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Fantasy Drama Crime

The fireworks malfunctioned, and when they struck the gatehouse of the Lower Palace, the night air was filled with three sudden flashes of bright yellow. The funeral garlands that draped the towers vanished, a spider’s web incinerated, and then a dull orange glowering enveloped the gate. If there was any doubt, the screaming of the crowds and the ringing of the bell put them to rest: the gatehouse was on fire.

Kadar gripped his spear more tightly. All of this he saw from the steps of the Silver Chapel, the highest point of the terraced gardens of the Upper Palace. The fire muted the stars above and the rest of the royal city faded into shadow. He lost sight of the river Moloi, of the thousands of squat sandstone buildings and the parched streets. All he saw was the burning gatehouse and Conqueror’s Square before it, filled with the silhouettes of panicking mourners.

“Gods!” said Missen, one of the seven other Royal Wardens of the Dead who served alongside Kadar. “Just look at that fire!”

Kadar did, and it reminded him as all fires do, of his home village. Of the last time he visited it, of how they had arrived too late, and of how the barbaric Sainidan deserters had already put it to the torch. Nothing remained of it but ash and bone. His family, all dead. His best friend Amaz, dead. And the love of his life, fair Amari, also forever lost.

Even fifteen years later, the memory was bitter.

“The guards have a handle on it,” said Kadar. It was a dramatic blaze, but manageable. Soldiers were already bringing in water and sand, and the palace had weathered much worse.

Still, it was a tragic end to the fifth night of the king’s Week of Mourning. The first four days were for lament – first quiet and then loud – but the fifth marked a change to celebration. Celebrating the king’s life and deeds on the fifth, his line on the sixth, and the future on the seventh. The common folk sometimes got too celebratory on the fifth. Thankfully, kings died rarely.

But then Kadar noticed a group of fireworkers in the Square not panicking. Indeed, they made their way towards the gate, and his breath caught in his throat when he saw them light more incendiaries and aim them at the gate! This time the explosions were bigger and about a dozen soldiers were caught alight. Their sudden screams drowned out all the noise of the city for one excruciating heartbeat.

“Did you see that!?” Missen asked. “We are under attack!”

Kadar didn’t answer. Could it be? There was another round of fireworks, and this time a second, deeper bell joined the discord of the night. Last time Saint Enor’s bell had rung was when Prince Namvirat rebelled against his father and marched on the city, nearly sixty years ago.

Missen charged into the night, sprinting down the delicate garden paths of the Upper Palace to help with the defence of the realm, and the other Royal Wardens followed him. Kadar took one step and then stopped hard.

As a Royal Guard, his duty was to protect the royals and their palace at all costs. But serving as a Royal Warden of the Dead, his duty right now was to stand watch over the bodily remains of His Royal Highness, the king, who reposed on a marble catafalque inside the Silver Chapel. It was unthinkable to leave the king unattended as he made his journey from this life to the next.

A thousand thoughts raced through his mind as he weighed which duty to obey. If Missen or one of the others had remained behind it would have been so much easier. Perhaps the king would forgive him if he left, if it was to protect the other royals? But no, a king must not be abandoned.

A part of him pined after the troubles of his youth. Trifles that seemed so overwhelming at the time, and were so simple compared to his life as a knight.

Knighthood had of course been his greatest dream as a child, same as it was for all of the other kids in his little riverside hamlet. He spent countless afternoons with Amaz, retreading the steps of all the legendary heroes, from witty Kenon and his silver spear, to noble Memnoran who fell at the walls of Sagar, and even the long-winded and conflicting epics of Tansit.

Kadar sparred with Amaz, and though Kadar had always been strong and big for his age, Amaz was fast. He had a rat’s knack for survival, and a treacherous left hook. They argued about Tansit many times, but once was particularly vehement. Amaz swore that Hormar was the better swordsman, and so they put it to the test. Each boy grabbed his sword – the best branches the woods offered – and they fought hard.

Kadar thought himself winning, and then suddenly he found himself on his back, dizzy and with a bleeding nose. He’d no memory of how he fell and it was only through the testimony of the other boys watching that he learned about the left hook. He vowed then never to fall for it again.

But destiny had other things in mind.

Those were simple problems from a simpler time. Could he abandon his post now, to serve his other post? Ought he to? And why would anyone attack the palace anyway? It’s not like they’d manage to sneak an army through the whole city–

His mind silenced when he heard the faint scatter of pebbles. When he whirled around he just barely saw a shadow shift in the darkness, moving towards the Silver Chapel.

“Halt!” he bellowed, lowering his spear and already moving.

The chapel had no walls and its roof rested on a forest of pillars. From each hung a brazier dedicated to one of the Ninety Saints, and they illuminated the most revered monarch as he lay resting on his final nights in this world. And by brazier light, Kadar caught glimpses of a figure slinking.

And then of all things, when the figure approach the catafalque, it suddenly dashed from the shadows and – with the audacity of all the Thirty-Three Hells – laid its hands on the royal person!

And snatched a jewelled chain of gold from the king’s neck.

Kadar roared and lunged with his spear, nearly skewering the thief. The man’s life was forfeit. This was his trial and Kadar was the judge, for it was forbidden for the lowborn to touch a royal. And a dead royal could only be touched by the purest of priests.

The thief rolled backwards across the marble floor and jumped to his feet, nearly having his throat impaled on Kadar’s next jab. But then the thief veered right, between two columns, and Kadar’s long weapon became more a hindrance than an advantage. He dropped his spear and drew his court-sword – a blade as long as his forearm and about as wide, perfect for resolving a dispute with a rival on more intimate terms.

The thief was fast but Kadar was faster, and he slashed and stabbed constantly with the blade. The thief couldn’t afford to turn his back on Kadar, and neither could he continue backpedalling blindly while avoiding the sword.

Suddenly the thief kicked, catching Kadar unaware. Not enough to hurt, but enough to buy himself a breath, which he used to draw a heavy wooden club bound with iron bands. He swung it, but Kadar had already brought his shield up to deflect it. And then the thief swung again, and then twice more.

Kadar grunted. The other man was strong, yes. Maybe once a soldier. He must have realized that running would be death. Ah, but fighting would also be death. Only the best of the best were appointed as Royal Wardens, after all.

When the thief drew his arm back for another blow, Kadar charged him with his shield. He slammed him right into a pillar hard enough to crack a rib – yet the thief still held onto his club, and he managed to swing it over Kadar’s shoulder. It struck him in the side of the head, strong enough to blur his vision.

Kadar stepped back. There was something wrong with his helmet, something bent. The damn thing made it hard to see, so he wrenched it off just as the thief was catching his breath. Once more the man raised his club as Kadar charged him, but this time Kadar knocked his arm away with one swing of his shield, and then he knocked the man to the ground with a second swing.

The thief collapsed with a grunt and a heartbeat later Kadar was atop him, raising his sword for the kill.

“Kadar?” the man gasped, his eyes wide.

Kadar pressed his sword right at the man’s throat, and scowled. His face was smudged with dirt and blood, but beneath that beard was a memory made flesh.

“Amaz.”

It was the scar that did it, a knuckle’s length along the left temple. Amaz earned it the year they were both twelve, after mouthing off to Luro. A lifetime ago.

It was the same year they found themselves sitting on the sun-kissed banks of the Naima, right by the Big Rock and surrounded by reeds and croaking frogs. Their feet soaked in the cool waters, and with their hands they tore apart a nectarine pie – baked not an hour ago. Their faces were covered in crumbs and filling, and their laughter rang out across the river.

They never did get caught for stealing that pie.

Only now, it seemed Amaz had turned to stealing bigger things. But how could it be?

“Kadar,” said Amaz. He winced, something in his chest broken. “Is that really you? I thought you were dead.”

“After all these years,” Kadar said. Could this man truly be Amaz? “I thought you were dead.” Kadar did not lift his sword, but this man seemed like Amaz. He seemed so real. Even his eyebrows were knotted the way Amaz’s got when he was frustrated. The way he looked when Kadar betrayed him.

Amari was the love of his young life, and Kadar simply couldn’t imagine a future without her – and so he decided to make her a Bridal Offering. He set his heart on an amber necklace with a copper chain, but its price was out of reach, even when he indebted himself to the smith.

It was Amaz that helped him fund the rest, but only when Kadar convinced him he meant it for Raya – Amaz’s sister. When he made the offering to Amari instead, the deception cut twice, for not only would Amaz and Kadar not be joined as brothers-in-law, but it was no secret that Amaz himself had fallen for Amari.

That was the second time Kadar encountered Amaz’s left hook, and as they were nearly men then, the force of the blow was many times greater.

“Praise the gods,” Amaz wheezed. “It is good to see you.” Despite the dirt, despite the blood, the smile on that bruised face, the relief – it looked genuine.

“You would steal from the king.” Kadar’s tone was cold iron, honed through decades of practice. A far cry from his tumbling heart. Incredulity warred with duty warred with joy.

“What use has a dead man for gold, brother?”

That word, brother, bit deep into Kadar’s heart. They made peace by the time Kadar and Amari’s betrothal was official, and they had once more become inseparable friends when the war came. When the lord’s son rode into their village to pick conscripts. When the whip was pointed at Kadar, he bade farewell to Amari, and made Amaz promise he’d take care of her until he’d return. Amaz swore it. Kadar pressed the necklace into his hands, and they embraced as brothers.

“Watch your tongue,” Kadar snapped. “The king is no mere man.”

Amaz’s eyes studied Kadar’s, and his laboured smile faltered. “Forgive me,” he said. “Of course. But a man must care for his kin. The village is in desperate need of gold.”

“You lie,” Kadar said. “Everyone died. You died.”

Kadar left a conscript and never returned home. A decade of war took him all around the world, and valour in battle and the grace of the gods had granted him wealth, distinction, and ultimately a knighthood. And yet stopping the Sainidan was beyond him. They burned his roots away and freed him.

“No!” said Amaz. “When we heard the Sainidan approached, we assumed the worst. We – some of us – packed up and fled. Some…” His voice drifted away. “Some remained behind. They didn’t make it.”

“They live?” Kadar’s heart thundered. “My family?” The last came out in a hoarse whisper. “Amari?”

“Yes,” Amaz said, his grin widening again. “She’s–”

Almost. Amaz almost got him. But they weren’t children anymore, and Kadar had seen too much violence, done too much violence. This time he noticed Amaz’s left hand moving surreptitiously. He drove his sword through Amaz’s throat before the thief could strike him.

Amaz seized and shuddered and then was still.

And when his left hand unclenched, Kadar saw it held an amber necklace on a copper chain.

June 13, 2023 23:35

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40 comments

Delbert Griffith
14:50 Jun 15, 2023

This is a very engaging tale, albeit with a period that you don't usually write. I see a larger story in this: the backstory, the ten years of fighting for the king, the lives of Amaz and Amari. It has the makings of a medieval epic. I bow to your diversity, my friend. This tale is riveting, especially the fight scene. So hard to write those well, and you did. Nicely done, my friend. Nicely done indeed. Cheers!

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Michał Przywara
20:36 Jun 15, 2023

Thanks, Del! Indeed, not my usual, which is odd as medieval fantasy was what got me into writing initially. So it goes :) Glad to hear the fight worked out! You're right, they are hard to do well. I always try to keep in mind scenes like Luke and Vader's duel in Empire Strikes Back. Yes, there's sword swinging, but the fight's not really about the fight. There's mind games, there's dialogue, and it's all a setup for a dramatic reveal. Thanks for reading!

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Kay Smith
18:15 Jun 18, 2023

Aha! A fellow Star Wars nerd, I find! Goodie!!

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Michał Przywara
20:41 Jun 19, 2023

Guilty :)

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13:29 Jun 16, 2023

You did a great job of dumping the reader into the world and letting us figure out what was going on—it was challenging to keep up, but not confusing, which is the sweet spot. You obviously knew a great deal more about the world than we did and told us only what we needed to know.

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Michał Przywara
20:36 Jun 16, 2023

Thanks, Anne! Glad to hear I hit the sweet spot - there's always a risk with fantasy, of too much exposition. Especially in a shorter short story :) I appreciate the feedback!

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Amanda Lieser
20:25 Jun 28, 2023

Hi Michal, Oh childhood friends, how they know us in a way that feels similar to the way that family knows as you get to see all of your childhood friends flaws and mix up, mistakes and triumphs, moments of change and the mundane. And I wonder if, sometimes similarly like family you can never truly walk away from your original perception of your childhood friends. Can you ever really let go of that moment that you saw your childhood friend get pantsed at a sleepover? Can you ever truly release the tiny little bit of anger and resentment that...

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Michał Przywara
23:08 Jun 28, 2023

Yeah, those are some great points! Childhood friends aren't just people we know (or knew), they're a part of our history. That history wouldn't exist without them. Now, that's true of any friends, or really any people we interact with, but maybe childhood friends have an out-sized impact precisely because those are the formative years. And then if those memories are so strong, then yeah, it might be hard to see our old friends change. But of course, everything changes with time. Lots to explore in these topics. No shortage of story materi...

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Helen A Smith
07:03 Jun 23, 2023

Hi Michel I like your venture into fantasy. It drew me into a world of great characters, had a good backstory and covered betrayal in friendship. I’m guessing the ending with the amber necklace is open to interpretation. Has Ameri always been alive and Amaz has been with her all the time, or was he holding onto the necklace so he could return it to Kadar? Sadly, that seems unlikely given the circumstances. It looks like Amaz was a bit of a rat after all. He wanted to be the one that got everything. Enjoyable story telling. I have to agre...

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Helen A Smith
07:04 Jun 23, 2023

Sorry Michal Spelt your name wrong, but I’m writing on phone. Predictive text can be a mixed blessing!

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Michał Przywara
20:38 Jun 23, 2023

Thanks, Helen! (yes, predictive text is a helpful scourge :) Yeah, the ending's open a bit, and it could go a number of ways. It's possible Amaz was telling the truth, it's possible he was lying one way or another, but the key takeaway is Kadar doesn't know and can no longer find out - a consequence of a snap decision. Not a pleasant place to be in, but life sometimes forces us to make snap decisions without enough information. I'm glad you enjoyed it! It was fun doing a fantasy story again. It's been a while.

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William Richards
09:13 Jun 22, 2023

I enjoyed this. I was hooked by the first captivating paragraph and then the prose carried on galloping and I couldn't stop reading -- I wish I could write like that!

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Michał Przywara
20:48 Jun 22, 2023

Thanks, William! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) I appreciate the feedback.

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Russell Mickler
18:43 Jun 20, 2023

Hey Michal - Moloi, South African - a wizard. A subtle call-out to the setting? Seems not, digging further in. Wow, a lot of ideas, people, and places mentioned here. Rich world-building. My mind wanted to connect these places to real life, something in Africa, and I kept looking them up, trying to place them ... like Amaz :) But it definitely feels more medieval. Liked your fight scene. I liked the tie-in with the necklace at the end, returning us to the engagement. Dramatic. R

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Michał Przywara
01:52 Jun 21, 2023

Thanks, Russell! Heh, this was meant to be pure fiction - Moloi was purely coincidence. Oversight on my part :) I almost had the same issue with the original version of the "Sainidan", as it turned out I had used a name for a real-world group of people. Fantasy names can be hard. I like the idea of using the real world, but I'm a poor historian and there would absolutely be loads of accuracy issues :) Glad to hear the fight worked!

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Kelsey H
09:05 Jun 20, 2023

I really enjoy your fantasy stories, even though it is a genre I don't read much of, I think because you are good at creating the world with enough info to get what is going on, without being too wordy/explanatory. I really enjoyed the epic saga feel in mini you got in with the history of Kadar and how he ended up guarding the king's body, and I like his moral dilemma too of what is the right thing to do when the attack happens. Also like how at the end the focus sort of narrows in and goes from battle/kingdom/king to a fight between two c...

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Michał Przywara
20:40 Jun 20, 2023

Thanks, Kelsey! Glad to hear all the background isn't overwhelming :) Always a fine balance with fantasy. And I'm happy to hear the ending worked for you! That's exactly the kind of feeling I was hoping for. Sometimes we make dramatic decisions, and we just don't have the information available to know if they were the right call or not - but either way, we must live with the consequences. I appreciate the feedback!

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Chris Miller
08:31 Jun 19, 2023

This is great fun, Michal. Lots of world building and character development in a very short space. I liked the attention to detail in relation to Kadar switching weapons to be more effective in the environment, as a seasoned professional soldier would do.

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Michał Przywara
20:36 Jun 19, 2023

Thanks, Chris! Glad that stood out. I often like to think of situations in terms of advantages and disadvantages, and then when those assumptions get challenged, it can lead to some fun drama. Force The characters to think on their feet. I appreciate the feedback!

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Zack Powell
22:36 Jun 18, 2023

As I work my way through my Reedsy backlog, I have to pay you a compliment, Michał, for posting a story each contest for 68 weeks. That's the kind of dedication I wanted to have, but ultimately couldn't manifest. Just wanted to say that I respect your dedication to the craft, and I appreciate how disciplined you are to writing (to say nothing of reading the work of others). Anyway, as for the story: Well-written, as always. In terms of short fiction, Urban Fantasy is my favorite genre to read because it's just our own contemporary world wit...

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Michał Przywara
20:39 Jun 19, 2023

Thanks, Zack! There's definitely been a few weeks in those 68 that almost didn't get a story, some prompts that just… no idea. But I figured an attempt was better than not, and some did actually turn out decent. I'm inclined to agree with your critique, on both counts. Fantasy is hard in < 3k because of world building, and this one has a decent amount of it. I suspect there's things that could get cut, and other things that could be introduced more gracefully. Incidentally, "some type of proper noun" is a great warning flag. I'm reminded o...

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Kay Smith
18:14 Jun 18, 2023

Brilliant!

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Michał Przywara
20:42 Jun 19, 2023

Thanks, Kay! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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3i Writer
00:21 Jun 18, 2023

I like the story but one thing I don't really get. How on earth Amaz still holding on to the necklace which is supposed to be Amari's gift despite for 15 years. I know you want to show that he had Kadar's girl but this is quite odd.

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Michał Przywara
23:03 Jun 18, 2023

What I had in mind is, he just always held onto it, ever since he made his promise to Kadar - since Kadar never returned. Why he did this is unclear - perhaps to honour the promise, perhaps as a trophy that he "beat" Kadar, perhaps as a reminder of Amari (she might be dead for all we know, and Amaz might have been lying). At the end, Kadar doesn't know why Amaz had it, and because he killed him, he'll never find out. Ultimately, Kadar made a snap judgment based on partial info, and right or wrong, he must live with the consequences. Well,...

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Ken Cartisano
19:17 Jun 17, 2023

This is a killer story Michal. Inventive, creative, two great characters, a wonderful fight scene with the fate of both characters hanging in the balance up to nearly the last paragraph. The odd names and obscure references add charm and mystery (while probably being mostly meaningless -- that should be an art form) as the basic turns of the plot unfold. I have a single nagging question. Feel free to enlighten me on this one point, (could it be the faintest suggestion of treachery in the King's domain?) How did Amari's necklace wind up aro...

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Michał Przywara
22:38 Jun 18, 2023

Ah! You know what? That's an oversight on my part. My intention was that Amaz had always held on to the necklace, and carried it with him (whether as a good luck charm or a trophy, we don't know). Having him *also* steal a necklace form the king is confusing - they weren't meant to be the same thing. I proofread my stories a number of times before submission, and that's a great way to pick up spelling, grammar, and word choice. Looks like story points like this slip by occasionally though. So it goes. I'd change it, but this has already be...

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15:19 Jun 17, 2023

Oooh this is great Michal. So much world building and character history In such a brief tale. A fully rounded fantasy . That takes a lot of skill but you have that in spades! Perfect ending also

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Michał Przywara
21:57 Jun 18, 2023

Thanks, Derrick! Glad the world felt developed - always a worry with such a small word count. I appreciate the feedback!

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Michelle Oliver
23:03 Jun 15, 2023

Wow, what a history and fleshed out world! This is the kind of story I would love to write, as I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Isn’t it funny that sometimes what we love to read is not what we write. I am going to start challenging myself to do more fantasy/adventure/other-world building stories. Your ending, as per usual, hits with a powerful left hook that wasn’t. I was expecting something like that kind of choice to be made, but hoping for a peaceful resolution. You don’t disappoint. I wonder what the fall out emotionally is for Kadar? D...

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Michał Przywara
20:38 Jun 16, 2023

Thanks Michelle! I'm glad you liked it :) "Isn’t it funny that sometimes what we love to read is not what we write." Very! It's typically fantasy and sci-fi that interest me, but rarely do I write them here. Although, the contest might influence that too, as it seems contemporary things are more popular. Either way, definitely challenge yourself! Worst case scenario, you throw away a week, but who knows - maybe you'll write the next sweeping epic :) I'm not sure the implications for Kadar. I could see it going a number of ways, though ...

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Kay Smith
18:17 Jun 18, 2023

"I am going to start challenging myself to do more fantasy/adventure/other-world building stories." They say that things begin at the end of you comfort zone! A little fortune cookie type wisdom for you!

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Michelle Oliver
22:38 Jun 18, 2023

Absolutely!

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Marty B
05:43 Jun 15, 2023

A great fight scene! I liked this line' a blade as long as his forearm and about as wide, perfect for resolving a dispute with a rival on more intimate terms' I appreciated the double dealing everywhere, from Kadar stealing Amaz's love to assuming each other were dead. In war torn countries and worlds, this type of loss and return would be common ( like a daytime soap opera!) My only critique is there were a lot of named characters!

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Michał Przywara
20:43 Jun 15, 2023

Thanks, Marty! Yeah, definitely some double-dealing here and there, but disputes are bound to crop up in a long, shared history :) I appreciate the critique! Yes, quite a few names, especially including the historical figures. I wanted to flesh the world out a bit, but I can see it being overwhelming in a story this short. I've been trying to focus on specificity and names seemed a good way to do it, but there's more for me to learn here :) Thanks for reading!

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Lily Finch
15:39 Jun 14, 2023

Michał, usually I do not go for this kind of gore and fighting story but this one captivated me and held my attention. I like your use of backstory interspersed with current time to explain significance of actions and goings on in real time. Your detail and descriptions were another reason that you captivate your reader. Childhood memories, despite being fun, have long passed now so that you get the sense that Kadar makes the correct choice. Then you realize that he holds the amber necklace that Kadar so long ago pressed into Amaz's h...

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Michał Przywara
20:45 Jun 14, 2023

Thanks, Lily! Particularly given this isn't your preferred kind of story. Glad to hear the past/present worked out :) "was bang on. For both men." Interesting observation! I initially saw Kadar as overreacting, being too jumpy from a lifetime of violence. But honestly, Amaz is behaving super suspicious too. Either way, thanks for the read and feedback!

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Lily Finch
23:14 Jun 14, 2023

I saw both men as threats to the other. One is motivated by honour and the other is motivated by greed. Of course, the one with honour prevails. You have so many layers in this that I see and parallels that I can draw. Word choices, weapons, and movements about the upper hand and switching the roles back and forth. Makes for great tension, but it goes deeper than that too. It talks about the humanity or humanness of the root cause or thru line of your story. It isn't about two guys who were friends, met up again, and fought to the death. ...

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Mary Bendickson
02:02 Jun 14, 2023

Action and adventure and anguish.⚔️

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Michał Przywara
20:47 Jun 14, 2023

Thanks Mary! Yes, definitely a bit of anguish in this one :)

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