❇️ Chapter 1 ❇️

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Marian stood trembling in a doorway framed with ribbons and sprays of flowers. Chairs lined both sides of the aisle. In front of her, a paper covering had been rolled to a platform at the far end of the room.

She took a deep breath, inhaling scents of lavender and roses before stepping forward.

The outer gown she wore, a white robe borrowed from her mother, clung to her neck and back. Her blue-black hair was gathered in a tail at the top of her head. She'd barely had time to wash and return Prillene's jacket, blouse, and slacks before the rush to begin the commissioning ceremony.

She thought there'd be more time between defeating the rabbit and becoming commissioned as a Glisten. At least a day or two. But Professor Caustica had other plans.

Today, Marian would become a Glisten. A real, commissioned Glisten. And her ward would be present, along with the rest of her class. Having tossed and turned all night, her eyes burned with lack of sleep.

Her shoes crunched along the paper. Glistens stood in front of rows of chairs, with their bodies turned to watch. Marian blushed at the smiling faces and, with nothing to hold, she pressed her hands to her sides.

Most Glistens her age had been commissioned earlier that year. Marian and the other summer school students waiting to follow her down the aisle had yet to join their ranks. Now they would, thanks to having passed their Last Chance project.

Marian's stomach fluttered. Had she been in her firefly form, her abdomen would have been bursting with light. When she reached the end of the aisle, Professor Caustica squeezed her shoulder and smiled.

The smile was a strange addition to her teacher's face, especially one meant for her. Marian swallowed, trying her best not to flinch. She climbed the steps up to the platform and turned to watch her classmates continue the procession. This time, a smile stretched across her own lips.

Marian's best friend, Sal Minikin, bounced down the hallway. The tiny Glisten's dark eyes shone beneath thick, purple bangs. Instead of her usual braid, Sal's hair had been twisted and looped into a crown dotted with flowers.

A line of Minikins, all with purple hair, filled the front row. Sal's little brothers cheered when she passed them. Her mother and older brother, Maz, glowed, their pride lighting their faces and eyes.

When Sal found her space, Marian took her hand and squeezed. We made it! All of us did, thought Marian, taking in the full room of beaming Glistens. Several more students took their places, including Jinn and Cran Fizzle, their matching eyes goggling about as if they couldn't believe they'd been invited to participate. Marian covered her lips to rub away the smirk that lingered there. The Fizzle twins helped save Minx, too. They have every right to be here.

Dropping her hand, she squinted across the aisle. A young man with strawberry blond curls stood in the doorway. Endrik.

Marian's heart sped as he stepped forward. She found it impossible to look away from his face. His blue eyes were paler than hers and crystal clear.

Their gaze didn't break until Professor Caustica placed a hand on Endrik's shoulder, and directed him to the opposite side of the platform, next to the other male students.

Marian sucked in a breath. The final student to process down the aisle did so with an unsteady wobble. Two male Glistens walked with her, one on either side, supporting her with their arms.

A strange sensation washed over Marian. The male Glistens did their best to keep Minx, the female student, from teetering. But her steps were slow and weak, and her skin was pale.

Marian's eyebrows pinched together as she considered what she felt for Minx. The sensation was strikingly different from her feelings for Endrik, or her best friend, Sal. It was a connection marked by a song, a call she would answer any time she was needed. The bond between a guardian and her ward.

Minx looked back and forth between Professor Caustica and Marian, and frowned. Marian had never seen her look so humbled or embarrassed, even when Minx was bedbound. After she'd been weakened by a rabbit. Pity flashed in waves through Marian's heart.

"I'm sorry," Minx told their teacher. "I don't deserve to be here. I've done nothing. I—I wasn't strong enough."

Marian craned her neck to better hear what her ward was saying.

Professor Caustica's yellow eyes narrowed. She clasped her hands and wriggled orange fingernails, resting them against a scarlet robe that matched the streaks in her hair.

"You showed great strength given your present state" she said. "And you will be given another chance."

"Another chance?" Minx exhaled. "How is that possible after a Last Chance project?"

Professor Caustica brushed silver locks from Minx's shoulders and smoothed the collar of her gown. She looked into her student's honey-gold eyes.

"The Last Chance project was a precondition to being part of this ceremony. Your next chance will be one of a commissioned Glisten." She waved a pack of envelopes toward Marian's side of the platform. "Now, take your place, and we will begin."

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