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The Legacy of Androva Series

I'm so happy to be able to write these words...

Matched in Magic will be released next month! The first book in the Beyond Androva series has a title, a description, and a beautiful cover πŸ’œ. The new series logo is Serena's Sygnus—three overlapping circles—and it replaces the seven-pointed star from the Legacy of Androva that belonged to Jax and Galen.

The story begins a few months after the end of Surviving Magic, and it takes place in a different timeline/world to the one(s) Jax and Shannon live in. Although Beyond Androva is a spin-off series, it can be read independently.

Here's the description:

Old secrets. New magic.
A world of trouble.

Serena is a sixteen-year-old magician in search of a new life. She doesn’t know what to expect from the world on the other side of the portal, but she’s certain it will be better than what she’s leaving behind.
Art is sixteen too. He’ll never have any magic of his own. His unmatched status forbids it. The threat of mage-sickness on his world means that everyone follows the rules.

When Serena meets Art, those rules are accidentally broken, exposing a deadly secret and a conspiracy going back generations. The perpetrators have killed before. They won’t hesitate to kill again to keep their secret hidden. Can Serena and Art survive long enough to stop them? 

The pre-order for the eBook (29th December 2019) will be up on Amazon soon, and I'll update this post with a link when it's available.

Update ☺
Amazon UK Matched in Magic
Amazon US Matched in Magic

Thank you to Kerry at Aero Gallerie for creating another amazing Androva cover, and thank you for visiting my blog today!

This weekend's blog post is just for fun πŸ˜€. It's been a while since I did an A to Z, so here's a list of quotes and gifs dedicated to my favourite fictional character: Loki. I would highly recommend the new YA book Loki: Where Mischief Lies by Mackenzi Lee if you're interested in discovering more about the character's early life.

I also have a quick writing update about my next book. The first story in the Beyond Androva series is on track for a late December release. I have loved getting to know Serena better. She's definitely not the shy and retiring type! I'll share the cover and description later this month. Thank you very much for visiting my blog today, and I hope you enjoy Loki's A to Z 🐍.

is for Asgard. “I am Loki of Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious purpose.”

B is for Brother. “Maybe you’re not so bad after all, Brother.” “Maybe not.”
C is for Casket of Ancient Winters. “Am I cursed?”
D is for Denial. “I’ve never met this man in my life.”
E is for Easy. “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
F is for Frigga. “Then am I not your mother?” “You’re not.”
G is for Get Help. “We are not doing 'Get Help'.”
H is for Hall H. “Say my name!”
is for Illusion. “Are you ever not going to fall for that?”
J is for JΓΆtunheim. “I am Loki of JΓΆtunheim, and I bring you a gift.”
K is for King. “My king.”
L is for Love. “Sometimes I’m envious, but never doubt that I love you.”
M is for Mischief. “You’ll kill me? Evidently there will be a line.”
N is for No. “No. No, no, no, no, no. I know that look.”
O is for Odin. “It’s not that I don’t love our little talks. It’s just… I don’t love them.”
P is for Poetic. “Odin brought us together. It’s almost poetic that his death should split us apart.”
Q is for Queen. “I swear to you, Mother, that they will pay for what they’ve done today.”
R is for Rescue. “Your saviour is here!”
S is for Satisfaction. “Satisfaction’s not in my nature.”
T is for Tesseract. “It burns you to have come so close. To have the Tesseract. To have power. Unlimited power. And for what?”
U is for Understanding. “I wish I could trust you.” “Trust my rage.”
V is for Variety. “It varies from moment to moment.”
W is for Witch. “I can’t see into the future. I’m not a witch.”
X is for Exasperation. “I have been falling for thirty minutes!”
Y is for Yes. “You think yourself above them.” “Well, yes.”
Z is for Zeal. “That’s how it feels!”

Chapter twenty-seven takes us to the end of Spell Tracker. We find out the consequences of Devin's attempt to sacrifice himself to save Cass, his sister, and Luca/Avi, the boy he loves. Nothing is ever straightforward when a magical contract is involved, and this Spell Tracker is a Shadow Mage to beware of. He insists on collecting what is due to him, and Luca is forced to ask the Master Mages for help.

The rest of the book is available to read via the New series link at the top of this post. Spell Tracker and its sequel Spell Mason are also on Amazon (at $0.99/£0.99/€0.99). I hope you enjoy the conclusion to Luca's story, and thank you very much for reading πŸ’•.

Amazon UK Spell Tracker  Amazon US Spell Tracker
Amazon UK Spell Mason  Amazon US Spell Mason

27 A Different Life

It was instantaneous. The contract released me. As soon as I realized what had happened, I freed Cass from the Spell Tracker’s magic.
“Devin,” she said, running over to throw her arms around him. He held onto her and closed his eyes. It was the kind of moment guardians lived for. The love between them was beautiful.
“What? What?” said the Spell Tracker. “That wasn’t… That wasn’t a proper name!” he shouted.
He raised his hand to claim Devin.
“No,” I said, interrupting his spell. “You cannot harm a magician connected to a guardian. Not without the High Council’s endorsement.”
Wait until you find out he’s a Light Mage.
His face turned red, then reddish-purple. I raised my eyebrows. “Something you’d like to say?”
“You tricked me! You… you…” His anger overcame his powers of speech.
“No,” I said. “Devin outsmarted you, but he didn’t trick you. In this dimension it’s a recognized name. Otherwise the magic would not have responded as it did.”
Devin pulled back from Cass and gave me a grin. “I couldn’t be sure, but you told me how powerful thoughts and beliefs could be. I never expected to wind up grateful to Mina for creating Cavi.”
“God, no,” said Cass. “She’ll never let us hear the end of it if she finds out. Although… I can’t exactly tell her. I have no idea what’s happening.”
Devin’s grin faded. “Am I… am I still going to die?”
“Yes,” said the Spell Tracker, sneering. “My contract with you is perfectly valid. You entered into it of your own free will.”
“We’ll see,” I replied. I reached out with my magic. “Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Selaphiel, Raguel, et Barachiel. Uno nomine veroque te invoco.”
The Spell Tracker recoiled. “W-what are you doing?” He leaned backward as if I were pointing an earthbound gun at his head.
“I think we should settle this now,” I replied. “Before one of us is—how can I put this?—tempted to adjust their magic in any way.”
He glared at me. Yes. I doubt Cass is the only magician whose contract you’ve manipulated.
“You should be happy,” I said. “You might be remembered as an extraordinary Spell Tracker yet.”
“No one has answered you,” he said, looking left and right. The four of us were still alone in the classroom. His superior expression reasserted itself.
“Who did you… call?” asked Devin. “Because those names sounded familiar.”
“They make up the High Council of the magical dimensions,” I said. “And someone is already here.”
My magic was being inspected. Guardians had to submit to a lot of audits, and I was accustomed to the sensation. Whoever had answered my summons would start with me. The ability to ask for help in this way was a guardian’s privilege and one we were not permitted to abuse.
“So much wishful thinking is absurd even for a guardian like you,” said the Spell Tracker. “I am returning and I’ll be taking my—”
He broke off mid-sentence with an expression of panic.
“What’s the matter?” I said, with fake concern.
Cass shivered and Devin lifted his shoulders, frowning. “Avi…?”
“Don’t be afraid,” I said. “You’ve done nothing wrong. It is the Spell Tracker and I who are at fault.”
“Indeed,” came a low, melodious voice. I turned.
“Selaphiel,” I said, lowering my head briefly.
“Luca,” she responded.
“Those are angels’ names,” said Devin. “I remember now. And you do… you do look kind of angelic.”
Selaphiel had not bothered with an earthbound covering. Though her usual form would look quite ordinary in the magical dimensions, here she looked like a person made from magic, glowing and golden.
She gave a faint smile. “Angel is an earthbound word. It simply means messenger. When we first created this dimension alongside our own, the High Council were the only guardians. We were a little careless with how much information we imparted, and the stories about us unfortunately persist.”
“You’re… I thought… the archangels are all supposed to be men,” said Cass.
“Hmmm,” she said, her smile turning mischievous. “Earthbound lessons regarding the irrelevance of gender are still a work in progress. We’ll get there eventually.”
“We?” asked Cass, smiling back. “I think you’re my new favorite person. If… person’s the right word?”
“Person and Master Mage,” I said.
“We’re all magicians,” said Devin slowly. “That’s what he meant about restoring my magic. This dimension… the life paths… the guardians… even the penalties. It’s like a kind of college, isn’t it?”
Cass’s eyes widened. “We’re all magicians?”
I looked at Selaphiel to see if she would confirm it. I still had no idea how the High Council would resolve our situation. She’d examined our magic. She would know everything.
“I demand the right to execute my contract,” said the Spell Tracker loudly. “You cannot prevent it indefinitely.”
Selaphiel’s expression turned cold. “You are not in a position to make any demands, Spell Tracker. However, I’m afraid you are correct as far as the contract is concerned. Go ahead.”
My heart sank. She was going to allow it, then. Cass would lose her brother when she’d only just found him again.
“What?” said Cass, moving in front of Devin. “What did you say?”
The Spell Tracker pushed her out of the way behind a wall of magic. “No!” she shouted. “Avi, stop them. I thought we were safe. Dev!”
With a satisfied smile, the Spell Tracker snapped his fingers and Devin crumpled to the floor. Cass threw herself against the wall of magic in an attempt to reach him, continuing to protest.
Selaphiel held up her hand and Cass was forced into silence. “Be patient,” she said. “Permit me to explain what will happen now.”
“Punishment of some kind, I assume?” said the Spell Tracker. “Get it over with. I have a magician to torture.”
“No, you do not. The physical covering you just killed belonged to a Light Mage. Congratulations, Spell Tracker. You have successfully created another guardian.”
Cass gasped. She gave me a pleading look. “Does that mean Dev’s OK?”
“Yes, he’s—”
I was interrupted by the Spell Tracker, whose face was distorted with rage. “Impossible. You…” He turned to me. I tried to keep my face expressionless. “You knew. You knew. I’ll kill you for that. I’ll kill you. You’ll be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life, Guardian.” He stepped closer and Selaphiel shook her head.
“You will not live that long, Spell Tracker. Have you forgotten the contract you entered into when you took your position?”
“I…” His furious expression wavered, but only for a second. He rolled his jaw and threw the lanista’s cloak over his shoulder with an imperious gesture. “You’ll never enforce it. That’s why you employ me. No one on the High Council would lower themselves to my position.”
“I would.” She narrowed her eyes and the glow of her magic crackled like static electricity. “I would consider it a fair exchange for the harm you have done. However, I won’t have to. Your successor will be tasked with executing your penalty. She is ready. You were due to step down soon, I think? I’m sure you remember the timing better than I.”
The Spell Tracker froze. His eyes flicked left and right as if looking for a way out, but there was none. If his magic was bound to a contract, he was done. As we watched, he was dragged backward, and the illusion of his physical covering disappeared.
“Now,” said Selaphiel, “we come to you, Luca. I am in something of a dilemma about your penalty. You could argue that the end justified the means, but the problem is you had no way of knowing the end before you engaged in the means, did you?”
“No,” I admitted.
“Would you do it again?”
“Yes,” I said.
She sighed. “And what is your view on the rules about objectivity now?”
I might as well say it while I have the chance. “I think they should be less strict. I think guardians could give better help—more help—if we were allowed to be part of the earthbound dimension from time to time and revisit former connections.
“And,” I added, “I think the High Council is too far removed from what’s going on in this dimension. You can’t legislate for what you don’t know. There are bound to be other loopholes you haven’t thought about. Plus… I’ve given more help in the five weeks I’ve been here than I usually manage in half an earthbound year.”
I bit my lip. I hadn’t intended to go on for so long.
“Are you quite finished?” she asked.
I nodded. My cheeks were hot. I was glad I’d managed to stop before I blurted out my feelings for Cass and Devin, too. Way to undermine your own argument, Luca. I’d demonstrated just how susceptible to emotion this physical covering made me.
“It seems you’re not alone,” she said.
“What? I don’t understand.”
“You’re not the only guardian who thinks that way.” Selaphiel extended a hand toward Devin’s body, which glowed for a few seconds before coming back to life.
“Hey,” he said, sitting up.
“Dev?” said Cass a little warily. “Is it really you?”
“Yeah,” he said. He gave her one of his amazing smiles and her expression relaxed. “I’m going to keep the name. I prefer it to my real one. And it will be less confusing for everyone.”
“Can I… can I hug you?”
He looked at Selaphiel.
“All right,” she said. She glanced at me. “I accept your suggestion. We will pursue this on a trial basis. You may live in the earthbound dimension with the freedom to identify your own assignments as long as you report for auditing once a month.”
I jumped. It felt as if the ground had dropped away from me for a second. My physical covering shimmered.
“I have made an adjustment. Your covering will remain an illusion, but tactile interaction will no longer be painful for the earthbound,” added Selaphiel. “No connections, though. I’m afraid the risk of discovery is too great if we allow the earthbound to look into your eyes and see your magic.”
She turned to Cass. “Last, but certainly not least, we come to you.”
Devin stood up and took hold of her hand, and I walked across to take the other one. “Don’t be afraid,” I whispered. “You’ve done the difficult part.”
“Congratulations,” said Selaphiel. “You have graduated your life path. Please forgive us for the additional obstacles you faced. I regret them deeply.”
“I don’t… What am I supposed to do?” said Cass.
“You are supposed to remember,” said Selaphiel, restoring Cass’s magical identity.
Cass held my hand more tightly. “Oh… my… God,” she said. Her disorientation passed quickly and it was like she’d stepped from a black-and-white movie into bright technicolor. Her energy signature was so strong compared to how it had been before. She’s kind of amazing.
“Avi,” she said.
“Leander,” I replied. She leaned over to give me a kiss, and I knew she was saying goodbye to what we’d had. She’s right. It’s time.
“I’ll always love you,” she said. “Both of you. And you’d better come visit me often. The thought of being an Animal Mage and a Healer is a little daunting. Especially now I remember that dragons are real. I’ll need all the help I can get to start off with.”
“We will,” said Devin.
“Just try and keep us away,” I added.
“I’m ready,” she told Selaphiel. “I have a favor to ask, though. Since you regret what happened, I wonder if you might… smooth my departure a little. If the earthbound were to believe I’d… maybe… gone to Europe to study or something?”
“An elegant solution,” agreed Selaphiel. “And a fair request, given what you’ve been through. Consider it done.”
“Am I…? Who will be training Devin as a guardian?” I asked.
“You, to begin with,” said Selaphiel. “You’ve been a guardian for almost two thousand earthbound years. You are sufficiently experienced.”
“He certainly is,” said Cass, with a wicked grin. “Dev, you’re a lucky guy.”
Devin and I protested together.
“See you both soon,” she said, unrepentant. In an instant, she and Selaphiel disappeared, leaving Devin and I alone in the classroom. It was dark outside and the glare from the overhead lights was unpleasant. I didn’t know what time it was, but I felt mentally exhausted.
Off,” said Devin, and the lights went out. “That’s better,” he said. “Although it doesn’t sound quite so impressive when it’s not in Latin, does it? Just my luck to graduate my life path as a North American high-schooler.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “You have a nice voice. It doesn’t matter what language you’re speaking.”
“Oh yeah?” he said, closing the distance between us.
“Yeah,” I murmured. His magic was buzzing. I think he’s a stronger magician than I am. That’s hot. I swallowed. “Thank you for saving my life, by the way.”
“Thank you for saving my sister’s life. Er… do you think you might ever kiss me again?”
I made a kind of helpless noise, then we were kissing. Gods. I am never going to get enough of him. Let’s hope the janitor doesn’t plan to check this classroom anytime soon.
“W-when are you expected home?” I managed when we came up for air.
“Later,” he said. “You can come back with me. I want to introduce my boyfriend to everyone. We’ll figure out the rest as we go along.”
I nodded. It was going to be an interesting new life. For both of us.

Most of the time my reading choices are based on nothing more scientific than the cover and/or description that catches my eye next. But Hallowe’en is one of the two occasions when that changes. The other is Christmas. This week I’ve been searching for YA books with paranormal content. I tend to shy away from hard-core horror, but I’m more open to a scary story at this time of year!

Here are my three choices:

The Tried and Tested
Perhaps this one is cheating because it's a reread. However, some books deserve to be enjoyed more than once, especially when they're as brilliant as the Lockwood & Co. series. These five books by Jonathan Stroud describe the adventures of a psychic investigation agency. The three main characters are teenage ghost hunters, and the phantoms in question are genuinely scary. Definitely no paranormal romance here! But there's a lot of humour, enduring friendship, and a very clever story.

First Line
Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co. I intend to say little, in part to protect the identity of the victims, in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents, but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up.

“Well,” Lockwood said, “if you judge success by the number of enemies you make, that was a highly successful evening.”

“When you go out hunting wicked spirits, it's the simple things that matter most. The silvered point of your rapier flashing in the dark; the iron filings scattered on the floor; the sealed canisters of best Greek Fire, ready as a last resort...”

“This is the way it was with Lockwood, his shifts were sometimes so sudden that they took your breath away. But his energy and enthusiasm were always impossible to resist.”

Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase (Amazon US)

The Highly Recommended
My next choice is new to me although it was published almost a couple of years ago. How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather has an overall rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars from more than 900 readers on That's what I call highly recommended! I was intrigued as soon as I read the description. Sam, the protagonist, has recently moved to Salem. She's unwelcome because she's related to one of the men responsible for the original Salem Witch Trials. She soon finds herself at the centre of a rekindled centuries-old curse. There's an angry (and apparently handsome) ghost in the mix too.

First Lines
Like most fast-talking, opinionated New Yorkers, I have an affinity for sarcasm. At fifteen, though, it's hard to convince anyone that sarcasm's a cultural thing and not a bad attitude.

“Sometimes you do things because you believe in a person, and not because you believe in everything they do.”

“You see, 'witch' is merely a title. It is not the title that is inherited bad but the people who decide what that title means.”

“If a man fears dogs, he may beat one with a stick when he sees it. As is the nature of all creatures, that dog will bite him. And then he may tell everyone that he was right about dogs, that they are evil. But I ask you, who is at fault in this scenario, the man or the dog?”

How to Hang a Witch (Amazon US)

The Wild Card
I wanted to take a chance and surprise myself with my final choice. I landed on this book because it was described as a Romeo and Juliet retelling (and I love Shakespeare). However, the Hallowe'en twist is that it's Romeo and Juliet with magic and zombies. Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge looks like a fascinating take on the classic story, and I can't wait to read it.

First Lines
If he does not come soon, she may not have the heart to kill him. For an hour now, she has sat at the foot of her bed, gripping her sword in its crimson scabbard. Over and over she whispers, I am the sword of the Catresou. I was born to avenge the blood of my people.
But her traitor throat aches and her coward eyes sting. Once upon a time, she believed she was only a sword. Now she fears she is only a girl. She hopes he will come soon. She hopes he will never come.

“Stop thinking of her,” Paris snarled, grabbing Romeo’s shoulder and wrenching him back around.
Romeo flinched, his eyes going very wide, and cold horror clutched at Paris. He had ordered Romeo how to think. If it broke his mind—
Then Romeo huffed out a laugh and said, “I can’t. I can’t stop thinking of her.” He smiled. “Your magic isn’t strong enough for that.”

“I am going to live and die for you,” he tells her. “I would like to know your face.”
“You will certainly die, at any rate.”
“And for the past three hours I have lived, so my prophecy is true already.”
She does laugh then; and with a twist of fear in her stomach, she realizes that she is going to say yes.
“You cannot tell anyone,” she says.
“How could I dare to boast of it,” he says, “when you have seen my face as well?”

“I have an idea for that, actually. You two can be the guests, and bring me along as your sacrifice. That way I’ll be in a position to help free the other sacrifices when we make our escape.”
Paris had thought he was used to the horrifying idiocy that came out of Romeo’s mouth, but apparently he was still able to be shocked.

Do you update your TBR list for Hallowe'en? Have you read any of the books I've chosen? I hope you enjoy your next book, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today! πŸ‘»

The Spell Tracker has arrived, and he intends to collect what he's owed. Luca is out of time. So is Cass, though she doesn't know it yet. And Devin's attempts to save them both only serve to give the Spell Tracker more leverage. Chapter twenty-six is the penultimate chapter. One way or another, the story is about to end!

You can catch up on chapters one through twenty-five via the New series label at the top of this post, and thank you very much for reading πŸ’•.

26 A Sacrifice

I recognized his energy signature from our dealings in the magical dimension, but I would never have connected it to the lanista without the visual cue. He normally looked very different. No wonder I had felt so uneasy around him.
“Nothing to say, Luca?”
“Who’s Luca?” asked Devin.
“Your boyfriend’s real name. Very little of what you know about him is true.”
I gave Devin a helpless look. My fear expanded in a sudden rush, as if my emotions had just caught up to the situation. It’s happening. I’ve failed. I turned to the Spell Tracker. “He’s got nothing to do with this. Let him leave.”
I got a nasty smile in response. “Nothing to do with this,” he repeated slowly. “How so? Are you not connected?”
“You don’t have a contract with him,” I said, raising my voice.
“Can someone please tell me what’s going on?” asked Cass.
“I’m not leaving,” said Devin. He took a step closer to me, keeping one hand on Cass’s shoulder, and the Spell Tracker’s smile widened.
“An audience. My favorite thing.” He opened his hand, palm facing upward, and slowly closed his fingers to create a fist. Cass let out a scream of pain and shock. Her back arched as her body tried to escape what the Spell Tracker was doing to it.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked.
With his other hand he created a wall of magic to trap Devin and me. Struggle though we might, we could not get past it to help Cass.
Rescindo. Rescindo!” I said frantically. Of course, nothing happened. The Spell Tracker was no fool. The terms of the contract between us meant I was unable to use magic against him. I knew that, but I kept trying anyway.
“This,” he went on, “is me collecting what I am owed.” He lowered his hands and Cass slumped forward, head bowed and shoulders heaving as she took in gulps of air. As I bent over her, murmuring the healing spell, Devin launched himself at the Spell Tracker. I had no time to remind him not to touch the skin. His fist barely grazed its target before he recoiled with a gasp.
“I wonder why Luca chose you to connect with,” said the Spell Tracker, dismissing the attempted punch with a shrug. “It obviously wasn’t because of your intellect. Try that again and your sister will pay for your stupidity.”
Cass raised her head slowly. “Now that you have our attention, what do you want? What kind of twisted game is this?”
“No game,” he said. “You’ve already lost. You belong to me. As Luca belongs to me.”
No,” I said. “You can’t take her.”
A short laugh. “Do tell me why not, Luca.”
The lines of our contract tightened against my magical core and I did my best to keep the pain from showing on my face. Devin lifted a hand to his own chest, obviously feeling an echo of what was hurting me.
“Avi?” he said. “Who is he?”
“She might still accept her life lesson,” I said. “Give me the time you promised. She’s so close.”
“I know she’s close. Why else do you think I’m here? And I didn’t promise you anything except failure.”
“What’s a life lesson?” said Cass.
“All in good time,” said the Spell Tracker. “Have you remembered who I am yet?”
“No. And just for the record, I don’t belong to anyone.”
“By all means put it on record while you still can,” said the Spell Tracker. He tilted his head, looking her up and down with an impassive expression. “Pain and fear have the tendency to reduce a person’s vocabulary quite dramatically. And, of course, the dead say nothing at all.”
Cass lifted her chin. “What’s that supposed to mean? I’m not afraid of dying.”
“No, you’re not,” he agreed. “Dying is not your worst fear.” He lowered his voice. “But I know what is. Timor pessimi.”
Her defiant expression faltered. I had no idea what he’d shown her, but from the way she was holding up two shaking hands to ward it off, he hadn’t pulled any punches.
“Hmmm. Not so brave after all,” he said. “What a shame.”
“You sick bastard,” she managed, her eyes glittering with unshed tears. “Subjecting me to a disgusting hallucination proves nothing. Bravery and fear aren’t mutually exclusive.”
“Better,” he said, nodding.
Stop. Just take me and leave them alone. Aren’t I enough?” I said, squaring my shoulders against the pain. “I won’t resist. I know how much you want the magic of a Light Mage. Cass and Devin are nothing to you. Are you so petty you would insist on killing all of us?”
Cass and Devin turned to me with identical expressions of shock. The Spell Tracker laughed. “Oh, Luca. Well done. I think they’re finally paying attention.”
“Avi,” said Devin. “What’s going on? If he’s not the lanista, then who is he?”
“I believe you called me ‘the thing that’s worse than hell.’ I think that was it. Am I right, Luca? One can never be certain of the nuances.”
Devin pressed his lips together. Through the connection I felt his fear rise, but he swallowed it back down before he spoke. “So you’re an eavesdropper, too? Classy.”
The Spell Tracker smiled. “I should interact with my victims in their earthbound covering more often. Your defiance is rather entertaining. I wonder how much you’ll regret those brave words when I restore your magic and you recognize me for who I really am.”
His face twisted with anticipation. “Would you fall to your knees and beg for mercy? Would you renounce everyone you’ve ever loved if I asked you to?”
“What?” said Devin, backing away. “I don’t… I don’t have any magic.”
“Just let them go,” I said. “Devin isn’t even tied to one of your contracts. You’re threatening him for your own amusement.”
The Spell Tracker smoothed a fold of his cloak. “Are you sure about that?”
“No,” I said, horrified. “Y-you… that’s impossible.”
He smiled and waited before answering me. “How quick you are to doubt yourself. Unfortunately, you are correct.”
“And Cass?” I said angrily. “What’s your excuse for denying her the extra time? I get why you want me, but you don’t need us both.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” He scowled. “Do you know how long it took me to qualify to be the Spell Tracker?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Do you know?” he repeated.
“I don’t give a shit,” I replied.
His scowl deepened. “It was all I ever wanted to be. As soon as I understood what it was—the pinnacle of achievement for a Shadow Mage—my mind was made up.
“I was on track to be the fastest qualifier in history. I was going to be the best Spell Tracker the High Council had ever appointed. Until you.” He pointed at me, then at Cass.
“What is he talking about?” said Cass. I shook my head. I have no idea.
“I’m due to step down next year. And I finally have a chance to even the score.”
“What score?”
I didn’t particularly want to know, but at least if he was monologuing, he wasn’t killing us.
“I failed my life path. This branch of my life path,” he added, gesturing to the Roman clothes he was wearing. “Because of you, Luca. Not only had I allowed… love, but it had flourished to such a degree that a new guardian was created too. I couldn’t be the Spell Tracker with that happening right under my nose. They suspected me of compassion.” He practically spat the word. “It took several more earthbound lives to convince them I possessed the right qualities for the position.”
“I thought you weren’t allowed to see my life path,” I said. “You couldn’t have known it was me.”
“I didn’t,” he agreed. “But I knew it was her.” He pointed at Cass. “She was saved by a guardian’s sacrifice. The only magician in my personal life path with that honor. When I became the Spell Tracker I couldn’t believe my luck when I found out she was bound to one of my contracts. I’ve been watching her. Watching and waiting. Supporting her failures, shall we say.”
“You’re the reason for the blackouts,” said Devin, catching on first. “You hid the notes. God, you really are despicable.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I try.”
“But… you never…”
“What’s that, Luca? I never mentioned any of this to you when we agreed our contract? No. I did not. Allow me to rectify that oversight.”
The Spell Tracker came closer. He reached inside the illusion of my physical covering to put his hand around my heart and my magic. The pain was excruciating. The edges of my vision grayed out.
He pushed Devin and Cass away with a spell when they tried to rescue me. I swallowed down a sob. The blade in the Colosseum hurt less than this. I wished I could tell them to run, but there was nowhere in the earthbound dimension he wouldn’t be able to find Cass. And Devin wasn’t likely to leave either of us.
“I will be taking you, and the girl, and enforcing your contracts because you are the reason I will be remembered as an ordinary Spell Tracker rather than an extraordinary one. I trained you both to die when I was your lanista, and you will finally make good on your obligation.”
He removed his hand and I dropped to my knees, gasping.
“I will enjoy every second of your torment,” he went on. “Especially when she knows you for who you are and realizes you failed to save her.”
Devin rushed over and put his arms around my shoulders. “Are you OK? Avi, say something. It hurt so much,” he said. “I can only imagine what it was like for you.”
“How sweet,” said the Spell Tracker. “It seems you’re still inspiring love, even now, Luca. What a great loss to guardian-kind you’ll be. Say your goodbyes. It’s time to leave this dimension.”
Love? Devin looked me in the eyes and didn’t deny it. I held onto his arms and focused on the connection. Me too. He smiled. Then he spoke, and it was like the Spell Tracker’s hand was clutching my heart again.
“Take me,” said Devin. “Take me instead.”
No.” Cass and I spoke at the same time. Devin ignored us.
“Avi is much more valuable to the world than I am, and my sister deserves a proper chance.”
Cass and I continued to protest, but the Spell Tracker held up a hand and silenced us. I got to my feet and curled my fingers into fists. Cass stood next to me, radiating anger. Before I could take a step toward him, the Spell Tracker smirked and immobilized us both.
“This is unexpected,” he mused, looking at Devin. “I wonder… Yes. It might work very well. The knowledge of what you suffered will be a burden to them the likes of which I could never hope to replicate. However…” He paused. “However. You can only save one of them. I will exchange one contract for another. One name. That’s all.”
The anticipation had returned to his expression when he faced me. I struggled against the magic holding me prisoner but failed to overcome it.
“I can only imagine what you’re trying to say, Luca. What if he saves you? Leaving you all alone while I do my worst. I wonder how many assignments you’ll fail after that. All of them, probably.”
I ground my teeth and he laughed. “More likely, he’ll save his sister. Is that what you want, Luca? Are you sure? Look at her.”
He forced me to turn. Cass was watching both of us with tears falling down her face.
“How long do you think she’ll last once I start torturing her brother? I imagine she won’t be able to live with herself. The guilt will cling to her life path and she’ll never escape it. You and he are all she has left, aren’t you?”
“Are you done?” asked Devin, sounding remarkably calm. My anger was rising and rising.
“Are you?” countered the Spell Tracker. “Do you have a name for me?”
“I’ll tell you the name once the agreement is in place,” said Devin. “I don’t trust you. I want Avi to check everything. He obviously knows how magical contracts work, and I don’t want you to be able to twist your way out of it.”
“As you wish.” I was released from the restraining spell with a flick of his fingers.
“Don’t do this,” I said immediately.
“I’m doing it,” said Devin. “You might as well help me; otherwise, he’ll kill us all.”
For a few moments we had a silent almost-conversation, our emotions swirling eloquently between us. Devin wasn’t going to change his mind. I pulled my emotions back before I revealed too much about the direction my thoughts were headed.
“You have to save Cass,” I told him.
The Spell Tracker laughed. “So predictable.”
You don’t know as much as you think you do, Spell Tracker. Devin is a Light Mage. If he sacrifices himself for his sister, he’ll graduate his life path and your contract with him will be void.
“I will. I promise,” said Devin.
The Spell Tracker weaved the four of us into a new contract. I checked the symbols carefully but he did not deceive us. As soon as Devin spoke his chosen name, that magician would be released from their contract for Devin to be bound in their place.
And when the Spell Tracker stops the heart of Devin’s physical body, Devin will become a guardian and Cass will have another chance.
“The contract says Avi, doesn’t it? Not Luca?” asked Devin.
“It does,” replied the Spell Tracker. “I have to use earthbound names because that is our current dimension. Not that it matters if you stick to your original choice.”
I frowned. “You promised,” I told Devin.
“I know. And I’ll keep my promise. It’s just… the name is important to me. I don’t care if that makes me sentimental. To me, you’re Avi.”
The Spell Tracker gave sigh of irritation as he finished what he was doing. He felt as uncomfortable in the presence of love as I did in the presence of fear. “The contract is complete. Get on with it.”
I checked again and nodded. “It’s ready.”
He wouldn’t release Cass so that Devin could say goodbye to her properly. Damn him. He’s so determined to make this as difficult for her as possible.
“You’ve kept me waiting long enough. I’m allowing this change as a favor, in case you’ve all forgotten. Get on with it.”
Devin looked at me and Cass, one after the other. He smiled. “I love you both,” he said. “I promise you this is my choice. I want to do this. You’ll make me very happy if you accept that. Look after her,” he added to me.
“What? How can I…?”
He didn’t answer, turning to the Spell Tracker.
“Cavi,” he said.

A new season is well and truly here. Although I've been writing for most of the weekend, it's impossible not to notice how much the view from my window has changed in the last couple of weeks. The woods next to where I live are the deciduous kind, and the leaves on the trees are already turning gold. The sunlight seems more golden too, and the days are unmistakably shorter.

To celebrate the arrival of autumn in all its beauty, here are a few quotes from some amazing writers alongside photos I took in the gardens next to my local university. I hope your October has gotten off to a great start, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today 🍁.

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
― Albert Camus

“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”
― Jim Bishop

“Come, little leaves," said the Wind one day, "Come to the meadows with me and play. Put on your dresses of red and gold; For Summer is past, and the days grow cold.”
― George Cooper

“That season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness―that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.”
― Jane Austen

“I guess it's something about the air. Fall air always smells like possibility.”
― Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

“The air smells divine, like old leaves and wet bark, and ripe apples. Have you ever noticed that each month has its own smell? May and October are the nicest-smelling months, in my opinion.”
― Lisa Kleypas

“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolour, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.”
― Stanley Horowitz

“And the sunsets of Autumn—are they not gorgeous beyond description? More so than the brightest dreams of poetry?”
― Charles Lanman

“If a year was tucked inside of a clock, then autumn would be the magic hour.”
― Victoria Erickson

In this chapter, Luca finally gets to take Cass back in time to confront a past event. An event that might not have happened the way she remembers. It brings her closer to understanding her life lesson and accepting Luca's help, but it also attracts some unwanted attention. The Spell Tracker won't wait forever to enforce the terms of his contract...

You can catch up on chapters one through twenty-four via the New series label at the top of this post, and thank you very much for reading πŸ’•.

25 A Revelation

Devin came to visit me during the weekend. I was grateful for his company. Now I had a plan to help Cass, I was eager to get started, which naturally meant the time between Friday and Monday slowed to a crawl. It was hard to believe I’d only known Devin for a month. Our connection, and the fact we were both Light Mages, strengthened our feelings without us even trying.
It doesn’t hurt that he’s the best kisser I’ve ever met.
“How’s this going to work?” he asked me. “Once you’ve shown her some of what she’s forgotten, I mean.”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “Recognizing the lesson is just the start of the process. Assuming we’re right about what the lesson is.”
He shifted position so we were facing each other. The backstage area was a terrible place to meet, really, but it felt like it was ours now. And it was also unlikely any teachers visiting the school out of hours would disturb us.
“Once she understands it, though… Why wouldn’t she try to learn the lesson?” said Devin.
“She still has free will,” I replied. “Gabe didn’t have to come out, did he? He chose to. He could also have chosen to stay in the closet his entire life.”
“But… that would have been ridiculous.”
“In your opinion,” I pointed out.
“In the opinion of any sensible person,” he retorted.
“It’s his prerogative, though. It has to be. And it’s not for you to say what’s right or wrong for him.”
Devin scowled. “Is that my lesson, then? To support my friends even when I don’t agree with them? That’s… well…” He trailed off. “I suppose it doesn’t sound so stupid now I’ve said it out loud.”
I grinned. “No. It’s not black-and-white though. You have a tendency to assume responsibility for the people you care about. It will probably be an ongoing theme for you.”
“Have you looked at my life path?”
I shook my head.
“But… Elizabeth? How did you know where to find her?”
“I haven’t looked forward.” I was scared of what I might find. Light Mages were given the opportunity to graduate as guardians at least once in each incarnation. I don’t want to know. Leaving him would be difficult enough as it was.
“I’ll help. With Cass,” he said. “Just tell me what to do.”
“Thanks. I’m afraid I’ll be making it up as I go along, though.”
“I trust you.”
He leaned over to kiss me. I lifted my hand to his neck and closed my eyes, allowing myself to be distracted from the fear I would let him down. I could only do my best. Unfortunately, there was an excellent chance my best would fall wide of the mark.
On Monday, Cass made me wait until the end of the school day before she would even talk to me in private, let alone allow me to take her anywhere. I became increasingly afraid she’d changed her mind.
When the bell rang, she followed me to an empty classroom willingly enough, trailing her backpack on the ground behind her. I offered to carry it and she gave me a scornful look. A second later she sighed and handed it to me.
“You OK?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I feel like shit, but it’s nothing specific. Ignore me. I’m being a lightweight.”
The darkness surrounding her was verging on impenetrable. It was no wonder her energy had plummeted. I hoped I was doing the right thing. Without her former anger to sustain her, she was closer to confronting her life lesson, but also more vulnerable.
Devin was waiting. Cass turned around to frown at me. “What’s he doing here?”
“He’s just going to make sure no one disturbs us,” I said.
“Does… does he know about all of this? Any of this?” Cass took a step backward, then another.
Mihi crede,” I said, more fiercely than I needed to. She paused. “He’s your brother,” I went on. “He loves you. You’re behaving like you’re all alone in the world.”
She folded her arms. “You do not get to tell me what to do.”
“No. And I’m not. I’m stating the facts,” I replied.
Cass opened her mouth and closed it again. She looked at Devin, who stared back at her with a faint smile. Cass dropped her gaze first.
“OK. He can stay,” she muttered.
Devin went to stand outside and I locked the classroom door behind him. I lengthened my sleeves and reached for Cass’s hand as I’d done before.
“Wait,” she said. “Don’t you need me to tell you where and when?”
I glanced at the door and she immediately understood. Her expression became terrified. “You’re not… you’re not saying h-he… No. He’s wrong. I need him to be wrong.”
“Let’s see,” I said, ignoring her panic. The sooner we got this started, the better. I took hold of her hand. “It will be dark, and we have to stay silent. I’m going to use a spell to make sure of it. You won’t be able to talk to me. Squeeze my hand three times if you want to leave. OK?”
She nodded. I said the date and location and our surroundings transformed. It wasn’t as dark as I’d feared thanks to a chink of light from where the doors of the wardrobe we were standing in didn’t quite join. I wobbled, stepping sideways to avoid what felt like a book under my right foot.
Cass reached out her free hand to trace the pattern of wood panels on the door, stopping at the handle. Her grip on my hand relaxed a little. We waited, with only the sound of an occasional car passing on the street outside for company.
After a few minutes we could hear voices, becoming louder and louder, until Cass’s bedroom door was pushed open so forcefully it banged into the wall behind it.
“You’re not listening to me!”
It was Devin’s voice, sounding younger and furious.
“I am listening!” shouted back the thirteen-year-old Cass. “But I don’t want to talk about it. Just because you lost your father too doesn’t mean you know anything about what it’s like to lose your mother. All this bullshit about it not being my fault is…” There was the sound of something being thrown against the wardrobe door, and the older Cass and I both jumped.
“It’s bullshit!” she continued. “You’re like my therapist, telling me I should allow myself to move on and my mother was ill and yada, yada, yada. How can I move on? She left me. She left and she never—”
“You’re still not listening,” interrupted Devin in a low voice. There was silence for a moment. A shadow moved in front of the light between the doors.
“Fine,” said Cass, sounding calmer. “Tell me again. But if you mention the five stages of grief, I swear to God I will punch you.”
“It wasn’t your fault… and if you let me explain,” said Devin, his voice rising, presumably to stop Cass from interrupting, “I’ll tell you how I know.”
“How?” asked Cass.
“I have a note.”
More silence. Cass, next to me, froze.
“I don’t believe you,” said the younger Cass.
“My mom found it under the mat. It must have been there since…” Devin trailed off, sounding embarrassed. “Anyway, my mom found it and gave it to me this morning and I’ve been waiting to speak to you. I didn’t want you to read it at school.”
“Have… have you read it? What you said about it not being my fault…”
“I’m sorry. There’s no envelope, so I couldn’t help—”
Cass squeezed my hand three times. It was completely unexpected and when I didn’t react straight away she carried on, using more and more force. “Rescindo,” I said, pulling my hand away as soon as the classroom reappeared.
I got no further. Cass pushed past me, turning the handle on the door. She looked back when it didn’t open, her expression frantic, and to my shame, I debated with myself for a few seconds about whether I should unlock it. If she runs away now, I doubt I’ll have another chance.
“Open the door. I want to speak to Dev,” she said.
“Oh. That’s not what… Resero.”
Cass pulled Devin inside the room and shut the door. He gave me a look as if to say, “What’s going on?” but before I could answer, Cass spoke to him.
“What did it say?” she asked. “What did it say?
“But… you made me read it to you,” he replied.
“We… er… we missed that part,” I said. “Cass wanted to come back.”
Cass made a noise of frustration. “Because we were stuck in a stupid wardrobe. I didn’t think we’d be able to see what was in the note. God! Can we go back? Can you remember it? Can—”
Mitescere,” I said. “Please, Cass… sit down and listen to me. We can go there another way. As long as you’re prepared to let me find it.”
“You’re talking in riddles. That’s so… so unhelpful.” As the magic settled she was forced to grab a chair. I hated using the spell, but as an insurance policy against the Spell Tracker claiming her right this second, I considered it worthwhile. I was relieved to see her agitation reduce a little.
“We can access your…” I stopped. I didn’t want to tell her about life paths. “We can access your memories,” I said. “Visiting memories is different. We’ll be shadows. No need to hide in the wardrobe.”
“Why didn’t we do it that way in the first place?” she asked. “All this time I’ve been asking you about seeing my mom…”
“Because… well, firstly, we’d be shadows. You wanted to talk to her, didn’t you? And secondly, I can’t access your memories without you noticing. I can’t… I won’t do it without your permission. I had planned to use a spell, but… anyway. I changed my mind. And until now, I didn’t think you were ready to give me that permission.”
“I… I might have.”
“Yeah, right. I couldn’t persuade you to stay after school for even five minutes until today.”
“You were so needy. I told you I wanted some space but you kept—”
“As I said,” I interrupted, before she could go into any more detail about how hopeless my attempts to help her had been, “I didn’t think you were ready. And you have to admit the note is a bit of a game-changer.”
“It’s not so bad. It feels like spiders inside your head,” said Devin.
“What?” said Cass.
“When he looks at your life… memories.”
“It might be a bit worse for you,” I warned her. “You… er… you’re quite closed off.”
“Yes,” she agreed, unapologetic.
“So, can I?” I checked.
“Yeah. I want to see that note more than anything right now.”
I tried to remain calm. I was about to look at her life path, something I’d been wanting to do since the day I arrived. As soon as my magic touched her, she shrank into the chair. I gave her an anxious look.
“No, don’t stop,” she said. “I’m going to read that note if it’s the last thing I do.”
Gods. Don’t even suggest such a thing.
I continued, lifting the armor one layer at a time. Without any connection between us it was painfully slow. Eventually, I made it to the energy map. At last. I can see it. She did set out to be a Healer. I’d guessed correctly. And the lesson causing her so many problems was… forgiveness. OK, that makes sense. Compassion is a pretty non-negotiable Healer quality.
“It’s not like spiders,” she said to Devin, wrapping her arms around her body. “It’s more like a tiger is casually sorting through my head with his claws extended.”
He pulled up a chair next to her and put one arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him. I didn’t stop what I was doing. I couldn’t. Not now I was so close to finding out.
I wanted to know who she needed to forgive in this life. Her mother, I assumed. Or her father. She’d cut herself off from any close relationships since she’d lost them. Even her own brother. It looked like a classic case of self-preservation—to make sure she never loved anyone else.
Except it wasn’t. I found the promise she’d made when she turned her back on her life lesson for good. “I’m never going to do to someone else what my mom did to me.” It was the other way around. She wanted to make sure no one ever loved her. Which meant… it was herself she needed to forgive. And, more than that, in order to be a Healer, she had to accept that she couldn’t save everyone.
It’s a major lesson to learn in eleven days. Reeling from the discovery, I forced myself to carry on and locate the moment Devin handed her the note from her mom.
“What is it?” said Devin. “I can feel your…” He glanced at Cass, but she was too preoccupied with the pain inside her head to notice what he’d said. “You look terrible.”
“It’s nothing,” I said. “I’m fine. I’m ready when you are, Cass.”
She looked at Devin. “Will you…?”
“Sure. If you want,” he said, his face breaking into a smile.
“I do.”
I took that as my cue and put my hand on her shoulder, making the connection. We watched as the younger Cass read the words her mom had left behind. However her mom had managed to convince herself death was her only way out, it was clear that Cass was her one regret and the reason she’d waited as long as she had. She hoped Cass would stay close to her brother and be happy.
The older Cass started to cry, and my hand on her shoulder tightened. It was heartbreaking. Her mom had obviously expected Cass to get the note before she went home that day.
“There was a second note for my mom and my stepdad,” said the younger Devin. “It asked them to call the cops and look after you.”
The younger Cass put one arm around him, clutching the note in her other hand. “Please let me look after you,” he said.
She leaned back to look at him. Her cheeks were wet. “Maybe we could look after each other?”
“Maybe we could,” the younger Devin agreed.
Rescindo,” I murmured. I knelt down to speak to Cass. “Give it a few minutes before you try to process what you’re feeling. You’re probably in shock.”
“I’m not in shock. I’m furious. I turned my room upside down looking for that note when Dev told me about it afterward. I wanted him to be telling the truth. I wanted… so much.”
She put her hand on his arm. “I pushed you away because I was terrified. There was no note,” she said fiercely. “What was I supposed to think when your parents conveniently misplaced theirs too? You were lying to me. All of you. I thought you were lying about our friendship and… everything.”
Devin started to protest, but she talked over him.
“I thought maybe you were getting revenge on me for our dad. I… I don’t understand. Where did the notes go? Why did I get those blackouts?”
A beat of silence.
“Not to worry, my dear. I can answer both of those questions for you.”
We all turned to face the direction the voice had come from.
“Who the hell are you?” said Cass.
“It’s the lanista,” said Devin incredulously.
No. It’s the Spell Tracker.