Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening/Night(whichever one it is in your part of the world),
Hi! I'm here to leave a quick review!!
First Impression: Well this was quite the first chapter here. It had its ups and downs and a few spots that could perhaps do with a little bit of a rethink but I think for the most part you've gone and done a really great job constructing this here.
Anyway let's get right to it,
It is an unusually cool dusk for this dull summer. Half the sky is covered by rolling maroon clouds, and the other half remains clear; it has been a long time since rain has touched this drought of a desolation. On the roadside, dried bones of men and animals alike, hearty meals for wild dogs, hardy material for swindling holy men. The wind whistles through their mummifying bones, refusing to collapse until they taste a drop of water. This is an unstable time for unstable people, leaving only the utmost ambitious riding into the drought center, and the tired caravanners escaping to the southern rivers.
Within the epicenter, the imperial capital simmers under the heat. The buzzing of life and commerce echoes miles into the skeletal countryside. Still, the capital endures, flowing its own blood of people and trade, recycling life into the empire from the ever-inflaming heart of a young and post-alcoholic emperor, Temür.
The taste of endurance lingers in the air, smelling of oil and char. The loudest simmering of exploding oils and laughter is in the Restaurant Row, glittering rays reflecting from the golden glass roof tiles, covering beneath where the oily coins change hands. The walls here are covered with dust from the burned wood ash, yet they are still several shades brighter than the hearts of the water mafias and the booze runners.
Well this is quite the description here. Not too often you see something like this just starting out with quite so much imagery but here we are. And I think you're doing a great job too. There's so much detail here that already we're just getting quite a few ideas about this place just fro that.
Dual rainbow rises from the ground, bridging the blue and the maroon, then disappearing behind those rainbow-glassed roof tiles : Ever-Spring Tower, a cliche name for a brothel, but the cliche does not deter people from those firm legs, the elastic skins, and the soul hooking voices. There’s nothing the cabaret girls can’t get out of you with three cups down your gullet, pouring out your wealth and sorrow. Go ahead and try to point towards the direction of north to a man here, no way would he recognize your intent unless his penis is also guiding north.
The daylight will soon fade, candle lights reveal thrusting shadows, a delightful ink-wash by a drunk poet. The paper windows are made from bark and hemp, the thinnest there is, the best there is. One can only lament at how many “good” folks are lured in by their own willful imagination.
Behind the imaginations are seven floors, each floor a total of forty-nine private rooms and their own fine dining cabaret with an opening in the middle. The diners could see straight up onto the ceiling, where a chandelier of seven monstrous jade stones of jagged faces arranged into the Big Dipper. The seven stones are faces of seven godly priests, who, according to legends, earned their godhood through martyrdom during a time of plague and demons. And just like the tale, the higher the story, the more gold needed to be sacrificed. Those wanting to see it up close can only look on like a toad salivating over swan meat. Despite the environmental calamity, business here is even busier than before the drought, for the food and water prices here are surprisingly fair. Those who come have no need to sell themselves into indentured servitude, but it is no small feat for these people. Still, tightening the belt for a night is probably nothing compared to losing an arm to the water mafia, or dying of thirst all together.
Ooooh well this description is going on for a little bit longer than I was expecting it to and wow we are certainly experience quite a lot her just through all of that. Especially with the connections to these people now coming up as well. It feels almost like we're getting something of a guided history tour trough this place here.
To those living in the relative comfort of the capital however, any dangers that are outside these imperial walls are far away, like the outskirts of the Great Mongol Empire: the steppes of the Pontic Coast, the fiery mountains of Bam and Yazd, and the pine forests of Novgorod leading even further north, in other words, out of their fucking reach. To the people of the capital, these criminals are not just criminals, but also an entertainment of sorts, honorable thieves even. Some would say smart entrepreneurs, and others would say parasites. To some of the less fortunate, they are the only toilet available in this avalanche of a shit storm, and to some others, simply a topic for teatime. Whatever these bandits may be, in the end, it's all good fun for the entire family with the executioner in front of the spice market.
There are roughly 5,000 seal holders residing in this Green Mountain, the largest of these “Guilds”; its cronies created a vast information network across the entire north, with each member having their own call sign. The emperor has conducted many expensive raids against these bandits, but the Green Mountain would simply disband when defeated, just to reappear somewhere else. The common folk quit caring a long time ago, because they are powerless. If the Mongol Empire couldn’t handle these bandits then who could? Let the barbaric kill the barbaric they say, the bandits are probably working with some high bureaucrats anyways.
Oooh yeah that history tour esque vibe is definitely solidifying in this moment with where this happens to be going. Strangely enough though because we've only so far seeing this sort of history tour esque things here it ends up feeling like a nice little introduction despite the fact that this whole thing is pretty much just a giant info dump there.
Soon the sun will pass the horizon, candlelights begin casting onto the window some mingling shadows. The golden seal clashes with the wooden door as it opens slowly. A faint scent of jasmine...
A man steps out of the room dressed in an indigo cloke, and underneath a clean white kaftan. He gleefully closed the door behind him, reminiscing and anticipating those firm and flawless legs for another night. He stroll towards the center, and simply leaps off of the railings.
The dusk is here, and people are finishing their evening stroll. Excitement breaks out inside the brothel, scaring the afternoon strollers wide awake. A man had just flown down from the very top, landing inside the main lobby…
Oooh it seems that we are in fact now finally zooming in through this grand picture into just the one man and perhaps a bit of a scene now. Let's see how this particular situation will end up unfolding here.
Xiao was the royal name of Khitan queens, but their dynasty faded away, well, not entirely. The name ShangGuan means climbing ranks, as his parents hoped for him to climb government ladders so that he would never want for anything ever again. Perhaps their wishes worked, because he is the second seal of the Green Mountain. And his call sign: The Dancing Cloud, for he comes and goes at the exact right moment, always efficient and always stunning.
Xiao: …Heavysigh… “That’s for the buzz boy. You got a problem with him as well?”
A 7 feet giant knocks the crowd out of his way. Low murmuring from onlookers speaks of how the hell did he fit through the entrance.
The huge scar that runs from his left eye to the bottom of his chin seems to be tearing itself apart from his straining face muscles. The giant widens his right eye, darting left and right twice. His ugliness cast a silencing effect.
Well it seems we're just going to be diving right into a bit more of an intense scene there judging by the insults being thrown about and the way that these people appear to be interacting with each other.
Gu: “I AM NINE-RINGED BLADE, GU TU (古屠)! DRAW WEAPON!”
Gu means ancient, and his given name Tu, meaning butchery. The origin of this surname is vastly different for those with this last name, and his untraceable. His father named him “butchery” because that was the family business. In a superstitious society such as this, people tend to avoid butchers because a business of killing is dirty and causes bad karma. And now he is a local uppity upstarting bully. Superstition didn’t drive Gu Tu to the banditry lifestyle. He is a professional asshole, an asshole from a long familial line of assholes, assholes who sold dog meat and claimed that they are beef, assholes who sold horse thighs and claimed it to be mutton. With this drought crisis, he saw to use his natural brute strength to bully anyone vulnerable, taking over people’s wells and selling their water at prices higher than his own height and ego. Though his ugly face and his personality makes him out to be a moron, he's actually smart enough to exploit poor people to take a fall for him at the courts, in exchange for “caring” for the victim’s families.
Muscles and bones shake from an ensuing shout.
Well it seems like we've certainly got quite the duo here to be diving into this little fight there. There's a vaguely cartoonish vibe to the way these two were introduced and then we got this entire paragraph on what they are like. I feel like you could streamline that a bit more because unlike the opening you can certainly feel the info dumpy ness of this particular section and it isn't doing the story any favors.
Spark flies from the scabbard as the blade draws. A double handed horse-chopper with nine holes; a wrist breaker wielded as if it is a kitchen knife.
Gu’s blade swings up a hurricane, plates of food flying into people’s faces, old chairs cracking under the immense pressure, and the candles burning hotter and hotter into flames of blue and green. His body spins, forming this evil eye of a natural disaster. The ugly mass whirls towards the face of Xiao.
The giant has dealt his hand, but from Xiao, only his back seems to be lowering slightly from an unimpressive sigh.
Xiao could care less, but that means he'll die from this massive spinning idiot.
Well, things are underway quite fast there. I think you're so far doing an excellent job with this fight scene at the moment. Despite the info dump at the start the beats of the fight itself are being hit quite nicely I think.
The spinning horse-chopper spins to a fist away from Xiao’s face, only then did Xiao knock his scabbard with the back of his sole. A sharp howl explodes out of his scabbard, blowing through the nine-ringed chopper into hot fragments. A hot stream of rust smelling air lifts up Xiao’s hair, and a few slow idiots from the crowd who failed to cover their faces got quite a minor burn; the badge of a story-teller.
The "sharp howl" lands. It is nothing but a rusted strip of raw iron. It smothers inside Xiao’s palm. He meanders, allowing the groaning giant, who is now laying all the way on the back corner of a wall, to sit up to an audible stance.
The fight ended as quickly as it had started. Murmur once again spreads among the people: "a piece of rot for a weapon?"
Xiao’s face is slightly frowning with this distraction: “I would rather not kill anyone inside the imperial capital. Consider this a favor you own to The Lady of this restaurant and pay for the damage. I’m going.”
Well that was quite the anticlimactic ending almost. Given how impressive that star manages to be, the way it ends is almost a bit too quick. However despite that, I think you do manage to justify its quicker ending pretty well there in terms of the reason within the story. So in that sense I think despite how it feels almost a little incomplete it also works quite well.
Gu trembles: “Good, I will pay for the damage. I will pay this kindness forward.”
Xiao turns away from the giant, and the crowd startles once again. Blood is gushing, a mess on the back of an indigo cloke to a pair of calloused hands, a broken piece of blade blocked by Xiao's rusted piece of iron, as if he had anticipated this.
Xiao’s indigo cloke is dotted with droplets of red. He clinches his cloke and turns, looking directly at the regretful eyes of a now whimpering giant. Gone are the giant’s menacing staring, replaced instead with a pitiful cowardice.
The crowd awes at Xiao’s power.
Well it seems that Gu has been beaten there in more ways than just the physical one and now we're about to see quite the moment here despite the fact that Gu isn't going to actually be killed.
Gu wants to scratch his chest, and he wants to cry, but his body locks up, and his pain, unreleased. From the crowd are the sounds of teeth nerves turning cold. Some cover their chest, some cover their mouth, and some are ready to project their stomach content. They have indeed felt his pain physically, but there’s no sound of pity, there’s only an anguish sense of karma.
Xiao is confused, because he hasn’t done anything.
“Whoever throws up will eat it up the floor!”
It is the voice of a lady. THE Lady. It is a thin voice, a young voice, yet it still commands the power of making people gulp down their own vomit.
She is grabbing the spine of a giant who is three heads taller than her, three times wider than her. She pushes her hand straight through his chest. With a clean snape of the spine, a bloody mist covers Xiao’s entire body.
Well that was quick. Wow. The lady has certainly made quite the impression there with her arrival. Wow. Just that one singular moment in that scene immediately gives us quite the impression of exactly what this lady happens to be like here.
No one saw her appear. She dresses simply, a dull blue scholarly robe covers her body from neck to ankle, perhaps dressing like this is how she blends in. To the trained eyes, however, it does not hide her fighting muscles, nor the brief showing of her belt of pure purple beneath. With a clap of her still bloody hands, appearing from the backroom, a crew took away the mingled corpse, informed the catch-poles, brought new furniture, and all accompanied by cabaret girls.
The Lady's eyes extrude dominance towards Xiao: "Let us talk somewhere else."
Xiao looked towards the body without a spine, a sharp breath and two raised eyebrows, he then followed her to a more quiet corner.
People soon looked to themselves for this is a happy day, for a menace has been defeated, all with free food, and cool drinks. Excitement has made people starving and thirsting for more. It doesn’t matter if these food and drinks are given away, the drunks will always find a way to show off their wealth. A unique power of the fermented water, and a special skill of the cabaret girls.
Well that's definitely quite the description for the lady as well. I think it does a great job of matching up to the kind of entrance that she had. Let's see exactly how this is going to end up playing out here.
Xiao smiles: “It is your establishment, but my reputation… It is also you who ruined my best kaftan.”
The Lady smirks: “If the Guild lowers the prices of water and alcohol for us…”
Xiao: “You have my guarantee!”
The Lady smiles: “You didn’t want to kill that man because killing is simply not who you are. Your eyes looked like he gave you no other choice but to kill him.”
The Lady: “I’ll HAVE your guarantee. Now, go get washed.”
Oooh well that was quite the little conversation. It seemed to reveal a little bit more than what was just visible at the surface. I love how you've chosen to do that, giving this moment a lot more of a hidden meaning than was apparent at first during that fight.
The night is here. The old fire watcher had just finished lighting the last street lamp. He'll have to retrace his steps all the way to the start with his gong, warning people of fire risks and yelling out time. Moths soon begin throwing themselves against the lamps, and the customers in the Ever-Spring Tower now drunk in the bosoms of cabaret girls. Xiao once again leaves with glee, but unlike before, there aren’t any useless distractions.
The night is dark, and the wind is low and fast.
The maroon cloud that was brewing has turned into mud, it has stayed in the air for long enough. From those clouds comes the wind of rain, phasing through the muscle and tingling the bones with a chill.
Cutting against this wind is the sound of a heavy cloke fluttering. A indigo cloke glides across the rooftops. An imported luxury from the Gangetic Plains of Delhi Sultanate. It weighs heavy, traversing the roofs has become slow, but it is excellent in both protection against the weather, and a fantastic display of exoticism. If only there was moonlight, the embroidered silver strings of rice fields would have appeared as a comet falling.
Well it seems after all of that excitement we are diving back into some more imagery there as Xiao also seems to be catching a breather after all of that fighting and that rather revealing conversation with the lady from earlier. Let's see how that's going to play out.
Xiao had been in the capital a bit longer than he had anticipated, the catch-poles and detectives searching the Every-Spring Tower thought the same: what could warrant such a high status figure in the underworld to visit here? And in such a rush?
Unknown to Xiao, this imperfect day is about to become much worse. The fluttering cape stops. His eyes squints against the dark and the wind. His eyes darts asynchronously against his head faster and faster. The meowing cat suddenly silent. Certain trees would wave against the wind. Something else is disturbing the silence with the intent of letting him know.
Oooh that's intriguing. It seems despite this feeling like a little bit of a relaxing sort of lull in the heavier action we were seeing, our narrator thinks otherwise when it comes to Xiao actually being able to lay back and relax for a moment.
Xiao breathes heavily: "A pity for this cloke…"
Xiao's fist clinches hard onto the cloke, because once he lets this go then it'll probably be gone forever. Xiao wants to remember how it feels on his skin, because there is always a chance that he may never experience the joy of it all ever again, and this is the second time someone might try to kill him today.
Xiao weighs that his health is more important than a mere cloke, a mere one-of-a-kind cloke. He cast away his treasure, widening his strides, flying into the air with a kick. He strides in midair as if he is running on the Mongol prairie, accompanied only by the sound of his arms and legs swooshing, and his heart pumping. Xiao gives it all, turning at random angles into the streets below and the sky above, like a whale leaping out of water and back into the deepest trenches.
There’s no shape, there’s no shadow, only faint winds spinning the paper lanterns, twisting and untwisting onto themselves.
Okayy well it seems that Xiao has in fact spotted whatever adversary it is that seems set on making this day worse and is actively going after them in this moment. That's quite interesting. It seems that Xiao will always just tackle a problem head on instead of running from it in any way.
His heart itches, not because he is tired, but because he is too slow. As far as he knows, no one in the entire underworld can match his speed. Could it be The Sparrow Catcher? Who excels in close quarter mobility, turning beneath the streets? Or the Dragon in Rain, who could run 200 miles in the same day and night without breaking a single drop of sweat? But those with a name usually announce themselves. No matter now, he has to fight.
Not far from the city gates lies a wide street between some high courtyard walls. That is a fairly rich neighborhood, and the houses are relatively far away from one another, hopefully, far enough that no one will hear the fighting.
The sound of carriages grinding against the cobblestone fades as it rides further out. The last of the pedestrians soon turned a street corner, finally, the watchful raven can return to its tree. Xiao lands in the middle of the street. The weary raven who is now snoring, would have been alerted in its younger days, perhaps it is old age, or maybe it was just a really long day.
Ooh that's a powerful little moment there to see that whatever this thing is happens to be quite a bit more skilled than Xiao in this discipline going to showcase that Xiao is an aging character that is perhaps about to meet someone that could be his match.
No more running, no more worrying, peacefully, in stagnation.
The moment passes. Within the calm droplets creeps a reddish light far into the darkness. An old woman is pushing a cart filled to the brim of roasted chestnuts down this road, attached in front is a red lantern. Her back is crooked, with a heavy overall coat crushing her bones even further. She is walking slowly forward, on a thick pair of flowery embroidered shoes.
Xiao smiles, but only from the mouth: “Granny! How much?”
Well this is an interesting. We seem to have taken just a little bit of a break from that sort of high stakes pursuit for Xiao to just rest a moment and then talk to this passerby. Well that certainly suggests quite an interesting moment to us. Let's see how that manages to pan out here.
Behind the lantern is a face like a wax candle, bloodless and glossy. An awkward smile that pushes up so many wrinkles, that her face might be melting. Red light shines onto her lips, casting a dark shadow blacking her teeth. Five fingers of her left hand with enlarged joints stretching into a claw, unable to be extended any further.
The red lantern outshines all. A monochromatic light blending all things together, blurring all edges with the darkness. Xiao squints his eyes, unable to see through it all.
The old lady approaches steadily with her hand, and once more, the night echoes with chestnuts colliding. Heavy wheels grinding against the pebble road with deep and rounded clacking. Disturbing this rhythm is a sharp howl. The scent of vegetation and moisture now replaced with rust. The rusty iron opens up the air with a thunderous crack, carrying rotting leaves from the ground, tearing it all into autumn snow.
Well that old lady doesn't seem as benevolent and kind as she appeared at the start. It seems perhaps Xiao isn't actually going to be able to just stop for a little break after all but is instead about to be faced with whatever danger the narrator was talking about earlier.
The blade misses, erasing only a chunk of her heavy coat, leaving a burn mark under her left arm. If the blade had aimed an inch higher, it would’ve gone through her palm and out from her shoulder.
The fog, the red, and the darkness. Xiao's words barely left his mouth and she's already an arm away. Those five fingers shake into a blur of a thousand towards his heart.
His heart itches and his eyes unblinking. In front of his chest flies shredded cloth. Blurring hand with dark red fingernails dyed with his blood. A burning sensation cooled by a typhoon of a whirlwind clawing into his chest. Xiao jumps backwards and backwards, kicking faster and faster. The old lady continues to swing her hands. The momentum of one swing carries into the next, swinging her into a spin drum tearing apart Xiao’s flesh. Her hands blurs around her body, but that melting face is somehow permanently fixated on Xiao.
Well this is immediately quite the fight here. This started just as quickly as the previous one did only clearly this time Xiao isn't the one in control there and this fight seems destined to go on for quite a bit longer than the previous one managed to.
Xiao understands that a serious injury is inevitable, so he might as well gamble on one last strike. Xiao hyper extends his left foot far back, pivoting his body, blocking his face with his right arm, drawing his scabbard, and swings blindly towards his front with all his strength.
He felt a sharp claw burning into his inner elbow, then the explosion of wooden shrapnel embedding into his body. He loses the sense of his left hand. Blood streams from his armpit. The air now smells of burned flesh and chestnut.
Xiao’s heart beats fast, is it the rust from the blade he tastes? Or is it his blood he tastes?
Well you can definitely see that this time Xiao is experiencing much more pain and this whole fight is a lot more evenly matched with Xiao not being defeated immediately but definitely having to scrap for his life there.
There’s a strange sense of malice in her joke.
Xiao's knees buckle, a forced smile appears on his face. This is a familiar place, because it has a familiar sense of danger, a familiar sense of fear. He is at peace, because it is nostalgic, a sense which he thought he would never feel again.
Old lady: Every time there's a full moon out, I have to kill people. Poison is my favorite!
Old lady: There's no full moon tonight, so tonight you won't die! But you'll have to come with me! It is a favor you owe to someone! Hehehe!
Well..that's quite the place to end there. Given the intensity of the fight that we saw, its both a surprising twist and at the same time a beautiful little cliffhanger for us to end this first chapter on.
Aaaaand that's it for this one.
Overall: Overall, I think we've been shown a beautiful world and our protagonist definitely seems like a very interesting person with quite the story to embark on. Our second villain here and the lady were also quite intriguing characters again and I think its all topped off quite nicely with a beautiful cliffhanger to end on so ultimately a pretty solid first chapter that does have us very much wanting to read more.
As always remember to take what you think was helpful and forget the rest.