Hollowpox The Hunt for Morrigan Crow - Jessica Townsend Page 0,2

slumped in disappointment, and she passed the biscuit jar on to Mahir.

‘Lef’selah,’ he said, which meant thank you in Jahalan, one of the thirty-eight languages he could speak with native fluency. Lately he’d been teaching the rest of the unit what he considered the ‘important bits’ of his favourite languages – mostly how to ask for directions, pleases and thank yous, insults and rude words. (More rude words than anything else, Morrigan had noticed, though that might have been because Hawthorne kept making requests.)

‘Hish fa rahlim,’ was Anah’s glum response as she bit into her biscuit.

Mahir looked up at her in mixed shock and amusement, and Morrigan’s mouth fell open.

‘What?’ Anah said through a mouthful of custard cream.

‘That’s not “you’re welcome”, if that’s what you meant to say,’ said Mahir, trying and failing not to laugh.

‘Oh, you know I’m no good at languages.’ Anah made a petulant little huffing sound. ‘What did I say?’

Mahir, Hawthorne and Thaddea shouted the vulgar translation in gleeful unison. Anah’s face turned bright red, Miss Cheery looked scandalised, and the rest of the unit didn’t stop giggling for the rest of the journey to the Wundrous Society.

It was a wrench to leave the cosy warmth of Hometrain when they arrived at Proudfoot Station. Huddling close against the wind, Unit 919 waved goodbye to Miss Cheery and dashed for the dubious shelter of the Whinging Woods.

Wunsoc – the Wundrous Society’s one-hundred-acre campus, in the heart of Nevermoor – had plummeted into winter earlier than the city outside its walls. It was now several weeks deep into a cold snap that could freeze the snot from a runny nose. The mysterious ‘Wunsoc weather’ phenomenon meant that Nevermoor’s days of drizzle were more like days of pouring rain and sleet inside Society grounds.

In fact, whatever the weather outside Wunsoc, inside was always just a little bit more. If Nevermoor was having a mild thunderstorm, the sky over Wunsoc was black and electrified, flashing like a disco, and to walk across the grounds was to risk becoming a lightning rod.

Today they felt the cold bone-deep, but it was made more bearable by a weak showing of winter sunlight and the knowledge that as soon as their last lesson was over, they’d be leaving Wunsoc behind for two weeks of festivities. Morrigan couldn’t wait. There was no place like her home, the Hotel Deucalion, at Christmas. She’d been dreaming of eggnog, roast goose and spiced chocolate rumballs all winter long.

To take their minds off the chill, Unit 919 spent the long walk up to Proudfoot House making increasingly outlandish guesses about what C&D might be.

‘Ooh – what about Creation and Destruction?’ Hawthorne’s face lit up as he thought of it. ‘Maybe they’re going to turn us into ALL-POWERFUL GODS.’

‘Or Chanting and Dancing,’ said Lam.

‘Or Chips and Dip?’ said Francis.

They all lost the plot at this last, hopeful suggestion, but even through the shrieks of laughter, Morrigan didn’t miss the sound of someone hissing Wundersmith as a group of older scholars overtook them on the woodland path.

She was used to it now, but it still made her flinch. Almost two months had passed since her secret was revealed to the entire Wundrous Society. Sometimes when Morrigan needed courage, she thought of Elder Quinn’s words: She may be a Wundersmith, but truly from today onwards, she is our Wundersmith.

Most people at Wunsoc had the kindness and common sense to heed the High Council of Elders and accept Morrigan as one of their own, even if they weren’t thrilled to have such a ‘dangerous entity’ among them. There were some who still took every opportunity to make her feel unwelcome, but it didn’t matter much. Morrigan was getting better at ignoring the whispers and glares, and knowing her unit had her back helped a lot. Over the last year Unit 919’s loyalty had been tested to its limit. There had been a time when Morrigan felt she would always be an outsider, but now she knew she belonged.

Cadence had heard the whisper too. Without missing a beat, she called out, ‘Bite your tongue,’ and a second later there was a cry of pain and a muffled, ‘Ow!’ as the perpetrator obeyed. Cadence smirked sideways at Morrigan, who shot back a grateful smile. She couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit pleased; there were benefits to having a mesmerist for a friend.

‘I saw that, Cadence,’ said Anah quietly, coming up beside them. ‘You know we’re not supposed to use our knacks on other students.’

Cadence groaned