True Deception, Chapter 24

“What do you mean, sir?” I made my voice hoarse and imitated the Fallen whose gear I had taken, and I crossed my fingers that Nathair thought he was talking to the people on his team rather than the people from his enemies’ list!

            “Why does your voice sound so strained?” Nathair inquired.

            Okay, phew! He didn’t jump straight into anything accusatory, so that signified that he bought the premise of Violet and me being members of his security force! Now I just had the pressure of making sure I said the right things in order to avoid rousing his suspicion! I fibbed, “We did a lot of yelling at the dissidents, sir! I’m lucky I can still speak! She lost her voice completely!” I felt proud of myself for coming up with that one! I wasn’t sure if Violet could mimic the female Fallen’s voice or not, but since it physically pained her to tell a lie, I’m sure she appreciated having an excuse not to say a word! She nodded vigorously, and I could tell my thoughtfulness pleased her, so I inwardly celebrated scoring some personal points with her!

            Nathair got more excited about my pronouncement than I expected him to! “Did you get them before the cops showed up?”

            “Uh… no…” I was certain that Nathair interpreted my response as one of shame of failing in a mission, but I actually became pretty confused by his remark! Wouldn’t they prefer us to get captured by the police instead of doing the dirty work themselves?

            “They got away!” Nathair roared, and the noise in the background suggested that he banged his hands on the table in front of him. “Sam, how could you?”

            I knew that Sam wouldn’t like having his superior upset, so I tried to smooth things over by assuring him, “We won’t let it happen again! In fact, we got a tip that they were heading to this school…”

            Nathair appeared approving of this measure. “Well, at least they didn’t get taken to prison! We don’t wanna make that mistake twice!” He laughed heartily in relief, and I joined him in a sycophant way because I felt as though Sam would have done something like that, but it wasn’t very easy to display mirth right then! My mind was swarming with curiosity about why he didn’t want us in prison anymore! What could that possibly mean?

            “Where’s Berith?” Nathair peered behind us and apparently noticed that the third Fallen in this brigade was missing.

            “He’s dealing with the cops, you know, just in case.” I didn’t want to mention the bear since I had no clue what it was doing with Berith once it dragged him into the woods, and I didn’t feel like going over something that may require a long explanation with him. It made sense to me to limit our interaction with one of Birsha’s allies, and while I would have loved to grill him more about this concept of their side not wanting us to get incarcerated, this imitation was starting to hurt my throat!

            He evidently agreed with that decision owing to the fact that he praised us, “Good idea! I’ll text him to remind him to join you when he’s finished.”

            Not wanting to prolong this conversation any further, I told him, “Sir, we better start looking for the dissidents before it’s too late…”

            Thankfully, he acquiesced, “Oh, yes! Sam, Amy, go get them!” Violet gave him a thumbs up prior to him hanging up, and as soon as he did, we bailed out of the car! Obviously, he hadn’t heard anything about our previous discussion, but neither of us wanted to take any chances!

            I met Violet at the passenger’s side of the vehicle, and I immediately reacted to that interaction, “What the hell?”

            “I know!” Violet concurred. “I wanna enjoy the prospect of not having to go to jail, but if they want us to avoid it so badly, can staying out of lockup really be such a great fate for us?” I shrugged, and she decided to shake off this befuddlement and move on. She gazed at the elementary school in front of us and wondered, “Well, we’re here! But what do we do at this place on a Saturday night?”

            “Hmm…” I had to mull that question over for a minute. I didn’t think we would gain anything from the empty classrooms, but I also had no desire to waste anymore precious time either. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the car window, and it continued to strike me as odd at how well we blended in with our foes! I felt reasonably confident that if any of our adversaries saw us, they wouldn’t suspect anything hinky about our intentions… except their comrades wouldn’t adopt our current behavior… “When the Fallens knew we were inside of the temple, they patrolled the building and waited for us to come out, so we should probably do that in case somebody from Birsha’s Army happens to see us.”

            Violet shook her head in agreement. “Yeah, I guess we gotta play the part ‘til we figure out a new plan.”

            The facility was definitely closed, but a few lights shined throughout the perimeter in this area. As we passed a playground clearly built for small people, it heartened me to know that the little ones still received some joy despite the Fallens’ dark reign over their school! While this image gave me some satisfaction, it saddened me in the same instance! “It’s so awful that they’re indoctrinating kids at such a young age!”

            “Uh huh! It’s terrible!” Violet shared my sentiments, but then she reasoned, “But they’re not completely brainwashed! Remember why we came here! The students in that factory didn’t copy their teacher’s moves, and that teacher complained that some of her coworkers weren’t on board with the regime…”

            “F’ing traitors!” a voice from behind us commented. Violet and I both jumped from fright! We had no inkling that we weren’t alone out here… We turned to face the speaker, and a man who resembled a custodian faced us. For a second, we believed he had made that statement about us, but then his expression grew more remorseful and he apologized, “Sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you guys! You must be newbies!”

            It alleviated us to discover that he viewed us as novice guards, and it didn’t seem like too daunting of a task to pretend that we were inexperienced at this job since we literally hadn’t done this work before! Violet joked, “Can you tell we’re not in familiar territory?’

            We all chuckled, and then the janitor probed, “How come you’re circling the outside of the school?”

            “We’re patrolling the perimeter to look for these dissidents who might have fled here.” I knocked on wood that his sort of exploit wasn’t unusual. If he found that fishy and reported us to Birsha, then we wouldn’t maintain the clearance we needed to return here on Monday when the teachers came back, which is when we really wanted to explore this space! It would have been tragic to lose this opportunity before we even had a shot at seeing if the Arch Deity was stuck within these walls or not!

            “Nathair gave us permission to do this,” Violet put in. Her assertion was completely true and completely brilliant! Plus, she delivered that line at the most opportune moment- he was eyeballing us in a very perplexed manner!

            The custodian probed, “Didn’t he tell you to use the camera room to do that?” When Violet and I gave him blank expressions, he sighed, “Why is that schmuck in charge of security?” He shook his head and invited us, “Come on in.”

            He led us down a hallway full of darkened classrooms, and while I observed our surroundings, it struck me as odd to see no whimsical crafts or decorations that most people would expect to see at an elementary school! The façade projected a lot of gray hues and posters that depicted various rules and procedures, and I couldn’t imagine children surviving in a cold environment like this! I saw a blank door labeled “Art Room,” and I had a strong urge to investigate that site! What kind of artwork would they teach in this sterile climate?

            “Here we are!” the custodian announced when we reached the end of the foyer. “Now, I’m heading out for the night. There’ll be a couple of folks coming in the morning to open up the school so the teachers can prep for the week, but if you need any help before then, call Nathair.”

            “Thank you!” Violet politely regarded him, and he tipped his non-existent hat to us as he headed back out to the parking lot.

            Violet and I would normally stay quiet until we heard any potential eavesdroppers get out of our earshot, but in this scenario, we didn’t have to force ourselves to be silent- the wall of screens that stood before us left us dumbstruck! Nearly every corner of the school got filmed! After a couple of minutes of simply soaking it in, I posed to Violet, “Why does an elementary school need so much security?”

            She stoically articulated, “Well, ‘cause this property is full of those who are loyal to the regime, and too many dissidents wanna tear Birsha’s empire down!”

            It appalled me to hear those words spew from her mouth, especially with her dressed in Fallen’s armor! I knew that she fretted becoming one of them, but I couldn’t fathom it actually happening! We hadn’t had these disguises on for very long either! I almost wanted to call her out on it in hopes of bringing her back to the Guardian’s side, but then I saw a microphone hanging over our heads! I couldn’t discern if it had been turned on or not, but I realized that Violet was acting out of an abundance of caution. It really disappointed me that we could only chat in code; there was a lot we needed to go over, and at the present, we couldn’t broach any of these topics! The notion of sitting in a noiseless quarter watching screens with nothing happening on them filled me with angst! Part of it stemmed from combining my boredom with the lack of sleep I got, but more importantly, I didn’t feel productive! Yes, there wasn’t much we could do until the staff arrived, but I absolutely didn’t want to do nothing! I chewed it over in my brain for a while, and then a stroke of inspiration came to me! “Some of the faculty has been describing a lack of loyalty from their peers. I’m gonna search the grounds to see if they hid anything in their classrooms. Call me if you see anything!” Violet consented to this, and I ventured out to check this terrain out.

            The first classroom I went into was so devoid of personality that I almost deemed it as it unused! I spotted a name on the desk, and it upset me to catch a glimpse of how perpetual this bleakness appeared to be! I thumbed through some of the teacher’s desk drawers, but it didn’t contain anything other than office supplies. The one touch of personalization, if it could properly bear that label, was a map of the world on the wall with certain countries, including ours, highlighted in red. I didn’t totally understand what it meant, and honestly, I didn’t want to, so I moved on to the next classroom.

            This one seemed a tad friendlier than the other, but it didn’t give off the warmth that I would assume a service designed for little kids would have! It had a section dedicated to reading, but upon a closer inspection, I noticed that the selection merely offered stories with an overly propagandized theme. It stunned me to behold a bit of personalization at their computer, but it was just a wallpaper with a screenshot of Nathair in one of his commercials for Nerium Night Ware. I mused that I may have entered into the classroom belonging to that obsequious educator we met at the factory, and then I made my way to the next sector.

            I grew excited to go into the art room! I anticipated that I would finally get to survey something with a spark of creativity, and I did not get let down! I saw colorful paintings of pets, vivid drawings of fanciful adventures, and even some pottery with vibrant patterns cascaded all over their surfaces! “That’s more like it!” I thought out loud. With this drastic contrast to the rest of the school, I couldn’t grasp how this flagrant use of whimsy was permitted to exist! Any sense of individualism or sanity that these pupils had to have originated from here, which led me to conjecture that if the Arch Deity had any kind of connection to this establishment, it probably came from here! I saw a name scrawled on the whiteboard, and I puzzled, “Who are you, Gabrielle Vinetra?”

            All of a sudden, Violet yelled, “Sam! You gotta see this!” Naturally, I rushed over there immediately, and I prayed that nothing too serious had gone on! As soon as I arrived, she pointed to one of the monitors and asserted, “I think we have a problem…” I gazed at what she indicated to, and unfortunately, I couldn’t disagree with her! This was the last thing we needed right then! I didn’t know what we were going to do…

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