The next few weeks seemed to go by in routine. Things seemed to be tense after the night in the Forbidden Floor, the group didn’t talk to each other much. They all seemed to pair off. Ali and Garrett didn’t seem to talk to the rest except for the occasional conversation in History of the Unknown World.
Ali had his class with Sor, but even then he couldn’t seem to bring himself to engage her. Rena spent most of her time with Sor, the two girls growing closer in friendship in the process. She had a majority of her classes with Bart but he didn’t talk much. In class, he always has his books open or writing notes.
During training, Bart was there early and stayed late. Practicing as if his life depended on it, well.. maybe not his life but he did train hard. He and Trevor would spent most of their time together in the dorm. Hope was usually there too, they had even got a foldable table for her to use as her desk. They would all talk some before separating to their desks to do their work in silence.
All and all, the group was distant from each other. Nobody blamed one another but there seemed to be this personal barrier that each of them placed to keep people from getting too close.
Soaked in sweat and sore, Bart trekked down the hallway of the dormitory . He had one of the hardest workouts he’s ever experienced. Walking up to his dorm room he expected to find Trevor there. Instead, sitting at her table was Hope. “Oh.” Bart was a little taken back. “Hey what’s up? Where’s Trevor?” Hope looked up from some blueprint she was designing.
“That’s a good question. I got out early so I figured I’d come here and hang with him for a bit but he wasn’t here when I came. I used the Hidden spare key to get in.” Bart plopped his bag and bow down on his bed. “He probably stayed late to get help with that Magical Remedies homework he was having trouble with.” Bart opened his wardrobe and grabbed his towel and an extra pair of clothes out. “I’m gonna hit the shower, be right back.”
“Mhm” Hope wasn’t paying much attention anymore, she was too engulfed in her blueprints.
Steam poured out of the bathroom as Bart re-emerged from it. He was now wearing a clean pair of jeans and a white T-shirt. His towel was in his hand as he continues to dry his hair. “Hey you have an extra band? I broke my last one now.” Hope stuck out her arm towards Bart while chewing on her pen.
“Cool. Thanks.” As Bart grabbed the thin black band off her wrist and put it around his Trevor bust through the door. He was panting hard as if he just finished sprinting. “You gu-you guys need to come with me. Now. The others are already there” Hope got up and sped out the door with Trevor.
Bart threw his towel on the bed and ran after them, slinging his quiver over his shoulder along the way. Trevor led them to the front of Dormitory 6 where a crowd was gathered outside of it all looking at something. Bart saw Rena, Sor, Ali, and Garrett already there in front of the group.
They pushed their way up to the front to meet them. “What’s going on?” Hope asked her friends as they came next to them. Ali looked at Bart and Hope. They looked down to see the lifeless body in front of them.
It seemed as if the entire student body and faculty were all on the lawn overlooked by Dorm 6. There lie a child, no more than 17, whose blank expression stared into the pale sky. Some students wore their nausea on their faces; others stood completely frozen, numb to the reality of what occurred. This much was certain: one of their peers, their friends, was gone.
“You need to clear this area now, hm? They do not need to see this.” Mr. O’Malley was one of the first professors on the scene. He waved for any other faculty to begin escorting the students back to their respective dorms.
“Left on the lawn...what kind of animal could do such a terrible thing?” Mr. Parkinson stood over his fellow Headmaster, flicking a cigarette between drags.
“Rodney, I assure you I have no idea what we are looking at. I need you and Vadoma to round up any faculty that have been near this building today hm. We have a 2nd murdered student in the course of a semester.”
Bart made eye contact with everyone in the group as if they were all came to the same understanding. Bart turned to Mr. O’Malley. “It was the same thing we saw that night, wasn’t it? The thing you told us not to talk about.”
Ted looked Bart in the face and placed his large palms on each shoulder. “We can only make assumptions for now, hm? Go on, run along. Don’t let it worry you.”
The headmasters and the remaining professors stood outside as paramedics came for the young student body. Among them was a fresh-faced professor by the name of Andrei Mort. He had attended the school as a Grim in his youth and was hesitant to say how talented he truly was.
Not many people knew what he did post-graduation - some say he was a traveling doctor practicing in controversial dark medicine, others that he went back to Romania to live a quiet life away from it all. Somehow he found his way back to Ethelwine, taking the instructor opening for Dark Magic courses.
Ali and Bart knew better than to argue. They both nodded at each other coming to another understanding. The group got a few feet away and started to split before Bart got all of their attention. “Guys.” He said in a loud whisper while looking towards the group of faculty members. He waved his hand motioning for them to follow him.
They made their way back to Bart and Trevor’s dorm, the group piling into the small room. Bart set his bow by his bed and put his hair up. “Well this isn’t good, is it?”
Rena crossed her arms and leaned against one of the walls of the room “Obviously not.” She rose an eyebrow “Do you think that creature from the forbidden floor had anything to do with it?”
“Aye, it’s right unbelievable!” Ali said while pacing around the floor, careful not to step into any of his friends. “It has to be that creature! But why? How did it get here??”
Hope plopped down on Bart’s bed. “This thing has already killed two people.” She sat there thinking as if putting something together. “It obviously didn’t expect anyone to be in the forbidden floor. That has to be the only way we were able to get away from it.” The group shifted uncomfortably. That hadn’t talked about that night since it happened. This was the first time they’ve all been together and talking since.
“Oh come on guys. It happened. We went through it together. Can we please move on with it?” Hope looked around in irritation. Another uncomfortable shift.
“Well...” Bart started. “I can say one thing for sure. It’s strong. I felt like I got hit by a truck when it sent me through the door.”
Sor sighed and ran a hand through her hair “So what do we do? O’Malley told us to not worry about it, but with that thing still out there I don’t think we can.”
“Well of course he did. That’s his job.” Hope said bluntly.
“Yes.” Bart stared at the palm of his hand. “But we know more than they do. Unfortunately, we can’t talk about it because of these new brands of ours.” He opened his palm to the rest of them, showing the thin, infinity symbol on the inside. Bart raised his eyebrow at Ali while doing this, giving him a small sarcastic smile to let him know he wasn’t blaming him. “So I guess that leaves us with a choice. We can let them figure it out on their own if they do figure it out. Or we can take things into our own hands.”
Rena bit the inside of her cheek in thought, Bart did have a point, they knew more than the headmasters did. Whatever this thing was, it needed to be found before someone else got hurt. She sighed and rubbed her temples knowing things could go south very quickly “Alright Winchester. What do you suggest we do first?”
Bart thought for a moment. “Well... we need a spot that we can safely talk about it. No need to risk breaking our oath thing. Ali, Sor, is there any kind of spell of sorts to make places or rooms bigger? I’m starting to realize why we never hang out here.”
“You really want me casting more spells at this point lad?” The room laughed. It was good to be together, and each moment brought that feeling back again. “We can always use the house! When I was little, I was a righteous terror if you can believe...Pap put a spell on the basement that turned it into any playroom I could imagine. I love that place.”
“Does he go down there ever?”
“Rarely. He likes that it’s my space away from it all. We should be fine.”
“Wait.” Trevor sat forward In his chair with wide eyes. “So say you want a console to play any video game on....”
Ali grinned crossing his arms ”Any console, any video game.”
“As much as I just love talking about video games, why don’t we get back to the subject at hand? Scary creature thing running around campus?” Rena sat on Trev’s cot with a raised eyebrow.
“Okay then.” Bart hopped off his desk. “Let’s head there then and we can continue this.” He grabbed his bag, bow, and quiver. The was a small rumbling sound that seems to come from Trevor. “Uhh... right. Can we pick some dinner on the way or is there a place that delivers? Or does your magic playroom make food appear too?”
Sor rubbed her grumbling stomach as well “Yeah food sounds amazing right now. I’m starving!”
“You lads will have to give me a bit of time to set it up.” Ali shouldered his bag. “That’s fine.”
Hope said as she got up off of the bed. “I can go to the library real quick and grab some books that might help us figure out what that thing is. Maybe Sor could go with me?” She looked towards Sor who nodded her head.
“Bart maybe you could go help Ali set things up. And..” she turned towards Rena. “You could go with them to make sure they don’t turn it into too much of a dude cave.”
The three girls laughed as Rena agreed. Trevor stood to his feet and nodded over at Garrett who stood as well. “I guess Garrett and I can pick up the food while you guys are doing that. We’ll grab some drinks too.”
“Perfect.” Bart grabbed a hoodie from his wardrobe. “Let’s all meet at Ali’s in around an hour.”
They all headed for the door. “Oh, I almost forgot,” Ali said. “Basement door is through the fence around back. Just walk in.”
Ali led Bart and Rena into his backyard. It wasn’t large, but it wasn’t small either. The wall of the house had a patio door on it and to the left of the patio door was a stairway that led down. He led the trio down there and stopped at the bottom where a door was.
“This will take a minute,” Ali said. “Nocht!” He spoke in a loud and clear tone. Bright blue symbols appeared floating in front of the door as if they were a hologram. There were 9 symbols in rows of three like a number pad.
“Athrú!” He said, again in a loud and clear voice. The symbol pad disappeared and symbols appeared in lines all the way down the length of the door. Ali took his hand and started moving it back and forth as if he was erasing a whiteboard. And sure enough, the symbols started to disappear as he wiped down the length of the door.
“Okay. Okay. Time to think.” He mumbled to himself. “We can change anything later on if we want so I’ll get what we need right now.” He started mumbling an enchantment under his breath as he wrote in the air with his finger. Bright blue symbols started forming as he wrote in lines all down the door. Bart and Rena watched with curiosity while they waited. After about 10 minutes Ali stood back up. He wiped a bead of sweat off of his forehead. “I’d say it’s done”
The door opened before them as the group stepped in. The room was incredibly lavish in a down-to-Earth way; the use of wooden floors and exposed brick were great touches. There was a fridge and a dining island with stools set up. There was an L shaped couch next to a fireplace on the far end of the room. What happened next though was the work of magic. There were areas that seemed to expand, and each one had tools and useful parts for each one of the friends.
Bart’s mouth fell open looking around the room. The room was way too big to be the basement of the house above them. “Woah is that an Archery Target Cube?” He looked towards one of the desks. Next to it was a large foam cube with 5 circular targets on it. A waist-high vase sat on the ground next to it with arrow ends sticking out of the top.
“Hopefully you guys like it...or at least see it useful.” Ali smiled to himself, proud of the work done.
Rena’s eyes wandered around the room in awe “You know you’re never going to get us to leave now.” She smirked as she continued to look around the room.
Bart set his stuff down at what he assumed was his desk. And walked around the room. “Hello?” There was a voice from up the basement steps outside. Trevor and Garrett walked into the open door carrying large to-go bags.
“Woah, dude.” They looked in aw around the room as they set the bags on the table. “You showed us the forbidden floor before showing us this room? We need to work on your priorities man.” Trevor gave a joking smile.
“Knock knock.” Hope was sticking her head in the door. She and Sor walked in with a few books in each of their hands. “Ali this is so cool. How did you manage this?”
Ali got some plates and cups and set them around the island. “Well, most of it comes from Pap’s own magic. I just use my imagination to create things and the room does the rest! Perhaps you could give it a try, bean? Think of something you’d like to see.” He spoke directly at Sor, who had set aside the books and was helping sort out the carryout boxes of food.
She bit her lip in thought moving around the island to peer around the room, noticing a lonely corner that was seemingly empty. She thought of an arrangement of potted plants and how they would look lovely as decorations, like the ones in her own room. Then in a split second, the plants appeared sitting on a small table in the corner of the basement. The greenery adding a touch of color to the room. She beamed at Ali unable to hide her excitement “This is amazing!”
The group started opening their food boxes and sat around the table to eat. “Guys!” Hope reaches inside of her bag and pulled out two pieces of paper. “They’re having a Christmas dance before break!” She put one of the papers in the middle of the table. “Sounds like fun right?”
Sor nodded her head in excitement “I’ve never been to a dance before, I wasn’t allowed to attend any when I was younger. Now that I can, I’m so excited!” She turned to face her roommate who was happily eating her food “What do you think about it, Rena?”
Rena shrugged nonchalantly chewing on a chip “A dance sounds pretty fun. Good luck getting these guys to go though.” She pointed her thumb at the group guys who were too busy eating to pay attention to the girl’s conversation.
Bart was on the opposite side of the table from the girls. He flipped a fry up into the air and leaned back, catching it in his mouth. “Well maybe one of them will have the guts to ask one of us.” Hope said softly now looking at Bart throwing another fry up for Trevor and watching it hit him in the eye.
Rena looked back and forth between Hope and Bart “Wait you want Winchester to ask you to the dance?” She asks quietly not wanting to bring attention to their side of the table.
Hope looked down at her hands trying not to blush “Well I mean he’s a pretty great guy, it would be nice for us to go together. I just don’t know if he’d want to go to the dance.”
Rena pursed her lips in thought, Hope is obviously interested in Bart maybe she can help her out. She turned and threw some fries in the guy’s direction getting their attention “Hey, this winter dance coming up, what do you guys think about it?”
Bart thought for a moment. “Well, I’ve never really been to a dance, unless you count watching one of the local crazy homeless people dance around the park like a mad man.” He shrugged his shoulders going back to his food.
Rena leaned back in her seat, “Okay so that’s a maybe from Bart? I think.” She turned her attention to the rest of the boys with a raised eyebrow “Ali? Trev?” She wasn’t sure if it was worth asking Garrett, he was indifferent about everything anyways. Sor looked up from her food, curiously waiting to hear what Ali had to say.
“Aye, you know I’m going. All of the prettiest girls in school in one room? Fools pass on that, yeah?” He held his hand up for Garrett to high five him only for the British boy to stare at him with raised brows.
“I...” Hope facepalmed at Ali’s answer to them. “We can talk about this later she sighed with a soft chuckle. “This was also on the announcement board. They released the schedule for half the season.” She pushed another paper to the center. “Architects have a bye the first week.” She said with disappointment. They all looked down to study the Stronghold schedule.
“Ooh, you guys are playing the Brutes first Bart.” Sor said happily. “Isn’t Ian on the team?”
Bart leaned back into his chair and tossed his last fry into his mouth. “I mean yeah. But I’m a backup so I won’t be playing. I’ll be in the stands with you guys.”
Trevor leaned back into his chair as well. “Yeah. Our team is pretty stacked this year too. I don’t think any of the starters are under their second year. Brutes seem to be in the running for the title this year.”
“Pshhh. The brutes are a right pile of shite. Hunters our score them by 100 I’d bet. Meanwhile, ole Garrett gets to cry real, authentic tears as the Grims get smacked around again...you do cry, right lad?” Ali smirked in the boy’s direction.
Garrett shrugged unaffected by Ali’s jab.
“Yeah well, I guess it’s good that Bart isn’t playing. That way he doesn’t have to get his butt handed to him in the second week.” Hope gave Bart a confident smile. Bart and Ali looked at each other, and then both busted out laughing. “Handed to me by who? The architects?” He was doubled over in his chair from laughing
Ali was on the ground in front of the couch at this point. “A loss?! Bean, if the Archs had to play a squad made up of statues and mannequins, the match would end in a draw.” The group all laughed in jest. It was a great bonding moment.
Rena shared a look with Trevor as the group laughed seeing Hope’s look of annoyance “I bet Hope knocks Winchester on his butt before the end of the first half.”
He smirked, happy with the attention Rena was giving him “I bet she will the first 5 minutes of the game.”
Rena threw her head back laughing “I’ll take that bet.”
Ali took a sip of his drink, before choking through a laugh. “A CHALLENGE!” He said, mouth still full of water. The group was hysterical. It was easy to forget they were meant to be studying.
Bart wiped a tear from his eyes as Hope’s face turned a slight shade of red. Her eyes narrowed but she still had a confident smile on her face. It turned from a cocky sweet smile to a ”don’t test me" smile. “If he keeps it up it will be in 30 seconds”
Bart’s laugh faltered. “Yeah okay Hope. Whatever you say. Who knows, maybe. I will get put in. We probably won’t need all our starters playing that game anyway.”
“We will see,” Hope said calmly as she leaned back in her chair and twirled her blonde hair in her finger.