Midnight’s Knife: Gabrielle Wrath

I’ve been thinking and thinking about whether or not I should post some excerpts of my WIP: Midnight’s Knife.  I’ve been ridiculously indecisive about the whole thing.  But, thanks to some enthusiasm on Twitter and here, I finally decided to just go ahead and put up at least one scene.  And here it is.   This scene is a bit long, but its one of my favorites and its a fairly complete entity.  This will probably be the opening of the first chapter, though I’m still debating if this the best way to introduce the main character, Gabrielle Wrath.  (For a summary, or two, of Midnight’s Knife, I direct you to Wednesday’s post.)

I would greatly appreciate any and all feedback.  I promise I can take criticism.  I’ve necessarily developed a pretty thick skin over the years.  I would like it best if you would be willing to give me some idea on what does work and what doesn’t (I’m hoping at least SOME of it actually works…).  Oh! And I should warn you now, there is some fairly graphic violence and a curse word or two.

And now, without further ado, a scene from Midnight’s Knife:

Gabrielle walked the streets of downtown, whistling, ignoring her surroundings, and swinging her keys in tight circles on the end of a lanyard.  It was ten o’clock at night, dark but for the street lamps and the occasional neon sign.  The soft soles of her flat brown boots rolled over the pavement without sound, and her brown leather jacket did not even whisper with her movements.  Her dark pixie-cut hair fluttered in the breeze, and her storm-gray eyes shimmered in the dim light.  There was little movement around her.  A couple men in business suits walking down the sidewalk on the other side of the street, probably on their way to a bar.  Or a strip club.  Cars going past her every few minutes, most of them trying to get out of downtown and home to their quiet suburbs.  To say she was bored would be laughable.  She had passed boredom days ago.  Weeks ago.  She was so far past boredom there were now several states between them.

She had arrived six months ago on a job.  She had finished the job in two months.  Then she’d spent a few weeks sight-seeing, relaxing, and walking through downtown at night looking for something to keep her busy.  But the charm of relaxing and sight-seeing had long since worn off.  Boredom did not even come close.

Her whistling stopped, and she put her keys back into her jean pocket.  She thought she heard something.  Something like breathing maybe.  But she shrugged to herself and kept walking.  Her face was unconcerned and incurious as she glanced around at buildings and street signs.  Looking oblivious of the danger a pretty young woman of twenty might come across on city streets at night.  Looking as if she had not a thought in her head.  One might therefore be excused for thinking that she, like any normal young woman, would be shocked and terrified to find two large arms lunging out from the dark of an alley to grasp her, one hand covering her mouth as the other clutched her around the waist.  The thing attached to the two arms expected her to scream and struggle.  Any normal young woman would have.

But Gabrielle was not any normal young woman.  She relaxed her body and allowed the arms to drag her backward into the alley.  Once out of the light of the street lamps, she dropped her body, twisted her hips, and let her assailant’s own momentum knock him off his feet.  Her assailant lay sprawled on his back, staring up at her in shock as she turned to look at him fully.  Her eyes could see him as clearly as if it were broad daylight, could see the dirty clothes, the yellow eyes, the elongated incisors.

“What the hell!” her attacker gasped, looking confused and stunned.

“You really should be more careful who you ambush,” she said conversationally.  She pulled a long knife from its hiding place in a carefully concealed pocket in her jacket and almost laughed when her attacker continued to gape at her.  This was hardly going to put a dent in her boredom, she thought bitterly.  Stupid clueless vampire.

“Who the hell are you!” the vampire demanded, half-fear, half-indignation.

“Who do you think, you idiot?” Gabrielle said scathing disgust.  “I’m a Sword.”  The vampire’s eyes widened in renewed terror as Gabrielle moved toward him in a blur of motion.  Just as she raised her arm to slide the knife through his neck, the vampire looked up and behind her.

“You lied to me!” he wailed, as Gabrielle sliced halfway through his neck with one stroke to the left, and finished the cut with the return stroke to the right.  Oh shit, she thought, as she began to spin on the ball of her foot.  And then it all happened at once: the vampire she had just decapitated burst apart with a flash of bloody-red light, leaving bits of bone, blood, and dust in his wake; Gabrielle found a second vampire standing behind her; the vampire wrenched the knife from her hand with a deep growl and dropped it the ground beside him.

So much for being bored.

The vampire gripped Gabrielle’s arm and swung her against the brick wall to her right.  Hard.  Gabrielle’s spine struck the brick and all the air rushed from her lungs, but she managed to wrest her arm from the vampire’s grip and stay on her feet.  For just a second they stood facing each other, sizing each other up as quickly as some people blink.  This second vampire wasn’t like the first.  He was clean and neatly dressed for one thing.  His eyes were red, which meant he was getting much more blood than the first had been.  And he had obviously used the first vampire as bait, which meant he was both smart and ruthless.

“Can I help you?” Gabrielle asked, unconcerned.  She stood on the balls of her feet, her knees bent, her hands loose and ready at her sides, prepared to move in a flash if needed.

“I’ve been watching you for a week now,” the vampire told her.  “But others keep beating me to the punch, so to speak.  There always seems to be some other demon to keep you occupied for the evening.”

“It just sucks to get cock-blocked, doesn’t it?” she asked with a smirk.  The vampire curled his lip in anger and without another word lunged forward.  She ducked his attempt to get his hands around her throat, and gave him a right hook to the jaw.  The punch barely made him stumble, but she quickly followed it up with a straight punch to the nose, then one to the solar plexus, and a finally a knee to the groin.  He was a vampire, but some sensitive areas never changed.  He grunted and stumbled backward as he bent at the waist.

“Bitch!” he growled.  But Gabrielle didn’t wait for him to continue.  She kicked him in the side of the head, and as he collided face-first with the brick wall, she dove for the knife he had wrenched from her earlier.  But before she could get her fingers around the hilt, the vampire was on top of her.  His fingers dug into her throat.  She rolled and slammed an elbow into his face, but he did not let go.  She tried to pry his fingers open, but his vice-grip did not loosen.  Her throat closed and her lungs screamed.  Brightly-colored spots danced in her eyes.  The vampire’s teeth gleamed as he grinned.

Gabrielle let go of the vampire’s hands and reached her own hands out to his throat.  He laughed at this, but she gripped his chin and maneuvered one hand behind his head.  With one quick motion she twisted hard and heard his neck snap with a satisfying crack.  His motor control temporarily impaired, the vampire let go and fell sideways off her.  Gabrielle climbed to her feet, swaying a little and coughing as her lungs tried to catch up.  She knew she needed to retrieve her knife before the vampire recovered, but spots still filled her sight and she could barely keep her footing.

Too soon, the vampire’s head twisted back to its normal position and he came to his feet as well.  Laughing.  “You stupid bitch,” the vampire sneered.  “Snapping my neck is hardly going to kill me.”

“I’m perfectly aware of that, thank you,” Gabrielle said, her voice just a little breathless now.  She glanced around for the knife.

“Looking for this?”

He held her knife tightly in his hand.  Damn.

“Now what?” he gloated.

Without responding, she tackled him, slamming him first into the brick wall and then into the ground.  The vampire did not have time to react as she shoved him face first into the pavement, twisting one of his arms behind his back.  He grunted and struggled, but for the moment at least, could not dislodge her.  Before he had a chance to try again, she raised one knee high and then brought her leg down with all the force she could muster, pounding her heel straight into the back of the vampire’s neck.  Every vertebra in his neck shattered and she could feel each tiny crackle and snap through her boot.  The vampire let out a gurgle that could have been a groan and could have been a giggle at the fact that even this would not kill him.  But Gabrielle knew that.

Pressing one knee between his shoulder blades, she knelt down to him.  “You seem to think I need that knife to kill you,” she said.  “It may be the fastest and easiest way, but I assure you, it’s not the only way.”  With that, she reached out both hands and grasped his head.  Her fingers kept an iron grip on his skull and she twisted hard, like twisting a stubborn lid off a jar.  His head snapped to the side but for a few moments moved no farther.  But she kept twisting and pulling, her knuckles going white and his eyes going wide.

The vampire let out another gurgle that might have been “no” and could have been “oh.”  Gabrielle continued to twist and pull.  There were several loud pops as the tendons in his neck tore.  The vampire screamed.  Gabrielle gritted her teeth, knowing this was about to get nasty.  The neck muscles resisted and her arms trembled with the effort.  Then suddenly, as if a dam had crumbled down, the vampire’s head turned a full three-sixty degrees plus a few degrees, and came free as the skin ripped in a surprisingly clean line.  Blood splattered Gabrielle’s hands, arms, face, leather jacket, and jeans, and quite a bit of the pavement around them.  Blood bubbled out of the torn arteries for a minute as the vampire’s undead heart slowly came to a halt.  Then, as Gabrielle still knelt over it, the body burst apart as the previous one had – showering her in bits of bone and dust.

Slowly, Gabrielle stood and tried to brush some of the bone and dust off, but it clung to the wet, sticky blood, coating her in a disgusting sticky, gritty, grisly mess.  She sighed heavily.  Her jeans were definitely ruined.  And she wasn’t too sure about the jacket either.  But at least that was two less vampires to worry about.  Only, now she was bored again.

And there you have it, folks.  Please, please, please leave a comment! I’m not above begging.  In fact, I’m begging right now.

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13 thoughts on “Midnight’s Knife: Gabrielle Wrath

  1. Is this the beginning of the piece? It is very buffy-esque, which is a good thing and a bad thing I think. Good because it is entertaining, bad because instead of picturing you character I thought of Buffy. The pace is good although I found myself skimming to the dialog. I really enjoyed it, just wanted to leave some feedback to consider.

    • Thanks so much for leaving some feedback! Yes, this is (I think) the beginning of the novel, though I might change my mind during revisions. Do you think it works as an intro to the character, or should I have some more exposition-y kind of intro before jumping into a fight scene?

      I have been worrying alot about how much is sounds like Buffy in some parts. I’m hoping that the differences emerge quickly enough to not make it TOO similar… But yeah, I definitely worry about that.

      Thanks again for the feedback. I really appreciate it!

      • It’s hard to be able to write in a certain corner of a genre when there is already a huge… thing there already. I’m struggling with this issue as i desperately try not to make my novel about time-travel sound too much like Doctor Who… but I like it. I like how your main character has a lot of knowledge and know-how about things even though we don’t really know anything about her. Character development is one of my weakest points as a writer, so I’m extremely jealous of how strongly you’ve developed yours here. 😉

  2. I think the fight scene is a good start. You need to start it sooner and perhaps use your dialog or inner dialog during the fight to give the reader the insight they need. Just a thought. great job!

  3. I, too, had visions of Buffy. Heh. The introductory paragraphs are good — but maybe better at a later point. You want to jump into the action, and describing her haircut, clothes, and (too much of) her boredom is just not an attention grabber.

    The fight is good, but I’m wondering how believable it is to twist a man’s head *off*. I asked my marine/engineer son, and he said it would probably require about 250 lbs of torque (at 5’11 and 130 lbs, he said he can deliver about 360 lbs), and that the rest of the guy’s body would have to be in a vice to keep it from moving even a little bit. And then he said, “That’s a lot of fantasy.” LOL

    It was gruesome and surprising, though. Gotta say that! I like the way the vampire’s eyes show how much they’ve been feeding. Cool detail. It says a lot about Gabrielle’s training and experience, too, that her heart doesn’t even jump when she’s hauled into the alley. Me? I’d scream. And probably faint…

    Keep up the good work!

    • Yeah, see, I’m still worried about too many echoes of BtVS, but I guess I’ll see how it goes…

      As for twisting the vamp’s head off: I know its not abundantly clear in this scene, but Gabrielle has enhanced physical abilities.

      I hope it was “gruesome and surprising” in a good way. ^_^ Thanks so much for the comment.

  4. First, I love Gabrielle already. She’s snarky. I wasn’t picturing Buffy at all, but I think I could do without the run-down of her appearance up front. I like when it’s worked into the story.

    I definitely think this works as an intro. You don’t want too much exposition. The sooner we’re brought into her world and into the action, the better.

    I do agree with Amy about inner dialogue. I like Gabrielle. She’s a smart-ass and I want to know what she’s thinking.

    I loved that she ripped the vampire’s head off. I didn’t feel it was unbelievable. It’s fantasy and I assumed right away that she possessed extraordinary power. Otherwise, the first vampire wouldn’t have been so afraid of her and the second vampire wouldn’t have been stalking her.

    All in all, a really good piece. I loved it.

    • Thanks so much! I’m glad you like Gabrielle. She’s so much fun to write. I just love smart-ass characters…

      I think my biggest concern as for as opening goes, is that so many people warn against opening straight into action scenes before the reader has had a chance to get to know the characters and feel invested in them at least a little. On the other hand, this is “normal-everday-run-of-the-mill” for Gabrielle, which I need to set up so that its obvious how much worse its going to get later on, so… *shrug*

      I’m glad you liked the excerpt, and that you, at least, didn’t jump immediately to imagine Buffy. Thanks again for the comment!

  5. Very entertaining. Definitely a good action scene, although I’m not sure I’d lead with one right off the bat. It can be done and done well, but It puts a lot of expectations on the work that could be hard to live up to.

    It was paced well, although I do concur with one of the comments above that the description of her boredom was a little over done. I liked the character description (it’s nice to see a character not admiring themselves in the mirror!)

    I would use more pronouns. “Her assailant lay sprawled on his back” You’d used assailant the sentence before, so “he’ would probably suffice. There were a few times during the fight scene that it might be better to say “he” instead of “the vampire.”

    Also I thought this was problematic: “And then it all happened at once: the vampire she had just decapitated burst apart with a flash of bloody-red light, leaving bits of bone, blood, and dust in his wake; Gabrielle found a second vampire standing behind her; the vampire wrenched the knife from her hand with a deep growl and dropped it the ground beside him.”

    This is just my preference, and I hope I’m not presumptuous in doing a bit of rewording, but I’d of said it this way:
    “The vampire she had just decapitated burst apart with a flash of bloody-red light, leaving bits of bone, blood, and dust in his wake. Gabrielle found a second vampire standing behind her. He wrenched the knife from her hand with a deep growl and dropped it the ground beside him.”

    I didn’t care for “And then it all happened at once.” And I might say something about how the other vampire stood revealed in the flash of red light, maybe with a wicked, hungry grin playing across his lips, then in an instant he’s on her, taking the knife away.

    So there is my two cents worth haha. Hope it helps!

    • Yes, opening directly into a fight sequence is exactly the question I’ve been struggling with. I still haven’t decided what to do with this scene. Maybe I’ll write in more a lead-in scene first, before jumping into this scene. Maybe…

      And thanks for the sentence-level critique, its always good to know what wording works and what doesn’t.

  6. Very interesting. I like your writing style. The only criticisms I have are to vary the start of your sentences (too many began with “the vampire”) and maybe cut some of the adjectives out. This is my style and completely my opinion. All in all, this is a great start to a book. 🙂

    • Thanks so much for the comment. I’ll be careful to cut back on too much descriptive language as I edit. Thanks for the feedback, I’m glad you liked it.

  7. Pingback: The Beginning, Middle, and End Blogfest « Amanda Rudd's Blog

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