If only committing murder wasn’t my only way out.
I just wanted to find my father.
When I’m framed by the head of the Seeker’s Guild and sent to Darkwater Reformatory to serve a life sentence, I know I’m doomed. I’ll never see anyone I love again. And forget trying to escape. Darkwater is located in the fae world, on an island in the middle of a forbidding sea. Wizards sent there never return.
Yet my father’s also at the Reformatory, and I’ve been desperate to find him. But he’s using a fake name, so the odds of identifying him are slim. He could be the warden, a guard, or a fellow inmate…
While I track him down, I’ll have to blend in. Seekers are the cops of the fae world, and I was their most promising Seeker. If my identity is revealed, I’m dead. Other than escape, I have two ways out. One, survive the ever-changing, magical catacombs that are the training grounds for a secret Reformatory project. Pass all the tests, and I can leave Darkwater.
Or, I could go with the second option and fulfill the bond I made with the Head Seeker. It shouldn’t be that hard to eliminate a fellow inmate.
Except he’s the wizard I’m falling for.
Wicked Betrayal is Book 1 in the Darkwater Reformatory Series. Follow Tria as she hunts down her father, falls for a hot fae wizard, and saves the world. Or something like that…
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About the Book
by Marty Mayberry
Paranormal Prison Fantasy
May 2, 2020
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A Darkwater Reformatory Novel
© 2020 Marty Mayberry
The beady glass eyes of the stone wexal cat statue watched me as I fidgeted in the front lobby of the Seeker’s Guild Headquarters.
At least, I thought it was a wexal cat, with its large, pointed ears, sleek face with luxurious silver whiskers, and a long, bushy tail. Three-feet tall and about the size of a bobcat, wexals had been extinct for over a thousand years. I’d only seen images of them in books. This one had an inky-ebony coat, as richly black as the magical threads my sister, Fleur, used to create power.
The cat sat on its haunches and whenever I glanced away from it, I swore it inched closer. But I didn’t catch it moving. Except for those damn glowing green eyes. They tracked my every movement. If I’d come across it in the wild, I would’ve turned and bolted in the opposite direction.
For now, I couldn’t run.
Almost an hour ago, an assistant had admitted me into the fortress and agreed—after some persuasion—to notify the Master Seeker I was here. I’d blurted out why I’d come, spilling my guts onto the floor like my boots shucked mud with every shift of my feet.
Would the Seeker agree to see me?
A clang drew my attention to the back of the room where the assistant wheeled a small serving cart into the foyer from a door to the left of the enormous staircase. Steam wafted from the pot, and the pungent, spicy aroma of hornwit tea scented the air.
Bringing the cart to a halt in the middle of the two-story room, he studied me with one eyebrow lifted.
My stomach rumbled. Only the fae knew when I’d last eaten.
His eyebrow rose higher, and his gaze dipped to my belly. Fingers tightening on the cart’s handle as if he thought I’d wrench it from his grip, his lips thinned even further. If he kept at it, they’d disappear.
Hornwit tasted nasty even if you dumped in a bunch of sweetener, so I’d beg water instead if I was offered a drink. But the cardamom pinta cookies arranged neatly on the pretty plate looked as yummy as the ones my stepdad made. Those, I’d happily devour, and then lick the crumbs off the plate.
“When can I see the Master Seeker?” I asked. No cringing in the corner for me. I needed the information, and I’d been told only the Master could deliver. I’d paid a stiff price for this location but coming here had put me one step closer to my goal.
It hadn’t been easy to track down the Guild’s hidden stone fortress high in the Icean Mountains. With only one known flit transport center in the area, I’d had to walk here from the center. I’d hiked for nearly two days, only crashing in the small tent I’d carried on my back when I couldn’t make my feet take another step farther. I’d carried water but nowhere near enough food.
“Ramseff will give you ten minutes,” the assistant intoned. Tall and skinny enough you might miss him if he stood sideways, he strode behind the cart toward the parlor on my right, his long robe brushing the floor. The solitary cup and porcelain teapot on the top of the cart clinked with the movement. Without saying anything else, he entered the parlor.
An expanse of polished tenet wood floor stretched between me and the parlor. My boots, coated with muck, would leave a mess, something my mom would’ve scowled at me for doing. It was one thing to hang out on the rug with clods of mud falling off my feet but another to mess with that pristine surface.
The weight of the cat’s gaze cut through me as I shucked my boots and, on stockinged feet, scurried after the assistant. I paused in the arched entry. The room was made up of one wall with a bank of curtained windows, another with a huge granite fireplace, and the final two with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.
An older guy sat on a green sofa, squishing back on the cushions. Like the cat, he watched me; a common theme in this place.
The assistant settled the teapot, cookies, and single mug onto the low table in front of the man I assumed must be the Master Seeker—the most powerful Seeker of us all.
What to do? Should I stride into the room or hover here and tell the assistant I’d made a mistake and I’d come back later?
No. The assistant had said I had ten minutes. I’d be a fool to waste them.
My shoulders collapsed when I contemplated how challenging it had been to get here only to be told I had mere minutes to plea my case. Weeks searching for any scrap of a clue had been followed by my deal with Katya then flitting to the base and hiking through dense woods to get to this location. In minutes, I’d be standing outside, dreading the long walk back to the flit center. Worrying about the eyes that had tracked me as I hurried up the forest path.
Need made my back stiffen. With a lift of my chin, I walked as calmly as possible over to a high-back wooden chair that had been placed opposite the sofa. I dropped down onto the hard surface and met the intense, milky blue gaze of the Master Seeker.
The assistant wheeled the cart from the room, leaving us alone in ticking silence.
“My assistant filled me in on why you’re here.” Ramseff scratched the side of his neck and then tugged on the hem of the black tunic down over his matching pants. The dark, seamless material was broken only by the white embroidered heron on his left pocket. “What can you—a lowly apprentice Seeker—offer me in exchange for this information?”
So much for the social niceties like, how are you, let alone, would you like a cookie? The glare he shot me twisted his elderly face.
It looked like my odds of convincing him to help me were dropping by the second.
My body twitched, but I kept my face neutral. Yes, I needed the information. And yes, I’d pay almost any price to obtain it. But the last thing I needed was for him to catch a whiff of my desperation.
“I’m a Level Five Seeker, now,” I said, hoping only I heard the shake in my voice. “No longer an apprentice.”
“Tria, Tria, Tria.” His snort cut through my confidence, and he lowered his head and slowly shook it. “At best, you’re a Level Three, child.” Leaning forward, he poured hornwit tea into the mug and lifted it. His long gray hair brushed his shoulders as he pressed back into the sofa. Examining me over the mug’s rim, he sipped his drink. “Toying with a Level Five does not make you a full Seeker.” He lowered his cup back onto the table with a dull thud.
Dragging my gaze from the cookies and hoping I wasn’t drooling, I steadied my feet on the hardwood floor. “I’m close to a Level Five,” I offered reluctantly. Levels were fluid, meaning on one day I might generate a Level Five spell only to find it impossible to go higher than a Level Three after that. But I studied all the time and was determined to solidify the highest Level as soon as possible. Only with endless practice would I be able to consistently create a Level Five spell and be able to say I’d mastered the Level.
Movement out of the corner of my eye drew my attention. I jolted and couldn’t hold in my gasp.
The wexal cat sat on the granite slab in front of the fireplace, its green eyes trained on me.
I turned back to Ramseff to comment, and he stared past my shoulder blankly, as if his mind had left the room already. Another peek toward the fireplace showed the cat was gone. Had I imagined it being there?
“What are you looking at?” the Master Seeker growled. “You seem distracted. Is our conversation too boring for you?”
“No! It’s just…”
Ramseff brushed my sputtering aside like a pesky nat. “Spit it out, girl. Just what?” His chest rose and fell as he heaved out a sigh.
“I need to find my birth father, Bastian Spires.” It felt odd to speak his name out loud, as if I revealed something I shouldn’t. For my entire life, I’d kept my true parentage a secret, claiming the sketar witch who’d raised me was my blood father. When I’d transferred to Crystal Wing Academy and met my grandfather and half-sister, I’d hoped my grandfather could tell me where Bastian might be hiding, but most believed he was dead.
I’d been unconvinced. If he was dead, I’d…know.
In exchange for a few rare trinkets, Katya had verified Bastian was alive. But the sorceress had been unable to reveal anything else, stating only the Master Seeker could pinpoint my birth father’s exact location.
“I must say, I admire your ingenuity,” Ramseff said. “Few are capable of locating our headquarters. Of those who find their way here, only one or two are able to get past my assistant’s wards. But you’re the first who dares come to beg a favor. Because you’ve impressed me with your efforts, and to prove how kindhearted I am, I’ll give you the information you seek at no cost.”
My spine perked up. “You will?” I’d thought I’d search for years before I got the chance to confront my father.
“He’s at Darkwater Prison.”
“My father’s in jail?” Darkwater had been built on a remote island in the middle of a fathomless sea. In the fae kingdom. I stifled my groan. Only those with authorization or special magic were allowed to part the veil separating Earth from the fae kingdom. Ages ago, the fae had split rather than go to war, and many of them had come here to settle. They’d created the veil to keep the two groups from crossing over and killing each other. Sure, some Sídhe were allowed to travel to the fae kingdom—mostly for diplomatic missions—but the opportunity was rare.
I did not possess special magic. I was no diplomat. And it was doubtful anyone would authorize my passage.
“Your father is in the youth section of the prison, known as the Reformatory,” Ramseff said.
“Youth?” I wasn’t sure why I focused on that word alone.
“Eighteen to twenty-year-olds are permitted to apply for admittance.”
“I see.” From what I’d heard, the Reformatory and main prison were located side-by-side on the island. The Reformatory was believed to be a school, though I didn’t know what they taught. Maybe the usual subjects like at the Academy.
It couldn’t be for rehabilitation purposes. Criminals arrived to serve their sentences, but from what I’d heard, the only way off the island was in a coffin.
“He’s a teacher in the Reformatory?” I said. “Or is he the warden, the janitor, or a guard?” Maybe he worked in the kitchens. A prison would employ a large support staff like the Academy.
“I’m afraid I’m not feeling generous enough to share further information with you.” Ramseff lifted his mug and calmly drank. “You asked for your father’s location, and I’ve given it to you.” His gaze flicked to the foyer. “You may leave now.”
“But, but,” I spat out. “How will I get there?” It was vital I talk with my dad.
He smirked. “Surely a Level Five Seeker such as you can arrange this on your own.”
It was impossible. I’d never get through the veil, let alone to the island.
Anger and frustration dueled inside me. My hands clenched at my sides, and I gnawed on my tongue to keep from hurling the wrong words out. That would get me nowhere.
Hold on a sec.
I pulled my cointage from my pocket and dropped it onto the table with a clang. The disc didn’t grant unlimited spending, but I should have enough credit, courtesy of my generous parents, to satisfy Ramseff.
His low growl rumbled through the room, and florid color rose in his cheeks. He slammed his mug on the table and hornwit tea slopped over the sides. It sizzled when it hit the surface. “You hope to bribe me?” Clouds of rage arcing with lightning stormed around his head. Did he possess a weather skapti in addition to a Seeker’s? Skaptis were inherent skills we used magic to enhance. Few had more than one ability to develop.
“How else can I pay?” I asked with a shrug I hoped came out casual. Inside, I alternated between quivering and fuming.
His head tilted as if he was unsure what to make of my response. Or maybe he was evaluating my worth. Would I come up lacking? “In order to reach the Reformatory, you’ll need to explore different options.”
In other words, there was no monetary price I could pay for transport. Despair rose inside me. I’d come so close. I’d found my birth father’s location but he was no closer to me than he’d been the moment I verified he was alive. Yet I’d come all this way…
My spine stiffened. “Isn’t there anything I can—?”
I suppressed a growl. Snapping and snarling would get me nowhere. What could I do to convince him to—
He flicked his hand in the air and bellowed. “Seredon.”
The assistant stepped into the room. “Sir?”
Ramseff’s hand flicked to me. “Show her out.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“Okay, then.” Standing, I swiped my palms on my thighs. “Thanks.” Not really, but I’d remain civil. He had shared where my dad was and that detail was important. I swallowed past the lump in anger my throat and strode toward the foyer, my stockinged feet swishing on the polished surface. My head remained high. I’d ask my grandfather. He might be able to—
“Perhaps we needn’t be hasty,” Ramseff said. “There might be a way. If…”
I turned and supported myself with my hand on the terat wood trim outlining the archway, to keep my shaky body from giving me away. “If what?”
“I need a small favor. In exchange I’ll arrange for your transportation to Darkwater.”
I could finally confront my father.
My legs trembled, threatening to dump me on the floor. I returned to the chair and sank onto the hardwood surface. “What kind of favor are we talking about?”
In my experience, favors came at stiff prices.
His fingers tapped steadily on his leg, and he wouldn’t meet my eyes. “I have a minor problem. It’s almost not worth mentioning. But someone with your unique set of skills might be able to help me bring about a solution.”
“What would I have to do?” There was no hiding the eagerness in my voice. Despite my reservations, excitement burst through me. Close. I was so close!
“You may leave, Seredon,” Ramseff told his assistant.
“Very well, Sir.” Seredon backed from the room.
Ramseff stared at me while a clock somewhere nearby ticked an entire minute.
Despite my urge to push him to tell me what he needed, I remained patient.
Ramseff cleared his throat. “Before we proceed further, I’ll need your bound promise you’ll do as I ask and not speak of this to anyone else.”
I reeled back, banging my shoulder on the upper edge of the chair hard enough I winced. “You need a bound promise before you’ll tell me what I need to do?” A bonded promise required blood. My blood. It could only be broken when the promise was fulfilled. Or the person making the promise died. It might be best not to think about that part of the clause.
“A favor for a favor, shall we say? Do this one little thing for me, and I’ll send you to your father.” His voice deepened. “I believe you need something from him.”
How had he found out? I’d told no one.
I was desperate to talk to my dad, but how high a price was I willing to pay?
“Decide,” he said, his fingers tightening on his legs. “A chance like this won’t come again. My offer will be gone in three, two, o—”
“I’ll do it.” Whatever he asked. I had to. Otherwise…I shook my head. Do not think about it here. He might somehow…know.
A conniving smile flittered across his face before it smoothed, making me wonder if I was already too late.
“Hold out your hand,” he said.
I extended it forward, palm exposed. He mumbled a string of fae words too quickly for me to translate, and my blood pooled, forming a small circle in the depression of my hand. Ramseff suspended a triangular, silver pendant over the blood and it disappeared, sucked up by the cloudy stone in the center of the pendant.
“Lovely,” he said as he hung the pendant on a chain around his neck. “Your promise to complete this task is now unbreakable.” The slick satisfaction blooming on his wrinkly face sent fear bolting through me. I wanted to run but there would be nowhere to hide from a bond made with a Master Seeker. He’d be able to track me beyond death.
He’d own me until I’d fulfilled my part of the bargain.
A wave of his hand, and a large gold ball with a glossy, opaque surface appeared to hover between us.
“I’d like you to eliminate someone for me,” he said as if discussing the pinta cookies he’d consume with his mug of hornwit tea.
I blinked. “You said a small favor. You can’t mean murder.” I couldn’t do it!
“This person is essentially a criminal already. He’ll soon be slated for death.”
“Then why do I need to hasten that along?” This didn’t make sense. What wasn’t I seeing here? “He’ll die anyway.”
“I want it done as soon as possible, not after his relatives host multiple appeals.”
I held up my hand that still stung from the blood-letting. “Hold on. You’re saying he hasn’t committed a crime yet?”
“No more than you.”
The Master Seeker knew the crime this person would soon commit. Did he also possess a divination skapti? Only rare Sídhe could harness more than one ability. But this man was the leader of all the Seekers. No one rose to this high a position without considerable power and cunning.
If he could do divination—although no one could see everything—I didn’t stand a chance of outwitting him.
Unease prickled along my spine, making me itch, and a bitter flavor pooled in my mouth.
“Come,” he said, waving toward the ball. “See.”
A dark gray mist swirled inside the ball. The fog slowly cleared, and a picture formed of the Academy’s eastern pasture, with the forest behind. Someone walked there. Oh. Professor Trarion. My sister, Fleur, had taken Magical Creatures and How to Tame Them with the fae teacher. She was sweet and kind and a lot of fun. I liked her.
I leaned forward, watching as another person slunk behind the Professor, picking up speed. They…My breathing shuddered to a halt.
It wasn’t just any person—it was me. She’d removed the jacket I still wore and had knotted the sleeves around her waist, but otherwise, she was even dressed the same, right down to my Seekers do it better t-shirt.
My jaw dropped, and I turned to Ramseff. “How…?”
“Careful,” he said in a cheery voice, but his eyes… They were sharp enough to slice open a vein. “Watch or you’ll miss the best part. It’s about to happen.”
The person following Professor Trarion—no, I—pulled a knife from a sheath on her calf. She rushed toward the Professor and sunk the knife deeply into the Professor’s back. No sound was released into this room, but I felt the Professor’s death shriek as if I stood right behind her. In some ways I did stand behind her.
Dread splintered my bones, and I moaned.
Professor Trarion collapsed onto the ground, and the person—me—fled toward the woods.
“No,” I wailed, my fingers knotted together on my lap. “What have you done?”
“Me?” Ramseff asked with a low chuckle. “I haven’t done anything. You have.”
“But I didn’t.” I cupped my cheeks as pain rushed through me. “It’s not me. I’d never… Who is that?”
“A wizard who needed a favor. Much like you.”
He couldn’t have known I was coming here, yet he seemed to have arranged for this…assassination while I sat across from him, salivating about cookies. Forget hunger. I wanted to throw up.
“This wizard’s payment came due,” he said casually. “And now they’ve fulfilled their side of our blood bargain.”
Waves of horror roared over me, drowning me. “I…I…”
“The favor I need?” His words pierced the flit-space yanking me away from the Guild’s headquarters. “I’d like you to kill a young man. His name is Brodin. Complete this task and I’ll arrange for your extraction from the Reformatory.” He stood. “It’s time for you to leave, child. Darkwater waits.”
I gaped up at him, barely hearing his words. Professor Trarion! She needed help.
Who was this man, this Master of all Seekers? Seekers were cops, always the good guys. They delivered justice.
Yet…I’d promised—blood promised—to commit the same crime.
“Monster!” Jumping up from the chair, I ran at him, my hands lifting.
Ramseff flicked his fingers toward me, and I froze.
The room compressed. Wavered.
I landed with a jarring thud, my knees biting into the ground on the edge of the eastern pasture of Crystal Wing Academy. My gaze blurred as I rose and spun around.
The Professor lay unmoving, the blade still sticking up from her back. Slick blood pooled around her, glossy and dark. Lifeblood.
The person warded to look like me was nowhere to be seen. I stood in their place after what must’ve been a seamless switch.
“Her!” someone shouted. “She did it. Tria stabbed Professor Trarion!”
I raced into the forest, my stockinged feet pounding the path, and my heart slamming against my rib cage. Darting around bushes and trees, I leaped over logs and aimed for the mountains. If I was lucky, I could—
They were on me in a flash.
Whimpering, my breathing grew ragged. I was shoved from behind, and I tumbled forward. The earth slammed up to meet me.
Stupid to think I’d never outdistance centaur Seekers. Their hooves ground into the soil as they surrounded me and, when I peered up, fury blazed on their faces.
“Gotcha,” Roark said. “Caught in the act. Your Council trial will be swift.”
One of the other Seekers—Harline and a former mentor—laughed. The harsh sound grated across my skin. “Darkwater’s the only place that’ll claim you now.”
Of course. Ramseff’s favor. I’d committed a crime and would now be sent to the Prison. Once I found a way to the Reformatory, I’d be able to confront my birth father. But in exchange for my freedom, I had to kill Brodin.
Hauling me to my feet, Roark and Harline secured my wrists and ankles with unbreakable, magical binds. Tenna devices. I’d learned about the fiery, magic-suppression bands in my Seeker’s classes.
The bindings tightened as the embedded spells bit deeply, severing through my flesh and drawing blood.
It dripped on the white snow like a massacre in progress.
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About Marty Mayberry
MARTY MAYBERRY writes young adult fiction and infuses it with suspense, romance, and a touch of humor. When she’s not dreaming up ways to mess with her character’s lives, she works as an RN/Clinical Documentation Specialist. She lives in New England with her husband, three children, three geriatric cats, and a spunky Yorkie pup who keeps her on her toes.
Marty is a member of YARWA and a PAN member of RWA, as well a four-year PitchWars mentor.