It's my birthday and what's better than turning 42? Giving away signed paperbacks!
It's my birthday and what's better than turning 42? Giving away signed paperbacks!
That's right. I'm celebrating my birthday by giving you lovely people something. What can I say, I'm that generous. ;0) Enter to win one of three signed paperbacks by yours truly, including a limited edition Breeders book one that is no longer available for purchase! Follow this link to enter.
cOMING aPRIL 8TH!
I am so excited for you to read the exciting conclusion to the Demon Hunters Wanted series, coming April 8th. Today, I offer you chapter one. Read on for your sneak peek!
“That’s it. You’re cut off,” the bartender said, coming over to take my empty glass away.
I watched it scrape across the rutted bar, my eyes dragging slowly from that image to his face. The vision blurred a little until finally merging into a thirty-something man who was not at all pleased I was getting shitfaced at, of all things, a bar.
Didn’t he know that was what these establishments were for?
“You’re not the boss of me,” I mumbled, reaching for the bottle in his fist. He easily moved away, and my hand swam through empty air before banging on the bar. The jolt of pain knocked a little sense into me.
Well, shit. Maybe I was a bit drunker than I thought.
How long had I been sitting in this dimly lit bar, sucking down drinks with the drone of a sports game in the background and the smell of stale liqueur in the air? One hour? No, it had to be two. Or more? It was not a good sign that I couldn’t remember. I’d left work at five, annoyed with the complaints of employees I had no idea how to manage. Instead, I was drowning my sorrows in at least seven glasses of whiskey.
Or was it eight?
“It’s for your own good.” The bartender wiped the wet ring in front of me with a rag before tossing it over his shoulder. It wasn’t a bad shoulder. Come to think of it, his whole body—under that dingy flannel and ratty jeans—wasn’t bad.
He watched as I drunkenly appraised him. “You can’t drive in this state. Want me to call you a cab? An Uber?”
I shook my head, batting at him. “I’m… a witch. I can use magic.”
“Right. And I’m a merman. You should see me swim. Just call me Michael Phelps.”
He laughed, dimples appearing in his cheeks beneath the growth of about a day’s worth of stubble. His eyes were green and watchful beneath heavy brows. He was cute in a sloppy way with his home haircut, threadbare lumberjack attire, and an earring? Did I date guys with earrings? That didn’t seem like me. Then, I reminded myself that I didn’t date anyone. The guy I liked was in a magical jail for the next fifteen years.
That was part of the reason I was drinking myself into a stupor, wasn’t it? It wasn’t simply my job. Dax was imprisoned, and I had no way to free him. The guilt was eating away at me. My father had been the one to threaten and kidnap Dax’s sister, making Dax agree to do things he would never do—mainly collude with international criminals who happened to be related to me.
Plus, there was the whole “watching my every move so he could kill me thing.” Yeah, that.
But we’d worked that out. He’d explained everything with a Truth Teller in his palm, his eyes holding mine as Magical Law Enforcement barreled in, sealing his fate once and for all. He’d told me the truth—that he cared about me, he’d wanted me close so he could rescue me, and he’d never wanted to hurt me.
Then, he’d been captured and sentenced to fifteen years in prison—no hope of parole.
Those assholes didn’t even offer conjugal visits.
Back in the bar, I got up, stumbling a bit as the world tilted. Grabbing the barstool, I closed my eyes until it stopped spinning.
“Hey, are you sure you don’t want me to call you a cab?”
When I looked up, I found the nice bartender watching me with real concern. He was sweet. What was his name? Matt? Mike? I should probably know it by now. I’d been coming here on the regular for the last few weeks. Was it Michael?
“I’m good, Michael,” I said, feeling for the well of magic that always bubbled like an undercurrent below the surface of my skin. “Or, I will be in a minute.”
He frowned as if he didn’t believe me. Or maybe I’d gotten his name wrong. I gave him a wave, smiling awkwardly before digging in my pocket for a wad of cash. Not bothering to count it, I slapped it down on the bar.
“Keep the change, ya filthy animal.” What did I need human money for anyway? With a wiggle of my fingers, I could turn paper into replicas so good it could fool any Regular.
As he started to reach for the bills, I tried my damnedest to walk in a straight line toward the door.
I mostly succeeded.
Stumbling into the street, I glanced around. It was Thursday… Or was it Tuesday? Either way, it was about nine PM, and the downtown street was bumpin’. Cars cut down the road, swirling the steam spilling from the manhole covers while the stoplights blinked from red to green. The city never smelled great, but with the colder air, the odor was mostly hidden under the scent of car exhaust and a street vendor’s piping hot Coney dogs. From down the street, a bar thumped with pop hits while ladies in tight dresses shivered in the line along the building’s side.
Detroit was gritty and raw, but I loved it, down to the smell of sulfur wafting from one of the alleyways.
The distinct smell of a demon.
My senses tingled as I locked onto the scent. It was my bloodhound sense that allowed me to track only one thing—the minions of hell itself. And now that I’d sensed one, I needed to sober up fast if I was going to do something about it. The heat from the enchanted dagger in the holster beneath my arm indicated I was about to do just that.
Well, yippee kai yay. It was time to slay some demons.
I slapped my palms together, rubbing them in excitement. At least, that was the action I attempted, but my hands hit only once before my body tilted. It made me stumble sideways and crash into a brick wall.
Oh, yeah. I was still drunk.
Pulling into a patch of shadow at the side of the bar, I tried to remember the sobering spell Frankie had taught me, but it was hard enough to remember while sober, so how the hell did she think I’d keep it straight once I was drunk?
It took me a few moments to remember I’d written the incantation in the notes tool on my phone. With fumbling fingers, I turned my phone on and pulled up the app.
Once the words stopped swimming, I read through the spell, nodding as I remembered. It was simple. I just needed to make sure I didn’t mess it up and, like… blow my head off. Last month, I’d made my face disappear, which had not been great. In hindsight, though, it had saved my life when a magical demon had tried to kill me. So, actually, my failures were also the things that saved my ass.
With this thought in mind, I shook out my hands and remembered to breathe like Dax had taught me. I recalled his words about magic being rooted in love, not hate.
Then I cast the spell.
“Sobrius sursum.” I shot my fingers at my face.
The spell hit me like a bucket of cold water. I stumbled, my leather jacket grazing against the brick wall as I nearly fell into a pile of garbage before righting myself. My head throbbed and a burnt taste lingered in my mouth, but when I stood up, the world was no longer spinning and I could think clearly. The spell had removed the alcohol from my bloodstream. Well, most of it. I was still a little buzzed, but that was okay. With magic and my enchanted blade, I could slay demons in my sleep.
“Good job, Frankie,” I whispered, putting the phone in my pocket and zipping it up. “Now, about that demon.”
I found the sulfur scent again easily. It was like a skunk trail on a crisp October night, so distinct I couldn’t miss it. Well, the humans could. They walked around, breath puffing against the chilling temperatures, chatting and laughing like there wasn’t an agent from hell lingering in the shadows hoping to kill them.
A pair of girls, barely legal, walked close, both wobbling on high heels they clearly weren’t used to. They were headed toward the sulfur scent and the dark apartment complex it was wafting from. Not good. I had a feeling they were as drunk as I had recently been, the perfect mark for a demon’s next meal.
“Careful there, ladies,” I said, stepping in to block their path. “There’s a perv that way flashing his naughty bits. And, let me tell you, that is not a sight you can unsee.” I shook my head, making a sound with my lips to indicate I’d be scarred for life.
“Like a baby carrot left in the fridge too long.” I wiggled my pinky.
Their eyes went wide. The brunette exchanged a look with her redheaded friend before turning her gaze back to me. “Thanks. We’ll just… go in there.” She pointed to the bar I’d just left. Maybe they’d have better luck with Mark. Or was it Marcus?
“Sounds good. That’s a nice joint. Ask for Mike.” I patted the brunette on the shoulder, perhaps a little too hard because she mouthed Ow before they grabbed hands and clomped across the street.
With them safely taken care of, I prepared to meet my prey.
I followed the scent down the street and into a back alley toward a large, dark building that loomed in the distance. From the road, I could tell it was about four stories of decaying brick and molding drywall. About fifty apartments, all vacant, made it a demon’s playground. They loved these places. It was one of the reasons they flocked to this city and why I’d ended up here. And it was my job to make sure they died painful, agonizing deaths before they could take anyone out with them.
I inched my way toward the building’s entrance while surveying the scene. As my boots cut up the uneven sidewalk, I scanned each broken window. Black squares stared down at me like vacant eyes. New graffiti covered the old, and trees grew up in the courtyard in the center of the U-shaped block, letting me know this place had been long dead.
The creep factor had been turned up to eleven, but it would take more than a little darkness and decay to scare me. Though, I still had a fear of cookies thanks to the Candy Witch’s gingerbread soldiers last month. What kind of lunatic animated baked goods?
I glanced up, noting each of the four stories, every apartment, tracking all the places the little bugger could hide. Throwing a glance over my shoulder at the street and finding it abandoned, I drew the demon blade. In the moonlight, the ancient runes etched into its steel glimmered before fading again. I’d always loved this blade, but now it brought me joy as well as sadness. This was Dax’s blade, the one I’d stolen from his house. It had been the reason I’d first laid eyes on him and the reason we’d first kissed—though that was a bittersweet memory since he’d drugged me and tricked me to get it back.
Yeah, we had a rocky past. It was, as they said, complicated.
The thoughts sizzled away as the demon’s scent tickled my nose. He was close. And big, judging from the stench. Either that, or he’d had a spa day in the bowels of hell just for funsies before voyaging up.
I stalked forward, finding an empty doorframe and pitch blackness inside. The door was long gone, as were the windows on either side. Peering in, I saw the standard fare of garbage, animal waste, and crumbling building materials. The rest was a black void of nothingness ready to swallow me whole.
Should I go in? I had a habit of rushing into things that were super dangerous without thinking, getting myself into deep trouble several times, but my head was still attached to my shoulders, wasn’t it? Plus, I had the demon blade and magic. That was new as of the last few weeks, and I’d almost forgotten to use it.
Quickly, I ran through the shield spell Frankie taught me, doing the fancy finger work and speaking the words before pushing it out. A tingle of magic ran down my arms and out my fingers before solidifying into a shiny barrier in front of me.
There. I was all set. Nothing bad could happen, right?
Dax had always told me not to say that or even think it. Bad juju. Frankie would say I should call for backup, but no matter how much I loved Frankie and Jason, calling them here would only slow me down.
I didn’t believe in luck or waiting for backup. I believed in cold hard steel and myself.
With the blade in my fist, I barreled inside.
The smell was strong here—leftover Easter eggs mingling with rot and decay. Spider webs traced sticky fingers over my face, making me cringe and bat them away. Mold made my throat tingle as I stalked down spongy floorboards, my boots shuffling through the trash and making far too much noise. So much for a quiet entry. It didn’t matter. I wanted this bugger to know death had arrived.
There was a thud down the hall and the sound of scampering. The demon had heard me coming and seemed to be moving away rather than toward me. Good sign. It was scared of me—as it should be. It was scary.
I gave up being quiet and ran down the dark hallway. The light from the doorway died, leaving me in almost total blackness, but I didn’t need to see. My senses were honed by the magic that coursed through my veins. I was a finely tuned machine. A powerhouse. A--
The demon stepped out from behind a wall, blocking my path.
He was fucking terrifying. As large as the most massive human, his body blocked my path and glowed a dim red. He was a Samael, a fire demon, and he was huge. Heat radiated off his boiling skin, and fire burned where his eye sockets should be. Giant black horns scrapped the drywall as he swiveled his massive head in my direction.
Gigantic cloven hooves shook the floorboards as he settled himself to block my path. When he opened his mouth, a roiling bog of hot, putrid stink spilled out as he roared loud enough to shake the foundations.
“Son of a biscuit,” I murmured, readying one hand with another protective spell while the other clutched the blade. “You’re a large fella, aren’t ya? How about a water spell? Then the old stabby-stabby. That’ll put a damper on your day.”
As I was about to form the spell, something shifted behind me. I had just enough time to whirl around in time to see a tiny sloth demon jump into the air. His eyes flashed, as did the blade in its fist. I spotted the weapon right as it arched toward me before it buried itself between my ribs.
Gah!!!! I can't wait for you to read more. It'll be here April 8th, but preorder now so you get it the second it hits the shelves.
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It's Bingo Time!
Hello readers! This month we are holding a fun contest for you, our lovely readers. It's easy, it's simple, and there are prizes!
Here's how to play:
Each square represents one of our author's books. To cross off a square, you need to have read that book. Some you may have already read, some you may want to check out for the first time. It doesn't matter how you have read the book, but if you have, you can cross that book off.
Once you have a BINGO! let firstname.lastname@example.org know. (You will have to answer a few easy questions about the books to prove you've read them, but don't worry, we're not trying to stump you.) Prove you've read them, and you'll win a grab bag of lots of great prizes including audiobooks, ebooks, and more!
The game ends on November 15th, so get reading!
Ignite the Shadows
David R. Bernstein
Broken Wand Academy
Demon on a Dime
Hitched: The Bachelorette
The Coven’s Secret
The Fire Prophecy
Broken Wand Academy
A Taste of Vampire
Kiss of Death
Crimes of Fire
Eternal Bond and Brimstone
Of Witch's Blood
Twilight Fans, this book is for you.
I am so excited to announce that a new series is coming to you in less than a week! Shadow Lake Vampire Society takes the best of paranormal romance, action, adventure, and VAMPIRES! I cannot wait for you to read this book. To give you a taste of what is coming, I present the first chapter. See below.
“Get inside and don’t come out until I call you.”
I huddled in the narrow crawl space under the cabin’s wooden floor, flinching at the screech of rusty hinges as my father swung the hatch closed. My lungs seemed to go into overdrive as I gasped for air. Though not airtight, the small, dark confines of my hidey-hole tricked my brain into thinking there wasn’t enough oxygen.
My harsh breaths echoed around me as my heart beat a staccato rhythm inside my chest. The scuffing sound of furniture being moved sounded above me, and in a panic, my hands pushed at the trapdoor. It didn’t budge. Not even a centimeter.
I was trapped, and I didn’t even know why. Why did Dad suddenly freak out in the middle of dinner and shove me under the floor? His terror had been palpable, spiking my own fear enough to make me blindly obedient as I squeezed into the coffin-like space without questioning his demand or his sanity.
He knew I hated small spaces.
I gasped for air, despite my lungs filling with each breath. I knew I was hyperventilating, but I couldn’t stop the desperate panting. My whole body shook with terror, and I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to get out. Immediately.
I opened my mouth to scream at Dad, to beg him to let me out. But whatever I might have yelled died in my throat as I heard the front door crash in, banging against the floor. I slapped a hand over my mouth in an attempt to quiet my harsh breathing.
My dad’s voice was laced with fear and revulsion, making the order sound more like a desperate plea. There was a scuffling sound accompanied by a guttural growl, and my breath froze in my throat.
What the hell was that? my mind shrieked, repeating the phrase over and over as the scuffling grew into a heavy thrashing.
Hot tears poured down my cheeks as my father screamed in agony. I pushed at the wooden trapdoor again, this time putting everything I had into it. It still didn’t move. No! I had to get out. I had to help him!
Suddenly the noises stopped, a heavy silence falling over the cabin. Fear paralyzed me, my frozen blood clogging in my veins as I struggled to breathe. My ears pricked, listening for…anything.
The scrub of wood against wood as Dad moved the furniture off the trapdoor. The squeak of hinges. His sigh of relief at the sight of me, unharmed. His voice, telling me everything was going to be okay.
But none of those came.
I waited for an eternity, then for another one after that. But silence reigned supreme. I sucked in a breath, ready to call out to him when a dull thud echoed above me. I snapped my jaw shut, and I held my breath.
Footsteps, slow and steady, thumped toward the front of the cabin. The sounds grew fainter as they moved over the downed door and out onto the porch before disappearing altogether. Still, I didn’t breathe.
I waited for the scrub of wood against wood, the screech of hinges. The sigh of relief.
I waited for Dad to open that damned door and let me out of the hell he’d put me in. For fresh air and open spaces. For warm arms and tight embraces. For the world to be made right and start turning on its axis once more.
My lungs screamed for oxygen and yet, I still refused to give in and breathe. Dad was going to pop open that door any minute. He’d laugh and tell me it was just a wild dog or a bear cub. He’d tell me he’d overreacted when he’d squished me under the floor and ordered me to be silent. We’d go home to Mom, then laugh and laugh as we retold the story, embellishing it with funny voices and wild hand gestures.
As my lips tried to curve up into some insane version of a smile, something dripped onto the apple of my cheek. I reached up to wipe it with a fingertip. It was warm and wet. Another drop landed, and as I wiped it away, it was replaced by another. Then another and another, until a steady stream of drops pattered against my skin.
I tried to scoot my head away from the stream. But the space was too small, my movements in vain. The thick, warm liquid ran down my cheek before streaming onto my neck.
I sucked in a harsh breath, my need to breathe overcoming my fear of missing any telltale sounds from above. A scent of bitter copper filled my nose, and I forced myself to stop breathing it in as panic sparked in my nerves.
I needed oxygen, but I needed to not smell that scent again. I needed to pretend everything was fine, and it wasn’t what I knew it was dripping from the floorboards above to coat my skin.
I needed to wake up from the nightmare. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.
My body recoiled in my chair, my back pressing into the cushions as Dr. Whitley’s voice cut through the memory and brought me back to the present. My eyes danced around the room, my breath steadying as I inventoried the space like she taught me to.
Two navy blue chairs. Two wooden end tables. One glass coffee table between them. One desk. Three bookshelves. Six potted plants near two large windows.
By the time my gaze returned to my therapist, my breathing had reverted to normal, and I’d managed to fully untangle myself from the memory. I swallowed thickly against the knot in my throat, then took a moment to clear it before speaking.
“Where were we?” I croaked out.
“You lost consciousness.”
“Right,” I said. “When I woke up, there were footsteps and voices above me. I tried to scream, but my voice was too weak, so I banged on the trapdoor, begging to be released in the loudest whisper I could manage. Then there was light, and I was blinded. Hands grabbed at me, and I fought them off even though I knew I needed help.”
I fell silent, the memories threatening to suck me back under. Men and women in blue uniforms and dark suits. Yellow tape. Cameras and tiny orange cones with numbers on them. Copper-colored stains on the floor and a sheet-enshrouded gurney wheeling through a gaping hole where the front door used to be.
“You were trapped there for two days,” Dr. Whitley said, rescuing me from the memory before I got sucked into its vortex again.
I shook my head, saying “I don’t remember it. I was unconscious the whole time.”
This was the point in the session where we usually left the past and discussed the present. She’d ask me how school was, and I’d reply it was fine. She’d ask me about my home life with Mom. Also fine. Any extracurricular activities? No, but it was fine.
I relaxed back into my seat and took a deep breath. I’d made it through the hellish part and would now be rewarded with the easy questions. My muscles loosened as the tension drained out of me, only to lock back up as Dr. Whitley asked me a question she never had before.
“What do you think killed your father, Piper?”
“Wh-what?” I stuttered. “What are you doing?”
She gave me a sympathetic smile before her expression turned determined.
“It’s been a year, and we’ve never addressed this. In fifty sessions, I’ve let you decide how far we go, and we’ve only talked about the details. The facts. We need to dig deeper if I’m ever going to be able to help you.”
“A bear. A bear killed my father.”
That was the answer we’d been given after the official investigation. The broken-down door. The gashes and bruises on my father’s body. The bite marks on his neck.
Only a bear could have knocked that door down. Only an animal could’ve left a human in that mangled condition.
“It was a bear,” I repeated.
“Do you really believe that?” she asked, her head cocked slightly to the right as she searched my gaze for the truth.
“I do,” I answered.
But it was a lie.
I wanted to believe it. I wanted to accept the fact that in some strange and terrible twist of fate, a mad bear crashed into our vacation rental cabin and took my father from me on the fourth day of our week-long father-daughter getaway. That it was an act of nature. A cruel accident.
But I remembered the fear in my father’s eyes when he stuffed me under the floor. He knew something was coming, and that it was too late and too dangerous to run. A rampant, enraged bear would’ve take us by surprise, killing us both. Instead, I was here and Dad was gone, and I had to live with that pain and guilt for the rest of my life.
“It was a bear,” I muttered again, my unfocused eyes dropping to the floor.
They told me it was a bear, and I’d screamed at the police, and the nurses, and doctors, and everyone else within earshot that they were wrong. They were lying. They were covering something up.
I yelled at my mom when she tried to calm me. I pushed her away from my hospital bed, screaming and scratching and thrashing from side to side. A buff orderly pulled her back before inserting a syringe into the plastic tubing that led to my I.V.
As my movements calmed and my brain grew sluggish, I tried to yell some more. But the words came out garbled and indecipherable.
I tried to tell them about the footsteps. I tried to tell them it couldn’t be a bear, or any other animal because those feet were wearing boots. I could still hear the thump-thump-thump of them as they crossed the floorboards above me.
It wasn’t a bear. Or a mountain lion, or any other animal.
I didn’t care what logistics said. I didn’t give a shit that science proved a human couldn’t have done what had been done to my dad. No amount of authenticated tests or lab reports were going to convince otherwise.
No in-depth therapy sessions were going to make me see the light and accept the fact that I’d been mistaken. I knew what I heard.
And bears don’t wear boots.
The Sequel you've been waiting for is here.
It's coming, the sequel to the best seller, Outcast Fae. Tally and Vaughn are back with even more adventures in this spine tingling paranormal adventure romance! And, to pique your interest, here is the first chapter.
This place had honed me like a knife.
I was sharp and tense as I moved down the food line, gripping my hard plastic tray in both hands, my eyes roving around, keeping track of every unsavory inmate. There were many of them, males and females with edges much sharper than mine. One look at them and you knew you’d best stay away.
Today, every type of Supernatural wore a different-colored prison jumpsuit. This was new. Just two days ago, everyone had worn the same baggy beige shirt and pants. Now, vampires wore red, shifters blue, witches and warlocks green, and fae bright orange.
I hated it. Urine color would have been better than this hideous shade. Besides, they were hard for me to put on. Wings! Did no one think of that?
The dining hall was an expansive area with a host of tables, accompanying benches, a low ceiling, and walls painted a drab gray. The food line was in the rear of the room and moved at a steady pace. This was the only place where males and females could mingle, though we still had to eat at separate tables. Guards stood around the periphery, glaring with ill-intent, to make sure everyone stayed in line.
I took another step forward. Arryn was in front of me, standing on her tiptoes, trying to see what was for lunch. Every day, she still hoped there might be something different to eat, but it was always the same: runny mashed potatoes, mystery meat in brown gravy, mushy peas from a can, a square of red gelatin, and a buttered bread roll—the only halfway decent item.
When we got there, Arryn—an orphan, ten-year-old fae girl who I loved like a sister and got stuck here with me when our attempt to flee went horribly wrong a few weeks ago—handed her compartmentalized tray to the server.
The little fae sighed in disappointment. “It’s the same again.”
I nodded, without looking in her direction. My gaze still scanned for potential threats. “Yes, melthelel.”
When I glanced left, I noticed my cousin, Sinasre, entering the dining hall. He took stock of the room the same as me. His orange jumpsuit nearly matched his hair color. It wasn’t a flattering look. As soon as he spotted me, his expression grew tight and full of meaning, which made me realize he’d been looking for me. It appeared he had something to tell me.
My heart sped up? Did he have news? An escape plan? It was all I thought about, a way to get out of here. I tried to figure out how I could approach him since I couldn’t mix with the males. The guards at the edges of the room were always watching.
“Ow!” Arryn exclaimed.
My head whipped around to see what was wrong. A young man dressed in blue, one of the shifters, was standing next to her, a hand gripping her skinny arm. He leaned forward and hissed something in her ear, then snatched the bread roll from her tray.
“Hey!” I snapped. “Give it back.”
“Give what back?” He pulled a face and looked me up and down as if I’d gone crazy. He began walking away.
“I said give it back, you asshole.” I had learned to curse in English since it was much more effective here.
“Keep the line moving,” the server called from behind the heated food pans.
I ignored him, even if he was an inmate the guards trusted and would sound the alarm. They might put me in solitary for this, but the thing was… I couldn’t allow the inmates to bully Arryn. They had to understand that if they messed with her, they had to contend with me. A furious and determined fae bitch.
“I won’t repeat myself,” I snarled, gripping my tray in one hand and giving myself enough room to swing. “You give her food back or I’ll split your head open.”
The shifter snarled in turn, crouching slightly. He showed no intention of doing what I’d asked and looked ridiculous in his ready stance with a tray of food in front of him. He couldn’t shift since the prison blocked that power, but he could still fight me, tall and broad as he was.
“It’s fine, Tally,” Arryn said in her small voice. “I don’t even like the rolls.”
It was a lie. I always gave her my roll because she loved them so much. She needed all the calories she could get. She was waif-thin, never fully recovered from The Bane’s toxic attack on our land. No one would steal her food if I could help it.
The shifter huffed and gave us a look that seemed to say you two are pathetic. Well, he had another thing coming. This fae kept her word.
“Dammit, no fighting,” the server called as he set down his ladle and began removing the apron he wore over his front. He gestured toward the guards that stood in the periphery of the dining hall.
Acting before they reached us, I swung my tray upward and hit the bottom of the shifter’s plate. His food jumped up, gravy and mashed potatoes flying into the air and landing on his face. He cursed, hands wiping at his eyes as he tried to clean the sloppy mess.
Taking advantage of his disorientation, I grabbed my tray with both hands and slammed its edge against his head. He stumbled sideways, slipped in a puddle of gravy, and fell face first.
A group of blue-clad shifters rose from a nearby table and headed menacingly in my direction. Each type of Supernatural stuck together to defend their own. Too bad there were only three of us fae, one of them a helpless child. A few of the shifters formed a line, blocking the guards that were attempting to come in and break up the fight. It seemed they wanted a piece of me before they locked down us. Well, let them come and try.
My wings whirred behind me as I crouched, tray in hand. I could fly up and stay out of their reach, but I had to teach them a lesson. No one messed with us. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Sinasre rushing toward me. In Faerie, my cousin had always had my back, and I always had his. Here, it wasn’t any different.
Another shifter with shoulders as wide as a door pushed everyone aside.
The guards had almost reached us, but as more inmates stood and gathered to watch the fight, getting in the way, it seemed I would have enough time to split someone else’s head open.
This next opponent was large and heavy, his movements sluggish compared to mine. When he lunged, I jumped out of his path and brought the tray down on his head as he lunged by. There was a horrible crack as the tray split in two, and the man thudded to the floor.
Holding two pieces of my cracked tray, I growled and dared someone else to come forward. No one did. It seemed, without their shifting powers, they were all talk and no action.
Sinasre pulled a few spectators out of the way until he reached the center of the circle where I stood, two inmates at my feet. He gave me a nod of approval. I was nodding back when someone tackled me from the side.
I crashed to the floor, crushing one of my wings against a bench leg. Pain shot down its sensitive nerve endings. I arched my back, hissing through clenched teeth.
The shifter reared up, a fist drawn backward. He had a shaved head and a tattoo below his left eye. I barely registered this before he delivered a hook to the left side of my face, sending an explosion of white light across my vision.
Another punch, this time on my right side. Blood filled my mouth as pain throbbed from two places.
Behind my attacker, I could hear Sinasre snarling, presumably fighting others to get to me. Arryn’s sobs also reached my addled brain. She was frantically calling my name, but the commotion had thankfully pushed out of the circle.
Off to the side, there was a loud snarl, followed by a heavy thud. Blinking, I focused long enough to see my attacker turn his head and glanced back over his shoulder. This was my chance.
Taking advantage of the disturbance, I bucked my legs and set him off balance. As he tried to right himself, I reared up and slammed my elbow against his cheekbone with a crack. Pain shot up to my shoulder, but gritting my teeth, I watched with satisfaction as the shifter collapsed to the floor, holding his face.
I struggled to my feet, swaying from side to side, and spitting blood. There seemed to be three of everything.
It took my eyes a moment to focus, but the first thing I noticed was Vaughn, in his guard’s uniform, crouched on top of a table, his sharp green eyes scanning the mess. When he spotted me, he let out a loud snarl like the one we’d heard just a second ago and leaped off the table, landing right in the middle of the circle, his heavy boots thudding against the floor.
Slowly, he rose to his full height, his gaze locked with mine. “Everyone stop,” he growled in a commanding voice that sent a shiver up my spine.
Seeing him always made my chest tighten, and my pulse beat faster. During our time on the island, he’d made my heart race for a different reason. Now, the sight of him made me sick. Yes, he betrayed me to protect his cousin, but that didn’t justify his actions. He’d tricked me, acted like he cared about me, and then trapped Arryn and me here while the rest of our group escaped.
I hated him. I hated having to be anywhere near him.
Several of the shifters who were fighting Sinasre retreated, looking like dogs with their tails between their legs. A few others continue to fight, indifferent to Vaughn’s order, which meant they weren’t werewolves but other types of shifters that didn’t need to heel to a powerful alpha—at least not one of a different species.
Vaughn grabbed a blue-clad male by the back of his neck, hauled him away from Sinasre, and slammed him to the floor. “Everyone stop, I said. Or else…”
The hanging threat did the trick. The fighting stopped. The shifters retreated. The three I had fought lay on the floor, groaning and holding their heads. The other guards closed in.
I smirked. I’d done as I’d promised, more actually. I’d split three heads open instead of one.
“Back to your cells.” Vaughn waved at the other guards, who started ushering people out of the dining hall. Since when had he become their leader?
The witches and warlocks moaned that they hadn’t been able to finish their meals, but still, they complied and filed down between the empty tables. We’d seen a few times what happened when you defied the guards. Once, a warlock had to stand in a corner for two days with no food or water. Eventually, he passed out, and they’d dragged his body away to who knew where? Another time, they beat a mouthy witch until she lay bloody on the ground.
Vaughn turned and marched in my direction, his features sharp and mean. He grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me until I hit the wall. I blinked, still trying to clear my vision. At least there were only two Vaughns, not three. I was getting better.
“You caused this.” He pointed an accusing finger straight at my nose.
“They were bullying Arryn, and I won’t allow that.” Anger, raw and potent, filled my chest.
He rolled his eyes. “All for one fucking piece of bread?”
What? He’d been watching? I hadn’t even seen him when we arrived. “Today, it’s a bread roll. Tomorrow, if I don’t do anything, it’s her entire lunch.”
“You’re going to ruin this for yourself,” he hissed.
Ruin this for me? He made it sound like I was on some sort of vacation. My anger flared hotter. He had no idea what it was like to be an inmate in this place. How dare he lecture me about how to behave?
He lowered his voice, speaking this next part just for me. “Don’t you want to get out of here? Go with the recruits instead?”
So that’s what he was referring to… going outside the dome, back to the island to play babysitter to the fresh batch of New Starts’ campers who had arrived earlier today. I didn’t like to leave Arryn or play by Adaline Habermann’s rules, but I didn’t have much choice. Adaline had promised to keep Arryn safe and eventually let her go if I cooperated. Whatever the case, Vaughn needed to keep his distance.
“Take your filthy hands off me,” I spat.
His jaw clenched, and his mouth twitched. “We’ll have to work together once we’re out there.”
“Like we worked together before? Because it went so well for Arryn and me.”
“You know I had—”
I pushed against his heavy arms, interrupting him. “Take your filthy hands off me,” I repeated between clenched teeth. “I have nothing to discuss with you.”
He threw his hands up and backed away.
Arryn ran to my side and wrapped her skinny arms around my waist. “Tally, are you all right?”
“I’m fine, melthelel,” I answered, doing my best to leave the anger out of my voice. “What about you?”
“I’m all right. It’s you who got hit.” She glanced up at my head. I could feel warm, sticky blood running down my chin, but I would deal with that later.
I ruffled her hair. “Oh, it’s nothing. I’m tough. You know that.”
My words were light and careless, but my eyes were still shooting daggers at Vaughn. Given a chance, I would split his head open, too. He deserved nothing less. He was the very reason we were here.
“Back to your cells.” Vaughn pointed toward the exit where the last inmates were vacating the room.
“With pleasure,” I shot back, putting as much venom as I could in the two words.
We had just cleared the door when, evading a guard, Sinasre pulled away from his group and snatched my hand.
His eyes locked with mine with such intensity that my heart skipped a beat. “They got her,” he said. “They got my mother.”
I stopped in my tracks as his words fell over me like icy water.
“Talking to the females is forbidden,” the guard Sinasre had evaded barked. Roughly, he pulled my cousin away, then pushed him down the hall.
Sinasre held my gaze long enough for me to see the accusation in his eyes.
The Habermann’s had captured the Queen of the Seelie Court, and it was my fault.
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My eyes shot open as a figure pressed a hand over my mouth and whispered, “Don’t scream.”
It was a male, an intruder.
Flooded with fear and confusion, I opened my mouth to scream, unable or unwilling to comply, but the hand mashed down, slamming my lips together and bearing down on me with such force that I knew my attacker had to be huge, at least twice my size and weight.
Rage surged inside me like a wild tiger climbing to the surface. No matter what they wanted, I wouldn’t roll over and let them do it. No matter who they were, they would regret the moment they stepped into my room.
I swung my arms and kicked my legs, fighting with all my strength. I reached for the knife tucked under my pillow, but before I could grab it, someone jumped on me and a second set of hands gripped my wrists, pinning them to my sides. My wings at my back felt crushed.
“A wild one,” the second voice said. It was female, though gruff. The weight of her felt less than the male’s but just as determined.
“We deserve a bonus for all this trouble,” she grumbled.
“Just help me get her in the van,” the male voice said to his partner. Then he turned and spoke to me. “Please don’t fight us. You’re just making it harder for everyone.”
Harder for everyone? Who were these people? Unseelie fae? Who else would wish me ill? King Oberon and his followers were my sworn enemies, but other than that, I’d never harmed anyone.
My body seized as I thought of the children, all asleep in their beds in the other rooms. Were they being attacked, too? I had to get away. I had to make sure they were fine. It was my job to protect them.
“Just use the magic already,” the female voice said. Her gruff voice sounded annoyed. She pinched my wrists, her fingers digging in cruelly.
Magic? They couldn’t be Unseelie fae, then. They had little if any magic. They ruled by force and sheer brutality. If these people had magic that meant they were a witch and a warlock. But what could they want with me? With a fae?
“We’re not supposed to use the magic. Not here,” the warlock grumbled. The Supernatural Academy where I was living at the moment had many wards. He seemed reluctant to trigger them, scared even.
Taking advantage of their distraction, I ripped one of my hands from the witch’s grip and swung wildly. My fist struck hard. A crunch sounded, followed by a groan.
“Oh, geez!” the man exclaimed, his voice thick, “I think she broke my nose.”
“Enough,” his partner shouted. “We do this my way.”
The room crackled to life as a bolt of purple energy surged from her fingertips. In the flash of light, I was able to take a good look at the female’s face. She was definitely human with short blond hair, angry eyes, and hard lines etching her features. Then her magic struck me, and my body went rigid. I knew the immobilizing spell when it hit me, a paralysis where no muscle in my body could respond to my desperate commands.
I tried my arms, my legs, my wings—nothing moved.
I floated off the bed, carried away by more magic.
No. This could not happen! The children.
Let me go, my brain screamed. Put me down! Yet, no words escaped my lips. I couldn’t do a thing as they floated me out of my bedroom, down the hallway toward the open front door.
Stupid. How could I not have planned for this? Oberon must’ve sent wizard mercenaries.
As I floated down the hallway, my eyes were glued to the ceiling, but, on the periphery, I could tell the other doors were closed. I had to hope that meant the children—my wards, my friends, my family—were safe in their beds and these intruders only wanted me. That or they’d come for me last, and the children were already gone. I could barely stand the thought of someone harming them. They’d already been through enough, losing their homeland and parents, being refugees in this cruel world, surrounded and hated by the same creatures responsible for the destruction of our realm.
We’d been borrowing this cottage for a few months now, waiting for the children to heal and regain their strength. We’d begun healing. Arryn had even started sleeping on top of her bed instead of under it, a big step for her. She was so attached to me I worried about what finding me gone would do to her.
Moonlight flooded the little clearing around our house. I couldn’t scan the surroundings, but only the wind stirred. There was no one nearby to save me from my captors. Instead, a van was parked on the gravel path beside the garden, its silhouette pale in the moonlight as they floated me closer.
Creaking hinges sounded as someone opened the back doors. Then I was angling toward them. As my body turned, I finally got a good look at my attackers.
The woman was older and hardened—wrinkles lined her face, especially around her mouth as it frowned at me. She wore cargo pants, boots, and a tactical vest that suggested what I had come to associate, in my short time in this realm, with a human military background. The male was large with huge, bulging muscles and brown skin. His black hair was cropped short and his goatee was neatly trimmed. His attire was more casual—jeans, a long-sleeve T-shirt, and a pocketed vest. Where she looked pissed, he just looked… sorry, despite the streak of blood sliding from his nose.
“Careful with her,” he said as the ’ciallachadh witch floated me into the van.
The moonlight dimmed as my body floated into the van. I landed on the carpeted floor and the doors slammed shut. Only then could I move.
Sitting up, I scrambled to the door and yanked on the handle, but it was locked.
“There’s no use. You won’t get out.”
Whirling toward the voice, I saw I wasn’t alone.
A teen male sat against the far wall, his arms resting on his knees. Under the weak light that shone inside our space, I took in his symmetrical human features, light brown hair, chestnut-colored skin, and muscular physique. He was tall and broad, the kind of man that starred in TV commercials on those programs the children were always watching. He had to be eighteen or nineteen and privileged, judging from the expensive watch onat his wrist.
Was he an ally or a foe? His icy glare made me think it was the latter.
I didn’t have time to make up my mind. My attackers were walking away. In a panic, I tried the door again, then banged on the back windows, the only two in this section of the van.
“Hey!” I shouted. “Help.”
“Like I said, there’s no use,” he said, his tone full of annoyance. “No one can hear you. This whole van is totally sealed by magic, though, I heard your kind doesn’t have any, so what would you know?” He glanced behind my back at my wings, his mouth twisted.
Your kind? He’d said it like a curse, like he wasn’t keen on sharing a van with a fae. So he was one of those. I’d met my share of haters during my short time in this godsforsaken realm.
Doors shut. The van’s engine started, a low rumbling that sent my heart hammering even harder. Where would they take me? Nothing in the empty van indicated where we were going or why. And just because they hadn’t harmed me yet, didn’t mean they weren’t going to.
I banged on the window desperately, but the human was right, the vehicle was sealed. No one could hear me.
The van lurched. I fought to keep my balance, watching my derelict, little home get smaller and smaller. I pressed a hand to the glass.
Gods, the children. I’d been taking care of them since we arrived here, since our land was destroyed.
“Are you crying?” the human asked, his green eyes narrowing.
I swiped at my cheeks, getting rid of all traces before facing him. “Who are these people? Why did they take us?”
He ground his teeth, making his jaw work back and forth. “They’re trash, that’s what they are. They’ll be sorry.”
“Do you know who they are?”
“The extraction team. They’ve been sent by those who will teach us a lesson.”
“Teach us a lesson? What does that mean?”
His only answer was a frown as if he didn’t want to waste words on the likes of me.
I was being kidnapped to be taught a lesson? That made no sense. What lesson was I meant to learn? I’d already been educated on genocide, the murder of my people, and the destruction of my homeland.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
His eyes darted back to me, tracing me up and down as if taking in my measure for the first time. Finally, he answered. “Vaughn. And yours?”
“Tallyndra,” I said.
He shrugged, clamming up, unwilling to talk.
A fae hater, for sure.
After our world had been poisoned by The Bane, a madman bent on revenge, my people had come here as refugees. We didn’t want to be here anymore than the humans wanted us here, but we had nowhere else to go. Still, many called us a blight on society. They blamed crime on us and called us savages.
I’d avoided the bulk of this, living in isolation in a home provided by a group of humans who didn’t hate us, but I’d heard the stories and seen the hate on TV. There were those that thought we were vile. That still wanted us dead, the way The Bane had.
Maybe Vaughn was one of those.
Either way, if that was true, he could e fhèin himself.
We rode in silence, watching my home disappear. We followed several highways, civilization disappearing more and more the longer we drove. Vaughn dozed, lying curled up on the floor, but I stayed awake, watching each turn we took, each town we passed. If there was any way out, I would find it.
I must have dozed off because when we came to a stop, I jumped up in a panic and crawled to the van’s back windows.
We were deep in the trees now, though they looked very different from the ones we’d left behind. The trees near our cottage had been tall and bushy. These were frond-like and tropical. How long had I been out?
Where were we?
As I peered through the van’s tinted windows, both the male and female captors walked into view. They stepped to the side, talking with two other humans in similar attire. Were they handing us over? If I was going to make a move, it had to be now.
The male walked toward the van, leaving his partner back with the others.
I dropped limply on the van floor, closing my eyes and slowing my breathing. I didn’t move when his footsteps reached the doors and I heard a click and the squeak of hinges.
I held my breath, waiting for him to get close enough to strike.
“Watch out!” Vaughn shouted. “She’s going to attack you.”
I lurched up, but it was too late. The van doors slammed before I could even lift my head. I whirled, staring at Vaughn, anger rolling off me in waves.
“Why?” was all I could muster between my clenched teeth.
His eyes shone like hard emeralds as he stared me down. “If I’m stuck here, fae bitch, you sure as hell should be, too.”
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The Ending to this series is going to wow you.
I can't believe it's almost over. In two weeks, book five of the Supernatural Academy will be out. It's the final book, the one to finish what we've started. It has been hard to say goodbye to Charlie and Rowan, Disha and Bridget, but I think you're going to love this book and the exciting conclusion.
Read on for a sneak peek of Chapter One.
Chaos reigned under the clear, blue sky.
As I stood outside the Academy’s infirmary, wails of pain cut right through me. People ran around desperately, not knowing what to do, while others stood at a distance, crying as they watched the chaos unfold and grow bigger and bigger by the second.
I was among the latter group, frozen in the middle of it all, my hand on my forehead as my eyes roved around, trying to understand what was happening.
People—fae to be specific—were strewn around the Academy lawn like fallen leaves, some crumpled and still, others twisting in pain. Some bled, but most were covered in a black tar-like substance, like birds caught in an oil spill.
Fedorov and the dean were transporting them here from the fae realm as quickly as they could, using the portal at the Enlightment Fountain to travel back and forth. As the professor and dean appeared and disappeared, the number of injured fae grew.
My mind reeled, trying to understand what Ponomarenko had done. He had attacked the fae realm, had destroyed it. That was what Disha and Bridget had said, what everyone was saying. And the proof was here right in front of my eyes.
All these fae, injured. Dying. Some of them already dead.
So many of them.
At least a hundred, like the nymph that despite the gooey substance smeared on her green skin, still looked lovely, though broken like a porcelain doll left out in the mud. Like the virely-looking Fae Warriors who lay twisting in agony on the ground.
Why? What was this blackness that coated their bodies? And what could I do to help?
I glanced around once more, trying to break out of my stupor.
Five minutes ago when we’d arrived from our dorm, Disha and Bridget had jumped right into action. Disha was teleporting in and out of the infirmary, taking the victims to Nurse Taishi. Bridget was helping, too, levitating the injured into the building, then running back out. She didn’t know how to teleport yet, but that wasn’t stopping her.
Per Nurse Taishi’s instructions, they were prioritizing the ones who were in the worst shape and wearing surgical masks and latex gloves to avoid contact with the black substance.
My friends rushed around, haggard and disheveled, but busy, helping, while all I could do was stare at my useless stump and my other traitorous hand that, while whole, created no magic despite still having one of the Aradia Cuffs. I couldn’t help like Disha and Bridget. I was as useless as the freshmen who stood off to the side.
I shook my head, refusing to get mired in a pity party. People were suffering.
Come on, Charlie. Do something. Help!
My eyes scanned all the fallen bodies, trying to find someone I could aid, someone who still could be healed. It felt wrong to think this way. They all should be saved, but there weren't enough of us, and most students couldn’t really do anything.
Though maybe some could…
I faced the ogling students who lingered at the edges of the chaos. Some of them were upperclassmen. They knew healing spells. I ran towards the infirmary stairs where Nurse Taishi had left a box of gloves and masks, then addressed the crowd.
“Hey, seniors and juniors, any who know healing spells… come help!” I gestured toward the wounded with my good hand.
They hesitated, looking at each other, unsure.
“C’mon!” I urged.
A tall guy in a rumpled T-shirt and basketball shorts stepped forward. He raised his hand as if he were in class, looking afraid and doubtful. Just moments ago, he’d probably been hanging out in the common area, flirting with girls.
“It’s okay. Come here. What’s your name?” I asked.
“David,” he said from under a mop of brown hair.
“I can’t do any magic.” I held the stump of my right hand up. “I can’t help, but you can. Here…”
Tucking the box of supplies under my left arm, I directed David toward someone who was lying on the ground, a young fae boy dressed in an outfit that seem to be made out of leaves. His long, blond hair, matted with black tar, was spread over the grass. A green tattoo in the shape of vines went from his temple down his jaw and neck and snaked under his shirt. He was twisting, screaming, his arms wrapped around his chest.
I knelt next to him and encouraged David to do the same.
“Here, take this.” I offered him gloves and a mask. He slipped them on, his hands shaking. I put on a mask, but couldn’t manage the glove one-handed.
“Do a healing spell, a general one,” I said. “We don’t know what’s wrong with him, but it can’t hurt.”
Hesitantly, David pressed gloved hands to the little boy’s chest. The fae squirmed and weakly tried to fight David off.
David closed his eyes and chanted a basic healing spell under his breath. The boy twisted harder, screaming in agony. David hesitated as if he would stop.
“Don't,” I said. “Keep going.”
He did, his face etched with worry and fear. After a long minute, the boy stopped squirming,his face relaxing as he exhaled.
David’s shoulders slumped in relief. A small smile started to spread over his lips, but then the little boy started coughing violently, his back arching, his hands jerking to his throat.
“Oh, God,” David said. “Oh God, what did I do?”
The little boy kept coughing, then, at last, gave a violent bark and stopped. Collapsing in on himself, the boy exhaled through his half-open mouth. Something black spilled past his lips and clouded the air like a puff of hot breath steaming into the cold. It rose up, reaching, spreading.
Oh, God. What was that thing?
David and I jumped to our feet and took a step back as the blackness dissipated. Instinctively, I pressed my hand to the surgical mask that covered my mouth and nose. David did the same. After the dark, pollen-like dust cleared, the little boy went still. He breathed laboriously but seemed better.
I stared at Davidand gave him a single nod of approval. The other students watched in astonishment. I addressed them again.
“C’mon, any who can heal, help these people. They’re dying. They need us.”
A few more of the older students stepped forward and cautiously approached some of the fallen fae after getting their protective gear.
Maybe I couldn't do magic, but I had helped. I was helping. I could still be useful.
Disha popped back into existence several yards away from me. Her hair was wild and her clothes were smeared with black. Eyes darting all around, she searched for someone else to take inside the infirmary.
I ran up to her. “How can I help?”
She shook her head as if she couldn’t think of anything and kept searching for someone else to teleport. She was about to step aside when there was another pop and Dean Macintosh and Professor Fedorov materialized out of nowhere. They each had two injured fae with them. Weaving their hands, they gently deposited them on the ground.
Their clothes were covered in tar. There was something around their bodies, some sort of shimmering spell that protected them from from whatever that black stuff was.
“Everyone, to me,” the dean boomed, gesturing to the students. With a flick of her wrist she sent a spell out among the crowd. Magic tingled on my skin as the same shimmering protection covered me from head to toe. I discarded the surgical mask.
“The black substance in very poisonous,” she said, running a hand through her salt and pepper hair. “Everyone needs a magical mask.” She turned to Fedorov. “Make sure they all get them.”
He nodded and sprinted out toward another cluster of students.
Lynssa turned tired eyes on the scene around us. “There are too many of them,” she said, her frustration palpable.
I could tell she wished to be able to bring all of them back in one fell swoop, but traveling through portals was hard. Not everyone could do it. If only I still had both cuffs.
“We need more people,” she said, knowing full-well there weren’t many others who could lend a hand. Every teacher was occupied in the infirmary and the older students were now helping out here. And still, that wasn’t enough. We couldn’t save them all. They were dying. Some lay on the ground, motionless and I suspected the worst had happened.
My hatred for Ponomarenko redoubled. I hadn’t thought that would be possible, but there it was.
“Disha,” Lynssa said. “You know how to teleport, correct?”
“Yes, Dean,” Disha answered.
“Then come with me.” She extended a hand towards Disha, who took it and nodded to indicate she was ready. There was a pop, and they were gone.
The hole in my chest—the one that had been gnawing at me since Ponomarenko stole my hand and, with it, my ability to do magic—grew bigger.
I was useless. Totally useless.
One of the fae Lynssa had just brought back started to moan. I glanced down and frowned. Her face was terribly familiar. Dropping to my knees, I pushed two-toned white and violet hair out of her face.
It was Phraan’s daughter. Kiana’s niece. The girl I’d met when I’d traveled to the fae realm on Nyquist’s bidding several months ago. So much had happened since then. Nyquist was dead. Ponomarenko’s power had doubled. I’d lost my hand.
“Tallyndra,” I said, as her big, violet eyes deliriously darted back and forth, lost in whatever had happened back in her realm. Her tall, athletic body jerked. Her smooth, white arms were wrapped around her chest, the way the little boy’s had been.
I turned and searched for David. He was stepping away from someone he’d just helped as blackness poured out of their mouth.
“David, here!” I called.
He ran toward us without hesitation and knelt to the other side of Tallyndra. Wasting no time, he placed his hands on her chest, more confidently this time. He had healed a few people by now and knew that his spell would help.
He muttered the incantation. Magic flowed into Tallyndra. She jerked more violently, thrashing like a trapped snake. It wasn't easy to watch but knowing that we were helping made it a little easier.
The coughing started, wracking her as if she would expel her lungs. The black stuff came out, wisping into the air like poisoned dandelion seeds.
David and I moved back and warily watched the stuff dissipate. Tallyndra went still, her violet eyes staring straight at the blue sky. She breathed through her mouth, her chest rising and falling visibly.
Then she screamed and bucked, kicking with her left foot, speaking words I couldn't understand.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” I asked.
She glanced up and frowned as if noticing me for the first time, vague recognition crossing her features.
“Take it off, take it off!” she urged, shaking her foot again.
“There’s something on her boot. It’s... moving,” David said, pointing and grimacing.
I leaned closer and saw, too. There was something black at the tip of Tallyndra’s boot, something that made a squelching sound and moved like oozing black lava.
What the hell?
“Take it off!” Tallyndra demanded.
I swiveled positions and started clumsily unbuckling the straps or her tall boot. Realizing my one-handed struggle, David undid most of them, then, careful not to touch the stuff despite our protective spell from the dean, we jerked the boot off and threw it as far away as we could.
We stared at Tallyndra’s big toe. It was stained black, as if it had been dipped in ink, except the ink seem to be spreading toward the rest of her foot. The horror of what was happening stole over me.
It was some sort of awful infection.
And worse, it was alive.
She screamed, scrambling back on the grass as if there was a way to escape the stuff.
“David, help her,” I said. “Do the spell.”
He grabbed Tallyndra’s ankle and issued the healing spell. We waited for it to do something, to expel the blackness the way it had done before, but it didn't do anything. It just kept spreading.
“It's not working,” he said. “I don't know what else to do.”
Tallyndra screamed again, pounding her fists against the ground.
“You need to calm down, Tallyndra.” I shook her, trying hard to retain my own calm. Her eyes focused on me. “You need to come with me. Stand up!”
Gaining some presence of mind, she clenched her teeth. Her features hardened as she reined in her desperation.
David and I helped her to her feet, and with her arm draped over my shoulder, she and I hobbled into the infirmary.
Inside, the chaos was dialed up even further. The wails and violent coughs were twice as loud within the confinement of the walls. I searched for Nurse Taishi and spotted him next to a bed. The other teachers ran between patients, issuing healing spells that didn’t seem to be quite enough.
Spotting a chair, I hurried Tallyndra toward it and helped her sit.
I ran toward Taishi. His head was drooping, his eyes downcast. The person on the bed was dead, blackness all the way up to his neck, and still crawling up his jaw. His eyes were black pits of spilled oil. I clenched my teeth to hold back the bile that rose up my throat and tore my eyes away from the gruesome sight.
“There’s someone else you can help,” I said, putting a hand on Taishi’s shoulder.
He glanced back at me, an expression of defeat stamped on his features.
“Please,” I said. “She’s the fae queen’s niece.”
Shaking himself, Taishi came with me and approached Tallyndra.
“It's her foot,” I said.
Taishi nodded, squatted in front of Tallyndra, and wrapped his hands around her ankle, the way David had done.
His healing spell came quickly. It coursed through to Tallyndra in an instant. She stiffened and clenched her teeth, moaning in the back of her throat.
Then she went still as the blackness started oozing out of her skin. As the poison rose, Nurse Taishi weaved his hands in a spell that engulfed the spent pollen-like substance, then consumed it in a blast of cleansing fire.
Tallyndra and I both blinked at her toe, it wasn’t black anymore.
“Thank you,” she said, eyes wide.
But her amazement only lasted for a second, because she jumped to her feet, head sweaveling all around. “How can I help?”
But without knowing the spells Nurse Taishi knew or being able to weave them, there was little we could do. Even he couldn’t fix everyone.
“Find all of those whose eyes are clear,” he whispered to us. “Those are the only ones we can save.”
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Katie French is the author of The Breeders, a Young Adult dystopian adventure and Eyes Ever to the Sky, a sci fi romance. Nessa: A Breeders Story, a prequel novelette is available on Amazon for FREE. Sign up for notifications, or like her on Facebook.