She made it back to her accommodation, a pensive look crumpling her brow.
Not only was there an Observer on Earth, but he’d been brazen enough to attack.
It only confirmed what Sally already knew. This – the apparent quiet and calm – was nothing but a dream the Hendari and Scarax gods had manufactured. One that, if the Academy didn’t wake up from sooner rather than later, would kill every cadet here.
She strode in to find her flatmate, Willis, talking with none other than Serena.
Willis had courted the E Club multiple times. She was desperate for their acceptance. Maybe Serena had decided it was time to accept her if only she could tattle on Sally.
Sally understood how the Academy worked. It was nowhere near as moral as it believed. That said, the Queen had witnessed the demise of many empires. She had seen far worse civilizations than the Coalition. But if Serena thought Sally didn’t understand the look in her eyes, she was unfortunately mistaken. Sally had seen millions of other people show it over countless millennia.
Serena was sitting on the couch, but she soon jumped up. “What the hell were you playing at today?”
“I acknowledge that you are the guest of my roommate. However, I do not wish to see you.” Sally strode toward her room.
Serena marched over to her.
Willis, on the other hand, stood uncomfortably, her hands behind her back, her cheeks pale. She had a simple relationship with Sally. That was to say, they barely related. Sally ensured they didn’t see each other. Willis might have bitched about Sally sometimes, but as Sally had already pointed out, her heart wasn’t in it.
Serena jolted over quickly, getting between Sally and her door. “You have one chance to redeem yourself.”
Sally narrowed her eyes. She didn’t need it laid out to her. E Club members were now so desperate to get their points back that they would do anything to make Sally capitulate.
“You wish to rerun the exam. You require my points to feel more secure,” Sally summarized.
“It’s not about feeling more secure. You cheated.”
“Serena,” Willis said, her voice just above a whisper. “Maybe—”
“You’re not Academy material. You shouldn’t even be here.”
“Pray tell, what exactly is Academy material?” Sally tilted back, her calm expression never shifting.
“Who speaks like that?”
“Royalty,” Sally suggested.
Serena placed her hands on her hips in a slow, some would say intimidating move, chucked her head back, and laughed. “What, do you think you’re royalty now? What’s that thing you tell everybody? That you have the greatest power in the universe sitting on your bedside table?” Serena craned her neck. Then she jolted toward Sally’s room.
The door was locked.
“Serena, this isn’t okay,” Willis said louder.
When the door didn’t open, Serena turned, huffed, crossed her arms, and leaned against it. “Seriously, you have one chance. You need to go to Carlisle and tell him that you cheated so that the exam can be rerun.”
“And so that E Club can know that next time – when there’s a real battle – all they will have to do is threaten the correct person, and everything will still go their way?” Sally didn’t have time for this. She needed to assess where the Observer could be. Then… she had to decide what she would do next. Serena was an unnecessary distraction. But there was something about the arrogance in her eyes. It didn’t make Sally want to slap her. Far from it. It made her want to click her fingers right in Serena’s face and wake her up from this fantasy.
What she was obsessing over right now didn’t matter. It was nothing more than a distraction – one her mind was using to pretend it was still in control. The reality was, Serena had no control over the coming war. There was nothing she could do against the gods, nor the Hendari. This – securing points – was the only thing she could influence. So that’s all her poor brain focused on.
You couldn’t hate something this confused.
“Please step out of my way, Serena. I wish to enter my room.”
“Jerry needs those points.”
“And the rest of you do too, do you? What exactly will they give you? A better job when you graduate? Will it make you more likely to be on a more important ship? I have a question for you, Serena? Why do you think you will even graduate?”
“This coming from you?” she hissed through clenched teeth. “You scrape by in every class.”
“I don’t try.”
“And that’s why you’re never going to be—”
“Academy material?” Sally had to end this conversation, but there was something about the look in Serena’s eyes that was finally getting to her.
It ignited something deep within the Queen. For it was the very thing that the Queen stood for.
When Sally had spoken of weakness in psychic defense class, it’d been the greatest lesson she had to impart. The Queen might technically be the most powerful mind in all reality, but she wasn’t made up of other strong psychics. On the contrary. The Queen was a conglomeration of the weakest minds. And that was the point.
The way Serena looked, it was as if she wanted to crush that weakness. It brought Sally right back to her dream.
Layra. Her first mind.
That simple, innocent princess would’ve been a sacrifice to the King. And until the end, everyone who had known her had assumed that she would deliberately, happily give herself up. For that’s what the weak do in the face of the strong.
“You can have my marks if you really want them. They’ll change nothing, Serena. They won’t make the Scarax Galaxy go away. They won’t make it more likely for you to win in a real battle. They’ll just make you feel slightly better about what’s going on. They’ll make you feel in charge for once. But don’t be distracted. There’s a high likelihood nobody’s going to graduate. The Scarax gods have not forgotten about us. They are currently undermining the Academy. Their next attack is imminent.”
“Don’t say that,” Willis said, her voice shaking.
“The truth might be uncomfortable. But it will still set you free from your petty—”
Serena suddenly slapped Sally.
Sally was aware of the move – the momentary spike in anger. Then the silence that flooded in after it.
The pain was quite irrelevant.
She paused there and sighed.
Willis locked her hands over her mouth.
Serena balked and shifted back, surprised by her own move, but didn’t back down completely. “How dare you say that. Do you get off on it? What? You think, as the greatest power in the universe, you are gonna somehow be okay? All we cadets, all we weak, middling, pathetic little cadets, die, but you get to live?”
“No, Serena,” Sally said slowly but surely, “I’ll die in the end. I was always meant to. And I relish the day when it will finally come.” With that statement, Sally influenced Serena’s mind slightly.
She took several steps to the side until she was far enough away from the door that she wouldn’t glimpse the crystals within.
Then Sally strode in.
The door closed behind her.
It took until then to realize that she’d ground one of her hands into a tight fist. She tipped her head down and stared at it. Her gaze was impassive, almost as if the hand didn’t belong to her and all of this was a curiosity.
“Did you hear what she said? She’s psychotic.” Sally heard Serena from the main room. “I’m gonna go complain to the counselor.”
“I’m really uncomfortable with all of this,” Willis tried.
“We’re doing this for us, Willis. We’re doing this so that nobody will be hurt by her. Now come on.”
Sally could stop them. At any point, she could’ve reached in and removed their memories, too. There was no need. Let them run about. Let them pretend that by complaining about one apparently weak cadet, they’d be saving the rest.
If that’s how they needed to feel in control, let them fool themselves.
Sally unstuck herself from the door. It took longer than she thought it would. She walked over to her crystals, sat on her bed, gathered them up, and secured them in her lap. There was no point to it. It was almost… as if she wished to gain comfort from their light.
She was no fool. All comfort ultimately disappeared. For in the end, there would only ever be the fight.