Welcome to my stop on The Storm Crow tour. Today, I have an extract for you. Hoping it will whet your appetite.
‘Thunder boomed again. The Sky Dance was about to begin.
Crows glided in lazy circles above the castle with riders on their backs, looking like shadows set adrift in the sky. The sun set behind them, painting everything deep mauve and carmine, buttermilk and fuchsia.
The drums started, low and steady at first, matching the rhythm of the crows as they circled. Then the speed increased, and higher drums joined in. The circling crows broke in all directions, some diving straight down, others surging upward in a powerful burst of speed. They twirled and dove, weaving around each other in exact, graceful movements.
A fire crow opened its beak and let loose a stream of blue-tinged flames at a wind crow, which buffeted the fire upward toward a water crow, which doused it into steam with water from its beak. Sun crows lit the sky in ethereal gold, their glow fading into wisps like the light of falling stars. Shadow crows wove ribbons of night around them, creating intricate shimmering patterns.
Each action a crow took was mimicked by another one across from it, one formation molding seamlessly into the next, creating a symmetrical design of beasts, people, and magic, all interwoven in a dance among the clouds.
The drums grew faster. Lightning struck and thunder rolled, keeping time with the beat. Crows dipped and twirled in perfectly timed maneuvers I longed to try. My heart raced with them, imagin-ing the feel of the wind in my hair and the heat of a crow beneath me.
As the music peaked, every crow shot upward, carried by drafts from wind and storm crows. Then they dove.
As the echo of the final drumbeat sounded, the crows shot out in all directions in perfectly executed dives. Their deep, echoing cries filled the sky as the sun finished setting, and the crows blanketed the night.
Still ecstatic from the dance, Kiva and I moved off the main road to find another talcé vendor. The skies had cleared, and the crows had all returned to the rookeries throughout the city’s wings to be unsaddled and fed. The images remained seared into the back of my eyelids. Soon, I would be a part of that dance.
“You’re going to be late,” Kiva warned as we navigated the crowded street.
“It takes at least half an hour for the crows to be unsaddled and fed.”
“Which means you’ll leave in half an hour.” “I’m not late that often—”
“Yes, you are.”
A scream ripped through the air. I froze. Kiva’s hand went to her sword, and she stepped toward me, shielding. Silence descended like a curtain, sucking the air from the crowded street. My heart rose and settled in my throat, and for a wingbeat, every- thing stood still.
Then the Thereal rookery went up in flames.
The screams became a chorus, the screech of crows rising like a wave. One by one, the rookeries in each Wing erupted with fire.
I stood rooted to the spot, the acrid smoke scorching my lungs, the light of the flames almost too bright to look at. Yet I couldn’t tear my gaze away, my mind refusing to process what I was seeing.
The city was burning.
The words dropped through my mind like jagged stones, too heavy and sharp to hold on to.
The crowd closed in, people slamming into carts and each other, all attempting to flee in different directions. Kiva pressed into my side, her sword half drawn. The familiar screech of metal snapped me from my trance, and I seized her wrist. “Too many people!”
Scowling, she grabbed my arm and barreled through the writhing mass. A head taller than nearly everyone, the crowd parted to avoid her elbows and snarled threats. We pushed until we broke through the edge, gulping down open air drowned in smoke.
“Come on!” Not stopping to rest, I raced along the street and back toward the castle, Kiva at my back.
Fire fell like rain.
It dripped from buildings, clinging to crumbling stone and smoldering wood, spreading from the Thereal rookery like a flood. The bushes lining the road blazed like torches, trees heavy with fruit turning to ash and filling the air with a sickly, burnt-sugar scent. It mixed with the smell of seared flesh.
A burst of fire cut across our path, forcing us to stop. As an earsplitting scream tore past me, I realized it wasn’t a fireball: it was a man, engulfed in flame.
My stomach turned, and I choked on the poisoned air, desper- ate to get it out of my lungs. Kiva seized my arm, hauling me along. The image of the flaming man cut through my mind over and over, until it felt like I’d never see anything else again.
As we turned up the castle road, I stumbled to a halt. Black smoke billowed from the royal rookery, darker than the night.
Fire writhed, reaching out the open windows with hungry claws. A crow leapt from one of the windows, feathers alight. It barely had time to open its wings before an arrow pierced its heart. Another struck its throat. It dropped four stories to the earth with a sickening crunch.
This didn’t make any sense. The eggs were in there, and the crows… My thoughts ground to a halt, unable to venture any further. Unable to think, unable to breathe.
I only became aware Kiva was shaking me when she nearly knocked me to the ground. “Move!” she screamed.
Slowly, I looked at her. She’d drawn her sword, and the fire- light cast strange shadows across her pale skin. For an impossibly long moment, my smoke-riddled brain could process only her bright, unbound hair. It was white as bone.
She pushed me again, and I stumbled. “Anthia, move!”
I blinked. Guards were sprinting in every direction, shouting orders. Some had their swords drawn, dueling pale-skinned soldiers in black leather. Still others simply stood and stared at the rising column of fire and smoke. Slowly, I understood. I recognized the golden horsehead emblazoned on their uniforms.
Illucia was attacking Rhodaire.’