I'm always a little sad, okay a lot sad, to see October end. Maybe this will cheer me up.
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Magic Quest Books
Number of pages: 225
Word Count: 78,750
Cover Artist: Jennifer Zemanek/Seedlings LLC
Tagline: What would you do to find your magic?
Angry at being forced to attend Gray Cliff Academy, Annalise has struggled to fit in. She sneaks onto the roof to skip a class but gets caught up in a magical event she’s not entitled to attend. Tossed into the ‘between’ for those that have done wrong, she soon realizes she’s not alone…
Only the longer she’s stuck there, the harder it is to find a way out… but for every wrong deed there’s a right one… if she can figure it out in time…
It seemed like the wind just wouldn’t stop. It flew and twisted around Annalise as if it could lift her off her feet. Considering she didn’t know what she was standing on, she wouldn’t put it past the strength of the darkness to have already done just that. She found nobody here, and the loneliness was getting to her. She wanted the storm to die down so she could assess where the hell she ended up, but it wasn’t showing that kind of appeasement.
Just when she figured she would never get out of this, the wind eased back, and a hand landed on her shoulder. She shrieked and spun around...and stared. A young man’s face stared back at her. But, even as she watched, it splintered and disintegrated into nothingness, the wind sweeping through it.
She outstretched both hands, waving them about as if to touch him. “Hello? Where are you? Don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.”
But the image was gone. She touched her shoulder where the hand had been, wondering if she was going nuts in this weird isolation chamber. Had she felt a hand on her shoulder, or was it just her imagination?
“Can you come back?” she cried out. “Please don’t leave me alone here.”
“I’m here,” came the man’s whispery voice.
The wind was so loud in her ears, it was hard to hear the voice. She tilted her head sideways, seeing if she could glimpse the man again, but there was no face in the darkness. She spun to look all the way around but still found nothing. She crouched again, realizing the noise was slightly less down below. Squatting like she was, she called out again, “Can you hear me?”
“Yes. I can hear you.” came the same voice, only stronger.
“Who are you? Where are we?”
“I’m Trace,” he whispered. “I was lost here a long time ago.”
And Annalise’s heart skipped a beat. “What you mean by lost?”
“I was caught up in the darkness—just me here all this time. I couldn’t get out. I was on some quest, but I couldn’t reach the end in time,” he said in frustration. “And, when I was about to succeed and cross back to the school, I dropped my talisman, and my time ran out. The darkness snagged me up, and here I’ve been ever since.”
And Annalise’s jaw dropped. “Quest? Time running out? What are you talking about?”
She could almost hear the puzzled silence around her. But of course there was no silence with the winds raging on. Yet it’s almost like she had a weird 3-D perception of this person’s voice, as if it were inside her mind and not outside.
“That’s because you’re new here. You will figure it out.” That odd silence came again as Trace said, “But why are you here? If you don’t know about the quests, that means you didn’t fail yours. So how did you come to be here?”
Annalise held her hands out, palm up. “I have no idea. A group of students were on the roof, and this strange wind came around, like a storm. I ran over to Melissa. And it’s like I was caught up in the energy and sucked in. I heard Headmistress Hettie calling for me. I saw her hand reaching, but I just couldn’t grab it. It was already too late. Next thing I knew, I was here in this darkness.”
“Oh, no,” the man said slowly. “Maybe you weren’t supposed to come.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Every person in that group was headed for a challenge—a quest. They don’t know ahead of time. They don’t know what the challenges are until they arrive at their unique experience, and none of us really understand what we’re supposed to do except to somehow get home.” He coughed slightly. “At least that’s what happened to me. I almost made it back to the school but was dumped here.”
“Like a test? Like a worst-nightmare exam run by the school?” She didn’t get it how they could do that. “They shouldn’t be allowed to do shit like this. Surely there was a law against it?”
“The thing about Gray Cliffs Academy is, a lot of the students have special abilities. They don’t know about them before the quest. They are forced to dredge up these abilities from their own heritage to overcome their challenges.” The voice rolled through the fog in a weird echo.
“So, you’re saying you came back with a special ability but didn’t make it home in time? And because you failed, you ended up here?” Annalise asked, in shock. “I wasn’t even sent on a quest. I’m just here—wait. Do you mean we’re not on the roof of the school anymore? This isn’t just a weird fog or storm happening?” Her voice rose. “If we’re not at the school, then where are we? Dumped here?” she asked, her voice darkening. “What the hell does that mean? Where is here?”
“I don’t know where here is,” he said, his voice heavy. “This gray world is all I’ve seen since I arrived. There have been tiny slices of the normal world on the odd occasions when I managed to make contact. But other than that…this is my life. That you’re here now could mean you weren’t supposed to be part of the group that left.”
Annalise cried out in surprise, overlaid with horror.
The voice paused a bit. “I don’t know for sure. But I must admit I’m absolutely delighted to have you with me. I’ve been so lonely.”
“How long have you been here?” Annalise asked slowly. “I don’t remember ever hearing about you.”
Trace gave a half sob. “Since the last quest cycle I think. So maybe a full year. In a way that seems like yesterday, and yet, in another way, it seems like forever.”
Annalise shook her head in horror. “A whole year caught in this darkness? What did you eat? What did you drink?”
Trace said, “I didn’t do either. It’s like I’m caught in between dimensions. There’s no food, but I’m not hungry. There’s nothing to drink, but I’m not thirsty. Thankfully, sleeping works here as I spend the majority of my time doing that. It’s almost like I’m in a comatose state most of the time, only waking up because of some disturbance. And there have been a lot of disturbances lately. So I knew something was happening. Then I caught sight of Melissa...at least I think it was her. It was hard to see. I do know what she looks like though,” he said, his voice changing, softening. “She was a year younger than me, a year behind. That’s when I considered a whole year might have passed, and a new quest cycle started—her quest cycle. If only I returned in time,” he said. “But my talisman slipped out of my hand as I approached the roof. I was that close. I could see Hettie and the headmaster standing there, waiting for me, expecting me to make it, smiles on their faces …”
He gulped, his voice shaking as he continued. “I also saw their faces as the horror filled their gazes when they realized I wouldn’t make it.” Trace shuddered, the movement obvious in his voice as he said, “And I knew something really bad would happen.”
“All that said, no way am I staying here for a whole year,” Annalise said. “I don’t even belong here at all. I wasn’t part of the group. I wasn’t supposed to be on the roof. I used to go up there when I needed some space. So that’s why I was up there at that time. When I saw the darkness, I lunged for the headmistress but was caught up in this mess. Hettie must have recognized I shouldn’t be there because she tried to pull me out of it.”
“That’s possible. You probably weren’t scheduled to do your quest for another year.”
“Or it’s possible I don’t have any abilities, like you all have, and wasn’t meant to come at all,” she said in disgust. “Wouldn’t it be so typical of my world I get involved in a group of the chosen, and yet I’m not one of them?” But instead of stressed or teary-eyed, she just got angry. “Why the hell is this happening to me? I didn’t even want to go to the damn school in the first place.”
Trace gave a shocked gasp. “What do you mean? Why didn’t you want to come to the school? It’s the best school ever.”
About the Author:
Blair Drake believes in magic, especially the magic of stories with fantasy, adventures, romance, action, and surprises. She has loved writing and living in the stories of the Finding Magic series and is so excited to share the quests of the Gray Cliffs Academy students with her readers.
When she’s not writing about magic, she’s reading about it. Her influences are Cassandra Claire, Neil Gaiman, Rick Riordan, Garth Nix, and many more.
In the mortal plane, following the lure of magic has drawn Blair into strange and wonderful adventures from Australia to New York City, with many stops in between. She currently lives near Denver. Her very favorite spot is a red loveseat in her office, frequently shared with two cats, an outnumbered Dalmation, and occasionally her bewitched husband.
She might have gone to a school similar to Gray Cliffs Academy and would love to go through a magic portal. In the meantime, she’s creating her own in more books of magic.