Matres' Twilight #1 Arbiter First Chapter Revised


Active Member
Dec 26, 2020
I apologize for the formatting. Sometimes there's indentations, sometimes there isn't. It won't let me fix them. I just copied and pasted this from a word document.

Today I saw feedback for the first page and I rewrote the first chapter based upon it. Let me know what you think of this YA story. What do you like or not like? Please be specific. And don't mince words either. Thanks.
Chapter One​

Tonight, a long bygone age headed for its eventual requiem. A collector was tasked with catching the theoretically possible. Normally, they apprehended sinners. But tonight, they would be one of many whom determined the Matres’ Twilight. They were sixteen-year-old Marina:

“I know thou art watching I,” Marina said.

She laughed androgynously, courtesy of a blessed bauta mask. Oh, would those conspirators be shocked, she thought. Knowing the truth and using “thou art” instead of “you are”? What would they do against the collector’s wittiness?

“Thou can show thyself,” Marina said, “Or does thou still think I’ll be surprised?”

She heard bells echo. They were too faint for—what’s that? Just the branches’ creaks. Or so they wanted her to think. Just like this just being another smiting by Matre Terra.

Her horse slowly followed the path. One bell’s pealing grew louder. A stench wormed into her mask’s nose. Through her blessed blindfold she saw its source. Drooped upside-down from a tree was a corpse. Bloodless lacerations peppered it. A tiny bell dangled from its neck.

“Another corpse? Really?” Marina said, “Whatever, just a leprosy-addled person’s bell…”

The wind picked up, highlighting how many bells there were. She paled. A bead of sweat rolled down her head. She glanced around. They were always watching. If she showed weakness, they’d ambush her. She leapt off the horse.

“I’m not afraid!” Marina yelled, “Are thou?”

Silence. She took the buckler shield off her back and held it in front. Her rapier was poised behind. She fidgeted with the cloth talisman around its grip. Little did the conspirators suspect the miracle it could cast.

“What?” Marina said, “No, all collectores have the same miracle.”

Her eyes widened. She gritted her teeth.

“Damn that false voice,” Marina said.

She crept towards the corpse. It was a wholly pale body with its blood pooled below. Her eyes darted at every sound. This bore no resemblance to the locals’ yarns of “necromancy”. Course why would it? Necromancy was only theoretical. But is also didn’t resemble voices chanting “Sin-see-kwee.”

“Synnsequi,” Marina said, “Who came up with that gibberish?”

The same people unnerved by her androgynous uniform, she thought.

“I know you locals set me up!” Marina yelled.

Her voice echoed. No response. She knew what they were thinking. That the bauta mask’s blessing concealed a revenant. The tricorno hat hid three horns. The hijab the skull. Such rumors were normal. So, the conspirators harnessed them to assassinate her.

“What?” Marina said, “Embarrassed you’ll lose to a teenager?”

Silence. She looked up. Branches coiled around the corpse’s legs in a symbol.

“M-Matre Terra?” Marina said, “Matre Luna, what is this?”

A whip cracked and her horse neighed before abruptly cutting off. She swung around just as something lurched away from the horse’s corpse.

“Reformandam!” a voice yelled.

A glowing talisman erupted from the ground and coiled around her. It hissed and she gasped. The “snakes” were root fragments bound by fungi.

“It’s an imperfect imitation,” a girl said, “For no mere human can imitate Matre Terra.”

“Matre Terra?” Marina said, “What black magic are thou—”

“It’s the miracle of the fabri,” a boy said.

“F-Fabri?” Marina said, “Thou mean—”

“Indeed,” guttural voices said.

Marina paled. She’d heard of the fabri, Matre Terra’s highest rank. Their secret miracle controlled the “snakes” hobbling her towards a shadowed area.

“All right,” Marina said.

She went to shrug her shoulders, but the “snakes” tightened. Sweat rolled down her head. In the shadows a silhouette gradually became defined. It was a six-winged humanoid. Marina heard crunching bones and sloshing liquid. She forced herself to stop trembling.

“Don’t struggle,” guttural voices said, “You are not a grievous sinner.”

“Grievous…” Marina said.

She eyed the corpse, then gritted her teeth.

“You mean unlucky enough to live in a city smitten with leprosy!” Marina yelled.

The guttural voices gasped.

“Then they had to go on a pilgrimage to Leprosi Sanctuarium,’ Marina said, “Which ‘most nurturing’ Matre Terra also smitten because why not?”

“We are pure,” the girl said, “For Advocatus Olivia only chose that from fellow advocati.”

Marina’s eyebrows shot up. “Advocatus?”

“Snakes” slithered up Marina and punctured her hat. They jerked it up, hooking the hijab on her jaw. Her head snapped up and she gasped.

“Cease thy plodding!” the boy yelled, “We can’t refashion inanimate objects.”

“It’s our due penance to be one with the Synnsequi,” the girl said.

As she got closer to it, her stomach wrenched. Snapping muscles, cracking bones, and sloshing blood echoed within the Synnsequi’s armor. The “snakes” jerked, scraping the mask across her face. Her hijab tore around the mouth.

“Reformandam,” the girl said.

A wax covered wing emerged from the shadows. Its wood creaked as it curled around her. Amidst the peacock feathers were two hands. One clutched the feathers and a talisman. Another reached for her.

“It’s also your due penance to be one with the Synnsequi,” the girl said.

Marina screamed. The talisman was nearby. A hand touched her mouth. She thrashed her head, then lurched forward and clamped the talisman. Her head snapped back. The roots broke. She slammed the ground, jettisoning her rapier and buckler.

“Have mercy on us Advocatus Olivia,” guttural voices said, “For only you are sinless.”

Marina realized that a partial talisman dangled from her mouth. She spat it out. Her neck pain worsened as she fumbled to get the mask over her face.

“Reformandam!” a voice yelled.

The Synnsequi’s chest writhed into a mouth. Warm blood dripped onto Marina. A corpse stench paralyzed her in disgust. The mouth descended and Marina rolled away. She snatched her rapier and buckler before bolting.

“This doesn’t make any sense, what I miss?” Marina said, “WHAT I MISS?”

A guttural bellow caused her to glance back. The Synnsequi wrenched a gold covered wing from the soil. Root fragments were hurled everywhere. The Synnsequi charged her.

“My matre, why’s it not flying?” Marina said.

The Synnsequi’s wings flailed away from the trees. It struggled to stay upright and maintain a steady speed. Marina aimed her rapier at its right knee.

“Tranquilla Aqua!” Marina yelled.

Her talisman glowed. A head-sized water sphere materialized around its knee.

“Didn’t see that coming, did thou?” Marina said.

The Synnsequi stumbled and slowed. But not enough for a heart thundering to shatter her ribs. Nor the lungs prepped to burst forth any second. It occurred to her that maybe the Synnsequi was designed to defeat collectores. But why the wings that unbalanced it? Where’d they get the gold? Why the gold and wax? How’d they move the armor and wings if “Reformandam” could only “Refashion” inanimate objects?

“And why aren’t thou doing what they did in the tales?” Marina yelled.

The Synnsequi laughed. Marina cursed them for defying her fantasy.

“Reality false voice,” Marina said.

She saw a dense thicket of trees ahead. The Synnsequi wouldn’t be able to fit its wings through. She ran through it for seemingly hours til her adrenaline dissipated. Numbing weight overtook her veins and she stumbled into a tree. She panted and clutched her chest. A sharp pain shot from her neck and she gasped.

“Wait…” Marina said, “They’ve been working us like dogs for years…”

Her knees began to buckle, and she collapsed on a log. The uniform boiled her sweat.

“Keep us under… their thumb… and… when we learn too much…”

Her eyes became watery. Why was she talking to herself? No, it wasn’t that, she thought.

“I’m not…” Marina said, “I’m… I…”

Tears streamed down her face.

“This confirms… I’m…” Marina said.

She took a deep breath.

“I WAS RIGHT!” Marina yelled.

Her voice echoed through the forest. She smiled weakly. She was right, the others were wrong. All of them. Her muscles tensed as she recalled THEM saying “There’s kooky Marina.” Her face reddened. She swung her head towards a tree.

“Huh?!” Marina yelled, “Who’s kooky now?”

She sniggered. Didn’t matter that the trees wouldn’t respond for she knew the truth. Just like she always had. Fact, she wondered why we was even overjoyed.

“How do thou feel now willfully blind sheep?” Marina said, “Thou who called me kooky.”

She threw her head back and laughed. Her neck hurt, but she didn’t care. It was too enthralling to image those so lazy they’d be willingly puppeteered. Perhaps this was how the conspirators felt. Her laughter began dying down.

“Wait… if it’s true… b-but this doesn’t fit in,” Marina said, “I’m smarter than everyone.”

The false voice questioned how she hadn’t seen “Reformandam”.

“I… I was tricked,” Marina said. “They lied about how miracles worked precisely for this.”

She didn’t have evidence, said the false voice.

“Shut it,” Marina said.

She sighed.

“I can’t… I won’t relapse,” Marina said, “That’s what they want me to do.”

She smirked.

“But only willfully blind sheep conform,” Marina said.
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I feel like there is a worthwhile story hiding in there, but it’s buried beneath prose that attempts to be clever, instead coming across as obscure and nearly incomprehensible.
As is made clear in the rules, SonicSouls, the limit for an extract in a single thread in Critiques is 1500 words. This was well in excess. I've therefore removed the last several hundred words from this excerpt. If you wish further help with that specific part, then you an put it up in a separate thread at the weekend.

As for formatting, the software always rips that out and doesn't allow for indented first lines. They're not needed, however, as long as there is a clear line's break between paragraphs as you have got here.
It's great that you're so keen to improve this.

I think the underlying problem is that you know your world really really well and so it's hard to see beyond all the things you know to what the reader doesn't. It might be worth taking a step back and maybe trying a couple of these:

  • Write down (in a sentence or two) what you want to achieve from this segment. What do you want the reader to know?
  • If you were to summarise the segment, what would you say? (I genuinely do not understand what's happening, so this would be useful for me)
  • How do you want to present Marina? Right now she's coming over as a bit unhinged, which is fine, but it's not obvious why she's saying everything out loud until really quite late on. Since she's behaving abnormally, it would be useful to know why. Is she seeing the people she's speaking to? Is she aware that she vocalises everything that goes through her head? It doesn't need a paragraph of explanation, just a hint to give the reader something to direct them.
e.g. "“Thou can show thyself,” Marina said, watching the shadowy figure from the corner of her eye, “Or does thou still think I’ll be surprised?”

"Thou can show thyself," Marina said. People laughed when she spoke to the [whoever] but that was because they couldn't see. "Or does..."
First paragraph:
Tonight, a long bygone age headed for its eventual requiem.

This sentence doesn’t make sense to me. An era that ended many, many time periods ago (long bygone age) is going to, at some unknown future date (eventual), be remembered or solemnly chanted about (requiem)? It also seems to be mixing tenses: tonight is present tense, headed is past tense.

A collector was tasked with catching the theoretically possible.

This doesn’t follow the first sentence. It goes from talking about a bygone era to talking about a collector. Catching the theoretically possible? Not sure about this word choice, if they are catching it, it must actually exist, right?

Normally, they apprehended sinners. But tonight, they would be one of many whom determined the Matres’ Twilight.

Again, seems to be mixing tenses with tonight (present), apprehended, would be, and determined (past).

They were sixteen-year-old Marina:

The pronoun they referring to a single person is jarring to me here, as the previous sentences made me think of multiple people.
Hey sonicsouls I read your first submission of this and this is a good improvement. First things first: the beginning sentence reads like a introduction to a news story "Tonight, a long bygone age headed for its eventual requiem" in other news a bunny skateboarding you see what I mean? I think if you remove tonight it works better. Or you could start by describing how the night is, is it black as pitch, is it so dark you can't see your hand in front of your face, something like that

In your first submission there wasn't enough denotation of who is speaking, in this one you use it (although could still be more in my opinion) but you use "said" for most of the speech, it starts to get repetitive, just look up said in a thesaurus and use something more appropriate to how that character is speaking in that moment. It gives us more detail on how that character is feeling about other characters and about what they're saying, without being too verbose.

There is a lot of dialogue without much detail on the actions of the characters, (what is there is good) but in my very humble opinion I would try and talk about what the characters are doing as they are speaking. Are they pacing around? Are they gesturing with their hands? Are they making any faces? Are they kneeling in supplication? With stuff like that it can break up the speech (to make it seem like less of a wall of text) and give us more subtle indications on how they are feeling, maybe they're not actually being truthful in what they're saying? Things like that. It's also more true to life as people generally dont just stand there stoically talking.

If you are going to be insistent about the faux medieval speech then try to use it a bit more sparingly or where it would have more impact for example in this sentence: “Didn’t see that coming, did thou?" I don't think it should really be used like that and it's not consistant because she doesn't use it in other places where that means the same thing, the character often uses "they" instead.
If you really do want to use it just go the whole hog and completely change her speech to something that is more "period" appropriate not just "thou" and "thy" look up some writers that do this (none spring to mind but I'm sure they're out there and I've read some) and learn from them. Bear in mind that this may make her harder to understand though and you could turn readers off but if done well it could be something that readers love.

Again take it with a pinch of salt because every writer will try to make it more into something they would write and if that's not your style, then it may not work. Just something to think about.

A bit about this Marina character, if she's your main character and you want people to like her I don't think it works. If she is supposed to be disliked (at this stage) then great she seems really up herself and if she was supposed to be a leader, it doesn't seem like she had even a slight handle on that. Again if this is what you were going for then you hit the nail on the head.

I also agree with Hex that it's hard to understand because we don't know as much as you, you seem to skip over important information that is vital to the story. Remember that you can see everything that's in this room, what's going on, what characters are thinking and where the story is going. A reader has none of these things. Anyway, keep revising I think you'll chisel out a decent story from this and it's definitely getting better.
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Thanks. In honesty I rushed this and made several mistakes. I'm going to take my time and publish a revision of at least the first page sometime during the weekend. Also, I wanted why Marina is acting that way to be slowly revealed throughout the story. Thanks for the critique.
I share the concerns about lack of a comprehensible narrative here. It's one thing to keep a character's motives and motivations secret as the story opens, and the last thing you should do is info-dump, but it's fatal to keep everything so obscure and mysterious that a reader has no idea what is happening or who anyone is.

Since you're going to revise it, I won't comment further on the obscurity and lack of readability, but I'll raise specific issues of grammar and word use which you'll need to carry forward into any revision, since there were rather too many errors apparent.
  • Normally, they apprehended sinners. -- inevitably this will read as more than one person, even though the previous sentence referred only to "A collector". If you intend to use "they" to signify someone who is neither male nor female, or who does not wish to be designated as either, then I'd suggest you make this "Normally, Marina" so the subsequent "tonight, they would" clearly refers to this person. However, you later refer to "she" so it's not clear what your intention is in this respect
  • one of many whom determined -- "who" not "whom"
  • They were sixteen-year-old Marina: -- colon wrong, full stop needed
  • “I know thou art watching I” -- unless this is dialect or she is deliberately using the wrong pronoun for effect, this should be "watching me"
  • She laughed androgynously -- while I accept that a laugh could sound very feminine on the one hand or very masculine on the other, the adverb is if not actually incorrect, is very ungainly
  • “Thou can show thyself” and “Or does thou -- if you're going to use the archaic personal pronoun, be aware that the verbs should also change unless, again, she's deliberately using the wrong form or she's ignorant of it, so here it's "Thou canst" and "dost thou" and you'll need to make changes to other verbs throughout
  • “Whatever, -- having her use archaic forms of speech and then a late C20th teenager's slang is inconsistent to say the least, and while this is the worst offender, the mix-and-match effect is shown in other expressions later
  • a leprosy-addled person’s bell…” -- "addled" means confused, not, as I suspect you intended, "riddled" unless you intend her to be a second Mrs Malaprop
  • Marina said, -- comma wrong, full stop needed (and I agree about the overuse of this dialogue attribution)
  • Marina yelled, “Are thou?” -- comma wrong, full stop needed, and it should be "Art thou?"
  • the buckler shield -- tautology, like saying "rapier sword"
  • “What?” Marina said, -- again comma wrong, full stop needed. This mistake is consistently repeated where further dialogue follows the attribution; there would only be a comma after "said" if all the dialogue, before and after the attribution, comprised one sentence
  • That the bauta mask’s blessing concealed a revenant. The tricorno hat hid three horns. The hijab the skull. -- the full stops, creating one sentence fragment and cutting off both from the original verb, aren't correct, and here don't redeem themselves in stylistic terms. Use either commas, a comma and a conjunction or at a pinch semi-colons
  • “What black magic are thou—” -- either "art thou" (with the verb presumably to follow but cut off) if she's addressing the girl alone, but "are you" if she's talking to both of them, since "thou" is singular
  • controlled the “snakes” hobbling her towards -- wrong use of the verb/wrong verb chosen, since they can hobble her ie fetter her in some way, or she can hobble towards something, ie limp, but it can't be used to mean she is being propelled somewhere while hobbled
  • “Which ‘most nurturing’ Matre Terra also smitten because why not?” -- "had also" and "because 'Why not?'" ie put within separate quotation marks (though frankly this is again inconsistent with archaic speech)
  • only chose that -- "that" wrong since "pure" is an adjective, not a noun, so better as "chose pure ones" though it's not clear why you've used past tense here and not "choose"
  • A wax covered wing -- wax-covered, with a hyphen
  • She slammed the ground -- to the ground
  • jettisoning her rapier -- only if she deliberately throws them away, as "jettison" can't apply if they simply fall from her grasp
  • a partial talisman -- I'm not sure how a talisman can be partial; I suspect you mean it's a part of a talisman, which is different
  • “This doesn’t make any sense, what I miss?” -- I'm not sure what this is intended to mean but presumably it should be "sense. What did I miss?"
  • Her talisman glowed. A head-sized water sphere materialized around its knee. -- the "its" here must refer back to the talisman as the last "it" mentioned, ie as written it materialised around the talisman's knee, so since you mean the creature's knee you'll have to restate its name or invert the two sentences
  • Nor the lungs prepped to burst forth -- unless the prepping was done by the creature, "prepped" makes no sense here, since it means to deliberately prepare something in advance
  • Marina cursed them for defying her fantasy. -- wrong verb chosen since "defying" means actively resisting or objecting, not simply eg "ruining"
  • til -- either "till" or "until" or if you want to abbreviate it then it's 'til (with the apostrophe signifying the missing letters)
  • why we was even overjoyed. -- either "she was", "they was" if you're keeping to the neither-female-nor-male pronoun, or "we were" if you intend to lapse into first person
  • “How do thou feel now willfully blind sheep?” -- wrong verb form ("dost") and comma needed after "now"
  • to image those -- "imagine"

Obviously, I don't know if these are mistakes caused by you rushing to put the piece up and/or failing to proof-read carefully, but it is best to ensure your prose is as good as you can make it before posting. If, though, you're not sure about some aspects of writing eg dialogue punctuation, then if you can't quickly find answers here on Chrons or elsewhere, you can always ask.
I suggest that I much tighter edit would aid in the drama. I would consider removing a lot of the opening and start with:

She paled. A bead of sweat rolled down her head. She glanced around. They were always watching. If she showed weakness, they’d ambush her. She leapt off the horse.

“I’m not afraid!” Marina yelled, “Are thou?”

This gives me a feeling of urgency and threat. I am not sure anything in the plot line is lost by removing the text preceding.

I never did really decide whether this was an actual encounter or some sort of split personality dream. The earlier parts seem to indicate an attack from a group of magicians while the latter part seemed to be solely within Marina's mind.

Consider removing the backstory details, as they seem to interfere with the story. Reconsider the use of thou/thee. It is very difficult to maintain a consistent grammar and mixing archaic forms and more modern phrases is jarring to read. Include the minimum number of details to sufficiently tell the arc for the first scene. I kept getting lost all of the asides.

Simplify. There will be many more chapters in which to expand upon this world. A reader can only absorb so much new information at once.
You're rushing with the rewriting, but I don't think you really understand the fundamental issues for addressing core concerns. Your use of Point of View (POV) could especially do with more work - have a read of Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer, as he explains how to cover this really well, along with the various other technicalities of writing.
I read both your first draft and this one. Don't have any other critique to add that hasn't been mentioned. Thought I would just share my experience. [Warning-I am a reader that doesn't like to be overly confused] While I noticed improvements in clarity from first draft I was still thoroughly confused by this one. In the midst of being confused I read stuff like this.
That the bauta mask’s blessing concealed a revenant. The tricorno hat hid three horns.
And I have no idea what any of it means, and it is not much fun for me as my mind is already struggling for orientation. In short—the learning curve of this story feels too daunting for me. However I did enjoy the Marina character in this extended version, good decision on keeping the old english voicings.

Also, why did you change 'a leper's bell' to 'a leprosy-addled person's bell'? 'leper's bell' sounds much better to me.
I liked it but I didn't finish reading it.

I liked parts of the writing style. I liked how things were kept mysterious and how it was your writing that kept things mysterious.

The line I liked best was

The wind picked up, highlighting how many bells there were.

Though, of course, it could do with more revision, say

The wind picked up and another bell jangled, then another, then another.


It was a bit hard for me to keep engaged and I actually didn't finish it because it got too hard for me to read.

You could consider having the narrator explain a bit more or use more familiar terms so that the reader has a bit more to hold on to.

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