The shortlist will be announced on Monday, November 7, and then people will get to vote on their favorite of six entries.
Oh yes, I'm anxiously awaiting the results on the 7th.
But right now, here are all four of my entries together:
From Corey Pendergraft's perspective:
I ran along the trail, quiver banging against my shoulder blades in a rhythmic—and rather painful—thump, thump, thump.
I gripped the hilt of my sword, also conveniently knocking against my hipbone, and scowled.
Why in all Renaissance did Marcor have to tell my father I wasn’t actually scouting the Villein route all those afternoon hours? I never told on Marcor when he went off scouting for the prettiest girls by the water well, when he was supposed to be standing guard by the town gates.
“I’ll get him,” I muttered to myself, dodging a branch that extended over the trail.
A horse whinnied in the distance, and I stumbled to a halt, scanning the forest.
Movement. Over there, in the trees to the left.
I dived into the sparse underbrush by the side of the trail and laid low, glad I was wearing green and brown and not those idiotic red-and-gold tunics my father often demanded I put on.
“Is anyone there?” a voice called.
No. There is certainly not anyone there and I suggest you get out of here. Hell’s about to break loose and all that.
Goodbye. Why aren’t you going away yet?
“I could’ve sworn I heard someone,” I heard the girl mutter—it was definitely a girl from her voice.
Her horse snorted.
“What is it, Broman?”
The horse didn’t reply. Good horse.
“Come on, Broman.”
I heard the sound of a horse heading down the trail. I relaxed.
Inching upwards, I peered over the top of the bushes.
The girl stood on the trail, an arrow nocked in my direction.
We stared at each other, and then I had my own arrow out and aimed at her. I walked out onto the trail and faced her, less than thirty paces apart.
“You’re fast,” she said, indicating my bow and arrow.
“You’re sneaky,” I replied.
“What?” She looked confused.
“Never mind. Who are you?”
She shifted her bow. “And why should I tell you that?”
“Because I have an arrow pointed at you.”
“So do I.”
“It is not!”
“Yes, it is.”
She shook her head. “Just tell me where I can find the town of Renaissance, and I’ll put down my bow.”
“Really. Well, since you had to force me upon pain of death to get me to say, the town’s further down this trail.”
She nodded. “Thank you.” A pause. “Why were you running from it?”
“You heard me? Why didn’t you say ‘come out, come out, wherever you are’, then?”
“Because that would be stupid. Broman,” she called, and her horse emerged from the trees.
“A fine animal,” I said, looking Broman over.
“You say that like you don’t mean it.”
I shrugged. “Horses can’t compare to riding the imbrangilae.”
“You’ve never heard of them?”
“They can’t be rode.”
“Yes, they can. I’ve done it.” And my father thinks I’m a fat, stinking liar because I told him so.
“Do you know who the leader of this town is?”
“There’s no leader. There’s just a council of old fogies.”
She snorted. Then, as if in some kind of accord, we put down our bows.
“I need to speak with these fogies.”
“Why do you need to speak with them?” I didn’t add my father was one of them.
“Because there’s an army coming.”
I stared at her.
“Yes. Down the Villein.”
I cursed. An army was coming down the Villein—just the road I had avoided on scouting missions for the past three months.
From Alejandra Digiovanni's perspective:
I expected him to ask how many soldiers there were.
But instead he looked behind me.
“Yes?” I shifted, impatient to get to Renaissance.
“Hope you don’t mind imbrangilae. Because one’s flying toward us.”
I whirled and spotted the descending black form.
“Oh no,” I whispered.
I ran down the path, toward the boy—who just stood as the rhythmic beat of wings grew deafening.
“Get out of the way!” I shouted.
“I told you! I can ride the imbrangilae!”
“Don’t be idiotic!”
I grabbed him and tried to drag him away, but he was too strong.
The imbrangilae landed on the path, cold air blowing past as it exhaled, and I pulled close to the boy.
Hoping, by some miracle, he really could handle the thing.
It was a hideous creature. Mismatched eyes, bulbous skin, wings like they’d been chewed by rats and mended by spiders.
The boy grinned.
“Nabil,” he said.
I sucked in a breath as the creature extended its head, leaning close.
And closer, until I thought my spine would crack with not moving.
It nudged him, blasting more chill as it snorted.
The boy shook free of my grip and walked around the imbrangilae, stroking its hide. Then he climbed, using its joints to hoist himself up just in front of the wings.
I expected the creature to buck. But it didn’t—it sat there, cleaning its face.
I expected the creature to buck. But it didn’t—it sat there, cleaning its face.
“How many soldiers are there?” he called.
“Around two thousand.”
“Renaissance has 333 people.”
“My father’s chronic about it.”
“He’s, um, one of the councilpersons.”
I stared at him.
“You’re not Corey Pendergraft, are you?”
His head flew up.
“How’d you know?”
“I’m Alejandra Digiovanni. From the Espadon River clan?”
His face turned guilty. “I know I disappeared when you visited Renaissance before, but—“
“You were supposed to marry me!”
“Does it matter to you?”
“No. But . . .”
I sighed. “Every suitor I see tells me I’m ugly. You didn’t even bother.”
“You’re not ugly. You’re—pretty. Beautiful, I—“
“Just tell me how to get to the council.”
“Get up here.”
I violently shook my head.
“For one, I can’t just leave Broman—“
“He seems like a smart horse. And imbrangilae will be faster.”
“You won’t fall.”
“I’m not worried about falling—“
An arrow whipped past and hit the side of the imbrangilae—it bounced right off the skin—making it scream like metal on stone.
Other arrows hit the dirt and a nearby tree, just missing Corey.
I spun around, searching frantically, but couldn’t see anyone.
Then a woman jumped down from a branch overhead, arrow nocked.
I gasped, recognizing the symbol on her shoulder: Chiavona Desert Clan.
She circled me as four others landed on the path, swords out and flashing.
The imbrangilae roared, an angry, dangerous sound.
The snipers paused and it whipped its tail, slamming a man into a rock. A concentrated gust of freezing air turned a second of the five into an icicle, and she collapsed.
Corey unsheathed his sword and hit two of the snipers on the head with the hilt. I grabbed a knife in my boot, throwing it at the nearest attacker.
It cut her shoulder and she staggered, but she lunged with a dagger and nearly stabbed me. The imbrangilae screamed again and struck her with a claw.
“Get up here!” Corey shouted.
I grabbed one of the imbrangilae’s knobbles, climbing up and sliding in behind him.
“Are you sure about this—“
“To Renaissance!” he cried.
From Nabil's (the imbrangilae's) perspective:
I shrieked again as another arrow hit my leg.
“To my father’s house!” Corey shouted.
I twisted around and looked at him. He hated his father.
“Trust me, Nabil.”
The humans lurched against my neck as I tore through the clouds, the freezing air enveloping the lot of us.
“Is this creature insane?” the female screamed, and I could sense her fear.
“Nabil always travels through the clouds!” Corey shouted back. “I don’t know why!”
It was a short trip to Renaissance. I landed in the central square, and the people nearby screamed and ran.
I sighed. Gone were the days when humans trusted us.
Corey jumped off and ran toward his father’s building.
I helped the female down my back by leaning to one side as she dismounted, earning a yelp.
She glared at me as she marched away.
I gave her a grin made of incisors.
“Father!” Corey exclaimed, as his father marched out of a nearby building.
I walked closer to my human, sending a cool breeze into the approaching man’s face.
“Who is this girl?” he demanded.
“Alejandra Digiovanni. Who am I addressing?”
“Sir Anderson Pendergraft,” the man said. Then he turned to his son. “Corey, I want to know exactly what you think you were doing by running away!”
I snorted in disapproval.
“Oh, be still, you cumbersome animal.”
A strangely human idea, but I got the impulse to throw something at his head.
“An army is headed this way,” the girl declared.
“Is there?” the man asked.
“Two thousand soldiers, at least. Your son said 333 people live here, so I would advise immediate evacuation.”
“Miss Digiovanni, our affairs—“
I rolled over onto my side, convulsing. A few people who’d gathered in the square hopped away, scattering like leaves.
“Is something wrong with that animal?”
“Um . . . are you all right, Nabil?” Corey asked.
I grinned again. I couldn’t believe they didn’t know, when it was such common knowledge to any imbrangilae.
“Er . . .”
“Speak up! I will not have you mumbling like alley rubbish,” the man snapped.
“Nabil seems to be . . . laughing.”
“Laughing,” the female said. “Of all the things to do, that creature—“
“Is there a reason, Father?”
“You trust that animal more than me?”
The man sighed.
“Yes, there is a reason. No one can attack Renaissance,” he said.
I got to my feet again. Now things were beginning to make sense.
“What?” Corey demanded.
“The imbrangilae protect it. They and the humans here made an agreement several hundred years ago that they would shelter us. No one has attacked this town in decades, hence it was never obvious to the current citizens of Renaissance.”
“And what do the imbrangilae get in return?” my human asked.
I glared at the man.
“The humans aren’t holding up their part of the deal,” the girl offered.
“That’s disgraceful!” Corey cried.
“—But regardless, doesn’t anyone care about the army?” she continued.
Corey’s father replied, “If I know the imbrangilae, they’ll have run them off by now.”
I grunted in affirmation.
“What’s that sound?” someone in the crowd called out.
“It sounds like a number of imbrangilae flying toward us,” Corey said.
The humans in the square were flustered enough, but the prospect of so many of us sent them panicking.
“Why are they coming?” Corey shouted to his father, over the screams and yells.
“To settle the agreement! They’ve decided it’s time we paid for not keeping our side of the bargain.”
From Corey Pendergraft's perspective yet again:
A huge imbrangilae landed in the square, and several more landed in the streets, filling Renaissance with creatures practically everyone despised. More hovered above, their freezing breath chilling the air.
“They’ll kill us,” Alejandra whispered.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I replied. “Killing is the least the imbrangilae could do.”
She shook my arm.
“Estant,” my father called.
The largest imbrangilae roared.
“I apologize for our past disregard of the treaty.”
“You . . .” Estant rasped, in a horrible, ripping voice that should never have come from something living, “. . . have broken that treaty more times . . . than we imbrangilae remember. Your history lies in the dead . . . forms of imbrangilae . . . who we trusted to you.”
“I know, Estant,” my father murmured.
“Humans must pay the price . . . of their actions.”
The crowd was quick on the uptake.
“Kill them all!” someone shouted.
“Burn them!” screamed another. “We won’t die!”
“SILENCE,” boomed Estant. “Did I ever mention . . . dying?”
“It was implied,” my father said mildly.
“I will not have your . . . insinuations. What I propose . . . is a trade. We imbrangilae . . . want five of your . . . offspring.”
An outraged woman cried, “They want our children?”
“We want to train you . . . to understand us. I know we are ugly by . . . your standards. But with knowledge, perhaps . . . we can come . . . to an alliance, however tenuous.”
“Estant,” my father said, “do you realize what you’re asking? To send children to your lairs, to live with your kind?”
“Yes. Humans killed seventeen imbrangilae . . . in the past century. Is that not . . . fair? We would never . . . kill one of you.”
“I volunteer,” I said. “I will travel to your home.”
“You . . . volunteer?” Estant rasped.
“I do, too,” Alejandra declared.
“Two,” the imbrangilae said. “There must be . . . three more.”
I turned to see twins emerge from the crowd, a sister and brother, identical except for a long scar down the girl’s face.
I knew them. Outcasts, forced to scrounge in alleys for food. I’d tried to speak to them, but they’d spurned me, expecting to get bullied or tricked.
“That will do,” Estant said. “Forget the fifth.”
“They’ll die!” a man shouted.
“We won’t,” I said. “We’ll be just fine with the imbrangilae.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I trust Nabil.”
I don’t think he understood our speech, but Nabil shrieked.
“Then we have an agreement,” Estant roared, rearing. “You humans will . . . forget this day, as you forget . . . everything else. But there will . . . be a time when you must remember . . . and do not overlook the detail the imbrangilae could kill you all.”
He took off.
“Good luck, Corey!” my father shouted, as Nabil walked up.
I jumped onto Nabil’s back as Alejandra awkwardly hoisted herself onto another imbrangilae.
The twins, I had to notice, were more graceful.
Nabil lifted up and soared into the clouds, but not before I peered back down at Renaissance.
Such a small place.
I couldn’t wait to see the rest of the world through the imbrangilae’s eyes.
And, finally, I'd like to give a big shout-out to the hosts of REN3: Stuart Nager, Lisa Vooght, J.C. Martin, and Damyanti Biswas. Because they've been amazing throughout this blogfest.
-----The Golden Eagle