Sunday, September 21, 2014

Entry #6: TWICE DEAD

about 86,000 words
YA Fantasy


Seventeen-year-old Naya's last memory is of the poison searing through her body, and the scrape of dirty cobblestones against her cheek. After dying while making a delivery for her adoptive father, she's resurrected as a wraith. Naya’s horrified her father would use necromancy — the magic of their enemies — to turn her into a monster. But when he reveals he's been working as a spy and begs her to help him uncover a necromancer plot, she agrees.

Naya disguises herself as a servant in the necromancers' capital, only to find that the necromancers and undead aren't the monsters she was raised to expect. One young wraith even makes her feel like her life didn't end the day she died. But that life shatters when she overhears her father talking about a new plan that requires her to die again — this time permanently.

Chapter 1

Naya clutched the oilskin folder to her chest and tried not to think on how any one of the people brushing past her might be undead. She took a deep breath. The mingled smells of the market flooded her nose — flowers, strange spices, sweat. Underneath it all she could still detect the reassuring brine of the sea. She glanced back once more at the docks where her father’s ship lay at anchor, then shouldered her way into the crowd.

Naya stuck out her chin and tried to match the expression of controlled calm her father always wore. Everyone said the things the necromancers brought back from the dead looked and acted like ordinary people. All she had to do was ignore the walking corpses and they’d do her the same courtesy. Probably.

The press of the crowd trapped the afternoon heat, making her head spin as she searched for a street sign. Her father’s directions had been clear enough. Market Street to Sunset. Right at the inn with the sign that looks like a fish. Uphill, then left where the road splits to four round a fountain. She’d deliver the documents to the wool merchant, ensure he signed the contract, and be back on the ship in an hour. Come dawn tomorrow her father’s Gallant would clear the lip of the bay and turn its prow north towards Talmir, towards home.

A whistle shrieked as she tried to take advantage of a gap in the crowd to cross the street. Naya turned in time to see a rune powered tram barreling towards her. She jumped back, her nose only inches from metal and wood as the single boxcar rattled past. Someone laughed behind her, obviously amused by her near encounter with death. Naya's cheeks burned as she hurried on. How could the brightly colored chaos of Bellavida have looked so enticing from the deck of her father’s ship?

Well, no matter. She wasn't here for pleasure. Though she was already past her seventeenth name day, today was the first time her father had let her finalize a contract alone. It was a test, one she could not fail if she was ever going to prove herself worthy of the gifts he’d given her. Most wealthy merchants would never consider acknowledging a bastard daughter, much less supporting her. But not her father. After Naya's mother died he’d taken her in and raised her as his own. He’d forced the Royal Academy to admit her despite her questionable blood, and taken her as his apprentice when she graduated. She would not, absolutely would not, fail. She tucked a damp brown curl back into her braid and hurried on.

People stared at she squeezed past them, continuing down the main road. It wasn't hard to imagine what they must be thinking. Foreigner. Her dark olive skin and brown hair could have let her pass for local. But her clothing made her stick out like a barnacle on a well-scrubbed hull. The people of Bellavida wore loose, bright colored cottons. Men and women alike favored brass-buttoned vests that stopped just above the hips. Even the poorest embroidered their hems and cuffs with elaborate geometric designs. A drop of sweat trickled down Naya’s back and into the hem of her gray wool skirt. She fought the urge to tug at the high collar of her blouse where it itched her neck.

Even away from the docks, the crowds were thick. Naya’s blood pounded in an uneasy tempo with the ebb and flow of morning shoppers. She finally found the street her father had indicated and hurried off the main road and onto a cobbled lane. There were fewer people here, and the warm smell of fresh bread drifted from a nearby bakery. Naya breathed deep, trying to soothe her ragged nerves. But she couldn't shake the powerful sense that someone was still watching her. She clenched her teeth. This was foolish. She was a merchant. Merchants traveled the world. They faced the strange, even the unholy, with a smile. They did not cower next to bakeries making themselves late.

Naya was about to step back out into the street when she saw the woman. Gooseprickles rose on her arms despite the heat. Someone was watching her. A strange woman with dark, tangled hair stared at her from across the street. Her brightly dyed clothes were frayed and dirty. But it wasn't her clothes that made Naya shudder. It was the tattoos — black runes ringing her neck and wrists, binding her soul to her formerly dead body. She’s one of the undead. Why was one of them staring at her? And why was she smiling like that?

“You lost, little girl?” the woman called out in the local tongue.

The heat had dried her mouth, and at first Naya’s reply stuck in her throat. “No. Of course not.”

Before the walking corpse could say anything else, Naya hurried away. Her breath came fast in her chest as the road beneath her feet twisted its way up one of the steep hills that dominated the eastern half of the city. The back of her neck tingled, but when she glanced over her shoulder she saw no sign of the woman. She continued up the hill, passing wood and stone houses painted bright blues, greens, even purples. Her calves burned with fatigue by the time she spotted the jumping cod, a red two story inn with a fish leaping over the doorway. A narrow lane branched away to the right, overshadowed by wooden tenements. Naya eyed it as she caught her breath. This had to be the right way, didn't it?

Fifteen minutes later she wasn't so sure. The city below was laid out in a proper grid. But up here the streets looked like they’d been mapped by wandering cows. Blind cows, Naya thought as she glanced back down the hill she’d just climbed. The shimmer of the bay was barely visible above the rooftops. She saw no sign of the woman, no sign of anyone really, though the alleys between the tight packed houses offered any number of places where someone might hide.

Naya swallowed. Up ahead the road ended in a wide intersection that looked nothing like the one her father had described. She forced her breathing to slow. Maybe she ought to turn back and find the stupid fish again. There must have been another turn she missed or — Wait. Naya held her breath and listened, catching the faint sound of falling water from somewhere nearby. That must be the fountain. She took a few more steps up the hill, peering down an alley between two faded blue houses. At the far end she saw a much larger street. And on the far side of that street was a shop with a brilliant white sign shaped roughly like a sheep. She couldn't see the full name of the shop, but the letters she could see matched part of the name scrawled on the contract. Naya grinned as excitement washed away her unease.

She jogged into the alley, her boots splashing through puddles. The city stench was stronger here, but Naya didn't care. Finally. If she hurried she could finish her business and be back on the Gallant before dinner. With all of her attention focused on the sign, her mind barely registered the scrape of boot steps behind her. Something stung the back of her neck. What the…?

1 comment:

  1. Nice start to the pitch—you draw us right in! However, I don’t think you need the comma after “searing through her body.” Also, is it necessary for us to know that Naya was making a delivery for her adoptive father?

    I also wonder why she would agree to work with her father after he’s turned her into a monster. I know you only have 150 words, but that part of the pitch stands out as a bit weaker than the rest. I wonder if you could even start with “Resurrected as a wraith, Naya is horrified…” Then you could use the extra word count to your benefit? Just a thought!

    In your first five pages you write, “People stared at she squeezed past them,” and I believe you meant “as” instead of “at.”

    The entire concept of wraiths is cool, and I especially like that they have these tattoos that make them easy to differentiate from other people. I was a little confused at the start of the first five pages, trying to figure out whether or not Naya was already a wraith or if she was about to become one. Part of me wonders if the beginning would be stronger if you started with her waking up dead, but then you’d miss all the beautiful descriptions here. So just something to think about I suppose.

    Good luck!


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