Free bird? Don't make me laugh.
I'm Mavis Merlini and I want out. Of my shady family, this rowdy school, maybe even the world.
My brother got kicked out of Gallows Hill School for inciting mermaid violence. I'm determined to cut out all distractions and be the first of my six siblings to actually graduate. Which means living on campus and ignoring my extroverted roommate.
All my plans are doomed to failure when a goth lion shifter in a trench coat drops his feather. Of course I pick it up. It's shiny and I'm a raven shifter. I swear I meant to give it back. But now it's magically bonded to me and I can't. Now I've got obligations to a Faerie Monarch on top of everything else. And if I shirk them, I'll spend a hundred years in his dungeon.
Can I soar through this double life, or will I end up failing to launch?
"I highly recommend this endearing and action packed book, and the phenomenal series, to readers who love enlightening Urban Fantasy. To the author, I'd like to thank you for the Mavis character, that shines a spotlight on handling learning disabilities and bullies in a such a noble way. And for putting the links for anyone who may need help in your author notes. Thank you for caring."– Amazon review
"A wonderful read. Hard to put down. Great friends and enemies, teachers, supporting staff, minor characters."– Amazon review
"Love the flow of the writing. Couldn't stop reading it! Can't wait to see what happens in the next books."– Amazon review
The bus to Danvers stank intolerably. I wasn't on it. I'm a raven shifter, so I never set foot or feather on public transportation. But sometimes I take it, in a manner of speaking.
Since I could fly, you might be wondering, why not use the shortest route instead? I like my privacy. My family was murder. Literally and in more ways than one. So, I rode the bus's fragrant wake. When I shifted behind the low stone wall separating the brick building from the street, I didn't have to worry about my clothes. The shell locket I'd had for as long as I could remember meant I didn't have to lose them when changing from one form to the other.
I'm getting ahead of myself. Story of my life.
The entire reason for following the bus in the first place was visiting my asshole brother, who was lucky to be in Danvers Sanitarium instead of max security for trying to kill his girlfriend and a boatload of her friends and classmates.
Our mother forbade the rest of us from visiting him. There I was, doing it anyway.
Or trying. The automatic glass doors opened to a lobby, mostly empty on Sunday at the dinner hour. Chairs and tables sat on the other side of a low wall painted to look like fieldstone. One pink-cheeked young woman in a pale blue dressing gown hummed as she snapped pieces into a jigsaw puzzle. I knew she couldn't see or hear me, so I walked on.
Danvers Sanitarium was a psychiatric hospital, but absolutely not one that belonged in a horror show. Faeries ran it, treating the residents with surprising humanity and kindness. Rumor had it, the doctors appointed by the state of Massachusetts held ducal ranks in the Fae courts. But they didn't do direct patient care.
That duty fell to the pure fae, which I still had three years to learn about at Gallows Hill Academy, the local charter school for shifters and changelings. The pure weren't human, though some supposedly came close. I'd only seen them from a distance before that night.
One of the walls and the entire floor was wood. Murals covered the rest, most of magical creatures in an Impressionist style. Soothing was a decent word for it, but I liked bucolic better.
The fact that I'd never been in here before didn't matter. I knew the drill. Before he'd left for college, my brother's ex-best friend Bartholomew told me how things worked here. So I faced that wooden wall and announced myself instead of fumbling around like an ignoramus. Always a good thing not to be.
"Mavis Merlini, here to see her brother Crow, same last name."
"We have no records of a Samelastname."
"Crow Merlini. Uh, Cornelius. Sorry."
"Apology unneeded. Proof of blood requested."
I went to the wall, which upon closer inspection, did have some actual rock incorporated into it.
"Ow." I winced. Something sharper than any of those rocks stabbed me.
"Blood relation confirmed. Prepare for vanishment to Aggression Wing, room 111."
"Oh no, not vanishm—"
I blinked and found myself in a much smaller and more rustic space. Like the inside of a cabin in the woods. Not the creepy kind you see in horror movies. This place was a secure and tidy domicile but the sort that took hard work to live there.
Of course, they'd glamoured it. Pure were far better at that sort of thing than the teenage changelings I knew, or even the tithed faeries they'd eventually become.
Even with illusions likely, the brick building didn't have room for all of this. So the ward Crow was on might be situated in the space between the mundane world and the fae Under. One glance at the nonexistent bars on my phone confirmed that theory.
The cabin had a fireplace, banked and smoldering, with a hook and pot hanging over the flames on a hinged arm. The aroma of a fish-based stew wafted from it. An unfinished table, chair, and bed frame were the only furniture. Hides on the bed partially covered a rough straw mattress. I saw a locket hanging from a nail over the bed, the same as mine but more battered. One thing was missing, the most important.
"Um, I came to see my brother, and he's not here."
The voice didn't answer. Instead, I heard a creak then felt a gust of unseasonably nippy air behind me.
"Of course he is. Look again."
I turned and walked out the door and into a small, brush-ringed yard. The babbling sound of a stream or creek sounded from somewhere out of sight but nearby.
A lanky fellow stood across the yard from the door, splitting firewood. He wore a red and white flannel shirt and blue jeans. His hair was short, uneven stubble as if he'd shaved it all off maybe a month ago. My brother wouldn't be caught dead looking like that on the streets of Salem. Still, I'd have recognized him even if he'd been wearing a ballgown and painted orange.
I stepped carefully over a bundle of green branches.
"What are you doing here, Mavis?" He stopped in mid-swing, back still turned toward me. "Snitches get stitches. So do the sad sacks who associate with us. You don't want that kind of trouble from the Boss."
I grimaced. His life took a turn for the worse once he started calling our mother that, which was one reason I never would.
"No one followed me. In case you were, uh, worried about that."
"Thank the gods." He raised the ax again, chopped through the log on the stump, and paused. "It's harder work than you're cut out for, being in here. Doesn't suck as much as expected. You'll be in a world of hurt if she finds out you came here, though." He set the ax down and turned.
"After what I did, I'm not worth this kind of trouble. So, why?"
"I'm starting school tomorrow."
"You never make sense. You know that?"
"I make sense to myself. I know you don't always get me. Why else would you say stuff like this all the time?"
"To get you out of my face." One corner of his mouth tilted up. "Seriously, what's the deal? You can't be here just to annoy your littlest big brother. Third time I'm asking, and this is a faerie-run facility. They like their tidy threes. So spill it."
"I'm keeping our promise, Crow."
"What?" He blinked. "That's old news. Zombie horse. Water under the bridge. Wearing cement overshoes. A doornail. I failed."
"It's not over. Because I'm still here. I refuse to fail." I crossed my arms over my chest. "Or give up on you."
"You should. Could have refused that last order the Boss made, let her kick me to the curb." He hung his head. "Couldn't leave you behind. If only I knew it was no-win."
"It's not." I cleared my throat. "We promised each other, and I quote. 'We're getting out of here. That house. This town. No matter what.'"
"In case you haven't noticed." He waved a hand at the cabin, the ax, the sky. "Kinda stuck. With good reason."
"So consider this a warning. You've got three years to do the work in this place."
"Work?" He snorted. "Chopping wood is redemption?"
"Rehabilitation, duh." I rolled my eyes. "It's why Uncle Paolo got you in here, remember?"
"He's not our real uncle. But whatever." He shrugged, turned his back on me, and hefted his ax again.
My eyes narrowed, jaw set, nostrils flared. Out of all seven Merlini siblings, Crow and I were the only ones who hadn't let the competition built into our upbringing break the bond between us.
"No whatevers. I'm graduating."
Three years ago, the night before he'd started at Gallows Hill, we'd made a vow. One he thought he'd failed at, irrevocably. He'd forgotten it had two sides.
"Good for you. That taskmaster principal is no joke. So make like a tree and get out of here."
"No. Not until you understand this. Do the work, and I'll take you with me."
"You think that's still happening?" He put a hand over his middle, laughing. With the other, he wiped his eyes. "I was supposed to be the one getting you out."
"That's on Mom."
"Don't call her that." He pressed his lips together. "It's a mistake. You know what she really is. And what she's capable of if you let your guard down. How will you keep her out of your hair?" He bent and collected an armload of firewood.
"I haven't figured that out yet."
"You suck at planning. Get better." He walked toward the tiny cabin. "I'll give their boring-ass therapy sessions another shot. For now, I've got to chop enough wood, or it'll be a cold night. That's how this aggression program works. Burn the rage out with survival. Don't come back, Mavis. It's too dangerous."
"Thanks, Crow. For caring even a little." I nodded, then stared up at the high ceiling that looked exactly like an overcast sky at sunset. "I'm done with my visit now."
A moment later, I was back in that calming lobby. I stepped outside and made the short walk to the bus stop, then hid behind a shrub to shift into raven form. Following the bus back to Salem was easy, though still unpleasantly fragrant.
If my parental unit or any of my uncaged siblings saw me on the way to or from Danvers, this stop was a futile exercise. Hopefully, I was wrong.