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Canis
February 8th, 2012, 07:51 AM
I'm trying to decide whether to expand this story or "Birth of a Hellbred" into a longer narrative. It's not my intention to flood the board, I just wanted to post this so you fine people can help me decide.
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The idea for this story came to me while I was watching the movie "True Grit." It's different, to say the least, but I think it's alright. I hope you enjoy.
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The stranger spurred his horse on, anticipating his arrival in Little Orin. The human settlement had sprung up around the base of the Ezur Mountains only 10 years ago and was already in decline. The Mithril rush had come and gone and Little Orin was little more than a ghost town now. At least, that was the story. Some maintained that Little Orin had become a den of thieves and whores, unrestrained by the Marshals in the wild lands west of Isneth.

Regardless of the rumors, the stranger rode on. He had tracked his prey for nigh on 3 months, nearly catching up to him outside the gates of Dalton. His prey, a man by the name of Leroy, was rumored to be one of the legendary Magi, last bastion of arcane magic on the Material Plane. The stranger paid no mind to this. A bullet between the eyes beat Asmodeus’ art any day of the week.

Near sunset, the stranger finally arrived in Little Orin. At once, the rumors of thieves and whores sprung to the stranger's mind. Rather than a half-dead ghost town, the stranger found a town alive with iniquity. The stranger pulled his hat low and ignored the cries of drunkards and whores as he made his way up the main street. Not for the first time, the stranger thanked the gods that he had left his Marshal's badge at Dalton. It was too dangerous to go bandying about ones membership in the Marshals in so savage a land.

The Marshal noticed the largest building in Little Orin just up the road. A church, originally, but now converted into a saloon. These heathens had no proper respect for the gods. The Marshal would be doing the world a favor by burning this shit hole to the ground. The only thing that kept him in check were the children wandering the street. Most not old enough to be in their sixth year lay curled asleep in ditches, abandoned by their mothers and fathers. Others roamed the streets, begging for the smallest scrap of food, begging just to survive.

The Marshal pulled his hat lower, to hide his look of disgust from passersby. Barely looking up, he made his way to the hitching post outside the saloon. The Marshal dismounted, taking note of the armed men outside, as well as just inside, the doors of the saloon. The men, too drunk to stand, paid no mind to the Marshal as he swept past them and through the doors of the saloon.

The Marshal swept his eyes casually around the smoke choked interior, looking for his prey. Leroy wasn't hard to spot. Sitting at a table, a mere 20 yards away, sat Leroy "One-eye" Vaugn, the man who had haunted the Marshal's thoughts for 3 months. The Marshal strode casually to the bar and ordered an Orcish Whiskey, surreptitiously watching Leroy while he played cards with two half-breeds and a human.

The Marshal threw a gold piece on the counter and grabbed his whiskey. Under the guise of drinking his whiskey, the Marshal slid his hand under his duster and unbuckled the Pegasus .45 strapped to his hip, cocking it while he drank.

The Marshal put down his empty glass and, with hat pulled low to hide his face, made his way over to where Leroy sat. The game must have been going badly for the human, because as the Marshal drew even with the table, the human called Leroy a cheat and went for his gun.

The poor bastard never stood a chance. Before he had even laid hands on the butt of his pistol, Leroy pulled what looked like a birch rod from his side, muttered a few strange words, and then struck the human with magic, breaking his neck.

The bar rang with silence for a moment before resuming as it had been before. The only sign anyone showed that a life had been snuffed out in front of them, was the mad scramble for the dead man's money pouch and gun. "Vultures," the Marshall thought, keeping his face clear of emotion.

"Seems you gents need a fourth man," the Marshall said, sitting down. He did not wait for an invitation. Hesitation showed weakness and weakness would get him killed in this place.

One of the half-breeds laid a pistol on the table, cocked it, and said, "Coin on the table first stranger, or the undertaker will have two bodies to box tonight."

The Marshal reached into his duster slowly and withdrew his coin sack. Three months of Marshall's wages, saved for just such an opportunity, landed with a dull thud on the table.

The other half-breed growled, "Open it."

The Marshal obliged, showing a fair amount of gold and platinum. Enough for a new gun, if one knew who to buy from. The two half-breeds faces shown with greed at the sight. Leroy had yet to even spare a glance for the Marshal. The second half-breed continued, "what's to stop us blowing you away where you sit rich man? Coming in here, bold as brass, not knowing your proper place. You'll have 'oles in ya 'fore mornin if ya ain't careful. In'it tha' right Harry?

"That's right Billy," the other half-breed, Harry, responded, picking his gun up off the table and pointing it at the Marshal.

"Enough of your damn jawin', deal the cards," Leroy suddenly exclaimed, finally looking at the Marshal, an emotionless look in his eye.

The Marshal took his cards and, after a few attempts at making conversation, lapsed into silence as hand after hand passed by and gold was won and lost.

Nearly an hour later, with both the half-breeds out of the game, Leroy finally spoke again, "Been a long time since you was this close, eh Marshal?" He laid his cards on the table, his hand drifting towards his belt. "What'd ya think? That I didn't know you was on my tail? That I didn't know you was headed this way? This is my town, nothin' happens without my knowin' it."

The Marshal calmly laid down his hand, a flush, and leaned back as well before saying, "You killed a woman and her boy, Leroy, I aim to see you hanged for it." He took off his hat and laid it on the table before continuing, "If you won't come quietly, then I'll see you dead here and now and call your debt with Isneth square." He paused and said, "Your choice, Leroy, die here or die later. Either way, you're a dead man."

Leroy bowed his head, as if in thought, and then exploded into action. He and the Marshal both reached for their weapons, kicking their chairs over in haste. Leroy was quicker. He pulled the birch rod from his belt and shot the Marshal, hitting his shoulder. Though not a mortal wound, the blast tore the Marshal's arm from it's socket.

The Marshal fell back over his chair as Leroy held the rod aloft, levitating the table out of his way. The Marshal's gun slid across the floor, out of his reach. Now he was at Leroy's mercy.

Leroy knew he had the Marshal. He laid his birch rod aside and advanced on his defenseless victim. He would savor this kill, just as he had savored killing the Marshal's wife and son. Leroy removed his coat and unstrapped his .357 Ogre.

The Marshal slid across the floor, away from Leroy. He knew he would die here. He made his peace with that fact a long time ago. He had just hoped he'd be able to take this bastard with him. Leroy continued to advance on him, pulling out his pistol as he did. His weapon of choice, the Ogre, was an unwieldy weapon, clumsy. Leroy handled as if it were a toy. The Marshal continued to back away as the outlaw slowly advanced on him.

Leroy looked down at his wounded prey, savoring the sight of the Marshal bleeding on the floor. He took in the sight a moment longer before saying, "You knew it would end this way Marshal, why'd ya come? I killed your wife and son, and left you with nothin' but a knife wound. You should'a cut yer losses and retired, but no, you got yer'self a death wish," Leroy lifted his pistol and pointed it at the Marshal's heart before continuing, "and I'm more'n happy to oblige 'ya."

The Marshal continued to push himself away from the outlaw, knowing that he couldn't get away, couldn't win, only die. He sent a silent prayer to the gods, asking forgiveness for his sins. Then, as he slid a couple feet farther from the outlaw, he felt his gun behind him. Leroy took notice.

"You think that gun'll save you? Your shootin' arm is tore to hell and back," Leroy said, looking into the Marshal's eyes, enjoying the hatred that poured out of them. "I know everything about you Marshal. There's nothing you can do but lay there and die like a dog."

Leroy started to laugh as the Marshal gripped his pistol and said, "You may know a lot about me Leroy, but I think you missed an important piece of information." The Marshal cocked his gun and said, matter-of-factly, "I'm ambidextrous."

The Marshal swung his pistol around and fired just as Leroy fired on him. The Marshal felt Leroy’s bullet tear through his heart. The pain was too much for his body to take, so his mind blocked it out. He managed to look where Leroy had been standing and saw him lying on the floor, a bullet hole right between the eyes.

The Marshal’s gun clattered to the floor as his strength left him, a dark pool of blood spreading out from his wound. His vision began to blur and in his mind he saw them, his family. The Marshal stretched out his hand, trying to hold on to the image in his mind. The last bit of his strength leaving him, the Marshal whispered, “I’m comin’ Maria, I’m comin.”

j.w.olson
February 11th, 2012, 04:43 PM
I like this one a lot.

There are a few areas where this could be polished (let me know if you want more detailed editing), but I like it. There's obviously no real room to expand this into a longer narrative by adding more at the end, so I assume you would add more at the beginning? Only problem there, is I feel like you've already covered the backstory pretty well. Unless you introduced other characters and other conflict, I don't think pages and pages of a fruitless chase over this same conflict would add much.

I am certainly intrigued by the world. Mithril, magic, and an orcish drink were mentioned -- also halfbreeds. I'm assuming they are half-orcs? It never says. Mixing the LotR world with guns in a western theme is quite fun -- basically, I love the idea of western hybrids.

So, my suggestions at the moment are to polish this one, but keep it about the same length then write more to develop the world. I haven't read the other piece you mentioned though.

If you have any specific questions you want me to answer or want a more in-depth editing, just let me know.

Nevermore
February 11th, 2012, 05:45 PM
I love the perfect blend of fantasy and western, very nicely done. You hit the mood very nicely, pulling the titular Marshal and Outlaw right into the readers mind without waxing to much on description. I'm also thankful that you didn't use the fantasy gerne in such a way as it often is, with stereotypical and over used magic/elves/monsters etc. However, I wouldn't actually see how you could expand this, other than shift the story around so it turns out Leroy wasn't the one who killed the Marshals family, a sort of reluctant allies scenario. I would like ot see how you expand this world.

doghouse reilly
February 11th, 2012, 06:52 PM
I written something similar to this myself, wherein both the protagonist and the antagonist
die at the end. I do think you did a good job, although it's hard in a short short like this to develop characters enough to really care what happens to them. Like the other commentators, I believe it would be a better story if you could expand it, develop the story and the characters.

My suggestion would be to write character biographies for each of your main characters. This will not only give you ideas how to expand the story, but it will help give the characters more depth.

doghouse reilly

Canis
February 11th, 2012, 08:25 PM
I've been thinking about how to turn this story into a longer narrative and I keep coming back to the same idea: flashbacks. For instance, in "The Notebook," Noah tells the story about his younger days in flashbacks. I was thinking I could expand this short story to the point that many flashbacks could tell the rest of the story. A man out for revenge, haunted by the ghosts of his past, seeking an end to his pain. Yay? Nay?

Oh, J.W. I would love to read your full critique. Cheers.

j.w.olson
February 11th, 2012, 09:55 PM
Oh, J.W. I would love to read your full critique. Cheers.

Ah, you say that now. [Note -- I'm going to pick out everything I can to comment on. No offense is meant, just trying to be helpful. Keep in mind, please, that I may be completely lost in my own little world. Disregard anything here that doesn't help you.]

1. Senses. You talk a lot about what happens, but -- as doghouse reilly mentions -- it's hard to care about these guys in such a short story. Writing something longer can help, but bringing the story to life and making me feel like I'm in the story will help just as much if not more. Long stories don't necessarily equal deep characters. One way of making the story feel real is to work in more sensory imagery. Look over your story again: how many senses are represented in it? Sure, you talk about what happens and people getting shot and people talking and stuff, but the visual, tactile, and auditory imagery isn't very strong yet. And, as far as I can tell, there's no olfactory or gustatory imagery. Don't overdo it of course, but the perfectly timed inclusion of certain surprising but logical details will help suck people in to the story.

2. Good characters making bad decisions and bad characters making good decisions. Those are the most interesting things in a story, generally. We expect good guys to do good things and bad guys to do bad things. Times when this gets reversed are interesting. We love the main character who messes up and makes bad decisions, because we yell at him and tell hi, "don't do that!" And when the bad guy isn't 100% bad? That's cool too. Like in your story when Leroy reveals that he knew who the Marshall was the whole time, but hadn't shot him yet. That was surprising and made me think about the character differently. Then, however, he does. I know your MC is the strong and silent lone ranger hero who is great at stuff -- which is why we don't expect him to die. Throwing in a few more times earlier (if you make the story longer) where we get nervous about whether he's in trouble or not might add more tension. Also maybe taking out a few of the "he knew he was going to die here" things that make everything sound predetermined, if not by fate, then by the author, would help.

3. Specifics:

- The Marshal doesn't have a name. This might be okay -- in a short story, we don't want to be overburdened by too many names. However, you don't refer to him as "The Marshal" until the third paragraph -- for some reason he's "the stranger" for the first three. That threw me off.

- You say "The human settlement" in the second sentence, but then NEVER mention what other creatures exist You mention an orcish drink later, and you mention Magi, but I assumed the Magi were humans, and you never actually mention orcs. When I first read this, I assumed that the MC was not a human.

- "10" should be "ten"

- "Little Orin" sounds dwarven to me, which is cool if it's a mining village. I really want there to be actual dwarves here.

- "Mithril." Including this makes me assume that this is set in a LotR setting -- except that it's got guns and an "out west" feel. Which makes the mention of mithril throw me off.

- "3" should be "three"

- "At once, the rumors of thieves and whores sprung to the stranger's mind." -- This sentence sounds weird to me, I think for two reasons. First, you just mentioned thieves and whores a few sentences earlier, so it doesn't seem sudden; I assumed he was already thinking about it. Second, what prompted it? He's been riding towards town for a long time now, and just before he gets there he suddenly, randomly thinks, "Oh yeah, thieves and whores!" Well, what about them? How does he feel about them? As a reader we already know that it can't be just a ghost town, or you wouldn't have mentioned the thieves and whores earlier.

- And then your next sentence mentions them a third time, saying that the place is alive with iniquity. How do you look at a town, in one glance, and realize, "Ah, this city looks like iniquity." Maybe he sees and hears something more specific? (here's a chance to include imagery from one of those other senses.

- "ignored the cries of drunkards and whores." I was assuming this was middday, since it didn't say otherwise. Why are the drunkards and whores crying, and how does he know that's what they are? You're turning them into flat archetypes, and that's less interesting.

- "bandying about ones membership" ... ones = one's

- "Most not old enough to be in their sixth year lay curled asleep in ditches, abandoned by their mothers and fathers." = "Most not old enough to be in their sixth year, they lay curled asleep in ditches, abandoned by their mothers and fathers." Also, though, how does he know that they've been abandoned by their mothers and fathers. And how many are there, anyway? The place sounds right overrun by them. And how does he know (looking at the next sentence) that they roam the streets begging for the smallest scrap of food just to survive? He's been here what, 45 seconds so far?

- How does he know to go to that saloon?

- "The Marshal dismounted, taking note of the armed men outside, as well as just inside, the doors of the saloon." I feel like -- but am not sure if -- that should be written like this: "The Marshal dismounted, taking note of the armed men outside--as well as just inside--the doors of the saloon."

- "20" and "3" should be "twenty" and "three"

- "the mad scramble for the dead man's money pouch and gun" -- I'd like to see this in more detail. What does a mad scramble for such objects look like?

- "Coin on the table first stranger, or the undertaker will have two bodies to box tonight." == "... first, stranger, or..."

- "The two half-breeds faces shown with greed at the sight." = "The two half-breeds' faces shone with greed at the sight." (shown = shone and breeds = breeds')

- "what's to stop us" = "What's to stop us"

- "where you sit rich man" = "where you sit, rich man"

- "In'it tha' right Harry?" .... the first part of that doesn't work for me... I had to read it a few times to understand what it was supposed to say. Also, you need a quotation mark to end that line.

- "Your choice, Leroy, die here or die later." = "Your choice, Leroy: die here or die later."

- "the blast tore the Marshal's arm from it's socket." ... its socket (no apostrophe)

- "Leroy knew he had the Marshal." -- why are we getting things from Leroy's point of view suddenly?

- "He made his peace" = "He had made his peace"

- "Leroy handled as if it were a toy." = "Leroy handled it as if it were a toy."

- "...death wish," Leroy lifted..." = "...death wish." Leroy lifted..."

- Have you seen The Princess Bride? ("There's something you don't know about me: I'm left-handed!")

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All that said, you have a good story. Otherwise I wouldn't have spent so much time on it. Let me know if you have any questions.

Canis
February 12th, 2012, 12:52 PM
Thank you for your in-depth critique Mr. Olson. I am in the process of fixing the grammar and style errors pointed out above, as well as trying to add in more sensory information.

One note however, I used Mithril, rather than silver, gold, iron, etc., to really drive home the point that this story is a Fantasy piece with a western theme. To put it in perspective, imagine LOTR advanced technologically to the point of 18th century America.

In regards to the Stranger/Marshal, I wanted his affiliation with the Marshals to be secondary to his hunt of Leroy. I suppose I wanted any readers to feel that his zeal to catch Leroy was personal rather than professional.

Note: I use LOTR as an easy comparative since most of you are familiar with it. This story, however, is not written with that setting in mind. I'm an avid player of Dungeons and Dragons and this story is set in my own Campaign Setting, or game world. Cheers.