Author Topic: Chapter One of Fantasy Novel: Tranquility - 1801 Words  (Read 107 times)

Offline robhyx

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Chapter One of Fantasy Novel: Tranquility - 1801 Words
« on: July 20, 2020, 06:38:14 PM »
This is an excert from the first chapter of a novel I'm working on. Any and all feedback is welcomed. Thanks for reading.

Time was an illusive thing in the windowless laboratory at the base of a now defunct turret. Parzei Bronzefield, the leading alchemist, couldn't recall the last time she'd seen the sun rise or set. Yet, her aching bones and weary eyes told her it was late.

The soft orange glow of candles illuminated the dusty chalkboard before her, scrawled across its surface her own shorthand. The task of deciphering the thousand-year-old formula had fallen upon her and her team. Unfortunately, it was captured in a cryptic nomenclature, one dating back to the long dead Attanian Empire.

Items pertinent to their discovery cluttered the room: glassware of all shapes and sizes, curling parchment, chemicals, and a wealth of precious aetherstone. Crystalline and shaped like a teardrop, aetherstone could be converted to fuel using alchemy. The hope was the formula contained a new method for extracting this energy, one far more efficient than the current system in place.

With a sigh, Parzei removed her spectacles and massaged her temples. “Have we tried combining two parts borium and one part xodium to satisfy the unknown?” She couldn’t believe how weary her own voice sounded.

Prudence, her linguist, looked up from her text. Her large brown eyes, framed by her flawless ginger-blonde hair, surveyed the others. She said nothing. Similarly, Spark, her hulking engineer, whose bald head gleamed beneath the light of a hanging lantern, placed both hands on his workbench, also silent. The question had been for Jkl, her chief in applied alchemy, but he responded with only a snore.

Hunched over a splintering desk, Jkl snoozed. His chin rested on a carefully positioned fist, his elbow balancing it by a miracle of physics. Each snoring breath pushed his dark blonde hair from his face, revealing a mouth leaking drool.

How long has he been asleep? She didn’t care. With a frown and three hasty steps, she shoved the slumbering alchemist. It didn’t take much to jar her teammate into consciousness and compromise the precarious position in which he rested.

When Jkl awoke, he was already halfway off the stool. His eyes shot open like he’d been roused from a nightmare. His arms flailed, reaching for a purchase, any purchase. When they found nothing but air, he fell to the stone with a painful smack and a surprised cry. The stool fell forward with a hollow clank and wobbled before settling. Everyone grimaced at the spectacle, save for the one who’d initiated it.

“Divine Family, Par!” Jkl cursed to his deity, his voice both wild with fury and thick with sleep. “There’s easier ways to wake someone!”

Parzei stepped closer, fists pale and clenched at her side. “I need you awake!” Her shrill voice echoed, dwarfing the sound of chalk snapping in her hand.

Jkl recoiled. He threw his hands in front of his face as if anticipating some thrown projectile.

She stepped closer, and he inched backwards until a table thwarted his escape. “Everyone else is being useful. You are the only person who actually needs to be awake right now, and what are you doing? Dreaming?”

Her teammate hesitated, and when Parzei did nothing but glare, he lowered his hands and rose slowly. Now upright, he massaged his backside through his trousers, wincing as he located where his tailbone had connected with the floor. “I was dreaming, actually.”

Pinpricks of fury at his lack of remorse skittered across her knuckles, and her eyes narrowed. “Pray tell of what?”

Righting the stool and easing back onto it like an elderly man easing into a tepid bath, he said, “Sleep. I was dreaming of sleep. And sweet Father of the Land and Mother of the Wind, it was glorious.” He chuckled and a smirk spread across his face. It would appear her ability to instill fear had fled, along with the Jkl who feared repercussions. This was the familiar, arrogant, obnoxious Jkl she knew all too well.

The room grew as tense as a bowstring with a nocked arrow. One of Jkl’s neglected experiments bubbled in the background, and it reminded Parzei of his carelessness. She had to stop herself from lifting the glassware off the flame and smashing it against his face. As much joy as the thought brought her—more than she'd felt in weeks—she forced it from her mind. Losing her temper would only create a schism in the already strained group. Worse, Jkl may quit, and she still needed him to actualize the formula.

Assuming we have something to actualize, she thought bitterly.

Their eyes remained locked for some time, and she was reminded why she nearly passed on him for the team. Though arguably the most talented applied alchemist at the University of Nevershade, Jkl lacked the appropriate work ethic. They were all tired. They all wanted to go to bed. She didn’t need to poll them to know that. But sleep was secondary. It was a luxury she couldn’t afford. She hadn’t slept in days and wouldn’t until the work was done. It wasn’t complicated: she expected the same level of dedication from everyone else.

Finally calm enough to continue, Parzei repeated her question. “I asked, have we already tried combining two parts borium and one part xodium to satisfy the unknown?”

Knocking back a swig from his mug, Jkl nodded. He grimaced as he swallowed, as if the liquid within was potent. “Yes. Early on. It didn’t work. The result failed to liquefy.” He waved a dismissive hand. “Besides, it wouldn’t be cost feasible, not with the constraints imposed by the crown.”
Parzei discarded the pulverized chalk and frowned. What concern was cost? She was trying to solve the formula—a formula with one and only one solution. Giving the treasury a reason to celebrate was beyond her cares.

“Xodium is almost as precious as aetherstone,” explained Jkl. “We get ours from X’Voria, who, last I checked, we are at war with.” He knocked back another swig of whatever was in the mug. Water, she hoped.

Parzei rolled her eyes and turned back to the chalkboard. “We’re not at war with them. No more than we’ve been for the last three hundred years, anyway.” The Kingdom of X’Voria had been after the subcontinent of New Adelia even before it bore its current title. First the nomadic tribes defended their forested territories. Then the Adelians defended their conquered land. The X’Vorians had been testing the borders high atop Mount Ghal ever since.

“Can it not be synthesized?” she asked.

“It’s expensive to synthesize as well.”

Parzei raked her scalp with a chalky claw, ignoring the dust in her silvery disheveled hair. “You should formulate a new way to synthesize it and make us all rich.”

“Right,” he said sarcastically. “Because that’s why we dedicated our lives to science: to get rich.”

Parzei said nothing.

“Besides,” he continued, “I’m not sharing my wealth with you, Parzei. Your father’s got more land than all our noble families combined.” His crooked grin grew.

Parzei shot him a scornful glance before abandoning the conversation. He was mocking her for being from the Farmlands—an area in the northwest rich in agriculture. Yes, her father was an Adelian lord—Lord Wayland Bronzefield of Willowhill—and yes, he had a great deal of land. Save for that, though, he had little else. Sometimes he even lent a hand to the natives in the fields, but she would never divulge that. Many of the university students came from noble houses. While Jkl was nothing more than a rich snob, Prudence’s father bore the title of baron. Not just any baron either—Baron Darragh Underwood of Skytorar, the kingdom’s territory in the clouds. Needless to say, Parzei remained tight-lipped when it came to the finer details of her home.

With the interruption behind them, everyone resumed their original tasks. Prudence returned to her leather bound volume, and Spark continued tinkering at his workbench. Jkl fought to remain conscious. He must have won the battle, because moments later he downed the last of the mug’s contents, sprang to his feet, and met Parzei at the board.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught him stealing glances at her. Why? She didn’t know, didn’t care. He should be looking at Prudence, who with her fine clothing and immaculate hair looked fit for a royal wedding. Parzei wore a man’s tunic, large enough to accommodate two, and she hadn’t brushed her hair since leaving for the university three years ago. She didn’t care about appearances or the opposite sex. She was the daughter of a lord but had no interest in marrying some snot-nosed nobleman and living a life of matrimonial servitude. She cared about pushing scientific boundaries, making discoveries.

She cared about solving this blasted formula.

Beside her, Jkl cleared his throat. “I think we need to consider this element is something undiscovered.” He pointed to the far wall where a sheet of cracking parchment depicted the table of the fundamental elements. “We’ve never seen this rune before. In fact, we’ve never seen this shorthand before. We’ve been fortunate enough with the other pieces, but this one may not be there. We should be looking at mineral samples, searching for something new.”

“I don’t think so,” interjected Prudence from across the room. “While the shorthand is new, the fundamental table is complete.” She paused before continuing. “I think it’s a compound; we should be experimenting with more elemental combinations.” Her face brightened, and she pointed at the text in front of her. “Look at these formulas derived by Duli, the Attanian’s most radical alchemist. His work was centuries ahead of its—”

“Duli?” Jkl asked, incredulous. “Didn’t he die inhaling zeron gas because he thought it wasn’t poisonous?” He barked a laugh. “Yeah, real revolutionary, Prude.”

Prudence pursed her lips, no doubt concealing a thousand rude replies. “All I’m saying is, we need to be experimenting with what we know.” Her voice fell to a lower register. “Not hunting rocks in the Scar.”

“And all I’m saying is, if the Attanian’s had it, it’s in the desert somewhere. It would be dogged of us to think we’ve discovered everything.”
Prudence bounced back with another retort, and Parzei watched as they argued. Jkl’s point made sense, but she cringed at the thought of sifting through rock samples, hoping to find a new element. She loathed that kind of laboratory work. Instead, she preferred to use her mind and the principles of logic to solve problems. Let Jkl play with beakers and test tubes. Her strengths lie in the theoretical realm.

Eventually, the arguments died out. Either Prudence felt unsupported by the team and had given up, or Jkl had shaken her confidence. The end result was the same: one unknown still remained.

Offline PIJ1951

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Re: Chapter One of Fantasy Novel: Tranquility - 1801 Words
« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2020, 07:16:26 AM »
My first piece of advice would be to ditch the opening sentence since it doesn't display your writing in the best light.
Time was an illusive thing in the windowless laboratory at the base of a now defunct turret.
Some readers might fear you had mis-spelt the word 'elusive' which has only a slightly different meaning - but more importantly, the setting is overloaded with so many details for the reader to take into account. We're in a laboratory - with no windows - at the base of a turret - which is now defunct. Wow. Do we really need to know all this so earlyin the story?

You then introduce your main character by name which is a good move (although I'm often wary of names that are obviously made up to appear exotic). But from this point on I kept reading, enjoying the story as it unfolded. You write well.

The only other parts that jarred were:
The stool fell forward with a hollow clank and wobbled before settling. Everyone grimaced at the spectacle, save for the one who’d initiated it.
I felt they would grimace at the sound rather than the spectacle - but that's a minor quibble.

She stepped closer, and he inched backwards until a table thwarted his escape.
The word 'thwarted' sticks out for all the wrong reasons. Maybe 'barred' or 'blocked' would work just as well?

And Out of the corner of her eye, she caught him stealing glances at her.
Assuming she has two eyes, I would opt for 'the corner of one eye'.

Thanks for sharing.