With her powers growing every day, fourteen-year-old Haylwen Rightad thinks she’s safe in the magical forest. And now that she finally has the friends she always wanted, what is there to be afraid of?
But she’s not out of the woods yet. Old enemies rip through her beloved forest, threatening to haul Haylwen and her newfound friends away. Their safety shattered, Haylwen and her friends are suddenly at each other’s throats. Is the friendship she worked so hard for already ruined, or is there another, unseen enemy at work?
Haylwen and her brother must unmask this mysterious enemy before they can fight it off. But even if all their enemies are destroyed, the King of the magic users will stop at nothing to ensure he’s still in power when the dragons take over the world. And he’s hidden an enemy where Haylwen would never think to look.
If no one is what they seem, who can she trust?
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To young C. H. MacLean, books were everything: mind-food, friends, and fun. They gave the shy middle child’s life color and energy. Amazingly, not everyone saw them that way. Seeing a laundry hamper full of books approach her, the librarian scolded C. H. for trying to check them all out. “You’ll never read that many before they expire!” C. H. was surprised, having shown great restraint only by keeping a list of books to check out next time. Thoroughly abashed, C. H. waited three whole days after finishing that lot before going back for more.
With an internal world more vivid than the real one, C. H. was chastised for reading in the library instead of going to class. “Neurotic, needs medical help,” the teacher diagnosed. C. H.’s father, a psychologist, just laughed when he heard. “She’s just upset because those books are more challenging than her class.” C. H. realized making up stories was just as fun as reading, and harder to get caught doing. So for a while, C. H. crafted stories and characters out of wisps and trinkets, with every toy growing an elaborate personality.
But toys were not mature, and stories weren’t respectable for a family of doctors. So C. H. grew up and learned to read serious books and study hard, shelving foolish fantasies for serious work.
Years passed in a black and white blur. Then, unpredictably falling in love all the way to a magical marriage rattled C. H.’s orderly world. A crazy idea slipped in a resulting crack and wouldn’t leave. “Write the book you want to read,” it said. “Write? As in, a fantasy novel? But I’m not creative,” C. H. protested. The idea, and C. H.’s spouse, rolled their eyes.
So one day, C. H. started writing. Just to try it, not that it would go anywhere. Big mistake. Decades of pent-up passion started pouring out, making a mess of an orderly life. It only got worse. Soon, stories popped up everywhere- in dreams, while exercising, or out of spite, in the middle of a work meeting. “But it’s not important work,” C. H. pleaded weakly. “They are not food, or friends, or…” But it was too late. C. H. had re-discovered that, like books, life should be fun too. Now, writing is a compulsion, and a calling.
C. H. lives in a Pacific Northwest forest with five cats, two kids, one spouse, and absolutely no dragons or elves, faeries, or demons… that are willing to be named, at least.
His latest book is the YA fantasy, Two Empty Thrones.
Haylwen heard a crash, the distant sound of breaking wood. She started walking, and then heard the sound of a chainsaw. She picked up the pace. Nacia was gesturing to the twins, who looked confused, then angry. They started running, sprinting past Haylwen. By the time Haylwen got to the farmhouse, the boys were standing next to Feabee on the porch, the three of them looking like thunderclouds.
Nacia ran over to stand with her mother, Topaz, just inside the door. They looked so much alike, one just an older version of the other, a mirror through time. Haylwen drifted to stand by her parents off to the side, while Cadarn stood by himself to the side of the porch. Everyone was looking down the path, to where the sounds of crashing branches and large motors were gradually coming closer. Feabee made an occasional gesture to the twins to let them know what the rest were hearing.
Haylwen blanched at a particularly loud crash, wincing. Her father looked at her questioningly. “They are trying to help, and it is hurting them,” Haylwen whispered. Her father held his questioning look for a moment. His eyes popped wide and suddenly narrowed as he heard what she’d said. He looked into the forest briefly and then turned and started to say something to Haylwen.
He was drowned out as a large, olive-green truck crashed through the last of the branches, leaves and twigs caught in its grille and hanging from the roof rack. It looked like some savage beast, a destroyer of trees. It revved its engine and then growled its way up the slope to stop halfway up. It backed off the dirt road onto the grass as a shiny black SUV quietly rolled out from the mangled tunnel of trees. After the SUV passed it, the truck threw itself in a roaring spin that threw chunks of green and mud behind it to block the road out. It sat there, engine still growling. The smell of diesel rolled up to the house.
The SUV pulled off the road and drove across the rolling lawn, leaving crushed grass in its wake. It stopped with the passenger side at the very edge of the farmhouse porch. The passenger door opened and a tall man in a charcoal suit stepped out, directly onto the porch.
With his blond hair chopped short, it took Haylwen a moment to recognize him. “Mr. Johansen,” she whispered, clutching her father and sliding behind him. Her ex-principal was here? A wave of fear washed over her, carrying memories of when he had grabbed her—the feel of his hands on her neck, the chemical smell of his car as he’d stuffed her in.
“You have nothing to fear from him,” her father said in a quiet, but stern, voice, tension rolling off of him.
Haylwen’s mother, Crystyn, leaned over, turning to look Haylwen in the eye. “He will never touch you again, I promise.” Crystyn stood, taking a couple of firm steps to stand a bit ahead of Haylwen and her father. Abrennin twitched away as Crystyn moved past him, like he had gotten a shock. He gave her a brief look of surprise and confusion, but she wasn’t paying attention.
“May I help you?” Feabee said. “You realize this is private property.”
Mr. Johansen took a step toward Feabee, a reddish hue seeping from him. Haylwen’s guts clenched. He was going to use magic to hurt Feabee!
Abrennin whispered something and then choked. Haylwen's stomach twisted more, realizing what her father’s choking meant. With me and Cadarn here, our parents’ Oath is in effect. Mom and Dad can’t use magic. Her parents might protect her from a physical attack, but what about a magical one?
Feabee shot Abrennin a wide-eyed look and he nodded once. She blinked, then her jaw muscles jumped as a green glow slipped around her. Haylwen squeezed her father’s hand, a question. He smiled thinly and squeezed back. Of course, Feabee could use magic!
“I have information that you are willfully transgressing against federal law,” Mr. Johansen said. Haylwen gave a little gasp as a red arc shot from Mr. Johansen, a striking snake, to bounce off Feabee's green shield. “You are harboring fugitives, aiding and abetting criminals.” Another red snake slithered along the ground, trying to work its way under Feabee's shield.
Feabee shook her head with a smile.
“You think truancy laws are less important than any other?” Mr. Johansen said loudly, standing a bit taller. “We must make sure the children of society are safe.”
“My paperwork is in order and has not expired,” she said.
“Perhaps, but it only lists three students,” he sneered.
Haylwen looked over to Cadarn, sharing the look of guilt and fear that this was about them. Haylwen felt her fear twist into anger. Feabee, Nacia, and the twins were going to get in trouble because of her! She looked up at her father, who just held her hand and shook his head slightly.
“Actually, I submitted updated paperwork, which was received two days ago,” Feabee replied.
“And I was sent to confirm the information was accurate. We have the right to do an inspection for classes equal to, or larger than, five,” he said.
“There is no such law,” Feabee retorted, eyes narrowing.
“Law? Oh, I guess you didn't see the express invitation to an inspection on the forms you completed?” he sneered. His red bubble pulsed. Several snakes struck as he said, “The forms you signed authorized the right of inspection with acceptance. We must make sure there is actual learning, to prevent child neglect.”
Feabee threw apologetic looks at Haylwen's parents. “Invitation? I didn't see…” Her green shield was weakening under the repeated attacks.
“You understand that the neglect laws include all students, correct?” The red intensified, and the attacking snakes grew in number. “Under the child abuse and neglect statutes, we have the authority to take all of the children into custody immediately,” Mr. Johansen said.
Haylwen watched as the green glow started to show tiny spots of black, gaps in the shield. Two more red snakes quickly shot out from Mr. Johansen, squirming against the black spots, trying to force their way in. Feabee looked resigned, trapped. Haylwen felt her father try to say something, but he tensed and choked.
“You have no authority here.” Haylwen gave a small gasp, hearing her mother's voice with such power. “You will take your polluting trucks and leave immediately.” Crystyn stalked across the porch to stand ahead and to the side of Feabee, making Mr. Johansen shift to face her. Haylwen glanced up at her father, who was breathing easier. His face was an odd combination of confused and proud.
Mr. Johansen looked over Crystyn's head, following where she had come from to see Haylwen and Abrennin standing there. He gave a little smirk, a twisted look of revenge.
“Ah, Mrs. Rightad. I see where your vandalizing daughter gets it.” Several thick red snakes slowly approached her mother. “If I leave, it will be with your truant children...”
A white glow erupted around Haylwen's mother. Haylwen squinted, slightly blinded as the white glow around her mother flared even brighter, engulfing the snakes, obliterating them.
“You will leave with nothing,” her mother said in a tone that sent shivers down Haylwen's spine. Her mother had locked eyes with Mr. Johansen. Though he was at least a foot taller, he seemed to shrink with each passing moment, while Haylwen’s mother seemed to grow. The white glow increased in intensity and size, washing like waves against the receding red of Mr. Johansen. “If you ever come close to either of my children again—”
“I did nothing, I have witnesses,” Mr. Johansen interrupted, momentarily straightening, the red pushing against the waves.
The white flared again, and Mr. Johansen took a step back. He had only the slightest hint of red around him now, flickering.
“You have nothing to withstand a mother protecting her child,” Haylwen heard her mother say, as another blinding flare of white pulsed out. Mr. Johansen took another step back, stumbling, withering even more under her fierce gaze.
Crystyn pointed her finger toward the SUV as another pulse of the white light washed over Mr. Johansen. “You and your agent's invitations are revoked!” Haylwen's mother nudged Feabee, who nodded once.
Mr. Johansen slid backward down the stairs, banging into the SUV, scrambling to open the door and get inside before being sucked away. He slammed the door closed, and the SUV's idling engine roared, tires spitting grass and dirt in every direction. Everyone was pelted, but Haylwen noticed not a fleck hit her mother.
The SUV bounced down the hill as the olive-green truck tore out of the way. The black SUV disappeared into the tunnel as the truck spun around, engine roaring, tires clawing the ground, making a new set of wounds in the grassy field. A cold shiver crawled up Haylwen's legs, tightening around her throat, as she looked at the ruined lawn. Even after the smell of exhaust had drifted away, the wounds were mocking proof they weren't safe. It was only a matter of time.