Authors: Rachel E. Carter
Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Historical, #Paranormal, #Romance, #Young Adult
The Black Mage: Candidate
by Rachel E. Carter
Published by Clean Reads
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2015 RACHEL E. CARTER
Cover Art Designed by CORA GRAPHICS
For every little girl who wished for a sword instead of a tiara. And for every little girl who wished for a tiara. Because tiaras are pretty cool, too. And for the girl that wanted both. Because that just kicks ass.
In truth, I have so many people to thank for continuing to support me on this journey. I honestly wasn’t sure anyone would ever want to read about the crazy cast of characters inside my head -so thank you for proving me wrong. Especially the online community, my wonderful reader and reviewer friends who have helped my book get noticed. I love you all, even when you are posting updates about how you want to strangle a certain non-heir or hit Ryiah on the head. You make me laugh, you make me smile, and most of all, you make me feel like a friend –and that’s what matters the most. So thank you. For making my dream real.
The People of My Life-
My mom. For buying me books –all of those trips to B&N for, yes, every single of the 56 Nancy Drew’s, and that’s before I even liked to read. For taking me on hikes in beautiful places. For letting me keep the family computer in my room. And most of all, for supporting my dream.
My dad. For introducing me to more music than I ever would have listened to on my own. Especially that first Savage Garden CD. My book playlists are the result of your work. For the video games. For the good times. For everything.
Rotna. You get me –the whole me. The dark parts that no one else sees. The good and the strong. We couldn’t be more different, and yet at the end of the day we are one and the same. You and Shelly are my Ella, and I know you will never let me fall. You will never let me break. And if I do break, you will be there to pick up the pieces. Because that’s what best friends do. I love you.
Courtney. Because the second I told you I wrote a book you asked for it. And you read it the very next day. And you kept cheerleading me on every step of the way. Before I was convinced it would ever get published you were swearing up and down you were my #1 fan. You haven’t stopped. And for that I owe you two things when I become famous: 1) a trip to England to stalk JK Rowling, live it up BBC-style, and listen to them speak in accents all day long, and 2) a dedication in this book. One down, one to go!
Last but definitely not least, to my new family! Susan, Gary, Thom, Amy, David, and Malachi (yes, books are cool, don’t listen to your uncle!) –such wonderful, amazing people that I am so happy to share my new life with! You have all made me feel so loved & supported throughout this journey and I just wanted to say THANK YOU and I love you all.
Darren laughed softly. It was like water. The sound of a stream cascading down rock, low and unhurried. Silky. Confident. “You don’t really think you can beat me, Ryiah.”
I put my hands on my hips. “How would you know? We’ve never dueled before.”
“I beat you in that contest when we were apprentices in Port Langli.”
“Yes, but we didn’t fight with
.” I shifted from one foot to the next as the non-heir raised a brow and gave me a knowing look. He was tap
ping his fingers against his wrist, and I could tell he was torn between dismissing my challenge and outright intrigue. Prince Darren of Jerar, second-in-line to the throne, was nothing if not proud.
But he was also stubborn. Like me. And I knew he wasn’t thrilled by the prospect of dueling his future wife.
I bit my lip.
How to convince him otherwise
. I watched as Darren’s eyes fell to my mouth. Suddenly I was quite sure I knew the answer. Senseless attraction had made the past five years a misery for the both of us, but now it was going to help.
“How about a wager?”
“A wager?” Darren’s tone was instantly suspicious. “What kind of wager?”
I took a step forward and lightly laid my palm against his form-fitting tunic. I had to swallow as I felt the flat layer of hard muscle beneath.
Control yourself, Ryiah
. Now was not the time to be noticing things like that.
was the one who was supposed to be seducing
“Careful, Ryiah.” The prince was smiling.
“I win and you join me in Ferren’s Keep.” Ha. We’d spent the past week arguing over where the two of us were going to be stationed.
“You know I need to remain at the palace.”
“Then win and you won’t have to leave.”
“What’s my counter?”
I spoke without thinking. “Anything you want.”
?” Darren’s eyes met mine, and my stomach dropped. A flush crept up the side of my neck and stained my whole face crimson.
“I – I didn’t mean a-anything,” I stuttered.
“Then don’t lose.” His eyes were dancing. “Isn’t that what you just told me?”
I folded my arms and stared him down stubbornly. “Fine,” I said, “but if you get ‘anything’ then I get to add another condition if I win: you have to make peace with Alex the next time the two of you cross paths.”
The non-heir cringed. He and my twin had a strained relationship at best, and even after the night of the ascension Alex was still wary of the prince. He had told me the morning after, four days back.
Which was ironic because Darren’s brother, the crown prince of Jerar,
me. Although to be fair, I shared the sentiment. There was no one I despised more than Blayne.
“Well, it’s a good thing I plan on winning.” I looked up and found Darren smirking. Gods, even when he was arrogant, he was attractive. Or maybe it was because of his smug self-assurance. It made me want to slap that silly smile off his face, and then grab him by the collar and kiss him until I couldn’t breathe. Not necessarily in that order.
I concentrated on tugging my hair back into a knot — anything to appear unaffected. “Vanity doesn’t suit you.”
The prince just gave me a knowing smile and pulled himself off the wall, lazily walking to the center of the training court. I followed him until the two of us were standing ten feet apart in the center of a large stone dais. The palace’s practice court was much smaller than the outdoor ones we had trained in during our apprenticeship, and it was also twice as elaborate. I suspected it was because we were in the nation’s capital, where more coin was devoted to pleasure than practicality.
Normal arenas were in the dirt, outside under a radiating sun with a bare picket fence to serve as the border. Here, inside the palace of Devon, we stood on a raised stone platform surrounded by large, white pillars and a curved base of cushioned benches. On the same side as the empty seats was a thick glass wall, reinforced by a regular supply of the Alchemy mages’ resistance potions.
This way the king’s court could relax in leisure without the threat of a knight or mage’s attack gone awry.
On the opposite side we had just come from was a small alcove featuring a display of training weapons and spare armor. Darren didn’t bother to take any—he already had the most powerful weapon at hand. His
. As Combat mages we were able to cast any weapon we needed, and while we would outfit ourselves in real battle, this was only a duel and we had both agreed the outcome would be decided by sheer prowess alone.
“Are you ready, Ryiah?” Darren was grinning.
I studied his stance, hoping for a small hint as to what his first attack might be. I had spent five years studying his form in casting, and while the prince was good, no one was perfect. He still had tells just like the rest of us. They might not be as obvious, but they were there. If Darren were to cast a weapon to hold he’d likely adjust his right hand—just the slightest widening of his fist to grip a handle. Likewise, he’d be more likely to dig in with his right heel were he to prepare for a substantial casting from his center of gravity, something akin to a heavy torrent of wind power or flame.
Right now, on the day I needed to read him the most, the prince was a blank slate. I scowled. “I’m ready.”
“On the count of three.” Darren’s eyes met mine. “One … Two …
The two of us threw out our castings at once, our magic rising up and exploding in a collision of brute power and force.
And then we were flying back.
The two of us slammed against a pillar on each end of the arena. I barely had time to cushion my fall with a casting of air before I was staggering forward, running back toward Darren with a hand raised and magic flowing from my palm.
But he was even faster.
I narrowly ducked as a series of whistling daggers soared past my ear. Swiping a loose strand from my eyes, I met the prince’s gaze.
“Having fun, love?” The words were full of unspoken laughter.
“Aren’t you?” A blade appeared in one hand as my other sent off a blinding flash of light. The air lit up, and for a moment there was only gold as I barreled forward, bringing my sword up and down in a vertical slash. I threw all my weight into the heat of the attack.
But Darren was waiting. And the sound of two metals colliding sent out a noisy ring across the dais.
I withdrew and threw up a pine shield just in time to counter his cut.
“I learned from the best.” I paused. “Well,
We continued to trade blows for parries but within minutes Darren was walking me backward across the dais with a maddening smirk. His weighted blows were stronger than mine, and my arm was starting to strain against the heavy hits I was blocking, but only occasionally issuing.
I made a split-second decision to lunge forward with my shield. Darren blocked the move easily, but that was my intention. While he was distracted with the blow, I changed my sword to a knife.
Darren registered my decision a second too late as I threw a crescent cut low and out. I caught the side of his leg just before he fell back, and I was rewarded with a loud rip of cloth and the trickle of red.
I jumped out of the way of the prince’s counter.
“Should have known you’d choose the knife.”
“It always was my favorite.”
We regarded one another for a moment in silence, our chests rising and falling after the first ten minutes of battle. I had drawn first blood, so I won by standard duel etiquette. But the both of us knew we were playing for more. We trained for Combat, and Combat trained to win. We were war mages. Our definition of winning was surrender—or death.
I adjusted my grip.
One victory down, and one more to go
. I lifted my hand at the same time Darren lowered his. Our eyes met and power burst from our fingertips. The dais rumbled and groaned, and I leaped to avoid a large fissure as Darren cast out a magicked globe, shielding himself from the storm of arrows I had sent flooding down from the ceiling.
This time there was no rest.
Fire tore a line across the fissure, sprouting even more flames as it chased me to the edge. I spun and doused it with a flurry of ice, listening to the
snap, crackle, hiss
as the flames met with cold.
For a second, heavy steam fogged up the arena. I shut my eyes and called up a memory for the next casting.