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Read "A Kingdom of Embers and Ash," our Novel Excerpt Contest Grand Prize Winner (age 13 and under group)!

In February, we challenged you to submit a 400-word excerpt from your NaNoWriMo novels. From over 650 fantastic entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and four Runners-Up. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did! (For more excerpts, check out this forum thread.)

A Kingdom of Embers and Ash by Hannah G.

I slip there unnoticed, and sure enough, Willow slumps against the fence. Her arm is through the hole, beads of blood glinting on the metal where it bit into her skin. She clutches at the twisted metal as though it is a portal to a better place.

And maybe... maybe it is.

But maybe it isn’t. And that’s what’s kept us from running for all these years.

"Hey, Wil," I whisper, sliding to the ground beside my sister, my anger forgotten, the pain in my cheek and my heart pushed into a place where I can’t feel it. My sister… she's more important than any of that, than anything. "What's going on?"

Willow turns to me suddenly, her face red and blotchy, streaked with tears. Her eyes are like that of a wild animal: cornered and desperate and terrified. It scares me.

"Sage, I can't!” she wails. “I can't stop it! I can't do it! I can't not do it!" Her voice is pitched with distress, a hysterical edge to it that scares me.

I look at her with concern creasing my brow, coating my voice. "Willow?"

But suddenly, it isn't Willow I'm looking at. It’s a fox, white as the first snow of winter, with oddly human, intelligent, pleading eyes.

Willow's eyes.

I freeze in shock, staring at the fox that is Willow.

At Willow, who is a fox.

At my whole life, my whole world, being upended before my eyes.

And then–my sister is back.

I can't stop the stories we've been told about the creatures outside the fence, magical and evil, from flashing through my mind. The stories that have always been applied to us. And even as I look at Willow, my Willow, who I have known and loved all my life, a small part of me can't help but wonder if they’re true, if we are what they say we are.

Witches. Demons. Monsters.

But then, with a twist of revulsion aimed at myself, at the thing that just went through my mind, at Oke Darm and everyone living in it for conditioning me to think that way, I banish the unfaithful thought from my head. Because this is Willow, my Willow–no matter what form she takes.

But I know I'm the only one who will see it that way.

"Wil," I whisper. "Willow... We have to run. Now."

Guest author judge Sarah Suk had this to say about A Kingdom of Embers and Ash

"In just this short passage, I was able to get a sense of the world, the stakes, and the bond between the characters in a way that made me instantly root for them (protect them at all costs!). Impressively told with a voice that shines."

author photo

Hannah Gumpert is in 8th grade, and admittedly spends way too much time absorbed in a book. When she isn’t reading, you can usually find her with her family, at a coffee shop with her friends, or writing and/or imagining her latest story, completely deaf to the world because she's living in another. Hannah wants to be a writer when she grows up—but she's not going to wait around until then.

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