To understand what we're doing here check out Chapter Critique Corner.
To reiterate a key point - this process depends on audience participation. I'm just hosting, not taking part in the critique.
This one is a prologue but I myself judge those by all the same metrics as a chapter 1. If you expect someone to read it and keep reading then it has to entertain and hook.
You can offer your thoughts in the comments - these are moderated and I will pass "tough love" but not anything that I feel crosses the line into meanness or mockery. So, rather than waste your efforts, do bear in mind that the object of the exercise here is to help. That said, robust critiques are encouraged and I guess we will just have to find our level as we go.
You can also email critiques to me and I will see if they can be transferred to the blog post in a way that preserves their editing markups.
The South of the Dreur Woods crawled with men drunk on bloodlust. Thousands of feet scuffled, jumped, and pushed in the muddied snow. Spell-bound and screaming, lusty and raucous, the humans entranced by the Shadow Woman danced and reached. The throng pressed, arms and limbs swinging, eyes too wide, mouths open with screams of worship and pleas of desire.
Between stark trees the unclean swarmed and massed, filling the North of the woods. Pale limbs and staggering bodies bumped shoulders, lips silent as death. Dead and rotting, staunch with post-mortem rigour, stiff and animated in jerked spouts of movement, they stammered and waited for the commands of the only voice they would ever heed again.
Blood poured in rivers from an altar of solid grey stone at the heart of the Dreur Woods. The snow was stained red with the blood of countless people. There was blood on the trees where dead hands smeared against them. There was blood on the feet of the enchanted men and women who trampled the weak in their earnest straining toward the Shadow Woman.
At the head of the altar she stood, glorious hair whipping in winter winds, garbed in a tattered black dress. The crowd cried out to her hungrily. At her feet knelt a pale man with hair the colour of sand, begging and stammering, fists clutched before him as if in prayer. She sneered at him and her hair danced in the wind.
A young girl squirmed in the Shadow Woman’s grasp, her hair also the colour of sand. With her one fist in the girl’s sandy hair, the Shadow Woman lifted the girl’s head and exposed her gullet to the roaring crowd. She slit through the girl’s throat, and the girl’s body convulsed and collapsed. Her blood joined the river, and her soulless eyes opened. Taking her dead sister’s hand, she walked into the mass of black eyed corpses.
The throng of lifeless bodies welcomed her, swallowed her, and the crowd of star struck onlookers roared its approval. Men and women vied to be next, argued, stretched desperate hands to the Shadow Woman’s feet. The Shadow Woman’s laughter rang through the murky woods, and she grabbed the sandy-haired man by the nape of his burnous.
‘Did you think this was the end, Rishtai?’ she whispered into his pained face.
The pale man’s muscles bunched and strained against her grip, but in his eyes there was love and loss, there was the ache of betrayal and the hopelessness that comes when a child dies. His tears had long dried up, but sobs wrenched his struggling body.
‘Please,’ he begged.
The Shadow Woman’s dark eyes swirled. Pleasure tipped up the corners of her perfect mouth, and she kissed him long and deep. Black inked over his blue eyes and his pleas turned into awe-filled cries of worship.
Blood smeared, he grabbed the dagger from the Shadow Woman’s hands. At random he grasped the outstretched hand of a desperate man and pulled him onto the altar. The man threw his fist triumphantly into the air and screamed, but his scream bubbled to a stop when the sandy haired man slit his throat, to the crowd’s raging approval. He smiled at the Shadow Woman and she laughed and laughed.
Behind the Shadow Woman three bodies lay strewn in the red snow, three who seemed lifeless at first, but if one looked closer, the truth became clear. Nobody looked closer. Not now, not yet.
The first was a man whose long blonde hair sprawled about his chiselled face, unmoving but for his grey eyes. With an earnest gleam to those eyes, he watched the Shadow Woman. Watched and longed.
Beside him lay a woman without colour, white as snow, black as night, the colour of rainbows or the sun or the shadows. Her closed eyes did not move, but she held the man’s hand with her legs splayed, like one who had fallen from a great height. The third man lay with his eyes pinched shut. A brown hood covered his face and he held both hands to his chest like a man in a coffin.
No breath moved their chests, no blood pinked their cheeks. In a forest filled to the brim with the dead and dying, these three stood out against the crimson snow, but not a one batted an eye or puffed a breath.
A cloud of darkness hovered over the Dreur Woods.
The Shadow Woman shouted and the cloud spread out of the Dreur Woods towards Aysgarth with finger-like tendrils that reach and searched. It overcame the farmlands slowly, methodically. Like toxic vapour with the mind of a man, it swallowed farmsteads and fields, horses and cows, carefully searching for human hearts and minds to turn.
A tendril dug into a farmer’s brain as he sat on his porch sipping at a cup of hot drink. The metal cup clattered onto the wooden porch and rolled down the steps. The man’s heavy boots clunked down after it, but he did not pick it up. Instead, he picked up speed and ran, faster than men that old could run, into the dark cloud and towards the Dreur Woods, with eyes as black as night.
The door of his home opened, and his daughter called to him, her pigtails fluttering in the wind. Her calls turned to shouts of fear. She left the door and ran the other way, through the house and out the back door with terror in her eyes, but it was no use. The black cloud swallowed her, and soon her lusting eyes turned to the Dreur Woods and her bare feet ran towards her demise.
At last there was someone who saw, who noticed the three splayed behind the Shadow Woman and the red field of blood. Above the earth called Erdil and beyond the land of dreams called Träumenil, higher than the realm of the immortals called Götteril and beyond the end of the reach of the stars, the Great Fathers stood in council. A massacre unlike any other in all of time blotched the North of Öldeim and the Fathers who had created all argued, as they almost never did, about the fate of the world. The Father of Creation insisted that Erdil be blotted out so that they might start over and create a race more malleable than the insolent humans.
The Father of Time would not hear of it. He insisted that time be kept pure and that the guilty be punished, but the innocent be given a new life. The Great Father did not speak at first. His eyes were far away on the Dreur Woods and tears wet his cheeks. Every created thing held its breath, even the trees paused in their ever-long dance and the stones ceased their whispers. The river of blood paused its flow, a man’s grey eyes closed for a second, two sisters’ hearts beat for a moment, and then the Great Father spoke.
‘Let us make a Stormchild.’