Part III

PART III

ETIANNA

Fennrick held onto my hand like it would keep him from drowning.  In spite of our current heinous circumstances, it sent a curious warmth shooting to my middle.  I liked the way his hand felt wrapped around mine.  It gave me a fleeting feeling of security along with a wild rush of emotion.  And then there was his smell.  It was mouth-watering.  I knew it was his Alpha pheromones hard at work, but it was nearly enough to make me forget our dire situation.

“Where do we find a unicorn?” Owen asked, the tips of his pointed elf ears going as pale as the rest of his ashen skin.  His question jerked me back to the present.

“What was it the professor said before he disappeared?  ‘Look below?’  What does that mean?” Fenn asked the group.  

Cariss had a crease between her eyebrows.  “Look below,” she repeated.  “Below where?”

“Below, like below a bridge with the trolls?” Owen snorted.

“Below the ground?” Tatianna offered.  She leaned into Owen, her inner fire going down to a simmer as he looped an arm around her shoulder.

“Below ground?  Below ground where?”  Cariss tapped her lip.

“What if he meant below the school?” I offered.  The suggestion sounded ridiculous the moment it left my lips and I felt my cheeks heat in response.  Fenn looked at me.

“No.  What if he did mean below the school.  He tapped his cane right before he disappeared.  Could there be a place below the school?”

Cariss cocked her head to the side.  “Well, the school is, what, a thousand years old?”

“No one has seen a unicorn in a thousand years,” I murmured.  

“Could that be a coincidence?”  Fenn’s fingers squeezed mine.  A faraway look flashed through his eyes.

“Would the library still have original blueprints of the school building?” he asked.

“Let’s go look.  We’re not getting anywhere just standing in Professor’s office,” Tatianna said as she stalked towards the door.

***

The halls were eerily silent as we made our way down the old Gothically arched paths towards the library.  The students racing around earlier were either gone or had moved somewhere they felt was safer.  Even the wraith-like creatures were gone.  Erratically flickering bits of magic were the only noises as they hissed and creaked in the top-most cracks and crevices of the arches.  

The library doors were open, just like they would have been on a normal school day.  The floor to ceiling bookshelves were crammed with everything from ancient scrolls to modern day paperbacks.  

“In the resource room?”  Cariss shrugged.

“Good a place as any to start,” Fenn replied.  My skin tingled as he touched my back to move me in that direction.  I needed to get a grip.

The smell of dust and age-old magic ticked my nose and I clapped a hand over my mouth to catch my sneeze.

“Bless you,” Fenn whispered, still close to my side.

“Thanks,” I sniffled.

“Guys, where do we start?” Tatianna asked as we broached the resource room.  There were tall scrolls and heavy ancient tomes scattered all over the large room.

“Time for the wolves to come out to play.”  Fenn nodded to Cariss and me then wasted no time and jerked his arms backwards and took his shirt off in that way only guys do.  I’d seen him shirtless countless times over the years growing up in the same werewolf pack.  But his abs were a lot nicer now than they were a few years ago.

Cariss elbowed me and I blushed to the roots of my hair.

“Right.  The older the document, the mustier it will smell,” I stammered, fervently hoping Fenn didn’t notice.  Cariss and I quickly ducked behind a heavy-laden bookshelf and shifted to our fur. 

I sneezed again as spangles of magic tickled my wolf’s nose.  Following Fenn’s instructions, we quickly put our noses to work and it wasn’t long before we’d unearthed a stack of ancient scrolls tucked neatly away in a box in the corner.

“Hurry up and shift back, guys,” Tatianna said as she poured over the scroll.

“I think this might be it.  Look!” Owen nearly shouted.

We were all back in skin and taking in the prints within a minute.

“It’s like a labyrinth.”  I shuddered. 

“Roll the prints up.  We’ll take them with us.”  Fenn took charge and Owen carefully rolled the blueprints.

***

Minutes later the five of us stood facing a heavy brass bound door at the end of a seemingly abandoned corridor deep in the belly of the Academy. 

“I don’t like this,” Cariss whispered.  I knew how she felt.  Night had fallen.  It was pitch black but for the occasional spatter of unhealthy magic and the glow of the one torch we’d been able to successfully light with fragmented strings of partially exhausted magic.

Fennrick reached for my hand.  I didn’t object.

“Tatianna, keep your flames close in case that thing goes out,” Owen said.

“No problem with that,” she replied, her throat visibly moving as she swallowed hard.

“I’m going in with fur,” Fenn said.  “Carry my clothes?” he asked me.  I swear a light blush crept into his cheeks.  I hoped the shadows covered my own reddening skin.  

“Sure.”  He didn’t need to explain that his wolf had better night vision and a better chance of defending us should it come to that.  

Cariss opened the door and a long dark cavern opened before us like a giant black mouth.

A smell like wet death filtered up from the black hole before us.  I shivered and Fenn’s tail brushed against me. 

“Let’s go.”  Cariss’ voice wavered.

Tatianna held the torch high and Fenn went in.  We followed.  

The stones were damp and there was the occasional squelching noise that I refused to think too hard about.  Deeper and deeper we went into the ground.  First through bricked arches, then into rough stones.  They’d been cut by a mason, but not finished.  

“How old do you think this is down here?” Cariss whispered.  I’d been wondering the same thing.

Fenn growled low in his throat, his ruff standing on end.

Wind whooshed up the rough corridor and sent my hair flying as a scream built in my throat.

A deep roar boomed up from the depths.  Fenn planted himself in front of the group, his own deep warning echoing back and mixing with the echoes of the thing until it made my ears ache.  

The torch flickered and Tatianna screamed.  Her eyes flashed once in the dark before a white-hot stream of lightening-like fire streaked down and illuminated the entire hallway.  

A black apparition wavered in the dark shadows.  My body froze, terror crawling over my skin like a hundred spiders.

“Light the torch, Tachi,” Owen commanded.  “Don’t char me in the process.”  

Breathlessly, we waited for the thing, listening, straining our senses.  My hands gripped Fenn’s clothes hard enough my knuckles cracked.

Flames engulfed the torch, igniting frayed bits of magic and sending the fire bursting onto the stone ceiling.  

The apparition hadn’t moved.  It wavered there on the outskirts of the torchlight.  

Fenn growled low in his throat and scented the air.  All I smelled was toasted magic and fear.  Possibly my own.

“I don’t think it’s real.” Owen whispered.

“You sure?” Tatianna said.

“If it were alive, I’m pretty sure your flame fest would have fried it.  Look.  I think it’s just a magic illusion,” Owen explained.

Fenn nudged me closer to Cariss with his tail, looked at Owen, then stalked down the dark hallway.  

“Be careful,” I whispered.  So softly I wasn’t sure anyone but me was aware I’d spoken.

I held my breath as Fennrick tracked down the hallway.  His growls echoed off the stone walls.  

About halfway down the hall towards the floating black mass, his posture relaxed, and he turned and trotted back to us.  

He yipped once and I felt my shoulders relax.

“Not real then?” Owen confirmed.  Fenn bobbed his head and met my eyes before jerking his head for us to move forward again.  

He brushed against my side as we went down the corridor, sending flutters into my middle while reassuring my jagged nerves. 

The apparition disappeared the moment we stepped within a few feet of it.  It was nothing but wisps of ancient magic, long forgotten by its users.  

We trudged on.  What felt like hours of wandering and multiple stops to consult the blueprints, we finally came to the deepest point marked on the prints.  A solid door fitted with an iron latch stood between us and whatever waited on the other side.

Fenn nudged me and Cariss behind him again and nodded to Owen.  

Grasping the doors as Tatianna’s eyes flashed with contained flames, Owen pulled the latch.  A loud CLINK echoed down the stone corridors and sent ripples of goosebumps down my skin. 

The ancient door swung open.

“The Academy and the Kiss” Part II

PART II

FENNRICK

We raced ahead of the storm, trying desperately to beat the roiling waves of magic and flashing lightening to get back to the Academy—to warn the others, and find Headmaster Capra.  If anyone would know what to do now, it would be him.  

“Step on it, Owen,” Cariss shouted as gravel spun beneath the tires of his Jeep.  The other two cars followed as we sped far faster than was healthy down the backroads.

“No signal.  Anyone else have a signal?” I asked as I jammed my finger over the home screen on my cell phone.

“Nothing,” Cariss replied, a slight edge of hysteria in her voice.

Breaking all the speed regulations, we got back to school within fifteen minutes.  The magic that normally lay dormant or that zinged through the hallways like little strings of colored light, frizzed and sparked.  Centuries-old magic rose from the stones like a thick cloud of dust.

I leaped from the car before it came to a complete stop.  Screams echoed from inside as a young centaur burst through the double doors and galloped out of the parking lot.

“Go check in with the pack, tell them what happened,” I ordered the rest of the girls as they pulled in.  Without question they peeled back out of the parking lot. 

“Etta!” Cariss shrieked as a honey-blonde head appeared.

My heart slammed in my chest.  She was still here.  Tatianna, Owen’s girlfriend, came rushing out behind her.

“Cariss!  Something’s happened!  The magic, it’s gone unstable!  Everything is changing!” Etianna yelled as we covered the distance between the front doors and the vehicles.  Etta’s wide blue-green eyes were large in her face, her freckles standing out sharply against her pale skin.  My hands twitched to reassure her, though I could offer no such promises.

“I know.  I think it might actually be partly my fault,” Cariss hiccupped.  “Lexie’s encased in Yggdrasil.”

What?” Etta said, dumbfounded.

“Come on.”  I ushered them back towards the building, surprised how the urge to take charge just came out.

“Tatianna, have you seen Professor Capra?” Owen asked, grabbing her hand.  We jogged and were quickly back in the building where several students ran in the halls.  Magic careened and dipped, smashing wildly into the stone walls and sending showers of spangles dashing into the air.

“Let’s try his office.”  Tatianna’s eyes sparked with her inner phoenix fire.  She was on the edge of her control.

Hearts hammering loud enough my heightened senses could pick them out over the melee, we ran through the ancient halls, dodging shards of magic and some disturbing phantom-like shadows that seemed to wail and scrape their ghoulish fingers towards us.

“What are those?” Etta gasped as she bumped into my shoulder to avoid one.

“I don’t know, but I don’t think they’re a natural phenomenon.”  I put my hand on the small of her back, herding her to the center and taking the outside edge of the group.  

“They’ve got to be a product of whatever this insanity is.” Cariss batted a torpedo of neon magic out of the way.

Owen jerked the door to the main office open.

“Duck!” he shouted as a swarm of the wraith like creatures flew over our heads, their shrieks deafening in such close proximity.

Without thinking, I pulled Etta to my chest and curled myself over her like a human shield.  

“Go!”  I pushed her forward into the office.  Owen slammed the door shut behind us.

“Professor!  Professor Capra?” Cariss shouted as we moved towards the back of the office to the stately oak door banded with heavy brass hinges and inlaid gold scrollwork.

We halted in front of the door.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and my werewolf senses tingled.

The door creaked open.  Etta gasped.

“Professor Capra!” Tatianna’s whisper dropped in the silence that descended.

The professor stood in his doorway, his rotund belly stretching at the gold buttons of his velveteen vest, his goat legs planted heavily on the floor.  He gripped his cane.  His whole body flickered.  Like he was desperately hanging on to his corporeal form.

“The magic,” The aged faun halted as his form shuddered in and out of visibility.  “It is…taking us…old ones.  Too much…magic…stored inside.”

“What do we do?”  The words sounded like my voice, though I wasn’t sure I’d spoken them.  Etta put her hand on my shaking forearm.  

“You need…a unicorn.”  His body shivered violently and when it returned, he was completely see-through.

“Look…below…”  He tapped his cane.

POOF!

With a wail that sent the group of us cowering, Professor Capra burst into a cloud of black and went screeching out the door, a phantom ghost himself.

“This is so bad,” Tatianna whispered.  Her eyes were fully enflamed, only just keeping her fire inside. 

“A unicorn?” Cariss said.

I realized Etta’s hand was still on my arm.  I gripped her hand.  

“Nobody has seen a unicorn in a thousand years,” Etta breathed.

We were screwed.

Part I

FENNRICK

I wouldn’t have come if I’d known Etianna would get roped into some after school project.  Who did after school projects on a Friday?  But instead, here I was, hiking up the dirt path with some school friends and a gaggle of female werewolves from my own pack along with Etianna’s cousin, Lexie, who couldn’t keep her hands to herself.  

It wasn’t entirely her fault.  At eighteen and next in line to be Alpha, my body was starting to secrete its own kind of Alpha pheromones and they tended to drive the unpaired females into a sort of frenzy anytime they were around me.

It was exhausting.

Etianna’s sister, Cariss, smiled apologetically.  She’d been the one to invite me after school with promises that Etta would most likely be coming.  But her familiar honey-blonde ponytail was missing.

“Fennrick,” Lexie cooed.  “Tell me more about becoming an Alpha.”  Her fingers fluttered near my arm and I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.

“Well, I’m taking a few classes for it this semester.  Brushing up on diplomacy, leadership, that sort of stuff.”  I rubbed the back of my neck.  Lexie didn’t even go to Magik Prep Academy.  But she was thinking about transferring next semester.  I really hoped my budding Alpha genes weren’t the cause.  

“But what’s it actually like?”

Grueling, I thought.  “Dad and I spend a lot of time together, which is nice.  He’s teaching me everything not covered in the books.”

She smiled and batted her eyelashes.  

“Fenn, did you catch the game last night?”  Owen, an elf friend, attempted to save me.  

“I did,” I replied.  Probably with more enthusiasm than I needed as I broke away from Lexie to walk beside Owen.

We hiked another half hour before we started feeling the pulsating threads of magic that surrounded Yggdrasil—the tree where all the magic in our world originated.  It was a popular destination.  Touching the tree itself was forbidden but basking in its glow was encouraged. 

We rounded the final bend and there it was in all its glory.  It was stunning.  I propped a foot against the low guard railing and took it in.  An array of colors too many to describe flew from its branches, tangling, weaving into the sky to form a multi-colored halo of magic around the tree.  

Every time I visited the awe was fresh.  I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, the scent of pure magic washing over me and filling that aching tiredness inside.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Lexie said as she joined me at the railing.  She’d stayed next to me the whole hike, peppering me with questions, scenting me frequently, though I don’t think she knew I could tell.  

I nodded.

“Fennrick, did you know my grandpa was an Alpha, too?”

I stared at her, confused where this conversation was going.  She stepped closer, her arm brushing mine and sending the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.

“Lexie,” I started.

“Kiss me, Fenn.  Seal our fate together here, beneath the most magical place in our world.”

Shock dropped my mouth open and had my eyes bulging in their sockets, but she must have taken it as encouragement, because she leaned in.

My brain was frozen.  I did not want Lexie’s lips on mine.  Tradition dictated that I save any kisses for the one who would be the recipient of all my kisses, but my body was sluggish, refusing to move.

“Lexie!”  Cariss grabbed Lexie’s arm.  “What are you doing?”

Lexie shot Cariss a murderous glare and yanked her arm from her grasp.  But as she did, the back of her legs hit the low guard rail.  

In stupefied horror, I reached to grab her before she fell, but I wasn’t fast enough.

Lexie toppled right over the edge of the railing and hit the curling roots of Yggdrasil snaking up out of the ground.  Her scream pierced the air as her back smacked onto the roots and an amber glow immediately encased her.

Lightening cracked across the sky and a violent wind whipped through Yggdrasil’s leaves, sending a rush of them over us.  The colored threads of magic flickered and lost their curving waves, becoming jagged, harsh, and static.  

Thunder boomed.

“Lexie!” Cariss shrieked.

The sky opened and rain, hail and flickering bits of magic sizzled onto the ground.

“We’ve got to get out of here!” someone shouted.

“What about Lexie?” Owen called over the din.

“We have to leave her,” Cariss said.  Terror clouded her face as her eyes met mine.

There was nothing we could do for her.  We couldn’t pull her back.  The amber glow from the roots covered her.  I looked at Lexie’s face.

Her eyes were round in shock, her mouth frozen into a gash of horror.  Her hands were stiff, fingers splayed as if to catch her fall.  Amber light pulsated over her prone form.  

A leaf whacked into my cheek, breaking into my racing thoughts.

“Cariss is right.  We have to go get help.”  The Alpha part of me took charge.  “Go.  Back down the path.  Now.”  My words came out with a punctuating growl.

We’d just unleashed fury like our world had never seen.

Come back next week for Part II!