@alienscar: Realized that I probably came off as a big jerk in the last few post and wanted to apologize for that. I think it may have been uncalled for the way I vented my frustrations like that - and I think I was being slightly irrational with how I was looking at the situation.
So, I want to formerly apologize to you. Because no one has put forth more effort to help in this thread than you (though Dread and all readers are appreciated!).
Also, it's my fault with definitely with not being consistent in the quality of the posts. I'm going to try to be better about that.
Just thought I'd leave this here, in case you still wanted to review it. It's the latest version of what I have for Offering. Hoping you find it better than the last version I posted. Stay honest about your opinion, as you've always have
I'm actually prepping for a small beta readers test that'll feature the first three chapters in order pretty soon.
Alienscar, if you'd like to be a part of this beta reader test, let me know and I'll send you a pm.
Dread, same for you
I've got about four or five readers enlisted at this point, so you guys are definitely welcome.
Offering - Complete
A fell wind howled from out of the depths beneath the Southern Wastes. Voshki caught the scent of spilt blood and decay upon its current. She heard underground rivers course through ancient caverns - choked by mankind’s refuse. Beneath the surface world in the Royal Den of Vipers, sunlight seemed nothing more than a distant dream.
She would often navigate the treacherous routes through notorious criminal dens. All for the chance to rest in the long-forgotten caves that channeled the underground rivers.
Time was an obscurity this far beneath the surface. Voshki would watch what precious sunlight crept into the caverns from what she imagined was dawn to dusk. The illumined rays refracted and reflected amidst the streams. It was exceedingly little, but the dancing light on the earthen walls brought some small measure of solace.
A time of reflection that had come to an end.
Voshki caught the dancing lights in the corner of her eye as she hurried by her favorite spot beside the underground river. She contemplated on how her day had began with such tranquility only to descend into urgent peril. She had played a henchman of the Obsidian
Vipers for a fool in a skewed game of dice.
Her reward was the offering of her first contract. To commit murder against an unfamiliar name from a rival den – by the lethality of a newly concocted poison.
Of course, she had not tampered with the dice. She did not need to seize triumph from defeat. Voshki had already received a counter-contract from said rival den. She had already tested the lethality of this new poison dubbed ‘the Black Rot’ on several pitchers of wine scattered around the Vipers’ Den.
The lackey she had played the odds against had wretched, vomited, and writhed from the midday bell and expired in precisely within the span of an hour. What Voshki had not planned for was the feast the Obsidian Vipers had hosted to celebrate another ‘Blood Debt’ – a notorious rite of passage for their new recruits.
Thirty more Vipers had died that very hour.
The Vipers thirsted for vengeance and marched out of their dens in force. Their numbers continued to swell until it seemed hundreds had taken on the task of scouring their territories in search of the vermin that had bitten them.
They hacked through their own flea-bitten serfs first. Uncaring of who was dragged out of their hovels, the criminal syndicate acted with brutal efficiency. The tortured screams of the dying scattered the meek and terrified like an inferno that uproots all life in a forest.
It was only a matter of time before they had sped ahead of her to spring their ambush…
‘Oh amphetamine parrot.’ Voshki wheezed, exhausted from the constant pursuit. ‘amphetamine parrot - amphetamine parrot - amphetamine parrot!’
She fled heedlessly, hurling herself through every cracked open door into impoverished homes. She tossed their dining tables and leveled decrepit bookcases to stall her pursuers for but only a moment. Then she leapt through the gaping holes in their walls, back into the twisted maze of the Royal Den of Vipers.
Voshki had no choices left. She had no leads, save only a direction. She had no solace of a definite safe card to draw and play. If she were shunned and turned away from the only refuge, she would be fed directly into the hands of the V-
A rickety wooden door not even several steps away from her burst open with such force, she had to slide under the slab of termite infested wood as it flew off its hinges.
A lean figure of dark caramel skin emerged - garbed in black leathers and fiery robes emblazoned with gold. He stormed down the stairs toward her even as she ground to a screeching halt in the muddy grime.
The Obsidian Viper rattled with furious laughter as he reached out to seize her.
She twisted in his reckless grip on the scuff of her collar, tearing the fabric of her rough spun clothes. A glimmer of steel cut across the damp and oppressive atmosphere. Rolling into her captor, the dagger hidden in her clothes tore a bloody slice across the Viper from cheek to the tip of his ear.
The street thug reeled from an explosion of pain; one hand cradled over his right eye. Voshki pounced and buried the blood slick dagger to the hilt in the Viper’s throat and twisted for good measure before resuming her flight.
Several voices ushered into earshot - so near their breathing echoed through the cavern as she hurtled into the depths. The sound of their footfalls giving urgent pursuit hastened her to the height of her limits.
Voshki descended farther into the oppressive darkness until it became impregnable like an abyss - void of any glimmer of sun or moon. She reached out with bloodied, grasping fingers for any purchase so that she could find her way forward.
The Vipers hounded her in their relentless chase and somehow gained on their prey. Her pursuers chortled and screamed constant, blood-curdling threats. How did they find their way in the dark so easily?
A spark ignited in the darkness. An intense fiery glow that caught nearby shadows aflame.
An incredibly brief flicker near enough that she could reach out and grasp its warmth. As swiftly as the candle of light burst into brilliant life was it snuffed by an invisible force. She tried to arrest her loping speed, instead she slipped and slid through the unstable mud flows coursing through the earthen caverns.The spark ignited once again, combusting into a flood of flame born light. She raised her hands in pitiful defense of being reduced to cinders as the flames crashed over her body.
An explosion without warmth to the fire whipped and lashed but could not scorch her. The surprised screams of her pursuers - born from sudden terror rather than actual death - became snuffed out of existence as quickly as the flame born explosion withered into nothing.
She did not realize that her eyes were shut until the roaring in her ears dissipated. Quivering hands removed themselves from where they latched onto her face as a makeshift shield.
Her eyes flicked open, then shut again from the acrid smoke wafting from braziers burning on an ancient vine coated wall of slick and weathered stone. Crystalline waters streamed through ornate drains near to overfull. The drains followed cobblestone paths that wound into the dark. Her eyes followed the dimly lit road straight to a great set of doors carved from onyx. Ancient calligraphy, drawn and crafted from pure silver, was inlaid across the polished stone.
A clattering of armored footfalls approached her hesitantly from behind. The confidence in their striding steps was challenged by fear of the unknown.
‘Encircle her.’ One of them commanded. 'Don’t stand so idly! Do your damn jobs!’
The Obsidian Vipers scurried to obey their master, but their eyes continued to steal glances around their enigmatic surroundings.
‘Don’t just gawk at her, fools!’ Their commander encouraged them. ‘Seize her!’
An armored boot kicked the girl across the temple and sent her clattering to the stonework with a sharp yelp. Another several kicks forced her to double over on her side in pain. Scarred, mutilated hands seized her by the arms and pinned them behind her back. She felt the heated burn of rough rope being pulled tight across her wrists.
A morose voice like that of a widow in mourning crept out of the dark behind the gang of thugs. ‘What’s happening out here?'
The Viper nearest the source of sound scrambled forward with an open palm raised.
‘Halt!’ He screamed, furious, but she detected a note of superstitious terror behind his bluster. ‘Return back the way you came, hag! This doesn’t involve you.’
‘Are you jesting?’ Another Viper arched his brow. ‘Skewer her and let us move on.’ He hawked and spat in the direction of the mysterious voice.
Their commander began to issue orders. ‘Faris, guard the girl! The rest of you, encircle our hero here. Silence her protests.’
The Obsidian Vipers unsheathed their weapons in unison, all manner of wicked blades laced with dark crimson venom. They stormed forward as one unit to corner the patch of outlying darkness where torchlight could not so easily reach.
‘Offerings for the Lady of Misery and Sorrow.’ The voice proclaimed in low undertones.
‘Join the Black Descent then, cowards.’
The mere mention of the Black Descent threatened to snuff the flame of the braziers for the briefest moment. Voshki jumped as any nearby traces of light wavered momentarily. To their credit, the Obsidian Vipers seemed resolute in their confidence.
‘Enough…’ The grizzled viper commanding the rabble pointed in the direction of a hazed outline of a woman eclipsed in the shadow. ‘Break her limb by limb. Bring me the head when you’re done.'
One thug charged in to cave the skull of the insubstantial figure. A brutal hack from his club withered the illusion into shades of wet mist. None of them had noticed their leader's severed head tumble from his shoulders until it smacked the ground with a wet thump.
The remaining vipers swiveled around and regarded the corpse with a begrudged disbelief. A frozen chill breezed into them as they readied their weapons for another assault.
A pair of the Vipers charged again, war cries on their lips as they closed distance with the shadow in their midst. The woman neatly lifted her slender blade and parried a reckless hack of a nicked, tarnished weapon. Her physical form seemed to meld into the
shadows as she stepped around the vicious swing of her other attacker.
The spiked club gripped in both hands cleaved harmlessly through the insubstantial mist. Instead, the reckless blow caved in the teeth of the comrade who had charged in with him.
The brutality of the blow obliterated the Viper’s jaw and knocked him out of consciousness the moment he collapsed onto the cobblestone path. One of his comrades mercifully ushered him from the mortal plane.
‘Thrice-cursed shall each of your deaths become.' The woman coalesced between the remaining assailants and answered with an effortless flurry of fatal cuts.
Another victim's weapon clattered to the ground, an urgent hand over the ruptured wound where his heart rested. The bruiser with the gore-slick club staggered and wheezed out a long, agonized scream as his torso began to fall apart.
‘Begone from this place.' The woman demanded of the three remaining souls frozen in place, seized by horror. ‘The Black Descent has claimed more than its share.''
The Vipers heard her command and scrambled to obey. The Obsidian Viper by the name of Faris considered the adolescent girl in his grasp. He relinquished her and vanished into the shadows after his brethren.
‘And what manner of stray has wandered into my domain?’ Her mysterious savior cooed from out of the gentle dark. ‘Another troublesome adolescent fleeing the venomous bite of the viper. You are fortunate that the Lady of Misery and Sorrow has her eye on you. The sacrifices made in your name are worthy of her dark blessing.
‘Tell me, who are you?’ A woman emerged from out of the shadow, garbed in quilted leather armor the color of dark storm clouds. Polished steel plates reinforced the quilted suit of armor in the form of gauntlets, greaves, and pauldrons.
Her braided hair was that of rose and chestnut entwined, shifting into hues of raven black where slim lockets fell over her temples. Four old scars - a form of ritual scarification was etched with precision over the left emerald eye. Her other eye shone a dark silver in the dim firelight.
Voshki slipped out of her hastily bound restraints. She quickly picked herself off the blood-slick stone, her rough spun clothes caked in grime and splattered gore. She bowed her head in submission and knelt amidst the dead offerings claimed by the Goddess of the Underworld.
‘I am nameless.’ She eked out as the adrenaline began to subside. ‘I am nothing more than a passing shadow. I would devote myself to the knowledge of the Black Descent and the ways of its guardians…’
‘An aspirant? Amusing…’ The enigmatic woman considered the young girl before her. ‘But truly? We shall see how bad you truly wish for that.’ She snapped her fingers once and the burning braziers on the stone walls had their flames snuffed in an instant.
‘My name is Shoushan.’ The shadow melding woman called out from nearby. ‘Do you fear what dwells in the night? Does your heart shiver in terror at the thought of death? Does your mind become your enemy, when faced with a threat that you cannot trace with mortal eyes?’
Voshki felt her heart still within her chest. ‘Of course not.’
Shoushan filled the abyss with echoes of amused laughter. An oppressive silence filled the emptiness it left behind.
‘There may be potential within you. To what degree, we indeed shall see. Arise and I shall welcome you… my only rule for the time being is that you never betray hidden knowledge… and that you avoid death - no matter its guises.
Somewhere in the gloom, Shoushan snapped her fingers once again. The dormant braziers on the stone walls ignited once more. She stood patiently by the mysterious door blocking the path further into the depths. ‘So, arise and welcome, Voshki of the Ashen Circle. Come, step into these hallowed halls… we’ll see if the clandestine arts were always meant for you.’