Crossroads (Crossroads Academy #1)J.J. Bonds / Fantasy
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
About the Author
A Crossroads Academy Novel
Copyright © 2011 by J.J. Bonds
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For my father who gave me the courage to chase my dream. And, for my mother who fostered my love of books from a young age. Your continued love and support has truly been a blessing.
Consiliul de Batrani: Elders Council
De sange pur: Pureblood
De sange vechi: Old blood
De sange amestecat: Mixed-blood
Otrava de sange: Blood poison
Sete de sange: Blood lust
I smell the smoke first. It always starts this way. First the smoke; then the flames. I have to get to the clinic. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time the building will be empty. I begin to run. I run as hard as I can, my sneakers pounding over the pavement, my arms pumping in unison with my feet. I ignore the painful burning in my lungs as they protest the assault of icy cold air flowing in and out with my labored breath. The familiar city blocks pass in a blur. Still, I have to be faster. I push myself harder. I’m not going to make it. I know it. I never make it. But I have to try.
As I round the corner, a wall of blistering heat strikes me bringing the sheen of sweat to my face. The squat brick building is fully engulfed in flames. Oily black smoke twists and snakes around the clinic, suffocating and smothering. There’s no one else around. In this neighborhood people don’t venture out after dark. It’s not safe for them. Only the terminally stupid and the criminally motivated come out at this hour. These people are so accustomed to violence that I know no one has called 911. They don’t want trouble, or the police, knocking at their door.
I rush to the clinic hoping to find a door or a window that will permit entry, perhaps rescue. The flames leap out at me as I approach. They lick at the sky and burst from the windows. The glass shatters with a deafening explosion and I’m showered with the displaced shards. The glass cuts my face as I stare helplessly through the barred windows. I hardly notice. It doesn’t matter.
I know what they will find inside. The smell of burning flesh is overpowering from where I stand. The stench is unmistakable and nauseating. I’m too late. Like always. My stomach heaves, and I begin to wretch, convulsing violently where I stand. I vomit blood all over the side walk, all over myself, and black out.
As I push through the revolving door from baggage claim, I’m struck by the last humid dregs of summer. It won’t be long now until fall descends on Vermont, not that I’m an expert by any means. Although I’ve never set foot in the state before, it will be home now. Or, as close to home as any place can be.
It doesn’t take long to spot my escort. Anya would be hard to miss even if the airport was busy; but, this lazy Sunday afternoon, she stands out like a beacon. It’s not her clothes as they’re pretty casual: flowing black linen pants and a loose white cotton blouse thoughtfully selected, no doubt, to blend in. And, although she is attractive with a milky complexion and perfectly portioned features that hint at her European descent, there is something less tangible that the casual observer would have difficulty articulating. Everything about her slender frame suggests grace and confidence.
I watch as her luminous blue eyes scan the thin crowd searching for me. It occurs to me that those eyes are sharp. Behind them I sense a clear and calculating mind. It makes me wonder if Anya’s short dark curls are purposely styled to make her appear younger and less formidable, each lock bouncing gently as she moves.
Having spent so much time in isolation during the last year, I’ve forgotten the striking presence of our kind. I note that several of the passersby steal a shameless second glance at Anya as they hurry past. I can’t say I blame them. She’s definitely easy on the eyes. I briefly wonder how they perceive me, banishing the thought quickly, as I feel Anya’s gaze lock on me.
“Miss Petrova?” I call out, chastising myself immediately for the questioning tone. It’s not really my style to be coy or unsure, to show weakness. I’d promised myself a long time ago that I’d never be that girl again.
As she strides across the shaded pavement, her gaze sweeps me over almost imperceptibly, no doubt sizing up her newest charge. I don’t need a mirror to know what she sees, and I know that I have no reason to be insecure, despite my wrinkled attire. I push out my chin defiantly and square my shoulders, standing up a bit straighter.
Not only have I been blessed with my mother’s height, but also I’ve inherited her good looks and athletic build, every inch of my sinewy frame sculpted to near perfection. More than one teenage boy has fallen for the ivory skin, long chestnut tendrils, and pouty lips in the past. The emerald green eyes are just an added bonus. Not that it matters since I have no interest in dating ever again.
“Katia! So good to finally meet you.” She smiles, embracing me as I stand there awkwardly, arms pinned to my sides by her crushing strength. “Aldo has told me so much about you, I feel like I know you already.”
“Nice to meet you as well, Miss Petrova,” I return formally. The words sound clipped and insincere even to my own ears. Seriously lame.
“Call me Anya. All of the students do, and you will be no exception. Especially since we’ll be spending so much time together this year,” she finishes.
“Anya it is then,” I reply, pulling my bags toward the waiting vehicle and dropping them swiftly into the open trunk of her black sedan. I didn’t need to bring much since Aldo had taken the liberty of shipping most of my things from his home in Romania. I have no doubt they’ll be waiting at the dormitory when I arrive. He’s nothing if not efficient.
“How was your flight?” Anya asks politely, as we pull away from the curb and make our way toward the interstate.
“Fine.” I’m not really one for small talk. I shift in my seat so that I can better watch her as we talk. “Perhaps we should get right to business? I’m told the drive is pretty short?” Actually, I looked it up on the internet, but she doesn’t need to know that. According to MapQuest it will only take us about an hour to get from the airport to the school, which is located further south, in an area of Vermont known as The Crossroads. Guess it’s no mystery how Crossroads Academy came by its name.
“You’re right,” she replies, glancing at me sideways. I can almost see the wheels turning in her brain, as she tries to reconcile the girl who sits next to her with whatever Aldo’s told her about me. I suspect he’s been too generous in describing my warm and sunny disposition. I smile inwardly. Typical Aldo. He’s always too forgiving when it comes to me. Despite whatever incongruent images Anya is wrestling with mentally, she gives a curt nod indicating she’s made up her mind and forges ahead.
“I’ll give you the Cliffs Notes version, and you can stop me at any point with questions. I’m sure Aldo’s already told you a great deal.”
“You might be surprised,” I reply, not bothering to mask my amusement. What I know of Crossroads Academy is pretty basic and could probably be gleaned from a recruiters’ brochure. “It goes something like this if I recall correctly: Crossroads Academy is the preeminent finishing school for society’s leading youth. Nestled in the Green Mountains of Vermont, our sprawling 100 acre campus provides the privacy and discretion required for the mature student. At Crossroads, we pride ourselves not only on our esteemed heritage but also on our ability to help the next generation master the control and life skills required to compete and lead in an ever-changing world. Our students have access to the foremost educators, the finest facilities in the world, and are recipients of an education that cannot be matched.”
“That’s it?” Anya asks quizzically, no doubt recognizing the yawn-worthy spiel I recited as coming from the schools cryptic website. I’d browsed it for countless hours as I pined over my fate. Despite my dislike for all things vague and pretentious, the words are pretty much seared into my brain at this point.
“That’s it,” I reply, laughing. “Aldo’s really more of a big picture thinker. He doesn’t like to get bogged down in the details. That’s where you come in. I was sort of hoping you could give me the insider’s view, since this is all pretty new to me. Either way, don’t worry about being repetitive,” I assure her. “I’ll take all the help I can get.”
“Very well. Perhaps we should take the long route.” Anya sighs, tapping her blinker and signaling a turnoff from Route 7 to an unmarked country road up ahead. I can’t blame her for being disappointed. She probably expected me to arrive better prepared, with a more thorough understanding of the school. Most students are probably aware of Crossroads long before their names appear on the admissions list. Lucky me, I think rolling my eyes. I’m an anomaly already.
“As you may know, Crossroads is not the only school of its kind. There are academies like it all over the world. Initially, the schools were chartered to keep young vampires segregated from mainstream society during their pubescent years, as this is when the foamea- thirst,” she clarifies, unsure if I’ll recognize her use of the traditional Romanian term, “begins to present itself. Due to the lack of control possessed by the young during this transformational time, segregation is necessary to maintain order and discretion.”
She glances at me quickly, veering from the public relations version of history, “Frankly, we couldn’t allow the young to continue feasting on every warm body with the misfortune to cross their paths. We’re not monsters, after all. So, in an effort to coexist more peacefully, the academies were born.”
“Uh, huh,” I return, anxious for her to go on and wondering what it was like before the existence of the boarding schools. Whether or not it is accurate, I imagine streets lined with blood and angry mobs seeking vengeance against those who preyed on their villages.
“Upon graduation our students possess not only a first rate education but the discipline to function in society without being a slave to the thirst. Although Crossroads is nearly 200 years old, we are actually one of the newer, more progressive schools. Over time the school has evolved, and, while we offer traditional coursework, you also can expect some very specific training. You will rub elbows with the most elite de sange pur — pureblood — families in the world,” she finishes pointedly.
“I take it none of the academies accepts de sange amestecat?” I question, already knowing the answer. No mixed-blood students would be admitted, regardless of sponsorship. During the last year with Aldo, I had become very aware of the tenuous balance between the born pureblood vampires and the transfigured.
“Correct. No school of repute would accept a transfigured student. Really, it would be a rarity for any youth to be able to withstand the blood lust anyway. Our kind is genetically predisposed to the sete de sange, and still it takes tremendous restraint to control it during the onset,” she states matter-of-factly. “The existence of a young mixed-blood is pretty rare. Most have to be put down, and, therefore, the turning of a young human is considered taboo.” By taboo I’m pretty sure she means punishable by death. I fight the urge to ask and am relieved when Anya continues her explanation before I succumb to the sarcasm bubbling within.
“Most of our students come to us a little younger than you, Katia,” she goes on thoughtfully. “They spend years with us, earning privileges through discipline and hard work. Due to your unique circumstances and Aldo’s position as head of the Elder’s Council, you have been granted special consideration. As a first year student, you will have a single dormitory and off campus privileges.”
I am surprised at this revelation, though I realize I should have expected it. Aldo would have paved the way for me, using his position on the Consiliul de Batrani to ensure that my transition is seamless. Normally this show of power would make me uncomfortable, but in this case, since it allows me additional freedom, I can’t really complain. Being so far from the manor, and ultimately Aldo and Lissette, is going to be hard enough. Being confined to the campus for the next ten months would have been downright torture. I make a mental note to thank Aldo for the millionth time when he calls.
Anya carries on, her voice taking on an urgent tone. “Be cautious in how you exercise these privileges, Katia. Crossroads does not tolerate mistakes well, so be sure you are within the parameters of the school guidelines at all times. There will be many eyes on you due to your proximity to Aldo and your history.”
I frown. I haven’t given much thought to how Aldo’s great niece would be received. I suppose that on some level I knew there would be curiosity and gossip. After all, Aldo is the single most powerful vampire on the Council, and, until a few months ago, my existence was virtually unknown. I shrug it off. The only thing that matters is that I make Aldo proud and do nothing to jeopardize his reputation.
“Point taken.” I can’t concern myself with the petty nonsense of others my age. Been there, done that, not going back. I am here to fulfill my oath to Aldo, nothing more.
“I’ve placed your schedule, a campus map, a rule book, and pretty much everything else you’ll need to survive the first couple of days in that file.” Anya nods, indicating a manila folder lying on the back seat. Curious about my course load, I grab the folder and review the schedule with ravenous eyes.
“Sociology, Beginner’s Mixed Martial Arts and Self Defense, Historical Perspectives, English Literature, Government and Politics, Biology, Yoga & Meditation, and Advanced Calculus,” I read aloud. Bummer. Aside from the martial arts class, there isn’t anything on this schedule that wouldn’t appear on the typical high school students’. And here I’d thought I was going to dodge Calculus.
“I apologize if some of these courses seem pretty basic. Despite your late start, you will need to complete the same course work as any Crossroads student in order to graduate. I did manage to get the MMA class added at Aldo’s request. He thought you’d enjoy that.” She smiles knowingly. Apparently Aldo’s told her about my need to blow off steam by regularly kicking a little butt in the gym.
“No, it’s great,” I reply, thinking that this schedule will keep me busy.
“It’s a heavy schedule, Katia. If you get into trouble just let me know. Also, there’s one additional requirement that’s not listed. You and I will have a standing meeting every Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. for counseling.”
My stomach drops. “Oh?” I hope my voice doesn’t betray the disdain I feel. Anya seems nice enough, and I know it’s her job to counsel students, but I’m not exactly in a position to open up about my feelings to her or anyone else. There’s just too much at stake, too great a chance of slipping up. Besides, it’s not like she’d really get it anyway. She couldn’t possibly understand what I’ve been through. No one can.
“Katia, I know that the last year has been hard for you, and I know that you’ve been through a lot.” She pauses, appearing to consider her next words carefully. “Aldo has seen fit to entrust me with your safety and well-being, and I hope that you’ll do the same,” she finishes, resting her cool hand on mine. “You can trust me.”
“I know,” I lie, twisting a strand of hair idly between my fingers, as I glance out the window. The forest flies past. It reminds me of finger painting as a child. The shades of brown and green bleed together creating one indiscernible palate. It’s impossible to distinguish one tree from the next. Pushing aside the lure of the forest, I shift my gaze from the window back to Anya. Aldo trusts her, and that means a lot. Still, I’m torn. I don’t question Aldo’s judgment, just my own. I will not allow myself to be vulnerable to Anya or anyone else.
“We’re just about there,” Anya tells me, as she turns off the main road and slows before a large wrought iron gate bearing the Crossroads Academy insignia. The gates have to be fifteen feet high and look virtually impenetrable. A quick survey reveals that, although they are wrapped in vines and greenery, there are two video cameras, a call box and an electronic keypad—pretty high-tech stuff for a school.
“Do you have any other immediate questions or concerns?” Anya asks, nodding in recognition to the guard who stands watch in the gatehouse.
“Not at the moment,” I reply, sitting up straighter, a pang of nerves taking hold. As we pass through the gate under the watchful eye of the formidable looking guard, I realize two things. The first, that I am damn thirsty. The stress of the day is beginning to wear on me, and I am craving. Wicked bad. The second: things are about to change dramatically for me, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
“The Pazitor,” Anya notes, as I stare at the looming guard. “Loosely translated, it means guardians. You’ll recognize them throughout the campus by their black suits and stern dispositions. Their role here is two-fold: they protect the students from stronger predators on the outside and also from themselves. Don’t cross them,” she warns. “You won’t like the results.”