27 of March 2021 – 12:30 AM
“Is there a reason we’re going upstairs?” I asked Zander, though my question wasn’t necessarily just for him. We were traveling with a mixed group of Hunters that had converged back in E wing, and no one had really explained what we were doing.
Zander frowned. “Because we don’t have an elevator.”
My curious expression fell as he cracked a smile. “Ha-ha. You going on tour with that comedy act?”
He shook his head, still smirking. “It’s your first club day, and as your pack leader, I’m supposed to show you some clubs.”
“Yeah, I know,” I nodded along, joining him at the top of the steps as we waited for Deandrae. Zan was telling the truth when he said that AOA didn’t have an elevator, which meant that the merlad needed assistance getting to the second floor while in a wheelchair. I learned that he could swim just fine–but out of the water, his legs barely responded, so he used a chair and a volunteer witch who levitated him from one floor to the next. I thought the whole thing was pretty antiquated; I mean, why not just install an elevator? We’re in a magick school–I’m sure there’s a way they can figure out how to rig it so only students who need it per their guardians can use it.
All that aside, when I had learned that Zander was only in one school club, I figured the dude was on the football team, like I was at my old school… Until I found out that the football they played at AOA wasn’t American football, but soccer. Surely he was on the basketball team, right? I couldn’t really see him playing baseball, but if that were his preference…
But no. We weren’t headed outside to the athletic clubs; we crossed the intersection, climbed the stairs, passed the auditorium that I saw Lilly going into, the music room where Howl and Cosmia from the Hollywood pack were hanging out, and into a room filled with raucous noise.
It was the most students I had seen in one room since I arrived at the academy; several familiar faces, including–much to my dismay–Danivyn and Sarina. Both girls were chatting with a handful of other werewolves, and they were all opening round black cases on their laps. There wasn’t a desk in sight, but several chairs divided up into sections and all facing the far side of the room, where an elevated platform and a black metal stand were. I recognized it as the kind of rack used to hold sheet music…
I turned to ask Zander and Deandrae what was going on, only to then notice the long, black case on the merlad’s lap. Zander was pulling an identical case from his backpack, and it was then that I understood.
My stepbrother–the most popular werewolf at AOA, the leader of our school’s pack, the guy who was slated to be the next alpha–was a huge fuckin’ dork, and I couldn’t have been more relieved.
When he caught the blank expression on my face, Zander scoffed. “What? Were you expecting something else?”
“Yeah, actually,” I admitted.
His only response was to shrug and gesture to the far right wall, where various instruments hung on racks and sat on shelves. “Pick something and hurry back. I’ll find someone to give you a rundown of whatever instrument you choose if it’s something you’ve never played before.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “Wait–I can join even if I don’t know how to play?”
“Yeah, man,” he grinned. “If you want to learn something, then you’ll make the effort. Simple as that.”
When I hesitated, he asked, “Is there anything you’d be interested in?”
“I–I don’t even know, dude,” I sighed. “I’ve never really thought about playing an instrument.”
“Ever.” Then I watched as he opened his case, and I frowned at the weird pieces he pulled out. “Is that… That’s not a trumpet, is it?”
He snickered. “Think bigger, man. It’s a trombone.”
“I mean…” It was my turn to shrug. “Shit, man, I’m down to try that.”
Zander assembled his instrument and nodded my way in approval. “Bet. Go grab one–and don’t worry, the school cleans and sterilizes them all regularly, even if they aren’t used.”
I hadn’t even considered that… I turned and strolled over to the wall, a grimace forming on my face. While they all looked and smelled clean, I couldn’t help but feel grossed out by the idea of playing an instrument that someone else had used before. I guess I’ll have to get my own… If I don’t suck ass.
27 of March 2021 – 1:16 AM
The next half-hour seemed to fly by as I worked my way through the witch heads. Arabela was intrigued by my request, and impressed that I would invoke the duel so soon. Nevertheless, she agreed to help, and promised to get back to me later over Enchat with the name of my water magick tutor.
Jean-Noël and Elyse were among the freshmen waiting to audition for the school choir, and I felt their pointed stares the entire time I was talking to Arabela. One of the established members, Sienna Fox, approached me while I was finishing up with the heir to the Luna Coven; she had overheard our conversation, and told me where to find Izayah Hawkins, the head of her coven. I thanked her and caught the furious look on Elyse’s face as we made our escape, and I couldn’t help but smirk.
Per Sienna’s tip, we were on our way to the outdoor basketball court–the academy board realized that, with all of its athletic clubs, we needed more than just a gym and an open field. However, we had only made it so far as the first floor hallway when I noticed a slew of familiar faces exiting a nearby room. It turns out the marching band held their first day of tryouts, and I caught several witches on their way out.
Douglas Burroughs was the only member of the Towne Coven attending the academy, and he was not an heir in any way. Even so, he was the only witch enrolled with a strong affinity for earth, so I asked for his help nonetheless. He agreed to tutor me after he heard that Camille and Gunnar were attending my party, to which he was also invited.
Alicia Gilbert wasn’t the heir to the Young Coven, but she was with Douglas as he was leaving the band room and stayed for my request. Once he agreed to help, she told me where I could find Camille, and the two continued to their respective clubs.
Max had emerged with Roberta Tellez of the Zaldivar Coven, having a pleasant debate over brass instruments when they noticed me finishing up with Alicia and Douglas. I explained to Max what was going on–thankfully, he kept his comments to a minimum as he listened–and I gave them both the same spiel I had given the others, only I used that time to ask Roberta where I could find her witch head. She gladly told me, wished me luck, and left me and my friends to discuss things with my brother.
Though initially concerned, Max eventually agreed to tutor me on his affinity, and it wasn’t until after he walked off that I realized that the Quercini Coven was like mine–they had no set affinity and instead had families of various talents in their ranks.
I was wondering what my estranged brother planned on teaching me when I saw Gerardo Serafim.
Gray Hollingsworth, the second heir of the Hollingsworth Coven, was following the senior out of the band room and asking for advice regarding a piece of music they were tasked to learn. Both boys paused by the door when they saw me, though their reactions couldn’t have been more different. Gray looked as if he were shocked to see me there, and I wasn’t sure why–until I remembered that he and his sister broadcasted Val’s return to the academy as a professor, humiliating my family.
Gerardo, on the other hand, looked as if he were expecting me. He jerked his head to the side, gesturing for us to join him in a nearby room before telling Gray that he’d help him tomorrow.
The sophomore was about to walk off when I asked him, “Oh, Gray? I’m looking for your sister. Do you know where I can find her?”
“How the fuck should I know?” he said dismissively, stomping away. “Find her on your own, you lezzer.”
Axel and I almost had to drag Storm into the classroom where Gerardo was waiting for us, otherwise they would have gone after the other boy. I had finally gotten Storm to calm down and settle cross-legged on a desk when the witch head surprised my brother and I.
“Sorry about him,” he sighed. “I’ll have a talk with Lenora about his behavior. That was contemptible.”
Axel and I swapped shocked expressions. “You don’t have to do any of that–or even apologize,” I pointed out. “He’s not one of your charges.”
Gerardo offered me a half-shrug and moved behind the professor’s desk. “True, but I’m his upperclassman and his senior in the band, and it happened on my watch.”
Then he sat down in the professor’s chair and relaxed, his hands linked before him. There seemed not to be a deep mahogany brown hair out of place amongst his short curls, and his maroon and navy plaid shirt was tucked into his black chinos. His Converse were all white with red trim, and everything about Gerardo Serafim broadcasted “clean-cut.” The only thing that was really off-putting was the way his dark eyes pierced mine. “I figured I could offer you at least that before we have this talk.”
It was then that I understood. “Gal talked to you, didn’t she?”
“She did,” he nodded, his dark eyes meeting mine. “I know about the duel, and that you want Gal to tutor you.”
For the second time that night, a lump formed in my throat, and my chest felt tight. “Your answer is no.”
Gerardo didn’t answer right away; instead, he studied my face, and I wondered why he bothered prolonging this and wasting time for the both of us.
“Um, okay, I understand,” I acquiesced. “Thank you for letting me know… And I’m not sure if Gal told you, but we’re having a party tonight–”
“She didn’t, but I’m aware,” he revealed. “Our coven will be attending.”
Wow. Didn’t even wait for the invitation. “Okay, then–”
“And you misunderstand, Caricia,” he professed. “I’m not saying I won’t help you. I’m saying that I won’t let Gal tutor you.”
“Uh…” I glimpsed over at Axel, who looked just as puzzled as I felt. “I’m sorry, I’m confused. Are you saying that you’ll let another charge tutor me?”
Gerardo cocked an eyebrow, a hint of a smirk on his lips. “I’ll be the one tutoring you.”
“Yeah, I don’t know how I feel about that,” muttered Axel not-so-quietly.
The heir of the Serafim Coven stood and made his way around the desk with deliberate steps. “Galiana’s expertise leans more toward culinary magick than it does plant magick, whereas I’m skilled at both and animal magick.”
“I’ve never been more confused,” grumbled Storm, looking bored.
My jaw dropped. “You can teach me how to talk to familiars?!”
In all my planning, I had almost forgotten that familiars were allowed to join the Duel of Ardor, and that three of my five opponents would have their familiars there with them. All mortal animals are imbued with varying levels of magick, and familiars are the few that have a higher aptitude for the craft. They seek out their assigned Enchanter as predetermined by the demon Belasko, the infernal avatar of ravens, omens, and familiars, and studies have shown that a witch’s magick greatly improves after their meeting and remains enhanced in their presence. Each witch can also communicate with their familiar–and animal magick would allow me to eavesdrop on their conversations, negating their advantage.
Gerardo stood before me and smirked. “Yes, I can teach you how to talk to familiars, along with plant and culinary magick. Do I pass?”
“With high marks,” I grinned. “Thank you! I appreciate this.”
As I hustled a befuddled Storm and a peeved Axel from the room, I looked back at Gerardo and added, “See you tomorrow night!”
His only response was a small smile and a nod.
Once out in the hallway, Axel let out an exasperated sigh. “I can’t believe you dumped Gal for that douche.”
“I’m not dumping Gal,” I frowned. “She’s welcome over whenever–in fact, I’m surprised you haven’t invited her and Sage over already.”
When Axel cocked an eyebrow in my direction, it suddenly hit me. “Oh, right. Mami…”
“How’s he a douche again?” asked Storm. “I mean, I don’t know any douches who apologize that genuinely over something that had nothing to do with them–and on top of that, he’s not only helping you, he upgraded your service from an intermediate tutor to an advanced one.”
“Gal’s not intermediate,” murmured my brother. “She’s good at what she does… Which is mostly cooking and baking.”
“Which is perfectly fine, but I need more than that,” I reminded him. “Tell Gal that I say she can come over whenever. Just have her text one of us first so we can tell Nanny that she’s coming to help me with something.”
Axel perked up at my open invitation. “Okay, cool. Maybe we can all do something next weekend.”
“By the way,” Storm spoke up, their tone low as they peeked over their shoulder. When they returned their grey eyes to us, they asked, “What the fuck is the Duel of Ardor?”