They ascended the steps into the clock tower one by one, their red robes billowing in the night like drops of blood.
I shouldn't have been there crouched behind a snow-covered pine tree. I shouldn't have stood watching as boys dressed in black tied blindfolds tightly around the heads of boys dressed in red. I shouldn't have gasped when I saw them being led one by one to stand in each of the ancient windows of the clock tower. My parents would kill me. Liam would dump me. Hell, even Seth would probably be mad enough to permanently revoke my invitation to his tree house. I had made them all a promise.
Let sleeping societies lie.
But the Brotherhood had been responsible for killing my best friend, Grace, and when I heard whispers of a Sacramentum at Station 2-the huge clock tower that measured our hours served at Pemberly Brown Academy like an enormous brick warden-I knew I had to go.
The only things Pemberly Brown took more seriously than its ranking on the Forbes list of top Ivy League feeder schools were the crazy traditions commonly referred to as Sacramenta. But this one hadn't been broadcast over the school's social network, Amicus, or sent out via mass text. This was a private, Brotherhood-only ceremony. After three months of arriving at school at the butt crack of dawn to plant the mini-recorder my parents gave me for my tenth birthday in the boys' bathroom where Bradley Farrow and Alistair Reynolds stopped every morning before first period, I had finally gotten some useful information. Too bad it required me freezing to death in the middle of the night in January to record some ridiculous prank. But if this is what it took to prove that the Brotherhood not only existed but also put its members in danger, then so be it.
My hand shook with cold and nerves as I pointed my phone in the direction of the tower and hit the Record button. But when I saw the first boy stand in the window closest to the ground, his back to the sky, his arms stretched wide, my hand stopped shaking. All my muscles tensed in anticipation of what was going to happen next. The night seemed to stand still, noiseless. There were no whispers, no snapping branches, not even a cough as the first boy stood poised on the window's ledge.
The boy's voice rang clear and strong in the night, the Latin tugging me back into an ancient time. Inexstinctum, meaning "that which is never extinguished." And that's when I remembered the legend about the boy who burned for Brown.
Back in the day, Pemberly Brown was two different schools. Pemberly recruited girls from some of the most powerful families across the country, and the Brown School for Boys was an extremely exclusive, all-boys prep school. When the schools were combined in the '50s, the transition to coed wasn't exactly a smooth one. The boys weren't prepared to share their school or campus with the fairer sex, especially not the beloved clock tower.
One of the more misogynistic blokes said he'd rather see it burned to the ground than invaded by skirts. And supposedly he tried to do just that. Sadly, he must have been lacking some serious IQ points, because in all his righteous, antifeminist fervor, he forgot to save himself a way out of the burning building. Rumor has it that he had to jump from the top window in a ball of flames.
I had no idea if the story was true, but given the fact that the Brotherhood was founded to protect male interests in the face of that very feminine invasion, I knew exactly what was going to happen next.
That idiot was going to jump. I had to bite back a scream when I saw him fall to the ground, a red comet against a pitch-black sky. The lowest window was only two stories up, but it was still a good twenty feet above the ground. Enough to break a leg or even snap your neck if you landed the wrong way. I stood there for a beat, hand out, phone still recording, muscles tensed and ready to run.
But then the boy bounced.
I had been so busy watching the boys in red ascend the stairs of the clock tower that I had completely missed the boys in black standing below with what looked like a huge trampoline. Before the first boy had even stood up, there was another cry of "Inexstinctum!" And down came the boy in the second window, like something out of a movie. One by one, the red-cloaked figures fell backward from the clock tower into the night.
Twelve chances to die.
And I had it all on tape. Surely if I presented this to Ms. D., Pemberly Brown's head of security and all-around Brotherhood-hating badass, she'd take it to the school board and they'd finally dissolve the Brotherhood for good. Maybe then I'd feel like there was justice for what they'd done to Grace.
I had to tip my phone toward the sky to catch the last Brother's fall. He was the unlucky one who had to climb all the way to the top of the tower. It was at least one hundred feet to the ground, and trampoline or no trampoline, that was a long way down.
He stood in the opening with his back to the ground for a good twenty seconds. For a moment, I wondered if he'd have the nerve to fall at all, but then the first syllable left his lips and I watched him stumble backward into the night. "Inex-"
"Consumptus!" All at once a chorus of girls emerged from the trees surrounding the clock tower, robes of white billowing around their forms. The Sisterhood. "Consumptus! Consumptus!" The girls chanted in unison. Extinguish! Extinguish! Extinguish!
Everything happened so quickly. The boy in red fell from the window, but the boys manning the trampoline must have been distracted by the battle cry from the girls. They weren't positioned correctly, and instead of bouncing right in the middle like his Brothers before him, the final boy caught the edge of the trampoline and bounced onto the ground with a sickening snap of bone.
"What the hell?" One of the boys manning the trampoline ripped off his hood, revealing the smooth brown skull of Bradley Farrow. "Alistair! Are you okay? What the hell?" Red and black swarmed around Alistair despite protests to give him space and call 911.
Realizing that their little prank had gone too far, the girls began to scatter. One of them headed straight toward my hideout, ducked behind my tree, and collided with me. Her wide eyes were like liquid gold.
"Kate? What the hell are you...?"
Naomi Farrow, Bradley Farrow's younger sister and my ex-doubles partner. Figures. I put my fingers to my lips and nodded toward the clock tower. The show wasn't over yet. Bradley had caught one of the white-clad girls, and her hood had fallen down her back, revealing long, jet-black hair and a trademark sneer. Beefany Giordano. Well, technically her real name was Bethany, but Grace, Maddie, and I always called her Beefany because she was taller and stronger than 90 percent of the boys on our admittedly pathetic football team.
"What the...my wrist is seriously broken." Alistair was standing now, cradling his left hand in the crook of his arm, his eyes wild and accusing. Even from my post at the tree, I could feel his anger, his absolute disgust. And it was all directed at Beefany. I was surprised she was still standing.
"You had it coming after what you pulled at Candela." I had to hand it to Beefany; she didn't even pretend to feel bad about the turn of events. The girl had guts. In the same way the Brotherhood had formed to protect the interests of the all-boys school, the Sisterhood kept alive the feminist spirit of the original all-girls school.
The Sisterhood had built the tunnels underneath the school generations ago, giving them unprecedented access to everything at Pemberly Brown. The Sisterhood had traded secrets for answer keys. And the Sisterhood had somehow managed to hack the password for every Pemberly Brown email account, including faculty.
And at Pemberly Brown, Sciencia est potentia. "Knowledge is power." As a result, the Brotherhood had been fighting to wrest power from the Sisterhood for the past forty years. And this past fall, they'd actually won. No thanks to me.
But I wasn't ready to think about what had happened the night I'd found out how Grace really died. I wasn't ready to remember the moment I realized how she'd been sending me emails even though she'd been dead for over a year. The only thing I wanted to do tonight was to finally get some proof to end the societies for good.
I wasn't stupid. I kept my phone trained on Alistair and Beefany as they screamed at each other in the dead of the night. I was so focused on recording every single moment that I forgot Naomi Farrow was crouching next to me. Well, until she grabbed my phone out of my hand and deleted the entire thing.
"Are you kidding me?" I hissed, grabbing my phone back from her. "I stood out here all night to get that footage. What's your problem?"
"You don't want to mess with them, Kate." She gave me the same sympathetic look she used to flash after kicking my ass in tennis. "You're never going to win."
I rolled my eyes and sighed, looking back to the boys huddled around Alistair. If it weren't for his broken wrist, he definitely would have thrown a punch at Beefany. Alistair Reynolds was not the kind of guy who was afraid to hit a girl. Sadly, I'd learned that lesson firsthand.
I never would have said it out loud, could barely admit it to myself, but I wondered if Naomi was right, if I was fighting a losing battle. I squeezed the phone in my hand, furious with myself for being careless and annoyed with Naomi for her misguided attempt to protect me.
"Well, this has been fun, boys," Beefany called out. "But I've gotta run. I'm sure you understand." She broke away from the Brotherhood, white robe and slightly hysterical giggles trailing in her wake.
"You better run!" Alistair shrieked. "You're finished! I swear to God, you're dead! You wouldn't be the first Sister to get burned."
Naomi and I just looked at each other for a moment, eyes wide and unblinking. Grace. Alistair was referring to Grace.
Screw the odds. Screw winning. The Brotherhood was going down.