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Alkarra Awakening Sneak Peek

Prologue

The carriage rolled away from the graveyard with a clack clack of wheels on the rocky dirt road. I stared out the window, watching the trees of Letum Wood fade by in spears of gray and black, like the shadows in my heart. Low clouds blew over from the south in a blanket of gray foam.

Mama’s gone now. The dark gloom I felt stirred the magic near my heart. It’s time to move on. Don’t think about her death anymore. Keep the past in the past.

Sometimes I wished I wasn’t so honest with myself. Perhaps I could pretend that Mama would come back from death, that I could delay going on with my new life without her. But no, I couldn’t. The pain would never let me forget her entirely, though I knew I’d try.

“Does your father know that Miss Mabel did not remove your Inheritance Curse?” the High Priestess asked, breaking our stony silence with her gravelly voice. She sat across from me, her beady eyes black in the fading daylight, her short gray and white hair swept back from her face in little wisps. The mention of Miss Mabel tightened my stomach.

“I don’t know,” I said. Wrapping up my old life, closing the cottage I’d grown up in, and reeling from the shock of Mama’s death had sapped all of Papa and my strength. I hadn’t even thought about the curse that would kill me on my seventeenth birthday just six months away. What did it matter? Mama was dead, and so was my heart. My own death would certainly hurt less than the moment she died in my arms. “I don’t think we’ve talked about it.”

“Yes or no?”

“No.”

The High Priestess fell quiet for so long I thought she’d forgotten the subject. She could have easily used magic to transport back to Chatham Castle and resume her duties as leader of the Central Network, but she stayed with me. I wondered why. I’d chosen the lengthy carriage ride simply because I didn’t want to go back to the castle. Without Mama there, it wasn’t home.

Close the door, Bianca. Stop thinking about her.

“Would you lie to your father and tell him that Miss Mabel removed the curse if I asked you to?” the High Priestess asked.

My eyes lifted to hers in surprise.

“Lie to him?”

She nodded, as if she asked this kind of thing every day. I couldn’t believe it. Tell my father a lie? I’d never lied to him before, and couldn’t even fathom how to successfully go about it. He was a master of disguise, a man who lived in the shadows to protect those living in the light. I’d have to live with my falsehood every day, remember my guilt every time I saw his face.

“Why would you want that of me?” I asked in a hoarse voice.

“The Central Network is walking into a war,” she said in her crisp, punctuated inflections. For a woman as powerful as the High Priestess, nothing got in the way of business, not even mourning. “Your father is one of our greatest hopes for getting out of it intact. If he knows that Mabel still has power over you, he’ll throw all his attention into stopping the curse, even at the cost of the Network. I can’t let that happen.”

“What about me?” I asked. The High Priestess locked her sharp eyes with mine. “I’m just supposed to let the curse kill me?”

“Of course not. If you lie to your father, I will promise to personally find a resolution to your Inheritance Curse. You will not die at seventeen.”

“You can’t promise anything when it comes to Miss Mabel,” I said in a bitter whisper. Just saying that name sent a tremor through my heart, like a lion waking with an indignant bellow.

“There are ways around your curse, I think. In fact, I’m confident enough that I’ll take a vow,” she said, her eyes as serious as they’d ever been. Surely she wasn’t considering such a thing! Could anyone stop a witch as cunning and powerful as Miss Mabel? The longer I studied the High Priestess, the more convinced I became. If anyone could defeat my old teacher, it was the High Priestess. I may not understood her, but I respected and trusted her.

“A vow?”

“Yes. I’ll take a vow—this moment—to resolve your Inheritance Curse before you turn seventeen.”

The vow would seal her to the promise. Not with her life, like a binding, but with a part of her magic. If she didn’t complete the vow, a portion of her power would wither away inside her. For a witch with responsibilities like the High Priestess, an unfulfilled vow could be devastating.

But lie to Papa? Just thinking about it made my heart ache, even if I couldn’t deny the truth of her words. He’d throw his life into saving me, perhaps try to find a way to offer himself up as an exchange. Miss Mabel would grasp at such an opportunity.

I sucked in a sharp breath at the thought.

Offer himself as an exchange for my life. That’s exactly what he’d do. He’d hunt down Miss Mabel and give himself for my freedom. I’d lose the last of my family. My own resolve hardened in a flash, thick as a stone. I wouldn’t fail another parent.

“Yes,” I said, resolute. “I’ll lie to Papa.”

She nodded once, and I saw a flicker of relief pass through her eyes.

“Do not speak of this without my express permission. There are ears at Chatham Castle that are not friendly to us. Of the ten Council Members, I only trust a few.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

She leaned forward and extended her right arm. I lifted my hand and gripped her forearm; she held onto mine.

“I vow to resolve your Inheritance Curse by your seventeenth birthday,” she said. Magic, flowing from the place her skin touched my fingertips, zipped through my fingers and arm, into my shoulder. It settled in my heart and my head. Both of our arms glowed with a warm, yellow light.

“I accept.”

The magic swirled and then settled in my heart with a calm little sigh. Satisfied, the High Priestess released me and leaned back against her seat. The carriage rolled on, carrying us through foggy Letum Wood, and onto my new life.

I swallowed back the tears.

Time to start over and forget the past.