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Earth Descended: 1.08

by Ventomology


Petro bursts from the forest like a rock from a slingshot.

All day, he followed the billowing smoke that poured off the village, and when it subsided, he’d kept on, focused on that single spot like a moth on a light.

The shortcut spits him out on the north end of the farmlands, and the moment his eyes adjust to the light, Petro gawks at the damage.

The fields are gone, reduced to black smudges of dirt and charcoal. The town silo has been flattened, its distinctive silhouette cut away from the tiny line of buildings that made up the center of the village. Actually, those aren’t even buildings anymore. They don’t have roofs or walls; they are merely lumps of burned and broken wood.

The farmhouses scattered around the plots are burned too. Only one, the tiny hut closest to Petro, still stands. It belongs to a newlywed couple, Para and Bronte. Petro and his father had helped clear the land.

The village is not silent, at least. Wind rustles in the trees, Petro hears a few birds chirping. The great ocean waves crash against the cliff walls on the village’s western edge. There are no people or livestock sounds though. The chickens and cows are mysteriously silent. The clanking of farm equipment has vanished.

Worse than that, Petro can’t see anyone. He’d figured that once the fires died down, people would be rushing about to repair and replace everything, but the village is more still than it is silent.

Petro takes a few cautious steps towards the nearest house, and then runs up to the tiny window in its north side. Cupping his hands to block out his reflection, he sticks his face right up against the glass and peers in.

The inside is a mess. Their bed is tipped and broken in half, and great splinters lay scattered across the dirt floor. Their blankets are gone, but Petro thinks nothing of it. Everyone would have taken and redistributed their blankets after a fire. A single, dented pot sits upside down near the door. Para and Bronte aren’t in, obviously.

With a sigh, Petro starts picking his way across the burned fields. He takes stock of the damage, recollecting which fields had been harvested before the fire and which hadn’t. As he looks down, he notices it’s a very clean burn; there isn’t even much charcoal left over.

He draws within shouting distance of the village center and cups a hand to his mouth. “Hello?”

Nothing.

He tries again.

Furrowing his brows, Petro stops. There’s something odd about the dirt in the village center. It’s been torn up or something. Strange mounds stick up from the ground, longer than they are tall, like maybe someone had dug trenches and just left the dirt next to their excavation.

He keeps going, and with every step, the sounds of the world die away. The birds stop chirping, and the ocean stops crashing, and his feet stop padding against the ground. Or maybe the sounds are there and Petro just doesn’t hear them. His heart even goes silent.

He passes between two burnt piles of wood, what used to be the furnace and weaving halls, and freezes.

And also he retches. The fish in his backpack does not help.

Somehow, Petro manages to gargle some water. He walks back to the fields to spit it out, because the idea of spitting on the ruins of the village makes his stomach flip again. He spends a few minutes standing in the dirt, hands on his knees, preparing himself to go back.

It’s disgusting and awful, but he has to look at the bodies. He hasn’t heard anything human since he arrived, and no survivors have come to look for him and warn him. There might not be very many. Maybe they didn’t have time to come for him. So if Petro is going to find out who lived and who died, he has to discover it for himself.

He gags on bile as he straightens back up, but forces it down, contorting his face in weary disgust. No amount of water can ever clean out his mouth.

When he goes back to the village center, he manages not to throw up. His stomach turns violently, but he stifles its cries of anguish. He stifles everything, really, and his face smoothes out into a tired, melancholic frown.

He counts the bodies first, taking note of any that are remotely recognizeable. Distantly, he thinks that one might be the size and shape of Ming’s grandmother. He can’t recognize his father in any of the charred mounds; the shapes of many of the grown men and women are similar.

He counts them twice. Two bodies are missing: his own, and more likely than not, Ming’s.

It’s so odd though, that the whole village is laid out like this, in the middle of the village, like they’re on display. People don’t die like that. Petro looks away from the bodies as he thinks, but there isn’t anywhere good to look at. The whole village is coated in death.

No one in the village could have perpetrated this. It’s obvious by the way the bodies are laid out and by the complete destruction. If an individual or small group attempted it, they’d be taken down by others in the village. This had to come from a large outside force.

Raiders, Petro thinks. The village rarely gets visitors, but they know people exist beyond. Petro thinks he would have seen though, if a large group of people had come in from the north. They couldn’t have come right off the ocean either, since the cliff walls are near impossible to scale from the ocean side. Ming tried it once.

The south is foggy, but not impassable. They could have come from there. Actually, they probably did. That must be why Ming’s body is missing. She might have run into them earlier, or been captured, or… something. Petro doesn’t know.

His heart reboots, kicking out all the logical bits of him that have kept him from doing anything drastic. His stomach flips. He can hear his blood start moving again, and all his insides churn back to life with a voracious need to run and vomit and cry.

Petro runs, because he can’t afford to throw up again, and he doesn’t have the time to cry. Ming is out there, and he has to find her.


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Sun Jan 26, 2020 11:12 am
Panikos wrote a review...



Heya, Vent! Happy Review Day. Sorry it took so long to get to this. I think you mentioned that you've shelved this project for now, but I still want to review it in case you come back to it.

I really like how dark the story gets with this chapter. It's a real wham-moment, because the novel has been mostly cosy and even humorous up until this point, which means the sudden realisation that the whole village has been massacred hits all the harder. I know Ming and Petro both suspect raiders, but I think there has to be more to it than that. There's something very, very eerie about how the bodies were laid out.

Like H.G. says, I do wish I felt a bit more connected to the loss. It's certainly shocking, and I feel bad on Petro's behalf, but we didn't really spend a whole lot of time in the village so I don't feel the destruction and death as a personal blow. It would've been good to have seen Petro interact with the residents more - or even for the village to feel more present in Petro and Ming's internal narratives. They don't really talk about their families or think back to moments and memories from childhood, which means we don't even get access to the village community via flashbacks. That's something you'll have to integrate a lot more deeply if you want to bring out the full impact of the massacre. It doesn't necessarily have to take a lot of time. Quality is more important than quantity. In my favourite trilogy, His Dark Materials, the initial setting of Oxford feels hugely integral to the protagonist's childhood and life even though we don't spend a lot of time there in-story. You probably just need one good chapter to explore the setting and really demonstrate how it ties into Ming and Petro's lives.

Another issue is that something abut Petro's reaction to the bodies felt...off to me. I know that writing grief and shock can be a real pain sometimes, because it feels like you're ticking off a checklist of predetermined reactions and it often isn't exciting to explore. However, it seemed like Petro started thinking logically too quickly, and the initial disgust and disbelief faded almost straightaway. Partly, I think this is because you don't actually describe the bodies when Petro first sees them. Instead, we see him react, and then only learn that he's seen the bodies when he's recovered his senses goes back to look at them. It feels like you've snipped out a really crucial moment, because we don't get to experience the shock of that first realisation alongside him.

I don't necessarily mind Petro going straight into planning mode, but I think it needs to be more clearly embedded in a detached numbness. Like he's completely unable to process what he's seeing on an emotional level, so he just starts trying to make sense of it from a logical standpoint - how did it happen, how many were killed, how did they get to the village, etc. At the moment, it seems more like you're glossing over it, like you're eager for Petro to be over the shock so you can propel him towards the next part of the plot.

On the whole, though, this chapter offers a wonderfully dark turn which could be so gut-wrenching with just a bit more tweaking. It also acts as a really good catalyst for the plot as a whole. You've established the stakes and a mystery, and you've turned the protagonists' lives upside down. If you do pick this project up again, I'd definitely be excited to read more.

Keep writing! :D
~Pan

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Sun Jan 26, 2020 1:18 am
HGsomeone wrote a review...



A hoy hoy,

Well, I must say that this just took a dark turn. Which is alright, i'm not against it, I'm just saying that it came out of nowhere.
This was well written, as always, and I can understand Petro's reaction. The problem which seemed most prominent in this, however, was that I struggled to connect with him. I didn't understand his loss.
Maybe some greater emphasis on the loss of the only home he's ever known?

Sorry this is short but I've never been the one who is good at commenting on grammar or any of that other stuff.
Your story is good and I hope you continue it.

- H.G





All we can do is our best, and hope that it was enough.
— CandyWizard