A darkness grows outside the Academy. But the biggest threat comes from within…
It’s finally here: After four boring years of underclassman studies, I’m beyond ready to move up into the New York Academy of Magic’s advanced program. Tougher classes, real-world assignments, supernatural thrills. It’s gonna be epic.
Until someone releases a manticore at the entrance ceremony.
And my best friend is kidnapped.
And I find out the kidnappers really want me.
A new baddie is gathering power in New York, someone even the shifters, Vamps, and undead fear; someone with insanely powerful magic who will stop at nothing to see the Academy and everything I love destroyed.
Now partnered up with some of my classmates—including the devilishly handsome, so-infuriating-I-want-to-strangle-him Asher Dunadine—I need to figure out who wants me, and why.
But to defeat this new darkness, I’ll need a little darkness of my own…
Shifters, vampires, magic, romance, and twists you won’t see coming. Jump into this fast-paced Academy urban fantasy, featuring a snarky heroine, an oh-so-swoon-worthy hero, and a supernatural New York City like you’ve never imagined…These are urban fantasies you won’t want to put down!
There are over seventy-five rooms in the New York Academy of Magic, depending on when you visit.
Three entrance halls. Five classrooms whose availability varies by lunar cycle. Dining hall, stables, dungeons (better to not ask about those), underground passages, secret shortcuts that only I and a few others who have practically grown up in the Academy know about. In my seventeen years on lovely planet earth, the Academy has become my home. I knew the cracks, the nooks, the crannies, the idiosyncrasies. I knew it all.
And I was still going to be late. Again.
“Hex it all. Hexitallhexitallhexitall…”
I hurriedly threw the last of the meat chunks into the bucket. The baby dragons crowded around my feet, squaking in protest. One blew a small spurt of flame that nearly singed my eyebrows off. They’d arrived overnight and been housed in the Beastology stables until they could be moved again. No one was allowed to see them.
Naturally, I didn’t let something as silly as a rule stop me.
“Sorry, guys, no more,” I said, giving each a quick pat on their warm, scaled heads. “You’re already too fat, and Master Scalius is gonna have a scowl on his face and murder on his mind if he finds me here.”
Which he wouldn’t. All the Masters were prepping for the Academy entrance ceremony today. But just to be sure…
I poked my head out of the stables. They were magically concealed inside Jones Beach Park on Long Island, but just because Norms couldn’t see it didn’t mean anybody from the Academy wouldn’t spot a seventeen-year-old girl trying to tiptoe her way past. I saw a couple stable hands cleaning up a few stalls down. One of the griffons was grooming itself in its pen. No Master Scalius in sight.
Satisfied, I quickly crossed the yard to the thin grove of trees across from the stables, slowing just a bit when nobody yelled at me to stop.
Piece of cake.
I found one of the trees that was much thicker than the others, my fingers brushing across the faint outline of a door imprinted into its trunk. With a sharp push it swung inward and I stepped into darkness. There was the usual moment of disorientation as the Farcast portal blipped me back to Manhattan, back to the Lincoln-Center-that-was-also-secretly-the-Academy-of-Magic. The Norms had no idea of the center’s other purpose, and thanks to New York’s numerous concealment charms, building expansion charms, and memory alteration teams, they never would.
I felt the slight tug in my gut as my body came out the other side of the portal. I emerged in a broad, white hallway. Glittering sconces and tall, well-lit windows lined either side. It was quiet as an after-hours museum. Normally it’d be packed with students, but: ceremony, remember?
I double-checked one of the numerous clocks hovering above my head and took off running again. Late, late, late. Master Lipstuck was gonna notice for sure. She might even…
No. I let out an almost giddy breath. She wasn’t going to be here. Not today. Too busy, per usual, and for that I was grateful. This was my day, not hers. She wouldn’t—couldn’t—steal the spotlight.
I tore down the next hallway, skidding past the stone statue of Scholar Gricies Gladius that you could ask for directions. One hand clutched a scroll, the other pointing down the hall, his grouchy expression never changing. But I knew the way. Up ahead were the doors to the Academy’s central lawn.
I pulled to a stop, forcing my breathing back to normal. I dug my ceremonial robes out of my backpack (what, you expect me to carry a satchel? We might be magic, but this is still New York) and slipped them over my jeans and t-shirt. The robes were a deep lapis blue, the sign of a graduate entering into the advanced courses. Satisfied it fit reasonably well over me, I straightened my shoulders, tried to look as confident as possible, and pushed through the doors out onto the lawn.
The clear blue sky and glittering sun greeted me, washing the students gathered beneath in warm light. There were almost five hundred of them, clustered in groups of different colored robes. White for the newbie first years, red for the upper classmen, blue for advanced, then all the way up to black, for the Masters.
At first glance, everybody here might have looked like your run-of-the-mill humans: until you got closer. New York being…New York, I guess, was lousy with Supes. We weren’t the only magic academy in the world, but I could bet you a baby dragon we’re the most diverse.
As I crossed over to them the differences became clear: I saw shifters—bear, wolf, panther, a whole zoo full of them—and witches. Elves mingled with dhampirs. A class lower than mine actually had an incubus, but I couldn’t pick him out of the crowd. Despite the number of different races, most of the Supes at the Academy were spellslingers, like me. Pretty much humans who could use magic to some degree or another: charms, hexes, jinxes, spells. I noticed the Vamps were missing. They and the rest of the undead had their own ceremony in the passageways and catacombs beneath our feet.
I spotted a gathering of blue robes—much less prominent than any other color since most normalstudents didn’t voluntarily sign up for another four years of intense study—and casually began walking over to where I saw my best friend, Mia. Nailed it. I’d arrived just in time, and no one was the wiser—
A couple classmates laughed. I put on my most innocent expression and turned as Master Lipstuck came huffing over, black robes swishing around his stubby legs. He was a round man with a thick gray mustache and—right now—a face the color of a cherry. An overly-ripe cherry.
“I—puff—took a head count—wheeze—and you weren’t here, Miss Rivest,” Master Lipstuck panted, pulling to a stop in front of me. “I’d like to know why.”
“Maybe you missed me,” I said. “I think I was practicing a disappearing spell when you counted.” More people chuckled.
“Miss Rivest.” Lipstuck finally caught his breath and drew himself up to his full height—about up to my chest. “While you may have made it through your first four years at the Academy, that was basic magic. Now you’re entering the realm of true practice, something that requires dedication and focus. I’ve said it time and time again, cutting it close and giving half-effort won’t be enough.”
“I do want to succeed—”
“You sure haven’t shown it! With how often I’ve seen you goofing off I almost feel you’d be better off auditioning at the local comedy club than a prestigious Academy.”
My face flamed. “I understand,” I mumbled, now painfully aware that others were beginning to stare. “I’m…sorry about being late. I’ll do better.”
“You will,” Lipstuck agreed. “Or you’ll fail out. And what would your mother think of that?”
A dark feeling uncoiled itself from the bottom of my gut. There it was. He had to bring her up. They always did. And rather than encouraging me, each time only made me feel worse.
“You have talent, Skylar,” Lipstuck said in a kinder ovice. He sighed and lay a hand on my arm. “Use today as a clean slate of sorts. Because, despite what you believe, I do want to see you wearing a black robe in four years’ time.”
I gave a wordless, jerky nod. Lipstuck tutted under his breath and toddled off to wrangle some red-robed upper classmen back to their spots.
I stood there, fists clenching, then loosening, clenching, then loosening. My classmates’ whispers and giggles slowly faded away as they turned back to their own conversations. I let out a relieved sigh.
It always came back to her, Aspen Rivest, my famous mommy, hero of the great Battle of New York, one of the unifiers of the boroughs and re-founders of the Academy. She was the shadow cast over everything I did. The invisible yardstick by which my successes—and more often, my failures—were measured.
But she wasn’t here today, and I’d revel in that as long as I could. With that realization the dark knot in my gut relaxed, though a foul taste still lingered on my tongue.
I turned back to Mia. Her heart-shaped face was scrunched like she was sucking a lemon, her delicate fingers playing with the fringes of her robe sleeves.
“You better not be laughing at me,” I said.
“Mia, you better not be laughing.”
“I’m not laughing!”
“Or about to say—”
“Told you so!” Mia blurted. Then she doubled over laughing. I was mad for all of two seconds, then couldn’t help joining in. No matter what I did I could never stay angry at her. No one could. She was too kind. Too helpful. Too sweet. Like, cotton candy levels of sweetness. Six packets of sugar in your hot chocolate stirred with a pixie stick sweet.
Mia brushed a strand of her frizzy brown hair from her face. “Wait, you’ve got a…let me get it.”
She reached up, standing on her tiptoes to help all five-feet-nothing of her reach my hair. She tucked a silver-black strand away and gave a satisfied nod.
“Think you could do anything about my nose?” I said, joking. I’d broken it twice and it was just a millimeter off center, something I kind of liked. Actually, I was pretty pleased with how I looked in general, I guess (you want to call it vanity, go right ahead). I had a somewhat angular face thanks to my dad, and was one of the tallest girls in my grade. Mia jokingly said that with my height, combined with the silver streaks in my hair I’d gotten from my mom, I looked like one of the huntresses of Artemis.
She said it, not me.
“Thanks,” I said when Mia finally tugged my robe into place and started trying to roll up her sleeves. I felt eyes on me. I glanced over Mia’s shoulder (not hard to do) and scanned my classmates.
Asher was smirking at me.
I immediately glared back at him and turned away, fighting the rising heat in my face. How long had he been staring? And I’m sure he’d heard Lipstuck chew me out. Practically everyone had, but Asher in particular had a habit of always managing to see me at my worst.
We used to be friends, believe it or not. His dad was the equally-famous Lucien Dunadine, other re-founder of the Academy and current Headmaster. I honestly couldn’t remember how many hours Asher and I had spent as kids terrorizing the Academy, sneaking into classes, disrupting training, getting lost exploring the dozens of ancient corridors. Asher got me, he got the whole famous parents thing like no one else could. I thought I’d found someone who I could really trust. Then he left for one summer and came back taller, stronger, handsomer.
And a total jerk.
I snuck another glance at him, but he’d turned back to his friends and usual group of interchangeable girls who hung around him. I could be wrong, but had the look he’d given me been…sympathetic? No. I was kidding myself. Asher didn’t do sympathetic. Not anymore.
But as much as he irked me, I understood why the girls hung around him. Really I did. Asher had inherited his dad’s flowing, honey-blond hair and dazzling are-you-freaking-kidding-how-perfect-your-teeth-are-smile. A smile I’d always liked. Still do, if I’m being totally honest. Not that I’d ever admit it to anyone.
He was slenderly muscular, with tanned, thick hands he was always flourishing about when he spoke, or running through his hair. His robe was tight across his chest and didn’t quite reach the bottom of his long legs. He brushed it back every so often. Not because it was in his way, but probably because he thought it looked good.
And he did, hex it all. He really did.
“Keep staring like that and he might get the wrong idea,” Mia said.
I yanked my eyes away. “I was glaring.”
“Hm…Was it a sultry glare?”
I turned back to her, then pretended to notice someone coming up behind her. “Oh, hey Colson.”
The result was immediate: Mia let out a little squeak of surprise and clutched my sleeve. I burst out laughing when she turned and saw there was no one behind her.
“Not funny, Skylar!”
“You jumped, like, a foot in the air!”
“Still not funny,” she mumbled.
“You’re right, it was hilarious.”
“Students!” Lipstuck’s reedy voice carried over us. “We’re heading to the entrance ceremony venue. Get in your groups, single file. Aaaannnd…march!”
There was a sudden rush as everyone shuffled back into place, and then we were moving off the lawn, through another hall of the Academy, and out across the street toward Damrosch Park.
I spared a quick glance back at the Academy as we left. If you looked hard at the Lincoln Center—really squinted at it—you could almost see the magically added rooms, the spires, towers, battlements, the works. It was an entire friggin’ castle in the center of Manhattan, all concealed from Norm eyes. And most Supes, too. Magic was everywhere in New York. Even some of the more powerful supes in our cluster of students had the tell-tale shimmer surrounding them, which made them stand out to me as we finished crossing the street and entered the open-air bandstand. Norms couldn’t see magic for what it actually was—I don’t know whatthey saw when they looked at us; maybe a bunch of attendees heading to an anime convention.
We finished lining up before the stage and I quickly scanned the surrounding stands. Plenty of other Supe parents. No mother.
Mia shifted nervously beside me.
“Have you…thought about who your partner will be?” she whispered.
“You, of course,” I replied automatically, though I knew I didn’t have a choice. Nobody in the advanced classes did. That was why I’d avoided thinking about it until now.
Mia gave me a grateful smile. “I hope I get you, too.”
“Guess we’ll find out in a bit.”
I saw a flurry of robes from the corner of my eyes and Lucien Dunadine, the Headmaster, strode onto stage, all shimmering golden hair and blinding-white teeth. Like father, like son. I noticed Asher straighten up a couple rows ahead of me, chin up, eyes focused.
“Students!” Lucien’s magically magnified voice boomed. “Welcome one and all! For those entering the Academy for the first time, we give an extra-special hello. For those leaving us, we will bid you a fond adieu! And to those choosing to continue their advanced studies” —His bright smile flashed toward our blue robes— “remember, your future torment is completely self-inflicted!”
Those in the stands laughed. A couple of my classmates let out nervous chuckles and I couldn’t help but agree with their hesitant enthusiasm.
Lucien continued talking but I was distracted by a loud sniffle beside me. My row had ended up next to a group of the white-robed newbies. A boy—couldn’t have been more than nine or ten—was furiously wiping his wet eyes.
I checked to make sure Master Lipstuck was enraptured with Lucien’s speech and knelt before the kid.
He looked warily at me, to my blue robe, then back up to me. “A…little.”
He sniffled again, wiping a dribble of snot with his sleeve. I winced and cast a small cleaning spell that siphoned the snot off. “What kind of magic user are you?”
“Me too. We’re awesome, right?” I held out my fist. The boy gave another slow nod, then bumped it.
“You don’t need to be nervous,” I said. “The Academy’s gonna take good care of you. You’ll make lots of friends, learn some cool spells, accidentally blow up a few things…”
Mia gave me a light shove with her leg. The boy’s eyes widened.
“I told you that already,” a girl beside him whispered. “They’re just letting us in today. There’s no test.”
“Listen to her, she knows what she’s talking about,” I said.
I cocked my ear. It sounded like Lucien was reaching the end of whatever part of the speech he was on.
“Here.” I straightened the collar of the kid’s robe and pulled the sleeves down. Before letting go, I muttered another quick spell, then tousled his hair.
“Go slay ‘em, kid.”
“Not literally,” the girl emphasized when the boy’s eyes widened again.
“What’d I miss?” I asked Mia when I stood again.
“Pomp and circumstance,” she said. She gave a small shake of her head, smiling. “Accidentally blow stuff up? Really?”
“And finally,” Lucien went on, “we at the Academy use the entrance ceremony to remember what brought us together: the great battle of New York thirty years ago that united our boroughs and brought more harmony between the supernatural races. Today, the Academy stands as the pinnacle of that unity, and we honor those who lost their lives in gaining it. Thank you.”
All of us bowed our heads for a few seconds in silent remembrance.
And then the waiting began.
I had to stifle more than half a dozen yawns as each of the new academy inductees and all of the previous years were paraded up. The only exciting moment was when the boy I’d talked to took his turn on the stage. Lucien warmly shook his hand, and as he did so the boy’s white robes instantly changed to the onyx black of a Master’s.
There were some gasps, a few laughs. Lipstuck’s head immediately snapped around, attempting to deduce the culprit. I tried to keep a straight face.
“Smooth…” someone said. Asher was glancing back, giving me an appraising look. “Way to fight the authority, Rivest.”
I ignored him.
Lucien merely laughed and directed the boy to join his friends, who all began talking at once, checking out the robe.
And finally—finally—it was our turn.
“Now we reach those among us who wish to continue their study,” Lucien said as my group stepped forward. “Whether it be for a specialized job, a desire to teach, or that the real world is a scary place they wish to avoid as long as possible”—some more chuckling— “these students have shown merit and skill the Academy has deemed worthy of further education.
But continuing in our advanced program is more than just study. It’s about real-world, practical application. It’s about cooperation with your fellow Supes. It’s about working beyond yourself. That’s why each advanced level student is partnered with a classmate, to help with study and teach these values.”
Lucien leaned forward, a twinkle in his eye. “So why don’t we get started!”
My stomach was doing circus flops, my legs beginning to shake as they started pairing off partners one-by-one. A couple of my classmates who’d been matched with Vamps or ghouls or necromancers would meet their partners later, but I watched plenty of others I knew pair off and gather on stage.
Mia was fidgeting nervously with the sleeves of her robe again, and I almost grabbed her hands, if only to stop my own from shaking. Partners were a big deal. Get stuck with a bad one, someone lazy or unmotivated, and they could screw up any plans you had at doing well. The Academy was supposedto pick them based on compatibility, but we’d all heard the horror stories: Students with lousy partners who’d been forced to flunk out and work lesser jobs. Some who’d even been seriously hurt because their partners didn’t watch their backs during the many, many practical assignments we took out in the city and beyond.
The knot in my stomach tightened. I could already feel an ulcer burning a hole in my esophagus.
“—Mia Marquee,” Lucien announced, “and…Colson Keller!”
If Mia could have spontaneously combusted she would have. Her face grew so red I waited for it to burst into flames. Her entire body trembled as I gently prodded her forward. I felt partly sorry, but partly glad at her…misfortune? That was the wrong word now that she was partnered with the guy she’d crushed on for the last four years.
Mia’s legs wobbled like a newborn giraffe’s as she stepped onto the stage, shook Lucien’s hand, and—still in a shell-shocked daze—took her place with the other pairs beside a stoic-looking Colson. Her terrified eyes searched for me. I gave her a thumbs up.
“Acknowledge her…” I muttered under my breath to Colson. “Say something to her…”
Colson craned his neck to look down at Mia, his immense frame towering over hers, and gave a curt nod.
I scoffed. “Are you freaking kidd—that’s it?”
“That’s like a high-five, coming from Colson,” Asher said. I had almost forgotten he was one of the few still left among us. My heart did a weird backflip at what that might mean, but I ignored it.
“He’s not the most expressive guy,” Asher went on.
“I know,” I snapped. “We go to the same school, remember? I’m pretty sure I know the guy, thanks.”
“And Iknow he’s my best friend,” he said, not the least bit put off. “He’ll be a good partner. Mia’s lucky to have him.”
“Wait, she’slucky to—”
“Skylar Rivest!” Lucien called. “And…”
I knew it. I knew who he was going to say even before his lips formed the words. He gave it away with the slight twitch at the corner of his mouth, the humorous glimmer in the corner of his eye.
“No!” I burst out at the same time as Asher said, “Shocker.”
I couldn’t be with him. I mean, yeah, we might have been compatible at onepoint, but those days were long gone. Asher was…Asher was frustrating, infuriating, a total tease, a lay-about, literally the opposite of everything I needed to prove myself different from my mom and not flunk out these next four years. This was when I was supposed to show what I, Skylar Rivest, could do, when I proved to the world that I was so much more than just my famous parents.
How was I supposed to do that with him?
Asher was already at the stage steps, looking back at me like I’d keeled over and died where I stood. “Stop being so dramatic. It’s not like we’re getting married.”
I was about to embarrass myself right then and there, probably say something I’d regret later and once again show everyone that I wasn’t even close to ready for the advanced studies, that it was a mistake letting me in.
I opened my mouth—
The ground shook, making me stumble and throwing some of those on stage to the ground. Frantic shouts came from the stands. I forced myself back to standing and regained my balance, looking for the source of the disruption. Another tremor hit, and I turned back toward the center of the park, just in time to see a tunnel open up in the earth and a manticore come charging out.