Free writing workshop for aspiring authors of young adult and middle grade fiction. The first five pages may be all that agents, editors, and readers read, so get them right with the help of three authors over the course of three weeks. During the third week, an agent will also critique your pages and your pitch and pick a workshop winner - the prize is a partial request!
Name: Katherine Toran Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Title: The Witch and the Demon
Ebba’s lake water-soaked dress clung to her skin as she ran through the moonless night. The wind and the water left from her near-drowning competed to freeze her into a corpse. If she fell, she might not get up again. Keep moving. Get as far away from the witchfinder as possible, may he be reincarnated as a drunkard’s chamber pot.
Heedless of direction, she climbed up the mountain, away from her village and everyone in it. A tree root caught her ill-fitting clog. Her ankle bent sideways with a crack.
Waves of agony crashed over her as she hit the dirt. She wanted to scream or cry. Instead, Ebba took a deep breath. To focus her mind, she pinched her cheek, right on top of the scabs left by the witchfinder’s pins.
Her right hand oozed pus from the burns on her palm, so she used her left one to sit up. When she touched her ankle, the resulting stab told her this was more than a sprain. Her breath came faster. No, no! This couldn’t happen now. If she’d broken a bone, she wouldn’t be able to run, and then…then…
Absolutely nothing came to mind. She’d never had a plan past escaping her cell.
The forest was dead silent, no owls hooting nor insects chirping. An ancient demonic invasion had left this place magic-cursed. After the wolves had first descended, only those too poor to leave remained in Fort Jhaarth. Ebba shivered. Most wolves avoid humans. Except for the red-eyed wolves. The ones generally found deeper in the forest. Anabiel’s crap.
She refused to be devoured like her mother. Perhaps she could sneak back just long enough to steal a knife and some food. She’d been too panicked in her flight, afraid the witchfinder might wake up…
Memory shuddered through her. He’d started with pins, directly on top of the mottled red birthmark covering her left cheek. If it was the mark of a witch, supposedly she wouldn’t feel pain there. Giant hands had held her down, his nails filthy and his liver spots as big as spiders. His too-close breath had reeked of onions.
“Confess,” the witchfinder had ordered after every pin. Each time, she’d refused. They’d kill her if she confessed.
The second day, he’d brought out the hot iron. The third day, the dunking. Peculiarly, what she recalled most distinctly was the smell of sausages. Mad Gill, the local beggar, had gone around selling them to bystanders. The pleas she’d made to her neighbors had only been met with disdain or wide-eyed fascination.
No, she wasn’t going back.
Groping around, she found a stick to support her limping journey. It hurt to breathe through the dryness of her mouth. Still, each step forward was a small victory. The deeper she got, the less likely a bullying charlatan who killed orphans and spinsters to take their property would dare follow.
Blood trickled from her dry lips. Water…I need water. Just one drop to ease the burn in her throat. And while she was dreaming, she also wanted a nice, juicy apple…Stop it. Coughing up lake water had left her with a throat too sore to swallow, anyway.
Too bad she wasn’t actually a witch—then she’d be able to cause water to rise up from the earth. Since witches made wells dry up, surely they could do the opposite. Next, she’d blight the crops of every neighbor who’d “forgotten” to pay her for doing their laundry.
Nearby, a burble of water broke the oppressive silence. Gasping with joy, Ebba turned and staggered towards it. The spike of pain that speared her ankle with each hop could almost be forgotten as the rushing sound grew louder.
Ahead, an unnatural crimson light gleamed. The scent of ash drifted to her nose. A fire, in this deserted forest? A chill skittered like a beetle down her spine.
But dammit, her ankle was killing her, and she deserved a lucky break. There must be a way to reach the stream. Probing with her stick, she hobbled forward, using trees to hide her body. Her heartbeat shook her body with its power.
Peering out from behind a tree, she beheld her first demon.
He lay against a rock, his arms and legs splayed out. Black bat wings spread over his head. The air reeked of a cloying, metallic scent. Blood.
A hole gaped open where his heart should have been.
Yet even with his rib bones exposed, his hand twitched and his gaze flickered. Somehow, he still lived. His blood burned like fire, so brightly that everything in the clearing—rocks, bushes, and straggly trees—cast red shadows. He was the very flame which had drawn her here like a moth. The gory light accented his glistening black hair, pale skin, and slim, high cheekbones. His slender form reminded her of an angel with the wrong type of wings. He could be called beautiful, in an inhuman way—a little too symmetrical to be real.
Her walking stick came down against a rock and snapped in two. His head shot up. “Who’s there?”
Ebba remained frozen.
The demon inhaled deeply. “I can smell you, sheep. Come out where I can see you.”
Some sorcery in his deep, melodious voice enthralled her into taking a few limping steps forward before she could stop herself.
“Look deep into my eyes.” The demon fixed her with a predator’s gaze. “Give me your heart.”
Ebba stammered, “My what?”
“Listen, sheep! I am Kryptos of the Crimson Flame, one of the twelve demonic gods. I command you to offer your heart to me.”
“I-I’d rather not.”
“You dare defy me?” The demon’s arms jerked, making Ebba jump. His legs scrabbled for purchase against the dirt. Strange for him to move at all, with a missing heart, but he only seemed able to thrash, screaming, “Stop! I—argh—gave you an order!”
Ebba’s back hit a tree. The demon’s words echoed like a bell, soothing her and making her limbs heavier—but failing to override her survival instinct. She could shake off the compulsion merely by focusing on what he was actually saying.
Face turning from angry to calculating, the demon purred, “Come back, little lamb, and bargain with me. I offer you untold riches. Every jewel in this world will belong to you.”
His voice dripped sin like blood trickling from an open wound. Only a fool listened to a demon. The stories called them liars, tempters, and soul-stealers. If he thought he could charm her into letting him rip out her heart, “crazy” should be added to the list. Afraid to take her eyes off the creature, Ebba edged backwards, her arms stretched out behind her to avoid the trees.
“I offer you power. I will make you ruler of this world and all your kind, if you will just strike a deal with me…”
Maintaining eye contact had been a mistake. He had a hypnotic stare, irises red as a sunset and pupils slitted like a cat’s. Ebba forced her gaze downward, to where his molten blood hit the ground with a crackling hiss, horrifying her enough to break the spell.
“I will give you beauty untold and the ability to entice anyone with your words. Every mortal you desire will throw themselves at your feet.” The demon’s voice broke in pain. Ebba flinched out of pity, even as her feet kept sliding away.
She barely heard his last, whispered words. “Please, help me…”