A/N: Hello there! To all those who just started reading my work: welcome! To everyone who's followed me to this point: Eyyy! (how you doin'?) This is a reboot of my Brave New World fic if anyone wants to read that. Some things are the same, most things are different.
Hope you enjoy!
High up amongst the skinniest and thinnest tree branches, a black feathered crow fluttered his feathers and trained its midnight eyes on the small human forms milling about below his tree. They whispered to one another, trying to be discreet, but their words still reached his ears. "Reyna's back," one young human with a long nose hissed to a group, his hand cupped around his mouth to keep others from hearing.
"What?" A blonde haired girl said, eyes darting around the grassy lawn they all stood in to see if the boy's words were true. "I wonder where she's been."
"I heard," an older boy with terrible acne began, drawing the others in closer with his low tone, "she was in Africa with Dunstan, learning about the origins of magic." Three members of the group looked disappointment by this possibility.
"Well, I heard," a tiny child with skin darker than the bird's feathers said excitedly, "that she was in France with the Fae Queens and they were teaching her how to flay Goblin flesh."
Several children groaned with disgust. "No way," the first boy with the long nose said, sticking his chest out. "You're all wrong. She was with the Elves up in Canada, learning protection spells."
The group fell silent, thinking over the boy's words and then the blonde girl nodded, "Yeah, I think I heard that too."
"Do you think she was with her father?" The smallest asked, causing a few brows to quirk.
"What?" The acne riddled boy asked.
"Her father—oh don't tell me you haven't heard."
"Heard what?" The blonde girl and acne boy asked.
"My Master says her father—her real father—is an Elf!" He nodded rapidly, "It's why she's so good at magic!"
The source of their gossiping drew closer, and the small group's whispering hushed as she walked by. Reyna: a young girl nearing her sixteenth birthday, with olive toned skin and hair as dark as the crow's feathers.
Pushing her black hair away from her face and keeping her green eyes trained on the large building across the lawn, Reyna made her way to the Capitol building. It was an old monstrosity, built with dark wood and accented with darker windows. It was surrounded by four acres of land, affectionately dubbed the Play Ground by the Apprentices who haunted the yard.
Reyna strode by the group with the long nosed boy, blonde girl, and acne riddled boy without sparing them a glance. The crow cocked his head to the side, looked at the small group once more, then flew off ahead of the dark haired girl and perched himself atop another tree to listen in on another conversation.
"—She's just so amazing, you know!" One boy with curly brown locks sighed, watching Reyna approach with love-sick eyes. "Master Cisco says she's already surpassed him."
"I remember when Dunstan first brought her here," the oldest of the group, a boy with striking blue eyes and skin covered in a myriad of freckles, said. "She was like, seven? Eight?" He shook his head, "I dunno, but she was little." He chuckled under his breath, "I think that was the only time I could've beaten her in a Duel."
"Yeah," the curly haired boy snorted, "now she could beat half the House without lifting a finger."
Freckles hummed, "She'll probably be Keeper of the House when she's older." Lifting off from his perch, the crow grew tired of listening to the human boys. This time he spied a couple sitting at the base of a small cherry tree and with an almost silent flutter of his wings, landed on the lowest branch.
"I heard she tattooed Devil seals on her arm!" A girl with brown skin said, none too quietly. "Sarah says she saw them! There were three, I think." Her eyes were large with wonder and cautious awe. "Like, she just has them. On her arm! Who does that?"
The girl sitting beside her shook her head but squeezed their clasped hands, "Miranda says Dunstan's gone too far with her. Half the House is dreading the day she takes Dunstan's seat."
Shivering, the first girl sighed, "Don't be so dramatic, Simone. No one in the House hates Reyna or anything. They're just . . ."
"Scared?" Simone prompted with a toothy smile.
"I was gonna say cautious," she rolled her eyes. "She's not the devil, you know."
Eyebrows raised, Simone countered, "Some would beg to differ, Alice." The crow clicked his beak and hopped down the branch to get even closer to the two girls. Simone sighed, "Look, I know she's not the devil—but she's basically getting the reputation of—"
"Shush," Alice ordered, eyes wide and staring over the other girl's shoulder. "Marcus is right behind you."
Simone stiffened and clamped her mouth shut tight. The crow cawed out loudly, causing the two girls to shriek out and look up at him. "Is that—?"
"Oh, crap," Simone swore, but before she could do anything, the crow fluttered off his perch with one last taunting cry and glided towards Reyna's shoulder.
Reyna hummed at the crow's arrival, reaching up to scratch the feathers atop his head, "Having fun, Poe?" He snapped his beak in reply, making the dark haired girl chuckle. He snapped his beak again, almost impatiently this time, "All right, all right, come here." Cupping her hand around the back of her head, Reyna brought the tip of his beak to touch her forehead. White light flashed behind her eyes, blinding her for a moment or two. "Ah," she exhaled, pulling away from her feathered friend. "Somethings never change, do they, Poe?"
Poe cried out loudly, pulling his body as far off her shoulder as he dared without actually taking a step, towards a pale skinned boy with short, dark brown hair walking towards them. Reyna's lips broke out in a smile, and she passed by the two girl beneath the cherry tree, making a beeline for the boy.
"Marcus!" She greeted loudly before throwing her arms around his shoulders, causing Poe to cry out indignantly and fly away in a feathery huff. "Ahh, I missed you!" Reyna felt a heavy weight over her soul shift and disappear.
Feeling his arms wrap themselves around her waist and his forehead rest on her shoulder, Reyna's heart swelled as she basked in the warmth of her best friend's embrace. "Missed you too, Rey." He pulled away with a small grin and clasped her face between his hands. "Let me get a good look at you." His dark brown eyes bore into her green ones and although his were bleeding with affection and happiness from her appearance, she could also see concern hiding in their depths as well. Rubbing his thumb across her cheekbone, he admitted quietly, "The last two months were awful."
Pinching his love handle affectionately, Reyna sighed out of her nostrils, "I know, I'm sorry. I should've told you I was going on vacation, but it all just happened so fast."
"Where were you?"
Reyna grinned, her eyes lighting up with the memories of her summer, "Melchiorn took me hiking through the Appalachians." Fingers clenching in the fabric of Marcus's shirt, Reyna rose to her tiptoes, invading her friend's personal space. The older boy hardly minded, his smile softening as she told him of her adventures, "It's amazing, Marco! The wind up there—it's so much," she was practically bouncing now, "it's so much purer than down here. It wails and whistles and shrieks and sings and ahh," she stopped to catch her breath, "it's indescribable. Like, it was so easy up there, you know? To summon it. I'd just call out and the wind was there and it was—" she cut herself off. Her cheeks had flushed and her green eyes sparkled, and she searched her mind for a word to properly describe how it was.
"Amazing?" Marcus guessed, chuckling under his breath and leaning in to nudge her forehead with his. "I get why Dunstan was so short with me whenever I asked him about you, now." When Reyna hummed, prompting him on, he continued, "Oh come on," he rolled his eyes, "he hates Melchiorn."
"He does not hate Melchiorn," the dark haired girl defended with a pout.
Marcus huffed, "Sure he does." Breaking away just briefly enough to kiss her forehead, "You love Melchiorn more than him. Therefore, he hates Melchiorn."
Pushing the flat of her palms against his chest, Reyna huffed out a breath and broke away, "Don't be stupid—Dunstan doesn't care about things like that." She began walking again, though at a much more leisurely pace than before, letting Marcus easily fall into step with her.
"Sure he does," Marcus nodded confidently, throwing his arm over her shoulders and tucking her into his side, "He raised you, but you still like the Elf more."
Reyna hummed, a cold, mirthless smile stretching across her lips "Haven't you heard? He's not just any Elf, Melchiorn's my real father." She wriggled her fingers, "It's why I'm so good at magic."
Marcus scoffed, his brow furrowing, "Is that the new rumor that's going around?" He looked left and right, his dark eyes daring anyone to come up and say it to his face. "God, don't these jack asses have anything better to do than gossip?"
"We're in Salem, Marcus," Reyna tried to explain, to justify—for the both of them. "There's not much else to do on the Play Ground besides Duel or gossip. And thanks to these," she jerked her right arm out to the side, and even though he couldn't see them, Marcus knew she was referring to the three Summoning Seals tattooed on the inside of her forearm, "I'm the rumor mill's number one person of interest."
"Just wait until Jorge gets here," he consoled with a simple shrug. The way his eyes darkened, though, Reyna could tell it bothered him. "Then everyone will be talking about him instead of you."
Shaking her head, Reyna smirked and asked, "Why's it always me and Jorge, never you?"
Marcus huffed a laugh, "Because my life isn't nearly as interesting. What would people say? Oh, no, there goes Marcus," he mocked, deepening his voice, "keeper of the corn. Keep an eye out for him."
"Keeper of the corn, eh?" She smiled, all white teeth, "That doesn't sound half bad."
"Right," rolling his eyes, Marcus placed a hand on her elbow and led her the last few feet to the front of the Capitol. "Now, come on, before we miss out on the real drama."
Reyna followed Marcus into the Capitol building. The building itself wasn't that old, relatively speaking. It had barely just turned two hundred a decade or so ago. The House of Sorcery, with all four hundred plus Sorcerers, was barely any older. Founded in 1791, the House of Sorcery was the magical counterpart of the House of Representatives. Besides the name and basic setup or proceedings, however, the two forms of government were nothing alike. The House of Sorcery was much more cut throat and, at times, much less civil.
With a final squeeze of her shoulder, Marcus left Reyna to find his Master, Lokesh Gakhar, sitting amongst the Iowan Sorcerers. Turning in the opposite direction, Reyna went to find her own Master in the Illinois section. It didn't take long.
James Dunstan was a well kept man with tidy brown hair and a neatly trimmed beard that contrasted harshly against his pale white skin. Of the four hundred and thirty five Sorcerers within the House, Dunstan was the third most important, and, depending on who you asked, the most powerful Mage in the House. As Sorcerer of Illinois' seventh district, he ruled and maintained order over the city of Chicago and more. It wasn't the largest district in Illinois, but it was the most populated. Sorceress Jane Clouseau was technically the most important Sorcerer in the House, as she oversaw New York's twelfth district which included New York City.
Dunstan's lips, as usual, were twisted and pulled downwards, looking as if he'd just swallowed something sour. If she didn't know any better, she'd think Dunstan was annoyed, or frustrated with the scene in front of him. But Reyna did know better, and behind his naturally frowning face, she could see the spark of fascination in his eyes. It'd worry her, if she didn't catch that wild spark lurking behind his gaze at least once a week. Dunstan's brown eyes, so dark beneath the Capitol's florescent lights they were almost black, barely flickered over in her direction as she sat beside him before returning to the man standing before the Keeper of the House.
Reyna's green eyes focused on the man as well. He had light brown skin, long, thin limbs, and untidy black hair. He was a skinny, scrawny, wisp of a thing that could barely be called an adult. Raising a black brow, Reyna figured he couldn't have been much older than twenty. Which was . . . peculiar. There had been young Sorcerers in the past before, sure, but this felt different. In the House of Sorcery, Sorcerers weren't voted in. Mages didn't believe in democracy, they believed in Darwinism: survival of the fittest. Only the strongest survive in the House, and this man before her wouldn't last the year.
"Who is that?" Reyna whispered into Dunstan's ear. She didn't recognize him from the Play Ground, which she would have if he'd been an Apprentice like her. That was the normal way a Mage became a Sorcerer, through Apprenticeship. A Sorcerer would find an Apprentice, train them up, then, upon their retirement or death, the Apprentice would take their seat. That was the normal way of things within the House, and usually ensured the passing on of the strongest spells and enchantments. It was the path Reyna herself was on. As Apprentice to Dunstan, she would one day inherit his seat.
There were two other ways to become a Sorcerer, of course. The second way was for the Keeper to forcibly remove one Sorcerer, on the grounds of incompetence, negligence, or criminal offense, and choose a replacement. Looking up at Keeper Johnson, an elderly white woman with gray hair and eyes of a snake, and, again, depending on who you asked, the most powerful Mage in the House, listen to the young man with barely concealed distaste, Reyna forwent that idea.
The final possible way to become a Sorcerer was to challenge a current seat holder to a Duel; a magical battle between two Mages. The stakes are named before the Duel begins, the Mages enter a Dueling Ring, and to the victor go the spoils. There were three ways to win a Duel: your opponent surrenders, you knock your opponent out of the Dueling Ring, or you kill your opponent.
It was a difficult task to accomplish, but not impossible, and definitely not unheard of, as that was how Dunstan won his seat within the House. Returning her focus to the man, who had taken his jacket off to reveal sweat stains pooling beneath his armpits, Reyna couldn't fathom that he was a master Dueler in any way shape or form.
Dunstan laughed, barely covering the action up with a fake cough, before answering, "Louisiana's new second district Sorcerer."
Second district. That meant this man-child before her was in charge of New Orleans, the forty-ninth largest city in the country, and one of the most historically significant in terms of magic. "How?" Reyna asked, her tone hard and flat.
"Remember Master Matthias? That's his Apprentice." Reyna blinked. She didn't even know Matthias had an Apprentice. "Surprised?" Dunstan asked dryly, his lips twitching, the ghost of a smile, "So were we. Matthias named him his heir a week ago and then retired." Finally, Dunstan turned to look at her, his eyes bright with ideas. "His name's Andrew Long. What do you think?"
Looking back at Andrew, who had thankfully put his jacket back on, Reyna clucked her tongue, "I don't think he'll last the year."
Dunstan hummed with amusement, "So harsh, my little wyvern, but not incorrect. In his current state he'll be removed by Johnson in a matter of months. However, with a little help," he trailed off, the hint of a grin on his face.
Reyna crossed her arms and leaned back in her seat, "A little help?" She questioned. "Dunstan, come on. He looks like a summer breeze would blow him over."
"True, but with the right . . . guidance," he said slowly, carefully, "he could become competent."
Green eyes flashing, Reyna hummed and lowered her voice, "You mean, with the right guidance, he could be controlled." Dunstan's lips twitched again, proving her theory correct. "You want him under your thumb." She continued in her low tone, "Why?"
Quirking a brow, Dunstan's eyes flickered over to hers, "Don't ask stupid questions, Reyna."
Bristling, Reyna took a long breath before asking another question, "Fine," she bit out. Then, "If you want New Orleans so badly, why not just take it?" She looked back to Andrew and frowned. She didn't care what Dunstan said, the way he stuttered and stumbled over this simplest of sentences, no amount of guidance could save that boy's career. It'd take a miracle, and Reyna steadfastly did not believe in miracles.
"And have to move to Louisiana?" Dunstan sneered at the thought. "Never. Besides, New Orleans may have many appealing qualities, it practical overflowing with magical energy being one of them, but it's all so . . . untamed. Wild. It would take years, decades, even, to set to rights and get it under control."
Reyna shrugged, "Then send me. I can beat Andrew in a Duel no problem."
Humming almost happily, Dunstan's lips did curl into a smile this time, the only sign of pride Reyna would ever receive in public. "Although I have no doubt that you'd utterly destroy Andrew in a Duel, there's no way in hell I'm allowing my Apprentice to become a Louisiana Sorcerer. Oh," he added, as an afterthought, "and you're too young."
Rolling her eyes, Reyna, in all her fifteen year old glory, grumbled, "Yeah, like the House ever cared for legality before."
Ignoring her, Dunstan switched gears, "Did your spy pick up anything useful today?"
Reyna thought back to Poe, and the images he'd shared with her back on the Play Ground. "No," she sighed, "just gossip."
Dunstan grunted, leaning forward and resting his chin atop his knuckles as he watched with mild obsession as Andrew spoke about his plans to reverse the gradual submerging of his state by magically replacing the sediment lost by the taming of the Mississippi. Theoretically it wasn't a bad idea, but it was barely half baked.
Just as Reyna had resigned herself to listening to Andrew's pathetic stuttering for the next hour, her phone began buzzing in her lap. Even though it was on vibrate, the noise it was making was not silent, and it gained her several disapproving glares from those around her. Ignoring them all, Reyna looked down to read the screen. Jorge's brown flashed flashed on the screen. His broad smile took over half his face and his long, golden hair took up over half the picture. It was the most recent picture she had of him, and it was not the most flattering. Which was exactly why she chose it. The sixteen year old was already way too good looking and photogenic. Anytime he took a bad one, Reyna hoarded it like a dragon with their most precious treasure.
"Take it outside," Dunstan ordered, his eyes not straying from his new project. His lips had tightened, turning white with the restriction of blood. He found the buzzing distracting, and Dunstan hated distractions. "And find me something I can use, hmm?" These words had more of a bite to them, and now it was Reyna's mouth that tightened.
Without another word, Reyna slipped out of the House and as soon as she opened the door to the Play Ground, she answered Jorge's call, "Hey, George."
A deep sigh, one that begged whatever deity that looked down on them from above for patience, answered her, "It's too early for this shit, Rey."
"Isn't it like," she paused, her face screwing up as she figured out the time difference, "ten in California?"
"Yes! Ten A.M!" He wailed, making Reyna wince and pull the phone away from her abused ear. "Any time followed by an A.M is too early."
"You're ridiculous," she told him. "So when's your flight? I didn't know you were coming to Salem." She looked over her shoulder, and frowned when she realized she could still make out Andrew's wiry frame in the distance. Shaking her head, Reyna slowly walked further into the Play Ground. The other Apprentices milling about the lawn stared after her, but she pretending not to see them.
Jorge mumbled something on his end, talking to someone in the background, "Sorry, what?"
Eye twitching, she repeated, "When's your flight?"
"Not for another hour," he whined. "I'm so bored. There's not even anyone good looking around for me to daydream about. It's horrible."
"I'm surprised you're even coming, honestly. I would've thought you'd be too busy studying, or surfing or something."
Jorge snorted, loud and unattractive and it made Reyna smile. "I do do other things besides study and surf, you know." He paused, and Reyna waited patiently, feeling like he wasn't finished. Stepping off the pebbled path, Reyna leaned against one of the many trees lining the walkway to the Capitol. "And," he finally continued, breathing in deeply, "I just needed to get away for a little bit." Another pause, and then, "I broke up with Jordan."
Brows raising high and vanishing behind her bangs, Reyna asked, "What? Why?" This wasn't the first time Jorge had broken it off with his partner, nor would it be the last, really. The boy had an undying curiosity burning through him, making him unable to sit still for long periods of time, or stay with any one person for more than a few months. Marcus sometimes joked that he had relationship ADHD. But this was different. Jordan wasn't just any passing fancy of Jorge's. He'd met Jorge's parents, his Master, he'd even met Marcus and Reyna. And considering how none of them lived in the same state, meeting Jordan had taken effort. And now Jorge was just breaking it off? It didn't make sense. At least, not to Reyna.
"Yeah," Jorge said slowly, "It just . . . it didn't feel right anymore. The heat, the passion, I don't know . . . whatever we had just . . . disappeared. He's a great guy, but the spark wasn't there, you know?"
"Not really," Reyna replied dryly. Sometimes she felt like the complete opposite of Jorge, especially in the romantic department. He fell in love with every person he met, and Reyna had never even felt her heart stutter. Not once. Not for anyone.
"Whatever," Jorge brushed off, "you will someday."
"You're supposed to get in at four, then?" She changed the subject. Now that Jordan was out of the picture, Reyna wouldn't bring him up again. Jorge hated living in the past, and tended to grow sulky whenever anyone tried to drag him back there.
"Hmm, yeah that sounds about right. I'd ask Donny, but he's asleep." Adonis 'Donny' Tui, was Jorge's Master and Sorcerer of California's fifty second district. It included the U.S.'s eighth largest city, San Diego, and if Donny weren't such a lush, he could win L.A.'s district in a Duel no problem. He was that powerful. He was also that lazy.
Reyna was about to ask whether or not Donny's sleeping was due to his current possible level of intoxication when a male voice called out behind her, "Hey! You!"
Closing her eyes, Reyna gripped her phone tighter and counted backwards from ten. "That for you?" Jorge asked, mirth clouding his tone.
"God, I hope not," she muttered, looking over her shoulder to spy the guy marching towards her. He was young, maybe a year older than her. Or two. It was hard to tell sometimes. He had red curly hair and freckles covering every inch of his skin. His square jaw was set and just seeing how clenched it was made Reyna's teeth ache with phantom pains. She didn't recognize him, either, which meant he was new. A red-headed greenhorn. Fantastic.
"Yeah, you!" He called out again, this time pointing a finger at her and drawing the attention of nearly everyone on the Play Ground within hearing distance.
"Ah, shit," Reyna groaned, frowning at he closed in on her. She wondered if it was too late for her to become a Nymph and go out Daphne-style.
"Yup, that's for you!" Jorge laughed, unashamedly enjoying the situation he could hear unfolding. "Sounds like you've got a challenger!" Reyna's upper lip curled at the prospect, wishing desperately for Marcus's immediate presence. He'd have the greenhorn running off in the opposite direction with one well aimed glare. It was a gift.
"Reyna-Reyna Dunstan!" He was two feet from her now, finger still out, and face turning red.
Blinking, Reyna turned to face him fully and looked him over from head to toe. "That's not my name," she informed him, all the while listening to Jorge cackle through the phone.
The new boy, however, either didn't hear or just didn't care, "For the sanctity of all that is holy, I challenge you to a Duel!"
"Kick his ass, babe!" Jorge's voice cheered just before the line was disconnected. Pulling her phone away from her ear and looking down at the now black screen with a scowl, Reyna silently thanked Jorge for being absolutely zero help.
Pocketing her phone, Reyna raised her gaze to the boy in front of her and asked, "Who the hell are you?" What was with today? First that fresh faced Andrew fellow appearing out of nowhere and now this freckle faced ginger. Where were they all coming from?
"Ian McClean," the redhead said proudly, puffing out his chest a bit and squaring his shoulders. Reyna didn't know what his problem with her was, but from the challenging glint shining through his eyes, she knew he wasn't going to go away anytime soon. Ian opened his mouth to continue speaking and she had to force her eyes not to roll into the back of her head. "Apprentice to Sorceress Mariah Singleton!"
Reyna frowned. Mariah Singleton was an Illinois Sorceress; one of Dunstan's colleagues. She represented the fifteenth district, the largest in the state. She was a kind, dark skinned black woman in her mid thirties, always smiling and offering to help wherever she could, and, as far as Reyna knew, had no quarrel with Dunstan. In fact, Reyna didn't think she had a quarrel with anyone. Ever. So why did her Apprentice?
"Okay," Reyna said slowly, crossing her arms over her chest and cocking her head to the side, "so what do you want with me?"
He took a step forward, sneering down at her as he said, "I've heard all about you since arriving in Salem. You're a disgrace," he spat out. "You and your Master." His face was turning redder with every word. "Colluding with Fae, summoning Devils," he scoffed, "you're even on the Vampire Queen's payroll. You two are reeking of dark magic and heresy. I don't know why no one's done anything about it yet-if this were the Academy you'd have been tossed on your asses ages ago-but I'm here now, and things are gonna change."
Cocky son of a witch, he was. Ignorant, too. Reyna hated ignorance above all else, but she wasn't about to get into a fight because of it. Clucking her tongue, she regarded Ian coolly, "You're new to the Play Ground, Ian, so let me give you a little tip: don't start out challenging the most powerful Mages. You're only gonna get your ass handed to you and made a fool of." She shrugged, "Maybe start off Dueling Katya over there," she gestured with her chin towards a young girl, no older than ten, with white blonde hair and large brown eyes. Katya smiled widely, proud to have been picked out from the crowd. "It's her first year here as well."
Ian's eyes narrowed dangerously, "Are you implying that I'm no better at magic than a little girl?"
Reyna's green eyes flashed, "Well that was rude," she sighed. "You're definitely not gonna make any friends with that attitude." Looking over at Katya again, she asked her, "What do you think, Katya? Think you can take him?"
Katya, whose pale face had turned tomato red with indignation and whose small fingers had curled into fists, confidently said, "Easy." Reyna hummed and gave her a wink. She liked Katya. She had the temper of a fire cracker and a tongue well practiced in Hex. She'd be a powerful Sorceress one day.
Ian didn't even look Katya's way. His eyes remained on his target, like how a dog might watch his treat. "I, Ian McClean, challenge you, Reyna Dunstan, to a Duel." He grounded out, "Do you accept?"
"That's not my name," she said again, slowly, with her teeth barred. "And no, I do not." She turned away from him, not caring that his face was turning purple or that his shoulders had raised up to his ears. She caught some disgruntled chatter from the peanut gallery, but she didn't care about that, either. "I don't deal with cherub faced greenhorns. You're not worth my time."
Reyna had taken a total of five steps away from Ian when he shouted, "I'll pray for you, Reyna Dunstan! I'll pray that you see the light and I'll pray that your piece of shit Master is thrown into the bowels of Hell where he and his dark magic belong!"
Eyebrow twitching, Reyna turned around to face Ian again, and she provoked, "Call Dunstan a piece of shit one more time. I dare you." She was baiting him. It was so obvious, even the peanut gallery grew quiet and took a few steps back. And yet this boy, this greenhorn, couldn't help himself.
"James Dunstan is a piece of shit," he spat on the ground, "and a disgrace to everything the House stands for, and should be put down like the rabid dog he is before he contaminates the mind of any more innocent youths!"
Fuck it, Reyna thought, and growled, "Challenge accepted!" The air around them crackled with energy only a Duel could produce and several sharp breaths were heard around her. A few people hollered and whooped as well, but Reyna's green eyes narrowed in on her prey and nothing would distract her from it.
She didn't hesitate, and she gave Ian no time to prepare. Reaching out with one arm, she curled her fingers into a fist and called on the Earth's gravity, thickening it, pulling on it, making it stronger, heavier around the red headed boy and forcing him to his knees. With her other hand, she waved it counterclockwise around her head. The ground around them hissed and smoked, then erupted with orange flames reaching knee high, circling the two Apprentices-keeping them within the ring and the others out. Reyna didn't want any interruptions. Someone gasped, someone screamed, and someone tried to take a step closer to the flames.
When they got close enough, the flames turned blue and rose even higher, forcing the curious Mage back several feet in fear. No one was getting in or out of the Dueling Ring without Reyna's permission.
Ian tried to force himself back up, tried to fight against her gravitational hold, but Reyna tightened her fist, forcing him lower to the ground. He gagged, saliva dripping from his mouth in waves, but Reyna didn't let up. "Listen here, you little greenhorn, because I am not gonna repeat myself. When someone tells you no to a Duel, you let them go. You don't call after them, trying to piss them off. Second, My name is not Reyna Dunstan. Call me that one more time and I'll hex you so badly your ancestors will feel the sting. Thirdly, if you have a problem with Dunstan, then take it up with him. Not me, got it?"
Uncurling her fist, Reyna released her hold on gravity and Ian fell onto his back, gasping for air. His chest heaved up and down as his body tried desperately to regain its bearings. The flames surrounding them still burned brightly, though. The Duel was not yet finished. It hadn't even really begun.
"What are the stakes?" Reyna asked, unbothered by Ian's pathetic attempts to stand up. He faltered once, but, to his credit, made it to his feet. "What do I get when I win?"
Ian wiped the saliva off his mouth with the back of his hand and sneered, "If you win, you mean."
"No," Reyna cocked her head. This boy just wasn't catching on to the learning curve, was he? "I don't."
"If I win," Ian said, ignoring her and finally standing up straight. His breaths were still shallow, still too fast, but he was talking, so he wasn't too banged up. "You give up dark magic forever."
"And when I win?" She pushed, crossing her arms again.
"What do you want?" Several people held their breaths. Katya's laugh rang throughout the Play Ground. He really knew nothing, if he was giving her the naming rights to a stake. Duels on the Play Ground were meant to be a learning experience for the Apprentices. It gave them opportunities to challenge their abilities. Usually the stakes were simple, like for candy, allowance money, or maybe a dare. Not this time, though. She could choose anything. His exile, his death, anything she wanted, she'd get. Those were the rules.
Smirking, Reyna replied, "I want you to give up your Apprenticeship and go back to whatever backwater magic academy Mariah found you in."
"Deal." The flames flashed blue as the terms of the Duel were finalized.
Cocky son of witch, Reyna thought again. Cocky, or just stupid. Ian went on the offensive. He summoned a gust of wind, pushing out both his hands, palms facing Reyna. The strength of the wind was impressive, definitely above average in terms of summoning, but Reyna had just been to the Appalachians. The winds there had howled.
Spreading her legs further apart and bending her knees ever so slightly, Reyna lowered her center of gravity and charged her magic straight down into the Earth, anchoring her against the harsh winds whipping past her. The flames around them flickered beneath the strain of the wind, but just like Reyna, once Ian's spell ended, they were still there, ready for round two.
"Where did you say you went to school?" Reyna asked, side stepping his next attack, a small fissure splitting the Earth beneath her feet. It would have been threatening, if it didn't move three miles per hour.
Ian's face was turning purple again with exertion. His hands were trembling a bit as he moved this way and that, putting everything he had into his spells and summons. "Thomas Charter," he stated proudly, puffing out his chest again. The reminder of his alma mater stirred up a second wind within him. And again he attacked. This time roots from the ground beneath Reyna's feet sprung up and corded themselves around her body. They bound her hands and ankles together, wrapped around her neck, giving her airways a tight squeeze, and lassoued her torso, pulling her to her knees.
The peanut gallery gasped, but Reyna's smirk was still planted firmly on her face. "How does it feel," Ian asked, "being brought to your knees?" The root around her neck gave another squeeze, forcing the air from her body. "Maybe now you'll begin to repent?"
Just because she couldn't speak, didn't mean Ian would no longer hear her.
"Thomas Charter," she projected her voice into his head, making him flinch, "has failed you."
"What?" He hissed through his teeth. He tightened the roots around her, making it extremely hard for Reyna to breath. "You're just mad because I've won!"
Quirking a brow, she asked, "Have you heard me call 'Uncle'?" Ian's upper lip twitched, his white teeth flashing. "No, and you never will. I'm going to win this Duel because of one very important reason."
"And what is that?" His eyes were turning wide, his fear beginning to saturate the air around them. His hands were still trembling as he secured his hold on the roots entrapping her. Suspicion seeped into his thoughts, causing him to doubt his abilities and his upper hand. Good. He was getting closer to that learning curve.
"I had a better teacher." Fire erupted from Reyna's hands and curled its way across the wooden roots, turning them into charred crisps and weakening their hold. Rolling her neck and stretching her arms, the remains of the roots, now grey and ashy, flaked away with the barest of movement. Standing up, Reyna overlooked her clothes, brushing away any leftover ash, "Did you know that fire used to be considered dark magic?" Her tone was calm, casual, but Ian still turned pale and looked like he might wet himself.
"Lots of things were, actually," she continued. Ian tried to regain control of the situation by wildly waving his right arm to the side. Reyna felt a small tug on her body as his magic tried to fling her away from him, but she easily brushed his magic away with her own. "Stars, birds, medicine, the human body," she side stepped, blocked, and redirected all his attacks while she spoke. "All were considering dangerous and dark at one point or another, in one culture or another."
"And do you want to know the truth about dark magic, Ian McClean?" He was breathing heavily again. He was running himself ragged, trying to summon more and more magic from the Earth that energized them. Raising a hand, Reyna snapped her fingers, and everything faded away. Everyone, everything, the Play Ground, their fellow Apprentices, the ground beneath their feet, the sky high above them, it all disappeared and all that was left was blackness.
Ian's breathing turned sharp and shallow, two seconds away from a panic attack. He turned this way and that, trying to right himself, trying to find something beyond the darkness; someone besides Reyna. But it was no use. Reyna's magic encompassed them, cocooned them in a shell of darkness with no escape. "The thing about dark magic," Reyna continued, taking a step towards him and closing the gap between them. "Is that everything, everything, Ian, is dark when you know nothing about it. And everything will stay that way until you," she snapped her fingers again, "turn on a light."
Stars, small and bright and blinding, lit up across the darkness, turning it into a iridescent, beautiful, night's sky. Ian's chest stopped heaving, his breaths stopped. His eyes, once wide with fear were now wide with awe and wonder. His jaw dropped open as he turned his head this way and that, looking at the constellations and their steady light and the shooting stars in their blazing glory.
"Educate yourself, Ian," Reyna's voice broke through his stupor. He blinked, and looked back at her. "Or else it'll be you who's stuck in the dark." Another snap, and the spell was broken and the two Apprentices were once again in the Play Ground. Flinging her arm out, Reyna's magic hurtled towards Ian and propelled him away from her, past the steady orange flames, and out of the Dueling Ring.
Ian landed on his back with a small "Oof," and Reyna followed after him. The fire surrounding them died out, signifying the end of the Duel.
Stepping past the line of burned grass, Reyna walked past Ian without another glance. She hoped she'd never see that freckled face of his again. He was an eyesore she could live without.
The peanut gallery parted before her like the red sea before Moses as she made her way back to the Capitol. Adrenaline pumping through her blood, she opened the door to the building with a bit more force and bit more dramatically than was strictly necessary.
Marcus's head snapped up as she walked through the aisle towards Dunstan, his dark brown eyes overflowing once more with concern. She nodded to him once, telling him she was alright and everything was fine. His lips pursed, but he still nodded back. She'd tell him about it later, anyway.
Falling into her seat with an echoing thunk, Reyna saw that Andrew was no longer addressing the House. Now, standing before Keeper Johnson, was Eileen Applegate; Sorceress of Washington's second district.
"Discover anything?" Dunstan asked, once again keeping his eyes straight ahead. Though the glaze of obsession has disappeared from them, his eyes were still sharp.
Reyna shrugged and, with just a hint of a satisfied smile,said, "Sorceress Singleton's gonna need to find a new Apprentice."
Dunstan's brows rose, and he blinked. Once. Twice. Finally he turned and gave his Apprentice his full attention. His dark, hawk-like eyes took in her flushed skin, triumphant grin, and he felt the residual crackling of magical energy surrounding her. Dunstan smiled wide, showing his teeth in a pure predatorial manner, and said, "Good."
A/N: How'd you like it?
I've been working on this for a few weeks now, trying to make sure it flowed nicely and set most things up properly. Hopefully I can get the second chapter together a bit faster than the first, but don't be surprised if updates are few and far between. But don't worry if that's a case because tbh I don't think this story will ever die for me.
Please leave a review and let me know what you thought of this. Did you like it? What did you like? Was something problematic? If you read the original, did you like the changes? Did you notice something wrong that's easily fixed? I edited this before posting (which I plan to do from here on out, so don't let me get lazy, you guys!) so if you noticed a grammar error that makes your head scream let me know pronto!