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BLOOD OF THE BELLFLOWER - BOOK 1: THE SIFTING - YA Science Fiction - Laura Neibaur


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NAME:

Laura Neibaur

NOVEL NAME:

BLOOD OF THE BELLFLOWER – BOOK 1: THE SIFTING

GENRE: YA Science fiction 

WORDS: 105K

COMPARABLES:

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Other Side of the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke

HOOK:

Hunted by a dark political faction, Razzia and Hild must escape the boundary walls, discover and hone their preternatural abilities, and use them to fight Razbon before the Sifting Ceremony commences.

PITCH:

Razzia Vilhelm longs for the damson plum orchards, her tidy room, and crowded bookshelf. She wants to go home and never leave again. Never break the rules. She wants to escape the Sifting, but Paznic Razbon knows something that she does not - Razzia is dangerous.

On the ruins of what was once Eastern Europe lies a gritty kingdom. Turmoil surges with darksome ongoings and unexplained disappearances. Razbon’s ruthless Segaeta faction has revived the ancient Sifting Ceremonies – rituals to test and extract preternatural abilities known as Traces. Razbon is on a hunt for the Paradox Trace. He knows Razzia. He knows her Trace and history, but he did not know her location – until now. 

The orphaned kitchen maid flees from home – through the Bântuit forest, across the desert Noapte, and far away to Zbura. She fights to survive, attempts to harness her Trace, and learns who to trust. The implacable Commandant Aadrik must weigh office and oath against honor. A restive slave and horse trainer, Hild discovers how a chilling family past stole his freedom and possibly his future. 

Escaping extraction means abandoning home, civilization, and the other Sifting candidates – to return means facing Razbon.

 

PROSE: 

 

CHAPTER ONE

THE SIFTING

 

A guard wrested Razzia from a troubled half-sleep and cut the leather straps from her swollen wrists. She sensed daylight in the busy Segaeta camp, and she heard the abrasive din of a crowd in the courtyard. She tried to think. What day was it? Where was she again? The guard jerked her upright and dragged her from the dingy tent into the morning glare.

She had not seen the sun’s intensity for three days. The burning rays penetrated her weary eyes. A bead of sweat formed down her spine, and a feeling of dread entered her chest. She remembered – today was the Sifting Ceremony.

Razzia’s weakened legs gave out as she tried to keep up with the hard-handed guard. He pulled her impatiently toward the center of the graveled courtyard. “Stand up, stupid sclavă!” He snarled, hoisting her up by her slender arms. He dropped her in front of a rectangular black honed marble altar, the length of a man and two feet wide and tall. It had happened. Just as she predicted. No matter what Hild had promised, he had not been able to protect her. Hild. Where was Hild?

The stone slab sat centered in the palm of a cast bronze flower with polished petals cradling the altar’s sides. Rusted bolts anchored a series of heavy chains to the glossy surface.

The guard stepped back, awaiting further instructions. Razzia huddled, head drooped with tangled dark hair clinging to her face and neck. She raised her eyes toward the raucous citizens crowded behind a low, mortared wall surrounding the courtyard. Dozens of heavily armed guards in combination sheet metal and leather pressed against the throng of spectators – a throbbing mass of dusty, irate faces, dull linen robes, and shaking fists.

Exclamations of shock rapped the air as several dozen adolescents filed into the courtyard, flanked by more guards. These were the Sifting candidates. Their hands and ankles were fettered, and each wore a white veşmânt with a black sash like Razzia. Their round frightened eyes stared toward the altar. After making an example of Razzia, Paznic Razbon would extract the Traces from each remaining victim.

One elderly man stood out from the young candidates. His silvering beard and full head of hair had been shaved to nothing but pale bony jowls and a bruised scalp. His once proud face hung limp and drawn around sunken gray eyes. His carefully pressed and adorned blue uniform had been replaced by the white robes that sagged open to reveal a scared, purpling chest. He stood tall, with his head high, and Razzia saw a hint of the old Paznic Lord who had often visited her estate for an early breakfast with her master. Razzia wished for an expression of confidence from this face of her past. Perhaps a dash of hope in his jaded countenance. Instead, she saw his lips repeating the words, Iubeste Libertate.

Beside the waiting candidates, a wooden platform sat upraised in front of a vast, white tent. A dozen guards, several paznic lords, and members of the Domnitor’s council approached the stage. Razzia flinched at the sight of Doctor Krelek. Round, pink face, beady eyes, a bald head, tiny spectacles, and a traditional white coat and trousers.

The guard nodded to orders from a nearby Segaeta soldier. He lifted Razzia’s wilted body onto the altar, stretched her arms above her, and chained her prostrate to the granite slab. The guard fiddled with the cold, unyielding chains that held her wrists and ankles in place. She trembled, her mind spun into a tunnel of horror, and she gulped air to salve the dread that surged like a tempest in her chest. How had it come to this? She thought. A kitchen maid. A sclavă. Nothing significant had ever happened to her. She never asked much of life. A hot meal, and a good book, after a long day. What could she have done differently on that long-ago morning? That day on the hunting trail changed her life forever.

Razzia wanted to shut out the noise and relinquish herself to the nightmarish eventualities. Her childlike mind could not. Instead, she craned her head toward the roaring crowd. The citizens began to hurl stones toward the dark-armored guards, who retaliated with blow after blow from swords and scepters without mercy or relent.

Half a dozen Segaeta soldiers escorted a man from the white tent onto the wooden platform. Dressed in black from head to toe, a sleek black vest over his silky white cămaşa and stiff trousers tucked into tall laptis boots. Dark sculpted hair and beard framed his pale face, sharp eyes, and a straight nose. A shudder of fear fled Razzia’s lips. Paznic Razbon.

Next, Shrone, the head Segaeta guard and sworn disciple of Razbon, strolled exultantly onto the platform. His hulking frame fit offensively into a pressed black uniform with a trailing cape fastened at his cumbrous neck. His fleshy, scared face was fixed with round nefarious eyes and surrounded by thin spirals of waxy dark hair. Shrone glowered toward the row of Sifting candidates. Then his eyes stopped with a look of unfulfilled appetite at Razzia.

The cacophony from the inflamed multitude had compounded. More guards filed into the arena to rebuff the rebel masses.

Minutes, she thought. She could suffer a few more minutes, forced to capitulate to her hideous immediate condition. She had endured for three days in the Segaeta camp and over a year far from her home called Tuz Vira.

Razbon turned and faced the forbidding stone emblem where Razzia waited. He placed a hand on his heart – a theatrical display of sobriety. Then stepped off the platform. He strutted ahead of Shrone and Doctor Krelek toward the altar in the courtyard center.

Low, loose clouds gathered, crawling over the green hills that enfolded the camp in a semi-circle. The storm choked the sky with a dark mantle. A cool waft from the northwest smelled of damp soil and ripe vegetation. The scent prompted memories of the damson plum orchards and blooming alfalfa fields under a warm, blue sky at Tuz Vira.

Minutes, she whispered and clung to the word. Her heart mimicked the pad of steady rain. She watched Razbon, Shrone, and Krelek drawing nearer from across the courtyard. The cold, wet wind soaked her robes to her thin cotton roshie, and she hid her face behind her limp hair and outstretched arms.

“I want her to look me in the eyes.” It was Razbon’s voice, but Shrone jerked her head up. Watery rivulets washed briny tears and sweat down her cheeks and trickled into the corners of her mouth. Razzia saw them through long clusters of dark hair. She felt her brittle courage fleeing at that moment. Razbon turned to Krelek. He handed him first the small amethyst vial containing the Eredet serum. Then a stiléto with an inlaid hilt and fine etchings of green painted palm fronds. Hild’s stiléto. How did Razbon have Hild’stiléto? Razzia’s heart lolled with anguish. She searched Razbon’s face for any sign of humanity or compassion. His deep brown eyes looked dead. Entrenched by evil. The irises led to dark paths of a ruined and cruel mind-terrain.  

Razzia lifted her eyes to the lush cliffs and hills surrounding the Segaeta camp of Mijloc-Teren. Where were Hild, Boain, and the others? Had they followed her through the desert? Had they survived the Bântuit Forest? Had the Segaeta discovered them, too? She did not know. Where were the Noapte clans with their strength and numbers? Was no one aware of her need for intervention? Had they abandoned her?

Razbon placed the blade against the soft skin of her neck. Razzia’s mind lurched. She searched for something to hold to. Her memory latched onto one face. It was not Hild. Nor kind, fatherly Kasyl, or the mothermaid who raised her – but Aadrik. To the very end, she had been safe with him. It no longer mattered what happened between them in the Bântuit Forest. Her life had come to a premature end. Razbon would extract her Traces, and there at the Sifting Ceremony, she would cease to exist in the physical world. The face that brought her comfort was Aadrik’s.

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