Down the old doe went, dead before she hit the grass. Her death was so quick and quiet that the herd moved off into the forest without even so much as the wary twitch of an ear. Neither did they notice the Phoenix-haired young woman in tatty hide perched high amidst the branches of an elder giantess oak. She watched them with hard, dark eyes, but she more than merely saw them, she felt them.
She felt everything around her as if she was a vast quantity of water and it was all within her. She felt the deer, the trees they walked between, the ground their hooves sank into, the beat of their hearts. They moved through her awareness like fish in a pond. Detail waxed as they neared and waned as they moved off. The herd became little more than a vague, blurry presence before leaving her awareness.
Phoenix glided down from her perch, holding her weight aloft in what she called the air-water. It appeared like shimmering diamondine liquid, felt like barely-there water on her skin, and was as ubiquitous as the air itself. She was not aware if it had any proper title like the sky, ground, or forest. If it did, no one had ever apprised her of it. In her entire nineteen years of life, she had never encountered another soul able to sense it. For all she knew, she was the only one in the whole world who could.
Some might have imagined that an enticing prospect but all it really meant was a never-ending line of people begging for miracles, impossibilities, and frivolous nonsense- on a good day. On a bad day, it meant furious, torch-bearing mobs, fearful accusations of devilry and witchcraft, misplaced hate, threats, envy, and resentment, all of which seeped into and tainted the air-water.
In the Godswood, far from any town or city, free of people, the air-water was pure and clean as a fresh spring day. Gone were the hot, hard, burning strikes of anger and the acrid, scraping stink of envy. Gone were the fumes of resentment that felt to her skin the way vinegar tasted on her tongue. Gone were the warm, sickly wisps of fear that tingled unpleasantly all over. Gone were the entitled demands and furious accusations. No longer did her shoulders sink with the weight of unfair expectations. No more were her ears filled with cries for miracles she could not perform or questions she did not know the answers to. Nothing came to her ears but the peaceful forest serenata.
Rainbow finch gryphettes piped their melodies to the percussive chirr of sun crickets and ethyrflies against the wavering sigh of wind-whispered trees and rustling rattlegrass. The hauntingly beautiful harmony of noon dogs echoed from everywhere and nowhere at once. Ladyskirts and cherrypuffs perfumed the air. With little else in sight but an eternity of mosaic leaves and rainbow tree flowers kissed by honeyed rays of sunlight, Phoenix could almost imagine herself the only person in the world. She preferred it that way. Loneliness was a small price to pay for peace.
Few dared trespass into the Godswood for it was the realm of shadow lions, moon leopards, mountain wolves, and bears, among other things. The terrible beasts of the Godswood were the guardian sword of her quietude yet the blade was double-edged for they also haunted her sleep. Never was the door to her burrow nor the ground around it free of claw marks. The cats were always the first to come but also the first to go as they invariably realized there was easier prey to be had. The bears were more persistent but they too gave up before long. The wolves, however, were unrelentingly determined. They sometimes spent marathonian nights pacing around her burrow, whining, barking, digging big holes in the ground, and jumping up and down on her door.
And they were smart; or at least they had well-learned the hard lesson to leave her alone in the daylight hours when she was spry of body and clear of mind for in that time, she was a god. There was no way to sneak up on her as she sensed their approach through the air-water. If they dared draw too near, she snapped them with whips they could not see. God veins, she called them- glassy ribbons that hung in the air like a great neural network, invisible to all eyes but hers. They twined lazily all around in a seemingly eternal web, adrift as if on placid ocean currents until she called them to her will. By her command, the God veins became extensions of her body and glowed bright white. She wielded them like whips, blades, bolts, and stones - no wolf could compete with that.
Phoenix wore three of their tails on her belt and the wolves knew very well what that signified. Yet they also knew that, in time, her command of the God veins waned, that her sense of the air-water faded, that she grew weary and hungry, that in the dark hours of night, when her mind dulled and her body tired, she became mortal. The wolves were not the only ones to learn hard lessons as the scars crisscrossing her body attested.
The door to her burrow had taken a few hard lessons as well. Lesson number one: bears are fat. Lesson number two: moon leopard pee really stinks. Lesson number three: wolves have a seemingly limitless supply of claws. Repairs were in order which was why Phoenix spent the early daylight hours chopping down fresh wood, fashioning nails, mixing up glue, and smithing metal bands. But before she could actually get to repairing the door, she had to eat. Her Gift took a heavy toll on her and she put off eating at great peril. Hunger was one of the things that weakened her sense of the air-water and her command of the God veins.
The old doe lay in the grass where she had fallen, blood trickling from a small, round wound at her temple. All-light fumed from her body in smoky white plumes and dispersed into the air-water. Phoenix had decided on the name all-light because she had never encountered a single thing that did not glow white with the stuff. The intensity of it seemed to vary from thing to thing, though, she could not say why. All she knew for sure was that living things glowed the brightest.
Phoenix knelt by the doe's side and raised her scarred hands to the sky then offered a silent prayer in thanks. Down from the boughs of a nearby oak came a tatty hide pack, drifting towards her on God veins that briefly glowed white then dispersed into smoke when she loosed her command of them. The pack plopped down into the grass beside her. She opened it and withdrew a tatty leather bladder which she held near the doe's throat. By her will, a God vein formed into a glowing white blade sharper than the sharpest knife. She slit the doe's carotid artery as another God vein formed into a glowing white funnel between the wound and bladder. By command of the air-water, she pumped the doe's heart inside her chest until the blood ran dry. Nary a drop was spilt.
She capped the bladder and set it aside then flipped the doe onto her back. Soft white belly flesh slit open and folded over like cloth. She sensed exactly where and how deep to cut so as not to perforate any organs that might sour the meat. Undesirable parts flew up out of the carcass and plopped onto the ground- lungs, stomach, intestines, spleen, and such. By her command, a God vein lashed at a patch of grass and cut it flat whereupon she laid down a strip of oil paper from her pack. After careful inspection, she determined that the heart and liver were in fair enough condition to eat. They floated over onto the paper with a wet plop.
Insects drawn by the kill began accruing all around her. She felt them buzzing like tiny little tickles in her awareness. A hard vibration through the air-water was enough to obliterate most within a one foot radius and stun or at least deter most within three feet, however, it took a bit out of her to do so. Unlike God veins which were easier to manipulate, her command of the air-water was weak and did not extend much beyond the range of her arms. By her reckoning, with little exception, God veins were mostly for doing and air-water was mostly for sensing.
Movement twinged on the edge of her psychic periphery. A figure emerged into her awareness, indistinct at first, no more than a blurry upright shape. Detail crisped into focus as the figure moved closer- woman, by the sway of her hips and the swish of long skirts, short, thin, older by the sounds traveling through the air-water. Everyone Phoenix had ever met seemed to have their own unique air-water sound and feel. She recognized who it was well before laying eyes on her.
Lily Twain looked much like Phoenix- pale, beauty mark-dappled skin with big, dark eyes, a heart-shaped face, and pert little nose. She was quite a bit older though, shorter, with softer features and considerably fewer scars. She wore tatty rags that were colorful once, arranged into long skirts and a sleeveless wrap-top with a threadbare shawl over her shoulders. "Oh my gods, Phoenix! What did you do!? What did you do!?" she cried, barging forth with her hands held out.
Phoenix quirked confusedly.
"What did you do to your hair!?"
Phoenix rolled her eyes. "For gods' sakes, mother." It had been a nuisance and she was not sad to see it go. All that remained was a wild mop which looked ever as if she had just rolled out of bed.
"You look like a boy!"
Lily sighed sadly, taking a moment to mourn the loss of her daughter's lovely, long raven locks. "How long are you going to stay out here pouting?"
Phoenix began shearing hide away from the meat, commanding a God vein like a knife and guiding it with her hand. White wisps slithered up from the psychic blade as she worked. "I'm not coming back."
Lily regarded her daughter with pursed lips. To her eyes, it looked as if the hide was falling away by itself. She saw nothing of the God veins, the all-light, or the air-water, only the occasional faint shimmer around Phoenix's hands as she worked. "Don't be silly."
"I mean it this time. I'm not coming back. This is my home now."
"If it's the Bergins you're worried about, I've made amends with them for you."
Phoenix fully stopped what she was doing and turned to her mother, indignation burning in her eyes. "You made amends with the Bergins for me!? That's funny." She began cutting away at a flank a little more aggressively than intended. The all-light of the doe's muscles had dimmed enough that little rice grain-sized glowing white spots revealed themselves- parasites. She would have to pick them out. Thankfully, there were not many and her ability to sense into the very stuff of things made such tasks far easier.
"I mean that I got them to understand it wasn't your fault."
"They said the community was better off without me at the Town Circle and they called me a child of the devil." She floated a cut of flank onto the paper then flicked a blood fly out of the air; it exploded into a fine mist.
"They were wrong."
"Half the town agreed with them!"
"It wasn't half, it was barely even a third and it certainly wasn't anywhere near enough to oust you."
"It was enough to send a clear message."
"It doesn't help that you're so damn nasty all the time," Lily huffed, slapping a blood fly off her shoulder.
"I'm only nasty when they deserve it." She tossed another cut onto the paper then zapped the insects accruing in the area by a quickening of the air-water.
Lily startled at the sudden vibration. She knew what it was and did not complain. "If you would just explain to everyone…"
"I've tried," Phoenix growled. "I've told them repeatedly that I am not omnipotent. I can't sense anything more than fifty feet away- not psychically. How was I supposed to know what their stupid-ass kid was doing on the opposite side of town?"
"Have a little compassion. Their boy is crippled. He's going to be stuck doing women's work for the rest of his life."
"I might've had some compassion if their first instinct wasn't to curse me to the gods. I wasn't even awake when it happened!" She finished one flank and began working on the other, slicing meat away from bone. "My Gift sleeps when I sleep else I wouldn't be able to sleep."
"They're just hurting and angry."
"I. Don't. Care," Phoenix seethed through gritted teeth. "Fact is, they are bad parents, their kid is a stupid, disobedient little turd-goblin, and they would rather blame me than admit it was all their own damn fault." She tossed a battered cut of meat onto the paper. "I'm tired of taking the blame anytime anything goes wrong."
"Why do you only dwell on the negative things people say? Think of all the praise and gratitude…"
"I don't want praise and gratitude! I want peace and quiet."
Lily sighed. "So what are you going to do? Live out here in the forest like a hermit?"
"Yeah, for anything that tries to mess with me." She wagged the tails hanging at the back of her belt.
"How long will it be before you slip up and one of those wolves gets you?"
"They're only dangerous to me when I'm sleeping and that's not really much of a concern."
"How is it not a concern!? They kill people every day!" She smacked an orange, black, and red dragon moth off her elbow. "Not to mention these awful things."
Phoenix sent another psychic pulse to dispense with the pesky insects. White smoke grew increasingly dense around them, so much so that Lily began to see the very faintest ghosts of it. To Phoenix's eye, it appeared as if a thin fog was settling around them. The God veins were becoming sparser and a bald spot was forming in the air-water. These things would recover in time but hunger and weariness weighed on her. The cost of her Gift was steep and heavy.
"I've built a shelter they can't get into." She abstained from adding for the most part so as to preserve her mother's tenuous peace of mind.
"Yes. I started building it a few years back."
"Why ever in the world…?"
"You know why." Phoenix scowled.
Lily reflected that her daughter sometimes managed to look both like a helpless, angry little child and a dangerous predator at once. Phoenix might have been referring to any number of incidences. Perhaps it was because of the small mob that tried to hang her when she was thirteen or the man who tried to purify the entire Twain family for the sin of her birth. She might have been referring to the time the town put her on trial after the bridge collapsed or the time masked men came to their house with torches in hand.
No real harm had ever come to them and Phoenix had dispensed more than her fair share of justice. She let herself be hanged, secretly holding her weight aloft in the air-water, then returned to haunt and terrorize the perpetrators. She had gotten a good few days worth of revenge out of that. The man who tried to purify the Twains came home one day to find his house reduced to ash and scrap. He left town after that. Anytime anyone made a bridge-related accusation, their clothes flew off into the sky. Unsurprisingly, there was a precipitous decline in bridge-related accusations. The men bearing torches all came away with a newfound respect for fire.
"Well, what if bandits come for you?" Lily asked.
"Won't end well for them."
"They have crossbows!"
"I have psychic abilities!"
"What if they come for you in your sleep? You said your abilities sleep when you do."
"They wouldn't be able to get into my burrow without waking me up. Besides, they'd have to get past all the mountain wolves first." She immediately regretted saying that. Lily's fear suffused into the air-water, sickly sweet and tingling unpleasantly.
"Please, Phoenix, come home. Don't make me beg."
The plaintiveness in her mother's voice made Phoenix uncomfortable. She looked away into the dust-glitter god rays of twilight cascading through hazy column silhouettes. The leaves and tree flowers glowed with a rare, almost impossible kind of beauty that seemed to supersede nature itself. It struck her that as much as she loved this forest paradise, she did miss home. She missed sleeping in a proper bed. She missed indoor plumbing and real proper home-cooked meals and not getting bitten all to hell by insects and spiders in her sleep. She even missed her pain in the ass dipshit brother and her torturously annoying little sister, somewhat.
"Come live up here with me," she said. "We can build a home on the mountain. Plenty of good game. Room for crops. Less attention from bandits. Less noise. Less stupidity."
"Less people," Lily replied.
"I like people."
Phoenix groaned. "The town isn't going anywhere. It's not like you could never visit."
"I also like indoor plumbing and medical care. Can you do those things?"
"I could try." I could try was better than simply admitting the truth that she did not know the first thing about plumbing or medical care. Plumbing did not seem that perplexing at least. 'How hard could it be to dig a hole and put some pipes in it?' she wondered.
"Won't you please just come home?" Lily begged.
"Nope." Another cut of meat plopped down onto the paper with a wet shlap.
"I'm going to have to send your father up here, aren't I?"
"He won't have any better luck than you." Her gaze darted off into the trees. Movement stirred on the edge of her psychic awareness- big, slow, trundling. It moved around them in a wide circle.
"What is it?" Lily asked, tensing up.
"Bear, probably." Phoenix looped a God vein around itself well off into the trees and snapped it against itself, much like snapping her fingers. A loud crack sounded. The startled gwarph confirmed her suspicions. "Yup. Bear."
Lily chewed on her thumbnail. "Well, if I can't convince you to come back, can you at least walk me out of the forest?"
"You don't want the beeeaaar to get me, do you?"
"The beeeaaar's going that way." Phoenix pointed off towards the mountains. "Home is that way." She pointed through the trees in the opposite direction.
Lily turned dramatically, flouncing in her skirts. "Fffine. But if the beeeaaar gets me…"
Phoenix groaned. "Sit your ass down. Let me finish this first."
Lily plopped down on a colorful, quartzy boulder nearby, looking pleased with herself.
"Pain in my ass. You shouldn't be wandering so far from town anyway. It's dangerous up here."
"You're my child. I'd go to the ends of the Earth for you. I'd even brave a scary beeeaaar for you."
Phoenix could not help but smirk. "Does dah know you came up here alone?"
"Course he does." Her expression was almost deadpan but for the tiniest quirk at the corner of her lips.
The lie seeped into the air-water, tingling on Phoenix's skin and in her nose. Lies were unique, varying from lie to lie and person to person. This one smelled and felt like a white lie- tart, a little acidic. She chose not to remark and instead, focused on her work. She cut and scraped as much meat off the bone as possible. The doe's hooves went into a tin for later use; they would make a good varnish for her door. Tendons and ligaments went into another tin. She set some of the bigger bones aside for their marrow, snipped out the tongue, and tossed away the remaining undesirable bits.
The strain of second sight was wearing on her so she closed her mind to it that she might see the world as anyone else. The muscles behind her eyes relaxed. The glow of all-light, the God veins, and the air-water faded from sight, though, she still felt their presence.
"Ya know… I could cook that up for you in garlic n' herbs sauce," Lily offered, sucking her bottom lip in and raising her eyebrows.
"You are a shit, you know that?"
Lily paddled her feet and smiled with her front teeth sticking out. "With fat-fried potatoes and corn-cream and fruit jam and…"
"One night. One. I mean it." She bundled the meat in the oilpaper then withdrew an oilcloth sack from her pack, put everything inside, and tied it shut.
Lily smiled. She knew one would become two and then three and four which was always the way it went when her daughter decided to take one of her little time-outs. She untied a rag at each hip, turning her skirt into more of a long loincloth, then laid them out on the grass and began piling the discarded deer parts onto them.
"What are you doing?"
"Waste not, want not. It'll make good compost and animal feed." She tied the rags into a sack.
"Fair enough." Phoenix shouldered her packs then started off into the trees. Lily tottered along after.
They came to a broad, deep creek that wound around the forest. Fish, eels, and various other creatures slipped through the water, though, Phoenix only sensed them in glimpses. Most were barely much more dense than the water around them and the current disguised their movements. Sometimes, she liked to fish the creek using her Gift even though it was often more challenging than rewarding. The creek's inhabitants were slippery and God veins did not play well with large quantities of swiftly moving water.
A natural bridge lay a fair distance off but it was quicker to go over. She leapt across, holding her weight aloft in the air-water, and landed gracefully, if a bit breathlessly, on the opposite bank. She commanded a few God veins to form a simple board across the creek for her mother.
"Uhh… is it safe?" To Lily's eye, it looked like an almost invisible glass plank.
"Yeah, it's safe but I can't hold it forever so hurry up," she gasped.
Lily tottered forth hesitantly. Her steps sounded hollow, almost melodic, and it felt like walking on rubber. When she made it to the opposite bank, the bridge dispersed into a great cloud of white smoke and a hole formed there in the air-water. Phoenix wiped the sweat from her brow then continued on.
They came to a steep slope where the trees grew thinner, shorter, and sparser amidst brilliantly colorful quartzy boulders that gleamed in lovely opaline pastel colors. Phoenix skied down the slope in a display of athletic flourish ending in a balletic backflip. Lily followed but a root caught her foot and she sprawled headlong towards a jagged mound of quartz. Instinctively, Phoenix dropped her packs and reached out to catch her mother in a net of God veins.
"Good catch," Lily chuckled as she floated down onto the grass.
Phoenix huffed breathlessly as she searched her mother all over for injuries. Lily was not a large woman but holding her aloft in the air-water was no easy feat. Moreover, it was dangerous. It would not have been hard to accidentally slice off a finger or gouge out an eye in the effort to catch her. "Did I nick you anywhere?"
"Nope. Not a scratch!"
Phoenix grumble-sighed and shook her head then shouldered her packs. "Pain in my ass."
"Well, next time, don't make me adventure all the way up here to find you. I'm too old for adventures. I should be at home in my chair by the fire knitting and sipping hot cream." She slapped a blood fly off her arm. "Not up here in this miserable shitescape getting bitten all to hell by every insect in the world." She swatted at a dragon moth but missed.
Phoenix was shaking slightly but did not want her mother to notice so she hurried across the summit to another slope which was thankfully less treacherous. She skidded down without any athletic flourish then turned to watch, poised and ready should her mother need rescuing again. Lily crept down more cautiously this time.
A pack of noon dogs watched them from a ways off. They were very elongate creatures with almost swanlike necks, long muzzles, and black stilt-legs ending in white toes. Their fur shimmered like amber and gold broken up by black stripes, dappley spots, and white underbellies. Their enormous, black-tipped ears were laid back and their white-ringed eyes were wide with fear but not because of present company. Noon dogs were not afraid of humans. They were natural allies if anything as they shared mutually beneficial feelings towards corn weasels which farmers were happy to be rid of and noon dogs were happy to eat. If they were frightened, it was of something else.
Phoenix watched their poofy black-tipped tails disappear over the hillside. They had the right idea. As she strode across the summit, New Wind came into view, far below and out on the horizon. It was a small town that had been cobbled together piecemeal from the wreckage of the town that stood there before which had been built from the wreckage of the town that stood there before that and so on going all the way back over two millennia.
Most of the houses were connected into vast complexes shared by multiple families. Silhouettes moved across windows aglow with amber candlelight and smoke piped from chimneys into the gold-streaked blue and lavender sky. Guardsmen armed with crossbows walked along the parapets of the cobble-junk wall surrounding the town. To the west lay the Glass Plains, waves of crystal like ocean tides frozen mid-crest with ancient flora and fauna trapped therein.
She stopped and gazed back over her shoulder. After a moment's pause, she dropped her packs.
"What is it?" Lily asked.
"Something's following us."
"Is it the bear again?"
"I'm not sure."
Lily's fear suffused into the air-water, sickly warm and tingling on Phoenix's skin. "Can't you just poke it in the brain the same way you do deer?"
She shook her head. "I'd miss." It was too far off, moving too fast, and just enough trees stood in her way to be problematic. She sensed it well enough. It was substantial in size yet sleek, slipping in and out of her psychic awareness with sinuous, loping strides. Its movements and shape were decidedly un-bearlike but larger and bolder than those of a moon leopard. This, she knew, was a shadow lion. "Mom, do me a favor," she said. "Go on ahead. I'll meet up with you in town."
"What? No! Come with me!"
"I'm going to hang back and make sure it doesn't follow. Go on."
Lily dropped the sack of scraps and drew a long knife from her belt. "I'm not leaving you alone up here."
"I can handle a shadow lion. I can't handle a shadow lion on top of trying to protect you from the shadow lion."
Lily gave a visible start. Her fear pricked Phoenix allover. "I am not leaving you up here with a shadow lion!"
"I will be fine! Please, just go."
Lily stood her ground stubbornly, refusing to budge. She cried out as some invisible force lifted her up into the air and tossed her down the slope onto a landing a little over twenty-five feet below. She landed gently in the grass on her backside.
Phoenix felt anger, hurt, and betrayal, though, she did not need psychic abilities to sense that as it was plain on her mother's face. Phoenix had crossed a line but there was no time to worry about hurt feelings. "Go! Run!" she panted.
The lioness was barely more than thirty feet away, crouched low in the shadows, inching forward. She knew to avoid rattlegrass which was noisy and ladyskirt flowers that housed ornery sun crickets bedding down for the night. Her quiet excitement tingled on Phoenix's skin like hot pinpricks. This was a predator certain that she had an easy meal.
Phoenix waited for the lioness to make her move but no move came- not as the wind rose, not as the trees rustled, not as a murder of distant crows shouted their alarm to let every forest-dweller know that a shadow lion lurked nearby. She simply sat there, waiting.
The air-water shifted, carrying all the God veins away. That happened sometimes and there was no way of predicting it, at least not to her knowledge. It seemed completely unrelated to the movements of wind, the time of day, season, or the disposition of the weather. The absence of God veins left her feeling deeply vulnerable. She moved towards a spot where the God veins were thick and plentiful.
The lioness moved with her, stalking briskly and quietly as the shadow she was named for. Her bright yellow eyes flashed amidst the foliage. With a tawny dappled coat that well matched the forest's blotchy shadows, she was nearly invisible. Phoenix felt her presence in the air-water, though, not as keenly as she should have. Hunger and the need for rest were wearing on her, dulling her senses. But she stood strong, confident.
A blood-curdling shriek came from further down the mountainside. Phoenix spun around and her eyes fell upon Lily. There was nothing but a little space and a small blade between her and a giant male shadow lion. The lioness sprang forth like an arrow with the weight of a boulder, claws out and teeth bared. Phoenix narrowly dodged the attack and countered with a psychic lash. The lioness recoiled and slunk away, shocked at the unexpected explosion of pain across her muzzle.
Phoenix bolted down the slope and tackled the other lion. He outweighed her almost thrice yet she thrust herself at him with such force that they tumbled down the mountainside together. His weight bludgeoned her like a sack full of boulders, breaking her ribs, a wrist, and several of her fingers.
Lily scrambled to the edge of the landing, eyes wide with horror as her daughter fell further and further away. A low growl drew her attention to the lioness glaring down at her from above. Lily held up her knife, prepared to fight.
Phoenix landed flat on her back and the lion landed next to her. Sharp pain bloomed where a shaft of quartz stabbed her hip. A paw came down on her shoulder with crushing weight, laying open the hide and skin beneath. The beast's jaws drew near. His hot, humid breath washed over her as his lips pulled up to reveal giant dagger teeth. His excitement tingled on her skin. There were no God veins nearby to defend herself with.
She reached up and laid a hand on his face. One little pulse through the air-water was all it would take to kill the beast but he recoiled from her hand and clawed her, drawing long, red slashes down her arm. She reached out again, trying one last time- it was all she had left. The lion recoiled at the last second but the pulse hit the foremost edge of his brain, knocking him unconscious. He flopped down onto his side.
Phoenix's limbs felt like gelatin, her heart raced, and she could not catch her breath but she scrambled up the mountainside without hesitation, regretting every frivolous thing she had wasted her energy on that day. She could have dressed the deer by hand. She could have crossed the creek on foot. She could have spared the unnecessary acrobatics. She feared that she would shortly come upon the lioness feasting on her mother's corpse. Instead, she found her mother standing there looking mildly perplexed. The lioness was nowhere in sight.
"Oh my gods!" Lily gasped as her gaze fell upon Phoenix. Her expression grew increasingly horrified with every injury her eyes found. "Come! We have to go, now! Before they come back."
"Where did the lioness go?" Phoenix asked, gazing around. There was no trace of her but the crows were screaming even more frantically now which meant the danger had not passed.
Lily shook her head frantically. "I don't know. She just ran off. Now come on! Let's go!"
Phoenix glanced back down at where the other lion had fallen. It was gone. In the waning rays of twilight, she saw no trace of it. She gazed up the slope where her packs were still sitting. They were contained several day's worth of food and field supplies.
"Forget about that! Come on!" Lily begged, tugging at her daughter's bloodied sleeve.
Phoenix did not budge. That was her food. Those were her supplies. She had worked hard for them and she needed them to survive in the Godswood. She could not leave them there to be looted by scavengers or passersby. She scrambled up the slope which was considerably harder now that her Gift had faded. She sensed nothing of the air-water nor the God veins nor the all-light glowing within all things. She was as anyone else, a mere mortal, with shaky legs and one good hand.
"Phoenix!" Lily cried. "Please, just leave it! We can send some men out for it!"
It would be long gone by the time the men came and even if not, they would take half in payment. She climbed, hating how heavy she felt, how tired, how slow, and vulnerable. Being cut off from her Gift felt like going blind, deaf, and numb all over. She felt ordinary and weak. But she climbed. She climbed and she climbed and she climbed some more until she made it to the top where a pack of mountain wolves stood waiting for her.
There were more than twenty of them spread out across the summit, the smallest of which was twice the size of Phoenix. They were the only creatures in the forest who could run off a mated pair of shadow lions. All manner of thoughts flashed through her mind. She could offer the sack of scraps and hope they took it as she surreptitiously tried to make off with her pack and the sack of venison. She could toss all three sacks down to her mother and bolt. Wolves were clumsy on the slopes, though, there was still a vast plain between them and town. Or she could just turn and leave. She hated losing. Even thinking about it hurt deep in the heart but at least she would be alive, assuming they did not ignore the packs and give chase which was also a strong possibility.
One of the bigger wolves boldly paced forth. He was brutish of build, brown-furred with black accents and a white underbelly. He looked almost giddy as he approached. Phoenix's fingers worked frantically at her pack as she wrestled out a knife. The odds were not in her favor but if she injured enough of them, they would flee. They were not stupid. She sat there, knife up, daring them to come. "Mother, run to town. Bring the Wall Guard. Go!"
Naturally, Lily did the exact opposite and began climbing the mountainside.
"Mother, I said go!"
"I'm not leaving you!" she cried.
The bold wolf grabbed the sack of scraps, a gleefully defiant look twinkled in his eyes. Go ahead, do something about it, I dare you, he seemed to say. She reached out to slash at him but he was nimble and she missed. Another wolf approached, then another. She caught one of them across the muzzle. He yelped and dashed away but the other attacked, lunging with her jaws open. Phoenix caught her across the nose, sending her yelping away.
More approached, greater in number this time. There was no way to win this fight. She resigned that it was time to go but she feared it was too late. She offered the sack of scraps to them. A few sniffed at it but they were largely uninterested. They wanted her. She was a legend to them, the Magical Human who dared trespass into their forest, who beat them with invisible whips, who could fly like a bird, and leap amidst the tree branches like a squirrel.
The wolves halted abruptly. Their ears went back and their fur rose. They shared worried glances, first with each other, then with forest. One area in particular seemed to draw their interest. With lowered heads and tucked tails, they scurried away in the opposite direction.
Phoenix stared into the rapidly darkening Godswood. A tall, strange shape slipped amidst the shadows and silhouettes. From within her, came a sharp stab of instinct to run.
Lily made it to the top just in time to see a slew of wolf tails disappearing into the forest. "What did you do?" she asked, staring perplexedly after them.
Phoenix gaped back and forth between where the wolves had run from and to. Nothing stood out especially except that the crows had gone silent. She grabbed her pack in her good hand. "Let's go. You take these." She pointed to the sack of venison and the scraps then scooted over the edge. With grave caution and agonizing slowness, she made her way down the slope, relying heavily on her elbows and backside.
"I don't want you to ever come back to this horrible place again," Lily sobbed, following closely.
Phoenix did not have it in her to argue at the moment. She continued down to the Glass Plains. Short, feathery rainbow grass grew amidst swaths, spikes, and towering boulders of crystal. Some said the grass was magic and that was why it grew in all colors of the rainbow but Dr. Skyler suggested it was more likely due to the way the crystals altered incoming sunlight. He did not believe in magic and he was the only person Phoenix had ever met who did not believe she was magic. It was to him they would be going first.
She looked back over her shoulder up the mountainside. It was dark now and the crescent moon was little help. She could not be sure there were no leopards, lions, wolves, or other things following but, at least for the moment, that did not seem to be the case.
"Lily!" a man's voice echoed from somewhere deep in the crystal labyrinth.
"Luke!" Lily cried out. She dropped the sacks and bolted out of sight. A moment later, she was standing atop a tall crystal spike, waving her arms around. "Over here!"
Phoenix wanted nothing more than to get home and crawl into bed. A chill had set into her bones which was strange as it was not even cold out. Her legs felt like gelatin. She tried to drag her pack and trappings along after her but found she did not have the strength so she sat down, leaned up against her pack, and closed her eyes.
Queen Bitchcunt the Fucknificient, Goddess Sovereign of Tumblrland.
By all means please continue on with this weird, wonderful tale of this world gone wacko!
Hooray for all the nonconformists of this world!
I know completely what you mean there! It's fun and relaxing at the same time because there's no need to worry about the "rules of good writing", and no niggling perfectionism pushing us to have everything pristine. If you enjoyed it that much then I say definitely do more c:
By the way, I read what you had posted here before, but didn't comment because I would have just been repeating what others had already said. But I am very intrigued by your ideas and would be interested in reading anything more you might decide to share! Your literature, characters, and especially your writing style (be it serious or humorous) is a refreshing change from the usual slew of sub-standard tripe that I often come across. You definitely know what you're doing, and while we all have room to improve, it's a skill that I for one certainly think you should pursue C:
Paragraph 1. Logic! Vel doesn't KNOW what magic looks like!... does he? (...unless someone told him. He's not going to wax poetic about "smokey rainbow glittering", he's going to be "eh" about the people telling him about "glassy ribbons of ley" earlier in his life. ) The secondhand description of what Baj told him about mind-reading later is good, is what this should be like.
Actually, this is good. Spelling and grammar are solid. Paragraph structure is good. Dialogue and action scenes are well-executed. Motivations are clear. You understand why this guy could be attacked and is so down about life it's just "one more thing" and he moves on.
I'm gonna tell you, your biggest problem is NOT descriptions per se, it's what I call Flow, and it's kind like that comment about Jazz "If you have to ask what Jazz is, you don't know Jazz." The rapid dialogue and interaction have quick flow, and are an easy read. The dense descriptions slow down, even break down flow. This isn't 100% bad, it can be used as a good technique, and some of my favorite stories are like that. You need to learn to use it as a tool, to lead to some "payoff" to the story or audience... to a point, frankly, my reaction was to skip past the long descriptions to find out where this was leading, sorry!
Overuse of arcane language, "dictionary words", or fantasy magic terms are bad not because they are fantasy words, exactly, because they also slow down flow. It's the combination of the two that is a double-whammy. The parts in the second half where his ID tag automatically logs expenses, he just flicks on and off aetherial switches, are effective because he acts like this is normal and familiar, so the story just flows along. It also lets us the audience know, without saying it, which things are normal and familiar to him.
Opening scene suggestion? - daydreams of being a spell-wielding hero. Hallucinations creep in and spoil it. (I love trolling the audience that way XD) Then tie-in to this part.
Mention it's dark midnight BEFORE the hallucinations? Could make it creepier!
Combine desc of main char with paragraph after? he describes everything he hates about himself and is bullied for. Try working the two together, LET him show us an unfairly ugly version of himself - the kind of fur sticking out his pudge, the color of his cross-eyes, why his tail is too big and wierdly colored, etc!
Turn the description of the stack into a walk through it? Easier to understand, empathise, an awkward tired guy just trying to push his cleaning cart and get his big fat tail through the clutter, than a "laundry list of that clutter".
Try using verbs in descriptions. Even an inanimate object can "sit", "stand", "lay", "lean", "perch", "flop", "sprawl", etc! See what happens if the objects act on the space - "The books huddled together on the shelf" rather than "The corner held a bookshelf"
Part-whatever- a good way I've found to organize rambling descriptions - What is the FIRST thing you'd notice about this room/landscape/city you just made up? Something brightly colored? (The flowers in a vase) The big thing in the way you have to walk around? (The table the vase is sitting on). Sound? Smell? Temperature? Weird floor texture? (if barefoot/barepawed) Now, the trick - here is where things get headtrippy - What is the first THIS CHARACTER would notice, and what does he think about it? (hint: it won't necessarily be what you would!)
I'm also going to echo previous comments. The medium of art you've been using, you can control EXACTLY to the most minute detail what the reader sees, but the story in the picture, everyone will make up their own . The medium of writing, you are creating THAT story, telling it the way you want to, but the picture of that story, everyone will imagine a different image! If you asked 10 people to draw a picture of this place and the main character, you would get 10 different interpretations and 10 different images. Accept it, embrace it, focus on shaping the STORY, instead of the IMAGE.
The universe is original, the main character certainly got some depth.
The long descriptions do not bother me as long as they stay dynamic, colorful and interesting (which they are), but they indeed can be a danger. When I write, I try as much as possible to get to the point fast enough and intersperse my descriptions with some dialogue or action. Not always possible, though.
Another danger that I perceive is the great number of specific words, the unique vocabulary through which your universe exists (Aleythir, arusai, nor, etc.). Following your work (with passion, I must say), these words are familiar, and most of them can be understood thanks to the context. But they could trouble new readers.
I would read the sequel with enthusiasm.
P.S : Is there any way I could propose this demoness in high heels ?
As for the demoness, I decided to pull her back for the time being. Now, she's just a black scary silhouette with red eyes. But she will be making a proper appearance later. I want to slow build her because she's very important.
Well, if you are worried about your prose, one tip I like to use that I made up for myself after finding I was really upset with how long and tedious my writing felt:
'When it doubt, cut it out.'
So take this:
"Row after row of stacked abodes rose one-hundred and fifty feet high, almost to the ceiling. Some of the stacks were brown wood-panel or whitewood and many were made to look like stone or brick. Most were shaped like rectangular boxes but some were shaped like triangles, cubes, or L's for structural and aesthetic purposes. An abundance of flowering potted plants hung from girders, bar joists, staircases, and ledges. Squatty dwarf oaks grew in big pots alongside winding vine trees and flowering bushes. Koi ponds and little gardens filled would-be empty spaces. To Vel, the Stacks looked like a vertical trailer park city amidst a lush hanging garden jungle. It was a chaotic clutter of colors, shapes, sights, sounds, and smells and for the most part, he loved it."
And realize it could simply be this:
"Row after row of stacked abodes rose one-hundred and fifty feet high, almost to the ceiling. To Vel, the Stacks looked like a vertical trailer park city amidst a lush hanging garden jungle. It was a chaotic clutter of colors, shapes, sights, sounds, and smells and for the most part, he loved it."
Details and Descriptions:
For me, personally, I LOVE details like you have there. It's not too lengthy, it puts a clear image in my mind, and from then on I have a point of reference to think of the city from again as you have Vel move through it and go about his business. Something is lost when those details are abandoned, because while it's really nice to leave things to the reader's imagination, it also makes the world much less concrete, and therefore more forgettable. Your description of characters in particular is also very clear. You did a good job of interjecting speech between descriptions, which helps a LOT with flow. I might just suggest you try to be careful about repeating yourself, as in using the same word too many times in the same paragraph. Sometimes even just using one word twice in the same paragraph can feel repetitive if it’s only describing something minor. I would point here to the word calico while describing Baj. Instead of using it two separate times for her and hair, you could condense to describe all her fluff on her head and body at once.
I don't think starting out with terms that nobody will know unless they understand your world is a good way to start. Such things should be introduced slowly and through words and terms that are more familiar. I am positive most people will ultimately be too A-D-D or easily bored and will lose interest because nothing makes sense to them. It may feel sucky to you because it's essentially dumbing the world down, but everyone has to start from zero and work their way up. Your introduction of dolors and doles was interesting, for instance! It sounds similar to dollars, and the description was compact enough that reading one or two paragraphs confirmed in my head "Yep, that's moolah." However, the very beginning with the aleythai, the names, the terms - if I didn't know them already, I would be utterly lost as a new reader. The most general idea I would come up with if I didn't know about this universe is "Ohhh so like... Magic-users..? Ish? And then NOT-magic-users-ish?" And I can see your introduction of Baj served that purpose, to give a sort of feel for what these forces and people are. It still would leave me wanting a bit more, which isn't necessarily bad for a long story. At the same time, the nature of short stories is that details are often left out. Since this is indeed a short story, I would (from the newbie reader PoV), accept these things at face value and move on, either trying to understand as I read, or just putting it down and finding something else to read. As the writer, I would maybe be a bit more candid/pithy about who was important enough to describe.
As for your main character, I think he starts out pretty simple. A Diary of a Wimpy Kid kind of vibe. We are introduced to his issues quickly, which is good for the sake of time. His issues make him stand out and it’s easy to understand how/why he thinks. Though his actions are consistent and almost predictable, I wouldn’t necessarily count predictability against you here. It’s more like reinforcement for the earlier foreshadowing where he felt his hallucinations were real.
As far as what Vel is DOING, and the premise, it seems to be a sad slice of life gone wrong sort of story... I think. If that makes sense. I can't tell where it is going or why it started, except that it started in time for me to know he has hallucinations, he wishes he was somebody else, and then he gets attacked because he wasn't sure if something was really happening thanks to aforementioned hallucinations. Also that he has a surprisingly high pain tolerance x3. If this was all just one short story I would be very confused that it ended here, and also why it started where it did. The fact that he was bullied right before he was attacked too feels like an attempt to me to draw out more sympathy for him, but it still felt more like just examples of "ho-hum, this is my life", and less so a moment in which I should sympathize with him. I think perhaps we should learn more about him first, see him struggle, see him go home, then you can condense his time up until the attack. This will make the action have more impact, rather than just being a single part of his day like all the other parts of his day.
I really like short sci-fi's like cucumber gravy as examples to compare my writing too. Not to necessarily mimic, but to draw me out of my own head! I suggest this to you if it helps as well, because you can gauge yourself through a better, more realistic lense if you feel you are doing something ‘wrong’. There's millions of short stories out there anyway, take your pick haha.
www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fic… if you want to check it out, btw. It has a writing style I find catchy somehow. It's just a fun read!
I really enjoy the writing format that serials take as well. I would refer here to check out a really fun example that I personally find highly entertaining! jukepop.com/home/read/8883
-Dialogue is good and flows nicely with descriptions.
-Descriptions are slightly lengthy, but still do not feel unnecessary.
-Use of terms from the universe a bit abrupt and lacking some definition.
-Introduction feels rushed and glazes over otherwise interesting aspects of the universe.
-Characters are solid and consistent, but seem to lack purpose.
-Seems rather calm the entire time like simply observing things are happening. However! Your voice is already active and engaging!
I hope this massive text wall is helpful to you in some way and has what you were looking for!
Now, here comes the big question: Do you think I should burn this and start over or do you think this can be salvaged? More importantly, do you think it should be salvaged?
Given that it is simply a chapter of course, I imagine the terms issue with have already been met.
Still, while there is a lot of good in this as it stands, I would bet you will feel much greater frustration trying to edit it to death, rather than just starting fresh.
I am glad I could be helpfulf <3
My first suggestion would be to move the general descriptions of both the setting and Val to the beginning of the story, and then move forward with the action while adding details along the way as they become relevant. Think of it like mapping out a painting with some basic outlines to help establish the picture and to give you something to build on.
Another thing I noticed was the inclusion of distinctly Earth-bound terms like British and goose. When creating an alien world, these Earth terms can break the immersion factor of the story and will tend to bring the reader out of that trance that we can get into. So unless there is an actual Britain and actual geese in the universe that you are building, I would avoid using words that are specific to Earth. (Things like measurements don't count because then you'd be spending the entire first half of your story making sure we understand what the hell you're talking about and no one will sit through that length of exposition.)
Last thing of note was the distinct lack of explanation about the demons, undead, and all the other enemies you mentioned throughout the story. Granted, they are pretty self-explanatory, but we're given no reason for why they're attacking, how long Val's country has been at war, how many have died, where those creatures come from, etc. Without those details, the story suffers from a lack of depth. It's an easy hole to fall into, and it makes the story less interesting and harder to immerse oneself in.
The thing about details is that there needs to be a balance. Your concern about hitting people with a wall of facts and exposition is warranted, but don't be so wary about giving details that you miss out on important ones that you wind up giving the reader a different impression than the one you want to convey. Write down notes about your story; figure out which details are crucial and the which ones are superficial. Then you can figure out how to deliver said details in coherent manner that tells the story you want to tell.
Hope I was able to help.
I have to ask though; what did I say that made you think this isn't taking place on Earth?
Don't go all emo and put the guy through this kind of hell regularly, ok?
All in all, your sentences are a bit long-- that stems from the intricacy of your designs. But your overall composition is pretty sweet. I have a soft spot for well-combined fantasy and realistic tones, and your descriptions fit that bill nicely.
The only thing you really need is practice-- and a good hug.
There's no point in being ashamed of your writing (hell, even "I" have a few things I'm sorely tempted to delete from my gallery).
Even your worst works have value as the materials you've grown from.
So please, make this an actual deviation, and grow a freaking spine already!!
You're awesome ( or at the very least, you will be in the future). Accept it.
I really do appreciate it your reply. May I pester you for a few more thoughts? What areas do you feel I could improve on? Sentence length was one. Anything else come to mind?
(Oh, and don't worry. Things will be looking up for Vel in the near future... sort of... )
Have you even READ anything on my page? What in blazes could possibly give you a logical basis for that assumption?
Relax. You really DO have a lot more to be proud of than you think.
If this lack of confidence is the only thing holding you back, then maybe you're the only person you need to worry about impressing.
As for a more detailed critique; I'll take some time later and try to drum up a more complete one for you. If you make this an actual deviation, you can actually REQUEST critiues from others with an inbuilt function.
For now, try organizing your thoughts into something a little more concise. I like details, but it is possible to drown your reader in words. You could experiment with breaking down the descriptions of a wide area or theme into smaller chunks and scatering them around your narrative.
Above all, keep reading (My favorite author is David Eddings) and keep WRITING!
Whatever the answer is, it's annoying as hell. Everything can stand to be improved. Nothing is perfect, least of all me, and no, that's not me being fake modest, that's me being honest. I want to improve and I can't do that if I don't get outside opinions... I mean of the non-asspat variety.
Unfortunately, I think requesting critique is a core member perk only and my core membership ran out a long while back. I could always just ask through a journal and/or put a "looking for critique notice" above the story.
Here's another thought: Graphic novel. I'm better at it. I've developed a style that I think is decent and sustainable. People will be more likely to enjoy/read it in this format. What do you think?
And you deffinitely have the right attitude, just don't try so hard to improve your flaws that you forget your strengths.
I didn't know about the critique request thingy, bummer.
And I think you need to try as many different mediums as you can-- it doesn't matter if you're good at them or not, really. That comes with time and practice anyway.
A varied approach can expand your skills. Frankly, screw other people. Find something fun and run with it. Art is something you do because you love it. (Not the stuff you do because you need to eat to live; that art follow different rules, sadly)
As for comics, you DO have some pretty cool pieces of sequential art, but your style is incredibly intricate and rich; part of the crux of sequential art is beaing able to draw a LOT of frames with different complex scenes in them. Your wrists might snap off if you try to do a few pages with your standard styles. (For what it's worth, it would be a freaking GLORIOUS way to become a parapalegic though). I'm a big fan of the Watchmen mini-series, myself ( I hated the ending, but it fit the story well).
Incidentally, how much do you know of photography? The same skills for organizing frames translate between both mediums.
And some of your story ideas may NEED to be put to a visible frame to really work. Comics may be a great idea.
Oh hey, you have a story written in your artist's comments section. I can't wait to dig into that.
I wanted to see where this was going!