Mad Magic is a beautifully dark and rich Young Adult fantasy from Nicole Conway, bestselling author of the Dragonrider Chronicles.
Josie Barton is a high school student living in terror. Invisible creatures torment her everywhere she goes, constantly getting her into trouble at school, and even haunting her apartment. But just when Josie thinks things couldn’t get any worse … she meets the guy from across the hall.
Zeph Clemmont is a changeling with enemies in all the worst places, fighting to undo a curse that threatens to end his life. Survival means he will have to swallow his pride and trust Josie with all his darkest secrets.
With the help of a gunslinging shaman and the enigmatic Prince of Nightmares, Zeph and Josie are only a heartbeat away from defeating one of the most diabolical faerie villains their world has ever known.
About the Author
Nicole Conway is a former freelance graphic artist for promotional companies and is now a full-time writer. She enjoys hiking, camping, shopping, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends. She is the author of the Dragonrider Chronicles. She lives in Valdosta, Georgia.
Erin Moon is a professional actor and an AudioFile Earphones Award–winning narrator of over 150 novels. She lives and records in beautiful Vancouver, Canada.
Read an Excerpt
I wanted today to be a normal, quiet day. I wanted to go to school, take my tests, turn in my homework, eat lunch, and walk home without any major catastrophes. But, as usual, that was too much to ask.
I, Josie Barton, could not do normal.
So, for the third time this week, I sat in Ms. Grear's office. She glared at me over the top of her thick-framed glasses, but I knew better than to meet her gaze. Instead, I focused on the glass nameplate on her desk. It had the words School Counselor engraved on it.
Ms. Grear didn't like me. None of the faculty did. I saw it in the way they watched me with smoldering, disapproving glares. I got the sense from all of them that they were trying to figure out what, exactly, was wrong with me.
That question was getting harder and harder for me to answer these days.
For starters, I was a "problem student," a troublemaker, prone to outbursts at the worst possible moments. I caused scenes in my classes — like I had today. It used to only happen every now and then. But lately, it seemed to be happening more and more often, and I couldn't do anything to stop it.
I didn't blame the teachers for getting fed up with me. I was pretty fed up, too. I certainly didn't want to be this way. I mean, who actually wants to be crazy? I practically had a reserved seat outside the principal's office. I was really on a roll this week.
"Well, Josie, I'm not sure what you expect me to do with you anymore." Ms. Grear spoke in a vicious, bitter tone.
I wasn't sure how to answer her, or even if I should try. Ms. Grear already thought I was totally out of my mind, after all, and had let me know that many times before. She'd even said I was a waste of the school system's valuable resources — but of course, not in those exact words. She'd phrased it very professionally. Something about how I was "wasting time that hard-working teachers could have spent on other students who actually appreciated it."
It was hard to hear stuff like that. But what hurt the most wasn't how they looked at me, or even the things they said. The absolute worst thing was the fact that I was so incredibly alone.
"It's been three years since the incident, and I feel that we have all been very considerate of your situation. We've given you plenty of time and space to deal with your personal issues. But, you've become a major distraction to the other students. You won't take your medications. You insist on disrupting every class you attend." Ms. Grear leaned back in her chair. The metal hinges on the seat creaked like they were screaming in pain under her weight. "Sooner or later, you are going to have to start taking responsibility for your outbursts."
"Yes, ma'am." I was hoping agreeing with her would save me from hearing this speech again.
Ms. Grear narrowed her eyes dangerously. Her mouth pinched up, and for a few terrifying seconds, she looked like an angry Buddha statue. Then she started raking through the papers in her desk drawers.
"I have been trying to offer this suggestion to your legal guardian, but since he is so difficult to get in touch with, I will give it to you instead." She shot me another accusing glare. "Be sure you pass it on to him."
I cringed instinctively and managed to nod.
She finally pulled a pamphlet out of a drawer and handed it to me. "Davner's is a school for mentally unstable children, like you. They take in students who can't function in normal society. It's a nice place. You'll like it. They'll keep you on the proper medications and give you the structure and constant attention you obviously require. You can make friends with other children who have the same issues you do. This school comes very highly recommended, and they will know exactly how to manage you."
I carefully took the pamphlet from her, handling it as though it might be explosive. There was a picture of an old-looking brick building on the front flap. Inside, there were lots of pictures of smiling nurses, pristinely clean classrooms, and happy-looking teenagers all hugging each other. I only skimmed the text, but the words schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and sociopathic tendencies caught my eye right away.
My stomach began to get queasy.
I looked back up at her, mustering all my courage to try and argue my case. "But I don't want to transfer. I'm supposed to graduate soon. I can finish out the year. I just have to try harder. It's only a few months."
As Ms. Grear folded her chubby hands on the veneer desk, her thick fingers reminded me of pudgy, pink sausages. "Well, to be perfectly honest, you are on everyone's last nerve. Here at Saint Augustine's, we have standards. We have the highest test scores in the district. We are the most coveted private school in the city. Everyone else looks to us to set the bar, even when it comes to dealing with troubled students. I've already met with the rest of faculty, and we are all in agreement that this is the best option for you. All the paperwork is in order. All we need is the signature of your legal guardian. What was his name? Ben?"
I looked up again only because of the distinct flavor of sarcasm in her voice. She was grinning. It wasn't hard to imagine her with little horns and a pitchfork to match her evil smirk.
I wasn't sure what she thought was going on, but I knew she didn't think Ben was real. Even I doubted his existence sometimes, so I could understand why she might think I was making him up. He was barely in my life at all; just a spectator on the sidelines who stepped in every now and again when there was a problem I couldn't fix on my own. Beyond that, he was a shadow.
Maybe that was why I felt so isolated.
After my dad passed away in a house fire three years ago, I was completely alone in the world. I was fourteen then, so I couldn't legally be left on my own. I didn't have any extended relatives — no uncles, cousins, or grandparents who could take me in. My mom had died when I was really little, and my older brother not long after that. The only person still standing there after the funeral was over and the dust had settled was a mysterious figure that called himself my benefactor; I called him Ben for short. It sounded better than "Random Stranger Who Pays My Bills," since I didn't know his real name.
He wasn't a relative. In fact, I had never even seen his face. Right after my dad passed away, I was sent into foster care for several weeks while the police investigated the fire. During that time, a lawyer in a snazzy, black suit had come to visit me at the hospital. He had all the right paperwork with my dad's signature naming Ben as my new legal guardian, but all of it was sealed and beyond my understanding. It was like something from a mob movie.
Before I knew it, I was sitting in a fully furnished apartment with all that remained of my family's belongings that hadn't been burned to a crisp. I had a credit card in my wallet, and an acceptance letter to an expensive private school called Saint Augustine's. What else could a teenage girl ask for?
Answers, for starters. But those were hard to come by.
Apparently, my dad had made these arrangements for Ben to take care of me a long time ago, if anything bad were to happen. Ben was supposed to support me until I turned eighteen, and then I wasn't sure what would happen to me. I suspected I'd be left on my own to either sink or swim. For now, Ben took care of everything. He paid my rent and all my expenses. I had a credit card I could use for groceries and anything else I needed. Occasionally, we exchanged emails or text messages. But as far as communication went, that was where Ben drew the line. He never answered the phone when I called, and had never agreed to meet me — not even for holidays.
Ms. Grear talked me into circles about him all the time, like she was trying to catch me in a lie. She knew as much about him as I did. He didn't answer the phone when she called either. He had, however, sent her emails that she claimed sounded "youthfully voiced," which I guessed meant she was accusing me of writing them instead. In a few months, it wouldn't matter — I was about to graduate and turn eighteen. After that, I would be able to make all my own decisions, and wouldn't be anyone's burden to bear. I could move somewhere else, meet new people, and make a clean start.
I tried clinging to that idea as I looked back up at Ms. Grear. She scared me. She must have known she did because she always made a big show of it when she took me out of class for meetings like this. I think she liked watching me squirm as I sat across from her. Honestly, I was just trying to keep it all together. Meanwhile, her beady little eyes watched my every move, the corner of her mouth twitching with a sneer.
"I'll give him a call when I get home," I promised.
She scoffed and rolled her eyes, as if she couldn't believe I was still trying to keep up this charade. "Fine. You're dismissed." She jabbed an angry finger toward her door.
I gathered my backpack and hurried out of her office. The hallways were filled with students all dressed in school uniforms like mine — white button-down shirts, navy-blue knit sweaters, and blue plaid skirts or pants. We weren't allowed to wear makeup or excessive jewelry. I think it was to prevent anyone from feeling superior, like we were all equals or something. It didn't stop cliques from forming, though. There were the bookish kids, the popular and pretty ones, the athletes, and the gamers like at any other school.
Of course, I didn't have a niche. I didn't have any friends here at all. I was a pariah — thanks to my numerous outbursts — and it wasn't unusual for a room to clear whenever I entered.
It still hurt.
I intentionally avoided making eye contact with anyone as I dropped my books in my locker. The inside of my backpack still smelled like smoke from my last episode in chemistry class. I had been in the lab, paired up with one of the more popular girls to do an experiment. We were mixing chemicals, and things seemed to be going well. I had been trying my best to act as normal as possible, and she had been unusually nice to me, too. Like an idiot, I had begun to hope I might make a friend.
Then it happened again.
I was attempting to light the Bunsen burner to heat one of the chemicals when the flames flickered strangely. They flickered and danced, turning blue, pink, and purple. They'd moved almost like they were coming alive. I turned away and tried not to see; I'd always hoped it would go away if I ignored it. Then I saw the flames begin to take form — the shape of a fiery hand — and reach for my lab partner's ponytail. I screamed and dove at her, knocking her out of the way before her hair caught on fire.
Of course, no one else had seen the fire turn into a hand. All they had seen was me screaming and throwing myself at a perfectly innocent lab partner. The Chemistry teacher grabbed me by the collar and dragged me out of the lab while all my classmates watched. They stared at me with wide-eyed, shocked expressions — I got that look from them a lot. Some of the boys in the back snickered and I noticed a few of the other girls going over to console my former lab partner.
So much for making a friend.
I tried not to dwell on it too much as I left the school and walked home alone. I had other, much worse things I should have been worried about. But my thoughts got tangled up in Ms. Grear's words about transferring to a special school. Maybe she was right. Maybe things would be easier at a place like that. At least then I wouldn't have to live in that apartment anymore ...
It was freezing outside. The sidewalks were slick with ice and soggy slush puddles. Fortunately, my apartment was only a few blocks away so I didn't have to walk far. Ben had put me as close as possible to the school so I could get back and forth easily, which was especially useful when the weather was bad.
My apartment was right smack in the middle of the historic part of the city, where doctors and lawyers usually moved to retire. The buildings were all neatly huddled together on either side of the street, tall and skinny like different colored puzzle pieces. Some had small, perfectly-manicured gardens out front and iron fences with elaborate gates. There was a line of square-cut shrubs down the middle of the divided street, and a few blocks away was a collection of quaint shops and a family owned grocery store. It was everything you might need conveniently within walking distance.
I should have been grateful. Ben had given me a beautiful, quiet, and seemingly safe place to live. Instead, I felt guilty because the sight of it filled me with dread. Once I crossed the threshold of my front door, things always got worse.
Not that Ben had any idea about that. For all he knew, I was perfectly happy there. The rent was probably outrageous, and he was the one paying for it. I'd already tried asking if I could move somewhere less expensive. I didn't mind walking longer or even taking the bus. Every time I brought it up, Ben insisted I should focus on my schoolwork and "enjoy my high school experience."
It was bad enough spending a stranger's money, but what made it even worse was despite everything he'd given me, I wanted something more from Ben. I wanted to know him. I was lonely, and he was the only person in the whole world who cared about me even a little, teensy, tiny bit. I had apologized to him plenty of times for being a burden, and he always replied right away to tell me it was his pleasure and privilege to take care of me. Those words never made me feel any better, though. Words on a computer screen weren't very comforting. Frankly, they were cold, distant, and impersonal. I was still desperately clinging to the hope that one day he would allow us to meet, and I'd see someone smile at me again as though they were happy to see me.
I tried not to dwell on that as I climbed the icy front steps of my building, gripping the iron railing so I didn't slip. It looked as if it had originally been built to be a colonial townhouse, but now, the top two floors had been converted into two apartments per level.
The landlord, Mr. Bregger, lived on the first floor. There were two other tenants living there besides me. One was a sweet elderly lady who lived alone on the second floor. She was deaf, and always smiled whenever I passed her in the stairwell. Sometimes, when it was a warm day, she sat out on the sofa in the mailroom with her big, fluffy orange cat in her lap.
Then there was the guy who lived directly across the hall from me.
He was standing in the common foyer, casually checking his mail, when I ducked inside. My entrance sent a blast of cold winter air through the foyer, but he never so much as shivered. I slipped off my mittens and scarf, hurrying to close the door before all the warm, inside air escaped. I made a lot of racket, most of it intentional, and he still didn't give me a single glance. He never did.
I shuffled right past him to check my own mail.
He didn't say a word.
Maybe that shouldn't have bothered me. After all, he looked exactly like the kind of person your parents might advise you to intentionally avoid while walking home alone. His shaggy, dark brown hair came down almost to his shoulders, and there were colorful-tattooed sleeves covering both of his beautifully sculpted arms. Even if tattoos weren't usually my thing, his were amazing. They were brightly colored and riddled with rich, intricate details of flowers, vines, feathers, fish, and splashes of water. I blatantly stole glances of them whenever I spotted him wearing something sleeveless.
Creepy? Probably, but I couldn't help myself. Something about him drove me absolutely nuts, and the fact that he seemed to be intentionally ignoring my existence made it even worse.
He'd moved in here a couple of months ago, and at first glance I wondered what someone like that was doing living in a place like this. But the more I saw of him, the more my brain bubbled with mystification. Who was this guy? Why was he living here, when he could have moved to one of the trendier neighborhoods downtown?
Excerpted from "Mad Magic"
Copyright © 2017 Nicole Conway.
Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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