Shadowspell Academy meets The Hunger Games
To reach freedom at Darkwater Reformatory, Tria and her friends must complete the Reformatory Challenge, a series of dangerous trials that take place in the magical, ever-changing catacombs located beneath Darkwater Prison.
With her are Brodin, a hot guy with secrets. Her roommate, Jacey, a fierce friend whose loyalty will be tested. And Akimi, a tree nymph with her own agenda.
But working together to complete each Challenge isn’t the only trial they face.
They’re also being hunted…
Wicked Challenge is Book Two in the Darkwater Reformatory Series. The series is best enjoyed if read in order. Look for Book One, Wicked Betrayal, and Book Three, Wicked Rebellion, on Amazon.
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About the Book
by Marty Mayberry
Paranormal Prison Fantasy
July 15, 2020
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A Darkwater Reformatory Novel
© 2020 Marty Mayberry
The roar of a raptor shifter echoed around us as we raced through Darkwater Prison’s arboretum, followed by the lizard’s shriek and the larbeera’s whoop-whoop cry—the last arcing across the sky. Titan’s feet slammed on the ground. As he shouldered his way through the forest, trees toppled. If we didn’t reach the entrance to the Reformatory Challenge soon, Titan and his friends would rip us to shreds.
Lars, the larbeera, soared above us, his menacing, fifteen-foot wingspan blocking the two moons. Diving low, he tried to snatch me up off the ground with his razor-sharp claws, but I ducked as he passed over me. His fiery breath blasted across my neck. Kai, my wexal cat friend, leaped into the air and dragged his claws across the larbeera’s scaly belly. They cut deep and blood dripped onto the path.
My pulse pounded in my ears, and my lungs raged. The third in Titan’s group, the croc-sized lizard shifter, thundered across the ground to our right to get ahead of us.
“We’re close,” Jacey, my roommate called out from ahead. Since she’d attempted the Reformatory Challenge a month ago, we’d given her the lead.
My tree nymph friend, Akimi, coasted above the ground at my side, her rooted feet snagging on dried leaves. They scraped the forest floor like loose sacks of brittle bones. She tossed back spells to slow the shifters’ progress but they kept coming. Titan and his quad, who were now a triad after the death of the chiema shifter, ruled the arboretum and while we were stupid to have come here at night, it was our only chance to steal our way into the Challenge.
“Go!” Brodin—the fourth member of my new quadrad—shouted, rushing up to join me and Akimi. He’d taken the rear, in a protective mode as always.
He and I… Well, we held a shaky truce that would continue for now.
He smiled, and his tap on my back urged me to go faster. “Keep lagging, sweetheart, and you’ll be left behind.”
I sensed no sneer, only teasing in his words. It lightened my heart and made it possible to keep running. I couldn’t stop thinking about our kiss…
Akimi dropped back to take his spot, and her spells lit up the night, blasting toward the shifters.
I caught up to Brodin, and he grabbed my hand. His squeeze sent reassurance and a hint at a path we’d never taken…
We emerged from the bushes and slammed into a solid stone wall.
Crap. Dead end.
Jacey jumped and hauled on vines drooping across the surface, revealing an oval wooden door hewn into the cliff face. Without her, I wouldn’t have known the door was here.
Brodin leaned close to me. “One of these days, we’re gonna have to talk.”
“At the Reformatory?”
He growled. “I won’t wait until then.”
My heart shouldn’t be singing. He still hated me. Or did he?
“There won’t be time during the Challenge,” I said.
“We can make it.”
“Tell me why things have changed,” I ground out.
His gaze fell to my arm. “When I ran into you at the Academy…” He shook his head, and his hair flopped forward, onto his face. “Not you, someone else. She wore short sleeves and had a scar on her arm.” Lifting my hand, he tugged my right sleeve up to my shoulder then ran his fingertip across my smooth skin. “I wasn’t sure what I’d seen until—”
“The bird grabbed me in the yard,” I finished for him. It had lifted me into the air, determined to take me to its nest to feed to its young. Brodin had latched onto my legs and, together, we’d escaped the bird.
“That’s when I knew. We haven’t had time to talk since.”
But now, we’d make the time. I couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say.
“I…” He growled. “I’m sorry. I—”
“Hurry,” Akimi hissed from behind us. She sent another bolt of deep green magic through the narrow opening in the tall shrubs, and someone bellowed in pain. When she pressed up close to me, her rough bark dug into my spine. “I cannot hold them for long.”
Fingers fumbling, Jacey dropped the key. She snatched it up off the pine-needle strewn ground and inserted it into a small metal circle in the middle of the door. Blue sparks spurted from the hole and drifted down like falling stars.
The world shuddered, and the door creaked inward. Steps descended downward, proving the catacombs must network beneath the prison. For all I knew, they snaked underneath the entire island.
“Are you prepared for whatever might come next?” Akimi asked in a soft, light voice reminiscent of leaves whispering in the wind. “Now ‘tis the moment to back away. Once inside, we can only go forward.” Her gaze flicked toward the thunder of approaching raptor feet.
“Yes,” I said with a stiff spine. My gaze took in Brodin. “You?”
“More than ready. I think…”
“I want to find out where this takes me. Takes us.”
I cocked my head. “Us?”
He chuckled and flicked his hand forward. “You first, Seeker. See what you can find.” Only deep satisfaction came through in his words. “I’m right by your side.”
While the path might be rocky ahead, the future held a lot of promise.
Kai peered back and hissed. Latching onto my fingers with his teeth, he dragged me toward the entrance.
I stepped inside after Jacey and was swallowed by darkness. I could barely see the stairs dropping downward in front of me. Brodin rested his hand on my shoulder, adding his strength to mine. It felt…good. Welcome. Like I’d finally come home.
As the door boomed closed behind us, we crept down the stairs without saying a word. At the bottom, the passage widened. Tiny lights winked on. They coated the walls, and their iridescence surrounded us.
A cave-like chamber waited, and our only exit appeared to be an arched entrance to a dark, gloomy tunnel on the opposite side of the bone-strewn room.
Jacey took in the bones and keened. Had Rohnan, her boyfriend, only made it this far? As she dropped to her knees and feverishly sorted through the endless piles, Kai leaned against my leg and whimpered.
A gust of wind filled with the sharp tang of pain swirled past us, continuing down the corridor behind us.
The world shuddered, and a snarl rang out at the top of the stairs. Titan’s roar sought us out in the cave-like chamber, and the dull thud of his feet rushed this way. As my friends and I ran toward the tunnel ahead, my gaze was drawn to the ceiling. Horror spilled through me, a slick taint I’d never be able to shake.
An opaque creature oozed across the top of the cave.
My eyes flicked from Jacey to Akimi, then to Brodin, and the panic bolting inside me was reflected on their faces.
Palms sweaty, I ran faster.
The main entrance door slammed shut again, trapping us inside the Challenge.
“Go!” Brodin yelled as the multiple stomps of three shifters echoed down the corridor. Veins stood out on his neck. Fangs bared, a feral gleam in his eyes shouted beware. His ghostly Eerie form had leaked through. Would he fully shift? He should only be able to transform into an Eerie in dreams, yet here we were.
As Akimi and Jacey disappeared into the dark tunnel ahead, and Brodin urged me on with a hand on the back of my waist, I paused to peer over my shoulder. Kai leaned against me, his lips peeled back and a growl rumbling in his throat.
The gorelon remained near the cave entrance. Its glowing eyes tracked my every move, but it didn’t give chase.
During the trial that had formed our quad, I’d discovered the gorelon and Warden Bixby were one and the same. Did she shift, or did she direct the gorelon from afar? No surprise she thrived on murder, but why? Someday, I’d find out the reason the death rate was so high at the prison. Yes, the guards and Warden Bixby enjoyed evil pranks, but the thrill of hunting someone couldn’t be the only reason. It was almost as if they drove us into the Challenge, but that made no sense. Bixby had tried to stop us from entering.
Did they gain anything by forcing this on us?
Titan poked his head into the cave, and fear rippled across my skin. I ducked into the shadows while he arched his neck back and bellowed. Teeth snapping, he raked the cave floor with his claws, sending bones and rocks slamming into the walls. He spied me watching, and shifted back into his six-five wizard form. I expected him to yell out a taunt, but he remained silent while the two remaining members of his quadrad, Lars and Micah, shifted into wizard form as well. They glanced up at the gorelon, and their evil grins joined Titan’s. As he stalked toward us with fists clenched at his sides and rage blazing on his face, the gorelon oozed directly above him. His friends paced behind him.
The confirmation they were working together made my knees shake.
I ducked into the tunnel, eager to get away before they reached me. Though they’d find it a challenge to stand upright in the narrow, low-ceilinged channel, they could partly shift, long enough to rip into us with their claws and chomp off our heads.
With Kai snapping and snarling at my heels, I rushed forward. The walls closed in on me, a trap of jagged rocks and sticks. I hoped they were sticks. Catching up to the others, I followed as the channel grew narrower, the rocky sides scraping my arms and legs. I had to hunch forward and inch along. Akimi’s branches scraped across the ceiling, creating a spine-jarring shriek. Bits of leaves and sticks feel beneath her, and she whimpered whenever a big piece was torn from her head.
Jacey dropped down and started crawling, and I did the same.
A cold wind whipped through the narrow passage, nipping at my cheeks and making goosebumps flash across my skin.
“It’s…” Jacey’s voice echoed from ahead of us. “Hurry, guys. I’ve found our first challenge.”
I crawled out of the hole after the others and while shuffles and swears suggested Titan and the others weren’t far behind, I was more afraid of what lay ahead.
A vast cavern stretched for what looked like half a mile, the dark, open area interspersed with circular, floating landmasses no wider than a foot. The mini-islands swayed and spun and shifted positions. Along the sides, smooth walls cupped the cavern like the inside of a steel bowl, rising up to an arched ceiling.
The ledge we stood on was about three feet wide and continued on either side of us a short distance before melting into the walls. And far in the distance, on the opposite side of the expanse, a tunnel waited.
“At least we know where we need to go,” I said, pointing.
“As far as we know,” Jacey said, frowning.
“Always remember,” Akimi said. “Nothing here is as it seems. It changes.”
Tiptoeing forward, I peered over the edge but if there was a bottom, it was too far below to see.
“Okay,” I said. “Looks like we need to cross to the other side.” A gut-wrenching distance I couldn’t imagine crossing.
“We’ll use the tiny islands,” Brodin added, joining me on the tip of the ledge. He studied the moving bits of land. “There could be a pattern.”
“We’ll find it,” Jacey said from the entrance. Brodin moved over to discuss options with her, while I internally plotted a course. The small chunk of stone and grass to my right and half a leap out from the wall might make a good starting point. And then I could…
The ground beneath me jolted, and the three-foot-wide space jerked backward, disappearing into the wall. It tipped up, and I was knocked in that direction. Arms spiraling, I yelped and scrambled to find something to latch onto. Adrenaline shot through my veins, and sweat burst from my forehead. I fell toward the endless, gaping expanse.
One of Akimi’s branches slapped down onto my shoulder and dug in, not deep enough to break the skin but enough she could haul me in her direction. I was dragged up against Brodin, who stood between us, and his arms went around my waist. A stupid time to space out, but my mind returned to the meadow scene, when his lips captured mine. Turning, I clutched his forearms and stared up at him. His eyes warmed, something I’d never seen outside of fantasy.
The floor underneath us moved again, stealing more of the shelf.
Gasping, I plastered my back against the wall but peered into the corridor to gauge how much time we had before Titan’s crew arrived. “We’ve got to…”
A set of glowing eyes bit through the darkness as the gorelon slid across the upper surface. Relentless, it wouldn’t stop until I was dead. While I didn’t see Titan, he’d be with the creature, and his friends would right behind.
“Time to go,” I yelled. My heart on fire, I jumped away from the opening. “From a glance, every third spot flips on a regular basis, while the others remain stationary. Be careful. Some jump up suddenly, while others drop down. But we can cross this.”
Brodin faced the corridor, brandishing a stick. “Every test in the challenge has a way out.”
If we were lucky. I was banking on it.
“I’m on it,” Jacey said with an excited gleam in her eyes. She hopped off the ledge and onto the mini-island I’d marked in my mind.
“Quickly,” Brodin said, his gaze shooting downward. “We’re about to lose the ledge.”
Akimi stepped out and her roots sunk into the mini landmass Jacey had just vacated.
When Jacey leaped onto another, it dropped. She swore, and her foot slid off the edge. Smacking onto the flat surface on her belly, she clung to the sides.
Akimi didn’t wait for Jacey to get to rise; she jumped forward, onto a different island.
“Go ahead of me,” Brodin said, waving to the spot Akimi had vacated.
Jacey swayed on her feet, and then sprang from one island to the next with Akimi—roots trailing—hot behind.
Peering into the narrow tunnel and still seeing only shadows, I nudged his side. “You go. I’ve got…a plan.”
I tapped his side. “I won’t be long. Promise.”
He studied my face before nodding. Nice that he trusted me, because I wasn’t sure I trusted myself.
While he stepped out onto the first small surface, tossing a heavy—get to it—glance my way, I pulled in sketar mist, grateful to find it still worked in the catacombs. Our tennas remained on our wrists, which meant our regular magic remained blocked. If we ever found down-time, we’d have to explore the magic granted to us when we’d formed our quad.
Kai leaned into my leg, lending me his strength and urging me on. I could do this!
The mist flowed into me, seamless and soothing, like I’d draped a favorite blanket around my shoulders. It didn’t always respond to my call, but if there was a time for it to cooperate, it was now. I nipped it off before it overwhelmed me, and sent it out at the tunnel with a command.
The ground shook, and the walls of the passage compressed and wobbled. As it gave way, rocks tumbled down the wall from above me.
Coughing and clinging to the wall, I waved at the dust and dirt clouding around me. When the air cleared, I released a huff. A mound of rubble had sealed off the entrance. Deep inside, beyond the blockage, Titan released a furious bellow.
A satisfied smile on my face, I turned to take on the first challenge. Mini islands awaited me.
“Watch out,” Brodin shouted over his shoulder, his gaze trained at my feet.
The last of the ledge jerked out from underneath me.
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Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the release of WICKED CHALLENGE by Marty Mayberry, we’re giving away a paperback copy of the Outling by Marty Mayberry to one lucky winner!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Outling by Marty Mayberry. This giveaway is administered by BookMojo on behalf of Marty Mayberry. Giveaway ends 8/31/2020 @ 11:59pm EST. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
About Marty Mayberry
MARTY MAYBERRY writes young adult fiction and infuses it with suspense, romance, and a touch of humor. When she’s not dreaming up ways to mess with her character’s lives, she works as an RN/Clinical Documentation Specialist. She lives in New England with her husband, three children, three geriatric cats, and a spunky Yorkie pup who keeps her on her toes.
Marty is a member of YARWA and a PAN member of RWA, as well a four-year PitchWars mentor.
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