Jack squinted at three boys blocking the hallway. His History class was on the second floor. He was on the third. He had walk past the three guys to get to the stairway leading down. The middle one, a tall dark-haired kid had that half-scared, half-pissed off look on his face that usually signaled a fight. Being well-behaved while fighting would prove to be very difficult.
Jack halted. To the right a row of window spilled daylight onto the long tiled hallway. To the left several doors led into different classrooms. The doors spat out currents of students and swallowed new victims for another hour of boredom. Too many witnesses to deal with it quickly.
If he made a scene, they would call Declan and Rose and he would be grounded and watched. There would be no midnight flight to California.
For a moment Jack considered climbing out of the window and down to the second floor. It wouldn’t be difficult – he could do it in his sleep. However, Rose had specifically warned him against climbing out of windows at school.
He had no choice. Jack swung his bag over his shoulder and started down the hallway, doing his best to look bored. The three kids focused on him. Yeah, definitely a fight. But maybe not here. With that many people around anything they started would get broken up before any real damage and they’d both be in trouble. The dark haired kid stepped forward blocking his path. If the guy swung, he’d hit him in the solar plexus, Jack decided. Just one short punch, knock the wind out of him, so he can’t scream, and keep walking.
“Jack Camarine!” the dark haired kid’s voice went up a little too high. Heads turned in their direction. Great.
Jack stopped. “Yeah?”
“My name is Rodward Grayson. My uncle is Earl Grayson of Summerick.”
That told Jack exactly nothing. He waited to see if more information would come out.
Grayson took a deep breath. “You insulted my uncle at the banquet two nights ago.”
Pieces clicked together in Jack’s head. “Was your uncle the one who called my sister a whore?”
Grayson’s face turned redder. “That’s beside the point. You’ve insulted my family. I demand satisfaction.”
What? Jack stared.
“I said, I demand satisfaction!” Grayson repeated.
Something was obviously expected of him, but Jack had no clue what it was. “Ask one of your friends, maybe they can help you out with that.”
Grayson turned bright red.
“He wants to fight you, stupid,” the larger kid on his left said.
Jack gave him a flat stare. “You won’t like it.”
“No, it’s you who won’t like it,” Grayson said.
“Fine. Do you want me to beat your ass right here or do you want to do this later? Decide, because I’ve got a class to go to.”
“After school, eight of evening,” Grayson said. “On the sparring grounds. Be there or I’ll tell everyone you’re a coward.”
From what George said this morning between classes, they were supposed to stay at school until Gaston came for them at dusk. It was mid-August and sun set around eight thirty. With luck, he could get this mess out of the way and be gone right after.
“Fine.” Jack shrugged and started toward the stairway.
“I mean it, Camarine!” Grayson said.
Jack kept walking. The big blond kid on Grayson’s right planted his feet, blocking his way. Jack hid a grin and bumped him with his shoulder in passing. The impact spun the blond guy left and out of his way. Jack went on, keeping the bored look fixed on his face like a mask. Around him kids parted, letting him pass.
Maybe there was something to this nonchalant thing after all.
He started down the stairs and saw George coming up. They reached each other.
“I have a fight at eight on sparring grounds,” Jack told him quietly.
“Some idiot named Grayson. He says I insulted his uncle.”
“I’ve met Grayson. He didn’t think this up himself. Somebody is egging him on.” George frowned. “I’ll see you at the grounds.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “I can kick his ass in my sleep, George.”
“I’ll come all the same.”
They went on their way. Jack jogged down the steps. He never could figure out why normal people had to make everything so complicated.
Jack lay on the branch of the large oak and watched the world below him. The sparring grounds occupied a wide square of packed dirt about one hundred and fifty feet wide behind the gymnasium – a tall stone building decorated with snarling bears at the corners. Carefully trimmed dwarf cypresses, each about six feet tall and shaped like a upside-down icicle, dotted the perimeter of the square. To the left lay the obstacle course. To the right was the vast grass field, where bel-ga was played, which was one part football, one part soccer, and two parts pummeling people on the other team.
The oak stretched its branches over the southern end of the sparring grounds and from this point Jack had an excellent view. It was a good place for a fight, he reflected. The campus was deserted – the day students had gone home and the permanent students were heading toward their dormitories for study hall. Nobody would be loitering behind the gymnasium, and if they did happen to walk by, the cypresses obscured the view.
Jack stretched on the branch. It would be a nice night for the wyvern flight. The evening air smelled fresh. The ground just began cooling off, and the heat rose from it, melting into the darkening sky. Not a cloud in sight.
Jack wasn’t exactly sure how this whole business with the duel would go. There was no point in fighting unless you won and he was pretty sure he could win. But Grayson puzzled him. Why fight for something said to your uncle, especially since it was the truth. If his uncle hadn’t opened his big fat mouth…
Bloodlust flooded him and for a moment Jack saw red, just like he had in the banquet hall two nights ago.
Jack sucked the air in through his nose and let it out slowly, trying to exhale the mad with it. He’d wanted to kill Grayson’s uncle. He’d wanted to kill him so badly, he’d heard the pulse in the man’s neck and smelled the sweat coming off him. The world had gone really sharp on him two nights ago and that only happened just before he caught something and killed it. Or just before a fight. One way or the other blood was involved.
This was bad, Jack decided. Sooner or later, he would kill somebody. He never killed a man before. He could ask Lark what it was like, but that wouldn’t be civil.
Three guys rounded the gymnasium from the left and walked out onto the sparring grounds. One was Grayson. He carried a short wide sword in a leather hilt. The other was smaller kid Jack remembered from the hallway. The smaller kid had stood on Grayson’s right. The third guy was older, maybe fourteen or fifteen, like George. His hair was dark like Grayson’s and he carried his own sword, a long rapier.
The big blond kid whom Jack had bumped in the hallway was missing. Jack grinned, baring his teeth. That’s right. Didn’t want any.
Grayson stopped under the oak, looked left, looked right, turned, walked back, then walk to the oak again. “What if he doesn’t show?”
“He’ll show,” the older guy said.
“How do you know, Bosner?”
“Because he’s a Camarine. They are arrogant. He’ll show.”
“He’s adopted,” the smaller kid said.
Bosner looked at him like the smaller kid was stupid.
Grayson marched to the left, turned on his heel, marched to the right…
“Stop it,” Bosner told him. “No need to worry. There is three of us and one of him.”
“I heard changelings fight like demons,” the smaller kid offered.
“Shut up,” Bosner told him. “Everyone knows that animals like him can’t flash. I can fry him where he stands.”
Ah, so it was going to be that sort of fight. Jack dropped off the branch, landing behind Grayson. Grayson turned. Jack bared his teeth at him. Grayson went straight up into the air, landed in the same spot, and backed away, clenching his sword.
Pale streaks of white glow coalesced about Bosner’s fingers. “Oh look. You’ve made it after all. And they say changelings can’t tell time.”
George stepped out from behind a cypress on the right. “My brother has better marks in Algebra than you do, Bosner. I’m sure telling time doesn’t present him with a challenge.”
George had picked a spot downwind from him. Heh.
Bosner grimaced. “Camarine.”
George crossed his arms, oozing aristocratic haughtiness until he looked like a smaller version of Declan. “Bosner. What are you doing here? This is an underclassmen duel.”
“I’m here to make sure it’s fair. Don’t get excited.”
“And you do this out of the goodness of your heart?”
“Grayson is my cousin,” Bosner growled. “I won’t interfere unless your brother starts cheating.”
“How exactly do you cheat in a duel?” George sneered. Jack had to give it to him, the sneer was pretty good.
“But you’re right. It should be fair.” George closed his eyes for a moment.
A huge dark shape detached itself from the roof, plummeted like a stone, and landed in the grass next to George, its huge paws digging in the grass with sickle claws. As tall as George at the shoulder, the beast stood on four massive legs. Hard muscle corded his lion-like body, overshadowed by vast leathery wings, each tipped with razor-sharp claws. A long flexible tail, covered with spikes, whipped behind the beast.
The creature lowered its wide head, the dark red mane dripping down in long strands. His face was the worst. No matter how many times Jack looked at it, he could never get used to it. A man’s face, scarred and sheathed in lion hide, stared at the boys with burning red eyes. The beast opened its maw, his long red beast blending with his mane, and showed them his fangs, two rows of long sharp teeth, designed to rend flesh and crush bone. A deep growling voice came forth. “Master…”
Grayson turned pale like a sheet. The smaller kid froze in place like a terrified rabbit. Bosner backed away three steps.
“Now it’s fair,” George said. “Three against three.”
“Wwwhat is that?” The smaller kid pointed at the manticore.
“That’s Regulus.” Jack said. “George made him.”
“Reanimated, actually,” George said.
“He’s undead?” Grayson took a step back.
“Not exactly,” George said. “We’re not quite sure what he is. He’s in a class by himself.”
“How is that fair?” Bosner demanded. “You have a changeling and a monstrosity?”
“Before I came out, my brother is standing there alone on one side and your cousin, his friend, and you with your flash waited on the other side.”
“I said I wasn’t going to get into it!”
“Not until Jack beats you cousin to a pulp, and then you would fry him with magic.”
Regulus turned his face to George. “Can I kill him?”
“No. I won’t interfere if you won’t, Bosner. Stay out of this fight and you have nothing to worry about.”
“I don’t believe you!”
George’s voice dropped into icy calm. “Are you accusing me of being a liar?”
“If the glove fits, you should wear it!” Bosner bit back.
“Do I get to fight today or not?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know?” George spread his arms. “Let’s ask Bosner.”
A man vaulted over the low fence separating the training grounds from the bel-ga field and landed between them. He was short, about five feet and six inches, and seemed shorter, because he was muscled like a bear. His long black hair spilled down from his face. His eyes caught the sunset light and glowed with silver.
Jack killed a hiss that started in his throat. The scent coming off Gaston screamed “not human.”
The small kid took off toward the safety of gymnasium at a dead run.
“Quit screwing around,” Gaston barked. “Do you expect me to hold the Mirror’s wyvern for you?”
“We’ll have to do this some other time,” George said.
“Looking forward to it,” Bosner said.
“Don’t make me laugh.”
“George!” Gaston’s voice snapped.
“Come on, Grayson.” Bosner marched toward the gymnasium. Grayson stared at them for a long moment, turned and followed him.
Gaston headed in the opposite direction. Jack sighed and followed. George patted Regulus’s shoulder. “You can’t come with us. The cabin is too small, and the wyvern will sense if you follow.”
“I understand, Master. I won’t follow but I will find you.”
The manticore beat its wings, leapt, and took off to the sky. George ran to catch up.
“You should’ve just let me beat his ass,” Jack said.
“It’s bigger than you,” George told him. “Bosner couldn’t fight you himself, because he’s two grades above you, so he got Grayson to do it. Bosner’s flash is bright blue, almost white. He would’ve cut you up at the first opportunity.”
“I’d kill him first.”
“And the we’d have a bigger problem.”
“I just don’t see what was the point of talking?”
“Oh shut up, Jack!”
“No, I just want to know, the next time I have to fight should I like give it like an extra hour?”
George rolled his eyes. “Shut up.”
“You shut up.”
“Less talking, more walking,” Gaston ordered. “The wyvern leaves in an hour and we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”