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Jun 25, 2013

Look Inside Elle Casey's War of the Fae: Book 1 (The Changelings)

I'm excited to join five other amazing fantasy authors in a new collection, Faery Worlds. For the rest of the week I'll be featuring the other novels you can find in this ebook full of magic, love and fae.

Elle Casey's The Changelings
Elle Casey's War of the Fae: Book 1 (The Changelings)

Jayne Sparks, a potty-mouthed, rebellious seventeen-year-old, and her best friend, shy and bookish Tony Green, have a typical high school existence – until, along with a group of runaway teens, they are hijacked and sent into a forest where nothing is as it seems. Who will emerge triumphant? And what will they be when they do?

"A brilliantly original YA fantasy. This was an extremely fun, exciting, and original book. I couldn't put it down. The pacing and suspense in this book are perfect." -- Review for War of the Fae, Ally Arendt, Word Vagabond book blog



Chapter One

I can't take much more of this high school nonsense. I feel like I'm not supposed to be here. Where would I be if I weren't here? ... I don't know. All I do know is I'm in the middle of all this crap, going to class, taking tests - but I'm on autopilot, going through the motions, waiting for life to start happening.

I'm sitting in World History, and there's a girl one row over who's the polar opposite of me. She's staring attentively at the teacher, her pen poised above an already nearly full page of notes, eager to write down every nugget of educational wisdom he's throwing our way. She loves it here, and she has big plans for moving on to college next year. She has cheer practice after school and a boyfriend named Mike who plays wide receiver on the football team. Ugh.



I own a pen. I probably have some paper somewhere in my backpack too. Today, however, I'm using my pen to draw symbols all over my right hand - temporary tattoos. I write and eat with my left hand but do just about everything else with my right. My own body is confused with what it's supposed to do.

I'm in the minority in this school. It seems like just about everyone else knows exactly what they're doing now and what they're going to be doing until the day they die. Me? I don't have a clue. All I know is, this isn't it. Today the bathroom scale said I'd lost another two pounds. I was literally wasting away with boredom. Maybe I was going to just disappear altogether. I wondered if anyone would miss me.

"Jayne? May I ask what you're doing?"

Uh-oh. I'd been spotted by the droner. I tucked my hand under my desk, hiding my artwork.

"Um, nothin' ... just taking some notes." My face was the picture of innocence. Or so I thought.

He walked over and stopped at my desk, looking down at its empty surface. "Where are these so-called notes?"

I reached up with my non-tattooed hand to tap my temple, looking up at him. "Right here, Mr. Parks; it's all riiiight here." I gave him a saucy wink just because I knew how much he'd hate it. Sometimes I do that kind of stuff - my mom calls it cutting off my nose to spite my face. I'm not sure why I do it; maybe to make life more interesting, give myself more of a challenge ... or maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment.

I looked over at the girl sitting next to me, noticing her scowl out of the corner of my eye. I stuck my tongue out at her because I'm not all that mature and I still enjoy doing the things that cracked me up when I was ten.

She doesn't get me at all. I'd heard girls like her call me a waste before. I couldn't say that I disagree with that comment - I am definitely wasted on this school.

"Cute ... I wonder if the assistant principal would agree." Mr. Parks went back to his desk, bending down to write out a referral slip. "Take this up to the office and see what he thinks about your mental note-taking program."

I slid out of my chair, standing to walk to the front of the classroom with a loose grip on my nearly empty backpack. Bringing books to class was something I didn't normally bother with. My locker is better equipped than my shoulder to manage twenty pounds of blah, blah, and blah.

"Thanks ever so much," I said sweetly, taking the slip from him and turning my head to look at my classmates. There would be no leaving with eyes cast down and a heart full of shame for this girl.

I caught the eye of my best friend, the biggest dork on the entire planet, Tony Green. I blew him a kiss with the referral slip held between my middle finger and thumb so he and the rest of the class could enjoy my one-finger salute. His face turned bright pink and he sunk low in his chair, shaking his head and refusing to meet my eyes. He was probably worried I was going to get him a one-way ticket to the principal's office too. They don't know him there like they know me.

Tony has been my friend, not necessarily willingly, since he ended up having the extraordinarily good luck to sit in front of me in Analytic Geometry, two years ago. He was so pitiful - still is really. Skinny as a sack of bones with crazy, unkempt and un-styled brown hair, wearing clothes I know for a fact his mother bought for him in the little boys' section at Wal-Mart, and shoes with weird, thick rubber soles. The bright pink pimples he always had on his pale white skin did nothing to help this package. It's not like I'm miss beauty queen or anything, but I know bad fashion choices when I see them. The first day I saw him, I couldn't help latching myself right on. He was like a scraggly little puppy who'd had its ass kicked.

I preferred the casual look for myself - usually jeans, purple Converse sneaks, and cute t-shirts ... hoodies in the winter. It never gets too cold in south Florida where we live, so my fashion choices are somewhat limited. I keep my brown hair long because it's so thick; the few times I got it cut short, I ended up having a big, puffy hair triangle on my head. Not cool. But sporting a thick, long, wavy mane in Florida is crazy hot, so my hair is usually up in a rubber band, out of the way. I've been told that I'm pretty or, more often, cute. I don't wear a lot of makeup, mostly eyeliner and mascara, occasionally lip gloss. Adults always comment on my big green eyes and heart-shaped lips, whatever that means. I'm shorter than about half the girls I know, so I guess that makes me average height.

Every day I went into Geometry that semester, I'd ask Tony when we were going to start hanging out together. I don't know why I did it; he just seemed so shy and cute, scared to death of everything around him. I wanted to toughen him up or something, maybe break him out of his lonely shell.

As the school's winter dance got closer, I took to leaning forward and whispering all kinds of stuff in his ear. First it was things like, 'When are you going to ask me to the dance?' And then it kind of devolved into, 'Hey, Tony, whaddya say you and I go hang out after school and smoke some dope or something?' I don't do drugs, but I liked shocking the crap out of Tony - who I was calling Tony Baloney by this time. Or Tones. Or Tone-Tone.

Tony had other friends, but they were all computer geeks, and none of them were girls. I know a bit about computers, but I mostly use them to research places I'd rather be than school. I have no idea how to program anything other than the alarm on my cell phone. I had other friends - girls - but they were always busy doing homework and making their parents proud. We didn't have a lot in common, and their parents tended to discourage friendships with me. I'm apparently what some might consider a 'bad influence'. As far as I was concerned, they were the fun police.

Tony's ability to blush on command was unrivaled. All I had to do was say 'boobs' or 'dick' and instantly his face would be scarlet. I made the mistake of telling my mom about my antics with him one day, and she went off, telling me I was bullying the poor boy. She made it a point to remind me that I sometimes don't realize how persistent I can be. I think when she said 'persistent' she really meant 'annoying' or 'pain-in-the-ass-ish'. My mom's asshat boyfriend was more than happy to chime in on that conversation. He practically lives with us now, which is why I avoid going home as much as possible.

After my mom said that about Tony, I felt a little bit bad. I looked back on everything I'd said to him and thought that maybe people could see it as bullying if they didn't realize that I was actually quite fond of the guy.

Over the weeks and months of my 'persistence', Tony kinda warmed up a bit. We talked about things. He learned to brush off my inappropriate comments, even laughing at them on occasion when they were particularly crass. We walked between classes together sometimes. We hadn't started hanging out after school, but I had a feeling it was going to happen some day soon.

After the talk with my mom, I decided I needed to clear the air with old Tony Baloney. I didn't want to think about him going home and crying because some mean girl at school was making his life a living hell. Lord knows my father, long gone from the household but still haunting me via court-ordered visitation, had given me that credit enough times over the years.

Before History class the next day, as we were waiting for our teacher Mr. Banks to arrive, I asked Tony if I was bothering him. The conversation went something like this:

"Hey, Tony. Am I bothering you?"

"Yes."

"No, I mean really, Tone-Tone. Am I really bothering you?"

"Yes, you really are."

"Okay, thanks, I feel better now. I thought I was really bothering you."

Sigh. "You ARE bothering me, are you deaf?"

"No, but I know what you really mean when you say 'yes'."

"Ah, so this is one of those 'no means yes' things we learned about in health class?"

"Uh ... kind of. Yeah, I'm pretty sure."

"Okay, whatever. Just stop bothering me."

Even though this verbal sparring was fun, it was getting me nowhere. I decided to get down to business. I had to let him know I wasn't a bully - just a socially inept girl trying to make friends with a nerdy dude in rubber-soled shoes.

"Hey, Tony, when you saying 'bothering' do you mean 'bothering' or 'bullying'?" I could see he was going to turn around so I put on the most innocent face I knew how to make. I tied it up with as sheepish a grin as I could manage too, just in case my innocent look wasn't as awesomely powerful as I thought it was.

He didn't say anything at first; he just looked at me. For the first time in our relationship, I felt uncomfortable, which for me is saying a lot. I squirmed in my seat a little bit and felt my smile faltering. I realized as he stared at me that I really, really didn't want to be bullying him. Tony was a cool dude, and it was possible I was the only one in the whole world who knew it. And it was also possible that he was the only person in the world who knew I did give a shit about some things. He was a perceptive guy.

"You're not bullying me, and you're not really bothering me, either ... Jayne."

It was the first time I'd heard him say my name. I guess I was a little surprised that he even knew it, though I shouldn't have been. We'd been in this class for almost the whole semester. It was the look on his face, though, that blew me away. He looked so friggin serious, staring me right in the eyes. I felt like he was seeing into my head. My smile came back, but it was totally real this time.

I grabbed my pen and twirled it in my hand. "Well that sucks, 'cause I was kind of enjoying bothering you." Being a total smartass when in tight situations is one of my best skills.

"I could tell. So now that you know you're not bothering me, you can stop."

"Stop what?"

"Stop bothering me," he said as he turned back around in his seat.

"Okay, that makes perfect sense. So when are we going to hang out?" I expected him to do his usual - turn bright red and refuse to answer me. But he surprised me this time.

"How about today?" He still had the red face and neck, flaming with embarrassment, but only a little bit of the shoulder hunching that always gave him the appearance of a turtle going into its shell.

"Don't you have chess club or computer club or calculus club or build-a-robot club or some other rule-the-world-someday club to go to?"

While I waited for his answer, the teacher arrived in class to start the show.

Tony turned sideways, pretending he was getting a book out of his backpack. "Chess club, but I'll skip it." He pushed his oversized glasses back up on his nose as he sat up, turning to face the front of the class again.

Did I mention Tony has the butt-ugliest, brown tortoise-shell glasses you've ever seen? They are not cool or fashionable, even in a statement-making sort of way. I swear he must have gotten them from the dumpster outside of Goodwill.

"Wow, living on the edge ... sure you can handle it, Tones?"

He sat up straighter than I was used to seeing him sit. "I can if you can," he whispered.

"Fine. I'll meet you at the front of the school after seventh period. Oh, and by the way, I saw that."

"Saw what?"

"You smiled ... I think you like me." I was staring at his back, but I swear I saw his scalp move.

"No I didn't, and no I don't."

"You don't?"

Sigh. "Jayne, shut up before you get me in trouble."

I smiled and stage-whispered, "Boooooring." But I left him alone for the rest of the period, sure he was anxious to bust out his notebook and take some awesome notes. I had tattoos to draw anyway.

And so, The Year I Adopted Tony Baloney As My New Best Friend commenced. Every day since, we have hung out after school and I've harassed him in every class I could. The following semesters we even tried to arrange our schedules so we'd have a lot of classes together. Apparently he'd grown quite fond of my harassment and persistent nature, not that I'd given him much choice. I'd found him, and he was mine - cute little bugger that he was, messed up glasses, funky shoes and all.

***

As I arrived at the assistant principal's office and took my seat in the waiting area, I thought about all the time Tony and I had spent together these past two years. We hung out after school and got to know each other's screwed up families pretty well - my mother who couldn't think for herself and her asshat boyfriend, and Tony's parents who were almost never around.

Most of our time was spent walking around town and hanging out at the library where Tony tried to study while I found new ways to make him crazy by not studying and making noise. Every once in a while we went to the movies, but usually we couldn't afford it. Tony wouldn't even consider sneaking in or trying to see more than a single movie on one ticket. He was a spoilsport that way, but he kept me out of trouble so I didn't complain.

Some people say it's impossible for a guy and a girl to be best friends, but I completely disagree. Tony and I are friends and that's it. I didn't like him in a romantic way - I preferred the bad boy type, and Tony was as far from being a bad boy as I was from being a good girl. I mean, what girl doesn't go for the bad boy really? Actually, most of the guys I knew around school were idiots with their heads so far up their butts I couldn't stand to be around them for very long. They had a lot to learn about how to treat a girl, and I didn't have the patience to train any of them. Case in point, Brad Powers, who was also sitting in the principal's waiting area; only he was probably there to kiss the principal's ass, not to be chastised by him. I barely spared him a glance. He had a rep for being a total douche to girls - using them and then throwing them to the curb. He was a kiss-and-tell kind of guy, if you know what I mean.

That's another good thing I can say about Tony - the guy is an absolute prince. He always holds doors for girls, pulls out chairs, offers them drinks and stuff. I don't think I've ever heard him burp. All this time hanging out with me has somehow not trained the manners out of him. I'm not sure how that's managed to happen, really. You'd think my powers of persuasion would be stronger than that.

Tony has his crushes, but he would rather walk over hot coals than actually ask a girl out. He prefers to crush from afar. I offered to help hook him up a few times, but the thought of me being involved in his love life nearly sent him into apoplectic spasms that were frightening to watch.

I did try once to get a girl I knew he liked to warm up to him. It was a disaster from the word go. As soon as I mentioned his name she got a disgusted expression on her face. "Tony? Tony Green?! Are you kidding me?" She just stood there looking like she'd smelled something bad.

"Um, yeah, okay, never mind." I realized it wasn't going well, so I bolted. I saw Tony later and confessed, although I left out the hairy details.

"You did WHAT?!" His face turned an interesting shade of reddish-purple and got all blotchy; even the whites of his eyes went a little red.

"Dude, chill. I didn't tell her you like her or wanted to get into her panties or anything."

"Wha ... ? Panti ... ? Wha ... ? ARRRRrrrgggg!" The strangled noises coming out of his throat didn't sound good. He bent over slightly, grabbing the door of his open locker, probably to keep himself from falling on the floor.

"Dude, holy shit, what is your problem? Breathe already, she's just a girl for chrissakes."

I started beating him on the back, hoping to get him breathing right again. His reaction struck me as over-the-top, especially for Tony. It crossed my mind that I could possibly be witnessing some psychological scarring happening right before my eyes. I did feel a measure of guilt over the fact that it was me who had caused it, but I assuaged this guilt by telling myself I was only trying to help the poor guy.

He was breathing deeply, trying to get a grip on himself. He elbowed my whacking hand off his back and stood, running his fingers through his hair until it stood on end. This was nothing new for Tony, as his hair was usually in a state of disarray.

"Do I even want to know what she said?" he asked, the look of hope in his eyes too pitiful to bear.

I sighed. "Not really, dude. She is too stuck up to even see you. I'm actually thinking about going back there and punching her in the face."

He looked stricken, his face now going white. "That bad, huh?"

I was afraid he was going to do that crazy breathing thing again. I put a serious look on my face. "No, actually. She just said your name; like, repeated it. She didn't say anything else. I just took off - I started thinking about the spasms you'd have if you found out I'd done it, and I got scared."

Tony knew my serious look was a load of crap. "You? Scared? That'll be the day." He closed his locker quietly, because Tony never slams his locker shut. "Let's go, we're gonna be late for class." He sounded really, really tired. Or bummed.

I felt like crap. Now I really wanted to punch that chick in the head, and I'm generally not a violent person. I talk tough, but I'm all talk and no action usually. I had to do something, though, to get him out of this mood.

"Oh boy, biology, hold me back. Tony, I'm so excited, I feel like skipping to class!" I grabbed his elbow and started skipping, dragging him along a few feet before he was able to wrestle himself away from me.

"Suit yourself!" I yelled, as I skipped my way through the crowds, annoying a few people on my way, no doubt.

"Skipping in a crowded hallway is antisocial, Jayne!" he yelled out after me.

"Perfect!" I yelled back.

Poor kid - thought he was gonna shame the maniac out of me. He should have known that was never going to work.

Just then the assistant principal opened his door, interrupting my reverie. He smiled at Brad who returned the smile and gave him a knowing look. Then he turned his head and saw me, scowling in recognition.

Perfect. I tried to duplicate the look Brad had given him, just for fun, but I'm sure my humor was totally wasted on this guy.

"Jayne Sparks, what a surprise. Come into my office and sit."

Just another day of lame-ass high school. All I could think about as he blathered on and on about responsibility and respect was: When am I finally going to get the hell out of this place?

***

I met Tony in front of the school after seventh period so we could walk home together. He lives two streets over from me, less than two minutes on foot.

"How'd your meeting with VP Matthews go today?" he asked.

"Why fine, thank you so much for asking," I answered brightly as I kept walking. Fast.

Tony struggled to keep up with me, carrying his normal hundred pounds of books and wearing his ugly-ass Frankenstein shoes. "Stop screwing around, Jayne; did you get suspended or not?"

"Nope. Just lectured until I wanted to stab myself in the eye with my pen. I actually prefer a suspension - otherwise known as a mini-vacation."

"Well, you're lucky. Anyway, I have news ... big news."

I immediately stopped, since Tony never said he had big news ... it must be really big, I thought. My unexpected stop caused him to bump into me.

Next thing I knew, his stupid backpack had swung off his shoulder and hit me in the arm, knocking me off the sidewalk to land in the grass on my butt under a big tree. Leaves cascaded down from its branches, landing all around and on me. I hadn't even touched the tree at all. Sad to think it was the percussion of my ass hitting the ground that had caused the tree to shed its clothing like that.

"Aaarghh!" I yelled out as I went down, "Tony what the hell is your problem?!"

"Oh crap, sorry!" He stopped struggling with his bag and rushed over to help me up. "Are you hurt?"

We both froze when we heard the next sound.

"Yo! Look at the two lovebirds under the tree. Whaddya doin' over there, dorks? Having a picnic?"

Brad Powers strikes again. He not only spends his time wooing the hearts of assistant principals and teachers everywhere, he also likes long walks on the beach, reading poetry, and making students who don't look like Barbie dolls feel like complete a-holes.

I stood up, brushing myself off. "Yes, Mr. Flowers! We are having a picnic! Why don't you come over here and join us? I have something special for you to EAT!"

Tony was sweating, the droplets of water beading up on his forehead as he pleaded with me. "Jayne, don't do it. Just shut up; he's going to pound us."

"Pound us? I highly doubt that. I'm pretty sure I can take him."

"What'd you say, bitch?" Brad was crossing the street, obviously planning to come join our picnic.

Tony went into full breakdown mode. "Jaaayyne, he's coming over heeere!"

"Shut up, Baloney, I can see that. Let me handle this."

Tony stood up straight, suddenly resolute, and no longer messing with his bag. "No way, Jayne, you'll get your butt kicked. Step aside."

I was in shock for a split second. My little boy was growing up before my eyes, but there was no time to ponder and sigh. First I had to save my life and the life of my best friend.

Before shit-for-brains could get too close, I stepped out to meet him partway. That was at the curb, where luckily I gained about five inches of height, making me only a few inches shorter than him instead of, like, eight.

He launched the first volley. "You got somethin' to say, Freak?" He stopped about two inches from me and engaged me in the high school fighter's stare down. I kick ass at that, so I gave him my best stuff. I can look crazy cool with my stare down. At least I think so, but Tony says it just stops at 'crazy' and leaves out the 'cool'.

"Yeah, I got somethin' to say, Flower Boy. Go fuck yourself ... how 'bout that?"

The next thing I knew, I was back on the ground under the tree with what felt like the aftershocks of a run-in with a bull, echoing across my chest. Did he just touch my boobs? Crap, my butt is gonna be sore later. More leaves sprinkled down around me. It was starting to look like Fall in that one small space next to the sidewalk, except the leaves were green.

Before I could think anything else even more ridiculous, I heard Brad say, "Whoa, hey little dude, just chill."

This is me now: head tilted to the side, confused look of the family dog on my face ... Do I hear fear in the voice of my worstest enemy, aimed at my bestest friend?

Yes, I did. I looked over to see my beloved Tone-Tone, pointing what was definitely a real, live nine-millimeter handgun, at Brad Powers. And he did all this standing on the sidewalk. In public. Not twenty yards from the front of the school.

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