Arion beamed at me. “You know me? I’m honored!”
A muscular senior stood beside the pterippos, towering over our table. His eyes were an icy blue, piercing into mine from beneath straight white bangs. He reminded me of an anime character, or something straight out of a comic. The pin on his left lapel was a white lunar spiral, the same as Arion’s and Jett’s.
So he’s a Hunter, I deduced, glaring back at him. What’s his deal?
Arion noticed my impromptu glaring contest with his friend. “Oh, and this is Feliks! He writes for the sports section of The Arcane Citizen. Don’t mind him, that’s just how he always looks.”
A small wrinkle formed above the bridge of Feliks’ nose as he broke eye contact with me to ask Arion in a surprisingly gentle tone: “Is there something wrong with my face?”
“Oh, stop it, Feliks! You know you have ‘resting bitch face’,” the winged stallion swatted away the question. “Besides, that’s not what we’re here for!”
“You’re here for a statement about this morning,” I remarked. Truth be told, I had expected Arion to approach me sooner, so I knew it was game time when we made our entrance. I pulled out my smartphone; the occult messaging application was already open. “I’d prefer it if we did this outside of school hours, if that’s okay. I can add you on Enchat so we can figure that out.”
“I’d like that,” Arion said slowly, studying my expression. “I didn’t expect you to be this open to discussing the incident.”
I shrugged. “It’s either you get the truth from someone involved, or a lie from someone on the outside, right?”
“I’m glad you see it that way!” he gushed, his phone already out. We had added one another within a minute. “Alright, newbie! I’ll text ya later–”
“Wait!” I reached for the student reporter, halting his escape. He and Feliks were already half-turned, ready to return to their table. “I only have one condition: the story has to revolve around Gal, not me. My involvement should only matter insofar as a student was helping another.”
Arion’s eyebrows rose, and his eyes shone gold as they darted between Galiana, Max, and myself. A sly smile formed on his lips.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I turned back to my friends as he walked away, Feliks at his side. “Well, now that that’s over.”
Axel rolled his eyes. “All your scheming, and for what?”
“I need him to think that the incident is exactly what it is: one student stopping a bully.” I stabbed my steak with a fork and knife, slicing off a small chunk. My mouth watered at the sight of pink. “Ooh! Medium-rare.”
“Ugh, gross,” judged the vampire. It was as he resumed drinking his blood smoothie and earned himself a disgusted look from Jett that he asked, “What?”
“I guess I just figured vampires preferred their meat bloody,” the werewolf shrugged. “You know, the rarer, the better?”
“That, my noob friend, is called a stereotype,” Axel disclosed. “And you’re lucky to have someone as unoffendable as myself to be rude to.”
“Ignore him,” Sage chuckled, nearly finished with their salad. “Look, Jett–everything that you think you know about magickal beings is probably wrong, and the few things you think you know that are actually fact are miniscule.”
“Jeez, call him stupid while you’re at it,” Renette muttered, eliciting chortles from the table, Jett included. Sage stuck their tongue out at her before continuing:
“Anyway, vampires don’t need food or water–the only sustenance they need is blood, not the attached meat.”
“I can taste everything a human has consumed–including tobacco products, alcohol, and drugs–within the last day or so,” revealed the Haunter. “So I have in fact tasted steaks that weren’t cooked all the way, and they are gross. That doesn’t even come close to the taste of fresh blood!”
“But if you can taste everything the human consumed, and they consumed something you don’t like–like rare steak–doesn’t that mean the blood ends up tasting like rare steak?” asked Sofia, who was picking at her pasta. “I mean, I’d imagine it would ruin your entire dining experience if you could taste everything your food ate. Meat would taste like grass and dirt and hay, depending on what kind of animal you’re eating.”
“He doesn’t actually mean that he can taste the food,” Galiana chimed in.
“The hell I don’t–” Axel tried to butt in, only for Gal to speak over him.
“He means that he absorbs all of the nutrients necessary for his survival by consuming blood. Axel just thinks he can taste the food because he ate chocolate once before a hunt.”
“I swear, he tasted just like Belgian chocolate.”
“Dear diary,” Sage muttered. “Today, Axel declared that he tasted Belgian chocolate from a man. The urge to write fan fiction of my friends is growing stronger by the day. Send help.”
The table dissolved into laughter, and after it quieted down I huffed out a sigh.
“So–what should I expect from next period?”
Max and Sage traded swift glances. “That depends on your schedule,” Max explained. “Are you participating in any sports or athletic courses?”
I cocked an eyebrow. “Do I look like I can sport?”
More chuckles, and I smiled. Max seems more relaxed around me.
“Well, Sage and I will be meeting up with the rest of our team for football practice,” he illustrated. “P.H. is a great way to check out the more athletic clubs, like yoga, swimming, parkour–”
“I think I’ll just take an Academy broom out for a spin,” I shrugged and popped the tab on my soda, taking a swig.
There was nothing else–no jokes or jests, no other suggestions or offers to introduce me to any club goers. I set down my drink and looked around the table; everyone, save for Jett and Axel, had their eyes lowered, avoiding mine as they busied themselves with their mid-night meal.
I frowned. “Is there something I should know about the broomsticks? Are they poor quality?”
Axel shook his head. “Nah, it’s nothing like that, kid. The other witches just don’t wanna burst your bubble.”
My mouth had opened to retort when I realized what it could be–the only reason I wouldn’t be allowed to fly, the difference between me and them.
“Freshmen aren’t allowed to fly, are they?”
The upperclassmen all either murmured “no,” or shook their heads slowly, apologetically. I took a deep breath, held it as I silently ruminated over a spell of confidence, and let it all out before I announced:
“Well, then I’ll be the first.”
“No, you won’t,” Max insisted. “That rule is meant to keep you safe, Cari. Don’t make waves.”
I scowled at him. First he had confidence in me, and now he’s trying to hold me back? Which is it?
Standing, I climbed over the table’s attached bench, grabbing my backpack and tray. “Try and stop me.”
Then I strutted over to a nearby table that was occupied by Lilly Naismith and other freshmen.