The unexpected is scary. According to Neve, it's too late in the Govigh Forest to send out a search crew to find McKayla wherever she disappeared to. We all sit over the fire, waiting, hoping. That, in itself, is a scene to see. Amity counts her fingers as she writes something in a journal. Janessa keeps challenging Quinn to an arm-wrestling war. Neve and Xzavier are out together, securing the perimeter. The most peculiar of all the sights is Amberley: she bounces on the other side of the flame from her log; meanwhile, her lips seem to buzz as if she's holding something back.
What does she know? I squint at Amberley, who squirms in her seat like a hyperactive child. What do you know? It must be important because this pattern has repeated itself for over an hour.
The atmosphere grows cold. A shiver hovers in the middle of my spine as I hear the duet of footsteps drawing closer and closer, and louder and louder against my ear until the shadowed faces of Neve and Xzavier emerge from the path swelling back to Caylee.
"Perimeter secure," Neve says, beaming at her accomplishment. Flashes of that drunken mistake race through my memory. Lips, locked on each other. The exchange of the taste of champagne. It all comes back as if it was hidden before now.
Neve meets my eyes. Through my brain, her voice filters. Does she know about last night?
I shrug my shoulders, a nonchalant I don't know rolling through the air. My lips tighten, and I add, I honestly didn't see her last night until we were rounded up like livestock and escorted back to the dungeon.
A laugh echoes through my brain. Same here. But that kiss was magnificent.
As Neve rattles on in my head about something related to the kiss, I notice, in the glow of the flames, Amberley's stiff posture as she remains frozen, staring at Neve. Is Neve the one who is causing Amberley's weird behavior? It seems so: when Neve starts to move into camp, her eyes follow the strides of the ice mistress's legs.
Neve plops down on a log next to Amberley: my youngest roommate's eyes seem to bounce when the ice mistress sits down. Neve doesn't seem to notice—an odd occurrence given that she personally volunteered to secure the perimeter. Instead, she does a vast sweep to the side and back on her log, rolling to the inexistent wind.
"Beware," she says, her voice as dark as night around her. This seems to capture the attention of everyone in the vicinity: all strange activity ceases as she lures us in like fish to the bait on a hook with three simple words — "Beware of Mor'du."
"Who or what is Mor'du?" Quinn asks. It's a question on all of our minds. Who is Mor'du? What is Mor'du? We all glance at the new bookworm of the group; prim and proper on the far side of the campfire, she flashes a gentle smile. She brushes an ombre wave behind her ear and giggles.
"Good question, Quinn." The attention returns to Neve. She has a ghastly smile on her face. I let my lips sputter against the silence: she must be eager to tell the story of Mor'du. A ghost story, that is. "Mor'du is a ferocious beast of a bear."
The flames curl into the shape of the bear's face. He has razor-sharp incisors. I can almost hear his soft growl in the night. But then the shape vanishes to hold Neve's warm blue face as she continues. "Rumor has it, he haunts these woods. Caylee took him for security purposes. He was tranquilized to travel above the ozone layer. And for that, he has animosity for any who reeks of Caylee."
One eyebrow rise against Amberley's forehead; the young sixteen-year-old leans in toward Neve with a swelling voice. "How bad is he?" It seems more like a challenge than a question. She has her arms folded over her chest. She wears her lips in a smirk that seems prepared to emit a scoff to whatever will leave her opponent's mouth.
"Think of Caylee, only ten times as worse," Neve replies with another sweep. "He has no sense of human decorum. No mercy. If you approach him, his roar is at the loudest of human decibels. His eyes are as black as an endless pit into hell. He has razor-sharp incisors that can kill before you shout for help. He will rip you limb from limb, eat your heart, and have no remorse." She pauses for a moment. Silence floods the camp for a second. The only audible sound is the pounding of my heart. "Does that answer your question?" The darkness of her voice floats through the stiff atmosphere.
I can see her fiery eyes blazing, immune to the cold source of her identity. Something kept these opposing forces at bay, rendering it impossible for the cold to neutralize her fire. Water generates wood. Wood produces fire. Fire creates earth. Earth destroys water. In a neverending cycle, all five elements work in harmony, but at the same time, wreak havoc on one another. And in the end, fire and earth prevail.
Earth and fire are the victors.
"My word." I hear it in the string she plucks to answer. The riddle of disbelief and fear amaze me. It's like seeing the world through two distinctly contrasting eyes — one raised in the skeptics that point their arrows towards the sorceress of ice; the other brought up in the light of humanity and instincts of fear. To which side will prevail, it's unknown. I do know this: Amberley, being the wind to the Neve's fire and earth, says, "It does," and her face disappears into the growing flames.
"Good," Neve pipes. The faint heat of the flames surges in my direction as she rises from her log. "If this fire goes out, we're screwed." Screwed. Doomed. Ultimately dead. Mor'du's late-night snack. Flames die out, so do we. The last sound that crawls out of our throat will be our screams for mercy in whatever comes after death.
"I'm not going to sleep tonight," Quinn says with crossed arms and a scoff. All of a sudden, the absence of sleep after Neve's tale of the merciless bear becomes a pact. Amity joins in, then Janessa, to which I reluctantly follow the crowd, then Xzavier, and lastly, the storyteller herself, Neve. Everyone but Amberley refuses to slumber this night.
Amberley crawls into the darkness with a gentle snore, no explanation lingering. Despite the peculiarness of this situation, Neve urges us along with her plan to pass the night away: "Let's play ghost in the graveyard." In the quietude and sequence of exchanged glance which reek of cynicism, the ice sorceress adds, "I'll be the ghost. The rest of you hide."
As we spread out, all in different directions, I see the light of the camp fade away into darkness. Everything I do is now based on what I feel. With my arms extended on each side, I graze the slimy texture of the shadowed, black trees; it drools down my palms. "Slimy Hallow," I mutter to myself, flicking my wrists vigorously, "that what this section should be called."
I hear a rustle nearby. "Tick-tock," says a windy voice.
My heart thuds against my chest as my body comes to a screeching halt; I slam down on the breaks before the deer in the middle of the road collides with the headlights. My breath is ragged as I glance around the void surrounding me. "Who's there?"
"Tick. Tock." These words sound more like grinding consonants than actual syllables. Sharp like a knife, the tick-tock could cut into my skin; it's that curt.
My heart now throbs against my chest like an endless bouncy ball, but with a hundred times the mass. "Who-who are you?"
There goes the rustle again. A purr hums against my cheek, making my muscles tighten as the soft string of words slowly drain the void around me of its contents. "Don't you remember me?" The words have a feline ring to it against my ear. "First year. Turned me in to Caylee for the kiss you initiated in the bathroom stalls."
The world becomes a swirl lavender hair streaked with pink highlights, much like her skin. A gigantic smile that reminded me of the nightmares some cat from an animated film gave me in my youth. And then it punctures me in the skin. "Chesney."
"Tick. Tock. Time's up." And the world goes black again, this time, solitude follows.
YOU ARE READING
Welcome to Enchancia's Academy for Rebels! Harbored at this boarding school are the secrets of each and every student. Under the assumption that they are safe, their stories, their pasts, their crimes begin to come to light in halls of the school...