Despite what you would think, schools for magickal beings are almost exactly the same as your average mortal school. They have cliques, clubs, sports games, school events–even the classrooms are fashioned like those in your normal everyday private academy. We were the last students to enter the class–the noteworthy rrrring of the bell sounded over the PA system as the door shut behind us–so just about every seat was taken in the room, save for four. Two of the three remaining seats were designated to me and my guide by plaque, with my seat as the third from the front of the second row from the right. Sage led the way, since their assigned seat was the final desk in the first row, and I couldn’t help but feel a little envious that they were given the back corner.
Guess I won’t have any excuses if I daydream, I sighed softly and took my seat, my eyes lowered. Let’s just get through this one day at a time.
I looked up to see if I could identify our tutor, but I was instead met by a pair of hazel eyes peering into mine. Their owner sat in the seat in front of mine, her long golden hair pulled back in a high ponytail. She smiled amicably, and I felt a rush of joy as I recognized her.
She let out an amused snort. “Duh! Was wondering if you would recognize me.”
“Sorry,” I offered her an apologetic smile. “I guess I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. The night’s barely started and so much has already happened.”
“Yeah, that tends to happen when you attack a vampire on your first night,” said the student sitting at the head of Sage’s row. She threw me a teasing smirk over her shoulder, allowing me to identify her as Alicia Gilbert of the Young Coven. “Not every night is like that, though, so don’t worry about it.”
I tucked some loose curls behind my ear and nodded to her. “I’ll try not to make a habit of that.”
The junior smiled and turned in her seat, gesturing to the girl sitting behind her. “This here is Yolette–she’s from the De Mortie Coven.”
I waved at the upperclassman, who acknowledged me with a sweet smile. “Nice to meet you.”
“That’s Elyse, Izayah Hawkins’ little sister–” Alicia pointed out the freshman who sat to my left–her nose was buried in a fantasy novel, so she waved in my general direction without so much as a glance–before gesturing to the row off to my right. “Lenora, Gray, and Abena are all from the Hollingsworth Coven.”
Lenora Hollingsworth was every bit the perfect girl she displayed on her DarkScene page. She had the height of a model, complemented by long slender legs. Everything about her was thin–her oval face was slim, the bridge of her nose was skinny, her eyebrows were groomed to arched perfection, and her auburn hair was pin-straight. Save for a trio of freckles on her right cheek, I couldn’t spot a single blemish on her smooth skin. I tried not to squirm or panic as she turned from speaking with Abena to study me with olive-toned irises. There was no friendliness in her gaze; they were stone cold, as if everything within her had frozen over.
Abena joined the heiress in silently scrutinizing me, her own well-groomed brows arched with intrigue as she regarded me. While Abena Clarke was known for her fit physique, her round face and full lips stood out in a manner I couldn’t help but admire. Her natural umber curls were thick and fashioned in a flat top style, showing off the green onyx studs that adorned her ear lobes. They matched the chain bracelet she wore on one wrist and two of the three gold vermeil rings she had on random fingers; one with the same stone and another with green onyx and four other tiny gems of varying colors. The third ring held a moonstone.
I can’t let them think that they intimidate me. I planted an impish smile on my face, not letting the emotion show in my eyes as I knew the gesture would come off as more of a grimace. “Nice meeting you.”
I turned to offer the same to Lenora’s brother, Gray–who was seated adjacent to the vacant desk behind mine, which was labelled as Galiana’s–when I noticed who sat behind Lenora and directly to my right. “Helena! Hi.”
The fellow freshman from my own coven blushed at the sudden attention. She mumbled a quick greeting and threw me a bashful smile. Her hair was pitch black and pulled into two low braids that were pulled over her shoulders, her straight bangs dangerously encroaching on her field of vision. I was able to see the rest of the class beyond her, and my blood ran cold.
Seated to Lenora’s right was Rafael, who was pretending to ignore me by texting on his phone. His short chocolate brown hair was slicked into a pompadour with a side part, the sides shaved in a bald fade. Omari Leonard, who sat in front of him, was almost completely turned in his seat, his own dark eyes darting between me and his friend in delight at the uncomfortable stillness that had settled over the class. It wasn’t broken until a familiar-looking sophomore from the next row over raised his hand and waved at me.
“Uh, hey! We saw each other in the lobby–I was with Arabela.”
I blinked as I racked my brain for a name. “Right, yeah. I didn’t catch your name.”
“David,” he introduced himself with a smile so charismatic that I half expected him to hand me a business card. “David Milian. My lil’ bro, Xavier, just started tonight, too.”
“Oh, cool!” I did my best to sound enthusiastic. In reality, I couldn’t have cared less about making new friends. They’re all going to try to use me, anyway. “Maybe I’ll see him around.”
It was at that moment the door to the classroom opened, and a young woman burst in juggling a slouchy leather hobo bag, a large plastic container, a black binder, a romance novel, and a tall travel mug with the academy’s logo printed on the side. Her onyx curls were wild and kept in an asymmetrical bob style, with choppy bangs to complete the look. Her smooth skin was devoid of freckles, and her slender frame was wrapped in a mid-length jersey dress. The sleeveless ensemble was a cherry red, which matched her lipstick perfectly and went well with her complexion while contrasting her dark hair and black leather pumps. A chunk of rose quartz wrapped in a silver wire cage hung from her neck by a matching chain, its pale pink shade and heart shape adding a youthful air to the professor.
I was able to pick out the designer names for every piece of her outfit easily, since Mami had insisted I stay up to date on the latest trends. Her dress was by Chiara Boni, her bag was a Bottega Veneta, her pumps were Manolo Blahniks and her necklace was a customized Renee Lewis piece. However, I caught sight of a bracelet on her left wrist that piqued my interest: a sterling silver snake chain fastened by a heart-shaped clasp and adorned with an assortment of charms. Even with all those charms, that’s practically the cheapest thing she’s wearing–which makes it quite a contrast from her probably extravagant lifestyle.
“Sorry! I didn’t mean to be so late,” the professor explained as she set her belongings down onto her desk. Her voice was soft, familiar somehow. I scowled at her, pondering her identity. “The girls at the café were helping me make some rosquillas for you all.”
She let out a huff and beamed at the class, her smile faltering slightly as her black eyes passed over me. “Well, some of you might be confused as to why I’m standing before you and not Professor Stedelen. If you haven’t heard already, Professor Stedelen has retired from teaching, so I was hired by Dr. Shararah to take over as the instructor for the Advanced Magick course.”
Why the hell does she look and sound so familiar to me? I asked myself. Maybe Ax would know–
The professor spun around to the whiteboard, slipped a black eraser glove onto their left hand, and plucked a red marker from the aluminum tray that lined the bottom of the board. She uncapped it immediately and went to work writing her title and name on the white surface.
“My name is Valoree de Ardo, and I will be your homeroom professor,” she announced, spinning back around to face us. “Though I do know that some of you will return to this room for Advanced Magick at some point during the coming week, so let’s go ahead and get familiar with one another. My preferred pronouns are she and her, but I gladly welcome gender-neutral pronouns. Does anyone else want to introduce themselves?”
The entire class was silent. Some, like the elves and fairies among us, whispered to one another. Everyone else–at least, every witch as far as I could tell–had turned so as to gauge my reaction. My expression was unreadable–I had made sure of it–but behind my serene mask I was internally screaming the same question over and over:
Is that Val?!