Matres' Twilight


Active Member
Dec 26, 2020
Chapter One
Normally a collector wasn’t tasked with apprehending nonexistent threats, but tonight’s sinners were just that. Collector Marina knew this and the quest’s true purpose, but had to pretend otherwise to expose the conspiracy. She trotted her horse through the shattered forest of Redemptionis Leprosi.

“I know you’re watching me,” Marina said.

Her blessed mask, a bauta, gave her an androgynous voice. Its uncanniness complemented its bone white plaster and protruding square jawline. The shadows of pursuing locals trembled because of it. Marina swore she heard their blasphemy in the wind. They claimed her hat, a tricorno, hid three horns, and its attached hijab hid a skull. Others said her uniform’s multilayered fabric imparted an androgynous appearance to further mask the truth. She chuckled.

“What?” Marina said, “Afraid that beneath my uniform lurks a… revenant?”

She smirked.

“If only you knew the wisdom of Matre Luna. Maybe then you’d stop worshipping Matre Terra. What’s this, fifth time they’ve destroyed Redemptionis Leprosi?”

She began chortling, but stopped upon remembering why people didn’t worship Matre Luna like they used to. But that was why she was here, and why the locals were pursuing her. However, they were willfully blind sheep herded by superstition, thus posing no threat. But did the pealing bells?

Her eyes darted at every sound but stopped when her vision became colored smudges. She realized that the wind was causing her to shiver like she was having a seizure. Shivering showed weakness, thus dishonoring her rank. She tried to stop but couldn’t, and her eyes became watery.

“F-forgive me Matre Luna… I mean it this time.”

She sniveled. At least her blessed blindfold hid the dishonorable behavior while still allowing her to see. But perhaps she didn’t deserve to see what Matre Luna taught. The branches thrashed, snapping her from thought. She fumbled to draw her rapier. Digging her nails into the cloth talisman wrapped around its grip, she jabbed her rapier at sudden sounds.

“Why don’t yah come out huh? Afraid of my talisman and its invocation, aren’t you?”

Silence. She realized that the wind had picked up, and she blushed.

“Get a hold of yourself. No one’s following--”

She clamped her mouth shut. What was she saying? Why else would there be creaking branches and especially those pealing bells? Her psyche interjected that the wind was responsible, but part of her claimed that was the brainwashing’s remnants speaking and not her true voice. She gritted her teeth.

“Damn that brainwashing.”

Her eyes widened.

“A-ah ha! Thought it was still affecting me, didn’t you? Shut it! I know you’re laughing!”

For reasons she couldn’t explain, the bells seemed to peal in response.

“Laugh at yourself you’re the willfully blind sheep oh I suppose I should ‘splain that shouldn’t I? Shame never be able to understand miserable Terraites you are.”

She gasped and struggled to catch her breath, then began gagging on corpses’ miasma. Part of her psyche said it couldn’t be corpses, and the wind intensified the miasma’s pungency seemingly in response. It knew that the miasma faintly permeated the forest since she first heard the bells. Bells, she thought, could it be… them?

She forced herself to count to ten before sighing. It couldn’t be “them” because that meant the locals weren’t lying about those corpses, and that couldn’t be true. But were they lying about the other corpses?

“You Terraites always weaving yarns ‘bout monsters haunting whatever. I know there’s no… is that seriously its name? ‘Sin-see-kwee’?”

Her tongue knotted. The “Synnsequi” sounded like a drunken yarn in name and concept. Probably was. Or was that what the conspirators wanted her to think? Yarns like this were so commonplace amongst Terraites as to be mundane, especially around here. It would have been the perfect ruse had she not been aware of their deception.

She cringed at the corpses’ miasma, and she knew it couldn’t be anything else. But did that mean she was wrong? No, she told herself; local yarns always had a kernel of truth suffocating beneath the superstitious delusions. Maybe there was a Synnsequi, but it was some psychopath clad in cultish garb. Or did they want her to think that?

One bell grew louder as she rounded a corner. She jerked the reins back and the horse lurched to a halt. A corpse hung upside-down from a tree. Its bulbous deformities and leather-like skin rendered its gender nebulous. Marina’s breathing accelerated.

“It’s just leprosy just leprosy just leprosy gah!”

She bit her lip and inspected the corpse. It was a “leper”, the slur for leprosy-infected people, and they were twice a victim. Once it was from Matre Terra cursing them for supposed sin and another from whoever or whatever murdered them.

Their pilgrim gown was shredded, revealing skin white as her bauta. Bloodstains trailed downward from its lacerations. Marina followed them and then recoiled. The head was swollen and red, but not from being drenched in blood. As the branches holding it bobbed, she heard blood swishing in its head.

A hard-viscous lump formed in her throat and she struggled to force it down. Only the Terraites could envision something this bestial as punishment. Probably shallow symbolism they construed as profound philosophy. Terraites were fanatics for that and grotesque art. Maybe that was why the twilight was illuminating the corpse like it was in a painting.

“In the name of Matre Luna…”

A shadow twitched and she jabbed her rapier at it.

“Tranquilla Aqua!”

Her talisman glowed, and a head-sized water sphere materialized where the shadow was.

“Ha! How you like my invocation… now?”
This is better than the last.
There might be some need to tighten, take care of some small problems.. I'll let others address those.
Here though was something that jumped out at me.

She gasped and struggled to catch her breath, then began gagging on corpses’ miasma. Part of her psyche said it couldn’t be corpses, and the wind intensified the miasma’s pungency seemingly in response. It knew that the miasma faintly permeated the forest since she first heard the bells. Bells, she thought, could it be… them?
Miasma is such a strong word--used once in the right place it can have great affect--however in this short distance you use it three times.
It becomes like beating a dead horse. I would advise finding a few different words or means of avoiding overusing the one.

It crops up again later and that would be alright if there were but two instances in this piece.

This paragraph also highlights some of the problems that crop up.
Part of her psyche said it couldn’t be corpses, and the wind intensified the miasma’s pungency seemingly in response.
This is a difficult and awkward sentence where the word seemingly is in the wrong place.
Part of her psyche said it couldn't be corpses, the wind seemed to intensify its pungency in response.
It knew that the miasma faintly permeated the forest since she first heard the bells.
There is such a separation between psyche in the last sentence and It knew(which I think refers to psyche)that it could bear repeating Psyche here or to just leave it off.
Yet the odor had faintly permeated the forest since she first heard the bells.

Something is different about the character this time.
It could be good, it could be bad, only you might know.

I get the sense of someone haughty, but frightened and perhaps a bit immature.
Like some child taught to be aloof and yet now out alone where she should never be alone. trying to muster up the courage to remain above everything and failing in the process. I suppose it says a lot that all of that seems to come through.
The premise here seems very interesting (a conflicted and inexperienced religious enforcer encounters a mysterious corpse alone on a road)! As I was reading, however, I struggled to understand the mechanics/logistics of the scene and who was speaking (eventually I think I figured out that it was only Marina, speaking to herself). This confusion was compounded by all the world-building terms that don't yet make sense (not enough context to understand them all). Because this is the first chapter, you might be ok with overwhelming your readers a little and just diving straight in.

Like @tinkerdan, I got a sense of "someone haughty, but frightened and perhaps a bit immature."

I wonder how the scene might feel if there was just a smidge of "telling" along the lines of: Marina, an acolyte of Matre Luna, knew that if she could convince the heretics who worshipped Matre Terra of their wrong doing, the world would be peaceful and good. She was part of an elite group, an inner circle, whose sole purpose was to root out the Terraite heresy, with violence and magic, if needs be. Or something like that, just to ground us a little more?
I rarely read fantasy so I won't comment on content.

In the beginning, you explain something before your character reacts. You might consider having her react, with the chuckling or dialogue, first, then explain. It may increase the tension. For instance, if she asks the question about the mask before the reader knows what that is it can help make us more curious.

Likewise with her saying she knows they're watching. Except here I'd caution you about opening a book with dialogue. Some people think it's a cheap way to start with action. So here you could start with a bit of character emotion or something.

Also, there are a few places you use filler type verbs. For instance, the gown was shredded could become the shredded gown...then you would have space in the sentence for a strong verb to describe something else regarding the gown to help set scene...drew the onlookers eyes, overshadowed the hungry faces that would normally capture, etc. Just something to be aware of whenever you use words like was or is.

You also sometimes explain an emotion that you don't really need to. Like the MC forced herself to count to ten. You could just have her think one, breathe, two breathe, etc. It wouldn't have to be that style but something to show she's forcing herself to calm down rather than saying it.

These are nitpicking things as the piece is overall well-written, makes sense, shows emotion, starts world-building without being overwhelming.
I suggest to simplify, simplify, simplify. I feel you have a concept in your head about the long term story arc, but because so much of it is crammed into the introduction, there is no time to explore anything in greater detail. Simplify the vocabulary and replace single words with more detailed descriptions of what is to be conveyed.

As the chapter plot line seems to be Marina discovers and battles a creature, the Synnsequi, perhaps start at the point of discovering the dead body in the tree. None of the preceding text seems to have any bearing on the story. The reader never discovers the task mentioned initially. Hinting about the true meaning of the quest only serves as a note to the reader, you can ignore the following, it is not what the story will be about.

Consider simplifying the headgear. Are both a hajib and a hat really necessary? A mask and a blindfold? Does the mask really need to have some technology to transform a voice? If the eyes are to be covered, why would the mask have eye holes in the first place?

It appears that Marina has two magical abilities. One, she can see through solid objects that are near, but does not seem able to see through solid objects that are more distant. Two, there is some sort of magical talisman that she eventually uses in her battle. If the first ability is truly important to the overall arc, then it needs to described in more detail as to its extent and constraints.

I am making some guesses as to what the overall plot entails, but I would guess that it would be sufficient in the first chapter to, one, introduce and describe Marina, two introduce and describe her magical abilities, three, introduce and describe the Synnsequi, and, four, describe Marina's battle with or escape from the Synnsequi. The various religions can be introduced later, probably sequentially, as well as the villages and the world infrastructure. By paring down what is presented, it allows greater exploration of the key details that are presented.
Just pointing out the title, may be confusing? Considering I clicked on it as I have been watching films of similar name and misread it in my haste. Something to think about.

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