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Daniel Loreand
July 22nd, 2015, 12:21 AM
Hey all, I'm looking for feedback on quite an old short story of mine. Construtive or no I simply want to see how it goes down with people, esecially if its too boring or if its hard to get through. Thanks to anyone who reads it and replies!

Tribute

The scorching heat of the Oracle's desert beat down upon terrifying dunes and great oceans of sand that stretched on for what looked like forever. With the Oracle comes one truth, one promise: all who enter perishes within its vastness. Marg paid no more heed to the sun and its whims then the snappers or crawlers that prowled and hunted under its oppressive gaze. The wind cracked like a whip sending sand and dust to dancing around him. The blistering hot sand beneath his feet curled around bare calloused toes. This was his homeland and all Marg knew. He knew one thing above all others the dangers of the Oracle. It was an untameable land. It did not submit it conquered, it did not provide, it swallowed and it did not

Margs tribe grew up in the shadow of the charred mountains way west and they sometimes traded with other tribes to survive the harshness of the land they called home. He was the last hunter left and the charred mountain tribe was dying a slow and hungry death. Their women grew old and the children few and sickly. Carrick Mo Nar was bitten by a stalker, a big one to hear him tell it. The reptiles were half the size of a man but twice as quick and one bite was all it took. The poison was in him now turning his blood black and his skin to ash. Even if the shamans nursed his wounds Carrick Mo Nar would be useless to the tribe, his fate like so many others is sealed all too swift. To the east far from the mountains lay the strongest tribe known as the Many. They had dominated and unified all the tribes of the east. The west had been left well alone but now was the time for the west to come east. Somehow some way Marg was to barter with the Many. He needed to bring back supplies, women, children and hunters. On his trek through the Oracles never ending vastness Marg had thought long and hard about how he was to do this. His whole tribe looked to him and he did not know what to do. Thinking about it made his head hurt.

I am hunter. Shaman or tribe leader should have gone. They did not choose me, no one else was left.

Marg was last one standing, they had no other choice! It was the same thought that had plagued him since the start. He was the only one fit enough to stand a chance of surviving the journey.

Fit of body not mind Marg reminded himself bitterly. It was what the elder always used to say to him when he did something foolish which was

The elderís chidings were always followed by a swift crack to the legs with that big old staff made of the ancestors she hobbled around with. Marg lost count of the days he had been walking and surviving for. His feet were blooded and blistered and he felt his strength wane with every setting sun. His water skin had ran out two days ago and the Oracle was not a generous host. He had managed to eat as there were snappers and stalkers aplenty but each encounter was closer than the last. He was alone with naught but his rags that covered his manhood. His skin was taught and swarthy, armour to fight off the Oracles blazing orange eye. His arms were thick and muscular and he carried with him his tribeís oldest and deadliest spear.

You may not be good at using your skull hunter Marg but with a spear in hand you have no equal the elder had said when handing him the spear. He still did not know whether she was being kind. Perhaps the kindest she could be.

The spear had been in the tribe longer than even the elder could recall. It was thirteen foot of bleached human bone. A snappers hide held together a sharp and deadly stalkers tooth at the spears tip that made for the blade. The stalker must have been large even larger than the one Carrick Mo Nar encountered for the tooth itself was almost a foot in length. Marg stopped to marvel at the spear. He did that often of late when he didn't know what else to do. They had all called him simple at some point growing up. Some stared and others muttered pitying words but all in the tribe thought it and eventually said it. Sometimes it would take Marg a few days to realise someone had insulted him, decorating the words to make it not seem so. Those were the worst. Marg the simple hunter was not one to rise high, leave that to the likes of Carrick Mo Nar they said. But he was the one with the honoured spear, he was the one tasked to save the tribe.

After orienting himself and trekking for what seemed half a day Marg found himself atop a large peninsula which overlooked the great yellow emptiness below. Towering in the distance lay the eastern sand dunes. Before he could begin to admire the view or take a moments rest the scorching sand beneath Margs feet began to rumble and stir. He rose on its thick hide as the crawler immerged from its slumber, sand trickling down its brown thick body. It felt like the charred mountain hard and tough as rock. He was no good to fight such a beast in his current state. With more instinct than thought he leapt off the crawler and down the sandy cliff tumbling and rolling out of control. The wall of sand curved downward as he fell and before he knew it Marg became engulfed by it. When he screamed sand and earth rushed into his mouth to silence him. He was tumbling and falling out of control. His arms flailed about and the only thing he had control of was the spear he clutched to desperately, his legs seemed to desert him finding very little solidity to work with. Finally he broke free of the sands deathly warm grasp spitting and roaring. When his eyes cleared he found himself gazing up at the peninsula with the eastern dunes waiting behind him in the distance. Marg fell to his knees laughing. He raised his spear high in the air and screamed.

"I'm going to make it! do you hear me my brothers and sisters of the Charred mountain! I'm"

His cry was cut short as the crawler exploded out of the side of the sand behind him. If Marg had moved any slower he'd be in the roundness of the crawlers maw, bones crunched and flesh rip to pieces by thousands of sharp pointed teeth. It's body was a huge writhing blob that dove in and out of the sand like a fish moving amongst water. If the Oracles ocean was indeed its sands then the crawlers were its most vicious and deadly hunters. Lacking eyes or any discernible features apart from their huge body and circular gaping maw they relied on sounds and movement to catch their prey. Marg did not flea for that would be death in the face of a crawler so he stood his ground and lowered his spear with a steady hand. The grotesque beast plunged into the depths of the earth sending sand everywhere. Marg turned slowly looking for the ripples that gave away the beasts location. There was only one true way to kill a crawler and it was one that if not preformed to the utmost perfection and precision would end in the belly of the beast. Margs eyes narrowed and he held his spear tight aware of every sound around him and every movement in sight. It was as if he was seeing the world as it truly is, he loved that feeling. The crawler burst forth exactly where he predicted. Launching backwards Marg tucked his knees in the air and thrust his spear out in a grip of iron. The crawler dived forward curving the entirety of its mass into swallowing Marg whole. The end of the spear tore through into the back of the crawlerís maw, Marg could feel the spear rending flesh as the beasts weight pushed down on the spear but he continued to thrust it forward with all the strength left to him. This crawler was old, old and larger than any Marg had seen or heard of. Any other spear would have snapped under its weight. It writhed for no longer then a couple of seconds before capsizing and sinking into the sand. It took most of his strength to pull the spear free. When Marg summoned the strength to get to his feet he watched the crawlers lifeless form submit to the Oracles sandy embrace and wondered when it would be his turn.

The journey through the eastern dunes was long and perilous. Each of Margs steps were careful and quiet. Stalkers prowled on their elongated legs, razor sharp claws glinting against the harsh rays of light. They scuttled about their tails lashing behind them throughout holes and diligently dug passages. Every now and then they would poke their menacing reptilian heads out to scan the surroundings for anything edible with large bulbous eyes that drank in the light. Marg had no choice but to avoid them and moved cautiously throughout their territory. Stalkers were not to be taken lightly, they were dangerous on their own but a colony could wipe out a whole tribe. When he finally made his way out of stalker territory Marg made out a huge dune in the distance. With his hope and sanity fleeting he made towards it swiftly hoping to find an enlightening view atop it. The climb did not go easy on his legs as they felt like wood ready to crack and splinter at any moment. But he climbed ever further doing his best to ignore the pain and remember all that rested on his broad shoulders.

The pinnacle was narrow and thin with just enough room for him to stand on. Squinting into the distance beads of sweat trickling down his brow, eyes darting back and forth desperate as a starving man is for water to find some hint of the Many. And his eyes found them. It was a large settlement made up of tents and shacks some of which were protected by makeshift walls spread across the desert land like pebbles scattered by an indifferent god. Smoke and fire rose from the settlement. Putting caution aside Marg rushed down the dune tripping and tumbling in the process. He did not care not about falling or that he was half starved of food or water or that his legs felt like to fall apart. He cared only that what he had come all this way for could be ash by the time he arrived. He ran with a fury he never knew he had ran without thinking. His head was beginning to hurt there was too much to think about and worry about.

Life was simple before hunting and eating. Maybe I am simple Marg thought as his legs pumped and his head pounded and his heart raced.

He began to slow down when he neared the settlement. He was panting desperately for air that the hot sun had all but consumed. The smell was the first thing he came into contact with. It was like cooked snapper meat. The simple huts that lay out of the tribes main perimeter were charred husks. Marg was horrified to find corpses scattered about unceremoniously. They had not been tended to in the usual way no pebbles to mark their final resting place, just left to bake and bloat in the throbbing heat. They all looked to have perished in terrible pain. He found nothing else to do but press on with nothing but his growing dread and the recent dead for company. The entrance to the scorched men tribe was where things got worse. The gates they had erected of bone and raw materials had been all but torn down. The burning smell had grown much worse so much that Marg could hardly stand to breath it in. Beyond the entrance the smoke dominated the air blotting out the sun.

The whole tribe had been butchered. Even the sky seemed effected, glowing a dim crimson as if marked by the grim and merciless slaughter. The bodies. There were so many bodies. Some charred others not. Some of the tribe looked to have provided resistance the hunters perhaps but most had ran. Marg knelt over the body of a young girl. She could have been no older than eight. Her clothes were all but torn off and a huge wound from her shoulder had almost cleaved her in half. Marg collapsed and drove his fists into the earth.

The tribe will perish all is lost he thought.

When he heard the footsteps he forced himself to look up certain he was to face an apparition of his ancestors disgraced at his failures. "Are you survivors?!" He asked in a voice hoarse from lack of use and hope.

The two butchers wore strange garb Marg had never come across in any tribe before. Thick and strong looking the tone of rock but lighter and shiner. Their faces were snarling grimaces carved from the same strange material. Their eyes were deep set and empty and their lips stiff and frozen in a battle cry. When they spoke Marg drew to his feet with speed he forgot he had, spear tight in his grasp. He could hear their words but not understand them and when they spoke their mouths did not move. One looked at the other, shrugged and lunged at Marg. A blade appeared from nowhere, an inviting light pulsated from the long slim blade lulling the eyes towards it. But Margs instincts had kicked in. He cared only for the two butchers intent on cutting him open and throwing him as another nameless body on the pile. He thrust out his spear sending one of the strangers reeling backwards snarling like a rabid stalker.

Marg wondered briefly if these things were men or monsters. Before he could breathe the other was on top of him slashing that blade of his with lazy finesse and control as if Marg was just another helpless victim to be slaughtered.

"No not me!" he wailed thrusting his spear at the man.

To Margs dismay the spear tip bounced off the butcher making a pathetically ineffective pinging noise. A rough chuckle came forth from the attacker and he raised his blade high. It was then that Marg noticed it. Near the armpit was a tiny gap that revealed slick tender skin. Before the blade could even be brought down Marg had dived into a front roll and from his knees thrust his spear upwards into the gap. If Marg had ever heard a more satisfying noise he could not remember it as the spear carved its way through the soft very man like skin beneath. He thrust even harder provoking a fit of wails and screams. Looking at the butcher Marg realised there were other gaps near the wrists and at the top of the thigh. When the spear burst forth from out the strangers side the screams stopped. Beginning to feel the weight of the butchers deadness Marg yanked his spear free and poised it outwards in both hands eyes burning at the last one standing.

Men bleed men scream and men die Marg told himself feeling emboldened.

Marg charged forward screaming and bellowing a cry that only comes from a man when he is looking oblivion in the eye. The defendant tried his best to avoid the spear head and even hacked at it one or two times but the blood lust was in Marg now and his speed nor fury could be matched. Marg jumped backwards kicking up sand and dirt in his wake. He let out a low hiss, sweat dripping from his body. It was the man's turn to charge. He held his blade in two hands and made for Margs belly but too late. Marg had side stepped the attack and drove the head of his spear through the back of the manís thigh. There was a bursting sound as the spearhead crunched through muscle and bone and poked its head out of the manís flesh.

Marg wrenched back his spear and the man screamed and fell to his knees. Margs whole body was shaking and pulsating. His breaths were ragged and animalistic. Bits of spittle falling out with each intake of air. He found himself kneeling in front of the man. He was markedly more silent in his dying than the one before. When the stranger made to touch his own face Marg jumped backwards and placed the spearhead at the tip of the butchers throat. He was astonished to see him remove what served as his face, sending it tumbling to the sand. Underneath he was revealed to look like many a tribe member Marg had seen except his skin was of a lighter tone and his features sharper and more pronounced. His jaw was clenched in pain and his eyes shun a bright green whilst the hair atop his head fell to his shoulders the colour of sun touched sand. Marg stepped back a few paces and the man spat up some blood which the sand drank greedily. He could see the butcher was dying. Marg raised his spear to end it.

You refuse to die as pathetically as the others did? It was as if someone had opened a door into Margs mind. The voice echoed throughout his entire being and sent his head to spinning. The voice spoke ethereal, toneless and unrecognisable. the whole sensation sent chills down his spine.

Marg turned to face his addressor and realised he felt faint and weak. Concentrating became hard and even though the voice did not come again Marg somehow knew it was still there in his head filling a gap that was ought to be left empty. The butcher was draped in mighty looking garb. It was as if he was wearing the charred mountain itself. It was the colour of the sun and sent the days rays to dazzle across him. He was a broad shouldered beast of a man who stood nearly eight foot by Margs reckoning and he did not wear a second face like the others. Every inch of his expression was taut and poised as if standing to attention and his pitch black beard was the only thing framing his bald and angular features. In the manís shadow the tribe of the Many perished amidst flames and carnage and at that instant Marg knew this was the man responsible for the destruction of the tribe.

"You understand me?" Marg managed, barley a whisper. The adrenaline was slowly filtering out of his system, being replaced by dread.

Take a good look about. The ashes of this tribe is littered with the corpses of those who spoke out of turn. And those who did not. The butcherís lips did not move but still Marg heard the voice loud and clear throughout his mind. Every word was a blow to his head and Marg could feel his grip on the spear weakening.

"What is this!?" Marg managed helplessly while clutching at his skull.

It felt as if it he was going to break apart at any given moment. He just wanted the voice to be silent. Marg didn't consider himself the perceptive sort but he managed to chalk up that even a crawler would know to stay clear of one such as this. Charred bones cracked and turned to dust beneath the butchers boot scattering away to nothingness on the Oracles winds as he made his approach. Marg's hands tightened around his spear and for the briefest of moments only the whimpering of a dying man and the burning of a great tribe could be heard. Perhaps it was the prospect of impending death that gave Marg the absurd sense of pride that invigorated him. Filling his lungs and drawing himself up straight he roared.

"Marg. Last hunter of the Charred mountain tribe. Chosen to bearer of the great spear and save my dying tribe!" He pounded the hilt of the spear against his chest for effect.

The butcherís eyes were hollow and empty round pits of orange that seemed to burn. Marg held his ground as the butcher loomed over him, meeting his gaze.

Weapons can be taken. Broken. Lost. Margs head spun as the words filled his mind and he felt like tumbling to the warm sand to lie there forever.

The butcher moved with an effortless speed that Marg would not have believed possible for a man his size. He drove his palm into Margs face with one hand and snatched the spear from his grasp like an elder taking a stick from a child with the other. A soul crushing snap resounded as the butcher cracked the spear against his knee shattering it. Marg fell to his knees in despair while clutching at his leaking face. The ancient spear that had been entrusted to him and him alone. The spear that had been with the tribe for generations, gone in an instant.

Stupid, stupid Marg! shouldn't have been trusted! I am stupid they all knew and I didn't. I shouldn't have been given the task or the spear!

The butcher turned his attention from Marg to his dying comrade. He was still alive, breathing heavily and slowly. He returned his gaze to Marg.

His passing will be slow the voice droned in his head.

Sitting there in the dirt with the smell of burnt flesh and fresh blood in his nostrils and his head spinning and screaming it took a moment for Marg to understand. He forced himself to his feet and made his way over to the dying man. He did not struggle as Marg coiled his hands around his neck to choke the last of his life out of him. It took only a couple of moments before the colour in the manís eyes began to trickle out. Even after his passing Marg did not release his grip. He held onto the man's neck like it would save him from whatever fate the butcher planned to dish out.

If your intention remains to save your tribe then you're in luck.

Marg did not understand the butcherís words. This man destroyed tribes not save them. When he turned to face him Margs face must have betrayed his thoughts.

You have the potential to be more than the bearer of a dusty spear. You can deliver your tribe and many more to us. They will serve as tribute to those whose banner I march under. In doing so you will save them.

The mist remained thick in Margs head and the throb continued to pulsate like a beating heart. He did not know of what the butcher spoke but he did know what his options were looking like.

Come with me and my men. Away from the Oracle. No thoughts were betrayed in the butcherís face or none that Marg could make out.

"My tribe." Marg said wistfully.

It didn't take him long to decide and before long the butchers words proved true. To Margs disbelief they ascended on a metal beast that took to the skies and flew like a soaring eagle. That year Marg saw things he would not have even been able to picture in his mindís eye or believe from anyone's stories. Structures broke forth from the ground to touch the skies and great metal beasts flew at speeds even crawlers could not hope to match. Weapons that made spears and daggers look like rocks and sticks blasted foes from great distances with strange bolts of light and shining sticks rendered foes incapacitated to the touch. This was an alien world where men and women wore different clothing every day, each more extravagant and varied than the last and where nothing seemed to be born of necessity. When Marg first laid eyes on the wonders he thought his mind was going to melt or he was going to wake from the some night vision. But where he was being taken there was little time to dawdle dream or hope.

The butcher led his men west across the great dunes and sands stopping only to slaughter. He did not need as much armour as the rest of his men, leaving gaps in the mesh and refusing to wear the cumbersome helmet. The holo targeting undoubtedly improved ones aim with a blaster but he liked to feel the heat on his face. It was one of the reasons he had been saved and trained as a commander. He knew the land and would drive the Oracle campaign to a swifter conclusion. They had made a mockery of the tribes resistance. The past year had spread word amongst the nomads and what happened to those who put up a fight. Most were wise and submitted as tribute to be flown back to the cities on manta rays and lifters. He could have flown more of the hovercrafts in to transport his men across the Oracle but the butcher felt the harsh conditions would harden his men. The east had fallen but the campaign was not over yet.

It wasn't long before they came across the tribe they had been looking for. He remembered well where they made their home, beneath the shadow of a great red mountain. A lifetime ago it was all he had known. If the tribe noticed their arrival they made no show of it. Most sat slumped on the ground staring into the distance, likely thinking their saviours to be more apparitions born of starvation and thirst. The Butcher was insulted. They did not even remember him. With his mask off and face bare to them they failed to recognise him, him! The one they had trusted the one they had bet all their hopes on, the one who would now deliver them as tribute. He had thought about this moment for a long time. Through the never ending questions and torture, the months admits darkness where light became a stranger and an enemy. But after when he left the dark behind and submitted he was born anew, something so much more than a simple hunter.

He wanted to scream at them make them see what he'd been moulded into and see if they dared called him stupid and mock him now. But to look upon them now that would be like screaming to the dead. The round eyed children were bloated in the belly and dying. The elders had all but perished while the men were thin and weak. They were barley fit for tribute but some would be put to good use. Nothing was wasted back in the frontier and slave cities. The butcher called in a manta ray to pick up those who had a flicker of potential. As predicted they offered no sport so the stun blades were not necessary - but that didn't stop some of the men from having their fun. The Butcher allowed them that. The rest were left to their fate. Food for the carrion and the crawlers the butcher thought disgusted. The butcher moved his men on shortly after. He knew there were more tribes further west. They would not prove to be such disappointments, they would provide strong and healthy tribute.

bdcharles
July 22nd, 2015, 01:44 AM
Hi,

I think this is an interesting story, what with the desert tribesman being whisked off to what is ostensibly our own modern world. I would say it is in the early-draft stages (depending what you want to do with it of course) and that the grammar, writing style and general presentation needs a fair whack of tidying up. It would be good to see Marg's trans-Oracle jaunt in more detail, laden with tribulation&woe. Be mindful of common pitfalls like telling versus showing eg:

Marg was horrified to find corpses scattered about unceremoniously.

Show us his reaction. Maybe he stops and surveys the scene, lips moving wordlessly in prayer. Show us the unceremoniousness with which the corpses have been cast into the sand like used bags of feed. Just some examples to kick off ideas.

Also think about excessive expostion, or infodumping, particularly at the start, which can make it hard to follow and get into. It's fine line between world building convincingly and just drowning the reader in arcane texts. That whole bit about Carrick Mo Nar can probably be condensed into one throwaway thought - "Carrick Mo Nar was bitten by a stalker, a big one to hear him tell it, and the poison in him was turning his blood to black and his skin to ash." would probably suffice.



Some great sentences and bits of dialogue though. Vivid and otherworldly.

AtleanWordsmith
July 22nd, 2015, 04:01 AM
Not bad at all. The only real changes I saw that I'd make were more grammar and formatting issues than anything else, so you're well on the right track. I'll let someone more qualified to handle grammar step in for those bits, though.

You'll need something to separate Marg's inner dialogue from the rest of the narrative, but italics or commas should be good enough there. Overall, I like the tone, and I feel that I could get into this if there were more to read. I'm looking forward to seeing more of your work, so keep on trucking!

Daniel Loreand
July 22nd, 2015, 02:19 PM
Hi,

I think this is an interesting story, what with the desert tribesman being whisked off to what is ostensibly our own modern world. I would say it is in the early-draft stages (depending what you want to do with it of course) and that the grammar, writing style and general presentation needs a fair whack of tidying up. It would be good to see Marg's trans-Oracle jaunt in more detail, laden with tribulation&woe. Be mindful of common pitfalls like telling versus showing eg:

Marg was horrified to find corpses scattered about unceremoniously.

Show us his reaction. Maybe he stops and surveys the scene, lips moving wordlessly in prayer. Show us the unceremoniousness with which the corpses have been cast into the sand like used bags of feed. Just some examples to kick off ideas.

Also think about excessive expostion, or infodumping, particularly at the start, which can make it hard to follow and get into. It's fine line between world building convincingly and just drowning the reader in arcane texts. That whole bit about Carrick Mo Nar can probably be condensed into one throwaway thought - "Carrick Mo Nar was bitten by a stalker, a big one to hear him tell it, and the poison in him was turning his blood to black and his skin to ash." would probably suffice.

Some great sentences and bits of dialogue though. Vivid and otherworldly.

Ahhhh this is why I love this forum, you guys bring to surface things I could never see on my own! I totally get what your saying and I'll work right away on a new draft - trimming down the unessential and distracting. I also can't beleive I fell into the pit fall of telling and not showing! cardinal sin.

The whole purpose of the story was to simply be a practice short story and a foray into Sci FI as I had, up until that point only written in the (high) fantasy genre. So this story was meant to be short and sort of me dipping my toes into the genre. Sort of the same I did with my other short story 'Life as a Dogman' that I uploaded here (which I Will be uploading a revised draft soon - thanks to the fantastic and invaluable feedback I received for it!)

Grammar is my biggest enemy and something I really, really need to work on so I'll give that a look over as well!

Thanks for the reply though Charles I really appreciate you taking the time to read through and give some feedback on my work, its a serious help - I know what sort of direction I need to be heading in regards to improving this story now.




Not bad at all. The only real changes I saw that I'd make were more grammar and formatting issues than anything else, so you're well on the right track. I'll let someone more qualified to handle grammar step in for those bits, though.

You'll need something to separate Marg's inner dialogue from the rest of the narrative, but italics or commas should be good enough there. Overall, I like the tone, and I feel that I could get into this if there were more to read. I'm looking forward to seeing more of your work, so keep on trucking!

Hey Wordsmith thanks for the reply. Yeah grammar is my biggest enemy - something I really need to work on. I don't think I'll ever expand on this story as its purpose was simply me writing within the sci fi genre for the sake of broadening my horizons since I'd only ever written high fantasy before.

bdcharles
July 22nd, 2015, 02:38 PM
I also can't beleive I fell into the pit fall of telling and not showing! cardinal sin.


Mmm it's not that much of a sin, I don't think. It's just a matter of doing the right one at the right time. If you wanted to cover alot of clock time, you might say something like: "Ten years passed, and they were not kind to that fair land, though the people bore them." That is where tell works better than show, because otherwise you'd have a blow by blow account of stuff that may bare scant relevance to your plot. Show the things that are centre-staged at that moment, tell about the ones that can whisk by in the background. In the above example, you could probably give us more, to help us get in the moment more. But the bit about Carrick Mo Nar can be "told" because we wouldn't want to have to whip back to that event when we'd just started our traipse over the Oracle. It's already being related to the MC anyway, so we can digest it as a piece of history.