When the Solstice Stones end in blood and chaos, Lily’s destiny and the coven’s future hang in the balance.
Every young witch looks forward to her first Solstice Stones. The pride of representing her coven against the warlocks. The rush from her first taste of dark magic.
But a few short minutes into the Stones, and Lily’s lifelong dream turns into a nightmare of pain and regret. Betrayed not once, but twice, her restraint snaps—with dire consequences.
Lily is wracked with guilt and on the run from the powerful Congression, when her broken confidence is further shattered by an ugly secret from the past. As her options dwindle, Lily is forced into a distasteful alliance.
Will she be able to find her way back to the light? Or will darkness consume her before dawn’s new day?
There’s an old-fashioned movie booth at the boardwalk that both intrigues and disturbs me. You slip in a token, churn the vintage bronze handle, and watch as darkly romantic images fade into one another; black-and-white blurs of figures—women, men, children—move in a dancer’s trance against a backdrop of historic carnival rides, their cadence choppy and slow as pieces of film roll over eerie music box tunes.
What happened next was like that.
Only now, our music was angry thunder pounding through storm clouds and low, gasped cries as cloaked Spellspinners moved, hypnotized, toward the crumpled heap of blood and bones splayed in the center of the Stones. Under the gaze of the hooded crowd, my best friend, Orchid, splayed akimbo—an unnatural shape of body parts drenched in malodorous gunk like she’d been bit in half and then spit out of a monster’s gut. Near her rib cage, her white uniform was stained with thick red.
I lifted my shaking hand off of Logan’s now-beating heart and stared at her with sickening disbelief.
Orchid was the doppelganger?
How was this even possible?
The enormity of the betrayal stung as deep as Orchid’s wound. Her wound. The blood rushed from her body because of my unknowing hand. Did my sword pierce her heart? I was trying to stop the doppelganger, not slaughter my best friend.
How could I have known they were one and the same?
I choked back a cry of pain and guilt so deep it felt like I’d been the one stabbed. What happened? I struggled to rewind the events in my head, my scattered mind like that vintage screen, replaying my memories to make sense of them all:
Me finding out Logan was the Chosen One, the Roghnaithe; Logan dying; bringing him back to life using our conjoined amulet, now the most sought-after charm the Spellspinners had; Jude and Jacob doing everything they could to get it.
If Orchid was the doppelganger…then it was Orchid who, pretending to be me, kissed Logan in the forest. Orchid—my best friend, Orchid—who not only threw herself all over him but then tried to kill him tonight. Unforgivable! Sickeningly so. Taking my place in the Solstice Stones—the magic-exchanging tournament I’d been training for since I was a new witch—to what end? It couldn’t be because she wanted to be splayed, bleeding, dying on the dirt.
“Apply pressure to the wound.” Camellia’s urgent voice sounded as if from far off, as though she were at the other end of a long tunnel instead of kneeling over Orchid’s body. “Stay with me, dear.”
Jacob and the young warlocks, who, only moments ago, were viciously vying for our amulet, flocked to Logan’s side. His eyes were closed, but he was breathing. I had put so much of my healing magic into him. No matter what happened to my betraying best friend, at least Logan, my darling Logan, would be okay. I kissed his hand and then took off across the ring toward Camellia and my mom, Iris, who both tended to Orchid.
I stopped short.
It was much, much worse than I had realized.
Covering my nose and mouth with my sleeve to keep at bay the nauseating stench, like fruit rotting in summer heat, I stood over her. Orchid’s beautifully smooth, olive skin was covered with a black substance like the goo covering a butterfly’s wings after struggling from its cocoon. Her eyes were glued shut with it, her mouth partially opened but filled with it, this vile liquid thick as honey.
Camellia, our Mistress of Light, turned to my mother, whose concerned face was sadly ashen. Long lines of wrinkles stretched across her forehead; the skin under her neck sagged like a paper bag in the wind. The elder witches all looked to be about thirty-four years old, but after using up so much of her magic saving my amulet from evil warlock (and Logan’s adoptive father) Jacob, my mother now looked at least sixty. Her blond hair was predominantly gray; her eyes drooped. I cringed, not because she looked older, but because of what she had given up to protect me.
“Mom, is she g-going to…?” No matter my feelings of rage and anger, the affection I’ve always felt for Orchid crept out in the form of a gasping, desperate voice. My earlier bravado left me shaken and scared. Orchid may have betrayed me, but I didn’t want her to die. I wanted her to wake up so I could hug her and then shake the crap out of her, screaming questions in her face until she told me what I’d done to cause her to treat me like this.
“The wound is healing.” My mother stood and stepped toward me.
As earlier with Logan, air rushed from my lungs in relief. “Thank you. I—I wasn’t trying to hurt her. I had no idea she was my doppelganger…” Anger seized up within me, momentarily erasing my relief. “Why would she do this? Betray me like this?”
“I have no idea. I don’t understand how this could happen.” Mom looked accusingly at Camellia, who was chanting over Orchid’s still body.
“She’s my—was my—best friend.”
“I know, Lily. We’re going to find out what happened. When she’s better.”
Nodding, I shrank under Mom’s newly aged features and asked carefully, “Are you going to be okay, Mom?”
She frowned. “I’ll be fine.”
“The aging will stop, won’t it?”
She touched her forehead as if just remembering the sacrifice she’d made. “I hope so,” she said uncertainly.
Sure, age is only an illusion, and looks don’t matter, but I didn’t want my mom to look like a great-grandmother, or worse, take to an early grave because she used extreme magic to save my and Logan’s amulet from Jacob. Besides, the Hundred-Year Curse dividing the female and male Spellspinners was clear and cruel: warlocks aged prematurely—Jacob looked to be in his nineties though he was probably the same age as Iris—and witches remained beautiful. The result was that warlocks always yearned for what they couldn’t have while witches had to watch their magical equals rot away without ever being able to fall in love with them.
“For now we need to focus on Orchid.”
“You healed the wound from my sword. Why does she still look like that?” I asked.
“I’m not sure how to help her,” Camellia announced finally, finishing her chant, her fingers stuck together with the muck dripping from Orchid. “The magic she practiced to simulate your form was not from the light, and I’m afraid the repercussions from spinning such a dangerous spell are taking their toll on her.”
I fought back tears of disgust, then anger, then sadness. She was practicing dark magic? This wasn’t how anything was supposed to play out.
My first Solstice Stones.
Heidi R. Kling is a YA author of both fantasy and contemporary novels and some tech write for us contribution. The bestselling Witch’s Brew Spellspinners 1 (Coliloquy), is the first of a 9-book series, while her debut contemporary, Sea (Penguin), was an IndieNext Pick, Northern California Book of the Year nominee, Gateway Reader’s Award choice.
Witch’s Brew Spellspinners 1 launched The Spellspinners of Melas County series in 2012. A serialized saga of estranged witches and warlocks, set in a modern, but fantastical world of a coastal California beach town is told in an innovative “active fiction” format— not unlike the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books we loved as kids. Book two, The Gleaning, followed this past spring. Devil’s Frost, the third book in the series launches November 2013, with six titles to follow.
When not penning novels, Heidi contributes short stories and essays to teen lit aimed anthologies such as Truth And Dare, The First Time, A Visitor’s Guide To Mystic Falls, and Two & Twenty Dark Tales, directs and writes children’s theatre and feeds her Damon addiction with lots of CW television.
After earning her MFA in Writing for Children from the New School in New York, she returned to her native California where she writes and lives with her husband and two children on the San Francisco peninsula, right over the coastal mountains from the sea. She’s constantly eying seaside eucalyptus groves for signs of warlocks, but sadly hasn’t spotted one. Yet.