I survived Orientation at Crystal Wing Academy--barely--and now it's time to learn how to control my power.
After destroying a power-sucking slake before he killed my friends, I'm feeling stronger and more confident than ever.
Donovan and I are together, I'm pulling in more threads than before, and I have new abilities I'm excited to master... So I might be flunking Magical Creatures & How to Tame Them. Not everything comes easy, right?
When I stumble over a dead girl--one of eight Outlings at the Academy--and she's marked with an O and a #7, it's clear someone's copycatting the Outling murders that took place one-hundred years ago.
With the clock ticking down and more Outlings turning up dead, I'll soon be next. Last time, every Outling at the Academy was murdered.
But the killer is about to learn this Outling wizard won't go down without a fight.
An exciting new world for Potter fans, filled with magic, suspense, a badass heroine, and flirty romance.
A Crystal Wing Academy Novel
© 2019 by Marty Mayberry
Two Weeks Later
My last class of the day, and I was about to plunge to my death.
Why had I decided to sign up for the class, Magical Creatures & How to Tame Them?
Oh, yeah, the dragon I’d met in the forest. Might be nice to learn ways to communicate with him. Although, dragons weren’t on the syllabus.READ MORE
Unfortunately, I was barely passing my class, which didn’t speak well for my ability to cozy up to the dragon.
First test? Ride the aldakor. A.K.A., a giant wolf. Sort of a wolf if you ignored the huge curly horns on their heads and their long, spiky tail. Other than that, they would fit in with mythical giant wolves with their four clawed paws and lush black fur. And canines too close to that of a Siberian tiger. The better to eat wizards with, my dear.
Really needed to ditch the fairytales.
“Riding aldakors is an Academy tradition,” Professor Trarion had said on our first day of class. “The original six used aldakors for transportation instead of flitting, an elemental magic they learned later.” Frankly, I’d rather wear myself out with a flit than wrangle one of these beasts. But I also needed to pass this test.
“Okay, here they come,” Professor Trarion shouted. She tugged her dark blue teacher’s tunic down over her snug leggings. Ten students around me did the same with their Academy-emblazoned riding outfits. Sheepishly, I did, as well.
Only a few kids had signed up for this class. Everyone else had wisely chosen the other First Year course offered for this period. Magical Foods: From Exquisite Cuisine to Poison. Just think, I could’ve been discovering ways to poison Alys instead of swan diving across the backs of aldakors. I meant, riding aldakors, something I’d yet to master.
“As the herd passes beneath us,” our teacher said. “Crouch and spring, and think ride to activate your elemental magic.”
Drea, another outling in my class who lived on my floor at Earth Coven, send me a wan smile. After fainting at the sight of the three-headed Cerberus, one would think she’d avoid anything to do with beasts. During our first class, she’d confided to me that her skapti involved working with animals. Magical Creatures was her Academy major.
I’d yet to pick a major. Throwing fire and feeding power into another person seemed to be my only skaptis. And I wasn’t sure what purpose they’d serve in my future. Could someone major in tossing fireballs?
“Here they come,” a guy squealed. “Get ready!”
Hard to miss them since their grunts and bellows echoed around us.
We stood on a platform on the edge of the for-now, not-forbidden northern forest. A well-used trail stretched below and on either side of us, snaking down from the mountains. Behind us, the copper rooftops of the Academy gleamed in the fading sunlight.
Each day at dusk, herds of aldakors streamed en masse to the upper pasture to graze. No clue how I’d missed them while slinking around campus during orientation. These beasties were huge.
Their hooves thundered on the ground. Dust rose into the air, thick enough to make the girl standing next to me cough.
My heart flailed in my chest, and my belly already cringed from the upcoming impact with the trail.
Two weeks into this three-times-a-week class, and I only had two more opportunities after today to pass this test. Failure meant I couldn’t advance to the next creature.
Which might not be a bad thing, after all.
“You can do it, Fleur,” Drea said, hip-checking me with a smile. “I know you can.” Only certainty came through in her voice.
The other students unanimously scowled.
“Better do it this time.” This ‘support’ came from Vik, Ashton’s younger brother, a guy who had kept with his family’s tradition of being equally unpleasant to outlings.
I couldn’t blame him for feeling irritated. None of them would advance to the next lesson until all of us had ridden an aldakor. I was the one holding everyone else back. Well, unless I flunked out. Then they’d move on without me.
One week until add-drop period ended. Should I quit now? Surely, they could squeeze me into Poisons.
“Lean forward, sight, and spring,” Professor Trarion said in a lilting voice. An elf—and a sister to Professor Alean—she stood two feet taller than me and had long, bright purple dreadlocks. Was she worried about imps making off with her hair overnight?
She patted my shoulder, doling out encouragement.
I needed it. The beasts plunged nearer, the lead animal huffing as it bounded around a corner in the trail, leaped over a rock, and approached us.
“Ready…Set…” the Professor said as the animals grunted and snorted beneath us in a stream of black fur and gnashing horns, rushing toward the pasture. “Now!”
Around me, students leaped gracefully off the platform, landing solidly on aldakors. Their fingers wove into the creature’s dense manes as they swung their legs up and across the animals’ backs. From past experience, I knew they’d ride the aldakor all the way to the pasture, after which they’d hop onto the ground, give the aldakor a decent grooming in exchange for the ride, then meet up to congratulate each other on mastering this skill.
While I’d troop down the trail behind the last aldakor and stand in the shadows, feeling useless.
“Do it,” one of the other students yelled over his shoulder as the beast he rode galloped away. “Come on, Fleur!”
I jumped as the last, straggling aldakor bellowed and thrashed its hooves on the ground beneath me.
Smack. My belly hit the creature. Nice backbone, there, buddy. Nearly cut off my wind. My fingers scrambled through fur, latching on. I was going to do it this time!
My legs bounced on the aldakor’s hips as I struggled to drag one up and across the animal’s back.
Something hit my right foot—a bush or tree—and my leg scissored out. Silky mane slipped through my fingers.
I tumbled backward off the aldakor, who kicked and I swore burst into beastie laughter. He kept going, his golden hooves winking in the sunlight.
With a teeth-jarring impact, my butt hit the trail. The squishy trail.
“Aw, shit,” I said, grimacing.
Syncing to the City’s sundial, I realized I was late.
I hadn’t intended to stop in my room to clean up and change before my meeting, but I’d never live it down if I showed up in the library with aldakor doo stuck to my ass.
Tonight, I was meeting up with an exclusive—their term, not mine—club.
With so few members, exclusive had to pushing it. Eight outlings total at the Academy, including me.
Climbing the stairs to the third floor of the library, I puffed as I rushed past the long rows of stacks to the small sitting area in the back set up with an oval wooden table, a few chairs, and a recliner and two sofas. I arrived winded and too sweaty, which told me it was past time to get some regular exercise.
Not on an aldakor.
“Sorry I’m late, guys,” I said weakly.
Eben, a Second Year student and our self-appointed Club president, lifted his arm and scrutinized his watch. So far, he’d been unable to harness enough energy to sync with the sundial.
“Two minutes late,” he said with a scowl.
Whoa. Thank the Fae it wasn’t three. Who knew what would happen then? Maybe I’d turn into a pumpkin.
I dropped down onto the sofa beside Jenny, another First Year outling like me, though she was in Wind Coven. Her bright smile cheered me up. She fingered the pendant she wore, a citrine, a decent stone.
Leaning close, she whispered, “Ignore him. Jerk. He’s just jealous.”
I lifted my eyebrows and her gaze fell to my dagger, my moonstone. So, okay, I possessed the stone that ruled them all. At least I wasn’t being asked to throw it into the fiery pits of Mordor.
My gaze skimmed over the outlings present. Sarah, short and with chestnut hair, sat with her feet up in the recliner. The other Second Year students included Eben, Carly, and Eli.
An even split, me, Manuel, Drea, and Jenny made up the First Year outlings.
“We’ll give Drea three more minutes. I’m confident she’ll be here by then.” Eben stared down his nose, his gaze focused beyond the stacks as if he expected her to appear this second, upon command. “But after three minutes, we’re starting without her.”
We kinda all stared at each other for those three minutes before Eben stood and passed around papers.
“Agenda,” he said. “First up, elemental magic.” His gaze swept over us. “Who needs more practice with mindspeak?”
Skimming the list, I didn’t miss the lack of sundial-syncing on the agenda. Honestly, I’d leave it off if it was my weakness, too.
We outlings had met together once since the Second Year students arrived, to commensurate and help each other acclimate to magical life at the Academy.
Fingering my dragonfly pendant, I wondered what my fellow outlings would think if I called Alex? I’d only spoken to him once since the Ball. Grilled him, actually, about the sixth family and the fact that they’d had a dragonfly companion. As usual, he’d turned into the king of vague. So far, my history class had not revealed any details about the horrible thing the sixth family had done. We were still stuck in the background leading up to the original split from the fae. What could the sixth have done to be banished?
Sarah raised her hand. “I still can’t hear a mindspeak ping.”
“Okay,” Eben said. “Come on over, and we’ll practice.” He tapped the back of the chair beside him. “I believe it’s easier to when you’re close to the person pinging you.”
We spent the next fifteen minutes taking turns pinging Sarah without much success.
“It’ll come,” I said when she sighed out defeat. “Give it time.”
She raised a hesitant smile. “You think so? I’m beginning to wonder.”
“Sure. Keep at it.” I wasn’t sure, actually. And I was beyond grateful for Donovan’s teaching.
“Next on the agenda is flitting,” Eben said. “Anyone having problems with that?”
“I traveled ten feet yesterday,” Carly said with a grin.
Cool, go you, and wonderful, the others cried out, cheering her on until she blushed.
While I did like feeling as if I belonged somewhere, I hated seeing Ashton’s comment about an outling’s poor magical skills confirmed. My abilities had to be an anomaly. Even the Elites displayed varying degrees of aptitude, from Donovan, who was neck and neck with me in most of my classes, to Alys, who could still only pull in one thread. That latter fact provided me endless satisfaction in Cloven’s classes.
“Anyone else have a flitting update?” Eben asked.
“Still working on it,” Manuel said. He scratched his dark hair, leaving a few strands standing on-end. “But I was able to flit from my dorm room to the ground floor this morning.”
Eben high-fived Manuel. “You’re doing fantastic.” Eben may be a bit anal but he was supportive. Maybe he wasn’t that bad a Club President.
“I, um, can flit from my bathroom to my main dorm room,” I said. Flitting came easy for me but mentioning the fact felt too much like bragging.
Everyone smiled, and Jenny patted my arm.
“Okay, then,” Eben said. “Next on the agenda is enhancing skapti.”
I sat forward.
“We’re all pulling in at least one thread, correct?” Eben asked.
Everyone nodded, but none of us would’ve made it through Stone Selection if we didn’t have the potential to pull in power.
“Keep at it. You’ll find it easier and easier to draw in multiple threads before you know it.”
“Fantastic,” Sarah said with a grin.
“Last item on the agenda is the most vital.” Eben stared down at the paper on the table in front of him. “Fitting in at the Academy.” His solemn gaze met each of ours, one-by-one, and our moods dropped at least three notches. “Who’s dealing with bullies? Which, unfortunately, will be a common occurrence, I’m afraid.”
Sarah raised her hand. “Only one so far.”
Protectiveness rose inside me, and I stroked my dagger. “Who?” I asked. “I’ll speak to the Headmistress about them, if you want.”
“Right now, I’d rather not say.”
“How do you want to handle it, then?” I asked, my fingers gliding across my stone.
As her eyes drifted to my hand, she released a soft smile. “Not that way, but thanks.” Her chin lifted, and she tucked a long strand of hair behind her ear. “Instead of getting pissed off—or crying—I’m answering each of his taunts with pure kindness. I’m hoping that’ll smooth out his rough edges.” She blushed. “Because, he’s kinda cute.”
“It’s hard to be mean to someone who is unfailingly nice,” Eben said, ignoring the cute comment. “Good thought on your part.” He made a note on his agenda. “Let me know if we need to intervene.” His brown eyes darkened. “It won’t be the first time I’ve had to handle something like this.”
Sarah dipped her head. “I will.”
“Anyone else?” Eben asked. When we all shrugged, he said, “Okay. That’s it for tonight, then. Let’s meet up here again next week at the same time?”
Agreeing, we rose and took the stairs to the ground floor, then walked out of the library together.
“Anyone want to get an iced coffee?” Manuel asked.
“Not me, but thanks,” I said. It was getting late, and my body ached from my repeated tumbles off random aldakors.
We split up, me walking right after a soft goodbye, the others turning left, going either to Wind or Fire Coven or to the coffee shop. Me and Drea were the only outlings in Earth Coven.
Weird that Drea hadn’t shown up for the meeting.
My footsteps echoed around me as I passed the Clinic entrance. I waved to a few kids in the mall but only one responded. Second Year students were almost universally snooty, as if we First Year kids deserved a trial by scowl, their version of a mini-initiation before acceptance. Or maybe they didn’t want to bother getting to know us until it was clear we wouldn’t flunk out.
Definitely needed to master riding an aldakor. And discover my other skapti. Because flunking out of the Academy was not an option.
I’d gone to Justine after things settled and shared my ability with fire and feeding power into Cloven, but she’d only smiled and said, “Wonderful. Keep exploring.”
Whatever that meant.
Leaving the mall, I bumped into Ashton coming from the other direction.
“Outling,” he said snidely, smoothing his hair and jacket. Rather messy, considering how flawless he always kept his prefect appearance.
“Elite,” I said just as snidely but I knew the taunt had no kick.
He huffed and crossed the mall to join a bunch of guys sitting at a table outside the ice cream shop. He should get an ice cream. It might sweeten him up.
Shaking my head, I continued, taking the stairs leading to the skywalk spanning across to Earth Coven. I loved how they’d built it completely of clear crystal. A lot of kids avoided it because, as you walked across, vertigo hit, giving you the feeling you were about to plunge to the ground.
After a few more excursions on the roof with Donovan, I’d become addicted to heights.
As well as Donovan.
I walked across the span, staring through the clear glass, taking in the stars and moon overhead, the trees at eye level at my sides, and the statues below.
A slithering, scraping sound behind me made me pause. Frowning, I peered back, into darkness that swallowed the entrance.
“Hello?” I called out. My heart tripped when the sound was repeated, but I didn’t see a thing. Not a speck of movement, either.
Had I imagined it?
I couldn’t quite convince myself it had been nothing.
Okay, so the skywalk wasn’t as much fun as I’d thought. Not when night had fallen and I was traveling alone.
Ignoring the prickles lifting along my spine, I turned back and continued toward Earth Coven, my pace quicker than before. I wasn’t scared. Not too much, that is.
When the scraping grew louder, as if something was creeping up on me, my mouth flashed dry and I bolted.
I hit the far side of the skywalk at a dead run, my breathing raging in my chest, my veins on fire. My fingers scrambled on the doorknob. Fear sobbing out of me, I wrenched the panel open and dashed forward.
I tripped over something solid lying on the floor on the landing.
Falling onto my knees beyond whatever it was, I flipped onto my butt and then scrambled backward, abrading my palms on the tiles with the frantic movement.
“Drea?” I whispered, squinting in the low light.
Lying on her back, she’d clasped her hands on her chest like she’d decided the stairway floor was an awesome place to take a nap.
Or like she was lying in a casket.
Not a good thought, there.
Green leaves lay around her body, tossed there by someone or scattered by the wind. Plump and full, they looked freshly picked.
When I inched forward, my gasp burst from my lips.
Drea stared at the ceiling, glassy-eyed. I checked, but she had no pulse. She wasn’t breathing either.
“Dead?” I stuttered out in horror.
At the base of her throat where her school uniform was unbuttoned to expose her pale skin, something drew my eye. I leaned forward, my pulse hammering in my ears loud enough to eclipse everything else.
A circle had been carved into her flesh, and beaded blood had dried in the outline.
What…?” Inside the circle…No, not a circle. An O. For Outling? And in the middle, someone had carved a number.
With Drea dead, there were no longer eight outlings at Crystal Wing Academy
The clock had just ticked down to seven.