|Here's another review for you. I'm doing this one differently than how I reviewed your contest piece. I've copied the story here and added my comments in another color.
Duchess Laughing Lemurs
The rainstorm Kendall had summoned was buffeting her so brutally that she had to crouch down to stop from being swept off the edge of the plateau road. It had gained momentum in the last few minutes, starting as a light rain but quickly degenerating into the worst storm Shalaris had ever seen. Lightning filled the sky almost constantly. Wind had turned the fat rain into needles that stung the flesh when it hit. The clouds swelled as if they were to burst, blue-white flashes washing across the surface of the roiling heavens. It was as if the sky was opening its great maw and attempting to consume the city. Very good description. I can see the storm as if I were there.
I wish it would, Shalaris thought. Shalaris is the girl? I thought it was Kendall and Shalaris was a city. You might want to mention her name in that first paragraph. And who is Kendall? She moved close to the side of the mountain atop which the city of Kasgalor sat, Wolf pressing up against her legs to keep warm. Kendall stood up the path toward the two great stone pillars that marked the common grounds before the main gate, a flat expanse of land surrounded by a wall on all sides like a bowl. Beyond the opposing wall, on the other side of the Ramproad gate, the wall protecting the city sat. I’m still trying to figure that one out. Looks like you were struggling on the imagery. What opposing wall? Or do you mean “opposite”? Kalos moved close to her, his hands folded before him. His voice was low and calm despite the torrent of weather, <- make that a period and start a new paragraph, since he’s about to speak. “You were correct, Fostian. Who’s Fostian? I can smell the dead.” Another new paragraph, since we’re back at Shalaris’ thoughts. She could as well. There was no one left in that city, no one alive. The vision of it had been so strong that it had forced her to her knees. The demons had come, Vesvelid, Carreau, are these different clans of demons? others that she had never seen before. They had torn the people apart with their hands. They “They” meaning the people, I assume? tried to fight, but what could they do against such a force, she asked herself. She closed her eyes for a second, but it made the vision worse. The Carreau had scoured the city after it was attacked, finding and tearing apart anyone they came in contact with. Thousands perished. There was only one man alive left within those high walls now. Trap or not, Kal will pay for this, by my hand.
Faundius signaled from the top of the Ramproad, How did he signal? And how could the others see it through the storm? and they moved forward up to the entrance to the common grounds. He wore an uncharacteristic look of concern on his face. He raised his finger to the silhouette of the wall in the distance. “Watch,” he said. In the flash of the lightning, Shalaris could see the pointed parapets of the city wall stabbing up toward the sky, and the squat gatehouses next to them, barren and empty. Formidable, but nothing compared to the natural defense of being built on the top of a small mountain. A lot of good it did them. The gateway itself was gone. The stone gate lie lay broken at the foot of the entryway as well as beyond. Everything was quiet, a dreadful calm amidst the chaos of the storm. Suddenly, she saw what Faundius had seen.
Something beyond the wall, above it, moving at a slow step. In the air? On the wall? On the mountain behind it? Not very clear.
Kendall broke the silence first, “It seems we have company. Are they what I think they are?”
“Two Vesvelid,” Kalos spat.
Two! She could see them easily now, their sloped head and massive shoulders visible above the city wall. They had to be over fourteen feet tall. She leaned in close to keep from yelling, “There will be more inside, I have seen. She has visions? There are at least six, if all are here from the invasion.” She hoped they had scattered after destroying the city; many had gone, from what she could tell. Perhaps on to another Elinael City-State. Kal’s conquest of the Southwest was had been ongoing for the past four months. She imagined he was not going to be complacent with the first city in the Southern Expanse.
Shalaris covered her eyes to shield them from the stinging rain. She looked to Kendall, “How are we going to get around them?”
He said nothing, simply staring off at the hulking demons that towered above the city walls. Oh, they’re huge? She still marveled at the fact that the metal body he had transferred himself into had such a capacity for showing emotion. There were no muscles under that steel skin, yet the metal moved so much like flesh that, at times, she forgot what he was, what he had done to himself. His face was so tense and sad as he looked off into the gray storm, but hardened into a rigid scowl when he brought his gaze down to hers. Those eyes, mercury swirls of dim, white light, still seemed so familiar, so human. Wow. Good description; makes me curious to know how he did that.
She asked him again, “Kendall, how are we going to get around them?”
His voice was stone, “We’re not. We’re going through them.”
Rage immediately burst into red hellfire at the statement. Faundius snarled, “It’s about time we stop hiding and take back what is ours.”
Shalaris ignored the statement, keeping Kendall’s attention, “Think this through, Kendall. The last time we fought Vesvelid we had four times the amount of people, and there was only one demon. Even then we lost people. I know that your emotions are high because of Kal, but think it through. We can’t…”
“Things are different now, we’re much stronger than we were before. Plus, if we don’t eliminate them now, they will overpower us later. You said it yourself, there could be over a half-dozen of them within the city. I’d prefer to fight them in as small amounts as possible.”
She could see the anger in his eyes, he wasn’t fooling her, “You could easily get us around all of them! Why risk so much on his minions when we should be saving our energy for killing the man who controls them? You know that this is a trap. Why would you be so stupid as to fall for it?”
He kept his voice down, but it made the rain seem warm, “This,” he gestured toward the city, “is my fault, Shalaris. My fault. And I can tolerate this no longer. We will not just sit back and let them come to us. This will not be another Cernnia. I will correct this errant boy. It stops here.” He turned to Kalos, “Move forward. Strike at my command.”
“Yes, milord,” was all Kalos said, and began to walk up toward the ruined gate, taking off his robe and dropping it to the wet stone at his feet. Faundius followed close after, running off diagonally across the common ground.
Shalaris said, “No, you’re wrong, Kendall. You can’t blame all the sins of others on yourself. Don’t let your anger consume your reason.” She grabbed him by the sleeve but he ignored her.
Kendall tightened his pack and brought forth Shalla-Vanor a sword? in both hands before him, his voice flat, tired, but he managed a weak smile, “I have already released the dogs of war, Shalaris. Is that a reference to Shakespeare? We have little time. There is no turning back now.” With that, he turned and walked up into the courtyard.
Shalaris realized with a sigh, there has never been a chance to turn back.
He strode forward into the middle of the courtyard, embedded Shalla-Vanor upright in the stone beneath him, and pulled back his hood. Even in the haze and rainfall, she could see him clearly, but the position he had taken up was still out of the line of sight of the demons. She ran forward along the outer wall of the courtyard, dropping as much dead weight as she possibly could. Wolf ran with her, silent and quick, hidden by the shadows of the wall. Far off in the distance, the flickering light of Rage ??? snuck through the horizontal rain. She had no idea where Kalos had gone.
By their very design, demons were deceptive beings. Those with the large, cumbersome build could often be quicker than virtually any creature in the wild, and the Vesvelid were one of the quickest. And the smartest. What was worse, those swords were over seven feet long, razor sharp, and the demons wielded them like they had almost no weight at all. She had trained to fight them. They all had. She had practiced with Cambian until her arms could no longer move and her body was rigid with aches. Never had she met a man so quick with a sword, and eventually she could even keep him at bay. For a time. He had taught them so much about fighting and the Erebusi that she hoped the others were not swelling with overconfidence. The teachings were there, she could see it in their fight with the Carreau in the cave, but Carreau were just soldiers of the demon army. They had yet to test their learning on any of the true demons, the aristocracy of the underworld, the Venii. She had almost memorized the histories in Cambian’s library. Hundreds of men were unable to down one Vesvelid at Arrow Point. It took three Jharsilde Metaphysicians to put it at bay. The last one they fought had wiped out four Jahadrasilde and left her bedridden for weeks. There were over twenty Jahadrasilde in that battle. And now they “they” meaning Shalaris and Co.? were four, with over a half-dozen Vesvelid to confront. She hoped that things were indeed much different than they were before.
Shalaris tried to dry the haft of the crystal axe on her coat, but it was useless. Even the ice that formed on the gloves back up north was easier to deal with than this. She would just have to grip tighter. She watched Kendall intently.
A bone-white light flashed for a split second in Kendall’s hands. A silence followed, and for a moment, Shalaris wondered if he was reconsidering this foolish assault. Then, as if to answer her thought, he raised his foot and struck it to the cobblestone floor beneath him. The ground and air shook in a tremendous boom, dwarfing the thunder that echoed overhead. The sound was deafening, it almost brought her from her feet. Both Vesvelid raised their heads over the wall, tips of their wicked swords rising.
Kendall screamed then, a harrowing sound that sent chills up her spine. Brilliant, purple-white fire spilled forth from his grasp, an arrow-straight line into the face of one demon, flashing like the lightning overhead when it hit. The second scream that rang out in the night was that of the Vesvelid.
The other demon immediately leapt over the wall at the sound, blade a solid shadow in the stormy night. It was huge, and for a creature triple the size of a man, it was unnaturally quick. It moved toward Kendall with preternatural speed. Those wicked swords had hit Shalaris, once. It had almost been the death of her. It might still, she thought.
Shalaris moved forward then, raising the black axe before her in both hands as she ran. She barely intercepted the Vesvelid before it had made its way to Kendall. The demon blade swung down on her instead, and she scarcely deflected it with her own black blade. Gods, the creature was strong! The force of the hit brought her to her knees. She regained her footing. Before she knew it, the blade was swinging again, this time in a horizontal sweeping arch. There was no time to attack. It was too quick. She redirected blow after blow, retreating slowly, barely able to think under the overpowering assault. She struck at the sword with the flat of the axe. It caught in the crux of the haft, and the weight of the hit sent her skidding across the ground.
The air exploded again with Kendall’s fire, and the Vesvelid staggered back at the hit. An inhuman cry bellowed forth in the distance, and Shalaris turned, but all she saw was the red flash of Rage beyond the city wall. Hopefully, Faundius and Kalos would be able to keep that one at bay. She could barely handle this one.
She gathered herself quickly up onto her feet and got her balance again. Kendall was retreating then, back-stepping. The Vesvelid was moving quickly upon him.
It took so little from her to release the dark ara with the crystal axe, and it poured out of her like a flood of shadow. The force of the discharge almost knocked her back to the ground. The stream hit the demon in a great crack, and its tight, wet flesh shredded and flayed under the black flow. Kendall changed direction at the sight of the hit and charged.
He held the water staff across his chest and leapt at the knee of the Vesvelid, knocking it to the ground. “Keep hitting it!” he yelled, and Shalaris once again released the blackness into its hide. The Vesvelid flailed and grasped at the air in pain, striking the earth. Die! Please DIE, Shalaris pleaded.
But the demon was not so easily defeated. All at once, it was on its feet again, sword in hand, striking down on a prone Kendall. A split second before the dread blade cleaved him, he disappeared, sinking into the ground like it was water. The blade splashed harmlessly in the watery stone. Kendall had vanished.
Before it could withdraw for another strike, Shalaris attacked. The razor sharp crystal bit hard into the back of its twisted leg, and for a second, it seemed hobbled. It looked back at her with its three inhuman eyes, black and circular like an insect. Then, as quick as the lightning that fell from the sky, it swung its blade around. She managed to bring the haft up enough to stop the weapon from cleaving her in two, but it scooped her up from the ground and sent her high in the air, knocking the wind out of her when it struck. She hit the ground hard, landing on her shoulder first. The pain shot through her, and she looked up dazed at the creature above her, the axe knocked from her grip and lying in a puddle of rain at the feet of the Vesvelid. She couldn’t move. Blinking the rain from her eyes, she fought for consciousness, fought for strength. Get up! she thought wildly. The Vesvelid seemed to sneer. It approached.
But as it took a step, the earth below him turned to mush at its feet. Its arms flailed about as it toppled forward, its feet cemented in the cobblestone floor. Before it could even finish its fall, a white-hot blast of plasma shot upward from the earth in front of Shalaris and consumed the falling face of the Vesvelid in a fountain of brilliant fire. By the time it struck the ground, it was already dead.
The sky and ground seemed to rock and sway as she fought for consciousness and for breath. She looked for her axe. Slowly, the world righted itself, and she stood, picking the weapon up from the ground next to the dead demon. Its face was nothing more than a black husk, shrunken and withered, sizzling in the rainfall.
Kendall rose up from the earth like the dead rising from the grave, Shalla-Vanor shining pale blue light across his dour, iron face. He wasted no time. “Through the gate, quickly.”
The city was dark, and it was almost impossible to see through the curtains of rainfall, but the rain was needed. They were hiding in plain sight. Such a downpour would even cause a predator like a demon to strain. She knew that, but it still did not sit well. They ran blind. If something heard them, it could be on them before they knew it. They circled through the great hole in the wall and around into the first tier of the city. Somehow the darkness was worse here, almost palpable, like the water that rained from the sky. Nice.
The buildings were tall, most over two stories, and cluttered together in close to one another as if they were huddling from the terror in the road before them. The streets were wide but few. Only one stretched off north, turning a corner and fading into haze and darkness. Toward the end of the street, just barely visible, Rage spat and wavered. What or who is Rage?
“Damn!” she said aloud. The fight was a good distance away. They ran as fast as they could toward them. They could see the wild swings of the red sword illuminating the area, but little else. Faundius’ sword would not be able to damage the weapon of a Vesvelid, and Kalos’ weapon was no match for that infused blade. It was a mistake fighting like this. Bad tactics. If they made it through this day, Kendall would get an earful about it from her.
The first one that came into view was the towering black Vesvelid, with the silhouetted form of Faundius stalking before it. The demon drew ragged breaths through a bloody mouth and gouged chest, but it still gripped its weapon tightly and moved as if it had no wounds at all. As they neared, Shalaris saw Kalos crouching along the ground behind the creature. The way he moved… it wasn’t human. It was feral; an emotion reflected in movement that was nothing more than primal. He appeared unharmed, but it was hard to tell. Shadows flickered from the red glow of Rage. Everything was the color of blood.
The demon struck first. The blade hammered down in two massive strikes, both caught and deflected by Rage. Sparks flew like the sword struck a fire pit. It wheeled around and swiped once at Kalos, who simply jumped out of its path. It did that a number of times, forcing Faundius on the defensive as well as keeping the monk now we have a monk. Is that Rage? out of striking distance. The creature was smart, but the additions of Kendall and her had added to the stress, and it stopped for a second, surveying the battleground.
Faundius was silent and unmoving, Rage writhing soundlessly in his grip. The Vesvelid took two steps forward toward him, but leapt back suddenly, carving a wicked slice out of the air toward the crouching figure of Kalos behind it. The monk jumped over the blade easily, and struck down on the forearm of the demon with his staff. Shalaris heard a loud snap sound unnecessary out in the street. The great black sword of the Vesvelid slipped out of its crippled arm and clanged loudly against the building across the way. The arm swung through its motion weaponless.
And before it could finish the motion, Faundius had removed the arm from its shoulder.
He hammered down again with Rage, slicing a vertical black-red line through the thick carapace at the abdomen of the Vesvelid. It doubled over as if it were trying to hold itself together. Kalos leapt in the air, striking down with both feet into the back of its head, driving it into the ground face-first. The head broke beneath him like a melon.
The creature writhed and twitched, then grew still. Kalos stood in the mess as if he did not realize what it was. He brought his head up, his face turning to Kendall. His eyeless face, emotionless and infinitely calm. “Others are close. I can hear them.”
A cold shudder swept through Shalaris. No one was hurt. Her shoulder was bruised but not damaged to the point where she could not use it. “I cannot believe it,” she muttered to herself. Two vesvelid, and we treated them like lambs to the slaughter.
She looked to Faundius, his body as taut as carved wood. He was squatting with one hand on the ground. Rage still burned, but the light was slowly dying. Oh, Rage is a visible emotion/power, then? She thought at first he might have been hurt, but it was not a grimace of pain he wore on his face. He was grinning. The sight was enough to make her skin crawl.
Kendall said, “We need to get there,” he pointed up to a huge citadel in the distance silhouetted against the swirling sky. “More than likely the main routes will be protected, so we should take the smaller roads and alleys. Signal if you see anything.”
Kalos approached, “Shall I take the vanguard, milord?”
Kendall said, “No, stay close. I don’t want to separate again. Our best chance is to fight together. Remember our training.” Kalos merely nodded and moved behind him.
Faundius rose, swinging his gaze around to Kendall, “I will lead.” His voice left no room for argument. He started moving north. Rage dimmed into non-existence at his side, and he too began to fade in the rain as he walked away. The others followed close behind.
Kendall moved close to her, putting a hand at her back as they walked, “Are you alright?” She nodded. “They know we are here now. They will come for us, and soon. Be wary.” Did Shalaris or Kendall say that? He then turned to Kalos behind him, “Kalos, where are they at?”
He meaning Kalos? raised his head up, nodding slowly, like a dog sniffing for its prey. The rain cascading off the corded muscles flashed in the lightning light. His face reminded her of an insect, unfeeling, cold. She remembered still his cry at the touch of the ancient relic that shattered in his face, a horrible moan, as if he realized immediately the enormity of what happened and wailed at the loss. It was the last truly human emotion she remembered him having. It was as if the loss of his eyes had taken his passion with it. They had called him the Unfinished Man in Dorient. It didn’t fit him. He was whole once. He was a man at one time. She did not know what he was now.
“I am not the seer, milord.” He replied. “I can taste them in the air, though I know not where they might be. They are everywhere in this place. Close, that is all I know.” It was the truth. She could smell the blood and burning steel that was the odor of Erebus hanging from the air, despite the rain.
Kendall said, “Very well, we will find them soon enough. I want all of you close. That includes you, Faundius. We must be prepared for an ambush.”
Faundius shook his head, “I have little need of your protection, nephew. I can take care of myself.”
“Just the same, I have need of yours. I will not quibble with you on this. Do not go off on your own. Kalos, keep him in sight at all times.”
“Yes, milord.” Kalos responded.
Faundius stopped and wheeled around to stand in front of Kalos, Rage hinting at life, “Your blind dog should attend to his own, nephew. I would hate to have to tame him.”
Kalos stopped as well. “Milord,” his voice was low, barely audible in the storm, “I will keep you close.” It wasn’t a threat, but it was evident that Faundius took it as one.
Shalaris had had enough of this, “Move out of the way, Faundius. You will get your blood soon enough without having to draw it from us. Let us help you get to Kal.”
But Faundius was not listening. He leaned in close to Kalos’ ear and said, “Still so loyal, even after all you’ve been through. Loyalty is an admirable trait in a dog. Tell me, dog, whatever happened to your loyalty for your king?
Kalos was silent for a moment before he said, “You are not a king anymore, milord. ”
By the look on Faundius’ face, Shalaris assumed that was not the answer he was looking for.
Kendall stepped in front of the two, placing a hand on Faundius’ chest as if to push him away, “Move along. Your son awaits.”
. The ghost of Rage crackled into existence in a flash, then disappeared once again. He pushed Kendall’s hand from him and said again, “As I said, I will lead.”
Kendall held his hand out and bowed, “By all means.”
Faundius ran forth in a rush then, a quick shadow floating through the dark. Kalos started after him, but Kendall held him back, “Let him go, Kalos. He knows better than to go too far. Even he is not so bewildered that he thinks he can do this alone.” He seemed to be trying to convince himself of it as he said it.
Shalaris asked, “Why do you even try to put a leash on him? You see how he reacts to being given orders.”
He shook his head and paused. It was the first time since he lost his human body that she thought he truly resembled steel, “I do it because I know someday I will have to leash him. And I want to make sure that I can.”
Shalaris gazed off into the darkness where Faundius stalked. She could feel Kendall next to her, strong, upset, hurt. He watched the shadows too, but said nothing. The memory of her last vision still sat hard in her mind, the fields of fire, the countless dead, and in the middle of it all, Kendall, on his knees, laughing. The sting of his laughter was a dagger in her mind. She thought, Make this the ending paragraph. And who will leash you, my friend?
Whoa now. Looks like there’s a lot to this story that isn’t here. I think we need to see the rest of this role-playing story!