Rhea woke the next morning to the door opening and closing.
“Alexia? Is that you?” It was still dark out and Rhea couldn’t make out who the person was that had entered her dorm. The person ran into the end of the bed and cursed.
“Sorry, Rhea.” It was Alexia’s voice and Rhea calmed down and laid her head back on her pillow.
“Get to bed, Alexia,” she muttered as she tried to get back to sleep. But try as she might, sleep would not come to her.
Before being woken, she had dreamed of the Hunters turning on them and destroyingNightMareSchoolform the inside. Now she couldn’t sleep as she thought of what she would do if the Hunters really did try to destroy the school. She shook her head to clear it. She had met Hunters the day before. That would never happen.
They weren’t the bloodthirsty warmongering beings many Shadows thought of when the word Hunter came up. They were actually pretty normal.
As sunshine came in through the window, Rhea got out of bed and changed. Alexia would probably sleep most of the day away as she had been up all night howling in the Werewolf Room. The forced transformation every full moon was always worse than any willed transformation for werewolves.
She tiptoed out of the room and silently closed the door behind her.
“Where are you off to?”
Rhea whirled around to find Zendaya smiling down at her.
“My goodness, Zen, you nearly gave me a heart attack!” Rhea cried.
“Oh wow, I’m sorry, Rhea,” she said. She smiled and her unnatural blue eyes twinkled.
“So, what were you doing with Nevara earlier?” Rhea questioned as they walked down for breakfast.
“Oh, nothing. We were just having a sister to sister talk. I think we’ve worked out most of our differences.”
“Isn’t that the truth.” Rhea looked over her shoulder to find Nevara fluttering their way. She landed beside them and linked arms with Zendaya. Rhea looked at them in astonishment.
“Well, that’s great…I suppose.” Rhea watched as they walked on ahead.
“Something is definitely up.” The soft whisper spooked Rhea as she turned to see Myst had snuck up beside her. She nodded in agreement.
“Zen andNevgetting along?” Rhea shook her head. “You know, besides the dramatic change in Zen’s appearance.”
Myst nodded. “Come on, let’s get some breakfast,” Rhea said, linking arms with Myst as they headed down to the dining room.
The dining room was huge with five large mahogany tables that could seat up to one hundred Shadows each. Two extra tables had been conjured up the day before to accommodate the Hunters. Rhea and Myst sat down and plates and silverware appeared in front of them magically. As Rhea decided she wanted cereal, a large bowl of Cheerios appeared in front of her. Myst ordered waffles.
The two friends ate in silence as Myst wasn’t inclined to say much and Rhea didn’t have anything to say to her anyways. Their friendship was one built on silence and reliability. They would always be there for each other, whether called on or not. Myst was reliable beyond compare. She stood up for her friends and would go to the ends of the world for them, as she had evidenced in her attacking Nevara just the day before.
As more students and Hunters filed into the dining room for breakfast, Rhea saw Berret andGriffinwalk through the aisles to the front of the large room. Baramore followed them and whistled as they turned to face the crowd. The room silenced and everyone turned to look at them.
“As we all know, students, the Hunters are staying with us while we discover a way to destroy the Darkness. A second Clan will be coming in sometime today.” Berret smiled as she spoke and assured the entire room that the Hunters were among the safest guests they could have at the school. “In the meantime we will be dividing everyone into three groups. The first group, Crescent Moon, will be our thinkers and strategizers. The second group, Rising Sun, will be our main fighting force. And the third group, Solar Eclipse, will be sent for specialized mission involving strategizing and fighting on their own.”
“Also,”Griffinstood forward to address the room, “the professors of this school, along with the three of us, will be leading different defense, fighting, and strategy classes to train you for what you will need to know when we battle the Darkness.”
As Rhea watched, the three heads appeared so rock solid that it seemed unlikely anything, not even the Darkness, could get past them and hurt the Hunters and students they saw as their children.
AsGriffin, Berret, and Baramore left the dining hall, Rhea stood and turned to Myst. “I’m going to go check up on Jay and Neytiri. Why don’t you see to Alexia? She got back to out room early this morning.” Myst simply nodded in reply. They left the dining hall together, but split up at the staircase as Myst went to the second floor dormitories and Rhea went straight to the large oak door that would take her up to the Hunters’ floor.
“Hey! The new Hunters are here!” Rhea turned to see a small troll heading for the front entrance windows to look out.
Berret showed up with Baramore and Rhea left the door to join them.
“Welcome, Drey!” Berret cried, hugging the man at the head of the large group of new Hunters. He had pitch black hair likeGriffin’s spiked, dark brooding brown eyes, and wore jeans and a T-shirt, very unlikeGriffin’s professional purple cloak and dress. The Hunters behind him were dressed just as casually. They appeared looser, less strict and ordered thanGriffin’s Hunters.
As Berret led them to the large oak door, Rhea walked alongside Baramore.
“Different, aren’t they?” he commented. Rhea nodded. The Hunters began going through the door as Berret and Drey talked together off to one side.
“Oh, Rhea, I meant to ask you,” he turned away from Berret and his dark brown eyes stared at Rhea intensely. “What do you know about Zendaya and her new…style?”
Rhea looked back at him. “I have no idea. She went missing for two days.” Baramore nodded. “And when she came back, she looked different, plus she’s been super buddy-buddy with Nevara recently.”
Baramore nodded. “If you find out anything more, you will let me know, correct?” Rhea nodded. Baramore smiled. “Thank you, Rhea.” He turned away from her and joined Drey and Berret.
“Hey, look, it’s our friend from yesterday!”
Rhea turned to see Neytiri and Jay walk out from the large oak door while new Hunters walked into it. Jay had been the one to speak.
“Hey there, guys,” Rhea greeted. “You hungry?”
“Famished!” Neytiri replied with a smile.
“Well, let’s get you some breakfast, then, shall we?” She led them back towards the dining hall and showed them how the food appeared of its own accord.
“That is so awesome!” Jay cried out as a plate of pancakes appeared in front of him. “We need to get Zaiko in here!” Neytiri laughed at his joke. Rhea smiled, not following.
Neytiri caught her look and smiled. “Zaiko is our Clan cook. He thinks he’s amazing, but quite honestly, he makes the same kind of food every single night because he only knows how to cook meat one way.” Neytiri winked mischievously.
Rhea smiled. “I don’t think a single Shadow that comes out of this school will ever learn how to cook because they’re all so used to these tables.” Neytiri and Jay laughed.
“Can we see where Berret andGriffinhave set up that private audience chamber after this?” Neytiri asked, voice turning serious in a flash.
Rhea met her blue gaze. “You want to spy on them?”
“I just want to know what we’re up against. Berret says this thing killed one of your AP teachers, a mad scientist or something?”
“Well, we can’t let anyone else die to this thing, but if it’s strong enough to take out one of your best teachers, we need a new approach, right?”
Jay sighed. “Yet, eavesdropping still isn’t the answer, Ney.”
Neytiri shook her head and turned to look at him. “And why not, Jay? If we know we’re up against—”
“You want to go out to fight it on your own, don’t you?” Rhea accused.
Neytiri shrugged. “So what if I am?”
“You can’t do that, Neytiri! It’s far too dangerous!” When Neytiri’s calm expression didn’t change, Rhea appealed to Jay. “You can’t let her do this, you know that, right?”
“Of course I know that. And I’ve been trying to persuade her otherwise all night. But the hard headed woman won’t listen to me.”
“You have to admit it’s a wonderful idea, though, Jay,” Neytiri reasoned.
“I don’t have to admit anything, Tiri.”
Rhea looked from Jay to Neytiri. “Wait, what’s this plan of yours?”
Neytiri’s warm blue eyes sparkled. “To get inside the Darkness!”
Jay sighed. “She thinks that only can she avoid being shredded to pieces, but sh can get inside without being eaten, remain alive, and figure out how this creature functions, from theinside.”
“Not a bad idea, eh?” Neytiri asked Rhea with a grin.
“Uh…sure. But, what happens if during this…possible mission, you get killed and eaten?” Rhea didn’t exactly see the logic in going after the creature head on after what had happened to Vaiko. Hunters were far too rash and battle-hungry.
“Eaten? We aren’t going to be eaten, don’t worry, Rhea!” Neytiri said with an encouraging smile.
“We? When did this become ‘we’? I am so not going in there with you.” Jay looked down at his pancakes, not meeting Neytiri’s look.
“What? You’d let me get eaten alone?” she asked.
“I thought you just said you weren’t going to be eaten?” Rhea interjected.
“Shhh…” Neytiri replied with a grin. “Hurry up and eat your pancakes, Star-boy. Rhea’s going to take us to the audience chamber.” Neytiri stood up.
“Hey, who said I was going to—” Rhea started.
“I did. Just now. Didn’t you hear me?” Neytiri asked with a grin. Rhea sighed and stood up beside her. There was simply no fighting these people.
Jay finished his pancakes and joined them. “Ready to lose the trust of your mothers?” he asked with a sly grin.
Neytiri elbowed him. “Nice try. But Rhea and I aren’t doing anything that bad. Right, Rhea?” Neytiri turned to Rhea.
“Uh…no. Of course not.” But inside she felt like she might throw up. What Jay had said was the truth. If she spied on her own mother, what would she say? She wasn’t Neytiri, she wasn’t as unafraid and brave and proud.
Without speaking, she led them to the new audience chamber in Berret’s corridor. But as they neared the room, the large Head Hunter Rhea had met before exited it.
He stopped right in front of Neytiri and they held each other’s gaze for a full minute before Jay stepped between.
“Hey, you must be Drey, right? I’m Jay. It’s nice to meet you.” Jay held out his hand with a smile but Drey continued to stare at him with his blank expression.
“Nice to meet you, Jay,” Drey finally responded in a rough hard voice. “And who are the pair of you?” he asked Rhea and Neytiri.
Rhea smiled. “I’m Rhea, Berret’s daughter.”
Neytiri didn’t answer him, blue eyes hard as ice.
“And you?” Drey turned his dark gaze on Neytiri and forced her to meet his eyes.
Drey’s eyebrows went up, but he didn’t comment. “Well, nice to meet you three.” He stepped past them, then paused and glanced over his shoulder. “I sure hope you three didn’t plan on spying on us in there.”
Rhea froze before replying. “Of course not, sir!”
Neytiri elbowed her as he walked away. “Don’t be so dang stiff when being accused of something,” she whispered. She led them away from the corridor and to the front of the school in front of the stairs. “Well, now that we know where it is you won’t have to come with us next time, Rhea.”
“Why do we keep talking about this plan with this ‘we’?” Jay questioned.
“Because, you’re my partner in crime, Robin,” Neytiri said with a wink.
“Sure thing, Batgirl,” Jay muttered.
Rhea couldn’t help giggling. The two of them would definitely make a cute couple.
“Hey, Rhea, could you help me out over here?” Rhea turned to see Alexia hefting a large box down the stairs.
“I’ll be right back,” she told Neytiri and Jay before hurrying up the stairs and taking half the weight of the box from her friend and helping her get down the stairs. As they set it down beside Neytiri and Jay, Rhea looked at Alexia.
“What’s in it?” she asked.
Alexia shrugged. “No clue. PB wanted me to bring it down from the storage room. Something about it being critical for the Hunters?” Neytiri’s eyes lit up at this and she turned to the werewolf.
“Can I see what’s inside?” she inquired.
Alexia shrugged. “It’s for you guys, so I suppose so.”
Neytiri tore the top of the box off and looked inside. Her blue eyes twinkled and Rhea looked into the box beside Alexia.
“Wow,” Alexia remarked.
“You can say that again,” Jay murmured.
“Wow,” Alexia said again with a grin in Jay’s direction. Jay winked in return.
Inside the box were multiple axes, hammers, swords, and various other weapons. They were polished and glinted under the chandelier’s light.
“Mother’s going to love this,” Neytiri muttered.
“Definitely,” Jay agreed.
“Well, I’ve got to get it up to the fifth floor, so I’ll—” But before Alexia could move to pick the box up again, Neytiri had already lifted it effortlessly with one hand as she waved to them with the other.
“Don’t worry, dear Alexia, I’ll take it up for you.” She winked and walked away with Jay.
Rhea and Alexia stared after them.
“Did she just lift that thing…”
“With one hand?” Rhea finished, nodding.
“And we barely lifted it together?” Alexia’s golden eyes were wide in disbelief.
Just then, Nevara and Zendaya came flying down the staircase, laughing at a joke. As they fluttered out through the front door, Rhea glanced at Alexia to find her snarling.
“What is going on with them?” Alexia demanded.
Rhea shrugged. “How should I know?” She sighed. “Maybe it’s a good thing they’re finally getting along.”
Alexia whirled on her, golden eyes flashing. “Good?”
“Well, think about it. Did you not just see Nevara go bylaughing, obviously happy about something? And yet Zendaya was right beside her, and in no pain whatsoever.”
Alexia stared at her with wide uncomprehending eyes. “That’s not possible…”
“Yet it’s what we both just saw.” Rhea didn’t want to hear herself say it. She didn’t like the new Zendaya. The new Zendaya was nothing like the kind, soft, and sweet Zen they had all known. No, the new Zendaya was more like Nevara than anyone could ever hope for.
“So, to break the curse Zendaya just had to become…a Nevara?” Alexia asked.
Rhea shrugged. “I don’t even know if the curse actually is broken. Zen had become pretty good at hiding when she was in pain, remember?” Alexia nodded.
“Still, it’s pretty weird,” Alexia said.