December 8, 2014 at 4:07 PM #5112
Thanks for hosting this! Excited to read everyone’s first five.
Genre: YA Fantasy
Summary: Seventeen-year-old Lacey has always wanted to rule, but never at the expense of her father’s life. When she unexpectedly inherits her family’s territory, Blackwood, and its gothic estate, dealing with political rivals and dissent over icy magic is just part of the package. To ensure harmony, she must carve her sharp words and magic into tools to outsmart her rivals or watch murders plague Blackwood’s elite.
Word Count: 1521
First Five Pages:
The cast-iron gate clanks shut behind us, releasing a deep thud that reverberates through the rocks littering the sides of the barrier. My heart drops. Bray likes to joke that my heart is made of the same dark marble that lines the halls of Blackwood estate, but the way it flutters alongside the staccato of my high-heeled boots as we stride through the grounds proves him wrong.
“Never gets old, does it, Lace?” Bray nudges me from behind. His breath comes out in a funnel of silvery vapor, disappearing into the hundreds of feet of black stone towering above us.
“Nope.” I try to paint a smile on my face as I glance at my brother. “Those gargoyles might have to go when I’m in charge around here, though. Seriously, who designed those?”
Bray smiles and shakes his head, but my stomach still lurches with each step that brings us closer to the arched entrance. It could be the fog spiraling down from the top of the estate, blanketing the ground in dusky layers that has my insides doing a series of minor acrobatics. It could also be the fact that Shockel, Blackwood’s caretaker, was the one who sent the message for us.
Not our father.
An unfamiliar man dressed in black guarding gear beckons us inside as he opens the main doors, decked out with dark wing-like handles that look poised to take flight. Our family’s silver insignia twinkles at us from the breast pocket of his jacket.
“Where’s Lyle?” Bray stares into the hallway as though he’s expecting a welcome-home parade.
The guard’s almond-shaped eyes glitter with a hint of fear that swoops through the air and settles into the bottom of my stomach. “N-not here.”
“What?” It’s my turn to exchange a quick warning glance with Bray. “He’s not here?”
It doesn’t make sense for our father not to be here. If he isn’t here, why would Bray and I have been asked to leave Allard, hundreds of miles away, to come sit around the estate at the beginning of a new semester? I’m jerked out of my thought when a sudden snap of a twig reaches my ears. My head whips around until the shadow of another person slips away from view.
Bray and I slide through the door and follow the man through the familiar interior. My black trench coat flaps at the back of my knees as we walk through the wide hallways, the dark marble floors echoing with the clacking of my shoes. Bray strides alongside me, throwing me uncertain glances that I try to return with a reassuring nod. My eyes flit around, as though a tangible explanation for our visit could be hiding behind one of the twisty, abstract sculptures lining the walls.
“Ms. Lycov, we’ll need you to wait in one of the rooms on the first floor-”
“We’re not going anywhere,” I say smoothly. My hands shake as they smooth down my short lace dress, but I angle them away from Bray’s eyes. He doesn’t need to see my fear. “This is the first time we’ve had an unscheduled visit. Someone needs to tell us why we’re here, starting with where our father is.”
The guard huffs out a sigh. “I don’t have orders to say anything else, Ms. Lycov. I will need you and your brother to wait in one of the rooms.”
The beating in my heart intensifies as I streamline my gaze on him. “I appreciate your job responsibilities, but read my lips: I’ll reorder you if you don’t tell us what the hell’s going on.”
His eyes widen, but he shakes his head. “Mr. Shockel will come find you once he’s done with his responsibilities in the main hall.”
The corners of my mouth crick up when he stops talking. The main hall. We’re finally getting answers. Bray immediately starts striding toward the massive gold doors in the middle of the hallway.
“She’s scary for seventeen,” Another guard remarks as I walk past him and catch up with Bray, placing one hand on one of the doors.
Bray finally cracks a real smile. “That’s just Lacey.”
I place all of my weight on the heavy doors, digging my heels into the floors as leverage. When they swing open, the main hall’s rich red velvet curtains and floor-to-ceiling windows boasting views of the forest look the same. Shockel also looks the same, minus the extra creases lining his forehead and mouth.
The slim white coffin in the center of the room, surrounded by five other uniformed people, is new.
“What-“ My breath locks in my throat as everything around me blurs out of focus. I gasp in air, throwing out one hand behind me to stop Bray from coming in. I’m not sure whose body it hits. Razors of fear slide up and down my skin, taunting me. I’d known something was wrong the second we’d been called back to Blackwood. I’d felt it in the air outside. I’d seen it on the guards’ faces. Now, I’m seeing it in the light-colored casket, void of all decorative elements except for a small prism of what appears to be ice carved into the corner and the name written at the top. Lyle Lycov.
A gurgling sound leaves my lips. I raise my hand to my mouth and glance around the room through a haze of watery colors. I don’t know where the water is coming from until a few stray droplets slide down my cheeks and hit my hand. I try to keep my face impassive, to employ the emotional training that our father mentioned each time he saw us – never let anyone see you cry – but I fail for the first time.
“Lace…” Bray whispers next to me. I slowly turn my gaze towards him, meeting light blue eyes frozen with shock, the mirror image of mine. “He’s dead?”
“Lacey, Bryer.” Shockel breaks our line of vision, walking up to us and holding his arms out. Neither of us moves. “This – this was not meant to happen like this. I am so very sorry. Please, sit down.” He motions for two of the guards to guide us to the long table that’s been moved to a spot near the ceiling-high windows. As I sit down and numbly stare out at Blackwood Forest, I hear a series of scrapes and grunts behind me until the door bangs shut and there’s silence.
“You should have told us.” My voice comes out gravelly when I speak to Shockel. “You brought us to the estate without telling he was dead.”
“Lacey, I cannot tell you how sorry I am that the two of you had to find out like this.” The tall, dark-skinned man sits across from us and stares at us with tears in his warm brown eyes. “I didn’t want to worry you while you were coming here. And I didn’t want the message to get intercepted.”
Of course. The message. What if others find out the head of Blackwood is dead before the news is approved to reach everyone? That’d be the real travesty.
“How did it happen?” Bray asks. The shock in his eyes has been replaced by a steely look. I’m sure I’m sporting the same one. A steel face in public is a quintessential Lycov characteristic, no matter the circumstances.
“Some of the guards found him. He fell down the staircase to the underground. On the way to the mineral room, perhaps. They found him at the bottom. Broken neck. I…I’m so sorry,” Shockel says, reaching for a napkin to blot his eyes.
I’m not sure if he says anything after that. All I hear is white noise in the background. I press my lips together, feeling sick to my stomach, and shut my eyes to block out any visual imagery. Haven’t Bray and I already been through enough familial trauma? First our mother’s death, eight years ago. Now our father’s. The fact that we’ve seen our father less times than the seasons changed in three years is irrelevant.
Lyle Lycov is dead.
“And he just dropped dead on the stairs?” Bray continues, breaking me out of my brief detachment. His voice is so flat that it’s difficult to detect the catch at the end of his question. He’s slid so far to the edge of the seat that I would put out my arm to stop him from falling if I think I could move. “Because that just casually happens?”
Shockel blinks several times. “They found him at the bottom of the staircase, Bryer. He must have tripped. He had lacerations on his neck from the edge of the stairs.”
Bray and I flinch. I picture my father tumbling down a set of grey stone steps, crumpling up at the bottom, resulting in a nasty crunching sound reverberating throughout the walls. It’s not an image I want to keep replaying in my head, but I can’t help myself. The pieces don’t quite match up. I’ve walked down the estate’s staircases more times than I count, and while some are steep, I’ve never once slipped.
- This topic was modified 2 years, 6 months ago by AlexS.
December 8, 2014 at 9:31 PM #5116
Oh my goodness, I LOVE THIS. So much. This is 100% a book I would pick up and read.
You have so much loveliness happening here–your prose is wonderful and your narrator’s voice is SPOT ON.
Watch out for repeated words (like heart in the first paragraph). I’m going to give this another once-over and see if I can think of anything else for you! 🙂
December 8, 2014 at 9:38 PM #5117
Thanks so much, Jenny!! Yes, those repeated words always seem to slip by 😛
December 29, 2014 at 2:04 PM #5127
Fantastic pacing and tension. Really great. I did wonder about some character motivations that didn’t seem consistent. If Shockel is a loyal servant of the family – so much so that he has to wipe away a tear when discussing the father’s death with his children – would he handle this situation so gruffly by not easing them into this situation with more care? Surely he would know these two well enough to know they would not take kindly to being told to wait in a room – as we observe by their rebellious response.
Was he maybe not expecting them so soon?
There’s also the twig snapping and the unease the two main characters feel as they walk in. They know something’s off from the very beginning, yet they don’t follow those thoughts through. Why not? This could raise the tension even further if given the right focus. Their world seems full of danger as they are taught not to show any sign of weakness.
I do love that Lacey takes charge and goes where she wants, regardless of where she was ordered to go. That she internally reprimands herself for grieving for her father is so sad. Her world must be a ver hard one.
Simply tightening the small things may make this great scene even better.
Overall, really enjoyable read.
December 29, 2014 at 4:29 PM #5129
Thanks so much for your feedback, Valerie! I’m glad you enjoyed the scene! I’m currently doing some more tweaks to the book and to the first chapter, so this is very helpful. Good point about raising the tension even more at the beginning.
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