Academia of the beast a.., p.1
Academia of the Beast: A Dark Retelling of Beauty and the Beast, p.1K.N. Lee
A Dark Retelling of Beauty and the Beast
New York Times Bestselling Author
Copyright 2016 K.N. Lee
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Academia of the Beast/ K.N. Lee. – 1st Ed.
Dedicated to my grandmother, Patricia
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There were dark times in the era of the Baran clan. From the highlands of the old days when magic was deemed a myth, they rose to power after the global war that left most of the world desolate and eternally ruined by weapons of science and dark magic.
The first Baran to assert himself as king made it so that no one would ever challenge them. Those with magic were exiled to the other kingdoms, or executed.
Elastria would be a human land, free of the taint of supernatural beings.
Rulers by birthright, they stood unchallenged for centuries, their people too afraid to stand against the tyranny that nearly pitted Elastria in another world war with the remaining nine tribes. For a group of humans to rule so ruthlessly, and actually, stand against the supernatural beings of the other tribes, it was rumored that there was more to the Barans, that they were descendent from an ancient evil.
That all changed.
With a witch.
And a curse.
ALLYN RACED THROUGH the dark woods, her red hair flying wildly behind her as she kicked off her heels. Her heart pounded and her skin crawled with dread. This was it. The moment she’d feared since she left the convent.
“Leave me alone!” Her voice carried through the tall trees, yet she knew they would never heed her plea.
The men that chased her knew what she was—and so did the Wolf that accompanied their band of hunters.
It could smell it on her, practically sniffed her out of a crowd of townsfolk at the holiday parade.
With a deep breath, Allyn leaped into the night sky, her green eyes scanning the woods for any trace of her boyfriend. They would not catch her.
This time, she would fight.
“Capture her!” the sheriff shouted, his bow and arrow pointed at her. She expected an arrow to pierce her flesh at any moment. Then, they’d drag her to the capitol, where she’d surely be executed.
Cold wind assaulted her, making her cheeks numb. Cold didn’t matter. Only the speed of her legs.
Where was Bryon? He was supposed to be waiting for her on the side road. He couldn’t have abandoned her. Not after his promise to protect her.
As she began to descend back to the floor of the woods, she caught a glimpse of Byron’s car on the road. She picked up speed, heat filling her limbs as she summoned power from her belly. She resisted the urge to release the energy that built within and focused on reaching her destination. The men would never catch up to her.
But, the Wolf. She could hear it racing behind her, its breaths seeming to come from right beside her.
Instead of taking a chance, Allyn closed her eyes and turned to face the hunters. A blast of power shot from the palms of her hands. Like a black web, it grew from the center of the air and outstretched to the trees. She gritted her teeth and pulled more energy from within. As she blew cool air from between her pursed lips, the black web became white like ice and blocked the path between Allyn and the hunters.
She couldn’t risk them getting through, so she twisted her fist and immobilized them all. Ice shot up their legs and fused them to the ground.
The Wolf—fangs bared—growled. Its silver glare chilling her to her core.
She spun around and ran. The Wolf, white as snow and larger than any normal wolf she’d ever seen in all of her years living in the woods was more terrifying than she’d imagined. While she still had the chance she raced for her life to Bryon’s car.
He stood there in the fog that hovered over the black asphalt in dark jeans, a white T-shirt, and a leather jacket. His eyes widened as she ran past him and got into the car.
He followed suit and got inside. “What happened?”
Her life would be forever changed. That’s what happened.
Swallowing, Allyn glanced out the back window, hoping that she had a chance to escape.
“Just drive,” she said in between labored breaths.
IT ALL STARTED with a rumor.
“I heard there is a witch in this village. You know that the Wolves are still hunting and executing them, right?”
Allyn didn’t want to believe the truth her boyfriend spoke. Such danger had threatened her since the night of her birth. But, if she hid her ability...she would survive.
That’s what she’d thought.
Byron had grabbed Allyn by the arm and made her face him. “Tell me. Are you the witch?”
“No,” Allyn said, hoping her green eyes didn’t reveal the truth. She wasn’t lying to him. Allyn wasn’t a witch. She was something else. But try to tell that to the hunters searching for anyone with magical powers.
She’d kept her secret this long. Why reveal it now? Her people were a dying breed, and she was not ready to offer herself up as the next tabloid villain—the next public disgrace to be executed for all of Elastria to see.
“Don’t lie to me. I know everything. You can trust me to protect you.”
“Quiet,” she’d said, glancing back at the wooden cottage where she’d been born and raised as a swift wind blew her black skirt up around her slender, white thighs. “My father is home and he will hear you.”
She’d tried to break free from his grasp, surprised that he had learned her secret, but he held t
“They will find you. And they will kill you.” The stern look that filled his eyes had sent chills through her body as he held her hands out behind her house in the woods. “Let me take care of you. Let’s leave and start a new life together,” he’d said.
That was last winter when she still thought he loved her more than any girl in the world—before he gambled all of her life savings away.
That was before the Wolf sniffed her out at the festival and she’d fled for her life. As Allyn cleaned her tiny apartment, dusting her bookshelves and sweeping the vinyl floor, she tried to forget the fear of being hunted. The same fear haunted her at night, warning her that the hunt was not over.
She remembered the first time she’d heard of a young woman being sniffed out by the Wolves and how that woman ended up publicly executed.
Exhausted from lack of sleep, Allyn wiped her brow and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror over the short bookcase. There were tears in her green eyes. Her wavy red hair was a stark contrast to her porcelain white skin splattered with freckles.
She squeezed her eyes shut and turned away from her image. She hated her face and the red hair that was so rare that she’d suffered constant teasing as a child. The only reason she didn’t dye it another color was because it reminded her of her mother, and how much she loved it.
A knock on the front door startled her. Instead of rushing to answer it, she froze, her face paling as she held her breath.
She didn’t move a muscle, afraid that one tiny squeak of the wooden floor would make the landlord aware of her presence. They were behind on their rent and any day now they would be forced out onto the streets.
“Allyn,” a muffled female voice called from the other side and Allyn exhaled.
Relieved, she crossed the room and unlocked several bolts on the door.
Big blue eyes widened when Allyn opened the door. “Goodness gracious. You look like a freaking ghost!”
“Shush, Aude,” Allyn said, pulling the young blonde woman in by her small hand. “I do not.” She shot a glance down the dark hallway, relieved that the landlord was nowhere to be seen.
“Yeah, you do. Are you eating? Sleeping? Why haven’t I heard from you?” Aude asked. She was dressed in a black coat and jeans, her blonde hair tucked in a green beanie Allyn had knitted for her.
She took it off and rushed to warm herself in front of the meager fire. Allyn watched her, not sure how long the wood would last.
“I’m fine,” Allyn murmured.
“Whatever. Liar. I can see it all on your face that something is wrong. Have you left this awful apartment since I last saw you at the bakery?”
“I told you that I’m fine. I’ve just been staying inside and trying to stay warm.”
“Sure. I can’t blame you for not going outside. It's damn cold out there,” Aude said. “I think the Winter Winds might be coming early this year.”
Allyn chewed her bottom lip. She knew that to be a fact, but she couldn’t tell Aude that she could feel the change in the air. Though they’d been friends for the past nine months, she still wasn’t sure she could trust her with her darkest secrets.
“I need more firewood,” Allyn said, opening the closet to get her coat out. “I think we can make it to the shops and find some on sale.”
“I’m not so sure. They like to raise the prices for last minute shoppers. It might be too expensive.”
Allyn’s shoulders slumped. “I have to try. The power was cut off last week and I don’t know how I’ll survive without a fire in the middle of the winter.”
Aude took her hands. “Come stay with Khia and I. Our electricity is paid for the rest of the year. You can even sleep on our bed. We’ll make a comfy spot on the floor in the studio. It will be cozy.”
Chewing her lip, Allyn considered it. But she feared that as soon as she’d leave, Byron would return and wouldn’t know where she was. Even though he had hurt her numerous times, she still loved him.
“What do you say?”
Allyn shook her head and slipped on her coat. “But, what if Byron returns?”
“Come on, girl. Get over that scum. You know he’s probably sleeping in another woman’s bed right now...drunk or drugged to oblivion.”
That stung. Allyn’s cheeks turned red as she fought to disbelieve Aude’s accusations.
“And, you won’t be stuck. One of the designers Khia works for has passes to leave during the winter curfew. For once we get to go to parties and events that only the wealthy go to. Maybe you can meet a man...a real man. With money.”
“Enough,” she said, feeling like an idiot as the words escaped her lips. She knew that Aude was right, but what would she do without Byron? Allyn crossed her arms over her chest. “Are you coming with me or not?”
Sighing, Aude nodded, putting her hat back on. “Let’s go before it gets dark.”
Outside, the bitter cold assaulted their exposed faces, and Allyn pulled her red scarf across her mouth and around her head. She shivered and groaned, hating how the wind roared down the black streets, nearly knocking her over.
Winter in the magical kingdom of Elastria was a time of darkness and frost. Allyn pulled her navy wool coat tighter to her body as a swift wind blew her crimson hair around her pale face. She stepped onto the icy sidewalk, careful to avoid slipping.
Allyn looked down at her gloved hands, feeling heat radiate from her palms—heat that could warm her and Aude—but too afraid to chance it.
She had enough to worry about with an eviction notice stamped to the door to the flat she shared with Byron to add to the witch hunt that plagued Elastria.
“Let’s hurry before the shop closes,” Allyn said, taking careful steps along the sidewalk. Her black boots crunched salt that had been sprinkled along the roads and sidewalks of the inner city. No amount of salt could keep the onslaught of snow that would soon fall from the perpetually gray sky.
“Yes,” Aude said, as they walked down Gilded Street toward the largest indoor market in the entire kingdom.
The crowds were already lined up outside the golden doors, prepared to buy everything they’d need to survive the cold winter. Allyn checked her brass pocket watch that hung from her waistcoat. Like the others, she’d waited until the last minute to do her final shopping. In just a few days, all shops and centers would close, and the city would enter a form of hibernation. If she hadn’t had to wait for her last check of the season to arrive, she might have been able to avoid the long lines.
She stood there at the back of the line, anxious to get in and get out. “This is going to be fun,” she said with a sigh.
Aude looked around, her blue eyes scanning the two separate lines that filed into Grand Castile Plaza. “I don’t see anyone that we know.” Her shoulders slumped. “So, we are stuck.”
Allyn shrugged. “It’s fine. I’m in no rush. I’ve been stuck in the house all day, cleaning, and trying to keep my mind off things.” She put her hand to her forehead as all of her worries flooded her mind. With a sigh, she forced a smile. “I’m lucky to have such an amazing friend.”
Aude hugged her, seeing how fragile her new friend was. Within such a short time, they’d become close, closer than Allyn had been with anyone back home. Back home she didn’t have friends, just painful memories. There were good ones too, up until a point. While the memories she fought to repress continued to haunt her most days, Allyn was determined to look forward.
“Everything is going to get better, sweetie,” Aude said, smoothing Allyn’s hair. “You have Khia and me and we both love you like a sister. There’s no way we will let anything happen to you.”
“Thank you. I really appreciate it.”
They stood under the red awning as fat snowflakes continued to cascade from the sky.
Allyn glanced back at her house, her heart dropping when she saw a black police van pull in front of her apartment building. She clu
“Oh no,” she whispered and Aude followed her gaze.
“Shit,” Aude said. “I’m sorry.”
Tears burned Allyn’s eyes as she watched another truck pull up behind the police. Four big men jumped out and followed the officers inside the building. She knew what was happening and there was no longer any use shopping for supplies.
They’d come to put her out of her home and take her things.
KHIA OUTSTRETCHED HER arms to Allyn, her pretty heart-shaped face saddened by the news of Allyn’s eviction.
“Come here, honey,” she said and wrapped her arms around Allyn. “It’s going to get better. I promise. Aude and I are going to take good care of you. Don’t you worry. We have enough to get all of us through the season.”
Aude kissed Khia on the lips. She took off her hat and coat and hung it up on the coat rack by the door before going directly to the fireplace to warm her hands.
Allyn sucked up tears. “You’re too kind. Thank you,” she said, hating herself for crying over Byron. Just when she thought she had no more tears to shed, he ushered them forth once again. “I’m really looking forward to better times.”
“Khia is right. It will get better, especially now that Byron is out of your life,” Aude said. “When the season starts up again, you can actually save your money and not have him spend it all on stupid shit.”
“I don’t want to hear his name. I really don’t,” Allyn said, pulling away from Khia. She held out her arms. “Let’s just stay warm and try to make the most of this season.”
“Good. That’s the plan.” Khia was almost a foot taller, with perfect brown skin, waist-length brown hair and hazel eyes that made her one of the most sought after models in the city. Khia’s earning potential alone paid for their lavish apartment in the Heathrow area.
Allyn’s eyes scanned the studio apartment. The studio apartment was compartmentalized to show the definition of space. A king-sized bed was at the far end beneath a large window, separated by a half wall just before the office space. Shelves lined the entire wall from waist-length to a few inches below the ceiling.
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