Red Chapel Zealot

Sandra sighed in frustration as she surveyed the line in front of her. You just had to sleep in, she chided herself. Today of all days! She took her place in line behind a nervous looking woman in a full sized travel cloak, its dull brown hood hiding the stranger's features aside from a thick black braid draped over her left shoulder. Bit warm for that today, she noted to herself. She's probably from the Valley down south. Wonder if she's going to Avorae too?   The line shuffled forward slightly, disrupting Sandra's train of thought. Craning her neck she could see a young couple walking up to the administrative desk, their faces still fresh and excited despite the wait. They began waving a parchment at the young man behind the desk, their excitement contrasting wildly with his boredom. Newlyweds, I wonder? Sandra found their enthusiasm catching... Until she surveyed the rest of the line, its formidably long form snaking lazily around the waiting area. Her face fell. This was going to take longer than she thought.   Sandra felt herself pitch forward without warning. Instinctively she grabbed the cloak of the stranger in front of her to keep her balance, almost tipping them both onto the floor. The startled woman turned back in alarm, reflexively pulling the cloak tighter around her. She watched Sandra warily.   "Watch where yar going!" The burly man behind them growled into Sandra's face, glaring at her as if she had pushed him instead of the other way around, the stench of alcohol filling the air between them. Sandra decided not to push the issue, apologizing before turning to the woman in front of her.   "I'm so sorry! This brute doesn't know how to stand in a straight line." She jerked her fingers at the angry man behind them, now swaying to a song only he could hear.   The woman calmed at Sandra's words, relaxing her grip on the cloak. "I'm fine, thanks." Sandra had to strain to hear her over the background murmur in the waiting area.   "I'm Sandra." She held out her hand in greeting.   The woman paused briefly, conflicted, before bowing politely. "Lyrianne." The name had a foreign, musical lilt to it.  
Hooded Woman
Hooded Woman by A. Biscup (SolarCat02)
  Lyrianne stood there awkwardly, the tip of her dainty nose her only feature visible from underneath the large brown cloak. Sandra stared at her fixedly before realizing Lyrianne was waiting for her to speak.   "I'm very pleased to meet you!"   Lyrianne nodded slightly in acknowledgement.   Sandra tried again. "Is this your first time in Red Chapel?"   Lyrianne nodded again, polite but silent.   "You're not much for the small talk, are you?" Sandra chuckled. Still no reply, so she continued. "That cloak looks rather warm. Are you from the south? We get lots of visitors here but most would agree it's quite warm—"   "Are you still in line?" A rather harried woman was holding on to the drunk now, motioning past Sandra. Turning, she noticed the line had moved forward several people during that distraction. A young man was now at the front of the line, arguing with the administrative attendant, waving around a caged Dragonette as the official yawned and shook his head.   "Yes, sorry!" Sandra called to the woman, moving forward in the line. Lyrianne had already moved forward, her back facing Sandra again. That conversation was going nowhere anyway. She turned her attention to the ceiling.   Sandra watched a piece of plaster break free, plummeting to the floor before someone's boot sent it skittering across the tiles. Maintenance was never high on the list, the paperwork required to perform anything within the city saw to that. The administrative building had been a fixture in the city since its founding, as had the administrative impediments imposed within its walls. Sandra wondered idly if this was because Red Chapel was the capital, or if all cities under the Church of the Heathen Prophet's authority had the same problems.   She found herself counting the ceiling tiles. They had been high quality once, the beautifully intricate moldings still visible in places. Thirty-seven. Thirty-eight. Thirty-nine. Her count was interrupted by a commotion outside, and Sandra realized the line had progressed enough that she was back near the entrance to the waiting area. Those waiting further back nearest the door were staring intently outside.   "Eye 'aven't done nuthin!" the drunk behind her protested feebly.   "Hush, Amos," his companion commanded, her face uneasy. "They're not here for you. Not this time."   Sandra caught a glimpse of an Inquisitor striding purposefully past the door. She felt herself swell with pride for her city. Officers on the move again. Who's trying to stop the Prophet's work now? Out of the corner of her eye she saw the hooded woman in front of her tense up. Jumpy lady. What was her name again? Lauren? Liorana? No... Lyrianne!   "I wouldn't worry about all that fuss." Sandra put her hand on Lyrianne's shoulder to calm her only to watch as the woman spun around quickly, startled, her hood falling back to reveal a wide-eyed Dracoling. Sandra caught a glimpse of the woman's features, her long black hair accenting her bluish tinted scales, with a magical swirl of color adorning her left cheek and extending down her neck. Lyrianne hurriedly replaced the hood and returned her attention to the commotion outside.   "I said I wouldn't worry about it," Sandra continued as if nothing had happened. "I don't know what law enforcement is like wherever you're from, but you're quite safe here. The Inquisitors are very good at their job. Whatever happened, they'll get to the end of it and that will be that."   Lyrianne barely moved, her eyes glued to the door, her muscles tensed. Sandra sighed. If she'd just listen to me she'd realize just how much she's overreacting.   "Next!" Sandra's attention was pulled back to the administrative desk. The line was moving her away from the door again. She watched as Lyrianne reluctantly followed, stepping away from the door, before she followed to take Lyrianne's former spot.   Sandra was close enough to hear pieces of the administrator's conversation now. A young girl was arguing about her age, the man behind the desk insisting she was too young to travel through the Portal Exchange unaccompanied. Sandra was reminded of her first solo trip through the portals. She'd been traveling to see her aunt then, too, spending the frost season in Avorae. The coastal town had been quite enjoyable, the shipyards busy through the cold, the beaches less crowded than during the growing season. It had become an annual tradition, one she continued even now as an adult.   Her stomach growled, interrupting the memories. What a day to sleep in, she chided herself again. I could have been done with this line and through the portal already. She slipped her hand into a pocket of her dress, fingers sorting through its contents by touch. Her portal silks to buy the ticket, the small gemmed ring box she had procured as a gift for her aunt, her travel papers, a piece of pocket lint...   She sighed, remembering the fresh loaf of spicy fyreflower bread she had packed in her travel bag last night. The travel bag she had sent ahead when she realized she was running late.   She peered over towards the administrative desk. The purple filigree adorning the light peach colored bag was unmistakable in the jumble of pre-approved luggage awaiting reunion with their owners. At least she wouldn't have to wait for them to inspect her bag, but how she wished she could retrieve her bread. Her stomach growled in agreement, and she debated claiming the bag to satiate its protests, but another glance at the line and the temptation was gone. She couldn't afford to risk her spot. She would just have to wait.   "Next."   The line shuffled forward again. This time an exhausted set of parents guiding a large brood of children, some waiting patiently while others clawed their parents' legs clambering for attention. Sandra counted seven of varying ages... Then watched as their mother shifted her positioning to reveal two more nestled in her arms. Prophet bless you, she thought in their general direction. I couldn't even stand my own brother.   She watched as the family was shuffled to the side, protesting, as the man behind the counter called for someone in the back. One of the little girls started crying. This is why you need to fill out your paperwork in advance, Sandra silently scolded the couple. Without pre-approval you will be waiting forever.   The commotion at the door grew louder. Sandra looked up just in time to watch a pair of Inquisitors enter the waiting area, the grizzled features of the elder standing in stark contrast to the chiseled features of his younger deputy.   "We are seeking a fugitive," the elder Inquisitor announced, his authoritative tone filling the room. He motioned to his deputy, who began handing out fliers. "She is a religious zealot, spreading lies to turn our people against the Heathen Prophet! If you see this woman, report her immediately."   Sandra turned towards Lyrianne, beaming. "See? What did I tell you? Nothing to worry about, just some religious lunatic trying to disturb the peace."   Lyrianne was frozen in place, her attention locked on the Inquisitors.   "Yeah, that young one's a real cutie. I've seen him around a few times. Wouldn't mind getting to know him better, if you know what I mean." She closed her eyes and sighed dreamily, oblivious to Lyrianne's discomfort.   When she opened her eyes again the younger Inquisitor was talking to Amos the drunk. Her eyes were drawn to the pile of posters in his hand displaying the visage of a young dracoling female with a swirl on one cheek.   "That looks like you!" she exclaimed in surprise. Lyrianne shrunk away from her, furtively glancing around for an escape route. Sandra grabbed at her arm to pull her towards the posters to look. "You didn't tell me you had a sister!"   Lyrianne jerked away from Sandra's grasp in panic, her travel cloak coming free. At the sight of Lyrianne the room erupted, both Inquisitors lunging for her as everyone else darted out of their way.   "Time to face the justice of the Chief Speaker!" The deputy had her in his grasp now, his hold firm as she attempted to wriggle free.   "My song has not yet ended!" Lyrianne called defiantly. "You cannot keep your people in the dark forever!"   "Your gods have no authority here," the elder Inquisitor snarled, assisting his deputy as they pulled her out into the street.   Sandra looked down at Lyrianne's cloak, still held in her hand. It was a nice travel cloak, sturdy but lightweight, with a silver clasp at the neck displaying a trio of musical notes. Auntie would love this, she decided, carefully folding it before holding it to her chest.   She surveyed the room. Most of its occupants were still recovering, picking themselves off the floor or taking inventory of their belongings. The couple from earlier were desperately trying to round up their children with the help of a few strangers. Drunken Amos was throwing punches into the air as his companion tried desperately to calm him. And the attendant at the administrative counter...   The line was empty, the attendant gathering his papers and making notes. Sandra approached him confidently, pulling her portal silks and travel papers from her pocket and laying them on the counter.   "One token to Avorae, please."

Cover image: Nature Forest Trees by jplenio


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3 Oct, 2019 11:49

The burly man behind them growled into Sandra's face, glaring at Sandra as if she had pushed him instead of the other way around
I don't think you need the second Sandra in there. Just "growled into Sandra's face, glaring as she had pushed him..." gets the message across perfectly well.  
She watched as a piece of plaster broke free
It should be "a piece of break free" in the context of the sentence.  
She had packed it in her travel bag. The travel bag she had sent ahead when she had realized she was running late.
This flows a little funny, I'd perhaps it into one long sentence? Like... "She had packed it in her travel bag, which she sent ahead after realising she was running late."  
She closed her eyes and sighed...... ...Her eyes were drawn to the pile of posters.
A small contradiction here.   Overall this is an interesting piece. It puts across the prejudice present within the society (TM) effectively, but the protagonist of this piece, Sandra, comes off as very aloof and almost obnoxious in her stance and probing of a stranger. If it was intentional, then well done! It came across very well.   One thing I would suggest is to try and veil your exposition a little. Instead of having Sandra think of things that tell us about the world, weave them into the piece itself. For example, Sandra making note of the things she needs to travel and the family ahead not having filled out paperwork ahead is a good way of doing that, it comes across very well and natural.   It would have been cool to see something similar for the bit of history on the capital and the church, maybe from someone behind her discussing the place as they wait to return home from a holiday? Or somebody breaking conduct and being lectured by the inquisitors?   Overall, a very interesting read, enjoyable as always!

3 Oct, 2019 12:59

Thank you for your detailed critique and your thoughts. I made some updates per your suggestions and moved around a few things to better emphasize bits that seemed confusing.   Yes, Sandra is rather oblivious. I modeled her off of a narcissistic sociopath I know. I am glad that came through well! I was worried she would sound stupid rather than self-absorbed.   And yay! You want to know more about Red Chapel and the Heathen Church. I wanted this story to be more of a teaser of the area, to leave people wanting more while still providing just enough to understand the story. I am thinking I will write Lyrianne's story as one of my NaNoWriMo short story collection this year.   Thank you so much for your thoughtful suggestions! <3

Author of Fillimet, bright fantasy land of possibilities, and Vazdimet, its darker spacefaring future.
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