Like a light snapping on, the darkness that had surrounded Avalon’s side of the dorm room all night long vanished. The girl herself stood there, yawning as she squinted toward me with bleary eyes.
“Good, you’re up. Come look at this.” I beckoned the girl over to my desk, where a half dozen books from the library had been scattered, matching the equal number littering my bed. “I found something.”
Avalon’s yawn continued while she stepped toward the closet for a fresh set of clothes. When she spoke, it was a somewhat groggy mumble, her voice was thick from sleep, “Is it an emergency?”
Fully aware of how bad overstating it would go, no matter how much I wanted to show the girl what I had found, I was forced to shake my head. “No, it’s important, but it’s not an emergency.”
Cracking her neck to one side, the busty brunette stepped back from the closet with her clothes in hand. “Good. Then don’t talk to me until I get back. I need a shower before I can deal with any conspiracies.”
With that, she stalked from the room on her way to the restroom, grumbling not-so-quietly under her breath the whole way about crazy roommates who never went to sleep anymore. Which totally wasn’t fair. I still slept. Granted, it was only about an hour a night, but it was still sleeping!
Yeah, in the two weeks that had passed since our encounter with the Eden’s Garden students, I had averaged an hour of sleep a night. I honestly didn’t need any more than that. Even working myself hard throughout the day, doing all of my work, exercising twice as much as I had been, and doing all that training with Avalon still wasn’t enough to make me all that tired. I had the feeling I could have gotten away with even less sleep, maybe an hour every couple of nights, if I had been less active.
Honestly, after two weeks of this… it was still absolutely amazing. Seriously, not needing to sleep gave me another third of the day to use. What the hell kind of crazy person would ever complain about that? Yeah, I was stuck in my room for the extra time, since I still had to follow the school rules, which meant staying in my room during curfew. No matter how awake and incapable of sleeping I happened to be, I was trapped inside these four walls. But so what? I could still get things done. It just meant that I could do all my schoolwork and other studying during that time, saving my hours outside the room for more active activities. It let me get a jump on all my classes while also spending an almost absurd amount of time scanning through those library books looking for any mention of my mother or Deveron, or anything related to either of them. I did all of that during the time I should have been sleeping, while doing my training and team bonding things during the day. I made it work.
According to Professor Dare, they had a system for dealing with things like this, where powers that were inherited by a student changed how the rules affected them. Obviously, curfew was meant to ensure that students received enough sleep. Yet I physically did not need as much any more. There were other students like me (though all of them were older), who for whatever reason required less sleep. They had different night schedules to follow, dependent on their specific needs. I just had to be added to that list, which meant sending the request through that school committee, which took time. Supposedly, it just took awhile because there were some on the council that wanted to forbid any exceptions to the rules, no matter how little sense they made. Each and every exception had to be debated about and voted on. Which reminded me that these were the same stubborn people who had needed the Headmistress to break the tie on whether I should even be allowed in the school or not, so maybe I shouldn’t actually hold my breath for a ruling in my favor after all. I’d read way too many of my father’s old articles to end up surprised if the people who didn’t want me in the school to begin with held it against me by voting against bending the rules about when I had to stay in my room.
And speaking of things that weren’t settled yet, we still hadn’t heard anything about what they were going to do about the Eden’s Garden students attacking us. Which, to be fair, didn’t mean that they weren’t doing anything about it, only that they weren’t sharing those actions with us.
We did have some answers at least. Apparently, there had been some kind of sabotage against the Pathmaker. As soon as our group had gone through, its connection to that area was severed. Someone had entered the Pathmaker building at any of the locations it existed within and had left some kind of enchanted item that blocked the building from reestablishing that connection. The people inside, including our teachers, had had to locate that item and destroy it before they could make the building create a portal anywhere within a few hundred miles. Even then, a couple of the teachers had transported that far before using their own abilities to get to our location as quickly as possible. But it had been too late. By the time they arrived, the fight had been over for a couple of minutes.
I’d already waited almost two hours since finding the thing I wanted to show Avalon, so waiting another forty-five minutes shouldn’t have been that big of a deal. Still, by the time the other girl finally returned, her worn and half-exhausted look turned into the goddess of perfection and cleavage that everyone else knew, I was practically bouncing up and down in my chair. Any longer and I swear I probably would have been scratching at the door, whining like a puppy for her to pay attention to me.
“Okay!” I stood up, unable to sit any longer once she was ready. “Look at this yearbook from 1918.”
Avalon obliged, taking the book from me to flip through it. “Okay, what am I looking for?”
Scooting over beside her, I used my finger to point. “So this yearbook is so old, they do things a little different. Each page has just a few student pictures along the left page, with their names and a little paragraph about them on the right page. See, Julius Markin, Penselvi Kresh, and so on.”
The other girl was nodding. “Right, seven students every two pages. What’s your point?”
I shook my head. “That’s the thing, it’s not quite four students each. See, it goes seven students, seven students, six students. Every third set of pages has six instead of seven because of this floral design banner that comes up over that empty space. See how it goes over each page, low on two of them, then up higher on the third to reduce the number of student pictures that can be there? Weird design choice.”
Avalon took a second, flipping through it for herself before nodding. “Right, what does it mean?”
“By itself? Nothing,” I replied. “Except for the fact that the designer had a weird thing for flowers. But look at the first page of student pictures again, then the second page, then the third.”
Flipping back to the front of the book, Avalon looked at them, changing the page over. “Six, six, six?”
I nodded. “They tried to cover it up by spacing those ones further apart so that it looks like there’s the same amount as the pages that have seven pictures on them. You have to pay attention. But just look at the names that are left on that first page. The first name and then the name after it.”
Running her finger down the page, Avalon read aloud. “Aaronson, Frederick and Bonwerth, David.”
“Yup. Guess which two names fit right in those two spaces that should’ve been where the flowers are,” I put my finger in that spot. “Adams, Deveron and Atherby, Joselyn. They should be right there. They took two people off the first page, and to make it fit they restructured the first two pages to have six each instead of the seven they should have had. They re-spaced these first couple of pages to try to make it look as normal as they could, but they couldn’t just redo the whole book for some reason.”
“Enchantment,” Avalon replied. “The magic that it would have taken to redo each yearbook, even the ones that aren’t here would be very taxing. The more pages that needed to be altered, the harder it would be, because they would have had to make the enchantment specifically to alter those pages. The more it had to alter, the harder it would be. So they just set it to take away those two pictures and set up the ones that were left to try to hide it by putting six on each of the first three pages.”
“When you point it out like that, it seems obvious,” Avalon frowned. “Why did it take so long to find?”
“Because they did a much better job of hiding it in the later yearbooks,” I pointed out. “This was my mother’s first year here. The other three books have more pictures per page, and are structured more like a normal yearbook like you and I would know. This is the only one that’s that different.”
“So what you need is an unaltered yearbook,” the other girl frowned in consideration. “Or a way to undo the enchantment that’s been put onto this one so you can see what was there before.”
I nodded. “See how they list more than the student’s name? Each student wrote something about themselves. Like this David Bonwerth guy said that his goal was to explore the bottom of the ocean. If we can get what my mother and the old Deveron wrote, it might tell us something about them.”
Avalon was silent for a few seconds, letting out a long breath before looking toward me. “I may have someone that can help erase the enchantment on this. But he’s not part of this school.”
I opened my mouth, then hesitated. “You mean he’s from your old school, don’t you?”
Her head dipped into a slight nod. “Seller. He’s, uh…” For once, the other girl actually looked a little nervous, bringing a hand up to brush through her own hair. “He’s one of the teachers there. He’s the only reason I survived, the reason I escaped after everything that went down. I trust him. If we give him the book and tell him it’s important, he’ll get the enchantment off. We just have to get it to him.”
Realizing where she was going with that, I breathed out. “Just how far does this trust extend?”
She met my gaze, knowing what I was asking. “I would put my life in his hands. If he knows that it’s important to me, he’ll take care of it and keep the whole thing quiet. Even from Gaia.”
I flinched. “Sorry. I… it’s not fair for me to ask you to keep things from your mother. Even your adopted mother. It’s asking too much, I know. I get it. I’m really sorry.”
Looking away briefly, Avalon remained quiet. “I care about Gaia. She’s just trying to protect us. But in this case, fuck that. We need to know. You deserve to know about your family, Chambers. So we’ll do this, then talk to her about it. She’ll understand… I hope.” There was a slight dip in her voice at the end before she cleared her throat. “Whatever, I told you I’d help you figure this out, and you haven’t pissed me off enough to take it back yet. So either be more annoying or shut up about how sorry you are.”
Smiling faintly, I poked her. “See? I knew we were friends.” Before she could object, I pressed on. “I’ll take care of getting the book to Seller. As long as you think you can actually get a message to him.”
“I will,” she answered flatly. “There are ways of contacting him. Most of them involve dead birds. But I’ll only do it if you’re sure. You have to be absolutely positive that you’re okay involving him in this.”
Nodding emphatically, I stood up. “More than sure. I want to know the truth. This is the next step to that. If you say you trust him, that’s good enough for me. As long as he’s not going to drag his feet.”
“He’ll take care of it. Just give him the book. And try not to look so vulnerable, Chambers,” she sighed.
“You are eventually going to use my first name,” I declared, pointing at the other girl. “With Herbie as my witness,” I declared while grabbing my aforementioned buddy from his spot on my desk to tuck him into my pocket, “You will call me Flick before this semester is over. You already use Scout’s preferred name.”
“Go get an identical twin with the same last name,” Avalon replied dryly. “So that using your last name for both of you would just confuse everyone.”
“Then you’d use my first name?”
She couldn’t hide the slight smirk entirely as she shrugged at me. “No, I’d still call you Chambers. I’d just use your twin’s first name instead.”
Sighing dramatically, I put my hand against my forehead. “And lo, I am jealous of a sister I’ve never had.” Straightening then, I added, “That reminds me. You told me about your whole umm, your life before.” When the other girl stiffened, I pressed on quickly. “I know, I know, I know. Not pushing things, not trying to drag up bad memories or anything. I just have a serious question, and it’s one you sort of already talked about so I hope it’s okay to ask for clarification.”
She was still stiff, but at she wasn’t running away. “What is it?”
Speaking carefully, I asked, “You said that you hoped your father wasn’t dead, because you want to kill him. But later you said that… well the story you told me left your father dying on the floor, alone.”
Avalon was silent for a few seconds, looking away from me. When she spoke, her voice was as hard as I’d ever heard it. “He was found by a vampire, who turned him into one of them. That’s what he is now. And he’s tried to kill me a couple of times since then. It’s kind of our idea of a family reunion. We try to kill each other every year or so. Eventually, I’ll get it right.” Turning toward me, she glared. “Happy now? Go away. I’ve got work to do.”
Obliging her, I headed out to take my own shower rather than push things. By this point, I knew well enough when to leave the girl alone and stop pushing things. She was a lot more open with me than she had been when we first met, but sometimes I still had to back off. Especially after pushing her more than usual. But today was pretty much the best time for me to do that.
After cleaning up, I emerged from the restroom to find Sands and Scout waiting. Both embraced me quickly, hugging tightly while Sands lamented, “I can’t believe you’re leaving for a whole weekend.”
“Pretty sure my dad would object if I missed spending my birthday with him,” I pointed out to her, chuckling. “Besides, you guys’ll be fine. Just don’t let the boys slack off while I’m gone, okay? And try to get Avalon to spend time with the team. I know it’s hard but… she really does need it.”
“Don’t worry,” Sands promised. “Scout’s got this. You just focus on having a good time.”
“Yeah,” I chuckled a little weakly. “Having a good time while lying constantly to my own father all weekend.” The reality of it still hurt. I didn’t want to lie to my dad. I hated the very idea of it so much it almost hurt. I kind of didn’t want to go back if it meant having to lie to his face, but that would have made everything even worse. Mom had abandoned him. I wasn’t going to do the same thing just to avoid feeling a little uncomfortable.
“Miss Chambers,” the voice of Professor Dare spoke up from down the hall. “Are you ready to go? We should get you sent on your way before morning exercises begin.” She nodded then to the twins. “Speaking of which, girls…”
“On our way!” Sands chirped, saluting quickly before starting off with her sister. “We’ll just grab Avalon and head down there.”
“I’m ready,” I confirmed with a nod. “I just have to grab my bag, then uhh, we teleport, I guess?” I hoped that my obvious nervousness would look like it stemmed from the idea of using the portal again, rather than the fact that one of the things that I would be taking in my bag was the 1919 yearbook.
Yeah. Not only was I about to meet and talk to my father face to face for the first time since all of this had started, I was also going to take a yearbook from the school so I could meet one of the teachers from the school whose students had tried to kill us and ask him to please undo the magic enchantment that was covering up the history of my mother. Oh yeah, and I was still incapable of sleeping more than an hour a night. All of which I had to get through without my father the super-reporter realizing that anything weird was going on at all.
But at least I wouldn’t have to deal with any Strangers while I was there.