The water rippled as the dark mage's pale fingers brushed the surface of the scrying pool. The image of the proud, gray eyed girl faded, leaving just the shadowy water.
The dark mage looked up, her jet black hair falling over her jade green eyes. Now, nobody would know she had stolen the magic of her bonded. It was only when she used dark magic that her eyes shaded to inky black.
She caught sight of her reflection in the mirror on the far wall. Pale skin so white it looked bloodless, thin red lips, a haunted face, and empty eyes, she looked nothing like the cheerful girl she used to be. With caramel colored skin, full, pale lips, a happy smiling face, and bright cloths, her Chinese decent had been obvious. Now, everything was black. Everything.
It was the only way to show the vast, black emptiness that was her heart. With her memories and emotions under lock and key behind iron bars, stealing magic was the only way to feel anything at all. It felt good.
But, she had felt everything during the reign of the Dark Sorceress and the Spider Witch. She had felt the magic web unraveling. She had felt the Spider Witch reweave it. She had felt the reconnection of the Otherworlds, her home. She had felt the destruction of Avalon, the shadow creatures, and the Dark Sorceress.
She had felt the arrival of six new mages that could be a threat to her. The ones at the Mage Academy were weak, but these were not. One, the next warrior, was powerful, but the new blazing star was able to be turned easily. She could turn these mages and use them to destroy the girls called Kara, Emily, and Adriane.
The dark mage had mercenaries handy, as well as an army of werebeasts. Port Tuga was good for more than just auctions.
She stood, her black stiletto boots making no sound on the polished marble floor. In stylish black jeans, a black long-sleeve shirt, and a black cloak, she looked the complete opposite of the girl that had been lost so long ago. Now, the girl once known as Rose smiled when she thought of the surprises in store for the gray eyed girl.
As she walked along the forest path, Dakota felt a strange sensation. It felt as though someone was watching her, but when she looked around, she was alone. Her gray eyes searching the shadows, she kept walking.
Chapter 1-Day 1
"Here we are girls," Mrs. Stevensen says.
"Who else is nervous?" Bailey asks. She, Paige, Arianna, Victoria, and I pile out of the van. Carrie climbs out of the front passenger seat as her mom cuts the engine. The six of us girls go to the back of the van and each pull out our suitcase and backpack.
As Mrs. Stevensen closes the trunk, "We Are Who We Are," sounds from my pocket. I pull out my cell phone and move away from the others to answer the call.
"Jason," Vicki says. It's a statement, not a question. I hear the others make sounds of agreement and I can feel their eyes on my back as I talk to my boyfriend. A minute later, I'm rejoining them, tucking away my phone as I walk. I look around and sigh.
"Yes, it was Jason," I say with a grin.
"We know," Paige laughed.
"Shut up, twin," I said. Paige and I were so different, yet so similar, that we called each other twin.
"The train leaves in half an hour," Mrs. Stevenson reminded us, handing us our tickets. We said our goodbyes, and then we all shouldered our backpacks. We made our way to the gates then looked back. Mrs. Stevenson waved to us.
"See you in September," we called, waving.
"Come on, we need to find platform fifteen," Carrie told us.
Fifteen minutes later, we were placing our bags on two benches that faced each other. We fished money out of our pockets and looked around.
"Why don't we get subs?" Aria asked.
"Fine by me," Bailey said as we nodded.
"I'll stay with the bags so get me a meatball, no cheese," I told Bailey, handing her the money.
As they walked away, I pulled out my phone and checked for messages. "Call me," from Jason. I pressed his speed dial and held it to my ear.
He answered on the second ring, "Dakota, are you okay?"
"I'm fine, why?" I replied.
"A few minutes after we hung up, two guys showed up looking for the six of you," he told me. "I don't trust them. Don't let the others out of your sight, warrior."
"Crap, they just went to get subs," I said, looking for them. "Wait here they come."
"Get out of there as soon as you can," he replied.
"Kay. I'll text you tonight okay?" I asked.
"Alright. Don't forget," he teased. I was famous for forgetting things.
"I won't," I replied, and then hung up. As the girls reached me, Carrie handed me a paper bag and bottled lemonade. I put them in my backpack and grabbed my suitcase. The other picked up on my silent message and did the same.
We hurried onto the waiting train and showed our tickets to the conductor. "Can I get you anything, girls?" he asked.
"We need a private compartment, please," Paige said.
"There are just six of you?" We nodded. "This way," he said, leading us down the corridor. He showed us to a compartment near the rear of the train. With a smile, he opened the door and let us in.
"Thank you," we said, closing the door as he walked away. The ten passenger maximum compartment had padded seats. Paige and I managed to get all six suitcases in the luggage racks without dropping any of them as the others pulled blinds down on the windows. Silently, we all sat down and pulled out our lunches. As we ate, the train lurched and the whistle sounded. I felt the train pick up speed and I pulled out my simple old IPod and laptop. I saw the others do the same and winced when I saw Paige and Vicki with IPod touches. Bailey had an IPod like me but that was because her IPod touch had broken. Carrie and Aria had IPod shuffles.
I looked up as the door to the compartment opened. A man in a black hoodie stood in the doorway. He flipped his hood back and I saw the handsome, strong face of a college kid. Then, I saw his eyes. They were nothing but black…just empty blackness. I sensed more than saw my friends' shock and fear. I forced myself to stand, as I was closest to the door.
"Can we help you?" I asked. He didn't reply, but moved farther into the compartment. A second man stood behind him.
"Sir, this is a private compartment," Paige said, standing at my shoulder. She slid my phone from my pocket and handed it backwards to Aria. The others had all put their phones in their bags. The man stepped towards Paige, who mirrored his steps away from him. Without thinking, I stepped in front of Paige, my body blocking hers. I held up my hands to shove the man back, but before I could touch him, he stumbled back.
The girls gasped and I looked down. Silver fire curled up my arms, wrapping me in a cocoon of light. I reached for Paige's wrist and let the fire swirl around her as well. The light turned gold as it enveloped Paige. She reached for Bailey, who stood behind her. Sapphire light glowed around Bailey, who reached for her cousin Vicki. Vicki's fire blazed with turquoise light. When Aria joined, her own shone emerald green and Carrie's, when she finally clasped hands with Aria, was opalescent.
"I said, GET OUT!" I snapped, flinging the combined fires at the men. The first was knocked to the floor face first and the second staggered, then fell to his knees. "What do you want with us?" I asked, releasing Paige. Even separated, we were surrounded by flames. When I got no response, I used my foot to flip him over onto his back. I felt the others draw back in horror. The creature was dead! As we watched, his body melted away into shadows, vanishing.
I felt my eyes widen in astonishment and remembered the other creature. I looked to him where he crouched on the floor, cowering. His face was sickly pale and the inky eyes stood out harshly.
"What do you want with us?" Paige asked him.
"My mistress wanted you captured. She did not tell us you were already using the magic," he said.
"And who might your mistress be?" I asked.
"We do not know her name, she is a dark mage," he told us.
Paige turned away disdainfully. "Kill it," she hissed in my ear, moving to the bench again. I nodded, understanding her reasoning. If we let him live, he would report to his mistress and then we would be is serious trouble.
I glanced at the creature, clearing my mind of all emotion. I didn't want to use the crude fire ball, so with surprising ease, I shaped a sword of silver fire in my head. The fire around me swirled into a sword, and without second thoughts, I brought it down in a deadly arch.
The second body faded like the first. I released the sword and the flames flickered out. None of the others still had their fire either.
"Well, we have been on the train for less than forty-five minutes and already strange things have happened," Aria said, handing me my phone as I closed the door. We moved back to our original seats and nobody said anything. I realized they didn't know to make of it, but they would find out later this afternoon. I had a vague knowledge already.
Four hours later, the six of us were leaving the train, out backpacks slung over our shoulders. On my phone, I checked the email that had responded to our request to visit the Ravenswood Wildlife Preserve. Adriane Charday would be picking us up.
"Dakota!" I heard an unfamiliar voice yell my name and turned to see a tall Native American girl approaching.
"Adriane?" I asked as she drew nearer. She nodded and looked us over.
"I'm Paige Johnson," Paige said, stepping forward, her hand extended. Adriane shook it.
"Carrie Stevenson," Carrie moved up.
"Bailey Scott," Bailey informed her.
"Victoria Alderlett, or Vicki," Vicki added.
"I'm Arianna Blake, but you can call me Aria or Ari," Aria said.
"And I'm Dakota Saris," I finished.
"Adriane Charday," the older girl replied. "Come on, it's too open here, we can talk in the van," she said, moving towards the exit. We followed her out of the train station, and piled into the dark van she indicated. She and I got all six suitcases in the trunk, and then climbed into the front two seats. "Did you have a good ride?" she asked as she pulled out of the parking lot.
"The first hour was interesting, and then it was fine," Paige said from the back.
"Oh? What happened?"Adriane asked, looking at Paige in the mirror. Paige launched into the story, and when she finished, Adriane looked concerned. "He said his mistress was a dark mage?" she asked. I nodded. "Donovan warned us that there were still dark mages, but I thought they were all at the Academy. We've never had trouble from them, so I'm guessing this one's older. This can't be too bad; no single dark mage can ever cause as much damage as the Dark Sorceress."
"Who's Donovan?" Ari asked.
"A warlock boy that we are working with. He came to Ravenswood to work with mage magic. We had a problem with minions and Donnie was able to help us. He visits from time to time," Adriane sighed.
"You didn't trust him, did you?" I asked.
"No, I didn't. But I was wrong," she admitted bitterly.
"Will we meet him?" Paige wondered.
"It's possible, seeing as you will be with us for ten weeks," Adriane replied with a grin. The rest of us smiled at each other. "Now, do you really know why you're here?" she asked, glancing into the back seat.
"Well, Dakota told us we were coming to learn more about how to care for the preserve back home," Carrie replied.
"So, you didn't tell them?" Adriane looked at me.
"No, I didn't. I wanted them to find out themselves," I told her, meeting her eyes. I saw that she understood as she nodded.
"Very well, I won't say anything," she promised.
I held up my hand as I heard them draw breath to begin their assault of questions. "You'll find out, don't worry. I'm just not the one to tell you," I said calmly. I had realized afterwards what had happened on the train. Magic. My friends and I were mages, human magic users. I didn't know what kind of magic they would turn out to have, but I knew they had magic.
My friends and Adriane made small talk while I passed the time gazing out the window. Soon, we were driving passed a sign that read, "RAVENSWOOD WILDLIFE PRESERVE." We drove down a long dirt road lined with trees. Finally, the trees ended and we were parking in front of a huge gothic manor.
"Welcome to Ravenswood!" Adriane said, turning to look at us. We grinned and got out. "Now, you get to meet the others." We pulled our bags from the back, and as Adriane closed the trunk, the front door to the manor opened.
"Perfect timing, Kara," Adriane said.
"Of course, timing is the key," a girl's voice came from the doorway as a tall blond appeared. Her gold hair reached her waist. As she got closer, I noticed that her eyes were icy blue. She wore a hot pink short-sleeve shirt, white shorts, pink strappy sandals, a pink baseball cap and a silver necklace around her neck. A diamond white, fiery red and hot pink spiral teardrop hung from the chain. A leopard walked at her side.
Behind her came another girl. This one was a bit smaller than Kara. She had curly auburn hair and warm hazel eyes. On her shoulder was a golden ferret. As the girl walked, the ferret scurried down her arm and straightened the silver bracelet on her wrist. A heart shaped gem that seemed to glow with water blue light hung from the bracelet. The girl wore a white shirt, brown shorts, white sneakers, and a green vest. "Hey, Adriane," she said.
"Hey, Emily," Adriane replied.
Next out was a tall boy in black jeans, a red tee shirt, and black sneakers. The sunlight shone on the natural blond highlights in his sandy brown hair. Around his wrist, a brown leather wrist band, and on the band, a round red stone. His bright blue eyes looked us over as he moved to Adriane's side.
"This is Zach," she said, smiling at him.
After Zach, a girl came through the door. My eyes widened as I took in her long green hair, pale green skin, webbed fingers, pointed ears, and slanted eyes. She wore a silver shirt, blue shorts, and white sneakers. A silver necklace hung around her neck, and on the chain, a turquoise sea star glinted in the light.
"That's Kee-Lyn. She's a mergirl," Emily told us.
Behind Kee-Lyn was another green skinned girl. She had midnight black hair streaked through with green. She wore a white baby-doll tee shirt, tan shorts, and white flip-flops. She held a device that looked like a Blackberry Torch.
"That's Tasha," Zach said.
Just then, a black wolf materialized at Adriane's side. The wolf's emerald green eyes looked our group over and I noted the white star on his chest and his white paws. "This is Dreamer, my bonded mistwolf," Adriane said, resting her free hand on the wolf's head. "The leopard is Lyra, Kara's bonded. The ferret is Ozzie, Emily's bonded. He's technically a mage, but he's really an elf."
"Okay, our turn," Paige said, "I'm Paige Johnson."
"I'm Carrie Stevenson," Carrie told them.
"My full name is Arianna Blake, but call me either Aria or Ari," Aria announced.
"I'm Bailey Scott," Bailey informed them.
"My name is Victoria Alderlett, but you can call me Vicki," Victoria added.
"And I'm Dakota Saris," I finished. We exchanged hellos with everybody and I saw the others react in shock when Ozzie spoke to them. I crouched in front of Dreamer and looked him in the eyes. "Hello, Dreamer," I whispered.
"Hello warrior." The words sounded in my head and I looked up at Adriane. She grinned at me.
"I thought I wouldn't hear them until I found a gem," I said softly.
"Warriors have never followed the rules, but don't worry, if you're a warrior, I'll be your mentor," she replied quietly. I smiled; glad this girl who was so like me would be my personal teacher.
"Come on, let's get your stuff inside, we've got places to be, people to meet," Kara said loudly. We grabbed our bags and went inside the manor. Kara didn't give us time to look around, for as soon as we let go of our bags, she herded us back outside.
"The portal field?" Adriane asked. Kara nodded. "Follow me, everybody," Adriane called. We fell into step behind her as she led us down a wooded path. A few minutes later, we emerged into a huge field. We were met by a host of strange creatures.
A snow owl swooped down to land on Emily's free shoulder. Turquoise, gold, and lavender ran through her feathers; shimmering as she blinked sea blue eyes at Carrie. "This is Ariel," Emily told us.
Next, a flock of silver white ducks with flexible silver bills and huge silver feet waddled over to us. "Who are you?" the leader asked.
"Ronif, these are the mages form the north," Kara said. She turned to us, and said, "These are quiffles."
A herd of horses with colorful hides and wings trotted forward. "Pegasuses," I said.
"You're familiar with us?" the leader asked. I pulled a piece of paper from my pocket and showed him a drawing I had done of a Pegasus. I had over twenty drawings on me right now, several in every pocket. I was an artist. "Well, that is quite a good drawing. It is always good to be familiar with the animals you work with. Oh, and my name is Balthazar," he said. I nodded. I saw Vicki's eyes widen as a group of big blue rabbits with iridescent dark blue pots hopped forward.
"Brimbees," Tasha told us.
"My name is Eddie," the biggest one said. As the brimbees hopped away, a group of small green deer with long ears, purple eyes, and dark green stripes bounded by.
"Jeeran. Not very talkative creatures," Ozzie told us.
Next, Emily pointed out the red koala like creatures with big eyes. "I'm Rommel. You must be the mages from the north," the leader said. I nodded. "We are wommels."
Last was a creature that looked like a cross between a rabbit and a song bird. "Who-o is you?" one asked.
"We are the mages from the north," I replied. "What are you?"
"I'm a pooxim," he said. I nodded and the creatures flew away.
"Okay, everybody, gather around. We need to open the portal!" Emily called out. The animals crowded around the older kids as Emily, Zach, Adriane, Kee-Lyn, Kara, and Tasha formed a circle. My friends and I stood between them. Their jewels glowed and light swirled into the air from the stones. The animals helped, adding their own magic to balance the mages.
A glowing purple window swirled open in the middle of the circle. Through the window, I saw a grassy hill. On the hill stood two boys. One was a merboy, the other a goblin boy.
"Lorren!" Kara called. The goblin boy bowed to her, a smile on his face.
"Jaraan!" Kee-Lyn cried. The merboy grinned.
"Come on! Everybody's waiting!" Lorren called.
"Okay, we're coming! Emily, take Carrie. Kee-Lyn, grab Arianna. Zach, help Bailey. Tasha, bring Vicki. Adriane, go with Dakota. Paige, come with me," Kara ordered, grabbing Paige's wrist and pulling her through the portal. Lyra and Dreamer leaped through as well, followed by Carrie, Emily, Adriane and I. The two boys reached out as we jumped, but Adriane and I landed neatly on our feet. Adriane hugged Jaraan quickly and greeted Lorren.
"Boys, this is Dakota," she said. "Kota, this is the Goblin Prince Lorren and sea dragon rider, Jaraan."
I nodded to them; I was not a girl of words. I knew I would need to write down names to remember them. Bailey and Zach came through the portal behind us and I reached out instinctively to catch Bailey as she landed. She grinned at me after she regained her balance. I smiled back, knowing she would have fallen.
Zach introduced Bailey to the other two boys as Tasha and Vicki came through. Kara and Paige hurried us into place, the six of us new mages in a line. "Welcome to the Garden of Aldenmor," Ozzie announced as three figures took shape.
From the crystal blue waters of the lake the form of a woman materialized. She was made entirely of the water. "Hello mages, old and new," she said; her voice a spring creek.
From the earth; the sticks, stones, leaves, and moss, came the shape of an old man. "Welcome, young ones," he said in a deep, gravelly voice.
"It is nice to see new faces here," said a third voice, a gentle breeze. I turned and saw the translucent figure of a younger woman, a girl. She hovered in front of Bailey, her entire being made of the breeze and wind. "I am Ambia," she said.
"I am Gwigg," the earth man said.
"And I am Marina," the water woman told us. "We are Fairimentals; fairy creatures made of the elements."
"We are the guardians of the magic here on Aldenmor," Ambia explained.
"I'm Paige," my friend said, stepping forward.
"A leader. You are a fiery one. Much potential," Gwigg said, moving around Paige.
"Powerful, but you must be careful you don't lose control," Ambia added.
"The light of a Blazing Star is shining in you. Kara, you will train her," Marina finished. Kara nodded as Paige stepped back, allowing Carrie to take her place.
"My name is Carrie," my sweet friend told them.
"Come here to the water," Marina implied her. As she stepped forward, the other two circled her. "Gentle, loving, caring, loyal."
"She looks like a healer, doesn't she, Emily?" Ambia asked. The red haired girl nodded with a smile.
"You have a strong sense of music and art," Gwigg said. Carrie stepped back to Emily's side as Bailey stepped up.
"I am Bailey," she said. The three examined her slowly.
"Strong, loyal, caring, and probably clumsy," Gwigg said.
"You go along with the others, and you're a peace maker," Marina continued.
"I sense a dragon rider in this one, Zach," Ambia said. Zach smiled and nodded as Bailey stepped back.
Ari took her place. "My full name is Arianna, but call me Ari or Aria," she said.
"You are well balanced, musically centered," Ambia spoke gently.
"Creative, caring, bold, willing to lead or follow," Gwigg said.
"The perfect fit for a sea dragon rider," Marina said to Kee-Lyn and Jaraan. They nodded as Vicki stepped forward to take Aria's place.
"I'm Victoria or Vicki," she said.
"You are straight forward, and exact. You like clear directions and set recipes," Gwigg stated.
"You are loyal, nice, goofy, and stubborn," Ambia said.
"Sounds quite like you, Lady Tasha," Marina said.
"A Goblin Court Sorceress?" Tasha asked. Marina nodded. Vicki stepped back, allowing Adriane to nudge me forward. I tensed as the Fairimentals circled me.
Marina saw this. "Strong willed, loyal, protective, nature centered," she said.
"Creative, caring, powerful, sturdy," Ambia went on.
"The perfect warrior apprentice for you, Adriane," Gwigg commented. She grinned.
"Now, return to Ravenswood. When they are ready to find their bonded, bring them back," Marina said. Kara nodded.
We turned to start back up the hill, but Zach remained. "I need to take Drake out," he said.
"Say hi to our baby for me," Adriane replied, hugging him. He grinned and jogged off.
"I need to return to Aquitania," Kee-Lyn told Emily. She smiled wistfully.
"Don't worry, the prince will be there to see you at the festival," Jaraan promised. The healer's smile widened.
"The lady and I need to return to our kingdom, but we will see you all soon," Lorren told Kara, who hugged him good-bye.
She turned to us and said, "Let's go." We followed her back to the mirror atop the hill. She checked a knob on the side and stepped through with Vicki and Paige. The rest of us followed.
Paige and I sat on our beds, talking. We had been assigned to three rooms for the six of us, each room having two twin beds. We were free to change rooms, and for the moment, I was rooming with Paige. Carrie and Ari were next door, and Bailey and Vicki were across the hall. The bathroom, which was huge, was across from Carrie and Aria, next door to Bailey and Vicki.
You would think six girls sharing a bathroom would be miserable, but it was fine. There was a shower, a toilet, two sinks, and a huge counter. A full length mirror hung on the back of the door, and there was also one above the counter. A dozen hooks were on the wall, some holding bathrobes, others holding toiletries bags. A towel rack stood beside the shower.
The bedrooms were each furnished with the two beds on one wall, a side table in between. A digital clock and a box of tissues stood on top of the table. There were two flashlights in the drawer, as well as a lamp next to each bed. On the opposite wall was a chest of drawers, six drawers total. Across from the door was a large double window. Beneath the window, a table and two chairs. A vase of flowers stood in the sunlight on the table. Another full length mirror hung on the back of the door, and beside the door was a coat rack. We had hung our sweatshirts and jackets on the rack, as well as filled the drawers with our things.
It was close to eleven when we finally went to bed. I sat there, finishing my notes on things I had seen and people I had met. I added pencil sketches in the margins and put the notebook on the bedside table. Paige turned off her lamp as I turned off mine, and within minutes, we were asleep.