Critique Group – Child of the Curse and Chiron in the Woods

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No, these submissions aren’t anything like what Flynn just saw, so we’ll have an easy time critiquing today.

Don’t forget the critiquing guidelines. All you have to do is post a comment about the submissions below. Don’t feel like you need to critique both or the whole piece of either one. Even a short comment on one aspect can be helpful. When you critique, be sure to mention which piece you’re critiquing.

This post will stay active indefinitely, so you can come back and add comments at any time. If you are one of the writers who is being critiqued, you should subscribe to this post so you can be notified when any comments are added.

Submission #1 – Child of the Curse by Gabrielle

Another was already here. I did not want to fight, but I needed the food.

He was smaller than many of the other Livyahaks, including me, but he hissed, his grey eyes flashing, trying to protect his food which had not yet appeared. Slowly moving closer, I raised my hands in a gesture of passivity and searched his grey eyes. It did not matter he was small if he could stab his fangs into me. “I only want one loaf.”

He flinched at my whispered voice, but his wings, displaying venom injectors on each tip, folded behind his back. After glancing quickly at the ten others in the room, he seemed relieved that the others were still asleep, an eyelid covering each of their grey eyes. I glanced at him again before shifting my focus to the small slot in the iron door. But I would not turn my back and continued watch him out of the corner of my eye, waiting for any sign of aggression.

It was before dawn, or at least, what I knew as the dawn. All I could guess was the dawn happened when they lit the lamps in the tunnels beneath Black Towers.

For the three days since they put us in this stone cell, the caretakers slipped us six small loaves of bread through a slot in the door, five minutes before “dawn.” Each loaf was just enough to get one of us to live to the next day. But that was the problem: there were twelve of us Syds locked in the room and only six meals.

Pulling down my oily, dirt saturated tunic, I tried to cover up my cold knees as I waited in silence. I waited for the bread, but more than that, I waited for the boy to try to kill me. I waited for the other Livyahaks to wake and try to kill me. I waited. At any moment their soulless eyes might flash open, the wings on their backs might expand, and the venom in the fangs on the ends of their wings would kill me in a few painful hours.

Careful to keep my own dragon wings folded behind my back, I leaned against the stone wall and stared at the sleeping others. We were made for perfection, and I was proud of it. We were the perfect army, unlike the elves. Our first ancestors had been Eshaem elves, and each of us bore some resemblance to the race, whether it was the pale skin and red or golden hair. But none of us had their blue eyes. We were not like them. Instead, we had dragon wings on our backs and a venomous fang on each wingtip. Each of us slept with death in our wings, and each of us knew we had the power to kill.

A small grating sound reached my ears. Jerking my head back to the boy, I noticed he had shifted and seemed more eager than before. With little noise, the food slipped in. As soon as the six loaves of bread were slipped through the cracks in the door, I grabbed my portion and scurried to a corner. While the food kept me alive, it was dangerous to be caught with it. Though I moved away, the scrawny boy dived in on the food without first moving away: his mistake.

A Delwic might have the strength to dare the others to fight him, but I was not that strong yet. I was just a Syd. I was just meant to become a foot soldier. But someday, when I survived this, I would be that strong. I would be a commander or assassin; I would be a Delwic.

It did not take long before the ten others woke up, and I watch the inevitable from my corner. With hideous screeches, the six-year-olds pounced on the food, each of their venomous fangs extended. While I swallowed the last bit of my bread, I watched in repulsion as the boy disappeared in the scramble for food.

The five victors dispersed, hissing protectively over their spoils, and the boy twitched on the floor. The spots from the fangs were just visible, but they did not swell. It was a cruel joke. Though the venom was fatal, the puncture wounds never swell. With the sting on his neck, he would die in a just few minutes. I glanced to the two other girls who had missed out on getting their food for the past days. They would die, too, except they would die slower. There were three others who missed out on the food, but unless they were unusually weak, they would last through the day and die during the night, or perhaps the next day.

It was horrible fate I had. None of the others felt what I could feel—a clutching hand in my throat that showed me the horrors of life. The others mocked the dead boy and did everything in their power to make the suffering of the ones doomed to die of starvation last longer. But throughout the day, I hid in my corner, sometimes sleeping but never crying. If I showed I was weak then they would most certainly kill me, too. And why would I cry? I could do nothing to stop their fate and little to change my own. All I could do was strive to be stronger.

Submission #2 – Chiron in the Woods by Kaci

Still shaking from the spirit’s indwelling, Chiron followed his brother and sister through the trees surrounding their house. They were still south of the lake,  near the Archive, doing their best to ignore the chill in the crisp night air. He drew his cloak tighter around him, drawing in even his staff-hand. But it was more than just the cold night that stole warmth from him; the spirit’s words, he confessed to his soul and to his master, frightened him.

“Your heart is going to break.”

His heart already felt like it might break. The spirit’s invisible hands chafed against it and against his heart; every sinew in him felt as if someone were running sharp fingernails across, and, even worse, twisting and pulling. The burning sensation drove straight down into his bones and marrow, leaving him short of breath. “I don’t understand,” he whispered, too soft for the twins to hear him. “I thought you brought power and life and energy. This . . . I feel ill.”

“This is different from the ancients.”

The spirit prompted him to look up at the moon. It was a bright moon,  and made him think of an old saying: I am your moon, casting your reflection to earth. It was an old Secondborn saying, drawing on the Firstborn as the sun–true  of all the Secondborn, the second guiding proverb. He, the moon, reflected the light of the Firstborn to all the earth during the darkest of hours; the Secondborn carried no light of their own, nor warmth, nor comfort. They could only receive from the Firstborn and extend it into the earth so distant from him, chasing back shadows wherever they willed. How that reconciled with the spirit coming inside of him, he wasn’t sure, and he kept glimpsing at his brother’s back as though the answer might lie there.

A soft squeezing of his heart answered him. “A bright sun in the middle of the night would blind, if not destroy you, wouldn’t it?”

Chiron balked. “I . . . suppose that’s true. But the sun is still external to the moon.”

“The moon stands between the sun and the earth, maintaining seasons and tides. It also eclipses the sun so that one might look at it.”

“But you still don’t see the sun; you only see the outer edges that the moon can’t hide, and the sun is just behind the moon.”

He could’ve sworn the spirit laughed. “That’s true, too.”

What did that make Anya, then? Another moon? A planet? A distant star with her own light?

Wind chilled his skin.

The spirit prompted him off-course from the twins, deeper into the woods and off the dirt path. The twins were out of sight, soon out of sound, and the night grown darker, trees casting shadows, wind stirring trees. Miniature clouds of air puffed in front of him, blocking his few of the ground. Chiron gripped his staff a little tighter and setting his hand on his knife. This direction led west of the Archive, and, if he went far enough, to the old cistern out on the edge of his family’s property. He didn’t worry about trap lines on Batson land–at least, not until Dad’s militiamen had caught a few dealers trespassing the other day.  Those dealers had chased Ethan, Anya told him, and she’d helped him get away.

Even with all the trees and seemingly nothing to mark his position, he realized he was extremely close –Beo and Gwen were extremely close–to the spot. Chiron stopped where he was and turned slowly, prodding the ground with his walking stick. Dad’s men had killed three in pursuit and taken the remaining two  for questioning. They hadn’t come back, but he wasn’t taking chances.

“Why am I out here?” he whispered. The others had always teased him a little for wandering off, but the spirit would compel him, and before he knew it he’d be miles away without any real explanation as to why.

The moon must always move to the beat of the sun.

That’s an odd thought.

He should not be afraid, not with this spirit within him. And perhaps that was his answer. Anya had been Ethan’s light, for a minute, while chasing the moon. No, it should be the sun. Moon doesn’t make sense. And yet, somehow the correct way of thinking was that Anya chased the moon because by this way alone she could see the sun.

But what did that mean?

This time the spirit didn’t answer. A little frustrated, Chiron  crept forward, still poking for animal traps and watching the ground. There shouldn’t be any dealer trap lines – only a foolish dealer would dare try that –  but Dad had told them to be cautious all the same. He had barely gone three steps when he felt a gentle squishing under his foot and jerked it back, hopping sideways out of the way.

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  1. Submission #1 – Child of the Curse by Gabrielle

    Gabrielle, I enjoyed your piece. Your prose is lovely, and your imagination sparkles.

    The beginning confused me. I had a hard time figuring out what was what.

    “Another was already here. I did not want to fight, but I needed the food.”

    I thought, “Another what? Why the need to fight?” It’s fine to raise questions, but questions are better reserved for back story elements than for the setting and characters of the main story.

    Next: He was smaller than many of the other Livyahaks, including me, but he hissed, his grey eyes flashing, trying to protect his food which had not yet appeared.”

    This indicates that the POV character and this creature are both Livyahaks. If so, then it seems odd that the POV character would name the species. The “appeared” makes me wonder if the food would magically materialize. This would be a good place to add the place where the food would come from.

    Next: Slowly moving closer, I raised my hands in a gesture of passivity and searched his grey eyes. It did not matter he was small if he could stab his fangs into me. “I only want one loaf.”

    Repeat of “grey eyes” (preferred spelling in the U.S. is gray. Are you in Canada?). How small is he? Maybe “only three quarters my size” or something like that instead of small.

    Next: After glancing quickly at the ten others in the room, he seemed relieved that the others were still asleep, an eyelid covering each of their grey eyes.

    Another repeat of grey eyes.

    Next: It was before dawn, or at least, what I knew as the dawn. All I could guess was the dawn happened when they lit the lamps in the tunnels beneath Black Towers.

    I would like to see this scene setting earlier.

    Next: there were twelve of us Syds locked in the room and only six meals.

    Syds? I thought they were Livyahaks.

    Next: Pulling down my oily, dirt saturated tunic, I tried to cover up my cold knees as I waited in silence.

    Is the POV character now sitting? That’s how it seems now. I pictured him or her standing earlier.

    Next: I waited for the bread, but more than that, I waited for the boy to try to kill me.

    What boy? There is no mention of a boy earlier. Do you mean that the small Livyahak is a boy? If so, that is not clear.

    Next: I waited for the other Livyahaks to wake and try to kill me. I waited. At any moment their soulless eyes might flash open, the wings on their backs might expand, and the venom in the fangs on the ends of their wings would kill me in a few painful hours.

    I don’t understand the Livyahaks verses Syds labels. Also, I think you can take out “on the ends of their wings.” You have already established where the fangs are with “displaying venom injectors on each tip.”

    Next: Careful to keep my own dragon wings folded behind my back, I leaned against the stone wall and stared at the sleeping others. We were made for perfection, and I was proud of it. We were the perfect army, unlike the elves. Our first ancestors had been Eshaem elves, and each of us bore some resemblance to the race, whether it was the pale skin and red or golden hair. But none of us had their blue eyes. We were not like them. Instead, we had dragon wings on our backs and a venomous fang on each wingtip. Each of us slept with death in our wings, and each of us knew we had the power to kill.

    This is an information dump that appears to have no motivation. You need to come up with a reason for your POV character to ponder these facts. Otherwise it is an unmotivated dump.

    Next: Jerking my head back to the boy, I noticed he had shifted and seemed more eager than before.

    “Jerking my head” doesn’t mesh well with “I noticed.” “I noticed” is a narrator phrase, while “jerking my head” is action. I would separate the two and provide more about the shift and show what eager looks like. “I jerked my head back to the boy. He had shifted to his hands and knees and now stared at the food slot, his mouth agape.”

    Next: With little noise, the food slipped in. As soon as the six loaves of bread were slipped through the cracks in the door, I grabbed my portion and scurried to a corner.”

    This seems to show repeated action. “The food slipped in” is a completed action. Then “As soon as the six loaves of bread were slipped through …” details the action after it occurred, including repeating the same verb. It might be better to write it this way. “With little noise, the six loaves slipped in through the slot. I grabbed my portion and scurried to a corner.”

    The “cracks” confused me. You mentioned “a slot in the door,” and now you have “cracks,” as if there are multiple paths for the food.

    Next: While the food kept me alive, it was dangerous to be caught with it. Though I moved away, the scrawny boy dived in on the food without first moving away: his mistake.

    How could he dive in with first moving away? I think the moving away would have to come after getting some food.

    Next: It did not take long before the ten others woke up, and I watch the inevitable from my corner.

    Change to “watched” to stay in past tense.

    Next: With hideous screeches, the six-year-olds pounced on the food, each of their venomous fangs extended.

    The mention of age jarred me. Why mention it? Is the POV character a different age? What about the boy?

    Next: While I swallowed the last bit of my bread, I watched in repulsion as the boy disappeared in the scramble for food.

    Repeat of “watch.” You have already established that the POV character is watching. Also, show repulsion. Don’t tell us that the character is repulsed.

    Next: The five victors dispersed, hissing protectively over their spoils, and the boy twitched on the floor.

    This seems to indicate that the victors each took a loaf, but it seems to me that the boy had quite a bit of time to eat the loaf he had.

    Next: I glanced to the two other girls who had missed out on getting their food for the past days.

    “Other” girls? A girl has not yet been mentioned.

    Next: They would die, too, except they would die slower. There were three others who missed out on the food, but unless they were unusually weak, they would last through the day and die during the night, or perhaps the next day.

    This indicates that death comes quickly for these prisoners, but earlier you gave the feeling that they had been here quite a while – “All I could guess was the dawn happened when they lit the lamps in the tunnels beneath Black Towers.” This indicates that multiple days had passed, and the POV character had become accustomed to the routine. Yet now the prisoners are dropping like flies.

    You have a lot of cool prose, and the story sounds like it will be great. I’m sure you have all of my questions answered in your mind, but I think you need to show some of the answers early to avoid confusion.
    Keep up the good work!

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    • Thank you so much for your feedback, Mr. Davis. Your style of prose is my favorite (from a modern author,) and it means a lot to me critiqued by you!
      I definitely will correct the things you pointed out. I had never noticed some of the errors before and some others, I just needed confirmation on. Thank you! I really appreciate that you took the time to critique the first part of my novel. It is really inspiring and helpful to young writers like me, and I know it is a blessing to the other writers that you critique, too.
      God bless,
      Gabrielle

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      • You’re welcome. I feel blessed that people want me to critique. 🙂

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      • Gabrielle,

        I haven’t kept up with these critique group sessions well, but I’ll get there.

        My general note, once more: For now, I’m looking mostly at content, not grammar and spelling, and mostly giving my immediate reactions.

        Miscellaneous comments:
        –Ha. I like the opening two sentences for some reason. It doesn’t let me see anything, to this point, so you might take the ‘blank room’ into consideration, but it’s telling me immediately what kind of person I’m dealing with.
        –Something about the word “Livyahak” makes me think of a wolf (Lycan), so the wings throw me off. I think you’d benefit from a little description either in place or prior to “Another was already here,” so I get a better picture.
        –So, I have two new words: Livyahak and Syd. As far as I can tell, Livyahak is a race and Syd possibly means prisoner. I don’t mind guessing by context, but some do. It’ll be okay as long as my guess is confirmed or corrected soon.
        –Okay, by the time I get to “dragon wings”, I’m really thinking some more description is needed earlier on. I’ve gone from thinking of them as two different things before getting to the wing type.
        –“Each of us slept with death in our wings, and each of us knew we had the power to kill.” I like this line. The rhythm is there, but I think if you cut it at “wings” you’d find it even stronger.
        –Delwic paragraph – Since I pointed it out, this paragraph corrects my prior guess on Syd.

        So yeah. Fun, unique twist on dragon-humanoid figures, and slightly reminiscent of Ender’s Game (good book, if dark). I’m not sure what makes me think EG, but hey.

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        • Thanks, Kaci!
          I really appreciate the feedback; it is great to realize how readers actually see the scene! I will make sure to clarify the descriptions, and the other things you mentioned. Also it was very kind of you to say that my excerpt reminded you of Ender’s Game 😉
          I can see how “Livyahak” makes you think of “Lycan,” but I actually created the word by combining two Hebrew words (“Livyatan”, leviathan which is a dragon like creature, and “haphak”, to change.) Since the word Lycan is not super well known, I think I will keep my names, but I will add some description right away so that it will alleviate any confusion.
          God bless,
          Gabrielle

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          • Oh, yeah, I wasn’t suggesting changing the names, just saying that’s how I got to it. No worries. Cool etymology behind it. 0=)

            Happy to help. I enjoyed reading it.

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  2. Submission #2 – Chiron in the Woods by Kaci

    Kaci,

    I like your descriptions, just enough to display the scene and incite the imagination but not too much to weigh down story progress. Good job.

    First paragraph: Still shaking from the spirit’s indwelling, Chiron followed his brother and sister through the trees surrounding their house. They were still south of the lake, near the Archive, doing their best to ignore the chill in the crisp night air. He drew his cloak tighter around him, drawing in even his staff-hand. But it was more than just the cold night that stole warmth from him; the spirit’s words, he confessed to his soul and to his master, frightened him.

    I think this can be tightened with removal of some pronouns. In intimate (or close) POV, the pronouns can often be eliminated in order to avoid narrator phrases. Consider deleting “around him” and “from him.” Instead of “frightened him” maybe “brought a frightening shudder” or something like that.

    Next: The spirit’s invisible hands chafed against it and against his heart

    What is the antecedent for “it.” I couldn’t figure that out.

    Next: every sinew in him felt as if someone were running sharp fingernails across, and, even worse, twisting and pulling.

    Consider deleting “in him” since he is the POV character.

    Next: The burning sensation drove straight down into his bones and marrow, leaving him short of breath.

    Again, intimate POV – The burning sensation drove straight down to bones and marrow, bringing shortness of breath.

    Next: The spirit prompted him to look up at the moon. It was a bright moon, and made him think of an old saying: I am your moon, casting your reflection to earth.

    Again, intimate POV (and avoidance of repetition) – The spirit prompted him to look up at the moon. Its brightness raised a memory, an old saying: I am your moon, casting your reflection to earth.

    Next: It was an old Secondborn saying, drawing on the Firstborn as the sun–true of all the Secondborn, the second guiding proverb. He, the moon, reflected the light of the Firstborn to all the earth during the darkest of hours; the Secondborn carried no light of their own, nor warmth, nor comfort. They could only receive from the Firstborn and extend it into the earth so distant from him, chasing back shadows wherever they willed. How that reconciled with the spirit coming inside of him, he wasn’t sure, and he kept glimpsing at his brother’s back as though the answer might lie there.

    This is a good example of how to bring in back story. The thoughts are motivated in a natural way. You gave sufficient reason for the POV character to ponder these issues. Well done.

    Again, I would try to create more intimacy by eliminating the POV character’s pronouns wherever possible. “How that reconciled with the spirit coming inside, who could know?”

    Next: A soft squeezing of his heart answered him.

    Again, intimate POV – A soft squeezing of his heart provided an answer.

    Next: Miniature clouds of air puffed in front of him, blocking his few of the ground.

    Again, intimate POV (and a typo) – Miniature clouds of air puffed in front, blocking his view of the ground.

    Next: Chiron gripped his staff a little tighter and setting his hand on his knife.

    What motivated these actions? “Setting” is the wrong verb form. Do you mean “set”? Also, I would write “a hand” to eliminate repeating “his.”

    Next: He didn’t worry about trap lines on Batson land–at least, not until Dad’s militiamen had caught a few dealers trespassing the other day.

    “He didn’t worry” is a narrator phrase. I would try to come up with a way to rephrase this.

    Next: Even with all the trees and seemingly nothing to mark his position, he realized he was extremely close –Beo and Gwen were extremely close–to the spot.

    I got the impression that Chiron was no longer with Beo and Gwen, since they were not even within sight or sound. Now it seems that they are all together. If the twins are not in sight, how could Chiron know how close they were to the spot?

    Also, intimate POV – “He realized” is a narrator phrase. Can you rephrase?

    Next: Chiron stopped where he was and turned slowly, prodding the ground with his walking stick.

    Where else could he stop besides were he was? I would delete “where he was.”

    Next: Dad’s men had killed three in pursuit and taken the remaining two for questioning. They hadn’t come back, but he wasn’t taking chances.

    Who is “he” in “he wasn’t taking chances?” Chiron or Dad? If Chiron, then I suggest changing to “They hadn’t come back, but why take chances?” This is more intimate. If Dad, then “They hadn’t come back, but Dad wasn’t taking chances.”

    Next: The others had always teased him a little for wandering off, but the spirit would compel him.

    More opportunities for intimacy by deleting pronouns – The others had always teased a little. Why the wandering off? The spirit’s compelling remained the only answer.

    Next: He should not be afraid, not with this spirit within him. And perhaps that was his answer.

    Intimate POV – No need to be afraid, not with this spirit within. And perhaps that was the answer.

    Next: He had barely gone three steps when he felt a gentle squishing under his foot and jerked it back, hopping sideways out of the way.

    Intimate POV – He had barely gone three steps when something squished under his foot. He jerked it back, hopping sideways out of the way.

    Kaci, your piece is intriguing and insightful. Because of these qualities, I think it begs for more intimacy. I don’t think that will be hard to achieve.

    Great stuff.

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    • Thanks, Bryan! Deep/intimate POV was what I was hoping for with this (and, quite obviously, prose over action). Prose is challenging for me because I tend to skim over it when reading, and when writing I tend to want to get into the action.

      Yeah….typos.

      As far as Beo and Gwen, if I remember, I think Chiron was guessing their proximity based on his. It’s kind of irrelevant information given only to remember he was with them at one point.

      As for the rest….saving notes.

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  3. Hi Mr. Davis, when will mine be posted? just wondering.

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  4. Dear Kaci,

    I really enjoyed reading your excerpt, and I loved your descriptions and beginning! I am curious, though; does your character, Chiron, have anything to do with the mythological Chiron, the centaur who trained heroes?

    As I mentioned before, I loved your opening. Something about the word “Archive” made me very curious and providing an interesting contrast to the natural setting. Also the line, “Your heart is going to break,” provided some very interesting tension and threw me right into the action.

    However, the phrase “even worse” in the third paragraph felt out of place and almost pulled me from the action.

    This sentence was confusing to me. I’m not sure what you were trying to say. “…true of all the Secondborn, the second guiding proverb.”

    Who is Anya? I never saw a solid explanation, though she is mentioned several times.

    Out of curiosity, what type of setting is your story taking place in? Is it a pure fantasy world, a dystopian world, or the modern world? At first, I thought it was a fantasy world (the combination of the name Chiron, the natural setting, and the strange spirit indwelling the character. However, the words “archive” and “dad” seems a bit out of place in a strictly fantasy world. I don’t know if this is something which needs to be fixed, but it is just a thought which I had.

    This sentence (“And yet, somehow the correct way of thinking was that Anya chased the moon because by this way alone she could see the sun.”) is fine, but it would be nice if you could figure out a better way of saying this. I had to read it twice, and it doesn’t “stick” with the reader, but I feel like it could/should strongly resonate with the reader.

    Awww…. do you have to stop there? I am really curious now 😉

    You seem like a great writer, and I hope you do well!

    God bless,
    Gabrielle

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    • Thanks!

      Chiron’s name: Sort of. His parents are named Isaac and Rebekah, and they gave all of their kids the names of mythological figures (Parvati Gwenhwyfar, Beowulf Arjunah, Chiron Rishi, Quetzalcoatl, Artemis, etc). So yes, he’s named after the centaur. 0=)

      Archive: Hehe. The Batson Family Archive.

      Anya: This was a prose exercise, so the whole thing is after a couple major events. Anya is the girl lead (and protagonist), and Chiron’s best friend (though some call her his girlfriend).

      Setting: It’s an alternate-our world, slightly in the future.

      haha. Well, this excerpt is something like 998 words, and the whole thing is 3132 words. I had a 1000-word limit, much as I wanted to post all of it. I stopped just short of the fun part.

      Thanks so much!

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  5. Gabrielle, I really like your story, the main things I would have mentioned have really already been addressed by others. I did have a question, why would the venom of their own species be fatal to them? It seems very dangerous and that they could accidentally kill themselves in their sleep. Also, why would they choose that method to build their army to begin with? It seems very anti productive to kill of the majority of those that would be serving as your soldiers.

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