Flame and Shadow

By Joshua Carr All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Other

Chapter 23

The next morning, I awoke to the second song on my alarm clock: Deux Polonaise Opus 40 by Chopin. I forced my body to roll out of bed and shut it off. Back on the other side of the bed, Josie groaned and stirred. We had decided to spend the night on the bed instead of the floor the night before. It felt like a sleepover. Or at least, what I expected a sleepover would feel like. I had never actually had one before.

This was strange for me, getting up at a reasonable time to make it to class. It was because I didn’t want to give my new friend a heart attack with the 1812 Overture. I quietly got myself ready to leave for school. Just I was about to head out the door, Josie called out in a sleepy but worried voice.

“Sera, don’t leave me here! I don’t trust myself not to…”

I turned around, trying to hide my exasperation.

“Josie, I have to get to class.”

“If you go, what’ll I do?”

An idea suddenly came to me.

“Hey Josie, get dressed! You’re coming to school with me!”

She threw the covers off, and bounced out of bed.

“Really! Yay!”

She quickly got herself ready to go, and I wondered what I was getting myself into.

“You ready?” I asked.

“You bet!” She replied. “This’ll be great!”

We hustled down the hallway toward the exit. When we reached the dining room, Josie stared longingly at the prepared table of breakfast food.

“Josie, we don’t really have time to sit and eat, so I usually just grab something to go.”

With that, I grabbed a pastry, and turned to leave. Behind me, I heard a clattering crash, and then Josie hurried her pace to catch up.

“What just happened?” I asked.

She was carrying a large hamper of sorts. “Nothing. Just getting some breakfast.”

I turned around, and realized what the bag she was carrying was. She had grabbed the four corners of the tablecloth, and pulled it together to take literally everything on the table with her. OK, well, I guess Chef Francois will be happy we took his food, but I doubt Butler Francois will be happy that we made off with all of the dishes and silverware.

After a brief walk, we arrived at the school.

“Alright, here we are!” I announced. “I’ll take you into the office, and they’ll put you in the right grade. Then you’ll be with a bunch of people your age! Does that sound good?”

Josie appeared to be genuinely petrified.

“I don’t want to be with people my age! I want to stay with you!”

“Josie…” I said, trying to be patient. “You can’t come with me. I’m in a different grade. Plus, you need to make some friends your age.”

Josie was stubborn, but she allowed me to lead her into the school and we walked into the office. I greeted the secretary behind the desk.

“Hello, ma’am. I’m here to bring a new student. Her name is Josie Morelo.”

The woman looked over the top of her glasses at us.

“Uh, huh. And where did she come from?”

“Her family lived outside the city, and worked at one of the supply depots. Yesterday was her first day here. Look in your computer. Josie Morelo.”

“I heard the name.” The secretary replied snidely.

She made a couple of quick taps on her keyboard, until she came up with something.

“Ah, here you are. Sorry, hun. I’ve just been a little on guard with all of the disappearances and murders and everything goin’ on.”

“I understand. Wait, disappearances and murders?” I was a bit puzzled. There had been some conspiracies a while back, but it had been a long time since anyone had talked about them. I had heard that a number of people had gone missing over the last couple of years, but no one really knew how much truth there was behind these stories.

“What? You haven’t heard?! Where have y’all been, underground? Oh, wait…” She shook her head for a second, then continued. “Just yesterday, they found the bodies of some of the people who’ve gone missing over the last couple of years. They were found in a river not too far from here by accident. There were five of them, all boys and girls under the age of 20. And the worst part…”

The secretary leaned forward and whispered intensely.

“They were drained of all their blood!”

I leaned in close to her as well.

“Are you saying; there is a vampire hunting us?”

My mocking tone was lost on the woman.

“I don’t know. But there’s definitely something wrong!”

“Okaaaay…well, as scary as all of this is, I don’t think that it really affects whether or not you can get Josie into the correct class, so if you don’t mind…”

The woman glared at me, and poignantly pressed a button on her computer. A page printed from the inkjet several feet away, and she handed the page to me.

“Here y’all go. It’s a schedule for Miss Morelo. She belongs in the eighth grade. Have a nice day.”

We left the administration office, and went in the direction of the room that the schedule said was Josie’s first classroom of the day. When we reached the room, I looked my friend in the eyes.

“Are you going to be OK?”

“Are you sure I can’t just stay with you? You actually treat me nice, and I don’t know if anyone else will.”

“I’m sure they will!” I assured her. “Why would anyone not like you? You’re great! Just be yourself, and you’ll be fine!”

I gave her a quick hug and tried to send her on her way, but her grip was not nearly so brief. She held on to me for a long time, like she was afraid she’d never see the light of day again. I let out a long breath. I guess this is what it means to be a big sister sometimes. You have to deal with people, even when they’re a little weird or afraid.

After a few seconds, I cleared my throat. “Alright, then. We’d better get going. Neither of us want to be late for class.”

At last she let go.

“OK. I’ll see you after school, right?”

“Of course.”

“Alright. Bye Sera!” She waved, and backed into the classroom.

Whew. I think she’ll be fine. She just needs to let her guard down around other people, and she’ll do great. Now, I had exactly 24 seconds to make it down the hall to my first class with Mr. Sun. I sprinted down the hallway toward his room. Oh yeah, I’ve got this. I slipped inside just as the final bell was ringing. Whoo hoo! It was not easy to suppress my exaltation, but I managed to internalize it.

I turned to Kyle, and gave him the thumbs up as if to say: “Yeah son! I made it!” He gave me the thumbs up back, and smiled. Alright. I can make it through today! I know it!

Ten minutes of Mr. Sun’s “enthralling” lecture hit me like a sack full of Superman 64 video games. The man was thoroughly unable to communicate to students. He almost seemed afraid of us, only talking in a near whisper to the chalkboard and never facing the students. After only a few minutes of this, I felt myself sinking into a bog of sleep. Well, just a little rest will be fine…

No! Not today! I’m going to make it! I’m not gonna fall asleep!

I grabbed a roll of clear plastic tape, a box of pencils, and a pencil sharpener. Working quickly, I sharpened all of the pencils, and taped them into an upright position onto my desk, so the points were facing up toward me. There! I looked down with pride at my handiwork. Now I would have extra incentive not to fall asleep. If my head sank down to my desk to sleep, my face would be impaled by a lethal death trap of pencils! Ah ha! See you take me now, power of sleep!

Moments later, my eyes were begging to close, as they seemed to stick to my eyeballs. However, I was staring down at my desk in horror at the array of yellow no. 2 death spikes. Sweat formed on my forehead as I struggled against the black curtain which threatened to close over my vision. It was all I could do to focus on the pointed ends and force myself to lean back away from them.

Focusing…focusing…focusing…

I had no idea how much time had passed during the class, or anything that the teacher had said. All that mattered was staying awake, and leaning my body back away from the desk.

RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIING!!!

The ringing bell shattered my concentration, and I jumped in my seat. This was not a good thing to do when you’re leaning back on two legs of your chair. With a yelp, I crashed to the ground. My heart was racing as I lay on my back on the floor, but I was awake and alive.

“Yes!” I raised up my fist. “Made it through awake!”

Kyle offered me his hand, which I took, and he helped me to my feet.

“Good job, Sera.” He congratulated. “Do you think you’re ready for the exam tomorrow?”

“Exam? What exam?”

“The math exam. Mr. Sun was talking about it the entire class.”

“Oh. I guess…I must’ve missed that…”

“it’s OK. We can study together!” He offered.

“Alright, thanks man.” I said, a bit bewildered.

I guess I might as well have gone to sleep. I absorbed the same amount of information…

As we walked to the next class, Kyle brought up a conversation topic.

“Hey, did you hear about the bodies that they found?” He asked.

“Yeah, I just heard about that. What do you think is going on?”

“I’m not sure, but the rumor is; somebody is kidnapping Ircabim and using them for experiments! He’s killed at least five, but people say that eight people have gone missing!”

“Experiments? Who would do something like that? And why?” I was suddenly angry at whoever this freak was.

“I don’t know who it is, but they’re probably trying to figure out a weakness that they could use against us.”

“Maybe Tsalderek?” I postulated.

“It’s possible.” He conceded. “But the bodies were found really close to our own headquarters. I don’t think that Tsalderek knows where we are. It would be really weird if they had some kind of secret lab right by our headquarters.”

“Good point. I guess it’s probably someone else, but who?”

“I have no idea. I just hope somebody stops them, and soon.”

The rest of the school day passed without too much ado. We didn’t see any sign of Bethany or Reese. At first, I found this surprising. However, when I remembered that they had just been on some kind of mission the previous night, I could understand how they would want to take the day off. I wondered how the mission went. The school was abuzz with conversation about said mission, but no one knew for sure exactly what had happened.

After the morning classes, Kyle and I were to head over to the open gym for the Exosia division special training. When we prepared to leave the school, I remembered that Josie was in the same training class as we were, even though she was younger. I asked Kyle if he would come with me to pick her up, and he agreed. Unfortunately, I didn’t know exactly in which classroom Josie would be at that time.

“Let’s see. She would just be getting out of fourth period right now. So that would be…I have no idea.” I gave up trying to remember. “I think I should have requested a copy of her schedule before. Let’s go back to the office and see if we can get one now.”

The two of us hurried down to the administration office. The same secretary lady from before was still there, and she was eating a Lean Cuisine pasta dish at her desk.

“Hello again.” I got her attention. “Could I get another copy of Josie Morelo’s schedule please?”

The woman gave me a very bored look.

“Hun, you know I can’t be givin’ people’s schedules around to just anyone. What if you’re the vampire or whatever that’s suckin’ people dry? Or how about this young hoodlum here?” She pointed at Kyle.

I almost laughed.

“Kyle? He literally wouldn’t hurt a fly. And I’m the closest thing to family Josie’s got!”

“And I should believe you why?

“Look.” I tried a different approach. “The three of us are in the Exosia division, and we have training, like right now. I need to find where she is so we can make it on time.”

“Well she-it!” She exclaimed. “Why didn’t you say so before?” She started printing out the page. “I was just givin you a hard time. I mean, I saw you two together earlier anyway. By the way, how did the mission go last night? I heard y’all whupped ass!”

“Um…we actually weren’t on that mission, because we’re still students. We’re going to talk to our teacher right now, who was the field leader.”

“Alright! Well, I won’t hold y’all up anymore. Get a goin’! You wouldn’t want to tick Mahsa off, no ma’am!”

I grabbed the schedule, and strode out the door. Kyle said goodbye to the woman, and we walked down toward Josie’s fourth period class, which was History with Ms. Linke. By the time we reached the room, all of the other students had left for lunch, and Josie was left sitting alone in the room. She must have had no idea where to go next.

“Hey, how’s it going?” I hailed her from the door. Her face lit up, and she ran across the room toward us.

“Sera!” She jumped and hugged me.

“Oof! Hey, how was your first day? Did you make any friends yet?”

“No.” She looked down at her feet. “I didn’t talk to anybody. I’m too stupid and clumsy to make any friends.”

This angered me immensely. “What?! Who told you that?”

“N-nobody.” She tried to avoid my question, but I wouldn’t have it.

“Who told you that you were too stupid and clumsy to make friends?!”

“M-my dad.”

Oh. I think I’m starting to fit things together. I decided not to press the issue at this time.

“Hi Josie!” Kyle greeted her.

The girl tried to hide behind me.

“Um…hi.”

I’m not exactly sure why I’m the only one she seems to trust. Maybe it was because I was the first to show her kindness and stand up for her. Well, Kyle was a nice guy. He deserved her trust too.

“Hey, Kyle just wants to be your friend, too. He’s a good guy, and you don’t need to be afraid of him.”

She nodded, but still didn’t say anything.

“Well, we’re running kinda late for training.” I declared. “If we want to make it in a reasonable time, we should probably skip going to lunch. What do you guys think?”

“I ate all of the French food during the morning classes, so I’m good.” Josie stated.

Kyle shrugged.

“I’m fine with whatever.”

“OK, then.” I said. “Let’s get down to the gym.”

After a quick walk, we made it to the training area. However, it was completely abandoned. After looking around for a while, I determined that there was indeed, no one there.

“Huh. Mahsa should have gotten here by now, considering how late we are.” I remarked. “I wonder where she is.”

“I don’t know.” Kyle shrugged. “She was in charge of the mission last night. Hopefully she’s alright.”

“Yeah. It’s not really like her to ever miss anything. It would take someone cutting out her heart, brain, and kidneys to keep her down.”

“Well, I’m not sure I’m that tough, but thanks for the confidence in me.”

The three of us turned around to see Mahsa walking toward us. Her left arm was in a sling, and she looked considerably haggard.

“Mahsa!” I exclaimed. “Are you alright? How did the mission go?”

“I’m fine.” She stated flatly. “The mission was a failure. Tsalderek knew we were coming, somehow. If it weren’t for our bioelectric scout, we would probably have suffered a lot more casualties.”

“The lady in the office said you kicked some butt.” Kyle interjected.

Mahsa smiled.

“That we did. Even though we didn’t complete the mission objective, the battle certainly went in our favor.” She winced in pain from her arm. “I just came down here to tell you maggots that training is cancelled for today. Reese, Bethany, and I were all injured during the battle. They aren’t capable of participating at this point, and I’m too injured to properly instruct you.”

“Bethany and Reese? Are they OK?” I asked with unfeigned concern.

“Yeah, they’ll be fine. They actually did really well for being their first time on the battlefield, but they’re still quite shaken up. So, make use of your time, and we’ll resume training as soon as I have sufficiently recovered.”

“Yes ma’am.” Kyle and I said in unison.

She left the room, attempting not to show any pain from her wounds.

After she had gone, Kyle expressed his surprise at my concern for my two rivals.

“I’m surprised how much you care about Bethany and Reese. Would your life be easier if they weren’t OK?”

I shook my head.

“I don’t really like them, but I wouldn’t wish evil on them. We’re still on the same side here, they’re just confused.”

After the subsequent silence, the three of us were once again faced with the decision of what to do.

“Well, guys? Whaddaya think?” I asked. “What should we do now?”

“I really don’t have any ideas.” Kyle offered unhelpfully.

“I don’t know, what do you want to do?” Josie was also useless for this.

There was something in the corner of my mind which had been virtually scratching a hole in it. I wanted to investigate the kidnapping and murder of my fellow Ircabim. The fact that anyone would steal a young person away, experiment on them, and brutally kill them by draining their blood kindled a fiery anger in my heart. I felt the desire to find whoever did it, and light their shirt on fire; while they were still wearing it.

However, I wasn’t certain if I wanted to risk putting Kyle and Josie in danger. They weren’t fighters, and they were not cut out for engaging in hazardous situations, which hunting down a kidnapper/murderer/vampire definitely would be. I couldn’t live with myself if they got hurt or killed, and it was I who did it to them. Now, how could I tactfully break away from them so I could look into this without risking my friends?

“Sera? Are you alright? Hello?” Josie attempted to get my attention.

“Huh, whazza?” I snapped out of my train of thought.

“What do you want to do?”

“Oh. I was just thinking about tracking down the guy who kidnapped and killed a bunch of people.”

Oops.

I slapped my hand over my mouth. Why did I do that?! I was so busy thinking about my plans, that I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on. After I had accidentally revealed what I was thinking, my two companions’ eyes widened. Kyle held his hand over his mouth, and looked rather afraid. Josie, on the other hand, looked a lot more excited than she should.

“What?! Real kidnappers and murderers?! Real crime scene investigations?! Like we’re detectives or something?”

I sighed. I had let it slip, so I might as well give an explanation.

“Yeah. They just found the bodies of some Ircabim. Somebody had captured them, experimented on them, and killed them by draining out all their blood.”

“Like a vampire?” Josie gasped.

“There are no vampires!” I snapped. “Just really bad people who have no problem with hurting others. I want to find who it was, and make them pay for it. I’m going to track him down, but I don’t want you to come with me. It’ll be dangerous, and I don’t want either of you getting hurt.”

Josie shook her head.

“No way! I’m definitely going with you. It sounds exciting!”

I looked at Kyle for support. His face had paled, but his voice didn’t shake as he spoke.

“I can’t let you go into danger by yourself. I want to go with you.”

Well, that’s not exactly what I had in mind. However, maybe I really could use their help. After all, we have no idea where to even start looking. Having three heads working on this is better than one.

“Oh, alright. We’ll work together on this.”

“YES!” Josie pumped her fist. “That vampire won’t know what hit him!”

Oh, boy. This is going to be interesting.

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