26 of March 2021 – 3:49 PM
When Whitney had said that she would take me to the strongest witch at AOA, I figured she had meant Wihnhilda Nurse. As a senior and the head of the De Ardo Coven, Wihn was experienced in all kinds of magick. Her sophomore year–when Whit and I were freshmen–Wihn had challenged her entire coven to a series of duels, one after the other, and won with her grasp of offensive spells alone. She was strong, smart, and ruthless; all excellent traits in an alpha.
So imagine my surprise when Whitney brought me to the school entrance and waved down a trio of freshmen that were about to cross the street. “Cari de Ardo!”
The young girls hesitated at the crosswalk and glanced over their shoulders before exchanging swift, intrigued looks and turning around. “Whitney Shepard, right? Jett’s guide?”
“Right,” Whit smiled at them as we approached, but her lips couldn’t seem to muster more than a tight line. “Can you come with us for a few minutes?”
“Um…” Cari threw a cautious look over her shoulder, her eyes scanning the café across the way, before stepping forward. “Okay, but just for a little bit.”
“We’re coming too,” insisted her blonde friend, who I recognized through my blurred vision as Gunnar’s little sister. The girl with dark hair, who I had seen around campus but couldn’t name, nodded, her eyes glued to me.
“Thanks,” Whitney whispered, and proceeded to lead us back toward the school. In a low voice, she added, “The whole pack will be around. You’ll be safe.”
Even though I knew she had meant that for the girls, part of me wondered if she had aimed it at me, as my vulnerable state had me following her aimlessly.
“What happened?” Luke demanded, inspecting my palm.
We were in the student parking lot with the three witches in tow, and the entire pack was crowding around me. Dani and Rina were scrambling around Luke in a desperate attempt to see my scars; Jett, who had been hanging back with Finn and Beckett, weaved through the crowd to meet Whit and Cari. Estelle was leaning against the trunk of my car, scrolling through her phone with a bored expression on her face.
I reached out with my right hand and took hold of Luke’s wrist, forcing him to meet my glazed eyes. I swallowed the lump that had accumulated in my throat, which suddenly felt swollen, making the action difficult. My voice was strained and scratchy, and my words were spoken under my breath in order to circumvent these issues. “Witches. Heal. Protect… Them.”
Understanding flooded his expression as my second in command squared his shoulders. “Everyone, give Zan and the freshmen some space. They need to talk.”
“Help them out?” I heard Cari whisper to her friends. “My glamour will be more realistic if the rest of you act natural.”
Whitney and Jett remained close; she was practically holding me up until my stepbrother took my right arm and joined her in propping me up against the passenger side of the Jetta. Luke’s car was parked just a couple of spaces to the right, allowing my friends to give us a wide berth that better resembled a casual gathering of students. The blonde witch was chatting away with Dani and Rina close to where Elle loitered; Luke was near them, scrolling through his phone and grasping Dani’s outstretched hand. The younger wolves, Beck and Finn, were chatting animatedly with the dark-haired witch off toward the front of my car–or rather, they were talking at her, as all she seemed to do was nod along.
After propping me up against the car, Whit and Jett planted themselves by my side. I could feel their eyes dart between me and the witch who stood before us, and I wondered what would happen next.
Then I watched this little girl’s eyes become unfocused, and after a few seconds, they regained their usual attentiveness. “No one can see us, but we’ll have to whisper. Tell me what happened.”
“The new transfer student is a trapper,” came Whitney’s hushed explanation from my left. “He had zharine with him. It did this.”
She lifted my arm and held out my hand, revealing my scars to the witch. If Cari was disturbed or disgusted, I couldn’t tell–her poker face was nearly as good as mine. “It must be pure zharine to have caused this much damage. Where is it?”
“In Zan’s back pocket.”
Cari grimaced. “Ah. Okay, let’s heal first.”
My vision was slowly fading, and the throbbing had extended past my shoulder and reached my neck. My heart was pounding in my ears, and all my senses were so dulled that I almost didn’t feel her take my hand in hers. “H-Hur… Ry…”
“Shhhh, it’s gonna be okay,” Whitney consoled me, her soft voice soothing my pain. I was vaguely aware that she was running the pads of her fingers up and down my arm as she spoke. “Just relax, okay? You’re gonna be okay…”
Her words were so distorted and blended together with all the other noise–the various conversations happening around us, the mortal students rushing to leave the lot, the traffic just beyond the gate–that I couldn’t discern where Whitney’s words ended and Cari’s began. They both wafted around me like a fragrance, eager to wake me from this nightmare.
Then the pain began to recede at a startling rate. I blinked; I could see everything, smell my sweat, and hear the conversations around me clear as day.
“So you can, uh, sense vibes from people, right Helena?” Finn asked the dark-haired witch. She nodded, to which he replied, “Awesome! Can you tell if someone is transphobic?”
“Shouldn’t you be more concerned with knowing if someone is evil?” asked Beckett of our freshman wolf.
Finn raised both eyebrows. “Yeah, that’s what I said.”
“Yes, I can tell if someone is like that,” Helena answered, before quickly telling Beck, “But he’s right, TERFs are evil. There’s no difference as far as I can tell.”
“What kind of music will you guys play?” Dani inquired off to my right, grabbing my attention.
“Honestly? I’m open to adding requests to the playlist,” Lilly explained to the seniors. “Personally, I like EDM and trap.”
Rina gasped. “Really? Will there be a dance floor?”
The blonde witch smirked. “Hell yeah! We’ll have an entire floor just for dancing, and another for party games and mingling. We want everyone to have a little of everything, you know?”
My focus on these two separate conversations was deterred by Cari’s sudden glance up from my hand. She appeared distracted again.
“Zander, I need to reach into your pocket. Is that okay?” she asked tacitly.
I nodded and matched her low volume. “That’s fine.”
The witch reached between Whitney and me; I felt her fingers enter the rear pocket of my slacks, and she delicately plucked the stone from its depths. She grasped it gingerly between her fingers, studying its bright white glow.
Whit, Jett, and I watched her take two steps back, and I was the only one who didn’t seem to tense up when the stone faded to a dark color. They were noticeably perturbed by what they were seeing.
“What is that thing?” came my stepbrother’s not-so-whisper-like question.
“A stone that tracks Hunters,” Cari advised him. She then reclaimed her previous spot and stepped back again, illustrating how the stone glowed brightly in the presence of one of our classification. “It also marks the skin and is toxic to the touch. A few more minutes, and he’d be in a coma.”
Whitney’s fingers dug into my arm. Jett covered his mouth and stared at the witch in wide-eyed discomfort for several breaths. Cari mistook his silence to mean that he wouldn’t ask her more about the stone, and she slid her arms out of her backpack and held it before her, placing the little iridescent marble in the front pocket.
“Wait–how are you able to touch it?” Jett caught on.
“It only affects Hunters,” was her pithy response.
“You can destroy it, right?” exhorted Whitney, her evocative tone alluding to her wishes.
Cari shrugged, taking longer to answer than I appreciated. “I suppose I could try.”
“You should keep it,” Jett foreshadowed with his own half-shrug. His eyes never left Cari’s, and it felt as if they were silently relaying information that their words wouldn’t betray. “You know, just in case.”
The witch was fighting the impulse to smile or laugh. “It’s illegal for members of any classification to own berserker stones since that’d give them an edge on the other two.”
The pack, who had been listening in, was visibly reassured by her condemnation of the paraphernalia. The girls swapped appeased looks and nervous giggles, while Luke and the underclassmen let out almost inaudible sighs of relief. Even Whitney seemed to relax a little at my side, while Estelle had shown no sign of either distress or solace.
Only Jett and I seemed to notice that the witch never actually clarified whether she would destroy or keep this forbidden relic.