The third Ember Academy book is finally here!
If you’ve not checked out Ember Academy so far, it’s a YA Urban Fantasy Academy series about a young Witch who finds herself the target of an ancient and powerful Witch.
The prequel is available to read for free from BookFunnel, and the first two books are available to buy from Amazon or read for free through Kindle Unlimited.
Book Three is currently up for pre-order from Amazon, but you can buy it now direct from me, or get it as a Patreon reward if you sign up for my Patreon at the $3 level or higher.
But if you’re caught up on the series so far and want a sneak-peek of Book Three, Chapter One is below!
There are lots of things that I’d gotten disturbingly used to since finding out that I was a Witch.
First and foremost probably being the fact that I’m a Witch.
But spending my dream-time psychically linked to a woman who had been frozen for the last millennia, and who had almost killed me shortly after awakening was definitely up there.
But it’s okay, we got past that.
Almost killing me had been an accident, and she was trying to help lift the curse she’d left on me.
And I was helping, given that there wasn’t much else to do when I arrived at her tower at night.
“Wait, hang on, stop,” I said as I realised what she was doing.
“What?” she said, huffing as she placed one hand on her hip, the other holding marigold flowers.
“You have to dry them first. You never use fresh marigold in a dermal solution.”
Maria ground her teeth a little, but she did pull out her wand.
I shook my head. “How are you considered one of the greatest Witches of history and you’re this bad at potion-making?”
“Because it takes too long,” Maria admitted as she waited for her drying spell to work.
I grimaced. That would work, but not as well as letting them dry naturally.
“I take shortcuts because I don’t have the patience for the long way, and then my potions are never that strong.”
I took some more marigold flowers from her supplies and removed them from the preservation spell, putting them out to dry.
This potion wasn’t going to be strong enough the way she was making it, so I might as well set up the next one now.
“At least you’re aware of your pitfalls.”
“Being one of the greatest Witches of history demands it. Especially if you’re neurodivergent. You can’t succeed if you don’t understand your limits, Amelia. Pushing past them will only harm you in the long-run.”
I folded my arms tight across my chest. “What if you don’t like thinking about the fact that you’re not good at something?”
She turned and gave me a reassuring smile. “Then that is understandable. But that’s one of those pitfalls that you really do need to acknowledge.”
I leaned back against the table I was standing next to. “Yeah, I guess…”
“For example, if you hadn’t acknowledged that you struggle with Light magic enough to have difficulty casting healing spells, you would have kept pushing yourself to succeed in using traditional healing magic, rather than focusing on your connection to Nature.”
“I don’t struggle with Light magic.”
Maria raised an eyebrow.
“I stopped you from freeing your coven by focusing on Light magic.”
“I didn’t say that you can’t access it at all, I’m just saying that you seem to be favouring Dark magic. And why are you arguing? I thought you wanted to be a Dark Witch so that you could go to the Underworld and get your sister’s protection.”
“I just don’t want to end up like you.”
“I’m not a Dark Witch.”
I frowned. “Wait, you’re not?”
“No, I’m not Dark or Light. It’s not a binary, Amelia. You can draw from both. Or the odd Witch like you can draw from Nature.
“I’ve never been a fan of thinking of it in the binary anyway. ‘Dark’ and ‘Light’ were just terms that Witches made up because the Demons and Council of Light demanded that we be one or the other to work with them.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Well, the Demons didn’t really. They started offering protections to the Witches who worked with them in exchange for making sure that said Witches followed certain guidelines and procedures. No one likes buying a healing potion only to find that it doesn’t actually work, so the Demons created a sort of stamp of approval for the Witches they worked with. And then, since they knew that they could trust those Witches, they were allowed to enter the Underworld without much scrutiny, and they could also call on the services the Demons provided to their own people.”
“But they let Light Witches have these protections too?”
“If they wanted them. But then the Council of Light felt threatened, seeing this as a Demon expansion onto Earth, so they created their own system. But they introduced the rule that their Witches can’t have worked with the Demons in the past. So, every Witch was forced to choose. Unless, like me, they chose not to choose. But many did choose, and then it became easier if Witches working for the Council and Witches working for the Demons didn’t mix across covens, and you eventually got Dark and Light Witches being split.”
I frowned. “You didn’t choose? I thought you were friends with one of the first Demon Princesses.”
Maria looked away, her gaze darkening. “Helena wasn’t exactly well-liked by her family. If you recall, her sister did execute her.”
My stomach twisted as I remembered back to some off-handed comment Maria had made about her last girlfriend being executed by her sister.
I’d known that the two of them had been close, but I hadn’t meant to step on a wound like that…
Maria folded her arms tight and the room warped.
Maria disappeared, along with the cauldron.
And in their place was a woman with long, ebony hair and murderous crimson eyes.
She moved faster than she should have been able to in her heavy onyx armour, her hand on my throat as her other held a sword to my gut.
“I swear, Manduorix, if you approach my sister again…”
“Your sister is a grown woman,” I gasped, my actions no longer my own. “She can make her own choices.”
“No, clearly she cannot. How can neither of you see it? You bring out the worst in her.”
“You blame me for that? You’re the one she could never live up to!”
“And coming to Earth was supposed to free her of that. She was supposed to find a new home here. She was supposed to find peace. And instead, she found you. Instead of letting go, she let you fuel her ambitions.”
“I simply refused to let her believe she was worthless.”
“And what about you? What has my sister done for you? I heard tales of a quiet Witch who wanted to use her power to help others. Now those tales tell a different story. A story of fear and of a Witch with no regard for anything but her own power.”
“She wouldn’t let people treat me as worthless either. Those people discarded me. All Helena did was help me see that grovelling at their feet wouldn’t change that.”
The Demon’s gaze turned from rage to pity and her grip loosened.
Not enough for me to get free, but enough so that it no longer hurt.
“I’m sorry that I couldn’t do better by my sister. And I’m sure that your clan would say the same of you. But this has to stop. I am not here to judge my sister, Manduorix, but the nobles are doing so in my stead. They fear that she is going too far, that she will create enemies that we will struggle to fight. We may not talk, but she is still a Princess. Her actions reflect upon the Underworld, and if she cannot be reined in, I will be forced into a more permanent solution.
“Please, Manduorix, I do not want to execute my own sister.”
Tears welled in my eyes. “What would you have me do?”
“Break things off with her. Allow her to find the peace that she was sent here for. And find your own way. You both have the capacity to be great, but I fear that that greatness cannot be found together.”
The tears finally fell down my cheeks. “I was going to ask her to marry me.”
The room warped once more, and I found myself back in the tower with Maria.
My hand went to my neck, rubbing the spot that the Demon had held me by.
“Something wrong?” Maria asked.
“You looked dazed and now you’re rubbing your neck.”
“You mean that you didn’t see that?”
“Didn’t see what?”
I stared at her as I began to realise what had happened.
I hadn’t moved.
It had all just been in my mind.
Or, rather, not my mind.
“Manduorix,” I said, not sure how to articulate anything else.
Maria stared at me as if I’d grown another head. “How do you know that name? No one alive remembers that name. Even written records, my own books and journals as well as those of friends, no longer contain that name.”
“No one remembers but you.”
“Of course. I may forget many things over the years, Amelia, but not my given name. No matter how many more I have to choose.”
I grimaced. “I think I saw one of your memories. You were thinking about Helena and then… And then her sister was holding me by the throat and demanding that I stop seeing her.”
Maria frowned before turning back to the cauldron. “The connection between us is deepening. We have to find a way to break it.”
“I thought you didn’t mind that we can talk through the connection.”
“Just talking is fine, but this…?”
“You would rather keep your secrets.”
She spun on her heel to face me. “This isn’t about secrets, Amelia. I have to live with these memories because I refuse to forget, lest I forget the lessons they taught me. But you should not be burdened with such things. You’re still just a child, and there is still hope that you do not walk my path.”
My heart ached for her and I moved forward to place a hand on her arm.
She frowned at my hand but didn’t move away.
“What happened?” I asked. “I mean, I know that Helena was executed in the end…”
“I did exactly as her sister told me,” Maria said, her voice barely more than a whisper. “And Helena… I may have put her on that path, but by that point, I was also her restraint. Her sister was right, we brought out the worst in each other, but after she’d already embraced that side of herself… Well, she did not react well to the break-up.”
“I can imagine. I mean, I don’t know how she felt, but you said that you wanted to marry her…”
Maria stiffened. “She told me how she felt in no uncertain terms when she left. That for all her sister’s worry about schemes, she just wanted to have enough power that we would be left alone. So that no one would challenge the Princess for marrying a Witch over a Demon.
“And then when I was clearing through her things, I found notes. Spells she was working on so that we could have children together. Dreams of what our life could have been.
“I regretted my decision, but by the time I was sure that Helena’s sister had made a mistake, it was too late. Without me, Helena turned her ambitions solely to the crown, and her sister ended up having to execute her anyway.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t regret my decision.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, sure that the words weren’t enough.
But I didn’t have anything better.
Maria turned away from me with a shrug. “I have made many mistakes over my lifetime, Amelia. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve ever done anything right. I try, but I am constantly aware that it is never enough.”
“You helped to save me from the Amazons.”
She gave a cold smirk. “The Amazons only investigated you because I pulled you into trying to free my coven. Because I couldn’t just be patient and figure out another way…”
She sighed, shaking her head. “After everything with Helena, I went home. I thought maybe her sister was right. Maybe my clan had regretted how they’d treated me.”
“And did they?”
“I don’t know. They acted like it, but then I saw how they treated the other Litcorde. Oh, they were nice enough to the ones without power, but the strong ones? They were under the same scrutiny I was. Subjected to the same fears that they might lose control.
“I left and started my own coven. I took the others with me, and we took in everyone who needed us. All of the misfits who needed a home.
“But as we grew, others began to see us as a threat. And that’s when they beseeched the Angel to intervene on their behalf. And, well, you know the rest.”
“That’s why you’re so desperate to free them? You feel responsible for them?”
“Of course, I do. They’re my coven. I took them in because I thought I could keep them safe. I swore to them that I could, and then I failed.”
“Do you have any leads on how to free them? If you need help…”
She gave me a weak smile. “Thank you, Amelia. But for now, our focus should be on breaking this connection between us. Or at least weakening it. I don’t want to burden you with more of my memories.”
“Well, we can give this potion a try once it’s done. And if it doesn’t work, I’ve put some marigold flowers out to dry.”
Maria nodded, but she had that look she got when she’d already decided that she wasn’t going to use it.
No, she already had another idea.
I suppressed a sigh. I’d learned to just wait until she sprung her new plans on me, rather than try to get her to articulate them while she was still formulating them.
“We should also focus on things at the school,” Maria said in a clear attempt to change the subject rather than tell me that she had no intention of using the flowers. “When are you back in classes?”
“When I wake up. Hopefully I haven’t missed too much… But the other girls who trained with the Amazons will be behind as well. It’s why they’re starting us back in classes tomorrow, rather than waiting until Monday. They want us to treat it as a day to get re-acclimatised with everything”
“And the Slayers?”
“They arrive on Monday.”
“Are you worried?”
I shrugged. “Kind of. But as long as I keep my head down, I don’t think they’ll focus on me. Not like the Amazons did. They don’t have the same motive to investigate a powerful Witch.”
“I suppose not. Which means that, for the time being, you should be safe.”
“I guess. Why do you sound confused by that?”
She shook her head. “I’m not confused by that per se, just… When I mentioned breaking the connection between us, I expected you to be happier about that option. My understanding was that the threat of the Amazons, and the fact that you needed my help with it, was the only reason why you didn’t try to break the connection earlier.”
“Well… I guess. But just because the Slayers aren’t a threat doesn’t mean that there won’t be more threats in the future. And you understand Angelborn powers better than anyone, so I guess it just makes sense for me to learn from you so that I can protect myself in the future.”
Maria hesitated for a moment before nodding. “Yes, I suppose that does, indeed, make sense.”
I arrived at breakfast the next morning with a smile.
“Someone’s happy,” my friend Lena said as I went to sit next to my girlfriend, Willow.
I shrugged. “I’m just happy to be back in regular classes again after everything that happened with the Amazons.”
Lena rolled her eyes. “Nerd.”
Charlotte shook her head. “No, I’m with Amelia on this one. I’ve missed my regular routine.”
Lena gave her a sympathetic look. “I know. Have you got a sound-dampening charm with you?”
“I’ll be able to handle the spell if I need it.”
Lena gave her a look.
“What? I will. And if I can’t, then you can say ‘I told you so’. Speaking of which,” Charlotte took a large bottle of water out from her bag, “you forgot to take this again this morning.”
“Oh yeah, I’d been meaning to clean it.”
“I know, so I did it last night, and I spelled it with dirt and germ resistance. I swear, every time you get sick, it’s from this thing.”
Lena took the bottle, if a little sheepishly. “Thanks.”
Charlotte just shrugged.
“So,” my friend, and roommate, Natalie said as she turned to me, “what was it you said you had first?”
“History,” I said before biting my lip.
Willow leaned closer, placing her hand over mine. “You okay?”
I nodded, my heart fluttering and my cheeks heating at her concern. God, would she ever stop making me feel like this? “Yeah, fine. I’m just worried about how far behind I am in my Human classes after taking so much time away.”
Lena shrugged. “Why do you still care about Human classes? You passed the Amazons’ trials, Lia. You could just join the Amazons and never have to worry about interacting with Humans ever again.”
I looked down at my avocado and egg baguette, picking at the edge of the bread as I tried to take comfort in Willow’s lingering touch.
As much as I’d passed the trials, it wasn’t safe for me to join the Amazons.
Not when their leader had it out for me.
“You don’t have to be an Amazon to avoid the Human world,” Charlotte said, probably picking up on my discomfort.
How she was the autistic one between her and Lena, I did not know.
“You could apply for Lorekeeper positions like I was going to. Lorekeepers aren’t expected to have Human jobs, so you would mostly stay with your coven, doing magical research.”
I sighed, remembering the warning one of the friendly Amazons – Esme – had given me.
That as long as Dana was in charge of the Amazons, I shouldn’t go near them.
Which meant not joining any covens, as almost all of them answered to the Amazons, even if many did so unofficially.
My auntie was a hedge Witch, so I figured that I could be the same.
But after spending time here, where I didn’t have to hide…
I wasn’t sure that I was ready to go back.
“I’m sure I’ll figure something out,” I eventually settled for saying before picking up my sandwich and taking a bite so that no one could expect me to keep talking.
Natalie gave me one of her very slight smiles. An effect of her Vampire-side muting her emotions. “I understand that you probably want to stay away from the Amazons while Dana is in charge, but she might not be in charge much longer. Esme might win this leadership contest.”
I frowned. “Is that actually looking likely?”
Natalie shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s an internal Amazon affair, so I’ve heard nothing.”
Charlotte gave a hum of thought as she nibbled on her toast. “Well, I’ve taken up my place as an Amazon now, so why don’t we go and see? I’m allowed to bring guests to Themiscyra, and I should go and check out the place they gave me at some point. Why don’t we portal there tomorrow?”
I stared at her for a moment as I processed what she was saying.
I hadn’t been allowed to leave the grounds since I’d gotten here.
Not outside of a short trip to the hospital when my mum had been awoken from the curse Maria had put her under.
But I hadn’t been allowed at first because everyone worried that Maria was after me, and I knew that that wasn’t the case now.
Then the Amazons wouldn’t let me go, but they were gone.
And the Slayers didn’t arrive until Monday.
“I’ll have to ask my auntie to see if I’m finally allowed to leave campus, but if I can, I’d be up for it.”
Lena frowned. “If you’re finally allowed to leave campus, don’t you have more important things to do? Like seeing your parents?”
I shrugged, glaring at my sandwich to avoid meeting anyone’s gaze. “Well, if they want to see me, they haven’t said anything about it. And if they do want something from me, I can see them on Sunday.”
“Okay. Then I guess we’re going to Themiscyra.”