• Remember when I said Luke should have the silver medal for Annoying Theo?

    Screw that. The kid should go for the gold.

    Needless to say I was quite upset, though nowhere near Michael’s rage, which had carried the wrath of a thousand deadly storms (or so it seemed. It was actually pretty scary, I’ll admit…). I could’ve sworn the guy was prepared to strangle the life out of Luke right there and then, but instead he had opted to simply storm off to report him to the office for fraud.

    Apparently Luke wasn’t all too concerned with what the staff would have to say about him technically committing an actual crime, and didn’t bother to wait around for Michael to return. He led me through the plain, largely undecorated hallways with an annoyingly content smile on his face. I decided to waste no time yelling at him.

    “Why would you sign me up for something without my permission?!”

    He rolled his eyes, “Because I had a feeling you were the procrastinating type for school clubs. Consider it a favor.”


    “That’s what I said!”

    “I had plenty of other clubs in mind!”

    “Such as…?”

    I scanned my memory bank.

    “Uh… well… there was… um… archaeology! YEAH! I was thinking about joining them, maybe!” I thought harder, “And others too…”

    “Like the club your girlfriend is in?” he asked with genuine interest.

    “What-?!” I spilled, feeling my face go hot. “What are you talking about?!”

    He stopped walking for a moment, squeezed his face with hands, and proceeded to give an oh-so fangirlish squeal. “Ohh, it was just so chivalrous of you to help that young lady with her papers! Like a knight with a princess!”

    I swear the temperature dropped like, two degrees.

    Babbling for a few seconds like an idiot, I attempted to make sense of what Luke was insinuating. “I talked to that girl for one whole minute, and suddenly you think she’s my girlfriend?!”

    “Not girlfriend,” he said matter-of-factly, as if he was a professor on the subject. “But do I sense some beginnings of U-S-T? Yes I do.”

    I shook my head furiously, “UGH! J-Just show me to this stupid club and let’s get it over with!”

    “My pleasure!”

    We followed several paths of stairs that, I noticed, without students bustling and hurrying up and down on them, creaked with every step, another hint that the building itself with pretty old. They also had a tendency to stop, turn, and become a whole new case, each bend marked with a glass window.

    Outside, the trees had only a few leaves on them, and long skinny branches that jutted out into many, many tiny twigs. They were placed almost strategically in front of the sun like props in front of a stage scene, casting a long, spiny shadow puppet show through the window and into the hallway. The branches appeared almost as demented fingers sliding down the staircases, ready to snatch up an unfortunate child who dared to walk alone….

    “Uh, hey,” I asked, “Where exactly are we going?”

    “The gym.” he answered simply.

    “Gym?” this had my attention, “Why is it in the gym?” Whatever he had signed me up for, it must have needed a lot of room, which naturally peaked my curiosity.

    My only answer was another wide, three-cornered smile. “It’s a surprise,” said Luke naughtily.

    Finally, we came to the gymnasium. It was surprisingly cool for the amount of people there, some actively engaging in what appeared to be club sign-up and various other small paperwork, others merely socializing, the cafeteria apparently not suit to their taste for such.

    But what really caught my attention, was the bright blue mats placed all across the floor, and the numerous people suited head to toe in white, puffy gear. Not an inch of their skin was showing, including their heads, which were covered by cage-like masks that blotted out their faces but could apparently be seen through by the way they seemed to know where they were going. Quite a few of them were fiddling with long, metallic, bendy-looking sticks.

    “Fencing?!” I exclaimed, “You signed me up for fencing?!”

    “Seemed right up your alley!” said Luke, looking rather pleased with himself, like he expected me to thank him a million at any moment.

    I shook my head, “No. No way. I don’t the first thing about sword-fighting.”

    “It’s easy!”

    “Have you done it?”

    “Well… no. But think of it this way, you like baseball, right?”


    “Well they’re exactly the same!”

    “No they’re not!”

    “Yeah they are! The objective of both is to hit something, or this case, someone, with a stick.”

    “I severely doubt you have the slightest clue about either sport works!”

    “Well you’re certainly an expert on baseball,” he said, crossing his arms. “This means you have far more expertise in this situation than me, in which case, you’ll do great.”

    “Huh?” I was tired of trying to make sense of Luke’s twisted logic. I swiftly turned on my heel and headed back for the doors.

    “Aw, come on Theo!” Luke ran in front on me, a pleading look in his eyes. “Just try it?”

    “Maybe I would have been more willing if you’d asked first.”

    “Pleeeaaase? I just wanted you to have some fun ‘round here!”

    “I think it’s more like you wanted to have some fun.”



    “Theo…” he gave the saddest puppy-dog face he could muster, “… please…?”

    I should have been very cross with him and walked off… in fact, I was very cross with him, and completely and totally prepared to go back to our room and give him the cold shoulder for the rest of the day. But the one thing that changed my mind, the one thing that kept me from storming off into the halls, caught my eye over Luke’s head and perched behind one of the windows at a staircase turn.

    Two black birds. Staring right at me.

    My blood turned ice cold, and I lost breath for a moment… they weren’t cawing, weren’t tapping at the glass, just staring. Without blinking. Right into my own eyes….

    Luke looked confusedly up at me, “Uh… are you alright?”

    I quickly whipped my head around, scanning the room to see if there were any other means of escape, because I certainly wasn’t going to be alone in any place with those things. I say things, because at that point I was confident in assuming that these were not normal birds. To think anything else would be pure denial, and there was no way I was taking my chances, lest those things could… could… I don’t know! Suck out my soul, or something!

    Unfortunately, the only other exits out of the gym were emergency exits that were hooked up to fire alarm systems, and I doubt that anyone would’ve appreciated me pulling those in order to escape the piercing gaze of a couple of birdies.

    At this point, Luke looked fairly worried and a bit weirded out. “Uh… you know what? You’re right. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, after all. Let’s just find Michael and…”

    “I’m doing it,” I declared, straightening my stance.

    “What now?” it was his turn to be confused.

    “Give me a sword,” I told one of the kids handing out equipment, who then trotted back into a storage area and began to dig around.

    “Whoa, wait just a minute,” said Luke, “What happened to not knowing anything about sword-fighting? You were hell-bent on getting out of here just a few seconds ago!”

    “I change my mind.” I said quickly, looking anxiously over at the kid in the storage room, mostly to avoid looking in the direction of the birds.

    Another grin shone upon Luke’s face, and he gave a chuckle. “You are an enigma, Theo Toovson…” he almost whispered, “A real puzzle.”

    “Whatever,” I took a neatly folded up fencing uniform and training sword from the helper kid, and made my way over to the boys’ locker room to change.

    A few minutes later, I was completely padded in the soft, plushy body armor and seated at the risers with several other new members, all looking much more hopeful and excited than I. I periodically switched from awkwardly turning the caged face-helmet in my hands, to taking glances at the boy seated next to me, who was currently engrossed in one of the fights on the mats (actually, there seemed to be only fight at any given time from what I’d been paying attention to, what wasn’t much).

    “… So…” I began, “Um, what is it we’re supposed do here, exactly?”

    “You don’t get in if the President doesn’t want you!” he said adamantly, apparently comfortable with being casual with strangers.

    “Really? Isn’t that, like, discrimination or something?” I didn’t think that the President of a club was supposed to be allowed to just choose who got to stay and go for a club, lest the whole thing turn into a popularity-based fraternity. At least that’s how it worked at my old school.

    “Naw,” dismissed the kid, “Not in fencing club it isn’t. The Prez only wants people who can take it, and stand up with the rest of the team! They do competitions you know, big ones, being here could mean you get to go to all sorts of cool tournaments!” His eyes practically glittered with stars. “Our school’s name is already across boards across the country!”

    “Well that’s… great,” I said. It did actually sound pretty impressive, but it still hadn’t answered my original question. “So what do we do...?”

    He pointed to the duel, in which one of the padded figures finally fell pathetically to the ground at the feet of their opponent, and people began to cheer enthusiastically.

    “The President tests you in a fight. If you can survive, you’re in.”

    “Survive?” I said, a bit skeptical. “What exactly do you mean, “survive”?” It’s not like anyone was allowed to kill each other, so I wasn’t entirely sure what this kid was talking about.

    “Survive, man! You gotta survive!” he continued on, “It’s like, man, it’s like eye of the tiger stuff! Swift as the coursing river! Force of a great typhoon! Strength of a raging fire…”

    Okay, that was it. Obviously this guy was no help at all, and clearly a bit coo-coo, so I decided right there and then to stop listening before he broke out into the entire musical number of Mulan’s, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” This school was weird enough without it turning into High School Musical.

    One by one, the people sitting in front of me began to dwindle, and I began to drum my fingers on the bench anxiously. The adrenaline from being, yet again, spooked by those birds had run out, and I was again having my doubts about even trying out for this stupid club at all. Okay, alright, I’ll admit it did look kind of cool… the swift fall of the sword, the complicated and intricate movements the arms and legs took while fighting, forming a deadly dance.

    But I still wasn’t quite sure if it was all for me… I was a baseball player, not a swordsman. I got my satisfaction from bringing ball against bat on a blazing August morning, the euphoric sensation of hearing that great big crack that meant that I’d hit (and I always hit, though it never once got old). Then I ran… ran like the fastest wind imaginable, tearing through open space like flimsy paper, I was an unstoppable storm, nothing could ever touch me….

    “I am the storm…” I whispered, nearly unaware of my surroundings, lost in the dream. I said it with the utmost conviction, and for a moment, the world around me began to fade away in a surreal mesh of darkness, the only thing I was sure of being those four simple words….

    “Yeah, you’re the storm alright,” said Luke in a sarcastic tone.

    “What?” I quickly snapped back to reality, to find my fiery-haired companion poking his face close to my own, an annoyed expression teetering at the end curves of his mouth. “Oh, um… did you say something?”

    He rolled his eyes exasperated, “I said it’s your turn, Mr. Storm-Man! Now go!”

    Still a bit confused, I complied as Luke impatiently pulled me out of my seat and toward the fencing mats. Mats… mats… fencing! Mats, fencing! Fencing mats!

    “It’s my turn!” I exclaimed in surprise, finally awake.

    “Jee, really?! Get up there!” he gave me a final shove for good measure before running away to the safety of the sidelines.

    I slowly turned to the opponent across from me… their mask was on, and they didn’t say a word. Only stared. Maybe I would’ve been just as well taking my chance with the birds….

    “Look, I’m going to be honest with you,” I said, casually approaching them. “I’ve never really done this before. So would it be alright if maybe I just-“

    Swipe! The metal sword swung without warning, and would have scraped me straight across the face if I hadn’t jumped back in time.

    “Ah!” I staggered, “Hey, what the heck?! I was just trying to-“

    Swipe! Another attack, aimed low, which I took a duck and roll quite diligently in order to avoid. Technically there was nothing to fear from being hit, seeing as the sword itself was made of a bendy-substance that could only flick me at most. But what was worrying about the whole ordeal is the apparent deadly seriousness the President was taking this duel, since they just kept attacking despite my attempts to communicate, and a blatant willful ignorance of common social skills was a tell-tale sign of, ‘Watch out! This one is dangerous!’

    The chant from observers going, “Fight! Fight! Fight!” wasn’t helping much either.

    “Would you just listen to me?!” I exclaimed, doing my best to avoid the strikes. “I don’t want to play this-“

    Swing! Clank! A stab that would’ve cost me the game was blocked by own quick positioning of my sword. It was a desperate move, probably far less graceful than the techniques my opponent was using, but hey, it worked. There was a sheathing sound of light metal grazing each other, as my opponent’s sword swiped back to its owner, who began to back up, evaluating what to do next.

    “Look!” I didn’t give up on attempting compromise, “This really isn’t fair, I don’t have any exp-“









    They didn’t stop. At this point I was basically just running around in circles around the ring, dodging whatever swipe I saw coming, earning a bit of laughter from the spectators. It didn’t seem mean, more like they were interested in having a mix-up in the fights they’d been watching. Huh, well at least SOMEONE was having fun in this…

    Shink! Another shaky block, I really didn’t think I could keep this up for much longer… I couldn’t just run out of the ring, every time I’d come close to the edge, the other person prevented me from leaving. They wanted to finish this thing the classic way, no other options available.

    Obviously I wasn’t going to be able to talk my way out, run my way out, so the one choice I did have… fight my way out. It didn’t matter if I won or lost, but going along with the President’s game seemed to be the quickest way to leave, and I got the feeling that if I just let him stab me, he would smell my bull in an instant. I hadn’t exactly made myself out as some easy to hit this entire time, and- AH!

    I tripped over a crease in the matting and fell face first. There was more laughter from the other students, and I scrambled up just before the President’s sword hit the spot I was with a loud FWAP! With little time to plan out any counter, I just ran all the way to the opposite side of the ring, and tried to think fast.

    Alright, alright, alright, ALRIGHT! THINK! Think Theo, think! What should you do now?!

    I had nothing.

    But apparently someone else did.

    Kasta…, I heard in my head.



    Uh... pasta…?

    I was momentarily stung by what felt like a second-long migraine, as if being slapped for my stupidity. “Ah!” I moaned aloud, earning some confused stares from a few students close enough to hear it.


    Suddenly, I really listened to the word… as if being guided, the gibberish word slowly broke apart in my head and began to make sense… kasta… kasta… casta… cast… throw.

    I chucked the sword.

    At first glimpse, this may seem like a childish tactic. And it was, I’ll admit that, but hey, sometimes even the most immature attack can be effective… and this one certainly was. Because as the thing was hurtling through the air, it began to glow a very faint green light, and upon hitting the President, sent them flying backward onto their back with a force that probably defied the laws of physics.

    The mask flew right off their face from the fall, but the straps had apparently been tied up very strategically, because when the mask went, what was released was a dazzling wave of luscious, long, golden hair.

    Everyone gasped with horror, but none louder than me. I stood there speechless for a very long moment, letting what had happened sink in, before finally snapping to back to reality in a panic.

    “I… I hit a GIRL?”

    Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God OH MY GOD!!! I was vaguely aware of Luke calling my name, but I wasn’t paying attention. She was rubbing her head in a drowsy manner, and gritting her teeth in that way people do when they’re in pain.

    Now some people may find it quite old-fashioned over the idea that you can’t hit someone just because they’re a girl, but really, it was something I held myself to. No bullying people smaller than you, no being lazy, be fair, and never, NEVER hit a girl, were just a handful of some of the oh-so un-teenage-like standards I held near and dear to my soul.

    “I am soooooo sorry!” I said, kneeling down by her, “It’s just you were there, and, the sword, it just… GAH! I’m sorry! Here, let me help you!”

    I held out my hand. The girl opened her eyes, as blue and deep as the ocean itself, and looked at me with an expression of confusion, looked at my hand, then back at me. I gave her a comforting smile as she reached her own hand out…

    And punched me square in the face.

    Hitting me harder than I thought most punches could, my face quickly numbed itself to counteract the pain, and I struggled to drift not into unconsciousness. Colorful blots briefly clouded my vision, there was a soft ringing in my ears, and I had an airy sensation of spinning, like being extremely dizzy. It was like this for what felt like a few minutes, before I finally felt a floor materialize underneath my back, and the blots slowly melted together and became the ceiling and several worried student faces staring down at me.

    “Wha… what…?” I mumbled, looking around. As the ringing slowly died out, I was aware of two voices yelling at each other.

    “The bloody hell, Franny?!”

    “Oh, so he’s your friend then?! Makes sense!”

    “You didn’t have to knock the damn lights out of him!”

    “He did it to me!”

    “So what?!”

    “What do you mean “so what”?!”

    I recognized one of the voices as Luke’s, and slowly tried to sit up. The numbness in my face suddenly gave way to a painful stinging, and I bit my lip to keep from crying out.

    “Ahhhh…” I moaned, gingerly touching the spot the girl struck, a huge bump starting to bud. Soon, there was the sound of footsteps, and a hand on my shoulder.

    “Hey, you okay buddy?” asked a voice.

    I looked up into two very blue eyes, and for a moment, thought the girl had come over to make amends. But, no… upon closer look, I saw that the one helping me up was unmistakably masculine. His hair was the color of golden freshly cut straw in the fall, and had a soft but fairly attractive face. These things, coupled with the way the other children gave him space, it was obvious that he was a, “popular kid,” or at least a well-respected one. A few of them seemed to be somewhat shocked at the situation, probably wondering what such a cool guy was doing talking to the weird new kid who just got the crap knocked out of him by a girl.

    “Thanks…” I said, still absentmindedly prodding the lump on my head.

    “No problem,” he gave a friendly smile, and then stuck his thumb over his shoulder. It pointed to the other side of the gymnasium, where Luke and the girl were going at each other viciously. “Now how about you and I go clear this whole mess up before those two kill each other?”

    “Alright…” it was a little weird that the guy was taking such as head charge about this whole situation, but his warm demeanor was comforting, and we quickly ran up to the argument.

    “Whoa now!” said the boy, gently putting an arm between the two. “Calm on you two. Don’t you think we can work this out like civil people?”

    The girl quickly snapped her head towards the boy, and in comparison, I saw they looked startlingly alike. They must have been related or something, which explained why the guy was so casual around about her, despite the girl’s death glare.

    “You saw what this jerk did, Franc!” she said, “He threw me right out of the damn ring!”

    “I saw,” nodded the boy understandingly, “But I also saw that he immediately apologized, and even tried to help you.”

    “Y-Yeah!” I threw in, “I swear, I didn’t mean to hit you like that! It just happened!” I pointedly excluded the part about being particularly distressed over hitting her for simply being female, since that was bound to only make matters worse.

    “Ha!” she didn’t buy it.

    “Franny,” her twin addressed her in a patient voice, “Come on. You know stuff happens in the ring. Adrenaline rushes and all that…” He smiled pleadingly at her, an expression that would be hard-pressed to deny a request. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

    I couldn’t help but smile at one of my favorite sayings. Yeah, me and this Franc guy were going to get along just fine.

    For a while, the girl stubbornly held her scowl, before finally sighing and turning to me. “I’m sorry. It wasn’t right to hit you back after you already apologized.”

    “Aw, it’s alright,” I said with a smile, “I guess I did kind of deserve it, cheap shot and all.”

    Luke opened his mouth, probably about to say something insulting, before I shot him a look that told him to not make it worse than it was. He crossed his arms and blew a bit of hair out of his face, while mumbling, “This was so much more amusing in my head…”

    I opened my mouth to scold him, and the girl, Franny, did the same. What other mean stuff she would’ve said to him though, I’ll never know, because it was right then that fate decided to have Michael burst through the doors with an army of teachers behind him.

    “There he is!” he pointed dramatically across the gym directly at Luke.

    “Oh, s**t!” said Luke with panic, evidently much more concerned that Michael had come with back up this time. “It’s The Man! Gotta go! See ya later, Theo!”

    Man, whatever past that child, Mike, and the majority of the staff had together, it must have been pretty ugly. Or at least bad enough that Luke was daring enough to bound without second thought right through an emergency exit door and into an open field of the school grounds, the attached alarm set off, making the air pulsate with ear-piercing, WEEOOO! WEEOOO!’s. Michael and a few other adults were hot on his trail, while a few of the others ran out the other way, probably thinking they could go around and block him from the front.

    Whatever. After all that had happened today, Luke deserved a good cat-and-dog chase. It’d spare the tense, awkward air yelling at him at our dorm would’ve created anyway, and right now I just needed to concentrate on tending to the huge lump on my head.

    “Ow!” I poked it.

    “Here,” said Franc soothingly, handing me a tiny satchel he had pulled from his schoolbag. It smelled like summer.

    “What is this…?” I asked.

    “Some herbs I grew in garden club, they’re real good for bruises like that. Just mix the whole thing with a cup of water, and it’ll turn into a paste that you wash your face with every morning for three days.” He gave a bright, toothy smile. “My name is Francisco, by the way. And this is my twin sister, Francesca.”

    “You can just call me Franny,” corrected Francesca, then gesturing to her brother. “People call him Franc.”

    “I’m Theodore, but people call me Theo,” I said, “I’m new here, in case you hadn’t noticed by everyone’s dirty looks yet…” I chuckled awkwardly.

    Franc laughed brightly, “No one’s giving you dirty looks!” but his cheerful smile fell as he took closer inspection at my bump, “You better start up that paste pretty soon… I’m not sure it’s right for that thing to look that blue…” Franny rubbed the back of her neck bashfully.

    “You don’t have to tell me twice,” I said. They really didn’t. Franny could launch one hell of a knuckle-sandwich, and it was taking all the strength I had currently to not grimace and make her embarrassed. “Thanks a lot! See ya round some time, maybe.”

    They waved politely as I quickly skidded back into the boys’ locker room, went to the bathroom area, and ran my head under the sink. A sigh of relief fell from my mouth as the cool water helped to wash away the stinging, burning sensation, like a healing spell. The knobs squeaked as I twisted them off, and then grabbed a handful of nearby paper towels to dry my face off to begin to concoct that brew Franc gave me.

    Now, I was one of those people who when drying their faces, I lifted my head upward so as to allow any stray water drops to run from my face into my hair where they couldn’t soil anything. This may seem like a trivial detail, and for the majority of my short life it had been… except for that one day. Funny how destiny can make so many huge decisions based on such small, seemingly meaningless details, but I guess that’s just what made the universe so elusive sometimes… because without my usual habit of looking up, I wouldn’t have seen it.


    There was something off within the pattern on the ceiling… it was a series of simple carvings that went triangle, square, triangle, square, triangle… circle? I squinted my eyes, and saw that not only that, but it was a different color as well, more of a greyish than brown… and there were lines around it. Not drawn lines, but like small, open space… like, it had been stuck in there. But why?

    I wiped down the sink with more paper towels so I wouldn’t slip and crack my head open on the tile floor, before firmly setting one foot on it, grabbing the edges of the mirror screwed into the wall, and hoisting myself up. The ceiling was just out of my reach, and I had to climb back down to retrieve a pen from my backpack to poke and stab at it.

    Chic… chic… almost there… chic… chic… chic… plunk!

    The circle fell out of the ceiling and clattered into the sink at my feet, luckily missing the drain. I carefully hopped down, put the pen aside, picked it up, and closely inspected it.

    “… Thurs?”

    The symbol engraved on the circle, which turned out to be a chunk of sturdy stone, was the same middle-looped P that Michael had shown me earlier. Had someone chipped the rune out of the rock from outside, and then stuck it in the locker room ceiling as some kind of prank? Pretty lame prank if you ask me. And vandalism too, destroying a historical treasure like that… but as I got a closer look at it, I saw that it didn’t look much like the engraving from outside.
    On the rock it had been scratchier, like the printer had been being careful to etch the letter correctly onto the rounded boulder so people could still read what it said. This rock was flatter, so the rune cut was deeper, and more stylized. I looked back up at its former resting spot on the ceiling, and saw that the hole it had been in was also professionally cut, like it was made for the rune rather than just being shoved in there by a student.

    After changing back into my regular clothes and neatly folding up the fencing suit to return (I had still decided that the club, though Franny and Franc seemed nice, just wasn’t my thing), I pocketed the rune, and headed out the door. It wasn’t like I was stealing it… I was just keeping it safe, till I could figure out what to with it. There was no way I was putting it back in the ceiling, where any random goons could wind up breaking it or something, I somehow knew that it obviously didn’t belong there… though where it did exactly belong, I couldn’t tell you. Yet.

    I guess I’d just have to figure that out myself.