Authors: Wendy Knight
by Wendy Knight
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2013 WENDY KNIGHT
Cover Art Designed by AM Designs Studio
To Blair, for reminding me to believe in dreams.
Park City, Utah, Present Day
Arianna Delacour thunked her black duffle bag at the foot of her bed, wondering if she should even bother unpacking. This was her sixteenth boarding school. Sixteen in nine years, but there would have been more if she hadn’t been home schooled until third grade. That was when the Family started sending her out to hunt.
. She shoved the thought away, jumping to a safer one. She had to focus on this life now. She was about to start her senior year, and she wanted to graduate. So, quieting the flames running through her blood, she started unpacking.
“Who are you?” a high pitched voice demanded behind her.
Ari didn’t turn to investigate. “I’m Ari. Who are you?”
“This is my room,” the voice said.
Ari thought it over, decided there was nothing to respond to, and continued unpacking.
“I said, this is
room.” The voice grated on Ari’s ears and made her teeth ache. Sighing, Ari stood up, shoving her long black braid over her shoulder as she turned. A much shorter, somewhat round blonde girl stood in the doorway with her hand on her hip, green eyes glowering back at her.
“Apparently, it’s also my room. If that’s going to be a problem, you should take it up with the headmistress.” Ari’s dark brown eyes clashed with the girl’s green gaze. The girl’s lips tightened as she gave Ari a slow once over. Ari folded her arms and glared back. Finally, the blonde gave up, shaking her hair away from her face.
“I’m Brittany.” She dropped her hand from her hip and pushed her way into the room. She threw herself down on her unmade bed and scowled at Ari.
“Hey.” Ari turned back to her unpacking. Brittany stayed on her bed, filing her nails and watching, until it was obvious that Ari wasn’t going to attempt to socialize. With a huff, she got up and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her. Ari smirked.
This school had uniforms, which was nice. They saved her the time and effort of trying to decide what to wear that would make her stand out the least. But she was five foot ten for one thing, when most girls her age were closer to five foot four, and for another thing, her long black hair had dark red streaks running through it — streaks that were natural yet looked anything but. Between the two, and the fact that she was always the new kid, fading into the background was impossible.
She put her clothes away and stuffed her bag under her bed. Satisfied, she stood back with her hands on her hips and blew a stray hair out of her face, surveying the room. The bed against the right wall was covered in a sparkly pink bedspread and a dozen shiny pillows thrown all over. Ari winced away from it, afraid it might attack her with rhinestones and glitter.
Inching around the chaos across the room, she flopped on her safe bed with its crisp white sheets and a gray blanket. With a grunt, she rolled over. School started in two days. Another first day at a new school.
But on the bright side
, she thought, studying the yellow walls next to her head,
it’s a lot of other people’s first day too
. Not a lot of seniors, but she’d take what she could get.
Ari closed her eyes, fighting the headache coming on. But the second she did, her thoughts raced to her
life. The life she tried so hard to banish from her thoughts. She never succeeded.
Her grandfather didn’t see the point in school at all. Ari was a warrior. What did she need school for? It was Ari’s mother, Vivian, in her passive aggressive way, who suggested sending Ari to school. It was Vivian’s secret hope that Ari might have something of a normal life. She got around the whole grandfather-saying-school-is-pointless-thing by telling him there was no better way to hunt the Carules than in schools, where they were young and untrained.
Ari gritted her teeth at the word. She was an Edren, a red-flame-throwing sorceress. Carules were her people’s ancient enemies. She threw red spells. They threw blue. And that was why she hunted them.
In a compromise between her mother and her grandfather that Ari had had no say in whatsoever, she was sent to boarding school after boarding school, where she attempted to fit in with Normals, or regular humans with no magic. Her mother sent her there to try to let her be a regular teenager. Her grandfather sent her there to hunt, and then he would pull her out and stick her somewhere else as soon as she found any trace of Carules magic… and eliminated it.
Ari must have dozed off sometime during her battle to not think, because the next thing she knew the door was slamming against the wall, jerking her out of sleep. Her eyes flew open as Brittany strode through. “I need someone tall,” she announced, stopping at Ari’s side.
Ari frowned in confusion. Maybe she’d been more soundly asleep than she’d thought, but it felt like she’d come into the conversation when it was half over. “Good?” she answered slowly, lowering her brows and trying to focus her bleary eyes on her new roommate.
“Ugh! Fine.” Brittany flipped her thick blonde waves over her shoulder. “I told Shane that I would decorate the auditorium for the whole welcome back ball thing.” Her hand floated through the air dismissively. Ari rubbed her forehead, trying to follow. “And none of us are tall enough to reach the top of the door, even with the ladder. And I thought to myself, ‘who do I know who’s tall?’ and—” Brittany gave a dramatic pause and snapped her fingers — “I thought of you.”
Ari gave a snort and sat up, stretching. “Lucky me. No offense, but I’ll pass.”
“What?” Brittany snatched up Ari’s arm. Ari’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“Dramatic much?” She freed her arm none too gently from Brittany’s sweaty fingers. “I have no desire to spend my first afternoon here showing my
—” Ari waved her hands around her head like she had pompoms “—by getting tangled in crepe paper and giving myself a headache blowing up cheesy balloons.”
Brittany leaned her face as close to Ari’s as she could, given the height difference, desperation clear in her wide eyes. Ari could see the makeup lines along her jaw, something she could have done without, and resisted the urge to tell Brittany that her foundation was just a tad too dark. “Okay, look. You don’t understand. I told Shane I would do this a
ago. The ball is tonight. If I don’t get it done it will blow all my chances with him, and I am this close—” she held up two fingers close together “—to him asking me out.”
“And I care about this why?” Ari raised a dark eyebrow and smothered a yawn.
“Ugh! I’ve only been in love with him for four years now!” Brittany exclaimed, flopping back on her still-unmade bed. Ari waited for a dust cloud of sparkles to poof into the air, but it didn’t happen. “Every girl in school is in love with him. And he chose
to decorate. It’s his way of telling me he likes me.”
Ari rolled her eyes. “Again, why do I care?”
“Let me tell you about my Shane. He is gorgeous. Probably not your type.” Brittany waved her hand. Ari frowned. “He’s got this wavy black hair that I will soon be running my fingers through. And his eyes!” Still lying on her back, Brittany exclaimed to the ceiling, “He’s got amazing blue eyes. And he is…” She snickered. Ari sighed and studied her nails, waiting for the point. “Well, let’s just say he is in
“Forgive me for sounding like I’m stuck on repeat, but I. Don’t. Care.”
Brittany sat up, leaned forward, and put her elbows on her knees, her face a perfect mask of seriousness. Ari fought the urge to laugh. “Do you want to start the school year knowing
Ari opened her mouth to tell Brittany she didn’t care if she did. She had a rule about making friends — she didn’t do it. Fourteen schools ago, she learned that girls were mean. They were your friend while they needed you, and only to your face. Behind your back they were whispering and plotting. And when they didn’t need you anymore, they turned on you. And boys were even worse.
Besides that, she hated listening to them complain about their petty problems while she had been hunted her entire life. She hated listening to them whine about a lame date over the weekend when she had spent her weekend killing Carules in some nasty battle or another. Carules who might be her enemy, but who also might have families and homes.
Despite all of that, somehow, somewhere deep, deep down where Ari couldn’t squash it, was a bit of hope that she would find a friend. Life alone was a miserable existence. No matter how many times she told herself it was stupid, especially since so much of her life was a secret that could get her killed, her heart still leaped at the chance. And she always got hurt, because girls were mean and boys were worse.
“No,” Ari snapped, jumping up and heading for the door, inner battle waged and won.
Brittany grabbed her arm again and Ari stopped, turning around. “Pleeeeaaase?” Brittany pleaded, her green eyes filling with tears.
And so Ari found herself standing on the top rung of a high ladder, tangled in crepe paper. She growled as she blew a stray piece of dark hair away from her face, only to watch in frustration as it fluttered back and landed on her nose, making it itch. Her hands twitched with the need to blast the whole cheesy mess with red flames — she could even picture the spell she’d use in her head, but she resisted. No magic, or she’d be found out and her grandfather would have her transferred again.
Ari glanced around the room, finding the door, her gaze locking on it with a yearning to escape. She could just climb down this ladder and leave… except that was easier said than done. More so than most of her other schools, this campus was massively confusing to negotiate. It was set up so that the main building — a large, square, three-story of red brick — was in the middle of four two-story dorms running parallel on each side, with nicely landscaped expanses of lawn between and manicured walkways connecting it all.
Boys and girls didn’t share dorm buildings, and each grade got their own floor. Since Ari was a senior, she was on the top floor of her building. So the dorms she understood. It was getting out of the school that was a problem. It was a huge maze of hallways that all looked the exact same, with classes on each side and no distinguishing features whatsoever.
She had followed Brittany here, trying her best not to say anything sarcastic the whole time, but she wasn’t sure she could find her way back by herself, and wandering lost and helpless was not an option. Which meant she was stuck here until the gym was done and Brittany went back to their room. Wonderful.
“Are you okay up there? Should I hold the ladder or something?”
Ari shoved the tack into place, securing her crepe paper nemesis, and looked down. A pretty black girl with her hair in a hundred braids was standing below, her head tipped way back watching Ari with big brown eyes, one hand resting hesitantly on a ladder leg. “Nope. I’m done here,” Ari responded as she stuck the tape dispenser in her black hoody pocket and set the last couple of tacks carefully between her lips.
“I’m Nevaeh. This your first year here?” the girl said as Ari reached the bottom.
“Ari. This is my first day here, actually,” She said around a mouthful of tacks.
“And Brittany roped you into this?” Nevaeh shook her head in disgust.
“She cried.” Ari shrugged as she dragged her ladder across the floor.
“Crocodile tears.” Nevaeh smirked. “I’ll get this side. These big-A ladders are heavy!” Nevaeh grabbed the other side and lifted with a grunt.
“Oh…thanks,” Ari mumbled. She hadn’t noticed how heavy the ladder was. In addition to her magic she was also freakishly strong and fast and coordinated. Probably to make her the perfect killing machine, but otherwise it didn’t do her any good. She loved sports but to avoid notice of how
normal she was, she always had to play so carefully it took all the fun out of it. She had quit playing.
“I’ve been here for four years. It’s a good school. Are you a senior too?” Ari just nodded. “I thought so. You look like you could pass for twenty-one.” She glanced around the rungs at Nevaeh as she walked backward. “Not that it’ll do us any good. We get monitored pretty closely here.”