One more day till Silksinger! I guess I kind of counted wrong yesterday when I said three days. I was including Thursday when I shouldn't have. Ehh. Anyway. Counting is not my forte. Writing, I hope, is my forte.
Thank you for all the wonderful contest entries yesterday! I'm going to have such a hard time deciding. I have to say I love the one from Jessica in New Zealand who promises to drop the book off at Peter Jackson's house when she's finished with it :-) I'll keep the Blackbringer contest open for the rest of today, and tomorrow I will switch to a Silksinger contest.
Today, I thought I'd tempt you with the first chapter of Silksinger:
Whisper Silksinger knew two kinds of death. There was the peaceful kind, quiet as eyelids fluttering shut, and there was the kind with teeth, sudden as a spurt of blood, a devil pounce, a scream. She had seen both. Of her whole clan only three faeries remained, and now death had come for them too.
And it had come with teeth.
“Whisperchild, fly faster!” her grandmother cried, perched behind her on the flying carpet. Whisper clutched the carpet’s edge tight in both hands and looked over her shoulder. The devils were closing in, a rampaging, winged swarm of them too great to count.
She faced forward again, her black eyes wild with panic. The magical glyph for speed was already burning bright in her mind; she didn’t know how to make the carpet fly any faster!
Beside them on a carpet of his own, Whisper’s grandfather was conjuring fistfuls of bluefire and hurling them at the horde, striking the devils again and again. They lit up like torches in the night sky. Some kept flying, fully ablaze. Others plunged like meteors into the bay below and hit the water with a hiss. But there were still more devils, and more. They were so close now that when Whisper glanced back again she could see the moonlight shining on their slaver.
“Faster, Whisper!” her grandmother cried again.
“I can’t go any faster!”
They were scamperers all three, as Silksingers had always been. Their wings were small as cherry blossoms and couldn’t lift them in flight, so their only hope of escape was the flying carpets. But these were works of beauty, not of battle, and they weren’t spelled for speed.
The devils gained.
Whisper’s grandfather drew up close beside her. “Whisperchild,” he said urgently. “Take this.” He thrust a battered copper tea kettle at her. Besides the carpets, it was the only thing they’d taken when they fled the devils. Whisper clutched it close and stared at her grandfather.
“Keep it safe,” he said. “I love you, child. Blessings fly with you.”
His words struck a sudden terror in her. “What are you going to do?” she cried.
But he didn’t answer. He reached out and clasped his wife’s hand and said, “Plum my love, be brave.”
“Blessings, my husband,” she said, clasping his hand hard. “And you.”
Whisper gasped, “Nay!” as her grandfather whipped his carpet around to face the oncoming devils. In an instant the swarm was on him, wings and teeth, tails and talons, slashing, shrieking. As her carpet scudded away through the skies, Whisper’s concentration failed. “Opa!” she cried. The glyph for speed fell from her mind and the carpet began to slow as she looked back in horror.
“Whisper, fly!” Plum commanded.
But Whisper couldn’t take her eyes off the clot of devils. No two were alike -- scaled and slime-slicked, horned, spined, beaked, and barbed. She could see no trace of her grandfather through their rotten feathers and hides. As she stared, stricken, she saw shapes peel themselves away from the frenzy and wheel in the air on jagged wings. And she saw. . . a sparkle inside the swarm.
“Look away!” Plum cried.
And then the night sky bloomed daylight.
A blast of white radiated outward, and too late Whisper squeezed her eyes shut. Strobing light blinded her; a quaking silence filled her head. Light and dark clashed and she didn’t know if her eyes were open or closed, if it was day or night. An instant after the flash, a wave of heat rolled past; it prickled Whisper’s skin and stole her breath. As she reeled in shock, her grandmother visioned the glyph for speed and got the carpet racing through the sky again, over the dark waters of the Bay of Drowned Dragons, away from the heat.
Away from the ash.
“Dragonfire,” choked Whisper. A sob was building in her chest. She knew what her grandfather had done. He had visioned the twelfth glyph for fire and it had consumed him. It was a dragon’s glyph, a magic too powerful by far for a faerie, as her grandfather had known it would be. He had incinerated himself and taken all those devils with him so that his wife and granddaughter might escape, and keep safe their precious burden. Whisper clutched the tea kettle tight to her belly. The sob escaped her throat.
“Hush, child, and look back,” Plum said. “Did it take them all?”
Whisper turned to look but she was still half-blind. She couldn’t see what lay behind her, but she heard it. A scream shrilled forth and was quickly answered by another. She remembered the shapes that had peeled themselves away from the swarm just before the blast. They had survived. Squinting, she could just see them coming. “There are two!” she said.
“Speed. Quickly!” Plum snapped.
Whisper summoned the glyph. She faced ahead and felt the wind quicken against her face. Her vision was clearing and she saw they had nearly reached the mainland. The bay’s hundreds of islands lay behind them now in all their strange and scattered shapes. One of those islands was their home and this was the farthest Whisper had ever been from it. How had the devils found them? For four thousand years her clan had lived in secrecy, believed dead by the world, and now they were flushed from their island like songbirds from a thicket, to be devoured in flight!
Whisper concentrated. She knew that if she let the glyph slip the devils would be on them in a flash. She would die, and the unthinkable would happen: they would take the kettle!
Behind her, her grandmother conjured bluefire and threw it, but her aim was poor and the devils dodged the blasts, drawing ever nearer. They came so close that Whisper could smell them, putrid as fish festering on a rock. And then Plum hit one -- it went up in a blaze but kept coming, its wingbeats fanning its own flames until it was a ball of scalding blue light, somehow still flying. It reached out with its talons, hooked the fringe of the carpet, and yanked.
The carpet lurched, and the other devil caught up. It descended on the faeries, squalling, and battered at them with its stinking wings. Claws grazed Whisper’s cheek -- it was groping for the tea kettle! She curled around it as if her own slender body could keep it safe, but it was no use.
Pain knifed into her bare shoulders -- talons, sinking in, clamping down. The devil had her. She screamed and held the kettle tight as the beast dragged her off the carpet.
This was it. This was death.
Her grandmother grabbed her around the waist. For a sickening second she hung suspended between them, the talons ripping at her shoulders, Plum tugging her back. Their eyes met. Whisper knew her own were wild, but Plum’s were cool as agate stones. Keeping one arm around Whisper’s waist she reached up and grabbed the devil’s foot with the other and wrenched it away. Flesh tore and pain lashed through Whisper’s body like lightning bolts. The devil released her and she dropped back onto the flying carpet, but Plum didn’t release the devil. Still hanging onto it, she looked into Whisper’s eyes and said, “The clan’s duty is yours now, Whisperchild. Blessings go with you.”
And she pushed her off the flying carpet.
Whisper fell. Above her, hot white light flared and night once more turned to day. She hit the ground hard. She hadn’t even realized they’d reached the mainland. She lay gasping for breath while overhead, dragonfire blistered the sky.
Blindness and silence pressed in on her, and it was many long moments before her vision cleared enough that she could see. She was on a beach, the water only a few yards off. The sky was empty and silent, and ashes were sifting down like black snow and settling on the sand. The ashes were devils, and they were carpet, and they were her grandmother.
Tears glistened in Whisper’s lashes but didn’t fall, and ashes caught there and clumped. She was too stunned even to grieve. The tea kettle had rolled onto its side in the sand and she stared at it, unblinking.
Inside it burned an ember. It didn’t look like much, a small seed of fire, but devils would kill for it, her grandparents had died for it, and the world depended on it. And now it fell to her to keep it safe.
What would she do? She couldn’t go home -- the devils had found them there. Where could she go? She knew nothing of the world beyond her island. She couldn’t fly, and she was no warrior -- she had no weapon, and she wasn’t even brave. Ever since the day many years ago when she’d seen a sea serpent’s jaws close over her parents, she had lived with a chill at the nape of her neck, wanting always to glance over her shoulder.
Shakily, Whisper drew herself up to her knees and gathered the kettle back into her arms, feeling the low pulse of warmth from within.
“Please,” she whispered to the ember. “Please wake.” But it had not stirred once in all the millenia that the Silksingers had guarded it. Nor did it now.
Whisper knelt on the beach, pale and trembling, shoulders torn and bleeding. She hugged the warm kettle close but it did no good. She was alone now, and she was as cold as a pit of ash after a fire has burned out.
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