Iron Nails Book II Prologue

MattKnott

Knows the real name of Lower Corte
#1
Hey guys,

Currently working on book two of my Iron Nails series and I'm also constantly trying to improve myself based on feedback. This is something I got in abundance from the reviews here.

I've recently knocked out a first draft prologue and while I'm sure to be sharpening this, I figured it's a good time to share it for a critique. That way I'm not doubling down on, or focusing on the wrong things.

You can find the full piece below. It was on wattpad but apparently that is awful for this. Apologies for the link and thanks to @intensegravity for pointing it out.

I'm not really looking for proof reading, as there's likely quite a bit to polish on that front so apologies in advance. Chiefly looking for story flow and engagement.

Main feedback I've had for my first book is that it's incredibly driven and lean to the point of damaging it in places. I purposefully avoided as much exposition as possible and world building was hurt by it. I'm trying to get better at that specifically, but I'd appreciate any thoughts.

For a little more context, this is fairly detached from the main characters and the point is to introduce a sharp change in a land that was normal when they left it and provide a hint of what they're up against.
 
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intensegravity

Listens to The Unbeliever whine about life
#2
Since nobody else has thrown anything out there, I toss a couple of things at you as food for thought.

The opening line isn't bad, but it quickly falters after that. You have to be careful when starting with narrative. Yes, you do want to bring your readers up to speed fairly quickly, but if you are going to start with narrative, you have to make the narrative strong. If you don't, you risk losing readers right from the start. A simple yet effective way to start is to jump right into your first character interactions and bleed some narrative in to provide the details that you want them to have.

The way it starts now, the narrative is a little choppy for my taste. There are seven or eight short(ish) paragraphs right in a row.

As a general rule, you want your opening to be as strong as you can make it. There are numerous ways to be strong. You can have a strong opening line (yours isn't so bad, but I think, if you put some more thought into it, you could strengthen it even more. You can start with a heavy conflict that isn't resolved too easily and is left to be resolved in later chapters. You can start with a strong narrative that is rich in language and style, or you can start with an interesting dialog exchange. There are more, but these are just a few.
 

MattKnott

Knows the real name of Lower Corte
#3
Just wondering if you caught the whole thing or just the opening few paragraphs. There's 2 parts in total I broke down to easily edit.

It's all one chapter essentially that wraps everything up on this front. never used Wattpad before so it's a bit weird.

That's great feedback though and I agree, I was trying something a bit different but it needs to flow harder.
 

intensegravity

Listens to The Unbeliever whine about life
#4
I didn't have a wattpad account, and I didn't take the time to open one, so I stopped where it made me stop. I just gave feedback on the amount I was allowed to read.
 

MattKnott

Knows the real name of Lower Corte
#5
I didn't have a wattpad account, and I didn't take the time to open one, so I stopped where it made me stop. I just gave feedback on the amount I was allowed to read.
That explains it :)

I'll post the rest here as that's frustrating, I didn't realise that! Thanks for taking the time to check it out. It moves at a pretty fair clip starting very quickly after the wattpad cutoff.

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It was the children who gave her hope.

Dirty, rough-raised boys and girls who filled the small homestead with laughter and life. Her sons were too practical to bring her joy in her sunset years. There was little poetry in their souls

She’d raised them that way after all. Only now, as her grandchildren gathered around her, did she appreciate the toothy smiles and mischief of the young.

The woman she’d been would back then would never have stood for such a merry brood.

Chara Kellis would have seen such childishness washed away with hard work.

Ma, as everyone called her these days, soaked it up.

She often wondered if her boys resented her for their upbringing. They never complained, but she could see the envy whenever she sat with the little ones.

Of course if any of them ever thought to bring it up it she’d clip the turd round the ear. She hadn’t raised them for such foolishness after all. It had been a rough life. She deserved some enjoyment before The Many took her flesh.
They’d never know she agreed. Wished it could have been different.

Easier.

More bloody foolishness.

She grunted as Elan, the youngest, tugged her hair. Her eyes met his and they widened before she realised how harsh her gaze had been. Ruffling his hair, she gave him a smile.

‘Don’t mind Ma,’ she said.

His face scrunched as he looked away for a moment. Her accent was still thick all these decades later. Northern and strange. Elan was still too young to grasp why his Grandmother sounded different.

‘That,’ he said, turning back toward her and pointing to her necklace. ‘Thing?’

‘It’s not a thing, El,’ said the boy’s sister Kayla with the exasperated wisdom of a seven year old. ‘It’s Ma’s Oldstone.’

‘At your age, back North you’d have one by now,’ Ma said loosening the chain around her neck to stretch it out and show the pair who jostled for a closer look. ’Legacy of the old time. When The Many and The Few built towers toward the clouds.’

Tightly bound by an iron clasp fastened to the length of chain, Ma lifted it and let it sway in the morning sun. Tiny red clouds drifted across the polished surface and within a tiny shadow danced.

‘Of the line of Ke, as are all Oldstones in our family.’
‘Kee,’ said Elan.

‘Ke. Like your sister Kayla. Ke.’

‘Ke,’ he said. ‘Ke. Ke!’

‘What’s Ke, Ma?’ Asked Kayla putting a hand over her brothers mouth to muffle his joy at the new word. The Oldstone swung back and forth and the girl’s eyes followed it.

‘Many that were once one. In the north there are twenty tribes, once there were twenty gods. One for each and we were united by the bonds between them. Ke was ours. A being of great wisdom and strength.’

‘Stronger than Uncle Mikal?’

‘Stronger than a hundred Mikal’s and a thousand times as clever. The Many tried to share their vision with the world but the wicked men that used to rule these lands spat upon their generosity. Bitter and jealous they hatched plans to poison our gods.

‘They succeeded and brought down the Black Star.’ Ma shook her head. ‘Now they refuse to even speak of it. They call it superstition and our people barbarians. These southerners who broke the back of the world. Ice took our lands and one by one The Many died. These are their last gift to us.’

‘Devon says you eat bugs.’

‘Devon is a whoreson and his father once ate a cow turd.’

Kayla laughed and Elan was sucked into her mirth.

‘Your father told him it was beef.’ She drew the Oldstone back and leaned forward with a grin. ‘It’s why you must keep away from the boy. If he ever tries to court you, remember his family eat dung.’

Ma chuckled at the girl’s look of disgust and Elan’s mimicry. A skinny pair in roughspun wool clothes with gap teeth and dirty faces. Their homestead was a poor one. When Ma died she expected her son’s to sell the land to the pleasure farmers and move to one of the few towns that dotted Karn.

Maybe even leave Three Bastards altogether. Skerry was on the rise, so rumours told. A bold new lord shifting the balance of power.

That they would leave was a certainty.

What few homes stood were already too small for the families of her three sons. The harvest grew leaner each year and tempers blossomed. All her ambitions and dreams lay with the children now.

Once, when her man, Rige, had been alive, they’d thought this could become a town. All their energies had instead been spent battling the pleasure farmers and their trade in drugs from encroaching upon their land.
So much so that they hadn’t been able to take a slice for themselves and now the trade was practically endorsed. Shrewdly governed by the sly Bastard of Kern himself who wouldn’t countenance any fresh blood in the market.

It was his management that both kept them alive and locked them in poverty.

Ma would never sell. Not so long as she drew breath.

‘Why did you come here, if you hate southerners?’ Kayla asked.

Before Ma could respond a soft voice cut in.

‘Ma was a princess. Fairest of all, and an evil queen cast her out rather than look at her.’
‘Exactly,’ Ma said gritting her teeth. She loved the children but their mother was a honey-tongued bitch. Quick with her wit and mean enough to use it.

The other wives were quiet. Pleasant and respectful. Ivar’s woman, Anya, had always irritated her. A willowy woman with keen eyes and hands too gentle for farm life. The worst of it was Ma couldn’t help but like the woman more for it.

‘Was there a castle?’ Kayla said in awe.

‘Several.’ There had been one. An ugly shitheap, but it was hers by right. When her spear opened the bowels of the man who had claimed otherwise she’d lost everything and been forced to run.

Even forty years gone it still made her fingers twitch.

‘Your mother and Ma need to talk. She can tell you of her palace later,’ said Anya. ‘Go help Marie with the cleaning.’

‘But—‘

‘Get on child. Time for stories later,’ Ma said.

Dejectedly Kayla tugged Elan by the arm and the pair skipped down the few steps as their mother took their place on the crude wooden patio.

‘They’re still not back. Marie and Tira are putting a brave face on it, as they do, but I’m worried.’
Her sons had gone hunting the day before. A bear had been spotted roaming close to the settlements, far from the southern mountains the beasts called home. Not only was it a threat, the meat and thick furs of such a creature were too luxurious to miss.

Ma should have had no concern. They were all accomplished hunters, well trained and hardy. Mikal was practically a bear himself while Ivar and Svein were sharp as spears when it came to tracking game.
For all of that, there was something in the air of late. A shift in the wind. It tasted of iron and blood and stirred thoughts of the north.

Rumours and tales were spreading of strange men in the woods. Of creatures that should not be. Dark travelers walked the roads and to speak with them was to die.

She looked to her tall iron walking stick and rapped gnarled fingers against the armrest of her chair.

Ma would have lied to the other women. Told them that it was nothing fear.

‘As am I,’ she said reaching for the stick. ‘Have Tira and Marie strip the back of a wagon and prepare it to move at a moments notice. They and all the children should gather beneath one roof.’

Anya nodded. Not a moment of surprise, or seconds wasted with needless questioning.

‘Then grab a spear and return. We leave at noon.’

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MattKnott

Knows the real name of Lower Corte
#6
They found Mikal first.

Half of him.

Bloodless white hands gripped the door frame. Ma ran her thick callused fingers across the splintered wood. Tracing the wide crack that bent the beam outward. A testament to the strength and resolve of her son that he gripped so tightly to the very end.

Less than an hour from their homestead they’d made their stand. Just before dawn, from the dryness of the blood. It hurt to look at. He would never know how much joy he’d brought her. How much pain the atrocity of his end poured onto her heart.

Tears were for southerners.

Anya would weep enough for them both.

The cabin had belonged to a quiet man called Herman. Ma had known him for almost as long as she’d lived in Karn. A scholar looking for meaning in nature. Stepping inside she saw his head resting upon a pile of scattered notes.

It wasn’t just the door that was battered down. Three great claw marks had shredded the wood on the west side. Carving a splintered opening. Beyond, Ma could see a wide gap in the forest, a trail of broken trees. As though a giant had stabbed the forest through with a spear.

Within, the walls were painted red and purple. There were too many limbs scattered across the small bed and floor for just Herman.

Her fingers twitched. Anger began to build on the grief and she turned away. She placed her tall walking stick against the wall and planted her hands upon the doorway to steady herself.

‘Anya,’ she said, it was hard to speak. ‘Don’t look inside.’

‘Ivar,’ Anya said slowly, dropping the spear she carried as she rushed forward.

Ma caught her and pushed her back firmly. Anya was shaking as she fought to enter the abattoir.

‘No,’ said Ma. ‘Not for you too see child.’

‘My husband—‘

Ma pulled her into an embrace and forcefully drew her away from the door. Each step was easier than the last. For a long moment she held the woman tight. The heavy beating of her heart pressed against her chest. Wet cheeks quivering as low wails rode out on laboured breaths.

‘Breathe, Anya. Breathe slow. Hush girl.’

She turned Anya gently to face away from the cabin and found herself staring at the body of Mikal once more. Her teeth bit into her bottom lip as her eyes followed the gory trail toward the trees. A muddied mass of blood and grass. The footprints were what drew her eye. There wasn’t just one bear, but several of some size.
Strangely too there were the signs of smaller creatures.

Branches creaked in the wind and the clouded sky rushed past rapid.

Ma stared at the dark leaves of a bush that clung to the base of a tree. They weren’t moving like the others.
‘Stay behind me,’ she whispered into Anya’s ear. Gently shuffling the woman to the side, she pulled off her backpack and set it down.

Another bush rustled to the right and Ma took a cautious step forward, her eyes looking down toward the spear that lay in the muddy grass.

Seconds passed and the wind grew wilder. Ma felt her greyed hair come loose from the knot she’d tied and it whipped across her face. Spatters of raindrops struck her forehead.

Memories of long hunts in the frozen north warmed her blood and the rage at the death of her sons ignited the flow to fire.

She snatched up the spear as her prey exploded from the bush with a savage howl.

A large wolf, its grey fur flecked red. Where its eyes should have been ugly scabs covered the sockets.

Its snout flared as the jaw widened, and the wolf bounded toward them with terrible speed. Anya cried out in shock behind her as Ma howled in response and charged.

The beast leapt and Ma dropped to her knees. Skidding on the bloody ground she rammed the spear upwards into the beasts chest.

Straining, she swung the spear over her shoulder to hurl the wolf overhead. A sharp snap made her wince and for a moment she feared her arm had been broken. The realisation it was the spear that had cracked gave her little pleasure.

The are more.

With laboured breaths Ma struggled to turn and be sure of the kill. Hurt rushed through her shins and kneecaps.
‘Ma!’ Anya shouted as a twin to the first beast stalked from the second bush. Slow, methodical, tongue lolling from it’s mouth as it panted and paced.

The scabs over this ones eyes stretched beyond the sockets. Lumpen and leathery tendrils curling down the beasts neck.

Ma struggled to rise.

Her gaze stayed locked upon the wolf.

A hand clapped her shoulder and she instinctively shifted away from the offer of aid before taking hold and allowing Anya to help her rise.

Still the beast watched.

Beyond the blindness and strangeness of its scars, there was something about the way it moved that registered wrong. The wolf before them was alone but it seemed to be held back by some invisible hand.

All of the beasts instincts should have been to kill and feed.

Instead it was waiting.

‘Anya,’ Ma said taking slow steps backwards, each one matched by the wolf. ‘Be ready to run. No hesitation. When we reach my bag you go. Get home, get them on the wagon and ride north. Take what coin there is from beneath my bed.’

‘I can’t leave you.’

‘You will.’
‘Ma—‘

‘My name is Chara Kellis, I was born with no breath in my lungs. A dead child, cursed. Sixty years I have lived beyond that day. This one is the one I choose to die.
‘Get my Grandchildren safe.’

Anya squeezed her hand.

Ma’s foot tapped her bag and she squeezed back.

The beast turned its head to an angle sniffing the air.

‘Go!’ Ma yelled as she snatched her hand away and grabbed the bag.

Anya did as bid and the wolf as expected.

Ripping the backpack open the old woman grimaced and plunged her hand within.
The beast pounced.

Mikel’s flat eyes watched from the doorway. Fangs sunk into her arm, forcing her to drop the bag. Stumbling back from the ferocious assault she collapsed into the mud roaring from the pain.

The wolf’s heavy weight pressed down on her chest. For seconds all was teeth and claws and fur.

Wait.

She let it bite. Let it gnaw. Screaming with every gnash of the wolf’s jaws as it tore through her leather overcoat and ripped at flesh.

Wait.

Then it paused and turned its hunger toward her throat.

Now.

’Wrong. Fucking. Arm.’ She growled into the beasts face, punctuating each word by slamming the serrated spearhead in her right hand into its brain.

For long moments Ma lay in the dirt.

Wolf blood pouring steadily over her face. Ragged heavy breaths were hard taken beneath the beasts body.
She half expected Anya to return and aid her.

No, girl’s too practical.

In the distance she could hear howling and it drove her to heave the corpse aside.

Scarlet fingers caressed the Oldstone at her neck. Only she could buy what remained of her family time to escape.
Using the animal’s body to prise herself from the dirt, she dragged herself upright and reached for the bag. Her joints as a whole hurt more than the wounds on her left arm.

Age was the one injury she couldn’t treat.

Unless

Her fingers struggled to unclasp the Oldstone. Quivering from the exertion and being fatter than they had any right to be made it an ordeal. The mechanism was old and delicate.

Finally, she managed to rotate the tiny needle three full rotations and pressed hard. Daily she’d pricked her thumb on the needle. Morning and night since the wise-man had first granted it to her.

Feeding the fragment of Ke within.

Tugging the stone free from its clasp she lifted it and looked at the tiny shadow within. Crimson clouds swirled around the shape.

‘It’s time,’ Ma said.

Generations of her line had been granted the fragments. From their third year to their last day they would carry Ke with them. Whispering their hopes and dreams and fears to it. Sustaining the small life within with drops of blood.

‘You can only give. It can only take,’ the wise-man had said. ‘But if you give enough it will take you to glory.’

In the south the shadow had moved slowly, sluggish to the point where Ma had thought it had perished years before. The poison those ancient southerners had used to destroy the gods still lingered, the wise-men said, sapping the strength of the Oldstones and their promise.

So it had been, until these past weeks when the rumours had started. A fresh vitality infused the Ke. Stirring it to wakefulness and bringing back the vibrations she had felt from it as a girl.

‘We have a bargain,’ Ma said. ‘We shared a life and now we must be one. Prove my faith was not in vain. Grant me the strength to hold back what comes.’

Blood rolled across her tongue as she swallowed the Oldstone. It went down hard forcing Ma to cough violently.
Warriors of the north had done the same for thousands of years. It was the final weapon, a way to make the last gasp of the dying a mighty bellow. Once taken, death would follow.

For a time though…

Ma closed her eyes as she leaned against the dead wolf. She felt nothing but the years squeezing her tight and the raw pain from the bite. Oldstones did not work on this cursed continent. They never had.

She was a fool for thinking her plight would change a wicked truth.

The contents of her bag lay scattered in the mud. A series of small brown pouches. Several had burst and the powder within drifted on the wind. There was enough left for her needs.

All that remained was to prepare.

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MattKnott

Knows the real name of Lower Corte
#7
Herman’s notes danced a swirl with dead leaves and the broken wood rattled loudly in the rising wind. A cold that caressed Ma’s cheeks and hands. She’d bound her arm as well as she could and set to building her spear.

The long iron walking stick that had long been her hallmark was stained with dark red from lying upon the floor. The many sigils and symbols upon it brought into relief by the blood. A winding scroll that told ancient tales.

Lifting the weapon, she turned it in her hands and let her fingers walk across the stories.

How Ubba Eyeripper had slain the Vellock. Greta and the War of Claws. The time Small Sten had taken up the spear to avenge his brother.

Chara and her bastard failure of a father.

Rubbing her fingertips together she saw they’d taken on the hue that coated the haft and sighed. There was no time to grieve. No time to acknowledge the horror of the cabin.

She’d twisted the screws tightly to affix the serrated spearhead. Long and vicious, the edges remained razored. Ma had made sure it lost none of its edge even as she herself had dulled. It was the first time in twenty years that it had been made whole.

The spear felt oddly lighter, with the steel attached to the tip. She lifted it and practiced her stances amazed at how her muscles obeyed.

Twin triggers on the mid and rear of the weapon, a quirk unique to the craft of her people , felt stiff. Massaging them, Ma steadied her breathing until they began to make a satisfying click when pressed at the same time.
Kneeling, she began to empty the powder from the pouches onto the steel tip. Scooping blood from the ground she mixed it with the powder and coated the edges until it looked as though the head was made from red sand.

Holding it up to the wind she grunted in satisfaction as wild gusts failed to loosen the mixture.

It’ll do.

Pain lanced her heart and she dropped the spear. There was no way to suck in breath as the same sensation filled her lungs. It was like a bag of scattered needles shredding her insides with every movement.

Ma spasmed and scratched at the hardwood floor. Nails snapped and her teeth cracked as she ground them together.

Bent over backwards the heels of her feet pressed against her spine.

A rosebush grew around her guts. Thorns pricking at her cramped stomach.

All thoughts burned away.

Except for a word that was not her own.

‘Why?’

Evicted by agony, she drifted. She was nothing. She had no mouth to answer. A pinprick on a canvas of endless black.

All that was Chara Kellis, all that was Ma, began to crumble as the darkness devoured her sense of self. Cracking her open and tasting the memories within.

A lifetime lived twice. Once a straight line and once in haphazard chunks. Near nothing remained but for one precious moment around which she wrapped her whole being.

Sunlight on the lake. Children swimming. Rige smiling as her sons and their wives laughed at one of the old man’s ribald jokes.

A week later her husband had died. His lungs had given up.

The blackness paused and shared a memory of its own.

The god-city of Ke strode across lush green land. The Many and The Few in harmony within. Ever alive with the buzz of insects in their billions and laughter of man. Flowing through arches of polished marble and past silken banners that seemed to have grown from the very stone.
Magnificence past reason in a scale that defied belief.
‘Taken.’


A mountain and a feather at opposite ends of the scale.

Yet somehow balanced.

Understanding of her need.

Air flooded her lungs and her eyes opened to a world that contained too many colours.

Rich, heady scents surrounded her and Ma could taste them all. Rising from the floor to stand she realised after that she hadn’t used her hands to push up.

What breaths that came were steady and measured. Perfect. Where there had been pain, there was nothing. She almost smiled.

It was like a dream of youth thrust into a nightmare.

She could hear them approaching. The wolves and the bears and…

Patting the pouches attached to a leather belt that cut diagonal across her chest, she checked that each was held tight. Satisfied that everything was in place she leaned down to take up the spear. Pausing for a moment, she pressed her hand into the blood upon the wooden floor. It felt hot, though Ma knew it was long cold.

Drawing four lines that crossed her face from right to left, she shuddered at the warmth of the rich liquid.

Hoisting the spear she rolled her neck and reveled in the smoothness of the motion.

Close now. It was as though they marched. The wolves. Each paw kissing the ground at the same time. Raised and dropped in unison. Ma could feel it.

Both the unreality and the wrongness.

Herman’s notes danced a swirl with dead leaves and the broken wood rattled loudly in the rising wind. A cold that caressed Ma’s cheeks and hands. She’d bound her arm as well as she could and set to building her spear.

The long iron walking stick that had long been her hallmark was stained with dark red from lying upon the floor. The many sigils and symbols upon it brought into relief by the blood. A winding scroll that told ancient tales.

Lifting the weapon, she turned it in her hands and let her fingers walk across the stories.

How Ubba Eyeripper had slain the Vellock. Greta and the War of Claws. The time Small Sten had taken up the spear to avenge his brother.

Chara and her bastard failure of a father.

Rubbing her fingertips together she saw they’d taken on the hue that coated the haft and sighed. There was no time to grieve. No time to acknowledge the horror of the cabin.

She’d twisted the screws tightly to affix the serrated spearhead. Long and vicious, the edges remained razored. Ma had made sure it lost none of its edge even as she herself had dulled. It was the first time in twenty years that it had been made whole.

The spear felt oddly lighter, with the steel attached to the tip. She lifted it and practiced her stances amazed at how her muscles obeyed.

Twin triggers on the mid and rear of the weapon, a quirk unique to the craft of her people , felt stiff. Massaging them, Ma steadied her breathing until they began to make a satisfying click when pressed at the same time.
Kneeling, she began to empty the powder from the pouches onto the steel tip. Scooping blood from the ground she mixed it with the powder and coated the edges until it looked as though the head was made from red sand.

Holding it up to the wind she grunted in satisfaction as wild gusts failed to loosen the mixture.

It’ll do.

Pain lanced her heart and she dropped the spear. There was no way to suck in breath as the same sensation filled her lungs. It was like a bag of scattered needles shredding her insides with every movement.

Ma spasmed and scratched at the hardwood floor. Nails snapped and her teeth cracked as she ground them together.

Bent over backwards the heels of her feet pressed against her spine.

A rosebush grew around her guts. Thorns pricking at her cramped stomach.

All thoughts burned away.

Except for a word that was not her own.

‘Why?’

Evicted by agony, she drifted. She was nothing. She had no mouth to answer. A pinprick on a canvas of endless black.

All that was Chara Kellis, all that was Ma, began to crumble as the darkness devoured her sense of self. Cracking her open and tasting the memories within.

A lifetime lived twice. Once a straight line and once in haphazard chunks. Near nothing remained but for one precious moment around which she wrapped her whole being.

Sunlight on the lake. Children swimming. Rige smiling as her sons and their wives laughed at one of the old man’s ribald jokes.

A week later her husband had died. His lungs had given up.

The blackness paused and shared a memory of its own.

The god-city of Ke strode across lush green land. The Many and The Few in harmony within. Ever alive with the buzz of insects in their billions and laughter of man. Flowing through arches of polished marble and past silken banners that seemed to have grown from the very stone.
Magnificence past reason in a scale that defied belief.
‘Taken.’


A mountain and a feather at opposite ends of the scale.

Yet somehow balanced.

Understanding of her need.

Air flooded her lungs and her eyes opened to a world that contained too many colours.

Rich, heady scents surrounded her and Ma could taste them all. Rising from the floor to stand she realised after that she hadn’t used her hands to push up.

What breaths that came were steady and measured. Perfect. Where there had been pain, there was nothing. She almost smiled.

It was like a dream of youth thrust into a nightmare.

She could hear them approaching. The wolves and the bears and…

Patting the pouches attached to a leather belt that cut diagonal across her chest, she checked that each was held tight. Satisfied that everything was in place she leaned down to take up the spear. Pausing for a moment, she pressed her hand into the blood upon the wooden floor. It felt hot, though Ma knew it was long cold.

Drawing four lines that crossed her face from right to left, she shuddered at the warmth of the rich liquid.

Hoisting the spear she rolled her neck and reveled in the smoothness of the motion.
 

MattKnott

Knows the real name of Lower Corte
#8
Close now. It was as though they marched. The wolves. Each paw kissing the ground at the same time. Raised and dropped in unison. Ma could feel it.

Both the unreality and the wrongness.

She walked outside as they breached the tree-line, a half-circle of ten. An eyeless pack of ragged beasts. Each wanting to open her throat but unable to break toward her. Creatures of the wild held in thrall to a wilder force.
She snapped the spear horizontal and the pack gnashed at the air. Some inched forward.

A low whimper ran across the line and the wolves stepped back like chastised dogs. The scabs over their eyes were wet like angry sores. Every passing second that they held back caused the beasts anguish.

Ma held her stance. She was fighting a similar need. A compulsion to throw herself to the attack. She could fear the flames inside her burning bright but fast.

Anya needed more time to reach the homestead.

The vibrations in the ground sang to her. The leader was near, as were the bears. Every heavy step sending shrieks and shudders through the pack surrounding her. Their fear and disgust not just for whatever dominated them, but for the other members of the tainted pack was plain.

Autumn leaves rode the wind.

Ma darted forward, tugging one of the pouches free to hurl into the jaws of the wolf to her right. Tightly packed, yet loosely bound the pouch burst open scattering powder across the beasts tongue and fur. Gusts carried the rest to the left.

She was fast. Faster even than she had been in her youth. Her movements were more instinct than plan. A constant shift and sway of movement as she repeated the throw with another pouch and swung the spear in a vicious arc that carved the belly of a wolf that had broken forth to attack her.

The impact barely registered and she twisted the metal back to her waist.

Another made the attempt and she fed it steel. Twisting, she tossed the wolf aside and slammed the butt of the spear downward, driving a muscled neck to the dirt. Using the haft to press down with all her weight, she took a small jump back over the grounded beast. The slight drop of the spear telling her she’d broken the beasts spine.

She found her mind catching up to acts after they’d happened. An ugly, exhilarating disconnect. She’d felt it years before, when she rode to war.

A vicious kick crumpled ribs and sent a heavy, grey beast spinning into a tree.

Rapid thrusts kept a pair at a distance, in the periphery she could see others flanking her. Ma retreated to the cabin. Dashing backwards to clear the doorway before she could be caught from all sides.

Dropping one of the pouches onto her foot, she kicked it forward as the enraged pack joined the two to her front. Powder filled their nostrils, stalling the tide of teeth and claws.

Her thumbs caressed the triggers on the haft. The spearhead blossomed.

Sparks first.

Then blue fire that birthed angry flames. It spilled over the pack like water. A burning cascade that caught on their fur and in their throats. Where the powder had landed earlier each mote erupted into droplets of molten slag.
High pitched howls escaped the maelstrom. Squeals from dying lungs as the beasts struggled to separate only to find their fur and flesh had melted together. A couple at the rear managed to pull away. Running howling to the trees and rolling in the grass to try and stay the flames.

Ma stabbed into the mass.

Smoke wafted into her face and she coughed. Her legs became unsteady. She looked down and saw Mikal’s face staring up toward her. A shambles of bone and dripping wax skin that grinned.

Shuffling back and holding a hand over her mouth she took a knee.

‘For you.’ Ma managed reaching toward Mikal before pulling back from the heat.

Blood soaked her clothing. Bites and slashes from the wolves that she hadn’t felt during the fight were everywhere. Throughout she’d been savaged and never even known.

Standing, she looked to the corpses beyond the door she rapped the butt of her spear against the wood of the cabin. Teeth gritted and hair loose, she felt the fire around her heart begin to dim as the flames on the spearhead faded.

Tears were for southerners.

She wiped her eyes anyway.

With a crash the fractured wall of the cabin exploded inwards. Ma brought up the spear, but it was too late.
A wet roar deafened her. A colossal paw smashed her against the wood.

Her sternum crunched inward and she started to fall when the full weight of the bear drove her through the wall.
The few pouches left on her strap snapped and burst. Powder choked her as she lay in the mud. What agony there must have been remained dulled. Held back by Ke’s gift.

All the world was painted scarlet by her left eye. The ringing in her ears made the roar from the beast sound distant. Every breath taken shunted different splintered bones apart.

A network of scabs coated the bears chest as it rose on hind legs. Like the wolves, its eye sockets were covered in the black, cracked mass.

Scrambling away in the dirt she saw her spear and rolled to grasp it as the beast reached down.

Skittering in the mud she barely managed to shift her head to avoid the bears clutches. Every inch she rose brought more pain. Unbalanced and struggling, Ma ducked and shifted, stabbing out with each sway to make cuts that barely grazed the monstrosity.

A trail of blood was pouring from her side.

Thrusting out she was forced to withdraw before she could ram the steel deep. What gash she managed sent the beast into a frenzy.

It only grew faster as she herself slowed.

Step by step. Thrust by thrust.

Then she saw it.

Slouching through the wound in the forest it had made earlier. A shape as high and near wide as the cabin. Over huge shoulders a thick mane hung, shadowing its eyes. A bears jaw gave way to a pair of curved fangs that hung like swords. Master of the maul, dominator of the pack. King of all bears and beasts.

Its roar battered her even though it was a hundred foot or more away, and she near deaf.

The bear shrunk at the sound of it. Ma made her choice and charged past the cowed beast.

What was sweat and what was blood became meaningless. All that mattered was that she drove the spear into the monstrosities chest.

Fifty feet.

Haemorrhaging harder with every step.

Forty-five

Tree trunk forelegs beat against the ground in challenge.

Forty.

Her breath faltered.

Forty.

Her knees buckled.

Thirty-nine.

She crawled.

She howled.

She dragged herself inch by inch spitting froth between her lips.

A weight pressed on her back, pressing her broken chest against the ground and forcing screams out. Claws sank into her skin. Saliva dripped onto her neck. What was left of Ke dissipated with each slow beat of her heart as it was crushed between spine and sternum.

Thank you.

Anya would have made it by now. She had to, and she would force the others to flee.

The children would live.

That was all that mattered.

Cara Kellis forced her head to twist and look toward the abomination. It remained quivering among the devastated trees. A titanic force, something more than real. Watching, seeming to savour her suffering.

Red shadows filled her vision.

She could no longer breathe.

Sunlight scattered across the lake. Her family laughed.

‘We did well, didn’t we?’ Her husband whispered in her ear. Planting a gentle kiss on her cheek and watching the young rush to the shore.

‘We did,’ Chara said. ‘We did well.’


Her spear lay beneath her. Spearhead cutting into her flesh.

With a smile, Chara pressed the triggers
 

MattKnott

Knows the real name of Lower Corte
#9
That was a bit of a trial!

Only allows 10,000 characters per post so I need to make sure the whole thing is in its place.

I'm actually going to take a bit of time rewording tonight. It's the earliest days, so I figured best to go first draft rough for feedback.
 
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Griffin

Journeyed there and back again
#10
I'll try to read this before the end of the year and maybe offer my experiences or humble suggestions (or say how bloody wickedly awesome it is!)