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First Page: Ashes – Fantasy

First Page: Ashes – Fantasy

Book editsWelcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.

The common room was quiet as the last notes of song faded away. Quiet for a single moment until the braying laughter began again from the so-called ‘Peacekeepers’ in the corner. Aria Kenson risked a glance at the uniformed men. She couldn’t hold back the grimace at the mess they had made of the huge table they’d commandeered. So much good food lay wasted on the floor or strewn about the table and chairs. Each of the five men had stains marking their rumpled clothing. Out of the corner of her eye, Aria caught her mother suppressing similar disgust as Reina carefully stowed her flute. Aria scanned the rest of the room as she packed her harp back into its protective case. The two villagers remaining in the room hunched over their stew and ate as quickly as possible. No one paid attention to Aria as she rose from her stool in the corner and followed her mother into the shelter of the kitchen.
Keeper Alyse dusted the flour from her hands as she made her way through the room towards them. She snagged two mugs of cider from a counter and plopped them down at the little table out of the way of the women preparing for the evening meal. “I can’t thank you enough for agreeing to play for us tonight. Especially you, Aria, what with your newborn.” She glanced over her shoulder before dropping her voice to a whisper. “Those damned Peacekeepers would have driven away all my customers if I didn’t have you two to draw them in with your songs. Bad enough this lot insists on free meals for themselves and their beasts in addition to the rooms, but they’ve broken a dozen mugs already. Don’t even get me started on the amount of food they’ve wasted or that hasn’t been up to their standards.” Alyse snorted. “I’ll be glad to see the backs of them.”
Reina’s eyes flicked to the other women in the room. The others had worked at the inn for years, but still… “Watch what you say,” Reina cautioned in a whisper. Her light brown hair bobbed as she leaned forward. “You’ve heard the rumors about what the Peacekeepers have done down south… I don’t want anything to happen to you and I certainly don’t want them looking for trouble where there isn’t any.”
Alyse blanched. She darted a glance at Aria. “You mean the rumors the midwife has been spreading?” she hissed softly. “Surely you don’t think someone would tell those men that…”
Aria cut the woman off. “No one else saw what Maggie Rosewood claims she did and there were plenty of other witness at the birth besides the midwife. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t repeat the rumors here. Not now.” She glanced at the door to the common room. “Leia doesn’t deserve to be badmouthed before she’s even old enough to talk.” Aria took a long drink of her cider before she let her temper get away from her. “I’m not sure how much good our playing is even doing,” she said instead. “There’s barely been a handful of people passing through the common room and the lunch rush has long since passed. Do you think you’ll get more for dinner?”
The innkeeper sighed. She leaned her wide frame against the counter behind her. “I hope so, but I doubt they’ll notice if it’s just one of you or both. I’ll understand if one of you wants to go home.”
Reina turned to Aria. “Go check on Leia,” she said. “I’ll be fine here by myself.”

First Page: Black Wings – Fantasy

First Page: Black Wings – Fantasy

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.

Jae leaned down, urging her raven faster, the warmth of the sunlight challenged by the stiff breeze spilling mountain cold into the valley. The sense of an obligation slipped was as freeing as the wind whipping through her hair.

The valley unrolled below Jae like a quilt of flame and gold. The sky was late-autumn blue, the wind quick and easy, flinging them along with every sweep of Ghost’s wings. She was on patrol rather than at the ceremony, and she hadn’t even had to trade a shift. Everyone else wanted to be there, for the festival atmosphere, if not for the solemn vows to Oru. She’d take freedom: the freedom of the air, the freedom from familial expectation.

When Ghost caught an updraft, chill penetrated her tightly-buckled scout’s leathers. They were close to the border, the sharp mountainous ring that separated the valley’s autumn from the fierce early winter that raged down the slopes of Mount Esben outside. Drifts of snow blew over the rocky promontories into the milder weather.

Nobody lived in the woods this close to the border. The snow was a blessing rather than an annoyance, one more protection between the valley and the outside world.

Ghost cawed, and she gripped the leather harness. The raven banked to the side, and she saw what the bird’s sharper eyes had caught first: tracks in the snow. Her good mood fled. She urged her bird lower, and Ghost stooped, but on her signal, didn’t land. If a beast had come into the valley, there was no way she was risking her bird.

Whatever had made the trail walked on four feet and had claw-tipped paws that could easily span the width of her torso. The prints pressed deep into the snow, edges blurred with the speed of its movement. Tied to her wrist was a wooden medallion inscribed with a stylized feather. She pressed her thumb firmly into it. A feeling like cold water brushed against her hand despite her glove, and she shuddered, although this magic was tied by the kith to her service. The other scouts would know that she had seen something and someone would come to help. Even if she were so careless as to get herself killed, they’d keep the beast from ravening through the valley.

She signaled Ghost higher and followed the tracks back to where the creature had come over the rocks at speed. The borders of the valley were warded against this kind of intrusion but sometimes the barriers thinned or a beast was particularly driven. The kith would need to know, so they could check the wards. But first, she had to find the thing, preferably before it got close to any place people lived. She leaned lower as Ghost caught a current and circled back. Her raven sensed her urgency and beat powerful wings against the wind. They sped along the trail, Jae loosening her javelins and daggers. She checked her bowstring as well, but she’d never been that accurate a shot even on the ground; from Ghost’s moving back, archery would be a last resort. She breathed a prayer to Imene, who tracked the sun, that she would be a worthy hunter.

The snow melted as it blew downslope into the warmer air of the valley, but the thing’s prints were still visible in the mud along the edge of the treeline. Jae’s stomach fluttered. It was headed toward the lake, toward the hearth trees. Her mind tossed up images of beasts at the ceremony, ripping through unsuspecting people. People she knew. Thorn. Seph. Uncle Ventis. She took a few deep breaths and focused on the now: wind in her face, sky above her, the thing’s tracks below.