CLAIRE BLADEHEART’S POV:
I held onto Curtis, clasping my hand over his mouth in desperation. My vision blurred as tears continued to well up and stream down my cheeks.
We couldn’t… I couldn’t do anything.
The disciplinary committee members were in charge of preserving the safety and order within Xyrus Academy. I was handpicked by Director Goodsky herself to take on this vital duty, and with the exception of Arthur, I was assigned the task of choosing the members and leading them.
I was their leader, yet I had let all of this happen… I let in a spy.
I was ignorant of the fact that all of our movements were being leaked to the enemy.
I was responsible for the state Theodore was in right now. Even if he made it out of this alive, he would never be able to walk on his own two feet again.
I was responsible for Feyrith getting captured.
I was responsible for the death of Doradrea Oreguard.
I should’ve noticed by how the radical group seemed to know of our every move and effortlessly slip past us on each occasion. I guess subconsciously, I believed that my team members would, without a doubt, be loyal.
Because of my naive assumptions, we were the first to get attacked. It had happened last night, when the soft, dim light of dawn peeked out over the horizon. We had been busy preparing for the full-scale battle that would come eventually, finalizing the emergency evacuation plan after constructing makeshift safe houses out of basements and old classrooms for students to barricade themselves in.
We had all agreed that this might be going a bit overboard, but I now realized that it wasn’t even close to enough.
Restless, everyone had decided to let out some steam by training. It was Kai’s idea. He suggested that we enlarge the area of the training barrier so that everyone could practice without the students, who were all on edge from the recent events, being startled by the sounds of spells and weapons colliding.
We had never enlarged the training barrier before, but nevertheless, I didn’t find anything wrong with his suggestion, so I let Kai supervise the barrier while the rest of us trained inside it.
When the barrier formed, it took on a reddish sheen that normally never appeared. Thinking back, the training barrier Kai erected by using the artifact was a miniature version of the cage that was now surrounding the entire academy.
That’s when we were attacked. Kai had let them in; it was as simple as that. That sly bastard was the one who gave away all of our plans to the radical group while feeding us false information.
Kai had his hands full keeping the barrier up so that no one outside could hear the sounds of battle. We were outnumbered three to one yet we were on the verge of winning. The radical group mages were strong, but my team members were stronger. We would have broken free and warned the school… but he had to show up.
As soon as he stepped into the barrier, whatever advantage we had had disappeared. I just couldn’t believe he’d been a part of this—no, I’m lying. It was definitely possible for him to be a part of this. What I couldn’t believe was that it was actually him.
He single-handedly turned the tides. He was a gifted mage before and if it wasn’t for his twisted and conceited personality, I would’ve definitely wanted him to join the Disciplinary Committee. He was talented, but a lot of his breakthroughs came from the overuse of elixirs and other synthetic drugs that would result in dire consequences later. This was the rumor, anyways.
But he was on another level. The mana fluctuation around him was comparable to that of professors’—no, beyond them. It was odd though. The abundant mana surrounding him was erratic, chaotic almost; there was so much mana being forcibly generated that it overflowed. I wasn’t sure if that was the cause, but even the color of his skin and hair took on a different tint.
The amount of mana was unnatural for someone barely hitting the age that most humans would begin to awaken. This reminded me of Arthur; he might even be stronger than him presently, however, I knew for certain that whatever led him to this state wasn’t anything natural.
Needless to say, we weren’t much of a match for him. Chantless casting, multicasting, an endless well of mana—even if he was alone, I felt like he could’ve held up against all of us together.
How was it possible for him to have become this strong? was the persistent thought that kept running through my mind, poking at me.
“You call yourself a student of this academy? Out of all people, I would’ve assumed your pride wouldn’t allow you to be some dog of a crazy terrorist group, Lucas,” I spat out in disdain. “I now see that I was wrong.”
I could see that I had hit a nerve as his smug expression darkened, but before he got reckless like I had hoped, Kai intervened.
“Lucas, he wants this done quick and clean. Don’t forget the mission,” the narrow-eyed augmenter said curtly, his face tensed in concentration from trying to keep the barrier up.
Kai had ignored our repeated hateful shouts prying for the reason of his betrayal, only opening his mouth to keep Lucas in check.
At this point, it would be impossible to get out by trying to beat him; our goal was to create an opening in the barrier.
While battling, we intentionally aimed our spells at the same spot without them noticing, but the barrier was a lot stronger than we had anticipated.
After defeating three of them, Feyrith was the first to get captured and pulled away by the other radical group members, but by then, we had managed to make a crack on the surface of the barrier, a gap large enough for us to fit through. But not all of us were able to escape. Through gritted teeth, we had to leave behind Doradrea, along with Feyrith, who stalled the radical group long enough for us to escape.
It hadn’t feel like we escaped, no—it felt like we were let go. I could still clearly remember the smirk etched onto Lucas’ face as he stood there, looking down on me like an insect he released because he didn’t want to trouble himself with the mess.
By the time we made it out, it was already too late. Our battle had taken time, and during that time, the academy was already locked in a cage and under attack by both the radical group and mana beasts.
Director Cynthia had not returned and by the time we found some of the Student Council members, they had been assaulted as well, although they seemed to be in a better shape than us. Clive seemed especially grateful that the Student Council President was still not back from her trip. The Student Council Secretary—Lilia, I believe—asked me worriedly if Arthur was okay, and was relieved to find out he wasn’t inside the academy.
It was demoralizing for us as some of the students we tried so hard to fight for simply gave in and sided with the enemies.
But I couldn’t blame them.
It was us that failed in our jobs to protect them.
“Please, Curtis… please.” I continued begging, choking back a sob.
“Please, stop. You can’t.” I bit my lower lip.
Curtis’ thrashing settled, but I could still feel him trembling with rage. I removed my hand from his mouth and noticed that there was blood; it was Curtis’.
He had been biting on his lips so hard, he’d bitten into them.
“I’ll kill him…” I heard Curtis mutter, his voice shaking.
“Curtis, please… just wait. I can’t have you charging out like Theodore. We can’t lose you too.” I tried to keep a firm tone as I spoke, but I didn’t sound convincing even to myself.
“Wait? Are we supposed to just wait while we let him kill Theodore and Feyrith? Huh? Like how he killed Doradrea?” he spat out in a growl, his voice pitched low and quiet.
My chest contracted from the venom in Curtis’ words, but before I could say anything else, a sharp sound stopped me.
Curtis held onto his left cheek, stunned.
Kathyln’s eyes were red and swollen, her long lashes still wet with tears. Her expression was a knot of grief and frustration. Her usual impassive expression was nowhere to be seen. Her hand was still held up in front of her from where she had just slapped her brother.
The strike wasn’t loud, nor was it that strong, but I could tell by Curtis’ expression that the light slap from his sister struck deeper and harder than any bludgeon could.
“Brother. We need to think of a way save them. We need to make a plan to protect everyone here. We need to stop that monster, but we can’t do any of that if you’re like this… or if you’re dead.” Kathyln’s gaze was unrelenting, her every word piercing through not just Curtis, but through me as well.
She was right, we needed to get our act together. We needed to think of a plan.
I looked around the crowd in front of the bell tower and behind us, thinking of a way to escape to Director Cynthia’s room to see if there was anything that could help us in there, but robed figures stood guard while the mana beasts tensed up, ready to pounce onto anyone that tried to make a run for it.
It was then that they brought the captives out, and it was then, that I saw Feyrith being dragged out, beaten and unconscious.
As everyone stared solemnly while the row of robed figures, each holding onto their respective prisoner, silently trudged out, it took me a few seconds from this distance to realize that one of them… was the Student Council President.
ELIJAH KNIGHT’S POV:
The scene played out in slow motion for me.
I rubbed my eyes just to be sure, but no matter how many times I rubbed and blinked, her figure wouldn’t change. While disheveled and matted with dirt and blood, there was no mistaking that distinct gunmetal hair.
My mind raced as a part of me wrestled to figure out what had happened and how she appeared here while another part of me was still in denial; She wasn’t supposed to be here. She was supposed to be with Arthur.
Whispers and mutters began to explode as soon as the students and faculty members alike realized that one of the prisoners was the Student Council President and the other a member of the Disciplinary Committee.
“Shhhhh.” Draneeve waved his hand theatrically for us to settle down before continuing. “I’m sure all of you are just dying to know what is going on, but before I explain, I’d like to introduce myself.”
He took a few steps forward and straightened his robe, combing his hair back with his fingers. “As I mentioned earlier, I go by Draneeve.”
He made a dramatic pause, as if expecting a round of applause. When nothing happened, he just shrugged and continued.
“I know that at this moment, you guys may see me as some sort of bad guy. I wouldn’t be surprised, what with the attacks and the deaths, but I assure you, I am on your side.”
That ridiculous statement caused an uproar, as jeers and shouts reverberated through the crowd.
His voice couldn’t have been louder than a low growl, but the weight of that one word and the immediate pressure following it froze the crowd to a mute.
“As I was saying…My name is Draneeve and I have come to save you all.” Draneeve spread his arms in a grandiose manner, his robe fluttering from the wind, making him look pretty impressive.
No one said a word, too afraid of what he might do; all of us simply waited for him to continue speaking.
“You see, I come from a faraway land. This faraway land is a cruel, cruel place for the weak. Yes, I am talking about all of you. Those gathered here are considered the ‘elite,’ whose backgrounds and potentials make you the future of this continent, but from where I come from, you guys. Are. Simply. Trash.” Draneeve’s last words were spat out in a mocking staccato.
“That being said, I have made this extremely long and tiresome journey to prepare those I deem worthy so that when my lord becomes this continent’s new ruler, you guys will have a place in his kingdom and not be tossed aside like the trash you currently are.”
I glanced back to see everyone just looking around, confused. By the expressions on some of their faces, they looked to be in disbelief. Not just surprised, but they sincerely looked like they thought this whole thing was some big prank.
“To those who stand in front of me today, congratulations on being the ones chosen to be honored pawns of the new ruler of this continent. Lukiyah, step forth and show them a glimpse of the newfound powers you have been bestowed.”
No… It couldn’t be…
The figure that had been holding onto Tess by her hair stepped forth, dragging her with him. I bit my lip, struggling to keep calm. Underneath his hood, he seemed to be looking for someone before he stopped; I could feel his eyes on me. I stood transfixed as he removed the hood of his robe.
Confirming my suspicions, it turned out to be Lucas Wykes.
His eyes seemed to be laughing as he continued to stare at me.
Slowly, the edge of his lips curved up as he tugged Tessia up by her hair, just enough so her neck was next to his face.
His mocking gaze never left mine as Lucas ran his tongue slowly…gratingly up her neck to her ear, only to stop and wink at me.
Any sort of inhibition controlling my rage disappeared at that instant, leaving me with just enough sanity to curse out.
“LUCAS, YOU SON OF BITCH! HOW DARE YOU!” My vision reddened as my mind began to numb. Suddenly, as if some inner force pushed my consciousness out, my body felt like it wasn’t mine anymore… like I was an entirely different person simply spectating my body from behind.
‘Kill.’ A voice echoed in my head.
I had never felt a sensation like this before, but I knew that whatever was controlling my body knew how to use my powers better than I could myself.
It was a peculiar feeling that I knew wasn’t normal. It felt like the monster that I had been trying to keep locked up had switched places with me.
My vision distorted and constantly pulsed from what I assumed to be adrenaline. I couldn’t hear anything besides the beating of my heart. My body seemed like a shell controlled like a puppet by someone that wasn’t me.
‘Kill.’ The voice was getting stronger.
What the hell was happening to me?
Black spikes ruptured from the earth around me, hurting some of the students who couldn’t move out of the way fast enough.
I felt the need to at least apologize but my body was fixated on Lucas.
‘Kill, kill, kill!’ My mind felt like it was going to split open from the pain.
I walked rather unsteadily towards the ingrate that couldn’t be described with just profanity. As I approached the barrier, I worried whether or not my body would be able to break through, but it turned out to be an unnecessary concern. Some sort of black plasma suddenly engulfed my hand and as my body laid it against the barrier, the black plasma slowly began to dissolve the barrier as easily as fire melted butter.
I could make out the surprised expression on Lucas’ face, but the expression on Draneeve’s face was far more unexpected. His expression paled, twisting and contorting in a way that I could only make out to be fear. He held his hands out in a placating manner, as if trying to calm me down. At that moment, the dozens of mana beasts all sprung out to attack me, but it was futile. At the flick of my wrist, the black spikes shot from the ground, skewering the discolored mana beasts mid-jump.
Was this me? I had never seen magic like this before. It was unnatural, almost evil in a way. Like it was a power meant solely for killing and destroying.
My body ignored the dead mana beasts and slowly drew nearer towards Lucas, who had now lost his bemused expression, replaced by furrowed brows and a tinge of unease in his eyes. The other robed figures decisively released their grip from their prisoners and was about to collectively rush towards me, but for some reason, Draneeve stopped them. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but Draneeve seemed to be almost pleading as his hands constantly gestured in hopes to calm me down.
Suddenly, a sharp pain that seared into me like a burning blade made my body go rigid. I don’t know how I knew this, but it felt like my body was reaching its limits.
No. Not yet. I knew I couldn’t control my body, but at this point, I desperately wanted my body to at least to kill Lucas like it had planned to.
My body began staggering, each step seeming to slowly become more unsteady.
My body put up its hand and a black spike shot out towards Lucas. The spike that looked to be at least an arm’s length couldn’t kill Lucas like I had hoped, but its speed was fast enough to the point where Lucas couldn’t completely dodge the projectile.
Lucas tumbled back from the force of the blow and I could barely make out the black spike sticking out of his right shoulder.
Just one more…
My vision dimmed and my body stilled; I seemed to be losing consciousness. I looked once more at Draneeve, who looked more confused now, and before my consciousness completely faded into the darkness, I thought I saw him. I may have just been hallucinating, but I thought I saw my friend.
I thought I saw Arthur, but that may have just been my wishful thinking.