As soon as I took a sip, I realized it was poison.
The rest of my class stared at me, eyes wide and mouths agape, eagerly searching my face for any kind of reaction.
“Is it? Well, is it?”
“Shut up, Marcy.”
I winched slightly, shivering despite the heat of the malevolent brew as it slimed down my throat. My lips puckered slightly, but I forced down the bile reaching towards my mouth and put on a confident
smile. I was not going to throw up in front of my sisters.
“Poison,” I said. “Nightcore.” The tremor in my voice was silent, and soon enough I felt hands clasping down on my shoulders. Youthful whooping erupted all around me, and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.
“Way to go, Sarah!” Jamie hollered, pounding me on the back. “I have no idea how you kept it down! I got stuck on Dragon’s Blood myself!”
Part of me wanted to chide her for even comparing the two—after all, any half-immortal worth her beans knows that Nightcore was in an entire other class than a mere bothersome poison like Dragon’s Blood—but I
figured that saying so would put a damper on the party atmosphere. Initiation only comes around once a cycle, and I was not trying to spoil one of the only fun celebrations our Forebearers allowed us to have. Besides, we all wanted to escape the lingering thoughts of the Drop.
“Who’s next?” I called out, lifting the small crate of vials over my head. All around me, my small horde of sisters craned their necks, desperate to catch a peek at the ambiguous tonics before their turn came.
“I’ll go,” Lucy said with a grimace. “But really, this is just so childish. How can we celebrate on an eve like this? I hardly understand the point—”
“It’s for fun, killjoy,” I snapped, shoving the container firmly into her chest. “Just pick one and shut up.”
The raven-haired girl muttered darkly under her breath—probably to curse me out with another dastardly trick Manu had shown her—but adjusted her glasses anyway, casting a furtive glance over the unidentifiable liquids.
“How am I supposed to choose?” She shot back, taking an apprehensive sniff at vial in the center. “They all look and smell the same.”
It was Natalie’s turn to roll her eyes, and she did so with great gusto. “Come on, Lucy. That’s the point! It wouldn’t be fun if we knew what we were drinking! Besides, it can’t kill you. Unfortunately, you’re just as immortal as the rest of us.”
“How many of these are good, anyways?”
“Mary got the Cola, and Natalie lucked out with the ale, so there’s got to be at least three good ones left,” I surmised, glancing at the remaining vials.
“Which leaves ten with some foul creation sloshing about.” Lucy’s face had shriveled up with disdain like a prune left in the sun.
“Just take one and pass the box on. Please.”
She did so, and I will admit that I took some pleasure in watching her drop the vial a moment after it kissed her lips, coughing herself into a stupor. “That’s vile.”
“Good,” Natalie laughed, tossing her head back. “Who’s next?”
They continued, but I sat back, resting my head against the window overlooking the grounds. The shadows dancing across the fields were fading, and in the distance, over the high mountains in the east, the first rays of morning light peeked out.
After a while, Jamie joined me, twirling her blonde curls gently with her fingers. “It’s almost morning.”
“It is, yes.”
Her eyebrows threaded together, and she bit her lip slightly. “Is there much more time?”
She ducked down, letting her shower of curls drape over her face. With her head tucked close to her knees, she looked more like a child than a veteran immortal.
Jamie broke the pregnant silence first, blue eyes sneaking through the blonde cascade she hid behind. “Do you know who?”
“How can I?” I answered helplessly, shifting slightly. The Nightcore had long since been devoured by my metabolism, but talking about the Drop made me feel like the poisonous vial was still pressed to my lips. “None of us know. That’s the point.”
“I know. I know. It’s just—we used to be able to enjoy nights like this. Back when the cycles were more fun. It was easier to ignore.”
“Ignorance is bliss,” I quoted airily, watching the golden hands of the sun reach for the base of the castle.
“I suppose it is. But—we’ve lost too many to celebrate. How will it be this time? Marcy? Natalie? Even Lucy?” Jamie cut herself off, but I knew what she had wanted to continue with.
“Or me, you mean.” I said, meeting her head on. “Or you.”
She nodded before turning away from me. “I wish you the prosperous life,” she told me, bestowing on me the age-old adage we’d been taught during our first cycle.
“And I, you.”
The noise of the party died down not long after. The box of vials—almost completely drunk—was shunted into a corner of the room, long forgotten. Instead of the rowdy bunch we’d been hours before, we were seduced into a somber silence.
All good things must come to an end. When the light dawned upon our home grounds, one of us would experience that for herself.
The grandfather clock rang, and we positioned ourselves into the spots we’d assumed since the tradition had fallen to us. Each girl looked forward to the entrance, ignoring the empty spots around us. Initiation meant the graduation of every girl to the next cycle.
Every girl, that is, except one. But we don’t speak of the Drop here.
Footsteps sounded on the other side of the door, and each one of us prepared to be led away from the others.
The door opened.