I practically ran across the courtyard with my tray in hand, eager to get to the library. Helena’s probably there by now, and she shouldn’t be alone.
Mrs. Martin hadn’t even made it to the door by the time I rushed inside. “Cari? You’re here early–”
“Hi, Mrs. Martin!” I called out, barely glancing her way. “I’m just looking for Helena!”
I was already halfway across the library when I heard the librarian ask, “What’s the matter, girl?”
“Nothing!” I assured her, throwing a sweet smile over my shoulder. Mrs. Martin appeared to be very concerned, and my behavior wasn’t making things better. This is too important. “Enjoy your lunch!”
“… Okay,” she conceded far from behind me. I was setting my tray down on our usual table when she added, “I’ll be in the teacher’s lounge if you want to talk.”
“Yes, ma’am!” I replied automatically, my eyes scanning the nearby aisles for my friend. It was a moment before her words sunk in. I need to relax. Freaking out the mortals won’t help if we come face to face with trappers.
“Cari?” I spun around to find Helena emerging from a different section of books than I was accustomed to. “I guess I’m not the only one who thought to come here.”
“We shouldn’t be here,” I whispered, still standing by my food. “I know Wihn and the others hate my guts, but we should still stick by them. Going off on our own is a bad idea.”
My friend nodded, her walnut brown gaze downcast as it fell to the book in her hands. She rounded the table to her own tray and backpack. “O-Okay. Sorry if I worried you.”
I frowned, my eyes darting between her face and the book. “Hel? What’s going on?”
“I just wanted t-to borrow this book for a bit,” she shrugged, avoiding my eyes. “I-It’s nothing.”
“Don’t do that,” I told her, holding my hands out to receive the thick volume. “Don’t lie. We don’t keep secrets.”
Helena hesitated for only a short spell before placing the book delicately on my upraised palms. I understood why from the second the volume touched my flesh; it radiated with magick, an enchantment pulsing through its fibers. A glamour was placed on the hardcover, giving it the appearance and title of a boring trigonometry textbook. However, my trained eye could see beyond the illusion, and I studied its intricate design and intriguing label: A Lithomancer’s Extensive Compendium Of Crystalline Wonders.
My frown deepened. “Why–?”
“There you are.”
At the sound of her voice, I handed the tome back to Helena, who immediately hid it in her backpack as I turned to face the senior who addressed us. Her sandy blonde hair was shaped in an immaculate pixie cut with a side shave, and her aqua-hazel pools peered into mine with scorn from behind square-rimmed spectacles. Three familiar students followed closely behind her, each with a tray of food and their belongings.
I maintained my poker face and met her gaze head-on. “Wihn. You’re here about the notice?”
“Obviously,” grumbled Wihnhilda Nurse, our coven’s sitting witch head. She strutted forward and dropped her tray emphatically on the left side of our table before claiming the seat for herself with a huff. “I’m our leader. I can’t just leave you freshmen alone right now.”
Helena and I swapped nervous glances before sitting. Rafael sat to Wihn’s left, placing him beside Helena and almost directly across from me. Madalynn took my left, putting her in front of Rafael, her dark, wavy hair pulled back in a high ponytail; Evanora Eastey, a sophomore and the final member of our coven attending the Academy took the final seat to the far right, opposite of Wihnhilda. Her hair was a dull shade of gold and pulled over her right shoulder in a braid, and her green eyes flitted briefly between both myself and Helena before she focused on her food.
Well, this is awkward. “Just so you know, we normally have friends come and meet us–”
“Everyone’s sticking to their own, Car,” muttered Rafael as he picked at his rice and chicken with a metal fork. “You’ll see your friends later tonight.”
“Not to mention, that party you’re throwing tomorrow…” Evanora tacked on in a sing-song voice.
Helena squeaked as she and I swapped looks; mine was guarded, while she definitely looked like she was caught with her hand in a cookie jar. “You heard about that?”
“Seriously?” Madalynn sighed. “Everyone knows. That’s what you get for inviting GoGoGlam.”
My head dipped forward as my eyes closed in defeat. “Shit…”
My reaction seemed to amuse the upperclassmen; Madalynn and Evanora giggled, and Rafael let out a succinct snort.
Wihnhilda grumbled, “How are you and Val related? You’re so different from how she used to be.”
Without thinking, I shrugged and said, “Yeah, well, she’s different from how she used to be, too.”
“You’re not gonna cancel the party tomorrow, are you?” sighed Rafael, eyes still lowered.
What’s his deal? He never looks me in the eye… I blinked and peered up slowly from my lunch. He never looks anyone in the eye. “I was thinking about it, but if the entire school knows and people planned on crashing… Better to have everyone safe in one place as opposed to scattered, right?”
Wihn cocked an eyebrow. “ ‘Everyone’? Is that an invitation?”
I gave her an icy glare and declared, “I figured you’d all want some fun before our duels.”
Silence filled the library; the upperclassmen all paused from their lunch, their hands frozen and shoulders stiff as they regarded me with varied expressions. Maddy and Raf wore wide-eyed bewilderment, while Evanora’s bottom lip quivered in consternation. Even Helena had difficulty keeping a straight face–she bit her bottom lip and continued picking at her grilled chicken.
Wihnhilda’s reaction, however, was the only one I gave a damn about, as she was the only member of the coven I had my sights on. Her eyes bore into mine as they narrowed, and her head tilted back and her chin lifted so that she was peering down her nose at me.
“Are you invoking the Duel of Ardor?”
I lifted my own chin in response. “I am.”
“And you realize that you’ll have to fight us all in succession?” Wihn warned me. “Every member of the coven that attends the Academy.”
Her eyes were barely slits as she added: “That means you’ll have to fight Helena, too.”
I turned to face my dearest friend, who peeked up from her untouched meal. Her light brown pools did little to hide her conflicted emotions; her loyalty, her resolve, her slow-building confidence. She simultaneously held her heart in her hands and kept it close to her chest, so that only those of us who truly knew her could read her intentions. I relied on our connection at that moment, hopeful that she could see my true intentions through my aura and determined expression.
26 of March 2021 – 3:40 PM
As soon as the last bell of the day rang, I was out of my seat and headed to the door with my phone in hand.
(Sent at 3:40 PM): zanderwoods: Meet in the lot ASAP
The number of views on the message went up as each member of the pack read my order. A couple of them, like Beckett and Danivyn, responded with stickers expressing their understanding; otherwise, it appeared that everyone had seen my text…
Wait. We were short a member. I pressed on the message and checked the read receipts. Every member was accounted for except for Whitney.
I gritted my teeth. I know you hate me, but you normally see my messages by now–especially with everything going on.
There was this awful sinking feeling in my stomach, an eerie distress that compelled me to change directions. My legs steered me in the opposite path to the student parking lot, leading me deeper into the heart of our school. I recognized the corridor that led to the mathematics wing, and my pace quickened.
She should have had Calculus last…
“Aren’t you a junior?”
The question was spoken so clearly that, thanks to my acute hearing, I had almost believed it to be directed at me. I slowed my steps, moving quietly as I continued to listen.
“Yeah, I am,” Whitney boasted. It sounded like she was smiling at whoever she was speaking to. “Why? Juniors can’t take Calc?”
“No juniors I know take it,” he chuckled. I frowned–he sounded like no other student I had ever heard before.
“Yeah? How many juniors you know?” she teased.
They were just around the corner, placing them right outside Whitney’s classroom. I inched along the wall and peeked over; she was leaning against the wall, her purse slung over her shoulder and a couple of textbooks cradled in the crook of her left arm. Her shoulders were relaxed, and she wore an amused expression as she gazed up at the student who stood before her.
He didn’t look like anyone I had seen around before, either. Red hair. Light skin. Tall, maybe six feet. A little on the lanky side, but he don’t look weak. He could be that senior transfer student Dani and Rina were talking about.
“A lot of ‘em, but none as pretty as you,” he proclaimed. He was leaning forward with his left hand resting on the wall behind Whitney, allowing him to gaze down at her. Which isn’t hard to do–she’s short as hell.
Whitney giggled, and my face burned as my chest welled up with shame. What am I doing? She’d be pissed if she found out I was listening to all this, and she’d be right to feel that way…
I began to pull away when I heard him say, “Can I get your number? I’d love to take you out sometime.”
I definitely shouldn’t be here. I took two steps back the way I came–and that’s when it hit me.
That sickeningly sweet stench.
Something important about werewolves–we’re a lot like normal wolves. Each family breeds kids with specific enhanced traits. Jett has great hearing because he’s a Danvers. Whit is smart and sneaky because she’s a Shepard. Me? I’ve got the best nose in the pack because I’m the son of a Woods and a Howard.
Before I knew it, I had rounded the corner, approached the senior, and shoved him aside. “Yo! You talking to my girl?”
“Whoa, whoa!” The new kid threw his hands up and backed away from Whitney, who had dropped her books and pushed herself off the wall, presumably to stop me. “Easy, man! I didn’t know she was your girl, alright?”
“School’s out, man,” I growled, advancing on him. It was satisfying to see the surprise on his face as he stumbled backward into a garbage bin. “Go, now.”
“Yeah, yeah, okay!” he panicked, spinning around and narrowly falling into the very trash he had bumped into. Then he shoved the bin aside and sprinted off down the hall before disappearing around the corner.
As soon as I could no longer hear his footfalls, I took a deep breath and turned to face Whitney, bracing myself for her wrath. Let’s hope she hears me out. “Listen, I–”
My words were caught in my throat as she reached out and took my left hand in both of hers, and I was so stunned by her action that I didn’t even stop her from using her small, slender fingers to pry mine open. Resting on my palm was a minuscule stone carved into a sphere the size of a marble. It was glowing a vibrant white, resembling the full moon on a clear night–a stark contrast to its usual iridescence.
What I had tried my best to ignore was the stinging pain that emanated from my hand. A series of hideous, raised scars stretched out over my palm with that stone at the epicenter.
My eyes were glued to Whitney’s face as she studied the stone and its effect on me. Her brown eyes seemed to soften at my condition, and her lips parted slightly as she tried to find words.
“That’s zharine, isn’t it?” she asked. Her words barely registered as a whisper, but I heard her clear as day in that vacant corridor.
She started to reach for it when I pulled my hand from her grasp. “Don’t. You’ll get hurt.”
You would think by her reaction that I had slapped her in the face. “I-It hurts?”
I pocketed the stone and stepped around her. “Don’t worry about it. Let’s get to the parking lot.”
Whitney was stunned silent, granting me the opportunity to pick up her books and hand them to her. She gulped, but accepted them, her eyes lowered.
Then I started back the way I came, heading for our pack’s meeting place. Whitney was just a few steps behind, keeping up with my brisk pace. The pain in my hand was sending a dull throbbing sensation up my arm; I switched my backpack from my left shoulder to my right in hopes of alleviating the pain, which it managed to do to some degree.
By the time we arrived at the main hallway, we could see some stragglers here and there that were in no particular hurry to get home. Some were headed off to the right to drive themselves home, and others were headed to the left to either board a bus or walk home.
I can’t imagine having to walk all the way to Marblehead, I remember thinking. A bead of sweat trickled down the side of my face. My vision was off, almost as if every person I saw left an afterimage as they passed. I thought nothing of it, eager to return home. Jett and I have to finish our talk–
Without warning, Whitney linked her arm with my left and began dragging me toward the school’s entrance. “We’re making a pit stop.”
I nearly staggered along, wincing at the strain on my injury. “We need to meet with the others.”
“We will after I make sure you’re healed.”
Her words seemed to snap me out of whatever feverish effect the stone had on me–for the moment. “Healed? By who?”
She scoffed. “By the strongest witch at AOA, obviously.”