Read an excerpt from RUINS by Joshua Winning!

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ruins joshua winningWe love being able to give people a sneak peek at YA books that are coming out. Joshua Winning’s Ruins will hit shelves in the U.K. and U.S. this Monday – and we have a snippet from chapter three to share with you!

Ruins is the second in Joshua Winning’s Sentinel trilogy. Nicholas Hallow is desperate to find answers about the Sentinels, the ancient society of demon hunters that his parents belonged to, but his search might be for nothing if he can’t find the girl who holds the key to the Sentinels’ fate.

If you like this snippet – or already know you want to read Ruins – come back to the site on Monday at 2 p.m. EST and enter to win one of five signed, hardcover copies of Joshua Winning’s Ruins!


SIX MONTHS AGO

Dawn Morgan awoke to the sound of screaming. Darkness crowded in around her and for a moment she thought she was still asleep. But the screaming was real and it was close, splitting the night apart. She sat up with a start and listened, holding her breath.

It was coming from somewhere in the village. Perhaps two houses up. She’d never heard anything like it.

“Dad?” she whispered. Her voice sounded tight and small, like it belonged to a child instead of a teenager. No answer came. Her parents should be asleep on the other side of the guest hut they were sharing, but she couldn’t hear their usual soft snores.

Just the screaming.

The Cambodian heat, unbearable even at night, even at this time of year, was suffocating and Dawn wrestled with her blanket.

Fumbling out of bed, she hurried to her parents’ mattress. Nothing. The blanket had been pushed to the foot of the bed and her parents were gone. Normally that wouldn’t have concerned her. She was fifteen and her parents could do whatever they wanted, but something was definitely wrong.

The screaming continued and, panic lodging in her throat, Dawn rushed to the door, throwing it open. She stared out in shock.

The hillside village was on fire. People were shrieking and running. There were twelve huts, six on either side of a dusty road, and every one of them was ablaze. Dark-skinned figures flitted through the night like terrified birds, some clutching small bundle-like children, others returning from the river with slopping buckets of water.

In a daze, Dawn staggered between the villagers. Dust and grit stuck between her toes but she felt as if she were floating. Still asleep. She frowned, looked down.

An ash-like substance was on the ground. It was piled in a peculiar mound. Dawn stepped back and felt like she was going to be sick.

The ash was in the shape of a person.

Somebody had been burned, rendered ash, lying in the dirt like an animal. And she’d just stepped in the remains. What had done this?

“Mum?” she called. “Dad?”

She scanned the village, seeing half a dozen similar ash-figures on the ground. Some were curled into balls. Others were on their knees, as if pleading.

A figure stumbled into her and Dawn grabbed the man’s arm.

“Sovann,” she said, recognising one of the villagers. “What’s going on?”

He looked at her as if he didn’t recognise her, as if they hadn’t been staying in the village for the past five weeks and Sovann and his wife hadn’t cooked dinner for them that very night. His face was pinched with fear, his skinny frame slick with sweat.

“Sovann,” she repeated, squeezing his arm. “Fire,” he gasped desperately. “Fire.” He freed himself from her grip and hurried away toward one of the burning buildings, a bucket in his hand. Dawn stumbled further into the village. The heat was unbearable. She was only wearing thin pyjamas, but even they felt heavy.

And no matter what the villagers did, the fires blazed on, consuming the wooden huts. The Khmer Loeu were a gentle people and they had never faced such a scourge before. She knew that they wouldn’t be able to overcome it.

Dawn realised that Sovann was the only man she could see. The rest were women. Some huddled in groups at the end of the road, away from the fires. Others fought to control the blaze, desperately using great, dry leaves in an attempt to strangle and suppress it.

“Mum,” Dawn gasped.

Finally she saw her. Dawn hadn’t recognised her at first, she was so dusty. Her mother crouched in the dirt at the far end of the road, where the first hut marked the border of the village. Her dark hair was plastered across her face.

“Mum,” Dawn said, reaching her at last. She stopped. Her mother was sobbing over an ash figure. “What happened?” Dawn asked. She wouldn’t let herself consider that the ash figure was her father. It couldn’t be. He was here somewhere, helping the villagers fight the fire.

Her mother didn’t respond. Dawn grabbed her shoulder and pulled her away from the thing on the ground.
“Tell me what happened,” she said, but her mother’s expression sent shock shuddering through her. Her eyes were wide, her face a mask of anguish. She didn’t seem to be able to speak, instead emitting a terrible, guttural wail like the sound a baby makes when it’s hungry or tired. Only worse. Far worse. Because it was coming out of her mother.

Dawn looked around for somebody to help her and froze.

A figure was watching her from the other end of the road. He lingered outside the guest hut; the hut she had just fled. He wore a camel- coloured jacket and dark jeans. His pale skin gleamed as it reflected the firelight, blond hair greased back, angular cheekbones protruding. Even from here, she could see the fire dancing in his dark eyes.

She knew him. They’d had dinner with him the previous night. Samnang, they called him. Good fortune. But he wasn’t Cambodian. He was a wanderer. A guest. He’d stumbled into the village a week ago, dehydrated and exhausted, and the elders pitied him. Fed him. Gave him shelter. When he recovered, he entertained them all with rope tricks and card games. He was handsome and charming.
Dawn shuddered. Samnang was looking straight at her. His square jaw clenched and his top lip tugged into a sneer.

“Mum, get up,” Dawn urged. Samnang paced leisurely toward them. Dawn hoisted her mother to her feet. “No!” Her mother screamed suddenly, thrashing for the ash figure.

“JOHN! NO!”

She wriggled like a rabbit in a trap and Dawn grabbed her mother’s arms. She was stronger than her peers, both in body and mind, and she had to draw on all of her strength to hoist the flailing woman away from the ash figure.

“Mum, come on!” she yelled. Samnang was getting closer with every passing second.

“RUN!” she commanded, shoving her mother ahead of her into the forest. Her mother sobbed and wailed, but Dawn pushed her in the back and together they ran. Dawn hated running, but she had to now, even if her knees creaked and her toes snagged painfully on the undergrowth.

Samnang set the fire.

She’d known it the second she saw him watching her with that look on his face. He’d set the fire, and he’d done something to her father.

Killed him. Turned him into… whatever it was he was now.

A pile of ash.

Batting leaves away and swallowing down the terror that threatened to consume her, she tore through the forest.

*

PRESENT DAY

Dawn ran. Her lungs were on fire and her calf muscles felt as if they were tearing, but she didn’t stop. The mud track was baked hard by the sun and every panicked footfall reverberated up into her skull, making her head pound. The sound of the dual carriageway was engulfed by her own scratchy gasps and she batted at the nettles that lay at the fringes of the field.

Undeterred, Dawn raced on, her mousy brown hair – the tips still purple from an earlier dye job – flapping like miniature flags.

“HEY!” A voice struck at her back. “You can’t run forever!” Dawn ignored it. Her hair was plastered to her forehead and her throat felt full of chalk, but she didn’t stop. Rounding a corner, she almost crashed into a startled couple.

Squeezing between them – an accomplishment given her chubby figure – she tore on, barely catching the man’s disgruntled barks as she retreated.

The path wove between trees and finally she caught a glimpse of the park on the other side of the river. A bridge appeared and Dawn clambered over it. The Abbey Gardens opened up before her in a sea of green. She staggered past the play area and up over a high grass bank, scrabbling on all fours until she was perched – panting and sweating – in the exposed roots of an oak tree.

From here she could see the whole park. It rested in the evening half-light and if she’d been somebody else, the kind of person who painted watercolours, she’d probably admit it wasn’t bad. Instead, she surveyed the gardens watchfully.

Somebody clattered onto the bridge she’d just crossed.

Dawn shrank back into the shade of the tree, certain that her pursuer couldn’t see her. The sweat was cooling on her brow, making the skin taut, and her backpack bit into her shoulders.

The other girl came to a halt where the bridge met the grass. She was tall and had dark skin. She seemed to peer right at her and Dawn held her breath, refusing to move a muscle. The girl held her stare for a moment, then hurried away from the play area, vanishing into the bowels of the park.

Dawn collapsed breathlessly against the tree trunk.

This was her favourite spot in Bury St Edmunds. The old town wasn’t a place for teenagers. Though it had grown in recent years, added to piece by piece until it was almost as bustling as nearby Cambridge, there was little for her here. The cinema was somewhere she could be easily cornered, and she never had any money to spend in the shops. The bustle of restaurants only made her stomach rumble and she was nervous she’d bump into local families who’d glare at her the way they always did whenever they occasionally caught sight of her in the street. They didn’t like out-of-towners.

The Abbey Gardens were different. Though busy in the summertime, there were plenty of craggy corners she could wedge herself into, and the park hummed with a sense of history. Years ago, back in the days of Henry VIII, it had been a monastery. Those walls had long crumbled away, leaving flinty ruins that struck up from the earth, dagger-like. Kids often climbed them before an adult dragged them away bawling.

“Enjoying the view?”

Every muscle in Dawn’s body tensed. She resisted turning toward the voice. Maybe if she stayed perfectly still she could become invisible. A shadow fell across the tree roots and Dawn had no choice but to look up. The pink sky dazzled behind a lofty figure. Her pursuer had found her. “Should’ve picked a better hiding place,” the black girl spat.

Dawn guessed she was fifteen, too, though she had the demeanour of somebody older. The hardness in her voice was mirrored in her pitiless eyes and she was rough around the edges. Not grubby, but sort of frayed. Abrasive.

Dawn struggled to her feet. Her muscles – tight after the run – felt ready to snap, but she had to get away.

“Going somewhere?” the other girl asked.

Dawn tried to ignore her. She turned to start up the hill, but a hand flashed out and pushed her. She staggered backward, tripping over the tree’s roots and hitting the ground. The air left her lungs in a painful huff.

The other girl was an outline in front of the setting sun. “You’re not going anywhere until you tell me why you’ve been following me,” she snarled coldly.

Tears sprung to Dawn’s eyes. She couldn’t catch her breath. Couldn’t get up. She wanted to curl into a ball and disappear.

“Who are you?” the other girl demanded. “Why you following me?”

Dawn struggled, remembered how to push her hands against the ground, heaved herself up.

A foot buried itself in her shoulder and she was forced back into the dirt.

“Please,” Dawn mumbled. “HEY!” A voice rang over the park. Dawn strained to find its owner and
spotted a man by the play area. The park’s caretaker. “She’s okay!” the other girl called airily. “She tripped, but she’s okay!”

She grabbed Dawn’s arm roughly and dragged her to her feet. “You weigh a ton.” Dawn tried to get away, but the other girl’s grip tightened. She drew Dawn closer; she smelled like incense and something fusty. “I catch you spying on me again, you’re dead,” she whispered in her ear. Then she let go.

Dawn staggered away. She pulled the straps of her backpack tight at the shoulders and hurried over the grass before the other girl could change her mind.


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