It’s been a while. June 14, 2015 to be exact. That was the last time I published a new release, Any Flavor Jellybeans but Black, a harrowing tale of young love, mortality and candy. But that’s about to change!

The arrival of our twins in 2014 greatly altered the amount of writing time I could easily set aside, but since they’ve grown from infants to young boys, I have been able to get back at the pen, so to speak.

Return of the Shadow Crow Book One – The Tricks and Treasures of Witches will be released in 2021 and it marks my return to writing, a change in genre and the release of a story that’s been rolling around in my head since I was 20 years old.

To celebrate, I wanted to share a rough excerpt from the book. It lacks final edits and polish, but it has the bones of what will be my debut fantasy novel. I hope you enjoy!

CHAPTER ONE

The woman had walked for miles and the storm had yet to ease. The wind bit her exposed cheeks, nose and forearms, and lapped her ragged garments fiercely about her body. She had followed the coastline since waking, and the wind was a raging sea wind, the kind to fill sails and move entire fleets about on the water. It made each frigid droplet feel like a freshly whetted arrow to her flesh.

The rain carried not a whisper of mercy. It filled her eyes and pelted her bare shoulders, numb to her discomfort and intent upon its purpose. She couldn’t recall how she had gotten there, where she had been, or even her own name. She only knew that she was freezing to death in a horrid storm as the ocean thundered at her side and an otherworldly violet glare shown from within the blackened clouds above her.

She longed for shelter and a warm meal, nothing more, not even her own memories. She staggered and fell to one knee, eye level with the sparse grass that had wormed its way through the muck of the coastal swampland. She crawled forward, the grass grazing her skin like iced razors, her knees squelching in the thick mud. The grass rustled all around her, but she couldn’t tell if it was simply victim to the storm or if some unseen terror crept within.

What would make the gods so angry? she thought. What would drive them to unleash such a horror upon the world?

She then realized that she was unaware of whether she was talking about the beasts of her imagination or the tactile threat that roared from the sky.

Thunder roared all around her and the sky filled with a brilliant light. Lightning struck hard and often. She could feel its heat briefly, before once again succumbing to the icy rain. The lightning bolts emitted a soft purple glow, a calming aura surrounding the fit of chaos as it struck the midst of a distant forest.

Summoning the remainder of her strength, she stood upright. She spied a faint orange glow in the distance skewed by the veil of rainfall. It cut through the darkness like a vibrant red rose in a garden of elderberry. She took uncertain steps towards the light, knowing, or at least hoping, that some sort of salvation awaited her.

Her legs sprawled in haphazard directions, but she managed to keep her feet beneath her. The sounds erupting from her throat as she cried out were unrecognizable. In fact, they didn’t even seem human, though she could hardly hear them above the roar of the ocean and the deafening hum of the storm. But she continued to stumble towards the light on weak but desperate knees.

As she drew closer, she could tell that the orange glow was actually a cottage, its windows flooded with warm light, erupting with the signs of life indoors. It was a quaint dwelling made of logs with a stout porch.

She flung herself onto the porch and collapsed onto the cool, damp wood.

#

“There, there,” called a voice, crackling like fresh kindling on lively fire. “It is time to wake up, young one. You have much to do.”

“And the moon is waning!” called another voice, this one much deeper and possessing a thickness.

She opened her eyes to unfamiliar surroundings. She was lying in a bed inside a tiny room amongst three women, each distinct in appearance and voice.

“To think they would take such vile measures against the child is beyond me. The cruelty of this world is staggering!” one of the women said as she left the room, her raised voice trailing behind her.

“Where am I?” the woman asked.

“The question isn’t where you are, dear. It’s who you are.” This woman sat at her bedside and appeared to be nearing 80 years. She was thin and carried her age upon her face. Her back stooped at what seemed an impossible angle for the living. She wore a dirty blue shawl draped about her frail shoulders.

“So, who are you?” said the fair woman. “Tell us your name.”

Her hair was a silky auburn and her cheekbones high. She wore a red dress that once possessed a particular glory, with hems fit to graze ballroom floors in grand palaces. The dress, though faded and beginnings to wear, accented the curves of her full body.

“My name?” she whispered.

“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten!” said the first voice as its owner re-entered the room, somehow hissing through her deeper voice. She was a stout woman, somewhat older than the fair woman. Her shoulders were broad; her waistline thick. She was shorter than the others, but somehow more noticeable. Her dark hair was collected in a haphazard nest on top of her head. Her brow formed a straight line above her eyes and her jawline jutted at hard angles toward her square chin. She wore trousers with a green tunic. A hefty belt clutched her waist, and from it hung a sword with a discolored, yet ornate handle.

“Perhaps, we can tell you,” the frail woman said. “Your name is Delsinya. That is all I can see. Your past is clouded to me.”

The name sounded familiar. She spoke it aloud, carefully, as if tasting each syllable like a broth she knew was too hot. It felt right, like she had known that name intimately in the past.

“I suppose you are right,” Delsinya said, struggling to sit upright in bed.

“We are right about a great deal of other things too, my dear,” said the frail woman.

“Shhhh, my sister. She will find out in good time,” hissed the stout woman. “You wouldn’t want to spoil the ending!”

“Find out what? What ending?” Delsinya croaked. Her throat felt as though she had been eating sand.

“Now you’ve done it,” said the younger woman with a pleasant but mocking smile on her face.

“What is it?” Delsinya asked.

“Just tell the poor child,” said the frail woman, peering over her stooped shoulders as she stirred a thick brown broth in a large pot.

“My dear, you’ve a certain gift. One that some would call a curse,” the young woman said, lighting three candles in a row that sat on the window seal. The light filled the tiny room and Delsinya caught a glimpse of just how beautiful the woman was.

“It’s a very rare ability,” the woman continued. “My sisters and I possess it, though our gifts are but sparks drowned in the shadows cast by your bonfire.”

She snapped her fingers and a tiny purple flame appeared and hovered just above her palm.

“No,” Delsinya laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous. Whatever your trick is, I know not how to do it.”

“It is no trick,” snapped the stout woman, rushing towards Delsinya’s bed. “It is a gift! And how could one so ungrateful possess such power? By the Gods!”

Delsinya shrank back down into the musty sheets and pulled them tight to her chin. She grasped the fabric in what should have been an iron grip, but her fingers fought to close, still worn from fatigue and lack of nutrition.

“I-I’m sorry,” she said. “I meant no offense.”

“It is quite alright,” the beautiful woman said, scolding her sister with a wave of her palm. “You’ve clearly undergone quite the ordeal. You hardly know who you are, let alone the significance of your abilities.”

“What is that power?” Delsinya said, watching the tiny flame suspiciously as it lingered in the woman’s palm, not burning or searing her flesh. It looked like a petal from a wondrous flower.

“This is a gift you will grow to understand. But first you must remember who you are. Not just your name, but your true self.” She waved her hand and the flame retreated. “Just know that this is only a fraction of the power you possess. All of the Gods’ creations would tremble at your feet if you should seek such an audience.”

“I do not. I seek no such thing,” Delsinya said with a tear brimming at the corner of her eye.

“How do you know? You know not who you are,” said the frail woman, mocking Delsinya and ladling the broth into four bowls that sat on the hearth.

She limped to Delsinya’s bedside and placed a steaming bowl in her hands. “Eat,” she said. “You’ll need your strength.”

Delsinya sniffed the steam rising from the thick, brown liquid. It smelled rich and sweet, with a hint of thyme. She lifted a spoonful to her lips and blew to cool it down before placing it in her mouth and swallowing.

It burned her tongue, but left behind the ghost of salt and seared pork. She continued to eat, slowly filling the rumbling hollow in the pit of her gut.

“She likes it,” the frail woman said with a pleasant smile.

“Of course, she does,” said the portly woman. “You’re the best cook in the traveling woodland.”

“Oh shush,” said the frail woman, returning to the hearth.

Delsinya emptied the bowl rather quickly, feeling pleasantly satiated.

“Here, I’ll take your bowl,” the younger woman said. “She lifted the bowl from Delsinya’s hands and sat it on the rickety nightstand.

“Now rest,” she said. “The morning comes early and you have much to do. Take this with you.”

She reached into a small leather pouch hanging from her sash and retrieved a thin, tarnished ring. It was large enough to fit a grown man, clearly old and slightly warped, the once brilliant surface covered in blemishes. She placed the ring on Delsinya’s thumb where it hung loosely.

“Look at this when you are lost,” the fair woman said. “Now sleep.”