Sunday, January 12, 2020

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Devine Rev 1

Name: Michael Devine
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: The Last of the Magi

The storm ravaged the island city-state of Santivar. Alone in his dorm room, Jalen Talos felt the whole building shake with the buffet of each gust. Sitting at his desk, he did his best to ignore the wind and rain pummeling the windowpanes. Scattered before him were piles of various parchments and manuscripts, which had thus far defied his attempts at memorizing them. A lone candle on his desktop burned low, casting flickering shadows on the rows of bookshelves that lined the walls.

Somewhere outside in the night, above the roar of the storm, he heard the city bells toll. Three in the morning.

Jalen leaned back and stretched. He was never going to be ready for final exams. After three years of studying to be a scribe, it would all come down to tomorrow morning’s grueling three-hour test. Still, despite how much was riding on these tests, Jalen feared he’d reached the point where he couldn’t study anymore. It was so late, and he was spending more time dozing off than anything else. 

Probably doing more damage than good, he thought as he cleared off his desk.

His gaze drifted to the empty bed across the room. Malachi’s old bed. It had been five years since that night when his older brother left. Jalen had been eleven at the time, old enough to know that his older brother’s days were numbered, that it was only a matter of time before Malachi left for good.

Still, that knowledge didn’t prepare Jalen for when the time came. And it didn’t prepare for what came next.

With a deep sigh, Jalen blew out the candle. But as he sat there in the dark, the dormitory grew deathly quiet, muffling the commotion of the storm outside. At first, Jalen though it was just sleep beckoning him, but when he realized what was happening, a cold terror gripped his soul. The growing heaviness hanging in the still air around him was not natural. But it was something he had experienced before.

The night Malachi left. The time the Sentinels had raided his dorm room. 

Panic swelled within him. He breathed deeply and tried to think. How did they discover me? And how do I get out of here? The window? No, it was a straight drop down hundreds of feet to rocks and the waters of Crystal Lake. He would have to go out the door. But if they were watching him…

There was a knock at the door.

He almost screamed. He felt paralyzed. He couldn’t even think.

The next knock was firmer, more insistent. A voice followed the knock. “Jalen? It’s me, Kishari!”

Kishari Ashcroft was his Magi contact. The Magi were a secret society that guided and safeguarded those with mystic talents. They had kept a close eye on him, ever since his brother’s hasty departure five years ago. At the time, Jalen was just discovering his burgeoning mystic talent and the Magi had taken over his training. They were whom he could turn to if he ever needed help. Or protection.

“Jalen!” Kishari’s voice was frantic. “Let me in! They’re coming for you!”

Jalen shot up and ran to the door, opening it as quietly as he could. 

Kishari stood before him, wrapped snuggly in her drenched cloak, a hood pulled over her head. Even in the darkness, he could see her eyes wide with terror.

She pushed him into his room and said, “The Magi keep an eye on the Sentinels. As soon as a raid departs, we’re notified. Especially if they’re coming in this direction.” Her breathing was labored but she looked at him intensely. “You are the only mystic in this dorm that the Magi are aware of.”

Jalen was about to respond, but then he heard a noise, outside and further down the hallway.

Kishari froze; she had heard it, too.

“What do we do?” Jalen whispered, recovering but barely able to speak.

Kishari hesitated, biting her lip. But her indecision lasted only a moment. Softly closing the door, she dragged Jalen across the room and sat him down on his bed.

“Do still have the everwood amulet that your uncle gave you?” she asked.

Jalen nodded and withdrew a figurine – a miniature replica of an ebony hawk, about to take flight – from within the folds of his tunic. It was made from everwood, and it generated its own mystic source. By simultaneously tapping their own source and that of an everwood figurine like this, a mystic would be able to augment and amplify their abilities and talents.

“Will it protect us from the Sentinels?” Jalen asked.

“Hopefully,” Kishari whispered. “It should be able to shield us from their mind probes.”  

Hopefully? Should? That didn’t sound too reassuring. He stared at her intensely. “I don’t know how to use it like that.”

“I will show you.” She folded Jalen’s hands around the amulet. “Close your eyes,” she said softly. “Hold the image of the hawk in your mind’s eye. Reach out to it, touch the hawk’s spiritual essence with your spirit.” 

Jalen breathed in deeply. Like most mystics, Jalen’s ability to tap into the power of his soul began with the onset of puberty. But the Magi had placed barriers within his mind, to both regulate and hide his ability. As a result, he could only tap a small portion of his mystic source, and even then not for long. It was a struggle but he pushed against those barriers, pushed past them just enough so that the warmth flowed through him, first as a trickle, then gaining volume, flooding his entire being.

“Focus…” Kishari continued, almost in a trance. “Feel your soul and the hawk’s soul, becoming one…”

Gradually, Jalen felt his spirit melt with the ebony raptor’s, his soul infused with that latent power harbored within the hawk.

The amulet begins to feel warm in Jalen’s hands. “Okay, I’m ready.”

“Will the hawk to expand, to extend outward, covering you and me.”

It was as if immaterial wings unfurled and spread out, enveloping them both.

Jalen stared at Kishari, eyes wide in amazement. He nodded to let her know he had succeeded. “What now?”

“Now, we wait.”

There was no point in trying to run from the Sentinels. Jalen had heard rumors of secret pathways within the dormitory, hidden passages in and out of the building. But there were none that he knew of that connected to his room. Their only chance was that his hawk would shield them. And hope that the Sentinels were after some other sorry soul.

Because, if the Sentinels had discovered that he was a mystic, if they were coming for him, then he was as good as dead. And Kishari, too, for taking the risk in helping him.

For there was one thing that all mystics in Santivar had in common: being one was illegal.

Unless you were a Sentinel.

The Sentinels were a secret police that conducted ruthless ‘witch hunts’ for anyone who had ability. Suspected mystics were immediately and forcibly apprehended and taken into custody. Some – a small percentage who were young enough and malleable enough – were groomed into becoming Sentinels themselves. The rest simply disappeared, never to be seen again.

At sixteen years of age, the time when Jalen would have been considered a potential recruit for the Sentinels had long since passed.

For a moment, the hallway outside the room was deathly quiet. But then Jalen heard the shuffle of feet as heavy footsteps, somewhat muted, trotted swiftly down the hall. He held his breath. Judging from the sounds on the other side of his door, there seemed to be an inordinate number of people in the hallway.

He thought that they might pass his door, that maybe they already had, for he no longer heard the footsteps. But no, they had stopped. The voices, faint and muffled, were right outside his room. The wait was interminable.

And then came the sound that kept mystics like Jalen awake at night: the violent explosion of a door being busted down and ripped from its hinges.

Jalen flinched, his whole body tensing as he stared at the door to his room, half-expecting to see it coming flying apart. But it remained as it was, untouched. The Sentinels were not after him. They didn’t know that Kishari was there. Still, frozen with fear, the two of them didn’t allow themselves to relax, Jalen struggling to hold his trance-like link to the hawk figurine, while at the same time trying desperately to hear for any sign of a struggle.

He heard nothing. No sounds of resistance or of the apprehending of whomever it was the Sentinels were after.

What was going on? He glanced at Kishari, questioningly, but she grimaced and shook her head.

The minutes passed. At one point Jalen thought he heard noises, footsteps further down the hall. Still they waited.

Finally, Kishari said, “It’s okay, now. You can let go.”

12 comments:

  1. Hi Michael,
    Brilliant job.
    I honestly found nothing I would change, besides the small tense error in this sentence:
    The amulet begins to feel warm in Jalen’s hands. “Okay, I’m ready.”
    Very well done.
    Carryn

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  2. Hi Michael,
    I understand a lot more about your story with this revision. It cleared a few things up for me.
    I’m a little confused with the first paragraph that mentions Malachi…. Jalen’s in his dorm room and assumingly has lived there for 3 years (since that is how long he was studying to be a scribe), but his brother left five years ago? How would he have memory of that?
    My other thought is: do we need to know about Malachi now? I understand the Sentinels took his brother. But even just the fear Jalen has about the Sentinels would tell us they are not good and we could get his history with them later.
    The info about Kishari and Magi kind of takes us out of the immediacy of the situation. Maybe shorten it and give us more about her later?
    I wonder if the paragraph that begins “There was no point in trying to run from the Sentinals…” should be moved up to when Jalen first senses them. It could add more tension. We know something bad is coming, and he can’t hide from it.
    The main thing I am missing especially from the latter part is how Jalen is feeling through all of this. I imagine, especially because they are hiding pretty much out in the open, he would be pretty nervous. But I didn’t get that. I feel like the tension could be higher in the scene leading up to the door ripping off its hinges (and then yay! it’s not his door).
    I get little hints of Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes, not sure if you’ve read that. She begins with a mystery about a brother and a raid in the middle of the night that throws the MC’s plans out the door.
    Happy Revising!
    Star

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    Replies
    1. Star - I appreciate your observations. You've given me a lot to think about. Thanks so much!

      Delete
  3. Hi Michael,
    Great job bringing the reader in and giving us a clearer description of who Jalen is.
    I was confused with the paragraph when things "became deathly quiet". It took re-reading it a few times for me to understand it. I wasn't clear that a spell or something of the sort was happening (if that is in fact the case). But could be just me :)
    Good luck!

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  4. Hi Michael,

    I think you did a great job of cleaning up the flow. Way to go!

    I liked knowing that he is a scribe up front because it give us insight into what he is doing there.

    I like knowing about Malachi up front, but maybe you could write some connective tissue between paragraphs so it's not so jarring, like he throws his books on Malachi's old bed.

    There is some repetition in this paragraph – all three sentences are saying the same thing.
    "Jalen feared he’d reached the point where he couldn’t study anymore. It was so late, and he was spending more time dozing off than anything else.
    Probably doing more damage than good, he thought as he cleared off his desk."

    "The night Malachi left. The time the Sentinels had raided his dorm room." I like what this is inferring, but I think it could be punchier. “Dorm room” brings it down for me, like they were raiding his room because they heard he had beer. Maybe something like, “The night Malachi left. The night the Sentinels came for him.”

    When Jalen hears Kishari's voice outside the door for the first time, it’s a good opportunity to describe if she is whispering or yelling. Doing so would give outside credence to Jalen's fears, because if she was relaxed what was he worried about.

    When Kishari says, “The Magi keep an eye on the Sentinels…” It might sound more fluid if she says “we” instead of the Magi. It would also reinforce that she is part of the group and knows what she is doing.

    I really enjoyed the section on the everwood amulet, but I don't think you need to repeat that it is made of everwood three times.

    I love what you’ve done with the scene with Jalen hiding them. It works so much better from his perspective. However, it does make me think the Magi aren't doing a great job hiding him if they are just teaching him to do this now.

    There are two paragraphs that have extremely important information to your story but come off as a bit info dumpy. Is there a way to weave this info more into the story?

    “Kishari Ashcroft was his Magi contact. The Magi were a secret society that guided and safeguarded those with mystic talents. They had kept a close eye on him, ever since his brother’s hasty departure five years ago. At the time, Jalen was just discovering his burgeoning mystic talent and the Magi had taken over his training. They were whom he could turn to if he ever needed help. Or protection.”

    “The Sentinels were a secret police that conducted ruthless ‘witch hunts’ for anyone who had ability. Suspected mystics were immediately and forcibly apprehended and taken into custody. Some – a small percentage who were young enough and malleable enough – were groomed into becoming Sentinels themselves. The rest simply disappeared, never to be seen again.”

    Great job and I’m enjoying learning more and more about your story!
    Gina

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    Replies
    1. Gina - thank you for your insights. I appreciate you taking the time.

      Delete
  5. Hi Michael

    Apologies first of all for lateness with this! It's been a crazy week.
    For me, your revision has really brought the dramatic situation to the fore. You've made the "bones" of your story more visible here without compromising characters and world which is great.
    I do think you could still tweak the balance between delivery and deferral of information in the first few paragraphs. The important thing there is character above all!
    Good luck with this rich and interesting story. I can't wait to get it from the shelf and read the while thing!
    All the best,
    meredith

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    Replies
    1. Meredith,

      Thank you so much for your time and insights! I really appreciate it.

      Michael

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  6. Hi Michael,

    I'm so sorry to respond so late! Between work and writing deadlines it has been a crazy couple of weeks! First of all, great job on this revision!! It is much smoother, much more intriguing and less confusing.

    I still think the opening needs some work. Basically, a good trimming. My editor once told me, tell us what we need to know when we need to know it. It is great advice!
    For example, does it matter that he's studying to be a scribe? Or that he pass the test? Consider cutting that part. He can be in his dorm room, awake from the storm. Then the noises are muffled. Immediately he thinks - that's only happened once before. Five years ago when the Sentinels had raided his dorm room and snatched his older brother. Then, we know what's about to happen, and we're intrigued, without unnecessary facts. 

    Also, watch out for telling phrases like - Panic swelled within him. Instead have his heart race, his hands shake or something. Show us how panicked he is.

    Also, this paragraph took me out of the story. It's like a narrator came in and gave us the backstory - too much of an info dump:
    Kishari Ashcroft was his Magi contact. The Magi were a secret society that guided and safeguarded those with mystic talents. They had kept a close eye on him, ever since his brother’s hasty departure five years ago. At the time, Jalen was just discovering his burgeoning mystic talent and the Magi had taken over his training. They were whom he could turn to if he ever needed help. Or protection.

    Try to weave that information in through dialogue and actions. I'd suggest taking this paragraph - which tells us most of which we want to know, and expanding it a bit, and cutting the other one entirely. Something like this:
    She pushed him into his room and said, “The Magi keep an eye on the Sentinels. As soon as a raid departs, we’re notified. Especially if they’re coming in this direction.” Her breathing was labored but she looked at him intensely. “You are the only mystic in this dorm that the Magi are aware of.”

    He gasped. If the Sentinels had discovered that he was a mystic, if they were coming for him, then he was as good as dead. And Kishari, too, for taking the risk in helping him.

    For there was one thing that all mystics in Santivar had in common: being one was illegal.

    Unless you were a Sentinel.  

    Also, why wouldn't he know of secret passages? Wouldn't Magie tell him?

    I really love the hawk! 

    Thanks so much for sharing your work with us! I can't wait to read the revision!

    Best,

    Erin, 1st 5 Pages Mentor
     

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  7. Erin,

    Thank you so much for your feedback! I truly appreciate your insights and your time.

    Michael

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