John Egbert was the first to wake. He blinked several times as his surroundings came into view.
He was in a classroom, from the looks of things. But two things struck him as odd: the first was that all of the desks were empty. The second was that the windows were sealed with what appeared to be reinforced metal sheets. Cautiously, the Heir of Breath left the seat he woke in, and walked over to the window. A dulled lighting came from the ceiling, and John saw that there was a strange tint to the lights.
Upon reaching the window, John found that the metal sheets were also bolted to the walls. He didn't even have to try to know that opening them would be nearly impossible. A chill ran through John: where the hell was he?
At this moment, a whirring reached John's ears. He looked up to see a bright yellow surveillance camera staring down at him, zooming in. Something was definitely off. He stood away from the camera, and walked across the classroom again, stopping in the middle of the room. A couple more windows were present, as well as a skylight. All of them were bolted.
John's attention was then drawn to the board. It was a regular chalk board, but with large, scrawled writing on it. It took a moment, but John soon managed to read the message.
WELCOME. TO HOPE'S PEAK ACADEMY. LOSERS.
This message only served to confuse him further. Nothing made sense. And as John stood there, he recalled the others. Where was Dave? Or Karkat? What had happened?
Suddenly, something clicked to life. John looked up in a panic, seeing a TV screen flicker to life. An ominous silhouette appeared on screen. There was a brief moment of silence before it began to speak.
“Microphone test. Microphone test.”
John raised an eyebrow in confusion. Who was that? The voice did not sound familiar to anyone he knew, so he was at a loss.
“Good. You can hear me. Now. Listen. All you losers that are awake. Bring your asses down to the gym hall. There is an important announcement. That you need to hear. Attendance is mandatory.”
The screen shut down, and John was left with more questions than answers. From the sound of things, he was in some kind of school. But why all the surveillance? And what was up with those announcements?
John shook his head. There was no point questioning it. He should probably go and see what this was all about. With this in mind, John crossed the classroom to the door, and pulled it open, stepping out into the hallway.
The hallway was no better than the classroom. It was even darker, and the only light sources came from the lights above. No sunlight. Several more classroom doors lined the hallway, but the place seemed to be empty. This contradicted what the voice had implied: that there were several people in this place. But from John's perspective, the place was desolate.
However, as John thought this, the door across from his opened. A familiar figure stepped out from the classroom: Karkat.
“Karkat!” John exclaimed, moving up to his friend.
“John?” Karkat said, surprised. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Not a clue,” John said. He shrugged. “I just woke up here, and some creepy as hell voice said to go down to the gym hall!”
“Me too,” Karkat said. “Also, John, have you seen anyone else?”
“Nobody but you, Karkat,” John said. “Although, there are probably other people in here. That announcement definitely implied it.”
“I suppose you're right,” Karkat said. “And if they have any common sense, they'll be heading down to the gym. We should probably head there and see if anyone else knows anything.”
John nodded in response, and the two began to walk down the hallway. Above their heads, one of the lights flickered. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but for some reason, it felt ominous. They turned left at the end of the hallway, and found another hallway lined with classrooms. Nobody emerged from any of them as John and Karkat passed by.
“This is really giving me the creeps,” John said. “I mean, it's a school! There are supposed to be people around.”
“I don't really know what the hell a school is like,” Karkat said. “But I'm pretty sure a place as big as this should have at least someone around.”
“Yeah,” John said. “Karkat, do you think the others are here?”
“Could be,” Karkat said. “Or maybe not. I really don't know, okay? I'm as clueless as you are, John.”
“Sorry,” John said. “It's just that I'm really terrified and need to make sure that this is actually happening.”
“Well it is,” Karkat said bitterly. He folded his arms as they turned right. “Get that through the thick membrane of your thinkpan right now.”
As they moved down the next hallway, John noticed a large set of double doors at the far end.
“Hey,” he said to Karkat. “I think that's the gym.”
“How do you know?” Karkat said.
“Well, it's a large set of doors that clearly lead to a large room,” John said. He picked up his walking pace. “Now come on: we might get some answers.”
Karkat walked by John's side, neither of them saying a word the closer they got to the doors. John reached the doors first, and placed a hand on the handles. He hesitated for a moment.
“What is it?” Karkat asked.
“I'm not sure if this is safe,” John said.
“John,” Karkat said. “You're a damn god-tier: it's not as if you're going to bite the dust, is it?”
“You're right,” John said. He took a deep breath, and pushed down on the handles, opening the doors.
Straight away, bright light flooded into John's eyes, and he squinted as he and Karkat stepped into the gym. Once the world came into focus, John was surprised at what he saw. All around them were people they knew. John noticed all of his friends, and the other group of human players; their ancestors. The rest of Karkat's group was also there, and from the look of things, the troll ancestors too.
“Sweet Jegus deep-fried in grub sauce,” Karkat said. “Why the hell are our brain-dead ancestors here?”
“Beats me,” John said. “But perhaps they know what's going on.” At this exact moment, Dave and Rose happened to approach the two.
“John, thank god you're here,” Dave said. “I was beginning to think you were gonna miss out on this weird as hell party.
“Party being the subjective term,” Rose said. “In actuality, we're all scared and confused and a breath away from producing fecal matter that oddly resembles bricks.”
“So neither of you know what's going on?” John said.
Rose shook her head. “Nobody knows anything. We were hoping you two could provide some answers. But alas, it seems we're all in the same boat. I'm leaning towards the highly plausible theory that we're being held hostage by someone. However, I'm essentially as clueless as the clown that gets high off of soda.”
“This is just wonderful,” Karkat said. “So nobody knows anything?”
“Afraid not,” Dave said. “Sorry if that was what you were expecting.”
“It's fine,” Karkat said. “So now our priority is to figure out what's going on, okay?”
“All right,” Dave said. “What do you suggest we—“
Dave was suddenly cut off by the lights going dark, save for a single spotlight that shone down on the podium on the stage at the far end of the dining hall. Suddenly, a figure leaped up from beneath the podium, looking over the confused crowd. He had a green, skull-like head, and bright red eyes.
“Ah. Hello there,” he said. “I suppose. You losers are pretty confused. Right about now, huh?”
“Oh no!” a voice called out from the front of the crowd. She appeared to be a troll, but with startling white hair. “How can you be here?”
“Shut it,” he said. “Now. Returning to the rest of you. I suppose introductions are in order. After all. This is what happens at a normal school. Is it not?”
“Mother of Christ,” Dave whispered to nobody in particular. “What the actual hell is this.”
“My name,” the stranger continued. “Is Caliborn. I am the new head of this school. As such. You will all follow my rules.”
“What the glubbin' shell is this bullcarp comin' from your blowhole?” someone else said. It was quickly revealed that this voice belonged to Meenah.
“Did I not make myself clear. Stupid royal troll,” Caliborn said. “I am the head of this school. You are my students.”
“You're a cod clam cherub,” Meenah said. She folded her arms, and glared at him. “Why would I even think about listening to a word that comes from your mouth?”
“Meenah, please,” Aranea pleaded beside her. “Keep quiet. You do not know the effects you could bring.”
“I suggest listening to the nerdy broad,” Caliborn said. “The rules clearly state. Violence against the head is forbidden.”
“What rules?” Vriska added. She stood a little further in front of John and Karkat. “I don't see any damn rules written anywhere.”
“Oh. My bad,” Caliborn said. He pressed a button, and small PDAs suddenly appeared in everyone's hands. “These are your ElectroIDs. They contain the rules of the school. And information about your fellow students. Do not read until this announcement. Is complete.” John carefully lowered his ElectroID.
“Excuse me,” Kankri spoke up. Karkat groaned and rolled his eyes. “But may I enquire as to the reasoning behind our imprisonment, and any possible means of exit? As you may now, confinement is an especially triggering matter, especially to those who acutely suffer from a form of claustro—”
“Stop it. Stop making all these words come from your mouth,” Caliborn groaned. “Now. To answer your question. Yes, there is a way to leave. It is simple. All you have to do is graduate.”
“Graduate?” Jane said. “But that means we'll be stuck in here for years!”
“No. I think we have a misunderstanding,” Caliborn said. “This graduation does not occur in a manner you find conventional. There is only one rule. To graduate. All you have to do. Is kill somebody.”
A stunned silence filled the hall as everyone looked at each other, before returning their gaze to the cherub on-stage.
“You can't be serious!” Feferi exclaimed. “That's insane!”
“I believe that. I am entirely serious,” Caliborn said. “This is not a joke.”
“This isn't happening...” Jade said from elsewhere. “You can't do this!”
“Believe me. I can,” Caliborn said, grinning. “Just try and stop me.”
“You got it!” Jade yelled. She positioned her hands, and attempted to use her Space powers. Nothing happened. “What?!”
“Oh. I should have probably mentioned,” Caliborn said. “Your god-tier abilities. Mean nothing in here.”
“No way!” This time Vriska began to yell.
“It is the truth. You lack the abilities that come with ascension,” Caliborn said. “It evens the playing field. So to speak.”
“So hypothetically,” Dirk said. “If I were to kill, say, one of these random trolls in front of me, I could just get the hell out of here?”
“Not quite,” Caliborn said. “Before graduation. You must endure a class trial. Where you all will vote on the culprit. If you are not accused. You graduate.”
Another silence. For the few that were considering killing, these thoughts stopped. There was no way any of them would be able to successfully hide their guilt from the large population that surrounded them.
“But what if nobody kills?” Rose said. She eyed Caliborn coldly.
“Oh. That,” Caliborn said. “If that is the case. Then nobody will ever leave the confines of Hope's Peak Academy.”
“I see,” Rose said. “So it's either live in a confined space with thirty or so others, or commit the perfect crime. Am I correct?”
“Yes,” Caliborn said. “So from now on. You are all part of the School Life of Mutual Killing. Enjoy your time here.”
Suddenly, there was a flash of confetti, and Caliborn disappeared, leaving the new students in a confused panic. People eyed each other with suspicion and worry, as if they were all about to descend into a free-for-all to get out.
Rose was the first to act. “May I please have your attention?” she said. Every eye turned to her. “Now, I can't say I know what is happening, but until we learn more, the best thing to do is to remain calm and not cause an uproar.”
“That's easy for you to say,” Eridan said. “You haven't had the experience a being in a situation where you have to get killin to live.”
“But by killing you'll be playing right into his hands,” Rose noted. “Anyway, let's crush the thought of murder right now. I suggest we consult our ElectroIDs and see if they offer anything of use.” There were several nods whilst Rose turned on her ElectroID. It showed a list of options, such as 'Students Attending' and 'My Information'. But what got Rose's attention was the flashing icon titled 'Rules'. She pressed it, and read through the list.
HOPE'S PEAK ACADEMY:
SCHOOL LIFE OF MUTUAL KILLING RULES
1: Acts of violence against the head are prohibited.
2: Destruction of surveillance equipment is prohibited.
3: In order to graduate, murder another student without being found out.
4: After a body has been found, a few hours will be given to investigate before a trial.
5: If the murderer is found guilty, they will be punished accordingly.
6: If the culprit is wrongly identified, all but the actual culprit will be punished.
7: Accomplices to a murder will not be punished at the trial if they did not actually kill.
8: You can only murder up to two students.
9: The time period between 10pm and 7am is Night Time; certain areas will be cut off at this point.
10: More rules will be added as necessary.
Rose raised an eyebrow at the odd rules, and looked over at the others. They had similar expressions.
“What do you think it means?” Nepeta said, staring at her ElectroID.
“I'm not sure,” Rose said. “I still don't know how we got into this situation, or how we're going to get out. But for now, we just have to ensure nobody begins to kill one another.”
“But I'm like entirely sure I'm a ghost,” Latula said. “So then how the hell can I get murdered?”
“She's right,” Eridan said. “A buncha us are actually ghosts, but now I don't feel like one.”
“He probably did something,” Rose offered. “I'm sorry, but I don't have all the answers right now.”
“If anything, I should be the one apologising,” a voice spoke up. Rose saw the crowd part to reveal a white-haired troll.
“Why?” Rose said.
“Because that guy is my brother, so to speak,” the troll said. She sighed in dismay. “I could have prevented this all somehow.”
“Wait,” Aranea said. “Does that mean you're...?”
“Technically, yes,” the troll said. “I am the cherub Calliope. But I seem to be stuck in my trollsona form of Callie Ohpeee for some reason... Not that that's a bad thing; my true form is positively frightening!”
“That may be,” Aranea said. “But if you are truly who you say you are, then you are the other half of Caliborn. And with the two of you alive, that means that you could still technically fight for control of the cherub body.”
“Believe me, I would love to,” Calliope said. “But I just can't seem to do it.”
“Anyway,” Rose said. “Do you have any idea what is actually happening?”
“As a matter of fact I do,” Calliope said. “But I cannot guarantee that what I am saying is accurate.”
“That's fine,” Rose replied. “Any lead is a good lead.”
“Okay then,” Calliope said. “You cannot remember this, but all of we were so close to defeating Lord English once and for all, until he utilised his powers as a Lord of Time to trap us all in an alternate timeline in order to prevent us from ever fighting him. Essentially, we're playthings for his younger self.”
“Then how come you can remember?” Aranea questioned.
“That is because we share a link through his body,” Calliope said. “To remove my memories would be to remove his own, and he would never take that risk.”
“That sucks big time, Callie,” Roxy said. She stood closer to the cherub/troll. “But you're here, which is good enough.”
Calliope smiled bashfully. “Thank you for the kind words, dear, but unfortunately we're still stuck in this situation.”
“Whilst we do need to try and formulate a plan that may result in us leaving,” Kanaya said. “We have a larger issue: there is no doubt that someone will try to murder someone else. Despite your talk, Rose, I can guarantee someone will do it.”
“Despite the risk of a violent execution?” Rose said. Kanaya nodded. “So what do you suggest we do?”
“For now, I suggest that we never walk around alone,” Kanaya said. “Ideally we should move in groups of at least three, and we shouldn't move at all during the Night Time period. That way we should minimise the chance of a murder.”
“I see,” Rose said. “That could work. So, are we all okay with following these rules?” Several murmurs and nods greeted Rose. “Good. And now I think our priority should be to explore this building and try and find anything useful. Any objections?” None. “Okay then, let's head out. Remember: three or more per group.”
Several groups of people began to leave the hall, walking through the hallways. And whilst Rose had given them hope that they would all get out, they had no idea about the level of despair that was about to descend upon them.