Does this suck?

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Does this suck?

Postby DaHeckIzDat » April 9th, 2018, 7:36 pm

This is the first chapter of my new work in progress and, frankly, I have no idea if it's any good or not. If you've got a few minutes to read it, would you mind giving me your opinion on just how badly it sucks and how ashamed I should be?

If a child were to be born in a room with no windows or doors, it would spend its life believing the world only stretched as far as those four walls, and the sky was only as high as the ceiling.
So it was for the people of Yar. Though their grand city was bordered by seemingly by miles of fertile farmland, which in turn was surrounded by a freshwater lake too vast for even the keenest eye to glimpse the far shore, they were as trapped within their four walls as a corpse was within its coffin. From the northern wall to the southern wall, Yar stretched exactly seven miles. The ceiling was so high above their heads that it was often blocked from view by clouds. And yet the people of Yar thought nothing of it, for that was the way it had always been. The walls were as much a part of their lives as the ground and the wind. Had anyone asked what laid beyond those walls, or above the ceiling, they would have been met with blank stares. There was no beyond. The walls simply were.
And so they continued to think, until the Breaching Day.
Penn was only four years old, but it was a day he would remember as clearly as yesterday's dinner for the rest of his life.
"Is it here yet, Mama?" he asked, bouncing on his heels and clenching his fists.
It was a balmy summer day. The lights in the ceiling shone brightly, and a warm breeze wafted in from the north side of Yar. Penn's mother sat on a bench, while Penn himself stood just far enough way that he could feel the tickling sensation of independence while still being close enough that his mother didn't call him back and insist he hold her hand.
Penn's mother glanced up at the clock hanging from the train station's wall. "Not for another five minutes."
Penn let out an exasperated groan. Five minutes? To a boy his age, five minutes may as well have been five hundred years! Pushing away his disappointment, he went back to his eager bouncing.
This was a momentous day. Any day his mother needed to go into Yar was. Technically, everything from the north wall to the south wall was Yar, but everybody knew that the real Yar was the city. With its buildings and its bridges rising up majestically from the fertile green land, it was like the crown resting on top of a king's head.
Penn didn't care about the city, though. To him, the city meant noises and smells and crowds of people he didn't know. No, what mattered to him was the train ride. His family was poor, his father toiling away endlessly in the meager farmlands they had inherited from his own father, which meant that it was a twenty mile journey from their tiny house to Yar. Though his mother always seemed reluctant to go, calling the tickets a waste of money, the only efficient way to get to the city and back was to take the train. When Penn saw it roll into the station, smokestack billowing thick black smoke and wheels throwing up sparks as the brakes ground it to a halt, it had been love at first sight. From that day on, trains were his obsession. He'd asked for a model train for his third birthday, and by the time he was four he could list all the different types of trains that ran on the tracks across Yar. And, best of all, when he closed his eyes and slept he was the one driving that magnificent metal beast.
The train may have been noisier than the city, and even more crowded, but that was okay because it was on the train!
"When I grow up, I'm gonna be a conductor!" Penn declared for the twentieth time that day.
"That's good, dear," his mother said with an approving nod. Penn could tell by the gleam in her eye that she wasn't just placating him. Growing up to drive one of Yar's trains was exactly the kind of dream his mother and father would support. It paid well, and, unlike being an actor or a famous singer like so many other children dreamed of being, it was actually attainable.
Again, Penn leaned forward to look left and right for any sign of the train's approach. It had to have been five minutes by now, right? Was it late? What if... he drew in a frightened gasp... what if the train had gotten lost and never made it to the station? Penn would never get to ride it again!
He breathed a sigh of relief when the train's shrill whistle echoed from in the distance. A few seconds later, he caught sight of the telltale plume of smoke that always announced its coming.
"Mama! Mama, it's here!" he squealed in delight. "Mama, here it comes!"
His mother merely nodded. "Remember to stay away from the tracks, Penn."
Penn barely heard her. He was watching with such breathless anticipation that, if his mother hadn't reached out and taken his hand, he may very well have fallen onto the tracks just trying to get a better look.
And then, everything began to happen at once.
The ground shook. Nobody paid it any mind at first, assuming it to just be from the approaching train. But then the shaking stopped, and then began again, and then stopped. At this, more than a few people raised curious heads from their newspapers and conversations. That wasn't the steady, ongoing rumble of the train. It almost felt like... footsteps.
That was when the first Breach opened up. With a sound of tearing metal that would have made a deaf person cringe, a massive hole opened up in the northern wall! Through that hole came four enormous things. Lined up in a straight row, they were long, they were curved, and even from so away Penn could tell that they all came to wickedly sharp points. Several people cried out in terror, and Penn's mother yanked him roughly backwards to clutch him to her chest, but all that occurred to Penn was how similar they looked to the claws of the cat that sometimes came to sleep on their porch. Only these claws were ebony black, and coated with some kind of bright yellow-green liquid that dripped from them like a glowing, acidic rain.
The claws only remained there for a couple of seconds before withdrawing, leaving only a big gaping hole in the northern wall. Then came the rhythmic thumpings again, and a second breach appeared, this one thousands of feet above the first, and then another, and another until they reached the top. They didn't stop there, though. Whatever was doing this, it began to make its way across the ceiling next, punching several more holes as it went. It started in the north, but steadily made its way south, and Penn could hear every one of its footsteps. Its claws didn't come through with every step, but even so it wasn't long before there were over a dozen breaches glaring down at Yar like spiteful, empty eyes. And from every one of them, there fell a steady drizzle of that glowing yellow liquid. People everywhere were screaming, running, but Penn merely watched the surreal display with childlike curiosity while his mother held him tight, her own screams lost in the cacophony.
Finally, the Whatever-It-Was reached the far end of Yar, and the breaches began to descend the southern wall the same way they had climbed the north one. The southern wall was only twenty or so miles from where Penn sat, so he had a better view of the ebony claws as they pierced the walls that had, until this very moment, been the edge of his world --the edge of everybody's world-- as if it were no thicker than tinfoil. From here, he was finally able to get an idea of the thing's size. Every single one of those claws would have rivaled Yar's tallest towers in height. Had they been hollowed out, everybody in Penn's farming village could have fit inside, along with all their livestock, with room to spare.
The final breach appeared barely fifty feet above the surface of Lake Naqui, the body of water that made a figure 8 around all of Yar and separated the farmlands from the outer walls. That same yellow ooze rained down into the lake, clouding its pure blue waters. Penn's mother was trembling as she held him almost painfully tight against her chest. Just like before, the claws slowly emerged from the newly made hole, and there was nothing to be seen on the other side except darkness as black as ink, as a moonless night, as...
A glowing yellow eye appeared in the breach.
All hell broke loose. A scream of terror tore from Penn's mother, and was almost immediately drowned out by the screams of everyone around her. Penn was sure he could hear the screams from the people all the way in the north side of Yar. Those screams, in turn, were drowned out by the loudest, more horrifying sound that Penn had ever heard, and would ever hear. It shook the walls, the floor, even the air itself. It spoke to Penn of pain, of fear, of darkness, of death, of everyone he knew and loved being hunted down and devoured by the ravenous thing that had torn apart the sky and invaded his home. Penn was vaguely aware of his mother wrapping her arms around his neck, choking him, as she got up and tried to flee. The ground was shaking too hard, though, and she dropped him, stumbling. Penn looked up and saw his mother lose her balance and fall onto the train tracks--
Just in time for the train to arrive.
"Mom!" he yelled at the top of his lungs.
He scrambled to get to his feet, but as he did so the world began to shift and warp around him, and his mother --or what was left of her, at least-- vanished. Suddenly it was a week later, and a steady shower of rain fell down on Yar from a ceiling that everyone watched with a wary eye. Seven days since Breaching Day, and three since Penn had watched his mother be shut inside a box and buried. She was one of only a handful of casualties. A miracle, everyone said, that holes should be torn into the sky and less than ten people in all of Yar would die because of it. He stood beside his father now, who sat with his back hunched so far that his head was almost between his knees. Neither of them cried, though Penn felt like he should be. It was just that he'd spent the past few days crying so hard that it was like he'd run out of tears. Instead, he just stood there, while rain pelted the green, lush landscape, patting his father on the shoulder.
"She'll be back soon," he said for what must have been the hundredth time that day. He didn't know what else to say, so he parroted what his father had once said to him when his mother had gone into without him one day. "It's almost supper time, so she'll be..."
His voice trailed off when the sounds of screaming rose from the south. Fear immediately struck him like a bolt of lightning, making his mind go blank and his body as rigid as a fence pose. His father reacted much more quickly, though, springing to his feet and sweeping Penn up in his arms. Together, they went around the house and down the dusty dirt road, chasing the screams. Penn briefly wondered why his father was rushing toward the danger, but couldn't work up the courage the ask.
The screams went on for minutes, and were still going strong by the time they reached Harpstead Hill, the lookout point that offered the best view of southern Yar. From here, Penn could see the shores of Lake Naqui, and the dozens of people that were swimming in it.
Wait, no... those weren't people.
Penn was too far away to make out anything about them, but he could still clearly see the big black shapes that were emerging from the lake. There were people there, and now that he thought of it Penn realized he could hear the distant pop of air rifles as they tried to push the whatever-they-weres back into the lake.
"Daddy," he breathed, "what's that?"
His father shook his head, speechless. Even so young, it was obvious to Penn that these small things weren't the same big thing that had clawed its way through the walls and ceiling, but they were certainly making use of those holes. Penn's eyes rose to stare at the Breach closest to the water, where more and more of those black shapes were falling into the lake with tiny splashes. He looked back at the shore just in time to see one of them get past the impromptu wall of firearms. It made a beeline for the nearest person, and seemed to roll on top of him like some kind of living boulder. Penn shivered. He was too far away to hear, but couldn't help but imagine the poor man's screams as he was dragged into Lake Naqui, never to be seen again.
The underbrush at the edge of the hill began to rustle, and Penn's father took off running back toward their house without a second look. It might have been one of the creatures coming from the Breach, or it could have been one of their neighbors coming to beg for help. In the end it didn't matter, because Penn's father whisked him all the way back to their house, his eyes alive for the first time in a week, and locked them both in the cellar with his hunting rifle gripped tight in both hands. Penn couldn't tell time at that age, but he knew by the way the light peeked through the cellar door that a day passed, then two, then three before they finally emerged to find that a good sixth of their former friends and neighbors had been dragged away by those creatures before Yar's police force arrived and managed to drive them out.
Those invaders were dubbed Impalers. They looked like giant sea urchins, with bodies made entirely of bristling needles, and they would roll around and impale their prey on their spines, and then drag them away to devour them. They were aquatic, it was soon discovered, and could only venture out of Lake Naqui when it was raining. Even so, Lake Naqui soon became their domain, and even the bravest fishermen refused to go out on those waters.
The scene began to change again, Penn's cellar fading into darkness only to be replaced by new shapes and colors. At that point, Penn was becoming aware that he was lying in bed, dreaming, but not yet so aware that he could do anything to stop the flood of unwelcome memories.
He was with his father again, only now he was six years old and the two of them were in Bastole's Garden, the very center of Yar. They weren't alone, as what felt like the entire population of Yar was crowded into the Garden with them to hear the news. Mayor Wesberrant, a large man whose suit never seemed to fit right, stood at his podium and was trying to silence the crowd before beginning.
Penn was in a foul mood. Not because of the crowd, or the heat, or the noise, but because of the train ride. In the two years since his mother had died, Penn had successfully convinced his father to take a horse and cart into Yar for the few trips they had to make. Seeing his mother's life come to an abrupt end beneath the monstrous machine's wheels had worked like medicine, curing him of his insatiable and inexplicable love for the horrendous thing nearly overnight. That love was a distant and alien thing now, so much that he couldn't remember what it had felt like, couldn't even look at the train without feeling sick to his stomach. If he'd had his way, every single train in Yar would be thrown to the bottom of Lake Naqui.
But a horse and cart hadn't been an option today. Everyone in Yar wanted to hear Mayor Wesberrant's declaration, and so the streets were clogged. The only way into the city was on one of those ugly, disgusting trains. Penn had felt like he might throw up the entire ride in, and the fact that he would have to ride one again to get home only further soured his mood.
"May I please have everyone's attention?" Mayor Wesberrant shouted into his bullhorn, even though the crowd had been quieted as much as it was going to be. "I..."
His voice trailed off, and he tugged nervously at his collar. Penn's father squeezed Penn's hand uneasily. Penn was still a young boy, but he'd heard Mayor Wesberrant speak more than once. He was always so energetic, never at a loss for words. Whatever he had to say today was enough to make him hesitate, and that was enough to put Penn's father on edge, which in turn was enough to put Penn on edge.
"A- As you all know," he began again with just the faintest hint of a stammer, "over the past two years, since Breaching Day, we have been attempting to send scouts through Breach Idalla."
Breach Idalla. That was what they called the Breach closest to the ground, on the southern end of Yar, fifty feet above Lake Naqui. Every one of the twenty seven Breaches had been named after a former mayor of Yar, though Penn couldn't imagine why anyone would think that was an honor.
"Three days ago, against all odds, one of those scouting parties managed to return. They..." Wesberrant cleared his throat. "They brought with them, uh, disturbing news."
A wave of worried voices rippled out from the mayor's podium, which he quickly shushed with a few waves of his hands.
"Though I and the city council have had three days to think about this," he said, "I still find myself scarcely able to accept it. I have here, on this paper," he waved it so everyone could see, "a report written by the head of those scouts, Captain Sencha, detailing what she saw. I believe there is no better way to break this news to you than with her own words."
He held the paper out before him and cleared his throat. "Against all logic and reason, the world that exists outside of Yar does, in fact, not exist. There is nothing outside of these walls but a cold, empty blackness that stretches on for eternity. As for Yar itself, what was deduced after Breaching Day proves true: our entire world is contained within a massive metal box. This box rests on giant metal wheels, and those wheels roll on top of a set of metal tracks. We are not alone, though. In the distance, connected to us by chains large enough to build entire neighborhoods on, is another box exactly like our own. I can even verify the existence of Breaches on that box. I can not express with words the sheer size of these boxes, or their wheels, or the tracks on which we travel, but one thing is certain to me. I'm afraid there is no other way to say this: the world as we know it... is a train."
This time, Wesberrant couldn't stop the roaring of the crowd. Such a deafening, overpowering noise had not been heard since the Breaching Day itself. To Penn, however, it was but a dull buzz in the back of his mind.
A train. The entire world was a train. He had thought he could escape the unholy things by simply not riding them, but this... everything he knew, everything he touched... his mother had been killed by... there was no escape... NO ESCAPE.
Penn leaned his head back and screamed.
"Shh!" His father hushed him, clapping his hand over his son's mouth. "It's just me!"
They were in Penn's room, with the door shut tight and the chest that held his clothes pushed in front of it. Penn was seven now. His waited until he gave a weak nod before rushing to upend Penn's bed and cover the window with it. The room, already dark, suddenly became pitch black. Even so, Penn couldn't help but flinch when a flash of lightning lit up the edges of his bed.
"Be very... very... quiet," his father whispered, crossing the room on silent feet to take his son in his arms again.
A loud thump came from outside his bedroom door.
"Are they inside?" Penn asked, though he felt sure he knew the answer.
His father didn't say anything, but Penn could feel him nod his head. Penn's heart began to race, a cold sweat on his forehead. Everyone had known that the Impalers couldn't resist a storm this size, and had locked themselves securely in their houses. It hadn't been enough. Another thump came, louder, closer.
"They've never made it this far in," he heard his father whispering. He probably didn't realize he was talking out loud. "Never! The military... the military will stop them."
The military. A word that had been passed around before in Yar, but never with any real meaning behind it. There was crime in Yar, there could hardly be a city this big without it, but a regular police force had always been enough to deal with that. Those constables, with their wooden clubs and their air pistols, had proven far from effective at dealing with the invading Impalers, though, so Mayor Wesberrant had decreed that more drastic measures must be taken. Yar's first army had been formed, and with them the battle against the Impalers had reached a sort of stalemate. Sometimes the Impalers got past the military, and sometimes the military pushed them back into Lake Naqui, but the attacks were still frequent and the casualties high. And the Impalers weren't alone anymore. The flying Snatchers had taken up the cause of destroying Yar, as had the Jerlocs that slithered in the tall grasses.
It was chaos, but at least now it was a controlled chaos. At first people had flocked to the city, trying to get as far away from the violence as possible, and Mayor Weberrant had been forced to close the gates when the streets had quickly flooded with refugees. That had caused riots so horrific that a score of police constables had retired the following week, claiming that they would rather fight monsters than go through anything like that again. The military had fixed things, at least as much as things could be fixed. People still died, and people would never stop dying, but at least now there were fewer people dying than...
Something pounded against the bedroom door.
Penn screamed before his father could cover his mouth again. Whatever was on the other side paused when it heard his shrill cry, and then began to attack the door again with renewed vigor. The second time it struck, the wood cracked. The third time, the hinges popped out of the wall.
"The window," his father gasped, already dragging Penn across the room. "Out the window, son! Hurry!"
With a grunt, he tore down the bed he had, not two minutes ago, struggled to cover the window with. He only hesitated a moment before raising his fist and punching straight through the glass. Thunder roared in the sky outside, but it couldn't drown out his scream of pain. He was a large man, though, his muscles built and hardened by years of working his farm, and the window shattered, letting the storm into the house-- just as Penn's bedroom door imploded.
Shards of wood and splinters as sharp as knives flew through the air, pelting both Penn and his father, and when Penn opened his eyes he was greeted by the sight of an Impaler trying to force its way into his room.
"Penn! Out the window! Now!" his father cried, grabbing him by the shoulder.
The nightmarish spiny creature was too big to fit through his door, but that wouldn't hold it for long. It rolled backwards a few feet, then forward, slamming into the doorframe with enough power to crack the wooden walls the same way it had shattered the door. Penn watched, breathless with terror as it backed away a second time.
"Now, Penn!" His father yelled. He hoisted Penn up into the air and set him down on the windowsill. His other arm was bleeding profusely from at least have a dozen cuts. "Get away from the house. Climb a tree if you--"
The Impaler crashed into the wall again, smashing straight through it, and Penn whirled around to see it rolling angrily across his bedroom. The sudden motion atop the rain-wet windowsill, however, caused his foot to fly out from underneath him, and despite his father's steadying hand he quickly found himself face down on his bedroom floor.
The Impaler, sensing easy prey, came straight for him.
"Penn!" he heard his father scream, but Penn clenched his eyes shut in terror, praying that his death wouldn't be too painful. He felt the floor rumble beneath the Impaler's massive weight, heard the scratching of its spikes on the wooden planks, and...
It stopped.
Penn opened his eyes in surprise, and recoiled when he saw the Impaler's spines less than a foot from his face. It wasn't moving, though. It twitched and spasmed as if it wanted to move, but something was holding it in place...
"Dad!" he screamed, suddenly.
His father stood above him, feet planted on either side of Penn, and he held the razor sharp monster at bay with his bare hands. Bare hands that, Penn was horrified to see, had both been pierced straight through by the Impaler's spines. Blood flowed liberally down his arms, and to Penn's eyes it looked black. Whether that was because of the darkness, or the toxic poison those spikes secreted, Penn didn't know, but--
"Go, Penn," his father gasped. His face was already pale. "Now!"
"But you..."
"Don't argue with me! Go now! Run!"
Penn wasn't sure what he would have done --obeyed his father and run, or stayed to watch him die-- but he didn't get the chance to do either. Before he could get to his feet, a bright yellow-green light erupted in the hallway behind the Impaler. Things began to happen too quickly after that for Penn to follow, but somehow the Impaler began to rise into the air, bringing Penn's father with it. His father howled in pain, and then the Impaler swung around to the side, flinging him off of its spikes to fly across the room until he collided with the wall. Then, in another flash of light, the Impaler was thrown across the room, to Penn's window, and crashed through it, taking a large chunk of the wall with it. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed, and the Impaler was gone.
"It worked," someone said.
Penn spun around to find someone he had never seen before standing in what remained of his bedroom doorway. It was a woman, perhaps in her midtwenties, with golden blonde hair that was cut short, except for one side in the front that hung down in front of her face, covering her right eye. She stood hunched over, gasping for breath, with a ten foot long pole gripped in her hands.
The yellow-green light was coming from her.
As Penn watched, she barked a laugh that sounded half relieved, half insane. "It worked! I... I can't believe it! It worked!"
That was the first time Penn ever laid eyes on Captain Sencha, and he found he couldn't look away. Not just because she was glowing, not just because she had just picked up an Impaler and threw it through a solid wooden wall, there was just something... captivating... about her that he couldn't explain. It was even enough, for a few seconds at least, to make him forget his father, who lay unconscious and poisoned on the other side of the room.
"Who... What are you?" he gasped.
"A monumental discovery!"
Penn blinked, and he was back in Bastole's Garden. A week had passed since the Impaler invasion, and this was the first time he'd been back in Yar since the discovery of the Train a year ago. Train, with a capitol T, his father had explained to him, which somehow meant it was more important than the little trains they rode around Yar in. Penn didn't understand, and he didn't care. Lowercase or uppercase, a train was a train, and all trains were the same the way the big brother of the man who burned your fields was as guilty of the crime as the murderer himself by mere blood relation.
"This is the solution we've been waiting for!" Wesberrant shouted into his bullhorn, sounding far happier and more confident than he had the last time Penn had listened to him.
Captain Senchan stood beside him in her dark blue uniform, her hair still covering half her face. Penn had heard his father call her pretty more than once, but Penn was still too young to understand what he saw in her, especially since he was already married. Penn's mother may have been dead --he was old enough to accept that now-- but that didn't give his father license to go looking at other women like Old Trot, the drunk who gave every barmaid a cackle and a toothless grin.
And speaking of which, Penn reached out and took his father by the wrist. His father, who had always been so tall, so strong, now sat in a wheeled chair, his face pale and his back hunched. Penn hated seeing him like that. He hadn't looked so completely and utterly defeated since the days right after his mother's funeral, before the Impalers had invaded. But Penn forced himself to look at his father's dejected face anyway, because the only other option was to look at his hands.
Or, rather, his lack of them.
Captain Senchan had refused to answer any of Penn's questions after she'd thrown the Impaler out his window. She had only stayed long enough to hack both of his father's hands off with her sword, explaining that the poison would kill him if she didn't. Penn had watched the entire thing, horrified. Senchan had bandaged his wounds as quickly as she could, though blood still leaked through, and then dashed off into the storm, her glow marking her retreat like a lantern in the night. Penn's father had survived, but neither of them knew what would happen next. Farmwork without hands was clearly out of the question, and Penn was far to young to do the work himself. Even Penn, young as he was, had the sinking feeling that starvation would soon rear its ugly head over his house.
"Captain Senchan, the former leader of the scouting party who discovered the Train," Wesberrant went on, "has yet again made a discovery that changes everything we thought we knew about our lives."
Looking up at the stage, Penn looked at the captain. Had she saved his and his father's lives, or had she merely extended their suffering? He felt a fiery anger burning inside him, an anger that had been kindled the night of the storm and only grown hotter over the past week. Anger for the death of his mother, for the crippling of his father, for the childhood that he would never get because of the constant threat of monsters. He felt like at least part of that anger should be directed at the woman standing beside Mayor Wesberrant for the part she had played in all this, but... he couldn't. To his own surprise, he actually felt a grudging respect for her. There was a woman who didn't let feelings get in the way of duty, who could do what was needed no matter what she had to sacrifice to do it. If anyone could save Yar from the monsters, it was her.
Over the years, that respect would grow into adoration.
"The yellow liquid that fell from the walls and ceilings on Breaching Day," said Wesberrant, "is the key to our salvation! We still know disturbingly little about the Train, but judging from the effects that this liquid --we have decided to name it aela-- has on everything around it, we have at least deduced that it must be what powers this titanic machine."
Against his will, Penn was reminded of what he'd seen on Breaching Day when his father found him at the train station and brought him home. They passed close to one of the ceiling Breaches, later dubbed Breach Jonquilla, and Penn had been stunned to see a forest underneath it where, not two hours ago, there had only been a dirt road and another poor farmer's meager crop. So it was everywhere across Yar. The aela rained down from the Breaches, and anything it touched seemed to be accelerated through time. Plants were the most noticeable, since they aged months, sometimes even years, from a single drop. People and animals weren't so lucky-- the dusty bones they left behind were a testament to that. Now, though, there was only one Breach that still produced the yellow-green liquid, as if the others had been shallow springs that quickly ran dry. That one was Breach Idalla of the southern wall, which Penn could see from his... from what had once been his bedroom window.
Up on stage,Wesberrant was handing his bullhorn to Senchan. The captain took her place behind the podium and addressed the crowd.
"The aela that still pours from Breach Idalla is the key," she said in her short, no nonsense manner. It was strange how different the way she spoke was from the elegant, nearly poetic report she had written when she discovered the Train. "When the weak or the infirm are exposed to it, it causes accelerated aging and death. But if it is administered to someone strong enough in mind and body, it is possible for that person to exert control over it. Once it is absorbed into their body, they can summon its power at will, in order to..."
She paused. "It is easier if I show you."
With that, she set the bullhorn down, closed her eyes-- and exploded into light! As one, everyone in Bastole's Garden gasped in fright. Penn's eyes went wide with awe, but he wasn't surprised. That was the same glow he had seen the night she'd rescued him from the Impaler. Suddenly, everything made sense.
It wasn't her entire body that glowed. Rather, it was her veins, but since they crisscrossed her body so thoroughly it was difficult to tell the difference. Senchan snapped her eyes open, and in a blur of light and motion she catapulted herself into a backflip, landing at the back of the stage. When her feet touched the ground, her sword was already out, and she began an elaborate series of stabs and swipes that Penn could barely make out. She was a blur, almost seeming to move faster than the light that shone from her body, far more quickly than any man or woman had a right to move. Mutterings both hopeful and frightened came from the crowd. Even MayorWesberrant, who must have known what she was planning, took a step away from her, clearly intimidated. Then, her display finished, she sheathed her sword, took a deep breath, and the light inside her went out.
"The powers aela grants to anyone strong enough to control it," she said, sounding slightly out of breath, "gives you inhuman speed and stamina, and the strength and reflexes to effectively use both. With this," she thumped her chest with sudden determination, "we will have the power to fight back against the invaders like we never have before!"
That was apparently all Captain Senchan intended to say, because she set the bullhorn down on the podium again and stepped back, posture straight and hands clasped behind her back.
MayorWesberrant took the bullhorn with a jolly laugh. "Thank you, Captain, thank you! My dear people, like I said, this is the answer we have been waiting for! If we can accumulate enough soldiers who can wield the same power as Captain Senchan, we will never have to fear the Impalers, or the Snatchers, or the Jerlocs ever again!"
To Penn's surprise, his father looked up at those words. Though his face was still pale and sickly, Penn still saw the flash of hope in his dull eyes.
"That is why," Wesberrant went on, "I am thrilled to announce the founding of a new branch of Yar's military: the Breach Wardens!"
Penn wasn't sure what to make of this new revelation, but the rest of Yar had apparently made up their minds already. All together, they roared their appreciation, clapping their hands so hard it was a wonder they didn't break their bones. The applause went on for several minutes before Wesberrant even began trying to quiet the crowd, and even then it took several more minutes before he could be heard again.
"This is good news, indeed!" he shouted. "But an army without people is no army! Captain Senchan has already handpicked the first members of the Breach Wardens, but we need more. Unfortunately, she tells me that this is not a position that can be handed out lightly. Those who aren't able to properly control the aela will suffer the accelerated aging and near-instantaneous death she previously described. That is why I am also please to announce the opening of the Warden Academy!"
Another round of applause, though the mayor's dire warning made this one somewhat less enthusiastic than before.
"Our need is dire, so no candidate will be turned away," he went on. "We are, in fact, encouraging parents to enroll their children in this academy, because the longer they have to train, the greater their chances of survival will be when they are administered the aela. The families of those who enroll will be rewarded handsomely, with enough food and money to provide for them in the absence of their family members."
Penn's head snapped up. Food. Money. And all he had to do was enroll at the school? He looked at his father. Without his hands, their farm was doomed. Wesberrant kept prattling on about duty to one's home and protecting the weak, but now his voice was little more than an annoying buzz in the back of Penn's head. His mind was already made up.
"Absolutely not!" his fathered shouted.
Everything went dark, and then took shape again. Penn was back in his house, or what remained of it, only a few hours after Wesberrant's speech. His father sat in his wheeled chair, which Penn had placed at his usual spot at the dinner table. He had done that on purpose, because his father was still too weak to walk, and the table separated them as Penn inched toward the door.
"It's the only way," Penn insisted over his father's angry protests. "You can't work the farm, and neither can I. If I go to the academy..."
"And get yourself killed?"
"... they'll give you all the food and money you need," Penn went on determinedly. "And all I have to do is attend!"
His father shook his head angrily. "And get yourself killed," he yelled again.
His father's head was sagging. This was too much stress for him right now. If he kept this up, he would pass out from exhaustion. Penn clenched his fist. He knew what he had to do, but that didn't mean he had to like it.
"I... I don't have to graduate," he forced himself to say. "I don't have to become a Breach Warden. I only have to go into training there until I'm old enough to work the farm. Then I'll drop out, or flunk, or something, but then I'll come home."
His father was staring down at the table, obviously too tired to look up, and breathing heavily.
"I already lost your mother," he whispered, his voice carrying across the room. "Don't make me... lose you... too..."
Though he fought it, his eyes closed and he slipped into sleep. Penn stood there for over ten minutes, watching him. Now was his chance, and he might not get another one. Eventually his father would get his strength back. Even if it wasn't enough to work the farm, it would be more than enough to keep a rebellious seven year old in line. He had to go. Now. Even if it tore his heart out.
"I promise," he whispered.
With a pocket full of coins, he slipped out the front door, leaving his crippled father alone in their half destroyed house, and scurried down the street. High above him, the lights began to go out, row by row, starting in northern Yar and making their way south. Night was falling, and soon only one out of every hundred lights would still be shining. Barely enough to see by. Penn hurried on his way, and managed to get to the station just before the final train left for Yar. Though the clerk gave him a strange look when he showed up unaccompanied, he still took Penn's money and handed over his ticket.
A one way trip.
Penn made his way across the platform, but then froze when he raised his eyes to take in the train. This would, he realized, be the first time he ever boarded and went on a trip by himself. Without his mother or father, the great black metal beast suddenly looked a hundred times more intimidating. So intimidating that he nearly dropped his ticket and went running back to his father.
"No," he whispered to himself, squaring his shoulders. "I won't be scared of you anymore. I hate you, but I'm not scared of you. I've got..." He paused and took a deep breath. "I've got better things to be scared of now."
And with that, he boarded the train. Almost immediately, the whistle blew and the whole thing began to move. Penn chose a seat and sat down, staring down at his knees. The car was completely empty, except for him. That almost felt... symbolic, in a way. He had chosen a new path in life, and now he had to walk it alone. Or ride it. Or whatever.
The train went into a tunnel, plunging everything into impenetrable darkness.
"Just until I'm old enough," Penn whispered to himself. "Then I'll come home. I promise."
The older Penn, still lying in bed, now fully aware that he was dreaming, felt his heart go out to his younger self. Seven year old Penn had no idea that he would never see his father again. He didn't know how it would feel to have his heart ripped out of his chest when he received a letter on his twelfth birthday explaining that the Impaler's poison had done more damage than originally suspected, and that his father had fallen incurably ill and died. He couldn't understand the loneliness that came from knowing he had no family, no close friends, and now no real goal in life. Younger Penn just stared out the window, into the darkness, waiting to emerge back into the world of light.
That's my life, he thought sadly. When I come out, it's still going to be night. But even that's better than being stuck in the tunnel forever.
Up ahead, the train exited the tunnel...
And Penn opened his eyes.
His heart felt heavy in his chest as he sat up, swinging his legs onto the floor. He sat there for a few seconds, brooding over everything he had just seen. Of all the nights his brain could have chosen to make him relive all his worst memories, this was by far the worst. But at the same time, it was also fitting.
He stood up, stretching out the remaining weariness, and went to his closet. Inside, he found a set of clothes that bore the fresh scent of linens that had never been worn. He stared at them for nearly a full minute, his emotions racing inside of him. Did he love these clothes? Hate them? He honestly couldn't say. There were parts of him that did both, but which of those feelings were stronger? Which one was right? Sighing, he set them on his bed and stripped before washing himself with the basin of warm water on the other side of the room, doing his best not to look at the clothes waiting for him on his bed.
His eyes fell on the note that sat on the writing desk beside his bed. It had been nine years since he'd received it, informing him of his father's fate, but he cared for it as if it were a precious family heirloom. In a way, it was. Even though his father hadn't been the one to write it, it was the last real connection to his father he'd had. Penn hadn't even been allowed to go to the funeral, Captain Senchan herself stating that even one missed day of training could mean the difference between life or death in battle.
Penn washed himself for longer than he needed to, putting off the inevitable, but once the bells outside began to toll he knew he had run out of time. Drying himself off, he finally confronted the clothes. A pair of dark blue pants, the same color the military wore, shiny black shoes that were light enough to be comfortable but also sturdy enough for prolonged marching and battle. A thin white shirt. Black gloves. But it was the coat the he knew would draw everyone's eye. It was the same shade of blue as the pants, but with bright yellow cuffs, collar, and trim on the hem. It was long enough to come down to his knees, and not an inch further, so as to differentiate him from the common soldiers while not getting in his way while fighting. The rest of the military wore blue pants and thick blue shirts. There would be different badges pinned to their chests and various cords tied to their shoulders to depict rank. The highest ranking officers would even wear a hat. But no matter what the rank, everyone in the military wore shorts and pants.
Only the Breach Wardens wore coats.
Breathing deep, feeling strangely like he was on the verge of panic, Penn donned the outfit and then went to stand in front of the mirror. The man who looked back at him was barely recognizable.
"Is this who I am?" he asked himself.
He put that thought from his head. It didn't matter if this was what he wanted or not, this was the only path fate had left open for him. No family, no farm, only a childhood spent training and preparing.
Preparing him for this day.
On a whim, he went to his desk and picked up the note. His eyes ran over the neatly written words, though he'd read them enough times that were practically engraved in his brain, and then folded it carefully and slipped it into the inside pocket of his coat, right above his heart.
"If you're watching me, Father," he said as he made for the door, "I hope you can find it somewhere in your heart to be proud of me."
With that, he pushed away all of those distracting thoughts and emotions, and set off down the corridor with a look of fiery determination in his eyes.
It was time to become a Breach Warden.

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Re: Does this suck?

Postby Herschie » April 10th, 2018, 9:43 am

Only had time to read a few paragraphs, but if Yar was exactly 7 miles in each direction, how is the train ride 20 miles? That would be an awful lot of winding tracks.

And if they're not from Yar, and visitors came in regularly, then how would the people still think that nothing was beyond those walls?

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Re: Does this suck?

Postby DaHeckIzDat » April 10th, 2018, 11:07 am

Herschie wrote:Only had time to read a few paragraphs, but if Yar was exactly 7 miles in each direction, how is the train ride 20 miles? That would be an awful lot of winding tracks.

And if they're not from Yar, and visitors came in regularly, then how would the people still think that nothing was beyond those walls?

Whoops! I changed the measurements a few times. Looks like I missed that one. Yar is actually 100 miles long by twenty miles wide.
But what are you talking about visitors? The first visitors from outside Yar were the Impalers.

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Re: Does this suck?

Postby Herschie » April 10th, 2018, 11:39 am

DaHeckIzDat wrote:But what are you talking about visitors? The first visitors from outside Yar were the Impalers.

Well, that's how the journey could have been 20 miles, if they were actually coming from outside of Yar.

Otherwise, 7 squared plus 7 squared equals 98. The square root of 98 is 9.89, so even diagonally, it would have only been around ten miles .

Moot point, now that you clarified.

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Re: Does this suck?

Postby Stalvern » April 12th, 2018, 11:02 pm

This is interesting but not consistently successful, and there are serious issues with it overall. I hope that my enthusiasm for some of your past writing shows that I'm coming purely from a place of good faith.

The biggest and most generalized problem is how the world of the story is approached. I don't refer to its design but to its presentation: Everything is definite, straightforward, unambiguous. The chapter opens by laying out the world of Yar in a lifeless block of exposition; to read it is not to be in the world but to read about it, a layer of removal to be avoided at every opportunity. There is no reason that Yar's features should not be described as they become relevant to Penn's story, which touches on all of them. Not only is this exposition laborious and sterile, it makes it impossible to empathize with the characters - if you start by telling the reader how wrong the people of Yar are to believe that this boxcar (I assume that it's the boxcar that you made another thread about) is their entire world, then there's no way for the reader to step into these people's shoes and feel their shock at the truth. Present the boxcar as the world, so when the rug is pulled out from under the characters, it's pulled out from under the reader as well.

Distance from the characters and lack of mystery extend to everything in Yar. Why is the "Breaching Day" capitalized before it even happens? Not only is it a foregone conclusion right from the beginning, it's treated as an event that people have become so accustomed to that they have given it a name. Imagine a story beginning like this and not being a deliberate farce: "Jerry McGrath woke up and went about his business like any other day - any other day until 9/11." It would be impossible for such a story to convey the true impact of Jerry's 9/11 experience after such a start, no matter how well-written the rest might be. When the first breach opens, it's not a breach but a Breach. No sooner is the monster introduced than it is conveniently christened a "Whatever-It-Was", as if anybody could think that way about such a thing towering over them. Lake Naqui is always given its full name - can you picture a Charleston native going out for a quick swim in "the Atlantic Ocean" instead of simply the ocean? When Penn's father pointedly capitalizes the T in Train, it rings hollow because practically everything up to that point has already been capitalized. Again and again, the reader's and characters' perspectives are meaninglessly divorced.

I say "characters' " and not "character's" because the point of view frequently diverges from Penn's, lapsing into omniscience. The opening paragraph is the most obvious case, but this happens elsewhere as well. Between Penn's encounter at the lake and the mayor's address, the story grinds to a halt to dole out more information about the Impalers, turning what should be a smooth shift in time into a jarring mess. The encroaching Impalers outside Penn's house have to pause their advance to let the reader be brought up to speed on Yar's brief military history, dissipating any tension that they had established. (This interlude also raises a trivial but annoying question about the beasts assailing Yar: If the Impalers and Snatchers were named after their methods of attack, what do the Jerlocs do?) Even Penn's burgeoning mixed feelings toward Senchan are cut off by an authorial assurance of their eventual resolution, as if to willfully spite the idea of being invested in their development over the story's course.

Regardless of omniscient intrusions, Penn's perspective is the chapter's most distinctive element, but while it's outwardly ambitious, it adds no substance. When Penn started skipping through time, I was immediately reminded of Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, and when the aela was explained, I was intrigued by Penn's possible connections to it. But it was all just a dream, an extraneous framing device to explain how a story could jump between time periods (answering a question that has never been asked), that ended up making little sense on its own terms. How often do people dream the significant episodes of their lives in narratively convenient sequence? How often do the people dreaming those sequences of events dream the first few as a dream within the dream? And how slow is the train that lets someone fall asleep and dream so much over a twenty-mile journey?

Along with everything else, there are superficial issues with the writing itself - frequent misuse of homophones, lapses into cliché, exclamation marks in the narration - but it seems beside the point to bring them up in the face of the much more substantial problems.

So, to answer the original question, yes, this does suck - as it is right now. But it doesn't have to suck (its biggest flaws can be addressed with simple, though admittedly substantial, changes), and it even frequently avoids sucking at all. The sad irony of Penn's beloved train killing his mother really works, although this may be simple bias on my part: I loved trains when I was a little kid myself, and as an adult who loves Anna Karenina, I'm a sucker for train deaths regardless. The image of Penn's father desperately holding off the Impaler with his mutilated hands is powerful, at least until the magical comic-book action pops in to lighten the tone. (Speaking of Penn's parents, do they have names?) I appreciate Penn's trials and motivations, even if I have a hard time getting a sense of his specific personality. As always, you have no trouble writing action scenes. And finally, while the world of Yar is silly on its face (in all these years spent living on a train, nobody's heard or felt a single clickety-clack?), the revelation that there really isn't anything beyond the tracks gives it an ominous, surreal absurdity that lets it get away with that implausibility somewhat (if not entirely, since there's a lot of dead-serious worldbuilding that clashes with this effect). This raises a strong challenge, though: Whatever's outside the boxcar, s*** had better get real when Penn goes out there.

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