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  1. #1
    Devin Stadeker

    Testing the waters.


    For a very long time (relatively speaking, as I'm 26 years old) I've wanted to be a writer. I've been at it for a little while, and I like to think I've gotten fairly good at it. However, my only basis for comparison is published work (which I tend to have a bias against) and my peers. I've never joined a writing group before, nor have I worked with editors or critique partners to any appreciable degree.

    I would like to post a little of my work in this particular discussion forum. I am not looking for critique (yet), but if anyone could spare the time, I am interested in some specific opinions regarding my work.

    The simplest way I can put it is that I wish to know if my work holds any kind of appeal, and if it appears marketable. These aren't things that can be judged by reading 2,000 words, but an initial impression can speak volumes, and I would like for anyone who is interested to provide me with their initial impressions on the following piece, a short chapter from a fantasy novel I started writing about two months ago.

    As this site seems to be a little dated, and I'm by no means a computer whiz, I apologize profusely beforehand if some kind of whacked-out formatting issue causes this cut-and-paste to end up looking nigh-unreadable.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.


    Save for the muttering of the Sweetflow as it crashed against the rocks jabbing up from its roiling surface, the night was as quiet as it was still. As Ina sat on the bank of the river, she turned her eyes upwards and began to count stars again. This time it was not a bid to put herself to sleep, but rather an effort to keep herself awake. Naked as she was, the cold did a fine job of that for a time, but as Balthu's ministrations began to take more and more time, Ina found it harder and harder to keep her eyes open. They were half-lidded by the time Sulia slipped out of the squat tent behind her, and her jaw hung slack from her face as she swayed unsteadily, dipping into and out of a tense slumber.

    A paw on her shoulder pulled her back from the brink, and she shut her mouth as the world swam back into clarity. Looking over her shoulder, she found it hard to decide whether she should have been relieved or worried to see Sulia behind her.

    “Is he seriously hurt?”

    Sulia stooped into a crouch, resting beside her on the riverbank. In the starlight, it was hard to judge her expression, but what little of her face that Ina could see did not look enthusiastic to bear whatever news was forthcoming.

    “We put to sleep,” she said, “To cut out eye.” Her voice choked for a moment and she added, “Sa'tel is half blind now.”

    Ina grit her teeth, feeling her anger with Tassuun boiling back to the surface. If it weren't for the pain it would cause Sa'tel to see his home destroyed, she'd have been able to hope earnestly for her sister to sweep in that instant and raze the camp to the ground, so long as it ensured the violent she-wolf would meet an equally violent end.

    “Is there anything else?”

    Sulia shook her head, sniffling. “Bites and scratches. They heal, but they will make scars on his face.”

    “When can I see him?”

    Sulia answered, “I give him medicine for pain. He is...” She made a gesture towards her head to indicate his overall state of mind, and Ina exhaled. She had planned on leaving as early as the sun rose, and that now made it impossible to see him one more time before she left.

    The words 'one more time' moved through her mind, leaving a tinge of sadness behind them. Knowing she wouldn't see him again was not a happy thought, but not even being able to tell him goodbye, or thank him for protecting her? She wasn't ready to accept that. One more time was all she'd ask for, and she'd get it whether Sulia approved or not.

    When she turned to the lupercal to voice her feelings, she saw that Sulia was now sitting beside her. She couldn't see the blood on her, but she could smell it. Images of Sa'tel laying prone while his ruined eye was plucked from his skull and discarded made it difficult to be so close to that smell.

    “Did he tell you what happened?” Ina asked.

    “No. You know?”

    Too late, Ina realized she'd stumbled headlong into an uncomfortable situation. She was at fault for his injuries, however indirectly. Admitting that to her only friend might have been enough to take a headsman's axe to the relationship. She recalled her resolution to reward Sulia's kindness in turn, and felt herself struggling with deciding whether it would be kinder to tell the truth or allow Sa'tel to keep his own council on the events.

    When she did make a decision, it was to be upfront. Sulia would begin asking questions when she left, and the truth would eventually work its way to the surface. She'd not have time make her a liar, or be remembered for only telling half-truths, but neither did she wish to sow dissent among the pack. Tassuun's temper was foul, and Ina had faith that she would not hesitate to abuse Sulia as thoroughly as her husband had been abused.

    “I know,” she nodded. “But I don't know if I should tell you.”

    “Tassuun do this,” Sulia deducted bleakly.

    Startled by how quickly the conclusion had been reached, Ina averted her gaze for a moment. She found some comfort in watching the Sweetflow rush along, and its grumbling burble filled the pause in the conversation adequately. Still, it became clear that Sulia would not be the first to break it; if she was quick to discern the source of Sa'tel's injuries, it stood to reason that she'd be as quick to discern that Ina had more to say on the matter.

    “He angered her by defending me,” she said, still watching the river. “What happened to him is because of me. Tassuun wants me gone.” When she looked back to Sulia, she was relieved to find that it was not anger that shone behind her eyes, but sadness.

    “You will leave, I-na?”

    “Sa'tel and I have already come to a decision,” she said, pointedly omitting a few of the starker details that discussion had brought to light. “It's better for me to go before I cause him further pain.”

    “I want you to stay,” Sulia said, though there was no fervor in her protest. Ina began to see why Balthu would have chosen her as an apprentice; Sulia was kind, but there were seeds of wisdom in her. In time it would blossom, and her maturity would make her an ideal fit for one charged with caring for those that could not care for themselves.

    Reaching to the side, Ina laid a hand on Sulia's leg and squeezed. Beneath the fur, she felt conditioned muscle that seemed a poor fit to a medicine woman, or a poor fit to anyone so soft in the heart. She wondered if, like her sister, the softness was only in the skin, and if granite lay beneath it. “I want to stay too,” she said. “But wants and needs are different things. For Sa'tel's sake, I need to go, and I want him to be safe. She could have killed him if she wanted, or even if she didn't knowing how foul her temper is.”

    “You will go home, then?”

    “No. I don't have a home, now.”

    Sulia stood, absently wiping a bit of grit from her robe. It parted down the front with a pass of her paw before she slithered free of it, then shook it out. Leaning forward, she draped it over Ina's shoulders, then took hold of them and pulled her to her feet. The human was struck again by how much strength lay in those arms for her to be pulled up like an infant.

    “It is bad fit,” Sulia sighed, “But it is warm. Inside is medicine. You remember what I use on you each time you hurt?”

    Ina nodded as she turned to better face her. Her first few weeks with the Lupa'Enosh had been marked by the discomfort of countless minor injuries. If there was a medicine in the thick skin and fur robe that had been used on her before, she would remember its smell, texture, and use.

    “Good,” Sulia said. “I also have food, what we keep for pups when they stop drinking milk. We also use for sick when they cannot eat-”

    “No, no,” Ina said firmly. She smothered Sulia's immediate protests by anchoring her hand to her chest and gripping the fur in a loosely-clenched fist. An insistent shake was given as she said, “You've done more for me than I think I can ever do for you. I'm not taking food out of the mouths of your children.” She was glad to see that she didn't have to push the issue any further, and with a smile she added, “Frenice is a good teacher. I'm not going to starve.”

    It was easy to say, but even easier to remember that she had yet to actually kill anything for herself. She hoped that by the time she had put the effort into embracing Frenice's tutelage, she'd have absorbed enough to sustain her while she lived off of the land.

    “That is all,” Sulia said with a sigh. “All but, when you leave?”

    “I should rest before I go,” she said, “But the sooner the better. Maybe at sunrise.”

    Sulia said, “Sun rise in two hours. Better to not sleep.”

    Ina considered the advice, and though her mind and body felt drained, she knew it was sound. The sun would refresh her, and one good, hard night of sleeping the next night would make up for lost time. She'd just have to worry about where she might be sleeping later.

    With a sense of sadness, she realized that all of her affairs were in order for her departure, save for a few small things. She'd need her bow, and if she happened upon Frenice she might have been able to get a quick lesson in on how to properly dress a deer. The one time she'd been able to watch her at that gruesome task, she'd been far too distracted by hunger to pay proper attention. And there was, of course, Sa'tel.

    She said, “I know he isn't well, but I'd like to say goodby to Sa'tel before I go.” Much to her relief, Sulia voiced no protest, instead offering a sympathetic nod and motioning for her to follow. The lupercal led the way back to the tent, stooping to slip inside. When Ina entered behind her, her nose was immediately stung by the pungent musk, a two-part composite of his blood and the medicines that had dulled his pain so that they could remove his eye.

    Hey lay still on his back, with his head turned to one side. A packet of leaves obscured the now-empty socket, and some kind of viscous fluid appeared to be draining down along his temple to dampen the fur of his ear. His breathing was no longer labored, deep and slow as the breaths came. Balthu sat beside him, her face unreadable in the light from the small fire burning in the center of the tent. Her eyes, milky from where cataracts had taken her vision, swiveled unerringly to stab accusingly at Ina as she knelt by his side. She ignored the denmother's blind gaze, but she could not help but be unsettled by the way it followed her every move.

    Ina realized, looking down at her husband, that she felt the desire to cry. She didn't. Perhaps later she might, but tears wouldn't change anything now. The pragmatist that he was, Sa'tel wouldn't have condoned such behavior, and she'd honor him to that extent. Considering what he'd had taken from him on her behalf, it was the smallest of gestures.

    The fire crackled quietly as she placed a hand on his chest, then leaned forward to kiss him on the nose. He remained as still as slumber. There were things she'd have liked to say, but there was no time to say him even if he was awake to be heard. Looking to Sulia, she said, “Please take care of him.”

    “Take care of you,” she responded dryly. “He is with us. You alone.”

    With a sour smile, she stood as high as she could in the tiny tent, then leaned to one side to kiss Sulia on the nose as well. “I can't make any promises,” she said, “But I'll do my best.”

    Those were the last words she said before leaving the tent. By the time she reached the camp, the sky to the east had already morphed from black to gray, and a handful of Lupa'Enosh had begun to stir. She realized too late that being seen in Sulia's robes would not be the a good thing by any stretch of the imagination, but aside from the same cold stares and dismissive glances, the wolves paid her no mind.

    Jittery with apprehension, she gathered the few remaining things she considered to be hers; a bow, a crude stone knife with no real edge, and the leather bedroll she and Sa'tel had shared the night they consummated their marriage. If anyone had realized she was preparing to take flight, they gave no sign that they cared. All the better. With any luck, she'd be gone before Tassun found her, and by the time her absence was noticed she'd have traveled for a day. She didn't doubt that the Lupa'Enosh could cover three times that distance with half the effort, but she did doubt that they would bother.

    One last glance was passed over the camp, then she turned and walked into the woods. There was no sign of Frenice, much to her disappointment, but she held out hope that perhaps she'd see the she-wolf prowling through the woods while tracking prey. She knew it was a vain hope, particularly considering that she'd be avoiding the deer runs to minimize the chance of crossing the path of any other Lupa'Enosh, but it was vain hope that had sustained her so far.

    Perhaps it was time to stop hoping and start doing.

  2. #2
    Devin Stadeker

    Re: Testing the waters.

    As the formatting for this piece was not marred by copy/paste, I retract my previous, preemptive apology and affix it here to apologize for a little breach in exerpt posting protocol. After reading a few posts here I've realized that the above is definitely tl;dr material.

    It won't happen again

  3. #3

    Re: Testing the waters.


    Say what?... is this some kind'a texting code?

  4. #4
    Devin Stadeker

    Re: Testing the waters.


    Too long; didn't read

  5. #5
    martin shaw

    Re: Testing the waters.

    A lot of work has gone in to something that could have been told in half the word count. However it does intrigue me, though it does go on and on. You write with a degree of sophistication, but if it was all like this I would say it’s too humdrum and mundane. I think if you come up trumps with a little action sequence after tidying this up... I reckon you could hold your own, and for the amount of work I see you have put in to this, I’m pretty sure you can do it.

    You’ve done your home work on the way your characters live which I found interesting.

    Looking at it again; I think this writing may stand with a good story line, but I just can’t tell with this sort of work without seeing the whole book.


  6. #6
    Devin Stadeker

    Re: Testing the waters.


    The exerpt I posted did not strike me as humdrum, mundane, or too long. Your words are a handy reality check, and I appreciate both the criticism and the encouragement. Thank you for taking the time to look it over.

  7. #7
    L Bea

    Re: Testing the waters.

    Your writing is interesting. It was a somewhat long excerpt but I didn't feel like I was trudging.

    I'm not sure where in the story this excerpt takes place. If it's the starting piece, then it's concerning. I found it difficult to understand who was who and what had transpired; there was no context. If this is later in the story, then I can only hope that characters have been built a little more and this would be more clear.


  8. #8
    Devin Stadeker

    Re: Testing the waters.


    I feel a little silly for posting before I had the general feel of the forum. What you read is actually the ninth chapter of the book, a prologue or first chapter. My goal here was to put a piece out and get back from it "yes, I would read more" or "no, it's not holding me". Lesson learned, my next post will be a bit more concise, and not require prior knowledge of characters or events.

    I appreciate your time

  9. #9
    Devin Stadeker

    Re: Testing the waters.

    Err, *not a prologue or a first chapter, pardon me.

  10. #10
    martin shaw

    Re: Testing the waters.

    Um, no offence, but it took me a while to get what was going on, and like I say... with your sort of writing I need to see more.

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