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Fire & Lightning - Chapter 1

by quitecontrary


Sirrah Bear stood on the deck of the ship, looking far out to the horizon. He never really belonged on this tiny island, cramped with inert human life. His paws were chained together behind his back, and a muzzle clamped his jaws shut. A millstone was tied to his foot, but he maintained his dignity, the longing in his eyes stronger than any physical bond they place on him.

“You are here sentenced to death for these charges: murder, theft, and impersonation of the Prince, may he rest in peace.” Here the sailors and guards drew two fingers down their lips, in silent remembrance of the dead Prince that stood concealed before their blinded eyes. “May the seas wash you of your guilt.”

There was no ceremony in these words; the lector meant them. There were still a few who believed, though many consider it vague superstition. If Sirrah Bear was innocent, the sea would save him. In one slow movement, the lector signalled the sailor next to the bear. “Hold fast,” the sailor said, and for the first time Sirrah Bear looked at him. The millstone went over the bow and the bear jumped, refusing to be pulled down by its weight. Under the water he thrashed, snapping the ropes that were loosened around his wrists and kicking steadily against the weight of the millstone. The muzzle was water-tight, and with those precious seconds of air he yanked at the chain and it broke, trailing far under him to the navy depths of the sea. His great lungs were far from tired, and he paddled swiftly into the sea, far from the island and ever closer to home.

~~~

Onboard the ship, the sailors returned to their tasks as the captain shouted orders across the deck. Next to him, a sully figure dressed in dark colors leaned over the bow, searching the ocean for any sign of life. The crew avoided him, keeping their eyes low when they approached to speak with the captain. The mood above deck was shallow, a farce of energy and activity that hid the atrocity of the trial.

The ship swiftly tacked to head back into the harbor, carrying with it news of the bear’s death. The sailor who dropped the millstone was the first to land on the dock, sprinting swiftly through the streets to arrive at a small two-story house in the shadow of the cliffs. Inside the sailor paused, jotting down the bare bones of a message on a warm sheet of parchment. He passed it to the clerk, who neatly rolled it and sent it down into a schute behind the desk. In the wan electrical light, their faces were grim as they spoke briefly, trading worn-out information and secrets so silent they were barely more than movement.

“Do you think he got the message?” The clerk asked.

“It’s hard to tell, but he realized something. At least he recognized me, I think.” The disguise was clever enough to blur suspicious eyes, but the sailor’s blue eyes and light dialect were enough to give her away to anyone who knew her. “And anyway, we know those bonds wouldn’t have held him. The millstone was barely attached to the chain, all it would take is one kick for Justin to free himself.”

The clerk nodded slowly, confirming his assumptions. “Did Dorian recognize you?”

“Of course not.” She shook off her headwrap, letting loose forgein blonde hair that set her apart from the backwater crowd. “I struggled to roll the stone, though. For a moment I thought they would figure me out, but one of the other sailors helped me, and I lucked out.”

“I don’t know why we chose to send you in.” The clerk chuckled, shaking his head at her comment. “If only Leon wasn’t so easily recognizable…”

“Speaking of Leon, where is he?” She asked, fiddling with the scarf in her hands. The clerk looked mildly irritated, as if the name brought back bad memories.

“He got caught up.” The clerk was quiet, and the sailor-girl nodded. “Oh, and Stephanie? Please don’t try to find him.” She nodded, picking up a cloak from the chair behind her and throwing it over her shoulders.

“I suppose he’ll just have to find me instead.” Neither of them looked satisfied, but they both simply nodded goodbye, as if enough had been said. Out in the shadows of the cliffs, Stephanie shivered. Her hair was cloaked safely in the hood, but she was still a wanted woman. It was unlikely that she would make it home without someone recognizing her from the boat, so she slipped down a quiet alleyway and knocked on a wooden door, prepared to run at the first sign of danger. The door opened slowly, and a wizened face peaked out.

“Stephanie? Come in, darling, come out of the damp.” Mama Harley always called the weather ‘damp’ in this quarter of town, where the sun only reached the streets at midday. Stephanie walked into the firelit parlor, shaking off her muddied boots at the door. “Here, have some camel crackers.” She placed a plate of oatmeal crackers on the table by the armchair, and Stephanie gratefully let the brown sugar melt in her mouth, the taste of far away places and home.

“I suppose you are still up to no good with that wizardry club?” Mama Harley asked, sitting down opposite of Stephanie.

“Ha… Mama, it’s not magic, it’s electricity, you know that.” Stephanie smiled slowly, and Mama Harley shook her head gravely.

“Not much difference to an old mind like mine.” They sat in silence for a while, and Mama Harley began to doze off in the warmth of the flames. Stephanie felt tears well up in her eyes as she made a decision. Packing a couple more of the crackers in her purse, she tiptoed out the door and shut it. Better to leave no trace when she left than have the patrols knocking on her door. Mama Harley had been on the island since childhood, and already memory loss was chipping away at her once bright mind.

Back on the streets, Stephanie headed away from the harbour, steadily trekking up the hill into cleaner air. The sun was slipping down the horizon, and she wanted to watch the sunset from the top just one more time.

The scorching rays had just begun to golden when she reached the top of the island, a flat plateau full of green grass and wildflowers. There was only one house up here, belonging to an old recluse who refused to give up her land. Stephanie had seen her gardening once, but her shape was so bent and hands covered in dirt she would have hardly recognized her anywhere else.

She sat down quietly, picking at stalks of grass and twining violets and dandelions into a string. Maybe she would press them between the pages of her journal and dry them so they lasted on the mainland. She didn’t know if she could bear the dry dust at the back of her throat after such a wonderful year here; such lovely green things would be missing from her life again, and this time she couldn’t contemplate ever seeing them again.

“You have such pretty hair, Adeline.” A voice from behind her startled Stephanie, but it was only the recluse. White hair was braided around her face intricately and her hands were stained a rough brown, not at all like Mama Harley’s soft lady-hands.

“Oh, I’m not from here,” Stephanie answered back, surprised at the familiar term. She was far from royalty, or at least the royalty of this island.

“People here used to have hair like yours.” She reached out and stroked a reddish highlight, even more pronounced in the dying sunlight. “Fire was the closest thing to magic for us, before we could harness lightning.” Stephanie’s eyes flashed at the familiar idiom, but they quickly dulled out of habit.

“We still have fire,” she protested, standing to look the recluse in the eye. “Our magic isn’t gone.” The woman simply lowered her hands, a smirk tugging at her lips. Stephanie quickly bowed, afraid to be caught up in something she never hoped for.

“You’ll figure out what’s at stake; heavens only know if you’ll be on time.” And with that final word, the woman with the white hair pressed her fingers to her lips, a final farewell, an acknowledgement of death. Stephanie was unsure how to respond, so she simply bowed again and ran down the dirt path back to the streets and into the harbor, shaken by her encounter and thinking only of her escape.


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Tue May 04, 2021 4:38 pm
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LittleLee wrote a review...



Hey, quitecontrary!

Hmm, it's been a while since I last reviewed a chapter on YWS. It gives me a fresh perspective, I guess.

To begin with, I'll give you my overall impression. I think it's fairly interesting; as Mailicede mentioned, the readers' curiosity is piqued just enough to want to keep reading after the first few paragraphs. However, I still think there's room for improvement. While I do find it interesting enough to want to continue, you can definitely work on hooking your readers better. As of now, it remains fairly interesting, but could be a lot more.

In fantasy novel, the first chapter is often pivotal to how readers view it. You need to draw us in completely and utterly, and you do that by teasing us with bits of information. While you have done this to an extent, I was confused by what was happening because the teasers were too vague or uninteresting.
Towards the end of the chapter the mention of the "familiar idiom" and harnessing lightning was enough to rekindle my interest, but it had started to die out towards the middle of the chapter. The interaction with Mama Harley wasn't particularly insightful, and its emotional impact was completely lost on me. Stephanie didn't do anything that stood out or caught my attention. She mentioned being a wanted woman, but... eh. It doesn't feel that way. She doesn't seem very tense or apprehensive about getting caught.

Like I said, though, there are some teasers that I find interesting, particularly the bear-prince and the mention of some kind of dying magic towards the end.

As a chapter this isn't bad, but as a first chapter you need to make it better than "not bad." You need to make it engaging and captivating, because a lot of people won't look past the first few paragraphs.

There a couple of typos, by the way - "forgien" is one - so I suggest you quickly go through this again and smooth them out.

This is a commendable effort. Nice work! I think you have a lot of potential, and I'd love to see where it goes. :D

If my review felt too harsh or critical, I'm sorry! I'm just trying to be honest and helpful both at once. I hope I didn't hurt your feelings.

See you around!

~ Lee






Thanks for your review! I really appreciate your opinion about the hook, because what I see in my head is probably a lot more interesting than what gets translated onto paper :D Just a quick question, is there anything in particular you can think of that will make Stephanie seem more interesting as a main character? I tried to include the part with Mama Harley to tease her background, but other than rewriting that I'm not sure what will make her a stronger character in this chapter.



LittleLee says...


Perhaps a brief action sequence?



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Sat Mar 27, 2021 12:13 pm
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MailicedeNamedy wrote a review...



Hi quitecontrary,

Mailice here with a short review! :D

I'm going to call your first three paragraphs the prologue to distinguish them from the upcoming paragraphs.
I really like the way you start the story and the prologue seems very drastic in parts because it starts with an execution. One asks oneself the necessary questions about how this happened and gives the reader the incentive to continue. It's very good how you portray Sirrah Bear in this predicament, especially in the first section of the prologue, before it moves on to the indictment, where one wonders to what extent Sirrah is involved or whether he really has anything to do with it.
What I also liked is how he escaped and how you end the prologue with this "swimming towards the sunset". (I can't think of a better term.) :D

A millstone was tied to his foot, but he maintained his dignity, the longing in his eyes stronger than any physical bond they placed on him.


Now I'm not an expert in grammar, but shouldn't you put a full stop after "dignity" instead of a comma and read the second part as a separate sentence? Otherwise, I like your description very much here and how the determination of him is shown.

The mood above deck was shallow, a farce of energy and activity that hid the atrocity of the trial.


That's a very expressive sentence. Like a little bit in the prologue, you have a very great way of creating atmosphere and also describing the mood in a very interesting way.

The millstone was barely attached to the chain, all it would take is one kick for Justin to free himself."


Is his name Sirrah Justin Bear or something? I think that's the only point that I find a little irritating about this conversation.
But what I like about Stephanie and the clerk is how it seems quite dubious, first of all, the road she takes to get to this house that's remote and the atmosphere that's between them. The interjection of new names like Dorian and Leon I find very appropriate. It gives this dialogue more mystery, which I hope will be explored in the chapters to come. Leon in particular strikes me as an interesting character, as first the clerk seems to have bad memories of him and he warns Stephanie not to search for him.
It's also good how the dialogue reads smoothly and you can distinguish a little bit who is speaking now. As the main part of the chapter, I think it's very good and exciting to pick up a bit from the prologue with more questions, such as the connection between Bear and Stephanie and the clerk is but also to jump ahead and hint at Leon.

Out in the shadows of the cliffs, Stephanie shivered. Her hair was cloaked safely in the hood, but she was still a wanted woman.


I don't know why, but the sentence doesn't seem extremely striking, (which is good) and yet it gives away a very important piece of information. She as a sailor is wanted? I hope there are some more background stories about Stephanie.

"I suppose you are still up to no good with that wizardry club?" Mama Harley asked, sitting down opposite of Stephanie.


Mama Harley's statement comes across to me as if she doesn't know what Stephanie has just done by letting a prisoner escape. This gives me a bit to think about Stephanie's character. Not knowing so directly exactly how old she is and what has happened in her past, I can only speculate that perhaps she had a vivid imagination as a child. Indeed, with the conversation with the clerk, it seemed as if she was on a par with him.

This brief visit to Mama Harley seemed a little out of place to me. Apart from the those two sentences they exchanged (and the eating of crackers) I didn't think much happened there yet and wonder how far this ties in with the rest of the plot.

The ending was very good and kept the narrative pace from the beginning. The brief meeting between Stephanie and the recluse was well chosen to give some more information and I also thought there was a good opportunity to give Stephanie that "main character" feel when the recluse talks about her hair.

I'm not sure yet where the story will take the reader. But what I do like is how you keep the tension going and leave the reader with lots of questions. While reading I somehow got the feeling that pirates might be involved, (probably because of the island theme and the sailors :D) but I'll just let myself be surprised!

Have fun with the writing!

Mailice.






Thanks for the review! I'll look back at the part with Mama Harley, but I am trying to keep what Stephanie is doing kind of mysterious, and hopefully it will be a little clearer in the next chapter. (i wasn't think about pirates, but you might have given me a few ideas... ;))



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Sat Mar 27, 2021 8:19 am
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ForeverYoung299 wrote a review...



Hello. Here for a review.
I will review paragraph by paragraph.

Sirrah Bear stood on the deck of the ship, looking far out to the horizon. He never really belonged on this tiny island, cramped with inert human life. His paws were chained together behind his back, and a muzzle clamped his jaws shut. A millstone was tied to his foot, but he maintained his dignity, the longing in his eyes stronger than any physical bond they place on him.


I think the first line is good, at least it hooked me to read the rest.
In the second line, there is a mistake. I think the ‘on’ will be ‘to’. The rest of the lines were great. I reckon he is being sort of kidnapped or he is being detained from achieving his goal.

You are here sentenced to death for these charges: murder, theft, and impersonation of the Prince, may he rest in peace.” Here the sailors and guards drew two fingers down their lips, in silent remembrance of the dead Prince that stood concealed before their blinded eyes. “May the seas wash you of your guilt.”

Oh! Death! Was he an evil person? Will those people throw him into the sea?!

There was no ceremony in these words; the lector meant them. There were still a few who believed, though many consider it vague superstition. If Sirrah Bear was innocent, the sea would save him. In one slow movement, the lector signalled the sailor next to the bear. “Hold fast,” the sailor said, and for the first time Sirrah Bear looked at him. The millstone went over the bow and the bear jumped, refusing to be pulled down by its weight. Under the water he thrashed, snapping the ropes that were loosened around his wrists and kicking steadily against the weight of the millstone. The muzzle was water-tight, and with those precious seconds of air he yanked at the chain and it broke, trailing far under him to the navy depths of the sea. His great lungs were far from tired, and he paddled swiftly into the sea, far from the island and ever closer to home.

Yes, I was correct. They threw him. Was he an honest man then? Cuz he was able to break all the obstacles...
I didn't like the use of‘ever closer’. You could write simply closer.

Inside the sailor paused, jotting down the bare bones of a message on a warm sheet of parchment.

I suggest putting a comma after inside.

“It’s hard to tell, but he realized something. At least he recognized me, I think.” The disguise was clever enough to blur suspicious eyes, but the sailor’s blue eyes and light dialect were enough to give her away to anyone who knew her. “And anyway, we know those bonds wouldn’t have held him. The millstone was barely attached to the chain, all it would take is one kick for Justin to free himself.”

Hm... It's getting interesting. They helped him!! Um... Was the lector the one who didn't help

She sat down quietly, picking at stalks of grass and twining violets and dandelions into a string.

Could you remove at before stalks?

Overall, it was a good one. One thing I will suggest is making a character box where you can just write a little about all the characters. If you don't want to make that, then you have to clearly specify who is speaking. You introduced too many characters at the same time. That makes it difficult to understand. Please pay attention to these factors.

And yes, can you pls tag me when you release the next chapter?
~ ForeverYoung299






Thanks for the review! I figured I might have introduced a few to many characters, but for now the only important ones are Sirrah Bear and Stephanie. I didn't think about making a character sheet, but that might help me plot the next few chapters better. I'm really glad you liked it!





No problem.




See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask for no guarantees, ask for no security.
— Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451