Wicked Winter

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Summary

What could do this, you're probably asking. But it boils down to one single word. One word that made anger I hadn't known I possessed, roar to life like a pissed off lion. One word that sent a cold ch Eve Scotts's world is divided by magic - The Order of the Seven who rules over her kingdom with a steel fist and the murderous faeries's she'll be forced to fight when she turns eighteen. Eve is a dueler, a human that dabbles in the elements to fight in underground scuffles for some extra coin to feed her fellow orphans back home. But she has a secret weapon: She can wield ice magic - a magic that is only reserved for the High Witches at court. But she makes a mistake. She exposes herself. Rumors are spreading of a small orphan girl who can wield the power of ice, and it isn't long until the Order sends one of their own to snatch up the bounty. In exchange for the secrecy of her special gift, Eve agrees to participate in the Witches Academy, where humans are taught to wield the power of the elements and become powerful witch soldiers for the Order's disposal. As Eve is drawn further into the Witch world, she risks everything to learn more about her power and her lineage. With her frozen heart melting for the Count of Night, Sebastian O'Neill, Eve is thrown into a cyclone of love, betrayal, and family drama she hadn't even known an orphan could inherit. Soon, Eve must decide: Is

Genre:
Fantasy / Romance
Author:
Ashton Marie
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
22
Rating:
4.6 8 reviews
Age Rating:
13+

Chapter 1

The village would be waking soon. I had to move.

I lay on my back, the rotting wood of my cot biting into my spine, trying to muster the will to creep out from under the thin blanket I called my own. Maggie would be coming in soon, her thinning hair so white it looked like frost on twigs, and her broom in hand, shouting for the kids dreaming next to me to wake. She would lumber in with curses dancing on her lips, snapping nasty words at the children until some cried. She would tell them how the world would be better off without them, how her world would be better off without them, and then send them into the village to get today’s breakfast - which was probably the only meal they would receive today.

Not if I could help it.

Emma, the seven-year-old lying above me shifted in her sleep, mumbling to herself and sending a small amount of straw from her mattress falling to the floor like golden snow. She grunted her mother’s name, and my heart broke. Shattered. She didn’t have a mother anymore. Or a father, for that matter. None of us did.

I watched as the straw flittered to the floor, illuminated by the rising sunlight pouring in from the broken window on the wall.

I sat up, stretching my spine and stiff muscles. Perhaps I would get enough food for at least four kids today, and if luck was on my side, maybe more. Wiggling my toes into my old pair of leather boots, I snuck across the shack’s stone floor and squeezed through the only rotting door in the small building. The early October air was frigid, but I didn’t mind. Cold really didn’t bother me.

Perhaps that was why the boys in the orphanage called me Freezy Evey. I’m the only girl from twelve and up. I’m the only seventeen-year-old girl who had made it this far in this orphanage, and in a few weeks, I would be the first girl to reach eighteen. And once I turned eighteen, I’d enlist in the Order to fight in the war because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be starving in the first place.

For some mysterious reason, Maggie’s kids kept dying off one by one like fleas on a dog. But I mean, at least fleas got fed. The Order of the Seven didn’t even bat an eyelash if one kid withered away to nothing. Or two, or three. I guess if you have magical powers and call yourself a witch, the kids who weren’t lucky enough to be born into the Order aren’t any of your concern.

I stuck to the shadows, clinging to them like a life line. The sad part about it was, they were. If I got caught out of bed before the Rising Bell signaled it was time to start the day, I could get a bullet between the eyes, or worse. I could be Stripped.

Being Stripped is the worst form of torment known to man, at least that’s what they tell me. The Order pushes you through the gates and into the Core, where they literally strip you of your mind, feeding from your life essence until you’re nothing but an empty sack of skin.

I shivered at the thought and hurried through the labyrinth of broken buildings and skeletons of houses that had become as familiar to me as the backs of my hands, until I came to a puny building that was made up of decaying wood and a rusting sheet of tin as its roof. But what lay inside was the prize. The pearl within the clam.

My heartbeat sounded in my ears as I closed in, eyes open and ears alert. My fingers curled around the gnarled knob. I gave my wrist a quick twist and slithered inside.


Blackness greeted me when the door squeaked shut. A single staircase of broken wood lay before me, illuminated by a single torch nailed into the wall. The familiar aroma of cigar smoke and vomit tickled my nostrils, making me crinkle my nose and my stomach roll. Hearty laughter of many anonymous individuals bounced off the steps, and I almost turned around and fled, pride be damned. But then I thought of the seven other kids tucked in their cots at home, bellies shrunken to mere nothing, and I gritted my teeth.

What was I afraid of, anyway? This was a daily thing. I could do this.

You know your luck is bound to run out, hissed a voice in the back of my mind, but I shrugged it off and took the steps down-down-down.

The Strip wasn’t your usual pub. At least that’s what Kevin, the owner of this God forsaken joint, tells me. He says it’s the only place where a man can enjoy a pint of beer with an unknown, sexy lady on his lap and just forget his troubles at home. God turns a blind eye at all the sin, because these guys deserve a release, he explained once.

Bullshit. These men were nothing but low lives sucking coin from the Order to pay for their “release”. Nothing but humans who didn’t have the balls to stand up for their own species and fight back, to enroll in the Order. Not to mention, a lot of these men had wives at home, and most likely a few starving mouths to feed. At least that’s what their iron wedding bands tell me.

But you know what? I didn’t dare say a thing, because they weren’t my problem. They could let their children and wives starve.

The Strip was nothing but a hole in the ground with a few stools littered around a rotting wooden bar, but that didn’t stop the illegal trafficking of drugs, alcohol, and sex. Oh no, if anything, the secrecy of the place seemed to add to the “flare”. It made people feel like they were special. It made people feel smart.

Whatever. If this was what smart people did with their time, I’d hate to see the idiots plaguing the village.

Four low-hanging lamps glowed from above, cascading shallow light around the small, dank room. The heat from the sweaty bodies down here helped the moss and mold thrive, giving everything a soft feel.

“Ay, if it isn’t short stuff. What’s cookin’ good lookin’?” My eyes snapped up to meet a pair of dark brown irises peering at me over a foaming pint of beer, laughter shining within.

I cracked a smile. “Hey, Kevin.”

The old man gave me a toothless smile, the laugh lines around his aged eyes crinkling. “Here for the norm?” he asked, wobbling over to a shelf to get some other type of alcohol for a hooded figure I didn’t recognize.

I stared at the back of the mysterious person’s hooded head as I replied, “You know it. Are any here?”

The hooded figured nodded his thanks when Kevin set a heaping glass of some kind of red liquid in front of him, hands shaking all the way. I narrowed my eyes in his direction. Who was he? Kevin shrugged. “You’ll have to check. I just got up a few minutes before you got here, actually.”

Considering Kevin ran this place, pocketing whatever little money he could, he lived here, and he even had a small cot under the bar to prove it. Morning, noon, and night. The only time I’d ever seen him hobble out of this dump was to watch the Order tar and feather one of the things that was caught spying; sending useful information back over the mountain.

My blood boiled at the thought of one of them in our streets, hidden in plain sight, perhaps even by one of the kids from the orphanages. Would it murder innocent human children? You bet. Would it even think twice about gutting a starving child? Never.

What could do this, you’re probably asking. But it boils down to one single word. One word that made anger I hadn’t known I possessed, roar to life like a pissed off lion. One word that sent a cold chill spider-walking down my spine.

Faeries.

They were murdering, conniving, lying, monsters that haunted us every waking moment of our lives. If something moves out of the corner of your eye? Yeah, you better watch out, because you’re bound to have an enchanted blade of a bogle plunged into the muscles and tendons of your back. If you hear whispers in the wind? Run, because it won’t be long before pixies show up, and no one has ever lived to tell the tale about an encounter with a pixie.

I shook myself, scattering all the nasty thoughts of faeries from my mind and focused on Kevin standing in front of me. Rather, behind the bar, but still in front of me. His bushy, salt and pepper eyebrows knitted together, raising in worry. “You okay there, short stuff?”

I did my best to flash a winning smile. “Never better.”

He nodded once and stroked his wiring beard that fell halfway down his chest. “Ay, well you better start checkin’ to see if any dealers showed up, because the Rising Bell is bound to ring here soon, I reckon.”

I gave him another smile and snorted. “Whatever you say, old man.”

The old geezer gave a single wink in my direction before turning to the hooded figure at the bar. I stared at that dark leather hood a few seconds more, pondering in my mind if I’d ever seen him before.

I hadn’t. I’d seen everyone here at least once. And I never forgot a face.

I shrugged it off. Maybe he’s just new here.

With that thought, I hurried to the darkest corner of the pub, using the tips of my fingers to caress the earthy walls. I fondled a few moments, the corner completely cascaded in shadows that made the Earth walls an inky black, making it almost impossible to see. But I knew it was there. If I kept trying.... there. My index finger brushed something rough to the touch, and I gripped it between my finger and thumb. Bingo.

I gave a rough tug, and a small groan of metal on wood sounded what I was looking for. The small door opened up to reveal a hole in the wall, maybe three feet high and four foot across. Cold wind blew through the shaft, and I smiled. My stomach growled with hunger, but I pushed it aside. I would get food soon, and if I was lucky, so would a few kids.

Taking one last glance over my shoulder to Kevin and the hooded figure hunched over his glass, I lay on my stomach, my elbows biting into the Earth, and let darkness swallow me whole.


I was accustomed to the darkness. Liked it even. I mean, in the darkness, you could pretty much get away with anything. This wasn’t any different. The tunnel was cramped and surprisingly dry despite the rains we’d had the past couple days. And it wasn’t long either, maybe twenty, thirty foot and my head popped out and into another familiar room.

With a low dirt ceiling and no windows, it was pretty much a copycat of the Strip. There was only one thing different: the people in it.

At least twelve magic dealers clung to the walls of the room, female and male alike. All were terrifyingly lethal in their own way, and all under eighteen. Most I recognized, like Alistair and Mace, twins and inseparable since birth. It wasn’t hard to tell they were brothers either, given they had the same greasy black hair and hard eyes that all people in the village possessed.

Getting to my knees, I brushed off my stained tunic and leather pants, glancing around the room for the coach. A few more minutes of searching and I found him talking to another magic dealer, this one completely foreign to me.

Taking one glance in my direction, he smiled, his teeth crooked and stained yellow from years of smoking fags and cigars. “Eve Scotts!” he boomed, rising a clipboard into the air, and I could have sworn everyone in the room turned in our direction. Heat tickled my cheeks, my ears.

“Hey Benny,” I said with a small wave. Benny was huge, reaching six foot easily and weighing in over two hundred-fifty pounds. He was one of the largest men in the village. Lines covered his face, proving that despite the starvation and crime that plagued the streets of our village like stink on a pig, he still had a wonderful life. One where laughing was as necessary as food, water, sleep. In that moment, I hated him. Envied him. Why couldn’t I be happy with those simple things?

Because you have mouths waiting to be fed at home.

“Joining the fight today, huh kid?” he asked, pride seeping into his soft brown eyes. Benny had somewhat been a father figure, I guess you could say. I’d been coming to the underground magic fights since I was twelve, desperate for food and too curious about magic for my own good.

He’d given me a few spell books and taught be how to draw power from the elements.

What can I say? If someone tells me not to do something, it only makes me want to do it more. So when the Order of the Seven passed the law that children who weren’t born in the Order couldn’t learn or practice magic, I became drawn to it like moth to a flame. I had to learn it.

It was for our safety, they claimed, but that didn’t fool me. They just wanted something else to control the humans with. And with me learning magic? There was no invisible leash for the Order to yank on. I knew what they didn’t want me to, which gave me the upper hand. But a deadly one at that. If I got caught practicing magic without papers proving my birthright.... I shivered.

“Yeah, I’m in,” I breathed, just as another dark figure emerged from the small hole in the wall. One with a hood.

Benny must have noticed him too, because he called: “Hey, kid, you joining? If so, I need your name so I can write it down.”

The hood shook. No.

Benny shrugged his huge shoulders. “Alrighty then. Anyone else?”

He wore shadow like a second skin. Like he was drawn to it... Rather, it was drawn to him. Instinctively, my eyes followed his every fluid move. I noted that his shoulders were rigid, not relaxed, as if he were expecting the boogy man to jump out any second and and steal his innocents. I guess I didn’t really blame him. This place was one hundred percent il-le-gal. If any of us were caught, we would most definitely be Stripped, maybe even in Town Square where the entire village would witness the breaking of our minds.

Living in a land of fae and witches could be stressful. I mean, it shattered some people’s minds, so I guess I shouldn’t blame him for being cautious.

But his posture... how still he stood....

Just then the booming bay of the Rising Bell sounded in the village above us, causing the ground to shake and small particles of dust to fall from the ceiling, covering my vision in a muddy brown haze.

Seven rings for the seven High Witches.

Benny patiently waited for the last resonating bay to die off and the dust to settle before be looked down at the names he’d scribbled on his clipboard, nose crinkling as he struggled to read his own hand writing.

Two magic dealers, a small redhaired girl and a boy with green eyes traveled to an old cupboard pushed against an Earthy wall, the white paint almost completely peeled away. Both pulled an end to a pale, cloth mat, and my heart hammered in my chest at the sight. Blood splattered that the mat, so sunken into the woven fabric that there was no chance to ever remove it. Some of that was my blood.

“Ight, well first up, Lucinda and Beak. You twerps know the rules. No dark curses or any dark magic in general. If you feel faint and feel like you’re going to pass out, shout my name and I’ll stop the match. Got it?” He didn’t even need to tell us. First off, dark magic was reserved for the highest ranking witches: the Sages. There was no way us “basic users” even did the fundamental dark spells. And feeling faint? We may all be street rats, but we still had our pride. At least I did. I guess I couldn’t speak for the two who were about to face each other.

Lucinda, the small girl with red hair, stepped up to the mat. Her feet were bare and her toes curled on the mat in anticipation. The boy who I presumed to be Beak stepped on the countering side, a permanent sneer written on his ugly features. His nose was long and hooked, and I could only assume that Beak was a nickname, and a well deserved one at that.

He was much larger than the girl. He must’ve had at least a hundred pounds on her. But weight didn’t matter down here, nor did gender. What we were fighting with, and what we were betting on, was magic.

Benny glanced at the kids one last time, and then caught my gaze over the small crowd. He gave me a wink before dropping an arm in front of the two and yelling: “Fight!”

The kids gently eased into action, wolves circling each other, ready to fight. The air is alive with tension, humming strangely in my ears, and I begin to gnaw on the soft skin of my inner cheek.

It was obvious Beak has the advantage if he’d use a physical attack, and some do, but one glance at Lucinda and I knew that that wasn’t her style. She was small, lean, and her hair was as red as a fox’s fur. Perhaps if she dodged...

And then she struck.

With a booming battle cry, the small redhead pulled her power from the air, her body practically swelling with magic. The world seemed to stand still as she glared at her opponent, his face now twisting into a vile sneer.

Lucinda muttered something under her breath, a spell, and the crowd automatically backed away, pressing their bodies firm to the crumbling walls. She opened her lips to yell, to scream, but not a sound whispered out of her mouth. But still, Beak flew against the wall as if he’d been pushed by Benny himself, his hair and clothes pressed flat against his body as an invisible wind tore at him.

A scream spell.

It wouldn’t last long, the spell, and Beak knew that. He pressed the tips of his fingers deep into the muddy wall at his back, small pulses of magic flowing from his fingers to his core in a coppery orange light, radiating in his chest.

When Lucinda’s silent scream finally died, he hit her before she could mutter another spell. ”Volans petram!” he shouted, raising his arms in front of him, his face wickedly pleased. Large chunks of tightly compacted dirt globs hurled themselves at Lucinda, some hitting her so hard they broke skin when they made contact.

She howled in pain as bright red blood made an appearance on her cheeks, arms, and hands, splattering the mat at her feet. Red hot fury blazed in her eyes, almost as wild as her hair as she leaped toward her assailant, wind ripping at her hair and torn cloths. Her small fingers wound themselves around Beak’s neck, a noose of phalanges and flesh, and she squeezed.

Everyone in the room gasped. Physical attacks were scarce in magic duels, but that didn’t mean they didn’t happen. Lucinda continued to squeeze, her eyes hard and her lips moving in a frantic whisper.

Beak bucked and kicked like a pissed off stallion, his eyes almost bugging out of his head and turning red from multiple blood vessels popping. But Lucinda hung on for dear life, clinging tighter to his neck the more he bucked and tried to throw her off. Finally, when Beak was able to dislodge her, he fell to the ground in a heap, still clawing at invisible hands around his throat.

His dark eyes filled with terror as his face began to turn purple, then blue. The veins in his forehead were prominent now, as were the ones in his neck, and the color around his irises was now permanently stained red.The indentations of fingers on his skin was inevitable. Something was still squeezing. I was watching his throat bruise right before my eyes.

“Be-nn,” he choked, barely able to press air out of his mouth. His eyes were frantic, searching, pleading. Would I watch the first death in a magic duel in over fifty years?

Benny shot a look at Lucinda, a silent command to release the invisible fist choking the boy, and she snorted.

Suddenly, the hands were gone, and a wheezing Beak sat on the floor, clutching his neck. “You bitch,” he snarled, his voice dry and cracking. She just shrugged, a smug smile tugging her lips.

I liked her, but I feared her.

Benny cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable with the tension in the room. The magic coach looked back down at his clipboard again, searching intently for Lucinda’s next opponent.“And next up will be...”


The fights lasted just over two hours, Lucinda handing each magic dealer their asses in a little box with “your pride and dignity” printed over the top. She’d just left a tall blonde with bony hips in a gasping heap on the mat, her top lip split and face peaceful in unconsciousness. How she knocked the girl out was a mystery to me, because I wasn’t paying attention. I was too busy watching the strange hooded figure curled in the shadows.

It was hard to get the guts to look at him, given his eyes were concealed by the cast of the leather hood on his head, and he could have been very well looking right back at me and I never would have known it. How humiliating would that be?

Though his face was hidden, his hands were not. And they weren’t dirty, calloused and worked like most people in the village. No, they were lean and strong, with no dirt sunken into the wrinkles of his knuckles and palms. Clean.

Who was he?

The more I studied him out of the corner of my eye, the stranger I found him. He didn’t wear the usual white tunic that was so old it was a rusty yellow with holes the size of gold pieces littered throughout. Instead, an ebony cloak of darkness hung on his body like a glossy layer of black ink, as if someone had just drawn it and somehow pulled it off the paper put it on his skin, the ink still wet. How could someone possibly afford such a cloak? Did he steal it? No one from this part of the city could afford a pot to piss in, let alone something as beautiful as that cloak... Not to mention, a belt hung around his waist, the silver buckle winking at me in the firelight.

My mouth watered at the sight, imagining all the money I could get from selling something like that, and then in turn buying mountains and mountains of food...

Someone jabbed an elbow into my ribs, and I sank away with a hiss of pain.

I turned to see Beak staring at me, his dark eyes glinting with annoyance and disgusted face twisted in a despicable sneer.“You’re Eve Scotts, right?” he snapped, his voice still quite hoarse from his earlier fight with Lucinda, his eyes still red and a deep purple bruises clinging to his throat like an expensive necklace.

“Yeah?”

“Well you’re up.” He nodded to the mat, clear distain ringing in his words.

I rolled my eyes. Whatever, asshole.

I was so busy staring at strange man and his weird attire that I hadn’t even realized my name was called. “Eve,” Benny asked from across the mat, “do you wanna fight or not? Because if you don’t, I can just give the winnings to Lucinda...”

Lucinda... So she had won them all. Every single match she came out victorious. A flame no one could douse. What would make the way I threw the water any different? It didn’t matter anyway, because I had to fight. I had to try. The kids were depending on me back at the orphanage, and I promise you Maggie sure as hell wasn’t going to feed them.

“I’m in.”

Benny nodded and turned his attention towards his clip board. “Alright. Well, you know the drill. Toes up to the mat.”

I did as he said, the movements as familiar as breathing. I shucked my boots off, safely placing them in a shaded corner before returning to the bloodied mat, tying my hair into a tight knot of platinum blonde strands. Lucinda stared at me, her red hair a curly halo of fire around her head. Her face was twisted between something like annoyance and pure predator, ready to sink her teeth in my throat and tear it open.

I tuned out her murderous glare as best as I could, closing my eyes and listening deeply to the elements around me, just as Benny had taught me years before. I could hear the whisper of the air, the steady hum of the cool earth beneath my bare feet, and even past that, the roar of an underground river tearing through the Earth at least another hundred feet below.

Just like all the other magic dealers, I had a favorite element, one I could control or manipulate more easily than others. I forced my focus farther down, way past the gritty dirt beneath my feet and towards that raging river. I could feel the current in my chest, as if the water itself was tugging on my heart and pushing on my ribs.

Magic sizzled beneath my skin, charged by the power of the river and begging to burst free. I could feel the water soaking through the rock and earth beneath me, heading upward towards my call. Not long, and cool liquid began pooling around my feet.

I opened my eyes, my own ravenous smile pulling on my lips. Lucinda’s face blanched upon seeing the liquid at me toes, now turning the dirt a sloppy, black mud. Her paling skin only made my heart beat faster with anticipation.

Benny recited the rules of the fight once more, eyeing the water between my toes. When his gaze met mine, he gave me one last wink. “Fight!”

Before Lucinda’s lips could form a spell, I shouted, ”Sagitta aqua!” Water arrow.

I could feel each molecule of the water as if it were the red blood cells in my veins, and in response to my command, it formed afour liquid arrows levitating in mid air. The tips hardened, turing into an opaque, cool ice. My own little touch. Now these arrows could kill.

Ever since I started playing with magic, water was my favorite element. Not because I could manipulate it better than the others, but because water could turn into ice. Ice magic was apparently unheard of, only reserved for the Sages and Mages, but somehow I learned to control it. It was as easy as breathing. Benny was completely bewildered when he first saw me turn a glass of water into a solid chunk of ice, shattering the glass into shards when doing so.

Even now, even with my reputation, the crystal arrows floating in midair drew astonished gasps from almost everyone in the crowd. Except Benny. His eyes were dark, glaring at me levelly and saying: “You know better. What did I tell you?”

I grinned and stuck my tongue out, bathing in the drug of victory, of the money was I was about to behold. The food. The kids would eat good tonight.

But a voice was tickling the back of my mind, a feather brushing slightly against my thoughts. But it wasn’t my voice. It was Benny’s.

“You know you shouldn’t be parading your powers around like that. Rumors are spreading, Eve. Like wild fire in a forest.”

“So?” I hissed, my words clipped. “What does it matter? I win these stupid fights, and the kids live another day. They eat another day. It’s not that bad of a trade, is it?”

“What if it cost you your life?” he insisted, his eyebrows raising. “Would it be worth the trade then?”

I didn’t even have to think twice. “Of course.”

The memory faded into the present, two water colors merging together, and I stood with my toes over the bloodstained mat, the scent of old copper in the air. Nothing had changed from then to now. I would still give my life for the children, to see them fight through another day. They deserved that much, didn’t they?

The girl across from me, Lucinda, gaped at the twiliring arrows with icy tips. Her eyes flickered up to mine, and resilience glinted to life like a match being lit, burning with fury and hatred.

I had her beat, and she knew it. If she so much as muttered a spell, I would let these arrows fly. If she took a step forward, she’d be speared in the guts. Would I do that? For the kids, yes. I’d do anything.

“Benny,” she said through gritted teeth, eyes blazing, raising her hands in surrender. “I think I’m feeling a little faint.”

Benny stared at me a long moment, then flickered his gaze to Lucinda and her fiery hair. “Are you sure?”

“Well it’s not like I have much of a choice, now do I?” she snapped.

Benny looked at the ground and nodded, his lips pressed into a thin line. You would think with me winning he’d be happy. But no, he had to be pissed, sad even that I “revealed” myself yet once again.

“Alrighty then.” He lifted his eyes to mine, taking a few steps to close the distant and gripped my elbow, holding my arm high in the air above my head. “Ladies and gents, our winner for tonight, Eve Scotts!”

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