Publication date: February 27th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young AdultSynopsis:
Branded on the slaves in the Northern Reaches beyond Ungstah, the scar marks each one as a Downer. It is who they are. There is no escaping this world. Still, strange things are stirring.
Two foreigners ride through the Northern Reaches on a secret mission. An unknown cloaked figure wanders the streets of the dark city of Ungstah. What they want no one can be sure, but it all centers around a Downer named Crik.
Crik, too scared to seek freedom, spends his days working in his master’s store, avoiding the spirit-eating Ash Kings, and scavenging food for himself and his best friend, Jak. Until he steals from the wrong person. When Jak is sold to satisfy the debt, Crik burns down his master’s house and is sentenced to death.
To survive, Crik and his friends must leave behind their life of slavery to do what no other Downer has ever done before – escape from the city of Ungstah.
They ducked out of the alley and clung next to the buildings, scooting past windows and hiding in the shadows. They didn’t see a single person or Downer roaming the streets. The Pit rumbled again, shaking the buildings as black smoke billowed up through the large chimneystacks that towered over the city. Crik and Jak fell to the ground.
Just as they got back up, Crik grabbed a lamppost and shouted. “Here comes another burp. Hold on to something.”
The Pit roared again, venting more columns of black smoke. When it finished, Crik and Jak stole down the street, running when they could and stopping only when they needed to. They were several blocks away from their hovel when Crik saw a wisp of smoke rising up ahead.
“Stop!” he whispered, squinting toward the end of the street.
“What is it?” asked Jak. “The Ashes, I think. Let’s go back. We’ll find another way.”
Crik took Jak’s arm and headed into the opposite direction. They didn’t get far before they saw another one, cloaked in black and drifting toward them from the end of the street.
“There’s nowhere to go,” said Jak. “The alley is too far away. They’ll see us.”
Crik pulled Jak into the shadows of an entryway, his eyes searching for a place to hide.
“What do we do?” Jak’s voice quaked with fear.
“Shh!” Crik frantically tried to think of a way out. In the distance, he heard the crackling and hissing of the Ashes growing closer. Then it came to him. “Try the doors.”
“I said try the doors. We need to get into one of the houses. If they don’t see us, they won’t enter.”
“What if somebody lives there?”
“We can’t hide here. They’ll find us. You know what happens when they find someone out past curfew.”
They leapt from the darkened entryway and ran across the street to the row of doors. No one left their doors unlocked at night. Crik knew this. But he had no choice but to try.
The Ash Kings, draped in black cloaks with charred, smoldering crowns, loomed closer. Crik’s heart plummeted into his gut. The phantoms floated through the streets, exhaling grayish-black smoke through what Crik believed to be nostrils. No one could ever tell for sure, for no one living had ever seen their faces before.
Both Downers had heard the stories of how they would turn to ash if stabbed by one of the blades. Crik rammed his shoulder into a door, but it only rattled on its hinges. Several bolted locks held the door in place, more than likely put there by the owner of the house to keep out the murderous people (and Downers) that roamed the city. Crik hurried to the next door and kicked at it with all of his strength. It wouldn’t budge either. There were very few doors left before the Ash Kings would be upon them.
Finally, Crik kicked at a door and felt the hinge give. “Open it!” he cried.
“What if someone’s in there?”
“Would you rather deal with them or with them?” shouted Crik, pointing to the smoking phantoms that approached.
Jak answered by kicking at the door. The sound of the hinge loosening disrupted the otherwise still night. Each kick rattled the handle to the door until it yielded, sending splinters of wood into the house. Crik shoved Jak inside and slammed the door behind them.