Authors: Jenna Black
St. Martin’s Press
THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION. ALL OF THE CHARACTERS, ORGANIZATIONS, AND EVENTS PORTRAYED IN THIS STORY ARE EITHER PRODUCTS OF THE AUTHOR’S IMAGINATION OR ARE USED FICTITIOUSLY.
Copyright © 2010 by Jenna Black.
All rights reserved.
For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
St. Martin’s books are published by
St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
Hi, my name is Ethan’s Little Sister. Actually, no, it isn’t. My name is Kimber, but no one really seems to care. I’m the brains in the family—the only fifteen-year-old ever to be admitted to Avalon U.—but is anyone impressed by my mad academic skilz? Uh, no. I’m two years younger than Ethan, and I’m in college while he’s still in high school, but he’s the magical wiz-kid, and I’m the family embarrassment.
No, I’m not at all bitter about it. Why do you ask?
I walked home from class on a Friday afternoon, a bundle of nerves and excitement, despite the voice of doom—or, some might say, the voice of reason—in the back of my head telling me not to get my hopes up. Tonight, I was going to stop feeling like a miserable failure for my lack of magic skills, and I was going to
something about it. Never mind that according to conventional wisdom magic can’t be taught. Dee Dee Bishop said she could teach me, and I was prepared to believe her.
I let myself in to my house, hoping and praying that everyone kept to their usual schedules. Dad was a total workaholic, and I swear if he didn’t think it would make him an irresponsible parent, he’d have just camped out at his office each night. My mom had been out of the picture since I was ten, when she decided she preferred living in Faerie to living in Avalon. And this being a Friday, Ethan was sure to be out on the town with his latest girl-du-jour.
The house was quiet as I closed the door behind myself, and I let out a breath of relief. The one sure way for my magic tutoring plan to fail was for Dee Dee to run into Ethan. Living with Ethan was like having a rock star and a pro athlete all rolled into one in the house. Girls might not shriek out loud and faint when they see him, but it’s pretty close. When I was in high school, my friends were too young for him to notice, but Dee Dee was eighteen and fair game. If she got caught in Ethan’s orbit, he’d eventually break her heart and she’d end up hating
When the doorbell rang—right on time—I had to take a deep breath to calm down.
Please, please let Dee Dee be able to help me,
I prayed. Just once, I wanted to see my father be really and truly proud of me, to see me standing there, no longer hidden by Ethan’s shadow. And hell, if I could take Ethan’s ego down a notch or three while I was at it, that would be even better. My hands were sweating as I opened the door, but I told myself to smile, and my lips obeyed.
Like me, Dee Dee is Fae, though unlike me she was actually born in Faerie and didn’t move to Avalon—the only place where Faerie and the mortal world intersect—until she was twelve. Maybe that’s why she was so good at magic, though objectively it shouldn’t matter. Magic is an almost sentient force, and though it’s native to Faerie, technically Avalon
part of Faerie, even though it’s part of the mortal world, too. But seeing as magic is almost sentient, it’s possible it “likes” people who were born in Faerie proper better than it “likes” people who were born in Avalon. Then again, it’s positively in love with Ethan, and
was born in Avalon.
I led Dee Dee upstairs to my bedroom, chewing my lip the whole way. I’m not usually this nervous, but it was one thing to admit to a powerful Fae that I wasn’t very good at magic, and it was another to
her just how good I wasn’t. I’m not a big fan of humiliation, though I was prepared to endure it if that was what it took to fix me.
I got my first dose the moment Dee Dee stepped into my bedroom, because her eyes went immediately to the collection of teddy bears arranged on a shelving unit across from my bed. The three-year age difference between us was already enough to make a friendship feel just a little awkward, but the stupid bears were something you’d find in the room of a twelve-year-old. My face heated, and I hoped I wasn’t blushing as hard as I thought I was.
“My mom gave me the one on the bottom left when I was ten, right before she left for Faerie,” I explained, gesturing at the rather ordinary-looking brown bear with its button eyes and plaid bowtie. There was nothing particularly special about it, but it was the last tie I had to my mother, and that made it precious. Afraid to look at Dee Dee, I plucked the bear off the shelf and fidgeted with his bowtie. “It has sentimental value, but my dad somehow decided that because I liked this one, I must love teddy bears.” I grimaced at this further evidence of how little my dad actually
me. “Now he gets me a teddy bear for my birthday and Christmas every year.” Worse, Ethan had picked up the habit, too, so my closet was full of the bears that wouldn’t fit on the shelves.
I risked a glance at Dee Dee and was relieved she wasn’t giving me a pitying or condescending look.
“Why don’t you just tell him the truth?” she asked, quite reasonably.
I shrugged and put my mother’s bear back on the shelf. “I don’t know. I guess I’ve just let it go on too long already.” But actually, I did know, and it was a whole lot more pathetic than that. I didn’t want to tell Dad I didn’t like the bears because I was too grateful for the scraps of affection he threw my way. So I displayed the bears proudly on my bedroom wall, even though they embarrassed me. How messed up is that?
Dee Dee let the subject drop, for which I was grateful, then moved to sit cross-legged on my bed, beckoning me to follow. I sat facing her, my nerves flaring again at the thought of demonstrating my incompetence.
“Where would you say your main problem lies?” she asked me. “Is it with gathering the magic or with commanding it?”
There are two steps to casting a successful spell. The first is to pull magic to you. The more magic you can pull, the more powerful a spell you can cast. Once you’ve pulled in the magic, you have to communicate to it what you want it to do. Traditionally, that’s the hard part. You’re trying to communicate with a force that isn’t quite sentient and doesn’t speak any language known to mankind. In fact, the words you speak to cast a spell are irrelevant, kind of like the commands you use when you’re training a dog. You can train a dog to sit when you say “hippopotamus” if you want to, and it’s the same with magic.
“I suck at both of them,” I admitted reluctantly. I can manage the basic spells any Fae child can do, but anything above that is out of my league.
Dee Dee frowned. “Well, I suppose if you have trouble gathering a lot of magic, you haven’t had a chance to try more complex commands. Maybe if we give you enough magic to work with, you’ll have an easier time commanding it.”
“I guess,” I conceded, though I wasn’t completely convinced. It seemed I had more trouble than most commanding even the scant amount of magic I could pull, and it was hard to imagine adding more magic to the mix was going to help. Still, if Dee Dee thought it might work, I was willing to try.
“Is there a particular spell you’d like to work on? One you don’t have enough oomph to carry off?”
There were a lot of them, but one in particular leapt to mind. “Telekinesis.” It was one of those spells that Ethan was ridiculously good at. The jerk could lift a freaking car with just a couple of muttered words, and it was
for him. I, on the other hand, couldn’t even pick up a pencil reliably.
Dee Dee brightened. “Oh, that one’s kind of easy,” she said.
I winced, because, of course, I knew it was easy. Or at least should be.
Dee Dee laughed and waved her hand at me. “I didn’t mean it like that. I mean it’s easy for me to help with.”
“Why don’t you go ahead and pull as much magic as you can. Then I’ll pull some more and feed it to you so you can cast the spell. Maybe try to bring your mother’s teddy bear over—it’s light and it has sentimental value, so that might help.”
I worried that even with Dee Dee’s help, I wasn’t going to be able to pull it off. After all, even if I had enough magic to work the spell, I still had to actually, you know, work the spell.
“All right,” I told her, and tried to quell the doubts so they wouldn’t get in my way.
I took a deep, calming breath, then reached out to the magic that permeated the air of Avalon. It came sluggishly to my call, as if I was dragging it kicking and screaming toward me instead of coaxing it. The magic made my skin prickle, like there were hundreds of tiny electric shocks pinging against me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dee Dee frowning, no doubt underwhelmed by the miniscule amount of magic I was able to call. When I could pull no more, I gave her an embarrassed smile, and she nodded in acknowledgment. I held on to the magic I had pulled as she cast out her own net.
I almost lost my grip on the magic I had gathered when the prickling on my skin intensified tenfold in approximately two seconds. Whereas I’d had to drag the magic to me by brute force, it was rushing toward her like a puppy expecting a treat. She wasn’t as powerful as Ethan—I always felt like I was going to die of electric shock when he was pulling magic—but she was definitely a heavyweight.
Calmly, she turned to me. “I’m going to send this magic your way,” she said. “It’s more than enough for telekinesis.”
Yeah, she had that right. If I wanted to, I could probably get the whole wall to come to me with that much magic. Well, no, if
wanted to, she could get the wall to come. It was yet to be seen whether I could even get one stuffed bear to move.
Focusing my will, I stared at my mom’s teddy bear, visualizing what I wanted to happen, visualizing the bear sailing through the air that separated us. Even though I’d never had real success with this spell, I had tried it many times, and I already had established the words “hocus pocus” as my spell trigger. I’d have loved to have changed them—hell, even my choice of trigger words was embarrassing—but that would be a recipe for disaster.
Mumbling the words in hopes that Dee Dee wouldn’t hear them, I cast my spell, uncomfortably aware of just how much magic was hovering in the room, how much power was at my fingertips. Perhaps I shouldn’t have had Dee Dee feed me so much, but it was too late to back out now.
At first, I thought the spell had failed utterly, and my heart sank. The bear remained sitting on the shelf where I’d left him, though I could tell that the magic had moved away from me because the prickling sensation had faded to a more comfortable level. I opened my mouth to make some self-deprecating remark to Dee Dee when suddenly the bear stood up.
I gasped in surprise, staring at the teddy bear that now stood impossibly on its hind legs, button eyes scanning the room until they locked on me. The mouth, which was nothing but a length of yarn sewn into the faux-fur, opened, showing a set of very convincing-looking teeth.
“Oh, shit,” Dee Dee and I said together as the bear launched himself off of the shelf toward me.
I screamed and dove to the side. Yes, the bear was sort of following my magical command, but no, it didn’t look like it was coming for a cuddle. Not the way it was baring those impossible teeth.
The bear landed on the bed, right where I had been, and I heard the snap of its teeth coming together as I leapt to my feet. It turned to me and snarled.
“A little help!” I gasped at Dee Dee. I was trying to call the magic back, but it was a feeble effort. If it was more magic than I could handle, then it was probably more magic than I could
“I’m trying!” Dee Dee said, her face white and her eyes wide. Then, “Look out!” Her gaze was fixed on something behind me.
Instinctively, I ducked. Something sailed over my head, and when I looked up, I saw that three more bears had joined my mother’s teddy bear on the bed, none of them looking even remotely cute or cuddly. They leapt at me again. I dodged wildly and slammed into the front of my dresser hard enough to rattle the collection of perfumes I kept on its top. I let out a startled shriek, because although none of the bears had hit me head on, one had managed to rake its claws over my arm, and it stung like hell.
Dee Dee had plastered herself against the wall, looking. Don’t ask me why—it wasn’t like the bears were attacking
. Maybe she was still trying the corral her magic, maybe not. Either way, she didn’t look like she was going to be any help.
One of the bears had landed on my desk, and with a snarl he knocked my laptop into the wall, the impact so hard the plaster cracked and the laptop ricocheted to the floor. Small or not, the creature was powerful, and I was in a shitload of trouble.
I looked frantically from side to side in search of something I could use to defend myself. The only thing that looked like it might be even vaguely helpful was a padded lap desk, which I snatched off the floor and held in front of me like a shield.
As soon as I grabbed the lap desk, my mother’s bear charged me again, leaping high, its claws and teeth aiming straight for my face. It was Dee Dee’s turn to scream. I didn’t have time for anything more than a gasp. I swung the lap desk hard, hitting the bear and swatting it away from me. It twisted in mid-air like a cat, so that when it hit the full-length mirror on the back of my door, it hit with extended claws.
The mirror shattered with the impact. The bear on my desk was still busily knocking things off, concentrating on those things that would most easily break. Another of the bears was on the duvet, raking his claws over the fabric, then grabbing out big mouthfuls of stuffing, interrupting its work only long enough to growl at Dee Dee when she dared to move.
My mother’s bear sat on the floor in the midst of the mirror shards, eyeing me with predatory calculation. It grabbed a shard as large and sharp as a kitchen knife, giving me a teeth-baring grin as it pulled back its arm to throw. Meanwhile, the fourth bear, who wasn’t occupied with destroying my room, readied itself to pounce. I knew that both attacks were going to come at the same time, and that I could only deflect one.
Whimpering from somewhere deep in my throat, I kept my eye on the mirror shard, figuring if I didn’t deflect that, it could be a fatal error.