Friday. Thank God almighty, it was finally Friday.
Sigmund tapped away at the corner of his desk, glaring impatiently at the clock that refused to speed up. Real classes were over for the day, their perpetually-depressed Student Council President had already made his rounds, and the only thing standing between him and the weekend was a completely arbitrary bell. There was honestly no point in sticking around for the last five minutes – the only one even trying to still get work done was the Brit in the back of class. Why couldn't they just be let out, already?
Anticipation for this weekend in particular had Sigmund completely wired. The four weeks since their forced induction to the Court of Miracles had run everyone involved completely ragged. Yet, given that the Shadows' siege of the school had definitely slowed down recently, Wulfgard had seen fit to make a few calls and organize a group trip for some good old R&R. He'd been pretty vague, but he figured that any trip where swimming suits were recommended would turn out just fine.
The clock still wouldn't allow them release, no matter how much he narrowed his eyes. But it couldn't hold out forever. They were getting down to the last minute. Hand on the strap of his bag, Sigmund pressed his feet against the floor, ready to spring up and be first out the door, the first to greet the weekend. Ten seconds.
At the bell, he was gone.
One hundred and eight minutes later, Joaquim Pereira was sitting shotgun in a twelve-passenger van, his feet kicked up on the dashboard despite Jones' frequent protests, trying to get in a nap and ignore the irritating chatterboxes in the back.
In his opinion, this whole trip as a stupid idea. In short, they were going to leave the city open to attack by an eldritch army for two nights in a row so that they could mess around on some juvenile retreat? And Wulfgard was okay with this? What's more, he was trying to keep everyone in the dark about their destination. What were they, five?
Not like it was that hard to guess, anyway. Anyone idiot who lived around here could figure where they were headed - Wulfgard had them set for the beach, and there was really only one lake within this driving distance and in this direction that was worth the trip. That was, of course, unless Wulfgard and Jones were really shitty at picking out beaches.
Sure enough, the next time he looked up, Jones was pulling in to the lot of Lake Silverman, the only sizeable, non-murky lake within ninety miles west of Quarterman. As if he would have gone anywhere else. Strangely enough, they had decided to swing by the lake itself without even stopping by a motel or anything. Probably wanted to hype everyone up with the promise of moderately-clear water and sand. Childish theatrics it was, then.
JP reluctantly stepped outside the van, folding his arms. Most of the others were milling about and going into the usual slack-jawed, wide-eyed state that they should have outgrown at least about the time they started cracking Shadows' skulls apart every night. Woo-hoo, a beach. Yay. Wasn't even two miles long – it was like none of them had seen natural water before in their lives. Word had it this wasn't even a good fishing spot, if you were into that sort of thing.
Just as JP was about to sit back down and try to fall asleep until the kids settled down, his eyes caught sight of something. Just close enough for him to make out clearly, about a hundred yards down the shore. Two somethings, in fact – and he was glad he found them. A pair of girls, probably college-age, wearing not-entirely-modest swimsuits. Jogging after each other down the beach. Bouncing. He cracked a grin in spite of himself.
'Hell, maybe this won't be entirely terrible.'
Then the thunder started.
Sofiya yawned, taking a lazy look outside. Rain was a big ol' dumb-face, ruining her weekend like that. How dare it?! This rain should just go away until Monday, except that the others said that it wouldn't, and that they'd be stuck in the hotel all day. Well, couldn't they ask rain's mother to give it time-out? Who would that be, though… would they have to ask Nature about that? Hmm… that one might be hard.
At least JP didn't seem to mind. He'd been standing outside in the rain since she had gotten up (admittedly not that early), watching for something and keeping the rain company since nobody else would. It looked like they were getting to be best friends!
"He's gonna catch a cold," Lace commented, joining Sofiya with a soda in hand. "Maybe even hit by lightning or somethin' – POW!" She threw her hands open to emphasize the statement, nearly spilling her drink and startling Sofiya in the process.
"That's not good! We gotta save him!" Sofiya half-shouted. She stood up to go get him, but stopped short. Wait, the rain was his friend! It wouldn't zap him like that. Still, storms couldn't help but give you colds. Poor things – it wasn't really even their fault. Either way, they'd have to get JP back inside, but he didn't look like he wanted to come. She couldn't understand why – nobody was down there. He it looked like he just liked the beach ….
Ah, that's it!
At the revelation, Sofiya pumped her fist in the air. "Why not just bring the beach in here? He could be in here and at the beach at the same time and get all sick! Then we could invite Mana up to make us tea and cakes, and we could go look for seashells, and-"
"Yeah!" Lace said, excited up by the idea. "I can go get heaters to make it beach-warm, and maybe even a pool for water! Ooh, but all the sand outside is wet…" She pursed her lips and folded her arms, having hit a roadblock.
"Oh, don't worry about that," Sofiya said, waving one hand dismissively. "We can just make our own! The sea is salty, right? That's 'cause the sand there is mostly made of salt, obviously! We just need to find a way to make it look like sand… maybe cover it in something?"
"Okay, you do that, and I'll get the other stuff!" Lace said, already skipping out of the room. She thought she had seen a supply room or something earlier. That would be perfect – maybe they would even have some beach balls and umbrellas, too!
This was gonna be the best beach ever!
Really, Wulfgard had no sense of planning. Taking them to some stupid lake over an hour away without even checking the forecast – what was he, an idiot? And she wouldn't even have any Shadows to take it out on until they got back. At least he had picked a decent inn for them to stay at. A bit rustic, really, but they had a hot spring bath, which she had to admit was quite refreshing. Not a real hot spring, of course, not in this part of the country, but they had managed at least a fair imitation.
Ciara was just on her way back to her room, clad in a fluffy purple bathrobe and her hair wrapped neatly in a towel. Even after the bath, she still felt all tense. Probably cabin fever setting in. Hmm… perhaps she could make Joshua give her a massage or something when she was wearing something more substantial.
Or perhaps she had found him already.
Ciara followed the shouting around the corner and into the inn's game room. It wasn't a huge thing – mainly just a television, some lounge chairs, and a few game tables with open space between it all. Quaint, but it did what it needed to, she supposed. She found Joshua at a game of table tennis, up against that thick-headed boy that she had seen at the Courts just a few times with that nervous shrimp of a girl spectating nearby. The boy was the head of the school rock band, supposedly, but she couldn't say that she was too impressed. He was nothing next to Joshua, certainly, though he did manage to strike with enough power to send the next volley whistling by centimeters from Ciara's ear.
"What is this?" Ciara demanded, unflinching, towering in the doorway despite her feminine stature. Randy just stood there and laughed stupidly in response.
"I'm playing circles around Josh at ping-pong, what's it look like?"he said.
"That so? You're sure breaking a sweat for that," Joshua remarked right back.
"Yeah, well you're still down four points, man. Unless you've got some way to turn this around-"
"Fine, then. Joshua and I hereby challenge you two to a match," she interrupted, approaching the table and glaring at Joshua to throw her a paddle. He did so instantly. Her command was not any form of request, nor open for negotiation. This was a decree, of war if need be. No boy would be showing Joshua up on her watch.
Rocker boy only boasted at her decree, taunting such trite promises as "bring it on!" and "you've already lost, you know." Ciara grinned. The boy's not-girlfriend (oh, please, the two couldn't be more obvious about it if they tried – just man up and get on with it!) was visibly unsettled to begin with, and the girl had never played at this before in her life, judging by her weak stance. That left him with a huge weak spot, and fighting two-on-one, besides. This match was in the bag already.
"Oh, you've still got hopes of winning, don't you? That's simply adorable. Now, serve!"she ordered, smirking smugly and raising her paddle in a strong but dignified motion.
Randy nodded with a grin and sent the ball on its way, steady but leisurely in movement. Obviously, he was not taking this seriously enough. Joshua returned it. Just fine – more power than Randy, at least, but still a bit meek. Liza's return was little more than a glorified block. The pace was already getting too slow for her liking. The ball now entering her end of the Court, Ciara struck with a powerful backhand, nailing Liza precisely between the eyes and sending her reeling backward. Then, to top it all off, she jeered,
"Your heads are mine."
Still with her palm to her face, Liza's eyes widened like the sheepish little thing she was. Randy looked nervously at Liza, then at Ciara, then wordlessly went to retrieve the ball. Their opponents were fully off their game now, one hurt and one apprehensive, but both now wary of her prowess.
Just as it should be.
"Um, pretty good… Randy likes to go a little harder, like, uh…"
Izzy tried to simultaneously drum out a beat and hum out a melody, but his attempt sputtered out and died when his rhythm became irregular after about five measures. Well, he had gotten the point across, at least.
As much as he was missing the warm weather, Snow hadn't found being kept inside to be so bad. With the Court inevitably sucking up a lot of his time, he had gotten behind on learning Free Candy's routine, and since Randy was nowhere to be found, Izzy had offered to help him out despite his shaky musical ability. They had been making a bit of progress while lounging in the lobby, at least, and Izzy made for good company.
"So, how about…" Snow played the passage again on his guitar, this time picking up the tempo and laying on a thicker syncopation. Izzy nodded and smiled in response.
"Yeah – I'd talk to Randy, but it sounds good to me," he praised. Snow grinned back and started on the next stanza, making idle conversation in the meantime.
"So, how long have you been doing the sound-system thing for Randy? You two seem pretty close," Snow commented. Izzy turned his eyes downward.
"Oh, um, not that long, really… I've been helping out pretty much ever since we, um, just a few months ago," he answered, quickly shifting between various stages of nervousness. Snow bit his lip and went back to focusing on his musicianship. He somehow got the feeling that he had asked more than he really should have.
"Um, anyway, how about-"
"Ooh, you play?" came a feminine voice.
Snow looked up and saw, standing over them and only about three feet away, a pair of girls. They seemed to match each other perfectly, a short blonde and a thin brunette in identical track jackets and unnecessary sunglasses. Right now, they both seemed completely fixated on his guitar, the first in an almost bored way and the other with keen interest.
"Oh my God, guitarists are so hot," said the brunette.
"Are you, like, in a band?" the blonde asked.
"Uh, yeah… but we're just-" Snow started, already feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sudden attention.
"Ooh, so can you, like, play us something? Pretty please?" the taller girl asked with a wink. Snow's mind stalled stalled for just a second. His gaze darted to Izzy for support. Of course, he had already half-sunk into his chair, looking as though he would rather jump out the nearest window than continue this conversation. And he wasn't even on the spot!
"I guess so… um, our band mostly does seventies rock. Is that okay?" he suggested, his mind still with Free Candy's set list.
"Euck, like the stuff my dad listens to? Lame."
"You kidding, Amy? That's, like, totally hardcore," the thin one countered, lightly hitting her friend on the shoulder. Then, turning to Snow with a sweet smile, she added, "Go ahead, show us your stuff."
Snow reddened deeply and looked straight downward under the pretense of focusing on his music. Before he could think about the situation long enough to let his apprehension set in, he started on a song with a driving pulse, mouthing the lyrics as he went along. Why was this so much more nerve-wracking than playing for a crowd?
He cut out around the bridge, daring a glance back up at the girls. The blonde was hardly even paying attention, seeming more entertained by Izzy's steadily-increasing discomfort than his efforts. The brunette, at least, was beaming back down at him, clapping briefly before nudging her friend. God, it was like they had each chosen a target to lord over.
"Not bad – wish we could hear more, but we kinda sorta gotta go. Thanks for the show, cutie!" she said, blowing a kiss at him. Then, as if the entire confrontation, the two walked off down the hall, giggling over some inaudible joke.
…well, that was confusing.
Russell groaned, trudging down the halls sopping wet. Of course the rain was going to pick back up. He had thought that the lull in the storm might last long enough for a quick snack run, but no such luck. And to top it all off, the hot spring bath which would have felt so good had just opened to the women – he wouldn't get a chance for almost another two hours.
"Hey, Russell. Why all the gloom?" Halberd had practically snuck up on him, which startled him particularly due to the height different between the two.
"Oh, I just missed bath hours, so I'm kinda stuck like this," Russell explained, gesturing at his damp clothes.
"No, no, you've got to look at this the other way: bath hours for the girls are now on," he announced, beaming. Russell just stared at him, utterly bewildered. That didn't even apply to them. Halberd saw his confusion and raised one hand to explain.
"Ah, Russell, haven't you ever watched T.V.? This is the perfect opportunity for one of the crowning moments of a man's high school years, a high-risk stealth mission!" he declared with all the energy of a shout but a low enough volume to remain discreet.
"Oh, are you still on about that?"
Mana had suddenly appeared from behind a corner, joining them as seamlessly as though he had heard the entire conversation. What was it with people and creepy entrances today?
"Oh, c'mon," Halberd said, "You can't tell me you don't want in on this."
Mana laughed. "No, I've got nothing against it. It's just that your plan of attack is all wrong. What was the plan, going through the front door?"
"Hey, I bet I can pick the bath door lock just fine," Halberd boasted. Mana shook his head.
"It's not a matter of can or can't. Going through there would be totally obvious and loud. You'll get yourself caught."
"Okay, then, Mr. Master Tactician, how would you do this?"
"Simple. The south wall…"
Russell was completely lost by now. He had gathered what they were up to, at least, and he didn't want to be part of it. Some needlessly complex strategy to get a half-obscured view of the women's bath… it just wasn't worth the risk, as far as he was concerned. Besides, he needed to get out of these clothes before he caught a cold.
He took exactly two steps toward his room and stopped, held in place by the collar.
"Whoa, where're you going?" Halberd asked. "You're an important player here!"
"Guys, no. I'm not going to do this."
"Oh, c'mon, it'll be fun!"
It ended up not being so much fun.
It turned out that Mana's plan involved lifting him, the smallest and lightest guy in the group, over the garden wall. After being dragged outside only to be dropped in mud, he had to pass one end of a hose over to the other two so that they could scale the wall and join him. Honestly, overall, it wasn't a bad plan. Just a plan that he personally wasn't keen on.
Once all three were over the wall, they wordlessly made their way over to the window. While Mana and Halberd had to practically lay down so as to make themselves less visible, Russell had only to crouch to produce the same effect.
Though the window was a bit foggy with steam, the inside of the room was clearly visible. There, sitting at the edge of the bath, were two of Russell's classmates. Even from the back, it was pretty obvious that they were Clarise and Miyuki. As much as he hated to admit it, he could almost tell by Miyuki's small and delicate frame and Clarise's attractive silhouette as much as anything else.
Russell looked uncomfortably sideways at the other two. They were completely stoic, watching with hawks' eyes. He swallowed and looked back at the girls. It was kind of enthralling, in a way, waiting for them to shift and show them just a bit more. Their smooth skin, the gentle curves… guh. This felt wrong, but he knew that he wouldn't be getting back over the wall on his own, so what could he do but watch.
"C'mon, turn around…"Halberd muttered to himself.
Then they did.
And looked the trio straight in the eyes.
Everything was going great, given the circumstances.
Aside from JP (who was still recovering from the events of two weeks ago), everyone had been taking things remarkably well. The students had managed to all make their own entertainment, it seemed, leaving him and Testa free to get some real R&R in. And he had thought that being rained in would drive them all nuts with cabin fever. These kids had faced true monsters, after all – they were more resilient than that.
Of course, he had to make a few rounds just to be sure, given that technically he was supposed to be a chaperone. It was more of a precaution than a need, with the way things were going. The boys' hall looked and sounded calm enough, at least, so he chanced skipping it entirely and headed past the girls' rooms. Of course, they were noisy with the usual teenage girl chatter and giggling. Nothing concerning, though.
Then he saw something concerning. Not even halfway down the hall, a door burst open on his left, letting a stream of sand leak into the hall. Immediately following was the pair of Sofiya and Lace in their swimming suits, stepping out as if to admire their handiwork. Despite knowing that he would immediately regret the decision, Wulfgard approached to look through the door.
He immediately regretted his decision. Most of the floor of the room was covered in a layer of what appeared to be a mixture of sand and wheat flour. Beach balls and space heaters were scattered about, and an inflatable pool sat in the center, crowning the disaster. All were more than likely pilfered from around the inn.
"Wulfgard, we need more sand!" Sofiya announced. "We'll never have Mana-cakes at this rate!"
…what in the world? Wulfgard put one hand to his face, but before he could even begin to object, what looked like last student in Bellow High came down the halls all at once – most running, a few clad only in towels, and some practically dragging themselves down the hall.
"Heheheh! I'm now your queen, you miserable insects!"
"I've never been more embarrassed…"
"Get those boys back here! I'll tear their heads off!"
Wulfgard put his other hand to his head, clutching it out of a sudden headache. Belay his previous statement.
Everything was a mess.