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Authors: Aprilynne Pike

Spells

BOOK: Spells
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Spells
Aprilynne Pike

To Kenny—for all the little things.
And the big things.
And everything in between.
Thank you.

Contents

One

LAUREL STOOD IN FRONT OF THE CABIN, SCANNING the tree…

Two

AS THEY WALKED TOWARD THE ACADEMY, LAUREL glimpsed another building…

Three

LAUREL SAT CROSS-LEGGED ON HER BED WITH A PAIR of…

Four

A CHILL RIPPLED UP LAUREL’S BACK AS NERVOUSNESS and confusion…

Five

THE INSIDE OF THE HOUSE WAS SIMILAR TO THE dormitory…

Six

LAUREL STUDIED HER APPEARANCE IN THE MIRROR the next morning,…

Seven

LAUREL KNELT ON THE BENCH IN FRONT OF HER window…

Eight

LAUREL STOOD IN HER ROOM, LOOKING OVER THE wild assortment…

Nine

“LAUREL?”

Ten

LAUREL SAT CROSS-LEGGED IN HER ROOM, SORTING through school supplies…

Eleven

A WEEK INTO SCHOOL, LAUREL WALKED TOWARD Mark’s Bookshelf with…

Twelve

LAUREL AND DAVID STOOD TOGETHER IN THEIR chemistry lab, watching…

Thirteen

THE NEXT DAY, LAUREL AND CHELSEA SAT ON THE porch…

Fourteen

BY ELEVEN LAUREL WAS THOROUGHLY EXHAUSTED from dancing and the…

Fifteen

LAUREL COVERED HER HEAD WITH HER ARMS AND wished that…

Sixteen

SUPPRESSING A SHUDDER, LAUREL STARED IN SHOCK at the face…

Seventeen

THEY PULLED INTO LAUREL’S DRIVEWAY AND, after a moment’s hesitation,…

Eighteen

LAUREL SAT IN HER CAR FOR SEVERAL MINUTES, just staring…

Nineteen

LAUREL PULLED OPEN THE HEAVY DOUBLE DOORS IN the front…

Twenty

LAUREL SPRAWLED DOWN ON HER BED WITH A smile. It…

Twenty-One

THE MORNING AIR WAS COLD AND SHARP, THE sun merely…

Twenty-Two

THE CURTAINS OPENED TO REVEAL AN EXQUISITE forest scene with…

Twenty-Three

“THAT WAS AMAZING,” LAUREL SAID AGAIN AS she and Tamani…

Twenty-Four

SILENT AND BROODING, LAUREL AND TAMANI passed through the gateway.

Twenty-Five

“DID YOU GET WHAT YOU NEEDED?” DAVID ASKED as he…

Twenty-Six

KLEA ROWED THEM ACROSS THE WATER IN A WIDE, flat-bottomed…

Twenty-Seven

STANDING AT THE EDGE OF THE TREE LINE HAD never…

 

LAUREL STOOD IN FRONT OF THE CABIN, SCANNING
the tree line, her throat constricting in a rush of nerves. He was there, somewhere, watching her. The fact that she couldn’t see him yet meant nothing.

It wasn’t that Laurel didn’t want to see him. Sometimes she thought she wanted to see him too much. Getting involved with Tamani was like playing in a roaring river. Take one step too far and the current would never let you go. She had chosen to stay with David, and she still believed it was the right choice. But it didn’t make this reunion any easier.

Or stop her hands from shaking.

She had promised Tamani she would come see him when she got her driver’s license. Though she hadn’t been specific about a date, she
had
said May. It was now almost the end of June. He had to know she was avoiding him. He would be here now—the first one to meet her—and she wasn’t sure whether to be excited or afraid. The feelings mixed into a heady blend of something she’d never felt before—and wasn’t sure she ever wanted to feel again.

Laurel found herself clutching the tiny ring Tamani had given her last year, the one she wore on a thin chain around her neck. She had tried not to think about him these last six months.
Tried
, she admitted to herself,
and failed
. She forced herself to unwrap her fingers from around the little ring and attempted to make her arms swing naturally, confidently at her sides as she walked toward the forest.

As the shadows of the branches fell across her, a streak of green and black swung down from a tree and scooped Laurel up. She screamed in terror, then delight.

“Did you miss me?” Tamani asked with that same, bewitching half grin that had entranced her since the first time she’d met him.

Instantly, it was as though the last six months never happened. Just the sight of him, the feel of him so close to her, melted every fear, every thought…every resolve. Laurel wrapped her arms around him and squeezed as hard as she could. She never wanted to let go.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Tamani said with a groan.

She forced herself to let go and step back. It was like trying to make a river reverse its flow. But after a few seconds she managed and settled for standing silently, drinking in the sight of him. The same longish, black hair, his quick smile, those mesmerizing green eyes. A cloud of awkwardness descended and Laurel stared down at her shoes, a little embarrassed at her zealous greeting and unsure of what to say next.

“I expected you earlier,” Tamani said at last.

It felt ridiculous, now that she was here with him, that she had been afraid. But Laurel could still recall the cold pit of fear in her stomach every time she’d thought about seeing Tamani again. “I’m sorry.”

“Why didn’t you come?”

“I was afraid,” she answered honestly.

“Of me?” Tamani asked with a smile.

“Sort of.”

“Why?”

She took a deep breath. He deserved the truth. “It’s too easy to be here with you. I don’t trust myself.”

Tamani grinned. “I guess I can’t be too offended by that.”

Laurel rolled her eyes. Her long absence certainly hadn’t dampened his bravado.

“How is everything?”

“Fine. Good. Everything’s good,” she stammered.

He hesitated. “How are your friends?”

“My friends?” Laurel asked. “Could you possibly be more transparent?”

Laurel unconsciously touched a silver bracelet on her wrist. Tamani’s eyes followed the movement.

Tamani kicked at the dirt. “How’s David?” he finally asked.

“He’s great.”

“Are you two…?” He let the question hang.

“Are we together?”

“I guess that’s it.” Tamani glanced again at the intricate silver bracelet. Frustration clouded his features, transforming the glance into a glare, but he dispelled it with a smile.

The bracelet was a gift from David. He had given it to her just before Christmas last year, when they officially became a couple. It was a delicate silver vine with tiny flowers blooming around crystal centers. He hadn’t said as much, but Laurel suspected it was to balance out the faerie ring she still wore every day. She couldn’t bear to put the tiny ring away and, true to her promise, every time she thought of the ring, she thought of Tamani. She still had feelings for him. Torn and uncertain feelings, mostly—but strong enough to make her feel guilty when her thoughts wandered that direction.

David was everything she could ask for in a boyfriend. Everything except what he wasn’t, what he never could be. But Tamani could never be what David was, either.

“Yes, we are,” she finally answered.

Tamani was silent.

“I need him, Tam,” she said, her tone soft but not apologetic. She couldn’t—wouldn’t—apologize for choosing David. “I told you before how it was.”

“Sure.” He ran his hands up and down her arms. “But he’s not here now.”

“You know I couldn’t live with that,” she forced herself to say. But it was barely a whisper.

Tamani sighed. “I’m just going to have to accept it, aren’t I?”

“Unless you really want me to be alone.”

He slung one arm around her shoulders—friendly now. “I could never want that for you.”

She put her arms around him and squeezed.

“What’s that for?” Tamani asked.

“Just for being you.”

“Well, I certainly won’t turn down a hug,” he said. His tone was casual, joking, but he wrapped his other arm around her tightly, almost desperately. Before she could pull away, however, his arm dropped, then pointed down the path. “Come on,” Tamani said. “It’s this way.”

Laurel’s mouth went dry. It was time.

Pushing her hand into her pocket, Laurel felt the embossed card for what was doubtless the hundredth time. It had shown up on her pillow one morning in early May, sealed with wax and tied with a sparkling silver ribbon. The message was brief—four short lines—but it changed everything.

Due to the woefully inadequate nature of your current education, you are summoned to the Academy of Avalon. Please report to the gate at mid morning, the first day of summer. Your presence will be required for eight weeks.

Woefully inadequate
. Her mom hadn’t been too happy with that. But then, her mom hadn’t been too happy with much of anything involving faeries lately. After the initial revelation of Laurel being a faerie, things had been surprisingly okay. Her parents had always known there was something different about their adopted daughter. As crazy as the truth actually turned out to be—that Laurel was a changeling, a faerie child left in their care to inherit sacred fae land—they had accepted it with remarkable ease, at least at first. Her dad’s attitude hadn’t changed, but over the last few months her mom had grown more and more freaked out by the idea that Laurel wasn’t human. She’d stopped talking about it, then refused to even hear about it, and things had finally come to a head last month when Laurel got the invitation. Well, more like a summons, really. It had taken a lot of arguing from Laurel—and a fair bit of persuasion from her dad—before her mom had agreed to let her go. As if, somehow, she would come back even less human than when she’d left.

Laurel was glad she’d neglected to tell them anything about the trolls; she doubted she would be standing here today if she had.

“Are you ready?” Tamani pressed, sensing Laurel’s hesitation.

Ready?
Laurel wasn’t sure if she could ever be more ready for this…or less.

Silently, she followed him through the forest, trees filtering the sunlight and shading their trek. The path was scarcely a path at all, but Laurel knew where it led. Soon they would come to a small, gnarled tree, a unique species in this forest but otherwise ordinary in its appearance. Though she had spent twelve years of her life living here and exploring the land, she had seen this tree only once before—when she brought Tamani back from fighting trolls, wounded and barely conscious. Last time she had witnessed the tree’s transformation and gotten a tiny glimpse of what lay beyond. Today she would go through the gate.

Today, she would see Avalon for herself.

As they walked deeper into the forest, other faeries fell into step behind them, and Laurel forced herself not to crane her neck and stare. She wasn’t sure she’d ever get used to these beautiful, silent guards who never spoke to her and rarely met her eyes. They were always there, even when she couldn’t see them. She knew that now. She wondered briefly how many of them had been watching her since she was just a child, but the mortification was too great. Her parents watching her juvenile antics were one thing; nameless supernatural sentries were quite another. She swallowed, focused forward, and tried to think of something else.

Soon they arrived, emerging through a stand of redwoods clustered protectively around the ancient, twisted tree. The faerie sentries formed a half circle and, after a sharp gesture from Shar—the leader of the sentries—Tamani dislodged his hand from Laurel’s viselike grip to join them. Standing in the middle of the dozen or so sentries, Laurel clutched the straps of her backpack. Her breathing quickened as each sentry laid one hand against the bark of the tree, right where its stout trunk split into two thick limbs. Then the tree began to vibrate as the light of the clearing seemed to gather around its branches.

Laurel was determined to keep her eyes open this time, to watch the entire transformation. But even as she squinted resolutely against the glow, a brilliant flash forced her eyelids shut for the briefest of instants. When they opened again, the tree had transformed into the arching gate of tall, golden bars, laced with curling vines dotted with purple flowers. Two sturdy posts on either side anchored the gate into the ground, but otherwise it stood alone in the sunlit forest. Laurel let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, only to hold it again as the gate swung outward.

Tangible warmth rolled forth from the gateway, and even ten feet away Laurel caught the aromatic scent of life and growth she recognized from years of gardening with her mom. But this was stronger—a pure perfume of bottled summer sunlight. She felt her feet begin to move forward of their own accord and was nearly through the gate when something tugged at her hand. Laurel tore her eyes away from the gateway and was startled to see that Tamani had stepped out of formation to wrap her hand gently in his own. A touch on her other hand prompted her to look back through the gate.

Jamison, the old Winter faerie she had met last fall, lifted her free hand and set it on his arm like a gentleman in a regency movie. He smiled at Tamani cordially but pointedly. “Thank you for bringing us Laurel, Tam. I will take her from here.”

Tamani’s hand didn’t fall away immediately. “I’ll come see you next week,” he said, quiet but not whispering.

The three of them stood there for a few seconds, frozen in time. Then Jamison tilted his head and nodded once at Tamani. Tamani nodded back and returned to his place in the semicircle.

Laurel felt his eyes on her, but her face was already turning back to the bright glow pouring from the golden gate. The pull of Avalon was too strong to linger even on the sharp regret she felt at having to leave Tamani so quickly after their reunion. But he would come see her soon.

Jamison stepped just inside the golden archway and beckoned Laurel forward, releasing his hold on the hand lying on his arm. “Welcome back, Laurel,” he said softly.

With her breath catching in her throat, Laurel stepped forward and crossed the threshold of the gate, her feet stepping into Avalon for the first time.
Not really the first time,
she reminded herself.
This is where I came from
.

For a moment she could see nothing but leaves on a huge overhanging oak tree and dark, loose soil at her feet, lined with plush, emerald grass. Jamison led her out from under the canopy of foliage, and sunlight shone down onto her face, warming her cheeks instantly and making her blink.

They were in some kind of walled park. Trails of rich, black earth snaked through the vibrant greenery that ran up against a stone wall. Laurel had never seen a stone wall so tall before—to build such a thing without concrete must have taken decades. The garden was dotted with trees and long, leafy vines crept up their trunks and wound around their branches. She could see flowers all over the vines, but they were tightly closed against the warmth of the day.

She turned to look back at the gate. It was shut now, and beyond its golden bars she could see only darkness. It was in the middle of the park and wasn’t connected to anything at all—it was just standing upright, surrounded by about twenty sentries, all female. Laurel tilted her head. There
was
something. She took a step forward, and broad-bladed spears with tips that seemed to be made of crystal crossed in front of her vision.

“It’s all right, Captain,” came Jamison’s voice from behind Laurel. “She can look.”

The spears went away and Laurel stepped forward, sure her eyes were tricking her. But no, at a right angle to the gate was another gate. Laurel continued walking until she had circled four gates, linked by the sturdy posts that Laurel recognized from the other side of the gate. Each post attached to two of the gates, forming a perfect square around the strange blackness that persisted behind them, despite the fact that she should have been able to look right through the bars to the sentries standing on the other side.

“I don’t understand,” Laurel said, coming to stand by Jamison again.

“Your gate isn’t the only one,” Jamison said with a smile.

Laurel vaguely remembered Tamani talking about four gates last fall, when she had come to him battered and bruised after being thrown in the Chetco River by trolls. “Four gates,” she said softly, pushing back the unpleasant part of the memory.

“To the four corners of the earth. One step could take you to your home, the mountains of Japan, the highlands of Scotland, or the mouth of the Nile River in Egypt.”

BOOK: Spells
7.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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