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.