Sorry for the wait for the return to action! There will be a brief hiatus following this chapter; we're heading for the home stretch and we want to make sure it's perfect (or as perfect as possible). Enjoy!


Kendra sighed as she let her locker door slam shut. After the long break for the holidays and all that had happened during it, she felt more trapped than ever being just another student again. On the brighter side, though, she had winter cheer practice after school, something she had been looking forward to since the end of the previous season.

"Excited for practice?" Bracken's smooth accent was suddenly in her ear, and she turned to see him fiddling with his own locker.

"Very, yes," she smiled. "How about you? Ready to try fencing?"

"I've been fencing since before the French ever got their hands on the art and made it all-," he paused to wiggle his fingers in the air for emphasis. "-Hoity-toity."

"Says you, dude," Seth had walked up to join the conversation, books for the day in hand. "You're, like, the prince of all that is Hoity and Toity. Just look at your uniform."

"What's wrong with my uniform?" Bracken asked, irritated. He gave himself a fast once over.

"It looks like you ran it through a panini press this morning, it's so crisp."

"Listen, just because you like to be a slob-"

"Boys, enough!" Kendra stepped between the brewing argument. "Seth, let Br- Adrian have his nice clothes and posh attitude. Adrien, let Seth be...Seth. There's no fixing it, I've tried."

"Hey!" Seth was indignant. Before anyone could say anything else, the first period bell rang.

"See you guys after basketball!"

"We have gym today!"

"Maybe you do, I'm skipping."

"Seth!"

"Bye Adalyn!"

The three split up, Kendra/Adalyn heading for Warren's double history block, Bracken heading for Poli-Sci and Calculus, and Seth going to Spanish and Forensics. Seth walked down the stairs and out the door, across the courtyard, and into the language building. It was one of the older structures, so the rooms and halls were smaller and the paint was peeling, but the building was still nicer than any of Seth's old schools.

He plopped into his seat in the back row of his Spanish class, slumped and pulling out his ear buds. He figured whatever he missed he could pester Vanessa into helping him out with. Or google. He pulled out a binder anyway to doodle in and look like he was working. As the rest of the class trickled in, Seth finally noticed that Romeo, usually already in the room and writing on the board when they walked in, was nowhere to be found. Seth sat up a little straighter, and began tugging his communication charm out from beneath his hoodie. He began worrying little dragon on its leather cord between his fingers.

Just as he was about to let the group know, Romeo walked in, looking sickly pale and exhausted. Seth was immediately on edge; he had seen too many of his loved ones looking that sick to be unaware of the implications.

"Lo siento, kids. I'm afraid the holiday break was unkind to me. I seem to have come down with a rather nasty virus, or infection, or something."

Many of the students shifted uneasily, looking pointedly at each other and the empty seats of their friends who had come down with "something" and had yet to recover. Romeo noticed this and leapt to reassure them.

"Not to worry though, kids!" He said, forcing cheer into this demeanor. "I'm on some antibiotics and a very hearty soup diet to nip this thing in the bud. I probably just picked up something nasty while I was in Argentina for Christmas, it's all good." He clapped his hands together, and Seth was briefly reminded of Warren's go-to nervous tick during tense moments. "Now, who's ready to learn the past imperfect tense! Woo-hoo!"

The class groaned and laughed, seemingly pacified, but Seth quickly grabbed his dragon charm and sent a brief message to the group.

'Guys, Romeo is infected. He says he picked something up in Argentina over break, but he's definitely got the evil-plague-infection-thing. He's pale as hell, and he's got the sweats, and he looks thin, and his eyes have that weird empty thing going on.'

There was radio silence for a minute, though Seth could feel the others we're tapped into the channel. Finally, Tanu spoke.

'It's safe to assume, then, that the perpetrator has moved onto infecting the faculty.'

'So?' Seth was confused about how that was any worse than the students.

'It means they're trying to get to Stan, and that they most likely know he's the head of the Knights,' Warren's voice was heavy with worry. 'We're running out of time.'

BREAK

"And that's why I will never, ever, eat astronaut ice cream."

"Mr. Burgess?"

"Yes, my child?"

"Is that gonna be on the test?"

"...you know what, Timmy-"

"Tony."

"It wasn't. But now that you've mentioned it, it is."

The class groaned, and Kendra chuckled into her hand. Warren bulldozed on, yelling and gesturing wildly about the Cold War. Kendra let herself drift out for a moment; the Cold War was one of Warren's favorite topics of interest and he spoke about it frequently. Warren was a master strategist when it came to mission plans for the Knights, so it made sense that a war that involved no actual fighting and was acted out entirely in strategic moves was one of the man's favorite eras.

"Adalyn!"

Kendra idly came back to attention, waiting for her classmate to answer. As the silence stretched on, though, Kendra became acutely aware of all the eyes in the room on her. Oh damn, she thought. I'm Adalyn.

"Yes, sorry, what's up, uh, I mean, can you repeat the question, Mr. Burgess?" Kendra stammered out, her cheeks flushing. Warren looked far too amused for his own good.

"Can you briefly tell me what the difference in goals was between the states and the Soviet Union after World War II?"

"Uh, yes, they," Kendra racked her brain, knowing that she knew this and trying to figure out the briefest way to say it. "After the war, the U.S. wanted to rebuild its economy, and the U.S.S.R. wanted to spread communism across the world."

"Excellent! And how did this affect their status as allies?"

"Well, they didn't share the same beliefs, and they both wanted to spread their respective ideals, communism and capitalism, and so they became enemies."

"Nice, Adalyn! Glad to see you were paying attention. Now, these tense relations between the two superpowers…" Warren droned on for another 15 minutes until the bell finally rang. Kendra packed her stuff into her bag, but hung back as the last students left the room.

"Warren," Kendra strode across the room to her cousin's desk, behind which he was filing away some papers into a cabinet. "About what Seth said-"

"I know, Ken," Warren sighed. "It really isn't looking good. The other adults and I are going to do some snooping today after classes while we wait for sports to let out. We'll go from there."

"I don't like this." She sighed, fiddling with her necklace.

"Me neither. Hey, how are you feeling being back and all?"

"I feel great actually." Kendra smiled up at him. Christmas Day and the rest of the week spent with her family had been a healing experience for all. The combined light magic of a unicorn and fairykind being, along with the natural magic of the holiday season, as Bracken had called it, had done wonders for everyone's spirits and Warren, Kendra, and Vanessa's health. Vanessa was nearly fully recovered, and Warren and Kendra didn't feel quite so run down anymore. "I feel anxious about all this, but I'm ready for whatever's coming at us next."

"That's the spirit kid!" Warren smiled. "Now, you better get your butt down the hall before Nessa gives you a demerit."

"Sure thing," Kendra said, walking toward the door. "I'll be sure to tell your girlfriend you say hi."

"Ignoring that!"


"Adalyn, Adrien, see me after class." Vanessa set down their lab work with a neutral look, and the rest of the class made the compulsory "Ooooohhhhhh" sound as she walked out of the lab area. Kendra and Bracken exchanged a glance, Bracken clearly a bit more nervous, but did as they were told. As the rest of the class packed up to leave, they hung back, taking their time with the cleaning and replacing of the instruments. After the last student left, Vanessa closed the heavy door and crossed over to them.

"So," she hoisted herself up to sit on one of the lab tables. "Has Warren gone over the plan with you two?"

"Wait there's a plan-plan?" Kendra asked. "Plans never seem to be our style. We make them, ignore them, panic, and then just kind of wing it."

"Okay, so we're on phase one." Vanessa chuckled, reaching up to undo and redo her pony tail. Her hand chain flashed in the fluorescent light.

"So, is there a more elaborate plan than snooping?" Bracken asked. Kendra had filled him in during the lab.

"Sort of, kind of." Vanessa wiggled her hand back and forth. The chain jingled.

"You're going out of your way to show that off." Kendra smirked.

"Correct," Vanessa leaned back on her hands. "We're going to be checking out the cafeteria and surrounding ventilation as best as we can. Tanu and I are pretty certain this sickness is either coming from the food, or is airborne. If it's the latter, we're in for a much harder time beating this."

"Do you guys know what it really is yet?" Bracken sounded weary. Kendra knew her boyfriend was reaching the end of his patience with the mission as a whole. He despised American schooling, and no matter what, people kept falling ill.

"Yes, we're 85% sure it's a fungus, or something similar."

"So it's not like, magical plague crystal meth cooked up in some evil lab?" Kendra

"Crystal meth, no. Evil lab, most likely." Vanessa said. She sighed, slumping a bit, and Kendra noticed how tired she actually look, and that was with her makeup done.

"You and Tanu didn't sleep much this last week, Van." Kendra murmured, reaching out to touch the other woman's hand in sympathy. "How are you holding up?"

"Well enough, I suppose."

"Do you need more coffee? I can probably smuggle you some from the teacher's lounge?" Bracken asked, concerned for his now-definitely-a-friend. Vanessa smiled a bit at the offer.

"No, thanks, Bracken. I'll make it through the day. But I'm dragging myself to Starbucks after this. What about you two? How are you?"

"Hanging in there. Ready to end this. Tired." Kendra yawned as if to prove her point. Bracken nodded along.

"Then let's rally for the day and see how we do. Now vamos, it's time for third period."

BREAK

"Okay so, to recap," Seth chugged half a carton of chocolate milk, the spoke again. "The bad stuff is probably a fungus thing, the geriatrics are going on a witch hunt this afternoon, and everyone is completely exhausted."

"Yep, that sums it up nicely." Bracken said, spearing a tomato with his fork.

"Awesome." Seth inhaled four chicken nuggets and the rest of the chocolate milk. "Are you guys doing that blood drive thing next week?"

"Yeah sure," Kendra said, not really paying attention. She was looking anxiously around the courtyard. "Where's the, ah, faculty?"

No sooner had she spoken than did the adults of the family arrive, meandering over to their usual table underneath a cherry blossom tree. Kendra fought back a chuckle as Mara cleared the table of petals more violently than normal. Patience was not a common emotion these days.

"It's so weird not eating with them," Seth muttered. "Also why do they always have better food, we all literally share the same kitchen?"

"They can cook." Kendra rolled her eyes.

"Oh right."

They turned back to their lunches but none of them had moved to eat before the door to the courtyard from the cafeteria slammed open, hitting the brick with a bang. Kendra looked up to behold one incredibly angry Brittany Favre, and let her fork fall back into the container. She had a feeling she was done eating.


The adults were having a peaceful lunch for all of two minutes before Brittany threw open the courtyard doors like the gates of Zzyzx.

"Well, I guess that's that." Trask sighed, pausing in eating his tuna salad sandwich.

"I'm so glad I brought popcorn in today." Elise ripped open the bag of Smartpop in her hand and began munching. Mara sighed heavily through her nostrils and let her wrap fall back into its foil.

"I wish I had gone to Chipotle." Tanu muttered.

"Why do you hate yourself?" Vanessa muttered back. Warren shushed them before an argument could erupt. All the eyes at their faculty table turned to Brittany, now standing over Kendra's table.

"How dare you, Adalyn?" Brittany screeched. "How could you even dare?"

"Oh my god," Warren dropped his head into his hands to hide his laughter. "This chick walked right out of The Real Housewives or something."

"How could I dare to what, exactly?" Kendra sounded bored, but everyone began exchanging uneasy glances. Kendra was in fact not bored, but waiting, and biding time, for the the fight they all knew was coming.

"Be prepared to intervene if this gets physical." Mara muttered to the rest of them. They nodded.

"You're a flyer! Again!" Brittany looked rabid. At this point the entire courtyard of about thirty students was now watching. "What? Was one season being a lazy-ass spotlight hogging bitch not enough for you? You're gonna make us throw your fat ass again because you just can't get enough of the attention?"

"I know that little mierda didn't just talk to our mija like that." Vanessa was halfway to standing before Tanu and Warren pulled her back down.

"Screw this!" Elise whisper-yelled, spewing wet popcorn all over Trask. To his credit, the man didn't even blink. "Ke-Adalyn has my utter blessing to rearrange this girl's Picasso-ass looking face into a Dali landscape."

"Kendra is a peaceful girl at heart," Tanu spoke lowly. "She will make the mature choice."

"Can everyone shut up I wanna hear this." Warren hissed, still holding a livid Vanessa back.

"Excuse me," Bracken had stood up. "But I believe your words are out of line."

His words were polite and pretty, but his voice was lined with threat of repercussions should Brittany make a wrong move toward his beloved.

"Yeah, get lost, hag." Seth tossed over his shoulder as he brushed past Brittany casually on his way to the trash can.

"Get a brain, jock." Brittany snipped at Seth.

"Hey!" Now Kendra was standing. "Leave my brother alone, Brittany. I don't know what your damage is, but your issue is with me."

"Oh how noble of you," Brittany flipped her hair. "You know, you act like this fairy princess of a person, like this saint who just wants to be nice and help people. Well, guess what, bitch, I see who you really are." she stepped closer to Kendra, eyes flashing.

"She better back up before she gets smacked up." Warren muttered. The table of adults was watching the exchange with avid interest, much like the rest of the courtyard.

"Whatever is about to be said is not going to be good." Tanu observes, munching on a celery stick.

"You," continues Brittany. "Are a manipulative, self-centered, attention whore. You use everyone around you to your own gain, to make you look better. Just look at that necklace! Was it from him?" She levels a well manicured nail at "Adrian".

"Yes, it was." Kendra, to her credit, has maintained the same unbothered expression for the entire attack, and says this with a tone of voice that suggests she would rather be doing anything else.

"Looks pretty damn expensive to me."

"That's really none of your concern." Bracken says through gritted teeth.

"Wow, Adalyn," Brittany barks out a cruel laugh. "I knew you were greedy, but I didn't know you had a sugar daddy. That's pretty vile, even for you."

The courtyard was so quiet a pin could've dropped on the football field and everyone would have heard it.

"Oh my god." Trask is slack jawed.

"Che cavolo!"

"Mara, hold my earrings, I'm gonna start swinging."

"You know what, I'm stopping this." Warren moves to stand, but Mara and Vanessa yank him down.

"No way, José," Mara mutters. "If we stop this before Adalyn gets a rebuttal it'll ruin her."

Warren snorts under his breaths but stays seated.

"Okay, Brittany," Kendra's bored expression had been replaced by one of stony fury. "I'm going to make this very easy for you to understand since you seem to have a very hard time with very simple concepts."

"Snatch her weave, kid." Elise mutters around another mouthful of popcorn.

"I am dating Adrian. I love him very much. He is allowed to get me nice things every now and again without it being weird. It's called affection, you may want to try it sometime."

"I bet taught you all about affection."

"Well my appetite is gone." Warren pushes his salad away from himself.

"I can only say the same thing so many times, Brit," Kendra sighs. "I am not and will not ever be dating Mr. Burgess. And the fact that you continue to spread these rumors despite their pedophilic and freakish overtones tells me you're way more messed up than I could ever be."

Brittany opens her mouth to snipe back, but Kendra presses on.

"Lastly, I would say I'm sorry that you didn't get the flyer position you so clearly covet. But I'm not sorry. Being a flyer requires talent, communication, and trust, three qualities I don't think you could ever physically possess. Brittany, you are one of the most miserable beings I've ever had the displeasure of knowing, and believe me when I say I've met some of the worst. I'm tired of your lies, and your rumors, and your attitude. Now listen closely,"

Kendra stepped another foot closer to Brittany, and leaned in until they were virtually nose to nose.

"I broke your nose once, and I will do it again. Plastic surgery clearly didn't help much the first time, and I doubt your parents want to waste more money. So, if you don't mind; Step. Aside."

Kendra shoved past a gobsmacked Brittany hard enough to jostle her. She strode across the courtyard and through the doors to the cafeteria. Seth flashed Brittany a peace sign and a smile before following his sister. Bracken lingered a moment, regarding Brittany, before stepping up to her.

"If I may, Brittany," Bracken said. "You truly are a nightmare. I have never enjoyed a single interaction with you, and my life would be brighter if you left my girlfriend alone. So, kindly, fuck off."

Bracken went to leave but he paused, and turned back to look at Brittany

"And if you ever bother Adalyn again, I will ruin you."

The prince strode from the courtyard, following his friend's back into the main building. The courtyard was silent for a beat more, and the slowly came back to life. Brittany stormed off in the direction of the Language building, clearly going to lick her wounds.

"I...can't believe what I just watched." Trask looked shell shocked.

"K-Adalyn slaughtered that chick!" Warren was beaming with pride and amusement. "Nessa, did you see that? That's my girl, she killed it!"

", cara, she did well. Very well. I'm taking that girl for Starbucks this weekend."

"I just witnessed the rise of a goddess," Elise said. "I can't believe I just witnessed an actual homicide. Damn y'all, our girl K really dragged her!"

Elise and Warren swapped a hard high five as their girlfriends rolled their eyes. The adults began clearing their stuff, seeing as there was only about 5 more minutes until the bell rang, and they wanted to beat the mad rush of children. Vanessa and Tanu were the first to head out, as their building was the furthest.

"Why the hell did they put our lab on the third floor?" Vanessa groaned as the pair began climbing the first of three flights of stairs.

"Ethnic discrimination." Tanu chuckled. Vanessa barked a laugh and kept going, until she was forced to stop at the landing on the second floor. Tanu nearly ran into her, stumbling as he side stepped Vanessa to see what the hold up was.

"Hey, guys," Romeo smiled, looking every bit as sickly as Seth had said. "Fancy seeing you here."

"In our own building, on the staircase, after lunch." Vanessa drawled, crossing her arms. "Yeah, really fancy."

"Excuse us, Romeo, but we don't want to be late." Tanu made to move past him, but the rail thin man scrambled to block him, ever so slightly.

"Not a problem, Tanu," Romeo said. "I just want a moment alone with Vanessa."

"No." Vanessa replied, monotonously. "I have a class as well, so if you'll excuse us-"

"Vanessa, please," Romeo was clearly doing his best to be even a bit polite. A cold sweat had broken out on his pasty forehead. "I apologize for my advances from before break-"

"Thanks, I don't care."

"If you could just listen-"

"Rather not-"

"Do you ever shut up?"

Tanu could predict his friend's reaction, and moved to blocked Vanessa's aggressive advance. He tossed a look at her over her shoulder, one that screamed "We Really Can't Afford Another Incident Right Now So Please Be Cool".

"As fun and awkward as this has been, we have to go. Sorry, Romeo, you know how it is," Tanu smiled, pretending nothing was out of the ordinary about the interaction, and that the man in front of them wasn't extremely ill and very contagious. Romeo was panting slightly, his face ugly and contorted with rage.

Before the spanish teacher could open his mouth again, Tanu brushed passed him more harshly than not, giving Vanessa a path to the next flight of stairs. He turned and followed her quickly, ignoring the insult Romeo spat behind him. They only spoke again when they reached their classroom.

"So, he's definitely infected." Tanu sighed.

"Undoubtedly. He was never that rude directly. Very passive aggressive, and jealous, and stuff, but not angry like that," Vanessa scowled. "Stronzo."

"Agreed," Tanu said as he unlocked the door to their room. "We better keep a closer eye on him, and the other faculty as well."

"I'd rather eat glass."

"I'll be sure to let Trask know. Now, c'mon, we have powerpoints to add clipart to and young minds to mold."


"That's everyone, Warren." Trask said as he closed and locked the door to the history classroom.

"How come you get the fancy Smart Board?" Tanu muttered, eyeing Warren's classroom. "You probably don't even use them."

"Smart Boards are for communists." Warren replied as he finished erasing his whiteboard.

"That doesn't even-"

"Alright people!" Warren clapped his hands, cutting off Tanu. All five pairs of eyes turned to him, and he picked up a black dry erase marker. "Let's recap why we're here and what we're trying to accomplish. Elise, kick us off."

"Why are any of us really here man? It's all, like, a conspiracy-"

"You know what, Elise, never mind. Mara, you kick us off."

"We're going to sneak around the school and try to find some kind of evidence of this poison, or lead on who the perp may be."

"That was totally what I was gonna say next." Elise said, rolling her eyes.

"Thank you Mara and maybe sort of Elise," Warren said, scribbling what Mara had said at the top of the board in slanted blocky handwriting. "Tanu, how do we hope to accomplish these goals my friend?"

"Sneaking around?"

"Specifics, dude. The details are the juicy delicious meat of the operation"

"The what now-"

"Vanessa! Details!"

"We're going to the kitchen in the cafeteria to examine the food, new and any that may be old, and the surrounding air vents."

"Yes, thank you, Nessa!" Warren scribbled passionately, and the team chuckled. "Trask, take us home!"

"We know the poison is highly contagious, and most likely being ingested or inhaled. Therefore the kitchens are the most likely point of origin."

"Awesome work team! Except Tanu, you killed me smalls."

"Whoops." Tanu smiled easily.

"Alright, if we're all good, let's get going."

"Warren, shouldn't you erase that?" Mara pointed at the board that had their plan scribbled all over it.

"Yeah probably."

After Warren had done just that, the team exited the room. Warren took the lead, Trask and Vanessa flanking him, Mara and Elise behind them, and Tanu taking up the rear. Rusty as they may be from a few months of relative inaction, they fell back into their roles as Knights easier than anything.

They passed no one on their way to the kitchens, and as they neared the double doors to the back of the cafeteria, Warren let Vanessa take the lead. She was the best spy of them all; she could scope the area out quietly, and if she got caught she could fake the best lie to get out.

"Don't do anything dumb." Warren muttered as she brushed past him to open the doors. She tossed a thumbs up over her shoulder, looked both ways, and slipped through to the cafeteria. A moment later, her head popped back out from the behind the door.

"All clear, let's go." She disappeared again. The team crossed the hallway as casually as possible, and then disappeared into kitchens. Warren resumed lead again once inside.

The ambiance of the darkened kitchen was creepy to say the least. There were no windows, so they all had their phones' flashlights out. Somewhere in the room, a faucet was dripping a steady rhythm. The chrome of the kitchenware reflected their lights back at them, making it difficult to see too far ahead.

"I hate to be that guy, but we should probably split up." Trask whispered.

"Agreed." Warren murmured. Wordlessly, the team divided into groups of two and began combing through the fairly spacious kitchen. Mara and Elise began opening cabinets, rummaging through bowls and trays and mixers, pulling out cookware and examining the lining do the pantry.

Tanu and Trask were examining the vents in the walls and along the ceiling, carefully moving panels of the ceiling or unscrewing the vent screens to shine lights inside.

Warren and Vanessa were opening refrigerators, pulling out ingredients and prepared food, occasionally lifting something to sniff at it. The team continued on like this for about ten minutes, frozen in time with their tasks, until suddenly, time snapped back into place and several things happened all at once.

"Warren, does this smell weird to you?" Vanessa was holding up a bowl of what was probably supposed to be corn, but was mostly just sadness.

"Hey, guys, there's definitely something in the vents over here!" Tanu called, his entire upper torso in the overhead vent.

"Can you get a sample?" Trask called, pulling a tiny evidence baggie out of an inner pocket.

"I think you may wanna come do that yourself, secret agent man," Tanu pulled himself out of them vent, stepping off the chair he'd been using and back onto the ground. "It looks like a dry mold, like asbestos, but more sinister. I don't wanna disturb too much of it."

"I got you," Trask looked around, and grabbed a coffee stirrer from off a counter. "I can definitely get us enough to stick under a microscope without kicking up a dust cloud."

"Trask," Vanessa called softly. "Give us one of those baggies. There's definitely something off with this corn."

"There's always something off about corn," Elise muttered. "It's corn."

Warren and Vanessa ignored the other Knight, instead reaching into the large tray with a plastic spoon. They heaped a good spoonful of the glop into the baggie before carefully replacing the cover and putting it back in the fridge. Trask re-emerged a second later, his baggie dusted with what looked like wet black dirt. Flecks of iridescent purple could be seen in the dust.

"Jackpot." Trask grinned.

Suddenly, the door they had entered through slammed open, crashing into the wall with a resounding bang. The team whirled to face the noise, hands on their concealed weaponry.

In the doorway stood a lone figure in what looked like an outdated hazmat suit, black and baggy around his or her limbs. The face of the mask was chillingly reminiscent of the masks doctors wore during the plague; black leather, beaked mouth piece, charred from chemical burns, and with eye lenses red and cracked.

"Guys," Elise's voice trembled quietly. "What the hell is that?"

The person's head snapped in their direction, lenses seemingly fixated on them. For a moment, everyone was still, tense, waiting.

Then the figure ran at them.

The kitchen exploded into action as everyone moved to dodge the freakish birdman. The masked figure pulled a jagged dagger out from a hip sheath, and began slicing haphazardly at the Knights. Elise jumped onto the countertop, grabbing one of the baggies as she did, and moved toward the exit. Before she could get very far, the masked figure lashed out and grabbed her ankle, sending her sprawling to the floor. Elise bit back a yell as the side of her face slammed into the edge of the stainless steel countertop, feeling pain blossom outward from her cheek bone. Her head collided none-too-gently with the floor, and the room spun.

Mara launched herself at the birdman, landing a kick to its sternum area. The humanoid stumbled backwards into a rack of pots and pans, and the clanging echoed loudly through the dark chaos of the kitchen. Mara turned and helped Elise to her feet and the two began to make their way to the doors.

Warren and Trask pulled out their own daggers and began to back the birdman into a corner.

While it was distracted, Tanu grabbed the other sample bag and tossed it to Mara. As he turned back around the help them, the birdman broke free from Trask and Warren's block and came toward Tanu. Thinking fast, the Samoan reached into his pocket and pulled out a sachet of flash powder. He threw it hard and it did the job, exploding with a bang and a glittering flash upon contact with the mask. The being screeched loudly, not unlike a bird, clawing at the mask and trying to fan away the residual glittering smoke.

While the figure stumbled again, dazed and confused, Vanessa charged it, pivoting on her heel and bringing her knee up to the figure's stomach area with vicious force. The birdman doubled over, and she went to kick it in the mask, but the thing reached up with lightning speed and grabbed Vanessa's leg, unbalancing her. It made to push her over, but Warren and Trask grabbed it and threw it back into the corner. The birdman slumped against the wall, and didn't move. The group paused, breathing heavily, waiting and watching.

Before anyone could speak, the birdman leapt back to action, movements lagging and disconnected, like a bubonic marionette. It spun and kicked Warren in the solar plexus, forcing the man back with a grunt of pain. Warren bent over, winded. The figure danced nimbly around Trask's slashing blade, and paused under the vent. It looked up at the spot they had just taken a sample from, cocked its head, and then looked back at all of them. It brandished the dagger.

"Run, now!" Tanu yelled, just as the birdman punched upward with his knife, ripping a hole in the sheet metal holding the mold they had found. What they could only assume was powdered poison began drifting out of the vents like toxic snow. Warren stumbled to his feet, and began sprinting for the door, covering his mouth. The rest followed suit, Trask bringing up the rear.

"Split up, get to the cars!" Warren yelled, tearing off after Vanessa down a utility hallway. They cut around corner after corner until they found one of the exits. They exploded through the double doors, flying down a flight of steps and onto a side field.

Tanu and Trask turned the first corner they saw, a sharp right, and flew out pair of side doors into an older parking lot. They raced across it, through a small patch of trees and shrubs, and across the baseball pitch until they could see their cars.

Mara and Elise vaulted up a flight of stairs, across a bridge into the next building, and then down a different flight of stairs to the main parking lot. They reached their car first, and threw themselves into it, locking the doors before they dared relax.

"We made it." Elise wheezed. Her face was badly bruised, and she could feel that she was concussed.

"Barely." Mara was barely winded, being one of the more athletic Knights. She turned to examine Elise's bruising, but stopped when she noticed the horrified look on her face. "Elise, what is it?"

"When are the kids done with sports?"

Mara glanced at her watch. She closed her eyes and breathed out through her nose.

"Now."


"Why aren't they picking up?" Kendra muttered to herself. She tapped Warren's number again, let it ring through, and hung up when she got his voicemail yet again. She put her phone away and decided to just head toward the group's cars. They were probably still snooping around.

As she started walking down the long sports' corridor, she pulled her phone out yet again and began texting her brother.

K: Seth where u at

S: locker room, just about done. I will meet u in the parking lot by van car.

K: ok dont forget ur math book

Kendra looked up from her phone as a chill rattled down her spine. She whipped around, but the hallway was deserted. The fluorescent lighting above her flickered once, twice, and went out. Her grip on her backpack tightened.

'You're just being paranoid.' She thought to herself. Nonetheless, she backed up against an old set of lockers, paint chipped and flaking. Her hand moved up to grip her necklace. 'Babe, are you there?'

'Hey love,' Bracken's voice, melodic and chipper, filtered into her head. 'How was practice?'

'Fine. Sweaty and all that, but fun. How about you?' Bracken began rambling about modern fencing and forms, and Kendra let his voice wash over her as she continued to look around the corridor. She pushed herself off the lockers and kept walking, making her way cautiously down the hall. Unfortunately for her, the newest gymnasium was in the middle of the school, and it was a fair trek to any of the parking lots. She pulled out her phone to text Warren.

K: Hey, practice over. Where r u?

She watched the screen until her message delivered, and then waited for a reply. And waited. And waited. As she walked under another light fixture, it flickered once, twice, and went out. Most of the hallway was now bathed in darkness,not that it much affected her. Kendra paused again, looking back the way she came. She squinted, looking at the far end of the corridor. It looked like…

Kendra felt ice water trickle down her back. She couldn't hear Bracken anymore. She gripped the necklace.

'Bracken? Are you there?' It felt like there was cotton in her ears. She waited a beat. No answer from Bracken. She shook her wrist, the communication charm bracelet she had received for Christmas falling down her sleeve and making contact with her skin. Immediately her head exploded with voices.

'Kendra my charm went dead, can you hear me?'

'Kids, get the hell out of the building now!'

'Kens, where are you? Are you okay?'

'Run, Kendra. If you see it, run!'

Kendra glanced down at her phone again, only to see she had no signal. She cursed and looked up.

Right into a pair of cracked red lenses on a horrific beaked mask.

Kendra was frozen in place. She was staring past a leather beak, right into its reflective blood-red eye sockets. She made no moves. Neither did the bird. Slowly, ever so slowly, she began to back up. Still, the birdman made no movement. Eventually, her backpack touched the far wall. The second corridor was to her left, right there, she just needed to run. But she couldn't.

'Guys' she whispered over the communication channel. 'What am I looking at?'

'An adversary, same as any other, kiddo,' Warren answered, though his voice was shaking, as though trying not to panic. 'Do you see an exit?'

'Yeah.' Kendra's eyes were still glued to the terrifying bird thing in front of her. It cocked it's head to the side, as though examining her. It looked more avian than human in the moment.

'Run, Kendra.'

The man in the plague mask twitched.

Faster than Kendra could blink, the birdman charged towards her, screeching inhumanely. Kendra jolted and began sprinting down the left corridor. She could hear it's hazmat boots clanking rapidly behind her, quickly gaining on her. She opened the communication channel with her mind.

'Someone, please, HELP!"

'On my way!' Bracken and Seth's voices spoke together.

Kendra thought she heard more people start to reply, but she diverted her focus to her breathing and running. She reached the end of the hallway, legs pumping hard, and let herself skid to the right around the next corner as fast as she could. Sure enough, she heard the figure crash into the wall on the turn, unable to compete with Kendra's agility.

Kendra saw the next turn coming up, a narrower corridor to her left in the middle of the locker-lined hallway. Before she could reach it, though, her pursuer caught up to her. She felt wiry arms wrap around her middle, effectively stopping her and throwing off her balance. As she was lifted into the air, she began kicking and flailing, doing her best to get her captor to drop his iron grip. Once again faster than should be humanly possible, she was lifted high above the birdman's head, and thrown harshly into a wall of lockers.

Kendra felt her head collide with a locker handle, dazing her and causing her to cry out. Blood began oozing into her eye from the fresh cut on her forehead. The wind had been knocked out of her when she hit the wall, and her arm got banged up as she toppled to the ground. She attempted to push herself up, but felt a steel-toed boot slam into her back, sending her back down to the ground.

"Who...are you?" Kendra spat out. Her teeth were clenched in pain, and her ears were ringing. She was still recovering from her coma, and the new injuries she could feel on her would only make things harder, she was sure.

In reply, the birdman only made another, more staggered screeching noise. Like a demonic laugh. Just as the pressure on her back began to increase, someone yelled from behind them. Suddenly, the weight was thrown from her. Kendra looked up with her one clear eye to see-

"Seth!"

Her brother had tackled the birdman, sending them both sprawling. The masked figure was trying to free a dagger from near his hip, but Seth's increasingly violent punches were preoccupying it. She began to push herself to a sitting position when a hand entered her peripheral.

"Kendra!" It was Bracken, looking disheveled and out of breath and concerned. "Are you alright? Wait, no, that's a poor question. Here, let me-"

He reached down and pulled her into a sitting position, resting her against the lockers.

"I can fight." She muttered, rubbing the blood off of her eye and staggering to her feet.

"Like hell you can." Bracken tried to stop her advances on the Seth and the birdman, now wrestling on the ground. She opened her mouth to reply when she saw the figure lift Seth to his feet in a headlock, the younger boy struggling and kicking as his air was cut off.

"We don't have time to debate this, Bracken!" Kendra turned and charged the two of them, trusting Bracken had her back. She ran at the figure's front, saw it brace itself to grab her as well, and then feinted left. Bracken, close behind her, tackled the pair to the ground. As the figure was sent flying, it let go of Seth, who also went flying. Her younger brother collided with some lockers, but bounced back up.

"Nice play, man," Seth rolled his neck. "But maybe next time try something a little more, I don't know, tactful? Gentle?"

"I'm sorry, you were being strangled. Did you miss that part?" Bracken threw his arms wide in exasperation.

"Boys! Not the time!" Kendra watched the birdman stagger to his feet again. Kendra brought her hand to her necklace, and felt the magic within it respond to her wishes. It melted into a small but sharp dagger, the pommel of which formed perfectly to suit her grip. Seth pulled a long knife out of his bag, his Christmas gift no doubt. Kendra made a mental note to ask him why he brought it to school. Bracken was brandishing his second horn, normally worn as a ring, now a long sword, pearlescent and deadly.

The birdman paused, sizing them up. He dropped his dagger and sprinted back the way he came. Bracken yelled and began sprinting after him, leaving Kendra and Seth to sort themselves out. Seth walked over and made to pick up the dagger.

"Seth wait!" Kendra jogged over. "We don't know what that was, or who that was. This thing could be toxic."

"Good point," Seth rummaged in his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief.

"Why do you have that?"

"Patton carried one, so I'm gonna carry one."

"Patton's era didn't have Kleenex."

"Let me live, K." Seth scowled, wrapping the dagger in the soft linen.

"Fine, sorry, dweeb," Kendra rolled her eyes, then winced. "Got any more of those things? My forehead is throbbing."

"Sorry, Grandpa only had one." Seth stood up and offered Kendra a hand up. She took it, groaning when the hallway began spinning.

"I'm definitely concussed." She muttered.

"Here, let me put this in my bag," Seth trotted over and tossed the weapon into a pouch in his bag. He then grabbed Kendra's bag and dropped it down next to his. "Now, climb on."

Seth turned and offered Kendra his back. Kendra tried to not be as touched as she was by his offer. Her little brother sure was growing up. She jumped on, scowling when she realized he was a good inch or two taller than her now. Once she was settled, Seth leaned down and grabbed their bags, not bothering to support Kendra's weight as her legs were doing all the work anyway. He turned and began jogging down the narrow corridor.

"I wonder if this is what boot camp is like?" Seth said, pushing through a set of doors at the end of the passage.

"I think you probably need to carry a bit more weight than a fairy girl and two school bags."

"Says you, bowling ball butt. This is no picnic. I'm like Rambo right now."

"On second thought, I'll walk."

"Ha-ha."

Kendra rolled her eyes, and found herself wincing again. She really needed some ice. Soon enough, they emerged out into the main parking lot, the setting January sun providing scare light. Their family's cars were the only ones left. She could see the adults huddled in a group by Trask's Jeep. Seth began jogging faster.

"Hey! Hey over here!" He hollered. The adults whipped around, and began sprinting to meet them.

"Are you guys okay?"

"Where's the unicorn?"

"Kendra what the hell happened to your head!"

"Seth, here, let me help-"

"Guys!" Kendra yelled, getting overwhelmed by the crowding and her building headache. "Please, one at a time."

"Are you any more hurt than what we can see?" Tanu asked, stepping forward. Seth set Kendra down but stayed close for her to lean on. He relinquished the bags to Mara, who walked them over to Vanessa's car.

"No, my arm's a bit bruised but I'm fine." Kendra said, then hissed as Tanu prodded her cut. He pulled out his phone and turned on the flashlight, examining her eyes.

"You're a little concussed, Ken." He said apologetically. She smiled at him.

"It's okay," Kendra said. "It'll heal in a couple days."

"Kendra," Warren said, sounding winded. "Where's Bracken."

"He went after that thing," Kendra frowned. "I didn't think to follow him, he had his horn and he's, y'know, him. And I'm not in top form right now. Should we have gone with him?"

"No, Kendra," Vanessa smoothed some hair out of Kendra's face, examining the gash on her as well. "It's better to have some of you out here, than all of you in there, with that thing. Besides, the ancient horse is probably going to fare better than any of us right now."

"Yeah, are you guys okay?" Seth finally spoke up, looking more than a bit worried. "You warned us, after all. Did you guys see it, too?"

"Saw it, fought it, ran from it." Warren grimaced. "We could have taken it on, but it opened up a vent of poison on us."

"What!"

"We'll explain the whole thing back at the house. Right now, we gotta find Bracken," Warren turned to the group. "Vanessa, do you and Mara want to-"

"No need for a search and rescue, I'm right here."

They all turned to see Bracken stumbling out of the building, fencing bag in hand, looking rather unhappy. Kendra and Seth jogged over to meet him.

"Bracken are you okay?"

"What happened man?"

"Nothing, sadly. I chased the weird man- or woman, I suppose- down, but that thing was insanely fast. No matter how fast I ran, it ran faster. It was incredibly vexing, and rather humiliating," the prince sighed, then turned to Kendra. "I'm alright, though, love. No harm. How are you holding up?"

"I really want to take a nap. A figure out what the hell just happened."

"Well then," Trask spoke up. "I think we had all better get home."


I would call that a well-thickened plot. Hope you all enjoyed, please throw some feedback our way, we love to hear from you!