Lunch with Zaren and Dervinias was uneventful. But, at least she left for her next class feeling better. Renewed. Zaren had that effect on her. It didn’t last long, though.

All around her girls were changing from their regular clothes into what they called: gym clothes. Oddly, they put the clothes they’d been wearing into a tall rectangle, pulled out others and changed. After they’d slam the door, some girls would twist a black circular thing. Watching a few minutes, she realized that was where the numbers for the combination went. Right 23. Left 42. Right 11. Her combination number. She tried it on the locker with the number she’d been given.

It worked. Inside was . . . nothing. She went back to the long wooden bench and sat, panicked. 

What should I do? Leave. I could walk back to Dervinias’s. This whole school thing’s a waste anyway

“Hey,” a girl with long red hair said. “You gonna sit there all day?” She was about Venus’s size, with porcelain skin and honey eyes. “You’re new, right?”

“Visiting.” She held up the macaroni badge. “I didn’t plan on P.E.” Venus peered down at her clothes for emphasis.

“I have an extra set you can borrow.” She opened her locker and threw Venus a pair of gold shorts and a white t-shirt, with some sort of gold animal head on its front. Across the top, outlined in black, the shirt said: South High Bison. “What size shoe you wear?”

Venus shook her head.

“Here, try them on.” She tossed her a pair of white shoes.

Ah cret! She’d have to remove her boots again.   “Thank you, ah—”

“The name’s Tawny. And you’re welcome. Those boots are way sexy. Where’d you get them?”

Venus searched the locker room, pretending to think about it. Casually, she tucked her feet under the bench. Other girls had stopped to listen and she didn’t want too much attention drawn to the thumping heart or the glowing arrow in the heels. “I can’t remember the name,” she replied, facing Tawny again.

“Huh, well hang on to those. You wouldn’t want to lose them.” Venus detected a flicker of envy, and . . . cunning. She’d seen the look on her sister many times. Right before she accused Venus of something awful. There were also the Cairna spiders, the way they lured you into their invisible web using what her people called The Soul Song. Once they sensed your presence, it was almost impossible to escape death. Was Tawny luring her with kindness?  Perhaps.

She took a breath in an effort to speak with force, but an overflow of perfume, shampoo, hairspray and sweat in the air pummeled her lungs. And she coughed. And coughed. And coughed.

Tawny cleared her throat. “You okay?”

Venus nodded. “Fine.”

“Who are you visiting? Dervinias, right? I know him, so I can find you if you don’t give me back my stuff.” She smiled. It looked wild and cruel.

“Of course.”

Tawny and the other girls turned and walked out of the locker room.

Alone, she took off her boots. Apprehension at the idea of leaving them tore at her. She hoped continued removal wouldn’t make the toxic air even more detrimental.

YES, a voice shouted inside her head.

To her knowledge, no kelarian had ever removed their boots before finishing their immortal’s journey. She’d already taken hers off a few times. And, to make matters worse, she kept doing it on Planet Killer—Earth.

“Cret,” she swore, knowing she was going to take them off anyway. It’d only be for forty-five minutes, she told herself, hoping such a short amount of time wouldn’t make a difference. Three. Two. One. Venus pulled on the tongue and watched her boots unlatch themselves. Removing them, she carefully put them in an empty locker. Then she changed and went to the gym.

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