The Key

RevenantsKnight

Diabloii.Net Member
tamrend said:
Ha ha! Thought I was gone forever did you? How wrong you were! Now, someone threaten my life to keep me motivated.

Or comment, your choice.
Threaten your life? Okay...threaten, threaten, threaten...and something about your little doggie, too. Wow, I stink at this job. :p

Anyway, on to the story: looks good, just as before. Overall, I found this a smooth and enjoyable read, though there was the occasional bump here and there. Some thoughts on those and more:

tamrend said:
One of the soldiers rapped his knuckles three times on the smooth oak, took a step back and waited. Maeryn flexed her fingers inside the leather bindings of the suwayyah. Something bothered her, and she took a moment to decipher the feeling.
This passage, and the rest of the paragraph as well, felt a little like a list to me. Part of that is because the sentences are almost all subject-verb-etc. in structure, but a perhaps more pressing reason is the impression that some of this got glossed over or just needs extra detail. For instance, you could build on the sentence “Something bothered her, and she took a moment to decipher the feeling†in a number of ways; one option would be to describe the feeling, the something, in greater detail. Maybe it’s a sort of nervous, gnawing sensation, or a cold, pit-of-the-stomach force; regardless of what you do, a detailed look should bring the atmosphere Maeryn’s feeling closer to the reader. My opinion would be that one or two such images, plus some sentence structure variation, would make this pull the reader in better. But then maybe it’s just me.

tamrend said:
The drone of an active magic spell drowned out her perception what lay beyond the door.
Should that be “her perception of what lay...�

tamrend said:
One of the twelve surviving wizards of Pallas’ trusted circle, he was gifted with unusually strong ability, and was once a favored apprentice of the old master.
Technically, “Pallas’†should be “Pallas’s,†since the noun’s singular, though this can be a stylistic call.

tamrend said:
He was a pale, thin stick of a man, but possessed of a curiously boyish face.
â€Possessed of†sounded odd to me, though it might be correct; I can’t be sure. Personally, I’d word this as “though he possessed...â€

tamrend said:
“Respectfully, Viz-jaq’taar Maeryn,†he said, “perhaps we have simply come at a bad time. We have no reason to suspect Master Ulric of any real wrongdoing. I would remind you of what happened when we burst in upon Master Trenton last week.â€
It seems to me that Lorimer’s words don’t quite show a complete picture here. I could imagine him saying this in a placating tone, a neutral statement of fact, or in a manner that puts the lie to his “Respectfully.†Given Lorimer’s fate and Pallas’s later grieving, it couldn’t hurt to add a few extra details to Lorimer. Also, it would hint at why he does not believe the Order is corrupted; both blind devotion and arrogance could be at the root of such a belief.

tamrend said:
In three weeks time, she had managed to test all but a handful of the Horadrim in the keep.
I think that should be “three weeks’ time.â€

tamrend said:
A few had left shortly before her inquest, but she regarded them to be of low priority.
I’d change “to be of†to “as a,†though I’m not sure if what you have is correct or not.

tamrend said:
When she pressed them, she had discovered only minor indiscretions and stubborn indignation. She would continue until she had tested them all.
The transition between these two sentences felt a little abrupt; maybe another sentence to link the ideas, like “Gritting her teeth at those frustrating memories, Maeryn filled her mind with a burst of strengthened resolve,†would help.

tamrend said:
Lorimer stared at her a moment longer but then turned away. He placed his hands once more along the edge of the door. Wisps of smoke curled from the wood and a string of runes appeared in a red glow of embers. The arcane letters blackened and smeared, leaving a strip of charred wood on the door. Lorimer stepped back.
Again, that’s a lot of sentences with the structure subject-verb-modifiers. One possible rewording that would address this would be “Placing his hands once more along the edge of the door, he muttered a few syllables...Eyeing his handiwork, Lorimer stepped back.†In general, it’s not a really big problem if a lot of your sentences use this structure, so long as there’s something to vary the flow, such as dialogue. For larger blocks of narration like this one, though, it’s probably a good idea to switch a sentence or two around.

tamrend said:
Her mind reached into the astral plane and pulled her body along like a tether pulling a boat...Viewing the scene from a place that was only halfway within the material world, the colors appeared flat and dim, casting the blaze as a pale, dingy orange.
Nice description of this game skill...if you want, you could elaborate more on the “reached into the astral plane†bit, but it’s hardly necessary. :)

tamrend said:
Smoke billowed out upon the blast of superheated air and the timbers overhead smoldered.
Wait...what “blast of superheated air�

tamrend said:
Maeryn fought back a wave of nausea as her body reacted to the heat. She could see nothing the smoke, so she reached out instead with the energy of her thoughts, at the same time dimming her other senses.
I’d consider combining these two sentences into one, so that the end result is something like “Fighting back a wave of nausea brought on by the sudden heat, Maeryn squinted, trying to see through the smoke, then reached out with the energy of her thoughts...†because the first sentence somehow sound a little weak on its own to me.

tamrend said:
A few steps into the room, though, she let her focus lapse, her body materializing once more fully into the physical world.
I think the “fully†in this sentence is unnecessary.

tamrend said:
As she did, her hand touched a spot of sticky wetness on the carpet.
That should be “As she did so.†Also, would it really be wet still, considering how long he’s been dead?

tamrend said:
A stiff wind had began to blow from out of the corridor, warm at first, but quickly turning chill. The smoke gradually thinned.
That should be “began to blow.†Additionally, I’d try to combine the second sentence with another, since it seems a little weak on its own.

tamrend said:
“Maeryn, Lorimus!†Pallas called.

“Poor Lorimar.â€
Erm...do you mean “Lorimer�

tamrend said:
“I say that are neither wanted nor needed here, Slayer.â€
“...that you are neither wanted...,†perhaps?

tamrend said:
Anger and distrust boiled off of them like the stench of spoiled meat.
Nice image.

tamrend said:
She swayed slightly and Pallas gripped her arm more tightly to support her. Her reserves of strength were nearly at an end, she realized. He helped her down the stairs and along the passageway to his quarters. She clung to him as he lowered her into a chair near the window.
Maybe my anal-retentivity setting is stuck on maximum today, but this also felt like another instance where the sentence structure’s monotony made this feel like a list. My suggestions are more or less the same as for the previous such occurrences; something like “Helping her down the stairs, he led Maeryn along the passageway to his quarters†might suffice in this case.

tamrend said:
I should have been able to pick him out from across a crowded room the moment I set foot inside.
I think you need something like “inside this citadel†at the end, instead of simply “inside.â€

tamrend said:
It was difficult to tell if what she saw was real. Deep emotional attachment sometimes made it impossible to sort out the distinction between fear and true premonition.
This rather objective statement of fact was a bit of a jolt, considering as it comes right after you’re painting a close portrayal of Maeryn’s emotions and mental state. While reading this paragraph, I started to get drawn into the scene Maeryn sees, and then, I hit this. For me, that undid the world you were creating in her mind.

tamrend said:
Even if it was true, she could not give in to despair. “It has been three weeks. They would have sent word well before now if they could. I think it is likely, then, that we can expect no help from my Sisters, and that I must unravel this mystery on my own.â€
This transition between the narration and Maeryn’s speech felt like too much of a jump to me; it would probably help if you inserted a sentence or two drawing the reader away from these thoughts and back into the world, e.g. “In response to Pallas’s questioning gaze, Maeryn slowly raised her head to meet his eyes.â€

Overall, this was a fun read, though there were a few things that could use some editing. Anyway, I hope this helps, and I look forward to any further chapters. Thanks for posting!
 

tamrend

Diabloii.Net Member
Originally Posted by tamrend
One of the soldiers rapped his knuckles three times on the smooth oak, took a step back and waited. Maeryn flexed her fingers inside the leather bindings of the suwayyah. Something bothered her, and she took a moment to decipher the feeling.
This passage, and the rest of the paragraph as well, felt a little like a list to me. Part of that is because the sentences are almost all subject-verb-etc. in structure, but a perhaps more pressing reason is the impression that some of this got glossed over or just needs extra detail.
Good call.

Originally Posted by tamrend
The drone of an active magic spell drowned out her perception what lay beyond the door.
Should that be “her perception of what lay...�
Yes. You are seeing the results of writing 75% of this all at once in about two hours. MS Word for some silly reason allows mistakes like this to get by while bugging me about stupid reflexive pronouns. As always, you have a very attentive eye. I'll leave out any reference to grammar mistakes from here out but I am taking note of them for correction.

Originally Posted by tamrend
He was a pale, thin stick of a man, but possessed of a curiously boyish face.
â€Possessed of†sounded odd to me, though it might be correct; I can’t be sure. Personally, I’d word this as “though he possessed...â€
I tried that one a few different ways. I believe my usage is correct, if a bit esoteric.

Originally Posted by tamrend
“Respectfully, Viz-jaq’taar Maeryn,†he said, “perhaps we have simply come at a bad time. We have no reason to suspect Master Ulric of any real wrongdoing. I would remind you of what happened when we burst in upon Master Trenton last week.â€
It seems to me that Lorimer’s words don’t quite show a complete picture here. I could imagine him saying this in a placating tone, a neutral statement of fact, or in a manner that puts the lie to his “Respectfully.†Given Lorimer’s fate and Pallas’s later grieving, it couldn’t hurt to add a few extra details to Lorimer. Also, it would hint at why he does not believe the Order is corrupted; both blind devotion and arrogance could be at the root of such a belief.
I tried describing the voice, using the word placating, as I recall, but I felt it was redundant. Lorimer is respectful, just as his words suggest, but I see now that there is a lot of room for interpretation.

Originally Posted by tamrend
When she pressed them, she had discovered only minor indiscretions and stubborn indignation. She would continue until she had tested them all.
The transition between these two sentences felt a little abrupt; maybe another sentence to link the ideas, like “Gritting her teeth at those frustrating memories, Maeryn filled her mind with a burst of strengthened resolve,†would help.
I was going for a bit of a hard transfer here as emphasis. Something to look at in the rewrite, though.

Originally Posted by tamrend
Lorimer stared at her a moment longer but then turned away. He placed his hands once more along the edge of the door. Wisps of smoke curled from the wood and a string of runes appeared in a red glow of embers. The arcane letters blackened and smeared, leaving a strip of charred wood on the door. Lorimer stepped back.
Again, that’s a lot of sentences with the structure subject-verb-modifiers. One possible rewording that would address this would be “Placing his hands once more along the edge of the door, he muttered a few syllables...Eyeing his handiwork, Lorimer stepped back.†In general, it’s not a really big problem if a lot of your sentences use this structure, so long as there’s something to vary the flow, such as dialogue. For larger blocks of narration like this one, though, it’s probably a good idea to switch a sentence or two around.
That's what happens when I go back and edit a paragraph two or three times. I need to remember to read them through again a few times. I liked every sentence there as it stands, but together they have no rhythm. Bad me.

Originally Posted by tamrend
Her mind reached into the astral plane and pulled her body along like a tether pulling a boat...Viewing the scene from a place that was only halfway within the material world, the colors appeared flat and dim, casting the blaze as a pale, dingy orange.
Nice description of this game skill...if you want, you could elaborate more on the “reached into the astral plane†bit, but it’s hardly necessary.
I checked the Arreat Summit to remind myself how this skill ties into the Assassin's abilities. I liked it and decided to use it.

Originally Posted by tamrend
Smoke billowed out upon the blast of superheated air and the timbers overhead smoldered.
Wait...what “blast of superheated air�
Hmm. That does seem a little weird.

Originally Posted by tamrend
Maeryn fought back a wave of nausea as her body reacted to the heat. She could see nothing the smoke, so she reached out instead with the energy of her thoughts, at the same time dimming her other senses.
I’d consider combining these two sentences into one, so that the end result is something like “Fighting back a wave of nausea brought on by the sudden heat, Maeryn squinted, trying to see through the smoke, then reached out with the energy of her thoughts...†because the first sentence somehow sound a little weak on its own to me.
I'll look at changing the first sentence.

Originally Posted by tamrend
A few steps into the room, though, she let her focus lapse, her body materializing once more fully into the physical world.
I think the “fully†in this sentence is unnecessary.
Yes.

Originally Posted by tamrend
As she did, her hand touched a spot of sticky wetness on the carpet.
That should be “As she did so.†Also, would it really be wet still, considering how long he’s been dead?
Ah, temporal incongruity. At first I had assumed he was only dead for a day or so, then I thought about the imagery of her seeing the lifeforce of the microorganisms and changed it to a week. Thanks, copy editor.

Originally Posted by tamrend
A stiff wind had began to blow from out of the corridor, warm at first, but quickly turning chill. The smoke gradually thinned.
That should be “began to blow.†Additionally, I’d try to combine the second sentence with another, since it seems a little weak on its own.
My intention was that she reacted and then we get the description of what she reacted to. Probably unnecessary.

Originally Posted by tamrend
“Maeryn, Lorimus!†Pallas called.

“Poor Lorimar.â€
Erm...do you mean “Lorimer�
Lori-who?

Originally Posted by tamrend
“I say that are neither wanted nor needed here, Slayer.â€

“...that you are neither wanted...,†perhaps?
I blame Word. Can't rely on that POS for the small stuff.

Originally Posted by tamrend
Anger and distrust boiled off of them like the stench of spoiled meat.
Nice image.
Thanks. That was one of my "Ah, ha! I've got it" moments of description.

Originally Posted by tamrend
She swayed slightly and Pallas gripped her arm more tightly to support her. Her reserves of strength were nearly at an end, she realized. He helped her down the stairs and along the passageway to his quarters. She clung to him as he lowered her into a chair near the window.
Maybe my anal-retentivity setting is stuck on maximum today, but this also felt like another instance where the sentence structure’s monotony made this feel like a list. My suggestions are more or less the same as for the previous such occurrences; something like “Helping her down the stairs, he led Maeryn along the passageway to his quarters†might suffice in this case.
Either that or I'm being lazy. One of us has to break.

Originally Posted by tamrend
I should have been able to pick him out from across a crowded room the moment I set foot inside.
I think you need something like “inside this citadel†at the end, instead of simply “inside.â€
This one's harder. For total clarity: "I should have been able to pick him out from across a crowded room the moment I set foot inside the room."

Room x 2. Not very artful. This sentence suggests that this is exactly what she tried at first, observing whole rooms of people at once. I don't want her ability to spot a corrupted mage to be too powerful, or it wouldn't make sense that she wouldn't realize it the moment she arrived, which is the conclusion you came to about what I meant. I could probably rewrite the sentence to make it more clear.

Originally Posted by tamrend
It was difficult to tell if what she saw was real. Deep emotional attachment sometimes made it impossible to sort out the distinction between fear and true premonition.
This rather objective statement of fact was a bit of a jolt, considering as it comes right after you’re painting a close portrayal of Maeryn’s emotions and mental state. While reading this paragraph, I started to get drawn into the scene Maeryn sees, and then, I hit this. For me, that undid the world you were creating in her mind.

Interesting. The effect that I was going for is that Maeryn is rationalizing. She's trying to reassure herself by asserting reasoning based upon past experience. I think that I could achieve the desired effect by altering the passage to read, "But she knew that it was difficult to tell if what she saw was real. Deep emotional attachment sometimes made it impossible to sort out the distinction between fear and true premonition."

Originally Posted by tamrend
Even if it was true, she could not give in to despair. “It has been three weeks. They would have sent word well before now if they could. I think it is likely, then, that we can expect no help from my Sisters, and that I must unravel this mystery on my own.â€
This transition between the narration and Maeryn’s speech felt like too much of a jump to me; it would probably help if you inserted a sentence or two drawing the reader away from these thoughts and back into the world, e.g. “In response to Pallas’s questioning gaze, Maeryn slowly raised her head to meet his eyes.â€
Re-reading this, the imagery you suggest does seem appropriate.

Overall, this was a fun read, though there were a few things that could use some editing. Anyway, I hope this helps, and I look forward to any further chapters. Thanks for posting!
Thanks for reading. I was hoping for death threats, but I'll try to motivate myself as well as I can. I actually threw out three different drafts of this chapter after completing anywhere from two paragraphs to three pages. This one finally seems to resonate with the tone and plot elements that I want to convey.
 

Snowglare

Fan Fiction Forum Moderator
From an anonymous snowglare

WE Have kelsie . gather one million

chaptERS N unmarked consecutive

words! Await insTRUCtion s . No

Funny STuff.
 

Snowglare

Fan Fiction Forum Moderator
Good to see a new chapter from you. It's been far too long.

Technically, Pallas' should be Pallas's, since the noun's singular, though this can be a stylistic call.
Emphasis added for my own benefit. This is a tricky matter. The rule as written here allows for an "it sounds awkward" exception, which pretty much makes everything fair game. Jesus's and James's both sound equally awkward to me, as does Pallas's. To be fair, Jesus', James', and Pallas' don't sound quite right either. It's a huge, pustulent blister on the ass of the English language.

He was a pale, thin stick of a man, but possessed of a curiously boyish face.

"Possessed of" sounded odd to me, though it might be correct; I can't be sure. Personally, I'd word this as "though he possessed..."
"Possessed of" is correct. Might want to rewrite the sentence anyways; the whole pale&thin/boyish face contrast feels a bit off. Like, I kinda see where a boyish face would be odd. If he's an experienced mage who doesn't dabble in youthenizing spells- or maybe that's it, that he could be glamouring up his appearance. Eh, your guess is better'n mine. But yeah, I don't see why it's so curious.

It is warded for privacy, and there is an enchantment to seal it against force. I could break them both, if you wish, though it will damage the door.
I like how he cares about the door. Maeryn wouldn't bat a lash if they had to burn through ancient, sacred tapestries to get into the room, and Lorimer's worried about scuffing a door. I tend to agree with Maeryn (since no such tapestries are involved), but Lorimer isn't being unreasonable. It's a nice clash of viewpoints.

"Respectfully, Viz-jaq'taar Maeryn," he said, "perhaps we have simply come at a bad time. We have no reason to suspect Master Ulric of any real wrongdoing. I would remind you of what happened when we burst in upon Master Trenton last week."

It seems to me that Lorimer's words don't quite show a complete picture here. I could imagine him saying this in a placating tone, a neutral statement of fact, or in a manner that puts the lie to his "Respectfully." Given Lorimer's fate and Pallas's later grieving, it couldn't hurt to add a few extra details to Lorimer. Also, it would hint at why he does not believe the Order is corrupted; both blind devotion and arrogance could be at the root of such a belief.
After thinking about it, I agree with Rev. More detail on Lorimer would be nice in and of itself, and the context strongly suggests that Lorimer is annoyed, if only slightly. That or he has no personality, and I should imagine him with a flat, monotone voice. "Your suwayyah, Master Bruce".

Pallas clearly respected Lorimer's talents, but the man seemed willfully blinded to the possibility of an evil presence hiding among the members of his mage clan. He obeyed her, for the most part, but it was plain that he did not believe that such a thing as corruption was possible.
The first time I read through the chapter, I thought this whole paragraph was about Pallas. Maybe I'm dense, or maybe it's as clear as it ought to be.

In Maeryn's mind, such sacrifices were a pittance when compared against the danger they sought to uproot.
You compare to or with, not against. You can weigh against, but you can't compare.

Perhaps you would like to explain why Master Ulric refused my summons twice, and why no one has even seen him for the past week?
I probably don't need to tell you, but just in case: make sure not to forget this later. That Ulric responded to being summoned before contact broke off is at the very least a red herring. In a mystery, the reader and author both need to remember such details.

In three weeks time, she had managed to test all but a handful of the Horadrim in the keep.

I think that should be "three weeks' time".
I wasn't sure, so I sought a second opinion. Grammar himself says you're right.

"Your concerns are unfounded, Master Makel," Pallas began, raising his hands in supplication.
That's an odd visual. I take it Pallas is ubercomposed. Amazing that he can remain calm in the midst of grief (his) and impudence (Makel's). Stands in sharp contrast to Maeryn's reaction.

The mage remained where he was, refusing to be intimidated.
Impressive. It's hard not to side with Maeryn when the story focuses on her - what she knows, how she deals with the mystery, etc. - but, ah, she's none too likeable. I tend to side with those who don't appreciate her presence. I may like the result, but I doubt I'll like the way it's reached. Me and Makel both.

"Perhaps it is better if they fear me," she said bitterly. "It might be the only way they will respect my authority."
Try whacking them in the shin with a club. It works wonders.

Lori-who?
Lorimyrrh. Lorimeister. Lorimylar. Lorimitochondria. Lori Loughlin. Pale Moon Face, Last of the Hee-Haw.
 

tamrend

Diabloii.Net Member
More good commentary. I'll touch on a few points.

Snowglare said:
"Possessed of" is correct. Might want to rewrite the sentence anyways; the whole pale&thin/boyish face contrast feels a bit off. Like, I kinda see where a boyish face would be odd. If he's an experienced mage who doesn't dabble in youthenizing spells- or maybe that's it, that he could be glamouring up his appearance. Eh, your guess is better'n mine. But yeah, I don't see why it's so curious.
I'll have to elaborate on that one a bit. I admit that the image is incomplete.

That's an odd visual. I take it Pallas is ubercomposed. Amazing that he can remain calm in the midst of grief (his) and impudence (Makel's). Stands in sharp contrast to Maeryn's reaction.
Yes, he is ubercomposed. When it comes down to it, he's the besty ally that Maeryn could have in this situation.

Impressive. It's hard not to side with Maeryn when the story focuses on her - what she knows, how she deals with the mystery, etc. - but, ah, she's none too likeable. I tend to side with those who don't appreciate her presence. I may like the result, but I doubt I'll like the way it's reached. Me and Makel both.
I find that comment very encouraging. I was worried that Makel would come off as unlikable, so I tried to make sure that his concerns were legitimate, that he wasn't simply "making trouble".
 

tamrend

Diabloii.Net Member
Another chapter completed, and a very difficult one, at that. Between both sections, I've probably deleted more text than the total word count posted here. I'm not at all sure that I've achieved the effect and the quality of writing I was going for here, being unfamiliar writing territory for me overall, but of course I'll shut up and let you be the judge of that.

Chapter 14: The Hunt
Part 2

“You are not alone,†Pallas reminded her gently.

Maeryn regarded him with mixed feelings, her longing for companionship at war with the practical need to maintain objectivity. No, this was hardly the time for sentiment. “Master Pallas, for your own sake I would urge you to maintain a bit more distance from me. I am afraid that, however this turns out, your fellow mages will not remember me kindly. You may suffer the consequences of my presence here long after I am gone.â€

“And what will it matter, if the Source Key is indeed already in the hands of our unknown enemy? It may be that nothing we can do here will change what is happening out there, but we have to try. Even if it means undermining something as insignificant as my own reputation.â€

Maeryn knew that it had already cost him much more than that. “Very well,†she said briskly. “I must admit that I have benefited greatly from your aid thus far, but I won’t have any more lives lost because of my actions. I would appreciate your advice and your aid in addressing the council, but for all else, I must be allowed to work alone.â€

Pallas nodded. “Fair enough.†Whatever undercurrent of feeling she had detected before had faded from his thoughts. Now she sensed only acute concern. “For now, though, you must rest. I will sort out the details and alert you with any news in the morning.â€

Maeryn suffered herself to be led by the arm to her chambers and lowered onto her bed. She curled up and began to shiver, her body and mind too depleted to warm herself by the force of will alone. Pallas draped a blanket over her, to which she clung gratefully. Never before today had she come so close to death. It must have unnerved her more than she realized, because she found herself grateful for the old mage’s presence nearby, watching over her until sleep finally came.

In the morning, Maeryn found two messages that had been slipped beneath her door, both from Pallas. One was a note that urged her to visit Master Orelan, a Scholar who could give her some insight into Ulric’s death. The second was a list of Urlic’s friends and associates.

Orelan’s study was lit by the light of hundreds of candles lining the walls and perched upon tables. A few random artifacts: scrolls, jewelry, a notched short sword, littered one table in the corner, but a stern warning was posted nearby which marked them as possessing unknown magical properties.

Maeryn picked up a rather plain-looking knife, careful not to touch the rust-brown stains that marked the blade and the base of the handle. The only marking upon it was a thin crescent etched into the base of the blade. It meant nothing to Maeryn. “You’re certain that this is what killed Ulric?†she asked, glancing at the mage across the table from her. Black skin was stretched thin over bony arms and hung in sagging wrinkles from his chin, just as his brown robes draped in great folds from his gaunt frame. Two tiny patches of white hair clung to his skull just above the ears. Yet, for all that it appeared that a stiff gust might scatter him, she felt at once the iron in his will, the ferocity of his spirit. He had been alive anyone else in the keep, of that he was certain.

He returned her gaze dispassionately and spoke in a gravelly tenor. “If you mean, ‘was it the cause of his death?’ then the answer is yes. The blade pierced his heart, and there were no other wounds found on his body. If you are wondering whether some other enchantment may have been involved…†He spread his hands. “I found no traces of magic used on Ulric.â€

Maeryn frowned. “You are saying that there was no magic involved in the attack, whatsoever?â€

“It would appear so. A pity, too, since there would have been a good chance that we could have discovered the identity of the killer. I am a diviner of unusual talent, at least among the Horadrim. I have learned to read the traces well enough to recognize the subtle but intricate patterns imprinted on a spell by a mage’s own soul.â€

Excitement began to swell in Maeryn’s chest. “Then the firewall spell—“

“Was cast by Master Ulric, himself,†Orelan finished in a slow, deliberate tone.

Maeryn stared, aghast. “But how can that be?â€

“I cannot even guess to the why, but it was him, I assure you. Ulric placed the spell on the door, along with the sealing enchantment which must have triggered the firewall once it was broken. There was also a powerful ward against teleportation, again cast by Ulric. Although,†he mused, tilting his head to one side, “I did also note some odd traces on Ulric’s body, but they seem to be aftereffects of his own magic. Once we are finished here, I intend to have another look.â€

Possibilities began to form in her mind. A mind-altering enchantment? No, any magic so strong would have left a trace. A very weak spell, illusion perhaps? Unlikely, given that it would take a very elaborate charade to convince Ulric to place such a specific set of spells. He had deliberately created a trap for anyone trying to enter his chamber and made certain that no one could enter by means of magic. He must have believed that he had good reason to do it. Maeryn needed to discover that reason.

She placed the knife back on the table. “Have you determined anything at all about this?â€

“No one has laid claim to it, of course. It is a fine grade of steel and balanced for throwing. The crescent could be a guild or craftsman’s mark, but it is none that I am familiar with.â€

“Nondescript,†Maeryn observed, “untraceable.†But I’ll find you yet, she added inwardly. Pallas had called for witnesses and begun to make inquiries with the guards and servant staff, but Maeryn doubted that there would be much to find. Their killer was too careful to cover his own tracks, probably the only reason that he had not succeeded in killing her yet. She intended to make that failure his greatest mistake.

“Thank you, Master Orelan,†she said, bowing slightly to show the depth of her appreciation and respect. “I trust you will send for me if you find something more.â€

“Of course, Viz-jaq’taar,†he replied blandly.

Maeryn nearly toppled a boy in gray apprentice robes waiting outside. He took one look at her and scurried off with a yelp. His reaction was a sign of her steadily worsening situation. Pallas had been right that her treatment of Makel would not be ignored by the other Horadrim. It was even being whispered about, the idea sparking and catching among the minds of the mages, that it was she who had killed Ulric and the cook, that her purpose was to destroy the Horadrim and restore the former preeminence of the Viz-jaq’taar. It was preposterous, the evidence weighing heavily in her favor in Ulric’s case, even if her authority meant nothing to them.

She felt an uncomfortable foreboding as she approached the hall where she had nearly lost her life earlier that day. The flames had stripped all decoration from the walls, leaving only a thick layer of soot, which servants were already laboring to clear away. Maeryn ignored the curious and fearful looks they cast her way. At nearly the exact center of the corridor, the floor was now glazed flawlessly smooth where the granite had melted and flowed in the heat. She had learned that no trace of Lorimer or the two soldiers had been found.

Ulric’s chambers looked much as she remembered it. The body had been removed, but a large, irregular stain marked where it had lain. At the center of one wall of the room, a window stood open, admitting a brisk breeze. Maeryn approached to examine it more closely. The opening was square and only two hand spans across. She leaned forward and put her head and an arm through, but could not get both shoulders past the narrow aperture. Looking down, she saw the courtyard five floors below. Cobblestones lined the ground, and the nearest tree was well out of reach of a jump.

A person could not have gone that way, but a demon, perhaps? Something small enough or limber enough to squeeze through the window and to leap to the ground without injury. She would keep the possibility open in her thoughts, though such a brazen act was out of the range of behavior her quarry had shown thus far.

Maeryn inspected the smaller adjoining room, which housed a cot and basic living necessities. There were no windows and only the door she had entered. She picked up a few of the items but just as quickly put them down again, finding nothing of interest. An amulet hung in a display case on one wall, thrumming with quiescent power, but she spared it only a cautious glance. These were all Ulric’s possessions. Nothing here could give her a link to the killer.

Maeryn pulled the door closed behind her, but the latch didn’t catch and it swung slowly inward once more. She knelt to examine it, finding that the bolt had been broken off completely, as though someone had forced the door. Could Ulric have taken refuge here, and then been dragged back into the main room to be killed? Maybe he knew he was being hunted, and the trap on the door had been for his own protection.

Returning to the main room, Maeryn took one last, long gaze around herself, committing as many details as possible to memory. So far, she had little to go on, just bits and pieces, really. She needed to know more about Ulric himself to begin to understand what had happened to him and why. She fished Pallas’ list from her pocket and reviewed it as she passed through the ravaged hallway. It was a short list: just three friends that he had known for many years, and an apprentice.

Maeryn’s eyes narrowed. One of those names she knew quite well. Like Ulric and Trenton, Master Kedron had ignored her summons to be tested. His quarters had been found empty, and no one she had asked up until now could recall having seen him in several days. Could Ulric have been killed by someone he trusted? The thought did have merit. Maybe Kedron had somehow convinced Ulric that he was in immediate danger to get him to cast those spells of protection, then stabbed him when his guard was down. The only piece that didn’t fit was that she couldn’t see how he had gotten out of the room once the murder was done.

Well, it would all become clear in time. Now that he was a suspect, she would ensure that the effort to find him was redoubled. There was probably nothing she could do if Kedron had gotten clear of the keep. Indeed, if the killer were gone, it would solve much of their problems, but she wanted to be certain that this was not yet another misdirection.

She sensed Brin’s presence before she reached his rooms. Their meeting earlier in the week was still fresh in her mind, and this one was not likely to be any more agreeable. She knocked and stepped back, sharpening her senses against whatever might happen.

The door opened and a handsome youth stood in the doorway regarding her. He had the fair skin and light hair of a westerner and a broad, bulky build that suggested lineage with the barbarian tribes to the north. He wore a simple tunic and breeches, but from a chain around his neck hung a tiny silver broadsword with a hilt made of jade, marking him as a Warlock. They were the largest and most powerful sect of the Horadrim. The other two sects, the Scholars and Enchanters, hard formed largely in support of it, providing the clan with the knowledge and weapons to wage battle against the minions of Hell. Brin was ranked as an adept. It took most mages a decade or more to rise from that level to the rank of master.

“Come to test me again, Slayer?†he asked, with a smile that dribbled acid.

“I have questions for you, Adept Brin,†she said, fixing her gaze on him. “Should I conduct my interview here, or would you like to come with me to a private chamber?â€

“Please come in, Slayer,†he replied, giving her a bow that could only be considered mocking in its extravagance. “I have wine, if you would like. Perhaps you would like some mutton as well?â€

“Yes, thank you,†she said, batting aside his attempt to unbalance her with practiced ease. She had known that eventually the details of Dagan’s death would get out. She found Brin’s comment extremely distasteful, but she would not let him bait her.

He fetched the wine and poured it in front of her, making no mention of the meat, as she had expected. Maeryn took a seat in one of the chairs in the main room, but Brin turned away from her, gazing out a window, holding his cup without drinking. “You had questions, you said?â€

Maeryn looked down at the wine in her own hand. Her mind tapped at the ineffectual resistance that blocked her from seeing his thoughts clearly. “You have no doubt heard of the death of your friend, Ulric?â€

Brin nodded without turning. “I was there in the corridor when you emerged from his chambers. I must admit that it is a painful subject you broach. I am not certain I have quite come to grips with it. Perhaps you should return at a later time when I have had—“

“I am not finished.â€

He let the silence stretch before speaking. “Please, continue.â€

“You do not deny that Ulric was your friend. Is there anything of importance you might be able to tell me concerning his death?â€

Brin finally turned to face her, his smile still fixed improbably on his face. “You mean, did I kill him?â€

“Did you?â€

“No.â€

“Do you know who did?â€

“I don’t, though I’m very interested in finding out myself.†Both of his answers were true, and that was as much as she could tell without a more invasive probe. She considered ripping away the veil that hid his deeper thoughts from her, but quickly rejected the idea. She had resolved to be more cautious, especially in light of the fact that she was truly alone, without the support of her enclave to enforce her decisions.

“It’s a good vintage, by the way,†he remarked, gesturing towards her cup. He drained his own goblet in a single gulp.

“Another time, perhaps,†she said, and set the drink down. “Did you notice anything unusual about Ulric’s behavior in the last few weeks? Did he tell you anything?â€

Brin shrugged. “Nothing comes to mind. He didn’t like you, but that is hardly unusual, now is it, Slayer?â€

Maeryn quelled the flash of ire at his impudence, realizing his game. His hatred and his fear of her was every bit as strong as Makel’s, but she caught beneath it a flash of a fervent, almost giddy sense of self-righteousness. He was trying to provoke her. He wanted her to attack him as he had seen her attack Makel, to prove to him that she was the monster he imagined her to be.

She let just a hint of her anger show. “This is helping neither of us, Brin.†If he would not observe pleasantries, neither would she. “I am only trying to bring Ulric’s killer to justice.â€

“Oh, I’m certain you are,†he said flippantly. “Just as you are trying to discover the source of corruption which most surely runs to the very core of the Horadrim.â€

“Do you know what has happened to Master Kedron?†she asked, making one last effort.

“I’m sorry, Slayer,†he said plaintively. “I haven’t the faintest clue.â€

“Very well.†She stood. “I can see that you do not wish to cooperate. Maybe after you’ve had time to think about it, you’ll change your mind.â€

Brin opened the door for her and gave her another bow. “Good bye, Slayer. I shall pray that our paths do not cross again. Perhaps you would be wise to do the same.â€

Maeryn would not give him the pleasure of a retort.
 

tamrend

Diabloii.Net Member
Chapter 14: The Hunt
Part 3

Master Durell was not in his chambers, but she passed a note beneath his door. He answered her summons in due course, stopping a distance away to peer through the doorway to her room as if hoping she had forgotten about him. His black hair and beard were fastidiously trimmed. Like Ulric, he looked to be well into his third decade, her impression coming as much from the subtleties of life experience that influenced his surface thoughts as from his physical appearance, which was often deceptive in those who worked with magic. He had dressed formally in the brown robes of a Scholar and carried the staff that marked him as a master of his station.

“Ah, please come in,†Maeryn welcomed him, gesturing to the chair across the table from her. The mage blinked at her, drew a deep breath, and crossed to the other side of the table. Once seated, he folded his arms across his chest.

“Thank you for coming to speak with me today,†Maeryn began in a pleasant tone. “I first want to extend my condolences for the death of your friend, Master Ulric. As you may have guessed, that is why you are here. I had hoped you might be able to help me in capturing his killer.â€

“There is no need for sympathy,†Durell said, his deep voice at odds with his slim build. “Ulric was never a close friend. We came here as apprentices at nearly the same time, and so shared some commonality of experience in our youth. As the years passed, that bond did not last. Ulric chose the path of the Warlock, as you probably know. After that we had little in common. We still associate from time to time, but it is more out of familiarity than fondness.â€

Maeryn sensed no anger toward Ulric from him, but he was keeping his thoughts closely guarded. She leaned back in her chair, taking a more casual posture. “Childhood friendships rarely last through adulthood. Pallas must have known both of you when you were younger.â€

As she had hoped, Durell mirrored her, relaxing his guard a bit, allowing her to peer unobtrusively around the edge of his thoughts. “So that’s who directed you to me. It’s not so surprising, then. Ulric was Pallas’ apprentice.â€

Pallas had never mentioned that fact, but it seemed a trivial detail. She continued with her casual tone. “So tell me, then, have you noticed anything strange about Ulric’s behavior recently?â€

Durell’s mind instantly erected walls around itself once more. Maeryn waited, exerting a subtle, almost imperceptible pressure on him to speak. She sensed fear from him, and tried to dull that as well, projecting calm while suggesting a sense of duty to reveal the truth.

“Ulric…†Durell’s expression was pained. “He organized a meeting in secret. It was over a week ago, just before he disappeared. He approached me in private, asked me to attend. I didn’t know what it was all about until I got there, or I—“

“What was the meeting about?†Maeryn pressed.

“You. It was about you.†Durell’s face and neck flushed, the color growing brighter as he spoke. “Ulric said that you were a danger to us all, that you were here to bring down the Horadrim. He said that in doing so, in finding corruption running through the most revered of all the mage clans, it would bring glory and fame back to the assa—I mean, the Viz-jaq’taar. It was all a lie, he said, ‘There is no corruption except in the petty greed and spite of an order that has outlived its usefulness.’â€

“But you did not believe him?â€

Maeryn felt the man’s confidence surge back as he realized that she was not going to attack him for his admission. The barriers around his thoughts began to loosen as he spoke. “Many forget how it was that Horazon and Bartuc fell under the influence of the powers they wished to control. The capacity for cruelty, for evil, lies within all of us. Those gifted with magic seem more susceptible to its influence, while at the same time giving that evil greater capacity for destruction. One only has to search the histories to see the sad consequences that come from dabbling in those evil arts. I too have felt the pull of that power from time to time, masking itself as the simple curiosity to know more, if only to be able to better protect myself from their evil influence. I think that Horazon must have felt much the same way when he began his forbidden research. No, Viz-jaq’taar, I did not believe him, not while evil still lies within the human soul.â€

Maeryn regarded the historian with newfound respect. Most mages she had met were too proud to admit their own weakness, to admit their own potential for evil. Self-deceit was the first step toward corruption. “Who else attended this meeting? Was Makel there?â€

Durell sighed. “He was, Viz-jaq’taar, and dozens more. I’m afraid that most of those Ulric chose already shared his views on the matter. In my case, he may have simply overestimated the strength of our old friendship, as Pallas did. In any event, I remained quiet, knowing that there was little I could do to sway the others. I had the impression that another meeting was planned, but I was not invited back.â€

This was beginning to look bad for her. What she had assumed was the effect of rumors and widespread disgruntlement was actually a conspiracy of sorts. Furthermore, in the absence of any good explanation, she would be the most likely suspect in Ulric’s death, at least in the minds of those who believed his lies about her. No wonder Makel had challenged her yesterday. She regretted what she had done to him, but at the same time wished she had been more thorough in sifting his memories. She had released him the moment she saw that he was free from corruption. Now she wished she had traced back the thread of his hatred for her.

Maeryn fixed Durell with a solemn look. “I need to know the names of everyone who was at that meeting.†She jotted down the names Durell rattled off. Any one of them might be the killer. He paused, and something in his mannerism told her that he had not reached the end. “Is there a problem?â€

Durell scowled. “There were more, I am certain, but I cannot remember them all.â€

“I can help.â€

“No! Please, Viz-jaq’taar. I mean no disrespect, but I am not comfortable with another person inside my head. Just give me a moment to sort things out.â€

The sudden balking made her wary, but she acquiesced, deciding that it was best, for now, to restrain the use of her powers. She looked over the list once more. “Was Adept Brin there?â€

“Yes. I remember seeing him now. And Master Holden arrived at about the same time.â€

“Master Kedron?â€

“No. I know he was not there. Ulric asked if anyone had seen him, and seemed disappointed that he had not come.â€

Kedron’s absence was surprising, and it was apparent that she needed to look at Brin a bit more closely. With his involvement in the conspiracy, she had more than adequate reason to sift his memory. “Thank you, Durell. You have given me much to work from.â€

He looked less than enthusiastic at her words, and Maeryn could hardly blame him. His part in this would surely come up. In truth, Maeryn was not terribly concerned about the conspiracy against her. Once she found and dealt with the attacker, she would be free to leave. Then she could find out what had happened to her enclave.

There was much to do, but first Maeryn wanted to consult with Orelan, to see if her list of suspects might help him in his research. Ulric’s body lay in a chamber underground, awaiting embalming and preparations for burial. It was there that she expected to find the diviner. She sensed no pulse of life as she approached, and ordinarily would have turned back to look for him elsewhere, but a vague sense of wrongness drew her onwards. Orelan lay facedown on the ground next to the slab where Ulric’s body rested, his throat a ragged mess of flesh. A wide, red pool spread beneath him, its edges tracing out thin, dark lines between the bricks.
 

Snowglare

Fan Fiction Forum Moderator
Wuhahahahahaha! Brilliant as ever. Though I want badly to get back to Shael and Kelsia, I am now thoroughly invested in finishing Maeryn's story. She's such a compelling character, and far from the only one of interest in this plot. I want to root for her and others, but I don't know that I can. Is she the hero, or does she only mean well? Someone has to be lying. Someone has to be shielding their thoughts for a reason other than simple privacy. But who?

Maeryn regarded him with mixed feelings, her longing for companionship at war with the practical need to maintain objectivity.
:love: This is a great sequence, with Maeryn wanting to reach out but wanting more not to hurt Pallas, and Pallas steadfastly unconcerned with the social repercussions of his actions. That is to say, he'll do what's right no matter how much it hurts. Oh man, what if he's the killer? That'd suck. He's the only one I feel sure I can root for. That would be the trick, though...

The second was a list of Urlic's friends and associates.
Ulric's.

Maeryn picked up a rather plain-looking knife, careful not to touch the rust-brown stains that marked the blade and the base of the handle. The only marking upon it was a thin crescent etched into the base of the blade.
Might want to change "marked" to something else. Having two "mark"s is repetitive, and "marking" seems to fit the symbol better than the blood stains.

Black skin was stretched thin over bony arms and hung in sagging wrinkles from his chin, just as his brown robes draped in great folds from his gaunt frame. Two tiny patches of white hair clung to his skull just above the ears.
Orelan sounds kinda creepy, but really he's just old. Darn old people.

He had been alive anyone else in the keep, of that he was certain.
Should be "alive longer than anyone else". And did you mean "she was certain"?

I did also note some odd traces on Ulric's body, but they seem to be aftereffects of his own magic. Once we are finished here, I intend to have another look.
Something tells me this is why he wound up dead a short while later. He found something. Maybe he went to confront the killer (unlikely), or maybe he told the wrong person about his discovery (easy enough to do, especially if Pallas is the killer).

"Thank you, Master Orelan," she said, bowing slightly to show the depth of her appreciation and respect.
Does that mean her respect for him is something less than great? If so, very nice. It's not insulting, but it's barely complimentary. Culturific!

It was even being whispered about, the idea sparking and catching among the minds of the mages, that it was she who had killed Ulric and the cook
You suppose they suspect her of killing Lorimer as well? Would make about as much sense. Mages and their conspiracy theories. Next they'll be saying the Viz-jaq'taar are aliens from another planet who came here via UFOs to kill their cows and steal their women.

Ulric's chambers looked much as she remembered it.
Shouldn't "it" be "them"?

The opening was square and only two hand spans across.
Seems like that ought to be handspans.

She leaned forward and put her head and an arm through, but could not get both shoulders past the narrow aperture. Looking down, she saw the courtyard five floors below. Cobblestones lined the ground, and the nearest tree was well out of reach of a jump.
No way to climb down, then? And I take it there are no mages capable of shapeshifting into, say, a raven? By the way, nice visual in the first sentence.

An amulet hung in a display case on one wall, thrumming with quiescent power, but she spared it only a cautious glance. These were all Ulric's possessions. Nothing here could give her a link to the killer.
Strange that she would think that. Isn't theft one of the top reasons for someone to break into another's room?

So far, she had little to go on, just bits and pieces, really.
You and me both, sister. We'll figure this out eventually.

It was a short list: just three friends that he had known for many years, and an apprentice.
I think you could drop "just" from this sentence.

Like Ulric and Trenton, Master Kedron had ignored her summons to be tested. His quarters had been found empty, and no one she had asked up until now could recall having seen him in several days. Could Ulric have been killed by someone he trusted? The thought did have merit. Maybe Kedron had somehow convinced Ulric that he was in immediate danger to get him to cast those spells of protection, then stabbed him when his guard was down.
*sniff sniff* I smell herring.

Please come in, Slayer," he replied, giving her a bow that could only be considered mocking in its extravagance.
Hehe. Brin, you cad.

She found Brin's comment extremely distasteful, but she would not let him bait her.
Sounds like she's more concerned with the impropriety of his words than offended by them. I get the impression that she's subconsciously put up a front. Lines like this one and her thoughts on Master Trenton's embarassment lead me to believe that she's either something less than human or, as her "longing for companionship" suggests, a human acting like a robot because it's easier that way.

Part 3

Master Durell was not in his chambers, but she passed a note beneath his door.
Shouldn't that be "so she passed a note beneath his door"? The second clause seems to result because of the first, rather than despite it.

"There is no need for sympathy," Durell said, his deep voice at odds with his slim build.
Nice detail.

Pallas had never mentioned that fact, but it seemed a trivial detail.
Again with the quick dismissal. Curious.

Maeryn felt the man's confidence surge back as he realized that she was not going to attack him for his admission. The barriers around his thoughts began to loosen as he spoke.
Well, it can't be Durell. We're practically inside his brain, and it's screaming innocence.

Maeryn regarded the historian with newfound respect.
Yeah, Durell is keen.

He looked less than enthusiastic at her words, and Maeryn could hardly blame him.
Once again, I sympathize. When she said "Thank you, Durell. You have given me much to work from," it was as if a villain had said it. Or more precisely, an overbearing authority figure what never lets you forget that they're in charge, they're in the right, and if you're not with them, you're against them.

His part in this would surely come up.
Yeah, Durell's a snitch.

She sensed no pulse of life as she approached, and ordinarily would have turned back to look for him elsewhere, but a vague sense of wrongness drew her onwards. Orelan lay facedown on the ground next to the slab where Ulric's body rested, his throat a ragged mess of flesh. A wide, red pool spread beneath him, its edges tracing out thin, dark lines between the bricks.
I like how you jump straight from her walking towards the chamber to finding Orelan's body. The reader expects more buildup, like Maeryn opening a door or noticing something strange and BAM! dead body. Sense of wrongness, Orelan's corpse. Quite jarring.
 

Humphrey

Diabloii.Net Member
I've only read the first two posts so far, but I just had to post to say that it's so well written. I might stop by this forum more often in the future if the fiction here is as good as this is.
 

RevenantsKnight

Diabloii.Net Member
On your latest posts: well, I’m enjoying this, for my part. Personally, I rather like the “murderer among us†plot/subplot as a whole, since it often lends itself to very well-developed characters and good, page-turning suspense. This rendition of that worked pretty well for me, though at times some of the shifts between scenes or sentences felt a bit abrupt. Other than that, this read especially cleanly. Some specific comments, excluding the ones Snowglare already mentioned:

tamrend said:
Maeryn regarded him with mixed feelings, her longing for companionship at war with the practical need to maintain objectivity.
Like Snowglare, I enjoyed this sequence. This sentence in particular, though, seemed a bit removed from Maeryn’s feelings, in that you’re summarizing them from the narrator’s third-party perspective. It does get the idea across just fine, and maybe you don’t want to narrow the distance between Maeryn and the reader due to her character, but I think this might have a bit more of an emotional punch if you focused in closer and described the feelings themselves, and let the reader draw this general conclusion from that.

tamrend said:
Maeryn knew that it had already cost him much more than that.
I thought this one was particularly good, though. :)

tamrend said:
The second was a list of Urlic’s friends and associates.

Orelan’s study was lit by the light of hundreds of candles lining the walls and perched upon tables.
Hrm...felt like a bit of a jump to me, especially since the second letter isn’t the one pertaining to Orelan. While I can understand that you might want to skip some relatively mundane stuff in between, the lack of a transition here seems like taking that a little too far.

tamrend said:
A few random artifacts: scrolls, jewelry, a notched short sword, littered one table in the corner, but a stern warning was posted nearby which marked them as possessing unknown magical properties.
The colon after “artifacts†should be a comma, I think. As far as I know, if there’s a list after a colon, everything from the colon to the end of the sentence is part of that list, and that doesn’t match here.

tamrend said:
Black skin was stretched thin over bony arms and hung in sagging wrinkles from his chin, just as his brown robes draped in great folds from his gaunt frame.
I’d start this with “His black skin...†just so there’s no confusion, and “draped...from†sounds odd to me; perhaps “...his brown robes were draped in great folds over his gaunt frame�

tamrend said:
Yet, for all that it appeared that a stiff gust might scatter him, she felt at once the iron in his will, the ferocity of his spirit.
I’d reword the first part to “Yet, although it appeared...â€; as it is, it seems to suggest the contrary of that.

tamrend said:
“You are saying that there was no magic involved in the attack, whatsoever?â€
The comma after “attack†is unnecessary.

tamrend said:
“I am a diviner of unusual talent, at least among the Horadrim.â€
Hrm...this sounds a bit like a boast, in that it’s unnecessary; given the following sentence, this doesn’t really tell Maeryn much more. If it is, it sounds out of character with Orelan, though given the ending of this chapter, that probably won’t come back to be a big problem later.

tamrend said:
“Was cast by Master Ulric, himself,†Orelan finished in a slow, deliberate tone.
The comma after “Ulric†is unnecessary.

tamrend said:
“I cannot even guess to the why, but it was him, I assure you.â€
I think that should be “...guess as to the why...â€

tamrend said:
Unlikely, given that it would take a very elaborate charade to convince Ulric to place such a specific set of spells.
That should be “would have taken,†since that’s all in the past relative to this moment.

tamrend said:
Their killer was too careful to cover his own tracks, probably the only reason that he had not succeeded in killing her yet.
Technically, that should be “...tracks, which was probably...,†though I could see an argument for keeping it this way.

tamrend said:
“Thank you, Master Orelan,†she said, bowing slightly to show the depth of her appreciation and respect.
Hrm...I read this as genuine respect, considering as the Viz-jaq’taar were supposed to be above the mages in that they had to police them (note: it’s apparently punctuated Viz-Jaq’taar in the manual, but personally, I think it looks better with the “J†in lowercase). Given that, any minor sign of appreciation would probably have been discouraged for professional reasons.

tamrend said:
Maeryn nearly toppled a boy in gray apprentice robes waiting outside.
Again, the shift in the scene is a touch abrupt. While I got what was happening, something like “As she left†at the start of the sentence might make this feel a bit more connected to the previous paragraph.

tamrend said:
He took one look at her and scurried off with a yelp. His reaction was a sign of her steadily worsening situation. Pallas had been right that her treatment of Makel would not be ignored by the other Horadrim.
This felt a little bit too factual to me, in that it quickly moves away from the story’s world itself to a narrator’s summary. I’d suggest conveying the second sentence’s idea in something focusing more on Maeryn and her reaction to this, so it keeps the reader more in the events that come to pass. Of course, if you’re deliberately keeping her a bit distant, then this might not be a good idea.

tamrend said:
She felt an uncomfortable foreboding as she approached the hall where she had nearly lost her life earlier that day.
Erm...my memory places the firewall incident as happening yesterday in the story, not earlier in the day, since she woke up in the morning.

tamrend said:
She fished Pallas’ list from her pocket and reviewed it as she passed through the ravaged hallway.
That should be “Pallas’s.â€

tamrend said:
His quarters had been found empty, and no one she had asked up until now could recall having seen him in several days.
Why the “up until now� Nobody’s said that he’s been seen, right?

tamrend said:
Well, it would all become clear in time.
Seems like an odd attitude for someone who’s basically racing against the clock.

tamrend said:
Indeed, if the killer were gone, it would solve much of their problems, but she wanted to be certain that this was not yet another misdirection.
I’d drop the “yet†from this sentence; at first, I read it as if it wasn’t a misdirection yet, but might develop into one in time, which seems wrong.

tamrend said:
She sensed Brin’s presence before she reached his rooms.
Again, this was a bit jolting. I don’t even recall hearing about Brin before (though maybe my memory’s just bad), so this felt especially odd.

tamrend said:
The door opened and a handsome youth stood in the doorway regarding her.
I think there should be a comma after “doorway,†with an adverb or similar phrase at the end of the sentence; for instance, “...regarding her frostily†would work.

tamrend said:
Brin was ranked as an adept. It took most mages a decade or more to rise from that level to the rank of master.
I’d suggest dropping this entirely, because the adept part comes up in the dialogue and the second bit could also be weaved into some speech, if it’s important. As it is, it feels like the narrator’s deviating from the story itself a bit too much.

tamrend said:
She had known that eventually the details of Dagan’s death would get out. She found Brin’s comment extremely distasteful, but she would not let him bait her.
This felt a little repetitive, given the sentence structure. I’d suggest seeing if you can’t cut down on the uses of “she,†perhaps with something like “Brin’s comment was extremely distasteful to her ears, but she resolved not to take his bait.â€

tamrend said:
He wanted her to attack him as he had seen her attack Makel, to prove to him that she was the monster he imagined her to be.

She let just a hint of her anger show.
Hrm...seems to me that the best way for Maeryn to prove him wrong would be to suppress it, instead of showing an edge.

tamrend said:
“I’m sorry, Slayer,†he said plaintively.
“Plaintively†seems wrong to me, since he’s not really “sad†or “lamenting.†Not sure exactly what you were trying to say here...

tamrend said:
“Good bye, Slayer.â€
That should be “Goodbye.â€

tamrend said:
Master Durell was not in his chambers, but she passed a note beneath his door.
In addition to Snowglare’s suggestion, you could word this as “...passed a note beneath his door anyway,†if you want to suggest that she’d do the same if he were in out of courtesy or something.

tamrend said:
“After that we had little in common.â€
There should be a comma after “that.â€

tamrend said:
“We still associate from time to time, but it is more out of familiarity than fondness.â€
Hrm...I’d imagine that he’d say this in the past tense, since Ulric’s dead.

tamrend said:
“Ulric was Pallas’ apprentice.â€
That should be “Pallas’s.â€

tamrend said:
“So tell me, then, have you noticed anything strange about Ulric’s behavior recently?â€
That should be “...did you notice...â€

tamrend said:
“It was all a lie, he said, ‘There is no corruption except in the petty greed and spite of an order that has outlived its usefulness.’â€
I’d think there should be something like “and that†after “he said.â€

tamrend said:
“I had the impression that another meeting was planned, but I was not invited back.â€
Minor nitpick: that should be “...but that I was not...â€

tamrend said:
This was beginning to look bad for her. What she had assumed was the effect of rumors and widespread disgruntlement was actually a conspiracy of sorts.... She regretted what she had done to him, but at the same time wished she had been more thorough in sifting his memories. She had released him the moment she saw that he was free from corruption. Now she wished she had traced back the thread of his hatred for her.
If you do choose to take a closer overall look at Maeryn’s thoughts where the narrator appears to be summarizing what’s going through her head, then this is another good place to do so.

tamrend said:
He paused, and something in his mannerism told her that he had not reached the end.
“Mannerism†felt overly vague to me. There’re a lot of things that count as mannerisms, and I’d suggest focusing this down to something like in his face, or posture, or eyes, whatever.

tamrend said:
She sensed no pulse of life as she approached, and ordinarily would have turned back to look for him elsewhere, but a vague sense of wrongness drew her onwards. Orelan lay facedown on the ground next to the slab where Ulric’s body rested, his throat a ragged mess of flesh.
For what it’s worth, I didn’t like this jump, mainly because the cut from image to image doesn’t quite seem smooth enough. While I think Snowglare has a point, adding a short something like “...drew her onwards. Stepping into the room, she found Orelan facedown...†would connect the two a little better, since there’s no mention of Maeryn in the current version.

Overall, this looks good to me, and you’ve definitely got my attention. Other than a few abrupt changes and the distance between Maeryn and the reader, I didn’t see much that I’d question. Oh, and I’ve been told to tell you to write more, so write more! *shakes fist grumpily* Anyway, thanks for posting!
 

Snowglare

Fan Fiction Forum Moderator
You have good insights, Rev, but I must respectfully disagree on a few points. Some of your corrections are style choices and would, I believe, hurt the piece.

RevenantsKnight said:
Tamrend said:
Maeryn regarded him with mixed feelings, her longing for companionship at war with the practical need to maintain objectivity.
This sentence in particular, though, seemed a bit removed from Maeryn's feelings, in that you're summarizing them from the narrator's third-party perspective. It does get the idea across just fine, and maybe you don't want to narrow the distance between Maeryn and the reader due to her character, but I think this might have a bit more of an emotional punch if you focused in closer and described the feelings themselves, and let the reader draw this general conclusion from that.
I'm not seeing it. We have a third-person perspective, with the caveat that we can see inside Maeryn's head. How can we get any closer without switching to first-person? and where is the need? This and the other instances you point out where the narrator describes Maeryn's feelings didn't strike me as impersonal at all.

RevenantsKnight said:
Tamrend said:
The second was a list of Urlic's friends and associates.

Orelan's study was lit by the light of hundreds of candles lining the walls and perched upon tables.
Hrm...felt like a bit of a jump to me, especially since the second letter isn't the one pertaining to Orelan. While I can understand that you might want to skip some relatively mundane stuff in between, the lack of a transition here seems like taking that a little too far.
Predictably enough, I thought this was a good transition, but you have a point. If the Orelan-related message were switched to the second slot, following up the list of friends, it would make for a smoother transition. I think the idea was that Maeryn would follow the recommendations in order, as that's what she proceeds to do. Sort of an essay layout; summarize your points, then delineate them, in order, in the body of the paper. Could add something about Maeryn deciding to check the list later, but it's not necessary; the fact that the next scene takes place at Orelan's forces the reader to infer that she made her choice and followed through. An extra press of the enter key between paragraphs would make it clearer that a scene change is occuring, if Tam wants to do that.

RevenantsKnight said:
Tamrend said:
Black skin was stretched thin over bony arms and hung in sagging wrinkles from his chin, just as his brown robes draped in great folds from his gaunt frame.
I'd start this with "His black skin..." just so there's no confusion, and "draped...from" sounds odd to me; perhaps "...his brown robes were draped in great folds over his gaunt frame"?
"His black skin" doesn't work. You'd have to change the sentence completely for it to fit. "Draped...from" is meant to mirror "hung...from". Might work better if "his" were dropped from "just as his brown".

RevenantsKnight said:
Tamrend said:
Yet, for all that it appeared that a stiff gust might scatter him, she felt at once the iron in his will, the ferocity of his spirit.
I'd reword the first part to "Yet, although it appeared..."; as it is, it seems to suggest the contrary of that.
Again, I'm not seeing it. It's the same meaning with different words. Plus, "yet, although" is kinda redundant.

RevenantsKnight said:
Tamrend said:
"Was cast by Master Ulric, himself," Orelan finished in a slow, deliberate tone.
The comma after "Ulric" is unnecessary.
Except that he's speaking "in a slow, deliberate tone". I thought the same thing when I read it, though, and I'm not sure you aren't right.

RevenantsKnight said:
Tamrend said:
Their killer was too careful to cover his own tracks, probably the only reason that he had not succeeded in killing her yet.
Technically, that should be "...tracks, which was probably...," though I could see an argument for keeping it this way.
And here it is: It's less wordy. Ta-da! It might need a semi-colon, but it doesn't need lengthening.

RevenantsKnight said:
Tamrend said:
Maeryn nearly toppled a boy in gray apprentice robes waiting outside.
Again, the shift in the scene is a touch abrupt. While I got what was happening, something like "As she left" at the start of the sentence might make this feel a bit more connected to the previous paragraph.
I see no problem with this transition, as it's clear that the conversation was over and that she would be leaving. Any additions would only detract.

RevenantsKnight said:
Seems like an odd attitude for someone who's basically racing against the clock.
True. Maeryn doesn't seem at all in a rush, and she really should be, shouldn't she? I forget exactly how pressing the business at her enclave was.

RevenantsKnight said:
Tamrend said:
She had known that eventually the details of Dagan's death would get out. She found Brin's comment extremely distasteful, but she would not let him bait her.
This felt a little repetitive, given the sentence structure. I'd suggest seeing if you can't cut down on the uses of "she," perhaps with something like "Brin's comment was extremely distasteful to her ears, but she resolved not to take his bait."
Or cut the third "she" out entirely. I don't want to think about ears tasting things...

RevenantsKnight said:
Tamrend said:
Master Durell was not in his chambers, but she passed a note beneath his door.
In addition to Snowglare's suggestion, you could word this as "...passed a note beneath his door anyway," if you want to suggest that she'd do the same if he were in out of courtesy or something.
HAHAHA! *wipes tears from his eyes* No, dude, if he were there, she'd go right in. Knocking before barging is as courteous as Maeryn gets ;).

RevenantsKnight said:
Tamrend said:
"After that we had little in common."
There should be a comma after "that."
Not necessarily. Commas are optional in that type of sentence, depending on whether or not you want to show a pause. At least, from what I've observed.

RevenantsKnight said:
Tamrend said:
"It was all a lie, he said, 'There is no corruption except in the petty greed and spite of an order that has outlived its usefulness.'"
I'd think there should be something like "and that" after "he said."
Maybe put a period after "he said", but if you add "and that", you'd have to change it so he's no longer quoting Ulric.

RevenantsKnight said:
Tamrend said:
"I had the impression that another meeting was planned, but I was not invited back."
Minor nitpick: that should be "...but that I was not..."
Durell didn't have the impression that he wasn't invited back. He really wasn't. Conversely, he was invited to the first meeting:

Tamrend said:
He approached me in private, asked me to attend.
[abrupt ending]
 

0xDEADCAFE

Diabloii.Net Member
I wonder if I could jump in here... :uhhuh:

Snowglare said:
RevenantsKnight said:
Tamrend said:
Black skin was stretched thin over bony arms and hung in sagging wrinkles from his chin, just as his brown robes draped in great folds from his gaunt frame.
I'd start this with "His black skin..." just so there's no confusion, and "draped...from" sounds odd to me; perhaps "...his brown robes were draped in great folds over his gaunt frame"?
"His black skin" doesn't work. You'd have to change the sentence completely for it to fit. "Draped...from" is meant to mirror "hung...from". Might work better if "his" were dropped from "just as his brown".
I see two main problems with this sentence:
1) There is too strong a sense of time and action in what is essentially a static image.
2) It seems contradictory for skin to be both "stretched" and "sagging."

Of the two #1 is more important so I'll start there. "was stretched... and hung..." makes me thinking of a tannery. Sweaty employees bustling about stretching and hanging. Sound silly? Well, it did. Furthermore, "just as his" sounds like the author is trying to fix the time of some event very precisely. To me, it can be improved by reduction: "Stretched" works as a verb of being so let's take out "was" and, secondly, sharpen the simile by replacing the ambiguous "just as his" with the simple connector, "like."

Black skin stretched thin over bony arms and hung in sagging wrinkles from his chin, like the brown robes that draped in great folds from his gaunt frame.


But that is only a start. Notice the comma after chin? It breaks the sentence into these parts:

A - "Black skin stretched... and hung..."

LIKE

B - "Robes that drape.

Here's where the confusion really sets in. In the first place, skin should not be stretched and sagging simultaneously. Granted, the sentence refers to different parts of the body, but putting the contrasting skin so close together in the sentence begs for misunderstanding. Secondly, the simile with the robes only applies to the sagging skin, not the stretched skin. So the structure shouold be more like this:

A - "Black skin stretched"

AND

B - "Hung like robes that drape.


Now it works. These could be separate sentences:

- "Black skin stretched thin over bony arms."

- "It hung in sagging wrinkles from his chin like the brown robes draped in great folds from his gaunt frame."


And putting it all together:

"Black skin stretched thin over bony arms, and hung from his chin in sagging wrinkles like the great folds of the brown robes draping his gaunt frame."


There are some style choices here, too. I...
- moved "sagging wrinkles" and "great folds" closer together to really sharpen the simile
- replaced "draped" with "draping" to eliminate some wordiness
- moved the comma.

The comma might be unnecessary, but I think it helps define the break between describing his arms and describing his chin-with-simile.

My last comment is that this might be an instance where less, a lot less, is more:

"Black skin hung from his chin like the brown robes draping his gaunt frame."


To me this is a very clear and very rich simile. I think you could argue that the image is sharp enough that "sagging wrinkles" and "great folds" are unnecessary. As for "stretched thin over bony arms" - I like it a lot, but maybe it could be used in another sentence, or just saved for another time.
 

tamrend

Diabloii.Net Member
Some meta-comments:

Thanks for spotting the grammar mistakes, and as usual, I have a lot to consider. To highlight a few points:

Continuity jumps. Yes, I know they are there. Some I tentatively agree with, some I don't want to change at all. I actually wrote things very much out-of-sequence, which might explain things a bit. First there was the scene with Orelan, then I wrote Durell's questioning. Thinking that the conversation with Pallas was unfinished, I went back and wrote the opening. Next came the meeting with Brin, and finally the ending where Orelan is found dead. There was one more scene I had originally thought to include, but kept it for a later chapter.

In the meantime, I had to go through and change little pieces to make certain everything was consistent and eliminate a few potential "Ah-ha!" moments where the reader finds something that doesn't mesh. I tried to smooth things over between the parts, but finally gave in exhaustion. I was also worried about boring the reader with too many dull descriptions of moving from place to place. The chapter was really a series of episodes that could have happened in a different order had I chosen it. Once I've had time away, I can read it all through and see if some (though probably not all) of the sequences can be melted together.

RevenantsKnight suggested some wording changes that Snowglare disagrees with. I have to concede that in most cases, RV's changes are technically flawless. However, I do on occasion play fast and loose with grammar in the interest of reducing wordiness, which Snow pointed out in a few places. Still, it never hurts to be shown alternatives.

RevenantsKnight said:
Like Snowglare, I enjoyed this sequence. This sentence in particular, though, seemed a bit removed from Maeryn’s feelings, in that you’re summarizing them from the narrator’s third-party perspective.
Snowglare said:
I'm not seeing it. We have a third-person perspective, with the caveat that we can see inside Maeryn's head. How can we get any closer without switching to first-person? and where is the need? This and the other instances you point out where the narrator describes Maeryn's feelings didn't strike me as impersonal at all.
I can see what RK is saying here, but I have to go with Snow on this one. A big part of it is the way the character is constructed. She examines and evaluates her emotions as much as she actually feels them. A bit of tweaking might be in order, but the detachment you feel is quite intentional.

RevenantsKnight said:
This felt a little bit too factual to me, in that it quickly moves away from the story’s world itself to a narrator’s summary.
Hmm. This is actually supposed to be Maeryn's thoughts, her analysis of the situation. Not sure where to go with this comment.

tamrend said:
It would all become clear in time.
This is supposed to be saying, "I won't dwell on the missing pieces too heavily. There has to be an explanation, so I'll be patient and it will become obvious once I know more."

tamrend said:
“Thank you, Master Orelan,†she said, bowing slightly to show the depth of her appreciation and respect.
Snowglare said:
Does that mean her respect for him is something less than great? If so, very nice. It's not insulting, but it's barely complimentary. Culturific!
RevenantsKnight said:
Hrm...I read this as genuine respect, considering as the Viz-jaq’taar were supposed to be above the mages in that they had to police them (note: it’s apparently punctuated Viz-Jaq’taar in the manual, but personally, I think it looks better with the “J†in lowercase). Given that, any minor sign of appreciation would probably have been discouraged for professional reasons.
The truth lies somewhere between. Maeryn wouldn't normally bow to any mage at all. It is not her place. The fact that she gives Orelan one, even a small one, is significant for her. It was meant to show that she respected his talents and appreciated his cooperation, but not that much.

0xDEADCAFE said:
It seems contradictory for skin to be both "stretched" and "sagging."
I think that this chapter is richer in physical descriptions than I usually get on a first draft, so I don't expect every one of them to work perfectly. I'll play with the wording a bit, but I think that the description isn't far off from what I want. For stretched and sagging, I'm referring to the way the skin of elderly folk becomes very smooth in some places but wrinkles in others. To be absolutely clinical, what I'm describing is the way skin loses its elasticity.
 

Snowglare

Fan Fiction Forum Moderator
tamrend said:
The truth lies somewhere between. Maeryn wouldn't normally bow to any mage at all. It is not her place. The fact that she gives Orelan one, even a small one, is significant for her. It was meant to show that she respected his talents and appreciated his cooperation, but not that much.
That's what I figured. "I respect you this much. Take it or leave it." Thumbs up.
 

tamrend

Diabloii.Net Member
Chapter 15: Rona
Part 1

“And that’s the last of it.” Seith sighed, shaking a few droplets of red liquid loose from its bottle to drip onto a cloth. Marius took it and dabbed at his face and the top of his head. Kelsia watched him surreptitiously as she sipped from a bowl of soup. Marius’ skin had improved drastically, going from blistered and blackened to livid pink. He was still totally bald, even his eyebrows singed away by the flames.

“It will be enough,” Marius said, grimacing. “The pain is nearly gone. There should be only a little scarring.” Even so, he continued to dab the cloth around the back of his neck. His clothing had protected him from somewhat from the brief but intense blast, but without the aid of Seith’s healing potion, the burns would have certainly killed him within a day or so. Seith had told her that he would have died of thirst, which made a kind of dubious sense, or from disease, which made no sense at all.

It had been three days since that encounter. They spent the first day resting and recovering from their injuries. Seith had butchered his slain horse, supplying them with as much meat as they could carry, enough for several days if the weather stayed cold. Their course since then had led them south and east across a barren, trackless plain.

Seith turned to Kelsia. “How is the soup?”

“Good,” she lied, taking a gulp this time. They had found a patch of leafy plants shriveling in the snow and dug up several fleshy roots. The bulbs had a loamy, sharply bitter flavor, but Marius recognized them and proclaimed them edible. Boiling the plants got rid of some of the bitterness, but left them with little else to characterize their taste. Two days ago, the vegetables had seemed like a delightful find. Now she was starting to wish they had never come across them.

“I’m going to scout our trail.” Marius announced, hefting his saddle and heading for Cloud. Seith and Kelsia now doubled up on Copper, the stronger of the two remaining horses.

“I don’t think that’s wise,” Seith said, getting a glare from Marius. “You could use one more day for that healing potion to do its work,” he added. “You shouldn’t go exerting yourself just yet.” When Marius didn’t answer, he tried again, “Shouldn’t you eat first?” but got only a vague grunt in response as the swordsman threw the saddle over Cloud’s back.

Seith shook his head ruefully and stooped to ladle himself some of the murky liquid from the pot. He sipped loudly from the utensil’s edge before filling his bowl. Making the roots and meat into a soup had been his idea, hoping the latter would curb the taste of the former. “You’re right,” he said to Kelsia. “I have improved the taste. I believe it’s gone from abysmally foul to nearly tolerable.”

Kelsia shared a grin with him. Like Marius, it was a wonder he was alive. The bolt of lightning that had struck him had killed his horse, but he had survived the attack with only a few deep burns, plus some bruises, a twisted ankle and a bump on his head from the fall. His horse had lain sprawled next to him, eyes staring, legs smoldering, filling the air with the stench of burnt hair and flesh.

Seith limped over and sat next to Kelsia on the ground. She knew that he had taken none of the healing potion for himself, saving it all for Marius’ more severe injuries. He leaned in close, “How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” she said, giving what she hoped was a brave smile. Fear and fatigue had done much to numb her emotions, but she could still sense the weight of her grief, pushed down just below the surface and kept at bay by the daily struggle to survive.

“That is good to hear,” he said. Kelsia could hear the careful measuring in his tone. “In Rona, we’ll all be treated to a hot bath, a hot meal, and a warm bed. Just hang on for a few more days.” He continued to gaze at her searchingly for a moment and looked quickly away.

“Something is troubling you, isn’t it?” she said, with sudden insight.

Seith bowed his head over his bowl, sipped from it, and said quietly. “I didn’t want to concern you, since it might not mean anything, but ever since you fought that mage, the staff’s glow of power is much dimmer. I can barely sense it now, even sitting right here next to you.”

Kelsia reflected on that. “Could I have done something to damage it?” she asked. “Maybe that’s for the best. Maybe I can be rid of it.”

“We can’t know that,” he said firmly. “As I said, I didn’t want to concern you, or to give you false hope. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you.”

Kelsia looked at the staff, propped across her legs. She stood and let it fall to the ground. She turned resolutely and thought, I’m leaving it behind.

Her stomach clenched and her legs grew painfully rigid, but she began to take slow, careful steps away from it. She may have imagined it, but it seemed that the pain lessened the further she went. She stopped a dozen paces away. “Pick it up,” she said.

Seith bent and picked up the staff from the ground. Kelsia felt his hands closing around her. Her palms itched and tingled with the urge to run over to him and snatch it away, but she forced her body to remain still. “I could do it,” she breathed, wonderingly. “I really could leave it behind.”

Seith looked from her to the staff and back. Worry creased his brow. “I’m not so sure of that. I can still feel the link as strongly as before.”

“But don’t you see?” she said, nearly laughing aloud. “I’m free of it.”

“Maybe,” he conceded. “But we can’t know for certain. Here.” He closed the distance between them and held out the staff. “You’d better take it.”

She was irritated by the deep sense of relief she felt when it was back in her hands again. “Well, we’ve learned something, then,” she said, shrugging. She spotted Marius making speed to the east, just before he dropped out of sight down a slope. “I don’t think that Marius took your suggestion very seriously,” she remarked.

He smiled at that, following her gaze. “No, I suppose not. Sometimes it’s all I can do to convince him to follow my orders. I’d rather not lead at all, if truth be told, but it’s my duty. When Garron died…” He stumbled over the words. “When we realized he was gone, his post fell to me.”

He gave her hand a tug and they started back for the spot where they had left their breakfast, already rapidly cooling in the brisk morning air. Seith grimaced anew as he tipped up his bowl and sipped. It was Kelsia who broke the tepid silence. “I’d like to hear more about your master.”

“Garron." Seith smiled at a memory. "When I first saw him, I was too terrified to speak. As you probably realize, most people can’t perform even the most paltry magic. A few can be trained to recognize and use the ability they have within them. Fewer still seem born to it, learning to influence their world through magic almost from the time they learn to speak. I am of this last type.”

Kelsia chuckled. “It must have given your parents quite a shock.”

Seith smiled wanly. “I have almost no memory from that time, but I can recall once feeling hungry and wishing I had some of the soup that was boiling in a cauldron over the fire. The next moment, I was running away, screaming as the great black thing came flying after me, spilling scalding hot broth all over the floor.” Seith shared her laugh this time, but sobered quickly. “Strange how I can remember that one image of terror with near-perfect clarity, but I wouldn’t know the faces of my mother or father if I ever saw them again.”

“Were you very young when you left?”

He nodded. “I was four years old when my father brought me to Tristram. As Garron tells it, a man showed up there on the front steps of the monastery one day, hauling along a scared and bewildered little boy. The poor wizards within didn’t know what to make of us. The monastery at Tristram was built as a place to house and protect the magic that contains Diablo himself. Many Horadrim choose to serve out their early years of mastery standing watch over that most terrible of demons, guarding against a breach in the magic that holds him captive. It is hardly the sort of place where you would want to bring a child, magic or no.

“My father sat idly by as the mages debated among themselves what to do with me. A few of them were in favor of housing me there until a ship could be arranged to take me east, but most believed it best to keep me in my family's care at least until I was of age. Garron at last stepped up and asked to have a look at me. By this time, I was all but forgotten in the heated battle of wills taking place. I remember quite clearly the image of him squatting down next to me, though his words had to be recounted to me later. He said, ‘You have the potential to be the greatest Horadric Mage in a century. What do you think of that, boy?’”

“What did you answer?” Kelsia asked eagerly.

“Well, according to Garron, I began to wail and clutch at my father’s legs.” He laughed. “It was hardly an auspicious beginning. But Garron was determined to take me on, and my father was just as determined to see me off. Garron cut short his pilgrimage and returned to Horadrim Keep to train me as an apprentice. He was a strict but patient teacher, and he knew the ways of the westerners, having grown up there himself. In only a short time I grew to admire him, to care about him as a second father. In fact, he's the only father I know.”

Kelsia settled her chin atop her fists. “Did you turn out to be as great as Garron thought?”

Seith shrugged. “I was very young for an apprentice. The usual rule is that we do not begin to train youths before the age of six, but as I said, cases like mine are rare. By the time I turned ten, I could best any of my peers, including those awaiting their adept trials. Well, perhaps not Lorimer, but he is five years my senior.”

“Adept trials?” Kelsia prompted.

“All apprentices are required to undergo a test upon reaching eighteen years, to pass on to their next phase of training as a Horadrim. Those who fail are dismissed from the clan.”

Kelsia had guessed that Seith was young upon first meeting him, but had revised her thinking over time. Now she realized that her first impression had been the correct one. “When will you take the trial?”

“It is set to take place in a few months time. Tradition allows one month from the actual date of birth for additional study and preparation, but I shouldn’t need it. Garron has trained me for it for half my life. He often said that I would one day become an initiate, the first to appear among the Horadrim in over a generation.”

“That sounds like it would be quite an honor.”

“Oh, it would be,” he replied noncommittally. “The truth is that I’ve never quite lived up to the high expectations that were set for me. I progressed quickly, it’s true, but I always sensed my master’s disappointment at my failures. What he saw in me that day in Tristram has somehow never truly been realized, at least in his eyes. And in mine, too, I suppose.”

“And just how many apprentices,” Kelsia said indignantly, “could have led us safely this far, with a horde of demons and skeletons and wizards and who knows what else chasing after us?”

He shrugged. “Who can say? We’re alive for now, but I would credit fortune at least as much as any action on my part.” He gazed at her pointedly. “Not that I can take any of the credit for what happened at the edge of the forest." He paused. "Are you ready to talk about it yet?”

Somehow, Kelsia could never quite bring herself to tell him about the presence that whispered words into her mind. It seemed like utter madness even to her except when it was actually happening. In the days since that last time, it had been oddly silent. “I didn’t even know what I was doing,” she said quietly. “It just sort of happened.”

Seith waited, obviously wanting more from her. Kelsia wasn’t sure what he wanted from her, but she couldn’t see how the truth would help. Finally, he spoke. “Magic is difficult and dangerous without the proper focus. That’s the reason for the arcane words and the gestures that mages make. They give structure and reason to a power that is otherwise chaotic and unpredictable. I’m not certain what happened back there, but I must assume you were somehow able to draw magic through the Key, and that magnifies the danger a thousand fold.”

“Are you trying to get me to promise that I won’t do it again?” She asked him. A part of her was terrified of the power of destruction she had unleashed and wanted nothing more to do with it. Another part longed to taste that power again. That terrified her perhaps even more.

Seith breathed a beleaguered sigh. “It is difficult for me to counsel you in this. Yes, I think it would be best if you try to refrain from doing whatever it was you did, but I also cannot forget that if not for your magic, we would not be here now speaking. It seems to me a very fickle thing, to manifest only when we need it most.”

“It might even be gone,” she mused, “given how the staff’s power has faded.”

“Don’t be so quick to draw such conclusions,” he warned. “Magic requires a certain amount of belief to work. If you believe that the power is gone, it might become so.”

She nodded thoughtfully and then drank the last of her soup. Magic was a strange thing. If belief was required, how had she been able to use magic at Dalmers Ferry? She certainly hadn’t believed she could back then. Even now, acceptance was slow in coming.
 

tamrend

Diabloii.Net Member
Chapter 15: Rona
Part 2

Seith stood up and gathered their bowls to clean them. Kelsia caught his sleeve. “There is something I want to ask of you.”

He looked at her. “Go on.”

“I was wondering if you might teach me to read. Also to write, if there is time.”

Seith smiled warmly. “I think I’d like that. I should have thought of it sooner. Wait right there.” He rummaged through his saddlebags and came back with parchment, a quill and an ink bottle. “We’ll start with your letters,” he said, setting the implements down in front of her.

The sun had climbed halfway up the sky, melting away all traces of the snow, when Marius came trotting in from the west. “Nothing to report,” he said dourly. He gave Cloud an almost affectionate rub on the neck. “I got a good view from one of the taller hills. There is no sign of pursuit. I don’t like it.”

“I think that will be all for today, Kelsy,” Seith said, nodding approvingly at her work. She had learned the names for every letter of the alphabet and written them all out twice. Seeing the letters form beneath her fingers was a kind of magic in itself, and she was sorry not to have the chance for a third rendering.

Marius dropped the ladle into the cold soup and picked out a pieces of meat with his fingers, shoving them into his mouth and chewing at the same time. Kelsia grimaced at him. “Aren’t you going to eat any of the roots?”

“No,” he said around a mouthful, “those things taste terrible.” He looked at Seith. “Why aren’t they coming after us?”

“It does remind me too closely of our escape from Dalmers Ferry,” Seith admitted. “But what kind of trap could anyone set in such open terrain? We could see it and avoid it from miles off. It makes no sense.”

“That’s what I am saying,” Marius growled. “Have you felt anything from the staff?” he asked Kelsia.

“No. Not since the battle.”

Seith explained to him about the staff’s sudden changes, and ended by suggesting that they could no longer rely upon it to guide them.

“That does put us at a crucial disadvantage,” Marius observed. “We’ve seen our enemy’s face, but we’re no closer to understanding what he intends next.”

“Maybe he’s scared of us now,” Kelsia ventured, half-jokingly.

Seith regarded her intently. “There may be some truth to that. We may have given our enemy pause, at least, but I doubt he will be deterred for long. Perhaps it is time to re-think our course.”

Marius scowled in thought for a moment. “I still say that Rona is our best hope. The city is well-fortified and only a few days’ ride, if the weather holds. The king will be compelled to offer us aid and protection. We could stay there until help is summoned.”

Seith nodded. “I agree. Even if we’ve gone unobserved all this time, our enemy has likely already guessed at our destination, but it would be foolhardy to try a different path. Forage will only get worse the farther east we travel, and it’s at least another month going overland. We would be easy prey. What interests me most is that there is a portal stone in Rona. It is rarely used, but should be functional.”

“Well, it sounds like the best choice to me,” Kelsia put in, feeling wholly unnecessary.

“Right, then” Seith nodded, glancing at each of them in turn. “We should stay alert to trouble, though. Kelsia, I want to know the moment you feel anything from that staff.”

They broke camp and resumed the journey east. When they stopped for the evening, Seith continued his lessons with Kelsia, instructing her in the concepts that letters represented, how they could be used singly or combined to form other words. Kelsia’s head was soon spinning with the complexity of it, but Seith assured her that she was doing very well. “Think it through as you prepare for sleep,” he told her. “I’m sure you will have much of it sorted out by the morning.”

Kelsia woke from a dreamless sleep. Soundless twilight blanketed the land. She twisted beneath her blankets, but sleep would not come. Her mind was oddly clear and she mumbled quietly to herself, recounting her lessons from the previous day. She sat up upon seeing Seith at watch. “I have something to show you,” she said, barely keeping her excitement in check. “May I go get your ink and parchment?” He gave her a bemused nod.

She returned with the items and spread them out carefully on the ground, then sat across from him. Dipping the pen, she began to write slowly and carefully, etching tiny black strokes into the parchment in the wan light. She earnestly hoped that she had made the correct choice of letters. When it was done, she sat back to let him see four shaky figures.

“Hmm,” he said, frowning.

Kelsia’s shoulders sagged, the joy seeping out of her. “I just thought—“

“Oh,” he said, and turned the page over to face his direction, “that’s better. This says…hm, ‘Kelsia’.” He looked up. “Excellent work, Kelsia. You’ve made your first word.”

She took a moment to cork the ink bottle before she threw herself at him with a cry. “Jackass!” she screamed. “Lying weasel.” She broke into a fit of giggles as she beat his chest and shoulders ineffectually with her fists. Suddenly, she let out a screech as he darted in first one hand and then the other and began to expertly tickle her sides. Now, with the tables turned, she was desperate to get away. She finally managed to roll away from him and lay on her back, panting and giggling by turns.

“You could wake the dead with your racket,” Marius grumbled and rolled to face the other direction.

Seith stood up to brush the dirt off and offered her his hand. “I’m sorry about that,” he said, grinning in spite of his words. “It was a terrible joke to play on you. Can you ever forgive me?”

She was tempted to take it and pull him down and resume their mock battle, but that would mean further delaying the morning’s lesson. “I suppose we have a truce,” she said haughtily, accepting his hand, “for now.”

The resumed their places once more, Seith beginning now to teach her simple words, praising her near-perfect recall of letters. Presently, Marius brought them a pair of sticks with roasted horse meat speared along their length. Absorbed in the task of constructing her first sentence, Kelsia didn’t realize that he was off on another scouting run until after he was gone. She learned to write each of the men’s names and was soon using them in sentences, though it took a bit of coaching from Seith.

Cloud was blowing heavily when Marius rode back into camp, leaping from the saddle before the mare had come to a stop. “Hellspawn,” he gasped out, sending Kelsia’s heart racing at once. She dropped the quill and reached for the staff reflexively, but no warmth stirred in its depths.

“Just beyond that hill there,” Marius continued, pointing to a high crest a few leagues to the west. “Goatmen. Ten, maybe more. They saw me, too, I’m certain, though it doesn’t appear that they gave chase.”

“A scouting party, perhaps?” Seith ventured.

“They had a camp, at least what passes as one for those creatures. That hill would give a lookout climbing it an easy view of us down here, though they’d hardly need it with all the smoke going up from the fire. They must be following us. Perhaps they have been all along.” He smacked a fist into the palm of his other hand. “Had I gone a bit farther yesterday, I would have found them. I should have been more vigilant.”

“Peace, Marius,” Seith said, rising. “What matters is that you did find them today, that we know about them now.” He touched Kelsia’s shoulder. “Do you sense anything?”

She shook her head. “Nothing.”

“Perhaps they are beyond your range,” Marius suggested. “Or maybe they simply aren’t a threat to us. Burn it, we don’t really know if it’s working or not. Better not leave it to chance, though. I say we break camp at once.”

“Agreed,” Seith said. “I think we are nearing Rona. Perhaps we can reach it today if we ride hard.”

With the low-lying morning clouds burning away, Kelsia saw that there was a mountain range drawing down from the north. The mountains were squat and round, and spotted with skeletal trees, nothing like the towering heights where Loric made his home or the steep crags to the west of her home.

Before midday, they came upon a farmstead with a lonely mud-brick house standing in the distance. The crops were irrigated by a clever system of dams and canals that diverted water from a nearby stream. Though she could only see it from afar, Kelsia tried to commit to memory as much of the details as she could, thinking of how useful such a system could be back home. If there is even a home to return to, that is, she thought glumly.

“That’s odd,” remarked Marius, seemingly to himself.

“What is it?” Seith asked him.

Marius pointed. “They should have already finished their harvest, but you can see that most of the crops have been left in the fields to rot. This farm was abandoned, and quite recently.” The two men exchanged a glance and Marius nodded. “Perhaps I had better circle around for a look.”

“There is a path up ahead,” Seith told him. Kelsia peered onward to a narrow cart track that led away from the farm’s edge. “We’ll follow it in towards the city. Meet us there.”

That track meandered next to the stream that bordered the farm, but bore predominantly south. Soon after the farm had vanished in the distance behind them, Marius returned. “Our tail is still following us, all right, staying right on our tracks, but I saw no others. Shall we stand and fight?”

“They are not gaining ground?” Seith asked.

“No. They seem content to keep their distance.”

“Then we will let them be. We might be able to outmatch them, especially if we catch them by surprise, but goatmen can be crafty. We are at most a few hours’ ride from safety. I’d rather not take a needless risk.” Marius grumbled under his breath, but did not say more.

As the day wore on toward afternoon, the track grew into a road, weaving between long stretches of farmland dotted with low buildings. Most were obviously abandoned, but one was only a smoldering ruin. Marius paused to examine the ruins, but quickly rejoined them without comment.

To the southeast, a city slowly grew up from the plain, its glittering spires swelling like stems sprouting from the earth. Staring at the spectacle, Kelsia was startled by the sudden appearance of a cluster of riders coming up the road toward them. They drew slowly nearer, moving at a brisk walk, and Kelsia counted them under her breath. “Twenty-two,” she said, loud enough for Seith to hear.

“Twenty-five,” he corrected her. “They wear the colors of Rona. But best to be on your guard. Don’t speak if you can help it.”

Their armor was fashioned from overlapping plates polished to a dazzling gleam. The horses, too, were fitted with plating that covered them from head to chest, giving them an oddly reptilian appearance. Their helmets sported colorful plumes and broad nose guards that left little of their faces visible. As they drew closer, the horses fanned out into a tight formation and two dozen lances lowered to point at the three of them in a manner that was calmly menacing.

The lead horseman called out something that Kelsia could not understand. She thought she must have misheard, but then Marius responded with something equally unintelligible. In the next moment, she realized that it was a different language they were speaking. The one soldier came to a halt a few paces from them.

“Aye, I speak that tongue, traveler,” the horseman said, evidently in answer to a question Marius had asked. The tone and inflection of his words were garbled slightly, but she had only a little difficulty understanding them. He tipped his head forward and pulled off the helmet, revealing the face of a middle-aged man with flecks of grey in his beard and streaks in his long black hair. His hair, dark and close-cropped, glistened with a sheen of sweat. His gaze settled on her for a moment, his wide-set brown eyes flicking between her face and the staff she carried tightly in one hand.

He settled the helmet onto the pommel of his saddle and addressed Marius. “Name’s Moor, Captain Bransen Moor, to be precise. I’m sorry if my words offended you. I thought you were from one of the outlying farms. They’ve had demons raiding, if you can believe it. That’s why we’re out here. There were several deaths before the king ordered the country folk to take shelter in the city. There are still some folks missing, but I have little hope we’ll find anyone alive.”

“You say that hellspawn raided these lands?” Seith asked.

“Aye, I did, though only a very few have seen them. Can’t say where they might be coming from, and we don’t yet know how far the demons range, or if other cities in the kingdom are under attack. It was nigh a month gone that folks started disappearing and farms began to burn. They have been getting bolder ever since.” He looked at Marius once more with a frown. “Are you feeling alright, sir?”

Marius showed his teeth. “I had an unfortunate encounter involving a fire.”

“I see,” Bransen said, though it was obvious that he did not. “May I ask who you are and where you are bound?”

“I am Seith. This girl is named Kelsia and that is Marius. We must speak to your king. We come here on an important errand.”

Bransen arched his brows. “Begging your pardon, but that’s not likely. The king is very busy these days.”

Seith fixed him with a steady gaze. “I am a wizard, captain. I come on behalf of the Horadrim.”

Bransen returned the stare unflinchingly, his jaw clenching with doubt. His eyes lowered to the wand at Seith’s belt before flicking over to Marius. His gaze lingered longest on Kelsia, who obviously puzzled him most of all. Finally, he looked over his shoulder to the horseman on his left and nodded, and then gave an awkward bow from the saddle. “Then I am at your service, sir. We would do you the honor of escorting you to the gates.”

“We would appreciate the gesture. And you must announce my presence to the king and arrange for an audience.”

The captain bowed again. “As I said, sir, the king is very busy. It is not in my power to promise such a thing.” He settled his helmet carefully back over his head, and barked an order in his own language. The lances all tilted up in unison and the riders took places in formation on all sides of Kelsia and her companions. Bransen wheeled his horse and issued another order, at which they all moved, following his lead back toward the city.
 

tamrend

Diabloii.Net Member
Chapter 15: Rona
Part 3

The track they were on joined with a much wider road that angled northeast, following a gradual downward slope towards the city. To Kelsia, Rona was simply incomprehensible. The scale of the city standing alone on the plain confused her at first, making her wonder what purpose such a tiny wall could possibly serve. Drawing closer, though, she spotted the wreck of an overturned carriage near the gates. She realized that what appeared to be a stream cutting across the plain from the mountains to the north was actually a wide river. The towers that she had first seen stood on a hill that rose up more or less in the middle of the city, but from there they climbed higher still, casting long, black shadows to the north. She tried to imagine how something so tall could hold itself up, but finally had to conclude that there must be magic at work.

They came to stand within the shadow of the wall that encircled the city. The gates, which stood closed before them, were striped with thick iron plates and fully open could have passed six wagons abreast. Words were shouted down from the top of the wall to Bransen’s company. He called back in the same language and shot a look over his shoulder back the way they had come. “We’ve been followed,” he explained. “A small party of lesser demons. If they’re foolish enough to attack, the archers will fell them before they ever come in reach of us.”

Kelsia looked too, wondering if it were the same goatmen who had been trailing them, but could see nothing standing on the gently rolling landscape. A few tense moments passed and then a series of clanks and metal scrapings signaled the unbarring of the massive doors. They swung ponderously inward, creaking on their hinges as chains clattered away rhythmically. Bransen raised his hand and dropped it swiftly, prompting the company to move forward. They passed through a tunnel some twenty paces long before emerging into daylight and the utter bewilderment of the senses that described a city.

The smell assaulted her before they had even quite cleared the tunnel, a foul mingling of odors that made the scent of Dalmers Ferry seem a happy memory. The dank reek of human sweat and standing water and the stomach-turning stench of rotting vegetables and animal waste combined with the sweetly beckoning scent of food, making it all seem somehow even more repulsive. Blinking in the sunlight and the din of people shouting and running to and fro, Kelsia clutched at Seith’s waist with her free hand for support against a sudden bout of dizziness.

They stood at the intersection of two streets, one which ran along the bottom of the wall, curving out of sight to either side, and another which ran straight ahead, into the city’s heart. It was this path they took, forging into a yawning canyon bounded by walls of stone and brick. Nearer to the shops and houses at the edges, people walked by singly and in groups, weaving deftly past the occasional beggar. Carts and carriages took the center of the street, traveling swiftly past each other, almost close enough to touch. A few townsfolk scurried out of the way of the horses, and Bransen led them past to fall in step behind a coach.

Kelsia began to watch the for signs, to try to read them. Most had letters or symbols she had never seen before, but some were written in the familiar shapes Seith had taught her. She was pleased to be able to read “inn” and “shop”, though the pace at which they rode often made it frustrating when she worked to decipher a word but then failed to finish before the sign passed out of sight. She felt a shift as they began to ascend a gradual slope, and further along it became a noticeably steeper climb. She looked back and gasped in astonishment, as between the buildings she could see the far edge of the city, but everything shrunken until she could no longer make out individuals among the moving masses of people. It had never occurred to her that there might be so many people in the entire world, let alone gathered together in one place.

The street brought them to another set of gates and another wall as tall and imposing as the first. There was very little traffic here, and none of it led onward. The gates stood open, but a dozen soldiers stood in the path, blocking the way. “We’ve come to the old city,” Bransen explained. “You’ll need permission to go any further.” He raised his hand for the horsemen to halt and approached the men at the gates. Words were exchanged between them.

“He’s telling them who we are,” Marius translated. “And he passed on our request to see the king.”

Bransen waved farewell to the gate guard and returned. “I’ve done all I can for you, sir. You’ll need to wait here, I’m afraid. A runner will be dispatched to carry your message. If you are given an audience, you will be informed of the day and time and must return here.”

Seith stared at the gateway, his irritation evident in the stiffness of his body and the set of his jaw. He relaxed by degrees, as if forcing it upon himself. “Then I thank you, Captain Moor, for all that you have done. Farewell.”

“To you as well, wizard.” He moved off, back down the street, his men wheeling and falling in behind in precise formation.

“It sounds as though we might be waiting a while,” Marius said with a grimace.

“Well, then I suppose we should make ourselves comfortable,” Seith suggested. They dismounted, drew their horses to the edge of the street and tied them to a post. “Marius, would you fetch us some food? I saw a vegetable cart and a bakery on the way.”

Marius nodded. “With pleasure.”

Kelsia grimaced at the thought of eating in the midst of the city stench, but her stomach grumbled all the same. “Could I go too? I could help you carry it back.”

Seith thought about it for a moment. “You may, but please be careful. Stay close to Marius at all times.”

Kelsia gave her promise and they started back down the hill together on foot. They turned right at a corner and spotted a pair of carts sitting in the shadow of canvas stretched over poles. There were far fewer people roaming this street, giving Kelsia the realization of how uncomfortable the crowding had felt. Her mouth watered as they browsed and selected a generous head of cabbage and several ripe bulbs and fruits.

“Prices are running a bit high,” Marius observed as they moved on. “It’ll get worse if they can’t harvest the crops soon.”

“Will the people starve?” Kelsia asked, daunted by the thought of how much food it would take to feed the entire city.

“Probably some will,” Marius said. “Those too poor to afford the higher prices. The king will have grain stored away to get through the winter, but some will go hungry.”

“That’s sad,” she said. Her village had known lean years, but Graegor had always ensured that none went hungry, often trading money or grain in exchange for a few days of work at his estate, so that none would feel indebted to him. “Couldn’t the king just give the grain to those who can’t buy it? If he doled it out carefully, then no one would go hungry.”

Marius smiled wryly. “If only it were that simple. Still, it is good that you think about such things. Most people never ponder an injustice beyond how it affects them personally.”

The bakery was the most incredible place Kelsia had ever seen. The bread alone came in more shapes and colors than she thought could exist, but there was much more than that to see. Near the entrance was a row of tiny figures baked from dough and dotted with bits of color that gave them the semblance of faces, so that they looked like flat dolls.

Marius plucked one of them from their shelf. “It’s a cookie,” he explained. “Would you like one?”

Kelsia nodded her assent.

“Better make it two, then,” he said, grinning. “Go on, look around for something else if you like. I’m going to buy us a few loaves of bread.”

Kelsia moved toward the counter at the back, drawn by the sweet smell and the colors of pies and cakes and all manner of other foods she had no name for. Marius soon drew next to her and asked which she would like to try. She tried to refuse, so he chose one for her, a fluffy round pastry with white cream showing at the top.

“These are one of my favorites,” he told her. “You’ll want to eat it right away, before it goes stale.”

Marius paid for their food and handed her the pastry to eat. Once they were back on the street, she bit into it and got a mouthful of cream that was shockingly sweet. The outside was as light and fluffy as it looked, and broke into flakes as she chewed.

“It’s fantastic,” she said, looking up at Marius, but he seemed not to have heard. She followed his gaze to a small group of soldiers hurrying along the street in front of them, calling out to clear the way ahead. They were clad all in mail, and over that wore green tunics with the symbol of a hawk in flight. Kelsia gasped, remembering the last time she had seen it, worn by the men who had occupied Dalmers Ferry.

“They’re from Ganting,” Marius said grimly. He watched the soldiers reach the main street and turn in the direction of the city gates. Waving her to follow, he approached the cart of a textile merchant and began to converse in the local language, pointing after the soldiers.

“It’s a hunting party,” Marius said, translating the man’s response for Kelsia. “He says that they arrived several days ago to help with the demon attacks. Apparently the king of Rona has made some kind of arrangement with the king of Ganting. He says that there are rumors of demon outbreaks in other places as well.” He shook his head. “I can tell you that such a thing is decidedly odd. What king would allow foreign soldiers into his own city like this?”

He let the question hang in silence for a moment, gazing down the street with a frown. “Come,” he said. “We must tell Seith of what we have learned.”
 

Snowglare

Fan Fiction Forum Moderator
How charmingly evil. Just when I'm getting to like hearing about Maeryn and mages and murder, you jump back to the main characters, whom I'd forgetten I missed. I've come to love that device after seeing it in Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, and it's executed to similar effect here. I'm interested in every story at once, and can't wait to get back to them all. Of course, the key is the quality of the writing; it has to be consistently high to keep me from resenting the shift away from favored characters. Much as I like Maeryn, I like Kelsia more, and eventually I'll remember how cool Shael is. Really need to sit down sometime and read this over from the beginning. The wait between installments allows me to forget so much.

The way Kelsia views everything from reading and writing to baked goods with a sense of wonder is terrific. I adore it. Reading and pastry-loving are natural to me, but I haven't lost my appreciation for how "fantastic" they are. It's nice to see that appreciation shared.

His clothing had protected him from somewhat from the brief but intense blast
One too many froms. There was one more error like this, but I forget where it was.
 

tamrend

Diabloii.Net Member
tamrend said:
Kelsia began to watch the for signs, to try to read them.
I just caught that one myself. I'm not sure whether I meant "watch for signs" or "watch the buildings for signs". Whatever I meant, MS Word's grammar-checker was all nods and smiles for what went on the page. I'm glad that at least the thing quit giving me hell for passive voice.

Snowglare said:
The way Kelsia views everything from reading and writing to baked goods with a sense of wonder is terrific.
Those kinds of passages are some of the most fun to write, like way back in chapter eight when she sees snow for the first time. I like making the mundane seem fantastic.
 

RevenantsKnight

Diabloii.Net Member
On the latest chapter: I thought that this was a pretty good read with the emphasis on character details, which are always welcome as far as I’m concerned. In particular, I think you did a very nice job with Kelsia’s perception of new things, as Snowglare mentioned. Some specific comments:

tamrend said:
Seith sighed, shaking a few droplets of red liquid loose from its bottle to drip onto a cloth.
Minor nitpick: “its†should be “their,†or perhaps just “a,†since “a few droplets†is plural.

tamrend said:
Marius’ skin had improved drastically, going from blistered and blackened to livid pink.
Technically, “Marius’,†and all other instances of this in the story, should be “Marius’s,†but at least one person has argued that off as a stylistic call before. Not sure if you vehemently hate “Marius’s†or not, but anyway... Also, “drastically†has a bit of a violent or harsh and severe connotation (at least to me,) so it seemed a bit of an odd description to use for healing that doesn’t require amputation or something in that vein.

tamrend said:
He was still totally bald, even his eyebrows singed away by the flames.
This seems grammatically weird to me...I’d think it should be “...bald; even his eyebrows had been singed...†or something like that, since the singing happened in the past relative to the narration, which is already in the past tense, and there seems to be two subjects here (“He†and “his eyebrows.â€)

tamrend said:
It had been three days since that encounter. They spent the first day resting and recovering from their injuries. Seith had butchered his slain horse, supplying them with as much meat as they could carry, enough for several days if the weather stayed cold. Their course since then had led them south and east across a barren, trackless plain.
This passage felt a little monotonous to me because of its repeated use of the same sentence structure; while this was quite clear, I think you could vary this up a touch without losing any of that clarity. For instance, the last sentence could be reworded to something like “Since then, they had traveled south and east, crossing over a barren, trackless plain.â€

tamrend said:
Two days ago, the vegetables had seemed like a delightful find. Now she was starting to wish they had never come across them.
Heh, nice touch. One thing, though: if this was just “several†bulbs, how did they last for two days among three people? Seems like a bit of a stretch...

tamrend said:
Seith and Kelsia now doubled up on Copper, the stronger of the two remaining horses.
I don’t know if it’s necessary to introduce this fact yet, and the way it was presented made it seem as if they were doing something with Copper as a reaction to Marius heading for Cloud, at first. I might suggest just dropping this altogether, for the moment.

tamrend said:
Making the roots and meat into a soup had been his idea, hoping the latter would curb the taste of the former.
“Curb†sounded odd to me in this usage; perhaps “soften†or “dull†might work better, though maybe that’s just me.

tamrend said:
He leaned in close, “How are you feeling?â€
Technically, that should be two sentences, breaking after “close.â€

tamrend said:
Kelsia could hear the careful measuring in his tone.
This is a good detail, but the way it’s presented read awkwardly to me. “ Measuring†by itself seems to ask the question “Measuring of what?â€

tamrend said:
“Something is troubling you, isn’t it?†she said, with sudden insight.
The comma after “said†seems odd; it’d work if you removed it, I think, though depending on what you meant, a rewording such as “...said, a sudden insight flashing through her mind†might be more accurate. “With sudden insight†just doesn’t feel like it should be hanging on the end of the sentence by itself like that.

tamrend said:
Seith bowed his head over his bowl, sipped from it, and said quietly. “I didn’t want to concern you, since it might not mean anything, but ever since you fought that mage, the staff’s glow of power is much dimmer.â€
The period after “quietly†should be a comma.

tamrend said:
She stood and let it fall to the ground. She turned resolutely and thought, I’m leaving it behind.
This part, and the following paragraph where Kelsia walks away, felt very repetitive, as well as a bit sparse on detail. I don’t know if that was intentional, but it seems to me that this might not be a good time to leave things vague, since this is apparently a major part of the plot and will likely come up again. I’d suggest a general revision of this section, but that’s just me.

tamrend said:
Her stomach clenched and her legs grew painfully rigid, but she began to take slow, careful steps away from it.
The contrast implied by “but†seems like it would be more, well, substantial, if you changed “began†to “managed†or “forced herself,†or something like that. As it is, it feels a bit like “but†isn’t quite appropriate.

tamrend said:
“Pick it up,†she said.
This confused me at first; I wasn’t really sure to whom Kelsia was addressing this.

tamrend said:
Kelsia felt his hands closing around her.
Hrm...that wasn’t too clear on a first read. This may take a little more elaboration to get the idea across smoothly; I’m guessing that she feels some sort of phantom sensation around her when he picks up the staff, but that definitely wasn’t clear at first.

tamrend said:
“When I first saw him, I was too terrified to speak. As you probably realize, most people can’t perform even the most paltry magic.â€
The shift from Garron to Seith’s personal history here seems a bit awkward, as he starts with the time he met his master and then ends up not talking about Garron at all for a bit, which was the original question. While it could just be that he wanders a bit in his thoughts, Kelsia seems a bit too willing to sort of follow him through all of this before he finally gets to when he met Garron. This lead-in also suggested that Garron wielded some sort of magic when they met as the explanation for Seith’s initial terror; that impression is something probably worth revising.

tamrend said:
“I have almost no memory from that time, but I can recall once feeling hungry and wishing I had some of the soup that was boiling in a cauldron over the fire. The next moment, I was running away, screaming as the great black thing came flying after me, spilling scalding hot broth all over the floor.â€
Another nice touch, I’d say.

tamrend said:
“The usual rule is that we do not begin to train youths before the age of six, but as I said, cases like mine are rare.â€
The ending here seems a little redundant, since the first part already implies that Seith is a special case.

tamrend said:
“It is set to take place in a few months time.â€
That should be “months’â€

tamrend said:
“Tradition allows one month from the actual date of birth for additional study and preparation, but I shouldn’t need it.
Just a thought: would most people know their actual date of birth in this sort of age? Even if there is a standard calendar, that sort of knowledge seems like it would be uncharacteristic of most ordinary peasants and merchants, which Seith’s parents presumably were.

tamrend said:
“He often said that I would one day become an initiate, the first to appear among the Horadrim in over a generation.â€
Hrm...did I miss something somewhere? It seems like the Horadrim has taken new members before Seith, if Lorimer is only five years older than he is. Anyway, this could use some clarification.

tamrend said:
“The truth is that I’ve never quite lived up to the high expectations that were set for me.â€
Seith seems perhaps unusually open about himself, especially with his assessment of himself as a partial failure. Maybe I’m used to quieter people, but his willingness to talk about all this, even after all that has happened, seems like a bit much all at once to be realistic. Don’t get me wrong; this kind of detail is quite good, but it seems sudden and perhaps pushes believability a bit.

tamrend said:
Somehow, Kelsia could never quite bring herself to tell him about the presence that whispered words into her mind.
This implies a bit more of a global truth than seems appropriate here, given what the reader knows so far. I’d drop the “never†for something else.

tamrend said:
Seith waited, obviously wanting more from her. Kelsia wasn’t sure what he wanted from her, but she couldn’t see how the truth would help.
I’d see if you can’t find a way to replace one instance of “wanted/wanting from her†here.

tamrend said:
“Are you trying to get me to promise that I won’t do it again?†She asked him.
The “She†here shouldn’t be capitalized.

tamrend said:
Another part longed to taste that power again. That terrified her perhaps even more.
This could use some expansion, I think; while it seems pretty logical for Kelsia to want nothing to do with this given her background and general attitude towards the matter, there isn’t much to indicate she might also want to use it more other than this. Therefore, including a little bit more on why would probably help.

tamrend said:
“Yes, I think it would be best if you try to refrain from doing whatever it was you did, but I also cannot forget that if not for your magic, we would not be here now speaking.â€
The ending of this sentence feels weird to me, particularly “here now speakingâ€; I’d just drop “speaking†from the sentence, personally.

tamrend said:
“Magic requires a certain amount of belief to work. If you believe that the power is gone, it might become so.â€
Interesting take on magic.

tamrend said:
Marius dropped the ladle into the cold soup and picked out a pieces of meat with his fingers, shoving them into his mouth and chewing at the same time.
That should be either “pieces of meat†or “a piece of meat,†though the latter would require some rewriting elsewhere.

tamrend said:
Seith explained to him about the staff’s sudden changes, and ended by suggesting that they could no longer rely upon it to guide them.
Hrm...having the narrator pop in like this felt a bit disruptive, in my opinion. If you can, I’d try to make as much of this Seith explaining the situation to Marius, so that there isn’t this bump in the otherwise smooth flow through the conversation. Also, if you assume that Seith already mentioned part of his observations about the staff to Marius, then you could probably cut this down to a sentence or two with a quick allusion to something Seith and Marius spoke of earlier.

tamrend said:
“We should stay alert to trouble, though.â€
Methinks that should be “...alert for trouble...â€

tamrend said:
Kelsia woke from a dreamless sleep. Soundless twilight blanketed the land. She twisted beneath her blankets, but sleep would not come. Her mind was oddly clear and she mumbled quietly to herself, recounting her lessons from the previous day.
This part felt a bit monotonous to me, with the repeated structures and short, almost bitten-off feel of the sentences. I guess this may be a style thing, though, since it appears to come up with some frequency in this and other chapters.

tamrend said:
“Lying weasel.â€
Minor nitpick: after hearing that she screamed this part, the period doesn’t quite do it for me. I’d make it an exclamation mark.

tamrend said:
Now, with the tables turned, she was desperate to get away.
“With the tables turned†feels perhaps a little too colloquial for the detached, semi-omniscient narrator you’ve been using so far. I’d suggest revising this part.

tamrend said:
She finally managed to roll away from him and lay on her back, panting and giggling by turns.
I think that should be “laid.â€

tamrend said:
She was tempted to take it and pull him down and resume their mock battle, but that would mean further delaying the morning’s lesson.
Hrm...from “Soundless twilight blanketed the land. She twisted beneath her blankets, but sleep would not come,†as well as other details, I got the impression that this was at night, not right before dawn. Bit confusing, that...

tamrend said:
The resumed their places once more, Seith beginning now to teach her simple words, praising her near-perfect recall of letters.
The first word there should be “they.â€

tamrend said:
Cloud was blowing heavily when Marius rode back into camp, leaping from the saddle before the mare had come to a stop.
I think “blowing†should be “breathing.â€

tamrend said:
“Burn it, we don’t really know if it’s working or not.â€
I read this literally at first. It might just be me, but if it isn’t, I’m not sure what to suggest, other than changing the curse.

tamrend said:
The mountains were squat and round, and spotted with skeletal trees, nothing like the towering heights where Loric made his home or the steep crags to the west of her home.
I’d see if you can’t replace one instance of “home†here; it comes up a lot in this paragraph and the next.

tamrend said:
Though she could only see it from afar, Kelsia tried to commit to memory as much of the details as she could, thinking of how useful such a system could be back home.
That should be “...as many of the details...â€

tamrend said:
If there is even a home to return to, that is, she thought glumly.


Just a heads-up: the tags didn’t quite work here. I don’t know if capitalization matters, but I usually capitalize them and that seems to do it.

tamrend said:
Their armor was fashioned from overlapping plates polished to a dazzling gleam.
Bit of an abrupt jump from Seith talking to a description of the riders’ armor, I think. I’d try to work in a more transitory sentence, perhaps one that has the three halting and then looking out toward these soldiers.

tamrend said:
“That’s why we’re out here. There were several deaths before the king ordered the country folk to take shelter in the city. There are still some folks missing, but I have little hope we’ll find anyone alive.â€
Seems like a bit much for a military officer to say to people he just met on the road. Even if it isn’t exactly secret information, soldiers on duty would be by training disinclined to chat with travelers on the road, I’d think.

tamrend said:
“Aye, I did, though only a very few have seen them. Can’t say where they might be coming from, and we don’t yet know how far the demons range, or if other cities in the kingdom are under attack.â€
This, on the other hand, might well be considered secret, or at least militarily relevant, and therefore not something to tell random people on the road. Honestly, it feels a bit more like the narrator’s the one saying this for plot reasons.

tamrend said:
Bransen arched his brows.
Should that be “eyebrows,†perhaps? As it reads, the image I’m getting doesn’t seem to match the story...

tamrend said:
The towers that she had first seen stood on a hill that rose up more or less in the middle of the city, but from there they climbed higher still, casting long, black shadows to the north.
I’d reword “...rose up more or less in the middle...†to “...rose up from the middle of the city...†or some other phrasing that doesn’t use “more or lessâ€; it seems like an unnecessary hedge and also too informal for the narration.

tamrend said:
The gates, which stood closed before them, were striped with thick iron plates and fully open could have passed six wagons abreast.
“...could have passed six wagons abreast†sounded a bit odd to me; “admitted†seems to fit a little better, but even that doesn’t sound quite right...not sure what to suggest here. Also, I’m not sure if there should be a comma after “open†or not...seems like there’s a natural pause there, but omitting “fully open†does seem to change the sentence a little. Your call, as always.

tamrend said:
The smell assaulted her before they had even quite cleared the tunnel, a foul mingling of odors that made the scent of Dalmers Ferry seem a happy memory.
The “quite†in this sentence seems unnecessary.

tamrend said:
It was this path they took, forging into a yawning canyon bounded by walls of stone and brick.
Nice image.

tamrend said:
She was pleased to be able to read “inn†and “shopâ€, though the pace at which they rode often made it frustrating when she worked to decipher a word but then failed to finish before the sign passed out of sight.
Minor nitpick: the comma after “shop†should be inside the quotes.

tamrend said:
She looked back and gasped in astonishment, as between the buildings she could see the far edge of the city, but everything shrunken until she could no longer make out individuals among the moving masses of people.
“...but everything shrunken until...†seems like it should be perhaps “...but everything had shrunk to where she could...â€

tamrend said:
Kelsia gasped, remembering the last time she had seen it, worn by the men who had occupied Dalmers Ferry.
The wording of this felt as if it understated Kelsia’s realization a bit; I don’t have a good suggestion as to how you could give this more weight, unfortunately, but it did seem to sort of pass by without as much of an impact, in contrast to what it likely meant to Kelsia and Marius.

Well, that was a long addition, but a very good one overall, I’d say. The character work on Kelsia in particular was a lot of fun to read, and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next. Thanks for posting!
 
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