People told me life would return to normal, but how could it after you’d killed someone? Or some thing. Life would never be the same again, apparently starting with my new dorm room at Lucent Academy.
“Why does it smell like blood in here?” I dropped my duffle bag on the perfectly made bed. The pink floral bedspread wrinkled its way out of perfection.
“What a silly thing to say,” my aunt Sophie said. “This room is practically brand new.”
“I don’t think so.” I glanced under the bed. Where was that smell coming from? “Did a butcher live in here?”
May, my best friend, walked through the door. “What butcher?”
“The butcher who killed a cow in my room.” I looked all around for its source. My dorm room was twice the size of my bedroom back home but not nearly as comfortable. The wild rose-colored walls and heavy wooden chests screamed pretentious. So not my style.
May wrinkled her nose. “There was a cow?”
Sophie groaned. “Really, Llona. You have such an imagination.” She turned to May; her long and ruffled blue skirt followed. “Did you find your room satisfactory?”
“I did. And thanks again for inviting me here.”
Sophie placed a hand on her shoulder. “Lucent’s glad to have you. We always look forward to having new Furies.”
“When’s dinner?” I asked. May and I had been traveling for a week since leaving Utah. Sophie thought it would be fun to let us sightsee before we started school again. At first, I thought it was a great idea, but by our third museum and our tenth fast-food restaurant, all I wanted was a good meal and a place to call home.
“In about twenty minutes.” She swiped her finger along the edge of the chair rail, obviously inspecting for dust. “Why don’t you get settled, and then come on down when you hear the chimes. Do you remember where to find the dining room?”
“Um, first floor, all the way at the end,” I answered. Sophie had given us a quick tour on the way up. There were so many rooms, I was surprised I’d remembered.
“Good. I’ll see you girls down there. Oh, and by the way, Llona, even though Auras aren’t normally unkind, just remember that they’re still teenagers trying to discover who they are. Sometimes they say things that surprise even me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She paused. “You’ve been on the outside your whole life. They may view you as different.”
“Fantastic. So I was a freak before and now you’re saying I’m a freak here too?”
“No, it will just take a while for the girls to get to know you. I’m sure once they do, they will love you just like I do.”
Uh-huh, sure. ’Cause that’s how girls are.
“I wish Christian was here,” I mumbled and turned my attention to my bag so she wouldn’t see me scowling. It was amazing how easily adults forgot what it’s like to be young and on the outside.
“What did you say?” Sophie asked.
I looked up, surprised she’d heard me. “Nothing.”
Sophie pursed her lips like she wanted to say more but thought better of it. “Try not to be late, girls.”
The door closed.
May jumped onto my bed. “Can you believe this place? It’s like right out of a fairy tale. I feel like a princess!”
I f****d a smile and shoved my clothes into the nearest dresser.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing I can’t get over.” I crinkled my nose. “Except for this awful smell.”
“You really don’t smell it?” I opened the closet doors and with just a thought turned on the light. The walk-in closet was bare except for a thin layer of dust covering the wooden floor.
“It might smell a little musty,” May offered. “Do you really think the other girls will be mean to us?”
I shrugged. “Probably not to you. From what I hear, Furies are a rare find. I’m sure they’ll treat you like the diamond you are!”
I grinned and sat down next to her, but I secretly wondered how things would be different if I were a Fury instead of an Aura. May’s ability to create and control fire was pretty cool. Not only that, but Furies, especially good ones, were rare. That’s why Auras were always excited to have one around. Then again, being an Aura had its perks too, if I could use it the way I wanted to, as a weapon. At Lucent, however, Light was only to be used to edify and beautify the world around us. Ugh.
May laughed. “You sound just like your aunt.”
I sighed. “This place is going to take some getting used to.”
May nodded, her fingers tugging at a loose string on my bed.
“How are you doing?” I asked. She had been quiet on the drive over from New York City, but I didn’t dare ask her what was wrong in front of the man who had escorted us to Lucent Academy, a school over a hundred miles north of Coast City.
“For some reason, I thought I’d feel better putting all this space between us and high school, but I almost feel worse. It’s like I’ve run away or something.” May looked up at me, searching for understanding. “Does that make sense?”
“It does. It feels like we’re betraying Tracey by being here. We get to live our lives while she’s six feet under.” Beneath the pillow on my lap, I dug my nails into my palm, remembering how Mr. Steele, a Vyken posing as my math teacher, had sliced my friend’s throat. And even worse, it was my fault. My selfishness had left Tracey dead, May injured, and many others traumatized. If only I would’ve left for Lucent sooner.
“Are you going to call Christian tonight?” May asked, like she thought mentioning the name of the guy I loved would help me forget about what happened.
I f****d another smile. “I have to call my uncle Jake first to let him know I’m finally here, and if I don’t have someone standing over me, I’ll call Christian next.”
“I can’t believe they won’t let you talk to him,” May said.
“Oh, I can talk to him, but it’s,” I made air quotes, “really frowned upon.”
Christian wasn’t my official Guardian anymore, but it still wasn’t considered proper for us to speak informally to each other.
May chuckled and stood. “I better finish unpacking before we have to go downstairs. Come grab me when you’re ready.”
After May shut the door, I opened the window to let in fresh air. I was looking forward to the cooler weather. I didn’t think I could’ve handled sunny and warm at this point in my life. There was nothing bright about it. Every night for the last week, I’d been having nightmares like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I kept dreaming of death; vivid pictures of people drowning, burning, being strangled.
I inhaled deeply and shook my head, shaking the images from my mind.
A window screen prevented me from seeing the full extent of Lucent. I traced its edges until I found the latch. I popped out the screen, slid it under my bed, and then returned to the window. Leaning out as far as I could, I scanned the area.
My room was located in the right wing of Chadni Hall. I was on the third of four floors, which was for sixteen-year-olds and upperclassmen. When we had first arrived, I was in awe at the size of the school, but now looking at everything from this high in the air, Lucent seemed so much bigger.
The sun was setting, taking the shadows of trees and buildings with it. They stretched long and thin, crossing into each other until they blurred into the forest just beyond a tall rock wall surrounding the school.
Behind the main building were three more buildings almost as big as Chadni Hall. If I remembered correctly, the square, three-story building to my left was Denelle Hall where all the classes were held. To the right of it was a circular, red brick building with tall, white columns. Sophie had called it Risen Auditorium. That’s where the theatre and the music rooms were. And in between these two buildings was the tallest structure of all: a gray stone clock tower. Finally, toward the rear of the school grounds, the square shape of Lambert House stood, which Sophie said were living quarters. She didn’t say for whom though.
From Denelle Hall, a steady line of people headed toward my building. I sucked in a deep breath. That was a lot of teenagers, most younger than me but still intimidating. Just then, one of the girls’ faces turned up in my direction. I quickly ducked back in my room and away from the window.
Already the fresh air was making a difference on the smell. Either that or I was getting used to it. I sat down at the vanity and ran a brush through my hair. Maybe someone at Lucent could show me how to change it, I hoped. I was tired of its blonde, almost white, color. I always thought I’d look better with brown hair, like May’s, but dye never worked on my hair.
A tinkling sound, as if someone had waved a magic wand, chimed. I assumed it was the dinner bell Sophie had talked about.
I swept my long hair to the side of my neck and examined the two small holes where Mr. Steele had bitten me. They were still there, as if it had happened yesterday. The red, swollen edges around the wounds made them look like eyes. I quickly applied concealer. I hated the way the marks stared at me, accusingly.
I leaned back in my chair, thinking. How could I have not recognized that something was wrong with Mr. Steele? At the time, I’d thought it was because of some weird attraction, but looking back, I could see how stupid that was. For months Mr. Steele had secretly terrorized me, forcing the Light within me to mature early just so he could steal it from me like he did when he’d killed my mother.
The Light in an Aura’s blood was the one thing Vykens wanted most because it gave them many powers, including the ability to change their appearance. But Mr. Steele had underestimated my abilities. With the help of Christian, I had learned to use my ability over Light as a weapon—a weapon that ultimately saved my life.
However, my victory came with a price.
Mr. Steele had bit me, and ever since then I felt something growing inside me. It was dark and contentious, and its evil pressed on me from the inside out. I’d never felt dirtier, like I’d been touched by the worst kind of monster imaginable.
I turned away from the mirror and pulled a pink beanie over my head. Enough of the past.
I stood and was about to open my door to get May when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I glanced to my left, to the corner of the room where it was the darkest. There was nothing there, only an old dresser. I waited a second longer but nothing happened. Strange.
May opened my door, startling me. “What’s with the weird chimes?”
“I don’t know, but if I have to hear that every day, I think I’ll go crazy.”
“I know, right?” May turned to the mirror and adjusted her hair. She was wearing a different outfit—it looked brand new—and she had reapplied her makeup. She must be nervous. I never considered how hard this must be for her. She had guarded her secret of being a Fury for so long, that to all of a sudden be surrounded by people who knew the truth might be overwhelming.
“Everyone is going to love you, and I’m not just saying that.” I wrapped my arm around her shoulder. “Come on. Let’s go be the new kids.”
May, with her easy-going personality, would fit right in, but I wouldn’t, nor did I care to. I was here for one reason only: to learn as much as I could about my ability, then I was out of here. I didn’t want to be a part of the Auras’ strange culture that didn’t allow us to reach our full potential. I wanted more.
We were almost to the end of the hall when a door opened and four laughing girls appeared, but when they saw us they stopped.
“Hi, guys,” May said in passing and smiled.
They said nothing, just stared like we were a new zoo exhibit. But before we turned the corner, my sensitive ears, which I’d inherited from my Guardian father, heard one of them whisper, “I can’t believe they put her in that room. I bet she’s dead by the end of the month.”