‘Misery guts! And it’s OK, really. Of course you miss him.’ She nudged Isabella, trying once again to cheer her up. ‘But Jake’s safe, that’s the main thing. Much safer than he’d be if he’d come back to school, especially in his frame of mind. Look at it this way – he’s far less likely to get into trouble in New York, right? It’ll give him a chance to get some perspective on this whole idea of revenge for his sister … And more time to miss you, eh?’
‘Well, that’s true.’ Isabella gave a small smile, but her face soon fell again. ‘If he’s even thinking about me. But I’m worried, Cassie. I mean, he still has that strange Few knife, we’re pretty sure of it, no? And I—’
‘Sh!’ Cassie tightened her grip on her friend’s arm as she glanced nervously back towards the cockpit and saw Isabella’s father approaching.
‘Girls! You see the Academy? Over there!’
Señor Caruso came over and stood behind them, gesturing with his ever-present cigar – which Cassie had never seen him light – towards something directly in front of the Dancer’s elegant bow. With one last glance at her friend, Cassie looked in the direction he was indicating.
She’d expected more warning, but she’d been too busy talking and ogling the two shores of Istanbul. Now a small island lay ahead of them, so close it seemed she could reach out and touch it. Already the boat’s captain was slowing the Dancer, slewing it round to starboard, aligning it with a jetty where several smart launches were already moored in the sparkling water. Now that they were broadside to the island, Cassie could gaze up in awe at the building that would house the Darke Academy towering above them.
It looked ancient – far older than the Academy in Paris. Gilded carvings glittered in the morning sun, and the spires and cloisters and colonnades were intricately tiled with blue and gold mosaic accented in blood red. Cassie could see massive carved doors framed by a soaring gilded arch, and the whole thing was crowned with a huge gleaming dome. It seemed built to intimidate. What had it been: a sultan’s palace? Even Señor Caruso looked impressed. He clamped his unlit cigar between his teeth and narrowed his eyes, staring up.
‘I think you will have a good term here, ladies!’
‘And Isabella, you will try very hard with your mathematics, won’t you, mija?’ Señora Caruso injected, winking at Cassie as she came to her husband’s side. ‘I’ll miss you girls so much, both of you.’
Cassie smiled back, a little overawed as usual by the warmth as well as the sheer gorgeousness of the pair: she with her mane of dark bronze hair that was so like Isabella’s, he with his lean, polo-player’s physique and his glittering eyes. Boy, she thought, the god of genes really did smile on Isabella. Cassie’s own beauty had been mightily amplified by her induction into the Few – one perk she couldn’t complain about. Maybe this term she’d discover others. She was determined to find something positive about this whole experience …
Her roommate was already hugging her parents as the crew piled her expensive luggage – and Cassie’s two shoddy cases – into the small launch boat. Isabella’s misery over Jake seemed to be momentarily forgotten amongst the bustle and excitement of arriving at the school.
New school, new start, she thought again, and Cassie found herself looking forward to finally making her mark on the Darke Academy. Excitement rose in her as she and Isabella bade their farewells, and she her profuse thanks, with hugs all round. It seemed barely any time at all before the Carusos were waving from the yacht rail, and the launch carrying Cassie and Isabella was cutting a smooth path through the blue water to the jetty.
This island, that imposing ancient palace that was to be their school: it was all so different from what Cassie had experienced in her previous two terms at the Academy. Yet, as she and Isabella walked through walled gardens to a shaded colonnade, once more intricately tiled and gilded, Cassie recognised familiar things too. Surprisingly, she found she was glad of them. A small pool, dark and cool, its fountain splashing beads of water on to black orchids. In a niche to her left, the familiar statue of Achilles, still knocking hell out of Hector. And there were some features, too, that maybe Isabella didn’t register but Cassie certainly did – twisting mythological creatures carved around a pillar; or the embossed symbol of elaborate intertwining lines on doorways that were much like the broken Few emblem burned into her own shoulder blade.
Yes, a lot was still the same. And she was keen to prove that her relationship with Isabella hadn’t changed either from when they had first met on Cassie’s arrival at the school all that time ago. Despite everything, Cassie was determined that they could hold on to their friendship, and surely nothing could change it. Surely.
Cassie shivered when she tried to imagine how she’d have coped without her best friend. Isabella was an anchor when so much else was different.
Jake was gone. They’d been all for one and one for all – supposedly – but Isabella’s new role in Cassie’s life had been a step too far for him, especially after discovering the Few’s role in his sister’s death in Cambodia a couple of years back. But it was neither Isabella’s nor Cassie’s fault the way things had turned out. If he’d been a true friend, he wouldn’t have abandoned them. He wouldn’t have left Isabella, left the Darke Academy, hell bent on avenging Jess, at the expense of his relationship with poor Isabella and his friendship with Cassie. And yet they hadn’t heard a word from him since. Who knew what he was up to now?