Dionysus stood in front of the gaggle of sleepy boys, Tommy included. The older human rubbed his eyes before stretching his arms over his head with a yawn. “Why are we all here, Dionysus? It better be good because I was taking a nice nap.”
“A nap at Midnight, Mr.Bennett?” Roland asked, trying to stifle a yawn. “I was full out sleeping. I was dreaming about pancakes with EXTRA syrup and marshmallows on top…” His voice trailed off as he looked into the distance dreamily. “Please can I go back to bed?”
Dionysus chuckled. Leon, Braylen, and Maric (not surprisingly) looked wide awake, fully dressed as if they hadn’t even been in bed when Dionysus sent Tommy for their wakeup call. “Are you boys aware that the girls are having a sleepover party in the gym?” Dionysus asked, raising a brow. “Sounds like a real bonding experience.”
“Even Graciela?” Braylen asked. “I find that really hard to believe.”
“It’s true. She went with Winter willingly. Which means that we have the night to ourselves, no girls allowed. So, we’re going on our own bonding pilgrimage but with a twist.”
“It’s literally Midnight. Don’t use the word pilgrimage,” Tommy groaned, leaning back into the couch. “Why don’t we sleep and reconvene tomorrow?”
“And ruin this scavenger hunt I just found on the internet and printed out ten minutes ago? Nonsense.” Dionysus shook his head and handed the fliers to each male in front of him. “I want you guys to go around town and find some of these things on the list I printed. It’s pretty general so shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish. At 2:30am we’ll meet back at the school with picture proof of our findings. We’ll break up into teams. Me, Leon and Maric vs. Tommy, Ryland and Braylen.”
“There better be a prize if you’re teaming me up with Leon,” Maric finally decided to speak up. “Something worthwhile.”
“Oh yes, there most definitely is.” Dionysus smirked as he saw the boys’ eyes light up to carrying degrees. “Winning team is exempt from their weekend chores. The other team has to do all the work.”
“No weekend chores!?” Ryland bounced up from his seat with a newfound energy. “Ok, I’m in. Let’s do this.”
Tommy groaned but stood up, seeing no possible way out of this situation. It was madness to run around the town at night but he would be lying if he said that he didn’t agree it was a great way for the boys to bond. Especially Leon and Maric who seemed to be at each other’s throats as of late and for Braylen and Ryland to hopefully make new friends. “Alright, kiddos. Let’s read this list and see where we can go first.”
Briella tossed a piece of popcorn at Sophina, earning a glare from the woman. “Do you ever let yourself have any fun anymore? You’re so serious all the time.”
“The world is crumbling around us. I’m sorry that I can’t be all smiles all the time.” Sophina let out a grumble and turned her attention back to the television screen. It was some kind of romantic comedy that her elven counterpart insisted on watching, yet there were no laughs being shared.
“I think this is about Dio. For as long as we’ve traveled and studied together, I know a little heartbreak when I see it. After all these years, the two of you are acting like work colleagues not former lovers.”
“That’s what we are. What I felt for him all those years ago doesn’t matter anymore. He left, Briella. By choice. He didn’t want to stay with me and team up so now I’m going to get his help for our plan and close that chapter for good. We’ve got the Gray child, the Sikes boy, the agent of darkness, the key that will unlock the gates to the underworld…and the one who can call forth a god when we need him to.” Sophina turned her full attention to Briella who had long since muted the movie, leaning in intently. “You’re so close to seeing Indy again and I’m so close to having a normal life away from all of this supernatural nonsense. I can’t take it anymore.”
“So, no pining over Dionysus?” Briella asked. There was a slight smile dancing on her lips. To hear the conviction in Sophina’s voice was good. The two had finally been on the same page and any flicker of doubt that Sophina would turn away from the darkness was gone. “You really only care about our pact with Victus?”
“We summoned Ellora to help us and all she did was curse us. Timothy died, Lavina was ousted from her home, we were exiled! Women were murdered and children were kidnapped. Briella, goddess or not, she is going to pay and I won’t stand by Dio’s side as he tries to convince me otherwise.”
Graciela placed a hand over her mouth to hide her giggles. Tera looked across at her partner for the game and burst out laughing, not able to contain it in as well as Graciela. “You…you guys…no way you thought that answer would be on the board!” Tera laid her head flat on the floor and snuggled up with a pillow. “They asked 100 supernaturals and you thought that walking would be on the board!?” Graciela couldn’t help but feel like Tera’s energy was contagious. Throughout the game of “Supernatural Feud” a parody take on the traditional “Family Feud”, both teams (Arc and Winter versus Graciela and Tera) never failed to get at least one absurd answer that earned them a boisterous buzzing noise from the acting host, Adriana.
“It’s actually up there,” Adriana said. “Granted, only 3 points.”
“Ha!” Winter stuck her tongue out and laughed. “Okay let’s take a break. I had enough ridiculous answers for one night.”
“You know a lot about supernaturals,” Arc commented, looking over at Graciela. “Does Fortitude have any humans?”
“Just my dad,” Graciela said. “Some people don’t accept us because of that but it’s whatever. He doesn’t care about it. Otherwise everyone is some kind of fancy purebred supernatural.”
“Like having no other occults in their bloodline? Humans or otherwise?” Adriana asked.
“Yep. They consider my family lesser because my mother is a vampire but her father is a mage and before that one of my granddads was a human.” Graciela didn’t feel a judging gaze on her as she spoke which made her feel at ease. For years she felt like she was bullied for not only her abilities but because she wasn’t like everyone in Fortitude. Even years after their arrival, some people didn’t want her family there. “We used to live in Moonlight Falls but the ruler there is kind of…”
“I heard about that!” Tera said, nodding her head vigorously. “The leader is really unjust and the people are suffering for it. It’s really sad because I don’t know of very many other supernatural towns. I feel like the smaller towns tend to lay low.”
“It’s true,” Arc said. “My father tells me that of all the supernatural towns he’s visited, none are as well known as Moonlight Falls. Isn’t Fortitude like walled in or something? Look at us, at a school in the middle of nowhere. Humans don’t have to do that.”
“Dio told me that supernaturals and humans used to live together. I dunno, it sounds really nice. I’d like to live peacefully without some snobby supernatural saying I’m less than them for not being a pureblooded vampire. What’s the difference anyway?” Graciela asked.
“Maric is a pureblood,” Winter said. “I believe he’s stronger than me because of it. We can do the same spells naturally but he’s better at them.”
“Gosh Maric is so cute but he’ll never date me,” Tera said. Graciela watched the girl curiously. She could admit that Maric was attractive but the thought of dating him hadn’t ever crossed her mind despite his incessantly flirty ways. “He thinks I’m in love with Leon.”
“What?” Adriana asked, nearly spitting out the hot coco she had just filled down. “Did you tell him you had a crush on Leon?”
“Yes! Because before Gracie and Braylen got here, I was trying to flirt with him but he didn’t get the hint and I told him I was practicing to ask Leon out! Now I like, steal glances at Leon every once and awhile so Maric doesn’t know I’m lying.” The girl buried her face in her hands and Graciela couldn’t help but wonder how easy her life would be if these were the kinds of things she was worried about.
Listening to the gossip and girl talk felt strange. She had never been a part of something like this, Camilla was very closed off about her feelings and there weren’t any boys that Graciela had been attracted to in her high school. “You should just ask Maric out.” Graciela found herself offering a solution that wasn’t asked for. “Seems to me like he’s the kind of person who’d get impatient with all the games.”
“True!” Winter agreed. “He’s a super straightforward person. He’d probably want to hear how you feel when you’re ready. But right now he’s so focused on studying that I don’t think he really sees himself dating someone.”
“Really?” Graciela asked, mouth open slightly. “He doesn’t stop with the teasing, I’d never have guessed.”
“Oh, you didn’t know why he wasn’t moved from Sophina’s group?” Arc asked. “Maric is like the golden child in this whole operation. Ms. Sophina claims we’re a regular academy but just look around us. What school only has nine students? She’s training us for a journey and Maric is going to be a huge part of it.”
Graciela placed a hand on her heart. She had suddenly realized how quiet the voice had been. Ever since she had fainted earlier, she hadn’t heard the voice utter a single thing. She was having such a good time with her classmates, it was a nice change. Still, it worried her. She hadn’t been without a voice- menacing or otherwise- since she was young. It would have loved to hear about this plan of Sophina’s. “A journey to the underworld. It can’t be real. Oh my gosh. Is it real?”
“Apparently so. That’s the rumor anyway. Sophina hasn’t confirmed that to anyone but Maric and Leon. The rest of us don’t really have a part in that so I don’t know what she wants us to do.” Arc shrugged. “I’m not following anyone blindly though, and I suggest you guys don’t either. Sophina has a lot to teach us but until she gives me good reason, I’m not risking my life for her.”
“Yeah, that’s another reason we wanted to meet up,” Winter began. “To let you know that we have your back, Gracie. Tera heard Sophina talking to Briella about recruiting two new students before she even left the academy with Leon. It’s a little unsettling, like some of us are pieces on her chess board.”
“We don’t have any solid proof of course,” Tera chimed in. “That Sophina is misleading us or anything. It’s just a gut feeling and the absurdity of this whole academy. Like, what could we really need specialized training for, you know? I think she tells us all different things because Leon and Maric were confused when they brought up the underworld to us and we had no idea what they were talking about.”
“Maybe you can ask Leon, Gracie. For your own peace of mind, at least. At the end of the day, unless I know the full story I’m not doing anything, especially not going to the underworld. That sounds hella dangerous.” Arc shook her head fiercely. “The nine of us have to stick together, us girls specifically, because I have a feeling some of the others might not be in it for the right reasons.” Graciela had already been distrustful of the situation and had been led to the academy to do her own digging. Hearing that the other students weren’t all on board for Sophina’s plan made her feel a bit more at ease. Not for the situation she found herself in, but that maybe for once she’d have people she could rely on that understood first hand what was going on.