So this is the first chapter of a manga storyline I'm working on. I'm putting this up because I want feedback on what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong. I hope you enjoy reading it, but if there are things that are preventing you from doing so, then please tell me - I want this to be as good as it can be.

Here we go!

The sun bears down mercilessly on a barren, dry landscape, with very little vegetation, and a few large rocks. A white insectoid largely resembling a beetle scuttles over the surface of a large rock, before a long tongue grabs it. The tongue belongs to a dark reptilian creature identical in size and appearance to a lizard. The lizard swallows its meal, and then quickly darts away – just in time to avoid being crushed, as a dark brown, weather beaten boot comes down upon the spot where it had been just a moment before.

The boot belongs to a tall, muscular, tanned man, with unruly white hair and brown eyes,wearing a brown cloak, which is open down the middle, exposing his clothes – a white vest under a ragged, worn open black shirt, baggy black trousers and steel-backed, elbow-high fingerless brown gloves. The man carries a sword – a large black-edgedclaymore, at least 1.6 metres long and about 15 centimetres wide, not counting the hilt – over his shoulder. The man's face is youthful, and only the white hair and the wise, experienced look in his eyes give any impression that he is a day over twenty, though he is much older. He has a friendly expression, but from the way he walks and acts, it is clear that he is a powerful, skilled and experienced fighter.

A boy of fifteen years walks beside him. This boy is pale – there is no tan on him at all. He walks close beside the man, in a way that shows he trusts and respects him. The boy wears a cloak similar to his companion's, except that it isn't split down the middle, so his clothing isn't visible; and he has a shock of unruly, spiky dark hair on his head and blue eyes. A sword is sheathed at his back, an exquisite and unique blade.

The two walk together, side by side, as though they have known each other for a long time. It is obvious that they have been through much together.

Shortly, the pair stops at an oasis. The man bends to drink from the pool, and the boy stands patiently a short distance away. The man takes a long drink, then gets up and lets out a satisfied sigh.

"Ahh, the water's great!" he says. "Won't you come and drink?"

"Nah, I'm good," the boy replies, shaking his head. "I don't need half as much as you do."

"Are you sure?" the man asks, though his tone is not surprised. "It's a quite a ways to go before we get to the village. You'll dry up if you're not careful."

"You worry too much, Master Garoth," the boy answers, waving his hand. "I'll be fine. I'll drink when I'm thirsty."

"Well, hand me your water flask," Garoth says, beckoning. "We have to make sure you have something to drink."

Remarkably, though they have been walking in the desert all day, the boy's flask is still quite full. Garoth is unsurprised by this, and tops up the flask anyway.

As they continue onward, Garoth remarks that they are making good progress.

"We should be there in a few hours, at this rate," he says. "It will be nice sleeping in a bed for a change."

"Meh," the boy says, shrugging. "Why are we going to a desert village anyway?"

"I have a business deal to fulfil," Garoth replies. "Their warriors need training, and they need new weapons."

"But we're not carrying any weapons to sell," the boy points out.

"Ah, yes. We aren't," Garoth says. "That's where you come in."

The boy stops and stares at Garoth.

"WHAT!" he exclaims. "How am I supposed to make weapons for an army?"

"Calm down," Garoth says, "there's a good forge there, and it's only ten or twenty pieces they need."

"And we couldn't have bought some weapons?" the boy grumbles.

"They wouldn't last in this heat," Garoth explains. "And I promised high-quality weaponry – the only person who can make good enough equipment is you. Besides," he adds, "it's not like you're not going to get a share of the money…"

The boy lets out a loud sigh; as much as he wants to, he can't argue with this logic.

"Okay," he says, "what do I have to make?"

"Let's see…" Garoth scratches his head and thinks. "They need seven swords – scimitars, the curved ones, not straight – five spears, three hammers –"

He stops suddenly and tenses.

"Duck," he orders.

The boy is confused by this.

"Duck?" he repeats, dumbfounded. "I can make swords and spears, but why would anyone want to fight with a –"

Garoth pushes him out of the way and slashes at a black, pantherlike beast that would have killed him.

The boy stares for a moment.

"Ah," he remarks, "the verb, not the noun."

Garoth doesn't respond. The sky has suddenly gone dark, darker than the blackest night sky, when it was dazzlingly bright just a second ago.

"Rain?" the boy asks, glancing up at the sky. But he knows the answer to that question as soon as he sees that the sky is clear, with not a cloud in sight.

"No," Garoth mutters, confirming the boy's suspicion, "this is one of the driest deserts in the world; it hasn't rained here in centuries. There's only one thing it could be."

Right on cue, the pair suddenly hears a loud, horrifying screech. A great mass of darkness comes into being. As they watch, the darkness takes a definite shape and form.

From the darkness comes a terrible, giant being. It has huge claws the colour of ghosts – pure white. Its body and head are surprisingly human, and its face, having the features of a woman that is usually beautiful, is twisted in an ugly snarl. Its teeth are pointed and sharp as knives, and from the waist down, where legs should be, there is a single, sharp black spike, which does not touch the ground. Its eyes are completely black – no iris or sclera – and its black hair is long and dishevelled. Its ribs seem to be on the outside, as there are white spikes curled around its chest.

The being lets out another bloodcurdling shriek, and several smaller monsters appear, seemingly moulded out of the darkness.

"Tch," Garoth grunts, raising his sword. "Leave these creatures to me."

He springs forward at the nearest one, and within seconds Garoth destroys all the lesser monsters. This has distanced him from the boy. The being sees this and goes for the boy.

Surprisingly for something without legs, the being moves incredibly fast. It zeroes in on the boy and raises its huge claw.

"Move, quickly!" Garoth shouts, but the boy is paralysed by fear. He is frozen to the spot. The being brings its claw down in a powerful slash.

Garoth leaps forward, pushes the boy behind him, and intercepts the swipe with his sword. The being struggles to break the block, but he keeps it in check.

This seems to snap the boy out of his shock. He gets up quickly and makes to aid Garoth, but Garoth yells, "No! Stay back!"

With a powerful slash, Garoth pushes the being away, and the two engage in battle.

And what a battle it is.

The being unleashes a flurry of powerful slashes, all of which Garoth parries easily with his sword. He slashes at it, but it moves back, just barely getting out of the way. Garoth follows up with a barrage of quick slashes, trying to catch it off guard, but it manages to block or dodge every one. Garoth keeps up his relentless assault, pushing the being back and looking for an opening. The being moves back as Garoth lets loose a particularly powerful slash, disappears and reappears behind Garoth. It slashes down with its left claw, but Garoth swings his sword over his shoulder and blocks it. He suddenly disappears as well.

The being looks around frantically, trying to find Garoth, and is suddenly cut from behind. It lets out a hiss and turns, but finds nothing. The being is suddenly cut again from its left, then its right, then twice from behind. It puts up its claws in defence as it is suddenly cut from all directions, all over its body. It shrieks in pain and quickly moves back from the spot it's hovering in, just as Garoth appears and unleashes a particularly powerful slash which cuts through the air where the being was a second before.

"Tch," Garoth grunts. The being opens its mouth and a huge, concentrated beam of pure darkness shoots out at Garoth, who dashes back insanely quickly to dodge it. The being fires several more of these beams at Garoth, but he easily dodges every one, getting closer to the being each time. He gets in front of the being and slashes at it, but it blocks his sword with one claw. The two go on to slash away at each other, Garoth blocking the being's claws, and the being blocking his sword. They both slash at each other, blocking each other's attack, and then separate and disappear.

After a few moments of silence, there is a sudden clang in the air. Several more clashes follow from all over the surrounding area as the battlers move around at high speed and strike out at each other. A few clangs sound in the air very close to where the boy is standing, making him jump. Garoth is suddenly knocked out of thin air and onto the ground. The being comes after him with a claw outstretched, but he quickly rolls out of the way, and its claw sinks into the sand. Garoth disappears again, and the being pulls its claw out of the ground, throwing sand everywhere, and disappears as well. A few more clangs ring out, and after a few more moments, it's the being that is knocked out of thin air. It lands heavily on the ground, and Garoth falls out of thin air towards it. He brings his sword down upon it point first, but it disappears before he hits the ground, and his blade sinks deep into the sand. He pulls out his sword and slashes backwards as the being reappears behind him, and the being quickly moves backwards to avoid the attack. Garoth faces it, and the two battlers rush at each other and exchange a great amount of slashes and parries, dancing around each other as they slash, thrust and parry at a speed almost invisible to the human eye.

The boy watches the raging duel with awe, taking care to stay out of the way. The being is powerful and fast, but Garoth keeps it on its toes, blocking all its attacks, looking for weak points, trying to draw its attention away from the boy – and succeeding, for the most part. In his mind, Garoth knows that the being has come for the boy.

It is increasingly obvious that the two are more or less equally matched, neither able to land a hit on the other, and neither side letting up. However, Garoth soon begins to tire. He fights on valiantly, keeping up with the being, but knows he cannot hold it off for long.

Suddenly, he hears it speak.

Get out of my way, pathetic worm, it says. It speaks with a voice that sounds like several feminine whispers, with dark undertones. Its voice chills Garoth to the bone, but he faces it defiantly.

"What do you want with my apprentice?" he demands, pushing the being back. It lets out a low, guttural growl.

None of your concern, it replies, sneering. The Dark Queen does not explain herself to mortal scum.

Realisation dawns on Garoth. He knows now who this being is.

"You're the Master of Darkness," he says, turning pale.

Hmph, the being says, smirking. The piece of dung has done his research.

"Then there's no way I can let you take him!" Garoth attacks with renewed vigour. But he is worn and tired, and the being blocks his attacks with ease.

The being snarls. I have no time for this. Begone!

It swipes at him, knocking him aside. His broadsword is thrown out of his hands and clatters onto the sand a good distance away.

The being comes after the boy, who starts to back away quickly. But the being is too fast to outrun. It quickly gets to him and raises a claw.

Time to end this, it says. The boy shuts his eyes and raises his right arm in defence.

"NO!" Garoth yells, and leaps forward, jumping between the boy and the being just as it slashes.

The being's claw goes deep into Garoth's side. The boy watches, stunned. Blood begins to flow heavily from the wound and splatters on the sand.

"GAH!" Garoth coughs, and blood falls out of his mouth.

What is this? the being demands, its anger rising.

"M-Master…?" the boy stutters, staring at Garoth in shock. The wound is critical, and blood is gushing out now. Garoth is very weak from the wound, but manages to speak.

"Listen to me," he croaks to the boy, his voice a hoarse whisper. "This creature… is after you… I don't know why. But I do know... that I cannot… let it take you. You must get… as far away from here… as possible. Go now... Quickly!"

"What?" the boy exclaims, snapping out of his trance. "No way! I won't leave you here to die!"

"This wound… is not some tiny scratch, child… I have been dealt a fatal blow," Garoth says weakly, wincing with each pause. "I'm… as good as dead already. The only difference you can make now… is to either honour my sacrifice… by following my order and... getting to safety… or to let my death… be in vain… by getting yourself killed."

AHHH! the being roars, ripping its claw from Garoth's side. GET OUT OF MY WAY!

It stabs Garoth again in the exact same place, its claw piercing his side even deeper, and continues to slash at him with its claws.

Rage fills the boy as he sees the being rip into his mentor. He starts to draw his sword, but Garoth stops him.

"No!" Garoth yells, even as he is ripped apart. "You mustn't! This creature… is no ordinary beast. This is Mexylodia, the Dark Queen. It – she – is far too strong! You must… run away!"

Tears fill the boy's eyes as he watches his mentor get more and more badly wounded.

"But…" he stammers.

"No!" Garoth interrupts. "You have… to get to safety! Run! Run until you can run no more! Get away from here!"

The being is so caught up in ripping Garoth to shreds that she has forgotten herself in her fury.

"She won't come after you now… she's too busy!" Garoth shouts. "GO!"

The boy stands still for a moment, tears flowing down his face. Then, sobbing heavily, he turns and runs as fast as his legs can carry him.

Mexylodia snaps out of her violent trance, but too late. The boy is already gone.

She rips her claw from Garoth's side. This time, he falls to his knees. He is so badly wounded, he is almost unrecognisable. The pain is excruciating. He is just barely conscious.

What have you done…? Mexylodia asks quietly, her voice filled with barely controlled rage.

"I have… saved him from you," Garoth whispers. His clothes are drenched with his blood.

Why would you sacrifice yourself for such a weak child as he? Mexylodia inquires.

"Hmph." Garoth manages a weak smile. "Do not… underestimate my apprentice... He is not weak... He will become stronger… This… I know for certain…" He coughs up some more blood, but recovers and looks Mexylodia right in the eye. "He is the one… the one who shall… destroy you by your own hand."

Mexylodia snarls, raising a claw. shall pay the price for your actions.

Garoth barely hears her. He has a peaceful, almost dreamy expression on his face, and his eyes are closed. A peaceful smile crosses his face as the Dark Queen brings her claw down in a deadly slash.

The boy runs and runs until he is out of the desert. But he doesn't stop there.

He runs through a dense, humid forest, filled with exotic plants and thick undergrowth.

He runs across a devastated wasteland where the earth is cracked and dry.

He runs through a dark place, where the ground is very wet, and the area covered in a thick mist.

He runs through what appears to be a wheat field, with a red-gold sunset sky.

He runs through woods filled with withering, charred looking trees with no leaves on their branches, under a starlit night sky.

As the boy runs, tears stream down his face. His mind is filled with images of Garoth being torn to shreds on Mexylodia's claws. He remembers Garoth's orders.

Run! Run until you can run no more!

And so he does.

The boy finally stumbles into a small village. He has been running without rest for a week, and the hunger and exhaustion have finally caught up with him. His tears are dried on his face. People start to gather as he takes a few weak, shaky steps and then collapses.

Barely conscious, the boy just about makes out the shape of people gathering, staring at him, talking quietly among themselves.

"He's fainted!"

"Looks like he ran nonstop for three days!"

"If that's the case, I'm not surprised."

"He needs medical attention! We have to get him some help!"

"No way! Are you nuts? Don't you see his arm?"

"We'll take him up to the hill."


"Only she can help him."


"Do YOU want to take care of him? Hmm? How about you? Or you?"

Then the boy loses consciousness, and falls into darkness.

When the boy comes to, he finds himself on a soft, warm bed. An ice pack falls off his forehead and into his lap. He stares blankly at it.

He is covered with a beautifully embroidered blanket, with intricate, colourful designs. Just looking at them makes him feel warm inside.

The boy pulls his attention away from the blanket and looks around him. He is in a small, tidy room, with plain walls and a small, worn old rug in the centre, under a small table. There is a comfy-looking chair in the corner. Light is streaming in from an open window on the right side of the bed.

The boy stares out the window, letting his thoughts wander. He remembers Garoth's death at the hands of the Dark Queen, and he is filled with a deep sadness. Tears start to form at the corners of his eyes, and he starts to sniffle.

"Oh!" Someone lets out a surprised gasp behind him, to the left of the room. "You're awake!"

The boy turns to find a young girl, of about fourteen years, carrying a bag full of groceries. She has a very light tan and is wearing a sleeveless blue dress with a short hem, stopping just above her knees, under an open red short-sleeved bolero jacket, striped knee-high socks and simple leather shoes. She has light blue eyes and light brown hair just past her shoulders. A small pointed beanie hat is crammed on her head. She is covering her mouth with her free hand and looking surprised and extremely pleased.

"You've been out cold for two days!" she exclaims, dropping the bag and rushing over to the side of the bed. She kneels by it, sitting seiza-style.

"You were sweating and running a high fever," she says. "I was getting worried about you." She feels his forehead gently. "Are you okay?"

The boy nods slowly.

"Yeah…" he mutters. He is still trying to figure out what he is doing in this strange bed.

"You don't feel hot anymore…" the girl murmurs. She takes her hand off his forehead and inspects him critically. "You don't look sick anymore either…"

She heaves a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness! I thought you had some really bad disease or something. Especially considering your arm…"

The boy stares at her uncomprehendingly, and then throws off the blanket to reveal that his right arm is wrapped tightly in white bandage. He hastily starts unravelling the bandage wrap, much to the girl's dismay, until he has completely unwrapped it. He gasps and lets out a strangled cry.

His right arm is greyish, rough, rugged and wrinkled-looking, though the flesh does not wobble about when he shakes his arm. Two long, deep scars run up the length of his arm, from just before his wrist almost up to his shoulder. The scars look like they're filled with fresh black blood, instead of normal, red blood, though when he runs his finger along them, he feels no wetness; in fact, it feels like skin. His right hand has only two fingers and a thumb, and the nails are pure black. The fingers appear rough-skinned and rugged, with bits of skin jutting out at the joints, making it look as if the skin is peeling off, although the bits of skin are quite hard and turgid. He turns his hand over and finds a horizontal line in the middle of his right palm, and as he watches, the line opens, revealing a mouth with straight, cream-coloured teeth.

The boy just stares down at his right arm in disbelief, horror and shock. Then he starts shaking with anger.

"She cut me…" he stammers, slowly clenching his right hand into a fist.

"Huh?" the girl says, confused.

"That stupid monster cut me!" the boy shouts, jumping out of the bed. This reveals that he is wearing a black vest shirt and light brown trousers. His cloak, and the other clothing he wore, has been removed. "And now, because of that, I'm cursed!"

He covers his face with his left hand, facing up, shaking with rage. Then suddenly he smashes his right fist into the floor with a loud, furious yell, severely cracking the floor, and sinks to his knees, holding his head in his hands. He starts to sob.

The girl watches him sadly. She has no idea what has occurred, but she senses that he has been through much, much more than she could ever imagine.

She reaches over, trying to comfort him, but before she touches him, he stiffens and moves back. She feels a small pang of pain in her chest.

"Stay back!" he warns. "You could get cursed too!"

He suddenly realises that he's endangering her just by being there, and quickly gets up and runs out of the room. The girl springs up after him, quick as lightning.

"Wait!" she yells, chasing him down the stairs and towards the front door. "Stop! What are you doing?"

The boy stops at the doorway.

"Thank you for looking after me," he starts, without turning back to face her. He turns his head to face her, and is smiling sincerely, with a grateful expression on his face. "I really appreciate it. I would probably be dead if you didn't take care of me.

"But," he continues, turning back to face the door, "I can't stay here. If I stay, I'll put you and every other person in this house, maybe even in this area, in danger. I have to take my curse away from here." He reaches for the door handle.

"NO!" the girl yells, lunging forward and grabbing him from behind. The boy, taken by surprise, drops his hand to his side.

"What the –" he says, stunned. A tiny blush appears on the area between his eyes, above his nose.

"Please don't leave," the girl murmurs, hugging him tightly from behind. "You have no idea how lonely it is up here, living by myself. Taking care of you was the best two days of my life. Don't leave me all alone again!" Tears start to form at the corners of her eyes.

"Eh?" the boy cries.

"I live alone up here," the girl says quietly, after a moment's silence. "My mom and dad died when I was seven. Since then, everyone in the village has been scared of me. They think I'm some sort of monster." Tears start to fall down her face. "You're the first person in over seven years who didn't automatically recoil in horror when I got close. Please don't leave me here!"

"But you could be in danger!" the boy cries. "I'm cursed!"

"I DON'T CARE!" the girl yells, really, really loudly, squeezing her eyes tight and opening her mouth wide.

"Ah…" the boy says, dazed by the loudness of the yell. He sweat-drops.

"Nothing could possibly be worse than living here alone!" the girl says.

The boy's face goes dark. The shadow from his hair conceals his eyes.

"I'm sorry…" he says. "I couldn't stay here even if I wanted to. There's something that I have to do."

The girl is silent for a moment.

"You mean," she says, "like a quest?"

"Yeah," the boy replies, "I guess you could call it that…"

"Then let me come along!" the girl suggests excitedly. "I can help! I know magic!"

The boy considers this for a moment. If she is telling the truth, magic would be useful. But…

"No," the boy says, shaking his head. "I couldn't possibly ask you to do that. You've done too much already."

"I want to do this." The girl has a determined look in her eyes. "I don't want to be alone anymore. And I know you must not want to be alone either."

A thought crosses the girl's mind, and she smiles mischievously. "Besides, you don't know where I kept your stuff."

"Wha…" The boy suddenly realises that he isn't wearing his clothes and doesn't have his sword. He gasps.

"Hey, give me my stuff!" he cries. The girl cheekily sticks her tongue out at him.

"Not unless you let me come with you," she replies.

The boy sighs loudly and starts to think.

I would be doing her a favour, he thinks. And it would be nice to have a companion…

"Deal," he says, nodding. A great happy smile spreads on the girl's face.

"Great!" she exclaims, her eyes shining happily. "Let's shake on it!"

They shake hands.

Suddenly the boy starts to feel faint. He starts to fall backwards, but steadies himself. He starts staggering and swaying back and forth.

"I feel funny…" he mutters.

Then he falls backwards. He sees the girl rushing toward him.

Then the boy falls unconscious once more.


Then he hears the girl's voice, as if from far away: "Hoi.


"Wake up!"

The boy slowly opens his eyes.

"Welcome back to the land of the living," the girl greets, smiling at him warmly. He is back in the bed, covered by the blanket.


"You fainted," the girl says. "You still need rest. You're a bit weak; you must really have starved yourself."

The boy laughs. "Yeah. Thanks again."

"Stop thanking me," the girl scolds playfully, smiling. She taps the top of his head lightly.

"Let's get to know each other," she continues. She puts a hand on her chest. "I'm called Anya. What's your name?"

The boy smiles. He sits up in the bed and faces her properly.

"My name," he says, "is Lucas."

What do you think? Any criticism and suggestions for improvement would be greatly appreciated, as well as information on what I'm doing right and what may be excessive or lacking.

Thanks for reading!