3 | A Problem of Power

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Reddish-brown eyes stared back at Nika through the computer screen as she thought about her brief encounter with Dante Azzara.

The little things didn't add up. Dante had claimed to be a student, yet his hands had been empty—no backpack, no class schedule. And it was awfully difficult to "wander" from the main campus to the abandoned cabins, as one would have needed to take several unmarked and unpaved paths. His clothes hadn't been suitable for a soon-to-be keeper. He'd been flirtatious and daring during the conversation, when most people would have avoided speaking to the Halfblood Bastard altogether.

Now, it seemed obvious that something about Dante had been dubious. But Nika never would have suspected this.

Jade had opened a keeper profile in the Vigil's database. Dante's keeper profile, complete with credentials, past field assignments, and all the background information that the Vigil evaluated before recruiting new members, including a diploma from Konstantin Academy. It was a thorough review, and authenticated by the signature of the High Keeper of North America.

Beside Nika, Miles shook his head, saying, "This can't be right. Why would Dante steal Konstantin's journal if he's a keeper?"

"Simple," said Elliot, though he seemed more interested in that platter of cookies in the faculty lounge than what was displayed on the headmaster's computer. "The Vigil wants to hide it from the Ministry."

Nika bristled at the underlying accusation, but it was Miles who countered, "Or maybe Ministers hired him to steal it for them, so they can tear away every last bit of freedom the Vigil owns."

Lu leaned her temple onto a fist and muttered, "Here we go again."

Nika echoed the sentiment with a sharp breath, preparing for the argument through which Elliot and Miles danced at least once a week. The political question which countless Daemonstri across the continent endlessly debated.

Elliot tore his eyes from that cookie tray and turned on Miles, his lush, coffee-colored curls bouncing with the movement. "Ministers don't want to steal its freedom. They just think the Vigil needs more organization and better management."

Being a member of the Mirza family, it was no surprise that Elliot romanticized the Ministry's pursuits. His father was a Minister and the member of the purist political faction, which advocated the Ministry's complete rule over Daemonstri society in North America.

Though the party's interests didn't end there. In general, purists also favored a system of strict social rank, in which members of the Serafi race—like Elliot and Lu—maintained the highest position. The only reasons being, a) Serafi were the most esteemed of all Daemonstri, and b) their blood was untainted by the traits of lesser races.

Miles scoffed. "They want to turn Nefili into foot soldiers so they can wage war against Inferni. And when the demons are gone, they'll take over human civilization, too."

"As much as I love hearing you idiots debate," Jade drawled, "we're getting off-topic." She tapped the monitor, bringing everyone's attention back to Dante's keeper profile.

"Is it possible that this isn't real?" Lu asked.

Jade shook her head. "The system can't be hacked." She spoke with such nonchalance that Nika wondered if she realized the implication—that she'd tried to hack the database and failed.

Lu said, "Dante can't be a student if he already graduated and entered the Vigil. Why'd he lie?"

"So no one would get suspicious," Miles replied.

Nika shook her head. "But why would he ask for directions to the library if he'd once attended this school? He should've already known where to look."

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