A dragon falls in love with a slayer who hunts her. Both hide secrets: One seeks death, and one a cure. Can love defeat the curse? #PitProm
THE DRAGON’S SUICIDE is a dual-POV YA fantasy novel complete at 78,000 words. It combines the hunter vs. hunted elements of TO KILL A KINGDOM with the dragon slayer culture of THE LAST NAMSARA.
In the kingdom of Florent, anyone can succumb to the Ignition—a monthly solar event where the sun god’s magic turns an unlucky human into a dragon. Seventeen-year-old dragon slayer Abel Estellio knows first-hand that slayer families are no exception. When he hesitated to kill his little brother, he lost his parents, home, and reputation. With his name now synonymous with failure, Abel is broke and desperate for work.
Claire Belgard spent the last year searching for a slayer she can afford to hire. When her drunken pickpocketing attempt leads to a run-in with Abel, they form a perfect client-slayer match. On paper, that is. To Abel’s frustration, Claire insists on accompanying him on the hunt. The dragon she hires him to kill decimated her hometown, and she wants to watch it die. The last thing Abel needs is a client with a death wish—but her presence is more significant than he thinks.
Abel doesn’t know that Claire hides a tragic secret. She’s the very dragon she wants to see slain. Since dragons can’t die in human form, only Abel can give her the death she seeks. But in the pages of his journal, Abel has a secret, too. He performed experiments on his brother’s dragon form in pursuit of a cure—experiments that looked a lot like torture. If Claire and Abel grow too close before the next Ignition, Abel might choose to renew his experiments--on her.
I’m a freelance manga translator. A previous draft of this novel was longlisted for the 2019 WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award. One of my other manuscripts was a PitProm 2018 finalist. I’ve participated in workshops with Lorin Oberweger, Donald Maass, and Quressa Robinson. In my spare time, I like to convince horses not to send me to the hospital. (Again.)
Thank you for your time and consideration!
FIRST TEN PAGES:
I remove my glove and run two fingertips along the windmill’s charred frame. No heat. Little residue. Muddy ash squishes beneath my leather boots. Yesterday’s rainstorm is the only reason half the town of Bourlin survived a dragon attack without a slayer.
I slide a hand through my hair and sigh up at Noctu’s constellation. The October chill turns my breath to fog and clouds the arc of stars that outline the owl’s left wing. The Night Watcher hasn’t favored my hunt as of late, and it seems that’s not likely to change. There’s less than a month until the next Ignition. If I don’t catch up to this dragon, people will die.
I scan the scorched hillside for a glimmer of gold fur. “Lucy?”
Lucy zigzags through the vineyard’s remains, sniffing for leftover embers. Tinderfoxes are notorious sneaks. With the smell of smoke everywhere, I don’t trust her not to run off.
She perks up, ears pointed toward the buzz of voices atop the hill. Then she darts up the pebbled road leading to the two lampposts that mark the entrance to Bourlin’s famous Night Market.
I curse my pack’s weight and bolt up the hill after her. A passing cart driver’s horse spooks. A scorched body rolls off the cart and thuds to the ground. I cringe at the string of insults from the driver. “These bodies are on their way to the cemetery! Show some respect!” I wish I could pay my respects, but Lucy has plans to disturb the living.
Cold air scrapes my throat as I pass the crumbling remains of stucco-walled shops, mourners lighting candles and humming hymns near the melted stained glass that must’ve been a church of the Watcher Gods. Some inns and taverns sit smoke-stained, but otherwise intact. In the crowded market, I chase Lucy’s white-tipped tail past merchant stalls with wine barrels, cheeses, and stale baguettes. I bump shoulders more than once. Customers shout over spilled drinks, more concerned with drinking their sorrows than rebuilding.
When I see the bonfire burning scrap wood in the market’s center, I slow to a walk and run a hand down my face. There’s no stopping what happens next.
Lucy springs nose-first into the flames. Firewood collapses under her weight. The impact spews sparks and ash at the patrons enjoying its warmth. Her teeth gnash together as she eats the flames, her stolen snack sending red-hot ripples through her coat.
“Whose tinderfox is that?” an aproned salesman snaps. He swats embers off his table of assorted cheeses. A barmaid with soot-smudged skirts whispers in his ear and gestures at me with a handful of dirty wine glasses. I grimace. The silver slayer badge pinned over my heart—a crescent moon encircling twin suns—is a dead giveaway. Fire-eating tinderfoxes are obvious familiars for slayers.
That’s when the ridicule starts.
“Thanks for showing up,” a woman sneers.
“The dragon tax is wasted on you,” says another.
“King Francis should stick your neck in the guillotine.”
I take my walk of shame to the bonfire’s stone perimeter. On the way, I spot a young woman—a girl, really—through the sparks. The fire, and perhaps one too many drinks, flushes her pale skin. Raven hair falls in waves past her chest. Brass buckles line the front of her suede, swallowtail coat. Silverwolf fur pads her hood, and a leather satchel hangs at her hip. Expensive taste. A tipsy townsman, easily twice her age, straightens his frock coat and clinks his full glass of white wine with her dwindling red. She spares him a glance, unbothered.
In a word? Stunning. But it isn’t her beauty that catches my eye. It’s the two parallel scars on the left side of her face. They run from her jaw to the curve of her cleavage. Scars from a dragon’s claws.
“Are you dense?” the aproned salesman hollers. “That thing is getting ash everywhere!”
Ash already is everywhere, but I don’t engage. If it weren’t for my late arrival, he’d hail me as a hero.
I fling a copper coin his way and mutter apologies in passing. Lucy prances out of the weakened bonfire and perches on the perimeter with a replenished glow to her coat. Her eyes narrow sleepily—full stomach, no doubt—then widen when I scoop her up. She whines in protest. Her coat’s heat, heightened from engorging herself, warms my face as she squirms.
“No, Lucy,” I warn, squinting through the bonfire smoke for my potential lead, lest I lose sight of her. Lucy’s tail smacks my face. “Luciole!”
With a final whine, Lucy curls up in the space between the back of my neck and the dragon skull helmet mounted on my travel pack. Her favorite sulking spot.
I’m circling the bonfire to ask the girl about her dragon encounter when the man next to her takes a lock of her hair and smells it. Stomach turning, my steps quicken. I’m mid-reach for his wrist when a second drunk man stumbles between us to wave a clumsy finger at the girl’s face.
“Thief!” he slurs. “I bought you a drink and you stole my coin purse!”
The girl’s eyes widen, voice unsteady. “Monsieur, I—”
“Don’t yell at the lady,” the first man growls. He shoves our interrupter into a barmaid behind him. She drops her tray. Wine glasses spill their contents on the interrupter, soaking his back with red to match the anger in his cheeks.
A small leather coin purse falls to the ground at the first man’s feet. The girl picks it up and offers it with a timid smile. “You dropped this, Monsieur.”
With a bellow, the interrupter tackles the first man onto the glass-scattered ground, startling me and nearby patrons away from the scuffle. “It was you!” He reels a fist back. Semi-sober men shout at them to stop. A few struggle to drag them apart.
It happens so fast, I almost miss the girl empty the coin purse, tuck the coins down her bosom, and toss the leather into the fray with a smirk worthy of a tinderfox. She sips her wine and watches the fight, clearly proud of herself.
I snort. This girl doesn’t need a hero. If anything, I should watch my pockets around her.
Our eyes meet. Her smirk vanishes. Then she offers a flirtatious smile and struts my way, tugging my sleeve to drag me through the crowd. She pushes me up against the brick exterior of the nearest inn. Hardly the approach to a new lead I had in mind.
She cuts me off with a finger to my lips, swallowing her last mouthful of wine. “What’s your name, Monsieur?” she coos.
I push the girl’s hand away. “Abel. If I may, I’d like to ask—”
Beside us, an elderly innkeeper with a broom opens the inn’s front door. One sweep of ash out the door and she’s squinting at me, as if I’m the one pinning this drunk girl to a wall and not the other way around.
“Who’s your friend?” The girl presses her glass into my hand and reaches over my shoulder to scratch Lucy’s chin. Lucy sniffs the smoke on the girl’s skin. I flinch out of her reach, but my bulky pack hits the wall. I don’t like this thief’s hand anywhere near my pack’s pockets. Especially not near my journal. My research is too important to lose.
The innkeeper stops closing the door to glare. I try not to look guilty.
“There’s nothing going on here—” I start.
“Is that so?” The girl’s fingertip skims down my chest and traces my slayer badge. Then she turns away with a wink over her shoulder. “C’est la vie, Monsieur Abel.”
My lead is walking away. Swaying, in fact. How much did she drink? I wrack my brain for a way to get the girl to stay.
First rule of dragon hunting: Consider the bait.
“Her name is Luciole.”
“Luciole?” The girl turns around, smiling like she knew I’d stop her. Heavens, she must have. It took two minutes for her to whittle my thoughts down to nothing but dragon hunting techniques. I’m flirting with her using the slayer’s handbook. Watchers save me.
“Lucy for short.” I run a hand through my hair. “Want to hold—”
Lucy leaps off my shoulder and into the girl’s arms. With a satisfied whine, she buries her face into the girl’s scarred chest and curls up in her embrace.
“Ah. ‘Firefly.’” The girl giggles and kisses Lucy’s forehead. “Bonjour, ma Luciole. I’m Claire.”
I frown. Only slayers and scholars of the Watcher Gods study the Old Tongue. A few expressions float around, but the meaning of Lucy’s full name isn’t common knowledge. This thief’s familiarity with dragons and the texts behind their existence runs deeper than her scar.
Claire—if that’s her real name—shifts Lucy to one arm and reaches over my shoulder, toward my pack. “What else you got?”
“Wait—” I stiffen as her… sizable chest presses up against me. The wine glass slips from my fingers and shatters on the ground. My eyes dart skyward, hands up in defense. But when Claire grasps the horn of my dragon skull helmet, my senses rush back to me.
Second rule of dragon hunting: Establish limits and keep the target within them.
I grab her wrist, spin us around, and push her up against the wall. “I know you stole that man’s coins,” I say, voice low. My boots crunch the broken glass. “I’ll keep quiet if—”
Standing on her toes, she peers over my shoulder. Her loopy smile vanishes. I follow her gaze and double-take at the sight of the two men who fought over the coin purse. They walk together through the stalls, all busted lips and black eyes. One struts toward a man wearing a red coat and tricorne. He carries a musket. Embroidered on his coat’s upper back is a circle of six gold stars. A Watchman. He’s patrolling the Night Market.
“Let’s take this elsewhere.” Claire smiles suggestively. “Before I get too sleepy?”
She’s not subtle about conning me out of a hotel room to escape the authorities.
I grit my teeth. Without releasing Claire, I lean to check the prices chalked into the board on the door: Fifty silver pieces per night for the cheapest single bed. I cringe. That’s almost half of my savings. I’ve been hunting and camping for a reason. I can’t afford this.
Then again, thief or not, this girl is my only lead. Since her scars are healed, the chances are low that the dragon responsible hasn’t been slain yet. But any lead is better than nothing. If I don’t find a dragon, countless people could lose far more than money.
Great. Looks like I’m helping a criminal run loose.
“Up, Lucy,” I mutter. Lucy latches onto my coat and climbs obediently to her sulking spot. Claire wobbles, eyelids drooping. What convenient timing.
“Hey. I know you’re acting.” I release her wrist. Her arm falls slack as she leans into me. “Wake up. I’ll get you a room. I won’t try anything. I just need infor—”
I catch her under the arms before she collapses onto the glass. I crane my head for a look at her face. By the Watchers. Did she actually pass out?
I sling her arm over my shoulder, ignoring Lucy’s nippy protests. When I open the inn’s front door and find the innkeeper at her front desk, I almost don’t duck from the gold-tipped quill she flings at my head. It thuds into the door behind me like a dagger.
The innkeeper swipes up the broom and thrusts it in my face. She’s a head shorter than me, but that wrinkled glare would make even a dragon shrink a few inches.
“You have ten seconds to tell me your intentions for that girl, slayer,” she says, “or this broom goes so far up your rear, you’ll be chewing the bristles.”
Across from my bed, the fawna trophy head mounted on the wall stares at me. Pink flowers bloom from the buck’s antlers, preserved in wax.
Abel sleeps sitting beneath it. Gold curls, olive skin, light stubble… If it weren’t for his uniform, he’d strike me as a handsome farm boy. Not a highly-trained, highly expensive dragon hunter.
My head throbs. It takes all my focus to sit still in these sheets, rubbing my temples. I was careless. Tipsy Mademoiselle is my most effective persona, but the mask turned real when I smelled the charred bodies piled behind the plaza. You’d think I’d be used to dragon-made carnage after seeing it three times, but no. The sight had me flirting for free drinks all night—and not in the fun way. The last thing I remember is those two sleazy men searching for me. That, and the slayer I’d been so relieved to meet. Every other slayer I approached told me I was below their pay grade. Last night was the first time one of them gave me the time of day.
At the foot of the bed, Abel’s pack leans temptingly against his dragon skull helmet.
Carefully, I lift it and sort his items across the comforter: a journal, waterskin, tent, a map of Florent, and a roll of ratty camping furs. Odd. Slayers are wealthy. They earn so much, there’s a dragon tax to pay them. They don’t camp.
My breath catches when I find what I’m looking for: A moondagger.
Moonstone weapons require slayer licenses. That’s why I’ve been looking for a slayer. To get close and steal a weapon. Now that I have one, my grip trembles. Finally, I can kill--
“Looking for this?” Abel says.
I flip the moondagger up my sleeve and startle on purpose, kicking his waterskin to the rug. The diversion isn’t necessary. His eyes remain closed. He doesn’t move, except to lift a coin purse from its hiding place inside his crooked elbow.
Aww. Cute boy thinks he outsmarted me.
“You undressed me. That’s assault,” I say coolly. I’m wearing a new chemise, my dress and coat nowhere in sight. “A crime for a crime, Monsieur.”
“You got drunk, stole a man’s coins, framed another, got him assaulted, targeted me, then faked falling asleep to con me into renting a room with you to avoid getting arrested.” He drops the coin purse. It lands lightly, more leather sound than metal. “Don’t insult my morals. I didn’t do a thing to you.”
“You still undressed—”
“No, I didn’t. You vomited on yourself in the lobby. The innkeeper changed you into clean undergarments from a rather expensive outfitter next door and took your clothes to the laundry. The only reason she didn’t call the Watchmen is because I explained the circumstances—minus your thievery—and showed her my slayer badge. She still hammered on the door every hour last night to ensure I behaved myself. Thank the Watchers this was the last room available or she would’ve charged me for an additional room.” He opens one tired eye, sizing me up. “You owe me seventy silver pieces, by the way.”
My pride takes a kick to the stomach. That’s enough coin to purchase a decent saddle.
“Where are my belongings?” I challenge. Besides my clothes, I had a satchel. It held my coin purse, a map of towns I visited, a flask, riding breeches, and sleep powder. I can’t leave without my sleep powder. That’s a black-market sedative. It could be months before I track down another dealer.
“The innkeeper took them. Apparently, I looked like the thief between us.”
He’s starting to strike me as the righteous type. What if he turns me in to the Watchmen? It’s too risky to stick around.
I clench the moondagger’s hilt. Calm down, Claire. You may not need him at all. If I can find an opportunity to use this dagger--
“There’s one way you can pay me back. If I like what I hear.” Abel props an elbow on his knee and aims his sharp blue stare at me. “Tell me about your scar. I know a dragon wound when I see one.”
I resist the twitch that pulls at the corner of my mouth. He’s handing me an out on a silver platter. I’ll give the cute boy with the gentleman’s moral compass the damsel he wants.
I lower my gaze and hunch my shoulders, revealing a deeper look at the scar tracing the curve of my breast. A tiny change to feign vulnerability, with a touch of seduction to chip at his logic. The trick is not to overdo it.
“About one year ago, a dragon killed my boyfriend. It slashed at me before it burned down my village.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Which village?”
“Chevalier.” I allow myself a small, sad smile. The best part about this act? I don’t even have to lie. “My hometown.”
“Was the dragon slain?”
I shake my head. “That’s why I approached you last night.”
“The way you acted suggests otherwise.”
“I apologize. I was drunk and desperate.” I give him a sharp stare of my own. “I’ll do anything to put that dragon’s head on a spike.”
He tilts his head. “You want to hire me.”
Meant to fight to the death, Naya betrays her people and is forced to go on the run with the boy she was supposed to kill. #pitprom
Naya Tambor trained her whole life to navigate the sentient landscape of her Indoor city. She works harder than any of her fellow cadets to earn her place within NSDE, the militarized agency that governs her city, but she’s still the last in her class to complete her courses. Naya’s willing to do anything to finally find a place where she belongs. Unfortunately, her final test is a fight to the death, gladiator style, against Zayn – a boy whose only crime is being born another species of human and getting caught. Naya not only fails to follow through, she ends up breaking the city’s most sacred law.
Knowing she’ll be punished for treason, Naya allies with Zayn and together they manage to escape. When Zayn reveals to her his people’s home – a hidden pocket of ‘Outside,’ unseen, in the middle of the city – Naya’s act of ultimate betrayal ends up being her saving grace. She finds herself warming to Zayn and the others despite her inherited prejudices but when she unintentionally reveals their location, NSDE is quick to attack. It is up to Naya to save her new friends and decide, once and for all, just how much she is willing to give to belong.
iNSiDE is a YA, dystopian novel that combines elements of V.E. Schwab’s, THIS SAVAGE SONG, with Michelle Kenney’s, THE BOOK OF FIRE. Complete at 78,000 words, iNSiDE is a standalone novel with series potential.
An architect turned writer, I exchanged Florida’s constant sunshine for Scotland’s more temperamental clouds in order to pursue my PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. I have an essay published by Gilded Dirt and won third prize for the Mountaineering Scotland Short Story Competition.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
All the best,
Sally A Gales
FIRST TEN PAGES:
I didn’t really look at them anymore – I doubted anyone in Ipsam did - but with a giant, blinding screen on every corner it was hard not to see them.
TOUCH is forbidden.
If required, visit the LICENSING OFFICE in W.Q. for an application.
All applicants will be processed in the order in which they are received.
As always, crowds thronged the Main Corridor. Mothers herded children; workers rushed, late to work; NSDE officers patrolled the hall. The make-up of the crowds varied depending on the time of day but the volume of bodies was a constant. There’s only so much space in an Indoor city. Ipsam’s overcrowding prompted the first law to be put into place – that and it helped control the spread of disease that ran rampant when the city was first enclosed.
The Mainc cut straight through Ipsam from one end to another. In a city of constantly shifting spaces and winding corridors, the its stable, straightforwardness made it the most convenient and popular means of travel. Despite the fact that everyone in the hall managed to keep a one-foot radius of air around their body at all times, my throat tightened. There were too many people. I normally avoided the Mainc - I didn’t do well in confined spaces – ironic growing up Indoors, I know.
From a screen on my left, General Gunn smiled at me reassuringly.
Report any and all sightings of the OLD GREEN.
Do not TOUCH suspected growths.
Suggested contact with specimens will result in immediate quarantine.
I shuffled along with the crowd – willing them to move faster, knowing it was physically impossible – and tilted my head back slightly for a fraction of air. Thank chib, I was taller than most. I scanned either side of the relentless white walls for a break to no avail. Perfect, solid surface lined the corridor, rising high over our heads. The occasional seam of a door or the even rarer window provided temporary relief from the assault of blankness but even the windows always looked into more white walls. The tops of the buildings seemed to disappear into the brightness of the skeiling as the walls themselves seemed just about to topple inward. My vision swam.
I tried to think of something else – distract myself – but that moment of weakness allowed what I’d truly been dreading to jump to the forefront of my mind – tonight’s Final Bleeding. Panic took over my body. I turned to the screens, refusing to blink despite the tears lining my eyes, and forced myself to recall everything I learned about the Old Green.
Supposedly they’d been insidious. With the ability to grow just about anywhere and the number of mutations they manifested, it was a wonder the EMAS virus had been able to overpower it at all. No images survived pre-EMAS so I still had no idea what one looked like, but the Academy forced us to memorize the descriptions of all varieties on file – just in case. A part of me still wished I could see one, nothing threatening, mind you, I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. There hadn’t been a sighting in decades.
The Mainc banked left and I followed the surge, passing a window to nowhere and a rectangular depression, a few inches deep. In the distance, the glossy white exterior of the Academy winked at me. The tallest building in Ipsam – the place I grew up in – it remained visible from every public space and corridor. Today, especially, it seemed like I couldn’t get away. The Final Bleeding would be held there tonight.
My feet tripped over themselves and I lurched forward. All around me, people gasped, trying to escape my flailing arms. Directly in front, though, a woman’s wide eyes stared at our impending collision. Just as I convinced myself I’d violate Ipsam’s number one law on the same day as my final exam, my training kicked in. With a quick thrust of my knees, I lunged forward to catch my momentum and locked my core to come to a halt. An inch from the woman’s face, I watched surprise flow into anger but not before transitioning through fear. It took two to touch. NSDE would have charged both of us equally if…
“You…” she sputtered at me before looking to the crowds. “Sh-she…”
“Sorry. I’m sorry,” I mumbled, carefully backing away.
No one stopped. The flow of traffic continued, glaring at us for standing still, taking up valuable commuting space. The woman shot me one last scathing glance and then continued on her way. I waited until she was well out of sight before moving forward again.
Keep to NSDE APPROVED corridors, sectors and spaces.
All APPROVED spaces will be marked by the NSDE Seal.
If in doubt, contact the NSDE Officer assigned to your sector.
My face burned – worsening my claustrophobia. I needed to get out. Just then, an opening appeared in the wall to my left. I scanned the threshold for an NSDE seal; the white wall was unmarked. I knew the rules dictated I should keep walking but I needed an escape.
Trusting the flow of traffic to avoid me, I turned straight towards the hall. One goal in mind, I didn’t bother to slow down or hide my intentions. I knew from previous experience, no one would care what I did. If I wanted to risk breaking the rules, no one would risk their neck to stop me. As I tore away from the Mainc and slipped into the new corridor, the screens behind me flipped to the final law.
SPIRAVITS are to be avoided at all cost.
Keep your distance. Stay alert.
Refusal to comply will result in swift action.
At first glance, the new corridor resembled every other space in Ipsam, a combination of smooth, grey floors, untextured, white walls, and the ever present, backlit skeiling. Spaces in the city were so similar, mistaking one for another remained a constant, annoying occurrence. This hallway, however, differed from every other space by the fact that not a single person occupied it. Overcrowding was a way of life in Ipsam. It happened in the halls, classrooms, shops, schools – even living quarters, where people shared their homes with other families. Being completely alone anywhere in Ipsam was an unheard-of rarity. I chanced entering the unsanctioned corridors – NSDE did not take kindly to rulebreakers – but for one minute of solitude, I didn’t mind taking the risk. Filling my lungs with air, I loosened the vise I’d kept on my muscles.
Random bits of metal were scattered along the floor and odd marks marred the walls’ surface - EMAS’s detritus. The only sign of the space’s youth, every stray mark and bit would be wiped clean as soon as NSDE got their hands on it. It was their job to transform this hall into yet another nondescript place in the city. Kicking a metal cylinder, I wondered if that task would fall to me, assuming I graduated in the first place.
I knew I could probably do it. I didn’t know if I would enjoy it – there was something about these spaces that intrigued me - but it wouldn’t matter. It would be worth it to finally find somewhere where I belonged. There had to be at least one job within NSDE that I was qualified for – just one.
I wandered, unseeing, down the corridor. I enjoyed these spaces, where for a few seconds I could let my guard down and just move. Normally, thoughtless rambling calmed my mind; it was the closest I’d ever gotten to a meditative state. That day, though, as much as I tried, my thoughts would not be ignored. I sighed.
It didn’t matter that I probably had more experience with unsanctioned corridors than my classmates combined. Or that I worked harder than all of them to earn and keep my spot in the class. No one cared that I grew up in the Academy. I wasn’t immune from protocol. Tonight, was my final exam. Let’s call it for what it was - it was my last chance. Pass or fail tonight my entire future would be determined. It was just one task – just one kill…
My toe caught on a bit in the floor and I stumbled. Bending over grabbing my knees, I struggled to control my erratic breathing. I counted backwards from a hundred. I visualized happy thoughts. I tried…but my mind always came back to the Final Bleeding. Red consumed my vision and my hands shook.
Oh chib, I had to get a hold of myself. This could not happen tonight – not in front of everyone. Digging my fingers into my thighs I focused on the pain, ignoring the bruises that would be there in the morning. I’d trained for this moment for ten years. Everyone in my class had already done it.
I took a breath to calm my nerves and my muscles went taught. The air brightened, turning slightly sweet. Scraping my tongue along my teeth, I curled it into the roof of my mouth. The air within Ipsam was filtered and released through strategically placed vents in the skeiling. It didn’t have an aroma or flavor. I took another breath. Fainter this time, the flavor was definitely still there. Cautiously, I straightened and surveyed the space.
Untamed and unsanctioned, new corridors could change at any second or worse – they could pop out of existence as quickly as they appeared. When EMAS first hit, those wild spaces claimed at least half the population. Entry was forbidden for a reason.
Edging my toe along the floor, I kept my senses alert. I was in too deep. My only chance was to move forward and hope I didn’t hit a dead end. Keeping my steps silent, I barely breathed, hoping in vain that the corridor wouldn’t notice me, spook and disappear. I winced at a sudden scratching noise.
The floor around me flickered like the screens before switching to a new image. As I watched, small, loose, irregular orbs filled in the empty space around my feet. I ran a hand across my face, but the image remained the same. Every now and then, a blink would bring my floor – solid, grey resin – back to the forefront but even then, I could still see a faint ghost of the spheres beyond. I took a step back, cringing at the noise of the orbs rubbing against one another, despite the fact that my foot landed on Ipsam flooring.
I didn’t understand. Then I saw him.
The Spiravit materialized in the corridor behind me. A bit taller than me, his blind eyes seemed to search the air for something as he took a step forward. His shoes kicked the spheres haunting my vision, scattering them in my direction. I skipped out of the way and turned to retreat when I froze. It was exactly as the Academy had described.
Encased in a pilaster, the Old Green barely stood a few inches tall. This specimen had a slender, green stalk supporting, four oval-shaped protrusions but it lacked the colorful topper we’d been told about – I think a Corporal had called them fowers. Similar to the floor, it faded in and out of my sight.
I backed away, forgetting the Spiravit behind me. I never thought I’d actually see an Old Green – no one really did - and for the life of me I couldn’t recall how far their danger extended. I retreated until my foot slipped and a noise sounded behind me – directly behind me. I didn’t want to look back; I couldn’t avoid it. Slowly rounding on my heel, I found myself staring directly into the Spiravit’s blank, white eyes.
I quickly jumped out of reach and cleared my throat before calling out. “I am Cadet Tambor of the NDSE. Show me your identification, immediately.” My hands trembled at my side but thank chib my voice was steady.
Everyone knew Spiravits were blind, so I knew he couldn’t see my Academy uniform. He should have instantly cowered at the mention of NDSE. My plan should have worked – but it didn’t. The Spiravit took a step towards me.
“Stop. Show me your identification.”
He shuffled forward.
“Spiravit!” My voice cracked and the rest of the words died in my throat.
Scrambling back, I tripped over my feet despite years of agility training. The Spiravit floated towards me faster than I could run. He slowly lifted his hand towards me. The cuff of his sleeve pulled back, revealing a series of constellations of freckles across the back of his hand and forearm. They stopped abruptly at the first knuckle of his hands – then I noticed the tips of his fingers. Pale green stained his skin.
I stared at his fingertips, not sure what would actually happen if they touched me. Sure, as kids, we would tell ghost stories in the bunks but none of us actually knew.
I retreated further slamming against something solid – a wall.
My heart dropped.
I had reached a dead end.
The Spiravit stopped two paces in front of me, hand outstretched. A halo of blue ringed his white eyes, and a mop of dirty, uneven, auburn hair fell over half his face. He seemed to look right at me, despite his handicap. Opening his mouth, I watched words flicker across his face before his mouth turned into a surprised ‘o’ and he collapsed into a heap of gangly limbs at my feet.
“We have the threat contained. Suspect in custody.”
NSDE officers burst into the corridor and understanding took hold. Circling the Spiravit, they placed a thin, gold band around his neck. I knew it would stop the suspect from dematerializing but as it locked in place, a spasm wracked his body. I frowned.
“Is that hurting him?”
I found myself staring down the barrels of five stun guns and froze with my hands up. A voice spoke up through one of the helmets. “Anything else to report, Alpha?”
The team’s alpha sighed. “There’s an unauthorized cadet.” Lifting his hands, I knew his identity before he finished unlatching his helmet. Kaven stared at me with disappointment as he finished, “We’re bringing her in with the suspect.”
Quiet blanketed the Compound with the exception of a few younger cadets scurrying between buildings. Usually teeming with bodies running to and from training, the sudden lack of people unsettled me. I had to swallow twice to release the lump in my throat. I hadn’t realized the passage of time. The absence of people could only mean one thing – they were all gathering, preparing to watch the show.
Our escort split into two without a word or signal. The squadron dragged the Spiravit away down a narrow corridor. I knew that particular hall led towards a cluster of angular buildings off limit to Academy students, but I had no idea what went on in them. I paused for a second, wondering what might to happen to him. More importantly, why did I care?
Kaven cleared his throat. Starting, I followed him along the other hall.
“What were you thinking, Naya?”
I’d been wondering when he would finally crack. Then again, Kaven always was the master of self-control. I looked up at the blank helmet staring straight ahead, searching for any sign of the boy who used to sit with me at meals. The smooth expanse of white covering his skull sat on his shoulders, revealing nothing. Was it heavy?
“You know cadets aren’t allowed in unsanctioned corridors. And you know better than to let yourself be cornered by a Spiravit. What if the space had vanished? What if it had been a trap? What if…”
I flushed. We hadn’t spoken so bluntly with one another since he’d graduated last year. I opened my mouth to try to explain but it hung open with answers he’d never understand. He didn’t have to participate in the program’s last chance protocol. He’d always been first in his class - the youngest Alpha in the history of the organization.
No, Kaven wouldn’t understand the choking nerves. He wouldn’t get the desperate need to get away – to think – to try to figure out how to survive. Kaven only understood one thing: rules. He never questioned a rule or command; it was the secret to his success. It was a wonder he’d ever been my friend.
“Maybe I’d been thinking that if I was caught by the savages, I would be excused from tonight…”
The joke slipped out of me before I could reel it back in. Kaven’s helmet whipped in my direction and I could almost see the shock and disgust distorting his features.
“This isn’t a joke. When are you going to grow up and start taking things seriously, for once in your life, Nay? What do you think they would do to you if it’d actually touched you? Are you really trying to get kicked out? Now? When you’re so close? Don’t you want to graduate…”
Of course, I wanted to graduate.
We passed the youngest recruits’ barracks, squat, rounded buildings with low windows. Like the Mainc, the Compound was another static area of the city. One of the first places hit by EMAS virus, it had settled with time – as all spaces eventually did. Of course, every now and then a new recruit would be surprised by a missing door or a lengthening hallway – always at the most inconvenient times – but for the most part it remained stagnant and reliable.
I leaned forward slightly, trying to catch a glimpse of the rooms where I’d spent the first few years of my life. Unlike the rest of my class – the rest of the recruits – I’d literally grown up here. Recruits are volunteered at five; my Corporal found me as baby left on the front steps.
You’d think being raised by Corporals, rules, and regimen, I’d have all the advantages a recruit could ask for and you’d be right. I looked up at Kaven and couldn’t help but think - that should have been me.
Asher Grey is a ghost. The Underground mafia hunts down his memory—and the life of his love, Seuno. Can he overcome his inner demons to prevail against them? #pitprom
Dear Mr./Mrs. Agent,
The annual Siobhan Games are as brutal as the night is long, and Asher Grey never meant to play them. But being chosen to compete is out of his control.
When Asher is picked, one of his opponents—the ruthless Adder, leader of the Underground mafia—kills Asher’s adoptive mother and threatens to murder the love of his life, Seuno.
Asher follows a dangerous rumor to try and escape the Game. But following this rumor ends in more than he bargained for. It imbues him with the powers of a magician, and that power comes with a price. It wipes his existence from the earth.
His new status as a ghost opens Asher to a world he never knew existed. It also opens him to questions he never thought to ask, and a group of people he never knew existed.
When Seuno goes to hunt down her mother’s murderer, throwing her headlong into trouble with the Adder and other powers who want her dead, it brings even more questions to light. Can Asher, as one of the Forgotten, still protect Seuno from the plot against her life?
And can he do it without succumbing to the threat of the Underground and the Game?
THE REMNANT BAND is a 98,000-word novel directed toward young adults who love to see a gritty story shown from an unlikely perspective. Seuno is inspired by my own Korean heritage, and Siobhan is inspired by the city of Chicago. Think The Hunger Games meets Six of Crows.
I am an editor for Havok Publishing and have had multiple short fiction pieces published. Thank you for your time and consideration.
FIRST TEN PAGES:
“There is no such thing as death. In nature nothing dies. From each sad remnant of decay, some forms of life arise.” – Charles Mackay
The moon is cold. At least, that’s what the humans say.
The humans are wrong.
The moon is simply too many leaps and bounds away from the humans for them to feel or fathom its love. Or return it. And because they did not care for its presence, the moon drifted away from humankind.
It tucked its love and its light and its emotions tightly away, spending its nights watching the stars waltz across the smoggy sky in a dance centuries old, never once turning its eye back to the humans below. And it has done so for decades.
So, in a way…maybe the moon is cold.
Maybe the moon doesn’t care.
But once upon a time, there was a peculiar boy by the name of Asher Grey.
The moon knew of him, but the moon knows of everyone. For the most part it doesn’t care, though it may spare a glance now and then toward the ones that stand out from the drudgery of humanity like a torch among candlelight.
But something felt different about the Ash-boy.
As the nights rivered by in a drudgery of emptied wine bottles and the sound of the dirty sea tugged by its tide, the moon quietly, slowly, crept out of its cratered shell to get another look at him.
And it felt something within itself change.
Now, the moon did not have a heart like the dark beehive of humans below it did—perhaps it did once. That “perhaps” had passed on long ago. Now, the moon’s heart hadn’t beat for decades. It didn’t have to. Didn’t want to.
But when the moon saw Asher, it thought it felt a tremble deep in its hidden, soft core. And then something like a heartbeat.
The moon’s heart had practically turned to dust, and to feel it beat, even just once…
There was indeed something different about the one called Asher Grey.
Something in the night shifted, feeling the impossibility of the thoughts churning in the broken, brutal mind of their reigning empress, the moon.
The thoughts terrified the moon. But they also made it want to stay...to keep watching.
Something was different about the Ash-boy, as a silver dollar was when found amongst the garbage that cluttered the alleyways. There was a certain grit about him that made his edges sharp.
Something like curiosity drifted toward the moon’s subconscious, but the moon plunged it back into the caverns where it hid its emotions.
Do not feel, do not feel, do not feel.
But still…yes, the Ash-boy was a curious thing.
And so the moon kept watching him.
* * *
“I heard you’re second on the Game’s scoreboard, Asher Grey.”
I jumped when the gruff voice spoke, and a wine bottle smacked down on the table in front of me. I unclasped my hands on instinct, ready for confrontation, before I recognized the voice. And the bottle—Gustav’s secret coffee brew. He knew I didn’t drink. Maybe that was why I always sat at the back table of The Ravenous Dog—so’s not to feel so out of place. And because it wasn’t as rowdy back here.
I didn’t used to be this jumpy.
I reached up and gripped the warm, slightly dusty neck of the bottle, the sounds of half-drunk men reeling toward the front door drifting into my head. I tuned them out. “Got eyes and ears everywhere, don’t you, Gustav?” I said, raising my eyebrows before tipping up the bottle and letting the bitter drink burn down my throat. As soon as I’d swallowed, I set the bottle back on the scuffed table with a heavy thump. “You weren’t even at the Game today.”
The Siobhan Game was the city of Siobhan’s annual tradition. It was, in the people’s words, “entertainment.” It was, in my words, “a brutal killing scheme to wipe out a few while keeping the rest sated through bloodshed,” because apparently that’s what came about when magic awoke under the city. Better to try and keep the violence contained, sweep it off the streets. But with the Underground and the city’s murder rate slowly and steadily climbing higher, I doubted it was helping.
Especially when the city’s few magic-imbued persons joined in.
Especially when the prize of winning the Game this time around was rule of one of the small sectors of Siobhan. But the only people who won the Game were ruthless and had hands in too many pies to count. They didn’t make benevolent leaders. Which was probably why they wanted to lead.
But the prize was just a sideshow—the real prize if you won the Game was your life.
Those who lost never came back.
I gripped the neck of my bottle tighter and it was warm against my palm. Every night, I found myself wishing I’d been one of the few who’d been imbued with magic the night it had awoken under the city, like a strange creature once thought dead but that was in reality very much alive. Maybe then I’d have a chance against the scum that thrived in Siobhan.
But alas, magic was a picky creature. And most of those it chose went insane, anyway—magicians were not a very reliable type. After the magic had awoken under the town and imbued a select few, those left behind were tossed into the dog-eat-dog society of fight-for-your-life. Now and then the magic would flare up again and imbue another, but not often. The social ladder of us normals was a hard one to climb.
The floor creaked beneath me as I shifted my weight on my chair. What I wanted to know was who I could trust, and who I couldn’t.
That was a lot harder when you were living straight in the very city where you were most likely to get a knife stuck between your ribs. Or the ribs of someone you loved.
“News like the Game scores travels faster than the players do,” Gustav replied, seating himself on the rickety chair in front of me. Gustav, the owner of The Ravenous Dog, was a sinewy older man who was known for being able to break up an alcohol-induced brawl even when the fighters were twice his size. And for his perpetual knowledge of everything that the sun had the good grace to shine on. “And I heard you’re currently the second best player in the Siobhan Game.”
I gave a humorless laugh, tilting the bottle so that the black liquid dashed up against the sides. “Is that a place I want to be?” I fixed Gustav with a surly gaze.
It wasn’t as if I could have kept myself from being chosen—every man above the age of nineteen was fair play for being drawn to compete in the annual Siobhan Game. I’d hoped it wouldn’t be me this year, and yet...
Luck was for the rich.
“At least you’re not dead,” Gustav said—the city’s motto.
Could be worse. At least you’re not dead.
“There’s worse things than dead,” I muttered, rubbing the pad of my thumb against the outside of the bottle. It felt dirty. If the dishtowel tossed over Gustav’s shoulder was any testament to the cleanliness standards of The Ravenous Dog, it probably was.
But if the rowdy group of men stumbling out of the pub and into the night—followed by cheers and a chucked bottle from those who remained behind—were any indication, it probably didn’t matter.
Gustav sighed, and it sounded like a growl, which was a fair way of summing Gustav up. A sleeping tiger. “Aye, there are far worse things than dead. How did the first trial treat you?”
The Game was played in a series of seven trials. One trial, one man eliminated—and there were six to go. The first trial had been completed just that morning.
I’d been jumpy ever since.
“It’s like some of the players are animals and not men,” I said. I glanced past Gustav’s face and toward the door. The air felt choked in the Ravenous Dog. “They want to kill, and the blood makes their eyes light up.”
“Any magicians in the fight this year?”
I took another swig off the coffee and wished it was hot enough to burn my thoughts away. There was a reason I’d never run with the gangs of the Underground, though they’d tried to recruit me multiple times. Some of the things they did didn’t settle with me. At all.
And the Game was led by one who would have fit in very well with the Underground.
I clenched my hand tighter around the neck of the bottle. “Expect a few men to be in here drinking themselves into oblivion tonight,” I said. “The first trial didn’t go well for some of them, and the next six look bleak.”
“Will you be amongst them?” Gustav asked, standing as well.
I smiled, but it was a smile bitter and cold. “You know I don’t drink.” I shoved myself out of my seat, the dagger I kept in my boot rubbing hard against my ankle.
Gustav stood as well, his sharp eyes shooting toward the door as another group of men walked in to replace the ones that had just staggered out. “Grey, stay away from trouble tonight—after the first trial’s over, people are always out for blood. I wouldn’t be surprised to find you dead in a gutter tomorrow morning. You think I want to find you dead in a gutter?”
I tilted my head, my feet braced for a fight even though I knew no one would fight me. Drunk men couldn’t win against a sober one. I took another drink and ran my tongue across my teeth to catch all the bitter flavor, then answered Gustav. “Probably not?”
Gustav snorted, his expression unchanged except for a little tightening of the skin around his eyes. His warning face. “Kid, you need to watch yourself out there—”
“And you still need to watch yourself out there, you hear me?” Gustav’s voice was low as he leaned closer. “People know your name, Game player. The Underground knows your name, and those men are savages—they’d rather eat you alive than dead, but they’re vultures, all of them. They aren’t good for you.”
“This is Siobhan, Gustav—nobody’s good for me.” I glanced toward the door again as another group of men walked in, one with a lady hanging on his arm who was all skin and bones. I grimaced, and lifted the bottle toward my lips again. “We’re all slowly killing each other, and I’d rather have my eye on the killers instead of turning my back. Best way to protect myself.” I took a swig of the coffee, letting it warm my mouth for a moment before swallowing. “And others.”
Gustav shook his head, leaning one fist against the table we’d just been sitting at. “The Game is an awful spot to be in if you’re looking for protection, Asher Grey. It’s rather a good way to get yourself killed, and I’d hate to have another funeral to attend.”
“Funeral” sparked a jittery flame inside my chest, and I clenched my hand around the neck of my bottle until my knuckles were white, but my poker face was straight. “I know you would.” I started walking backward toward the door. “Don’t go putting me on the agenda, I’m not planning to choke out anytime soon.”
“Good man. Give my best to Seuno.”
A grin tugged at the edge of my mouth at the sound of that name. I paused in the doorway and knocked my knuckles against the frame, nodding at Gustav. “I always do. Keep your nose out of trouble, Gustav.”
“You too, kid.”
And then I stepped out the door, edged past a burly man heading into the Ravenous Dog, and ducked my head as I vanished into the dark streets of the smoggy Siobhan dusk. Night was coming soon, and there were only two places one wanted to be at night.
My shoes shuffled softly on the cobblestone street as I shoved my empty hand into my pocket and thrust my shoulders back, walking a little faster as my shadow stretched out longer. A lamplighter made the rounds for the few old lamps staggered precariously around the street, moving quickly. I didn’t know why he bothered. The lamps barely cast enough light through the grey to matter—it was like the night ate them alive.
And at night, one was either found at home, watching their back with the front door locked and bolted, if you were lucky…or in the Underground.
The Underground was run by a man who called himself the Adder, named after the snake. It was an apt description. The night he’d been drawn to compete in the Game, the streets had been alight with chaos, as they would be tonight—because the Adder was currently winning the Game as the Underground’s champion. He was the one man I’d lost to today. The men—and occasionally, women—in the Underground were dirty thieves, emotionless killers, expensive assassins. They ran the gauntlet of Siobhan’s nightcrawlers and the Adder was the top of their pack, a wolf among jackals. I wanted nothing to do with them.
But to turn your back on the Underground was to die.
To keep your eye on them was to stay alive maybe a little longer.
And to help Seuno…
Anything to keep her safe. Though, if I was honest, that was part of what frightened me most about being in the Game—I didn’t know what it would affect. Would it end up hurting more than me? Would it end up hurting her? Seuno’s mother had been the one to help me after my own mother abandoned me at twelve. Would I repay her by dragging her daughter straight into harm’s way?
I couldn’t hurt Seuno.
Thinking about it too long shook me to my core, so I tried not to. But I wanted out of the Game.
I needed out.
I took another swig out of Gustav’s bottle, then chucked it to the side of the road, where it burst into shards of glass that caught the coming moonlight. Scoping out the Underground could wait another night—it had been relatively calm down there last time I had visited. No talk of planned killings. No new magical imbuements on the rise.
For tonight, I felt sure enough to stride past the crumbling alleyway entrance into the Adder’s Underground.
For tonight, I strode down the grey Siobhan street and blessed the relative safety it offered to those dangerous enough to warrant it. Or cunning enough to.
For tonight, I walked past the Underground like a king in disguise and strode instead to the house of my would-be Queen.
Seuno’s house was shabby, like the rest of those that took residence on Hallow Row. The steps up to the porch were cracked, and I always skipped the last one entirely, as a family of some strange beetle had burrowed under it and left it mostly hollow. One wall had a subtle crack running a few inches across it, but as Seuno’s mother, Aejeon, said—“If it has not fallen down yet, it is not falling down ever.”
Not that I ever called her Ms. Aejeon, though—she always insisted I call her Mama, too. Pretty sure she could kill the Underground with kindness if she ever took it up into her graying head to go there. Not that she ever would. There were better places for her to be than the Underground.
For anyone to be.
I jumped up the steps to the top of the porch and rapped my knuckles against the cold door. A chill breeze tugged at my coat, and I shivered as I shoved my hands back into my pockets and waited for somebody to answer.
A hawk tore across the sky, and I glanced up to watch its path—it flew so low that I could make out every feather.
Which made it all the more shocking when it darted past the Underground alleyway entrance and immediately dropped dead. I sucked in a sharp breath, grabbing onto the porch railing and leaning against it as I peered closer at the bird.
Its feathers glittered with a strange sheen.
Some Underground magician had had too much drink tonight, celebrating the start of the Game. It figured.
I pressed my lips together and the wind whistled behind me like a lonely ghost in mourning. Maybe it was mourning for me. Because the next trial of the Game was creeping ever closer, breathing hot down on my neck, and if I was going to survive it…
I might end up as crumpled as that hawk on the ground.
Turning to face the door again, I tried to shove the dark thoughts behind me. But I couldn’t. Because surviving the Game might take a miracle.
Or something stronger.