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Adult Fantasy, Jinju Richards, THE SLAVE AND HER MAGICIAN


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Hello, these are the first 500 or so words of my novel/my first scene. My goal is to set the scene and introduce my main character Yoonis.

---

The feather was blue, bright blue, as blue as the sky on a clear arctic day. It gleamed against the red and gold-turned grasses of the tundra, outshining even the lakes and ponds that pooled up every summer on the treeless plains.

“Look,” Yoonis whispered to her daughter, pointing to the feather.

“What, Umma?” Jayu asked.

“A firebird feather.”

“Really?” Jayu breathed. “A firebird?”

The awe in her daughter’s voice echoed Yoonis’s own sense of wonder. A firebird, rarest of all magical creatures, here, on the grounds of Lady Twazi’s plantation? Yet where else could the blue feather have come from? Even Yoonis, nomag slave though she was, could tell that the sheen on this feather was different. Flickers of yellow, of orange, of warmth and flame danced along its vane; the autumn landscape all around seemed but a reflection in comparison.

She reached for the feather, thumb and forefinger extended to pinch its hollow shaft. But before she could pick it up, she felt Jayu tugging on her hand, pulling it back, restraining her. “No, Umma,” her daughter said, with all the earnest seriousness of a four-year-old. “You can’t. You’re not a magician! Only they’re good enough to touch magic things. Not us.”

Only they’re good enough…

Anger ripped through Yoonis. She could feel it burning in her chest. It was a familiar rage, one that tore out every other emotion. I’m angry, I’m angry, she said to herself, a desperate chant to keep herself from squeezing Jayu’s hand as hard as she could. I’m angry, but I’m not angry at Jayu. It’s not her fault. It’s the fault of the magicians, God, how I hate them, I hate them, I hate them, I hate them!

The hatred felt good. It allowed her to feel without hurting. It allowed her to be alive without pain.

“Come with me,” Yoonis said sharply. “This way, come on, watch where you’re going. No, not that way, we’re going to the relic pool.”

“The relic pool? But that’s too far, Umma. Lady Twazi doesn’t like us to go that far.”

“This, Jayu. This is why we have to go to the relic pool. You almost broke your neck trying to get those damned cloudberries for Lady Twazi’s offering, and you’re still obsessed.”

“But Umma—”

“I don’t want to hear another word about what Lady Twazi or any other magician wants, you hear me?”

“But Umma—”

“No!”

Like saying no ever worked. But Yoonis managed to ignore Jayu’s continued protests by keeping her focus on a patch of wind-sculpted spruces up ahead. Stunted and half-stripped of their leaves, the trees all pointed leeward. When a gust of wind blasted into Yoonis and her daughter from behind, sending them stumbling in the direction of the pointing needle-leaves, Yoonis took it as a good sign. For the relic pool was this way, just beyond the next rolling hill, yes, there it was, shielded and surrounded by even more flag trees, but still visible, its bright blue waters rising into a steam that disappeared into the bright blue sky, blue like the firebird feather Yoonis had not touched because she was no magician…

Her throat tight, Yoonis pulled Jayu to a stop right at the edge of the burbling waters. “Take your clothes off,” she whispered. “Here, I’ll help you.”

The wind was rising once more. Yoonis took Jayu’s hoodless parka and tucked it under her boots, then peeled off each of Jayu’s underlayers until her daughter was trembling naked in the autumn chill. Unable to handle watching Jayu shiver, Yoonis knelt and wrapped her arms around her. Then she bowed over and dipped her daughter into the steaming shallows of the relic pool.

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Hi Jinju! Thanks for posting! You did a great job setting up your world. From just these first 500 words, I've already gotten a good sense of how your world works. Yoonis is immediately sympathetic. I felt her anger with the injustice in her world and how it's affected her daughter. I just have a few suggestions. Like I have told everyone I've given feedback, take everything I say with a few grains of salt as I'm still learning. 

-The feather is otherworldly, immediately introducing the reader to the magical aspect of your world, and plays an important role in the scene, but it may not be the most compelling way to open the scene. Virtually every novel I have read focuses immediately on the character.

-I'm not sure if any responsible mother would use the word "damnable" around her four-year-old daughter. 

-I'm a bit confused on what exactly a relic pool is. Yoonis says Jayu must go there because of her dangerous obsession with the magicians, but when they do get there it seems like it's just a bath. 

Overall, you did a wonderful job with your opening scene. I'm really intrigued to see what happens next, and I'd be happy to read further if you ever need someone to do that.

Have an amazing day!

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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. 

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Hey Jinju,

I like the imagery of the first paragraph. It’s charged with something. With the feather in the foreground, I can almost see it as the cover illustration.

I would lessen the amount of “blues” though. Maybe just once and then something with bright. (After the feather was blue,) “It’s brightness/radiance surpassing that of the surrounding clear arctic sky.”

Something like that.

It gleamed against the red and gold-turned grasses of the tundra, outshining even the lakes and ponds that pooled up every summer on the treeless plains

I would rework this sentence, what sticks with me is the color so since it’s lengthy I would try to stay away from words that aren’t directly necessary to express the vividness.

“It gleamed against the red and gold grasses of the tundra,”

I had a second part that I think works well with the first but it sounded off and was based on my assumption that the sky in this scene is a clear Arctic day blue. If that’s true, maybe use the reflected blues carried on the surface of the lakes and ponds to pump more vividness into the color and appearance of the feather?

It might be fun.

 

“Look,” Yoonis whispered to her daughter, pointing to the feather.

“What, Umma?” Jayu asked.

“A firebird feather.”

“Really?” Jayu breathed. “A firebird?”

The four lines of dialogue gives me a sense of motherly warmth. And I feel concern for the daughter and a sense of foreboding for Yoonis. May be misplaced but I still enjoy it.

I like that I feel that the journey would be special and one of a kind because they found a feather dropped by a creature of legend and this feather amongst the feathers belonging to these legendary creatures was exceptional in its own right.

Even Yoonis, nomag slave though she was, could tell that the sheen on this feather was different. Flickers of yellow, of orange, of warmth and flame danced along its vane; the autumn landscape all around seemed but a reflection in comparison.

I would describe the color of the “embellishments” on the feather as you have (orange and yellow) then talk about how the colors make her feel rather than use sensations and descriptors ascribed to the colors directly. I think your own words will sound best as a consideration of the suggestion.

She reached for the feather, thumb and forefinger extended to pinch its hollow shaft.

The description of the grasp for the feather is pretty detailed for what the action is. I do this a lot myself but it’s not really an issue as long as you have a system or rhythm that you use with it.

If it’s just your style nvm.

“No, Umma,” her daughter said, with all the earnest seriousness of a four-year-old. 

I know this may seem trivial but sometimes I replace portions of sentences to smooth out sentences. Instead of daughter, you can use something that implies youth.

“Child” could work.

I like "baby" because it pumps up the tenderness factor but maybe only cuz parent (also dangerous in that it may confuse things in the minds of the general reader).

If you use “her child”, you free yourself up in describing the character of her speech because you don’t need to qualify it with 4yo anymore. And just find a few words that illustrate the cuteness of Jayu’s warning.

“...the child protested, her words innocent and sincere.”

Something like that.

Again, all this is only for the sake of simplifying the sentence, but if it’s not too important maybe leave her exact age ambiguous for now? Not a big reveal or anything but just at a time when it can be woven in the narrative either through the narrator or character. Preferably at a time when it can add gravity to the situation.

I’m angry, I’m angry, she said to herself, a desperate chant to keep herself from squeezing Jayu’s hand as hard as she could. I’m angry, but I’m not angry at Jayu. It’s not her fault. It’s the fault of the magicians, God, how I hate them, I hate them, I hate them, I hate them!

While detailing the rage boiling through Yoonis, since you’re already in her head why not highlight the flash of feelings she experiences when she realizes she's about to inadvertently hurt Jayu’s little hand?

Or just detail the rage similar to how you have it only don’t tie the chant to Jayu’s hand. Let the child remark on the growing tightness of Yoonis’s grip instead.

Opening up the opportunity for a swift bit of concerned and apologetic mother-daughter dialogue.

And then Yoonis uses that to refocus on her hatred.

And with your line about hatred you immediately create a depth to Yoonis, ie her love for Jayu vs her hatred for magicians.

“Come with me,” Yoonis said sharply. “This way, come on, watch where you’re going. No, not that way, we’re going to the relic pool.”

When Yoonis is being sharp, maybe slide in some descriptions from the narrator describing Jayu’s errors in following instruction, parsed in between Yoonis’s irritated utterances.

“The little girl was poised to take off in the wrong direction/ get her tiny foot stuck in a patch of mud/ etc.”

I only bring it up because I longed to see what was happening in that scene along with Yoonis’s utterances.

You almost broke your neck trying to get those damned cloudberries for Lady Twazi’s offering, and you’re still obsessed.”

After Yoonis remarks on the near accident maybe have the narrator detail it.

Who knows? When writing it may open itself up to expanding on Yoonis’s motherly anxiety and adds intrigue to the purpose of the relic pool that they are suddenly headed toward.

This is just me but I’m reminded of Thetis dunking infant Achilles into the Styx, Jor El putting Kal on a rocket, Grisha Yeager allowing his son to eat him so that he may inherit his power.

Last ditch attempts made by parents to secure the children from the coming Evil.

Was the pool always Yoonis’s objective from the outset?

For the relic pool was this way, just beyond the next rolling hill, yes, there it was,

Upon the confirmation of pool’s location, who is it that says “yes, there it was?”

It could be the narrator but if it is, in similar fashion to feather grasp line, have rules you adhere to ensure consistency. Because it may prove difficult knowing when it fits and is appropriate if you are just going by your gut.

If it’s Yoonis in “first close” I’d wrap the statement in quotes. Same goes for the bit when she is reflecting on her hatred.

blue like the firebird feather Yoonis had not touched because she was no magician…

I felt slightly disappointed that she had left the feather because I thought it would be more significant. Maybe she could pocket it in defiance of her daughter’s statement of internalized insecurity? :(

Though the disappointment in the left feather adds depth to Yoonis by making her pitiable, I’m not sure if it’s the best for the opening to focus on a magical item that bears no weight afterward.

 

Is the formation of the water otherworldly?

If it is, maybe give a bit more detail on its otherworldliness.

It’s rising into the sky, right? (I could be wrong.)

Maybe there is something cool with regard to the nature of its ebb and flow? Just some quick, out of the ordinary embellishments to sell the water’s magicness.

Unable to handle watching Jayu shiver, Yoonis knelt and wrapped her arms around her.

Her inability to watch Jayu shivering could be illustrated by going into Yoonis’s mind, marking on how swiftly her temper is snuffed out by the regard and tender concern that overcomes her when witnessing her helpless and shivering beloved.

I enjoyed this opening. I felt the conflict and sense of foreboding that is unique to parents of young children or at least for me whenever I dare to glimpse at the future with the welfare of my little ones in mind.

Do you know the purpose of the pool yet?

It would be neat if it serves some purpose as a big eff you to the magicians and provides some unique and unprecedented benefit for Jayu.

Also, is Jayu aware that Yoonis is her mother? 

I enjoyed it. I want to give them both a big hug as I understand.........also since I sense it's going to hit the fan for them real quick.

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14 hours ago, Shola said:

Hey Jinju,

I like the imagery of the first paragraph. It’s charged with something. With the feather in the foreground, I can almost see it as the cover illustration.

I would lessen the amount of “blues” though. Maybe just once and then something with bright. (After the feather was blue,) “It’s brightness/radiance surpassing that of the surrounding clear arctic sky.”

Something like that.

It gleamed against the red and gold-turned grasses of the tundra, outshining even the lakes and ponds that pooled up every summer on the treeless plains

I would rework this sentence, what sticks with me is the color so since it’s lengthy I would try to stay away from words that aren’t directly necessary to express the vividness.

“It gleamed against the red and gold grasses of the tundra,”

I had a second part that I think works well with the first but it sounded off and was based on my assumption that the sky in this scene is a clear Arctic day blue. If that’s true, maybe use the reflected blues carried on the surface of the lakes and ponds to pump more vividness into the color and appearance of the feather?

It might be fun.

Hi Shola! Thanks so much for these suggestions. I'll have to think more about this. I agree that my second sentence is unwieldy but I can't think of how to fix it at the moment. Some of your other comments I was able to incorporate immediately into my prose but this one has me stumped; I'll leave it the way it is for now and make a comment to fix it later.

 

“Look,” Yoonis whispered to her daughter, pointing to the feather.

“What, Umma?” Jayu asked.

“A firebird feather.”

“Really?” Jayu breathed. “A firebird?”

The four lines of dialogue gives me a sense of motherly warmth. And I feel concern for the daughter and a sense of foreboding for Yoonis. May be misplaced but I still enjoy it.

I like that I feel that the journey would be special and one of a kind because they found a feather dropped by a creature of legend and this feather amongst the feathers belonging to these legendary creatures was exceptional in its own right.

Even Yoonis, nomag slave though she was, could tell that the sheen on this feather was different. Flickers of yellow, of orange, of warmth and flame danced along its vane; the autumn landscape all around seemed but a reflection in comparison.

I would describe the color of the “embellishments” on the feather as you have (orange and yellow) then talk about how the colors make her feel rather than use sensations and descriptors ascribed to the colors directly. I think your own words will sound best as a consideration of the suggestion.

Thanks for this suggestion! I changed the text accordingly.

She reached for the feather, thumb and forefinger extended to pinch its hollow shaft.

The description of the grasp for the feather is pretty detailed for what the action is. I do this a lot myself but it’s not really an issue as long as you have a system or rhythm that you use with it.

If it’s just your style nvm.

I agree with you. I changed it.

“No, Umma,” her daughter said, with all the earnest seriousness of a four-year-old. 

I know this may seem trivial but sometimes I replace portions of sentences to smooth out sentences. Instead of daughter, you can use something that implies youth.

“Child” could work.

I like "baby" because it pumps up the tenderness factor but maybe only cuz parent (also dangerous in that it may confuse things in the minds of the general reader).

If you use “her child”, you free yourself up in describing the character of her speech because you don’t need to qualify it with 4yo anymore. And just find a few words that illustrate the cuteness of Jayu’s warning.

“...the child protested, her words innocent and sincere.”

Something like that.

Again, all this is only for the sake of simplifying the sentence, but if it’s not too important maybe leave her exact age ambiguous for now? Not a big reveal or anything but just at a time when it can be woven in the narrative either through the narrator or character. Preferably at a time when it can add gravity to the situation.

I think this gets into the kind of narration I prefer to write in, namely, a very close first person point of view. I try to avoid any language that might not come from Yoonis herself. Whether or not the use of "four-year-old" does that is obviously something I should think about, but I tend to avoid authorial comment as much as I can, like no adjectives unless the adjectives are Yoonis'. Does that make sense?

I’m angry, I’m angry, she said to herself, a desperate chant to keep herself from squeezing Jayu’s hand as hard as she could. I’m angry, but I’m not angry at Jayu. It’s not her fault. It’s the fault of the magicians, God, how I hate them, I hate them, I hate them, I hate them!

While detailing the rage boiling through Yoonis, since you’re already in her head why not highlight the flash of feelings she experiences when she realizes she's about to inadvertently hurt Jayu’s little hand?

Or just detail the rage similar to how you have it only don’t tie the chant to Jayu’s hand. Let the child remark on the growing tightness of Yoonis’s grip instead.

Opening up the opportunity for a swift bit of concerned and apologetic mother-daughter dialogue.

And then Yoonis uses that to refocus on her hatred.

And with your line about hatred you immediately create a depth to Yoonis, ie her love for Jayu vs her hatred for magicians.

Actually, I changed this a bit to make it clearer that Yoonis is not inadvertently hurting Jayu's hand, that she actually momentarily wants to dispel her anger against the magicians by hurting her daughter. (Yoonis has a lot of deep trauma and unhealthy emotional relating patterns as a result.) She has to reign herself back in to keep from expressing her anger against the magicians in a form that will hurt her daughter. She fails to do so, obviously, when she becomes snappish (as described below).

“Come with me,” Yoonis said sharply. “This way, come on, watch where you’re going. No, not that way, we’re going to the relic pool.”

When Yoonis is being sharp, maybe slide in some descriptions from the narrator describing Jayu’s errors in following instruction, parsed in between Yoonis’s irritated utterances.

“The little girl was poised to take off in the wrong direction/ get her tiny foot stuck in a patch of mud/ etc.”

I only bring it up because I longed to see what was happening in that scene along with Yoonis’s utterances.

 

You almost broke your neck trying to get those damned cloudberries for Lady Twazi’s offering, and you’re still obsessed.”

After Yoonis remarks on the near accident maybe have the narrator detail it.

Who knows? When writing it may open itself up to expanding on Yoonis’s motherly anxiety and adds intrigue to the purpose of the relic pool that they are suddenly headed toward.

This is just me but I’m reminded of Thetis dunking infant Achilles into the Styx, Jor El putting Kal on a rocket, Grisha Yeager allowing his son to eat him so that he may inherit his power.

Last ditch attempts made by parents to secure the children from the coming Evil.

Was the pool always Yoonis’s objective from the outset?

You're right on the money! I was definitely thinking of Thetis and Achilles and the language I use a little later on (I'm going to post the full scene per Michael's instructions once I'm done writing it in a bit) makes that even more explicit.

For the relic pool was this way, just beyond the next rolling hill, yes, there it was,

Upon the confirmation of pool’s location, who is it that says “yes, there it was?”

It could be the narrator but if it is, in similar fashion to feather grasp line, have rules you adhere to ensure consistency. Because it may prove difficult knowing when it fits and is appropriate if you are just going by your gut.

If it’s Yoonis in “first close” I’d wrap the statement in quotes. Same goes for the bit when she is reflecting on her hatred.

I'm trying to keep this so close first person POV that we never leave Yoonis' head, that everything is her feelings and her thoughts. I've read that you don't need italics or quotes when you're doing such a close first person POV but who knows, maybe that book is wrong. I'll flag this for later.

blue like the firebird feather Yoonis had not touched because she was no magician…

I felt slightly disappointed that she had left the feather because I thought it would be more significant. Maybe she could pocket it in defiance of her daughter’s statement of internalized insecurity? :(

Though the disappointment in the left feather adds depth to Yoonis by making her pitiable, I’m not sure if it’s the best for the opening to focus on a magical item that bears no weight afterward.

I do have the feather come back up in a very powerful way at the end of the chapter. It sounds like it needs to be addressed earlier though?

Is the formation of the water otherworldly?

If it is, maybe give a bit more detail on its otherworldliness.

It’s rising into the sky, right? (I could be wrong.)

Maybe there is something cool with regard to the nature of its ebb and flow? Just some quick, out of the ordinary embellishments to sell the water’s magicness.

I like this idea a lot! I edited to give a touch of magic sense to the water.

Unable to handle watching Jayu shiver, Yoonis knelt and wrapped her arms around her.

Her inability to watch Jayu shivering could be illustrated by going into Yoonis’s mind, marking on how swiftly her temper is snuffed out by the regard and tender concern that overcomes her when witnessing her helpless and shivering beloved.

Great suggestion. I edited accordingly.

I enjoyed this opening. I felt the conflict and sense of foreboding that is unique to parents of young children or at least for me whenever I dare to glimpse at the future with the welfare of my little ones in mind.

Do you know the purpose of the pool yet?

I do, and it actually comes up in the next paragraph after the one that this excerpt ends on. Like I said I'll be posting the first scene shortly.

It would be neat if it serves some purpose as a big eff you to the magicians and provides some unique and unprecedented benefit for Jayu.

Also, is Jayu aware that Yoonis is her mother? 

Yes, and this is an important point, I use the word Umma as mother because that's how you say mother in Korean and these two are Korean-descendent. It sounds like though I need to make that more explicit for an English-reading audience (which my audience will be)?

I enjoyed it. I want to give them both a big hug as I understand.........also since I sense it's going to hit the fan for them real quick.

Thank you!

 

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On 4/12/2021 at 4:54 PM, Laura Neibaur said:

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. 

I have also cursed in front of my children, I'm sorry I am not as responsible of a mother as I ought to be! :) But I don't want to trip anybody and I can replace it with the word stupid which I think many four-year-olds also think is a big bad word. I appreciate hearing about your confusion regarding the relic pool, I was able to write out the rest of the scene in order to explain more the connection between the Jayu's obsession with the magicians and the relic pool. If you don't mind taking a look at the full scene now that it's written I'm posting it here below! Thanks so much.

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On 4/9/2021 at 4:00 PM, MingluJiangP6 said:

Hi Jinju! Thanks for posting! You did a great job setting up your world. From just these first 500 words, I've already gotten a good sense of how your world works. Yoonis is immediately sympathetic. I felt her anger with the injustice in her world and how it's affected her daughter. I just have a few suggestions. Like I have told everyone I've given feedback, take everything I say with a few grains of salt as I'm still learning. 

-The feather is otherworldly, immediately introducing the reader to the magical aspect of your world, and plays an important role in the scene, but it may not be the most compelling way to open the scene. Virtually every novel I have read focuses immediately on the character.

-I'm not sure if any responsible mother would use the word "damnable" around her four-year-old daughter. 

-I'm a bit confused on what exactly a relic pool is. Yoonis says Jayu must go there because of her dangerous obsession with the magicians, but when they do get there it seems like it's just a bath. 

Overall, you did a wonderful job with your opening scene. I'm really intrigued to see what happens next, and I'd be happy to read further if you ever need someone to do that.

Have an amazing day!

I agree that my first sentences need word. I'm still not sure how to address that need but I am noting both your and Shola's advice to rework that bit. For now I decided to shorten some of the dialogue immediately following that sentence to get to the characters as fast as possible.

I changed the word damnable to stupid. I think that Yoonis as the story will show is under a lot of unique pressures and is the type to curse in front of her child but that word is not integral to the story and I'm fine with changing it.

Good to note about the confusion regarding the relic pool and why they need to go there if Jayu's obsessed with the magicians. I wrote the rest of the scene which includes the explanatory link between these two variables. If you don't mind taking a look at it I'm posting it below! Thanks so much.

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Thanks everybody for your suggestions and comments! I've incorporated what I could, and wrote out the rest of the first scene, which I include here below. Thanks again for reading!

----

The feather was blue, bright blue, as blue as the sky on a clear arctic day. It gleamed against the red and gold-turned grasses of the tundra, outshining even the lakes and ponds that pooled up every summer on the treeless plains.

“Look,” Yoonis whispered to her daughter. “A firebird feather.”

“Really?” Jayu breathed.

The awe in her daughter’s voice echoed Yoonis’s own sense of wonder. A firebird, rarest of all magical creatures, here, on the grounds of Lady Twazi’s plantation? Yet where else could the blue feather have come from? Even Yoonis, nomag slave though she was, could tell that the sheen on this feather was different. Flickers of yellow, of orange, of warmth and flame danced along its vane; Yoonis was almost afraid it would burn her if she picked it up.

With a single, cautious finger, she reached out to touch the very end of the feather’s hollow shaft. Before she could get close enough to do so, she felt Jayu tugging on her sleeved arm, pulling it back, restraining her. “No, Umma,” her daughter said, with all the earnest seriousness of a four-year-old. “You can’t. You’re not a magician! Only they’re good enough to touch magic things. Not us.”

Only they’re good enough…

Anger ripped through Yoonis. She could feel it burning in her chest. It was a familiar rage, one that uprooted every other emotion. I’m angry, I’m angry, she said to herself, a desperate chant to keep herself from grabbing and squeezing Jayu’s hand as hard as she could. I’m angry, but I’m not angry at Jayu. It’s not her fault. It’s the fault of the magicians, God, how I hate them, I hate them, I hate them, I hate them!

The hatred felt good. It allowed her to feel without hurting. It allowed her to be alive without pain.

“Come with me,” Yoonis said sharply, placing her hand on Jayu’s shoulder. “This way, come on, watch where you’re going. No, not that way, we’re going to the relic pool.”

“The relic pool? But that’s too far, Umma. Lady Twazi doesn’t like us to go that far.”

“This, Jayu. This is why we have to go to the relic pool. You almost broke your neck trying to get those stupid cloudberries for Lady Twazi’s offering, and you’re still obsessed.”

“But Umma—”

“I don’t want to hear another word about what Lady Twazi or any other magician wants, you hear me?”

“But Umma—”

“No!”

Like saying no ever worked. But Yoonis managed to ignore Jayu’s continued protests by keeping her focus on a patch of wind-sculpted spruces up ahead. Stunted and half-stripped of their leaves, the trees all pointed leeward. When a gust of wind blasted into Yoonis and her daughter from behind, sending them stumbling in the direction of the pointing needle-leaves, Yoonis took it as a good sign. For the relic pool was over this way, just beyond the next rolling hill, yes, there it was, shielded and surrounded by a soapstone paver and even more flag trees, but still visible, its bright blue waters raining up into the bright blue sky, blue like the firebird feather Yoonis had not touched because she was no magician…

Her throat tight, Yoonis pulled Jayu to a stop right at the edge of the burbling waters. “Take your clothes off,” she whispered. “Here, I’ll help you.”

The wind was rising once more, blowing into the hot drops of rain that cascaded up from the surface of the relic pool. Yoonis took Jayu’s hoodless parka and tucked it under her boots, then peeled off each of Jayu’s underlayers until her daughter was trembling naked in the autumn chill. When Jayu began shivering, Yoonis’ anger dissipated in a flash. My poor sweet daughter, my poor sweet Jayu, my little Freedom, she thought, as she knelt and wrapped her arms around her. Then, with one swift motion, Yoonis bowed over and dipped Jayu into the steaming shallows of the relic pool. Beneath her knees the stone paver was sharp, as were the dark green needle-leaves of the tree behind her. But her grip didn’t falter. Not even when Jayu cried out “Hot!” did Yoonis pull her out. She waited until she was sure that every bit of Jayu’s skin had been touched by water – head, heels, all of it – before she drew her out and back into her arms.

She could tell at once that her daughter was mad at her. Glaring, crying, pulling on the back of Yoonis’s neck, insisting on comfort with rough, uncareful fingers. “I told you it was hot!” Jayu wept.

“Did it work?” Yoonis replied. She hated how desperate she sounded, but it was only Jayu there, and besides, Yoonis was desperate. The relic pool is the most powerful old magic artifact left in the entire continent, Tomxai had told her, back when they were kids and he’d still lived on the plantation. It’ll heal anyone of anything.

Of anything. Even mental states, even attitudes? God, Yoonis hoped so.

Jayu was still crying. Yoonis cradled her in her lap and kissed her forehead. “Tell me about Lady Twazi,” she told her daughter. “Tell me what you think of her.”

“I don’t know,” Jayu sobbed.

“Shh, shh, just tell me what you think about her, what do you think when you see her?”

“I told you! I don’t even see her!”

Yoonis hesitated. What did that mean? It was true enough that Yoonis and Jayu didn’t see much of Lady Twazi. They were nomag slaves; Lady Twazi was a master magician. But the distance between them had never put in a dent in Jayu’s adoration before.

“Jayu, stop crying for a second, please, I need to know—”

“But I need to cry!” Jayu screamed.

Yoonis took a deep breath. When Jayu was this upset, any expectation of reasonable conversation had to be thrown out the window. Forcing down her impatience, Yoonis turned herself toward comforting her daughter. “Shh, shh, it’s okay. It’s okay. Here, let me help you put your clothes back on. Hold still. No, don’t lean on me like that, I can’t get your arm through the sleeve then. There you go, good girl, good girl.”

Skin stockings, skin underslip, fur overdress, skin inner slippers, fur outer boots, hoodless parka. By the time Yoonis had finished re-dressing Jayu, she knew they had to get going back to the inner plantation. For months and months, Yoonis had schemed how to get a half day away from her duties for a trip down to the relic pool. Today there had been some sort of fuss going on in Lady Twazi’s south-facing house where Yoonis worked; she’d seized the opportunity to flee amidst all the excitement. Now she had to return before her absence was noticed. But Yoonis still didn’t know whether or not the relic pool had cleansed Jayu of her obsession with the magicians, and she had to know that before she could face the prospect of returning.

Then it occurred to Yoonis. Maybe instead of asking Jayu what she thought of the magicians, Yoonis should test the pool’s power by putting Jayu in front of a real-live magician and seeing how she acted. After all, that was the only way to really make sure the cleansing had worked.

Yoonis took Jayu’s hand. “Jayu,” she said, deciding to try one more time. “Do you like magicians?”

Jayu was still sniffling, and her eyes were rimmed red. She didn’t respond.

“Jayu—”

“I want to go home.”

“To the magicians?”

“No, just to home.”

Yoonis’ heart lifted. That was encouraging! Maybe the relic pool had worked. Maybe she didn’t need to test it after all. Which would be nice, as she’d rather not if she didn’t have to. The idea of putting Jayu in front of a magician and just waiting to see what happened sounded, well, terrible.

Then again, Yoonis did have Tomxai’s ring.

She could feel it even now, inside the pocket she’d sewn into her underslip, doubly secured by the string that also kept it tied to her belt. Letting go of Jayu’s hand, Yoonis pulled her arms back through her sleeves so that her hands were inside her parka. She drew the ring out of her pocket then untied it by feel. “Here,” she said, re-threading her arms through her sleeves. “Put the ring on now.”

At that, Jayu shook her head. “No, Umma, I don’t want to!”

Fighting the anxiety that leapt into her heart – Jayu always claimed the magicians didn’t like her wearing the ring, was that why she didn’t want to wear it right now? – Yoonis grabbed Jayu’s hand and forced the ring onto her daughter’s finger. As soon as it was on, Yoonis crouched down and urged her daughter to climb onto her back. “You’re grumpy because you’re hungry,” Yoonis told her, trying to will her heart into not beating so fast. “That’s all. You haven’t eaten since the noon meal. And you’re probably tired too. I’ll carry you, okay?”

Yoonis had to reach back with both hands to tug Jayu up and onto her back, but once her head was against Yoonis’ shoulder, Jayu relaxed and let Yoonis lift her. Staggering to her feet, Yoonis began walking as fast as she could back through the tundra. She felt better now that Jayu was wearing the ring. It’ll make you unnoticeable, Tomxai had told her when he’d given it to her. Nobody, nomag or mag, will notice you even if you’re standing right in front of them.

I’ll take Jayu to the library, she decided. It’s the one place inside Lady Twazi’s house I’m allowed to be where a magician might also be. I’ll pretend to be cleaning something, and then when a magician comes near, I’ll take off the ring, and see what happens. I won’t leave her side. If the magician tries anything, I’ll put the ring right back on her. It’ll be okay. It’ll work. It’ll let me know for sure.

And what if Jayu’s still obsessed? a dark voice inside her asked. What will you do then?

Pausing for a moment, Yoonis pulled Jayu up a little higher onto her back. I won’t stop looking, she answered. I’ll find a way. I’ll keep looking and looking, and looking, until I find a way for her to be healed.

But what if that book you found on it is right? What if Jayu is obsessed with the magicians because she was born a slave, and not captured into it, like you? What if the reason you’re different from her and from all the other slaves is because of something you can’t replicate?

The thought was too agonizing to bear. Bowing her head, Yoonis forged onward, struggling against the gusts of wind that blasted and bent the red and gold grasses of the tundra. More than once her long, dark hair went flying into her mouth and nose. It was still light enough outside to see clearly, but soon the sun would begin its crawl along the edge of the horizon. Winter wasn’t upon them yet, though, so it wouldn’t set.

“Umma,” she heard Jayu say from behind her head. “Umma, look!”

Blue, shot through with fire, flashed before her eyes. Yoonis gasped. Her heart racing, she watched with wonder as the firebird stopped in mid-air, untroubled by the wind, his wings and his magic keeping him floating in place only a few paces in front of her.

"I think he wants you,” Jayu whispered.

Yoonis could tell Jayu was right. There was an impulse within her, like a response to a call, something she couldn’t control, something she didn’t need to control. She let Jayu slide off her back, then, step by step, Yoonis stumbled through the dying grasses towards the shimmering, pulsating blue-feathered beast.

A handbreadth away, Yoonis stopped. She could almost feel the touch of the firebird’s wings on her skin, and then she realized, with a shock, that she was feeling it, that his feathers were brushing not only across her face, but that the firebird was flying around her, circling her like a spiral of fire, trailing the edge of his burning wings—yet there was no pain—against her back, her arms, her legs, and finally, the crown of her head.

Yoonis was encircled by fire, a blue fire, one that she could breathe in and touch, a fire that could not harm her. Tears came to her eyes, but she didn’t know why. Then all at once, she felt the wind once more cold against her skin. The fire—the firebird—they were gone.

“Umma!”

She stumbled back to Jayu, half-falling as she embraced her. “Umma!” Jayu cried out again. “The firebird—the fire—”

Both of them were crying. “Oh, Jayu, oh, Jayu,” Yoonis wept. “I wish—there’s so much more I wish I could give you—I wish—I wish you had a better mother—”

“No, Umma, you’re a good Umma, you’re a good Umma, I’m sorry I didn’t listen, I’m sorry!”

Despite her tears, Yoonis found herself smiling. “You’re a good girl,” she said to her daughter. “Don’t ever think different, okay? Don’t—I wish—you’re as good as—”

As good as a magician, Yoonis wanted to say. And she almost did. But she couldn’t get the words out of her mouth. What if Jayu argued with her? What if Jayu affirmed, once again, her own worthlessness? Yoonis couldn’t bear it, she couldn’t bear it, God, she would give up everything, anything, to take this curse away!

“Come,” she found herself saying. “Come. We have to get back. We have to go to the library.”

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3 hours ago, JINJUP6RICHARDS said:

Thanks everybody for your suggestions and comments! I've incorporated what I could, and wrote out the rest of the first scene, which I include here below. Thanks again for reading!

----

The feather was blue, bright blue, as blue as the sky on a clear arctic day. It gleamed against the red and gold-turned grasses of the tundra, outshining even the lakes and ponds that pooled up every summer on the treeless plains.

“Look,” Yoonis whispered to her daughter. “A firebird feather.”

“Really?” Jayu breathed.

The awe in her daughter’s voice echoed Yoonis’s own sense of wonder. A firebird, rarest of all magical creatures, here, on the grounds of Lady Twazi’s plantation? Yet where else could the blue feather have come from? Even Yoonis, nomag slave though she was, could tell that the sheen on this feather was different. Flickers of yellow, of orange, of warmth and flame danced along its vane; Yoonis was almost afraid it would burn her if she picked it up.

With a single, cautious finger, she reached out to touch the very end of the feather’s hollow shaft. Before she could get close enough to do so, she felt Jayu tugging on her sleeved arm, pulling it back, restraining her. “No, Umma,” her daughter said, with all the earnest seriousness of a four-year-old. “You can’t. You’re not a magician! Only they’re good enough to touch magic things. Not us.”

Only they’re good enough…

Anger ripped through Yoonis. She could feel it burning in her chest. It was a familiar rage, one that uprooted every other emotion. I’m angry, I’m angry, she said to herself, a desperate chant to keep herself from grabbing and squeezing Jayu’s hand as hard as she could. I’m angry, but I’m not angry at Jayu. It’s not her fault. It’s the fault of the magicians, God, how I hate them, I hate them, I hate them, I hate them!

The hatred felt good. It allowed her to feel without hurting. It allowed her to be alive without pain.

“Come with me,” Yoonis said sharply, placing her hand on Jayu’s shoulder. “This way, come on, watch where you’re going. No, not that way, we’re going to the relic pool.”

“The relic pool? But that’s too far, Umma. Lady Twazi doesn’t like us to go that far.”

“This, Jayu. This is why we have to go to the relic pool. You almost broke your neck trying to get those stupid cloudberries for Lady Twazi’s offering, and you’re still obsessed.”

“But Umma—”

“I don’t want to hear another word about what Lady Twazi or any other magician wants, you hear me?”

“But Umma—”

“No!”

Like saying no ever worked. But Yoonis managed to ignore Jayu’s continued protests by keeping her focus on a patch of wind-sculpted spruces up ahead. Stunted and half-stripped of their leaves, the trees all pointed leeward. When a gust of wind blasted into Yoonis and her daughter from behind, sending them stumbling in the direction of the pointing needle-leaves, Yoonis took it as a good sign. For the relic pool was over this way, just beyond the next rolling hill, yes, there it was, shielded and surrounded by a soapstone paver and even more flag trees, but still visible, its bright blue waters raining up into the bright blue sky, blue like the firebird feather Yoonis had not touched because she was no magician…

Her throat tight, Yoonis pulled Jayu to a stop right at the edge of the burbling waters. “Take your clothes off,” she whispered. “Here, I’ll help you.”

The wind was rising once more, blowing into the hot drops of rain that cascaded up from the surface of the relic pool. Yoonis took Jayu’s hoodless parka and tucked it under her boots, then peeled off each of Jayu’s underlayers until her daughter was trembling naked in the autumn chill. When Jayu began shivering, Yoonis’ anger dissipated in a flash. My poor sweet daughter, my poor sweet Jayu, my little Freedom, she thought, as she knelt and wrapped her arms around her. Then, with one swift motion, Yoonis bowed over and dipped Jayu into the steaming shallows of the relic pool. Beneath her knees the stone paver was sharp, as were the dark green needle-leaves of the tree behind her. But her grip didn’t falter. Not even when Jayu cried out “Hot!” did Yoonis pull her out. She waited until she was sure that every bit of Jayu’s skin had been touched by water – head, heels, all of it – before she drew her out and back into her arms.

She could tell at once that her daughter was mad at her. Glaring, crying, pulling on the back of Yoonis’s neck, insisting on comfort with rough, uncareful fingers. “I told you it was hot!” Jayu wept.

“Did it work?” Yoonis replied. She hated how desperate she sounded, but it was only Jayu there, and besides, Yoonis was desperate. The relic pool is the most powerful old magic artifact left in the entire continent, Tomxai had told her, back when they were kids and he’d still lived on the plantation. It’ll heal anyone of anything.

Of anything. Even mental states, even attitudes? God, Yoonis hoped so.

Jayu was still crying. Yoonis cradled her in her lap and kissed her forehead. “Tell me about Lady Twazi,” she told her daughter. “Tell me what you think of her.”

“I don’t know,” Jayu sobbed.

“Shh, shh, just tell me what you think about her, what do you think when you see her?”

“I told you! I don’t even see her!”

Yoonis hesitated. What did that mean? It was true enough that Yoonis and Jayu didn’t see much of Lady Twazi. They were nomag slaves; Lady Twazi was a master magician. But the distance between them had never put in a dent in Jayu’s adoration before.

“Jayu, stop crying for a second, please, I need to know—”

“But I need to cry!” Jayu screamed.

Yoonis took a deep breath. When Jayu was this upset, any expectation of reasonable conversation had to be thrown out the window. Forcing down her impatience, Yoonis turned herself toward comforting her daughter. “Shh, shh, it’s okay. It’s okay. Here, let me help you put your clothes back on. Hold still. No, don’t lean on me like that, I can’t get your arm through the sleeve then. There you go, good girl, good girl.”

Skin stockings, skin underslip, fur overdress, skin inner slippers, fur outer boots, hoodless parka. By the time Yoonis had finished re-dressing Jayu, she knew they had to get going back to the inner plantation. For months and months, Yoonis had schemed how to get a half day away from her duties for a trip down to the relic pool. Today there had been some sort of fuss going on in Lady Twazi’s south-facing house where Yoonis worked; she’d seized the opportunity to flee amidst all the excitement. Now she had to return before her absence was noticed. But Yoonis still didn’t know whether or not the relic pool had cleansed Jayu of her obsession with the magicians, and she had to know that before she could face the prospect of returning.

Then it occurred to Yoonis. Maybe instead of asking Jayu what she thought of the magicians, Yoonis should test the pool’s power by putting Jayu in front of a real-live magician and seeing how she acted. After all, that was the only way to really make sure the cleansing had worked.

Yoonis took Jayu’s hand. “Jayu,” she said, deciding to try one more time. “Do you like magicians?”

Jayu was still sniffling, and her eyes were rimmed red. She didn’t respond.

“Jayu—”

“I want to go home.”

“To the magicians?”

“No, just to home.”

Yoonis’ heart lifted. That was encouraging! Maybe the relic pool had worked. Maybe she didn’t need to test it after all. Which would be nice, as she’d rather not if she didn’t have to. The idea of putting Jayu in front of a magician and just waiting to see what happened sounded, well, terrible.

Then again, Yoonis did have Tomxai’s ring.

She could feel it even now, inside the pocket she’d sewn into her underslip, doubly secured by the string that also kept it tied to her belt. Letting go of Jayu’s hand, Yoonis pulled her arms back through her sleeves so that her hands were inside her parka. She drew the ring out of her pocket then untied it by feel. “Here,” she said, re-threading her arms through her sleeves. “Put the ring on now.”

At that, Jayu shook her head. “No, Umma, I don’t want to!”

Fighting the anxiety that leapt into her heart – Jayu always claimed the magicians didn’t like her wearing the ring, was that why she didn’t want to wear it right now? – Yoonis grabbed Jayu’s hand and forced the ring onto her daughter’s finger. As soon as it was on, Yoonis crouched down and urged her daughter to climb onto her back. “You’re grumpy because you’re hungry,” Yoonis told her, trying to will her heart into not beating so fast. “That’s all. You haven’t eaten since the noon meal. And you’re probably tired too. I’ll carry you, okay?”

Yoonis had to reach back with both hands to tug Jayu up and onto her back, but once her head was against Yoonis’ shoulder, Jayu relaxed and let Yoonis lift her. Staggering to her feet, Yoonis began walking as fast as she could back through the tundra. She felt better now that Jayu was wearing the ring. It’ll make you unnoticeable, Tomxai had told her when he’d given it to her. Nobody, nomag or mag, will notice you even if you’re standing right in front of them.

I’ll take Jayu to the library, she decided. It’s the one place inside Lady Twazi’s house I’m allowed to be where a magician might also be. I’ll pretend to be cleaning something, and then when a magician comes near, I’ll take off the ring, and see what happens. I won’t leave her side. If the magician tries anything, I’ll put the ring right back on her. It’ll be okay. It’ll work. It’ll let me know for sure.

And what if Jayu’s still obsessed? a dark voice inside her asked. What will you do then?

Pausing for a moment, Yoonis pulled Jayu up a little higher onto her back. I won’t stop looking, she answered. I’ll find a way. I’ll keep looking and looking, and looking, until I find a way for her to be healed.

But what if that book you found on it is right? What if Jayu is obsessed with the magicians because she was born a slave, and not captured into it, like you? What if the reason you’re different from her and from all the other slaves is because of something you can’t replicate?

The thought was too agonizing to bear. Bowing her head, Yoonis forged onward, struggling against the gusts of wind that blasted and bent the red and gold grasses of the tundra. More than once her long, dark hair went flying into her mouth and nose. It was still light enough outside to see clearly, but soon the sun would begin its crawl along the edge of the horizon. Winter wasn’t upon them yet, though, so it wouldn’t set.

“Umma,” she heard Jayu say from behind her head. “Umma, look!”

Blue, shot through with fire, flashed before her eyes. Yoonis gasped. Her heart racing, she watched with wonder as the firebird stopped in mid-air, untroubled by the wind, his wings and his magic keeping him floating in place only a few paces in front of her.

"I think he wants you,” Jayu whispered.

Yoonis could tell Jayu was right. There was an impulse within her, like a response to a call, something she couldn’t control, something she didn’t need to control. She let Jayu slide off her back, then, step by step, Yoonis stumbled through the dying grasses towards the shimmering, pulsating blue-feathered beast.

A handbreadth away, Yoonis stopped. She could almost feel the touch of the firebird’s wings on her skin, and then she realized, with a shock, that she was feeling it, that his feathers were brushing not only across her face, but that the firebird was flying around her, circling her like a spiral of fire, trailing the edge of his burning wings—yet there was no pain—against her back, her arms, her legs, and finally, the crown of her head.

Yoonis was encircled by fire, a blue fire, one that she could breathe in and touch, a fire that could not harm her. Tears came to her eyes, but she didn’t know why. Then all at once, she felt the wind once more cold against her skin. The fire—the firebird—they were gone.

“Umma!”

She stumbled back to Jayu, half-falling as she embraced her. “Umma!” Jayu cried out again. “The firebird—the fire—”

Both of them were crying. “Oh, Jayu, oh, Jayu,” Yoonis wept. “I wish—there’s so much more I wish I could give you—I wish—I wish you had a better mother—”

“No, Umma, you’re a good Umma, you’re a good Umma, I’m sorry I didn’t listen, I’m sorry!”

Despite her tears, Yoonis found herself smiling. “You’re a good girl,” she said to her daughter. “Don’t ever think different, okay? Don’t—I wish—you’re as good as—”

As good as a magician, Yoonis wanted to say. And she almost did. But she couldn’t get the words out of her mouth. What if Jayu argued with her? What if Jayu affirmed, once again, her own worthlessness? Yoonis couldn’t bear it, she couldn’t bear it, God, she would give up everything, anything, to take this curse away!

“Come,” she found herself saying. “Come. We have to get back. We have to go to the library.”

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. 

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On 4/14/2021 at 3:21 PM, JINJUP6RICHARDS said:

Thanks everybody for your suggestions and comments! I've incorporated what I could, and wrote out the rest of the first scene, which I include here below. Thanks again for reading!

----

The feather was blue, bright blue, as blue as the sky on a clear arctic day. It gleamed against the red and gold-turned grasses of the tundra, outshining even the lakes and ponds that pooled up every summer on the treeless plains.

“Look,” Yoonis whispered to her daughter. “A firebird feather.”

“Really?” Jayu breathed.

The awe in her daughter’s voice echoed Yoonis’s own sense of wonder. A firebird, rarest of all magical creatures, here, on the grounds of Lady Twazi’s plantation? Yet where else could the blue feather have come from? Even Yoonis, nomag slave though she was, could tell that the sheen on this feather was different. Flickers of yellow, of orange, of warmth and flame danced along its vane; Yoonis was almost afraid it would burn her if she picked it up.

With a single, cautious finger, she reached out to touch the very end of the feather’s hollow shaft. Before she could get close enough to do so, she felt Jayu tugging on her sleeved arm, pulling it back, restraining her. “No, Umma,” her daughter said, with all the earnest seriousness of a four-year-old. “You can’t. You’re not a magician! Only they’re good enough to touch magic things. Not us.”

Only they’re good enough…

Anger ripped through Yoonis. She could feel it burning in her chest. It was a familiar rage, one that uprooted every other emotion. I’m angry, I’m angry, she said to herself, a desperate chant to keep herself from grabbing and squeezing Jayu’s hand as hard as she could. I’m angry, but I’m not angry at Jayu. It’s not her fault. It’s the fault of the magicians, God, how I hate them, I hate them, I hate them, I hate them!

The hatred felt good. It allowed her to feel without hurting. It allowed her to be alive without pain.

“Come with me,” Yoonis said sharply, placing her hand on Jayu’s shoulder. “This way, come on, watch where you’re going. No, not that way, we’re going to the relic pool.”

“The relic pool? But that’s too far, Umma. Lady Twazi doesn’t like us to go that far.”

“This, Jayu. This is why we have to go to the relic pool. You almost broke your neck trying to get those stupid cloudberries for Lady Twazi’s offering, and you’re still obsessed.”

“But Umma—”

“I don’t want to hear another word about what Lady Twazi or any other magician wants, you hear me?”

“But Umma—”

“No!”

Like saying no ever worked. But Yoonis managed to ignore Jayu’s continued protests by keeping her focus on a patch of wind-sculpted spruces up ahead. Stunted and half-stripped of their leaves, the trees all pointed leeward. When a gust of wind blasted into Yoonis and her daughter from behind, sending them stumbling in the direction of the pointing needle-leaves, Yoonis took it as a good sign. For the relic pool was over this way, just beyond the next rolling hill, yes, there it was, shielded and surrounded by a soapstone paver and even more flag trees, but still visible, its bright blue waters raining up into the bright blue sky, blue like the firebird feather Yoonis had not touched because she was no magician…

Her throat tight, Yoonis pulled Jayu to a stop right at the edge of the burbling waters. “Take your clothes off,” she whispered. “Here, I’ll help you.”

The wind was rising once more, blowing into the hot drops of rain that cascaded up from the surface of the relic pool. Yoonis took Jayu’s hoodless parka and tucked it under her boots, then peeled off each of Jayu’s underlayers until her daughter was trembling naked in the autumn chill. When Jayu began shivering, Yoonis’ anger dissipated in a flash. My poor sweet daughter, my poor sweet Jayu, my little Freedom, she thought, as she knelt and wrapped her arms around her. Then, with one swift motion, Yoonis bowed over and dipped Jayu into the steaming shallows of the relic pool. Beneath her knees the stone paver was sharp, as were the dark green needle-leaves of the tree behind her. But her grip didn’t falter. Not even when Jayu cried out “Hot!” did Yoonis pull her out. She waited until she was sure that every bit of Jayu’s skin had been touched by water – head, heels, all of it – before she drew her out and back into her arms.

She could tell at once that her daughter was mad at her. Glaring, crying, pulling on the back of Yoonis’s neck, insisting on comfort with rough, uncareful fingers. “I told you it was hot!” Jayu wept.

“Did it work?” Yoonis replied. She hated how desperate she sounded, but it was only Jayu there, and besides, Yoonis was desperate. The relic pool is the most powerful old magic artifact left in the entire continent, Tomxai had told her, back when they were kids and he’d still lived on the plantation. It’ll heal anyone of anything.

Of anything. Even mental states, even attitudes? God, Yoonis hoped so.

Jayu was still crying. Yoonis cradled her in her lap and kissed her forehead. “Tell me about Lady Twazi,” she told her daughter. “Tell me what you think of her.”

“I don’t know,” Jayu sobbed.

“Shh, shh, just tell me what you think about her, what do you think when you see her?”

“I told you! I don’t even see her!”

Yoonis hesitated. What did that mean? It was true enough that Yoonis and Jayu didn’t see much of Lady Twazi. They were nomag slaves; Lady Twazi was a master magician. But the distance between them had never put in a dent in Jayu’s adoration before.

“Jayu, stop crying for a second, please, I need to know—”

“But I need to cry!” Jayu screamed.

Yoonis took a deep breath. When Jayu was this upset, any expectation of reasonable conversation had to be thrown out the window. Forcing down her impatience, Yoonis turned herself toward comforting her daughter. “Shh, shh, it’s okay. It’s okay. Here, let me help you put your clothes back on. Hold still. No, don’t lean on me like that, I can’t get your arm through the sleeve then. There you go, good girl, good girl.”

Skin stockings, skin underslip, fur overdress, skin inner slippers, fur outer boots, hoodless parka. By the time Yoonis had finished re-dressing Jayu, she knew they had to get going back to the inner plantation. For months and months, Yoonis had schemed how to get a half day away from her duties for a trip down to the relic pool. Today there had been some sort of fuss going on in Lady Twazi’s south-facing house where Yoonis worked; she’d seized the opportunity to flee amidst all the excitement. Now she had to return before her absence was noticed. But Yoonis still didn’t know whether or not the relic pool had cleansed Jayu of her obsession with the magicians, and she had to know that before she could face the prospect of returning.

Then it occurred to Yoonis. Maybe instead of asking Jayu what she thought of the magicians, Yoonis should test the pool’s power by putting Jayu in front of a real-live magician and seeing how she acted. After all, that was the only way to really make sure the cleansing had worked.

Yoonis took Jayu’s hand. “Jayu,” she said, deciding to try one more time. “Do you like magicians?”

Jayu was still sniffling, and her eyes were rimmed red. She didn’t respond.

“Jayu—”

“I want to go home.”

“To the magicians?”

“No, just to home.”

Yoonis’ heart lifted. That was encouraging! Maybe the relic pool had worked. Maybe she didn’t need to test it after all. Which would be nice, as she’d rather not if she didn’t have to. The idea of putting Jayu in front of a magician and just waiting to see what happened sounded, well, terrible.

Then again, Yoonis did have Tomxai’s ring.

She could feel it even now, inside the pocket she’d sewn into her underslip, doubly secured by the string that also kept it tied to her belt. Letting go of Jayu’s hand, Yoonis pulled her arms back through her sleeves so that her hands were inside her parka. She drew the ring out of her pocket then untied it by feel. “Here,” she said, re-threading her arms through her sleeves. “Put the ring on now.”

At that, Jayu shook her head. “No, Umma, I don’t want to!”

Fighting the anxiety that leapt into her heart – Jayu always claimed the magicians didn’t like her wearing the ring, was that why she didn’t want to wear it right now? – Yoonis grabbed Jayu’s hand and forced the ring onto her daughter’s finger. As soon as it was on, Yoonis crouched down and urged her daughter to climb onto her back. “You’re grumpy because you’re hungry,” Yoonis told her, trying to will her heart into not beating so fast. “That’s all. You haven’t eaten since the noon meal. And you’re probably tired too. I’ll carry you, okay?”

Yoonis had to reach back with both hands to tug Jayu up and onto her back, but once her head was against Yoonis’ shoulder, Jayu relaxed and let Yoonis lift her. Staggering to her feet, Yoonis began walking as fast as she could back through the tundra. She felt better now that Jayu was wearing the ring. It’ll make you unnoticeable, Tomxai had told her when he’d given it to her. Nobody, nomag or mag, will notice you even if you’re standing right in front of them.

I’ll take Jayu to the library, she decided. It’s the one place inside Lady Twazi’s house I’m allowed to be where a magician might also be. I’ll pretend to be cleaning something, and then when a magician comes near, I’ll take off the ring, and see what happens. I won’t leave her side. If the magician tries anything, I’ll put the ring right back on her. It’ll be okay. It’ll work. It’ll let me know for sure.

And what if Jayu’s still obsessed? a dark voice inside her asked. What will you do then?

Pausing for a moment, Yoonis pulled Jayu up a little higher onto her back. I won’t stop looking, she answered. I’ll find a way. I’ll keep looking and looking, and looking, until I find a way for her to be healed.

But what if that book you found on it is right? What if Jayu is obsessed with the magicians because she was born a slave, and not captured into it, like you? What if the reason you’re different from her and from all the other slaves is because of something you can’t replicate?

The thought was too agonizing to bear. Bowing her head, Yoonis forged onward, struggling against the gusts of wind that blasted and bent the red and gold grasses of the tundra. More than once her long, dark hair went flying into her mouth and nose. It was still light enough outside to see clearly, but soon the sun would begin its crawl along the edge of the horizon. Winter wasn’t upon them yet, though, so it wouldn’t set.

“Umma,” she heard Jayu say from behind her head. “Umma, look!”

Blue, shot through with fire, flashed before her eyes. Yoonis gasped. Her heart racing, she watched with wonder as the firebird stopped in mid-air, untroubled by the wind, his wings and his magic keeping him floating in place only a few paces in front of her.

"I think he wants you,” Jayu whispered.

Yoonis could tell Jayu was right. There was an impulse within her, like a response to a call, something she couldn’t control, something she didn’t need to control. She let Jayu slide off her back, then, step by step, Yoonis stumbled through the dying grasses towards the shimmering, pulsating blue-feathered beast.

A handbreadth away, Yoonis stopped. She could almost feel the touch of the firebird’s wings on her skin, and then she realized, with a shock, that she was feeling it, that his feathers were brushing not only across her face, but that the firebird was flying around her, circling her like a spiral of fire, trailing the edge of his burning wings—yet there was no pain—against her back, her arms, her legs, and finally, the crown of her head.

Yoonis was encircled by fire, a blue fire, one that she could breathe in and touch, a fire that could not harm her. Tears came to her eyes, but she didn’t know why. Then all at once, she felt the wind once more cold against her skin. The fire—the firebird—they were gone.

“Umma!”

She stumbled back to Jayu, half-falling as she embraced her. “Umma!” Jayu cried out again. “The firebird—the fire—”

Both of them were crying. “Oh, Jayu, oh, Jayu,” Yoonis wept. “I wish—there’s so much more I wish I could give you—I wish—I wish you had a better mother—”

“No, Umma, you’re a good Umma, you’re a good Umma, I’m sorry I didn’t listen, I’m sorry!”

Despite her tears, Yoonis found herself smiling. “You’re a good girl,” she said to her daughter. “Don’t ever think different, okay? Don’t—I wish—you’re as good as—”

As good as a magician, Yoonis wanted to say. And she almost did. But she couldn’t get the words out of her mouth. What if Jayu argued with her? What if Jayu affirmed, once again, her own worthlessness? Yoonis couldn’t bear it, she couldn’t bear it, God, she would give up everything, anything, to take this curse away!

“Come,” she found herself saying. “Come. We have to get back. We have to go to the library.”

Hi Jinju! I like the introduction of Tomxai as he's obviously different from the other magicians, which makes me want to know him more. 

I love that Jayu means freedom! It's such an effective yet subtle characterization of Yoonis. 

The firebird scene is extremely intriguing as it makes me want to find out later on what exactly happened.

If anything I think you could use less of Yoonis couldn’t bear it, she couldn’t bear it, God, she would give up everything, anything, to take this curse away! as it gets repetitive after a while. 

Great job overall, and thanks for sharing!

 

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Hi Jinju, this is great! Your prose is beautiful and rich in sensory detail. This first chapter is brimming with tension with both internal and external conflict: your MC's struggle as a mother and her daughter's predisposition to being a slave or not; the class that your MC is trapped within and her love for her child. I also enjoy how close we are to your protagonist's PoV. One of my favorite moments:

Quote

“Jayu—”

“I want to go home.”

“To the magicians?”

“No, just to home.”

Yoonis’ heart lifted. That was encouraging! Maybe the relic pool had worked. Maybe she didn’t need to test it after all. Which would be nice, as she’d rather not if she didn’t have to. The idea of putting Jayu in front of a magician and just waiting to see what happened sounded, well, terrible.

This is great. Love it. We have a goal and conflict and the voice is spot on.

My suggestions are mostly nit-picky:

--There's a lot repetition on a sentence level, which I understand is for an emphatic effect but it ends up feeling redundant and clunky. Like, the three blues in the first sentence are at least one too many blues. I also wouldn't use a weak verb like "was" in an opening line. Instead, the first line could be, "The bright blue feather drifted through the air, gleaming against the red and gold grasses of the tundra, outshining even the lakes and ponds that pooled up every summer on the treeless plains. It was as blue as the sky on a clear arctic day." (I know I sound super nit-picky but needless repetition is the sort of petty thing agents/editors look for.)

--This exchange:

Quote

 

“But Umma—”

“I don’t want to hear another word about what Lady Twazi or any other magician wants, you hear me?”

“But Umma—”

 

I'd probably just make it "But--" in the second instance, just so your reader isn't reading the exact same words again. 

--This line:

God, how I hate them, I hate them, I hate them, I hate them!

"Hate" becomes less effective the more it's used. Honestly, "God, how I hate them." stands much stronger to me on it's own. I'd even make it its own line for emphasis. Less can definitely be more!

This line:

Skin stockings, skin underslip, fur overdress, skin inner slippers, fur outer boots, hoodless parka.

The problem with the repetition here in addition to it feeling redundant is that I'm getting hung up on the word "skin"? Like "skin-colored" or are these literally made of skin? They don't have cotton or nylon or whatever in this world so they're making stockings out of....skin? Is it like hide? Regardless, you could lose the word or at least change up the words: Stocking, hide underslip, fur overdress, inner slippers, fur outer boots, hoodless parka. 

I'll stop there! My advice is to just comb through and make sure you don't have any needlessly repetitive phrases or words, and that any repetition is being used sparingly and effectively. 

Great work!

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On 4/23/2021 at 4:13 PM, MingluJiangP6 said:

Hi Jinju! I like the introduction of Tomxai as he's obviously different from the other magicians, which makes me want to know him more. 

I love that Jayu means freedom! It's such an effective yet subtle characterization of Yoonis. 

The firebird scene is extremely intriguing as it makes me want to find out later on what exactly happened.

If anything I think you could use less of Yoonis couldn’t bear it, she couldn’t bear it, God, she would give up everything, anything, to take this curse away! as it gets repetitive after a while. 

Great job overall, and thanks for sharing!

 

Thanks so much Minglu! I'll definitely work on the repetitiveness, I appreciate that feedback a lot! 

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On 4/25/2021 at 3:45 AM, Tatiana Schlote-Bonne said:

Hi Jinju, this is great! Your prose is beautiful and rich in sensory detail. This first chapter is brimming with tension with both internal and external conflict: your MC's struggle as a mother and her daughter's predisposition to being a slave or not; the class that your MC is trapped within and her love for her child. I also enjoy how close we are to your protagonist's PoV. One of my favorite moments:

This is great. Love it. We have a goal and conflict and the voice is spot on.

My suggestions are mostly nit-picky:

--There's a lot repetition on a sentence level, which I understand is for an emphatic effect but it ends up feeling redundant and clunky. Like, the three blues in the first sentence are at least one too many blues. I also wouldn't use a weak verb like "was" in an opening line. Instead, the first line could be, "The bright blue feather drifted through the air, gleaming against the red and gold grasses of the tundra, outshining even the lakes and ponds that pooled up every summer on the treeless plains. It was as blue as the sky on a clear arctic day." (I know I sound super nit-picky but needless repetition is the sort of petty thing agents/editors look for.)

--This exchange:

I'd probably just make it "But--" in the second instance, just so your reader isn't reading the exact same words again. 

--This line:

God, how I hate them, I hate them, I hate them, I hate them!

"Hate" becomes less effective the more it's used. Honestly, "God, how I hate them." stands much stronger to me on it's own. I'd even make it its own line for emphasis. Less can definitely be more!

This line:

Skin stockings, skin underslip, fur overdress, skin inner slippers, fur outer boots, hoodless parka.

The problem with the repetition here in addition to it feeling redundant is that I'm getting hung up on the word "skin"? Like "skin-colored" or are these literally made of skin? They don't have cotton or nylon or whatever in this world so they're making stockings out of....skin? Is it like hide? Regardless, you could lose the word or at least change up the words: Stocking, hide underslip, fur overdress, inner slippers, fur outer boots, hoodless parka. 

I'll stop there! My advice is to just comb through and make sure you don't have any needlessly repetitive phrases or words, and that any repetition is being used sparingly and effectively. 

Great work!

Thanks Tatiana for these suggestions! They are great, I'm going to copy them exactly. :) I will keep an eye out to make sure I'm not being repetitive. Thanks again for your feedback, I super appreciate it!

 

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