✨ Chapter 7 ✨

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Marian knocked once. "It's me," she said.

"The door's open."

Sal lay on her bed, squishing her plushy butterfly pillow against her. Tear marks trailed down her cheeks. "This is the worst summer I've ever had." She sniffled.

Marian curled up next to her friend and squeezed her gently. "It will get better. It has to."

"I wish I could believe that."

"At least we have a reason to wander around the humans this weekend," Marian said, eyeing a doll propped on one of Sal's shelves. "Is that a human doll?"

"Yes." Sal smiled through another sniffle. "Gat bought it for me during a class trip. It's funny how humans make toys shaped like themselves."

Marian nodded. Glisten toys were always shaped like insects, animals, and flowers.

A knock sounded at the door. Sal groaned. "Go away, Maz."

"It's not Maz," called out a male voice.

The girls looked at each other with wide eyes. "Endrik," Sal whispered, jumping off the bed. "I'd almost forgotten he was here." She wiped her eyes before opening the door and flailing an arm toward the room. "You might as well join us in our misery. Do you mind being our scribe?"

Endrik looked around warily as he entered the room. He smiled softly when he saw Marian. "If you two are willing to brainstorm." He pulled the chair from Sal's desk and sat down, backwards; he rested his chin on folded arms.

"Never mind," said Sal, grabbing a pad of paper and a large fern pen dusted with glitter. "Your writing's terrible. It must have slipped my mind." She flopped to the ground and sat cross-legged in the center of a rug shaped like a violet blossom.

Marian stared at the ceiling for a moment. "We can't help someone until we first hear a call for help. I was just telling Sal that it would be fun to hang out near the humans to see if anything happens. One of us should feel something eventually..."

"Then we can shift into fireflies in order to follow them," added Sal. "To learn what's wrong. From there, we can figure out how best to help!" She scratched the pen furiously across the notebook, and then nodded.

Endrik shrugged. "There's no way to plan how to help until we are called. We can regroup and revisit that issue when we get to it, I guess."

"I wish I knew how Caustica was going to grade this," said Sal. "Who is she to decide whose project is better? What's she going to do—base it on the urgency of the human's need?" She blinked. "Does that mean we should hold out for a more difficult request so we can get a better grade?"

"Theoretically," mused Marian. "If everyone completes their projects, one of the groups will be cut no matter what."

"So maybe it doesn't matter that Minx and the Fizzles may have gotten a head start." She chewed on her pen. "For all we know, the call could have been from a bride—"

"—who needed her dandelions transformed to flame lilies," Marian laughed. This prompted a chuckle from Endrik, and before long, all three of them were tear-stricken with laughter.

Until Marian exhaled a sharp cry.

"Mari!" Sal was at her side in a moment. "What's happening? Should I get Maz?"

Marian's breathing grew heavier. She stared at the ceiling, clutching at her chest. "Not again," she moaned.

Sal and Endrik exchanged worried glances. "Not what again, Mari?" Sal asked, pressing a hand to her friend's forehead. "What's wrong?"

And then, as suddenly as the episode had started, it stopped. Marian breathed evenly as if nothing had happened. She shook her head. Her body jolted with surprise at her friend's nearness. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I don't know what's going on."

Endrik worked his jaw as a crease formed between his brows. "But this isn't the first time this has happened?"

"It wasn't as strong as last time—in class," she admitted. "How did you know?"

"I believe your exact words were not again. Let's get you some air," said Sal, pulling Marian toward the window—a basement slider used in rooms built partly underground. "And then you're going to tell us everything." On tiptoe, she slid the window open.

Marian caught her breath at the sight of Minx walking by; the golden threads of her gloves glinted as she passed. What's she doing out there? If she's so sick, shouldn't she be home in bed? Narrowing her eyes, Marian took in Minx's appearance. She walked slowly, as if her steps were measured by pain or an attempt at stealth. After inhaling a breath, Marian glanced inside the room to see if Endrik had noticed. He sat in the same spot, balancing a pencil with a fingertip. His lips were set in a thoughtful frown.

Marian figured Sal would have made a huge deal of it—had she been tall enough to see outside the window when Minx passed by.

Turning slowly, Marian bit on her lower lip. "Minx didn't appear to be faking her fainting episode earlier today, did she?"

Endrik shrugged. "It was as genuine as anyone looks passing out, I guess. She fell down hard too—like a sack of bricks. How did you miss that, Marian?"

"Because, just like now, I couldn't hear anything over the buzzing. And, other than Prof. C's lips moving, everything and everyone in the room felt frozen in time. Stranger yet, part of it felt pleasant—like a song that felt familiar at one time..."

Sal pulled her lips back in horror. "All that happened? Today? When Caustica was reading from the book? And this was the first time you thought to tell us about it?"

Marian raised her palms. "I didn't know what was going on. I didn't think—"

Sal's lower lip trembled. "That's the trouble, Mari. You didn't think. We've been wasting the evening sitting here brainstorming—completely clueless that you'd already felt the call. We could have started following your ward by now. Do you know who it is?"

"I, um," Marian fumbled.

"Sal, wait," said Endrik. "I don't think she knows who it is."

Sal regarded Marian, puzzled, even more so than Marian. Her hand grabbed the end of her braid at the same time she sucked in a breath. "You really weren't paying attention during the regular session, were you?"

Marian frowned. Endrik strode across the room and caught her chin with his hand. The intensity in his gaze haunted her. The buzzing—the singing in your veins. That was due to the lifting of the veil. You felt a cry for help."

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