A Black teen from Houston has her world upended when she learns about her godly ancestry and must save both the human and god worlds…
We’re excited to share an excerpt from Wings of Ebony, the debut fantasy from author J. Elle—publishing February 2021 with Denene Millner Books. Learn more about Wings of Ebony here.
“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon—a hidden island of magic wielders.
Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.
Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon—an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.
My watch vibrates. Another message. Ignored.
Just a few more minutes. A chance to see her face light up at what’s inside that box. Something to let her know that today of all days, I am still thinking of her.
Around the corner is Tasha’s school bus stop. Six-nineteen. On time. She rips off the last piece of paper and pulls out a golden trinket from inside the box.
It was a little pendant Moms gave me. The last thing I had from her. She put the heart-shaped pendant in my hand three weeks before she died. Told me she worked a double shift for months to afford it. That didn’t mean I needed to feel bad, she’d said. Just that my ass better not lose it because she can’t afford another one. Tash used to ask me to play with it. I wouldn’t even let her breathe on it. Now it’s hers. I’m the oldest, which means I have to be the strongest. She needs it more than me.
My watch pings. I swipe right. A new message and all the ignored older ones scroll up the screen.
Bri: You okay?
Bri: It’s been a long time. I’m getting worried.
An old-school Cadillac with a rattling trunk steals my attention as its shiny chrome wheels slide to a stop. His black-tinted windows crack and kids at the bus stop rush over. Two kids about Tasha’s age hop out. Nosey, like Moms always said I was, I crane my neck trying to see.
Tasha looks in my direction. Like, dead at me. I can’t move. Does she see me? Shit. Shit. Shit. She waves at me, but she’s looking past me. I spin on my heels. Some dude’s hanging out a car across the intersection, waving back at her.
“Aye, yo, T,” he yells. The dude’s white button-up is tucked neatly into a pair of faded jeans. His face—do I know him?
“Sup!” Even her voice sounds older. She puts the heart-shaped pendant in her pocket and jets his way. I squint, hunching beside a dumpster. Who is this dude? And why the hell is whatever he wants so damn important she has to leave her stop to cross the street to come to him. You want something, you come here. My sister won’t be running after no one.
She looks both ways and he does too, beckoning her closer. She’s all smiles. Her bus. She’s going to miss her bus. Uneasiness coils in my gut.
She knows this dude. And by the way she’s grinning, she knows him well. I’m on my feet, keeping her in my sights. I don’t like this. She darts across the first half of the street as the sound of a horn zips by.
“Hurry up, girl,” he says with a smile, his pasty skin reflecting the morning sun.
“Aye, wait up,” she answers. “I’m coming.”
Coming where? Where the hell we going? I need to be closer. I’m not feeling this, any of this. Not with my sister. Not while I’m here. I creep so close, the scent of her vanilla hair puddin’ swirls in my nose. I’m so close. So very close. If she turns around she will see me. Then what?
As she checks both ways again, tires peel out in the distance. Burnt rubber stings my nostrils. The dude’s now in his Impala—dark blue with glistening wheels. My heart won’t slow and I no longer expect it to. Tasha dips across the rest of the intersection and hops in his passenger seat. He pulls off the curb and she turns my way.
Our eyes lock.
She sees me.
I’m no expert on the ins and outs of Ghizon—the magic world—but one thing I know for sure: Magic folks, like these Laws here, do not like broken rules. What does a slap on the wrist even look like there?
Tash knowing I’m here is a problem. A big-ass problem. Her mouth is hanging wide open in utter shock. She grabs the dude’s shoulder to slow down. He throws me a glance, black ink peeking at me from the collar of his shirt. His eyes burn into mine and he doesn’t smile… doesn’t stop… just slows, approaching a yellow light. My excitement shatters.
Tires screech far off in the distance. The tatted driver runs the red and keeps rolling across the intersection… staring at me instead of the road. A white sedan dents my peripheral, racing toward them. The skin on my back bristles like icy hot knives.
Th-they’re going to get hit.
The sedan driver’s eyes bulge as he slams on the brakes.
No. No. No.
Rubber screams and skids against pavement. My magic. I close the distance between us and raise my hands, fingers spread wide. I tug all my focus to the center of my wrists. Energy like heat rushes through me, pooling in the balls of onyx glowing at my wrists. Waiting, ready.
The time spell. The damn words. What are the damn words?
“Tind na yo wevee.” Magic rips from my hands like branches, blinding and hot.
The nose of the white car is frozen in motion, kissing the passenger side door—Tasha’s door. The face of the guy driving the white car is scrunched in pain, frozen and unmoving. Tasha’s arms are all I see, stilled in a wave. The entire scene is frozen like figures of glass, pupils dilated with fear. Wind whips around us feverishly.
“I’m here,” I say. Her eyes are wide and still. She probably can’t hear me, but I whisper all the same. “You’re going to be okay.”
The guy in the driver’s seat next to her is still as ice, hand on the door handle, a twisted grin glued on his face. A big-ass coiled snake tattoo is on his neck. I move around the car and tug at the back door. Locked. With no one conscious watching, I press my palms together, conjuring a force of energy between them. I thrust it at the rear window. It shatters in a sea of chimes.
“Feey’l.” Flames ignite from my fingertips. The smell of burned chemicals fills my nostrils as I scorch through her seat belt as quickly as I can.
Magic bearers should never touch humans.
The damn rule plays on repeat in my head.
Frantic, I wrap my shaking hands around her and a tingling sensation moves through me. I bite down, ignoring it, and pull harder, her warm skin against mine. Singed but hanging on by a thread, the seat belt still doesn’t let go of her legs. The time spell will wear off any second, and this car crash will crunch back into motion. I tug and bite the belt, pulling as coppery liquid fills my mouth. It won’t relent. Shit! She will not die here. She won’t! I clamp my teeth and yank again. The belt releases.
Magic bearers should never touch humans.
The rules. The stupid rules. This is my sister, not just anyone. They can do their worst to me, I’m not losing her. I pull her petite frame onto the asphalt.
The streetlights are flashing now and the colors shift from green, to yellow, to red, and back to green. I glance over my shoulders and check my watch. How long does the time spell last? I bite my lip. Bri would know. I fidget with my watch to send her a message as the sound of crunching glass splits the air.
I raise a hand, trying to keep the spell intact. Hold. Please hold! My hand shakes more violently and the air itself seems to tremble. It’s not going to hold. She’s like a cinder block, but with one arm I drag her toward the sidewalk, away from the crash.
“Wake up, Tash. Come on, wake up.”
She bats her eyes. Sounds of crumpling fiberglass crack through the air. My spell is buckling. My hand trembles, the heat from my wrists simmers.
“I-I can’t hold it.” Oof. A jolt of pain radiates through me and chaos erupts in blurred motion. The car she was just in skids across the intersection and plants into a pole.
But the driver… the driver just inside is gone.
Wait… what… but how?
The driver of the white car hangs out the window, neck crooked backward and streaked with blood. I turn my face away. Tasha pulls herself up on shaky elbows, blinking in my direction.
“R-Rue?” She looks at me and I cover the warm stones in my wrists.
“Rue!” Her voice cracks and nothing matters anymore. I pull her in to me. “It’s okay. You’re okay.”
Cars swerve to a stop, narrowly missing the pile of crushed metal. A man in a navy windbreaker emerges with a phone to his ear.
“Help will be here soon,” I say. She weeps against my chest, a gash on her forehead crying tears of blood. I hold her tight—tight like Moms would do.
“It’s over,” I whisper, refusing tears trying to break free. “You’re okay. I’m here. Everything’s okay.”
The crowd nearby clamors over one another for a look at the wreck, when a sweet chemical scent wafts past. Gasoline.
No. Shit. No!
“W-we have to move.” Even on the sidewalk we’re too close. I fumble for her arm, pulling it over my shoulder. She’s heavy. So much heavier than I remember. “We have to get up.” The gasoline smell stings my nostrils and words stick to the roof of my mouth.
“Tash, we have to get farther away!” Her head bobs like she’s woozy, her forehead wound gushing faster.
Magic. Move her with magic.
A cluster of eyes cling to us; everybody’s watching, recording. I-I can’t. The time spell wore off. People are watching! I can’t use magic with them all looking. I—
The chemical smell grows stronger and a flicker of fire dents my periphery.
B-but people are around… I-I… I have to. I can’t lose her.
The words are fuzzy in my head, and the black stones fused to my wrists swirl with warmth, but nothing sputters from my hand. Focus. What are the words? I can’t think. I pull hard from my center and my wrists glow hot as the black balls fused to my skin heat like a skillet. My words are muddled, but I feel it. I feel my magic. Energy rushes through me, ripping from my palms, a light sprouting like rays of sun.
“Shee’ye ya fuste.” The light shifts into a wall transparent as glass between us and the crash, rippling like droplets of water. The ground shudders and clouds of orange blaze explode, slamming against the invisible barrier. Jolts of pain pinch my spine, but I keep my hands still. If I let go, the flames will swallow us. She moans.
“Tash? Stay with me. I’m here. It’s going to be okay.”
She hugs me, nestling her fingers against my skin. I close my eyes and focus on the rhythm of her heartbeat pressed to my chest. Moms used to rock me back and forth and hum when I was little and scared. So I rock.
Holding her stirs a heat inside of me, brighter and fiercer than the sizzling flames popping just a ways away. Sirens moan in the backdrop and orange light colors my eyelids. I don’t want to open them. Not yet. My wrists chill as the fire and magic around us fizzles out and a gust of smoke assaults my head.
She’s okay. We’re okay.
My wristwatch buzzes. It’s Bri.
Bri: What did you do?! Patrol is coming. Run!
Excerpted from Wings of Ebony, copyright © 2020 by J. Elle.