Sneak Peek: Blood Rebirth Chapter 1 – 3

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Blood Rebirth- "This is a page turner that one can't put down"-- Cranky Book Reviews

CHAPTER ONE

Time Jell-O

I’m not going to lie to you, not yet, but what’s true or not is for you to decide. Half expecting to be arrested and turned into the council, never to be seen or heard from again, still lingered in the forefront of my mind. I was labeled an anomaly the guardians were sent to dispose of.

All of this led me to where I was now, needing to find my mother before the council realized the person they’d been hunting was right next to them, shaking their hand and saying, ‘Hello, teach me all of your magical ways.’

“State of what?” I looked at the blue slime Professor Divine was pushing into my skin with her glowing hands. It felt like my insides were on fire, icy fire. The goop was being excreted from her fingertips and massaged in bubbles, my skin concave as she pressed in until suddenly the blue jelly popped and burned. 

“Crystal, stop fidgeting.” Divine continued, “The gel will preserve the parts of you still functioning as homin.” That’s what they called humans. From the way the word slithered off her tongue, I could tell she didn’t mean it in a good way. She didn’t seem to be particularly fond of my serpent DNA that let the venom run rampant. But odder still, she appeared even less fond of my human DNA.

I wondered how much of me remained from who I used to be. How much was still human? Or homin, as the locals would say.

Coming to Ealdred was my only choice, though the moon ring did most of the work. I needed to find a diviner powerful enough to help my body transition from human to serpent without having to bond with a man I hardly knew. If you consider him a man, that is. Damien wasn’t exactly an angel, though he liked to swoop in and act like one… dark, brooding, and hypnotizing me with those handsome violet eyes.

Damien was one of those guardians, but I was fortunate his motives were driven by self-preservation before any loyalty to his job. That loyalty did, however, make things more complicated when he decided to make it his mission to eliminate the other anomaly on his list… Lathar. Otherwise known as my best friend… Victor.

So, here I was getting my body purified, possibly the weirdest experience I’d had all year, and a lot of weird happened to me these past few months. The head of the Divining Department at Ealdred University, Professor Divine, yes Divine as in, “The Divine Council”, divine, was putting my body into a ‘state of timelessness’ as she called it. She was my best chance at beating the venom coursing through my veins, slowly turning me into a serpent.

“It burns!” I felt my whole-body twitch. Based on the prickling sensations, I’d say all of me was still me. It felt all-too-human.

“It won’t for long. It’ll coat the organs that need it and absorb within a week or so.”

I merely growled in response, hyper-focused on the sensation searing through my organs. My eyes darted all over the place, trying desperately to find a distraction from the pain.

The office was filled with geometric modern amenities, a drastic contrast to the medieval grandeur of the velvet drapes and the stone castle walls. Too many times to count, I contemplated how to turn the ring back on and find a beam of moonlight to bring me back home. Everything was like they expected my arrival, and yet no one knew anything, and yet everything, about me.

Which one was it? Did they know me, or not know me? It was hard to say, but I wasn’t about to leave without finding out. As long as they needed to keep me alive for the transition, I was safe. As long as they didn’t know I was the descendant of the Abernithy line, the anomaly they were hunting for, then I’d be safe. For now, all I thought of was the pain of the ‘timeless’ treatment and that the ring was doing more than helping my magic. It was protecting my identity. Why else would they help me instead of locking me up or eliminating me?

“Treatment will continue until you’re fully cleansed.”

“We have to do this again?” My eyes bulged at the idea.

“Until you’re cured of the homin.” Professor Divine seemed to just shrug off the whole thing. Like humanity was something you could live without, an appendix of the supernatural realms, not necessary but still a ticking time bomb nonetheless.

“Yeah, next week will be different.” I rolled my eyes, thinking with my luck it wouldn’t happen that easy. I could already see this as my weekly doctor visit, complete with burning torture chamber and complementary minty toothpaste smell. On the bright side, there were worse things one could smell like, and I would be one of the few people whose nose would be assaulted by it. I wrinkled my nose.

“Toothpaste,” she finished my thought, “Well, you’ll always smell like lilacs to me.” She read my mind, a much deeper mind invasion than what I’d ever experienced with Aislin, the only other diviner I knew, and one of my closest friends. I regretted not having trusted her enough when my life got turned upside down. If I could do it all over again, I’d have told her everything. Now, I felt too scared to say anything.

“I could always change the smell. Isn’t mint ice cream your favorite? I thought the smell would be comforting.” How’d she do that? Know my favorite ice-cream flavor when I never told her? It seemed like a mundane thing to worry about, but if she knew about my ice cream preferences, what else did she know?

Aislin had given me her energy to survive, pushing it into me to prevent my aura from collapsing in on itself. When that happened, she’d inadvertently sense my feelings and pick up on my thoughts, but with Professor Divine, it felt different. More invasive.

I felt bad that she was doing all this work to keep me alive and functioning properly, while I secretly mistrusted everything about her. You know, the simple stuff like not passing out in the middle of the courtyard or something; that was important.

They had one of those, a courtyard, that’s how big this place was, but I didn’t trust it at all. I needed to heed my father’s warnings about the council taking my mother away. Who knew what would happen if they found out the same blood coursed through my veins as the person they kidnapped sixteen years ago?

I shivered, and Professor Divine furrowed her brow like she was trying to figure me out. That made two of us. Something was off, and I couldn’t place my finger on it. Everything felt so uncomfortable, and I’m not even including the tingling sensations I felt from her magic.

I’d trusted Aislin, at least as much as I could. She’d done nothing but try to help me. Let me live with her for two years, hidden what she was, what I was that whole time. Why? It was too late to ask her, and the last words she said to me before I disappeared into the moon ring’s magic echoed in my mind. ‘I’ll find you.’

My heart ached… I wanted desperately for Aislin to find me so I wouldn’t be trapped here all alone.

Despite him not remembering the best times we shared together, I’d dragged Victor with me through the portal created by the moon ring. I never wanted to go through this by myself, and yet here I was, navigating this new world of supernatural chaos, all alone.

The moon ring transported us both straight into the lion’s den, where the council was known by everyone. Where my mom had probably gone after using that same magic. Victor never woke up after passing through the portal. It was only meant for people with divine magic, and even if he was awake, he didn’t remember most of the last year we spent together. He’d had a lot of lives to live through, and sadly, he hardly remembered the one he shared with me.

I still had trouble calling him Shakespeare. It was the first name I gave him when he wore a different face. Yeah, shifters could do that, change their faces to the last person they fed from.

For the past year, he was Victor, the coffee shop boy, my best friend, the supernatural believer, my handsome protector, and not until recently, the serpent that bit me. You’d think I’d be upset about that, but he was only trying to help save me from another serpent siphoning off my energy. He wasn’t my Victor anymore.

Shaking my head, I brought my attention back to Professor Divine. “So, that’s it? No energy transfer, no come to Jesus chants?” I asked. Was transitioning as easy as Jell-O, just add water? How was she so in tune with my thoughts without exchanging energy with me like Aislin?

“You’ll still be tired. This won’t help.” Her eyebrows knitted together concerned.

“But I thought—”

“This isn’t a panacea Crystal. Your body is healing itself and transforming. The process expends considerable energy. And I wouldn’t mingle my energy with yours in the state you’re in, that’s a dangerous practice taught only when one has control over their own energy first.

“It’d be wasteful to force-feed someone who has no idea how to chew or swallow.” Only partially answering my questions, she paused, then shook her head and laughed. With one last smirk, she flicked the extra blue jelly from her fingers, and it disappeared, evaporating into the air.

I’d have knocked the smirk right off her smug face if she weren’t the one preventing my death march from spiraling into oblivion. That sounded ungrateful, but I didn’t appreciate the way she snubbed her nose at me like I was an insect she was graciously cupping in her palm, fit only to be scooped up and deposited outside.

How much did she really knew about me? The way she finished my sentences before I even started them creeped me out.

“If I were across campus thinking about you, would you still be able to pick around in my brain?” I raised an eyebrow, trying to gauge the extent of her mind trick. Did it only work when she was in the room? Or was she always listening? Or only when I thought about her?

“Good things, I hope.” She didn’t answer. This was a running theme with this school. Divine just smiled and wiped her hands on her black robes. She had a way of exuding mystery. She’d always respond to your questions but leave you with a sense of omission.

I chalked it up to a teacherly thing. They’ll give you knowledge, but they want you to seek out the extra ten percent on your own.

In this case, it was an extra ninety percent I wanted. I pressed my lips together, unable to shake the feeling it wasn’t a teacher thing at all, but a deliberate act to keep me in the dark.

“You’ll be staying at the Genesis dorms.”

I was going to come up with an excuse about how much my body ached and that I was too tired to move just yet, but as I thought about it, all the pain disappeared.

Looking down at my hands, I saw a piece of paper I didn’t remember having before clasped within my fist. I eased up my grip and flattened out the wrinkles to see it was a schedule:

 

First Period:Serpent Lore

Second Period:Astral Affinity

Third Period: Biology

Lunch Hour

Fourth Period: Divine Craft 101

Fifth Period: Math and Magic

Sixth Period:Guardian Training 101

 

I coughed when I saw “Biology” and “Math”. Some mystical school this was. Here I thought I’d escaped normal human classes. Ok, really, I was just trying to escape supernatural anything, but now I was here I just wanted to be normal. Whatever normal meant when you were at a school for old realm magic that was also the home of the serpents.

Staying under the radar to find my mom was my top priority. She could tell me why the council wanted dreamwalkers so badly and why she never came back to teach me herself.

Tension built up in my chest when I tried to breathe, realizing I was betting on my mom wanting me here and being on my side. Was I setting myself up for disappointment? Was she even still… alive?

I gulped.

“Do be careful.” Professor Divine smiled at me and handed me another piece of paper.

A map.

“What about my…”

“Mother,” Professor Divine finished my sentence and then continued, “The Oracle, mother to us all, is merely the vessel of the races’ unity. Everyone is welcome to see her when they’re capable. Train hard, and you’ll get to meet her one day. She has mentioned you in the prophecy leading us to her successor. We consider this very high praise and expect exceptional things from you.”

The one place that might know what happened to my actual mother had no idea who I was.

Did they really think just because I came through the portal that I’d lead them to their next “Oracle”?

The magic of the moon ring must’ve prevented them from seeing my true identity. Terror filled me, at any moment they’d find out the truth, and I’d be sent to the dungeons. They probably had those here too.

I didn’t know who to trust. Finding information about my mother might be as simple as looking up my family name in the library.

Little did I know.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

Guardians

I wasn’t explicitly told not to go exploring, but Professor Divine’s comment about being ‘safe’ wasn’t exactly reassuring either. Maybe part of me relied on this cockeyed notion that since my mother came here before, things were going to work out now. Everything would come together.

Then again, I’d never even met my mother before, and she never came back. Panic crept up my spine. I might never see Aislin or the dance studio we worked at again.

“Welcome to Ealdred University—a school for old realm powers and home of the Serpents,” a professor earlier that day had said. He never did tell me his name. That could’ve been a test to see if I had psychic abilities. Anything was possible.

The map Professor Divine gave me was completely unhelpful. It showed a few buildings, but none of them were marked. Red circles highlighted different points of interest on the buildings, and the only noticeable landmarks were fountains and the courtyards between them. As I wandered the halls, wondering where the library was, I got this sinking feeling there was something much scarier going on here. It seemed like I was the only person on campus. A creepy prickling ran across my skin, and I jumped, tripping over myself.

“Whoa, outta the way!”

I fell to the ground, hearing voices yelling at me from the thin, empty air. Obviously, I wasn’t alone.

“Hello?” I squinted up from the dirt but saw nothing.

“Everyone knows the courtyard is Guardian Territory during sixth period.” The voice said, and as soon as it registered, a blurry face appeared in front of me. Soon a boy’s face sharpened into focus, and I blushed.

“I… I…” Not a single word other than ‘perfect’ came to mind, not that kind of perfect, but the ‘great-not-this-again’ kind of perfect. Even the scar across his lower lip was rugged and handsome. I found myself being lured into a superficial sense of safety. The worst kind of safety.

He offered his hand to me.

“We’re not used to visitors.” He smiled.

“I didn’t see anyone…” I looked around, and when I looked back at him his whole body was visible, decked out in leather armor studded with metal and a strange contraption on his arm. It looked kind of like a gauntlet but pulsed with green energy.

He was dressed like a warrior, ready to protect me from my worries, ready to do whatever was necessary to my current existence as pleasurable as possible. To chop down obstacles, beat down foes, and release me from my burdens.

I shook my head, returning to the reality that no one would be coming to my rescue. My body tensed up and my walls reinforced. I was in this by myself.

“We’re astral training, but it’s still dangerous to be here. Not everyone is fully trained and—” he was cut off.

A blade protruded from a thin slice in the air next to him, crashing down on his gauntlet. The loud clank startled me, and his other arm pulled me close to his firm chest. I felt his flesh pulse behind the armor. He was not a serpent; their hearts didn’t beat so fast. The gauntlet glowed bright and looked like a light shield bouncing the weapon off. I squinted as it faded to a translucent etching, visible only as the sun glinted off its surface.

I pushed him off of me and glared, “I’m supposed to be here.” I didn’t want anyone’s help anymore. I needed to take care of myself, even though without his help, I probably would’ve been a sliced ham at the hands of that sword. My gratefulness didn’t prevent me from shoving the schedule in his smug face. He turned red.

Then I remembered my schedule listed this class for sixth period. My shoulders tensed as I realized this wouldn’t be the last time I had to deal with this stranger.

“So you are.” He cracked his neck from side to side and then waved his hand for me to pass. “After you, then.”

I focused my eyes and saw the blurs in the background, just like when I was on the astral plane with Aislin. Except this time, I was on the other side, seeing the ghosts behind the curtain. The bushes moved even though there wasn’t a breeze today. The grass blades fogged up and flattened like boots were stomping and sliding across the surface.

It didn’t take me long to realize there was a battle going on beyond the veil, and no normal human being would notice the subtleties of how the landscape seemed to change just slightly with their invisible movements. Even my new eyes could barely catch them, and I didn’t even know what to look for.

The air pulsed with energy. It cooled near my arm. Hairs on my skin heightened. Quickly, I stepped back, instinct taking over, avoiding an unseen foe. Wind blew past my shoulder, and immediately I looked back at the young warrior beside me. I glared at his amused smile.

“Impressive.” He took a step forward and to guard me from anything else that might come at me from the astral plane.

“Were you just going to let me get slashed?” I scowled at him.

“It was only a shield; you’d just have a bruise.” He shrugged. His aloofness just added to my irritation at this whole place. Out of all the answers I was looking for, I wasn’t looking for a new school, a new life, and an annoying guardian. I just wanted to find my mother and a cure for my supernatural disease.

“Just a bruise, some guardian you are.” I held my arm to my side with my other hand, as if that might protect it from future attacks.

“I’m not your guardian.” His smile broadened and those eyes scoured over me like I was a fun new toy to tease.

“You’re not anyone’s guardian yet, Lyone.” Another shadow materialized in front of us. Like a mist, it slowly revealed a woman in a black robe, just like what Professor Divine wore.

“Professor Valteeze.” He lowered his head to her.

“What is the first rule of the code?” She touched one finger to his chin and lifted his head. For a moment, I saw the vulnerability in his whole being. It surprised me, after his blustering bravado.

“Harm none, protect your charge.” He recited back and pounded his chest with his fist. His words held a sense of power.

“Were you following this code?” She pushed his chin to the side and turned toward me. Her pink eyes made me feel like he wasn’t the only one in trouble. I forced myself not to wince under her scrutiny.

He said nothing but dipped his head down again.

“Crystal.” I hadn’t given her my name. My back stiffened in response to her attention, and I realized I couldn’t hear her blood pound through her veins like I could others. It made it difficult to read whether she was upset with me, or just a stone-cold teacher of discipline.

“Yes.” I felt my hand twitching to lift to my head like a soldier but caught myself before looking any more foolish. What did I know about the military outside of documentaries and TV shows? Nothing.

“You aren’t prepared for class.”

I cringed and sighed. I wasn’t prepared to be here at all, let alone in a class called Guardian 101. What were they expecting on my first day here? That I would charge into class already knowing everything? Don’t worry guys, I got this, watch while I stun you with my miraculous ability to read your thoughts. What were you supposed to bring to such a class? Books? Gauntlets? Swords? Shields? It wasn’t listed on the schedule. Professor Divine didn’t say anything about supplies provided, or that I would even start class today. Onboarding was seriously lacking here.

“You weren’t expected until tomorrow. You are scheduled for theory of Guardianship in study hall before participating in astral training grounds.” That was news to me. At least I knew where I needed to be tomorrow. She sniffed the air noticeably before continuing, “You’ve been with Professor Divine.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yes.”

“Strange,” she hesitated, “She gave you a map.” Again, not asking. Those eyes seemed to bore into my brain, searching for information. Did all the professors have some sort of weird brain worm or something? This wasn’t a place to ignore the rules if every one of them could just crawl through you and read your mind. I wanted to shiver at the thought, but that smug look on Lyone’s face squashed any chance of that happening. I’d wait to freak out in private, no matter how much my skin crawled.

“Don’t wander the grounds without an escort.” She nodded to Lyone. “Take her directly to her room.”

“But class?” He moaned.

“That wasn’t a request, Mr. Green.” She flipped her long red ponytail over her shoulder and then dematerialized into the mist from where she came.

“Well, aren’t you special.” He passed me without looking back. He walked with his back straight and his gauntlet pinging at the air, flashing like a beacon every time something from the veil slammed on it. He wasn’t stopping, and I just stood there in the middle of the courtyard staring at him. Who did he think he was anyway?

“Wouldn’t want your delicate features to get bruised.” He called back, “Might want to follow.”

I unstuck my feet and rolled my shoulders back, firmly placing one foot in front of the other. I took each step deliberately, not just because he annoyed me, and I didn’t want to rush to meet him, but also because it took a lot of concentration to see whether there was a blurring figure in the air around me that might emerge from the veil to bash me into the netherworld.

From what I could tell, no blurry figures or shadows moved around me. I could only hope Professor Valteeze had called for a ceasefire until we were out because otherwise, I’d have to admit I was walking through a minefield I couldn’t detect by myself.

I bumped my shoulder into Lyone when I caught up. “The only thing bruised was your ego.”

“Did it take you the whole field to think up?” He smirked at me, his eyes bearing down. Tall people seemed to be more intimidating seen from below, but I wasn’t about to let him know that. I held my breath and pressed my lips together. He was right, it did take me all that time to think up a witty retort, but I wouldn’t let him know that.

“Would you rather I shout it out loud so all your buddies can hear?” I paused on purpose so it looked like I was contemplating doing just that, but my words didn’t seem to faze him. I had to force the issue by lifting my hand to my mouth like I was going to blow-horn the announcement and said, “I could do it now if you’d prefer, yell so even the astral plane could hear what a—”

He interrupted, “Who taught you to be so obnoxious?”

“Me obnoxious? Says the guy who could have easily just stayed in the astral plane protecting me instead of showboating like some sort of hero.” I scoffed. I knew his type well enough. He just wanted me to go all mushy faced and say how cool he was to help. Wasn’t going to happen.

“I’m your hero, am I?” He grinned on purpose to irritate me.

“Yup, you just listen to half the words you hear like any other man.” Such a doofus, I thought.

“Man? You’re in the wrong place if you’re looking for homins.” Cocking an eyebrow, we turned and walked in silence for a while, and I thought about what he said. He had a heartbeat, so he wasn’t a serpent. His lip was scarred, so he probably didn’t have any supernatural healing abilities. I was stumped. He seemed human to me, and human was all I wanted to be. But he was right, I wasn’t… anymore, was I?

“You aren’t?” I asked finally.

“You remind me of someone I’ve met before.” He shook his head. “Just don’t go wandering around the campus without knowing where things are, or at the very least learn how to use a map. A guardian isn’t always going to be around to protect you.”

Learn to use the maps? He talked about it like it was an interactive object. For all I knew it was. I peeled the map open again and stared at it like it was an illusion picture that would magically show me an elephant if I focused my eyes in opposite directions. Looking, I was certain, like a cross-eyed dunce, I was forced to blink. Luckily, I stopped trying to figure out the map just in time to see he was quickly outpacing me. I doubted I’d figure out this map and find the Genesis Tower if I lost track of him.

“If I’m taking Guardian 101, doesn’t that mean I can protect myself?” I picked up our last conversation thread hoping he would stop and let me catch up.

“Guardian 101 is a test for new arrivals, everyone is required to take it. That doesn’t make you a guardian.” His face hardened, he looked like he could charge into battle right then. Even his eyes were full of fire. His elitism picked at my last nerve. What made him think I was incapable of passing? I was here, wasn’t I? Didn’t that count for something?

“I suppose I’ll just have to pass Guardian 101 then.” I smiled, not just because defending myself sounded like a great idea, but also because the comment made him stop walking.

I didn’t know if I even wanted to be a guardian, but there was something appealing about having the council train the very person they were trying to capture. Lyone stared at me, confused, or perhaps he was trying to read me. Either way, I didn’t like the way he was examining me. I couldn’t afford to let anyone get too close.

My secrets needed to stay locked in my heart.

“You don’t even know what it means to be a guardian.” He began walking again, and now his pace got progressively faster. I had trouble keeping up with him. Even his feet seemed to blur.

“Being a guardian must mean being a jerk if you’re becoming one.” I huffed when he finally stopped in front of a tower. The Genesis Tower. It was as just as tall as a skyscraper in New York, but more medieval and covered in moss and vines instead of spilled coffee in the morning and piss in the evening. I wrinkled my nose, I wouldn’t miss the smell of drunks in a big city, not that I ever traveled far from home much.

Home…

“I could’ve gone faster, but I figured that would’ve made your heart work too much.” He smirked at me. He was purposefully trying to wear me down; he didn’t like me much. My eyes turned down and I sighed. I didn’t care anyway. I mean, I didn’t like him much either.

Lyone didn’t know how right he was about being able to wear me out. I didn’t know how long it would take for my body to get better, or whether I would be an indefinite spot on Professor Divine’s burning jelly torture schedule, every Tuesday for the rest of my existence. However long that existence was. Would I ever see home again? I didn’t have Aislin, Damien, or even Victor, I mean Shakespeare, to force-feed me energy anymore.

I said nothing.

“This is the Genesis Tower. This is as far as I can take you. No men allowed. There is a long hallway, don’t pass out.” Pivoting, he left me in front of a pair of mammoth-sized brass doors, with knockers the size of bowling balls. I sucked in a breath. Was this it? How long was I going to be here?

“No worries, my heart already stopped working a week ago. I’ll be fine,” I said, mostly to myself, but I sensed a stuttered step at my remark. Mustering self-control, I forced myself not to turn around and face him. I could do this myself, I didn’t need any more grief from him.

Shaking my head, I thought about what this whole experience would’ve been like under different circumstances. If I wasn’t the daughter of an Abernithy diviner they wanted magic from. If my mom had sent me here because it was time to learn more about my heritage and how to manage my powers. As it was… I was an Abernithy, making me a target of the council’s power play. My mom was taken from me before I had a chance to even know her, and this school was not my new home.

I pushed the heavy door open enough for me to slip through. Once I was inside, I snuck a quick glance through the door’s opening. He was gone.

Moments passed and I shut the door behind me with my back to it. Closing my eyes, I couldn’t place why I suddenly felt a haunting ache in my belly.

“The Genesis Tower.” I repeated while gazing down the curved hallway in front of me. I thought I remembered a room number listed on my schedule. I dug in my pockets, looking for the piece of paper, and then it hit me. Lyone had it. I didn’t get it back from him when I shoved it at him. Lost, with a faulty map, and no idea where to go, I began to walk down the hallway aimlessly. I had to belong somewhere around here.

A trembling plea begged to escape, Aislin please find me. I took a chunk of my hair, sucking on the strands to stifle the urge to scream and run back out those doors. Run until the moonlight came so I could plunge through its light, hoping to be sent back home.

I couldn’t go back though, not until I learned what happened to my mom and figured out how to beat the venom before Professor Divine’s magic wore off. This school could teach me more about this world, more about what I was up against.

 

CHAPTER THREE

Buck and the Moon

The corridors were circular, winding around like a staircase. I began to notice as I walked around, and around, and around that the circle seemed to keep on going forever. I touched the wall to steady myself; the spiral was messing with my equilibrium. There were no turn-offs in sight, except the passing doorways, which all looked the same. As I passed each one, my mind played tricks with me. Had I already passed that door? I very well may have. I slid to the ground, and it felt awkward, more so than being a weirdo sitting in the middle of a hallway.

I inched my hand down the floor and it clicked. Not the floor, just my brain. The floors were slanted like walking up a hill, barely noticeable at first. I heard a thump from behind the door in front of me. If I still had blood pressure, it would have been sky-high.

A bone-chilling scream echoed down the hall. I flinched and sprinted back down the corridor. The run was dizzying. Walls circled around me as I rushed to the exit.

My skin prickled, and the air was stale. My feet moved so fast, I could’ve sworn I’d be at the bottom again staring at the front double doors in no time. I should’ve already been there.

I hadn’t been walking along the hallway for long. I grabbed at my chest, feeling the pressure building in my lungs. The goop Professor Divine had pushed into my body was keeping them functioning, even though they were some of the last shreds I had left of humanity. It felt like severe heartburn. My fists clenched in pain and my muscles seized.

I smelled it then, the rusty iron in the air.

Turning to the side, I realized it was the same door as before. Most of the doors all looked alike, but some of them had decorations on them. This one wasn’t decorated, really, more like marked. Someone defaced it, a typical school prank like a stupid sign taped to someone’s backpack as they walked around the halls, but this one wasn’t quite so tame as all that. I thought about removing the sign until I heard the thump again. The scream was still bouncing around my mind in echoes. What was I supposed to do?

The walls kept turning, and my feet were near to stumbling with the feeling the whole floor was off-kilter.

Again, the door appeared, marked with red paint above and a picture of a dead bird inside a clear wine bottle push-pinned into the wood. It had the words, Bottle the Freak, in the same red paint on the blank wine label. The paint was still wet and some of the letters dripped like blood. I hesitated, but my curiosity won over to see the smaller letters below: Only one wish away.

The insult didn’t make sense to me, but when did bullies ever make sense anyway? My eyes narrowed, despite not knowing its exact meaning. Knowing it was cruel was enough to make my cheeks flush with heat.

I touched the red paint. It was sticky and stuck to my fingers. Something came over me. It was strong and visceral. I lapped up the liquid with my tongue and groaned. I creeped myself out more than the picture ever could. It tasted like candy. Honest to goodness cherry lollipops and sugar syrup, and the smell of iron filled my nostrils.

Like a rabid cat, I ripped the picture from the door and crumpled it up. Half of me wanted to eat it and the other half wanted to throw it out of my sight, no… farther than that, I needed it far away from my senses. I wrinkled my nose, more at myself because I didn’t find the iron smell offensive at all. That was the problem.

The door opened in front of me.

I jumped back. What should’ve been just a mere step actually threw me against the opposite wall. My body had never been so fast, to be able to jump back in one bound. No one was in the doorway, but I didn’t feel alone. An invisible force drew me inside like a fish on a line. Baited, hooked, and reeled into a choice; would I be dinner, a trophy, or thrown back?

“Who’s there?” I whispered, my hands shaking.

No answer.

I entered the room.

The dorm room was a palace for someone of fanciful tastes. There were ornate curtains and drapery all over the place. It reminded me of a harem an eastern emperor might have, not that I’ve ever been to one. But it was everything I’d imagine in a room of Eastern luxury.

Vibrant fabrics sparkled without an obvious source of light, twilight stars in a sky-less room. Beautifully ornate rugs and carpets decorated the floor. The bed looked like a big cushion on the ground with a canopy of silks, satins, and chiffon cascading from the ceiling around it. It was amazing. I felt transported into a magical and far away land, different from the one I’d already discovered. I’d never traveled outside the states, but now I knew what that might feel like. Was I still in the Genesis Tower Dorm?

From beneath the canopy of heavy, layered fabrics around the bed, something stirred. The breeze picked up the fabric, which should’ve been impossible without a gust, given how heavy they must have been. I froze as a horn wrapped in spiraling black rings protruded from the opening between the fabrics. If my heart wasn’t already dead, it would’ve stopped right then.

I held my breath, preparing myself. The door snapped closed as if it knew what I was thinking. I couldn’t run, not this time.

I heard the huff of an animal’s flaring nostrils and backed away slowly. And just as slowly, the head of a buck emerged. Its black eyes were set firmly on me.

I froze.

I should’ve hidden or ran, but all I could do was admire the creature. The lure of it mixed with fear tortured me. The buck’s horns were scary but fascinating. They curved and rings spiraled up the staff. I’d never heard or even seen a picture of a buck with markings on them. I knew bucks had horns, and albino bucks were very rare. Heck, albino of any species was rare. The creature was unmistakably beautiful and full of power.

It was this attraction that defied all logic that had me reaching out my hand to touch it. Feel the fur between my fingers and touch the sharp point of its horns. I couldn’t help it, I was drawn to the markings across its body. There were henna tattoos all through its white hair that glowed a light blue like the stars in the night sky. It shook its head at me like it was establishing dominance, and I quickly took my hand back. No need to risk losing it just yet.

It rose before me. With any swift movement, he could spear me with his sharp horns if threatened. I bit my lip and closed my eyes, waiting to be skewered like a shish kabob.

I concentrated, remembering what Aislin, my white guardian, told me about the ring I on my finger. The moon ring, the only object strong enough to transport a person through the astral plane—mind, body, and all. Slow, steady, and deliberate, I brought my hand up with the ring on it. It was made of redwood and held a ruby crystal between its twined confines. I opened my eyes and the ring glowed but then dimmed. I sighed. It wasn’t going to work without the help of the moon’s rays.

“You wear the power of the moon.” A voice vibrated through the room. The buck’s horns receded into its head. The henna tattoos glowed brightly, and the buck bowed, his two front legs buckling before me.

In a blink, the whole room was gone.

I was sitting in the hallway outside the door as if I hadn’t moved at all from when I first got there. Shaking my head from the haze, I heard footsteps creaking on the floorboards. My hands felt clammy, and they slipped on the stone walls as I tried to get to my feet. The air was thick with my fear, and the buck’s black eyes were still haunting my thoughts. Stumbling, I heard the click of the door’s latch in front of me. All I could think of was the council, maybe they had found me, and this was an elaborate plot to trap me.

The door burst open.

I screamed.

 


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