“I can see the school!” Taki ran out in front of Jay and he tried to keep her in sight as trees got in the way. Jay and Neytiri were traveling in the trees, trying to keep watch over the Clan for any dangers that might come at them as they closed in on the Shadow school.
“Taki, please stay close,” Neytiri called out, quickening her pace as she hopped from branch to branch. She had to get her balance again every time she landed, but Jay had spent so much time in the trees that he now hardly watched where he was landing before jumping again.
He caught sight of Taki again as she came to a halt.
“That is one huge school.” Taki was standing in front of a large marble building with swirling designs and beautiful tree sculptures shaped to look like different Shadow Creatures. On top of the front entrance was a large banner that said ‘NightMareSchool.’ Under it was a smaller sign that read ‘Welcome Hunters!’ in swirling blue script.
“It’s really pretty, isn’t it?” Jay turned sharply to find Silver, a young Hunter, in the tree next to him. She had been Neytiri’s closest girl friend when the three were younger. But Neytiri had shrugged her off after Silver became far too ‘girly’ for her. Though, how a Hunter could ever be considered girly was far beyond Jay.
“’Pretty’ hardly describes it. It gives off the stench of Shadows and looks like a prison,” Neytiri said with a scowl on her pretty face.
“Come on, you could at least try to brighten up, couldn’t you?” Jay asked, hopping down out of the tree. Neytiri and Silver landed on either side of him. Taki turned to them with a smile.
“This place looks so nice and peaceful!” she exclaimed.
“Whatever you say,” Neytiri said, waving in an off-hand way as she went to findGriffin. Jay turned back to the school.
“So, this is where we’re going to be for a while, eh?” he asked no one in particular.
Silver nodded, her silvery blond hair bouncing, brown eyes glinting with excitement. She wore a short skirt unusual for Hunters and a tight fitting tank top that made hunting difficult. She wasn’t an ordinary Huntress; she had taken her own approach to her profession. That was what Jay liked about her. She was different, but she didn’t care what others thought. She was content to live her own life her way.
“I can’t wait to get in there. I bet they have a hot tub and make up and everything!” She stared at the school building with something less than desperation in her eyes. “I hear Shadow-girls go out of their way to look pretty because of how hideous they’re born.” Jay looked over at her, and rather than seeing a joking humor in her expression he saw genuine belief in her own words.
Jay frowned. Not all Shadows were ugly. And the assumption that all the girls used make up seemed rather outlandish to him. He felt as though he and the other Hunters assumed they knew more about Shadows than they really did. And maybe over time they had created some myths of their own to add to what they already believed. Probably the Shadows did the same thing to Hunters. With so many assumptions floating around, how could they ever hope to work together?
Just then,Griffinand Neytiri joined them with the rest of the Hunters and the wolves and big cats.
“Are you ready, my Hunters?”Griffinasked. Most of the Hunters nodded in answer.Griffinwalked up to the front entrance with Neytiri and Jay on either side of her, Spirit, Zarina, and Tara right behind.
“Welcome toNightMareSchool!” The large double doors were opened by a woman with medium length dark brown hair and knowing purple eyes. She had a kind smiling face and she gestured for the Hunters to enter the school.
“Thank you, Berret,”Griffinsaid, hugging the woman. Jay noticed Neytiri hanging back, not wanting to be introduced to the Shadow principal.Griffincalled her over with a sharp flick of her wrist. “This is my daughter, Neytiri.” Berret smiled and hugged Neytiri.
“And this,” Berret indicated a dark haired witch standing behind her, “is my daughter, Rhea.” Jay saw no similarities between mother and daughter and wondered how an oracle could have a witch as a daughter in the first place.
“It’s nice to meet you,”Griffingreeted, embracing the girl.
“We have enchanted an entire fifth floor into existence to accommodate you and your Hunters, so don’t bother with any tents and staying outside or anything, okay?” Berret said with a smile.
“Thank you so much, Berret, but you honestly need not have done so,”Griffinreplied. The two women walked into the school and Jay and the other Hunters followed. Berret led them to a glowing purple oak door.
“Now, if you simply open this door, it will take you right up to the fifth floor. You can go up and down this to make things easier and keep the classroom floors less crowded.”
“You’ve thought of everything, haven’t you, B?”Griffinasked.
“I doubt that, G. Though, I did want to impress you, if you don’t mind.” Berret winked.
“I am quite impressed, don’t worry.”Griffinturned to the Hunters. “You can begin going through this door and setting yourselves up on the fifth floor.” Immediately the Hunters began walking towards the door with wolves and cats in tow as Neytiri, Jay, Berret,Griffin, and Rhea stepped away from it.Griffinturned back to Berret. “When is Drey getting in?”
“Sometime tomorrow, I would think.” Berret twirled her fingers nervously. “And I’m terribly sorry, G, but it took so much energy out of my witches and faeries just to create the fifth floor and the door that we couldn’t create a sixth floor for his Clan to stay separately.”
Griffinsmiled kindly. “Don’t worry about it at all, B. What you did was more than enough. I’m sure Drey and I can get over past differences and work together for this.” Berret nodded with a smile.
“Now, I’ve also got an audience room set up for us, as well as any advisors to discuss what we plan to do away from the prying eyes and ears of my students and young Hunters.” Berret looked pointedly at Neytiri and Jay.
“Oh, don’t worry about them; Neytiri and Jay are among my advisors. They often know as much as I do,”Griffininformed her with a quick glance in Rhea’s direction.
Berret noticed the glance and nodded. “Rhea is the same for me.”
Girffin nodded. “This’ll be like old times again, won’t it?”
As the two began discussing their history, Rhea the witch stepped closer to them with a smile.
“Hello you two. My name’s Rhea.” She smiled, her gray eyes twinkling.
“So we’ve heard,” Neytiri replied, trying, and failing, to hide the contempt in her voice. But she smiled nonetheless and shook hands with the witch. “I’m Neytiri.”
“As in the blue alien?” Rhea asked with a sly grin.
Neytiri laughed halfheartedly. “Like I haven’t heard that one before.”
“So, what’s it like to be a Hunter?” Rhea asked.
“What’s it like to be a witch?” Jay countered.
“Touché.” Rhea glanced around the school. “Being a witch is just what’s natural to me.”
“As is hunting for us,” Jay replied. “We were born Hunters. It’s all we know. It’s what we were raised to be.”
“Same for me and witchery,” Rhea agreed.
“We can’t change who we are. MaybeGriffinwas right and working together is better than constant warfare,” Neytiri mused with a thoughtful look on her face.
Rhea nodded. “Berret said the same thing.”
“Hey, Rhea-dear, why don’t you show Neytiri and Jay around the school?” Berret called to them. She andGriffinhad been joined by a man with long black hair and sharp features.
“Who’s the dude?” Jay asked Rhea.
“Vice Principal Baramore. He’s nice most of the time, but you do not want to get on his bad side.” Rhea led them away from the main entranceway and into a corridor of classrooms. “I doubt you guys really want a tour of the school, so I can just answer questions and show you what you want to see, how’s that?” Rhea smiled and her gray eyes reminded Jay of Zarina’s. She wasn’t as crazy as he would have thought a witch to be. In fact, she was totally normal.
“Can we see your weapons room?” Neytiri inquired right off the bat.
“Of course!” Rhea replied enthusiastically. Rhea led them to the staircase and up to the third floor. There they walked down a long corridor before coming to a door guarded by two silver knight armors. Rhea pushed the heavy double doors open and inside Jay found a plethora of weapons of every kind. From Hunter swords and shields to dwarf and elf-made armor and swords. There were mortal guns and knives as well as poisons in glass jars that could kill anyone instantly.
“That’s a pretty amazing collection you guys have,” Jay remarked.
“Thanks. Berret loves to collect weapons. Each weapon in here has its own history and story. Swords from elf wars, guns from mortal wars. She’s got it all.” Rhea smiled at the room with pride.
“That’s awesome,” Neytiri said, admiring a Hunter sword hanging on the back wall. “Hey, Rhea, do you know the story behind this one?” Jay and Rhea walked over to Neytiri to look at the sword she had asked about.
“That’s one of the more recent additions to the collection. Mom says it belonged to a Hunter she befriended when she was young. He was supposedly an expert swordsman and had fought with that sword. But something happened and he left the sword behind?” Rhea shrugged. “I don’t know the exact story. But he left it behind and my mother kept it.”
Neytiri was still gazing at the sword.
“What is it?” Jay asked her.
“It’s just…the symbol on the hilt looks really familiar. Also, this sword was definitely made at least three hundred years ago.”
“What do you mean?” Rhea asked.
“My mother has a nearly identical sword.”
Jay stepped closer to take a better look and realized Neytiri was right. The craftsmanship of the sword was nearly identical toGriffin’s sword. The only difference was the mark on the hilt Neytiri had pointed out.Griffin’s had a fierce eagle, the mark of her family. This one had a roaring lion.
“Anyways,” Neytiri said, looking away from the sword and making eye contact with Rhea with a smile. “So, what classes are offered here?”
“Well, there’s tons,” Rhea said enthusiastically. Jay walked around the weapons room, glancing at different weapons as the two girls continued to talk. “We have specialized classes for certain Shadows, like were-class for were-beings, potions for witches, and power control for faeries, pixies, and witches.”
“Are there any Hunter related classes?” Neytiri questioned innocently. Jay looked up, meeting her gaze and signaling for her to not infuriate Rhea.
“Well, we have all different kinds of history classes. One of them is on the history of the relationship between Shadows and Hunters. Apart from that, we have Defense once a week in which all the students get together and are given a situation involving an attacking group of Hunters and we have to decide what we would do.” Rhea spoke as though Neytiri was another Shadow, and not a Huntress that could have sliced her head off for talking about such an exercise.
“That sounds wonderful,” Neytiri replied, starting to drift away from the conversation. She walked over to Jay and glanced at the dwarf hammer he was studying. “So, how are you related to Berret?”
Jay could have punched Neytiri for asking such a question so bluntly.
“What do you mean?” Rhea asked through gritted teeth, trying to hold her smile.
“I mean, you definitely aren’t her blood daughter, right?” Neytiri asked.
Rhea shook her head. “No, I’m adopted.”
“And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, right Ney?” Jay interjected, standing straight and looking from Neytiri’s icy blue eyes to Rhea’s burning gray ones.
“Of course not, Jay. I was only wondering.” She waved her hand and headed for the door. “Can we see your dormitories?” Rhea followed her, Jay in the back. He could see she had her hands clenched and was probably trying hard not to jinx Neytiri. Jay quickened his pace to walk beside Neytiri, a few feet in front of Rhea.
“What are you playing at? Do you really want her to tell her mother how you treated her and Berret tell your mother?”
Neytiri looked at him. She sighed and the iciness in her eyes melted back to their normal blue warmth. “I don’t know, Jay,” she whispered back. “I’ve never talked to a Shadow when I’m not telling them how I’m going to skewer them, so this is weird for me.”
“I haven’t either, yet I’m not going around insulting her, am I?”
“You have a leveler head than I do.”
“Hey, guys, the dormitories are down these stairs and on our right.” Jay turned to Rhea. Her voice was back to calm cheerfulness as she led them down the stairs. He exchanged looks with Neytiri and she sighed. She quickened her pace and grabbed Rhea by her upper left arm. Rhea whirled to face her, ready for a fight, hands glowing blue.
“Look, I’m sorry about what I said earlier,” Neytiri said with great reluctance. Jay grinned. It wasn’t often you got to see Neytiri apologize to anyone.
Rhea’s hands stopped glowing and Neytiri let go of her arm. “I’m sorry about what I said about the Hunter exercise. I shouldn’t have baited you.”
Neytiri smiled. “Wanna start over?”
“I’d love to.” Rhea smiled in return. Jay walked up and slung an arm over each of their shoulders.
“Now look at us! I can tell we’re going to be the very best of friends!”