Blood and Starlight

Rowan’s breathing was metallic. The clanging of boots below her reverberated through the duct she was lying in. Trident rifles, bearing projectiles of lightning, were being loaded with the sound of growling beasts. She let out a slight sigh, fucking Apex, she thought to herself.

Her watch read 45 in bold red letters. Here we go, she thought, clenching her jaw. Seconds later the room below her erupted with more clanging feet. Coughing. The crashing of people falling over and knocking into one another.

Rowan slammed her hand down on the opening to the duct. She pulled herself through with a grunt. Falling twelve feet yet landing gracefully. Clicking and whirring came from her bo-staff as it protracted at the shake of her arm. Bodies around her had flopped to the ground. More men rushed in, grey-silver armour glinting against the flare of their trident rifles.

Arcs of electricity lashed out at Rowan. She was able to barely dodge one. Another burnt her shoulder as she redirected a third with her bo-staff. The guards reloaded. She lunged at the one closest to her, knocking his weapon away before shunting him in his visor with her staff. Their weapons purred. Rowan slammed each end of her staff into the two guards, they were knock off their feet. The smoke created by the bombs she had set, began to clear but she did not remove the apparatus which covered her mouth and throat.

She bolted down a hallway through flashing red lights. A door began sliding down to seal itself. Rowan slid underneath and felt it clip her staff as it closed. Alarms whined in her ears.

A woman with grey hair sat with her arms tied to a chair. Her make-up was running and her eyes bulged. Her mouth was covered with a piece of her own sleeve. She seemed to be screaming but her voice was muffled. Her head kept cocking forward. Rowan squinted at her, “Madame Holloway, I’m here to–,” something slammed into Rowan’s back before she was able to finish her sentence. A man with gritted teeth slashed wildly at her with two swords. She rolled away.

He span with his blades as she parried his attacks. Rowan tried to sweep his legs but he jumped with unrivalled speed. As her staff clashed with his blades, sparks began leaping from their meeting. Metal screamed as it scraped together. He flourished his swords as if he were performing a steel dance. All with yellow angry teeth flashing beneath a grubby, jet-black beard. Rowan feigned sweeping again as he jumped as quick as before. She quickly changed her motion and cracked him over the head, which jerked violently sideways as his body span away from her.

With blood oozing from his head he seemed unable to focus his gaze on her. He lunged at Rowan, clumsily missing. She side stepped away and brought her staff up to his neck. He began gagging as he dropped his swords and his face reddened and twisted. With a final knock across the skull, he went limp. Madame Holloway ceased her fidgeting and her whole body seemed to relax. “I’m here to fix your–,”Rowan nudged the man on the ground “predicament,” she said. Madame Holloway nodded. Rowan strode up to her and yanked the sleeve from her mouth.

“Who are you?” Holloway asked, her nose bleeding over her lips..

“I’m the good news,” Rowan said. She took her mask from around her mouth and neck. Reddened marks were left on her rosy complexion in the shape of the apparatus.

“You’re that,” Holloway said as spit caught in her throat, “the bounty hunter,”she said. Rowan nodded slowly. “Well, if you are the good news, my dear, then whatever is the bad–”

“I’m very expensive” Rowan said quickly. She showed Holloway her watch, it read payment pending in bold blue letters. Holloway cleared her throat and fidgeted with her arms. Rowan smiled and untied Holloway. They touched watches as a beeping sounded. Rowan gave a small salute.

“I suppose Miranda sent you, my dear,” Holloway said.

“Uh huh” Rowan replied, while tapping on her watch.

“She’s should have paid the ransom but she was always stubborn, since the day we met,” Holloway said.

“Uh huh” Rowan mumbled.

“Are you actually listening, my dear?” Holloway asked.

“Nope, I’m calling our transportation” Rowan said. She put her a watch to her mouth, “it’s winter and we gotta a whole bunch ‘o’ discontent if you’d like to stop by, Snake-Bitch”.

“Calling one of your, no doubt, reputable contacts” Holloway said, while straightening her torn suit.

“Get up, we’re leaving” Rowan said. They walked back through the hallway she had entered before. At each lock-down Holloway used her clearance card. Occasionally she wretched at the sight of a burnt corpse mangled by lightning, which Rowan snorted at.

“Did you have to kill them all?” Holloway asked with a shaking voice.

“I’ve never killed” Rowan snapped. “This is what happens when you put too many pirates in a room with military-grade weapons”, she said as Holloway opened the final door to the hangar bay.

“I only hired Macen and his men because I didn’t want a Vardoch Warlord to get any funny ideas my dear,” Holloway said through pearl-white teeth. Rowan cocked her head and smiled. She slapped her hand on Holloway’s shoulder.

“As someone who’s spent the last eighteen years fighting with and against scummy bastards like uh…”

“Macen” Holloway said.

“Macen. My advice is; never trust a man with rotten teeth and two swords,” Rowan said. Holloway shoved Rowan’s hand from her shoulder. The doors opened to a hangar bay full of soldiers lying unconscious. “That was me,” Rowan exclaimed.

7 thoughts on “Blood and Starlight

  1. Joy Perino says:

    A really pacy opening. I can picture Rowan and Holloway very clearly, and Holloway is slightly reminiscent of Olenna Tyrell, the Tyrell matriarch in Game of Thrones, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Straight into the action, and I cared about Holloway being saved because she seems different and interesting.

    A couple of things that took me out of the story momentarily – Holloway says “my dear” probably once too often in such a short space of time, and I had to re-read the 3rd sentence – ‘Trident rifles, bearing projectiles of lightning, were being loaded with the sound of growling beasts’ – a few times to get the image to stick. Too many unknowns (trident rifles, projectiles of lightning, loaded with the sound of growling beasts) in one sentence to make it flow.

    Other than that, really enjoyed it. Well done.

  2. Douglas Hazelrigg says:

    Agreed with Joy — action and pace are good. However, I have one significant complaint: I’m not invested enough because, although Rowan has clearly been sent to rescue Holloway, the setting, scenario, and overall conflict is completely unknown. True, I for one feel a story should have a chance to breathe, so I don’t expect all the details, but something to orient me, and some unique aspect to set this apart from just any old rescue scene.

  3. kerrikeberly says:

    I liked Rowan’s character a lot. She’s funny, and has some great lines. However, I almost didn’t get that far because 1.) The first paragraph was hard to follow (How does one have metallic breathing? Why Trident rifle vs. plain old rifle? Describe it–does it have three prongs?–or tell us what it does differently. Otherwise, just say rifle… or laser gun… or taser. It clunks up the precious opening paragraph when you include things that have no context. What/who is Apex? Same deal, give us context or save it for later.) and 2.) I had no clue what was happening for the first five paragraphs.

    Let me back up and say that I really liked this. The voice was great (good job), but you’ve got what I call action without traction… it’s sort of just spinning there. This is disorienting to most readers. Had I known Rowan was bounty hunter upfront, I think I would have been able to piece what was going on a bit better.

    Keep going. I think Rowan is fantastic. Just maybe tweak the opening to give us more stable ground to stand on.

  4. April Marie Cox says:

    I really like how this starts, but you lost me part way through. The overall pacing of the story doesn’t really work–for the first couple of paragraphs yes, but beyond that….

    Try to slip in a little more of the backstory, so that we know who Rowan is sooner, so we know what’s at stake. Beyond that, I would tweak some of the sentence structure, combining some of your sentences, like the part where she gets into the duct. This is a good point to insert a little backstory as well, since there isn’t much happening, but make the parts where she’s being attacked, shorter and more punctuated if that makes sense.

    Basically try to go back and forth between active sequences where there is a lot of action and less active sequences with the drain pipe where you insert some backstory.

  5. Duncan says:

    I just want to say thank you to anyone who took the time to read my submission. Every bit of feed back has been useful except, to be honest, for two things.

    ” I had no clue what was happening for the first five paragraphs.” – I have given this story to twelve beta readers and I have never been given that kind of feedback. I don’t want to offend but that seems like a very odd thing to say, I wrote the opening to be intriguing and snappy without info dumping or overusing exposition. Which brings me to the second ‘thing’ that strikes me as odd: “…like the part where she gets into the duct. This is a good point to insert a little backstory as well…” – I think perhaps this would be the worst point to insert back story because there would no organic way to do it, which would leave me with the option of having the character think about her back story or having the narration ‘tell’ you her story (we should all be ‘showing’ not ‘telling’).

    Though as I said I am truly grateful for all of the feedback and what I am seeing consistently is that you all want a bit more context, I will try to think of an interesting way to do that.

    Just because I have revealed myself as the writer (ta-da?) doesn’t mean more people can’t give feedback for this submission. If you want to know more about the book then go here:

  6. kerrikeberly says:

    Duncan, I apologize you found my feedback odd. I am not offended, but I do want to clarify what I meant by “I had no clue what was happening in the first five paragraphs.” First, let me ask this question: Is the above submission from the first page of your novel or is this an excerpt from further along in the story? Submissions were open to peer critiques on novel openings, so I read it having that mindset. I assumed this peer critique was similar to the “I stopped reading when…” first page critiques that Ellen had done earlier in the workshop. That being said, I knew there was a person in a duct getting ready to open a can of, excuse my French, whoop arse. However, I did not know who this person was, what she was or why she was in the duct to begin with… so as intriguing and snappy as you meant it to be–and it was written nicely, no doubt–I still couldn’t make heads or tales of the “why” it was happening. I could be wrong, but I’m guessing your beta readers had more context, which is probably why all 12 of them didn’t have a problem understanding the scene. I was coming into the action cold, and unfortunately I stood there shivering for five paragraphs because 1.) I didn’t know what the character’s goal was and 2.) I wasn’t emotionally invested enough to care. Do you see what I’m saying? If this IS the opening to your novel, then all I can offer is my take on what I read, and my take is that I read five paragraphs of action without an emotional connection to your character, which is not what you want in a first chapter. Hope this sheds more light on what I meant. Again, sorry I worded my feedback so vaguely.

    • Duncan says:

      Thanks for clarifying, Kerrikkeberly. I can understand where you are coming from. My book has multiple characters who serve as POVs. I recently adjusted the story so that this was my first chapter. This is the readers first intro to Rowan and although I think having some kind of emotional attachment or investment in a character is important overall I don’t think establishing it in five paragraphs while at the same time writing a fast-paced action scene would be the most ‘smooth’ delivery of story. Take the beginning of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight”, the audience does not know the back story of any of the characters nor is the audience emotionally invested in them. Yet we are excited and intrigued by what they are doing.

      I think it’s important for all of us to remember that hooking the reader doesn’t always come from sympathy or emotion but merely any interesting conflict. Though I will be trying to think of a way to make it slightly clearer who she is I’m not going to overdo it because I don’t want to have anything in my story that doesn’t serve the narrative.

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