Home > Year of the Chameleon, Book 1

Year of the Chameleon, Book 1
Author: Shannon Mayer





Shadowspell Academy . . . I was on my way, and I was on my own again.

Given I wasn’t much of a team player, you’d think I’d be okay with that, but I really wasn’t. Because I’d gotten to like my crew in the end. We’d bonded while fighting for our lives in the Culling Trials, and now they were on their way to their own houses. Pete, the honey badger shifter; Wally, the necromancer and only other girl; Orin, the not-dead-yet vampire; Gregory, the goblin; and Ethan, the mage. At least Orin and Wally were in the same house—the House of Night. The rest of us were flying solo. Well, not quite. Most of the people on the bus with me were strangers, but Rory, who’d been my brother’s best friend growing up, sat toward the front. Then again, Rory was an unknown right now—as in, I didn’t know if I could trust him.

I stared out at the scenery as the bus swept us away from the Culling Trials in upstate New York, the gold and green leaves just turning color in the early fall, I ignored the voices of the other trainees as they buzzed around my head. About as annoying as mosquitoes, which were as easy to ignore for a girl who grew up on a ranch.

That being said, I was no fool, and my ears picked up certain words that prompted me to listen to the other kids. Tipping my head, I focused on their words, picking apart their conversations.

“Where are we going?” one girl asked.

“House of Shade is out on the docks somewhere, that’s what I heard.”

“The other four houses are spread out throughout the city,” someone responded, confirming what I’d already expected, “but we’ll meet once a month for games with them to test our skill sets.”

“Did you see that guy up front?” the first one asked in a low-pitched voice. “He’s, like, a fourth-year Shade. He is so damn hot. I’d totally do him. What’s his name?”

“I don’t know. You should ask him.”

“Did you hear?” one of them asked. “That kid Wild Johnson is not a boy. She’s a girl who came in her brother’s place. Crazy, you think she’ll get kicked out for lying?”

“No idea, but damn, that’s ballsy. I mean . . . for a girl.”

The last couple lines perked up my ears, considering they were talking about yours truly, and I leaned off the edge of my seat in time to see the four girls who sat closest to the front twist around to eyeball me in the back.

I tipped my ball cap at them and then flipped them off for good measure, and they whipped to face forward so fast, there was a flurry of ponytails whacking the kids who sat behind them. Yeah, they didn’t know I had supersensitive hearing. That was one of the perks of being friends with my crew—their abilities bled into my own. And Pete being a shifter allowed me some of his extrasensory skills. Nowhere near as good as his own, but enough that it helped me listen in.

They lowered their voices and tucked their heads tightly together, whispers ensuing.

So much for listening in on more gossip.

I eased back in my seat at the rear of the bus and, from under the brim of my hat, continued to watch the other students. Around me, the bus all but vibrated and hummed with nerves, but I felt none of my own. Maybe something was wrong with me. Check that, I knew something was wrong with me.

I was going to be educated in the House of Shade, a specialized academy that would train me to kill efficiently and silently and for money. I would learn how to be an assassin and enforcer in a world full of magic and monsters that were most decidedly deadly.

It was one of five houses in Shadowspell Academy and, in my humble opinion, the most dangerous of the bunch. The only issue was that as good as I was with a knife and as ruthless as I could be in dealing with anyone who got in my way, I wasn’t only good at that . . . I could just as easily have been sorted into any of the other houses. People weren’t supposed to have access to more than one type of magic, but I did, and that scared the tar out of me. Because if word got out, there would be hell to pay.

Rory twisted in his seat at the front of the bus, green eyes locking on mine, as if he could feel my growing discomfort even at that distance. Quite possibly he could. He’d been a huge part of my life until the academy had called him in for his own training. Only I hadn’t known that was why he’d left his farm down the way from ours. He’d told me he’d gone off to travel the world, and given he’d never come back to Texas, I hadn’t had a chance to question him.

To say I’d been pissed at his abandonment would be an understatement.

He raised an eyebrow, and I pointed my chin at the girls. He grinned and swung around to the side to talk to them. In seconds, they were laughing and flipping their ponytails around, flirting for all they were worth.

Charmer. He’d always been good with the pretty girls. Nice to see that hadn’t changed, and at least it took their attention off me.

More than anything, Rory knew how irritated I got when teenage girls acted like noodle heads. Those girls were going to be trained in the House of Shade right alongside me, but they were still acting like teenage girls. Not deadly killers.

Of course, they hadn’t cut through someone’s throat the night before.

I had.

And even if it had been a vampire—one who’d killed a lot of people—I was not the same person I had been yesterday. In that moment, I’d aged, the last of my childhood stripped away. Death had a way of doing that, I guess.

I wasn’t sure I was up to discussing all that with anyone, least of all Rory, who left me feeling all kinds of uncertain. Sometimes I wondered what he saw when he looked at me. The girl he’d grown up with? A stranger he no longer knew? A competitor for the best of our house? Or something else? I closed my eyes, pretending to sleep so he wouldn’t come to check on me, and with a portion of the world blocked out, I did my best not to think about anything.

Except my memories had already been stirred, like a hornets’ nest poked with a twig. So much for being calm. I kept seeing the vampire’s head roll back as my knife slit his throat down to his spine, feeling the crunch of metal on bone—and his cold, already dead, blood coat my fingers.

I bit the inside of my cheek, the pain cutting through some of the memories, and wiped my hands on my pants as if that would help. My crew. I needed to focus on them.

We’d roomed together, kept one another safe, and had one another’s backs even though we were so very different. They were the few I trusted, fully and completely. Well, except for Ethan. He was helpful enough when something worked in his favor, but otherwise he was out for himself. The occasional glimmers of goodness we’d seen in him could hardly be relied on. What could be relied on was a pattern.

And yet, when I thought about my friends, even Ethan, I felt a sucker punch of homesickness. Not since I’d lost my brother, Tommy, had I felt this need for other people. The feeling rolled in the pit of my stomach, making me nauseous and threatening to give my breakfast a reappearance.

I didn’t like the weakness it represented to me. That failing could be exploited if anyone realized how close my group had become. My friends could be hurt because of me. Because I had secrets even they didn’t know.

My heart tripped upward and lodged in my throat. “Damn,” I mumbled as I turned my hat backward and leaned forward, resting my head on the back of the seat in front of me and trying to slow my breathing and thoughts, trying to quell the rolling tide in my belly. I was not about to get sick. I was not.

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