When Elizabeth walked into her room once more, Adelina made sure she wouldn’t be able to tell she just had a breakdown in a stranger’s bathroom.
“How embarrassing,” she thought, quickly pulling her hair into a high ponytail. Adelina Roman wasn’t a girl who broke at the slightest problem. She didn’t become popular in high school by crying about the slightest problem. “Then again,” she argued with herself, “finding out that I’m an alien trumps Tyler Elster leaving me for Julie Wisse.”
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at her, but held the door open for her to pass through. Without waiting to make sure she was following, she took long strides down the hallway Adelina had been led through yesterday.
Startled by the fast pace, she took a moment to catch up, but was soon following Elizabeth efficiently. She glanced up at her friend – “Ex-best friend,” her mind bitterly corrected – and wondered if she could ask where they were headed.
“We’re headed to the cafeteria. Breakfast is served from six till ten-thirty. After breakfast, I’ll be escorting you to your uncle’s quarters. He wishes to have a word with you before you begin your lessons,” Elizabeth answered her question without her even having to ask it.
Adelina blinked. “So, there are more people here? Not just the people I saw when I woke up?” she asked, confused.
Elizabeth barely spared her a glance as she kept walking. “The Mansion is the center for Purging and teaching the newly Awakened. Most people here are your age and a couple of years older. Those adults you met are part of Lord DeVaine’s guard and council. Wherever he goes, they go.”
She had more questions, but just at that moment, Elizabeth pushed open a pair of mahogany double doors that Adelina hadn’t even noticed ahead of her.
Immediately after entering the brightly lit room, she was hit with the smell of freshly baked pastries and brewed coffee. The large room was filled with long tables and low benches, like one would find in a high school. People were scattered around the room, some sitting in groups and some sitting alone.
Adelina paused, taking in the sight before her. She didn’t expect it to look so…normal. Her blue eyes turned to her guide, only to find herself standing alone. Elizabeth had abandoned her.
Signing despondently, she joined the queue, grabbing a plastic tray. She found herself behind a short Asian girl with blue-black hair that was streaked with red highlights. She blinked again. So far, so normal.
Suddenly, the girl turned to her, and she fought the need to flinch out.
“Hi!” she said cheerfully.
Cautiously, Adelina replied, “Hey.”
“I’m Casey Lee,” she continued, not seeming to notice her hesitance. She set her tray down and stuck her thumbs out at herself and gave Adelina a huge grin. “I’m a year one full-fledgling Leech. What about you?”
Adelina was stunned into silence. How exactly did she reply to that?
“I’m Adelina Roman. I’m a…uh –“
“She’s a year one like you, Casey. You should know who she is, everyone’s been going crazy since she arrived,” a voice behind her spoke up.
Turning around, she found herself looking at someone who could have been on the cover of a magazine. He was tall, at least six feet, had wavy blond hair that went a little past his ears, and sparkling hazel eyes. He winked at her, giving a half smile. Adelina denied to herself that she sighed dreamily at him.
“Connor Harrison at your service,” he said, grasping her right hand softly and bending over to kiss it, never breaking eye contact with her. Adelina’s eyes widened so far, she thought they would pop.
Casey gave an irritated sigh and yanked her hand from his, breaking whatever moment they were having. Adelina shook her head slightly, trying to shake off the cobwebs in her brain.
“Must you do that to every newbie?” Casey said, giving Connor a stink eye. Turning to her, she smiled benignly, explaining, “Connor’s very adept in the art of seducing. That’s his major. He likes to practice on everyone, even when he knows that he shouldn’t.”
Well, wasn’t that disappointing. “Oh,” Adelina said lamely, praying to every deity that she wasn’t blushing like an idiot.
Casey rolled her eyes and added a stack of pancakes to her tray, followed by a huge dollop of syrup. Adelina followed her lead, adding a much more moderate amount of syrup and including a sausage patty to her meal.
“I’m still not sure how he got approved for seduction major of all things,” she admitted, her eyes narrowing as she turned back to examine Conner, who was precariously balancing two trays heaped with waffles, sausages and eggs. “He may be attractive, but he is certainly not a seducer.”
Adelina’s eyebrow rose. The way Casey stared at Connor…he was definitely seducing someone...
Casey abruptly turned around, her dark hair covering any red patches on her cheeks. “Well come on then,” she said, walking to an empty table.
Adelina followed while glancing around, hoping to find Elizabeth’s dark locks somewhere close by.
Casey sat down and turned back to her, patting the space next to her cheerfully. Adelina quickly sat next to her, and they both watched in amusement as Connor slowly inched closer to them, his two full trays swaying at his every move.
He finally reached them, sighing in relief as he set the trays down carefully. “Did you see that year three jerk who tried tripping me? I swear I’m early morning amusement for some people!” he cried indignantly, turning back to glare at a muscular looking twenty-year old, who in turn gave him a wide, menacing grin.
“Oh, really? Whatever could have given you that idea, Conner?” Casey shared a grin with Adelina, both of them hiding between bites of their breakfast.
He didn’t bother answering her, but instead dug into his first tray with the gusto of a starved man. Adelina blanched at his table manners. She finally understood what Casey had said about not being seduction material…
Suddenly another girl was settling herself next to Connor. She was another model looking type, with curly blonde hair and sparking sapphire eyes. She had an air of arrogance about her.
Adelina instantly disliked her.
She greeted Connor amicably, smiling as he grunted back.
Adelina stiffened as the stranger’s eyes barely registered Casey’s presence and locked unto her electric blue ones.
“So,” she began, smiling mysteriously and eyeing her critically, “You’re what all the fuss is about.”
It became clear, after a moment that Adelina was supposed to reply to that statement.
“Yeah, I guess so,” she said, smiling hesitantly.
The stranger sneered delicately. “Who would have thought? Lord Devaine’s only heir, a human bred half-fledgling.”
Next to her, Casey stiffened, not taking her eyes off her breakfast. Connor looked back and forth between them, his hazel eyes wide in surprise.
She guessed from their reactions that she’s just been insulted. Confusion and irritation coursed through her and she curtly replied, “So what if I am? Does that make you better than me?”
The blonde didn’t reply, but smiled mysteriously once more before getting up. “Connor,” she said, ignoring Adelina’s piercing gaze. “Mistress Fosini would like to see you at noon promptly. You have a mission.”
Connor nodded, his hair flying around as he did so. He seemed to want to reply, but thought better of it and dug into his second tray of food, avoiding Adelina’s gaze as he did so.
The blonde girl glanced at her for a second before turning around. “I’ll be seeing you later, half-breed.”
Her eyes widened at the title, and Casey chocked on her glass of chocolate milk. Connor twitched, his fork clattering to the floor loudly. His face flushed, and he quickly ducked underneath the table to retrieve it. When he emerged, he was cool-faced and once again began eating with gusto.
An uncomfortable silence settled down on the table as she walked away.
“What,” Adelina began, her eyes still wide, “was that about?”
Casey took her time to finish her glass of milk – at least, that’s what it seemed like to the redhead – before answering her question.
“You’ve just met Elivia Celaswen,” the dark-haired girl said, her dark eyes flitting around as if searching for eavesdroppers. “She and her sister just got her at the beginning of the year, from the Motherland.”
Adelina’s eyebrows heightened in surprise. “You mean...the alien planet?” The words felt odd coming off her tongue, and she busied herself by taking a sip of her apple juice.
Casey barely noticed her distress. “Acaer, yeah. It was a big deal when they came because there hasn’t been an envoy in centuries, not since the Rift. The story was that her older sister, Trisha, was betrothed to your uncle, but no one's buying it. A betrothal hasn’t happened in millennia.”
She glanced around her once more, then scooted in closer, her voice dropping to a whisper. “There’ve been rumors that encounters with the Enlighteners have been getting more and more violent. The most logical reason for the Celaswen sisters to be here is that they’re reporting back to the Novaly – that’s our government – about how bad the situation is here and letting them know if they need to step in or not.”
The redhead made a dismissive noise at the back of her throat. That was all good and well – this Rift business had nothing to do with her. If she could have her way, she would be out of this place and back to the comfort of her small house in no time – but it didn’t explain why the blonde, whose name she now knew was Elivia, had treated her the way she did. She voiced this out to Casey.
To her surprise, it was Connor who answered her question.
“Over here, on Earth, it’s not a big deal to meet half-breeds. Since before the Rift, Enlighteners have been giving away our existence, and been mating with them. Us Isolationists may not approve, but that’s why Purging was created. We don’t have an issue with half-fledglings.
“Native Acaerians do, unfortunately. All the Purge does is remove the human parts that remove your need to feed, you still have your human parents genetic information. To the natives, that’s enough to make them intruders.”
Adelina scoffed. “I doubt many half-fledglings want to be part of a community that forces them to keep their identity a secret. I know I won’t be taking part in this Purge, or whatever,” she declared.
Both Casey and Connor shared a laugh at her declaration. Connor’s face got pinker with laughter and his eyes slanted upwards. Casey’s tiny frame shook with mirth, tears leaking from her eyes.
The redhead felt a bit insulted by their laughter. “What’s so funny?” she asked, her eyes flashing with unspoken irritation.
It was Casey who recovered enough to respond to her. “You’re Adelina DeVaine, Lord DeVaine’s neice, his only remaining family on this planet. You honestly think he’s going to let you, of all people, get away with not being Purged? It’s true that some halfies have managed to escape being found by his trackers, heck there’s the famous Danya and Ven Frazier who escaped the Mansion a couple of years ago before they could be Purged, but there’s absolutely no way that he’ll let you try and sneak out of here, much less waltz.”
Before she could indignantly reply that he couldn’t keep her here against her will, Elizabeth’s voice piped up from behind her.
“Time to go, Adelina,” she said curtly. “We’re going to Lord DeVaine’s quarters now.”
Connor smiled at her, waving goodbye at her with his fork. “See you around, Adelina. Good meeting you.” He winked at her, as if they shared a huge secret together.
Her irritation seemed to melt away at his wink and she grinned back at him.
“Yeah, see you later.” She began to stand, but paused and said as an afterthought, “You too Casey.”
The dark-haired girl waved her hand in response, wiggling her fingers at her.
Satisfied with that, Adelina turned to Elizabeth. Her grin was replaced with a confused look as she noticed the deep scowl on the brunette’s face.
“What’s eating her up?” she wondered internally.
Before she could verbally repeat her question to her, Elizabeth spun around and walked to the cafeteria’s doors in fast, angry strides. Adelina gaped, but soon hurried to catch up, a strong sense of déjà vu entering her mind as she did.