The Storm Crow (The Storm Crow #1)
By: Kalyn Josephson
Publication Date: July 9th, 2019
In the tropical kingdom of Rhodaire, magical, elemental Crows are part of every aspect of life…until the Illucian empire invades, destroying everything.
That terrible night has thrown Princess Anthia into a deep depression. Her sister Caliza is busy running the kingdom after their mother’s death, but all Thia can do is think of all she has lost.
But when Caliza is forced to agree to a marriage between Thia and the crown prince of Illucia, Thia is finally spurred into action. And after stumbling upon a hidden Crow egg in the rubble of a rookery, she and her sister devise a dangerous plan to hatch the egg in secret and get back what was taken from them.
I was a storm.
Adrenaline ripped through my veins like lightning as I leaned close to the body of my Crow, preparing to execute a dive. Iyla’s warm, steady heat kept me grounded, even hundreds of feet in the air. Cold wind whipped tendrils of hair free from my braid, nipping at the skin around my goggles and stealing my breath.
The thin, well-worn saddle beneath me was nothing more than a strip of leather to bind stirrups to, the reins trailing from my hands to Iyla’s beak, an illusion of control—this ride depended on trust and mutual respect. Anything less, and no amount of leather would keep me seated on Iyla’s back.
Years of Estrel’s instructions raced through my mind: Keep your body low and tight in a dive. Give the reins slack. Keep your knees back so you don’t put pressure on the Crow’s wing joints. I knew it all like my own heartbeat.
I tucked close to Iyla’s body, and we dove.
Water misted my skin as Iyla’s Storm Crow magic split apart a cloud a second before we shot through it and plummeted toward the earth. My heart screamed into my throat, pure, unadulterated joy erupting through me with every passing moment. I held my breath as we fell, counting the seconds—we could only gain so much speed before Iyla’s wings wouldn’t be able to handle the strain of opening.
Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen…
We burst through the clouds, Aris spread out below us. The city was a blur as we dove, a sea of light and color fast approaching.
Twenty. I squeezed my knees, and Iyla’s wings snapped open like the slice of a blade, catching an updraft to send us sailing in a gentle arc. Lightning buzzed at the tips of Iyla’s wings as she let out a piercing call.
I sucked in a lungful of cold air and let it out in a laugh, the thrill of the dive resounding through me like a thunderclap. I craved that feeling like starved lungs craved air, letting it fill me until I felt impossibly alive.
We circled wide and low, descending the rest of the way until Iyla’s shadow blanketed the city streets.
Aris unfurled beneath us like a colorful map, dense with thick green foliage and spotted with wildflowers. People called up to us, waving from crowded streets as revelers prepared for the festival leading up to Negnoch, the city’s yearly hatch night. In a few hours, every single Crow from across the kingdom of Rhodaire would put on a masterful display of riding and magic, and the year’s Crows would be hatched.
One of them would be mine. Tonight, I would choose my own Crow and become a rider.
We dipped lower, children chasing Iyla’s shadow in the hopes of catching a stray feather to wish upon. This was my favorite part of flying. Even more than the thrill of diving or the magic of soaring through endless skies, I loved gliding peacefully above Aris, the wind brushing along my skin as the city passed below.
Even on the back of a stolen Crow. Well, not quite stolen. Iyla belonged to Estrel, my teacher and mother’s best friend, and while Estrel had let me ride Iyla alone before, she technically hadn’t given me permission to tonight.
Probably because I didn’t ask.
A gentle tug on the reins sent Iyla a little higher, and we fell in line over the crystal waters of the canal in the Rynthene Wing. To my left, Earth Crows helped work the fields, tilling land in huge swaths with the pulse of their magic. To my right, the fading sunlight glinted off an armored Battle Crow.
All over Aris, the Crows and riders integrated into the city’s inner workings would be finishing up the day’s tasks. Later, they’d join the military pouring in from Rhodaire’s outer reaches in preparation for the Sky Dance.
We followed the canal to the castle at the city’s heart. The giant, gray stone structure stretched into the sky, Delladon vines sprawling across its pale face like laugh lines. From each of the four sides of the central tower, a crescent-shaped landing platform jutted out, and I used the nearest one as a marker to veer Iyla right toward the royal rookery. It was a tall, circular tower with wide windows on the third floor for easy landing.
My nerves jittered. Landing was the hardest part, even with Estrel’s lessons branded into my mind.
Let the Crow do the work; it knows what it’s doing. Keep your weight back. Never dismount while a Crow’s folding its wings, or you risk straining the joints.
We glided easily through one of the rookery’s large, open windows, Iyla as practiced in this maneuver as breathing. Her wings flared back, sending straw swirling across the stone floor as her massive black claws reached out, taking hold of the nearest T-shaped perch. We fell to a standstill, her wings tucking in tight to her muscled form. She was almost reptilian with a lean, muscular body, the proportions a little longer, a little more limber than a normal bird.
I let out a whoop, grinning as I tugged down my goggles and swung off her back, throwing my arms around her. Her long neck straightened as she stiffened, but I’d learned long ago that she’d not only tolerate hugs but secretly liked them.
My excitement went cold at my mother’s sharp voice. A flurry of black wings filled the opposite window as her Battle Crow, Tyros, landed effortlessly on the perch across from Iyla, sending a gust of straw-filled wind into my face.
My mother swung down, stalking toward me with the smooth litheness of a jungle cat. With the setting sun at her back, she looked every inch the queen she was, the light making her brown skin and polished flying leathers gleam with an inner fire.
“What in Saint’s name do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.
“Um, talking to Iyla?” I offered. Lying had never been my strong suit. To her credit, the Crow let out a low caw, as if she were indeed part of the conversation.
My mother didn’t smile. I didn’t expect her to.
“Relax, Alandra.” Estrel emerged from the nearby staircase at my side, her long, dark curls bound in a thick braid like mine. “I gave her permission.”
The only person who could tell my mother to relax without getting eviscerated was Estrel, my aunt in every way but blood. They even looked like sisters, though my mother was taller and leaner. She and Estrel had grown up together, and I’d even heard a rumor Estrel’s sister and my mother had courted as teenagers.
My mother frowned, and I straightened beneath the sharpness of her steel-colored gaze. Her eyes always reminded me of knives, forever sculpting me in an endless quest for perfection.
“I executed a perfect dive,” I offered, as if my ability to perform riding techniques far more advanced than my seventeen years might soften her gaze.
It only made her eyes narrow. “Taking another rider’s Crow out for a joyride to perform dangerous maneuvers is not only foolish, it’s insulting.” I flinched. “If you want to prove yourself capable of being a leader among the riders, you can start by not disrespecting every rule and custom we live by.”
I refused to wilt beneath the heat of her words. “Well, maybe if you spent more than a waking second in my presence, I’d know the rules better.”
Estrel drew a sharp breath, but my mother went stiller than a Shadow Crow concealed in darkness. For a fraction of a second, I swore something pained flashed through her iron gaze, but it vanished quickly.
The circlet of silver feathers on her brow gleamed like molten starlight. “I expect you back here before the hatching.” She turned to Tyros, who leapt from his perch to the wide window ledge, a perfect tableau of strength against a backdrop of approaching night. With a grace I hadn’t yet mastered, she swung up into the saddle. Wings tucked in tight, Tyros leapt. They plummeted from view, gone for barely a breath before they soared up past the window, climbing into the darkening sky.
Kalyn Josephson is a Technical Writer in Silicon Valley, which leaves room for too many bad puns about technically being a writer. She grew up in San Luis Obispo, CA, but now lives in the Bay Area with four awesome friends (because it’s the Bay and she’d like to be able to retire one day) and two black cats (who are more like a tiny dragon and an even tinier owl). When not writing YA Fantasy, she loves baking, reading, playing sports, and watching too many movies.
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