“God, who knows what he sees in her,” one of the girls said as she applied her lipstick. She leaned in close to the mirror, planted a hand on the white basin, and smiled at her reflection.
The other girl snorted. “Beats me. She has no looks, she has little magic, and she isn’t from a known family. Maybe Damien King is just playing with her.”
The first girl snorted. “Maybe it’s charity work. Apparently he needs it if he’s going to have any hope of following in his father’s footsteps and heading up the Magical Enforcement Unit.”
“Yeah, charity work. I think it would be easier and a whole lot more pleasant to spend his time cleaning toilets than going out with that thing.”
On the term that thing, Felicity stared at her hands. She was sitting on the toilet seat in the last stall in the bathroom. The door was open a crack, and her legs were up by her chest.
She hugged them tightly as she turned her face to the side. She wiped a few stray tears on her scuffed trouser legs.
She tried not to react to their cruel comments. She’d been hearing them for several months now.
Why had Damien King picked her? Damien, the most attractive, most powerful, most eligible magician in all the school? She didn’t know. Luck? Her looks? Her magic? Felicity Smith possessed none of those.
… As stupid as it sounded, she just thought he cared for her.
He had to, right? Otherwise that enigmatic smile he always shot her – the one that took over his face like dawn pushing back the night – wouldn’t count. Nor would the way he looked at her with those sparkling eyes that suggested he could take her away from all of this if only she trusted him. Nor would the soft press of his fingers as they always curled around hers whenever he walked her across the grounds.
“Come on, let’s go. We can’t miss the party later tonight,” the first girl said. There was the echoing click of her makeup bag as she shoved her lipstick back into it.
“Yeah. Come on.”
Together, both girls walked out.
Felicity wasted a whole minute there as she dried her eyes on her pants. Only when they were completely dry did she inch forward, push off the seat, carefully grab the bathroom door, peek around it, and walk out. Even then, she paused in front of the mirrors. Not for long. She hated mirrors.
Felicity was plain. Or normal, at least. And around here, normal was ugly. She’d somehow found her way into the most prestigious academy of magic in the country. It was full of old, rich, entitled families. The kind of families that had been perfecting their image – including the faces of their children – for centuries.
Felicity? She had kind of dull hazel eyes that might look pretty under sunlight but sure as hell wouldn’t pop on a selfie. Neither did her shoulder-length, glossy black hair count. It didn’t matter that from the right angle you could see a few flashes of deep blue indigo shining through each strand. Nor would it count that, according to her grandma at least, she had a great smile.
From whatever angle you looked at it from, Felicity still wasn’t good enough.
… For everyone but Damien, that was.
She held onto that thought as she trailed her fingers down her cheek one last time. She patted her collar, tried to neaten up her appearance, and walked out.
She expected those girls to be long gone. They weren’t. They were parked right outside of the toilet stalls texting on their phones.
One of them – Josephine Lay, the undisputed princess of Broadstone Academy – looked right at Felicity and smiled. It was the kind of move that told Felicity Josephine had known she was in that toilet stall all along.
“You poor thing. You look all red-cheeked and bleary-eyed. Have you been crying, dear?” Josephine asked.
Felicity resisted the urge to wipe her face again. She shrugged. “I got something in my eye.”
Josephine’s friend, Virginia, laughed. It was grating.
Maybe none of her other friends thought that, but practically everything in this school grated on Felicity’s nerves. From the way people talked to her, to the way they treated her, to the expectations they thrust upon her after graduation. It always felt like someone had claws on her skin and they were dragging them down her back to get to the bones beneath.
Felicity shrugged off that image as she strode the halls.
She was in the girls’ wing. Everyone was still in their uniforms – blouses, blazers, skirts, and holsters for their wands. Though the skirts weren’t required, very few girls didn’t wear them. Why wouldn’t they? They all had perfect tan legs that were devoid of the burns that covered Felicity’s thighs and shins from an accident in her first year.
Despite the fact classes were over, people were still in their uniforms. Students were expected to always uphold the standards of the most prestigious school in all of the country – the oldest, too. For the history of Broadstone reached back thousands of years. You were always required to wear your uniform, and it had to be perfect, down to every last stitch. When Felicity had gained a bursary scholarship to come here, her grandmother had spent three full weeks trying to teach Felicity how to maintain her uniform. It had certain magical enchantments in it – as did everything in this world. If those enhancements worked fine, then the uniform would appear pristine. If they malfunctioned, it would become disheveled over the day. You might start the morning looking fine, but by the end of classes, your blouse and blazer would hang off you like loose rags.
Felicity had honestly tried to learn how to upkeep her uniform, but she wasn’t good enough. It – like her self-esteem – had started crumpling the first day she’d put it on.
She tried to neaten her collar again and hide behind her hair as she walked past another troupe of girls. They were standing around, their wands in their hands as they practiced makeup spells.
There was meant to be some kind of party tonight.
Okay, who was Felicity kidding? It wasn’t going to be just some kind of party. It was the most anticipated entry on the social calendar for the year. It was the magical equivalent of homecoming.
Technically, Felicity would be going with Damien. That didn’t mean that Felicity would be the queen of the ball. To be honest, she didn’t want to be, anyway. She was sick of the attention.
She wanted to go back to the days when no one ever saw her. She would flit from class to class like a shadow.
Then Damien had noticed her one day. His deep green eyes had locked on hers and…. she’d been pulled away out of her drab world into one that sparkled but burnt.
Felicity rubbed her cheek one last time, let her hand fall, and curled her fingers into a determined fist.
She wasn’t going to let those girls get her down.
She headed back to her room.
She shared a room with other outcasts – though Felicity was at the bottom of the pack, even with them.
As one girl walked out, she didn’t even bother to hold the door open for Felicity. The magical locking spell that ensured only people coded to their dormitory room could access it malfunctioned, and the door smashed right into Felicity’s face.
She pushed back just in time before it could break her nose. It still hurt like hell.
Rubbing her face, she locked a hand on the handle, concentrated, and asked it to open.
Most other witches her age didn’t have to concentrate as much as she did. Once upon a time, Felicity had been good at magic. She really had. Otherwise she would never have gotten a bursary to this prestigious school. But getting into school and being able to deal with the stress of being here were two very different things. Almost immediately, her stellar grades had dropped off.
“But it will still land you a good job,” she whispered under her breath only once she’d confirmed that there was no one else in the room.
She stood there and stared around. There were four beds arrayed around the four corners of the room. They were in the cardinal directions. The room itself had been architecturally designed based on the Golden Mean.
Every single method to magnify magic had been used – both here and in the rest of the building.
Felicity scratched her arm, dabbed at her cheek once more, and reached her bed. She wanted to flop-face first onto it.
She didn’t get that opportunity.
The window just beside her bed was half open. The other girls hated it, but Felicity loved a breeze. It reminded her that out there, there was a bigger world and her wretched existence in here would end one day.
She swore she heard a scream filtering in on the wind.
Frowning hard, she pushed toward it, grabbed the edge of the windowsill, and shoved her head out.
At first, she convinced herself that she hadn’t heard a thing, and she went to push away. Then she heard that cry cutting through the air once more.
Her gaze immediately flicked over the grounds.
They were massive. They had to be. Broadstone Academy dealt with preschoolers right up to graduate researchers. The entirety of magical education was taught here. There were approximately 2000 students who went to the academy.
She let her gaze jolt across the sprawling green grounds that were hemmed in by massive old sandstone buildings. The buildings together formed a perfect square. Outside of that square was another circle of green, and beyond that, another square of academy buildings.
Circles and squares concentrated magic. They also concentrated sounds. She heard another echoing cry, and immediately, the skin along the back of her neck started to prickle.
She pushed further out of the window, grabbing it in one bony, white-knuckled hand. The wind caught her shoulder-length hair and beat it across her cheeks and neck.
As she focused her sight, finally, she saw a group of figures way out in the distance. Judging by how they moved and their flowing robes, they had to be teachers.
They were also running.
Fear bolted through Felicity, and she jerked back. “It couldn’t be another murder, could it?” she stammered.
“What are you talking about?” One of her roommates had just walked in. “Can you please close the window? It’s freezing out there.”
“I just heard a scream. And I saw teachers rushing off toward the gymnasium.”
Her roommate arched an eyebrow, then, without apologizing, jerked over, grabbed the open window off Felicity, and shoved her own head out. “I can’t see anything, idiot.”
Felicity didn’t react to her tone. If she started reacting to people treating her badly, she’d never get anything done. The whole school – from the students to the teachers – treated her like dirt they were just waiting to throw in the trash. She pointed off in the direction that she’d seen the teachers running.
At first, there was nothing, and her roommate let out a groan. “God, you’re an idiot—”
She stopped. Another keening cry split across the grounds.
Felicity might be making this up, but it sounded like it came from a man.
“God,” her roommate said, and there was almost a note of glee in her tone. “You don’t think it’s another murder, do you?”
Felicity couldn’t respond. Her skin was crawling. Her intuition was playing up, for what it was worth.
Once upon a time, Felicity had thought she’d had a pretty good sense of things. But if she had, she would never have come here to this nightmarish school.
Still, she couldn’t deny the specific feelings that bubbled through her gut and crawled up her spine. They told her something dark had just happened.
Her roommate continued to push all the way out of the window. When the door opened, and another roommate walked in, they both congregated around the window.
Felicity was shunted back.
Her palms became sweaty, and she opened her hands quickly and closed them.
Maybe to the rest of the people at Broadstone a murder would be seen as nothing more than a bit of school drama, but in the real world, they were horrifying, terrifying things.
Felicity’s own parents had been murdered.
As that memory struck her, she turned. She went to flop onto her bed, but she quickly changed her mind. She grabbed her jacket and walked out.
No one noticed.
By the time she reached the corridor, it was clear that other people had heard what was going on. They were congregating in one of the long hallways near a massive window that showed an unrivaled view of the grounds.
Josephine was there, and though Felicity could be making this up, she looked more gleeful than anyone else.
There had been approximately five murders in Broadstone’s history. Considering it was over two thousand years old, that was a testament to how protected this place was. Violent crime was common in the magical community. Though it was decidedly less common around the elite’s children and in one of the most protected buildings in the country, it still occurred even here.
Of those five murders that had been perpetrated over that thousand-year span, three of them had occurred this year.
Maybe it was part and parcel of the fact that Felicity had grown up in the real world before she’d joined the magical one, but she expected that to mean something. It shouldn’t just horrify people but shake them to the core. Clearly there was a serial killer on campus. But if you’d think that would bother these rich elites, you’d be wrong.
None of the three murders had affected anyone noteworthy.
One had been a bursary kid just like Felicity. She’d been in her first grade. She’d been all of 10 years old. Another had been a groundsman. The last had been a teacher.
Though the teacher had technically been well respected, that didn’t matter. He’d also been from a poor family.
And that’s why, as Felicity walked the halls, it was clear that the possibility of another murder was nothing more than entertainment. Why get het up about it if someone was only killing those less fortunate? Hell, to a lot of the students who attended Broadstone, it was poetic justice. Poor people had no place here. If someone was killing them to get rid of them, maybe the faculty would finally realize that bursary scholarships were a waste of time, as was hiring anyone who didn’t have the correct family credentials.
Though Felicity never got angry – ever – she found herself curling her hands into fists as she walked the halls.
Fortunately people were too distracted by what was going on to pay any attention to her.
She reached a set of magical lifts, hesitated, then pressed one knuckle into the call button.
She walked inside. Several girls walked out, and they were quickly ushered over by Josephine.
Felicity pressed her back against the metal wall of the lift and closed her eyes as the doors shut.
Her intuition was still playing up. This sense was climbing her back, and with every second, it was getting darker and darker.
By the time the lift opened, she had to shove her finger into her collar and pull it out. It felt like someone was chaining her up by the throat.
This prickling, niggling sense climbed her back. For whatever reason, it was marching down her arms. It played along the skin until it reached her wrists. And there it started to wrap around her, tighter and tighter.
Once she reached the main foyer, it was chaos. Teachers were running back and forth. She didn’t need to see their completely ashen expressions to know that something was going on. It was all in their body language and the fact that several of them had their wands out and they were fully charged.
It was no longer a question of if there’d been another murder – there had been. She heard as much as two teachers ran past. “The body is strung up. We have to get it down before anyone sees it.”
Felicity closed her eyes. She pressed them as tightly shut as she could. She let a few tears trail down her cold cheeks.
Whoever the next victim was, she’d do them the dignity of at least crying for their death. No one else around here would.
“I don’t understand. Why did they target him?” another teacher said, her voice pitching up high.
That niggling sense in Felicity’s gut turned a corner. A sharp one. Her intuition started to blare in her ears. Her vision even became a little foggy. That sensation of something wrapping around her wrists became 10 times worse.
“Just move. We have to get him down before anyone sees. If this gets out…” one teacher trailed off.
It felt like there was a shadow behind Felicity. As she took another weak step forward, that shadow only grew.
Felicity had always been alone. She couldn’t remember her parents – just their murders. She’d been a toddler at the time. The blood, the magic, the screams – they’d stayed with her. But all of her mother’s kindness and her father’s cheeky humor hadn’t. She’d only heard about it from her grandmother. And Nana Layla was now dead, too.
“We can’t let anyone take a photo. Put up a complete magical field,” one of the senior teachers snapped as he strode through the hall, his navy-blue robes twisting around him as magic coiled up his skin.
“If you put up a complete magical field, it will be harder to figure out what went on,” one of the saner teachers said.
“This cannot get out. One of our most prestigious students has been targeted. We cannot let any pictures leave the school. Do it,” he roared.
It was as if they just couldn’t see her. The teachers were striding around, but none of them seemed to care that she was there. Though that often happened to Felicity, and she knew there was no point putting her hand up during class, now it just didn’t feel right.
It was like she was an insignificant speck of dust in a massive galaxy – one that was being swept away as a new wave of dark intuition struck her.
… One of the most prestigious students had been attacked.
One of the most prestigious students….
The day Damien had started to pay attention to Felicity, everything had changed. He’d been like a ray of sunshine in an otherwise completely dark world. She could still remember when she’d tripped over and sprained her ankle right in front of him. She’d been walking along one of the beautiful old sandstone verandas. One of the girls had tripped her up. They’d left a string spell. Kind of like a garroting wire, but at ankle height, any witch worth her magic would’ve been able to detect it. Felicity hadn’t. She’d fallen face-first into Damien’s chest.
The laughter that had rocketed around the grounds could’ve deafened her.
But what came next had practically blinded her instead. She’d never had anything to do with Damien King. Why would she have? He was the undisputed king of the school. His father was the head of the Magical Enforcement Unit, and his mother was a decorated spell caster. His family was one of the oldest in the area. Oh yeah, and he was handsome. Truly handsome. That didn’t really mean much in the magical world. With enough magic and no conscience, you could change your baby’s face forever. It didn’t matter that it was technically illegal to use magic on your children. Nothing stopped the elites. They crafted their children’s personas and physiques from the day they were born.
But there’d been something different about Damien. Sure, he had a perfect jaw, stunning eyes, and cheekbones you could carve a steak on. But it was what was in his eyes that had counted. He had this… light.
Like an angel from heaven, he’d bestowed that light upon her the day she’d fallen into him. Rather than shove her off, he’d picked her up. And God, she could still remember the way his arms had collapsed around her back and legs. She’d even trembled. He’d just smiled as he’d taken her straight to the nurse’s office.
… From there, it had been a dream. Or a fairytale. He’d asked her out that very week.
Then the stares had started. And the comments. And the backstabbing and bullying. In the past, Felicity had been in the background – something to be ridiculed when she was in front of the elites, but otherwise something to be ignored.
She shuddered again. That sense of a shadow passing over her only grew. It made her skin crawl.
One of the teachers walking past shook his head, his cheeks paling so badly, it looked as if they’d been painted with undercoat. “There has to be some mistake. Has anyone checked that it’s not an illusion spell? No one would go after the most skilled student of the school.”
… The most skilled student of the school.
There was no one like Damien. His prowess for magic was completely freakish. Yeah, okay, so he came from some pretty powerful parents, but he topped every single class he took. It didn’t matter if it was athletics, dark defense, or human law. There was no one like him.
He was the undisputed top of Broadstone.
And he was now….
Her hands started to become itchy. One of the first things you learned as a witch was to control your magic around your emotions. You weren’t allowed to start school until you could. Fair enough. School was a stressful place – which had already been evidenced. If you started letting your skills blast out at every argument, there would be hell.
But now she forgot that most cardinal of lessons. Magic began to crackle around her wrists. It shunted up her arms and played over her back. It pressed into her left shoulder, to be precise. It was almost as if it was creating the outline of a hand.
Shivering, her whole body cold, she reached forward and tried to grab the sleeve of a passing teacher. “Excuse me—”
The guy just strode off.
So she tried to get in front of another teacher. They just walked around her.
It was like she was invisible.
“Excuse me,” she said louder.
No one paid any attention to her.
“Who’s been killed? Who’s been killed?” she stammered.
No one answered.
Felicity grabbed her arms and locked them around her middle. She started to shake from her toes to the top of her head. “Who’s dead?” she screamed at the top of her lungs.
People turned around, but then they turned right back. No one even paused to tell her to get out of here.
Then the doors opened.
Two teachers walked in. Between them was a student.
A male student. A dead student.
He was covered in blood and marked with dark symbols, and even from here, she could tell that he was as cold as the heart of a glacier. But nothing, nothing could be as cold as her heart right now.
Felicity fell to her knees, she clutched her hands over her face, and she cried.
This, right here, would be the day that changed her life for good. Or rather, for bad.