The Poison Fire

Body pressed against the cold wall, face gleaming with sweat and melting snow dripping down her clothes, Emery hunched over the roof’s edge. Two men, wearing a hue of blue that sent Emery repulsing, stood on each side of the Eastern arch. There were two ways into the marketplace, both guarded from criminals and brawlers-and a certain seventeen-year-old girl hiding above their heads. In Noriannd, nobody could forget the face of an Aruel, and Emery’s flaming red hair didn’t make it any easier. The king’s guards would sight her and easily catch her off the streets, poke numbing needles into her skin and send her off to the capital.

But Emery didn’t use streets.

She slid across the shingles, palms scraping against the coarse patches of slate peeking through the ice. Her hands grabbed the gutter to ease the fall. Buildings in Larnham were built low due to the harsh mountain winds. It had been months now, and the short fall this surprised her. She landed earlier than she’d anticipated, making her stagger.

Emery slid into the crowds, hoping that her cloak made her invisible enough, and moved toward the crammed center. A delicious, thick smell filled her nostrils, watering her mouth. New baked rye bread and soup. It was best not to even go near the kettle. Her stomach had churned for it since she’d arrived to this city, and sometimes her fingers went places they shouldn’t. Her eyes shifted to the guards and the daggers in their belts. She pinched her fingers.

Her feet slowed by the stall that carried antiques-books, vases, trinkets and copper jewelry. She picked a book up and flipped through the pages. A jumble of words always made her hopeful-not because she could understand them, but because she one day might. The pages had pictures, colorful and velvety to the touch. One caught her attention: a child in her mother’s arms. Kind eyes, curly hair. Emery wondered what it’d be like to have someone look exactly like her too.

The merchant snatched the book from Emery, glowering at her dirty hands. She lowered her face and walked away.

The seller of the rye bread was a man her age, with the pale yellow hair of a Norian. Emery fixed her gaze on him, but her hand was on the table, searching. Spoons, crumbs, a blunt knife. Her index finger dragged the knife over the edge.
She feigned a gasp, bending down to pick it up from the snow.

“Let me do that,” the young man said and circled the table. It was to make sure she wouldn’t steal.

Emery smiled tightly, following his sloppy movements closely. “Sorry”

The boy got back up from the ground, butter knife in hand. Emery straightened her posture. Then she vanished before he could look under her hood. Elbowing her way through the masses, the warm bread under her tunic, she heard the boy shout behind her. She increased her pace slightly, but not enough to raise suspicions.

“Thief!”

Her left hand held the breads in place while she grabbed the rainwater pipe with her other one and climbed. The wind tugged at her cloak, pulling coils free from beneath her hood. Clenching her jaw, she reached for the gutter. Her fingers numbed from carrying her weight and turned red in the cold.

The guards came toward her, their hands braced on the hilts of their daggers.
Emery’s hood fell. The coppery red, long and curly strands fell to frame her face and slapped against her freckled ochre skin.

She hadn’t thought they could run faster than that, but after they recognized her, they did. Emery cursed under her breath and tucked her tunic under her belt with the left hand to secure the bread in place. The men shouted after her. One reached for her foot, but Emery pulled herself up on the roof, out of their grasp. She winced at the pounding heat in her fingertips, then ran.

A knife swished past her, missing by meters.

Emery cast a brief glance over her shoulder, a breath passing between her parted lips, rising as steam blown away by the harsh wind. She glided on the ice covering the roof on the other side, jumping onto the next one. A dimple made a sudden appearance on the left corner of her mouth, as the soldiers stood helpless on the ground and she once again escaped their fine, gold-embroidered gloves.

6 thoughts on “The Poison Fire

  1. Wilmar Luna (@WilmarLuna) says:

    All right, this story definitely has a lot of potential. Here’s where I think it could use some improvement.

    Let’s start with the world building. It’s clear that you’re creating a fantasy world so that’s a plus, but the prose is written in a way that assumes the reader knows what a Norian is. Also, though you say the buildings in Larnham were built low due to harsh mountain winds, we don’t really get a sense of what Larnham is.

    You’ve included -some- world building details but not enough. If this is a first page and she’s going to run into a Nornian, we need more information than, “He had the pale yellow hair of a Nornian.” What are Nornians? I don’t know this information yet, so don’t write assuming I do or will know. I may not get past your first page and never find out what a Nornian is.

    Basically, you have too many fantasy names in the beginning. I don’t know what an Aruel is and I don’t know where Noriannd is either. If you can’t dedicate time to world building in the first pages then save the fantasy names for later. Rather than say he was Nornian describe what he looked like.

    “A boy, tall, and pale with blonde hair. Wore furs which shielded him from the winds.”

    In the first paragraph, I don’t understand what poke numbing needles means.

    “But Emery didn’t use streets.” This sentence is unnecessary. You’ve already established that she’s lurking on the rooftops.

    “She picked a book up and flipped through the pages” Odd phrasing. Would read better as, “She picked up a book and flipped through the pages”

    Overall, the action in this scene flows well. Emery seems like an interesting protagonist and I really enjoyed the pacing of your first pages. I also like the fact that Emery has agency by stealing bread and makes me wonder if she’s going to take it home to eat or if she’s going to bring it back and meet up with friends.

    With a bit more polish this is definitely a story I would continue reading.

  2. precariouswriter says:

    This is going in a good direction.

    The first sentence is good but would improve if you switched from passive to active voice. Also, snow doesn’t drip. Melting snow, maybe? But then it would have to be warm out and you say later that she can see her breath.

    Here are a few parts with grammatical issues:
    “The king’s guards would sight her…” (see her)
    “It had been months now, and the short fall this surprised her.” (delete “this”)
    “Two men, wearing a hue of blue that sent Emery repulsing, stood on each side of the Eastern arch.” (Two men stood on (either) side of the Eastern arch, wearing a (shade) of blue that repulsed Emery.)
    Brackets are suggestions.

    You have a few errors, too. For example, she steals bread but it later turns into “breads”—although that may just be a typo.
    Visible breath in the cold isn’t steam, it’s water vapour.
    When the soldier misses her “by meters” I couldn’t help but laugh at his aim. You wrote it as if it was a close call, though, so perhaps you meant inches?

    As Wilmar mentioned above, your world-building isn’t quite where it needs to be. I understand you’re trying to keep some sort of mystery, but you need to explain just enough for the reader to understand. Words like Aruel and Nornian only confused me and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were that important if you didn’t even bother to elaborate.

    Emery is in an intriguing situation, and perhaps if I knew more about what an Aruel was and why she’s a wanted person, I would want to follow her more. What’s so special about her and her red hair? From her behaviour, I can’t help but think of Aladdin, or Les Miserables, or plenty of other characters who steal bread, so what makes her different? And why should I care about her?

    She’s obviously smooth and evasive, but I don’t know what her goals are, beyond stealing bread which she’s already achieved by the end of this excerpt. You don’t have to tell me right away, but a hint to string me along would go a long way.

    There are parts which I think you’d benefit from cutting words down a bit to quicken the pace, but that will come naturally to you as you continue writing.

    I like the setting, as I haven’t read many fantasy stories that take place in cold climates, especially in the beginning. Your title is very eye-catching as well, and I think this has the potential to be a great novel someday. Good work!

  3. thescribblerssite says:

    I really enjoyed reading this opening. The market place and the young girl thieving has been done a lot, but it didn’t feel too copy-cat so I was happy to read on. Even in just this short extract I begin to warm to the MC and was rooting for her to escape by the end.

    The construction of the first sentence is a little awkward and as the opening to your story, you really want to avoid tripping any reader up. At the moment it has the potential to do so, so I’d look to rearrange it. Start with the character, Emery and simply describe their actions in a way that any reader would easily read it. You don’t want any reason for someone to stop reading.

    The opening paragraph includes far too much information and it was hard to follow. We need to establish a sense of place and character, and instead we are overwhelmed with information. Try to bring this in more gradually over the piece. Keep the focus on Emery as much as you can in the opening. We want to connect to the MC and get a sense of where they are, both physically and in their lives.

    The description is excellent and I really enjoyed how Emery moves around and we really get a sense of her surrounding as she does. You use sensory description well and I could imagine the scenes very well.

  4. David Lodes says:

    A few of my thoughts. Obviously it’s hard to make a determination in 1000 words, but I believe you need to polish your writing up to make this more attractive to the reader.
    For me it did not read smoothly and I had to stop a lot to try to figure out what was going on. If it is a rough draft that’s fine, I’ve rewritten my beginning a hundred times, so always room to make things better.
    You have a basis for a good story just needs a bit of polishing.

    Two men, wearing a hue of blue that sent Emery repulsing, stood on each side of the Eastern arch.
    A little confused by sent emery repulsing. Perhaps word it different.

    The king’s guards would sight he
    Unless this is the way they speak all the time, I would change it to “see her”

    poke numbing needles into her skin and send her off to the capital.
    I guess as a reader I found a lot of information thrown at me in the first paragraph that I had no Idea what it was. In a way it makes me curious, but also confused, so be careful.

    It had been months now, and the short fall this surprised her.
    I would reword this.

    She landed earlier than she’d anticipated, making her stagger. Be careful with passive sentences.
    You could easily say and staggered.

    Emery slid into the crowds
    Perhaps slipped into the crowds would make more sense.

    Emery slid into the crowds, hoping that her cloak made her invisible enough, and moved toward the crammed center. A delicious, thick smell filled her nostrils, watering her mouth. New baked rye bread and soup. It was best not to even go near the kettle. Her stomach had churned for it since she’d arrived to this city, and sometimes her fingers went places they shouldn’t. Her eyes shifted to the guards and the daggers in their belts. She pinched her fingers.
    This paragraph is very jumbled and confusing.
    crammed center of what? Watering her mouth? You don’t include enough information here to make it clear to the reader what is happening.
    She pinched her fingers? Why? What is she doing it for?

    Her left hand held the breads in place while she grabbed the rainwater pipe with her other one and climbed.
    How do you climb a pipe with only one hand?

    The guards came toward her, their hands braced on the hilts of their daggers.
    Emery’s hood fell. The coppery red, long and curly strands fell to frame her face and slapped against her freckled ochre skin.
    At this point I thought she was on the roof. This makes it seem like the guards are on the same level as she is. The sequence just seems off.

    She hadn’t thought they could run faster than that, but after they recognized her, they did.
    This seems oddly worded to me.
    When they recognized her, they chased her down.

    Good luck on your writing.

  5. Blake says:

    The opening had me, but somewhat lost me afterwards. The voice is fairly enjoyable. However, how the paragraphs are written makes it a tad hard to read smoothly. About the protagonist – I think you should add a bit more personality to her. I just couldn’t help not caring what happened to her. It’s an interesting read – just a few minor nitpicks on my part!

  6. Darrell Pursiful says:

    I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a protagonist who gets by on wits and deception rather than brute strength. I’m therefore naturally disposed to root for Emery. I would definitely be curious to read more or maybe check out the book blurb to see if this is the kind of story I’d enjoy reading.

    At the same time, I have to agree with commenters who remarked about the worldbuilding. There are lots of names that I need a little more information about before I can truly understand the stakes of Emery’s story. Are Norians and Aruels different human cultures? Are they different fantasy races like elves and dwarves? I take it that they don’t like each other, but how fierce is the hostility in this setting? Is Emery in danger for her life just by being in a Norian village, or will she merely be met with prejudice (somewhat justified if she’s a thief)?

    Prose could be a bit more refined. Some word choices seemed off-putting. “A hue of blue that sent Emery repulsing” tripped me up. “Hue of blue” sounds contrived. “Sent Emery repulsing” implies that Emery repulsed the color, not that the color repulsed her. “Freckled ochre skin” seems odd. I think of ochre as brown or rust-colored, not a fair complexion that might have freckles.

    On a purely pragmatic note, I would think the king’s guards would have something a bit more substantial than daggers with which to protect themselves and apprehend wrongdoers. Maybe swords instead?

    Thanks for sharing!

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