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The Part Where Shit Hits the Fan

The Part Where Shit Hits the Fan The crowd outside the gates of St. Adelaide’s was enormous. They clamored to get closer, and muttered amongst themselves. The police tried desperately to maintain order, but this crowd consisted of parents forcefully separated from their children. Nothing was going to contain this crowd. By the time Cindy, Niko, Lila, and Servus had walked up the hill, the crowd was already so big that they couldn’t even see the gate. Marcell and Aurum had stayed behind to monitor them, and Cowell had fucked off to who-knew-where, but Tommy had insisted on coming, even if he wouldn’t be able to get inside. He stood directly behind Cindy and the others, watching for trouble. “It’s gonna be okay,” he whispered, clutching her shoulder. “I’m pretty sure that you’re more scared than I am,” she chuckled. “It will be okay. Whatever happens happens.” He shook his head. “If you had any perspective you would be scared. So I have to be terrified for both of us.” “I might not be scared, but I am worried about Mike,” she frowned. “I don’t think he’s dead. I’m pretty sure we would both feel it if that was the case, but something is very strange about this whole situation.” Tommy nodded, once “I agree.” Just then, there was movement towards the front of the crowd. People were backing up as the gate slowly opened. Cindy strained, but she was too short to see anything. “Here, get on my shoulders,” Tommy instructed. “Can you carry me?” Cindy asked, incredulous. He raised a single eyebrow. “I’ve carried more than you before.” Cindy wondered just what he meant by that as, with a little strain, he managed to lift her over the crowd, and as soon as she got her bearings, Cindy gasped. “What’s going on up there?” Niko turned to her. “It’s…” Cindy almost couldn’t describe it. “There’s… six kids, the one with the crazy-colored hair seems to be the leader, but… one of them has some kind of remote control. There’s… I guess drones. They’ve… they’ve got guns.” “Where the hell did they get those from?” Lila cursed, gripping her sword tighter. “They’re pointing them at… oh god, the students are hostages.” Cindy gasped. All of the others, even Servus, stared up at her in rapt attention. “Okay, it looks like they’re keeping their word, the students are stepping forward. No, wait.” Just then a loud voice rang over the hillside, scratchy from what sounded like a megaphone. “People of Ede Valley,” the voice was young, female. “We of St. Adelaide’s have come to parlay with you. The volume of the crowd increased by another notch. There was nothing on the news about that. “Who will speak for you?” The girl with the multi-colored hair asked. That must have been Jilli Nakajima, the one the news maintained was responsible for this whole mess. There was hesitation for a moment. “What’s happening…” Niko reminded as Cindy had fallen silent. “Oh, sorry,” she blinked. “Um… the police chief’s stepping forward.” He was a large man with an even larger mustache. “I will,” he offered gruffly. “We mean your children, and you, no harm. And we will give them back to you. All we want is to live here in peace. So our demands are as follows: No adults will attempt to enter St. Adelaide’s or contact us in any way, no other action will be taken against us, and a supply of food and other necessities will be provided for us once a week.” Only silence met her for a moment as the police chief considered. “I’ll make sure it happens. Now give us the students.” “Half of them will go now,” she said, “and the other half will follow after our first supply.” The crowd’s voices rose, half in rage and half in relief, as a group of the students stepped through the gates and into their parents’ arms, while the other half were held back, the drones flying in front of the gate, the massive machine guns glittering menacingly. “What about my daughter?” A woman towards the front asked. “I don’t even see her!” she seemed near panicked. “If she’s not here,” Jilli replied, “then she has elected to remain at this school and is under our protection.” The noise from the crowd was deafening. They clamored forward as the gates began to close. “It’s time,” Niko nodded, cupping a hand around his mouth, the same hand upon which Cindy had drawn a sigil made from honey and lemon seeds. “What about Mike Miller?” The crowd quieted as his voice boomed over the hill, amplified even more than Jilli’s had been. Cindy watched Jilli turn in her direction, vague recognition on her face. She knew Mike. She knew something. “Who are you?” she asked. “Step forward.” Tommy let Cindy down and the crowd parted to let the five of them through. Now that they were closer, Cindy could see the other kids around Jilli more clearly. There were three boys: the one with the remote control, tall and broad-shouldered but extremely awkward; a goth kid with pale skin and a long coat; and a guy with inexplicably mussed, white hair. Between them were two more girls, a small, dark-haired girl with glasses and a blonde girl with a slightly absent look on her face. “My name is Cindy Miller, and this is Tommy. Mike is our brother.” The white-haired boy’s eyes widened. “You’re Mike’s sister?” “Yes!” she said. “Do you know him?” The boy opened his mouth, but Jilli shot him a look. “Later, Doug.” He closed it again. The other kids looked around nervously, all except the blonde girl, who seemed to be staring at Niko. “And who are the others with you?” Jilli asked. Cindy hesitated for a second. “These are our friends: Servus, Lila, and Niko.” The blonde girl’s eyes widened. “Niko?” she asked. “Nikolai Borozov?” He tilted his head in recognition. “Sonia?” “You know her?” Cindy blinked. “She’s my cousin.” “The truth about Mike is—” Jilli hesitated, looking at the crowd behind them. “You’d better come in.” All five began to step forward, but Jilli held up her hand. “Wait,” she pointed at Tommy. “Not you.”

“What?” Tommy asked. “Why?” Even though he already knew the answer. “Because you’re clearly an adult,” Jilli said simply. “If we let one adult in, then we risk destroying the peace we’ve created. The rest of you are under eighteen, right?” They nodded hastily. “But he’s my brother!” “I’ve never heard him mention you,” Jilli shrugged. “Sorry.” Tommy slumped, but of course she was right. Mike had been not much older than a baby when he’d run away. There was no way he’d remember him other than what Cindy or their mother had mentioned in passing. He stepped back as the others hurried through the gate, which nearly closed on them. “Cindy!” he called. “Be careful!” She waved. “I will.” Beyond the gate, the grounds of St. Adelaide’s were pure white from snow, and the buildings seemed to loom out of the fog like old monuments. Cindy shuddered. An air of gloom and paranoia seemed to hang over this place, like it was holding its breath, just waiting. Niko talked quietly with Sonia near the back, while Cindy followed the others, Servus trailing behind her. She knew that Aurum was no doubt watching her through him, and that Lucius was right next to her. That made her feel a little better. She had to admit now that she was walking directly behind Jilli Nakajima, she’d expected her to be taller. Not that she was short by any means, she stood a little taller than Cindy herself, though her hair could have made up for that discrepancy. But she seemed so commanding, so larger than life that it was a little disconcerting to not be looking up at her. After a minute, they came to a large, looming building with the word “Bloch” on a plaque besides the door, and Jilli and the others entered. Niko glanced over to Cindy. She nodded, and they followed them inside. “We’ll go to the cafeteria,” Jilli said, looking around nervously. Cindy wondered what all the secrecy was about. The other girl that Cindy didn’t know approached Jilli. “You’ve got this pretty much in hand, right?” Immediately, Cindy developed a bad taste in her mouth. There was something about this girl that made her skin crawl. She seemed a little too happy for this situation. After Jilli nodded, the girl skulked off in another direction. “I’ll be heading back to the library then. Pleasure to meet you all.” Cindy and the others continued onto the cafeteria. But Servus stopped walking suddenly. No one seemed to notice. ~~ o ~~ Less than a mile away, Marcell and Aurum sat in the library, the atmosphere tense, quiet. Aurum spoke in a clipped, melodic manner, informing Marcell of everything that was happening. “They’re going to the cafeteria now. Wait, one of them’s splitting off, to go to the library.” “And Cind—” “For the fifth time, yes Lucius, Cindy is perfectly fine.” There was another moment of silence. But then Aurum suddenly froze, and straightened. Her hand shot out and gripped Marcell’s arm. “Lucius—” Her voice came out strained. “Wha—?” “It’s here,” she said simply. Marcell leaned forward. “Where? What’s happening?” “I don’t know,” she shook her head. “But I can feel it. Servus, follow the girl with the glasses.” “One of the students?” Marcell asked. “How do you know she has anything to do with this?” “A hunch…” Her voice echoed, and she was still. The only movement was Marcell’s leg bouncing with impatience. Until Aurum opened her mouth again. “I don’t think she’s going to the library.” “Well, where is she going?” “She’s in an office, turning off the lightswit—oh my. There’s… an elevator, behind the bookcase. It’s down there, wherever she’s going, Lucius, I know it!” “Follow her!” “You heard him, Servus. Take the next elevator after her.” More waiting, more silence. This time a good few minutes passed before Aurum spoke again. “What is this?” “I won’t know until you tell me,” Marcell was at the edge of his seat. “It’s… this is… there’s been suffering here.” “What?” “Cells. All in a line down here. On both sides of the hallway. Most of them look empty. There’s… blood in some. A lot of blood.” “Where’s the girl?” “I don’t know—wait. She just left a cell. I think it’s bigger than the others, at the end of the hallway. She didn’t even bother locking the door. How odd. Servus, have a look ins—no.” For a minute, all she did was shake her head back and forth. “Aurum?” Marcell asked finally. “I’ve found him,” she replied. “Who?” “The younger Miller. But he’s… oh no… I—” “Aurum…” “He’s… broken. So, so broken, Lucius. And empty. What has she done to this child? He’s… he’s staring at me. Oh god there’s… there’s nothing there I—wait. He’s looking past Servus, over his shoulder…” She nearly screamed. “What’s going on?” Marcell stood. “Aurum?” Aurum fell out of her chair onto the floor, shaking. …. “It’s here.” ~~ o ~~ The cafeteria of St. Adelaide’s was rather looming, to say the least. Metal girders stretched above their heads, and all of the many tables seemed angled towards the stage on the far end of the room. Lila looked twitchy and nervous in such a large space, and Cindy and Niko couldn’t help feeling the same. They’d been led into the belly of the beast now. If things went south, escape would prove difficult, maybe even deadly. “Alright, we’re here,” Niko began. “So where’s Mike?” Cindy added. Jilli and the white-haired boy glanced at each other. “Mike is…” “Mike is missing,” he finished for her. “Doug!” she hissed. “You don’t know who could be watching.” “Well, clearly whoever took him knows he’s missing,” he scoffed, rolling his eyes. “It’s not like it’s a big fucking secret.” “Yes, but we don’t want her to know we’re…” she leaned in, “worried.” Niko raised an eyebrow. “Her?” he asked. All of the students looked uneasy, but Jilli nearly jumped at the word. “The Director,” she whispered. “She used to run the school, before we took it over. That’s when Mike went missing, the night we took back control. She got him, I know it. We never found her, you know. Her office was empty. She’s still around here somewhere, watching us. Anyone could be working for her.” Cindy, Niko, and Lila glanced at each other. Jilli seemed to be a little… “Jilli…” Doug frowned, putting a hand on her shoulder. “She’s the one who took Mike, I’m sure of it. Well, it’s the only thing that makes sense, right? I was talking to Abby about this, and clearly if Mike isn’t with you and he isn’t with us, then he’s probably still somewhere in the school.” Everyone was looking at her, and leaning away. She didn’t seem to notice. Niko turned to Sonia. “Is she… okay?”

“I don’t know,” she shook her head. “Ever since she had a session with the Director, she’s been becoming more, um…” “Unstable?” came a voice from behind them, which turned out belonged to the tall boy with the strange eyes. “Paranoid?” “I maybe wouldn’t say that, Gil,” she cringed. “It is, however, the truth.” Meanwhile, Cindy was getting antsy. “Alright,” she said to Jilli. “If you think he’s somewhere in the school, then why don’t we all go look for him? A fresh set of eyes might be just what you need—” “No!” Jilli said, a little too quickly. “That’s not a good idea.” Doug shook his head. “Why not, Jil? She’s right, you know.” Because, Doug, we don’t want anyone else to go missing. Abby said—” “Oh, you and Abigail!” He threw up his hands. “You should really stop talking to her, you know. I think she’s starting to fuck with your head.” “You only say that because you don’t like her! You’ve never liked her!” “And you can’t see why that might be? How she’s manipulating you?” “How do I know you’re not manipulating me?” Cindy, Niko, and Lila were beginning to back away. What kind of situation had they gotten themselves into? But just then, behind them, the doors to the cafeteria burst victoriously open, and Abigail rushed through, followed by a group of curious students. Behind her, she drug Servus in by the hair. He almost seemed a little dazed. Cindy and Niko stared at each other in horror. Why had neither of them watched Servus? How had he even gone off on his own? Aurum? “Guess what, Jilli?” Abigail grinned broadly. “It looks like your hunch was right. I found this one snooping around the Director’s office.” “Spies,” Jilli’s face twisted in anger. “You’re here to take out freedom, aren’t you?” “What?” Niko frowned. “Why the hell would we wanna do that?” But already a muttering mob of students were beginning to form around them. These were not the scared, cowed students waiting by the gate. There were the ones that stayed. “Alright everyone!” Jilli called to the crowd. “What do you think we should do with the spies?” The two drones that had been humming quietly in the background buzzed over their heads. “Wait!” someone said, and a second later Sonia pushed her way through the crowd. “This doesn’t make any sense. Why would Niko, or Cindy, come to hurt their own families?” “Sonia…” Gil asked quietly. “What are you doing?” But was ignored. “Well…” Jilli said, grasping for an answer. “Maybe they’re… not actually who they say they are!” Sonia looked up at her in disbelief. She almost seemed to have some sort of halo around her in that moment, and she paused, as if listening to something. “That is most ridiculous excuse!” she said finally. “I know what my own cousin looks like, and do not tell me you cannot see resemblance between Cindy and Mike. And boy from outside, for that matter.” “That’s…” Jilli blinked, the other students following suit. But then Abigail cut in. “How do we know you’re not working with them? You could say whatever you like but you could just be lying.” “Of course!” Jilli’s eyes widened. “A man on the inside. An agent of the Director disguised as one of us. Watching me, reporting back to Her. It makes perfect sense!” “What?” Sonia exclaimed in disbelief. “Jilli, you can hear yourself, da?” “Jilli, what are you doing?” Doug asked. Yet even as he put his hands on her shoulders, forcing her to look at him, they could see that there would be no consoling her. She was now shaking violently, and pulled away from him. “A-anyone could be working for her!” “Now hold on a second, we’re jumping to an awful lot of conclusions here.” Niko held up his hands. “Why don’t we all just calm down and talk this—” “Don’t tell me to be calm!” Jilli shrieked. “You’re just trying to confuse me!” She looked around at all of them, trying to find a face she could trust. Finally, her gaze fell on Abigail. “Abby, do something!” The next few seconds happened so suddenly that there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. Abigail simply snapped her fingers. “Gil,” she commanded, pointing at the group in the middle, and then, when he hesitated: “Remember our deal. Disable him.” Lila made to step between them, and Sonia cried out: “Gil, wait!” But before anyone could do anything, Gil seemed to flashstep directly in front of Niko, and put his palm directly against his right eye. Niko screamed. He doubled over, clutching his eye. They couldn’t stay here. If they did, they were going to be killed. Or worse. Niko might have been able to plan, but Cindy could react. Taking care to avoid singeing any of the students, she cast a blast of fire into the air. The students scattered at the sight, and one of the drones that had gotten caught in the flame sparked and fell. “Run!” Cindy yelled. With a flash, Lila’s katana was out. “Grab Niko,” she told Sonia, “I’ll cover you.” The girl did what she was told, hoisting one of Niko’s arms over her shoulders. “Victor!” Abigail shouted, and with a loud click the air suddenly became filled with buzzing machines of all sorts. Holding her hands out to threaten another blast, Cindy led the five of them out of the cafeteria. Behind them was the vicious scrape of metal on metal as Lila slashed at the various machines intent on killing them. They hesitated very briefly in the hallway as it split down three paths . Cindy turned to Sonia, still supporting a groaning Niko. “Is there any way out of here that doesn’t involve us scaling an electric fence?” “Ahhh…” “Soon, please.” “Oh! But is very stinky.” Lila grunted as a saw blade barely missed her shoulder. “We’re not picky.” “It’s garbage! This way!” She shot down the hall, nearly dragging Niko behind her, who this whole time had been cursing profusely under his breath. Cindy, Servus, and Lila followed behind. Every few yards Cindy sent another gout of flame behind them, to prevent the machine army from getting too close. But she knew the amulet, even though made of much better material than the last one, wouldn’t last much longer. The stone was growing hot against her collar. “Nearly there!” Sonia called, only to turn a corner and be cut off by a converted kitchen mixer, several sharp blades spinning where the mixer part should be with a deafening whirr. Jumping forward, Lila found the place where the blades had been hastily soldered on and sliced. They flew clean off the base, rendering the contraption useless. They pushed past it, and to a large set of metal doors, barred shut by a metal chain. Cindy stepped forward, placing her hand against the padlock in the center. She focused all the remaining power from the amulet on the metal and a moment later, the heat melted the metal just enough to disengage the lock. Violently, she kicked the chain away and shoved the doors open. The five stumbled inside, and slammed the doors shut behind them. “Servus, hold the door,” Cindy commanded, while Sonia and Lila laid Niko out on a metal table. For a minute, Servus did nothing, just stood there and blinked, almost confused. What was wrong with him? “Servus!” she shouted again, and the automaton blinked and seemed to shake himself before running over to the doors and holding them closed. The room smelled like rotting food, but they couldn’t be picky. “Garbage chute is there,” Sonia pointed to a small hatch in the wall just barely big enough for a person. But Lila shook her head. “We won’t get very far with Niko like this.” He had begun writhing now, nearly off the table, clawing desperately at his eye. The pain seemed to be getting worse. “Niko…” Lila mumbled, brushing his sweaty hair out of his eyes. “Let me see.” He allowed her to move his hand away, and the three girls gasped. His eye itself was pulsing, bulging out of its socket. Blood poured out of the open veins, dying the whole eye bright red. “That guy’s gotta have magic of some kind.” Cindy shook her head. “This shouldn’t be possible.” “I don’t understand why Gil would do this, or how.” Sonia grimaced, her own eyes wet with tears. “It makes no sense.” “You heard the crazy owl-eye bitch,” Cindy replied immediately. “Clearly she’s got something he wants badly enough to do her dirty work.” The door rattled then, Servus’ mechanical arms straining. Lila took a deep breath and jumped up on the table, holding Niko in place between her legs. “None of that matters. Cindy, is there any likely cure for this?” “I don’t even know what it is, let alone a cure.” Nodding grimly, Lila gripped her katana. Niko glanced up at her, and something silent passed between them. “Do it, Lila,” he coughed out. “Do it or leave me.” “Wait!” Sonia’s eyes widened. “What are you—?” But she broke off as, without hesitation, Lila raised the katana above Niko’s head and brought it down directly on his eye with a horrifying squelch. He screamed, and the sound itself nearly caused the sword to slip from Lila’s hand. But she steadied herself and pulled it out again, taking what remained of his eye with it. “Fuck!” Niko shouted. “Fuuuuccckkk!” Yet after a second he quieted. The pain seemed to have left with the eye. He gasped and lie back again on the table, face soaked with sweat and blood. There would be no moment of calm, however, for just then, the door burst off its hinges and an army of cold, shining metal descended upon them with a tremendous buzz. “Down the chute!” Cindy shouted over the cacophony. She and Sonia grabbed Niko, who was still far too shaky to walk on his own. Sonia disappeared into the darkness, followed by Servus close behind. But before Cindy could shove Niko down after them, the machines were upon them. Swarming, cutting, Cindy couldn’t see what was in front of her face. And with the remaining power of the amulet gone, she was next to useless. They would never get out like this. Until with a great sweeping motion Lila momentarily cleared a path with her sword towards them. She screamed, destroying machine limbs and carapaces in a hail of sparks. But there were still too many. They could see where they were trying to go and made to block the entrance. But Lila couldn’t see too well, blood from the gash on her forehead began to trickle into her eyes. And it was with a sinking feeling, as she saw Cindy attempt to swat the machines away, Niko under one arm, that she realized that there was no way all of them were going to make it out alive. At this rate, none of them were. But if she could draw them away from the chute, if only for just a moment, then, maybe… Niko cried out as a saw blade cut through the front of his shirt. “No!” Lila screamed, diving forward. Even if they did somehow get past them, the machines would no doubt just follow them down. “Get him out of here!” she shouted to Cindy over the hum of the machines. “I’ll buy you some time.” “Lila, no!” Niko’s eye widened. “Please.” Cindy hesitated, then nodded solemnly. Lila ran her hand along Niko’s cheek. “Goodbye young mas—no. Goodbye, Niko.” “Lila! No, don’t go! Please!” She turned away. If she looked at him a moment longer it would all be over. “Lila!!!!!!” Her sword flashed in the rays of the machines’ blinking lights. Without a word, she jumped into the heart of the swarm, slashing and twisting. The world shrunk to just her and her blade. She needed to last as long as she could. For Niko. She bit her lip as she mistepped and a drill screwed into her arm. Back and forth, keep moving, keep going. But all the while they were hitting back. Face, arms, legs, the ground ran red. She coughed, and her mouth tasted of iron. Just a little longer, almost there. She screamed into the mass, a violent, last war cry. And then, finally, she let the swarm consume her.

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