Kiara fetched herself a glass of milk from the kitchen and leaned wearily against the large counter that ringed most of the room. The early morning sun cast long shadows on her face, highlighting her old scars to make her look at least a decade older than she actually was. She allowed herself to melt against the counter for a brief moment and tried to keep her mind from spinning off in too many directions.
The Loup had always been plagued with its fair share mystery and doubt in addition to violence, but the secrecy had recently peaked. Devin’s departure, Rolf’s vanishing act, and the reappearance of both were the source of enough rumors to last a century. Then the agitation of Darcy's gang, and all the murmurings about the Master… it was beginning to edge from bearable into overwhelming. Kiara longed for a normal life, but she found she couldn't even define the idea. Maybe “quiet” or “unexciting” would be better words… but how do I know if they even exist?
At the sound of approaching footsteps, Kiara perked up and tried to look on guard. Less than a minute later, Rolf of all people poked his head through the doorway. When he saw Kiara, he cracked a roguish grin.
“Thank Merlin it’s you,” he said, using the odd phrase the Master had coined.
“Rolf!” Kiara said, “What’s happening? Where'd you go?”
“That’s what I came to tell you,” Rolf said. He moved closer to Kiara so that he could whisper confidentially in her ear; “Darcy ordered Devin to go out and look for civilization, and I went with him—”
“Wait, really? How come you got to go?” Kiara interrupted, but Rolf hushed her.
“Hold on, hold on, you’ll understand. And so we ran away and found this town, with no werewolves and no wands, and everyone was afraid of us! And then Devin and I got back last night and told some people about it, but the Master caught us and, and… vanished our memory of the trip!”
“Well, we got back and the Master brought us up to his office because he was so mad we'd run away, and when we came back down we couldn't remember a thing about the trip! But we'd told some other people about it, and they told us what had happened again.”
Kiara raised a quizzical eyebrow. “You found a town? The Master vanished your memory? That all sounds a little too weird, Rolf.” Not to mention the fact he'd explained it all so fast she was getting a headache...
“But it’s true! And so now we know something’s out there! And there’s people!”
“So what’s Darcy going to do about it?”
Rolf sagged. “Darcy’s dead. D’you know who did it?”
“Dead?” Kiara gasped, “No way! I’d have heard about it!”
Rolf shrugged. “The Master himself told us— everyone whose memories he'd vanished— that she’d been killed. Raul even searched for her, and couldn’t find her. Darcy’s whole gang is trying to find out who did it.”
“No one can kill Darcy,” Kiara said firmly. That woman was the definition of unstoppable. But then again, Kiara had also thought there was nothing out there to be found, and that assumption had been shattered. Now the shards were lying on the ground, and Rolf was beginning to piece it back together bit by bit, with some glue and a smattering of doubt.
“Did you hear about Rolf?” Kiara asked her friend Duan, just as he said the same thing. Shocked into the silence, the two children laughed. “Who told you?” Kiara asked.
“Dougal,” Duan said, “and he heard it from Rolf. Pretty cool, isn’t it? There’re really other people out there.”
“Without wands or transformations,” mused Kiara, “it’s crazy. And did you hear about Darcy?”
“Yeah,” Duan said, but he seemed unruffled, “I’m not worried ‘bout her. She probably created the rumor herself so she could run away or something.”
“That’s not her style, though,” Kiara said.
“Darcy's style is no style at all,” scoffed Duan, “C'mon Kiara, this is exciting! Next thing you know, we'll have real answers and everything.”
Yet Kiara could see that before the answers came, they'd have to break through the veil of secrecy the Master had cloaked the school in. The end might be in sight, but it would still be a long, hard trek to reach it.
“Hi guys,” A young, bird-boned girl skipped up to them. “What's all the talk about? Everyone's whispering this morning.”
“Rolf and Devin ran away and found a town!” Duan said excitedly to the girl, called Mehara, “And they came back and the Master took away their memory—!”
“Excuse me,” drawled a voice, and the three young ones looked up into the shadowy face of Gethin. He towered over them, his ragged black clothing smelling faintly of damp earth, and frowned, managing to look both faintly bored and deadly serious. “I don't know what Rolf's been telling everyone, but you have to keep quiet about it.”
“Where's Darcy?” asked Duan, “What did Rolf and Devin see? What are we going to do?”
In a movement too quick to comprehend, Gethin's hand snapped out and smacked Duan on the cheekbone. He absorbed the shock silently, as everyone at the Loup eventually learned to, and stared deep into the older boy's eyes. There was defiance in Duan's look, as well as fear and curiosity. Kiara inwardly cursed his stupidity; everyone knew not to pester a member of Darcy's gang. And it was getting even more dangerous, what with Darcy dead and memories “vanishing”...
“That's exactly what you have to shut the hell up about,” hissed Gethin coldly, “Spread the word; a bunch of things have been happening lately, and J— the Master cannot know. Don't tell anyone anything else. Clear?”
The whole school's heard the rumors by now, Kiara thought sourly. But she nodded along with Mehara and Duan as Gethin strode off to interrupt another conversation. Duan lifted a trembling hand to his cheek, which was beginning to look frighteningly inflamed.
“Oh, Duan,” Kiara said, but Duan turned his face coldly when she reached out to touch his cheek. He shrugged and walked out of the kitchen.
“He'll be fine,” Mehara said quietly, and with a toss of her fair hair, she too left.
What's going on? Kiara thought desperately, The Master has enough secrets without Gethin adding his own. Something's bound to happen. And soon.
As if on cue, Devin trooped into the kitchen right then, and was immediately surrounded by a sea of little kids. However, instead of pushing them to the ground as Raul might have, the young man only raised his eyebrows. “I thought Gethin had told you guys …?” he said, with a disapproving look. Abashed, the kids trickled off, some heading for the corridor, others to opposite corners of the kitchen. With a sigh, Devin began opening cupboards, looking for something to eat.
“There's some turkey over there,” Kiara offered, pointing, and Devin opened the correct cupboard and dove in. She watched as he ate, noticing the bags under his eyes and the slump of his back.
At her gaze, Devin looked up. “Gethin did tell you guys to keep quiet, right?” he asked sheepishly. Kiara just nodded, peeking at the gangly boy from under her lashes.
“He just said that things are happening and we can't let the Master know.”
“Right.” Devin said, “Good.” He let out another massive sigh before walking out again, and, with nothing better to do, Kiara followed him all the way up to common room.
Devin settled in on the couch next to Tynan, and the albino shifted so that there was enough room. He smiled grimly at Devin and Kiara shuddered subconsciously, hoping Devin wasn't becoming one of them.
“Zevi and I have been talking,” Tynan said quietly, and Kiara ducked behind a nearby chair and strained her ears so that she could listen. Tynan's words floated softly across the room, bringing light to dark horizons she could never quite reach. “and we've decided we all need to get out of here. Now. Before JP gets his act together.”
He was met with a careful silence, as each adult swallowed his words and began to wrap their minds around the idea. But Kiara knew a light had just been flicked on; now the words had been spoken, and that thought that had surely been an itch at the back of everyone's mind was out in the open. She felt herself grasping at it, latching on. Leaving. Kiara was certain no one had ever seriously suggested it out loud before, let alone thought about it.
The silence dragged on and on, and everyone was painfully reminded of the one person who remained absent. Darcy would have sworn a lot and tried to make everything sound like her idea, but she would also have acted on her words. She could organize the whole castle, defy the Master without a second thought, exploit his few weaknesses... no one could quite fill her shoes.
“Fine,” Raul eventually grunted, “How?”
“Everyone's already talking about what happened, thanks to Rolf,” Tynan said, “We just need to spread the word to shut up–”
“I'm already doing that,” said Gethin.
“I know, but we'll all have to continue doing it, and fast,” Tynan continued. “And also tell people that change is coming. It'll keep them interested enough to keep quiet for real. And then we stock up on supplies and move out.”
It was Devin who named the elephant in the room. “Where will we go?”
“You went southeast, right?” Tynan said, “We'll start by going there. You got there and back in two full days, so we can make it. We'll carry as much food and water as we can, for the younger kids, and wait 'til we hit civilization. Anything's better than here, right? And the people don't have wands or anything; even if they tried to chase you and Rolf out, Devin, all together we could overpower them enough to get more food, or any other supplies.”
The hope was shimmering faintly now, like an early morning mist; blurring the edges of despair, but still too easy to plow through. Kiara had sensed the Loup beginning to unravel, as the adults took matters into the their own hands and found some answers, only for their leader to be killed. Now, while the Master was still unsteady on his feet, Tynan wanted to leave. The hope began condensing.
“But what then, Tynan?” Devin sighed, “We told you the people hated us, that they chased us away; maybe if we leave the Loup, we'll get kicked out again and again for the rest of our lives.”
Kiara heard the scuffing of Tynan's boots and the rustle of fabric as the young man stood up. She could just spy the mussed top of his milky white hair over the back of her chair. The room fell eerily silent and Kiara edged forward so that she could see Tynan regarding Devin with his cold, scarlet eyes. Shouldn't red imply warmth? was Kiara's last, fleeting thought. Then he erupted.
“Do you want to be stuck here forever?” the albino screamed, “Do you want to sit in this castle until our beards reach our feet and we can't remember why we listened to J-fucking-P in the first place? So what if we all run away and get killed? It's a hell of a lot better than listening to a man who rules us with a fucking branch! If we leave, there's a chance that we can escape this— this tyrant! If JP had a plan for us, we'd know it by now. I've wasted twenty years of my life here and I refuse to make it twenty-one!”
His words resonated around the musty little room, ringing in everyone's ears. Tynan sat down hard enough on the couch to make it quiver, the vibrations reaching Kiara across the room and sending shivers rolling down her spine. Someone in the gang shifted uncertainly in their seat; another exhaled slowly. In the silence, every movement grated in Kiara's ears.