Leon held his phone up and angled it towards the statue that Maric was posing in front of. He used a combination of a flash and the illumination from the street lights nearby to get it just right. “This looks like a man with a ton of misery, right? A weird thing for a scavenger hunt, but whatever.”
If you’ve got a statue of yourself there’s no way you’re happy. Imagine what was given up for those achievements.” Maric frowned, looking over at Dionysus who had decided to order the trio warm beverages. “Speaking of…what do you make of our new teacher?”
“He’s a good friend of Graciela’s mom, and I’ve known her forever. Charlotte wouldn’t waste her time on someone she thought was evil and Dionysus seems nice enough so I’ll trust him for now.”
“I think I trust him too,” Maric said with a slight nod. “He’s a funny guy.”
Leon couldn’t help but grin. “This outing is kind of fun, isn’t it? When’s the last time we did something together, without arguing?”
“Yeah, about that…” Maric came over to Leon and placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry about earlier. I shouldn’t have muddled with you and Graciela. I just wanted to get a rise out of you. You seem so hyper focused on her but you know that you can’t do that when we’re trying to save the world.”
“I know,” Leon said. “But it’s not so easy for me to put my feelings to the side and look at the bigger picture. Being back home with my family and friends, even just for the weekend, I realized that even if we’re destined to do something dangerous and probably deadly, that I want to spend every moment I can with them and make memories. It can’t always just be the academy for the rest of our lives. I pretended that Gracie didn’t exist to make things easier but I only made them harder.”
“You’ve got to befriend her all over again,” Maric said with a shrug. “If that’s what you want to do. You two aren’t the same kids you were five years ago. You’ve got more to lose than any of us here, but she doesn’t know that.”
“She doesn’t. Not yet anyway.” Leon frowned. He crossed his arms over his chest, but he couldn’t hide his uncertainty from Maric. “Are we doing the right thing? Going to the Underworld, I mean? Braylen’s father did and lost the love of his life.”
“Well, I don’t imagine confronting the darkness is going to come without its price. Sophina has done a lot of research but she’s never been down there herself, so I don’t think anything will go according to her plan. I think we still need to go down there anyway. It’s just this nagging feeling inside, calling me towards it. But you’re the seer, so you tell me.”
Leon placed his phone in his pocket as Dionysus approached the pair with three drinks. “Decaf for the kids, here ya go. What are we talking about?”
“The underworld,” Maric said with little hesitation, much to Leon’s surprise. “Did Ms.Sophina tell you that me and Leon are going down there when we graduate from the academy? Probably with Graciela if Leon’s visions have been right.”
“She’s already told you that?” Dionysus asked with a grimace. “What does she want you to do?” He had an inkling it had to do with visiting Victus and asking him for help like Sophina had told him earlier. If that was what she wanted the kids to do, he wouldn’t help.
“She hasn’t told us specifics.” Leon shook his head. “Just that we need to go down there and confront the darkness. What do you think about all of that?”
“Graciela is supposed to be a vessel for the darkness. I’m sure you know this from Lapis’ diary.” Dionysus looked to Leon. “I can’t make sense of anything else. I think Sophina has valuable information to teach you, but I also think that she doesn’t know what’s to come. I’ve been alive centuries longer and still don’t know the workings of the world. Nothing is ever certain.”
“So, it’s like I said.” Maric smirked at Leon. “Sophina can get us to the Underworld but we have to make our own path from there. If an outsider is saying as much, then it’s just reinforcing my ideas.”
“I think that the two of you, knowing part of your role in all of this, need to look out for each other. No matter what the plan is after graduation. That’s the most important…to have a team you can rely on. It’s the most valuable lesson I can teach you.”
Tommy placed a hand on his stomach. He still felt queasy from earlier, and running around with two teenage boys wasn’t helping. He tried to wrack his brain for what had happened, but the memories were fuzzy. He recalled fainting and then waking up in his bed. It was strange, but he wasn’t too worried about it. Tommy had been under a lot of stress lately, being in a new dimension, so perhaps it was that finally catching up to him.
Ryland took a seat by the older man and tugged at a stray thread on his jean pants. “Mr.Bennett, sir? Can I ask you something?”
Startled out of his trance, Tommy looked to his left and saw the disgruntled boy, no fairy companion in sight. “What’s up?”
“Do you think Ms.Sophina will let us do more things like this or will we get in trouble?” The normally energetic boy seemed distracted.
“To be honest? I think Dionysus will get into trouble and probably me too for going along with it, but I surprisingly don’t regret it. I’m having a nice time. It’s good to leave that stuffy building every once and awhile.”
“I was just thinking that in the last five years I’ve probably been in town five times total. I didn’t even know where to look for some of these scavenger hunt items. It’s kind of embarrassing.”
“No it’s not,” Braylen said, coming into view with a paper towel in his hands. “Sorry, I was in the bathroom. Anyway, I don’t think it’s embarrassing that you feel this way. It’s not your fault that you haven’t left. Leon told me that you guys are inside studying a lot.”
“To save the world, or something. Don’t know if I’m convinced,” Ryland admitted. “But I’m here for the ride anyway. It’s been fun getting to know everyone.”
“You don’t think we’re really on a quest to save the world?” Tommy pondered. “It does seem like such a magnificent task. Why us…? I’ve been thinking a lot about that myself actually.” Noticing he was talking to the students of his concerns, he shook his head. “Nevermind.”
“If even you’re questioning it…why are we here?” Braylen thought aloud for a moment. “I think, at least in our group with Ms.Briella, that we can learn a lot about ancient arcane magic. More than I could learn in Fortitude. No one says we have to use it in the way that she wants if we don’t believe in it. It’s like regular school. You learn and then move on to what suits you best.”
“That’s true,” Tommy agreed. “At the end of the day, no one here can tell you how to live your life. My honest opinion? Learn what you can but don’t forget to have fun. You guys are young, this shouldn’t feel like some heavy job where the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Make sure you have time for outings like this.”
“Speaking of outings like this…” Ryland beamed at the two males in front of him. “I’ve been having so much fun. We should convince Ms.Sophina to set up a class trip or something so the girls can come along, and we can do more. I haven’t gotten to really meet Graciela yet.”
“Neither have I…” Tommy’s voice trailed off as he remembered the connection that Dionysus had made between the vampire and Tommy. “I think Dionysus and I could manage to convince Sophina to let us have another, more uh…structured outing. Some fresh air would do you all well.”
“Oh! Yes!! What should we do?” Ryland asked excitedly. Braylen shrugged, laughing at all of the boy’s outlandish ideas that he began spitting out. “Oh, and we should hold events too! I know there’s not many of us, but don’t schools have dances and stuff?”
“They do,” Braylen agreed. “But I think first we should finish the scavenger hunt.” He held up his phone. “Leon says they’re almost halfway done. You think that’s a bluff?”
“HALFWAY!?” Ryland shot up. “We are not doing any cleaning this weekend. Come on, men! We march towards victory!”
Tommy groaned as he stood up to chase after the boy, and Braylen tried to suppress a laugh behind his hand. Ryland was definitely a breath of fresh air from the people he had met at home in Fortitude. He only wondered if Leon’s time with Maric was going as smoothly.
The girls bolted up when the door to the gym swung open. Standing at the door with her arms crossed over her chest was Sophina, an angry look on her face. “Hello girls, sorry for bothering you during your slumber party. Would any of you happen to know where Mr.Blaze, Mr.Bennett, and the rest of the boys are?”
“Dionysus didn’t tell me he had any plans tonight,” Graciela muttered to herself. “I’m not sure where he’d be.”
The other girls expressed the same sentiment, Winter going as far to say that this was too late of a night for Tommy to even be out of bed, let alone out of the academy. “Yes, well it seems that the boys decided to leave the school ground without the headmaster’s approval. Dionysus is conveniently not answering my calls. So, Graciela, if you will…” Sophina held her hand out, asking for the teenager’s phone. “I’m sure he’ll answer your call.”
After the conversation the group had only twenty minutes earlier, Graciela looked to the girls for support. Winter nodded reassuringly and Graciela handed Sophina her outdated cellphone. The girls watched as within seconds, the phone was answered and Sophina, with words that we’re sickeningly sweet, entreated Dionysus and the boys to cut their trip short…or else. “A prize? Tell the boys that what you offered the winning team will be available to all of them because you and Tommy will be taking on the weekend chores as well as your lesson plans.”
When Sophina was done, she handed the phone back to Graciela who didn’t feel too good to be getting Dio into trouble, but she was sure he’d have told her to comply anyway. “Because Arc had this night planned ahead of time with my permission, you girls are free to continue. Try not to stay up too late. You’re still expected to study this weekend, and then of course your chores.” The girls politely said their goodbyes and then once their headmaster was out of earshot, shared a collective groan.