The Mors Mortis Society

"So, I'm pretty sure 'MMS' stands for 'Mors Mortis Society,'" Alexandra told her friends the next morning at breakfast. They were all huddled around the table, staring at the reddish-gold disk sitting by her plate. "But I can't figure out what the coin is for, or how Charlie got it."

"It's obvious, isn't it?" said David.

Alexandra gave him a narrow look. "Oh, really?"

"It's an invitation." David leaned closer to examine the coin, but like the others, he refrained from touching it. "They invited you last year, right? But you never showed."

Alexandra tapped the coin with a finger thoughtfully. Back in June, she had received an anonymous invitation to the secretive club's year-end meeting. This was after the entire school had found out about her being Abraham Thorn's daughter. Though intensely curious, she had in the end decided not to go, not wanting to do anything to further her reputation as a 'Dark sorceress.'

"Charlie might have just picked it up because it was shiny," Anna suggested doubtfully.

"So either Charlie found someone else's coin, or they somehow got Charlie to bring it to me?" Alexandra wasn't sure which theory she liked better.

"Guess we'll find out if you're suddenly covered in boils and grow a tail," David joked. Alexandra rolled her eyes at him, but the Pritchards didn't look amused at all.

"This hain't funny!" Constance fumed.

"Who knows what other curses them sorcerers might'a wished on you?" Forbearance whispered.

"You oughter turn that bedeviled coin in," urged Constance.

Forbearance nodded. "And have yourself blessed."

"Blessed?" Alexandra frowned.

"Getting checked for curses wouldn't be a bad idea," Anna agreed. "Although if the coin really did have a Thief's Curse on it, it probably would have affected you already."

"Actually, it would have affected Charlie," Alexandra pointed out. That had worried her a great deal the previous night, and she'd stayed up late keeping an eye on her raven. Nothing had happened, though, and Charlie was still fine this morning, and still annoyed at having the coin taken away.

"Charlie's your familiar," said Constance.

"A curse drawn by a familiar goes to its witch," stated Forbearance.

That made Alexandra frown again. Anna started to disagree with them, which led to an argument about the nature of curses. Alexandra didn't much like the idea that Charlie could go and get her cursed, though she certainly didn't want Charlie cursed either.

Down the table, she noticed Darla and Angelique both giving her dark looks. She raised an eyebrow, with a challenging expression. The two girls just shook their heads and looked away from her, then picked up their trays and got up from the table. Alexandra snorted. Darla had been acting more snotty than usual lately.

If you want to be around Blacksburg students so much, you join the JROC, she thought sourly.

Despite the Pritchards' warning, Alexandra neither turned the coin in nor got rid of it. She knew the Mors Mortis Society was a banned organization, and she didn't really want to join a bunch of misfits practicing Dark Arts. She could not banish her curiosity, however, and when no boils or tails or other curses afflicted her or Charlie after a few days, she decided that either the warning on the coin was a bluff, or she was meant to have it after all. Exactly what it was good for remained unclear. Anna also thought she should get rid of it, so Alexandra simply didn't mention that she was still carrying it around in her pocket.

As the month wore on, Alexandra still hated getting up before dawn on exercise days, but it was becoming easier, and she was no longer the second-slowest after Anna to finish their morning runs or obstacle courses. Colonel Shirtliffe had also promised that once the 'new wands' mastered the basic drills and courtesies, they'd start learning things like tactical movement, on foot and on broom, and basic magical defense. Since Alexandra was still too young to join the Dueling Club, she was looking forward to getting something useful out of all this drilling.

She still hated her uniform, but it looked sharper now than it had at first. Some of the other girls had helped her figure out how to make it fit her better, and Beatrice had grudgingly taught her a Polishing Charm for her shoes. Kids still snickered at the infamous Alexandra Quick wearing a JROC uniform in the hallways, but not when she was around the Stormcrows, who were intimidating enough to make even Larry Albo and his friends shut up. (Girls, on the other hand, giggled and flirted shamelessly with all the Blacksburg boys, but especially Martin and Maximilian.)

Nearly two weeks after Charlie had brought her the mysterious coin, Alexandra felt an unpleasant electric tingle against her thigh as she was getting dressed one morning. She'd already put on her blue uniform trousers and dumped the usual contents of her pockets into them. She finished buttoning her jacket, and then reached into her front pants pocket, and sure enough, when her fingers brushed against the coin, a much stronger jolt went through her. Then it faded immediately.

With a glance at Anna, who was still combing her hair straight (weeks later, the effects of Tomo's hex had not yet completely worn off), Alexandra retrieved the coin from her pocket and looked at it.

The raven's wings were now outstretched, and pointing directly upwards, one fully extended and the other half folded. It made the bird look very much like a watch face, with its wings representing two hands, indicating twelve o'clock. And beneath the letters 'MMS' was now a new word: 'SABBATH,' next to a tiny crescent that looked like a new moon.

When she flipped it over, she saw that there was a small pinpoint of light on one of the septagon's seven sides. She frowned and held the coin up to her eye, squinting to take a closer look, but couldn't make sense of the light's significance.

"What are you doing?" Anna asked. Alexandra lowered the coin, and Anna's eyes widened when she saw it. "I thought you got rid of that!" she exclaimed in an accusing tone.

Alexandra shrugged. "Nothing happened, so obviously it wasn't cursed."

"That's your idea of testing whether something is cursed or not? Hold onto it and see what happens?"

Alexandra frowned, dropped the coin back into her pocket, and buttoned up the collar of her uniform jacket. "Your shoes are scuffed."

Anna looked down at her black uniform shoes, with a disgusted expression. "What does it matter? They'll find some reason to yell at me anyway." She gave Alexandra a suspicious, worried look, but didn't say anything else as they went to breakfast.

Alexandra puzzled over the coin's message all day. She had to go to the library to look up 'Sabbath,' and discovered that it usually referred to Sunday – except when it referred to Saturday. Or, according to several different traditions, both Muggle and magical, any number of other days throughout the year.

She found this not much more helpful than the lunar chart that Mrs. Minder helped her find after she told the librarian she needed to look up phases of the moon. Alexandra found that in September, the new moon would be waning throughout the coming weekend, but there were lots of other confusing terms, like 'dark moon,' and 'astronomical new moon.'

Frustrated, she wondered who might know more about this subject. She certainly couldn't ask Anna for help with this, and definitely not a teacher. Then she recalled that Darla and Angelique were taking Astronomy and Astrology.

Okay, she thought. It won't be that bad if I ask them a simple question.

She knew her suitemates were really going to enjoy feeling superior to her, though, so when at last she resorted to knocking on their door after class that afternoon, it was with gritted teeth.

Darla opened the door. She and Angelique were both undressing and changing into more comfortable clothes.

"Look at those rolls!" Angelique's jarvey was jeering at her from her cage.

Angelique flinched and ordered, "Be quiet, Honey," as she always did.

"Why don't you put a Silencing Charm on her?" Alexandra asked.

Angelique, who had been pinching her side and examining her excess flesh critically, turned to frown at Alexandra. "I can't keep her Silenced all the time. It's not natural."

"Blazing blue bulls, what an enormous ass!" exclaimed Honey.

Angelique's backside was now turned towards the jarvey's cage, and she scowled and looked over her shoulder. "Shut up, Honey!"

Alexandra shook her head. She didn't think there was anything natural about being insulted by a talking rodent, but Darla demanded impatiently, "What do you want, Alexandra?"

"I was wondering if you know when the Sabbath is." Alexandra looked over her shoulder to make sure Anna hadn't entered their room yet. "And if there's a new moon on the Sabbath or something. I'm just... curious about astrology and stuff."

"Mudblood!" screamed Honey, and Alexandra's expression darkened, until Angelique picked up the jarvey's cage and moved her to the other side of the room.

"Curious," Darla repeated, with a flat, humorless expression. She stared at Alexandra a moment, then shook her head. "You mean you're curious about this?" She picked up something off her dresser and held it up. It was a coin identical to Alexandra's.

Alexandra gaped. "You have one too!"

"So does Angelique." Darla gave her a haughty look. "What, you thought you have to have an infamous Dark wizard as a father to be worthy of an invitation?"

Alexandra narrowed her eyes. "I wasn't even sure it was an invitation. Who gave you yours?"

Darla scowled. "You do realize that the Mors Mortis Society is supposed to be secret, right? I saw you flashing your coin around and telling everyone else about it. I'll bet they won't even let you join now, once they've seen what a blabbermouth you are."

Alexandra scowled back at her. "I didn't tell everyone else."

Darla snorted. "You're about as secretive as Honey." She sounded resentful and smug at the same time. "Everything you do, the whole school knows about it."

"Blabbermouth! Lip-flapping babbling jabberjaw!" screamed the jarvey from across the room.

Alexandra clenched her fists. "If you don't tell me, I'll find out one way or another."

Darla rolled her eyes. "Sunday. It's Sunday at midnight, okay? It's not some big complicated riddle. Even a seventh grader is supposed to be able to figure it out on her own."

"But what about –?" Alexandra started to ask about the little light on the septagon, but Darla shut the door in her face. Behind the door, she heard Honey shout, "Sorceress!"

Alexandra muttered another word for Darla that wasn't much better, and then began removing her uniform. She said nothing about the coin or the meeting of the Mors Mortis Society to Anna when her roommate came shuffling in, looking red-faced and upset after having been held after class for 'remedial training' by Hawthorne and King.

"I'm supposed to polish my shoes, without magic, until I can see my face in them," Anna moaned, pointing at her dull black shoes. "Maximilian said I have to show up for inspection tomorrow morning. Tomorrow is Saturday!"

"You should have polished them when I told you to," Alexandra said.

Anna glared at her. "This is so unfair! I hate the JROC!" She flung herself on her bed, and sulked almost until dinner. Alexandra decided that what she felt like saying, she'd better not, so both of them were quiet until they went to the cafeteria together.

At dinner, she agreed to join Anna and the Pritchards in one of the student recreation rooms that evening. Constance and Forbearance wanted to teach them something called Witches' Whist. David lost interest as soon as he heard the name, and Darla and Angelique both snickered and said that was a game their grandmothers played. Alexandra glared at Angelique and told her to have another roll, with a nasty inflection on the last word. She felt oddly guilty when Angelique flushed, and she realized the other girl had hardly eaten anything for dinner.

"You're not really letting a jarvey tell you you're fat, are you?" she asked.

Angelique didn't take that any better than the crack about rolls. She and Darla got up from the table and stomped away, while Constance and Forbearance gave her one of their disapproving/disappointed looks.

Sighing, Alexandra followed the other three girls out of the cafeteria. The rec room near the seventh graders' dorms was dominated by kids playing board games, reading, doing homework, or fighting over which station to tune the Wizard Wireless to. There were a few Muggle-born kids playing a role-playing game in a corner. Alexandra, Anna, Constance, and Forbearance sat down around a small table, and Constance began dealing cards, while Forbearance explained the rules of Witches' Whist.

Alexandra's mind kept drifting, though, and at one point, while Forbearance was shuffling cards to deal out another set of hands, Alexandra took the MMS coin out of her pocket, holding it under the table so the other girls couldn't see it. She noticed that the little pinpoint of light was still there, but now it was glowing on a different side of the septagon than where it had appeared before. Excited, she tucked the coin back into her pocket before the other girls noticed.

Alexandra still wasn't sure she wanted to have anything to do with the Mors Mortis Society. She did like the idea of learning hexes and curses. She had heard an awful lot about the so-called 'Dark Arts,' and was beginning to suspect a lot of it was either made up, or just spells that adults didn't want kids to know about.

She tossed this around in her mind, while trying to concentrate on the complicated system of bids and tricks that Constance and Forbearance were teaching her. She kept refusing to fold, and the Ozarker girls caught on quickly to her habit of bluffing outrageously, so her major arcana cards turned blank one after another, as her kings and cavaliers and fools marched off the edges of her cards, summoned into the Ozarkers' hands.

She didn't mention the Mors Mortis Society to her friends, of course, but she left the rec room early, saying she had to talk to one of the older JROC mages. Anna frowned at her suspiciously as she went.

Outside, she walked all the way down the hallway, to where it joined the next wing at a bend in the corridor. The Charmbridge Academy building was a septagon, and when Alexandra took the coin out of her pocket again, she saw that sure enough, the little pinpoint of light was now at one of the septagon's corners.

The coin wasn't just an invitation: it gave directions! Alexandra held it in the palm of her hand as she walked back to her room in Delta Delta Kappa Tau hall, noticing the way the little light moved along one segment of the septagon, matching her own movements. She wasn't sure exactly how it would lead her to the Mors Mortis Society's secret meeting place, but she was sure that as midnight on the Sabbath approached, the coin would reveal more. It wasn't until she climbed into bed that night that she realized she'd already decided to go.

Anna's Saturday morning inspection didn't go well. She had diligently polished her shoes, but Maximilian King managed to find half a dozen other things to ding her for, and Anna didn't come back until just before lunch, complaining that she'd been made to spend two hours doing wand drills.

"Well, at least you don't have to do any more JROC stuff until Monday," Alexandra consoled her.

Anna didn't seem to find that comforting. She sniffled as she took off her uniform and threw it on her bed, looking as if she wanted to set it on fire.

"Maximilian is kind of a bully," Alexandra said, trying to empathize with Anna. "All the Stormcrows are."

"They don't pick on you as much anymore," Anna muttered.

I don't cry all the time, Alexandra thought to herself.

Anna was pensive as she put on a casual red and green robe and tied a dark red sash around her waist. "Abraham Thorn went to BMI, didn't he?" she asked quietly.

Alexandra raised an eyebrow. "Yeah. So?"

"Maybe that's why they don't discipline you as much."

Now both of Alexandra's eyebrows went up. "You think Ms. Shirtliffe and the BMI students are going easy on me because of my father?" she demanded, in disbelief. "I've gotten nothing but crap because of who my father is! Maybe if you'd stop whining and crying about how much JROC sucks, and just deal with it, you wouldn't always be the one they're shouting at!"

Anna stepped back from Alexandra in surprise, her eyes wide. "Why are you shouting at me?" she asked.

"Because I'm only stuck doing JROC along with you because you had to start a fight in the hallway!" Alexandra shouted. "And all I did was disarm you and Tomo!"

"I tried to tell Dean Grimm that!" Anna protested.

"But she didn't listen, did she? Because I'm Abraham Thorn's daughter, so if one of my friends drags me into a fight, I must have been equally responsible! And you think I'm getting special treatment? Oh yeah, I'm getting special treatment all right! I can't even buy underwear without someone from the Wizard Justice Department following me around!"

"What?" Anna blinked, confused. Alexandra had never told anyone else about her encounter with Diana Grimm.

"I'll see you at the Quidditch field," Alexandra muttered, and walked out the door before she lost her temper further.

Charmbridge Academy's Quidditch team was playing a day school from Chicago. Alexandra and Anna had promised David they'd be there, as had Constance and Forbearance. David had invited all of his friends to come see the game, although as a reserve Seeker, he wasn't expecting to do anything more than warm the bench.

Anna showed up just as the game was about to start, but she and Alexandra didn't say much to each other until after the game. Alexandra thought that the aerial maneuvers looked exciting, but she couldn't be bothered to follow the different balls flying around the stadium or keep track of which players on which team were doing what, and she thought it was rather anti-climactic when Charmbridge Academy trounced the other school for an hour, and then ended the game by capturing the Snitch.

"I'd rather watch a Quodpot game," she admitted, as they walked away from the field and back to the academy. David, although he'd never gotten a chance to play, was still with the team, helping put equipment away.

"Us too," Constance agreed, following along behind Alexandra with her sister.

"We useter watch our brothers play Quodpot," Forbearance said.

The twins noticed Anna walking silently at Alexandra's side, and looked concerned.

"You feelin' out'a heart, Anna?" asked Constance.

Anna shook her head. "I'm fine."

"Did y'all jower 'gain?" asked Forbearance.

"No!" Anna and Alexandra snapped at the same time. The Pritchards stood back, blinking at them.

"No need for temper, then," Constance replied, not sounding convinced.

Alexandra felt uncomfortable at dinner, as Constance and Forbearance were still watching her and Anna. She was glad that David kept talking throughout dinner, making it unnecessary for her to say much. He was coaching the Quidditch game in hindsight, and talking about the Junior Confederation Quidditch League National Championships. Neither Anna nor Alexandra was in a mood to interrupt him, and Constance and Forbearance were too polite to do so.

"...Charmbridge has won the Central Territory championship for the past four years, so we usually go to the nationals," he was saying. "But we haven't won the Confederation Cup since '99. We keep gettin' beat by Baja or Acadia, or BMI."

Alexandra nodded, not really paying attention. She didn't realize he'd changed the subject until he repeated her name. She looked up at him, embarrassed.

"I asked if you and Anna are coming to our ASPEW meeting tomorrow night. You don't have JROC on Sundays, right?"

Alexandra looked at Anna, and down the table, at Darla and Angelique, who were sitting with some other girls. Alexandra was pretty sure that they were listening.

"I have homework," she said.

"What homework?" David demanded.

"Alchemy. And Wizard Social Studies."

"You can't write three paragraphs about Confederation Cultures by tomorrow night?"

"We'll see," Alexandra muttered guiltily.

"If you don't want to come, just say so." David frowned, then shook his head. "Whatever." He got up from the table and stalked off.

"We oughter go," Constance sighed, after David left. "I think he's let down."

"I don't know." Forbearance looked troubled. "Ma and Pa wouldn't like us fawnchin' about at school."

"You ought to go if you want to," Alexandra told them. "And not just because David wants you to."

"I thought you're for house-elf rights, too," Anna said quietly.

"I am," Alexandra replied. "I'm just not sure that ASPEW wants the same things the elves do."

It wasn't really a lie, but the real reason she didn't intend to go to the meeting wasn't something she wanted to discuss with Anna, and certainly not with the Pritchards. So she spent much of Sunday actually doing her homework, and then avoiding her friends as the evening wore on. After dinner, she hid in the library until closing time, looking at the magical coin every few minutes. By the time seventh graders were supposed to be in their rooms, it had still not revealed any new information. Unable to hide in the library, and afraid she'd be chased out of the rec rooms by older students (who had a later curfew), she was reduced to wandering around the academy and sitting in stairwells, trying to avoid the residential dorms, which all had watchful portraits hanging over their entrances.

Eleven o'clock came and went, and Alexandra began to worry that there was some other message in the coin that she was supposed to have figured out already. She was almost desperate enough to go find Darla and Angelique again, and endure their smug, superior attitudes. She scowled at the coin, flipping it over and over and staring at both sides. She didn't think Darla or Angelique were smarter than her!

And then she saw a little arrow appear next to the septagon. Excited, she sprang to her feet even before inspecting the coin more closely to see where the arrow was pointing. It was just a tiny glowing line with a little arrowhead at one end, alongside the segment with the glowing pinpoint that represented her own location within Charmbridge Academy. It seemed to be indicating that she should go southwest, away from the seventh grade dorms and towards the eighth grade dorms. She frowned a little. How was she supposed to get past the portrait monitoring the entrance to the eighth graders' hallway? Maybe this was part of an initiation test. You had to reach the meeting place without being caught.

When she came around the bend in the hallway and was almost within sight of a portrait of an ugly little wizard with tufts of gray hair around his ears, the arrow on the coin suddenly pointed directly to the right, towards the interior of the septagon. Alexandra looked right, and saw that there was indeed a small, dark wooden door there. Cautiously, she opened it, and instead of discovering a broom closet, she saw stairs going down.

The arrows on the coin led her downstairs to the first basement level, and around two wings of Charmbridge Academy, before directing her to another set of stairs leading even further down. Alexandra marveled at the ingenuity of the coin's directions. She was both excited and apprehensive. The second basement level wasn't illuminated, so she had to cast a Light spell with her wand. Maybe this was part of the initiation as well. Surely no one afraid of wandering alone in a dark basement would be worthy of joining the Mors Mortis Society. But Alexandra had been in the basements of Charmbridge Academy before. She'd almost been killed there, too, so she was wary. She also wondered what she would do if she ran into an elf, as she had last year. Bran and Poe had told her that most of the elves stayed in the basement; she couldn't imagine the Mors Mortis Society holding gatherings to practice Dark Arts right under the noses of Charmbridge's house-elves.

At the next flight of stairs, she was even more intrigued. How far down did Charmbridge's basements go? She hadn't even seen much being stored on the second sub-basement level. When she reached the third, the corridors were no longer tiled floors and finished walls; it was rough-hewn rock.

She heard footsteps ahead, and saw two other kids turning, with wands raised.

"Look, it's Troublesome!"

Alexandra groaned. She should have known: Stuart Cortlandt and Torvald Krogstad.

"So you got invited, too," she said, stepping closer to them, warily.

"Obviously, the Mors Mortis Society recognizes talent," Torvald said smugly.

"But they only invited Torvald out of pity," Stuart countered.

The two boys pointed wands at each other, until Alexandra snapped, "I'll hex you both if you don't cool it!"

They turned towards her, and Alexandra almost took a step back. Her odds might not actually be so great against two eighth graders who had spent many hours playing hexem, she realized. But then Stuart and Torvald both grinned.

"Come on then," Stuart urged.

"Why don't you lead the way, Troublesome?" Torvald snickered.

Despite her misgivings, she marched forward haughtily, pretending to be unbothered. Walking ahead into the darkness didn't scare her, but she didn't much like having the two pranksters at her back. If they hexed her from behind, she'd just have to get even later, she thought.

The boys merely followed her, though, as she preceded them down the rock passageway, holding her lit wand at the ready. After another dozen paces, they saw more light ahead, and found the way ahead blocked by two figures in dark robes.

"Your invitation?" intoned one of the figures, holding out a hand. He had a hood with a cowl covering his face, so he looked a bit like the Grim Reaper. He sounded like a teenaged boy trying to pitch his voice low and ominous, and Alexandra found the effect a little comical. She managed not to smirk as she held out her coin. The first boy took it, glanced at it, and handed it back to her. Then he held out his hand to Stuart and Torvald, and they both handed over their coins, which were duly examined and handed back. The first sentry stepped back, and the second robed figure came forward, holding a scroll and a quill.

"Before you can join the Mors Mortis Society, you must sign this contract," announced the second boy, also trying to project a deep, booming voice.

Alexandra nodded seriously, though she was beginning to wonder whether the Mors Mortis Society was the wizarding version of a theatrical club. She was a little more impressed when the taller figure let go of the scroll, and it snapped open in midair and floated there in front of her face.

She read the writing at the top of the scroll, which said: "I solemnly swear that I shall keep the secrets of the Mors Mortis Society, revealing nothing I learn, nor any names of fellow members, to outsiders, even on pain of DEATH!"

She blinked at the last word, written in tall, dark, capital letters and underlined multiple times. Were they serious? There was plenty of empty space on the scroll beneath this pronouncement, but she didn't see any other names written on it.

"Are we the first people to sign?" she asked.

"No," replied one of the hooded figures. "But you can't see any of the other names until you sign it yourself." He handed her the quill.

She looked at it, and frowned. "Don't I need ink?"

The two boys in robes chuckled. "No. You sign in blood."

She scowled at them. "Are you serious?" She looked over her shoulder at Stuart and Torvald, who raised their eyebrows and looked at one another.

"We're very serious," snapped one of the robed figures.

"If you're not willing to take this seriously, then get lost," sneered the other. "But give us back your coin first."

Alexandra narrowed her eyes. "What do you want me to do, cut my finger?"

"It's a Blood Quill!" the first robed figure explained impatiently.

Alexandra wanted to ask what a Blood Quill was, but she heard Stuart and Torvald whispering behind her back. She hated showing ignorance in front of other kids, and she hated showing trepidation even more. So she pressed the point of the quill to the scroll, and found that the magic suspending the parchment in the air was also making it rigid enough to write on. As she began signing her name, she felt a stinging sensation on her other wrist. Wincing, she held it up, and her eyes widened. A thin red line on her skin traced a duplicate of the 'A' she had just written on the parchment. She looked at the scroll, and saw that the Blood Quill's 'ink' was a dark brownish-red.

"You guys are crazy," she said.

"If you don't want to sign it, then give us the coin and leave," the first of the cowled figures repeated.

She glared at him, and then finished signing her name. Her wrist burned as the stinging spread across it, and when she was done she looked at the bloody signature on her skin. After a few seconds, though, it was already beginning to fade.

The boy who'd given her the Blood Quill took it back, and handed it to Stuart.

"You can go on." The second robed and hooded boy gestured down the hallway. Alexandra glanced at Stuart, who was now taking a deep breath before he began writing his own name on the scroll, and then she turned and walked another few paces down the dark corridor, until she saw a doorway.

She stepped through it, and into a room that looked more like a cave, with a bare stone floor and rock walls even rougher than those of the corridor outside. In the center of the room was a magical fire, burning without fuel and illuminating the faces of about twenty other kids. All of them were turned towards her.

Some of the faces were familiar, though Alexandra didn't know their names. Almost everyone was older than her. The exceptions were Darla and Angelique, sitting together on the other side of the fire. They didn't look surprised to see Alexandra, but their nervousness about being here had drained all the usual smugness out of their expressions.

Then she spotted one younger face she recognized. Standing between two much taller students, almost as if she were trying to hide, was Tomo Matsuzaka. In the firelight, her eyes seemed to be black and pupilless as she regarded Alexandra, and her expression was unreadable. Alexandra just gave her an expressionless look in return, and scanned the gathering one more time.

That's when she realized there was one person staring at her more intently than the rest. She blinked, as she recognized Maximilian King. It was the first time she'd seen the BMI junior out of his uniform, but he was still standing stiffly, almost at attention, and his expression as he regarded her was dark and disapproving.