Elizabeth A. Svigar’s Frugal Find Under Nine:
Thirteen-year-old uber-archer Samantha is thrilled to qualify for Xenith, the most prestigious – and mysterious – Olympic training facility in the world. Much more than an athletic camp, it’s part fantasyland where living dolls and the Baba Yaga abound. Then there’s Dr. Nine, a master alchemist whose laboratory is very well guarded indeed. But not all that glitters is Olympic gold. When dangerous secrets begin to surface, Samantha must fight her way through Xenith’s sinister underworld to save her friends and family – if she survives herself.
Qi is a fast-paced young adult fantasy that will appeal to fans of strong but conflicted protagonists as well as fans of mythological adventure tales. It draws influence from Slavic mythology, Dante’s Inferno, and contemporary villains and heroes. Recently, it was selected for the second round in Amazon’s breakthrough young adult novel contest, and it continues to receive highly positive reviews from both readers and reviewers. It is currently on sale for 99 cents.
“A fast-paced, unique fantasy tour-de-force” ~A Myriad of Books
“A true testament to family and friends” ~Surrounded By Books Reviews
Qi: A Young Adult Fantasy currently has a customer review rating of 4.5 stars. Read the reviews here.
An excerpt from Qi: A Young Adult Fantasy:
Chapter One – Winners
Sam peered across the meadow at the target seventy meters away. She took a deep breath and held it. Just seventy meters between her, a perfect score, and acceptance into prestigious Xenith Training Camp for field sports.
Honeybees buzzed in the summer clover and the crowd murmured behind her. She licked her lips, fingers straining against the bowstrings. Squinting down the sight, she aimed at the tiny golden circle in the middle of the target.
As always, her gut told her the exact moment to let go, and she released her grip. Over her pounding heart, she heard the arrow’s familiar whistling sound. A silver streak in the bright afternoon sun – then, as if drawn by a magnet, the arrow struck the bullseye with a satisfying thunk.
A girl’s voice rang out above the screams of the crowd. Sam turned to see her older sister, Abby, darting across the field. She was still wearing her white fencing uniform. The first place medal she’d won earlier bounced against her chest, flashing gold in the sun.
Sam ran to meet her. “We’re in.” She threw her arms around her sister.
“Yeah!” Abby jumped up and down, pulling Sam with her. “We get to be with Mum. We’re the best in Salem. We could be the best in the world!” She whipped her long, blonde hair behind her head. “Let’s find Dad.”
Sam and Abby pushed their way through the crowd, acknowledging good wishes on all sides. A judge slipped a medal just like Abby’s around Sam’s neck, and the weight of it felt wonderful – the weight of success. Sam’s teammates hugged her so tightly that even the three bands she’d wrapped around her dark curls weren’t enough to keep them under control. They popped out all around her face in a messy halo.
Sam laughed, fighting her way out of their embrace. “I can’t breathe.” She tried to gather her hair back but soon gave up. Who cared what she’d look like in the photos, anyway. She was going to Xenith, where the best athletes in the world prepared for the Olympics. And Mum would be there.
Finally, Sam spied their father standing alone at the edge of the field. “There he is.”
They scrambled over to him.
“We made it,” Abby crowed, grabbing his arm. “We’re following in your footsteps, Dad.”
“Congratulations, girls.” Their father smiled at them, but only with his lips. Behind his wire rimmed glasses, his gray eyes looked sad. Sam’s heart deflated. She knew why. Mum.
Abby must’ve caught on too, because she linked her arm through his and rested her head on his shoulder. “You’ll come too, right?”
He didn’t say anything for a moment, but then he smiled again and this time it looked genuine. “Of course. I’ll arrange a sabbatical. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” He brightened. “I’m thirsty. And how do we celebrate after winning?”
Sam laughed. “Three fresh-squeezed lemonades coming on the double.” She hugged him, breathing in the clean scent of his aftershave. His jacket button pressed into her face. She’d been only five when her parents divorced, and she’d probably never know the details. But now that they were going back to Fletching, the town where Xenith was located and where their mother still lived… well, maybe her parents could put the past behind them and their lives back together again. After all, it had been eight years.
“Hurry back, the photographers are here.” Abby finger-combed her hair and adjusted her collar so her medal shone in the sun.
“Will do.” Sam ducked around folding chairs and small clusters of spectators, looking for Mr. Scott’s lemonade stand, which was always somewhere at these tournaments. The smell of popcorn drifted by and made her thirstier. She craned her neck. Where was it?
“Good work, Samantha,” said a deep voice behind her. She spun around. A tall, very thin man was standing there, smiling uncertainly. His closely cropped silver hair contrasted sharply with his unlined face. His hands holding the program trembled.
“Um, okay, thanks.” She was well known in the community. Surely, that must be how he knew her name. “Have we met?” He didn’t look familiar to her at all.
“Not since a long time ago.” The man studied her face, then took a step toward her and held out his hand. “I’m–”
“Sam, over here!” Her father thundered. “The stand’s over here!”
The man’s face twisted into a grimace, and he turned on his heel. He strode away so fast it seemed like he’d simply vanished. Sam blinked and looked around. Everyone was acting exactly as they had before, like nothing unusual had happened. She shook her head. He’d probably just seen her name in the program and wanted to talk to her. It happened all the time with fans.
“We got the lemonade!” Abby yelled. “Get over here, it’s photo time.”
Sam shook off her jitters and pushed her way back through the throngs of people. Her father and Abby were talking to a woman wearing a crisp blue suit and carrying a professional-looking digital camera.
“Ah,” she said when she spied Sam. “How wonderful. The Liffey sisters, winning again – what a headline for the Daily. Our own future Olympians. How about you stand in front of the high school sign?” She pointed.
Sam and Abby strutted over to the sign and put their arms around each other. Sam smiled into the camera, forgetting all about the strange man. She’d never felt so happy in all her life.
Later that night, they sat around the dining room table. Sam picked at the last slice of pizza, wishing she wasn’t too full to eat it. Her medal lay on the table, its blue band intertwined with Abby’s as though in an embrace.
“So, when can we go?” Abby asked for the hundredth time, drumming her fingernails on the table and jiggling her knee up and down. Sam hoped her sister wasn’t going to get snitty with their father – it happened too often lately now that Abby was fourteen and thought she knew everything.
Their father took a long drink of soda and took his time swallowing it. “Soon,” he said vaguely.
Sam didn’t remember moving to Salem, and for the first six or so years of their parents’ divorce, Mum had visited them once a month. Her visits had been woven into the fabric of their lives, unquestioned, like how you get up, eat breakfast and head out to school every day. But then she came once every two months, then once every three. This year, she’d only visited them once, and here it was August. They’d never visited her.
“Would we have to go to school?” asked Abby. Sam could tell her sister was hoping the answer would be no.
Their father smiled. “Of course. You’d go to the local school, Fletching Academy. It’s right on the grounds. Most of the kids who go there are also in Xenith.”
“Oh,” said Abby, and she slouched back in her seat.
“How do we get there?” Sam asked. She had faint but happy memories of Fletching. She’d had two good friends there, identical twins named Eli and Jonah. She wondered if they were still there. Wherever “there” was – she’d never seen it on a map.
Their father tugged at one of his earlobes. “How do you get there… well, it’s complicated.”
“Why don’t we catch a plane like Mum?” Abby furrowed her brow.
Their father shook his head slowly, as though chasing away a thought. “That’s not how it’s done.”
“What does she do, teleport?” Sam fought a chuckle as she pictured her mum vanishing, bit by bit, like a Star Trek character.
“Not exactly,” replied their father, running his hands through his light brown, wavy hair. He took his glasses off and rubbed his thumb over his nose.
Abby dropped her glass on the table with a thud. “Why are you being so weird, Dad? Whenever she came you went and got her at the airport.”
Sam shot her sister a glare. She didn’t want to deal with an argument, not on their glorious day. She wished Abby wasn’t so impatient and that she held her tongue better when she was mad. But that was how her sister had always been.
Their father stared at the wall for a moment. “I suppose you girls are old enough to know some things.” He seemed to be choosing his words carefully, like someone picking through rotten fruit at the grocery store, trying to find something useful. “How much do you remember about Fletching?”
“Not much,” admitted Sam. “I remember those twins and going down to the beach in the summertime. Mum was always practicing archery so it was just us.” Sam had loved those days by the water with the twins. Once, her precious stuffed bunny Sunny had gotten caught in the tide and Eli dove in to rescue her, even though it was dangerous. His mother and father shouted up a storm, despite the fact they were champion swimmers and had taught Eli themselves. Once they stopped yelling, Sam had given Eli a hug. She hoped he was still there.
“Yeah, your mum really wanted that gold medal.” Their father jolted Sam back into the present. “Too bad she never got it. But she tried hard, that’s the important thing.”
“We’ll get it for her,” Abby said, touching her medal. “She’ll be proud of us.” She sat up straight in her chair. “It’s the best training in the world, isn’t it, Dad?”
Their father nodded. “It’s a pretty special place. Heck, it almost got me the world championship.” He took a deep breath. “I’m about to let you in on a secret, so listen carefully. You see, Dr. Benjamin Nine, the president, discovered how to make gold some years back. It’s how they fund Xenith.”
“Wow,” said Sam. She leaned forward. What a weird name. Plus, she’d never heard of such a thing, except in some magic books. “Really?”
Abby seemed skeptical. “Impossible, Dad. No one can do that.”
“It’s fantastical, but it’s true,” said their father. “And it’s pretty amazing. Dr. Nine’s a genius alchemist. He’d been working on it for years, and then he figured it out. But he doesn’t tell anyone the secret, mind you, so don’t go snooping around.”
Abby shook her head. “This makes no sense, Dad.” She played with her napkin, watching him like a hawk. Sam could tell that even though her sister was doubtful, she wanted to believe this fantastic story as much as Sam did.
“Dad wouldn’t lie to us, Abby,” she said.
“I don’t think I can explain this to you in a way you can understand,” their father said softly. He stood up, almost knocking his chair over in the process. He gripped the edge of the table, and Sam noticed his knuckles were white. “All I can do is show you. I can take you there tonight.”
Sam and Abby leaped to their feet.
“Seriously?” Abby squealed, grabbing Sam around the shoulders in a big hug. “Does Mum know?”
Their father shook his head. “No. But she’ll be happy for the surprise. Go upstairs and pack your things. Remember your sports gear. Meet me in my study when you’re ready.”
“Yay!” Abby shouted, pulling away from Sam. She pushed her chair into the table with a bang and her medal slipped away from Sam’s, falling to the floor in a whirl of gold and blue.
Upstairs, Sam threw some jeans, shirts, socks and underwear into her backpack, then ran to the bathroom and grabbed her toiletries. She jammed them all in with her clothes and looked around. If Eli was still in Fletching, she’d love to show him she’d kept Sunny all these years. Spying a small foot sticking out from under her bed, she giggled. She snatched the bunny and shoved her in on top of everything else, then pulled the straining zipper closed. She caught up her quiver and bow and darted into the hallway, where she almost crashed into Abby.
“Isn’t this exciting?” Abby danced around, her hair flying everywhere. “We’re finally going back, and this time to Xenith, too, just like Mum and Dad. I wonder what it looks like now.”
Sam could still smell the pine trees and the summer grass, and see the stone cabin where their parents had lived in the woods. It had been beautiful.
Abby waved her hand in front of Sam’s face. “Yoo-hoo. Anybody home?”
Sam laughed. “Sorry. I was thinking about the last time we were there.”
“I know.” Abby picked up her bag in one hand and her long, silvery foil in the other. “I can’t wait to get back.”
“Well, let’s go.” Sam ran down the stairs. She didn’t know how they were going to get there tonight, but she didn’t much care. One thing she did know: Xenith produced more Olympians than any other training facility in the world. And even that paled to having her whole family in one place for the first time in eight years. All thanks to archery. After checking to be sure Abby wasn’t looking, she kissed her bow.
A sliver of light from the partly open door to their father’s study lay on the wall of the hallway. They headed toward it, Sam’s bow and quiver bouncing as she walked. Her stomach tensed. The Xenith kids would be in a whole new league. They were the best in the world. Would she measure up? Or would she let her father down, embarrass him in front of their mother?
Inside his cavernous study, their father was sitting behind his mahogany desk. The messy stacks of books all around him made him seem oddly dwarfed, even powerless.
When he saw them, he smiled grimly and clicked off the lamp. “Well, this is it.” He pulled a chain from under his shirt. On it was a tiny silver key. He pushed himself up and walked across the room like an old man, wearily and slowly, as though life has pressed him down. Sam gripped Abby’s hand. It was damp, but she didn’t let go.
Their father twisted one of his old fencing trophies and Sam nearly fell backward as the bookcase slid open with a hiss to reveal a second, smaller room. It was like something out of a spy movie, but in her own house. She clutched Abby’s hand as if it could save her from drowning. Nothing was normal about this.
Their father reached inside the room and turned on a light. The room was tiny, more like a walk-in closet, and was nearly completely filled by an ancient, busted up black trunk.
“What is this?” Sam whispered to Abby, shuffling closer to her.
“I have no idea.” Abby’s voice trembled. “I’ve never been in here before.”
“Come here,” their father said in a solemn voice, gesturing toward the trunk. “I don’t want you to be too alarmed by what happens next, so stand behind me. Take a deep breath, and get ready.”
Slowly, he slid the key into the lock on the trunk. He shifted it back and forth a few times, and with a dull snap the lid parted with the bottom. Dust filled the air as he opened it all the way with a screech. Sam coughed as a vile scent like rotting leaves hit her nostrils. Whatever this was, it was disgusting for sure, and she couldn’t see what it had to do with Xenith. Maybe he was about to give her some kind of enchanted bow and arrow. Or a talisman. Something to prove they were good enough. But they’d shown that already, today at the match.
Their father turned, his glasses gray with dust, obscuring his eyes. “Come closer,” he whispered. For the first time in her life, Sam felt afraid of him. But she edged forward, still gripping Abby’s hand. When they reached him, their father stepped aside to let them see inside the trunk.
On a maroon velvet cloth, a skull with deep-cut, glowing red eyes and diamond-like teeth lay next to a golden necklace with a blood colored charm. Something was weird about them – they seemed alive, or like something was alive inside them. She shook her head. What a ridiculous thought. She stole a glance at her sister and saw Abby was transfixed, staring at the skull.
Their father reached into the trunk, and Sam bit back a protest – for a second, she’d imagined the skull would attack him. But nothing happened. He moved the skull and the charm out of the way and pulled up the cloth.
Underneath, a yellowed doll lay wrapped in a cloth of gold. Their father picked it up, unwrapped it, and winced. It had messy, black hair that fell to its waist. It wore monk’s robes, tied at the waist with a rope. Its round, black eyes were set above a nose so crumbled and misshapen it could hardly be called a nose at all. Instead of a mouth, it had a crude, red slash.
I know him. The thought came to her out of nowhere. Ridiculous. She’d never seen it before in her life, and anyway, how could she know a doll? That moldy smell… it was making her feel drugged.
The doll winked at her.
Her skin crawled as she stared at the doll. She ran her hand over her forehead and down her face. This doll was no Sunny, that was for sure.
It opened its gash of a mouth.
Abby screamed. Sam jumped to the side and her father steadied her.
Yellow teeth gleamed. “Hello, Samantha. Hi, Abigail. And Mr. Liffey, of course. My… you’ve kept me waiting for a long, long time.”
Qi: A Young Adult Fantasy is available for purchase at:
Connect with Elizabeth A. Svigar: