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Fragments of mathematical equations appeared in the air. From below, it looked as if calculations had been scrawled across the dark evening sky. The numbers and letters scintillated, momentarily blotting out the stars. After the flash, the writing disintegrated into ribbons of iridescent dust, which eddied upwards and joined together into an indistinct whirling mass. As the dust glittered and swirled, it formed the silhouette of a young woman. 

Cali felt her body stretch, and then coagulate as she was pulled out of the inky void between universes. Having deposited Cali at her destination, the magic surrounding her dissolved. In its place, she felt a cool breeze against her skin. It was strong and came from below.

Wait. Below!? 

Cali’s brain pieced together the frantic signals from her inner ears. She glanced down. She was falling, plummeting towards a sea of green leaves. Without pausing to think, Cali’s left hand traced a formulae in the air. But when Cali tried to speak the paired incantation, her tongue stumbled on familiar words. 

The incomplete magic slipped away from her. “Focus Cali,” she muttered to herself, wasting precious time to steady her nerves. She could already distinguish individual leaves on the trees below; she was running out of time.

Cali repeated the incantation, her haste almost causing her to trip over her words again. Nevertheless, the magic took hold. Beneath her, air formed into a cushion and began to slow her descent. Relieved by the success of her magic, Cali took the moment to look around and... “Shit!” 

A branch was mere centimetres from her head. Unavoidable. In the fraction of a second remaining before impact, Cali grasped at the pouch containing her prize, ensuring the vial wouldn’t be jarred loose.

Then there was a loud CRACK as the back of Cali’s head collided with the branch.

Her head swam with pain. She struggled to remain awake, but pain overwhelmed her consciousness and the world went dark.

 


 

When Cali awoke she felt something soft and spongy beneath her. Due to the throbbing pain in her head, her recent memories were foggy; she recalled... falling? 

Opening her eyes, Cali discovered that she was laying on a thick mat of rubbery fallen leaves, and loose twigs. As Cali shifted to a sitting position, she felt the litter deform under her weight and spring back into place. Curious... it appeared the leaves had high elasticity. That explained her survival.

As she sat amidst the leaves Cali wondered: how long had she been unconscious? She supposed it didn’t matter; either way moving was a necessity. She’d done everything in her power to ensure a clean get away, but with a score this big everyone would be falling over themselves to catch her. 

In a flurry of motion, Cali leapt to her feet, and immediately regretted it. Her head started to spin. She cursed, stumbled, and, despite the vertigo, remained upright. 

Cali’s hand went to the back of her head, probing the injury. It was tender, but nothing felt broken. When she pulled her fingers away, they glistened with fresh blood.  If her blood hadn’t dried yet, she couldn’t have been unconscious that long. Her injury seemed superficial; Cali figured she could travel. 

But she added ‘find medical treatment’ to her mental list of essential tasks regardless. While the injury felt superficial, an infection would be a serious problem. Satisfied she was hale, Cali surveyed her surroundings; she was in a forest clearing. In the centre of the clearing, moonlight illuminated a circular cluster of polished granite boulders. Though the boulders were well weathered, their shapes appeared unnatural. Cali filled that fact under, ‘information to investigate later;’ right now she had more pressing concerns.

Foremost of which was the need to get some distance from this place. Despite her attempt at a clean get away, pursuit could be imminent. From one of the pouches on her belt she produced a small black compass and set the heading for South West. Cali willed the throbbing pain in her head to ease as she slipped away from the clearing and followed her bearing deeper into the forest. With every step, Cali tapped a button on the side of her compass logging her progress. If she needed to find that clearing again, she intended to have a less aerial means of reaching it.

As the clearing receded, her surroundings grew darker and darker. The moonlight that had illuminated the clearing struggled to penetrate the thick canopy of the forest. Cali halted before the light faded entirely.

She groaned. Cali had hoped to avoid casting magic until the pain in her head had diminished. This spell in particular was the worst, since it gave her a  headache on the best of days. However, necessity dictated she be able to see, which meant putting up with a little extra pain.

She traced the formulae in the air and whispered the incantation. Moments later her silver pupils began to glow. The magically induced headache seemed to reverberate against her head wound. Goddamn, it felt like someone was playing bongos inside her brain. Cali ground her teeth as she managed to stifle a cry of pain. Taking a few moments, she adjusted the magical energies flowing through her, until the pain subsided to a tolerable level.

After the magic stabilized, Cali felt a strong sense of weariness accompanied by a sudden bout of paresthesia that coursed down her right forearm. It felt exactly like she had just hit her funny bone. “Well that’s new,” she muttered to nobody in particular. Cali added, ‘pins and needles after casting magic’ to the growing list of problems she would need to address. At least the spell seemed to be functioning correctly,  so the darkness was no longer a concern.

Cali stifled a gasp. The forest surrounding her was unlike any she had encountered. The trees were at least kilometre tall and their bark was a rich tapestry of colours, like a vibrant rainbow eucalyptus.   

The air within the forest was cool and damp. Massive clouds of mist floated between the trees. Even with her magically enhanced sight, vision was going to be troublesome.

Beneath her feet, the forest floor was covered in a thick mat of wet, rubbery leaves. The leaves absorbed and dampened the sound of her footsteps. They would be a blessing for remaining undetected, but she’d have to remain extra vigilant for anything trying to creep up on her.

The forest was teeming with life. The air hummed with the sounds of insects. Every few minutes she paused to brush off some new crawling insect or to swat at a new variety of biting bug. Her bites itched. She hoped they were harmless.

Every few minutes, the steady thrum would be interrupted by the call of some unseen animal, or the cry of a bird overhead. With each sound, Cali crouched, and observed her surroundings before proceeding. Twice she hadn’t even been sure there was a sound, but had hid and observed regardless.

Surrounded by the nightly noises of the forest, she continued southwest for another agonizing hour, until she spied a break in the trees ahead. A clearing. Therein, illuminated by moonlight, stood a ring of polished, unnatural-looking stones. The boulders were near identical to those she had seen when she first awoke, albeit shorter and more weathered. Like the earlier clearing, this one was occupied by only fallen leaves and boulders. It was as if the vegetation itself refused to encroach upon the cairn. 

Her eyes scanned the glade. No immediate dangers stood out. She grabbed a large branch from the forest floor, tossed it into the ring of stones, and waited. Five minutes passed. Nothing had happened. She let out a short, sharp breath of relief. It was safe enough for a break. During the last hour, her weariness had continued to build; it now threatened to overwhelm her. Having left the teleportation terminus behind, she could take a few minutes to stop, collect her thoughts and rest. A vantage point atop one of the rocks promised clear sightlines, so nothing could sneak up on her.

Steps slow and weary, Cali made her way towards one of the large flat topped boulders. She collapsed onto the rock. At last, she had a moment to think. Her hands shook. She could have died from that fall. That had been close. Too close. 

But she’d pulled it off. She’d escaped. Overcome by emotions, tears started to roll down her face. Without thinking, her hand moved to dash away the evidence of her weakness, and then stopped. Her arm fell back to her side as she silently granted herself permission to cry. A few minutes passed this way, until her turbulent emotions settled. Crying was cathartic. She could already felt the intense emotional pressure bleeding away.

Moments later, Cali’s hand flew to her hip and rummaged through a pouch. Seconds passed. Agonizing seconds, before her hand returned triumphant, grasping a small vial. Her prize was intact. It hadn’t broken during the fall. 

A wry smile crept onto her face, and her silver eyes glittered as she stared at the vial. It was made of a strange black metal covered in dim glowing blue formulae, and stoppered with a large flawless diamond. Her greatest heist. No. The greatest heist.

Emotions soaring, Cali leaned back onto her elbows, tilted her head upwards and stared at a night sky. It was filled with unfamiliar stars. “Llyr, my new home,” she whispered to herself, trying unsuccessfully to hold back fresh tears. At last she continued, in small choked voice, “I’m finally free.”  

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A note from Velara
Thanks for checking out my work. Having people read it is super inspiring. Feel free to leave comments, I'd be delighted to chat with you either here, or on my discord server

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Velara

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Comments(17)
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Thedude3445 ago

Nice first chapter with a good hook. Can't believe there aren't any other comments on here.

    Premium
    Author

    Velara ago

    Thanks! I’m glad you’re enjoying it. You’re going to be the first comment on most of my chapters. My readers, tend to be a quiet bunch it seems.

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Apocryphal ago

Strong and descriptive start. Will keep reading.

Fernicus ago

Its a good start.

So, little critique from me, just a style thing.

When something spectacular, painful or impactful happens to a character. it is a good idea to give it a moment to land with the reader and the character. give it a little ooommmphhhff. you know. like how you add butter to potatos to make them awesome.

Your character falls from a crazy height, she thinks she's dead, last minute success, goes unconsious for a bit. wakes up alive and immediately sets off again (despite saying she will wait 15 minutes)

I'm wondering where the ommphfff! is, the realisation of survival, the pain and fuzzyness from concussion, the difficulty breathing from the impact.

There is nothing wrong with the chapter or how it is written. I just wish it had some more seasoning you know? without the extra flavour, it feels a little rushed is all.
And yes i get the delayed reaction and crying at the end.. but if you're going that route, i feel it needed to be rushed even more so she had no time for self reflection. you know. a panic driven rush through the forest, falling, scrambling over leaves. ect. then you throw in a delayed reaction to let the ommpfhhh land.

Instead it feels kind of fragmentory?

(just my opinion, a style thing I hope it helps) *continues reading*

    Premium
    Author

    Velara ago

    Its a solid point. Wish I'd had your comment to go off a couple weeks ago when I was working on the revision of chapter one. I remember things the 15 minute line felt a little weird, but I ended up deciding to keep it. It was part of a legacy draft where she did do all the introspection in that first clearing, which is probably why it feels weird to you.

    I could definitely nix the 15 minute line. Maybe try and a line or two of additional spice where she's recovering to help slow things down a little, really let the intensity of the moment land. I'm not sure. No matter how much of a rush she's in I can't see her rushing/blundering through an unknown jungle. So I definitely have to go with the slowing it down a little bit route, I'm just not sure I can afford to slow it down too much before it starts to get a little weird when I mentioned that departing is an urgent priority.

    Do you think an extra couple lines, maybe a paragraph would cut it?

      Fernicus ago

      I think It would need a bigger re-write to make any of the changes I would make in all honesty.

      If it was me writing the same story. I'd approach it like this.

      I don't think I would break up the scene where the impact is felt. So I wouldn't knock her out with that branch, I would have it break her focus so the spell dissapates. That way she hits the ground with enough impact for disorientation and concussion to set in.

      Then I would roll the effects of concussion such as blurry vision, vomiting and such. through the forest travel part. So instead of slowing it up in the forest, she stumbles through it. disoriented. confused ect.
      She regains stability and the impact is felt upon reaching the clearing. she finally has time to start thinking instead of acting. she realises she is alive and has escaped her persuers. she realises she is not where she is supposed to be. ect. (if she stops to think, plan or describe stuff clearly... she can't be feeling the impact of the fall, so the impact should be felt throughout the journey)

      So. delayed impact but it builds up and crashes like a wave of relief when she finally stops at the clearing.

      If you want to do it like on the cheap by only tweaking it a little bit, I would remove the 15 minute bit and push the pace at the bottom of the fall a little. stretch out the falls impact to be felt during the journey. have her stumble or feel dizzy occasionally. ect.

      Its important to either maintain momentum or stop so the reader and character can feel it.
      Both could be equally effective in this chapter.

      -sorry for the rambling, its a think I do. hope something in there helps.

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      Author

      Velara ago

      I appreciate the rambling.

      You’ve certainly given me lots to think about next time I take a crack at revising chapter 1.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Anjin ago

Hi Velara!

Nice strong start with a great premise and (so far) likeable lead.

I just wanted to point out a slight issue with repetition towards the end, which is a pity because you demonstrate a great vocabulary early on.

I recommend you look at the paragraphs around when she's entering the clearing and see of you can tweak them slightly.

Good stuff though! I'm going to crack on.

    Premium
    Author

    Velara ago

    Good call on those paragraphs, it never occurred to me how much I was overusing the word clearing.

    With a close re-reading the word even started to sound strange.

    I’ll have to sit down and see if I can’t find a more elegant way to phrase some of those sentences.

    Thanks!

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SJ Reaver ago

Thanks for the chapter.

DrJones ago

"A branch was mere centimetres from her head. Unavoidable. In the seconds remaining before the impact, "

I'm a bit confused by how this is written. There is a branch and it is close and unavoidable... but then there are SECONDS - plural - before impact, indicating a slow descent.

If it's one branch racing past, say of a larger tree, before she crashes into the forest below, then seconds work, but the 'Unavoidable' kinda suggests it is that very branch she crashes into.

Or, well... just have it be 'in the moment before impact,' instead. Split-second; split-seconds even, whatever.

Well, or leave it, maybe it hints at something later, or now and I missed it. Just found it incongrous, which isn't great so soon into the first chapter.

Anyway, great chapter.

    Premium
    Author

    Velara ago

    Nope, you didn’t miss anything. That’s just awkward phrasing on my part. Thanks for the catch. I’ll patch that shortly. :)

    Thanks so much!

wordsinaline ago

I'm finally getting around to reading you.

This is a nice, gentle start. I will say that this quiet moment walking through the woods is a bit of a soft hook, but I think you're striking past the initial point of finding readership, so that's okay.

There are a few too many short declarative sentences starting with 'The' for my taste, but it makes for easy reading so I can't insist it needs changing.

Overall, a clear and pleasant start! Let's see what kind of trouble Cali is got into.

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Glacialfury ago

I found your work through another story. I saw your review and decided to check you out. Glad I did! Really well written! Love your descriptions and how they flow seamlessly. Simple and elegant, very nice indeed. Ok, time for chapter two!

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WindyImagine ago

You've got a stunning way with words! You've got a fun protagonist and a hell of a hook. I'm really looking forward to devouring this :)

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    Author

    Velara ago

    Thanks so much for your kind remarks! I hope you end up enjoying the rest of it as much as the first chapter.

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