Good evening. About 3 years ago I posted a prologue for a story I had in my head over in the fan fiction section with aspirations to keep writing it. Did I? hell no, but I didn't forget it, it got refined and developed in my mind to a point where I had a reasonable level of detail and enough to write about. Which is what normally happens with me, if I don't write something down, it keeps running circles in my head gathering details. Anyway the original prologue is here: http://www.thefantasyforum.com/showthread.php?t=12289 Which I plan to rewrite to fit in more detaisl, a few things will flip around but the basics are the same. Anyway over christmas the writing bug hit me in the free time I had, I did something I rarely do with my ideas, I wrote em down, I wrote down notes, an outline of the whole plot, details and all sorts, actually doing this got me back into the world I was creating to the point where I finally, FINALLY sat down and wrote the first chapter. Obviously the first draft and may be updated, but I thought I'd share, get some critical responses to help me develop it. so here we go, chapter one: _________________ Long ago the river Matir was a great border between two warring kingdoms, lands long forgotten by the people who now drove herds through fields that had once been grand cities in ages gone by. This had been the stage for legends and history long past, and would be again in many ages to come. The wide and sinuous river just as strong now as it had been in those days. Where the old realm of Tragea, a hard land of rocky earth and high cliffs gave way into rolling plains, the river cascaded over a great set of falls, and there the waters swelled wider than at any point north of the coast. About the high cliffs of the falls and the soft flat lands below was the city of Ascent, heart of the empire and a marvel to behold. The peaks of the Catmer hills rose high above the river, hard on its north bank, crowned with high towers and rich stonework where the nobility looked down on the rest of the city from the quiet, ordered bustle of Highmarket and Upper Avara. The streets leading down to the river’s edge becoming less and less ornate as the smell of the river became stronger. There below were the Imperial Docks, the shipyards of Ascent and the Merchants Dock, the beating heart of the city’s commerce, a constant move of ships heading out downriver towards the sea, and others bringing back riches from beyond the horizon. Between the docks and the north wall was Fort Cerac, home of the Imperial Legions stationed at the city, its training grounds alive with raw recruits and old veterans, the sprawling complex dwarfing the neighbouring residences that crowded round the base of the Catmers. Far across the wide river the rest of the city was a mix of beauty and squalor. Leading down from the edge of the waterfall the great stone causeway was flanked by shops and taverns, workshops and houses all the way down to the throngs of Lowmarket and the lower city. But just as the houses gave way to the slums of the riverbank and beggar’s alley, among them all were the Standing Gardens, sitting on a stone walled mesa amid the city, the lush and sprawling park was a beacon of green life among the bustle of the city, its silent statues and arches deferring to birdsong and the chirp of crickets even in the middle of the city. Ascent; a thousand variations in sight, sound and smell from one quarter to the next, alive with the pulse of the world, and as the morning went on its pace only escalated. Slinging his pack over the rail Davian took a moment to look across the city from the deck of the Waverunner, not a stone seemed out of place since he left nearly half a year ago. The sprawling hills covered in buildings set besides the roaring falls, it was only after his time away that he realised that this city was his home, it was a bittersweet thought, tinged in guilt over his old life in Acrona, before... Just as he mused on his place in this city, his attention was brought back to the world with a jolt to his scalp from a well aimed pebble. Below him on the dock Markus Wren stood, with arms crossed nonchalantly, his expression the kind of innocence that only a guilty man could fake. “Are you expecting me to carry your bag for you while you settle into your new job as a mast? Quit standing around already, we need to be off.” Markus had been all too ready to leave the Waverunner after the long journey upriver, the fact that Davian’s delay was keeping him on the docks was evidently a bother to him. Davian sighed as he vaulted over the railing and onto the stone dockside of the Merchant’s Dock, at long last feeling solid ground beneath his feet. Markus quickly picked up Davian’s satchel and pushed it into him in an effort to hasten his pace. “The longer we stand around the more likely fat old captain Hadrin will come ashore and spend another week praising Shenn’s arse to us and we’ll be stuck here, Come on, aren’t to eager to see the other’s again?” A mix of excitement and anxiety had taken hold of Markus and made him irritable, a distinct change from his usual sarcastic self. In an effort to goad Markus, Davian purposefully took his time about getting ready. “Please spare me; Lhanda is closer than Loamas, Sunder or the Frontier, and half the places Shenn chose to send the others, for all you know we’re the first ones back.” Markus sighed. “Spare me he says, first back he says, where’s your head at Dav? You forget the two week journey through Saleisha? Or when we hit the sand bank and spent three days pulling that cursed ship off it only to resume its ponderous crawl, we should have been back a month gone. With any luck we’ll be the last ones back.” “I suppose you may be right at that.” Davian gave way begrudgingly, not wanted to argue the point further. Arguing with Markus was something you only attempted when in the mood; it was its own war of attrition. “Ah I knew it, this is about Val again isn’t it? Pfft, you’d think you’d have forgotten all that after five months drinking wine and lounging in the sun,” “You were the one inspecting the vineyards and sitting about on your arse, I had to put up with the magistrate’s bickering and the gods-forsaken regional economics, and no, it isn’t about Val, I’m just not looking ahead to climbing the Avara way.” Markus snorted. “Will be busy at this hour no doubt, but we’ll just take the edge alleys, steeper roads but no damnable merchant wagons in the way. Anyway the roads don’t get shorter or flatter with you standing around like a lemon tree.” Just as the two began their first steps towards the Catmer Hills, a roar came from the deck of the Waverunner. Hadrin Edhert, the ship’s portly captain had finally made it up onto the deck after inspecting his cargo, with his first footsteps he was already bellowing orders to slothful sailors and directing the winches over the hold. As Markus took hold of Davian’s sleeve and tried to pull him away at a run, Hadrin turned his iron gaze onto the dockside, catching Davian and Markus. But iron gave way, and the boom of his voice settled down to a sycophantic mumbling. “Ah, there you are lads, off so soon? Without as much as a good day to your humble friend Hadrin. I have the men bringing your cases up as we speak, surely you don’t mean to leave them onboard?” Markus bit off a curse before it got to Hadrin. “Of course not, we left instructions with the first mate to have them sent to the Citadel as soon as they were off the ship. Despite your evident and assured haste we are behind schedule and need to be away immediately. Or is there some important reason for us to be delayed in delivering your heartfelt praises to the Emperor?” At that Hadrin winced, adding a pleading note to his speech. “Of course not, I merely wished to thank you for your patronage young masters, and my best to our beloved Emperor Shenn, bless his hands. I hope you will remember poor old captain Edhert, and put in a good word for me and the entire merchant’s guild.” They both knew Hadrin was prone to piling compliments in surplus if he was allowed, and before he could Markus seized the moment, giving him a deep formal bow. “Thank you kindly Captain, Go with Grace.” Taking Davian by the bicep, Markus marched off before Hadrin could open his bloated lips once more. The two took the nearest street towards the hills and didn’t stop till they were away from the sound of the docks. “Gods, I thought we’d never be free of that damnable boat and its sodding captain.” Davian frowned. “Ah, he wasn’t so bad.” Markus shook his head. “What am I always telling you Davian, people like Hadrin have no courage, too busy living off the backs and praises of others; social parasites. I’ve no patience for his sort.” The two men talked as they began the slow march up Avara, tallest of the Catmer hills, and the one that merged into north bank of the great falls. Davian was as tired of Markus’ speeches as much as he was of Hadrin’s. “You take too much at face value Markus, certainly Captain Hadrin was a sycophant to us, but you saw him with the crew, he was a different man, he would be yet another man around his friends or his family, of all the Hadrin Edhert’s there are, only one of them spent his time boring us with his praises, and should we expect anything less? Charges of the Imperial Academy, part of the emperor’s damned court, such positions breed the same response from almost everyone.” Markus snorted. “Almost everyone, almost, some people have a spine, they measure us by their own standards not the other way round. Would that more people were like that the world would be a more interesting place.” “Most people gave up their spines to the Empire, rather than risk the legion’s wrath, can we really expect them to show courage, especially in the presence of members of the Imperial Court?” “And what a dull world that leads to eh? Someone should have told them the cost of lasting peace was boredom, ah damn this philosophy, we aren’t even half way back to the Academy and you’re already starting to ponder again.” Davian laughed. “It’s a skill.” Raising an invisible mug to the air, Markus closed his eyes. “Farewell to the long summer, the good southern wines and the copper beauties, a few more steps and it’s back to philosophical contemplation, swordplay, arithmetic and a dozen other dull pursuits all in the name of learning. Gods, you’d have thought thirteen years would be enough time wasted on this foolishness, but no. Well, off to pondering with you Master Dav, I’m going to the Golden Oak first” “But Master Wren, if we delay to the Citadel, how ever will the Emperor hear the humble wishes of Hadrin Edhert?” Davian dodged the slow swipe of Markus’ palm, and the two set off back up the hill, this time towards Edgemarket and the Golden Oak; the finest dump of a tavern north of the river. On the Hard edge of Avara, where the rocky hill merged into the cliffs of the great falls, the roads and alleys wound up and down the hill, tracing steep and twisting paths from top to bottom, hardly frequented for the steep pace it took to get there. But with the main roads crammed by traffic to and from Highmarket, it was a peaceful route up to the falls. Here and there were a few sights of note, taking advantage of the unobstructed westward view were a few small terraces and plazas, the tiny Edgemarket, which intercepted a good deal of trade going to the richer districts uphill. Somewhere half way up the hill was a stone drum of a building perched on the very edge where hill finally became cliff. In front of its door a battered sign swung in the high winds, the words Golden Oak barely legible above a worn painting of a tree with three hanged men among its branches. As Davian and Markus stepped through the threshold of the Tavern they were instantly assaulted by the smells of cooked meat, sweat, sour wine and smoke. It was a familiar odour that brought back fond memories of years gone by, drinking with friends. Of all the taverns on Avara, this was their favourite, any further up the hill they became bloated and pretentious, full of nobility sipping iced wine, listening to harp players and other dull and slow means of entertainment. Further down the hill towards the docks the taverns became crowded full of thieves, whores and sailors. Here at the edges of Avara, where there was little traffic, it was quieter, humble and cheap. The common room was practically empty, a few lonely patrons here and there, a group of men clustered in one corner speaking in hushed tones, and round the corner at a table inset into the outer wall, three figures sat talking, each one wearing the deep green coat of the Academy. Markus rapped a knuckle against Davian’s arm, nodding to the table, and with the other hand he unfastened his cloak, flinging it over one shoulder in a swooping motion. Then, with all the pretention he could muster, Markus swaggered over like a victorious general, and Davian trailed behind. “Good Morning Citizens” Markus announced, mock pompousness thick on his tongue. “You’re humble leader had returned, you may resume your obedience.” Alek was the first to respond, having seen them come in, he assumed the same tone of foolery as Markus. “What’s this peasant doing in here? This is a meeting of the Imperial Academy, not some fetid alley-brothel.” His tirade begun to shake towards the end with a growing smile that finally reached his eyes. Markus laughed it off and shook Alek’s hand by the wrist. “Fetid alley-brothels? You know I don’t take my business anywhere south of the river.” By the time the two were done greeting and laughing it over, Yula and Connid had risen from their seats to greet Davian. “It’s good to have you two back.” Yula began. “Alekko was getting insufferable waiting, now there’s only Torik left to return.” Davian finished shaking Connid’s hand first, then turned back to Yula. “Where was it he went? Tolm? That’s barely as far as we were.” Yula furrowed her brow, nodding. “News coming from the east isn’t good, the bandit problem in the Leffin Forest has gotten worse, most of the lumber camps have been overrun, some are saying its close to an uprising, God’s hope Torik’s alright but even if he is I can’t imaging he’ll be too quick about coming home to face Shenn after that. That was dire indeed; there hadn’t been a whiff of dissidence for over a decade until the Leffin problems. It seemed the shadow of the dense forest was the only place that traitors to the Empire could flourish unseen within its borders, Davian hoped Torik was alright. The five of them eventually sat back down together, and a maid brought Davian and Markus wine, it was not long before they had settled into their old habits of arguing and laughing in turns. Yula was first to begin bemoaning her time away. “Honestly, the whole city stinks to high heaven of fish, the roads aren’t all mud because it never stops raining, and the Governor had me at sea half the time, on patrol ships watching waves and gulls and rutting grain ships all day.” Markus nodded, his own disdain for the water evident. “I can’t imagine being on one for that long, me and Dav nearly went mad just coming up from Lhanda.” Davian sighed to himself, not wanting to be included de facto in another of Markus’ irrational distastes. “Saleisha must have been better though?” Yula Wondered. “Ah yes.” Markus took the initiative. “Warm weather, cool breezes and half the vineyards in the Empire in front of you, it was delicious. We started off in Alcien and moved across the country each month, a little longer on Summer bay of course. I think we got the best spot on the map.” Shaking his head Davian added in “There was a bit more work than that; lots of accounts and trade manifests going through the capital in summer meant a lot of paperwork for us to do while we were there, I swear even Markus did some.” “Lies!” Markus protested. “I’ll have you know I never lifted a finger! I’ll not have my reputation as a timewaster tarnished by these viscous accusations!” Connid broke the group laughter after a moment. “Speaking of which; I heard a few good tales of the exploits of Master Wren while I was in Lihra.” The look on Markus’ face was an odd mixture of contemplation and worry; in the stricter environs of the Imperial Citadel he still managed a good deal of mischief, so it was hard to imagine what an unsupervised Markus Wren would have been like before the Academy. “Who have you been talking to?” Was all he Markus muster, waiting to see what secret of his had been unearthed. Davian made a note of finding out who had the good dirt on Markus. Taking his time, Connid smiled wryly before speaking. “Your darling cousin of course, the good queen Alissa.” Everybody waiting a moment to see Markus react, his brown eyes narrowed as he ever so slightly turned his head to the side. “She tells me.” Connid Resumed. “You had the most unscrupulous habits, especially concerning the palace guards.” The emphasis on the last part seemed to speak volumes to Markus, in a language most of them didn’t know, one that Connid was now fluent in. Markus managed a menacing chuckle. “I’m going to throttle that little toad next time I’m back.” He paused. “No, I have a few choice stories of my own that would interest the royal court!” “Are we talking about the same person?” Connid interjected. “The Alissa I saw was certainly no toad, all prim and proper. A raven haired goddess was what I found.” That certainly phased Markus, he had not been home to Ukoss for almost eight years and even that was only a visit, things had changed and seemingly not to his liking. Connid’s description and the heavy lidded smirk he delivered it with did nothing to ease his tensions. For all his bemoaning of his home in Ukoss, Davian knew Markus was more fond of it than he would admit. The way he would talk about times in the palace with his uncles and cousins was always with a smile, when he spoke of Alissa it sounded more like the teasing of an older brother than a distant relative. The notion that so much had changed without him must have hurt deeply. Davian tried to imaging his friend’s plight, but that only brought memories of his last visit home. And that was a sadder memory by far, one of rubble and bones. As morning gave way to noon, the aromas from the kitchen permeated the haze left by pipe smoke and dirt in the air. Davian’s stomach began to growl in unison with those around him, and the five of them took lunch downstairs nearer the kitchen. There the rooms in the golden oak had been sunk into the rocks of Avara, like many of the building on the edge the only room to expand was up or down. In the dining hall there was less draft from the high winds on the streets and the air took on the warmth coming out of the kitchen. Tiny windows near the ceiling here and there brought a little natural light, but the dim room was mostly lit by candles giving it a warm and hospitable vibe. A few other patrons from the common room above had come down for their meals though many would elect to eat above. Not wanting the isolation of a private room, Davian and his friends took their meal in the corner below the stairs, nearest the kitchen. Fresh bread and roasted woodhen were brought out with helping of root vegetables and thick gravy. Davian and Markus dig in with the appetite of soldiers, their long voyage on ship’s rations a distant memory. The others ate more slowly but with appetites of their own. When the last scrap of meat had been strips from the bird and only a few morsels remained, the group settled back into a lethargic state. Soon enough they would have to return to the Citadel, but until then they would enjoy the last of their freedom. Davian decided to break the silence first. “You never said which province you went to Alek?” Alekko finished picking a wayward piece of meat from between his teeth before speaking. “That’s because I didn’t go anywhere. I got stuck here in Ascent for the duration. Apparently with my father away the Emperor didn’t want me out of reach.” Yula patted Alekko’s cheek in a soft mocking fashion. “There, there, are we still being treated as a hostage, as if you haven’t proven your loyalty by now.” Alekko didn’t seem amused. “Pfft, five months in the city, must have been boring sitting around the Citadel all day, what did you do?” Markus said, with only a hint of superiority. “Shenn actually kicked me out of the Citadel for almost the whole time, Instead he arranged that I spend time in each part of the City’s infrastructure; the lower districts, each of the guilds, the pillars, the longest time I spent at Fort Cerac with the Legion, overseeing recruitment. But the best part was with the Avaran Brotherhood. “ Davian almost didn’t believe Alek, but as jovial as the man was, he was not one for boasts like Markus “I thought the brotherhood was a myth? Arent they outlawed?” “Ah Dav, I thought you’d read half the books in the library, didn’t you see Astred’s paper on the city gangs? Shenn rewrote the imperial policy based on it. The gangs each have a niche roll in the city politics and economics, they form links between the trade and community as well as help keep public order in their own way. There’s an unwritten understanding that they are allowed to exist as a silent partner in the city, and in turn they respect and enforce imperial law. Some of the gangs on the south bank are a bit unsavoury, but rivalry keeps an internal balance of power between all of them and prevents them having too much pull in the city.” “Mercy, I had no idea they were even around.” Alekko smiled, tapped two fingered to his left shoulder and then make a strange salute. At first Davian and the others were a little confused until two men across the room returned the gesture to Alek before resuming their meal. “The Brotherhood actually does most of its business along the Edge of Avara and on the lanes to the upriver docks; this whole street is full of them.” Alekko then lowered his voice so only those at the table could hear. “judging by the questions I got off Shenn when I got back, he wants to assess their strength in case they get any bolder. He needs them more than he’ll admit, most of the information on dissidents and suspected mages comes from the gangs as few people trust the watch these days.” Davian reconsidered the idea that he and Markus had the best post in Saleisha, Markus may have been happy to sit in the sun but the province was largely a oversized farm, sending foodstuff to the capitol and the other provinces, it was all exports. Ascent was the heart of the empire and each of the city’s five hills were worlds apart. The city itself was made up of officials and peoples from across the empire and beyond, it was a storm of differences from one street to the next and Alekko had seen it all. “So” Markus finally interjected with a question he had been keeping until now. “Where did Val end up then?” “Fort Sunder” Yula was the only one willing to take the question, the silence of everyone else was palpable. “According to her it snowed the whole five months, she nearly lost two fingers to frostbite in the first month.” Markus winced. “Eesh! I knew it was bad up north, why isn’t she here keeping warm with you lot then?” “Simati has finally taken up swordplay, and Shenn asked her to be her instructor. Plus Val spent most of the time she’s been back swinging her sword in the practice yard, trying to get those fingers back to their old state.” It made sense to Davian, Val had outpaced them all at swordplay, it was all most of them could do to fend her off in practice, it made sense for her to be instructing Simati now that the girl was old enough. Those two had always been like family, even if Davian had no family left, he knew who they had been, Val only knew their country, and Simati knew nothing of her parents, together they made an odd pair of friends, but it was something neither of them had before. Davian couldn’t help remembering the last time He’d seen Val before they had parted, in more ways than one. He had been angry then, and perhaps he would have been glad she was sent off to freeze for five months if he had not forgiven her. His time away helped him to reflect and grow, not just for the skills he developed, but for the perspective he gained on him and Val. For some reason Davian couldn’t shake the thought that Shenn had sent them away partly because of him and Val. Alekko resumed his tales of Ascent, telling them of the strange practices within the guilds, their rivalries and honour codes. Most of them laughed at the ridiculousness of the private war the bakers guild had with the brewers; two factions at each others throats for warehouse space and rights to grain ships. Eventually each one of them had told their stories of the last five months, laughed and commiserated, before finally they left the Golden Oak, Summer had drawn to a close and it was time to return to the Citadel. Five Abreast they took the main alleys up and away from the edge of Avara towards the cliffs and the Veiled Bridge which lead out across the crest of the falls. There, sat amid the river above the falls was the grandest structure in all the city and the empire combined; the Imperial Citadel. Davian knew going in that this was more than just the end of summer; change was in the wind, but what changes were coming he couldn’t yet know. _______________ that seemed the natural break to me. Bascally we are introducing a set of characters who are prominent in the early chapters, a few will return throughout the story and perhaps in the future. We also get some glimpses into the feeling of the world, the setting etc. To reprise the explanation of the story from the other thread, basically Davian et al have reached the end of their time at the academy, at an approaching festival they are all given positions in provinces across the empire, this is outshadowed by an assassination attempt against the emperor as part of the recent uprising, which fails. Davian is tasked to lead the legions against the uprising in the leffin forest, he does and succeeds only to find Luc, one of the only remaining people from his life before the empire, leading the revolt. He takes Luc captive and brings him back to Ascent. on the journey back the two debate the empire, and we learn more about its shady practices. Davian is eventually faced with the choice of being part of the empire, though tyrannical has kept peace for hundreds of years after nothing but war before. or to resist. He decides to free luc, but to stay, only his actions are discovered and he flees the city. Davian and Luc head west trying to evade the empire long enough to make it past its borders to lohridea, a non-imperial city state that had funded the uprising, the empire become aware of this funding and launch an attack on the city lead by markus, the whole thing culminates with lohridea winning the battle, and with support form the west they plan a full scale revolt against the empire. A second storyline running parallel to Davian's plotlines show the more mystical elements of the world, as the empire has outlawed all magic and practitioners are killed on sight. We follow as mage from a world beyond the empire accidentally dumped into it, she also has to make a journey across the empire t lohridea for different reason, this whole aspect of the story needs more development, but basically it shows some of the more down to earth elements, since Davian runs in higher circles with political leaders and in grand schemes, the mage has to hide in the alleys so to speak, and we get a different perspective on the empire from this line as well as some on the mystical elements that are involved in the overarching narrative. anyway thats all for now, so, thoughts?