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Author's note: I based this off of a dream I had, but many of my characters are based off people in my life. The few that
The door flew open and a woman fell backwards into the room with a muffled thud. She attempted to climb to her feet, wincing in pain. The fear coursing through her veins was unlike anything she had ever known, but even the knowledge that she was going to die didn't deter her. She knew she had to get the Book back, no matter what the cost may be.
A shadow slid into the room, followed by a slender man with a cane. Her heart sped up as he slowly strolled toward her, his face placid. Pushing up, she made it to her knees before he pushed her back down with a small smile.
"Not this time, Mrs. Mackenzie," He whispered as he stabbed his cane through her back. She felt the metal tip pierce her spine and then nothing, coldness stealing through her petite frame. 'Just end it!' she silently begged as he stared down at her, seeming to deliberate her sentence. He nodded obligingly and brought the cane down again, going straight through her heart.
Smiling with satisfaction, he turned, slipped his hands into his pockets, and set off down the hall, whistling softly. The door swung shut behind him, moonlight filtering over the single word on the door: Headmaster.
“Miss Day, please come to the board and solve this equation.” Mrs. Penney leered at Xandy as she walked to the front of the room. She hated Algebra; it was her worst subject, and it seemed like the teacher had it out for her. Or maybe it was just where Xandy preferred the English/History route. Either way, she was always in trouble in this class; whether it be for not paying attention or intentionally being stupid, Mrs. Penney found some reason to give her detention.
Today, Alexandria was sick, and it was messing with her concentration. She thought she might have been coming down with the flu; she had gotten sick the night before, starting with her heart acting weird and continuing into the day with nausea. The nausea was getting worse, though, and she knew she needed to get to the restroom. Luckily, it was less than five minutes until lunch and she could skip to hang out down there. She hated lunch anyway; it seemed like the teachers monitoring the students could see right through her. Quickly scribbling out the answer, she turned and bowed her head, which was pointless, since Mrs. Penney came below her shoulder. The teacher’s dark eyes still found her pale ones, making her cringe.
The bell finally rang, and the class filed out. Xandy looked at the ceiling gratefully and slipped down the hall. She didn’t think she could make it to the downstairs restroom (which was the nicest one), so she took off running to the nearest one. And who better to run into when you’re about to hurl than the Headmaster? She took the corner too fast and ended up with her face buried in the Headmaster’s chest, which was surprisingly painful.
“Miss Day,” he said quietly in a cold, flat voice. Xandy extracted herself from his chest and muttered an apology before continuing her rush to the restroom. A few moments later she was emptying the contents of her stomach all over the white porcelain bowl. It was pretty unpleasant, but what she heard afterwards was even more unpleasant.
From the room adjacent to the restrooms, she could hear sensual moaning and other inappropriate sounds. Letting her curiosity get the better of her, she slipped down the hall and peeked in the door. Behind the desk she could see parts of two people- a junior girl and her Social Studies teacher! Slowly, she backed away and ran to the only safe haven she knew- the library.
“Miss Day, running in the halls is prohibited. I would hate to have to give you detention,” Mr. Gibson said with a smile as he held the door open for her. He was a big part of why she loved the library, but even his humor couldn’t help her right now. She was deeply disturbed by what she had seen and was torn between silence and admitting what she saw to someone who could help. When she thought about it, there were only three people in this school that she would trust with a secret like that, and one of them was the one that she was panicking over. The other two were Mr. Gibson and Mrs. Mackenzie, but the Headmaster said she had left suddenly last night to be with her dying mother. So, to her, the only obvious solution was to punt the responsibility to Mr. Gibson. She followed him to the drop-off desk and took a deep breath, her emotions a confusing swirl.
“Mr. Gibson, you’re good friends with Mr. Johnston, right?” She paused for moment while he nodded, “Then you’d do anything to keep him out of trouble, right?” He looked worried but nodded again. “So, unless my logic is flawed, I can tell you this: Mr. Johnston is having an affair with a student. I-I don’t get it, though. He is one of the most upright men I have ever met; why would he do this?” Xandy looked at him, waiting for some sort of response. Any response was welcome, just something to verify that she wasn’t insane, that she really did see what she thought she saw.
“Have you told anyone else?” He asked carefully, obviously choosing his words wisely. She shook her head, and he sighed with relief, confusing her further. “Well, Miss Day, I don’t believe we need to let anyone else know; do you?” He looked down at her, and she felt her heartbeat begin to pick up again. How does he do this to me? She felt herself blush as she turned away, the implications obvious in his tone. He thought that she was going to be the one to snitch!
“Sir, are you trying to say that I will be the one to get Mr. Johnston fired? Because if that’s what you’re hinting at, then you are very mistaken.” She tried to bristle, to get indignant, but she herself was worried that she would let it slip. When she glanced back into his eyes, she only saw concern, which was unexpected.
Shaking his head, he said softly, “That wasn’t what I meant; I was trying to ask how you knew before anyone else, but apparently, I didn’t do so well at it.” He tried to smile, but it looked more like a grimace. She understood now, and she didn’t feel the least bit angry, just disappointed.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Gibson, it wasn’t me. If I was the one with him, I wouldn’t tell anyone, but I only saw it.” She willed herself not to blush as she said it, but he smirked. Hoping to cover her mistake, she cried out, “Wait, no, I don’t feel that way about him! I’m just saying that—“ She was cut off when he laughed and reached for her.
“Come here. I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” he said with a smile, but she backed away, her back hitting the desk behind her. His smile faded as her face contorted in pain, and she coughed loudly, blood tingeing her lips.
“DON’T. TOUCH. ME.” She hissed as she slid down the desk, her grassy eyes glazing over. Mr. Gibson stumbled backward, mumbling apologies as he went. She forced her eyes shut several times as she tried to understand what was happening to her. Her head swam as the room grew frigid, her breath visible before her. The librarian looked down at her, his blue eyes wide with shock.
“You? How? I-I could have killed you! Christ! Why didn’t you tell me you were Changing? But why reveal yourself to me? I could be Him for all you knew!” He fell to his knees a couple feet away from her and stared at her now unconscious body. How could they curse her like this? Why her? She doesn’t deserve this! Mr. Gibson longed to reach out, to shake her awake, but he knew how dangerous that was. Struggling to his feet, he took his UK jacket and wrapped it around her, making absolute sure that he didn’t touch her skin. Steadying his nerves, he picked her up and carried her into his office, the only safe place from Him.
Xandy cautiously opened her eyes, and the first thing she saw was Mr. Gibson asleep in his computer chair. She grinned as he let out a loud snore, and tried to stand. Slightly disoriented by this new feeling, she stumbled and swore loudly. "Well, good morning to you too," Mr. Gibson grumbled and yawned. "Any idea what time it is?"
She shook her head and stretched. "No, sir. How long was I out?" she asked with a slight grimace. Something had left the metallic taste of blood in her mouth; she silently prayed she hadn't had a seizure and bit off the tip of her tongue like Mr. Sholar.
He consulted his watch before answering, "One week, three days, and almost two hours. I took the liberty of leaving a message with your father, and I've had the library locked up tighter than an accountant's ass." He paused for a moment, looking confused before becoming serious. "Please excuse my language, but we really need to talk."
"Ok, shoot," she said, trying to sound braver than she felt. She must have succeeded because he nodded approvingly. 'There must be something seriously wrong with me' she thought fleetingly before something new inside her smothered her worries.
"You've Changed. You can probably tell; I know I can. Which mean They can too. You're the Director now." She tried to ask what he meant but he cut her off. "Your eyes, your eyes show everything. They're the quickest way to see into you. But we don't have time for a full explanation. He's going to miss you sooner or later. The Directors are an international secret society as old as education itself. They protect schools, education, and the future. You're now in charge of this school. Try to think of a subject, any subject. Think Aristotle. You know everything about him. English and History teachers usually become Directors. Math and science teachers never do. They are usually against you. Librarians are usually the Protectors of Directors, but I'm terrible at my job. On my watch, I've lost the Book of Blood and let the last Director get killed." He glared at the ground in regret, and Xandy took advantage of his silence.
"Mrs. Mackenzie didn't really leave like the Headmaster said, did she?" She asked, even though she already knew the answer. He shook his head and his blue eyes flared with anger.
"No, and Logan Macintosh didn't really have sex with a student either. He was on the List to become Director after Loren Mackenzie, but They made sure THAT didn't happen. Richard was on the List too, but now that isn't going to happen either. Directors are picked by their morals, and even a nuance in those morals can knock you off the List. If you aren't fit to be Director, the Book removes your name from that List. Apparently, the Book hid yours or you'd be dead too. The Higher End takes his job very seriously. Is this too much too absorb?" His eyes raked over and she shook her head.
"No, I about halfway get it. Just one question though- was Mr. Henderson on the List too?"
Mr. Gibson fought back the urge to laugh, "No, he really was a drug dealer. I don't think foreign language instructors ever become Directors. I don't think students do either, or at least I've never heard of it happening. I suppose the gods must have been smiling down on you. Or frowning, but that's just how I see it. Here, come read this." He sat down at the computer and pulled up an email from Mr. Johnston, letting Xandy read it over his shoulder. Suddenly she understood what he meant about them not having enough time.
"You want me to stop him from resigning." It was a statement; she wasn't going to waste any more time on questions she already knew the answers to. He nodded anyway, and she pulled the door open.
"Thanks for keeping an eye on me," she said sincerely before sprinting off.
"I am resigning today. I regret that the rumors are true- I had sexual relations with a student here at Clearwater High, and for that I am truly sorry." Switching off the intercom, Mr. Johnston handed the Headmaster his letter of resignation. The Headmaster ripped the letter in half and turned the intercom back on.
"We'll be keeping Richard Johnston in his regular post. Thank you." He turned to the stunned History teacher, "Don't let your conscience get the best of you again, Richard. It may just cost you more than the respect of a few people next time." Mr. Johnston meekly nodded and hung his head in shame, unwilling to meet the Headmaster's cold gray eyes.
The Headmaster departed, leaving the teacher alone to listen as polite greetings were exchanged outside the door. A girl's voice asked something about him, but he couldn't tell what through the wall. He was worried that it was the girl he had been with, but he couldn't even remember who it was. Everything about that day was too blurry, too hazy, for a face to come to mind.
Xandy opened the door and gazed pityingly at the shell of a man before her. This was more than regret; this was pure horror. Shutting the door, she brightly asked, "Hey, Mr. Johnston, how goes it?" When he acted as though he hadn't heard her, she loudly repeated the question with added emphasis.
Hesitantly, he raised his head and stared incredulously at her. "Miss Day, if I didn't have you in class, I wouldn't recognize you. I didn't know you could be so bullheaded." She smiles sadly at his forced joke and examined his face. He wasn't going to be himself for a while, but then again, neither was she. She had Changed, and that had opened her eyes to her surroundings. He needed help, and now, she believed she could save him.
"Sir, I had an epiphany last night! May I walk with you to class? We can talk on the way." She waited for a second before grabbing his hand, half-expecting him to pull away. When he didn't, she pulled him to his feet and led him out of the office. The History teacher didn't say a word as they left the main hall, all eyes on them. Xandy knew it was tearing him up inside; his whole world was destroyed, but she was going to put it back together for him. She was determined to do that much with her new Gift.
The students were already whispering behind her back, but it didn't affect her like it would have before the Change. She didn't feel awkward around Mr. Johnston anymore either; she felt like she was finally on the same level as him. As they walked back to his room, she felt him staring at her, which didn't bother her like it would have. It mainly amused her; it was like the Change had completely turned her life upside down, but in a good way.
Stopping in the middle of the hall, she looked up at him inquiringly. His hazel eyes tentatively met her green ones as he asked, "What happened to you?"
She began walking again before quietly saying, "Have you ever heard of the Directors?" She guessed that wasn't the answer he was expecting because he stumbled after her.
"You? How?" he gasped. Xandy shrugged and smiled to herself. She never would have guessed that the spotlight would have felt this good; she had always enjoyed her invisibility, but now that it had been ripped away, she felt liberated. But she felt sorry for Mr. Johnston. He could have been in her place right now, but instead, he was scrambling to grab the last shreds of himself. She just hoped her theory was correct. If it was, she could pick up the pieces of his life for him.
"I have planning this period," he informed her as he unlocked his door, "you're welcome to join me, if you don't mind being seen with me." Xandy rolled her eyes as he held the door open, muttering his customary greeting of "welcome to my humble abode; enter freely and of your own will." She was glad to see that at least there were small parts of him that he couldn't get rid of- those little quirks and habits that made him him.
"What do you remember about that day?" she asked as she slid into the desk closest to his. He seemed to wrack his brains, but Xandy knew about how much he'd be able to remember. It didn't help much if she was right, but at least she'd have a starting point.
"Well, I can remember everything up until the end of this period, and then the end of the day. Why do you ask?"
She grimaced as she whispered, "Rohypnol or the like." If drugs were involved, then it narrowed down her starting point. The upperclassmen were engaged in that sort of illicit activity, and her favorite senior, Joan Host, was always cleverly picked to host parties. Surely she would know who was playing in the DRD industry.
"Is Mrs. Tesla still taking her class to the library next period?" Xandy asked suddenly. Mr. Johnston nodded and she stood excitedly.
"I'll be back later to give you an update, okay? Try to have a better day and don't let any little punks pick on you," she smiled at him and set off down the hall. The fourth period bell rang, reminding her that she wasn't actually counted as 'here' today. That didn't matter though; Joan came around the corner and waved her over with a smile.
"Xandria Marie! How ya doin', love?" She embraced Xandy and whispered, "Party tonight, love; take me up on this offer." Xandy looked over her beautiful bisexual friend and nodded, not bothering to mention the DRD issues. I'll ask around tonight, she decided as she allowed Joan to drag her into the library, quietly gossiping about Mr. Johnston. She nodded and gasped at the right parts while her mind focused in on the man sitting behind the desk. Mr. Gibson's eyes followed her like her own personal stormy sea, and she found herself wondering if he knew as much as she did.
It may have been her imagination, but she thought that he gave her an almost imperceptible wave toward his office door. Turning to Joan, she got the time and location and thanked her.
"Where are you going?" Joan asked as she stood. Holding up her book, she shrugged toward Mr. Gibson and rolled her eyes, appealing to her friend's attitude. Good grace, good information, she thought as she strolled toward the office, hoping to seem nonchalant. Her heart would probably betray her with its erratic heartbeat. Is he going to tell me there is a mistake? Is he going to say that this Higher End person is really going to kill me? Skipping knocking, she pushed the door open and slid inside.
"Alexandria," Mr. Gibson motioned to the chair beside his desk, "Let's talk. I am going to guess that you didn't have anything to do with Richard getting to stay." Xandy shook her head and he sighed. "Then it is as I feared. What have you found out? I know I was sketchy earlier, but I am not allowed to tell you much more. You have to figure things out for yourself."
She frowned as she softly admitted, "I've found out next to nothing." She was expecting Mr. Gibson to be disappointed in her lack of progress, but instead he seemed glad. He told her that next to nothing was better than nothing, just to go with her instincts. He didn't seem to mind that she had basically skipped every class that day and even encouraged her to go to the party that night.
"If it wouldn't be too conspicuous, I would go with you, but I'm certain that some students would report that back to Him. Would you like me to call your father and explain the situation to him? It's the least I can do to help." Mr. Gibson smiled and picked up his phone, obviously eager to get to do something that related to his God-given job. She just shook her head though. She didn't want anyone from school connecting with her home life; it was too much of an embarrassment. She had forgotten that her invisibility had been partly to hide the bruises and starkness, and now her spotlight had darkened the shadowy places of her world.
"I'll call him myself." She grabbed the phone and dialed her number, hoping he'd still be passed out and she would get the answering machine. 'No dice for me today' she thought as she heard her father's harsh voice on the other end. "Hey, Dad. I'm coming home from camp tomorrow night, ok? Yeah, everything's great. Ok, love you too. Bye." She hung up on her confused father who had no clue who had just called him. He won't remember later anyway. She highly doubted he had even noticed she was gone with the kind of fish he had turned into.
The next night Xandy stood in front of Mr. Gibson's car, reluctantly modeling her dress. 'Am I supposed to be this nervous?' she wondered as she twirled around for her Protector, who was clucking disapprovingly.
"You look very wanton," he said with a frown, but didn't go any further. They both knew this mission was very important for them; Xandy believed that it could even decide their fates. "Are you sure they'll pick you up? And be careful with you?" he asked worriedly, making her smile.
"Yes, Mother, Joan was very explicit in what would happen if I didn't arrive in the same shape I left." She rolled her eyes, but she was secretly glad to have people who cared about her. He nodded and climbed into his car, the engine still idling behind her.
"Alexandria, come here please," he called through his open window. She obliged, wondering what he was going to do. Without a word, he grabbed her purse and pulled it into the car, surprising her. "Here is some cash; Zeus knows that's the only way to get information around here. And I'm programming my number into your phone. Have fun, okay?" She nodded and he handed the little black bag back to her before easing out of the school's parking lot. A few minutes later, a Jeep full of boys squealed into his parking spot, and she hopped in, hoping she wasn't making a mistake.
They finally made it to the Host Home, but not before she was subjected to drunken versions of several pop songs. Joan was leaned against the porch rail, waiting with her eyes closed.
"Hey, Joan!" Xandy smiled as the senior skipped over to her, a plastered grin plastered on her face. It was strange seeing this intelligent girl completely wasted on booze and what she thought was probably uppers. 'Why did I come?' she wondered miserably before focusing on Mr. Johnston's plight.
"Hey, Babe! S'goo ta seee ya."
"You too. Hey, you wouldn't happen to know where I could find some good time friends, do ya?" She smiled nervously, finding it easy to play the part of a first-timer. Joan nodded and motioned for her to follow her into the house, easing Xandy's nerves slightly. She'll never notice, Xandy thought happily as her friend slopped beer down her shirt, She much too wasted. Ahead of them was a gaggle of juniors, the specialized dealers tonight. Xandy was introduced and handed over to a girl Joan introduced as Skar.
"Child, what's your poison?" Skar asked, her eyes narrowing suspiciously. Xandy shrugged, unsure of what to say. The older girl seemed to understand; she relaxed and put her arm around Xandy's shoulders. "I'm sorry; I should have known you were a newbie. What kind of experience you looking for?"
Xandy forced a smile and whispered, "GHB or Roofie." Am I about to give myself away? she wondered as the girl stared at her for a moment. It was probably super unusual for a girl to buy those drugs; why hadn't she thought this out? The girl motioned her back further into the darkness, and Xandy obliged, fearing that she was going to cause a scene.
"Who are you?"
Xandy closed her eyes and shivered, wishing she could answer honestly. "No one of consequence. You're the one, aren't you? You drugged Mr. Johnston."
The girl threw her dyed hair over her shoulder, a flame in the dark. "I did what I was told."
"Told? Told by who?"
Skar looked about wildly and whispered, "He said you'd come, He said you'd figure it out. I was told to tell you that He is coming. Yes-" A girly giggle escaped her throat- "Yes, you're in trouble now. He comes so soon. Does He know I live to serve him? I've been a good girl; I've done what He asked." She giggled again, a high, crazed sound. Good Gods, she's cracked! Xandy thought as she stumbled away.
"He? Who is He?" She asked nervously as she tried to back down the hall. Looking her in the eyes, the junior smiled and put her finger to her lips.
"Shhh, it's a secret."
Xandy scrambled to turn and fled the party, thankful that Joan didn't try to stop her. What did she mean? Who was coming? And where was he coming to? Once out on the street, she sank to the ground and pulled out her phone. Mr. Gibson- the only person she wanted to see right then was Mr. Gibson. She knew he could calm the quakes of fear shaking her core. Why couldn't she figure out who 'He' was? Did she not have unlimited knowledge?
"Michael Gibson," his voice greeted her like a wave of sedative. Her fear was silenced as he said, "Hello? Alexandria?"
"Hey, can you come get me?" She whispered, hoping he would. She hoped that he didn't mind her calling this late; she hadn't thought about what time it was, just that she needed him to guide her.
"I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Get off the street. There's an all-night coffee shop less than a block away. Go on." She nodded, forgetting that he couldn't see her through the phone, and set off down the sidewalk. It didn't occur to her until she was almost to the coffee shop that she hadn't said who it was, where she was, or anything like that; he had just known. 'This isn't the first time he's done that, either' she reminded herself. It was a little creepy, she supposed, but it came in handy in a pinch.
Fifteen minutes later Mr. Gibson pulled up in his silver car, punctual as usual. Climbing in, Xandy noticed he had exchanged his polo shirt for a band tee and khakis for tattered jeans, a casual Saturday night outfit. He noticed her looking at his Jimi Hendrix shirt and smiled, "No, you didn't disturb my night. I was just reading a book."
"How do you do that? That is like the fourth time you've known what I was thinking." She glanced at him as he pulled away from the curb, his gray-blue eyes darkening frighteningly.
"Truthfully? You don't want to know. Now, what's this that's worrying you so much?"
She grimaced as her head seared, "The girl who drugged Mr. Johnston, I found her, but she seemed... Crazy. She was rattling on about serving someone and that HE was coming. What does it mean?" Her voice slipped away as he pulled off the road. He killed the engine and locked eyes with her, the darkness making his eyes seem charcoal gray. In his eyes, she could see something akin to confusion, only more intense. He seemed disturbed.
"That doesn't make any sense. He is already here; He can't go where He already is. Unless she meant that He was on his way to the party, which I seriously doubt." Glancing at Xandy, he sighed, "Don't ask me to elaborate, Alexandria. I can't tell you anymore; it's an unspoken rule, and it puts you at a great disadvantage, I know." She slumped back, wishing that he would just tell her who this 'HE' was. It wasn't fair that she was expected to run the school with academic knowledge and no clue about her enemy.
Remembering what he had first told her when she woke up, she felt a surge of hope. "You said that the math and science teachers are bad?"
"Usually. Why?" He gazed at her curiously, like he knew what she was planning. He most likely does, she reminded herself, he is weird like that. Shrugging, she laid back in the seat and hoped he would just drop it. The engine answered her hopes as the car came back to life. They didn't say another word until he pulled into her driveway.
"Do you want me to explain where you've been?" He asked gently, and Xandy realized he probably knew. He's privy to every other thought, why shouldn't he know the only thing I don't want him to? She shook her head and climbed out of the car, muttering a thanks.
"Alexandria," he called as she started to shut her door, "My phone is always on." She nodded, understanding his implication. He knows, she decided, unsure of whether she should be upset.
The next morning, she skipped her trip to the library and began Stage 2 of her mission: Reconnaissance. After the party, she had come up with a plan to find the snake in the grass; if The Hands were mainly Math and Science teachers, wouldn't their leader be one too? It made a certain sense to her that she doubted Mr. Gibson would share, but that was why she skipped the library. She didn't need his opinion to spy on a couple of Math/Science teachers.
Deciding to start at the far end of the hall, she picked the lock into Ms. Laden's room and hid herself behind a caddy-cornered filing cabinet. Prepared to wait a while, she was mildly surprised to hear the doorknob only a few minutes later. She sneaked a peek around the cabinet and watched as Ms. Laden came in with her student-teacher, Mr. Ilium.
"Troy, I thought I told you to lock that door yesterday," Ms. Laden admonished as she placed her bag at her desk, "You know that the doors are supposed to stay locked to keep out any curious little brats." Xandy rolled her eyes as Mr. Ilium quietly apologized, his obnoxious personality dimmed by the older woman. Although, she could understand it; she had taken Ms. Laden's class the semester before, and the woman acted like either a kindergarten teacher or a very exasperated mother of a small child. It made it very infuriating to try to argue with her because she stayed calm, even when she was furious.
"Samantha, do you think The Master will let me stay after I get my degree?" Mr. Ilium asked as he fiddled with his shirt, his fear audible. Ms. Laden nodded and reassured him before suggesting they go get breakfast. Xandy waited for them to leave the room and slithered from behind the cabinet, mentally crossing those two off her list. Doing some quick math on her fingers, she realized she had nine more people to check out. She sighed as she slipped out of the room; this was going to be a long day.
As she got ready to pick Ms. Frederick's room, Mr. Brian, one of the "special teachers", came around the corner in an animated discussion with the Headmaster. She pretended to tie her shoe as she listened closely to their conversation. From what she could understand, the Headmaster was suggesting that Mr. Brian help some of the upperclassmen reach the underclassmen, but it seemed they were both reluctant to do it. The Headmaster took notice in her as they drew closer, their conversation becoming less productive with every step.
"Miss Day, not planning on skipping any class today, I hope," he said with the sternness that only the head of a school could manage. She quickly shook her head and he nodded, a dismissal clearly meant for her and Mr. Brian. She waited for the two of them to part before following Mr. Brian to the resource room, the unofficial headquarters for the tutors. Even though he was just a tutor, it always seemed obvious where his sympathies lay by the company he kept with the science and math teachers; to Xandy, that seemed to make him a suspicious character who could be hosting The Higher End, but she had a couple reservations that stemmed from his personality.
"Mr. Brian," she whispered, catching the door with her foot, "May I come in?" He looked at her sadly and nodded, almost as though he knew why she had come. He may, she realized with a jolt, my identity may already be out. He waited for her to sink into one of the many chintzy chairs that were spread throughout the small room before shutting the door with a snap.
"Alexandria Day, right?" He sat down behind a desk littered with various framed photos, momentarily distracting her. She nodded and stood, her heart racing more than it had a few minutes before. How do I do this without giving myself away? she wondered as she lifted one of his photographs.
"Yes, sir, I'm a freshman; I have some classes with your daughter." She forced a laugh that sounded incredibly nervous, even to her own ears, "Actually, I have every class but two with her. We have opposite math and history classes." He nodded again, a vague recognition spreading across his face. Guess that means my secret's not out yet, she thought happily. Her smile slid off her face though as she wondered how to ask him. Straight out, Xandria, just be blunt. Grimacing, she asked, "Mr. Brian, I don't mean to come off too forward or anything, but..." She paused for a moment, terrified of asking him such a question, and she could tell he was nervous about it too. "Are you a Hand?" she blurted out, clapping her hands over her mouth as the last word escaped. S***, s***, s***! She scolded herself, wishing she could snatch that question out of the air, but that is the problem with words. Once they're out there, you can't get them back.
Mr. Brian sat there in a stunned silence, his jaw hanging open. She knew how he felt; she was just as shocked as he was. She hadn't meant to be that blunt. Yet, as she prepared herself to bolt, he seemed to recover. "Yes," he whispered, "Yes, I am." She sighed, not quite out of relief or exasperation, but thankfulness that he wasn't The Higher End.
"How do you do it?" she asked before she could stop herself, "How do you prepare to cripple the world, yet every night go home to a family that isn't involved? That thinks they have a future?" He stared mournfully at the picture still in my hands and shrugged, like he had no control over it. Xandy wasn't sure whether to pity him or be angry with him. She knew it took guts to stand up to The Higher End, whoever it actually was, but she felt that it was hypocritical to push his daughter the way he did while secretly working against education.
He croaked out, "I know, I'm a terrible person for behaving like such a blackguard, but my family. The Higher End would have my family if I didn't." He laid his head on his arms, hiding his watery blue eyes. Pity, feel pity for him, she told herself as she replaced the photo. Without another word, she left the room, knowing she could safely cross another off of her list.
As she stepped into the hall, she bumped into a tutor that she halfway knew and liked. Earlier in the school year, she had had Mr. Andrews as her study hall advisor, and she had found him to be semi-decent. They had gotten into a discussion one day about what subject certain people should teach, and he said that if he was going to teach one subject, it would be English. It would be safe to say he won Xandy's respect that day.
"Hey, Doc, what's up?" He grinned down at her, his smile infectious. She gave him a noncommittal shrug but smiled. He was pretty cool, really athletic, but not a total muscle-brain, and he was connected to one of the teachers on her list.
"Hey, Mr. Andrews, your wife wouldn't happen to be here today, would she?"
He cocked his eyebrow, eyeing her suspiciously. "Why? Planning on skipping her class again?" Once more, he broke out in a broad smile, "If you are, you're welcome to hide out in here." She laughed and rolled her eyes, hoping he didn't think she really was going to skip again. It wasn't that she actually cared to skip; she was just too afraid of Mrs. Andrews to try it too many times. He nodded and said, "Yeah, she's here. I was just heading that way if you want to tag along." She nodded and fell in step behind him, working to match his long strides.
He unlocked the door and allowed her to go ahead, which she did reluctantly. The room stank of vinegar and rotten eggs from the lab that the sophomores were doing, and it made Xandy drag her heels even more. Science was evil, science was cold, and science killed her soul; that was the simplest way to put it. And it didn't help that the woman teaching was particularly adept at making students despise the subject even more. It seemed like Mr. Andrews had to give her a small push to get her feet moving again; she hadn't even realized she had quit moving, still hiding beyond the Science teacher's view.
"Ray, is that you?" Mrs. Andrews called from around the corner. She gritted her teeth as he forced her forward.
"Yeah," he called back, "And look who I found!" Nevermind, let me go back, I don't need to talk to her, Xandy cried within her mind as she came into view of the Science teacher's deep blue eyes. She isn't scowling at me, she's smiling! she realized with some surprise, This is a pleasant change. She smiled back and walked toward the desk, emboldened by the lanky man beside her. The rational part of her mind told her Mrs. Andrews wouldn't hurt her too badly in front of her own husband, and the rest of her mind was only too happy to believe that.
"Miss Day, I can't say I've seen you lately." Her smile grew as Xandy blushed, "It's fine; we haven't done much. Ray says you've been distracted when he's seen you. Something you'd like to talk to us about?" It was a little too much for Xandy; the woman had never been this nice to her. Was it because her husband was beside her? Or was it something else entirely?
Deciding again to just be brutally blunt, she cleared her throat. "Actually, Mrs. Andrews, there is something I'd like to ask you about, but I was hoping I could use Mr. Andrews as a shield while I do," she said, only partially joking. Mrs. Andrews nodded and she stepped behind her advisor. "Uh, you're a Hand, right?" she asked, peeking out around his arm. The smile dropped off Mrs. Andrews face, and suddenly there was a tension in the room that was almost tangible. I may have just killed myself, she thought as Mr. Andrews stepped away from her. She could have sworn that he wasn't a Hand; he was always helping the English teachers, avoiding the colder teachers with the exception of his wife.
"Yes, Miss Day, I am," Mrs. Andrews said stiffly, "All Math and Science teachers are." She glanced over at her husband, who was standing with his eyes cast to the floor. To Xandy, he seemed to be embarrassed to be present to such a conversation, and she realized that their differences probably put a lot of stress on them. There is so much more to this than I realized.
"I'm sorry. I'm just trying to figure out what's going on. I-I didn't mean anything by it," she stammered, wishing that she could sink through the floor. Mrs. Andrews shook her head and stood.
"You're the new Director, then? May the Gods help you." She put her arm around Mr. Andrews with a grim smile. "I'm not too thrilled about being a Hand either. I would rather help my students understand the subject than alienate them so some upperclassman can swoop in and 'include' them."
Xandy nodded, understanding her teacher a little better now. "That seems to be a common theme in a couple of your all's cases," she said, thinking of Mr. Brian's self-pity. "Why don't you all stand up to this Higher End? With the English, History, and Social Studies teachers, plus me and Mr. Gibson, you aren't the minority. We could take this school back." Both adults looked her like she was insane. Maybe I am, she realized, I have no clue what we're up against, just that he's willing to kill and already has.
"You don't understand, do you? We have to think of our baby and each other. The Higher End isn't just some unfair person that you can topple off the throne. This is beyond that. He'll always come back, through various masks and acts, and he'll always win." Another common factor, they've all given up. Mrs. Andrews gave her a sad look, a look full of pity. Xandy knew she pitied her ignorance; she seemed to be telling her that she would pay for it later. I'd know more if my damn Protector would just tell me this stuff, instead of trying to be so damn mysterious! she thought crossly as she slunk back out of the room.
She decided that she would give her Algebra teacher a follow, since she was the cruelest, most hateful teacher Xandy could imagine. From her accidentally tardies to first period, she had often observed Ms. Penney heading downstairs to the teachers' lounge for a Coke before class. That'll be the perfect time to unobtrusively slip in behind her, she thought as she stationed herself at the back of the stairwell. Like clockwork, she heard Ms. Penney's flats on the stairs. As the teacher came out into the main hall, she latched onto her like a shadow. The teacher seemed oddly jumpy though, turning at random times to check behind her. It was all she could do to throw herself into doorways before the Math teacher caught sight of her.
She made it to the lounge without being seen, and was sorely disappointed at the lack of action as the woman bought a soda. There wasn't even a single person in the room. Then she had to duck into the cafeteria so she would be caught sneaking around behind her, and she even made it up the stairs. But once Ms. Penney got out of the stairwell, there was a problem.
Xandy crept around the corner, hoping to stay within earshot without getting caught. She had been doing well following the math teacher, but now she had lost her trail. Fighting off her disappointment, she slunk down the hall, biting her lip in wonder. How did I lose her? She was- Her thoughts were cut off as she was shoved against the wall. Mrs. Penney pinned her to the wall with a strength surprising for one her size.
"What do you think you're doing following me, Miss Day? Did you think I wasn't smart enough to know you've been back there?" She shook Xandy as she yelled, not holding back. Her yells grew louder, but no one came. I'm doomed. She's going to haul me off to this Higher End guy, and he's going to murder me, she thought pitifully, her spirits sinking steadily.
Over Mrs. Penney's shouts, a set of slow, deliberate footsteps echoed down the hall. Mrs. Penney let go of Xandy and backed away, smoothing back her hair. Smiling sweetly, she waved down the hall, piquing Xandy's curiosity. Careful not to grab the math teacher's attention, she peeked down that way and saw Mr. Ford, a science teacher, steadily approaching. Double-doomed.
"Hello, Jessica. Are you finished with this student? If so, I need to also have a word with her. If not, by all means continue- it's quite entertaining." He eyed Xandy distastefully with his piercing cold eyes before turning back to Mrs. Penney with a warm smile. Ass, she thought hatefully, I've never even talked to you, not even in class last semester. Mrs. Penney motioned for him to take her, and he gave her a shove down the hall. She turned to give him a piece of her mind, but he shook his head.
"Just keep quiet and keep walking," he hissed through his teeth, surprising Xandy. She walked in front of him to the other end of the hall, straight across from Mr. Johnston's room. "Get in here!" He opened his door and have her a small push in. He rubbed his blue eyes as he sank into his chair, suddenly looking very tired.
"Why? Why must you get her so riled up? You're lucky she didn't go for blood. I would read you a riot act and put you in detention for a day, but you and I both know that wouldn't do any good. Someone needs to tell Michael to keep his dog on a shorter leash." He shook his head in exasperation, confusing Xandy further.
"You're a Hand, but you're not like the rest of them. Out of four science teachers, you're the only one that I've ever seen display any compassion for a student." She sat down in the other computer chair, her brain in overdrive, "You know who I am, but I'm not dead. I know who you are, but nothing's happening. You're not like them." He remained silent as she thought aloud, adding to her suspicions. "You want out!" she exclaimed. He jumped up and shushed her, glaring at her reproachfully.
"Yes, you're definitely Gibson's puppy. He's already taught you one of his tricks. But in your defense, you've always displayed a great aptitude for learning." His icy blue eyes raked over her and he sank back into his chair. "Say it, you're just dying to."
"Join us! We don't have nearly enough allies, and you've always been one of the kinder cold, calculating teachers." She vehemently cried, aware that the corners of his mouth were twitching into a smile. He seemed amused by her, but she couldn't understand why. She was being completely serious.
"Come on, puppy, say it- you want me to go talk to Michael." He smiled as she nodded. If it got her some help, she would let him call her anything he wanted; besides, she felt that being called Mr. Gibson's puppy wasn't the worst thing in the world.
Following him back down the hall, she kept a vigilant eye out for Mrs. Penney, not counting on the science teacher to be able to save her again. She was thankful that the library was only four doors down; there wasn't much time for Mrs. Penney to pop up again. Mr. Ford held the door open for her, his face blank again. It amazed Xandy that he could hide emotions so well. He could be an actor, she thought as she watched him stride to the office door and rap twice.
"Come in," called Mr. Gibson for one of the rooms branching off from the office. The two entered and seated themselves across the room from each other, his chair in between them. "Alexandria, come help me for a moment. Please excuse us for a second, Damien." Xandy rolled her eyes and stood, glad to see Mr. Ford seemed to feel the same way. Neither of them complained openly but they clearly understood how the other felt about Mr. Gibson's 'skill'.
Xandy followed the sound of his voice and ducked into the periodicals' room. He stood on the small ladder with an armload of books, smiling slightly. "You are quite the little prodigy," he joked as he began handing her down books, "I've been trying to get him to talk to me for years. Ever since he first started anyway. Good job." He climbed down and gave her a clap on the shoulder, his approval obvious. She carried the books back into his office where Mr. Ford sat leafing through what seemed to be a journal.
"Hello, Damien, how're you today?" Mr. Gibson held out his hand, and Mr. Ford pumped it twice, no ill-will between them.
Mr. Ford smiled slightly as he nodded toward Xandy, "I had to save your puppy from the wolf across the hall." Mr. Gibson frowned at her for a second before turning back to Mr. Ford with a smile of his own.
"Personally, I've always found her to be more of a fox."
Xandy shuttered at the double meaning behind that, hoping that he was just kidding. Men, she thought disgustedly.
"Okay, you all are gross; I'm going back out to read." She stood and walked back into the main part of the library, glad to be away from them. Mr. Ford hadn't seemed to really care that he had had to save her, but Mr. Gibson did. Was it that he didn't like a Hand having to save her? It wasn't like Mr. Ford fully qualified as an actual 'Hand'. Or did he feel that it showed he couldn't trust her? Rolling her eyes, she walked over to the magazine shelf in front of the windows leading into the hall. She had been planning to read that psychology magazine, but movement down the hall caught her eye. Glancing down that way, she saw the Headmaster tapping his foot impatiently and Mrs. Penney coming out of her room. She dropped to the floor to keep Mrs. Penney from seeing her and half crawled, half walked through the door that Mr. Gibson had propped open.
Xandy ducked behind a trash can as Mrs. Penney approached the Headmaster, her heart in her ears. Would this be the moment that Mrs. Penney would reveal herself? She watched as the woman stiffly bowed, surprised by the action. She never would have expected the prideful teacher to descend to that low a level.
Is it him? she wondered, Has my search already come to an end? If the Headmaster was The Higher End, she knew that things were worse than she had come to believe. If this runs all the way up, do we have any chance? Why didn't Mr. Gibson tell me? Fear gripped her body as she realized why her Protector was always tight-lipped. If I had gone after him to begin with, he would have killed me! She shook her head, her pale eyes closed. This changes everything.
"Master," she heard Mrs. Penney croon, "Please forgive me for being late. I had a student in the room." The Headmaster's stony eyes rolled as he nodded, aware of his superiority. The math teacher handed him some papers and began whispering to him. Xandy craned her neck, hoping to catch some of their conversation. She accidentally leaned too far and fell against the trash can with a loud thud. Oops, curiosity killed the cat, she thought as she hastily straightened up.
"What was that?" the Hag whispered loudly. Xandy's heart sank as she heard the quiet steps begin toward her. What would they do to her? She knew Mrs. Penney would do a lot worse than yell, especially if she wanted to impress her 'Master'.
"Stop. I will deal with it." The Headmaster ordered softly, in a voice more deadly than any Xandy had ever heard. She could have sworn her heart stopped that moment. Mrs. Penney murmured her approval, and he shooed her off.
"Come on out, Miss Day. You've been hiding long enough." He didn't move, but Xandy didn't consider turning back. Sighing, she stood and looked at him, feeling the disappointment of a child caught hiding. It took her a moment to force her feet to slowly trudge toward him, fear beating against her heart.
"You're one cold fish. I hope you know that." She tried to stare him down, feeling as though he was a Doberman. If he sensed any fear, he would attack, she just knew it.
His rigid face cracked into a small smile as he looked her over. "Miss Day, you're wasting your time, and your life. Just give up now, before you end up like Loren." His voice didn't match up with his smile, a cold smile that didn't reach his eyes. To her, the smile was fake but the words were genuine. He spoke in a low, honest tone, as though he really didn't want to have to kill her.
"I was right then? You're The Higher End? You killed Mrs. Mackenzie?" She heard her voice go an octave higher on the last question. He nodded and took a step toward her, his gray eyes locked on hers. Flinching, she forced herself not to step away as he came closer.
Once he had closed the distance between them, he leaned close and whispered, "I'm warning you- the storm isn't going to break anytime soon. In fact, it has yet to begin. But soon, so very soon." Straightening up, he bade her a good day and limped off, his cane clacking loudly as he went.
Quit shaking, she commanded her body, unsure of what had just happened. She knew that she had been vulnerable; yet, he hadn't taken the chance. And what was all this talk of a storm? It made no sense to her. What doesn't make sense is the fact that this is still a normal school day and you still have English right now, she reminded herself, forcing her body to move toward the center staircase.
English was her favorite subject, but now she hated it. She hated being stuck in classes with people who didn't know what was going on around them, and who treated it all like a big joke. She hated having a Math teacher 'substituting' until they could find a new permanent teacher. And most of all, she hated knowing what had really happened to their teacher.
Slinking into the room moments before the bell, she laid her head on the desk and closed her eyes. She hoped that the adrenaline would ease off soon; no one needs a fight-or-flight reflex in the classroom, just a strong stomach for the sub. Her eyes closed, Xandy waited for that sickeningly sweet voice to greet the class, but instead heard a male voice.
"Good morning, class. I'm Mr. Gerard and I'm your new English teacher." Her eyes snapped open as she felt a surge of hope. A new English teacher meant one less Hand and one more ally. This man could be that force needed to bring The Higher End to his knees! she thought excitedly. He glanced down at her and winked, his blue-green eyes gleaming brightly.
"Who's ready to get started with today's lesson?"
She watched him closely throughout the class, hoping to catch a glimpse of who he was. She noticed that occasionally his smile would slip and his eyes would become confused, like he had no idea why he was there. But every now and then, his eyes would return to her, and she had to force herself not to look away. There was something about him that was intriguing, something that made her think he was holding back.
The bell rang, and Xandy stood, not quite ready to go to Science. Mr. Gerard came toward her and softly asked, "Miss Day, right?" She nodded, wondering what he could possibly want. He rubbed his hand across his eyes, an emotion unknown to Xandy taking over his face. "They say you're a good student, and I could use some help. Would you care to give me some assistance here and there?" Her eyes grew wide as she shook her head. She would love to play Teacher in her favorite class. When this is all over, I want to become an English teacher; I don't even care about the Hands. That won't stop me. I want to do good just to do good, she thought as she thanked him. She felt like some things hadn't changed for the worse with her new discovery.
The rest of her day consisted of science class, and even though she had told Mr. Andrews she wasn't skipping anymore of his wife's class, she couldn’t bring herself to go. She knew Mr. Johnston's juniors were taking the ACT for the rest of the day, so she decided to go to his room for a while, if anything to just relax. Today had been nerve-wracking, even for someone with the confidence of a Director.
Knocking lightly on his door, she glanced up and down the hall, hoping that The Higher End was nowhere around. She didn’t want to drag Mr. Johnston into a fight that didn’t concern him, but she was still glad that he let her come around. As usual, he glanced through the window on his door and grinned, like he was actually happy to see her. He must make everyone feel that way, she thought as she ducked under his arm. She was thankful, nonetheless; most teachers didn’t want her around anymore because of what she was.
“Hey, Mr. J, how goes it?” She asked brightly, sitting at the desk next to his, the one reserved for troublemakers. Troublemaker- that’s me. She forced her smile to grow broader as he talked about how he loved having half the day to himself. He was slowly going back to that teacher she had met at the beginning of the year, and it thrilled her to know it wouldn’t always be a shadow over him. He’s too good of a guy for this, she told herself, even though she already knew that.
“So, Miss Day, why aren’t you in class?” Mr. Johnston asked sternly, although the glint of humor in his hazel eyes ruined the effect. She tried to look chagrined at the question, but she couldn’t.
Shrugging, she replied, “I have science. It’s an utterly pointless class. Important subject but a joke to try to learn in school.” She could tell by his horrified expression that he hadn’t expected her to figure it out so soon. It seemed to her like all the Hands were benefitting from the lack of information the good guys were showing. But she wasn’t going to bring that up to her history teacher; she hadn’t come up there to discuss work. All she wanted to do was relax.
“That isn’t a good way to feel about school, especially for an underclassman who happens to be Director,” he told her with an understanding smile before changing the conversation, “Have you read any British lit lately?” Xandy laughed, genuinely surprised at his random question. Shaking her head, she shot him a questioning look, which he returned. “Neither have I, but I hear it’s pretty good stuff.” She understood what he was doing, and she was thankful; she welcomed his distractions.
That was how the rest of the school day went for them. She would have him talking about one subject and suddenly he would switch it up. A minute or two later, she’d realize she was getting close to their invisible barrier- their current situation. She guessed any conversation was better than sitting, brooding on what was going on outside the room. When the 3 o’clock bell rang, they both stood, shock written on both of their faces. He excused himself, saying he had to collect his juniors, and she thanked him for his time, wondering where to go from there. She wasn’t quite ready to go home; her father had steadily been becoming worse, and she wasn’t sure how much longer she could stay under his tyrannical rule. This made her escape to the school, even after the school day had ended. She decided just to roam the halls for a while, or maybe pick the lock into the library and read.
Setting off down the hall, she went to her locker downstairs and tossed her backpack, glad to still be alone. Only, she realized she wasn’t alone. In the teachers’ lounge across the hall, she could hear two male voices arguing. One of them was too low for her to recognize, but the other was the unmistakable voice of the Headmaster. The Higher End, she thought bitterly. Oooh, and he sounds livid too, she realized gleefully. His anger aside, Xandy wondered who on Earth he could be arguing with so forcefully, who would have enough guts to stand up to him. She drew close to the door and quickly backed away as she heard distinctive sound of a blow coming down on someone. She had barely flung herself into the boys’ bathroom next door before the lounge door swung open and the Headmaster stalked out, shaking his head. After he had disappeared down the hall, she didn’t stick around to see the loser; she saw the need to get to the library, before The Higher End came back.
Mr. Gibson was waiting at the door as she skid past, gasping for breath. He let her in and patiently waited for her to catch her, replacing the few books students had returned. She was surprised to see anyone had the audacity to even come to the library after the show the Hands had put on about the evils of the place. But that’s how normal teens were to her- surprising. Breathing normally, she related what she had just heard to her Protector, and waited for his opinion. As usual, he was slow to admit his thoughts, but eventually (after the last book was put up) he opened up. “Alexandria, it’s changing. I can feel it. There’s a storm coming. It may even be here already, and it’s going to be a bad one. The worst we’ve ever seen.” She didn’t dare question him any further; his gray-blue eyes were becoming like a storm-tossed sea again, and his reticence increased.
The next day, Xandy stood in Mr. Gibson’s office, pretending to read a magazine. She couldn’t focus on the articles; every fiber of her being told her that something bad was about to happen. The only thing she found she could compare it to was the air right before a big storm- calm yet fraught with tension. What does he have planned? she wondered as the intercom clicked on, The Higher End’s voice filling the building.
“Good morning, students. As I am sure you all are aware, there have been multiple cellphone violations. Because we have been warned about this several times, we are losing the privilege for the remainder of the school year. We are reverting back to the policy we had last year. Thank you, and have a nice day.” She could almost hear the smile in his voice as he took away one of the more enjoyable things the students had. This is payback, she realized, Retribution for something I’ve done. It pained her slightly to know it was her fault, but in some ways, she knew it wasn’t. He would have done it eventually, if only to increase the number of unhappy students.
The rest of the week, the same thing happened- everything changed. The Headmaster kept making announcements, canceling more and more extracurricular activities. The football team was banned from the weight room. The academic team was dissolved. All of the clubs were restricted to senior members, meaning upperclassmen only. It was the beginning of the school’s descent into madness. Everywhere she looked, Xandy watched miserable students, usually underclassmen, get preyed on by upperclassmen who were obviously the recruiters for the Hands. However, she noticed some of the upperclassmen weren’t involved. Joan Host, for example, seemed to get to enjoy relative freedom from their control in return for luring more teens into the underworld of drugs.
It was also during this week that she noticed something strange about her English teacher- he didn’t play by the rules. During class, he would make ancient references that only she could understand, giving away valuable bits of information. He also asked her to stay after class everyday under the pretext of planning the next day’s class work, but all they ever got done was trouble.
That Friday she sat down with him and asked him the question that had been plaguing her since the first day. “Sir, how do teachers find out about the Hands? How exactly are they recruited?” Xandy looked up at him, hopeful that he would bend the rules a little further for her. He smiled knowingly and pulled his chair closer to her, a mischievous grin spreading across his face.
“Don’t tell anyone that I’m telling you this,” he whispered conspiratorially, “But most teachers are pulled aside at the university and given a special class on the history of their subject. For math and science teachers, this means an induction into the Hands, and for English, History, and Social Studies teachers, it’s a crash course on the possibility of becoming Director.” He grinned as he rolled away from her again. God, he’s unlike anything I’ve ever dealt with, she realized, watching his carefree manner. She knew he knew that he was breaking an ancient rule of silence, yet he didn’t seem to care, and that intrigued her.
“You see, Xandria, yours truly was especially involved in those sorts of classes. I wanted to be a science teacher up until I found out what they’re all about. So, I converted to English.” It was a shock hearing a teacher be so upfront about their beliefs. All of the rest seemed content to cower behind the threat of The Higher End, but not him. I hope Mr. Gibson isn’t listening in on this. Talk about disapproval. She smiled as she stood; the thought of doing something without her Protector’s knowledge was very appealing to her, and that’s what this teacher seemed to be offering her.
“Hey, I’m sorry, but I gotta go. Do you want me to come back later? Maybe we’ll actually get something done. Ya know, or not.” She was slightly disappointed to be leaving his room, but that’s how it was. Even when he shook his head, she knew she wouldn’t be able to resist coming back to talk to him during the afternoon break, providing that the Headmaster hadn’t taken it again today. Thanking him for his time, Xandy decided to go on to her History class, not wanting to skip out on Mr. Johnston again.
His class sped by as she listened to him lecture about the civil wars in Africa. It was actually something she found very interesting, but there was the promise of more information distracting her. She was learning more from a teacher who had been there less than a month than the librarian who had seen many moons as Protector. Mr. Johnston seemed to notice she wasn’t as focused as usual; when he turned the video on, he slipped into the empty desk beside her.
“Miss Day, made any progress?” he asked quietly, trying not to attract the attention of the rest of the class. She shook her head and glanced into his hazel eyes. What she saw there upset her greatly. He was eyeing her closely, something like disappointment settling deep in the murky depths of his eyes. Why is he disappointed in me? I’ve tried to make some headway, but I don’t know what I’m up against. Knowing that they had captured the interest of several of her classmates, she stared at him, trying to make her understand with her eyes. He appeared to understand, but he had to return to the front of the room. The break bell had just rung and all hell had broken loose. He didn’t say a word as she slipped by, rushing to get back to the English teacher’s classroom.
She hadn’t had to knock; Mr. Gerard had been waiting with the door held open. "I'm a class A reject," Xandy told the English teacher as she ducked under his arm, "I'd rather hang out with the teachers than be out there with all of those people." She forced a sarcastic smile. The smile he returned was genuine and full of understanding, like he had been the same way. He returned to his computer, and she sat at the desk closest to his, her heart in her ears.
"Hey, Mr. Gerard?" She waited for him to glance up questioningly, "I kinda want to be an English teacher, too. And I was wondering- Really, why did you become one?" He looked shocked, and she wondered if anyone had ever bothered to ask him before. She was sincerely interested in what made a man of his intellect stoop to being a low-paid high school teacher, but she was worried that he would find her strange for asking.
On the contrary, he smiled congenially and admitted, "Well, for very selfish reasons." He refused to expand on his simple explanation and told her that he had some work to do. Grinning at him, she nodded and made up a tale about needing to talk to Mr. Ford, who she felt was close to caving.
Bounding up the stairs two at a time, she skid to the door and rapped loudly. “Hey, Mr. Ford, I know you’re in there!” she called at the door, waiting for him to open it. When he finally allowed her in, she noticed that he had a rumpled look, like he had been in a fight. Thinking back to what she had seen after school before, she wouldn’t have been surprised. The Higher End didn’t tolerate nonsense, and quite frankly, Mr. Ford was full of nonsense. She smiled at him, pretending she hadn’t seen the weary look he had flashed her way, and he forced himself to return it. Come on now, don’t be that way, she thought pityingly as he sank back in his chair without a word. He seemed to know why she was there, but he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of admitting it.
“Mr. Ford, please. You’ve had plenty of time to think on it. Will you help me and Mr. Gibson? We promise to protect you,” she said exasperatedly, seriously considering getting on her knees and begging. He sighed, still ignoring her. The silent treatment, how immature. If he was going to play hard to get, then she was going to come at him hard. He needed to make up his mind and quick, and he knew that. She sat there and stared at him, hoping to be too annoying to ignore.
Apparently her strategy worked. After a few minutes, he turned and glared at her, snapping, “Good Gods, Day! I don’t want to. He’ll kill me.” Xandy rolled her eyes and stood, impatience taking hold. She wanted to shake him until he understood their situation, but she knew that Mr. Gibson wouldn’t approve. She had to do this diplomatically, without offending him too greatly.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said sarcastically, “Wouldn’t it be better to die on the good side than live on the bad? What’s the point in living if you’re assisting evil?” She frowned slightly as she paced before him. “I am a fifteen year old girl, and I’m willing to die for my cause. What does that say about you?” He looked shocked when she wheeled around to face him, her eyes green fire. She knew she was letting her temper get out of hand, but he needed to be shocked. He needed something to force him out of his self-pity and obviously being nice didn’t work.
“Miss Day, you don’t understand. I am not strong like you, or Michael, or even Richard. I can’t just stand up to him because it’s the right thing to do,” he said mournfully, “Haven’t you seen the rest of the teachers in my department? They’ve all given up.” Is that it then? He’s given up? She had to wonder if that was all, or if someone else hadn’t gotten to him before her. The distressed look he gave her left little room for doubt, though; the man was just scared.
Throwing away some of her pride, she got on her knees, one of his giant hands clasped between her own. Before him, she made every assurance that could possibly be made-he would be protected, no one would know, The Higher End would be ended before it became an issue, etc. It was almost heart wrenching for her to watch the internal conflict be played out in his icy eyes. She understood how it felt not to want to believe it was truly happening, but she also knew it had to be done.
Tears melting his cold blue eyes, he pulled her to his feet. “Alexandria, the storm isn’t coming. It’s already here, and the gods aren’t going to help us out of this one,” he said shakily, and Xandy recognized the defeat written across his face. She nodded, not willing to speak for fear of spooking him again. He paced around her for a moment before staring her in the eyes, a new light creeping in. “Will you take me to Michael?” he asked softly, and she knew. Mr. Gibson is the only one he trusts! she realized with a start, but she wasn’t surprised. He was the only one she trusted too.
Leading him down the hall to the library, she thought back on what he said, what they had all said. There’s a storm that was coming but now it’s here, she thought bitterly, And no one thinks to explain what they mean by that. It bothered her to no end that they seemed to just assume that she would figure it out on her own, or that it wasn’t important enough to explain. What’s with the damn no-speaking rule anyway? She hated being in the dark, but she knew one person who could turn on the light.
Leaving Mr. Ford to the librarian, she took off for the English teacher’s room, hoping he would explain some things for her. Through the halls, she found with the rage that consumed the pit of her stomach. Why would they leave out what she considered to be some of the most pertinent information? Why wouldn’t they just tell her? She slowed as she neared his door, her breath coming out in short puffs. It appeared that he had been expecting her; his door was unlocked and an extra chair was drawn up to his desk. Thank the Gods for him, she thought fleetingly as she walked in, the fire in her stomach doused temporarily. It was only after she had explained what was going on, that she became inflamed again.
"They all keep telling me the same thing!" She threw her hands up and turned to the English teacher, "But they won't explain what they mean! They say education is so important, but they won't give me the damn truth!" She sighed and sank into the nearest desk, exasperated. It made her doubt that they trusted her, and if they didn't trust her, then she wondered how they could expect her to do what needed to be done. It was a catch-22 that they seemed to ignore, frustrating her to no end.
Mr. Gerard didn't blink at her blatant swear. He smiled sadly, "Alexandria, don't worry. I'm sure that they'll explain when the time comes. Maybe they believe you're not ready." It was an unspoken agreement that he feigned ignorance when it came to what she was. That was the closest thing he had said to recognizing her for what she was, and it surprised her. "Hey, they don't believe I'm ready either, but that doesn't daunt me. Find out some other way if you must." He smiled mischievously, and she felt her heart rise. She wasn't sure if he was offering his help, but it made her happy to know he wasn't above sneaking behind Mr. Gibson's back.
Her heart sank again as she stood. "Mr. Gibson always seems to know what I'm thinking though. It's not possible for me to do anything and him not know." She frowned, not seeing a way around her Protector. He shrugged, obviously stumped too. It dawned on her that there could be more to the 'no-telling' rule than she realized, but she didn't get a chance to mention it to Mr. Gerard.
At that moment, the classroom door opened and a cold breeze blew in. The Headmaster swept it, his cane in hand. The coldness in his eyes was more intense than it had ever seemed to Xandy. He had never looked more foreboding than he did when his stony eyes settled on her, instilling fear deep within her core. 'What is he going to do?' she wondered as he fluidly moved toward her.
"Miss Day," he said icily, "School premises are closed when the day ends. Leave now." His command reawakened the frustration she had felt before, her recklessness returning. He stiffened as the fire returned to her cowed eyes. Harshly, he told her, "I don't care what you are- you will do as I say. You are not to be here, and I will be keeping a closer eye on which classes you skip. I am going to escort you out and you had better not let me catch you here again."
Xandy drew herself up to her full height, knowing that she was in very dangerous waters. "No, sir, I will not leave. You may think that you have power, but not over me. I know who you are and what you've done. You'll find that I'm not quite ready to back down. Please, Mr. Cold Fish, take this as a good time to go back to your corruption o children." The Higher End glowered at her, his cane twitching. Oh god, he's going to kill me right here in front of Mr. Gerard, she thought fearfully, but she remained nonchalant toward the monster before her.
"Take my leave," he said angrily, drawing back his empty hand. Before she could react, his hand made contact with her face, throwing her backwards onto the floor. Everything went fuzzy as her head smashed against the tiles, The Higher End's cruel face swimming before her eyes. She watched worriedly as he stared hard at the English teacher. Her fear grew as she heard Mr. Gerard come toward her. No, please stay back, please, she begged as the Headmaster stepped around her. Mr. Gerard's voice rose out of the haze, commanding that the man leave. She could still see The Higher End's face as he stared at the the English teacher, as though he was seeing him for the first time. Oh god, oh god, she thought as she watched him stare long and hard at the man standing out of her view. The Higher End seemed to decide there was no point in lingering; he turned and strolled out of the room, calmer than he had entered.
The fear dissipated when the door snapped closed, but it was now pain that gripped her body. Pain that permeated from her head to her feet. Pain that not only stemmed from the blow she took to her face, but the one to her pride. Mr. Gerard had seen her get taken down for being so foolhardy, and she hadn't been able to do anything to The Higher End. He could have killed them both, and she, the big, mighty Director, couldn't lift a finger against him.
She heard Mr. Gerard's footsteps before he entered her vision. "Are you alright?" he asked, the concern in his voice clearly discernible. She tried to nod as he helped her to her feet, but that made everything swim before her eyes. She felt like she had taken a baseball bat to the jaw, but she knew it could have been much worse.
"Man, they weren't kidding when they said he was strong. How's it look? Be honest?" He tilted her face toward the light, biting his lip. She knew what he was seeing; she could taste the metallic tang of blood herself. That's okay; at least neither of us died, she told herself as he let her chin droop.
"Not so good, your lip's busted, your eye will most likely be blacked, and you're probably going to have a handprint for a couple days." He grimaced as she wiped the blood off her cheek, aware of how bad it must hurt. She wasn't going to lie and say it didn't, simply because she knew she had deserved it. And she wasn't going to act like he had hurt her pride, because then she would be an object of pity. She wanted to be seen in everyone's eyes as "the one that went down fighting", and she knew that wouldn't happen if one little smack got her down.
"Let me take you to the library," Mr. Gerard insisted. They both knew she was in no shape to be roaming alone, and it wasn't safe for her to be out there with The Higher End still on the loose. Xandy assented and allowed herself to be led to the door. It seemed that to her that her escort wanted to be left to his thoughts as he helped her up the stairs. She figured he was beating himself up too, wondering what he could have done differently. She couldn't figure out what a difference in her actions would have done. Other than acting cowed, she couldn't think of any situation that didn't end in her being injured; in fact, the only other scenarios she could imagine ended in both of their deaths.
"Penny for your thoughts," he said quietly as they neared the library door. She looked over at him and tried to smile, feeling her face twist grotesquely.
"Just thinking of thanking a chivalrous man," she replied in the same low tones, her cheek muscles hurting. He smiled as he held open the door, a small, almost-sad smile.
"Milady," he whispered as he bowed to her. She nodded toward him and attempted to curtsy, swaying dangerously. He caught her and helped her over the threshold, somehow remaining outside the room. The look he gave her told her that there were no thanks in order, and she accepted that gratefully.
Mr. Gibson peeked out of his office door and rushed to Xandy's side. He didn't ask what had happened, and she knew he had heard every thought running through her head. She wasn't embarrassed by that, only relieved that she didn't have to explain anything to him. Leading her back into his office, he clicked like a mother hen, telling her how foolish she was.
Once he had cleaned off her face, he smiled proudly, "Now don't you look like a proper little warrior?" She grinned at his British accent and wished she hadn't. The pain from that side f her face intensified every time she moved a muscle. God, I won't be able to talk for a week, she thought miserably and Mr. Gibson nodded.
"And it's best you can't because I don't want to hear any protests as I say this. I don't trust that man, that Mr. Gerard or whoever he is." He paused for a moment, his ear cocked toward her. From her silence, he seemed to have heard her protest. "Yes, he brought you up here, and he gave you advice. But his advice was to go behind my back, and he didn't stop Him from hurting you." He shook his head as the mute girl tumbled out all of her protests and comebacks. "He could have stood up to him- you did. And it seems that he would know how dangerous it is for you to go behind my back, and how pointless it is to try." He shook his head again and sighed, ending the argument. Xandy could feel her anger returning and became increasingly irate as he ignored her.
"You are imp--" Xandy forced aside her pain as she stood, "Do you hear that?" She opened the door, trying to figure out what she was hearing. Stepping into the hall, she knew exactly what she was hearing- screams. They weren't yells; they were bloodcurdling, horrific screams of pain that echoed off the walls and down the hall.
"M-M-Mr. Gibson!" she stammered as she stumbled back toward the door, "They're coming from Mr. Johnston's room!" She glanced back at her Protector, whose face had blanched with fear. Another pain-filled scream reached their ears, and they took off down the hall. She wished she could block out the terror she heard in each cry, her heart sinking with every step.
They reached the door, and Mr. Gibson wrenched the door open, blocking Xandy's view. "Oh Zeus, oh Zeus," she heard him groan as he stumbled into the room. She smelled the blood before she saw it, that tangy metallic scent that turned her stomach. A couple steps behind the librarian, she was able to see some of the red splattered on the floor. He's taken another, hasn't he? she asked silently. He nodded as he kneeled beside the History teacher, his face grim. She barely recognized the lifeless man, but she knew it could only be one person.
A soft moan came from the seemingly dead teacher, something that neither of them had expected. "Richard!" Mr. Gibson gasped and scooped the man up, careful not to jar him too much. "We need to take him to the hospital," he said to Xandy, who held the door for them to pass. She nodded and grabbed Mr. Johnston's other arm, carrying part of his weight down the hall to the end staircase. Her heart was in her ears as she tripped again, reeling from the dead weight. He's going to catch us! she thought, panicking slightly. She knew if The Higher End caught up to them, they were all three as good as dead; the monster had no conscience.
"Mike, he warned me," Mr. Johnston said haltingly, "I could have ended him, but my conscience..." He trailed off and Mr. Gibson shushed him. The concern and pain darkening his eyes cut through her like a blade, but she knew she was of no help here. They had made it to the car, yet it was obvious to them that he was fading too quickly.
Upset and nauseated, she turned toward the building. Standing in the door they had just exited was the Headmaster, a twisted smirk playing at his lips. She tried not to look, but the cane, that bloody cane caught her eye. It ignited her fury to see him standing there all high and mighty while Mr. Johnston lay behind her dying, and she wanted to punish him for it. She wanted his throat between her hands, and she wanted to watch the little bit of life in those stony eyes dissipate. The gods seemed to agree with her as the wind picked up, whipping her hair around her, a flame in the twilight.
"Take him to the hospital, Mr. Gibson," she called into the wind and set off toward the building. The Higher End turned on his heel, withdrawing into his fortress. "Come back here, you coward! Come back here and face me!" she cried as she bolted through the open door. She could see him at the far end of the hall, waiting in the middle of the lobby. 'He's taunting me,' she realized as she forced herself on. It didn't take her long to reach the double doors at the end of the hall, but in that time, a nagging doubt instilled itself in the back of her head. What if I'm not ready for this?
She walked a couple steps into the lobby and yelled, "You're a coward! He was an innocent, completely not involved. After that stunt you pulled, he wanted out." Uninvolved, that's exactly what he was, she thought bitterly. "So why?" She demanded forcefully, "Why him? Why involve him? You had already accomplished what was needed. This was just overkill! Carnage for Carnage's sake!" Her green eyes darkened as she glared him down, wishing for nothing more than the means to kill him. He had taken too many innocent lives, but no one would stop him. No one could stop him.
Calmly, he explained, "Miss Day, carnage for carnage's sake would be a mass murdering spree. The act of ending one life can be looked at as homicide, slaughter, or a simple act of mercy. He was doomed in the end anyway; I simply sped up the process." His lifeless gray eyes seemed to warm up a little as he took a step toward her, "Miss Day, this carnage, as you say, can be ended everywhere with one small decision. Crime, pain, fear- it can all be taken away from the world depending on your response to this next question. Will you join me? With our combined power, we can save this planet. I know you are tired of feeling Powerless, tired of watching those you care for kill themselves through hopeless endeavors. You can change all of that. This world can be remade, and those that are left that hold your affections, they can be saved. The librarian, your Protector, we know he is willing to die for you, but as you said before, he isn't involved enough for his death to have purpose. But he will die if we do not end this conflict. Will you join us in the rebirth of this world?" The Higher End smiled as he took another step toward her, warming considerably. She thought she could see traces of the man he was before this monster took residence within him, but she couldn't be sure.
He did make valid points; Xandy was willing to admit that much. And as much as it hurt her to, she considered his proposition carefully. Mr. Gibson safe- that was all she wanted. As selfish as it may be, the rest of the world came after him. She closed her eyes and mulled it over, sensing his anticipation mixing with her own.
Opening her eyes back, she saw another tall, thin form off to the side, partially hidden in the shadows. His brow was furrowed, and his blue-green eyes were closed. He seemed to be deep in thought, yet on edge listening to their exchange. Seeing the English teacher pulled her back to reality, a reality where the world was as is and the man before her was evil. She violently shook her head, praying that if he was going to kill her also, he would do it quickly.
"That is most regrettable, Miss Day. Rest assured that this chance will not come again. I will simply remove you from my way, as I do any other obstacle." With that, he clicked his cane against the floor, turned, and left her standing there in shock. He didn't kill me was her first thought, followed by one about the dead History teacher.
Her eyes filled with tears as she sank to the ground, sobs wracking her small frame. 'Why?' She knew Mr. Johnston hadn't deserved that death; his only crime had been having a conscience.
Strong arms wrapped around her shoulders, gentle and consoling. "I won't say everything is going to be okay," Mr. Gerard said softly, "But everything will get better. It always has to get worse before it can get better. I'm proud of you, though. It would have been easiest to just give in to him." Xandy nodded, wondering if he knew how close she had come. The doubt he had created in her would haunt her for the rest of her life, but she thought it was a small price to pay for her life.
"Xandria, do you realize though that Michael will be his next move?" She nodded again, feeling her heart constrict. She may have escaped the death sentence, but she tied the toe tag for her Protector. Why? Why am I so selfish? The silent sobs shook her body again as she thought of the man who had watched over her for the past couple months.
"He did say he would leave him alone if you give in to him," the English teacher reminded her gently. She didn't need him to; her mind was working furiously. She knew Mr. Gibson was willing to give his life for her three times over, and she was just going to hang him out to dry. She detested that with every fiber of her being, but she knew that her only other choice was to give in. Her heart quailed as she decided to go against her conscience.
Mr. Gerard seemed to feel the shift in her emotions. He lifted her head, his blue-green eyes piercing hers, "Are you sure?" For the third time, she nodded, completely unsure of this dangerous decision. If she was wrong about the morals of the immoral monster, then the very person she was working to save would be the first to be destroyed; yet, she knew she had to try, for him. Her morals were against what she was doing, but she didn't try to stop Mr. Gerard from pulling her to her feet and leading her down the hall. They walked less than forty feet to his room, him behind her, guiding her stumbling feet. His hands were gentle as he helped her into a chair, but his face was cold, fixed like a stone.
"That was easy, almost too easy," the man muttered as he paced before her, "Is Athena trying to trick me? Do I look like a fool?" Turning on Xandy, his face seemed to transform. His laughing eyes turned to fiery water, and his usually smiling face became cold and evil, a primitive frigidness settling into the room. "I do respect you, believe that, but you are too open with your trust. And as much as I respect you, I realize that you wouldn't actually obey me. I am truly sorry," he explained as he came closer to her. She could have reached out and touched him when he apologized, only she was trying to process what he said. HE was The Higher End? What about the Headmaster? Why? How? All of these thoughts rushed through her head, along with the pain of this betrayal.
"I-I trusted you!" she stutteringly exclaimed, holding his darkening gaze. He was still as polite as the English teacher facade when he kneeled before her and gently took her hand. She had to fight the urge to fling his hand away, tears threatening to overwhelm her.
"Yes, you did, but as I said, you are too open with your trusts." He patted her hand and stood, something akin to regret flitting across his face, "Goodbye, Alexandria." The fear fell away as he leaned toward her face, and was replaced by relief. It's over, she thought as he placed one hand under her chin and the other on her head.
"Goodbye, sir," she whispered as he met her eyes again. Nodding he jerked his hands in opposite directions, the snap of her neck echoing through the room. Or maybe his head; he couldn't be sure. She went limp, sliding into his arms. Feeling a small tinge of regret, he laid her on the floor and closed her green eyes, wiping her last tears away. He was upset to have had to destroy such a wonderful specimen, but he knew it had to be done, just as the next death had to occur.
Mr. Gibson swerved around, his heart sinking. This was the second time he’d felt this gut-wrenching jerk at his heart, a feeling he’d wished to avoid at all costs. He’d lost another Director; he had failed yet again. Glancing into the backseat, he heaved a heavy sigh. The costs have been too high, he told himself as he stared at the lifeless form of his best friend. It was a shame losing Loren and Alexandria, two tragedies that did serve some higher purpose, but Richard, he had absolutely nothing to do with any of it. It had just been retribution from the devil incarnate. The Higher end- just the thought of the man made his blood boil. He had heard Alexandria’s last thoughts of how Samuel had been a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and he turned the car around. Damn it all, he thought crossly. He knew Richard was long gone; there was no point in even pretending there had been a chance of saving him, and he knew there was still a job to be done. He wasn’t going to just sit around and wait to lose another Director when he could try to finish the job himself. That’s the problem with Protectors, he told himself, we just sit around and pretend like we do something imp important. He decided it was time for him to do some dirty work. Back at the school, he stormed in and went straight for the English teacher’s room. He tried not to look at the girl on the floor, tried to ignore the rip he felt go through his heart, but was overwhelmed at the sight of his Director with her head turned almost backwards. The English teacher hadn’t blinked when he had burst in the room, just sat behind his desk with a pensive look on his face.
“I am sorry, Michael,” The Higher End said softly, “She was different than the rest.” He raised his blue-green eyes slightly but refused to meet the librarian’s. It surprised Michael to hear the regret in his voice, but he wasn’t swayed. He was determined to do the job he’d come there to do, even if The Higher End knew he was in the wrong. Samuel seemed to realize that as he slowly rose from his desk.
“Michael, if you truly are determined to go through with this, you must know that I will not hold back.” He smiled grimly as he stood before Mr. Gibson, who didn’t show any intention of backing down. Mr. Gibson raised his fists as though to box with the younger man, who he knew to be more fit and more fluid without the extra weight he was packing. He also possessed in inhuman strength of The Higher End. Mr. Gerard simply shook his head and took a step back.
“Michael, last chance. I don’t want to have to kill you. Better it be the devil you know than the one you don’t, right? I’d rather face you and another one of your ward than someone who is new to it all.” He pursed his lips and held out his hand as a sign of peace. Mr. Gibson stared down at his hand for a moment before spitting at his feet.
“That,” he said emphatically, “is what I think of you and your damn devil. Go. To. Hell.” He spat each word into the English teacher’s face, his anger finally getting the best of him. Without thinking, he swung his right fist at the side of the other man’s head and barely missed connecting with it. The Higher End stepped back nimbly and reciprocated with a well-aimed punch to the stomach, knocking Mr. Gibson back several feet. It’s true about the strength, he realized as he doubled over, the wind knocked completely out of him. He hadn’t straightened back out before The Higher End was on him again. Blow after blow rained down on him as the English teacher’s frustrations grew. Finally the man took a step back, allowing him to fall to the ground in a bloody heap. He couldn’t catch his breath and could feel broken ribs jabbing everything near them. It’s almost over, he thought as he wheezed blood all over his hands. He welcomed it though; no more shortcomings if he was gone. The gods may even be willing to overlook his failures; how he hoped Alexandria would put in a good word for him up there.
It only took a few moments before The Higher End was standing over yet another body in his classroom. It was getting to be a little much for him; the bodies just kept piling up around him. He sat back down at his desk and called the Headmaster, ordering him to rid the school of all corpses. After that, he felt like planning a way to prevent another Protector and Director from arising here.