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Vivienne felt like she was in Coral City all over again. For the rest of the school day, students who never glanced at her before suddenly came up to her and gushed about Blake’s athletic prowess. A girl from the school newspaper even came up to her in history class and tried to interview her for their news article about the upcoming game. Vivienne had never rolled her eyes so hard as she did when the girl started recording before asking Vivienne how she and Mathew met. Vivienne wondered what Blake would think if she told them they had met in a gay S&M club.
It was hard to believe they were all hanging onto her every word regarding a high school crush when the mouth of hell was literally opening up under their home town. Vivienne told the girl from the school paper that she didn’t meet Mathew until he showed up in her music class. That seemed the safest option. She didn’t want this town who was already terribly suspicious of outsiders to think they were co-conspirators from the outside.
It was a relief to leave the school at three o’clock. Vivienne wondered who was more lonely, those who really had no one or those who needed to maintain a facade of being happy in the arms of a monster. Vivienne caught sight of Blake as she wandered through the parking lot infront of the school. There were a group of boys in jerseys sitting on the hood of a fancy sports car. Jonathan was sitting in the driver’s seat with his feet hanging over the windshield so Vivienne assumed the car belonged to him. Asher was standing infront of the group, addressing them while laughing loudly at some joke she couldn’t hear. The rugged captain had an arm around Blake’s shoulder and Vivienne also noticed a half-smile on Blake’s lips. The two boys were of formidable height compared to the other members of the team, or perhaps it just seemed that way.
For a second, Blake looked up and met her eyes. His eyes were like two green jewels in the sunlight. He made a casual wave of his hand to motion her over. Vivienne shook her head and backed away. Vivienne heard the boys hooting in the distance as she ran away. She guessed they didn’t expect her to turn down the advances of their superstar.
Vivienne found Nicole by the ferris wheel as promised. Nicole was holding a pair of paring knives. She handed Vivienne one of them prior to leading her into the forest. “You’ll need that,” Nicole said. “We’re going to need protection if we’re going into the caves.”
Vivienne wasn’t sure what use a kitchen utensil was going to be against the demons she had seen. The small, petite girl walked with determination in the direction of the mountains so Vivienne followed despite her hesitation.
“I was attacked around here,” Vivienne noted. “We should be careful.”
“There’s a hidden entrance into the roof of the caves here,” Nicole said as she pushed her way through the thicket of bushes and tangled roots. “No one knows where it is exactly. The only one who ever tried to enter it was never heard from again. She was Zissa’s mother. She was trying to save some of the children trapped after the waters flooded the cave. She was one of the most gifted demon hunters Remin had ever known.”
“Is that why Zissa competing in the trials?” Vivienne asked. “I can see why this all means so much to her, personally.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Nicole said. She pointed out a particularly gnarly tree out to Vivienne. “Can you pull one of those branches down for me so I can reach?”
Vivienne nodded and decided if her superior height was all she had to offer, it was just as well. She used all the strength of her body to drag a branch slightly closer to the ground. Nicole stood on her tippy toes and grabbed a hold of the branches, touching each one as she went along.
“Are you looking for something?” Vivienne asked, wishing Nicole would hurry up.
“Just watch. Isn’t this what you came for? Answers?” Nicole seemed to search forever before she found a branch that was to her liking. She used the paring knife to slowly saw the branch from its connection to the rest of the tree. “These are no ordinary oak trees. They’re Strigoi trees. Their deeps grow deep, so deep they touch the caves. From the lake that makes demons, they make life. So, with them you can make weapons to help kill the demons.”
Vivienne watched with fascination as Nicole pared off the bark from the branch in her hands. She was making one end into a sharp point.
“You can kill a demon if you stick him with that?” Vivienne asked in disbelief.
“No, not really. The only way to really kill one is to set it on fire. Otherwise, it can always heal one way or another. But being stuck with these will really hurt it, sometimes even paralyze it. That way you can get to work cutting out its heart and setting it on fire.” Nicole proudly showed Vivienne her pointy stick. “You can make all sorts of weapons out of this wood - arrows, spears, swords. Most people who aren’t too fancy just make a stake.”
Vivienne eagerly nodded. She felt like she was finally taking control of her own fate. “I should make some too.”
“That’s why I gave you the knife, silly.”