VIVIENNE STILL couldn’t believe the elderly woman was an Auguard and had chosen her to be an Orlin. Her parents were in the midst of a loud explosive argument when she arrived home. Somehow, she couldn’t recall what they were fighting about. The events of earlier in the day, the threat of kidnapping due to her father’s gambling, all that seemed far away. Vivienne ignored them and ran up to her room. Vivienne ripped off the awful dress which the evil Auguard had complimented her on and slithered back into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. She threw the cursed dress into the hall and locked the door. She fell, face-down, into her bed. What was she going to do now? No one refused an invitation to be an Orlin. Her parents desperately needed the money. Vivienne had about two minutes of peace before her cellphone went off. It was Sallen.
“Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Vivienne!” Sallen squealed. “You’ll never guess what happened after you got off the bus today!”
“What?” Vivienne asked, wearily.
“I got picked to be an ORLIN!
“What?” Vivienne repeated. “You too?”
“What do you mean you too? Vivienne? You got an invitation too?” Sallen was screaming in glee now. “I had a feeling the other one was you. They called me about an hour ago. They said that the meeting date had been moved to tomorrow morning. Apparently one of the inductees is turning eighteen tomorrow!”
“They moved the date just for me?” Vivienne asked in shock. Her mind was racing. This had to have something to do with Blake Thorne. The Auguards simply knew things. Whoever killed Blake was after her too. Maybe they thought Blake had told her a secret. Vivienne’s mind scrambled for fragments of incriminating memories. The fang! Vivienne dropped the cellphone and ripped through her meager jewelry box. At the very bottom, in a hidden compartment, was a cameo locket. Blake had hidden the fang inside the removable back of the locket when he first found it. He was afraid his mother would disown him if she found it. Rumor had it that his father died under mysterious, possibly vampiric, circumstances. Lady Thorne didn’t want to hear anything about the vampires.
Right before he left that last day, for the deserted Arena, Blake caught her hand and pressed the locket into her palm. “Keep this safe for me,” he had instructed. “It is proof that they are real.”
Vivienne held that locket in her hand now. The locket dangled back and forth, as innocent as could be. The gold chain glittered beautifully in the darkness.
“Vivienne? Vivienne!” Sallen yelled from the phone. “Are you still there?”
“Yeah,” Vivienne whispered hoarsely. “I’m here.”
“What are you wearing tomorrow? My mom is packing my bags. I don’t have anything expensive enough to wear to Coral City. Do you?”
“Nah,” Vivienne replied and shoved the necklace deep into her pocket. She couldn’t just flush that down the toilet or toss it into the bushes. If it were found, it would incriminate her parents. Maybe she’ll toss it into a fountain in Coral City. No one would find such an exquisite abandoned piece of jewelry suspicious inside that city. “I’m going to wear something...with pockets.”
“Stop joking around Vivienne!” Sallen exclaimed. “How can you be so indifferent? Our entire lives are going to change!”
“Don’t you think it’s odd that out of the thousands of eligible teens in Ignias they went and picked the two of us?” Vivienne asked. It was still dawning on her that at school she was going to be a legend. She’ll never know exactly how they react to the news. She supposed that Janun or her parents would tell them. It has never been heard of that someone could be summoned the day before their eighteenth birthday. Was that even allowed? She was picked less than eight hours before turning eighteen.
“I know! Isn’t it exciting? I’m so happy you’re going with me. Do you think we’ll meet a prince?”
Vivienne sighed. There was no use reasoning with Sallen. “There are about ten princes at a time aren’t there? So, the odds are good you’ll meet at least one. Maybe you’ll meet him tomorrow. You better get a good night’s sleep.”
“Oh, of course! You too, Vivienne!”
When Vivienne finally emerged from her room, she found the door to her mom’s room locked. Vivienne went downstairs and found her father. He was muttering to himself over a plate of cold pasta. After listening for a moment, she decided he was reciting his favorite section of The Tempest. He did that when he was upset. He couldn’t be that upset, the TV was on and turned to the mechanical horse races.
Over the floor of the living room, there were shards of broken plates that her mom had thrown at him. There were more than a few living room chairs that had been tipped over and the table clothe had been ripped cleanly in half. When her mom was angry, she took no prisoners.
But it obviously didn’t do any good. Her father’s hand was posed over his cellphone as he was ready to send in another bet. Crazy Prospero, his students used to call him mockingly. Vivienne suspected it only partially due to his spontaneous self-dialogues in Shakespeare. Her father was so lost in his own magical world he might as well be living on a deserted island with spirits and ghosts. If the elbows of his sweaters were worn down, he’d never think of patching them. He would grow a beard longer than Zeus’ if not for her mom harping on him to shave. He grew so many plates of bacteria and hoards of salamanders in the basement for his biology classes that it made their basement uninhabitable for humans.
“How’s my little professor?” her dad asked.
“Fine, dad,” Vivienne replied. She felt a twitch of guilt at the nickname. Her parents reportedly nicknamed her that because when Vivienne first learned to walk, she used to stroll about holding her hands behind her back. She’s like a little professor inspecting my cooking and her dad’s papers! Her mom used to tease. Over the years the nickname started to reflect a different sort of expectations. Her parents dreamed that she would grow up to be a teacher like her father. Janun was the beautiful one who was to be married off to a rich man and to live the glamorous life of an Orlin. Vivienne was supposed to spend her life in a library and continue her father’s life work.
“Have a happy pre-birthday!” Her father offered. He wiped his dirty hands on his sweater and attempted to pat her on the head. “I didn’t get you a present...yet.”
Vivienne suspected he didn’t even remember it was her birthday until her mother mentioned it during the fight.
“Do you know how old I’m going to be tomorrow?”
It took her father an uncomfortably long time to come up with an answer. “Sixteen?”
Vivienne sighed. “Dad, I’m going to be eighteen.”
“Wow!” Her father exclaimed. “Are you sure? Where does the time go? How can my little Vi-vi possibly be eighteen already?” His surprise was genuine. It only further added to her aggravation that he too lost in his own world to parent her in this one.
“Dad,” Vivienne blurted out. “I was picked to be an Orlin. It happened today, on the bus. I have to go to Coral City tomorrow.”
Vivienne handed him the slip of paper. “You need to stop gambling. You’re the father of an Orlin. You need to shape up.”
The message finally got through to her father. He jumped up from the couch and ran up to the foot of the stairs.
“Helen! Janun! Come down right now!” Her father was hollering at the top of his lungs as though the house was on fire. “Vivienne was chosen!”
That word made Vivienne’s blood freeze. Chosen. Her father ran up the stairs to bang on her mother’s locked door. Her mother shrieked and nearly tripped coming down the stairs. She hugged Vivienne violently.
“My daughter, an Orlin! You did well for yourself. You did really good.” Her mother was scrambling about, looking for a phone. “I’m calling your Aunt. Do you think she can send in some extra dresses? You’ll need them in Coral City!”
“Congrats,” Janun said politely and shook Vivienne’s hand. “The day before your eighteenth too. What took them so long?”
There was only a hint of jealousy behind Janun’s comment. Vivienne felt as though she was shriveling up inside like a raisin. She wished she could tell her sister she didn’t want to be an Orlin. While her mother and sister had obsessively studied the latest parties and fashions of Coral City, Vivienne had never understood what all the fuss was about. So what if every obscenely rich CEO and every member of the royal family had their own private dedicated Orlin escort? Vivienne never understood the need to worship a well-dressed sycophant whose role it was to follow the elite class around.
Being a member of the royal class in Coral City was a dangerous job. Most of them died before reaching marriageable age. That’s why their Orlins were subject to such scrutiny. Their Orlins supposedly provided them with advice and affection. On a rare occasion, the papers were alight with sensation that some idiot had married their Orlin. Those marriages never ended well. Maybe the attention was simply too much.
Vivienne continued to glare at her mom and sister who were now bringing her pictures of all the princes of Coral City. There was ten of them in total at a time. If one should die, another member of the upper class would be chosen to replace him. Vivienne didn’t understand why anyone would want to be a part of that. She supposed that the glory of having a relative who had a chance of serving the Queen was enough motivation for most families.
Vivienne swallowed thickly as she flipped through the pictures of princes and the most elite members of Coral City’s ruling class. They all looked like cold-blooded reptiles to her.
“Now, Viv,” her father continued while her mom and sister giggled over the Princes with nice hair. “The love between a husband and wife is strong, but it’s nothing compared to the bond between an Orlin and her Anemoi.”
Vivienne chuckled to herself. “I’ll become an Orlin, and I’ll send money. But I will not fall in love. Especially not with Coral City scum.”