✨ Chapter 16 ✨

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Shrieks broke the night's silence as the rabbit twisted away from Marian's light and slithered through the window. I must really be scaring it, thought Marian as she made it through to the other side.

The rabbit stopped and glanced back.

Confused, Marian stayed aloft without moving forward. She raised her voice. "Keep going! Go home, back to your Rabbit Hole. Or do you want to be chased?"

The rabbit let out another shrill cry.

Soft sparks of light—three of them—formed in the grass and rose in the air. The beast shrank under the yellow glow and shuddered, surrounded by fireflies on all sides.

Marian released a breath. "I don't know who you are, but you couldn't have come at a better time."

"You're right about the timing." One of the fireflies laughed. "But you'd better recognize your best friend."

Marian froze. "Sal?"

"And Endrik and Maz," said a second voice.

"What? But how?"

"There will be time for that later, Mari. Right now we need to hunt this rabbit."

"Get closer to it," called out Maz. "Second line, take your places!"

As Marian, Sal, Endrik, and Maz closed in on the rabbit, eight more drops of light lifted from the grass, forming an outer circle.

"Third line!"

Sixteen fireflies formed the next layer. The process repeated itself until a thick band of light surrounded the rabbit.

"Where did you all come from?" Marian breathed.

No one answered. The ground below glowed as the Glistens doused the beast in a swarm of cold light—constricted it—until its shadowy form was saturated with a golden glow, and began to glitter. With one last cry, the rabbit disintegrated and disappeared. Forever.

One by one, the Glistens returned to their human forms, followed by murmurs of laughter and congratulations. There was one fewer rabbit in the world to torment them, and to keep them from bringing their light to others.

Marian squinted to adjust to the fading glow, until she was able to see by the light of the streetlamps and the moon.

Professor Caustica stepped forward with Minx at her side. Marian cringed, hoping her eyes were still not quite right—that she was seeing things.

"You were my guardian Glisten all along?" Minx stared, her lips parted in disbelief. "I can't believe you did all that...for me."

Marian's eyes filled with tears. "You gave me no choice. I didn't want to embarrass you. You were already in so much pain. I had no idea..." She turned to Professor Caustica. "I didn't break any promise between a ward and her guardian. I don't know how all this happened."

Professor Caustica's eyelids formed narrow slits. "Then perhaps you should ask your friends. Sal Minikin, explain to Miss Spritz what happened here tonight." Her severe tone softened. "And then I will explain how this will affect your Last Chance project."

"What?" Marian's hands flew to her mouth.

Sal skipped across the grass and pulled Marian in for a tight squeeze. She pulled back and sniffled. "I'm so glad you're okay." Raising her voice for everyone to hear, she said, "I could tell something was worrying you, Marian. You weren't acting anything like yourself. I was sitting outside on the front porch when you rode by the other night. When I saw your helmet fall to the ground and a firefly lift off, I went to check it out. I'd know Blaine's ratty old bike anywhere, so I transformed and followed you."

"Why didn't I see you?"

"I kept low to the ground and decreased my glow as much as possible. Oh, Mari! The Rabbit Hole was huge and terrifying when we were in our firefly forms."

"You were the firefly I saw on my way to Minx's?"

Sal nodded. "I continued to follow you, keeping my light low and staying as hidden as possible. It wasn't until I overheard Minx talking about the promise you made—the unbreakable promise from a guardian to a ward—that I pieced it all together." She squeezed Marian's arm. "I told Endrik everything I'd seen and heard. Since I made no such promise to Minx, it wasn't technically broken."

"You've been keeping as close of a watch on me as I've been keeping on Minx?"

Endrik nodded, stepping forward. "We didn't want you to have to handle this on your own. When we said we wanted to hold up our end of the assignment, we meant it."

"And a job well done," said Professor Caustica. "A solution of this magnitude deserves an automatic pass to the next level."

Marian's mouth fell open. "How did you find out about this, Prof. C? How did you and all the other Glistens know to be here?"

"After today's class, your teammates came to me and explained what was happening." She pointed out eight more students, including the Fizzle twins, who'd gone back to their usual habit of following Minx around. "All of your classmates are here. All of them helped to respond to your ward's call and aided in defeating the rabbit."

Minx rubbed her arms with her hands. The scowl on her face betrayed a mixture of shock and embarrassment. She swiped at her eyes. "Everyone put themselves in danger for me?"

"You have nothing to fear, Miss Gullion, and you have done nothing wrong. I worried after not seeing you in class today too. From what Miss Minikin told me, I suspected the illness was making you weaker, and that the rabbit would strike again soon. So I instructed each of the students to meet here tonight, just in case. As to whether your classmates cared for your well-being as their primary motivation, I can't say. But I promised an automatic pass to every student who showed up to help out."

Marian's breath hitched. "How did you know this would happen tonight, Prof. C?"

"I didn't. The participating students were instructed to be here every night this week. Now that the event we needed to transpire has occurred, I will see to getting you a new home, Miss Gullion. One with a Glisten family under whose care you will be better protected."

Minx wiped back additional tears as she continued to sob. "Thank you."

Sal shook Marian out of her daze. "We all passed, Mari. No one fails! None of us will be excluded from being commissioned as Glistens."

A lump formed in Marian's throat. But what about Minx? She wasn't strong enough to transform and join the circle of light. She never answered another's call.

But she did help me figure out how to get the rabbit outside. To answer her own call for help. Will that be enough?

Marian bit her lip, relieved that Minx would be okay, yet worried that another rabbit might hunt her in the future.

Professor Caustica's yellow eyes slid back and forth between Marian and Minx. "It's time we return to our homes and rest.Instead of preparing for tomorrow's class, everyone please arrive dressed and ready for a commissioning ceremony." A glimmer of pride shone in her smile." That includes you, Miss Gullion."

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