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Before the Dragon - Chapter 7.5

by ShadowVyper


The sun was warm as it cast bright rays on the open meadow. The birds complemented the laughter that filled the air, twittering in the tops of the trees that lined one side of the clearing. A single musician played a lively tune on a stringed instrument.

A carpet of grass littered with daisies charmed the small princesses as they skipped about singing their nursery rhymes and playing with one another. The princes were sitting around the king, listening as he recounted obviously dramatized epics of his many battles.

Jerica stood at the edge of the clearing, watching through someone else’s eyes as it felt like she was levitating above everyone. She saw her father with his thick brown hair, hazel eyes, athletic build, and charming smile. His rumbling laugh shook his shoulders and made around the people around him smile.

She saw her mama, a goddess of beauty, sitting next to him. Her golden hair shimmered in the bright light, her green eyes keen and wise, pale skin as flawless as the rest of her thin frame. Jerica saw her father put his strong arm around Mama’s shoulders, pulling her into a hug. Jerica stepped forward, wanting to run into their arms, into the middle of the hug.

An invisible wall sprang up in front of her, from the ground all the way up to the sky. She put her hands on the wall, pushing on it, trying to get past as she shouted to them, trying to get their attention. No matter how hard she pushed, she couldn’t make the wall give. Her parents kept talking with each other as if they couldn’t hear her calling to them.

“Mama!” Jerica waved her arms as it looked like her mother glanced in her direction. “Mama, it’s me! Jerica!”

Suddenly an army appeared over the knoll behind her parents. Jerica’s eyes went wide as she looked from the Gnamreyian army approaching, then back to her oblivious parents. She screamed even louder. “Watch out! Move!”

She beat on the wall as hard as she could, trying in vain to break through the invisible barrier. She reached for her sword, but it was nowhere to be found. She waved her arms frantically, trying in vain to draw their attention. “TURN AROUND!”

As suddenly as the soldiers appeared, they descended on her family. It only took moments to work through the small guard her family had brought with them, before they started slaughtering the royal family itself – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents – all defenseless against the attack.

The enemy soldiers hacked their way through each member of the family – from her elderly grandfather who could barely make it to his feet before he was being cut down, to her toddler cousins who didn’t understand what was happening until they felt the blades ripping through their small bodies.

“NO!” Jerica screamed and cried, pulling her fist back and punching the wall in rage. She had to get there, to help them – to do something. Yet it seemed that the harder she tried to get to them, the further they moved away. “RUN!”

A solider approached her father from behind and sliced his throat open, making blood to gush onto the front of his uniform. Another soldier ran his sword all the way through Mama’s abdomen, causing blood as red as her lipstick to come pouring from her mouth as her face twisted in agony.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Jerica woke up with a start and a gasp. Her eyes flew open and she blinked stupidly at the rocks and sand that passed swiftly under foot. She would have fallen off the horse she was sitting on, if her legs hadn’t been firmly tied to the saddle. The horse was going at a moderate pace, jarring her. She settled back in the saddle, panting, closing her eyes once more as she tried to focus on shaking the residual fear left from the nightmare.

Her entire body was slick with the sweat that always drenched her when she had nightmares about that horrible day. She closed her eyes, exhausted. You weren’t even there when that happened, she reminded herself, trying to calm down.

It was a relentless battle between her intellect and emotions, any time the subject of her parents came to mind. Rationally, she knew she had nothing to be ashamed about. It wasn’t her fault their picnic had been attacked, and it certainly wasn’t her fault she hadn’t stopped it. She was nothing more than an infant when it happened, barely able to sit up on her own. It’s not as if she had the skills to take on an army threatening her family.

And yet, it somehow still felt like it was her fault.

She claimed to be the best assassin in the kingdoms, and yet she had not managed to stop the murder of her own parents. Some prowess that was. How could she be proud of any accomplishments, when she had failed on such an important task – the safety of the very people who gave her life?

Oh, shut up, she growled at her subconscious. It was a battle she’d had with herself thousands of times in the past – and yet there remained no resolution, no rest for her guilt-ridden soul. It was the last thing she needed to concern herself with now. For now, the most important thing was trying to remember exactly how she had managed to get herself tied to a horse.

She vaguely remembered having been held captive and being taken to Nykeras, but her memories were groggy and incomplete. It was difficult to separate reality from her fantasies. Slowly she remembered getting sick after the transportation – she was fairly sure that that part was real – and then she remembered her stupid move with the king. And the fight. And the boomerang.

She groaned again.

It was hard to say after she took that hit, but it was clear from her current position that it hadn’t been good. She wished they’d just kill her already. The more abuse she took, the weaker her will to survive became. And yet, her she was, surviving.

Jerica opened her eyes again and looked around, trying to piece together the rest of the story. She was in the middle of a moderate sized procession – a soldier riding a horse on either side of her, and many more in the rows ahead of her, also arranged three-wide on the trail. She craned her head to look at the numerous soldiers riding behind her but didn’t see the war lord or the king.

Jerica took a deep breath and looked down at the saddle in front of her. The leather was scarred and worn, and the horn had a scratched emblem on the top that was engraved with the crest of Nykeras. Her horse was a mottled gray color, with a dark gray mane. Its coat was damp with sweat, making her figure they’d been going at a decent speed for quite a while.

Dragon. The word hit her like a ton of bricks. There had definitely been talk of a dragon – the dragon – during the bits of conversation she remembered from the Femolas’ talk. A pang of fear sprang up in her chest again at the thought.

Legend held that there was an ancient dragon residing on the mountainside in the southern region of Nykeras. She doubted the rumors of wisdom and discernment were true – she’d never heard of a single person returning from the mountain if they went. Surely there’d been at least one pure-hearted men among the various cohorts. Either way, it mattered very little to her. Even if the dragon would spare pure hearted individuals, Jerica would be dead before she could introduce herself.

She yanked on her binds, her instincts screaming that she had to get free before she reached the dragon. All it did was renew the deep-seated throbbing in each of her bones. It would be one thing to face a dragon if she had a sword and armor – she would resist even then, but there might be a chance of her survival. As it was, they were simply marching her to a slaughter.

“You’re awake.”

Jerica looked to the right just as a new rider came trotting between her horse and the guard beside her. She lifted her chin defiantly as she locked eyes with Eloonta, the resentment she felt towards him that morning flooding back into her.

Before she had a chance to answer, he leaned over and put his left arm behind her shoulders, holding her in place, as his other hand clamped a rag over her mouth and nose. “Nighty night.”

Jerica jerked her head backward, but it wasn’t far enough to get away from the rag. She felt her head get light, as if it was about to float away into the air. Then a sharp pain began radiating through her head, starting at the very back – as though some was driving a stake through her skull. The pain enveloped her vision, her vision going spotty, before she passed into darkness once again. 


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Wed May 22, 2019 12:25 pm
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JabberHut wrote a review...



I LOVE THAT SHE GETS SICK FROM TRANSPORTING. It's such a huge weakness that could be used later. I did kinda wish that the Nykerians just kinda mocked her for it though. For a second, I thought she was in ally territory 'cause everyone was concerned. I think the enemy would just be disgusted and/or find it hilarious? Even if Femola would have to shush them. (WHY IS HE SO KIND OMG ;.; )

holy crap a teenager?? as general!? that is an incredible feat and almost a waste of young blood, but she must be an incredibly bright military strategist or something to be a general. holy butt.

it does seem unrealistic, though, that he wouldn't have any guards at all with him. Sending the Rangers off seemed weird unless he still intends to save his ambushed men. If Jerica is as feared as she is, Femola would have more men than just him escorting her to the king and even more still to defend the king. Not only to protect the king and their leaders (i.e., Femola) but to protect her 'cause they don't want her dead.

ooooh the throne room sounds so lovely. Interesting that it doesn't reflect Nykerian culture! I like that this conclusion was immediately drawn 'cause it's already cluing us in as to how the Nykerians view other cultuers as well as their own. I wonder why the palace doesn't reflect the rest of their society? Is the king keeping all the funds to himself and his palace, so the rest of the kingdom isn't getting upgraded (if you will)? or perhaps the king envies other cultures and chooses to live in such styles? VERY INTERESTING.

By the by, I just adore your descriptions. You just do such an excellent job bringing the environment to life, painting the picture, making me gag a little over throw-up. Just splendid!

THE KING IS SO COOL. THEIR RELATIONSHIP IS SO COOL. THIS EXCITES ME SO MUCH ??

Aww, I was excited to be in the king's perspective for a moment. Jerica feigning unconsciousness seems to be an ongoing theme here, but she seems to be making noises and movements that Femola, a military leader and longtime soldier, would recognize she's awake. I don't think she'd get away with pretending.

Her being a teenager, though, makes sense as to why she's always so weak. Yes, she's a tough warrior and knows how to fight, but she apparently can't keep it together all the time, and I think this is appropriate for her young age. She's still growing, still maturing physically. She'll be at her peak in her twenties, so she's understandably not as experienced or tough as others even slightly older than her. So I'm willing to accept her weak stomach, her constant headaches, and crippling pain a little bit more.

Interesting that the king even recognizes Eloonta's distaste for Jerica! This must be a pretty serious feud if even the king recognizes a lowly soldier (rising the ranks, but). To a forty-year-old king, Eloonta would just be another soldier until he was promoted to a higher rank that prompts him to join meetings and things the king was involved in. The fact that the king knows him, though, and his relationship with Jerica tells me that there's a lot more to them than just enemy soldiers!

Oh, that's true. She's a teenager with a squire. I like that she's recognized this, though. That she was trying to "show off" by having a squire, then cursing her foolish mistake to jump the wall. This is actually bringing all my concerns into the conversation, how immature and young she seems to be. I like this a lot, actually, and I hope these are things she learns from quickly. I also hope we learn how she rose the ranks so quickly at so young an age.

OOOOOH SHE FOUND A WAY. SHE FREED HERSELF! I was getting excited about meeting the dragon BUT I'M EXCITED ABOUT THIS TOO. Though I thought she had chains around her feet too? Maybe those were removed and I don't remember. I do kinda wish her freeing herself was written a bit more... dramatically. It flowed almost too smoothly with the rest of the narration, that I had to actually read it twice like 'wait... wait did she just?' It had felt like more narration until it kicked in that she was doing something, so my head was in a state of calmness and contemplativeness. There wasn't really much progression or transition into this action scene.

Also, there should already be guards inside the throne room. Not many, sure, but some. Additionally, this is why Femola shouldn't be escorting her alone. They all believe/know she's the biggest danger in the army, so why wouldn't she be treated like one? It's almost insulting and they really deserve to lose her like this (assuming they do).

Oh she did have shackles around her ankles. I knew it! Glad that was addressed. :D

SHe'd also probably know that they weren't trapped in the throne room. There's surely other doors for the king to travel through to get into and out of his throne room, otherwise that's bad architectural design.

my god how is she succeeding so easily. there's literally an army surrounding her and on her heels and she's escaping so easily. she's not even, like. trying to lose them? just running and out-running them??

I'm just sayin', I'm proud of myself for catching a 7.5. For some reason, it's at the bottom of the list of Related Items, and it's like... but it's 7.5 ?? XD

Oooooh this dream sequence. I thought it might be a flashback, but it's clearly a nightmare of sorts using a bad memory. It almost felt too descriptive, though, like it was explaining itself as it was telling the dream? Like it was explaining the memory as the dream played out. But I don't think that's necsesary yet, the dream itself will be enough to clue us in as to what happened. But I do like that we get a glimpse of her past and what she lived through.

Oooh, so she wasn't even there during the slaughter. I wonder where she was! When I was reading it, I was wondering how old she was. If she's too young, she'd remember mostly the emotions that came with it and not so much the visuals. She wouldn't understand what she sees, only what she feels. But if she is old enough, she'll remember bits and pieces that her subconscious can piece together into a scene like this. But in this case, she wasn't even there, so it's her head conjuring up a scene. I think you can make this dream even wilder than, even more crazy and scary. The dream felt too realistic, but if she wasn't there, hasn't even seen what happened, it gives you a lot more freedom to depict her fear and uselessness and loneliness as a result of the story/news she had heard of their deaths.

Noooo, I don't think she'd feel guilty. She was a baby, so that's not the memory she'd have. She wasn't even there, so the only memory she'd have is when someone told her years later when she could understand. Instead, she'd feel rage and want to seek vengeance, if anything. She'd be furious at the news. But I don't believe she'd feel guilty. And again, she was a baby, so she doesn't have a memory to fall back on. This picture she's dreaming is what her brain conjured up. She only knows what was reported to her or told to her, however many years later. If she wanted to feel guilty, it had to have happened only a year or so ago when she had been training for years as an assassin already. If she's, say, 18 right now, she'd have to have still been a teenager when her family died. It would make mroe sense 'cause she was training as an assassin and, therefore, had skills. Whatever her age, though, it makes a whole lot of sense that an event like this motivates her to train as such a deadly warrior.

I wonder why Jerica thinks she isn't pure-hearted. I mean, it makes sense to doubt yourself at this moment, but she's so adament about the dragon not even giving her a chance. Is she starting to regret all the men she's killed? I guess it's also the guilt of her family dying, but I'm kind of ignoring that 'cause I simply don't believe her to feel guilty for being an infant.

I like that Eloonta is there, but wasn't he at the campsite/ambush? I don't understand how he's there. And actually, I think it makes more sense if it was Femola, but he just said he'd return to the ambush too. So unfortunately, I don't see it making sense that either of them are present in the escort.

After having read 7 chapters, I think it makes more sense to start this novel even earlier. There's opportunity for more character building as well as world-building that could help set up the stage for her backstory, her personality, her skills, the war itself, the politics involved, etc. It doesn't have to be too much earlier, and understandably, the first draft's first chapter is gonna be... well, it's more of just an excuse to jump into writing. So the first chapter will be perfected in the following drafts. I totally get that. I don't know what your plan for it is -- I'm sure you're working on a plan already -- but that would be my suggestion at this point. :D

These chapters got SO exciting. I'm so excited to meet this dragon omf.




ShadowVyper says...


Thanks so much for the review! I really appreciate all the encouragement and critiques you're giving -- your feedback is so helpful!

So, heh, for the 7.5... this novel has been in basically a constant state of flux lol. I finished the first draft then decided to enter into LMS IV as a rogue with the intent of editing this -- and through feedback that I got a lot of things changed and more scenes were added. Case in point the first draft had 25 chapters total and now I've already posted 32 chapters and that's not all of it haha. So I've been adding in scenes and details as I go and I just added in that escape attempt at the castle. The dream used to be the end of chapter 7 and there wasn't enough room to cram it in and I was too lazy to go through and edit all of the chapter numbers haha. So this will eventually become chapter 8 but not yet ;) Kudos for catching it in order, though!



JabberHut says...


Bahaha, that makes sense then! It's a recent post, so it's probably just tacked onto the bottom of the list. No big deal at all!

Oooh, so there's been additional chapters added even. This excites me. You're filling out the details of the story, so it's like I'm reading an even better version than the first draft. It also tells me you're still excited about this story! The enthusiasm shows in your writing, so absolutely keep up the good work. I'm really enjoying the story so far. :D



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Sat May 18, 2019 7:23 am
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Toboldlygo wrote a review...



Hey there! Toboldlygo here for a review! Let's get this piece out of the Green Room now, shall we?

The first thing I noticed was that there is a ton of text at the beginning in italics. I get that you were trying to express that that section was a dream, but it can get tedious to read and the eye starts glazing over it. Is there another way to denote a dream? Perhaps by using the divider you used between the dream and reality?

I think you have a fantastic opening and conclusion. It makes sense to close it on her passing out, and the circumstances by which she passes out are interesting and engaging enough to make us come back to read more. I think you really did a great job capturing the reader's interest (speaking as one who is reading this chapter as my first introduction to the story). I was curious about it right away and read it through to the end, and will continue to read because you made me want to find out what happens next, so well done! I think it would be helpful to include a brief summary of the previous chapter so that your readers, either returning or first time, have a better understanding of what's going on in the story, though that's just my opinion.

I really love how you use vivid descriptions in your writing. I like knowing things about how the world looks or sounds or feels, even if it seems redundant. There are so many contradictory things in the world, like sad smiles or evil laughter, and things like wind can be cold or warm or soft or wild, so it makes sense to be super clear and helps us experience the world the way your character experiences it. You do a great job with this!

Happy Writing!

Toboldlygo




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Thu May 16, 2019 9:13 pm
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mellifera wrote a review...



Shady! :D

*grabby hands* yES more btd for me to review not like you actually told me about it or anything lol


The sun was warm


well thank god the sun is warm it'd be a real global disaster if it was cool
(in all seriousness though, description like this tends to become just redundant. like, "she smiles happily". well dang, I imagined all smiles mean sadness. y'know? if you're going to describe something like this, maybe go for "The sun cast bright rays on the open meadow, its warmth seeping into skin" or along those lines.

I remember a post also, which isn't relevant in this scenario because the sun ISN'T cold, but if you're going to use descriptive language for something, in this case the sun, the reader will already know how it works, in this case the sun feels warm. when you do describe, use something the reader wouldn't normally assume. in this case, it would have been "the sun was cold", but since this is not a wacky distorted universe, it doesn't apply. I just wanted to share that because the line made me think of that post and also I like to ramble ;D)


HOWEVER despite that complaint, I am so far adoring the description <33 it warms my heart just like the sun


My first impression of the scene was Big Jerica watching through Little Jerica's eyes, but that doesn't match up with "watching through someone else's eyes as it felt like she was levitating above everyone", since that kinda implies she's taller? I don't remember this scene exactly, so I don't remember how you had originally set it up, but I thought I'd mention that in case you wanted to change it. The way it's described and how she reacts doesn't sound like the way I think that Jerica would react? So my mind immediately goes to = smol Jerica must be doing this. And again, maybe that was the intent, but I thought I'd mention it anyway :) (but as she reaches for her sword, I would assume not?)
(this comment is,,, a little null because of it being a nightmare, but I will still leave it there nonetheless and let you take it as you will)


causing blood as red as her lipstick to come pouring from her mouth,


this is very nitpicky and completely irrelevant, but I always wonder what kind of cosmetics are used in a fantasy setting? like, there aren't factories for this kind of thing, so what's she using as lipstick, and how are they making it into sticks of,,,, you know,,, lipstick
(I once wrote "like a deer in headlights" for a historical setting where cars didn't exist though so,,,, I'm One To Talk)

She would have fallen off the horse she was sitting on, if her legs hadn't been firmly tied to the saddle.


:D

And yet, it somehow still felt like it was her fault.


OKAY so now, looking back, you have the threads of her mental health problems getting woven in now and, of course I have hindsight so I'm not sure how much I can talk about this, but I like seeing it hinted at/mentioned back here. I honestly don't remember seeing that much of it before on the first go around??? But it's also been a while so maybe I did see it and mention it in a review and I'm just forgetful which is 100% possible.

Of course, I want to hug Jerica and take care of her, but alas. I would probably be stabbed and there would be no resolutions to her struggles.

She claimed to be the best assassin in the kingdoms, and yet she had not managed to stop the murder of her own parents.


well I'm pretty sure you would not be an assassin if your parents hadn't been murdered but I Could Be Wrong.


And yet, her she was, surviving.


here? ;)

Dragon. The word hit her like a ton of bricks. There had definitely been talk of a dragon - the dragon - during the bits of conversation she remembered from Femolas' talk. A pang of fear sprang up in her chest again at the thought.


!!!!!!!!
(oh Jerica if only you knew,,, which you will soon enough)

She doubted the rumors of wisdom and discernment were true


I'm not... entirely sure I understand this line? There's no explanation for it- do the rumors claim that if you climb the mountain and find the dragon, he'll give you knowledge or something? I'm,,, sure this was probably mentioned in a previous chapter and I just have a bad memory (in my defence it's been,,, a bit lol)


It's not clear given the text, but I'd be really interested to see Jerica being like "I don't think DRAGONS are real. pfft. dRAGONS" cause I think I remember that being a Thing (dragons "not being real", or at least that's what everyone believed, yes?) but still kinda like,,,, oooh, I Don't Want To Go Up There and being scared of it. I think it's really interesting when a character doesn't believe in something but is still afraid of it.


Surely there'd been at least one pure-hearted men among the various cohorts.


man*

Is she referring to everyone who has ever climbed the mountain, or someone in the current party? if it's current party,,, then logic says there's not for letting her suffer lol but I'm pretty sure it's the first one and my snark is wasted on this particular line

She lifted her chin defiantly as she locked eyes with Eloonta,


nOOO I knew he'd be in this chapter but sTILL

nOT THE NOOT NOOT MAN AGAIN

the resentment she felt towards him that morning flooding back into her.


just that morning?


I probably asked this before (or not? I don't know haha), but what is it that he's even using to knock her out? fantasy chloroform?


From what I remember about the first parts of the story, the writing here vs. then definitely feels stronger and more guided. I really enjoyed reading it, and while I did before too, I think I still remember it coming across as a little dry? But you've injected more life into the story and Jerica(!), and while I would still like to see just a little more characterisation for her in the earlier sections (like this), I like her character in this part a lot more than I remember from before (I think I made a comparison between her and Rana when I first started reading? And while it's been even LONGER since I read Rana, I think the distinction has become a lot more clear).


Anyway! I got to the review this week! *confetti* Hopefully it was helpful and inspiring so that you have more drive to write and I have more content to review ;) funny how that works, isn't it?

<333 I hope you're having a wonderful time!!




ShadowVyper says...


Thanks for the review! <33 Your reviews always make me smirk as I'm reading them and brighten my day. I appreciate the promptness as well, super speedy reviewer skillz! Definitely motivation to write more so I can get more reviews ;)




Turn your demons into art, your shadow into a friend, your fear into fuel, your failures into teachers, your weaknesses into reasons to keep fighting. Don’t waste your pain. Recycle your heart.
— Andréa Balt