Week of Hell: Day 1
Location: Stark Academy, Dining Hall
Timeline: 11.17.2011, 0630-0910 hours local
Jericho and the staff had awakened the orphans, gotten then to the locker rooms and gotten then into sweats, socks, clean underwear and shoes before 7AM. They had had the girls do one another’s hair in business-like arrangements to keep them out of their face while Jericho, Bubbles and a few of the other faculty-parents got the final preparations in order. Even the littlest got bathed and cleaned up and as they emerged from the locker rooms into the sport auditorium, they found fresh, hot, food waiting for them.
It was bacon and waffles, syrup and eggs and fruit with juice, coffee and hot chocolate and Jericho, waiting. As the orphans helped themselves on paper plates and cups, Jericho sat them around her in the pull-out wooden bleachers and spoke quickly and softly, giving them The Plan.
Cat frowned as she listened to what Jericho had planned. She wasn't sure that it would be enough, she wanted them to lose everything, not just lose their cushy life here. She wanted them to never be able to hold their heads up because they would never lose the shame of what their lives had become.
Angel nodded, she could see the wisdom of the plan their headmistress had laid out, she of all people understood the cleverness of this kind of manipulation.
Brann nodded grimly to the plan. The punishment fit the crime in his opinion. It struck him as simple and devious, playing the payers against their worst enemies -- themselves. He knew he could abide by her restriction to let the payers be the aggressors. In fact, that was his preferred tack after learning Aikido. He wondered what she meant by "never let the monkeys know how superior you are to them."
He never felt "superior" to the payers save by virtue of his education and his character. In fact, he honed his character out of sheer spite. He enjoyed serving as the antithesis of their greedy, self-serving, shallow values. He enjoyed the idea now that he would be in a position to stand tall for those values -- represent exactly what the payers are missing. What many of them might never have.
Maus glanced around at the others, noting their expressions and smiled gently.
Once they had all eaten, the power went out, precisely (according to Jericho’s watch) “on time”. She said that would buy them a little time for everyone to get ready and the nurse attendants needed to get the littlest in the nursery and then get back to the hall by 9AM to be ready.
As they assembled, Rasputin Kord, the Russian and Literature teacher arrived with a bag, which he showed her. They both looked inside, shared a look that made them both smile and then off she sent him with the bag.
Then the other faculty began to file in, taking up tactically superior positions around the dining hall though not taking seats. Hulga and Ten-Men, the Navajo Marine, flanked each of the doors into the room and Summer, the Nurse and European History teacher who always seemed preternaturally happy, seemed slightly “down” and “disappointed”. But to make sure she wasn’t sending mixed signals, whenever an orphan noticed her, she had a bright smile a hug and a kiss for them.
At nine on the dot, the bell rang and by ten after, Payers began to shuffle into the silent dining hall. The breakfast buffet they normally had access to get their chosen entrees from was closed and suspiciously, the only implements out were soup tureens, soup spoons and bowls. Jericho stood at the head table, the faculty chairs were up on the table and she stood before clearly to indicate the faculty would not be eating breakfast with the Payers.
Like wolves, spooked, the early risers came in, stopped and peered about suspiciously.
Jericho gestured, once, for them to find a seat and her expression wasn’t at all forgiving. By 9:30, the dining hall was full and there was some murmuring going on.
Leaning against the wall Cat looked over at the Payers that walked into the room. Her eyes narrowed as she let them wander over each and every Payer that came in the room. Who hated them that much, who felt the need to make them pay just for being alive. Who needed to make themselves feel superior, unfortunately that last one was pretty much all the Payers. So really there was no clue in that particular thought, she frowned and continued to stare at them, her turquoise eyes as hard as stone.
And then as she watched them milling about, a few stood out. They looked... different... to Cat. Something about them, they weren't her tormentors, they were Payers she remembered being pretty low-key.
Cat's brow furrowed as she made careful note of which of the payers were off. She wasn't sure quite what was going on but she wasn't going to ignore her instincts on this.
Brann made sure to level a face like stone on the payers when they entered. He loved griffins and one of the things he worked on most was his griffin stare. He turned that stare soundly on Mike, chief of the bullies at the academy and something of Brann's nemesis, if only because Mike and his crew stole every opportunity to pick on the littler orphans. Brann stood over them and protected the Little Ones. What punishments he suffered in his life at Stark Academy came from drawing attention away from the Little Ones and on to himself.
Maus was also watching Mike, the look on his face was similar. It said "Chase me, please chase me!"
Jericho raised a hand and held it up until the murmuring died away and everyone was looking at her.
“Last night, while the resident-students were at dinner,” Jericho spoke, her voice musical and carrying throughout the entire chamber easily, “several people did terrible things and destroyed everything that the residential students owned.” You could have heard a mouse (not Maus) fart and it wouldn’t been loud, “And allow me to clarify by what I mean by destroyed. When I say this I mean that their Academy-owned equipment and furniture was destroyed beyond repair, their clothing- much of it provided by the Academy- was shredded and in some cases urinated upon. Their reference libraries and books were destroyed,” she paused and glanced at the floor purely for effect before panning her gaze across the Payers faces, “everything in their rooms was destroyed to such a degree that it cannot be salvaged.”
There were giggles.
“Jezzica Rosary and Jennifer Torey,” she called out, without looking up, “come stand by me during the remainder of this presentation.” When they were slow to rise and began rolling their eyes, Jericho said one word and it had a palpable force behind it.
The word made them both flinch, as if someone had almost but not quite slapped them and many of the young people in the Payer audience started in a similar way. Even the orphans felt some sort of wave, some sort of attack or charisma wash over them and splash over and drown the disobedience of the two girls and anyone even thinking in jest of following suit.
Maus' right eyebrow arched slightly. He'd felt that.
Quickly, silently, eyes downcast, they rose and hurried to her side and stood a little behind.
Jericho continued to speak as soon as they were in place and had assumed the appropriate submissive poses. If they had been wolves, she would have snatched then by their throats and shaken them until they screamed and urinated in submission and then allowed them to slink at her side where she could keep an eye on their misbehavior.
To the orphans, the metaphor was very clear.
On some dim level, the monkeys seemed to get it too.
“Everything, including the residential students, is legally the property of the Academy,” Jericho went on as if the event hadn’t happened. “That means those who have done this have committed a crime, punishable by law if we choose to prosecute and is definitely grounds for expulsion.” She spread her hands as if helpless and she sighed, “And yet, at this time we don’t know who has done this,” she said and the Payers seemed to sigh, though some of the smarter ones realized this wasn’t the punch line, this was a warm up.
“So,” Jericho folded her hands together and panned their faces, holding the word before revealing anything else, “in six days time you’re going to leave the Academy for Winter Break. If not before that morning at breakfast I have been given the perpetrators names and confirmed their guilt,” she raised a finger as she emphasized those last three words, “then I will be forced to expel all of you and you will lose all of your credit hours gained here at Stark.”
Instant bedlam and shouting.
She gave them exactly to the count of ten and then she took a deep breath. The girls behind her unconsciously took a step back and cringed, feeling something gathering around her. Dimly, it was almost as of the orphans saw a circling crimson cloud of faces and body part writhing in agony and terror seeping out of the area surrounding her, leeching from the stone to surround her before being blasted out with her next two words.
The glass in the windows set in the stone walls behind the orphans chimed softly as they resonated with the force of her voice, and whatever that wave of terror and instinctive obedience washing over and past them. The effect on the monkeys was different, because they had been the targets. Three swooned and several pissed themselves. They all stared at her, terror-stricken and now Jericho had dropped all pretense of hiding the fact she was upset.
And that what she was at now wasn’t as far as she could go and they had made her scratch the surface.
Even the family-faculty seemed a little surprised- stunned would be more appropriate- except for Betsy and Summer who looked rather pragmatic about it.
Maus' eyebrow went up further, having sort of seen something and sort of experienced it.
Angel was looking around the room, trying to read people, trying to see who was going to be trouble so she could warn Cat and Brann and keep an eye on Bishop.
Cat's eyes narrowed as she ran them over the different Payers. Her gaze fell on the ones that had stood out at her earlier, the ones who were different. She wasn't sure why they had stuck in her mind but they had.
Brann frowned with confusion at what happened. He heard the glass rattle but the Headmistress' voice did not seem loud enough to do that. He saw the payers visibly cringe and remembered last night, when he tried to pass the Mistress in the hall.
He passed it off later as a play of light but he saw a glint of red in her eyes beyond what seemed natural and the heat. He felt waves of heat from her and every fiber of his being knew it was not heat but the intensity of her rage. He watched the headmistress carefully and followed her to the payers. Something very strange was going on and he wanted to know what.
Maus also saw something different about some of them, the ones that were affected but not -quite- the same. He saw it differently, they were lighter, unweighted by... what was that? Guilt?
“Because it’s highly likely that the majority of you had some part in this,” she spoke low but loudly enough to be heard, “either knowledge of it and hiding that knowledge or assisting directly, you are as guilty to me as the ones who performed this vileness. For the next six day, this is your prison and you will be treated as such,” she told them. “Your meals will be gruel and water, served by your victims. You will not be allowed laundry, you will not be allowed calls to home and you will not be allowed use of your wireless phones and the wifi and the data-ports were taken down. The heat is being rationed so I would dress warmly and there is a limit to the hot water. You will also not be allowed into town and must remain on this island, which the faculty and myself will ensure to obey. And if any of you is stupid enough to go after a residential student over the next six days, they are being given permission to defend themselves against you even now as I am warning you.”
Maus looked at Jericho in shock for a split second before staring at her really hard, waiting for her to rescind that. When she didn’t, he looked at Mark Mateo, an old nemesis of his for the past several years. Mark was much larger, athletic, played football and had been trying to corner Maus for years. Maus had been getting really tired of running away to maintain Headmistress’ Rule and just one relished the idea of getting caught and ruining the larger boy’s aspirations for a football scholarship.
Cat's eyes widened in shock as she heard that last part. Normally when attacked by the Payers she took her lumps and walked off to heal without so much as shedding a tear. It was when they threatened those she loved that Cat came out swinging. She had never started things but she had always acted as the shield to those she protected. She hadn't been able to shield them last night and that was part of what had hurt her the worst. The look on her face as she let her gaze run over the Payers showed them just how worthless she thought they were, how beneath all of the Orphans they were. They thought they were better because they had mommy and daddy's money but they were lower than the lowest slug, they had nothing that they earned for themselves. They had to take and that earned them nothing but Cat's contempt and she let it show on her face.
A smile slowly spread across Angel's face. She was going to start carrying her bow with her at all times, just to freak them out.
Brann clenched his fists. The gloves were off but he remembered the Rule -- let them be the aggressors. He gave the entire payer class a look that said in no uncertain terms, "attack me, PLEASE."
Headmistress cocked her head and gazed at the Payers and asked in the deathly-silence, "Now, who's hungry?"
"For gruel?" a snarky feminine voice said, "As if."
"Then you will have none Melissa Thomason," Jericho said softly and gestured to the door with a flick of her finger. "Anyone who wishes not to have breakfast have my leave to return to your rooms where you will stay except if called out, or if you have to visit the restrooms. There will be faculty or residents on the halls at all time to ensure your," she smiled slightly, "'compliance'."
Brann nodded slowly. He was going to enjoy this. In fact he stepped over by the serving line, wanting to make sure he was picked for duty.
Cat stepped forward as well, the look on her face daring a Payer to speak or anyone to try and keep her from doing her duty to protect her family.
Angel was only a step behind the others, smiling pleasantly at the Payers.
Slowly, some got up and headed for food, some stood and crossed their arms and some went back to their rooms.
Jericho turned to the two girls, "Food or rooms, go."
They both headed for the food line, their tails between their legs and their heads down, both crying softly.
Then Jericho headed for the ones that were standing with their arms crossed, Mike was one of them. She stopped several feet away and said firmly, "You were given two choices and I know that even though that may be a stretch for some of you, you can count at least to five. I suggest that you make a choice of the two or I will be forced to make them for you."
"You can't hold us here, you can't treat us like criminals!" Mike told her, stabbing a finger at her.
"Kyort," she said softly and he was there, just like he had been there when Mike had tried to punch Brann before. Nobody saw it, he was just there, right next to Mike.
"Choose," he grated out, slightly shorter than Mike, he clearly outmassed him and Mike knew from their prior encounter Kyort was meaner than he could hope to be.
Angel and Brann, who were watching the encounter, seemed to see energies swirling about the two of them, Mike's much feebler and struggling pitifully against Kyort's much wider, harder, stronger energy. Kyort's felt like mountains and stone, odd eyes like those of goats seemed to swirl in an out of the maelstrom around him as he got angrier, his ears seemed to elongate slightly.
Cat turned her attention to the battle of wills currently being fought between the Payer and Kyort. There was no doubt in her mind who would win. It really wasn't all that much of a contest to be honest.
Angel's eyes went wide but she managed to keep her composure as her eyes slid from Kyort to glance around the room and see if anyone else had seen the same thing.
Brann kept a stony face only after years of experience dealing with payer bullying. He should have felt afraid but instead he felt curious and strangely, excited. Something inside Brann smiled with dark satisfaction at the sight before him and while the words "God help me" came to mind, he really did not want help. Whatever this was, whatever was happening felt… right. He dropped his gaze a second to reflect but then the action between Mike and Kyort picked up.
Maus was watching intently, his goggles having appeared from somewhere were back on his head holding his hair back and still, somehow, it seemed really bushy today. It was clear, from the way his eyes were focused and his expression, he was in full "observation-mode".
"Y- You don' s- scare m- me," Mike stuttered out and with a growl, Kyort's energy grabbed Mike's and crushed it out of existence, snuffing it like a flame. All at once, they could see nothing else, everything looked normal again. The smaller adult grabbed Mike and threw him over his shoulder like he would a sack of grain and trotted out with Mike squalling and kicking like an angry toddler.
"Rin," Jericho spoke and the Chinese teacher, who also taught Kung-Fu and flowed into place next to her.
The food line students had stopped to watch what would happen if they defied the headmistress and silent, wide-eyed, it seemed they began to understand. There were plenty of people that could manage them if they got unruly.
Rin stared at the defiant ones and his head fell slightly and he glared at them from below his brow, a wicked smile fit itself across his face as the slender and willowy took up a martial posture that none of them had ever seen before. Right foot out and pointed toe to touch the floor, left leg back at a forty degree angle to bear most of his weight, arms held relaxed in from with hands in knife-hand positions, ready to drive fingertips and hand-edges against bodies. His body was erect but fluid and swaying slightly.
As Brann and the two girls watched, water seemed to swirl around him, a waterspout with him at the center as he waited as a wave did as it crested, prepared to crash down on all before it.
Her brow furrowed again as Cat watched Rin. She rubbed at her eyes not quite certain that she was seeing what she was seeing. She looked over at Brann and Angel, wondering if they had seen the same thing that she had, but not opening the topic for discussion with the Payers anywhere around.
Brann met Cat's gaze and he knew in an instant he was not the only one who witnessed what happened. He felt a trembling in his muscles and warmth, as if the room felt too hot but he knew it was him. Seemingly of their own volition his eyes returned to Master Rin and the crest of watery power that he commanded with unfathomable ease.
Maus smirked suddenly and the "defiants" broke like a line of sticks before a flood and backed away before turning to find their way to the food line.
Rin assumed a normal posture, hands folded behind him, standing close to Jericho and watching them indolently. The water effect diminished into the background again as if nothing happened, as soon as he broke his stance.
Brann broke from his trance as he saw paying students file up to the trough for gruel. He fixed his "griffin stare" on any of the payers who dared to look at him. He then noticed small little details. While most of the payers struck him as hopeless, vile souls a few of them seemed different. He sensed something about them and he could not tell what it was. He focused on the task at hand. He had much to talk about with Maus later.
The "lighter" ones were at the back of the line, there were three of them and as they approached for their bowls, Jericho happened to be nearby and as they made eye contact he bowed to her. She recognized him without a change in face or tone, "Donnal Iolar (pr: EE-oh-laar)1." Donnal was tall and muscular but he wasn't built like Mike, because while he ran he also trained with Rin. He had curly red hair with streaks of blonde in it, stark as if they were white and his green eyes were like emeralds with the sun behind them, intense behind his large glasses. A “spit-curl” that seemed natural hung down the middle of his forehead and touched the bridge of his glasses. Scholastically he was neither advanced nor lazy, scoring habitually in the middle, his homework done but not stellar. His two friends who followed him here and he were like that; totally unremarkable, average children of filthy rich parents.
Maus, seeing them together and at the end, knowing them as he did and having never had a reason to deal with them outside of normal passing, wasn't buying it. His expression, muted as it was, said he smelled something odd.
Cat cocked her head to the side as she looked at the three of them. She never really spent any time with them so she didn’t really know them at all. She looked over at Maus, Brann and Angel with a raised brow.
Brann kept his eyes on the threesome. They stood apart from their payer peers in a compelling way. His instincts led him to to investigate but carefully, as he never met a payer that acted civil.
"Headmistress," Donall asked, one with a posh accent, "I understand why this is happening and I accept my punishment. Is it possible that I might I have some hot water?"
Jericho turned and regarded the young man for a moment, her lips pursed slightly. He didn't flinch or look away, he respected her deeply but he didn't fear her. She turned to Betsy who pulled out a large coffee mug, the kind they used for hot cocoa and filled it with hot water from the water heater set aside for such things.
The other two, a young woman and another young man, watched and waited patiently. As Jericho took the cup and handed it to him, she nodded firmly and received another bow. The other two, fraternal twins by the look of them, were rather striking. With black hair, natural sable with luster and quality that marked them apart, with widow's peaks that marked them of certain bloodlines in Europe, the pale-skinned pair were nothing like pallid or delicate. The young man was only two inches taller than his twins sister and both were athletic. Both wore their hair long, pulled back simply into ponytails behind them held back with indigo satin ribbon. Their features were finely crafted, they were both handsome and their eyes were as black as a moonless, starless night. She wore a thick-fabric dress in plain tan and soft blue, winter clothes one did work in, with hose and tough shoes. He wore pants of heavy denims and a long-sleeves shirt, the colors matching but opposite with his shirt blue and the bodice of her dress tan.
He bowed and she curtsied, in sync, and Jericho recognized them as well. "Theodore and Threnody Triescu," Jericho said, the Slavic syllables rolling off of her tongue cleanly. "Hot water as well?"
"If it-," Theodore began, "pleases you mum," Threnody finished, as they always did when they spoke together. They looked as if they wanted to say more but felt constrained. There were faint eye movements between them and Betsy, before Jericho could turn, had both cups drawn and sitting at her hand, placed there silently. She picked them up and handed them to the other two, by now the rest of the Payers were watching that these three got some sort of special treatment and there were frowns, looks that promised mayhem later.
Brann noted the reactions with a practiced eye. Payers were like animals and the plan was indeed for them to tear each other apart until the majority served the guilty to Headmistress Jericho to save their own hides. Why then would Donnal and these twins invite the wrath of their peers? It did not make sense. Hell, none of this made any sense but Brann felt strongly to watch these three. The same instinct that drove him to stand over the Little Ones nagged him now. Could these Payers be innocent?
No, not innocent. One look at Donnal and Brann knew there was nothing innocent about that boy. He could not pin it down and damn it, that bugged Brann. If he did not know better he would mistake these Payers for Orphans but how could he have overlooked them all these years?
Maus watched the two of them closely, seeing as how they weren't weighed down at all. He didn't know, exactly, what was happening but he was starting to get a glimmering of what it could be and in the meantime, he meant to use it as much as possible.
Cat looked over the exchange and signed to Maus, “What is going on here?” She was by no means stupid but she knew Maus was a lot smarter than her.
“Are you seeing stuff,” he murmured very softly, just so they could hear him.
Brann nodded slowly, keeping his tone very low. “Like the monitor, only with people here.”
“I’m not seeing... that,” Maus said, “but there’s something on everybody... I can see, I don’t know quite how to describe it, like baggage or something, they’re carrying around. Those three don’t have it, neither do any of us.”
Brann cast a glance at Donnal as he made his way with the hot water. He signed to Maus where the other girls could see. “I can see it, like they’re not as... ‘heavy’ as the others. They seem like us but how can that be?”
“I don’t think they’re like us, but they’re not like the other Payers.” Cat signed back as she frowned at the puzzle that they presented. “I’m not sure what I’m seeing, but I’m seeing something. They’re just different.”
Angel just shook her head, “This is all so...strange. But I’m with Cat, they’re... different.”
“I think we need to have a chat with them later,” Maus replied the same way.
“We might have to,” Brann cast his gaze over the resentful looks from other payers. “They’re not safe anymore.”
Cat nodded. “They’ve drawn attention to themselves on this one.”
“On purpose,” Jericho said softly as she turned away from the payers as they ate their paste-like breakfast and turned to her orphans. Clearly, their conversation hadn’t been completely private. Jericho motioned to the orphans to put the food away and disperse back to the auditorium for now, unless they had other duties that required their attention. “ She glanced at the four of them significantly before she turned back to watch the Payers eat.
“Busted...” Brann leaned to his friends as he turned to leave. “Not that I was trying too hard...”
“Only people I was trying to hide it from was the monkeys.” Cat frowned as she looked at the three Payers that were curious to her. “We should try and get them alone, soon. Before the other Payers go after them.”
“I’m actually curious to see how that would go down,” Maus said with a cocked eyebrow and a smirk. “I’ve seen Donnal in practice with Cascade and the twins do boxing and JuJitsu.”
“I’ve seen them around but I’ve never paid attention to them,” Brann paused as they reached the way out of the hall, “We’ve spent a lot of time wondering how they were different but what about us? I don’t know about you but this is totally new to me.”
“See,” Maus said, “I want to know how they’ve blended in so well we’ve never noticed them. This other stuff is important but.. this is like we’ve been infiltrated by orphans that aren’t. And I don’t like it.”
“That’s the immediate concern,” Brann agreed. “We need to know who-- and what-- they are.”
“And that, I think, will lead us to the other thing.” Maus cocked his head at all three of them.
“What are we that we noticed this oddity to them?” Cat mused as she gave Maus a single raised brow look.
“Like Maus said,” Brann thought back on the words. “We pin down what we’re dealing with in those three Payers and we’ll get answers about who or... what we are.”
“Want me to talk to Donnal?” Angel asked, they all knew she was better at getting information out of people then most.
“I think we should wait and see what happens with the Payers,” Brann offered. “Like the Headmistress said, they exposed themselves deliberately. They know they’re targets. I say we watch and learn. If we need to jump in,” he nodded with conviction, “then we jump in.”
“Okay so we should keep an eye on them,” Angel said, “If they put themselves out there to find out who did this to us, the least we can do is make sure they don’t get too hurt by it.”
“Agreed,” Brann nodded.
Cat nodded as well. “We’ll see how this plays out then.”
Agreed,” Maus nodded.
Jericho, watching them the corner of her eye, smiled slightly but didn’t acknowledge them.
1: Donnal is derived from Dhíoghail and means "to Avenge", while Iolar means "Eagle". His name translated means "Avenging Eagle"