I've been brainstorming this story/ novel/ thing for like four years now. I've started writing it and was hoping to post a BETA snippet here. This is a weird blend of fantasy with minor sci-fi qualities. This section (whole chapter but it feels too short) is the first chapter in the second act of the book. This is the third total/ complete re-write from scratch of the same exact scene.

Any and all advice of any kind, preferably constructive, would be appreciated. Thank you!>

The covered wagons had proven a difficult, uncomfortable ride. Up the rocky, mountainous trail the recruits had been bumped and rattled far too much it seemed. Eshwyn pulled her fedora over her eyes. The bleak, clouded sky was grey and joyless over the cold wilderness. Even within the shelter of the wagon, the chill made way into the passenger carts. The wind caused the wagons to groan, the horses pulling them spooking on several occasions.

Nonetheless, they made it. At last, the wagons made a jerky, shaky stop. As the horses neighed and folks murmured incoherently, Eshwyn pushed her hat’s brim up. Well, here we are. In this cold, miserable wasteland.

There were several other passengers in the wagon with her, all of whom she had ignored most of the trip. Isolde had been sitting behind her, striking up idle, gentle conversation with the others. Their names or origins Eshwyn could not recall. She had been spending the entirety of the ride feeling sorry for herself.

A squint-eyed, black haired man of eastern origins, carrying light but formidable equipment, lept out. The entire wagon shook wildly as the thud of boots to the ground sounded outside. Eshwyn was the last to get up, finally standing from the stiff, frigid bench. As a caramel haired young man lept out, shivering under his poncho, Eshwyn picked up her pack and following the group out.

The ground was muddy, the early autumn air pierced her skin and bones. Eshwyn scowled, loathing the fact that her father forced her to come out here.

“Hey,” Isolde put her ice cold hand on her shoulder, “Cheer up. We’re finally here!”

Eshwyn turned to her friend. Her brown eyes were excited, yet nervous. Her skin was swarmed with goosebumps, her body slightly shaking in anxiety.

Eshwyn felt a sly smile curve her face, “You’re nervous. And cold, like me.”

Isolde looked down, her cheeks lighter than usual in a blush. “Y-yes…”

Eshwyn sighed, her breath visible. As crummy as she felt, she knew Isolde needed encouragement. Eshwyn was just mad at her father, and the weather. At least she knew how to defend herself!

Isolde continued to speak, “I mean – who knows what this ‘initiation program’ is. I can’t even hold a quarterstav correctly…”

Eshwyn snorted, recalling the “Training sessions” she attempted to teach her friend, only breeding hilarious and sad results. Upon seeing Isolde’s crestfallen face, however, Eshwyn straightened up.

“Relax, Isolde. You’ll get it eventually. Until then, I got your ba-”

“-Hey, sis!”

Isolde jumped, turning around with a sudden beam. Eshwyn knew why, she watched as a mid-teenage boy dashed towards them. He shared Isolde’s oak eyes, olive skin, and round facial features. His curled hair bounced as he ran, the falchion and quiver of arrows hung on his belt both rattling. He waved at them, never minding the dirty ground.

Isolde took his hand as he caught up to them, smiling from ear to ear, “Why are you here?”

Isolde’s eyes glowed, “I joined up, Ignacio.”

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Ignacio, her brother, took a step back, “You sure you got what it takes?”

“Pfft!” Isolde scoffed, “No!”

Ignacio tilted his body to the side, eying Eshwyn, “But she does, so…”

Eshwyn looked down, observing her signature Thion coat of arms and the weapons she carried, “Yeah…”

“Ignacio?”

Another joined their little party. She was shorter, scrawny; with jet black hair. Her eastern heritage was obvious, with how she carried a wakizashi on her waist and kusarigama behind her back. Her light, tatami armor shone black and proud as she watched Ignacio with a blank, serious expression. “We should get to the drop off zones now, if we are to stick together.”

Ignacio glanced at his older sister with a disappointed glance, then held up his hand, “Azami and I are kinda sticking together, so…”

Isolde chuckled, “Oh, it’s fine! Go on ahead.”

Ignacio nodded to the two girls before following his teammate towards these so called “drop off zones.”

“Drop off zones?” Isolde asked herself, running towards the steep cliff tops ahead. Eshwyn followed her as they merged into the crowd of other recruits, ranging from so many cultures and lands. The girls finally made it to the edge, looking down into…

Isolde’s eyes widened “Wow, so this is!”

Eshwyn’s eyes narrowed, recalling the name of this place well from historical texts, “Malum.”

The ancient walls were massive, shooting up to the cliff’s length at ninety meters tall. Made of powerful stone, the circular wall surrounded an abandoned city of houses made of stone, through magical means. The box shaped, perfectly cube homes were subjected to terror long ago.

It was here that a voice shouted from behind them, “Recruits! Attention to me!”

All the chattering of the crowd swiftly dropped as all turned their attention to Eiran Thion, whom stood atop a makeshift stage of crates. Eshwyn crossed her arms, squinting against the wind as he shouted to be heard.

“You all have gathered here today for one purpose: to join the ranks of The Pioneers. Do you have what it takes, however?”

Eshwyn heard Isolde gulp beside her. Her eyes darted around the crowd. She saw a young, dark skinned boy fiddling with his fingers behind his back. Eshwyn blinked, returning her gaze to her father.

“This initiation process will give you every opportunity to prove yourself.” Eiran pushed his hair out of his face, raising his voice above the wind, “Only those whom pass our standards of entry shall make it into the ranks.”

A flash of familiarity crossed her eyes. Once again, she gazed away from him. She saw that indeed, Tristan Derringer was within the crowd, maintaining a stern military stance. In fact, Eshwyn spied several within this crowd who carried military backgrounds, evident in everything from body language to what they wore. Telling these ones apart from just mercenaries, bandits, and those who never learned to fight was obvious as day.

“Now,” Eiran cried out, “You came with survival and defensive equipment. Good. You will soon be lowered into the city of Malum.”

Murmurs rippled through the crowd. Not all knew of Malum’s story, yet words of dismay spread like wildfire from those who did and those who caught onto it.

Eiran waited for the whispers to calm, then spoke again, “You will encounter Monsters there.”

More shocked cries were emitted from crowd. Eshwyn herself felt shocked. It was not like her father to put anyone in purposeful danger. Eshwyn glared, dark confusion clouding her mind. Okay, what are you not telling us?

“Fight, survive, in any way you can. Just make it to the Well Tower at the keep near the harbor. This will determine if you join or not.”

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Isolde was shaking, clenching the staff in her hand in panic, “Is he mad?”

Eshwyn put her hand on her friend’s shoulder.

Eiran pointed with a firm hand towards the lifts, “Good luck. May the glory of the Great Entities shine in your favor.”

Before Isolde could speak, Eshwyn turned to her, “I know this doesn’t make sense.”

“No,” Isolde quivered, “It does not.”

Eshwyn felt herself soften upon seeing her so terrified, “Hey, we’re in this together. I won’t let anything happen to you.” She smiled, “With your smarts and my skill, we can survive anything!”

From the distance someone broke out crying, “Why are they doing this to us?!”

Eshwyn’s eyes dilated, “I-I do stand behind that.”

Isolde rolled her eyes, amused despite Eshwyn’s own worries, “Come on, you.”

They gathered their supplies and walked towards the nearest lift. As so many panicked and cried, others showed bravery yet. Eshwyn spied a dark skinned man with messy, long hair look down from his lift with a disturbing anticipation, his pole arm already prepared for the storm ahead. She saw that Tristan was nervous yet calm as he readied himself for this drill. The eastern man who they had travelled with seemed completely unnerved by it all, striding towards a lift like this all was a walk in the park.

The sturdy, wooden lift Eshwyn and Isolde stood upon swayed slightly from the wind. Eshwyn did not doubt its stability as they started to lower down. Eshwyn turned around a final time. She heard someone call mockingly from the crowd, “Oh, you sad, human cowards! Us synthetics were bornforced to survive like this, spineless softies!”

She spied some of the civilian members flocking around those more experienced ones who allowed it. Two young women, one in tears, stood close to an armed man in a poncho similar to the one worn by someone from Eshwyn’s own wagon. One young man was huddled on the ground, in the fetal position.

As the lift lowered, Eshwyn looked one final time at her father, unmoving from his position. He watched her with gentle, loving eyes. His expression said everything. Eshwyn smiled with that old, dormant warmth towards him.

I love you too. And I won’t let you down.

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