They were four if you didn’t count the dead guy in the middle. Three blondes and a redhead, sitting around the corpse like it was nothing, not even talking. Halos shimmered vaguely over their bowed heads, their shadows the only hint that they had wings. Joan hesitated to walk in the room even if she’d been invited. The eerie silence was getting to her.
“Come on, new girl,” she was shoved from behind by another blonde girl, this one smirking. “Get a move on, he’s not gonna bite.”
Her pulse upped a few beats as they moved deeper within the room, sweat trickling down her back. She was starting to think this had been a bad idea. Swallowing nervously, she sat down between two of the girls, blinking large innocent eyes around the room.
“A-are you sure we should be doing this?”
“Sure, shut up.” The smirking blonde walked to the back of the room where a table stood, bearing a cup, a rusty knife and a big purple candle. “This is gonna be so epic.”
It was Halloween night, the outdoor temperature appropriately gloomy, the dark streets filled with fog and people in various shapes running around, costumed in their scariest apparel. The moon hung bloated, full and yellow in the sky like an evil eye, casting barely any light through the hazy atmosphere. From the open window, they could hear rowdy teenagers partying next door, burly boys and glittering girls flitting around each other, swapping spit and sharing drinks, speaking louder and louder over each other in a show of ‘look how cool I am’.
Joan really didn’t like any of them.
Which was how she’d found herself roped in this crazy plan in the first place. Genesis, the smirking girl mumbling to herself over the table, had orchestrated the whole thing. Nothing like a dead guy rising to spice up the scariest night of the year, right? With the help of a few forbidden books that she – of course – carried around, Gen had managed to find all the ingredients necessary for a little harmless zombie fun. Joan was just hoping this wouldn’t end terribly. This was against quite a few rules she’d learned.
“Alright, bird feeds!” Gen always seemed to be having a jolly good time when she was creating mischief, it was a wonder that halo still shimmered over her blonde head. “Tonight we’re gonna get a little mischievous.”
The sitting girls giggled, looking at each other with little secretive smiles that Joan didn’t comprehend.
“Those frat boys and sorority girls have been nothing but a pain in the ass and I think it’s time for payback.”
Even though each of them looked like sorority girls, cute little goodie-two-shoes with a couple of wild sides, they’d been picked on and teased by the majority of the student body. It might have been because they always stuck together, dressed in the pure virginal white of their status. They reminded everyone of catholic children thrust into the real world ill prepared. Genesis had been the first to break, rallying the other girls who were tired of being bullied and hatched this devious number. Joan really hoped they’d taken the necessary precautions.
“Oh Holy Father and Holy Mother in the Heavens.” The girls bowed their heads again, eyes closed, faces serene. “I ask for your guidance in this time of ass-kicking.”
Joan didn’t close her eyes, preferring to observe the strange circus unfolding before her. They joined hands when Gen told them to, keeping their heads bowed while she continued her quiet discourse to the spirits above. A brief wind of something snuck in through the window and Joan shivered. It was starting to smell like magic brewing in here. The girls started swaying a little, their voices joining Gen’s in a harmonious prayer as the body between them regained colors. A foot twitched as they continued, Genesis smiling fiercely, her eyes wild with some emotion Joan couldn’t read. Her speech was growing garbled, words of another language mixing in with the English.
“This is my will, so mote it be.”
With great ceremony, she cut her palm, fascinated by the slow well of blood. She let it drop in the cup for a moment before passing it on to the first girl on Joan’s right who repeated her words, slicing her own palm with the still bloody knife. Each little angel opened their skin, offering blood to a power they didn’t know.
Joan eyed the knife when it got to her, wondering if she had the guts to go through with it. Gen observed her with a little smile that seemed to dare her, arms crossed, her blood seeping in the thin white cotton of her shirt. She closed her eyes, pushing the rusty edge on the meaty part under her thumb. The leftover blood was viscous and cold against her skin. Her heart beat in her throat like a frantic trapped thing. With a deep breath to steady herself, she pressed harder, wincing as she felt her skin part, the blood running cold as it rolled on her wrist. Genesis immediately placed the cup to receive the red river, smiling at Joan’s paling complexion. She then entered the circle, crouching at the man’s head. He looked like a wax figure, looking unreal and dead with a color like the living. She put the cup to his lips, red streams rolling at the corners of his mouth.
A low moan began in the man’s chest, his eyes opening slowly, void of pupils. The angel girls leaned forward, rapt, their little pink tongues darting out to wet their nervous dry lips. Even Joan watched, fascinated, the cut on her palm stinging and throbbing. He got to his feet in quick, jerky motions, the low moan still rattling in his mostly empty ribcage. Genesis kissed him on the cheek with a thrilling giggle, watching as he lumbered in the general direction of the partiers. What started as laughter, cheers and jeers soon turned to screams as students were attacked.
They all looked in the direction of the party, students running out and spilling across the lawn in a jumble of limbs and drinks discarded and forgotten. Joan watched them run away terrified. Was that what she really wanted? Some of those kids were dying tonight and she wasn’t doing anything to stop it. Wasn’t it her duty to protect the innocents? The children of God? She tightened her left hand, this time not wincing at the pain but welcoming it instead. The other girls were looking in the direction of mayhem, eyes mostly empty of emotions, coagulated blood covering their left hands. Genesis caught her eye and held it, smiling as she brought the knife to her lips to take a long, slow lick along the edge.
It was like a crater had opened up in the center of Joan’s chest. All breath had voided her lungs, her eyes zeroed in on the blonde girl’s tongue covered in cold blood until it disappeared behind her smiling lips. They’d done so much trouble now that there was no way any of them were getting out of this one. She might as well enjoy it… right? She entertained the thought for a nanosecond but squelched it almost as fast, turning her back on a temptation she didn’t want or understand. Her wings were out before she reached the front of the darkened house, flying as quickly as she could to her own dorm.
Instead of using the front door, she flew in by the window, packing a suitcase without much thought. She then ran out, down the stairs, until she reached the dorm mother’s room. Slightly short of breath, windswept from her race, she looked wild-eyed and slightly crazy. At first, words stumbled out of her mouth stuttering and mixed up but as she realised she probably didn’t make any sense, she shut up abruptly. The older lady adjusted the shawl she’d hastily thrown over her shoulders and straightened her glasses.
“Well, what’s wrong, lass?”
Without warning, her eyes welled with tears. “This is going to sound very bad.”
A month and a half later, in another private school in the middle of nowhere, Joan sat, a box on her lap, looking outdoors. There were other unopened boxes around her side of the room, the other side blank but obviously occupied. She remembered arriving here on a rushed admission, officials clucking their tongues and giving her long looks over the top of pointed glasses. This was more of a correctional facility than a school. She had no idea what had become of her fellow angels but there were apparently bigger and badder angels – among the creatures admitted – within these parts. She’d yet to see any of them though as the school had shut down for the winter vacation, the few remaining students flitting ghost shapes that refused interaction.
Today was the last day before classes began, a chance for new students to explore their new school and for late stragglers to finally settle in their rooms. She could hear them settling or reuniting, loud music and happy exclamations, the smell of pop-corn vaguely tainting the air. She’d watched them stream back over the last two weeks, en masse, each of them more unique, of all shapes and sizes, in all colors and genders. The variety was so dizzying that she felt plain with her platinum hair and pink eyes, the halo above her head not even special enough.
Now they were all there, an oppressive aura of otherness throughout the previously empty dorm. She sighed, watching the snow storm that raged outside. In a few hours, it would be mud on the ground and terrible fog. She missed the wonderful climate – a thud at the door startled her out of her thoughts. It was followed by a mumbling that continued as her roommate walking in, dragging wrapped bundles behind her. She’d kinda been hoping that she could’ve had the room to herself but with her record now, they’d never allow it.
Still muttering, she looked up with startling yellow eyes, pushing snow white hair out of her face. She started when her eyes met Joan’s, stopping her quiet monologue. The hallway reached noisy fingers in while they stood there.
Abruptly closing her still half-open mouth, she pulled the rest of the bundles in the room and closed the door. “Hi!”
Joan blinked twice, rapidly, hugging the box closer to her chest. “Hi.”
She walked to her side of the room, dumped her bundles on the bed before she turned back to Joan with her hands on her hips. “I’m Ten, I’m a lamia.”
Joan offered a timid smile. “I’m Joan, um… angel.” She added, pointing at her halo.
“So what did you do to get sent here?” she asked, unwrapping her baggage.
Joan looked away, embarrassed. “Uh… dead guy rising.”
Ten turned back towards her with narrowed eyes. “They roomed me with one of you?!”
The angel bit her lower lip. Great, not only was she out of place, she was also undesirable. She ducked her head to avoid looking at her teammate but a small snort stopped her. Ten was unsuccessfully trying to control her laughter, bent over, her cheeks reddening.
“Damn, and I thought I was gonna corrupt you!”
Joan leaned towards her, uncomprehending. “Wait, what?”
With a hearty gulp of air, the lamia straightened, grabbing a hoodie and her cellular device. “Come along, new girl, we’ve some business to attend to.”
Curious, Joan pushed the box off her lap and stood up to follow her roommate, remembering at the last moment to grab their room key. Ten sent greetings and smiles as they walked, never stopping for a conversation. A few students looked after them in askance, wondering about the new girl. After a set of stairs and a few turns, Ten stopped at a door, barely knocking before she barged in, announcing herself. There was the sound of rustling sheets and surprised exclamations.
The scene that deployed before them was nothing if comical. A guy and a girl – spectacularly colored, in the gent’s case – sat naked in bed, matching expressions of dismay on their faces, holding the covers to their chests while another guy, this one looking entirely human, sat in the corner, apparently paying them no mind, eyes glued to a computer screen, headphones on his head. Joan blushed, the rush of blood almost instantaneous, blinking furiously between a giggling Ten and the obviously interrupted couple.
“So sorry to interrupt you guys,” Ten said, “but I just came to tell you that I officially have the coolest roommate.” Their attention shifted to the partially obscured angel. “Meet Joan, necromancer angel.”
“Necromancer?” The girl threw away the cover, lounging carelessly now. “We haven’t had one of those in a while. I thought they sent all of them to that other place.”
“You mean killed them,” the boy guffawed, putting his arm around her.
Ten pulled her tongue at him. “Come on, Bear, be nice, she’s new.”
He smirked, leaning towards the girl in his arms. “Oh I’ll be nice,” his surprisingly long tongue licked up her ear slowly. “Right after I’m done with this one.” His blue fire eyes caught Joan’s and held them. “Nothing tastes better than an angel.”
The girl’s lazy smile grew as Joan spluttered for words, her face heating up. Mumbling something about needing some air, she backed out of the room then sprinted down the hallway until she reached the main hall. Pressing cold hands to her face, she let out a small sound of anguish. At least there was no one around to witness her misery. A bright orange flyer advertised a bonfire party at the lake that night. Ten joined her minutes later, still giggling, wiping tears from her eyes. She informed her that she’d made a great impression on her friends. Joan smiled feebly, following Ten to the cafeteria. Whoever hadn’t been crammed in the hallways seemed to have migrated here. They were like sardines, a cacophony of voices raising to the disturbingly pretty sunroof. The innocent blonde stopped in her tracks to observe it, intrigued by the colored glass that reminded her of childhood churches.
This was not like her childhood churches.
In vivid color and as much detail as the glass could provide, a many-eyed creature dumped people in its multiple gaping maws, blood dripping from greedy lips. It sat on a mound of skeletons/bones, the world behind it burning like the end of the world. Strangely, jewels and jewelry was interspersed within the bones, beautifying the whole. Despite the awful things portrayed, the detail was unlike anything a human could possibly hope to achieve.
“That’s Ekuthula, courtesy of the Elven guard.” Ten had come back when she’d noticed she was speaking in thin air. “Legend says she’s currently asleep under this very school.”
Joan swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. She knew better than to mock folklore, too many of them were rooted in a truth too scary to think of and the more gruesome the original tale, the more gruesome you could expect the truth to be.
“T-there’s no way to accidentally awaken her, right?” she asked, following her roommate to the food line. “I mean, it’s not like the seal has to be renewed every few years… r-right?”
Ten shot her a puzzled look. “How should I know?” She piled various things on her tray, most of them easily identifiable, the others a bloody slopping mess. “Why? You wanna wake a ravenous deity on your…” she stopped to think. “Not even first day of school?”
“Ambitious,” she cut with a toothy grin.
They sat at a recently vacated table, pushing the garbage out of their way. With great passion and obvious pleasure, Ten began fleshing out various Ekuthula legends that she knew. The details changed with each tale but the ending remained the same; Ekuthula, defeated momentarily, sent to sleep by three powerful mages rumored to be teachers at their school. While Ten expanded on the most gruesome tale yet, her friends joined them.
“So is anyone going to the bonfire tonight?”
Joan glanced at Ten. “Well I wasn’t really planning to but….”
“Obviously, we’re going.”
“But apparently, I’m going.”
The girl she’d met earlier smiled, her pierced dimples digging in. “Come on, it’ll be mad fun.”
The red skinned guy winked at her, slurping up something that looked suspiciously like a tentacle. The one who’d ignored them earlier continued ignoring them, silently setting down his tray and computer, his headphones still firmly on his ears.
“It’s soon, isn’t it?” Ten asked, biting into something Joan preferred not to identify.
“Yep. We have like three hours.”
“And by three, you really mean two.”
She made an assenting noise, happily digging into a cheeseburger. Joan watched her, confused by the odd sense of recognition that nagged at her.
“Do…. Have we met before?”
“Doubt it. I’m Danael – Dana, for short.”
Joan’s head tilted to the side. “A-are you… also an angel?”
Dana laughed, pushing tousled sunshine blonde hair out of her face. “Fallen, actually.” She shook her hair. “No halo, see?”
“Oh!” Suddenly it made sense.
The ridiculous body, the aura, the tiny wings. Blue eyed, blonde haired, the epitome of what the world wanted an angel to look like. She’d pierced her dimples to avoid the stereotype. Joan fingered her own platinum blonde tresses, strangely bemused by the obvious difference between them.
“Speaking of which,” Dana poked the boy with the impossible tongue. “This little devil is Strawberry. And the antisocial computer nerd is my darling brother, Helv.”
Helv spared her a peace sign, not looking up from his screen. They sat at the table, discussing schedules and old frenemies until they finished feeding then disappeared to their respective rooms. Back in theirs, Ten babbled excitedly about the amazing bonfire they’d had for Halloween. Joan winced slightly at the mention of the holiday she’d ruined. However, the story her roommate enthusiastically recounted was nothing like the chaos they’d unleashed. In fact, she was kind of excited for the party now.
At eight, about an hour before the party, Joan, Ten, Dana, Helv and Strawberry met at the billboard where Joan had seen the ad – which had now magically disappeared.
“We know where we’re goin’?” Ten asked, hands on her hips.
Helv nodded, showcasing the cellular device in his hand.
They set out in the night, the snow already down to a barely noticeable patter of rain, fog rolling in silently over the hills. Other dark shapes could be seen scuttling in the same direction. Once they reached a small bosque of trees – which seemed more like a mini-forest – they began hearing other students cheering or laughing, more dark shapes running past them towards what they could begin to see.
The flicker yellow/orange light of the bonfire guided them to the lake, the sigh before them like every Hollywood teen party. Creatures in various states of dress and undress cheering, dancing and drinking, a few masked and grass-skirted people energetically beating on drums. Joan’s breath caught, her senses assaulted by the magnetic savage energy floating around. Her friends disappeared, Ten reappearing briefly to push a drink in her hand.
“Make friends!” she exclaimed before dancing away.
Anxiety crept slowly up her chest, but Joan squelched it with an effort, beginning to wander around the party. There were fire-breathers, spell-casters, mermaids, trolls, demons, the same kids she’d watched from her window in the flesh around her. She took a sip of the drink Ten had given her, surprised by the sweet taste. Warmth travelled down her body as she kept drinking, discovering more and more attractions. Soon, she was at the bottom of her cup, swaying lazily to the constant beat of the drums. A small smile played on her lips, her previous anxiety nothing but a memory. Whatever was in that drink, Joan wanted more of it.
She stopped staring at the undulating drakaina in front of her, searching for the source of the voice. Dana waved at her from the edge of a crowd, a happy flush to her cheeks. Joan jogged to her, her smile widening. Before she could ask about the drink that made her floaty, Dana pointed at what they all stared at. A cat girl with impossible purple hair and bright golden eyes raised an empty bow. Curious, Joan directed her attention to it, wondering how she’d shoot an arrow without said arrow. A second later, she got her answer. With the bearing of someone who knows they are being watched and enjoys it, the cat folk raised her left hand, which was covered in white lightning. As she notched her arrow, lightning followed her fingers, forming a dazzling electric bolt. The sounds of festivities around them did not diminish, but a hush fell over their small group of spectators.
Joan watched her empty her lungs of air, aim steady and true. The lines of her body were firm and strong, mesmerizing, her tail swishing lazily behind her. As the angel followed her line of sight, her throat seized. Strawberry was tied to a tree, his visible eye blazing, a hungry grin on his lips.
“Come on, baby, make it hurt.”
She looked at Dana in asking but the same kind of feral hunger was in her eyes as she stared at them. The floaty feeling was leeching away quickly. There was a frozen moment before she let the arrow loose. The force of it sent her hair flying, her long skirt rustling like leaves in the wind. Joan followed the bolt, eyes drawn like magnets until it crashed into Strawberry’s chest. His entire body tensed, eyes closing and teeth clenching as the force of the shock sent his head backwards. Crackling lines of electricity appeared and disappeared along his limbs, dark marks appearing alongside, like scars. It lasted all of two seconds before he fell back, limp.
“Shit.” The word left her lips before she could think about it.
But Strawberry looked up with a satisfied smirk, pain like a balm he rejoiced in. “That’s the spot.”
The crowd laughed, a few people running forward to untie him. The archer smile thinly, putting down her bow, the electricity roiling along her arms vanishing. Dana ran straight to her, Joan following in a dazed manner.
“That was amazing!” Dana gushed, blushing. “Oh man, I’m so happy I got to see this, Kat, thank you!”
Kat chuckled. “It’s nothing, he had it coming.”
“What did he do?” Joan blurted.
Kat looked at her then at Dana, raising a silent eyebrow.
“Oh!” The fallen turned back to her friend. “Strawberry forgot to mention that he was dating third order witch Katrina here and thus cheated with my person. This was deemed the suitable punishment.”
“Uh-huh….” Joan nodded without much conviction, her gaze straying back to the laughing Incubus.
When she looked back in front of her, Katrina had disappeared and Dana drank the rest of her cup, also observing their stumbling friend.
“Hey, Dana,” she asked, wanting the nice floaty feeling back. “What’s this drink called?”
She glanced at her. “What did it taste like?”
“Sweet.” She smiled as she remembered. “Warm. Fizzy, a bit.”
Dana smiled, handing over her second cup. “Fairy wine. I don’t think Bear will be drinking his, so.” Joan took it happily, greedily drinking it down. “Better be careful, little angel. Fairy wine is a dangerous little intoxicant.” She snorted. “Especially for pure beings like you.”
You don’t say, Joan thought as she dropped her empty cup.
The warmth that had climbed through her slowly the first time, embraced her fiercely, her heartbeat stuttering to a halt before it started back up, stronger. Something wild flitted at the back of her mind, like a chained beast stirring. Her breath became infinite, fueled by an empty cavity where she remembered her lungs. The beat of the drums once more infiltrated her system and she swayed to it slowly, blinking through the waves of warm…pleasure going through her.
She wanted to do something wild and mischievous, for the heck of it.
Normally, she’d shut down this kind of thought instantly, but this time she toyed with it, her gaze sliding over the events unfolding around her. Her hands twitched with the possibilities until she saw Dana smirking expectantly. Her inner reaction was to make a disgusted moue. Oh, so she wanted to see this little angel go crazy? She would get no such satisfaction. With a deep, deep inhale that called all the deities to her air, she gathered herself, carefully shackling the delightfully dangerous thing that fairy wine stroked so gently. With a smile that was less than innocent, Joan suggested: “Wanna dance?”
Dana giggled, following her to the improvised dance area near the drummers and the bonfire. At one point, they got so warm they shed their coats, two delicious blonde angels high on fairy magic. Joan ended up with a mask to her face, the last thing she remembered being laughing wildly at the moon, a third cup of the magical elixir in hand.
The teacher, obviously in her element, called out students to answer her very enthusiastic questions. It was only the first day but she seemed intent on getting into the coursework head on. Still hangover from the previous night, Joan tried desperately to remain under the radar. So far it appeared to be working. With what could only be the 24th yawn of the last half hour, she directed her attention to the window.
Overnight, the fog had rolled off to become a blanket of clouds in the sky, a few students scurrying across the grey courtyard hurriedly. At the gate, two burly men stepped out of an unmarked van to open the back. Mildly interested, Joan leaned on her hand, watching as they pulled limp blonde out of the trunk.
She startled back to attention, her heart in her throat. “Y-yes?”
“The main form of a demon is…?”
“Um,” she glanced at the window again, in time to watch them carry her towards the main building. “Primary?”
The teacher chuckled and corrected her but she didn’t pay attention, taking the moment instead to walk out of class. Once in the hallway, she began running, hoping silently that they’d still be around. By the time she made it to the entrance, they were at the other end of the hall, turning God only knew where. Biting her lip, she started after them, keeping a careful distance. At one point, there was a locked door. She watched them open it and disappear, fighting against herself. If she went down there was a chance she wouldn’t be able to come back since they were sure to lock behind them again. However, if she didn’t follow, her curiosity would never be sated. With a nervous gulp and a stern command to take a hold of herself, she followed down a dark staircase. Further down, she could hear two male voices making lewd comments and the occasional reply by a weak female voice.
She stopped right before the turn at the bottom of the stairs, inching along the wall to glance behind it. The two men faced away from her, the girl facing her, a daring smirk on her lips, her halo nowhere to be seen. Her arms were held around her by a straight jacket she’d obviously been coerced into, her limp hair matted and dirty. Without warning, she looked at Joan and winked, docilely backing into the cell they’d opened for her.
Adrenaline flushed through Joan’s body. Barely holding back a gasp, she ran back up the stairs, sprinting to class. While the teacher rambled on about something or another, she finally let her mind assimilate what she’d just witnessed. Genesis was here, locked in the school’s basement and, if she wasn’t mistaken – Joan caught her lower lip between her teeth and worried at it gently – Ekuthula was also there, locked behind a door that reeked of magic and blood.
Homework that night was impossible. Having paid less than minimal attention in class, Joan struggled to complete the exercise problems they’d been handed at the end of the day. Her mind still reeled with the knowledge that Genesis was here, at the same school and had winked at her. It was exactly her type to know how and where to find her precious pets. With a sigh, she pushed away her books, observing the snoring form of her roommate. Maybe now was a good time to turn in before she made it a habit to sleep at such awful hours.
Now that she realized how late it actually was, she yawned as she changed into her pyjamas. Sleep settled over her like a heavy blanket as she slid into bed gratefully, her thoughts falling to oblivion. Not nearly long enough later, she awoke to a dark shape sitting at the foot of her bed, humming softly. Strangely, this did not alarm her, nor did the fact that she couldn’t move. Well, it did, but only in a distant detached way. In no time, the lullaby sunk into her brainwaves, dragging her back down under. She heard herself mumble Genesis’ name, a light touch at her forehead before she was unconscious again.
What could only be mere hours – or minutes, who knew – later, Joan woke up once more, this time to the recognizable smirk of a renegade angel. They seemed to be sitting in the cell she’d seen her back into, faint candlelight illuminating their surroundings. A galaxy purple bruise was developing along Gen’s jaw line, more bruises blooming yellow, green and blue up her legs.
“How did you find me?”
She winked. “I couldn’t let my baby dove play hooky with the big bad wolves on her own, could I?”
“But what are they gonna do to you?”
She sighed, resting her head back against the wall. “Iunno. I think they want to sacrifice me to their demon lady for another century of peace or something.”
A vice grip took hold of Joan’s heart. Alright so it was Gen’s fault if she was here and not at the Academica. It was also Gen’s fault if a dozen or so students of Taylor Park College were now ashes floating down the river. But if it wasn’t for Gen, Joan would still be picked on. Cautiously, she asked if there was any way out of here but surprisingly, Genesis had no idea.
“They took my halo, there’s not much more than this dream crap I can do.”
Joan looked away, searching their surroundings. So it was true, her eyes hadn’t deceived her. Genesis was barely more than a gifted human at this point. Without much conviction, she assured her that she’d be back for her. Maybe Ten and Strawberry could help her. Before she could tell her about it, Genesis’ eyes widened and she whispered frantically that she had to go.
The angel woke up out of breath, the sun peeking feebly through the diaphanous curtains. Ten was already up, scribbling away at her desk. She spared her a glance and a smile when she noticed that she was up.
“*Ten…” The lamia made an acknowledging noise. “Is… is there a way to pick locks here?”
She didn’t stop writing a she answered. “Depends. The kitchen locks are pretty easy to pick but you can ask a guard to open it for you. Classrooms are a teensy bit trickier, but you can do anything with the right equipment. Um… the library is actually open 24 hours if you need it, don’t mind the lack of lights.”
“What about the basement door?”
This got her attention. She gave Joan a long look as if gauging her. A tiny smile seemed to want to pull her lips up but she kept it at bay.
“Oh, that door is a whole other story.” She stood up, packing books and papers in her backpack before heading for the door. “You better hurry up if you don’t wanna be late, girly girl. Even angels like you can get detention.”
Disgruntled by the lack of concrete answer, Joan swung her legs out of bed with a moue. About a second later, the rest of Ten’s sentence reached her sleep addled brain. She looked at the clock and swore softly, grabbing a pair of pants at random to wriggle into. She had ten minutes to get to class. She grabbed her bag last, glad that she’d gotten through most of her homework the previous night. As she ran down the hallway, wondering which classroom was the right one, a door snagged her attention. She slowed her course, ignoring the rational part of her that berated her about lateness, and observed it. It was definitely the basement door, it bore the same runes but what was it doing… here? Dimly, she heard the bell ring to announce the beginning of class but paid it no mind. Last she remembered, it had been in a nondescript hallway just like this but on the other side of school.
She tore her gaze from the enchanting door to find the caller. Dana and Helv stood at the end of the hallway, Dana waving her over with a smile, Helv merely staring expressionless. As usual, he carried his laptop under one arm, headphones plugged in. She wondered what he was always doing on the device. Watching porn? Playing games? Hacking security networks? Whatever it was, he got to it as soon as they sat still long enough for him to set-up.
“Why are you staring at the wall?”
Joan frowned, looking back at the empty space where the door had stood. “Uh….” Blaming it on her sleep addled brain again, she shook her head, walking to them. The door to the basement… you know how to get to it?”
Dana smirked, her pierced dimples creasing. “Jeez, angel, you’re excited.”
“N-no!” she raised both hands to ward off the wrong ideas. “I just, see, my friend…” she paused at the word. Were they even friends? Not really, not that close. “I have to save her.”
Ten’s friend smiled sweetly at the boy beside her. “Ne, Helv, you haven’t determined the pattern for the door this semester, hm?”
He inclined his head a moment then threw his hair out of his face, removing his headphones with a confident smile. “Ah, dear sister, you wound me. Do you really think senpai would disappoint you like that?”
Joan eyed them, suspicious and confused. This was not the behavior she expected between these two. And he’d sat in the room when she prepared to sleep with Strawberry? Dana’s smile sweetened to poison, the air suddenly heavier as she gently swatted Helv over the head with a folded up notebook.
“I am the eldest child, foolish little brother, mind your words.”
What had seemed a gentle tap sent Helv head first into the ground with a sound like the worst headache. After a moment, he got back up, nostrils bleeding like fountains.
“You’re still so mean to me, sis, why?!”
Joan was about to gently interrupt them to inquire about the door again when a teacher wandered by, politely enquiring about their wanderings during class hours and – oh, were his eyes deceiving him – without hall passes? When none of the three students could cough up a suitable excuse, Mr. Forrenar, mage Excel and tyrant on his own time, innocently yet ominously suggested that they move it along to class. Dana saluted her fellow angel with her cellphone, indicating that she’d contact her with the desired information soon. Joan nodded, relieved and with a jolt realized what had transgressed and jogged off to class. Even as she cursed her absent-mindedness, she reckoned that some good had come of that particular situation. She couldn’t wait til Dana texted her.
Upon arrival to class, she swallowed nervously and stepped on the threshold.
“Joan.” She froze like a deer in headlights. “Don’t think that your angel status grants you any privileges.”
She blinked. “O-of course not.”
“Then you will understand when I tell you that you’ll be coming back here after hours for detention.”
She nodded and walked to her desk, ignoring Ten’s wide-eyed stare of ‘I told you so’, and lost herself out the window, unable to concentrate, the anticipation of Dana’s news almost too much. About halfway through the lecture, she felt her pocket vibrate. She let out a relieved sigh but before she could reach for it, it vibrated again. And again. She pressed her palm against it to mute the sound, staring straight ahead, impassive as if she couldn’t hear it. She didn’t want to antagonize the teacher further by asking to go to the lavatory.
As soon as her teacher’s back was turned, she opened her texts, discovering a missed call as well. At the same time, the fire alarm sounded, the teacher sighing heavily before she ushered them all into a line. Dana had sent Joan a picture of her and Helv posing ridiculously in front of the door and a text confirming that they’d found it. Since she hadn’t answered within ten minutes, they’d activated the fire alarm and waited patiently by the door still. When she arrived, out of breath and giddy, Ten was already there, pulling her tongue at her.
“So, how are we doing this?” she asked.
Helv adjusted his headphones around his neck and swept his bangs out of his eyes before he spoke. “We don’t have keys but Dana here is an expert lock-pick.” At that, the praised sibling flashed a victory sign, smirking. “Things should follow up smoothly afterwards.”
“I’m just here to be entertained,” Ten shrugged.
“Maybe you could help by keeping, watch with our friend Joan here.” Helv suggested.
The girls giggled, turning their backs to watch down both ends of the hallway for the possible arrival of a teacher. After a few tense minutes, a satisfying ‘click’ was heard. With a last glance at both sides of the hall, they slipped behind the door one after the other, holding still once they’d passed the threshold. It was pitch black, much like the first time she’d come and they waited for their eyes to adjust. However, what they saw was not what they expected. Instead of spiraling down in the dark bowels of school, the staircase spiraled upwards to lands unknown.
They blinked at it a few times, Helv muttering to himself as he pulled a small electronic device from his pocket. After poking at it a few times with frustrated murmurs, he put it away again, pushing his hair out of his face with a sigh.
“Alright, we have a problem.”
“No shit,” Dana quipped.
Joan ignored them, intrigued by this new development. So it wasn’t where she was originally headed, nothing said she couldn’t have a little adventure on the side. Besides, it’s not like Genesis had even mentioned a time for her pending execution.
“Um, say…” she ventured. “What if, hypothetically, the teachers were going to sacrifice,” she winced at the word, “someone to Ekuthula, when would they?”
Helv pulled his hand held computer back out of his pocket. “The new moon is this weekend.”
“Isn’t it also the whatsit?” Ten asked. “That party they always organize.”
Joan nodded, biting her lower lip, what better than a party to hide high doses of power? However, she was distracted by what she could find at the top of the staircase and began her way upwards, ignoring her calling companions.
“A bit of rat’s eye always works wonders.” A tinkle of bottles. “Oh! Octopus hearts, I wondered where I put those.” A small ‘poof’. “Now where is it, where is it?”
Joan reached the top of the stairs in time to see a boy hop on a stool to catch a bottle of vibrant mauve pink liquid. He turned back to the brewing pot with a maniacal smile and poured.
“Yes, and just a lick of bloodlust.”
The angel and the boy started, his eyes widening when they found hers. She felt rooted in spot, scared to even blink as the boy frowned, his foam green head tilted to the side in confusion. Dana reached her first, the other two showing up within seconds.
“What are you doing?! We have no idea what’s up here and -!”
She stopped when she noticed the amber eyed boy, her face reddening adorably. Ten hissed and Helv merely shook hair out of his eyes and smirked.
Ten crossed her arms, glaring daggers across the room. “So this is where you’re hiding.”
He smiled the same maniacal smile, eyes sparkling with mirth. “Ten, Dana, Hel, haven’t seen you guys in a while. How did you find me?”
They glanced at Joan, then at Helv and back at Chess. “It was an accident actually.”
“And who’s this?” His movements were too fast for their eyes to follow and in the next moment, he stood nose to nose with Joan. “I haven’t seen a real angel in a while.”
Dana scoffed, an angry flush spreading to her cheeks.
“Do not be offended, mon ange. I meant that it is rare to see one so uncorrupted in these parts.”
Helv sent his sister a look of deject. “You still have feelings for this arse?”
She pouted, crossing her arms. “It’s not like that!”
As usual, they bickered while Ten glared on. Though he seemed a powerful mage, he looked no older than thirteen sporting a sly grin and a calculating malicious look.
“What’s your name, little dove?”
She blinked rapidly, cheeks heating up. “J-Joan.”
“Joan?” He exhaled the name like he tasted it. “Like Joan of Arc?” He walked around her, predator stalking his prey, making sure to remain in her personal space. “Do you hear the voices too? Or did they die when you acquired this?”
He lightly caressed the halo vaguely shimmering above her head, causing a small shiver to run down her spine and stopped in front of her again, arms crossed behind his back with an expectant smile. She tried to calm the erratic rhythm of her heart by taking even breaths, surprised by how clear her voice came out even as his eyes sucked her in.
“Not like the blessed daughter of Arc, no. I’m just Joan.”
He leaned forward, cat who ate the canary, cheschire grin. “And daughter of whom?”
Ten stepped forward, breaking the spell he had over Joan. “So Chess, could you piss out of my friend’s personal space and tell me where the hell you’ve been?”
He leaned back to his original spot, somehow returning to his still boiling pot. “I’ve been right here, concocting potions, remedies, enhancers, y’know. Being a good mage.”
Ten hissed, hands raised like she was preparing to jump on the still grinning boy. “Oh really? And where the hell were you when Ama needed you?”
His expression remained the same but his eyes darkened. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Her pupils went to slits instantly, a lower hiss roiling out of her, full of killing intent. The scaly green patches that dotted her legs expanded while her nails lengthened to talons. Joan stared, stunned by the transformation of her friend. Chess giggled softly, shaking his head like he was dealing with a troublesome little girl.
“I have some work to do so,” he turned his back to them, resuming his rummaging through his shelf, “if you’ll excuse me and see yourselves out.”
The lamia had time to protest once, arm outstretched before they were back in the hallway, the sun filtering through dusty windows as the distant rumble of students returning to class grounded them back to reality. They’d been pulled back to the hallway by an unknown force, the door closing in their faces with a finality that brooked no arguments.
“Whoa.” Joan heard herself murmur, eyes still on the door.
Helv shook his hair back in place. “Always so polite, Chess.”
Ten didn’t say a word, busy taking deep breaths to reign herself in. The killing intent still rose off her in waves, her body trembling with the need to destroy. Slowly, a whisper began, Ten chastising herself quietly back into a peace of mind until the shaking tension went out of her.
“We should go back to class,” she declared, looking back up.
Dana mock-gasped. “Of all the things you’ve said, Ten, this is the most surprising.”
The lamia shrugged. “Clearly, there’s nothing we can presently do as they’ve apparently found a way to keep us students out of the basement, so let’s not give them a reason to bust us and let’s get back to class like obedient sheep.”
They nodded, easily blending into the throng of students reentering the building. While the kids around her discussed the probability of a legitimate fire beginning on school grounds, Joan followed in a haze, lost in thoughts of amber eyes and cold hands on a warm halo.