Shadowblade
11-27-2008, 06:22 AM
Wow, it's been a while since I've been back on here. Hopefully there are still good critics around. One of my main stories I keep coming back to. Could definitely use some critiquing, suggestions, editing, etc. Let me know what you think.

Part One...

Through fiery sands he trudged, half-delirious and unable to escape the scent of smoke and char that clung to his blood-stained clothing. The pain was a distant relative now, dropping in to visit, but rarely. The hurt within him, the kind that prefers the spirit, in lieu of the flesh, was another matter. It had taken up residence, and seemed to worm and slither inside him until he felt physically sick.

Or that could just be the poison, the young man mused as he stumbled for the twenty-eighth time since he left home. He kept count to stay conscious, alert. And to keep the mind from wandering to events past.

There was also the heat, he reminded himself, which smothered him like the protective mother he'd never possessed, or missed. The sun straddled the top of the sky and blazed with fury. The sand scorched his feet whenever they touched it, and set his sandals afire with each step. When he didn't expect it, a searing wind forced him to either shield his eyes, or cry involuntary tears if he didn't. Nature aimed to destroy him, he had decided. With a grunt, he stopped to take a small rest, and steady his shaking legs. He noticed his arms trembled as well.

...hate you, he thought with little emotion, dark eyes exploring the rippling desert. He wiped away strands of sweat-soaked hair that clung to his forehead and rolled his tongue around in his mouth as he thought:

Of course it's days before I reach Zerzura. No water or oases I know of on the way, besides the one east of Zerzura...plus I don't even know where I really am. Sandstorms should be coming soon. All sorts of beasts waiting to eat me alive, I'm sure. And-

His insides rose violently, he bent forward, and dark fluid erupted from his mouth, absorbed quickly by the thirsty sand below. He stood straight up, wiping his lips with the back of a cloth-wrapped hand.

I'm poisoned.

He sucked another breath of the dry air into his lungs as he cursed the landscape again. The smooth carpet of golden sands and dunes seemed to roll out to the sky itself, and his will to walk, which was already nil by nature, was waning. Fast. He wished he could drink his sweat and make it useful, as it did nothing but burn his eyes and wounds. And piss him off.

First thing I do when I get through this is kill Kala, the young man told himself before taking a heavy step forward and continuing his trek. He had actually thought this more times than he could count, and it was the only thing that drove him forward besides the will to live...which was fueled by the need to kill Kala. He could almost picture the bastard before him, in his delirium, and his fists tightened involuntarily.

Soon, Kala. It won't just be imagination, you bastard. You'll be standing right in front of me and-

He stopped, a small frown etching his face. Something disrupted his vision, distracting him from his malevolent, though somewhat calming, thoughts. The young man tried to disregard it, for it was something that had plagued him since childhood...plus he really wanted to think about killing Kala.

He couldn't ignore it, though, and knew it. Sometimes, the world just...blinked. Everything became it's opposite, and that was something pretty difficult to turn a blind eye to. The gold sand turned silver and cold; the azure, cloudless sky, a bloody red. Even the sun itself morphed to a deep, dark hue. It would only be for a second, then everything back to work, as usual. Goosebumps vanished from his brown skin as quickly as they appeared.

"As it should be," the young man grumbled, continuing on.

I'm sure no one else has to deal with what I put up with. Sick as hell, wandering through the desert...seeing things...

He had to stop again, and doubled over, breathing heavily. Small, bright circles waltzed in the back of his vision, and his blood ran hot beneath his skin. The world's light dimmed, as if the sun felt his fatigue, and had begun to nod off as well. I'm not dying, he told himself, standing straight up without thinking. A sudden, breaking pain in his side made him wince, the world flashed, and he only had one second to wonder why the sand rushed up to meet him. After that, he remembered nothing except dreams of an inverse world, where the sky itself bled.

~~~
Color, memory, and...oh yes, extreme pain, they all skipped to him arm and arm with vivid intensity. The first was color, a pale, sickly green, the tint of a mother sand-snake's belly, or an old, wrinkled grape skin. The memory that shadowed was of unsmiling eyes the same shade, and a name he would soon erase from this earth, once he returned to it.

Kala.

He tried to speak it aloud, to say something, but couldn't. His throat was dry and swollen, and his head throbbed beautifully; so he simply closed his mouth and groaned to himself. He thought.

"We tried to slip some water into your mouth, Jophi," a fresh voice spoke beyond his vision. "But your lips were too tightly closed, a rare occurrence, I know. So, I've just been dribbling drops on your lips and face to decrease your body heat and rehydrate you."

Extreme effort and a momentary disregard for the pain that massaged his skull, allowed him to turn his head to the side and examine the speaker. His first, scattered thought was that the woman was kind of cute. Ebony, liquid hair flowed around her face, accentuating the dark, flawless skin, and azure eyes, alight and open. Not bad at all, really, he thought, inspecting her through squinted eyes. His second thought was that he recognized her; Nyala, the name arose, without effort, from his mind. His third thought:

Oh hell.

He might as well have said the oath aloud, because the woman smiled, putting a cool hand on his shoulder. The contact was pleasant, and it also made him realize he was naked under the thick blanket covering him. He couldn't help but chuckle a bit, to himself.

"You can rest easy, little one. Deliya is back in Kiffam Court, doing those silly war games with Father." She put a water-skin to his lips and he parted them, allowing the cold liquid to trickle into his mouth. He drank until the tide of flames in his throat ebbed, and he could speak once more.

"Good," he rasped, lying his head back with a sigh. "It seems I've got enough to worry about without her waiting in the shadows with that blade of hers. I wouldn't be able to run away like this."

"Well, you did break her heart, Jophiel. A woman can't easily forget that... Especially my sister," she added with a chuckle, wringing chilled water from a small towel, and stealing pearls of glistening sweat from his forehead and face.

"Yeah. Then she almost broke my arm, if I remember it right. After that, I thought it best if I didn't visit as frequently...you know, in the interest of saving my beloved ass."

"Tears and jeers shadow the games of children, it seems," the Lady of Zerzura clucked. "It's just too bad you two didn't get married though. Could you just imagine what things would be like now?" She dropped the towel back into a wooden bowl, which rested on a mahogany table beside the bed.

Jophiel frowned, remembering. "I was twelve, damn sure no prophet, but all I foresaw was petty name-calling, and beatings for not doing my chores...or doing them wrong..." He paused. "Still do see that, actually."

The laugh in reply was silvery. It reminded Jophiel of the bells of Shailja.

"Nothing occurs the way you expect it to, Jophi, unless you know yourself fully. The old mystic once told me that, when I was a child. Once you finally find your soul, the sky reveals itself, and the stars bow to you."

Jophiel laughed, ignoring the pain the action caused. "Really? Is that also when I can make the sky rain wine? And get drunk with the stars?"

"You should meet the old mystic one day, Jophi. Her...magics and prediction may leave something to be desired, but she has decades of wisdom and experience in that mind of hers. That's almost just as sufficient."

He heard her chair scrape the stone floor, and turned his head once more. At least it was easier this time. Nyala was standing, adjusting an elegant, violet robe and smiling faintly at him. She always seemed to be smiling, he thought for no particular reason. Ever since they were children. Smiling at the world, instead of with it.

"Where are you going?" Jophiel asked, lacing his hands behind his head and lying back. "You're just going to leave me here? Naked and alone? I always did say hospitality in Zerzura was lacking..."

Nyala rolled her eyes, to her a sophomoric gesture, but permissible in his presence. "Of course we wouldn't leave you alone, Jophi, but I've taken care of you while you were away and now I deserve a bath and something to eat. I'll have my nursemaids tend you from time to time, to make sure you haven't expired, don't fret."

"Thanks," Jophiel returned lamely. "How'd you find me, anyway?"

"We were actually traveling to Shailja, to your home, to trade a bit, when a guardsman in our convoy spotted that sword of yours stuck in the sand." She gestured toward one of the corners of the room where a dark blade of about four and a half feet leaned.

He squinted at the weapon for a moment; its gnarled, black handle and pommel, the black blade about half a foot wide, stained with rust the tint of dried blood, and the scythe that jutted sharply at the blade's tip, like the last deadly tooth of some old but still formidable beast.

It leans in the corner like some village-thug or bandit, Jophiel thought to himself with an inward chuckle. Examining the roads for the easiest target. Or the one with the most pay-off.

"Yeah," he said slowly, still eying the thing as he shrugged. "I think my quickest when I'm about to die. Not bad though. Pretty resourceful, I'd say."

"Of course," the young woman nodded. "You always have been that, at least. I don't think anyone in Zerzura has forgotten your last visit, when you "accidentally" dropped a few of those laxative leaves into the reservoir." She laughed a bit. "A little disgusting, now that I reflect further on it. Now, if you'll excuse me..." She bowed informally, for she knew Jophiel cared little for the niceties of upper class, and opened the door.

"Nya?" he called, falling back into her childhood name by accident, dark eyes on the ceiling.

"Yes?"

He hesitated momentarily, unsure of what to say next. What to ask. If he even wanted to know.

"The last time I saw Shailja...it was burning," Jophiel began slowly, the memory fresh in his mind. "Any news of it?"

She hesitated as well, before answering, "Shailja is destroyed. Completely."

Her words seemed hollow there, in the still of the noon, and Jophiel felt like something emptied from his chest before the feeling passed. He was okay.

"Oh," was his response as he closed his eyes. "Survivors?"

"You."

The few seconds of silence were interrupted by a sigh from Nyala. "Get some rest, Jophiel. That's all you should worry about for now. We'll talk more once your strength has returned." He heard the door close gently behind her, and Jophiel opened his eyes, letting Nyala's words reverberate in his mind.

Destroyed. Completely.

He didn't know how to feel. He wasn't born there, in Shailja, but he had somehow ended up there when he was a boy, hungry, lost and hot as all hell. For some reason, the chief of Shailja himself had taken him in, raising him as if he were his own. The people had accepted him as well, even tolerating his antics and mischief as the village's little troublemaker. For eighteen years, he had grown up there. He knew everyone in the village, and liked them all, except for Kala, of course. Everyone was as close to family as he could have had, and now they were gone. Wiped clean from the earth, never to be seen again.

So why couldn't he shed a tear for them? Why didn't he feel the least bit of sadness in his heart? He sighed inwardly and turned over onto his side, closing his eyes. It was...weird. Even a bit disconcerting. Why didn't he feel something?

Runis12
11-29-2008, 01:52 PM
I'm having to reply to this again due to the forum not taking my first response. :-'( It was a nice long page, but I'll condense it this time.

1. Very lustrous descriptions of setting and action. They seem to propel the plot more than the actual dialogue. Jophiel was just as fiery and desolate as that desert, and I felt his distress.

2. Direction of dialogue seems a little predictable and irksome when characters interact. I'm not saying the dialogue is simple. It's just that the conversation between Nyala and Josphiel seemed more light-hearted than dampened with the bad news of the burning village.

3. Mood seems to shift alot. Heavy with spite then to pleasant, slightly humorous nostalgia. Back to being angry and Kala. Nyala's mysterious smiles make Jophiel forget about being full of revenge briefly. Back to being ...maybe angry?

3. Confusing, but interesting characters. At first, Jophiel was filled with rage, vengeance. It quickly winded down into uncertainty. Strangely, he feels nothing about the village he has stayed at for 18 years burning down. He speaks with mild and casual vulgarity, even thinks that way. He seems angry, he seems sing-song. He seems one to be familiar with physical pain but not quite psychological pain (with the exception of Kala). He is a little too complex too soon with emotional two-facedness. Maybe this could be remedied with revealing his past with Kala soon.

4. Lotsa conflict. Joph vs nature, vs his past personal life, vs his present personal life, vs Kala, vs himself. May be pleasant or hair-pulling disarray for readers.

~Overall, this was very enjoyable to read. Thanks!

Shadowblade
11-29-2008, 11:39 PM
Damn, those are the exact questions I want the reader to ask himself about the main character, I wish I could read that longer critique. The only concern I'll answer directly (as the others will be revealed as the story progresses) is the light-hearted dialogue between Jophiel and Nyala. Nyala doesn't speak of his burnt village because she doesn't want to shock him so soon after his awakening. If he didn't ask, she wouldn't even have told him until later, when he was recovered. All of these points will be addressed in the next part though (hopefully).

As for the personality of Jophiel, and his ever-shifting moods...well, you'll see. I'll post the next part soon, once I work out all the kinks. Thanks for the crit though, probably the best I've had, in terms of storyline and characterization.

Runis12
12-02-2008, 10:07 PM
Oh, yeah, definitely. It's hard to critique when you don't know the rest of the plot and you're just analyzing one segment of a story. I try to only get into technicalities. Curiosity gets the best of me a lot though... >_< I wanna read more! Might I suggest this though?

[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[

"Nya?" he called, falling back into her childhood name by accident, dark eyes on the ceiling.

"Yes?"

He hesitated momentarily, unsure of what to say next. What to ask. If he even wanted to know.

"The last time I saw Shailja...it was burning," Jophiel began slowly, the memory fresh in his mind. "Any news of it?"

She hesitated as well, before answering, "Shailja is destroyed. Completely."

[[[[[He didn't know how to feel. He wasn't born there, in Shailja, but he had somehow ended up there when he was a boy, hungry, lost and hot as all hell. For some reason, the chief of Shailja himself had taken him in, raising him as if he were his own. The people had accepted him as well, even tolerating his antics and mischief as the village's little troublemaker. For eighteen years, he had grown up there. He knew everyone in the village, and liked them all, except for Kala, of course. Everyone was as close to family as he could have had, and now they were gone. Wiped clean from the earth, never to be seen again.]]]]]

Her words seemed hollow there, in the still of the noon, and Jophiel felt like something emptied from his chest before the feeling passed. He was okay.

"Oh," was his response as he closed his eyes. "Survivors?"

"You."

The few seconds of silence were interrupted by a sigh from Nyala. "Get some rest, Jophiel. That's all you should worry about for now. We'll talk more once your strength has returned." He heard the door close gently behind her, and Jophiel opened his eyes, letting Nyala's words reverberate in his mind.

Destroyed. Completely.

So why couldn't he shed a tear for them? Why didn't he feel the least bit of sadness in his heart? He sighed inwardly and turned over onto his side, closing his eyes. It was...weird. Even a bit disconcerting. Why didn't he feel something?

]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

Moved a paragraph up to put some more gravity in his response to the situation. I don't know if this will affect what you already had in mind for the following scene or if you wanted to rewrite something around here or anything else. Merely a suggestion! :-) I look forward to reading more.

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