The Ravens – Kass Morgan, Danielle Paige

The witch looked at the blond girl cowering on the ground, her eyes wide with fear. “Don’t look at me that way. I told you, I don’t want to do this,” the witch said as she drew the circle, lit the candles, and checked the contents of the bubbling cauldron. The knife, already sharpened, glinted on the altar next to her offering. The girl moaned in response, tears streaking down her face. Her mouth was bound, but her words rang crystal-clear in the witch’s head. Remember who I am. Remember who you are. Remember the Ravens. The witch hardened her heart. No doubt the girl thought she sensed an opportunity in her captor’s apologetic tone. A chance to persuade her to stop. A chance to hope. A chance to live. It was too late for that.

Magic didn’t preach. It gave and took. This was the gift. This was the cost. The witch knelt beside the girl and tested the bonds one last time. Tight, though not enough to cut off her circulation. She wasn’t a monster. The girl’s screams began again, piercing through the gag stuffed in her mouth. The witch gritted her teeth. She’d much prefer the girl to be unconscious.

But the rite she’d dug up had been very specific. If this was going to work, she needed to do it perfectly. If it didn’t . She shut her eyes. She couldn’t think about that possibility. It had to work. There was no other way. She picked up the knife and began to chant. In the end, she was surprised at how easy it was. A slash and a shower of red, followed by the unmistakable electric crackle of magic bleeding into the air .

Magic that was now all hers. CHAPTER ONE Vivi “Vivian.” Daphne Devereaux stood in her daughter’s doorway, her face twisted in exaggerated anguish. Even in the unforgiving Reno heat, she wore a floor-length black housecoat edged in gold tassels and had wrapped a velvet scarf around her dark, unruly hair. “You can’t go. I’ve had a premonition.” Vivi glanced at her mother, suppressed a sigh, and returned to her packing. She was leaving for Westerly College in Savannah that afternoon and was trying to fit her entire life into two suitcases and a backpack. Luckily, Vivi had had a lifetime of practice. Whenever Daphne Devereaux got one of her “premonitions,” they tended to leave the next morning, unpaid rent and unpacked belongings be damned.

“It’s healthy to start fresh, sugar snap,” Daphne said once when eight-year-old Vivi begged to go back for her stuffed hippo, Philip. “You don’t want to carry that bad energy with you.” “Let me guess,” Vivi said now, shoving several books into her backpack. Daphne was moving too, trading Reno for Louisville, and Vivi didn’t trust her mom to take her library. “You’ve seen a powerful darkness headed my way.” “It’s not safe for you at that . place.” Vivi closed her eyes and took what she hoped would be a calming breath. Her mother hadn’t been able to bring herself to say the word college for months. “It’s called Westerly.

It’s not a curse word.” Far from it. Westerly was Vivi’s lifeline. She’d been shocked when she received a full scholarship to Westerly, a school she’d considered to be way out of her league. Vivi had always been a strong student, but she’d attended three different high schools—two of which she’d started midyear—and her transcript contained nearly as many incompletes as it did As. Daphne, however, had been adamantly against it. “You’ll hate Westerly,” she’d said with surprising conviction. “I’d never set foot on that campus.” That was what sealed the deal for Vivi. If her mom hated it that much, it was clearly the perfect place for Vivi to start a brand-new life.

As Daphne stood mournfully in the doorway, Vivi looked at the Westerly calendar she’d tacked to the yellowing wall, the only decoration she’d bothered with this time around. Of all the places they’d lived over the years, this apartment was her least favorite. It was a stucco-filled two-bedroom above a pawnshop in Reno, and the whole place reeked of cigarettes and desperation. Much like the whole dusty state of Nevada. The calendar’s photos, glossy odes to ivy-covered buildings and mossy live oaks, had become a beacon of hope. They were a reminder of something better, a future she could carve out for herself—away from her mother and her portents of evil. But then she saw the tears in her mother’s eyes and Vivi felt her frustration relent, just a little. Although Daphne was a supremely accomplished actress—a necessity when your livelihood depended on parting strangers from their money—she’d never been able to fake tears. Vivi abandoned her packing and took a few steps across her cramped bedroom toward her mother. “It’s going to be okay, Mom,” Vivi said.

“I won’t be gone long. Thanksgiving will be here before you know it.” Her mother sniffed and extended her pale arm. Vivi shared her mother’s fair coloring, which meant that she burned after fifteen minutes in the desert sun. “Look what I drew as your cross card.” It was a tarot card. Daphne made a living “reading the fortunes” of all the sad, wretched people who sought her out and forked over good money in exchange for bullshit platitudes: Yes, your lazy husband will find work soon; no, your deadbeat dad doesn’t hate you—in fact, he’s trying to find you too . As a child, Vivi had loved watching her beautiful mother dazzle the customers with her wisdom and glamour. But as she grew older, seeing her mother profiting from their pain began to set Vivi’s teeth on edge. She couldn’t bear to watch people being taken advantage of, yet there was nothing she could do about it.

Daphne’s readings were their one source of income, the only way to pay for their shitty apartments and discount groceries. But not anymore. Vivi had finally found a way out. A new beginning, far from her mother’s impulsive behaviors. The kind that had led them to uproot their whole lives time and again based on nothing more than Daphne’s “premonitions.” “Let me guess,” Vivi said, raising an eyebrow at the tarot card in her mother’s hand. “Death?” Her mother’s face darkened, and when Daphne spoke, her normally melodic voice was chillingly sharp and quiet. “Vivi, I know you don’t believe in tarot, but for once, just listen to me.” Vivi took the card and turned it over. Sure enough, a skeleton carrying a scythe glared up from the card.

Its eyes were hollowed-out gouges and its mouth curved up in an almost gleeful leer. Disembodied hands and feet pushed up from the loamy earth as the sun sank in a blood-red sky. Vivi felt an odd tremor of vertigo, like she was standing at the edge of a great precipice and looking down into a vast nothingness instead of standing in her bedroom, where the only view was the neon-yellow WE BUY GOLD sign across the street. “I told you. Westerly isn’t a safe place, not for people like you,” Daphne whispered. “You have an ability to see beyond the veil. It makes you a target for dark forces.” “Beyond the veil?” Vivi repeated wearily. “I thought you weren’t going to say stuff like that anymore.” Throughout Vivi’s childhood, Daphne had tried to draw her into her world of tarot and séances and crystals, claiming that Vivi had “special powers” waiting to be unlocked.

She’d even trained Vivi to do simple readings for clients, who’d been mesmerized by the sight of a small child communing with the spirits. But eventually, Vivi had realized the truth—she didn’t have any power; she was just another pawn in her mother’s game. “I can’t control which card I draw. It’s foolish to ignore a warning like this.” A horn honked outside and someone yelled an expletive. Vivi sighed and shook her head. “But you taught me yourself that Death is a symbol of transformation.” Vivi tried to hand the card back to her mother, but Daphne’s arms remained resolutely at her sides. “Obviously that’s what it means. College is my fresh start.

” No more random midnight moves to new cities; no uprooting themselves every time Vivi was about to finally form a real friendship. For the next four years, she could reinvent herself as a normal college student. She’d make friends, have a social life, maybe sign up for a few extracurricular activities—or, at the very least, figure out what activities she enjoyed. They’d moved around so much that she hadn’t had the chance to get good at anything. She’d been forced to quit the flute after three months and abandon softball midseason, and she’d given up Intro to French so many times that all she knew how to reliably say was Bonjour, je m’appelle Vivian. Je suis nouvelle. Her mother shook her head. “In the reading, Death was accompanied by the Ten of Swords and the Tower. Betrayal and sudden violence. Vivian, I have a terrible feeling—” Vivi gave up and tucked the card into her suitcase, then reached up and took Daphne’s hands in hers.

“This is a big change for both of us. It’s okay to be upset. Just tell me you’re going to miss me, like a normal parent would, instead of turning this into some sign from the spirit world.” Her mother squeezed her hands tightly. “I know I can’t make this decision for you—” “Then stop trying to. Please.” Vivi laced her fingers through her mother’s the way she used to when she was little. “I don’t want to spend our last day fighting.” Daphne’s shoulders slumped as if she’d finally realized this was a losing battle. “Promise me you’ll be careful.

Remember, things aren’t always as they appear. Even something that seems good can be dangerous.” “Is this your way of telling me I’m secretly evil?” Her mother gave her a withering look. “Just be smart, Viv.” “That I can definitely do.” Vivi’s smile widened enough to make Daphne roll her eyes. “I’ve raised an egomaniac.” But her mother leaned in to hug her all the same. “I blame you for all the ‘you’re magic and you can do anything’ talks,” Vivi said, letting go of her hands to finish zipping the suitcase shut. “I’ll be careful, I promise.

” And she would be. She knew bad things could happen in college. Bad things happened everywhere, but Daphne was fooling herself if she thought some silly tarot reading meant anything. There was no such thing as magic. Or so Vivi thought.

.

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