NIGHTSHADE LESSONS PART 1
Welcome to the first part of my paranormal romance serial, where YOU choose what happens! Read below and decide what Naomi does next!
(Big ol' hat tip and many thanks to the fantastically talented romance author Maria Luis, from whom I got this idea!)
The immortal studied the picture of the woman that Iago had just handed him, letting a smile tug at the corners of his generous mouth. The image showed a young lady in her early twenties with straight, jet-black hair, fair skin, and rose-red lips that curved into a shy smile.
"She's truly lovely. Are you sure her father told her nothing of Maywen or the college itself?"
Iago shook his head, happy his master was pleased. The man had been agitated as of late, and even the most delicious blood or well-crafted spells hadn't improved his mood. "She knows nothing, my lord. Him and her mother were estranged, and she was unaware of her legacy until we offered her the scholarship."
"Are we sure she's his daughter?"
"Yes, my lord. Her blood absolutely sings with the lingering effects of his experiments."
"Excellent." He was silent for a moment, expression thoughtful. "I do admit I pity her. Maywen University will eat her alive, judging by this picture. She looks so innocent, and younger than her years."
"Only time will tell." Iago shrugged. "Shall we tell the Cat? She'll be pleased the girl has arrived."
His master sighed. "Yes, I suppose we shall. Get the runes and the live sparrows; it's been two weeks since we last visited, and you know she gets upset when she believes she's been abandoned."
"Should I bring the rats as well?"
"Why not? She'll yell at us less if she's full." He shook his head. "How did I end up tied to an angry feline? My sire has much to answer for."
"He is famous for his perverse sense of humor, my lord."
"That he is." The vampire glanced at the picture again before placing it in his pocket. "Welcome to Maywen, little Naomi," he said quietly. "I believe you'll find your time here instructive, if you survive it."
"Come on, Naomi, don't be afraid. There hasn't been a murder in Maywen in months. Almost half a year! That’s, like, forever.”
Naomi snorted at her friend. She then watched as Madison paused to touch the edge of the ornate stone archway onto the campus quad as they entered it, an interesting quirk that Mads refused to explain. “Thanks, that's so comforting. And you’re forgetting the disappearances. Those are as disturbing as the murders.”
Madison flipped her light brown hair and shrugged as if the kidnappings weren’t a thing worth worrying about.
Naomi gave up, as she always did. She concentrated on getting through the decorated arch back into the sunlight, as she always found the structure unsettling. This was likely due to its strange, arcane symbols and the way several students approached it as something almost holy.
The truth was, she needed to stop fretting over her safety in Maywen since she couldn't turn around and go home.
Also, Madison hated when she complained about the violence at Maywen University, and would remind Noami that it was rude to insult the college that offered her a full-ride scholarship.
Naomi somewhat agreed, and she was very grateful to be there. At first she’d been over the moon about embarking on her long-delayed college career and had accepted the scholarship after only the most perfunctory of research and without visiting the campus itself.
How could she not? The offer was a dream come true. Maywen University was accredited, ranked nationally in several disciplines, and images on the internet made it clear the campus was unique and charming.
But once she arrived Naomi discovered that Maywen had a rich and ongoing history of murders, odd assaults, and student disappearances, and she understood her new school wasn't as perfect as it appeared.
Why weren't these crazy occurances national news? No one could answer that question for her, and she'd learned to stop asking.
Regardless, Naomi found it all quite unsettling, and worried that she had made a mistake in accepting. No wonder they had to reach out to the oblivious children of dead alumni and offer them extensive funding to seduce them into attending; how else would they attract students?
On that beautiful early Fall day, however, Naomi was apparently the only student with any qualms about being at Maywen. Everyone else was very happy. The sprawling, green quad was full of students as far as the eye could see. They were lounging, reading, chatting and playing casual sports.
The space, broken into three paved squares that rolled down a hill, was flanked by a collection of 18th century statues and enhanced by the ornate facades of many of the surrounding buildings. She should be happy to be in such a picturesque setting, she knew she should. But she just couldn't shake her misgivings.
Much of her unease came from feeling like an outsider. She told herself she'd get used to it, and everything would be fine.
“Incoming!” a cheerful voice called out, and Naomi was nearly run over by a guy and a girl tossing a football; she lept backwards and found herself smashed up against a looming statue of a pointy woman in a Victorian style dress.
Naomi looked up instinctively and flinched away from the sharp, stone gaze that met hers. The statue of Abigail Maywen seemed to watch Naomi whenever she walked by. She was aware this was ridiculous, but couldn't shake the feeling no matter how hard she tried.
Man, had being away from home made her paranoid and jittery.
Madison, who apparently hadn’t noticed Naomi’s run-in with the statue, was still talking. “I mean, it’s so much better than that community college you were at, right? I dated a guy there for a while back in high school, and ugh.” She shuddered. “What a dump!”
“It wasn't a dump, per se,” said Naomi. “It was just a community college. At least no one died there.”
“How boring. Don’t you think a spot of poisoning is exciting, even exotic?”
Naomi recoiled. “Poisoning?! I thought the guy burst into flame!”
"oh, yes, someone did, but that was different!" Madison seemed oddly delighted to be talking about murder with Naomi. Had she been this bloody-minded when they were in high school together? As they’d only been casual friends in high school, and that only because Naomi had tutored Madison in calculus, Naomi figured she simply hadn't known the girl very well. “I thought you were talking about the poisoned woman. I guess the fire guy incident occured more recently.”
“Are there any other flashy and gruesome deaths I need to know about?”
Ignoring the question, Madison put her arm around Naomi’s shoulders. “Come on, isn’t this place amazing? I love autumn in Maywen. Do people look like they’re afraid death lurks around every corner?”
“No, I guess they don't.” Naomi would be lying to herself if she didn’t admit she loved the old buildings, the lush, green spaces, and even certain of the stern, looming statues. While she was loath to admit it to Madison and prove her friend right, her community college had been extremely drab: the whole of that campus had consisted of of two massive concrete buildings from the seventies, squat and gray, with sparsely cleaned bathrooms and an odd smell in the basement.
“The campus here is nice,” she admitted.
"Right? Seriously, give it more time than two weeks before you damn the place, and I promise you’ll love it here." She gave Naomi another one-armed hug. "I’m so glad we linked up - it's great to have an old friend from Esken, even if you’re a twenty-one year old freshman!”
Naomi lifted an eyebrow. “You need to stop reminding me of that, Madison. Trust me, it’s not something I forget.”
“I’m sorry.” Madison seemed to be sincere. “I’ll shut up about it. I find it so cool you didn’t give up on college, and that you made it here. You're so tenacious.”
Naomi wasn’t sure calling her tenacious was any less patronizing, but she let it go. Having someone she knew and who treated her like a friend in Maywen was a huge relief, and she was getting used to Madison's little barbs.
As they walked onto Trent Commons, which stood on top of the hill and in front of the undergraduate library, she saw that a group of students was flying kites, the bright colors vivid against the shimmering blue sky. She couldn’t suppress a smile. “Okay, yes, it is awfully charming.”
But then one of the kites, a bright red dragon, began to swim against the wind and in a manner utterly unlike that of the other kites.
And, wait, did it smile at her? Was she crazy?
Yes, you must be, because a kite doesn't randomly smile, and it moves with the wind, not against it, she chastised herself. Don't be silly.
Maybe her insomnia had finally caught up to her. She hadn’t slept well since she'd arrived in Maywen, soperhaps she'd gotten to the point where she was delusional.
“See I thought you’d come around!” Madison chirped.
Madison's thin skin when it came to Maywen University confused Naomi, but she didn't know how to bring it up. Sometimes it felt as if Maywen University was more like a cult than a college, not that she'd ever say that to Madison.
She heard the sound of running feet and an explosion of voices behind them, and she gasped and whirled to be faced with what appeared to be two dozen people in dark blue, matching hoodies who were running through the commons and straight at them.
Other students jumped out of their way; Naomi tried to, but didn't move fast enough before one of the front runners clipped her in the shoulder and sent her tumbling into the grass.
“Ow!” She rubbed her shoulder and winced at the pain. Two run-ins in five minutes? Naomi's goodwill for the place was fading, and now her shoulder hurt.
A figure then covered the sun, and she looked up, momentarily blinded.
“Hey, are you okay?”
Dear god, how did men that attractive even exist? The sun shone like a halo around his face, and Naomi drank in his tan skin, golden blond hair of many shades, and dark blue eyes. His chisled features were Hollywood perfect, and his crooked smile entranced. She blinked up at him.
“Miss, are you okay?” he repeated, taking her hand in his larger one and helping her up. He had an accent that she couldn’t place, and his hand was warm on hers.
“I’ll live,” she said, and he grinned and let her go. How could his nose and lips be so nicely formed? He was a golden Greek god, or some sort of prettier, tanner version of Liam Hemsworth.
“Good; if I’d killed you, I’d be obligated to take you to dinner.”
“Cai!” someone called out. “Get your ass over here, we’ve got to get those bastards!”
“Sorry, beautiful Gata, got to go. Hopefully we'll meet again.” There was a charming twinkle in his eye, and with one more blinding smile he was gone, running after his friends.
"Naomi! Are you hurt?" Madison rushed over, taking her arm.
"I'm fine." Naomi snapped herself back to reality, and noticed that a crowd of students were following the running men and women, chattering.
“It’s a fight between the blues and Atens! It’s finally going down.” someone said behind her, voice full of excitement.
“Oh, shit! I’ve wanted to see this forever!”
Naomi looked at Madison. “What’s going on?”
Mads rolled her eyes. “Just some stupid, childish secret society shit that happens around here. Come on, we’ll be late for statistics, and neither of us can afford to fail that class. It’s famously brutal, and the teacher will destroy us if we’re late. God, he's such a jerk. At least the TA’s crazy hot.”
Naomi agreed with both Madison's statements. The TA, Paris, was both smart and very attractive, and she had a bit of a crush on him. And Professor Foxhill made a special point of mocking late students, which she’d like to avoid.
And yet... everyone was so excited, and whatever was happening between these 'Blues' and 'Atens' was important.
Naomi wanted to belong at Maywen, and this fight seemed important to the other students. Maybe she'd understand the University better if she stayed to watch.
What should she do? Stay for the excitement, or be a responsible student?
Oh, she couldn't decide!
Should she go check out the fight, or should she follow Madison to class?