Nightshade Page 11

He extended his hand. “I’m Ren Laroche. You’re new here. I saw you in Organic Chemistry.”

Shay frowned and slowly reached out, wincing when Ren grasped his fingers. But instead of shrinking down into his desk, as most humans would have, the stranger glared at Ren and ripped his hand out of the Bane’s grasp.

“Shay. Shay Doran.” He flexed his fingers beneath his desk.

“Good to know you, Shay.” Ren glanced at his hulking companion. “This is Dax.”

Dax made a show of cracking his knuckles. “Hey, man. Hope you make it here. Tough school.”

In a swift, unison motion Ren and Dax slid into the desks on either side of Shay. I clutched my pencil so tightly it snapped in half. From his newly selected seat, Ren winked at me. I sent him dagger eyes, but it only widened his smile.

The bell sounded and our teacher, Mr. Selby, began to write on the whiteboard. The scrawled question: WHAT IS THE TRUE STATE OF NATURE? filled the blank space.

“Before we launch into today’s discussion topic, I want to bring your attention to a new member of our class.” He turned and gestured to where Shay sat, tense, between the lounging Bane boys.

“Mr. Doran, would you say a few words about yourself?”

Shay shifted in his seat, glancing around the classroom.

“I’m Shay. I just moved here with my uncle. I was in Portland for the last two years. And then before that, well . . . I haven’t ever stayed in one place for very long.”

Mr. Selby smiled at our new classmate. “Welcome to the Mountain School. I understand that you may not have had time to catch up on all the assigned reading for this course yet, but feel free to join the discussion if you’d like.”

“Thanks,” Shay said, before muttering something under his breath that sounded like: “I’ll try to keep up.”

Mr. Selby turned back to the board. “From the reading: philosophers’ ideas about how the natural order of the world operates. Where it all began, what it looks like?”

“In paradisum. Paradise. Eden.” Ren flashed me a wicked smile.

“Very good, Mr. Laroche. The state of nature as paradise. Lost forever—maybe, maybe not? Enlightenment philosophers thought the New World might be the new Eden.” Mr. Selby recorded the response on the whiteboard. “What else?”

“Tabula rasa,” I answered. “The blank slate.”

“Yes. Every person born with endless possibility inside them. Locke’s theory gained quite a following. We should talk about whether you think it’s viable in contemporary society. Other ideas?”

“Bellum omnium contra omnes.”

All the non-humans in the room stiffened in their seats, heads turning toward the speaker. The rest of the students looked impressed by all the Latin phrases being thrown around, but no comprehension dawned on their faces.

“The war of all against all.” Shay frowned when Mr. Selby didn’t copy the words onto the board.

“Thomas Hobbes is often considered a foundational theorist about the state of nature,” Shay continued, though his voice had become more hesitant. Mr. Selby turned, face paling as he stared at his new pupil.

Shay’s mouth flattened at Mr. Selby’s expression. “I do a lot of reading on my own.”

“Hobbes wasn’t in our readings,” a cold voice said.

I drew a sharp breath. The speaker was a Keeper boy with a crown of golden casually spiked hair. Logan Bane, Efron’s only son, threw a spiteful look at Shay. I stared at the young Keeper. Logan never participated in discussion. He usually slept through class.

“That doesn’t make any sense.” Shay twirled a pen in his fingers. “He’s in all the standard philosophy texts.”

Mr. Selby glanced at Logan, who tilted his head at the teacher and raised his eyebrows.

“The, um, Mountain School curriculum doesn’t include Thomas Hobbes.” Mr. Selby’s eyes bulged, still fixed on the young Keeper.

Shay looked ready to stand on top of his desk in protest. “What?”

Logan turned to him. “It has been concluded that his ideas are somewhat banal for our consideration.”

“By who?” The Keepers’ and Guardians’ eyes were focused on Shay. The human students looked as though they wanted to hide beneath their desks until this line of discussion was dropped.

Logan pulled off the sunglasses he always wore, no matter the weather nor the time of day.

I watched, amazed. This must be a big deal.

“The Regents,” he said, as if correcting a child’s mistake. “One of whom is your uncle, Shay. Also my father and several other significant men who protect the reputation of this institution.”

My jaw dropped. Uncle?

“And they’ve censored Hobbes?” Shay said. “I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous.”

“Let’s move on, shall we?” A sheen of sweat appeared on Mr. Selby’s forehead.

“Why? Why wouldn’t you study Hobbes? He’s arguably the founder of this subject of discussion,” Shay blurted.

My fingers gripped the edge of my desk. He might as well have walked in front of a firing squad wearing a target. I can’t believe I have to help him again.

“Because we know better.” I spit out the words. “We can evolve from Hobbes’s disastrous world and not wallow in violence. War is a savage schoolmaster, right?”

Mr. Selby gave me a grateful smile, wiping his brow with a handkerchief. “Thank you, Ms. Tor. Nice use of Thucydides. The theorists we study in this class have a more hopeful outlook on the world than did Mr. Hobbes.”

Ren beat pencils on his desk like drumsticks. “I don’t know. Savagery seems okay to me.”

All the Guardians in the class burst into laughter, including myself. The human children shrank into their seats looking terrified, except Shay, who wore an expression of utter confusion. The young Keepers smirked, throwing disdainful glances at the wolves.

Shay’s next words were frustrated but insistent. “Hobbes isn’t talking about savagery. It’s about the ceaseless struggle for power. Strife unending that makes the world go round. That’s the true state of nature. You can’t just ignore it because some stuffed shirts call it vulgar.”

Ren turned to face Shay, regarding the new student with a gaze that was almost admiring, if still wary. Dax glanced from his alpha to me and then to Shay. He looked like he was waiting for one of us to spontaneously combust. Sabine stared at Shay as if the boy’s skin had turned inside out. Logan sighed and began to examine his fingernails.

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