Arcadia High School: The New Arrivals

Paige Turner

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It was 10:25 p.m., at the corner of Mi’ihen Avenue and Tyree Lane. Despite the presence of magic in the world, it was not so different from a traditional city street. The only sound which permeated the Arcadian streets were the low hum of magic orbs which acted as street lamps. The occasional growl of dragons or air-bus engines as they flew around the sky, though with each passing minute, these noises became less common. Although the buildings, walls, lampposts, and other structures had a more natural, fantastic feel to them, they didn’t really seem entirely unusual. Just another coat of paint, really. For Paige’s sake, it either made navigating the streets easier and more challenging, as depending on circumstance. Arcadia had no centralized style with its architecture, so areas and districts were easily identifiable. Specific landmarks, however, sometimes seemed to blend together, as much of it appeared to be whimsical nonsense.

Paige was writing in a book as Michael walked down the avenue. His attire was much darker than his school uniform, which was especially noticeable whenever he walked into the beams of the streetlamps. A long, well-worn purple raincoat, “complimented” by faded jeans and off-white sneakers. Atop his head was a baseball cap with the words “Fazbear Entertainment” on the front. Surprisingly, he wore a handkerchief around his neck. I guess he doesn’t need the one I got. The sneakers don’t blend well into the shadows, but at least the rest of him will fade in easily. Paige had worn black jeans and a dark blue hoodie with the hood up for this express purpose; the style was not her forte, but it would help in the long run.

“Good thing you came early,” Paige said, “especially since I had to go to the store a second time since you responded so late.”

“Sorry about that…” he replied. Mike looked uncertain, as if he were considering whether to leave or not. “Are we really going to break into the school?”

He must be struggling to grasp what is happening. Oh well, he’ll realize it soon enough. “That should be obvious.”

He put a hand to his head. “Are you sure? Why did we decide to meet three blocks away?”

“Well, it would look pretty suspicious if I just hung around the school for half an hour in dark clothes.”

“I guess that makes sense. Uh, what’s that book you’re writing in?”

“Nothing important,” Paige said. Mike seemed content, if unsatisfied by this response. “Here’s your stuff.” Handed to him was a pair of gloves and the second handkerchief. She had bought it for him, after all. “Let’s go.”

As they walked down the street, the school’s architecture peeked from over the street. Its arrogant grandeur during the day was gone, now replaced by a reserved isolation. Many a building, from churches to business offices, looked relatively stunning with their dimly lit windows and magical luminescence. Some abandoned structures even had moss which glowed in the dark. Arcadia High, however, was completely dark inside, almost as if there was a deep abyss residing behind its many arched windows. Its larger-than-life entrance door seemed so sealed off that it was practically part of the wall. Paige picked the lock in about a minute, and the two of them went into the bleak confines of the lobby.
 

Touko Fukawa

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It was easier to get in by the second floor.

Especially if you had the keys.

She jumped, and grabbed the edge of the now-retracted fire escape.

Easily pulling herself up and over the metal-grated platform, she gave the fire door attached to it a try. Locked from the inside. Why did she expect that? Paying that no mind, she stepped up onto the handrail, before leaping to a nearby classroom's windowsill. Digging her nails into the wooden frame, she yanked it open in one swift movement. Jackpot. No skills necessary, here.

Except, well, athletics.

She slid through the window like a cat through an open door- using the momentum to close it behind her without even thinking about it. That was easy. She'd had much more trouble getting into apartments before- so the practice had helped her quite a bit. If it had come to it, she would have simply broken the window, but thankfully she didn't need to be so crude. Now, the fun really started.

Based on what she recalled, there was a janitor or monitor of some sort on call at all times within this building. That would be an issue, but not a major one. If she was quick enough, it would be no issue at all- and if she wasn't, well, this wasn't a big job. It was simply data collection. Not like there was a dead body to argue over. Breaking into lockers was child's play.

That in mind, she approached the door of the classroom- opening the lock with her keyring, and easing it open with an ominous creak. It was Lyon that was the real issue- befitting that name, his wealthy parents had his house guarded by a pack of security guards like it was a goddamn prison. She would have to figure out his schedule out of the home to even have a chance. Confidence was important, not stupidity. And unfortunately, it really seemed like the best way to get that information was a locker raid.

She'd memorized the location and number perfectly, in advance. The first floor, by the janitor's closet.

Staying by the side of the halls and keeping her footsteps light, she made her way through the pitch black hallways; their only illumination that of dim street lights in the distance shining through the occasional window. In this lighting, and her outfit, she was scarcely recognizable anyway. Another thing that emboldened her. With her mop of hair down from its braids, in a simple tank top and shorts so short she could savor every last mark on her left thigh (with the bonus of quick access to the holster on her right), and the manic glow of excitement in her eye, it should have been clear to anyone she was a wholly different beast than their librarian. If they even thought to connect the two at all.

With a grin, she slid down the banister on the staircase, too.

No sense in not having fun while she was here after hours.

Her nerves were sharper as she neared the locker itself. Not only would she need to spend some time here to sort things out, it was close to the Janitor's closet. And he was one of the ones that had a habit of staying after hours- something she had confirmed last time, along with the location of the locker. That made this easily the most delicate part of the operation. Get her information, and get out. Perhaps if this were one of the other lockers, she would have time to idle, but...

She was about halfway through forcing open the lock with a pair of scissors when she heard the distant snippets of conversation.

Shit.

All at once, she leapt and scrambled, ending up somehow on top of the flat rooves of the lockers, in perhaps a two foot space between their top and the ceiling. Staring crouched in the direction she had heard the conversation, she looked like some sort of hideous gargoyle, with her mess of hair covering the majority of her face and hanging down. They were voices she recognized, in the back of her mind. She couldn't put names to them, but she could say one thing- they were certainly not the voices of any faculty members.

Other students.

She hadn't thought she'd be in good company for her crimes today.

Restraining herself, she managed to keep her voice down to only a breathy laugh.
 

Michael Afton

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“The basement door is this way, right?” Paige said as she and Michael turned the corner and walked into the hallway. Fukawa, crawled up in between the two-foot space between the lockers and the ceiling, stared down at them like a barn owl, watching them steadily grow closer to her.

“Should be. I can’t imagine it would be anywhere else.”
Michael replied, tensing up as the darkness of the hallway enveloped them. It almost made it pointless to disguise themselves with how hard it was to see. Worse, he couldn’t help but feel a presence within the hall, something practically looming right behind the both of them. The thought alone made his hands shiver with a coldness the gloves Paige gave him couldn’t protect.

“You nervous?” Paige asked, hearing him let out a muffled groan behind the handkerchief around his neck.

“Of course I am! I-it’s dark and we broke into the school!” He whispered, eyes darting around the hallway.

“Relax. The only person who should be here is the janitor, yeah? Easy enough to avoid.”

“I mean, I guess. What if someone else is here and DOES see us, though?”

“Seriously? It’s pitch dark in here. I can barely see you.”

“I still think we should use the flashlight.”


Paige rolled her eyes. “Yeah, and let him see a lit hallway when it’s supposed to be dark? It’s easier to keep the light off.”

“If stumbling down the hallway feeling for a doorknob is easy.”

“You complain too much.”
Paige replied before taking a step to the side. She grabbed Mike’s arm to drag him with her as she ran her hand along the lockers beside her. They shook, rattling like snakes, enough so that Fukawa could feel them approach through the cold metal. Her giggling grew louder.

Mike stopped, limbs locking up. If Paige could see him, she would have seen he looked like he had seen someone get stabbed in the stomach.

“What is it?” She asked.

“Did you… hear that just now?”

“The creepy laughter?”

“Yeah.”

“Nope.”

“You know, when you said the janitor wasn’t a ghost, I didn’t think I’d have to take that idea seriously ever again.”

“Did I say that? I forgot.”
Paige said as they finally walked past the sitting Fukawa.

The librarian could barely keep still. With how on-edge the boy was, she could only imagine the sheer terror on his face if she hopped off the lockers and snuck behind him right then and there. She imagined him jolting and jumping up into the air like a chaotic bolt of electricity if she just slithered behind him and whispered softly into his ear. It’d be adorable, if nothing else.

His girlfriend, however… she couldn’t see her face, but she cringed at her voice. Perhaps it was the way she spoke, with her words laced with smugness, loaded with a sense of indestructibility. Or, perhaps more likely, it was the simple fact that it was because of her interruption that prevented her from opening up Lyon’s locker. She had been planning the heist for days, and it was only ruined by the unknowable interference of a teenage tomboy.

Michael and Paige finally stopped at a lonely large door in the middle of the hallway.

“Here it is. You know what to do, right Night?”

“Open Mike Night, dude.”

“I refuse to call you by your full nickname on principle alone.”


Michael had to admit that the pun was pretty freaking bad. He walked over to the edge of a nearby row of lockers to peer by them and down the rest of the hallway. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll keep a lookout, Book Lady.”

Just as Paige got onto her knees to pick the lock of the basement door, she turned around with a confused and very disappointed glare at Michael.

“Huh? It’s Mage, Night. Mage. ‘Book Lady’- what?” She replied, sounding absolutely offended.

“S-sorry! It just… that was the name before! It came… out of my mouth.”

“Well, shut up. Stealth.”
She said before returning to the door.

Fukawa’s crimson eyes glowed brightly in the dark. A far grander heist had been planned for that night, it seemed.

What a terrible coincidence! Perhaps it’s time for a little payback.

Her tongue rolled out like a snake as she let out a small, but audible cackle. It reverberated around the hallway, the sound seeping through their disguises and directly into their minds.

“Well…”
she said, voice low, growling, “I wasn’t expecting company.~”
 

Paige Turner

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In that moment, the darkness of the room felt especially blinding.


“What- who’s there?” she whispered, looking around slowly, cautiously. A cold sensation crawled up her forearms, her sense of touch growing numb. Very little light seeped into this hallway, so little that it was hard to tell if her eyes were closed or not. She could identify Michael’s silhouette, which had huddled closer to her for safety. There was also enough light to see where the lockers started. However, there was not enough to see the other end of the hall. Not enough to identify where that voice came from. “Where are you? What do you want?”


“I could ask you the same thing, book lady!”


And then she looked up. Two rings shone a dim red, dreadful spotlights catching the two students in their escapades. Whoever or whatever possessed those eyes sat with legs crossed atop the lockers. Its form was difficult to make out, and impossible to identify. It looked human enough, but considering how magical this world is, it could be a pixie or a doppelganger or any other absurd creature that she had never seen before.


It hopped down from the locker, and paced around the duo. Its voice, with the edge of a knife and the elegance of a hatchet, held a mocking tone that felt particularly oppressive. “You’ve got a lotta nerve, coming here without permission. Don’t ya know you can get expelled for trespassing?”


Michael shivered beside Paige, a small distance separating the two. He had started stuttering, but nothing coherent came from it.


I can’t honestly blame him. Paige took a breath and responded. “Of course… of course we do.” She stared straight forward, trying not to look at the figure despite its inability to see her staring at it.


“So what, you just wanted to break a couple rules, huh? Huh, huh?!”


Paige remains silent.


“Hellooo! What are you doing here?”


“U-u-u-uh…” Michael, hunched over with his hands held to the chest, tried to gather his thoughts enough to produce a complete sentence. “W-we came here… t-to, uh-”


“Not you, Open Mike Night! I’m talking to little miss tomboy over here!” Michael backed away, putting Paige between them. She found that the eyes had shifted to her, and felt a few beads of sweat rolling down her cheeks.


“...We’re here to look for something.”


“Ooo, what kind of something?”


Paige hesitates once again. How much control do I even have? If I tell them, the plan may be busted, but if I don’t, then-


She feels something press against her neck. It was cold, pointy, and metallic, and it felt like the slightest bit more pressure would send it straight through her throat. She had no say in how this conversation unfolded.


“You’d better stop cutting up, before I decide to join you!”


Reluctantly, Paige looked away and muttered “We came to enter the janitor’s closet.”


The figure took the metal away from her neck, walked back, and gave a restrained fit of laughter. “That’s all?! If you wanted a delicious glass of bleach, the convenience store is right down the street!”


Responding with a nervous laugh, she tried to look this… thing in the eyes. “Heh… well, I’m... not that edgy. But we have a good reason to investigate.” This is a terrible idea, Paige thought before pushing through her fear. “I’m guessing that… you also… have some reason to be here? ...Right now?”


“Rightamundo, Book Lady! I’m also looking for something tonight. But I can’t leave witnesses, you know. It’s bad for business!”


Suddenly, an idea came to mind. One that might get the duo out of this predicament. Putting forth as much confidence as she could muster- not much, but hopefully enough- Paige turned completely toward the voice. “Well, if we are a problem for you, then perhaps we can strike a deal.”


Michael turned to Paige, violently shaking his head as if to say ‘What are you doing? You’re going to get us killed!’


However, the stranger closed their eyes, and it almost looked like they crossed their arms. “Interesting… You’ve got guts to give me an offer. Alright, spill the beans!”


“The offer is simple. We won’t tell anyone that you were here, even if we get caught ourselves. In exchange, we ask you to do the same, and also refrain from injuring us.”


They opened their eyes, a skeptical glare shining in the dark. “How do I know you won’t just rat me out to the police the instant you get out of here?”


“Well, that would make it easy for us to get caught, wouldn’t it? It may make them wonder why we were around the school so late. Depending on how tonight goes, I don’t want to give more incriminating evidence if we can help it.”


“Wait,” Michael whispered, “w-what do you mean… ‘if’ we can...?”


Paige bent over and quietly replied within his ear. “Don’t worry about it, just play along.”


A low hum rang through the hall as the unknown individual contemplated. Finally, they responded. “Okay, I love a little drama anyway! You better watch out for Mr. Janitor, though, he’s a crazy one!” And before the duo realized it, the stranger was already gone.


Michael stood there, looked at his companion, with the faintest hint of concern on his face being visible through the black of night. “Can we trust that thing?”


“I’m not sure, but it won’t do us any good to worry about it. Let’s head on.”


As Paige walked ahead, hand to the lockers, he gave a heavy sigh. “This isn’t very good for my heart…”





Eventually, the duo made their way to the janitor’s closet. Pale blue moonlight shimmered through a single window, bathing the closet door in an eerie glow. It was just a normal door, like any other in the building. However, the idea of what lay behind made its white paint feel like a bright facade. I’m going to enjoy ripping the blanket off this case.


Paige kept an ear out, checking if anyone was moving nearby. It was silent. She pulled Michael away from the door, in case someone was inside the closet and was able to hear them from within. “That creep told us to watch out for the janitor, so he’s probably inside. We should think of a way to lure him out.”


“But how do we know he isn’t patrolling the halls, and we just didn’t run into him?”


She shrugged. “We don’t. But he’s not a security guard, he’s a janitor with a secret. So if he’s only here to guard what’s in the closet, he’d be better off just standing out front or guarding from inside.”


Michael slouched over, arms folded. “I don’t know, it seems pretty dangerous…”


“Come on, Night, we need to get in there.” Mike was still slouching, clearly not understanding how futile it was to complain in this situation. They had already broken in; to backpedal would be to have broken the law for nothing. His emotions were getting in the way of rational thinking. “Look, I get it. You don’t want to get caught and expelled. But we need to keep going. If we don’t push forward, the strange things I told you about will never get resolved. So you need to buckle down so we can get to the bottom of this, alright?”


He looked away, though it was hard to tell through both the dark and his low-tipped ball cap. Eventually, he gave Paige a side glance. “Okay then. What are we going to do?”
 

Touko Fukawa

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In one swift motion-

She stabbed, and wrenched.

The locker didn't so much pop open as shriek like a car crash as she pried the lock completely off, tearing a hole straight through the metal. It was an uncomfortable noise- and she didn't like that it needed to be done, but beggars couldn't be choosers. She'd need to be swift, considering that in the distance, she heard some noise in response- perhaps her allies, perhaps her enemy. Who was to say?

"Jesus, what the fuck's-" The sound of someone in the distance mumbling. She'd need to hurry it up.

Flinging the door open, she made her inspection. Its innards were about as much of a mess as she would have liked to make its owner's. Papers and homework strewn about like a fucking typhoon had hit it. What a slob- maybe he needed the maids at school, as well. Made it difficult to get what she wanted to do done quickly. A shame.

"Well... st th- ...oor's..."

She shuffled through the papers rapidly, grasp eventually landing on what looked to be a small planner. School provided, of course. It was meant to be an assignment notebook, but as she flipped through it, it became clear he was like any other student in the school- it really just contained a menagerie of different things he was doing. Mentally, she took down a few dates and places- Saturday, the coffee shop downtown. Next Tuesday, the mall. There were similar others marked down for the next month or so too, which she burned into her brain.

"Hey, do- ...ee that...?"

Flinging it back to where it was, she rummaged about the rest of the locker. He hadn't left his phone here, which was a shame, but to be expected. However, he had left a few fun things- a watch, some thin chain necklaces, and some sort of older music player. They looked somewhat valuable. With a smile, she slipped them into her sleeve.

"What... what is it...?"

Her work done, she elbowed the locker shut, though it was pretty much worthless as a gesture. The thing was just scrap metal at this point.

Footsteps rang out through the halls, faster and faster, louder and louder. Like her heart, racing faster and faster.

"Might want to start running, you two! I'm outta here!" came her voice, raspy and harsh like a snake, as she glanced towards the door she had seen the two breaking into. She punctuated this with a laugh, which she made as quiet as possible. Sadly, that was still about the volume of normal conversation. Not that she waited long enough to even acknowledge what their little crime was, barely giving the door a glance as she made her way in the opposite direction.

The only pause she made along the way was to slip the valuables in through the vents of another locker down the hall.

And so her footsteps, growing faster and faster, disappeared up the stairs.
 

Paige Turner

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The sound of clashing metal had caught them both off guard. Michael, in particular, jumped out of his skin with a gasp, his flashlight clutched close to the chest. It was as if someone dumped a crate of aluminum cans out onto the floor. Paige quickly grabbed her companion by the arm, dragging him behind the corner of another hall. After all, it would not have mattered where the janitor was if he could hear that obnoxious racket anywhere near the closet.

“Jesus…” Mr. Jeffers could be heard from within, swearing under his breath with that shaky, suspicious tone of his. As he came out into the moonlight, his thin frame looked both elusive and fragile. His hair was ruffled, his shirt untucked, and his face was worn from the work he does every day. The janitor pulled out a light, closed the door, and hurried down the hall, completely missing the intruders planning to invade his personal space to investigate the loud clashing noise.

Watching after his shadowed form as he walked away, the duo snuck over to the closet and checked it out. It had not been locked. “Well…” Michael said, “at least the door’s open.”

Paige opened the closet, moonlight peeking past the open door into one corner. From what it looked like, nothing seemed particularly special about the closet that Paige didn't notice before. Although, just like last time, the lightbulb hanging from the ceiling was off, even though the janitor was just inside. Perhaps that was for a reason? Of course, Paige thought, it wouldn’t really help if he saw the light on from down the hall. Michael seemed to think the same, as he turned on his flashlight and shone it inside.

Immediately, the light revealed ruffles in the back wall, like it was made of cloth. Putting her hand to it, the cloth gave way a bit. “This is a curtain,” Paige said. “I get it… I thought it was weird that such a shallow closet would use shelves on the side walls, and not the back.”

“So he just… stands behind the curtain all day?”

“Well, what else could it be? Let’s check it out. I’ll go first.” Paige pushed the curtains aside, stepping over a low wall of janitorial supplies in the process. Michael kept the door open and looked about for anything he could possibly use to make a quick getaway, keeping an eye and ear out toward the dark hallway.



Dimly illuminated in blue, what lied behind the curtain was the most stereotypical stakeout office Paige had ever found. A small, grey, L-shaped office desk sat squarely against the left corner. A short rolly chair was pushed away from the desk. About ten to twelve large paper coffee cups sat along the far wall, the scent of ‘AsteriusBucks’ hanging in the air. They were complemented with a couple bags of fast food and several pack of crackers in a trash bin. Against the right wall were a pillow and sleeping bag, crumpled up as if to inefficiently conserve some space.

But most notably, there was a computer monitor on the desk at the left wall, with some image radiating the blue light in the room.

“Hey, Night. Come over here.”

While Michael was stepping over the supplies, Paige was taking a look at the monitor. Several images of some unknown room were opened in separate windows, and wherever it was, it was as dark as anywhere else in the school. There were some shelves, it seemed, but she did not see anything of note.

“Huh…” Michael was getting a good look at the footage. “I... don’t know where this is.”

Paige looked around, and noticed a cable running up from the computer tower and into the left wall. “Hey, that cable… Isn’t the basement on the other side of this wall?”

“I think so. Do you think…?”

“Yeah.” Paige rested her hand on her chin. “This might be recording the basement.”

“Yeah, maybe. Kinda odd, though, especially with it locked. What could he be-”

He froze, eyes as wide as a river, face as pale as a ghost. His glare toward the screen could have cut through steel.

Paige gave a worried glance. “What? What is it?”

Michael grabbed her by the shoulder and jabbed at one particular window of footage.

“W-what the fuck IS that?!”
 

Michael Afton

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Michael’s finger wavered over the monitor, pointed straight at something barely perceptible in the darkened blue room of the office and equally blackened basement. At first, Paige almost thought that Michael had gotten spooked again over nothing but a blurry image of a shelf.

That is, until one of the shelves started to move. It lumbered forward, its form murky within the static of the camera footage. It moved to the camera, each step making its legs visibly buckle. Yet, somehow, it kept shambling and keeping itself above the ground, like each stomp was being lifted by strings and then set down by a clumsy puppeteer.

As it approached the camera, Michael could see its head was buried within its hands. It couldn’t possibly see where it was going past those grotesquely-built hands, with fingers wide and claw-like, as if to tear at the very fabric of reality around it. He couldn’t see its body, but he could see… blood. It had to be blood, covering the creature in blackened ink from the top of its spiked hair to the bottom of its torn-up shoes.

“W-what is- is that a…?” Michael stammered, voice soft.

Then, the creature’s hands fell away as its head settled against the wall underneath the camera. It looked up, suddenly seeing the motion of the camera sliding back and forth in the basement room.

“Oh m-my god…”
Mike whispered, gasping.

The creature’s face looked pallid in the camera’s footage. Its skin had almost entirely rotted off, and Mike swore he saw flies buried within its cheek and eyes. The eyes, its small, pin-prick eyes glowing silver in the darkness, gazed up into the camera, gazed into the two teenagers staring back at the creature in the basement. The same black ichor coating its body oozed out of its open maw, where something… meat-like sat in various sizes of viscera within its jaws. But amidst all of the gore, the flies that ate at the corpse, and the ghastly illumination within its twitching eyes, something about the monster struck Mike.

“He… he looks like a… a…”

“A teenager…”
Paige replied, her voice soft.

Suddenly, a new voice, harsh and snake-like, interrupted them.

“Might want to start running, you two! I’m outta here!”

Footsteps. They echoed throughout the halls outside, fast, sprint-like, desperate.

“He’s coming back!” Michael whispered, his voice a hiss, but he couldn’t move. Not while that creature was looking at him.

“Come ON!” Paige hissed back, giving his arm a hard tug. Michael almost tripped as Paige pulled him out of curtain-covered office, his leg snagging the curtain before letting go. It flourished, like it was waving to them, urging them to flee through the darkness as the duo rushed out of the door.

They exited the room before Paige suddenly stopped. She shut the door, flinching as the close echoed throughout the hallway. She pulled out her lockpick and jammed it into the door, her movements rapid, shaky even, as she worked at the lock.

“Go go go go go go!”
Michael urged, about ready to completely bolt from his spot next to the lockers. The footsteps boomed around them, the keys hanging off of Mr. Jeffers belt ringing about like the bells of the damned, growing ever louder, ever more piercing, as he descended upon them through the darkness.

He could leave now, he realized. He could run now and leave her to her fate. He didn’t have to do this; he barely even knew her!

Yet... his legs remained locked in place, unmoving, until Paige gave the word.

“Got it! Go!” Paige said before whirling around, and with her word, Michael sprung like a rabbit, or a jack in a box, and ran with her down the hall. They didn’t stop running, not until they opened the massive gates of Arcadia High School and ran underneath the statues of gargoyles and griffins that loomed above them as they finally stopped on the very edge of the island that the High School sat upon.
 

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There had been a break in on the school last night, between 10:30 and 11:00 pm. Jeffers had told her the morning she had arrived that the school became unusually loud, than more than once he had to dash around the undead hallways to chase after footsteps, whispers, and the shrieking noise of destruction of school property – one of the lockers had been teared apart, with some of its contents incriminatingly scattered near the scene. Lyon's locker, to be precise.

That leaves the biggest suspect out, but brings a few others to picture. Colling's gang, from 3rd "C", a long-time rival of Lyon's group. Rudy and the other cheerleaders, who last month received a nasty prank on their own lockers after rejecting Brad. Paul from 2nd "F", one of the kids Lyon himself steals from every other week. The library prank this same week. The list goes on.

But Jeffers barely brought the locker's incident this morning. Instead, most of his usual stuttering was wasted on proclaiming someone had broke in on his closet, being convinced the back curtain covering the security PC was too out of place. Normally, he takes the time to flatten its folds as neatly as possible, in order to fool people to think it's a wall. When he came back from one of his patrols, not only it had "a million folds" (on his own words), but the job was so sloppy it even left a few inches uncovered for the right wall.

Besides that, no other reports. No missing school items, or revolved archives, nor broken apertures.

So, someone broke in to mess up with Lyon, but also to peek into Jeffer's quarters. Was one of those a distraction, perhaps? If the objective was targeting Lyon, then it wouldn't make sense to mess around with the closet. The other way around sounded better: Lyon was an easy target, had a lot of enemies, and breaking a locker would make plenty of sound to distract a cowardly janitor into leaving the hidden desk.

Who would possibly be interested in the hidden desk?

There was one suspect that came into Amanda Waltzer's mind immediately after Jeffers ended his report: Michael Afton.

His head was stubborn, his resolve unbreakable. No amount of mind tinkering could take away the inhuman connection he had for those hellish machines his family worked with. This was a fact she had learned to live with, and at this point driving him away from the basement was a monthly routine she even scheduled on advance.

"Monthly" was a keyword. She had just dealt with him the other day. How could he get his curiosity back so quickly?

And for that, at nearly 15 minutes before the first bell, she had assembled a reunion with the only suspect she could gather at this hour.

The morning sun rays from the recently opened window glimmered all through her office's desk and onto the wall shelf on the other side of the room, it being covered with books and archives she barely revised anymore. Across her desk, separated from her with the wall of light, sat Akira Kurusu, the only nerd Michael hanged out with that bothered to show up at school on a timely manner. Like usual, his eyes didn't need to distract themselves in order to avoid contact with his professor’s, and his face showed a resilience most students could only envy at in situations like this.

And yet, his anxiety was so obvious it made her skin chicken up.

"Do you know why we're here?" she said, cutting the silence.

"The assignment due next monday?"

"I suppose. Have you run into any problems doing it?"

"Thankfully, no." He's lying. "Afton helped me." Mentioning Michael made his anxiety suddenly spike, but it quickly went back to normal.

This kid was too obvious.

"How was it working with Afton?"

"Good, I guess. He's so much better than me at the subject though." Not a lie.

"Alright, I'll go straight to topic then. What do you know about last night's break in? The janitor informed the administration this morning that someone had messed up with a student's locker."

A cold wave ran through her spine, signaling another sudden spike of anxiety on the kid, this time stronger and more lasting.

He didn't answer, and for a moment, his eyes shifted away from hers, towards the window. Several different thoughts ran through his head, one flowing into the other, but she couldn't discern any of them from this distance.

Amanda waited until his confidence came back. She could just make an excuse to his first period's teacher if they ran out of time.

After a few long seconds, he discreetly gulped. "I... do know about last night". Honestity. "I overhead a few students talking about it, but I didn't pay them that much attention." A half truth.

"And you didn't report it?"

"I didn't believe they would actually do it, and I was busy with something else." Another half truth.

"That's a serious breach to the school's honor, and a punishable misdeed, Mr. Kurusu."

His eyes widened a little.

Enough playing around. "Such an event could get you expelled in a moment, and I'm pretty sure you know that too."

Another anxiety spike.

"But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The last thing I would want is for one of my students to lose their life's opportunity over a silly, although grave, mistake. And I know you're lying about not knowing much about last night."

"Are you trying to bribe me?"

"You're quick – no need to explain myself then. You tell me what you know, and I won't report you to the principal."

He let out an exaggerated sigh, and relaxed his posture a little. "So, instead of getting me expelled, I sign out someone else for it."

"Pretty much."

Once again, his eyes drifted away as his thoughts started dancing on his head. His anxiety diminished, but that cold wind still coated his presence.

Their eyes met again. "And what if I lie?"

"Are you the kind of person who would lie in the face of a professor?" Yes he goddamn is.

The school ring took out his turn on the conversation, its loud noise permeating the room. Once it ran out of energy, she continued. "Don't worry about that, I can talk with your professor if needed."

It took him a moment to respond. "I don't know who broke in last night. They were guys from 3rd year, but that's all I remember." A blatant lie.

Now it was her turn to let out a sigh. There weren't that many people who would circle around her arguments like this, but those few who were, were a pain in the ass. This kid wasn't even good at it.

Time for a more direct approach.

She stood up from her chair, and circled towards Kurusu, who flinched slightly at the gesture, and she put her hand over his shoulder.

"Now tell me, Mr. Kurusu, how do you know about last night?"

Flashes of an after school afternoon crossed through his –and in turn her– head. He was with Touko, the librarian, both spying two other students from behind the main hallway entrance. His source? A girl on a cap (not a student of hers) and Michael Afton himself.

She knew it!

And just as it appeared, the flashback on his mind faded.

"I already told you," he said, following up on their original conversation.

"Yes, you did. And I believe is getting late." She let go of his shoulder.

He stood up himself too and tried getting away, but she interrupted his walk to freedom with another comment.

"One last thing." She grabbed his wrist and brought him back to her. His body froze in response, every tendon under her grasp as tense as steel wire. "I do not appreciate being lied like this, Mr. Akira Kurusu. From now on, you'll only talk the truth with me, for in this battlefield, you are nothing but a mere soldier at my command."

She let him go. "Have a nice day."

Waves of icy panic giving place to vibrating confusion and then shifting back to cooler auras emanated from him. It takes a little while for an order to drill itself on someone's mind, but eventually he went back to normal. His real usual self, devoid of anxiety and filled with empty thoughts, unlike the persona that entered her office a few minutes ago.

"Thank you. You too."

He exited her office, only the sound on his phone's ringtone and his steps filled the thick air of the room.
 

Michael Afton

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Michael Afton couldn’t get an ounce of sleep last night. The moment he and Paige had separated, he had gone to his car parked on the far side of the Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria parking lot, hands still shivering and his legs wobbling with every step, and then drove the rest of the way home in an almost delirious trance. All the while, the image of the undead teenager with the flies consuming its face trailed him like a spectre. Each attempt to close his eyes once he laid down on his bed only brought the gruesome image further into clarity.

It took all of his might not to just call in sick for school. After all, who would believe him? He’s already known as a delinquent, if one was to brutally understate what he did. Anything that came out of his mouth would just be more reason to not trust him. So, with darkened bags underneath his blue eyes, he put on his school uniform, lifted his backpack, and set off back onto his commute to the city for the school bus-ship.

As he drove along the highway, he couldn’t help but think back to where he and Paige parted ways after fleeing the school. After calling up a taxi-ship to get them off of the island the school was built on, they sat in silence for the trip back into the city, and once they finally reached the ground, they simply turned away from each other without exchanging a word. How could they, after what they saw?

No wonder that door was locked,
thought Michael Afton.

His journey to the bus stop was uneventful, save for the increasing amount of anxiety pumping within his chest. The school bus-ship only gave him an even more nauseous feeling as it carried him up, up towards the blue sky above before submerging in the darkened clouds forming around the school that suffocated it and obscured it from the city below. The suffocating feeling didn’t dissipate as the students on the bus-ship clambered out, with Michael leaving last so as to avoid the uncomfortable, predatory stares that always followed him throughout his school day. As he exited the bus, he noticed the bus-ship driver, a crustacean, staring at him with its long, outstretched stalks of eyes, its head cocked to the side. Michael stared back, confused and unsteady under the alien’s suspicious gaze. The bus-ship driver let off a low chitter, almost like a broken alarm, which was more than enough for Michael to hurriedly pace to the entrance.

He stopped just short of the iron doors of the castle. He gazed up at the building that towered over him; it almost looked like a mouth that threatened to swallow him whole. He felt rooted to the spot, the anxiety within his chest now spreading throughout his body until it locked up his joints and tightened his muscles like a robot slowly powering down.

What if Mister Jeffers saw him? How the hell was he going to keep his cool in front of the man who’s keeping a camera in the basement on a literal zombie? How would he know if the man wasn’t onto him?

Oh god, he thought, oh god. If he found out, he’d tell the principal, or his teacher. He’d tell somebody, and once that happened, he’d be expelled, and all of the last few months would be for nothing. He’d be on the street, the manor his own father wanted him to have once he grew old, the manor his whole fucking family was going to live in, would be sold to some disrespectful despot who’d “renovate” the whole thing, or even worse, be left to rot until it became like a tomb, or some other place where only the dust like to live in. At that point, the only place he’d have left to go to would be back to jail, because who else would take him in?

Who would want to? Who’s left to take care of him? Who’s left to even care about him?

His thoughts settle back to Paige. He recalled her questions, comments, her desire to have him join her for her heist. Despite it risking everything, despite her barely knowing him (or even worse, knowing all there needed to be known about him,) she still wanted him with her. It felt… weird when she asked that, and not even just because she seemed to conjure up memories of him that he had never experienced.

He realized he never really had someone put that much faith in him before. The thought alone calmed him down, and settled his mind for him to come up with a plan.

He hardly knew what time it was, but whatever it was, he needed to call Paige. They needed a plan of action for this, before someone found out what they did and really made their lives hell.

He stepped into the bustling hallway and walked through school, searching for Paige. When he didn’t find her, he ducked into a relatively quiet section of the school, with few students around, and pulled out his phone. He dialed her number: 124-160-0160.

“Come on, pick up, pick up!”
He muttered to himself as he slid the phone up to his ear. He hung his head low, his baseball cap covering his intense, fearful expression on his face.

“Are you busy, Mr. Afton?” Came a familiar voice from behind.

Amanda Waltzer…
Afton thought. Her voice sent odd chills up his spine.

He turned around, still holding the phone near his ear, the dial-up of the Nokia beeping incessantly.

“Would you mind a moment? There’s something I’d like to discuss with you on my office. But feel free to finish your phone call, if you need.”


“Ah… thank you, Miss Waltzer…”
He said, glancing to the side, “but can you… leave me be, for a moment? So I can make the call?”

“Don’t mind me. I’ll be waiting for you on my office, then.”


She seemed to give him a snake-like smile before turning around to walk away from him. Before she did, her eyes seemed to flash something foul, like a golden lightbulb short-circuiting before managing to gain control of itself. Those stares of hers creeped Michael out more than that of any other teacher, if only because it seemed to follow him everywhere he went.

The moment she seemed to be out of hearing, he re-dialed the number, only to be dismayed when it came up with nothing. What the hell was going on?

He looked down the hallway where Miss Waltzer had gone down. It felt… empty, once he realized he was the only person left standing around. He remembered her order: go to her office. He could refuse, but if he wanted any longer trying to take a dead call, he’d be even more trouble. Who knew what Waltzer would do with him if she got an excuse to expel him?

Left with no choice, he dashed to her office.

She was setting up her laptop on her desk when Michael entered the room.

“Oh, I wasn’t expecting you this soon. Please, take a seat.”
She replied, taking a seat behind her desk.

“R-Right…”
Michael replied, slowly sitting down in the chair opposite her. He tried to hide himself behind his cap.

“Alright, I’ll get straight to the point. Why did you come to the school last night? There’s no need for excuses - I already heard everything from Mr. Jeffers.”


“W-what?”
He exclaimed, his eyes widening in shock and fear. Oh fuck, he thought, fuck!

“He informed me of the incident. You sneaked up into the school with another girl. I want to know why.” Her expression, stone-faced and uncaring, was unmoved by his endless anxiety.

How did he find out? How the hell did I fuck this up? Michael thought.

“M-Miss, please, I… you don’t seriously think I’d do something like that, right?”
He said, his teeth chattering from the amount of lies spilling out of his mouth, “I mean… you know me, right? W-why would I…”

“‘Why would you,’ yes, that’s exactly what I need to know. But don’t worry about me.”
She leaned closer to Michael from her chair. “Administration won’t hear a thing. You have my word.”

“Won’t hear a word…”
he repeated to himself. It seemed to calm him down, if only a little.

“I… you know the rumors, right?” He replied, backing up into his chair as the teacher leaned closer. He felt smaller in her presence as she stared at him with serpent-like eyes. “I just… I heard about them and wanted to know if they were real. Honest! I d-didn’t hurt anybody, I swear. Jeffers didn’t get hurt…”

It took her a moment to respond. Something seemed to stiffen about her. “What rumors, exactly?”

“Y-you know… the stupid ones. The ones no one but stupid me would want to actually check…”


Her expression loosened up a bit. “Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“Why s-shouldn’t I be?”
He muttered, his demeanour darkening underneath the shadow of his cap.

“It’s a good lesson to learn. When you do something you’re not proud of, you shrug it off and try to fix your mistake. Do better next time. If you dwell too much on it, you’ll end up drowning in your own self pity.”

He cringed at her words, but she could tell not a single one of them got truly absorbed. She could see in his eyes, distant as they were, that he had entered another time, one only a little while ago, something one couldn’t ‘shrug off,’ or ‘fix,’ or ‘do better’ with. To him, those words might as well have never existed, for they meant nothing to him or to anyone else.

She snapped her fingers in front of his face. “You still haven’t answered my questions.” She stated, a bit irritated.

“W-wha…”
He stammered.

“The rumors. And why you followed up on them.”

“I… just got curious. I wanted t-to know if they were true.”
A half-truth.

“And those rumors may be… ?” She said, encouraging him to finish the sentence.

“... Liquid running underneath the door. People say it’s from pipes, but… I wanted to know for sure.”

“I see.”
She paused for a bit, her eyes drifting away, but soon they found themselves back onto Michael’s. “Did you find it to be true?”

He opened his mouth to speak, but something stopped him. Why would she ask him that question? If Jeffers told her everything…

“Y-yes… it was just pipes.” He said.

“I see. Well, there’s one last question, before you can return to your failed phone call.”
She crossed her arms, and leaned back in her chair. “Who was the girl accompanying you?”

“... How’d you know my phone call failed?”

“You came here pretty fast, but that’s beside the point.”


“Y-yeah…”
he said, eyeing her underneath his ball cap, “and I… don’t know what you mean.”

He couldn’t let Paige fall with him. He’d fall, but not her. She didn’t deserve it.

She paused her game a bit, observing his reaction. When that didn’t bear anything, she said, “Your friend didn’t want to ditch you out either. Kurusu, I mean.”

He snapped his head up, revealing his widened eyes. “A-Akira?”

“Yes. He knew about you and your friend’s plan, and confessed it this morning. I suspect that’s why he skipped class today. However, he didn’t want to talk about you specifically, if that makes you feel better.”


He looked like she had just shot her. He promised not to tell anyone, Afton thought, and he…

“I… I see…”
he whispered, voice low, trembling.

“So, will you tell me who your friend is?”

Michael… kept his mouth shut.

At the lack of response, she sighed. “Alright, I think that’ll be it for today. You may go now.”

He visibly relaxed before getting up out of the chair. He didn’t dare look back at her as he left the room.

He had to find Paige. He had to get her out of here before the wolves catch her too.
 

Paige Turner

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“Are you going to check out those books or what?”



Touko was glaring at Paige, who had been caught loitering at the front desk while gazing off into the distance. She hadn’t even put her books down yet. Snapping back to reality, she replied: “Oh, sorry, I was thinking.”

The librarian muttered some unsavory remark under her breath. “...second time… can’t even think…” Having noticed that Paige simply put the books on the table without response, she gave a side glance with narrow eyes. “What… no smartass remark?”

“Sorry, your free trial has expired. You’re going to need to cough up your dignity to continue this service.”

With a sigh, Touko picked up the books and writing their numbers down. As she did so, though, it seemed as if she was a bit on edge. Well, she was always on edge- it was her defining trait- but even more so right now than it was the last two times they talked. Her hand clutched the pen so tight, Paige could have sworn it was going to break, and she seemed more stressed than annoyed.

“Hey, you look as sour as a grape. You okay?”

“H-huh?!” Caught off guard, Touko’s hand slipped and etched a thick black line through some of the numbers on the list. She growled. “Look at what you made me do!” She tore the sheet off and started rewriting all the numbers.

Dude, I was just making sure you were alright. Paige took a bit to control her irritation, then asked again: “I’m sorry, but are you doing alright?”

“That’s none of your b-business! I know your type.”

What the hell is going on-

“You just want to stir up trouble in things that aren’t your concern. You’re more of a brown nose than a common housefly. I’m not letting you drag me into your whirlpool of drama!”

And just like that, Touko turned back around and continued checking out the books. Paige just stood there, not really wanting to continue the conversation right now It was unclear to her whether that was one of the best or worst experiences she’s had at school so far, but it was certainly something alright. Lunch was almost over, so when the books were all checked out, Paige said her farewells and left for class.


. . .


Third period was boring. Mike had been trying to call her the whole time, but she put her phone on silent after the first call because she was in class and multiple calls would make things suspicious. That was the only interesting thing that happened during class, though, and fourth wasn’t looking to be much fun either, so Paige receded back into her thoughts for the duration of class.

...It’s so strange. The way it looked, the way it moved; it was so different, so unreal. And yet, given this world’s pension for magic, I completely believe it exists. I guess it’s cause I’ve been here a couple weeks. Is that thing some deformed mutant, and was it born that way or transformed into what it is now? Or is it some failed lab experiment, artificial life gone awry?

Well, I’m not gonna take that. Already in too deep, and there’s not a chance on the Vegas Strip that I’m gonna sit and be expelled for some pathetic scandal. Besides, if that creature escapes, it might damage the school, and that could get the whole place shut down for a long time, if not permanently. Like hell I’m gonna let that happen.

As for Jeffers, though-


“TURNER!”

Snapping back to reality, Paige felt a sense of deja vu as Mrs. Mitz Frasnier was staring straight at her. A couple students were snickering, to her chagrin.

“Get your head out of the clouds and explain to me what the error is in this-”

“You forgot to mark a negative sign somewhere in the middle, so the answer skewed way into the thousands.”

“Hmm.” Mrs. Fraznier gave her a skeptical look as she turned around to the whiteboard. “Yes, Jack added by accident because he forgot to mark the 215 as negative…”


. . .


As soon as the bell rang, Paige swam along the current of students leaving school, this time trying to flow on out of the building entirely. Rumors had circulated all day of the heist they did, so she knew that it would be best to leave as soon as possible. Good thing literally everyone tries to book it out of here every day.

As she neared the school’s iron doors, she saw a shadow from the corner of her eye. Michael, in his ball cap, rushed over from down another hall to catch her before she left. "P-Paige! I... sorry, I-I was calling a lot today, umm... I wanted to catch up to you b-before you left!"

“Dude, I was in class. Don’t call people in class. What is it?”

“Oh, er… it’s, you know…” His skin was especially pale, like he was actively allergic to vitamin D. He had bags under his eyes, and was sweating profusely; he doesn’t seem to have gotten much rest.

The hallway was starting to clear, and Paige had already made a point to get out of school as soon as she could. This chat would have to take place somewhere else, somewhere where people couldn’t hear, or at least wouldn’t care to listen. “Alright, but I’m hungry. Let’s grab some grub. Got any recommendations?

“Ah, well… there’s this local noodle place downtown that’s pretty good, if you l-like that. Um, there’s one popular stand that has good burgers…” Michael said, an unconfident smile forming on his face. “Then there’s, uh… the place I work at. Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzaria. It’s pretty cool, actually! It has talking robot animals.”

Paige stood with her mouth agape. There’s no way this is for real. After a bit of awkward silence, and with Michael’s smile beginning to fade, she replied: “Okay. Alright. We’re going to get pizza. This, I’ve gotta see.”

"Oh! Good! You'll like it, hopefully. I know the way!" He trailed forward, a bit of pep to his step, while Paige followed behind with her arms crossed.


. . .


It took them fifteen or so minutes from the bus stop closest to school to get to the restaurant. Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria had two giant windows surrounding the big metal door at the front, and none anywhere else. Atop its front was a neon sign with the restaurant’s name, as well as depicting what one could only believe was the eponymous Freddy himself: the head of a brown bear in his black hat and bowtie smiled out into the open sky

“Here it is,” Michael said with the faintest grin.

It was hard to look into the windows due to the sun’s glare. All she could do was look up at Fazbear’s cheeky grin.

This is actually happening.

“Are you impressed?” He walked over to the door, pulling it open with a firm tug. Singing, chatter, and childish laughter billowed out from the doorway. The building was a deafening echochamber fit for youth. Reluctantly, Paige followed him inside.

The checkerboard floors and cartoonish decorations, combined with the sound of children, all set off Paige’s signals at once. It was as if this were some forbidden place where only parents, kids, and employees were allowed; the rest were not welcome. She noticed a couple parents glaring at them, even. It was not an atmosphere she’d have expected to endure this evening, especially given the recent circumstances.

This might have been a mistake.



“So. This is where you work?” Paige asked. It then suddenly occurred to her that this is, indeed, where Michael works, and she had a hard time holding back her uproarious laughter. A snicker slipped through the cracks nonetheless.

Michael didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he wasn’t even fazed at all. He just smiled like it was the best job in the world. “Heh… yeah, I do. We should grab a seat, follow me!”

“A-alright,” she said, calming down a bit, “let’s go get our food.”

He shuffled a bit down one of the halls while Paige followed suit. They passed through several families and coworkers, a couple nodding at Michael in acknowledgement as he walked past. With each step, the singing grew louder. With each stride, the cheering grew brighter, until eventually they had reached the dining hall.

Numerous rows of tables and booths lined the room, draped with multi-colored fabric and dyed with pastel colors. Most were filled with parents and children, only serving to heighten Paige’s sense of displacement. A disco ball, glittering from the ceiling, was surrounded by a bunch of balloons which had detached from their chairs and tables, and they would hang there until the helium eventually escaped.

The biggest attraction- the stage- was round, circular even, and large enough to hold probably five or six people side-to-side across both sides. Unfortunately, though, it was shrouded in a red curtain, and a sign sat in front that read ‘Sorry! Freddy and the Gang are out for vacation, but they’ll be back soon!’

Paige snapped her fingers. “Dang it. I guess that means they’re under maintenance.”

“Yeah…” Michael, despite working here, didn’t seem too distressed by this fact.

He pointed to an open booth near the middle of the room. Paige proceeded to sit at the far end of one side, laying her legs across the rest of the seat as if she were relaxing in bed. “So. Let’s get talking.”

Michael adjusted his cap, slouched over on the opposite end of the booth. Even had a smile on his face, though that didn’t last too long. “Well, uh… I wanted to talk about the, ah… the break-in?”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“It’s bad, Paige. You gotta know th-this is serious, right? I-I mean that thing… it’s just down there.” He planted his face in his hand.

“Of course I do. Something needs to be done about it. It could cause a lot of havoc if left where it is.”

“No wonder the j-janitor was so nervous. H-how long has he had that thing locked up?”

“Probably up to about a month, since that was the last time the basement was accessed by a student. Considering he had a bunch of stuff for staying up late, I’m willing to bet he’s been tracking that thing for a while now.”

“Y-yeah, no kidding.” Michael said through gritted teeth.

“We should try and gather more information about it. Something may turn up.” Paige slumped a bit in her seat. “Of course… I’m not actually sure where to go from here…”



They sat there for a bit, wondering where they could find a clue, when Mike suddenly jerked up with a gasp. “I remembered something. He… The janitor knows. He knows we did it.

A sense of anger rose within Paige. This couldn’t be real. With one eye peering from beneath the bill of her cap, she said: “How certain are you about this?”

“Pretty certain. My… my teacher told me. She said he told her about it and she knows it was me.”

She had locked the door before they left, and even though they almost got caught, she had made almost certain they didn’t get seen. Michael had a bandana on, and she kept her hood up the whole time. I thought we were blended into the shadows rather well, how could he have known?

He continued: “A-Akira told her about it, too…”

Akira? Akira, Akira- “Oh come on, that Koromatsu kid?!”

Michael laid his head on the table. “Kurusu. And… well, that’s w-what she said.”

“Did she call you to her office or something?”

“Yeah…”

“What does she know? Tell me.”

“She… knows I was involved. She also knows you’re involved, but… doesn’t know your name. She also told me t-that Jeffers told her everything.”

Michael’s teacher knows he was involved, and also knows Paige is involved, but doesn’t know her name. Jeffers saw the two, and she apparently double-checked Michael’s identity through Kurusu. Hold on a moment, something isn’t right…

“She… she scares me. She said she wouldn’t rat us out to the administration if I told her everything…”

Paige stiffened as an idea started to form in her head, much like a ball of light appearing within a sea of darkness. “Why not?”

“I… I don’t know.” Michael lifted his face so that she could see it. “I… didn’t tell her anything about you.”

“So you’re fine for now? No suspension, or detention even?”

“Seems like it… Dammit, I d- I don’t like this. She isn’t going to the principal… is she?”

If what the bullies said is true… “Michael, that doesn’t sound right at all. This seems very suspicious.”

“It does?”

“For instance, she didn’t punish you, even though she knew you broke in. Just a simple talking to, not even a detention? I know high schools are more lenient than they need to be, but that’s just silly.”

“Well, I guess, but...”

“Also, she said that the janitor told her everything. So, why would she bother Akira if Mr. Jeffers told her everything?”

“I... “ He turned silent, frowning.

Paige sat for a moment, hand on her chin as she worked through her skepticism. “Now that I think about it... why didn’t the janitor tell anyone else that we did it if he knew it was us, or even if he had his suspicions? In other words, why were you called by your teacher, but not by the principal?”

“Maybe he doesn’t want the principal to know?” He slumped over, as if recalling the monitor on the desk, and the monster that laid within its pixels. “Because then we’d… we’d tell the principal what w-we saw.”

“But then why didn’t your teacher tell the principal? Why would Jeffers confide in anyone if he was worried about getting found out?”

“...Maybe… he...” Suddenly, he froze.

“‘Maybe he’ what?” Her gaze bore into him, drilling into his mind as to reveal his thoughts.

“...Maybe the teacher d-doesn’t want anyone to know either.” Michael brought his hands to his head, practically blown aback by this revelation. “Maybe sh-she…

“Maybe she knows.”



For a second, there was silence. Then Paige’s expression lit like a light, as if a jigsaw puzzle had clicked into place. “That’s our lead.” She sat up in her chair, gesturing her hands to help her focus. “I’ve been thinking about this all day. The janitor’s really skittish, and he may not even know anything else about the monster. Plus, I think we’ve learned as much as we can from the closet, and the odds of us getting back in are slim. I think it’s about time we check on your teacher’s homework.”

“My teacher’s… homework?”

Paige just sat there for a good second, hoping that Michael would get the point.

“...You w-want to dig up stuff about Miss Waltzer?”

“Is that her name? Yeah.” Thank god, I could’ve died right here if you were that dense.

“That… oh God.” He shook and shifted in his seat, avoiding eye contact with his companion. “I… how do we know it’s possible? Like… how can we get anything on her?”

“Hmm…” Paige put her hand to her chin. “Well, we can’t be sure she’s actually doing anything wrong right now. So let’s start with standard info, and work from there.”

“Y-yeah… standard info…”

“...You know what I mean by that, right?”

“Maybe?” His voice was hesitant, so definitely not.

“Easy to access info that we could find by just asking anyone.”

“Ah… makes sense. ...Wait, so… maybe some records on her? Like in the library?”

“That’s, uh, less than standard, but a good idea nonetheless. Actually… I’m guessing you wouldn’t get much of a response from people. So perhaps we can divide up accordingly.”

Michael tilted his head, cupping it in one hand. “Divide up…?”

“I’ll look for info about the teacher that everyone knows by asking around, particularly cause I know nothing about Waltzer. Meanwhile, you go look for her record and see if there is any useful information inside.”

“Ah, okay. Yeah, I can… do that.” He took a deep breath. “God, I… if she finds out about this, we really are screwed.”

“Well, let’s plan for that later. I need more details first. But for now, we need to tread carefully.”

“Careful… right.”

Paige leaned on her left arm, right eye peeking from under her cap. “And I mean the ‘leave school ASAP, come to school as close to the bell as possible, and try not to be seen by staff’ kind of careful.”

“I have class with her, though. Sooner or later, she’s gonna… try and stop me, maybe.”

“Hmm, that’s definitely an issue. We need to work that out, then, but I doubt she’ll try and talk to you again tomorrow.”

“I hope so… Well, I h-hope it all goes well. Don’t get caught, you hear?”

Paige smirked at her companion. “You got it.”

They ordered pizza from a man in a bear costume, with Paige snickering like a child, and after they ate, they separated on their way home.


. . .


It was the early morning, a hearty Tuesday with dew on the grass and a sun mostly obscured by the buildings on the street. Paige found herself double-checking the stuff in her backpack, as she normally does in the morning on the way to school. To be fair, it was a tad redundant to do so on the school bus… ship… thing, but that really didn’t concern her too much. She had her books right now, and even if she didn’t, she knew the current material well enough not to need them.

Truly, the only reason she cared was for one in particular. She pulled out a hefty tome out from the pack- easily the largest inside, with no competition besides chemistry. The cover was orange, with pictures of metal pathways and a forestful of wooden beams adorned with giant metal gears. An ocean of sand was depicted as swirling and flowing below it all, imagery that, Paige figured, would remind most in this strange world of Govermorne.

She opened the tome to a new page and took out a pencil. This page, as with many others before it, bore numerous signatures that read “Paige Turner.” She erased one of the oldest-looking signatures and wrote a new one in its place before putting the book back in her pack.

As the busship pulled up to Arcadia High, she stepped out and stared at the building. There’s a scandal going on, and that's so much more interesting than the magic behind it all, she thought. There’s something odd with that picture.

“Excuse me.”

Paige looked down toward the entrance and saw an old woman with wrinkly skin and tall heels staring at her, walking ever closer. She hesitated to walk any closer to this woman, particularly because of her piercing eyes: eyes that stared at your soul, eyes that tracked your every movement, eyes as cutting and cunning as a snake’s. However, running away simply wasn’t an option.

“Would you mind telling me your name?”

. . .
 

Touko Fukawa

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The library was quiet for only a fleeting few moments, early in the morning. Before the teachers let themselves in to make a racket with the copy machines, and before the students who lived closest to the school found their ways to the tables to chatter with their friends... There were perhaps ten or fifteen good minutes of silence for her, from the moment her key clicked open the lock to the point at which some middle-aged dipshit would set their cup of fresh coffee on one of the stacks of paper on her desk, leaving a sludgy brown ring on it.

She counted today.

It was only seven.

Touko couldn't say she had ever had the displeasure of being in one of Amanda Waltzer's classes, and yet the woman strode up to her desk like they were old friends. Like she was owed her attention. The hair on the back of her neck bristled up, not with fear- more with resentment- as acidic bile seemed to flow into her throat, drowning out the bitter smell of instant coffee that seemed to perfume all of the teachers at this damn school. Ah, yes. Her first interruption of the day. How she looked forward to it.

"Good morning, miss Fukawa." A saccharine disposition- like the Sweet 'n Low she probably dumped into that disposable drink cup of hers moments ago. The teacher's face carried the lightest of smiles, pleasant but distant. At least she knew it- she knew Touko wasn't interested in this conversation whatsoever, so she'd better make it quick.

Certainly she could tell by the assistant's demeanor, if anything, as her shoulders wilted and her eyes flicked upwards for only half a second to meet her face- before falling back to her work. "...Morning." Touko was loathe to call it a good one. But she was loathe to call any morning a good morning. She took in a shaky breath, trying to steady her mind enough not to come across as entirely confrontational. "What... What do you want?"

"I'm just here to grab some papers from the printer. I just figured I'd strike up some conversation while waiting."

I'd rather drop dead on the fucking spot than indulge you in your little "conversation," lady, was what her brain and face said. What her liar of a mouth said was simply "whatever..."

"You heard about the break in over the weekend, I take it?"

The librarian's nose turned up in a scowl. "...What, is this an interrogation?"

"Oh no. I was simply wondering if you had... heard anything about it beforehand."

"You think... I'm the type to be p-privvy to anyone's gossip? Hmph..."

"Calm down there. I was just asking."

"...Ugh... I heard Afton was planning on breaking in. With s-some... Other girl." A face was plastered in her mind, but the name escaped her. Patricia, or something. "But... It's not like I know for sure. He doesn't... seem like the type to... go around m-messing... messing up lockers like that." Who did? Did the girl? Did she even seem strong enough to manage it? She didn't know. She didn't know, but that bile in her throat went nowhere. In fact, its acrid taste made its way up to the back of her tongue now, her anxiety brimming- despite Miss Waltzer's suggestion.

She needed only look at Touko's face to see that anxiety, of course. It was plain as day. That her brain was moving too fast for her words to keep up. "Is that all? You didn't hear anything more over the weekend?"

Her mind writhed in discomfort as it tried to access her memories. But it was like she was slamming her fists against a brick wall. The weekend? The weekend... In the vaguest sense, she knew she had fallen asleep on Thursday, and woken up on Monday. But the time in the middle was blank. It was as if she had slept through the whole three days. "I- ...I don't remember." She swallowed the acid in her throat.

It was like a rat, digging in its claws against a metal door. It was like trying to slit your wrists with a plastic spoon. Scratching until your nails tore off, blood gushing from your fingertips. Digging at your flesh until it stained deep purple with bruises, skin rubbed raw and blistering. There was more. She could tell for certain that there was more. Something she'd forgotten. It couldn't have been a coincidence that just those few days were missing, right? And yet, they were nowhere to be found. There was something wrong, something deeply concerning about their absence.

It made Touko sick to her stomach. Or maybe that was just her panic moving on to attacking her body itself.

And the teacher felt in some way the same.

But she righted herself quickly. "Hmm, I'll be sure to keep your statement in mind. Oh, looks like my print order is done." The little smile on Waltzer's face had faded entirely now, as she found herself back in her own world. Back in a reality not colored by Touko's warped mental state. "I'll see you later, miss Fukawa."

There was no response.

Touko buried her nose back in paperwork.

She'd still rather have died than participated in that conversation.
 
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