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Adventure Fantasy Fiction

Discorded drunken music swaggered up from the city of flapping canvas below. Tuneless yet merry lutes, belched singing and half hearted cheering, all battling for dominance over the melee of whetstone and anvil. What a racket it made. Never been a night different though, not to Jax's memory anyway. Same patriotic songs, same heroic stories, same bloody business needed doing come morn'. Only thing ever changed was the number of the dead. And that only traveled one road. Pointless the lot of it.


Something has to change.


Blowing out a smoking breath, Jax wiped sweat and grime from his forehead then tilted his face to the stars, thankful for the bite of frigid breeze.


"Still can't sleep lad?" Jax turned to the rasping voice of Roman. Filling the forge's doorway he chewed on the end of a never lit pipe, half of his burnt and scarred face cast in craggy shadows from the crackling fires within.


"No. Thought working some iron would tire me out, but it just made me angry."


"Angry?" 


"Aye. Angry." Jax spat into the grassy verges, folded his corded arms and clenched his square jaw.


"You can talk about it lad. Whatever it is, it will stay between us."


"Words ain't going to fix it."


Roman placed a meaty hand on Jax's shoulder, "You would have to try to know for sure, no? Three nights now, all them other men down there are off celebrating their return, but you–"


"They're fools, or brutes, or worse yet, both." Jax hissed the words with more venom than he had intended.


"I'd say you're right there."


Roman pointed with the stem of his pipe, over the encampment, beyond the tattered standards whip cracking in the wind, towards the flickering braziers snaking up the mountain path. "It's a tough road to walk, but we've all had to do it. Can't be letting what happens on the other side of the Breach define you. Life goes on Jax."


"Not for everyone."


"Course not lad, it's war ain't it. Someone has to pay the butcher's bill." Romans face scrunched up, mustache twitching, "Captain Jenricks said only you and one other from your division made it back. Should see that as a blessing I'd say. Do you know how lucky you are?"


"I do." Jax lied. It didn't feel like luck. To be cursed with the faces of the dead, normal faces, with families and friends, and his axe buried in their skulls. How he had roared, charged, even laughed. The memory twisted his guts. Her face most of all filled his mind, fair, innocent, almost beautiful. 


"Well what's the matter." Roman snapped, sucking on his pipe and exhaling from habit. "Thirteen years you've worked this forge, every blasted day all you harped on about was wanting to swing the swords, not forge them. You bragged, played, even snuck off into the regiments saying you would slay so many Pharinesse that they would retreat at your very battle cry. And now, you're blooded and you sit here whimpering. You're alive lad! By the Ancestors, you're alive."


"And for what?" Jax balled his fists, blood hammering anvil loud in his ears.


"For the realm, lad. For the realm." Roman pulled a flask from his pocket whilst shaking his head, unscrewed it, gulped, sucked at his teeth, then sniffed. "You know what even one of them beasts will do if they ever get over those mountains? "


"Beasts? Laughable. They going to do any worse than what we are doing to them?"


Roman scanned about him, squinting into the shadows, brows drawn in, "You need to take a moment Jax, the wrong person hears such a question they might call it sympathy for the enemy, treason even."


A mirthless, hollow laugh slipped past Jax's cracked lips, "Wouldn't want to point out the truth now would we? Wouldn't want to stand up for what's right? Best just pretend we are the heroes, eh? Protecting the realm, bullshit."


Roman stepped closer, voice lowered to conspiratorial tones, "Careful lad, I mean it. You've been the nearest thing I've had to a son since I dragged you from the streets of Callion so I'll protect you. Even if it's from yourself, you hear me?…but don't push it."


Snapping the flask from Romans hand, Jax swilled the foul liquor then winced. It burned his parched throat, scorched away his boiling self loathing rage. Forced him to face the truth. To face her. Again.


"There was a girl," Jax's voice was flat, as if it was all that had to be said.


The silent moment stretched impossibly long as Jax gathered the words. There was no easy way to say it. But he owed it to Roman at least to be truthful.


"Orders came down on the fifth day. Reinforce the thirty first, break through the Pharinesse lines no matter what and hold until the Mages could set up another Syphon. Contain the bastards, end the bastards, that's what Jenrick's roared fifty times, maybe more, as he marched us up the mountain path. All clanging armour and whimpering prayers. Boys pretending to be men. Men pretending there was little to be feared of."


Jax licked his lips, "You hear the stories, listen to the songs, but nothing can prepare anyone for that sight. The Breach, a hole to another world, looked like Hell itself to me. Damn Clerics and their blood magics." The two spat almost in unison, but for different reasons Jax's reckoned.


"I remember lad, and it's twenty odd years since I crossed over. Fire and death. Death and fire. No place for good folk. And the stench. Just glad I made it back and found 'way to make myself useful enough to not have to return." Roman nodded towards the forge as if Jax hadn't heard the tale a hundred times. "So you were scared then lad?"


Jax shook his head. "Should have been. Should have been emptying me guts like the other lads. But no, all I could think was how much I wanted this. How great a song they would sing about me. How everyone would call me a great man. No orphan, no smithie, no, there goes Jax the Destroyer. Drove back the filth and closed the gap all on his own. Damn foolish notion. Child's idea."


"We all think like that every now and then, Jax. We all want to be admired and loved. Nothing wrong with that, perfectly normal. No need to be beating yourself up over something you imagined now is there?" Roman flicked spit from his pipe then clamped it back between his yellow teeth.


"Maybe. But when the horn blew Roman, we charged, and I ran faster than anyone else. Out of the dugouts, leaping decaying comrades like they were just clumps of autumn leaves, barreling through Pharinesse like they were wheat and I was the scythe. So I swung my axe high and low, and reaped the bloody harvest. I laughed, and roared, and forgot who I was. What I was. They were the problem and I the answer. I was a beast, no man. What a song they would sing, eh? That is all that ran through my head. As If I was watching myself. An image of a warrior I had pulled from a nightmare."


Roman cast a sideways glance at him, took another drink of his whiskey, "So…this girl?"


"Aye, the girl." 


"On the twelfth night we fell upon an enemy camp. They had not seen nor heard us coming. I snuck between crumbling black walls, a ruin of some kind. Sat around a campfire they were, cooking and sharing whatever they had, laughing, singing, polishing weapons. Their black and crimson segmented armour lay next to each of them, their insect-like helmets glinting orange and red from the flames. But they were…just like us. No creatures from hell, no demons that ate children, just normal…people. Amongst them a young girl was passing out water or wine, she had a smile for everyone. But she spotted me, and I froze."


Jax pressed his eyes shut, then paced back and forth, his hands digging into his hips. "Everything the Empire has been saying for decades is a lie Roman. All of it. And for what?"


"For the rea—"


Jax raised a hand to stop the vile lies spilling from the one person he once considered a friend. Family even.


"They were slaughtered, without hesitation, with glee. That's when I saw it. We weren't heroes, I wasn't the only beast, we all were. The Breach came from us, we punched a hole into their world, our Clerics, our problem, we invaded their land, we –"


Jax spun, blood flooding his mouth, disbelief filling his mind. Something thudded the side of his face again, bone cracked on knuckle and sent him sprawling amongst the pebble strewn grass. 


"I said not to push it boy!" Hissed Roman through gritted teeth. "Everyone has to serve. We do what we're told, when we're told!" He grasped Jax's jerkin and raised his fist one more time.


"You saw it too. You knew all along, and you told me all the tales! All the lies!...You bast–" Jax's nose crunched under the old smithies fist and he slumped back to the ground.


"You see some little girl get run through and you think you're going to turn your back on everything. After all I give you, after all the Empire has granted us." Roman wiped red from his swelling knuckles, "That'll be enough of that crap, you hear me?"


Jax couldn't help it, it just bubbled out. Laughter. Loud obnoxious laughter. He pushed himself up onto his knees, shoulders shaking as if some great weight had just been lifted from them.


"What you laughing at boy? Need another slap?"


"You don't get it." Jax stood, blood filling his mouth, salty, bitter, refreshing. "The little girl, she didn't die." He stepped closer to Roman, chest puffed out, brow knotted. "I wouldn't let that happen, not to a child "


"What you saying boy?" Roman growled.


"You already know, my division, they didn't make it did they?" Jax smiled, his hands out wide.


"This…this is…madness, treason…you little–" Romans fist jabbed, but Jax dodged. He tried again, Jax caught it, squeezed, twisted with all his teeth grinding might until Roman barked and stumbled back.


"You've changed boy, you're no ward of mine, you're done for you hear. Done for!"


Something twanged from the darkness beyond the forge. Romans eyes grew wide. And wider still as he looked at the arrow protruding his chest. He gasped, fumbled at his shirt, and dropped to his knees, wheezing.


"For three nights I sat awake wondering, how would you react if I told you. Would you see my point of view? Would you hear me out?" Jax knelt before Romans blanched, gurgling, face. "You choose violence, you couldn't even see another point of view. You're no fool, nor brute, you're something much worse - a coward."


Grass rustled under the black cloak of a hooded figure, their bow held loosely as they ambled out of the night.


Jax gestured for her to come closer, "Roman I'd like you to meet Farasa." He grinned at the old smithies bulging eyes and snatched breath. "Some bandages over the face, Empire armour, a dash of blood and no one even batted an eye."


Roman shuddered, collapsed to the dirt staring at the Pharinesse face beneath the hood.


Standing Jax put out his palm and Farasa dropped a set of hand axes into it. "You worried about one making it over the breach, ha. I count two," he pointed between them.


Romans fingers stretched weakly upwards as if grasping for life itself. His shirt a dark mess, eyes dull, his arm dropped and he fell still with a final wheeze.


"What now?" asked Farasa with that beautiful melodic voice.


"Now we begin."

October 04, 2023 11:37

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57 comments

Marty B
23:02 Oct 06, 2023

Great world building, I heard the 'Discorded drunken music' and smelled the pipe. The futility of war (Wilfred Owen has a great poem) has been written about since people were scrawling on caves. Jax has seen 'the Breach' and knows the terror of war. The reader and Roman, do not know how much he understands though until the climax, when Jax reveals it is all a lie, and he has come back from the breach to make it right. Make it right for Farasa, and himself anyway. everyone else be damned. Thanks!

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Kevin Logue
06:41 Oct 07, 2023

Glad you enjoyed Marty. Know that you mention it I think we studied that poem in English class man a moons ago, must check it out again. Cheers for reading and leaving your feedback, always appreciated 👍

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Chris Miller
09:24 Oct 06, 2023

A very entertaining story, Kevin. The switch of allegiance works well and the way he tests the waters with Roman really builds character and tension. Nice work. If I had one criticism - there's a better title in there somewhere.

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Kevin Logue
09:31 Oct 06, 2023

Cheers Chris. I've never considered a different title, if you've any suggestions I'd love to hear them. Is it a giveaway or disconnected from the story?

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Chris Miller
09:58 Oct 06, 2023

It's not that it's bad, I just thought it doesn't do the story justice. It doesn't say 'exciting fantasy war story!' There are so many dramatic things in there the Breach, the forge, his dramatic change of heart - 'Forged in the Breach', 'The Hammer of the Pharinesse' 'Jax the Destroyer'

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Kevin Logue
10:13 Oct 06, 2023

Well now they are all fantastic ha, Great suggestions. I think Forged in the Breach is a winner. Cheers Chris, appreciate that.

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Mary Bendickson
15:57 Oct 04, 2023

A grizzly look at what it takes to be a warrior. Interesting he realized he was on the wrong side.

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Kevin Logue
16:07 Oct 04, 2023

Cheers Mary, glad you liked it...who can really say which side is wrong 🤔

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Michelle Oliver
03:12 Oct 05, 2023

Kevin this is stellar story telling. I like this twist. What side of the battle should we be on? Who is right and wrong? Is there glory in battle? The growth of your MC is agonising as we see and feel his inner turmoil build until the final reveal. Your whole world is believable and real. You have trusted the reader to be able to fill in the details, no spoon feeding. Eg the breach, you never went into detail as to how it came to be, just set it up and allowed us to fill in the gaps. “The Breach, a hole to another world, looked like Hell i...

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Kevin Logue
07:27 Oct 05, 2023

Thanks Michelle, you ask all the questions I was toying with, glad to see they shone through, and happy to hear Jax's turmoil is front and centre. I think when the reader is left to fill out the world it almost becomes richier, sometimes details can weigh it down but I particularly wanted this to be a character story. Often I've considered expanding this since I wrote it some months back, but no idea I've had seems to improve on what's here. Maybe someday a story from the Captain General when he hears that two Pharinisee are through the b...

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AnneMarie Miles
13:32 Oct 04, 2023

The writing in this is wonderful and the story itself is epic. Friend turned foe, and man turned hero/traitor, depending whose side you're on. You used dialogue to build the world they are in, and it gave us everything we needed to know. The climatic reveal of Jax switching sides, after realizing how monstrous the Empire is, was really powerful - I mean that initial punch to the face was described so well I could see it! This is a story of morality and heroism. It takes a lot to remove the blindfolds of evil and stand against it. The girl wa...

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Kevin Logue
14:13 Oct 04, 2023

Oh wow, thank you so much for such wonderful feedback. I'm in my factory job right now smiling from ear to ear. Truth be told, this was the first story I ever wrote for here but it only ever got interaction in likes the weeks after the competition closed. Then one guy, the awesome Ken Cartisano, did me the huge honour of reading all my stories and commenting. Great stuff too, constructive stuff. He was the only person to comment on it and he really liked it, made me rethink maybe it wasn't too bad. Then this competition rolled round and I...

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AnneMarie Miles
15:04 Oct 04, 2023

It is always good to get constructive feedback and to not get discouraged by it, but rather allowing it to help you grow! And then going back to your stuff and reworking it. I have one story that has been under construction for almost 10 years! Always writing it from a new perspective or new voice. Glad you resurrected this one. Also, from experience, it certainly helps to read and comment on others stories in order to receive comments on yours, so that may be why this didn't get the initial attention until have the contest closed. That ha...

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12:36 Oct 14, 2023

You are an expert at creating fully rounder fantasy settings and characters. Enjoyed this a lot, the reveal of Jax' truth was well done. He was hoping to find an ally in Roman or at least sense a possibility he could change his world view. But some are too blinded to even want to consider there might be another angle to view things from. Unfortunate. But it helped Jax commit to his chosen course. Would love to read more in this world.

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Kevin Logue
13:40 Oct 14, 2023

Cheers Derrick, fantasy is my jam, it's what I read 90% of the time - or used to, since joining Reedsy I read everything now ha. Yeah some have suggested they would enjoy reading more, I'm conflicted because I've been working on a plan for a larger version of The Nexus of Nowhere, but now I'm also considering this. Been actually thinking of spending the rest of October planning something longer format then doing NaNovMiWri, or whatever it's called were you finish a first draft in November. Possibilities, possibilities

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Angela Govender
18:28 Oct 12, 2023

Entertaining, descriptive and well put together Kevin. Neat Job!

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Udith Sagar
21:16 Oct 11, 2023

Jax's journey from pride to realization is both raw and moving. I thoroughly enjoyed the storytelling.

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Kevin Logue
18:16 Oct 12, 2023

Thanks you Udith, glad you liked and found it moving. Short fiction seems to work best when it has that emotional impact, which is something I'm very much learning about myself.

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Jessie Laverton
21:15 Oct 11, 2023

I really enjoyed this. You can really feel how traumatised he is by his experience and the things he learnt, his feeling of deception as well. His bitterness comes across really poignantly. And I definitely was not expecting that ending. Also, I just think it’s beautifully written. The wording is rich and poetic without being over the top and sentimental.

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Kevin Logue
18:15 Oct 12, 2023

You have made me very happy with such kind words, I genuinely envy some of the writers on here who seem to have that poetic voice and rich vocabulary I always thought it absent in mine, thank you for this, honestly means a lot.

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05:55 Oct 10, 2023

This is marvelous—so much texture to the setting and complexity to the relationship, and they world is built exactly as much as the reader needs in order to get the themes and predict what comes next. The dialogue is natural and realistic. Really enjoyed this!

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Kevin Logue
06:55 Oct 10, 2023

Thank you so much for such wonderful feedback, it is greatly appreciated 👍

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Kailani Bonam
00:16 Oct 10, 2023

"...reaped the bloody harvest." is such a good imagery. I always like a soldier who questions the reasons for war. Good job!

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Kevin Logue
06:54 Oct 10, 2023

Cheers Kailani, questioning wars and why people hate is something that fascinates me, the human condition to find enemies is a strange trait, perhaps I'm too much of a peace loving hippy at heart ha. Glad you enjoyed and I liked that imagery too.

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Audrey Knox
15:36 Oct 09, 2023

"Something has to change." In light of current world events, this story hits so hard. I found tiny typos in case you're interested: - "For different resasons, Jax's reckoned" (I love this line. Just don't think you need the possessive here). - "Romans blanched, gurgling" (missing an apostrophe). Such a profound anti-war story. Really enjoyed it, and the fantasy setting made it just distant enough to allow your reader to let their guard down enough to get your point across.

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Kevin Logue
16:17 Oct 09, 2023

Thanks for the feedback, glad it resonated. Shame the editing is locked, them's some good pick ups that I, nor anyone else, spotted. Praise be to your editors eye!

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Laurie Roy
15:30 Oct 09, 2023

Love the lyrical voice you use in your descriptive parts. Well done

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Kevin Logue
16:19 Oct 09, 2023

Thanks very much Laurie, didn't realise I had lyrical in me, ha. Glad you enjoyed.

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Suma Jayachandar
07:27 Oct 09, 2023

‘To be cursed with the faces of the dead, normal faces, with families and friends, and his axe buried in their skulls’ -this line sums up the moral dilemma Jax is going through perfectly. I found the dialogue between Jax and his mentor/father figure Roman very interesting and well done. I liked the word play with ‘breach’ too. The build up to the climax was taut and convincing. Didn’t see the final twist coming, which is a bonus. Every warrior likes to think of himself as a hero, but can anyone remain a hero in a conflict? Is one free to ch...

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Kevin Logue
08:14 Oct 09, 2023

Thanks Suma for reading and your feedback. You are correct that history shows no one is the hero, you captured what I trying to say perfectly - Every warrior likes to think of himself as a hero, but can anyone remain a hero in a conflict? This was my thinking whilst writing, I had been reading about PAX Romana, and although the Roman scholars called it two centuries of peace from the view of the Gals it was turning a forest to a desert and calling it victory. Thanks again, appreciate you taking the time.

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Joy Watts
19:28 Oct 08, 2023

I really like your use of words, especially in the dialog. This is my first comment on Reedsy.

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Kevin Logue
20:37 Oct 08, 2023

I'm honoured! Thanks for reading and commenting, glad you enjoyed it. I shall check out your story.

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Myranda Marie
16:59 Oct 08, 2023

I am always in awe of stories that transport the readers to another time and another world. A true talent to pull such detail from your imagination and have us believe it all to have actually happened. Total GOT vibe, and I loved it. Jax's struggle with humanity, questioning the senselessness of war was intriguing. Kudos to Jax for his convictions, choosing what's right over blind loyalty.

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Kevin Logue
17:40 Oct 08, 2023

Oh wow, such high praise. Thank you so much, I'll take a GOT vibe any day!

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Arthur McNamee
15:23 Oct 08, 2023

I love this story from beginning to end. Death to the war- mongers! There is a poetic ring to your pros which is gripping and superbly sets the tone throughout. I did not see the ending coming but am glad for it. You are a master storyteller . Thank you for the opportunity to read this!

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Kevin Logue
16:07 Oct 08, 2023

Oh thank you for such marvelous feedback Arthur, I'm blushing over here lol

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E.D. Human
12:46 Oct 08, 2023

Thoroughly enjoyed this fantasy,hope it's part of a longer series?

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Kevin Logue
12:49 Oct 08, 2023

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it, I hadn't intended it to be more than this short in all honesty but a lot of people have asked the same, so I'm toying with something, not sure if it will come to pass but we will see. Thanks for the encouragement regardless.

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Robert Egan
02:52 Oct 08, 2023

Wow Kevin, if this were part of a fantasy novel, I'd buy that book immediately. Definitely worth expanding if you have the urge to do so (curious about Farasa's perspective and backstory). Also, you had me nerding out over details like "Reinforce the thirty first, break through the Pharinesse lines no matter what and hold until the Mages could set up another Syphon." I want to go through the Breach (from the reader's safe vantage point, of course), and I want to know where Farasa and Jax go next! The impressive part is this also works beau...

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Kevin Logue
06:45 Oct 08, 2023

Hey Roger thanks for the thorough feedback. Glad you enjoyed it and wanted more, that seems to be what quite a few are saying and now I'm pondering a bigger story ha, always the way. Yeah the whole thing takes place outside the forge, Roman in the doorway was meant to imply he was coming outside, there was only a few details however to indicate that such as looking up at the stars, the crackling fires within, then spitting into the grassy verges. In my head the forges for the army are up on a plateau over looking the flatlands before the ri...

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Robert Egan
19:00 Oct 08, 2023

Nice, I can already see that forge better with the details you mentioned here! And your partner's idea about Farasa having some kind of mind manipulation magic is pretty cool; even if Jax is a willing participant, it would be neat if there were some low-level telepathy taking place between them as part of their bond. Maybe a select few of the Pharinesse have the ability to establish a mental link with someone, but when they do, it's for life (a marriage of sorts), and in her desperation during the ambush, Farasa forged that sacred link with ...

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Wendy M
19:55 Oct 07, 2023

Great showing of a character arc, it really made the story believable. Your opening para is strong on sensory detail, the noise and bustle of the forge and the encampment are an excellent take on the brief. Well done,I enjoyed reading your story.

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Kevin Logue
21:42 Oct 07, 2023

Thanks very much Wendy.

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