27 of March 2021 – 2:13 AM
I tore my eyes away from my elder brother and spun around in my seat to find three familiar freshmen standing just a yard away. Storm and Cinnamon were the easiest to recognize; the young alpha of the Denver Pack was still in their e-boy garb, which was complimented well by their omega’s black-on-black ensemble. Cin wore a solid black pullover crop top with the shoulders cut out and replaced with crisscrossed ribbons the same bubblegum pink as the streaks in her hair. The hood of her top was pulled over her head, revealing cute cat ears at the very top, and her bottoms were high-waisted black jeans with several tears in the front of the denim. Her Converse shoes were pink and white, and her amber eyes peeked out from beneath straight black and pink bangs.
What I wasn’t expecting was the reappearance of a particular witch. Millicent Ritter had changed out of her athletic attire from the Honey Bee tryouts, opting for an off-white long-sleeve high-neck top tucked into a short plaid skirt that sported black, grey, tan, and brick red on white. Sheer white stockings were worn underneath her bottoms, disappearing into black-toed Mary Jane shoes the shade of warm cream. The notebook I had seen her writing in at the gym was being hugged against her torso, and the eraser-end of a pencil poked out from behind her ear. Her tangerine waves were swept to the right in an asymmetrical bob, nearly hiding her left eye, but I could tell that she had both denim blue orbs fixed on me. Her expression was unreadable.
I blinked. “Millicent..?”
Then I frowned and glared at the nonbinary wolf behind her. “Did you force her to come talk to me?”
Storm cocked an eyebrow at my accusation, but the Bach heir stepped between us and waved away my concerns. “No, no! I asked them to come with me. I wanted…”
She hesitated; Millicent’s eyes grew unfocused for a moment before fixing on me once more. “I’ve heard you’ve been seeking out witch heads. Can we talk for a moment?”
My eyebrows rose. Sound magick… She can probably hear better than most Enchanters, so she was listening for someone. And now she’s acting as if she hasn’t rejected me yet.
I nodded before any of my friends could speak up. “Sure, we can talk. Do you want to go somewhere else, or–?”
“Here’s fine,” she insisted, gesturing between myself and Axel.
The vampire obliged, standing and offering the witch his seat before he joined the two werewolves. “So, Cin–Storm says you guys are trying to start a band…”
I stopped paying any mind to their conversation when Millicent claimed my brother’s seat, looked me in the eyes, and whispered, “Verehrter Makatza, bitte verbergen sie unsere worte vor denen um uns herum.”
While I did not understand German, I was able to make out the name of the goddess of Litha, trees, and music. She was one that was rarely invoked, so my mind was a whirlwind of thoughts as all the surrounding sounds faded away. My brothers and friends, the chatter from the surrounding tables, the sounds of metal utensils clinking against stoneware plates–everything petered out until all I could hear was the sound of my own breathing.
“Okay, now we can talk,” Millicent assured me.
Before she could say another word, I blurted out, “That was amazing! I figured your coven probably invoked Makatza, but I never considered that a music deity could grant silence as well as soundproofing. You’re incredible, Millicent!”
The Bach heir let out an embarrassed chuckle. “Ah, that was nothing. It’s actually considered a beginner skill in my coven, so it’ll be one of the first things I teach you. And you can call me Millie.”
“Okay, I will. Call me Cari,” I offered with a smile before furrowing my brow. “Wait–what did you just say?”
“I said I can teach you how to create a sound barrier for private conversations,” clarified Millie, looking amused. “I can teach you sound magick, if you still need a tutor.”
I began to gasp, only to recall her earlier rejection. “I’m… A little confused. Why did you say no in the gymnasium–?”
That’s when it all began to click; she must have been covering her ass because someone was watching. My eyes darted back over to the Denver werewolves, watching as their lips moved animatedly to portray their conversation that I couldn’t hear. Storm was with me when I first talked to Millie, and their confrontation would have been seen by this creep, whoever they are–and it only makes sense that they’re here in the cafeteria watching us talk. Not only does Millie being escorted to my table by Storm and one of their omegas look like she was all but dragged here, but it also makes it seem as if I have pull with the Denver Pack…
My eyes widened as I thought back to earlier that week, when Storm practically announced that their pack would help me if necessary. It already looks that way–and Millie knows it. That’s why we’re having this talk at a crowded table at Middy, where all the noise will mask the fact that we have a sound barrier up. She needs to uphold appearances… Just like I do.
I let out a sigh and fixed my gaze on the Bach heir. “This must be how my friends feel. They’re always telling me that I need to stop acting as if life is a chess game.”
Millicent squared her shoulders as a somber look overtook her eyes. “Life will always be a game of chess for those of us in power. We’ll never know who we can trust with what knowledge.”
I felt my left eyebrow cock again. “And yet you’re trusting me with this? The basics of your affinity?”
She gave me a half shrug. “I trust you as much as I hope you will trust me.”
My tense expression relaxed with understanding. “Quid pro quo.”
Millicent nodded. “I’ll teach you the basics of sound magick if you can teach me the basics of your affinity.”
I frowned. The fact that my coven dabbled in various affinities was common knowledge; it’s what made us so respected and feared. Millicent knew this without a doubt, and there was no way she could know that I had an inclination towards wind, nor that my primary guardian’s old nickname was “Hellfire” for a reason. And that means…
“You want me to teach you wordless magick,” I realized, not phrasing it as a question.
Her only response was a single curt nod, prompting me to sigh. “Right… Well, I suppose it couldn’t hurt. I have to warn you, though–I don’t have a total grasp on it yet.”
“No, but you will,” she pointed out. I caught her eyes dart between Max and me, and I felt my heartbeat quicken. “We don’t have to start training until sometime after your trials are over, so don’t worry too much about that for now.”
After Millicent took down the sound barrier and “rejected” me once again, she threw me a wink and joined our friends in the Denver Pack, following them to a nearby table filled with freshmen. I noticed that several people were watching me with interest from all over the cafeteria, but I ignored them and spun back around in my seat with a sigh. Well, things just got interesting.
Then I whipped my phone out and started a group chat on Enchat with everyone seated at our table:
(Sent at 2:16 AM) carideardo: millie will teach me sound magick
Half of my surrounding friends checked their new message diligently, holding their phones out to their neighbors with wide eyes and soft gasps. Oreste and Diego smirked to themselves, while the wolves by their side shared concerned glances before they both began to type up replies.
(Sent at 2:17 AM) jettsondanvers: Don’t you think 8 affinities is kinda overkill? (Sent at 2:17 AM) zanderwoods: That sounds dangerous. You could overexert yourself if you aren’t careful.
“They have a point,” Max grumbled, earning him a scowl from yours truly. When he finally noticed my reaction, he shrugged. “What? It’s true, and you know it. You’d have to train your body as well as your mind and magick for this–you’ll need as much stamina as possible for five back to back duels.”
Jett chuckled nervously. “Don’t you mean four? I thought there were only four De Ardo witches here other than Cari and…”
His face fell. The werewolves locked eyes; I almost thought they were mind-linking, which is an ability most werebeasts possess where they can communicate telepathically with members of their group. However, members can only access the mind-link following their eighteenth birthday, so any communication between Jett and Zan had to have been silent for both parties.
Zander’s black eyes seemed to darken even more as they regarded his stepbrother, accompanied by an apologetic expression. “Sorry, I thought I explained it already. When Cari invoked the duel, she signed up to fight every member of the coven enrolled in the academy, in successive battles from the youngest to the eldest. Her first opponent is Helena.”
Jett looked horrified as he stared at me and my best friend, his own dark eyes darting between us. “You… You guys have to fight each other? Seriously?”
I tried to smile as I nodded, but it was more of a grimace. Helena simply averted her gaze as color flooded her cheeks.
“I… I’m so conflicted,” he admitted with a laugh, catching us off guard. “I don’t know who to root for! I guess I’ll cheer for both of you when the time comes.”
“I-It’s rare for non-witches to attend,” Helena finally spoke up. She was using her fork to poke at the remnants of her salad. “There’s no point, you know? It doesn’t really mean anything for any of them.”
Oreste scoffed. “Yeah, about that… The duel consists of members of the De Ardo Coven, who created the duels and gave them their namesake. Cari, the heir who beat up a vampire on her first night of classes and has openly admitted to being the daughter of Alfonso Quercini, is the challenger. There are going to be a lot of eyes on this one–trust me.”
“Besides,” Max shrugged. “Our sweet little Helena can always forfeit.”
Anger boiled within me as I stared daggers at my elder brother. “Hey! Helena may be sweet, but she’s also one of the strongest and smartest witches I know. She knows as well as I do that forfeiting wouldn’t help either of us–she’d lose the battle and respect in the coven, and I’d lose credibility since everyone knows how close we are. She won’t forfeit–she knows how much this means… And even though she won’t say it, I can tell this means a lot to her, too.”
Helena and I shared somber looks. I couldn’t read auras as she could, but I knew that she had some emotion brimming beneath the surface. Something was bubbling deep inside, threatening to spill over and leak out–I knew this because I felt the exact same way.
I threw her a smirk. “Of the five duels ahead of me, yours is the only one I’m really looking forward to–and I know you feel it, too. You’re excited to face off in front of the coven, to show everyone what ‘sweet little Helena’ is capable of.”
Then Helena surprised our audience–everyone at the table save for myself and Lilly–by breaking out into a huge grin that stretched from ear to ear. The cocky smile reached her eyes, and those walnut brown irises filled with glee.
“I’m really going to enjoy this.”