Beltrami Studios
Isabella Biedenharn
January 06, 2017 AT 11:27 AM EST

In Laurie Forest’s forthcoming YA fantasy novel The Black Witch, Elloren Gardner — granddaughter of legendary Black Witch Carnissa Gardner — finds herself lacking the magical abilities she’d need to truly be her grandmother’s heir. Still, everyone believes she’s the next chosen Black Witch, who will fight against the prophesied enemy, the Great Winged One, scheduled to arrive quite soon. While Elloren’s real dream is to become an apothecary, she arrives at the illustrious Verpax University to find that she can’t quite leave her lineage behind.

The Black Witch hits shelves May 2, but EW can reveal the novel’s gorgeous cover and an exclusive excerpt right now, below.

Excerpt from The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

I’m awakened by a sharp rapping at my window. I jerk up from my bed, look toward the window and am startled by the sight of an enormous white bird sitting on a branch outside, staring intently at me.

One of the birds I saw flying in from the mountains.

Its wings are so white against the blue light of predawn, they seem otherworldly.

I creep out of bed to see how close I can get to the bird before spooking it, but don’t get far. As soon as I lose contact with the bed, the bird silently spreads its massive wings and flies out of sight. I rush to the window, fascinated.

There, I can still see it, staring fixedly at me, as if beckoning me to follow.

It’s across the field, near the long fence that separates our property from the Gaffneys’ estate.

I haphazardly dress and run outside, instantly consumed by the strange blue light that covers everything, transforming the familiar landscape into something ethereal.

The bird is still staring at me.

I walk toward it, the odd-colored scene making me feel like I’m in a dream.

I get quite close to the creature when it flies away again, past the garden, where the fence to my left disappears briefly into some dense bushes and trees.

I follow, feeling a thrill course through me, like I’m a child playing hide-and-seek. I round the corner to a small clearing then jump with fright and almost bolt in the opposite direction when I see what’s there.

The white bird, along with two others, sits on a long tree branch. Directly below stands a spectral figure in a black cloak, its face hidden in the shadow of an overhanging hood.

“Elloren.” The voice is familiar, halting me before I start to run.

Realization of who this is crashes through me.

“Sage?” I’m amazed and confused at the same time, my heart racing from the jolt of fear.

She stands, just beyond the fence. Sage Gaffney, our neighbor’s eldest daughter.

Warily, I make my way toward her still figure, aware of the watchful birds above. As I get closer, I begin to make out her face in the blue light, her gaunt, terrified expression startling me. She was always a pleasant, healthy-looking girl, a University scholar and daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Gardneria. Her zealously religious family fasted her at thirteen to Tobias Vassilis, the son of a well-thought-of Gardnerian family. Sage had everything any Gardnerian girl could ever dream of.

But then she disappeared soon after starting University. Her family searched for her for over a year to no avail.

And yet here she is, as if risen from the dead.

“W-where have you been?” I stammer. “Your parents have been looking everywhere for you…”

“Keep your voice down, Elloren,” she commands, her eyes fearful and darting around restlessly. She seems poised and prepared for escape, a large travel sack hanging from her back. Something is moving beneath her cloak, something she’s carrying.

“What’s under your cloak?” I ask, bewildered.

“My son,” she says with a defiant lift of her chin.

“You and Tobias have a son?”

“No,” she corrects me, harshly, “he is not Tobias’s.” She says Tobias’s name with such pure loathing, I wince. And she keeps the child hidden.

“Do you need help, Sage?” I keep my voice low, not wanting to spook her any more than she already is.

“I need to give you something,” she whispers then reaches with a shaking hand for something hidden under her cloak. She pulls out a long, white wand that spirals up from an exquisitely carved handle, its tip so white it reminds me of the birds’ wings. But my eyes are quickly drawn away from the wand to her hand.

It’s covered with deep, bloody lash marks that continue up her wrist and disappear beneath the sleeve of her cloak.

I gasp in horror. “Holy Ancient One, what happened?”

Her eyes are briefly filled with despair before they harden again, a bitter smile forming on her mouth. “I did not honor my wandfasting,” she whispers acidly.

I’ve heard tales of the harsh consequences of fast-breaking, but to see it…

“Elloren,” she pleads, the look of terror returning. She pushes the wand out at me as if trying to will me to take it. “Please. There’s not a lot of time! I’m supposed to give it to you. It wants to go to you.”

“What do you mean, it wants to go to me?” I ask, confused. “Sage, where did you get this?”

“Just take it!” she insists. “It’s incredibly powerful. And you can’t let them get it!”

“Who’s them?”

“The Gardnerians!”

I force out a disbelieving breath. “Sage, we’re Gardnerians.”

“Please,” she begs. “Please take it.”

“Oh, Sage,” I say, shaking my head. “There’s no reason for me to have a wand. I’ve no magic…”

“It doesn’t matter! They want you to have it!” She gestures with the wand toward the tree above.

“The birds?”

“They’re not just birds! They’re Watchers. They appear during times of great darkness.”

None of this makes any sense. “Sage, come inside with me.” I try to sound as soothing as I can. “We’ll talk to my uncle…”

“No!” she snarls, recoiling. “I told you, it only wants you!” Her expression turns desperate. “It’s the White Wand, Elloren.”

Pity flashes through me. “Oh, Sage, that’s a children’s story.”

It’s a religious myth, told to every Gardnerian child. Good versus Evil—the White Wand pitted against the Dark Wand. The White Wand, a pure force for good, coming to the aid of the oppressed and used in ancient, primordial battles against demonic forces. Against the power of the Dark Wand.

“It’s not just a story,” Sage counters, teeth gritted, her eyes gone wild. “You have to believe me. This is the White Wand.” She lifts the wand again and thrusts it toward me.

She’s mad, completely mad. But she’s so agitated, and I want to calm her fears. Relenting, I reach out and take the wand.

The pale wood of the handle is smooth and cool to the touch, strangely devoid of any sense of its source tree. I slide it under my cloak and into a pocket.

Sage looks instantly relieved, like a heavy burden has been lifted.

Movement in the distance catches my eye, just inside where the wilds begin. Two dark figures on horseback are there and gone again so quickly, I wonder if it’s a trick of the light. There are so many strange, dark shadows this time in the morning. I glance up and look for the white birds, and I have to blink twice to make sure I’m not seeing things.

They’re gone. With no sound made in leaving. I spin around on my heels, searching for them. They’re nowhere in sight.

“They’re gone, Elloren,” Sage says, her eyes once again apprehensively scanning around as if sensing some impending doom. She grasps my arm hard, her nails biting into my skin.

“Keep it secret, Elloren! Promise me!”

“Okay,” I agree, wanting to reassure her. “I promise.”

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