‘Matlock Academy’ is an in-progress six book series following Anastasie Leonov as she fights to survive the unrelenting pressures of Senior School (in her world, from the ages of 17-22). It is set in a supernatural boarding school and is aimed at YA/NA audiences.
My notes for the series are fast becoming more extensive than is probably necessary (although, it is a lot of fun), and I’ve had the mad idea to turn them into a bit of an encyclopaedia at some point. It may well be that I’ll have more encyclopaedia than story!
Below, you can read the blurb and first chapter.
Book 1: First Kiss*
Things to do on your first day of Senior Firsts at Matlock Academy:
- Make sure uniform is ready
- Remember all your books
- Get designated a good, family-approved House
- Make friends
- Kill boyfriend…
The last thing seventeen-year-old Ana expected to do was kill her boyfriend on the first day of school. But, really, the guy had it coming. And, so she also didn’t get into Dragul House? At least it wasn’t Kajalna; it could have been worse.
So, of course, between unleashing a darkness Ana tries to keep hidden and the very fine form of a Thirds wolfen-shade, Lucien St Pierre, things do indeed get worse.
Gairou House’s Alpha since sixteen, nineteen-year-old Lucien is not the sort of guy a respectable future senator should be day-dreaming about. Yet, Ana can’t get him off her mind. The fights in the Matlock Academy Pit are anything but tame and Ana’s the only one who can beat him.
With a new target on her back and an increasingly weird connection to a lonely Fifths boy, Ana will be lucky to get through Firsts with her life.
Excerpt: Chapter One
A hint of magic was in the air.
The kind of hint that slapped you across the cheek and shook your arms while it yelled in your face like a screaming toddler. The kind of hint that made your senses heady like you’d drunk too much ambrosia. The kind of hint that felt like a freight-train had just ploughed through your body.
Ana leant forward, resting her elbows on the rail in front of her, ready to watch the display in the Pit. The air sizzled with static and magic and shouts, both cheers and boos, as the eighty students walked into the Pit. Leia nudged Ana enthusiastically and she gave her friend an excited smile; they’d spent the last seventeen years of their lives hearing about their first Senior day at Matlock Academy and, so far, it was not disappointing.
The Headmistress stood up and called for some semblance of silence.
“Welcome to the new year, students. We welcome back our Seconds to Sixths, and those of you who started with us in Intermediate, and we welcome those first-time Senior Firsts. Before the Intermediate Combats, we will see our Seniors face off. After our displays from the Sixths to Seconds, we will invite our Senior Firsts into the Pit for their House Designation Trial. And, of course, after that, our combat winners from each year will face off for a bit of year-start fun and shenanigans.” There was a huge cheer. “Hopefully someone can knock Lupoi off his streak!” Some laughs and the Headmistress waved her hands around. “Senior Sixths you will start us off; fight well and with honour.”
A guy with bright green hair to the Headmistress’ side flourished a mallet a little unnecessarily and smacked a gong with an enthusiasm that surprised Ana. That seemed all the sign the students in the Pit needed as they crashed together in a confusion of melee. The guy with the gong commentated as though the whole school wasn’t watching avidly, and with more glee than Ana thought he should have. She’d expected him to be Gairou, but when she looked closer she saw he was dressed in Melchion blue and gold.
A little over an hour later, the red and black clad irin-shade called down a strike of lightning and the faelen-shade in dark grey and silver barely rolled out of the way in time. The students in the arena seats booed or cheered, depending on whose side they were on, but they were loud.
They were the last two students left from the Sixths. The rest had been carted out of the Pit welcomed well by death. But, the life-dome ensured no wound inflicted on the first day of the year would result in a permanently dead student; it would not do well for the school to lose a student on the first day, but how else would they test the extreme limits of the students? So, anyone who died under the life-dome was easily healed and easily revived that one day of the year.
The irin-shade’s white wings burst out and he barely pulled his leg away from the snaking vine that was coming for him as he soared upwards. But, the faelen-shade wasn’t being deterred. The tiny purple-haired faelen-shade with a wicked grin threw her arm up and the branches followed him. Just as Ana thought surely the faelen-shade would run out of oomph, the branches curled around the irin-shade’s ankle and yanked him downwards. He beat his wings once, twice, and Ana thought he was going to get away. But, while he was worried about his ankle, another branch snaked up behind him.
A few students in different colours in the arena seating yelled out to him. He managed to turn just fast enough that the branch stabbed straight through his heart and out through his back. A slightly darker patch spread across the red of the irin-shade’s shirt as his wings flapped once more, then he fell to the ground with an audible thump and the dirt fluffed up around his prostate body. The boos were louder than the cheers and Ana wasn’t surprised; when it came down to any fight between Dragul and Gairou, three houses would be supporting the Dragul while only other Gairous supported the Gairou.
The grey and silver clad Gairou section of the crowd were on their feet and they were louder than the other three quarters of the school combined. The red and black draped Draguls were also on their feet, but they were pissed. Ana watched as they pointed and argued and screamed at the faelen-shade who was strutting around the Pit while dragging the irin-shade’s body like a puppet behind her, his body impaled on branches.
The gong sounded again and there was a short gap while the medics got the irin-shade off the branches and onto a stretcher. A few other Gairous jumped into the Pit and triumphantly carried the faelen-shade out as well. It may have been supposed to be a year-level demonstration, but House spirit trumped year-levels in the Seniors. Actually, from everything Ana had heard, House spirit trumped everything in Seniors.
Once the blood of the Sixths was cleaned up, it was the Fifths turn. Ana watched, horrified and indignant, as the whole class seemed to descend on a poor green and orange clad Kajalna boy with dark black hair. He did nothing to fight back, his frame gaunt and hunched like he was used to hiding, but merely waited for the killing strike as though he knew it was coming. As he went down and the others fought amongst each other, Ana felt sick and couldn’t take her eyes off his body until she lost sight of it.
After almost seventy minutes, there was only a meren-shade and an irin-shade left amongst an awful lot more blood than came out of the Sixths. Their fight went longer, both being clad in the blue and gold of Melchion. But, the irin-shade finally won as he snapped the neck of his house-mate.
The Fourths display took a little less than an hour and was proper brutal. It was won by a blood-soaked Gairou vampen-shade who had ripped out the throats of every one of her opponents. Her final opponent had been a Dragul magi girl almost twice her height. As with the Sixths display, the Gairous were the only ones pleased with the vampen-shade’s victory. This time, even the Melchions were on their feet, yelling at the Headmistress for unfair play. Ana wasn’t sure how it was supposed to be unfair play; it was a fight to the death, surely whoever didn’t die had to be the winner?
The Fourths were cleaned up and the Thirds took their place.
“And, now the year we’ve all been waiting for. The Thirds!” the guy with the gong cried like a boxing announcer. “This year-level hasn’t seen any winner but Lucien ‘Lupoi’ St Pierre since he arrived in Intermediate Firsts eight years ago! Will this be the year he’s finally beaten?”
The Gairous in the crowd yelled even louder than they had the whole day and a giant wolfen-shade guy nodded to them. It was nothing more in response to his whole house on their feet for him, a mere nod. As she watched, a rippled crossed over Ana. The wolfen-shade exuded a cool, calm, confidence that was nothing short of intimidating. He had dark brown, shaggy hair, but Ana couldn’t see much more than that.
“Is he gorgeous?” Leia hissed in Ana’s ear. “I think he might be gorgeous!”
Ana nudged her. “He’s a Gairou and he looks damned scary. How hot can he be? I am so glad I won’t have to go up against the winners.”
Leia snorted. “Sure you won’t.”
Ana had no chance to reply as the Gong Guy smacked the gong and the battle in the Pit began. As with the Sixths, the Fifths and the Fourths, all the green and orange Kajalnas were the first to go down. Ana wasn’t surprised; the Kajalnas were the healers, they were the medics, they were the least aggressive students in the school, and quite possibly the world.
The remaining Melchion, Dragul and Gairou students faced each other. The crowd was louder and Ana wasn’t surprised, already there was even more blood than the previous three year-levels combined.
Ana watched, somewhat transfixed, as the hulking wolfen-shade proceeded to rip through the rest of his year-level one by one. The medics had tried to get the first of the Kajalnas out of the Pit and this Lucien guy just tore through one without pause; they stopped trying after that.
“And here is where Lupoi shines!” Gong Guy called. “He takes out Ambrose,” the wolfen-shade’s claws ripped through the chest of one vampen-shade, “down goes Greta,” he swiped his arm up and the snap of the lillin-shade’s spine cracked around the arena.
And, he just continued to tear through his class-mates, not seeming to care which House they were in, or what race they were; he just took out whoever was closest until he was the only one left standing, covered head to toe in blood and breathing heavily like he was contemplating leaping into the crowd and killing the lot of them as well.
“And, that had to be a record!” Gong Guy yelled happily. “In a time of twenty-one minutes and forty-two seconds, the Gairou Alpha takes out his entire year-level practically single-handedly!”
The Gairous erupted so loudly that Ana thought her eardrums might burst. The rest of the arena was quiet, almost like they were in a frightened awe of the shaden left standing in the Pit, surrounded by bodies. He’d killed them so fast and so viciously, the medics hadn’t even been willing to risk pulling the bodies out. But, they started now. Anyone who got too close to him earned themselves a snarl.
Ana leant forward and looked more closely at him, not surprised a guy like that was his House Alpha in only Thirds. There’d been rumours in Intermediate at their local Matlock campus about the Gairou Alpha who’d taken the title from his older brother when he was still in Intermediate Sixths. And Intermediate students weren’t even supposed to be eligible for House captaincy; Houses in Intermediate were temporary and merely an easy way of sorting students into smaller, more manageable groups. But, unlike the other Houses, the Gairou Alpha position was taken by the strongest, most vicious student in their House, no matter what year they were in. Another rumour said their current Alpha was more powerful even than their House Master.
“I hear his throwback’s stronger than any other wolfen-shade in history,” Leia whispered as a couple of Gairous were escorted on to warily escort their Alpha off.
“How would you know that?” Ana scoffed, smiling.
Leia grinned wickedly. “Adam talks. Doesn’t Micah talk?”
Ana shrugged. “Not about Gairous who make the tales of full Shades look tame.”
Leia winked. “No, I imagine the two of you are far too busy saying other things to talk about guys like that.”
Ana shoved her best friend as the Seconds came on, then Leia laughed and waved as Micah and Adam came on. Of course, the two boys were too busy to wave to the girls, but Leia kept nudging Ana excitedly and Ana had a hard time keeping the grin off her face.
Ana had started dating Micah almost two years ago when he was Intermediate Sixths and she was Intermediate Fifths. They and a few other magi Ana recognised, including Adam, all went to a local Intermediate school. Micah and Adam had come to Matlock Academy for Senior Firsts and the change had been a little difficult on Ana and Micah’s relationship to begin with, but he got as much leave as he could to see her on weekends and they spent most of the holidays together given their parents lived in the same town.
Ana knew Micah had been training hard all summer for the display; he’d lost out on winning his Firsts combat trial by one opponent and he was determined to win this year.
The gong sounded and Ana lost focus of everything except Micah as he dodged and weaved and blasted his way around the Pit. At some point, Ana gripped Leia’s hand tightly and made a mental note to thank her friend for letting her practically squeeze her fingers off. With every near miss on Micah’s life, Ana’s heart was in her throat and her stomach threatened to evacuate the meagre breakfast she’d forced down.
But, with every opponent that went down, Micah was still standing. Finally, after about two hours, he was facing off against a Melchion vampen-shade. The vampen-shade went for his throat, but Micah blasted the student into fire and her body fell to the ground. When the writhing and screeching stopped, the gong sounded and Ana wasn’t sure if she was proud or sickened by the way Micah had finished her.
Leia was squeezing Ana’s hand just as hard now. “Well, that was…”
“Not what you’d expect from a Dragul…” Ana finished softly.
“Come on Firsts, time to get you ready for your designation trials,” a tutor called.
Ana stood with the other Firsts, tugging on the bottom of her shirt. The Firsts, having not been designated a House yet, were in the basic School sport uniform of black and white. Ana wasn’t delusional enough to expect she’d ever play any sport at School-level, so she highly anticipated that would be the last time she wore it.
The tutor led them down to a tunnel that took them to a waiting room.
“The medics need about ten minutes for clean up, then you’re on,” the tutor said and left the students to themselves.
“You should go find Micah,” Leia said in Ana’s ear.
“We don’t have time!” Ana hissed back.
“Go on, I’ll cover for you if you’re missed.”
They shared a look and Ana couldn’t help returning her friend’s grin.
“Okay.” Ana nodded.
She opened her mind up a little and felt Micah’s brushing up against hers. She’d always been able to sense people once she was close enough to them. The strength was different depending on how well she knew the person and what relationship she had with them. Micah was little more than a sense, but Leia’s mind could practically mesh with Ana’s at the slightest provocation.
Ana followed the direction she could sense Micah. She expected him to be with medics, cleaning up his wounds and getting ready for the winner’s combat. As she pushed open the door to the room, she did not expect to see Micah with his pants around his ankles as he enthusiastically humped the Dragul girl Ana recognised as the one Micah had saved from being bitten by the vampen-shade who came second.
The girl’s eyes were closed and she moaned in a way Ana was sure was fake.
Something shifted in Ana. A chill, then heat flashed through her as her heart rate increased and her skin seemed to crawl. There had always been a part of Ana that she’d tried to ignore, to force down, to hide. It was dark and it was something Ana knew wasn’t right. It whispered things to her as she tried to fall asleep, things that went against everything she’d been brought up to think and act like.
But, it wasn’t hiding now. It wasn’t whispering now.
Now, it was screaming in her chest.
Wind swirled around her and she saw the girl’s eyes snap open.
Micah must have realised something was wrong as he stopped and turned. He looked chastened enough to be caught balls deep in some girl, but when he recognised Ana? Chastened didn’t even begin to cover the look on his face. He didn’t even have time to pull out. Ana waved her hand and flung him across the room, heedless of the absolute apology on his face. He crashed into the wall and the stone cracked with the force.
Micah fell to the ground, his less than impressive erection still on display. But, Ana hadn’t been with him just for his body. Although, at that moment, Ana couldn’t remember why she had been with him…
He scrambled up, pulling up his pants and tidying himself up.
“Ana!” he cried, all at once a question and a plea, and took a step towards her.
She held a hand out and he was pushed back against the wall. She shook her head, having no words for the betrayal she felt. More than that, she was angry with herself for trusting him.
But, he’d been designated Dragul; only the most trustworthy and honest, the most kind and good people were designated Dragul.
Well, it seemed to Ana that someone had made a mistake. Not that they ever did. Students were always designated to the proper House. She supposed that meant not all Draguls were really the most trustworthy and honest, the most kind or good.
And, she could now see why the last year apart had been so easy on him.
“Ana,” Micah said again, his tone all pleading.
Ana shook her head once more, trying desperately not to listen to the darkness inside her, trying to shove it back down. No one could know it was there, it had to stay hidden, stay forgotten; Ana’s life was planned and that darkness had no place there. Ana looked at the girl once more, then back to Micah.
“I hope she was worth it,” Ana said, her tone harder than she’d ever heard it before and the temperature in the room dropped significantly. Ana then put a lock on her mind and her magic and walked back the way she’d come.
Leia saw her and frowned. “What happened?”
Ana couldn’t voice it out loud, so she showed Leia flashes of images in her mind and Ana could feel Leia’s wrath on her best friend’s behalf.
“I will castrate him!” she hissed, almost as vehement as Ana’s voice had been.
Ana shook her head. “No, I’m going to kill him.”
Ana watched Leia pale, but her expression was resolute. “Okay. Good. If you were going to any time, it’d be now.”
Leia was the only one who knew Ana felt like something was off deep inside. Ana had always been a little stronger and a little more crafty in combat training when she let herself, or when she lost control. Once a month, the whole Intermediate had known Ana could be extra volatile. But, Leia had also helped Ana keep a rigid hold on her control over the years to the point where Ana no longer lost control unless she wanted and could even only lose as much control as she wanted. Just enough here to come second in that combat display, a little less there to come in the top five in psychic training. No one needed to know what Ana was capable of compared to her fellow magi.
“Firsts, time to go, please,” the tutor was back and waving them towards the tunnel to the Pit.
Ana, Leia and their seventy-eight classmates went out to the Pit. It was difficult to really hear much more than yelling and the muffled voice of the announcer and Headmistress. But, Ana felt her blood rushing through her body and it roared in her ears. Her skin tingled with anticipation and she decided she wasn’t going to push down the darkness; if she wanted to get back at Micah, she had to win her combat trial.
Vitality thrummed through her, prepping her. She was like the harp and the player was searching for the right string, the right tension. But, they couldn’t find it, they just kept plucking, hoping if they kept trying they’d find what they were looking for. Individual strands tied her to the people around her, to the air, the wind, the earth. Every nerve felt alive and every muscle twitched in readiness to move.
She grinned to Leia, whose eyes shone back at her with humour. “Just be gentle, yeah?” she asked.
Ana smirked. “I’ll let someone else put you down.”
Leia scoffed, “oh, thanks.”
Ana winked at her oldest friend and bounced on her toes to keep warm.
They might not have been able to hear much above a dull roar, but the gong was easily heard. As soon as it went, the Senior Firsts went into combat. It was messy and it was brutal. The meren-shade, silken-shade, faelen-shade, and those other races who tended towards Kajalna fared a little better than their other year-level counterparts, but Ana suspected it was because there were no House colours to aim for.
Ana couldn’t keep a proper eye on those Firsts who weren’t coming for her.
A few of the magi she knew from Intermediate, the rest of the year were completely foreign to her. She was used to meeting throwbacks because her father was a member of the King’s Senate, but she’d never been in such close proximity to so many, and she didn’t think any of them had really wanted to kill her before.
She ducked under the claws of a wolfen-shade and blasted her backwards. From the other direction, she noticed a body coming towards her. Barely thinking about it, she called down rain, concentrating it and aiming the floating block of water towards the throwback. Almost too late, she realised it was a meren-shade and re-directed the water to an irin-shade. The block of water enveloped them as Ana threw fire at a vampen-shade. She pressed her hand against the leathery wings of a lillin-shade, freezing them to the point they shattered. Ana didn’t let go of the block of water until the irin-shade was dead. Water flowed across the Pit causing shaden to slip and splash around before it was soaked into the dirt along with the blood.
A branch came out of nowhere and snagged Ana’s wrist. She was jerked backwards and felt thorns dig into her skin. She threw herself backwards as another came for her face and narrowly dodged a lightning bolt from one side and was clipped on the cheek by an ice spear from the other. Ana took a deep breath, forcing the darkness from invading her vision.
Anger rose up in her. Anger at Micah, at the pain in her wrist and cheek, at herself for not controlling that festering darkness in her soul.
She ripped her arm from the branch, grabbing the end of it in one smooth motion and flung it through the heart of the faelen-shade who’d ensnared her. She then threw an ice spear back at the magi who’d nicked her cheek. Finally, for the irin-shade with the lightning bolt, she lifted them up and snapped their spine in mid-air, turning her focus to the next opponent before the body had hit the ground.
She had no idea where Leia was, but the class had to be down to about three-quarters. She’d thought watching the displays had been brutal, that was nothing compared to being down here. She heard very little past the screaming of students around her as they were ripped apart or stabbed; when they had to create their own weapons, there was only so much innovation among the races.
Most of the magi and faelen-shade wielded staffs they’d created themselves. The vampen-shade and wolfen-shade relied on their teeth and claws. The meren-shade veered into siren territory at times, luring their prey in before striking with teeth or nails or water. Others relied on air, fire, ice, earth. Ana just barely managed to avoid being pulled under the earth with three unfortunate shaden, needing to propel herself upwards with more magic than she’d used before for such a simple move.
She stumbled when she landed as someone manipulated the ground under them all and felt the point of something go through her leg. She looked down and frowned as she saw a bone. She had no idea whose bone it was, but she was super pissed that it had been used as a weapon; fact was, using one student to kill another was just rude. She pulled the bone out and dropped it to the floor.
Ana lost track of time and the amount of wounds she took and inflicted in the mass of confusion. It really did seem like a completely ridiculous way to designate their houses. She had no idea how the tutors could track them all well enough to determine where they belonged. Still, she’d never heard of any student being designated wrong in the thousand years or so the school had been running in various forms, so it had to work.
She felt her strength depleting faster than it ever had. But, then she’d never had to fight against seventy-nine other shaden to the death. She had expected that the life-dome would have made some difference on the viciousness of her classmates, but this was ridiculous.
Then again, she had to remind herself that she’d only ever fought against magi, who were notoriously the weakest of the Shaden races. There were various throwbacks who were more passive, and the trait ran through certain races more than others, but that didn’t make them inherently weaker.
Wolfen-shade were the most vicious and Ana wasn’t surprised when three cornered her; they were predominantly pack animals and worked better in groups. She heard screams above her, but didn’t have time to register if they were pleased or not that she was being backed up against the wall of the Pit. She looked around and saw very little chance to get past them.
Well, she’d have to take them out at some point.
Ana took a couple of steps forward, flipped her legs up so her foot connected with one of the wolfen-shade’s jaw, and pulled her body up quickly. She got enough height that she landed on the rail over-looking the Pit. Dark grey and silver clad arms went to grab her, but she kicked the owners in the faces before blasting the rest of them back. Her head went light and she saw she’d pushed back a fair section of the Gairou crowd, who were trying desperately to disentangle themselves from each other and the bleachers.
She was about to turn when she felt hands around her arms and she was being lifted upwards. She looked up to find an irin-shade grinning down at her, his snow-white wings flapping effortlessly behind him.
“You impress, little magi. But, let’s see you survive this.”
They fought and Ana was sure, if her rib hadn’t been cracked before, it was now.
He went to smack her in the face. Ana took a deep breath in and twisted her body around so she was behind him. Between one flap and the next, she fired up her muscles and ripped the wings right off his back. She heard him scream in pain and heard the surprised gasp of the crowd below them.
Her stomach flopped from over-using her magic as much as the sudden downward trajectory they were taking. The irin-shade wasn’t quite defeated and he swivelled in mid-air. Ana still had hold of one of his wings and she plunged the bone – that had just been attached to his back – up through his jaw, shattering his skull.
The ground was coming up quick, so Ana used the dead body as a springboard, pushing off him and flipping herself around. As she spun, she gave the Pit a quick once over, seeing there must have been about ten students left. She gave herself a short reprieve with a gust of wind letting her hover for a moment.
She had one potential move left, but it might not work and it could leave her energy completely depleted. Within reason, magi could do almost anything they put their minds to, but their magic relied on the energy it required and the energy they had. Some magi had higher tolerance and could do more, some not, like any skill.
And took another deep breath, ignoring the sharp pain in her side and changed the direction of the air flow around her, giving her more velocity. She crashed back into the ground, fist first, and sent a ripple across the ground, taking down everyone but the lillin-shade who was in the air with two sweeps of his wings. Ana ignored the wave of light-headedness that threatened to overwhelm her as she got up a little unsteadily.
As the throwbacks – there were no magi but her left now – got up from the ground, Ana knew she had to act quickly if she wanted to end it. She spun quickly, releasing a shower of sharpened icicles that speared throwbacks, the Pit wall, the ground. They all went down dead, leaving her with the lillin-shade and the feeling that she was swaying on her feet.
The leg that had been speared with the bone had gone slightly numb, the rib she was sure was cracked was throbbing, and she felt like her whole body was burning with dirt-smeared cuts. Her stomach churned and she wasn’t convinced she was going to be able to hold her breakfast down for much longer.
The lillin-shade dropped to the ground and stalked towards her. He was one of the biggest she’d ever seen, possibly even bigger than that Alpha guy in Thirds.
Ana wiped blood or sweat – maybe both – before it ran into her eye and faced him down. She felt fuzzy and light-headed, but that festering in her soul was sharp. Without knowing what drove her, Ana walked towards the lillin-shade slowly. He grinned and Ana was sure he thought she was under his thrall. Honestly, though, she only had one thing in mind.
She could see his essence surrounding him and it called to her. It pulsed around him, thrumming almost lazily in time with the pulses of his wings. As he reached out to her, she felt herself sway for a moment before her hand shot out. With a strength she didn’t know she still had, she pushed him backwards, one hand around his throat and the other over his heart. She felt his life pulse into her and her strength return.
It wasn’t something she knew magi could do. It wasn’t something she knew anyone could really do. Vampen-shade had a version of it with blood, lillin-shade used desire to draw life essence during sex. This was…something different, something darker.
As if she was outside herself, Ana saw his eyes bug, then dull as the last of his life left him and surged into her. Her mind sharpened and she realised what she’d done. She leaped backwards, hearing the gong sound as she took another step away from the body. Her hands flew to her mouth and she shoved the darkness back down to the seemingly endless pit whence it came, her hands shaking with the horror of what she’d done.
Her stomach pulsed and she retched, except nothing but bile came up.