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Laura Neibaur

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  1. NAME: Laura Neibaur NOVEL NAME: BLOOD OF THE BELLFLOWER – BOOK 1: THE SIFTING GENRE: YA Science fiction WORDS: 105K COMPARABLES: Red Rising by Pierce Brown Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen The Other Side of the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke HOOK: Hunted by a dark political faction, Razzia and Hild must escape the boundary walls, discover and hone their preternatural abilities, and use them to fight Razbon before the Sifting Ceremony commences. PITCH: Razzia Vilhelm longs for the damson plum orchards, her tidy room, and crowded bookshelf. She wants to go home and never leave again. Never break the rules. She wants to escape the Sifting, but Paznic Razbon knows something that she does not - Razzia is dangerous. On the ruins of what was once Eastern Europe lies a gritty kingdom. Turmoil surges with darksome ongoings and unexplained disappearances. Razbon’s ruthless Segaeta faction has revived the ancient Sifting Ceremonies – rituals to test and extract preternatural abilities known as Traces. Razbon is on a hunt for the Paradox Trace. He knows Razzia. He knows her Trace and history, but he did not know her location – until now. The orphaned kitchen maid flees from home – through the Bântuit forest, across the desert Noapte, and far away to Zbura. She fights to survive, attempts to harness her Trace, and learns who to trust. The implacable Commandant Aadrik must weigh office and oath against honor. A restive slave and horse trainer, Hild discovers how a chilling family past stole his freedom and possibly his future. Escaping extraction means abandoning home, civilization, and the other Sifting candidates – to return means facing Razbon. PROSE: CHAPTER ONE THE SIFTING A guard wrested Razzia from a troubled half-sleep and cut the leather straps from her swollen wrists. She sensed daylight in the busy Segaeta camp, and she heard the abrasive din of a crowd in the courtyard. She tried to think. What day was it? Where was she again? The guard jerked her upright and dragged her from the dingy tent into the morning glare. She had not seen the sun’s intensity for three days. The burning rays penetrated her weary eyes. A bead of sweat formed down her spine, and a feeling of dread entered her chest. She remembered – today was the Sifting Ceremony. Razzia’s weakened legs gave out as she tried to keep up with the hard-handed guard. He pulled her impatiently toward the center of the graveled courtyard. “Stand up, stupid sclavă!” He snarled, hoisting her up by her slender arms. He dropped her in front of a rectangular black honed marble altar, the length of a man and two feet wide and tall. It had happened. Just as she predicted. No matter what Hild had promised, he had not been able to protect her. Hild. Where was Hild? The stone slab sat centered in the palm of a cast bronze flower with polished petals cradling the altar’s sides. Rusted bolts anchored a series of heavy chains to the glossy surface. The guard stepped back, awaiting further instructions. Razzia huddled, head drooped with tangled dark hair clinging to her face and neck. She raised her eyes toward the raucous citizens crowded behind a low, mortared wall surrounding the courtyard. Dozens of heavily armed guards in combination sheet metal and leather pressed against the throng of spectators – a throbbing mass of dusty, irate faces, dull linen robes, and shaking fists. Exclamations of shock rapped the air as several dozen adolescents filed into the courtyard, flanked by more guards. These were the Sifting candidates. Their hands and ankles were fettered, and each wore a white veşmânt with a black sash like Razzia. Their round frightened eyes stared toward the altar. After making an example of Razzia, Paznic Razbon would extract the Traces from each remaining victim. One elderly man stood out from the young candidates. His silvering beard and full head of hair had been shaved to nothing but pale bony jowls and a bruised scalp. His once proud face hung limp and drawn around sunken gray eyes. His carefully pressed and adorned blue uniform had been replaced by the white robes that sagged open to reveal a scared, purpling chest. He stood tall, with his head high, and Razzia saw a hint of the old Paznic Lord who had often visited her estate for an early breakfast with her master. Razzia wished for an expression of confidence from this face of her past. Perhaps a dash of hope in his jaded countenance. Instead, she saw his lips repeating the words, Iubeste Libertate. Beside the waiting candidates, a wooden platform sat upraised in front of a vast, white tent. A dozen guards, several paznic lords, and members of the Domnitor’s council approached the stage. Razzia flinched at the sight of Doctor Krelek. Round, pink face, beady eyes, a bald head, tiny spectacles, and a traditional white coat and trousers. The guard nodded to orders from a nearby Segaeta soldier. He lifted Razzia’s wilted body onto the altar, stretched her arms above her, and chained her prostrate to the granite slab. The guard fiddled with the cold, unyielding chains that held her wrists and ankles in place. She trembled, her mind spun into a tunnel of horror, and she gulped air to salve the dread that surged like a tempest in her chest. How had it come to this? She thought. A kitchen maid. A sclavă. Nothing significant had ever happened to her. She never asked much of life. A hot meal, and a good book, after a long day. What could she have done differently on that long-ago morning? That day on the hunting trail changed her life forever. Razzia wanted to shut out the noise and relinquish herself to the nightmarish eventualities. Her childlike mind could not. Instead, she craned her head toward the roaring crowd. The citizens began to hurl stones toward the dark-armored guards, who retaliated with blow after blow from swords and scepters without mercy or relent. Half a dozen Segaeta soldiers escorted a man from the white tent onto the wooden platform. Dressed in black from head to toe, a sleek black vest over his silky white cămaşa and stiff trousers tucked into tall laptis boots. Dark sculpted hair and beard framed his pale face, sharp eyes, and a straight nose. A shudder of fear fled Razzia’s lips. Paznic Razbon. Next, Shrone, the head Segaeta guard and sworn disciple of Razbon, strolled exultantly onto the platform. His hulking frame fit offensively into a pressed black uniform with a trailing cape fastened at his cumbrous neck. His fleshy, scared face was fixed with round nefarious eyes and surrounded by thin spirals of waxy dark hair. Shrone glowered toward the row of Sifting candidates. Then his eyes stopped with a look of unfulfilled appetite at Razzia. The cacophony from the inflamed multitude had compounded. More guards filed into the arena to rebuff the rebel masses. Minutes, she thought. She could suffer a few more minutes, forced to capitulate to her hideous immediate condition. She had endured for three days in the Segaeta camp and over a year far from her home called Tuz Vira. Razbon turned and faced the forbidding stone emblem where Razzia waited. He placed a hand on his heart – a theatrical display of sobriety. Then stepped off the platform. He strutted ahead of Shrone and Doctor Krelek toward the altar in the courtyard center. Low, loose clouds gathered, crawling over the green hills that enfolded the camp in a semi-circle. The storm choked the sky with a dark mantle. A cool waft from the northwest smelled of damp soil and ripe vegetation. The scent prompted memories of the damson plum orchards and blooming alfalfa fields under a warm, blue sky at Tuz Vira. Minutes, she whispered and clung to the word. Her heart mimicked the pad of steady rain. She watched Razbon, Shrone, and Krelek drawing nearer from across the courtyard. The cold, wet wind soaked her robes to her thin cotton roshie, and she hid her face behind her limp hair and outstretched arms. “I want her to look me in the eyes.” It was Razbon’s voice, but Shrone jerked her head up. Watery rivulets washed briny tears and sweat down her cheeks and trickled into the corners of her mouth. Razzia saw them through long clusters of dark hair. She felt her brittle courage fleeing at that moment. Razbon turned to Krelek. He handed him first the small amethyst vial containing the Eredet serum. Then a stiléto with an inlaid hilt and fine etchings of green painted palm fronds. Hild’s stiléto. How did Razbon have Hild’stiléto? Razzia’s heart lolled with anguish. She searched Razbon’s face for any sign of humanity or compassion. His deep brown eyes looked dead. Entrenched by evil. The irises led to dark paths of a ruined and cruel mind-terrain. Razzia lifted her eyes to the lush cliffs and hills surrounding the Segaeta camp of Mijloc-Teren. Where were Hild, Boain, and the others? Had they followed her through the desert? Had they survived the Bântuit Forest? Had the Segaeta discovered them, too? She did not know. Where were the Noapte clans with their strength and numbers? Was no one aware of her need for intervention? Had they abandoned her? Razbon placed the blade against the soft skin of her neck. Razzia’s mind lurched. She searched for something to hold to. Her memory latched onto one face. It was not Hild. Nor kind, fatherly Kasyl, or the mothermaid who raised her – but Aadrik. To the very end, she had been safe with him. It no longer mattered what happened between them in the Bântuit Forest. Her life had come to a premature end. Razbon would extract her Traces, and there at the Sifting Ceremony, she would cease to exist in the physical world. The face that brought her comfort was Aadrik’s.
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  10. Revised Chapter One - Introduces the Sifting Ceremony and two main protagonists, Hild and Razzia. CHAPTER 1 Hild looked down the shaft of his arrow through a small gap in the foliage, then readjusted his hand on the grip. He felt his heart beating in his fingers as they held the nock of the arrow just behind the blue and gold fletching. He crouched, ready, waiting, and fearful, for today, the Sifting Ceremony began. Hild watched in mute horror as the dark-armored guards appeared, dragging a young girl from a nearby tent. They shoved her toward the center of the large, circular courtyard and dropped her at the base of a polished stone altar shaped like a bellflower with its petals open like a wide mouth around the marble platform. Hild recognized the girl. Razzia! His heart sank, and an overwhelming feeling of guilt and crushing agony descended upon him. She looked fragile, diminished when she had once been vibrant and full of life. Many of the gathered spectators decried the scene while dozens of armed guards pushed against the riotous throng gathered in the square. A group of angry citizens took up stones and hurled them at the guards while shouting obscenities. Surrounding onlookers made a wide birth as three guards hurdled the wall, flanked the rebellious men, and then began to beat them until they dropped in forced submission beneath blows from sword hilts and armored fists. The soldiers dragged the rebel’s limp bodies in a trailing cloud of dust through the courtyard and strung them up against a stone wall with the other Sifting candidates who waited in trepidation for the extraction process. Hild’s eyes locked onto the High Shaw, who walked with imperious detachment toward Razzia. The Shaw gestured to the guards, who lifted her wilted body onto the granite altar and chained her wrists above her head. Hundreds of rebel defectors waited behind Hild in the undergrowth, watching the proceedings, impatient for the unseen boundary to open and the sign to be given. After the sign, they would storm the camp and raid the courtyard, but this would not happen until blood had been spilled—Razzia’s blood. *** Hild sat up from the dream, startled, panting for breath, and bathed in sweat. He felt the solid earth beneath his hands. He looked around him and exhaled. “What the devil was that?” He muttered, getting to his feet. He shook his head again and blinked at the sunlight. Hild had experienced vivid dreams before, but none had ever felt so real and intense. Stranger more, the terrifying dream sounded much like one that continued to torment Razzia. Dreams frequently plagued her with restless nights, but this particular dream seemed to have a more alarming effect, and now its corporality induced a strange and unsettling mood in Hild. He had not seen Razzia in days and had hoped she would meet him in the orchards. He began to wonder where she was, but harvest time kept all the servants busy. Hild determined to follow the orchard path to Tuz Vira and look in on Razzia before returning home. After giving himself a moment to readjust to the burning sunlight that had stained his cheeks and neck pink, Hild swung the leather satchel of plums over his shoulder and glanced up at the heavy branches of a damson plum tree. Green leaves curled like wreaths around blue and purple clusters of dark fruits. The ominous dream continued to loom over his consciousness, making it difficult for Hild to discern reality from fantasy. Perhaps he still dreamt. He reached up and plucked a plum from the tree. It felt tangible enough in his fingers, but then so had the bow grip and feathered fletching. So had the searing feelings Hild experienced while watching Razzia chained to a stone altar by Segaeta guards. Hild watched orange sunrays peak through thin mid-morning clouds that swept across thriving green orchards and hayfields beneath a boundless blue sky. His eyes followed the desert path toward the tiny village of Mijloc-Teren. Though he had never been that far outside the boundaries of his homeland, he somehow knew that his mind had been there moments before, in the Segaeta camp, witnessing the nightmarish ritual. Hild decided to dismiss his dream, blaming it both on the result of Razzia’s constant prattling about her dream and the disturbing talk he had heard in the village. Nonetheless, he would stop at Tuz Vira on his way home, just to settle his state of mind. Hild began to wonder how the normalcy of harvest could continue despite rumors of unusual and unprecedented occurrences this close to home. He wondered if there would be a harvest next fall, and even more, he worried about the news he had heard in the piaţă that day. That morning, the market had brimmed with the usual commotion of bodies, circulating money, goods, and information. Hild had always found it irresistible to hear the market gossip and debate with the old men who gathered in the squares. But something about the dream, the Sifting, and the recent occupation of the Segaeta faction in Buclaminta had made rumors in the market more menacing. Tineri, Hild’s favorite horse, pressed her velvety nose through stray patches of alfalfa. Hild stroked her mane, patted her strong neck, and breathed in the therapeutic earthy scent of horse coat and ripe plum orchards. These smells brought a sense of grounding and comfort. Then Hild heard a familiar voice, like notes of a bell, “Daydreaming again?” She asked. Hild turned with a half-grin at her wide smile. Only Razzia could sneak up and surprise him that way. “Oh no. You look annoyed. Did you sleep in the stables again last night?” She asked. “I did, but that is not the trouble.” “Then what is?” “I had a strange dream. In fact, much like yours, but from a different perspective. I am worried now,” Hild frowned. Razzia’s expression dropped, and a concerned furrow shadowed her usually radiant eyes – one green and one golden-brown. “Aha? You afraid it will come true, then.” “No.” Hild replied, “I am afraid of turning into a little theatrical demon-host with bad dreams every night. Like you?” He gave her a sporting smile. Razzia tightened her lips, “I do hate you, Hild. I do not host demons, and you deserve bad dreams, so you will stop pestering me about mine.” “I will stop pestering you if you stop talking about them. You are infecting me with your dream disorder.” Razzia rolled her eyes and then reached up and plucked a dark fruit from its stem. Hild could tell from her wind-blown hair that she had run through the fields from her estate that day. Like the mane of a Danube horse, her unrivaled dark hair flowed out from beneath a flowered garland with ribbons. Though unmarried, she had come of age and insisted on wearing a blue wool, colorfully embroidered, ponyova skirt to accentuate her maturity in contradiction of her youthful ways. “Let me guess your bad dream.” Razzia took a bite of the plump little plum and then put a finger to her chin, “You lost a fight with Reinick. Or were you bedeviled by adventures out of your grasp? Pirate ships riding the Mavi Sea on the coast of Zbura? Or surviving the haunted Bântuit forest?” Hild swung himself onto the dapple-gray mare. “Do you need a ride home, little demon?” Razzia looked hurt. “I just got here?” She pointed behind her, “I ran all the way from Tuz Vira.” Hild grinned and shrugged, “The bucatar sent me to the piaţă for fowl meat. I had better not be late, or Antal will lose his temper. Then I need to help harvest, and I have two colts right now.” Hild murmured, “Reinick fed the new arrivals twice yesterday instead of letting them graze. Next time, I am trotting the blasted horses to his hallowed bed chambers, and he can babysit while they colic.” He raised an eyebrow at Razzia, “So, as you can see, I have a lot on my plate.” Razzia folded her arms in disappointment and made a pout with her lips, which warmed Hild. He sighed. “I suppose we could take a short ride before harvesting. Want to help in the orchards today? Or will Benca beat a stipe on your back?” “I do not care if she does.” Razzia could not hide her excitement behind a curtain of expression if she tried. She hurried over to Tineri, and Hild pulled her up behind him. Tineri read Hild’s slight shift in the saddle and stepped through the orchard toward the stone-paved trail that wound between the elite Upper Boundary estates of the kingdom of Buclaminta. “Do not go very fast, or let me fall off, Hild.” She said nervously. He glanced behind him, “You could branch out of your boringness and learn to stay on by yourself. I could teach you. Tineri might appreciate it. Since you are so enormous, you know.” “No thanks. I am quite happy with my enormous boringness. Any news from the posts in the piaţă?” She asked, “But please, nothing horrible about the Segaeta or Katona guards.” “Oh, I see. Only the good news. We would not want to spoil your imaginings with any reality.” Razzia wrapped her arms around Hild’s chest, “Absolutely not. My imagines can be terrible enough on their own, like my dreams. There is still some good news, is there not?” Hild did not answer. Somehow, life always went on, no matter the news, but Hild felt a distinct change in the air, though he hoped he was wrong. Sour cherries and fresh fowl meat from the local piaţă jostled in the leather dublari at Tineri’s haunches. As they ascended the mountain path along the steep edge of a rugged cliff, Hild could see the rippling terrain of the Desert Noapte, like a glassy orange and black sea in the distance. He recalled stories of desert tribes and unmarked paths across dangerous territories, but only warriors left Buclaminta, and only the best returned. “I should have led out with the warriors years ago,” Hild said sullenly. “Blasted ear.” “You should thank your deaf ear. Plums and horses are important to you know.” Razzia replied. “Plums and horses,” Hild grumbled. “We are not going far, are we?” Razzia asked, glancing back toward Tuz Vira. “Kasyl does not like me to go far.” “Razzia, if a hunting trail frightens you, we need to get you out of the kitchens more often.” “I do not think you understand. Kasyl strictly forbade me to go beyond where I could see the estate. I disobey him enough on your account. Now turn us about, and let us go on that lovely veiled pathway we always take.” Hild turned his head all the way around to look at Razzia, “You are not in earnest, are you? Do you think because you dreamed that leaving Tuz Vira would cause it to set fire, that it actually will?” Razzia huffed, “I do not see any reason to be very far from home, that is all. Kasyl forbids it. And I do not like dark, frightening forests.” She stared at the black web of trees ahead. “This is not the Bântuit, Razzia. It is just a hunting trail. The most terrifying creatures you will find are a red stag and the odd rabbit or fox.” And with that, Hild prompted Tineri toward the tunneled path. “There it goes. It is gone.” Razzia said with irritation. “Poof. We have left the fields and orchards behind, and you are now breaking every rule of Kasyl’s. I shall never ride with you again.” “It is just trees! You are such a stick in the mud about the rules. And no rule exists saying that you must be in view of your home at all times and never go in trees.” Tineri pricked her ears but stayed steady as they curled along the path, darker and deeper into the forest that coiled into a tangled arch overhead. The pathway turned this way and that with a slight bump up and then a dip down and on until the opening from behind no longer offered its meager light. Unrestrained winds that had coiled across the orchards and fields now channeled into the wagon route and sang an eerie tune. “I like rules,” Razzia meekly said as she glanced around her. “You like to make them up,” Hild mumbled.
  11. Thank you Jinju! I'm wondering if my first chapter is a little boring? Or at least the first scenes? CHAPTER 1 THE KADAI It was just days into harvest and Hild's neck and cheeks were already stained pink from the sun. He swung the leather satchel of plums over his shoulder and glanced up at the heavy branches above-head. Blue and purple clusters of dark fruits were wreathed in curling, green leaves. Orange rays peaked through thinning mid-morning clouds that swept across thriving green orchards and hayfields, beneath a boundless blue sky. The sight saddened Hild. How could war and ruin be so close to Buclaminta and the beauty of harvest still abound? He wondered if there would even be a harvest next year. While Hild stood enjoying the view, a brief vision materialized in his mind. It was Razya, standing in the damson plum orchard beside him, as she had done a thousand times. Her dark hair framed her face and shoulders. She turned and her eyes seemed to pierce right through his. The vision vanished and Hild took a deep breath. He had thought of her a lot lately, though they hadn't seen each other in days. Harvest had kept all the servants busy. Tineri pressed her velvety nose through stray patches of alfalfa to find the sweet new grass. Hild swung himself onto the dapple-gray mare and patted her neck. She read his slight shift in the saddle and stepped through the orchard toward the stone-paved trail that wound between the elite Upper Boundary estates of the kingdom of Buclaminta. Sour cherries and fresh fowl meat from the local piaţă jostled in the leather dublari at Tineri's haunches. Hild had been sent by the head bucatar in search of the best fruits and cuts in the market. He hoped to see Razya when he returned to the orchards that afternoon, and discuss the rumors he'd heard in the village. As they ascended the mountain path along the steep edge of a rugged cliff, Hild could see the rippling terrain of the Desert Noapte, like a glassy, orange sea in the distance. Hild was reminded of stories of desert tribes and unmarked paths across dangerous territories, but only warriors would leave Buclaminta, and only the best would return. Hild sighed. He had been bereft of family ties early in life and was born with one deaf ear, which made him unsuitable for proper warrior training. Although, with recent threats from the western kingdom of Corovnica, they might conscript anyone. Lush, green dog-rose bushes climbed the trunks of silver poplars, and thin rays of sun crept through a network of branches, creating a spectacular mosaic of buttery light on the path. While Hild was distracted by the landscape, a mounted Kadai guard appeared unexpectedly on the path in front of him. Both horses arched and shied away with flared nostrils. “La naiba! Stupid boy.” the Kadai yelled, unsheathing his sword. “Watch where you’re going.” Hild could smell the strong scent of tsuica on the Kadai's breath. "I'm sorry sir, I didn't see you." He lowered his head. But the ill-tempered Kadai was not satisfied. The guard tilted his head back and spit on Hild’s face. Heat rushed to Hild’s cheeks and he made the critical mistake of wiping the spittle with his hand and glancing up as the soldier passed. Before he could react, the Kadai slammed his sword hilt into the bridge of Hild’s nose. Hild arced backward off of Tineri and hit the ground. Blood trickled into the back of Hild’s throat, and he sat up coughing and spat bitter saliva onto the dirt. “Don’t raise your head to me.” The Kadai shouted. “Do you know your place now, slave boy? You know how much we hate your kind. Good for nothing foreigners! What are you doing on a horse like that anyway? Steal it did you? Now, clean up the mess you made on this path before I make it bigger.” Hild wiped his nose on his sleeve and reached for his duffle to replace the scattered fruits. He tried to steady his breath and keep anger from corrupting his calm façade. He put the leather strap across his chest and kicked dirt and pebbles over the dark red puddle. Blood dangled in a stream from Hild’s nose and chin as he re-mounted Tineri. The Kadai gaped at Hild. “Are you deaf, slave boy? I asked if you know your place?” Hild knew insubordination always comes at a price, but he never mastered the ability to bridle his frustrations with the imperial guards. Hild grinned, “As a matter of fact, I am partially deaf. Would you mind repeating your question…in the right ear?” The Kadai’s mouth hovered open, and his face went as red as simca. “This could cost you your life in the Upper Boundary, slave boy. How does a trip through the desert to the Floarelands sound?” Hild watched the Kadai edge closer and raise his sword above his head. His round, manic eyes were pinned beneath greasy hair, and he looked at Hild with repulsion. In a split second of raw reflex, Hild ducked and deflected the blow with his arm, then lunged at the Kadai. He jerked on the Kadai’s vesta and they rolled off their horses and hit the dusty road. The Kadai scrambled for his sword, but before he could steady himself, Hild rammed him with his shoulder. The Kadai stumbled and fell between two firs, down a steep embankment and into a grove of boulders nestled in craggy trees. Hild's insides coiled at the sight of the body, barely moving, far below. "What have I done?" He whispered, squeezing his wounded arm. Blood soaked through his gauzy, white cămaşa and trickled through his fingers. He unwound the leather chimir from his waist and tightened it above the wound. With his good arm, he pulled himself onto Tineri, spun her on her hindquarters, and urged her into a gallop. The Krise estate sat on a series of rolling, pale-green hills dotted with the pinks and purples of cornflowers and wild thyme. On one end of the field, a forest of black locusts and new scots pines bordered the hayfields, and patches of sun zig-zagged between squirrely branches. On the northern border was a damson plum orchard whose dark fruits had just finished ripening. A wooden cart and an old pony stood idly in the bordering field near several shirtless men who worked their scythes against the flowering alfalfa. A few children knelt by the forest edge gathering mushrooms and herbs into leather satchels and woven baskets. As he rode onto the lawn of the estate, Hild recognized a horse being prepared by the stable help. The horse belonged to Razya's master, a Sheehan Warrior named Kasyl, from the neighboring estate. He must have shared a late breakfast with Hild's master, Lord Krise. Hild had always shown favor with Sheehan Kasyl and pleaded in his mind that Kasyl would know how to help. CHAPTER 2 SHEEHAN KASYL Hild urged Tineri toward the flower-encased veranda by the back door of the mess hall. He handed the reigns to the shocked, young attendant in a sweat-stained linen cămaşa. Hild practically fell through the double doors of the dining room. The caramel sweet notes of tsuica plumb brandy permeated the air. On the long, ebony dining table, sat a tinned copper ewer etched in geometric designs. Two platters of mamaliga and late summer vegetables sat half-eaten beside a chalice of warm, ciorba sour soup. At the sight of blood on Hild’s clothes, Lord Krise and Kasyl shoved themselves away from the table and hurried to his side. “Hild, what the hell happened?” Lord Krise asked. They steadied Hild and lowered him into a wooden, round-backed chair. “I’m sorry for disturbing your breakfast, Lord Krise.” Hild breathed. He wasted no time explaining. He knew an infraction against the emperor’s guards, even a lowly Kadai, would be dangerous. “I might have killed him. I didn’t mean to do it. What do I do now?” “Let’s address your wounds before we discuss what we’re going to do.” Lord Krise snapped. “A servant could be hung for this, or worse.” “Let me take a look at your arm.” Kasyl knelt beside Hild, then he chuckled, “Disturbing an unusually late mic dejun is not a punishable crime. But you got yourself into some serious trouble today, didn’t you? Not hard to do with the Kadai these days. Especially if you look like you’re from Corovnica or the northern regions. You are not a foolish boy like many, and I’m sure you were provoked.” “It’s true, he threatened my life.” Hild clenched his teeth as Kasyl loosened the soaked chimir from Hild’s arm. The carved double doors of the dining room burst open and Reinick, Lord Krise's oldest son, strode into the room and slammed the heavy doors behind him. He carried a bow, and a quiver was secured on his back. He peaked around the green-on-white, embroidered damask drapes that framed one of three tall windows. "What's going on?" He spoke gruffly as he walked to Hild. "I was out riding and I heard rumors of possible murder. Here you are bleeding." Lord Krise touched Reinick’s arm. “It was an accident. But Hild is responsible.” Hild squeezed the seat of the chair while he spoke, “We could get help for the soldier. I’m not sure he’s dead.” Reinick gaped at Hild, “Get help for a Kadai? You should have finished him off, and sent his body down into the forests." He turned to Lord Krise, "Father, we could dispose of him tonight. No one would ever know. We don’t need any more attention from the Segaeta,” he growled. "We've already broken the law by teaching Hild to fight." Kasyl jerked his head toward Reinick. “Hild is a servant and he will not likely escape prosecution no matter how thorough our attentions. But they have no reason to pay any attention to you, Reinick.” “Father, whatever Kasyl believes, you know this could implicate the entire family. What did he do? We all know he’s inept, but clumsiness doesn’t usually lead to murdering a soldier.” Kasyl stood to his full height. "He did nothing wrong in defending himself. The Kadai guards are loose with the rules at best." Kasyl turned back to Hild, and said solemnly, "There are always witnesses though, remember that. Nothing goes unseen or unpunished in Buclaminta or Corovnica." Reinick scoffed, "Corovnica." He muttered, rolling his eyes. "A degenerate, worthless kingdom of less-than-humans." He glared at Hild, "They should be crushed like struguri for wine. Perhaps they should all be Sifted.” Kasyl cast a glance of condescension, "Not only are you off point and very naïve, but you are swift with your tongue. It's clear that you know little about politics and cultures beyond our own." Reinick replaced his bow on his back, “With the deepest respect sir, I have fought them face-to-face, and we know exactly what Corovnicans are made of. And when they arrive for war, their blood will run our streets like rivers.” "Hold your tongue Reinick." His father reproached him. Kasyl shook his head and began tearing Hild’s camasa just above the wound. “It’s not as deep as I thought.” He turned to the servitor, “I need hot water, miere brut, and cattle gum for binding. Oh, and bring me writing utensils as well, please.” The servant nodded and hurried out of the room. “This will certainly get the attention of the Segaeta though. I believe the time has come for certain individuals to leave Buclaminta.” Kasyl said darkly. Lord Krise looked hard at Kasyl and then at his son, “I need to speak privately to Sheehan Kasyl.” “Father?” Reinick growled. “Leave!” Krise shouted. Reinick stomped toward the entrance of the dining hall. He glanced back at Hild, then slammed the doors, leaving a loud echo behind. “She must go too.” Kasyl continued. “Tonight, if possible. I’d send her with Hild but it would draw attention.” Krise pursed his lips, then he lowered his voice. "Do you think it worth the risk yet? Once they leave, they'll be hunted, and when they are discovered, we will all be implicated in their…situation. Do you think the risk is any less if she stayed under your watch care? She's but a servant. No one knows her past." Hild looked from Lord Krise to Kasyl. He wondered if they were discussing Razya and desperately wanted to know more, but Hild had been checked violently before for meddling in politics. Lord Krise stepped closer to Kasyl and leaned in, “Are you sure this isn’t an imprudent attempt to further your political sentients?” Kasyl jerked his head toward Krise, “Sentiments?” He looked offended. "My sentiments, are no different than anyone else's here or in Corovnica. Iubeste libertate.” He took a deep breath, “They will find her if she stays. They will find Hild too. Neither one is safe. No one is safe though, you know that, Krise. Not anymore. Even the Upper Boundary faces the biggest threat we’ve seen in decades.” Lord Krise turned with a sigh, "You well know that I am still under Verganos' employ, as well as Impirat Shaktus. They might as well be one and the same. I do wish you would use less candor in my household, and I might add that I cannot condone what you are doing here, and any information I obtain can likely be used by the Segaeta. And if they find out who Hild is…they may dispose of my entire bloodline. I beg you to reconsider your involvement in this scandal." Hild could abstain no longer. “What are you talking about? What scandal? Who is Verganos?” Kasyl ignored Hild. “Scandal? Krise, the lives of two innocents are at stake. They are our own. This is not a scandal. This is a revolution. And why do you think I chose to employ Hild in this household and Razya with me? Because you were sympathetic once too. What do you want? Just let the Segaeta handle it? Keep the rules? Do what we’ve done for decades? Don’t turn your back on me now, Krise.” Kasyl’s voice shook. “Not right now.” Lord Krise wrung his hands, “Oh Kasyl, don’t think I don’t care. Things have changed, but I haven’t forgotten old friendships.” “They were more than friendships," Kasyl growled.
  12. Oh I really enjoyed reading the expanded scene. It makes a lot more sense now. There's a deep sense of fear and frustration with Yoonis' situation that makes me want to root for her and Jayu. I want to see if the relic pool worked, and what the blue firebird scene meant. Good job! Thanks for sharing.
  13. Hi Shola, Ok, there were kids around when I read this, so I hope I don't look foolish, but I really, very much enjoyed reading it. I almost had to skip the "burning alive" scene, my worst fear. But I pushed through it. It was so intense. Also, I am not as book or word smart as you, but I do love to get into character's heads and I love descriptions. I felt immediately that Hugues was not really one of them. You did a good job of making him subtly stand out from the rest of the characters in chapter 1. I thought your character development was great. I immediately hated the Pope (reminded me of Longshanks) and you made him and all of his minions really good bad guys. I am anxious to hear what comes their way! And after all the evil, condescending / encouragement from the Pope to out information from the captives, and then murder them anyway, not to mention the criminal activity they are involved in, I felt that it fittingly tied in with the foreshadowing sentence of the 2nd chapter, "They are just people." I'm guessing they'll find them to be much the opposite. I did feel that there were a lot of characters in the first chapter. I think I forget when I'm writing, that people don't remember names or descriptions right away. It always takes several reminders before I get a full view of who a person is, what they are like, their motives, appearance etc. I have the same problem in my writing. I know that only certain characters from chapter 1 are going to continue throughout the rest of the book, so obviously you don't need to do too much of describing the guards for example. You did do a fair amount of description on the scenes, I was able to materialize a lot of the scenery from my own imagination and from what you described. But I really like hearing more details about clothing (the gauntlet description was excellent! Even the gross lip part ) and the surroundings. Not because readers can't imagine it up themselves, but I honestly want to see more of what is in your head, because it's probably much more clever and creative than what is in mine. It was interesting jumping scenes from chapter one to chapter two. I didn't want anyone to have to go back to the setting in chapter one. Such a scary, depressing, hopeless time and place. The Yahwudin boat scene was a relief after the upper charring tower in France. and I can't wait to hear what goes on between the nations. Also, I would like to know more about the situation of the technologically advanced society. I'm sure this comes later, but is it quiet luxurious? Is it more rugged? How aware are they of the goings on in the less advanced nations? I'm guessing not very? Mostly because of the last sentence in chapter 2. And at the risk of sounding more ridiculous...I know little about boats from any time period. Did you make up this technology? Is the Fire Sand similar to a real life prototype. How did they "stumble" across the technology? I'm sure that comes later, and that is ok with me, because that keeps me reading. I just want to have a clearer picture in my head of the discrepancies between the societies. Very interesting and fun to read. I love the idea, love the descriptions. Excellent prose. I also had to create some science / technology from another time in my story. Love science/nerd brains!
  14. I Jinju, I immediately loved the feel of the setting. Beautifully descriptive. I also understood the frustration of Yoonis with her daughter. Even though it was not her daughter's fault, children always love to point out weaknesses or bring out our inner struggles. No one likes to be reminded why we are NOT something we'd like to be. I can say, I have (ashamedly) cursed in from my children a time or two, so I wouldn't necessarily take that out of the story. I think it adds to the drama of her feelings and just how seriously she looks at the situation placed on her by the magicians. It makes me curious why she is not one of them. I also was a little confused about the relic pool and why she was making her daughter go there. I understand that it might be discussed a little further on in the story, which I think is fine. I don't like to know every detail right away. I get bored easily when I don't have little things to look forward to learning, but it might help to add further explanation of why they are going to the pool.
  15. Hi Minglu, I love that your story started off with something action-filled and thrilling. That is my favorite way to get into a story. I got the feel for the drama of the situation right off. I also think you did a great job at describing the action scenes and making them move forward dramatically. I was instantly worried about the woman they were going to torture. I also wanted to know more about the Theikos and who they were, which made me want to keep reading. I also kept reading to find out the relationship between the two protagonists. I would have liked to see the city, clothing and the two-room house location and description in a little bit more detail. I liked the description of the amulet tugging at Lydia's heart when she set a curse. I like to know how it feels to be a sorcerous and how the casting of a curse would feel. I also liked that you used some Roman words I wasn't familiar with but they fit into the descriptions well enough for me to decipher what they meant. Maybe a little more cohesiveness with the discussion between Lydia and (the Theikos?) when they enter the house. Was Brisies a sorceress too, but not as good as Lydia? Also is Marcus a sorcerer, or a Roman friend who is sympathetic to the Theikos? I'm sure that all gets answered later, and you did touch on it. I like the curse she thinks of at the end. It made me want to know what Lydia ends up doing to Rome. Just curious, is there a romantic relationship between the protagonists in their future? I am a sucker for a little romance in any genre! And I like strong women as much as anyone, but I do love a good old fashioned rescue scene on occasion. I think even someone as powerful and talented as Lydia would agree. Good job! Laura
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  20. CHAPTER ONE (REVISED) CHAPTER 1 Hild looked down the shaft of his arrow through a small gap in the foliage, then readjusted his hand on the grip. He felt his heart beating in his fingers as they held the nock of the arrow just behind the blue and gold fletching. He crouched, ready, waiting, and fearful, for today, the Sifting Ceremony began. Hild watched in mute horror as the dark-armored guards appeared, dragging a young girl from a nearby tent. They shoved her toward the center of the large, circular courtyard and dropped her at the base of a polished stone altar shaped like a bellflower with its petals, like a mouth, cradling the marble platform. Hild recognized the girl. Razzia! His heart sank, and an overwhelming feeling of guilt and crushing agony descended upon him. She looked fragile, diminished when she had once been vibrant and full of life. Many of the gathered spectators decried the scene while dozens of armed guards pushed against the riotous throng gathered in the square. A group of angry citizens took up stones and hurled them at the guards while shouting obscenities. Surrounding onlookers made a wide birth as three guards leaped over the wall, flanked the rebellious men, and then began to beat them until they dropped in forced submission beneath blows from sword hilts and armored fists. The soldiers dragged the rebel's limp bodies in a trailing cloud of dust through the courtyard and strung them up against a stone wall with the other Sifting candidates who waited in trepidation for the extraction process. Hild's eyes locked onto the High Shaw, who walked with imperious detachment toward Razzia. The Shaw gestured to the guards, who lifted her wilted body onto the granite altar and chained her wrists above her head. Hundreds of rebel defectors waited behind Hild in the undergrowth, watching the proceedings, impatient for the unseen boundary to open and the sign to be given. After the sign, they would storm the camp and raid the courtyard, but this would not happen until blood had been spilled—Razzia's blood. *** Hild sat up from the dream, startled, panting for breath, and bathed in sweat. He felt the solid earth beneath his hands. He looked around him and exhaled. “What the devil was that?” He muttered, getting to his feet. He shook his head again and blinked at the sunlight. Hild had experienced vivid dreams before, but none had ever felt so real and intense. Stranger more, the terrifying dream sounded much like one that continued to torment Razzia. Dreams frequently plagued her with restless nights, but this particular dream seemed to have a more alarming effect, and now its corporality induced a strange and unsettling mood in Hild. He had not seen Razzia in days and had hoped she would meet him in the orchards. He began to wonder where she was, but harvest time kept all the servants busy. Hild determined to follow the orchard path to Tuz Vira and look in on Razzia before returning home. After giving himself a moment to readjust to the burning sunlight that had stained his cheeks and neck pink, Hild swung the leather satchel of plums over his shoulder and glanced up at the heavy branches of a damson plum tree. Green leaves curled like wreaths around blue and purple clusters of dark fruits. The ominous dream continued to loom over his consciousness, making it difficult for Hild to discern reality from fantasy. Perhaps he still dreamt. He reached up and plucked a plum from the tree. It felt tangible enough in his fingers, but then so had the bow grip and feathered fletching. So had the searing feelings Hild experienced while watching Razzia chained to a stone altar by Segaeta guards. Hild watched orange sunrays peak through thin mid-morning clouds that swept across thriving green orchards and hayfields beneath a boundless blue sky. His eyes followed the desert path toward the tiny village of Mijloc-Teren. Though he had never been that far outside the boundaries of his homeland, he somehow knew that his mind had been there moments before, in the Segaeta camp, witnessing the nightmarish ritual. Hild decided to dismiss his dream, blaming it both on the result of Razzia’s constant prattling about her dream and the disturbing talk he had heard in the village. Nonetheless, he would stop at Tuz Vira on his way home, just to settle his state of mind. Hild began to wonder how the normalcy of harvest could continue despite rumors of unusual and unprecedented occurrences this close to home. He wondered if there would be a harvest next fall, and even more, he worried about the news he had heard in the piaţă that day. That morning, the market had brimmed with the usual commotion of bodies, circulating money, goods, and information. Hild had always found it irresistible to hear the market gossip and debate with the old men who gathered in the squares. But something about the dream, the Sifting, and the recent occupation of the Segaeta faction in Buclaminta had made rumors in the market more menacing. Tineri, Hild’s favorite horse, pressed her velvety nose through stray patches of alfalfa. Hild stroked her mane, patted her strong neck, and breathed in the therapeutic earthy scent of horse coat and ripe plum orchards. These smells brought a sense of grounding and comfort. Then Hild heard a familiar voice, like notes of a bell, “Daydreaming again?” She asked. Hild turned with a half-grin at her wide smile. Only Razzia could sneak up and surprise him that way. “Oh no. You look annoyed. Did you sleep in the stables again last night?” She asked. “I did, but that is not the trouble.” “Then what is?” “I had a strange dream. In fact, much like yours, but from a different perspective. I am worried now,” Hild frowned. Razzia’s expression dropped, and a concerned furrow shadowed her usually radiant eyes – one green and one golden-brown. “Aha? You afraid it will come true, then.” “No.” Hild replied, “I am afraid of turning into a little theatrical demon-host with bad dreams every night. Like you?” He gave her a sporting smile. Razzia tightened her lips, “I do hate you, Hild. I do not host demons, and you deserve bad dreams, so you will stop pestering me about mine.” “I will stop pestering you if you stop talking about them. You are infecting me with your dream disorder.” Razzia rolled her eyes and then reached up and plucked a dark fruit from its stem. Hild could tell from her wind-blown hair that she had run through the fields from her estate that day. Like the mane of a Danube horse, her unrivaled dark hair flowed out from beneath a flowered garland with ribbons. Though unmarried, she had come of age and insisted on wearing a blue wool, colorfully embroidered, ponyova skirt to accentuate her maturity in contradiction of her youthful ways. “Let me guess your bad dream.” Razzia took a bite of the plump little plum and then put a finger to her chin, “You lost a fight with Reinick. Or were you bedeviled by adventures out of your grasp? Pirate ships riding the Mavi Sea on the coast of Zbura? Or surviving the haunted Bântuit forest?” Hild swung himself onto the dapple-gray mare. “Do you need a ride home, little demon?” Razzia looked hurt. “I just got here?” She pointed behind her, “I ran all the way from Tuz Vira.” Hild grinned and shrugged, “The bucatar sent me to the piaţă for fowl meat. I had better not be late, or Antal will lose his temper. Then I need to help harvest, and I have two colts right now.” Hild murmured, “Reinick fed the new arrivals twice yesterday instead of letting them graze. Next time, I am trotting the blasted horses to his hallowed bed chambers, and he can babysit while they colic.” He raised an eyebrow at Razzia, “So, as you can see, I have a lot on my plate.” Razzia folded her arms in disappointment and made a pout with her lips, which warmed Hild. He sighed. “I suppose we could take a short ride before harvesting. Want to help in the orchards today? Or will Benca beat a stipe on your back?” “I do not care if she does.” Razzia could not hide her excitement behind a curtain of expression if she tried. She hurried over to Tineri, and Hild pulled her up behind him. Tineri read Hild’s slight shift in the saddle and stepped through the orchard toward the stone-paved trail that wound between the elite Upper Boundary estates of the kingdom of Buclaminta. “Do not go very fast, or let me fall off, Hild.” She said nervously. He glanced behind him, “You could branch out of your boringness and learn to stay on by yourself. I could teach you. Tineri might appreciate it. Since you are so enormous, you know.” “No thanks. I am quite happy with my enormous boringness. Any news from the posts in the piaţă?” She asked, “But please, nothing horrible about the Segaeta or Katona guards.” “Oh, I see. Only the good news. We would not want to spoil your imaginings with any reality.” Razzia wrapped her arms around Hild’s chest, “Absolutely not. My imagines can be terrible enough on their own, like my dreams. There is still some good news, is there not?” Hild did not answer. Somehow, life always went on, no matter the news, but Hild felt a distinct change in the air, though he hoped he was wrong. Sour cherries and fresh fowl meat from the local piaţă jostled in the leather dublari at Tineri’s haunches. As they ascended the mountain path along the steep edge of a rugged cliff, Hild could see the rippling terrain of the Desert Noapte, like a glassy orange and black sea in the distance. He recalled stories of desert tribes and unmarked paths across dangerous territories, but only warriors left Buclaminta, and only the best returned. “I should have led out with the warriors years ago,” Hild said sullenly. “Blasted ear.” “You should thank your deaf ear. Plums and horses are important to you know.” Razzia replied. “Plums and horses,” Hild grumbled. “We are not going far, are we?” Razzia asked, glancing back toward Tuz Vira. “Kasyl does not like me to go far.” “Razzia, if a hunting trail frightens you, we need to get you out of the kitchens more often.” “I do not think you understand. Kasyl strictly forbade me to go beyond where I could see the estate. I disobey him enough on your account. Now turn us about, and let us go on that lovely veiled pathway we always take.” Hild turned his head all the way around to look at Razzia, “You are not in earnest, are you? Do you think because you dreamed that leaving Tuz Vira would cause it to set fire, that it actually will?” Razzia huffed, “I do not see any reason to be very far from home, that is all. Kasyl forbids it. And I do not like dark, frightening forests.” She stared at the black web of trees ahead. “This is not the Bântuit, Razzia. It is just a hunting trail. The most terrifying creatures you will find are a red stag and the odd rabbit or fox.” And with that, Hild prompted Tineri toward the tunneled path. “There it goes. It is gone.” Razzia said with irritation. “Poof. We have left the fields and orchards behind, and you are now breaking every rule of Kasyl’s. I shall never ride with you again.” “It is just trees! You are such a stick in the mud about the rules. And no rule exists saying that you must be in view of your home at all times and never go in trees.” Tineri pricked her ears but stayed steady as they curled along the path, darker and deeper into the forest that coiled into a tangled arch overhead. The pathway turned this way and that with a slight bump up and then a dip down and on until the opening from behind no longer offered its meager light. Unrestrained winds that had coiled across the orchards and fields now channeled into the wagon route and sang an eerie tune. “I like rules,” Razzia meekly said as she glanced around her. “You like to make them up,” Hild mumbled.
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