❇️ Chapter 2 ❇️

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Marian found it easier to breathe once Minx had climbed the stairs and taken her place. Why couldn't Minx have sat down for this? She shook her head. Row after row of Glistens were sitting back into their chairs. Some already had their legs crossed and were speaking to each other quietly. Several heads were raised with smiles and approving eyes. Marian blushed at admiration directed at her.

Professor Caustica made a sound in her throat that caught everyone's attention.

"Welcome, everyone, to this year's second Glistens commissioning ceremony. The main body of students from this year's class was commissioned in the spring. The summer session completed earlier than expected, allowing me to introduce the remaining candidates who will be commissioned."

One by one, Professor Caustica named her students, all of whom had been Marian's classmates that summer. After announcing the last name, Minx Gullion, the sleeves of Professor Caustica's scarlet robes shifted. She lifted her palms toward the ceiling that pointed in the center of the hall.

"Together, as a community, let us acknowledge our newest members who will continue to guard and protect as we have been instructed by the Great Lights."

The room darkened.

Drops of light shined from each of the chairs where the assembly of Glistens had been sitting. Twinkling, the lights rose from their seats and hovered. A soft hum trickled across the room-the beating of wings caused by human shapes that had shifted into their firefly forms.

Glistens transformed into fireflies when needed to help or protect a ward in grave danger; but, they usually did so at night, after the sun went down. The Glistening ceremony was a special occasion.

Marian smiled at the soft radiance that spread across the room. The bioluminescent glow of each firefly was no more than a spark of light. But, all together, the Glistens were as they appeared. They glistened.

Professor Caustica flittered two pairs of wings until her firefly form hovered to the height where her human lips had been.

"The veil-" she continued, her voice sounding the same though her physique was not. "Let the veil that was temporarily lifted for the students' Last Chance project now be lifted permanently."

The crackling and buzz Marian had first felt as a summer school student-when the veil had been temporarily lifted-returned. Blistering her ears and traveling inward, to the core of her being. Her breath escaped her. She pumped her wings harder to stay aloft.

Unsure whether this was an effect of her teacher's proclamation of the lifting of the veil, or if someone was in distress, Marian searched the room. When nothing seemed out of ordinary in the assembly, she glanced at the other students. Drops of light hovered in a line that stretched across the platform.

Except for one space that remained dark and empty.

Marian's gaze rested on her ward who stood trembling, her human arms wrapped around her middle. Unlike everyone else in the room, Minx hadn't transformed. Her eyes bounced back and forth across the room above full lips that were tucked into a pout. Marian couldn't begin to imagine her ward's embarrassment. She'd known that, in her current condition, Minx was too weak. The rabbit had taken so much of her light and power that she was no longer able to transform.

Unable to decide whether she should bring this to Professor Caustica's attention or let the events unfold on their own, Marian swallowed. Surely someone else has noticed. But the Glistens' attention was no longer directed at Marian or her classmates. She opened her mouth to speak, but her words froze in place.

A glow from above radiated from where the ceiling pointed. Beams of light twisted and coiled, filling the top third of the gathering hall. The Glistens' glow paled in comparison. Marian watched breathlessly as bright, shining tendrils reached out to her and her classmates. The light glittered, trailing toward the platform; then split, traveling to the left and right.

Sparks showered Marian from above and around her. Her head buzzed with a sensation similar to when Professor Caustica temporarily lifted the veil. As it grew more intense, Marian felt the swell of her own, cool bioluminescence brightening. Despite the limitations of her firefly form, she smiled.

From somewhere deep within, she knew she was being infused with the love and power of the Great Lights. Marian basked in the comfort of it until she felt a pull, then a tug-similar to transforming into her human form. Only she had no intention of doing so. Her body lengthened and widened involuntarily as if the light that mixed with her own had chosen to do so for her. She held out her human hands and admired their glittering sheen for one last moment before the light pulled away, and disappeared.

The hum of wings faded, replaced by clapping hands. Marian, Professor Caustica, and everyone else in the room had changed. All stood upright on human legs-just like Minx.

Professor Caustica trailed a finger through her stack of envelopes and turned her back on the crowd until the applause faded.

"Now that you've beenaccepted and prepared by the Great Lights," she said, "you will receive yourfirst assignments as commissioned Glistens."

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