Name: Aria Valentine (@ariavwrites)
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: Shadow the Night
35-Word Pitch: When 17-year-old Haylo’s investigation of her blind sister’s murder uncovers a plot to resurrect dark magic, she must overcome her guilt and solitude to fight for the truth and save her tropical kingdom.
First 500 Words:
The first raindrops struck my scalp like a torrent of wasp stings. I never could outrun the storms, but I always outran the jaguars.
I just prayed my sister could, too.
She called out my name too loud, too shrill, like a wounded antelope screeching. The bounding paws and resonant growling behind us only got louder in response.
“It’s okay, Mara, just keep going!”
The rain fell heavier with every step we took, turning the soil underfoot into umber silt that threatened to pull us down like quicksand. Evading the jungle’s twisting vines and jutting rocks at high speed was always harder during in a downpour. Running barefoot didn’t help, but it was the only way Mara could navigate.
My burning lungs clawed at the moist air, grasping for the strength to call out to her. “Remember … when your feet hit grass … turn left!”
Mara slowed her sprint to keep from slipping, and I had to shorten my own stride to keep her in my sights. I stayed so far behind her, I could almost feel the jaguar’s breath on the back of my legs.
Big cat teeth sinking into the flesh of my calves—the image invaded my mind, seeping into my every thought like poison. How quickly could it kill me?
My heart convulsed faster and faster, catching up to the beat of our hastened feet pounding the forest floor. With every exhalation, I lost another shred of stamina.
We’re not going to make it.
Then, like light at the end of a tunnel, sprigs of emerald pasture came into view. My jaw clenched as Mara approached the grass path. Even a fraction of hesitation and we’d be cat food.
But right on clue, she deftly swerved left as her feet hit the greenery. I followed close behind, wishing I had enough breath for a sigh of relief. All that came out was ragged panting. The jaguar was still just dozens of yards behind us.
I may have had more muscle on my thighs, but his heavy paws could propel him into the air with every step. That’s why outrunning jaguars was more a matter of outwitting. The predators never learned as quickly as the prey.
Without warning, the beastly feline let out a deep, rumbling roar behind us—a warning against me challenging his intelligence. My stomach lurched at the sound, and so did Mara’s legs.
A vine caught her foot. The few seconds she took to steady herself brought her ever-closer to the jaguar.
“Haylo … I can’t do it!”
No, no, no. The pain in her cry. I could feel it. She truly thought she was going to die here. And I couldn’t let that happen.
“Omara Ivy!” I shouted, finding unexpected power in my lungs. “You are blind in sight, but not in perception. Your awareness, your judgement—they’re clearer than the light of day!”
Mara was blind, but she knew our tropical kingdom of Ventura even better than I did.