1.2 | Monsters in the Shadows

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Then they peeled off in separate directions, apparently going back to their regular duties. Perhaps she should have been flattered by Kovachev's enlisting four full-grown men to help. Nika had a certain reputation for being difficult sometimes. Some might have even called her a hellcat.

She scanned the lobby while the headmaster spoke softly to a receptionist. There was movement from a hallway to the left, and when her eyes landed on a familiar, angelic figure, she felt a wave of relief.

Lu emerged from the corridor with a female keeper, who wasn't here to contain Lu, but to guard her. All keepers, whether young or old, male or female, were protectors of the Serafi race. It was literally in the Vigil's job description.

Nika rushed toward her sister-friend. Lu made a small squeaking noise and caught her hands.

"I'm so sorry," she said. "I had to tell them."

Even when twisted in distress, Lu's face was ethereally beautiful. Her hair was like glittering moonlight, streaming over delicate shoulders and a collared blouse. With skin the color of cocoa powder and bright lavender eyes, Luiza Lazarov was too captivating to ignore.

Like all Serafi, she possessed regal height and an air of grace and charisma. Being a Nefili—and just plain short—Nika had to lift her chin to look at Lu directly.

"Tell them what?"

"About our spot. I know how much you love that place."

Nika's heart sank. That's all?

A few years back, Nika and a close group of friends—Lu and Jade among them—had discovered a cluster of abandoned cabins on the fringes of campus, which had served as dormitories during the school's elementary years. Nika had convinced her friends to convert one into a secret hangout, despite the fact that it was off-limits to students.

So this was the cause for a lockdown? It seemed a bit theatrical.

But the more Nika thought, the less she was certain. If Kovachev had learned of their prohibited hangout, he would have detained Jade, too. As well as the two boys who frequented the cabin.

Nika gently demanded, "Why would you tell them about it?"

"They think you did something. I was trying to explain that you—"

Before Lu could finish, Kovachev said, "Miss Dimitrovich, please follow."

"Can you wait for me?" Nika asked as she slowly obeyed his command.

Lu nodded, the crease between her perfectly arched brows deepening as Nika turned away.

Kovachev led her into his office and gestured to a chair before his large desk. All the while, Nika's thoughts raced.

What does he think I've done?

"It has come to my attention that you had two unexcused absences yesternight," Kovachev said while taking a seat. He scanned a file angled away from Nika's eyes.

Nika willed herself to remain calm. "Yes. But why does that require an interview with my best friend?"

"Because Miss Lazarov always knows where you are. She claims that you went to the old dorm facilities—to a hangout spot that you've been using for three years."

"That's true."

Kovachev folded his hands and cocked his head. "What were you doing there?"

"I needed some privacy." By the look on his face, that wasn't clear enough. Nika sighed. "I was wallowing in self-pity and frustration because...boy drama."

She added the last part with a grimace, and it wasn't a lie. Nika had gone to the cabin to escape a boy last night. She'd been too mortified to attend training after Miles, a close friend—and occasional friend-with-benefits—had accidentally dropped an 'I love you.'

They'd been in his dorm during their free period. More specifically, in his bed. Doing things that needn't be remembered in the presence of the headmaster.

Kovachev raised his brows. "Boy drama?" He had the audacity to sound amused. "And you were alone during this time?"

"Yes." Nika suddenly recalled a brief incident and amended, "No—actually, someone saw me there. We talked for a few minutes."

"Who?"

"The new guy. Dante." She pressed her lips together, rummaging her mind for a last name. "Azzara. Dante Azzara."

Kovachev looked vexed, especially when he shook his head at her like she was a misbehaving child.

"You're telling me that the only person who can confirm your alibi is this Dante character? A new student?"

Alibi. Nika tried not to explode at that word.

Leashing the urge to stand up and demand some answers, Nika calmly said, "Yes."

"What are you up to?" Kovachev snapped, leaning on his elbows. Anger flashed through his middle-aged features. "Is this some ruse to stall me or divert my attention?"

"No!" Nika couldn't believe this was even happening. "Just send for Dante and ask. He'll tell you that he was trying to find his way around campus and wandered near the old dorms. He saw the light coming from our cabin and knocked on the door. There was some small talk and I gave him directions to the library, then he left."

Kovachev's eyes narrowed, and for several long seconds, he assessed her. Then finally, he said, "Perhaps both of us have been deceived."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because we don't have any new students."

Author's Note

First, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the first chapter(s). Let me know your thoughts in the comments. 

Second, do your best to ignore the comments that were posted before 2019. I have reinvented this book and recycled chapters, and there are just too many comments to delete them all. They talk about old terminology, characters, and events that are no longer relevant and will only cause confusion for new readers. They also might have spoilers. So just be careful.

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