1 | A Leaf in a Whirlwind

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Evanna Zeller launched a fusillade of blazing white arrows, and the undead mobs exploded in starbursts. Nothing more therapeutic than kicking ghoul butt at dawn. She proceeded to pound the keyboard, the rapid clicks carrying in the stillness of her room.

"Purupurupuru."

She threw a distracted glance at the phone vibrating on the tabletop.

"Purupurupuru."

Evanna reached out a hand in the gloom, keeping her eyes locked on the computer screen, and accidentally knocked the phone over. By the time she retrieved it, a rogue character had killed her lunar elf for honor points. She groaned.

Mondays were jinxed in her opinion—even when it was the most exciting Monday of her life.

She held a finger at the ready to silence her phone, but realized a split second later that the insistent plosives it was emitting were signaling an incoming call. Right, I made it the ringtone—not the alarm. Facepalm.

Evanna slapped the phone to her ear. "Ookie!"

"Hey," a sleepy female voice murmured. "Wow, you seem wide awake. I just got up."

"Yeah, I sort of couldn't sleep much. Anyways," Evanna said, a bubbly note entering her voice, "I can't wait to meet you!"

"Likewise. So, I'll meet you at the car park?"

"Yeah, that'd be cool." A weight lifted from her chest, and she broke into a beaming smile. "I'll see you soon."

Evanna ended the call and gazed up at the glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to the ceiling of her new room. Now that she was here, Komoreby was both exciting and scary—a living behemoth of a city, its glistening skyscrapers nested in groves of greenery. This was her chance at forging a future to reach the stars. Yet, when she stared at the ghost form of her dead elf, the worry she had tamped down reasserted itself. She needed at least a week to recharge. That's so not happening.

She padded over to the glass sliding door that led to her balcony. The morning sun painted the sky a kaleidoscopic array of colors and dispelled the mist that hung over the garden below. It was almost too good to be true that the universe had granted Evanna her deepest wish and the opportunity of a lifetime. In over an hour, she would be reuniting with her childhood bestie at the most prestigious school in the city—Komoreby High.

A nice dark outfit and some huffing later, Evanna trotted down into the eat-in kitchen, awash with light that streamed in through large windows. Her mom, Mary, and her aunt, Janet, were seated at the table, still clad in their nightclothes.

Janet looked up from her phone, her small ponytail ablaze with gold where the sun touched it. "Well, here she is! Look at that brilliant smile."

"G'morning to you too, Aunt Jan." Evanna's mouth made a valiant attempt to maintain her smile as she plopped down next to the women.

Mary piled fluffy pancakes onto her plate. "Ready for the big day, are we?"

"Yeah..." Evanna grabbed a banana from the fruit basket and settled back in her seat, curling her legs up in the process.

Her appetite had significantly diminished, partly due to the early hour, but she didn't have the heart to tell her mom that. It should be a bloody crime for school to start at eight!

She poured a generous amount of treacle onto her pancakes before sampling it. "Mm, thank you."

Mary smiled.

Evanna watched her tuck into her bowl of oatmeal, musing at how relaxed she was, even though they were far from Nuara, the quiet city she called home all her life.

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