26 of March, 2021 – Class E-2
I followed Aerwyna onto the rooftop, ready to confront her some more when my breath caught in my throat. The top of the school was divided into two sections: the first section featured an area rug, floor cushions, and cubbies against the left and right walls. There was a desk off to the right side littered with plants, seeds, leaves, and gardening tools, all in complete disarray. The second section was a full garden divided into herbs, berries, vegetables, flowers, and shrubbery. Above the garden hovered grow lamps, hanging from no visible structure.
Aerwyna made a beeline for the cubbies to the left, and I saw my name on a cubby off to the right. I rounded the area rug and approached the cubby, curious as to what awaited me. Inside was a rolled-up sheet of parchment; I unfurled the sheet and read the handwritten instructions:
- Remove your footwear. Place them in cubby.
- Remove your backpack. Place it in cubby.
- Return to the lecture area. I will be with you momentarily.
I cocked an eyebrow and glanced around. Save for myself, Aerwyna, and a few other freshmen who had arrived, there was no one in sight. Where’s the professor?
Helena broke out into a wide grin as she saw that her cubby was right beside mine. “Hey! Cubby buddies!”
I smirked and began untying my boots. “Yeah, we should get matching tattoos or something.”
“Oh, are we supposed to take our shoes off?” she asked. Helena pulled the parchment from her cubby and had it open just as I confirmed, “Yup. Leave your bag, too.”
“I guess I’m glad I wore stockings today,” Lilly called out from her cubby on the opposite wall, punctuating her annoyance with an aggravated sigh.
“Aren’t we, like, supposed to wear shoes for gardening?” asked Jean-Noël. I recognized him as the tall boy that Renette had been walking with the Monday before. I turned around in time to see him scowl at his parchment from Aerwyna’s left.
“Maybe it’s so we don’t track dirt onto the lecture area?” suggested Alexandrine in a soft voice. She stood before the first cubby in my row, towering over Edgar Calixto as she read her parchment. “I heard from my mentor that Professor Dacal is very particular about that, and that she’ll have gardening boots ready for us when we actually start gardening.”
“Okay, fine–but shouldn’t we have textbooks or some sort of reference material?” The question came from Elyse, who was standing to the left of my cubby. “We can’t exactly learn about poisonous plants by touching them, right?”
Several of us exchanged puzzled glances and shrugs. We had no idea what to expect, me least of all. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I only enrolled in the Botany course because I also enrolled in the Chemistry course (chemistry for witches is the same as it is for humans, only with more potion brewing), and potions and antidotes aren’t in my wheelhouse.
So once we all had our shoes off, the class settled onto the area rug. There were more than enough cushions for everyone, and the bell hadn’t even rung yet. Only eleven of us–we’re a small class.
Lilly cleared her throat. “So, I guess we should get introductions out of the way since we’re all going to learn more about each other over the next few years. I’m Lilly Naismith, second heir of the Naismith Coven.”
Then she stared pointedly at the girl who sat to her right. The girl hugged herself. “Um, Millie Ritter. First heir to the Bach Coven.”
“Aerwyna Marvin, first heir to the Merfyn Clan.” The elf waved half-heartedly at everyone, avoiding my eyes.
“Xavier Milian. I’m from the Luna Coven,” said the boy to her right.
“Jean-Noël LaRue of the De Mortie Coven,” offered his neighbor, Jean-Noël.
The giantess waved shyly. “Um, hi! Alexandrine Amaru, first heir of the Amaru Colony. My friends call me Alexa or Alex.”
I caught her cheeks flush as the boy to her right flashed a grand smile in her direction. “Edgar Calixto of the Serafim Coven.”
The girl to his right shrugged her shoulders. “Uh, Elisabeth Haro, Zaldivar Coven.”
Elyse threw the group an awkward two-fingered salute. “Elyse Hawkins, second heir of the Hawkins Coven. People call me Ellie or Elle. Don’t call me Lisa.”
Helena squared her shoulders and forced herself to meet members of the circle in the eye–however, she ended up looking as if she were staring everyone down with brief, tense glimpses. “H-H-Hi. Helena Corey of the De Ardo Coven.”
As I sat between her and Lilly, I offered the class a half-smile. “I’m Cari de Ardo, second heir to the De Ardo Coven.”
“Yeah, everyone already knows your name,” Xavier clapped back with a smirk. My face felt warm as he and a couple others chuckled. I’ve really outdone myself, haven’t I?
“It’s because of what happened on Monday, right?” I pressed. I kept my head raised and my voice level. Don’t let them know that they got to you.
“No, girl!” Jean-Noël swatted in my general direction. “I mean, everyone was talkin’ bout that–but we all know about you because your coven is, like, famous. That and rumors have been goin’ ‘round that you’re Max Quercini’s half-sister.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I know. And I already confirmed that rumor on Monday.”
Several gasps broke out in the class, followed by a strained silence as every other witch in attendance–except for Helena and Lilly–watched me expectantly.
“What’s the big deal?” asked Alexa. “So she’s Max’s sister. Are siblings illegal in covens or something?”
Aerwyna scoffed. “Hardly. Witches just like drama.”
“Oh, it’s way more than us just bein’ the drama queens we so rightfully are,” said Jean-Noël. “We make covens with different families for a reason: so we can pick and choose mates from those families and create strong witch offspring. Gettin’ it on with someone from outside our coven is taboo.”
Alexa frowned. “Taboo?”
“He means it’s been an unspoken agreement among all the major covens that no cross-breeding takes place,” explained Elyse, her eyes still on me. I met her gaze head-on as she said the words that, up until that point, I had refused to admit to myself. “Cross-bred witches are even more powerful than normal ones. All that power tips the scales, giving those two covens leverage over the others–and when those two covens are already as large and influential as the Quercinis and the de Ardos, it means a hell of a lot of trouble for the rest of us.”
“You don’t have anything to worry about,” I whispered. It was so quiet on the rooftop that every one of them heard me clear as day. “I’m not out to get anyone, and I’m not slated to lead either coven. I just exist.”
“Your existence is a threat in and of itself,” posed Edgar.
I scowled at him. “If it weren’t for my existence, Jude would’ve done goddess-knows-what to a member of your coven. Are you okay with that?”
The boy averted his attention, his expression brooding as he mulled over my response. I glared at the other witches; they all lowered their eyes or looked away, unable to meet me. Their silence speaks volumes.
“I do hope you are all getting along.”
Most of us jumped, startled by the sudden voice of an older woman. Between the lecture area and the garden floated a middle-aged woman with dark, greying hair and a dimpled smile. I say floated because she was incorporeal; Professor Narbona Dacal was the departed soul of a renowned witch and herbalist, and she hovered in mid-air with ease. Her hair was pulled back into a thick, braided bun, and her attire consisted of olive and gold robes that concealed her feet. Standing behind and to her left was a girl with fair skin, light hair, and sad, ice-blue eyes.
My heart skipped a beat. Blodwen!