The Master dragged everyone up to his study; Darcy, Tynan, Raul, Devin and Rolf. The old man's breathing was ragged as he half-walked, half-jogged up to his tower, his wand clasped firmly in one hand and Darcy’s forearm in the other. “Sit!” he spat, when they finally reached his study, and with a wave of his wand several more hard-backed chairs appeared in front of his desk.
Everyone sat down, glancing nervously at each other. Rolf tried to get Devin’s attention with his eyes, but Devin stared firmly ahead. A single bead of sweat glistened on his forehead, and when Rolf caught on that steadfast Devin was nervous, he felt his palms dampen as well.
“So,” said the Master cheerfully, settling into his own chair and completely turning around his mood, “Why don’t we start with Devin and Rolf telling us about their little adventure?”
Devin glanced to Darcy, and when she nodded slightly, he took a deep breath and began. “Well, we decided we needed some more information—”
“‘We’?” the Master interrupted.
This time Devin didn’t look to Darcy. “I heard Darcy talking about the outside world, and she had me go look for other people.”
The Master shot a glance at Darcy, who was looking thunderous. “Very well. Continue.”
Devin continued, keeping his story brief and to the point. He certainly left out the wonder of the adventure, the incredible things they’d stumbled upon that had left Rolf’s head reeling with excitement.
“And so I left the Loup the next day, but Rolf followed me. We ran southeast, for several hours, and caught a few hares to eat when we got hungry. We crossed two stripes; the first was dark and smooth, and reeked. The second was two metal rails connected by thin wooden boards. We crossed them both, then continued. Late in the day, we saw a light, then more, and headed towards them. Once we got closer, we found a spot to rest and continued on the next morning. We walked into what turned out to be an old farming town, only to be chased out by lots of men. We went back to our hiding spot and waiting awhile until we ran to a farmhouse just outside of town, looking for answers.” Devin took a deep breath. Rolf looked around to find everyone riveted, leaning forward in their seats, eyes bright. Even the Master looked legitimately interested, his scraggly eyebrows arched expectantly.
“We hid in the farmhouse for awhile, and listened as a family came home,” Devin continued, “and they were really nervous about us coming into town earlier. Thought we were monsters.” Here, Rolf detected a slight quiver in Devin’s voice. “A boy, a little younger than me, came upstairs and found us. He wasn’t too scared, just a little suspicious and really curious. He had to go, but then came back up and answered our questions.” At that, Darcy leaned even farther forward, her curtain of hair swinging off her shoulder, and the Master’s arm twitched in the direction of his wand.
Devin wiped the sweat off his forehead, and glanced around. At that, Rolf finally began to wonder what would happen to them. Surely they wouldn’t get in trouble for running off? Didn’t the Master stress independence? If he’d given them more answers from the start, they’d have more information and wouldn’t feel the need to go looking for more. The boy felt his stomach clench and tried to keep from looking into the depths of the Master’s dark brown eyes. So many secrets, and no way to escape…
“In short, he told us we’re alone.” Devin said, now turning to look at Darcy instead of the Master. Rolf watched meaning flash between them, brighter than lightning, and he took her hand. Instead of knocking him away, she clenched Devin's hand so hard her pale knuckles turned whiter. “There are no werewolves out there. No wands. No one knows we’re here.”
A sigh rumbled up from Darcy’s chest and she crossed her arms again. Devin looked helplessly to the rest her gang. “But in Edinburgh, the boy said, we’ll find more of what we’re looking for.”
The Master’s head snapped up and he made as if to interrupt, but Rolf beat him there.
“And they cook their meat,” the boy offered.
“Yeah… And that’s all.” Devin finished uncertainly.
The Master relaxed back into his chair and twirled his wand between his fingers. “Interesting,” he said, “I must give you some credit. I’d never have thought anyone would have the guts to leave.”
“Oh, please!” Darcy jumped up from her seat, nostrils flared. “Cut the crap! You’ve kept us in the dark for decades, and I’ve had enough of it! You tell us where we came from! Why we’re here! And while you’re at it, I’d like to know why holding a fucking, slimy stick of wood makes you king of the world!”
The Master laughed softly. “This slimy stick of wood has plenty of power, Darcy, and a fascinating history to boot. I do at least feel entitled to a little respect while I have it.”
“Well, I’ve lost all my respect!” Darcy screamed. And Rolf could only watch with wide eyes as she leapt up, over the desk, and tackled the Master. With a strangled shout, Devin stood up, but a streak of green light flew from the Master’s wand and hit Darcy square in the chest. She immediately grew limp, and the Master untangled himself from the girl and stood up, righting his overturned chair.
“Sit down.” He spat at Devin, wiping a trickle of blood from his mouth. “You see her?” the Master said, pointing to from Devin to Darcy with his wand. Rolf couldn’t see her over the large desk. “She’s dead. And if I get anything less from complete and utter cooperation from every single one of you, you’ll be on the floor as well, faster than you can say ‘wand’. Understood?”
Everyone nodded hurriedly, Devin plopped himself back in his seat, and the Master sighed. He sat down, ignoring Darcy’s body. Rolf struggled to hold in tears. Darcy, dead? Darcy couldn’t die. She was unstoppable. Ruthless. But above all, what was the Master going to do to them?
His questions was answered almost immediately. The Master murmured something, and several flashes of brilliant green light filled the air, forcing Rolf’s eyes shut. His mind was suddenly filled with sweet nothingness. He opened his eyes and wondered why on earth he was in the Master’s office. Was he in trouble? But no, some of Darcy’s gang and Devin were there as well. What had he done? Had one of them attacked him or something?
“Darcy was in an unfortunate accident with another resident of the academy,” the Master said, “Devin, you take over her classes. Also, no one leaves the castle for a month. No hunting, no walking around outside, no nothing. If I see a single person wandering the grounds, they will be punished severely. You may go.”
Everyone filed out of the office, bewildered. “What happened?” Rolf asked, once they were descending the stairs. “What happened to Darcy? Why didn’t we hear she got killed? Who killed her?”
“I dunno,” Devin said wearily.
“Who cares?” snapped Raul.
The older kids headed for the common room, and Rolf followed. They were immediately ambushed by Zevi and Gethin.
“What happened?” Gethin pressed, “What’d he say?”
“What?” asked Raul.
“Wait…” Gethin said, as Zevi nudged him, “Where’s Darcy?”
“We were going to ask you that,” Devin said, beginning to look confused, “the Master said someone had killed her. Didn’t you hear who did it?”
“Darcy killed?” Gethin scoffed, “Oh, please, Devin. You should know by now that JP likes to yank our chains.”
“I dunno…” Devin mumbled.
“We should look for her,” Gethin said.
“I’ll do it,” Raul offered, and he trooped out of the common room while everyone else settled down onto various couches and chairs. Zevi linked arms with Tynan and whispered something in his ear. Rolf hovered in the background while they talked.
“So,” Gethin said to Devin, “What was it like?”
“What was what like?” Devin asked in return.
“The town you found! The people! What were they like?” Rolf’s ears perked. Devin had found a town? People? When?
“What are you talking about?” Devin said, looking around at the rest of the group for support, as if to ask if he was the only one who thought Gethin was out of his mind.
“The place you’ve been the last two days! A day’s hard run, southeast!” Gethin said, starting to look annoyed. Rolf watched his eyes narrow, fists clench. Devin had been away? Why hadn’t Rolf heard about it?
“The last two days?” Devin said, frowning. “I haven’t been away for two days, I’ve been… er… Damn it, I’m going mad!” Devin leapt to his feet. “Where have I been the last two days? I can’t remember!”
At that, Rolf scanned his own brain and found he couldn’t remember either. He pushed through his thoughts, trying to remember what’d he’d been doing all day, but couldn’t. All he could recall was sitting in the Master’s room, and then the next thing before that was eating some pudding, but that couldn’t have been this morning… he could’ve sworn it was a few days ago… And besides, he remembered the sun being out as he ate… What a stupid, awful feeling it was, to not be able to remember! There was nothing there, and yet nothing to find!
“I can’t either!” Tynan said. His albino skin looked paler than usual, if that was possible. He clutched Zevi to him, and she murmured into his ear so fast and so low it only sounded like a consistent buzz to Rolf. As far as he could remember, he’d never even seen Zevi move her mouth. Although it seemed he couldn’t trust his own memory now… Merlin, what else was he missing?
Gethin looked from Devin, to Tynan, and finally to Rolf. “You, kid,” he barked, “you were up there. What about you?”
Rolf felt his lower lip begin to tremble. “…Nothing. I can’t remember a thing from the last couple days.”
Gethin eyed Zevi and Tynan. “Zevi, what do you think?”
She eyed him coolly shrugged. Tynan spoke up. “It’s JP, obviously. It’s all his doing. Something’s wrong. Remember how he said not to go outside?”
“Well, we should ask him what happened, then,” Gethin said, rising to his feet.
“No!” Tynan said sharply. “For all we know, you’ll get your memory messed up too. In fact, once he realizes you and Zevi know things, he’ll come and find you. Quick, tell us what you know! Where have we been?!”
“It wasn’t you…” Gethin said, “It was just Devin and Rolf. Darcy told—”
Just then, Zevi hissed and put a finger to her mouth. In response, Tynan said to Gethin, “Not here, it’s not safe. Let’s go to your room, and you can tell us everything.”
Gethin shrugged, and led the way out of the common room. Once again, no one stopped Rolf as he followed the older kids out. He was bursting with pride, even though he was scared sick about his memory. Maybe now that he’d done something important (maybe gone somewhere, according to Gethin?!) he would get to hang out with them!
The route to Gethin’s room was long, and down lots of dark corridors that Rolf had never been down. There had always been a few places in the castle kids never ventured, and the halls Gethin took them through were one of them. The walls were cooler, even a bit slimy, and there was a thick silence that Rolf had hardly ever experienced. The Loup was not a quiet place. Screams tended to pierce the air, and Darcy or Raul or someone was always sneaking around, their boots scraping the floors ominously.
Gethin pulled open the third door they came to and Rolf got his first look at a room that only belonged to one person. Gethin’s curtains were drawn, but light still leaked in through a few rips in the fabric. In the dim light Rolf could see an unmade double bed and a floor covered in bones. Bones. Rolf shuddered. He was mostly sure they were from Hunts and the kitchen.
Everyone settled down on the floor and bed as if they’d been there all their life. Rolf opted to lean on the door once Devin had shut it.
“Start talking,” Tynan commanded, and Gethin, sitting cross-legged on his bed, obliged. He told a tale of an edgy Darcy fantasizing of civilization, and her orders to Devin. He mentioned Rolf’s disappearance, and the stress rising in the castle once the two had gone. Gethin described how he and Zevi had been on the other end of the common room, disciplining a kid when Raul had arrived. They’d seen the Master creep up behind Raul, Devin and Rolf and had decided to stay put. Luckily, the Master had been so stressed about finding troublemakers that he hadn’t noticed two of Darcy’s gang were missing. And finally, finally, Gethin recounted what Devin and Rolf had apparently told him not an hour ago, of a place far away, where people didn’t transform and were scared to death of werewolves.
“But Devin had said he’d been told by this boy that he should go to Edinburgh, four hundred kilometers away, for answers. Darcy started to talk about going there, and Devin was trying to convince her to talk to JP, and then JP was there,” Gethin said, “and that’s all I know.”
Devin closed his eyes and screwed up his face. “Damn it, it’s not there!” he said angrily, “Do you know how hard it is to search you mind for something you can’t find? How do we know half our lives have been erased by that… monster? We’ll never know!”
“But if you can remember most of your life, without blank spots, you should be ok,” Tynan said.
“So something’s out there,” Tynan continued, “Well, it’s easy then. We’ve got to leave this place for good.”
“We don’t know enough,” Devin sighed, “Now all we have is a secondhand account. If Rolf and I were gone for a few days, we would’ve learned a lot and seen at lot more. It sounds like I was just summarizing the important parts of the journey. Thank goodness I did, but that still leaves a lot of blank spots.”
Tynan nodded. “Food, water, other wildlife, anything else trivial you might not have mentioned in the rush of things.”
“But we can’t just not do anything!” Rolf burst out. He was furious. Sure, they’d been caught, and maybe Darcy truly was dead. But now that they’d gotten a taste of the outside world, albeit a forgotten one, how could they not want more?
“There’s no ‘we’ about it, kid,” Gethin snarled, “you should feel lucky that you were with Devin on the trip, because it means we might need you, for the moment. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your goddamn mouth shout until I say otherwise.”
Rolf caught Devin rolling his eyes, but the older boy didn’t say anything, and so Rolf kept silent.
“There’s not much we can do,” Tynan said once everyone was settled down, “it sounds like the outside world hates us more than we thought they would.”
“But someone talked to us,” Devin said, “That one kid cared.”