Name: Julie Ferguson (@actuaryjulie)
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Title: REIGN OF THORNS
When her best friend Val leads a doomed mission to wake a princess and break the kingdom's curse, Ilycia and Val's brother, the boy who broke her heart, chase after Val to ensure he succeeds.
First 500 words:
Val's warnings echoed in my head whenever I posed in front of the target. I silently chanted the directions my best friend had drilled into me: Don't talk, Leesh. Pin your shoulders back. Widen your stance. His words kept me from fiddling with the mask that rubbed against my skin, the hood pinned to my too-tight braid.
A full moon gleamed over the tavern near the eastern quadrant outskirts of Forfaite. The richest sources of the kingdom's ore resided here, under a cursed ground almost too dense to penetrate. Engineers and guards from the nearby labor camps had stumbled outside when word of my arrival grew.
"C'est la Marque!" they chattered amongst themselves.
That was me. The Mark.
Mama would've wished herself dead all over again if she could see seventeen-year-old Ilycia Robert, her eldest daughter, parading outside of liquor houses in the middle of the night. In breeches. As if propriety was a concern I could still afford. I had sisters and a grandmother and an invalid father to feed.
My competitors waited their turn beside me. The bar patrons called the man on my right Gustave. Reeking of whiskey and old meat, he cramped my space with a greasy girth. Disgusting, and the exact opponent I wanted: too drunk to look close. To remember me.
The same couldn't be said for D'arcy, the man on my left. His height and sharp eyes intimidated me less than the deep red of his armed forces uniform. He scrutinized me like he saw the freckles shaded under my hood, or the star-shaped birthmark covered by my mask.
Bad idea. The prickles against the back of my neck screamed we shouldn't have come here. But we'd exhausted every tavern in the farmlands of the western quadrant, and there was hardly anyone to hustle in our southern quadrant village of Secheresse.
It's not like this was illegal, anyway.
I wrapped my fingers around Adroit, my twelve-inch long throwing dagger. She sent soothing vibrations up my arm until I lined myself up for a perfect throw.
That's right, she purred.
I launched the knife, but couldn't avoid the collision when Gustave staggered and careened into me. I sidestepped before he crashed to one knee and brought me down with him.
Squelching a curse before anyone could hear my feminine voice, I locked eyes on the target. Adroit had stuck, sunken in shame within the outer band.
Gustave gaped at me with bleary eyes. "Sorry, boy."
The crowd jeered. Some whispered and exchanged livres within the shadows of torchlight. They always bet against me at first. They saw what they wanted, a slight figure with daggers too big to handle.
I clenched my jaw. Each of our spectators had offered up a livre to the winner. Ten livres currently sat on the makeshift table. Nothing to these drunken villagers, it was enough to feed my family, and Val's, for a week.
I couldn't lose.