Critique Group – Out of the Curse

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Out of the Curse – by Gabrielle (This is a new version of a piece submitted earlier)

Another was already here, and the shadows of his wings flickered on the stone wall. I did not want to fight, but I needed the food.

Moments ago, I had woken up to find myself in the gray, dim room which had been my home for the past three days. Red shadows stretched down from the lone torch high on the wall to illuminate the small boy crouching by the door, but the food had not appeared yet. As I cautiously rose to my knees, I brushed my hands against the stone floor, sweeping away the sketch of the sun on a field of flowers, which I had made last night with the ashes that had fallen from our torch. The drawing did not fit with the dark underground world that was all I had ever known but then again, neither did I.

The boy was small compared to the other six-year-old Livyahaks, including me, but he hissed aggressively as soon as I started crawling toward him and the door. His gray eyes flashed, trying to protect his food that had not yet appeared from the slot at the bottom of the door. Slowly moving closer, I raised my hands in a gesture of passivity and searched for any sign of friendliness. It did not matter he was only three quarters my size 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 other children in the room, he seemed relieved that they were still asleep, an eyelid covering each of their gray 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. This underground world and the constant cycling through tests and training were all that I had ever known. I never knew what was coming next, but I did know that some of us would die during each test. Nakavar could only have the fittest Livyahaks survive to join his army.

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 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 knelt a few feet away from the other boy 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 their fangs 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, each wrapped in their leathery wings. We were made for perfection, and I was proud of it. We were the perfect army, unlike the elves, though our first ancestors had been Eshaem elves, and each of us bore some resemblance to the race. Most had the elves’ 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; each of us knew we had the power to kill.

A small grating sound reached my ears. I jerked my head back to the boy. He has shifted to his hands and knees, and now he started at the food slot, his mouth agape. With little noise, the food slipped in from the crack at the bottom of the door. Grabbing one of the six loaves, I scurried to a corner and started to scarf it down quickly, barely pausing to breathe. While the food kept me alive, it was dangerous to be caught with it. While I moved away, the scrawny boy dived in on the food without first moving away from the door. His mistake.

A Delwic might have the strength to dare the others to fight him, but I was not that strong yet. Yet, I was just a Syd like all the rest of the Livyahaks in the room, and we were only meant to become foot soldiers. But someday I would be stronger. I would be a Delwic. Before any of us could remember anything, Nakavar has separated us into two groups: Syds and Delwics. The Delwics could become leaders or solo fighters, but we Syds never could. 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 watched the inevitable from my corner. With hideous screeches, they pounced on the food, each of their venomous fangs extended. They quickly spotted the boy with his half-finished loaf, and he, too, disappeared in the scramble for food. As I swallowed the last bit of my bread, the thick food caught in my throat, and I almost gagged.

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4 replies

  1. Wow, that is very interesting! Now I’m very curious as to what happens next. The only thing I didn’t really like was where you wrote; ‘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.’
    I am not very good at things like this, but it seems to me that your main character (she or he?) didn’t entirely shift their focus, so the two sentences seem at odds to me.
    Very good though, I really like it!

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  2. Gabrielle,

    I’m not sure how to critique this piece. When I critiqued it a year ago, I made quite a few suggestions about issues that still exist in this version. I think you should look again at my comments from a year and employ them in this version. I really don’t know what else to say.

    I know how hard it is to take criticism to heart. It’s always up to the writer to accept or dismiss any suggestions. 🙂

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  3. Greetings. I think overall you have a really interesting beginning for a story here. I remember reading it a year ago on the forum and I can say there has been some improvements, however I have a few critiques which might help make the reader connect with the character just a little bit more.

    First of all, your writing is quite good. I did not notice grammar issues.

    Story and Character Critique:

    “At any moment their soulless eyes might flash open”
    First of all, this is a great description, but….

    This really begs a major question about story for me. Do you legitimately mean the children do not have souls: Kind of like how “Orcs” from Lord of the Rings don’t have souls –they are just killing machines. Or is it more of a poetic way of indicating that these unfortunate children have been so destroyed that they are willing to kill.

    If it is the first case, where the children are soulless orcs, then I am wondering what makes our POV character stand apart. Is he different than the others in some way. Why should I care about our POV character if he is also a soulless beast bent on killing? Does he have an “unnatural” (at least for his race) sense of compassion or love? If you show me that he has a sense of love and compassion while all the other kids are bent on killing that would be a very powerful illustration.
    –––This would connect me with his character instantly and make me love him–––
    Otherwise, my current reason for liking the POV character is that I feel sorry for him. Make it so that I love him!!!!

    My question is why am I supposed to care about a character who is clearly designed for an evil purpose (There’s lots of good opportunities here for redemption stories and so on). But, if our character is so keen on becoming a Dewic, then I feel like he is a wee bit evil.

    Second, are the children unfortunate victims here or are they actually invested in the ‘gladiator process’ with wanting to win?

    Maybe I misinterpreted your intentions there, but I hope that some clarity could maybe be shed. Your doing a good job.

    Next…

    “Grabbing one of the six loaves, I scurried to a corner and started to scarf it down quickly, barely pausing to breathe.”
    This is indeed a correct sentence by itself, but since it’s in the middle of the paragraph it does not work. The section ‘grabbing one of the six loaves’ logically connects with the previous action of the small boy. Therefore, I initially thought that it was the boy grabbing one of the loaves. We need to allow the reader to see that it is our POV character first (its a very minor POV shift), then we can give the action of our POV character. This will make the story flow so that I don’t have to stop.

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  4. I like it, but I might work on perhaps grammatical flaws that were present. I am more a police for typos, off-sentences, and incorrect labeling than anything else, so I was very pleased with this story plot-wise. Other people such as Mr. Davis or more experienced writers may have something to say more, and I am sorry I don’t. You have what I once termed the ‘Writer’s fire’. You have a story that starts in a tense atmosphere, which will not only make the readers want to read more, but make you want to write more. This is a very good thing! ‘Writer’s fire’ can be absent in a great many stories, and because of this, many writers can develop the ‘Author’s plague’: a terrible disease in which one is convinced their writing is pointless, unmotivated, and ever-lessening in quality. Don’t fall to the plague! The fire will keep it away and cure it. Keep on, and let the world feel your fire and finally know! 🙂

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