Excerpt for Chatoyant College, Book 2: Initiates by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Chatoyant College: Book 2

Initiates



Clare K. R. Miller


Smaragdine Books


Classes have finally started for the girls, but Dawn gets a shock when she discovers that the faeries aren't content to lurk in the woods and occasionally kidnap students--one of them is teaching the magic class that she and Corrie are taking. Professor Lal seems trustworthy, but is that even in a faerie's nature?


Meanwhile, Edie makes a pesky new friend and they notice the existence of mysterious statues around the campus. The statues, which are all of women, have names on plaques, but despite their searches there is no information available on those names.


To add to the confusion, another mysterious scream occurs, and this time it has no connection to a disappearance. Another girl on their floor, Roe, has just had a frightening vision that involves Corrie, Dawn, and Edie, but they can make no sense of it.


They discover that trust must be earned, not given, and once again, that little at Chatoyant College is as it seems.


Initiates (Chatoyant College, Book 2)

by Clare K. R. Miller


Smaragdine Books


Text Copyright © 2017 Clare K. R. Miller


Shareable under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License


Cover image by bobooks


Smashwords Edition


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, events, and locations are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons or events, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.

This file is licensed for private individual entertainment only. The book contained herein constitutes a copyrighted work and may not be reproduced, stored in or introduced into an information retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (electrical, mechanical, photographic, audio recording, or otherwise) for any reason (excepting the uses permitted to the licensee by copyright law under terms of fair use) without the specific written permission of the author.

Chapter 1: An Alarming Morning

Monday, September 1

Dawn woke up to the blare of what was possibly the most obnoxious alarm she had ever heard: shrieking at approximately the same volume as a rock concert and sounding something like a cross between a car alarm and an angry cat. She sat up blearily, feeling around for the alarm with her left hand. She didn't find it, but the noise stopped anyway. By that time, unfortunately, she was fully awake and aware that no, her alarm did not sound like that at all. She looked around the room. "Naomi?" she called carefully. "Was that your alarm?"

"Mm," said Naomi. She was burrowed under the blanket. Dawn sighed and climbed out of bed. No way she was going back to sleep now. She checked the clock. It was 8:15 in the morning; there was still more than an hour until her first class started. She started to collect her things--might as well have a shower. She almost jumped out of her skin, a minute later, when the noise happened again. This time she saw Naomi's hand reaching out from under the covers to smack at it. She apparently missed, because the noise kept going, and Dawn heard a muffled groan, then saw Naomi's messy blonde dreadlocks emerge from under the blankets.

"I can't believe I signed up for such an early class," she mumbled. At least, that was what Dawn thought she said. The alarm was still blaring. Naomi squinted at it and poked at a button, and it finally turned off.

"You're going to wake up the entire hall with that thing," Dawn said.

Naomi smiled apologetically. "Nah, they'll get used to it. I can't wake up any other way." She yawned. "Right, it's theater production, isn't it? Gotta go to that. Mm. Clothes." She wandered toward her closet, obviously paying no attention to anything around her. Dawn headed out the door to the showers.

When she got back, Naomi was gone, but she still had a while before she had to leave for her first class. She sighed, opened the blinds, and booted up her computer. Might as well check her webcomics.

She was more awake and feeling decidedly more cheerful at nine, when there was a knock on her door. She opened it and was unsurprised to see Corrie, looking as perky and healthy as ever. "Hey!" she said. "Glad you're up. Want to get breakfast before class?"

"I approve heartily of that idea," Dawn said. "Just let me get my things together. What's the weather like today?" She knew her skinny blonde friend would already have been outside jogging whatever the weather.

"Gorgeous," said Corrie. "Not a cloud in the sky. It'll probably be hot this afternoon."

"Glad I wore a skirt, then," Dawn said. She slipped her feet into sandals, picked up her messenger bag, and stuck a notebook and a pen in it. She had no idea what book they'd need first for this class, and didn't want to bother bringing something heavy. Corrie had one of those tiny sack-type backpacks, so it was clear she didn't have a textbook with her either.

"What time is Edie's first class?" Dawn asked as they walked past Corrie and Edie's room and further down the hall.

Corrie shrugged. "Later, I guess. She's still asleep."

She nodded, sighing with slight jealousy. "Naomi woke me up early with her alarm. I think it's something I'm going to have to get used to."

They ate a quick breakfast at the dining hall, then walked up the path to the magic building, which wasn't very far away. It was an odd, hexagonal building, and all of the outer walls on the first floor were glass. As they walked partway around the building to get to the front door, Dawn could see that the outer part of the first floor was some sort of extended lounge; there were couches, a piano, a place with several computers set up, and even a table with a coffee maker on it.

Corrie consulted her schedule once they were inside. "We're in room 307, looks like," she said. "I guess that's on the third floor." The stairs were right by the door, and also clearly visible from the outside of the building, at least on the first floor. They joined the crowd moving up it, then turned when they reached the third floor.

Their classroom turned out to be in the center of the hexagon. It was a large, amphitheater-like room, with a hexagonal space in the middle and six aisles running between sets of seats. The ceiling was higher than Dawn had expected. They found seats on the second row of one of the sections and settled in to wait for the teacher. Dawn took advantage of the time to look around the classroom; unsurprisingly, there was no one she really knew here, since Ever was gone and Edie and Naomi weren't taking this class. She had hoped she might see Rico or even Duncan, but if they were taking magic, they were in a different section.

The girl with long, wavy dark blonde hair who sat down in the row in front of them looked vaguely familiar, but Dawn couldn't place her. Mostly what seemed to be filling in was the first three rows; people took seats in the rows further back, but there weren't enough students to fill the whole room. She looked up at the clock on the wall to her left. The teacher wasn't quite late.


Chapter 2: Professor Marie Lal

Dawn jumped when all six doors to the classroom closed and audibly locked at once. A woman--obviously the teacher--stalked in from one of the aisles to take her place in the center of the classroom. "I hope everyone is here," she said dryly. "I don't tolerate lateness."

Several people around the room giggled, including Corrie. Dawn couldn't: she was too busy staring at the woman. When she'd walked in, Dawn had only gotten a vague impression of cinnamon skin and a mass of curly dark hair. But now that she was standing in the middle of the room, turning slowly to survey the students, Dawn could see her clearly. And what she saw surprised her more than almost anything that had happened to her at this school so far.

Her body shape was ordinary enough, from what Dawn could see under her skirt, tall boots, and dark blouse. There was no tail or misshapen legs. But there were long, delicately pointed ears sticking through those curls; the fingers were unnaturally long, ending in dark points; and when she turned and faced Dawn's direction, her eyes were nothing but a huge expanse of black, the tiniest bit of spark shining in the center. She tried not to show her shock, but the teacher raised one eyebrow, then smiled slowly before turning away.

Dawn looked around the classroom wildly. Had anyone else seen what she just had? They looked interested, but not surprised or frightened. She forced her breathing to slow and her heart to stop racing. So far, the teacher didn't seem to be any threat, for all that she'd locked all the doors with seemingly no effort. If there was any threat, she knew how to go about dealing with it, at least.

"Welcome to Introduction to Magic," the woman announced. "I am Professor Marie Lal; you may call me Professor Marie or Professor Lal, whichever you're more comfortable with. As you can see, I know what I'm doing, and I don't have patience with those who refuse to learn. If you're taking this class, you had better be prepared to do what is needed." She smiled, softening her hard visage. "Now, why don't you all introduce yourselves to me? Start here," she slapped one of the desks nearest her, making the thin, pale boy seated in it jump, "and go around in an increasing spiral. Tell me your name and why you're taking this class."

The boy cleared his throat nervously. "My name is Brian," he said, "and, well, I want to learn magic." Several people laughed, which seemed to give him confidence; he smiled. "It's a really unusual skill and I think it would be more helpful in the real world than most other college degrees."

The introductions went on. Just like when the people living in Gilkey had introduced themselves, Dawn found it difficult to keep track of them all. The blonde girl sitting in front of them was Roe, and Corrie whispered that she lived down the hall from them. That would be where Dawn had seen her before, then.

She and another girl, Lin, who was Asian and had very short, shiny black hair, had something unusual in common: both were taking the class, and indeed had made the decision to come to Chatoyant College, because they had magic talents that they hoped would be trained here. Roe said she had random prophetic visions; Lin shifted uncomfortably in her seat and asked if she could talk to Professor Marie about it later. She nodded agreeably at both of them and told them that the college could certainly help them, and they'd receive as much training as they wanted.

Dawn wondered whether she should tell about her Sight when it came her turn. But she decided against it. The professor surely already knew that she could see her true self; no one else really needed to hear about it. Besides, the question was why she was in the class, and she'd signed up for it long before she even knew faeries existed. "My name is Dawn," she said when the introductions reached her, "and I'm in this class because my aunt Pru went here and learned magic, and she loved it. She's an artist and her magic helps her with her work, so I figure I can learn something useful, too."

Professor Lal's eyebrows shot up when Dawn mentioned Pru. She nodded slowly. "I believe I knew your aunt when she was a student here. Hmm. Would you also speak to me after class, Dawn?"

Startled, Dawn could only nod, though her stomach churned in anticipation of the discussion that was to come. Professor Lal, not seeming concerned at all, nodded to Corrie to go next.


Chapter 3: Magic is Hard

"Well, I'm Corrie," Dawn's friend said, smiling her usual cheerful smile, "and I want to learn magic because I grew up knowing about it and believing in it, but not really having any idea how to make it work." That surprised Dawn; she knew Corrie had mentioned her mother and grandmother doing spells, but she hadn't known Corrie just believed in it. That made her think of Rico, and she wondered why he wasn't in this class. Maybe he didn't care to learn more about magic, thinking it was only for witches. Then again, this wasn't the only introductory magic class.

When the introductions were over, Professor Lal looked up at the clock and nodded. Then she began speaking again. "I'm glad to hear none of you took this class because you thought it would be easy. Then again, you wouldn't have said so if that was the case, would you?" She paused, smiling wryly, for most of the class to laugh. "But if that is the case and you just didn't admit it, let me tell you right now you should drop out." She turned as she spoke, seeming to catch each student's eyes in turn. "Take another class. Communications is good if you just want a few easy credits. This is not an easy class. There's a lot of reading, a lot of work, and a lot that you probably didn't even know existed before."

She produced a pile of papers from the lectern in the center of the room and dropped the stack onto Brian's desk. "Syllabi. Pass them around." While the pile went around the circle, she continued speaking. "The first half of the class, up until mid-semester break, is pure theory. I hope you've all purchased your books from the bookstore; if not, go today, as there's reading to do for Wednesday's class. Thankfully, some of our readings are so old that they're not under copyright anymore, so they're available online. If you don't have your own computer, you can use the library's. Only print them out if you feel you need to."

She leaned against the lectern, the tiny glints in the centers of her eyes flickering from side to side as she watched the syllabi go around the room. "The second half of the semester will focus on the practice of actual magic. Only the basics, of course; that's what this class is for. You'll learn the basic procedures that make magic both possible and safe." She paused to let that sink in for a moment. "Another warning: you will have different levels of natural ability to use and control magic. Like some people have greater or lower levels of artistic ability, it can be trained to be better, but the more natural ability you have, the further you will able to go. However, unlike art, when it comes to magic, not everyone has ability. As long as you honestly try as much as you can, you will not fail this class for a lack of natural ability. However, you won't be able to take any other magic classes for credit. There's no point in trying to train people who have nothing to train."

Dawn glanced through her syllabus as she passed the diminishing pile on to Corrie. Sure enough, there were no fewer than two different readings for each class prior to the midterm, and it looked like most of them added up to a hundred pages or more. She gulped, thinking of all the classes she had signed up for. Would she be able to squeeze it in with her social life as well? She had always been a quick reader, but she had to admit, if only to herself, that when she had signed up for as many introductory classes as had caught her attention, she'd had no thought she would have actual friends, not to mention a boyfriend. Fitting all this in was going to be tough. Then again, if Naomi's alarm was going to wake her up every day, she'd have those mornings to catch up on her reading.

"Everyone has a syllabus?" Professor Lal asked. "Good. Take a moment to look over the classes, the rules, and the grading rubric. I don't care if you eat in this class for the most part, but on some of the practical days I'll have to ask that no food be in the room--in fact, there will be a few days when I'll ask you not to bring anything. It can get dangerous in here with so many partly-trained students. Also, we may be moving to a different classroom, depending on how many people drop, so if you're staying, watch for an email from me. Any questions?"

A heavy, droopy-eyed girl raised a hand. Professor Lal nodded at her. She hemmed and hawed for a moment before speaking. "How dangerous will it get, Professor Lal?" she finally said. "I'm not afraid of hard work, but I don't think my parents would like it if I was injured in class."

The professor nodded. "A valid question. I can probably prevent anyone from getting too badly hurt by throwing up a shield--I'm just less likely to react quickly when it's things that are threatened instead of people. But just in case, I make sure either Professor Agnew or Professor Rook is aware and available during each dangerous class; they have healing skill and can reverse an injury if it's caught quickly enough. So there's no serious danger. Anyone else?"

There were no other questions. Professor Lal smiled. "All right then, you're free to go for today. Do your readings and be on time on Wednesday. Dawn and Lin, stay behind for a moment?"


Chapter 4: Responsibility

Dawn slowly took out her notebook and put the syllabus in it. She did not want to stay and talk to Professor Lal, but it didn't seem she had much choice. Around her, papers were rustling, people were chatting and laughing, and almost everyone was getting up to go. "Hey," said Corrie's voice beside her. She looked up to see her friend's confident smile. "I'll stay at the end of the hall and wait for you, okay?"

Dawn nodded and smiled back. It helped to know that her friend had her back. "Thanks," she said, then realized that Corrie probably didn't know the real reason she had to speak to the teacher. She probably thought it was really about Aunt Pru. "Corrie, she's--"

"Dawn, come here, please?" the teacher's pleasant but powerful voice interrupted her. "This will only take a moment. Lin, wait at the end of that hall and we'll talk more privately in my office."

Dawn gulped and picked up her bag. Corrie squeezed her hand, then moved down a different hall from the one that Lin had been instructed to take. Dawn walked slowly to the center of the room, where Professor Lal was leaning casually against the podium. At least, her pose would have looked casual if it weren't for the eeriness of her black eyes. Dawn looked down at her feet.

"So," said the teacher softly when Dawn had stopped, a pace or two away. "A student with the Sight. That happens every once in a while." She paused for a long time. Dawn continued looking down at her feet. "And you're not surprised to hear that term," she mused. "You've met with some of my... colleagues, I suppose?"

Dawn didn't think she was talking about the other magic professors. She licked her lips. "Yes, m-ma'am. In the woods."

"Why are you--" She stopped abruptly, then chuckled quietly. Dawn dared to look up. She was smiling, and despite the eyes, had a friendly expression. "It was Mardalan, Feloc, or Belara, wasn't it?"

Dawn shook her head slowly, not sure if the teacher was talking about the same faeries she'd met. "I don't know those names."

"Of course not. Mardalan... you would have seen their true appearances, of course, not their glamours, but Mardalan always has red hair, pale skin, and is the most human-like of the three."

"Yes... that's the one. There were others, but she was the leader."

Professor Lal raised her eyebrows, as though surprised, but continued speaking. "Well, then, it's no wonder you're nervous. I suppose she threatened you. But you don't need to worry--there's an agreement. The faeries who accept the protection of the school are not permitted to harm students."

Dawn raised her head completely and stared into those black eyes, shocked. "Not permitted to harm students?! But they kidnapped Annie!"

The professor tsked. "Yes, they do that. It's not technically considered harm."

Dawn couldn't believe how casually Professor Lal was taking this, but then, she was a faerie. Maybe she could get some information out of her. "Do--did you know Ever?"

She closed her eyes, as though thinking. "Perhaps. What does she look like?"

"When she was being human, she had blue hair and an oak leaf tattoo. When she... turned into a faerie, when she went back to them, she kind of looked like a giant plant, with cat eyes."

Professor Lal's eyes popped open. "I know of whom you speak. She joined Mardalan, did she? I would not have expected that." Dawn was at a loss for words. The teacher smiled again. "Well, I'm glad to know what you know. Don't worry. I take my responsibilities as a professor seriously, human or not." She put her hand gently on Dawn's shoulder, which would have been more comforting if that hand hadn't been so bony and inhuman, and turned her toward the corridor where Corrie was waiting. "Go, leave with your friend. I hope you will not drop the class." She let go, and Dawn walked down the hall, feeling strange and numb.

Corrie, of course, had no idea what had just transpired, but her smile faded to an expression of worry as Dawn approached. "What happened?"

"I didn't get a chance to tell you before," Dawn said in a low voice as they walked out the door and down the hallway, looking around to make sure no one was watching them. "But she's a faerie. I could see." She shook her head in disbelief. "She was so... casual about it."

Corrie simply stared. "A faerie in disguise? Like Ever?" she said finally.

"I guess so," Dawn said. "I must be getting better at the Sight, because I recognized her right away. She didn't look at all strange to you?"

Corrie shook her head. "Maybe next class I'll make sure to bring my keys and hold them."

Dawn grinned, relaxing. "You're staying in the class, then?"

"Are you kidding?" her friend exclaimed. "It sounds like the best class ever! You won't drop it, will you?"

"No. It does sound like an awesome class, and even though the professor freaks me out, I'd rather have her where I can see her than know she's there but not know exactly where, you know? Besides," she smiled as they walked out the door into the warm sun, "as long as I have a friend with me, I'll be fine."


Chapter 5: Breakfast

Edie had not really been sleeping when Corrie left to go get Dawn for breakfast and Intro to Magic. She had been hiding under the covers, trying to sleep, but having a hard time because she was so nervous. She was always nervous when school started. It turned out to be unfounded every time, because she was smart and an excellent student, but knowing that didn't help. Besides, this time was completely different from every time before. This was college. The standards were higher, and the classes were different. She didn't know what to expect.

Finally she threw the covers off with a sigh and got dressed. There was no point in trying to sleep any longer. Maybe she should go get some breakfast before her first class. It was nice, at least, that French 103 was so late in the morning. She could sleep if she needed to. After washing her face to freshen up (and try to get rid of the bags she knew were under her eyes) and running a comb quickly through her curls, she fit a notebook, the French textbook, a pen, and one of the Goddess books that Corrie's mom had given her into her backpack.

She was out of breath again by the time she reached the dining hall. At least her shoulders didn't hurt--the books were much lighter than what she had grown used to carrying in high school. She started to reach for sugary cereal for some quick energy, then stopped herself, thinking. She hated being fat. That was an undeniable fact. She didn't like the way she looked, and she really didn't like getting so tired and out of breath just walking from place to place on campus. Sure, she would probably lose weight just from walking up and down the stairs to her room, but sugary cereal for breakfast wasn't going to help. It was probably only going to hurt.

And here she was, at college, starting a brand new year. There would be no better time to change her habits. And her mother wasn't here to nag her, to make her feel guilty and pressured and want to rebel against whatever she said. Whatever eating choices she made were her eating choices. If nothing else, she could be more aware of them--she certainly knew what different foods did to her body.

Edie turned and purposefully walked away from the cereal. Yes, she could have some kind of granola, but that didn't sound appealing and anyway, she wanted to keep herself away from the sugary cereals while she developed the willpower to resist them. It was after the regular breakfast time, so there wasn't any hot food out, but there were some good things to eat. Fruit salad and yogurt. Yes, that looked good. She frowned down at her plate for a moment, then added a couple of slices of toast. Now it was a substantial breakfast. She poured herself a cup of black coffee, then sat down at a table with her new breakfast and her book.

The breakfast wasn't bad, though it also wasn't as filling as she was used to. She was more alert than she had expected to be, but that could have been the coffee, bad as the dining hall coffee was. Still, it was time to get to class, and she'd stay awake through it, certainly.

She passed the magic building on her way to the building where her French class was, making sure to keep on the path. The building, though its oddness was clearly well within the realm of possibility, gave her a chill as she passed. She didn't want to believe in magic. Much as she loved fantasy books, magic was something that belonged firmly inside them. Despite the fact that she'd now seen magic in action, her subconscious resisted it, and it still didn't feel real. Even when reading the book Corrie's mom had lent her, which talked about magic (specifically, witchcraft) as though it were a perfectly natural part of life, she didn't feel as though she got it. In fact, the book was more like fiction to her; she suspended disbelief, but couldn't think of it as something to apply to the real world. Maybe the next book would be different.

Thankfully, the French classroom, though it had plenty of windows, did not face the magic building, so all Edie could see when she sat down was another building and a glimpse of the woods. She took a seat in the front row; most of the other seats were already full, and she didn't really care to sit next to a stranger--a quick glance around the room told her that she had met none of her fellow students. They were mostly sophomores, anyway, finishing up their language requirement. She took her French things out of her bag, opened the notebook to the first, fresh, blank page, and immediately got started defacing it. She doodled flowers most of the time, smooth, round strokes that looked pretty without taking up any brainpower, so she could still listen to whatever her teacher was saying.


Chapter 6: Edie's Classes are Boring

"Hi, mind if I sit here?" came an unfamiliar male voice from beside Edie.

Edie looked up, startled, her flower gaining a petal that looked half-torn. The boy standing next to her was tall, and had longish, black hair that was falling into his eyes. He looked vaguely familiar. "Uh, sure," she said uncertainly. Well, she certainly wasn't going to stop the guy from sitting wherever he wanted to, though she didn't see why he would want to sit next to her when there were still empty seats.

He sat down and swung his bag to the ground, offering her a friendly grin. "You live in Gilkey, don't you?"

Ah, that would be the mystery. She smiled a little and nodded. "That's right. That's why you look familiar."

He stuck out his hand. "I'm Marlin."

She shook it. "Edie. Are you a freshman too?"

"Nope, sophomore," he said, raising one eyebrow. "You're a freshman taking 103? Pretty impressive."

"Really?" She'd thought it was unusual, but not impressive. "It's just what I tested into. I was actually hoping to skip the basic classes and go right into conversational or literature, but I guess I didn't do well enough." She shrugged. It was a little disappointing, but she could get into the higher-level classes next semester, so it wasn't too bad.

"Wow." Marlin shook his head. "I took AP French and still only tested into 102. I guess you're planning to be a French major."

She nodded. "That's the plan, anyway. Nothing's set in stone, especially not here."

"That's for sure," he chuckled. He looked like he was about to say something else, but then the teacher walked in the room and told them all, in sweetly spoken French, to sit down and shut up.

The class went as well as Edie could have hoped; all they did was some review, but the teacher obviously didn't expect her or either of the other two freshmen in the class to have any idea what she was talking about, and was pleasantly surprised when Edie and Joy, one of the other freshmen, were not at all lost. She also praised Edie's accent, which was a nice change--her teachers in high school had been very tough on that aspect. She hoped that it wasn't that the teachers at Chatoyant were less exacting--she wanted to speak French as much like a native as she could, especially if she was going to be a major.

She did leave the class in a very good mood, especially since the teacher had also said that their textbooks would mainly be used for homework assignments and they would rarely have to carry them to class. Plus, she seemed to have made a new friend in Marlin. He walked out of the class with her. "Where are you going next?"

Edie checked her watch. "I have about twenty minutes until my next class--it's the FYE class. I just figured I would hang out in the lobby and read until then."

"Oh, that's cool. I was going to go grab lunch with my roommates." They were in the lobby (the FYE class was in the same building as the French class) and he stood there awkwardly for a moment, looking from side to side. Finally he shuffled his feet and said, "Well, I guess I'll see you later, then."

"Sure," Edie said. "We live in the same building, after all."

"Right. Well, see you."

"Bye."

He finally walked away and out the door, standing at least a head above most of the other students moving in and out of the building. She wondered if he played basketball or something.

Edie sat down on one of the hard wooden chairs in the lounge and opened her book. It was, unfortunately, difficult to concentrate; there were people walking through all the time, not to mention the ones sitting in the other lounge chairs, all of them talking and laughing. She wished she'd brought her knitting instead--that was easier to concentrate on when there was noise, especially when she didn't have to think much about it. She made a mental note to start bringing her knitting with her to French and FYE.

After ten minutes, she decided to wait in the classroom instead of the lobby. It was empty, and she again took a seat in the front--might as well look like she was eager to learn. She had no idea what the class would be like, but it was required for all freshmen.

This teacher arrived early to class and spent five minutes chatting cheerily with Edie and the others as they trickled in. Edie would have been much happier to be left alone with the book, but at least the teacher seemed to like her. Once class started, the woman passed out syllabi and explained the class: it would introduce them to the campus and to college life, teaching them about the dangers and joys of living campus as well as how to organize their time. Edie barely resisted rolling her eyes. She doubted that the class was going to teach them about the very real dangers that she and her friends had already experienced, and if she didn't know how to organize her time already, she wouldn't have done well enough in high school to get into this college. She resigned herself to one very boring semester. At least it was a short class.


Chapter 7: She's Back!

Those were the only two classes Edie had on Mondays, and she wasn't sure what to do with the rest of her day. She didn't know where Dawn and Corrie were--she made a mental note to suggest they all swap schedules so they could find each other if necessary. Since they'd had an emergency before classes even started, being able to find each other quickly might be important.

She decided she might as well walk back to the dorm; she could read or knit in peace there. When she reached the path close to Gilkey, she saw a familiar head of hair that made her speed up. "Lorelei!" she called. "You're back!"

Lorelei turned and grinned when Edie caught up with her. "Hi, Edie! Yeah, they let me out when they couldn't really find anything wrong. They did give me an inhaler though."

Edie nodded. "That's good. You don't know when you might have another attack."

Lorelei shrugged. "I'll probably just avoid talking about, well, you-know-what, but it's nice to have an inhaler just in case." Edie held the door open for her as they entered Gilkey--it was polite, and anyway, the RA might still be weak. "So how did it go?" Lorelei asked.

"What do you mean?"

Lorelei frowned at her. "You know what I mean. Did you get Annie back?"

"Oh!" Edie shook her head. "It was weird... but yeah, we did. They kicked us out, but then Ever sort of... traded herself, I guess."

"Ever did what?"

"She offered to join them so they'd let Annie go. Apparently she was a faerie."

Lorelei stopped and stared for a few moments. Then she shook her head slowly. "Well, that's... not what I expected. Are Corrie and Dawn around?"

"I don't know. They were in class when I left but I've been away for a while. You want to come up with me to see if they're there?"

"Yeah."

They were quiet as they walked up the stairs. Edie wasn't sure what to say. She didn't really want to think about what had happened on Sunday any more than she had to. And there was no reason she should have to. They'd had a happy ending, right? Annie was back. Ever was gone, but it had been her fault in the first place that all that had happened. And she was back where she belonged, right? If she was a faerie, it was only right that she should live with the other faeries. She had certainly seemed to want to, even if it had only been so Annie could go back.

When she tried her door, it was unlocked, to her surprise. That must mean Corrie was home. She pushed it open. "Hi guys!" she said, seeing both Dawn and Corrie inside. "How have your classes been?"

"Completely weird," said Dawn. "We had Intro to Magic, and--oh, hey, Lorelei!"

"Mind if I come in?" she asked.

"Of course not!" said Corrie, waving her inside. Edie dropped her bag on the foot of her bed and joined them at Corrie's computer as Lorelei did the same. "I'm glad you're back from the hospital," Corrie continued.

Lorelei grinned. "Me too. And I'm glad to hear you got Annie back. What are you looking at on the computer?" She leaned in closer. "Is that a list of all the professors?"

Dawn nodded. "I wanted to see if I could tell if any of the others are faeries. I guess I can't see anything from pictures, but at least I know what Professor Lal is supposed to look like now."

"What are you talking about?" both Lorelei and Edie asked at the same time. They all laughed. "You mean your Intro to Magic professor is a faerie like Ever?" Edie continued, leaning on the back of Corrie's chair.

"I'm totally confused," said Lorelei. "How do you know Ever is a faerie? And what do you mean about Professor Marie?"

Dawn turned around to look at Lorelei, frowning. "I thought you knew she was a faerie. You sure seemed to know more than we did."

Lorelei gestured at her throat. "Well, I can't really talk about what I do know. But if there are any faeries on campus, I didn't know about it. Edie said Ever traded herself for Annie..."

Dawn chewed on her bottom lip. "We saw Ever turn back into a faerie after she went back to the faeries. And in class this morning I saw something completely different from the professor whose picture is here. She really has these creepy black eyes and long, pointy ears. She knew I could see her, too, and asked about the faeries from the woods."

"So if you don't know much about faeries, how did you know about the ones in the woods?" Corrie asked.

Lorelei grimaced. "I had a run-in with them once."

"Do you think this faerie took over the professor's job?" Edie asked, looking at the picture up on the screen. She saw a pretty but ordinary-looking Hispanic woman. But then, she wouldn't see anything unusual in the photograph, especially if Dawn couldn't.

"I hadn't thought about that," Dawn said slowly. "It seems unlikely. She looks a lot like the picture except for the eyes, ears, and hands. She really made it sound like she's just a professor who happens to be a faerie."

"Hiding in plain sight," Lorelei said. "How many others could there be?"

"That's exactly what we were wondering," said Corrie.


Chapter 8: On Our Side

"I guess you better keep your eye out for more faeries, Dawn," Edie said.

"I will," she said thoughtfully. "Though I think it depends on how good their glamours are--I couldn't see through Ever's, at least not consistently."

"It might be good to make a list or something," Lorelei said. "It would be harder to write down students if you don't know who they are, but I guess you could just put descriptions..."

"You're really worried about this, aren't you?" Corrie asked.

"Of course! Faeries are dangerous. If they're trying to infiltrate the campus, who knows what they could be up to?"

"Calm down," said Edie. She could hear Lorelei's breathing becoming more labored, and that worried her. "Just breathe. And, uh, try not to say anything more about faeries."

Lorelei nodded, taking a deep, gulping breath. Dawn looked at her with concern, but said, "I'm worried too, but I don't think they're planning anything. Professor Lal said there's an agreement that faeries can't harm students. That makes sense, since the queen in the woods--or whoever she was--looked like she was about to kill me but then the leaf creature reminded her about the agreement."

Lorelei coughed. "This doesn't count as harm?" Her voice was strained.

Dawn shook her head, her brow wrinkling. "I guess not. She said kidnapping Annie didn't count, either."

"Creepy as that is, I don't think faeries are capable of thinking the same way as humans," said Corrie. "Though I'd really like to see the text of that agreement, if it's written down."

"Me too," Edie said. She had a feeling it wasn't, though.

"Oh, I'm not saying you're wrong," said Dawn. "I completely agree. I just get the feeling that Professor Lal is on our side, if anyone is."

Lorelei nodded slowly. Her breathing had calmed down. "I was really surprised to hear what you said about Professor Marie--she's really popular and I like her a lot. So maybe she's different from... the others."

"I hope so," said Dawn. She looked up at the clock on the wall. "I have to get to class. Do you guys want to meet for dinner later?"

"Sure," said Corrie. "I have class in half an hour, but we can go when I get back."

"Works for me," said Dawn, picking up her bag. "See you later."

"I should go, too," said Lorelei. "I missed a couple of classes while I was in the hospital so I've got to track down the teachers, explain, and get the syllabuses."

"Good luck," Edie said as they left.

"So how were your classes, Edie?" Corrie asked, closing the window with all the pictures of professors.

Edie shrugged. "Decent. The French class looks like it's going to go well, but the FYE class is really boring."

"Really?" Corrie made a face. "That's what I have later. Well, every other student has lived through it, so I guess we will too."

Edie spent the time waiting for Dawn and Corrie to get back from class reading, knitting, and starting her French homework. It wasn't due until Wednesday, but she might have more work to do for her Tuesday/Thursday classes, and she didn't have anything else urgent to do. It seemed she had a lot of free time when she had nothing to do, but that was a good thing; she would certainly have more and more challenging homework to do in the future, and she would be happy to take this time to do it. She thought back to how anxious she had been that night and morning and smiled to herself. As she'd predicted, there had been nothing to be anxious about. Of course, she had other classes tomorrow, so she might well pass another sleepless night. She told her mind firmly that there was nothing to be anxious about and everything would be fine.

"I return victorious!" came Corrie's cry from the doorway.

Edie held her knitting needles still, so she wouldn't drop them, and looked up, grinning. "Did your class go well?"

Corrie nodded, tossing her bag on her bed. "Well, I survived it, anyway. The teacher is really nice--and he is super cute--but it does look like it's going to be a very boring class."

"Well, you can pass the time daydreaming about him," Edie teased. She finished the pattern repeat and put her sock away. "Ready to go to dinner, then?"

"Yeah. Let's just see if Dawn is back."

She was, and on the way down they collected Duncan, Rico, Lorelei, and Charlie. They staked their claim on one of the long tables in the dining hall, each of them putting a bag or ID card on one of the spots. When Edie returned with the mostly-healthy dinner she'd managed to convince herself to get (it involved a big salad that actually looked quite tasty), there was another ID card claiming the spot next to hers--they hadn't taken up the whole table. She put her dishes down and bent to look at the card. That was a familiar face. Marlin. His last name was, apparently, Pennington.


Chapter 9: Naive

Edie had sat down and was discussing the joys of Goldfish crackers with Dawn (that was the not-quite-healthy part of her salad) when she heard a shy voice behind her. "Hey, mind if we sit here?"

"Of course not!" Dawn exclaimed.

Edie turned and grinned, seeing Annie and Salome behind her. "Please! Um, the seat next to me appears to be taken--I don't know if you know Marlin, he lives in Gilkey too--but you can sit on his other side or over there." She gestured at the other side of the table.

"Great!" They moved around the table, Annie sitting across from Edie, Salome next to her, across from Marlin's spot.

"Who's this Marlin fellow?" Corrie asked, leaning over Edie to look at his ID card. She sounded interested.

"He's in my French class. He seems like a nice guy. I guess he wants to sit with us."

Moments later, the boy himself appeared. He grinned at them. "Hi, Edie. I hope you don't mind me staking out a spot next to you."

"The more the merrier," she grinned. "I think everyone here lives in Gilkey--have you met everyone?"

He looked around, frowning slightly and pushing the hair out of his eyes. It immediately fell back into its former place, but she supposed moving it even momentarily helped him see. "Well, I know Lorelei and Charlie, of course, and I think I've seen some of you around, but I don't know everyone's names."

So she introduced around the table, realizing as she did just how many people were actually sitting at the table with her, theoretically her friends. She made a quick count in her head. Nine, besides her. The number made her a little dizzy. At least the table was set up in such a way that she couldn't really talk to or socialize with everyone; she wouldn't be able to hear them all! That was a small relief; she wouldn't have to feel pressured to actually socialize with anyone. It was strange to have this many people she felt more or less comfortable around, though.

It didn't take long for her to finish off the salad she'd created, and while it was fairly tasty, it did not leave her feeling full. She stared down at her plate mournfully. Should she go get more food? What was there to get? She had to--or wanted to--eat something healthy, but portion control was probably important, too.

Annie, apparently, noticed her frown. "What's wrong, Edie?"

She sighed. "I want to lose weight, so I'm trying to eat healthier, but I'm still hungry. And I probably shouldn't eat anything else."

Annie looked like she was going to say something else, but Marlin interrupted. "You're on a diet, Edie?! That's absolutely ridiculous! You don't need to lose any weight. You look great the way you are."

She sat there blankly for a moment, unable to come up with anything to say. Her mind was totally empty. How did you respond to that? It was like a compliment that was criticism at the same time. "Uh, thanks," she said finally. "I'm not happy with my weight, though. Maybe I'll get, um... a veggie burger."

"I recommend them," said Dawn, around a mouthful of one. "Not the best I've ever tried, but good."

"That settles that, then." Edie pushed away from the table and took her plate to the burger station, glad to be moving away from the table for a moment. True, she was now surrounded by strangers, but at least she didn't feel pressured to say anything other than "Veggie burger, please" for a little while. She stuck a brownie on her plate on the way back.

The burger was edible--better than it might have been, certainly, but not as good as a real one. Then again, she hadn't been expecting it to. The brownie was much better. They walked as a mass back to Gilkey (though she couldn't help noticing that Dawn and Rico were a little separate from the rest of the crowd). Marlin parted from them along with Lorelei and Charlie, on the first floor, with a "See you later."

Corrie pressed her lips together until they were white. Edie frowned at her. "What? Is something wrong?"

She shook her head. "I'll tell you when we get back to our room." Her eyes were sparkling.

Dawn stopped at the fourth floor. "I'm going to watch TV with Rico for a bit," she told Edie and Corrie. "See you guys later?" They nodded, then continued up to the fifth floor, saying goodnight to Annie and Salome at their door.

Once the door was shut behind them, Corrie burst out laughing. Edie stared at her, momentarily taken aback. "What? What's so funny?"

Corrie just laughed, throwing herself onto her bed. Eventually she took a deep breath and started falling down. "Marlin!" she cried. "Oh, it's adorable!"

"Huh?" Was she making fun of his name? It was an unusual name--some kind of fish, she thought--but not so that it would provoke this kind of laughter. And Corrie wasn't the kind of person to laugh at something so inconsequential. She sat down on her bed, waiting patiently for Corrie to explain.

Her roommate picked up her head to look at her, grinning. "Did you seriously not notice?"

Edie shook her head slowly. "Notice what?" She couldn't think of anything unusual. Did he have a weird tic or something?

Corrie sighed and let her head fall back on the bed, still giggling. "Oh, Edie. You're so cute and naive. He was flirting with you like crazy."

"What?" She thought back. That would probably explain the weird compliment. Otherwise, she didn't get it, but she shrugged and smiled. "I guess you would know better than me. Geez, why did you take so long to tell me? If you'd said something while he was still around, I could have explained and saved him the trouble. Poor guy."

She snorted. "He'll figure it out soon enough. It's obvious that you had no interest in him whatsoever." She pushed herself up, leaning on her elbows. "Maybe I'll steal him away from you, anyway. He's cute. Nice muscles."

Muscles were something else Edie hadn't noticed, but it didn't matter. She didn't care whether or not he had muscles. She finally laughed, mostly at Corrie's expression. "Well, he's all yours."


Chapter 10: Relying on Books

"Excellent," said Corrie. "Now we just have to work on you. Any girls you've got your eye on? I could probably help you out."

Edie shook her head slowly, thinking back over her day. She felt a little awkward trying to tell someone else about finding girls she liked, but Corrie was genuinely interested, and she really appreciated the offer of help. Then again, she couldn't think of much to tell her friend. "There are certainly plenty of cute girls on campus, but none that I particularly noticed, and certainly none that I thought were anything other than straight. I was really focusing on classes today; I didn't have much chance to notice the people around me. I only noticed Marlin existed because he went out of his way to talk to me. Which was probably flirting." She felt bad that she hadn't noticed him. She would have to tell him she was a lesbian the next chance she got, probably in class on Wednesday--she didn't want to seek him out to tell him, because that would seem like a nasty rejection, but she couldn't leave him dangling, either.

"Damn," Corrie said, looking thoughtful. Then she brightened. "I know! You should join the Rainbow Alliance! Then you'll be sure to find somebody."

"What's that?" She hadn't heard the term, though it sounded new-agey.

"It's the club on campus for queer people. I remember reading about it in, uh... some pamphlet."

Well, that was much better than a new age group. "I don't know," she said, feeling awkward again. "I'm not that great at meeting people..."

"Which is why a club is perfect!"

"I don't know how to join, anyway."

Corrie shrugged. "There's a club fair or something like that going on later in the week. They'll probably have a table and you can find out then. See? College makes everything easy."

Edie shook her head with a laugh. "And here I thought college was for learning things."

Corrie gave a dismissive wave of her hand, laughing. "You have the rest of your life for that. College is for having fun! And making friends!"

"That part seems to be working out well," she admitted. "I think I have more friends after a few days at school than I had throughout the entire course of high school. And I think I have you to thank."

"Me?" Corrie looked astonished. "Don't sell yourself short, Edie. You're a great person--you can and have easily made friends on your own!"

Edie shook her head. She didn't agree, but she would leave it at that. If nothing else, Corrie had given Edie a fresh start with her new nickname. That had given her just enough of an extra boost in confidence that she could talk to people without tripping all over herself every time she opened her mouth. But if Corrie wanted to give Edie all the credit, she wouldn't argue. Instead, she changed the subject, picking up the first book that Corrie's mother had given her, which she'd finished reading that afternoon. "I wonder if there's a pagan or Goddess sort of club. That would be interesting to join."

"Oh, yeah?" Corrie finally sat all the way up, an eager smile on her face. "You like the idea, then?"

"I do." She flipped through the book slowly. "I'm not sure I believe any of it at all, but I really like, well... the feminism of it, I suppose. I never went to temple all that often, but when I did, it bothered me that God is always 'him.' Even though we had a female rabbi for a while. It just seemed unequal, you know?" She closed the book and put it aside. She also had a vague sort of sense that something was out there, some sort of deity, and that she should find out what it was, but she didn't know how to express that to Corrie. It would probably just sound silly, anyway.

Corrie nodded quickly. "Yeah, I totally understand. I mean, I never went to church or temple or anything, but I talked to other people about religion, and it seemed weird to me that their god was always male. Then again, I grew up with the Goddess, so that's probably just what was normal to me."

"I should probably read more books before I make any kind of decision, though. I mean, just one book probably doesn't have all the information, right?"


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