Angel of Darkness - Chapter One

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guardian429
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Angel of Darkness - Chapter One

Post by guardian429 » June 25th, 2010, 1:41 am

I just joined the forum and found this website a few days ago. I'm really excited to find a forum like this with so many resources. Thanks for setting it all up, Nathan! Below I've copied the first chapter of my young adult novel and would absolutely love some honest feedback. Comment on anything and everything, I'm in the process of revising my original manuscript and this is the first revised chapter. This is in a completely different style than the original and I'm still not quite used to it. I'd really appreciate commentary on voicing and just overall writing quality. Don't hesitate to burn me if it's necessary!

Chapter One: Chosen
Alos
Dirt sprayed into Lex’s eyes as another missile struck the earth. He stumbled backward, tripping over torn limbs and discarded weapons. The sky above rumbled and lightning flashed, as though the world was at war with itself. A sudden wind brought the stench of sweat, blood and decay. Lex gripped his sword tighter and crouched, using his free hand to rub the grime from his eyes. The air was hazy with smoke and dust, obscuring the hillside behind a grey veil. Lex stood at the apex of the hill, overlooking what was once a living countryside. Now the ground was devoid of life, gouged and bloodied like the face of some great beast. Countless bodies struggled in the haze, swords and limbs flailing. The sight was almost comical, reminding Lex of an air-drenched fish looking hopelessly for the sea.

A man screamed just behind him. Catapulted into awareness, he rolled right, a body collapsing where Lex had crouched. His fallen comrade twitched and gurgled, blood welling from the man’s mouth and a wound just under his ribs. There was nothing to be done. He could only defend himself. The man’s murderer stepped over the corpse, its upper-lip curling back to expose serrated fangs. The Karn bellowed, clenching its fist around a sickle-shaped knife. Lex’s eyes flicked anxiously around him. The Karn was alone and could only have come through the forest that began on the hill’s far side. Lex silently berated himself for his lack of awareness. Surely the beast and its unfortunate prey hadn’t been silent as they approached. Preoccupied with the war occurring below him, Lex had ignored what was behind. Well, that certainly wouldn’t happen twice.

Lex flicked his boot upward, kicking dirt into the beast’s face. It snarled, swinging its sword arm blindly. Lex easily ducked beneath it and kicked outward, his foot planting solidly into the blackened hide of the Karn’s chest. Grunting, it stepped backward and shook its great head. Lex braced himself as it barreled toward him, head lowered and horns glinting. He deftly sidestepped the clumsy beast and grunted as he sank his sword into its back, slicing through its spine with a satisfying crunch.

As the beast’s body stilled, Lex closed his eyes, shaking off an encroaching headache. He suddenly felt indescribably weary. After hours of battle, adrenaline had long since deserted him, leaving nothing behind but the pain of countless wounds and overtaxed muscles. He longed for the peace of his humble home in the city, the sound of his mother’s gentle singing always filling the silence. Lex had lived there all his life and no other place could fill him with as much joy.

“Lex!” the voice broke unexpectedly through the cacophony of suffering.

A battle-worn, yet beautiful woman ran toward him, blonde hair framing striking green eyes. “Kali,” Lex said. He nodded toward her, lips twitching upward for the first time that morning.

She came to rest at his side and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Are you alright?” she asked, “I never should have let you come up here on your own. Why would you leave your battalion?” Her concern was compassionate and fierce, but Lex marveled at his own tolerance of it. He rarely accepted concern from anyone, particularly when it cast doubt on his own ability to survive.

“I needed to get away for a minute. It’s too much.”

“The war?”

He nodded and took a seat in the dirt. Still, though his body rested, he was careful to be aware of any approaching danger. Kali sat beside him, close enough to feel her breathing. She was silent for a while, probably processing his mood and his words. Kali never said anything without thought and rarely passed up an opportunity to alleviate a friend’s suffering, whether through word or deed. Though they had shared seventeen friendly years, Lex would never take her benevolent qualities for granted. There were precious few of Kali’s kind left in the universe.

“Do you think we’ll ever win, Lex?”

Kali’s voice was quiet, hesitant. “Of course,” Lex answered automatically.

“You think we can save Alos?” Kali rotated toward him, picking up his nearest hand and cradling it between hers. “Think carefully, before you answer Lex. I want to know what you really feel, not the nationalistic propaganda we’ve been fed.”

Lex opened his mouth to object, to assure Kali of his confidence, but no words came. Instead, he gently removed his hand and gazed at the ring that circled his right pinky. It was simple, a thin band of silver inlaid with platinum. The words “For Alos” were engraved across the ring’s face. The ring was a marker. Every man or woman who had dedicated their lives to the Alosian military wore it proudly. Lex could remember his vows of fealty clearly…

“Do you vow to defend Alos against any threat, both foreign and domestic?”

“I do.” The plaza had echoed with the drone of thousands of voices. Countless new recruits pledging their lives to the defense of their planet.

“And will you put the safety of your planet as well as the happiness and success of its inhabitants first, before all other needs or desires?”

“I will.”

“And in our current state of crisis, with the Karn invaders pillaging and slaughtering in every inhabited city, will you give your lives without fear and without hesitation?”

“I will…


Kali had knelt with Lex, giving all of herself to protect her home. Six years, Lex thought bitterly. For six years they had fought, bloodied their hands, watched hundreds of their friends perish. And for what? What had they actually accomplished? Lex watched the battle below them. Even from this distance, the bellows of the Karn were chilling. The creatures were ruthless. What made them so dangerous was not superior strength or cunning. It was a lack of emotion, their emptiness. They had left nothing behind them on their doomed and desolate planet. Nothing to fight for, nothing to miss. The beasts had nothing to lose, but everything to take. Life, love, stability. It would all be gone.

Did he believe they could win this war? Six years ago he would have said of course. And meant it. But now, weighed down by cold logic and a heavy heart, his hope was dwindling. Alos needed help. Hell, the entire galaxy needed help. “To be honest, Kali,” he said at last. “I’m not so sure anymore.”

She seemed satisfied with this. “Neither am I,” she said. “I know we’ll win this particular battle, and maybe the next, but…” She faltered, her hand rubbing her chest as though her heart had failed.

“What is it?”

“Can’t you feel it happening, Lex? The world is changing. The days are getting darker, the air harder to breath. I feel stronger with each passing day and yet… I don’t feel save.”

Lex nodded. It was as though an energy had been gradually filling the air. A dark energy that made Lex tremble. He had felt his very body changing in strange new ways, becoming stronger, more invigorated. His surroundings had become clearer, every edge sharper and more abrupt. A chill crept across his body as he breathed. “It’s as though something’s coming.”

Kali smiled. “I’m so glad you feel it to. I thought I was going crazy, but everything is changing. And there’s more. The Karn are growing weaker. Each battle has become easier and easier. They send fewer soldiers, unarmored and often unarmed. Instead of employing any kind of strategy or cunning they attack our forces head on. The Karn are heartless but they aren’t unintelligent. Why would they intentionally throw the fight and waste soldiers?”

Lex’s heart clenched and his breath caught in his throat. The world seemed to spin uncontrollably. “What if they’re setting us up? Toying with us?”

“What?” Kali breathed.

He struggled to control his desperation. “Think about it, Kali. Space activity has increased exponentially in the past three weeks. More and more Karn ships are pouring into our atmosphere but all of them are unmanned, with no visible weaponry. Dead in space.”

“Alosian command opted to leave them be,” she said hesitantly. “We can’t fight two wars at once and they aren’t an immediate threat.”

“But what if they are? Each battle is getting easier to win. Let’s face it, the Karn simply aren’t trying anymore. At least on the ground. All they’re doing is keeping us busy, launching assaults on our borders but making few attempts to raid food stores or weapons facilities. What if the real threat is in space?”

With an earth-trembling rumble, the sky split open, clouds cleft in two. The air became charged with errant electricity as a flaming projectile soared over their heads and collided with Alos’ surface. Before Lex could even scream, fire consumed them and he knew no more…

Lex’s body finally grew still, his sightless blue eyes fixed upward. Burned and irrevocably damaged his corpse lay across the smoldering slag that was once a recognizable hill. The sounds of battle had been silenced, aggressive bodies becoming ashes. Any casual observer would have pronounced the planet and all of its inhabitants dead, with nothing more to watch.

Until a gamboling light crept across the landscape. It moved swiftly through blackened trees and dry streambeds, moving with purpose toward Lex’s beaten corpse. It spread across him, a living water shining brightly. Lex twitched as the light sank into is skin, stitching muscle together and repairing bone. Bent limbs straightened and hair erupted from deadened follicles. Each cell, invigorated by glowing energy came back to life.

Even as the glow behind newly grown skin began to fade, a small spark whirred on his left cheek. It moved smoothly over its surface, carving a curious silver scar. Two bright circles, circumscribed: the outer broken but the inner whole. Suddenly, the spark disappeared and the symbol flashed.

“Wake up, my friend.”

Lex snapped into awareness without warning. He scrambled backward, mind filled with the terror of his final moments. An undignified scream escaped his lips, saliva flying. “Kali!” he shouted. He saw her body several yards away, her chest miraculously rising as her lungs filled with air. Crawling toward her, his soot-blackened hands left trails across her face. In his panic he overlooked the mysterious symbol on her cheek. “Wake up, please.”

She stirred. Moaning, her eyes fluttered open. “What happened?”

He helped her sit and focused on slowing his breathing. Calm down, Lex. Think! “There was fire, something came from the sky, then…”

“Nothing,” Kali whispered.

“I might be able to offer an explanation.” Kali gasped and Lex immediately shot to a crouch. Fists clenching and body prepared, he gazed at the man who stood casually not ten feet away. He smiled widely as his hands toyed with the hilt of a blade in his belt. He was tall, rising far above Lex’s not inconsiderable height. Dark bronze hair sprouted erratically from his skull and black leather armor covered a body designed to fight. A handsome, yet scarred face surrounded ever-watchful grey eyes.

“Who are you?” Kali said boldly. She too had forgone her surprise and stood next to Lex, ready. Kali was a gentle and loving spirit but her ability to survive was unrivaled. Lex could recall countless fights which had ended with a love-struck and misguided young man flat on his back beneath her boot.

The man raised a thin eyebrow. “You can call me Zuka,” he said. “I am thrilled to see you up and moving. Thought I might have waited all day for you and staring at Alos’ remains would have been undeniably dreary.”

Lex’s knees nearly gave out as he took in his surroundings for the first time. Soot clung covered every surface but the cloud-drenched sky. The forest was destroyed, torn apart by the unforgiving flame of some great fire. With a growing sense of dread, Lex turned to the northeast, where the sober towers of his Alos’ capital had stood.

“No!” Kali began sobbing quietly, arms wrapped around her body.

Her suffering tore into Lex’s heart and had he not been filled with his own grief he would have comforted her. But his body had become wooden and immovable. Every ounce of his concentration bent toward breathing. It was a purely instinctual desire, to keep breathing. Had he the choice – if his vital functions were controlled by his shattered heart – he would never take another breath. He would give in to the blissful naivety of death, because this knowledge was too much.

My home, he thought numbly as his throat threatened to clench shut. There are times throughout human existence where a man’s capacity for suffering is reached, broken, shattered. Tragedies are unable to be contained with logic or emotion. The soul breaks. Lex had never experienced such pain, not even as he watched his cancerous father breathe his last. But as he gazed at the horizon, it was more than destruction – it was a terrible absence. His city was gone, wiped off the face of the world in an instant.

“My family,” Kali gasped. She threw herself into Lex’s reluctant arms. As he held her, he wished desperately for tears, wished that he could find release in those glorious drops that soaked through his shirt. None came, and Lex knew that they would never come. His mind had already shoved the tragedy into a dark corner of his mind, where he would not dwell.

“Is all of Alos like this?” he asked calmly, watching the dark stranger, Zuka.

“Most of it,” he said, tone and face unfathomable. “The Karn are a cunning. Some technology pirated from another planet perhaps. Regardless of its source, the result is the same.”

He casually folded his arms, disturbingly at ease. “You have nowhere to go.”

Kali unfolded herself from Lex’s arms and stepped toward Zuka. With reddened eyes she faced him. “How dare you speak of this with such… indifference,” she spat. “If you have no purpose here, leave.”

“I speak with indifference because I have lost nothing and gained everything. I’ve found you.”

“What do you want from us?”

“I want nothing from you. I want to give you a purpose, acquaint you with fate. Come with me and I can show you extraordinary things.” Without warning, his body disintegrated, exploding outward in a storm of rippling shadow. Lex unconsciously gripped Kali’s warm hand, gingers entwining.

“Behind you,” Zuka said.

Lex spun around, hand flying to his belt, ripping his sword from its sheath. “How did you do that?”

He chuckled darkly. “The real question you should be asking, is what can you do?”

“Come on, Kali, we’re leaving.” He gently prodded her toward the forest. She went willingly and Lex sensed her own mind had grown as numb as his. He had no destination. Hell, there wasn’t anywhere left to walk to. There was simply the comfort of the act itself. Too much had happened to wrap his head around. A bloody battle ended in an instant by some great bomb. And now a dark stranger disappearing at will? Too much.

The soft crunch of blackened wood beneath his feet was soothing, rhythmic. They walked in silence and Lex preferred it that way. At home his mother often berated him for being closed off, unwilling to sit and talk. Her lectures had often been met with more silence. Grace was a strong-willed and fiercely loyal mother, a nurturer to her core. Or... She had been.

In another flash of shadow, Zuka materialized ahead of them. “What about those scars?”

Lex stopped abruptly and faced Zuka. Sitting on a fallen trunk, he delicately raised a finger and tapped his left cheek. Lex raised his own, Kali following suit. A raised pattern now erupted from his skin. It was unusually warm to the touch and pulsed beneath his trembling finger. On Zuka’s cheek a symbol flared silver.

“You survived the bomb, Lex. How did you do that?” His eyes bored into Lex’s face.

Lex hesitated. His eyes scanned the trees, or what was left of them. He reached toward a nearby trunk and it crumbled like charcoal. Kali’s confused eyes met his own. Her face was unchanged other than the symbol that adorned her like a tattoo. Her skin was undamaged. Lex carefully tested his limbs one by one. Everything’s fine. But how? Mouth dry, he said, “I don’t know.”

“I do,” Zuka said. He rose to his feet and pointed once more to his scar. “You were chosen. Chosen to be the vessels of unimaginable power. And I am here to train you. Give you a purpose.”

Kali said, “How do we know you can be trusted?”

Zuka shrugged. “You cannot know for sure and I will not spend my time trying to convince you. However, I can assure you that there is nothing left on Alos for you. Now is the time to start over, take your lives in a different direction.”

Lex gazed at his ash-stained hands. Could he do that? Simply leave Alos and begin another journey? It all seemed so absurd. Chosen? Idiotic. And yet, he had survived the bombing. Both he and Kali escaped their deaths, there was no denying it. He met Kali’s eyes and knew that she too was deliberating. Teetering on a cliff between the burned fragments of the life they once knew and the precipitous drop into the unknown.

“If it helps,” Zuka said, “I can assure you that the next time you face the Karn, their bodies will be trampled beneath you.”

Revenge. The idea was appealing to Lex. It was the only way for justice to prevail.

“I’ll go,” he said. He didn’t look back as shadow wrapped around him and carried him into the unknown.

*****

My consciousness solidified before my body. I felt the world bending around my mind, solid matter succumbing to thought. Shadows rippled around the core where my life force resided. The sticky strands twined together and began to take on color and warmth, all of the characteristics of the flesh. Soon I felt a heart beat in my chest and newly formed fingers tingled as nerve impulses rocketed through me.

I stepped forward, eyes snapping open. The room around me was blacker than the depths of space, but my eyes saw all. Brick walls dripped with slime and rats scuttled in corners. But it was the girl in chains whom I focused on. She lay in a tangled heap at the room’s center, hands manacled and clothes ragged. Though her eyes were open they were unable to perceive my shape in the oppressing darkness of the cell. I leaned forward silently, looking for confirmation.

On her cheek it rested. The symbol.

“What is your name?”

She scrambled backward, as far as her chains would allow. Her eyes searched frantically for me and for a moment I was tempted to let her sit in the dark. I could feel her emotions rippling from her body, the energy washing over me. Breathing in deeply, I savored her power. Though she was physically weak and imprisoned, she had been chosen well. All three had and I was pleased that they were mine.

I grasped the darkness around me – felt it pulsing with life – and banished it. Light flared in its place and the girl’s eyes widened. “I ask you again, girl, what is your name?” I struggled to keep my voice…amiable.

“Ashni,” she said. She was a watchful one, her eyes flicking toward the door while still studying me.

“Ashni, I want you to come with me.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“You have spent far too much time rotting in this cell. A being with your power should not be a slave to the weak. Come with me and I will train you to fully realize your potential.”

“Taken from servitude?”

“Of course.”

Her fierce eyes never left mine as she pushed herself upward. She reached her shackled wrists toward me and nodded once. It was permission enough, and though suspicion furrowed her brow, I was pleased. “Come with me, Ashni. My name is Zuka.”

Thank you for taking the time to read it! I can't explain my appreciation!

RebeccaHamilton
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Re: Angel of Darkness - Chapter One

Post by RebeccaHamilton » June 26th, 2010, 10:13 am

Dirt sprayed into Lex’s eyes as another missile struck the earth. He stumbled backward, tripping over torn limbs and discarded weapons. The sky above rumbled and lightning flashed, as though the world was at war with itself. A sudden wind brought the stench of sweat, blood and decay. Lex gripped his sword tighter and crouched, using his free hand to rub the grime from his eyes. The air was hazy with smoke and dust, obscuring the hillside behind a grey veil. Lex stood at the apex of the hill, overlooking what was once a living countryside. Now the ground was devoid of life, gouged and bloodied like the face of some great beast. Countless bodies struggled in the haze, swords and limbs flailing. The sight was almost comical, reminding Lex of an air-drenched fish looking hopelessly for the sea.
You lost me at the first sentence. And this may just be me, but some people take the start with action too literally, and we end up with a character in a dire situation, but don't know enough about them to care. I had planned to critique the first page worth, but I'm gonna stick to the first paragraph because this is really not my kind of story.
This sounds overreaching: as though the world was at war with itself. What about that makes it seem like the world is at war with itself?
"A sudden wind brought the stench of sweat, blood and decay" I think I'd use "carried" instead if "brought" here. A stronger verb, IMO, but see what you think. You have to stay true to your voice.
"The air was hazy with smoke and dust, obscuring the hillside behind a grey veil." A gray veil of smoke and dust obscured the hillside. (just a suggestion, see what you think. t's tighter and immediate)
The sight was almost comical, reminding Lex of an air-drenched fish looking hopelessly for the sea.
The sight of was was almost comical? Is Lex the bad guy? I like unlikeable characters and I like characters with faults, but this didn't work for me.

Hope you find something helpful here. Your writing is overall good, and the things I pointed out are only coming from a reader impression. I am probably not your target audience, so please take this all with a grain of salt or a speck of pepper or what have you ;)

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J. T. SHEA
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Re: Angel of Darkness - Chapter One

Post by J. T. SHEA » June 27th, 2010, 12:10 am

Tremendous, Guardian429! Particularly the unexpected switch to the POV of the enigmatic recruiter Zuka. Just a few suggestions:-

Dirt sprayed into Lex's eyes as another missile struck the earth. He stumbled backward, tripping over torn limbs and discarded weapons. The sky above rumbled and lightning flashed, as though the world was at war with itself. A sudden wind brought the stench of sweat, blood and decay. Lex gripped his sword tighter and crouched, using his free hand to rub the grime from his eyes. The air was hazy with smoke and dust, obscuring the hillside behind a grey veil. Lex stood at the apex of the hill, overlooking what was once a living countryside. Now the ground was devoid of life, gouged and bloodied like the face of some great beast. Countless bodies struggled in the haze, swords and limbs flailing. The sight was almost comical, reminding Lex of an air-drenched fish looking hopelessly for the sea.

Comparing 'Countless bodies' to just one 'air-drenched fish' sounds a little awkward. Remove the word 'an'?

"Can"t you feel it happening, Lex? The world is changing. The days are getting darker, the air harder to breath. I feel stronger with each passing day and yet...I don"t feel save." SAFE?

He struggled to control his desperation. "Think about it, Kali. Space activity has increased exponentially in the past three weeks. More and more Karn ships are pouring into our atmosphere but all of them are unmanned, with no visible weaponry. Dead in space."

I generally take 'space' to be outside any atmosphere. And 'dead in space' implies an orbit. Nothing will stay in orbit long if it is even dipping into an atmosphere. Maybe '...pouring into orbit around Alos...' might be better?

Lex"s body finally grew still, his sightless blue eyes fixed upward. Burned and irrevocably damaged, COMMA his corpse lay across the smoldering slag that was once a recognizable hill. The sounds of battle had been silenced, aggressive bodies becoming ashes. Any casual observer would have pronounced the planet and all of its inhabitants dead, with nothing more to watch.

Until a gamboling light crept across the landscape. It moved swiftly through blackened trees and dry streambeds, moving with purpose toward Lex"s beaten corpse. It spread across him, a living water shining brightly. Lex twitched as the light sank into His skin, stitching muscle together and repairing bone. Bent limbs straightened and hair erupted from deadened follicles. Each cell,
invigorated by glowing energy, COMMA came back to life.

"I might be able to offer an explanation." Kali gasped and Lex immediately shot to a crouch. Fists clenching and body prepared, he LEX gazed at the man who stood casually not ten feet away. He smiled widely as his hands toyed with the hilt of a blade in his belt. He was tall, rising far above Lex"s not inconsiderable height. Dark bronze hair sprouted erratically from his skull and black leather
armor covered a body designed to fight. A handsome, yet scarred face surrounded ever-watchful grey eyes.

Though we know the 'he' in the third sentence means Lex, it would be more correct to repeat his name.

Her suffering tore into Lex"s heart and, COMMA had he not been filled with his own grief, COMMA he would have comforted her. But his body had become wooden and immovable. Every ounce of his concentration bent toward breathing. It was a purely instinctual desire, to keep breathing. Had he the choice - if his vital functions were controlled by his shattered heart - he would never take another breath. He would give in to the blissful naivety of death, because this knowledge was too much.

"Most of it," he said, tone and face unfathomable. "The Karn are a cunning WHAT?. Some technology pirated from another planet perhaps. Regardless of its source, the result is the same."

Or just remove the 'a'.

"I want nothing from you. I want to give you a purpose, acquaint you with fate. Come with me and I can show you extraordinary things." Without warning, his body disintegrated, exploding outward in a storm of rippling shadow. Lex unconsciously gripped Kali"s warm hand, gingers FINGERS entwining.

He chuckled darkly. "The real question you should be asking, NO COMMA is what can you do?"

"Come on, Kali, we"re leaving." He LEX gently prodded her toward the forest. She went willingly and Lex sensed her own mind had grown as numb as his. He had no destination. Hell, there wasn"t anywhere left to walk to. There was simply the comfort of the act itself. Too much had happened to wrap his head around. A bloody battle ended in an instant by some great bomb. And now a dark stranger disappearing at will? Too much.

Again, though we know the 'he' in the second sentence means Lex, I would use his name here.

Lex hesitated. His eyes scanned the trees, or what was left of them. He reached toward a nearby trunk and it crumbled like charcoal. Kali"s confused eyes met his own. Her face was unchanged other than the symbol that adorned her like a tattoo. Her skin was undamaged. Lex carefully tested his limbs one by one. Everything's fine. But how? Mouth dry, he said, "I don"t know."

Better to stay with the past tense. 'Everything WAS fine.'

I stepped forward, eyes snapping open. The room around me was blacker than the depths of space, but my eyes saw all. Brick walls dripped with slime and rats scuttled in corners. But it was the girl in chains whom I focused on. She lay in a tangled heap at the room's center, hands manacled and clothes ragged. Though her eyes were open, COMMA they were unable to perceive my shape in the oppressing darkness of the cell. I leaned forward silently, looking for confirmation.

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