City Without Light – Version 3.0

If you’ve spend any amount of time interacting with critique partners, you’ll know that no matter how perfect a story feels the moment you hand it over, they will inevitably find a thousand problems with it. In my latest Writer In Motion update, three amazing writers zeroed in on my story and found so many beautiful things I really had to think about. In fact, they’re all such badasses, let’s just take a moment to go peek at their gorgeous stories.

Dan Koboldt | Jeffrey Ricker | S. M. Roffey

Okay, so only S. M. Roffey has posted her updated draft at this point. But I plan to plug in links for Dan and Jeffrey as soon as their stories go live.

But I seriously want to thank all three of these wonderful authors. Their notes on Braygen’s story were absolutely wonderful and I’d embrace any of them as a full-time critique partner any day. So let’s see how their amazing insight shaped the next iteration of this story. Feel free to leave comments or notes at the bottom. I’d love to hear any community thoughts as well.

CITY WITHOUT LIGHT

I was born on a now-derelict starship beyond the night sky hologram, back when war brewed around a woman who wielded starship fuel like magic. In one stroke Guardian Herana both saved and doomed our world, only to never be seen again. Since birth, all I had to my name was a faded photograph of her and dragon fire burning deep in my bones.

“We can do this tomorrow. Those fires will burn a few days yet.” Marco clapped me on the shoulder, mud clinging to his russet brown hand. He had a point, and I could do with the heat of his touch for one more night.

A brazen horn reverberated through the morning frost as the squid-like steel forge hovered over the central square, spanning the entire length of the plaza and belching green flame from its central orb—a replica of their lost hive queen.

My lover would have to wait as the siren call of the woman’s soft brown eyes tugged at my soul. I’d give anything to feel her lips warming mine, as long as she didn’t mind the beard.

“No, it has to be now.” Her photo in my pocket and a dagger clutched tight, I ignored the fiery ache in my bones and slipped into the crowd.

Darkness clung to the metal city under a starless sky. Black cloth draped the old Guardian monoliths as a warning of death to all who defied their hive queen. As I passed Herana’s statue, the woman in my pocket, I yanked the rough cloth down to give her life again.

She was the only Guardian who mattered.

“Dammit, Braygen. You tryin’ to get us caught?” Marco was rarely angry for long, but he grabbed his sword hilt, ready for trouble.

“Hey, you!” one of the guards shouted, the skull on his breastplate glowing green.

“Go, I got this.” Marco clenched the guard’s hair and pulled his head down, breaking the man’s nose with his hilt and barely half his sword unsheathed.

I left Marco to cover my back while I headed straight for the city’s Fueler, who raised their hands to a gathering crowd. A silver circle with two tentacles curled beneath hung around the Fueler’s neck.

The symbol of their hive queen’s absolute rule.

“Today we honor our great hive queen,” the nonbinary Fueler shouted as the squid-like forge hovered near their shoulder, legs dangling from the central orb. “The itharäth trapped us here, but we’ll destroy their world and build ours upon the ashes.”

Their words ignited the fire in my bones, uncoiling a defiance to grab the metal forge in my jaws and rip it out of the air. I bit back my anger because I wasn’t leaving this city without Herana.

The Fueler turned from the crowd and picked up a rifle. I could use one of those, but my heart beat faster at the silver gleam of a datapad next to their leg. As they slid the rifle into the forge fires, I hastened forward and slid to one knee, driving my dagger into their calf.

I grabbed the datapad and tucked it against my chest, ignoring the Fueler’s painful cries. The forge fires sweltered an unforgiving heat, but I yanked the dagger out and bolted beneath the metal queen’s belly.

Marco howled.

Sweat dripped into my beard as I whipped around, a dagger gripped and ready to fly.

A long, grayish tentacle had Marco by the throat as he dropped to his knees. Pulsing gray flesh slid out of the Fueler, creeping up their shoulders.

The Fueler’s lifeless eyes gazed toward the starless night. “Your invader queen sleeps. Soon she will wake and open the gate back to our world.”

I wanted to kill that bastard, so I let the dagger fly. Dropping near Marco, I tried to untangle the pulsing tentacle. He screamed an unnatural wail as his head arched back.

The tentacle released him and slammed against my cheek. I tumbled across the platform. The datapad flew from my hands, clattering on the ground. I scrambled for the precious technology. My damn cheek stung from the creature’s venomous slime.

Marco shrieked, his eyes laced with terror, as a fleshy mass dug its long tentacles into his spine. The lifeless Fueler’s crashed to the ground as the creature slid into Marcos’ body, fleshy pulp dissolving until it disappeared beneath the skin.

The thing was a damn parasite.

Marco blinked and gasped for air. The pale blue tinge to his suffocating features softened to his natural brown.

Shoving the datapad in my pocket next to Herana’s image, I ripped the bow from my back and nocked an arrow.

Marco held up his hands, but a cold malice lingered where once his hazel eyes held soft affection. “You left our queen beyond the gate. Now we destroy your hive, Itharä.”

My arm shuddered as my bones lit like an arsonist’s fire. “Wha’d that thing do, Marco?”

But all traces of my lover’s gentle spirit vanished. Stripping off his weapons, the parasite controlling Marco’s body threw them into the forge and pulled the dead Fueler’s pendant around his neck. He wouldn’t even look at me now. “Let us sacrifice these relics to…”

I knew Marco was lost and could not find the right words of farewell. Maybe I should have waited one more day.

My father always said every heroic deed requires sacrifice. With tears in my eyes, I disappeared into the crowd, heart aching with the loss of someone so dear. Cold loneliness gutted my soul as I escaped the treacherous city and returned to our horses on the hilly outskirts.

Marco was in the great between now. Maybe we’d meet again in the future, but as I released his mare into the wild, the fire in me let go of him.

Only the promise of Herana’s face soothed the rage burning my bones. I would have done anything for Marco, but the moment my Guardian’s gentle features lit the screen, I knew I’d never look back.

Some say she was trapped in hypersleep, same as me. There was no path home to the old starship, but I could search every inch of this world for her. Mounting my brindled gray, I turned north toward the jungle where four suns burned bright beyond the horizon.

A zankata cawed from a leafless oak, no doubt deprived of sunlight when someone turned the sky hologram to constant night over the hive queen’s city. The black-feathered bird was a reminder of the next step in my journey. Time to search for the real Herana and to do that I’d have to start at the beginning, the last place her boots touched the soil of this world before she’d been kidnapped.

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