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Author Topic: Echoes in the Fire (Fantasy Adventure)  (Read 696 times)
Alrune
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« on: August 20, 2017, 05:31:22 PM »

Based on the constructive feedback I've seen on my query, I think the next step is to see how I can tweak my first 5 pages.
In advance, thank you for the time and attention. I know what it's worth.

Echoes in the Fire

First Jarel of Aderus, 1125
The Beginning of Spring in Dawnwatch.

“Are you ready?” Dez asks.

Rain thought she would be. She almost panicked when she heard him coming up the narrow stone stairway. Dez is her best friend – her only friend – he knows better than to open the curtain to her tiny bedroom, but she knows he can see her through the holes in the tattered cloth.

“One more thing!” Rain says. She’s been staring out the window, watching the canyon, the people, wondering if today will end in the embarrassment she saw in her dreams.

Her windowsill is a scattered collection of polished stones, rocks that look like ancient arrowheads, and other worthless treasures. Rain picks up a jar labelled ‘Tinct’ and notices how warm it is from the morning light. She takes a long breath to steady her hand. Rain pulls the cork from the jar and gently dips a finger into the container, leaving a dab of black liquid on her fingertip.

With her other hand, Rain holds back the thick white feathers on her head. She looks out her window and imagines herself in the reflection she sees every night when Yora and Ilo are gone from the sky and the only light beyond is the starlight on the canyon walls. With the tinct on her fingertip, she draws a symbol on her forehead. She strains her memory for every detail, summoning the essence of what it means. Finished, Rain wipes her finger on a piece of cloth. The skin that touched the liquid will remain darkened for a day or two before fading. She focuses past the pane of warped glass to the bustling city outside.

It is Refuge Day. The only day when Gold Bluff welcomes outsiders with open arms. The city is busier than any other time of year. Tradespeople have set up stalls. Merchants wander the streets with baskets of candies and meats to sell. Crafters, smiths, and artisans from nearby towns and hamlets have brought their wares on carts and wagons led by beasts of all kinds.

A small, familiar voice startles Rain, “I hope you get to play today.”

Rain turns around and looks down to a young girl who melts her heart. Jueln is Dez’ little sister. Five years old. She wears a new yellow dress for the holiday and has already managed to add a stain on the hem.

“I do, too,” Rain whispers to the girl, kneeling to look her in the eyes. Rain smiles when she recognizes the contagious excitement on her face. “What do you want today?”

Jueln looks away, shyly. “I don’t know. I hope someone has Soluna Cake.”

“There will be cake in every flavor,” Rain says, fixing the feathers on Jueln’s head – yellow, just like her dress. “What else?”

“I hope Revero wins,” Jueln answers with a smile. She notices Rain’s forehead and struggles to make out the black mark against Rain’s brown skin. Jueln and her brother have pale skin with a subtle green hue that is common among the rectar people. She asks, “What is that?”

Rain declares, “This is a magic symbol,” convincing even herself.

“You don’t have magic, Rain,” the five-year-old says, shaking her head. She tries to recognize the symbol. It is not one the kids draw on their hands when they play.

“I think I do today,” Rain says, managing to hold back a smile on only half her face. “It means ‘luck’.”

Dez steps into the room behind Jueln. “Ready?” he asks, trying to control his impatience in front of his sister.

Rain gives her friend a worried look. “Are we?”


The three burst out of the arch of Rain’s home, down the uneven chiseled steps, and sprint into the dusty streets. Rain wears her nice shirt. Grey. It’s not as torn as the other one, but too big. Most rectar clothes leave her too much room. Her best pair of pants are tan and don’t have holes in the knees, but are short on her legs.

Rain holds Jueln’s hand until Dez becomes frustrated with his sister’s pace and snatches her up and on his back. He regrets it immediately. He would have a hard time keeping up with Rain anyway. The crowd is thick, but Rain maneuvers like a fish through a reef. Dez follows with less grace, wheezing with his sister swinging on his back and pinching his windpipe.

Above the sea of patrons and colorful tents are the homes of Gold Bluff, carved into the walls of the canyon, stacking on top of each other, and connected by an intricate web of steps and ladders. Most of the city is orange or red. Lines of clothes hang out to dry between the dark shadows of arched windows. The citizens climb down from their homes and flood the streets and markets of the canyon.

Rain is in the center of the city before looking back and realizing she lost them. She has no perspective over the throng, despite being taller than most teens in the city – one of the many differences that make her stand out. She steps onto the back lip of a nearby wagon and pulls herself up to rest an elbow on the flat roof.
The sight is remarkable to her. It is the only day of the year when many other races can be seen walking the roads. Traders come and go, but Rain rarely sees a day go by where she isn’t the only one who is different.

Hundreds of years ago, Gold Bluff was settled by rectar people. Today there are thousands, but only a few dozen of the other races call it home – and there are even fewer hybrids like Rain. Rectar are broad-shouldered, strong, and growly in voice. Rain is thin, lanky, and sounds birdlike in comparison. The other girls her age developed pronounced curves years ago. Rain has grown some of her own, but feels shrinkingly waifish next to them.

“Found you,” Jueln says, looking up to Rain from Dez’ back. Dez would complain if he wasn’t busy catching his breath. He’s shorter than most boys his age, but his broad shoulders and bald head make him look like a crushed adult. He has yellow feathers like his sister, but only for thick eyebrows and a few loose ones forming on his chin.

“I thought I lost you,” Rain says. She isn’t finished with her thought before hearing a sharp buzzing sound beside her.

Dez sirens, “Raaaaaaiiiiiiiiin!”

She turns her head and finds herself nose-to-nose with the long, pointed beak of a tinther. Its nostrils blowing fetid hot air in her face. Rain has never seen one of the giant birds from this angle. Their intimidating heads are usually high above her.

“Good girl,” Rain says. It comes out sounding like a question.

“Skaaaaw!” the tinther bellows. Rain catches a glimpse of the back of the beast’s throat. Fear opens her hands. She drops to the dirt road with a sharp thud. The tinther is startled and leans backward on its long legs. “RaaAAck!” it screeches. Rain crawls to Dez’ feet. The tinther scratches grooves in the hard dirt with its talons and pulls on the rope tethering it to the wagon, lifting the wheels on the opposite side off the ground for a moment before dropping again with a creaking, squeaking rattle. Several metallic clanging sounds follow each other inside.

“Who’s there!?” the owner shouts from inside the wagon. “Ya think you can rob me?!”

Dez helps Rain get to her feet. She brushes off her knees and says, “We’re halfway there, Dez. Try to keep up.”

Dez says nothing, still catching his breath. He follows Rain into the peddling, bartering, meandering mob. The wagon owner watches them shuffle away, calming the tinther by patting and stroking its long neck. He shakes his head and hurls them a curse or two that get lost in the noise.


Rain has taken a turn with Jueln on her back. The streets join into one clustered road to the Arena on the lake. “I can’t see anything,” Jueln says while shuffling to get a higher perspective.

Rain turns her head and whispers, “We’re not far. Do you feel the wind?”

Jueln closes her eyes to focus on the breeze in her feathers – a telltale sign they are near the water. At the northern mouth of the canyon, the walls drop away and the sky becomes larger. The perfect cloudless blue is broken by the jagged white peaks of the mountains to the north.

Dez brushes next to Rain and says, “We should get off the road here.”

Pushing and squeezing, they break away from the crowd and find themselves in Oldorus Square. The people shamble behind them into the stadium, eager to claim their seats for the games. The square is alive with preparations. The travelling merchants feverishly arrange stands. Performers crack open chests full of props and costumes. Vendors chop portions of korenu fruit, stir pots of jawfin stew, grill molare shanks, roast candied pella, and other favorites.

A line of people ends in the middle of the square. The front is hidden by the serpentine queue. “The games will be over before we get through this,” Dez laments while running to secure his place at the end. Jueln wanders off to pester the travelling performers with questions.

Dez dreads waiting. He hates it more than physical pain. Rain was never as bothered by it, so long as people were around. Some grow comfortable in isolation. Rain was not one of them. As soon as she was old enough to have some independence, she was out the door and into the city. It was her playground. She would listen to the women gossiping outside open windows. She hid around corners to catch the guards trading dirty jokes. She even tucked herself under tables to observe the merchant transactions. When there was nothing to witness, she would sit beside the lake, listening to the water brush the shore and watch the zails fight over patches of riverweed. Anything but silence. Silence meant she was alone.

Rain stares at the long brown hair of the woman in front of them. No one in Gold Bluff has hair so long. Rectar women have feathers. Men often have a bit of plumage, but never on top of their heads, only around the temples and around the back. Only visiting races have hair. Rain’s feathers would have made her feel like she belonged among the rectar, if they weren’t thicker than anyone else, and white. The older people turn grey – none are pale white. Rain taps on the woman’s shoulder and introduces herself. Her name is Sulvy and she works as an importer in a town to the south, Velisar’s Anchor. Rain recognizes her as a karu. They are shorter than most rectar, with longer arms and fingers.

“I couldn’t pass up the chance to meet both candidates for Defender,” Sulvy says before rambling on about business being about who you know and who knows you and other things Rain didn’t find interesting. “Anyway, I have never been to Gold Bluff before,” Sulvy continues to ramble. “The rectar here are very stingy on who they trade with.”

“In the canyon, there are friends. Outside, there are enemies,” Rain recites a motto she has been told her entire life.

“Yes, I think I have heard that.” Sulvy stares at Rain, growing more confused as she surveys. “Why do you want to meet the candidates?”

“We’re here to submit for the game.” Rain fixes her posture and notices Dez doing the same.

Sulvy lets out a sigh of realization. “Oh, that’s right. I heard the candidates play some sort of competition.”

Rain is only concerned with the two Jarels because they are Captains of the Vabo teams, but the tradition is far more important than just the game. The Jarels are also making a case for who should be elected Defender. Gold Bluff is the smallest and most often forgotten of the eleven provinces of Dawnwatch. Today, Gold Bluff decides who will represent them in front of the Queen. Rain can’t understand why Sulvy would wait all morning just to meet someone. “Have you ever seen a Vabo match?”

“Oh, dear, no.” Sulvy sounds as if she doesn’t care to ever see one either. “That’s the one where they ride zails, is it? The rectar are the only people I know of who ride those slimy things.”

“They only look slimy,” Rain interjects with a knowing excitement. “They’re really just soft.”

Sulvy bows her neck, scanning Rain and Dez, “How old are you?”

“I’m new 17. …Dez is nigh 16.”

“Really? Isn’t it dangerous? Aren’t you too young?”

Dez finally breaks his silence. “N-no. The Adjudicator said we can submit. We’ve spent months training.”

“Well, who do you hope to play for? I bet you want to be on Guard Captain Ofenea’s team. Everyone expects she will be the next Defender.”

Dez snarls, “We will only play for Revero!”

Rain whispers to Sulvy, “His cousin.”

Sulvy attempts a confident smile. “Then, I wish you luck.” All good merchants are expert polemicists.

“I am luck,” Rain says, pointing to the symbol on her forehead.

From a reach away, the tinct mark is hard to make out against Rain’s dark skin. There is a silence. Sulvy leans toward Rain, then takes a hesitant step away, holding her breath.

Rain responds, “…What?...”

Sulvy whispers something. Before, she had a sweet voice. High and inviting; fair and kind. It’s different now: Deeper. Heavier. “You should never use marks of the old language. Real magic is best not taken lightly. They may tolerate little heresies here, but it is forbidden most places.”

Rain looks to her eyes; dark green spheres that are black as a cave in the center, pulling her into them. They have seen a world Rain has only heard about.


AGAIN, thank you for reading. Notes are absolutely welcome.

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GlitterFox
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« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2017, 07:57:06 AM »

First of all, I love what you've done with the setting. It's reminiscent of pueblo structures in the Southwest, and the name Gold Bluff feels very appropriate. I'm also impressed by the amount of worldbuilding you've compressed into these first few pages. One of my favorite lines is "Vendors chop portions of korenu fruit, stir pots of jawfin stew, grill molare shanks, roast candied pella, and other favorites." These details are so casual, but so steeped in cultural flavor (pun totally intended).

With that, I found myself overwhelmed by the unfamiliar vocabulary. Within just a few pages, you introduce us to multiple races and species, unfamiliar cultural customs, and a system of government. We're also introduced to several characters--Rain, Dez, Jueln, Sulvy, Ofenea, Revero...that's a lot of names to keep track of. Not to mention the deluge of unfamiliar words and concepts (tinct, rectar, tinther, zails, karu, Jarel, Defender...). When asking your reader to inhabit such a lush fantasy world, it's important to ease them into it gradually. In a situation like this, withholding is your best friend. What is it necessary for your reader to know to understand this first scene, and what can you reveal later?

Also, I'm not convinced that present tense makes sense for this manuscript. Since your story introduces so many unfamiliar elements, it might make sense to stick with the more familiar past tense. Subjectively, I feel like present tense is more playful/whimsical than past tense, and so I'm having trouble reconciling the lightness of that tense with what seems like a fairly serious narrative style. You might experiment with rewriting these pages in past tense and seeing how that transforms the overall effect.

Hope this helps! I'm excited by a lot of what's happening here, and I hope you keep working on it.
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Dribbydrawers
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« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2017, 05:12:09 PM »

I think your descriptions are fantastic and I don't mind the new language or customs. I feel that I was able to keep up with it all, however, I agree with the previous poster about the awkwardness of the present tense. Maybe it works best for narrative descriptions and conversations, but it feels out of place for all of the actions. I take special issue with how often sentences began with "Rain [action]". I don't have a formal education in writing and I don't claim to have the answers, but something wasn't working here. I think present tense is good when you've established a firm perspective, like maybe that of Rain? The audience will follow along if you've done it well enough. The thoughts inside a person's head can work beautifully in present tense. You can even shift perspective, if it makes sense, just don't shift it too often, or you will lose us. I hope this helps.
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Alrune
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« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2017, 06:31:03 PM »

Thank you for the comments. Applause to both of you.

As for the first point, about the new vocabulary:
I knew this would be a struggle before even starting. It's an alien world, with no plants or animals we're familiar with. The races of people are starkly different from each other, as well. How do I talk about things without it feeling like Jabberwocky? At one point, I though I should put footnotes at the bottom of the pages like an annotated Shakespeare printing. That would have been a nightmare and would bring the pacing to a halt. The way it is currently (and not for the Query letters) is that certain words or names are marked with an asterisk that points out a place in the appendix with a glossary of terms and illustrations for the plants and animals. The hope would be that people who just want to read the book can just move on and hopefully understand with a little context, while other readers can go deep into the rabbit hole if they want to.

Is that crazy? Does anyone even care about appendixes anymore?

As for the other point, the tense:
When I started writing it, it was with a past tense. I went over the first two chapters over and over again, trying to find a voice that worked for me. It was possibly the hardest part of getting the book going. I landed on what I have because I liked the sense of immediacy. If everything is happening now, you always want to see the next page. That was the idea, at least.

You're absolutely right though, it can lead to a sort of repetitive sports-announcer-like quality. Subject, action, subject, action. I don't want it to feel like that. I'll play around with other approaches. One of my thoughts was to give the narrator more of an opinion.


Thanks again for reading. Keep the criticism coming.
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B.W.French
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« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2017, 09:04:57 AM »

Hello,
I've read with great pleasure this first chapter of your novel. As a whole, this "first one" already puts you on the way to the Major League. The reason I say it, is that this text grabbed me from the first line, and, in the end, left me wanting to read more! In itself, this feeling is the main ingredient for success. Ah! Yes! There is the question of the 'present tense'! Personally, I'm okay with it. It reads well.
Good luck!
B.W.     
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newtothis22
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« Reply #5 on: October 10, 2017, 01:21:55 PM »

Loved the story so far. I liked the descriptions and how you introduced us to this fantasy world of your own creation. What I did find a little confusing, maybe it was just me but I originally thought the feathers were a decoration added for the holiday celebration. By the end I was confused on whether they were part bird or not.
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