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We Drown Beneath the Stars - YA Dark Fantasy

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I have Chapter 1 below, but since I'm still thinking about some revisions/edits, I'm also copying in another sample of my writing to demonstrate my prose. 

Chapter 1 – Opening scene, establishing setting, tone, themes, POV, introduce the protagonist and her fears, wants, and dependence on her sister, introduce interpersonal conflict, create suspense, set up the upcoming inciting incident (missing sister)




I always feared the sea would be my end.

The lethal waves slap against the stone beneath my feet, they tug on the tendrils of my skirt, and reach to tear everything left from me. I imprison a breath of salty air, tightening my fingers around my knife. I won’t let the tide take me.

Ach, Dioni, don’t be such a baby,” Olympia scoffs. The shimmering teal surface bubbles around her as she crawls out of the water and onto the rocky ledge beside me. “Most limpets are down by the edge, what are you so afraid of?”

Saltwater splatters from her dress into a pool at our feet, and I teeter aside to dodge the spray. “You know what,” I mumble. Though she’s not entirely wrong about braving the water, beneath us the waves strike rougher than usual. Angrier somehow. She can pretend everything’s fine, but we both know straying too far past the rockface means death. No one who sailed past or flew over the island’s limits in the last few years ever survived. And for those who swam… all we saw was their arms flail before they dipped beneath the horizon into the abyss. I’d almost joined the dead to the depths before, and once was more than enough.

Olympia sweeps her soaked hair to her shoulder with a huff. Still, stuck to her taut brown cheeks, a few wavy strands remain, and with her sheer white attire glued to her like a second layer of skin, everything beneath is visible.

The boulder’s searing heat rushes from my toes all the way up to my cheeks, and I bite my lip. Despite Olympia’s edges as sharp as the rocks, I know she feels the same pain I do, and though she’s far from my friend, she shares in our misery.

“I know you care we’re stuck here,” I say as I return to my work, my callused fingers slipping off jagged green shells. I refuse to accept her complacency about our lack of control, of freedom.

“This is my home.” Her panting breath sprays a mist off her thin coral lips. “I don’t need to go anywhere.” She chisels away, her knife prying the sea creatures off the bedrock before adding with bitter disdain, “Unlike you.”

She may as well have dug that knife into me. I grunt and hold my tongue before I say anything impetuous and she complains to the council to get me in trouble.

Olympia never misses a chance to prove how insufferable she can be. Of course, I’m stuck doing the limpet collecting with her. Ever since my sisters and I moved here she can’t stop making my life difficult—taunting and snorting with her friends every time I walk past. Because we weren’t born here, we don’t belong. And while Olympia appears beautiful on the outside, she hides cruelty, much like the island.

Seagulls screech above our heads, their cries bouncing off the cliffs that flank the beach. Frothy green herbs crown the cliffsides and speckle the jaundiced limestone like stubble. Below, the turquoise hues of the coastal scenery twinkle into millions of stars floating on the restless surface. To any viewer, this beach seems idyllic, as if we hadn’t witnessed our neighbors drown on this very coast five years ago.

At least Eva will be here soon to spare me. I only wish my sister could save me from Olympia’s company more often. In fact, she should’ve been here by now. I glance at the beach for signs of Eva—for her black curls swaying in contrast to the scenery or her billowing white skirts, yet waves alone dance on the shore.

I need her to break the tension with her warm demeanor and wide smile. My sisters and grandmother are all I have left to hold me together, because even in a village filled with smiles, they all feel superficial lately. I pick at a limpet with my knife, tearing the rough shell away from the rock. If only I could tear the hopeless and dark thoughts from my mind as easily. We’ve been isolated for so long, detached from any new voices, new books, new movies.

I follow the line of conical shells, my hands bouncing off their sharp points, trying to distract myself. Yet with each limpet I pick off the rock, I recall another piece of my life back home: my bright yellow room, the freedom to choose who I wanted to be, my old classmates—I have no idea what happened to them or if they even remember me.

Baba, the way he picked me up as a child and rested me on his shoulders, bouncing me down the gray city streets to school… Mama, her giggling as she watered the flowers on the balcony of our teeny tiny apartment, pointing out her favorites….

I peer over the darkening horizon, trying to hold onto hope. They’re somewhere out there, I know that like a swallow’s song in my heart.

“Is that all you have?” Olympia’s voice hitches up a note. Her amber eyes stare daggers into my bucket with disapproval.

I shake my container and the few shells inside rattle in response.

“Those won’t be enough to cook with,” she says. “I’ll be sure to let them know which bucket was yours.”

A part of me wants to toss the bucket right at her, yet the other can’t blame her. If Eva arrived now, I wouldn’t be proud to show her the meager fruits of my labor, either. In fact, I wouldn’t be proud to show my harvest to anyone in the village, because if you don’t produce, you may as well not be a part of the community.

Despite my fears and anger, I refocus on my work, my callused hands entering the familiar routine of constant chores. No matter how many new blisters appear, I press on, because life on our side of the island means I have to serve. We all do, especially with so few of us left.

We’re surviving, but it no longer feels like we’re living.

As the evening light begins to fade, a hollowness settles in my stomach. In the distance, the horizon grays as though night approaches faster than usual.

“We should hurry before it darkens,” I say as I twist my knife into the lip of a shell, popping away the limpet’s suction. “It’s a full moon tonight and Eva will be here any minute. We still have to finish up our errands before the tide comes in.” And I need to avoid that tide at all costs.

Olympia chortles at the mention of my older sister, her disdain for my family evident. The sooner I finish this task with Olympia, the better.

Scurrying birds rattle pebbles above and flap away from their nests. Loose fragments splash behind me. Something’s in the air—ethereal, yet tangible. Like electricity, or a sense of dread. My jet-black curls frizz and tickle my nose, and I sniff the thick salty air.

Tracing a mosaic of limpets, I curve around the rockface, when a shadow snags my attention. Clouds cluster in the distance, like an oncoming storm, and flashes of lightning strobe within their gray. I squint. It’s nothing like I’ve seen in years.

I count the seconds, waiting for the clap of thunder. Seven… eight… nine… yet nothing shakes the skies. Instead, between storming flares, a dark shape takes form.

I rub my eyes in case sand got into them. But the blur in the distance remains. “What is that?”

Eh? What are you talking about now?” Olympia hisses as she straightens, and her sharp chin drops. “Impossible.”

I lean so far back to see, I nearly tip over. My toes curl, gripping the rocks as I bounce back, and my bucket clanks with the recoil. I need a wider view.

Along the rocks, I hop, careful to avoid the wet slimy spots, and I don’t stop until I sink back onto the shore, to the safety of land where the sands sparkle like hot loose diamonds beneath my feet. My supplies drop onto the ground as Olympia splashes through shallow water behind me.

In the quivering horizon, the brewing storm coils and twists, and at its front, a form approaches. I freeze. It can’t be real. Waves splash around the shape, curdling to seafoam in its path. No, it seems real. A prow slices through the sea with a sparkling mist. Very much real.

“A ship…”

“It can’t be,” Olympia mutters.

But it is.

“Yes!” Water splashes at my feet and drops freckle my cheeks, but in the moment I don’t care. It’s been years since we’ve had any contact with the outside world.

“Where did it come from?” Olympia laughs. “The mainland?” She holds a hand to her forehead, shielding her eyes. “Italy?”

“Who cares? It’s a ship!” It’s a beacon of hope, of life still out there—of my family still out there. A ship arriving may finally mean that whatever blocked the horizon can allow us to travel across again. It’s hope wrapped in a metallic hull.

Yet Olympia’s right, it must’ve come from somewhere. Joyful tears blur my vision, and I sweep them away to focus on our visitors. Maybe a name on the ship can provide a hint. I search the bow for anything besides gray metal, but I can’t make out any signs, as though the letters have been scratched off.

“That’s strange,” I mutter. It’s a large vessel, similar to the boats that carried tourists across from the mainland, but usually those ships are labeled with some affectionate nickname, like Leukó Delfíni or Dóro Tis Thálassas. As I scan the shape in front of the rolling mist, a darkness curls around it, and my stomach drops.

“Do you see that?” I tilt my head to make out more of the vessel as it nears. “Is it on fire?”

“What?” Olympia checks between the ship and me. “Are you talking about the sun’s reflection?”

But the spot darkens as I squint. Dark tendrils snap around the metal frame.

“No, look!” If it’s on fire, it means the people inside are in trouble. “We have to help them.”

Olympia glances at me, and her eyebrows furrow. I check between her and the distance. She can’t see it?

The ship bounces over the swells, tearing through surging waters in a straight path. It should be slowing down any second to anchor, yet as my gaze lingers on the smoke, my heart speeds with worry.

Olympia trots backward away from the waterline, her chest heaving.

At full speed, the bow grows in size within seconds. Eyes in a daze, I stare at the wisps of tarry shades, trying to make them out. They sway like fumes, yet they’re too solid. Too dark…

It’s not fire? Then what—

Olympia squeaks, snapping me back to a harsh reality. The vessel’s height reaches halfway up the cliffs, and with its hurtling momentum, it won’t stop in time before hitting land.

And it’ll strike the beach… right where we stand.

“Run!” I yell, pushing Olympia.

Scorching sand sucks my feet, refusing to let me move. Each step slows me further, my wet skirt tangling at my shins. We won’t make it. The flanking wall is too far aside to get to the stairs in time.

Please, Death don’t take me.

We barely make it halfway to the cliff when the world quakes, the earth beneath turning to quicksand. I tumble, pain shooting through my knees and base of my palms, and Olympia yelps as the giant ship strikes the beach with a groan. A fine spray of saltwater transitions to sand, snapping against our skin in thousands of tiny stings.

Breathless, I shuffle to my back. Olympia cowers beside me as I crawl through the shifting dunes.

The ship roars and leans to one side, towering above us. Its frame blocks out the light and scant evening rays slice through the bow’s railing. Shadows dissipate from its metal as the darkness absorbs into the hot sands, evaporating unlike any smoke I’ve ever seen.

Olympia uncovers her head with a whine.

“What in the world?” She scrambles to her feet.

I grab her hand to stop her from approaching the ship. Something’s wrong about this. So very wrong.

She tears from my grasp. “Do you think there’s people inside?”

I have no idea what lies within, but something about the darkness it carries spreads ice through my vines. “Don’t,” I warn.

The word barely crosses my lips when the gray frame sizzles, forming gaps, as though someone burning giant cigarette holes in its paint. Its steel beneath reddens, rusting and corroding in high speed.

“Do you see that?” I sputter, my pointing finger trembling.

Within moments, the ship buries itself halfway into the sand and water, pieces hitting ground and splashing waves as it breaks apart. It sighs with a creak, sinking to the shore like a hollow, corroded shell.

Inside, as each level breaks away into shattered cavities, the blue and brick-red plastic seats lie devoid of any signs of life. There’s no one. No bodies, no suitcases, nothing. Absent of life, it rests barren of all the promises it pretended to harbor.

I rub at my forehead with a shaky hand, sand glittering down my cheeks. My eyes dart about the scene, trying to make sense of it. But…

“This is—” Olympia’s words catch in her throat.

It’s senseless. Abnormal… A nightmare.

The questions roll through me: How can it be empty? How did it come here? And what on earth were those shadows?

We need to move, to check for survivors, or call for help. Do something. Anything. But I’m still frozen.

“We need to get the council,” Olympia stammers.

“Eva,” I say, my eyes wide and drying in the arid air. “We need to find my sister. She’ll know what to do.”

Olympia nods, her gaze fixed to the impossible picture.

We run to the cliffside, grabbing the scalding iron bar to climb the steep stairway. The jagged pale rockface bites into my bare feet. We’ve been praying for any contact from the outside world for so long... But not like this.

Sand crunches between my teeth and salt prickles my tongue with each rattling breath. But the further we climb the more the images of the black tendrils of smoke fill my mind. My curls spring and stick to my cheeks as I grip and crawl to the top, hoping to run into Eva for help. In our rush we left all our supplies on that beach, and with them I’m certain our newfound sense of normalcy.

Beyond, the clouds swirl over the sea, dissolving into the deep evening skies. I steal one final glance at the ship below; raying around it in dark marks, the stirred sands from the crash almost look star shaped. A black figure floats between the gaps of the ship, and I gasp to a stop.

And in that moment, I’m no longer certain there isn’t someone—or something—that arrived on that ship.



Second writing sample: this scene takes place during the first major plot point, where Dioni is still processing that her sister is missing, and decides that even though she must enter the challenges set by the council, she will use it as a way to gather clues and find her sister. Purpose of the scene: establish protagonist's goal & mission, expand on relationship with Yaya and Yaya's goal, hints to the romantic subplot, reveals more about Dioni's relationship with her sister (and how she compares herself to her).


Tonight would be a perfect opportunity to corner Olympia. I could squeeze her for answers on where she’d seen Eva last, or spot clues in her reactions, because while everyone else presses on, I refuse to give up on my sister.

My plan steadies my muscles, and I sniffle as I readjust myself in the mirror. Yaya hands me a handkerchief and I dab the black smudge beneath my eyes.

“You understand how important this ceremony is.” She rubs my bare back with reassuring warmth. “It would be such an honor to have you serving with me in this key role. You can represent our family and help make decisions for our island.”

I give her a small smile in response, unable to refuse when this means so much to her.

“Look at you.” She wobbles me with a tinkling laugh. “You are a woman now.”

A cough escapes me as a mirthless chuckle, even through the bitter tears.

“You look just like a bride. Soon, my darling, you will be choosing a husband.”

A husband… With my sister yet to be married, I’d never really thought about my own marital future. Deep down, I always thought my match would be Sotiri. But that was before I grew up and realized how foreign those you’ve always known could suddenly feel.

“It’s time, paidi mou.” She circles me, blocking the mirror, and strokes my cheek with leathery fingers. “My child.” Tears shimmer over her lower eyelids like raindrops gathering on glass and teasing before their fall. This entire situation has been just as horrible for her, and despite her energetic demeanor, she’s fragile on the inside. She’s shared in the same losses as me—Mama, her island as it used to be, and now her granddaughter.

I hug my grandmother, my arms wrapping around her cottony hair. I take in her soft, fresh scent like a breeze that rolls off a crystal wave, wanting to comfort her and stay within her safety forever, until Fotinoula’s snores chirp from the corner, and make Yaya break the embrace.

“Come, let’s go before we’re too late.” She gestures to the door. With a pinched expression, she tucks a fresh filaxtó under the neck of my gown. “There.”

Though worry rolls through me like an undercurrent, I nod and drift to the exit. Each step through the silky panels of my dress caresses my skin like gliding through water, and I slide out into the brisk darkness.

I always preferred the coolness of the night. That calm, liminal moment before daylight stirs with life again. Unlike my sister who bursts with vitality, I lean toward the quiet. Mama always said our personalities were like the sun and the moon, and at the time, I hated that. I wanted to be like my sister, not the polar opposite of her. But maybe, just like the moon reflects the light from the sun, I could shine the same brightness off Eva.


More writing samples from other works and short stories available upon request.

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Seriously though, from the title, (fantastic) to the setting's descriptiveness, to the inner turmoil of Dioni, the strange like I have for Olympia, even though I don't trust her, to the sudden desperation I feel for Dioni to find her sister. All of it blended well and sucked me in.

Thank you for posting.

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