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A FUNERAL FOR VIRTUE PART I (1600 WORDS, DARK FANTASY, LANGUAGE, ADULT THEMES) (1 Viewer)

MizzouRam

Senior Member
Hello all,
The following is an excerpt from a monstrous novella I wrote a few months back. This, the opening chapter, is probably my least favorite of the piece, but I still feel it is an appropriate launch point for my character driven story, which is ultimately about how we change our moral standards according to the circumstances we are in and the ends we wish to meet.

Of course, your thoughts are appreciated. If you do read this I ask that you answer the two following questions.

1) Do you feel compelled to read the next chapter?
2) Which character, if any, do you find the most interesting?


I hope you enjoy reading it :).
A Funeral for Virtue
Part I


Even in the mid-day sun, the woods of the orcish forest cast a dark green shade. The trees looked ancient, their branches twisted by the ages.

Kela’s mouth was coated with sand, dry as it had ever been, and getting dryer by the second.

What I won’t do for a flagon of water,
he thought, flicking the sweat from his bark brown brow.

His dwarven guide said they were close; said they were within a day’s walk of the Ker Van Kon, the only fresh water stream for days. Kela didn’t know if he was telling the truth or not, but he had no other choice in the matter. He was out of his environment here, a borough rat of the white city of Valorum, the rolling hills of the countryside were alien to him, much less the monstrous trees of the Orcwood.

Kela knew even less of the dwarf that called himself Gesh. His notion of the Golden Mountain dweller was always the horn helmed berserker he had read about in the histories. But this one was dressed in stained linens from the Isles of Cora, his fine Materantheen boots were scuffed and caked in dirt, and he wore his thick beard in tight, single rope bread, the knot at the end beating against his broad stomach with each step

“How do you keep from getting lost” asked Kela, a blister on his heel screaming with each step.

“There are a few traders’ trails in this wood that I am familiar with, having had some dealings here in the past. If my memory serves me true, and it usually does, this will take us within sight of ancient Shyra Tree of Turik.”

“And if your memory serves you false?”

“Well, let’s just say if I am wrong, hopefully our death is a quick one. Death by thirst is a terrible way to go. Worry not, boyo. My pa was a cave tracker of the Golden Mountain. A sense of direction is in my blood. You escaped into parts unknown with the right.

That didn’t settle Kela’s nerves. “And you are going to be able to tell this Shyra tree apart from the rest.”

“Believe me, boyo, you will too. You will too.”

He may not look like a berserker, but he can no doubt kill like one.
He would never forget the look on the man’s face as Gesh jabbed his dagger into his stomach, or the sounds he made as the steel pierced him.

When they turned a sharp bend in the beaten trail they came upon abandoned liter in the shade. A decrepit barrel wagon stood stranded in the brush, vines weaving through its cracked wooden planks like long green snakes. Weeds peaked through the undercarriage and one of the rear wheels had toppled over in a heap of rotten oak.

Another wagon was stranded behind it, this one with the tattered remnants of a hood barely covering the oddly colored dark wood floor.

“Ambush” Gesh said drawing the plain steel dagger from his belt.

A small skull had been impaled on one of the low hanging branched overlooking the trail. Course hair flowed down into a pony tail, a style similar to many common-born girls of Valorum. She couldn’t have been no more than 4 or 5 according to Gesh’s speculation, probably the daughter of some merchant who was looking to cut a day off of whatever journey he embarked upon, and the only thing that ended up being cut was his family.

Finding the site properly pillaged and absent of anything of use, Kela continued following the dwarf with a clear message delivered to his mind. Men were not meant to tread here.
He knew that when they fled into these woods. He had heard all the tales of man eating trolls, goblins, and savage orcs patrolling this deep darkness for hundreds of years. He and Gesh fled into the woods to escape the Lost Legion, a company of renegade legionnaires who ransacked his convoy while on route to the Hot Rocks. After looking into the hollow holes that had once been the eyes of a child, he had to wonder whether or not that was a smart choice.

“Come, boyo. We must not stay in one place for a long time, lest you want our heads to decorate these trees too.”
As they walked off, leaving the ruin of the merchant’s liter behind them, a thought sent white prickles up the back of Kela ebony neck. It was the feeling on something watching, as if the trees, shrubs, hills, and ditches all had were glaring at them from invisible eyes. He had felt it all day but, he didn’t realize until then.

Paranoia,
he thought to himself, being ever so careful not to let the dwarf see his fear. The smallest details became amplified. A bush shaking for no reason; the distant caterwauling of an animal, the rustle of the leaves high above, all conspired against Kela to keep his anxieties piqued.

Towering Orcwoods surrounded him on all sides and each tree seemed to be bigger and more imposing than the one before. He had never seen anything quite like them. Their massive trunks shot out of the ground, branchless, sometimes as high as 50 feet, until they exploded into a plume bright green leaves that waved at the setting sun in the cool autumn breeze.
It had been two and a half weeks since he had been shipped off to the mines of the Hot Rocks, a prisoner due to his own arrogance. He missed the beautiful white marble and the feel of sturdy cobblestone under his sandaled feet. After two days on the run, he was beginning to wonder if he feared the savage unknown of the forest more than the noose on top of Hell’s Hill. But he
couldn’t let the dwarf see that. No, he couldn’t let the dwarf see anything.

As they walked in the silence of the forest, Kela’s mind wandered, mostly back to the home he had fled. He thought about the taste of hot bread from Preeto’s bakery in the Low Borough or the time he and Remmy Toohill stole Hadley’s ten gold sovereigns only to give it back to him when they bought his largest pig. They eat like kings that night, kings of the gutter. Kings of the Low Borough.

But mostly he thought about Mirana. About how her eyes could capture and hold. His loins stirred as he recalled the last time they had made love. It was deep and passionate and pure. Then a stubbed toe on a rock jerked him back into his green nightmare.

“We are close, boyo! Can you see it?”

“See what?”

“Come” Gesh rushed off the trail onto a clear spot on the hillside and pointed toward the eastern sky.

In the distance, a single, massive brown tree shot out of the forest skyline and stood tall over all the foliage of the forest like a mammoth wooden giant looking over his green kin. It dwarfed its brethren by what had to be 10 to 15 lengths and the shade it cast covered the entire mountain in its wake from foot to peak.

“Sweet Senya’s cunt, is that a tree?”

“Not just any tree, boyo. That is a Shyra tree.”

The colossal wonderment of the site paralyzed Kela. He had never seen something so big. Its bark was a beep brown hue that covered every inch of the trunk until it reached the six arms the shot out of its top on all sides. Leafs the size of ox carts blocked out the sun like great green awnings. Kela tried to talk but the awe clogged his throat.

“You should consider yourself lucky. Few men can say that they’ve laid eyes on the sacred Shyra tree of Turik.”

“There’s more than one?”

“Aye. Five I believe, even though I think one died during the Reeving. The orcs worship them. But the most sacred one lays deep in the darkest part of the wood, the one they so no man and few orcs has ever looked upon. They say its roots run deep in the ground, and touch every Orcwood in the land. Legend has it, the Orc general Jegerok made a deal with the gods to atone for his sins of war. Jegerok wanted a place for his refugee people live without fear of reprisal from his enemies. In return, he offered his soul all the military genius that came with it. The gods agreed. So they drove his body deep into the earth. From there sprouted the Shyra trees and the forest around them. They say Jegorek’s spirit built this forest to be impenetrable by any host. Its terrain so rugged and merciless, that no army can lay siege to it. That was thousands of years ago.”

“Do you believe it?”

“I believe what mine eyes tell me boyo, and right now they tell me our throats needn’t go parched much longer. Our creek lies in that valley. There we will find our drink and gods willing, a night’s peace.”
Gesh started to walk down the steep hillside toward the valley.

“And if the gods are not willing, let’s hope that dagger is” Kela said to himself, sighing deeply.

A high sharp hiss echoed from the trees behind Kela. Fear stricken, his head whipped around on his shoulders. Nothing. Only tree quite hush of a forest and a lone tree branch slowly waving back at him in the wind. When Kela began to feel the eyes of the forest gaze on him again, he turned and sprinted hard to catch up to the dwarf.

 
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WechtleinUns

Senior Member
I don't feel compelled, per se. As for the various characters that I found the most interesting, well... neither of the two seemed particularly interesting to me. At least not yet. But let me explain my thoughts as I began reading this.

We started by following a character named kela and his dwarf guide gesh, moving through some sort of forest/landscape. That's about all I can really say for the environment. I know that there are trees, and that there was a ransacked wagon and a skull on a spike. And that there is a really big tree, known as a shyra tree, which is really big, and really brown.

There's nothing super detailed or descriptive about your opening paragraphs. Further, it doesn't really seem like these two are going to die of thirst. Usually, when someone is dying of thirst, they are much more manic and, how should I say... insane, than these two are.

So, we follow these two, who are looking for a shyra tree. And lo and behold! They find it. Then there's a sharp hiss, and the chapter comes to an end.

But why are these two in this place at all? Why are they looking for a tree that is worshipped by orcs? (Although it's a very nice touch, having tree-worshipping orcs, I think. ;) )

Further, you never really explain how finding this shyra tree will quench their thirst. Wouldn't they be better off looking for a stream? You've said that this is the first chapter of your monstrous novella, so I know that there's some kind of real story here.

But this chapter doesn't compell me to find out. The reason is that nothing very interesting happens in it. Sorry, but I hope this helps. :D
 

MizzouRam

Senior Member
Appreciate the critique. Here's your answer about the Shyra tree/creek relationship.

"His dwarven guide said they were close; said they were within a day’s walk of the Ker Van Kon, the only fresh water stream for days."

“I believe what mine eyes tell me boyo, and right now they tell me our throats needn’t go parched much longer. Our creek lies in that valley. There we will find our drink and gods willing, a night’s peace.”

I wrote this as a character driven piece, though, so the plot points are really a secondary concern. The real story is in these characters and how they are reacting to the environment, situation, and each other. I wanted this chapter to establish the two characters and their personalities, especially Kela, who is in a dangerous and strange place. Other than that, you're right, there is no turmoil, internal or external.

Suggestions on how to improve?
 

ShadowEyes

WF Veterans
Even in the mid-day sun, the woods of the orcish forest cast a dark green shade. The trees looked ancient, their branches twisted by the ages.

"The woods of the ... forest" seems redundant. It also suffers from "dark green shade" being difficult to imagine. The closest I can come up with is dark green leaves and black shadows. In which case, you may have to say something like that, if that's what you mean.

Kela’s mouth was coated with sand, dry as it had ever been, and getting dryer by the second.

What I won’t do for a flagon of water, he thought, flicking the sweat from his bark brown brow.

"Bark brown brow" kind of throws me out of the story. Alliteration is good for poetry. Disrupts my reading, however. Also, don't you say that he is ebony below?

His dwarven guide said they were close; said they were within a day’s walk of the Ker Van Kon, the only fresh water stream for days. Kela didn’t know if he was telling the truth or not, but he had no other choice in the matter. He was out of his environment here, a borough rat of the white city of Valorum, the rolling hills of the countryside were alien to him, much less the monstrous trees of the Orcwood.

Hmm, name-dropping adds realism, which I like a lot. I think I would like it more if you described the necessary information for the situation being sketchy or unlikely, rather than saying, "I don't know if he's telling the truth or not." What are the conditions of the cooperation. Once I know that, I can determine on my own if I think it's unfavorable. However, I do like the character background, too.

Kela knew even less of the dwarf that called himself Gesh. Is this why he fears him? His notion of the Golden Mountain dweller was always the horn helmed berserker he had read about in the histories. But this one was dressed in stained linens from the Isles of Cora, his fine Materantheen boots were scuffed and caked in dirt, and he wore his thick beard in tight, single rope bread, the knot at the end beating against his broad stomach with each step

I like the description. It's all the prominent clothing features, nothing of the face besides the beard. I like being able to imagine the face myself, which I already have.

“How do you keep from getting lost” asked Kela, a blister on his heel screaming with each step.

“There are a few traders’ trails in this wood that I am familiar with, having had some dealings here in the past. Seems redundant. If my memory serves me true, and it usually does, this will take us within sight of ancient Shyra Tree of Turik.”

“And if your memory serves you false?”

“Well, let’s just say if I am wrong, hopefully our death is a quick one. Death by thirst is a terrible way to go. Worry not, boyo. My pa was a cave tracker of the Golden Mountain. A sense of direction is in my blood. You escaped into parts unknown with the right.

I'm just wondering... If it's a lush forest and the trees are green, why is thirst an issue? I would think it would have rained recently...?

The cave tracker intrigues me the most, simply because I know that people who are born in caves gain a very distinct sense of direction. Even the ability to tell cardinal directions.

I'm not sure what the last sentence means, "You escaped..."

Suggestion for conflict... Since the forest is obviously magical, why not make it a threat, since the characters are already facing "nature" as a conflict (thirst)? Maybe make it sapient?

That didn’t settle Kela’s nerves. “And you are going to be able to tell this Shyra tree apart from the rest.”

Dialogue tags might help, especially this early on, for remembering names.

“Believe me, boyo, you will too. You will too.”

He may not look like a berserker, but he can no doubt kill like one. He would never forget the look on the man’s face as Gesh jabbed his dagger into his stomach, or the sounds he made as the steel pierced him.

When they turned a sharp bend in the beaten trail they came upon abandoned liter in the shade. A decrepit barrel wagon stood stranded in the brush, vines weaving through its cracked wooden planks like long green snakes. Weeds peaked through the undercarriage and one of the rear wheels had toppled over in a heap of rotten oak.

Another wagon was stranded behind it, this one with the tattered remnants of a hood barely covering the oddly colored dark wood floor.

“Ambush” Gesh said drawing the plain steel dagger from his belt.

A small skull had been impaled on one of the low hanging branched overlooking the trail. Course hair flowed down into a pony tail, a style similar to many common-born girls of Valorum. She couldn’t have been no more than 4 or 5 according to Gesh’s speculation, probably the daughter of some merchant who was looking to cut a day off of whatever journey he embarked upon, and the only thing that ended up being cut was his family.

Now this is a human girl, correct?

If this area is a contested warzone between humans and orcs, then why would a random merchant think it is a good spot to cut past, especially with a river?

"His convoy" So... He can't trust the dwarf even though they were travelling together to start with?

Finding the site properly pillaged and absent of anything of use, Kela continued following the dwarf with a clear message delivered to his mind. Men were not meant to tread here.

He knew that when they fled into these woods. He had heard all the tales of man eating trolls, goblins, and savage orcs patrolling this deep darkness for hundreds of years. He and Gesh fled into the woods to escape the Lost Legion, a company of renegade legionnaires who ransacked his convoy while on route to the Hot Rocks. After looking into the hollow holes that had once been the eyes of a child, he had to wonder whether or not that was a smart choice.
“Come, boyo. We must not stay in one place for a long time, lest you want our heads to decorate these trees too.”

As they walked off, leaving the ruin of the merchant’s liter behind them, a thought sent white prickles up the back of Kela ebony neck. It was the feeling on something watching, as if the trees, shrubs, hills, and ditches all had were glaring at them from invisible eyes. He had felt it all day but, he didn’t realize until then.

The feeling of being watched is a bit cliche. Cannot you describe it with more attribution to what his presumptions about it are or what his bodily reactions are or why he recognized it now?

Paranoia, he thought to himself, being ever so careful not to let the dwarf see his fear. How was he careful? I think you can cut saying, "Paranoia." You have to trust the reader a bit. The smallest details became amplified. A bush shaking for no reason; the distant caterwauling of an animal, the rustle of the leaves high above, all conspired against Kela to keep his anxieties piqued.

Towering Orcwoods surrounded him on all sides and each tree seemed to be bigger and more imposing than the one before. He had never seen anything quite like them. Their massive trunks shot out of the ground, branchless, sometimes as high as 50 feet, until they exploded into a plume bright green leaves that waved at the setting sun in the cool autumn breeze.

Perhaps these trees are what caused a bend in the road? Otherwise, the space between them would probably cause them to see a great distance. I'm assuming a large, airy space with light brush because of the huge root systems...

It had been two and a half weeks since he had been shipped off to the mines of the Hot Rocks, a prisoner due to his own arrogance. He missed the beautiful white marble and the feel of sturdy cobblestone under his sandaled feet. After two days on the run, he was beginning to wonder if he feared the savage unknown of the forest more than the noose on top of Hell’s Hill. But he couldn’t let the dwarf see that. No, he couldn’t let the dwarf see anything.

"After two days on the run..." I would have loved to know this information at the beginning of the piece.

As they walked in the silence of the forest, Kela’s mind wandered, mostly back to the home he had fled. He thought about the taste of hot bread from Preeto’s bakery in the Low Borough or the time he and Remmy Toohill stole Hadley’s ten gold sovereigns only to give it back to him when they bought his largest pig. They eat like kings that night, kings of the gutter. Kings of the Low Borough.

I liked this paragraph the most. It's more interesting scenery and backstory than the forest or the slave thing. Mostly because I'm interested in who he was, not who he is forced to be.

But mostly he thought about Mirana. About how her eyes could capture and hold. His loins stirred as he recalled the last time they had made love. It was deep and passionate and pure. Then a stubbed toe on a rock jerked him back into his green nightmare.

"Green nightmare." A bit heavy-handed. Also the love bit seemed unnecessary. As a reader, I'm not ready to emotionally commit to that kind of romance, so it's a little melodramatic.

“We are close, boyo! Can you see it?”

“See what?”

“Come” Gesh rushed off the trail onto a clear spot on the hillside and pointed toward the eastern sky.

In the distance, a single, massive brown tree shot out of the forest skyline and stood tall over all the foliage of the forest like a mammoth wooden giant looking over his green kin. It dwarfed its brethren by what had to be 10 to 15 lengths and the shade it cast covered the entire mountain in its wake from foot to peak.
“Sweet Senya’s cunt, is that a tree?”

“Not just any tree, boyo. That is a Shyra tree.”

The colossal wonderment of the site paralyzed Kela. He had never seen something so big. Its bark was a beep brown hue that covered every inch of the trunk until it reached the six arms the shot out of its top on all sides. Leafs the size of ox carts blocked out the sun like great green awnings. Kela tried to talk but the awe clogged his throat.

“You should consider yourself lucky. Few men can say that they’ve laid eyes on the sacred Shyra tree of Turik.”

“There’s more than one?” Didn't use the plural in the last sentence.

“Aye. Five I believe, even though I think one died during the Reeving. The orcs worship them. But the most sacred one lays deep in the darkest part of the wood, the one they so no man and few orcs has ever looked upon. They say its roots run deep in the ground, and touch every Orcwood in the land. Legend has it, the Orc general Jegerok made a deal with the gods to atone for his sins of war. Jegerok wanted a place for his refugee people live without fear of reprisal from his enemies. In return, he offered his soul all the military genius that came with it. The gods agreed. So they drove his body deep into the earth. From there sprouted the Shyra trees and the forest around them. They say Jegorek’s spirit built this forest to be impenetrable by any host. Its terrain so rugged and merciless, that no army can lay siege to it. That was thousands of years ago.”

That was a bit of an unnecessary info dump. And if you have a ton of those, I'm not sure that I'll continue reading.

“Do you believe it?”

“I believe what mine eyes tell me boyo, and right now they tell me our throats needn’t go parched much longer. Our creek lies in that valley. There we will find our drink and gods willing, a night’s peace.”

Gesh started to walk down the steep hillside toward the valley.

“And if the gods are not willing, let’s hope that dagger is” Kela said to himself, sighing deeply.

A high sharp hiss echoed from the trees behind Kela. Fear stricken, his head whipped around on his shoulders. Nothing. Only tree quite hush of a forest and a lone tree branch slowly waving back at him in the wind. When Kela began to feel the eyes of the forest gaze on him again, he turned and sprinted hard to catch up to the dwarf.

However, I do think it is good writing. Much better than a lot of people's, actually. It's direct, descriptive, fantastic, and starts strong. It ends a little weak, though, because I'm not sure where they're going or why. I'm also not sure what the threats are... trolls, humans (legionnaires), other orcs (it is their wood after all)? The dwarf is a little too nice for his own sake. I think he should be recognizably meaner in some sense to merit Kela's fear. Anyway, I hope you continue writing it.

Addendum: I read the entire thing thinking Kela was an orc. Also, also, Kela kind of sounds like a girl's name, no? :)
 
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MizzouRam

Senior Member
Wow, ShadowEyes.

Thank you so much for your time and effort in your post.

You actually articulated some of the problems I saw in the piece but could never quite put my finger on. You now when you get that feeling that something feels wrong but you have no idea why?

I'll keep your insights in mind when I polish this again.
 

ShadowEyes

WF Veterans
You're welcome, of course. I had fun reading it so...

I think you need to work on the characters the most because that's what you're most interested in. Once you have solid characters you could do an episodic quest structure like The Hobbit. Hero's Journey. You could pretty much just throw whatever at them as you write and edit it out afterwards.

Given, I don't know how you like to write. Personally, I found it best, for me, to stream-of-conscience it. I write a little every day to keep characters fresh. This begs the question: You're writing more, right? If you do, maybe you don't need to rewrite. Whatever works.

Thanks for letting me read it.
 

jakegenebarnes

Senior Member
The learning curve is a bit steep. Maybe introduce your world gradually. Describe the world when it benefits the story. Tie your world building into the plot and character interaction.
 

ak2190

Senior Member
Two quick points: the alliteration in "bark ...b...b" is intrusive and throws the reader off. "Coarse" is spelled wrong.
 

MizzouRam

Senior Member
The learning curve is a bit steep. Maybe introduce your world gradually. Describe the world when it benefits the story. Tie your world building into the plot and character interaction.
That's a slippery slope because it's hard illustrate what the characters take for granted and what they don't. It's like having a character that lives under water describe something as "damp". It's not something the character would notice because it is always a part of it's environment.

In this story, though, the environment is completely foreign to the main character, thus there are a lot of things that gain his attention.
 

mmuscarnera

Senior Member
You may want to add or change some things to make this world unique. Compell me to read further. My idea on fantasy is a world where even objects such as the Orcwood would interest me. What is an Orcish tree? Do the branches hang at splintered limbs, threatening to cut throats of those who are no cautious? With names such as "Lost Legion" and "Mirana" I feel as if I am reading a Warcraft story since both of those are directly from Warcraft. The Legion even being the "bad guys" and mirana being a "good guy", to put it simplistically.
 

Clepto

Senior Member
I would be interested to read more, but honestly not much more. The characters fall flat for me and at times I mixed them up until a name was used or the dwarf said 'boyo.' Use something to delineate your characters a bit more and make them special.
 

Gold Bearer

Senior Member
Yes I'm going to read the others. :) Don't know anywhere near enough about those two to say whether I like them or not.

Kela ebony neck should be Kela's ebony neck.

There's a stay return key in there: he
couldn’t let the dwarf see that. No, he couldn’t let the dwarf see anything.

'beep brown hue' Deep brown hue.

'Jegerok wanted a place for his refugee people live' To live.

'In return, he offered his soul all the military genius that came with it.' And all the military genius that came with it.

'Its terrain so rugged and merciless, that no army can lay siege to it.' I don't think that comma should be there.
 
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