. As she did, she heard the increasing whispers of the villagers. They’d finally identified her and the Bok’Tarong. That should make things easier. (The wording suggests Dragana and/or the sword are well known. Is that so? Why? And why would she be wanting to draw attention to her in a place creeping with –taken?)

She found a middle-aged woman who didn’t cower from her gaze. “Where can I find the commanding officers of this army?”

The woman glanced from her to the double-bladed sword. “You here ‘bout them weird soldiers?”

Dragana moved closer. “How are they weird?”

“Them soldiers don’t hurt. They ain’t afraid. Sometimes I’m thinkin’ they ain’t even thinkin’ in there.”

“Yes, I’m here about them.”

“You need to see the Mage General, then. He’s the only ‘un takin’ ‘sponsibility for them.”

“Is he near?”

The woman gestured towards the northwest. “He ain’t far. He keeps them weird soldiers close by.”

Dragana smiled and nodded. “Thank you.”

The woman nodded back and retreated into the shadows as a troupe of -taken soldiers passed by.

Dragana let them pass, hiding the Bok’Tarong from their line of sight. Once they’d gone, she followed at a small distance.

Her instincts and the woman’s directions proved true. The -taken troops marched straight to the northwest and into the Mage General’s camp. Dragana didn’t hesitate to follow them.

The atmosphere within this camp was so thick with Hntaña that Aeo choked on the oily darkness. It was hard for him to see through the masses of tangled tendrils. The instinct to kill was overpowering. He wanted to slaughter and watch these Hntaña sizzle and hiss as his magic destroyed them. The fact that these soldiers seemed to have taken the Hntaña in willingly made him want to kill them just as badly. They were happily spreading death through the world and Aeo wanted – needed – to put an end to them.(Wouldn’t the –taken notice them? Or the Hntaña? Seems like they’re just strolling across a camp I’d think dangerous for them – especially with the atmosphere you’ve built until now.)

“Calm down,” Dragana whispered. “It’s hard enough to keep my cool without you egging me on.”

Sorry.

She cracked a smile. “No you aren’t.”

Aeo chuckled. If you lost it and started slashing at all of these -taken, I’d be all too happy to help. But since we need diplomacy here…

Dragana nodded and steered them towards a large tent decorated with the King’s banner. Just below it flew another that she assumed belonged to the Mage General – a sword and a hand casting a spell crisscrossed in the middle.

She stepped up to the flap and prepared to enter when a guard placed his hand in Dragana’s path. “No weapons allowed in the Mage General’s presence,” he said.

Dragana gripped the hilt of the Bok’Tarong. “Do you know what weapon this is?”

“I do, lady. But the rules are clear. No weapons, no exceptions.”

She sighed and reluctantly sheathed the Bok’Tarong. I’m sorry.

I understand, Aeo replied. Just be careful. Something doesn’t feel right. (Might be the rules, but the Bok’Tarong is definitely a valuable object to be discarded so easily, in a crowded place where someone could snatch it while Dragana meets with the Mage General)

Like what?

I’m not sure.

Do you think all the -taken around here are making you nervous?

Aeo chuckled. I wouldn’t say ‘nervous’ but there’s definitely something around here that’s putting my teeth on edge.

Dragana smiled to herself. You don’t have teeth.

Thanks for the reminder. Be careful.

She nodded and removed her baldric. The guard reached for it, but she stopped him and placed the sword down herself. “Do not touch the blade.”

The guard stared in horror at the double-bladed sword and inched as far away from it as his position allowed.

Dragana smirked and entered the Mage General’s tent. It looked like any other command center, filled with maps and weapons and other requirements for war. The Mage General himself hovered around these things. He was a surprisingly young man, not much older than Dragana, though his hair was prematurely graying around the temples. His posture showed that he had been raised to fill a position of authority – he held himself tall and rigid, but his face held the stern serenity that common men associated with mages.

He appraised Dragana for a moment. His tone was bored when he spoke. “The renowned warrior of the Taronese and bearer of the Bok’Tarong. What brings you to my war room?” (Renowned? I don’t think that’s been mentioned before. Why is she so well-known?)

Critique - Soulsong Ch3 Part 3

Hey! Not much to say here, just some minor issues. I think we need more backstory regarding the school, since we're taken to a situation where Jane interacts with fellow students and the curfew is brought up in conversation. A few doubts jumped in my mind, detailed below, which I think could enhance this section's relevance and help make things a bit clearer.  Otherwise, well done! Imagery was great, as was your characterisations and I never noticed any inconsistencies with Jane's voice. Excellent!

The water was still a little too hot, but Jane climbed in anyway.  The heat seeped into her skin and penetrated her muscles.  The water smelled of lavender and lemons.  She splashed a little and a few bubbles gathered up.  A bubble bath?  She splashed a little more until suds covered the surface of the water.  Jane sank down into the large tub until only her head remained, and she almost purred with pleasure.  This feels so good.  She blew at the strands of her hair that strayed to her face and rolled her eyes at the sorry state it was in.  She removed the large hair clasp holding up the few remaining strands that managed to stay in and quickly slid all the way under.  When she came up again her aches and muscle fatigue began to fade.  She leaned back in the tub, closed her eyes, and contemplated her day.  She must have dozed a minute or two because when she opened her eyes she was startled to find four people standing over her.  She stared at them and they stared back, expressionless.  Finally, one young lady spoke. 

“You are new.”  It wasn’t a question so Jane didn’t respond.  The young lady narrowed her eyes then spoke again.  “Where are you from?” 

Jane looked at her a moment longer before answering.  “I’m from… around here,” she said truthfully.  She studied the young lady.   She looked youthful with beautiful smooth, fair skin and shiny black hair.  Jane put her age at seventeen or eighteen.   (I think she should react a bit more nervous or confused about the situation. Having four people –strangers- sneak on you while bathing in an unknown place with a seemingly unfriendly attitude should get a stronger reaction from Jane in my opinion.)

“I’ve never seen you before,” she replied in an accusatory tone.  Jane did not respond, but continued to look at her.  This irritated the girl.  “Because you are new, I shall give you a bit of counsel that will allow your life here to be… a more contented one.”  The girl paused for dramatic effect.  “The baths are ours after curfew,” she said, indicating the other three girls with her.  “All the other students know this already.”  (Why is there curfew? And how is it these four girls manage to break it and how come everyone knows?)

Jane was startled at the venom in the young lady’s voice.  Still submerged up to her neck in bubbles she felt completely vulnerable.  However, her face remained calm.  Just then Gale returned. (I think I’d like to see this dialogue extended, both to build a bit more of backstory about this place and to give these girls more of an impact –since I’m assuming they’ll become a headache for Jane.)

“What is this?” she exclaimed.  “The way you are crowding around her I am sure Miss Jane is struggling to breathe.”  The four girls, whose backs had been toward Gale, turned to her. “Chordata.” Gale put a hand to her hip.  “I am certain you can have no reason for even being in here.  Come away this instant.”

“Who are you to order us in this manner?” Chordata insisted in a haughty tone.

“I have been put in charge of Jane by the request of Master Thrumming,” she replied in the most imperious voice she could muster.  “If you do not leave immediately, I shall report to him that you have been disturbing her.”

“Go on and tell him then,” Chordata snapped.  “We have done nothing wrong.”  However, the four girls began easing away from Jane’s bath.  As the girls left, Chordata gave Jane a steely, defiant glare that spoke louder and more clearly than words ever could. 

“I’ve only been here a few hours and already I have enemies,” Jane said.

“Oh, do not trouble yourself over them,” Gale said.  There is not a journeyman or apprentice present at this guild who is beneath their contempt.  Consider yourself initiated.”  She had a basket of things with her which she busied herself emptying onto the bench.  “They like to think they have everyone frightened away from here.  However, I do not believe it is due to Chordata’s threats.  I think it merely an inconvenient time to bathe for most people.”

“Hmm,” was all Jane said. 

“I have your room ready.  Your bed is made up and waiting.”

“That sounds great,” Jane said with a huge sigh.  “I didn’t get much sleep last night, and now I’ve had a big meal, a hot bath – I can hardly keep my eyes open.”   She barely got the words out before she was seized by a yawn.  Gale helped her into a long, airy linen shirt that came down to her knees.

“Here.  Put this on for now,” Gale said, handing her a light cotton night dress.  “I have a dress you can wear for after you wake.” 

Jane eyed the garments, confused.  “Um, I’m not sure about this clothing,” Jane said, holding up the cotton night dress.

“What do you mean?” Gale asked

“Well…” Jane looked at the dress askance.  “Why do I need two night dresses, and where is the underwear?”  Jane let out a nervous titter.

“Two dresses?  No, this is a linen undershirt,” Gale said, looking confused. 

“Oh, I see,” Jane said, eyeing her new underwear with uncertainty.  “This is very different.  But, it’ll do just fine,” she added hastily when she saw Gale’s face full of concern.  However, Jane was looking forward to putting on her own bra and panties again.

Gale led Jane through several more back corridors to the residence hall to avoid contact with anyone. (Again, maybe you’ll need to explain the curfew some more. So far, I think no one should be out of bed, so avoiding certain places on purpose seems pointless since no one should be out anyway.) Jane’s room seemed large for a dorm, and was specifically designed for the student of music.  There were two beds; one on either side of the room, and between them sat a small keyboard, a virginal from the look of it, although Jane was not sure.  It could be a clavichord.  There was a writing desk with a lantern and several small musical instruments on a shelf above it.    

“I think I might like it here,” she said.

“Oh, I am happy you approve,” Gale said.  “Now, get some rest and I will check in on you later.”  She gave another short bow, so Jane reciprocated with a nod of her head.

“I’m going to have to remember that bowing thing,” she muttered to herself as she crawled into bed.  The mattress was lumpy but soft.  “Well, it isn’t a Posturpedic, but it sure beats sleeping on a root.”  She looked about the room.  Despite the fact that she was underground inside a cavern, it felt light and cheery.  The light colored sandstone, along with every room and hallway being lined with sconces filled with ember stones, made this most unusual place feel more like a home than a cave.  Jane fell asleep wondering how they ever thought up ember stones in the first place.

Rite of Awakening: Chapter 4 Part 3

Hey all! I apologise for my tardiness, I've been experiencing problems with my internet connection and could not post yesterday. I've read your critiques and they were as awesome and helpful as always. This one is a short fragment (around 800 words) but it takes us to the end of chapter 4. Short and sweet I hope. Enjoy!

They went out and headed towards the gardens. There was wonder in Marasia’s mind. The thirst for knowledge she seldom quenched. But there was also disbelief. Myths and legends? I’m no longer a kid to be fooled by those stories, she told herself. Her childhood nights had been spent around the palace or the gardens, together with her cousins; always around a pleasant fire, under the Twin Moons. Her uncle would captivate them with age-old tales of glory, power, love, and sacrifice. Tales about Goddess Ataélina when she walked on Asaia, about the near-mythical Balace Empire, and most of all, about the first Apostle and her Knight. Most of them but fantasies.

“You haven’t answered me yet,” Regelial said as they arrived.

“No uncle, I don’t. Have you forgotten it was you who told me that they’re nothing more than tales to help entertain children and civilians alike?”

The Emperor smiled. “That’s why I like you so much. Now, to answer your question, yes I did, and yes, they usually are. However, my brilliant yet naïve Marasia, all stories, no matter how inconceivable, stemmed from an aspect of reality. There are some truths believed to make a greater benefit when erased from all memory or transformed into lies, or, in your words, tales to entertain.”

 “Truths turned into lies? What do you mean?”

“It’s a pretty day don’t you think?” he asked without stopping.

The soil was soft and the flowers a resplendence of colour gleaming under the sun. The grass danced to the symphony of falling water and rushing wind.

It is”, Marasia answered.

“One day, even this beauty will fade away.” He knelt to pick up a flower of intense pink petals struggling to open like a crown to a powerful mixture of orange and red. “The Ant̆aí flower fully blossoms for one day and then, when it’s at its most beautiful, it loses its petals and dies in order to birth flowers for the next year. Creation and destruction. Order and chaos. Life and death. The existence of one entails the other’s existence.” He threw the bud into one of the nearby lakes. “So too are humans and t̆erians s meant to coexist, in balance.”

“But it is not so,” Marasia said. “We’ve slaughtered each other since both races met.”

They went up a hill crowned by a soaring tree whose leaves and branches challenged the sun’s rays. Regelial sat down, followed by Marasia. The Melcryrl Cathedral sitting on its throne at the top of Ictromil, the sacred mount, was visible, as was the Senate’s Tower, scratching at the sky with unrelenting claws. Crushing the people beneath it.

“It is said the Goddess left Asaia as a consequence of the ceaseless death that stalked the land. Both races were punished for their sins. But there was a third race that suffered above humans and t̆erians. The ones held responsible for the Goddess’ departure, branded by nature, and hunted by their parents: the Derecar.”

“The human and t̆erian hybrids. The Cursed Ones. But that’s not a myth. That’s what little history survived regarding the Balace Empire. It’s the truth.”

Regelial sighed. “Marasia, in this life, we are never given truth as it is; either because we can’t understand it or because we shouldn’t come to understand it. That is why it is up to us, and no one else, to look for it no matter how difficult or dangerous the search may be. Each must find their own truth.”

“But I already know what I need to know.”

“And what about knowing what you want to know?”

What do I want to know? She tried to think of an answer, to no avail. She had always desired to improve her understating of the world, but never stopped to think a pivotal question. Why?

“Tell me then, how many goddesses exist?”

“One,” Marasia answered without a moment’s hesitation. “That’s common knowledge.”

“And is common knowledge always right? What do you make of the t̆erian Goddess Ashana’are then?”

“They’re one and the same, that’s why both races believe in the Apostle; the Goddess made woman.”

“Are they? What if everything we’ve believed in for centuries were naught but a thread of lies delicately spun around a cycle of endless sacrifice?”

Regelial fell silent. Marasia kept waiting for him to continue; her eyes never stopped staring at her uncle. He had to explain himself. Lies. Endless sacrifice. Two Goddesses. Impossible. Or not?

A barely perceptible grin formed on her uncle’s face. “While you think about that, there is one task I must give to you; a weary load but one which only you will accomplish.” A strong breeze blew across the gardens, disrupting the pleasant harmony from before. “I’m sending you to Gamalarn as my representative.”

“What for?”

“To delay the coming war as long as possible.”

Critique - Sacrificial Kingdom: Words 13309 - 14472

Hey there!
Not much in the redline this time (excpet for that one line at the beginning and another minor fix somewhere at the middle). I loved this scene. Everything was clearly depicted and I felt the pace to be excellent. Action, chaos, characters... it was great although a bit overdescriptive towards the end, for my personal taste.
I'd still like to know a bit more about the magic in this world, you know, some of the limitations they have. What's Ether? (in your world) I still don't grasp the concept of Shapers as well as I'd like to. Also, while the battle was great, I feel it was just some encounter with no further relevance but to show what the protagonists can do, which isn't bad in itself, but I'd like it if it could have more relevance. (Then again, this might be because of the size of the sections we post)
Nothing more to add. Great job as usual!

In the hollow the Mekbari Cavalry had regrouped with the men who chased her. She didn’t need their motley dark clothing to tell them apart from the Soldiers. They were less organised, looser. Mercenaries, sent out to patrol around the main army, probably with a bounty on any one brought in alive who could be sold on.

“Two shapers.” The rider, Makki, said. He covered his brow with one hand and squinted. “No, three. I can see a Glass Worker, judging by the orb in his hands, and a Rope Worker. But that first volley came from a Steel Worker, no doubt about it.” (It’s a bit confusing whom is he referring to at first)

“Thirty versus three: we’re going to get flanked pretty easily.” Sommir twirled his vast sword, rich orange sun gleaming fire on the blade. Rhia relaxed, comforted by their experience of the field. They may not be veterans, but the familiarity of command gave her something to focus on other than the odds.

“You’re a Steel Worker too, Makki, unless I miss my guess.” He nodded. “Good. You keep those riders off our flanks. Sergeant, we’ll press the line and see if we can’t keep their Shapers distracted.”

“Melu will rip them apart if you can.” Makki said. “Once that Rope Worker is down, she’ll be able to get into closer. Give us a chance at their Steel Worker.”

“Melu?” Rhia asked. Makki raised an eye brow and pointed skywards. Idiot! She thought. Despite a broad tuition in the subjects her three siblings would learn in depth, combat with Dragon support hadn’t been part of it. How easy to forget a winged lizard the size of a house when it wasn’t in sight. “With me then men. Let’s bleed these soulless Mekbari scum.” And she started down the slope, three swords challenging thirty.

The Mekbari cavalry peeled away to either side, coaxing skittish horses to a gentle trot. The mercenaries moved forward, clustered together, shooting glances at the sky. Blades were drawn, an assortment of lengths and design. Wary and slow, a drawn breath before the battle cry, the Mekbari tried to surround them.

It lasted only until Makki gestured to the sky and Melu came roaring down from the heavens, bringing chaos with her.

As the horsemen looked up, distracted, Makki lashed out. Blue Ether spat from his palms, punching one man from his saddle, never knowing what tore apart his armour. Makki then swung right, Etheric blasts chewing through the dirt and forcing the Mekbari to swerve out of range.

A second later Melu tore by on Rhia’s left, great jaws wide. The Mekbari hadn’t advanced properly, overreaching the cover of the mercenary Shapers. Before their magic could hit home Melu veered away, a lone rider dangling by one leg from her teeth. The two lines of cavalry broke away like waves striking rock. They’d swing back, she knew, more cautious and better protected. Makki and Melu would only be able to hold them for so long, which meant getting out of the open field.

“You interested in doing something stupid, Sergeant?” She said.

“I’ve already ridden on the back of a giant lizard this morning. I guess I’m in a stupid mood, your Highness.” Sommir’s grin told her he understood. Weapons raised they pounded down the slope towards more than a half dozen armed men.

The mercenaries should have come to meet them, made their numbers count, but Melu’s arrival trapped them into inaction. She dashed towards a thin man in an ill fitting hauberk. His eyes were wide, yellow teeth beneath skinned back lips.

“For Kavernath!” Rhia cried and brought her sword down overhand. The block was clumsy, too aggressive. A softening of her wrists and her blade slid along his, metal squealing as it flowed into a downward stab, piercing the soft leather of his boot. A cry of agony and Rhia pulled it free, opening up his undefended stomach. Her boot sent him reeling, tangling two others, allowing her to slide back a pace. There was a great roar from Sommir beside her and the sharp rattle of metal, like a clumsy kitchen hand dropping plates.

The air seemed to vibrate, twitch and shimmer on the edge of her vision. The exhilaration, fear and adrenaline became a toxin in her veins. Her lunge slid down the next man’s wrist, splitting his leather gauntlets and disarming him. She dropped to her knees, slashing through boots and shins.

The air (same as the previous paragraph)was awash with the cries of men. Melu roared by overhead, breaking any organised defence by her presence alone. Rhia’s hair danced in the riptide. A flash of silver and she sprang backwards, rolling. The axe man carved a gouge into the earth.

The handful of men charged her like a many armed, many headed beast. A bolt of Ether hissed passed her head, striking the closest in the face and hurling him into his comrades. Makki galloped past still half in, half out of the saddle of a stolen horse he was mounting on the move. One hand dripped Ether like blue paint as he rode toward the soldiers charging in from the other flank. More disruption.

The battle was chaos, hitting her in staccato images as she glanced around. They were being boxed in, slowly, but effectively. A man lunged at her chest but she slid aside and took his leg off at the knee. Four men down, felled in a heartbeat, but they wouldn’t last long fighting back to back. Unless she could bring Melu into play. Which meant dealing with the Shapers.

They stood behind the barrier of mercenaries; three men transfixed the sky. A chance, if she was swift enough.

“Sommir! Keep them busy!” Rhia shouted. She turned aside two blows but didn’t bother countering either. Instead she rolled away, sprinting up the rise towards the Shapers. The clear space after the tight scrum of the fight was disorientating. She dashed up the slope, blade pulled back to strike.

At the last moment the nearest Shaper turned, face warped with surprise. Rhia threw herself at him just as he thrust out the orb he held in one hand.

Dazzling light burst from it, as though the sun had moved for a moment from the sky to his palm. Pain drove sharp pins into her eyes. The world became nothing but bright, searing agony, burning its way through her closed eyelids, burrowing hot and caustic into her brain.

She crashed into the Shaper, driving them both to the ground. There was a grim squelch as her blade struck home, then something hard connected with the back of her neck and stones jabbed into her ribs. Stunned, Rhia opened her eyes to a roiling mass of lurid colours. The world had been reduced to a hurricane of noise; the flat slap of Ether; screams of rage and pain; Melu’s deep bass roar; the clash of steel on steel – all hidden behind the prismatic display in her eyes. She felt nauseous, dizzy.