PDA

View Full Version : Crit pls - City of Twilight


SFFWorld.com
Home - Discussion Forums - News - Reviews - Interviews

New reviews, interviews and news

New in the Discussion Forum


PaxNoctis
March 30th, 2005, 12:51 PM
Comments greatly appreciated.

Thanks =)

~Pax

-----------
"Capt'n?!"

Phinneus turned to face the speaker. He had to crane his neck up to meet the grass-green gaze of his first mate, Kirik, which might've irritated him on a different day.

"What's wrong?" He asked the Arvick.

Kirik rolled his massive shoulders, causing the broad-leafed foliage of his hair to shake and ruffle. His voice was a bass rumble, "Out there. A steam trail, coming in fast."

Phinneus looked out over the waters, which shone in the unfamiliar sun like a gilded thing. Shielding his eyes, he could just make out the trail of soot and steam rising distantly.

"Cov' this bloody light. I see it, but what's the big deal?"

A native of the City of Twilight, Phinneus was not used to the sun, the angry, aggressive yellow-white ball of light and heat. The City was far enough North that the sun was never seen as more than a red glow on the horizon.

In the Southern Seas, however, it was an ever-present annoyance. Kirik responded, gesturing absently with a blunt finger enshrouded in thick bark, like an old oak tree's, "It's comin' from the west. No trade routes out that way. No cities. Nothing."

"Raiders?"

Kirik shrugged again, "Maybe."

"Wonderful. All ahead full. Let's see if he adjusts his course to mirror us."

"Done."

Kirik stomped away, the bulk of his seven-foot body sending shudders through the metal of the ship's deck. A few moments later, the white ghosts of smoke rising from the stacks redoubled, and the entire ship shuddered as it began to accelerate under the full power of it's steam engines.

Captain Phinneus turned from the railing to attain a higher position, drawing a collapsible lens from his pocket and unfurling it with an irrated snap of his wrist. A minute passed. Then two. And he turned his spyglass onto the distant smoke-trail.

The outline of the distant ship was just beginning to resolve itself against the white-blue tapestry of the waters. And sure as sin, it had turned to match their increase in pace.

Phinneus indulged himself in a moment of profuse cursing before heading back to the towering silhouette of his first mate.

"Kilik!"

"Yes Cap'n?"

"Keep us moving. Everyone get weapons ready. They're coming for us."

"Yessir."

Those few members of the crew near enough to hear his instructions begun muttering, and it spread fast, like the ripples from a rock dropped in still water. There was the metallic hiss of swords being cleared in scabbards. A sussuruss of whispering and fidgeting.

Phinneus looked at the approaching ship again. Five minutes. Maybe a few minutes more.

He looked around the ship. None of the passengers were on deck, save the one fellow who sat in the bow on a barrel with a blank look on his face, as he had since the very first day of their journey from Brass. Oddly, he stared not forward, but back, as though more interested in the distance they'd covered, rather than the destination.

Phinneus climbed the stairs two at a time and approached the fellow. He was somewhere in the early to middle part of his twenties, with a hard, sharp-looking face, a nose that was just a touch too small, and dark eyes like holes in his southern-tanned face, empty and perilous. Those eyes were distant, unfocussed. The man wore the light, flowing silk garments of those who called Brass home, and wore a long, hooked saber on a baldric.

"Sir?"

Nothing. The man didn't even acknowledge that he had heard Phinneus' address.

He tried again, with a touch less politeness, "Sir... we might have some trouble approaching. If you're a fair hand with that sword, we could use your help. Otherwise, I'd suggest you clear out."

Nothing. It was like talking to a statue of a man. Other than the rhythmic rise-and-fall of his breathing, he might as well have been dead.

"Damnit man! I am talking to-"

And the man's empty gaze shifted to Phinneus, and a ghost of a terrible smile twisted his lips. The Captain suddenly felt, with an awesome and frightening kind of clarity, that he was as close to death as he'd ever been.

He backed away, and the man's stare turned away.

Well.. Damn him then.

The approaching ship was now visible without the assistance of his lens. Two minutes away. The smoke coming from the ship's twin stacks was black; they were pushing their vessel hard. It was sleek, long and slender, built for speed, where Phinneus' own ship was bloated and heavy with cargo.

"Light blast your eyes!"

He slammed a fist into his hand with a dry slap.

Kirik appeared at his side, his foliage-hair providing some small measure of shade, "Sir, the men are ready."

The Captain drew his own filigreed rapier, and idly fingered the stock of the twin-barrelled flint-lock at his side, "I hope so, my friend. I bloody well hope so."

Time passed.

And more. Though it seemed ages, it was certainly no more than two minutes.

Finally, Phinneus could make out the men on the other ship, all leaning against the rail as it drew beside them. He saw grappling hooks, and a long, three-foot wide boarding platform with edges reinforced with iron to prevent easy destruction. He saw a motley assembly of swords and men. Tall and wide-topped Arvick. A few of the squat, half-dog Khrohop. Even a handful of the snouted Ferrin, whiskers twitching in anticipation. And in every hand and paw was held a sword. Long, short, curved and straight and serrated.

The muttering amongst his own men redoubled. They were plainly outnumbered.

The two ships paced each other for an interval of time. The raiders stared at them, unmoving and intimidating, as though waiting for some signal.

And then that signal, whatever it was, was given. There was a pneumatic whumping as propelled lines where fired, slamming into the hull and expanding, anchoring the two ships together.

With a sundering crack that startled the Captain, the boarding platform was shoved over to slam upon his own railing and latch on. Raiders began to pour across. Some of the braver ones threw grappling hooks and swung across to climb.

Phinneus drew his flintlock. Fired once, then again - discharging both barrels.

And then they were upon him. His men surged up to meet the invaders.

For a moment, they held. And then they were forced backwards.

Even lost in the adrenaline of battle, Phinneus saw the cold-eyed man with the sword still sheathed at his side, strutting down the deck, looking as though he had not a care in the world. And behind him, one of the pirates finished climbing his grapple and leapt over the rail.

Despite the man's rudeness, Phinneus found himself beginning to call out a warning, "Behind y-!"

But then the man moved like a snake, like a waterfall. In a moment so small that it defied time, he drew his inwardly-curved sword and spun, beheading the man behind him. And that was not all. He moved like a boneless thing, like a liquid thing, completing his spin and darting forward. He struck another man whose feet had just found the rail, hamstringing him and casting him - screaming - into the water. He ducked a clumsy slash, thrust. A man with opened guts joined the other.

Phinneus could not but halt and watch the dead-eyed swordsman's impossible grace. He moved straight, with an unhurried and unhalting gait, towards the boarding platform. Any raider who stepped into the deadly arc of his black-chased, silvered blade fell. The man stopped at the base of the platform for an instant and fenced with two men. A quick parry, and his riposte slew one and drove the other back a step. His passenger followed the man, stepping up onto the platform and advancing. Beating, beating upon his opponent's blade, his own saber moving like a serpent's tongue. Once, twice he snuck past defenses to score a weak hit, and then a double-feint into a circular strike took off the man's head.

The man advanced two steps. Slew another man. His face was a bored mask. He stamped hard on his next opponent's foot, and thrust upwards through the man's chest when his blade dropped.

There was silence on the deck as Phinneus' men dispatched the last few raiders who had made it through. They all watched, silently awed.

The next man, some two paces back, charged the dark swordsman, but with contempt he hopped sideways - off the platform - catching himself with his left hand on the reinforced edge of it and then thrusting up through the soft wooden middle. Impossibly, it was perfectly timed, and the man's foot came down upon the point of the blade, and he tripped, and fell into the hungry waters.

Still hanging down off the side of the platform, the swordsman jerked himself down further with two, quick convulsions of his arm. Again, he thrust upwards, and again he found his target, this time the wide and wooden foot of an Arvick.

He was two-thirds of the way across the gap between the two ships. He hefted himself up, attained the platform with a knee, and swung his other leg - in parallel to his blade - in a sweeping circle. His leg hit a man just below the knee, and even as the man started to lose his balance the blade hit at the knee and severed it.

A slow count of five later, and the mad had cut down three more opponents, and he hopped down upon the deck of the raiders' ship. A cluster of men were there to meet him, angry and afraid and not sure which emotion to give creedence.

Phinneus could not make out what came in the next half-minute... the press of bodies was too great. But after that the raiders were backing up, and the dark swordsman stood - unharmed, in an open circle of them, regarding him now with nothing more than naked terror.

PaxNoctis
March 30th, 2005, 12:51 PM
The man stood easily, his sword undulating and twirling about in the air.

After a small eternity, one of the raiders said, "By salvation man, who in the Hells are you?"

The sword stopped it's deadly dance, and the man's voice was an icy wind that had blown across miles of tundra, "I am Samuel ben'Mainon Faruq. Known also as the Butcher of Verrach. Known also as the greatest swordsman alive, cur."

The awed whispers that suddenly surrounded Phinneus were mirrored on the other ship.

The man who had address Samuel held up his hands in supplication, "Didn' mean to trouble you, guv'nor. We wish to go in peace."

Samuel flicked the tip of his blade, "Go then."


I slept, and dreamt the dreams of an ancient machine.

Years, decades, centuries. These things no longer have meaning to me. Time has passed, speeding in places and dragging in others, and I have never felt it’s touch. I remember the first men to prey upon the river-captains in this location. How many years ago? Five thousand? Ten. I cannot recall. I can only abide.

Within my shores, these mercenaries eventually learned life’s great lesson, that there is more money to be made and more corruption to be indulged in a life of business than a life of crime. And so their hidden places became taverns, shops, homes. Here, at the very top of the world, in a place of near eternal darkness, where the sun would only peek above the distant horizon, was birthed a legend. First a settlement. A village. A town. And finally a City.

THE City. The City of Twilight. I am it and it is I, although I once had another name that I can no longer recall. It has grown vast now, encompassing Whiteriver, the Styge. And all of it is known to me. The tangled maze of the Warrens, where even now poor men and other things pursue their self-destructions. North – north to the Gilt, where even now, rich men and other things pursue their self-destructions.

I see streets of dirt and streets of cobblestone. I see Ironbridge and Golembridge, twins made of pitted, rusting starsteel. I see buildings, all towering decadence and all squat corruption.

And still I sleep.

Something comes. I can feel it in my sewer-pipe veins, my steel-ribbed bones. I can feel it, whispered across my railcar-track scars, my water-tower boils. I can feel it’s awful sense of presence, and it’s ill will. It is coming, and no one expects it, and it will birth a greater evil.

These things I feel. Once, in a time so distant I am not entirely sure I did not dream it, I might have done something. But now? Now I sleep, and dream the dreams of an ancient machine, and I am impotent.

I might weep. I might rail. But I cannot and will not and so do not.

tooeviltoknow
March 30th, 2005, 05:19 PM
Try posting it in the community section as well, you'll get more feedback that way.

Zanzibar
March 31st, 2005, 10:53 AM
A very good story (who doesn't love pirates!). I really liked the way you ended it, especially the last few lines. Very cool. Below are some grammar and punctuation errors pointed out with suggested revisions (I no doubt missed some). I agree with evil, you should post it in the community section and make a link to it.

“Phinneus looked out over the waters, which shone in the unfamiliar sun like a gilded thing.”
-I would change the “gilded thing” to an actual thing, like gilded glass (can you gild glass?).

The City was far enough North that the sun was never seen as more than a red glow on the horizon.
-I don’t really know anything about the world this story’s set in but the farther north you go on Earth the more you see the sun. In northern Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia, Russia, and places of similar latitudes, the sun never sets, or does so only for a couple of hours a day.

“A few moments later, the white ghosts of smoke rising from the stacks redoubled, and the entire ship shuddered as it began to accelerate under the full power of it's steam engines.”
-Regarding “redoubled”: the smoke hasn’t yet doubled before this so it really shouldn’t be redoubled.

“A minute passed. Then two. And he turned his spyglass onto the distant smoke-trail.”
-Probably should be “A minute passed, then two, and he…”.

There was the metallic hiss of swords being cleared in scabbards. A sussuruss of whispering and fidgeting.
-The period after “scabbards” should be a comma, "in" might be better as "of", and what the hell is a sussuruss :) ?

Phinneus looked at the approaching ship again. Five minutes. Maybe a few minutes more.
-Change to: “Five minutes, maybe a few minutes more.”

Oddly, he stared not forward, but back, as though more interested in the distance they'd covered, rather than the destination.
-The comma after “covered” is unnecessary.

The Captain drew his own filigreed rapier, and idly fingered the stock of the twin-barrelled flint-lock at his side, "I hope so, my friend. I bloody well hope so."
-Extra comma after “rapier” can be cut out.

He saw a motley assembly of swords and men. Tall and wide-topped Arvick. A few of the squat, half-dog Khrohop. Even a handful of the snouted Ferrin, whiskers twitching in anticipation.
-Consider: “He saw a motley assemblage of armed men: tall and wide-topped Arvick, a few of the squat, half-dog Khrohop, and even a handful of the snouted Ferrin, whose whiskers twitched in anticipation.”

The muttering amongst his own men redoubled. They were plainly outnumbered.
-Again, it hasn’t yet doubled or increased.

Any raider who stepped into the deadly arc of his black-chased, silvered blade fell.
-Should be a comma after “silvered”.

A quick parry, and his riposte slew one and drove the other back a step.
-This just sounds a little funky. Consider: “A quick parry followed by a riposte slew one and drove the other back a step.”, or something similar.

Once, twice he snuck past defenses to score a weak hit, and then a double-feint into a circular strike took off the man's head.
-I just like this line :).

The man advanced two steps. Slew another man.
-Join them to form: “The man advanced two steps and slew another enemy.” (The two “man’s” were repetitive).

The next man, some two paces back, charged the dark swordsman, but with contempt he hopped sideways - off the platform - catching himself with his left hand on the reinforced edge of it and then thrusting up through the soft wooden middle. Impossibly, it was perfectly timed, and the man's foot came down upon the point of the blade, and he tripped, and fell into the hungry waters.
-Very nice paragraph, this! Cool image too, very swashbuckly.

A slow count of five later, and the mad had cut down three more opponents, and he hopped down upon the deck of the raiders' ship.
-This is a rather awkward sentence. Try: “Within the span of five seconds the man had cut down three more opponents and hopped down onto the deck of the raiders’ ship.”

A cluster of men were there to meet him, angry and afraid and not sure which emotion to give creedence.
-“Creedence” is actually “credence” and you should add “to” to the end (so it reads “…give credence to.).

Phinneus could not make out what came in the next half-minute... the press of bodies was too great. But after that the raiders were backing up, and the dark swordsman stood - unharmed, in an open circle of them, regarding him now with nothing more than naked terror.
-Maybe change this to: “So great was the press of bodies that Phinneus could not make out what happened between the swordsman and his opponents in the next half-minute, but when the commotion cleared enough for him to see the man he stood unharmed, encircled by his enemies, who were now regarding him with nothing more than naked terror.”

The sword stopped it's deadly dance, and the man's voice was an icy wind that had blown across miles of tundra, "I am Samuel ben'Mainon Faruq. Known also as the Butcher of Verrach. Known also as the greatest swordsman alive, cur."
-Add “like” after “was” so it reads “…was like an icy wind…”.

Ten. I cannot recall. I can only abide.
-The period after “ten” should be a question mark and the one after “recall” should be a comma.

Within my shores, these mercenaries eventually learned life’s great lesson, that there is more money to be made and more corruption to be indulged in a life of business than a life of crime.
-The comma after “shores” is not needed and the one after “lesson” should be a colon. Also, consider changing “Within my shores” to “Upon my shores.”

I am it and it is I, although I once had another name that I can no longer recall. It has grown vast now, encompassing Whiteriver, the Styge. And all of it is known to me.
-The period after “Styge” should be a comma.

The tangled maze of the Warrens, where even now poor men and other things pursue their self-destructions
-I like this line a lot but “self-destructions” shouldn’t be pluralized.

I see buildings, all towering decadence and all squat corruption.
-The “all” before “squat” should be cut out.

PaxNoctis
April 4th, 2005, 12:05 PM
Thanks a ton for the feedback. I've revised a few sections of it, and it will be making an appearance on my (new-and-improved) website soon.

I try not to post in the community section because between that, a private crit group I belong to, and my own site, it gets hard to keep everything up to date.

~Pax