The Ending to this series is going to wow you.
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.”