Sunday, February 16, 2020

1st 5 Pages Feb Workshop - Li Rev 2

Name: Sophie Li
Genre: Young Adult Mystery Sci-Fi
Title: Children of the Sun

Pitch:

Meredith Zhao kicks butt at math olympiads, wins Rubik’s cube competitions, and loves ramen. But she has a secret: she is a Deviant, a genetic mutant who sets things on fire. While snooping around the Deviant Investigation Unit where her adoptive father Rio works, Meredith stumbles upon notes left behind by a former detective: the unresolved case of three young women who died of unknown cause.
 
Behind Rio’s back, Meredith delves into the mystery. She discovers the reason why the files collected dust underneath a desk for months: a conspiracy that oppresses the lives of Deviants around the world. Meredith must make the difficult choice to save her kind, even if it means turning her back on the people she cherishes.
 
CHILDREN OF THE SUN is a 85,000-word young adult mystery with elements of science fiction, but at heart it is a coming of age tale about self-love in the face of adversity. This manuscript is written as a standalone novel with series potential. It combines the grittiness of Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song and the chilling suspense of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars.

Revision:

Sprawled on the open lawn, Meredith pressed the telephone receiver to her ear, static crackling through the cord like bacon in a frying pan. She frowned and laid the receiver onto the grass beside the tangle of wires and circuits. Two huge metal antennae reached high into the sky, though nothing was coming through. Her homemade radio didn’t work after all.

She flopped onto her back on the grass beside a bulging backpack. Blowing a frizzy red strand out of her face, she stared into the blue sky. Think, think.

Meredith rummaged in her backpack to take out a half-eaten sandwich carefully labelled “Tuesday lunch.” She unravelled the saran wrap and took a bite. With her free hand, she fiddled with her homespun contraption, checking the connections between the wires, the phone cord and the diodes.

There. A piece of loose tape where the alligator lead connected to the coil. She pressed the tape down, resealing the connection.

The crackle of radio static streamed from the phone receiver, this time much louder.

Ecstatic, Meredith picked up the landline receiver and placed it to her ear. Words interspersed between the hiss of static.

“… code five… foot five… ten…”

Her heart leaped as she gathered the circuit board under her arm and jumped onto her feet. She paced around the park in search for a location with a better signal, her backpack and sandwich long forgotten. Interwoven between static and the rustle of autumn leaves were the threads of a stern conversation.

“… confirmed Deviant activity...”

“Go ahead.”

“… One-oh-five Oak Street.”

Oak Street. That was just two blocks away.

Meredith glanced up. Above the tree line of the residential neighbourhood rose a plume of smoke. Right where Oak Street would be.
The corners of her mouth flicked up into a grin at the thought. Deviants! They said! Life was going to get so much more interesting. She dashed towards the scene of the crime.

Adrenaline surged through her veins. She took off towards the old Kensington neighbourhood. As she drew closer, a grey haze obscured her vision. Through the screen of smoke was an outline of an old home. Flashes of flame burst from within charred black walls. Smoke entered her mouth and nostrils and she broke into a cough.

Meredith slowed to a stop in front of the burning home. The signal from her makeshift radio had gone dead, a steady stream of static.

A family scurried out the front entrance of the house, chased by the flames. A woman tried to go back in before her partner pulled her back.

A soft whimper and a hacking cough caught Meredith’s attention. She twisted around to look in the other direction. At the back of the house and on the second floor balcony, a boy squeezed himself against the railings, his body veiled in smoke. He was huddled in a tight ball, scared and crying. He was eleven or twelve, several years younger than her.

Her heart pounded fast in her head, her breaths laboured and short, Meredith looked to the direction of the sirens. But the street in front of the house was still empty, only pale pink and blue lights flashing in the grey haze. The first responders hadn’t come yet.

Meredith stood frozen to the spot. She hadn’t thought that she’d arrive before the firefighters.

She should just wait and leave it to the professionals.

But if the boy was one of them, then the professionals wouldn’t help him.

But she could.

Meredith scanned the back entrance, sealed by a wall of fire and smoke. Her eyes travelled from the balcony to a tree branch that extended into the backyard over the metal fence. It hovered just above the balcony, high enough that it hadn’t yet caught in flames, thick enough to support her weight.

If anything went wrong, it was game over.

Before she could overthink, Meredith ditched her radio on the dirt ground and ran towards the fence. Her fingers and the tips of her sneakers hooked onto the metal fence links. She scrambled up to the top, then grabbed the branch and hauled herself up.

Straddling the tree branch, Meredith shimmied towards the balcony and the boy. Her heart dropped to her stomach when the branch bent downward with her weight.

“Hey-“ With the smoke, Meredith broke out in a coughing fit. She clung tight with her hands to stabilize herself.

The boy turned to look at her with wide, tearful eyes. Despite being surrounded by fire, his skin caked by dust and debris, there were no burns on his exposed arms.

“Get onto the railing, then grab onto my hand.” She reached out towards him.

For a moment, doubt flickered in the boy’s eyes. Then he climbed onto the railing. The metal bars buckled and melted in his palms that glowed red like burning embers. Her hands brushed his.

The base of the balcony crumbled and collapsed. Meredith reached out, grabbing his hand just as he fell. The boy screamed. Gravity dragged them both downward. Meredith hugged the branch with her other arm and legs. The boy dangled in mid-air from her hand. The tree branch bent and cracked under their combined weight.

“It’s burning!” the boy cried.

Meredith twisted around. Higher up, the windswept leaves caught flame, the fire racing down the branches and trunk. The air around them was a thick haze, making her eyes sting.

Crack. The branch was about to snap.

Her heartbeat thrummed in her ears. They were both going to fall, unless the smoke suffocated them first.

“Hey, M. I got him.” A familiar voice came from down below.

An older man ran underneath the tree. He wore a police vest, handgun and taser strapped at his waist. His eyes were furrowed, his frown lines more prominent than ever. His arms lifted towards the sky, ready to catch.

Relief swept over Meredith at the sight of Rio. She let go of the boy. He fell straight into the older man’s arms.

The tree branch creaked and swayed with the sudden release of weight. Another sharp crack.

Meredith struck the ground with a loud thunk. Pain ripped through her shoulder and arm on the side that she fell. She curled up in a ball on the ground, coughing up smoke.

“Meredith!” Footsteps rushed towards her. She opened her eyes to see Rio kneeling beside her with worry in his eyes.

“I’m okay,” she said between hacking coughs as she pushed herself up.

“We need to get the paramedics to look at you.” Rio patted her shoulders, sides and arms. “You might have broken something. Here get on.”

He turned around to offer a piggyback. Meredith groaned. “I’m fine. Look I can walk.”

She got onto her feet, resisting the urge to wince from the pain at her side. How embarrassing would that be? A fifteen-year old carried like a child.

The small boy cowered at the edge of the yard, his hands tucked behind him as if to hide his flame-ridden palms.

“You okay?” Meredith said. When she scanned him up and down, he didn’t seem to be hurt.

But the small boy took two steps back, his eyes glancing away in fear. Rio approached him, a jingle of metal as he unclipped a pair of child-sized handcuffs from his gear belt.

1st 5 Pages Feb Workshop - Fettig Rev 2

Name: Becky Fettig
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: Halo and the Boomerang Effect


Pitch:

Halo isn’t your typical twelve-year-old. She throws a wicked boomerang, can change clothes with a wave of her hand, and get this—she lives inside a Christmas tree with the rest of the quarter-inch-tall Treeples.

Tiny Halo always looks for ways to emulate her gigantic human creator, Mrs. Johnson, who at nine-years-old, protected her family by keeping her parents together (stopped the D word). And great crackling chestnuts! On the first day of this season, the Treeples’ king and queen proclaims a royal tournament will commence. Winning prizes: prince and princess titles. Finally, Halo sees her chance to be a really BIG protector. But holy icicles…a bullying new girl, Scarletta, covets the crown and Halo’s crush.

Then the Treeples learn Mr. Johnson lied to his wife, and chaos strikes when she dies a week later. Devastated, Mr. Johnson declares he’ll never celebrate another Christmas (no more tree = no more Treeples). Halo discovers she can invoke a miracle that will transfer her friends to another tree. BUT. This requires Halo tricking her crush into ruling alongside frosty Scarletta (cue evil cackle) AND Halo staying behind, waving goodbye…as she fades away. Forever. 


Revision:

When landing inside a Christmas tree, stay away from spiky pine needles. Halo rubbed the backside of her gown. Despite being smaller than a snowflake, she was painfully aware of that lesson.

Halo crossed her fingers and glanced through the white pine. Ornaments as familiar as the fingers on her hands hung on every branch. Nearby, a tin soldier saluted a plump snowman. Above, a reindeer reared on his back legs beside the gingerbread boy with blue icing buttons.

And great, golly, good cheer, the old twelve-point star topped the tree.

“Yes!” Halo punched the air. The pine needle under her boots shifted, tipping her backward. But a quick arm flapping recovered her balance.

Outside the tree, a brick fireplace covered one wall of the ginormous room. And right smack in the middle of the mantelpiece stood a photo of Charles and Eloise, the humans who unknowingly create tiny people. For the twelfth time Halo was home, zapped back inside the Christmas tree at 1414 Winslow Drive. She held a hand over her heart. “I pledge to protect my fellow Treeples.”

As soon as she lowered her arm, a red blur whooshed past, narrowly missing her ear. Halo yanked a boomerang from her pocket and spun around. She enjoyed a game of catch as much as anyone. But since her back faced the pitcher, this toss was very unsportsmanlike.

“Lob another one.” Halo swung the boomerang like a baseball bat. “This time I’ll smack it back.”

She tapped the stick against her palm and waited for someone to jump out from their hiding spot. Near the middle of the branch a ballerina ornament swayed, as though someone leaned against it.

“Mystery person, show yourself.”

Nothing.

Holy burnt brownies. Unfriendliness wouldn’t do. Time to meet this puzzling Treeple.

Halo bounced off the pine needle, onto the branch, and sped along the tree limb. Once she neared the ballerina, she pivoted into a perfect cartwheel. But her foot slipped on a mushy glob, and she fell on her back. Heat beat a path across her face as she pushed her gown down over her legs. She threw her arms up, acting as if she meant to land like an upside-down turtle. “Ta da!”

No response. The space around the ballerina was empty.

A fruity smell floated in the air. Halo tugged her shoe across her leg. Sticky juice oozed from a Treeple-sized strawberry crushed on the sole.

The fruit flinger must’ve been ready to throw again until Halo scared him off, dropping the strawberry as he ran away. But who’d be so careless to throw food and leave slippery pieces along the branch? Halo could’ve fallen off the tree. Or been speared by a pine needle.

Halo stuffed the berry inside a pouch. The mysterious Treeple might be planning another attack, but she’d make sure no one inside Loblolly Pines got hurt. Halo knew the best places to hide.

She waved a hand across the front of her body. Glittery stars swirled about. Her gown morphed into green leggings, an emerald-colored vest, and a shirt-dress the color of a pickle. A sturdy belt wrapped her waist, equipped with red eyeglasses connected to a long stick and a sheath for the boomerang. Her white hair spun and twirled, forming two long braids.

Red and white striped boots replaced buckled shoes as Halo vaulted to her feet. She tucked a heart-shaped locket inside her shirt and barreled toward a candy cane nestled between two pinecones.

Vacant.

Snap. Up and to the right, a tinsel string quivered. Halo froze like a snowman. Was she close to the berry pitcher?

A nearby rustle kicked up pine scents. A crunch echoed to the left. She darted in that direction and ran smack into her best buddy hanging upside-down from an upper branch.

“Boo!” Leon pointed his fingers. “Gotcha.”

Halo pushed his hands away from her face. “How’d you find me so quick?”

“Those bells on your goofy boots.”

“Awww…sprinkledink. I forgot to silence them.”

“Plus your drab Robin Hood outfit is easy to spot.”

“Beats your puke-green leprechaun suit.” She brushed glitter off her vest and hid her smile. Their first-day clothing jokes always tickled her bones. But she had no time for fun. “Did you see someone—”

Leon swung and somersaulted in the air, landing beside her. With a sweeping wave, his clothes changed into his favorite white peasant shirt and tan suede pants. He glanced behind her.

“Wow. You gained weight.” He pointed at a silver ball ornament.

“What?” She grasped the stick on the eyeglasses, held them against her eyes, and leaned close to the mirrored surface. The ball’s curvature distorted her reflection, making her appear short and wide. “Very funny.”

“Fooled you.” Leon grinned, showing off his adorable dimple.

He studied her face, nodding as if he had found the answer to a riddle. “Something is different, though.”

“Not falling for that one again.” Halo removed the pouch containing the smashed strawberry from her belt.

Leon was still staring.

“Did I grow an extra eye?” she asked.

“Our eleven-month sleep in the void did you good. You look great, Angel Girl.”

She loved it when he called her that, but his other words were wacky weird.

Leon also looked different this year. Gold highlights now streaked his chocolate-brown curls. His face was thinner, more muscular, which emphasized his perfect nose. And holy ancient pine trees, he stood three heads taller!

“Stop joking.” Halo shook the sack. “We need to talk before the introductions start.”

“Cool your icicles. Everyone’s still moving to the base.” Leon created a rag and polished the mirrored ornament with circular strokes.

As if on cue, six Treeples shimmied down the trunk. Two men, three women, and one child waved and continued their downward hike.

Leon snapped the rag. “Told you.”

“We have a serious safety issue in the tree.” Halo tossed the pouch. “Look inside.”

He tugged the draw-strings open and lifted the strawberry by its stem. “A fruit is a serious safety issue?” Leon shook the sticky mess. “Take this monster berry away from me. I’m scared.”

“But listen. Seconds after I landed someone threw a strawberry at my head. Then I slipped on that one, which was scary because I could’ve fallen off the tree.” She didn’t mention her unladylike tumble.

“I saw a child carrying a basket of fruit. He probably dropped one.” Leon waved. The strawberry and bag vanished.

Halo placed her fists on her hips. “But it flew horizontally, not vertically. You do know the difference, right?”

Leon raised one arm alongside his head while holding his other arm out from his side. He winked.

“But a berry can’t fall and fly at my head at the same time.”

“As the self-titled Protectress of Loblolly Pines.” Leon bowed. “Do you want to search for another dangerous berry?”

Clothing jokes were one thing but making fun of her chosen job cut deep. She grasped her locket, fighting back the urge to show the note tucked inside—the real reason she had pledged to protect for twelve seasons. But a secret needed to remain a secret.

“Sorry,” Leon said. “I over joked, didn’t I? You’re the best protector in this tree, the greatest Treeple in the whole universe.”

She smiled. Other than the job comments, their friendship resembled a frozen pond on a sub-zero day—solid. “You’re forgiven.”

Leon spun the ornament. “Perfect. Ready to fly?”

Halo grabbed a garland and dove off the branch. 

1st 5 Pages Feb Workshop - Adebayo Rev 2

Name: Jide Adebayo
Genre: Young Adult Science Fantasy
Title: Chrome & Steele: Paradiso Trials
 
Pitch
 
My YA science fantasy novel follows two young characters seeking self-discovery in the afterlife; one world of many where deities draw power from a single unifying force. The manuscript is complete at 105,000 words and is the first book of three.
 
Steele’s on the run for his life with no idea how he died the first time. Adrift on Chrysos, a sprawling dimension of powerful deities, Steele learns that these gods come in many forms, distinguished by a system of castes. He tries his best to navigate this new world where advanced science and mysticism converge, but a homicidal pursuer seeks him dead as his own godlike powers start to develop.

Chrome was born on Chrysos and hails from the proud caste of Assassins. She kills deities and enjoys it, but the assassinations only serve to distract her from a growing concern. She harbors a secret that if discovered, could put her own immortality at risk.

Through bonds and competition, Chrome and Steele team up under unlikely circumstances for this era’s Paradiso Trials. Deities from every corner of Chrysos come to contend, seeking the rumored prize said to grant the winner unimaginable influence over distant, mortal worlds.
 
 
Steele heard the crack before he felt the pain. The agony rivaled that of when he first woke up in this new world several days ago. But he had no time to focus on the drawbacks of his new powers. He needed to escape. Dwelling on broken bones would come later. He got back up and darted across the open valley becoming lighter with each stride—sprinting, dashing, then gliding. The second sun was setting which was a good sign that he’d distanced himself from Ruby and the cave in which she’d held him hostage. He felt relieved to be running on soft, even ground considering the burning river had charred his shoes after jumping across. He’d risked drowning in fire to elude Ruby, and it worked, mostly. His broken arm from sticking such a poor landing reaffirmed that he sucked at using these powers. When he could no longer see the cave or the burning river, he stopped to catch his breath and collect his thoughts, resting his hands on his battered knees beneath tattered clothing.
A thief. That’s what she’d called him. He’d woken up, chained to a rock with nothing visible but shadows that danced on the walls with each passing sun. His only occasional visitor was Ruby, and she was demented. No one steals from that kind of person. When Steele asked her about what he’d stolen, she repeatedly tortured him. It was shocking how fast his body healed just to be broken down again, his pleas choked with confusion. But from the moment he’d first opened his eyes, something deeper bothered Steele. He couldn’t remember any details of his life.
He lifted his head and scanned his surroundings. He knew this wasn’t his world, but he felt as if his mind was playing tricks on him. He had supernatural abilities that he couldn’t control. He knew his name and, conceptually, how the physics of a planet should work—one sun, one moon, and predictable seasonal climates. But since his escape, he’d noticed the skies tended to light up and darken with no predictability. Maybe it was due to the many suns, the many moons, and the many stars that circled the world, or maybe he was hallucinating. He needed to find answers to why he couldn’t remember, but where to start?
Think, Steele. Ruby never revealed much, only her name and the fact that he could look forward to a long and excruciating afterlife. Afterlife? Had he died and gone straight to hell? If so, it might explain why he’d been dealt such a bad hand and why everything felt foreign to him—the air, the land, even his own body. He remembered thrashing against the rock for hours to no avail and how hard his hair felt as his dreads hung and brushed past his lips, the metallic taste full in his mouth. Metal hair? He must’ve been hardheaded in his prior life. He coughed up a rusty laugh. Despite the pain that coursed through his arm, it warmed him to be able to smile again. It was the only thing that felt natural.
The terrain cracked and shifted, shaking off Steele’s amusement. The ground beneath his feet grumbled and the valley morphed into staggered cliffs. Was this his power? No, this felt different. He tried to move but his body grew heavy. Not now he pleaded. It was becoming more difficult to ignore his growing yet inconsistent authority over gravity. The cliff tilted, and Steele slipped. With his increase in weight, he descended at an alarming speed and saw a figure at the bottom of the slope. Ruby? No, the person looked like a grizzly and disheveled man.
Before Steele could come up with a decent strategy, his face met the earth. Dust and rock flew up as he dented the ground. Great, that’s two broken arms. Pinned under the weight of his own power, Steele tilted his head up slowly, getting a much better look at the guy from toe to head. He was monstrous up close and towered over Steele at least by six or seven feet. Everything bulged out: arms, thighs, and head. He wore a shirt that hugged his frame a little too friendly around his protruding stomach, was a few shades darker than Steele, and bald as a rock.
“Nice hair,” the man said. “Most kid deities only bow as a sign of respect; you don’t have to go so far as to lay your life down.”
Kid deity? Maybe Ruby hadn’t been lying. Maybe Steele had died already.
The big guy lifted Steele by his broken arms. The pain nearly knocked Steele out, but fear filled him with a much heavier realization. He’d been caught. Should he fight or surrender peacefully? After all, no one really made it clear if he could die twice.
“Here, lemme fix those for ya.”
The man put Steele down and rearranged both arms back into place while Steele’s body took care of the rest. The pain subsided almost as quickly as it came.
“What do they call you young fella?” His gaze was full and friendly, catching Steele off guard. He realized that this was the only person he’d met in this strange world outside of Ruby. After a long silence, the odd and hefty man continued, “You must be a shy fella huh? You remind me a lot of my son when he was your age, suspicious but with eyes that confess you’re a good kid. Oh, and sorry about reforming the valley into cliffs. Didn’t know anyone was down there.”
So, it was him who tore up the valley. And he has powers too? The thought put Steele at ease. If he played his cards right, maybe Steele could fish some answers out of the cheerful giant.
The big guy crouched down to Steele’s level, bringing them eye to eye. “Well, my name is Sumo Bronze. Nice to meet’cha.” He extended his hand, but uncertainty still gripped Steele. His voice cracked as he spoke.
“My name is Steele Locs.”
He reached out to shake Sumo’s hand, but Sumo embraced him with outstretched arms, scooping Steele up into his chest. Steele resisted in reflex; the shock of contact reminding his body of the torture it’d endured. But Sumo had a gentle touch about him. The hug felt genuine, warm with compassion. Steele felt his limbs go weak from comfort. He pressed his fingers against his eyelids to hold back the tears. Sumo hadn’t noticed.
“What a fitting name for you, young fella.” He ruffled Steele’s dreads a bit before putting him back down. “We’re huggers in my family, and you looked like you needed one, kid. Now, do you mind telling me who or what you’re running from?”
Steele debated telling Sumo about Ruby, but he couldn’t take the risk. “I was just practicing my stride,” he lied.
Sumo frowned. “A child in danger is worth saving, but a child that lies only draws suspicion. I won’t push the subject though. It’s not my place.”
He folded his arms across his chest, his muscles pulsing as he tapped his fingers on his bicep. “I do have one question that you should probably answer honestly,” Sumo continued. “You sure did hit the ground a lot harder than I’d expect for a kid your size. You also seem rather new to Chrysos as well. But you didn’t come from one of the transmutation circles, did you?”

1st 5 Pages Feb Workshop - Watson Rev 2

Cristy Watson
Middle Grade Fantasy
Awakening Dawn

Pitch:

Salt comes from the first clan who survived the Great Flood, the Sky-Seekers, but will his fear of heights prevent him from climbing the Cliffs of Ironrab as part of his Quest Ceremony and bring shame to his family? To add to this dilemma, his hopes of becoming an Orator are dashed by his father who has other dreams for his three sons.

Saturnia is suddenly thrust into becoming the leader of the Moth-People, but with her wing hanging limply at her side, will her people accept her in this new role? Many of her clan have slipped down the Glacier, unaware of the impending danger as they sleep in their cocoons.

When Salt and Saturnia meet, both are striving to prove their worth as descendants of great families, but neither are sure how they will fulfill their destinies. In the past, their clans fought against one another for the land in the Forbidden Valley. But now, there are other things for them to worry about, like the Great Shadow Beast hovering above the slippery slopes of the Glacier. Can they rescue the last survivors of the Moth-People, and in turn, save themselves?


Chapter One – Salt Sky-Seeker

The Cliffs of Ironrab

Today I must climb the cliff that dropped me from its rock face like a speck of dirt. A speck of dirt to be stepped on by my older brother. Slate is sitting by the fire, a smug look on his face as he wolfs down his breakfast. He knows he will succeed on the climb up Ironrab. He’s done it many times before. But as I sit down across from him, he shakes his head. He thinks I will fail again.

As Father bites into his trout pie, he turns to my younger brother Seed and says, “I have asked the clan council for permission for you to join your brothers today and they have agreed.”

“I can climb the cliffs of the Great Mountain with Slate and Salt,” Seed jumps up, his eyes wide. “Even though my Quest Ceremony is still twenty-three moons away?”

Ruffling Seed’s thick, black hair, Father chuckles. “Yes. Then I will have three boys conquering Ironrab today.” Father smiles at my younger brother and then at Slate. When he looks my way, I see disappointment flash across his face before he turns his gaze back to my siblings. “Three boys to bring pride to our family name of Sky-Seeker.”  

Father couldn’t know what happened the first time I faced the Cliffs of Ironrab, could he?

Father stands and places his arm around Seed, but my younger brother is so full of the heat of summer, he cannot stand still for long. Like a wolf pup ready to pounce, he bounces on his toes, excitement at Father’s news lighting his face. Giving in, Father lets Seed go, and watches as my brother runs off to tell his friends he’s joining us.

When I was young, I thought Father had only enough love for one son, Slate. But then Seed came along and I realized I was mistaken.

Flames burn my cheeks. My very name is something that upsets my Father and I don’t know why. When others run and throw spears, pretending to be warriors in a great battle, I climb trees to listen to Grandfather share stories of our past and how we came to be called, Sky-Seekers, descendants of the clan that reaches for the Sun! Father always interrupts Grandfather’s story at the best part to tell me I must join my peers, ignoring my protests.

I wipe my sweaty hands along my pants to dry them. Like with my younger brother, Father wanted me to be ready for my Ceremony today, so he sent me to practice thirteen moons ago. He wanted me to be the best climber. Only Slate witnessed the entire scene. He alone knows what happened that day.

My brow knits into a scowl while I watch my brother gather more wood for the fire. Slate’s muscles ripple as he carries the heavy load before dumping several logs onto the embers. As the fire catches and the flames soar, our shadows leap out and cast an eerie story along the tree trunks. Slate’s shadow grows larger and larger, until it consumes mine. I turn to see him grinning as he steps in beside me.

“Do you have your Quest picked for tonight’s Ceremony?” Slate smirks. His request to eventually lead our Warriors was accepted during his Ceremony. He often sneaks up on me to prove his prowess, when I am spying on the Elders to hear Grandfather share forbidden tales of the past.

“My father will be honored if Salt claims the role of Orator,” Mother smiles, as she wraps the food left from this morning’s meal in salted leaves. “You see how he follows your Grandfather, always repeating his stories.”

My Father stands abruptly, Salt, you are a Sky-Seeker, not a Story-Teller. You know that Orators are sedentary, like the dust left behind by the avid climbers. Why must I always ask that you follow your brother’s lead?”

“Because I would rather…”

Father cuts me off, “Tonight, you know what you must do at your Quest Ceremony, but first you will ascend the Cliffs of Ironrab.”

It’s as if my gut is being squeezed between the jaws of a cougar, so I focus my gaze on the crackling fire, the flames feasting on the new dry wood and I think about my dream from last night. I dreamt that I made the climb up the Cliffs of Ironrab – and that Father gathered me in his arms and swung me around with joy. But to suggest I might inherit Grandfather’s place in our tribe at tonight’s Ceremony would only burn shame onto my father’s brow. 

An acrid burn blisters my throat as I reluctantly head to our hut and dress in the ceremonial clothes I must wear for the climb. I hate the way the pants are too tight around my stomach. I am stuck wearing Slate’s old outfit. Though I have no choice but to wear the vest as well, I will take it off at the bottom of the Great Mountain, away from Father’s disapproving glare. It will be hot later in the day and I am sure, like last time, I will be stuck on the Cliffs of Ironrab, while the scorching Sun climbs higher and faster than me.

I close my eyes and try to picture my hands and feet gripping the rock face. But my hands slip, and my eyes shoot open. No, I cannot let the same thing happen today!

“Are you ready, brother?” Seed bounds into the hut, grinning widely. “Timber gets to climb, too! Aren’t you excited?”

“I’m excited for you. I know you’ll have great success today.”

Because it is not time for Seed’s Ceremony, he doesn’t have to change his clothes. He grabs a water pouch from the pine table and runs back outside. A huge sigh escapes my belly.

The Seven Moon Festival begins with a long walk to the Great Mountain. The elders remain in our village to prepare for the evening feast, while lean bodied youth run along the path, barefoot. I wish I could stay back with Grandfather, hearing more about the time before the Great Flood. But I put one foot slowly in front of the other – toward my fated destiny.

Ahead, Slate marches down the forest path with determination and strength, his hands knotted into fists, while Seed skips, his energy light and ready for the challenge. My feet shuffle along, stirring up the dusty leaves, and I have trouble keeping up with my brothers. Other youth pass me, sometimes knocking into my shoulders as they go by. And the whoops and cheers of my peers drown out the calming sounds of the birds and chirping squirrels.

I hear the echo of Grandfather’s deep voice booming through the forest. His resonating words from last night still sit along the branches of the Cedar trees: “Our ancestors named their tribe, Sky-Seekers. We come from this line of heroes.”

I step out of the forest into a wide span of sand and shrubs that stretches to the Great Cliffs of Ironrab.  My stomach turns. Today is the most important day of my life, but as we approach the Great Mountain, a windstorm begins to brew inside me just like the last time I faced this cliff. I begin to shake like a winter storm that blows the dying leaves clear off the trees.

Yet, I must face the challenge that lies ahead.

1st 5 Pages Feb Workshop - Wagerman Rev 2

Name: S.A. Wagerman
Genre: MG Fantasy
Title: The Potioneer

If Laura Ingalls were trained in potions at the school of the Witcher, you’d have Zephyra Fenn, the youngest military Potioneer ever.  Zephy never planned on enlisting -- until her brother was grievously injured protecting her from bandits.  Now her only hope is to brew the magical draught “The Goddess’ Kiss,” said to cheat death itself.

Except that no one had ever successfully made it.

Zephy spends every stolen moment hunting down leads and experimenting in the lab.  But when her mentor is killed in battle against a man calling himself Truthbringer and his potion-enhanced milita, the Transfigured, everyone expects her to take up the mantle and protect the town. 

Struggling to fill her mentor’s shoes, Zephy can no longer pursue the Goddess’ Kiss.  When she learns that Truthbringer plans on overthrowing the rightful government, she’s unwillingly drawn into a bigger conflict than she cares to be part of.  When the Transfigured return, will Zephy be ready to fight?  And when Truthbringer offers her information on the Goddess’ Kiss, will she honor her responsibility to the people she’s sworn to protect or the promise she made to her brother?

The Potioneer is a MG fantasy complete at 54,000 words.


Drawing from Zephyra’s field notebook:
Ruta Gigas or Great Rue Flower (Parts labeled)
USES: Bane potion.  Just add a piece of whatever you want to keep away!
NOTES: smells like old shoes.  Do not get on skin!  Causes an awful rash.

Normally, I liked the rain.  But today I reckoned it might be the death of me.

It wasn’t that I was bothered by the wet or the cold.  My military uniform, complete with tight gloves and tall black boots, was water-resistant.  And the hood of my sage-green Potioneer’s cloak was pulled up over my dark hair.  It was that we had spent the entire morning encircling the town of Esk in Bugsbane, and now the rain had washed it all away.  So it was the giant Armored King Crickets that would probably do the actual killing.

“The pump sprayer!” Amestra called over the patter of rain and the creepy chittering of the bugs.  My mentor didn’t dare take her eyes off the two horse-sized insects she was fending off with her sword. A bad sign, since Potioneers fight with potions.

I dashed for the sprayer.  We had no idea what had driven the pair of crickets from the Flowering Desert and into town.  There’d been concern when chickens and sheep had started disappearing, but when they tried to carry away the farrier’s daughter, we had to get involved.  We were stationed in Esk on other business, but part of a military Potioneer’s job is to protect the people of Iostria.  We couldn’t just sit there and let giant crickets snack on townspeople.  

I grabbed the handles of the pump sprayer and my heart sank.  Almost empty.  It bumped awkwardly on its front wheel as I pushed it through the endless rain-slick grasslands where we’d rushed to head off the bugs before they got too close to town. I splashed to a stop as close as I dared.   Amestra was patting down her uniform with her free hand, probably trying to take stock of what she had left, but there isn’t a lot in the Potioneer’s inventory that works well during a rainstorm.

I pointed the nozzle and pumped the handle for all I was worth, releasing a spray of Bugsbane at the insects.  I wasn’t sure how much good it would do with sheets of rain cutting through it.  Sure enough, they hardly reacted. King Crickets always attacked the most dangerous target first, which tells you what they thought of me and my pump sprayer.

“Not them,” the Grandmaster snapped, slashing down with her saber to clip off the creature’s long antennae.  “Me!” 

“But…”  Bugsbane was meant for bugs, not people.  I’d gotten some on myself by accident and I can tell you it itches like crazy.

“I’ll take the rash, thank you,” Amestra said, grey eyes flashing.

I aimed the nozzle right at her. But nothing came out except for a gurgling rush of air and a dribble that was immediately carried away in the downpour.

Stinkweed and nettles!  Now we were in trouble. My mentor was very organized but she wasn’t one for improvisation. On the other hand, improvisation was why -- two years ago at only 10 -- I had been the youngest person ever accepted into the Military Academy of Phytotheurgy.  I’d have to come up with something. 

“Canter?” I yelled, palming the violet potion that gave its user the ability to sprint like the wind.  Our uniforms were lined with pockets, and my hooded cloak held even more. 

“No good!” Grandmaster Amestra said, backpedaling from the bristling legs and mandibles of the nearer cricket.  “They’ll just follow us back to town!”

“Fireflow?” My hand hesitated over the vial in the bandolier across my chest.  It was a dangerous potion to miss with, and Amestra was no stranger to my atrocious aim.  

“Only as a last resort,” she said, waving her sword warily.

One of the crickets tried to climb atop Amestra with its spiky legs, pushing her down to grasp her head in its mandibles.  That proved a fatal mistake: they were armored on the top and sides, but not underneath.  Amestra drove her saberpoint in beneath the jaws of the monstrous insect and yanked it free again.  Green-black bug-blood joined the rain beading up on Amestra’s uniform, and the Cricket fell atop her, legs still kicking.  I rushed towards her.

“Stay back,” Amestra commanded, struggling out from under the twitching insect.  But even as she did, the second Cricket gave a terrible hiss and made a lunging snap at her neck.  Thrusting her arms up, hands clasped, the bug locked its serrated mandibles around both of her wrists instead.  Hard
She gave a sharp gasp.  Thank the Flowering Fields she’d insisted we slather ourselves with Strongskin before putting on our uniforms.  Otherwise that would’ve been her arms clean off!  Still, the potion did nothing to stop the muscle and bone underneath from being crushed.

“Zephyra!” was all Amestra could manage through gritted teeth.

I snatched my sling from its loop at my belt but couldn’t bring myself to draw the vial of Fireflow.  If I hit my mentor instead of the King Cricket -- or if I hit them both -- she’d wind up nothing but a pile of bone splinters and ash. 

Mind racing, I plunged my hands into pockets and pouches, searching by feel.  The Armored King Cricket shook its head like a dog worrying a bone, and the Grandmaster moaned, her saber dropping from her hand to the ground with a rattle. Tossing her aside like a broken doll, the giant creature turned its red, agate-marble eyes to me.
Now I was its most dangerous foe.

I dropped my hand to the hilt of my saber, but I already knew that fencing with it was impossible.  It reared up and plunged spiny legs like javelins down upon me. 

 “Zephy!” Amestra shouted.  But I’d already leapt aside and rolled, popping back up in the waist-high grass off to the creature’s side like a gopher.  My mentor struggled upright, but without her arms, neither sword nor sling was of use to her.

The cricket spun and snapped at me.  I dropped like a marionette with cut strings, and the cricket came away with my cloak -- and a mandible full of my corkscrew curls.

What about Calcify?  It crystallized on impact, but would it work in the rain?  If only there were a way to increase its volume?  I dove through the grasses, scattering additive compounds behind me like birdseed.  Saponin powder… saponin powder… there!

I looked up just in time to see the cricket bearing down upon me, mandibles wide. One hand in my pocket and the other clinging to the packet of saponin, I jumped back -- and slipped, landing on my backside in the grass.  Was this how it all ended?  As a snack for a giant bug? 

With a crunch, Amestra barreled into the creature from the side, toppling the two of them into the muddy meadow. 

Frantic, I got to my feet, adding the foaming agent to a jar already half full of Calcify and stoppering it.  Hands shaking, I settled the jar into the leather cup of my sling, hoping that my spinning figure-eight would be enough to mix it.  The mud at my feet began to bubble and foam where I’d spilled white powder in my rush.

With a cry, I stepped into my swing and released my makeshift potion.