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The School of Release
Everybody has met Death. At one point or another, everyone has met Death. He’s not as obvious as people would think. His symbolic scythe and cloak, and even his skeleton-like appearance, are generally left behind when he is in his mortal form. Also, Death can be in multiple places at once, so he can actually be several people in your school at the same time, or even all of them in the case of the Boarding School of Release. Well, all of them except David Hiron. This is his story, at the school where you either kill, or you are killed.
David was a tenth grader of sixteen years, almost the oldest kid in his class. He was about 5’11” with pale blonde hair, piercing green eyes, and perfectly tanned skin. He was generally very calm and collected, but there was something about this school that his mom had enrolled him in that just didn’t feel right.
When David walked into the building, he was immediately hit with a morbid feeling. The walls were as black as the night, the doors looked as if they were made of charred wood, and the tiles were black, white, and red, intermixed. There were no lockers, so he figured that the kids kept their backpacks in class. When he entered the principal’s office, he could see the same dark decorations, now including two pictures.
The first was of a dark mansion with a fence of bone. The walkway was made of gravestones, each having an actual name and finished dates, meaning birth and death. The one thing that didn’t add up was that the gravestones indicated that the deceased people were in their teenage years, about the same age as David. They went all the way back to the house, counting up as they went back. The one just before the last was dated for the previous year, and the last one was blank.
The other picture was of a skeletal rider on a skinless horse. There was something odd about this picture, as well, because the flaming sockets of the rider seemed to stare right at him. This wasn’t like a normal portrait, however, because the head turned every time he moved.
The principal himself was no different from his decor. He had long, bony fingers, and dull, gray eyes that stared right through you. It almost seemed as if his teeth were filed to points when he first looked at them. When he started talking, though, they looked just like the teeth of a normal person.
“David Hiron?” He said, “I’m Principal Murin. Welcome to the Boarding School of Release. All of the staff here hope that you are very comfortable. We find that we have a very ‘clean’ learning environment. Here is the key to your room. Classes begin tomorrow. We do hope that you enjoy your stay.”
“Thank you, Principal Murin.”
David looked down at the keychain that he had just been given. It read: “West Wing 1907.” As he started to leave, it almost seemed as if Principal Murin were chuckling. It wouldn’t have been too strange, except that it sounded like an evil cackle that had been muted so that he wouldn’t hear it.
On his way over to the dorms, he saw no other signs of life, so it was a huge relief when he walked into his room and saw another kid lying on one of the beds.
“Hey,” He said, “I’m Brandon. You must be the new guy.”
“Yeah,” David said, “That’s me. I’m David.”
“I’m Brandon. Why don’t you sit down? Make yourself at home.”
“What do I do with this?” he asked, motioning to his backpack.
“Just throw it over there,” Brandon said, pointing to the other bed, “I’m not much of a clean freak.”
The beds were on opposite sides of the room, so that, when both of them were sitting on their beds, they were facing each other. There were stands at the head and a door at the foot of each bed. These doors were open, and David could see that they led into the bathrooms, each with its own shower. There was one central armoire, and Brandon had already taken the liberty of claiming his half of the cabinet, and one of the two drawers beneath it. David figured that the other half of the armoire was meant to be his, so he started putting away his things.
“So, where’re you from?” Brandon asked.
“Dawson Creek High,” David responded, “My parents and I were very happy to get away from that school. It was terrible!”
“You should have seen the school I came from! It practically disowned the privacy rule! And this school isn’t much better!”
“It can’t be that bad.”
“You gotta’ be careful at this school, David,” said Brandon suddenly, “There’s a lot of crazy stuff that happens here. Not even the teachers understand what’s goin’ on half the time.”
“What kind of stuff happens?”
“I don’t know, but people just disappear. And I don’t mean that the people are just gone. I mean that every trace of their existence is gone. Do you remember that picture on Principal Murin’s wall? That’s like a tribute to those who have died here. No one knows how, but it’s updated each year when someone dies.”
“That is creepy!”
“I know, and fights are allowed here, so you can basically go and do anything that you want without getting into trouble. If you’re challenged, you have to accept, or you’ll be sneak attacked. I once saw someone beaten to within an inch of death, in front of a teacher, and they didn’t get sent to the principal. The teacher didn’t even talk to them. All he did was watch. It gave me chills just to see it. And there’s been other stuff, too. I would tell you now, but I’m exhausted. Anyway, we have our first day of school tomorrow. We wouldn’t wanna’ be late.”
“Yeah, wouldn’t want to be late.”
The next morning, there was a note on the stand beside David’s bed. It had all of his classes for the semester, the room number, and the name of the instructor. His first class was English 2, room 140, and his instructor’s name was Madame Leyani. When he looked over at Brandon’s bed, he found that it was empty. The clock beside him said that it was 8:30.
“Great! Late on the first day of class!”
He quickly got changed into the school uniform, had a quick bite to eat, and rushed to class. As soon as he entered the classroom, everyone turned to stare at him. Any hope that he had that he wouldn’t be noticed instantly evaporated. Now everyone’s going to think that I’m that one lazy kid who can’t even get to class on time.
“Well, hello, David,” said Madame Leyani, “I’m Madame Leyani, and I’ll be teaching your English 2 class. I’m so glad that you finally decided to join us.”
The way she spoke, it was hard to tell if she was serious or being sarcastic. She had high cheek bones, piercing blue eyes, bright white teeth, long hair that fell well below her shoulders, and claw-like fingernails that were painted blood red.
“Why don’t you have a seat right over there?” she said, pointing to the desk that was just in front of hers.
“Actually, it’s ‘yes, Madame’.”
“Much better, now back to the lesson...”
After class, Brandon came up to David and said, “Sorry, David. I completely forgot to tell you about Madame Leyani. She must be called ‘Madame,’ and she absolutely hates it when people are the slightest bit late. It can get very annoying.”
“I know,” David said, “It just happened to me. And you didn’t even bother to wake me up this morning! Normally I can wake up on time, but my alarm didn’t go off today.”
“Like I said before, I’m sorry. I’m rushed as it is, it’s even harder to try to think of two people in the morning.”
“Okay, my next class is Engineering with Ms. Croute. Is there anything that I need to know about her?”
“Well, she’s more of a Crafting teacher than Engineering.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
When they entered into Ms. Croute’s classroom, David noticed that there were some very big differences between her room and Madame Leyani’s classroom. Both rooms had the same dark decor, however, while Madame Leyani had organized her desks in individual rows, Ms. Croute had five large tables that were organized in a U-shape. The gap between the tables was large enough to fit one of the tables horizontally, as well as up to four students on either side. Also, where Madame Leyani had a window with black blinds and curtains, that always remained closed, Ms. Croute had no window at all.
There were a variety of boxes on the tables, ranging from the size of a shoebox to the size of a refrigerator box.
He was about to ask someone what they were for when he heard Ms. Croute, who was suddenly in the room, say, “Welcome, class. Welcome to the class of Engineering, or Crafting. Here you will discover the inner workings of the machines that we call weaponry. You will delve into the mystic art of that which is combat. You will discover your greatest strengths, as well as your greatest weaknesses. To decide your seating, pick a box that you think will help you the most in the War of Territories. These seats will be permanent, unless you happen to be traded as a prisoner of war. Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor.”
“What was that about?” David whispered to Brandon.
“No one knows about her. She’s very passionate about weapons and has a war every year as part of her final exam. And I’m not talking ‘bout one of those little war games. I mean she has an actual, all-out war. The people of each table actually try to kill one another. Your only friends are your group members.”
Ms. Croute was a plump, boisterous young woman, with black hair, fair skin, and chocolate brown eyes. She always smiled when she talked so David found it hard to believe what Brandon had just told him.
He began searching the room for what he hoped was a suitable weapon. All around him, people had already begun to pick their weapons. Great, not only was I late to first period, but I can’t even pick a box.
He was about to turn to follow Brandon when he was suddenly shoved aside by another student, stumbling into a table with the only opening left. The spot where he landed contained a box that was about two feet long. He carefully pried off the lid and found that the box held a short sword. It had a dragon’s head handle, curving elegantly up into the guard of the sword, where it gracefully arched back down toward the handle, stopping only inches from where his hand would fit. The blade stretched out from the guard, spreading out like a flame of metal, with a sharp point at the end that looked like a tooth.
“It appears that David has found Dragons’ Breath,” Ms. Croute said, “Remember, when you kill an opponent, you are free to take of their belongings.”
David looked around at his teammates, and saw that they may actually make a good fighting force, provided that they knew how to wield the weapons that they had chosen. There was a large guy, at least six feet tall, who picked up a large, double-bladed poleaxe, complete with spearhead on top. He was dark skinned with brown eyes and short, brown hair. Another guy pulled out a crossbow with a bayonet attached to the bottom, as well as two quivers of quarrels. This guy was tall and thin with blue eyes and blonde hair. There was a girl at the table, too. She had long, brown hair, bright green eyes, and fair skin. She pulled out two short swords, though neither was quite as elegant as David’s. The last guy at the table would clearly be the leader. He was tall, broad-shouldered, strong, and handsome, though there was also a certain air of wisdom about him. He pulled a large broad sword from his box with spikes on either side of the guard, as well as on the pommel of the sword.
“Hi,” said the leader, with a hint of a Russian accent, “I’m Nikolai. Nikolai Stone. My comrades call me Thunder.”
He proceeded to introduce David to each of the other members at the table. The guy with the axe was Daniel Smith, or Odin, the guy with the crossbow was Mark DeLoore, or Marksman, and the girl was Veronika Irwin, or Blind Side. Apparently, each of them had gotten the weapon that they were already skilled with.
David looked over at Brandon, and saw that he had picked up a very large scythe, made of black wood, with the image of a dark phoenix gracing the back half of the blade. He pointed at David, made a slashing movement over his throat, then gave an evil laugh. Everybody else on his team then looked over and gave a laugh of their own. Well, I wonder why they’re happy. I do think that my group might actually stand a chance, though, even if they think that we’re weak.
“I see that a little pre-battle buzz is stirring,” said Ms. Croute, “Perhaps you can channel that energy into some training exercises next period?”
“Or maybe we could take it out on that little half wit!” Brandon whispered to his group, and they all laughed.
The bell rang and all of the students began to file out of the classroom, carefully replacing the weapons in their boxes, and taking the boxes with them. Now, though, David traveled with his group because Brandon had basically disacknowledged their friendship.
When they walked into their next class, Ms. Mangro’s Study Hall, David noticed that there were not many chairs, but rather five groups of people just standing around a central stage. Ms. Mangro herself was tall and thin, almost too thin to some. She was fair skinned with pale blue eyes and light brown hair. She also carried a certain arrogance and confidence with her, alongside the sword resting at her hip. There was no doubt in David’s mind that she knew perfectly well how to use it.
“Welcome to Study Hall, class,” she said, “As this is your first day, we will skip over the rules and go straight into the training. I see that you have already received your weapons from Ms. Croute, so there is no reason not to proceed. On this stage, I have set up an array of test dummies. The objective is to use whatever weapon you have, and kill them. You will go one at a time, so that everyone can practice with multiple targets at once.” She pointed at Brandon and said, “Why don’t you go first?”
Brandon stepped onto the stage and gave a quick smirk in David’s direction, before turning to face the mannequins. Ms. Mangro snapped her fingers, and to David’s horror, the figures on the stage began to move. Furthermore, their movements were not those of a robot, but rather those of an actual human being. They began to duck, and crouch, and make fake lunges at Brandon, as if they were actually alive. Ms. Mangro snapped a second time, and the fight began.
Brandon made a quick step forward and slashed one of the dummies in half with one movement of his scythe. This made his other opponents angry and they tried to lash out at him, but he was too quick. He ducked one blow, dodged another, and even managed to send one attacker flying into another, leaving them both down. Then it was just him and one that was obviously the boss. It looked just like the others, except it was twice the size, and carried a large broadsword. That didn’t seem to deter Brandon, and he began to charge the goliath. It swung the broadsword down, much quicker than it should have been able to for that size, and Brandon narrowly avoided the blade. As it swung again, across this time, he caught its wrist in the crook of his blade and forced it to the ground. He then stomped on its hand, causing it to release its grasp on the weapon. Following that, he sprang toward the giant’s face, and cut its head from its body with one flick of his blade. He landed on top of it, put his scythe back in its slot on his back, turned to David, and gave a smile that said, “What do you have against this?”
“Very good, Brandon!” said Ms. Mangro, “You have just completed a Level 3 challenge. Most people don’t attain that level until about the third week of school. Is there anyone who would like to try to top this tremendous achievement?”
David could sense the other members of his own group stir, as if they knew that they could beat Brandon easily, but none of them were willing to say anything.
“No takers?” she said, “Well, then, I guess Brandon is our daily champion. Congratulations, Brandon, for your enormous accomplishment.”
“Anytime, Ms. Mangro,” Brandon said arrogantly, “I’ll be here anytime one of these ‘lessers’ needs help in their combat.”
“I really hate him!” Veronika said angrily, “He thinks he’s better than everyone else just because we don’t have the need to show off in front of everyone!”
“Calm down, Blind Side,” said Nikolai, “He and his team will fall. It may not be now, but they will fall. Just give it some time. We have the Secret Weapon now anyway, remember?”
“You’re right,” she said, “But I will be all the happier when his time does come. I may even be obliged to do it myself.”
“Now, Class,” Ms. Mangro said, “No one volunteered for a Level 3 fight, but you will all attempt a Level 1. David Hiron? Why don’t you go next?”
“Ye-Yes, ma’am,” David stuttered as he took his place on the stage.
“Are you ready?” she said as she snapped her fingers to bring the dummies to life.
She snapped again, before he could respond, and the mannequins began their attack. David didn’t see one of the big ones, but there were at least four dummies that began to surround him as he planned his attack.
With a quick lunge, one of them lashed out and struck him in the chest, sending him sprawling backward. He fell right into the attack of another of the dummies, and he was thrown on his face. He slowly stood up as the mannequins held off their attack. He drew his short sword, and made a clumsy strike at one of them, but it was easily swatted aside and they began to strike again.
“Well,” said Blind Side, “He’s doing better than the last one”
“We may be able to use that to our advantage,” replied Mark, “If nothing else, he could be our human shield.”
The dummies kept beating him, keeping him on the ground. Every time he tried to get up, they would shove him back down. They didn’t have any weapons, but their wooden fists hurt just as badly as training weapons, creating scratches and bruises all over his body. When he had been sufficiently humiliated, Ms. Mangro snapped her fingers again, and the dummies fell where they were, lifeless, as before.
“Well that was,” she said, “Interesting. I didn’t think I would ever see something like that again, but I guess the streak continues. Four years in a row.”
Odin, Blind Side, Thunder, and Marksman walked up to the stage and helped David up and carried him over to their station.
“You did good,” said Thunder, “You lasted at least thirty seconds longer than the last guy.”
“I only lasted a minute!” David exclaimed
“I’m glad you think so highly of me,” said David sarcastically, “Maybe I’ll last a minute and a half next time.”
“One can only hope.”
David’s teammates shared a laugh, but he was too injured to partake in their revelry. Then the bell rang, and they left for their next class, Latin, with their teacher, Mrs. Lawale. David was really excited about being able to learn a new language.
When they entered the classroom, Mrs. Lawale said, “Lorem classis Latine. Hic poteris cognoscere virtus maxima altius oratio dictum semper.”
“What did she say?” David asked.
“She said, ‘Welcome to Latin class. Here you will be able to learn the in-depth qualities of the greatest language that has ever been spoken.’” Nikolai replied, “This isn’t really a necessary class. After a while at the school, you just start to understand it naturally. No one knows why. Until that time, I and the rest of Wandering Team will act as your translators.”
“Quam quisque est hodie?” Mrs. Lawale said.
Nikolai, and the rest of the class, responded, “Valde bona, gratias.”
Then Nikolai whispered to David, “She asked how we were, and we said, ‘very good, thank you.’”
“How long does it take before this whole Latin thing kicks in?” David asked him.
“Normally just a few days or so.”
As the class started, David found that what Nikolai had said was true. The class was mainly a filler period for the last part of the day. Everyone just sat around with their teams and talked. Every now and then, Mrs. Lawale would ask people to do things for her, but it was mainly rearranging chairs and such.
Then one of the kids suddenly yelled, “Hiron!”
David looked around and spotted the guy who wanted him. He was tall, broad, and very muscular. He looked like he could kill David with a thought.
For this reason, David was very careful when he said, “Yes?”
“I would like to challenge you to a duel.”
“Careful,” whispered Mark, “You can’t turn down a challenge.”
“Where and when?” David asked the man.
“In the public bathroom, after class.”
“I guess I accept,” David said, more of a question than an answer.
“I look forward to seeing your demise!” said the kid with a laugh.
“Who is that?” David whispered to his team.
“Drake Lesoto,” Nikolai responded, “No one really likes him. He always tries to kill the new students on their first day. As you can tell, he’s succeeded thus far.”
“So, I’m going to die?”
“To put it bluntly, you might.”
“Well, that’s a cheery thought to have going into the first fight of your life.”
The bell rang, and as the kids filed out, Mrs. Lawale said, “Valete omnes. Et bonam fortunam in tuo bello.”
“She said, ‘goodbye’, and told you, ‘good luck,’” Katy translated.
Even the teacher knows I’m going to die. That’s not exactly comforting. On his way to the bathroom, all David could think about was the fact that he was probably about to die. When he entered the public bathroom, he could immediately tell that no one actually used it, except maybe as a dueling ground. The stalls, sinks, and mirrors were completely clean except for the odd splatter of dried blood. He could already see Drake standing at the other end of the bathroom, holding a very menacing looking broadsword. As David stood there, taking in the scene, more students started to pour in behind him, forming a small, inescapable ring around the two of them.
“Are you ready?” Drake sneered confidently.
“When you are,” said David sadly, unsheathing his shortsword.
Drake let out a roar and charged David, bringing cheers from the spectating students. He swung his broadsword at David, but David somehow managed to move out of the way. Drake bellowed in rage and attempted another strike, clearly angry that the fight wasn’t over, although David was able to dodge this blow, as well. Slowly, he came to realize a slight, almost imperceptible glow coming from his blade. Each time a strike would come, there would be a small flash, and he would dodge the attack. When he finally attempted a strike of his own, the blade flashed again, and he carved a groove in Drake’s left arm, severing the muscle. Drake released another roar and swept David’s legs out from under him. As soon as he hit the ground, David flipped his sword around, and stabbed Drake in the crook of his right knee. Drake fell to the ground, screaming in pain, his sword sliding just out of reach. David felt a sudden compulsion, and he began to spear Drake in the back, over and over again. His strikes were not fatal, and the screams of his opponent were music to his ears. He stabbed just beside Drake’s heart, then through one of his lungs, then through his stomach, and then back again. The crowd began to shout with increased vigor, egging him on, screaming and shouting to increase Drake’s torture. Stop! David heard a voice in his head. You’ve done enough! Stop! He slowly realized what he’d done, and finally managed to stop his frenzied attack. However, there was just one act that he could not stop. He raised up his enemy by his hair, brought up his sword, and cut Drake’s head from his shoulders, raising it up to draw even more screams from his new fans. The crowd made a path and he tossed it up and kicked it out of the door. Well, I guess this is what happens when you go to the School of Release. This school definitely changes you. If this is what happens on the first day of school, I can only imagine what the rest of the year will be like.
In the corridor, unknown to the victor, the head rolled slowly and stopped at Principal Murin’s feet. He looked at it, gave an evil smile, reached down, and picked it up. He stared into Drake’s lifeless eyes.
“You have done well,” he said, closing Drake’s eyelids, “But now your time is over.”
The head slowly faded into mist and Murin inhaled deeply, breathing in Drake’s essence. Murin’s eyes went from grey to piercing blue and back again.
“You have done well, indeed.”
Back inside the bathroom, Drake’s body faded away and disappeared, completely unbenounced to David, who was still celebrating his “huge” victory.