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Ookla Writes: The First Chapter of My Fantasy Novella


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Hello! Having discovered that this subforum exists, I've decided to post the first chapter of my as-yet-unpublished fantasy novella so y'all can read it. Critique it if you'd like; it's supposed to be in revisions, except that all the people I've asked to beta-read it have promptly gone and gotten themselves busy with other, more critical things. Any feedback or input you've got would be great!

Anyhow. Here it is, spoilered for length.


Chapter One

    The sights, sounds, and smells of the market in its busiest hours washed over Lyn as she came near to the square, and she couldn't stop the grin that spread across her face. The market had long been her favorite place in the city, and not just because it meant easy pickings on a busy day like today.
    For one thing, the smells. The rich, earthy smells of frying bacon, baking bread, and fresh fruit mingled with the warm, hearth-side scent of freshly roasted chestnuts and the sharp, acrid smell of warm apple cider vinegar, creating a symphony of smells that didn't complement one another at all, yet still delighted the nose with their energy and variety.
    Then, the sounds: merchants hawking their wares to passerby, a dozen different musicians playing a dozen different instruments, the shouts and happy shrieks of small children watching the traveling magician's show, the murmur and hubbub of hundreds of people talking, laughing, haggling, shouting.
    And then, when she reached the end of a darkened street that opened onto the three-acre market square, the sights. Lanterns and tall torches scattered through the shops, stalls, and stands lit the square with warm, golden light, bringing out the richness of the colors that exploded out from the center of the market and rolled out to its edges. Deep red apples, just coming into season in the northernmost parts of Wadati and shipped into Tagalaran to be sold; bright orange carrots, sweet from the first frost of the year; golden pears, overripe peaches and nectarines—the last of the summer harvest—crates and barrels of all kinds of nuts, ready to be hulled and roasted in front of the hearths of the city homes.
    And that was just the produce. Cloth of all kinds brightened the clothing vendors' stalls, shimmering silks and soft linens and rough, brightly colored wool, all ready to be bought and sewn into clothing. There were at least half a dozen butchers, all clumped together on the far side of the square, competing to have the lowest prices and sell the most cuts. Several carpenters and woodworkers were set up near where Lyn stood, advertising their chairs, benches, and curious wooden carvings of all varieties.
    There was more than that, too, more than any one person could ever take in during a single night. The market was a living thing, a beast ever growing and changing, an addictive substance that continually brought people back with their silver and copper, begging and bartering for more. A good market brought out the most human emotions in people: laughter, anger, joy, distrust, wariness and caution, but also a wild abandon, a celebratory air that got into your veins and livened your blood.
    Lyn loved it.
    In the upper-class parts of town, she'd almost never be able to blend in. But here, a simple street rat like herself could step out among the throng and disappear, lost in the color, energy, and vibrance the market represented. Here, no one thought anything of it when a slim girl in peasant's clothing bumped into them, apologized swiftly, and vanished into the crowd with their purse in hand. Here, a cutpurse could make a real living.
    Assuming they could stay away from the local crime rulers, that was.
    Lyn put her hand in her pocket and drew out the tiny knife she used to slice the drawstrings of people's purses, hid the little blade in her hand so it rested against the inside of her wrist. No one would see it in her seemingly empty hand. No one would think anything of the knife they didn't think she had. It was the most important tool of her trade, besides her wits and her casual demeanor.
    Lyn was among the first to see the soldiers riding into the market square.
Dressed in full uniform, with their breastplates and helmets burnished till they gleamed almost like mirrors and their hands near their swords, the four soldiers rode massive warhorses whose saddles were clearly imprinted and embroidered with the Regent's insignia. There was a promising bulge in their Captain's breast pocket, as though some sort of bundle had been shoved into it that didn't quite fit.
    Lyn's thief-brain perked up at the look of that. A package that required four soldiers to transport it? It had to be valuable. Maybe even valuable enough to finish paying off the thief's debt she owed Mel, so she could finally accept Julian's offer and move into the spare room above his little jewelry shop. There were possibilities, with that prize.
    But before she could make a move in their direction, others in the market realized what was going on, and within a moment the entire market had gone deathly silent. Then, whispers rippled across the square. People speculated about the purpose of the soldiers' presence here.
Were they out to make an important arrest? Was there a dangerous criminal in the market? Were the marketgoers in danger?
    But the soldiers merely rode through the market, steering their horses carefully around the stalls and stands and through the thick crowds until they passed out of the market on the other side.
    There were a few minutes of tense silence, and then people started going back to their business, and pretty soon the market was just as busy as it had been a short time before, going on with its life as though nothing had happened at all.
    Lyn turned and padded out of the market. She needed to find out what was in that package. If it was valuable, she needed to get ahold of it. That package was her route to freedom, her pathway to a peaceful, average life in which she didn't have to commit crime to survive.
She thought she knew where it was going, too; there had been rumors among the folk of the undercity that Baroness Rianna had hired out some of the Regent's top soldiers to transport a valuable item she was trading for. They were rumors only, but rumors had to come from somewhere, and there was usually a grain of truth in them.
    Lyn was willing to bet every tinchip she could steal from the folk of the city in a year that those soldiers were headed to the Baroness' manor.
    If she wanted to find out what was in that package, she just had to get there before they did. Without getting caught. While looking like a peasant girl in the upper-class area of the city.
    Yeah, that was no big deal. She could do it.
    Lyn smiled to herself, turned toward the uptown district, and broke into an easy jog.
    Lyn arrived at Rianna's manor mere moments after the soldiers did. She'd had to take a few detours to avoid them, which had slowed her down considerably. Though it had helped her keep track of them and confirm that they were actually going to Rianna's manor. It would have been incredibly embarrassing if she'd been wrong, showed up at the manor, and missed her opportunity because they'd gone somewhere else instead.
    But she'd kept track of them, and she'd been right, and now she crouched in a shadowy area in the hedges lining the courtyard of the house across the street. The soldiers had all dismounted, now, and they stood in a loose triangle around their Captain with their hands on their swords. No blades were drawn yet—it wouldn't be proper to draw steel in a noblewoman's courtyard unless there was a legitimate threat to face—but they were clearly ready for something to ambush them and try to take their package from them.
    Well, Lyn would just have to avoid stealing it from them tonight. No, it was a better plan to let the soldiers deliver their package, then follow them to the nearest pub and nick some of their pocket change. Leave them feeling grateful that the cutpurse who'd stolen from them had been just a half hour too late to steal the real prize. Lull them into a false sense of security, thinking that their delivery was in no further danger.
    Then she'd break into Rianna's manor and steal the package, then leave without a trace or hint that she'd been there to begin with. The package would simply be there…
    …And then it would be gone. There would be no clue that anyone had broken in. No broken windows, picked locks, or forced entries. It'd be like... like a ghost had swept in, picked up the package, and left with it.
    Lyn laughed a little at the thought; that was just the sort of flashy plan Mel had always taught her to avoid. But what could she say? She had a flair for the dramatic.
    The massive, gilded double-doors of the manor opened suddenly, and Lyn's attention snapped away from her grand plans as a stately woman with blonde hair stepped out, the skirts of her pink gown swirling around her ankles dramatically. She stepped down onto the cobbled ground of her courtyard and approached the soldiers, and Lyn could hear every click of her shoes' wooden soles striking the stones beneath her.
    “Ah, Captain!” the Baroness said. “I am so very pleased to see that you have arrived safely! I hope the journey was not too fraught with danger.”
    “We had no trouble at all, my lady,” the Captain said.
    “You have the package?”
    “Indeed.” The Captain lifted the package out of his breast pocket and held it out to Rianna. “Not a scratch upon its surface,” he said. “And we had it checked by three jewelers along the way to ensure it was authentic.”
    “Very good, Captain!” Rianna said. “I have, of course, brought my own jeweler to inspect it as well, just as a precaution, but your dedication and diligence may very well earn you a slight increase in pay. Would you and your men like that?”
    “I certainly wouldn't refuse,” the Captain said.
    “Wonderful. Come inside, then. I'll have a servant tend to your horses, and we'll hear the jeweler's verdict on the authenticity of the gem, and then I will pay you and release you back to our esteemed monarch's service.”
    The Captain bowed. “Of course, my lady.”
    As the small group of people went inside the manor, Lyn rose and made her silent way back to the marketplace. She had a meeting tomorrow night, and she wanted to get a little more work done before it was time to go to it.
    Lyn tried not to be intimidated as a hulking shadow stepped into the grimy alley and approached her. Gavin was just shy of seven feet tall and broader than a draft horse, with fists big enough to crush bricks and arms larger than most people's legs. He was built on a scale different from the rest of humanity, and he knew it.
    “Mel was very disappointed in your offering last week,” Gavin growled, and Lyn cringed. “She told me that, should you bring so little again, I'm free to do as I like with you, and should you repeat the offense a third time, you'll have an appointment with her. Do you understand?”
    “Yeah, I got that,” Lyn said, trying to sound bolder than she felt.
    “So. What do you have for us this week?”
    Lyn unloaded two fat purses from her pockets and held them out.
    “Mostly copper marks. But there's a few bits of gold and silver in there, too, and a watch I nicked off a rich gent the other day. Made of pure gold, that.”
    Gavin took the purses and hefted them, then pocketed them with a grunt. “You're barely scraping by, Sable. This isn't going to appease Mel, and you know it.”
    “Yeah, I figured. But with her birthday coming up next week, I've been making plans to get her a real special present, and I ain't had time to do as much of this work.”
    Gavin raised an eyebrow. “That excuse will only get you so far. You'd better pay up. For your own good.” He bared his teeth at her. “After all, we both know I'm not a gentle man.”
    Lyn's spine prickled, and she clenched her fists behind her back to keep her hands from trembling. “Yeah, well, this is gonna pay off. You'll see.”
    “Will I?” Gavin took a step towards her, and it took all Lyn's willpower to hold her ground. Weakness was not valued on the streets, and if she looked like she might cave, even Mel's threats wouldn't hold Gavin in check.
    “It'll work. I got plans.”
    Gavin took another step forward. “You'd better hope so. Otherwise, I might be seeing a bit more than gold next time we meet.”
    Lyn stepped forward and thrust her chin out at him. “Our business here is done, Gavin.”
    Gavin reached out and gripped her wrist. “Is it? It doesn't have to be.”
    “Let go of me.”
    Instead he pulled her closer. “Why should I? I'm bigger than you. Stronger. I could have what I want right here, right now, and you wouldn't be able to stop me.”
    She could smell his breath, he was so close, and it was hard not to gag. He stank of mold and vinegar, with overtones of the harsh, metallic scent of blood. “Let. Go.”
    Gavin pulled her in abruptly, clapped his hand to the back of her head, and pressed his mouth to hers, hard enough that there'd almost certainly be a bruise in the morning. She kicked at him, punched at his chest, but he was about as movable as a mountain.
    His grip on the back of her head tightened as he crushed his mouth to hers even harder, held her there until her vision went spotty from lack of air, then released her and shoved her away with so much force that she went to the ground. “Now you know what to expect if you fail,” he said. “Meet me behind the Pig and Raven at sundown, in six days' time. If your offering is good enough—and I'll be the judge of that—then you get away free. If it isn't, I take you into the inn and we have a little understanding. And in that understanding, I won't be nearly so gentle with you as I was here. Got it?”
    Lyn swallowed, hard, tasting blood where her teeth had cut into her lip, and nodded. “I get it.”
    “Good.” He grinned at her, teeth bared. “And don't get yourself caught with whatever it is you're planning. I'd hate to have to wait a week for you, only to find out you're in prison and I can't have you.” He gave her a solid kick to the ribs and strode away.


Edited by Ookla
Fixing some formatting.
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2 hours ago, Edema Rue said:

That was good!!

I don’t know why it autobolds (or why it removes italics) but if you click past as plain text right after pasting it’ll unbold it.

Thank you! It's taken a handful of tries to get it this good, so I'm glad the effort has paid off.

Thanks for the tip about fixing the formatting, too. It looks a lot better now. :)

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46 minutes ago, Mr. Misting said:

Well, that's a very solid first chapter. Good job. I especially like the first few paragraphs, and the big, messy sentences that give such a sense of setting. 

And if you want help with editing, or beta reading, then I'd be happy to help. 

Sounds great to me! How does PMing work?

Never mind. I figured it out. The only question I have now is about the best process for getting the manuscript to you... Do you mind if I send a link to the Google Doc to you via PM?

Edited by Ookla
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