“Are you skipping school again?” Elian demanded.
Jehane wriggled into a bean bag set up between two portals near the back of the Portalry, and pulled a furry blanket up to her shoulders. “It’s not like it matters. What are they going to do, expel me?”
“Look, maybe nobody wants to tell you this but Seth is an awful role model. You should not be copying him.”
“Natalie tells me that all the time.” Jehane stuck out her tongue. “Seth says she’s just applying a double standard. Today, if you don’t mind, I am going to try to teach you how I do my tracking. That seems more useful than discussing China’s economic growth over the last five decades.”
“All right,” said Elian. “How are you going to do that?”
Jehane closed her eyes. “My earliest memories have the monsters, but not the shadow music. If I learned it, it must be teachable, right?”
“Possibly only to other three year old naturals,” Elian pointed out.
Jehane opened her eyes to glare at the wall. “Teaching you is all I can do, Elian! And it can’t be that hard because any trained Nightlight can detect a person’s anima, and powerful ones can hear Awakened.”
“While you can track an anima like a dog following a scent and plot the location of Awakened on a map.”
“I’m not a dog!” Jehane said sharply. “I think it would really be much better if everybody could be trained to detect things like I can, instead of treating me as a special case. You see, I’ve become much better at tracking animas since training with Seth. If I can improve through practice, so can everybody else.” She stuck her jaw out. “Right?”
“I think that’s a little like saying everybody can become a champion sprinter if they train. I mean, do you think if you worked hard enough your anima would be as powerful as Ajax’s?”
Jehane stuck a foot out from under the blanket and stomped on the wall. “You said! You said you thought you’d be able to do more than Kentigern!”
“Oh, I will. By the way, Laurel is looking for you. Hatherly is with her.”
“Why?” She didn’t know Laurel or Hatherly very well, just from special seminars in school.
Elian paused. “They want to talk to you about tracking, actually. Do you want to be found or not?”
“Why are you protecting me?” She curled up under the blanket again. “You think I’m fragile, too.”
“For Christ’s sake!” Elian snapped. “You’re hiding under a blanket and avoiding everybody, Jehane. What am I supposed to think?”
Jehane threw the blanket off. “Fine! Tell them where I’m at.”
A few moments later, Laurel showed up, followed by Hatherly. They were arguing.
Hatherly said, “Getting yourself killed isn’t going to help Aya.”
“Forgetting about her is worse! There you are, girl. Come with me.” Laurel’s hand closed around Jehane’s wrist. Her makeup had been smeared by dried tears, and her mouth was set with determination.
Hatherly moved to Jehane’s other side, his face thunderous. “You’re just going to take her? That’s beyond the pale, Laurel. Treason isn’t going to help Aya, either.”
Laurel’s grip on her wrist was tight enough to hurt. Jehane found her voice. “What do you want, ma’am?”
“Come with me,” Laurel repeated. “I want you to help me find Aya. She was my novice once upon a time, it’s my job to look after her.”
Jehane looked nervously between Hatherly and Laurel. She was not a dog— but she was a person and she didn’t like the idea of Aya abandoned to monsters any more than anyone would. “But where shall we look, ma’am? If she was taken through another portal yesterday, she could be anywhere now.”
Laurel started dragging Jehane to a portal. “That’s why we have to start looking now.”
Sixty portal frames filled the Portalry, and Jehane knew just how small a percentage of Earth they covered. The Seneschals managed the distribution of the Nightlights via a complex series of emergence point rotations, assigning graduated Nightlights in cities without emergence points, and sending senior Nightlights on deep patrols through more rural areas. And yet there were never, ever enough.
“It’s too big, ma’am! Just picking a city at random and wandering through it, it would never work.”
Laurel shook her by the arm. “So you just want to let Aya suffer and die, too? What the hell is wrong with you people?”
Sharply, Hatherly said, “Aya is a casualty of war. Although perhaps she’ll show up again.” He considered then said, “Yes, I’m sure you’ll see her again.”
Laurel made an incoherent noise, and started dragging Jehane again. When Jehane tried to dig in her heels, it felt like her arm might be yanked from the socket. Then Hatherly shoved his way in between them, putting one hand on each of their shoulders. For a moment Jehane was both pushed and pulled, and she wondered if it was her elbow that would give. Then Laurel fell hard to the ground, releasing Jehane to catch herself.
“Help incoming,” said Elian. Running feet pounded down the Portalry, and Ajax appeared along with several other students and Seneschals.
As Laurel scrambled to her feet, Ajax body blocked her. “Hey. Calm down.” She tried to dodge around him and he caught her by both arms, then wrapped his arms around her in a sort of hug. “Shh.”
She kicked backwards and one of the others caught her feet. “If you take her to the infirmary, the doctor is prepared to help her calm down,” said Elian.
Ajax, panting, said, “Is she going to… you know… freak out like the other girl did?”
Hatherly gave Laurel an assessing look, his hand still on Jehane’s shoulder. “No. She still believes in people. She hasn’t tried to use her weapon against any of us. She’s just very emotional.” Laurel spat at Hatherly, and he added wryly, “And very angry at me.”
Ajax nodded, and they carried Laurel to the door, leaving Jehane alone with Hatherly. She felt ill. Hatherly and Laurel had fought over her like she was an object. She shivered under Hatherly’s hand on her shoulder, and tried to move away.
He kept a grip, shifting to face her. His keen eyes raked her, then he adjusted the sleeve of her top and released her. “You’re a special girl. It has its price.”
Wild laughter bubbled inside, but she suppressed it. How like an adult to tell her being special had its price. “Yes.”
He studied her, and she had no idea what he was looking for. Despite his words, he didn’t look at her like other adults, like she was a tool and a sad story all mashed up. “You met Malachi, didn’t you?” She blinked at the unexpected question. “What did you think of him?” His interest seemed oddly fatherly.
Jehane’s face grew hot. He was terrifying and fascinating and I wanted to reach out to him and hold on tight even when he scared me to death. No, she couldn’t say that. She didn’t know what she could say, though.
Down the hall, Laurel screamed in rage and despair. Hatherly sighed. “I’d better give them a hand. But I’d like to talk to you more later. About Malachi, and other things.”
As he strode out of the Portalry, Jehane sagged back into the bean bag. Then, shaking, she curled up into a ball and pulled the covers over her head.