Sunday, March 22, 2015

First 5 Pages March Workshop - Mayorska Revision 2

Name: Lyudmyla Mayorska
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

The beheadings took place, as usual, at full moon. The doomed souls rattled on the floor of the cage cart on the their way to meet the executioner’s axe – my mother’s axe. I watched them from the basement window disappear behind the street corner. The heavy rain accompanied them past the main arch of the Justice Temple in the direction of the execution field.

I knew the criminals deserved their fate, still, I couldn’t help but to feel pity for their misery. There would be no Priestess there, no prayers. Their feet would be buried outside the city under the statue of the wicked Nott. Their ribs would end up on the shelves of our Bone Shop next to the jars stuffed with finger-bone necklaces, parrots’ skulls, and teeth garlands ever so popular during the harvest holidays.

I sure was glad I wasn’t a boy. Even if my venture were to end in death, at least I could be certain of a proper, honorable burial for myself.

I kissed the fingertips of my right hand, wishing the two men quick death, then tiptoed across the stone floor back to my bed. Naked, I slipped into an old tunic, wrapped the straw blanket around my shoulders, and lit the half melted candle inside the old skull. I decorated it almost ten years ago - the very first human skull I painted for our shop, supplied mostly through my mother’s job. I brushed the jaws with gold and dragged a single black stripe across the forehead. I loved it so much, I asked for my Father’s help to scribe my name on the back with a stylus, like the great artists of the temples did marking their artwork.

“I don’t think we should sell it, Palenke. Keep the skull for your own candles,” he said when were done.

Even if I trusted my reasons for leaving, I still kneaded my knuckles and bit the inside of my cheek to keep from bursting into sobs when I snuck downstairs to bid my respects and say goodbyes to my father. Now three years dead, he was the only inhabitant of the ancestry room built under the kitchen floor of our house.  His body, wrapped in blue cloth and layered with salt and spices, was there for me to talk to, when my mother’s harshness drove me to madness. A stomach infection did him in, and not even Kalarai, the most respected shaman in Bilda City, could save him. “She-Demons do not favor men,” she reminded me as she rubbed the spot between my shoulder blades. I imagined his voice telling me stories of Tai-Tai, “people made of clay”, and straightened out the dried bouquets of herbs and garlands of clay beads hanging on the walls above him. I cherished the handful of memories the old bearded man with pale eyes and freckle spots left me.  I
 was sure he’d watch my upcoming trials form the Black.

I spent the rest of the night pacing my room and nibbling on dried plums with Vi curled around my neck. The monkey’s tail tickled my cheek. I would miss these walls. The pet sleeping under my chin and the smell of the crushed paint powder would soon become my past; the walls of the Temples of Tetlan – my very near future.

I whispered my prayers, ending the requests with, “This I deserve,” and kissed my fingertips, careful not to disturb Vi, when the door slammed, and my mother returned. All the familiar sounds of her shuffling through our shop into the kitchen, and setting a pot to boil, a chair shifting across the floor, the water pouring into the cup - put a rock in my throat and kept me awake even after the bed creaked under the weight of her body, and our home returned to silence

At the first sign of morning, I wiped a stubborn tear and pressed my lips between Vi’s ears, taking in her scent one last time. Carefully, I set her back down on my pillow. The black heavy heap of my floor-length hair remained loose and unbraided. Fifteen years I spent in this house, smelling corn breads and green snake soup, setting tiles into the bone masks and painting ribs. I was leaving everything behind, against my mother’s wishes, despite the low chance of success for my self-imposed quest.

But that was the very difference between my mother and I: she didn’t believe in risking the life of her daughter for a slim chance of saving her son. I couldn’t help myself. I was born in the year of the Jaguar, after all. She was a Carp. If nothing else could explain our constant bickering and clashing characters, the stars did.

I snuck past her bedroom. I shouldn’t have worried about waking her up. She slept like stone – still and somber with the white-leather mask on even in her sleep. They called her Faceless. Even I called her Faceless, on occasion. Only once did I see her without her mask. She was sick and took it off to rub a pale pink ointment on the bridge of her nose. I remember gasping at the sight of the ripped scars that tore through each of her cheeks and pulled at the corners of her eyes - part of the commitment ceremony when she received her assignment from the temple. She described to me the entire ordeal in great detail - the blade, the stinging, the smell of the burnt flesh. I was about to wretch my meal on her feet, when she made me swear I would never enter the temples. Ever.

At five years old I promised, gladly.

Turns out - I lied.

I wiped my eyes with the heel of my palm, forcing a deep breath and resolved not to think of my mother, at the very least not for the following three days. She and Vi would have to manage without me. I crossed the dusty floor of our shop in four paces, and the door slammed behind me, leaving the slanted shelves of our shop to be tended by someone other than myself, for a change. Someone else would carve the shoulder bones into whistles and string the ribs into ornate belts. Someone else would tile the sternums into amulets. I would never attend the Scribe Academy to become a record’s keeper, as my parents wished on me for as long as I could remember myself. I had more important things to attend to – promises to break, blood to shed, and a brother to unchain.

Barefoot, leaping over the puddles, I passed the perfectly shaped round chasm in the center of the square and approached my near destination. I reminded myself that risking my throat sliced over the Well of Gii, or my heart ripped out to the sound of the four-barrel clay flutes - was worth it. My twin brother was worth it.


  1. Twin brother! How did I miss that before? Is this new? Now I know why she's breaking her promise!!! Must read on!

  2. I like the changes here:

    "But that was the very difference between my mother and I: she didn’t believe in risking the life of her daughter for a slim chance of saving her son."

    The changes in the last paragraph hit the mark especially with the revisions in the 2nd to the last paragraph.

    Good revisions! Definitely a great hook for readers.

  3. "I had more important things to attend to – promises to break, blood to shed, and a brother to unchain." I love this.

    I think this is very strong. The story is clear and the details are wonderful and relevant.

    I want to keep reading. You really have me hooked. Congratulations on all your hard work!

  4. I think you did a really great job in building anticipation and her reasoning for leaving. What I enjoyed most about this was that as the reader, I was really able to feel her turmoil and what she was going through.

    My one suggestion would be to make sure as her thoughts flow together and do not seem fragmented. Keep in mind that you want her thoughts, whatever topic she may be thinking about, to flow seamlessly and not seem like one thought stops abruptly and switches to the next.

    You hooked me as well, I want to know what happens next. Great job!

  5. I think Kimberly said it very well! Read for flow. Also watch out because I notice many of your paragraphs beginning with "I". It's an easy pattern to fall into, but it's good to vary it as well. It's a great world and intriguing story and I can't wait to see it on the shelf someday.

  6. Quick note: "I sure was glad I wasn’t a boy." This sentence doesn't seem to flow with the rest of your writing, it doesn't sound like the rest of your narrator's lyrical voice.

  7. Oh, I like this. :) You've done a great job of not only worldbuilding, but also revising and making things clearer and smoother. I think Kimberly's suggestion for flow is great, but really I can't think of anything else to mention.

    Really great job!

    PS. I adore this world. So dang cool!

  8. Hi Lyudmyla! Great job on the revisions! You have a talent for world-building, and I love what you've created here. This version has such heightened stakes and clear backstory without too much telling. There are so many details I love - everything about the bones, her mother and father's characters, the spooky and dangerous feel of the world.

    It's been a pleasure! Best of luck and hope to see this in stores one day!

  9. You have really morphed this into a much clearer picture - thank you because it is awesome! I would definitely keep reading. Love it and I know it was a lot of work!!!!

  10. Thank you everyone so much for taking this time to comment, and help me shape up my first pages. I feel like if I can make the first five pages shine, I can make the next five pages shine, and the next five, and the next. The encouragement, advice, and support offered here is priceless.