Excerpt Book One
The place was dark and creepy, especially on an overcast winter’s day. It was cold, too. Even so, he almost would have rather stayed outside. He sucked in a deep breath of courage and strode to the massive oak doors and lifted the heavy door knocker.
The ancient butler who greeted him at the door led him down a dark hall without uttering so much as a word. Tom tried to make conversation but gave up, instead of paying attention to the placards on the doors he passed, offices of the numerous teachers that worked at the school. This school was much larger than The Academy as it offered full-time instruction to students from twelve on up.
Set in an old castle in Northern Scotland, the exact location unknown, the school was rumored to be invisible to non-magical humans. That is, the fourteenth-century castle appeared as a ruin to passersby, with no road leading up to it to tempt would-be visitors. Should the odd hiker venture near the perimeter, they would instantly feel compelled to go around the building, never actually finding a true path to the summit of the hill.
The butler eventually stopped in front of a very ordinary-looking door. When the butler started to knock, Tom stopped him. “It’s okay,” he said. “I can take it from here. Thank you.” The butler bowed and left.
Tom stood a moment, concentrating on his breath to steel himself for this meeting before raising his hand to knock. A sound behind him stopped the downward movement of his hand. When he looked over his shoulder and saw a boy about his age leaning against the wall. The youth was staring right at him, without blinking. His eyes were a startling shade of amber.
Excerpt Book Two:
The blood on Tom’s hands sizzled and spat like butter in a hot pan. Tom felt the heat collect in his chest as his pounding heart pushed fire through his veins. Power pulsed to the tempo of his beating heart. It was frightening and invigorating. The air around him crackled with energy as though lightening was stored in his chest ready to explode. His senses sharpened.
He could hear the chanting outside. As he looked, the wards shimmered and wavered. The Master stood outside of the gate, his black robes billowing in the winds. His outstretched hands looked as though they were reaching for the gates. Three neat rows of ten disciples behind him mimicked their Master with outstretched arms. Their eyes were closed in concentration and their combined power was beginning to weaken the wards. The wards were failing, Tom feared.
Tom supposed he should have been terrified. After all, Harding Academy had sent Witches to the Callahan residence every day for a week to set and strengthen them, layer by layer. The dark magic The Master and his minions wove was stronger than the wards. They would gain entrance to the house soon enough.
Tom braced himself for a fight. He felt his body tremble. If it was from fear or from the power coursing through him, he couldn’t tell. Perhaps it didn’t matter. He planted his feet firmly and willed himself to calm down. The Warlocks attacking the wards weren’t teenagers. They were fully grown men and women, very likely trained by The Master himself. Each and every one of them was probably stronger than Tom was, in more ways than just brute force. They knew more spells, probably ones he had never heard of. Dark spells no one was supposed to use.
He spun in a slow circle, trying to work out how to set things to protect himself. The second-floor landing gave him a clear view of the front door and entranceway. What if they came through the bedrooms? They may have been minions of a dark Sorcerer, but surely, they could still climb. Tom raced down the hallway, opening every door he could find. They weren’t going to sneak up on him!
He might have thwarted their plans once before, but it was doubtful they were here to kill him. At least, Tom had hoped his powers were still too important to them. It would give him precious moments to fight back as they tried to take him alive. Every part of Tom’s body trembled. The Professor should have been back by now with reinforcements. Was the Master so powerful that he could stop Doors? The thought sent another wave of chills through Tom’s body.
He pulled himself back. He couldn’t afford to be distracted, couldn’t allow himself to panic. Tom looked around the landing for possible weapons or tools. Mirrors, paintings, knick-knacks all received his assessing gaze. He thought that he should have a plan, but none came to mind. He filed away the inventory for future reference. What else did he have?
Professor Montague had taught him a few defensive moves. The truth was, he hadn’t learned nearly enough. Certainly not enough to prepare him for such a confrontation. He mentally ran through the block and shield maneuvers. Taking a deep breath, he prayed that he could hold down the fort until help arrived.
Tom had spent weeks learning to control his emotions, while tamping down his anger so he could focus his Magick. He could hear the Headmaster advising caution in the back of his mind, but this was different. Tom allowed his blood to boil now. His family was at stake.
When his mother was shoved through the Door to safety, he willfully forgot all of that and allowed his blood to boil. Professor Thunderbolt had looked back at Tom and gave him a nod of encouragement. As soon as he stepped through to the relative safety of The Academy, the Door had vanished.
The weight of the Key Tom wore was reassuring. He was a Traveler, after all.
Escaping this place would be as easy as summoning a Door from nothing and vanishing in an instant. But this was his home. His family’s home. His father’s home. Tom would not and could not give it up so easily. Not after everything his family had been put through. He was ready to fight but he needed a plan.
The chanting at the gate grew louder. Under the cadence, Tom heard the gate begin to creak open. He took another deep breath and tried to center himself. Looking out the window, he saw the house wards still held and took some comfort in that. Still, they were not as powerful as the ones at the gate, the ones The Master had already obliterated.
He had a wild thought. If his Blood Magick could be integrated into the wards, would that strengthen them enough to buy him time? Professor Thunderbolt had promised to return with reinforcements, Tom only needed to delay long enough for him to return. Tom was alone. He would never ask a friend to put themselves in harm’s way. The sheer number of robed Warlocks, not the least of which was The Master, made it far too dangerous. Tom felt that he had a chance to put an end to this before anyone else got hurt.
The part of his mind that was not concentrating on the wards raced with questions. How could The Master even see the house? The wards were supposed to hide the house from those not invited. That was what the Witches had promised, were they wrong? Was The Master just that strong, or was there someone at Harding Academy working against them? If so, who? He began going through the roster of people he had met at the new school and, to his horror, realized that he had lost focus and the wards were failing again.
He poured more energy into the wards and felt the house shake as the wards fought to stay put against dark forces. The house moved like it rode an earthquake, doors and windows rattling. Somewhere, glass shattered. The light from Tom’s energy poured into the ley lines from both sides, and it grew painfully bright. Tom’s eyes burned and itched, and a pinpoint of blinding pain exploded in the back of his head, growing to a searing pounding. He was too afraid to look away, lest he lose focus again but just then, the light flared, forcing him to automatically shield his eyes.
* * *
The chanting stopped. For a silent moment, Tom stood in utter darkness. His eyes were so used to the blinding light that no longer existed; they took their time adjusting to the relative gloom. He strained to hear any sounds while waiting to see again. But outside, the Warlocks had gone as silent as a tomb. The hair stood on the back of Tom’s neck and goosebumps chased themselves up and down his arms.As his eyes found their focus again, the only sounds were the tick-tick-tick of the grandfather clock. He tried to look in every direction at once. There were no sounds. No chanting. Nothing. Tom realized that the eerie silence was more unnerving than the chanting.
Excerpt Book Three: (spoiler)
He wiped his hands on his jeans and said those lame words again. “I’m so sorry.” “Jessica told us you were here. We’re glad you came,” said Mrs. Honeywell, her face calm, patient, understanding.
Tom stood, rooted to the spot, unable to speak as tears suddenly sprung to his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, anything that might make things right, but the lump in his throat was choking him.
Tom hadn’t cried. He hadn’t let himself cry because he didn’t feel like he deserved to cry when other people had lost so much. Because of him and his psycho family, these people had lost a daughter. And the world had been robbed of one of the most exceptional human beings who had ever lived. The floodgates had opened now, here of all places, and shame crept up his cheeks before sinking down to his heart to blend with the guilt he already felt. Try as he might, he just couldn’t stop crying. Mrs. Honeywell came into the room and wrapped Tom into a hug.
At first, he just stood there lamely, arms hanging, feeling like such a coward. When Mrs. Honeywell started stroking the back of his hair and whispering, “It’s okay. It’s okay. You’re going to be alright,” in soothing tones as she rocked him back and forth in her arms, Tom lost it completely.
Ugly, retched sobs wracked his body and he clung to her. He clung to her because he needed an anchor. He needed a mother, someone to take his side. But then he clung to her because she was Mandy’s mother. These arms had held Mandy. This woman’s kindness had made Mandy into the kind and generous person she had been. Through her, he clung to Mandy.
When his sobs subsided, he held on, because he understood that he too was a proxy for Mandy. He took a deep breath and released the heaviness that had weighed him down. He had come here expecting anger and recriminations. Instead, he had found solace.