**This is unedited and may change in the final copy. Supernatural Academy age recommendation is 17/18+ due to swearing and sex scenes (it will be the same level as Supernatural Prison series). 🙂
Somewhere close by, a loud, raucous countdown was on, cheers echoing as the New Year was rung in. There was no laughter or friendship in the dirty truck stop bathroom as I stared into the cracked and marked mirror, washing out the last of the hair color.
I had very few rituals in my life. I didn’t have enough stability for ritual, but there was one thing I had been doing for the past five of my twenty-two years. Every New Year’s Eve—my birthday—I changed my hair color. It was my way of saying “fuck you” to the last sucktastic 365 days. I would not be defined by my circumstances. Each new color was a new beginning, a new age … a new chance at getting it right.
And this year, for the first time, I didn’t stick with the darker tones.
This was going to be my year. The year of pink.
After I was done drying it under the shitty old hand dryer, I started sweeping all the boxes, peroxide, and color tubes, into a nearby trash can. My new color caught my eye under the low lights, and I had to smile. It’d turned out better than I’d expected, a shimmery pastel pink. Luckily, the one skill my mother had left me with was the ability to work magic in the art of hair transformations. She had been a beautician and hairdresser before she got sucked into the darkness of drugs, alcohol, and men who were no good for her.
The year she died was the first year I turned my silvery-blond locks into an orange mess of waves. Felt like something she would approve of. I’d been on my own since then, moving towns and changing hair every twelve months—was probably lucky I still had hair left, but somehow it continued to be long and thick and healthy. I was hair blessed.
Life blessed? Not so much.
It was time again to jump on the first bus out of here and start my new life. I probably could have stopped running by now—no one was looking for me anymore—but maybe part of me was still searching for the illusion of home that everyone else had.
This year it was going to be better. This year there would be light, because I’d had my damned share of darkness. I was so fucking done.
“Pink wouldn’t have been my first choice, but I have to say you do wear it well.”
I spun around, searching for the person that voice belonged to.
I’d been alone in the bathroom. I had shut and locked the door, due to the shitty area of Detroit I was currently in. Whoever was there stood just outside of the small circle of light. I had pretty amazing night vision when I forced myself to focus, but sometimes tapping into my unexplained abilities caused me problems, so I just reached for my bag and the switchblade inside.
“What the hell do you want?” I bit out, making my voice as harsh as I could. I was no shrinking violet at five feet ten, but my voice was sweet, so far from matching my insides it wasn’t even funny.
Maybe pink hair hadn’t been such a good idea. I was really gonna give off the wrong vibe now.
There was no answer, but there was movement as a chick stepped into the light. I blinked a few times, swallowing down my next insult. She was nothing like I expected. Even taller than me, her skin was very dark, shining in the low lights. Her hair was a mass of curls, tighter to her head than mine—in a corkscrew fashion—and it was a vibrant red. She was stunningly beautiful, and not in a mere supermodel way. Nope. She was gorgeous in a dropped-from-the-heavens-by-the-gods way: full cherry lips, huge green eyes, high cheekbones, and aristocratic features. If I wasn’t firmly on team into-dudes, I’d already be half in love with her.
She took another step closer and I pressed myself back against the dirty sink. Just because she was hot didn’t mean she wasn’t dangerous. “We’ve been looking for you for a long time,” she said as her long leather-clad legs halted in a strong stance. “You’re very good at moving and covering your tracks, but … your powers are growing stronger. You can’t hide any longer.”
Panic bloomed within me. Strong waves that almost crushed me. Five years ago I had been wanted for questioning by many government agencies. Not only had I run away at seventeen, I’d fled a crime scene, leaving my mother’s body behind. But I was almost certain that they’d given up on me long ago.
I immediately catalogued the room, trying to figure out an escape route.
“Are you not even going to ask my name before you disappear?” she asked, amusement in her tone. “Seems kinda rude, don’t you think?”
I closed my hand around the blade, ready to flick it open at any sign of an attack.
“Should I care?” I shook my head at her. “I don’t know you. I don’t want to know you. I’m leaving now.” It was worth a try, the false bravado. Maybe she would back off. But judging by her “we’ve been looking for you for a long time” comment, I doubted it.
“It’s Ilia,” she continued, like I hadn’t just basically told her to go fuck herself. “My name. It’s spelled I-L-I-A but you say it like eye—” She paused. “—Leah.”
I was so astonished by her calm and conversational tone—like we’d known each other for twenty years and were old friends catching up.
“What do you want with me, Ilia?” I dragged her name out like she had. “What do you mean, ‘My powers are growing stronger?’ Like … powers … really? Are you insane?”
She laughed, throwing her head back as husky tones filled the air. It sent a tingle down my spine and I was pretty sure it wasn’t just because her laugh was as sexy as she was. Energy drifted along with the sound.
“The insane thing is really going to depend on who you ask,” she finally replied, once she got herself under control. “And on what day you catch me. But to answer your other question, you, my friend, are no ordinary supe.”
I blinked at her, my hand sweaty on my blade handle. “Soup?” What in the hell did she mean by soup? Like the food? Or was that some sort of derogatory term I hadn’t heard?
Or … maybe a gang?
I hadn’t been involved with any gangs lately. That was a life I’d quickly learned was not for me, but sometimes their members showed up in the oddest places. Like … Detroit bathrooms.
“You’re into the drug scene, right?” I burst out before she could reply. “Seeing the flying dragons and all that jazz. That’s why you’re all up in here talking about powers and soups. See, I don’t do the drugs. They’re not for me. My life is crazy enough as it is, so you can take your weird talk and fly away now.” I shooed her with my free hand, making little whooshing sounds.
She laughed again. “Dragons. How do you know about dragons?” She winked, like this was the funniest joke she’d ever heard. “There’s actually quite a few in Faerie … where all supes come from.” For the first time since stepping from the shadows, she moved closer to me, trapping me against the sink, blocking the only exit.
My blade flicked out before I even thought about it, but she never gave the sharp edge a second glance.
“See, I didn’t expect that you’d have zero idea of who you are,” Ilia continued, her face suddenly serious. “I should have guessed it, because we aren’t even quite sure what you are … but you definitely have a lot of power hidden away. The few times you’ve touched your energy, you’ve sent ripples across the world. Right now, though, you have your power locked down. How?”
Touched my what the fuck now? “I… What?”
“Your power,” she continued, waving her hands at me in a “hurry up and get my point” gesture.
I shook my head. “You’re as crazy as my crackhead mother. Raving about ghosts and powers and gods.”
Ilia shook her head. “Wrong. There’s no way your mother was a crackhead. Crack doesn’t affect supes, and you, my dear, are one hundred percent supernatural.”
Supernatural… Oh, supe… Jesus.
I choked, coughing. “Did you just say supernatural?” It felt a little warm in the room all of a sudden, despite the chilly weather tonight.
“You’re not human,” Ilia said bluntly. “I’m not sure exactly what your race is though.” She regarded me carefully. “I thought I would know when I got closer to you, but … it’s the weirdest thing.” She held a finger up. “Not a vampire, for sure, you couldn’t easily hide that part of your nature.” Second finger went up. “Could be a shifter, if you had your power locked down, but I … doubt it.” Third finger. “Magic user is definitely a strong possibility, as is fey. But I don’t think we’re going to find out until I get you back to the Academy.” She dropped her hand then and smiled brightly. “I’m your supernatural collection agent, here to whisk you off to the Academy. Seems they’d like to have a word with you about … whatever the heck you are. No one likes a mystery in our world. Mysteries usually end badly for everyone. So, you, my little supe, are going back to school.”
If I’d been the fainting type, this would be the point I swooned and cracked my head on the sink. But I was made of tougher stuff than that. Anyone who’d waited tables in some of the neighborhoods I had would agree with me. But … had she really said vampire and shifter? Like … legit?
My voice was flat. “I’m going to need you to step away from me, Ilia. Right. The fuck. Now!” She didn’t move, just grinned as she watched me with those glittering eyes of hers.
“I like you,” she said as her grin broadened. “I think we’re going to be great friends.”
Not likely. I didn’t have friends; I’d been alone for years. At first, friends were liabilities I couldn’t afford, and after that it became a bad habit to keep everyone at arm’s length.
Ilia held a hand out to me. “Maddison James, you need to listen to me closely…”
The bitch knew my name. How did the bitch know my name?
“You’re a supernatural. You’re not human, and if you don’t come with me and receive your training, you’ll lose control one day. You’ll hurt a human, and when that happens, it won’t be the Academy coming for you. It’ll be the supernatural enforcers, those who hunt down our criminals and lock them in the prisons. Trust me, you don’t want to end up in the prison system.”
I felt like my brain was going to explode, and I was already regretting the pink hair. This kinda felt a little bit like it was the pretty color’s fault.
And how the hell in all hells did she know my name?
I decided to play along and run as soon as her guard was down. “I’m not saying I believe you….” I pretended to relax, closing my blade and slipping it back into my bag. “But I also don’t want to hurt anyone. The strange shit in my life has been ramping up lately”—not even a lie—“so … maybe I do need some help.”
Ilia’s full lips pursed as she examined me. I fought to keep my expression open and neutral, but something told me I was already too late. Run.
I moved, but I was too slow. She lunged for me, and before I could get out of the way, her hands wrapped around mine. She murmured a few words, words that were not English, and I felt a hot pulse against my skin. With a shriek, I tried to yank myself free from her, but she was surprisingly strong.
“Let me go, bitch!” I shouted, fighting to get loose. I was shocked when a moment later the pressure on my hands released and she moved back. That was until I looked down to see crisscrossing beams of light wrapping all the way around my wrists and hands, binding them together.
Ilia dropped her head to stare me in the eye. “You were going to run, Maddison. Don’t play stupid with me. I can tell that for you to believe what I’m saying, you’re going to have to see it in person.”
Panic swirled inside of me, making my gut and chest ache as I struggled for each breath. I hated to be restrained; it had happened too many times when my mom’s “boyfriends” had decided an annoying as hell kid should not be seen or heard.
“Please release my hands,” I asked, trying to keep the tremble from the words.
Ilia shook her head. “I’m sorry. No one can remove these bindings except the Academy princeps. He gave me the spell and it’s specifically linked to him. Call it insurance that you have to follow me back.”
My heart was hammering in my chest; my blood roared in my ears as everything went a little pear-shaped. Ilia looked at me with concern for the first time, perfect eyebrows bunching as she leaned closer.
“I have a problem being restrained,” I admitted through gritted teeth. “It’s a trigger for me.” Before she could stop me, I spun around and smashed my hands against the edge of the sink, trying to loosen the binds. Nothing happened except sharp pains ricocheting up my arms. A few more taps and it was clear that this was no normal material. I could not break it, tear it, or wiggle my hands free from it.
Shaking, I faced her again and found sympathetic eyes on me. “Fuck. Sorry, girl,” she said gently. “I wish I could remove them, but all I can do is promise we’ll get you to the Academy as soon as possible.”
She reached down and grabbed the bag I’d dropped earlier and then wrapped an arm around me, hauling me closer as we walked out of the bathroom. Outside the temperatures seemed to have dropped even further. The wind was howling, bringing small particles of ice and snow. My jacket was in my bag, and I couldn’t reach it with my hands bound, but luckily I’d always had a pretty high tolerance for temperatures.
“How are we getting to the Academy?” I asked, somewhat resigning myself to the fact that I was not getting out of this. Not yet anyway. I couldn’t even move my hands. I would literally do anything to get these bindings removed—so I had to play along with her for a little while longer.
And … speaking of these bindings, they were so bizarre that a part of me was starting to believe what she was saying. The words kept running through my head: vampire, shifter, fey, and magic user … supernaturals … academies … prisons…
What the fuck had my pink hair gotten me into?