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I stayed absolutely still, my eyes closed, the sun warm on my face. As long as I didn’t fidget too much, the noon sun was just strong enough to cancel out the chilly October breeze that blew through our part of downtown Chicago.
I guess there was a reason they called it the Windy City.
It was a Sunday afternoon at St. Sophia’s School for Girls, and I was squeezed into a tiny square of sunshine on the lawn with my friend Scout. She sat beside me with her arms stretched out behind her, eyes closed and head tipped up to the sky. I sat cross-legged, art-history book open in my lap. Every few minutes we’d inch our legs a little farther to the left, trying to take in the last warm bit of fall.
“This totally beats sitting in class,” Scout said. “And wearing uniforms.”
Scout was dressed in a black skirt and shirt she’d sewn from two White Sox T-shirts. It was quite a change from the navy-and-yellow private school plaid we usually wore. And then there were the shoes (Converses she’d coated in gold glitter), the hair (a short blond bob with dark tips), and the silver nose ring. Even in the uniform, there was no mistaking Scout Green for the average “St. Sophia’s girl.”
“You are totally rocking those clothes today.”
Scout opened an eye and glanced down at her jersey skirt. “I appreciate your appreciation of my obvious good taste. Besides, someone had to rock it out. This place is a like a dismal swamp of bleh.”
I put a hand over my heart. “Thank God you’re here to save us, Saint Scout.”
Scout snorted and crossed one ankle over the other, her shoes glinting in the sunlight.
“And now I know why I keep finding glitter on my bedroom floor.”
“Whatever. My shoes do not shed.”
I gave her a dubious look.
“Seriously. That’s just . . . um . . . horn dust from the unicorns that braid your hair while you sleep.”
Scout and I both looked at each other. Unfortunately, while I didn’t remember waking up with any mysterious braids, we couldn’t exactly rule out the unicorn part.
Oh, did I mention Scout could do magic?
Yeah, you heard me. And I know what you’re thinking: “Lily Parker, there’s no such thing as magic. The tofu is starting to go to your head.”
You’re going to have to trust me on this one. See, as it turns out, Chicago is home to an underground world of magicians battling it out while the rest of the city is asleep. And those magicians included the girl, who was now humming a song from High School Musical 3, beside me.
Millicent Green, aka Scout, was actually an Adept and a member of Enclave Three.
And here’s the second twist—so was I.
See, I was actually from upstate New York, but when my parents decided to head to Germany for a research sabbatical, they figured St. Sophia’s, deep in the heart of Chicago, was the best place for me to spend my junior and senior years of high school.
They said parents knew best. To my mind, the jury was still out.
I didn’t come to Chicago with any powers, at least not that I was aware. And my parents certainly weren’t doing magic in their free time.
Again, at least not that I was aware. But with a secret trip to Germany? Who really knew? I’d been told by Marceline Foley, the headmistress of St. Sophia’s, that their work had something to do with genetics. She’d changed her tune later on, but there was no unringing that bell—or the fact that their European vacation was related to a place called the Sterling Research Foundation. For their safety, I’d made a promise to let my parents’ secrets, whatever they were, stay secret.
Anyway, it took a trip into the basement of St. Sophia’s—and a shot of magic from one of the bad guys—to trigger my own magic.
To be honest, I’d been an Adept for only a few weeks, and I was still fuzzy on the details. But firespell had something to do with light and power—manipulating it and throwing it back at the bad guys.
And that was exactly how I’d ended up with firespell—a shot from Sebastian Born. He might have been tall, dark, and handsome, but he was also a Reaper. A teenager who refused to give up his magic when the time came—and it came for everyone—and who now spent his time recruiting kids the older Reapers could feed from.
As it turns out, magic’s only a temporary gift. We have it for only a few years, from puberty to age twenty-five or so. After that, the magic begins to degrade you, to devour your soul like some kind of rangy tentacle monster.
As Adepts, we promise to give up our magic, to give it back to the universe before it turns us into soul-suckers. Reapers don’t. And in order to keep their suddenly hungry power from devouring them from the inside out, they have to feed from the souls of Adepts or humans.
So, yeah. Reapers—or, as they called themselves, the Dark Elite—weren’t going to win any congeniality awards.
That put us pretty squarely against each other, like a football rivalry but with much higher stakes. So by day, we were high school juniors—wearing our plaid uniforms, doing our homework, ignoring our brattier classmates, and wishing we were in a public high school without a two-hour mandatory study hall.
And by night, we were dueling Adepts.
Scout suddenly sighed, a long, haggard breath that made her entire body shudder. She still looked a little pale, and she still had blue circles under her eyes.
A wounded Adept.
These were the scars leftover from her own experience with the Reapers. She’d been kidnapped and her room was ransacked. It had been me and the other Junior Varsity Adepts from Enclave Three—and very little help from the Varsity Adepts, the college-age kids—that had fought to get her back from the Reaper sanctuary where Jeremiah, the baddest of the baddies, had begun the process of stripping away her soul.
It was days before she could sleep without nightmares, nearly a week before she was mostly back to her old self. But I still saw shadows from her time in the sanctuary—those moments when she disappeared into herself, when her mind was pulled back into the empty spot the Reapers had created.
Regardless, she was here now. We’d gotten her back.
Not everyone was so lucky. Sometimes we discovered too late that a Reaper had been befriending someone, too late for Adepts, friends, family, coaches, or teachers to pull him or her back from the brink.
Sometimes, fighting the good fight meant losing a battle or two.
That was a hard lesson at almost-sixteen.
“Lils, any thoughts about running away and joining a circus?”
I smiled over at Scout. “Are we talking pink poodles and clowns stuffed into a car, or creepy freak show?”
Scout snorted. “Since it’s us, probably freak show. We could travel around the country from city to city, putting up one of those giant red-and-white striped tents and sleeping in a silver trailer shaped like a bullet.” She slid me a knowing glance. “You could bring along your own personal freak show.”
This time, it wasn’t just the sun that heated my cheeks. “He’s not my freak show.”
“He’d like to be.”
“Whatever. And he’s not a freak show.” I glanced around to make sure we were alone. “He’s a werewolf.”
“Close enough. The point is, he’d be your werewolf if you let him.”
It was the “letting him” that was the hard part. Jason Shepherd, the resident werewolf of Enclave Three, was definitely interested. He was sixteen years old and, like Michael Garcia, another Adept with a massive crush on Scout, was a student at Montclare Academy, St. Sophia’s brother school. I’d learned Jason had been born in Naperville, a suburb west of Chicago, listened to whatever music happened to be on the radio at the time, and was a devoted White Sox fan. He didn’t like football and loved pepperoni pizza. And, of course, there was the werewolf thing.
I guess I was interested back, but spending nights fighting evil didn’t exactly make it easy to get to know a boy.
“It’s too soon,” I told her, trying to make my voice sound as casual as possible. “Besides, you’re the one who warned me away from him.”
“I did do that,” she quietly said. “I just don’t want you to get hurt.” Problem was, she wouldn’t tell me why she thought that might happen. She kept saying I needed to hear it from him, and that wasn’t exactly the kind of thing that made a girl feel comfortable about a boy.
“There’s always something,” I whispered. As if on cue, a grim-looking cloud passed over the sun, a dark streak in the sky that sang of impending rain. The breeze blew colder, raising goose bumps on my arms.
Scout and I exchanged a glance. “Inside?” I asked.
She nodded, then pointed at her shoes. “The glue’s not waterproof.”
Decision made, we gathered up our books and walked back across the campus’s side lawn and around to the main building. The school—a former convent—was dark and gothic-looking, a weird contrast to the rest of the glass-and-steel architecture in this part of downtown Chicago.
That was what I was thinking when I happened to glance across the street . . . and saw him.
He stood on the sidewalk in jeans and a dark polo shirt, his hands tucked into his pockets. His blue eyes gleamed, but not like Jason’s eyes gleamed. Jason’s eyes were spring-bright. Sebastian’s were darker. Deeper. Colder.
And those eyes were focused on me.
The Reapers obviously knew Scout attended St. Sophia’s, since they’d kidnapped her from her room. And another Reaper, Alex, had seen all of us one day in the concrete thorn garden behind the school. But that didn’t make me any less weirded out by the fact that Sebastian was standing across the street, perfectly still, gaze on yours truly.
At the sound of my name, I looked back at Scout. Frowning, she moved toward me. “What is it?”
“I think I just saw Sebastian. He was right . . . ” By the time I’d pointed to the spot on the sidewalk where he’d stood, he was gone. “There,” I finished, wondering if I’d actually seen him, or if I’d just seen some tourist with the same dark hair and blue eyes and I’d imagined it was him.
I wasn’t crazy about either idea.
“Sebastian? Out here? Are you sure?”
“I thought so. I mean, I thought he was right there—but maybe not.”
Scout put her hands on her hips and frowned as she scanned the street. “There’s no sign of him now. I can text Daniel”—he was the newish leader of Enclave Three—“and let him know something’s up.”
Gaze scanning the street, I shook my head. “That’s okay. Maybe I imagined it. It was only for a second—maybe I just saw someone who looks like him.”
“Simplest explanation is usually the truth,” she said, then put an arm around my shoulders. “No more sunshine for you. You’ve been indoors so much, I think the sun actually makes you crazy.”
“Maybe so,” I absently said. But I had to wonder—was I losing it, or were the Reapers watching us?
I had a dark-haired, blue-eyed boy on my mind.
This was a bad idea for two reasons.
First, I was in European-history class, and said dark-haired boy wasn’t a king or soldier or historical figure of any type.
Second, the boy I’d been talking to was definitely not dark-haired.
The boy, of course, was Sebastian. And the obsession? I don’t know. I’m sure he was on my mind in part because I’d (maybe?) just seen him. But it also felt like we had unfinished business. In a couple of glances and whispered instructions, Sebastian had taught me how to use firespell—that it wasn’t about controlling the power, but trusting the power enough to let it control me. It was about letting the power move, instead of trying to move the power.
But why had he helped me? He was a Reaper, and I was an Adept, and at the time we’d been trying to rescue Scout and escape the Reaper sanctuary. There was no reason for him to help me, which made the act that much stranger . . . and meaningful?
I mean, not only had he helped me, but he’d helped me in the middle of a battle against him and his Reaper friends. Was there a chance he was really . . . good?
Finally hearing my name, I slammed my elbow on the top of my desk as I bolted upright and glanced up at Mr. Forrest, our civics teacher. “Yes? Sorry?”
The classroom burst into snickers, most of it from the three members of St. Sophia’s resident brat pack: Veronica, Mary Katherine, and Amie. Veronica was the queen bee, a blonde Gossip Girl wannabe currently wearing a pair of thousand-dollar designer ballet flats and at least a couple of pounds of gold around her neck. Veronica and I had tried being friends one Sunday afternoon after I’d first seen my Darkening—a mark on my lower back that pegged me as an Adept. I had been in denial about my new magic, and in the middle of a misunderstanding with Scout, so I’d offered Veronica a shot as best friend.
She didn’t make the grade.
M.K. was the haughtiest of the crew. Today she was dressed like a goth-prep mash-up—a navy shirt and cardigan over her plaid skirt; knee-high navy socks; and black platform heels with lots of straps. Her long hair was tied in long braids with navy ribbon, and her lips were outlined in dark lipstick.
Amie was the quiet one—the type who seemed to go along to get along. She was also a roommate, sharing a suite with Scout, me, and a cello-playing, mostly quiet girl named Lesley Barnaby.
“Is class a little too difficult for you today, Parker?” M.K. snickered.
“Since you were apparently absorbed in your own thoughts,” Forrest said, “anything you’d like to share with the class?”
“Um, I was just”—I glanced up at the scribbled text that filled the whiteboard at the front of the room and tried to make sense of it—“I was just . . . thinking about federalism.”
More snickering, probably deserved. I swear I was smart, even if I was still adjusting to the run-all-night, study-all-day schedule.
“And did you reach any conclusions about federalism, Ms. Parker?”
Deer in headlights, much? “Well,” I slowly said, trying to buy time to get my mental gears moving, “it was really important to the founding of the country and . . . whatnot.”
There was silence until Peters huffed out a sound of intellectual irritation and looked around the room. “Does anyone have anything more enlightening to add to the conversation?”
Veronica popped a hand into the air.
“Ms. Lively. Can you contribute to our conversation?”
“Actually, I need to make an announcement to the class.”
He looked suspicious. “About what?”
“Well,” Veronica said, “regarding our upcoming girls-only health-education class, if you get my drift.”
Forrest’s cheeks flushed pink. He nodded, then cleared his throat, and after tapping some papers together on the podium, headed for the door. “For tomorrow,” he said on the way, “finish chapter two.”
With Forrest on his way out, Veronica rose and moved to the podium, Amie beside her. Veronica tucked her hair behind her ear, her gaze on the door until Forrest was out of the room. As soon as it clicked closed, she turned her attention to us.
“It’s time to begin planning our annual holiday festivities.”
The girls began to hoot like boys at a frat party. I glanced back at Scout, who rolled her eyes and propped her hand on her chin. I have to admit, I was mostly relieved I wasn’t going to have to listen to Veronica drone on about sex ed. I mean, surely St. Sophia’s could afford an actual teacher for that kind of thing.
“And when I say holiday, I obviously mean this year’s Halloween Sneak. As you know, it’s up to the junior class to plan the Sneak. This year’s theme will be Glam Graveyard.”
“Gravestones and glitter,” Amie added.
“Precisely,” Veronica said. “Our first planning committee meeting will be tomorrow. You can sign up on the sheet outside the door. Weirdoes need not apply,” she snarkily added, haughty gaze pinpointed at Scout.
“She’s just so high school,” Scout muttered behind me. I bit back a smile.
“Anyone interested in the planning committee has to swear not to squeal about the location of the Sneak, because the final location won’t be revealed to the rest of the class until it’s time to go. Any questions?”
M.K. raised a hand. “Will there be boys there?”
Veronica smiled smugly. “We’re playing sister school to Montclare Academy again.”
That smug look on her face worried me. Jason went to Montclare, but I wasn’t so much worried about him. Michael, however, was a different matter. While Michael had a pretty big crush on Scout, she was playing very hard to get. Veronica, on the other hand, seemed determined to take her place. Veronica had made a point of asking Scout about Michael one day, hinting around that she had a thing for him.
The interest was understandable. Michael was totally cute. Dark, curly hair. Big brown eyes. A huge smile that was impossible to ignore . . . unless you were Scout Green. She managed pretty well. Of course, if Scout didn’t ask Michael, then technically he was fair game.
The bell rang. Veronica made a little curtsy before she and Amie were joined by M.K., and they headed out the door. I waited for Scout to gather up her books.
“So,” I began, “exactly how uncool would it be if I wanted to be on the Sneak committee?”
Scout pulled her messenger bag over her shoulder and gave me a sideways glance. “Purposefully involve yourself in brat drama? Why would you want to do that?”
“Decorating and design and stuff is right up my alley,” I reminded her. “My art studio hasn’t started yet, and I really need a creative outlet, even if it does involve the brat pack.”
“Don’t you already have a creative outlet?”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m not sure I’d call what we do ‘creative.’”
“Have you ever done it before?”
Scout grinned at me. “Then it’s creative.”
Drama notwithstanding, I concluded I was going it alone on the planning committee front. But as we walked down the hall toward our lockers, I decided to try something else Scout might be interested in. “Do you think Veronica asked him?”
“Asked who?” She sounded completely unconcerned, but I knew her better than that.
“I know your real first name, Scout. Don’t make me use it.”
“Fine, fine. Don’t have a conniption. Yeah, she probably asked Garcia. Or she will, if she hasn’t already. It’s just the kind of thing she’d do.”
“Maybe he wants to ask you.”
“Then it serves him right for waiting,” she muttered.
I slid her a glance. “So if he asks you, you’ll say yes?”
“Just because I don’t trip over him every time he comes into the room doesn’t mean I don’t, you know, appreciate him.”
“I knew it,” I said, a grin breaking out. “I knew you had a thing for him. So, are you going to tell him? Are you two going to start dating? Officially, I mean? This is huge.”
“Pump the brakes,” she warned, heading into the bay where our fancy wooden lockers were located. “Pump the brakes, or I tell Amie you want decorating advice. You’ll have to wear shades just to sleep in your room.”
Virtually everything in Amie’s room was an eye-scarring shade of Barbie pink. “Now, that’s just rude.”
“I’m not above rude, Parker. You keep that in mind.”
I took her word for it, which is why I snuck back alone to sign up for the Sneak committee. An artist had to do what an artist had to do, right?