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16+ Violence

Before the Dragon - Chapter 27

by ShadowVyper


Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence.

Everything was dark. And cold. Jerica turned in a slow circle, stopping as she saw a fleck of light in the distance. She stumbled forward, tripping over unseen barriers that tried to snag her from all sides.

It felt like every time she stepped over the barricade just in front of her, something would shoot forward and wrap around her ankle to pull her backwards once again – each success diminished by the forces around her that would keep her where she was. It was infuriating.

And yet, slowly but surely she trod toward the light, her trek ever onward despite the snares all around her. After what felt like an eternity she stepped into the light and the landscape suddenly changed.

It was still cold. The air burned her lungs as she sucked it in, and she felt as though she should be shivering – but when she looked down she saw nothing but more darkness. Strangely, she wasn’t bothered by it.

Instead, she flicked her eyes around the room. It was angular. That was all she could tell about it. There seemed to be tables, or maybe it was chairs? It was hard to say. She couldn't make out specifics. Just the angles. And then –

Jerica tensed as there was a wail somewhere nearby. It started as a single piercing shriek, and then morphed into a prolonged sob that bounced off the sharp angles surrounding her, growing and growing until it filled the entire room. It shook Jerica to her very core.

Sadness.

That was the other obvious thing that she could sense. Angles and sadness. A shudder racked her body, making her feel as though the grief radiated outward from her liver; unsettling and deep, too insistent to ignore.

Help.

Desperation filled her, competing with the despair. She staggered forward breathlessly. She had to help. Or did she need help? She didn't know. Everything was so confusing. And someone needed help.

Suddenly the landscape changed again and the lights got even brighter, momentarily blinding her. She blinked the stars glittering in her eyes away, and looked around. She was in a small room now -- dingy, damp, still bone-chilling cold.

There was a girl lying on the floor a few meters ahead of her, a soldier taking full advantage.

She had to help.

Jerica sprang forward. A sword suddenly materialized in her hand, and she started swinging it wildly towards the soldier. She struck him in the back of the neck, severing his head from the rest of his body. Blood gushed out and flooded onto the floor in copious amounts.

Then of its own accord the head rolled over, revealing the gruesome face of the village girl. Jerica shrieked, stumbling away from the gore as quickly as she could. That hadn't been what she meant to do. She was only trying to help and then --

Oh gods. What had she done? She was a monster. She looked down at her hands and saw them coated in blood, the sheet of crimson flooding up her arms, towards her shoulders, dripping on the floor. She screamed again and desperately tried to wipe the blood off – but the more she struggled, the faster the blood appeared.

"Jerica."

She scrubbed at her arms again. Her right hand was aching terribly. But it was the blood that she couldn't handle. It was creeping up her neck now. She panted, fighting against blood spreading across her, stumbling backward.

Suddenly she fell.

She yelped again as she dropped into a pit. It was still so cold. Something splashed as she kicked. Jerica looked down to find herself standing knee-deep in a pool of blood. Her clothes were drenched in it. Her arms still dripped.

"Jerica!"

She let out another screech as she continued scrubbing at her arms. The pool started getting deeper. The blood was to her waist now. Jerica shook her head, tears streaming down her face. Now it was to her chest.

She craned her neck, trying to keep the gore from reaching her face. It kept getting deeper. She kicked as if she was treading water, trying to stay afloat, but the blood was too fast. She couldn't swim fast enough to stay ahead of it. It was to her mouth, choking her as she fought against it.

"No!" She sobbed, tossing her head. "No! Help me!"

The blood was over her head now. She was suffocating. She couldn't breathe; couldn't move. Why was it still so cold? She tried to wipe her arms again but she was fully submerged, sinking, drowning –

"Jerica!"

Jerica woke with a start, springing straight up in the bed. There was someone close-by, reaching out to attack her. She threw her fist at the assailant, then yelped as her hand suddenly felt as though it was being stabbed by a thousand daggers. She leapt to her feet and staggered away.

"Jerica! Calm down!"

Jerica's wild eyes lit on Aerik. He was sitting on the cot, hands raised, trying to placate her. His eyes were wide and looked worried. She let out a shuddering breath, heart still pounding from the adrenaline. And... tears?

She rubbed her face, confused. And then embarrassed. She swallowed hard, trying to compose herself – and yet, in that moment, she wasn't sure what composure should look like. Her hand still hurt terribly. She looked down and found it bloodied and bruised -- but at least it was the only blood on her. That was something.

"Come here," Aerik said soothingly, gently gesturing at her to come forward. "Sit down."

"I..." Jerica gasped, suddenly realizing that she hadn't breathed in again. She panted, tears still streaming down her face. Why was she shaking? She swallowed hard again. "What are you doing here?"

"Sit down."

"I don't want to." She coughed, choking on the snot running down her throat. She scrubbed her face. She had to stop. Aerik couldn't see her like this; no one could. "Go away."

"Jer," he said gently, patting the bed next to him.

Jer. Who called her that? Derik. She missed Uncle Derik. Oh gods how she wished she was home. And yet, she realized that not even Derik could see her in this pitiful state. She needed to be strong. She needed to be something worth loving. Right now, she wasn't.

"Come here," Aerik cooed.

She was so tired. Exhaustion filled the void left by the adrenaline rush and her entire body felt heavier than she knew how to describe. Her shoulders sagged and she walked forward, sitting down on the edge of the cot.

"Nightmare?"

Jerica turned a glare on him, but didn't have the energy to put any hatred into it. She wiped her face again, wishing she could scrub away any evidence that she'd dissolved in a puddle of her own weakness. And yet, even without seeing herself, she knew that the proof of her tears were undeniable with the intensity with which she had been crying.

She took a shaky breath and let it out with a sigh. Part of her wanted to scream at him, to channel all the tumultuous emotions raging inside of her into hateful words directed towards him. The rest of her was far too fatigued to even find the right words, much less find the energy needed to shout them at him.

She swallowed hard, throat burning with unshed tears. She had to get herself under control.

"Are you okay?"

Jerica looked at him, bewildered. What was she supposed to say to that? That wasn't a question that was often thrown at her. Sometimes, if she took a particularly hard hit on the training ground, someone would ask her if she was okay – but somehow, she doubted he was asking about her hand just then.

He wasn't asking if her body was okay, he was asking if she was okay. Her. Suddenly she felt her throat constrict with all the emotions that flooded over her again, and she choked on a sob. Tears streamed down her face freely.

"Come here," Aerik said gently, opening his arm invitingly.

Jerica hesitated, her dignity protesting against the thought of allowing Aerik to comfort her. And yet, seemingly of its own accord, she felt her body moving into his embrace. Felt his muscular arms wrapping around her shoulders.

Suddenly, the arms that had seemed so harsh and foreboding when they were crossed against her were offering comfort. They were strong and protective and made her feel safe -- much safer than she had felt in an extremely long time. The flood-gates broke open.

She buried her face in his chest and sobbed so hard her body shook and her breaths came in irregular gasps. Aerik held her close, one hand slowly stroking her hair as he cooed to her gently, trying to lull her into calming down but still allowing her to have a good cry.

Jerica sobbed for many long minutes, allowing Aerik to rock her back and forth, unable to catch her breath. The emotions she hadn't been able to process earlier were back with a fiery vengeance, jumbling over themselves as each one fought to be expressed.

"I'm... a... monster!" she wailed. "I just... pain... pain is... all I... ever... cause."

"Shh," Aerik murmured. "That's not true."

"It... it is..." She scrubbed at her face, sniffling. "Anywhere... I go... things get... worse!"

"I think that girl from the village earlier would disagree," he answered gently, still holding her tightly and rocking slightly. "You were a hero to her."

"I'm not... a hero," Jerica hiccupped. "I'm barely... barely even... human."

"You seem perfectly human to me," Aerik argued. "Two arms, two legs, the ability to talk..."

"Death follows me... everywhere I go... I bring death... and destruction... and pain." Jerica curled her legs onto the cot next to her, bringing them close to her chest, even though she kept her arm wrapped around Aerik. "That's not what humans do... humans don't kill as many people as I already have... I'm a bad omen."

"You know, owls were once considered a bad omen. In many places they still are," Aerik answered, giving her back a pat. "That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with them. They are strong, wise, intelligent creatures."

"Then I guess that means I'm just a monster," she whispered into his tunic.

"You're not a monster, either," Aerik said. "You're a soldier – and an exceptional one at that. Soldiers do what they're told. The result of their actions falls directly on the commander who issued the orders."

"That makes it even worse," Jerica groaned, thinking to her own troops.

"No, it makes it your uncle's fault," Aerik answered. "If anyone's the monster, it's him."

"Derik is not a monster," Jerica snarled, pulling away from Aerik to glare at him.

"I agree. But your other uncle..."

Jerica was silent for a moment, considering what he said. Levin was responsible for the majority of the carnage and destruction that she had seen in her life. And yet, so little of it was actually his idea. "He's mostly just stupid."

Aerik smirked grimly. "Yes."

"Lord Biryn is the one who..." she trailed off, shuddering slightly. She wasn't sure how she had wanted to end that sentence when she started it, but now that she considered the possible options, she realized she didn't want to think about any of the things that Biryn had done to her or through her.

"Lord Biryn is a monster," Aerik agreed. "He is a very twisted man who is skilled at getting his own crooked agenda carried out by other people. You are a victim of his manipulation."

Jerica tensed. She didn't like being referred to as a victim. Victims were the people who begged for mercy when they were bested by the people who actually knew what they were doing – she was a warrior, able to command her own fate. "I am in control of myself."

"Of course you are." Aerik looked at her sympathetically. "But what happens if you don't choose to do what you're told? I don't pretend to know what you face in that palace, but I do know men like Levin and Biryn, and I know that they generally have ways to... motivate... people into doing their bidding."

Jerica was silent, glaring at the floor in front of her. She didn't want to think about the consequences of disobeying Lord Biryn. Occasionally the defiance was worth it, to see how angry it made him or to cause a bit of trouble –- but he always found a way to make his retaliation far worse than her insubordination had been. She didn't make a habit of it.

"You are an intelligent, brave, fierce young woman," he continued when she didn't speak. "You have such an incredible amount of potential to do great things, and an entire lifetime ahead of you to accomplish them. Don't put yourself down, just because the bullies in your life choose to say unkind things about you."


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Mon Jun 10, 2019 12:02 pm
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JabberHut wrote a review...



OKAY. OKAY I LOVE, ONCE AGAIN, WHAT THIS CHAPTER IS DOING.

But there's one major concern that I have, and that's how Aerik IMMEDIATELY jumped into blaming Levin. Like, it felt like he was going to break into what it means to be human, but he just so quickly turned everything onto Levin. I don't know if that means Aerik is bad at advice or the message was just delivered strangely.

That being said, I lovelovelove how we see a new side to Jerica -- a human girl with emotions. Even tough men cry, and we see it here with Jerica, a badass warrior princess who spent her entire life pretending she's All That on the battlefield, only to succumb to the overwhelming sorrow and regret and guilt built up inside her. It's a very powerful moment, and it piggybacks off of her emotional turmoil these last few chapters.

I generally liked the dream sequence. I think the end of it kinda dragged on. I was pretty ready for her to just wake up to the sound of her name well before it ended. But the overall dream was written pretty well, you made sure to tie in everything that triggered an emotion the past... the past day? Has it only been a day? omg.

Okay, so this is the section I was referring to:

"You seem perfectly human to me," Aerik argued. "Two arms, two legs, the ability to talk..."

"Death follows me... everywhere I go... I bring death... and destruction... and pain." Jerica curled her legs onto the cot next to her, bringing them close to her chest, even though she kept her arm wrapped around Aerik. "That's not what humans do... humans don't kill as many people as I already have... I'm a bad omen."

"You know, owls were once considered a bad omen. In many places they still are," Aerik answered, giving her back a pat. "That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with them. They are strong, wise, intelligent creatures."

"Then I guess that means I'm just a monster," she whispered into his tunic.

"You're not a monster, either," Aerik said. "You're a soldier – and an exceptional one at that. Soldiers do what they're told. The result of their actions falls directly on the commander who issued the orders."

"That makes it even worse," Jerica groaned, thinking to her own troops.

"No, it makes it your uncle's fault," Aerik answered. "If anyone's the monster, it's him."

"Derik is not a monster," Jerica snarled, pulling away from Aerik to glare at him.


OKAY SO A FEW THINGS HAPPEN HERE.

1. I love the owl metaphor, like that is super cool and adorable and there should be more owls in this novel used as foreshadowing or something 'cause I love this idea.

2. Aerik's description of a human is kind of vague. Like... is that all a human is? Aerik, I expected better! I want to say the two arms/two legs was just his little sass creeping in, but the "ability to talk" was a bit weird and out of place in the list. Unless it was phrased to blend in with his sass, like "a motormouth that tests the patience of the gods themselves." But if Aerik was serious, not sarcastic, then just... something that fits the list better. I don't know, there are humans who don't have two legs or two arms and they're still human. A heart maybe? Feel her pulse and say "yup a heart" I DON'T KNOW. "Ability to talk" was just very weird.

3. She calls herself a monster, and Aerik went right into soldier. And I was like okay, I'll go with it. A little weird approach, but I'll go with it 'cause it's true. And Aerik is absolutely right, she only ever just follows the orders of her commanders (theoretically. we never actually see this in action.), but this is where I wonder if Aerik might just be bad at giving advice because Jerica RIGHTFULLY QUESTIONS HERSELF AS A COMMANDER. Depression does that to us, as we all know. It is so very easy to warp a piece of advice into a piece of criticism and rejection. If Jerica really is this great general, she leads a lot of people. She gives a lot of orders. Aerik's advice is poop, and it's like a father failing to comfort his own daughter and would rather just pawn her off to her mother 'cause how does he even. handle. emotions. So basically, even though Aerik corrected her to mean her uncle, this is gonna sit with her for a while. She's a human girl with very strong emotions. It's gonna come back to her, and she'll buckle under its weight again.

4. "No, it makes it your uncle's fault." IT JUST. It just doesn't. I've tried like 302 times trying to explain why I don't like this line, and I can't narrow it down into a simple answer. He's trying to blame all the killing on her uncle because he gave the orders, but they were literally just talking about her humanity? So it initially felt like he was blaming her emotional breakdown on her uncle? Then I reread the dialogue line, and it feels like Aerik is annoyed that nothing he's saying is working so he just throws reason and logic at her like WHY CAN'T YOU JUST SEE THIS AND STOP CRYING?? (Which hits me pretty hard. Let me tell you, my dad is the most logical/scientific thinker in the universe, and he got frustrated very quickly when he tried to talk to my bundle of emotions. I was ALWAYS a sobfest in front of him, and he pulls lines out like this out of frustration, like he didn't understand why nothing he said WORKED. ) And then I reread it and it's like wait, so Aerik doesn't have anything better to say, no way to ease her emotions and her heart except to just blame everything on one guy?? Like is Aerik just trying to turn HER into a weapon and use HER emotions to kill Levin?? So it sounded manipulative?? I had a very hard time reading this in a good light.

5. Why did she immediately assume Derik? Maybe because she thought of him earlier? Or maybe she doesn't think of Levin as her uncle? Though she does 'cause she literally refers to him as Uncle Levin. I've never seen her get defensive about Derik.

Also, I didn't put this in the quote, but how does Aerik know Derik isn't a monster!? o_o (ALSO OMG THEIR NAMES RHYME XD)

OKAY. So now Jerica is suddenly thinking reasonably, like she's no longer a bundle of emotions, and is correcting Aerik? by blaming Lord Biryn?

AERIK. AERIK you do NOT tell victims of manipulation that they're victims of manipulation. DO YOU KNOW NOTHING? That does NOT make her feel good. Again, it's like Aerik is just bad at giving advice.

It felt ironic that the narration says Jerica is able to command her own fate when this entire novel has been Jerica being controlled by someone else. xD Her commanding officers on the battlefield, The Nykerian officers holding her prisoner, Aerik and Kaidren. Like, she hardly got to make a decision herself. It's just ironic. XD AND EVEN MORESO WHEN AERIK SAYS "what if you don't do what you're told" LIKE SHE TRIED THAT, AERIK. HAVE YOU NOT BEEN PAYING ATTENTION !?

And we end on the piece of advice I was expecting so much earlier. These are wise words. These are words that could pull Jerica out of her dark pit of despair. Blaming her uncle and biryn are not going to pull her out of her despair. It's going to misplace her anger and sorrow. She needs to regain her confidence and self-love before she can properly rage against the real bad guys. Like, this is a pivotal moment for Jerica to grow as a character. We have to see her internal growth before we see the plot itself move forward. So these wise words just felt like they should have been used sooner or the blame-game should be saved for a later discussion, like everything was flip-flopped and didn't quite flow the way it was intended.

So I really actually like what this chapter is doing. And I think for that reason, I nitpicked the a dialogue quite a bit. This has potential to be so much stronger, it could hit home so much harder, and it's such a pivotal scene in Jerica's development that I absolutely believe in you and polishing this gem up. These kind of scenes usually make me cry, so I think I just might have taken it a bit personally to lay out my heart and feelings about it. You have such great bits here, it just needs to be stitched together properly!




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Sun Mar 31, 2019 6:55 pm
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AlyTheBookworm wrote a review...



Hey Shadow! Here with a quick review for review day.

I haven't read the previous chapters, so I'll be focused a bit more on the writing itself than the story. I suppose I'll talk about my criticism and nitpicks first, then move on to praise.

The first thing that bothered me was the italicised section. Personally, I'm not a fan of italicised chunks of text and I think you could do without it here. It's a bit annoying, but that's just preference.

"After what felt like an eternity she finally stepped into the light -- and the landscape suddenly changed."
In this sentence and a couple other places in the chapter, you have quite a few unnecessary hyphens. This one could be removed. The word "finally" is also redundant and messes with the flow of this sentence (especially with the use of the word "suddenly" right afterwards), as you already said "after what felt like an eternity."

"She was strangely un-bothered by it."
Is un-bothered a word? Maybe go with, "Strangely, she wasn't bothered by it."

"A shudder racked her body, making her feel as though the grief radiated outward from her liver; unsettling and deep, too insistent to ignore."
Not sure this is the correct use of semi-colons. Might be simpler to use a comma or just start a new sentence.

Overall, you tend to use waaayy too many hyphens, dashes, commas, and ellipsis. This lessens their effect and impact on a sentence and messes with the flow of the writing. I think you should try to use them sparingly and only at places where they're really appropriate or necessary.

Now, on to praise!

Storywise, this was great! The dream scene is very chilling and appropriately disturbing. I love your descriptions and word choice, and Aerik's care for Jerica is very heartwarming. Though I haven't read the previous chapters, I can already see their relationship and personalities through their actions and dialogue without context, so good job with that.

Hope this was helpful. Keep writing! :D

-Aly




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Fri Feb 15, 2019 3:14 am
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mellifera wrote a review...



Shady! congratulations! you've officially made me nervous about it now! so let's continue on, shall we?


Everything was dark. And cold.


not an actual part of the review or anything but I'm like, 99.8% sure that I've written the exact same line for something but as one sentence and it's Spooky.

tripping over unseen barriers that tried to snag her from all directions.


This makes it sound like there are obstacles coming from the walls and ceiling too? When I think they're only coming for her feet? (or I'm? reading it wrong?)

There seemed to be tables, or maybe it was chairs?


I mean,,, the general consensus would lead you to believe that the chairs are at tables but,,, you know.


Jerica tensed as there was a wail somewhere nearby.


I DEFINITELY did not read this as "a WALL somewhere nearby" and I was absolutely not about to say "wow I get really tense when there's a wall "somewhere" nearby me too!"


I know it's cold and you want to impound on that fact but maybe tone down on it just a little? You mention it's cold like,,, every other paragraph so far? and it's a little bit repetitive?


Oh No this dream is A Lot.


Jerica shrieked and stepped backward, stumbling away from the gore as quickly as she could


I know you describe her stumbling back as quick as she can, but honestly I think you could just compact it into "Jerica shrieked, stumbling away from the gore as quickly as she could" because it is just a repetitive motion? (also "stepped back" makes it sound like she took one step away and, to me, doesn't really fit the desperate tone of the scene?)


OooooOOO please tell me we get a bONDING MOMENT I can't hold out hope because you said I MIGHT NOT LIKE IT THOUGH oh my GOD SHADY I'm really nervous let them be nice!!! aaAASfkalm I'm Feeling A Lot right now. this is a lot for me


"Come here," Aerik said soothingly, gently gesturing at her to come forward. "Sit down."


the Dad™ returns. I love it.


Jerica gasped, suddenly realizing she hadn't been breathing.


but it said before she let out a shuddering breath? which, I guess isn't the same thing? but I'll leave that up to you.

"Sit down."

"I don't want to." She coughed, choking on the snot running down her throat. She scrubbed her face. She had to stop. Aerik couldn't see her like this; no one could. "Go away."


sTOP JERICA let him father you!! you need help and rest and love!!!!!! aaaaaa

She needed to be strong. She needed to be something worth loving. Right now she wasn't.


*distant sound of my heart being CRUSHED*

please love her and treat her softly!! pLEASE GIVE HER NICE THINGS AERIK AND RAISE HER TO BE A STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMAN

me? really wanting aerik to adopt jerica? idk what youre talking about.



She had to get herself under control.


*a gentle, well-intention swat with newspaper* no! be vulnerable!! doctor's orders!


THIS CHAPTER IS HURTING MY HEART SHADY AND I LOVE IT is this some sort of secret masochism that even I didn't know I had????


The flood-gates broke open.

She buried her face in his chest and sobbed so hard her body shook and her breaths came in irregular gasps.


*staring off into the distance resolutely* I am Not Crying in this particular moment of time. Definitely I am Not doing That.


aAAAaaAAAaaaaaA

"I'm not... a hero," Jerica hiccuped. "I'm barely... barely even... human."

"You seem perfectly human to me," Aerik argued. "Two arms, two legs, the ability to talk..."


even in this moment, he STILL has time to say things like this. gotta have a chuckle in the middle of TEARS.

"No, it makes it your uncle's fault," Aerik answered. "If anyone's the monster, it's him."


SAY IT LOUDER FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK. by people in the back I mean say it louder to GET THROUGH JERICA'S SKULL.


two out of three uncles are bad, says traumatised youth and her dragon dad figure.


"You are an intelligent, brave, fierce young woman," he continued when she didn't speak. "You have such an incredible amount of potential to do great things, and an entire lifetime ahead of you to accomplish them. Don't put yourself down, just because the bullies in your life choose to say unkind things about you."


TELL IT TO HER AERIK


I'm not crying YOU'RE crying.


I don't know if I have the words tbh for my thoughts on this chapter so I hope the incoherent screaming for half of this review was enough to convey them? I think I had said previously that? 23 was my favourite chapter? I think? not anymore lol. I?? adore this chapter?? which might be weird because of Jerica starting to come to terms with her trauma and all that but Listen. Aerik and her have been at each other's throats this whole time and this was a long time coming (if you had ASKED me if I thought this would happen I would have said no but like, now that it HAS happened I feel like it was a long time coming) and aaaaaaaaa!!!


also I forgot but! Aerik's reaction in,,, uhh, the chapter when he found Jerica after killing Eloonta? that makes so much more sense now? I'm glad that he's trying to help her out now though because god does she need it.


Okay just,, I love Aerik and Jerica's dynamic and their banter, but this was just,,, oof. this drove it home (which is funny because I think I remember saying I didn't like it when they had first met each other?).



wow sorry 85% of this review is shouting but I guess you did warn me aha. your recent chapters have been very good? you've come far since the beginning and I'm so glad I decided to stick with this because? I love?

anyway! I hope you're having a terrific time! I can't wait to read the next part! <333




ShadowVyper says...


hahaha, thanks so much for the review! <33

See, I /thought/ you would like this, then in the last chapter you mentioned that you were glad she simmered down to sleep instead of just collapsing into a puddle of tears so I wasn't sure if you'd like the meltdown here xD But so glad it was well-received ;)

ahahaha "dragon dad figure", I absolutely love that. <33

I'm also glad that Aerik has finally won you over ;) I /do/ remember you saying you didn't like him at first and being like hrm... that could be a problem, seeing as he's basically a co-protagonist lol.

And aww, that's super encouraging <33 The first chapters were me revising the novel that I'd written two? ish? years ago, and then these past few chapters have been new content I'm adding in (largely in response to your reactions xD So thanks for all the awesome feedback <3) but that is really encouraging to hear that my writing ability has progressed enough to be noticeable.

I'm also super glad that you stuck with it! Your feedback always brings a smile to my face and is always super helpful in identifying how readers are picking up what I'm laying down ;) Hope you're having a great day <333




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