P. 1


|Views: 1|Likes:

More info:

Published by: ROSITA CAMACHO on Jan 09, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less





My Boyfriend Merlin
Priya Ardis

Table Of Contents

which have been used without permission. uploading. Ink Lion Books. whether electronic or mechanical without the author's express written permission. Any references to real people or real locations are used fictitiously. organizations.My Boyfriend Merlin. Phatpuppy Art. Copyright Ardis. or sponsored by the trademark owners. No part of this book may be reproduced. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized. Young Adult Fantasy Romance. http://inklionbooks. associated with. and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without permission is prohibited. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction.com . Ardis. in any form or by any means. This novel is a work of fiction. Cover design by Kat Baldwin. Ink Lion Books. Priya (2011). names. or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system. Any references to historical events are used fictitiously. transmitted. All rights reserved. 2011 by Priyanka Cover illustrations by Claudia McKinney. reverse engineered. downloaded. The scanning. Characters. Any resemblance to actual incidents or persons is coincidental. My Boyfriend Merlin.

04.com ISBN: 978-0-9848339-0-0 Version 2012.priyaardis.Visit the author website: http://www.02 .

everything else together. a real life fairy godmother.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank my family and friends. Mrs. This book has been truly a community effort and I am grateful for all their support. and numerous—not to mention often repetitious—“first reads” over the years. ER and WM. I would like to thank the writing organizations that do their best to encourage every writer to climb out of the basement once in awhile. book. P. In addition. I dedicate this book to them and a great English teacher. who let me know when something sparkled or it was only so-so. . Thank you to CM at Phatpuppy Art for giving me such a gorgeous cover picture. for pulling the cover. I would like to thank my editors.. encouragement. Thank you to KB.

They remembered they’d just ordered a cup of coffee when JFK died.CHAPTER 1 THE WORLD CHANGES I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news… I’d always heard the phrase from older people. They remembered they’d been folding their leg warmers when the Challenger shuttle blew up on take-off on national TV or that it was a Tuesday when terrorists crashed a plane into the twin towers… I’d heard about such life changing events. but like .

We all snapped to attention. “Near northern France —” “Actually. 1588. A line of windows across the top of the basement classroom did nothing to retain warmth. My name is Arriane Morganne Brittany DuLac—you can imagine why I went by Ryan instead. “With one decision. It blinked with a number I recognized even though I’d deleted the name from my contact list. RYAN.anyone I didn’t really believe it would happen to me. . Hainey. I refused to look. she changed the course of history.” Hainey housed a permanent TV in a closet in his classroom that he called the “lab. “You’ve got to see this. I was sitting in school when the story broke. Making sure the teacher’s back was turned. I doodled on my notepad and tried to concentrate as our Advanced European History teacher droned on about Queen Elizabeth. Her ships defeated the Spanish armada—Ryan.” Ms. Our school district may have been well funded but you couldn’t tell from the bland grey floor. burst inside with a wild look behind his round glasses. “August 8th.” He grabbed Ms. I drew my sweater around me. Matt. what year did the Spanish armada try to invade England?” I blinked at her. “They’re showing it on every channel. whitewash walls and standard-issue combination deskchairs. The fleet was stopped in the English Channel near a place called Gravelines. Bedevere slowly nodded. it was part of the Netherlands—” The door to the adjoining classroom flung open. our bald munchkin-sized Physics 2 teacher. Switching off the phone without replying. A text message made my phone vibrate in my pocket. Bedevere saw me. I felt his eyes boring into the back of my head.” Mr. I said quickly. WE NEED TO TALK. I snuck out the phone. I snuck it back into my pocket but I was pretty sure Ms. It was hard to be interested when I knew more about the subject than she did.

“Kiss-ass.” Grey’s buddies hollered enthusiastically. “I knew you and I would be on the same page. I can’t leave the classroom. I have two words for you—casino prom. Ry. Six foot. drawing attention to the broad shoulders under his football letter jacket. and he rode a shiny new yellow-black Ducati motorcycle that had more curves than I did.” She tossed the words over her shoulder as she left. a little dangerous. pretty face. you’ll never forgive yourself. “Ryan?” Feeling the other kids’ eyes on me. “If you don’t see it. He was a little eerie. Okay. No matter what. What’s happened?” Everyone knew Hainey had a crush on the petite redhead. “Hey. I knew why. Matt Emrys.” I was saved from answering as a muted vibration made the windows shake. A sudden gust of wind slammed the classroom door shut. Grey Ragnar stretched. I resisted a groan. A boy stood up to go to them.” He hurried her to the door. The rest of him looked . I squirmed. Who wouldn’t be in love with him? I thought his dark amber eyes were his best feature. He was hot. but nodded. stay put until I get back. Bedevere’s eyes fixed on me.” Ms. He sauntered over and sat on my flimsy student desk making it sink. You’re a history teacher. His name was Matt. DuLac.” “Peter. History is happening now. You’ll never believe it. “This is a once in a lifetime chance.” Grey smiled broadly. He’d started school just this fall. ever since he’d convinced the Principal that the empty biology room down the hall from his classroom would be the best spot for our history class after an unfortunate pipe leak orphaned us.Bedevere by the hand. “You have to see.” “Class. Someone coughed. Modellike brown hair emphasized a chiseled jaw. “I’ll bring the idea to the committee. a month ago… long enough for every girl in the class to fall in love with him—not that I knew why. and a lot irresistible. lean muscles.

“And what do you suggest. You had to be really nerdy to be valedictorian at Acton-Concord High School. Grey looked at Matt in surprise. I sighed. It’s what Ms. Grey. Five out of the top ten kids had gone to Harvard last year. Learn to make up your own mind. I could see in Grey’s face he wanted to take back his words just to spite Matt agreed. In a clipped British accent that could make ordinary words gold. I rose up. In my life of dull grey. purposefully.” One of Grey’s football buddies shouted. “Let’s get out of here. Since the first day Matt had started school. This once. I’d moved not too long ago too. Then Matt had transferred in and the battle royale had begun. Matt Emrys stood illuminated in full color. I hadn’t seen it at first—I became a blubbering idiot at the sight of Matt—but the antagonism between them was mostly Matt’s fault. he said calmly. After my mother had died. “Ms. wheezed and pushed aside the thick brown hair that usually veiled her face. and only Grey.” “I’m not going to stay here just because she said so. I’d been enthralled as soon as I’d laid eyes on him.” Grey scowled at her.” Grey gave me an irritated look. he and Grey had been going at each other. “It appears to be the city siren.seventeen. He slammed the window shut. “Leave her alone. Bedevere said to stay in class. We should go. His buddies nodded along with him. He needled Grey. Matt flung open the window. Bedevere said. but his eyes looked grown-up… as if they’d seen lifetimes. Grey could be overbearing.” Beside me. Bennett. I didn’t . I’d been brought from sun-soaked Texas to the cold Boston suburb of Concord. Bennett blushed under the male scrutiny. a quiet girl.” Matt’s deep voice washed over me from the back of the room. He pretty much ruled our class. Madam President?” “Ragnar is right. A screeching sound filled the room. our soon-to-be valedictorian.

“Emergency procedures state that we should go to the nearest safe room. Ms. A smooth voice spoke into my ear. . The knickknack shelf wobbled. Instinctively. They say it will be here any minute. fifty or so students were crowded in the room. The building gave a slight shudder.” Like horses released from the gate. A few glass beakers tumbled off the lab tables and broke. The other students’ heads looked back and forth between the three of us. The building trembled. I lost my footing and stumbled. A pair of male arms wrapped around my waist and stopped my fall.” I took a breath. as if you would have remembered to come get us. but it seemed far away. He pulled us to the side of the room behind a tall bookshelf filled with Hainey’s science knick-knacks. Lights flickered off and on. I have you. “Ms. “What’s going on?” A rumble shook the building. Kids from the Chem-2 class next door had already beaten us there. my body moved to get away from it.” Grey asked. Even though the class sizes for advanced placement classes were fairly small. We went down the hall into the long physics room. Bedevere will be in Hainey’s room. High tables and bench seats made up the physics room. “Get down. the classroom scrambled to close up their backpacks and rush to the door. Bedevere smiled at me winningly. “Don’t panic.know why. Matt. Ryan. “Good work.” Grey muttered behind me. It turned out we weren’t the only ones Hainey had alerted." I straightened to the full length of my five-foot-two-inch frame. Hainey pointed under them. We’ll all go there. I knew I could depend on you to handle anything. I should have pushed him away but I couldn’t. A sense of calm encased me. His class was already huddled beneath.” “Right.

Half-a-minute after it started. “Stay still. I wanted to stay with him. and numerous other models tumbled down… and over us. My soon-to-be brother’s voice. No one moved for what seemed like another ten minutes. I tried to pull away from him. a floating ball as heavy as twenty-pound weights.” My heart raced. As much as I didn’t want to let Matt off the hook. Matt let go of me. “Hope the earthquake didn’t distract you two. I could hear the worry in Grey’s voice. I heard a few gasps. “Why didn’t they hit us?” Dark eyes fixed on me. Now they wanted to adopt me to make it official.” “Ryan?” Grey said from the other side of the shelf. The building gave a violent shake. I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it. “Guess we were lucky. He held me in place. Most of the knick-knacks flew off the shelf. It also came with responsibility. None of the knick-knacks hit us. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to move… ever. I stepped back around the shelf into the open part of the room. I braced myself for the hit. It had always been my mom and me against the world and I’d lost her too. It was as if an invisible bubble was keeping us safe. Pathetic. “I’m here. Although with Matt holding me. “We need to get under—” But it was too late. There was loud shuffling as the kids under the tables started to come out. the tremor stopped.” Grey looked at Matt with an unhappy expression. One snickered. I watched as they fell all around Matt and me. “Are you crazy?” I pointed behind us where everyone else was huddled. The Ragnars had taken me in when I had no one left. I grabbed his arm and pointed to the fallen knick-knacks. A microscope. . Being part of a family was as thrilling as it was scary. I glanced at Matt flabbergasted. but then let go. Matt shrugged.Matt’s arms around me tightened and held me in place.” A few kids stared when Matt walked out behind me. They made a neat circle around us. A model of the galaxy crashed to the ground.

Bedevere.” Hainey had managed to cram a TV. They’re calling it the Total Tremor.” our valedictorian intoned. The giant stone just appeared. “Is that what I think it is?” One of Grey’s buddies exclaimed in a thick Bostonian accent. With my height I could only make out a corner of the TV through the crowd.” Another teammate guffawed. “But we don’t have earthquakes.” On Hainey’s flat screen. Bedevere squealed like a five-year-old on a sugar-high. “Boston had a 3-pointer not too long ago. A few pigeons persisted in hanging around the destruction. But then.” “What appeared? What stone?” Grey muscled his way through the crowd to the front. “I don’t believe it!” “I knew you’d love this. Hainey flipped on the news. “It came down in a big explosion. His buddies followed close behind us.“Was that it?” someone murmured. Everyone thought it was a bomb. poof. “It’s a metal cross.” one of Grey’s buddies said and made an old jalopy glug-glug sound. edging everyone else out. floor-standing speakers. I squeezed in beside him. doofus. Smoke and broken concrete littered the scene. “It’s not an earthquake.. That’s when the Total Tremor started. “It’s a sword. And it wasn’t just us. “I thought an earthquake would be bigger.” another kid said.” Hainey waved his cellphone in the air. It went around the whole world. Crowds of people gathered . British policemen had closed off the square and stood on guard around the perimeter. and a mini-fridge into a closet at the back of his classroom. “It can’t be?” I looked at Ms. His friends laughed.” Hainey grabbed a potato-chip bag and started stuffing chip after chip systematically into his mouth. Ms. two video-game consoles. “But I don’t know if one’s ever come all the way out to Concord. the tagline read ‘Trafalgar Square’.” “Joey’s car shakes worse than that. I stood on my tiptoes..” We crowded around the “lab.

the stone had one jagged side extending from the bottom to the top. It seemed to poof into existence. They all looked wide-eyed at the spectacle in the middle. A sword sat buried inside an obsidian-black rock at the center of the square. The video righted again. not taking her eyes off the television. the buildings shook in sequence. . Droplets fell on the hilt of the sword. Water sluiced off the broken fountain. the hero of the Battle of Trafalgar. The camera zeroed in on one side of the rock. It sat embedded halfway into the stone. The video jostled at this point.” I murmured. “It's a sword. Bedevere repeated. “Not just any sword. this time on the surrounding buildings. It has been confirmed that the epicenter of the Total Tremor began at the giant stone.” A grainy video clip showed the giant rock appearing out of nowhere a few feet above the big fountain. “but it has caused a sensation. Once the wave had traveled through. A big boom and flying dust went everywhere.” a cheery blonde reporter in a fitted suit says. On its otherwise smooth surface. People screamed—no doubt thinking “TERROR ATTACK”. Like a wave radiating out from the square. People rushed past the tourist who was filming. Wait—” She touched the microphone piece in her ear. Mammoth lion statues perched on the edges of Trafalgar Square stared impassively at the wreckage.” Anders waved to a crewperson on the screen. “I have a breaking update. “It’s not a meteor. We have an amateur video… a tourist in the Square today filmed the entire thing. folks.around them.” Ms. the stone would have looked like something dropped by aliens—or some other higher power. Half of it was on a fountain dedicated to Lord Nelson. Gravity realized around it and it fell to the ground. But the whole square shook. A giant black stone sat directly atop the right half of the fountain. If I hadn’t known the King Arthur legend. “Let’s roll this clip. flooding the square. the tourist turned back to the center of the square.

a noted King Arthur historian and lecturer at Essex University in the United Kingdom. Dr. Anders. “Certainly the Total Tremor is no laughing matter. This rock could not have fallen out of the sky.” Anders declared. there is a scientific explanation.” Images from around the world flashed across the TV. We know what everyone is thinking—the sword inside the . “Other scientists who have seen the footage agree. Latimer. Times Square… They all had one thing in common—they had all trembled under the force of the tremor. There hasn’t been an event this widespread since the meteor that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. “Hmm…. Vivane Northe. More reports are coming in as the tremor spreads. The entire square would have been decimated.” The picture changed to a white-haired man in a tooexpensive suit.” On TV. an eminent physicist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We must find it—” “Until then we shall look at a different theory. what can tell us about the stone?” “Yes. Dr. “The rock. The impact here suggests the rock fell only a few feet.” The TV showed an aerial view of the square. Anders nodded.almost like steps. “Dr. “Let’s go to our history expert. However. he’s right about the point of origin.” The reporter gave an overbright smile. Hainey leaned closer to the screen to get a good look. is a man in very high demand today. And it is not nearly big enough to have caused a world-wide tremor. Latimer.” The professor spoke in a nasally tone.” Latimer’s face became as long as a basset hound’s. Still the globe is abuzz. despite its large size did not fall with such impact as to create such a world-wide phenomenon. “Thankfully a minimal number of lives have been lost—mostly due to panic. They are both here to share their expertise. Madrid. Ms. Northe. “But is it some sort of elaborate hoax? We have set up a panel to ask just that. “A rock of this size and mass would have created a much bigger crater if it had fallen out of sky. Dr. Paris. thank you. Berlin.

Let’s leave Mr. With a rakish smile that said he knew exactly how attractive he was. King Arthur's sword. “He’s not that handsome. “The myth of King Arthur starts with Arthur pulling the sword from the stone. Northe said. But that wasn’t why I gaped at Northe. would not our surnames match?” Matt’s accent emphasized the droll bite to his statement. Grey glowered at him. “Of course.” Everyone dutifully turned back to the TV.” “Of course—” Hainey rubbed a hand over his bald scalp and gave a fake laugh. “If we were. How can such a thing be possible?” A lean yet gorgeous face filled the screen. claiming his right to the throne…” My jaw dropped lower. Emrys?” Gray asked with a sneer.” Matt muttered. He also seemed really young —about nineteen.stone. I don’t know what it was about Matt. Hainey gave Matt an I’ve-got-your-back thumbs up sign. “Back to your rooms. We all turned to Matt. Emrys alone. Bedevere ventured. . Anders said. “Yet he is not my twin.” Ms. but the teachers all treated him like he walked on water. “Missing a twin. “He’s a professor?” a girl beside me murmured.” We all hurried out. On TV. “We have yet to see how the British government will respond. He could have been Matt’s double. “You do sound just like him. Hainey muted the TV. “Talk about hot for teacher. The question we must ask here is not just why but why now? And what do we do next?” “Closer scientific study should begin immediately—” “We should gather other historians—” Everyone jumped when the class bell rang. Matt’s tone softened. Northe appeared more underwear model than molelike history university lecturer. and thus. He spoke in an eerily familiar British accent.” a girl beside me murmured.

” I tried not to laugh. “Is that what you really think?” “Sure. It made him look so… intense. Perfect Party. Really? Instead I smiled and gave them a thumbs-up. Matt came up from behind my desk. “You have nothing to say that she wants to hear. You’re very… conscientious. Why did he have to wear that black leather jacket? It was the slim kind without a collar. “Look.” “No. He smiled almost wistfully. I wanted to ignore him. One held up a scribbled sign on notebook paper. Matt?” “Plenty of things. Alexa stomped up to my desk.” Alexa mimicked. “Pardon me?” Matt stared at her in confusion.I was throwing my notebook into my backpack when a couple of pep-squad girls tried to get my attention.” He blocked my exit. He gave the Princess Prom sign a pained look. Matt Emrys.” I zipped up my backpack with a snap.” In a staccato of long thigh-high boots and bouncing brown curls. Alexa didn’t notice. His hand dropped. “You sound so polite. They nodded happily.” he said slowly. “I’m student president. I have to be. “Princess Prom.” . “Odd day. His hand reached out to smooth a few stray tendrils of hair. Her usual carefree expression was set to protective bulldog. are you?” My smile froze. I’ve got to get to gym. “Pardon me.” My cheeks puffed. You just don’t like to say no. “You’re not serious.” “Of course you do. I don’t think so. She grabbed me by the elbow.” “What do you want. “I bring every idea to the committee. A boy in the desk beside me nearly swallowed his tongue at the sight of her in avenging-angel mode. I jerked away. “I saw you switch off my text.” From you. why not?” I pulled on my backpack and put one foot out from the desk. Princess Prom. I seriously debated throwing my backpack at his head. don’t you think? This strange tremor and all—” “I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation for the tremor. his eyes suggested. Too bad you don’t act it.” “A scientific explanation.

But I’d been saying yes for two months. “You dumped me. “It’s important. Remember? You don’t get to talk anymore. We’d been talking for two months. wait. I shook my head. “Let’s go or Coach will skin us for being late again. I wanted to say.” Matt started. I thought we were friends. yes. Matt.” .” My traitorous heart fluttered. I need to talk to you. It still hurt how wrong I’d been.She grabbed me by the elbow and started pulling me toward the door.” “Ryan. I’d been wrong.

“He texted you to break up.” Alexa said as she hurried us down the hallway. “After the way he treated you—” “It was only two dates.CHAPTER 2 ATTACK “I can’t believe you even let that jerk near you.” I defended The hallways of Acton-Concord High were crowded with kids. Alexa snorted. Everyone took the few minutes in between class to check their phones that were supposed to be kept in the .” I muttered. How weak is that?” “I text all the time.

“Really? Have you picked the Prom theme yet?” “It’s a committee decision. a paper scheduler just did not work for me. “What if everyone hates what I pick?” Alexa went into the locker room.” I felt my cheeks heat.” Alexa raised curved eyebrows. It was the one rule I couldn’t make myself follow. I sighed. Ry.” Alexa snorted. I chewed my lip. Don’t think we don’t know you still have nightmares?” My jaw dropped open. I opened the door to the gym. “Grey and I just want to look out for you.” Alexa went into the locker room.lockers. Well. I couldn’t bear to be parted from my scheduler and with all the activities and clubs I’d signed up for. The combination of possessing a petite frame. you’re officially going to be my little sister.” Her perfectly symmetrical eyes narrowed. “I can handle Matt—or anyone else for that matter. “And I’m not letting Emrys take advantage of my way too sweet sister. and big eyes seemed to land me in the role of the damsel in distress every time. “Let me remind you that when your mom adopts me. They all thought I needed rescuing. barely glancing at the gloomy sky outside to a side entrance of the gym that led directly to the girl’s locker room. “We’re going to be late. “We’re on the same floor and you’re not exactly quiet. “You can’t please . “You hear me?” Alexa’s generous lips turned down into a sad smile. But it wasn’t like I was a basketcase. My phone vibrated in my pocket. not totally. Alexa stopped just at the door. You’ve had a tough year.” I defended. The white knight routine happened to me a lot. curly blond hair. “Do you sleep with that thing?” We ran across a small courtyard. on top of taking a full AP course load. pres. “It’s your committee.” Alexa rolled her eyes.” “Only by age.

Her face returned to normal. We scrimmaged against girls wearing green shirts. Alexa sauntered over to me.” I muttered before following her in. Her face twisted. grabbing the ball from me. I had almost made it to the goal when a girl. my heart full for the first time since I could remember. To both our surprise. “It’s a good thing you have me to back you up. “Sisters are forever. With a speed I only seemed to possess on the field. the mossy field smelled sharp from rain. The girl knocked me to the ground. I grinned at her. but Alexa intercepted it and lobbed the ball at the goal. but . Wind tried to penetrate the leggings under my blue skirt and chilled the skin exposed by my tied-back hair. A Corvette wasn’t an uncommon sight in the student lot. The girls on our team cheered. Hulking body— the beast stared at me. I blinked. I froze. and I saw it turn to fall back outside. Crisp blades of grass as it crunched under my cleats.” *** After school. charged me. It hit the side of the pole. I blinked again. Long teeth. The freshmen stared at the fancy car with awed eyes.” She held out her hand. She turned to pass it off. We were up two to one. A protruding forehead. I slapped it. I ran down to our goal sidestepping through the other team’s defensive net as easily as if they’d laid out a path for me. I hugged her. I walked past the curb packed with lowerclassmen waiting for the buses to come. A 70’s red Corvette roared up the curb from the student parking lot.” “I just want it to be perfect. We lived in one of the wealthier towns just outside of Boston. *** Behind the gym. I held my lacrosse stick tight against the fabric of my yellow shirt. the size of a bulldozer. but a sudden shift of wind pushed it in instead. It was too late. Alexa passed me the ball.everyone.

The door of the bus opened with a bang and the youngish driver came bustling out wearing a thick coat and Bruins wool cap. a giant whooshing sound hissed from below the bus. The bus tilted as its back tires deflated in front of our eyes. Tommy gave them a huge smile. A cacophony of groans filled the air. “Whaddya think you’re doing?” He stopped short when he saw it was Grey. “How’s that gorgeous mother of yours?” “Working too much as usual. Emrys. “I’ve got to take Alexa home. It grumbled up the lane.” Grey turned red in the face. Her car won’t start. I told Mom not to let her buy that European scrap-heap. Like a rocket. Why did I want to say yes? Fat raindrops slid down from the grey sky like . “I can take her. Matt’s sleek Ducati thundered up the drive. There are three of us now.” Grey bit out.” The deafening rev of a high-powered engine filled the air. “Please.” Alexa leaned toward me past her brother. “Haven’t you noticed it’s raining?” Right on cue.” Grey smiled his most charming smile. He glanced at me. “I already asked Mom for a Land Rover—” I rolled my eyes. I should say no.” I hesitated. Save the bus a trip up to the manor. I’ll be fine. Ryan. Tommy had been driving Grey and Alexa since they were in kindergarten.Grey’s happened to be a vintage restoration.” “No one is going with you. Matt took off a top-of-the-line Arai helmet and quirked a brow at me. It screamed for attention. “Tell him it’s a classic Aston Martin. “I’ll take the bus. Matt extended his hand. not a heap. “Ryan’s going to need a ride out to the manor. And he should get something other than a two-seater. but had to stop just a few feet from the Corvette that blocked the whole lane. Grey rolled the driver’s side window down.” A mammoth yellow bus turned into the school lot. Tommy.

“Rain doesn’t fall on me.” Oddly. Matt cursed and swerved the Ducati. The light turned and the Ducati took off. The streets of Concord dipped and rose making the ride more akin to a roller coaster than a steady skate. “How can you drive this in the rain?” I asked. Small gravel paths splintered off the main road. plus the occasional patriotic red farmhouse.” I said. Painted with fall leaves of red. My cheek slammed into Matt’s shoulder. I climbed on the bike behind him and sank against his back. The warmth seemed to spread through his hands all the way into my bones. a white helmet on my head. Matt jerked the Ducati to and fro. Matt shrugged. The chill of wind seeped through the crevices of my coat. “What are you doing?” I said. He didn’t have gloves on. The Ducati’s steel heart roared to life. the picturesque town of closely-knit buildings. Big warm hands wrapped around mine. looked like the perfect New England town. My fingers curled—and probably my toes. he was right. . The sky grew dark as a cloud moved over us. and gold. “Ryan!” Grey and Alexa protested at the same time. I’ll see you at home. The next thing I knew I was plastered to Matt’s back. Droplets seemed to fall around us but not on us. We stopped at a red light under an antique-looking streetlamp that marked the end of the main part of town. brown. Not that I could see them to confirm. If I’d been plastered to him before. and through the woods eventually led to grand isolated houses. We turned off onto a one-lane road marked by a plain red mailbox. The scent of sandalwood soap and synthetic leather filled me—Matt didn’t like real leather. my hand was slipping into his. “It’s only drizzling. complete with horses. upscale Victorian houses. as the bike flew out of the school gates and onto the street. Before I realized it.wriggling worms. now I could have been a second skin. A thrill of pleasure shot through me.

It was about as five times as tall as us. But Matt put out his hand and somehow the bike righted itself. He threw the sword at me. I screamed when the Ducati skidded. we pulled off the street. My breath hitched. stop the bike!” He ignored me. In the bike’s side mirror. “What is that?” I screamed. It swooped down toward us. “Hang on. There was nothing. The bike started to overturn. instead their surface seemed as blank as an abyss. but the shadow stayed with us. A strange wind swept over my head and my helmet buzzed.” I glanced behind us. Branches and tree limbs hit back at us as we burst past them. As if sensing my gaze. I blinked. the shadow looked down. A prickle at the back of my neck made me glance up. Its beak opened like those of a hungry dragon finally catching sight of its prey. “Matt.. “Why did I get you a white helmet?” Matt said a word I didn’t recognize. Matt cursed. We dipped so far that I my head should have scraped the ground. The Ducati zigzagged in and out of trees. A diaphanous shadow the size of a big rig swarmed over us. The shadow landed in front of us. The wings had no feathers. with a long serpentine body and two giant wings. “What am I supposed to with this?” He dug around in the sidebag. Crossing a sleepy cemetery just outside town. I saw the color of my helmet was now black." The Ducati swerved again. Round glowing red eyes locked on me.“We’re being followed. My ears hurt. We sped down narrow streets off the well-worn paths and further into the countryside. “You used to take . We slipped in oil-slicked black ice that ran along the road gutter. Matt pulled the bike to a screeching halt inside an isolated clearing. Matt pulled out a sword from a sidebag on the Ducati —a sidebag I’d never noticed until that moment. I grabbed it out of reflex. Was I seeing things? My arms tightened around Matt.

Every time the sword connected with the shadowdragon. solidified somehow. “I’ll tell you later. The shadow-dragon swiped back with wings like claws. my arms rung in pain as if I’d swung against solid rock. Grey rammed the car into the shadow. The Corvette flew into the air. The dragon poised for its final attack. “Just keep it occupied. I dropped the sword.” I debated running off into the woods. and took shape—into a shadow a giant dragon. The dragon’s seething eyes turned back on me. But I couldn’t leave Matt.” The Corvette turned directly into the path of the shadow. Its wing slammed the Corvette like a batter hitting a giant red ball.” He pointed to the shadow while he pulled out a book and some plastic packets from the sidebag. I heard Alexa shout. The shadow-dragon opened its mouth and a stream of fire roared out. Grey’s Corvette roared through the woods. I ducked and hacked again as its teeth snapped at me. Get closer. I debated slapping myself to get out of whatever nightmare I was having. I screamed. It swiped a hand at me. Fire blasted the sword. The dragon screamed as fire singed its side. “Are you serious? You're going to read?” Matt flipped open the book.fencing lessons—” “How did you know that?” I hadn’t fenced since my mother died. but instead of burning me to ashes. I hacked away at it without any sort of plan. Not knowing what to do. Deep claws shredded through the skin on my right side. Instinctively I raised the sword above my head. “No!” I cried. The dragon screamed but didn’t retreat. I was going to be burned alive. the shadow swooped down. Then. It began to head toward me. flipped and then crashed back into the snow. Blood oozed through my clothes. the fire redirected back onto the beast. “I see Ryan. The Corvette’s door opened .

The dragon opened its mouth. Ryan. “Stay with me. “Why didn’t you just do that in the first place?” I demanded. She started to head to me. Ryan. “I needed the dissolving powder or it would just get angry instead of dead. you. The beast let out an outraged bellow. I tried to back away. A warbled sound came out of my mouth. cutting cleanly through half the beast’s body..” I tried to protest. “Alexa. Grey. The shadow-dragon swooped down at him. It landed in the middle of the shadow’s chest. The dragon swiped her away with little thought. but stumbled on the sword I’d dropped. The sword went flying. “Sarati!” The word scraped my ears and spun around the glade. Matt grabbed the sword. the shadow had evaporated. My head lolled against his chest.” Pain blurred my vision.and Alexa jumped out. This is going to take all my strength. The sword slid down the beast’s black belly. but in a step. Make sure they’re okay. “Alexa. With small clawing tentacles. Matt threw the sword.” Matt opened my shirt roughly.” “First..” The dragon opened its mouth and a blast of fire scorched the leaves just beneath my feet. He sprinkled something on the blade and yelled.” Matt held a packet in his hand and ran to her. Lethargy made my body weak. He swung me up in his arms. “Wake up." A sharp pain like creeping vines spread out from the wound on my side.” Matt laid me on my side. By the time the sword had reached the ground. and landed right at Matt’s feet. it shook . “Give me the sword. it had reached me. bouncing off the trees. “No!” Alexa ran in front of the dragon with the sword. Matt rushed to where I lay on the ground. A drizzle of rain slapped my face. "Damn beast.

” I sank to my knees. And it was over. “Alexa.” Matt ran to the upside-down Corvette and forced open the driver’s side door. They shrunk back. leaving me to wonder if I’d imagined it.” Matt closed her eyes. I writhed on the ground. he looked at me with sad eyes. My knees sank into mud. Her head flopped at an odd angle. My heart stilled. “Matt? Where is she?” I said hoarsely. Wet drops streamed down my face. He looked normal… not even winded… except for the slight sheen of blue fire that seemed to dance in an outline around him. Matt flipped me onto my back. Matt came back and caught me before I dropped back to the ground.” I sat up shakily. I'm pretty sure I drooled. I stared at him dully. My body hurt. Leaves around us shifted. I blinked. The blue fire disappeared. gave way to my weight. “Alexa?” I slowly got up and glanced around the eerily quiet clearing. Grey. “It doesn’t work like that. I fought to breathe.” Matt pulled a shaken Grey out of the car. All around us trees with leaves of orange and red swayed in silent rhythm. But I saw no sign of Alexa. a hand yanked away the vines. I pushed myself up. His hand slid down my bare ribs. Like you did me. Matt closed his eyes. feeling all at once .my body. She’s too far gone. Setting me on a waist-high boulder. Grey’s cry tore through the clearing. Just as I thought I could take no more. Grey reached her first and picked her up. I can’t help her. “He’s fine. Grey and Matt were already sprinting to her. A huge stack of them moved to reveal a limp Alexa on the ground. I hobbled over to Alexa. clawing at my ears. “Help her. “M-Matt?” Across the clearing. Pain receded. “That was the easiest healing I’ve ever done. wet and soft. “R-ryan?” Grey said groggily. The ground. My body shook with the effort of staying up.

fast-moving clouds crashed and collided with each other. Droplets of rain and wind-ravaged leaves fell here and there in jagged bits with no particular pattern. Warmth burned into my numb skin. How could this happen again? I couldn’t handle it. It burned.every hit and every cut. In the sky. I jerked away from him. “What are you?” I demanded. molten fire into solid ice. I fought to stay upright. . Not again Matt knelt down beside me. He put a hand on my back. Pulling the last vestige of my strength.

“I need to know. Hard.CHAPTER 3 BETRAYED Amber brown eyes stared into my soul. A breeze whirled around us. . He waved his hand at the trees that canopied us from the bleak sky. The canopy of the trees rustled as it opened to show the sky. Light streamed down and illuminated the Old North Bridge. “Are you sure you want to know?” “Alexa—” I swallowed.” Matt said a soft word. The place of the first battle of the American Revolution—the shot that was heard around the world. The clouds parted just enough to let in a few rays of sunlight.

nothing had seemed more foreign from the two-bedroom townhouse under the scorching Texas sun that I had grown up in. stood Ragnar manor. Upon reaching town. stepped outside. “Try not to move too much. She had been my mother's best . The Ducati sped down the narrow road.” he said. There. The red Corvette followed us as if it had a mind of its own. “I’m a wizard. My helmet would have met concrete but Matt caught me about the waist. We should be safe here… for now. Clouds raced us as we sped past the quiet graves at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The cemetery reminded of the aftermath of a great battle like the one I felt I’d just fought. Matt had put a zombie-like Grey inside it. The front door of the manor opened wide as Sylvia. under a single ray of sun in an otherwise grey sky. I’d known her forever. “You’re still weak. balanced so delicately that any moment it could fall off the sharp edges of the road. My knees folded. I don’t know how he held me in place since I couldn’t seem to focus on anything. Matt drove the Ducati down the lane. I scrambled off the bike. but within minutes we were bursting through the thicket of trees beyond the clearing. pulled the bike half-around a circular driveway. Grey and Alexa's mom. The Ragnars enchanted the manor long ago. The first time I had seen the gothic monstrosity.Matt took my cold hands and pressed them in his.” *** Matt put the helmet back on me and slung me up on the Ducati. My chest squeezed with anxiety—as usual Sylvia looked immaculate. Matt had done something to it to make it follow us to the manor like a faithful puppy. nestled against a backdrop of long-limbed trees. ” The Corvette rumbled up behind us. He tugged the helmet off with one hand. and stopped in between a gurgling stone fountain and the front door. Ryan. I’ve told your body to heal but it’s not instantaneous. we plunged down a gravel lane through another barrier of thick brush.

Ragnar. “Alexa. Marla. “What?” she muttered. She seemed ready for anything. “Grey! Are you okay?” Grey shook his head. Matt stepped forward. we’re still here. I swayed in place. “…who cares about an earth-shake. She ran to the Corvette’s passenger side. Yet she pulled it off. “There was an attack. a thirty-something with one long streak of white in her otherwise jet black hair. They could have passed for twins. I’m sorry. Sylvia came closer… and noticed the scratches on the Corvette. “Ryan. I heard her yank it open. n’est pas? The markets will quiet. but I couldn’t look. “It wouldn’t open!” Sylvia caught him by the shoulders. She spoke accented English into her cell. I shook him away. Matt put an arm around my shoulders in support. Matt went to the Corvette.” “Where is your sister?” Sylvia said. The president of Ragnar Bank and Commodities projected smooth control. Matt. I pushed away from Matt. The wounded sound pierced through me like a knife in the gut.” “What happened?” Sylvia demanded. Sylvia's assistant. It sat silent in the courtyard —beaten and broken. Grey stumbled out of the driver’s side with a wild look. She let out a horrible mewling cry. Sylvia had on an expensive navy business suit with padded shoulders.” Sylvia marched toward us. are you all right?” Her words were uttered calmly but there was steel underneath. Unlike anything my gym-teacher mother would have worn. followed close behind her. Tears sprung into my eyes. Sylvia’s heels clicked in sharp staccato as she strode straight to it and pulled open the driver’s side handle. “Just don’t. He put his hand on the . The Corvette’s engine cut. Mrs.” Sylvia paled.friend since they were children. The broken side faced away from us.

I crossed the cobblestone driveway one stone block at a time.” Beside me. Although not much taller.” In a tired voice. Matt seemed to tower over Sylvia. “I . Emrys. “Enough.” “Heal her. “Ryan had blood all over her. but you fixed her. and out of her depth. She leaned back against him. I dropped my arm. I doubted either one could have stood on their own.” “Gargoyles?” Marla repeated.” Grey’s head jerked up. she smoothed it over Alexa. Matt bowed his head. Grey walked to Sylvia. By the time I got to her. She wanted to protect you. “She was only wounded. “Who are you?” she barked at him. “What council?” I asked. I could heal her. Sylvia stopped him. She looked lost. "My name is Matt Emrys. Grey. “I’m so sorry. “She made me follow the bike. I put a hand on Grey’s arm.” I said faintly. it was too late. Marla crossed to Sylvia. “We were attacked. “You’re full of shit. “Who attacked them?” Matt returned a steady gaze.” Grey blinked. Sylvia’s eyes remained fixed on Matt. “She did protect me. Emrys?” Grey said.” He flinched. “Gargoyles. she didn’t seem in charge of the world.” Matt said.” “Grey. alone. “The Council governs all of wizard-kind. “Have you lost your mind.” “Council. Sylvia bit into her own fisted hands. “W-what happened to my daughter?” Sylvia asked.” “Yes. Marla gasped.passenger door to shut it again. For the fist time I’d known her. I am sorry.” Grey gave me a bleak look.” Matt said.” My legs heavy under a crushing weight that seemed to have overtaken my entire body. Sylvia said to Matt. Digging out a spare blanket. but not Alexa. I have been sent from the Council. That thing nearly shredded her.

“Grey has never shown any wizard traits. “Is it as ridiculous as a dragon?” Deep in my gut something uncomfortable stirred. “If he wishes to live through the next few months. I was surprised too. “I have been watching Grey for a long time. I’d never so much as heard a cross word from Sylvia to Grey in the entire year I’d been living at the manor. he must be protected. . “Since the manor has some protection.am sorry.” Matt paused. King Arthur was not one.” said Matt. Alexa—” She stopped and swallowed. “Not you. They will be here tonight.” “What do you mean watching?” I said.” “I will tell you everything. I suggest you trade in the biker jacket for a straight one. I let out a pained laugh.” Matt looked back at me with utter seriousness.” Matt said. “What?” Sylvia hugged herself. I have not kept him familiar with our family history.” “Candidates need not have magic. I glared at him. “No one is coming inside my house. Matt didn’t look at me. “Alexa had shown some telekinetic abilities. “Gargoyles? That’s ridiculous. My chest tightened as I realized we never would again. “It’s not just your house.” Sylvia snapped.” Sylvia put a hand on her son.” Matt nodded as if he was used to such deferential treatment—something I wasn’t used to giving. “Why would anyone attack us?” “What do the Gargoyles want with us?” Marla asked.” “Mom. Alexa and I had commiserated about it more than once. With effort I pushed away the lethargy overtaking my body.” Grey turned to Sylvia. A small gust of wintry wind flew through the driveway.” Grey shouted. “Grey is the candidate—” Grey’s head jerked up. I have asked the other candidates to rendezvous here. Grey took a step back as if she’d slapped him. But not Grey. Grey was her darling—the one who could do no wrong. “I want to know what is going on right now.

I sat in my favorite chair—a wood rocker next to a jeweled lamp where I could watch the gorgeously tall evergreens sway with the breeze. We all gaped at the wreckage in stunned stupor. Right now I have to make a-arrangements. Alexa and I had cooked and decorated the house last night.” I said. She crumpled into Grey’s arms. Marla put a hand on her shoulder. The passenger side had been completely crushed. “We have to call the police. Then. I had pulled a cashmere throw around my shoulders and huddled into it. Rajasthan rugs softened hardwood floors. The living room opened to the second story of the house.” Her voice broke on the last word.” I said. A giant gust of wind swirled around us like a tornado.“Sylvia. what is going on?” I asked. She looked at me as if she’d forgotten I was there. and floor to ceiling French doors opened to the woods outside. Mammoth brown-leather couches dominated the space. Sylvia let out a hiccupping cry. As he held his sobbing mother in his arms. Alexa was still in the car.” *** It was almost evening by the time the police finished taking our statements. Grey shot Matt a furious look. The Corvette lost traction coming down the lane into the driveway. The smell of pumpkin bread lingered on it. A stone hearth—fireplace was too bland a word for it—stood in the corner and went all the way up the thirty-foot wall. No one had questioned that it had been anything more than a tragic accident.” Marla shook her head.” Matt flicked his wrist. I will do it. “But of course. “Bastard. Matt stared at the Corvette. “I will tell you and Grey everything. “You can’t—” “Everyone knows Grey and Alexa drove off together. . “I think I can help. We gathered in the Ragnar’s majestic living room. It picked up the car and smashed it upside-down into the fountain.

“But Grey is a Regular.” Sylvia drew a sweater around her. It is part of the sword’s protection.Out of the five couches in the room.” . “It’s been a pretty crazy day with the Total Tremor and all. “I think that is all. looked confused for a moment. “Mr. I am very sorry for your loss. A ruddy-faced detective asked Grey.” I sat down hard in the rocker.” I cut in. He can’t be a candidate. He had remained stone-faced through the whole process. Too many accidents. He said hesitatingly. Grey sank down on the couch next to the rocker. “No. I have been traveling the world for over a year now.” “Let me get this straight. Ragnar. “Once the candidates arrive we will leave. You may take one bag. Matt touched his arm. Mr. and then stared at his notepad. He’d become friends with me to get to Grey. one last time.” A few minutes later. “Forgot what I was saying. “Yyes. Grey went to stand at the window to watch them carry Alexa away.” The detective’s gaze sharpened. He wiped a hand over his face and closed the pad.” he muttered. Ragnar. Ms. One must be worthy. Matt watched him. I held his hand. The detective blinked. “Grey is a candidate.” For the first time since I’d gotten on the Ducati—just this afternoon. the car slid down the drive and overturned crushing your sister but you were able to pull yourself out without even getting a scratch. I hope they find out what’s responsible quickly. Is that exactly what happened?” Grey looked at Matt. Matt cleared his throat. Only a candidate can lift the sword from the stone. You came here to scout him.” He gave us a brief nod. And again. DuLac. “The Council has entrusted me with the task of finding candidates. the police had all cleared out of the manor. but it seemed like a lifetime ago—Matt the Mighty Wizard looked uncertain.

as the Total Tremor indicated.whatever happens with the sword here will affect the whole world. You can tell the Minister. A reporter in a fitted suit stood in front of a long line of people. Arthur won’t come back until the land needs him. “Grey. In a thick British accent. they have traveled to London. OUR CHANCE. Nothing. Countries all around the world have sent delegates to be present for whatever the stone may yield. that is correct.“I’m not going anywhere. Tourists and residents are lining up for one purpose—to wait their turn.” “What do you think will happen if someone does pull the sword?” the reporter asked him. Emrys—not on your say so. They believe. Point is—you won’t find out if you don’t try.” to “SAVE THE WORLD.” Another man leaned in front of him. You can tell the Queen. She switched channels until she found one covering Trafalgar Square. We can’t just sit back. They held up signs ranging from “OUR SWORD. he declared.” The camera cut to a bearded man in front of the crowd.” The camera panned to the line of soldiers wearing heavy Kevlar and carrying long machine guns who stood guard around the square. From all over the Isles. why don’t you go to bed?” Sylvia pushed a button on a large remote and a hidden panel opened to reveal a flat screen TV.” Others around him murmured in agreement. It’s my right.” “IT’S THE END. “Not sure. You know how the story goes—King Arthur pulled the Sword from the Stone and became the king of England. their chance to pull the sword from the stone. Something. It’s the End. PULL THE SWORD. The sword is our one chance.” Grey bit out. “Speculation about the Total Tremor continues. Listen to the legend. “The British government has been flooded by demands. “The End is here. “I’m not leaving until I get my chance.” . Yes. Who cares? No one will forget the bloke who pulled the sword.

Matt made an impatient sound. Camlan. Merlin.” Grey scowled. Don’t. “Heritage?” Grey scowled. Camlan. Some called themselves druids. “No. Care. Eventually the wizards formed their own society away from those they . Many families had magic. During Arthur’s time.” “Our race is called Keltoi. Except we had one advantage.” She pointed to the TV showing a close up of the giant stone. It is because you are a candidate. “It is real. “What about that? Is it real?” “I. “I’m not anything to you. Mostly we were just like everyone else—struggling to survive.” I murmured. “When Arthur died at Mt. “We’re all descended from Merlin?” Matt let out an odd choked cough. the Keltoi were quite numerous. “Do you know how crazy you sound?” Matt pointed to the TV.” A shadow crossed over Matt’s face.” Matt finished for her. Magic as you would call it.“It can’t be real. Everything you know about the legend is true—to a certain extent that is. Merlin just happens to be the most famous. “The night your father died… everything changed. the age of wizards and man living together passed. They were all real. but a fringe group of wizards. She dreamt about him on the plane.” Sylvia bowed her head. Not Merlin. The jagged black Stone half the size of a semi-truck took up most of the screen. The family has run the bank for centuries. Grey jumped up. Sylvia muted the sound.” A shadow crossed Grey’s patrician features. I never knew until then that its main commodity was…” “Magic. It is also our heritage. “Haven’t you ever wondered why you’ve succeeded in every sport you’ve tried? You have incredible reflexes—almost as if you see the action before it happens. “All those times Alexa knew who was at the door. but everything changed after the Battle at Mt. She clasped her hands together.” Grey said. King Arthur. The night Dad died. we could control the natural elements.

it would be the last thing you’d ever see. “Except what merchants sell to them. I stepped in between them and faced down Matt.” “I wanted to show him what would happen if a gargoyle came bursting through the door right now. They have no magic except…” Matt pinned her with a derisive look.” Sylvia hugged herself.” “The Council has been short-sighted. “The Council never stopped me. “Something very bad is coming—” I knew Matt well enough to read a lie on him. This time.” Grey said. The whole sofa floated up a few inches.called the Regulars. Grey hadn’t become a jock by accident. Both races have been blending into the background of civilization for millennia.” The large windows in the living room showed swaying trees hovering like gargantuan guardians over the house. The Gargoyles have been amassing power without us even knowing it. “You don’t know. We are at war and because of you we’re losing. “Magic is not real!” Matt flicked his hand. Before Grey reached him. You’re no more than a pup—one easily culled. Grey flew back. Grey got up much more slowly. I’m trying to change that. “You need to see this. And they are willing to kill whoever stands in the way.” Sylvia lowered her eyes.” Grey’s nostrils flared like a bull about to charge. you’re a banker. Grey jumped up as if he’d been sitting on a bed of lava. I didn’t want to ask. “Believe me. His agility impressed me. “You’ve proven your point. Matt flicked his hand in the air again.” “Mom. “It doesn’t matter. Marla burst into the room. “Why did the Sword appear now?” I said.” His lips twisted. It was at the same time that the Gargoyles disappeared. His shoulders hit the wall with forceful thud.” Matt locked eyes with Grey. They don’t want to take up the problem of regulating the sale of magic.” . but I did anyway. He leapt across it at Matt. The Gargoyles want it. “The Gargoyles wouldn’t do this.

The clipped voice of the bubbly reporter blared through the flat screen. However. relatives who’d come on the trip with Gianni Russo said he’d been in perfect health—” Sylvia muted the TV. “Can you tell us what you saw next?” “He was there at the edge of the Square. “And you want Grey to do this?” “Yes. nine-thirty this morning his turn at the sword came up. He stepped up onto the rock and touched the hilt of the sword.” The camera panned to the reporter when another man says he saw him clutch his arm. he reshaped the world. Italy to try his hand at the legendary sword. sir. Yet. this time her face was a mask of sorrow.” “How do you even know Grey’s a candidate?” I demanded.” The camera panned to bring the reporter and a middle-aged man in focus. He stepped off the rock and was on his way out of the square.” I rose up. “At approximately. Gianni Russo had collapsed.” Matt’s crystal-hard gaze locked with mine.” “Thank you. The reporter stuck a microphone in the man’s face.” Matt pointed at the long line of people on TV who surrounded the Stone. The reporter continued.” The man pointed to where police had set up ropes to funnel an exit out of Trafalgar Square. Why do think the Gargoyles sent the dragon? To wipe out any candidate that is not theirs. he gripped his arm tight. “We don’t have confirmation yet. We must make sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. “Gianni was a candidate?” “Yes. it appears to be a heart attack. The camera panned back on him. Imagine the power it gave to King Arthur. “I am . “There is risk in trying for the Sword.” the reporter said. Then. “We must find the swordbearer. “Who says so?” “I do. Those in the line behind him said nothing happened. “Almost out. The next thing anyone knew. With it. “This just in— we have had a death in Trafalgar Square.” A scene of medical vans and police in the square filled the screen. But he will never return home again. Twenty-five year old Gianni Russo traveled to London from Venice.She hit the volume button on the remote.” said Matt. Next thing I saw him fall to the ground.

My mouth opened and closed. outstretched wings—it was a gargoyle. “Ryan. his head snapped up. under the artificial light of the driveway lamp. his silhouette seemed to be surrounded by faint blue glow. You are his descendant?” I frowned. Why don’t you wizard yourself back down?” Matt jumped off the ledge and onto the balcony. a dog’s face. Just waiting for me to fall asleep.” Matt stood on the ledge of the balcony.” I stepped back further into the shadows. Russet-brown strands of Matt’s hair gleamed in the sun as he hurried to his bike. “What is a seer?” Matt’s lips twisted into a grimace. “I see the future. “How did you do that?” Matt raised an amused brow. Against the backdrop of the sinking sky. “I know you’re upset. The front door flew open below me. It’s like it lives behind my eyelids. A wrinkled forehead.” “You are a seer. I realized. He pulled me tight against him. “I am a wizard. In the middle of the driveway. Half of an ugly stone creature stared up at me. “The dragon.the one person in the world who can seek out candidates and I am not wrong.” Sylvia looked at him with an awed expression. Warmth surrounded me pushing out the . Matt had his arms around me. sat the dry carcass of the fountain. “Are you hiding from me?” I didn’t answer. I have foreseen it. As if he could read my thoughts. I said inanely. He inclined his head. I stepped back into the shadows of the balcony hoping he wouldn’t spot me.” In a blink. I keep thinking about—” I said in a rush.” “That doesn’t begin to cover it. “I couldn’t sleep. “There has only ever been one with name the Emrys.” “Great. “Why are you out here?” I hugged my arms to myself.” *** I rested my elbows against the ledge of the balcony outside my room and tried to breathe. Despite myself. my chest gave an odd squeeze at the sight of him.

bitter chill. Tell me. Lying liar? Even in my head I sounded like a baby.” he replied without apology. “You’ll be okay.” “Yes. Because of you. “You used me to get to Grey. I stomped to the door back into my room. I was the first one to break. I lost my sister. Matt.” he murmured into my ear. “So what’s left to say?” Matt got up. For a second I let it seep into my frigid bones. There was a pause. I let it drip inside me.” “I need you. I turned my head to look at him. His gaze caressed my face. The guy was a lying liar.” . “You’re a candidate too. “You’re not alone. a lifeline from the icy abyss that threatened to swallow me from within. “I need you—” I cocked a brow. You’re trying to take my brother. “You’re looking to hook up?” He chuckled. Matt. “Not exactly. A long one.” “I can’t. How am I not alone?” Whirling away from him. “I am alone.” he said softly. My heart stilled and then restarted. I burst out.” The words seemed like almost a sigh.” I pulled away from him. Heat radiated off his body. “Just leave me alone. Ryan.

Things were a little different .” I gaped at him. “I had hoped never to tell you.CHAPTER 4 A NEW ROAD My jaw dropped open.” “You said every candidate needed to come forward.” “There has never been a female candidate chosen before this ascension. “What?” Matt said bluntly. “I’m excused because I’m a girl? What kind of ass-backwards thinking is that?” Matt gave me an affronted look. “We haven’t had an ascension since Arthur’s time.

His gaze fell on me and lingered. I stuck out my hand and flipped him off. The bedroom doorknob turned.” He backed up all the way to the ledge and jumped off the balcony. Going to the window. My heart did a yo-yo. “Did you plan to tell the others?” Matt’s cheeks turned a guilty red. “Why not me?” I demanded. Matt burst into the room.back then. Nothing moved in the early morning light.” I touched the windowpane. I shivered again. Matt colored. The driveway stood completely empty. I couldn’t help it. I shivered and turned back to look at Matt. I ran to where he’d jumped off half expecting him to be splattered on the ground. I sat up. stopped midstride. Matt tapped his forehead.” “Did you tell the others?” “No. He’d landed nimbly on his feet. They all thought I could do nothing.” I flew out of bed. “You need time to absorb this. *** The house sat silent in pitch dark. “You’re just so… nice. Sometimes I really hated being a blond. and gaped at me. I snatched up the bedsheets. and grinned. saw me. Not yet. And one side had slipped down to expose most of my cleavage. He looked up. I only had on a skimpy nude camisole.” he muttered. I lay awake. “They are coming. but this time it had . “I don’t see anything. “No. I threw aside the curtain and heard… crickets.” My eyes narrowed. we have identified others. “I do. I’m only trying to protect you—” “I’m the only one—the only girl?” Matt ground his teeth. The glass was a sheet of ice. “Are these gargoyles are going to stop coming after me because I’m a girl? When were you going to tell me that I was putting everyone around me in danger?” I took a step toward him with murderous intent. I just saw it.” I frowned. I sighed.

I looked more waif than woman. As I came out of the closet. I saw my cheeks turn red. They’d traded it long ago. His eyes still dark with pain and… something else that I didn’t trust myself to identify. I moved closer to stand behind him and look into the mirror. I pulled on the clothes and picked up some boots. His eyes opened and fixed on my skimpy top. “The dragon must have broken during the fight. “Do you think you can put on some clothes?” In the mirror. “What did you see?” The relieved expression he’d gotten after seeing me . “ Guess it wasn’t real. I admit I might have let Sylvia spoil me just a bit. only to meet my gaze through the reflection of a dresser mirror next to my bed. “Matt?!” Instantly Matt’s face smoothed. not more.” I murmured. Okay. I eyed the shelves crammed with clothes. But the intense way he stared at my reflection made me want less clothes. She said it used to be my mother’s.” he said.” he commented. He looked big and hulking behind me. I asked. He shook my hand off. His eyes pinched shut. But she said that I needed the charm now more than her. The custom walk-in closet Sylvia had built for me—no small feat in a hundred year old manor. Light glinted off the gold-brown strands of my hair.” Matt let out a small cry and clutched his forehead. Matt adroitly turned away. “How did you get it?” “Sylvia. Bits of refracted green shone from the pendant necklace I wore. Next to him. I hid a smile and went to my closet. I touched the chain around my neck.nothing to do with the cold. I put a hand on the broad expanse of his back. His face twisted in pain.” “Charm? I imagine so.” “It compliments your eyes. I grabbed a pair of corduroys and a long-sleeved shirt. “Your necklace is broken. He made a strangled sound. The green emerald pendant had a deep crack going through it. maybe a lot.

yes.” Matt smiled. If they get the Sword.” I stilled. “That doesn’t sound bearable. if they get the Sword… what they can do to the world is unimaginable. “Sometimes it’s a relief when it finally does happen. “If the gargoyles get what they want.” I crossed to him. Sirens began blaring all over the house. Until then I alone have to live with it in my head. No one—” “Like you.dressed disappeared. He leaned back on the dresser. Worse than a thousand Hiroshimas.” I said shrewdly. . As if he couldn’t help it. his hand reached out to brush across my hair. they will have no one to guide them. I could forget everything and he was just… Matt. But.” I blinked. His expression closed. Had he been peeking? “You had a vision. why would they do that? Why would anyone?” “They won’t mean to. For a second. “Merlin complex much?” “I admit I may sound a bit dramatic.” His expression became bleak. “And you saw?” I prompted. I’ve never been wrong. His hand tightened in my hair.” “Worse than World War Three. Time seemed to stand still for a long moment as we stood in the warm confines of my bedroom. “Try me. My breathing hitched. It will be the end. But it will be their fate.” He glanced at the window. “It’s better you don’t know. The boy from school. no. didn’t you?” “Oh.” “Have you ever been wrong?” “It’s possible. “W-what do you mean?” I gave him a suspicious look. “Even if I believe you that the Sword is that powerful.” he said. The things I see… aren’t always understandable. I suppose. with a quick grin. He pulled me closer. Ryan.

“It’s the perimeter alarm—the magical one. But . His hair stuck to one side of his face. Grey burst out of his room in sweatpants.” Matt’s phone beeped.CHAPTER 5 ENEMY MINE Matt and I ran out into the hall. We’ve got maybe ten minutes until they reach the house. “What’s going on?” Marla came out of her room. They are coming down the lane. “What eez happening?” Sylvia marched down the hallway. “It’s a text from the other candidates. He pulled it out.

Sylvia turned to me.the gargoyles are not far behind by what I have seen in my vision. “No doubt it’ll be a blip in a local news report. “You can take it and the SUV.” Sylvia sniffed into my hair.” said Matt. a group of about twenty or so men had gathered. “We’re going to need your cars. Sylvia crossed to the closed fourth garage and pushed a button on a separating column in between. “Cheater. “She’s also a candidate. “I was saving it for Christmas. the family’s spare car. a big black Land Rover waited silently. “Ryan is coming with me. “What?” “What?” Sylvia echoed.” . “This way. I crossed to her and hugged the taller woman close. “Where are the other three cars?” “The ones from the South were… found.” Sylvia nodded. “And their wizard guardians. “The other candidates.” *** Marla flipped on the lights as we entered the long garage. A steel partition opened. “A-Alexa wanted to be the one to give you the keys.” he said grimly. Sylvia’s car.” A brief wind dropped the keys into Matt’s hands.” Matt waved at them.” “I don’t know what to say. Outside stood a line of six black SUVs.” Grey balked. there stood a silver Mercedes. Instead of Marla’s small import. We’re going to need decoys. We’ll go in the Mercedes. and a nondescript SUV.” He looked at Sylvia. They have gotten clever at hiding their tracks.” Grey muttered under his breath.” “At least I got a chance to show it to you. The other half of the group was older. In front of the cars.” In a few strides. “Thank you. Matt opened the garage doors.” Grey slipped the keys from Sylvia’s fingers and tossed it in a wide arc to Matt. Half of them looked to be boys ranging between sixteen to twenty years old. In the three-car space.” Matt turned to a craggy-faced older man.

The remaining guardians will take our other jeeps and try to lead the gargoyles away. “Sometimes. One guardian with tears in his eyes gave his candidate a quick hearty pat on the back before shuffling him into a car. “We don’t have much time.” The older craggy-faced man nodded at us. Suddenly. The manor shook down to its foundations. I’ll call them from the road—” “The animals tell me there is a disturbance in the woods. The guardians scrambled.” another guardian said. “Paul’s father asked that you call him after we reached here. “And this is my guardian. Save space for me in the Land Rover.” A cute boy wearing a wristband stepped forward with an easy smile. Split the candidates up between the two jeeps in the garage and the first three of our cars. I had a vision.” Matt shouted. “Get everyone in the cars. a bomb seemed to explode upstairs in the manor. I want two guardians in each. “Of course.” “I know. A box almost hit Marla on the head. Matt stuck his hand up. Grey pulled me away from Matt. .” one of the guardians shouted. The door started to plunge down. The garage door magically stopped mid-fall. “You don't have to go.” “I am Oliver.” Clarence interjected. “As well as two others. Boxes and sports equipment from the racks on the garage ceiling came crashing down.Thinking of the shadow-dragon’s destruction. Clarence. “I’m afraid we may have been followed. “I see four big Hummers at the top of the lane.” Matt replied grimly.” He glanced at me and Grey. “All of the parents have asked for you specifically. A large crack tore through the garage ceiling. Matt nodded. everything seemed to happen at once. I muttered.” Grey opened his mouth to protest. pushing the candidates. Upon the heels of his warning. snapping the steel track of the bigger garage door as easily as a ribbon.” a boy shouted.

Yet despite it all he never flinched.Ryan. Our home. “Grey. No matter what Emrys says. Some of the guardians shot fireballs back.” Sylvia came up to us. I’m not going to run and hide. Heat swirled in the far-away depths of his eyes. There seemed to be shields on the candidates’ SUV since the fireballs bounced off them. Then. “Take care of your brother. sensing my gaze. His expression seemed almost cold. Tears sprang in her eyes as she pulled us into a tight farewell embrace.” Grey blanched. “That’s not what I meant. I’m coming with you too. Ryan. it’s mine. yelling directions at the guardians while holding up the garage ceiling. I sucked in a breath. As if managing every task at once left no room for emotion.” I said vehemently. then this is exactly what I’m going to do. He stood in the middle of the chaos. Matt turned his head to look straight at me. . Grey looked at her.” The whole garage shook again as another explosion sounded outside. This isn't our fight. I care about Alexa. *** Matt and the other cars pulled out of the driveway just as the four Hummers reached. Ry. If they killed her to stop us from doing this. “No.” Sylvia cried. The acrid smell of smoke indicated who knew what kind of havoc inside the manor.” I said.” she whispered in my ear. You’re not going because of me—” He gave me a crooked smile. I’m not going to let them win. “I have to get upstairs. I’m being gutless.” I looked at him. if this is anyone’s fight.” “No. “You don’t have time to get anything.” Matt commanded. We have to go now. “What better reason could I have? We’re family. I forced myself to turn away. More fireballs whizzed by them. She knew before said we could say a word. “I don’t care about the Sword. “You’re right.

Matt opened and closed his fist. We drove straight into a thicket of trees. Trees and vines closed around the hidden lane.” . It might have resembled a scene out of a bad movie. “It’s a title.” He pulled out his cellphone and started punching. “You’ll tire yourself out. “The spell wouldn't have worked if the path had been built differently.” Matt said with a tired grin.” Blue light surrounded the troop of cars. He turned around in his seat and stuck his hand out of the window. The gargoyles will send more.” Blue light shot out of his hand. I sat in the passenger seat of the Land Rover. who’d ridden along with us. except that my heart felt broken. swallowing the four Hummers. Oliver. He started down the road.” Matt said to me. The group of cars thundered into the thicket.” he muttered.” “Master Matt?” I muttered. It burned as we sped around to the back of the house. we emerged onto a two-lane road that ran behind the manor.Stray fireballs bombarded the manor. “Pidadhatte. He tried again. “AnukRta. This time it connected. looking completely identical. To my surprise. At Matt’s command. “We’ll take care of them. Good luck. they parted to reveal a hidden lane. Master Matt. I turned to watch the group of decoy cars lead away the Mercedes. They turned at a split in the road. A few minutes later. “Your mother does have flair. The cellphone refused to connect. We want them to see you. And I want one of you to lead the Mercedes to safe ground. I looked behind to see the Hummers following as we raced along the lane.” Matt said. “Take the long way out of town. The entire forest seemed to rise up.” Matt said. Matt blushed. “That should confuse them. “I hate these things.” Clarence observed from the back of the seat. whooped in the backseat. A set of phantom cars appeared behind us.” Matt switched off the phone. “We need you alert. “The Ragnars have been prepared. Matt stopped the car.

“We will be safe there. Matt halted the car. Behind us the caravan screeched to a halt. Above us. The group split up into three partitions of about eight people each. He blinked as if he were fighting sleep. On the line of the horizon. I tried to wipe them away. I actually don’t know how we had tickets because the flights were all oversold. “Matt?” I said. His right hand fisted. I saw the red light surrounding the manor die quickly under the watery onslaught.” Matt yawned. the clouds turned darker. The Council has a stronghold in the countryside.” He pointed to a sign on the road for the highway. “To England.” he yelled when it connected. The sky thundered in warning. Tears streamed down my face as my home burned. His eyes shut. With a tired smile. “We’re booked on a flight in a few hours. Scotland.” “We’re going to London?” Oliver said. The diameter of the clouds became bigger and bigger until it reached the manor. Matt slumped in his seat. Ryan. “I think you’re going to need to drive. but not to the Sword as of yet. clearly excited. “Varsati. “No. Then. Underneath it was a direction marker for Boston Logan Airport. A man tried to . it started raining.” *** We arrived at Logan at different terminals. With a muttered curse.” A faint blue glow surrounded his fist. Gray clouds swirled above us. One had gotten stuck with a stop-over in Philadelphia then to Edinburg. Clarence drove. I somehow got on the direct flight to London. I grabbed Matt’s hand and squeezed it tight. One team was going through New York to Manchester.I didn’t reply. but wasn’t fast enough. Matt blew out a breath.” Clarence said urgently. “Varasati.” Matt closed his eyes. Clarence dialed his cell. “You don’t have much left. Down the disappearing length of road I saw the flames consuming Ragnar Manor.

buy a ticket from me as soon as he saw where I was headed for an outrageous amount. Ragnar. “Don’t say I never did anything for you. and the few remaining guardians traveling with us. With a grimace. “I’m afraid I’m a bit of nervous flyer. Their hands brushed as he . I turned to Matt. It was the empty seat next to Matt. 3B. “Comfy?” Grey asked. The people behind him grumbled as he was blocking the line. He started rifling through his seat pouch. “We’re not supposed to before the flight—” Matt held out his jacket. Matt lounged in a window seat a few rows down. Prepare yourself. Later.” The stewardess came up to us. Then I noticed the number on Grey’s ticket. he walked into Coach.” he defended. “Do you need anything?” “Is it too early for a drink?” He smiled. “Want to trade seats with me?” Grey asked.” Grey looked down at his ticket. He pulled out a sick bag. We moved up into the first class cabin. “Looking for this. Pushing past Grey. I dropped into the spacious seat. glancing at my ticket. “What are you doing?” I settled into my cushy seat. 21C. “Nice. his voice heavy with sarcasm. I’ve gotten sick on every take-off.” Grey gaped at me.” “Hey!” I looked at my ticket. can you?” “He thinks he knows everything. Matt waved his hand. Grey’s ticket fluttered in his hand. We have our own TVs.” I said.” Matt didn’t respond. “I guess. but shook her head. I scowled at him. She smiled at Matt.” The stewardess made a sympathetic noise.” Matt said. “You just can’t stop yourself from needling him. I was on the aisle. I stood in line at the front of the airplane behind Grey as we boarded. “I’m in 21C. hurried us through the reservations desk to security. completely ignoring me. Matt. “I don’t know anyone else like that. “You have a middle seat!” “Your legs are shorter than mine.

“What did you do to her?” “A small energy spark.” “Use that trick on girls often?” I said.” I thrust my jacket under her nose. “What is your sort?” His eyes traveled over my face. “Someone with a little mystery.” Matt replied. “She’s not my sort.” he muttered. He gulped it down in two swallows and held the can back out to the stewardess. I saw a small spark of blue fire. He used the word magician and it stuck.” I elbowed Matt after she hurried away. It’s completely insulting.” She let out a high pitch giggle. “Do you have any idea how little control we have up here? Anything goes wrong and we’ve got no recourse.” His face twisted into a scowl. “Magicians do parlor tricks. “Arthur never could get it straight. She’ll be really happy for a few hours. “I’ll bring it right away. “Does the big bad magician not like planes?” “I am a wizard. Matt tugged on the collar of his tight white t-shirt.handed it to the stewardess. Matt’s shoulders tensed . “Even the smallest pint of ale would be a great help. “Anything else for you. The stewardess’s pupils dilated. This mode of travel is complete insanity. She blinked in surprise but hurried off when the pilot’s warning for take-off came on.” I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. Matt said. “This thing is a steel beast and we’re trapped inside its belly—” “It’s going to be okay. The plane taxied down the runway and jerked to a stop as it reached the take-off line. It acts like an adrenaline boost. I couldn’t resist asking.” “Wasn’t Merlin a magician?” I watched the plane roll down the runway.” I raised a brow. “Feel strongly about it?” He grunted and glanced out the window—which was a mistake.” I was saved from answering when the stewardess appeared with Matt’s beer. She took it with a happy smile. sweetie?” “No.

Below him. Camelot just wasn’t filled with all that ridiculous romance and idealism they have in the movies. Practically handed him the throne. “What’s the real story? I mean. I laid a hand on his bicep. “I thought the knights of Camelot were the best and brightest.” “Checks and balances. He jumped. The knights were Arthur’s emissaries. It’s how Arthur held the kingdom together.” “They were. half-startled when Matt actually huffed.” “Camelot fell apart at the end because Arthur couldn’t keep order among the knights. Merlin was supposed to be King Arthur’s mentor. but then. “Tell me more about Merlin.” “Most of what I thought I knew about all this seems to be wrong.” “Because Merlin abandoned him. Merlin and Arthur thought they were doing all the right things. the nobles ran their fiefdoms.” I was half-amused. “Merlin the Magician sounds better. I moved to pull it back.” I retorted. Merlin and Arthur thought more checks and balances were needed.” “He didn’t let Arthur screw it all up as you put it. The ruling structure back then held the King at the top. Syrupy warmth spread over me. “It’s a good idea. “You don’t understand at all. did it? All that Guinevere and Lancelot stuff divided everyone’s loyalties. Arthur made mistakes. but he laid his other hand over mine. They went where trouble was and kept an eye on the nobles. so they put the Round Table knights in the middle. clearly startled.” The plane jerked again as we started the run to take off.” He shrugged. “Not much more to tell than what you already know. Not because of some supposed love triangle. but you have to understand how the . but it didn’t really work.so much I thought his bones would crack.” I said. They were real people.” I tried not to wince when Matt’s grip on my hand tightened. let Arthur screw it all up.

If Camelot was teetering on a cliff. A healer and a jack usually. Not very powerful in any one thing. “Really? He sounds interesting. but they also weren’t treated as equals. his face turning a sickly.” Matt fingers curled around the armrest. who was incidentally a half-wizard. Arthur stalled them because it would have made the nobles. They weren’t in hiding.” I arched my brow. They petitioned Arthur for a seat at the Round Table. . against his father. but knows a little about everything. The wizards began to segregate themselves. They should have been given as much recognition as the knights they served. who were all Regulars. They lived in the path of danger but they weren’t given a vote on the Round Table.” “Jack?” “Jack of all trades. With Mordred at his side.” I said. “Merlin didn’t see it coming. But another wizard. the wizards lived among the Regulars in peace. sometimes two. it’s not. Mordred. almost green color. “Anger built up for years. An everything-wizard. traveling with him. You weren’t there. “So Merlin and the wizards caused Camelot to implode?” Matt made a noise of dissent.” I said.” I prompted. rallied everyone against Merlin and Arthur. He turned Arthur’s son. He was completely reckless. “Pretty heavy accusation. Gravity pressed down on us. “No. Matt paled. he pulled together the other wizards to strike back at Camelot. The plane shuddered from turbulence. I’ve heard that before.” The plane rose. Merlin tried to warn Arthur. he was the one who pushed it over the edge. Matt paled as the plane picked up speed.wizards fit in. a very powerful one. It was unfair. “He wasn’t interesting. isn’t it?” Matt gave me a look.” “No taxation without representation. unhappy. During Arthur’s time.” “Neither were you. Every knight had a wizard.

I cracked open an eye. “I saw you and Vane.” I narrowed my eyes. Matt didn’t reply. With a half-smile. I pulled my green music-pod out of my bag and popped matching buds into my ears. Really beside me. I wonder if they’re having trouble keeping the nose up—” “Be quiet. “We’re up. What is with everyone and their gadgets?” If I’d been chewing gum. Outside the bight sky had changed quickly to dark.“What did you see in your vision about me?” I asked. Matt settled back into his seat and looked out the window.” I corrected. through clenched teeth. I followed his gaze. “Tell me what you saw. I said mildly. “Did you notice how fast the pilots are pushing the plane? I've heard the faster the plane goes the more turbulence.” His eyes widened in surprise. “Have you noticed that when the plane shakes it seems like it's going to tear itself apart—” Matt growled in frustration. Matt’s brow furrowed and a far-away expression took over his chiseled face. I put it back into the pouch. . “Are you really eighteen?” Matt’s cheeks flushed. You and he were… kissing. “Yes. Matt exhaled loudly.” I mimicked. The plane made one final push and leveled out. Ryan. I checked the impulse to touch him again. you can be frustrating!” “Tenacious. “Not you too.” I said. “No. Matt sat back with a sigh. To make sure he was really real.” I extracted my hand from his grip and took the sick bag from him. I would have smacked it— loudly.” With a grin. I closed my eyes.” “Gods. My brother. “Annoying.” “Quite. ready to shut out the world for a little bit. “You didn’t need this. Really there.” Matt said.” My jaw dropped. “Quite.

I looked at the singular Matt Emrys. I shook my head as if I could shake straight my fragmented mind. That Alexa would be sleeping just down the hall. That things would be back to what they had been before yesterday. “You have a brother?” . back at the manor.I still had the feeling I was going to wake up any second back in bed.

CHAPTER 6 THE COUNCIL Except for Matt. We landed in the mid-afternoon at Gatwick Airport. I had no idea where we were going. We got off at Victoria Station inside the London Underground. the flight went smoothly for everyone. whose pallor resembled that of a ghost. An hour-long train took us into town. we somehow made it out of the Underground and I found myself staring out at the English countryside as we sat on a . a cavernous maze of subways that the locals called the Tube. The guardians took care of everything. After a dizzying number of escalators and several train changes.

The van itself was tiny. You’re all candidates.” Matt’s cheeks flushed red. The one-lane road we drove . “Think we’ll get a shower today?” Excitement gleamed in Billie’s eyes. looking out the window. “Do they know we’re coming?” Billie replied.not exactly the giant SUVs we had driven back home. We’re here with him. but I was too tired. A full moon shone down on the Castle Cary train station when we finally stopped. At the sight of them. I recognized the look. The place we’re going is on the far side so another few miles after that. “How much longer?” “It’s another ten miles to Glastonbury. Several cars were waiting for us outside the station. My head bobbed as the van ambled over seemingly endless rolling hills.” Matt reassured. in Boston. I would have pestered him more.m.but from what I’d observed in my short time in England I doubted the cars got much bigger than this van. Matt told me we’re going someplace where they do nothing but magic. This ordeal is almost over. Billie was a candidate from Virginia.” He ushered us into the first van. exactly how is that going to work out?” I said. “The Council sent Matt to recruit candidates. A curl of unease tightened inside me. I figured it was somewhere around three a.” Matt energetically grabbed his bag and walked to the first van in the line of five. I let him hustle me into the van. Most of us were ready to collapse. The whiteknuckled flyer had vanished the instant we’d landed. I murmured. Grey let out a groan. The signs told us we were somewhere near Bristol. The further out into the country we got the more relaxed he seemed. Matt sat beside me. “This is so amazing. He was keeping something back.” Grey reminded him.” “Except that we can’t do magic. “Don’t worry. what’s going on?” “Not to worry. We trudged after him.long-distance train. “Yeah. “Matt. He’s all we need.

A stonewall surrounded it. He shouted something. Any supernatural creature not specifically invited is restricted from entering it. My cheeks heated. I noticed a small wooden plaque next to the gate. and open-sesame. Two manor-houses. It was… quaint. “There is a shield over the stronghold.” he said without turning his head. an intricate carving of a lion with wings. Ryan. “Avalon Preparatory Academy. “The . Our driver got out of the van and went up to the gate. An ordinary passerby would just see humdrum little buildings.” “How is it protected?” Grey asked. I yawned. Not that I’d done anything.” A dilapidated brick estate stood in the middle of grey fields. I yawned again. “Everyone out. It declared. Matt and one of the guardians went up to the double doors. The houses connected by a small archway. “We’re almost there. Spanning the wood of the doors was a seal. As we crossed the archway.” Matt explained. We stopped at iron gates. but it seemed weird after what he’d told me about his brother. I could hear the apprehension in his tone. but I still felt somehow guilty.” Matt said. The driver stopped the van just before large double doors. two stories tall and not very wide. “The lion symbolizes the Keltoi. “Is this place protected? Do the gargoyles know about it?” “The wizard community has kept it hidden for centuries. I wanted nothing more than to rest my head against Matt’s shoulder. And didn’t look as if could house more than twenty people. We all emerged hesitantly from the vans. A harsh wind burst through the air.on seemed was the only sign of civilization. All of the candidates had befuddled looks on their faces as they took in the nondescript manor. but the buildings inside were hardly impressive. the gates opened. Our driver jumped back in the van.” The van followed the driveway up to the closer of the twin buildings.

A svelte woman stepped out. Her smile faltered. Her eyes passed over us in a single sweep before coming to rest on Matt.” Marilynn frowned at his intent expression. Marilynn giggled as if he’d made some hilarious comment. Marilyn led us to a small bar. Matt took a step after her.” I stopped him. Is the Council ready?” The smile on her face dimmed just a bit at Matt’s perfunctory greeting.” Matt said dryly. the only . We searched for years and only identified three or four families. A glass door stood near the stairs yet light didn’t reach far inside. I can’t believe that you have found so many. “We are so glad you are back. it is good to be back. Welcome to wizard school. With straight dark hair and long legs.wizards.” *** We entered into a huge foyer. It has been too long.” She disappeared back into the manor.” The doors opened. She followed his gaze to me. “Matt. “Where are we?” Matt flashed white teeth in a smile. When you sent the list of all who were coming I was stunned. Her gauzy moss-colored dress flowed around her like a soft cloud. “Although even I had a bit of a surprise. She held out her hands to Matt. follow me. candidates. He made a sweeping gesture to usher us into the manor. She smiled—a luminous smile that made her whole face glow and made its recipient want to bask in its glory. but she said cheerfully.” “I am known for having a certain knack. candidates. I could see a set of stairs but most of the dark hardwood space was empty. “Please.” Matt clasped her hand briefly. “Marilyn. “We are ready. “Welcome to Avalon. Matt glanced at me. I found one more than I expected. The sweetness of it made my teeth hurt. At the end of it.

rows of cubbies held papers like some old fashioned hotel. You’ve led an interesting life. candidates. Behind the bar. “Good. she nodded.” Marilynn said. “Welcome to our admissions area. “Nice speech. brother. There were a few grumbles while everyone pulled out watches and music players and put them in the box.” Paul stepped forward. This building holds the administration—it used to be an inn. When she came to the end of list.” “The guardians already took our cells. It seemed so ordinary—not exactly an impressive castle fortress.” She took out a large cardboard box from behind the bar. Here and now is what matters. You will be provided with everything you need. So this was wizard school. Matt had already taken mine.other piece of furniture in the foyer.” Matt interrupted.” Oliver said. “Paul Mason.” She started rattling off our names.” Marilyn nodded. . “The second building holds some more office. “What about me?” Marilynn raised a brow and clicked a few buttons on the keyboard. nothing from the outside will be allowed. A clapping sound came from the other end of the lobby. The past no longer applies. We need to ensure your records are in order so you look as if you have properly enrolled into school. Nothing is out of order. The future hinges on you. Most of you have led fairly ordinary lives. No cellphones. Shall we test whether you really mean it?” a voice drawled. The school is actually past the glass doors. “Good. “But before we begin. “Let us begin. I must ask you to turn over any electronic devices you may have brought. Marilynn pushed a button on the bar and a flat-panel computer screen rose out of the counter. Everyone confirmed that they were present. “Now let us confirm that I have your names in the system.” “A life that is now in the past. My fingers still itched for it. no music players.” She pointed to end of the foyer.

. His hazel brown eyes sparkled with brilliance. do call me Vane.A man walked down the stairs into the foyer. “Second Member Aurelius. catching a few strands of loose hair. His hair was slicked back. Vane’s sharp eyes went straight to us. Vane hooked his thumbs in tight jeans. “Enough. why is my brother here?” Matt demanded. He has brought candidates.” Matt muttered. Matt immediately created another one. It was the history professor from the news. He hurled it back across the room with enough force to make the room shudder. The fireball had come from Matt. He blinked in surprise and… recognition when he saw me. It shrank into nothing. For some reason. “Council-Member Aurelius. Vane laughed and threw it back at its owner. I did a double-take. I didn’t have time to notice anything else. It was enough of a warning shot to make us all step out of range of the firefight. Matt volleyed the ball back again and added a second one. The giant fireball stilled at the center of the room. The bitter smell of burnt hair filled the room.” a loud voice shouted. “Vivane is here for the same reason as you. Then. Matt halted the giant ball before it reached him. Northe.” “Please. His face was eerily similar to Matt’s.” the white-robed wizard corrected. but held it ready. A group of white-robed men and women entered through a side door. Vivane is so…” “Girly?” Grey snickered quietly behind me. Vane copied him. He was lean but well-built. He didn’t hurl it. he added a third and a fourth. creating a barrage of balls. Dr. “Vane. His gaze passed over me and I relaxed. A blue fireball shot through the air at Vane. A candidate let out a small yelp as the blue fireball whizzed by him. Matt’s double halted them in the air one by one. I tensed. A wizard with a short white beard glared at Matt and Vane. He pulled them into one big fireball and shot it back at Matt.

in girlfriend position. “But what do we have here? These are your mighty set of Regular candidates?” He eyed some of the kids in the group in ratty jeans and travel-worn t-shirts. The girl stood beside him. With the wizards on his side.” Vane shrugged carelessly.” Matt said.” “No thanks to you. “He’s a murderer. “You tried to kill me!” “Yet you are not dead. They . you left me trapped.” Matt ground his teeth. But that is all in the past. A large brutish boy —obviously the leader—stood in front of the rest. Vane’s boots clicked on the wood floors. what happened? Did he thank us? No. My wizard candidates are the only ones we need. as you said. instead he blamed us. But what did he do with such a gift? He used it to betray us. Like you are proposing to do with these candidates. “How did you get out?” “I managed as I always do…by myself. He strode in front of Aurelius and faced the Council. they cursed us. No doubt the infamous Council.” Vane’s eyes roved over the candidates standing behind Matt.” Vane ranted. Arthur enjoyed every advantage.” “Then. “Do you know who he is?” Matt spoke from the floor. A slight sneer curled his lips. seven or so kids came downstairs to gather behind Vane in pack formation.” “Is that any way to talk about family? I know you are a mite upset with me—” Matt exploded. “Wherever did you pull together this rag-tag pack? I say we send them all back home—for their own safety. “And when you got out. They had moved to stand a semi-circle.Vane turned back to the men and women in white robes. “You entombed us in a cave!” Vane crossed his arms across his chest. no murder.” As if on cue. “When Arthur’s knights couldn’t hold the kingdom together. “Hence. “Merlin trained Arthur to take the Sword. Boys in tough streetwear and one girl with dyed red hair and a dragon tattoo looked on with impassive expressions.

“I know we’re past that—” “What happens when the one gets the sword? No Regular can resist the temptation to use its power. But no longer. Vane smiled in satisfaction.” Matt told Aurelius abruptly. Aurelius nodded. They drove us out of our homes. “Vane. “That is why we have devised an admissions test. A wizard candidate is far superior than any regular. “I’m not ready to take any test. I have seen them.the wizard and the Regular ones. “What is the test?” someone said. We’ve been hiding for over a thousand years. Our kind lives in the shadows.” “Neither are we. Our time is now. Even after all they’ve done. Aurelius held up his hand. they drove us into hiding. Camlan. indeed—” “My candidates will happily take the tests. “No. who was standing beside Grey. “Let me talk with them.” said Billie.” Matt snorted. “We are not afraid. we realize you have a point. “You were never tolerant—“ “And you are too tolerant.” Vane said.” Aurelius raised a hand. What happens when they turn the sword back on us? Regulars are too easy to corrupt. “We should learn from the past. Or are you questioning my visions now?” Some of the Council members demurred.” Oliver said anxiously. Matt drew us to a corner of the room.blamed magic for their problems. “My candidates do not need to take a test. At least we can trust our own kind —” “Please.” Matt made a sound of disgruntlement. When I woke I learned after Mt.will prove to us and to themselves that they are truly candidates.” He turned to look at us.” “What?” Matt exclaimed. All of the candidates. Quiet fell over the room. . I wager you’d still rather talk to the gargoyles—” Matt protested. We have gathered water from the Lake of the Lady.

“I thought we came here to get ready. “What aren’t you telling us. “You are candidates. We later found out that the lake had special properties.” Oliver nodded earnestly.” Grey crossed his arms across his chest.” Grey muttered. That is all you will have to do. Take a drink. Tell us what you see. “I have no doubt that you can do this.” “What are we supposed to do with this water?” I asked. If you take a drink. “Am I the only one who has a bad feeling about this?” “No. “Let me understand clearly.” I said. Matt looked over the group.” I said. Merlin moved it to the center of town. The water only interacts with those who it has an affinity to. In Arthur’s time. Matt?” . You brought us here to train but the Council wants us to prove that we actually are candidates in order to receive the training. Just like the Sword. you are a candidate. “You’ve no doubt heard of the Lady of the Lake.” Paul said.” Matt admitted. All of you. you will see.” “What if we don’t see anything?” I asked.” “Good to have choices. If we don’t then…what?” “I don’t know. “That’s the point. If you see anything. she alerted Merlin that the Sword had appeared in the lake. “That’s it?” Matt reassured. “We need their help. We need their protection. “I wouldn’t mind a second confirmation that I really am a candidate. If you want to.

” The tension on the fourteen faces surrounding me . “You will not have a problem. I believe Master Matt.” Matt repeated. I muttered.CHAPTER 7 AVALON PREPARATORY “You are candidates. “They put my brother in a hospital.” Billie said grimly. Believe me.” From the other side of the room. “Should we order lunch while you dither?” My eyes narrowed. Vane let out a loud yawn. “I’ll take the test just to shut him up. They didn’t do that without reason.” “The gargoyles came after my whole family.

I stopped. His candidates shadowed him.” said Oliver with a laugh. “Why these images?” Matt’s breath tickled my skin. The others echoed the agreement.” Mark strode to the pedestal. Vane nodded at a brutish boy who stood in front. “Do not disturb him. Thornton prompted him to move his hands over the bowl.” I leaned closer to Matt and whispered. He sank to his knees and started dry heaving. “Councilmember Thornton.” Matt explained. Mark complied.” Vane said. step up to the water. Mark let out a small grunt.” Water in the bowl on the pedestal shimmered brighter and brighter. I found myself taking a step toward the pedestal.” “How is that possible?” Oliver asked from behind us. Matt moved to stand beside me. Thornton poured water into his hands. He cupped his hands together. Vane defeated him. “Mark. “So will I. they’ve linked it to the one who drinks the water. “The water shifts through the past. “Who will go first?” “We will. “It must be the most .broke. Matt looked at Aurelius and nodded.” Grey said. He poured a bit of ordinary looking water into the bowl. Images flashed through the water—Mark dueled with Vane. He slurped up the water. Thornton picked up an urn. Vane gave him a sardonic look. “In this case. I thought I saw a faint blue shimmer.” Aurelius warned me off. “So will I. everyone stilled in equal parts apprehension and anticipation. Light from an overhead sconce reflected off the water’s surface. “Magic. A pedestal holding a plain glass bowl was brought forward. “Look at the bowl. Then.” Aurelius commanded. and Mark fell to the ground. please bring out the water. Aurelius said. Around me. Nothing happened for the first few seconds.

son. “Stop this. “You’re next. probably her mother.” He gestured Mark to go to Marilynn. Thornton set down the urn and helped him up. I had to look away. Gone was the air of arrogance. The water in the bowl shifted. It’s different for everyone. Her whole body shook.” I said. No gain. The girl took the water in cupped hand. Aurelius signaled the Councilmember to proceed with the urn. showing brutal images.” The brutish boy tried to retain a tough demeanor. Vane watched her go with an impassive expression.” On the floor. “Please report to admissions.” Vane crooked his finger at the lone girl of the group. “Please see Miss Marilynn.” Her hands fisting. Mark shuddered. she must not have liked because her short red hair swung around her face like razors as she marched to the pedestal. “You shouldn’t have interrupted the test.” She chewed her lip. hit the young redhead over and over again. Welcome to the Avalon Preparatory Academy.” Matt raised his hand and the water in the pedestal sloshed. She will give you your schedule and room assignment. but I saw how slowly he moved as he walked to Marilynn. A woman. an older version of the girl.” Aurelius told him. The girl got up angrily. “Well done. She swallowed it quickly. She dropped to her knees. the girl started crying. He went to the girl and offered a hand up. breaking the stream of images.significant event on his mind. Whatever he said. she let out a loud scream and fell to her knees. As she watched the beating. A moment later. The rest of Vane’s candidates glanced at each other. A young boy who couldn’t have been more than fifteen walked . hesitating.” Vane signaled another candidate to come forward. “Those who see the water are confirmed as candidates. “Did I pass?” Aurelius nodded. “No pain. she looked at Aurelius. Vane whispered in her ear. “Matt. Grey let out a low growl.

he would be eligible.” Vane said. That is all.” .” The boy gave Vane a grateful smile. “Vane. the boy swallowed the water. I can’t go home. The school has tuition.” “I have no doubt Vane has enough to help. Instead he just stared at it. Matt shook his head. “Marilynn.” Matt said. “You are not a candidate. You can go to school. With a start. You will be fine. come take this boy for regular enrollment. “Give him more. Vane cleared his throat loudly.” Aurelius declared The boy went pale. he is your responsibility. Thornton looked at Aurelius. “I knew you would be my savior. The bowl on the pedestal remained still.” Vane said. Still nothing. He is also your responsibility. The boy drank a second helping. You know that after how long the boy has been with you.” Matt said. I don’t have any place to go back to. Nothing happened. “You are a wizard. He looked at Vane. you risk turning him into a turnip.” “You do belong here. The boy didn’t move to swallow it.” “I have the perfect forgetfulness spell.” Aurelius looked to Vane. But we are not a charity.” Aurelius sighed.” Vane gave the boy an uninterested glance. Thornton complied. “Unbelievable. I will sponsor him and pay for the admissions test. Aurelius inclined his head in agreement. “He is not a candidate. The gargoyles burned my house down. He can always work off the rest after graduation.” Aurelius said. “Yes. “You said this is where I belonged.bravely to the pedestal. “The Council rejected him. My grandmother is gone.” Beseeching eyes sought out Vane. “Unless you want to turn the boy loose with his knowledge of the candidates.” Vane crossed his arms. the amount of memory you would have to modify. “No. He needs a sponsor. Thornton poured water into his waiting hands.

Grey took a step forward. “But I couldn’t say for sure. his face tight with worry. revealing its dark hidden corners . The next thing I knew I was on the floor as my stomach tried to climb out of my mouth. The brothers had issues with a capital I. I glanced away. Aurelius looked at us. I inhaled the scent of earth mixed with calming lavender. Like a crowbar to a damaged lock. Black spots danced in my vision. I drank it in one swallow.” Matt said. will the water be the same for us Regulars as it was for the wizard candidates?” “It should be. I stepped in front of him. I squeezed his hand before heading to the pedestal. I wouldn’t kiss him even if I was a princess. “Dramatic much?” “If only I was. “Is your group ready?” My stomach knotted. I fought it. “Your brother is a toad. My gaze collided with Vane’s.” The last of Vane’s candidates went to the pedestal. He doesn’t care what he wrecks in his path. “Matt. Matt’s words about his brother and me reverberated in my head. Thornton poured a few drops of water into my cupped hands and I hoped no one noticed how hard my hands shook. The urge to collapse overwhelmed me. What horrible thing would the water bring out from us? I took a bracing breath. Grey caught my gaze.” Matt replied without humor. He watched Matt and me with interest. Discreetly. The same fear was reflected in his eyes. I whispered to Matt. the water tore the barriers down in my mind.” “That’s really helpful.” “You’re sure?” Matt said.” I said dryly." I raised my brow. Heaving. “Vane is like a hurricane. He only cares about what he wants. He signaled the next candidate to step up to the pedestal.” “He’s more than that—he’s dangerous. “I’ll go first. I’d never seen Matt so wound up. The liquid tasted cool and sweet.Vane inclined his head at the accolade.

Plus I liked Christmas in Texas. “M-Mom. Not to mention I wouldn’t be seeing my boyfriend Morgan—tall.” *** Mom yelled at me as we readied to leave the house. and delicious— for a whole week. Snow was overrated. As she squirted perfume on herself—lavender. Especially for a trip I didn’t even want to go on.” she yelled from downstairs. Did you pack a nice dress like I told you? The Ragnars go all out on Christmas Eve. I choked out. So what if we were two and a half hours early instead of three? Getting to the airport three hours early for a domestic flight was ludicrous. I’m throwing you in the car. Last time they had entire scenes out of the Nutcracker carved in beautiful ice sculptures.” “You didn’t use to think so. my mother’s preferred scent—I rolled my eyes. I wish you’d behave like on once in awhile. The decoration of lights mixed with the warm air. You’ll love it.” “You’re a girl. You can get on the plane in those ridiculous men’s boxers. On the floor. Did she know she was ruining Christmas? “If you’re not ready in five. I didn’t want to miss the tree hunt and our neighbor’s breakfast. The holidays were about tradition. What could be better? Being cooped up in a house in Boston with strangers due to the inevitable blizzard didn’t sound thrilling.” “Ballet is boring. There’s a black tie party.to harsh light. I had griped the whole month about how we should be going to our neighbors like we did every year. Memories crashed over me.” I reiterated as I pulled my suitcase out of my room. “They’re comfortable to sleep in. I know you gave it up for fencing—” “Because you made me.” I retorted. “Anyway I’m already dressed. I didn’t want to spend Christmas with some boring family I didn’t even know. dark. . complaining about how I’d woken up late even though I knew we had a flight to catch.

“Ryan. It was nothing like the giant eightfooter we usually splurged on. but we’re in a rush—” I stopped just before the living room.” She wrapped me up in a tight hug. Mom went into the living room. I heard her fling open the front door. Mom grabbed the car keys from the hook and gave the house a quick once. “I know it’s hard. Mom didn’t like Morgan and I was pretty sure she would slam the door in his face without even letting me talk to him. I slowly dragged my suitcase downstairs. We’d be gone for over a week. I’m sorry. “RUN!” The man’s face… changed. It turned from normal to the . It was the first vacation we’d taken in two years. “We don’t have much time. D. they covered every inch of the doorway.” Morgan asked. I promise. we’ll be fine.” Mom’s face softened at this declaration. I rolled my eyes again.. Between the two of them. With a grumble. “Morning. “Of course. Ry. “Is Ryan here?” Mom said. I hurried back down.” she said. “Morgan. Mrs. but as long as we’re together. I’ve loved having you to myself for so long. but you’re going to be graduating before you know it and you’ll need those connections—” The muted sound of the doorbell cut her off. “It’ll be good for you to make new friends. impatiently. The walls of the townhouse were paper-thin. You need ID. Another hulksized man in a black trench coat came up out of nowhere behind Morgan. I went upstairs. I was pretty sure no one had used a rapier in a real fight since the 1700s.” she commanded. I left it at the foot of the stairs to take one last look at the tiny Christmas tree in the living room. “Christmas should be at home.“It will be better for you in the long run. You’ll have fun with the Ragnars. I tried one last time.” Mom screamed.” Grabbing my purse.” I heard her say. “Don’t forget your purse. We’ve always made Christmas about being home. I loved my Christmases with them when I was a little girl.

I’ll never forget the horrible sound of my mother’s head cracking as the boy I loved threw her against the wall. baby.” Morgan rasped. Long fangs emerged from his mouth. Although it was innocuous as the soft creak of the door. his voice very different from the one I’d spent hours talking to on the phone. “Don’t worry. “She smells good. taking a step back. Now. “Ryan. He lunged at me. In a scene straight out of a vampire flick. “Come here. I backed into the hallway. Shaking from head to toe. I tried to scream but nothing came out of my throat. we can be together… always. Everything will be fine. “Wait. I held the Katana in front of me. What happened next was a blur. the man-monster grabbed Mom by the neck. He started to walk slowly towards me. A whimper escaped my mouth. A set of Katana swords—my mother’s favorite—hung on the wall. but somehow I was faster than him.” “Stay away.” I backed away. My body hit the kitchen wall.” Morgan said in a frustrated tone. Powerful. I halted just outside the door to the living room. baby. becoming wider until it protruded out of his face. . Don’t you see? I’ve done this for us.” The other man knelt down to pick up my mother’s wrist. Morgan tore through it like it was tissue paper.” he crooned. “What are you?” Morgan put up his hands. Morgan rushed through the door. His forehead went Neanderthal. I grabbed one. the sound reverberated through me. I ran out of the hallway into the kitchen and slammed the door shut close.face of a monster in less than a second. I asked. I watched frozen as he sunk his teeth into my mother’s limp wrist.” I said. “We have to find the daughter. Morgan crossed the living room to the door in the blink of an eye. He paused at the sight of his dead friend. It probably saved my life.

A man entered wearing the dark blue uniform of a paramedic. He never saw my mother come up behind him. Morgan’s body slumped and rolled. he grabbed the sword from my hands and turned it against me. Morgan ran at him with a yell. he turned around. Blood spurted all over the walls.” In a blink. Morgan smiled. She tried to chop off his head. Morgan clawed my mother across the chest with talon-like fingers. The paramedic swung the sword. In the blink of an eye. Morgan got up from the wall with a snarl. The paramedic extended a hand and blasted Morgan back against the kitchen wall. Blood covered his hand but he didn’t seem to be bothered. he drove the sword he held into my mother’s stomach. The razor sharp edge caressed my skin with deadly intent. D. With an angry smile. He walked up to stand just before the tip of the point of the unsteady sword in my hand.” With one hand. He tore open the button of my shirt and reached inside. He picked up the sword from the floor where Morgan had dropped it. I thought I would throw up. he reached out to caress my cheek. Morgan’s eyes blazed triumphantly. he stood inches from the paramedic.I was trapped. Morgan caught the blade with his hand. “One last kiss?” His lips twisting into a sadistic smile. “Ah. It spurted all over me. With his other hand. It seeped across my mother’s pristine floor. Morgan’s head fell to the floor. His face extended into beast-like proportions. The paramedic moved quickly. I met the . His cold hand slid further down past my neck. He squeezed a breast with force. You can’t hurt me. Mrs. She held the other Katana. Pictures hanging on the wall crashed to the floor. Morgan grunted. baby. My mother fell back onto hard marble tile. “I’m going to enjoy killing you. He moved with speed despite his bulk. Covered in blood. I screamed. The back door of the kitchen burst open.

” He put a hand to my head and muttered.” I released him. “What a mess. You need to help my mother—” The paramedic looked at me for a long moment. “Time . Moonlight from the bay window highlighted the cold cut of his high cheekbones. the paramedic’s face hovered over me as he shook me awake.” “H-help.” “They had swords. “Mother and daughter obviously fought off the gargoyle without magic. “We must follow. I will help. he grimaced as he came up behind the paramedic. Unusual. “I will. A sense of calm filled me. Do we take her with us?” The handsome paramedic shook his head.” The paramedic drew together my torn shirt and started to get up. Y-you can’t leave. the hunt continues. “Morgan.paramedic’s impassive eyes. but still they are quite obviously Regulars.” Another boy came in through the hallway. No head.” I grabbed his wrist with the last bit of remaining strength.” “The boyfriend. I could do more than stare at him.” I said. “Come.” he said. “Who was he?” he asked. “Who was he?” This time his voice sounded oddly distorted as if were speaking through a filter.” “The mother did.” the boy pointed out. “Surprisingly strong grip for such a delicate girl. The voice washed over me with velvety softness. The next thing I knew. He stretched his wrist. Piercing hazel eyes bore into mine. Despite his brutish size. But you must let go. I fainted. “M-my boyfriend. “They did spend an unusually long time on you. They knew what they were doing. “W-Wait.” he said. And Regulars are not our concern. “Yes. “There’s another one in the living room. Dead.” I whispered hoarsely.

I noticed the nametag on his uniform.” “Indeed. There was a chorus of agreements throughout the group. in the foyer of Avalon Prep.to rest… and forget. Aurelius cleared his throat. I tried to lunge at Vane. but Vane does. “How is it possible?” another member said.” I sat back on the floor. .” As my eyes fluttered close. *** On the floor. You’re done. The other Councilmembers circled the pedestal. Matt rushed to me. look at the water. We must look to the present. “—so might have the others. Matt caught me and held me still.” Matt added. without apology. “Why?” “Yes. I don’t know. “Why were you at the girl’s house?” “Isn’t it obvious?” Matt said. “What is done is done.” “He’s rescuing candidates?” someone said. How do you think he rounded up his candidates? He’s been following the gargoyles about. My eyes snapped to Vane.” said Vane. Vane. I did throw up.” Aurelius commanded. “He doesn’t have the sight. “You didn’t tell the kids they were being targeted?” He gave an unemotional shrug. “He’s not worth it. Vivane. “The gargoyles don’t discriminate between Regulars and wizards.” Matt scoffed. “Hardly. He’d saved me. I did. I stared at him.” a woman Councilmember declared. It’s all done. “You made me forget.” I looked at Vane with dawning horror.” “Or care.” Vane continued without acknowledging my outburst.” “Master Aurelius.” “I’d forgotten. Ryan.” Thornton interrupted in an awed tone. “You survived—” “My mother didn’t!” I jumped up. “I’ve never seen anything like this. But he didn’t want me to remember. “It’s all right.

From the glare she gave me I was pretty sure she and I were not going to be friends anytime soon. “We found it in your cave. Matt had magically cleaned my mouth and now it felt fresher than before I had thrown up. “Matt?” I said uncertainly. “Well. We’ve been monitoring it for almost a thousand years.” Vane drawled. Aurelius’s gaze didn’t move from the water. Aurelius gathered the candidates. The water was red with blood. Grey’s visions had been about the shadowdragon and Alexa. Some of you . “Congratulations and welcome. “Where did you get the water?” Matt said to Aurelius. I looked at the pedestal. The simple gesture calmed me. “I will go. After the pedestal had been taken away and the rest Council dispersed as mysteriously as they had appeared. but you do not know me. this has taken a most interesting turn. “Let us proceed with the test. Unsurprisingly. “Your guardians and mentors have briefed me about you. I am Aurelius Ambrose. I was still holding his hand—or he was holding mine—when Aurelius confirmed the last candidate. Grey stepped forward. I also serve as the head of this school. As well as holding the title of Second Member of the Wizard’s Council. “We don’t have time for this.” Aurelius said. of course. you are in a remarkable position. I ran my tongue across my teeth. Who is next?” After a moment of hesitant silence. Marilyn had cleaned up the floor while Matt was taking care of me. “Don’t speak to me.” Matt snapped. Matt.” “Today.” *** It took another two hours to get through the candidates.” he intoned. He tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. How do think we knew when you woke?” “Woke?” I said.Reluctantly tearing my gaze from Vane’s.

I am here to tell you that the threat is very real. Marilynn. “Vivane has volunteered to train you on swords. I realize you are exhausted so I will excuse your outburst this once. “Now. You will be among the first to enroll as part of our special program. He is the finest swordsman alive today.are wizards and some of you are not. It . For your survival as well as ours. Many students start at Avalon Prep at a very young age. you will be pushed beyond what you think you can handle. I would speak to you right now. Your objective is simple enough. His beard swung back and forth. He did. “He’s like a million years old. “Aurelius. What are we supposed to do now?” Aurelius gave him a disgruntled look. Not since King Arthur’s time has the Sword come back to the land—” “Who cares about King Arthur?” Mark said. he looked at Marilyn. “Dangerous times are upon us. your time will count towards your secondary school education.” He paused to make sure he had everyone’s attention.” “You have taken a great step today by coming here. However. They would see you dead to increase their chances of being the ones to pull the sword out of the stone. For those of you still in school. Although it may not feel like it now—you are where you belong. “Candidates. please follow her on the tour of the school. all of you are beginners. If seeing them today in your fellow candidates’ visions was a first. You are part of a new family. He waved his hand and the glass doors opened behind him.” Aurelius walked back and forth in front of us. you will get your welcome kits from Ms. Then. Brown. Most of you have had encounters with the gargoyles already. “In the upcoming days. The gargoyles started hunting down candidates as soon as we did.” Aurelius’s lips curved into a grandfatherly smile. With a nod. we will prepare you for whatever Trial the Sword may throw at you. and thus allow you to graduate if that is your wish. It’s time for a smarter approach. Mr.” “Vivane!” Matt burst out. There have been deaths enough. You will train at Avalon Prep.” Aurelius sighed.

” With a gimmicky zap. On his head sat a matching pointed hat. “I know who you mean. “What?” “If you’re going to make it as a candidate.” I thrust a finger hard into his unyielding chest.” Before I could blink.” I said. He wore a blue-felt robe with white stars. he was the puppetmaster. “Why did you?” “I had to know about you. you must figure out who you can trust. A long white beard extended from his jaw to his feet.” “Was he?” he drawled.” The candidates shuffled off towards Marilyn. His gaze rested on the necklace Sylvia had given me. “Vasana. I marched over to him and cut him off before he reached the glass door leading outside. “But really.” “Yes. you shouldn’t believe everything my brother says. “You were hard to read.” His eyes slid over me.” Vane said. I should have realized it was purchased magic obscuring the truth. Vane whispered.” I pushed him away. “Let me help you out. He became a legend. “You could have saved my mother. His face had aged to look about a hundred years old.” “Matt—” Vane laughed. If Arthur was the puppet. .” I said steadily. Vane grabbed me by the waist and turned me to face Matt.” “You are unbelievable. Vane leaned down until his lips grazed my ear. a costume appeared on Matt. Matt pulled at his jacket in frustration as he argued with Aurelius. He founded a great kingdom. I saw Vane trying to slink off out of the room. But someone else besides Arthur became just as famous. “Is that what you think his name is?” I frowned. What do you know about Arthur? He pulled the sword from the stone. “Matt was right about you. “I debated coming in at all.will be most enlightening for you to see what we do here. I noticed he wore skater-punk shoes.

Looking down at himself. he was considered the most powerful wizard of all time because…he could see the future. he was a wizard. During Arthur’s time. “Vasana-apte.” I said. “I’m sorry. let’s put it together. My eyes were glued on Matt. “You’re an ass. Even after the trauma of drinking the water. The deep pools in his eyes stretched into infinity…or a thousand years or so. Hearing my distress. One. Three. eighteen.” Vane let go of me with a chuckle. He grabbed me by the waist. “Tell me it’s not possible. Grey left the other candidates and crossed the room. “What’s going on?” he demanded.” Matt said beseechingly. he always thought he knew best for everyone.” It must have been a counter-spell because the cartoonwizard disappeared.” “And you always make things hard for yourself. he would have been considered a mature adult. I made a mewling sound. “Now. I had trusted Matt. he cursed. “Ryan—” “Oh.” I clutched my stomach. We had all trusted Matt. Matt returned to normal. Actually he was about…oh. I barely noticed him leave. this new betrayal hit just as hard. I turned to Grey.” . but not so much now. His name is Merlin.Vane said against my ear. “Matt?” Bile bubbled inside me like bad stomach acid. Know anyone like that? Four. That is true. Matt glared at Vane. That is false. Two. G-God. say. he was old. “His name is not Matt. What is his real name?” Matt broke off talking to Aurelius. It climbed up my throat and burnt through my nostrils. Matt said.


My voice rose hysterically. including Vane’s. you will believe me when I tell you the truth about myself.” Matt announced.” Aurelius walked to us.CHAPTER 8 THE MOST FAMOUS WIZARD The candidates. “Things have been hard enough to explain. realized something was going on and came over. However.” His eyes met those of the candidates without . so I did not bother with this piece. I do hope after what you have seen today. “He lied to us. “It is past time to introduce myself properly.

“I can confirm Master Merlin’s tale. Also I’m quite good at mimicking. I have a feeling the Lake knew it was time. “Good question. Even Grey was looking at Matt with new respect. “I’m not sure what it was. “Not at all.wavering. “Vane and I fought a long time ago. That the Sword would appear again. though. We happened to be near the Lake of the Lady.” “A disturbance?” Oliver said. please follow me.” He glanced at the candidates.” “So you’re not a vampire?” the red-haired girl repeated. She sounded disappointed. “No matter how it came about I think we can all agree that having Merlin on our side is a good thing. I was known to them as Merlin. I looked at him in surprise. Entombed in a cave. We both became trapped.” Matt—no. the name has been known by a slightly different translation used by Arthur and his knights.” “But—” another candidate said. Pretty much all of the candidates were murmuring with awe.” Matt quipped.” The red-haired girl with spiky hair asked. “Candidates. “—immortal?” “No.” Grey explained. But you forget I am a wizard. “Are you a vampire or something? Like an—” Her voice dropped to a whisper. I have an ability to learn at an accelerated speed. We have protected the tomb for over a thousand years. Frozen in time. Until a disturbance woke us a few years ago. “I did pick up a few things from you. Merlin— said. Throughout history.” I glanced around at the crowd behind me. She marched to the converted hotel check-in . Matt smiled with good humor.” Marilynn called us to attention. “Shouldn’t you be talking in medieval English or something?” Grey said skeptically. “My true name is Emrys. I’m not a vampire or immortal. Aurelius held up a hand. Our fighting caused an explosion.

desk and turned on a computer monitor. The candidates dutifully gathered around her. Matt tried to get my attention. I shook my head. There wasn’t much left to say. I walked to the crowd of candidates. Marilynn rattled on about the history of the school. Apparently it had been around for a long time. She went through a list of people who had graduated from the school, several politicians and celebrities. I would have cared, but there was only one famous person spinning around in my mind. He had gone from bad-ass boy on a bike to ultrapowerful wizard to someone completely out of my comprehension… someone completely out of my league. My hands fisted. Why did I even care about the rotting bastard? Grey sensed my melancholy and threw an arm over my shoulder. I leaned into him. Marilynn gave me a sardonic look as she passed out black cases to everyone. I opened mine to find an iPad inside. Several candidates whistled. Despite my agitated state, it impressed me too. Maybe wizard school wasn’t going to be as lame as I had thought. “All of your schedules and assignments will be done on these,” Marilynn explained. “The whole school is on these. We’ve had them for awhile now.” “Niiice,” Oliver whistled. “I thought magic didn’t work with electronics.” Marilynn let out a laugh. “You’ve been watching too many movies. Magic doesn’t work on them, but it doesn’t mean we can’t use them. I don’t know about you, but how these techs work seems like magic to me.” “Yeah,” several candidates laughed. “Your class schedule and other various apps you will need have been downloaded into these. You will all have the same schedule since you are in what we call a special training program separate from the rest of the school.” “Does it have a name?” Oliver asked. “The Excalibur program,” Marilynn said with cheek. “When students start here, they are given titles. They are called apprentices. You will be addressed as pages.”

“A page?” I asked. “You mean as in the page to a knight?” Marilynn nodded. “You are training to be a knight after all.” “I thought I was training to be king,” Oliver muttered. “Arthur didn’t become king because of the Sword. That’s a myth. He used it to maintain his kingdom. There’s a big difference.” Marilynn held up an iPad. “Back to the here and now. This also has your sleep assignments—” “When do we get sorted into houses?” a Regular candidate piped. “No houses,” Marilynn suppressed a smile. “We have a simple system. Girls are in Morgan Hall. Boys in Monmouth House.” There was a sound of disappointment from a few of the guys. “No girls in the showers?” “Sorry, you’re not here for that kind of learning.” Marilynn walked to the glass doors. “Now, if you will follow me, we will do a quick tour of the school grounds. Class starts tomorrow.” As soon as we stepped outside, I gasped. Soft sun shone down on a misty cathedral at the opposite end of a football-field length courtyard. The cathedral had a long pointed tower with beautiful rose and ivory stained glass windows. Pink-petal flowers and deep green ivy climbed the stones from the ground to the cathedral’s roof. A large fountain stood in the middle of the courtyard with water falling from several lion’s heads. Between the misty air and rolling slope of the earth, the grounds reminded me of a long lost fairy tale. More buildings made up the rest of the rectangular courtyard. The huge garage which we’d seen from outside stood to the right. Buildings had been spaced up and down the rectangle all connected by a ten-foot-high wall of grey stone. No one would be wandering into the school by accident—or wandering out. Marilynn walked us along a covered veranda that curved all the way around the courtyard. She pointed out several buildings that consisted of classrooms. Students

sat around on the grass. Most were busy punching things on their iPads. Some played soccer on the grass. It would have looked like an ordinary school, but then I saw someone float the soccer ball towards the goal. From the groans of the other team, this seemed to be an acceptable way to score. “The cathedral holds the Great Hall. It is where we hold all of our gatherings. It is also the gymnasium. You will spend a great deal of time in there for your physical training.” Marilynn pointed to a plain-looking building next to the cathedral. It had a huge clock high up on its face. “That is the Council building. It houses all the members as well as your teachers.” The clock chimed loudly when the hour turned. It reverberated through the long courtyard. A sea of students spilled out of the buildings. We stopped to stare at them. “There are so many,” Grey muttered. “The school is much larger than what you see when you drive up,” Marilynn replied. Grey watched the students playing with the floating soccer ball. “Alexa would have loved this,” I said to Grey. He nodded. We had almost completed the circle around the courtyard when Marilynn signaled for us to stop again. She pointed at twin stone buildings. “Morgan Hall and Monmouth House are right next to each other. The dining hall is connected so you will be eating together.” The dormitories were not as ornate as the cathedral, but they had a lot of windows. Lion stone rainspouts stuck out of the corners as a marker for each floor. I counted five. “Before I leave you to get settled in, there is one more thing.” Marilynn handed us badges. They were small cloth discs containing a stitching of a dragon. “This marks you as part of the Excalibur program. You will notice all of the other students with similar badges. These mark what your skill area is. For those of you who are wizard candidates, you will receive other badges as your powers become defined.” “What are the different badges?” Oliver asked.

Marilynn shook her head. “You will find out more when you have your first class tomorrow. Boys, please follow me into Dragon House. Girls remain here until I return.” She and the boys walked off. Which left me alone with the sole other girl. It seemed odd just to stand around without speaking, but I struggled to find something to say to her. I didn’t really want to ask about her vision. I felt bad enough for just watching the brutal beating. No wonder the girl looked out she’d gotten out of rehab just a few weeks ago. I asked what I hoped was a simple question, “How did you meet Vane?” “I was doing cage fighting for some lowlifes. He got me out. I thought he was trying to buy a good time, you know, but then he showed me what he could do. Magic. Said I could do it too.” Her hair swung like spiky icicles as she shook her head. “How wild is that?” “Wild,” I repeated. “So you don’t want to get the sword?” Slouching against a veranda column, she frowned at me like I’d asked something dumb. “Of course, I do. Why wouldn’t I? It’s the ultimate power. Whoever gets it will be famous.” It took a minute for me to digest what she said. “Do you really think everyone will know you pulled the sword?” “After the Total Tremor, they can’t very well hide it, can they? Everyone in the world knows about it.” She kicked her foot. “Whoever gets it will never get put down again.” For a second, she dropped her tough persona, and vulnerability shone clearly on her face. It was obvious Vane had made some grand promises to his candidates. At least Matt hadn’t done that. I chewed my lip. Matt hadn’t talked at all about what would happen after someone pulled the sword. Becoming famous didn’t sound like a good idea to me. More questions Matt—no, Merlin—had conveniently skipped answering. I looked at the girl. A pang of pity filled me. She reminded me of a lost puppy at the pound. “You’re risking your life just to be famous?”

Marilynn came out of the building. Marilynn led us past a spacious living area with huge couches and an enormous plasma screen TV. We had no choice. The soccer match had become a semi-wrestling match with a group of guys. “The gargoyles were after us. I smiled at the redhaired girl. “Aren’t you?” I shook my head.The girl straightened away from the column. “Ms.” Turning on her heel she strode into Morgan Hall. It was the kind of statement Alexa would have made. We have four to a room here. “If you say so. You will share. She stopped at a small office tucked into a far corner of the first level. DuLac. The minute I stepped inside Morgan Hall I felt at home—maybe because the country chic décor matched Sylvia’s study in Boston almost perfectly. Joseph. The other girl followed slowly. “Ms. but everything is ready. I will introduce you to the head of the residence hall. “My name is Ryan—” “I’m Gia—” We both burst out at the same time. She gave us a brisk once-over. I wondered what Sylvia would say if she saw it. I have new students for you. I had a feeling she had no idea how deep the Ragnars’ ties to the wizard world went.” She grinned and her gaze turned to the courtyard. She pointed us to the other building.” I smiled. She was watching news coverage of the sword on her flat screen LCD. “You have to admit though. “That’s all well and good. She will explain the details of the arrangement. Joseph held out two keycards.” A stout woman with round glasses and rosy cheeks sat behind a desk. I hurried after her. Arriane DuLac and Georgiana Cornwall. Let’s go.” Ms. Cornwall. She reluctantly turned away from it when we entered the office. it’s not so bad here. She grimaced. but since you are joining late .” A red eyebrow lifted. Fay didn’t inform us that we needed a room until this morning. “Ms. Ms.

of course. Ms. “I never imagined someone like him being so handsome. You can show yourself to the room. “I will ask him. I suppose I can show them. Then away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about—” “Merlin. Joseph sighed in disappointment. please show up promptly to meal times.” Ms. “You can understand why.” “Yes. the Council brought him here right away. Joseph said.” “Aren’t you going to show them the common areas?” Marilynn asked. Joseph replied. “—before he had the . “You attended his lectures just like the rest of us before he left… and it wasn’t to hear him speak. yes.” She nodded at Ms. “The girls are old enough. Fay. It’s not just the student witches either. of course. Joseph’s monitor. but I don’t know if the lectures will happen. Ms.” “Uh hum.” Marilynn turned red. Ms. She glanced at me. Joseph said turning back to the TV. He is quite busy. “When he first woke. “That is all. “Oh. Joseph said. “Merlin taught here?” I asked. “Fine. Is he back.” Ms. We don’t need to coddle them.” Ms. Do you know when he’ll start his lecture series again? I get asked about it every day. yes.in the semester there will be only two of you.” Ms. Other than that. Joseph sighed like a little girl.” Marilynn’s face twisted into a mask of frustration. I’ve been talking to Sir Calvin over at the teachers’ residence—” “Ah. “Who?” “Don’t be coy. Go on now. Food will not be kept waiting for you if you miss it. He taught here for a little bit—” She lowered her voice. There is a list of witches eager to sign up. The card has the room number.” She finished with a shooing motion. You’ll find a welcome package on your bed with some essentials. Fay?” Marilynn turned back. “Wait.” Marilynn cut her off. We’d taken a few steps outside when she stopped us. “I’m sure they’ll figure it out. you know. Fay.” Ms.” Ms.

” Marilynn didn’t look at me. Marilynn snorted. I stared at her slack-jawed for a second. Part of the Excalibur program. “Ryan knows him quite well. “I’ll talk to the dining staff. he likes pepperoni.” “Ah. “They’re candidates.” When three sets of eyes looked at her in surprise. Of course. muttering. I could listen to him for hours. “Oh. Joseph clapped her hands with glee. Who knows maybe he’s advanced past eating. do tell.” I said. “I like pizza.” For the first time. “Does he eat?” I repeated cautiously. “He’s so powerful. yes. I wager they’d love to make him some.” She let out a girlish sigh of longing.” Marilynn scoffed.” Ms. I had a vision of Matt scarfing down pizza on our first date. You must remember. Ms. “Um. He’s so young for being so wise. “Really? You know him well. Gia interjected. yes. Ms.” Ms. “Uh. Do you think he would like that?” I was starting to feel like I’d fallen into an alternate universe.” . the last one made me pause. “Wonderful. Then he set off on the hunt. “No. sure. How well did you know him? Have you actually had a whole conversation? What is he like? Does he eat?” Although the barrage of questions was overwhelming. “I’d say so. he definitely eats. Joseph looked at me skeptically.” “Er. You always sat right in the front row. Joseph’s large eyes turned on me with a bunnylike plea.” “That’s so American.” Wow. Joseph shrugged.visions. It was how he said it. Ms. Joseph exclaimed. It was like he was a celebrity. “It was the best lecture series we’ve ever had. Maybe he told her. I don’t remember exactly what he said. she colored.” Ms. I’d never been interrogated about someone so closely before. Advanced past eating. Quite enlightening. Fay.” “How do you know?” she demanded.

” “W-well. “What I wouldn’t give to be a candidate. You’ll be getting to spend so much time with him. “You and he have never… dated. Joseph touched her hair as she looked at the wall with dreamy eyes.” . “Not never. “Ryan doesn’t need to be a candidate for that. “Her and him? Together?” “Of course not.” Marilynn scoffed.I glanced at Gia.” Gia cleared her throat. Ms.” Ms. Joseph’s eyes widened.” Her brow furrowed.” I stammered. She snickered. She looked at me and asked point blank. “She is too young for him.

“Are you alright?” Gia asked her. Your room is on the fifth level. she’d pushed past us and hurried away. “Poor girl.” She pointed us out of the office. . Marilynn huffed and took a deep breath. Joseph gave me an awed look. you two need to get going. looking after Marilynn. The lift is that way. “I’m fine.” Before we could say anything else. “However. Marilynn made a small sound of distress.” Ms.CHAPTER 9 BASIC ELEMENTS Ms. I’ll leave you to find it. Joseph sighed.

“That was hilarious.” I halted midstride.” He nodded. “Anyway it’s finished.” With a forced smile on my face. I scowled at her. The brute’s girlfriend. “Because whether or not you admit it.” I couldn’t disagree with that. *** Early the next morning.” she said. He looked at my jeans. rumpled shirt and barely-made hair with amusement. a mass of students filled the courtyard and veranda as they rushed to classes. “He’s the most powerful wizard of all time. Possibly two. And he likes you. “Tough night?” he asked. “Why did you have to bring me into it?” Gia laughed sardonically.” I felt my cheeks turn red. She’s kinda stuck-up. He probably didn’t want you to freak. Grey and I walked together. it was too funny. a long sleeve t-shirt. And I didn’t like Merlin. I liked Matt.” Gia leaned against the mirrored wall of the miniscule elevator and checked out her teeth. You two were hanging all over each other. it’s true. I yawned. The girl with red-hair.” . I was babbling.” “Who?” “My new roommate. And it’s obvious why he lied—” “What? Why?” “Hell—oo. Gia followed. Over. I backed out of the office. and a jacket. “And I really don’t like that Marilynn. I stalked into the elevator and punched the button for our room. Still.” Gia laughed. Depends on how you look at it. “Gia is not the quietest sleeper. I mean you wouldn’t date a guy who kept lying to you. right?” Gia gave me a look that said I was the world’s biggest idiot. I groused.“I know just how she feels. “You told them that to get a rise out of them?” “Sure. “Hot girl. “He is Merlin. Grey wore khakis. “Matt and I are not dating.” “We went on a date.” But I was freaking. The school map application on the iPad directed us into an imposing stone building. One of Vane’s candidates.

if every wizard family was as rich as the Ragnars. Of course. The heavy silverware we used might have even been real silver. but she kept mumbling about Merlin all night. I rolled my eyes. At the front stood three blank black chalkboards side by side.” I opened and closed my mouth. It was a far cry from the life my mother’s teacher salary could have afforded. We reached the end of the hallway and entered into a corner classroom. The sterile smell of forced learning didn’t seem to be present.We walked down a long hallway with classrooms to the left and right. Everything about the wizard school from its immaculate landscape to the iPads to the gourmet food screamed money. that’s why. I hadn’t felt this out of place in Boston. Round tables with fine white tablecloths and sit-down service felt more suitable for a wedding a school cafeteria. . “You look soft but you pack a mean punch. nothing like the flimsy individual metal desk and chair combo that were the norm back home.” “Oh. “She may be someone’s girlfriend. But here even the superfine softer-than-silk cotton sheets on my bed last night had brought to my attention how completely out of my element I was. but didn’t get a chance to retort. bullshit!” His eyes flickered over me. “Watch it. I punched him in the shoulder. It was a huge room. Grey yelped. I guess the opulence shouldn’t have surprised me. To distract myself. Dinner last night had been odd. High open windows and the scent of wild flowers seemed far from the dungeon-like atmosphere of the classrooms I was used to. mostly because there had been enough normal kids in school to make up for the crazy rich ones. Grey and I sat on one long bench-seat attached to a mahogany bench table. bruiser. I glanced at the kids in the room. Why is it that every time he-who-must-not-be-named is even mentioned you turn violent?” “He-who-must-not-be-named. I smoothed down my jeans nervously.” he deadpanned.

then a break for lunch. It irked me that I noticed how hot he looked. But I go by Matt Emrys.There were around forty or so. I’m Merlin. To touch it. You will be learning how to defend yourself against magic. “Part of learning magic is to feel it. To smell it. It was one impressively thick book.” Matt snapped his fingers and copies of a heavy tome appeared out of nowhere onto our desks. I looked away. “…five days have passed since the infamous stone fell in Trafalgar Square. A row of about fifteen kids sat in the front. With a few taps. They hadn’t been at the admissions test.” Matt came around the teacher’s desk and leaned against the edge casually. A modern name for a modern time. You can’t get that sense from one of these—” He pointed to the iPad. “Many of you have these. A news anchor said. However. I tapped my iPad. He crossed to the teacher’s desk and set a leather satchel down. “Why do we care about magic? We don’t have any. I’m here to tell you—they’re useless. and then Physical Training in the afternoon.” He held up his iPad. no one has been able to give a satisfactory answer to the question on the world’s . “Precisely. The calendar told me that I was scheduled for Basic Elements in the morning.” Grey asked. I didn’t recognize them at all. A flat-screen TV lowered in front of the black board. Reports of damage and casualties are still being reported from the effects of the Total Tremor. Outside the clock tower chimed.” Matt picked up the iPad from where he’d tossed it. Vane’s candidates sat in the back. These things do have one use. “Let us start with why you are here. For those of you who don’t know me. He glanced at me as if he’d heard my thought. a news broadcast started streaming. Matt strode into the room. Groans filled the room. “Welcome. The classroom door swung open. The Regulars made up about half.

Is it curse or coincidence?” The shot panned back to the Square. All from the same cause—a heart attack. Oliver reluctantly complied. “Blake Emerson. but this reporter knows one thing—good or bad. But the game can be deadly. A line of soldiers in body armor and carrying what looked like Uzis formed a circle around the sword. Four Regulars. “We do not know. the Sword is undoubtedly the stuff of legend. some have not left at all. “When I turned thirteen.” “How many defensive spells do you know?” “Over one hundred thirty. While more and more have come away empty handed. Matt signaled him to sit down. Matt stared at the boy with glasses. A girl sitting beside him giggled. Matt leaned back on the teacher’s desk with equal composure. “Some would dismiss it as a game. All five have died.” a thin boy with black geek-chic glasses at the very front of the class said. when did you first arrive at Avalon Preparatory?” Blake folded thin arms in front of him. Oliver made an angry sound and started to get up. If I may ask. They have flocked from around the world to try their hand at pulling the sword from the stone—” The broadcast showed a line of people curving more than a mile around the narrow London streets. Blake nodded with cool composure. “There seems to be no end in sight. Police officers facilitated the movement of people in line. Kids near him murmured in appreciation.” Blake answered. “What does it all mean?” the new anchor said. Vane’s candidates laughed. All dead.” Portrait pictures of five people filled the screen. What does it tell you?” “That the Regulars should go home. These five young men have tried their luck at the sword. “One gargoyle.” Matt paused the broadcast.mind—why?” “But that hasn’t stopped more and more visitors from coming. “How many have you used?” .

they can be taught how to fight against it. today you will begin practical training. I am. you will have performed every spell you know. While Regulars don’t have magic.” Blake made an awed sound. “Yes. Emerson. “Practical training doesn’t start until after graduation—” “The answer is zero. “Mr. His body alive with a sudden surge of energy. “But you are…more powerful. “We have found that a wizard tends to . Open to the first chapter. but I thought that was myth. “Let us proceed with today’s lesson. “It is more important to be knowledgeable than powerful. but it is possible. If you have a good teacher. he nodded eagerly.” Matt’s eyes flickered. “You will soon learn how wrong that question is.” Matt waved a hand and all of our books flipped open. Is that acceptable to you?” Blake touched his glasses. certainly.” “And for those of us who don’t have magic?” I asked.” Grey said. You must be even more powerful than legend says.Blake straightened. Pictures of men in different colored robes performing magic appeared.” Matt gave Blake a bland look. “Thirteen. Matt nodded.” “Twelve. “I had heard that Merlin could teach even the Regulars.” Another girl said. “When did you arrive?” She replied. The next boy over said.” said the boy next to her. “Twelve. sir. they are put under the mentorship of an older wizard and taught how to utilize magic in real life. Matt gave me an enigmatic smile. Then.” I tapped a fingernail on the solid walnut table. By the time you leave here.” There was a pause as we absorbed this. “All practical magic is held off until a wizard has passed the wizard trial and becomes an apprentice.” “And you?” Matt asked the girl sitting next to Blake. “Yes.” Matt shook his head. It is not something that is advertised. “Sixteen. you will learn that magic doesn’t guarantee someone the upper hand.

In addition to owning teeth that can rip your throat out.” I swallowed.” “How are we supposed to fight something like that?” Grey asked. air. gargoyles have superstrength. the strengths of those same powers are tied to time. a water wizard generally tends to make a great healer. Morgan the monster filled me with violent repugnance. Morgan. There is a basic theory behind elements. Fire tends to control energy. “Can you get turned into a gargoyle?” . These areas are defined by the four elements—water. although intense when I was in Texas. and earth. In the gargoyle’s case. Catch them during the day and your chances of beating them go up significantly. A gargoyle can appear like any other person.” Matt said. For example. His gaze fixed on me. My heart beat faster. Air wizards have telekinesis. I sucked in a breath at the picture of a twofaced monster. Earth has a close connection to growing things— shape shifting even.” “Let us go to the next page. The musty smell of the book only sharpened the memories. When they turn. however. and great healing powers.have strengths in certain areas. One face looked normal. He took a step away from his desk and halted. it is the moon. The two-faces indicate how they look before and after they turn. It showed a picture of the moon. I forced myself to breathe. The other was the head of a beast—a furrowed brow Cro-Magnon with sharp fangs.” Matt looked down and flipped our books to the next page. The boyfriend who I had safely forgotten until yesterday. had faded after my first few months in Concord. “Gargoyles are at their most powerful at night. he continued. This time he let us flip the page. you see the beast inside. super-speed. The most significant obstacle you will be facing in the quest for the sword. Matt watched me from the front of the room. My memories of Morgan as my boyfriend. “Knowledge. fire. “This is a depiction of a gargoyle. While the types of our powers are defined by physical elements.

“The more powerful the wizard. Matt laid his hands flat on top of the desk.” “We call it ‘flame out’.” I sat up straight. “Flame out.” He glanced at me.” said Blake. “No. “They have been around as long as wizards… or the Regulars.” The girl wizard said. As far as I know. Several kids—except the wizard school candidates who hadn’t seen my memories—shifted in their seat uncomfortably. “Stab them with silver?” Oliver asked.” I said.” Blake said.” Blake scoffed. “How do you know how powerful a wizard is?” Blake answered in a know-it-all tone. “You have to chop off their head. “Not even a Master has that much power. Most wizards only have one specialization. Almost everything else and they will regenerate. “A most appropriate phrase. It showed a picture of a silver sword. A powerful wizard . they are born that way. They have always stayed together—their society is rigidly hierarchical—which I believe kept their numbers small during Arthur’s time.” “There is a high probability you would die. I asked. Blake’s cheeks turned red. But no… I have never heard of anyone being turned into a gargoyle. the more magic they can do.” Blake preened at the compliment. “Wizards are most likely to die from exhaustion.” Matt said. Matt raised his brow.Matt looked at me for a moment before he shook his head. I remembered him in the woods battling the giant dragon. I eyed Matt. but they will dig themselves out. “Vane took its head off with a sword. Matt looked at me with a slight frown. “You could supplement your power. you could blow them up. Or if you were a powerful enough magician. “And this is how you kill them. I don’t think that’s true any longer. You can bury them. Disintegration may work.” Matt flipped the page again.

A picture of the Italian kid.” Blake said. .” “How do you kill a wizard?” Grey asked. Take a shot from a gun. “The Council binds anyone’s power that is considered dangerous. breaking the tension. There are always rogues. “A Regular can’t. “I still don’t understand why we are talking about this.” Matt said.” said Mark from behind. “It is not possible.” Matt said. Not everyone agrees with the way the Council has decided to keep magic hidden all these years.” “But you can probably turn them into a toad or something before they get close enough. It will not stop if you cry foul or if you try to surrender. any wound can be quite fatal.” I said. said. If there is no healer present.” I watched the wistful look on his face with interest. “Things can get out of control.” Silence fell across the room.can have many. You will face it. A stabbing. The sword feels no compassion. And you never know if they have turned a magician. “They can indeed. It is extremely dangerous and it will test you. “Without our magic.” “Expect the unexpected. But it is not. “The gargoyles have been amassing magic for decades. This training is to make sure you have the skills to pass that trial. Using the element of surprise is by far the best option. you have forgotten that the sword itself is a magical object. wizards are quite fragile. It is worse than facing a person. Blake asked. “A valid point. Blake. However. “You talk about it as if it were a person.” Matt corrected. “Brute force magic is expensive—hard to conjure and tiring to execute. one of the more bashful Regulars. It does not have emotion.” Matt didn’t look at Grey or me. Its powers cannot be bound. The classroom laughed.” “It’s tempting to think of it as such. Even with a healer. The wizards are all on the same side.” A few gasps came from the front row. right?” Billie. “What happens if you don’t pass the trial?” “You have seen the news broadcasts.” Matt smiled.

Mark muscled through the others. I watched as the Regulars and Vane's candidates crowded behind them. went through my mind. Each piece of jewelry held a large gemstone pendant. he brought out a handful of silver necklaces and several silver rings.” Grey said Inspiration struck me. Gia picked up a simple silver chain with a big ruby gemstone. “You will not be. But remember this will be the single most powerful weapon I will hand you. He may have been a gargoyle but he looked just like any of the rest of us sitting in class. So choose wisely. I let out a breath. Taking out my iPad. . “They were unprepared. Wizard or Regular. Something about it struck me as oddly familiar.” Matt pulled forward the leather satchel he’d carried into the classroom.” Matt said. From inside the bag. Gargoyles because of their innate abilities can avoid many spells. A few of the unwanted rings went tumbling to the ground. will need something extra. please come and get one. The charm resonates with its owner. The Regulars stood around trying to catch a glimpse of the charms while Vane’s candidates picked through the bunch. The rest of Vane’s candidates followed his lead. fifteen or so iPads started beeping.Gianni. Pick the one that feels right. I stared at it. In the back of the room. Gia moved to put it around her neck. “They’re going to rip apart everything before we can even take a look. Gia put it back down.” The candidates at the front scrambled to get up and get to Matt’s desk. “Charms. I nearly leapt from my desk to snatch it from her. wanting it. Regulars and wizards alike. So all of you. Needing it with an intensity that came out nowhere. I typed up a quick e-mail. There are also shields that can be acquired—either magical or charmed objects. Another wizard boy next to Blake got shoved aside as Mark snatched the ring he had started to pick up. the element of surprise is the best.” “As I said.

I took a bracing breath. making space for the other candidates to continue picking out their charms.” he said.” “Yes. “Let me put it on you. The friction between our hands sparked a fluttery sensation deep in the pit of my stomach. Nice choice. He snapped close the clasp.” “Which one?” I asked. This belonged to a queen once. I prompted. Merlin?” “My name is Matt. “Why would you not want to be known as the most powerful wizard in the world? Why wouldn’t you want to be Merlin?” Even though we stood in the middle of a classroom surrounded by students.Gia marched back to her desk. Matt raised a brow when I reached him. Matt pulled me away from the desk. He picked up the simple silver necklace and held it out like a carrot. you do. I had no choice. His breath caressed my neck as he put the charm on me. “Why am I surprised you agree?” I said in a snarky tone. “I am Matt. it seemed as if there were only two of us present. Matt’s hand tightened on it. My hand grazed his.” He let the amulet drop.” Since he still held onto the amulet.” “Why?” My whole body tightened.” he said in a low tone. The warm gemstone seemed to heat under our combined touch. I reached for it. Matt is real. Matt didn’t answer.” He leaned closer. I tugged it. My spine became so rigid.” he said. “The Dragon’s Eye. I inclined my head and slipped off Sylvia’s necklace. “Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. “Who sent me an event request to ‘Get In A Line’?” I grinned as I stood up to go to the desk. She picked up her iPad. “Because I can’t even remember who Merlin is. The gemstone fell on my bare . Matt said. “That’s just a cover. I shrugged. “I am Matt. Warm fingers skimmed my skin. “Done.

skin. “Now. Oliver. All across the room. I will be sorting you into groups.” Grey said. I turned back to Gia and Blake. If you can touch him. I glanced at Gia.” Everyone rose. “This is bogus. It hurt to hear the word but then it faded. Matt stepped back with an enigmatic smile. you can disable him. he cleared the tables and benches. Matt huddled together with the ‘attack’ wizards.” *** “Now that you are more or less on the same footing. “I’ll go first. I gasped at the heat emanating from it. Gia stopped me. Try it on me. It’s been waiting a long time for you. She shrugged. “Perfect. They slid to the edges of the room up against the walls. No one had stopped the spell. lining up to be first. “Each group will contain at least one wizard. I glanced over at Grey. I will give you an attack spell. I saw everyone else doing the same.” I said. I saw her skin turn a pale blue. Grey was going first in his group.” I could barely make out the word as it grazed my ear the syllables warbled and warped sounding. “Ready?” he asked. “Sure. The rest of your group will be defending against you. Gia froze in place.” he announced. He too had a slight sheen of blue. Matt assigned me to Blake. “Merlin. Blake raised his hand and shouted out a spell.” Across the room. Those of you defending use the amulet to see through the spell and reach the wizard. You need to give us .” “I’ll go. Blake scuttled over to Matt. For a second. one wizard from each group will come to me. Blake’s palm punched out at Gia as if to direct the flow of the spell towards her. and Paul. Gia. It sat on me as if I’d always worn it.” Blake volunteered. trying to hold a serious expression on his naturally cheerful face. Blake returned. every single candidate stood paralyzed. “Prazaanta. With a wave of his hand.

The air in the room seemed to thicken.better instructions.” Matt folded his arms across his chest and leaned back comfortably against the front of the teacher’s desk. The amulet had no special affinity for me. The spell moved as I moved. Blake sent the same spell. Oliver let me go again. Step away. . “Let’s keep going.” Oliver moved forward. I saw the air move as the spell snaked towards me. I held up my hand and shook my head. Next person. My hand reached up to touch the gemstone even while my feet moved me out of the way of the blast. Matt was full of crap. Don’t stand and take it.” “See the spell coming. Move. It repositioned and headed straight for me. I felt a breeze from where the spell originated. Don’t let the flow hit you directly. It didn’t even work. The amulet on my chest felt cold… and dead. step up. I heard the word almost as if I could see it.

He walked over to our group. The spell glanced off me and dissolved. his cherub face turning purple. “What was that?” Blake demanded. That had nothing to do . They wiggled. Red fire faded. just as it had done when light hit it before. I wiggled my fingers and toes just to make sure I could. All of a sudden the amulet glowed. red fire rose around me creating a barrier. “You said to move.CHAPTER 10 TRAINING The spell-blast hit me like a wallop of wind.” Matt clapped. “Nicely done.

Red winked back at me. I stopped. We only had half an hour for our lunch break and we were all starving. Teachers are allowed. “Which Queen did the amulet belong to?” Matt closed his bag.” I fiddled with my new amulet. You should get to lunch. “I see. she activated the amulet. When the last person had left the classroom.with moving.” I laid my palms on his desk. Three hours after the class had begun.” Oliver gestured at Blake. but Matt had already gone on to another group. I marched up to Matt. Oliver stepped out of the way as I had done. “Well done.” he said mildly.” “By moving. “The amulet uses up your strength. It had the same lion emblem on it that had been on the front door of the school. “Why do you ask?” “I want to know.” “Do you want to give it back?” . Some didn’t. “I woke it up. My stomach let out a dragon-like growl.” “My turn. It sensed her heightened state and responded. “That’s why you’re so hungry. but I… can’t. “Do you want to come with me?” Matt stopped in the middle of closing his bag. Self-consciously. I took my time putting Matt’s heavy tome into the school shoulder bag we’d all been given and securing the iPad. I opened my mouth to ask him about the lack of barrier. Some had success.” I looked down at the quiet gemstone. I saw across the room the same defensive move being used. It didn’t create a barrier like mine.” Matt watched my movements. I saw the spell follow him. I traced the detailed stitching on the front flap of the bag. Oliver’s soft blue amulet glowed. “I can’t… I mean… I could.” Matt said. but somehow the spell dissolved. Blake shot the spell to him. Matt called it to an end. Everyone ran out towards the dining hall.

“Then why are you acting so strange?” “Why are you acting so strange? So attached? You feel a strong connection to it—” Matt’s dark gaze locked on mine. He put his hands on mine to still them. I rubbed my eyes. “Don’t take it off. Matt came around to stand directly in front of me. I broke away from him. “I don’t know why I said that. Ever.“No!” I said. “—because you feel a strong connection to me. it matters. It seemed to beat so loudly it echoed around the room.” I tugged at the amulet. I want to keep you safe. “And you’re wearing it. “If you don’t tell me. “Does it matter?” Like cold water. Ryan.” He meant he knew I liked him. Yet. For a long second.” I stilled. And stopped.” I said. “I made it. I felt the tips of my ears turn red. I still asked. his words washed over me. You brought it out for me. “What? What does that mean?” “Charms are as powerful as the wizard who makes them. “Which queen did it belong to?” There was a pause.” Matt took a step back.” He confessed. My heart skipped several beats. His heart thumped against his chest. “Yes. “It is the most powerful charm in existence.” “You wanted me to have it. I don’t know why it kept surprising me that he wasn’t finished. I’ve only ever made one in my life. Matt said. we just stood there. Merlin. He was Merlin. I laid my hand against it and took a breath. Matt moved swiftly to stop me. “I’m taking this off and tossing it away. Anger renewed itself inside me. After all the things he’d held back from me.” I said sharply.” I raised a brow. How am I . His gaze lowered to the floor. This thing is doing something to me. I didn’t want to move. His name was not Matt.” “Why?” Matt didn’t answer.

His fingers skimmed the edge of the gemstone.” “What?” I said with a frown. Although I wouldn’t have been able to do anything in . He reached out to touch the ruby gemstone. Some can shatter you. he picked up his bag and said slowly. I had peeked at the schedule of a wizard student sitting next to us. all of her advanced classes bore labels like Fire Elements. She had six classes— just like the curriculum back home—except that besides math. Air Elements. His back to me. I didn't even remember the rest until yesterday!” “And Vane? I saw the way you looked at him when you first saw him—” “I recognized him from TV—” My eyes narrowed. You might hate him now. you want to believe him. Water Elements. Matt let go of the amulet.” *** After a quick lunch with Grey and a few of the other Regular candidates. You never said a word to me about your mother back in Boston. What my brother says.” “You knew she had died. etc. “The vision you saw in the Lake water. she explained to us. There is a power in words.” I said the name with a wealth of longing that kept threatening to spill over and consume me. “Matt. whatever he says.” Matt turned.” Matt turned around.supposed to trust you when you’re never honest with me?” “You can’t trust me?” Matt gave me a measured look. Types of magic. “I have no doubt ‘ Silvertongue’ originated from the rare wizards who have the same gift as Vane. “It seems like you don’t trust anyone. “Wait. is this about your stupid vision? After what he’s done how can you even think that I’d k—” I grimaced in disgust. “I thought you decided to call me Merlin. “Kiss him?” “Have you heard of a term called ‘Silvertongue’? It is a person who has a certain way with words. Some can lift you up high. but he has a way of slipping through your defenses. we hurried toward the cathedral where the next class was scheduled.

Sometimes his whole master-jock persona could be really irritating.such classes. Blake strode by us. since preschool. Except for his shorter hair. and whatever sport of the day my mother signed me up for. It led out into a smaller but still quite large gym-like room with gleaming wood floors. My boots echoed as we crossed to a corner of the cathedral. My Friday-night-lights Mom had often wondered how I could possibly be her daughter. The disparaging expression on his face when he spotted me was one I’d never seen on Matt though. We paused just inside the cathedral and stared around in awe. The room reminded me of a medieval training room except that a very modern gel mat outlined a workout space in the middle. volleyball. I hadn’t loved it. It sounded much more fun than a whole afternoon of something called Physical Training. It was then that I noticed several curved archways leading off from the main area. on the other hand. year after year. I still felt a bit envious of her. We followed Blake into one and discovered a turret with a winding staircase. Snapping out of our trance. While I hadn’t done that badly in fencing. I was looking forward to it about as a three-hour dental cleaning. it was eerie how much he looked like Matt. So much for the infamous . Vane stood in the middle of the mat. Grey and I rushed after him. my mother had insisted me trying. Only a few chairs surrounded it. Intricate moldings stood out on the door and windows. I translated physical training to gym. but the space was certainly big enough to fit hundreds of students. I had been a disaster since Day 1. Grey. Rustic racks of weapons hung along the walls. As for basketball. A stage rose up in the middle of the room. He wore a black martial arts uniform made up of a short kimono and matching loose cotton pants. We climbed up to the second floor. tennis. And yet. More white stone formed the walls and curved into the high ceiling. wore an expression of rabid anticipation. Stained glass windows shimmered bright rainbow lights onto the white stone floors inside.

” “I’m fine. a wall-towall mirror covered one side completely. Cursing.” “Forget something?” Gia pointed to my feet where my gym bag lay. It was locked.” she said. Gia had locked me inside. Gia did the same. Somehow while Gia projected fierce Amazon warrior.charm Matt had warned me about… not that I cared. I saw no place to store my bag so I lugged it out with me. They all look the same. We split up as he went into the men’s one. Dark blonde hair escaped in droves from the tight ponytail I’d . Ducking into one. They stood off to the back of the room inside another arched doorway. From the way he’d treated the poor kid who hadn’t turned out to be a candidate. “You should really label it. Inside the women’s dressing room. It had been placed in my school bag among with a few other supplies—including a hair tie. “Notice what?” She smirked at me. “I don’t think anyone will notice.” Gia emerged from an adjoining bathroom stall in uniform and posed in front of the mirror. I twisted the flyaway strands of my wavy hair into a ponytail. I pulled a cloth curtain and tugged on a white uniform. The dressing room door slammed shut. I agreed. Wide eyes shone bright. “Not bad. “If you sneak out of here. I pounded the door for several minutes. Several stalls took up the opposite wall. I bent down to get my bag as she went around me. The mirror showed that the uniform fit well on me. I quickly labeled my bag and went to the door. Vane wasn’t someone I really wanted to try to charm me. Grey nudged me towards the dressing rooms after Blake. No sound came from the other side. I looked like a twelve-year old cheerleader. I even had shape despite the loose fit of the top and pants.” She took a pen out of her bag and tossed it to me. I stared at myself in the mirror. You look like you’re about to throw up. My face was flush.

Two minutes later. For a second. shall we begin?” Vane stared at me. and guns. thank you for honoring us with your presence. Out in the gym. Gia and Mark snickered as Grey and I approached the group. It had already been a long morning. Grey unlocked the door.” “I’m going to kill Gia. More of the candidates snickered. If it pleases you. swords. warning us that we were about to be late.” I mumbled. You will also be learning how to win a fight. . “Ms. In this training class. I owe you one. The reply came back swiftly.” A few murmurs of surprise went through the room. “I am Vane. That only left one person. No one spoke for long seconds. I made a sound of extreme frustration. Vane stopped the noise by raising one steely eyebrow. “I just traded my soul to the devil. You may address me as such. I bit my lip.tried to stuff it into. No show today = No show period. Forget it.” I stomped out of the room and into the hallway. I punched in my reply.” The clock chimed. “S-sure. “How kind of you to condescend. My cheeks huffed in and out like a pucker-fish. all of the candidates stood at attention on the exercise mat. We will start with the basics—hand to hand combat before working up to sticks. I took a bracing breath and punched in the message. I just wanted to give up. I will make sure you are as fit as you can be. “Vane sent me. I looked helpless. But was I really going to let Gia defeat me this easily? I marched to my bag and pulled out my iPad. How to properly defend and attack. All of the candidates reported offline. I texted back. You’ll owe me one. Then. Vane texted. Ragnar. he ground me down into a mass of lumpy mashed potatoes. DuLac and Mr. Every time I talked with Matt. debating it for a second.” Vane replied mockingly.

Period. However.” Vane turned back to address the class.” “Is that because Regulars are the ones who most have to worry about guns?” I asked. Vane set to torturing us. “Our main objective is to become proficient at all of the sword forms. “It is because we don’t have much time. Vane gave us a minute to absorb this. DuLac. you knew that.” chorused the class. even guns. “Ready?” “Ready. or suffer the consequences. thus. Every week I will be the only and absolute judge of where you stand—and.” Vane said in a measured tone.” Vane said. Every other week we will retest and rank again. Don’t worry. “Not from you.“Yes. “Let us give someone else a chance.” Vane said.” The message in his little speech was clear. the Council has instructed me to include every threat in the curriculum. Surely. I’m sure the Council will see fit to provide you with some body armor if you are so worried. “I will start by putting you through a simple series of tests.” No one said a word. Vane took another long breath.” With that one word. This will determine your ranking. I was used to working out so I was tired but not winded. “No. “Swords resist magic. For the next hour we did an exhausting set of aerobic exercises and karate kicks. Blake and another one of the wizard girls looked as if they were about . sir. He barked. “Although guns are fairly useless against those well trained in magic. DuLac. we have a short amount of time for you to become experts in this area—so I will be spending the least amount of time on this part. Any other questions?” I opened my mouth. take what he dishes out. what you will learn. The sword is the most effective way to kill a Gargoyle or a wizard—” “Why is it the most effective?” I interrupted. though. Toe the line. The other Regulars—all in good athletic shape—seemed at the same level. “Good.

I wonder. Emerson. “Y-yes. Then you will repeat.” As soon as we started I knew I was going to fail. Vane’s candidates glanced around with bored expressions. Even Vane’s candidates had been challenged by the mental alertness it took to remember each step when your muscles were on fire. “Each of you will pick one form that you have learned. “He would if he could. The others will form a circle around him and attack with their one form. I dropped my stick twice. do you feel the need to step in?” I stood my ground. “Enough. Blake insisted on going first. One person will stand in the middle. We paired off into loose groups of five. No thanks to me.” Vane instructed. The defender may respond with any form. “Hesitation will . In two strides.” I stepped in the middle and held up my hands. just remember that they probably don’t know it any better than you. You either win or lose. why. “His mouth looks uninjured to me. Your ranking will depend on the correctness of the form as well as your ability to replicate it. are you able to speak?” Blake squeaked. If you think you can look at your neighbor to remind you. “Next I will be showing you kendo forms. I will only do each form once. You will not stop until time has been called.” Vane said. You will do this for five minutes each.” Vane peered down at the fallen boy. “There is no enough. At the end of it.to pass out.” “Is that all you have to say?” Vane said. He stood in the middle as we charged him. “You will pair off into groups. It was a massacre. I was mentally and physically exhausted. This will be your last test. He handed out arm-length wooden sticks. Vane reached our group. “Watch as I demonstrate. I thought I would drop where I stood.” We did that for another hour. Since Emerson has not voiced his surrender. but Mark the brute and another one of Vane’s candidates hammered at Blake until he fell to the ground.

DuLac.” Vane said. Showboating? “I was trying to help—” “Helping when you’re not needed doesn’t help anyone but you. Vane stood just outside the circle. I managed to stay on my feet but I was going to have bruises up and down my body for days. Don’t cower. Vane whistled for everyone to stop. I marched into the middle of our circle.” “Fine.” He picked up my stick that had fallen after being knocked out of my hand near the beginning of my time. but he shook his head and rose on his own.” My jaw tightened.” I gaped at him. “Are you going to be his shield in battle too? We do not have time for showboating. There will be no mercy out in the real world.” Blake repeated. The circle broke and he stepped through to me. Your turn will come soon enough. DuLac. “Stand up. I extended my hand to help him up. since you seem to be under the impression that you know everything.” “Maybe you should teach me first. since you have so much enthusiasm let us tack Emerson’s remaining time onto yours. why would I be . He gave me a wary look as he took his place and closed the gap I’d left in the circle.” Vane commanded him. “Really? I had thought that you didn’t need teaching.” “But—” Vane raised a brow. not just in my group.” I replied. Blake?” “Y-yes.not work against a gargoyle. “If I knew everything. If you do not have the confidence to stand up in practice then you do not belong in training. but throughout the room staring at me.” He turned back to me. Do you understand. “However.” I bit out. So you will do a total of eight. “Learn. Finally. The next eight minutes were a disaster. I wasn’t about to let Vane win. “It works better when it’s in your hand. “Emerson had three minutes left. Blake was still on the ground. “Can’t handle it?” “What—” I could feel everyone. “Interesting technique.

here?” Gia cleared her throat. on the other hand. if he didn’t have it in for you before. Forty-five minutes later. one of Blake’s friends. Blake. Gia was second. “He wants you to succeed. Gia laughed. “You surprised me. “You. Unfortunately. several of his friends. Vane stepped out of the circle.” To my surprise.” “As if you care. I hurried out of the training room.” My shoulders curled inward. When he says jump just ask how high. I wondered if the Council had imposed a quota requirement on him. I yanked off my sweat-drenched uniform before I got into the stall still in a heightened state of agitation.” Gia ducked into her stall. he does now. I didn’t expect you to stand up to him. He’s punishing all the candidates he didn’t bring in. “Don’t look so defeated. you’re just that bad. Grey had performed so flawlessly Vane had no choice but to place him third.” I muttered. Vane scares the crap out of me. I’d never been so happy to leave a class. don’t—all the better for me. Gia smirked at me. Vane had us line up in order. DuLac. Before dismissal.” Another girl. Gia looked at the younger girl protectively. “Should we continue.” She glanced at me. “This is ridiculous. “You should have listened to me earlier and snuck out. “Make your life easier. all of Vane’s candidates made up most of the top ranks. I cursed. came in behind us. Unsurprisingly. DuLac. mulling over Gia’s . A stitch tore on the shirt. Oliver and Paul fell positions below Grey. In the dressing room. and some Regulars had been ranked below me. much to my surprise. I was surprised Vane had allowed any Regulars in the top ranks. You’re a trained wizard. Mark was first. sir?” “By all means…” Bowing his head.” “No. While you’re butting heads with him. I’ll be learning.” I turned to leave the dressing room. Or better yet. I was not in last place.

I smiled in satisfaction. I shot off a text to Grey. He topped me by almost a foot. After that class. he opened a . “Uh. Even though she totally deserved it. “DuLac. Inside the small opening. When we reached the bottom. “Let’s have a quick word in my office.” Damn the digital age. Vane arched a gold-tipped brow. I don’t to miss dinner.words. back into the gym.” He pointed to my bag. It was short-lived.” He gestured me towards another small opening on the opposite wall from the exit. I followed behind Vane. where are my boots?” Gia yelled from the stall. he took up most of my field of vision. Gia was right. Strong arms caught me before I fell backwards. Between his height and broad shoulder. Almost immediately the weight of guilt bore down on me. How about later?” I tried.” “Er—” It was all I could think of saying. and straight into Vane. Although I knew he and Matt were close in age. another set of stairs spiraled downward. I didn’t feel like conversing with him anymore than absolutely necessary. “Text him that you’ll meet him later. the purposeful way he walked made him seem much older. “How about now? You owe me. I’m really hungry. is your mind ever on this earth?” I jerked away from him. It seemed Vane was different. “Never mind. Matt would have never thought to text—he only did it when he couldn’t avoid it—which should have clued me in to the fact that he had grown up in the fifth century. His expression shuttered. I took the narrow steps two at a time to keep up with Vane. “Grey is waiting for me. tossing her boots into the boys' dressing room seemed petty. “Hey. I rushed out of the arched door.” Calling that in already? I muttered in head. Reluctantly.

That’s why he backed away. I turned my face up. My heart twisted as I watched myself smile shyly at Matt. a video game nerd’s must-have accessory. They are excellent for improving hand-eye coordination” Vane crossed over to a cushy leather chair. Matt jerked backwards. Matt had not kissed me.” On the screen. at first. but you’ll know when I do. Tentatively. “Modern magic. his face changed. “You’re playing video games down here?” “Role-playing games. Vane paused the video. it stopped. I opened my eyes on the video. I felt my cheeks heat. My heart was breaking a second time. “Did you see it?” No. I said hoarsely. He punched a few keys. the kiss became hard and heavy. . I hadn’t noticed before but in the middle of a wipe. “You asked me here to play games?” “No. “What is this? How did you get this?” Vane smirked. I had kissed him. Matt broke off the kiss first. I hadn’t noticed anything wrong. yet every inch of wall space had been covered either by a weapon or flat-screen TV. “Something you could improve upon. The TV screen flickered on with video footage of Matt and me at the food court at the mall back home. I do. An RPG showed two knights paused in the middle of a joust. I demanded.door that led to the most awesome office I’d ever seen. and our lips met. It went on for an excruciating long minute.” Vane said with a slight leer. He wore an odd expression of pleasure and pain.” I eyed the giant TV screen with skepticism.” Vane said impatiently. His eyes became glazed and he froze. Vane leaned back in the chair and pulled out an attached keyboard like he was in a Western drawing out his gun. “See that you’re a perv? Yes. Matt leaned over to wipe a dollop of mustard from my lips. “But when you kissed him.” “He had a vision. The room had little furniture. Shall we watch? This is my favorite part. Then.

He strode up to me. Merlin’s visions… unless you cock it up.” “You don't have to.You blocked it. He took down an antique wooden bow and arrow. And I couldn’t move. “The gargoyles are stronger. You don’t know what you’re talking about. A breeze came out of nowhere.” Vane stood up.” I said.” said Vane. Merlin has visions. They are just as capable as any candidate we have. Vane?” I said. I turned to leave.” I stared at Vane.” I eyed the weapon in his hand. Vane. But we’ve got an advantage. He's not doing a good job of resisting you. His lips curved in a devastating smile. It tightened around me like an invisible hand. “I haven’t done anything.” I blinked at him with incomprehension. I couldn’t move. we can kiss this little contest for the sword goodbye. After a pause. scimitars. little girl? I've figured out what's wrong with you. “You’ve been down here in the creepy clubhouse too long. “What?” “Do you understand anything. The arrow pointed straight at me. “Stop being so difficult. a hulking form with broad shoulders and a solid chest. “What are you doing. and bows. “Let me go. I saw him with you. If he doesn't have visions. He said. . He notched the arrow. “Let me connect the dots. It's what he does. He walked past me to go to a wall filled with various swords.” I gritted out.” Vane raised his hand.

She held her hands over her eyes. Vane pointed to toga-girl. . Most of our powers come from them. “Did you know the Lady of the Lake also hung out with the Greeks? Her people went by different names in different cultures but they were the same beings.CHAPTER 11 ROUND TABLE Vane flicked his hand and I was jerked around to look at the giant TV again. The video of Matt and me at the food court switched to show a painting with a girl wearing a toga. “Her name was Cassandra.” “So…?” I drew out.

Merlin isn’t real. My eyes stung with tears from the sudden pain. Arthur isn’t real. Vane lifted the bow. . “Take it.” He walked up behind me. In my life.” “The curse is not just a story. “How did you know I’m left-handed?” “I know a great deal about you. “Stop thinking.” Blood dripped from my arm. Just shoot. The arrow went wild and bounced off one of Vane’s ultra-thin monitors.” Vane stood up.” His voice tickled the curve of my ear. “Apollo isn’t real. My teeth clenched.” “You think I’m cursed like Cassandra?” Vane laughed. “I wouldn’t insult them.” I scoffed. I shot. slicing a bit of skin off the inside of my elbow as it went. The arrow flew off the bow. I yelped.” I rolled my eyes. Vane raised a brow.” Taking my right hand. I’ve only ever known one other who was a descendant of the Sun God. I felt the heat of his body on my back as he reached around me to put the bow in my left hand. “How many times have you said that?” I shut up. I know. he positioned my fingers on the string. I blinked rapidly to clear them.” “Apollo wasn’t real. She passed down the curse. You render the curse neutral.” he demanded. “Cassandra survived the fall of Troy. I clenched my teeth when he turned me to face a target on the wall behind his desk.” he mimicked. She was cursed by Apollo to see the future—” “But no one would believe her. I imagined his smug face in front of the target. shoot. I think you’re a descendant of Apollo. “No. “Now. “Relax. They may not be visible but reality is in the mind.She was a daughter of Troy. Vane made a sound of impatience. Yes. “What are you doing?” I asked. My fingers closed around the roughly textured wood bow.

. Vane was a jerk. he’s not doing a good job of resisting you. I pulled away from him.” “Apollo’s twin sister Artemis was the Huntress.” And oddly enough I believed him. Their symbol was the bow and arrow. “What do you want me to do? I can’t just stop seeing Matt. Vane grabbed my arm and pulled me toward him Before I could protest.” Vane reached out to touch my amulet.” “Or you just magicked it. This isn’t a coincidence.” Vane snapped. but he hadn’t lied so far. I’ve never shot a bow and arrow before.” “You can see him.” Vane smiled. I want to make sure you don’t. but you’ll have to trust me. he put his hand over the cut I’d gotten from the bow. Before I knew it the arrow zinged past my cheek straight towards the target. “I didn’t. This time when I pulled back on the arrow an odd out-of-body feeling came over me.“Stop crying. “Why did you tell me all this. This felt the same. His eyes lightened with the genuineness of it. He slid a thumb over the healed skin. “I’m not sure why. He mumbled a magic word that made my ears ring. “Not bad. taking the bow from my hands.” Vane said. “As I said. I think. The cut closed. They say you never forget how to ride a bike. “Proximity is a factor. DuLac. but it felt as if I’d done it before. “Are you a candidate or not?” My lips thinning. I realized I could move. You just can’t… kiss him.” His eyes roved up and down my body.” My heart leapt into my throat. My hand moved as if the muscles remembered how to shoot. I forced it back down. Vane? Why not tell Matt?” “He already knows. but you haven’t crossed the line.” I frowned. I gave Vane a gloating smile. I focused on the target. “I killed it. I bit my lip as he teased the sensitive area. The dartboard flew off the wall and smashed onto the floor. It hit the small dartboard with a loud punch. “Not bad?” I turned around.” I’m sure my face must have turned a scorching scarlet.

The menu itself was genius. the majority of people were poor and hungry. it was still the only good thing about the traditional meal of fish and chips I had ordered. but she watched the knight. He paused it the picture on screen. It had looked better on the crystal crisp iPad screen.” “Who?” I repeated. Vane clicked ‘Save’ on the menu. “Do you even have a soul?” “I’m sure my brother would say I don’t. Yet.” “Who?” I asked. And one heroine. A closing scene played of a beautiful maiden handing a ribbon to a knight in shining armor riding a white horse. Vane hit a button on the TV and the RPG switched back onto the screen. Blech. However. a chip. It tasted too salty… and too soggy. Life back then could be harsh on the best of days and perfectly brutal at other times. *** That evening I chewed on a fry—no. “Merlin must think you’re special if he gave you the Dragon’s Eye amulet. The maiden sat next to a king. but watching the seedy scene with Vane made me squirm—just as he’d intended. My heart twisted a little as I watched the romantic scene. “Can’t you guess?” Vane switched the TV back to the RPG. I was sure. though I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. He gave me an arch look. The online school app let . “I prefer this time period.Did I have a letter on my shirt declaring ‘H’ for ho? I crossed my arms over my chest. I made a sound of disgust.” He hit a key on the keyboard again—to a porn shot of a woman in a leather mask and little else gyrating against a guy in a business suit. Only one other has ever worn it. there can only be one hero. but then. Vane looked at me from under hooded eyelids. It was on broadcast TV.” I said. Food in England had yet to impress. She wore a crown. That didn’t shock me.” The sad thing was that porn shot wasn’t even porn. “Is that how it really was?” “For a handful of insanely fortunate nobles. “Guinevere. I made a face.

” Grey said.” She winked at him. Joseph is the center of all gossip around here. Oliver coughed. I noticed that many of them would look over at us and then turn away giggling and whispering. DuLac. “DuLac. My cheeks puffed at the nickname. “Glad to help. The dining hall was busy. then turned to smile at Grey. “What?” Gia plopped down in an empty chair. I spit it out. and if he hadn't. “Find your shoes yet?” “I knew it was you. Gia sauntered over to our table.” “Huh?” I said. “Nice training session. surprised. But Vane is wrong. With Merlin on your side. your brother retrieved them for me. the Regulars have as much of a shot as the rest of us. Coughing.” She scowled. “Haven’t they seen a bunch of Regulars before?” I asked after the tenth time it happened in the span of five minutes. I would be still. It’s you.” I sniffed. “It’s not the Regulars. Blake and a friend of his came up to our table. I sat with Grey. Students crowded the other tables.” Grey gave her a very male look. “I was a Regular until Vane found me. “But don’t worry. He adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat. You clearly did better than him. “May we join you?” “Are you sure you won’t be contaminated by sitting with . “I’m pretty sure Ms.” I glared at her. seems it’s gotten out that you’re dating the most legendary wizard in the whole world. and a few other Regulars. Ryan. Goldilocks?” Gia chuckled. “Does this mean you’re not going to tank us anymore?” “That was genius with the door.you order your meal before you walked into the dining hall and it would be ready as soon as the perky greeter showed you to a table. I’ve made you super-popular.” “Thanks. You should have been placed in front of Mark. Oliver. in between chews of a limp chip.” I choked on a chip. wasn't it.

I rolled my eyes. “The brute won’t like it. “Think I suddenly feel the need to study.” I sputtered. Grey. “Buttered ale?” Grey made a face. “Why?” Suddenly.” Grey slung his school bag over his shoulder. Within a minute. Mark frowned when he noticed Gia with us. “Later.” Oliver leaned forward.” Blake answered. “Sounds gross.” . She went to talk to Mark. took a hurried swallow of water.” Everyone at the table laughed again. Grey ambled away. Can you conjure up some buttered ale? I hear it’s a must-have at English schools. wizard boy. “I saw her looking up the way to the library earlier. they were arguing. They elbowed out the other wizards waiting politely in line to get a table. Why go through this training with us? Why not have us take our chances with the sword right now? Why wait when we're in a 'race' with the gargoyles?” Oliver took a loud bite of a chip. “I don't know. He shoved a large forkful of rice in his mouth. Gia rolled her eyes. and got up. “We are not shag—doing that.” “Where are you going?” I asked.” With a cocky smile. Oliver and I let out a laugh. I felt very aware that everyone else at the table was watching me as they waited for an answer. I took a breath. “Sit down. Mark went over to his friend at a nearby dining table. “Trouble in paradise. Gia stomped off out of the dining room. “I've been thinking… after the training today… there’s something not right. kids.” Grey whistled. “But she can find out… from Merlin. “You kill me.” Gia mumbled to the table.” Blake groaned in response.” “I can handle it. I heard that you and he are shagging—er—I mean you and he are close.us lowly Regulars?” Grey said. “I’ll see you later.” Mark the Brute and the rest of Vane’s candidates came into the dining room. Blake tapped his fingers nervously on the table.

” I met Blake’s gaze. She’s got Merlin.” Blake’s friend elbowed him. A girl from a few tables over gave me a semi-awed look before she turned back to her friend.” he mumbled. “Are we friends now?” “There can be only one winner. “And thanks for trying to help me today. “Forget it. They all figured I had Merlin in my pocket. I sighed. Blake stumbled. His gaze fixed on me. We can work together to make sure we all get a chance. “Fine. The sweet October morning filled my senses as I stood in Matt’s class defending myself against a pain spell. self-consciously raking his hand through his jet-black hair. but the sword will decide who. The occasional wind scattered the leaves creating eddies of earthy colors. Emerson. Bench tables and seats had been moved out of the way and stacked up high against the sides of the rectangular room. He and his friend walked away. “You have no chance with her. The amulets neutralized some types of magic automatically. Except it was pocket with a black hole and it kept drawing me in deeper.” He started to get up. the trees in the courtyard had adorned themselves in a bright array of fall leaves. “I like you too.“Nice one. *** Two weeks later. “It’s a good idea.” I turned my mega-watt smile full on.” Oliver stepped in. “The point is you’re the only one who can get him to talk. The back of his knees knocked against the heavy chairs. More and more they sought rest on the ground as winter closed in on us. but the trick was in knowing which ones. I looked around the dining hall. Realizing what I was doing. Who knew there was such thing a confusion spell to make .” I heard his friend hiss at him.” My smile dimmed. All of it came down to recognizing the magic thrown at you. He straightened. We continued to practice defending against spells. I forced my hand back to the table.” I touched my amulet.

Ryan.” “The amulet can act as a deflector as well as a neutralizer. I leaned back into the smooth wood. Students grabbed their bags from the side of the room as they headed out. Pain shot through my body in sharp steel ribbons. I could hear my teeth chattering. Before I knew it.” I closed my eyes. His eyes went straight past me. Warmth spread out bit by bit like a slow unfurling of an umbrella.” Blake said. “It bounced off my shield.you believe you’d turned into a toad (aura color: purple) and one that could actually turn you into a toad (aura color: green)? Only the most powerful wizards could perform the whole range. the pain spell we’d been practicing hit me sideways. He took me over to his desk and sat me down in the teacher’s chair. his face ashen. “I meant to shoot that to Oliver. I screamed and fell to the floor writhing. “H-help.” Matt helped me up. I’ll be fine. “It’s alright.” I said hoarsely.” Blake lingered over me. “You can do this. He smiled as he talked to a girl. one of Blake’s witch friends. Ryan. “I’m so sorry.” I said.” Matt inclined his head at the wide-eyed students. use the charm.” The class dispersed. It went wide—” Oliver said anxiously. You can.” Matt’s hand soothed my hair. His face ashen. I don’t know what happened. I shut it out and instead thought only of the amulet. It only increased the sensation of pinpricks driving into my skin and burrowing through my muscles. My mind on Matt. “You’re dismissed. “Ryan. Fight it. Seconds felt like hours but slowly the pain receded. I opened my eyes. “Remember this the next time you think you can’t break free. Blake nodded and walked over to his . I think that’s enough for today. He glanced over at our group and my heart leaped. I glanced at Matt from across the room. class. Matt rushed over. Pain threatened to overwhelm me. My throat felt sore as if I’d been screaming for hours. “So sorry. I didn’t quite hear when Blake shouted something to me.

Matt’s face tightened. I was not in love with her. beside the chair. “Why are we still training. “I see you’ve been talking to Vane.” he repeated I scooted back in the chair. “We haven’t gotten to it yet.” “How can I believe you?” I said.” Matt cursed. Let me be clear. The last student left the classroom. he was actually going to dismiss the whole thing as a great demonstration. “Were you in love with Guinevere?” I burst out. “I don’t have followers.” “No matter. Not only had he not bothered to ask if I was okay.” “You made the amulet for her.” Matt stood over me. A small tendril of hope uncurled inside me as his gaze . Matt caught me by the waist. There’s a difference. “You or him. I rubbed my arms and winced.” I looked up at Matt with a dry look.” he said. I jumped up. but you can turn your shield into a weapon. His fist clenched. Matt? Why are we sitting here while the gargoyles are trying to get the Sword as we speak?” “It’s safer for you and your little followers if you don’t know. Grey handed it to him with a quick pat on the back. my skin still stung with pain. “Do you want to believe me?” I sighed. “I don’t know who looks worse.” I stared at him in disbelief. He turned it until I was facing him. “You don’t want to tell me.” “I can’t tell you. Is that what Vane told you? She was Arthur's wife. “That’s more words than you’ve said to me in two weeks. He raised a brow. My legs weak. Matt knelt down next to the chair.” I colored.bag. I stumbled.” “What? No. A bench beside us exploded with a loud wham. Arthur asked me to make the amulet for her. this was good for everyone to see.” I grouched. “Thanks.

“Ryan. “Ryan—” I grabbed his shoulders. He muttered against my mouth. Before I knew it I stood smashed up against him. “I thought a wizard couldn’t make something explode without getting drained. I could smell nothing but his scent—of time and earth and desire all mixed up in one. Something of what I was thinking must have shown on my face because Matt’s fingers on my waist tightened. I whispered. please—” .” My fingers dug into tight biceps. He sighed with reluctance.” A brow lifted with arrogant confidence. but I couldn’t help it. There was too much at stake. Matt. In my head. “I’m not just any wizard.searched my face. I wanted Matt. I knew I shouldn’t.

Gia mumbled. “I just need a few minutes.” Grey and Gia ran into the classroom. I heard . “Right. Matt broke away.” She closed the classroom door as they left. “We’ll see you at lunch. “We heard an explosion. are you alright?” He moved to cross the room toward me.CHAPTER 12 GARGOYLES “Ryan. You heard her. She tossed a wink over her shoulder. I shook my head. “Ryan.” Gia grabbed Grey.” Grey noticed the exploded bench.” She marched Grey to the door. I leaned on the desk.

Grey mumble an ineffective protest. Matt moved to the stand on the other side of the desk. “We can’t do this, Ryan. I haven’t told you the consequences.” The clock tower chimed outside. Seconds passed in infinite increments on an undefined scale. “Because I’m marked by Apollo?” I said. Matt cursed. “Is there anything Vane didn't tell you? There is no proof the curse actually exists. But how can I risk it? There's too much at stake.” “Fine, I understand.” I walked slowly to get my bag. I opened the classroom door to leave and paused at the threshold. I turned to face him. “Just because we’re not going out doesn’t mean you have to do this alone. I am your friend.” Matt stuffed fisted hands into his trouser pockets. The grooves of lines on his face deepened with grim regret. “I failed Camelot once before. I trusted too much. Look where it got us. Look where it got Arthur. I won't allow the same thing to happen again. Not this time.” “I see.” My fingers tightened on the strap of my gym bag. “You want me to call you Matt, but it's you who won’t let go of Merlin.” *** I slipped into my spot in the training spot, still fuming over after my encounter with Matt. Every time we had a real conversation, I ended up with nothing. I wanted to smash something. My insides churned all the way through the first forty-five minutes of forms until I was too exhausted to think anymore. Vane walked past me with a snide expression. “Looks as if you have a bit of excess energy today. Wonder what could have caused it?” Gia had obviously ratted me out to him. We bent down into a lunge. My hamstrings and thighs burned but I held them perfectly perpendicular to the floor. I didn’t reply. “Not speaking today?” Vane continued. “You do look a bit, shall we say, disheveled.” A boy in front of me snorted. To my relief, Vane

rounded on him and started taunting him instead. A few minutes later we broke for weapons training. Vane assigned me to do figure eights with long staffs along with the rest of the lower ranks while the higher ranks picked out practice swords. I marched over to Vane and threw my staff at his chest. “I want to talk to you.” Vane caught it easily with one hand. “About what?” He tossed the staff back at me. I caught it, surprising myself. Vane gave a nod of approval. “I see you are learning something, despite all the time my brother is wasting teaching you magical defense. Any competent wizard will beat you despite your trinket.” I touched the amulet. “We’re doing just as well as the trained wizards.” “They should be destroying you. It’s pathetic how lacking in practical experience the students at this school are.” Vane looked down his nose at me. “What do you want, DuLac?” “I want to learn swords.” I tossed the long staff back at him. Vane knocked down the staff without touching it. It clattered to the floor. Someone in the room gasped. Vane just gave me a steady look. “What makes you think sword training will make any difference?” My jaw jutted out. “If it doesn’t make a difference then why can’t I learn it?” Vane extended his hand. The staff flew straight at me like a javelin. The tip rammed hard into my shoulder before I caught it. Tears stung my eyes as I huffed to catch my breath. “You may learn it after you master the staff,” Vane said. “It’s not like those doing sword training have mastered the staff either,” I jabbed my finger at his candidates. “They’ve never even handled a staff.” Vane’s eyes narrowed. “Are you questioning my methods?” Internally, I grimaced. Maybe it hadn’t been such a

good idea to confront him in front of everyone. Maybe I should have waited until after class. But now that I had, I couldn’t back down. I maintained, “I can handle a sword.” Vane towered over me. “My training. My rules.” I stuck my chin out. “You’re afraid that I’m right.” Vane flicked his hand at the weapons rack. A sword flew out at me. For a second I thought he was going to let it skewer me. I ducked. Vane halted the blade right in front of me. He said mildly, “Alright, then?” I wasn’t, but I wasn’t about to admit it either. I straightened. “I’m fine.” He crooked a finger at Gia to come forward. “Let’s see if you’re as advanced as you think you are,” Vane said. I inclined my head at the others who were still on the staff. “If I win, I want everyone to be trained.” Vane raised a brow. “You’re pushing your luck.” “If I can do it, so can they. They’re candidates too. We should all have the chance to find out.” I looked at Blake and Paul. “Do you agree?” Blake nodded. So did Paul. One by one, everyone dropped their staff. I faced off with Vane. “Well?” For a second I thought I saw a smile cross his face, but it was with a sober expression that he clapped. “Well done. I’ve been waiting for someone to show some initiative.” He nodded at the Regulars. “If she can prove herself, all of you will be trained.” He turned back to me with a sadistic gleam in his eye. “All you had to do was ask.” My stomach churned as I grabbed the sword floating in front of me—and almost dropped it. I hadn’t realized how heavy steel could be. Vane smirked at me. Ignoring him, I heaved the sword up into the beginning form position I’d seen him demonstrate in class. I faced off with Gia. “No magic.” Vane shrugged. “No promises.” Gia advanced first. I parried her. We went back and forth. I could tell she was holding back. She let me think

through the steps. After a few minutes, Vane made a noise of disgust. “Enough,” he said. A strong wind shoved at me. I looked up to see him separating his hands. He pushed us apart. He glared at Gia. “If I’d wanted to watch a training exercise I would have told you.” He beckoned Mark the Brute forward. “I want a real duel. She thinks she can handle it. Let’s give her the chance.” Mark took Gia’s place. Gia gave me a silent look that said ‘Good Luck.’ The more time Grey spent with her the nicer she got towards me. As Mark’s hawk-like focus settled on me, I had a feeling I would need all the luck I would get. Mark didn’t hesitate to come at me in a fury. Very aware of the sharpness of the blade, I barely deflected the first few blows. One nearly cut off my nose. Another swing. In slow motion, I saw the arc of the blade reflect off the light from the windows. I stopped thinking. My heartbeat seemed to slow and a hum started in my ears. I swung up the heavy sword in my hand. My biceps screamed at the effort but I managed to stop the blow. Our swords met with a clang. I kept his sword above me. His eyes widened in surprise. Time caught up. My hands shook. Mark smiled. Our next few sequences sped by in a blur of speed. Every time he moved, I countered. I don’t know how long we went back and forth. But then, he started throwing moves I had no idea how to respond to. He almost took my head off. Finally, Vane said, “Stop.” A strong wind knocked the sword out of Mark’s hand. It threw me backwards. It pinned Mark across the room. I slammed down on the gel mat. I heaved, struggling to breath. When oxygen returned to my brain, I could feel every eye in the entire room on me. I made myself stand up. “I’d do better with training.” Vane tossed the sword back at me. I jumped out of its way. The edge barely missed me as the sword fell flat onto the mat.

Although we were the last ones out of class. that did not come out right.” Vane commanded the students lingering below.” he grunted. I must have surprised him. He caught me easily. “Matt and I weren’t kissing. “What bullshit. “You know what .” I mimicked.” *** “All you had to do is ask.” “I do not eat you up!” My whole face heated.” I mumbled. “Let’s be clear on one thing—I am not your friend. I was pretty sure if he’d been expecting the fall.“Clearly. we were headed down the narrow confine of a turretstyle circular stairwell that led out of the cathedral. Still… A bland expression on his face. Vane came to an abrupt halt.” I followed Vane out of the classroom. “You’re heavier than you look. he slammed me high up against the circular wall. They’d actually been surprisingly sweet about it. They scattered. I dug my fingernails into his biceps. Vane tilted his face up and regarded me with dispassionate eyes. Okay. “you’re ready. you can hardly expect the rest of us to believe in your restraint. I’d already apologized to the Regulars for getting their hopes up and failing.” “By the way your eyes are always eating me up. Great. a few students milled around on the bottom steps. Someone below us gasped. I closed my eyes and felt Guinevere’s amulet warm. We were alone. Most had been awed that I’d even tried to stand up to Vane the Terrible.” I rasped. I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to kill me with witnesses present. With a flick of his hand. “I mean. Unfortunately the muscles were too hard to make much of an indention.” he sneered. DuLac. It broke Vane’s hold and I fell… right on top of him. “Leave. We faced off midway down the stairs on a small landing.” “Good to know. I gurgled as what felt like compressed air threatened to choke me. he would have let me drop to the floor. Instead of going to his office.

His hold eased but he didn’t release me. Just be careful you don’t end up the same way as her.” he corrected again. “That explains why Camelot fell.” I tried to yank my hand away. “The lady protests greatly. His fingers tightened on my hand until I winced. He said conversationally.” he corrected. I hurried to grab his arm. Vane sighed.” Vane set me down with a leer. You could be. DuLac?” I looked at him curiously. “What do you want. “My brother gave you the amulet he made for Guinevere. “I could break you easily.” I glared at him. “Is that a joke? Did Vane make a funny?” “Sir Vane. “Why are you such a barbarian?” “Sir Barbarian. He must think you’re special. “Burned at the stake. followed along the length of my arm. He doesn’t w-want—” I broke off as the last word wobbled. are you?” “N-No.” I muttered. “You’re not going to cry. He said in a louder voice. First he’d tried to choke me. Matt thinks I’m interfering with his visions. You were right.” He turned to walk away. He grabbed it before I could. I don’t seem to want to.I mean. “There is no need to tell the Council about Matt and me. up past the curve of the neck to my face. “But oddly enough. He let go of my hand. Now he was trying to play with me. I was starting to form a hypothesis that guys from the medieval time period suffered from bipolar disorder.” “And which way is that?” I asked. “Good.” *** The kiss consumed me. heating my body from inside . “You won’t say anything?” Vane looked down at my unpainted nails.” I stammered. Vane gave me a look of disgust mixed with pity.” he whispered. I wrinkled my brow. then.

I coughed as smoke clogged my lungs. My neck throbbed in pain. I fell to the ground. I didn’t have to open the bag. Fangs shot out of his mouth. I ran to her bed. Morgan jumped in front of me. I cried as he grabbed me by the neck. “Time to have some real fun. I looked at the door. I hung on for life and allowed my mouth to be devoured. She lay deathly still. I grabbed her wrist. The contents lay scattered under her bed. I stumbled out of bed. He snarled in pain. I was going to die. a thick fog of smoke filled the field. The acrid smell of fire broke through the fog of pleasure dulling my mind. My lips thinned when I saw the iPad. I screamed. From out of nowhere. “Wake up. Choking on smoke fumes. Fire blazed on the eaves of the tree above me.” I cried out and wished I hadn’t. Ryan.” Matt’s voice commanded from somewhere far away. I had no doubt mine was in the same condition. But all of a sudden. I wrestled out of his grip. A wall of snapping fire blocked the way. His beautiful face twisted into a snarl. I hooked my arms under Gia’s shoulders and dragged her to the lone window at the center of the . His face twisted. I stopped. I lay in a field under the protective branches of a tree. They shone down on the one I still had my legs wrapped around—Morgan. babe. I grabbed a rock and hit him in the face. She stowed it under the bed. I couldn’t breathe. I pulled away. Stars twinkled in the dark night. Flames engulfed our room.” he said. I jerked up in bed. My eyes stung with acid-like tears. “Gia.out. He squeezed my throat. His forehead enlarged to become swollen and hard. I started running. her heartbeat felt normal. To my relief. Someone had smashed it. Fire alarms rang in earpiercing screeches. I scrambled to get her iPad out of her school bag to call for help. The window.

I pushed the window shutters open. I dropped her briefly and touched the wall. Heat filled the ruby gemstone. I saw a white robed wizard at the front directing fire hoses. I reached around my neck for my amulet and touched the iron bars. the ledge wouldn’t even be an option. With a cry of relief. but Gia had told me that the bars also had a layer of magic on them. but he was busy spouting instructions to the other wizards and he didn’t notice. Please. The iron bars swung outward.” I yelled. Leaning out of the window again. “Help. I hung Gia half out the window and peered out… to the ground five stories below. I waved to him. The ledge ran across several other rooms.outer wall. Getting a room on the top level had seemed like a good thing. Except I wasn’t. I had to neutralize it somehow. Floating balls of water exploded around us like grenades. but most of the interior burned as if it were made of tinderbox wood. I told it. I could hear various teachers taking roll count. but I wouldn’t be able to jump the rest. The fire alarms should have disabled them. Iron bars covered the lower portion the window. The entire residence hall had already evacuated to the courtyard in front of the building. I took the curtains from the window and used a technique I learned babysitting some of the neighborhood children back when my life had been . I eyed the curtains around the window. It was just wide enough for one person to inch along if I balanced just right. Not with Gia unconscious. An image of Matt flew in my mind. “Kavas. I need you. Fire occasionally burst out through the iron bars like octopus arms. No one heard me. I spotted a narrow ledge that ran around the building.” a voice said in my head. but they weren’t long enough. Flames licked my heels. Our room was on the side so I could only see them by craning my neck and looking to the right. It was my best chance… if I was willing to leave Gia behind. Despite the alarms and burning inferno. The exterior stonewalls remained cold. Once fire engulfed the whole floor. We could make possibly two floors.

” someone else said. I grabbed at the stone edifice to hang on.” . let go. Ash and rain clogged my nose. The adrenaline thumping inside me started to ebb. Rain spit down on my face. Gia and I fell. Luckily for me part of the curtain wrapped around me also caught on the long snout of the beast-shaped spout.” a voice called from below. My jostling caused the curtain started to unravel. My rib cracked as it slammed against the stone. I let go of the rainspout with one hand and caught the loose cloth. I must have resembled a lopsided kangaroo. I’d only made it a few feet when it started raining. I cinched the curtain tight around my waist. Get up. I glanced at the corner of the building—only three more windows to go after this. I wrapped the cloth around me and then used the ends of the cloth to tie Gia to my side. Compressed air caught us before we hit the ground. Gia and I plunged down. I don’t know how long I hung. I edged out onto the ledge. but with one hand on Gia and one hand against the wall. Even a small spark of fire would set my highly combustible outfit aflame as soon as I tried to cross. Inch by inch. I don’t know how I found the strength. “Enough lying down. holding the double weight of Gia and myself with one hand. We hung a few feet in the air while someone lowered us slowly to the grass. I landed awkwardly and slid on the wet ledge. I made it to the first window. “There they are. It seemed like hours passed. I took a breath and took another step. I just knew I couldn’t let go. I blinked.normal. I lay on my back looking up into the starless night sky. “Ryan. Vane peered down over me. My arm numb and stiff. My side hit a rainspout that one floor down and I screamed. My grip broke. trying to stay conscious. I couldn’t have resisted if I’d wanted to. I had a feeling the wizard firefighters had a hand in the sudden downpour. I felt my grip slip. Gia hung in the curtain sack like a baby. The night had become pitch dark. DuLac.

I shut my eyes.” The healer glanced up and noticed Aurelius in flowing white robes making his way directly to him. A healer wearing a dull green robe walked up with a clipboard. I squeezed my fingers. Most of them were occupied. “Better?” he said. Several healers dressed in brown robes over scrubs moved from bed to bed checking on patients. It followed in a line past wanton cheekbones over wicked lips. “She’ll be alright. *** Hospital beds separated by thin wood partitions had been lined inside a barn-like structure. but I want to keep you here for the night. Gia dozed peacefully on the bed next to mine. . My clothes clung to soaked skin. I punched Vane in the face.” he said.” I pointed at Vane. I took a heaving breath. Vane stepped from around the partition curtain. “And so will you. Rain poured down his face. cutting off my view of Gia. Thick dirty goo squirted out from the spaces in between them. Hastily putting the clipboard on a hook on the hospital bed. I giggled. Vane roughly pulled me up into a sitting position. the healer left to meet the head Councilmember. “I want him locked up for trying to kill me. My hands fisted. All the harsh lines disappeared into something breathtakingly beautiful. revealing every curve. Matt entered the triage room and crossed through the long space straight to me. The fifth floor girls have the brunt of the injuries. Many of the girls were suffering from smoke inhalation. He smiled. exposing every secret. Wet mud covered most of my body. I opened my eyes. There were about twenty beds placed into two rows. He closed the partition. I heard Vane catch his. Aurelius glanced at me once or twice as he talked in whispered tones to the healer. leaving his whole countenance clean and fresh. I opened my mouth to protest.

Ms. I wasn’t trying to get through them.” I said dryly. “I held her up in the air. They covered the door.” “Yes. “He threatened me saying I would burn at the stake like Guinevere and the next thing I know my room is on fire. “I want to know the details. DuLac. “I don’t remember about the walls. hands fisted.” I glared at Vane.Vane responded with a lazy once-over. “The window bars had some kind of locking spell on them. “He compared me to Guinevere and said I would burn at the stake just like she did. We’ve never had such a thing happen at the school before.” I leveled a disgusted look at him. I woke with my room in flames. What happened in the room?” “Why?” I demanded. Vane?” Vane rounded on me.” I glanced at Matt. I took a sip.” Aurelius said.” “Completely covering the door? What about the walls near it?” Vane asked.” Vane made a circle with his hand. “What have you done. If I’d wanted to choke her. Dulac. DuLac. Vane smiled cryptically. “I’m glad to see you well. Aurelius frowned. Do you really expect us to believe it’s a coincidence?” “I think it would be best if we spoke more privately. “Tonight.” Aurelius approached the bed without the healer in tow. she wouldn’t be here.” I picked up the glass of water someone had placed on a steel nightstand next to the bed. “I want a full account. “Ms. are you saying the fire was not an accident?” Matt made an impatient noise.” “It’s his fault. Vane snorted. Ms. My throat felt so swollen that it was painful to swallow. A faint red light surrounded us forming a nearly invisible bubble.” . please tell us what you know. “Tell me and I’ll consider answering. “You look mostly alive. “This afternoon Vane choked me in front of several students after class—” “What?” Matt jumped up.

I didn’t do this. “Somehow the amulet disabled the bars. He murmured. I lifted my lips to take a long sip. “An air hold doesn’t leave that kind of bruise. It knew to defend you.” Vane nodded.” “How did you open the window?” Vane asked.” .Aurelius raised a brow.” “I dreamt Morgan was choking me. “Tell us about the dream. The amulet sat silent. “The boyfriend?” Vane said. “I woke up when—” I broke off abruptly. I squirmed under their scrutiny. “When?” Vane asked sharply.” Matt said musingly. “They must have tried to take it from you. “When the alarms went off. “The amulet has tied itself to you. “Those have been spelled to open in emergencies. I’m surprised they didn’t snap her neck.” Vane’s eyes fixed on Matt. Someone tried to choke her.” Matt said abruptly. Vane was out of the chair and at the head of the bed on the opposite side from Matt. he launched a fireball at Vane. “Interesting. “What did I do now?” Matt glared at Vane. Matt handed me a water glass. Taking the water glass. They should have opened automatically on detecting fire. I remember it heating. “It would have been easy for one to blend in during the evacuation. he touched my chin and gently angled my face to better see my neck. “She’s got bruises on her neck. I thought I heard Matt—” “It’s not unexpected.” “The amulet is protected.” Vane said. “Matt called me in the dream. “Those bruises are deep.” “It could have been a girl. Matt put a hand on my shoulder. but it wouldn’t come off.” I described it and ended with.” In a flash. I touched my neck. he probably got out in the chaos. My eyes went to Matt.” I coughed. Without warning. Vane barely caught it before it burned him. I colored.” I said softly. Matt said.” I said. Only he was clever enough to lock the iron bars in her room.

“This is no reason to plug your platform. It is not the problem.” Vane pointed out. throwing Vane off him. Maybe not.” Aurelius’s face twisted into a scowl. You can’t blame magic.” Aurelius asked. “I only said it to you.” “Now see here.” I said. Selling magic is what keeps our world going.“A lot of wizards entered the dorm after the alarms went off.” said Matt. “The lead-healer told me Ms. Matt pulled back to throw another punch. Matt sent him a fuming glare. “Magic was used to lock the door.” Vane’s gaze locked on me.” Matt sat down on a spindly wooden chair. It groaned a bit under his weight. Aurelius tugged on his short beard. “Why did you do it. He locked Matt’s arms in a tight hold so Matt couldn’t move. “Don’t pretend that this was an accident.” “It was a wizard. The ones who use it incorrectly are the problem. “Maybe. “You suspected a traitor.” . But I was right. Color me shocked. “There’s a traitor among us. “Please. He grabbed Vane by the collar and decked him hard on the jaw. A sleeping spell was put on Gia.” The words hung in the air with subversive malice. wasn’t I? You like—” “I could easily kill you.” “You said it loud enough for anyone near the stairwell to hear.” I said acidly. Cornwall had been put under a sleeping spell. “These are the consequences in selling magic to anyone who pays for it. You used her as bait. Vane?” “Isn’t it obvious?” Vane backed away from Matt. didn’t you? And you risked a whole building!” “I did not mean for my words to be take literary.” Matt ground out. I’m sure they tried it on Ryan but her amulet is strong enough to resist small spells. He arched a brow at Aurelius. Vane barely managed to block him. “Merlin attacking with his bare hands. You specifically said Matt gave me the amulet—” In a blink Matt was on top of Vane. Magic was used to lock the iron bars.

And how would they know even that much?” Vane came up to my bedside. “There is a traitor among us. The Council will not be happy that you initiated all this. more are sure to follow. “Even if it was not your intention. no more lures. With a short nod at Matt. “Do you want to know who attacked you or not?” Vane said impatiently. brother.” Vane’s lips curved up into a half-smile. I jerked away from him. One unknown wizard. If this is a strike against the candidates. Three Regulars.” To my surprise. Why can’t you see that?” Aurelius and Matt glared daggers at each other. Who is missing?” “Gargoyles. He took out an iPad and pulled up headshots of four kids.” Matt and I both turned to give him identical looks of irritation. He reached out to touch my neck. please.” Matt answered evenly. Vane?” “You know me too well.” He turned to Vane. Come up with a plan. Matt looked at Vane. “However.“Give someone a weapon and they will use it. “Selling magic sows the seeds of our own destruction. “Could we get back to who tried to kill DuLac?” “Like you care. “What are you holding back now. Vane arched a brow. “These are the latest candidates who have died. They suspect we have a reason. Aurelius withdrew from the bubble. “I need to get the Council together.” Aurelius muttered.” He made a sweeping gesture at the healing room. “They are not sending candidates to the Stone anymore. I will ask for an emergency session.” I muttered. Vane inclined his head in acknowledgement. “I absolutely care about who gets the sword. . Vane cleared his throat.” Matt retorted. we cannot risk it.” “Because they know we have not sent ours.

Jaw tight. “The traitor is a gargoyle. The skin on my shoulder burned excruciatingly. “Tapa. I gave Vane a dirty look. “I’ve seen this before. The pit of my stomach sunk deeper. I reluctantly swept aside the rest of my hair. I yelped. “My spell will extrapolate the remaining image. I gave the mirror back to Matt. “There is an impression on your skin. a curvy V inside a circle. Vane pushed down the potato-sack of a hospital gown I wore.” .” The word caught the edges of my hearing. On Morgan’s notepad. They have infiltrated the school.” I stared at the dull burn. “They must have been wearing something that dug into your skin when they tried to choke you.” Matt put the mirror down. I stared at the emblem.” Vane said. It’s a gargoyle crest. Matt handed me the hand-mirror.” My skin stinging with dull pain.

” Vane crossed his arms. Revenge. “The gargoyle must be another member of the same clan. That would explain why they targeted you especially. You killed him.” I looked at Vane.” . right?” Vane nodded. “B-but he’s dead. He acted really strange when I asked him what it was. He tore it out and threw it away. Matt squeezed my hand.CHAPTER 13 THE TRAP “I caught Morgan doodling it. We need to smoke the traitor out. “Whoever the gargoyle is they will try again.

We are talking about the fate of this world—” “Nice try. Until we find the culprit. you should thank me instead of getting in my way. Vane?” “I’m going to find the gargoyle. little brother.” Vane pinched the bridge of his nose. That is generally the way of things. “We have no idea who it is. seemingly unsurprised by his brother’s matter-of-fact cold-bloodedness.” “You can try. “I have little need to go that far. I’m going to put the beast down. It highlighted the lighter strands of Vane’s hair. “For all I know.” Vane arched a brow. You Regulars are doing an excellent job of failing training all by yourselves. “I’ll figure out a way. Then.” said Matt. “If a single strand of hair is harmed on any of these girls’ heads. “We both know the only life you care about is yourself.” Vane crossed his arms over his chest and leaned languidly against the hospital partition.” Matt asked.” Matt’s eyes flashed. He will try to take out all of them. He shrugged.” He glanced at me. I will put you down. She may be the first but she won’t be the last. You’d do anything to stop a Regular from succeeding. “Master the basics. How do you plan to get the gargoyle to expose himself?” Vane’s gaze flicked over the rows of injured girls.” High windows in the hospital let in moonlight. Then. “What are you planning. Seriously.” “We’d be doing better if you’d train us properly. all of the candidates are in danger.” Matt ground out.” “Meaning as usual you’ve only thought this halfway through.” Matt nodded.” “What happened to sacrificing everything? You want me to sit back while the gargoyles exterminate us. We should be learning swords. “Besides. Smoke. “Don’t forget. I can do it again. you set it this up. I may not be as powerful of a wizard as you but I defeated you once. . you will be able to advance. “You will not use her as bait.I sent him a fulminating look.

“Which is?” “The gargoyles know too much already.” Matt cried. “Tomorrow night is the All Saint’s Festival in town.” Matt ground his teeth loudly.” Vane said.” “They won’t find out. are you?” Vane voice lowered. If the wizards hadn’t defeated the gargoyles so handily back then.” “We wouldn’t even be in this situation if you hadn’t trapped me in that cave.” I made a face.’ Matt’s cheeks colored. “And what will happen next is death. “Just a small favor.” Vane strode over to me and pushed back my hair to reveal the ugly bruises on my neck. I am not going to repeat them. I’m not about to allow the gargoyles to ruin it all. “What do you want Matt to do?” Vane raised a brow as if startled at my perception. I could have helped Arthur. “Feeling vindicated. they wouldn’t be so vengeful now. “The Sword is too important—” “Trust no one but yourself. What matters is what happens next. We used to be allies with them. I want Merlin to convince them it’s safe.” Vane yawned. The Council wants to restrict the candidates from going. “Tell me—how did that work out for Arthur?” Matt let out a low growl.“Yes.” “Which gives you the excuse to self-righteously hoard what you know.” Matt said with a tone of satisfaction. “I made mistakes with Arthur.” Vane countered. All upperclassmen are allowed to go to it. No one knows but me. and I want to protect it.” Unwittingly. We must root out the traitor now before he can get any more information. He looked at me. my mouth opened into an ‘O. “You explicitly told Aurelius that you would not use anyone as bait. “How long are you going to beat this to death? Arthur doesn’t matter anymore. I am quite enjoying myself in this century. Before he learns what Merlin’s grand plan is.” “Unbelievable. Are you pathological?” . “You see he hasn’t told them his grand plan yet.

we had been assigned new rooms—a flat—in the teachers’ residence.” I said.” Gia stared down at the trunk without moving. However. The spacious onebedroom residence welcomed us with cheery bright décor. The door creaked open on its . but I could see she was distraught. I played her message on a hand-me-down iPad. Matt put in a call to Sylvia. “All different styles. Two trunks had been placed in front of it. “You don’t like it.” She mumbled. A cozy living area with a fireplace opened to an airy well-lit eat-in kitchen.” she stammered. Gia cautiously opened her trunk open and pulled out a gorgeous dress with matching shoes. “T-thanks. But how?” “Grey’s Mom got everything together.” I smiled. “No one’s ever done anything like this for me before. Gia gasped in surprise. Gia tried to keep a stoic front. I could almost see a glimmer of Alexa grin from the corner of my eye. Joseph informed me the next day that our floor had taken extensive damage and it would be weeks before anyone could move back in. Beside the kitchen there looked to be a marbled bathroom and a door leading to a huge bedroom. Matt arranged for it to be brought in. “I can take care of myself. Are you going to sit back while they try again?” “Now that I know. “I don’t know what to say. “She’s been targeted. She was making whimpering noises as she slept.” Vane pulled back the partition to show Gia. I’m a realist. I had been sure he’d know how to contact her and I had been right.” Vane said. but what about those standing next to you?” *** Ms.” She wiped her face with the sleeve of her shirt. “N-new clothes. All of our things had been charred beyond recognition. Before I could open my trunk. When we showed up at the teachers’ residence and opened the door to our suite. I’ll be ready. Tough-girl Gia burst into tears. a knock sounded at the door.“Unlike you.” I said in disappointment. “You may be able to defend yourself.

Ryan.” Gia said to me. “Vane told me. “The Council refused. I’d like to speak to Ryan.” Matt stood in the doorway in jeans and a biker jacket. You and he fought—” “He attacked me!” “—your spells got entangled and something happened .” “On their own or did you tell them to?” “Is there a difference?” he said.” Matt waited until the door closed after her to speak. How could the brothers be so similar and so different at the same time? I wonder if Matt even saw it.” Matt grinned.” Matt’s jaw tightened.” Matt pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ll see you later. My cheeks puffed.” “He tried to kill me!” “You got trapped in a cave. “I’m getting so tired of this fight of yours.’ I’m not a child.” “No worries. It took me back for a second. not denying it. It’s too dangerous—” “Vane said I was the most likely target. “I’m going to get some dinner with Grey. Both of us jumped. She rushed up and punched him in the arm. “I don’t trust anything he says and I’m not going to risk you—” “It’s my choice!” “No. it was open. “We just can’t trust him.own. “You promised!” I’d asked him to bring Vane’s request to the Council. “I said I’d think about it. Ryan. I made a sound of aggravation. Gia let out an audible sigh of relief. My heart skipped a small beat. And I did. “Actually.” I burst out.” Matt said. “Do you want to join us?” Matt’s dark eyes settled on me.” he said. “Thanks for the trunks. “You can’t just say ‘No. I flashed back to our last day in Boston.” Gia shrugged. “Sorry. Vane had made the same gesture the exact same way at the infirmary.

Why should I be surprised he’s gotten to you?” I sank down on the sofa. The statement would have thrilled me a few days ago. Marilynn really did not like me. “Trust me. Knock if you need anything. I held up my iPad to show the crack on the screen. No one will get to you again.” “Do I have a choice?” Matt squeezed my hand. “I’m in the flat above.” Matt knelt down on the floor and took my hand. I expect you to be caught up on the class you missed.” I finished the last bit up lamely. There are certain tests I can try. “Can you at least get me a new one? The Wifi isn’t working. because my math was just that bad. It won’t connect to anything.” “You are too kind. but I promise you I will not fail. The heavy tome that was Basic Elements dropped on the coffee table with a thump. he enlarged it. we will be watching all the candidates very closely.” . “This isn’t about him or you or me. An extra copy. With a flick of his hand.” I made a face.and boom you were trapped in the cave for a…really long time. How am I supposed to get anything done?” Matt took a miniature book out of his pocket. “How does he manage to do this every time? He manipulates everyone to suit him. “Trust me.” Matt pointed to the ceiling.” “I know that—which is why I am going to do everything I can to find out who the traitor is. “Here you go. “Over a thousand years!” Matt’s mouth open and closed.” “Why are we in the teachers’ residence at all? The other girls are up at the manor house. My family is in danger and I’m not going to just sit back and do nothing. “Why do I feel like my cage just got smaller?” “It’s for your protection. Today it only served to tell me how tightly he held my leash.” “I want you close. We’re on Chapter 13. It’s a little tricky because gargoyles and Regulars come from the same genetic parent so it will take a bit of time.” I arched a brow.

” I said. “What else can we do?” “You can go to the festival. “If he is one of us.” Vane leaned against the doorjamb with tousled hair and a day’s worth of stubble on his jaw. I stared at the flat’s tiny but surprisingly well-stocked kitchen. “I know I locked that this time.” Vane arched his brow. I crossed my arms and hugged myself. A knock pounded the door. he looked mouth-watering. tell your little friends that you’re going into town—” “My friends are not traitors!” “They might not be. “How is the gargoyle going to know that I’m going to the festival when no one else is?” “At lunch tomorrow. he won’t be able to get out of the . “This is your only chance to get to him first and you know it.” I arched my brow. I stood alone in the small living room. barely big enough for one sofa. “Obviously I grossly miscalculated your influence on my brother. “I know you’re in there. He caught it before it could slam shut.” I arched a brow. I decided to ignore whoever it was.” “I have a plan.” he chided. Then he spoke and spoiled the image. A TV hung on the wall.” I gaped at him.A few minutes later. With me. “How? I can’t even get out of this school. “I ask you to do a simple task and you fail. Our window is short.” I strode to the door and swung it back on his smirking face. I need you to focus on the current situation. but I wager whoever the gargoyles are using will be listening. “As delectable as that sounds. one chair. mimicking him. “I am a wizard. Sometimes cooking relaxed me. and a coffee table.” “Bite me.” he said. Today it looked more like a chore.” Vane said through the closed door just before it flung open on its own. Even in plain black trousers and a simple grey v-neck sweater.

” I blinked. “I spent weeks watching you. “Fine.” I said looking down. we’ll eat here. Out of curiosity.” Morgan’s face flashed in my head. Masculine lips curved into a wicked smile. A pot filled itself up with water from a miniscule sink and noodles dropped into it. “What are you doing?” I asked.” Vane’s eyes went to the black bruises on my neck “Trust me. The idea that another one of those wanted to kill me made me want to curl up into a ball. “I’m . Vane tucked a finger under my chin and pushed my face back up.” Vane pushed past me and strode confidently into the kitchen. Then I took several gulps. Vane pulled out various items from the mini-fridge below the counter. “W-What?” “Come have dinner with me. I took a tentative sip.” I said. The salad chopped. “I don’t know. “Watch this. The food started to move and pretty soon was fixing itself. They won’t waste this opportunity. “Don’t you trust me?” “Not at all. the stove turned on and butter poured itself on a pan. “Do you say ‘yes’ to everyone else but me?” “You make it so easy. He lined them up along with a few pots and pans. “Real ice tea.” he commanded. He grinned at me. I saw his head fall after Vane had decapitated it.” “I hadn’t realized you watched so closely. Vane rolled his eyes. A small breeze whistled through the kitchen. two plates of shrimp pasta sprinkled with mozzarella sat on the bar just above the counter. “I think you’re hungry. A few minutes later.school either.” “No.” I retorted. I sighed.” I murmured.” I answered. How did you know?” He took a bite from his plate. He met my gaze with disconcerting directness.” “Pacika. A small salad lay beside them. Vane handed me a glass of something dark.

“Why didn’t we just get into a bus?” “Because the monitors there are specifically checking for candidates. he finished his dinner in less than five bites and headed for the door. Like a typical male. Marilynn chatted away on the phone to someone. At the admissions desk.” His eyes roved over my jeans and plain t-shirt. Because you care about the candidates. Vane sent me an angelic smile. “Because you can’t resist the chance to take care of this on your own. “Wear something nice.” “Y-You live across the hall?” I choked on a bite. The hall was mostly empty. I started on the pasta.” I took a long swallow of the iced tea. I couldn’t resist another sigh of appreciation.” Vane said. “Welcome to the building. Do you know why?” Vane didn’t wait for an answer. “Did my brother fail to mention it?” “Why do I get the feeling he didn’t know?” I said dryly. they were a lot more dangerous than a green like Marilynn. I tiptoed behind Vane as we went straight through the manor where we’d taken the candidate trail on the first day.” “That was Sylvia—” “If he says so.” I hissed behind him. “I’m extremely good at the chameleon glamour. I’m just across the hall.very thorough.” *** He was Satan and I was following him straight to hell. When I finished it. “I’m not going with you. “Come get me tomorrow when you’re ready. “She’s going to see us.” I said in between taking huge bites. neighbor.” Vane strode confidently past Marilyn without . It was scrumptious. How do you think I snuck around to see Guinevere without getting caught by the knights? Believe me.” Vane said. you will. Just outside there were still students lined up to get into the buses that were going into town. I understand my brother bought you some beautiful clothes. “Yes.

A strong breeze . I froze. muttering. The idea is laughable—” In the dark. she shook her head. “How long till we get to the car?” Vane said.” Vane muttered. Before I could form a proper retort. Vane let out a loud whistle. “And I’m pretty sure everyone thinks I’m a ho. I whined. We slipped through the gates. Under the moonlight.” She went back to her call. I also told them not to mention it to Matt if they saw him.” “We’re not walking into town.” he retorted. They all wanted to know who I was sneaking out with. The Avalon Prep buses looked more like black stretch limos. Marilynn glanced up and stared hard at the door.” The iron gates opened to let one of the school buses through. As soon as we stepped past the school grounds. He told me walking would be crazy. “I told them it was another student. are we? Blake said it was fifteen minutes by car. “Guess it was nothing. “At least I’ll be easy to spot. the festival will be over before we get to it.” Vane said. He opened the front door. At this pace. the road turned from paved stone to gravel—something my dress shoes did not appreciate.” “I’ve procured transportation. the silver sparkled.bothering to lower his voice.” “I hope you didn’t imply it was my brother. I ordered those replacements yesterday and you told me they would be here by today—” Vane yanked me through the door. I tugged my hand away from his rough hold. “Listen. the gargoyle won’t be the only one targeting you.” “In that dress. After a minute. my cheeks flamed. “Why did you wear heels? How are you supposed to fight a gargoyle in what you’re wearing?” “You told me to dress up!” “I didn’t say heels. we reached the end of the lane. I looked down at my black and silver lace dress with matching strappy silver shoes. It wasn’t one of the large yellow ones I was used to back home. “Come on.

“I’ll drive. There were no streetlights so we had to depend on the car’s headlights to see. They’re at their most powerful at the end of the lunar cycle.” he said.” I let go of the door handle.” I snorted. Even through the thick coat I wore. “Oh.” “A Ducati motorcycle is not just a bike. Trees swung in eerie rhythm as we crossed underneath. Vane shrugged.” I stopped babbling when he put his hand around my waist to lead me around the car and help me step up into the SUV. “Tonight’s a good night to be a gargoyle. I sat back into the plush seat of the SUV.” he answered.” He patted the dashboard lovingly. A full moon shone in the pregnant sky. I snickered. Wrong door. I’d forgotten. He just needs time to get his thousand-year-old ideas .” Vane corrected. Vane blocked me. Vane glanced at the stars.” “What about wizards?” I asked. Realization dawned. “Did you see anyone else leave?” I asked when he got in the car. “A greedier way. The antique styling of the car’s interior told me it was very expensive. “We like the sun. but they will be there. Vane was doing well. “He may not be selling magic but he’s not above using it to get what he wants. In the dark. his face loomed above me. “No candidates. I stared out at the road as he walked briskly back to the driver’s side. “A much better way. “Merlin can’t change what the wizards have evolved into.” I grabbed the handle and opened the door. Matt rides a bike. “This is the driver’s side.” We drove along the dark road. his touch felt oddly warm.” He gave me a sidelong glance.blew back vines on a thicket of trees to reveal a black SUV. I turned on him. He leaned down so that his lips almost grazed my skin. “I like to be prepared. Apparently. “You sell magic!” “It’s the new way. “Are you hiding a getaway vehicle?” His face serious.

Vane hurried in front of me. “I need you to be alert in case we get separated.” His words caused a warm flush. Don’t tell me you’ve lost your backbone.” I bit out.up to speed. I drew the coat I had thrown on at the last minute tightly around me. “Matt was right. Vane found a place to park a few streets down from the square where the festival was taking palace. The whole town looked as if it had been around for a thousand years. How do you expect to train for Excalibur if you can’t face down a single gargoyle? Or were you hoping to hide behind my brother forever?” “Fine. My teeth chattered. He whispered into my ear. “ Tapa. Shivering. I stumbled along the rocky road in my heels. In town. Vane drove along the narrow streets.” I sighed.” “What happened to being my shadow?” I scowled at his back. Everything was old here.” The sky lightened as we approached town. I was in England.” Vane’s deep brown eyes glittered with flecks of gold under the streetlights. “Thanks. Tentacles of wind wrapped around my exposed legs. it won’t be the Council I’ll be worried about. “But if this goes bad and I don’t make it —just remember you’ll be facing the Council alone. Then again maybe it had been. “Do I look like I want to be involved in . We walked towards the laughter coming from the town’s center. I shouldn’t have listened to you. “We need to draw out the gargoyle. “If this goes bad and you lose even one golden strand. He’s not going to do that if I’m at your side the whole night.” Vane tucked back a lock of hair that had escaped from the wool cap I wore.” Instantaneously my skin warmed as if he’d thrown an electric blanket over me. candidate. My brother won’t let me live long enough for that. I took in the narrow brownstone buildings with their picturesque moldings. but it didn’t do much to protect me. “You really think Matt would do that? For me?” Vane stiffened. Vane came around the car and grabbed me. I got out and was immediately hit by an icy burst of wind.

A crowd gyrated to the beat. “I just hope that is all the reason. “All I had to do was imply that your little group might be in danger and you practically begged to come. drinks. “Nice try. Near the monument. of course. and souvenirs. I don’t know how I let you talk me into this.” I wanted to stick out my tongue at him. You and my brother are perfect for each other.” “Yes.” . call me.” My mouth opened and closed like a startled guppy.” “Did you recently turn into a jerk or have you been one since birth?” I retorted. “You mingle around. people in glittering costumes milled around a running fountain. a high stage showcased a band. I stalked after him. that is the reason. Booths had been setup offering various food. Don’t try to distract me though. Vane. They alternately crooned and riffed their guitars in hard rhythm. Every nook and cranny of the small square was occupied.” He took out a cellphone from his coat and held it up to me.your teen love saga? Ask someone who cares. “I’m going to find a spot up next to the stage. The Avalon Prep buses off-loaded to the side. he turned back towards the festival.” “That was the easy part.” Vane said sneeringly. “If you spot someone you know. Pockets of students in glittering party dresses filled the square. “Since birth.” I huddled into the warmth of my coat. Vane? Why do you want to help us get the sword?” “I thought Matt told you—why do I do anything? To save myself. A long stone monument marked the center. Colorfully costumed people drank from oldfashioned goblets. letting the heat spell warm me.” At the town’s square. “I was not flirting.” Vane said. Instead I sniffed. I stared at his back as we walked. Why don’t you tell me why you’re really here. The number is already programmed in.” With a quick twist of the boot heel. “But enough flirting. Both martyrs the pair of you. Let’s get this started. It’ll be easiest to keep an eye on you from there.

“That’s lousy.” he said making a sound of frustration. We snuck into one of the buses. This isn’t a game.” Grey snorted. Grey. “Limos.” I scowled at him. remember?” “I see now why you aggravate my brother so much.” “I am allowed to be here.” Blake’s ears turned red. “This one is not a bad wizard. now he was right smack dab in the middle. Call. they will find you.” Without waiting for a response. “Don’t be such a downer. I went to the booth selling masks. “Don’t freak. “I can take care of myself. “I am the bait. I saw him head towards the stage.” “Us?” I took a step back. Paul. Blake and his friends.“That’s your great plan. he took off. I gaped at the crowd. It’s just us.” I said. “Don’t you think they’re going to notice when so many candidates are gone? We’re going to get caught. I paid for a soft-looking one with silver owl feathers.” “Don’t be foolish.” Blake said. I was putting it on when a hand touched my shoulder. I started to move towards it. He slapped the cellphone on my palm and tapped its screen.” Gia said. “I figured if you could sneak out so could we. “And how did you?” Gia grinned at Blake.” “Buses. Blake’s face leaned into mine.” I crossed my arms. “Don’t get lured away. Whatever. Don’t think.” A booth filled with feather masks caught my eye. “My spell wouldn’t have worked if you hadn’t distracted the teachers.” “If someone is after you. “Call. We won’t get in the . Gia. The gargoyle won’t hesitate to kill you. DuLac. I almost shrieked. “All of you are here?” “We weren’t going to let you have all the fun.” “Fine. you mean?” I made a face. That’s what I got for believing Vane. even Mark and the rest of Vane’s candidates milled around the booth. Vane grabbed my arm.” I rolled my eyes. My nerves were so jumpy. Oliver.” I reminded him. So much for protecting Grey from danger. “You’re still a candidate.

“Who else is coming with me?” “I hear the band’s sold out across the Continent. “I’ll meet you there with him. This might be our last fun night.” Grey raised a brow. “DuLac can get her date by herself. are you?” “No!” I let out a small laugh. Blond hair.” Grey glanced at the spot before turning back to me with a skeptical expression. I think we can be fairly sure it’s a certain teacher we know.” I said quickly. “Not that it’s really necessary. “You’re not trying to lose us. Tall frame. Mark looked at us with a bored expression. The call still hadn’t connected as I walked past several booths. Morgan. “So where is he?” “He went to get drinks.” Blake stated in an eager voice.” He looked at the other candidates.way of your date.” Oliver said. Are you going to tell us now who he is?” Gia glanced around the crowd. “We’ll come with you —” “Uh. we can get a great view. “I’m going to meet him over at the band. He was talking to someone under a street lamp. I .” I quickly tried to think of an excuse to stall him. I dialed Vane on the cell as I walked in the direction where he’d headed off. I was glancing around trying to spot Vane when I saw a face that made my heart stop. Why don’t we save a place for Ryan?” “That’s a great idea.” Blake pointed to an open spot just before the stage on the other side of where Vane had gone. aren’t you?” Gia called out as I hurried away. “I’ll be there soon.” I started walking before they could come up with another probing question. Impossibly square jaw. We shouldn’t waste a minute. I’m going to see the band. “If we go now. “You are so meeting Merlin. I had to convince him to call this off and force everyone to go back to school.” I said thinking quickly. “But I saw him going to the Council building as we were heading out.

” I looked at the top of the tent. Inside. Two giggling pre-teens holding hands went into the booth ahead of me.couldn’t see the other person very well—only their profile with a hooked nose under the shadow of the streetlight. I hit redial on the cell. There are a few people in line. The couple in front of me was having a great time seeing their faces become contorted into various beasts. “The dead one?” “How many do you think I have?” I hissed. My hands shook as I tore off two tickets and handed it to him. He’s not real!” I clicked off the cell. DuLac?” “My ex-boyfriend…is here. Without taking my eyes off the booth line. Adrenaline had been running rampant in me the night he’d attacked my mother. “Two tickets. It shouldn’t have been possible. DuLac. Vane picked up the call. I couldn’t.” Vane cursed. However. Every twisted face seemed to jump out at me and every face to be Morgan’s. I’m going after him. He’d given me the same half-smile that had made me say yes to our first date.” the attendant said. I tried to move. The attendant opened the tent flap. “What is it. I remembered only snatches of Morgan’s beast face. The gargoyle. I reached into the inner pocket of my coat and put my hand on the knife Vane had thoughtfully provided and I entered. heart pounding. “He’s gone into a booth called Mysterious Faces. “Wait. “Yes.” The Morgan look-alike paid an attendant and went into the booth. the dead one. I don’t want to lose him. Morgan broke off his conversation and slipped into a line in front of a closed tent booth. Morgan stood under the beacon of the streetlight which had my mind spinning. I . It was pitch black with soft glowing strobe lights. He was very real. I walked through the narrow maze. He spotted me. To duck. It’s a glamour. Beast and ghoul faces had been painted onto mirrors. I saw immediately why the booth was called Mysterious Faces. He looked up.

Using a technique I’d learned in Vane’s class. Vane opened his palm and a lightning bolt hit . The two gargoyles circled Vane. I remembered the blood on the tile.” Hands closed around my waist from behind. I felt Matt’s amulet on my neck warm.remembered the shock in his eyes before Vane had chopped his head off. He pushed me into a stairwell I hadn’t noticed before. Morgan’s face flashed in the dim flickering light. “Just give us the girl and we’ll let you go. The gargoyle came after me. his face twisting into beast form. It took me a second to realize it was real.” the Morgan look-alike said. He pulled the knife out of his shoulder. “You’re not Morgan. It cast a shadow over the gargoyle. The wound—which should have been fatal—started healing rapidly. The knife went into his shoulder.” I said. My mother’s blood. The gargoyle’s amulet glowed but it didn’t negate Vane’s attack. He looked surprised. “You didn’t think we’d come alone. Vane said his spell with more force. I turned a corner. “We’ve got protection amulets. Cursing my high heels. I pulled out my own knife. Another man blocked the way.” The gargoyle grinned. I didn’t hesitate to stab him. He grinned. The reflection reached out a hand. I turned to walk past it. The gargoyle’s knife got knocked aside. Another monster mirror jumped out at me. A knife gleamed in the dark as it swung down towards me.” Vane spat out a spell and let it loose at the gargoyle. Thankfully my skirt had enough give so I didn’t fall flat on my face. The gargoyle’s amulet broke. I grabbed the knife and ran.” Vane hissed. I almost made it out. The Morgan look-alike caught up to us. His face changed to a round cherub face that I’d never seen before. “It’s me. I kicked at the knife. I let out a small scream. “No. He wore a red jacket. wizard. I ran down the alley. I stumbled out of the back of the tent and into a small alley. It fell at my feet.

“Nice try. Come out. The gargoyle fell to the ground with a thud. “Try it.” “Who do you have working for you at the school?” Vane demanded.” Vane stalked toward us. He looked dead. Fire erupted around us. wizard. The gargoyle put his hand in his pocket and took out what looked like a grenade. He only stopped when we hit a column. I let out a startled yelp. The gargoyle took us further into the basement. “The amulet is only as powerful as the wizard who made it. The gargoyle backed us up. The knife expanded into a sword. He took a knife out his pocket. He threw it in Vane’s direction.the Morgan look-alike in the chest. She is Merlin’s.” Vane opened his palm and a fireball appeared. “I will kill her. “What makes you think I care about this one?” “Don’t underestimate us. I saw no other openings. Vane chopped off the fallen gargoyle’s head. He grabbed me around the neck and put me in front of him as a shield. the gargoyle came at me. “Times up. and I’ll snap her neck.” Vane shrugged. We stumbled through into some kind of basement.” he said. gargoyle. “Do not come any further.” Vane said from the doorway. The basement might very well become my tomb. Vane turned to him with a cruel smile.” The gargoyle pulled me further into the alley. His eyes rolled backward. but do you really think a little fire will stop me?” Vane stepped into the basement. wizard. The other gargoyle made a surprised sound. wizard. He pushed me down a short stairwell and kicked open a door. “Want to test yours?” In the blink of an eye. Vane leapt toward him. You know as well as I do that she is special. The fire still burned bright blocking Vane off from us. “Aayat. A cavernous dark room in where the only light came through a small rectangular window. The fire . Her name is Ryan.” The gargoyle’s hold on me tightened. He should have gotten a bargain on that one. “Come out.

“Get the wizard. I ran to Vane. My time had run out. lass. Vane muttered a word. “Vane!” I screamed in warning. The fire expanded exponentially.” Vane yelled. He let out a growl of surprise. He started throwing fireballs at the gargoyles. Six gargoyles ran at us. I leapt up and caught the edge of the windowsill. go first. I saw a gargoyle break through the wall of fire.fell away from Vane as he came forward. I kicked out with my foot and slipped out of the gargoyles hold. but the glass held strong. He flicked a hand and the pane shattered. The gargoyles bunched together to use their amulets as a shield. He grabbed my backside and tossed me up. The gargoyles coughed. I strained to lift myself out. I twisted back around to look in through the window. Vane cursed. My knees scraped on unforgiving concrete. Vane had locked me out. It’s only going to trap you. He picked up Vane’s sword. I pounded the window and let out a cry. Vane turned to look. Vane flicked his hand. I hit it with my feet. I turned around.” The gargoyle laughed.” Five gargoyles filed in through the basement door. Vane was going to die. “Run. “Bad decision on the fire.” the gargoyle behind me said. I moved to jump back in. A shiver went down my spine. Vane pulled me to the lone window in the dank basement.” he shouted. “I wouldna worry about him. I’d never been good at pull-ups. The windowpane reformed. “DuLac. I got blown back. looking up at me. He ran to me and put down the sword. A man . The gargoyle reached Vane with the sword held up high. I saw them grab their amulets for protection. Ignoring the sting of torn skin. With a curse. I used the momentum to get myself out. “Then I’ll open a new way.” a gravely voice said from behind me.

But even without the engorged head this man would have been a scary sight. He shut the gargoyle’s eyes. He had a long scar running down his face and throat. Fangs protruded out past broad lips. Moonlight made his swollen forehead seem bigger. He looked up. My whole body froze.kneeled beside the gargoyle Vane had killed. “Time to have some real fun. .” The gargoyle sounded just like Morgan.

but we’re of a related clan. Yet our honor has been besmirched. “Instead of waiting for the wizards to show up.” The gargoyle watched me with deadened eyes. “Imagine our pleasure when we were told you would be .” I fell back against the window. Morgan should have taken care of you right away. “Morgan was your cousin?” “Not of blood.” He tilted his head considering me.CHAPTER 14 A SURPRISE I touched my amulet and wished for Matt. “You’ve given my cousins a lot of trouble.

“I’m drained from knocking out the gargoyle. I feel almost regretful killing such a fragile-looking creature. He drew out a heavy sword that he’d been carrying on his back. The gargoyle fell. More beams of light hit him with the speed of a machine gun. An amulet glowed on his neck.” “Vane?” Gia said. The gargoyle inhaled the scent of my blood. Vane’s magic is too powerful. He advanced on me. The rock bounced back harmlessly.” The gargoyle stood. Several beams of light hit the gargoyle at once.” I said. “It’s magicked.” Paul and Oliver rushed to the fallen gargoyle with a rope. He stopped in his tracks.” Mark said. “I thought you came here with Merlin.slipping past the school’s security. I cried. “I wonder if the King knows.” I stumbled back.” “Someone at the school told you. “Interesting. I saw a weak light but nothing happened. .” I said. Tie him up. “You cannot trust anyone these days. sword gleaming under the moonlight.” Grey’s voice said from behind the gargoyle. “He’s only knocked out.” “Try again.” His sword lowered.” Grey threw a rock at window.” “Get him. “Help me knock out this window. Vane needs help. All of the candidates stood beside him. Grey ran to the fallen gargoyle.” I shook my head. can you? That is why I always keep my word.” Gia tried to blast it. “If we push too much. Might be why I don’t get called to help often. “It is too bad that your family has been marked. The gargoyle made a tsking sound. My hand caught on something sharp and I sliced it open. Most are too afraid to approach me. I hissed in pain as blood flowed freely from it. “It’s a long story. we’ll use ourselves up.

I faced the basement.” Grey said. Inside. With a relieved breath. I picked up the sword in the dead gargoyle’s hand. A gargoyle lay on the floor. Most of the candidates sank to the ground. The other five gargoyles surrounded Vane. I approached him slowly. Just stay here. “The only way we even have a shot is if we all try. He still didn’t move. It looked like a war zone.” Sword still in hand. completely exhausted. Grey . “Separate the gargoyles. “Stay here.” I told him. “I can take two.” the same spell Vane had used to elongate the knife into a sword. “You can’t help anymore. We took cover behind a column and surveyed the scene. We moved further into the basement. He was barely holding them off.” Mark walked through the smoke to us. Grey and I ran at the gargoyles.” I told them. “We don’t have time for this. I was too glad to see him to give him more than a brief glare. I pulled out the sword. “Keep your sword. smoke filled the air. “Think about this. DuLac?” Before Mark could blink.” “Does everybody know this trick?” I muttered. He grunted. still firing fireballs. A red-haired gargoyle broke off to handle us. I kicked off my heels and jumped through the opening. I held the sword out to him. A silver sword stuck in his heart. We need Vane to train us. This time it shattered. I grabbed the sword that had fallen from the gargoyle.Gia said. Vane can take them. coming up behind me.” Grey said. Grey. He didn’t move. “I knew you’d find me a sword.” I marched up to Mark. finally emerging from the dense smoke.” He raised a brow. “Then. “How are you going to make me. All of the wizard candidates except Mark blasted the window together.” “I’m coming. “Aayat.” Mark drew out a knife from his pocket and said. We won’t have a chance at the trial. I handed him the blade. making everything hazy.” He. “Try again.

I had the shot at the red-haired gargoyle’s neck. “He won’t be getting up from that. Vane hurried to help him. The gargoyle lunged to finish Mark off when I stepped into the path of the blade. The other gargoyles Vane had been fighting lay on the ground. Mark let out a cry. He hit his head and fell to the floor. the gargoyle stumbled. But I wasn’t as skilled as Mark. The red-haired beast’s head fell to the ground. I moved with a speed that surprised myself. “I thought I told you to leave. Vane attacked them in a fury. Even in a torn gown and no shoes. My sword faltered. One by one. mirroring the gargoyle’s leap. The gargoyle’s face changed back into its beast form. He stabbed the gargoyle in the chest from behind. Vane killed all four. Mark and I reached the gargoyle at the same time. “Go. He was losing. I watched him with wide eyes. When the last one fell. I didn’t miss a beat. The gargoyle knocked the sword out of Grey’s hand. He must have knocked them out. Mark countered his gargoyle’s attack better. before they get up. He parried with us both. It sliced deep into my arm. One by one the gargoyles got up. Vane came out of nowhere. With the sword in my hand.” Vane took my shoulders and shoved me towards the window. The gargoyle’s eyes widened. Mark kicked the sword out of the red-haired gargoyle’s hand. Another gargoyle attacked Mark. He didn’t hesitate. Startled. He had a sword in his hand. The knocked-out gargoyles started waking. He lunged at me. every move I made flowed smoothly. The red-haired gargoyle knocked Mark’s sword out first. My blade went smoothly into a sickle-arc slice. A gargoyle hit Mark on the temple and he fell to the ground.” Vane said. the thick smoke suffocating us .” A few feet away. His face returned to normal.reached him first. The blow knocked Grey into a nearby column.

In the dim flickering light. They will send cleaners. I looked around. Blood spilled out of his unattached body. I felt a slight tingle as he healed me. It was exactly like the night my mother died. . I checked.” His nose touched mine gently. Vane kissed me. I let him. his voice seemed to be coming from far away.” Vane continued slowly to the door. Vane swung me up. “This time I’m going to make sure you leave here. dammit. He pulled back. Couldn’t swallow. I started hyperventilating. Cold. To my ringing ears. My shoulders curled inward. The sticky sweet scent of death clogged my nose. A dead gargoyle head stared at me with blank white eyes.” “Are just knocked out. Vane marched to him and severed his head before he could fully wake.” I repeated. His lips mashed against mine. I couldn’t breathe. pull yourself together. “This mess will be gone within the hour. He began carrying me towards the door. I felt my body ease. Slowly. My hands slid up hard arms.” “Cleaners. I sank to the floor. I could still see red sprayed all over the walls. “Grey. Mark. Catching my chin. I squeezed muscled shoulders. I shook harder. I’ve also sent the Council a text. My esophagus swelled becoming bloated. pushing his face right up to mine. I noticed that his fingers tangled around strands of my hair.” he said. “DuLac. Vane grabbed my wounded arm. however. It felt forced. The staked gargoyle I’d originally taken a sword from began to stir.dissipated and a strange quiet fell over the hollow basement. He kissed me again. “DuLac. My panting became harder. It was a hard kiss.” I dug my nails into his skin. I pushed him away. Once I get you out. I’ll see to them. His lips stroked mine. It felt as if every orifice I had was going to lose control.

His profile looked somber. “You’re a candidate.Unwittingly.” I looked up at him.” “Don’t get cocky. “Not that it was horrible.” Vane said.” He glanced at me. Vane stopped. This is what it’s about.” I cut him off. Vane’s arms tightened around me. Straight lips curved up. “When I was fighting the gargoyle.” Vane said. “There’s a difference.” Vane let out a laugh.” I said. “I saved your life.” I glanced up at Vane. “Yes.” I tensed. Students who do well in class freeze when it becomes real. “I’m not a killer. “Yes.” I nuzzled down. “DuLac.” he said quickly. “You don’t need to look again. my head turned to the dark horror of the basement. about the kiss. I guess it would be after beheading seven gargoyles in one night. Holding out on us in class?” “It’s hard to explain. I wasn’t thinking. very different—although the problem is usually the other way around. squeezing me in warning. Soft light from the window danced across his fair hair. I just moved. I wasn’t trying to figure out the right step to counter with. “I was trying to shake you out of shock—” “I get it. before we go up. It’s not the same as in class.” “No. resting my head against his chest. completely oblivious to the mayhem just below the surface. “Your skill with the sword was quite impressive… and surprising.” Through the open door I could hear sounds of laughing and merriment coming from the square. He said hesitatingly.” .” We reached the door. you don’t want to be one. “Good. “Don’t.

A light shone down the stairwell.“Right. His chest slammed up against mine. With a quick twist. Merlin? How is it that you always show after the dirty work is done?” . I garbled. I let out a small squeak of surprise as he thrust me up against the door. I clung to him. They crowded in the small stairwell that led up to the street. I pulled back. While his left held me up. “As long as I’m off the hook—” His lips swooped down to capture mine.” I said to him. Quite eloquently.” Gia’s voice penetrated my fogged brain. I get it. His vision had come true. I would have dropped straight to the ground if Vane hadn’t grabbed me at the last second. You really don’t have to worry or explain. Vane’s hold on me tightened. Blake had a flabbergasted look on his face. Matt. Holy. Nothing more. I couldn’t read them. “Oh. really pissed. Really.” I said stiffly.” Vane leaned me against the basement door. I arched my back to get as close to him as possible but I couldn’t get close enough. “Yes. Crap. He’d seen it coming and he’d known he wouldn’t be able to do anything to stop it. You’re off the hook. he turned me to face him. but I didn’t have to. I jerked away from Vane. Vane’s right hand traveled up my leg under my dress until his fingers found bare skin. Gia and the other candidates stood at the door. pinning me with Vane in its spotlight. “W-What?” The door fell open behind me. I finally understood why he’d been so upset on the plane. “You were trying to help me. Don’t worry.” His eyes locked on mine. He was pissed. My heart sank at the stony mask covering Matt’s face. “Here to clean up after me as usual. Several hot seconds of tonguedelving action passed before I could form another coherent thought. “You came. It was my turn to be flabbergasted. So did the rest of them—except for Matt.

“The gargoyle got away. “It’s Gordon!” Gia exclaimed. Vane loosened his fist a bit.” . “P-Please.” Vane said. The one who saw nothing in the Lake-water.” I went to stand beside Vane. “When did you start working for the gargoyles?” Vane interrogated him. “I haven’t done anything.” He nodded at the other candidates sitting in the alley. “It’s him. The boy flew backwards. The shadow fell just as it had under the streetlight when I’d spotted Morgan. He rushed up the stairs. “I d-don’t know what you’re talking about.” In a flash. I whispered in his ear. I saw a shadowy figure watching us from the top of the stairwell. Vane’s hand shot out. “He can’t talk. The boy made choking sounds.Out of the corner of my eye.” Matt observed mildly. The shadow’s profile showed a distinctive hooked nose. Paul had an angry bruise on his head and Oliver cradled his arm as if he’d broken it. I leaned into Vane’s neck. The one you wanted to abandon. “I saw them and wanted to see what they were doing.” “I should have abandoned him. “It’s him—one of your candidates. At the top of the stairs.” Vane tightened his grip again. Gordon stammered.” Gordon pleaded. I looked at the kid closely. Vane held the figure immobile on the gritty ground of the narrow alley with the same air hold he’d used to choke me in the cathedral. Vane. I followed behind slowly. “Where is he?” Paul and Oliver exchanged glances.” I glanced around and found Oliver and Paul. “Where’s the gargoyle we caught? He knew I was sneaking out. I said to Vane. Gia made an impatient noise.” “You caught a gargoyle. I’m just here for the festival. My throat went dry. A single wave of magic shot through the stairwell and hit the figure squarely in the chest. Vane put me down.

He attacked Vane in a fury of flying fists. We need to question him properly. “Do you want to make it to the Council. “If the bureaucracy gets hold of him. He looked at me.” “I d-don’t know anything!” Vane squeezed his fist tighter. He knew we were going out. . Vane subdued him and slammed Gordon back onto the ground. “But you’re all the same. “I remember him in the dining room tonight. Gordon’s body shook.” Vane shrugged away from Matt.Blake nodded at Gordon on the street. “I’m not going to tell you anything!” Gordon let slip. Just like my grandmother. “Which means there is something to know. “We need to take him to the Council. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” Vane’s eyes narrowed.” Gordon jumped up and punched Vane. He made small mewling sounds. who knows how long before we get anything? I want to know if there’s anyone else involved in this—now.” the boy spat. He stood over Gordon without a hint of mercy.” Vane sighed. “What have you told the gargoyles? Who is your contact? Tell me now. “You mean about her?” he said. The boy’s face started to turn blue.” Vane put a boot on Gordon’s hand. In a few quick moves. She wanted to have me locked up.” Matt grabbed Vane’s arm. Gordon? Then. He sat at the table right next to us. “Which way is it going to be—easy or hard? Because either way you’re going to die tonight. “Who is your contact?” Vane repeated. “I’ve heard enough. On the ground. Gordon kicked his legs and tried to claw at the invisible force squeezing his throat. But I took care of her too.” Vane turned a cruel smile on his former pupil.” Vane’s hand fisted.” “I thought you’d help me. you’d better talk now. Vane smiled in satisfaction and loosened his hold. “What did you tell the gargoyles about the candidates?” Gordon giggled.

“Matt. The boy levitated up a few inches off the ground. stop.” Vane shouted at Matt. Vane scowled at Matt. The magic choking Gordon fluctuated. I hugged myself. It blocked the alley entrance.” Matt . I could see the faint red of Vane’s magic battling with Matt’s blue.” I watched the Cleaners put a white sheet on Gordon. feeling for a pulse. “Return to the school please. You went ahead anyway and look at what you’ve accomplished. A boy is dead. His eyes wide open but oddly still. “No. Gordon fell to the ground.” “Visrajti. He turned back to Vane. Merlin. A white van pulled up. I caught his sleeve.” Matt said.I grabbed Vane’s arm.” He stiffened. There were murmurs of agreement. Grey led the candidates out of the alley.” Matt shook his head.” I pointed to the end of the alley. “So this is my fault?” “No. Ryan?” “No.” “You put every single candidate in danger. Right away. scattering them. There was an odd crunching sound. Your friends are barely standing. “We caught the spy. “Matt.” Grey said. “I wanted to help. He knelt on the ground and put two fingers on the boy’s neck.” Vane said softly. Matt brushed by me. We’ve got a huge mess to clean up. you could never do your own dirty work. “Vane.” “You did. Matt hurried over to him. “I specifically told you not to do this. Matt closed Gordon’s eyes. we’ve got company. “Cleaners. A few curious onlookers were whispering among themselves. “I had everything under control and then you had to interfere.” Vane said. I could see a few of them working up the courage to come into the alley.” Matt barked. Is that what you wanted. He was starting to talk.” “I think I’ve had enough of this festival. I’m sorry. He turned to the candidates.

” My jaw clenched. The festival raged on around us. I’m not going to regret acting rather than sitting around waiting for my family or my friends to get attacked. but I know one thing. The frolicking had only increased as the night lengthened. “You don’t seem very sorry. Ryan.” I made a sound of protest. What do you think?” “I don’t know. He ushered me .” “Yes. Vane put a hand under my elbow and guided me across the noisy square. “But you’re right. I think I should go home. “Did you really have everything under control?” I asked.” Vane’s jaw tightened. Next time. Matt. “Go home. Vane came up behind me.” “Would you have killed him?” I asked. The nightmare of the entire night threatened to crush me. Matt cut me off. “I found him in Hong Kong.” I read the faint flare of surprise in Matt’s eyes. Vane opened the door to the SUV. I’d say you’re more Dorothy.looked at us. “Do you two have any idea how much worse that would be than not capturing one collaborator? He may have been a traitor but he was barely a threat.” he said with utter seriousness. “Ready to go home. I’m sure they did. “If I’m Dorothy. I stopped just in front of Vane’s SUV. maybe you’ll take a moment to think before acting.” I stalked out of the alley. “You would never push around a pack of cuddly bears that way. Goldilocks?” I scowled. what does that make you?” Vane cocked his head. I took a heaving breath. “I am not Goldilocks. I stopped just around the corner. He told the gargoyles burned down his house. They’d killed his grandmother. But now I wonder if that was the bargain price. “Toto?” Unable to help myself. “This may not have turned out as we wanted. “You heard the mighty wizard.” I said. I laughed. but he didn’t say anything.” I tilted my head to look at him. I’ve already had that moment.

the one that elongated into a sword. “You have a cut here too. “Bring it to . “A gargoyle swiped me with his claw. No more free services. Vane groaned. “Even you can’t deny that I’ve proven myself tonight. I held out my left arm to show him a jagged scratch that extended from wrist to elbow. He slipped into his seat and started the car. He didn’t say anything.” Snowflakes started falling.” Vane startled for a second.” Vane traced the scratch with his thumb.” I said lightly. Every hair on my body stood on end as if he’d stroked me with lightning. DuLac.” I said. “One more thing. One by one they splattered against the windshield. Not that it mattered. I tucked my hair behind my ear.” “I know. Outside the windshield the stars winked like ice crystals. Vane closed the car door and crossed to the driver’s side. Heat sprayed out through the vents. “Absolutely.inside. He held it out to me. Resting one hand on the car.” I said.” Vane’s fingers tightened on the steering wheel. The scratch disappeared. It was the one he’d used in the basement.” He moved to close the door. “That’s the third time. “Yes. I pulled away.” Vane traced my lips with his thumb. “What?” “I want to advance to swords. he leaned close.” I said. I wondered how long it would last. DuLac.” “Nothing with you is free. I started to feel the car close in on me. “You and Matt can’t be. “You’re nothing if not surprising. He let me go.” Vane pulled a knife out of his pocket. I huddled in my coat. Matt hated me. I stared out at the serene scene.” Vane let out a laugh. I would have done what was necessary. Vane turned on the engine. The night looked deceptively peaceful. I think you can. “Wait. It had become swollen. “I can learn to do what is necessary.

” . “Better.” Vane growled as he straddled me. “Undoubtedly. Outside the cathedral. I sat up. kissed the naked branches of trees. Vane pulled on a black wool coat.” I took the knife.” Vane said. With an inelegant turn. Sweat covered every inch of my body. “I’m missing dinner again. following it up past my ear. I had enough room to twist my hips. Vane sucked in a breath. Vane fell on the mat. I did. “I also want the others moved up to swords. The training room had emptied hours ago. His hand traced a line of my jaw. Vane rose up on one elbow. I thrust my legs into thick snowboots—the ones with the soft Sherpalining inside. and generally consumed the school. snow buried the courtyard. I didn’t bother to change from uniform back into regular clothes.” “You fetched it from the dining hall. Not much had happened as we rapidly approached Christmas.” A smile broke out over his face. “Time is running out. My fingertips brushed the hilt of my fallen sword.class. I stretched my hands as far as I could above my head. I toppled him off me. “Did you agree to extra training just to get free meals?” “I made dinner yesterday. I went to the end of the room and got my bag. I couldn’t reach it. “You have to do better. Weeks had passed since the night of the festival. Moonlight beamed in through the windows. I lay under him on the practice mat. there weren’t many students walking around outside at this hour. DuLac.” I pushed myself up with effort. The hard length of his thighs held down my hips. With a grin. I asked him.” I arched my back. His legs gave a bit. He caressed the thick strands of my hair. There was no iced tea.” he said. I texted Gia to get dinner started.” *** “You’re not even trying. “It’s your turn to cook. I made a sound of frustration.” I said.

Vane hummed them under his breath too. He had held the jug at the admissions test. Pine garlands decorated the lobby also. A hint of pumpkin spice filled the air as they drank from hot mugs and chatted. He kept substituting odd words I’d never heard before… maybe from his time. I inhaled the clean scent letting it wash over me.” he said loudly. “What do they want us to do?” He floated the apple casually in the air. Thornton. he was obviously holding court. Vane stepped ahead of me. Occasionally they would dance in sequence and play a familiar Christmas tune. .Vane grunted and started down the spiral stairs. “Banning the sale of magic is ridiculous. Bright red bows adorned even the tallest of the buildings. One sat in the center of the group. “Hold regular jobs?” He laughed at his own pun. I sang along to Jingle Bells. I followed him. A couple of them stared at Vane but they didn’t greet him. The stone buildings seemed to glow in the dark thanks to the blankets of snow covering them. I wasn’t the only one. For the first time. We fought our way to the teachers’ residence as quickly as possible. He wore a white Councilmember’s robe and played with an apple in one hand. As soon as I stepped outside a blast of blizzard hit my face with bone-chilling force. but here they had been unafraid to show-off. Small glowing sleigh bells danced and jingled merrily in the air. A few sent him leery glances. I wondered if he realized what he was doing. From the worshipful way the others were looking at him. White Christmas lights and garland decorations had been tied around all the trees. The banisters of the stairwell twinkled with Christmas lights. A few teachers in mage’s robes hung around the glowing fireplace in the lobby. the school looked like a place of magic to me. They looked up as we entered. The lights had been twined around a fresh pine garland. He took the brunt of the cold. It took me a moment to place him. although he got all the words wrong.

“S-Sir. “Magic without work makes you sloppy. “You must be very powerful. . Vane didn’t stop. “No. “But why would I if I have magic?” In one smooth movement. “They say you chopped off a gargoyle’s head.” the mage said nonplussed. It speared Thornton’s apple and pinned it into the wood wall.” Vane said shortly. Was the blade magicked to strike true?” Vane cocked his head. Brilliant.The others tittered.” I stated the obvious.” “Yes. The young mage cleared his throat and straightened his shoulder. He ran after us. As soon as the doors slid shut. I rounded on him. “That’s fantastic. the brown mage’s mouth opened and closed. “Sloppy will get you killed. He harrumphed at the mage.” “Oh.” Vane said in a measured tone. Vane’s voice boomed across the room. The Councilmember Thornton nudged a much younger brown-mage. Vane didn’t bother to glance in their direction as we walked past. Vane drew out a knife from his coat and threw it across the room. The brown mage sent me a quizzical look. I’d gotten out of habit of calling it an elevator.” the mage flustered.” When Vane’s eyes narrowed.” “Yes.” With a flick of his hand. “I didn’t know wizards battled with their hands. Vane halted. Beside us. the brown mage laughed nervously. he called the knife back.” he said to Vane. cut neatly in half. “I guess we thought it might have been. I followed Vane into the lift. The mage swallowed several times before continuing. “We were told that you could create fireballs like Master Merlin.” The Councilmember gave us a mock salute.” “You can do such things without magic. The apple dropped into the Councilmember’s hand. Vane punched the button to our floor. The mage moved to stand in front of him.

We need Merlin’s abilities to stay intact. I just refuse to entrust my life to them.” The lift doors opened. of course. I shivered. The old-fashioned lift jerked up. I bit down on the inside of my cheek. He ruined it by allow Arthur to rule Camelot even after it became obvious he couldn’t. “You’re happy about it. “I don’t dislike you either. cold despite the fact that it was a heated building.” “I’m not unhappy. “The sword didn’t pick Matt or you. “Mostly good. “Who should have been the ruler?” “Merlin. “I can’t let him screw everything up again. “You and Matt have more in common than either of you will admit.” Something stirred in the recesses of his eyes. Warmth seeped back into my bones.” I said dully. Vane walked with me to my door. Vane caught me by the waist.” “I don’t dislike them… in this century. I turned away before I could get drawn in. “Good?” I cleared my throat. You obviously know the importance of not just depending on magic for everything or you wouldn’t be such a good trainer. It beckoned me to look closer. He pulled me closer. He never spoke to me outside of what was absolutely necessary for class. I said.” “I’m a Regular.” Vane raised a brow.” Vane’s lips curved up.” “It doesn’t matter who gets in the way. I’m sure. “How is training going with my brother?” My heart gave a little twist when I pictured Matt. It picked .” “My brother hold a grudge. I said quickly.” I looked down at my snowboots.” Vane repressed a smile.” I titled my head up to meet his gaze. “He can barely stand to look at me.“Magic without work? Don’t tell me you secretly like Regulars now.

saying it was too powerful in our hands. With a shake of my head. a knock sounded at the door.” I bit my lip. Gia let Grey in. The amulet warmed under his touch. I brushed past him.” “Another piece of misinformation I see my brother didn’t bother to correct—the Lady offered the sword to us first. Merlin turned it down. “Alas. A few minutes later. It had been magicked to recognize only Gia and me. “Be serious. But word was out and others would show up. “Pure of heart. Blake. I never got the choice. To bring the land together.” “I’d rather stray off the yellow brick road into the poppy fields.” he said silkily. Vane had found a way to grant himself access. two other wizard candidates. He touched a hand to the knob and it turned and it turned on its own. Tonight. Gia banged dishes as she set the table inside. “My brother isn’t the only smart one. of course. “Are we ready?” Vane touched my neck. Paul and Oliver were to join. Vane. He caught my wrist.” We reached my door. Grey. Vane’s lips twisted into a strangled smile. How do you know?” Vane’s eyes glittered.” *** An hour later. Gia and I regularly ate dinner together.” Vane sighed in mock regret. “There is one requirement you should know. She made the sword a bridge between all of our races. The doorbell sounded again and they came inside along with two more . “I’d say you’re ready. “You said time is running out.” Vane smirked. The Lady loved his idea. So. My pupils dilated.Arthur. I shook his hand off the amulet. The Sword can only be pulled my someone…” I arched my brow expectantly. Blake entered. I felt its heat spread across my chest. He stilled. I touched Vane’s shoulder.

I sighed and played with the silverware. I sat down in my usual chair. He said a spell and the circular table expanded. which had been placed around a centerpiece of wreath wound on white candles. We had no idea how he managed to get it every night. Dorothy? Post suppertime on a billboard?” The door flew open. I couldn’t picture Matt enjoying it. Vane had been grudgingly cordial—at dinner. However. he had really beautiful manners. Another knock pounded on the door. and dinner we spent most of the day together. Between class.of Vane’s candidates. He still drove us into the ground during training. Matt stumbled inside. He would have wanted to hide away in a remote tower reading a book. remained undisturbed. Vane gripped the back of the chair next to me and leaned on it. waiting. I could picture him at the Royal Court of King Arthur. I’d almost blacked out once or twice while he’d been yelling at me to try harder. Since he’d acquiesced to train the Regulars. Vane cocked a very male eyebrow. Vane filled our goblets with ale. He wouldn’t sit until everyone else had —even though I could hear his stomach grumbling. Another kid pushed the couch into a corner. For someone who could be so blunt. “Feeling dry?” Issuing one magic command. The food. training. I swallowed. He leaned down to whisper in my ear. he hadn’t even tried a peck on cheek. He would have loved the pomp and ceremony.” I told Blake. one hand clutching his head like . “We need two more chairs. The etiquette continued to surprise me. since the night of the festival. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. “What do you do. I would have chosen the tower too. but nobody had gotten up the courage to ask. Evening meals at our place had turned into an event. As if he could tell what I was thinking. Vane sighed. If I were to pick. Maybe because Vane brought ale.

“—this young man has just pulled King Arthur’s sword.he had a terrible headache.” . “This is Anders reporting live from Trafalgar Square where—” The camera expanded to show a boy holding a sword in his hands. A news reporter stood next to the Stone. He didn’t seem surprised to see the large gathering. It switched on. He motioned at the flat-panel TV that hung on the wall. He glanced around the dinner table.

” He pointed behind him to a group of guys wearing University of Boston sweatshirts. I came out here on a dare from my buddies. “I was just fooling around. “How do you feel?” “It’s crazy.CHAPTER 15 THE DECOY Oliver sprang up.” . “It’s not possible!” “Who is he?” Grey said. On TV. I almost left when they closed off the square to clean it.” Vane told them. “Quiet. the reporter stuck a microphone in the boy’s face. but I was first in line… and I don’t know… it just came out.

Oliver sat down.” “Nothing… magical?” The boy laughed.” A chorus of Oh-s followed. Some people have said they felt tingly like they’d touched something with an electric current.” Vane switched off the TV.” “It’s a decoy. It fell out of the sky. “I call it magic. . The shortest but undoubtedly the most lucrative possession of Arthur’s sword. I didn’t feel a thing. but nothing weird as far as I can tell.” The reported swung back to the boy. “The Sword is a legendary artifact and should be studied. He held up the sword so it gleamed in the sunlight.” “Aurelius? He’s buying the sword?” I said.” Matt said. “Nope. a representative of the British Museum. “Aurelius Ambrose. but you did get an interesting offer from this man. A number of private donors have made this possible. but it is also at the core of our history. Merlin.” The camera returned to the reporter. We wish to ensure that it remain here. “And there you have it—one for the history books. Aurelius spoke. “We’ve been preparing for this eventuality since the Sword first dropped. They have offered this man fifty million pounds to sell the sword to them. Several young men have died from heart attacks—all with no prior history of any medical problems—after trying to pull it.” “But fifty million pounds? How could the British Museum procure such a sum?” the reporter demanded.“And nothing unusual happened? You know that is supposedly King Arthur’s sword.” “Nothing magical. It will remain home. He arched a brow at his brother.” The reporter motioned the camera over to a smartly dressed man in a black suit. “Explanation. He smiled. “It’s pretty cool. relief clear on his face. The Sword will belong to the people.” The boy shrugged. “The Council has moved the Stone to a more private location. “Have you accepted the Museum’s offer?” The boy nodded.

” said Vane.” Matt nodded.” “I didn’t know your visions had clocks.” Matt said. “Fifty million pounds just to move the stone?” Blake said. Tomorrow night is not a full moon. “since we draw our power from the sun. just selling it at outrageous prices. The full moon is not until next week. gives advantage—to Regulars. “Tomorrow night is the shortest day of the year.” Matt nodded. “Is the Council using magic to print money?” Oliver snorted. It had darkened early.I wasn’t at all relieved. It’s the winter solstice. A solstice combined with an eclipse. the vision told me I was wrong. “I’ve been wondering myself if the Sword fell according to the lunar calendar. “I’ve just spent the last few hours mapping the positioning of the stars into this. His face was worn. “I had to get it down before I forgot it. Matt leaned back on the sofa. closed his eyes.” Matt glanced at me. I steered him to the sofa to get him off his feet.” I got up and went to Matt. “No. his skin a sickly pallor. “It’s tomorrow. I’d been happy to see the sword in the boy’s hand. Today.” Blake said. “Of course. My stomach clenched with a thick knot of tension I hadn’t even realized I’d been carrying. but I had to guess at the day. Vane’s razor-like eyes locked on Matt. The winter solstice gives advantage to the gargoyles.” “I had originally thought so.” He held up the iPad. But it is a red moon eclipse and—” Matt closed his eyes and yawned again. “My vision confirmed it. “I’ve been hoping to see this for months.” Matt glanced around the flat at the candidates. and yawned. It’s going to happen earlier than I thought.” Vane said. I glanced at the small window in the kitchen. “Wizards are weakest on the winter solstice. but no. “And?” Grey prompted. however. “Get . “The sword may be magical but it was not necessarily intended for a wizard.” Vane let out a laugh. I knew the season from a previous vision.” “What’s so special about now?” I asked. “It’s time.

I didn’t care. No one knows where the Sword is being kept except him and the First Member. He stopped. He flicked his hand and the dishes started floating one by one over to the kitchen sink. He ate slowly. I know you won’t lose your head. Matt snored slightly as he slept on the sofa. He will take the candidates to the secret location. I didn’t have a good answer.” The room cleared within minutes. “Do you want me to go?” “Yes. “But I’ll answer yours.” I lowered my eyes at the sudden intensity of Vane’s gaze. “How can you be so calm?” I demanded. I’d lost my appetite. but didn’t wake. Vane sat down at the table. so I took the offense. We leave in the morning. “Why? You’ve been trained. You don’t need me. I sank down on the sofa on the opposite end from Matt. “He’s exhausted. “Shouldn’t you be getting a bag together?” “Shouldn’t you?” He got up and wiped his mouth with a napkin. “The better question is—why not? I can’t see you sitting on the sidelines.” “You didn’t answer my question. aren’t you?” Vane stilled. I’m afraid I have no ticket to get to the final game. savoring each bite.” Vane said.” Vane said lightly.” “Intense visions drain him. “You are going with us. Gia looked a little ill as she stumbled off to the bedroom. My brother has it all figured out. Let everyone know. I repositioned his head. but they don’t trust me. I put a blanket over him. Vane took a loud swallow of his ale. Most of the food had been left untouched.” I said simply.” “First Member?” .ready. Seeing the chore done only irritated me—as if I’d be around to enjoy clean dishes later.” I glanced at Matt snoring away on my sofa. “Matt and the Council want to keep you out?” “I may have been tolerated for training purposes.

He waved his hand. the seeing stone can only be used by the First Member. “And a few others.” Vane crossed the room and flopped down on the sofa in between Matt and I. It sat on the coffee table.” He scrolled through the game’s menu.” “Aurelius is Second Member. The TV switched on and a game console appeared on the coffee table.” “Merlin was First Member.” I pointed to the giant magic textbook Matt had given us. “You should get some rest.” Vane glanced at Matt. “I thought she loved Lancelot and Arthur.” I frowned. “Tell me. I have seen it used. “Please. It nearly killed me. It looked to be another sword and sorcery fantasy . I gaped at him.” I grimaced. I said quietly. Think of it as the difference between the one who makes the rules and the one in charge of carrying them out. He is a descendant of the very first wizard family. “Well. He masked it with a smug smile. but I was starting to know better. did you get anything in your time?” A flicker of surprise lit Vane’s eyes. He and the Council communicate by using a special seeing stone.” Vane revealed.” “I’d never fall asleep.” I grimaced again.” “Ugh. “What are you doing?” “Passing the time. Merlin used to be First Member.” Vane rose. I tried to use the seeing stone when he wasn’t looking. “The First Member is not elected like the rest of the Council. forget I asked.” “What? If no one knows who the First Member is how can we trust them?” “Believe me. “I thought Aurelius was the head of the Council. He’s more of an operations head. Picking up a controller.“The head of the Council. My mind is running.” “Who is First Member?” “Apparently no one knows. He had a carefree smile on his face. “Maybe I’ll read. Vane put his feet up.” I looked at Vane. there was Guinevere.

Suddenly. He pulled me back. He’d put a sleeping spell on me. I yawned loudly.” “I’ll do it for you.” Light reflected off his cornea. making his eyes sparkle. “Forget it.” Vane put down the controller. “Svapati. You have such interesting undergarments in this century.” Warmth radiated out from that spot and spread down my body. “Why?” Strong arms went around me. Gia slept. “I’m going to pack. Elbowing him in the stomach. He leered comically. On the other side of a small nightstand. “This is the night before the biggest final exam of our lives. I didn’t hear Vane’s reply. I threw the covers aside and got up in a panic. Shouldn’t you be giving me some last minute advice or training or something?” “Would you listen?” “Probably not. Vane’s face blurred. breathing loudly in her narrow bed. He stretched.” I said weakly. He leaned me back against him. cursing . I moved to get off the sofa.RPG. Vane carried me to bed. showing off tight muscles. “Are you offering a different way to… amuse me?” “Matt is sleeping on the couch!” “Am I to infer that you would offer if my brother were not here?” he said. Moonlight still streamed in through the window in my bedroom. “Are you crazy?” I said. I felt covers going over me just before I fell deep into sleep. my eyes became heavy. “You should know I usually get my way. “What happened to her?” I heard Gia demand. I fought to keep them open. *** Heat emanating from my amulet prodded me awake.” Vane touched a finger to my forehead. Our noses brushed.

“Where is she?” Matt demanded. listen. At that bloody festival. It's not like it was with Arthur. I would have died that night. It was partially open.” “You would risk the Sword for her?” “She could have left me in the basement. “I want to talk to you about Ryan.” Matt paused. I saw I had on a nightshirt.Vane. “Absolutely not. In the attached mirror. But she came back for me. How had that happened? I smoothed down the out-of-control bed hair coming out in all directions from my head and told my reflection. Who do you think told Arthur about us? She did.” “Guinevere and I amused each other. Now you’re helping her. “You don’t want to know. “I put a sleeping spell on her. Why do you think I came to stop you at the cave? . I should have. What’s your game. but he replied in an even tone. “I don’t want to talk about her with you.” “Why are you still here?” Matt said loudly from the living room. Eating dinner with her. I crossed to the dresser Gia and I shared. “You fought against letting the Regulars train. What if it’s her?” “It’s not. Do you know how long it’s been since anyone’s done that for me?” “You never tried to protect Guinevere.” “Because you’re too close to this one. Vivane?” I could hear Vane grind his teeth. I padded along the stone floor to the bedroom door. “Definitely not. I saw him clearly. “Would you sacrifice her?” “Would you?” Matt retorted. I stopped at the door.” Vane snorted. “She is not Guinevere. Befriending her.” “Then. “You can guess why.” Matt exploded. I hadn’t gotten anything ready for tomorrow. He sent the knights to hunt me down.” Vane said.” “Why?” Matt said. Have you seen the One yet?” “No.” Matt harrumphed.

Vane saw me first.” . All for what? Camelot is a dream and you’ve sacrificed everyone for it.” Matt’s jaw tightened. She would be safe. Focused on their argument. don’t trust me. “Using Ryan to get to the Sword.” Matt declared. I’ve seen you do this over and over again. Matt almost fell on the table when he turned and spotted me.” “Let her hate me. we come to what this is really about.” Matt snorted. I don’t see anything wrong with that. You can tell yourself that the visions are keeping you from her but deep down you know the real reason. she would never forgive herself. The boy in the alley proved it. She will need both of us. I locked eyes with him. She would come to hate whoever stops her. “Don’t risk her.” “My personal goals coincided with the good of all.” “Finally. “Let Vane come. But don’t do this.” “Listen. ” “No one will find us.” Vane said. Don't you think I've had the same thought a thousand times? If anything happened to Grey or the candidates. He sat on the sofa.” “Fine.” “You wouldn’t. it took the two brothers a second to realize I was there. That’s why we can’t trust you. Go with me or stay with him. “I know what I’m doing. We are stronger together.” I opened the door and stepped out. Vane. The cave proved it.If Mordred hadn’t taken on Arthur I would probably be dead.” Vane cursed. Our powers are tied somehow. Matt’s back was to me as he paced along the coffee table.” “Don’t be stubborn.” Matt said with a harsh laugh. I’m taking her out of here. He stuck fisted hands into trouser pockets. “What happened to the noble motive of wizard solidarity? You encouraged Mordred to challenge his father to restore the wizard’s power in the kingdom. Or let me come with you. How do you live with yourself?” “At least I’m not running scared like you. “Forget it. “There are only two choices.

We’d taken off in a caravan of black vans before first light. “Yes. lotions. If the windows of the car had been open. Why had Vane offered gallantly to take me away? Why hadn’t Matt? I glanced at him. mingled with desperate anxiety and filled my nostrils. I stole a glance at Matt. We were free of any tracking spells. Short stubbly trees swayed with lonely moans. we were invisible. I touched the amulet. Vane stood up. We rode through the rolling countryside and I’d never felt more alive… for all that I might be driving to my death. Matt suspected) and a cellphone (planted by Vane. Councilmember Thornton—minus the apple he’d had in the lobby—drove us. she has. “Have you picked?” Matt prompted. but I decided not to worry about it.Biting my lip. I suspected) to track us. I’m not sure how that worked with other cars on the road. We’d been in the car for hours and he’d spent the whole time flipping through a giant book of frayed parchment pages that looked about a hundred years . In my mind I replayed the conversation between him and Vane. my eyes flickered over Vane.” *** The world surrounded us in high definition picture perfect clarity. I’m sure I would have been overwhelmed by the pristine scent of winter. Apparently. He’d found a few tracker spells (planted by Councilmembers. The colors. He’d also done an electronics sweep. Matt had done a number of cleansing spells on the vans before we’d left. I’d been a little surprised because it wasn’t like Matt to think of technology. Matt and the other guardians had also put some kind of glamour on the vans. I would have rather had Vane along. Most of it had left me confused. melded into a tapestry proclaiming a cold harsh landscape broken here and there by small ponds of sparkling blue-grey water. an array of different hues of brown and grey. As it was—the mix of deodorant. I sat beside Matt.

“Yeah. he would have been killed. Despite Vane’s conceit.” he said absently.” The tension in my shoulders eased. “I have a lot of trained candidates to help me. “The Council kept it.” “You told Vane there would be no trouble. we don’t need him. I guess you do.” I gnashed my teeth. “Did I ever tell you about what happened when I took Arthur to the Sword? It wasn’t like today. I don’t need Vane. much?” I muttered. “What are you trying to find?” Matt shut it carefully. The journey was treacherous. Vane was supposed to participate in the tournament. The cars navigated around the gulley-like streets of London. “Spells to help us if we run into any trouble. A thick grey a combination of smog and winter weather covered the city. the nobles were running the kingdom. Arthur was supposed to be his page. We didn’t have a decoy. “Why didn’t you let him come?” “He’s done his part. Vane never .” I said sharply.” “Vane’s good at convincing you that you need him. We had reached the outskirts of London when I finally asked. “What are you reading?” “My grimoire. If anyone had found out Arthur’s true identity as the dead King’s long lost son. Matt traced a finger on the frosty windowpane. Without a king.” “Harsh. They would have done anything to keep their power. The problem happens when you start depending on him—he will fail you. “How did you find it?” I asked.old.” “What about the combined magic he was talking about?” Matt smiled.” “One must be prepared. Arthur and I used a jousting tournament as a cover. He’d rather read a book that had been around for a thousand years than talk to me.

There must have been a few hundred people gathered. did you know about the protest?” I couldn’t hear what Aurelius said back to him. We had to use Arthur’s cousin Kay at the last minute. What?” I squawked. They held up pickets proclaiming.’ ‘WE KNOW WHAT YOU DID. at the last moment. The gargoyles aren’t like us. It connected. They chanted.” “And they couldn’t have found a loophole or something?” Matt frowned. Of course. “We don’t have time for this. We proceed as planned. “WE STILL WANT OUR CHANCE. They have a caste hierarchy. Kay hated Arthur. The King had already ordered us safe passage. The night we were trying to get to the sword. Not listening causes physical agony.’ ‘EXPLAIN THE TOTAL TREMOR. Matt dialed his phone.” Matt hung up the phone. He has several lieutenants. I’ll clear the crowd. “Aurelius. The King is at the top. “A loophole?” We came up a quiet street into an open pavilion.’ and on and on.showed for the tournament. Vane swept in as a hero. He tapped our driver’s shoulder.” “What was his explanation for not making it to the tournament?” Matt said. Kay betrayed us. ‘SWORD PULL A HOAX. “Wait. And instead of Arthur clapping him in chains. the lower ranks have no choice but to obey. he was made a knight.” “And they didn’t?” “They said they hadn’t. “The gargoyles said they hadn’t attacked Vane and you just believed them? Over your own brother?” “You don’t understand. Aurelius. A crowd gathered in front of large black gates. If someone in that chain issues an order.” “How did it leak out?” Grey said. The gargoyles would not have dared to attack Vane. But the answer must have been unsatisfactory because Matt cursed.” Matt said.” . “He said the gargoyles attacked him. “Get us through.

. A breeze swept through the angry crowd. I glanced out of the blackened windows at the angry chanting faces.” Matt said. Matt sprang out. It wasn’t until we got right up to the huge black gates that I realized where we were. and one ornate entrance.” “That is why it’s the perfect place. We’d arrived at Buckingham Palace. flowing gardens. A man in a red uniform waved us through. and somehow a slim path opened between them.” Blake said in awed tone behind me.“Atikram. I stepped down and gaped at the massive building complete with sweeping buttresses. The driver hurried the car into the void.” he said. I had to agree with him. “You must be joking. The gates opened. The rest of us followed more slowly. My eyes went wide. “The Sword can’t be here. A giant seal on the gates declared ‘HRH’. Another red-liveried footman rushed up to open the car door.

I will be your emissary. the staff Christmas Party will still take place tonight. I have arranged for all of you to attend. “I am Charles Dawson.CHAPTER 16 A CHRISTMAS PARTY TO REMEMBER A thin man in a grey tweed suit and pencil moustache came out of the palace to greet us. the Palace is facing quite a crisis with these protestors. I am afraid that the First Member could not greet you personally. but we all remained in . However. Please follow me.” Dawson started to walk off. Until then you may pass the day at a private residence on the grounds. As you can see.

“We have already gone through much to get the Queen’s party moved to tonight. “You are certain about tonight?” “Absolutely. Even in a suit he couldn’t resist showing off his elevated station. We must be very careful.” He told Matt. and for a second. Of course. We are lucky it was not too far from the original date. of course.” He looked at Dawson. A shadow flitted across his face. trying to absorb the barrage of information he’d thrown at us. As secure as the palace is. Be assured the First Member knows the importance of your mission.” He glanced at Matt as if he was unsure about him. We do not wish to waste time. You can imagine what a feat that was. something not human. something unreal. it also has many eyes. A soft breeze flew through Matt’s longish hair. he wore a regular suit—white.” Councilmember Thornton jumped out of the SUV. Dawson!” Aurelius halted him. “How dare you speak to Master Aurelius in such a manner?” “I am certain the First Member has good reason to be mysterious. “Over the years of our correspondence with the First Member we suspected that they were part of the Royal Household. “The schedule is not something I am at liberty to discuss—for the candidates’ safety as well as the First Member’s.” Matt cut Thornton off. Dawson lowered his gaze. I .” Matt said. “However. “Of course.” Aurelius said. Instead of a robe. His eyes blazed nearly black with power. “We must meet with the First Member immediately.” “We have not come for games. “When do we meet him?” Dawson’s mustache thinned even more. “You may follow me or you may leave. “Mr.” “Nevertheless those are my instructions. he looked like something otherworldly.” Dawson said with a steady expression.” Dawson nodded.place. Master Aurelius is correct. He emerged from one of the other cars. “This is the closest any Councilmember has been to the First Member since your time.

With a quick nod. “ However. A dressmaker will be here in a few hours for any last minute adjustments. I said to Dawson. “Also a hair stylist will be here closer to the evening.apologize.” Grey said in a sneering voice. “What we need to do to is prepare for the trial.” We rushed to the doors. allowing the room to be bathed in light. Master Merlin. “Good.” He walked to a pair of glass-paneled doors that led outside. Thick red drapes had been pulled aside. Small wooden racks filled with different weapons lined the edges. Then we shall wait as you ask. You will need them to get ready for the party. A small manor stood to the side. The furniture looked delicate and I winced as some of the candidates flopped down on sofas which were probably priceless antiques. this house was especially chosen to allow you access to this. “Do you have any other instructions?” Dawson gave me an appreciative look.” Matt’s eyes returned to normal.” His gaze raked over the group.” “We’re not here to go to a party. Most of us were dressed in plain jeans and serviceable long-sleeved t-shirts. One up and one down. Delicate ornaments and silver garlands decorated the trees. he led us past the palace towards the Royal Stables. Trees all around the grounds had been decorated for Christmas. Dawson swung them open.” Dawson gave a visible sigh of relief. It is a formal affair— clothing has been arranged for. . You will find it in the rooms with your names on them. Dawson opened the manor door and led us into an airy foyer. “There are also two water closets.” Dawson pointed to a small hallway. “There are five rooms upstairs. A huge terrace had been enclosed by dense evergreens. “The First Member has not shared anything else with me. Multiple sitting rooms downstairs. “A training area.” I kicked him in the shin.” Grey said. Practice mats lay across the cobblestone terrace.

“Very nice. I no longer felt the wind. “It was an honor to meet you.” Aurelius and Thornton went inside.” Grey said. With a last awed look at Matt.Gia jumped down the short stone steps onto the terrace. Aurelius sought out Thornton. forming a bubble.” He gave me a little bow.” The wind shifted.” Matt nodded in dismissal. “I need some food. The sword seemed to sing as it cut through the air. “If there is nothing else. Grey raised his brow. “Agni. milord. “I just hope no one put a spell on the royal family. but I was still surprised he’d ask me on his own.” Dawson said. Vane often put us together to spar. I had the distinct feeling he was laughing at us. “Who is this First Member?” “Most likely a steward or someone of the sort. “Nice. but didn’t have enough to draw on to do an insulation spell. We could still see the palace in the distance. Tea will be served. “It’s cold. “The First Member gained special permission to prepare the manor. he left. “The Council will be wanting an update. I will take my leave.” Blake glanced around us. She whistled. The whole area had been insulated.” Matt uttered a word.” Dawson looked at Matt. I stepped out. Gia and Mark went to the swords. A soft glow formed all around the terrace.” Dawson’s mustache twitched. impressed. “Do we get food?” “The pantry is stocked. of course. Mark had thawed considerably since the night of the festival. “Glamoured to hide the area from prying eyes and protect you from the weather. A few others followed him into the house.” She stepped through a first level sword form. Gia picked one up and swung it in the arc.” Blake let out a groan. . Matt said.” “Want to practice?” Mark looked at me.

“You don’t miss anything.” “I asked Vane to do it. you’re with me first. “Mark. I never did. when he found out about the gargoyles.” I frowned. It wasn’t true.” The remaining candidates filed out onto the terrace next to Gia and Mark and started picking through the weapons. Then.” Gia said for me. I don’t even get why he passed the trial. and gargoyles could all walk free without having to hide from each other. The gargoyles wanted to be left alone in their mountains.” . He found out that wizards had been holding a truce with the gargoyles and decided that we were amassing a supernatural army.” “But he was king.” “The First Member has a title—Lord Protector. Later. of course. No one compares to him. Regulars. “He gave me the title when he was young.“Not a chance.” Matt watched the candidates spar for a minute. I remained beside Matt.” Matt cocked his head. “He was the best candidate. Then. “I don’t understand. Arthur used magic to bring the kingdom under his rule. so it was just a title to pacify you? He doesn’t sound like the best king to me. Vane and I trained him. he feared I wanted to take over. do you?” “That’s not an answer. Many of them are in the Pyrenees.” Matt colored. he turned his back on it because it became a threat to him. some in the Scottish Highlands. “Why did he call you milord?” Matt’s lips quirked up. he lost all reasoning.” “Vane trained him too? You never said that before. “I had hoped that Arthur would bring a new light into the world where wizards.” “I never told Arthur there were other supernatural beings in the world.” “I see.” “Arthur made you Lord Protector? Isn’t that the real ruler of the country?” “I was the head of the wizards.

I moved away from him. “I am hopeful it will happen.” Matt turned blue eyes on me thoughtfully. My heart banged against it.” Matt looked up at the sky. Instead of hiding in remote areas and relying on spells for money.” Reaching out. He said after a pause. “You didn’t answer the question. “How did you know I was thinking of him?” Matt’s lips quirked into a half-smile. I called him silently.” I looked at him. “I know you. “I thought it was for the world?” “The two are the same—” “Personal goals coincide with yours. we should aspire for more.” He moved closer to me.” I sent him a narrow glance. “Why him?” “He had a way of bringing people together. I'm doing this for you. Didn’t you just blast Vane for that?” “You overheard quite a bit. “What would the sword-holder do today?” “So much has changed. Matt put a palm over mine and pushed the amulet back down. Grey had come out of the house and was now sparring with Oliver. You wouldn't want to risk the curse. I’m amazed at how adept the gargoyles have become at blending in.” “You mean besides keep it from the gargoyles?” he said.“You wanted Arthur to be the bridge. I touched the amulet on my neck.” I snorted.” I looked out over the candidates practicing.” . “I didn't ask for the visions. Ryan. The world is smaller. Ryan. The wizards in this century should learn from them. Cold stone fell against my chest. He always seemed to know what to do. In a trickle the heat slowly expanded and grew stronger. he tucked a stray curl behind my ear.” Vane.” I said.” Matt stilled. “Don’t start depending on him. “I’m not sure yet. “Don't. “You made the right choice. A faint heat emanated from the amulet. And I know him. “I made the only choice. Ryan.

I liked how he didn’t hide what he wanted. don’t you think you’re being harsh? He’s your family. But I held myself stiff. I’d seen much more of Vane. I wanted to lean back on him.” he repeated. “What happens after the sword.” “No. You don’t like it. “Given that you both have only each other left in this century. Over the past few weeks. You don't want to see that.” Matt said vehemently. I'm—” His voice dropped to a whisper. You can't help everyone. “I didn’t kiss him.” “I don’t know what will be needed from me. Matt. I forced myself to ask. “I don't need a promise. . “Forget him. I’d seen how much he held the world at bay.” Matt moved until his body just brushed against the back of mine. “Vane does what he does for Vane. You don’t want to see that you and he are not all that different. Matt.” My hands moved up to hold his. I held myself in place. My throat parched from a never-ending thirst. to let everything fall away. He kissed me. but how much he wanted to fit in. “Maybe not then. And I found… I liked him. not to reach for what I want. but I need a possibility. “I can’t say. to not worry about what came next.” Matt’s jaw tightened.” “And you’re the kind who always thinks he’s right. Vane will take everything and give nothing. Ryan. He sighed. So are you. Matt? Will you give up the visions then?” Matt put his hands on my arms. but he's a survivor.I looked at Matt for a long moment. My shoulders drooped. I don’t know what will be needed from me. A soft tug and I would fall back against him. I took a bracing breath. but would you now?” I hesitated. “I'm struggling every day. every minute. but doesn’t believe anyone else can be!” Matt’s face puckered. Something of what I was thinking must have shown on my face because Matt’s expression darkened.

Matt. I may not have much time left and I want to spend it with someone who cares. he threw me a sword.” “No. Save it. Gia wore a green gown in the same style. I spent the morning sparring with various candidates. With a shy nod. A red cashmere shawl covered the skin shown off by the scoopnecked dress. He arched a brow at us.” Gia said with a snarky grin. We had taken one of the bigger rooms. Two other girls wore similar gowns. Grey shook his head. This is our fight now. Without a word.” Gia pulled up her skirt to show black leggings. Matt ducked away to who-knows-where. “We’re in this together. throwing the palace grounds into blackness. The fading light made the shadows seem sharper. “I can find a way. You were right. I’d slipped on a gorgeous silver gown cut to emphasize every curve I had. Grey came up beside me. He tugged at his collar and loosened a white Christmas tie. she left. I just hope whatever happens tonight ends it. I caught it easily with one hand. I stood at the window looking out across the front of the manor. *** The day passed all too quickly. The palace loomed ahead of us. “Think there’s still time to change our minds. I took his hand and squeezed it tightly. He turned back to look out the window.” I pulled away. He wore a breathable black suit and a red button-down shirt. The hairstylist finished with Gia’s hair. By late afternoon. Thanks for the compliment.” . I pushed aside the gown on my shoulder to reveal a black tank. He let me go. “They’ve already attacked you twice.His hands tightened on me. “We’ve got these stretchy suits on underneath. “How are you supposed to take the trial in those outfits?” “We look awesome. He shook his head. Grey came in. Grey grinned at me when I walked up to him.” I looked out the window. The sky darkened bit by bit.” “Do you want to change yours?” I said.

Mark. “I would have never gotten through the past few months without you. We rode along the cheerily decorated pathways up to the Palace. Aurelius. The gemstone heated. The palace. Blake. “Sorry to break this up. I suppressed a smile at the sour expression on her face as she glanced back and forth between Grey and me. yet I yearned for the same thrill. brushing off imaginary dirt from the tight line of his fitted suit jacket. My mouth opened in awe as we stepped into the . the sky held an eerie pink moon that stood out against a blanket of dull stars. and sober faces. I thought I heard it whisper. She didn’t look sorry at all. I was happy for Grey. Wind rushed around us. and Grey followed behind us. Matt kept me close by his side as Dawson led us in. “It’s time. Grey strode up to her. I touched my amulet. “Don’t overwhelm me with sentiment —” “It’s the best thing that happened to me. “Dorothy.” *** The group gathered in the foyer of the manor—a tide of black suits.“Did I ever tell you how annoyed I was that my mom adopted you?” I let out a laugh.” I nodded. “One thing before we go—” Gia squeaked as he swept her up in a smoldering kiss.” I ran my hands on the line of his shoulders. “Alexa would say you look too hot for your own good. A breeze flitted around me. Above us. Matt.” Grey said. my eyes bright. The other candidates all followed behind them.” He put a hand around my shoulder. Twin Christmas trees framed the entrance and invited us inside. Grey hugged me hard. I watched them with mixed emotions.” Gia said. neatly swept back hair. and the rest of the guardians herded us into the black SUVs. The party.” she said. “Alexa would have loved this.

DuLac. “Is food all you think about?” “Not always. He looked me over from head to toe.” I whispered. Everywhere Grecian marble statues. Women swirled about in beautiful gowns and men in finely cut suits. Throne-like chairs sat under a red domed canopy overlooking the entire ballroom.” I eyed a beautifully set up punch bowl. It took forever for all of us to pass through the metal detectors. Ms. Gathering us around. the he winked at me. Dawson motioned for our attention. he led the group up the redcarpeted staircase into a beautiful gallery. He pointed us over to the security line. but you still need to get past security.Palace. The last security guard surprised us by surreptitiously searching us with a magical amulet built into a metal detection wand. “How about a small drink?” . elephant-sized oil paintings. “You are all on the list to get inside. The main hub of the party spanned two rooms—a supper room and the biggest ballroom I’d ever seen. but the line was already a hundred or so long. I elbowed Matt. I figured about a few hundred place settings. I started to gravitate towards it. Long tables adorned with white tablecloth and centerpiece garlands and candles had been set up. warming the echoing chamber-like room with comforting chatter.” I gave him an odd look. “Lunch was three hours ago. “Think we’ll get to eat?” Matt rolled his eyes. “Lovely… gown.” We were early for the party. Lush garlands. fresh bright red poinsettias. and soft white water fountains decorated the hall leading up to the lush Grand Staircase. I peered into the supper room. delicate ornaments. I passed by Councilmember Thornton.” Dawson greeted us. They all talked and laughed. It had a gurgling fountain in the middle. Doing some quick math. “Welcome. and gold filigree crown moldings decorated the opulent interior of the Palace.

“The whole country is watching the protests. My eyes widened.” Several of the Queen’s staff eyed our group curiously. This got an even wider-eyed response. The sound bounded down to us. “Her Majesty. I truly noticed the depictions of lions tucked into every corner of the Palace. Queen Elizabeth. You will need to open it. The First Member hopes that once the sword is actually pulled we can bring the stone out again. A light bulb went off in my head. He hustled the guest away quickly and turned to Matt. I can tell you the First Member said Her Majesty was not thrilled about it. But it is the most convenient way for you to slip away a few at a time.Matt grabbed my elbow and pulled me away. They greeted Dawson who casually explained us as a special services group. “Later. Brightly colored people glittered under the teardrop chandeliers like shiny jewels as they milled around in celebration. but no one asked any further questions. For the first time. Horns blew loudly.” The noise level in the room increased as music started. “Master Merlin. Dawson led us inside the ballroom. Appropriately enough the hidden door showed a mural of a lion with wings.” . It might satisfy some of the unrest—” Dawson broke off as another guest came up to greet him. you must go first. A man in a deep voice announced. We had the ballroom especially opened for this reason. “There’s a hidden door there and a secret passageway that leads down. “The vault is directly beneath us.” I said.” “Did you relay our message to the First Member?” Aurelius asked. “Matt. He pointed at a panel on the wall. They laughed and drank while we stood next to the door that might lead us to our deaths. Dawson inclined his head. The Royal symbol itself had a lion.” “What do I do?” Matt asked.

Except for the crown.I stared at the diminutive yet radiant woman who stepped out from a closed room at the other end of the banquet. the Queen had dressed in a sedate gown for the celebration. A crown tucked neatly into her hair bun. I drew Matt aside and whispered. she could have passed for a commoner. “Is that the seeing stone on her crown?” .

A flash of red-hair at the Queen’s side caught my attention.” Matt said. “Marla!” “Impossible. The woman turned and saw me.” I grabbed him and pointed at her. the clouds flitted across the reddening moon marring its luminosity. A woman watched the Queen with a hungry gaze. Sylvia’s assistant. but she wasn’t quick enough. It was Marla. “Matt. She looked down quickly to hide her face. He mumbled a spell under his .” I pointed to the Queen’s head. “That ruby looks like the one on my amulet.CHAPTER 17 THE TEST From the window.

” His voice boomed through the ballroom. the square vault containing the giant Stone stood bared. “Gargoyles. I could see the concentration on his face as he moved them to the sides of the room away from the giant hole in the floor. The whole Palace shook. “Agni. Below the destroyed ballroom floor. he and all of the guardians who came with us directed a barrage of blue fire at Matt and the Queen.” Aurelius said with a smug smile.” “How do you think. the hapless guests scurried under the dinner tables. Master Merlin? I channeled the gargoyles’ strength. Screams rent the air as half the ballroom’s floor collapsed. Fire blew out across the room. Oliver took the brunt of Matt’s weight. “Even combined you are not strong enough.” Aurelius had heard our whole conversation. “She’s the First Member. Matt wavered under the onslaught. As soon as they touched ground. “Get the Queen. Her face changed into its beast form. Matt and I turned just in time to see him clasp his hands together. I noticed one by Marla. A whoosh went through the room. Before Matt could turn on Aurelius. Matt raised his arm to stop it. One minute he looked like a non-descript man. Several men and women clutched their faces. She smiled at me with large pointed incisors.” Aurelius shouted and the walls trembled. The Queen fell to the ground.” Aurelius said from directly behind us. About twenty or so other guests standing around her also shifted . Matt floated several people in the air. “How?” Matt gasped as we stood looking down at the vault from the sidelines. I looked across at Marla. “Nimita. the next minute his face changed into that of a beast’s. Paul and Oliver came up beside me and caught Matt’s other side.” Matt said under his breath. I caught Matt before he could fall.breath. Fractured light glinted off the Sword.

” Aurelius raised his hand. Aurelius laughed. “Glamour.” The voice sent a shiver down my spine. I see a powerful protection spell around it. “Who are you?” Thornton’s face morphed into Vane. we will rip apart everyone in this room piece-by-piece starting with you. Aurelius said. “They are at their height tonight.into gargoyles.” He commanded the guardians. “Exactly. “Patience. You are outmatched. “Nice vault. He threw her hand off with a quick magical blast.” Matt said. Aurelius whispered to the fireball and tossed it at them. blasting a guest across the arm. but it was not Thornton’s voice that said. kill him. Merlin. He winked at me. Aurelius squinted at him. The remaining guests—presumably all Regulars—cowered under the tables.” Matt finished for him.” Aurelius scowled. Do the gargoyles really believe you can get them the stone?” Vane mocked loudly. Aurelius held a fireball in front of the Queen’s face. wizard. “Catch him. “How do we get past the protection spell?” A few of the guests tried to crawl out from under the tables to help the Queen.” Thornton strode forward. Marla pulled her up into a chair. Blue fireballs glowed in his palms. Vivane. She put a long nail on a pulsating artery. With their power we do not need you anymore. “You promised us the Stone.” Aurelius strode to the Queen. while you are—” “Diminished by the solstice. their eyes locked on the gargoyles in terror. “I wouldn’t do that. “If he moves. In a blink. Eef you don’t deliver. It roared loudly and expanded into a fountain of flame. “Goodbye.” The other traitor guardians turned to Vane. They huddled together. He . “They are all pledged to me.” Aurelius shouted. or neither one of us will get what we want. ready to attack. Marla crossed the room to grab Aurelius by the neck.

Because you don’t actually do anything. Second Member. The Queen shook her head. I’m not about to change our whole way of life because some old relic woke up with some idealized vision of what we should be. “Killing me will only make the spell stronger. “If we had stopped selling magic. you don’t.” Aurelius pointed at Matt who was almost collapsed on top of me. we wouldn’t be in this mess. I do. The Queen’s wizened face turned purple. Aurelius mused. “It’s your ancestor who is the traitor.” “Merlin is a far greater wizard than you could ever hope to be.” The Queen shook her head. I should be in charge. He blasted Dawson. Shaken. “Allow me to reply— no. “We are approaching a war. Merlin’s visions have been our best hope of averting it.” “Greed has clouded your vision. He dropped to the floor. we would have become weak ages ago.” she said. Aurelius thrust out a hand.” Aurelius said.” Aurelius spat. “A lifeforce spell. “I will tell you nothing.screamed and rubbed his hand on the floor. Where would we get the money to train our children? Do you have any idea how much it takes to keep ourselves hidden?” He waved his hand in the air. Dawson let out a scream of pain so loud it shook the room.” Marla grabbed the Queen by the neck.” the Queen said. If it weren’t for him and your support of his ridiculous notions. the other guests scurried back under the tables. . I arrange the details. “But what is the key?” “You’re a traitor.” she choked out. I make the plans. “Open the vault. who’d been standing on the periphery. Second Member. He blew her backwards until she toppled to the floor. “I am your savior.” “His visions are nothing.” the Queen said calmly. Period. Marla dropped the Queen into a chair. “You know nothing!” Aurelius screamed. stamping out the fire.

I backed away. “You will die. The other gargoyles changed into beast form and took out their swords. Master Merlin. Oliver hit him. “Cease. she collapsed. “Paul. restore your family’s honor. He rolled on the ground to put out the fire. His head struck the wall emitting a loud crack. The candidates all fanned out in front of us. “Training is over. Do not fail your queen. “Finish her. Matt sank to the floor. “Vitisthate. Paul lunged at me. With a strangled cry. candidate. Oliver stood over Matt. I asked Marla. he shouted a spell. “Why target me?” “Your boyfriend still hasn’t told you?” Marla laughed.I put my hand to my mouth. The .” Matt said weakly. Paul blocked my way.” A burst of wind blew Paul across the room. Pulling away from Oliver and Paul. I turned to go to Matt. The gargoyle screamed as the fireball hit him.” Aurelius barked at me. got right back up. Vane cursed. “Enough!” Aurelius crooked a finger and a guest from below one of the tables floated out.” With the flicker of an eye. His expression turned cruel. The candidates and the gargoyles faced off. I took a step toward Dawson. My eyes on Paul. Swords appeared in the candidates’ hands. knocking Matt out. It bounced back on the Queen. before his face morphed into that of a gargoyle’s.” Blake extended his hand with a fireball and lobbed it at a gargoyle. My brother deserves as much. “No. “How many of these guests do you think I can take out with one fireball?” “No. then.” Marla snarled. Aurelius deflected it.” Matt’s eyes widened in surprise. Finish what Morgan could not.” he said. “How many more must die before I get what I want?” The Queen hurled a ball of light at Aurelius.

I had no idea how he was talking to me. and the rest of the candidates. Gia.” “Hurry. set to strike. Think about this for a moment.” I pleaded. The pink had deepened into red. his body still but his chest rising and falling. Mark’s. Grey stood slightly behind me. Ryan. Mark. “Stop. Oliver stood against us at the head of the gargoyles. “I am sorry. I faced the candidates. He lay on the floor.” Marla commanded.” The words in Vane’s voice whispered at the edges of my hearing. Vane looked at me with an insincere smile. his face alight with anger. Vane turned his head and looked deliberately at Grey. They all stared at Vane.” He pointed to a dark window. He looked ready to kill. My gaze jerked to his. He stood exactly in the spot from where he could support me best. wizard. “Are you sure?” said Blake. I held my breath. “Protection spell or not. He gave the barest hint of a nod of acknowledgement. Straightening. The Sword is the most important thing. and all of the candidates. Beside him stood Blake. I could see him out of the corner of my eye. My amulet warmed. Vane held up a hand. “Do you understand what you’re asking? She had to be behind the . I realized what Vane wanted. Vane’s gaze met mine. He walked in front of the candidates and looked at Marla and Aurelius. We both want to get to the Sword.gargoyles formed a line like experienced soldiers ready for hell. The expression echoed in Gia’s.” He strode over to the Queen and took her crown. It was up to me. don’t do this. “Vane. I glanced at Matt. Do we have a truce or do you want to keep wasting time?” Marla and Aurelius glanced at each other. He stared at Marla. Grey’s lips thinned. Blake’s. “Lake-water. praying that this wasn’t going to be a massacre. Vane took out a vial from his pocket.” “Trust me. I know how to open the vault.” Surprise filled Grey’s eyes. “Time to play. “Let Vane finish.

Lights flickered. Aurelius. and for a second. It revealed the stone sitting silently inside. He opened the vial of Lake-water.“ I looked at Vane. She snapped his neck and dropped him at Aurelius’s feet.” Matt said.” “The moon. what do we do?” I said. “Matt. then. Like spiders. Once and for all. He walked to the Queen. *** The square vault unwrapped as neatly as a Christmas present. “It’s seeking a power source.” “We were promised a chance at the Sword.” Vane ran to Matt. Light from the chandeliers caught the hilt of the sword. It crashed into the ceiling.” Vane poured the vial down the Queen’s throat. “Figure it out.dragon. Marla stood in front of Aurelius. The Stone shot into the air. the stone shone like a beacon in a storm. Vane put a hand against the Queen’s head. In a blink. “That just makes it easier.” Vane said. . Half of the gargoyles jumped down into the pit. “Get to the roof. They rushed to the Stone. Vane arched a brow at Matt.” I glanced pointedly at Oliver. “Stop. this is the master key.” Marla commanded the gargoyles. Matt stirred. “What are you going to do?” I asked. That’s what I’m asking for. “What happened?” Aurelius shouted. The Stone tore through the ceiling. He poured the remaining Lake-water down Matt’s throat. Aurelius put out a hand to blast the Stone. turned to Marla. they started climbing the walls.” “But she’s unconscious!” I said. She grabbed a guardian standing on Aurelius’s right. “That’s how this stops. She grabbed another guardian from his left. You don’t want to see me angry. Matt gave a grim nod. “If she’s the lock. They went up into the hole.

Everyone around me—including the gargoyles—went down too. I fell to my knees. and grey in between painted the world. “What’s happening to us?” Marla said. I didn’t see Matt. I jumped up and ran after him. We .” someone said. All around me everyone lay on the rooftop like they’d fallen asleep. Aurelius. “The eclipse. I sat on black pavestones. Only the candidates. A ring of black monuments. white. Others followed me. The sky darkened into a black blanket of nothingness. *** The world appeared to be an odd shade of oblivion when I woke. It was blood. A soft ooze of liquid dripped down my ear canal onto my cheeks. held up my hands.” We all floated in the air. People started getting up. they said. A wave of light shot out from it. The stone spun faster. surrounded the outer edge of the rooftop. It hit us like a tsunami. It glowed softly beneath the hauntingly dark sky. I saw no color anywhere. penning us in. and caught on fire. Only the light haze of sky appeared behind it.Together. We’d fallen into an alternate plane of existence. All the gargoyles reverted back from beast form into regular human. Sticky and wet it coated my skin. only black. A gargoyle got up and ran to the Stone. Matt and Vane levitated the candidates up through the hole onto the roof. a replica of Stonehenge. I touched it and then. The stone still spun on the roof. Marla or the other guardians. I stumbled. Vane. The buzz rounded my lobes and stabbed into my eardrums. The stone spun like a top just above the hole. We got up at the same time as the gargoyles. He pulled on the Sword. One gargoyle climbed up the hole almost to the top. He let out a great scream. slipped and started falling back down. He ran to the rooftop’s ledge and stumbled off. “Ryan!” I heard Matt cry out from a distance before I blacked out. Vane and Matt set us to the side. His other friends caught him and pulled him back up. “Upari.

“I still can’t change. We all turned back to the stone. No people. “The Sword is only way out of here. Each time one tried to reach the Stone someone from the other team who was covering them would attack.” Mark said from somewhere behind me. It floated in the air like a lost cloud. “I guess there’s a time limit. At least with the gargoyles unable to use their strength. I spotted Paul. I was pretty sure I would have been dead. No building. We backed away from it. “Limbo. The Sword beckoned us. Locked into a macabre dance on the rooftop. Oliver stood at the center of the gargoyles.” cried Mark. We have to get to it before this whole place collapses.” A great rumble sounded. everyone was more or less on a level playing field. two battling teams. crashed into each other. I picked up a fallen sword from the ground just before he charged me.” The gargoyles rushed towards it. He said.” someone said. the monolithic replicas of Stonehenge broke and fell backwards into limbo. The gargoyles and candidates. get to the Sword first. He made his way toward me with a determined look. He didn’t look any worse for getting slammed hard against the wall. . Only the rooftop existed. The black monuments shuddered. “This is the trial.stopped just beyond the stone circle. Most of Vane’s candidates followed him to the stone. No street. The edge of the rooftop started shaking. It was my worst nightmare. Nothing at all. “What is this?” The rooftop ended.” a gargoyle cried. We were completely alone. And beyond it was… nothing. Blake looked over a ledge. We all jumped back towards the center. “Candidates. If Paul had had his full strength. Grey grabbed my arm. “What do we do?” Blake looked at me. As we watched wide-eyed. we fought each other.

I cut into Paul’s shoulder. “What does it mean?” I ducked as Oliver tried to take off my head.” someone pronounced. Light from the Sword reflected off the large amulet ring Oliver wore. I ran to help Grey. a gargoyle.” Somewhere in the fight. I heard Grey yell in pain. One of Vane’s candidates. Paul’s attention wavered. I have the way out. “I can hurt you much worse. He let out a scream and collapsed. Oliver stumbled. They touched it. . Oliver smiled. Oliver nodded.” Oliver faced me warily. “That’s it. “What have you figured out?” “Matt told me the Sword is a bridge between all races. I saw the trio with their hands on the Sword. He was trying to hold back two gargoyles from the stone. As I fought Oliver. With a curse. “He’s dead. they all disappeared. With one quick move. “Why is Marla after me?” Paul laughed. My sword caught Oliver by the neck. “You won’t kill me. and a Regular made it to the Sword at the same time. The other one was Oliver.” Blake shouted. He too screamed and collapsed. I hit Paul across the head. I stepped in front of Grey. “One caught fire. In the next second.” The rooftop shook as another layer of stone fell off the edge. the other gargoyle reached the Sword and pulled at it. Out of the corner of my eye. One stabbed him in the shoulder and ran past him to the stone. I held it just against his skin. His body shuddered as a current seemed to go through him. The gemstone glowed for just a moment. I put my blade at his neck. I knocked the sword out of his hand.” In my best impression of Vane.A candidate made it to the stone and tugged at the sword. “Can you stop the gargoyles?” I said. My eyes went wide. “I knew I would get my chance with you. “Stop. Two collapsed.” Blake hurried to Grey to help him with his wound. I moved quickly.

and a wizard. I thrust my sword just a bit deeper against Oliver’s neck. They disappeared.” I turned back to the candidates. Another row of pavestones at the rooftop edge fell. .” His lips curled. “I can go for us. stand down. Oliver shouted. “The energies of all three might open a doorway. a Regular. “We need a gargoyle. He dropped his sword. Blake grabbed her hand and squeezed it. And you also know well enough that while I might not care if you live or die—” My eyes flickered over Grey and the other candidates.Did you see the two candidates and gargoyle? They touched the Sword together and they didn’t collapse or catch fire.” Oliver’s lips thinned. Oliver looked at me. “What next?” “We do a test. Only all three can pass.” said Blake.” I said. Oliver pushed away the sword I held at his neck and stood up.” “You betrayed us.” I said bluntly.” Oliver crooked his finger at a gargoyle. “This one goes first.” I said.” a girl wizard stepped forward.” “And I will. “We don’t have a lot of time. They will need you if this doesn’t work. not disagreeing.” a Regular held up a hand.” I said.” “It makes sense. “I know the way out. “Why should I trust you?” “You’ll never figure it out without me. “I will. “Gargoyles. Mark and the other candidates blinked in surprise. If they touch the Sword together.” “No. “You want to kill me. The ground we stood on see-sawed. “I care if they do. “Touch it together. “You know it. That is the doorway out of here.” I told them. The three strode to the stone.” Oliver glanced back and forth between the edge of the shrinking rooftop and the spinning Stone.” To my shock. the gargoyles all lowered their sword at once. The gargoyle came forward.

They did. They disappeared. Whoops of celebration sounded across the rooftop. I raised a brow at Oliver in triumph. Grey thumped my back. “What are your terms?” Oliver asked. I looked at the candidates. They all stared back at me. I felt the mantle of their trust come down to rest on my shoulders. My chin rose. I faced down Oliver. “We can get out of this together. But what’s the point if we’re just going to kill each other on the other side? If you really are their leader, you will agree to stand down.” Oliver’s lips curled. “Or what? You’ll sacrifice yourselves? I don’t believe it.” Grey and Blake moved to stand behind in me in a visible show of support. Gia followed Grey. All the candidates except Vane’s moved to stand behind me. Mark frowned at Gia. I could see the decision warring on his face. “You need all three,” I told him. “Without the Regulars, you will all fall here.” I held my breath. Mark gave a tight nod. His sword gleamed in the dull light as he moved to stand beside Gia. And just like that, I had the rest of Vane’s candidates. The rooftop shook again. Another fat layer of stone tumbled off. The roof had become so narrow that we huddled together, barely fitting on the remaining stone. The candidates standing at the edges of the stone held hands, fearing a sudden movement. I turned back to Oliver. “Do we have a deal?” “I agree to stand down if you do the same,” Oliver said. “Agreed,” I said. “Do you have enough pairs to cover everyone?” Oliver asked in a lower tone. My heart thumped. The rooftop shook as another layer of rock fell off. Cries went up in the air. “We need to go,” I told him. “We’ll figure out if we don’t. Gather the gargoyles.” I turned to Blake. “Group the wizards together.”

Between Grey, Blake, Oliver and I, the candidates grouped into loose sections. Oliver and I sent a trio pair one after the other. Finally we were down to the last three of each group. Grey caught my hand. He hissed in my ear. “There are four Regulars left.” “We draw straws,” a Regular said. “We don’t have straws,” I said. “I will stay.” Blake nodded at Mark. With one command, they turned the swords back into pens. “Now we have straws.” He took out the ballpoint in one and threw it away. He held it up and pushed the top. Nothing happened. “The short straw.” “Test the other pens,” Grey said. Blake tested each one. The other ones’ ballpoint all worked. He held them out to us. I reached for one first. Grey grabbed it from me. “I pick this one.” “No,” I cried. Grey pushed the pen’s top. No ballpoint came out. He stared at it with a half-smile. “I knew you’d try this.” He held up the pen to the other two Regulars. “I stay.” “Grey,” Gia sniffled. “I’ll stay too.” “We had a deal,” Oliver reminded us. “No one else can stay.” The roof rumbled. We all jumped. Only two rows remained on the roof. We all huddled next to the Stone. Grey thrust Gia on the Stone. “Go, now.” She went. So did the next pair. Finally, Blake, Grey, Oliver and I remained. The last layer of the roof dropped. We jumped onto the Stone together. The rooftop had completely disappeared. I pulled Grey in for a hug. Grey grabbed me tightly. “Tell Mom goodbye for me.” I shook my head. “You tell her.” Oliver hit Grey over the head. He caught Grey before Grey fell off the stone. They teetered towards limbo. I pulled them back.

Blake gaped at us. “W-What?” “I’m making sure Grey gets home,” I said, handing him to Blake. “He’s going to kill me,” Blake muttered. Holding Grey in one hand, he pulled me into a one-arm hug and squeezed tightly. “We’ll never forget you.” Then, without another word, he carried Grey to the sword. I bit my lip, trying not to cry. Oliver stared at me. “I should kill you, but I have feeling you’ll suffer worse alive.” I grabbed his sleeve. “Why do you hate me?” It was my last chance to ask him anything. It was my last chance to ask anyone anything. The enormity of what I was doing hit me. I would be totally alone…forever. Oliver’s mouth twisted into a bitter smile. “I’ve been watching you from the beginning. The candidates didn’t pick you as their leader because you are smart, DuLac. They picked you because you would sacrifice yourself if it came to it. Looks like they were right.” My fingers tightened on his sleeve. “Our bargain?” “I knocked out Ragnar for you, but I can’t guarantee what happens on the other side.” With a sneering smile, he pulled away from me. Blake, Grey, and Oliver touched the Sword. They disappeared. I sat down and stared out over the neverending expanse of nothingness. I was alone.

CHAPTER 18 THE SHOT HEARD AROUND THE WORLD Completely, totally alone.
I sat on top of a floating rock and the cold metal gleam of the sword was the brightest thing in the universe. My body shook. An ice blast of wind sent a draft straight through my sheer gown. My body shook harder but I didn’t move to stop it. It was as if I’d distanced my mind already. There was nothing left to hold onto.

“How are you here?” Vane smirked.” Matt said.” “How?” I looked at the sword.It would have been easy to step off the stone and let myself float away. “You have to pull the sword. “My powers are tied to you. Vane snapped at Matt. “You can read my mind?” Vane smirked in confirmation. “If I touch it.” . I die. you have to come back. straight up to me. The red gemstone burned brightly. In your head. “About damn time you touched the amulet. It took me awhile to figure out. “I see you made it to the witch’s castle.” I stared at him. Dorothy. I touched my amulet.” Matt muttered. You have to show the Sword sacrifice. A jet-black stallion with an ornate saddle carried Vane. but apparently my ingenious brother put a little safety into the amulet—mind reading. you lose the trial. “What are you doing here?” Matt demanded. My heart paused along with it. Matt sat on top. “If you want to kill him. “W-What?” I sputtered.” Vane said. Vane. “We’re not really. “Ryan. “This is not going to last much longer. We’re talking to you the same way we’ve been communicating back in the real world.” The Stone wobbled and stopped for a second. “I’m the last one here! What other sacrifice is there?” Vane’s horse snorted in agreement.” I blinked. Ryan. if you fall into limbo.” I muttered. “I’m losing it. “Listen. The charm spread warmth across my skin. “What have you seen?” Matt ignored him.” I gaped at him. The Stone restarted with a sputter. It stopped just parallel to the Stone. there is another way than the three working together. “Stop wasting time. Another horse appeared to the left. A sudden burst of heat pulled me back. A white horse thundered along limbo.” Matt said grimly.” Vane said.” “Something you weren’t supposed to know how to use.

“Oh. then each particle slowly reattached.” With a quick search of my face. Matt. Vane leaped off the horse. Yet this time. nowhere and everywhere at once. the red moon shone down brightly illuminating the stain of blood on cream stone. The Stone came to an abrupt halt. For a second I was stateless. I couldn’t scream. The horse neighed with corresponding urgency. Breath left me.” Vane’s hands cupped my face. Slowly. My mind rose back into consciousness. Only the Sword tethered me to myself. Matt’s jaw dropped in surprise. I felt the ground give way. My body split into a million pieces.“How is that sacrifice?” I asked.” I swallowed. *** Excruciating pain spread out in an expanding wave. I stood on top of the rooftop again. Then. black curtained my eyes. It took me three strides to reach the sword.” “Oh. I pulled out the Sword. and the other candidates stood backed up . Whatever truce we’d made to exit the trial had been lost. Only you know what to do. Vane stepped back. My eyes widened as images of what he wanted me to do flooded my mind. Vane. I want you to understand one thing—the trial is yours. whatever he doesn’t want me to see. Vane pulled himself onto his skittish stallion. I plunged it into my stomach. Matt reached out with a translucent hand to touch my forehead. my body reformed.” Matt shouted at Vane. “Get back on the horse. “Whatever he’s told you. “What happens on the other side?” “Whatever you do here will probably follow you through. I opened my eyes.” I swallowed harder this time. A battle raged in full color. “You shouldn’t be able to get off the horse.

The other wizard candidates were taking on the traitor guardians. Matt lay still on the Stone. my eyes flew open.” I heard Oliver scream.” Matt said. The smell of blood and sweat seeped back into my pores.” someone said. My breathing slowed. “Do something. and the gargoyle candidates. I cried out as fire consumed me. Vane laughed. “He’ll be fine.” Vane said. surrounded by Marla. “You’re back. “Get the Sword!” “Grey. Burning heat climbed into stomach. my vision clouded. I tried to keep my eyes open. he appeared over me. “Matt!” I pushed myself up. Matt dueled with Aurelius. next to Vane. My mind threatened to cave in. He’s just spent. A powerful jerk yanked me back. I barely noticed as he pulled the Sword out of my stomach. Aurelius.” Grey shouted. On the front lines. leaving me free to float in peace. Then. .” Matt shouted. With a gasping cry. “Ryan. A hammer shattered through the calm. Every corner of my existence fell away.” Then. “Keep them away. “She has the Sword. “Matt? Vane?” I said. “If we don’t do this together. “You’re losing her!” I heard Vane cry somewhere far away. she’ll die!” “Fine!” I head Matt snap. “The Stone stopped spinning. My body slowed. No one had noticed my appearance on the Stone. Many of the candidates who’d been alive just a few minutes before lay broken and bloodied on the unforgiving stone. I fell on my knees. Vane leaped up the Stone to reach me. Vane laid me across the Stone. Matt grabbed me. I closed my eyes. He touched my face and lay down next to me. A faint glow of blue and red fire around me dissipated.to the Stone.” Vane shouted at him. The sudden centering left me nauseous.

Vane put his hand on my left shoulder. “Ry!” Grey yelled. It burned with yellow fire. Marla nodded. . “The gargoyles have come to play.” Matt put his hand on my right shoulder. They looked uncertainly to Oliver. Vane helped him. Oliver stood at their head.” Matt said. keep holding the Sword no matter what. “No more dying.” An army of gargoyles streamed over the walls of the Palace and onto the rooftop. The skin on it stretched out smoothly without even a scar. Ryan. I picked up the Sword.” The gargoyles paused as they absorbed my words. Any bright ideas?” “Stand behind Ryan.” Matt stirred behind me. “Ryan. putting Matt’s arm over his shoulder to hold him up. “It's over. I glanced at Arthur’s sword. My attention turned abruptly back to the battle. surrounding the Stone. A beast-like howl sounded from behind the gargoyles.To my surprise. I forced myself up. The two sides seemed equally matched. “The gargoyles will not be defeated today.” Oliver shouted. Beside him.” “I died?” I said. The candidates and gargoyles hacked away at each other. I touched my stomach. “The others will be here soon. Vane grabbed me up into a hard kiss. The wind whispered. Oliver looked up from in front of the gargoyles. Your sword. Although my bones still felt hollow with weakness. Her gargoyle face became feral and lit with excitement. Oliver. “Give up the Sword and no one else has to die. They don't have a chance. You are no one. I have the Sword. “Just a small spell. I lifted the sword high.” Matt rasped. I will be King. DuLac. The Sword will be mine.

“Who are you?” I demanded. two on each side. “Stop!” An older man stood on the roof’s ledge.” Oliver retorted.” Matt repeated. Oliver fell hard on the rooftop. “Svapati.” The gargoyles advanced on the candidates. Oliver. “If you say so. “Can you stop arguing for a sec and do whatever it is you’re going to do before we get slaughtered?” “You’ll need to focus us.” Vane said. “Svapati. My heart racing. The gargoyles on the rooftop stilled. Four other gargoyles stood beside him. I recognized one of the gargoyles. “I’m not killing off a whole race. The one who’d escaped. Matt and Vane let go of me. A wave of translucent color spread out across the rooftop until it covered hundreds of gargoyles.” Vane replied.” I ran to him and put the sword at his neck. Vane knocked him down. I had to resist the urge to drop it. Oliver jumped past Grey. Ryan.“Are you sure? We could take care of them today. Vane set Matt back down. Within seconds. Oliver lunged at Grey with a loud battle cry. He tried to lunge at me. the gargoyles lay fast asleep. All expect the few who had been candidates. I gritted my teeth.” Vane sighed.” Matt retorted. I gasped as a shock of energy ran through the Sword. “It’s over. He was about the same age as Marla with a shock of blond hair. I lowered the sword. “What will this be? The third time you’ve failed to kill me?” “Fourth. .” Matt said. “Besides I don’t have enough to do much more. “Who do you think sent Morgan?” “What?” “Kill her!” Oliver yelled at the remaining gargoyles. He was one we’d captured in the alley at the festival.

“And she has shown she can use it. Aurelius let loose a fireball straight at me.” The blond man let out a dry laugh. The fire blazed with such heat that within seconds his body charred down to just bone. Still sitting on the Stone just behind me. “You pulled the Sword?” “Yes. I would say— the King?” “My name is Rourke. Rourke continued unperturbed. He walked closer until he stood only a few feet away. It struck her in the head.” he said with a nod. Vane let loose the dagger he’d caught. “No.” The gargoyle from the alley stepped forward carrying a . she threw a dagger straight at me. Vane caught the dagger just inches before it reached my face. “You dare to command me? Do you know who I am?” Vane lazily folded his arms in front of him. Do yourself a favor and leave. turned on Vane. Marla fell to the ground. There will be retribution. wizard. Matt deflected the fireball with one hand. Mother!” Oliver cried out. At the same time. The candidates gathered together and lifted their swords in readiness. wake!” To my dismay. In a flash. Rourke. his face changing into a hulking blond beast. “Son. He glanced at the sleeping gargoyles on the rooftop. It seems as if there has been considerable effort to deal with you. “You have killed my consort. “Gargoyles. Vane came up beside me.” He hooked at finger at Oliver. Oliver ran to her and picked her up in his arms. The fireball boomeranged back on Aurelius. I would order you to tell me about M—” “No. “But I do not know this Morgan.The blond man spotted the sword in my hand. He screamed as he burned. He sobbed into her neck. Marla’s orders were to take care of all the candidates. the army of gargoyles began to wake up.” Marla said. Marla took out another dagger.” I said. “By the way they followed your command.

We have already lost the Sword. Oliver snatched her up before he could. your consort attacked the swordbearer.cell. Hundreds of wizards fanned out behind her. “I would say entirely on time. We should go. “We came for the Sword. She walked though them to the front. What did she not want you to know? I fear your son lusts for your throne. The Queen stood between them. “Rourke. “You’re a little late. I helped the Queen only as long as I believed it to be in his interest. complete the order you were about to give before Marla attacked. “It seems you are correct. She inclined her head in regal acknowledgment. lass. “Actually we are here. Rourke spoke to him in lowered tones. . I glanced around at the gargoyles. They will be coming. “No. “Sire. However.” Rourke nodded at the Queen.” He said to Rourke.” Rourke marched over to Oliver who sat on the ground holding his mother. We had every right to protect her. you will find it was not by us. If honor was broken today. I looked up at the sky. Rourke walked back to the Queen with a grave face.” Rourke’s eyes fixed on me with pointed intensity.” Vane told her. We have lost that battle. We concede—for now.” Wizards floated up from the hole in the roof from inside the palace. Oliver's face became angry. “Sire—” “You work for Marla.” The Queen looked at the gargoyle King. The red moon has started to wane.” I said. the First Member has rallied more wizards to her. If you want to know why they targeted her. but their swords had dropped down to their sides. I would not get too comfortable. He replied to Rourke in a heated voice.” she said. They had the right to claim retribution for her actions today. I am the King’s servant first. The sword's allegiance is not yet fixed. The gargoyle from the alley moved to pick up Marla. They watched the candidates with alert eyes.

I crossed to Grey. The stench of fresh blood hit my nostrils. The gargoyles all leaped off into the night.” Paul yelled from behind me. “A brother for a brother. *** I put down the Sword and leaned on its hilt. I didn’t waste any more time on him. “No!” My scream tore through the night. “It’s over. It pierced through his chest. My hand swung again without even thinking. A high-pitched whistle sounded. He pulled the sword from Grey’s back. Triumph lit Paul’s face. I connected with the hard bone of his neck. Bending his head. I dropped the sword and knelt down to Grey. Faster than I could see or think. Oliver. His smiling head came off in one neat slice. Oliver carried Marla to his father’s side.” I whipped around to see Paul run a blade through Grey’s back. His sword glanced off mine.” “Ryan. He tried to block me as I swung the Sword at him.” Rourke walked to the edge of the rooftop. The glow of the moon angled off the gargoyles as they lined the ledge of the rooftop.“Come. . Grey. he shot me a look that burned with hatred. As he passed me. I moved fast.

It healed but Grey remained still. “H-help him. I clutched a bloodsoaked Grey to me. Vane knelt down beside us. I choked out. Clouds moved across the sky.CHAPTER 19 MERLIN The red moon had waned. He put a hand on the wound on Grey’s chest. A soft kiss of rain started to trickle down on the rooftop. Vane put a hand on my neck. leaving behind its mark on the night. .” Saying nothing.

Vane. My fingers tightened in anger. Whatever it is. My amulet surged with power.” “No. “If you are—prove it now. “It’s too late.I let out a broken sob. Don’t tell me you can’t do this? The candidates did what was asked. “What?” I blinked at the Queen in confused. Silently she touched Grey’s face. There is nothing left to draw from.” “There is another way. I didn’t care. “It’s not too late!” I stood up. Matt? I didn’t get the Sword to watch Grey died. I don’t care. He’s not gone yet. “The sacrifice in limbo worked because you have . I’m nearly used up.” I touched Grey. Nothing penetrated through the clouds. knocking him on his butt.” I picked up the sword and held it over Matt.” The same words he’d said when Alexa had died. “Does she not?” Matt nodded.” Vane stood up. He put himself between Matt and me. “She has the blood of three. He still felt warm to the touch. “If it’s too late. If you aren’t—you may as well go back into the tomb you came from.” The Queen looked at Matt. Ryan. “Do something. “Either one of you.” I stared at Matt. She glanced up at the wet darkened sky. “Think. “Are you the greatest wizard in the world or not?” I yelled at him. I know it. I caught Matt’s shoulder. I shoved at Matt’s chest. I will never forgive you. Gia came up beside me. The red moon is gone.” “There must be another answer. We didn’t have that when Alexa died. If you don’t fix this.” I snapped.” The Queen strode past a group of wizards to the three of us. Matt stumbled over to us and dropped down to Grey’s side. I am sorry. We have it now. “I can’t feel his heartbeat. I swung it around in front of his face either like an avenging angel—or deranged lunatic.” Matt’s dark eyes clouded. then what the hell was this for. He put his hand on Grey’s chest. I looked down at him. Now it’s your turn. “He doesn’t have enough power left to do much.

” All of the candidates gathered and formed a circle around us in a silent show of support.” the Queen said. Ryan. “It has its own power.” Vane repeated it. “You lied to me again!” Vane grabbed me. “But should she? To bring him back now would be unnatural. Nearly two hundred or so wizards took up the wide expanse. Matt gave a slow nod. No one said anything.” I knelt down next to Grey and put my palm to his cheek.” Matt said dully. It has to be. What it will do to him.” Finally. Grey needs you now. She can handle it. It had started to turn cold. “Invati. The red moon seemed to deepen in color and the full . Who he’ll be. “What else do we need?” The Queen nodded at the wizards surrounding us. Ryan. The sword glowed blue in the dark night.” I stood in shock for a moment. Matt chanted one word. We were up high.” He looked at the Queen.” I begged him. yet not far enough for escape. “Leave it. Quiet filled the rooftop where there had been a cacophony of battle sounds before. Vane handed me the Sword. Matt.” “She is the sword-bearer. but it is there. Matt looked at them without expression. Sacrificing yourself brought the blood in contact with the Sword. do this for me. “Please.dormant gargoyle blood. We don’t know where he would come back from. Everything around me warmed. “It is not active. “P-please. I stared down at Matt. All of the candidates—Regulars and wizards alike— shouted the word.” Matt told me. “It is still the solstice. Tears flooded down my face.” Vane said. My shoulders started to slump. Stray noises from the streets outside the Palace wiggled up. I held it close to me. “We’re with you.” “It will kill her. Gia stood up. I know this is right. “She must channel every wizard on this rooftop. The gemstone on my amulet warmed.

the lightbulb fused.” “Ha. “You two will have to train her up.” She arched a brow at Matt and Vane. unable to say more past the mush that was my mind. I’d almost forgotten about them. “And we quite like you. Matt blinked. Matt sat on beside Grey with a tired half-smile. My mind couldn’t handle the load. For a moment. the Queen took my hand and declared. Cleansing rain fell in glorious rhythm. the whole world stood still. She went to Matt and touched a hand to his chest. However. Grey fell to the ground. I believe we need new leadership. in one loud burst. sword-bearer. we shall get everyone to the infirmary. My whole body burned. The wizards chanted a word. Then. “First. I touched Grey’s chest.” The Queen’s wizards gathered the traitor guardians. A loud crack of lightning flashed across the sky. “Despite your dubious blood.” She gave me a keen look. suddenly looking more alert. Gia squealed from beside Grey. I will gather the Council. A bright flash burst from the sword.” I said. I saw Matt and Vane direct it at Grey. “Excellent work on capturing the collaborators. The Queen turned to me. I let go of the Sword. “He’s alright. You show as much promise as Merlin had pledged. I became the central source of power. They wore resigned expressions.” To my shock. Grey rose up in the air. of course. Cheers broke out over the rooftop. overheated like a too-taxed lightbulb. Grey rose higher. A million lines of disparate energy hit me. though. The synapses of my mind fired with unbelievable speed trying to process all the separate threads at once. It rose as he took a breath.power of the eclipse flowed through me to the sword. I suspect we have not entirely cleaned house. Vane laughed. I think we will . “Good work.” She glanced at the giant hole in her Palace. The Queen watched us silently. you have fire. then.

“I cannot take it away.” Grey said grumpily. My fingers tightened on the Sword.” I murmured. “Don’t sit up. Matt and Vane entered. “Are you sure about this?” Vane asked. *** Two days later.” Matt bent his head.” A sizzle of energy went through my amulet. She stopped.” The other wizards cried. “I doubt you would be lying still if you were in his place.” The Queen bent her head. Dorothy. “It has been a most interesting night. my dear. glancing at a nearby mirror hanging on the wall. “For Camelot.” The Queen started to leave.” Matt declared. “That’s what I said. “It’s time. “Have you gone crazy?” Grey demanded from where he lay resting in the middle of the giant bed the Queen had arranged for him to speed his recovery. I’d found myself doing it more that I liked.” Grey said. “You look fine. I stood inside Buckingham Palace looking out at one of the side gardens from a second floor window.” I said.” “There has to be another way.” Her wizened face lit up with bright eyes. It struck the Stone…where the sword used to be. Vane put a hand on my back. “I need to stop this insanity Ryan is bent on.” Matt said.” “Wait—” I said. “You’re just going to let me keep this?” “Excalibur has chosen you. They have seen entirely too much. .” The door opened. You are now the owner of its fate.” Sylvia sat on the other side of the bed. Something inside me needed assurance that I wasn’t going to sprout fangs… or beastly facial hair.start with my poor staff. “For Camelot. “I’m getting up. “For Camelot. A sudden flash of lightning twisted through the clouds. “This is the best way to keep it safe.

and scurried to the door. It showed the angry mob outside of Parliament.” he mumbled. I let go.” Matt crossed his arms and looked at me steadily. “This is exactly what I didn’t want for you.” . Guards—some in stylish black suits that gave them away as Royal protection officers and some in white mage robes—followed us. I went through the trial to protect my family and now we’re in more danger than ever.” Matt came up to stand behind me. I smiled at Sylvia.” Matt corrected. But on the grounds of the palace. A young smartly dressed man. Remember that. He dropped his eyes when he saw me. “You can still change your mind. The sky sat still in a hue of soft periwinkle blue. “I should go. “Awe-inspiring angel. We walked down the hallway and into a small waiting room with two sets of doors. Darcy—Dawson’s replacement—waited for us inside. It panned again to a similar looking crowd outside Buckingham. “I’ll wait outside. “No matter what. “Her majesty will be here in a few minutes.” I leaned over the bed to hug Grey one more time. Matt and Vane led me out. He glanced at me again and swallowed visibly. You’ll leave yourself wide open. “They haven’t figured out what’s going on. This way—at least—anyone trying to get to me will have a harder time of it.“She always was headstrong. Grimacing. a storm raged.” I took his cellphone and flipped on the news feed. My status as full-fledged freak was confirmed.” he said to Matt. I squeezed his shoulders so tightly he winced. “Stop reading me or I’m taking it off. but the gargoyles will keep driving them.” Sylvia said. you’ll always have us. It was nice to have her by our side once again. I touched my amulet.” he whispered into my ear. I went to a nearby window.

” Matt’s dark eyes deepened with emotion for a brief moment.” Vane interjected from behind us.” “I’ll watch for trouble.” Matt added. it was smaller than ever. “I’m not. Stay put. he sat down on the edge of a writing desk. Matt. it didn’t work out as he planned. The memory of how easily I’d killed Paul haunted me.” I don’t want to lose my mind. if you please. “That’s not what I meant. “The gargoyles killed him to fuel the conspiracy theories. “As I recall. I touched Matt’s cellphone.” Matt gave Darcy a curt nod and looked at me. “I’ll be right back. The world seemed so vast. He and Darcy went back out into the hallway.” “By sacrificing you. This story will work out differently. He went back to the middle of the room where Vane lounged on an uncomfortable-looking settee. making my breath catch. “Keep her safe. “After all we’ve been through he still doesn’t trust me.” Vane got up and paced back and forth. I put a hand on the cold glass pane.” I said lightly. Vane stilled. “By not isolating myself. He had been murdered in his Boston townhouse. Then a veil fell between us as Matt drew away. can you promise me I won’t be buried inside some bunker? I don’t want to live like that. “Second Member. Darcy peered inside the room.” I grinned up at them.” I batted my lashes.” “It had better.” Matt turned on his heel. Finally.” . If the Sword is revealed. it will save lives.” He told Vane. Darcy closed the doors behind them.” I corrected. “Arthur wasn’t a girl.” Vane said.“If I don’t do this. Yet. “It’s not nice to tease. her majesty wishes for you to give the Council a final update before we begin. “Arthur said something similar to me once about forming a Round Table and spreading the power. “Want to make out? It’ll pass the time. I watched a news clip about the decoy student who’d supposedly pulled out the Sword.

Vane moved in a blink. He stood inches from me, not touching, yet the heat of his body warmed mine despite the tight layers of my dressy suit. “Is this what you really want?” Am I the one you really want? He meant. I stared at the strong line of Vane’s jaw. I touched the amulet around my neck. It was Vane who I heard in my head, never Matt. It was Vane who forced me to fight. Around him I wasn’t plain. I wasn’t nice. I could just be me. I couldn’t quite believe I’d fallen for Vane, but somewhere along the way I had. “Matt and I will always have a connection—” Vane’s expression soured. I suppressed a smile and continued, “—but I want you.” “Why?” he demanded. “Because you helped save Grey.” Vane raised a brow. “You’re so grateful I saved your brother, you want me.” “Helped save,” I corrected. Vane smiled. “Because I trust you.” “You shouldn’t.” I let out a loud sigh. “Because you’re a pain in the ass.” “Your ass is a good place to be,” he deadpanned. A rare genuine smile lit his face. He yanked me to him and lowered his mouth to mine. He kissed harshly, as if he couldn’t believe I was letting him do it. His hand fingered the edge of the short skirt of the suit. I shivered despite the fact that I wore thick black tights. The kiss gentled as I continued to respond. Finally, he broke away. “I shouldn’t let you do this.” I opened my mouth to protest. He put a finger to my lips. “But unlike my brother I’m not that unselfish.” His fingers untangled some of my upswept hair. “You’re making a mistake encouraging me. I won’t let you go now.” I smiled. “The Queen’s hairdresser is going to be pissed you messed up her ‘do.” Vane brushed a thumb across my lips. Stormy eyes locked on me. “You have my brother fooled, but do you really know what you’re doing?”

I moved away from Vane and took a step towards the other set of closed doors in the room. I could hear the shuffling of people from behind the painted wood. My heart jangled inside my chest. “I’m afraid.” “You should be.” Vane came up from behind and wrapped his arms around me. I inhaled his dark scent. “Shut up and just tell me it will be all right.” “As you wish.” He nuzzled my neck. The doors I’d come in through opened again. Matt strode in with the Queen. They stopped short at the sight of Vane and I together. Vane released me slowly. The Queen marched up to me. “Give me one reason why I should let you do this. Why I should let you risk exposure?” I walked back to the window behind her and pulled the drapes aside. The protesters sang Silent Night. I said simply, “They don't need to know about wizards. They need to know about the Sword. They're afraid. I can give them hope.” A smile broke across her face. The heat of it made the sun appear pale by comparison. She straightened and the smile dimmed. “Well, then, do make sure you keep it to that. I refuse to have a thousand year secret leaked on my watch.” The Queen held out her hand to Vane. “I will go first. You may lead me.” Vane walked with her to the closed doors. Noise in the other room hushed when he opened the door. They went through. The doors closed behind them. Matt held out his arm. I crossed to him. I blurted out, “Vane and I—” “I know. I have eyes, Ryan.” He glanced at my amulet. “And ears.” I flushed and glared at him. “This mind-reading is getting irritating.” “You’ll get used to it.” Matt’s hand tightened on my arm. “He’s not the right one for you.”

“At least I know who he is,” I replied softly. A knock sounded from the other side of the door. It was time. I took a breath. Matt pulled open the door and pushed me through to the other room. On shaky heels, I crossed a small stage to the podium. Vane and the Queen sat at a nearby antique desk. Matt came to stand behind me. I laid my palms down on the wood podium and faced the crowd. Rows and rows of reporters filled the Queen’s pressroom. Flashes exploded from what seemed like a thousand bulbs. A row of television cameras took up the back of the packed room. “Hello.” Silence fell across the room. The enormity of what I was about to do hit me. My life would never be the same again. Anxiety tightened around my throat. A warm hand settled to support my back. Matt. He moved to stand at my right. I leaned into the mike. “My name is Arriane DuLac and I am here to settle a question about who owns King Arthur's Sword.” Matt handed me the sword. I held it up, blade aimed down. The cold metal winked in silver beauty for everyone to see. I twisted the sword and lifted it straight up. Gasps and the snap-click of shutters reverberated around the room. Several of the reporters jumped up. One said, “How does she have it?” “Why is it in the palace?” “I want to see for myself,” someone else yelled. They scrambled out of the rows of chairs and headed straight for me. I had a sense of deja-vu from a bad movie as the reporters stormed the podium with their microphones like villagers coming at me with pitchforks. Unconsciously, I took a step back. Matt grabbed the sword from me. He put himself in between the reporters and me. “Matt, what are you doing?” I hissed at him. “Saving you,” he said to me. He looked at the reporters and declared, “The sword is

real.” “Matt!” I said. Matt held the sword up high. It glowed bright blue. “The Sword is real,” a reporter whispered. “Is it magic?” another said. The Queen stood up in alarm. Matt continued, “The sword is called Excalibur. It belongs to me.” I touched my amulet. “Matt, why?” “Because I love you.” His reply reverberated in my head. Matt stared straight into the cameras. “My name is Merlin.”

Get more Ryan. She's got bigger problems—as student president. in the past holds the key to save the future. defeated by Merlin’s brother. While the Wizard Council debates their next move. have you really lived? Excalibur has been pulled from the stone. Vane. But she can’t hide forever. On the journey. and Matt in the second installment of the My Merlin series! .MY MERLIN AWAKENING Book 2. but what does it mean? Arriane (aka Ryan) DuLac doesn’t really care. Vane. One wrong decision and the world falls apart. she's got to put on the Prom. she leaves the craziness behind and heads home. she may not know at all. At a time of shifting alliances. Sooner than she’d like Merlin (aka Matt) has her chasing mermaids on the trail of the Fisher King. No pressure. My Merlin If you haven’t broken the rules. she must decide whose side she’s on— the brother who struggles to do right or the brother who dares to break the rules? And Ryan must decide who she is—a regular or a champion? One wrong decision and her family falls apart. The wounded King. Ryan begins to realize the friends she thought she knew.

facebook.com/priyaardis Goodreads: http://www.com for updates on Priya’s next book and discover other authors at Ink Lion Books.About the Author Priya Ardis loves stories of all kinds—but especially the gooey ones that make your nose leak and let your latte go cold.goodreads. . Her young adult novels came from a childhood of playing too much She-Ra and watching too much Spock. and More blog: http://merlinblogs. ––––––––––– You may connect with Priya at the following sites: Author’s website: http://www. A hopeless romantic.com/priyaardis Visit www. YA Books.com/priyaardis Facebook: http://www. she's a longtime member of the Romance Writer's of America and various other writing organizations.priyaardis.com Merlin. writing in notebooks on long train rides in India.com Twitter: http://www.InkLionBooks. While reading.twitter. Her favorite Arthurian piece is the poem The Lady of Shalott by Lord Alfred Tennyson. she recommends pajamas first and a pumpkin spice anything for taste.priyaardis. She started her first book at sixteen.

com). Please help other readers find this book by recommending it to friends. . Book Two of the My Merlin Series. will be available Summer 2012. Review it. SPECIAL OFFER! If you do write a review.Author's Note Thank you for reading My Boyfriend Merlin! My Merlin Awakening.com/author/priyaardis). Please tell other readers why you liked this book by reviewing it at one of the following websites: Amazon (amazon. As a thank you. or Goodreads (www. I am gifting a kindle or nook eBook copy of My Merlin Awakening when it becomes available to the first 100 reviewers who email me. please send me an email at website@priyaardis.com with the review text and link. If you enjoyed My Boyfriend Merlin. Recommend it. Barnes and Noble (www.goodreads. I would appreciate it if you would help others enjoy this book.bn. too. reader's groups and discussion boards.com/priyaardis).


You're Reading a Free Preview

/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->