Tag Archives: Cover Reveal

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Fractured Sleep on Pre-Order

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Missing my Academy books?

Well, there are still a few tidbits to come!

The Fairy Tale Inc group that I wrote my original Mermaid story for asked me to write another one! This is a collection of Sleeping Beauty retellings.

Yes, yes, I hear you. I’ve already used Aurora as a character in The Monkey King.

Well, I’ve written the story again, only from Aurora’s point of view! This, along with three other stories, is sure to keep your inner fairy tale addict happy for at least a few hours.

The complete collection is on pre-order for 99 cents!

Check it out below.

The Fairy Tale Ink is proud to present these four retold stories of the classic, Sleeping Beauty. A story for every reader from best-selling and award-winning authors!

At The Edge of Dreams, by Angela Brimhall

Five years ago, Aurora was forced to live at Thornhurst Manor, the city insane asylum. Every night she dreads sunset when sleep becomes a wicked game of survival. When Aurora is kidnapped and imprisoned in The Briar, a vision reveals the desperate man in the next cell is her only hope in stopping the plague of her nightmares. Will she find a way to rescue this mysterious man before The Dragon’s death countdown reaches zero?

Dragon’s Curse, by Adrienne Monson

When her nana is in a near-fatal car accident, Dawn is forced to reconcile her beliefs about magic. Her long-buried powers could save Nana’s life, but at a high price. Accepting magic means that the man Dawn dreamt about her whole life is real and that she’s the only one who can save him from a cursed sleep. To do that, she’ll have to face the terrifying dragon who put him there.

The Lonely Princess, by Jo Schneider

Everything changed in the 500 years Aurora slept. Now teenagers go to the Academy, where humans and fey live side-by-side and everyone pretends to get along. In her attempts to find her place in this new world, she meets Saru—a mysterious boy who delights in irritating her. Their attraction is instant, but his forgotten past might be their undoing.

Restless, by Quinn Coleridge

Rory Kingston doesn’t want much. Just a good night’s sleep and a normal life free of magic. Yet Rory’s own royal pedigree keeps getting in the way of achieving these goals, not to mention her preoccupation with a new neighbor. Where the darkly handsome history professor goes, danger and mayhem follow. Has Phillip come to drag Rory back to the magical kingdom she left behind years ago or are his motives even more nefarious?

 


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The Phony Prince: Cover Reveal and Teaser

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The very last installment of my Fairy Tale Academy books is almost here!

The Phony Prince

This story is a retelling of The Prince and the Pauper.

We’ve all felt like an outsider at some point in our lives. Thomas (aka Prince Edward) doesn’t really like royals, but since the real prince is MIA, he’s stuck at the Academy having play the part of Edward.

This is the last book in my Fairy Tale Academy series. I’ve had so much fun writing these stories. I hope you’ve had as much fun reading them!

Official release day is Wednesday, May 1st!

Because I want to repay all of your continued support, the eBook will by 99 cents on release day!

Read the first chapter now!

Chapter 1

“I am Edward, crowned prince of Glyand. Samuel is my brother. My parents are the king and queen. I live at the castle, but now I am at the Academy.”

The words flowed out in the rhythm he had adopted long ago. He took a breath, forced a smile, and said it again.

“I am Edward, crowned prince of Glyand. Samuel is my brother. My parents are the king and queen. I live at the castle, but now I am at the Academy. Here I represent the kingdom, not myself.” He paused. “And I like people.”

Each time he went through it, the words became reality. At least in his mind. He straightened his shoulders and continued staring into his own dark eyes.

“Some people hate me because of who I am, and some love me for no reason other than that I am a prince.” He winced. “The crowned prince.” He sighed and shook his head. “I hate this.”

A tingle made the hair on the back of his neck rise. He opened a drawer in the dresser and pulled out a brown leather notebook about the size of his hand. He flipped to the first page and found a single sentence in perfect penmanship.

Are you talking to yourself in the mirror again?

Thomas glared. No matter how many times he said it, Thomas was not Prince Edward. Thomas wrote beneath Edward’s note.

Are you still sitting in an expensive hotel waiting for your ship to get cleansed?

Edward answered right away.

I’m sitting on the porch enjoying hot cocoa and a pastry, if you must know.

Thomas closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. It was bad enough that Prince Edward had been away when his brother Samuel had been accused and found guilty of treason. Since then, Thomas had had to pretend to be the prince through the official coronation and all the state events following. All because Edward wanted to be the one to go to Nardin to negotiate a trade agreement.

Edward had been mocking him the entire time.

Thomas jotted another note.

When do you leave?

Another quick answer.

Tomorrow.

That meant he was about two weeks away from being back. Just in time for Edward to go to the winter ball instead of Thomas.

Edward kept going.

Anything exciting since the curse?

No.

I imagine all of that royalty in one place is making you want to pull your hair out.

Thomas narrowed his eyes again.

Something like that.

Try not to be your normal, dour self. Remember, you represent the crown. Meet pretty girls. Have some fun.

Thomas could practically hear Edward laughing. His hand shook as he wrote.

I’d rather be back in the office, letting you take care of all of this.

I know, and it’s not my fault that a plague ran through the ships here. I promise, I’ll be back soon. In the meantime, try not to burn any bridges.

I think your brother already did that.

Touché.

A polite knock came at the door. “Your Highness, it’s time to go.”

Thomas put the notebook back and inspected himself in the mirror. Combed dark hair lay flat on his head. High cheeks framed a thin nose. The resemblance between himself and Edward was eerily perfect. Thomas shrugged and noticed once again that he didn’t fill out the red jacket. No matter how much he ate, he could never keep up with Edward’s wide shoulders, probably because he’d spent the first ten years of his life starving. Lucky for Thomas, he didn’t have to stuff the jacket here at the Academy. No one here had seen Edward in over six months, so no one knew how much he’d bulked up.

“Once a pauper, always a pauper,” Thomas muttered to himself.

Thomas adjusted his red-and-plaid tie, then pulled on a gold bracelet with the crown’s seal on it. He stared hard at himself and smiled. “I am Edward, crowned prince of Glyand.” He took one last breath before grabbing his bag and opening the door.

Two guards in pressed uniforms, William and Drake, stood at ramrod-perfect attention outside the door.

“Morning, you two,” Thomas said. “How did you sleep?”

“Fine, Your Highness,” said William, the taller of the two. Blond hair hugged his scalp, and his bright blue eyes missed nothing.

“Like a baby,” Drake said. His darker skin contrasted with William’s. Thomas knew Drake could best almost every guard at the palace, and that he’d been itching to spar with the giant, Beklor.

“What about you?” William asked.

“Very well, thank you,” Thomas said.

“No coat?” Drake asked.

“Did my mother tell you to ask that?”

Drake chuckled. “No, Your Highness.”

“It’s not that cold yet,” Thomas said. He led the way down the hallway, and the other two fell into step behind him. They walked with long, easy strides that suggested no one should mess with Thomas. Or rather, with Prince Edward.

The halls were mostly deserted as Thomas made his way through them and down the stairs. Couches and chairs in rich colors filled the lobby. A fire blazed in the hearth, blasting the room with warmth.

Drake rushed ahead to open the door. Thomas thanked him with a nod and suppressed a wince as the bitter wind tried to steal his breath.

Thomas had only seen snow once in his life. The capital was too close to the coast for it to happen often. The Academy, while inland, had about the same track record for snow. However, the moisture from the nearby ocean, coupled with the wind, made walking from building to building a gamble in freezing hair, noses, and fingers. The salty tang in the air reminded Thomas of home, but the temperature reminded him of too many winters almost starving to death.

Most students wore overcoats, and Thomas immediately regretted his choice to leave his behind. However, he would not show weakness. The walk wasn’t far to the science building, but each step he took on the frozen cobblestones made him regret his choice even more.

The hairs on Thomas’s neck rose as the sound of running footsteps approached from behind. His heartbeat sped up, and his fingers tightened around the strap of his bag. Each time someone ran toward him, he thought his cover had been blown. Someone had figured it out, and they were here to take him away.

When the guards didn’t make a fuss, Thomas started to breathe again.

“Hey, Edward! Wait up.”

The voice allowed the tight spot in Thomas’s chest to loosen, and he stopped and turned. A gust of wind greeted him, and he once again smiled when he saw Caspian approaching.

Of all the students at the Academy, Caspian was the one Thomas disliked the least. Being from a poorer dukedom, Caspian wasn’t nearly as stuck-up or self-absorbed as the others. Prince Edward and Caspian had been childhood friends, which meant Thomas had to put some effort into their relationship. Thomas channeled his inner Edward and put on a mock scowl. “You here to hand me over to more of Zoe’s crazy friends?”

Caspian jogged the rest of the way laughing. He stood taller than Thomas, with green eyes and curly brown hair. “Oh come on, they were dying to say hello.”

Two days before, Caspian had asked his girlfriend’s friends to show Thomas around the cafeteria. He’d been paraded between them like a prized pig for over an hour. It had taken a high sign to his guards to get him away. Both William and Drake were still laughing about it. “They were dying to make me their pet.”

“It made their day.”

It would probably be the closest they would ever come to the crown, but Thomas kept that to himself.

The whole group headed toward the science building at a brisk pace. To their left lay the fourth-year dorm. To their right, the huge, circular library. Once they got around a quarter of the way, the academic buildings appeared on their left. The grass within the square beyond the fountain was still green. Enchanted, or so Thomas had heard.

“Hey,” Caspian said. “I did want to talk to you about Zoe.”

“Zoe?” Short, blonde, and the girl whom he had taken to the Lantern Ball. Mostly because he’d thought she was too dumb to figure out his secret.

“Yeah.” Caspian scratched his neck. “I still feel bad about snatching her away from you like that.”

“Snatching her?” Thomas laughed. “She’d been making eyes at you since she started tutoring with us. I decided to facilitate the two of you getting together.” Prince Edward was something of a romantic and was “super happy” that Thomas had taken the opportunity to do some match-making.

Caspian’s jaw hung open for a moment. “You left on purpose?”

“After I watched you watch us dance, I knew you liked her.”

“Are you serious?”

“What kind of state business could have pulled me away from my first ball here?” Running away like that had saved Thomas’s sanity. Five more minutes with Princess Zoe might have driven him to confessing his real identity.

“Does that mean the horrible dancing was on purpose?”

Thomas kept a smile plastered on his face. “Well, I was trying to not impress her.” He waved a hand. “For you.”

They joined a throng of huddled students heading for the math building.

Caspian eyed him.

“It worked, didn’t it?” Thomas’s heartbeat sped back up. If anyone was going to catch him in the act of impersonating Prince Edward, it was Caspian. “You are dating her, right? I didn’t dance badly for nothing, did I?”

Caspian’s neck turned red.

“Good thing.”

An exuberant blast of cold air hit them, and the sound of fluttering papers filled the air, along with a single curse word.

The papers fell around Thomas like leaves. His hands moved of their own accord, his fingers reaching out and plucking the music—Thomas could see the staff lines—from the air as if they were standing still.

“Grab them!” a girl said.

The rest of the crowd followed Thomas’s example, and soon they looked like a group of children trying to catch soap bubbles. One particularly energetic paper tried to blow toward the fountain, but Thomas darted around his guards and grabbed it before it got too far.

“Nice,” Drake said.

“Impressive,” William said.

“Thanks.” Thomas turned back and found a tall girl standing beyond his guards.

Kyla, the second youngest mermaid princess, wore the school uniform—a white shirt, blue-and-red scarf, and a short black skirt with long socks and boots. Over that she wore a poufy teal coat that fell to her knees. Her hair was a color that teetered between rose red and blossom pink. A green shell, which matched her eyes, hung around her neck. She had her mouth open and her hand out as if to thank him and then take the pages, but when he met her gaze, her expression hardened.

Everyone within ten feet stared at them, as if expecting one of them to grow an extra arm.

Thomas stepped forward, and his guards parted. He held the papers out. “I think you dropped these.”

Kyla’s eyes narrowed, and her lips pressed together before pulling into a sneer, which stopped Thomas in his tracks.

They stared at one another with what felt like half of the student body watching. Thomas knew what Prince Samuel had done to Kyla’s sister, and despite having a couple classes together, they had never spoken. Which was probably for the best; from what Thomas had seen, she was brash and haughty. More self-absorbed than some of the other royalty.

Now he understood that she would rather touch a cold pole with her tongue than exchange pleasantries. Which didn’t bother Thomas in the least.

However, he had to pretend to be Edward, so he straightened and finished his walk to her. He smiled, bowed, and offered her the pages.

Kyla’s hand shook as she reached out, and her lips pressed into a thin line. She gave him a little nod laced with a promise of retribution if he said a single word, snatched the music from his fingers, and turned away.


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The Golden Girl: Cover Reveal and Teaser

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The Fairy Tale Academy Series continues with the next installment:

The Golden Girl!

This story is one part King Midas’ daughter and one part Legally Blonde.

I’m not going to lie, All Zoe wants is a prince, true love and her happily ever after. It kind of made me cringe to write her, but only at the beginning. The change in her is awesome!

I hope you love this story as much as I do.

Official release day is Wednesday, April 17th!

Because I appreciate all of your continued support, I will have a fan appreciation day and the eBook will be 99 cents on release day!

Read the first chapter now!

Chapter 1

Zoe Midas cocked her head to the side to get a better view of her golden curls. She eyed the longest of them, then flipped her head the other way.

“You’re uneven,” Belle said. Zoe’s roommate lay on her bed, reading a book. Her long dark hair had been pulled back, and she wore a pair of loose-fitting pants and a baggy shirt.

“I know.” Zoe lifted the ornate shears, plucked the offending curls off her back, and snipped them. The hairs floated to the floor, but instead of spreading out and covering the carpet, they twisted together and melded into a single strand of golden thread. It joined the four-foot-long piece at her feet. “Did I get it?” She turned so Belle could see.

Belle glanced up. “You got it.”

Zoe took a moment to fluff her hair, pucker her lips, survey both sides of her face, and then smile. Her green eyes sparkled just as they should, and the pink color she’d picked out for her lips offset her hair perfectly.

It would be better if they didn’t have to wear white uniform shirts all the time, but since she spent time tanning, it looked good enough. She wore the top two buttons open and tied the red-and-blue scarf loosely around her neck.

“How’s the new blush?” Belle asked.

“Love it,” Zoe said. “Thanks for picking that up for me.”

“No worries.”

Zoe gathered a few things, including her black book, and shoved them in her bag. She checked the time. “Aren’t you coming to breakfast?”

Belle glanced up. “Oh. Yeah, I guess I should get ready.”

Zoe shook her head. She would never understand how Belle could take so little time getting ready each morning. She gathered the golden thread on the floor and tossed it into a growing pile on the corner of her dresser. One of these days she’d get around to burning it. “I’ll see you in class.”

“See you.”

Girls emptied from their rooms into the hallways. Everyone wore some iteration of the school uniform: white button-down shirt, a red-and-blue tie or scarf, plaid skirts or dark pants, and a red jacket, if they wished.

Zoe spotted her two closest friends and waved. Amalia and Eloise stood outside their opposing doors, waiting for Zoe. While not princesses like Zoe, Amalia’s father controlled the dukedom closest to the fey lands, and Eloise’s family ran the mountain passes to the east. Amalia’s large brown eyes and darker skin brought out the red in her lips. Eloise’s red hair and striking blue eyes had drawn many a boy to her side since the beginning of their time at the Academy. Her fortune probably didn’t hurt, either. Or her long legs and lithe form. Where Eloise was tall and thin, Amalia was short and curvy. Zoe stood somewhere in between.

The two waited until Zoe got to them before they each took her by an elbow and walked side-by-side down the hall.

“Morning, beautiful,” Amalia said to Zoe.

“You girls are looking gorgeous today,” Zoe said.

“Oh stop,” Eloise said.

The other second-year girls scrambled out of their way as they descended the stairs and went out the front doors.

Fall had finally arrived, and the chill in the air indicated that winter wasn’t far behind. The nearby trees had dropped their leaves, only their skeletal branches reaching toward the cloudy sky. Zoe’s high-heeled boots clicked on the cobblestones as they made their way to the cafeteria.

Eloise leaned in. “I have something for the book.”

Zoe raised her eyebrows. “Oh?”

“So juicy,” Eloise said.

“Perfect.”

Amalia nodded. “Me too.”

Zoe squeezed their arms to her. “I love you girls so much.”

They all giggled and entered the cafeteria. It didn’t take them long to get their meager breakfast—didn’t want to start heavy so early in the morning—and sequester their usual table near the corner.

Zoe sat in her spot and surveyed the cafeteria. Teenagers from all over the realm sat eating, stood talking, or had their heads down over books, studying. Her eyes moved in a practiced circle. Prince Adem had saved a place next to him for Belle. Prince Kawbra and his girlfriend Nakusa sat so close that their arms touched all the time. Krabbs, the goblin prince, and Brisa were having a spirited discussion from opposite sides of a table. Probably something about history.

The two kings in the room—Jak, the king of the giants, and Saru, the Monkey King—sat with their respective girlfriends and buddies.

No change since yesterday. No stiff shoulders or glares from the girls.

Zoe’s eyes continued around to the royalty from the fey, and the few other humans that held a high rank. She sighed.

“You can’t get discouraged,” Amalia said.

“No, you can’t,” Eloise said in a voice that made Zoe look over and see the other girl’s eyes twinkling.

“What did you find out?” Zoe asked, already forgetting about her apple and toast on her tray.

Eloise leaned in on one side and Amalia on the other. “I heard an interesting rumor.”

Zoe’s eyes narrowed. “You know rumors don’t go in the book.”

“Nothing like that.” Eloise waved her hand. “It’s not about anyone here.”

Zoe couldn’t deny the thrill that went through her. “Then who?” Maybe Prince Samuel was coming back.

“We have a new student starting today.”

“Another one?” Amalia asked.

Eloise tapped the table. “He’s coming from this kingdom.”

Zoe let out the breath she’d been holding. “It could be anyone.”

“Tayle has been preparing for two days.”

“Well, that is interesting. Do you know who?”

“No, but it has to be someone important if Tayle is this involved.”

“That goes along with what I heard,” Amalia said. They looked at the dark-haired girl, who smiled. “I heard that they had to rearrange some of the boys in the first-year dorm because they had to have a whole room for someone.”

Zoe licked her lips. They only let the highest royalty have their own rooms. Who could it be? Zoe reached down and pulled a tall black book from her bag. The other two cleared the table as she set it reverently on the wooden surface. Zoe’s fingers trailed across the leather cover until they reached the edge and hinged it open.

The first page showed a list of people. Prince Samuel’s name occupied the top spot, followed by the other princes at the Academy. Zoe turned the page and found a striking likeness of Prince Samuel staring up at her.

All three girls sighed.

“It’s too bad he got tossed in the dungeon,” Amalia said.

“Right?” Eloise said.

Zoe went to the next entry. Prince Edward. Samuel’s younger brother, who had decided not to attend the Academy. He would be a first year. Unlike Samuel’s blond hair, blue eyes and rugged looks, Edward’s angular face and dark eyes dared her to cross him.

If only she had the chance.

The next few entries were the people she’d already looked at this morning. No change with Prince Adem and Belle or Prince Kawbra and Nakusa. After she got through the princes, the other ranking members of the court appeared. Each page held notes about who the boys talked to, their favorite colors, foods and activities, who they’d gone on dates with, along with who they had taken to which ball.

Zoe’s name was in the book many times, as were her friends’, but hers was never the last name. Never the name the prince had stayed with.

“Maybe Adem has a brother?” Eloise asked.

“Or he could be another king,” Amalia said.

“Perhaps,” Zoe said. “Or someone dangerous, like Saru.”

Both of her friends sighed.

Zoe sat up straight. “Not to worry. We need to focus.” She narrowed her eyes at her book. “Who is going to ask each of us to the Lantern Ball?” Her friends scooted closer as she once again began to flip through the entries. Zoe had a few ideas for the other two—prominent boys that they would probably get along with—but had no clue who she was going to charm into asking her.

“What about Matthew?” Amalia asked, as if reading her mind.

“Or Solomon. He’s handsome,” Eloise said.

Zoe turned to their pages. Their statistics put them in the circle that meant that she and either of them would be good together, but something about them felt off. Like a crawly feeling when you saw a spider and then it disappeared.

“Still cataloging the boys of the school as if they were cattle?” a mocking voice asked.

Zoe sighed. “Good morning, Taylor.”

Taylor, a first-year student and Prince Adem’s roommate, sat down with a flourish of his black cape. He wore his uniform under the cape, but he’d dyed his hair black and silver. Small silver jewels sparkled at the edges of his eyes.

Eloise giggled.

“How are you ladies this fine morning?” Taylor asked.

“Good,” Eloise said.

“Fine,” Amalia said.

Zoe shrugged. “As well as can be expected.”

“Still no prince to take you to the ball, huh?” Taylor asked.

“That’s not why you’re here.”

“True.” Taylor leaned forward and put his elbows on the table. “I’m still hoping you’ll give me some of your hair.”

Zoe sighed. “I burn it. You know that.”

Taylor shook his head. “I don’t know why you won’t give me some. I’m just going to use it to embellish my designs.”

“Uh-huh.” Zoe still didn’t know how Taylor had found out that her hair turned to golden thread, but since he had, he hadn’t stopped bugging her about it.

“Think about it,” he said.

She leaned forward. “What’s in it for me?”

He raised an eyebrow. “What did you have in mind?”

“Get Prince Adem to break up with Belle.” She was only half joking.

Taylor laughed. “You are funny.” He stood. “Think about what I said. I’ll pay almost any price.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Do.” He smiled at the other two. “Ladies.”

They sighed.

Zoe shook her head. Where was she going to find a prince to take her to the ball?


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The Giant King: Cover Reveal and Teaser

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My Fairy Tale Academy Series continues with the next installment:

The Giant King!

This is, obviously, a Jack and the Beanstalk retelling. In my version, it was the king of the giants that fell down the beanstalk, and because Jak killed him, Jak is now the giant king.

Poor kid. I feel bad for him.

Good thing Maggie (*cough* Mulan) is there to help him.

Official release day is Wednesday, April 3rd!

I’ve had so much support and excitement for these books, that I’m going to have another fan appreciation day, which means the price will be 99 cents on release day!

Here’s the first chapter. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

Jak sat on his bed and stared down at the objects in his palm. The opaque, green, kidney-shaped beans made a neat little pile. He used his thumb to spread them out, as if looking at them from a different angle would help him understand.

It didn’t.

Jak’s eyes moved from the beans to the folded parchment sitting next to him. He sighed, dropping the beans back into the red velvet bag and pulling the drawstrings shut. Then he gently set it on the bed and picked up the parchment.

His mother hadn’t bothered to seal it. Instead, she’d simply folded it in quarters, then rolled it enough to get it in the bag with the beans. The parchment crackled under his fingers as he unfolded it and found his mother’s neat script on the page. He’d read it more times than he remembered, but some part of him hoped that if he read it again, he might find a different meaning in it.

Dear Jak,

I’ll keep this brief. The council has agreed to let you stay at the Academy for two years, which keeps you out of their way, and safe. When they bring you home, it is likely that one of them will challenge you for the throne.

While I understand how terrifying that must be for you, you need to focus on the more pressing matter of our fields. A majority of the crops from the summer have failed, and as you know, the soil has become toxic. There is enough in our stores to last through the winter, but if we can’t grow anything in the spring, we will have to find another way to feed the people of Oreroth. The giants will blame us, and their solution will be to let us starve while they take what they need from another kingdom, which will result in a war that will likely cascade out of control.

The giants do not know the extent of the problem. They think it is a few fields and just the bean crop. We need to keep it that way.

Find out where the beans I sent with you came from, and how they work. Get back to me as soon as you can.

Mom

Boom, boom, boom!

“Sure, Mom. No pressure.” Jak refolded the parchment.

The slender bed creaked as he rose to his feet. The desk drawer gave a squeal as he opened it and put the letter inside.

The room looked almost as barren as it had upon his arrival. The desk sat at the far end of the bed, the long side against the wall. Beyond that, light poured in through a window. A single blanket lay on the bed, now wrinkled from him sitting on it. The dresser stood at the head of the bed. An invisible line ran down the middle of the room, and the other side was a mirror image of his own. Only no one slept there.

Boom, boom, boom!

The pounding penetrated the wood, and likely the entire building. Jak wondered what the Academy made their doors of. There wasn’t much that could stop a determined giant.

Your Highness, we need to get going.” Beklor’s voice dripped with irony.

“I’m coming. Don’t have a cow,” Jak said before Beklor started pounding in earnest.

Jak caught his reflection in the full-length mirror on the back of the door. Tall and lean, Jak looked like a beanpole in his school uniform, which consisted of a white shirt, black pants, a red-and-blue plaid tie, and a red jacket. The collar of the shirt struck a drastic contrast with his ebony skin. His mother had cut his black hair short the month before, and it had finally grown enough to form tight curls on his head.

He adjusted the tie, smoothed the jacket, and reached down for his blue messenger bag.

A low growl floated through the door, and Jak reached out and turned the knob before Beklor began foaming at the mouth.

Beklor’s wide frame practically filled the doorway, and he had to lean down to see beneath the jamb. His massive shoulders barely fit into the black tunic he wore, and he’d ripped the sleeves so his muscled arms could be free below the elbow. The gold belt buckle around his thick waist had to weigh more than Jak’s head. His boots, which rose to Jak’s mid-thigh, cinched around his muscular calves.

“Are you finally ready?” Jak asked the giant. “I’ve been waiting for hours.”

Beklor ignored the remark. “We’re going to be late.” His dark blue eyes regarded Jak. He’d pulled his long blond hair into a ponytail at the base of his neck.

Jak rubbed his smooth chin. “The trim looks nice.”

“Apparently humans find food in their hair disgusting.”

Jak pointed at the giant. “Everyone should have that problem.”

Beklor stepped aside and followed Jak down the stairs. They’d arrived late the night before, and hadn’t had a chance to look around.

A smattering of furniture filled the lobby. A semi-circle of chairs had been dragged to the fire, and Jak could imagine students gathered there, laughing and talking. Now they sat deserted except for a single figure standing before the fireplace. He must have heard Jak and Beklor, because he turned to greet them.

He wore a school uniform. Short brown hair topped his head, and the color of his skin sat somewhere between the pale white of the northerners and Jak’s. He had to be about Jak’s age, but he carried himself with almost as much confidence as Beklor.

“King Jak?” the young man asked.

Jak made a face. “Please don’t spread that around.” He offered his hand to the young man. “Stick with Jak.”

Beklor let out a little grunt.

The young man’s fingers tightened around Jak’s, but not to the extent of a challenge. “Tayle. I’m in charge of security here at the Academy.”

“Sounds like a big job.”

“Not as big as being king,” Tayle said.

“But we’re not talking about that.” Jak put a finger to his lips.

Tayle’s eyes flickered to Beklor.

Jak pointed. “This is Beklor.”

“I am the giant king’s keeper,” Beklor said.

“Good to meet you.” Tayle didn’t hesitate to shake Beklor’s hand.

“Please don’t break him,” Jak said to Beklor. “We need him to like us.”

Beklor looked mildly disappointed.

Tayle gestured outside. “Are you ready for the tour?”

“Ready,” Jak said.

Tayle opened the door and held it as the other two went through.

“Mind your head,” Jak said to Beklor.

The giant glared and ducked. Before Tayle joined them, the giant muttered, “You need to show your dominance.”

“How? By outwitting him?” Jak might be taller, but Tayle obviously worked out and could probably tie Jak in a knot if he wanted to.

A cold breeze licked at Jak’s skin, and he shivered. Gray clouds hung low in the sky.

“These are the dorms,” Tayle said. “The first years live in the far building, second years in the next one over, and so on.”

“So the rooms get better as you go?” Jak asked, noticing that the fourth-years’ building was much larger than the first-years’.

“Basically.” Tayle pointed over and behind the dorms. “The fields there and the woods beyond are within the Academy limits. Don’t get too close to the barrier.”

“Or what?” Jak asked.

“Or it will fry you like an egg.”

“Understood.”

A huge, round building stood across the cobblestone path that ran in front of all four dorms.

“That’s the library,” Tayle said. “The entrance is on the far side.” When they reached the edge of the fourth-year dorms, Tayle turned right. They followed the curved wall of the library around to the first of six other buildings. All were roughly rectangular and rose one to three stories. Tile covered slanted roofs to high peaks.

“These are our academic buildings.” He pointed in turn. “Magic, arts, math and science, agriculture, the gymnasium…”

Jak lost interest when he got around the library far enough to see the square.

Before him stood a fountain with a two-tier bowl resting on the backs of a human, an elf, and two others that he couldn’t see. At the edges, eight statues representing other races spit water into the pool.

Cobblestones lined the fountain’s perimeter, which sat in front of the library and formed a box around a large expanse of grass. Several clusters of tables with benches dotted the area.

“Do you guys paint the grass green?” Jak asked.

Tayle chuckled. “The grass is enchanted; it never dies.” He pointed at the other side of the square. “That’s the dean’s tower and other administrative buildings.”

Jak glanced over his shoulder and found Beklor’s eyes scanning every inch of the area. “Already planning how to invade?”

“And defend,” Beklor said in a serious voice.

When Jak looked back, he noticed a ring of students around a trio of nearby tables. He strained to see what they were doing, and caught a single glimpse through the crowd. “Are they playing Shiji?”

Tayle glanced over and nodded. “That is our Shiji club. Do you play?”

Jak shrugged. “A little.”

“Would you like to meet the players?”

“Sure.” He leaned closer to Tayle. “Remember, it’s just Jak.”

Beklor gave him a jab with his elbow, and Jak swatted him away.

“It makes things awkward,” Jak said.

“They should know who you are,” Beklor said.

“Later.”

Tayle watched the exchange, then waved for Jak to follow.

A few heads turned their way as they approached. Most eyes went wide when they spotted Beklor. Jak could only imagine the expression the giant was giving them. “Be nice,” Jak muttered.

“Giants are not nice.”

“Believe me, I know.”

Tayle stopped a few feet away and waved a centaur over. Short, white hair the same color as his coat and tail stood up in spikes. A swirling blue tattoo started on his cheek and disappeared into the shirt of his uniform.

“Tayle,” the centaur said.

“Haleros, this is Jak. He’s new.”

The centaur turned to Jak but did not approach. Instead, his eyes slid from Jak to the giant behind him.

Jak closed the distance. “Nice to meet you, Haleros.”

Haleros kept half of his attention on Beklor as he shook Jak’s hand. The centaur was almost as tall as the giant. “Welcome to the Academy,” Haleros said. “Where are you from?”

“Oreroth.” Jak plowed on. “You’re the captain of the team?”

“I am.” Haleros finally dismissed Beklor and looked at Jak with raised eyebrows. “Do you play?”

“A little.”

“If you have a minute, come watch.”

Jak licked his lips. “I think I will, thank you.”

A strangled sound came from Beklor, but Jak ignored him. He would have to endure the Pride-of-the-Giants speech later, but for now he could pretend like he was a normal teenager.

Haleros made a hole, and Jak slid in next to a short girl with almond-shaped eyes. Her straight, dark hair hung to her shoulders. She barely gave him a glance before returning her attention to the game.

Winters were long in Oreroth, and Jak and his father had spent countless cold nights playing and discussing the game. It only took Jak a moment to assess each board and take an educated guess at their strategy. One pair of players had just started, another looked to be in the middle of a game, and the last were only a few moves away from the end.

Another inspection showed Jak that the game that looked half over would be decided in the next three moves. If the satyr didn’t notice the goblin’s strategy, then he would likely lose.

“What are your thoughts on that one?” Haleros asked.

Jak blinked. “You always talk about people like they’re not sitting in front of you?”

Haleros laughed. “We put silence spells around them. They can only hear one another.”

“Then why is everyone so quiet?” Jak asked.

“Habit, I guess.” Haleros pointed. “Well?”

“The satyr is going to lose unless he protects his goblin.”

“Interesting way of looking at it,” Haleros said. “Would you mind explaining?”

Jak narrowed his eyes. “The goblin pieces are some of the most versatile on the board. If the satyr playing loses that one, then the right flank of his First Fey is going to be exposed.”

“You’re wrong,” the girl next to Jak said.

Jak turned to answer, but the words stuck in his throat. The girl’s dark eyes studied him. Delicate cheekbones and full lips struck a contrast to the muscles in her neck. A strange combination of beauty and power. He cleared his throat. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

She thought a moment before saying, “He’s still got several puppets he can use to protect the right flank.”

“But they’re vulnerable.”

“So is the other player’s king.”

Jak looked at the board again. It took him a few seconds to work out what she was saying. “I’ve never seen that strategy before.”

“Glad to know you can still be taught,” the girl said before walking away.

Jak tried not to stare. A girl who knew that much about Shiji was worth getting to know.

Haleros waved a hand. “That’s Maggie. Don’t take it personally, she’s like that with everyone.”

Jak looked back at the board as the satyr moved his piece. He winced. “That was a mistake.”

“You might be right,” Haleros said.

Tayle appeared at Jak’s side. “Come on, we need to finish the tour before classes start.”

“Right.” Jak nodded to Haleros. “Thank you for letting me watch.”

“Come by later. We’re here before and after classes, and we can always use new victims.”

 


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