Hi there Fitz! I have your critiques posted below 🙂 thank you for taking the time to do these critiques, God bless!
So, starting with bows. According to https://www.bowhunting.com/bowhunt101/much-draw-weight-hunting/ hunting bows pretty much run the gambit between 40-90lbs of draw weight (how much resistance, in pounds, the bow needs to be drawn back and thus about how much force it transfers to the arrow). These are ranges designed to take down dear, and while pigs are a closer comparison to humans, dear are still large game. Bear in mind, when I say ‘take down’ I mean kill rapidly (we will get to that later), good shot placement either in the heart, in the lungs, or in the liver can drop a dear in a couple of minutes to a few seconds. Even medium power rifles can drop a dear instantaneously, but that is a different story.
Anyway, it is important to note that this is also talking about hunting bows, which are perfectly fine against soft (unarmored) targets, the warbows used by the medieval English longbowman against possibly armored targets got as high as 100-120 lbs! Imagine the weight of a small to average sized woman hurtling towards you but with all that force focused on a knifes point; if you don’t have armor, and it doesn’t hit bone, that is going right through you. Now, none of this might matter because I don’t know the world, they could be using low power hunting bows, there might be magical factors etc. but this is just to give a gauge about bows.
Arrowheads, on the other hand, would almost certainly be different in this situation. Classic arrowheads meant for hunting game have leaf-shaped (or even sometimes crescent-shaped, if you can believe it) heads meant for easy retrieval once the game has been killed. Arrowheads specifically designed for killing people are barbed, meaning once that sucker is in, if it didn’t go through, it is a right hell to get it back out. And considering how evil these people are, I would very much believe they would barb their arrowheads. Also, I have heard that it wasn’t uncommon for ancient armies to dip their weapons in their feces to cause secondary infection, certainly an idea you can put in there.
Now, mechanically, removing anything that is imbedded into you is difficult and often very painful (unlike the initial injury, again, we will get to that), even if the object isn’t in an awkward location. As a side note, unless you have magical healing powers, never remove foreign objects like that, it could be the only thing keeping you from bleeding out (again, we will get to that later, lol). Anyway, the point is that it is hard enough dealing with acne I have on my back, now imagine trying to leverage the force needed to actually pull something out; which would be impossible to do if that object is barbed.
Ok, on to pain. Strangely enough, those who have been shot or stabbed (and I know this from a personal experience with sharp glass), one typically doesn’t exactly feel pain from the initial injury, they do feel the impact, however. For example, people who have been stabbed in the back often wonder why a person was hitting them in the back, only to later be told that they are, in fact, bleeding. Impacts from higher caliber rifles feel like a punch or a kick and smaller calibers might feel like a burning line in their gut. Heck, people have shot of their own limbs and not have the pain register immediately. From my own personal experience, the glass going into my arm didn’t hurt at all, the nurses messing with the wound on the outside did. Expectations and surprise play a huge roll in pain, so once you understand that you are hurt, your body/mind quickly register it (getting a fishing hook stuck in you often hurts less than getting it out… also from personal experience, lol). Along with surprise disguising pain, adrenaline is a hell of a drug, and people have been known to fight for minutes without outwardly registering that they have suffered even fatal wounds.
Lastly, traumatic injury. Now, before I go forward, I want to be clear that I do not have any professional medical training. With that said my mother has been a registered nurse for 30+ years and my brother-in-law is an EMT and I have been studying (and have sitting right next to me, lol) his EMS book. So, penetrating trauma to the chest is very serious. Your chest cavity is pretty much only filled with your lungs, heart, and major blood vessels. To a normal person, damage to any one of these can be fatal within minutes; your heart pumps about 100% of your blood every minute under normal circumstances (more if hopped up on adrenaline) and loss of 40% or more of that is pretty much fatal. Penetration to the lungs can not only let blood into them, but it can let blood into the sac surrounding the lungs, making breathing very difficult and painful. Same thing with the heart. Even if you don’t damage either of these organs directly, and avoid important blood vessels, blood pooling around them causes a buildup of pressure that can also be fatal. This is why you don’t remove penetrating foreign objects from your body outside of the hospital, since the pressure from the object itself is applying pressure to the surrounding tissue, remove that and you will just add bleeding on to your list of problems, lol.
Judging from the arrow placement in between his ribs, on the left side just below the shoulderblade, I would say that arrow 100% penetrated a lung and is at risk of getting his heart too. Now, as for his healing factor, it could easily be that his body reabsorbs his blood as it heals (since that is what bodies do anyway); and his ability to teleport could actually exclude the arrow, giving him a way to easily and painlessly remove the object. To restate, all of this is just information. He is a magical being, we have no idea how his body functions or where his organs are placed. This is a story, and realism is very often a detraction from high fantasy esq stories. So take what you will from it and leave the rest
Alright, so a couple of quick notes here: are they wearing the leather under the robes? or is just that they have leather armor with cloth cowls or cloaks? Not a big deal just something to clarify. Also, like I stated before, this is a good way to introduce a proper noun thingies in the world.
The sentence “Yep, I was officially dead. No will for me so.” needs to be touched up a bit, the period in the middle makes it a little confusing. I would tweak along the lines of “Yep, I was officially dead, and with no will to speak of…” I like the intention and the personality coming through (him being distracted by a very irrelevant, but kinda personal thought), it just took me a couple of reads to catch what you were saying.
Ok, I want to shift gears here a bit for this next part because there is a lot going on. I am not going to lie, this middle section is the weakest bit of the story to me, I see a few things going on and I want to break it down to be as constructive as I can.
So to start, there seems like there is a big shift in tension and tone here. We go from a guy who is competent and little cocky, to a man getting injured and rapidly exhausted to one who is surrounded and in actual danger; going so far as being sure he is going to die. Then, all of a sudden, he is back to being cocky and a match for them all? As a reader, it was really jarring to see this. We don’t know all of what is going on, how powerful he really is by comparison to most of the world (we get the impression he is far from defenseless) but the fact that the very first thing we see is him running, and running so doggedly, informs us (the readers) that whatever is chasing him is always going to be scary to him. Even if there is a reason for it, it begs the question to the reader ‘wait, if he was so good, why didn’t he just turn around and fight them to begin with?’
A different aspect I want to bring up is that we humans are easily manipulated. We will always cheer for the ‘victim’ in a situation, not the perceived aggressor, even if we don’t know anything else about what has transpired. Picture two dogs, one is attacking and the other trying to run away, 99% of people will rush to the defense of the dog trying to run away if they know nothing else about the situation (the same is true even if the two entities are fighting but one is clearly more powerful than the other). This is a fantastic tool to use as the opening hook of a book because we immediately jump to the defense of the perceived victim, creating a temporary emotional response so the reader will stay long enough for a real character investment to form. When Ninja (I am going to call him that because I don’t know his name and I like it and it is kinda fitting XD ) suddenly turns around, arrogantly and without fear, it really made me question why I was cheering for this guy.
I want to be clear, it is perfectly ok for him to put up a façade of confidence and arrogance – it is a pretty normal to have a bluff response in situations like this – but the lines: “I looked at them each in turn, assessing their faces, their size, the weapons they held. I could take them down easily enough, the numbers didn’t matter. They seemed a rather gawky, spindly lot in comparison to me anyways. Not that I was bragging. I was just being realistic.” Dispelled that from being a chance.
From here, I actually want to say that I saw nothing wrong with your descriptions of the fight scene! It was active, it felt like it flowed and that I understood what was going on; what I felt like was missing was the tension because Ninja and the baddies were suddenly on an even playing field and Ninja seems like less of an innocent victim (even though the other guys are obviously way worse). So the biggest things I would change here is tone down his arrogance in the situation, play it off as front of someone who is scared and dangerous (like a cornered predator); and keep the Asarlaithe themselves threatening. This way, when he starts to fight back, we are rooting for every hit he lands and every swing he dodges – if you make arrows from before more dangerous, then we can get an even bigger sense of real danger, but between the tension in the chase and your excellent bit in the ritual circle (we will get to that) later on confirming the danger, I don’t feel it is necessary. Further, as it starts looking like he is doing well, as hope rushes in that he might actually win, and as his fear turns into anger making him stay and fight instead of simply looking for a way out, we can get caught into the same mistake he makes and form (probably) the first moment of real sympathy with him when it turns out to be a trick.
This brings me along to the second thing I noticed: the characters and dialogue fell flat for me here. From hearing Ninja’s internal dialogue we get a sense of a young warrior, physically in his prime, with all of the testosterone and confidence that can bring, but with some real training and mentorship under his belt. He has a bit of roguish bluster but also has real skill to back it up. The degree in which he goes from actual discipline to anger in the scene is pretty jarring. At first we get “All my moves were calculated, controlled. Battle frenzy was not the way I was taught.” And “My brain calculated their next moves based on their positions. They were skilled in combat. But they lacked in agility and resilience.” But then right after we get “Why was he not fighting back? He was letting his henchmen do all the work instead? The thought made me even angrier. I roared as I delivered blows upon my assailants.” It was like he was two different people from one paragraph to another.
The impression of his character I got before here (and after) was left with was that of young Indiana Jones or maybe a young Boromir: someone with a brash confidence, yes, but a real talent and good enough head to tell when he was really in danger or over his head; not that such a realization would necessarily stop him, but that there would certainly be a real respect for the threat at hand. Which kinda ties into the point I made above: if he doesn’t feel threatened, why should we?
Which brings me to the baddies dialogue. I gotta be honest, it seemed mustache twirly and petulant. Part of this I think comes from the amount of exposition in the dialogue and I think another part of it comes from the fact that I am not really sure what you were trying to do with them, or Ó Dubhuir in specific. There are many types of villains, and many can work well, even petulant ones or those with literal mustaches to twirl. While part of that depends on the nature of the story, the vast majority of that depends on them being characters first. It wasn’t that he was evil for evil’s sake that made him feel flat, but the fact that nothing seemed to make him unique or distinct from other villains. On a side note here, the dialogue between him and Ninja didn’t feel like two distinct people talking, but two different splits of the same person: both were blasé, arrogant, and demeaning, one was just more evil than the other.
From what you were saying earlier, it sounds like what you are going for with them is an addicted villain archetype; which, I also have to be honest, is really cool and unique. Addiction typically doesn’t lend itself well to powerful villain archetypes (unless it is more psychological in nature, such as addiction to control, fame, success etc.), but here we get a chemical style addiction that itself grants power. The thing about chemical addiction is that it turns people into animals where the only thing they care about is getting a fix for the craving. Through an addict’s eyes people aren’t people anymore, not even themselves, everything is a means towards the end of the fix. They steal and murder for a fix. They trade their own bodies, and those of their children, for a fix. If you want a horrifying thought, picture Golum (from LoTR), except give him sorcerous powers and make the thing he craves not an object you can give him or throw away but your literal life force.
If I were Ninja, and that was after me, you can bet I would be running like hell too. And if you do decide to implement it this way, you can see how much it would change the scene. There probably wouldn’t be any dialogue (at least until he is trapped within the circle), just a terrifying moment of him frantically searching for an escape before realizing he is well and truly surrounded by slavering witches eagerly waiting to tear him apart, molecule by molecule, for the tiniest drop supernatural stimulants; hell, lions stare at gazelles with more humanity. The lack of dialogue here, by the way, I don’t think would detract from the scene as most of the important information is easily given through his thoughts (more on that later).
Now, the above idea of an addicted villain archetype is purely an idea. I picked it because that was what it sounded like you were going for, and as an example of how radically the entire scene shifts through its implementation. My intention isn’t to tell you how you should write your story, but give you ideas for you to decide. So again, take it or leave it.
Ok, last bit here has to do with the pacing of the scene and exposition. In short, the quantity of dialogue in this scene feels too much. When Ninja is first surrounded, the scene goes straight into banter and exposition and it halts the momentum of tension that was built in the chase leading into it.
This halt in momentum also makes it seem like that both the bad guys aren’t really that interested in Ninja and that he really doesn’t consider them a threat either; this would occur regardless of what the points I made above simply because they all decided to stop and begin talking when, only moments ago, lives were on the line. The only part in this where I think anything like a conversation could occur naturally is when he is already trapped by the circle (one liners can be fine though). There, Ninja’s dialogue can take on a desperate, almost pleading tone as the druid go about making the ritual happen. Ninja can’t do anything else to escape, and the druids can’t rush the process either (from all appearances), and if verbal incantations aren’t needed then they lose nothing by conversing; which keeps them consistent as a believable threat while giving the reader opportunity to learn more.
The final benefit is that this is the perfect place to drop little tidbits of information (more on that below) since they innately carry with them the weight of doom that is in the surrounding situation.
The purpose of this dialogue overall, from what I can tell, is for banter (characterization) and exposition. From what I said above, the banter didn’t really feel like it brought anything to the table. As for the exposition, we already get a lot of the information we need from both his internal monologue and thoughts, and you show us a lot through his suffering part of the ritual (again, I loved that part, we will get to it later). I also get the sense you are trying to put too much information and/or worldbuilding in this scene. To be clear, it isn’t to say that this information isn’t good, only that I don’t think it belongs here.
I believe the goal in an opening scene of a book is to deliver enough information so the reader isn’t confused while giving them little enough information to leave them tantalized about the wider world and plot. The idea of evil cultists and human sacrifice, even in a modern fantasy setting, is pretty straight forward; the delivery of tension in the chase provides investment through real threat; then you drop the little breadcrumbs of plot that make the reader go ‘oh, shit, what happens next…’. From there, during calmer scenes of either exploration (showing) or conversation (telling), the reader will be eager to learn more and immerse themselves in the world.
I want to stop here a moment and reiterate something before continuing: my intention is not to take over your writing, but to extrapolate from what you have you have said what it is you are going for. But I also only have my own voice and brain to work with, so if I’m off about something feel free to let me know.
And with that said, let’s put all this together…
Enter scene: Ninja lands after his fall from the construction site. He turns and is about to teleport before into another patch of darkness when a figure steps silently out of it, a feeling of inhuman hunger projects from under its shadowed cowl. Without hesitation, Ninja turns to another patch of darkness only for another faceless figure to emerge from it. One by one, each of his escape routes are blocked. Then, a distinct person appears, he bears a staff etched to appear like an orgy of snakes and symbol of the Dark Druids (which Ninja recognizes) is emblazoned upon his robes.
From here, Ninja can either have his suspicions confirmed about who was chasing him or have it be more of a surprise; either way, once he recognizes who these people are, and who their leader is specifically, his gut twists into knots as that reality sinks in. His training kicks in here, however, and instead of dwelling on his predicament and allowing himself to get dog-piled from all directions at once, he goes on the offense attempting to break through the enemies lines.
Action begins: Ninja presses forwards, desperately attempting to get away. He is individually faster and more skilled than his opponents, but they drastically outnumber him. His attention is critically divided, for each desperate teleport he manages some foes are already waiting for him and the others are only milliseconds behind. For every three blows he dodges one gets through, and it is only by his regenerative abilities that he stays alive; but he is giving as good as he gets, and unlike himself, they don’t have the ability to heal. A little voice in the back of his mind is telling him something is wrong, but the threat from the Asarlaithe gives him no time to breathe or think, and he pushes that feeling away.
Then, they begin to tire. Every blow he landed is beginning to add up: they are limping, holding their ribs, or throwing punches with their offhand, and that fear he felt begins to turn into anger. He goes for a more offensive style, pressing his regenerative advantage, accepting hits to strike at eyes, jaws, groins, joints, and throats. As they begin to fall, his anger is only fueled…
Then Garbhán Ó Dubhuir appears next to him. Ninja wheels about to strike at him, but before the blow can land, he shunts to several yards away. Without thinking, Ninja teleports after him but again the High Druid shifts away. When Ninja attempts to teleport again, nothing happens… He blinks for a moment, confused, and tries again. Nothing. He looks down to the ground only to find himself trapped within the ritual circle (as a side note, if you wanted to up the evil factor, one of the druids could be caught in there with Ninja, the other druids wouldn’t care and consume him along with Ninja). Horror crawls up his spine as it dawns on him how well and truly screwed he is as, one by one, the druids begin to pick themselves off of the ground and approach the circle…
Exhausting himself against the magical boundary, and not knowing what else to do, Ninja’s mouth begins moving on its own accord; it is filled with a mocking bluster disguising (or perhaps refusing to acknowledge) the terror he feels inside. He taunts the druids about their need for the high, how it is never going to be enough or how they will never be free from their dark god. As they surround him and the circle, their faces become visible (either from the arcane sigils beginning to glow, or from the fact that they are simply no longer fighting); the skin druids’ faces can either be drawn tight or sagged; pockmarked and scarred from either erosion of the tissue or from constant picking. Their eyes though… their eyes are empty, manic and bloodshot; both ringed and sagged as if they haven’t slept in months or years; their gaze twitching rapidly up and down his body picking him apart desperately, almost lustfully. (Their hunger perhaps also increased by the expenditure of magic needed to catch Ninja.)
From here, a couple of different things can happen. If there isn’t a druid in the circle, Garbhán can make simple reply to Ninja about how it will be enough once their god can walk among them himself, or how he isn’t just sending Ninja to him, but Ninja’s body and soul will be the bridge to bring him here. If there is a druid trapped in the circle along Ninja, he can begin pleading desperately, pathetically, to be let out, how he isn’t ready to meet the dark one. With disinterested, forceful effort, Garbhán deigns to look at the crying druid, saying how he is blessed to meet the dark one and how he is still serving in his return. From there, the ritual begins and Ninja goes through his ordeal, including seeing that being for himself…
… And the rest of the chapter picks up from there. With that little bit of dialogue, all the important information is conveyed: we know about these evil cultists, they are addicted to magical power, they get it from sentient sacrifice, and they are trying to bring their evil ‘god’ into the world. We see just how bad this is from both the fear from Ninja (and maybe the trapped druid) and firsthand from his agonizing experience in the ritual; the details and specifics can all easily be filled in later.