Another battle was over. Another person was lost in the war. Another Seal Stone used. This battle may have been a victory, but in a way, it was a loss as well. For there were no more Seal Stones left in the Maple World. The Black Mage had to be defeated now. Not sealed. How long has it been since they last returned to school? A week? A month? They didn’t know. They had rested, partied, celebrated their victory, but in the night, everyone knew it was only going to get harder.
As they returned to the wardrobe, no one spoke a word. They were too wary, allowing reality to hit them hard. Phantom was the worst out of all of them, having his ship destroyed. In fact, right now, Phantom was broke. He had refused to use the gold in his vault, instead choosing to pay with the gold that was on his ship. He still had a couple of millions of mesos, but it was a far cry from his original stash. On the other end of the wardrobe, they changed in silence. Everyone knew how close it had been to death, especially Edelstein. Should they even be coming back here? Evan looked on at his extended family. They were down, depressed. Evan sighed. Phantom had returned from the ship dying, barely making it out alive. The Empress came over and gave up the Goddess Teardrop to save him.
They went to school in silence, settling down. Evan had gone to the first year class, barely focusing on his lessons, while Francis handed him his homework. Phantom, Shade and Luminous entered the second-year classroom, passing by an asleep Mihile and Eckhart. Hawkeye was awake, which was unusual. They sat down. Orchid did not come today, so Shade was free to put his head on the desk.
Mercedes and Aran entered the third-years, settling down. Irena reached out and poked Mercedes on the back of her head. “Hey. What’s wrong? Here, I got your homework.” Mercedes smiled, taking the work from Irena. “
Nothing, just…” Mercedes hesitated. The Captain back then was really nice, though still a tad cold. Mercedes could feel her own heart breaking slightly. They could not stay here any longer. Mercedes shook her head and smiled sadly. “Just… nothing. Don’t worry too much, okay?” She reached up and rubbed Irena on the head, almost motherly. Irena frowned at her gesture, but didn’t say anything.
Back in the second year classroom, Oz had noticed the transfer students had just arrived, and they did not look too well. “Want some cake?” She held out a piece of cake to Shade, who shook his head.
“It’s alright. Why is everyone gathered around Cassandra, though?” Oz turned to look at the small crowd, and shrugged.
“She’s telling some ghost stories. Pretty lame, if you ask me.” Shade’s eyes lit for a second. He reached out and grabbed Luminous and Phantom, yanking them over to Cassandra. Maybe a little story would perk them up. Luminous snatched his arm out of Shade’s grip, not in the mood. Phantom still had a plastic smile on his face, but he sat down to listen.
Cassandra started, “Have any of you ever heard of sounds coming from the music room in the middle of the night?” Her voice was soft, dangerous even. Phantom’s expression finally changed to one of surprise, and he was starting to listen closely. Luminous, who had been sitting at the side, just ignored Cassandra, reading his ‘textbook’.
Cassandra continued, soft, slow, spookily, “I’m sure you haven’t. That’s why you are here.”
She gestured outside, and the windows suddenly were drawn. There were two others who had shut the window.
This was based on a true story last year.
I’m sure he didn’t mean to come back to school in the middle of the night.
But he had to. He had this big test tomorrow, and had left his textbooks in schools. He couldn’t study for the test the next day if he didn’t have the textbooks. It was due to this he felt somewhat foolish, as his bag had been left in the music room.
As he walked down the hallway to the music room, he heard strange noises from the window. He thought it was the wind, and started to move faster. The sounds were strange, different. Like a piano, playing a soft tune. He entered the music room, but the sounds suddenly stopped.
He thought he was imagining things, perhaps it was just him being a little too paranoid. Who would play the piano at this time anyway? There should not be anyone in the school at the time. It should have been just him.
When he reached out to take his bag, he heard a voice, speaking from all around him. “Don’t leave… Don’t leave…”
He immediately jumped up in fright! Who could it be? He looked all around him. “W-Who’s there?” he called out. Then, the piano keys started to play by themselves, creating an eerie tune. The same voice spoke up, “Don’t leave… I’ll play the piano for you… Don’t leave…”
Then the student remembered. The story of the ghost in the piano room… The story said that the ghost would play the piano every night until its fingers bled.
“Don’t leave… Don’t go… I’ll play the piano for you…” the same voice spoke up again, repeating its words. In that moment, the student knew, if he listened to the song until the end, something bad would occur to him. His knees felt weak, but he forced himself to leave the room.
The moment he left, the music stopped. He still felt scared, but he felt lucky he had gotten his books out safely without anything happening. He opened his bag to take out a textbook… when suddenly…
“I said, DON’T LEAVE!” the voice suddenly shrieked out loud! A girlish red hand shot out of his bag and grabbed his hand!
A loud shriek made Shade lose his focus on Cassandra’s words. What? He turned to see Oz covering her ears; Luminous had fallen of his chair, while Phantom was rubbing his own ears. Oz was somewhat annoyed. “Good God! Do you really have to scream like that?”
The counterpart to Ms. Appropriation looked ashamed, clutching at her card. “S-sorry,” she muttered, looking down at her feet.
A classmate, Oliver, who was curious about the end, quickly spoke, “So what happened to the student at the end?”
Cassandra smiled. “He was found lying unconscious on the floor the next morning. Within a week, he transferred schools.”
Another male student, Shade recalled his name was Luke, nodded. “I heard of this story before. There was someone who transferred in a hurry.” Chang, who was sitting beside Luke, shivered. “I’ve heard a similar story. They say you can hear music from the music room after sunset… Oh, I don’t dare to go into the music room now.”
Ms. Appropriation cleared her throat, catching everyone’s attention. Shade noted that Luminous himself was paying attention now. Their previous melancholy mood had disappeared. Shade himself felt relaxed. The story itself was believable, and to be honest, Shade didn’t feel scared. He controlled spirits himself; he had seen severed fists flying all around him. He had to thank the Fox God for that. For without Moonbeam or the Fox God, he would have never been able to utilise such power.
Ms. Appropriation was asking the group if they believed in ghosts. Oz jumped at answering, she just laughed. “No way, I don’t believe it.” Cassandra, surprisingly, agreed. Phantom leaned back and poked Oz. “Really now?” Oz looked mildly irritated. Cassandra chuckled softly, starting to sound spooky again. “Say, Oz, don’t you feel pretty heavy now?”
Oz looked at her in surprise, chewing on another piece of candy. “Heavy, why?”
Cassandra pointed at Oz, smiling every so creepily. “There’s a girl on your shoulder, that’s why.” Everyone started to back away from Oz, who just glared at Cassandra. Shade laughed. “Oz, don’t worry. Cassandra is probably pulling a fast one on you,” he comforted the redhead.
Phantom just shrugged. “I don’t know Eunwol, Cassandra can see ghosts, can’t she? So maybe she can see the one floating all around you?” Everyone else jumped and ran to the other side of the classroom, away from Shade.
Shade jabbed Phantom in the stomach, smiling slightly. “Really now? Can you see my ghosts, Cassandra?” Cassandra laughed, shaking her head.
“Nope, there aren’t any ghosts near you. There’s only one on Oz… oh, she floated away!” Cassandra’s eyes wandered outside. “She’s gone, now Oz. So you don’t have to worry!” Cassandra patted Oz on the shoulder. The redhead fumed in silence. Luminous rolled his eyes. “Nonsense. Utter lies,” he muttered, returning his attention to his book.
Shade sat down on his seat. So Cassandra couldn’t see the spirits? She had been lying about the spirit on Oz. So in this world, spirits were not a thing…? His smile faded. Ah. Of course not. The bell rang, and class began.
Once everyone was back in the Maple World, working on the Lumiere in the freezing weather, Phantom gave everyone a few more breaks compared to normal. And during one of the breaks, around the fire, everyone got a hot bun to eat. Shade retold the story to the rest of the Heroes, who had a good laugh. Ghosts were common here in the Maple World. Phantom had seen a ghost of his loved one, Shade himself controlled the spirits, while Evan insisted he heard Freud once before. That, and there were many monsters out there that were ghosts, like in the Monster Park. Whenever Halloween came, the ghosts would appear, leading to new quests, new events. The depressing mood was lifted, everyone was having fun again.
The next day, as they were preparing to leave for school, Evan got a call. “Hello?”
Nineheart was on the other end. “Evan? Is everyone else with you?” Evan turned around, counting the group. Mercedes, Aran, Phantom, Luminous, Shade, Mir. “We are short of one…” he replied back. A loud sigh from the other end, then Nineheart spoke, “Did you count yourself?” Evan blinked, and then laughed sheepishly. “Whoops! We are all here! What is it, Nineheart?”
Nineheart took a deep breath, continuing, “First of all, do any of you believe in ghosts?” Evan frowned, tapping his chin. “Why?” Nineheart replied quickly, “Just so you know, I don’t, because I am not an idiot. But recently, there has been very strange rumors circulating around the school.”
Evan frowned. “What do these rumors have to do with ghosts?” He could hear an audible sigh of irritation. “Just come to the office. I’ll fill you in.” The phone shut off. Evan stared at it. Mir next to him patted his leg. “What’s wrong, Evan? Who was that?”
Evan looked down at Mir, sighing. “We got another strange request… Hey, everyone? We need to see Nineheart in the office right now. He wants to talk to us.” Aran adjusted her uniform, mildly irritated. “Come on! What does it take to have a good time at school! Every time we go to school, something bad happens! And if we don’t go to school, something bad happens again! Sheesh, can’t it be ‘We go to school and nothing happens’? We got combat training as well, so one week of sleeping can’t be bad, right?” Mercedes slapped Aran on the arm lightly. “You had been sleeping in so much; Lilin had to wake you up by dunking ice cold water on you. I think you have more and enough sleep, Aran.” Shade shook his head. “Then we might as well not keep the Council President waiting, then? Let’s go.” He took off, everyone else hot on his heels.
In the office, Cygnus was sitting by her table, smiling sweetly at them. Evan waved hello to her, while everyone else greeted her. Nineheart was there as well, getting up to address them. “You finally came. Welcome.” He gestured to the nearby couch, taking a seat on the opposite side.
“Today, I have an err-” He hurriedly covered his mistake by coughing, before correcting his mistake. “Excuse me. I have a request for you. There’s a silly rumor about a ghost, and I want you to check it out.” He looked down at his papers, and then seemed to remember something before they left. “Firstly, I do want to know your answer. Do you believe in ghosts?”
They all looked at Nineheart. They all burst out laughing.
Aran reached over, leaning on the table while clutching at her stomach. “T-That was a joke, right, Nineheart? Right? Of course we believe in ghosts!”
Nineheart looked unamused, as per usual whenever they answered a question. “I still do not understand your humor.” Everyone stopped laughing immediately, turning to look at Nineheart. Luminous coughed. “Nineheart. We fi- I mean, we are being serious. We do believe in ghosts.”
Nineheart scribbled something on his papers, looking up at them. “Then allow me to debunk your superstitious believes.”
He took out another piece of paper from a nearby folder. He pushed the paper across the table. Evan looked over to see it was a student profile. Cassandra? Nineheart waited for everyone to take a look at the profile, before he gave out the details of the request. “Cassandra, a second-year, has been telling ghost stories to the other students. Recently she is the most famous student in school, thanks to Cassandra’s Ghost Story Theatre.” He took back the piece of paper, keeping it back in the folder. “Please ask her about her stories. That is all I ask of you right now.” The bell rang, signifying that everyone was to go to class. Nineheart got up. “Hurry, the teachers are almost here.”
Everyone rushed back to class, which resulted in the request being pushed to Luminous, Phantom and Shade. Phantom grinned and waggled his eyebrows at Luminous, rushing ahead and entering the classroom.
“Cassandra!” he called out. Cassandra looked up from the crowd of students around her. “Gosh, can I not be so popular at the moment? Did you come to listen to more of my ghost stories?” Shade and Luminous entered, only to have Shade hide behind Luminous, as Orchid stalked over and started to scream at Shade for not texting her last night. Luminous, being the midshield, ignored Shade and walked ahead, leaving Shade to deal with Orchid.
Phantom was about to speak, when Cassandra raised a hand towards him. “Oh… Oh yes, I remember. I wanted to ask you something. Your aura, it is much different. You are not from this world, are you?” Phantom frowned.
“Really?” Phantom did not show that he was caught off guard. But how did she know? Cassandra giggled, shaking her hand at him. “I was just joking. You have to be from this world to be in this world. But really, you do have a strange aura.” Phantom laughed with her, sounding as plastic as he could be.
Luminous had knocked his book onto the floor the moment Cassandra said that, while Shade tripped and fell onto his table. Both looked up to see Phantom laughing with Cassandra, and breathed a sigh of relief. Shade immediately got up and got caught by Orchid, while Luminous grabbed his book and turned to Eckhart, frowning at the sight of him asleep. Mihile was asleep as well, his head on the table. Hawkeye was nowhere to be seen.
Cassandra grinned at Phantom, leaning forward. “So, do you want to hear a ghost story? Cassandra’s Ghost Story Theatre opens only at specific hours. You were there at the last one, weren’t you?”
Phantom nodded, still smiling. “Oh, no. I was just wondering, if that story was actually true. After all, you didn’t see the ghost, did you?”
Cassandra placed the back of her hand near her mouth, laughing. “Do you doubt me? Whether or not you believe in ghosts, it is your choice. But what would you say if someone really heard the sounds of the piano being played by a ghost?”
She gestured to behind Phantom, to Oz who was sipping on strawberry milk as fast as possible. “Why don’t you ask Oz? She heard the piano sounds.” Phantom nodded, tilting his hat politely to Cassandra. He walked over to Oz. “Oz? Did you really hear piano sounds from the music room?” Oz looked up from her position, sucking on the straw.
The noise from the straw sucking up air was heard for a moment, before her mouth detached from the white object. “You mean the music room ghost? Well, I don’t believe in ghosts, but I heard sounds from the empty music room after school.” Phantom frowned. Was she the only one then? Oz continued on her explanation, taking out another piece of bread. “I don’t think I’m hallucinating, because I’m not the only one who has heard the sounds. Right now, I’m a little scared to enter the music room.” She looked around the room, and leaned forward. Phantom leaned down to hear her whisper, “Could you go find out what’s reeeeeeeeeeeeeally going on? You look like you can take this on. And if you are scared, there’s Eunwol and Luminous!”
Phantom straightened back up, smiling. “Of course! Why not, Nineheart did, after all, tell us that ghosts don’t exist. Personally, I find that ghosts are really not the kind to bully humans.” The school bell rang loudly, and Phantom winked at Oz. “Au revoir, I’ll be back with news after school!” He hurried back to his seat, smirking.
Luminous leaned over, frowning. “What did Oz ask you to do?” Phantom wagged a finger in his face. “Find a ghost! Wanna come?” Shade, which was seating behind, poked Phantom at the back of his head. “Count me in. I want to know more about this ghost as well.” Luminous opened his book, rolling his eyes. “Whatever. I’m not going to be goaded into entering one more of your tricks, imbecile.”
Phantom laughed softly. “Suit yourself, Lumibutt. Someone is scared of a little ghosty.” Shade could faintly hear Luminous’ patience snapped. Once again, Luminous fell for Phantom’s teasing.
He turned, growling at Phantom’s face, “Fine! I’ll go, and then we’ll see who is actually scared.” He moved back, focusing on his book as Stan came in. Shade sighed softly. He leant back against his chair, turning to spot Mihile still asleep. He reached out and poked Mihile awake, who immediately sat up and shot a grateful smile at him.
During break, the Heroes had gathered in the courtyard, with Phantom briefing the rest of them on what he was going to do. Mercedes frowned. “I don’t think this is such a good idea, Phantom. I mean, sure, finding out is good. But what if… what if there really is a ghost?” She shivered.
Evan pressed close to Mercedes, hugging Mir. “Don’t worry! They’ll be fine!” Aran swallowed the last of her boar sandwich, wiping her mouth and speaking, “Don’t worry, Mercedes! Not like it’s going to go after you if they are unavailable. Relax!” She nudged Mercedes, who nodded.
Shade wiped his fingers on a tissue, nodding. “We will be fine, Mercedes.” Luminous looked up from his book, nodding. “If anything, the thief will get it first. We are better off without him.”
Phantom laughed from his spot, dabbing his mouth with his napkin. “Love you too, Lumibutt,” he teased, dodging as Luminous swiped at him, a smug smile on his face. Shade sighed. As the two started to run around the courtyard, with Luminous hot on Phantom’s heels, Shade got up and tossed the package. Then, he and Aran stood up, side by side, catching both of them at the same time.
Shade passed Phantom to Aran, who then made the two of them faced each other and slammed their heads together. She dropped the bodies of the two bickering idiots and the both of them resumed their conversation with the rest of the group, leaving the fainted Phantom and Luminous on the floor. The two of them woke up later to the sound of the bell, and upon finding that their friends were no longer there, rushed back to class.
During their lunch break, Phantom, Luminous and Shade made their way into the music room. Pushing open the door, they peeked in.
In the middle of the music room sat Elwin. He barked at them, smiling. “What brings you all here?” The three of them entered the room and closed the door, before rushing over and squatting down to Elwin’s level.
“Have you seen a ghost playing the piano with red hands?” inquired Shade, tilting his head to the side. Elwin looked confused. “You ask weird questions. I don’t think I have seen such a ridiculous ghost, is it wearing red rubber gloves or what?” Luminous replied quickly, before Phantom inputted his comment, “No. A normal ghost with red hands, no gloves.” Elwin shook his head, and then pointed a paw at the Dust Zone.
“The sound of the piano is heard when no one is in the room. Maybe the Dusties have something on them. I don’t know.” Luminous groaned, getting up and walking to the Zone. Phantom caught up to him. Shade looked at Elwin with an exasperated expression. “Do you have the clothes?” he asked the dog. Elwin nodded, running behind bench and pulling out a few sets. Shade got up and followed the others in.
As they fought, for some reason, recorders were being dropped everywhere. And yet again, for some reason, it turned out to be a competition between Phantom and Luminous, with the most number of Dusties killed. Shade stayed behind and picked up every recorder. There were a total of ten recorders. Shade listened to all of them while the other two kept fighting. Once he had heard them all, Shade yelled, “Time’s up! Let’s go!”
The three of them exited, with Phantom smirking and Luminous fuming. “I swore you cheated, you darn thief! You couldn’t have possibly killed that many monsters!”
Phantom wagged his finger in Luminous’ face, laughing away. “Can too! I just proved it to you!” He jumped away from Luminous, who was red in the face from his anger.
Shade bent down to Elwin, whose tail was wagging vigorously. “Did you find something?” Shade showed him the recorders. Elwin reached up and sniffed the recorders. “What’s this, a recorder?” Shade played it out for Elwin to listen. Elwin prodded it with his paw, irritated. “So there was a couple of piano music recorded in it, not just one track but several. Someone must have spent a lot of time to pull off such an elaborate plan.” He sighed dreamily. “Every school has them. Exploding wards in lockers, summoning skeletons in broom closets… or maybe that’s just my school.” He looked outside the window wistfully, curling up. “In my day, I was that prankster. Haha, good times,” he laughed softly. He turned back to Shade. “Anyway, you should let Oz know about this. She’ll feel a lot better, the little dear.”
Shade nodded, taking back the recorder. “I’ll show this to Oz.” He turned to leave, pausing. He watched as the other two were arguing again. Shade placed the recorders in his inventory. He reached out and grabbed the collars of the two bickering teammates, slowly dragging them out of the room as they continued to argue. He walked back to his classroom, dumping the two of them on the floor unceremoniously. Walking up to Oz, he waved. Oz got up, looking quite excited.
“You are back! So what did you guys find? Oh yeah, Nineheart came by while you were out,” she said. Shade held up the recorders for Oz to listen to. Her eyes grew wide when she heard the tune recorded. “Wait, it was just some recordings on a recorder? Geez… you should go tell this to Nineheart. It’ll prove Cassandra was lying!” Shade nodded, taking back the recorder. He walked past Phantom and Luminous, still yelling away, with the white mage yelling death threats while the thief jumping from table to table, pulling faces at him. Shade sighed.
He turned and walked back, picking up Luminous and throwing him at Phantom from across the classroom. Once that was done, he turned and left to see Nineheart.
Nineheart had taken all the recorders, surprised. Once he had listened to them, Nineheart took away the recorders, sending Shade back up to class. He returned to see Phantom and Luminous back on their seats. “What did Nineheart say?” Phantom asked, getting up from his seat. Shade shrugged. “He just sent me back. I think he’s coming after class to see Cassandra.”
Sure enough, the Student Council President came back to confront Cassandra on her story, calling it fake. He was questioning Cassandra on the story, pushing for her to prove it was true.
Cassandra went on the defensive. “Sheesh! I’m just telling you what I heard! Why are you so persistent?” she was crying out, as Nineheart continued his interrogation. Meanwhile, Mercedes and Aran had peeked into the classroom, while Evan snuck in with Mir by his side.
“Psst! Luminous! What’s going on?” Mercedes beckoned the light mage. He rolled his eyes and walked over. “Nineheart is just confronting Cassandra on her stories. We found some recorders with piano tunes on them earlier,” he explained. Mercedes’ eyes grew huge, while Aran yawned. “Why you gotta be a downer on this sort of thing? Not that I object to finding proof, but the mystery of it is what makes it exciting! I half expected you not to dig up anything,” Aran grumbled. Evan hushed them. “Cassandra’s speaking!”
“Are you Blood Type B?” Cassandra was questioning Nineheart on his blood type now? The six Heroes were surprised. What did blood type have to do with anything? And there were different kinds of blood?
Nineheart retorted calmly, “No, I’m AB. And blood types have nothing to do with personality.” He glowered at Cassandra, who snorted.
“Some things cannot be explained by logic! Of course, someone such as you, Nineheart, who always plays by the rules, cannot possibly know that," she argued. A giggle came from Evan, who poked Phantom nearby.
Phantom ruffled Evan’s hair, bending down to whisper, “I don’t understand either.” A snort, then a muffled giggle came from Mir, while Evan covered his ‘puppy’s’ mouth with his hand, trying hard not to laugh.
“Really? I do believe someone once said that unexplained science is known to be ‘magic’ in a sense. Everything can be explained with science,” Nineheart shot back. Cassandra was starting to get a little heated up, her face slightly red from anger. “Then can you prove it? Can you prove that ghosts don’t exist?” she issued a challenge to Nineheart, who merely smiled serenely.
“In this case, I can.” He held up the recorders for Cassandra to see, whose face paled visibly. She flinched away from the recorder, taking a step back. Nineheart continued, as if he didn’t notice Cassandra’s reaction. “These recorders have piano tracks recorded in it. Someone had planted them and let it played in the music room to make the ghost story more believable. And I do believe the said someone is,” he gestured to Cassandra, “you. You planted these to convince others of your ghost stories.
Cassandra turned away, folding her arms. “Don’t ask me. I’ve never seen that sort of recorders before. That’s not mine,” she retorted. Phantom slapped a hand over his mouth to prevent himself from laughing. She was a horrible liar, Cassandra was.
Nineheart hung onto that lie, but didn’t outright rebuke her yet. “Likely story, Cassandra, since I never asked you if it was yours,” he objected, a triumphant smile on his face. Cassandra, caught in her web of lies, turned back, grimacing.
“You… you are such a jerk!” With that last insult, Cassandra stormed away from Nineheart. Nineheart raised his voice, addressing the crowd in the classroom and those right outside the classroom, “Well, whether or not it is yours doesn’t matter. The ghost story is debunked. Now all of you know that Cassandra is a liar.”
Ms. Appropriation immediately argued back, “No! Cassandra doesn’t lie!” Luke supported Ms, Appropriation, crying out, “I agree! Her readings are always right. She’s good at love compatibility as well.”
Nineheart shook his head. “Anyone can do what she does, all it takes is the right words,” he pointed out. “For example, what if I said this to you? You are more introverted than you make others believe you are.” The crowd grew silent, murmurs of “So true,” running through the crowd. Nineheart continued, throwing out another example, “Or maybe, ‘You can’t keep your anxiety hidden forever.’”
Everyone was nodding, agreeing to what Nineheart said. Nineheart gestured to the crowd, as if he had proven his point. “Fortune tellers predict things in a way such that they can be applied to anyone,” Nineheart explained, with everyone silent, trying to digest what he just said. He continued, now addressing the back of Cassandra, “Don’t you get it? Ghosts do not exist, for the last time. All these are just elaborate scams, they can be logically explained. Stop wasting your time worrying about this and worry about more important things in life.” As if he had finished, Nineheart walked away.
Immediately, a dangerous atmosphere appeared. It weighed on everyone, especially the Heroes. Once laughing and nodding along with what Nineheart said, they were suddenly standing, on guard. What was with this dangerous aura? Cassandra’s voice floated through the air again, muttering, “You dare doubt me?” Nineheart, surprised at the sudden change in the mood, turned around.
Cassandra started to laugh softly, speaking as to no one. “He’s here… he’s here! Those who don’t believe Cassandra will incur Heaven’s wrath! I’ll show you what happens if you tempt fate…!” she cried out the last sentence, pointing at Nineheart. Everyone stared at her as Cassandra laughed softly again, walking out of the classroom with her bags. The dangerous aura disappeared. Shade frowned. “That was… surprising.” Nineheart looked irritated. He walked off, while Oz slumped in her chair, looking quite frightened. She started to shove food in her mouth. Evan shivered. “Cassandra is scary when confronted. Let’s never do that to the actual fortune teller,” he said. Everyone agreed.
Aran straightened up, yawning. “Come on, let’s go for combat practice! The last time we were here, we barely did any because of that love thing! We gotta catch up! The Black Mage isn’t going to be sitting around slacking off, is he?” She grinned down at all her other teammates, who nodded. They rushed back, unaware of the event that was going to take place later that night.
The next day, as they entered school, Evan’s phone started to ring. He picked it up, wondering why Cygnus was calling. The minute he answered the call, Cygnus started to speak. “Something terrible happened!” Her voice sounded distressed. Evan gulped.
A sob came from Cygnus, before she answered, “Last night, a bookshelf in the reading room fell over Nineheart.” Another sob, before she continued, her voice wavering, “He’s injured so badly, I bring myself to describe his injuries. Please come to the infirmary as soon as possible!”
With that, the phone clicked shut. Evan turned to the rest of them, his face ashen white. “Uh…” Mir looked up at his master, tilting his head. He turned to face the rest of them, barking loudly. Everyone turned to look at Evan, surprised. “N-Nineheart’s been injured very badly last night! A bookshelf fell over him!” Everyone recoiled in shock. Evan pointed up to the infirmary window. “He’s up there! Let’s go see him!” With that, the six Heroes rushed up the staircase to check up on the Student Council President.
They were just in time to hear Cygnus ask Hilla about Nineheart’s condition, “How is Nineheart? Is he going to make it?” Mercedes covered her ears, hiding her face behind Aran. Aran gritted her teeth, breathing heavily. Luminous stood stock still, shocked. Evan picked up and hugged Mir, pressing his face to the ‘puppy’. Phantom tilted his hat, prepared for the worst. Shade clenched his fists, shaking slightly. Was… Was Nineheart that badly injured?!
Hilla sighed heavily, shaking her head. “I don’t know how to tell you this…” she started, putting down her makeup, her eyes downcast as she continued, “But… a book fell onto his toe. A heavy one.”
Everyone, who had been tense and prepared for the worst news, froze and dropped to the ground in both shock and relief. Then anger kicked in. Wait, what?! That was not some sort of life-threatening injury?! Then what Cygnus was referring to as a terrible injury really was just a broken toe?! Cygnus wiped away her tears with her handkerchief, sniffing a little. “Aww, that’s terrible!” she whimpered. Evan looked at the bed, walking over and pulling the curtain away.
Inside, there was Nineheart with an icepack on his head, his face in his hands. Luminous stormed past Hilla and Cygnus, right up to Nineheart and growled at Nineheart, “What is the meaning of this?!” Nineheart’s reply was muffled. Aran came up behind Luminous, pushing his head down to hide the flame from his eye.
“What were you saying?” she asked.
Nineheart’s head lifted up, irritated and annoyed. “I told her not to call you at all. I’m more concerned with who caused this. It was no accident, I assure you.”
Mercedes detached herself from Aran, her arms akimbo. “You could have just called us to make sure we didn’t panic! We rushed up here for nothing.” Shade walked up to Nineheart, on the other side of the bed. “Are you alright, though? A broken toe must be painful. Here, drink this; it should make you feel better. You can rub it on your wound if you want, it works faster.” He held up a white potion, pressing it into Nineheart’s hand.
Nineheart took the potion, smiling slightly. Then he took one look at the clock, his expression darkening once more. “Speaking of which, it’s about time for Cassandra to tell another ghost story.” He turned to face all of them, his expression serious. “She must be stopped. I need at least one of you to look into this in my place. I cannot move from this position.” Everyone nodded. If Cassandra’s stories really resulted in injuries, this was no joke. Well, unless you happen to have planted some Monster Sacks in the room to scare the hell out of people. In which case it’s funny, since they could very well defend themselves. But there was no time! Everyone rushed back down the staircase, entering the room just as Cassandra was preparing to start.
Mihile, who was at the side, was jolted out of his nap. “What’s going on…?” he stared at the pile of people who scrambled up and ran over to listen to Cassandra’s story. Blinking, he slowly turned back, then realizing his homework had been crinkled when he slept. He hissed in annoyance, trying to straighten them out again.
When Cassandra saw the Heroes, she looked away, sheepish. “How’s Nineheart?” she asked, after a moment of hesitation. Evan smiled warmly at her. “His injury was minimal, thank Transcendants,” he replied. Everyone else was grabbing a chair to sit down and listen. Cassandra let got a breath of relief, smiling slightly. “I’m so glad.” Her hands were gathered on her chest, as if to calm herself. She stood up straighter, smiling proudly. “See? Bad luck follows all those who don’t believe me! You’d better watch out!” She stretched her hands, sitting down. “Alright, I have a new story to tell today! Brace yourselves!”
Her voice came out soft, eerily. The crowd around Cassandra leaned forward, trying to catch every word she said.
Today’s story is about the secret of the Shinsoo International School’s Old Building.
Ms. Appropriation whispered, “You mean the old wing?” Cassandra nodded, continuing, “The story is about a place that is now forbidden to enter…”
Inside the abandoned school building was dark. The person who told me this story felt lucky that he could sneak it without alerting the security guard. But the moment he laid eyes on the gloomy gate, he couldn’t help but think, why he agreed to such a dare. But it was too late for regret then.
His friend shoved him forward, egging him forward. The person did agree to touch the front door of the old wing, after all. His best friend encouraged him, rushing him to complete the task. So he did. But as he moved forward, an eerily soft voice came to him.
“It hurts…” it said, ever so softly. The person immediately turned around, furious at his friends. He believed that they had been making noises to scare him. But to his surprise, they said otherwise, asking him to hurry and touch the door. In fact, one of them had to use the bathroom.
He resumed his journey to the door, his legs slowly turning to jelly. As he neared the steps, the same creepy voice came back. This time, it said, “Go away… it hurts…!”
Startled, he looked around, but yet, he saw nothing. Who was it? Where was it coming from? He didn’t know. Whatever it was, it was coming ever closer. It spoke again! The same words as before, it cried, “It hurts… go away…!” The sound was maddening. All he could think about was escape. He ran all the way back to his friends, who laughed at him for not accomplishing the dare.
On the way home, he couldn’t quite shake of the feeling, couldn’t quite stop thinking about what he heard. He thought he was imagining it, for it wasn’t possible for a disembodied voice to exist. He kept telling himself that, trying to convince his own thumping heart. When he was home, he took off his shoes…
… Only to find out that the bottom of his shoes were sticky with blood!
A loud scream shocked everyone from their attention. Ms. Appropriation covered her mouth. Oz, who was sitting at the side, yelled from her position, “Could you maybe not scream?” She was furious, annoyed. Ms Appropriation shivered from her position. “S-sorry! But the story was just so scary!”
Aran whispered to Evan, “I think her scream is even scarier. Someone would have a heart attack from her scream alone.” Evan giggled, and then covered his mouth. It was rude to laugh at her!
Luke at the side piped up. “This reminds me of something I heard. There’s been a rumor that the land used to be a graveyard until the graves were levelled and gave way to the school building.”
Chang shivered, hugging herself. “So those were the ghosts of the buried saying it hurts? It hurts because we put a building on them? I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get near the building,” she spoke in a low voice.
Oz stood up suddenly; her expression was one of unease and fear. “Th-There’s no such thing as ghosts!” She sounded more like she was trying to convince herself rather than the crowd in front her.
Cassandra chuckled, looking directly at Oz. “Believe what you will. But know that I am only speaking the truth, a fact. You could always go see for yourself.” She gestured outside the window, where the old wing was visible to everyone. Smiling darkly, she returned to her seat. The Heroes put the chairs back, thinking quietly.
Aran spoke up first. “So…. What do you think?” Mercedes shivered. “I don’t want to go there now… even if it means investigating!”
Evan nodded, hugging Mir tightly. “I… I dunno… It sounds real to me?”
Mir licked his face, and then nuzzling him. “Don’t worry Master! I’ll be there to protect you from the ghosts!” he whispered. Evan smiled at his partner gratefully.
Luminous shook his head. “Ludicrous nonsense, nothing that cannot be proven, it could very well be a monster pretending to be a ghost. How many zombie monsters have we seen again? How many ghost monsters have we seen during Halloween? How many of them actually dropped blood, if her story is true?”
Shade shook his head, answering him, “None at all. In fact, I don’t think any monster drops blood except during that Vampire Event, but even then, the blood wasn’t even theirs, it was blood that the Vampires fed off on, what the monsters had eaten and drank had contained the blood.”
Phantom shrugged, confused at the story as well. “Not to burst your bubble, Lumibutt, but we have seen monsters drop blood, but it wasn’t monsters that were ghosts. Even after we defeat them, they just disappear with a poof!” His hands flailed wildly, Luminous dodging out of the way.
Aran felt Oz tugging on her uniform. She turned to see Oz looking quite frightened. “U-Uh, Aran, just wondering, do you believe she’s telling the truth?” Aran frowned, thinking for a bit. “Mm… Maybe I should go check it out myself! Because you believe what your eyes see, and not what your ears hear?”
Mercedes called out from behind Aran, “It’s ‘Believe with your eyes, not your ears; believe what you can see, not what you hear, Aran.” Aran looked over her shoulder to grin at Mercedes. “That’s it! Thanks, Mercedes!” She returned her attention to Oz, while the other Heroes crowded around Aran, eager to hear what Oz wanted to say.
Oz took a big bite of a bun that she was apparently holding, calming herself down. Once she did, she looked up at the tallest Hero, her expression cheerful. “I see! Well, to find out the truth, we have to check out the building after all! It’s the building over there, see?” she pointed at the building. Oz started to fidget, and then looked up at Aran pleadingly. “But… I don’t think I’m brave enough to go to the old building. Even without ghosts, it’s kinda scary! Especially if it’s in the middle of the night!” Oz took a deep breath, before she continued, “Just look into the rumors, okay? Cassandra is starting to freak everyone out.” With that, she hurriedly returned to her seat. Aran frowned and looked outside at the building. It wasn’t that scary.
The bell rang, and everyone hurried back to their respective classrooms and seats. They would have to discuss this during lunch.
During lunch break, the Heroes gathered in the courtyard again. It was starting to become ‘their’ spot, with the students avoiding them most of the time. Aran took a big bite of her boar, chewing on it slowly. Mercedes took a bite of her salad, wondering what they were going to do. Evan nibbled on his bread, a bowl of steaming hot mushroom soup in front of him, while Mir was digging into his cheesecake. Luminous had a sandwich, which he wasn’t eating. Phantom had drunk some tea from a thermos, as well as some muffins and scones. Shade was quietly eating his packed lunch, wondering why everyone had so little food compared to him and Aran.
Mir broke the silence at last. “So, Master, are you going to the old wing?” Evan jumped from his position. He shushed Mir, and then took a large bite out of his bread to shut himself up. Aran swallowed the last of her boar meat that she had packed, cleaning it on her uniform before Mercedes gave her a towel. “I’m going. Who’s with me?”
No one dared to move. An expedition with Aran usually meant fighting, either with or against Aran. Aran frowned. “Come on! It’ll be fun! Plus, we get to see for real if there’s a ghost dripping blood!” Again, silence.
Mir raised his paw. “I actually wanna go, Master. A new monster sounds exciting! And I’ll protect you no matter what! So can we go?” He wagged his tail at Evan, pleading Evan. Evan looked unsure of himself, but nodded. “A-Alright then. I’m going, Aran.” Mercedes reached out and hugged Evan. “Oh, you poor thing…” she cooed, stroking his hair. Evan looked confused at Mercedes’ gesture. She let go of Evan, now looking at Aran with determination. “I’ll go to then.”
Aran grinned. “Soft spot for the Dragon Master?” she teased. Mercedes flushed, shaking her head. Shade laughed. “So it wasn’t just for Freud, huh?” he chuckled. Mercedes covered her cheeks, pouting a little. “Come on; tell me you don’t want to protect him!” Mercedes cried, hugging Evan, whose cheeks were full of another bite of his bread. His confused expression made Shade and Aran laugh, while Luminous and Phantom suddenly looked jealous.
Evan pushed away Mercedes, swallowing the bread in his mouth. “I can take care of myself, Mercedes!” he protested. Mercedes nodded, smiling motherly. “Still won’t keep us from thinking of ensuring you come to no harm. You are really too cute,” she cooed.
They all had a good laugh at Evan’s flushed face.
After school, the Heroes rushed back to the Maple World first, barely making it to an Alliance meeting on time. Once they have gone over the reports overseeing the reparations from the war, including Phantom’s ship, the meeting was over. They spent the rest of the time sparring, until it was near midnight. Aran, Evan and Mercedes quickly slipped away, back into the other world, while Phantom, Luminous and Shade retired for the night.
At the school, they pushed open the gates and walked in, Evan clutching his wand tightly while Mercedes was right behind him, looking around wildly. Aran was marching ahead, Maha on her back. “Come on! Not like a ghost was going to come out and eat you!” Aran cried, looking over her shoulder. Hmm, Mercedes and Evan still looked somewhat fearful. She paused for a moment, causing the other two to bump into her back.
“Or maybe… It’s already here!” Aran turned around and roared at the two of them. Mercedes screamed and shot arrows at her, while Evan teleported back to the gate. Aran took the shots, pulling the arrows out of her head and hair, allowing them to disappear. Mercedes was panting, her face red. “Aran! Why would you do that?” she screamed at the warrior, who laughed at her reaction. Evan came back slowly, shaking slightly. “Sorry, but you two looked so scared, I wanted to see your reactions. Besides, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Aran grinned at them. “See? You aren’t scared anymore!” Mercedes and Evan looked at her in surprise.
Mir smiled and jumped up and down excitedly. “It’s true Master! You aren’t trembling anymore, just shaking from anger!” Evan stopped shaking. He looked at himself, starting to smile. “I… I’m not scared anymore! Thank you, Aran!” He ran over and hugged Aran, who smiled and patted him. Mercedes looked around her, shocked. Her heart may be thumping wildly, but she was no longer fearful. So maybe Aran did have a reason to do that.
Aran peeled Evan from her, still grinning away. “Alright! Let’s go on ahead!” She turned and tripped over something, crashing onto the ground. Aran pushed herself up, rubbing her head. “What the…?!” she cried out. How did she fall? Evan ran over and picked up a fallen Elwin, who looked dizzy and a little bruised. Elwin groaned and rubbed his own head. “Watch where you are going, Aran!” he wailed. Mercedes peered over, laughing. “You were so small, Elwin, Aran didn’t see you,” she poked the dog, who swatted at her hand. “What are you doing here, Elwin?” Evan raised the dog up to his eye level. Elwin wiggled for a bit, before he slumped in Evan’s hands. “I wasn’t sure what you guys were doing, but when I saw you go through the portal, I followed you. It looks fun!”
Mercedes shook her head. “We are investigating a rumor that says the school is built on a graveyard,” she explained simply, not wanting to let the dog get too interested. For some reason, she got the feeling that Elwin was more of a prankster than Lily made him out to be. Elwin placed a paw on his chin, or whatever that was of a dog, thinking. “Built on a graveyard? I bet every school has stories like that.” He laughed a little, reminiscing again, “My friends and I went digging around the school, practicing digging spells. We dug and didn’t find a single bone. But we did find an oil well, making the Principal really rich.” Elwin sighed.
“How far did you dig down, Elwin,” asked Evan. Wasn’t oil at the very bottom of the earth? How did he dig up an oil well? Elwin shrugged. “Don’t know. We had to stop when gravity flipped on us. Good times,” Elwin sighed while Aran and Mercedes stared at him strangely. That far down?! Elwin wriggled in Evan’s hands, so Evan placed him down the ground. Elwin sniffed the air, growling. “Anway, guess what’s in here? A whole bunch of Dusties, that’s what. Students rarely come to this place, but better late than never, right?” He casted his magic, causing shadows from all around them to swirl up and disappear into a particular area, forming the same blue sign once it was done. Pointing to the entrance of the Dust Zone, Elwin looked up. “Maybe they picked up some clues. Or maybe they picked up something fun. Like a skull!” Aran swung Maha, revved up to go. “Finally! Something to hit that won’t die in one hit!” She ran into the Zone, yelling away, while Mercedes and Evan chased after her.
In there, Aran was fighting to her heart’s content. Evan and Mercedes were helping, until when Mercedes landed, she slipped on something and fell. She slammed her head on the step in the middle of the air, before she dropped to the ground. Mercedes sat up, pissed. “What tripped me?” She got up, bending down to pick up… was that a ketchup bottle? She looked up to see the floor littered with ketchup bottles. Evan almost tripped over one, but grabbed onto Mir at the last moment. Mir managed to pull him upright, while Mercedes quickly jumped over and grabbed the bottle. Mercedes jumped around everywhere, picking up all the bottles. Once she was done, she cupped her hands around her mouth.
“Aran! Time to go! Let’s get a move on!” she called out for the warrior. Her words fell on deaf ears, as the warrior continued to maul the Dusties. Evan hurried over to the exit, turning back. “Aran! We got what we needed! Let’s go!” Much grumbling from the warrior could be heard, then Mercedes and Evan spotted the tip of the polearm swinging this way and that as the white-haired woman charged towards them.
The three of them got out immediately. Aran placed Maha away, grumbling. “What did you find?” Evan peeked at Mercedes’ inventory. Mercedes took out a bottle, holding it out for the two, or well, two and a dog, to see.
Mercedes bent down to let Elwin sniff it. “What did you find? Wait…” He sniffed it again, licking his lips. “Smells like ketchup,” he said. Mercedes huffed, irritated. “Evan looked down at his shoes, staring at the red soles. Mir bent down to sniff them. “Ketchup, Master!” he exclaimed. Elwin tilted his head, his tail wagging away. “So it was ketchup, the delicious tomato sauce on the floor? Wow, someone really went all out in the prank.” The three of them were scowling at their shoes, which left red shoe prints on the floor. “Don’t praise them, Elwin…” Evan groaned. Elwin smiled, his tail wagging harder. “We used to use ketchup back in school. When it didn’t fool anyone, someone used corn syrup and food colouring to make more realistic blood,” Elwin prodded the bottle. Evan bent down to his level, looking unamused. “You were one of them, weren’t you, Elwin?” Elwin nodded happily.
They had to clean this all off later! But before they could complain, a loud voice could be heard. “Who’s there?”
Elwin ran to one side, beckoning them. “Quick! It’s the security guard. Let’s get out of here!” The three of them quickly ran away, while Elwin followed closely behind. Elwin made them take off their shoes before they entered the dorm and through the portal.
Needless to say, the three of them spent the rest of the time working cleaning their shoes.
The next day, Mercedes went before anyone else, waiting for Oz to come. When Oz came, Mercedes tapped her on the shoulder. “Oz.”
Oz hugged Mercedes, checking her face and hands. “How did it go?! Are you hurt at all? No ghosts? You aren’t possessed, are you?” Mercedes shook her head no to all her questions, and Oz released a sigh of relief. “Thank god! So what did you find?” Mercedes presented her with the bottles. Oz picked one up, examining it. “A…A ketchup bottle? It was just a prank?!” Oz squeezed the bottle, furious.
She turned and ran over to Cassandra. Mercedes rubbed her temples. She felt tugging on her shirt, and guessed it was Evan. Sure enough, it was the small brunette. And right behind was everyone else. Mercedes gestured to the crowd, who had crowded around the two girls.
“Cassandra, it’s ketchup that’s pooling in front of the old wing, not blood! What happened to facts?” Oz cried.
Cassandra shook her head vigorously, acting ignorant. “H-How am I supposed to know? M-Maybe some lunch ladies dropped the condiment, right?”
Oz rolled her eyes, as if exasperated. “Cassandra, give it a rest, no one goes there anymore! Why would the lunch ladies go over there?” she questioned, eyeing Cassandra.
Cassandra shrugged, though she looked uneasy. “T-The ketchup was old then!”
Oz shook her head, holding up the bottle. “That’s not what Mercedes said. You need to stop lying; the bottles Mercedes found were used recently!” Oz presented the bottle to the crowd, who were examining the bottles themselves. Cassandra folded her arms, trying to defend herself again.
“Whatever! Why are you questioning me so closely? You are Blood Type B, aren’t you?” she shot back at Oz. Again, what did blood type have to do with personality? No one knew.
Phantom poked Luminous on the top of his head. “I bet you are Blood Type B, what with your temper.”
Luminous slapped his hand back, growling. “Do not group me with the likes of that blood type, petty thief. Blood has nothing to do with your personality one bit. It is your brain that determines how good a personality you have.”
Phantom smirked, pinching Luminous’ cheeks. “Aww, is Luminous’ brain that bad that you got such a grumpy personality?” Phantom’s voice sounded cutesy and sweet. Luminous flared up, pushing away Phantom’s hands. Before the two of them made a louder commotion, Evan grabbed their sleeves and pushed a finger onto their mouths. “Shhh, I can’t hear them!” he whispered. Both of them froze, not making a sound, even when Evan removed his fingers and focused on the battle.
Meanwhile, Oz was grinning at Cassandra’s question. “No, I’m O,” she replied.
A moment of silence, then Ms. Appropriation spoke up. “I don’t think Cassandra is lying.”
Luke held up the bottle he was holding, looking somewhat sceptical. “You heard them; they found a bottle of ketchup. She could be lying.”
A female student by the name of Annie looked between the two girls, Oz and Cassandra. “Who should we believe?” she wondered out loud. Oz raised her hand, excited. “Believe me! The secret is out!” She pointed at Cassandra accusingly, while Cassandra flinched back. “I swear on my grandfather’s name that everything you say is a lie!” Cassandra pressed her lips into a thin line, backing away slowly. Oz continued, regarding the rest of the crowd. “It was just a coincidence that Nineheart hurt his toe. Just stay away from Cassandra’s lies, okay?” Oz turned around to go back to her seat when all of a sudden a menacing voice came from Cassandra. The same dangerous aura came back. All the Heroes stared at the group, wary once more. What was going on?!
“How dare you talk about me like that?” Cassandra whispered, laughing quietly. Oz stopped in her tracks, turning around. Cassandra cackled, pointing at Oz. “He’s here… He’s here! Those who don’t believe Cassandra will incur Heaven’s wrath! I’ll show you how serious I can be!” Oz shivered, but said nothing as she returned to her seat. It took a while for Cassandra to calm down. Once she did, however, she smiled at the rest of them. “Don’t worry; Cassandra’s Ghost Story Theatre is going to start! Gather around!” The crowd gathered around her, though some were looking unsure of themselves. The Heroes exchanged glances and took a seat as well, to hear what Cassandra was going to go on about.
She started as before, her voice low and eerie.
All of you know about that room on the second floor, six doors to the staircase? Where there is no nameplate, no occupant during day or night? Yes, that very room in the dorm.
Everyone now and then, people have gone in to clean the area, but nothing was ever reported. But, there have been weapons found there. But no one has been able to take it out. What I tell you from here on out is the complete truth.
The previous occupant of the room was the son of a very rich traditional family, whose name reached far deeper into history. But no one ever saw what happened to him. He just died one day, and his room was locked up. Once in a while, if you press your ears to the door, you can hear something whining. It is now more common, to hear this whining noise.
This particular student had thrown a ball up into the room one day while he was playing. So he went up to the room. But as he neared, a strange voice started to speak.
“Don’t come closer… Stay away from my treasure…” The student was shocked. He thought it was just his imagination! But the voice disappeared as soon as it stopped. This lead the boy to believe it was merely his imagination. So he placed a hand on the door.
But he could not open it. Even though it wasn’t locked, something was pushing against it. And the harder he pushed, the harder it became to open the door. So he stopped, wondering if he should get someone else to help him.
But then! The door suddenly flew open. It was shining so brightly, the student covered his eyes. Then the light was engulfed, darkness taking its place. It was so dark, so very dark, that even the light from the corridor did not illuminate the room. So the student walked in, using his phone as a source of light.
The moment he stepped in, the door swung shut with a loud bang. The student jumped in fright, He looked down and saw the ball by his feet. He had to leave right now. He bent down to grab the ball, wondering if it was just the wind that closed the door. He looked up, only to see something shining in the closet.
He walked forward, but the voice came back. “Stay away… Stay away from my treasure… STAY AWAY!” The voice shrieked. The student ran for the door, fearful. But then he tripped. He turned around onto his back, scrambling backwards, for the closet door flew open. He pointed his phone at it, revealing a large polearm, gleaming in the light, its blade darkened with fresh blood.
He turned to another corner, revealing a large staff of sorts, complete with spikes on both ends attached to circles, bloodied.
He could hear swishing all around him, and something was grazing past him. He shone the light at the wall as he got to the door, pushing himself to stand and rattling the doorknob! On the wall were tiny thin projectiles of sorts, embedded in the wall, causing cracks! And all the around the room was blood.
The voice was starting to shriek louder and louder, “Stay away from my treasures! Stay away!” But another group of voices were coming closer.
“Join us… Join us in guarding this treasure…. Join us…. One of us… One of us…” The boy finally could not take it anymore.
The door suddenly flew open, and he fell forward. His friends had come back to look for him. They were wondering why he was rattling the door knob. The student turned around and turned on the light in the room, but there was nothing on the wall, nothing on the floor. He felt sick. The voices were gone.
But during the night, when he returned to his dorm, he pulled back his covers to find out that his pillow had been sliced in half…
…And the inside of it was bright red!
Oz sprang up from her seat, scowling at Ms. Appropriation. “Seriously! Would it kill you not to scream?” She gestured to the rest of the room, which revealed that Mihile had brought out his kendo stick, looking around wildly. Eckhart was now on the table, his fists brought up to his face. Hawkeye had jumped up and held up his table, his eyes darting to and fro. Everyone stared at them until they lowered their guard, returning to their books.
Ms. Appropriation apologized again, while Luke stared at Cassandra. “I know this one, I opened the door to the room, but I didn’t exactly go in. The floor was red! And smelled kinda funny too! There was this smell of mushrooms and iron.” Another one piped up, “Yeah! I saw the weapons when I turned on the lights, but the next time I went in, they were gone!” Cassandra nodded, smiling. “Here’s the funny thing. Nineheart and the adults have gone in to the check, but every time, there was nothing there! How funny!” Everyone shivered in the seats.
Aran looked at the rest of Heroes. “I wonder what ghost it could be now…” Mercedes slapped Aran on the arm lightly, gathering the Heroes to whisper. “Isn’t that our room? But I thought Phantom hid them all with his illusions,” she glared at Phantom, who nodded. “I did. My illusions are not so easily broken. Not by light, at least. If they did go in, nothing should have happened.” Evan frowned. "I slipped on some red potions the other day. I cleaned it up immediately though... could someone have seen it?"
Luminous frowned. “But none of our weapons have blood on them. We clean them after every fight if there is even a speck of dirt. So how…?” Shade frowned, his eyebrows tilted up ever so slightly. “We should check the room. We hid the portal by putting another piece of wood, and behind the wood were our weapons. So how did they appear?
The bell rang, and they separated. Mercedes nodded. “After school, let’s go see what’s going on!” Everyone agreed. They went on their separate ways quickly, as the teachers came into class. Cassandra looked especially proud of this story she had told.
After school, the Heroes rushed back to the room. Once looking around to ensure that no one was looking, they entered the room. Closing and locking the door, they spread out and started to look. They heard strangled meowing, and they looked up to see Lily.
“Welcome back. What’s wrong?” she hopped down from the closet, looking at all their faces. Mercedes turned away, digging the drawers. Her event bowguns were not fired at all.
Shade bent down to Lily. “We are looking into a strange rumor of our room. Hold on.” Everyone else was hunting for their weapons. Phantom pulled out his card deck, counting the number of cards. Luminous was turning his extra staff this way and that, frowning. Evan pulled out his wands and staffs, shaking his head at Mir who shrugged. There was no blood. That would only mean… Shade got up from his position and threw open the doors. Inside, there was a polearm and a rod. But they weren’t Aran’s or Luminous. Luminous picked up the staff in disgust. “It’s a complete fake,” he announced. He held it up for the rest to see. “It looks like my rod, but only the shape. The design wise and the indentations are all wrong.” Aran picked up the polearm, throwing it this way and that. “This feels completely wrong. The top isn’t heavy enough, what the heck! Plus Maha doesn’t look this ugly.
Idiot Master, I can hear you!
“Maha, you don’t wanna be in this do you?” Aran waved the polearm about. Mercedes looked around. “But what about the projectiles? If your cards are fine, and my bowguns aren’t fired, then how did this happen?” Evan thought for a bit, and then crawled up to the wall, feeling it. Phantom did the same on the other. He took off his gloves, feeling the wall. His fingers caught onto something. Pushing it out of the way, he revealed a painted crack on a piece of paper on the wall. A cloth had covered it on the piece of paper. Evan had found the same thing on the other side.
Lily huffed, sitting down and licking her paws. “Looks like a prank that Elwin would play to me. Who puts so much effort?” Aran shrugged. The polearm in her arms were flimsy as hell, and the blade, while looking as if dripping with blood, was actually dried red liquid. The same went for the staff.
Lily frowned. “I think I know how it works. You see, when Nineheart comes by, you clear out your weapons, right? These fake weapons were stuck to this fake wall we put.” She gestured to the wall. She got up and walked over, pushing the wall down. “But when we came to clear up, we would throw them across the portal. But it was usually me on the other end who pulls away the door and hangs it one side. Since these weapons are so light, I didn’t know.” She went through the portal, pulling up a thin wooden board. “Elwin and I put this in place instead, to make it seem like the closet did not have a hidden compartment.”
So the weapons’ disappearing was because of Lily and Elwin changing boards? The Heroes grumbled. Lily walked back, sighing. “What an elaborate plan!” She stepped past something, and all of a sudden, a gust of wind shot out of the air, blowing the clothes up, revealing the cracks on the wall. Lily laughed. “When the light is out, no one can see the cracks are bogus.” Something lit up. Everyone turned to see the polearm was lighted up. There was a light bulb in blade.
Mercedes fumed. “So all this while Cassandra made all of these?!” She took the staff and polearm, throwing them on the floor. They landed with a loud ‘thonk’, which everyone looked in surprise. Bending down, Evan picked them up. “… They are made out of cupboard! The blade isn’t even real!” he cried out.
Shade stared at the fuming Heroes, sighing. “Calm down. Let’s confront her tomorrow. And just for good measure, from now on, let’s not leave our equipment in the closet, okay?” Everyone nodded.
Phantom, who had been searching under the bed, frowned. “My cane is gone.”
Luminous kicked him lightly, irritated. “So what? You got a lot more. Plus, it wasn’t precious, was it?” Phantom shook his head, but he looked suspicious. “I guess so… oh wait, how did it come here?” He spotted his extra cane behind the door, hiding it with his body. It looked the same; thank Transcendants, though a little scratched. He said nothing, just shoving it back under the bed.
They went back through the portal to resume combat training; unaware of the adventure their weapons had given to a bunch of students.
The next day, as everyone arrived back in school, holding the fake weapons and pictures, Evan got another call from Cygnus. “Oh Evan! It’s terrible! Last night, there was a fire in the science lab! Oz… Oz!” Cygnus blurted out from her side. Evan panicked. “W-What happened?!” Everyone looked at him in surprise. They bent down and pressed their ears to the phone again. Cygnus was crying again, on the other side. “Come to the infirmary please, brace yourselves for the worst…” she cut off at the point, and everyone looked horrified. They ran up the stairs again, into the infirmary. Aran yanked the door open, while everyone ran in, just in time to hear Cygnus asking Hilla, “How is Oz? Will she make it?” while dabbing at her eyes. Everyone waited for HIlla’s answer. Oz couldn’t possibly be that bad, could she?
Hilla looked at Cygnus, sighing. “Her hair got burnt. The tip of it was burnt off.” Cygnus wiped away more tears from her eyes. “How terrible!” she wept. The Heroes on the other hand crashed to the floor. Again?! There wasn’t an emergency again?!
Evan sighed. Walking to Cygnus, he hugged her. “Don’t worry, Cygnus! We’ll find out who did it! And please tell us over the phone first what had happened, thank you!” Cygnus nodded while wiping away her tears. Aran dug in her pocket and pulled out a bit of Star Candy that she still had.
Walking over to Oz, she pressed it into her hands. “Oh! You guys are all here! I’m horribly crippled!” she whined, tugging at her bright red hair. “Hair is a woman’s crowning glory!” Oz stroked her ruined hair. Mercedes came over and hugged Oz. “I know, Oz, I know. We’ll do anything to help you!” Aran rolled her eyes. Her own long white hair had grown ever longer. Oz nodded, hugging Mercedes.
Cygnus came over, patting Oz’s hand. “Could it be Cassandra’s curse again?” Oz shook her head from Mercedes’ arms, defiant. “No way! Cassandra is not a witchdoctor, and stuff like curses are complete hoaxes,” she argued. Nineheart from the other bed nodded. “That’s right. Don’t fall to superstition, all of you.” Evan frowned. “I don’t think Cassandra’s curse is real. Curses and all that stuff are real, but they don’t singe your hair or break your toe. At their worst, they just turn you into the stone on the spot.”
Nineheart and Oz looked at him, horrified. Aran laughed, covering Evan’s mouth, “Ahaha… He’s been reading a little too much, don’t you think?” She bent down to look at Evan, who nodded quickly. Nineheart and Oz relaxed.
No one needed to know that an actual curse was placed on them in another world and turned them to stone.
Oz pushed away Mercedes gently. “You guys have to stop Cassandra from spreading her lies!” Shade pulled out the fake weapons, smiling slightly. “We are. The story she told yesterday, it was all lies. We have pictures and the fake weapons.” Nineheart smiled in approval. “Hurry, she is about to begin.”
Everyone nodded. Phantom grabbed the weapons from Shade’s hands, running out the doorway. “I’ll go confront Cassandra on this!” he yelled over his shoulder in a sing song voice, dancing down the stairs. Before Nineheart could start yelling, everyone else hurried after him.
In the classroom, Phantom jumped onto a table and pointed a finger at Cassandra. “Alas, Cassandra, your lies end today!”
Cassandra looked up from her seat, looking worried. “What happened to Oz?” Phantom, thrown off his beat, hesitated. “Uh… She just burnt her hair, that’s it.” Cassandra smiled in relief. “Thank god. Now, please stop questioning my spiritual power, before something bad happens to you too, Phantom.”
The rest of them bundled in. What was Phantom doing?! Evan shivered. If Cassandra’s curse was really true, Phantom could get hurt! Shade moved to help Phantom, but he was locked in place by Orchid’s glare. He shrank back, hiding behind Aran again.
Phantom smirked, leaning forward a little and wagging his finger. “Now, now, Cassandra. Remember yesterday’s story? Well, I know for a fact that you are lying.”
Cassandra looked quite smug this time, getting up. She looked more confident. “What now?” Phantom laughed, sitting down on the table. “Your lies cannot outwit this Master Thief. After all, I had gone to check out the room myself. And guess what? I did see the weapons after all!” Everyone gasped. Cassandra’s smile wavered a little, but she continued to listen. Phantom continued, “And unfortunately for you, my pillow was not ripped apart or sliced apart. I also found out the cause of the red liquid on the floor.” Turning to Luke, he held up a bottle filled with red liquid.
He handed it to Luke. “Smell it.” Luke opened up the bottle cautiously, sniffing it. He immediately recoiled. “Yuck! This smells of mushrooms!” Then his eyes widened. He sniffed it again. “This..! This was the smell that was in that room when I went in! A bit of an iron smell as well!” Cassandra’s smile dropped from her face as everyone turned to look at Phantom, smirking. “I’ll reveal all your tricks one by one, Cassandra! No one can fool a Master Thief at his own game of illusions!” Phantom tilted his hat up, laughing.
Cassandra snorted, folding her arms. “Alright then, self-proclaimed Master Thief, tell me where did the weapons go then?” When Phantom didn’t answer, she laughed. “See? The ghosts have already whisked it away! You must have dropped the bottle there the other day!” Phantom got down from the table, walking to the middle of the circle the crowd had formed.
“That’s right. A ghost whisked them away in the silence of the night. Say, did anyone happen to see a polearm today? No? Well, see, right here in my hand.” He held up his hand, a single card. It exploded, causing everyone to look away. When they turned back, in Phantom’s arms was the ‘polearm’, its blade bright red. “What do I have here? Oh, recognize this?” Everyone shook their heads, confused.
Cassandra let out a bark of laughter. “It doesn’t even look scary!” Phantom clicked his fingers, and everywhere turned dark. While everyone was looking around, suddenly, a large polearm, stained with bright red blood swung! Everyone screamed and the lights came back on, to reveal Phantom swinging the polearm. “See? It’s an illusion!” He placed the polearm away, smirking at Cassandra. “You can’t fool me. Plus, there was a motion sensor by the door. I took a picture of it before I came. He pulled out a photograph from his pocket, tossing it at Cassandra. It landed on the floor, face up, and everyone could see a small black machine on it.
Phantom pulled out the staff from his pocket as well. “By the way, this doesn’t even look like the original weapon itself. It’s symmetrical, both upside and downside and left and right.” He put it aside. He pulled out more pictures from his pocket. “Do you admit your defeat, Cassandra?” Cassandra backed away. “How annoying! Why do you keep questioning me when you have seen what happens to those who did it? Are you Blood Type B?!” Phantom laughed at Cassandra.
“I have no idea what blood type I am. But you tried to fail me, the Master Thief Phantom, the Greatest Master of Illusions, the one and only! Try again, Cassandra, for you cannot fool these eyes of mine!” Phantom grinned, tossing the pictures to her. On them, the cracks were visible. The cloths were also taken covering the cracks and when they were flapping in the wind. “The things you feel when you go in were little gusts of winds, like this machine over here.” He pointed at it. He turned away, sighing.
“You can curse me, Cassandra, but you simply cannot harm me. I am, after all, a trickster myself. My eyes are hard to deceive.” He walked away, aware of the dangerous atmosphere setting in. He would be cursed now.
Evan gasped. “I think I know why Phantom took it all upon himself! He can dodge most attacks very quickly, so he couldn’t possibly get hurt! Plus we heal really fast! So there’s no way he would suffer from Cassandra’s curse!” he whispered to Shade. Shade nodded, feeling quite glad that Evan finally got it. Aran looked confused and Mercedes looked plain annoyed. Luminous rolled his eyes and grumbled, “But he had to do it in such a way that he showed off?”
Ms Appropriation spoke up again, as if like a routine, “Cassandra’s stories are real, they aren’t fake.” Luke at the side placed the bottle down, looking suspicious. “I don’t know. It does make sense, doesn’t it?”
Chang nodded. “Cassandra might be lying on this one… I mean, the liquid was just by chance right? Everyone had seen different things.” As everyone started to murmur, Cassandra got up, speaking.
They heard the same voice from Cassandra, low and eerie. “You dare call my spiritual power mere illusions?!” she cried at him. Phantom turned around, smirking and tilting his head. “I didn’t call them illusions, I know they are illusions.”
Cassandra continued, as if she never heard him. “He’s here… He’s here! Those who do not believe Cassandra will incur Heaven’s wrath! I will show you when you call my stories fake!” She slumped down on the chair, the dangerous atmosphere gone in a flash. Phantom shrugged, returning to his seat.
Cassandra sat up, rubbing her head. She looked at everyone, smiling. “Now, let’s ignore that. Who’s up for another story today?” The people in the crowd exchanged glances, and then sat down slowly. She grinned, shifting herself once more. Ms Appropriation had picked up all the photos and took them outside with the weapons, tossing them in the bin. Phantom gestured to the rest of the Heroes to join in, while he lounged in his chair. Cassandra began again, while everyone around her just looked at one another, uneasy.
Do you know why we have so many ghosts in our school…?
There is a reason for everything. What I say from now on is the absolute truth.
You all know of the rugged-looking Security Guard of our school, right? That man has secrets. He doesn’t say a word all day. He only waits until the stroke of midnight.
At midnight, you can hear the sounds of babies crying from the old wing. But it’s not your normal kind of crying. It’s a loud, low screeching type of crying. But this security guard doesn’t get scared. Oh no, he finds it entertaining! He would giggle at this sound when it is heard from the old wing. He is always very careful before he enters the old wing, making sure no one sees him. Of course, he cannot be caught doing what he does.
What do you think is happening in the old wing at the stroke of midnight?
Only the foulest, most terrible thing imaginable.
He is using a demon ritual to summon forth ghosts!
Silence swept across the entire crowd. Luke spoke up, breaking apart the awkward silence. “That’s too much, it sounds kind of ridiculous,” he muttered, loud enough for everyone around him and Cassandra to hear.
Chang agreed with Luke, looking quite bored. “This one was weak, Cassandra,” she complained.
“But it’s true! Have you ever seen me lying?” Cassandra protested. Everyone shot glances at one another. Cassandra had been caught lying not once, not twice, but three times. Luke cleared his throat. “I believe you, but something this dramatic needs some proof,” he stated simply.
Cassandra stubbornly argued back, “I told you, the sounds of babies crying can be heard from the old wing. Plus, the security guard looks kind of sketchy, doesn’t he?”
“But I have never heard them,” countered Luke.
Chang sighed and took out her notebook. “I’m rating this story four out of ten…” she mumbled while writing.
Cassandra’s mood shifted again, she glaring angrily at the others. “How dare you question my spiritual power?!” she cried out.
Everyone started to shiver, pressing further away from Cassandra. “I-I mean, wow, that was crazy! I mean it!” Chang quickly said, scribbling faster on her book. Her best friend by the side nodded vigorously. “You’re right, Cassandra! How can we not believe you?” she said quickly.
The remaining Heroes crept away. Shade shook his head at the sight of this. “Everyone is too scared of Cassandra’s curse. She has them under her thumb,” he said depressingly.
Evan nodded, looking at Phantom. “I just hope Phantom’s going to be fine.” Mercedes rubbed Evan’s head.
“Don’t worry, Evan, if anyone can dodge a flying book or a fire, it’s Phantom. He’s the best out of all of us for dodging attacks,” she comforted Evan.
Aran frowned. “So we are going to investigate that one too? When?” Luminous waved his hands to the old building, shaking his head. “Look, that security guard is Ericsson. He’s anything but sketchy. Remember how he asked all the adventurers to go up to Chryse to help? He just loves animals, that’s it,” he stated, annoyed. “Everyone knows it’s a lie, it’s just a matter of making Cassandra see the error of her ways.”
Mercedes nodded. “How about we check this tomorrow night? Not like Cassandra’s story is going anywhere.”
Everyone nodded, before parting for class.
Little did they know the ‘curse’ was about to come true.
It was after school, when everyone else was back in the Maple World. Phantom had left combat training early, stating that he had forgotten to take back his cane in the dorm.
Phantom had returned to the dorm room, seeking out his cane. But it was gone? Phantom searched everywhere for it, then heard feet pattering down the hallway. Phantom opened the door to see someone turn a corner, his cane in their hands. Psh. They were trying to outrun a thief! He chased after the person. The person was a slow runner, so Phantom caught up easily, but then they ran into a lift, shutting the door in his face. Phantom couldn’t see who it was. Phantom frowned in annoyance, turning to the stairs. He ran up each level, checking if the lift had stopped on the level. Nope. On the highest level, he barely saw the person as they ran up the stairs and onto the roof. Phantom ran out to see his cane balanced on the fence. Phantom frowned. He jumped onto the fence, picking up his cane. He had gotten this cane from Freud, as a joke. Apparently, it was a cosplay item from the very popular Starcaptor Sakura TV show, in which the protagonist in question used cards as well. Phantom stood up, smiling slightly. He kept away the cane. Looking up, he saw the setting sun, casting orange rays across the sky and the buildings.
He stood there, taking in the view. Suddenly, something pushed him from his position. Losing his balance, Phantom fell. Shoot! The ground was rushing up at him. Phantom pushed himself from the air, performing Phantom Swiftness. He landed on the ground and rolled, cursing at his ruined clothes. There was dirt on them! He picked at his clothes. Phantom looked up to see a brick falling for his head. He dodged out of the way just barely. Where his head once was, the brick now laid. Phantom heaved a sigh of relief. Someone was attacking him. But just as he thought that, something hard landed on his head. He fell to the floor. Phantom pushed himself up to see how it was, but the sun was behind the person. Phantom tried to defend, to dodge, but the blows were coming fast and hard.
He kept backing away, raising his cane to defend himself. But even the cane was knocked away and he fell back, slamming his head against the brick. The last thing he saw was another brick going straight for him before he fainted.
When Phantom did not come back for combat training, Evan started to get worried. “Do you think…?” he asked the rest. Luminous shook his head. “The thief will survive. He’s like a cockroach,” he stated, as if it was a fact. Shade just sighed. “Phantom will make it, do not worry, Evan.”
Evan nodded, though he was not reassured. Phantom was not answering his lightbulb, however. Evan took out his phone, calling Phantom. When the line got through, he cheered up. “Phantom? What’s w…?” Evan’s voice grew silent, his face growing paler and paler.
He put down the phone, looking at everyone else with a devastated expression. He gulped, trying to control his tears, but failing. “P-Phantom is in the hospital. In Seoul.”
Everyone scrambled to their feet, shocked. Phantom landed in a hospital?! They ran back to the portal, charging past Elwin and Lily. Both cat and dog chased after as they ran all the way back to school. They threw open the door to the infirmary, but there was no one. In fact, Nineheart had just left when they came in. “What’s going on?” Aran grabbed Nineheart by the collar, lifting him up.
“Where’s this hospital?” she demanded. Nineheart gripped her hand, shaking his head. “I’ll show you where it is, put me down! What happened?” Aran placed him down, pointing to a crying Evan.
Nineheart stared at Evan for a bit, before walking off. “Follow me.” He hobbled down the stairs, until Aran just picked him up and ran out of the school. From there, Nineheart navigated them to the hospital.
They ran up into the building. At the front was a nurse. “What can I help you with?” she asked cheerfully. Aran slammed a fist on the counter, glaring at the nurse. Nineheart sighed, pinching in between his eyes. “Phantom, please. Which room?” The nurse, frightened by Aran, pointed down the hallway. “On the second floor, s-sir. D-Down three doors,” she stammered. The five of them ran up the stairs, Aran still carrying Nineheart, before anyone could stop them and get Evan to put Mir outside. They charged into the room, pushing open the door. There, on the bed, laid Phantom. He was connected to a few machines, and there was an oxygen mask over his face. The woman standing over him adjusted her glasses, walking over to them. “I assume you are Phantom’s friends? Where is his immediate family?” she asked. Claudine.
Shade took a step forward, replying, “We are his immediate family.” Claudine eyed him, flipping through her clipboard. “I see,” she began, “but where is his guardian? From what I know, he is underage, and his guardian should still be in charge of him.” Claudine slotted her pen on her clipboard.
“We are right here, Doctor.”
The Heroes and Nineheart turned to see Lily and Elwin standing behind them, in their human forms. Elwin grinned sheepishly at them, while Lily looked positively furious. She pushed them away to form a passage. Lily held out a hand to Claudine, who took it and shook it. “Ah, yes, Ms…?” Claudine stared at her. “Call me Lily,” Lily said simply. Claudine nodded. “Ms Lily, your… ward, there are no medical records. I would like to know if he has proper vaccinations or…?” Lily held out a piece of paper to Claudine, who took it and examined it. As she did, her eyes glazed over and became out of focus. “Of course, yes.” Lily nodded. Elwin, meanwhile, ushered the rest of them out. “Now now, let’s give Lily and the good doctor some time, yes? You should go put your friend down and do your homework! Go on! We’ll take care of things here.” Evan looked up at Elwin, who winked at him. Nodding, everyone ran off. Nineheart, who was confused, looked back. “Are those Phantom’s parents? They look nothing alike,” he muttered. As they ran, Aran rebuked Nineheart’s assumption. “Nah, they just take care of all of us.”
They arrived at the dorm, dropping Nineheart off at his room. They hurried back through the portal. From there, Evan got a call from Elwin. “Hey, Evan! Whoops, lucky we were there, weren’t we? Anyway, I got big news. Do you mind if you put your phone on speaker mode?” Evan pressed the screen. Elwin’s voice boomed out of the phone. “Alright, so I heard some strange noises from the old wing earlier, that was what I wanted to tell you. Like babies crying. I’m getting goose bumps already.”
Mercedes frowned. “Cassandra is actually telling the truth this time?” she wondered. “What did she say?” asked Elwin, his curiosity clear in his voice. Shade quickly said, “That the security guard is holding rituals at the old building to summon ghosts.” Elwin was coughing on the other end. “Sorry, choked on water…” he muttered, “But you mean that scary-looking guy? I mean, he was smirking when I heard the noise and while he was going in.” Elwin coughed again. He must have removed the phone away from him as he coughed, for it sounded fainter. His voice came back again, slightly clearer, “Anyway, this is kinda a bit too spooky for me. I just hope it isn’t what I think it is. Look, meet me at the front gate of the old wing, okay? I’m on my way there, just in case you need help. Lily’s furious too!” The phone clicked shut then, and everyone looked at one another in horror.
They quickly ran there. By the time they got there, night had fallen. The guard was missing from his post. The Heroes glanced at one another. They hurried there to see Lily the cat waiting for them. Even as a cat, she looked extremely angry. “Fools! Why would you do that? Did you know how much magic it took to convince her not to look into him? Honestly, you would have all given away your identities had Elwin and I not followed you!” she yelled at the Heroes.
Evan bent down, hanging his head. “Sorry, Lily. Phantom said he would be fine…” he apologized.
Lily huffed, sitting down on her haunches. “Anyway, I came instead of Elwin because he was too scared. Coward. He ran back halfway and begged me to go instead.” She licked her paw.
Shade bent down and scratched Lily behind the ears, hearing her purr. “What about you? Aren’t you scared?”
Lily scoffed, “Me? I’ve seen enough ghosts that I don’t care anymore. Bugs, though, yeesh.” Lily got up, shaking her fur. “Anyway, I don’t know if Cassandra is telling the truth, but it doesn’t hurt to check out what the Security Guard is up to. Let’s go.”
Suddenly, there was a baby crying out loud. Everyone was jolted from their position. Who dared?
Evan started to laugh nervously. “Y-You know… Phantom would need someone to make sure that no one saw him revive… I’ll g-go visit him!” Evan turned tail and ran, Mir running after him. Everyone stared after Evan.
Mercedes started to back away, just as she was about to run, Aran grabbed her. “You aren’t scared, are you?” Aran asked, poking Mercedes in the cheek.
Mercedes pushed Aran away, replying, “N-No!” Another loud wail, and Mercedes jumped into a tree. “Y-You know what? I’ll stay here on lookout… in case there are any Dusties or anyone else!” Aran sighed. “Yeesh, what a scaredy-cat you are!” Aran turned and walked towards the door, but the moment she put a hand on it, another wail was heard, louder this time.
Aran jumped away, placing a hand on her chest. “O-one second thought, we are sneaking around, right? So I’ll make lots of noise if I go. S-so you two go on ahead!” she said, running back.
Luminous rolled his eyes. “What is so scary? It’s just some wailing,” he stated.
Luminous and Shade went ahead, into the room. Lily was right behind them. Just as they entered, Lily beckoned them to the side. “We should follow that security guard. We need to be quiet, so try not to step on any of the junk on the floor.” The two of them looked at the litter-strewn pathway. So much for an easy time. Not to mention Lily forbid the two of them from teleporting, since it would make a sound. Shade tied his ribbon tighter, before taking the first step among the trash. Luminous followed suit, and the two of them slowly made their way after the security guard.
They had to hide once or twice when Shade or Luminous bumped against a can or a bottle, causing the security guard to turn around. They waited till he looked back in front then following again. Once he entered a room, the two of them, plus Lily, peeked in. There, they saw him giggling in the darkness. “Yeess, eat it. Do you like it? Do you like it, hmm? So yummy…” he whispered over a box. Luminous squinted in the darkness. “What is he doing?”
Shade leaned forward, unable to see in the darkness for the moment. Moonlight soon shone into the building, illuminating the scene before them. Shade gasped. “Is… Isn’t that cat food?” he whispered. Unfortunately, it was a little bit too loud. Ericsson got up and shone his torchlight at them, calling out, “Who’s there? Stop right there!” They shielded their eyes from the light. Luminous groaned, coming out. “Okay, already, shine your torchlight somewhere else!” Ericsson put away his torchlight, looking sheepish.
Shade came out, as did Lily. Ericsson groaned softly. “I wanted to keep this a secret from the students. These kittens lost their mother,” he explained, crouching down to rub their heads. He looked outside the window, muttering to himself. “Some little punks in the neighbourhood were harassing them, so I brought them to this building,” he continued.
Ericsson tickled all of them lovingly, his eyes shining with fondness. “I fed them, trimmed their nails, played with them… now they won’t stop crying when I’m not around,” he said.
Luminous sighed. “So it was cats, not babies, after all,” he muttered. Shade crouched down next to the box, his eyes shining brightly. “C-can I touch them?” he asked. When Ericsson nodded, Shade began to pat them, playing with them. He smiled, rubbing the kittens all over their heads.
Ericsson scoffed at Luminous’ remark. “Babies?” he cried, “What kind of psycho brings babies to an old abandoned building? There is no one living in this building!” He paused, watching Shade play with the kittens. “Look, can I trust you not to tell anyone that I’m raising kittens?” Shade nodded, his eyes fixated on the kittens before him. Luminous nodded as well, he couldn’t do much, could he? Ericsson breathed a sigh of relief. “Alright, this place is off limits. Time to go, kids,” he ordered. Shade looked up from his position, hugging a kitten.
“Okay…” he muttered, putting down the kitten dejectedly.
Upon returning to Lily, Lily smiled widely. “So it was just kittens! Aww, so cute….” Lily cooed at them. Luminous smiled over his shoulder. “I guess under that scary appearance, he has a heart of gold.”
“People who love animals can’t be bad,” Lily agreed. She took another look at the kittens, and sighed dreamily. “They are so cute… Cats are really the cutest animals in the world,” Lily muttered. Shade and Luminous looked at Lily in surprise. She looked somewhat shy. “I guess when I say that as a cat, that sounds awfully weird,” she muttered.
Shade heard a cough from Ericsson, so he turned. Ericsson looked uneasy. “You… weren’t just talking to your cat, right?” he asked.
Shade and Luminous immediately laughed nervously. “N-no! That’s crazy…” Shade blurted out. Ericsson nodded, smiling. “Relax,” he laughed, “I know how you feel. Sometimes they are wonderful listeners.” Lily came out from the shadows meowing, looking up at Ericsson, who cooed at her, “So cute!” But then, he frowned. “Although, its meowing sounds forced for some reason,” he noted. Ericsson moved to leave the room, patting Shade on the head.
Once he left, Shade looked straight at Lily. “Your meowing needs work,” he said simply. Lily huffed, pouting.
Suddenly, there was a bright flash of light. Luminous and Shade shielded their eyes. Once the light was gone, they put down their hands. “Was that lightning?” Luminous asked, trying to see the sky from his position. Lily shushed him, whispering, “Wait, and look over there! There wasn’t supposed to be anyone living in this building!” They spotted a shadow sneaking away. Lily hissed, her hackles rising. “Did you see that? A shadow!” she whispered at them. She ran after the Shadow, as did Luminous and Shade.
As they ran after her, Lily ran ahead of them. But when Luminous and Shade opened a door, there were Dusties everywhere. Shoot! They started to fight, clearing the Dusties as fast as possible.
Luminous gritted his teeth. “That damn thief! If he hadn’t gone to the hospital, he would be here taking my place!”
Shade shook his head, slamming a couple of Dusties onto the floor. “Look, it’s not Phantom’s fault. He tried to make sure the curse would only be casted on him, if there even a curse. So focus and let’s get out of here.”
The two of them cleared the Dusties quickly, panting by the time they got up. Thankfully, they were wearing their proper battle outfits, and were not worse for wear. Once they got up, they saw Lily pointing at the shadow. “Look, it’s Cassandra!” Sure enough, when the cloud covering the moon disappeared, the moonlight revealed it was Cassandra.
She was panting. When Shade and Luminous revealed themselves, she paled visibly. “There’s nowhere to run…” she muttered, wiping away the sweat on her face. She was still dressed in her school uniform. She suddenly got to her knees, wailing, “I’m so sorry!”
Shade frowned. Walking forward, he pulled her up. “What are you doing here?” he asked softly.
Cassandra was crying a little. She wiped away her tears, hiccupping. “T-That’s… the latest ghost story wasn’t as popular as I wanted…” she wailed. Luminous took a step forward, his anger evident on his face. There was a flame on his eye again, glowing brightly in the night.
“So you were taking fabricated photos to make your story more believable?” he growled.
“Yes, I’m sorry!” Cassandra wailed harder, tears streaming down her face. Shade looked at her sympathetically, but Luminous was not done. He took another threatening step forward.
“So you were the one who hid the recorder in the music room, spilled ketchup at the old building and planted all those machines in the empty room?” Luminous was furious, struggling to rein in his temper. “And right now, you are taking fabricated photos because your last story was not popular?” he roared.
Cassandra kept apologizing and crying. Shade stood in front of Cassandra, blocking Luminous from getting closer to her. “Calm down,” he said. Luminous scowled. Shade turned to face Cassandra, putting his hands on her shoulders. “Telling stories are fine, but hurting Nineheart, Oz and Phantom isn’t. You even made Phantom land in the hospital,” he chided softly. Cassandra started to shake her head. “Phantom?! In the hospital?! No, no! That wasn’t me! I swear I didn’t hurt them!” Shade’s eyes widened by a fraction and Luminous’ jaw dropped. Cassandra continued explaining, “I was bluffing about Heaven’s Wrath! I was just angry because they kept questioning me, insulting me.” Luminous huffed. “I understand about the dumb thief, but Nineheart and Oz didn’t deserve that,” he complained.
Shade hushed him. “Look, Cassandra, your curse came true,” he told her. Cassandra nodded, having stopped crying. She whined, “I know, but I don’t know how!” She sighed, shaking off Shade’s hands. “I admit everything! All my ghost stories, they are all fake! I’m sorry!” Cassandra cried.
Out of nowhere, Ms Appropriation appeared from the shadows. She walked forward. “That can’t be true. Cassandra never lies…” she said out loud. Her voice sounded monotonous and like a robot. Cassandra turned slightly, frowning. “You…” she began, but was interrupted by Ms Appropriation. “Cassandra, tell me. You never lie, do you?” Again, with the same monotonous tone, but the end of it sounded like a question. Ms Appropriation’s expression also looked completely calm, as if she knew what she was doing. She took a step forward towards Cassandra, smiling slightly. “You said I’d be accepted into a good university if I could use a pencil until the end of its lead without breaking the lead,” she continued, her voice growing louder, but there was another voice speaking these words. Luminous pulled out his staff, pointing it at Ms Appropriation.
Ms Appropriation ignored Luminous, taking yet another step closer. “You said I’ll find a boyfriend this month,” she said. Her voice was now being overlaid by the second voice, making it sound deeper than usual. She took one more step closer to Cassandra, whose face was growing whiter and whiter. “You said carrying a white handkerchief would bring good luck,” she whispered, reaching out to touch Cassandra.
“Are you saying they were all lies?” Ms Appropriation screamed the last words, to which Cassandra flinched and hid behind Shade. Ms Appropriation’s hand was left in the air. She looked at her hands. She started to laugh, a low, soft laughter at first, but it grew louder and louder by the second.
Cassandra whimpered, “I’m sorry…” from behind Shade’s back. Ms Appropriation suddenly stopped laughing, staring past Shade, at Cassandra.
“Don’t be,” she whispered.
“I can make your words come true, like I’ve always done,” Ms Appropriation smiled secretly to herself, bring her outstretched hand back. She giggled. “I pushed the bookcase onto Nineheart. I set fire to the science lab while Oz was in the room. I pushed Phantom off the building. He was the only one who took more than usual to suffer,” Ms Appropriation giggled.
Cassandra gasped, while Shade raised himself into battle position. Luminous got ready to cast a spell, the light from his red eye growing larger.
“You… You did all that?” Cassandra whispered, as if too shocked to believe her own friend did all of this.
Ms Appropriation nodded, a proud smile plastered on her face. “Cassandra called a curse down upon them. I was just making sure they got their just desserts. Cassandra should thank me…” Again, the deep voice overlaid her words, ending off in a drawl.
Cassandra pushed herself of Shade, crying at Ms Appropriation, “Why would you do that? Why?!”
A large grin stretched across Ms Appropriation’s face, and she cackled. “It’s because I’m your fan, that’s why,” she said, as if it solved all the problems in the situation.
Cassandra shrieked and covered her ears, wailing, “No! Stop scaring me! I promise I won’t lie ever again! Please forgive me!” With that, she rushed down the stairs, past Luminous, crying out loud.
Something black swirled around Ms Appropriation. From her, Shade and Luminous heard a mumble. “What…? Where am I? Who am I?” she mumbled.
Lily, from her safe spot near the door, cried out, “Look out! Something is happening to her!” Shade nodded, taking a step back, while Luminous scowled harder. Ms Appropriation’s voice was normal, but she looked panicked. “Did I really push the bookshelf… and set the fire… and dropped a brick…? No… It wasn’t me… WASN’T ME!” she cried out. She let out a loud shriek, and then collapsed.
In front of her stood the summoned Troublemaker, a mask over one of its eyes and wearing a top hat.
Lily cried out, “Look out! It’s the Two-Faced Troublemaker! Ms Appropriation’s other personality must have called forth this Troublemaker!”
Luminous grumbled, “Again! This is starting to get annoying, so let’s finish it right now.” Shade nodded. Then, the two of them charged to attack the Troublemaker.
Luminous shot Spectral Light at the Troublemaker while Shade teleported to the other side of the Troublemaker. Summoning the wind spirit, Shade used Spirit Claw. But alas, the Troublemaker suddenly disappeared. Luminous stopped, turning his head this way and that. “Where is it?! Where is that darn monster?” Shade looked around, and spotted it behind Luminous. Crying out, Shade jumped in front of Luminous just as the Troublemaker swung a large giant black fist. Shade took the full brunt of it. He grunted, while Luminous turned and backed away. “Fool! Ray of Redemption!” he yelled, summoning forth the white cross and healing Shade. Shade smiled, but refocused on the Troublemaker.
Charging forward, he summoned Spirit Trap onto the floor, causing the Troublemaker to be trapped. Nodding to Luminous, he summoned the earth spirit. “Bomb Punch,” he muttered, the earth spirit roaring. He continuously landed hits on the Troublemaker, as Luminous kept using Spectral Light.
Once the flame on Luminous’ eye turned purple, Shade nodded. Just as the Spirit Trap disappeared, Luminous summoned the large black and white sword. “Ender,” Luminous pointed his staff at the Troublemaker. It struck the Troublemaker, as its health depleted completely.
It swirled around, disappearing into thin air. Shade ran over to Ms Appropriation, checking her. She seemed unconscious, but otherwise, she was okay. Breathing a sigh of relief, Shade picked up the girl.
Lily walked forward. “Poor girl. She’s so stressed out over studying that she let herself be infatuated with Cassandra’s story,” the cat meowed sadly.
Luminous nodded, looking at where the Troublemaker disappeared. “And the Troublemaker devoured her mind while her guard was down,” he snarled. Shade stared at the girl in his arms, and sighed. Lily patted Shade’s leg. “Unfortunately, yes. When she wakes up, she’ll feel guilty about what she’s done. There’s no way out,” she explained. Shade nodded, accepting the fate.
Lily reached up and clung to Shade’s leg, however, trying to get his attention. “Let’s wipe this memory from her. When she comes back to her senses, she’ll be back to normal,” she tried to sound comforting. Shade brought her down to Lily’s level, to which Lily wiped her memory cleanly. “All done.”
Shade got up, bringing the girl down. “Let’s go to the hospital.” Along the way, they picked up Aran and Mercedes. Luminous filled them in on what happened as they moved. Once they were at the hospital, Shade allowed the nurses to take Ms Appropriation away. Before they left, however, they heard someone calling them.
“Guys! Guys! Phantom woke up!” They turned to see Evan running towards them. Out of the shock of finding out how Ms Appropriation was really like, they had forgotten about Phantom! They ran up to see Phantom already dressed to go. He smirked at them, waving. “What took you all so long?”
Evan ran up and hugged Phantom. The thief’s smile softened as he hugged the Dragon Master. Aran laughed, patting Phantom on the back, to which the thief fell on the ground, groaning softly. Once he got back up, Aran grinned at him. “So, did you see Hell or what? Was there Zakum in it?”
Phantom stared at her strangely. “Hell? Why would I go there? I’m not dead yet, Aran,” he replied back. He rolled his shoulders, wincing as he heard the cracks and pops. Aran frowned, scratching her head. “Because you missed the ground, of course! You miss everything, from my attacks, to Luminous’ critical hits, to Mercedes’ arrows, everything!”
Phantom stared at Aran for a moment, before bursting out laughing. Luminous sighed. “Much as you and I both wish for him to land in Hell, it doesn’t work that way, Aran,” he explained to the warrior. Aran pouted, but shrugged.
Shade walked up, hugging Phantom. “What took you so long to wake up?” Phantom groaned, slapping a hand on his face. “I wanted to, you know? But then someone started to scream and called the ambulance, I couldn’t suddenly sit up! Then Claudine stayed by my side the entire time, until you all came, then she refused to leave me alone, making a nurse sit with me. When Evan came,” he looked down at the boy fondly, ruffling his head, “the nurse left. Evan told me it was okay to press okay to revive, so I did.” He looked happy. Staying dead for more than one hour must have been painfully boring.
Lily, as her human form, stuck her head in. “Let’s go. I wiped Claudine’s memories, hurry up!” The six of them rushed out of the room, while Shade filled in the last two on what happened. They all hurried back to the Maple World, discussing the events of the day.
The next day, when they all returned to school, Shade got a call from Cassandra. “Hello?” he answered it as he walked with the other five to school.
“Shade, hi. Um, about yesterday… I’ve learnt my lesson. I’ll never lie again,” Cassandra told Shade over the phone. Shade smiled, chuckling softly. “Today is the last day of my Ghost Story Theatre; will you and your friends come?” Once Shade agreed, he put away the phone and got everyone into the second-year classroom.
Once they were there, Cassandra began, “Welcome! Then let Cassandra’s Ghost Story Theatre’s finale begin!” A lot of murmurs could be heard. Cassandra looked at the crowd around her. She bowed down, apologizing, “All the ghost stories I told you were false.”
Luke cried out, “What?! I couldn’t go to the toilet at night because of your stories!” Everyone laughed at him, even Luminous quirked a smile. Chang spoke up, asking, “What about the story about the crying babies?”
Cassandra shook her head, digging into her pocket. “That was not a lie. The source of the sound turned out… Hold on…” she said, pulling out a picture. She presented the picture to the crowd, who oohed and aahed at the picture of the kittens and the security guard.
Luke laughed, grinning. “So they’re sounds of the kittens being kept by the security guard! Pfft, that was nothing,” he said, looking a little relieved. Oz peeked at the picture, smiling. “So there’s no such thing as ghosts, right?” she asked.
Cassandra nodded. “Of course not! There are no such things as ghosts. They are make-believe, so don’t let them scare you!” she teased, while Oz laughed.
But Luke frowned, staring at the picture. “Wait a minute….Something about this picture is… off,” he pointed to a particular part of the picture, by the window.
“Isn’t that a person’s head?” he said. All the Heroes piled on top of Aran’s shoulders, peeking over Luke and Oz. Where Luke was pointing, there was indeed, a person’s head. Jane Doe, in fact. Everyone screamed, while the Heroes fell over. They froze, on the ground, and then they started to laugh, harder than ever. Jane Doe did look like a ghost like that! It became a joke among them, teasing one another with Jane Doe.
Until Evan spoke up.
“But in this picture, Jane Doe looks like she’s floating and has no hands?” he pointed out. Everyone stopped, turning to face Evan. He laughed sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head.
In his own dormitory, the laptop clicked at Evan’s face, stopping the video feed. He shut down the laptop, smirking. He had gotten his memories back, with the help of his own technology. Getting up, he took a picture from the printer, which displayed the old wing. He pinned it up onto the bulletin board on the wall, threading a red string through the pin.
He took as step back, examining his map. It all boiled down to those strange students, which he had pasted a picture of them in the middle. Their long absences were not explainable, but for some reason, none of the teachers seemed to care. Not to mention all this fighting. He was glad he managed to hobble into the old wing before them. He sat back down on his chair, studying the map.
So close, so close. He would confront them soon. When the cat was not around.