27 of March 2021 – 12:27 AM
I had remembered Nini and Sofia saying that the Honey Bees, the academy’s dance team, were holding tryouts that night in the gymnasium, so I decided to make that my first stop. Upon entering, I immediately felt out of place; the students present were all fit and dressed in workout attire. The upperclassmen all sat on the bleachers across the court, watching the tryouts as well as socializing. Nerissa and Borbonia, two senior fair folk, were hosting the tryouts right on the court, giving me the impression that they were the captain and co-captain. The freshmen waiting to be called for their auditions, however, were seated by the entrance–and everyone off the court turned to see us walk in.
My cheeks flushed, I waved at a few familiar faces–I saw that Alexandrine and Finn were huddled with some other freshmen, and they both waved as we passed–and I was about to head across the court to find the head of the De Mortie coven when another Enchanter caught my eye. She wore black leggings and a navy tank top, and her chin-length tangerine hair was pushed back by a stretch headband that matched her shirt. She sat a few rows back and had no one around her; her legs were propped up on the empty bleacher before her, allowing her to focus on an open notebook on her lap.
My eyes widened. The Bach coven’s heir!
“You guys can stay down here if you want,” I said in a low tone. With their supernatural hearing, I knew Axel and Storm heard me easily over the audition music. “I’ll be right back.”
I had trudged up the first few steps before I realized that I was not alone. Spinning around, I saw that the werewolf was following me. I opened my mouth to tell them they didn’t need to join me, but they shrugged and gestured for me to continue. Defeated, I led the way to the center row of bleachers and down the row until I reached my target.
Millicent Ritter didn’t seem to notice my arrival until I was practically standing on top of her. She glanced up from her notebook briefly before jumping onto her feet, her denim-blue eyes darting nervously between me and the werewolf on my tail.
“Um, hi!” I greeted her, throwing a half-smile her way. “Millicent, right? Sorry for bothering you. I don’t know if you remember me–”
“Caricia de Ardo, second heir to the De Ardo and Quercini covens,” she recognized warily.
I blinked. “Wow, okay–I mean, I’m not anything to the Quercini Coven, even though the head is my father, but you’re right. And this is my friend, Storm.”
I glanced back swiftly as I introduced them, catching the werewolf mid-wave before I turned back to the heir.
“Anyway, I was hoping to ask you for a huge favor.”
Millicent’s brow furrowed. “You… Aren’t here to challenge me?”
I frowned and shared a confused glance with Storm. “Uh, no? I have no plans to challenge anyone outside of my coven at this time.”
Millicent let out a sigh of relief, her shoulders relaxed. “Okay… Sit. I’ll hear you out.”
I sat beside her, and Storm remained standing, watching the tryouts. “Thanks. Like I said, I don’t plan on challenging anyone outside of my coven–and that’s why I’m here. I invoked the Duel of Ardor, and I want to study up on other kinds of magick before the month is out.”
The Bach heir hugged her notebook to her chest and chewed on her bottom lip. “You want my sound magick?”
“I want you to tutor me in the basics of your affinity,” I clarified. “We could meet once a week on a day of your choosing, at the time and place that works best for you. I’m just asking for a few hours of your time spread across the next month–”
“I can’t,” she cut off my explanation, her head shaking from side to side. Her eyes were fixed ahead, staring at anyone besides me. “I’m sorry, but my mother would kill me if I taught someone how to use our magick. You should find someone else.”
“Oh.” My heart sank–I had hoped that Millicent would agree, but I also had no reason to believe it. “I understand. Thank you.”
“Good luck,” she muttered as I turned to leave–only for Storm to ease past me and sit beside her.
“What kind of teenager are you that you won’t even rebel against your mom?” they asked, their green eyes darkening as they regarded the witch. Millicent shrunk back from their stare. “You can be her perfect, obedient kid, doing everything she asks of you for the rest of your life, and it’ll never make you happy.”
My jaw dropped. “Dude, what the hell–?”
They stood just as abruptly as they had sat and shrugged past me. “What? I’m just saying.”
“I-I’m really sorry about them,” I apologized to Millicent, who appeared frozen on the spot. “I’m throwing a party at my place tomorrow night–feel free to join us!”
Then I dragged the werewolf away by the arm and muttered, “You can’t just walk up to someone and tell them to defy their guardians!”
“Why the hell not?” they argued as we began our descent.
“Because witches aren’t the same as werewolves!” I countered. “Our relationships with our guardians are different from anything Hunters have, okay? We don’t have the luxury of being normal teenagers who do shit behind their backs!”
They scoffed. “Says the girl hosting a party while her guardians are out.”
“That is not the same.”
“How the fuck not?”
“First of all,” I huffed as my shoes finally touched down on the court, where Axel was waiting for us with an amused grin. Of course that asshole heard the entire thing… “I’m pretty my sister knows about the party–”
I caught Axel’s eyes widen in my peripheral vision, which confirmed my suspicion.
“And besides, that’s a social thing. Teaching an outsider the secrets of our coven is private, and borders on taboo. You need permission before you can teach someone else how to use your affinity, otherwise every witch could master every magick.”
“You guys put way too much stock into your precious ‘affinities’,” Storm grumbled. I was grateful that the music had been stopped so that I could hear them; Nerissa had called another auditioner to the court. “Packs share everything with each other, that way we’re all on equal ground.”
“You learn to let witches do their own thing,” Axel explained to them as I began walking around the court’s perimeter. The two of them followed close behind. “They’re big on tradition and shit.”
Noticing the direction I was leading them, Storm asked, “Why are we heading to that side?”
“I have someone there I need to talk to,” I revealed, my eyes scanning the crowd ahead. I found Nini and Sofia huddled with the only other witches in the gym, and my eyebrows rose at their company. “A few people, actually, but they’re all together, so this should just be one stop.”
“Hey, Cari!” Renette waved at me from the center of the second row of bleachers. Her mahogany hair was braided into an intricate bun, and she wore a peach-pink crop top and blue yoga pants over what I could only guess was a black bodysuit.
Sofia waved to me from her left, her leather-black hair pushed back by a green headband not dissimilar to Millicent’s. Her outfit consisted of a loose-fitting white muscle tank over a bright pink athletic sports bra and neon-green workout leggings.
Two witches from the Luna Coven watched me with interest from Renette’s right. I recognized the first as Dominique Sotolongo, one-third of a love triangle Arion had alluded to in a previous article.
“Hi Nini, hey Sofi,” I waved back once I was close enough. Axel gave his own half-hearted wave, but Storm kept their gaze lowered, as if they were avoiding someone. “You remember my brother Ax, and this is Storm.”
“You’re Vivienne’s partner, right?” Sofia asked the werewolf.
Hesitantly, their lips parted to answer–and then a brunette jumped down the bleachers two at a time until she landed beside us. Her eyes were so green that the edges appeared closer to pineapple yellow… And those abnormal eyes stared daggers at first me, then Storm.
“Come talk to me,” she told them. Her hand had taken theirs, and they began pulling them away before Storm could say a word. “Now.”
A wrinkle formed above the bridge of their nose, and Storm threw over their shoulder, “I’ll catch you on your way out.”
“Okay,” I waved in their direction, but the two werewolves were already leaving the gymnasium. We watched them argue the whole way out, and it wasn’t until the doors had shut behind them that the witches behind me started to cackle.
“Goddess, I feel so awful for laughing at their misery, but what the hell is that kid thinking?” asked Sofia between giggles. “Vivi doesn’t even act like she likes them…”
“It’s an American thing, you wouldn’t understand,” Renette waved her off.
The girl beside Dominique scoffed. “Don’t attribute toxicity to us! It’s not exclusive to Americans.”
“Oh–Cari, Ax, these two are Nikki and Glenda from the Luna Coven,” Renette introduced them, gesturing to each one in turn. Dominique’s jade-black coils were pulled up into two Afro-puffs, implying that her hair was pretty short, and her soot eyes were amicable as she smiled in our direction. Glenda’s amber-brown waves were pulled back into a bun, and her ginger brown eyes were filled with curiosity. “They’re juniors.”
Both girls greeted us with big smiles and tiny waves. “Are you gonna try out?” asked Glenda, already scrutinizing my wardrobe.
“Oh, no–I’m not much of a dancer,” I grimaced, shaking my head. “That takes skill.”
“I don’t know about skill–” Sofia began, but was drowned out by Glenda and Dominique blurting out, “True!”
Renette was the only one who saw through my hesitation. “I saw you talked to Millicent. Are you here to talk to me?”
I nodded. “I’d like the rest of you to stick around, though, if that’s cool.”
The older witches all exchanged glances before leaning forward, listening intently.
“Well…” I sighed. “I invoked the Duel of Ardor, and I was hoping to ask all the witch heads if they–or one of their charges–could meet with me once a week and tutor me on the basics of their affinity… And I already have two affinities lined up.”
All four were stunned silent, so I took that opportunity to nod to Sofia. “And Gal’s asking Gerardo–I think it’d go over better if she asked than if I did.”
She scoffed, a smile tugging at her lips. “Hell, that might actually work. The only one who can give him shit is Gal.”
“Wait–lemme get this straight,” Renette held out both of her hands in a halting motion. “You want me to teach you light magick?”
“I want you to try and teach me the basics of your affinity,” I clarified, reminded of my conversation with the Bach heir not minutes prior. “I know that light magick isn’t easy, and that not anyone can wield it. But I’m willing to try if it’ll give me an edge in the duels.”
“I–” She dropped her head into her hands and started to chuckle. “Holy shit, Car! This is kind of a big ask.”
I peered over at Axel; he nodded in encouragement. “If you can’t, then I understand…”
My voice trailed off as Renette straightened in her seat and met my gaze, her grin reaching her umber eyes. “Girl, I can–and I will. I just can’t get over you.”
My brow furrowed as she began listing instances off to the other girls, counting them down on her fingers. “She beats up a vampire, hosts a house party, and invokes the Duel fo Ardor all in the first week of school. I never know what to expect with this one!”
“Uh, wow,” I simpered, my cheeks flushed. “Th-Thanks. We can figure out the details on Enchat.”
“Wait, why did you want us here?” Glenda asked, only for Dominique to answer on my behalf.
“Glen, she wants us to ask Arabela for her.”
“Actually, I was hoping you’d tell me where I could find her,” I stated, stopping them as they stood. “Gerardo’s the only one I’m not asking myself–I think Arabela deserves to hear me out in person.”
Their eyes lit up. “Yeahhhh, that might be best,” Dominique admitted, reclaiming her seat. “She’s big on mutual respect, so she’d expect you to offer her that much.”
“She should be in the music room helping Fiona with the choir auditions,” disclosed Glenda with a shrug, still on her feet. “It’s upstairs.”
When I gazed over at Axel, he nodded, “Yeah, I can show you.”
“Okay! Great.” Returning my attention to the girls, I said, “Thank you all very much. You’ve been a huge help–and if you can make it, you’re welcome to join us tonight. I’m throwing a little party at my place.”
“Hell yeah!” Dominique and Sofia hollered as I began walking away, my adoptive brother right behind me. “Good luck!”
“You better be ready for some intense training, Cari!” Renette gushed, excited for the coming month.
“I am!” I shouted back over the music, a huge grin on my face. Nini’s happiness is infectious. “I’ll see you later!”
We had just reached the exit, and my hands were already pushing on the door nearest me when Axel perked up. “Uh, maybe you shouldn’t–”
“What–?” I began, already shoving the door open and nearly colliding with Storm and Vivienne.
The two werewolves had been locked in a tight embrace, doing what I could only hope was making out. Our sudden arrival startled them; they both jumped, and Vivienne tore away from her partner, glaring at me. Storm simply wiped their mouth, their action hiding the smirk on their face.
What’s her problem? “Sorry–we didn’t mean to interrupt,” I told them in earnest. Axel was grinning like a fool beside me, and I wanted to smack him. “We’re going to the music room next.”
Without missing a beat, Storm nodded, gesturing for us to start walking with them as they addressed their girlfriend. “Catch you later, Viv.”
“Whatever,” she grumbled and nearly barreled through us to get back into the gymnasium.
Axel and I recovered from being almost run over, joining Storm as they strolled back toward the main building. It wasn’t until I heard the gym door shut far behind us that I whisper-shouted, “What the fuck?”
Axel was cracking up, and Storm frowned. “What?” they asked. “You never made out at school?”
“What? No–” I caught myself as warmth flooded to my cheeks. “That’s not what I mean! I was talking about the way your girlfriend was acting.”
They shrugged. I was learning that this was something they did often. “She’s not very friendly, but we have fun.”
“Yeah, I bet you two have a lot of fun,” snickered Axel, shaking his head.