The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 10

I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder, and I heard Corvina’s voice politely address me, “Uh, Mister Fenmore… You need to wake up!”

            “How did you know I fell asleep?” I sat a large textbook upright on my desk to shield my face so no one could see me as I rested my eyes, so it shocked me that she had been able to decipher my cognitive status! I hadn’t intended to nod off, but since I learned that I had indeed begun to slumber, I couldn’t comprehend how she would have found that out!

            “Um… We could hear you snoring!” Corvina sheepishly let me know. I heard her peers snickering behind her, and my splitting headache grew even deeper! Once they simmered down, my anguish lessened slightly, and I felt tempted to conk out again! I resisted the temptation, and if I hadn’t been so overcome with achiness, I would have laughed out loud from the realization that a room packed with teenagers was somehow quieter than my house with four adults! Well, five if you count Babelsama’s haunted portrait, but still! I lifted my heavy head up, and I beheld a girl in an outfit that looked as though it had been pilfered from Ginger’s wardrobe! The bubble-gum pink dress had a quaint, old-fashioned charm to it, and she had her hair pulled back with a matching bow. I didn’t remember ever making her acquaintance, and it embarrassed me to think that a new student’s first impression of me had been formed from such an ineloquent pose! I collected myself the best that I could, and I courteously questioned her, “Hi! Is this your first day here?”

            She corrected my misconception, “Mister Fenmore, it’s me, Corvina!”

            Her classmates all chortled at that bout of obliviousness, and I had to get a second glance at the appearance of the young lady standing before me! Corvina typically wore dark makeup and gothic clothes, so to see her in lightly shaded cosmetics and brightly colored garments made her practically disguised as a totally new person! “I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you in that… Why are you dressed like that? I mean, you have every right to wear what you please, but… why…?”

            “My clothing was meant to be a statement of counter-culture, and since that standard has started to change, so have mine!” Corvina gestured to the kids seated at their desks, and it bewildered me to see so many of them wearing all black!

            “Did someone die?” I inquired. I sincerely hoped for an alternative explanation to my guess, and while the truth was less daunting, I definitely didn’t like the response I received…

            One of the bleakly dressed students filled me in, “We are preparing ourselves for the Underworld takeover! The undead will return, and we’re ready to pay our respects!”

            I groaned, “Oh jeez! Not this FAUK club again!”

            “It’s not FAUK!” one of the girls chided me. “It’s the F-A-U-K! And it’s a serious institution! Colin didn’t bury himself! And the people who saw that mummy swore it looked real! And it smelled real too!”

            ‘Yeah, and some people swore the same thing about the Loch Ness monster…!” I pointed out. She wasn’t wrong, but I didn’t want her to know that! I felt certain that this FAUK club had something to do with Damon’s presence, and the less credibility he got, the less likely he was to have a real impact on this high school!

            A boy piped up, “Hey! My uncle’s seen that one! Back in the eighties, he went to Scotland and-.”

            I cut him off, “Alright, alright! We’ve had enough of a delay! It’s time for your lesson! Actually, we’re doing a pop quiz today!”

            “What? You didn’t mention anything about having a quiz today!” a student objected.

            “That’s why it’s called pop quiz! In this case, pop means surprise, you know, like a balloon! It just shows up in front of you, and then suddenly, it pops!” Upon hearing my description of this term, I didn’t feel as though I had made any sense! Evidently, the kids couldn’t make heads or tails of it either because they all stared at me with blank expressions! I realized that my hangover was having quite the effect on my abilities, so I shook it off as much as possible in order to speak to them, “Listen, it doesn’t matter! You’re doing a quiz today, okay?”

            One of the teens whined, “No! It’s not okay!”

            I snapped, “Too bad! Get your pencils out!” After passing the material out to the class, I went back to my desk and resumed hiding behind the book. I made sure not to snooze in this instance, but I wanted to endure my agony without drawing their concern. I had a sneaking suspicion that Corvina’s eyes flickered towards my direction a couple of times, but thankfully, she didn’t comment on my faltering health! I was super grateful that I had this quiz handy because if I had to do a bunch of talking that day, I would have had to call in sick! And I wouldn’t have gotten any rest at home! As I covertly languished on my desk, I inwardly prayed that our obnoxious ghost pal would stay quiet during this shift!

            Phoebe and I barely paid attention to what we were noshing on- we were only eating this snack to avoid tossing our cookies when we took the medicine that currently fizzed in our cups! Fletcher appeared at our table and remarked, “You two look terrible!”

            “Thanks! We feel terrible!” Phoebe retorted.

            “You’re lucky I brought a couple of these!” Aleck placed two bottles of a sports drink in front of us, and since we seemed perplexed over his motivation for doing that, Aleck rationalized, “The electrolytes will help ease your symptoms. My kid has karate practice right after school, but we can always grab more on the way home.”

            After Phoebe and I took a few sips, I noticed it did seem to alleviate my symptoms a bit! I probably should have displayed some gratitude to him, but prior to articulating this sentiment, I pondered, “How did you know?”

            Ginger jumped in, “It’s kinda obvious! Besides, we figured you were drunk when you sent this text!”

            She showed her phone to me, and apparently, I had messaged the group that urinating (which was spelled wrong!) on the key doesn’t destroy it, and I bemoaned my clumsy action! “I didn’t piss on my pants- I forgot to let Jett out, so she peed on them!”

            “Why were your pants off?” Ellie probed. She quickly followed that with, “Never mind, I don’t wanna know!”

            “Ahem! We may have been a little tipsy last night, but we were right about our next move!” Phoebe asserted. “The sooner we destroy the key, the sooner we get rid of Damon! Babelsama wouldn’t have any motivation to keep him around if the key no longer existed!”

            A nearby teacher that I hadn’t been introduced to yet asked, “Why would destroying a key get this Babelsama person to go away?”

            We all froze when it registered to us that our conversation was no longer private! Knowing that he had overheard something as embarrassing as my trousers get soaked (which, for the record, I took off to put on my pajamas!) was bad enough, but if anyone outside of our group listened to the whole Netherworld phantom thing, we would have to pack our bags straight away! Trying to sort this out with prospective new employers would have proven to be cumbersome, but more seriously, if we left Rosemary King at such a critical juncture, a lot of innocent students would get harmed! We knew we would need to exercise more caution going forward, but what were we going to do about the information that already got exposed? Yes, some strange occurrences had taken place here, but most of the staff had logical justifications for what went on, and I could only have imagined what outcome would have resulted if the faculty had a sincere grasp of the supernatural reality of this scenario! My ill disposition rendered me struggling to contemplate anything, but someone needed to come up with something soon in order to avoid a shrewd watchfulness of our behavior! No one else volunteered, but all I could produce was, “We can’t tell you.”

            “Why not?” our coworker puzzled.

            “We’re writing a play,” Aleck fibbed. “We can’t give out any spoilers!”

            I had no clue how Aleck was able to concoct that story so fast, but I felt so relieved that he did because now we could discuss the issue freely under the guise of composing a theatrical experience! The man bought that claim and happily returned to his meal, and then Ellie took the reigns on our previous discourse, “Right… So, our heroes can’t just focus on destroying the key! There are monsters actively attacking their community, so they need to focus on how to deal with them first! And we need to show more about the villain’s history too!”

            No one relished the prospect of additional work, and after some mild moans, Fletcher spoke up, “Who cares what he did in the past? He’s ben an asshole his whole life, how’s that gonna help us? I mean, the heroes…”

            “The more they learn about the villain, the easier it’ll be for them to take him down,” Ellie argued. “They can keep fighting off his attacks, or they can find out why he’s attacking the town at all! Then they can use that to stop him!”

            “How many protagonists do you have?” another teacher inquired.

            Phoebe replied, “Six.”

            That same teacher opined, “Oh, that’s too many! You’ll only complicate the plot that way!”

            “It’ll be fine,” Ginger brushed her off before circling back to our chat, “But we know why he’s doing it- his girlfriend dumped him! Well, that and his demon boss is making him do it…”

            “Oh, this play is gonna be amazing! Don’t you agree?” another teacher gushed to her colleagues.

            Ginger completed her original thought, “What else do we need to know?”

            Ellie stated, “That’s exactly it! We don’t know what we don’t know! If we don’t investigate it, we might miss something important!” We all bore skeptical expressions, so she persisted, “Hey, we don’t’ have any ideas on how to destroy the key anyways, so maybe this’ll help us find our… their… ticket out of this mess! How are we gonna find the answer if we don’t search through every corner possible? It’s not like the solution is just gonna fall out of the sky!”

            As if on cue, we heard a chorus of screaming immediately following her speech! We all grumbled, especially Phoebe and me, and I muttered, “This better not be important!”

            “Don’t you mean it better be important?” one of the educators in the room attempted to gain clarification on my phrasing.

            “Nope!” I disputed, “I wanna learn it’s meaningless crap and go back to my lunch! I do not wanna deal with another emergency right now!”

            When we ran out to the hallway that bordered the parking lot, I anticipated an encounter with something sinister coupled with some traumatized youths, but instead, we saw a scourge of merriment! Cotton balls were pouring out of the sky like raindrops, and the children who changed upon this area played in it as if it was snowing. They threw it at each other, made angels on the ground, and even created some artwork out of it! Everyone was having a ball with the cotton (See what I did there?), well… almost everyone…

            Casper hid behind a set of trash cans whimpering pathetically! I couldn’t resist, I had to pounce on this opportunity! “Casper! Your greatest fear is freaking cotton balls!?!”

            “You don’t have to rub it in!” Casper wailed.

            “Oh, I disagree!” I flouted.

            I wanted to continue to capitalize on the fortuity of stumbling upon this jerk in such a deservingly miserable position, but we heard someone else suffering from this development… Roxy pat a nearby bush comfortingly and soothingly bolstered it, “It’s alright, my love! You did great! You see how scared you made Mister Von Dutchman?”

            Damon barked, “No! Too many idiots are getting joy out of this! It’s unbearable!”

            “You know, a bear would have had the same effect on him without causing anyone else any joy!” I leaned on lamppost next to Roxy and this bush. “So, Roxy, having a biblical moment, are you?”

            “Um, the bush from there was burning…” Roxy riposted.

            I took that lighter I used on the mummy on the previous day (which I only had with me so I could bestow it back to the kid I borrowed it from. Technically, they weren’t allowed to bring these on campus, but I didn’t feel right keeping it, so I planned on secretly sliding it over to him… Anyways…), and I chirped, “Here, I can remedy that!”

            Damon morphed back into a ghost and flew out of sight before anyone else detected his presence! Roxy chased after him and beckoned him to abandon his retreat, and everyone else wen on with their cotton ball festivities until… All of the cotton balls unexpectedly zipped to one spot and combined themselves to form a single entity- a fear monger! Fletcher snatched my lighter (Well, it wasn’t mine, but it was in my possession) and swiftly ignited the creature, who happened to surface in the planter where Damon had just been. The students were befuddled as to why their source of amusement had vanished, and Fletcher’s clandestine endeavor only enhanced that feeling even further! They could see the smoke, but they didn’t catch sight of the fear monger, so I don’t blame them for any head scratching they did! Fortunately for us, Ginger and Ellie put out the flames with the dirt already there and the bell rang before anyone could deliberate on these incidents! Aleck called out, “You’re gonna be late! Let’s go!”

            As we headed to our classrooms, Casper joined us and cracked, “I knew all along that a spectral spirit was the cause of the commotion! It’s lucky for you that I got involved- you all are terrible at handling this sort of business!”

            I glared at him, but before I could manifest a snappy comeback, Phoebe reached into her purse and handed a mysterious object to me. “Here you go, babe!”

            It was a cotton ball! I waved it in front of Casper, who immediately let out a high-pitched scream and bolted out of our vicinity! Once we all had a hearty laugh, we took to our cellphones to discretely communicate with each other. We would never admit it to him, but Casper did assist us in gaining a new tool to use against Damon! How we would implement it was our next challenge…

True Deception, Chapter 29

“Don’t be afraid, it’ll be alright!

                        Hold on for just one more night!

                        It’s never too late for a brand-new start!

                        Never give up the battles of your heart!”

I sang this to myself as I sat in the barren, gray hall that marked the onset of the tunnel leading from the prison to the courthouse. Many men waited in this space, but they shackled us up in a way that kept us all separate from each other. No one looked optimistic about going through this process, and I can’t say I blamed them! After years of working on the other end of this system, I knew exactly what would happen for each of us after we got our trial! They may as well have left us in our cells, it wasn’t like anybody would get to go home afterwards! It drove me crazy to waste all this time sitting here with nothing to do but croon out Arielle ballads! I would much rather have begun searching for the Arch Deity, and not merely so I could save the world from Birsha’s domination- the sooner I found them, the sooner I could reunite with Violet!

The last moment I saw her kept replaying over and over again in my head! Right after the security car crashed, Violet confessed that she loved me! I got so stunned by hearing exactly what my heart hoped to hear for so long that I couldn’t move or speak, and I really kicked myself for not saying something back! Seconds later, the police opened the trunk and got us out. From that point on, we would remain apart! I can’t even put into words how painful that felt! To find out that this beautiful, saint-like goddess returned my affections in one minute and to get torn away from her in the next minute was insanely devastating! It broke me! I got no sleep whatsoever from the agony of it all, and my sorrows only deepened as the evening went on! The longer I was without her, the more it seemed like I would never get to see her again! This plan made so much sense when we initially embarked on it, but now I regretted the choice we made! Well, we had a moral obligation to search through every corner of the lockup organization, and I knew we intended to escape if we came up empty, but I really wished that we would have found a way to spend one more night together so we could act like a true couple! Even one more hour would have sufficed so we could have made love, talked, held each other, and et cetera at least once in case we lost the chance to ever do any of that with each other…

            When I contemplated the prospect of getting incarcerated for my entire lifetime, it sounded so unreasonable and unfeasible, but now that I was here, the possibility had so much more merit! I hadn’t imagined how daunting this isolation would feel, and while I had originally started on this journey alone, the support I received throughout the mission made more of a difference than I realized! Yes, I could have made new allies in this place, but that was no guarantee! I glanced around at the individuals around me, and a few of them didn’t seem terribly friendly, which led me to the topic of my safety. Birsha could have certainly implemented some plants within this establishment, and they could silence me before I even had a shot at speaking to another helpful associate! Not only did it appear plausible that I would hunt for the Arch Deity until my last breath, but that event could have come earlier than I anticipated!

            Suddenly, a bright light blinded our dark quarters! Our eyes had barely readjusted when an officer ordered us, “Everyone rise!” Once we had all done so, he went on, “The judge will see you in the order your cases were received. You may talk to your lawyer but no one else. If you do not get your trial date today, we will assemble you for tomorrow’s pool. Any questions?” Not a single soul raised their hands, and I wasn’t sure if that stemmed from a clarity of his directions or a collective surrender of willpower! “Okay, let’s go!”

            We all shuffled forward with dismal expressions, no one hint of optimism emanated from any person there! As the group inched forward, I wondered if I would see any of my former colleagues in the room. Even if one of them got permission to communicate with me, I doubt any of them would want to do so! They most likely believed in my guilt, and with the corruption in the system, my pending verdict would only enhance their opinions! That was fine with me; I chose to represent myself to expedite this process, and my one silver lining in this instance was that I may get sentenced quickly, which would enable me to return to prison swiftly so I could begin my exploration for the Arch Deity that much faster! I had already begun to sift through all of the probable scenarios of this portion of the quest when, in the blink of an eye, the mood in the tunnel totally changed…

            The officer commanded to us, “Stop! Everyone, stop immediately!” We all heeded his word, but we also gazed at him peculiarly. He conveyed his instructions rather nervously, and while the volume on his watch was low enough that we couldn’t make out what was being discussed, we could tell the guy on the other end felt rather frantic! “Are you sure?” the officer probed. Whatever response the other officer gave made our guard bit his lip, and we all knew that something drastic had occurred! I dared to let myself shed some of my pessimism- perhaps Violet had dreamt up a method of freeing herself! If she had done that, that could only mean one thing: she had found the Arch Deity! It seemed like a ludicrous notion to entertain until…

            “Run! Everyone, run back to-!” Before the officer could even finish his sentence, an explosion boomed above us! No one got hit by the stones that shot out in our vicinity, and when we uncovered our arms, which we had instinctually hid under, we beheld a perfectly round hole over our heads! This confused the other men, but I knew that we had just witnessed magic! The faint hope of the Arch Deity coming to the rescue grew stronger in me, so when I abruptly got lifted into the air, I did not panic as the others did! My restraints slid off in an explicable manner, and as I looked back at everyone, I gave them a small shrug. I didn’t want to announce anything exciting that may have been on the horizon without any proof, but I felt a little bad for leaving them utterly addled by my strange departure. I supposed that most people would have freaked out at a juncture like this, but the closer I got to the outside, the more peaceful I became! I could smell the sweet aroma the city emitted, and it made me imagine how thrilling it was to be able to gain freedom from both the legal system and the evil reign that loomed over our society! As I exited the tunnel, I fully expected to meet the kind soul who was destined to save us all, but instead…

            “You!” I shouted as my insides practically froze from shock. All of the joy that I experienced instantly evaporated, and going from expecting a savior to viewing a killer felt like walking into a bad dream! It didn’t seem real, and my brain had trouble processing this surrealism! I had scratch my arm and feel the sensation in order to make sure that I hadn’t fallen asleep in my cell, and Birsha took a minute to thoroughly savor my anguish! As she relished in the distress that her appearance had caused me, I couldn’t help but ponder if this was the reason she had kept me alive. She could have killed me in the tunnel, and that would have eliminated the threat I posed to her regime in an instant, so her sparing me was significant! She wanted something from me, so I didn’t need to fear death from her, at least not yet! It mystified me as to what she might draw out from me, but it perplexed me more to see how she carried herself- her arms were folded in fashion that made her cloak hide the entire front of her body! I almost didn’t want to learn what to know what she was keeping concealed in there, but I had to determine the cause of this behavior- whatever show she had planned must go on! “What do you have there?”

            “Jack, don’t listen to her-!” To my shock, Violet popped out from beneath her draping! Her hands and ankles were bound, and before she could finish speaking, Birsha pulled a band out of her pocket and gagged her as well!

            Birsha scoffed at my appall, “Aw, did you love her?”

            She squeezed her face into her side in a mocking simulation of empathy, and I could ascertain that she was trying to get under my skin. I refused to give in, so I bravely asserted, “I still do!”

            Birsha cackled, and then she addressed me, “Well then, I’m sure you wouldn’t want anything to happen to her, would you? Tell you what, I’ll make you a deal: You leave me alone, and I’ll do the same for the two of you. No one gets hurt!”

            “No one but the people you oppress!” I corrected her.

            “Ugh, oppression is positively the wrong term for what I do! I was a Guardian once, you know! Very idealistic, like you! Once I saw how much wickedness flourished in the world, I knew my calling was to rectify it! The planet will be better off once the wicked have paid for their sins, you’ll see!” Birsha stared at me with a slight necessity in her eyes as if she was crossing her fingers that her argument had swayed me.

            I retaliated, “No, I won’t! You can call it by any other name, but what you’re doing is tyranny! You don’t get to decide who’s good and who’s evil! And honestly, I don’t think it matters to you! You just want control, and you have enough financial and magical power to do that! You don’t wanna help humankind, you only wanna serve yourself! No one deserves that, not even the people you disagree with!”

            Birsha scowled at me, and then she made one last attempt to persuade me, “So, you’re giving up your girlfriend so you can make some kind of moral stance? Sounds kinda selfish!”

            It really stumped me as to why she was going through so much effort for a bid to get me to acquiesce to her whims! She threatened our lives during this entire venture, and now that she was in our presence, she seemed adamant about our surrender! It was almost as though she was hesitant to harm us! I peered at Violet’s pleading expression, and then it hit me! “Don’t kill her! Take me instead!” She gawked at me dumbfoundedly, so I iterated, “Sacrifice my life, and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble! If you don’t, I’ll keep fighting you and your reign for the rest of my days! I’m the mastermind behind the resistance against you, so you’d be better off killing me!” She did nothing but glare at me, so I challenged her, “What’s wrong? Your powers are legendary! Surely, you can defeat the likes of me in a flash, can’t you?” I gave her a second to reply, and when she didn’t, I concluded, “Maybe you can’t! Maybe your life force is-!”

            I meant to convey that her life force could be running short, but she cut me off by barking to some nearby Fallens, “Get him!”

            She threw Violet down and disappeared behind her armored forces, who all took aim at me! I received a silver shield out of nowhere covered myself with it, and once the hexes bounced off of it, I could see that Violet used a spell to free herself and was now firing back at them! “Violet, no!” I cried out. I wanted her to run and preserve herself, I couldn’t allow her to sap the last of her life force on this! We were both outnumbered, we needed to escape right away!

            To my surprise, Gurcharan and Jasleen stepped forward and began to engage in combat! I had no clue how they knew we needed their assistance, and I kind of always figured that they had a non-violent stance like Lama Malva. Just as she came to my mind, Lama Malva appeared on the battlefield along with Samaya! Gabrielle and some teachers joined in too! A few strangers volunteered too! It floored me to see this large quantity of Guardians, especially since it took me years to discover one! However, it also gratified me to witness so many of them were willing to forgo their secrecy and contend in this public foray! I deduced that they sensed how great the need to do this was, and as both sides hurled jinxes at each other, it truly seemed like we were battling for the soul of civilization!

            I picked up a pipe that I found in the rubble from the blasted tunnel, and I struck as many Fallens with it as I could as I weaved my way through the crowd! It agonized me not to check on Violet, but I couldn’t ensure her security until I located Birsha! As long as she maintained her existence, she would only use her influence for injustice, so she had to get fished out! Somebody had to take care of her and put a stop to this malevolence! When I reached the other side of the battlefield, I still didn’t see her, so I hollered, “Come on, Birsha, you coward! Come out and fight! If you don’t, everyone will learn your secret! Your wealth is strong, but your life force isn’t! You rule over people with your money, and you make them all buy the idea that you have potent abilities, but you’re a liar! Aren’t you? You pathetic little-!”

            All of a sudden, a gust of wind hit my skull, and it caused me enough pain that I tumbled to the ground! Everyone stopped what they were doing as Birsha hovered over me, and she snapped, “You’re not worth losing any life force over! I could though! It would be so easy- you’re right here and you can’t go anywhere else! You can’t defend yourself either, so you’re truly doomed! Was it worth it to you? Some of your comrades have fallen, have you noticed? I craned my neck to study the damage, and while I saw many individuals from her Army on the floor, I saw Lama Malva and couple of teachers also lying motionless! That was difficult to behold, and then it got worse! My heart plummeted completely when I saw Violet had become unconscious too! Birsha could perceive my turmoil, so she expounded on that concept, “Your love is gone too! And soon, you will be too! Everything will go back to as it was after this is over, and my scheme can really expand with a few less dissidents in it! So, do you still think that this was the right decision? Was it worth it?”

            I used every iota of my strength to relay to her, “Yes!”

            She snarled, but the then she accepted my conclusion. “Then so be it!” She raised her hand and conjured up a spell to strike me down…

            An unexpected warmth spread throughout me, and at first, I assumed that I had met my demise, but as the warm sensation gained steam, it didn’t feel destructive! It was soothing and comforting as if every fiber inside of me now emitted a radiant energy! An electricity spread throughout my veins, and it moved faster and faster until… poof! I couldn’t explain it at the time, but something in my gut indicated to me that I had just become the Arch Deity! I tested the waters by pointing my palms at the ground and willing my powers to lift me up, and it worked! Birsha watched me float above her in sheer horror, and I could detect her life force emptying. Never in my life did I envision myself doing any fatalistic harm to anyone, not even rotten people, but I knew that if I didn’t act, I would endanger countless of innocent lives! As a show of mercy to the earth, I had to empty out the meager remains of her life force! “It was worth it!” A bluster of wind shot out of my fingers, and with one final shriek, Birsha transformed into a pile of dust!

            The bystanders all cheered at this victory, but my work wasn’t done yet! I aimed my magic at the Guardians who fell, and one by one, they all came back to life! I sped over to Violet’s side and prayed that my spell would work on her too… Once her lids flew open, I stooped down and braced her in my arms! She smiled at me and exclaimed, “Jack!” She pulled me in, and we kissed passionately! The pleasure was intense, but it elated me more to have her with me right then! She survived, and now I could spend a lifetime making her feel as happy as I felt from simply having her company! It was astonishing to believe she wanted me as much as I wanted her, and instantaneously, everything became so much brighter! It struck me to repeat so many of the words from my favorite love songs, and it may have sounded cheesy to everyone else, but I felt too wonderful to care what anyone else thought! The villain was defeated, and I got the girl, it was just like the perfect finish to my very own eighties’ flick!

            When our lips parted and we took a breath, Violet stared at herself incredulously and observed, “My life force is restored! So, you’re the…?”

            “That’s right!” I confirmed.

            “But that means the previous one is…!” She scoped out the area, and her eyes grew wide in aghast when she espied something on the opposite end of the battlefield! “Grandma!”

            Violet darted over to where Patty laid, and my insides ached to see this sight! Patty was gasping, struggling to inhale! When she saw Violet, she croaked out, “I’m sorry!”

            She assured her, “Don’t be sorry! You did good!”

            “I’m sorry I didn’t do this sooner!” Patty apologized. “I forgot who I was sometimes! When she killed my grandson, Alfred, I remembered everything and knew it was time!” She looked to me and stated gratefully, “Thank you for bringing her back to me!”

            “A promise is a promise!” I replied with tears brimming in my eyes. She appeared as though she wanted to talk more, but the color drained from her skin and her muscles grew heavy. She closed her eyes and then moved no more!

            Violet sobbed uncontrollably, and I embraced her as I ached too. The truth of the Arch Deity was startling, and it bewildered me that she had given me her life force! I imagined that if she hadn’t had those memory issues that she would have made the transition sooner, and it saddened me to think of the misery her plight must have caused her! As we mourned her loss, I resolved to make sure that Doctor Canenta’s cure would come to fruition and distribute to all the afflicted patients eligible as a dedication to her legacy!

            Once the grieving somewhat subsided, Violet and I stood up and faced the crowd, who all celebrated our contribution to this victory! It felt totally strange, but we were grateful for their accolades! Gurcharan approached us and asked, “What happens now?”

            I answered, “There’s gonna be a lot of changes around here!” As we made our way through the debris, I reflected on where to start. We had reached the ending I had hoped for, but truthfully, it felt more like an entirely new beginning!

The End

True Deception, Chapter 28

And, just like that, the four walls that surrounded us flew right down! The force that Alfred used sent us all soaring in different directions; the Fallens got flung to the front of the school, Alfred and Gabrielle plummeted towards the playground, and Violet and I got hurled into the hallway! Alfred’s spell shook the whole building, and a myriad of teachers and students poked their heads out to see what was happening. Right then, the dust settled, and the seven of us who were in that office met eyes with each other! Leonard used a hex to make a piece of debris zoom towards us, but Gabrielle ran over and created a protective shield over the hall. Alfred used his powers to fling heavy objects towards them, and he successfully knocked out Alastor! That’s when it occurred to me- Amy and Sam were wearing armor when we took them out with that tree branch, and Samaya summoned that bear to take care of Berith, so while magic couldn’t penetrate silver, other things till could! That was the secret to taking Birsha’s Army down! We couldn’t let Alfred fight them on his own, so I directed Violet, “Come on! We gotta help him!”

            Violet nodded, and we both bolted up to assist him. We didn’t get very far though- something pulled at our arms to hold us back! We turned around to see that obsequious teacher had grabbed onto us! She bellowed, “Don’t you dare interfere with the dissidents’ takedown!”

            “Zilla, they’re endangering our children’s’ lives!” Gabrielle scolded her. “How could you allow this to go on when it means putting innocent kids in harm’s way?”

            “Change involves sacrifice!” Zilla coldly asserted. “If there are casualties in the line of fire, then so be it!”

            I could tell that even the teachers who supported Birsha’s regime got disgusted by her callous attitude, and many of them seemed to second-guess their decision of where to place their allegiance! At any other time, that would have been a welcome development, but at this point, since Alfred and Gabrielle seemed to be the only ones willing to take action, their shift of loyalty didn’t make much of a difference! A couple of people looked angry that she wouldn’t free us, but everyone appeared too frightened to even get close to her! “You’re a monster!” Gabrielle shrieked.

            Zilla argued, “No, you are! The current system is poison, and you’re letting it spread! You’ve been making it grow all along! That’s gonna stop now! You’ll thank me later! You’ll see! Everything’ll-!”

            A little girl ran up to Zilla and bit her arm! Zilla yelped in pain and nearly struck the child in retaliation, but with Violet now able to have full range of motion, she seized the opportunity to punch Zilla in the face! This impact sent Zilla stumbling into the mob of Monico Elementary faculty, and they very willingly apprehended her! Gabrielle’s jinx destroyed a projectile heading in our direction, and once that threat had gotten extinguished, Violet and I sped to aid Alfred in the battle against the Fallens!

            We were horrified to see the four of them standing over Alfred’s unconscious body! I couldn’t fathom what they intended to do with him, but regardless of what they had in mind, I wouldn’t permit it to happen! I spotted a nearby pipe and catapulted to their vicinity! It nailed Jinn, but he didn’t get hurt enough to prevent him from participating in the foray! Their attention averted from Alfred over to us, and they used their hexes to throw enormous material at us! Violet and I managed to dodge them, but it grew more and more difficult for us to continue this because they spread out and aimed from three different locations! I didn’t know if we could keep this up for too much longer, but I did know that we couldn’t win this contention if we didn’t go on the offensive, so I wracked my brain to come up with a pathway in order for us to gain the advantage we needed to do that! It was too difficult to think with our constant movement though, and that sentiment only deepened when…

            “Kenzo, no!” Gabrielle roared. My heart dropped as I witnessed a small boy break out of her protective field and sprint over to this perilous sector! He picked up a meager stone and held it up with the objective of tossing it our opponents! Kora leered at him, “You wanna play, you little brat? Then fine, let’s play!”

            “No!” Violet and I shouted in unison as she lifted a heavy piece of furniture and cast it at that student! Violet and I both lunged towards him, but since she was closer, Violet became the one to rescue him! She pushed him out of the trajectory’s target, but unfortunately, that caused her to absorb the brunt of this collision!

            My whole body froze! This sight made everything go numb, and all I wanted to do was rush over to save her! I couldn’t do that though, the Fallens resumed their siege on me! It was pure agony to have to defend myself as she laid motionless on the floor! I prayed that she would wake up- I didn’t know how I would be able to go on if I didn’t have her by my side! I refused to succumb to the notion that she wouldn’t get revived, the thought of her perishing was too awful to even consider! Clearly, the Fallens could sense the mental torture plaguing me in that moment, and they snickered delightfully as they sustained their assault! I was more outnumbered than ever, so in all honesty with myself, I couldn’t guarantee I could salvage either one of our lives…

            All of a sudden, the sprinklers went off, pouring tons of water out over everybody! Normally, I would have used this distraction to ambush the Fallens, but my instincts pushed me straight to Violet! I shoved the file cabinet off of her torso and immediately knelt down to check her vitals! My pulse raced like crazy in anticipation of the worst case scenario, and I beseeched the heavens that I would discover some good news instead! To my immense relief, she started to stir! I can’t describe just how relieved it made me to see this! “Thank god, you’re safe!” I exclaimed as she lifted her lids.

            From above our low positions, Jinn taunted us, “I wouldn’t be too sure of that if I were you!” We glanced up and beheld that the three remaining Fallens hovered directly over our heads! I grew cognizant of the fact that my emotional stronghold had lured me into a trap, and I admonished myself for getting us surrounded like this! I berated my decision-making for not saving her by taking care of our enemies first, and I could only hope that I would be able to make up for my blunder in the future!

            Leonard removed our helmets and mockingly queried us, “Any last words?” I couldn’t drum up a snarky retort that this interaction deserved, my panic forced me to shut down completely! Violet and I simply braced ourselves for this ill fate… until…

            Sirens blared in the distance, and the three alert Fallens had all of the color in their face drain away completely! Leonard muttered, “Who on Earth…”

            He scoped out the area as if the perpetrator would reveal themselves, and after a few seconds, he espied the girl who bit Zilla putting down a landline that hung on the wall! She flipped her braided hair at him in a defiant sort of manner, and he started to charge at her, but Jinn nabbed his extremities and strongly recommended, “Forget it! We gotta go!” Leonard’s lividness rooted him to the spot momentarily, but as the sirens’ howl heightened, Leonard relented, “Get them into the trunk and let’s go!”

            As Leonard ran to the driver’s seat, I prepared myself to kick and scream as they dragged us to the vehicle! I wasn’t eager to deal with the sham of a murder trial that we’d have to go through, but my survival rate seemed higher in prison than going with Birsha’s Army wherever they planned to flee! They probably couldn’t return to the Punishment Site since Gabrielle’s brother had called the police from there and alerted them to its presence, but whatever the alternative became couldn’t have been much better! Besides, with their intense trepidation of us getting incarcerated, my curiosity made me wonder what they were trying to prevent us from encountering there… That concept wouldn’t come into fruition in this instance though! Jinn and Kora pointed their palms at us, and in one fast sweep, we got magically hurtled into the trunk of their car!

            The lid shut in a flash, giving us no window to endeavor a jump so we could regain our freedom! In the span of a heartbeat, we got enclosed and they became airborne! Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could discern Violet’s shadow next to me, and I asked her, “How do we get out of here?”

            “I have no idea!” Violet answered forlornly. “Even if we popped the trunk open, we would still have to find a way to get back to the ground safely! They would most likely discover what we’re doing before we even set a foot outside of the car!” She sighed and then followed her statement with, “I’m gonna have to use a spell!”

            “Violet, no!” I adamantly objected to her suggestion. “We can’t risk depleting your life force!”

            She debated that, “If we stay in here, then the Fallens will take it away completely! At least if I used a small hex, I’d have a greater probability of continuing my existence!”

            I knew her logic had merit to it, but I still had an intense aversion to Violet sacrificing herself like that! If we got out of here, I wanted us both to be alive for the occasion! I couldn’t furnish any alternatives to her projection, but I knocked on wood that I could inspire her to weigh some other options first! Maybe one of them would sprout some wings in the nick of time to preserve both of our us from meeting our demise! “What would you do though? Create a soft landing for us? The Fallens would be able to catch up pretty fast if we did that!”

            “Well… I could transport us somewhere…” Violet proposed.

            “Where?” I challenged her. “We had nowhere to go if we didn’t discover the Arch Deity at Monico Elementary!”

            Violet mulled it over for a minute and then reported, “I have no clue! Truth be told, I didn’t think about escaping back there, I was kinda interested in getting arrested…”

            I concurred with her, “Me too! Never in a million years did I ever feel grateful that I’m wanted for a felony!”

            “I know!” Violet chuckled. But since they’re so damn insistent on us not going to lockup, I’m guessing that there’s something advantageous for us in one of the cells…”

            “What if it’s the Arch Deity?” I probed. “What if the reason they’re not coming forward to eliminate Birsha’s threat to society is ‘cause they’re imprisoned?”

            Violet deliberated the plausibility of this. “Hmm… Well, that would make sense…”

            I iterated my argument, “Innocent people are getting thrown in jail left and right these days! I should know… Do you know how many decent clients I saw get taken away for the pettiest of crimes? How could they protect the planet without busting out in such an unorthodox and probably illegal way?”

            “How are we gonna get out of incarceration though?” Violet brought up. “If the Arch Deity isn’t in there, we could land ourselves in there for the rest of our lives!”

            “We’re not guilty, they shouldn’t lock us up forever!” Even though I couldn’t see her visage, I could tell that Violet was giving me a quizzical look, so I acknowledged, “Okay, so that doesn’t mean they won’t succeed!” I contemplated it for a bit and then submitted to her, “There’s bound to be some Guardians in the prisons we’ll get sent to. We can convince them to lend a hand in getting us out if we both strike out!”

            Violet worriedly conveyed, “That’s really risky! But what choice do we have? We can’t ignore this lead and run the risk of losing out on finding the Arch Deity! It’s gonna be so hard though! I don’t like the thought of continuing this journey without you!”

            It elated my spirits to hear that she treasured my company! She couldn’t possibly have valued our stint together as much as I did, but it was still incredible to learn that she held our comradery dear! My mirth evaporated as rapidly as it came as it slowly dawned on me that we would be separated for quite a lengthy stretch! That made my insides ache, and all I could do was reassure myself that we would get reunited again soon! Prior to me getting to express any departing grief to her, our conversation got interrupted…

            The trunk space got completely illuminated when we each received a text message from Natair warning everyone that the police were on the hunt for their security vehicles, which prompted Violet to cry out, “Oh, duh! We still have the watches on!” She immediately dialed 9-1-1 and informed them, “We’ve been kidnapped! We’re in the trunk of a security car!”

            “I’m gonna turn the power off of this thing so they can’t get too far from the cops!” I announced. Moments later, we heard the faint sounds of police sirens heading towards us! Before I pushed the button on the vehicle’s app, I hurriedly confessed to Violet, “I’m gonna miss you!” The Fallens sped up, so I powered down their car as hastily as I could! The vehicle came to a screeching halt and then swiftly fell to the pavement! We landed with a bang, but just as I was about to pop the trunk open…

            “Jack, before we go, there’s something I gotta tell you…” Violet gazed at me with such a serious expression on her face that all of my skin tingled and my lungs ran out of breath at the expectation of the drastic communication she would relay to me…

True Deception, Chapter 27

“Are you two okay?” a woman with a wheatish complexion, a soft jawline, and a short but trim body gazed at me with her light gray eyes full of concern.

            “We’re fine, just tired!” I bolted out of my seat to portray myself as alert and ready to work. She had an aura of gentleness to her, but I didn’t want to take any chances at such a critical juncture! She surveyed the two of us with great interest, and since I had no way of knowing whether or not her intentions meant well, I gruffly asked her, “What do you want?”

            Her tone became more formal as she answered, “Well, when I was setting up my classroom for our next project, I noticed my window was open. It looked like it was forced open from outside! I was just wondering if you any video of it happening.”

            It never occurred to me that I should prepare for this possibility! Sitting in the camera room and watching the monitors didn’t bother me, but I had no idea how to pull up past footage! I turned to Violet to see if she had any clues what to do, and her blank expression indicated that she did not. I fretted that the inability to do this customary function of the job would blow our cover, and I prepared myself to fumble my way around this equipment in hopes of figuring it out on the fly, but luckily, this teacher proposed, “Perhaps you’d like to take a look at the window?”

            I tried not to appear too relieved as I agreed to her suggestion, “Okay, we’ll check it out.”

            With all of the discussions that went on over the weekend, it struck me as odd that no one brought up what room that intruder we found tried to break into! I should have realized that a person breaking into the art room, the one slice of individualism and creativity in this school that led me to believe that a Guardian or maybe even the Arch Deity occupied this space, was highly significant! I had nearly forgotten about my curiosity of the name I found in there, and now that I stood in her vicinity, my whole perspective on this situation changed! Instead of striving to maintain appearances, Violet and I could delve into the inner workings of the Fallens’ scholastic scheme! I suddenly grew very excited- I wanted to learn the truth when school resumed, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon!

            Violet and I peered at the damage that the trespasser had done, but our attention didn’t linger there long since we already knew what went on at that spot. We quickly diverted our focus back to Gabrielle Vinetra, and I inquired, “Do you store anything valuable in here that might attract thieves?”

            “The only thing in here with any monetary value would be the microphones they hide in each room,” Gabrielle replied as she pulled out a piece of paper from her desk and began scribbling something down. I used her temporary distraction to cringe; I always knew that the school could be bugged, but it was a huge disappointment to confirm this chance as a fact! How would we question her about the Fallens’ involvement at this establishment with our adversaries’ ears all around us? “I mean, my kids’ work has value to me, but I doubt anyone else would wanna keep them!” She pushed the paper towards us as if she wanted us to take a peek at it…

            “Do you have any enemies?” Violet posed to her as we read what she wrote. It shocked us to see her enquiring if her brother was okay! Why would she mention something like that to us? How would we know about his well-being? Unless…

            Of course! That man who we apprehended resembled her in so many ways! “I have an abusive ex-husband, but he moved to the west coast…” As she went on, we jotted down that he was fine, but then we gave her the largest inquiry that presently burned in the forefront of our minds- why would her brother break into her classroom?
            Violet probed, “Have you seen anything strange go on around here lately?” As she talked, Gabrielle doled out a written reply. Apparently, he wanted to disable the surveillance in her room even though she begged him not to do it.

            “Nothing out of the ordinary…” Gabrielle responded as she read what I was writing, which was a wonderment as to why he would do that. She scribed her explanation, and it floored me to read that she wanted to discuss the mission to locate the Arch Deity with Principal Shaton! She relayed that nowhere was safe for them to do so as she voiced, “Maybe a homeless person just needed a place to rest and picked my class at random!”

            “Maybe…” I hardly knew how to react to her written statement! Lama Malva mentioned that other people were embarking on the same quest as us, but it never dawned on me that I might possibly meet up with any of them! It felt incredibly noteworthy to run into a person with the same vocation in the same area that we suspected the Arch Deity could have an association with! However, my interest still gravitated more towards another aspect of this conversation, so I penciled my issue to her- How did she know we were searching for the Arch Deity?

            Gabrielle state, “Well, there is one other thing… Some of the teachers have accused me of being disloyal to the school’s cause, but it isn’t true! My only allegiance lies with my commitment to teaching my students!” As she expressed this opinion, she covertly advised us to leave this place immediately!

            She thought we should depart from Monico Elementary? I had to scan over that sentence a few times to make sure I understood it correctly! It stung quite a bit to meet a peer who bore the same calling and have that ally insist that we should break ties straightaway! I had absolutely no inclination to heed her word, not when we got so close to getting some much-needed guidance for the vital duty we had in saving our society! I yearned to know what information she obtained from her own experience in this field, and I pondered how far she and the principal had gotten in discovering the Arch Deity’s true identity! I considered that she may have grown some apprehension of our presence in quarters with so many members of Birsha’s Army roaming freely throughout the vicinity, but she should have gleaned by our outfits that we were well aware of their stronghold over Monico Elementary! This past weekend enlightened us as to how dark their misdeeds could be, but we managed to avoid getting involved in the worst of it! Nathair hadn’t given us any hints in anyone shifting their trust in us, so there was not likely any tentative troubles on the horizon for Violet and me! I tried to relay all of this to her, but then…

            “Hey, Gabby! Have you…?” It stunned us when the teacher we encountered at the factory burst into the room! She had been so full of pip and vinegar when she originally entered, but as soon as she saw us, her mood changed completely! “Oh, you have company…”

            “We’ve heard some reports about this one being a dissident!” I brusquely asserted with my husky speech. I knew that she would recognize me if I used my normal tongue since I used it at Nerium Night Ware, and I also remembered her high level of dedication to Birsha’s regime, so I crossed my fingers that a show of force would throw off any suspicions she may have possessed about the two of us! “We’re taking her to the front office for interrogation!” Violet and I each grabbed an arm, and as we brushed past her and escorted Gabrielle down the hall, I got the impression that we may have landed ourselves in the clear…

            When we stepped into the door labeled “Principal Shaton,” we saw portly man with a bald head, russet skin, and a nose that I swore I had seen somewhere before pacing back and forth across the room under the guise of tidying up. It was one of the most organized offices I had seen in a long while, so clearly, this man had some underlying anxiety that had begun to surface! When we walked in, he froze like a deer in headlights and nervously asked us, “Oh, hi! Is there a problem?”

            I shut the door and took off my helmet before I answered him, “We heard you were looking for someone. We’d like to help!”

            “You…?” Principal Shaton gazed at Violet, who had also removed her headwear, and me in confusion. I could only imagine how this impacted him! Going from expecting to receive a couple of surly Fallens only to behold their number one foes had shown up instead must have been completely trippy, so I waited patiently for the reality of this situation to come to him. When it finally did, his mannerisms changed completely! “Oh, yes! That ‘historical figure’ has been of great interest to me for years, and I believe learning about them would greatly benefit the school and the entire city for that matter!”

            “Do you have any hints as to where you might locate them?” Violet probed. “Do you have something that might be helpful to our investigation, Principal Shaton?”

            He shook his head. “I’m afraid not. I haven’t had a lot of free time lately! Running this school takes most of my day, and my nights have been taken over by caring from our recent agreement to care for my grandmother! It’s fine certain days, but then sometimes, her memory problems kick in! She’ll forget what she was doing and break things or get lost while wandering around my neighborhood!” He sighed and then added, “Oh, and please, call me Alfred.”

            Violet related to him, “Alfred, I totally get it! My grandma had memory problems too!” I recalled Patty getting a little confused when I spoke to her, but it surprised me to hear that she had more comprehensive ailment than that! Violet never really discussed it prior to this occasion, but then again, we never really got as many openings to chat as casually as we could have liked! I wistfully pictured Violet and I having long talks about our pasts on a typical date type of setting, and I sincerely hoped that we would get a shot at making an ordinary like that come true in the future!

            “Yeah, so you know time-consuming that can get!” Alfred remarked. “On the same token, we’re also running out time to pinpoint this person! The longer we wait, the more that…”

            “They’re in here, Leonard!” Kora shouted from the sector that bordered Alfred’s office! Violet and I swiftly put our helmets back on and tried to keep our cool! We hadn’t left on bad terms with that crew, but since they were actively seeking us out, we became nervous about this encounter! Last night, we were so weary that we didn’t fuss over Nathair’s lack of communication, but with this development at out feet, I instantly regretted not addressing it! If we had simply notified Nathair to inform him of our status, we wouldn’t have gotten ourselves into such hot water! We had no evidence that they had any unfriendly intentions with us, but their abrupt arrival made the air fill up with the same energy that a person experiences as a storm begins to brew…

            Leonard, Kora, Alastor, and Jinn burst inside of these chambers in the most unceremonious method imaginable! Obviously, they were angry enough that common courtesies were entirely abandoned! Alfred and Gabrielle backed into a corner behind the desk, but Violet and I stayed up and pretended as though we were simply carrying out official duties. I attempted to offhandedly break the ice with them, “Oh, hello! Nice to see you guys made it out of the-.”

            Cutting me off without a shade of goodwill to his message, Leonard growled, “Cut the crap! We know the truth!”

            “What are you…? What do you…?” I stuttered. I wanted to feign as though I had no inkling as to what he was referencing, but my nerves were getting the better of me! I surmised that they must have gathered some unfavorable intelligence about us, and all I could do at this moment was knock on wood that what they obtained could get explained away and remedy this dilemma easily!

            “We found Sam and Amy tied up in the woods!” Leonard grimly revealed. “Apparently, Nathair was under the impression that they were going to this school to search for dissidents! He was baffled as to why they didn’t take care of that intruder! He had never heard of any new hires named Harvey or Sabrina! Ugh! And here we were worried sick about losing you guys at that dangerous scene! We were losing our minds about your disappearance! We were all prepared to rescue you from jail, and then we find out that we were deceived! How dare you pull at our heartstrings like that!”

            A bout of silence followed that oration, and it was incessantly unsettling! I knew they were livid, and I knew what they usually did to those who betrayed their ranks, so I didn’t have to guess what they had fated for Violet and me to endure! It astonished me as to why they didn’t capture us and carry it out right away, and I greatly desired to use this lull to work out an avenue of escape, but I blanked out! We were stuck in a small space with four powerful Fallens blocking our only exit, so I couldn’t fathom how we would get out of there alive! This feeling only increased when, to my horror, Alfred stepped forward with his palms up, ready to strike the Fallens with a spell! Leonard derisively cackled at this gesture, “You’ve gotta be joking! You must be delusional if you think you can beat a group of Birsha’s Soldiers by yourself! We’re all wearing armor, how can you hurt us?”

            Alfred bravely assured him, “I may not be able to get through your silver, but that’s not the only way to damage you! Your power over my school is over! This ends now!” Out of both trepidation and curiosity, the four Fallens stood perfectly still and prepared themselves to witness the magic Alfred would emit as he held his hands to the sky…

True Deception, Chapter 26

“This doesn’t seem like much of a punishment!” I conveyed to the four Fallens with as much cynicism as I could muster.

            “I’m sorry?” Leonard reacted in disbelief. Jinn and Alastor stared at me incredulously, and even Violet seemed surprised by my assertion! I would have to explain it to her later, but for the moment, she would just have to trust me on this!

            I shrugged and then expounded on my point, “You said this was the Punishment Site, and, well, this seems so quick and painless. How is that a punishment?”

            Leonard, Alastor, and Jinn appeared impressed by my stance, and I inwardly pat myself on the back for how convincing I had been to our foes! It never occurred to me until then that I had any acting skills, and I bemused myself in thinking that I wasted my college years studying pre-law! Leonard asked me, “Well, what did you have in mind?”

            “Uh…” My inflated ego popped as I had to go back to business, and I made sure to really concentrate on radiating a sociopath with homicidal tendencies as I answered him, “There’s a forest right there! Why not make it more sporting? Let him run and dare to believe he has a chance at survival, and then, the moment he thinks he’s got a shot at victory- BAM! We get him!” I didn’t have any actual interest in hunting this poor man down; I was hoping to get the Fallens away from him so that Violet and I could secretly help him out, and I prayed that these goons were sadistic enough to fall for it!

            “I like what your twisted brain comes up with!” Leonard mused himself with this notion I raised, and I started to get the impression that my plan might prevail, but then… “But we can’t possibly do that!”

            My heart sunk to hear his refusal, but I wasn’t prone to give up so easily, so I challenged him on that, “Why not?”

            Leonard rationalized his denial, “We don’t have much control over what happens in the woods! There could be a hiding spot there that we’d never be able to find, or he could run into someone who could save him! Plus, you don’t know when something dangerous could turn up and hurt us! The longer we let him live, the more danger we put ourselves in, so it’s better to kill him right away! And bury him right away too! If we got him out there, we run the risk of somebody seeing us with his corpse! Your idea sounds fun, but…”

            Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something that caught his attention, and when he whipped his head in the direction of this source of distraction, we all mimicked his move. The Fallens were horrified to see that the trespasser had a watch on and used our preoccupation in that discussion to discretely call 9-1-1! For a second, Leonard stared at the device as if it were a time bomb ready to explode, but then he abruptly shouted, “Scatter!”

            As Alastor, Jinn, and Leonard all sprinted in different directions, they did a spell to remove their armor. Violet and I kept ours on as we prepared to depart, but before we left, the intruder stopped us, “Hey!” I don’t know why we complied with his wishes- we were his perceived enemies, what good could have followed that request? I guess something about his tone made us consider trusting him, and I crossed my fingers that we hadn’t erred in trusting him! Luckily, he gazed at us gratefully as he expressed, “Thanks!” I felt relieved to learn that he caught on to how we assisted him, but since Violet and I were still getting framed for murder, we couldn’t stick around. Instead, I gave him a thumbs up as we took off.

            Violet and I didn’t have a pathway to guide us, we simply headed away from the beach and figured that if we kept going this route, eventually we would come across some sort of road. After quite a bit of fleeing, the two of us had to pause and catch our breath! Once I had gotten enough inhalations to speak again, I remarked, “It didn’t seem like such a long trip as we were heading over here!”

            “Seriously!” Violet shared my sentiments, and after taking another big gulp, she suggested, “We should probably take the silver off since that thief probably gave the police a description of his assailants.”

            “Yeah, we don’t wanna get back to Anwynston in the back of a cop car!” We laughed a little despite our wheeziness, and as we shed our helmets and mail, I conversed, “Too bad we’ll never know why that dude broke into the school!”

            Violet thoughtfully reflected on that, “Yeah, I’m curious if he was gonna do a regular robbery or if he had some kind of resistance to Birsha in mind! If Nathair hadn’t contacted us when he did, I wonder if we could have gotten an ally out of him!” She paused and added, “Oh well! It doesn’t really atter what might have been, we gotta focus on what we’re gonna do now! How do we travel that far without getting caught and thrown in prison?”

            I brought up, “But do we wanna avoid capture anymore? The Fallens are pretty adamant about us not getting incarcerated!”

            “Because they don’t want anyone else blabbing secrets,” Violet asserted. “I’m assuming some Guardians have been telling the courts everything they gathered from their encounters with Birsha’s Army! Oh! Nicole just got arrested, and she did imply she was gonna do that!”

            “I hope she stays safe wherever she is!” I greatly admired her conviction to inform the masses on this regime’s malevolent practices, but I could only imagine that she obtained a huge target on her back from this intention, and I fretted for her well-being! I couldn’t linger on that concept for too long though since we had our own safety to worry about! “It’s still dark out, and we have a lot of plants to shield us on this trip, we can probably make it back alright.”

            Violet frowned as she commented, “It’s gonna take us at least eight hours to get to Anwynston on foot! That’s a long time to go without us running into something that might get us thrown in jail!”

            I reminded her, “The authorities are more likely looking in the air for a vehicle that matches what that man described, I doubt they’ll search for anyone walking around on the ground! Besides, who would be crazy enough to hoof it for such a long trek?” Violet giggled at my quip, a feat that always elated my spirits, and I attempted to further my joyful impact on her mood by encouragingly ensuring her, “School doesn’t start ‘til Monday anyways. We have a whole day to wait anyways! It’ll be fine even if we never stumble across another method of transporting us home!” Violet gave the mirthful reaction that I wanted, and I began to look forward to having such an expansive opportunity to be alone with her!

            My solitude with her was briefer than I envisioned it would be! What felt like no time at all, we saw pavement ahead of us! Initially, we assumed that it was part of a street, but it turned out to be a parking lot belonging to a church. We presumed that this house of worship was in a remote location, and we expected their driveway to lead us back to the freeway, but the avenue we faced led to the entrance of a tiny city full of antique buildings! “Hmm… Do you think this town will get us back on track, or should we go the other direction through the woods?” Violet posed to me.

            “I dunno…” Both routes contained potential danger for very different reasons, and I had no inkling which one would offer us the most amount of protection! The mail and helmet grew heavy in my arms, it would have been so nice if we could have ditched these garments in the forest! Unfortunately, we had to use them when we returned to Monico Elementary, and the outfits we obtained from the Buddhist temple didn’t have any pockets! The material would have folded up if only we had somewhere to place them! I tried to make my peace with this burden we had to carry, but I grew uncomfortable with the extra weight! As I readjusted my load to make it easier to bear, I happened to read what the message on the sign said. It intrigued me, and I alerted Violet to this development, “Wow! Talk about meant to be!”

            “Trip to Anwynston, nine a.m.! What a coincidence! Too bad we can’t go with them!” she sighed.

            I inquired, “Why can’t we?”

            She replied, “They probably already have a set number of people slated to board whatever vehicle they’re using. They may even do a role call! We’d get caught for sure!”

            “They would do that for a long trip, but not a thirty-minute drive!” I argued. “If they let us on, we’d save at least five hours of travel time!”

            “And if they don’t, we’ll lose several hours waiting here!” Violet differed. “Or worse, they could recognize us and we’d land ourselves in lockup! Although… in a small town like this, their jail system would probably be simple enough for us to break out without too much trouble…”

            It relieved me to see her entertaining this possibility! I really believed that it was the most practical method of getting to Anwynston, but I needed to address one lingering issue… I glanced around at what resources were available around there, and I grew ecstatic to see a costume shop a few doors down! “Aren’t you glad Halloween is just around the corner!?!”

            Violet chuckled, and we walked over to that store. It was still dark out, so obviously the store wasn’t open. I peered through the window and declared, “It doesn’t look like they have any kind of a security system here. They probably have a cheap lock too!” As I wiggled the handle to test it, the door instantly became ajar! “This is just too easy! It’s gotta be a trap!”

            “Shh! Someone might hear you!” Violet quietly reminded me before we set foot onto the property. We tiptoed inside and scoped the vicinity out. It wasn’t a big space, but it had a lot of options! The inventory was numerous enough that all of the racks were stacked to the max, so we had a multitude to pick from! “What would make the most sense for us?” Violet whispered.

            “Is somebody there?” an elderly voice yelled form the top of a staircase in the center of the structure! Panicking, I grabbed the first costume I laid my eyes on and dashed out of there! Violet copied my action and got out before the shopkeeper could catch a glimpse of us!

            We came back to the church and found a wall bordering their dumpsters where we could discretely change, and I volunteered to go last. While she swapped her garments, I studied what I nabbed and commented, “I hope these things fit!”

            Violet exclaimed, “Oh, we’re pilgrims!”

            “What?” I puzzled.

            “Look!” She came out wearing a long, old-timey dress with an apron and bonnet! We cracked up at this realization, and then she gleefully regarded me, “Please tell me your hat was attached too!”

            I held up a capotain and kidded, “Hey, these things may be goofy, but I bet no one will think we’re up to no good in them!”

            As I got out of my previous attire, Violet stated, “Hopefully we won’t be the only ones dressed up! If this is a solemn ceremony, we’ll have to walk to Anwynston like this!”

            “So? At least it has pockets!” I came out of the shadows and showcased my outfit for her. “What do you think?”

            “Your shoes don’t match!” a man behind us put in. We grew startled by this abrupt appearance, but he didn’t seem to find our presence so strange! “We may have some boots in the back! Hold on!”

            He ducked into the building and swiftly rejoined us with a pair of shoes that kind of matched my costume! As he gave them to me, he also gave me a compliment, “It’s so nice of you to do this! Now as we pray for the lost souls of the witchcraft trials, the kids won’t picture ghosts of the past, they’ll know real human beings died that day!”

            And just like that, Violet and I basically became party hosts! No one questioned our identities, everyone assumed that we belonged there! We thought we ran into an incredible stroke of luck at the premise of us being actors who tagged along for the journey, but once we arrived at this historic district of Anwynston, we found that we couldn’t separate ourselves from the group! We were too noticeable to slip away without getting seen, so we felt forced to remain on their touristy adventure! I don’t know what we could have gained from that school on a Sunday, but I knew we weren’t doing much for our cause by participating in this stunt! Fortunately, almost no one recognized us in this façade! One old lady queried if we ever got mistaken for the two most wanted criminals in the area, but she was merely teasing us! Finally, at some staged production of the trials, Violet and I managed to sneak out of their periphery!

            The door was unlocked when we, at last, got to the school! We ditched our headwear and donned our armor again, so none of the staff suspected anything heinous! When we were alone in the camera room, I joked, “Well, on the plus side, I kicked the itch to become an actor to the curb!”

            “Good!” Violet grinned as she sleepily rested her chin on her hands. “The real plus side is that Nathair didn’t call us when we were with that church bunch!”

            “Why didn’t he call us?” I pondered with a yawn.

            Violet gave me a shrug. “As long as he doesn’t have us thrown out of here, I’m not gonna worry about it!”

            I agreed, “Yeah, we should be glad were here again, and tomorrow, we can search for the…”

            All of a sudden, someone was nudging me to wake up, which was funny because I didn’t recall falling asleep! I opened my eyes, and my panic began to resurface…

True Deception, Chapter 25

“What do we do?” Violet urgently asked me. We watched a man dressed in dark colors try to pry open one of the windows of the school. Abandoning the ruse of speaking like the adversaries we disguised ourselves as in case of a hot mic, Violet went on, “We don’t have any weapons, and my powers are almost completely drained, so how can we stop him?”

            “Maybe we don’t,” I answered her. “I mean, we could ‘accidentally’ turn off his camera and say we didn’t see him… Oh, but then Nathair will kick us out of this post and we won’t get a chance to look for the Arch Deity among the teachers on Monday!”

            Violet suggested, “We could call for back up. That’s what Sam and Amy would probably do if they were here in case the ‘dissidents’ showed up while they were dealing with this intruder.”

            I felt reluctant to go down that route. “Yeah, but it’s not like they would call the police and go complete the rest of their shift! If they don’t wanna deal with cops, then how would they handle thieves?” On some level, I think we both knew that Birsha’s Army wasn’t likely to go lightly on anyone that they might take prisoner, but neither of wanted to know any specifics on what happens during these apprehensions! I doubted any of the possibilities would have been pleasant to hear!

            “Well… We can scare him enough to make him leave on his own,” Violet proposed.

            “Worth a shot! Let’s go!” I exclaimed as the trespasser started to gain traction with his intentions. We bolted out of our seats and ran outside.

            As soon as we got close to his break-in spot, we held our palms out towards him, and I shouted, “Stop right there!”

            The man, who already had a leg on the sill, reluctantly slipped out and put his hands up in the air. “I’m cooperating! Don’t hurt me!”

            “Now what?” I whispered to Violet. I was counting on the culprit running off as soon as he heard Violet and me! I didn’t know what to do with someone who surrendered to us! Violet obviously didn’t have a clue either, and the man began to grow confused by our hesitation. Before we could speculate on a solution to this conundrum, the watch I had on indicated that a call was coming in! I glanced at its face and inwardly groaned when I saw that it was Nathair! I told Violet, “Let’s just ignore him ‘til we figure this out!”

            “If we don’t talk to him, he’ll think that something is wrong and send some Fallens this way! I’m sure if tell him that we got the situation handled, he’ll leave us alone after that.”

            I was skeptical of her theory coming to pass, but I heeded her word anyhow. Nathair’s image floated above us, and I made my voice hoarse again as I graciously greeted him, “How can we help you, sir?”

            Nathair brusquely responded, “I got notified that somebody opened a window at that school! Was it the dissidents? Did you get them?”

            “No, it was someone else…” I reluctantly turned the watch so that he could face the intruder. I wished that I could have lied and said everything was fine on our end, but I didn’t know how else we would explain the window opening like that. All I could do at this point was hope that he would trust us to handle the problem ourselves! “Amy and I were about to take care of this.”

            “Sam, is this your first day?” Nathair addressed me, and I tried not to smile at this allusion to the story we gave the janitor earlier! He wouldn’t have understood why I was grinning, and I’m not sure how I would have explained it to him, especially since it sounded like “Sam” was about to get lectured on his performance! “You can’t take him to the Punishment Site with those dissidents still on the loose! Keep him there for now, and I’ll send for back-up.”

            Praying that I still conveyed calm, I agreed to that order, “Yes, sir!” Privately, I was panicking! If we had to interact with other Fallens, then they would see that we weren’t Sam and Amy right away! And then we would join this intruder at this Punishment Site! I had no idea what that would have entailed, but clearly, they wouldn’t have put us through anything helpful or pleasant there!

            When Nathair hung up, Violet reassured me, “This won’t be so bad! All we gotta do is hand him off to whoever gets here, and then we can go back into the camera room! We may even be able to duck inside as soon as they arrive so we don’t gotta talk to anyone!”

            That thought hadn’t occurred to me until she mentioned it, and now that she had, I felt like I could take a deep breath and relax a little. I didn’t get the opportunity to do that for long though because the man who tried to break in gazed at us in confusion and probed, “What’s going on? Why did you talk differently with him? How come you seem so uneager to punish me?”

            Neither of us knew how to reply to that! Had this guy had run-ins with Birsha’s Army prior to today? I frowned as I wondered if he would say something to the Fallens who were set to join us here and blow our cover? Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to figure it out- a vehicle with a security logo parked in front of the school! Violet tried to dart back inside of the building, but she couldn’t reopen the door! “We never got the keys to this place!”

            I cringed at the prospect of having to deal with the four unfriendly-looking individuals who exited the vehicle, and I crossed my fingers that we wouldn’t have to fight them for our freedom and risk losing this possibility to unearth the person who had the power to save the world! I did my utmost to portray a convincing amount of poise and control as they approached us, and although I knocked on wood for the best, I feared the worst…

            It was hard to read their mood since their eyes were covered, but their lips formed fairly deep frowns, so I didn’t foresee anything positive coming from this encounter! The one at the head of the pack gruffly inquired, “What happened?”

            A wave of alleviation washed over me! If they didn’t have any details other than a location, then we were unlikely to get identified as imposters! Violet honestly reported to them, “We’re not really sure what to do right now!”

            “Sullivan was lying, Nathair didn’t give the new recruits any training!” One of the other Fallens shook his head. In my mind, I pondered whether or not that custodian’s name was Sullivan or if Nathair had been lackadaisical enough about his hiring practices that everyone started to take notice…

            “We have a special spot we take troublemakers,” another one of the Fallens informed us. I expected them to give a simple explanation on this subject and then take the trespasser away, and I already started planning out the details of the rest of our evening, but then that Fallen went on, “Memorize the route so you won’t need help next time! Come on, bring him to the-.”

            I interrupted him, “Wait!” I uttered that a little too hastily, and they gave me a peculiar look for doing that. I attempted to smooth things over by disclosing, “We’re expecting some really dangerous dissidents to break into the school. We can’t leave it vacant!”

            The smallest out that bunch volunteered, “I can watch over the school while you guys are out.”

            “Oh, well, I was thinking we could stay here since we were already…” It really disappointed me that we weren’t given permission to remain at this station, and while it sounded as though we would have been able to return, somehow I pictured it as not being so easy for us to come back once we went away!

            “Aw, I know you wanna be the ones to catch some high-level offenders, but if you don’t know how to punish dissidents properly, what are you gonna do if you do catch them?” the head of the pack sympathized with me, and I pretended to get comforted by this gesture, but in reality, I didn’t believe anything good would come of us leaving a scene that might have ties to the Arch Deity! The head of the pack continued, “Plus, if you truly want those dissidents caught, it’s better if you have a more seasoned soldier on the job! Some of these traitors can be really slick, so it takes some sharp ears and a keen eyesight to outsmart these bastards!”

            Violet carried an air of seriousness when she spoke, but I sensed an aura of amusement as she remarked, “Nothing gets past you all, huh?”

            The head of the pack proudly reacted to her statement, “Are you kidding? We’re masters at our craft! We could sniff out a dissident in a second if they dared to go near us!” It took all of my willpower to not bust out laughing at the irony of his claim! I could tell that Violet had to resist snickering too, but luckily, we were able to hold it in since the head of the pack decided to introduce everyone in this moment, “I’m Leonard, and this is Kora, Alastor, and Jinn. Welcome to the team!”

            “I’m Sa…” I nearly gave him Sam and Amy’s monikers, but they seemed more discerning than Nathair, so that would have been a disaster! I had to wrack my brain to come up with something else immediately! “… I mean, she’s Sabrina! I’m Harvey!” I tittered to convey the level of edginess that someone who was on their first day might possess, but I actually hoped that none of them would get the reference to the television show from the nineteen-nineties I used! My mother used to watch that series when she was younger, so Sabrina was the first “sa” that came to me! I crossed my fingers this information didn’t come across as too contrived!

            “Nice to meet you!” Leonard chimed. “Okay, go have a seat in the car! Alastor and Jinn will load the intruder in for you two.”

            I meant to relay some gratitude to Leonard, but as we headed to his vehicle, a lump rose up in my throat! I still had a strong aversion to abandoning this locale, but because we had begun to step away, it occurred to me that, in order to maintain this façade, we would have to participate in some of the incredibly dark activities that Birsha’s Army engaged in! It was not something I wanted to learn about these adversaries, and now I had no choice but to do that! The premise sickened me completely, but there was nothing we could do to back out at this stage of the operation! I resented this notion so much that I couldn’t even enjoy squeezing next to Violet! It took all of my strength not to vomit as we soared towards our destination!

            We spent enough time driving that my anxiety sort of got tabled and replaced with impatience! I did not look forward to performing any kind of misdeed with these Fallens, but after such an expansive stretch, I just wanted to get it done and over with! If we could have gotten it out of the way quickly, Violet and I would have gone back to doing more practical things already and we would have had this burden off of our shoulder sooner, but the persistence of this apprehension was agonizing! If I had any inkling that we were embarking on a faraway journey, I probably would have tried harder to stay at Monico Elementary! After staying silent for close to half an hour, I finally had the audacity to pose to them, “Where are we going?”

            “I might you’d never ask!” Leonard chuckled. “We’re heading to a secluded beach near New Avernus Bay.”

            “Pay attention! We’re getting near our exit, and once we get off of the freeway, you need to see what streets we take,” Jinn directed us. Violet’s focus seemed wrapt on the roads we took, and I didn’t totally understand why at first, but as we slowed our speed, it felt tempting to hop out and make our way back towards Anwynston. That’s when it hit me- we had to concentrate in case we had to find our own way back to town!

            We travelled down a few dirt pathways and at last, we parked under some leafy trees near the water! The cool moisture that the ocean emitted felt amazingly refreshing, and the moonlit sea glistened like a jewel in front of us! This resembled a vacation resort more than a Punishment Site to me, and it perplexed me as to why the Fallens took us here until we ventured further onto the sand… Violet and I tried not to appear appalled as we stared at it, which felt strange to me! To anyone other than these demented creeps, seeing a shallow grave was a terrifying spectacle! I couldn’t decipher how many of them were there due to the natural darkness that the nighttime brought, but it revolted me to know that multiple people got buried in these quarters!

            Alastor and Jinn set the woozy intruder onto the ground, and Alastor offered to Violet and me, “Would you guys like to do the honors?”

            “What honors?” I was pretty sure I knew what he meant, but my thoughts didn’t want to process what he intended for us to do!

            “We’re not taking any more chances with dissidents who cross our lines,” Jinn enlightened us. “He has to go!”

            Violet protested, “This is a pretty drastic measure to take for someone who committed such a low-level offense! He tried to break into the school, and now he’s gotta die for it?”

            Alastor coldly asserted, “He may have been entering for reasons detrimental to the cause! We can’t risk anymore dissidents leaking our secrets! He has to go! If you’re too scared to do it, then stay out of our way!”

            They raised their arms in order to strike him with a spell, and I simply couldn’t allow them to do this! Whatever motive this man had to sneak into Monico Elementary, he didn’t deserve this fate! Before they could execute their deadly jinxes, I stepped forward and…

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…

True Deception, Chapter 23

I expected something much worse! Yes, Samaya recently indicated that she wanted to commit to non-violence, but the survival instinct can make people do drastic things! Not her though; I theorized that she led the Fallens to believe that she was going to do us in so that they wouldn’t attack us in the process, but apparently, she had no intention to do Violet and me any harm! Instead of obliterating us, she floated us up to the treetops! The Fallens could still see us though, and all three of them aimed a hex in our direction… It bounced right off of the tree! They managed to avoid the reflected magic unfortunately, so Violet and I couldn’t leave this protected area. Her spell was effective, but there was just one problem- Samaya was left down there with no allies to help defend her!

            She did surprisingly well blocking jinxes from three different directions, but it was obvious that this wouldn’t last long! She was outnumbered, and while she made a couple of feeble attempts to shoot some offensive strikes at them, it was evident that she didn’t have the will to take them down! Violet fretfully expressed, “We can’t leave her there to fight on her on!”

            Before I could delve into how we could give her some much needed assistance, Violet leaned against the tree trunk and pushed all of her weight into the bough we stood on. When I discovered that this branch hovered right over two of the Fallens, I completely understood why she chose to do this move! I braced myself against the trunk as well and pushed with all of my might…

            SNAP! Not only did we successfully break it, but it landed exactly where we hoped it would! Luckily, the two Fallens weren’t able to get out of the way in time, and the impact knocked them both out! The third Fallen watched the scene unfold in total shock, and during his slight pause, Samaya gasped, “You removed my protective measures!”

            We didn’t have a chance to respond to her. The third Fallen recovered from witnessing this stunt and aimed his projectiles at us! Violet and I jumped behind the branch and ducked low enough to shield ourselves using the unconscious Fallens’ armor, and Samaya used her powers to create a protective orb over herself. I expected that Fallen to try to find a way around this barricade, but he flabbergasted us by cackling, “You wanna use up the rest of your life force hiding, go ahead! I can wait!”

            I had no idea how long it would take for her magic to drain, but I couldn’t let someone so young tap out so early in life! Violet and I needed to do something to provide her aid, but if we left our cover, we would be done for! We had no method of combating him, and I feared that Violet was contemplating using a spell of her own to remedy the situation! I couldn’t allow her to use the last of her life force either! I could only come up with one solution for this conundrum, “Samaya! You have to fight back!”

            “I can’t!” Samaya objected. “I can’t hurt anyone, not even bad people!”

            “If you don’t find something to knock him out, you’ll cause us all harm!” Violet reasoned. “What’s worse, hurting him or letting us get killed?”

            Samaya mulled it over for a moment, and then a stroke of inspiration seemed to hit her! She released her jinx and aimed another towards the woods on her right. I couldn’t fathom why she had done that, but I wished she hadn’t because that Fallen used this opportunity to pummel her! She dropped straight to the floor, and while she was still breathing, her breath was very labored! We watched helplessly as he knelt next to her… He gazed at us and leered, “What? You’re not gonna back your friend up at all?” I could tell he was trying to bait us into leaving our safeguard, so I resolutely stayed put! “Really? Still nothing? How much are you gonna let me do to her…?” He caressed her side, and that was too much for me! I nearly bolted out of my seat, and I would have too if Violet hadn’t pinned me down! I struggled against her grip until…

            A large black bear came stampeding out of the forest and lunged towards the Fallen! He held his arm up to throw a hex at it, but the bear smacked his arm and tackled him to the ground! Violet and I dragged Samaya out of the creature’s reach, but it didn’t seem interested in anyone else! Despite all of the screaming the Fallen did, the bear grabbed him and dragged him into the wooded area!

            “Is she gonna be okay?” I asked Violet as she examined Samaya.

            “She will be if she can get treated quickly,” Violet answered me. She then grabbed Samaya’s wrist, and her contact list hovered over her watch. She called Lama Malva, and her image appeared above us! We didn’t even have to explain to her what occurred- she surveyed the scenery and asserted, “I’ll be right there!”

            In an instant, she dropped into the vicinity! She pointed her palms at Samaya and started working her magic immediately. She instructed us, “You two need to get out of here before these Fallens wake up!”

            Violet protested, “But if they wake up without us here, then you’ll be outnumbered!”

            “I can handle them!” Lama Malva assured us. “I appreciate your willingness to be of service, but I won’t accept you availing yourselves in this instance! The police are searching my temple as we speak, so it’s only a matter of minutes before they come looking for you here! You can’t let the Fallens or the authorities catch you! Please go! Get far away from here!”

            We were alarmed to learn of this development, and I was certainly glad that we left the temple when we did! I waved and gratefully told her, “Thank you!”

            “Wait!” She stopped us in our tracks and then suggested,” Take their armor!”

            We hastily stripped them of their helmets and mail, and instinctively, I took my Fallen’s watch too. Violet questioned me, “What are you doing? Do you want Birsha to follow us?”

            “Yes! Well, not us,” I justified my actions with logic to that eventually came to me. “If she sees them staying still in one spot for too long, she’ll call to see if they’re okay. When they don’t answer, she’ll have people check on them! We can’t let Samaya and Lama Malva get into that kind of danger!”

            Violet got persuaded by my argument, and she took the female Fallen’s watch as well. We ran down the path, and Lama Malva shouted, “Good luck! “ as we exited that locale.

            The trail led out to the busy expressway, but the side of the street we were on had plenty of grass to walk on. The small field wasn’t the only discovery we made either! A compact car with a security logo on the side parked right outside of the pathway we just traveled! Violet inquired, “Does this belong to the Fallens who ambushed us, or is this a huge coincidence?”

            “There’s only one way to find out!” I replied after peering into the vehicle and seeing no one there. I took the watch I garnered from that Fallen and combed through his apps in order to locate something with manufacturer’s logo on it, and with so much junk on there, I worried for a second that I may have been proven wrong! We didn’t need a ride necessarily, but I had gotten my expectations high pretty fast of us avoiding another long trek! Finally, following me sifting through quite a bit, I came across it at last! “Oh, thank god! Why would they keep it buried like that?”

            “Probably as a deterrent for thieves,” Violet conjectured right as I clicked the link to unlock the car. The vehicle’s lights flashed and the clicking sound of the locks unlatching resonated! I wanted to jump straight in, but Violet seemed reluctant to do that. “Hold on! Are we sure we wanna steal something that belongs to Birsha’s Army?”

            I reassured her, “No one even realizes they’re missing yet! It’ll be fine!”

            Violet posed to me, “What if they do figure it out and try to shoot us down?”

            “We don’t have that long of a trip to take,” I argued. “It’s unlikely that they would work that out before we get there! Plus, if we put this armor on, any of their peers who happened to pas by will assume we’re one of them!” I paused and wittingly added, “Personally, I really like the concept of those Fallens hoofing it back to their headquarters when they wake up!”

            “Alright, let’s go for it!” Violet agreed with a slight giggle from my quip. We speedily put on the mail and helmets, and it surprised me how much this guise hid our faces! It was difficult to look at Violet’s beautiful visage when it resembled our foes so closely! I had to keep reminding myself who she really was! It felt strange to show kindness to someone dressed like that, but despite my awkwardness about it, I offered, “Would you like to steer, or should-?”

            Violet promptly regarded me, “No, you do it!” I could sense she had a deep discomfort about our outfits, and while a part of me yearned to comfort her, we needed to vacate this vicinity as soon as possible, so I simply strolled over to the driver’s seat and resolved to make it up to her later.

            We buckled our seatbelts, and then I used the watch to turn the engine on. As I pulled the lever to make it levitate, my mine tried to recall the last time held a steering wheel. I guessed that it had been at least a decade, but thankfully, my reflexes didn’t have any issues remembering how to pull off these maneuvers! As we wedged ourselves into traffic, I was concentrating so much on navigating that I almost forgot what destination we were heading to! I requested to Violet, “If you see the school, let me know:”

            “Yeah, sure!” she curtly addressed me.

            “After all we’ve done, why does this make you nervous?” Out of the corner of my eye, I could tell she was staring out of the window rather forlornly. From a practical standpoint, I deemed that it was better to get any ill feelings out of grasp prior to the onset of our next mission, but instinctually, I seriously hated to see her in turmoil!

            Violet probed, “Did you ever wonder why I decided to investigate Birsha even though the whole world was in love with Nancy Nox?”

            I hadn’t envisaged her to say that, and now my head was buzzing as to why she had brought that up! “I assumed it was your intuition guiding you in the right direction.”

            “I learned about some shady stuff occurring at her headquarters from my servants, but I didn’t hire those servants. I was once allies with Nancy Nox, and she recommended this business…” Violet revealed.

            “Your servants were from Birsha’s Army?” I surmised.

            Violet defended herself, “I had no clue who they were ‘til I got to know Edward! You know, the one who got…”

            I finished her sentence, “Murdered. Murdered by Birsha, something that wasn’t your fault!” I didn’t want her to start blaming herself for that tragedy again! She didn’t deserve that!

            “Yeah, well…” She grew severely uneasy at this reference, and I anticipated her to vent about something related to her unwarranted guilt, but instead, she admitted, “He was more than just my bodyguard. We were… an item…”

            “Oh!” My heart practically stopped when I heard this! I mean, obviously she had developed relationships before she met me, but it distressed me to comprehend the notion of her losing her last lover in such an abrupt way! I imagined that she still harbored some romantic emotions for him, and it made me ponder whether or not she had the capacity to form a connection like that with me in the future! I shelved that matter aside temporarily though because something else troubled me about this revelation. “Your ex-boyfriend was a Fallen?”

            Violet swiftly explained, “When we first got together, neither of us were being honest with each other. When it seemed like we were getting serious, I told him the truth, and he told me his secret too. But he also said I inspired him to be a Guardian! I wasn’t fully positive I could believe him ‘til he started giving me secrets to further my mission. Then his sacrifice proved that he… Oh, there’s the school!”

            I pulled over and parked in front of Monico Elementary, but I didn’t want to get out until we resolved the topic at play. I would never have confessed this to her, but a little jealousy surfaced over the impact that Edward had over her! In spite of those sentiments brewing within me as well as the anxiety of having a romantic pull to somebody grieving over a past flame, I cared about her too much to allow her to agonize over this! I put a comforting hand on her shoulder and encouragingly stated, “If these uniforms stir up some awful memories for you, that’s fine! But don’t let that fool you into thinking that our situation will have a similar fate! We’re gonna be alright, I swear!” I could see her smiling in appreciation, and it was so hard to resist the urge to kiss her…

            Without being able to move another inch closer to her, Nathair’s image surfaced over the car’s control panel! He growled, “What are you two doing here?”

True Deception, Chapter 22

“We have to go!” Violet insisted. “We can’t let the ugliness that’s taken over society carry on another minute longer than it has to!”

            “I agree, the Fallens’ evil must stop,” Lama Malva responded, “but it shouldn’t get stopped by the two of you! I admire your willing spirits, but you’re not physically capable of taking on their forces! A couple of weak Guardians can’t take on a whole army of Deities!”

            I corrected her, “I’m not a Guardian, actually.”

            She blinked in surprise when she heard this. “Really? I could have sworn…” I shook my head to iterate my point, and when she finally accepted this fact, she exclaimed, “That’s all the more reason for you two not to do this! You got lucky when I found you, you may not be as lucky next time around!”

            “We’re not going into this blindly,” I assured her. “We know there’s a chance we may not live long enough to see our mission get completed, but if we don’t continue this, we could end up dead anyways! We already crossed the line with Birsha, so it’s not like we’d stay safe if we quit right now!”

            “You would be if you stayed here,” Lama Malva argued. “We have everything you need to survive, you could remain with us and keep yourselves alive for a lot longer!”

            Violet debated her, “What kind of life would we live if we could never leave the premises? I know you spend most of your time here, but when you need a break, you have the freedom to leave! If we decided to hide here forever, we would live like prisoners ‘til the end of our days!”

            Lama Malva differed, “You wouldn’t have to do it for years! I’m sure once they realize you plan on leaving them alone, they will give up their pursuit of you and you can roam where you want to!”

            “Birsha isn’t gonna allow us to exist on this planet knowing all that we do!” I contended. “Besides, we’re getting framed for murder, so if we did decide to camp out with you, eventually the police would figure out where we are and throw us in prison! Then they’d take you down for assisting us! You’re probably already in trouble for what you’ve done already!”

            “Don’t you think I know that?” Lama Malva shot back. “Haven’t you noticed that I haven’t once asked either of you for your names? I knew who you were when I took you on!”

            Violet challenged her, “So, it’s okay for you to take risks but not us?”

            Lama Malva reasoned, “I thought I could change how the world sees you. They would observe your reformation and would forget their previous misconceptions about your character!”

            “Birsha will never let anyone forget!” I retorted. “The only way to clear our names is to destroy the stronghold that Birsha has over the world! If we don’t do this, we’ll be hated as long as we’re permitted to breathe!”

            “That’s not true!” Lama Malva dissented. “There are others who are embarking on this quest! You’re not the only ones who are fighting this battle! Why can’t you wait for somebody more capable to prevail?”

            I asserted, “That person might not be in any condition to fight! Look, we’re not trying to obliterate Birsha’s entire army ourselves, that would be lunacy! We’re not able to do that, but someone out there is! We’re looking for the Arch Deity- they have the power to save us all from this reigning evil! No one has a clue what’s holding them back from doing it immediately, but Violet and I are gonna find our why they haven’t already acted and persuade them to do it! After they get going, our role will be finished, but this cause is too important to not have every individual who can scout for them out there trying to flesh them out so they can do what they were chosen to do! Listen, we appreciate you giving up some of your life force to revive us, but you can’t prevent us from doing what’s right!”

            My words seemed to have had a profound impact on Lama Malva! She hung her head low and appeared incredibly guilty for her actions, but despite all that, she still come across as ready to give us permission to go. She mulled it over for a minute, and then she concluded, “You’re not wrong, but it would be irresponsible for me to have you two venture out alone! You wouldn’t do well on your own!”

            “You could join us,” Violet offered. “Your powers are probably much stronger than mine!”

            “They are, but I couldn’t leave my temple,” Lama Malva relayed to us.

            Samaya entered into our proximity and inquired, “Lama Malva, I wrapped up that meditation session for you! What are you doing out here?”

            Lama Malva recommended, “Samaya can accompany you.”

            “Accompany them where?” Samaya replied.

            “They’re trying to unearth the Arch Deity’s location,” Lama Malva informed her.

            Samaya’s eyes grew wide with alarm. “I assumed you wanted me to take them somewhere on the temple grounds! You want me to guard them on a dangerous journey? How can I do that when I’ve dedicated my whole being to non-violence?”

            Lama Malva assured her, “You do not have to do harm to anyone! They need protection, and we can’t maintain a clear conscious if they leave under their present condition! They don’t need you to participate in any combative measures, they simply need a watchful eye until that task can get passed on to someone else.”

            Her rationale obviously made sense to her, so she obliged, “Okay. I can take care of them until they find somebody else to do it.” She turned to us and asked, “Ready to go?”

            “We’ve been ready to go for a while, we just got caught in the act!” Violet wryly answered. Samaya giggled at her quip and then used her watch to shine a small light on our path.

            “Good luck, you three!” Lama Malva bade us.

            I responded to her, “Thank you for everything!” She smiled warmly at us, and we returned her gesture. We then faced the forest behind the gate again. This was it, we were finally on our way once more! Her impression of our well-being daunted me slightly, but I couldn’t succumb to my anxiety at such a critical juncture! We not only needed to ensure that Samaya returned to this facility intact, but we had to achieve victory while we still had an iota of strength left in us! I took a deep breath and opened the gate. I sort of expected to instantly get ambushed by sinister entities, but nothing heinous occurred to us! I was reminded of my many other trips inside of Sylph’s Hollow, and I told myself that this walk the woods was no different! And with that in mind, we set off onto the treelined trail!

            During the onset of our trek, we all walked in silence. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have had any problems making small talk, but since we embarked on a potentially dangerous journey, it hardly seemed appropriate! How could we chitchat about our favorite movies and television shows when we had the possibility of getting attacked at any given moment! I didn’t think that we would have much to discuss anyways- she was half our age and devoted her life to religious activities, so she led a very different lifestyle before Violet and I first fled from Birsha’s Army! Violet and I would have loved to go over our operation, but not in front of Samaya! She already could have potentially gotten herself in peril for the little she did so far, so we really didn’t want to add more motivation for our adversaries to hunt her down! Besides, at the first opportunity we had to do so, we planned on sending her away. Violet and I clearly didn’t converse about this out loud, but I got the sense we were on the same wavelength on this issue. We may have wound up spending years scouring the land for the Arch Deity, and I doubted that Samaya anticipated accompanying us for that much of a stretch, so, for her own good, we needed to separate as soon as we had the opening!

            “Where are we going?” Samaya abruptly broke the quiet.

            “Huh?” I heard her perfectly, I just needed a second to pull myself out of my trance! It slowly registered to me that we had come to a fork in the road, so naturally, she wanted to know what direction we were heading. A part of me didn’t want to mention it to her for her own safety, but neither Violet nor I had any inkling of what route we ought to take, so I supposed that I didn’t really have much of a choice in this instance. “We’re trying to get to Monico Elementary School. Do you know where it is?”

            Samaya confidently verbalized, “Of course! It’s not far from here!”

            We turned left, and Violet reacted with a slight disbelief, “Really? All I can see is trees in front of us! Is it kinda hidden?”

            “Not at all. Maybe it just seems shorter driving there. I’ve never actually walked down Sentinel Expressway! I know this path goes alongside it even though I haven’t actually gone this far before! I mean, I went into the woods plenty of times to gather firewood and wild berries, but I haven’t traveled this far until now! I’m pretty sure this trail will take us all the way there! It’ll be fine!” Samaya rambled in a manner that very much showcased her nerves.

            “You’re darn right it’ll be fine! There’ nothing too drastic in the forest!” I meant to give Samaya some reassurance, but all I did was make Violet give me a reproachful look! I didn’t understand it initially, but then after a quick memory jog, I recalled what prompted her to do that, “Oh, well, there’s some bears and stuff, but I can’t imagine that they would put a pathway through a bear’s territory! The construction crew would get eaten alive!”

            Samaya chuckled at my bit of humor, and then I expected her to expound on her newfound confidence. Instead, she shocked us by stating, “Oh, I’ve dealt with plenty of bears! Wolves too!”

            I rapidly blinked for a beat, and then I remarked, “And you claim you never went this far into the woods!”

            “I didn’t! They come around the temple a lot, especially at night.” Samaya observed my horrified expression, so she clarified, “Lama Malva did a spell around the compound so they can’t hurt any of our visitors! We make sure people don’t go out the backdoor once the sun starts to set too. That’s how Lama Malva caught you leaving.”

            I could have delved more into how that system worked, but a tune popped into my head that I couldn’t get rid of! After listening to it for a moment, I couldn’t help but share my status with my companions, “That reminds me of a song…”

            Violet exclaimed, “I knew it! I knew you would bring that up!”

            “Bring what up?” Samaya wondered.

                        “She caught me leaving, leaving out the backdoor!

                        The darkness can’t hide me anymore!

                        I didn’t wanna end things in such a bad way,

                        but now she knows, she knows I can’t stay!”

            I sang this ballad enthusiastically in hopes that she would recognize it, but her blank face only heightened by my demonstration, so I explained, “It’s from Luke Ladon! Please tell me you’ve heard of him!”

            To my relief, she recollected that reference! “Yeah, duh! Everyone’s heard of him! He’s a legend! But I don’t remember him doing that track! I guess he did a lot more than just ‘Don’t Stop Dreaming’ and ‘Freaky Dance!’”

            I excitedly filled her in, “He did so much more! Did you know he once had a number one record on the country charts? And he worked on the soundtrack for-!”

            “Jack!” Violet interrupted me.

            “Sorry!” I apologized. “I didn’t mean to-.”

            She cut me off again, “Shh! I heard something…”

            We all froze and became eerily hushed as we concentrated on hearing what was occurring in our surroundings. I detected the faint sound of whooshing, and originally, I attributed this noise to the wind, but to my dread, I realized it wasn’t a mere breeze, and it was getting closer! “Run!” I directed to the others.

            The three of us sprinted towards the temple, but then we spotted a figure on a hoverboard barreling at us at full speed! We switched back to our former course, but then we spotted a couple of people coming from that site too! We attempted to dart into the trees, but one of the invaders held his hand up to us and ordered, “Don’t move!”

            “Don’t hurt us! We’re cooperating!” I held my hands in the air and prayed that this armored trio would show us mercy.

            “Yeah, right!” the female of the group spat. “We know what you did to our comrades, you’re not gonna fool us so easily!”

            The man behind us interrogated us, “Who’s your friend?”

            Violet commanded, “Leave her out of this!”

            “Look at you! You really think we’ll obey you!” the first man snickered.

            “Fine, don’t reveal her identity! If she wants to fight against us, she can die with you!” the female decreed.

            Samaya turned to us and fretfully uttered, “I’m so sorry, but I have to do this…” My pulse raced infinitely faster as she raised her arm and shot a hex at us before we could even attempt to escape…

True Deception, Chapter 21

All of a sudden, I woke up surrounded by metal bars! It bewildered me as to how I got there, and it mystified me as to how I would get out! All I saw around me was a sea of pitch black until a faint green light illuminated a figure that turned out to be Birsha! She leered malevolently and then jeered, “So, you thought you could defeat me, huh? I’m about to show you what a grave mistake that was!”

            I swiveled my head to view Violet’s reaction to this, and I realized that I had grown so used to having her by my side that it took me a while to notice that she wasn’t there! With Birsha’s emphasis on the word grave, I began to worry about Violet’s fate! “Where’s Violet?”

            “Oh, you’ll soon find out! First, I wanted to have a little talk with you…” She leaned against my enclosure and more seriously asked, “Why did you cause so much trouble?”

            “Because people are suffering!” I answered emphatically. “I wanted to fight for a better future!”

            Birsha coldly stated, “All you did was break into a few buildings and get into a couple of clashes! Actually, that’s not true… You also caused a lot of structural damage too! And for what? What good came from all of these stunts?”

            I felt remorseful for the negative outcomes of our endeavor, but ultimately, I didn’t regret a single minute of it! “I got the satisfaction of doing the right thing! At least when history books will look back on what I did, they’ll see that I made the morally correct choices!”

            “You really think historians will compliment an outlaw who achieved nothing?” Birsha prodded me.

            “What do you want? Why don’t you just kill me already?” I had no desire to end my life, but I refused to allow her to subjugate me to this mental torture before she enacted whatever plot she intended for me! Plus, if I was meant to die that day, I wasn’t about to go out sniveling from fear or regret! If I had to perish, I would insist on doing so with dignity and honor!

            Birsha’s eyes lit up with a demonic delight usually only found in an animal planning to play with its prey, and she maniacally told me, “Because I’m a Fallen- I’m not here to murder you, you deserve a punishment! You wanna know what it is so badly? Well, let’s get started then!”

            The rest of the lights in the room came on, and to my horror, I saw Violet laying on the floor bound and gagged! She looked absolutely terrified as Birsha approached her, and it became clear that she was going to penalize me by hurting her! That was more than my heart could stand, and I ran to the edge of my cage to shout, “No!” I wanted to reach out to her, but she was far out of my range! There was nothing I could do to help her, and that drove me crazy!

            Birsha cackled, “Aw, what’s the matter? Did you love her? Well, you should have thought about that before you crossed the line with me!” She raised her hands to strike her with a hex, and I basically jumped out of my skin as she executed her magic…

            I bolted up with my chest panting and my whole body sweating! It took a moment for it to register to me that in reality, I hadn’t left the healing clinic of that Buddhist temple, and although it relieved me to learn that none of those dreadful images I had just witnessed were real, the experience still disturbed me! Even the mere concept of seeing Violet in agony rattled my senses! I gazed to the makeshift bed next to me, and it comforted me to no end to behold her slumbering safely! Obviously, that sleeping draught that Lama Malva gave us worked on her! I could hear snoring from the men who slept on both sides of our curtained room, so apparently, I was the only one who was awake at that hour! Well, not counting the person who was guarding the entrance to this space. Luckily, he was too busy watching the outside to pay attention to my animation! Even if I wanted to tell someone about my vision, I couldn’t do it because of all of the secrets it contained! I would tell Violet about what occurred when I got the chance, but unfortunately, we hadn’t gotten an opportunity to be alone since we got here! We couldn’t’ even privately have a discussion with Samaya to learn all she knew about the resistance to Birsha’s Army since these two meditation pupils fell ill! As I laid back down, I inwardly prayed that our prospect for success would feel less grim and that we would get to pursue our mission again soon!

            “Did you hear something?” Violet opened her eyes to whisper that question to me.

            “No, I just had a bad dream,” I quietly informed her. As I spoke to her, I observed a lot of red lines that marred her beautiful eyes, so I surmised that she had a bout of insomnia as well, which made me a little sad! She was such an amazing person, and she had been through so much that she didn’t deserve to get deprived of a period of peace like that! “How come you can’t sleep?”

            Violet explained, “I got woken up ‘cause I needed to go to the bathroom, and I couldn’t relax after that! My mind kept racing about all of the things we gotta do, and I wondered if we’ll ever get a chance to do any of it…”

            I firmly reassured her, “We will! We’ll find a way to make it happen one way or another!”

            “How? Even if we overpowered the people supervising us, we would still have to contend with the Fallens patrolling the perimeter! How could we get past them without a weapon? I don’t wanna use the last of my life force on those jerks!” Violet stared out into the distance with an expression full of worry.

            “No, you won’t have to do that!” I assured her. “There’s gotta be more than one way to leave this property! Lama Malva said they were pretty much self-sufficient, so I doubt she would say that if she didn’t take every single measure possible to secure it! She must have some sort of emergency exit! She did mention that we could explore the area when we felt better, so maybe tomorrow we can search for this backdoor.”

            Violet seemed a bit mollified by this notion. “Yeah, or we can try getting a one-on-one with her to get her take on the situation. If she is a Guardian, she could get convinced to help us!” She faced me once more and smiled broadly. “Thanks! You always make me feel better when I’m feeling down!”

            I can’t describe how much this sight elated my spirits! Additionally, her admiration of my character flattered me in an incredibly intense way! I tried not to show her my enthusiasm in case it freaked her out, so as casually as I could, I responded to her, “I feel the same way about you! I couldn’t have gotten through this without you!” I gave her a friendly pat on the back, and the warmth of her body felt absolutely soothing! I didn’t believe my nightmare had any truth to it until right then, one accusation Birsha made seemed accurate… I always had faith in a positive outcome for our quest, but what if it didn’t end well for us? It would burn me up if I never got to do anything passionate with her! I denoted how close she was to me, how easy it would have been to kiss her… I pondered if this was my only shot at doing this…

            Lama Malva burst into the room unexpectedly, and I grew mad at myself for my hesitation with Violet! I acknowledged that it was still plausible that I would get another opening to go for it, but I felt skeptical of that premise because my gut suggested we wouldn’t get another slow interval like that again for a long time! Lama Malva asked the attendant of this clinic, “The kitchen has breakfast ready for any early risers, has anyone…?” She answered that by surveying her surroundings, and when she spotted us, she remarked, “Oh, I didn’t expect you two to wake up so soon! Do you feel strong enough to walk? If not, we can bring some food to you.”

            I hadn’t considered whether I had the physical strength to complete that task or not prior to her bringing it up, but for the sake of our vital operation, I was willing to force myself to get off the ground if I had to! We had to unearth a route out of this establishment, and it seemed unlikely that anyone would volunteer that information to us, so the only possibility for us to discover it was to explore the area for ourselves! I confidently conveyed to Lama Malva, “I’m sure we’re well enough to do some walking now!”

            With a little wobbling, I managed to lift myself up! Lama Malva came over to assist me with the finish, and we both supported Violet as she got up. Once we were both firmly on our feet, Lama Malva invited us, “Well, shall we then?”

            As we crossed from one building to the next, Lama Malva purposely travelled in a manner that covered us from the detection of whatever Fallen lurked on the street. I certainly appreciated her intentions, but this sort of annoyed me. I wanted to see for myself what we were up against! Right before we entered the main hall, I finally caught a glimpse of one of them! He gave me a malicious grin, and I got the impression that he wanted to communicate to me that we could take as long as we liked to vacate this vicinity since he had a masterplan all worked out! I hoped the expression I bore let him know that Violet and I would not get intimidated by their antics!

            The dining hall of this community had several low-reaching tables all lined up in one row. It felt strange to park myself on the floor to eat, but the meal made me forget all about my discomfort in this event! It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was refreshing to chow down on some naturally grown food for a change of pace! Violet and I got disappointed that we weren’t the only ones eating at this early hour, which meant we weren’t able to discourse with Lama Malva pertaining to anything that involved the revolt against Birsha’s regime! After our meal, we were invited to attend her worship session, and we could hardly decline in order to wander the premises alone, so we agreed to join them. The sizeable hall contained lengthy mats and an ornate altar but no visible means of a secure departure. Lama Malva consented to give us a tour of the facility afterwards, but she got so bogged down by tending to her guests’ needs that we had to skip it and go straight to lunch! Thankfully, lunchtime wasn’t a total waste…

            “My brother got arrested for voter fraud!” one patron glumly announced. “It wasn’t his fault though! No one ever explained that you gotta cancel your old voter registry if you move somewhere else! They claimed he was gonna vote twice! It’s such garbage!”

            “It seems like they’re just looking for an excuse to throw everyone in jail!” someone else complained. “I’m so tired of this bull! Why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?”

            Lama Malva very as-a-matter-of-factly stated, “Oh, people are! They keep their strategies a secret for their own protection ‘cause they would get tried for treason if they got caught, so we may not know who they are, but trust that we won’t have to endure this suffering forever!” She garnered the utmost attention of Violet and me with that insight! Was she referring to us, or did she have her own tactics of defiance against Birsha in the works? Either way, I took that as a promising sign of her reaction to our basis for disappearing from this territory!

            After we cleared our plates, Lama Malva notified us, “I got to harvest some of our crops. You two are welcome to-.”

            Violet proposed, “Jack and I can help you!” Lama Malva appeared reluctant on permitting us to engage in an activity so strenuous, so Violet ensured her, “If we start to feel sick, we’ll stop and go rest, but we would really like to do as much as we can so we can pay you back for your hospitality!” Her logic was effective- Lama Malva allowed us to participate in her gardening!

            Without saying it out loud, we both highly anticipated this endeavor in the expectation of the occasion to talk to Lama Malva by ourselves, but to our dismay, many individuals had beaten us there! We pitched in anyways and crossed our fingers that sticking this chore out until its conclusion would grant us the circumstance we desired! We ended up not even coming close to her though! At one point, we worked besides Samaya, and we almost initiated a conversation with her, but then somebody else jumped in to chat! We nearly deemed the entire day as a total loss, but then…

            As I approached the edge of the temple’s greenery, I stumbled across it- a gate! A gate that led to a pathway in the woods behind the property! It was our way out! I covertly nudged Violet and ushered her to it, and I could see the light of comprehension dawn on her face! She nodded, and we wordlessly concurred that as soon as we could, we would make our way there! We got the window to do that during her evening meditation session. Everyone else closed their eyes and concentrated inwardly, so Violet and I snuck out through the exit facing the plants during this exercise!

            “Too bad we never looked up where that school is!” Violet articulated when we got out of the congregation’s earshot.

            “We’ll figure it out!” I reassured her. The closer we got to the gate, the more nervous I became! I didn’t look forward to giving a plausible rationale for our venture if we got caught in the act! “It’s kinda hard to believe we got to finally move on! I mean, I know we only stayed here for a day, but still…”

            Violet shared my sentiments, “Yeah, it felt like we were gonna be here for an eternity! I have no idea how we’re gonna get into that school, but one step at a time!” When we were reached the gate, Violet posed to me, “Care to do the honors, or should I?”

            A voice from behind us pronounced, “I’m afraid I can’t let either of you go anywhere!”