Warmage: Unexpected Snippet #1
With the new Warmage series coming on February 26, I had to share this fantastic snippet with you! This is chapter 1 and you are going to love it!
The screen door creaked loudly, slamming shut behind Raven Alby as she jumped off the porch and ran toward the gate of the Alby Ranch. A silver dragon passed overhead with a rider from the Dragon Rangers returning from patrol over the kingdom. They were flying back toward the center of Brighton.
“Right on time,” said the teenager, breathlessly. She waved her arms overhead at the rider as she ran, and he ducked the dragon’s head. The long tail sailed out behind, the pearly scales twinkling in the morning light. In the distance she could see the mountains that marked the edge of one side of the kingdom, the clouds hanging low near the peaks.
She passed by grassy fields and barns, and a pen of dwarf goats being fed their breakfast while two ranch hands leaned up against the fence.
“Morning Miss Alby.” Isaac Irving lifted his hat and gave the girl a nod.
“Where you off to in such a hurry?” Deacon Smith knocked his boot against a fence post, raising a cloud of dust.
“First day of school,” shouted Raven, running the last stretch toward the gate.
“That’s right, Fowler Academy! That’s a big deal.”
“Learn a spell for me that can herd a lot of tiny goats,” said Deacon.
“You have a good dog for that.” Isaac put two fingers in his mouth and gave a sharp whistle. A black and white border collie came running from a distant pasture.
Raven laughed but didn’t stop by the two men. “Have to get a move on,” she said, with a quick wave, shifting the strap of her satchel.
She reached up and tightened her long, red ponytail as it swayed behind her, not breaking her stride. Up at the gate, her best friend Liam Derks was already waiting for her. He was a tall, muscular teenage boy with dark curls and tanned skin from farming on his family’s land.
Two more ranch hands were sitting in chairs against the gate. Their chins were on their chests and they were fast asleep. The larger of the two was snoring loudly, an empty brown bottle resting his lap.
Liam smiled as Raven approached. “Look at these guys. I hope you didn’t have any trespassers last night, because they would have made good doorstops for the gate.”
Raven rolled her eyes. “Just leave them alone, Liam. A lot of the hands around here drink when they have to stand guard. Nothing ever happens around here inside the city walls. They have to do something to pass the time.”
“The two of them started down the road together. “What did your grandpa say this morning? Did he give you some speech about being responsible and studying hard at the Academy?”
“Shockingly, no.” Raven adjusted the strap on the bag hanging on her back. “He was pretty quiet all morning. I’ve never known him to turn down telling me something I need to hear if I’m going to survive in this world. I think in the years I’ve been here he’s given me one good lecture a month. Did you know butterbur leaves can heal a burn and cure a headache? Or that I’m from a proud line of mages, who have been of service for hundreds of years. Or that…”
Liam laughed. “I get it. Your grandpa’s always been like that. He’s a walking historian and he wants you to be the one who benefits from all of it. You’re lucky. My parents were giving me a bunch of crap about growing up, not their little Liam anymore.” He shook his head and adjusted the leather strap over his shoulder, shoving his satchel behind his back. “I’m pumped. I can’t wait to start using some spells!” He wiggled his fingers. “All that magic just waiting to help me with chores.”
“Liam, come on. We’ve used spells before. This isn’t that big of a deal.”
Liam gave her a sidelong glance. “Maybe you have. I’ve learned a couple simple ones and some from you, but I want to know the whole range of what we can do. I’m going to bust my ass so I can hit the front lines.”
The girl raised her eyebrows. “Front lines of what?”
“Okay, so there’s no war now, but the stories say…”
“They’re just stories, Liam, old stories. Besides, you think you’re cut out for war?”
“Why not?” Liam sounded offended, running his hand through his thick hair. “I don’t have to be a farmer.”
“I don’t mean anything by it. I just know it’s tough to get picked for the squads that go to the farther reaches of the kingdom to train. You have to be really good.”
“Your future is already laid out. A mage just like your mother, and your grandmother, for generations. Everyone knows what an Alby will become. Must be easy. You don’t have to wonder.”
She shrugged, trying not to show her frustration. “Is it actually written somewhere? I’ve got big things on my mind too.”
“Some things are tradition, Raven. Don’t know how you fight hundreds of years of it.”
The two of them reached the center of town. The tall grey spires of Fowler Academy loomed in the distance.
Raven pointed at the pennants fluttering in the far distance at the top of the turrets on the school. “I’m going to figure it out, and you’re going to help me.”
“Have we met? Hi, I’m Liam Derks, third son of Harvey Derks and useful when you need something large moved from there to here,” he said, pointing. “My goals at school are one, to learn how to make hay stack itself, which by the way my older brother already knows but won’t tell me. And two, never see the inside of the headmaster’s office. Hell, for Headmaster Flynn to never know my name would be perfect. A real achievement.”
“Everyone always knows your name. Your mother tied you to a kitchen chair when you were seven so she could get a break.”
“You stole that spell from my grandpa and turned one of the chickens into a rat. The others didn’t lay an egg for a month.”
“Yeah, you change one word…” He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter! Fresh start. If you want to find me, I’ll be squarely in the center of the pack.”
Raven laughed and punched her tall friend in the arm. “Great plan. That’s exactly how to get chosen for the elite fighting squad.”
Liam let out a loud tsk. “Yeah, well, I’m still working on the plan.”
They passed a pair of merchants standing outside their shops. They were huddled together, too deep in their conversation to notice Raven or Liam.
Jacob Lane was standing outside of his dry goods shop, pointing in the direction of the sturdy wall in the distance that surrounded the city. A large key ring jangled from his wrist, the brass keys clanging together. “Wilson told me they found another abandoned satellite ranch out by Farley on the far side of the Kingdom.”
Raven slowed down, ducking into the side street at the end of the shop.
Standing nearby was Samuel Lane, the local butcher. He was wearing a bloody apron stretched out across his ample belly. He put his hands on his hips, shaking his head. “Where the hell are all these guys going?”
Liam turned to show her the new wand he’d carved for himself. “What are you…”
She hushed him, yanking on his arm and pulling him out of sight. He started to say something, but she held her finger up to her lips. She leaned around the edge of the building and watched the two merchants.
“We’re going to be late, and on the first day. You’re killing my life plan, here,” muttered Liam.
“Your life plan was already full of holes. Be quiet so I can hear them.” Raven cupped her hands around her mouth and whispered a spell. “Exaudi me.” The sound traveled back to her, swirling around her head and echoing in her ears.
Liam arched an eyebrow and stared at her. “Least you could have done was let me hear too. If I’m going to get in trouble for being late, I’d like to think I got something for it.”
“Fine but be quiet.” She cupped her hands again and whispered, “Venite audite,” and the waves of sound expanded and swirled around the pair. Liam peered over Raven’s head from the edge of the building at the two merchants down the block.
Jacob threw his hands in the hair, his eyes widening. “He said he got a chance to check it out for himself. It was eerie.” The keys knocked together making a sound like wind chimes. “A tinker passing through found them. He was on his annual rounds.”
“Yeah, that’s about right. The fall harvest is coming in. Has he passed through town yet? I have a few pieces that need repair.”
“You’re missing the point, Samuel. Everything was exactly where it should be. It was like somebody had set up this whole ranch and then walked away from it. But get this, there were no signs of or a cart pulling away. Wilson’s a good hunter, he’d know how to find somebody. Nothing.”
The fat man adjusted the ties on his apron. “That’s ridiculous,” said Samuel. “Maybe they got called away or something. That could have happened last spring. Was there dust on anything? Nobody just walks away from their ranch.”
“The tinker didn’t say. I’m telling you, they didn’t walk away. We all know exactly what caused it.” He poked Samuel in the chest.
The butcher shook his head, turning to walk back into his shop, waving off the insinuation. “Don’t start with those Death Swarm stories again.”
“Seriously?” Jacob leaned toward him in shock. “You still don’t believe it? How many more people need to disappear before you start taking it seriously? Something is making people disappear. What else could it be?”
Samuel snorted and shook his head. “It’s raiders and the fighting squads will ferret them out.”
“What’ll it take for you to believe those things are back?”
“When these creatures show up on my doorstep and decide they want to buy a pack of steaks.” He laughed as he walked back inside, and Jacob sighed before returning to his shop.
“You believe that stuff, Raven?” Liam stepped out from the building. “That Death Swarm thing? A lot of people swear by it.”
Raven leaned back against the grey wood siding and took in a deep breath. An adventure at last. Well, maybe. “It would make more sense than people just disappearing, I guess. I don’t know. Something’s obviously happening. Hell if I know what it is.”
They finally reached the grounds of the academy, and they both stopped for a moment. “You ready?” asked Liam.
“I’ve been waiting for an adventure to finally start.”
“School is your idea of an adventure? I don’t know about you, Alby.”
“The start… Okay, okay. A girl can dream.”
Liam nudged her as they walked up the long, manicured gravel driveway that lead to the circular front courtyard of Fowler Academy. It was an old institution, with a long history of training the brightest and best.
The school was held within the old Fowler Castle, left empty for years after the great war and eventually refurbished for the school. The few remaining Fowlers still lived on the property in cottages near the back edges.
Both of them were turning and looking in every direction, taking it all in.
They passed a group of upperclassmen playing with a small bean bag tossing it around using only their feet. “I used to play that when I was little,” said Liam.
“Not like that you didn’t. Look closer, it’s floating.”
Liam took another look, taking a few steps forward. He suddenly straightened up, walking even closer, a grin across his face. The bag was always inches from the ground or a foot with only air in between.
“Can I try that?”
The young man with jet black hair shorn close to his scalp shrugged. “Sure,” he said, tossing the bean bag in Liam’s direction while flicking his wrist. Raven felt the small pulse of magic he used.
Liam caught the bag on his foot and tried to toss it, but nothing happened, and it fell to the ground. He flicked his wrist right and left trying to put some wind beneath the small bag, but it just lay there.
“Catch you next semester,” said the junior, extending his hand. “The name’s Daniel. You a townie?” he asked, looking at the lone satchel on Liam’s back.
“Yeah, I still help out on the farm with my brothers.”
“I get it. I would too if I didn’t travel from the other side of the kingdom to be here. I’m from Yardley.”
“Sure, I know the place. It’s near the shore.”
Raven furrowed her brow, watching Liam.
“Professor Ridley will teach you the cantrip on the first really sunny day when there’s not much else to do.” Daniel picked up the bag and flicked it, directing it with his foot. “You’re new?”
Raven came and stood next to him, waiting for Liam to introduce her. He was too busy staring at the silver patch sewn to Daniel’s sleeve.
“Yeah, first year. You’re on the fight squad, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, this is my first year for the squad. Tryouts are every spring. Are you interested?”
“Can’t you tell by the drool?” muttered Raven. Both young men turned to look at her, Liam with a horrified scowl. Daniel looked amused and crossed his arms over his chest, patiently waiting.
Raven’s face warmed. “Did I say that out loud?” She put out her hand, blurting out, “Hello, I’m Raven Alby.”
“Yeah, I know you. Alby, huh? Aren’t you some kind of mage?”
Raven dropped her hand and let out a sigh. “Something like that. Come on Liam, we need to get inside for the announcements.”
“Nice to meet you Raven Alby, mage,” shouted Daniel as the bean bag came back in his direction and he swiveled neatly, sending it flying in another direction.
Raven tilted her head and waved. “Nice to meet you.”
“Great meeting you,” shouted Liam. “See you around the grounds. I’ll get that spell figured out.” He was walking backward, almost tripping over a small fourth-year witch who snapped at him. “Newbies!”
He finally caught up to Raven, a wide grin on his face. “I love this place!”
“We’ve been here five minutes and you’re already a fanboy. Pace yourself. What do you know about Yardley?”
“I know what’s on that map in your kitchen. That counts.”
“You’re gonna have an easier time of it if you stop being insulted every time someone uses the word mage. Not to mention you’re gonna make every mage hate you.”
“I like being a mage. In fact, I love being a mage, just like my mother. It’s just that I want something more.”
“Maybe, I don’t know. That’s why I’m here, to figure out that part. Can’t it be more?”
“Not in this city. Not so far.” Liam stopped in front of the main building, stepping up the first two wide granite steps and holding his arms out wide. “My future greatness has begun!”
Raven laughed and felt a tremor of excitement pass through her. “Hang on, great warrior. It may take a few classes to get there.” She took a step back and looked up at the building in front of her, the tall windows stretching down the sides of the building. It was the most amazing place she had ever seen. “It is the start of something,” she whispered.
“I heard that,” crowed Liam. He jumped off the step and wrapped his arm around Raven’s shoulders, sweeping his arm to take in the other buildings. There were four tall, ornate buildings clustered at an angle around the old castle that was known as the main hall. To the west were the dormitories. The boys’ dorms to the left and the girls to the right separated by a circular garden in the center.
The entire array stretched over several acres surrounded by grassy swaths of land that ran to either side to carefully managed groves of trees.
“This is the coolest place I’ve ever seen too, but old friend that is not the point. It’s not the brick and mortar, it’s what’s inside of them.”
“Liam Derks are you making a case for studying?” Raven let out a laugh, clasping her hands in front of her chest.
“I’ve got a new strategy this year. Besides going unnoticed and joining the elite squad, I’m going to just say yes.”
“I like it,” said Raven, nodding. “Better than last year’s ‘wear the same thing all week’.”
Liam kept his arm around her shoulders turning her around to look in every direction. “I admit that one had some flaws. Every great plan needs some tweaking…”
Raven wrinkled her nose. “And a hot bath. You smelled like a rabbit hut.”
“You kid, but that idea saved me a lot of time picking out what tunic to wear.” He took in a deep breath. “Do you smell that? It’s potential! The barns are just behind the buildings,” said Liam, his excitement growing. “It’s where they keep the dragons. Just behind that is the arena for student matches and dragon testing and just beyond that are the great woods. I scoped the place out all summer. Even got a few tips from one of the trainers.” He rubbed his hands together.
“You know, for someone who wants to stay invisible, you are doing a good job of showing up.”
“Just say yes and run low and silent. Dual plan.”
“Mixed message, Derks. This year should be fun.”
“I totally agree.”
Hundreds of students were milling about, talking to each other and trying out small spells on the sly before heading into the main hall.
Sheep grazed on the grass, followed closely by two dogs. Up on the hill a shepherd kept close watch, leaning on a crooked walking stick.
Liam and Raven didn’t bother waiting, instead opting to go straight inside the main hall. Once inside the building, dozens of rows of red wooden chairs with padded seats stretched out on either side of the main aisle. They walked down the center until they were smack in the middle. Liam looked around before leading them down the row.
“What are you doing? This is your plan at work, isn’t it?” Raven asked. “Let’s sit toward the front.” Liam stared at her, stonefaced. Raven laughed and tugged at his arm. “I’ll even compromise. Third row. How’s that? You can slouch down, maybe no one will notice you.”.
“Funny… Maybe…” He reluctantly followed her, nodding at a skinny boy from a neighboring city who was slouched down in the back. “Lucky,” he muttered as he followed Raven up near the front.
“You’re full of mixed messages, Liam.” Raven sat down next to a girl with long blonde braids. The girl stuck out her hand and smiled. “Murphy. Anne Marie Murphy but my friends call me Murphy.”
“Raven Alby, you must be from the north side of the kingdom?”
Murphy nodded her head. “Yeah, I’m staying in town for a semester and then moving into the dorms. What about you?”
“I’m local. I live on a ranch with my grandfather.”
“Ooooh, we can hang out in town and practice spells.” The girl made a fist and knocked it against the palm of her hand, opening her fingers slowly. A small glowing orb bobbed in her open hand. She stretched it open a few inches and showed a watery mirror with a small silver dragon inside of it. “It’s not real. This is a telescope spell. My best trick,” Murphy whispered. “That’s one of the dragons in the barn out back.
Raven peered over her shoulder, mesmerized by the sight of a dragon. “So beautiful!” On its back was a leather saddle. Murphy looked up at her. “That’s what I want to learn how to do. Ride a dragon.”
Raven took in the words, something stirring inside of her. “Ride a dragon,” she repeated back. She looked down again at the silvery scales along the back of the small dragon, its leathery wings rustling, just as Murphy squeezed her hand shut, startling Raven.
“What are you doing?” Liam was on his feet, trying to slide by Raven. Murphy looked at him wide-eyed and then at Raven.
“It’s okay, this is Liam, he’s with me.” Murphy smiled at him and blushed as the seats around them filled up with students. Liam sat down next to Raven and said hello to a few boys nearby, exchanging magical sparks, jolting each other in the arms and legs and laughing. He turned around to see Raven had pulled out a book of spells and was scanning through it, her finger moving along the page.
“Studying already?” Liam nudged her with his elbow. “Maybe you should be in the front row.”
“Zip it.” She lifted a finger and sparked him in the arm, jolting him flat against the back of the chair.
“Ow,” he said, grabbing his arm. “Learn to take constructive criticism Alby.”
A hum of anticipation was building among the crowd as a tall, man in black robes with deep lines along his face and long white hair with a closely cropped salt-and-pepper beard walked quietly to the front of the stage. He had his hands folded behind his back as he stared out at the students and waited silently for them to quiet down.
A loud, deep bass voice thundered from him with a youthfulness and power that did not match the rest of his appearance. “Welcome to Fowler Academy. I am Headmaster Flynn. I head this institution that will be guiding your young minds on your path to becoming powerful witches and wizards.”
“Wow, it’s like he’s looking right at you, Raven.” Liam slid down in his seat, leaning away from Raven.
Raven leaned over to him even as he tried to turn away. “You know that guy’s been in combat. Look at that scar,” she whispered. A long, thin scar was etched into his skin from his right eye, down his cheek, and to his chin.
“You should see the other guy.” Liam snickered.
The headmaster cleared his throat.
“I think he’s looking at you, Liam.”
The headmaster raised a thick white eyebrow and seemed to be waiting for Liam to sit up in his seat.
“Your plan is failing,” whispered Raven.
Liam sat up straight and tall in his seat, frowning. “Just going to plan B.”
Headmaster Flynn took a deep breath and started again. “Your time in Fowler will not be wasted. Here, you will learn a vast array of useful cantrips, along with the history of magic in this kingdom. You will learn how to use them, and more importantly, when to use them.”
Raven sat on the edge of her seat.
“Today you are all on the same footing, but this will quickly change. As the weeks and months go by, there will be different tracks for different students. Those of you at the top of the class will be trained in warfare. Others will go on to other jobs, though all of you will play an important role here. Some will be headed to medicine, depending on your magical strengths, and still others will be enlisted to help run the daily activities of our town.”
Liam leaned over and whispered. “I’ll be on the front lines, and they’ll probably make you a dishwasher.”
Raven scowled at him, snapped out of her daydreaming. “Everybody knows the dwarves wash the dishes, oh, and students with enough demerits. Don’t break anything when you’re back there. Shhh, he’s looking this way.” Raven turned away from him before he could answer, smiling as she looked up at the headmaster towering over the front row.
“Many of you may be wondering what kind of power you can expect to develop here at Fowler. Of course, there are flashier uses for spells, such as those involved in conflict. But what we take pride in developing is the complete control of your environment.”
The headmaster glanced at the shadowy corner of the room where three feral cats were wrestling each other, growling and hissing, their claws out. He reached out his hand with his long, bony fingers spread wide and shouted, “Veni ad me, et pedes ejus intellexerunt!!”
At once, the cats stopped and slinked to the front of the stage, lining up in a straight row and sitting properly beside him in a neat line, facing the students. They looked up to him intently, as if they were waiting on further instruction.
A few of the students applauded. Headmaster Flynn smiled, slowly lowering his chin. The children quieted down. He looked back up, still smiling. “This is a rather simple spell.” He pointed in the air, his billowing sleeve hanging down from his elbow. “But it demonstrates the power that we have over nature as wizards and witches. This is what each of you will learn to master during your time here.”
Liam shrugged. “So he can herd cats. What’s the big deal?”
A girl sitting in front of them turned around with a surprised look on her face. “Seriously? Cats are notorious familiars. They don’t always listen to those kinds of magical commands. They do what they want. It takes a lot of power to do that!”
Liam held up his hands. “I sit corrected.”
Raven sat forward, watching more intently, observing the cats sitting motionless in front of the assembly.
Headmaster Flynn raised his arms and the cats snapped out of it, meowing loudly and scampering off to the shadows once again. “What you just saw was not an advanced spell. It was a simple spell that isn’t easy to do well. It takes training, patience and practice. When done right, casting spells should look effortless. Most of you will learn this… eventually. But you will to have work with a familiar and become bonded with them enough so the spell can work.”
He paced the front of the stage, his hands clasped behind his back. “All of you should have chosen your familiar over the summer, as instructed, and you will introduce them at the Harvest Festival. If you have not, you have exactly one month to remedy that and accomplish the first real goal of your wizarding career. Fail!” He barked out the word, startling everyone. Raven slid back in her seat, biting her lip. “Fail and you will have to reapply for the next year.”
A tall witch with grey hair piled on top of her head stood up from the front row and clapped her hands together. Murphy nudged Raven and whispered, “That’s Professor Gilliam. She teaches basic and advanced spells. My older sister had her and swears she keeps a list of students, good and bad and once you’re on it… whew!”
“Alright students, all rise.” She held out her arms, waiting. “Now, please.” Her lips were pursed together as she waited. “You are excused for a short break. When you hear the crow, the older students disperse into your classes for the morning. The new students will gather in the front for your day of orientation. Everyone should have already received a schedule and have it with them. Today is a shorter day and tomorrow there are no classes while we get ready for the Harvest Festival. But after that we start in earnest and with your familiars. Be prepared. Already, head out. Single file, orderly fashion.”
The circular front hall quickly filled and began to buzz with anticipation as the assembly was dismissed. Raven remained in her seat, staring at the empty stage. Murphy was following a knot of girls out the tall double doors into the wide hallway.
Liam paused in the aisle. “You just going to sit there and stare? Come on, we’ve got a break. Let’s not waste it!”
“One month,” she said, still looking at the stage.
“Yeah, but that’s the case every year. No one ever fails that part. You just have to figure out what creature is calling to you and choose. Easiest thing you’ll do all year. Come on, let’s go.”
But Raven kept her eyes fixed on the stage. “Go on out. I’ll catch up.”
“Whatever. I’m going to go meet people. Maybe I can make some friends who actually want to socialize.”
“Okay, I’ll be out in a minute.”
The hum of activity died down behind her until Raven was alone in the great hall in front of the stage. She looked over her shoulder to make sure nobody else was in the room. Then she turned her attention to the cats, who were again wrestling and snarling in the shadows.
She slowly got out of her seat and walked down the aisle until she was standing at the stage, which rose to just beneath her shoulder level. Resting her arms on the stage, she peered across the floor at the animals, who were hissing and clawing at each other, their ears pressed back. “Not very friendly, are you?”.
Raven hoisted herself onto the stage and brought her legs around into a seated position. She cautiously stood up and approached the cats slowly, crouching down to their level. The largest cat, black with a white belly hissed at her and reached out with a paw, claws bared as a warning. The others froze in place, one on top of the other, while the black cat moved several feet away, cleaning itself.
They locked eyes with Raven, watching her every move. She extended her hand just a few inches away. The yellow tabby on the top hissed and swatted at her hand, clawing two of her fingers.
Raven jerked her hand away quickly. “Ow! You’re feral, all right.” She pinched her skin, letting the blood seep out. “Sana me.” The wound closed in a straight line, healing till it completely disappeared. “First spell Grandpa taught me.”
She stood up and walked to the far side of the stage. Raising her arms, she said in a firm and steady voice, “Veni ad me, et pedes ejus intellexerunt!!”
Immediately, the three cats stopped what they were doing and rushed over to her, sitting at her feet. Raven giggled, waving her hand around and watching the once-angry beasts following her every move. “Now that’s power!” she said in a hushed tone.
She raised her arm, changing her intention and released the cats from the spell. They rushed back to resume their razor-sharp activities. Raven turned to hop off the stage but froze at the sound of a booming voice.
“Very well done!”
Raven spun around and saw Headmaster Flynn standing just on the side of the stage with his arms crossed in front of him.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just…”
“Just testing your new limits. A good and a bad trait at times. I’m impressed, Miss…?”
She put her hand on her chest. “Alby. Raven Alby, Headmaster.”
He nodded. “Miss Alby, you’ve got something. Either you are a natural, or you have been raised by someone who knows their spells and has been willing to teach you.”
“Alby… yes, I recognize that name.” A black crow landed in a high window and let out a loud squawk. He pulled out a brass pocket watch and glanced down. “You had better get going. The break is already over. Enjoy your orientation.”
Raven walked confidently out of the hall. I can do this. I know I can. “It’s going to be a good day.”
Headmaster Flynn watched her walk out. “You have a lot to live up to, Raven Alby.” He shook his head, his hands behind his back as he walked backstage. “I’ll be keeping my eye on you, Raven Alby.”
Raven rushed down the front steps and found the other first years already circling a short, flustered witch from the office. “Back up, back up!” She clapped her hands three times, flitting at the students. “My name is Mrs. Feldman. I am head of administration and will be leading the way to the next location. Form some kind of line, four across and we’ll make our way to the arena that’s been set up as a welcoming center.”
Liam wove his way through a cluster of students till he got to Raven. “Where have you been? I’ve been making friends, telling stories. I thought you were going to be my wing man.”
“What’s going on here? You look happy and sweaty. The break was only fifteen minutes. How much could you have accomplished?”
“I’ve never seen so many people our age in one place.” Liam said excitedly. He turned around in a circle, looking over the crowd. “I wanted to get that first impression in quickly before classes start in two days. That way, no matter what happens in class they can remember this moment.”
Raven laughed, hooking her arm with her best friend’s. “That’s actually kind of smart. Come on, let’s go get oriented.”
“Did you know I have an unusually good sense of direction. I can close my eyes and turn around and still know which way is east.”
“I did know that. I’ve known you your whole life. You have a lot of interesting qualities. Save it for the other newbies. Follow me. We’ll make our way to the middle of the pack. You can shake more hands that way.”
“I love it when an idea comes together!”
Mrs. Feldman raised her hand, her wand firmly clutched high in the air. “Keep the chitchat down to a roar, please. We have a lot to cover today before we send you on your way.”
She waved her arm again and pushed her way to the front of the students, making her way toward the arena beyond the main buildings and the dorms. The teenagers flowed behind her, talking all at once, pointing at different buildings and getting to know each other.
“You think we’ll have any classes with the older students?” Liam nodded, saying hello to a tall girl walking next to him. She blushed and nodded at him before turning away to huddle with her friends. “I can’t tell, was that positive feedback or not?”
“I’d say that was pretty good, my friend. That was shy girl speak for you’re hot. Come on, we’re almost there.” Raven grabbed his hand and pulled him with her as she moved ahead and into the large arena.
Mrs. Feldman went to the center of the arena and stood in the center, her heels sinking into the fine silt. She waved her wand, shouting, “Magis clamabat,” amplifying her voice. “Go in both directions and visit each station till you’ve been to five stations.” She held up her hand again. “Count it on your hand people. If you haven’t been to five, you don’t have everything you need.”
“Let’s go this way.” Raven tugged at Liam’s sleeve and darted toward the first table piled high with books.
“Take one of each,” said the teenage witch with curly dark hair behind the table. She put her hand out to Raven and smiled. “Hi, I’m Avery. I’m a senior running for student council and a mage.”
“Raven Alby, and I suppose I’m a mage in training.”
Avery laughed and batted at the air. “You’re here, you can do at least two decent spells, right? Okay, then you’re a mage. Make sure you take a book from each pile.”
Raven picked up the Basic Spells book and moved down to the Potions and Poisons, taking one from each pile as the books magically replenished themselves. She could hear Avery behind her saying, “Hi, I’m Avery and a senior running for student council…”
Raven slid her satchel off her back and slid the books in, hoisting it back on to her shoulder. Liam came up behind her, balancing his books. “I hope we don’t have to bring all of them every day. I’m beginning to really rethink the whole live at home thing.”
“Your parents said you had to so you could help out.”
“Yeah, well there’s that. Ooh, hey, next table is wands.” Liam held onto his stack of books, jogging to the next table. Raven was right behind him, leaning closer to see what they were doing. “Put out your hand,” said the tall broad teenage boy behind the table. Liam’s hand shot out, eager to see what came next.
The teenager tried different wands in Liam’s hand, waiting a moment. “No, not that one. Nope, that’s not gonna work either. Hang on, where did you say you were from? What part of the kingdom?”
“Right, okay, let me see.” The young man looked under the table and dug out a smooth dark red wood and laid it in Liam’s hand. The stick gave a slight tremor, shimmying across his palm. “That tickles!”
“Yep, that’s the one! Next!”
“Wait, what do I do with this?”
“Keep it safe and don’t wave it around till someone teaches you how to use it. Next!”
Raven put out her hand. “I’m from Brighton too.” She waited as the young man went through the same process, starting with the smooth red wood but nothing was working. The teenager scratched his head. “This is usually a lot easier.” He let out a frustrated sigh. “I’ve only got a couple more. You sure you can do magic?”
Raven was surprised to feel a jolt of anger run through her at the suggestion she couldn’t even pull off a simple spell. “I’m positive.” She pushed her hand forward a little further. “Try another one.”
“Just try… please.”
“Fine, but this is the last one, I think. It’s made from willow. I don’t think it’s ever worked for anyone.” He laid it across Raven’s hand and startled at the sight of it slowly spinning in her palm. His eyebrows went up and he took a small step back, watching the wand connect with Raven.
He looked back up at the young mage. “Now that’s interesting.” He nodded his head. “Respect, you found your wand.” Just as quickly he was on to the next student. “Okay, who’s next? Put out your hand.”
Liam was already at the supplies table with his satchel open, gathering up dried herbs and glass vials. Raven carefully tucked the new wand into her satchel next to the books and squeezed her hand shut, a tingle still running across it. She made her way to the table and picked up one from each pile, grabbing a muslin bag at the end of the table and depositing everything into it.
“Only two to go,” said Liam. “What’s after this?”
“I guess we hang out till we want to head down the road.”
“Sweet! Best day ever.” He took off for the weapons table at a trot, letting out a loud whoop when he saw what it was. Raven caught up to him again as the grumpy dwarf behind the counter said, “Slow your roll, son. This is serious business. We’re entrusting you with your first official school weapon.” The dwarf held up a small dagger with a slim handle.
“Now, this may not look like much, but a dagger can come in handy when you least expect it. The handle is perfectly balanced, and the blade is finely ground on both sides.” He slid it into the leather sheath and slowly handed it to Liam keeping eye contact with him, a scowl on his face. “Don’t let me hear about you waving this around and whooping it up out on the green this afternoon.”
“No sir, no you won’t.” Liam had a stony expression until the dwarf looked away for a moment and he gave a quick thumbs up to Raven. She smiled at her friend until the dwarf looked at her with the same scowl and she froze, biting her lip.
“Young lady, your first school dagger.” The dwarf put it in her outstretched hands, the handle facing her and arched an eyebrow at her. “No shenanigans,” he growled.
“No sir, none. Not any.”
Raven backed away, turning slowly and walking away not letting out the breath she was holding till she was close to the last table. “That was scary,” said Raven. She looked at Liam, but he was already staring at what they were doing at the last station. Raven leaned around him to get a better look and her eyes widened.
Professor Gilliam was taking a small stone with a rune carved on the top and placing it on a student’s forearm. “Ab aliis,” she said, moving her hand in a continuous circle over the stone. Slowly the stone turned to ash and the rune appeared on the teenager’s skin, disappearing just as quickly as it sank into their arm.
The professor looked up and said sharply, “Next!” Liam pushed Raven in front of him and Professor Gilliam looked at her, another stone in her hand, waiting for Raven’s arm.
Raven hesitated and blew out a breath of air. “Do you mind if I ask what that’s for, exactly?”
The professor tilted her head to the side. “Didn’t you read the syllabus we sent home? It’s your I.D. and you’ll use it to get meals or gain access to certain areas… like this arena. It’s perfectly harmless and disappears once you’re no longer enrolled at Fowler. Now, come on, there’s a lot of others waiting behind you. If you’re going to go here, you’ll need a rune of your own.”
She waggled her fingers at Raven till she finally put out her arm. Raven felt the cool smooth texture of the stone lightly balancing on her skin. “Ab aliis,” said Professor Gilliam and the stone began to slowly disintegrate, warming Raven’s forearm. A rune briefly appeared before sinking deep into her arm, leaving a faint buzz that traveled up to her shoulder and disappeared.
“That was so cool,” whispered Raven, her eyes wide.
“What she said,” said Liam, putting out his arm.
Raven waited till he was done, shifting the heavy bag on her shoulder and they went outside together, still holding out their arms and looking at where the rune had appeared. Most of the students outside were doing the same thing.
The next few hours were a blur of meeting new people and making Liam put away his dagger and wandering all over the grounds, looking in every building and trying to find a place they could make the rune work again, with no luck.
By the time Raven made it back to the Alby Ranch gate she was barely holding up the satchel. “See you in a couple days?”
“If I don’t see you sooner,” said Liam, their usual answer since they were little.
Raven made her way slowly past the fields and the dwarf goat barns and the cabins for the ranch hands, finally making her way to the house she shared with her grandfather.
“How was your first day?” asked Connor Alby, smoothing down his snow-white hair.
Raven looked at him, her eyes wide with wonder as she let out a sleepy yawn. “Amazing, fantastic, the best!”
Her grandfather chuckled, his hands on his hips. “Are you hungry? I’ve got a stew warming on the stove.”
“Sure, yeah… I could eat,” said Raven, dreamily as she made her way down the hall to her room to drop off her bag.
Later, her grandfather went back to check and found cradling her arm with the new rune, fast asleep. He smiled and pulled off her boots, pulling the blanket over her and kissed her forehead.
“Tomorrow is another adventure, my dear. Sleep tight till then.”