by Stuart White
In a world of binary fanatics, it takes an intersex outcast to show everyone what love truly means. #PitProm
Intersex Ice-Witch Corena Storm hid in the shadows most of her life, but when her brother is executed, no amount of ice can quench the fire of revenge.
STORM RISING is a YA Fantasy complete at 84,000 words. It is a mash up of RED QUEEN, FROSTBLOOD and TWELFTH NIGHT.
Corena Storm lives in a binary, deeply devout world, controlled by a body called the Kurikon, that alienates her and fellow wiccan.
When her wiccan abilities are discovered by her community, she is sent away by her parents to be reconditioned. But when her brother is executed after freeing her, she seeks revenge.
Disguised as a boy, she infiltrates the Queen’s personal wiccan hunting squad. Corena unexpectedly falls in love with one of the killers and must ultimately choose between avenging her brother’s death and a future with the girl she loves.
As a biology teacher, teaching chromosomal and genital variations to youngsters struggling with identity, gender uncertainty or dysmorphia is an issue I feel strongly about. Young intersex people need to see heroes/heroines in fiction they can relate to.
My writing has finished runner-up in the Ink and Insights Master Novel prize, been short listed for the New Voices prize and long listed for the Yeovil Literary prize, the Spotlight First Novel prize and the Flash500 novel competition.
I am a member of SCBWI and active in the writing community, hosting online pitch and writing events like #PeerPitch and #1st50 as part of the Scribblers, which have enabled me to build an active following and author platform within the YA community. This will enable me to get Corena’s story, and it’s important message, out to a wider audience.
I have completed Curtis Brown's Writing for Children Course with Catherine Johnson, and finished my MLitt in Creative Writing at Glasgow University, where I graduated with Merit.
Thank you for your consideration.
First Ten Pages:
If I’m not hung for being wiccan, I’ll probably hang for this.
“What if we get caught?” I move my lips closer to Asta’s. “What if the Klerik finds out?”
An owl hoots from a branch lined with evening frost. The forest is the perfect place for secrets. Only the old church and the rotting hanging dais sit out here, well away from the village.
“Shut up and kiss me.”
I lean closer, my head edging towards hers. Our lips slowly part. Her head tilts, and I close my eyes.
Asta’s lips are soft. Much softer than a boy’s. As she brushes them against mine, she strokes my cheek. A small drop of melted snow splashes on my nose. I tremble and pull my furs tighter around me.
“Wow.” I pull gently away from her. But not too far. “How…how was it?”
“Fine.” Her gaze darts around the forest. “Want to do it again? Longer?”
I nod and close my eyes. The excitement of the moment sizzles down my arms and my chest tightens. Tingles wriggle across my thighs.
Asta’s lips are harder this time. Her hot breath ignites a raging furnace of desire. It scorches my body, from the tip of my tongue to my frozen toes.
She pauses for a second and runs her fingers through my hair. “As white as snow. It’s beautiful.”
Something touches my shoulder and I tense, slowly turning. The mossy rope from the hanging platform swings like a scythe with the winter wind. Nobody has been hung in our village in years. I relax my shoulders and turn back to Asta.
We kiss again.
Small flakes of snow build up on my forehead. Each one melts against my skin. Her shivering hands move across my body. I edge closer.
The owl hoots louder this time.
As her hand moves down. I grab it instinctively.
She stares at me, her eyes narrowed. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing. Just…please don’t.” I release her. Nobody can know what I’m hiding. No one could love me, once they know what I am.
“Sinners!” A gritty, shallow voice echoes through the forest.
Asta jumps back, pushing me away.
Klerik Anticus limps into sight, lighting the surrounding trees with his small gas-lamp.
The owl takes flight, screeching as it flies into the night.
I knew we shouldn’t have come anywhere near the church. Even though part of me loved the fact we were getting away with it so close.
“In the name of the Ten, stop that unnatural behaviour right now.”
Asta moves away and stands beside him. “She forced me to do it, Klerik. I didn’t want to. She made me.”
What’s she talking about? She kissed me back. It was her idea…wait… “You set me up?“ A frost forms inside me where moments before there was fire. A large lump of snow crashes to the ground behind the Klerik.
I dig my nails into my palms as the surge of power reaches my palms. I can’t lose control. The Kurikon can’t know about my powers.
Asta turns to Anticus. “It was awful. So disgusting. So unnatural. Will the Gods ever forgive me?”
He pats her on the back, his face softening, along with this voice. “Yes, Asta, my child. They will forgive you. But you must pray.”
The snow illuminates him against the darkness of the forest behind him, deepening the creases in his face. His gaze fixes on me, his words make him appear taller, the way he does at his sermons. "Corena Storm. You’ve sinned once again. Come inside and pray to the Ten for forgiveness. You can’t continue to behave like you do. The Gods lose patience.”
“Screw the Gods! They’ve never done a thing for me. Can’t you see she’s tricking you?” I hold my arms up to the Gods I’m sure aren’t there. If they were, they’d never let something as abnormal as me live in their perfectly ordered world.
“The only trick here is you deceiving your nature. The Gods state woman shall love man. You defy Mama Killa herself. It’s unnatural for a woman to love a woman.”
“I hardly love her.”
Asta sends me a sarcastic smile, just out of Anticus’ view. Damn, I like that smile. “And even if I did, why is it unnatural?” I ask the Klerik.
“Because the Gods say so. They’re beyond question.” He looks to Asta, who switches quickly from a grin to a pout. “You go home, Asta, and let your parents know what happened. I’ll take Corena and deal with her.”
“Thank you, Klerik.” She skips off, giving me a last, triumphant smile.
I can’t believe I thought she liked me.
“Given your previous…mishaps, I’m going to have to report this to the Kurikon…and to your parents.” The Klerik shakes his head, looking toward the dark sky. “You behave like neither boy nor girl. And your unnaturalness...you have no place in this world. If it’s the wrath of the Gods you want from this life, then you have it.”
“I want to be myself and not receive self-righteous lectures from intolerants.” I know it’s too much the second I speak. But I’ve been bursting to say it for so many years.
Klerik Anticus squints his lined face and points his crooked index finger at me. ‘You’ve crossed the line, Corena. Your mother will be ashamed and your penance will come. And sooner than you may think.”
* * *
I stomp through the village, the hour-long lecture from Klerik Anticus fueling my strides.
Apparently, I’ll burn at Ka-Ferno’s Gate.
Apparently, none of the Gods, not even the trickster Susanoo-no-Mikoto, will let me ascend.
Asta strides towards me.
I ignore her. I don’t want to lose control in sight of people, everyone’s out for season changeover tonight, but she grabs my arm.
“We’re done. I can’t believe I actually liked you, even a little bit.”
“But I had to, Corena. You know what it’s like, we’d both be sent off to be reformed.”
“So better me than you, huh? Coward.” I try to give her my evil stare, but those goddam perfect curls and cheekbones just make me realize how much I did like her.
“Yeah, not as sorry as I am. Or will be, no doubt.” I pull away and continue down the main road, just wanting to get home and not think about Asta.
Or that kiss.
Pat waits for me outside the Blacksmith’s barn, his white hair emphasized by the blazing oil lamps that light up the main road. His face glows, and he sprints over once he sees me, slamming into my embrace. He’s way too old for cradling, but is very small and light for a twelve-year-old.
I release him, and he bounces beside me as we pass the village hall.
“Where you been, Rena?” His wee cheeks burn red against his pale skin. We Storms are whiter than the snow that surrounds us.
“Why have you been with the Klerik, then? That’s the only place you could be coming from. They going to send you away this time?” He grabs my hand, and I squeeze back as we pass a large building to the right. My workplace. Snow thaws upon the roof, small clumps falling on the built-up ice beneath. The stalactites are melting.
My fellow ice-farmers shelve their tools and sharpen their axes instead, as we do at the end of every winter. I have tonight off, but I know I should be working. We need the money. I stupidly thought Asta was worth it.
“No. It was nothing.”
“Don’t believe you.”
“Would I lie to you?” I give him a wink.
He nods fast. “Aye, you would,” he says with a laugh, and I join in.
In front of us, a large crowd has gathered. There must be thirty villagers huddled together, silent and staring our way. Even some of my workmates have moved across to the mud track to join them.
“What’s this about?” I ask Pat. “Is something happening today?”
He shakes his head, steps in front of me and positions himself between me and the crowd. “I won’t let them be nasty to you again, Rena.”
I squeeze him in a hug. Seriously, Pat, you know you really need a bath. I release. “It’s fine, I can handle myself. Run home. Go the long way.”
“No, I want to stay with you.”
“I know.” I kneel in front of him and pull his collar tighter around his neck. “But you’ll go home and tell Mum and Dad you couldn’t find me. Got it?”
“Aye.” He shakes his head and runs to my left, towards the surrounding forest. But then he stops, turns, and runs back.
“Go home now, Pat.”
“We Storms stick together. You wouldn’t leave me.”
I’m worried…if he gets angry, he’ll use his powers and they’ll all know he’s one, too. And his control is even worse than mine.
I grab him by the arm, the worry squeezing my throat. “Under no circumstances will you lose control. No matter what they do to me. Got it?”
He nods. I shake my head but let him walk with me.
“Fine evening.” I stride towards the crowd. “Did I miss something? Village meeting? Annual play?”
“You know exactly why we’re here. We’ve had enough of you and your…blasphemous behaviour.” It’s one of the old carpenters. Ira. As the eldest in the village, he acts like he’s our leader or something.
“I’m going home. I mean no harm.” I march towards the middle of the group, raising my chin and looking beyond them, hoping they part.
I try to walk around. Several of the villagers move into my path, and I notice Asta’s dad is one of them.
“You’ve infected my daughter with your…ideas.” He spits at me. It lands on my cheek, warm and stinking of ale.
I wipe the pathetic spittle from my cheek and then smile. “Trust me, those ideas were all hers.”
Fresh manure splatters across my face and into my eyes, then a hard lump of compacted snow hits my cheek. I lift my arms to defend myself and move closer to Pat.
Every time something hits me, I get a rapid surge of energy through my arms.
“Leave! Take your sorcery with you!”
The same surge I fight every day.
Every day since I last lost control.
“Stop it!” My screams rip from my throat. “Leave me!”
But none of them listen. They close in, forming a ring around us. Pat moves in front of me, taking some of the abuse and projectiles.
“Don’t dare hit him!”
“She-devil! Return to Ka-Ferno where you belong!”
The barrage forces me to grab Pat and kneel, protecting him from the worst of it with my back and arms. My furs are covered and reek of manure.
Holding him close, I sense Pat’s power building. He’s about to lose control. I want to calm him, but my own power surges through my arms. It’s either him that uses it, or me. And they already know about me. The force slips beyond my control, and I release Pat.
My palms become the mothers of two small splinters of ice. The daughter shards grow long, as my rage peaks. No. No! I center my focus on stopping the weapons from forming, but the urge is too strong. I don’t want to be the monster they think I am.
The sharp edge of a rock splits my forehead, and I growl at the feral face of the thrower. It’s the Klerik’s aide, Plock.
My right arm thrusts forward. I can’t stop it. A long, sharp shard of ice detaches from my hand and jets through the crowd towards him. Plock’s face whitens and falls slack.
Then it runs red. Streaks of scarlet.
I’ve hurt him, a man of the Kurikon. People stop attacking and then run to his side.
I spot a gap in the crowd and sprint, as fast as my raging body will drive me through the snow, dragging Pat behind me.
The shouts and projectiles are soon behind us.
I would happily live my life in peace. But people will never accept me or leave me alone.
They want me to be normal. To be like them.
But I’m not like them.
I am something else.
The way they look at me, it’s like I’m no longer their daughter. Or son. Or whatever the hell I am.
We sit at the table. Mum’s hands shake. Her hair sticks to her forehead. Dad’s quiet, his fingers clasped beneath his chin, his eyes closed, doubtless praying.
My brother eats his porridge. “Why’s no one talking?”
I stop chewing my nails.
Mum looks at Dad. His eyes remain closed.
Water drips onto the table from our poorly-thatched roof, like blood dripped from Plock’s head. I hope I didn’t seriously hurt him. He could be dead. I just couldn’t control it.
“Why is that roof always leaking?” Mum slams a bucket down beneath the drops. But it topples, rolls across the table and clanks on the ground.
After a few more seconds of silence, Pat goes back to his porridge.
“I’ll work overtime this weekend and trade the wood for straw.” I stare at the leak. “Maybe I could show Pat how to thatch?”
Mum shakes her head and snatches up her bowl, dropping her spoon onto the straw-covered floor. Dad crosses his arms and tuts at her. When she picks it up, it’s covered in mud. A fly crawls onto it, the buzz boring into the silence.
“What did you learn with Klerik Anticus today?” I smile at my brother. I’d be long gone if it wasn’t for him. Who knows how brainwashed with Kurikon ideals he’d be if I didn’t teach him the opposite every night? And if I didn’t train him to control his powers, he’d end up like me. He can’t end up like me.
“Nothing. As usual.” He shrugs. “Just reciting the Ten Gods and their powers.”
He didn’t say a word about the villagers to Mum and Dad when he got home. He never does.
“And who are they?” Mum asks.
Pat rolls his eyes but obediently recalls them. He’s so much cleverer than me. Than anyone in the village actually. Mum and Dad have high hopes for him to eventually leave us and study with the High Klerik. That’s why they have hid what I am for so long; worried that I could tarnish Pat’s prospects.
But I know he’s not interested in that life.
“Well, there’s Eingana, Mother of All, creator of life. She was the first. Then Suijin, Goddess of Water and Ice. She watches over our village and keeps us blessed with eternal snow for the Ice-Farmers.” He nods to me. “Prithvi, the Goddess of the Earth, who keeps our lands in the south fertile.”
He pops another spoonful of porridge in his mouth. “Ra, the God of Fire, who keeps us warm in the north. Ha, God of the Desert, who watches over the capital and the surrounding lands in the south. Mama Killa, Goddess of Fertility, who keeps us blessed with healthy natural, children. Fei Lian, the God of Wind, who keeps our ships sailing and our seeds spreading. Kami-no-Kaze, the God of Speed, who gives us the swiftness to hunt and to defeat our enemies in battle. And Ka-Ferno, the devil-God, Guardian of Death and keeper of sinner’s souls.”
Mum stares at him as he speaks, her face glowing in the firelight. She’s never given me that look. Not since I killed Gullan. Her first born. My brother.
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