The Academy

“Princess? It’s time.” Alara beckons, and I take my place beside her, feeling strange yet comfortable in the crimson hooded jacket and black harem pants that make up the guards’ uniform.

“Do you think it’ll work?”

“No one will pay you any attention dressed like that. You’ll be fine. Besides,” she adds with a wink, “no one outside the castle has seen you in over a decade. I think we’re safe from anyone recognizing you, and if not…” Alara’s words trail off with a casual shrug, her long dark braid falling to her back with the motion.

“If not,” I finish for her, the plan repeated by Brenner often enough that it’s carved into my brain, “the snipers will take them down ruthlessly.”

“Exactly.”

Being heir apparent to the Griffaun kingdom is already perilous. Neighboring realms, as newly-formed as ours, are always looking for ways to gain new territory. Nothing so drastic as all-out war – we had learned enough from our ancestors – but still. No one is above a little polite assassination on a state visit.

As an orphan too young to rule yet, that particular danger was one I had lived with all my life, to where it became a regular thrum beneath my everyday routine. Playing pretend in the garden with guards posted at every entrance, snipers on every roof. Having my lessons behind a two-way mirror – bulletproof of course – with only one opening to drop off my tests or ask for help with an assignment.

Alara was always less paranoid about a possible assassination than the others on the Council, more willing to relax some of those restrictions that made my childhood even more abnormal than it already was as a royal. There haven’t actually been any attempts. The mourning of a kingdom that’s lost its rulers, and a child that’s lost its parents, were things to be respected even by whichever vengeful enemy my parents had made. And then the Council had done a skillful job of keeping me from the public eye, making any plots difficult to carry out, even if there are those willing to murder a child for power.

She’d argued for weeks that it was time for me to see at least some of my people, start learning firsthand what goes on at court rather than just through the reports they shared.

‘She’s seventeen! She is to be crowned in four years— will that really be the first time she ever steps foot in court!?’

A compromise was reached. I was to attend the following week’s session, stationed by the Council’s dais as a guard.

Brenner, Jorg, and Dia insisted that snipers also be placed in the banisters, watching every move. And Rayan remained silent, as she often does, only to slip me one of her favorite daggers after dinner that night. “Every royal should have a weapon,” she whispered. “This may not be the one you’d choose for yourself, but I hope you don’t think me too selfish in wanting to give you your first.”

The blade was Damascus steel, thin and sleek with a handle of dark, polished wood and a leather sheath. It was beautiful, and has travelled between my boot and under my pillow ever since.

Not for the first time, I marveled at how my parents had managed to find five people so trustworthy and caring, so loyal to their kingdom and so willing to do right by it.

I also wondered how – as the years pass and I see the signs of age on the Council’s faces – I was ever to find those worthy enough to replace them.

***********

Holding court is a lot more boring than the Council’s reports would have me believe.

Stifling a yawn, I glance at the double doors as they open, trying to catch a glimpse of how many people are left.

“This is the last one. She comes every week,” Caden, the captain of the guards, whispers in my ear as an elderly woman shuffles her way down the great hall.

I give him a grateful look, and point to his earpiece. “I need one of those.”

“Should you decide to join the guards instead of rule the kingdom, you are most welcome to one, Your Highness.”

“Cheeky.”

We both stifle a small chuckle as the woman reaches the foot of the dais. She attempts to curtsey, but Alara waves it off. “There will be no need for that; spare your strength. How may we be of service today, Maria?”

Maria opens her mouth to speak, before catching sight of me. “Why hello, dearie. You’re a young ‘un aren’t you? Training for the guard with the ol’ Captain?”

It takes everyone by surprise, including me. No one had so much as blinked at my presence, or noticed that the Guard Captain himself was standing beside me. Then again, if she really does come every week, perhaps she’s just more attuned to change than most.

Brenner tries to redirect her attention. “Yes, this new recruit shows promise, and we wished to show her the ways of our court. Might we return to why you are here this week?”

Maria does not shift her gaze, eyes boring uncomfortably into mine. I give a small smile and nod, confirming her and Brenner’s statements without speaking. Beside me, I feel Caden grip his holster, and above, I hear the subtle clicks of rifles being repositioned in their stands.

The air has a sharper quality to it. Part of me wonders why this frail old woman should cause such alarm – what could she do, really? – while another is secretly relieved that the Council insisted on such intense security measures. Something feels wrong.

“I am here for the same reason I have always come,” Maria finally answers, still looking only at me. Her voice sounds… younger. Her posture straighter.

“To speak of your crops?” Dia asks hopefully, ever the optimist.

Maria laughs, glancing at Dia then returning to me. She definitely sounds younger now. Looks it, too, wrinkles shifting, hair turning from grey to gold, and weather-beaten skin lightening before our very eyes. Caden subtly shifts so he’s in a step in front of me. “To see if today would be the day the Princess finally emerges.”

Electricity sizzles between Maria’s fingers, and all pretense is forgotten.

“Get her out of here!” Alara yells, everyone on the Council leaping to their feet and trying to block me from Maria’s aim. Caden immediately pulls at me while all around, the snipers fire their shots. Without so much as a glance backwards, Maria raises a hand and the bullets hit an impenetrable shield, some sort of forcefield cutting us off. Guards have rushed in but are equally blocked, pounding on the invisible barrier uselessly.

“I only need one hand for this.” Maria smirks, left hand held up to maintain the forcefield, right hand forming lightning that crackles a deadly blue.

She’s going to kill us all, I realize, and everything seems to slow as I see everything with renewed clarity. Caden’s arm is holding me back, trying to push me behind him. Alara, Rayan, Brenner, Jorg, and Dia are split— Jorg and Rayan rushing to tackle Maria before she fires, the other three moving to shield me. In a split second I understand the futility. The Council and Caden will die, and Maria will kill me anyway, and the kingdom will be lost to whoever sent this assassin.

Anger surges within me. No, not like this.

Time speeds back to normal again and Maria fires her lightning, veins branching to target each one of us in turn.

“NO!” I scream, pushing Caden aside and reaching my hand forward.

All the veins rush to my hand, and my whole arm goes nearly numb from the force. Everyone is frozen in shock, including Maria, and in that moment, I fling my arm towards her, the rays redirected.

There’s a scream, Maria writhing in agony before falling to the ground. The forcefield falls with her, and the guards rush in, ready in case she has back up.

Caden and the Council look between me and her in shock. “Is she,” I begin to ask, but Caden has already thought ahead. He moves to kneel in front of her and grabs her chin, turning her face. Maria’s eyes flutter open with a groan.

“You failed,” Caden growls. “And by the looks of it, if you don’t get to a medic you won’t have long to live, either. So tell us who sent you, or we’ll be more than happy to leave you here until it’s time to take out the trash.”

“Caden!” I admonish. His cruelty shocks me. Jorg shushes me, giving me a severe look, and I grit my teeth.

“Well?” Caden demands. “Who sent you?”

“Tarwin,” Maria rasps, before her eyes shut again.

Caden lets her go and orders for her to be sent to the infirmary. Turning and catching sight of my face, his own softens as he reassures me. “She’ll live, Highness. I don’t think you redirected the full blast.”

Suddenly it seems everyone remembers how Maria got hurt in the first place, and all eyes are on me. I look down at my arm, unhurt and looking far too normal. “I don’t know how that happened,” I admit quietly.

Alara is the one to finally break the silence that my admission brings. “Let’s get you to your quarters, Princess. It appears you have magic, and that means we need to talk.”

***************

I pace the room as Alara and Rayan file in after me, shutting the door behind them.

“Where’re the others?”

“Jorg and Brenner are with the guards, reinforcing our defenses and making sure no one else has slipped into the castle. Dia is with the prisoner, overseeing her treatment.” Rayan has her “patient voice” on, the one she uses when she thinks I’m about to be unreasonable. It usually irritates me to no end, but looking at her and Alara’s faces, I immediately feel drained.

I fall into the couch behind me and lie down, staring at the ceiling. “I have magic.”

“It would appear so, yes.” Alara moves to sit on the edge of the couch, by my feet. Rayan pulls up a chair and rests her head in her hands.

“And the Tarwinians sent a sorceress to kill me.”

“Indeed,” Rayan confirms.

“A sorceress who, as I understand it, has been disguising herself as an old woman and coming to court for… how long now?”

I glance at them both, watching them flinch at my tone. “A year,” Alara admits. “We had no idea, Your Highness. Forgive us. Sorcerers are known to be neutral— they do not involve themselves in political struggles. We thought you’d be safe from them.”

“We shouldn’t have assumed,” Rayan mutters bitterly. “Sorcerers are still people, and people can be corrupted, can form loyalties, can seek fortune just like the rest of us. Even if they do take a vow.”

Alara reaches for Rayan’s hand, and they both look to me. “We know better now.”

I try to hold onto my glare, but the anger just dissipates. I sigh. “You’re both ridiculous for thinking I’d stay mad. At least now we know we had a hole in our defenses, and we can rectify it. And it’s shown that I have magic, too. And it made what was initially a very boring day quite exciting. So overall, a very productive session.”

Silence. Then a giggle that soon turns into hysterical laughter from all of us. Later, Alara swears it was Rayan who started it, but Rayan and I both know better.

Once we’ve all composed ourselves, I ask, “So what happens now? The Academy?”

“Much as we loathe it, yes. Magic unchecked is dangerous, and we do not have many who wield it in Griffaun. As it is, it’s rare, though not unheard of, for a Griffaunian royal to possess it. Though usually it manifests itself a lot earlier.” Alara continues to mumble quietly to herself, getting up and pacing back and forth. “Yes, if I remember correctly, the last one to have magic was your great grandfather. So definitely skipped a couple of generations.”

“I guess I’d better pack.”

***************

The Academy looks just about how someone would expect a magical school to look. An imposing castle of brick and high towers, the only signs of modernity being the cars and buses that trundle back and forth, and the cleverly hidden elevators and light switches indoors.

It’s strange to be here for so many reasons. To be so suddenly transported from a life of isolation and overprotection to a campus teeming with people, all already seemingly grouped up and blending right in, I can’t help but feel exposed and unsafe.

Even if Tarmel insisted at orientation that this was neutral ground, a sorceress like Maria is proof that not everyone feels bound by their oath.

My name is called, and I turn to see two boys about my age jogging up to me. Handsome, my mind thinks, before I can stop it.

The taller one holds out his hand, “Drake Wynholm. This is my brother Jax.”

The Tarwinian princes. I eye Drake’s outstretched hand and take a step back, muscles tensing. The weight of my dagger is reassuring pressed against my ankle. “You’re Tarwinian. Your parents tried to kill me.”

Neither Drake nor Jax look offended, or aggressive. In fact, they look… apologetic? Why? Drake withdraws his hand and tucks it into his pocket, clearing his throat uncomfortably. “Yes, well, that’s why we sought you out. We didn’t want to ambush you right away, wanted to give you time to settle in but—”

“We wanted to say we’re sorry!” Jax blurts out, then blushes, pale skin turning pink right up to the brown roots of his hair.

I blink at them.

“We have never agreed with our parents’… ambitions for more power,” Drake says. “Jax and I think we’d be far better off focusing on helping our own people. When we heard what they’d done, corrupting a sorceress to do it…”

“We were horrified,” Jax continues. “We know you have no reason to believe us, or trust us, but we had to say our piece.”

I blink at them some more.

Drake smiles softly, trying to hide his disappointment. “We’ll leave you alone now.” Tugging at his brother’s arm, the two turn to head back to their dorms.

I watch them go, wrestling with my feelings, trying to decide whether trusting them is worth it. Handsome, my treacherous mind thinks again. And honorable. And the closest you’ve gotten to making friends since you got here.

“Wait!” I call out, running after them.

***************

I can’t believe I’m in love with Drake Goddamn Wynholm.

I should be paying attention to Gwaine’s class— usually that’s not an issue. He’s one of the few who make magic seem easy, even battle magic, despite being prone to teasing his students. But my mind is otherwise occupied by the realization I had last night.

You’re not in love with him, another part of my mind argues. You’re just a nineteen-year-old who’s never had friends your age, latching romantic feelings onto the first person who’s shown you consistent attention. And besides, he definitely does not feel the same.

But he held my hand yesterday and it felt so… warm. That’s what love’s supposed to feel like, right? And he was so gentle, and gave me that smile…

He was holding your hand for a spell in class! He was holding Micah’s hand too, do you think he’s in love with him as well?

Bu- “You’re not paying attention today. What’s gotten into you?” I startle and look up to see Gwaine’s grey eyes staring down at me with amusement. All around me, the class sniggers. Only Yarra looks at me with sympathy. I give her a quick smile of appreciation.

“Sorry, Master Gwaine. Um. Not much sleep last night.”

“Hm. Well there’s only a few more minutes to go. Think you can keep awake long enough to listen to poor old me drone on?”

The class is straight up laughing at me now, Yarra trying to shush them. I’m just fighting to keep from cursing them all out. Not trusting my mouth, I nod.

Gwaine smirks and drifts back to the front of the class. “As I was saying…”

***************

Someone is attacking neighboring kingdoms. “A powerful sorcerer, according to the reports. Magic was definitely used.” Jax bites at his thumb worriedly, reading the latest news.

“So much for the vow.” I continue twirling my dagger, swiping it through the air and trying to focus my energy into the blade. But my thoughts rush to Griffaun. It’s far enough that they have yet to be attacked. But also far enough that if they were, I wouldn’t make it in time.

“Hey, if we all had to make the vow when we joined, do you think this is someone from outside the Academy? Someone who learned on their own, somehow?”

“I don’t think anyone can gain that much skill outside the Academy. And sorcerers have broken vows before.”

Jax grimaces. “Right. Sorry.”

I laugh and stop my practice to kiss his head, nose twitching as his unruly curls tickle my face. “It’s been two years, and it was never your plan. Stop apologizing.”

He smiles, but it soon turns to a frown as he continues his earlier thought. “Then, who could do this? People are dying, and for what? Whoever it is has yet to make any attempts at the royals, and everyone is terrified.”

“I don’t know what they want. Maybe that’s the point. To sow terror, to show what they’re capable of.”

Jax pushes the papers aside in disgust. “I don’t like this. Sneaky politics is one thing, but we’ve never had someone so close to inciting war. We need to do something. Speak to our kingdoms, gather resources, track this monster down.”

“To what end, Jax?” Drake asks, walking in.

As always, lately, I try to calm my thundering heart. My feelings, whether love or crush or hopeless infatuation, have only gotten more distracting. I can’t look at him without having to resist the urge to run my fingers through his black locks, trace the stubble on his jaw… Easy, there. Knock it off. I clear my throat and put far too much focus on re-sheathing my dagger.

“To stop this sorcerer, of course!”

“A sorcerer who has indiscriminately murdered over a hundred people in two months? And these were people who weren’t even fighting. Just innocent bystanders. Imagine what would happen if our kingdoms got involved. They’d be targeted, and our people will die in whatever retaliation comes our way.”

“So what do you think we should do?” I ask, a hand on Jax’s shoulder to help calm his frustration.

“I say we let the guild handle this. Master Gwaine is leading the mission to track and stop whoever is responsible. If a sorcerer has broken their vow, it’s the sorcerers who will bring them to justice.”

“That… does make sense,” Jax grudgingly admits.

I have to agree, though even knowing someone as skilled as Gwaine is in charge of this does little to settle the anxiety roiling in my gut. Then Drake smirks and pulls out his battered deck with a flourish, making my heart flutter, and we spend the rest of the evening trying to beat each other at card games.

Cheating is very much involved on all sides.

***************

Something is wrong.

The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I have the strongest urge to look behind me, despite knowing there’s nothing there.

I look anyway.

As expected, the hallway is deserted, most students and faculty already in bed by now. But I couldn’t sleep, and the walk that was meant to clear my head is now turning into another bout of paranoia.

Not again, please.

If this is what I think it is, it’ll be the fourth time this month. A feeling of wrongness, fear, seeing things that aren’t there.

Chasing people I don’t recognize who end up walking through walls.

Smelling sulphur, and tracing the scent to what ends up being a dead end.

Worst of all, being the first to hear a scream, racing towards it with my dagger drawn, only to find Yarra unconscious and bleeding from the head. It’s been a week with the healers and she still hasn’t woken.

After that, the others started to avoid me. Brian actively sneers every time I walk past, Kara turns and walks the other way when she sees me coming, as if afraid Yarra’s injury was from continuing to associate with “that weird Griffaun girl.”

Only Drake and Jax are still on my side. But even then, Drake has been busy with his junior project, and Jax has a fuller load of classes. Neither of them can spare much time with all the late nights working.

In a campus full of people, royals, mystics, paupers and commoners, I’m still back to being alone.

The feeling intensifies, and I wince. I’m going to have to follow it, I admit to myself resignedly. Drawing my dagger from my boot, I tilt my head, trying to home in on whatever was in the air. Strong magic is being cast somewhere.

My mind drifts back to that conversation with Jax, all those months ago. Since then, “The Dark One” as the sorcerer was dubbed, is all that anyone can talk about. His attacks have grown more frequent, his manifesto spreading throughout the kingdoms, with a simple ultimatum: Acknowledge his rule, or more will die.

Two kingdoms – Hecat and Melfore – have already ceded. While their kings still sit on the throne, it’s clear they’re no longer in control. They follow the Dark One’s orders now, and their armies were sent to march on Dracus.

The guild has tried to help, breaking their neutrality to go to Dracus’s defense. But only yesterday, it too, fell.

Only Tarwin, Griffaun, and Korad remain standing. But it won’t be long before the Dark One targets them, too.

Could it be that the Dark One is here? Working from the Academy? It would make sense…

A scream pierces through my thoughts. I break into a sprint, following the sound to just outside the campus. Arla, the headmaster’s younger sister, seems to be the source of the scream. Still in her nightgown, she’s slumped against a tree at the edge of the woods that surround the castle, a hand to her face as she whimpers quietly.

“Mistress Arla!” I call. “What’s wrong?”

Behind me, some of the faculty, including the headmaster, are also calling her name. I can hear them running towards us, and I take a step forward to help calm Arla down before they arrive.

Before I take another step, her head snaps up to look at me, her eyes wild.

Then… something grabs her. She screams, being dragged backwards into the woods.

“NO!” I run after her, hacking at the shrubbery with my dagger and trying to follow. “Mi- Arla! Arla, where are you? Please, say something!”

There’s a crashing behind me and I turn, dagger at the ready and lightning crackling in my other hand. “Face me, coward! Where did you take Arla?” I scream. But it’s only Master Drax, and Mistress Penny, and, to my shame, Headmaster Alain.

“Hush, child. Tell us what happened,” Penny grips me by my shoulders, then cups my cheeks. It’s only when her thumbs brush my cheeks that I realize I’ve been crying.

“Arla, she… I don’t know. I was walking by the parapets, when I heard a scream. I followed it here and Mistress Arla was at the edge of the woods, scared. But when I tried to approach her something pulled her in. I can’t find her…” I’m crying again. Why am I crying?

Penny looks to Drax and Headmaster Alain, all clearly distraught. “Call for a search party,” Alain orders. “We have to find my sister.” Then he turns and marches further in, calling Arla’s name.

“Drax, go with him, keep him safe. I’ll take her back inside and send backup.”

Drax nods and chases after Alain, while Penny ushers me back towards the castle, an arm around my shoulders.

“I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t help Yarra. I keep seeing, feeling things. What is wrong with me?”

Penny casts me a sidelong glance. “Nothing is wrong with you, child. That’s your Griffaunian blood at work.”

“My what?”

She stops short and whirls to face me. “You mean to tell me you haven’t been told about your magical heritage?”

“Up until two seconds ago I didn’t know I had a magical heritage, unless knowing my great grandfather was the last sorcerer in my family counts.”

Penny makes a small noise that sounds suspiciously like, ‘What the fuck,’ then takes a deep breath. “Magic takes many forms, and no one ever wields it in quite the same way. Those of Griffaunian blood are especially attuned to their instincts. Your classmates may be ignorant, but believe me when I say we have taken all your visions and feelings quite seriously. You have a gift for detecting dark magic.”

Well. That explains it. “But why didn’t anyone tell me!? I thought I was going crazy!”

“We were supposed to!” Penny fires back. “From the first time you told us, we sent Gwaine to explain, to ask you to report to the guild any time this were to happen. Didn’t he tell you?”

“…No, he didn’t.”

“Hmph. Well I suppose he’s been busy between teaching and the scouting missions. I’ll have a word with him. I can’t imagine what you must have been dealing with all this time!”

We approach the castle, a crowd already formed. Penny calls out for the search party, and faculty immediately flood out and head towards the woods.

Amidst the crowd, I see Jax, and tries to offer a reassuring smile. But then Brian steps in front of him and contorts his face in disgust. “Why is it always you?”

***************

The pain is excruciating.

My head pounds, even with my hands clutching my skull, and I fall off my desk, onto my knees.

Mistress Penny kneels beside me, rubbing my back. “What is it, what’s wrong?”

“Dark magic,” I drag out through gritted teeth. “Worse than ever.”

“Not this again,” Brian groans, rolling his eyes. “What disaster are you going to cause now, Griffaunian?”

“Shut up and don’t speak of what you don’t understand, Mallard,” Penny snaps. “Where?” she asks me.

I try to breathe, to focus, to try and pinpoint the source. Images flash in my head in rapid succession, all showing the warehouse in the northern courtyard. I relay this to Penny, and she sounds the alarm.

Meanwhile, the pain gives way to fury. I’ve had enough. This is the Dark One. I know it, have always known it. And I damned well am going to stop him from hurting anyone else, from reaching my kingdom.

Gripping my dagger, I throw myself to my feet and set out for the courtyard in a sprint, ignoring Penny’s calls for me to stop.

***************

Predictably enough, I get there first. Or at least, I think I do, until I see Gwaine at the center of the warehouse, peering into a large pool that’s glowing and swirling a dangerous violet.

“Master Gwaine!” I call out, relieved. “You’re here! I didn’t think anyone had time to act on Mistress Penny’s message. Did you find him, the Dark One?”

Gwaine looks up sharply and chuckles. “Oh yes, I found him.”

Something’s wrong. “Where is he? Did you stop him?”
“The Dark One cannot be stopped.” Gwaine shakes his head, walking towards me.

I stop, taking a step back. Something. is. wrong. “What do you mean, can’t be stopped? That’s the whole point of your mission!”

“No, child,” Gwaine laughs. “My mission was to keep anyone from stopping the Dark One. From stopping me, Gwaine Rydas, the most powerful sorcerer ever to live! I have conquered kingdoms with not a single army. I have shown what magic – wielded by those ambitious enough to seek more – can really do. And for my next trick… I am going to take over Tarwin, and Korad, and your precious Griffaun, in one fell swoop.”

There it is. Gwaine reaches for me and I am suddenly lifted in the air, an invisible hand choking me. My dagger falls uselessly to the floor as I struggle to breathe, legs kicking, hands trying to break the spell.

Gwaine – the Dark One – merely laughs, taking his time.

“Tala?”

No. It can’t be.

“Drake,” I rasp, eyes widening in horror as he moves to stand beside the Dark One.

He looks away from me in shame, turning to the Dark One instead. “Please, you don’t have to kill her.” He lays a hand on the Dark One’s arm, tenderly. “She’s my friend. For me, please?

The Dark one glances down at him, then back at me, evidently enjoying the look of pain and shock on my face. “Very well,” he releases me and I fall to the ground, clutching my throat and gasping for air. “Hurry along and tend to your little friend, Drake. We have a spell to finish.” He cups Drake’s chin, grinning at him lecherously, before striding back to the pool and muttering his spell.

“Are you alright?” Drake whispers, reaching out. I fling his hands away and try to glare at him, though he refuses to meet my eyes.

“How could you? You’ve been helping him this whole time? He’s a murderer.”

“He’s… misunderstood! Why shouldn’t sorcerers rule? They’re more powerful, can provide for their people better. One ruler would end all these petty squabbles and espionage and plots between kingdoms!”

Even I can tell it’s an argument he’s had with himself many times. The party line that the Dark One has fed him over and over. “Do you really believe that? Or is that just what you tell yourself so you can sleep at night?” I crawl forward and grab his face, forcing him to look at me. “Tell me what he’s done to you,” I beg. “Did he threaten Jax, Tarwin, what?”

“I love him.”

My breath shudders. Somehow, in the midsts of all this chaos, my heart finds the time to break.

I grip him harder, fingers slipping into his hair. “This is wrong, Drake. You know it is. He’s used you and your love, manipulated you. He fooled us all. But it’s not too late. Please.”

“Drake, darling, I’m getting impatient. If you can’t keep your friend in check, she really must go.”

Drake grips my wrists and stands, pushing me back. “He’s too powerful. I’m sorry.”

As he turns to walk away, I watch him grip my dagger behind his back, and tuck it into his waistband.

Behind my own back, I begin to draw a charge in both hands, the crackling of electricity drowned by the thunderous rumblings coming from the Dark One’s spell.

Drake stands beside the Dark One, eyes already haunted and broken, though the Dark One takes no notice. He raises his hands, readying to recite the final words of his spell, when Drake grabs the dagger and plunges it between his ribs.

The Dark One stumbles back, groaning in pain. “You!” he growls, reaching for Drake. Drake does not move, does not fight it, tears flowing freely.

“NO!” I cry out, and release the lightning, giving it everything I have. Unlike last time, my arms feel like they’re on fire, my body straining, but I dare not let up even as the Dark One screams and Drake sobs.

When I can’t give anymore, I fall, and so does the Dark One, right into the pool. I hear a rumbling, and it all goes black.

***************

The first face I see when I awake is Jax’s, his tears spilling onto my face.

“You’re alive!” he cries out, lifting my torso into a tight hug. Over his shoulder, I see the smoldering pile where the warehouse once was, fires being put out by some of the faculty. And Drake, wrists cuffed behind him, with Mistress Penny standing guard.

“Jax,” I whisper, and he lets me go. “Did Drake…”

Jax tears up again. “He saved you, got you out of there in time. But he also confessed. To helping Gw- the Dark One.”

“It wasn’t his fault, Jax. He loved him. He was used.”

Jax sniffs and nods. “I spoke to Headmaster Alain. He says that will be taken into consideration when the guild holds trial. And the fact he did the right thing in the end is in his favor.”

I look over at Drake again, and this time his eyes meet mine. “Forgive me,” he mouths.

“Already forgiven,” I mouth back.

But I was definitely, definitely done with magic.

***************

“So… What now?”

The three of us are sitting on the edge of the outer wall, gazing out at the world before us.

“What do you mean?” I ask Jax.

“Well, we’ve graduated. After a less-than-ordinary four years. What next?”

“I’m abdicating the throne to Tarwin.”

“WHAT.” Jax and I whip our heads to stare at Drake.

“Jax, you’ve always been the wiser of the two of us. More level-headed. What happened with… with him, would never have happened with you. You’re more fit to rule than I am.”

“You’ve… really thought about this, haven’t you?”

“Since that day at the warehouse.”

We sit in the silence for a while, each of us lost in our own thoughts.

“Drake,” I call out quietly.

“Hm?”

“In my kingdom, we have a Council, one that rules in the absence of a King or Queen, and works with them should there be one on the throne. In less than a year, I am to be crowned, and must choose successors for the ones who wish to retire from service. I want you to be one of them.”

Jax grins. “I think that’s brilliant.”

Drake doesn’t look so sure. He stares at me a long time, and I stare back, a soft smile playing on my lips. “You still trust me? After everything?”

“Even more so, now. You saved my life. And your remorse means you will be wiser, and keep me in check if I ever get too hungry for power.” I wink.

For the first time in a long time, Drake smiles. “Then I am honored to accept.”

 

This is a prequel to an earlier short story, The Return. Read it here!

One thought on “The Academy

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